To Make a People: Strategic Rhetoric and the Declaration of Independence

To get to July 4, 1776, required no small amount of strategic thinking, of prudent statesmanship, of expert melding together of situational awareness, rhetorical prowess, alliance-leveraging, and political maneuverings. Jefferson was acutely aware that among the American colonial politicians of his day, there was an “inequality of pace with which [they] moved” towards the end goal of political independence from Great Britain, and that therefore a great “prudence [was] required to keep front and rear together,” for them ever to hope to be successful in the undertaking. How Jefferson and the more zealous members of his set built up to the Declaration of Independence is arguably a masterclass in statecraft, with publication of Jefferson’s Summary View as their opening move.

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To Make a People: Strategic Rhetoric and the Declaration of Independence

To get to July 4, 1776, required no small amount of strategic thinking, of prudent statesmanship, of expert melding together of situational awareness, rhetorical prowess, alliance-leveraging, and political maneuverings. Jefferson was acutely aware that among the American colonial politicians of his day, there was an “inequality of pace with which [they] moved” towards the end goal of political independence from Great Britain, and that therefore a great “prudence [was] required to keep front and rear together,” for them ever to hope to be successful in the undertaking. How Jefferson and the more zealous members of his set built up to the Declaration of Independence is arguably a masterclass in statecraft, with publication of Jefferson’s Summary View as their opening move.

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On Sophocles’ Antigone and Modern Tyrants

Tyrants are prone to seek domination of ever-larger possessions, and the only constraint on their expansion, aside from internal strife, is effective opposition by external powers. If they are not combated, tyrants can indeed be highly disruptive of international stability.

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On Sophocles’ Antigone and Modern Tyrants

Tyrants are prone to seek domination of ever-larger possessions, and the only constraint on their expansion, aside from internal strife, is effective opposition by external powers. If they are not combated, tyrants can indeed be highly disruptive of international stability.

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Not your Father’s Geopolitics

Those of us of a Classical bent are occasionally jarred by references to “geopolitics” that do not seem to square with the understanding we gained from reading authorities such as Mahan, Mackinder, and Spykman.  Although we felt that we were properly critical of particular aspects of these geopolitical teachings, were are reminded that in recent years, something formally called “critical geopolitics” has emerged – a postmodern understanding of space, “identity,” and politics. 

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Not your Father’s Geopolitics

Those of us of a Classical bent are occasionally jarred by references to “geopolitics” that do not seem to square with the understanding we gained from reading authorities such as Mahan, Mackinder, and Spykman.  Although we felt that we were properly critical of particular aspects of these geopolitical teachings, were are reminded that in recent years, something formally called “critical geopolitics” has emerged – a postmodern understanding of space, “identity,” and politics. 

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The Thucydides Trap: Does it Exist?

In 2012, Harvard’s Graham Allison posed this question: Can China and the US escape Thucydides’s trap?  According to Allison: “The historian’s metaphor reminds us of the dangers two parties face when a rising power rivals a ruling power – as Athens did in 5th century BC and Germany did at the end of the 19th century. Most such challenges have ended in war. Peaceful cases required huge adjustments in the attitudes and actions of the governments and the societies of both countries involved.”  Athens’ dramatic rise in the Greek work shocked the then-leading power, Sparta.  Fear compelled its leaders to respond. Threat and counter-threat produced competition, then confrontation and finally conflict. At the end of 30 years of war, both states had been destroyed. Thucydides wrote of these events: “It was the rise of Athens and the fear that this inspired in Sparta that made war inevitable.”

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The Thucydides Trap: Does it Exist?

In 2012, Harvard’s Graham Allison posed this question: Can China and the US escape Thucydides’s trap?  According to Allison: “The historian’s metaphor reminds us of the dangers two parties face when a rising power rivals a ruling power – as Athens did in 5th century BC and Germany did at the end of the 19th century. Most such challenges have ended in war. Peaceful cases required huge adjustments in the attitudes and actions of the governments and the societies of both countries involved.”  Athens’ dramatic rise in the Greek work shocked the then-leading power, Sparta.  Fear compelled its leaders to respond. Threat and counter-threat produced competition, then confrontation and finally conflict. At the end of 30 years of war, both states had been destroyed. Thucydides wrote of these events: “It was the rise of Athens and the fear that this inspired in Sparta that made war inevitable.”

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Bridging the “George Gap:” Recalling reflections by Peter Feaver and John Gaddis on Grand Strategy

For those of us with an interest in the classics of strategy and diplomacy, we face a particular challenge: how can historical documents, speeches and memoirs – many of them considered musty, some long forgotten – contribute, directly or indirectly, to intelligent discourse about policy, much less to policy-making itself?  Compared, for instance, to wisdom purveyed by the latest trendy theory; or to the frequent insistence that in the real world, the best we can do is pragmatically muddle through.  As Harold W. Rood once wrote: "International relations is an arena where politics is exercised by nations and other entities to accomplish goals and secure interests. The study of politics in that arena is a study of history: what has happened, how it came to happen with its consequences and therefore a guide to what can happen."

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Bridging the “George Gap:” Recalling reflections by Peter Feaver and John Gaddis on Grand Strategy

For those of us with an interest in the classics of strategy and diplomacy, we face a particular challenge: how can historical documents, speeches and memoirs – many of them considered musty, some long forgotten – contribute, directly or indirectly, to intelligent discourse about policy, much less to policy-making itself?  Compared, for instance, to wisdom purveyed by the latest trendy theory; or to the frequent insistence that in the real world, the best we can do is pragmatically muddle through.  As Harold W. Rood once wrote: "International relations is an arena where politics is exercised by nations and other entities to accomplish goals and secure interests. The study of politics in that arena is a study of history: what has happened, how it came to happen with its consequences and therefore a guide to what can happen."

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Lee Kuan Yew: Some Resources & Perspectives

Lee Kuan Yew was the founder of the modern nation-state of Singapore and a statesman whose views about international politics were valued for decades by his counterparts around the globe. Harvard’s Graham Allison praised Lee as “one of two certifiable grand masters of international strategy in the last half century (Henry Kissinger being the other), and a wise counselor to the world.” Such favorable views were not universal.  Lee was criticized as being the founder of a form of autocracy based on a pernicious distinction between Western and Asian (Confucian) values, which has inspired the development of repressive regimes in Russia, China, and Turkey, among others.

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Lee Kuan Yew: Some Resources & Perspectives

Lee Kuan Yew was the founder of the modern nation-state of Singapore and a statesman whose views about international politics were valued for decades by his counterparts around the globe. Harvard’s Graham Allison praised Lee as “one of two certifiable grand masters of international strategy in the last half century (Henry Kissinger being the other), and a wise counselor to the world.” Such favorable views were not universal.  Lee was criticized as being the founder of a form of autocracy based on a pernicious distinction between Western and Asian (Confucian) values, which has inspired the development of repressive regimes in Russia, China, and Turkey, among others.

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More on Niebuhr: Should Strategy Be Un-Grand?

Clausen and Nurnus believe that Niebuhr’s writing can be read as a cautionary tale about the perils of Grand Strategy – at least when it reaches the extremes of idealism or hubris. Democracy keeps us away from the hubris of grand forms of strategy that can lead to calamities on grand scales.  Thus, what lies at the heart of Niebuhr’s philosophy can make up the core of a new un-Grand Strategy tradition. This core would be based on pragmatism, empirical skepticism, and emotional maturity.

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More on Niebuhr: Should Strategy Be Un-Grand?

Clausen and Nurnus believe that Niebuhr’s writing can be read as a cautionary tale about the perils of Grand Strategy – at least when it reaches the extremes of idealism or hubris. Democracy keeps us away from the hubris of grand forms of strategy that can lead to calamities on grand scales.  Thus, what lies at the heart of Niebuhr’s philosophy can make up the core of a new un-Grand Strategy tradition. This core would be based on pragmatism, empirical skepticism, and emotional maturity.

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Resources on Lee Kuan Yew, The Sage of Singapore

Lee Kuan Yew is often referred to as “the Sage of Singapore.” The Cambridge University-educated Lee was the founding father of that modern independent city-state. He served as its prime minister from 1959 to 1990, overseeing its rise as the first of the Southeast Asian “tigers.” He was also one of the region’s most influential international statesmen, renowned for his geopolitical acumen as well as his far-sighted economic vision. When Harry Lee spoke, people listened.

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Resources on Lee Kuan Yew, The Sage of Singapore

Lee Kuan Yew is often referred to as “the Sage of Singapore.” The Cambridge University-educated Lee was the founding father of that modern independent city-state. He served as its prime minister from 1959 to 1990, overseeing its rise as the first of the Southeast Asian “tigers.” He was also one of the region’s most influential international statesmen, renowned for his geopolitical acumen as well as his far-sighted economic vision. When Harry Lee spoke, people listened.

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Is Putin Another Metternich?

Mitchell A. Orenstein, Professor and Chair of the Department of Political Science at Northeastern University, offers the provocative thesis that Vladimir Putin is an aspiring Metternich. At first glance, this seems a rather odd comparison, in temperament and style, certainly.  In foreign policy terms, Metternich would seem to be the consummate conservative, wedded to the idea of a stable European balance of power in which Austria could maximize its waning power; Putin, the foreign policy revolutionary, who seeks to kick over the table in order for Russia to maximize its waning power.

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Is Putin Another Metternich?

Mitchell A. Orenstein, Professor and Chair of the Department of Political Science at Northeastern University, offers the provocative thesis that Vladimir Putin is an aspiring Metternich. At first glance, this seems a rather odd comparison, in temperament and style, certainly.  In foreign policy terms, Metternich would seem to be the consummate conservative, wedded to the idea of a stable European balance of power in which Austria could maximize its waning power; Putin, the foreign policy revolutionary, who seeks to kick over the table in order for Russia to maximize its waning power.

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Paul D. Miller on Niebuhr & Contemporary Realism

During the run-up to the 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama cited the influence of Protestant theologian Reinhold Niebuhr on his own thinking. This presumably included Niebuhr’s views on foreign policy – so-called Christian realism, which coincided with the strategic (Nicholas Spykman), diplomatic (George Kennan), academic (Hans Morgenthau) and journalistic (Walter Lippmann) views of “realism” that were circulating in intellectual and policy circles. Niebuhr rejected the notion that Christianity mandated pacifism in the face of tyranny (he supported World War II and resistance to Soviet communism, but opposed the Vietnam War). His views remain a source of inspiration and contention, specifically when it comes to the promotion of democracy.

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Paul D. Miller on Niebuhr & Contemporary Realism

During the run-up to the 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama cited the influence of Protestant theologian Reinhold Niebuhr on his own thinking. This presumably included Niebuhr’s views on foreign policy – so-called Christian realism, which coincided with the strategic (Nicholas Spykman), diplomatic (George Kennan), academic (Hans Morgenthau) and journalistic (Walter Lippmann) views of “realism” that were circulating in intellectual and policy circles. Niebuhr rejected the notion that Christianity mandated pacifism in the face of tyranny (he supported World War II and resistance to Soviet communism, but opposed the Vietnam War). His views remain a source of inspiration and contention, specifically when it comes to the promotion of democracy.

Read More