American Classics

William Gilpin, The Central Gold Region (1860)

William Gilpin, sometime U.S. Army officer, Western explorer, Mexican War veteran, friend of Andrew Jackson and Thomas Hart Benton, land speculator, and governor of the Colorado Territory (1861-1862), is sometimes accorded the title of America’s first geopolitician. In a series of articles and speeches, which were summarized in his best known publication, The Central Gold Region: The Grain, Pastoral and Gold Regions of North America (1860), Gilpin argued that the development of the interior of the continent, made possible in large part by a properly-sited transcontinental railroad, would create a new and dominant commercial line of communication between Europe and Asia. This would inaugurate a new era in human affairs focused around what would become the greatest civilization in history, the Republican Empire of North America.

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Classic Works

Xenophon, The Persian Expedition

To encourage fidgety school boys to pay attention to their Greek lessons, English and American headmasters would frequently assign Xenophon’s Anabasis of Cyrus (The Ascent of Cyrus, sometimes rendered as “The March Up-Country” and popularly titled “The Persian Expedition”). Xenophon told the thrilling story of what became known as the Ten Thousand, a Greek mercenary contingent engaged during the summer of 401 B.C. by a Persian prince, Cyrus the Younger, to support his campaign to claim the throne from his brother, Artaxerxes II. These events took place shortly after the Spartan-led coalition, with aid from Persia, had defeated Athens and its allies in the decades-long Peloponnesian War.

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American Classics

John C. Calhoun, Report on the Reduction of the Army (1820)

John C. Calhoun has gone down in American history as the great theorist of state rights, with the associated doctrines of nullification and the concurrent majority, qualifying him as the intellectual grandfather of secession and the Confederacy. But in his early public career, Calhoun was a staunch nationalist, a supporter of the War of 1812, and one of the Republic’s most distinguished Secretaries of War. Among his significant contributions to American statecraft was a Report on the Reduction of the Army, dated December 12, 1820.

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Classic Works

Machiavelli, The Art of War (1521)

In The Art of War, the only one of his major writings published during his lifetime, Machiavelli sets out to consider that topic from the standpoint of the superintending military commander. The Art of War is divided into a preface and seven books (chapters), presented as a series of dialogues that take place in the garden of Cosimo Rucellai, a friend of Machiavelli, who had died two years before the book was published. Cosimo and his guests, including a silent Machiavelli, respectfully question a visitor, Fabrizio Colonna, who is treated as a military authority. Fabrizio discusses how an army should be raised, trained, organized, deployed and employed. His model is the Roman Legion of the Republic, which he argues should be adapted to the contemporary situation of Renaissance Florence.

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American Classics

Abraham Lincoln, Resolutions in Behalf of Hungarian Freedom (1852)

Americans were naturally interested in the course and outcome of the European Revolutions of 1848, which included the overthrow of the July Monarchy of Louis Philippe in France, the deposition of Metternich in Austria, the establishment of the Frankfurt Parliament in Germany, the creation of republics in Venice and Rome, and an uprising in Poland against the Prussian occupation. The American imagination was particularly captivated by the revolution in the Hungarian lands of the Habsburg Empire and the subsequent struggle of the Magyars, the main ethnic group in those lands, to achieve independence from Austria. The administration of Zachary Taylor had already dispatched an envoy to central Europe, with instructions to recognize the Hungarian Republic if it proved to be viable.

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Essays & Reviews

Paul Seabury, The Wilhelmstrasse (1954)

The German Empire created by Bismarck inherited from Prussia a highly rationalized, professional trained, permanent bureaucracy, an important part of which was the Foreign Office (the Wilhelmstrasse). The prestige of this bureaucracy as a whole was enormous. Its personnel was recruited not only from the aristocracy but from the commercial and, later, industrial middle class. By the turn of the 20th century it represented an amalgam of the "liberal" nationalist and conservative elements of German society. The early Weimar Republic attempted to democratize German diplomacy by introducing "new blood" into lower career-service posts and appoint non-career officials into higher positions. The experiment failed.

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Essays & Reviews

On Halford J. Mackinder’s The Geographical Pivot of History (1919)

In 1904, British geographer Halford J. Mackinder presented a landmark paper, "The Geographical Pivot of History," to the Royal Geographic Society of London. In this and subsequent writings, Mackinder argued that changes in technology—especially the revolution in land transportation brought about by the railroad, the internal combustion engine, and the construction of a modern highway and road network—had altered the relationship between sea and land power, bringing the Columbian age of dominant sea power to a close. In this new, tightly connected global system, land power would hold the advantage. The center of emerging land power was the Eurasian core area—the geographical pivot, roughly coincident with the tsarist Russian empire—that Mackinder would come to call the Heartland.

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Classic Works

Herodotus, The Histories (5th Century BCE)

Herodotus, who wrote a generation after the Persian Wars, puts these battles in the context of a great clash of civilizations, between Greek freedom and Asian despotism. He seeks to explain why and how a relatively poor, small, and divided collection of Greek-speakers were able to defeat a much larger, wealthier, and centralized empire. On the battlefield itself, on land and at sea, the Greeks were better disciplined and employed superior close-order tactics, such as staying in ranks rather than attempting to kill the greatest number of enemy soldiers in open combat. But Herodotus' generic answer reflected the views of his contemporaries and greatly influenced the West's understanding of itself: "As long as the Athenians were ruled by a despotic government, they had no better success in war than any of their neighbors. Once the yoke was flung off, they proved the finest fighters in the world."

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American Classics

Walter Lippmann, U.S. Foreign Policy: Shield of the Republic (1943)

Shield of the Republic formulated what might be called the Lippmann equilibrium, which has become the standard of American realists: "Foreign policy consists in bringing into balance, with a comfortable surplus of power in reserve, the nation's commitments and the nation's power. I mean by a foreign commitment an obligation, outside the continental limits of the United States, which may in the last analysis have to be met by waging war. I mean by power the force which is necessary to prevent such a war or to win it if it cannot be prevented. In the term necessary power I include the military force which can be mobilized effectively within the domestic territory of the United States and also the reinforcements which can be obtained from dependable allies." If this strategic equilibrium could be brought into being, American foreign policy would command domestic support. On the other hand, if American commitments exceed American power, the resulting insolvency—"the Lippmann gap"—would lead to deep political dissension.

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