Essays & Reviews

Sir Martin Gilbert: History as Chronicle

In 1960, the eminent Oxford historian A.J.P. Taylor gave a bit of advice to young students. Avoid working on three things, because they are either irrelevant or already thoroughly plowed over: maps, Winston Churchill, and unpublished documents. Fortunately, at least in one particular instance, that advice was ignored. Sir Martin Gilbert, who passed away at the age of 78, was one of the most prolific of modern historians. He wrote 88 books, including histories of the Holocaust, of the world wars and of the 20th century. He is best known as the official biographer of Churchill, having assumed that duty after the second volume from Churchill’s son, Randolph (Gilbert had served as Randolph’s research assistant).

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Essays & Reviews

India’s Arthashastra: A Combination of Machiavelli and Clausewitz?

The Arthashastra describes the guiding principles necessary to secure the goals of the state within this circle of states. These include: a ruler ought to develop his state by augmenting and exploiting its resources and power; the state ought to try and eliminate enemy states; those who help in this objective are friends; a state ought to stick to a prudent course; a ruler’s behavior must appear just; and peace is preferable to war in attaining a goal. Under the framework of these principles, the Arthashastra describes six methods of foreign policy, all of which are designed to enhance the power of one’s state relative to other states and, if possible, to conquer or dominate them.

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Essays & Reviews

Tocqueville, Early American Foreign Policy, and Contemporary Chinese Politics

Classic works of comparative government and political sociology, such as Democracy in America, can also provide insights into other nations and cultures (which of course was one of Tocqueville’s purposes).  Does this hold true for non-Western societies as well?  In 2010, Ceaser published a paper for the American Enterprise Institute’s Tocqueville on China Project. According to Ceaser, Tocqueville was one of the first thinkers to treat two of the great themes that have preoccupied modern scholars of China: modernization and transition. His writings on these themes were the forerunners of such classic works as James Bryce's Modern Democracy (1921) and Samuel Huntington's Political Order in Changing Societies (1968), and they thus indirectly help inform the wave of scholarship in comparative politics on "democratic transitions" that appeared after the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989.

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Essays & Reviews

The Whale or the Elephant

Williamson Murray and Peter Mansoor urge U.S. policymakers and strategists who are considering the formulation of a grand strategy in the coming decades, to examine the fate of other great maritime/island powers which have wrestled with similar challenges. Of primary concern in this respect concerns the rise of China and the impact of its nascent power, both regionally and globally. The basic choice, they argue, is between a continental strategy, involving a land force commitment to allies in Eurasia; and one of an offshore balancing-maritime (blue water-limited liability) strategy, as being urged by scholars such as Christopher Layne, John Mearsheimer, and Stephen Walt.

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Essays & Reviews

The Other Mahan: Transmitting and Modifying the Classics in Military Education

When one thinks about the impact of Mahan on American military thought and practice, one naturally thinks of Alfred Thayer Mahan, the naval historian and theorist of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. But there was another notable Mahan – Dennis Hart Mahan (USMA, 1824), Alfred’s father, who taught for many years at West Point in the mid-nineteenth century and whose personality and views influenced Civil War commanders on both sides of the divide.

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Essays & Reviews

Aeschylus and Strategic Culture

Fire, Aristotle observed in the Nicomachean Ethics, burns both here and in Persia, but what is seen as just seems to vary. Aristotle, of course, depended on the universality of nature (fire), including human nature (with transcendent standards of justice), to stake a claim for the possibility of political philosophy – as compared to relying on the claims of the ancestral or of convention. Of course, Aristotle goes on to say that natural right is changeable.And reflective Greeks had to take into account the real-world differences between the city states of Hellas and the empire of Persia, especially when it came to war. One such reflective Greek was the dramatist Aeschylus, whose tragedy, The Persians (performed in 472 BCE), recounts the moment when the Persian court and queen learn of Emperor Xerxes’s defeat by the Greeks in the 480 BCE naval battle near Salamis.

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Essays & Reviews

The Bhagavad Gita and the Cross of Thought or Action

“Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.” So J. Robert Oppenheimer, the scientific director of the Los Alamos Laboratory during World War II, said he had reflected while witnessing the detonation of the first atomic device in July 1845. The source of this inspiration, or despair, was the Hindu scriptural epic, the Bhagavad Gita. 

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Essays & Reviews

Harry V. Jaffa: Can There Be Another Winston Churchill?

Jaffa references several of Churchill’s well-known major works on strategy and history (some of which were also autobiographical in nature): The Second World War, of course, as well as The World Crisis (covering World War I and its aftermath) and the biography of his ancestor, the Duke of Marlborough.  The latter two works are important not only for the topics at hand but because they were written between the two wars and reflect upon the great question, or theme, with which Churchill was then grappling, and which makes sense of his approach to politics and war as a whole. Is the scale of life in the modern world too large for human virtue to control?

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Essays & Reviews

Jakub Grygiel on the Two Princes

As a young man, before assuming the throne, Frederick the Great of Prussia famously wrote a tract, Anti-Machiavel, attacking Machiavelli’s teachings in The Prince. Frederick did so ostensibly under the influence of the nascent Enlightenment (and in the spirit of enlightened absolutism), but his later conduct of foreign policy, particularly his grab of Silesia, struck many as being rather more in the spirit of Machiavelli. Either that, or the Enlightenment misunderstood itself.

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