Classic Works

Tacitus, Agricola (circa 98 AD)

The Agricola (On the Life and Character of Julius Agricola) is a riveting read. A classic work crafted by the Roman politician and historian Cornelius Tacitus at the very end of the first century AD, modern students of strategy and diplomacy continue to find the account of Roman general and politician Agricola’s exploits in Britain timely and relevant. Part eulogy, part history, part anthropological study, and part military analysis, among other things, the short work explores diverse topics while ostensibly being Tacitus’s way of honoring his father-in-law. Three topics stand out – Agricola as a study of leadership, politics, and counterinsurgency strategy.

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Essays & Reviews

Paul Rahe on Spartan Grand Strategy

The grand strategy the Spartans embraced had serious consequences for Lacedaemon’s posture in the international sphere as well. Their perch was precarious.  The Lacedaemonians understood from early on what history would eventually confirm: that it took but a single major defeat in warfare on land to endanger the city’s very survival. Even when their population was at its height, as it was in the late archaic period, there were never more than ten thousand Spartiates, if that; and the territory they ruled was comparatively vast. The underlings they exploited were numerous and apt to be rebellious. In Messenia, if not also in Laconia, the helots saw themselves as a people in bondage, and geography did not favor the haughty men who kept them in that condition.

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Essays & Reviews

Henry Kissinger, A World Restored: Metternich, Castlereagh and the Problems of Peace, 1812-1822 (1957)

A World Restored: Metternich, Castlereagh and the Problem of Peace, 1812-1822, Kissinger's first book, was written in the early 1950s while Kissinger was a young doctoral student at Harvard. The book was initially not as famous or as influential as his later books. Its focus on diplomatic negotiations following the fall of Napoleon was seen by his peers as esoteric and out of tune with the times. In a world featuring nuclear weapons, why dissect the diplomatic wrangling of the 19th century? This view may have characterized the dissertation turned book at the time of its writing, but today Restored is widely regarded as essential reading for the student of strategy and diplomacy.

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Classic Works

Christine de Pizan, The Book of Deeds of Arms and of Chivalry (circa 1410)

Pizan wrote The Book of Deeds around 1410 during the Hundred Years’ War, a time of conflict between France and England, as well as among various factions for control of France itself. In most of her writings related to politics, her purpose was “to advise the French royal family against the disastrous political infighting that brought the monarchy to the brink of civil war.” The work was written in “the plainest language possible” (Middle French) instead of Latin because she wanted to have an impact on the French military, nor just the court.  As a military manual it tells us a great deal about the strategy, tactics, and technology of medieval warfare and is one of our most important sources for early gunpowder weapon technology.

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Essays & Reviews

Bhagavad Gita (3rd Century BC- 3rd Century AD)

Great works of literature, including religious literature, often have a major influence on the strategic culture and outlook of civilizations and nations. The Bible and Homer are certainly prime exhibits.  Yet such literature does not always generate a single strand of thought about war and peace, but often competing strands, or ideas that metamorphose under different circumstances. In a New York Review of Books essay, Wendy Doniger asks: How did Indian tradition transform the Bhagavad Gita (the “Song of God”) into a bible for pacifism, when it began life, sometime between the third century BC and the third century CE, as an epic argument persuading a warrior to engage in a battle, indeed, a particularly brutal, lawless, internecine war?

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Classic Works

B. H. Liddell Hart, Strategy (1954)

The origins of Liddell Hart’s indirect approach are twofold. From a theoretical perspective, he is writing in response to military and political leaders who he claims misread and misapplied the theory of 19th century Prussian military thinker Carl von Clausewitz. From an empirical perspective, he is digesting the experiences of the World Wars, especially the stalemated trench warfare of the Great War and the mechanized and aerial battles of the fight against Hitler. Liddell Hart argues vigorously that the application of poorly understood Clausewitizian strategy fueled the bloodbath that was World War I and the slow adaptation of alternatives during World War II, all of which called into question the validity of the old theory and demanded reformulating how military force might be applied to achieve political aims.

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Classic Works

Immanuel Kant, Perpetual Peace: A Philosophic Sketch (1795)

The classic source of modern idealism in international relations theory is Immanuel Kant’s 1795 essay “Perpetual Peace: A Philosophic Sketch.” There, the German philosopher (1724-1804) takes up the question of whether perpetual peace is the preserve of men in their graves. Answering in the negative, Kant delineates the conditions necessary for the establishment of perpetual peace among nations, argues that statesmen are morally obligated to seek those conditions, and assures us that those conditions will eventually obtain. He envisions the world slowly progressing toward a federation of independent republics at peace with one another.

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American Classics

Jimmy Carter, Commencement Address at Notre Dame University (May 1977)

In May 1977, the still comparably new-to-the-Presidency Jimmy Carter made his way to Notre Dame to give that spring’s commencement address.  He used the opportunity presented to him to chart before the new graduates and the American people as a whole his plan for the foreign policy of the United States during his presidency and well beyond.  The speech is best remembered for Carter’s assertion that his administration would be free of the “inordinate fear of communism” that had too long distorted American foreign policy.

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Classic Works

Sun Tzu, The Art of War (c. 500-300 B.C.)

This classic of Eastern thought draws from Taoist philosophy and addresses the conduct of war and competition between states with poeticism unlike any classic of Western military theory. Thought to be the transcriptions of a general’s advice to his king, The Art of War emphasizes the use of the unorthodox and deception to overcome adversaries without jeopardizing the dynasty’s existence during a period of increase lethality of warfare.

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Classic Works

Geoffroi de Charny, The Book of Chivalry (circa 1350)

Unlike previous manuals of arms and warfare, such as Vegetius or Christine de Pizan, or those that would follow soon after like Machiavelli’s Art of Warfare, Charny does not spend much time discussing the theory of operations or strategy. For Charny, understanding war comes with understanding the knight’s way of life. Charny explains the chivalric ethos, the virtues and the education of the knight and how one can acquire the military prudence needed to be successful in warfare, rather than battlefield methods.

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