American Classics

Abraham Lincoln, Reply to the Workingmen of Manchester, England (1863)

The American Civil War is imprinted upon the popular consciousness in important battlefields like Vicksburg and Antietam, in rousing speeches like the Gettysburg Address, in the Emancipation Proclamation, and in the death of Abraham Lincoln.  Knowledge, or at least awareness, of each of these events goes a long way to understanding the conflict that very nearly destroyed the American Union forever.  However, any understanding of the Civil War is incomplete without an awareness of the foreign policy dimension that the war possessed.

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Classic Works

John Maynard Keynes, The Economic Consequences of the Peace (1919)

In 2014, a slew of new books examining the “war to end all wars” appeared on the shelves of libraries and booksellers around the world. The centennial of that bloody conflict seemed an appropriate time to revisit its causes and consequences. While some of these efforts offered genuinely new insights, most did not. Beyond these freshly bound attempts to encapsulate one of the most destructive events of human history, there is a rich, much older set of works that any serious student of strategy and diplomacy should consider. Among these, The Economic Consequences of the Peace holds a special place.

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Classic Works

Hugo Grotius, The Law of War and Peace (1625)

Writing in the early 17th century, when much of Europe was in turmoil, Grotius sought to identify principles of law that might offer a peaceful basis for resolving and preventing wars. His three-volume book, first published in 1625 and dedicated to Grotius' patron at the time, Louis XIII, is regarded as the foundation of modern international law. In The Law of War and Peace, Grotius developed a system of principles of natural law, which are held to be binding on all people and nations regardless of local customs.

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American Classics

Alfred Thayer Mahan, The Interest of America in Sea Power, Present and Future (1897)

prolific writer, Mahan became one of the most famous naval and sea power prophets of the late nineteenth century.  Concerned with the United States’ place in the world, Mahan wrote to influence both policymakers and common Americans.  Although some of his articles and books are less resonant today, they still provide a fascinating glimpse into the state of the world of in the 1890s, shortly before the Spanish-American War, and how it was perceived by many Americans. 

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Classic Works

Montesquieu, The Spirit of the Laws (1748)

In addition to elucidating Montesquieu’s account of the liberalizing and pacifying effects of commerce, this essay will examine Montesquieu’s reflections on the practical foreign policy implications of the right of national self-preservation. Of particular importance in this connection are his accounts of the variation in foreign policy according to regime type, the value of confederation, and the role and limits of conquest. Examining these reflections, along with Montesquieu’s praise of England as the best regime, will help us to determine the character of a Montesquieuian foreign policy.

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Classic Works

Polybius, The Histories (circa 150 BC)

Polybius’ origins as a servant of the Achaean League is interesting in part because he offers a vision of international politics between world domination and total anarchy—a sophisticated alliance system of similar democratic regimes that fended off, on both the strategic and diplomatic level, domination by the more powerful Sparta, Macedon, and Rome. The corollary to the rise of Rome is the decline of the Achaean League, and the Histories of Polybius marks out various possibilities for how we can envision the ordering of international life. Political history reveals that there are far more possibilities to political life than those straitjacketed by modern theory may suppose. In this regard Polybius continues the tradition of classical political science and the classical approach to political history as expressed by Herodotus, Thucydides, and Xenophon.

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Classic Works

Alberico Gentili, De Jure Belli Libri Tres (1588-1599)

Alberico Gentili (1552-1608) was an Italian jurist, practicing lawyer and professor of law at Oxford University, who is consistently mentioned as a key figure at the very origins of modern international law. Just a few years before Hugo Grotius, Gentili took substantial steps in the development of a secular jurisprudence. Yet, his standing as a “pioneer” of the modern concepts of international law has been overshadowed by the preeminence of Grotius, the Dutch jurist generally regarded as the father of international law.

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American Classics

Instructions to Commodore Matthew Perry on the Opening to Japan (1851-1852)

“It is the President's opinion that steps should be taken at once to enable our enterprising merchants to supply the last link in that great chain which unites all nations of the world, by the early establishment of a line of steamers from California to China.”  So begins a letter of instructions from Secretary of State Daniel Webster to Commodore John Aulick in June of 1851 on the subject of “opening” Japan to the outside world.

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Classic Works

Francisco de Vitoria, Relectiones (1538-1539)

War is essential in Vitoria’s work because Vitoria’s concept of sovereignty is elaborated mainly in terms of the sovereign’s right to wage war. As Vitoria constructs a law of nations, administered by the sovereign, he reintroduces Christian norms as universal rules endorsed by jus gentium. Evangelizing is authorized not by divine law but by the law of nations, and may be likened now to travelling and trading. Vitoria argues that “…ambassadors are inviolable in the law of nations (jus gentium). The Spanish are the ambassadors of Christendom, and hence the barbarians are obliged at least a fair hearing and not expel them.” Thus, acceptance of the Christian faith could not be forced and should not serve as an excuse for conquest.

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Classic Works

Thomas Hobbes, On the Citizen (1642)

Hobbes’s contribution to international relations theory is, for all its significance, rather indirect. Hobbes sets out to give an account of the origin and preservation of internal political order. His practical intention is to foster peace, primarily within and only secondarily among nations. Yet Hobbes invites us to draw lessons about international relations from his political theory when he identifies the state that countries find themselves in as the state of nature. The way to Hobbes’s theory of international relations is therefore largely inferential in character.

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