Classic Works

Giulio Douhet, The Command of The Air (1921/1927)

Giulio Douhet, an Italian army officer who never learnt to fly, first published one of military theory’s most recognized and controversial works on airpower, The Command of The Air, in 1921. Just three years after the end of the First World War and the first widespread use of airplanes in warfare, this new technology had yet to be fully integrated into military strategy. Douhet advocated a new strategic application for what he identified as the airplane’s superior capabilities in order to avoid the destructive stalemate of the First World War in future wars. Promising a quick and decisive end to war, The Command of The Air synthesized concepts, namely strategic bombing, an independent air force, the dominance of an offensive strategy, and breaking the will of the civilian population, among others, which contributed to the development of the modern air force.

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Classic Works

Jeremy Bentham, Principles of International Law (1786-1789/1843)

The older phrase law of nations, according to Bentham, refers to a certain discursive space only through the force of custom, or convention. However, he believed that a more appropriate designation should go beyond mere convention. According to Bentham, the phrase law of nations is a sign relying on the mediation of convention. Without the convention, "the force of custom," the phrase law of nations might be understood as one designating the domestic, municipal law of diverse nations. On the other hand, Bentham explains, that international is a term that stands in no need of the mediation of custom and convention.  To put it more simply, Bentham proposed to replace the concept of the law of nations with that of the law between nations.

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Classic Works

Tacitus, The Annales (early Second Century AD)

Like many of the great historians and thinkers of antiquity, Tacitus was renowned as a rhetorician and capable in the use of language, a skill that no doubt aided him as a writer of political history during the reign of the tyrannical Domitian. Indeed, his cognomen, meaning “the silent” is both ironical and true. For while Tacitus was known for speaking, in the Annales we see a deft use of omission and quietness in discussing the banal brutality of a Tiberius or a Nero, as well as double-meaning and discreet satire. Tacitus’ project is the problem of tyranny, and the possibility of virtue under tyranny.

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Classic Works

Julius Caesar, Commentarii de bello Gallico (mid-1st Century BC)

There is some disagreement as to the character of De bello Gallico. Consisting of seven books by Caesar himself, it is completed in an eighth book by one of his generals, Aulus Hirtius. It has been suggested that they are something like battle-reports given to the Senate. Others have claimed that the books are nothing other than Caesar’s attempt to increase his popularity with the people.

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Classic Works

Emmerich de Vattel, The Law of Nations (1758)

The Law of Nations had a particular impact on the American revolutionaries of the late 18th Century and early 19th Century. Vattel’s ideas were utilized to argue against the tax burden which the British Crown levied on the American colonies. Early American lawyers and jurists were exuberant Vattelophiles. In 1775, Benjamin Franklin received three copies of a new edition on behalf of the Continental Congress and, in thanking his friend Charles Dumas for sending them from the Netherlands, he remarked that they “came to us in good season, when the circumstances of a rising State make it necessary to frequently consult the law of nations” and that “[the book] has been continually in the hands of the members of our Congress now sitting."

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Classic Works

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, “Abstract” and “Judgment” of Saint-Pierre’s Project for Perpetual Peace in Europe (1761, 1782)

A word should be said about Rousseau’s place among the various schools of international relations theory. Because he wrote so little about international relations directly and because his one published work on the subject is so ambiguous, his views defy simple categorization. His approval of the goal of perpetual peace and dissatisfaction with the continuation of the state of nature among nations would suggest that he belongs among the modern idealists. Yet he evinces none of the modern idealists’ confidence that this goal would be achieved or dissatisfaction remedied. Here, as in other areas of his thought, Rousseau offers much more of a diagnosis of the modern condition than a cure for it.

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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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