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Aristotle and Foreign Policy: An Examination of the Common Good and its Effects in International Affairs

The purpose of this essay is not to give Aristotelian warrant for some crude version of Realpolitik. Its purpose is to show the deep significance of the political common good, and that acting morally requires a robust notion of the common good. The implication, I believe, is that we cannot approach international politics from the neutral standpoint of an outside observer, but from the standpoint of citizens and statesmen within real and existing political communities which have their needs, desires, and fears. Abstraction from this standpoint, according to Aristotle, is a kind of abstraction from political and ethical thinking. Likewise, it is difficult to see how one can actually approach the problems of the international system as a citizen of the world, say, rather than as a citizen of a real place. Acting justly and prudently has to do with how we act toward our fellow citizens first and foremost, rather than the great undifferentiated mass of humanity.   Aristotle, then, gives a different account than Morgenthau regarding the place of the national interest. For while Morgenthau himself makes a deeply impassioned argument on behalf of the national interest with an eye toward alleviating the misery of totalizing war, Aristotle would remind us the fundamental purpose of the political community: the achievement of the common good. He reminds us that that pursuing the political common good is not the lesser of two evils, but rather a choiceworthy end, perhaps the most choiceworthy end.

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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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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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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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