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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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Xenophon, The Education of Cyrus (ca. 370 BCE)

The Education of Cyrus is no simple paean to Cyrus, nor a handbook showing how to rule the world. Xenophon meditates on the conditions of uniting independent nations under unified political leadership, and the costs of so doing. The possession of empire can be as detrimental to the rulers as it is to the ruled. The Persians were once much like the Spartans, but they were changed by the rule of Cyrus. Xenophon thus shows that little is “natural” in the superior qualities of Greek soldiers when compared against the Persians. Keeping independent and separate political communities, with the attendant possibility of war and instability, seems very much wrapped up with the virtues necessary for successful warfare. The choice between empire and independence is one of the most fundamental political choices, and Xenophon deftly shows the Greeks and the later world the costs, limits, and possibilities of becoming an imperial power.

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A Contemporary Hat Tip to Makers of Modern Strategy

In "Revising U.S. Grand Strategy Toward China," Robert Blackwill and Ashley J. Tellis argue that because the American effort to “integrate” China into the liberal international order has now generated new threats to U.S. primacy in Asia—and could result in a consequential challenge to American power globally—Washington needs a new grand strategy toward China that centers on balancing the rise of Chinese power rather than continuing to assist its ascendancy.

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