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51 of 57 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating but also somewhat sketchily framed book
Kaplan has written an interesting long essay, for that is what this book is. It reflects Kaplan's attempt to move away from the political travel genre, and into the seminar room. (Whether it is the philosophical or the International Relations or the history seminar room is not clear, and indeed it does not really matter, for the strength of Kaplan's work is that it blurs...
Published on January 4, 2002 by K. Kehler

42 of 44 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars political ethics and moraility
Anyone wishing to see what is to be must consider what has been; all the things of this world in every era have their counterparts in ancient times
- Machiavelli
In Warrior Politics, Kaplan explores the wisdom of the ages for answers for today's leaders. While the modern world may seem more complex and dangerous than ever before, Kaplan writes from a deeper...
Published on March 13, 2003 by M. A. ZAIDI

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42 of 44 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars political ethics and moraility, March 13, 2003
This review is from: Warrior Politics: Why Leadership Demands a Pagan Ethos (Paperback)
Anyone wishing to see what is to be must consider what has been; all the things of this world in every era have their counterparts in ancient times
- Machiavelli
In Warrior Politics, Kaplan explores the wisdom of the ages for answers for today's leaders. While the modern world may seem more complex and dangerous than ever before, Kaplan writes from a deeper historical perspective to reveal how little things actually change. Indeed, as Kaplan shows us, we can look to history's most influential thinkers, who would have understood and known how to navigate today's dangerous political waters.

Drawing on the work of Sun Tzu, Thucydides, Machiavelli, Hobbes, among others, Kaplan argues that in a world of unstable states and an uncertain future, it is increasingly imperative to wrest from the past what we need to arm ourselves for the road ahead
Kaplan says about Western foreign policy pretty much what one wag once said of Queen Victoria: we have pursued goodness to the point of self-indulgence. The result has too often been bloody chaos. Take East Timor, for example. Before the UN insisted on conducting an independence referendum in the region, two things were clear. First, the people would vote for independence from Indonesia. Second, Indonesian partisans would exact revenge violently, unless a foreign security force was placed on the ground to keep the peace. The UN, or rather its members, would not provide such a force, but the do-gooders of the world nonetheless insisted on the international norm of self-determination. The result was disaster.
Particularly since the end of the Cold War, the West in general and the U.S. in particular have been guilty of many such exercises of catastrophic good intentions. We punished military governments in places like Pakistan and Nigeria because they were not democracies, though we knew those countries could unravel if civilians took over. We imposed economic sanctions on nations with imperfect human rights records, even though we needed their help in combating forces that were lethally disposed toward us. Often enough, such policies have been driven by nothing more than the irresponsible harping of the press. We could not have continued to conduct foreign policy like that forever. Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, we haven't been. Warrior Politics does not directly discuss those attacks, but it does
The "warrior ethos" that Kaplan endorses takes something from each of them: Churchill's animal spirits, Thucydides' caution against arrogance, Machiavelli's injunction to "anxious foresight," Hobbes' assessment of man as a dangerous predator, and the willingness of Malthus to consider that history need not tend toward the increase of human happiness. Inspired in part by an unpublished essay by Michael Lind on the "honor paradigm" in international relations, Kaplan says that the wise statesman of the twenty-first century should be guided by something rather like the code duello.
In civil society the state protects us, but in lawless regions we must look to self-help, or to strong protectors. The safety of the weak, in fact, depends on the willingness of the strong to use violence on their behalf. In such an environment, the strong dare not suffer insult, lest their credibility diminish and so invite further attacks against them and their clients. There are limits to violence, however. The strong act from self-interest, but only to the point dictated by necessity. To use more force or cruelty than the occasion demands provokes one's enemies to unite in self-defense.
Kaplan imagines a world in which conventional military conflict is rare but continues through "asymmetrical" means. Terror and assassination will become, he thinks, the preferred methods of attack, not by the weak, but by the ambitious. The leaders of the West, and particularly the United States, must be prepared to function in a world in which democratic mass armies no longer ensure security. Future wars "will feature warriors on one side, motivated by grievance and rapine, and an aristocracy of statesmen, motivated, perhaps, by ancient virtue."
The role of the United States in all this is unique. While not quite a world Leviathan, it is clearly a planetary hegemon. It does not have the luxury that Great Britain had after the Second World War of handing its place in the world over to a compatible power. If anyone is going to embed human rights and the rule of law in the world system, it has to be us. As Kaplan puts it, "Global institutions are an outgrowth of Western power, not a replacement for it." At least on a military level, that power lies almost exclusively with the United States.
Kaplan suggests that the world is moving to a greater level of institutional unity. He dwells on an analogy between modernity and the Warring States Period in China. That era resulted, after three appalling centuries, in the Han Dynasty at the end of the third century b.c. Kaplan characterizes the dynasty as a loose system of "governance" for the newly unified but highly diverse Chinese world. Inevitably, he also makes the analogy between the United States and Rome; the point of departure is the frequently made comparison between the Second Punic War and World War II.
Warrior Politics does not propose a formal system of ethics, not even an ethics of statecraft. Still, while describing an ethos is not quite the same as elaborating an ethics, we may note that the ethical systems that come down to us from the ancient pagans have little to do with the "ancient pagan ethos" of international relations that Kaplan submits for our approval. The eminently pagan Epicureanism and Stoicism were very much philosophies of self-cultivation, not blueprints for empire-building.
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63 of 71 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Employ Skeptical Pragmatism to Power Social Values, December 27, 2001
Donald Mitchell "Jesus Loves You!" (Thanks for Providing My Reviews over 124,000 Helpful Votes Globally) - See all my reviews
Usually books are valuable because they explain an important point of view that everyone will agree with, as soon as the point is understood. The views expressed in Warrior Politics, however, will probably turn out to be different from your own views about what U.S. foreign policy should be. Warrior Politics is valuable to you in that it will provide a context for good discussions and thinking about what the role of power politics and U.S. idealism should be in pursuing our foreign policy.
Warrior Politics draws on the point of view that "ancient history . . . is the surest guide . . . in the early decades of the twenty-first century." Mr. Kaplan argues for following the "ancient tradition of skepticism and contentious realism."
Some of the lessons Mr. Kaplan cites are that even "moral" states vary in morality. The Athenians treated the Melians horribly, simply because they could.
Many of Mr. Kaplan's points will outrage at least some readers. For example, he goes to some lengths to argue that Tiberius (usually thought of as a cruel tyrant who did little good) strengthened the Roman state in such a way that it survived longer than it otherwise would have against the "barbarians." He also speaks positively about being very tough on disorder in poor countries which have little effective government. Mr. Kaplan also argues that Judeo-Christian beliefs in proper behavior are "personal virtues" that should not have a primary role in creating foreign policy. If the U.S. has power it can project and those beliefs can be effectively acted on, Mr. Kaplan then feels that the U.S. should move when it is in its self interest.
One of the most interesting questions in the book is what differentiated Neville Chamberlain from Winston Churchill in addressing Hitler. Mr. Kaplan argues that it was Churchill's "historical imagination" that made all of the difference. By this, Mr. Kaplan means that seeing a current situation in terms of historical analogies allows a leader to know when to dig in and when to fold. Which course worked best in similar situations? Think of this as the "best practice" approach to foreign policy. In making this point, Mr. Kaplan likens Osama bin Laden to the Mahdi whom the British moved against in the Sudan after "Chinese" Gordon and his men were wiped out.
On the other hand, Mr. Kaplan is more idealistic than this sounds, which will offend extreme pragmatists. He sees the U.S. military as a model for the sort of multi-ethnic forces that can operate under a "loose world governance" to root out the worst threats to safety and progress, such as weapons of mass destruction in the hands of high-tech terrorists.
Personally, I think that modern successes are more important than Mr. Kaplan gives credit for. Our experiences in conducting the Gulf War to liberate Kuwait, in keeping Iraq peaceful since then, and in pursuing al-Queda with broad cooperation from other nations provide important lessons and possible directions for the future. I agree that the handling of Yugoslavia's disintegration can be compared to many older examples of poorly designed policies that did not work.
Ultimately, it seems to me that U.S. foreign policy works best when it combines plenty of pragmatism, persistence, and idealism which others would agree with combined with strong leadership. "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall."
Does the world lack a consensus that health, happiness, peace, and prosperity are desirable for all? I don't think so. Reasonable people can and will disagree about how to get there. We don't know many of the answers. We often don't even know the right questions yet. But without the United States playing a role in building practical actions to make progress in that direction, much less will be accomplished.
Although Mr. Kaplan is willing to admit that ideas are important (and cites Jesus and the development of Christianity), he fails to explore the examples of what leadership did in South Africa and India to make more peaceful changes in political power occur. Some researchers report that radio broadcasts into Eastern Europe played a large role in developing public opinion in favor of political change towards democracy. In this book, such important examples are largely ignored in favor of the traditional definitions of power politics. Surely, we can increasingly grow the power of ideas by demonstrating what the ideas can do.
How can you address the challenges of today's world? How can our country play a more effective, constructive role?
A better future begins with our questions, ideas and acts of today.
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51 of 57 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating but also somewhat sketchily framed book, January 4, 2002
Kaplan has written an interesting long essay, for that is what this book is. It reflects Kaplan's attempt to move away from the political travel genre, and into the seminar room. (Whether it is the philosophical or the International Relations or the history seminar room is not clear, and indeed it does not really matter, for the strength of Kaplan's work is that it blurs the borders between these disciplines, something perhaps only an outsider can afford to do.)
This work extends some of his thoughts first outlined in Atlantic Monthly and in "The Coming Anarchy", the work (essay and later book) he is perhaps best known for, after "Balkan Ghosts". The difference is that Kaplan is now providing himself with intellectual forebears or allies (Livy, Machiavelli, Thucydides, Sun Tzu, to name the most prominent, though Kaplan is still somewhat journalistic in comparison to these luminaries). This helps to place his own ruminations in a kind of trajectory that might best be called thoughtful pessimism. Kaplan is often described, even by himself, as a kind of realist, but I don't think this ill-defined term is useful here. (Almost everyone sensible wants to be realistic, or to be a realist about certain matters. The same, of course, goes for pragmatism.) There are many realisms and besides it isn't clear that Kaplan is concerned about defining this notion, which would take him far away from his chosen task in this book. That task here is: to make pointed and incisive remarks about the need to avoid being arrogant or historically unaware, or naive about 'the way the world is', and about the need to accept that our leaders and rulers must sometimes make decisions that are at odds with the pieties that dominate the everyday world of any civilized liberal democracy if only to ensure that the polity can survive.
What Kaplan also wants to do -- and here he echoes Thucydides and Machiavelli -- is give advice to rulers and fellow citizens: be aware that, as Thucydides, Machiavelli and Hobbes repeatedly state, human nature is not so very different from age to age, and do not be so affected by hubris as to think that great thinkers haven't trod a similar path, having to make similarly fraught decisions. This advice is generally sound, in part because it is so general. In this sense Kaplan's book is really just a spur to further thought and it is by no means a great treatise (as for example Thucydides' work is) to be read and re-read. It is moreover possible to quibble about a couple of things. One is the writing. While Kaplan's is a muscular and readable style, thankfully free of jargon, it cannot be said that he matches some of the excellent 'thoughtful pessimists' that might be said to share his politics: for example, the tremendous stylists Paul Johnson or Roger Scruton, or even the lucid John Gray. Nor is Kaplan as learned as, say, Paul Rahe, whom Kaplan cites. Perhaps this isn't a fair criticism; on the other hand, I enjoyed the book and really wanted Kaplan to provide more detail, and better arguments, and more learning.
A more substantial problem, as I see it, is his favourable impression of Tiberius with which he closes the book, surely something to raise some eyebrows. (And why Tiberius and not Trajan?) Tiberius was in fact maligned by the great Tacitus, who profoundly influenced Machiavelli and the whole 'civic humanist'/republican tradition. Is it not odd to align oneself with Machiavelli and then hold up an imperial autocrat as a paragon of rule? If part of what it means to be a 'conservative pessimist' a'la Thucydides or Gibbon is that one eschew instant or utopian schemes for betterment, and instead favour thoughtful incremental improvements over time keeping an eye (or a lid) on human nature, then one must also guard against a corrosive cynicism that denies all betterment altogether. Cynicism is but the extreme form realism can take. One should remember that Thucydides does not always cynically shrug his shoulders as he remarks on the necessities of power and politics; rather, he also rages with fury at the appalling waste of life and energy and time by a great Athens that ought to know better. The key here is the moral conditional 'ought'.
I am reminded of those who urge a Singapore-style ('Tiberian') government on the Third World. Not a bad idea, if the alternative is Arafat or Mugabe, but should we who have both liberty and wealth not attempt to make the case for everyone to have both liberty and wealth? Only a hardbitten cynic -- or cultural relativist -- would say that only Westerners deserve the best. Indeed it is both 'moral' and in our own interest to export liberty and democracy and the market economy. Kaplan's very interesting but also limited book raises such questions, but only between the lines.
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36 of 43 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant, thoughtful, useful, January 5, 2002
By A Customer
As a writer on international affairs and violent conflict, Robert Kaplan has one serious problem: He actually knows what he's talking about. For Americans who have not traveled widely in the wretched portions of the earth, or who have not served in the military, but who have absorbed the library-researched nonsense published by our academics, Kaplan can seem brutal and even off-putting. But, as one who has seen many of the same countries and conflicts that Kaplan has seen, I can attest that he is absolutely on the mark. In this, his most introspective book, in which his broad experience of the world permits Kaplan to read the classics of strategy and statecraft with an unusual depth, he offers a marvelous synthesis of the ancient world and the 21st century, driving home how many problems between states and peoples endure, no matter how many theorists wish them away. The prose is clean and handsome, the logic impeccable, and the relevance uncanny. This would have been a worthwhile read at any time, but after 9-11-01, it's value has soared even higher. Kaplan has seen, experienced, read and thought, and that puts him miles ahead of the campus crowd, who may have read and thought, but who have no idea of the stunning effects of violence on societies, of the smiles on the killers' faces, or of the smell of blood that has accompanied humankind throughout our history. This book is brave and out of step, and worth any hundred self-important volumes from university presses. It is also the most acute commentary on military thought available today. Engaging and admirable, I recommend it to all serious-minded Americans.
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31 of 38 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Lighter than Air, January 18, 2004
JR Dunn (New Brunswick,, NJ USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Warrior Politics: Why Leadership Demands a Pagan Ethos (Paperback)
Says here that Kaplan's work is widely admired in the military, which kind of worries me, since Warrior Politics is very much a reporter's work, meaning facile, lightweight, and superficial. (This is quite apart from the fact that this is one of those annoying books that fails to live up to its title. Nowhere does Kaplan connect the dots and prove that leaders must adapt a pagan ethos. At most he demonstrates that they ought to be familiar with Machiavelli, which is something different.)
Kaplan is first to admit (pp. xx - xxi) that his reading has been scattershot. This is a major weakness. All too often, Kaplan comes across as a slightly more erudite version of the college kid who has discovered The Book (Rand, Chomsky, etc.) and wants to tell you all about it. Kaplan has discovered Thucydides, Livy, Machiavelli, and Hobbes. He did not go on to discover Locke, Burke, or Tocqueville, to name a few, and so has missed much of the flavor of the modern political debate. Reading Locke, for instance, would have prevented him from making the common error that political consensus requires endless debate on every last issue (imagine the condition we'd be in if this had occurred after 9/11).
So this book must stand as a beginner's primer at best. I'm sure that Kaplan's eyewitness reportage is far superior, and I'd happily read it if it happened to drift my way. But as for this--you're better off reading Ralph Peters, Victor Davis Hanson, Bernard Lewis, or for that matter, going back to the originals.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Reflecting on the lessons of antiquity, October 9, 2005
C. B Collins Jr. (Atlanta, GA United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Warrior Politics: Why Leadership Demands a Pagan Ethos (Paperback)
I gave this book 4 stars because whereas I found Kaplan's insights into current international conflicts to be fresh and brilliant, I also found some of his summaries of the careers and writings of Kant, Machiavelli, F.D.Roosevelt, Churchill, Tiberious, Livy, and others to be over-simplified and sometimes poorly linked to the point he is trying to make. Therefore, instead of criticizing, I would rather focus this review on the strengths, of which there are many, of this book.

Throughout the book, Kaplan stresses that foreign policy should be based on a realistic appraisal of human nature. He points out that before the first president was sworn in, the rules of impeachment were established. He points to the work of James Madison who felt that men are so far beyond redemption that the only solution is to set ambition against ambition, and interest against interest.

Kaplan points out that the evils of the twentieth century arose from populist movements that were exploited and amplified by technologies. His example are the Nazis and Bolsheviks who, once in power, used industrial technologies to maintain power and commit crimes. He warns that today populist movements permeate the world. These movements can disrupt social order as well as change political and economic structures. Currently these populist movements are fueled with religious zealotry and computer age technology. These movements are inflamed by the injustices that capitalism naturally produces.

Kaplan challenges Western policymakes who assert that ethnic and religious unrest is caused by political oppression by pointing out that it is political freedom that often unleashes violence. Peacemaking requires centralization of power. The historic truth is that democratizations is a long process before infrsstructures stabilize. To those who assert that democratic processes in Arabian Middle-East will faciliate peace with Israel, Kaplan would say 'think again' since liberalization may unleash fanantic anti-Israeli forces. Insistence on democratic elections in areas of the world without the dialogue of the Enlightenment is asking for trouble. He reminds us that national boundaries, for example Iraq, were drawn by European colonialists and these boundaries have yet to disintegrate under the forces of ethinic, religious, and geographic forces. As the developing world becomes more urban, he warns us that battlefields of the future will be urban. Terrorists and cybercriminals will use a vast range of atrocities as their methods of combat. Kaplan points out that Saddam Hussein was willing to fight us with conventional weapons against our conventional weapons. Those that replace him will not be so foolish. When cultures fail to compete technologically, Syria and Saudi Arabia come to mind, their naturally agressive young males become tribal in thier violence. More iceberts ahead!

Kaplan points out that mature statesmen, such as General George Marshall, sought not solutions but a dynamic process of resolution and moving on to the next conflict. Kaplan points out that the humanitarian eforts to rebuild Europe were really about containment of the Soviets. An example of realistic policy that can backfire is the approach to Hitler. He at first was seen as a pesty dictator and the re-armament of Germany was seen as a control on the Soviets, who under Stalin were proven to be murderers. It was not until Hitler's insane ambitions were fully realized that the shifts occurred and the anti-Communist Churchill formed an alliance with Stalin to destroy an incredible poison that had grown in Germany.

Kaplan agrees with Isaiah Berlin's summary of Churchill: "Churchill's central organizing principle of his moral and intellectual universe is a histroic imagination so comprehensive as to encase the whole of the present and the whole of the future." Berlin saw Churchill's "strongest sense in the sense of the past...acquainted with the darkness." Kaplan says that like all wise men, he thought tragically. Kaplan gives us a defense of Chamberlain since he built up Britain's defenses while testing Hitler's real intentions, which gained time and united public opinion behind the government for an eventual fight. Kaplan sees our situation as similar to the late British Victorians who had to deal with 'nasty little wars in anarchic corners of the world.'

After a review of Churchill's writings about his experiences in the Sudan, Kaplan turns to the works of Livy regarding Hannibal. Rome's victory in the Second Punic War, like America's in World War II, made it a universal power. Hannibal had the advantage of attacking an enemy morally exhauseted from this war. By the time the Roman Senate realized it had to act, war was the only choice. Kaplan and Livy point out that it was primitive democracy that made Rome a nation which Carthage was not. Thus Rome's political debates gave it stability which Kaplan says anticipates Machiavelli's assertion that successful states require a modest degree of turmoil for healthy political dynamics. Kaplan also relates Hannibal's defeat to Vietnam with "unwise leaders try to conquer too much, too far away."

Kaplan turns to Sun-Tzu's concept that the 'highest excellence' is never having to fight, for battle signifies a political failure. Kaplan summarizes Sun-Tzu thus; "The best way to avoid war - the violent result of political failure - is to think strategically. Thus the strategic pursuit of self-interest is not a cold and amoral pseudo-science but the moral act of those who know the horrors of battle and seek to avoid them."

Kaplan next turns to Thucydides' Peloponnesian War which he thinks may be the seminal work of international relations theory of all time, influencing Hobbes, Clausewitz, Kennan, and Kissinger. Thucydides' notion is that self-interst gives birth to effort and effort to options which was a corrective to the extreme fatilism of both Marxism and medieval Christianity. Athens and Spart came to war becuase of uncontrollable allies: a reason that Russia, Germany, France, and Britain went to war in 1914. Thucydides saw human behavior as guided by fear, self-interest,and honor, all of which can lead to war and instability. A political crises occurs when instincts and anarchy triumph over laws and politics. The solution is to manage fear, self-intersts, and honor. It is with Thucydides that the concept of the balance of power enters political thought.

Kaplan does a good job of connecting Thucydides's view of Athens with a view of the United States. Athens had no tragic sense of the future, thinking their greatness was destined forever, and thus thinking they could act without consequence. They were fearless and arrogant. Thus they lacked practical and prudent policy. Just as in Vietnam, Athenians ingnored signs of danger as they became more and more involved. Power and affluence blinded the Athenians. Kaplan says the lesson is that the more socially and economically advanced the times, the more necessary it is for leaders to maintain a sense of their societie's fallibility and vulnerability.

Kaplan summarizes this discussion by asserting that groups will be in competition and thus states must maintain maneuverability. States act good or bad as they maneuver for advantage. "Historically grounded liberalism recognizes that liberty did not arise from abstract reflection ... but from difficult political choices made by rulers acting on self interest."
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22 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Insightful Examination on the Relevance of History, March 31, 2003
Sung Lee (APO, AE United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Warrior Politics: Why Leadership Demands a Pagan Ethos (Paperback)
Warrior Politics: Why Leadership Demands a Pagan Ethos
Robert Kaplan
Vintage Books, 2002.
198 pages.
The end of the Cold War spurred a furious debate in intellectual circles as to the nature of the emerging world order. A decade later, it became abundantly clear that the world had become a more difficult and in some ways more dangerous place. Whether it was due to the "clash of civilizations" or the continuation for the Hegelian struggle for recognition, Samuel P. Huntington was accurate in his assessment that "the moment of euphoria at the end of the Cold War generated an illusion of harmony, which was soon revealed to be exactly that." In 2000, Robert Kaplan published a series of essays collectively titled, The Coming Anarchy. As a first hand witness to unspeakable horrors in the poorest regions of the world, Kaplan warned that "the withering away of central governments, the rise of tribal and regional domains, the unchecked spread of disease, and the growing pervasiveness of war" were merely beyond the horizon, implying that Americans that have long been accustomed to ignoring the plight of the third world can no longer afford to do so. In his latest work, Warrior Politics, Kaplan offers a refreshing perspective to confronting the challenges endemic to a country caught in a "unipolar moment" . In his exploration of the works of venerated philosophers and historians such as Livy, Sun-Tzu, and Hobbes, Kaplan discovers the timelessness of the human condition and the utter hubris of the "post-modern" world. Kaplan rejects idealistic whimsy as a methodology for foreign policy and advocates instead a "pagan ethos" that embraces the "ancient tradition of skepticism and constructive realism." In Warrior Politics, Kaplan endorses not the militancy that sparked the conflagrations of the twentieth century but the stoicism of the ancient Romans and Chinese that sustained their empires through the centuries due, in large part, to policies that reflected their deep respect for the wisdom gleaned from their study of history. Kaplan's essay is a colorful amalgamation of history and philosophy, as well as an admonition to modernists who forget the richness and relevance of antiquity in contemporary times and purists who tend to ignore the vexing complexity of virtue.
Kaplan dispels the popular illusion that pagan virtues are antithetical to American ideals. The success of American democracy and capitalism is due to inherent checks against human excesses in government, and appeals to human self-interest in commerce. The Founding Fathers were sober realists who possessed a rather grim perspective on the human condition. The dour restraints on the new republic reflected not only their own political experiences but also their devotion to the works of Hobbes. Pagan philosophers such as Thucydides and modern day realists such as Kaplan recognized the "bleak forces of human nature that lie just beneath the veneer of civilization" and praise not the morality of intent but the morality of consequence. The pursuit of self-interest is not so much the advocacy of national aggrandizement but the realization of our own limits accompanied by an analysis of the consequences of failure. Despite their negative connotations, pagan virtues are not amoral; they are simply not Judeo-Christian ones. A pagan ethos places a premium on self-preservation as opposed to sacrifice, public virtue over private virtue, pride in achievements over humility. It is a continuous exercise in realism that accepts the universality of human nature yet acknowledges the various wavelengths of morality that serve to contain it. Of the inherent conflict between pagan and Judeo-Christian virtues, Kaplan writes, "The most sincere and heartbreaking truth of the ancients is the vast gulf that separates political-military virtue from individual moral perfection." Kaplan's thesis is not necessarily a rejection of the Judeo-Christian ethic. He argues that while Christian values may provide the basis for personal morality, pagan values better serve the interests of the nation in the international arena.
Kaplan espouses a pagan ethos that survived through the ages because of their very utility. In his eclectic survey of history, Kaplan parallels the pivotal events of the twentieth century to those in antiquity, lending truth to Machiavelli's maxim, "Anyone wishing to see what is to be must consider what has been: all the things of this world in every era have their counterparts in ancient times." Kaplan compares the Second Punic War with the Second World War and discovers uncanny similarities in the challenges of international relations in the ancient and modern worlds. He notes that men like George Marshall and Winston Churchill epitomized the pagan ethos because they possessed "a historical imagination so strong, so comprehensive, as to encase the whole of the present and the whole of the future in a framework of a rich and multicolored past." An appreciation for history not only provides a guide for interpreting current events, it firmly establishes the present in the context of the future. In the midst of the current intellectual imbroglio over the direction of the international system, of the impact of religious fanaticism and the increasing threat of decentralized terror cells equipped with biological and nuclear weapons, one needs not an augur but perhaps a reading of Leviathan, The Art of War, or The War With Hannibal.
Kaplan distills the wisdom of the ages and asserts the validity of history at a time when we are confronted with hidden enemies and a precarious future. His essay is ambitious though not pretentious. Although his passages have the penetrating depth of scholarly work, his rich and refined style belies his journalistic origins. The perennial realist, Kaplan provides a refreshing aspect to realpolitik that commands serious inspection.
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140 of 185 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant, February 24, 2002
Newt Gingrich (Washington, DC United States) - See all my reviews
Kaplan's brilliant essay should be read by every citizen deeply concerned about America's role in the world and the realities of an evolving and uncertain global system. Kaplan is a talented reporter with a keen understanding of the depth of violence and chaos in much of the world (see his The Coming Anarchy). He has been in key parts of the turbulent third world and he understands the objective realities of millions of rootless young men with desperate futures. He describes vividly the path to a deep reversion to ethnic and religious fanaticism offered as a way of life that to many young men is more fulfilling than a life of poverty without a cause.
Kaplan argues correctly that the modern world is much like the ancient world. Humans are human and the problem of violence in and against society is as eternal as Cain and Abel. He skillfully carries us from Churchill's The River War (a study of the British role in the Sudan 1881-1898) a book Kaplan first bought in Khartoum in the mid-1980s. Kaplan understands that the roots of historic conflict run much deeper than today's story and he combines Churchill's personal sense of history with Churchill's role in history.
Kaplan carries us through the lessons of Thucydides, Sun T'zu, Livy, Machiavelli, Hobbes, Kant and a series of other scholars who have tried to cope with the challenge of violence and human society. He offers intelligent insights into America's role in the world, the inevitable nature of third world violence in the next half-century and the challenge of creating effective responses and sustainable strategies and institutions.
I highly recommend Kaplan's new book to anyone who is trying to understand what needs to be done to response to September 11. There are a number of references in this book to asymmetric power, fanaticism and the intelligent use of unsuspected force outside the rules of modern state warfare, which are prescient of what we are now living through.
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33 of 42 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Platonic Idealism, May 28, 2002
Infornific (Alexandria, VA USA) - See all my reviews
Kaplan claims we can learn from ancient history how to deal with the crises of today. Unfortunately, he hasn't studied ancient history very thoroughly. He repeatedly makes an analogy between the Athenian expedition to Syracuse during the Peloponessian Wars and America's experience in Vietnam. The failure of the Syracuse expedition broke the back of Athens and permanently reduced it to second rate status. Vietnam merely temporarily weakened America's morale and economy. At one point he argues that Roman legionaries wore armor because they were casualty averse, just like modern American soldiers. Roman legionaries fought primarily as heavy infantry, requiring armor and in fact wore lighter armor than their predecessors, the Greek hoplite militia. I'm nitpicking, but such a casual attitude toward history suggests Kaplan prefers superficial analogies to serious analysis. He's not very reliable on modern history either. He describes the death of 18 Army Rangers in battle in Somalia as the worst disaster for US troops since Vietnam. This overlooks the death of over 240 Marines by truck bomb in Beirut in 1983. In addition, Somalia was not a total loss in military terms - American soldiers demonstrated they could fight and kill with devastating efficiency, even at close range. Kaplan reads history with an eye toward confirming his own theories, rather than testing them.
Kaplan's recommendations for modern leaders aren't any better. He argues, inter alia, that modern leaders need to be free to act with a minimum of interference from the people or the media. Democracy is too slow, and the media is too likely to interfere with effective responses to a crisis. The question he leaves unanswered is how do we insure that our leaders decide wisely? If they are able to act unchecked by the media or the ballot box, what will keep them from covering up blunders or seizing power for their own ends? You would think anyone familiar with the history of the Roman empire would notice how quickly leaders corrupt when their power is unchecked. After citing philosopher after philosopher in support of cynical realism, he succumbs to a kind of Platonic idealism, trusting in a modern version of Plato's guardians to rule his Republic. He doesn't explain who will guard the guardians. He also shows a remarkable hostility toward modern American society. At one point he cites Dom DeLillo on the corruption of the masses - a curious source for a conservative (or anyone.) In the final analysis, what we have here is a casual overview of philosophy and history seemingly aimed at justifying oligarchy. That such a book is so popular at elite levels is very disturbing.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not my cup of tea, but I don't regret buying it ..., July 31, 2004
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This review is from: Warrior Politics: Why Leadership Demands a Pagan Ethos (Paperback)
"Warrior politics" is a very well-written book, quite short, and not boring at all. Kaplan believes that our modern world is merely a continuation of the ancient world in many things, and thus capable of taking advantage of lessons already taught by important philosophers and statesmen. There is a quotation at the beginning of this book, near to the title, that somehow sums up Kaplan's idea: "Anyone wishing to see what it is to be must consider what has been: all the things of this world in every era have their counterparts in ancient times" (Machiavelli).

The author delves in an engaging way into the works of Thucydides, Livy, Machiavelli, Hobbes and Churchill, among others. He draws "lessons" from their works, and tries to apply them to the events that were happening in the world more or less at the time this book was first published (2002).

Do you want an example?. Well, for instance Kaplan reminds the reader that Machiavelli said that a policy is virtuous only if it is effective, and he also tells us about the distinction that author made between private virtue and pagan virtue. According to Machiavelli, pagan virtue (pragmatic and merciless, but not amoral) was the kind of virtue that should prevail in matters of the State. After this "theoretic" travel, Kaplan applies the lessons we learn to current affairs... He does this with all the philosophers or statesmen he studies, and it is at that point that I generally don't like his conclusions.

All the same, I want to highlight the fact that I found some of his observations strikingly accurate, especially those regarding military strategy. Kaplan says that even though many believe that war will become more "clean" and less dangerous for the "professional soldiers" thanks to technology, that will not always be the case. In some occasions, professional soldiers will have to face "warriors" who have nothing to lose, and who think in a totally different way. From Kaplan's point of view, USA's strategy will have to adjust to that truth with "warrior politics", because that is a reality that cannot be denied any longer.

Robert Kaplan is far from being an author with whom I agree on everything... As a matter of fact, I dislike many of the conclusions he reaches in "Warrior politics". I think that he ends up placing too much emphasis on the role of force in the international arena, and doesn't give its due importance to "soft power".

Despite that, I don't regret buying this book, because Kaplan makes some points I consider quite interesting. Also, and probably more important, I was so much against some of the statements he made that I ended up thinking why I believed that those statements weren't true. Due to that, now I am more certain of my opinions, and have quite a few reasons to back them.

On the whole, I think that this is the kind of book that "shakes" you, whether you agree with it or not. As a result, it is thought-provoking, and a book I have no problems recommending to you :)

Belen Alcat
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Warrior Politics: Why Leadership Demands a Pagan Ethos
Warrior Politics: Why Leadership Demands a Pagan Ethos by Robert D. Kaplan (Paperback - January 7, 2003)
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