Announcing: The Thucydides Roundtable
[by T. Greer]
There was once a time when the first thing I would do in the morning was rush to the computer so that I might check the comment threads of the five to ten blogs I followed on national security and strategic theory. It was the golden era of the old Strategy Sphere: a time when the debates swirling around the internet had real intellectual heft and all arguments were conducted with a fierce sense of urgency. I have written about era—what it was like to be a participant in its debates, and what caused that old community to slowly fall apart—before. That retrospective ended on a sad note, questioning whether or not the spirit of those days could ever be recaptured.
I think it might just be possible.
One of the most compelling forums for discussion in those days were the statecraft roundtables. The idea behind all the roundtables was to gather together a diverse group of strategy and history focused bloggers to read and discuss a classic in the field. We would read the book chapter by chapter, each participant chronicling their reaction to the author’s—and each other’s—arguments as we read. Part long distance book club, part public forum, every roundtable was a cocktail of different ideas and perspectives that anyone would learn from, be they newcomers to the strategy scene, practitioners in the field, or well credentialed experts dwelling in think tanks and ivory towers.
Last week the editors of the Clausewitz Roundtable—held eight years ago on Chicago Boyz—published an edited version of the roundtable tour through Carl von Clausewitz’s On War. It can be purchased for $3 on Amazon. For its price it’s a fine little read, both for the insights each author brings to On War and its theories, but also because it gives you a peek into what the blogosphere once was—and what it once again might be. The wide ranging discussions of politics, history, war, and power had in the comment threads of that roundtable are exactly the kind of thing that deserve to return to blogosphere.
And so it will be.
I am proud to announce the upcoming Thucydides Roundtable, to be hosted at the group blog Zenpundit in October 2016.
Thucydides is a man of firsts. He has been called the father of realism, the first “theorist of war” in the Western tradition, the inventor of political science and international relations, the first man to ever attempt an objective and evidence based history of the world he lived in, and many other things besides. In the two thousand years since they were first written, his words have been used and abused by historians, poets, social scientists, and statesmen from one side of the Earth to the other. His chronicle of the thirty year war waged between his native Athens and her rival Sparta has just about everything in it. I really do mean everything. No great or enduring theme of the human experience is left untouched—war and international order of course make their appearance, but so do meditations on statesmanship, bargaining, courage, partisanship, justice, ethics, ambition, greed, honor, religion, culture, history, and so much more. His History of the Peloponnesian War is not just the story of a quarrel between Athenians and Lacedaemonians in the 5th century BC. It is a story about all of mankind.
Or at least this is what Thucydides hoped it would be.
I invite you to discover for yourself if Thucydides’ ambition was realized by reading his work with us. We will officially kick off the roundtable discussion at Zenpundit in mid-October. In the weeks to come we will publish the full list of official participants as well as the Roundtable’s official rules of engagement. Until then, I encourage you to go out and purchase the Landmark Thucydides to get a head start on the reading. It’s a big book, but one well worth reading.
In the meantime, add Zenpundit to your feeds or like our Thucydides Roundtable Facebook page to stay updated on the roundtable’s schedule and progress.
[Cross-posted from The Scholar’s Stage]
August 23rd, 2016 at 2:05 am
Looking forward to it, sir!
August 23rd, 2016 at 2:12 am
This will be good.
August 23rd, 2016 at 3:38 am
This will be a lot of fun!
August 23rd, 2016 at 6:49 am
August 23rd, 2016 at 3:13 pm
August 23rd, 2016 at 4:12 pm
August 23rd, 2016 at 4:25 pm
You’ve never read Thucydides until you’ve read it in its native Vulcan.
August 24th, 2016 at 1:14 am
Ha! I think there will be a participant or two who could read in the original but I fear the rest, including myself, are relative illiterates and thus, the Landmark Thucydudes is the edition of choice
Welcome aboard, major!
August 24th, 2016 at 8:24 pm
Would be honoured to take part . . .
August 25th, 2016 at 12:50 am
Excellent. You’re in
August 26th, 2016 at 2:02 pm
Hey, I did not take part directly but I sure did read the discussions every day, glad to see this happen.
August 29th, 2016 at 10:32 pm
I can’t wait to read what all of you come up with on this. I am half-way through The Clausewitz Roundtable and I am keeping good notes. If the Thucydides Roundtable is half as good – it will be a classic. Truly looking forward to following it.
Keep up the great work.
Beware of the ‘Thucydides Trap’…
September 1st, 2016 at 1:06 am
I’m late getting here, and I‘m not expecting to participate in your strategy forum, challenging as it sounds, but I’d still like to ask about two strategy propositions I keep wondering about:
1. Grand strategy should rest on sound theorizing about social evolution.
2. A cardinal rule for strategic information warfare at the societal level is to tribalize people. (Or instead of strategic information warfare, read memetic warfare, cognitive warfare, etc.)
Does Thucydides offer much about either? It’s been a long time since I took took much of a look.
September 1st, 2016 at 4:48 pm
We would love to have you join, if you are so inclined to revisit Thucydides with us. Shaping up to be a strong and diverse group of participants and I believe they would value having your insights.
Regarding your questions:
1. I agree with you that grand strategy requires a foundation on long term societal evolution – its about what a society wish to become (whether that project turns out well is another question, one I think Thucydides would answer in the negative for Athens)
For Thucydides, I think he was deeply concerned about the evolution of Athens from the aristocratic-led democracy of the Periclean regime to the later radical democracy of Cleon, Alcibiades and others and that this folly, as he viewed it, was a central lesson. Sparta, deeply conservative as it was, evolved too under the crucible of war in ways unthinkable, bringing someone like Lysander to the fore against all custom (the need for the navarch and fleet-building was part of it but only part. The war was existential)
2. Yes. Thucydides haa large number of speeches recorded and reconstructed of the principal players that gives the flavor of the tribalization and polarization of the Greek world along pro-Spartan/oligarchic and pro-Athenian/democratic lines. This is particularly interesting to me because the Athenian threat to Spartan preeminence, the Athenian empire, was forged under a pan-Hellenic banner of resistance to Persia and Greek unity. It was a banner laterpicked up by Phillip and Alexander
September 1st, 2016 at 4:51 pm
Much thanks and I am glad that you are enjoying The Clausewitz Roundtable- thats a wonderful endorsement of the book as well as the upcoming RT on Thucydides. We will try to live up to that expectation (and I think we shall!)
September 1st, 2016 at 9:06 pm
I’m in Book 3 at the moment, but so far (and feel free to correct me if I’m wrong as I’m new to the subject) regarding tribal organization of the two sides I see Sparta’s Peloponnesian League as more of a loose network with each member having considerable autonomy. Corinth in particular seems to do whatever it wants and in a way started the whole war.
Athens’ Delian League on the other hand is more hierarchical with the Athenians keeping a tight rein on its vassals and frequently shaking them down for war funds.
Athens also seems initially to be too overconfident because of their wealth, big walls, and control of the sea lanes. The Spartans, despite their hard core, seem to be approaching this on a much more realistic level.
September 4th, 2016 at 3:26 am
Thanks, Mark (and Grurray). Interesting, helpful. Thanks also for invite. But I feel too slowed-down and far-behind to join in. Besides, my current reading priority is Kojin Kakutani’s The Structure of World History (2014) — it seems to overlap with TIMN more than anything else I’ve come across.
Since I have your attention, I want to ask a question: I worry about the tribalization occurring in our society — so much now that I increasingly wonder about strategic information warfare campaigns (or should it be called mimetic warfare, or cognitive warfare, or something else?) that may be underway from within and without. Are there past posts here at Zenpundit that speak to this? Any related pointers?
September 4th, 2016 at 4:11 am
I agree regarding tribalization – I think we are seeing the political polarization that started in the 1960’s/Vietnam War era that once crossed all class and most demographic lines merge increasingly with cultural identity politics, religious differences, regional lifestyles and hardening economic inequality class differences. Worse there are decidedly authoritarian strands that demand imposing ideological-behavioral conformity on the enemy “tribe” present in all the “tribes”. The elite “tribe” that runs the country and large portions of our economy are losing political legitimacy fast due to oligarchic-rentier-game rigging policies and are too blinded by self-interest to notice the pressure building to dangerous levels (or they notice the problem but refuse to change or restrain themselves because mandating restraint might cause the elite group to splinter).
John Robb had this up recently regarding memetic warfare:
This post isn’t exactly what you asked for but it gave a view why Americans might be more receptive or vulnerable to memetic warfare than in the past.
September 6th, 2016 at 10:27 pm
Again, many thanks, Mark. Good points about ongoing tribalizations at elite and other levels. I saw the Robb post, and have done small searches about memetic warfare, cognitive warfare, strategic this-n-that, not to mention other phrasings. Nothing looks theoretically well-crafted yet. But meanwhile I think our society is getting worked-over by skilled practitioners. And yes, we may be more vulnerable now than before. (Or maybe I’m just getting paranoid.)