1648 and All That

What is the most critical trait one should seek in a statesman?  Roger Kimball provides a few thoughts of his own along with the author’s in this review of Grand Strategies: Literature, Statecraft, and World Order in the most recent National Review.

The reviewer starts with brains, discretion, equable temper (or at least façade), and “A certain cynicism about human nature?  See under ‘Brains.'”   The author – Charles Hill –  believes “literary insight” grounded in a classical education to be the most important qualification because it is a dye marker of these aforementioned traits.

“Grand Strategy,” Hill said in a recent interview, means knowing “where you’re coming from and where you want to go. . . . It’s a matter . . . of education.” On the evidence of his richly textured book Grand Strategies, I’d say “grand strategy” is strategy rooted — as, for example, was James Madison’s — in a firm and capacious understanding of human nature. And that understanding is best acquired by acquaintance with the imaginative resources of literary exploration.

I especially enjoyed the reviewer’s description of the absence of religious wars in the West for the past 350+ years.

The most important date in Grand Strategies is 1648. It crops up again and again. You will remember from high school that 1648 marks the Treaty of Westphalia. You will also recall that the treaty concluded the Thirty Years’ War, the last real conflagration inspired by religious conflict until our recent problems with the followers of a Dark Ages buccaneer, mystic, and polygamist born in Mecca.

The Treaty of Westphalia not only marked a turning point in the way religious minorities would be treated in the civilized nations of the world, but also gave birth to the very idea of “civilized nations of the world,” not least by providing the fertile seeds out of which the modern idea of the nation-state grew. Grand Strategies provides a sort of literary taxonomy of the nation-state, tracing its prehistory and its development, and ending with its current challenges. “By the opening of the twenty-first century,” Hill writes, “the system [which had its birth in 1648 and the Treaty of Westphalia] had deteriorated from within and was assaulted from without by yet another violent, ideological world-spanning movement. This book throws a new angle of light on the foundation stones of world order, their weakening condition, and what needs to be done.”

In the interview linked to below, the author phrased it thusly:  we learned to “leave our religion at home” and focus on the process of how to get along on the international stage.

Watch Charles Hill lament the gaps in education – “things got smaller (in the 60s)” – during his Uncommon Knowledge interview here.

This entry was posted in Foreign Affairs and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s