A call to arms in a cold, cruel worldRobert Kaplan is a correspondent for the Atlantic Monthly, a practicing journalist who has written several books about the underlying politics and societies of the world’s hot spots. The best of his previous titles has been “Balkan Ghosts,” an examination of the seething ethnic hatred that a long and unhappy history has bequeathed to southeastern Europe.
His new book, “Warrior Politics: Why Leadership Demands a Pagan Ethos,” was published in 2002 and then issued in paperback early this year. It is somewhat of a break from most of his previous books.
It is not an examination of a specific geographical area, but of the human behavior that he says makes the 21st century look a great deal like that of the 18th century or even the ancient pre-Christian era. “There is no modern world,” the title of his first chapter proclaims, and he asserts that there is no “modern” or “postmodern” world; there is only a continuation of the ancient world that Greek or Roman or Chinese philosophers could probably cope with despite the vast technological difference.
To make his point, Kaplan invokes ancient thinkers like Thucydides and Sun-Tze, and then moves on to the thoughts of Machiavelli and Hobbes. Human nature, he argues convincingly, has not changed over the millennia, and those who look at the world believing that civilization has wrought changes in the basic ways humans behave are fooling themselves.
Kaplan says that he began to read the classics to try to put the horrors he has seen as a journalist into some sort of perspective, and hastens to note that he is not a scholar of either the classics or philosophy. Nonetheless, he makes an excellent, often nuanced, case for the need for ruthlessness in international affairs. Domestic politics in a democracy, he notes, is a long and involved process of balancing interest groups and reasonably civilized debate; international relations is a jungle, fraught with dangers and uncertainties and with only a superficial consensus on the rules of the game. Little wonder, then, that he drew an approving jacket blurb from Henry Kissinger, the arch-protagonist of realpolitik in the United States. While this book may infuriate liberals and draw approving grunts from the “nuke ’em all” crowd, it is a concise, well-written presentation of a compelling case.
By Robert D. Kaplan
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by John Hoog