Grand strategies

I’ve been reading Charles Hill’s (Yale) book Grand Strategies: Literature, Statecraft and World Order.  The book is rather aggressive. It is essentially an effort to provide a tutorial for how big-picture thinking and decision-making at the global level might be informed by literature, specifically the classics.

The premise of the field of “grand strategy” (essentially an off-shoot of political science and history) is that this type of practical big-picture thinking–strategic decisions under uncertainty–can’t be taught and understood by focusing on the minutiae that extant social science studies.  Well, that’s the story anyways.  So, in this book Hill turns to the classics.

Throughout the book Hill discusses the influence that specific classics have had on various leaders (Leaves of Grass and Lincoln, The Dream of the Red Chamber and Mao, Don Quixote and Mann, etc) and also vets the analogies between fictional events and narratives in the classics and real-world correlates.  You get sort of a dazzling history of modernity (post Thirty Years’ War), where various classics essentially provide possibilities, foreshadow or mirror emergent realities about wars, nation states, forms of governance, etc.   The result is a pretty breath-taking tour de force where fiction and reality blend all too readily.  Hill’s book seems to imply both a great man theory as well as a (Campbellian, of sorts) great narrative(s) theory of, well, everything.  I should note – Hill’s political stripes are pretty evident from the book, so that might bother some readers.

But I am really enjoying the book.  I’m of the mind that the classics indeed have much to teach us, strategy included.  I would recommend this book over most of the practitioner strategy books that you might pick up at your local bookstore.

I’ll put up another post about the book once I finish it.

Here are some reviews of the book – WSJForeign AffairsOpen Letters Monthly.

Bonus material:

Here’s a paper by John Gaddis on “What is Grand Strategy.”  John Gaddis lecture on “What is Grand Strategy?” Here’s a shorter Foreign Policy piece on “what is grand strategy and why do we need it?

Below the fold you’ll find a video of Charles Hill speaking about the above book. 

The above is part 1 – here’s part 2part 3part 4part 5.


One Comment on “Grand strategies”

  1. JC says:

    So strategy does matter – so long as it is grand?


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