Tuesday, 12 January 2010
Strategy, the Byzantine Empire, Socrates and Thucydides
Thanks to Hermes for drawing attention to this interesting video featuring Edward Luttwak, in which he discusses his recently published book, The Grand Strategy of the Byzantine Empire.
Luttwak makes some fascinating insights into the nature of Byzantium; the many reasons for its longevity – which, for him, comes down to a culture of strategy; and the policy lessons contemporary strategists could learn from the Eastern Roman Empire, asserting, for example, that America should become more like Byzantium.
Coincidentally, I've been thinking quite a bit about 'strategy' recently, how the philosophy of strategy is far more effective in describing and navigating the intricacies of human affairs than traditional moral and ethical philosophy.
These thoughts have come to me as I've been reading Pierre Hadot's book, What is Ancient Philosophy? which asserts that philosophy is no more and no less than a way of life, a means, through permanent struggle, criticism and self-criticism, to find some kind of spiritual peace, involving a pursuit of 'wisdom without ever achieving it'.
Hadot's book – which I haven't finished yet – is interesting and focuses, as you can imagine, a great deal on the figure of Socrates.
Now, Socrates, and his methodology, is someone I've always had trouble with: I've never been convinced, for example, that you can cure ignorance by merely pointing out to an ignorant person that they are, in fact, deluded, deranged, ill-informed or misguided. Ignorant people have a habit of insisting on their ignorance, otherwise they would not be ignorant in the first place. Anyway, my point is really this: reading Hadot's book has confirmed my feeling that when it comes to describing and navigating the intricacies of human affairs, I find Thucydides – the greatest theorist of Grand Strategy – far more illuminating than Socrates.