Academic journal article Comparative Civilizations Review

The Classical Way of Conflict-Civilizational Reflections on Ancient Statecraft

Academic journal article Comparative Civilizations Review

The Classical Way of Conflict-Civilizational Reflections on Ancient Statecraft

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

In a recent book (The Modern Prince - What Leaders Need to Know Now, Yale University Press, 2003), Professor Carnes Lord has pointed out that statecraft today suffers from the absence of an adequate theory. This is a problem as we today live in a dangerous world in need of good leadership. "...The concept of statecraft is rarely analyzed carefully or brought into relationship with the idea of leadership" [Lord, 23].

In our day, the term statecraft is almost exclusively used to define diplomacy or the conduct of foreign policy. Like war strategy, however, statecraft is "an art coping with an adversarial environment in which actions generate reactions in unpredictable ways and chance and uncertainty rule. Like strategy, too, statecraft is also an art of relating means to ends... Statecraft must be concerned both with the goals a nation pursues and with the ways and means necessary to achieve them." [Lord, p. 24] Far more important, it has a broader meaning, namely the way visions are implemented.

The Middle East in the future will be one of the battlegrounds to establish free societies. The Arab Muslim countries in this conflict-ridden area have been in upheaval since the 1980s. In expectation of coming challenges in the 21st century, it is important for the West to draw from older historical experiences to understand the thinking on statecraft of classical civilizations, including Islam.

In Islamic societies, social and political relations have been and are marked by intrigue, deception, and internal conflict. Actions of countries such as Syria and Iran (and Iraq in the past) must be seen in the light of these traditions.

2. The Role of Niccolò Machiavelli (1468 - 1527) in Statecraft

Few Western writers on political philosophy have had such an impact on Western statecraft as Niccolò Machiavelli. He broke with the tradition of scholastic thought and was a pioneer in the field of political science. Machiavelli, who based much of his thinking on such classical authors as Xenophon, Livy, and Cicero, had an interest in resolving the demands of transcendent morality while addressing the requirements of power politics. He believed in policy that was ruthless and pragmatic, but not amoral. Virtue, (originally from vir, "man"), to him meant "valor," "ability," "ingenuity," and "prowess."

Machiavelli believed that there could be a pagan virtue, which was a public virtue, and a Judeo-Christian virtue, mostly a private virtue. Deception was allowed for the well-being of the state.

Since the 1960s, comparative analysis has emerged of Machiavelli's doctrine and doctrines of the classical era. The Arthasastra of Kautilya (the Indian classical power theorist) and Chinese legalists such as Lord Shan, Han Fei Tzu, and others, are examples. In many instances, there is a remarkable similarity among these early classical thinkers and Machiavelli in approaching the realistic pursuit of worldly power. The Indian Brahmin, Chanakya Kautilya, like Machiavelli in The Prince, addressed his manual to his sovereign.

3. Islam

When Islam established an imperial government in Baghdad, they used the Persian Sasanian Empire as an organizational model (3rd to 7th centuries AD, and Zoroastrian in faith). The statecraft of this empire offered a bureaucracy, an effective military system, diplomacy, and intelligence.

Muslim rulers studied available documentation, especially the 10th-century Book of Kings (the epic Shahnameh). Another central work was The Mirror for Princes, which had been prepared for instruction of rulers and ministers. An important element in the preservation of the empire was intelligence gathering - the work of spies spread throughout the empire.

The Sasanian Empire was a Persian "power state." The Book of Government (Seyasat-Nameh) by Nizam al-Mulk (d. 1092 AD) was prepared to help sustain fundamentalist Islam, but the origin of the work was completely Iranian. …

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