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Media, with alarming regularity, reports nuclear threats from North Korea and President Trump’s rhetorical belligerency; Russian and Chinese irredentism conflicts in the Middle East and Afghanistan, across the Sahel region of Africa and Yemen; not to forget the asymmentry of terrorism. Is there any consolation to be had in philosophy for the cultural phenomenon of war?
Civil war plagues our times. As David Armitage notes in his brilliant work, Civil Wars: A History in Ideas, the idea of the ‘Long Peace’ after the Second World War is in many ways misleading as intrastate conflict has become far more common than in previous centuries.
Strategy: A History has to be the magnum opus of the academic life of Sir Lawrence Freedman. Rich in detail and deeply contextualising, this book is not only the longest but also the most diverse work in recent years on the evolution of strategy. The book is based on a life of scholarship as well as the most recent overviews on the topic.
In his new book Steven Pinker, psychologist at Harvard University, sets out to fundamentally alter our understanding of the trajectory of violence from pre-historic times to the present. He takes issue with the widely held perception that the most recent past, the 20th century, was an age of large-scale bloodshed and genocidal slaughter.
The writing of history – any history – is shaped by the intellectual environment in which it is written, and by the preoccupations of its writers. As Christopher Tyerman acknowledges in his prefatory remarks, ‘writing history is not a neutral revelation but a malleable, personal, contingent, cultural activity’ (p. xi).
Reading the introduction to this book one may be forgiven for thinking that the title is somewhat misleading for a volume given to the examination of ‘the processes of the making and breaking of peace treaties and truces’, rather than to war (p. 1).
The appearance of a paperback version of an important book first published in 1995 is most welcome as it will make it more readily available. Equally, it is not easy to review such a work. The scholarly reviews that appeared noting its contents do not require emendation, because the book has not been rewritten.