No longer flush with victory and power in the American Century, we must now learn to think more modestly and defensively.
Professional military journals are laden with attempts at conceptual formulae for victory even though such things do not exist. By the same token, survivors of the world’s most prestigious universities cannot fail to recall the ceaseless efforts to view the mercurial workings of the international system—something with more possibilities than chess—through the lenses of various, often mutually exclusive “schools”: realism, liberal internationalism, Marxism, pragmatism, neoconservatism, etc.
At the very least, one should be familiar with the tenets of these schools, as their acolytes have real influence and create real effects. And, as in all things, in war and diplomacy there are notable and recurring patterns. But those for whom reality is subservient to intellectual modeling are blinded to the continually adaptive relations between states and the ever-changing conditions of war, making them like the biologist who, knowing everything about penguins, walks like one. A foreign or defense policy that doesn’t readily and eclectically accept and reject elements of the various schools will, perforce, fail.
Soldiers and statesmen are given their start in the university, but without subsequent inquiry and thought untethered from inculcated doctrine, formal schooling is not merely insufficient but crippling, like the scholasticism Henry Adams had in mind when