Friday, September 26, 2014

"The army of lawyers will be annihilated"

From S. Walt, Revolution and War (1996), p.71:
Prussia's desire for action [in 1792] was based on the same sort of optimistic beliefs that the Girondins had promulgated so effectively within France.... The belief that the revolution had sapped French [military] strength was widespread.... [O]ne of Frederick William's chief advisors predicted, "The comedy will not last long. The army of lawyers will be annihilated in Belgium [i.e. the Austrian Netherlands] and we shall be home by the autumn."  


Ronan said...

This is some coincidence. I was only looking at this book today and wondering whether or not I should buy it .. is it worth reading, do you think ? I havent loved what Ive read from Walt (mainly everything ove the last decade) but from what I hear his early work was genuinely very good ?

LFC said...

I have borrowing privileges from a univ. library that I live about 25 minutes away from, and I tend to be somewhat stingy about buying books -- so I took this out from the library (of course, that library is far from having *everything* one might want, but it did have this). I took it out mainly to look at the Fr. Revolution chapter, b.c I was curious how he dealt w it in light
of having read Bell's 'The First Total War' recently. I basically just glanced at the opening, skipped most of the theory chapter (ch.2) and went straight to ch.3 on the Fr. Rev. b.c that's what i was interested in.

Thus I haven't read enough of it to say whether it's worth reading, though it's prob. not something I wd read straight through in any case. (I also happen to have, in a pile of articles, an article somewhat critical of it, which I'm not going to dig out rt now).

What this kind of bk requires of an author is being able to absorb and synthesize a lot of secondary sources and work them into a narrative that supports your thesis (or theses), and Walt I think is good at that. The research for the Fr Rev chapter is, as one wd expect in this kind of case-study bk, secondary sources but seems quite thorough. So purely from the standpoint of execution, the bk seems well executed. Again, whether it's worth reading is a separate question.

Of Walt's books, I've read Taming American Power from a few yrs ago (thought that was ok). I have not read the first bk, Origins of Alliances, which was his diss., and I have no particular plans to. This ('Rev. and War') was the second one, after 'Origins'.

Sorry, long-winded response.

LFC said...

I assume you wd prob be most interested in the chap. on the Iranian Rev., which I haven't looked at yet.

Btw if you are interested in a comparative study of Third World revolutions, Jeff Goodwin is prob. good, tho it came out a while ago -- I forget the exact name of the bk. There's also another one I'm thinking of, but I wd have to look up the author's name.

Ronan said...

"Sorry, long-winded response. "

Ah, no problem there ; )

'Worth reading' I meant more 'is the research convincing, and are the case studies thorough", which seems to be the case from what youve said. (I'm looking for something to read on revolutionary regimes and how it affects their behaviour/FP, primarily to think through what's going on in the Middle East with ISIS)
I've the opposite problem to you; no decent library so I end up buying everything on kindle when the price drops(ie in this case), but dont actually get around to reading it properly for months.

Ronan said...

crossposted above- I've actually seen Goodwins book, but too expensive (and more importantly at the minute, not on kindle) but definitely want to get around to reading it at some stage.
In this case actually Im more interested in the Soviet and French Revolution cases as I dont know anything really about either(though I've bought 'bloodlands' after Anderson's rec so will see how that(the bits I get through) goes)

LFC said...

I'm looking for something to read on revolutionary regimes and how it affects their behaviour/FP, primarily to think through what's going on in the Middle East with ISIS

I can think of a couple of respects in which the French revolutionaries of the late 18th cent. and ISIS are diametric opposites: notably, the former are usu. seen as quintessential carriers or embodiments of 'modernity,' whereas the latter (arguably) represent part of a violent reaction vs it. The French Rev was a social/political revolution that transformed an existing state (as well as affecting the intl system). Is ISIS' claimed caliphate (or whatever) comparable in any significant way? Apart from generic 'radicalism', I'm not at all sure. There may still be some pt in reading about past revolutionary regimes and the 'classic' modern revolutions to understand Islamic jihadism, but I suspect whatever lessons are there to be drawn may be quite indirect.

LFC said...

A closer analogue might be past 'anti-modernist' or 'anti-modernization' mvts, as argued in, e.g., M. Mazarr, Unmodern Men in the Modern World (2007). There's also a bk co-authored by Charles Lindholm that might be relevant. (I'll try to get title and give it in next box.)

LFC said...

Charles Lindholm and J.P. Zuquete, The Struggle for the World (2010)

It's true that ISIS's holding of territory makes it different from these other mvts, but again, I don't know how much light Walt's cases will throw on this. (I'd have to think about it, I guess.)

Ronan said...

Isn't Walt's argument, though, that 'revolutionary regimes' (regardless of ideology) produce certain similar outcomes (both -afaict- in regime behaviour, or at least in how their threat is perceived by other states ?) Which means there might be some similarity in how a revolutionay regime (even if it is reactionary or premodern) like ISIS would create security competition in the region ?
Having said that, I take the point that their declared Caliphate isnt exactly comparable to taking over the administration of a functioning state (at the moment, or realistically in the future) , so the comparison problem isn't ideal.
Thanks for the recs, particularly Mazarr's book which Id never heard off and looks pretty interesting.(and more relevant)

LFC said...

Yes, there might be some similarities. And it's true Walt claims that revolutionary movements w very different *specific* ideologies share certain *general* ideological features -- e.g., a stress on the intrinsic evil of opponents and the "universal meaning" of the revolution (see pp.22 ff.)

But part of the difficulty, perhaps, is that Walt's theory is about the mechanisms by which revolution increases security competition and can lead to war, whereas here the "revolution" (i.e., rise of IS) has occurred within the context of wars that are/were already going on. IS, as everyone says, grew out of and is the successor to Al Qaeda in Iraq, but it's not that the rise of IS led to war in Iraq and Syria; rather, the phase of violent unrest in Iraq that was precipitated by the '03 invasion and has continued, in one way or other and at one level or another since then, provided the context and occasion for IS's rise.

So, to oversimplify, the direction of the causal arrows is (arguably) different:

Walt's theory:
revolution -> war

The case of IS:
war -> "revolution" (i.e. the "regime" of IS)

If this suggestion about the causal arrows is at all valid (and it may not be, since it may be artificially separating IS from a broader jihadist mvt of which it shd be considered one expression), then trying to apply W's theory here may have a certain pounding-a-square-block-into-a-round-hole quality. Which is not to say that one couldn't get certain insights from it. (Sorry for the length of this comment; I was trying to think this out as I went along.)

Ronan said...

"(Sorry for the length of this comment; I was trying to think this out as I went along.) "

No,that all makes sense. Thanks.

Ronan said...

ps I only got around to reading the Bell review yesterday, and noticed you mentioned Walt there as well(also the Bukovansky book which looks decent)
So still a coincidence, though perhaps not as much as I thought originaly

LFC said...

right ;)