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Home / Book Reviews / Warrior Politics
Warrior Politics: Why Leadership Demands a Pagan Ethos
by Robert D. Kaplan
ISBN: 0375505636
Publisher: Random House
Publication Year: 2002
Publisher Price: $22.95
Cover Type: hardcover

Kaplan has once again produced another little book that contains some very big scary messages. Yet the big scary messages are practically identical to those he conveyed in his previous book, The Coming Anarchy. In Warrior Politics, Kaplan looks to the past to recover forgotten wisdom and abandoned moral virtue, in order to create a role model for those who would lead the way in solving the complex social, economic, and environmental problems facing the American Empire in the 21st century.

And Kaplan fails, in spades.

But in spite of my misgivings, Warrior Politics will undoubtedly become a bestseller, and likewise become mandatory reading for politicos and business leaders who want World Domination Without Guilt. More’s the pity, too, because this book is nothing more than the latest painful rendition of those business self-help/leadership books that one finds clogging the bookshelves of chain stores and airport newsstands, along with the hearts and minds of those who read them.

You know which ones I’m talking about. The titles of these books are all interchangeable:

How to Negotiate Like Genghis Khan.
How to Run Your Business Like a Prince: Machiavelli on Business Ethics.
On Dealing with Adversity: Lessons from Rasputin.
The Secrets of Attila the Hun: Rape and Pillage as Effective Tools for Loss Control

Indeed, the titles are interchangeable because their noxious themes are all the same: Kill or be Killed. Profit over Dishonor. Less is More—But Only For Other People. Their cheerful promotion of sociopathic behavior is based upon the (dubiously) recorded and translated thoughts and feelings of famous tyrants, warlords, and madmen who are long dead and who, therefore, are no longer able to explain themselves adequately or protect their intellectual property through copyright laws. Warrior Politics is no different, although it is more elegantly written and more scholarly in its approach than the other works of this inflamed genre.

Something has broken inside of Robert Kaplan, I think. Kaplan was a courageous yet sensitive travel writer, a fiercely independent thinker, and, incidentally, an unabashed admirer of the nomadic tribes of Central Asia. Anyone who has ever read his book, Soldiers of God: With Islamic Warriors in Afghanistan and Pakistan, knows how desperately the younger Kaplan admired the indomitable, unreconstructed tribal people of the high desert—whom he described as the “toughest people on earth.”

Yet in spite of his almost hero-worship of these nomadic warriors, Kaplan never blinded himself to their failings. But now, Kaplan seems almost eager to perform as a highly paid and highly articulate apologist for the unreasonable demands made upon this planet by corporate interests. He has succumbed to an intellectual form of the Stockholm Syndrome: he now identifies and sympathizes with those who have hijacked our political discourse and kidnapped our justice system, rather than fighting the good fight to preserve both.

Placed within the context of the September 11th tragedy, Kaplan’s desire for an omniscient, omnipotent American military/police state that is guided solely by economic concerns can be regarded as either prophetic or opportunistic or both. Yet in this latest book, his “back to the future” approach at sanctifying our country’s unbridled egoism, while overlooking this egoism’s dark past and ominous future, moves him squarely into the opportunist’s camp.

Warrior Politics is not simply morally bankrupt. Nor is it absolutely, irredeemably insane in its embrace of ancient power politicians, under whose shameful legacy we are still struggling today. If it were, Kaplan could be ignored, tuned out or turned off like just another overwrought AM talk radio egomaniac. No, Kaplan’s arguments have the irresistible logical appeal of If/Then propositions found in all extortion attempts: If you don’t do this, then you will suffer.

At its more thoughtful moments, Kaplan’s argumentation only shocks you out of your capacity for free thought and human empathy. He is an absolute master at using rhetorical devices to create the same visceral impact made by graphic crime scene photos. Like crime scene photos, the essays contained within Warrior Politics are calculated to prejudice the reader and subsequently misdirect them to a narrow, pre-determined verdict that Kaplan delivers via the historical messengers of ancient China, Rome and Greece—a verdict he urges all to accept without regret or remorse, or even without much deliberation. To his discredit as an independent thinker, Kaplan now seems to endorse the prevailing official imperative—offered by current military and civilian leaders, alike—that insists that we all must leave our thinking to the experts. When they want our opinions, they’ll sell them to us.

Are Kaplan’s recycled lessons for leaders truly evil? In The Screwtape Letters, C.S.Lewis has his senior devil instruct a subordinate devil on how to snare souls by directing “the fashionable outcry of each generation against those vices of which it is in the least danger,” and to consequently pursue virtues which are inseparable from the evil the devils are trying instill:

Cruel ages are put on their guard against Sentimentality, feckless and idle ones against Respectability, lecherous ones against Puritanism, and whenever men are really hastening to be slaves or tyrants we make Liberalism the prime bogey

Following the teachings of Lewis’ senior devil, Kaplan exhorts us to rock the American ship of state even further in the direction to which it is already listing dangerously. Kaplan’s far-reaching historical gaze seems to overlook the very real possibility that this country may once again fracture along the fault lines of economic opportunity and individual liberty, or otherwise suffer an unprecedented collapse under the burden of creating, supporting, and constantly redefining “The Leviathan” of our ever-expanding security apparatus.

Do we really we need more callous and homicidal world leaders? Are the solutions to “asymmetrical warfare” (don’t you love that term? What a mockery it makes of the right to self-defense! What a rationalization for continued bullying!) to be found in the assassination of individuals and in the electronic surveillance of virtually every human activity all over the world? Do we really need to safeguard all of the demands made by globalization and by the rule of corporatism? Are there really no alternatives to the idolatry of profit and the exhaustion of the world’s resources that such worship demands?

In Warrior Politics, Kaplan’s answers to these contemporary questions come from the mouths of his narrowly-selected group of dread-ass leaders who are long gone—and whose reign of error may be even longer still, if Kaplan has his way. If you were not unnerved at the sight of our leaders cutting their losses and slashing away at the rights of their constituents before the bodies were even counted during September 2001, you will not mind the spectacle offered by Warrior Politics: the dead leading the doomed.

© Copyright 2002 by KNS Maré