Much of what is written below is pulled from my comments on Zenpundit’s critique of my earlier post “Dreaming Grand Strategy.” If you have already read them, you will find little new here.
In the post “Dreaming Grand Strategy” I set out to explain why America is suffering a crisis in grand strategy. Doing so required me to lay out my thoughts as to what grand strategies are, how grand strategies are crafted, and the means whereby grand strategies are used. As I see things, it is impossible for any state to possess a “grand strategy” without first possessing a sense of “national purpose.” Using the grand strategies of America’s past as my example, I argued that it was only when the citizenry shared a common identity and were bound by a popular vision of the role their country should play in world affairs that the Republic had identifiable grand strategies. Lose this purpose and you lose the strategies designed to fulfill it.
This is central to the definition I give “grand strategy”: A grand strategy is any comprehensive strategy statesmen develop or utilize to fulfill their state’s chosen national purpose.
My original post centered upon America and her past strategies. This was a mistake. The United States and her sister democratic-republics are a historical anomaly. I ought to have ventured further afield, and if I had I would have made a further distinction that I have thought much about but nowhere articulated. This shall be remedied below.
We declare that ours is a rule “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” If any political unit is to compete successfully its decision making apparatus must work in harmony and with long term consistency. For America, the decision making apparatus was always the demos. It is difficult for a coherent American strategy to evolve if the demos is not itself coherent. A state shipped by the people requires a national ethos capable of uniting the people into one cohesive working body.
Few kingdoms in man’s history have operated under such restrictions. Bismark’s Prussia is a case in point. There was no demos for Prussia. Even the Prussian aristocracy had little influence on the kingdom’s foreign policy. There was only Bismark. And by extension, the purpose of Prussia was the purpose Bismark chose for it. His purpose did not need to be overtly ‘moral’ – it was not forged by the shared experiences of the masses, but by the calculations of one man.
This general principle can be extended to all political systems. The ‘purpose’ is not the purpose agreed to by the entire population of a kingdom or state; it is the underlying vision that unites the efforts of whatever man or grouping of men decides affairs of state. In some polities the purpose is decided by dictator. In others it is the fruits of aristocratic consensus and self interest. And in others still it is the ethos of entire peoples.
Perhaps the use of the word “purpose” in my original post was a mistake. It is too easy to assume that “purpose” is a concept expressed in explicitly moral terms. All of the American examples are so – but this is because Americans have had a knack for moral indignation since the founding.
But again, the United States is something of an anomaly when seen in the long view.
Perhaps a substitute for “purpose” would be “end goal.” Or even “self-selected role.” Both strip the concept of its moral connotation. Both stress the practical consequences of its development. The idea is for the decision making class to have a common picture or unifying vision as to what role their state should play in the world – what the end goal of all their efforts should be.
However, I think I shall stick with “purpose.” Any extra cognitive baggage it may carry is redeemed by the word’s elegance.
The state is built as an instrument. But an instrument for what? It is only when the decision making class has reached a consensus on this matter the crafting of grand strategy can begin.