From Hedgehogs to Foxes and Back
In a world ever more threatened by the revival of national rivalry and great-power conflict, a fresh analysis of the nature of strategic thinking seems timely. John Gaddis, America’s pre-eminent Cold
War historian, departs from his traditional focus on contemporary history to offer a wide-ranging analysis of leadership and strategic thinking from
5th century BCE Greece to the present.
Inspired by Oxford intellectual historian Isaiah Berlin, Gaddis uses the simplifying distinction between leaders as “hedgehogs” (motivated by a single, central vision) and “foxes” (embracing multiple and often contradictory ends) to present a view of strategy that encompasses both general principles and the peculiarities of personality, chance and unique conditions. Contrasting the strategic strengths and weaknesses of a diverse group of historical figures (military commanders, political philosophers, monarchs, politicians and presidents), Gaddis takes the reader on a fascinating biographical excursion encompassing, in part, Xerxes, Pericles, Sun Tzu, Augustus, Augustine, Machiavelli, Elizabeth I, Philip II of Spain, the Founding Fathers of the US, Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt.
Imaginatively incorporating von Clausewitz and Tolstoy, Gaddis highlights the similarities between artists and strategic thinkers: The importance of originality and ingenuity, the value of experience in adapting to both regularities and uniqueness in complex situations, and the ability to tolerate inconsistencies while applying common sense in the face of differences of scale, space, and time.
On Grand Strategy By John Lewis Gaddis Penguin Press, 2018, 384 pages, $20.80 (Hardcover)