History, Patterns, Differences. . . Not Again!

by Milo Clark

February 25, 2002


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History reveals patterns of evolution among systems of states. The processes of larger subjugating smaller are nearly mechanical in repetitions over time. Within these recurrent cycles are near constant attempts to create and to maintain some form of "balance of power" to offset predator's lunges, to deny the lion of the moment his prey.

Social psychologist Kurt Lewin's Force Field Analysis would show that each State's push will, if possible, be matched or balanced by resistance. Weaker states will attempt alliances. The runup to the next war will feature shuffles and shifts among the worried who try to assuage their fears by seeking ever renewed and buttressed relationships, however ephemeral. Nearly universally, history records that all prepare for war, which is seen and sold as the way to preserve peace. So, what's new? In Afghanistan, we are being shown once again that the only solutions are military.

However, a possible historical difference may be that a balance of powers is, momentarily perhaps, out of balance.

David Hume (1711-1776) wrote convincingly of his understanding of these processes. His 1751 essay was entitled, "On the Balance of Power." You will find earlier versions in the words of Greeks around the time of Athens. Nothing new, for sure.

Temptations, however, periodically override prudence, if such be involved. My revered Williams PolySci professor, Frederick L. Schuman, points out:

"This elementary counsel of prudence has at times been forgotten, as in the epochs of Philip and Alexander of Macedon, of the non-Roman precursors of the Caesars, and again in the European systems of the 1930s. The penalty of such neglect has ever been either the permanent conquest of all by one, or a belated and extravagant outpouring of blood and treasure in liberating the conquered and casting down by force of arms the aspirant to universal hegemony. When power-holders and policy-makers have acted with foresight, they have seldom hesitated to unite in alliances and coalitions against any Power so formidable as to imperil the independence of all the rest. Contrary to popular impression, the objective of a wisely conceived balance-of-power policy is not to 'preserve peace,' since war may be, and usually is, necessary to preserve the equilibrium. Nor is the goal the restraint of the vicious by the virtuous. Such judgments are devoid of meaning in any universal contest for predominance." (1)

The historical system of States comes unglued, in Lewin's famous change system model, (2) when any one State aggregates war power to its advantage and finds itself under the sway of some megalomaniac bent on running stop lights.

In 1812, Thomas Jefferson observed that a Europe conquered by Napoleon would be a direct threat should Napoleon then turn the combined fleets of Europe toward the new world. Franklin Delano Roosevelt used almost identical reasoning to invite war to create peace.

How does one, therefore, determine or demonstrate power other than war? Bluff? To date, history records more miscalculations than successes. Would-be conquerors puff themselves up. Would-be grand alliances overestimate themselves. Precise measures are lacking. Or have been.

Hitler's Nazi Germany and Stalin's Soviet Russia staged a proxy war on the bodies and land of Spain in the 1930s. Hitler tried out his technologies. Demonstrated the terrors to be unleashed in attempting to thwart his power lusts. Guernica incited Picasso. Today only a tiny sample may remember. Russia resisted. Most everybody else, Europe especially, hunkered down. And then it was too late, again.

Game forfeit? Never. Calculated risks in war have always, until now, proven incalculable.

In contemporary terms, the natterings at the Adriatic end of the Great Swath proved more annoying than satisfying. Once again, when confronted and tried, the Europeans dithered and America dallied. The little power-mongers of the Balkans yapped and nipped savagely at each other. Nobody felt good about any of it. Lots of collateral damage.

Some folks in America decided they wanted no more. Taking control of the American war machines, another war of demonstration was invited. Once more, a small country would show how power sits and how it can be used. Once more, all would be invited to tremble at the throne. Once more, fealty would be demanded, not asked. Once more, war would be unleashed to create peace.




1.  Frederick L. Schuman (1904- ) was Woodrow Wilson Professor of History at Williams College during my time there. He was savaged by the McCarthy onslaught. Old alums threatened to withhold money and demanded his firing. Anybody remember "Academic Freedom?"

Schuman, in retrospect, was making quite lucid and relatively balanced assessments of historical, social and political processes. His several books, also in retrospect, offer excellent insights, perceptions and perspectives very applicable to current events.

I have recently sought out his works and begun a review of them. I find their echoes are strongly felt. The quote above and the analysis paraphrased herein flow from The Commonwealth of Man, An Inquiry into Power, Politics and World Government first published in 1951 and 1952 by Knopf (anybody remember Knopf?), reprinted in 1977 by Greenwood Press, Westport CT, ISBN 0-8371-9372-9.

Parenthetically although revealing, I found about a dozen of Schuman's works in the library at University of Hawaii at Hilo. Few had been checked out more than four or five times since acquisition. I was the first to check out The Commonwealth of Man and Europe on the Eve. I get a sense, though, that Daniel Quinn (see Ishmael, et al) may have been directly or indirectly influenced by Schuman.  (back)
2.  Kurt Lewin's Force Field Analysis is rarely cited now. It is shown by a simple vertical line with arrows pointed at each side. Push one arrow to dent the line and opposing arrows will attempt to push the bulge back. Simple.

His change system model, I paraphrase to be: Unglue, scramble and reglue. Think about it for a moment. It appears, to me at least, that we reglue only to again unglue. Orwell wrote Animal Farm to show the repetitive nature of unchanging change.

"Axis of Evil" anyone?  (back)


       Milo Clark, a founding member of Swans, had it all: Harvard MBA, big house, three-car garage, top management... Yet, once he had seemingly achieved the famed American dream he felt something was missing somewhere. As any good executive he decided to investigate. Since then, he has become a curmudgeon and, after living in Berkeley, California, where he was growing bamboos, making water gardens, listening to muses, writing, cogitating and pondering, he has moved on to the Big Island in Hawaii where he creates thought forms about sunshine. Milo can be reached at Swans.

       Please, DO NOT steal, scavenge or repost this work without the expressed written authorization of Swans, which will seek permission from the author. This material is copyrighted, © Milo G. Clark 2002. All rights reserved.

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Published February 25, 2002
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