Monday, April 30, 2018

Lapham's Quarterly V1, #1: States of War

     Lewis Lapham, ed. Lapham’s Quarterly: Vol. 1, #1: States of War (2008) Lewis Lapham, erstwhile editor of Harper’s, has been collecting snippets from here and there for years. Starting in 2008, he has issued themed collections of them, the first one about War, because that was the time of the 2nd Gulf War, perpetrated by G W Bush Jr. It’s a fascinating, depressing read.
     War is as old as civilisation. The anthropological consensus is that war and agriculture were invented at the same time, because agriculture created the surplus wealth that made cities possible. But the new technology entailed a new polity, that of the centralised state, which the had to defend itself against other centralised states. Hence war, which required ever larger zones of influence, and so led to empire. Barbarians outside the empire of course coveted its riches, which meant more war. Ecological catastrophes (droughts, multi-year crop failures, plagues) disrupted the more or less stable empires, which meant more war. The leftover pieces of the empires reassembled themselves into new empires. New ecological catastrophes began the cycle all over again.
     And so it went and goes. We now have weapons that will cause the same kind of disruptions that ecological disasters cause, so it’s toss-up which will get us first.
     As I said, it’s a depressing read but worth it. The selections range from more or less scholarly disquisitions through advice on the art of war, to chronicles, reportage and personal witness. You can buy past issues from Lapham’s Quarterly, or you may find a current issue at a better bookstore. ****

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