Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Civil Wars

I sing the civil warrs, tumultuous broyles,
And bloudy factions of a might land:
Whose people hauty, proud with forain spoyles,
Upon themselves, turne back their conquering hand:

-Samuel Daniel (1562-1619), quoted in David Armitage's Civil Wars: A History in Ideas (2017)

This is an English poet echoing the literary and military heritage of Rome to write about the civil war in England between the houses of Lancaster and York (which we are revisiting on HBO as Lannisters and Starks),  as well as presaging the imperial quandaries of our American present.  Are we not in the midst of civil war (with votes, thank god) in US?  Are we not a "people hauty" in our consumerist excesses made possible by our conquering super-power status?

David Armitage's elegant and compact book Civil Wars is both subtle and, for me at least, novel in its analysis of the distinctions between "regular" war, civil war, rebellion, revolution and insurrection.  I'll not think so casually about the deployment of such terms ever again.   And thinking clearly about these distinctions might be helpful in understanding where we stand as global citizens in this moment that seems so fraught with incoherence and instability.

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