I had never read Xenophon before and while a great fan of Thucydides, had never spent much time reading ancient Greek – as opposed to Byzantine – history. This was a challenge for me and while I can’t offer much original on Xenophon and his times, I can perhaps take a look at Xenophon’s view of politics in Clausewitzian terms. Consider this my own limited contribution to the round table discussion.
First, I am looking at this specifically from Clausewitz’s concept of cohesion which I have defined as his theory of politics. This is not the only aspect of his concept of cohesion, but the main one that I will be dealing with here. This was laid out in my “Clausewitz, On War, Book VIII, Chapter 3, The Concept of Cohesion”:
Cohesion as the moral (think tribalism, nationalism) and material (think constitution, institutions, shared views of how to define “civilization”) elements that make up the communal/social organizations of political communities, including the three ideal types discussed below. Moral cohesion can be seen as the traditional communal values of a political community, whereas material cohesion (in its most developed form) is the complexus of modern cosmopolitan values associated with society. The two types exist is a certain state of constant stress and tension with modern values actually being destructive to the retention of traditional values (following Weber). Cohesion here is Clausewitz’s theory of politics which also includes the abstract concept of money.
It should be pointed out that Clausewitz sees war as a type of human interaction and part of the realm of political relations. One of the three elements of war which provides the capstone of Clausewitz’s general theory of war (the overall theory which covers all wars) is the subordination to politics (see On War, Book I, Chapter 1, Section 28). Why should be make a distinction between moral and material cohesion? Because the interaction between the two can be to strengthen the overall cohesion of the political community or contrarily to weaken it. For instance Xenophon appeals to religious or spiritual values – moral cohesion – (The Anabasis, Book III, Ch 2, verse 9) while later appealing to monetary values (III, 3, 18) which can be contradictory. Also more modern political organizations (states) can be counter to the interests of pre-modern ones (tribes and clans), that is the material cohesion of states can be corrosive to the moral cohesion of a tribe.
In “Cohesion: Exploring the Myths and Opening the Veil”, LtCol CD Donnell states that social cohesion has four fundamental components: ideas, relationships, values and communication.
The reader will notice that there is a timeless quality to what I have introduced so far. Clausewitz is talking about general concepts which pertain to conflict and Donnell’s components have representation in all communities regardless of the level of development. It is my assumption here that Xenophon’s Anabasis lends itself to Clausewitzian strategic theory analysis and that the insights that exist in Anabasis concerning the formation of a political community are in turn timeless.
We start with the Greek army marching through Asia Minor east, but with no actual idea of their real goal. It is only after they have advanced a considerable distance that their benefactor, Cyrus of Persia, tells all the Greek generals the true goal of their expedition – the defeat of his brother the King of Persia and his own establishment as new king. The Greeks do not react positively to this and demand more money to continue. Xenophon remarks that the mass of the Greeks continue on out of a sense of shame, that is more a sense of inertia and vague material interest drives the army on (III, 1, 10). Their military professionalism and sense of belonging to “Greece” can be seen as elements of material cohesion, whereas their sense of belonging to specific city states or tribes and their individual loyalties to their specific generals can be seen as moral cohesion. Both types of cohesion are weakened at specific instances during the advance by the actions of for instance Menon when he convinces his army to advance first across the Euphrates River and thus gain the favour of Cyrus at the expense of the other Greeks (I, 4 15).
The moral and material cohesion of the Greek Army is sufficient to get them to the battle of Cunaxa and allow them to make a good accounting of themselves, but the battle ends in disaster for the Greeks since Cyrus is killed and his body mutilated by his brother the Great King. Cyrus’s death removes the political support and purpose that holds the Greek army together and unites it with its Persian allies. Without Cyrus there is also no source of monetary funds to pay the soldiers who are now without a patron. Xenophon is also well aware of the new political situation and how the Greek Army poses a threat to the Great King by its very continued existence (II, 4, 3-4).
At this point the Greeks are in a very difficult position in terms of both political support and organizational cohesion, and Clearchus takes command by mutual assent (II, 2, 5). Clearchus while extremely capable is a transition figure imo since he was the only Greek general who had known Cyrus’s original intention, not telling the others and he was as Xenophon tells us “fond of war” to the exclusion of peace.(II, 6) To lead this army home is going to require a different sort of leader, one who can harness his sense of panic for the overall good of the Army as a whole and build a political community by increasing both moral and material cohesion. Xenophon knows that fear can act as a source of strength providing the intellect is able to keep it in check (III, 1, 14). Clearchus is a capable commander and able to deceive the Persians as to his true strength (II, 3, 3) as well as operating within the logistic, geographic and tactical restraints he finds himself in, but without the outside and overwhelming pressure of the now hostile and united Persians, Clearchus’s focus would have been lost and his tendency to go looking for trouble and risk taking would have needlessly endangered the Greek Army.
In this way the betrayal of the Greek leadership by Tissaphernes is a turning point in Greek fortunes, for whereas most of their established leadership is wiped out, so too are sources of friction and disharmony that plague them as an organization. The way that the Greek leadership is despicably betrayed adds to the cohesion of the group, reminding the Greeks of the hardships and triumphs of their ancestors against the descendents of their very same traditional enemies (III, 2, 11-14). The Greek Army transforms itself from a loose band of mercenary groups in to a national army with higher levels of material and moral cohesion. Xenophon expertly appeals to all components of social cohesion: ideas, relationships, values and communication to build this political community. He is quick to use any event in supporting his goal (III, 2, 9) of forming this community, where the survival of the whole, not the instinct of the individual, is the guiding concept.