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.
Carl von Clausewitz, On War, Book VIII, Chapter 3B, The Concept of Cohesion
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.
14 thoughts on “Xenophon Roundtable: The Building of a Political Community”
An interesting observation. Clearchus’s death may have helped the Greeks. Could well be true.
So why did the Persians kill Clearchus and his aids? The Persians most likely assumed that since Clearchus had put this Greek military force together, his death would result in some mixture of paralysis and chaos among the mercenaries. I presume they guessed this because that is how their own armies would react to a leadership “decapitation”.
The idea that a group of soldiers from different city-states could peacefully re-organize, re-create a new leadership, and then maintain the self-discipline needed to march north and then west out of the Persian empire was unlikely.
The fact that it happened says some important things about Greek cohesion and shared culture.
“The fact that it happened says some important things about Greek cohesion and shared culture.”
And, if we believe the book, about Xenophon’s leadership.
“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.”
Very interesting, Seydlitz89. My understanding of the Greek “polis” was that the sense of political-religious community was not in the fixed place but in the community itself. So when the Athenians took to the sea in the Persian War, “Athens” was on the move, not just a mob of refugees on boats. When Greeks went to war, they fought as Spartans, Megarans, Argives etc. and not normally as mixed “Greeks” in a pan-Hellenic host.
But mercenaries, and there were Greek mercenaries all over Asia minor in this period, would have been a different kettle of fish. The “polis” spirit would be lacking in the army of Clearchus until Xenophon and Persian treachery welded it into one, as you argued. The emergence of a clearly recognizable “polis” spirit might also explain the accusations against Xenophon later in The Anabasis that he was seeking to found his own city. It would be the natural thing for Xenophon to do, if that was the case, rather than returning home to an uncertain reception in Athens.
The prospect of the polis-in-embryo, an army with camp followers, becoming a polis-in-reality with its own land and formal existence, is one of the key themes of the book.
Recall Clausewitz saying that in primitive conditions the trinity of people/army/state are really one. Here we see that being lived out.
I used to think that a “country” was a community that sat on a piece of real estate, and a “country” would “have” an “army”.
How it really is: If you have an army you can get land and women. Army > political community / polis.
The army precedes the “country”.
I have still not gotten my head fully around this.
But I will talk about it more in an upcoming post … .
“How it really is: If you have an army you can get land and women. Army > political community / polis.”
“The army precedes the “country”.”
The army is a movement of energy that is formed by a philosophy, based on the ethics of that philosophy, given an image by the spirit of the philosophy and moves towards philosophies of potential differences:
Philosophy>Ethics>spirit>Army(General)>potential different philosophies.
“The army is a movement of energy that is formed by a philosophy”.
That sounds a little too sophisticated for what Xenophon depicts, or what Clausewitz was talking about when he talked about simpler, more primitive “armies” — in quotes because the army/government/people distinction was either non-existent or not well formed.
In the case of the 10,000 after Cunaxa and after the murder of Clearchus, we could say the army was a group of armed and experienced soldiers who were willing and able to fight in unison and with discipline and initiative, who had chosen to be led and directed by certain officers, for the purpose of escaping from the threat of annihilation by the Persians, and returning to Greece. After reaching the sea, this definition began to break down at several points.
Whether the Army could have taken root somewhere, seized land, acquired women, slaves and animals sufficient to be self-sustaining, and established a true political order, is a question raised by Xenophon. They did not do so. But they might have done so, or tried to do so.
You understood what I wrote?
This is a new development. I don’t mean that in a sarcastic way.
“The army is a movement of energy that is formed by a philosophy.”
“That sounds a little too sophisticated for what Xenophon depicts, or what Clausewitz was talking about when he talked about simpler, more primitive “armies””
Yet they both studied under philosophers and both created an army. Xenophon raised his army out of the ashes of triumph, so to speak, and Clausewitz raised his out of the ashes created by the complexity of strategy.
I just think it was no accident that Xenophon studied under Socrates and that he went with Cyrus against the King. I think it was a put-up job and that is why there was so much distrust by those inside the military. I think Xenophon was put in both positions by those in power, and was viewed as an outsider by much of the army.
I think those in power knew they could win in much the same way they did against Athens, Generational Warfare. How did they know this? I think it was known through Xenophon’s relationship with Socrates.
The Anabasis of Cyrus was just the first strike in Generational Warfare. I think they used Cyrus as much as he used them, and Xenophon was the Ace Card, those in power were betting on. I think this had something to do with Xenophon’s relationship with his father, and Xenophon’s relationship with Cyrus and Cyrus’s army. Neither one was explained satisfactory for me.
No, actually, I was being polite. I did not “understand” what you wrote. An army is not “a movement of energy”, it is a group of armed men, at minimum, and will likely have other tangible characteristics as well.
Clausewitz did not raise an army. He participated the raising of the Prussian army in 1812-13 that drove Napoleon out of Germany. He did not study under any philospher. He read Kant, and other philosophers of his day, but his main influences were military history and personal experience and observation.
“I think Xenophon was put in both positions by those in power, and was viewed as an outsider by much of the army.”
You have a unique conspiracy theory. I see little or no textual support for it. Frankly, I think you either putting us on or not entirely right in the head. If that is a hard thing to read, then you will to pardon me, but you are writing on a public form and I am being brutally honest with you about how what you have written comes off to the reader. Take that for what it may be worth.
Nonetheless, you are being courteous, and seem to be trying to say something you believe to be pertinent. I will offer this civil response:
1. What does your terminology that an army is “a movement of energy” mean?
2. What is factual basis for your claim that there is something called Generational Warfare and that Xenophon and/or Socrates have anything to do with it.
Thank you gentlemen for the interesting comments-
I think it important the we retain the distinction between moral and material cohesion in terms of strategic theoretical concepts. While they can reinforce, they can also oppose, make weaker over time given certain conditions, which one would identify in terms of operational principles. Clausewitz would argue I think that the level of material cohesion attained allows for the political community to wage warfare of a higher level of “intensity” which someone here mentionsed was not something that the Persians could match.
I am assuming that you all have read Clausewitz’s On War, Book VIII, Chapter 3B, Xenophone’s Anabasis Books I-III, and my paper linked above. Just to state.
Would add that the country in this case did come first, the Greeks did have a “land”, a specific territory to have as a source of images, metaphors, memories, or simply as a common physical goal. The territory did come first, but recall that in the case of the Tartar’s – Clauewitz’s “ideal type” of pure moral cohesion, it does not have to . . .
Thinking about the close link between tactics, strategy and policy in Xenophone’s “state” . . .
“Xenophon’s” . . . must be thinking about a phone call . . . ;-)>
Without the the pressure of the Persians (more broadly, the necessity of certain behaviors to ensure survival) the 10k would surely have fallen into parts. Lex mentions here (or earlier comment) how quickly falling apart happens when they reach the Black Sea – some safety has been reached. The moral cohesion makes for solidarity among the army but it’s more of a tactical advantage in times of danger rather than a defining, overwhelming, strength of the group, isn’t it?
“Clausewitz did not raise an army.”
He still is raising them, or at least he is still teaching those who are commanding them.
“You have a unique conspiracy theory.”
I don’t believe in conspiracy theories, and I don’t think that is the way people of power operate. They are like gardeners who plant seed and wait for it to grow. It is the smart gardener who knows what the seed will produce. In Xenophon’s case I believe he was planted, as if seed, into the court of Socrates. The effort of the gardener was the successful but an unsustainable win over the King of Persia. But the army made it back, and so it was a win none the less. And the winner gets to write the story.
While I have no text of the story to back me up that his father “planted” Xenophon under some kind of “orders” from the people in power, the introduction to the book tells of the odd relationship Xenophon has with his father. I believe this odd relationship was created from betrayal. I think it was betrayal by the father to his son, by giving him to another man, if not explicitly then implicitly. If it had been Xenophon that betrayed his father, probably some old-school ethics would have kicked-in and he would have been killed. Instead, Xenophon retaliated as only a son could, by excluding his father from future generations, hence, generational warfare, as practiced by the person and by those of power.
Oh, I forgot:
“The army is a movement of energy that is formed by a philosophy”. That sounds a little too sophisticated for what Xenophon depicts, or what Clausewitz was talking about when he talked about simpler, more primitive “armies” — in quotes because the army/government/people distinction was either non-existent or not well formed.
Energy is force @ distance. Force is mass times acceleration. The mass in a movement of energy such as an army are the resources of the army. Mostly these are human resources. The acceleration is created by the philosophy, ethics, and spirit of the unit of military that the human resources reside in. But mostly the acceleration is created by the implicit and explicit information that is exchanged in the connections of the people. Usually this acceleration is at zero velocity, which creates a complex situation. This complex situation is relieved by the simplicity of movement, or in other words, the velocity of battle. When one talks about “fog of war” they don’t mean the velocity in the begining of battle.
The distance of the force in the energy of an army is the distance between the people. The force of an army, or the force in any movement of energy is internal, and the distance, in the case of the army, is the distance every person in the army is willing to be from the other when conditions become real. Death is real. Therefore the energy of an army is the force in the distance between the people of the army as conditions become real.
As I have said all force in an army is internal. When an army moves into an area, everything becomes internal. The distance then becomes the distance between weapons and the force is between the people and weapons on both sides of the area of conflict. However during war, the distance between the people of the conflict takes on a generational quality of itself, as the conflict becomes real. The reality is you are acting on generations of people before and in the future. You may be doing battle with the person before you, but you are acting as generations before you have and against generations in the future. The force in the conflict between armies then becomes between generations, as all warfare becomes generational in nature.
The way you fight generational warfare is to understand how energy moves between generations. This takes someone who understands how energy moves between generations. To fight generational warfare you need a philosopher. Sparta fought the King of Persia by making their generations stronger, while the generations of Kings became weaker. This is the same way they fought Athens. They used Socrates to understand how they were able to defeat Athens, as well as how to destroy the King of Persia. Alexander the Great was the generation who was able to sustain the victory over the King of Persia. What don’t you understand? Ha!
Imo, serious as a heart attack: second option.
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