THE ART OF HISTORY NO. I
This interview was conducted by Giles Hoffmann and has been edited for brevity and clarity.
My harassment campaign lasted several months, over which time I sent nearly fifty emails. On the first occasion that Edward Luttwak suggested a speaking time, I had scarcely read any of his work. I therefore ordered Luttwak’s subversive instruction manual, Coup d’État: A Practical Handbook (1968), and proposed an alternative date for our interview. When I later felt sufficiently ready (having not read the book, but many of his LRB essays), Luttwak was on Tetamanu Island in French Polynesia, snorkeling among the coral and fish. We agreed on day in the coming weeks.
But fate conspired against us once again. Our interview was this time eclipsed by the Ottawa trucker’s convoy, in which I helped “organize,” an admittedly boomer event destined to fail, but one that also served as tonic, especially for Canadians who are by default depressingly catatonic.
Finally, Luttwak and I spoke, the fruits of which are here. It turns out that I should have taken the first opportunity to talk, because Luttwak doesn’t so much answer questions, but instead he anticipates them, challenging you on the direction he assumes you would have taken. Alas my very researched questions will have to sleep forever in their files.
Even so, everything that Luttwak has to say is valuable; he is an ancient spirit dripping with an erudition that he cannot contain. Indeed if he wasn’t so charming, speaking in a slow cadence and grave accent, in a way that undeniably conveys a man with experienced eyes, or if he wasn’t so brutal and bare in perspective, dismissing at once all the sinkholes of contemporary suffocation, without getting lost in the confused web of modern political “theories,” then Luttwak would be very dislikeable – would be!
But, as an archetypal of man of adventure and war, Luttwak is ineluctably seductive, and so: I forgive him!
We must too acknowledge the elephant in the frog pond: between Luttwak and many us, there is currently a stanch disagreement over the Russian-Ukraine war. But that does not mean that Luttwak is by default a support of the globohomo apparatus. Conversely, he foresees a victorious Ukraine as the soon-to-be birthed son, who will grow-up to attack both mother and father – the life-denying influence of the European Union and America, as well as the authoritative Russian. Time remains the judge of Luttwak’s optimism.
This difference aside, it can make you sad to speak with Luttwak. It’s hard to imagine anyone living so freely today, tasting war and open possibilities, who is then later recognized for their genuine, exceptional insight. Luttwak seems like an anachronism, a vintage piece who has no spiritual heir, condemned to memory and mere nostalgia.
The obviously brilliant, now, have scurry into the subterranean depths, precisely because the risk of telling the truth, or having genuine eccentricities, is invariably met with the asphyxiating fire-blanket of botched biology, who are in positions of power. Their time will come. Until then, remain frothing at the teeth until the chaos they flame severs the leash that restrains us.
And in fact, in Luttwak, we find a kindred soul who provides a vision of hope for the future. It is the same vision that will require tremendous sacrifice and risk for its sunrise to appear on the horizon, but will in turn whisper to our blood that history is not yet over.
We have to do it quickly.
Before we begin, I want mention that it is an honour –
– That’s very kind. Let’s just get to the questions.
Everything you learned was in Palermo? [From a previous correspondence, Edward had mentioned that he had lived in “Palermo from age 5 till 10. Have not learned a thing since then.”]
My parents were living in the center of Palermo, in nice apartments, facing the Opera, with a concert hall next door. There was a nice park with ancient trees. The only people who lived in the area were either aristocrats, the Mafia, or business associates of the Mafia. The aristocrats had sent their children to boarding schools in Tuscany, so that they wouldn’t speak with the Sicilian accent.
My parents had only just arrived in Italy. My father had been extraordinarily successful and wanted me to mingle. I went to the local school and I spoke the Sicilian dialect. Because of the Mafia’s presence at the school, we as boys were the only boys who didn’t fight each other. If we fought, then the winner would have to face the elder brother, and then eventually the parents…and then it would begin. So, we were the only children who knew about “arms control” – meaning you could push, but you couldn’t punch and you couldn’t kick. We had vigorous soccer games instead. We had a soccer team that fiercely played against the neighbouring streets’ soccer teams. It was a gang organization, and eventually at the age of ten I became the leader of my school football team. My guys liked war.
Arms control and war by the age of ten.
You had your lesson in men by the age of ten, but when did you receive your lesson in women?
I used to play poker with the professional skippers, who maintained the boats while the owners were away. I was there on holiday throughout the summer, and during the week I was free, until the weekend, when the people would come from Milano to use their yacht.
I was in Santo Margarito, which is one kilometer away from Portofino. The boats were there, and there were nice women running around. It was a very good place for a fifteen-year-old to learn about life.
Were you, at this time, or earlier in your life, ever practicing Judaism?
No, no, no!
My family and I were never religious. We were just terrifically into reading the Torah in Hebrew, and my father was interesting in reading the Talmud in Aramaic. I know all the prayers and songs, and I read all the texts, but I was never pious. In Palermo, there was no synagogue. When we got to Milano we attended all the local festivals.
We broke all the rules: we never kept the Sabbath. We did, however, read the text: the book, the chapter, and the verse.
It’s a textual religion.
If not the pious, then at least the profane? Was it at this age when you had your…amorous escapades?
Not amorous escapes. I was just a teenage boy entering manhood in a normal way.
You have described strategy has having two orientations: one that is concerned with analysis and bureaucracy – the domain of plans and dates and common-sense, and systematic organization, where a straight-line narrative is possible. Here there are rules and guides and obvious applications. The second orientation is very different, and concerns itself with the logic of strategy. This logic is not linear, but contradictory, even paradoxical. Here there are no steadfast rules, and no instruction manual. It is rather the place for generalizations and instincts. It would seem to me, by this very definition, is that there is a feminine quality, like Nature herself, in this latter distinction.
Is Grand Strategy like a woman?
No. A woman you said? Absolutely not. I do not see any such parallels at all. Personal relations and the logic of conflict are completely different. I do not see the parallel. I do not accept it. It doesn’t make sense. The logic of strategy is inherent to conflict and collective actions, and not individual actions. They are not governed by the same dynamic at all.
I’ve found mostly people who study war, but do not have a passion for it. They don’t seem fascinated and allured by conflict, especially battle. What happens when those who study war, do not also love war?
You cannot study war seriously unless you have engaged in it. But it’s a question of the experience of warfare; it’s your emotional attitude to warfare. People react to war, emotionally, in a very different way. Most people have no experience of war, they only have cinematic depictions of war. And to me they mean absolutely nothing. I have had my experiences of actual war – these experiences were characterized by a discernable emotional dimension, in the sense that some people were afraid – who had to control their fear – while there were others who were not afraid – and therefore did not have to control their fear.
People who were afraid and could not control their fear…Well, I couldn’t see them because they were not on the battlefield. They had avoided it or escaped.
So, there are only two types of people: those who are afraid and who can control it, and then there are people who are fearless. Rightly or wrongly, they have a sense of invulnerability. I belong to the second category. I was never afraid.
If the possibility of war is an essential premise for anything political, then for Grand Strategy –
– Grand Strategy is dominated by politic. Internal politics and external politics dominate. If you start a war ill-prepared but you have a cohesive mission and strong allies, you are more likely to win than if you have an advanced military, but you lack a cohesive mission and good allies.
But with innovations in destruction, from World War I to –
– The First World War scared nobody, and indeed we had the second one. It only caused a few protagonists to absorb it. What interrupted the cycle was nuclear weapons, because nuclear weapons exceeded the culminating point of useful destruction.
And what do you think happens to men – as biological substance – without war?
There are men around the universe, many of whom do not grow up with war or warring cultures. I just got back from Polynesia, and the Polynesians have not had any experience of war for centuries. It has changed them. It is one of the reasons why it is rather nice to be in Polynesia, because people are extremely unaggressive. The French were very good colonial masters, so there is zero resentment…no chips on shoulders…none of this angry stuff that you get in the Bahamas when they should be very polite, but they are not.
So, the Polynesians are very nice…
But the European Man, the one who discovered everything and explored everything and visited all those countries that never visited him…the European Man, he was absolutely forged by war. His constitution is the Iliad, and all those who diverge from that are, in different forms, dead-end people. The cuckoo clock story is a very accurate one.
It is that European civilization was powered by war, and indeed, it all started with the Greeks. Remember Heraclitus’s phrase, “War is the Father of all things.” And the mode and the rise of Europe and its domination, of which persists today despite Chinese attempts – very weak Chinese attempts, I should say – was due to the sequence of wars, destruction, and then the powerful energies of reconstruction. Man loves war; women love warriors. After the war they make children.
The destruction of the war, is replaced by much more construction, and this is how Europe advanced, and the cities that were most often besieged and attacked were the ones that grew the most. London is an exception, and so the British had to go and find the wars elsewhere, which they did, in every continent, being European.
War and Europe were symbiotic.
As a mechanism – any economist should agree – that the strongest years in Europe and in America, were the post-War years, when men came back from war with a great desire to find women, make child, build houses, create companies, etc. War is the dynamic that propelled Europe.
America, like the British have to go very far find wars, and they have to come up with fanciful explanations. When the Americans fought in Vietnam, they gave very elaborate explanations to travel 4000 miles. But they really went because they are European.
“Men love war; woman love warriors.” So, what do you think about women in political –
– So far women Prime Ministers are more ferocious than their male counterparts. Women in positions of power, pursue power.
But the most important issue is the European mechanism, which powered European creativity, and this machine worked on a program – a program written in Greece. There is no other program. The moment you deviate, you will find absolutely nothing. Literally nothing. For example: Spain is the most feminist and the most pacifist nation in Europe. The Spanish troops in Iraq were embarrassing, they just wouldn’t fight, even when attacked. And Spain has the lowest birthrate in Europe. These people are going to disappear.
They may have opinions about invented new lifestyles, sexual and non-sexual – all these “wonderful” things, but nature is not interested. They are actually disappearing.
The old European formula, which caused enormous amounts of human suffering, and enormous amounts of creation, was: man loved war; women loved warriors – building more than what was there before, including breeding more children for a larger population. Europe, in fact, was full of people. When I was born – and I’m very old – in November 1942, the population of Italy was greater than the population of the whole of North Africa, from Morocco to the Suez Canal. Today Egypt alone has more people than Italy, Spain, and half-of France or something.
There are too many examples to give, including creations we take for granted. The world suffers today from diabetes because Napoleon proclaimed that he did not want to import Caribbean sugar from the British, and so he gave a prize to whomever would come up with a domestic source. And somebody did in France, and they won the prize. Sugar beets, which were once known as just beets, and this is only one of a thousand things that happened along the way. War is the father of all things.
Without the dynamic of war, the European populations are shrinking, birth rates are shrinking, and you have physiological decline. There is crisis of demographics because more of the population is old, and old people are cynics – they don’t invent things; they don’t fight.
The antidote is, then, to return?
Yes, it is an ideological antidote, which is the recovery the original formula, because there is no other solution.
The point is this…it is very annoying – extremely annoying – that European Civilization utterly dominates the world, so much so, that other civilizational activities are either ignorant or pathetic. It is very annoying that all of it should have derived from a couple hundred thousand people who lived in Greece, 2000-2500 years ago or more.
The point is that it is very annoying that this is so – but it is so – and attempts to deviate from it, to come up with alternatives, whereby men don’t love war and women don’t love warriors, have failed, and they have failed demographically. The Italians are disappearing; the Spanish are disappearing. The highest birthrates in Europe are in places where people are still engaging in manly activities, such Finland and Sweden. There is no doubt that in the Ukraine there will be lots of children.
Ukrainians are cursed by this war and blessed by it, because it’s a great thing for nations so ill-formed and never independent, with no history of self-government to talk about since the 9th century, for them to fight such a war, and to win it. It will launch them and propel them. And that was the basic mechanism – it is the Battle of Salamis. Aeschylus. Have you read The Persians?
I have not.
Aeschylus, the first of the great playwrights. He fought at Salamis, and he won the literary competition to write the play after the war. It was performed in front of audience of people who had just fought in the war, in which the immense Persian navy enters Greece in Salamis, and the hugely outnumbered Greek ships defeat the Persians.
There are two important passages. One is how the Greeks rallied themselves before the war, about how they were fighting for their freedom, for Greece, for their parents and children, and so on.
Contained in the second passage is the question that Xerxes asks about these strange people, who are defeating this vast army – who is set above this enemy? Who rules them? Who is their shepherd and their master? And the answer is that the Greeks have no master above them. Each is his own master.
Read the play.
Aeschylus is the first of the great Greeks. Think of the fact that the very early playwright he has to depict the Battle of Salamis and he didn’t have props or film or simulation, so his play is set in the Persian courts, where they are receiving messages. Aeschylus triumphantly celebrates the Greek victory, while at the same, he has regard for the other side. Atusa is a Persian Queen. At the end of the play when news turns very bad from the battle, she worries about her son’s life, and then she becomes a Mother. And do to this in the first play, practically, ever written tells you about what I mentioned. We must be tributary to that history, because the moment you deviate from this culture, you decline biologically. So that’s all there is to it.
In America, the particular fight against those –
– But these are all deviations. The people who uphold those values don’t count. You see: you have two sets of people in this country: there are the people who maintain those ancient and thoroughly obsolete values – “men love war and women love warriors” – and then are many other people who have other ideologies. The thing about those people with other ideologies is they are exemplified by the Clintons – they have one daughter. That’s it. Okay? That means they are dying out.
To practically revive –
– Europe provides the data on the macro-sense: the more liberal the society, the more “advanced” it becomes, adopting different concepts of life and so on, the lower the birthrate. That’s why there is no negative correlation between poverty and birthrate in Europe. The least number of children come from the richest. Scandinavians and so on. It’s very annoying, I accept that, to be tributary to people died 2500 years ago, who were white male slave owners, to be clear. Very annoying, however there is no competition.
The alternative –
– When a Chinese person wants to see a good play, he has to see Uncle Vanya. Some people accept that without any problems, and others don’t. And then there are the Muslims, of course, whose ideal was shown by the Taliban, who are the Muslim in a pure form – and we see what that leads to: zero creativity. The entirety of the Muslim world, 1.9 billion people, generates less science and technology than the 9 million people in Israel. The Greeks were outnumbered by the Persians – remember? The Persians produced nothing. Or very little. A couple of monuments. And so, one of the fundamental problems is the necessity – the false necessity – of making civilizations equivalent. You cannot walk into a classroom and say, “Let’s talk about the important civilisations, then, if we have time, we’ll mention the others. Ideologically, you cannot do that. And therefore, you begin with a lie. The basis of contemporary generic education is a lie, in which all civilizations are equal.
In your piece, the “Future of Fascism,” you –
– That was about the financialization of industrial corporations, and national degradation because of it. It was about the transfer of responsibility from humans to computers, to create a bigger class of lumpenproletariat, who will discover that the elites will turn their backs on the white working class. That’s what I predicted. The white working class will then look for advocates who will support them. And that’s why fascism has a future. The abandonment of the white working class by the democratic party was the subject of that piece.
But fascism, or whatever you want to call the European formula, requires more than economic analysis.
Yes. Those were only practical observations. My thought didn’t contain much else for that piece. What you’re asking for is the return to ideological truth, as opposed to the posing of untruth.
Look what is happening right now. There is a media which is dominated by hearings for a person becoming a judge (Ketanji Brown Jackson). I’m not saying that this person is less qualified than the people who have become judges in that court. I’m just saying…everyone is making a gigantic attempt to portray a very ordinary person into somebody who is one of the seven. [Laughs]
There is an official lie over everything. All societies generate official lies that people pretend to believe, but the question is whether the lies officially overwhelm the truth.
Do you have recommendations for the young men, who show a wide-eyed lust for truth.
Absolutely. That is how European civilization has always advanced. The rediscovery of the great classics in the 9th century, lead to the massive effort to preserve them. Then there was early Renaissance of the 12th century. Then the Renaissance, then the Enlightenment, and so on.
If people went back to simply reading those books, that would be a good start. The reason is not because these texts are necessarily transcendental. It is just that European civilization is based on it. As I say: read Aeschylus. It was the enormous confidence generated by this victory that propelled the rise of Greek civilization that followed the Battle of Salamis. Victories are empowering. In 1948, 650 000 Israelis survived the attack by multiple Arab armies, along with the American plan to extinguish their state, which tagged along with the British plan, for strategic reasons. The Secretary of State George Marshall, refused to meet the Israeli envoy, because he was very busy and he thought Israel wouldn’t last more than a few weeks. The Greeks were given the same chances of survival when the Persian empire invaded. Having survived that, it generated so much energy that it empowered the state. If other countries had grown at the Israeli rate from 650 000 to 9 million in that time frame, the world population would be bigger.
I expect great things in Ukraine. Great things. Once the Russian tide recedes, Ukraine will be empowered by its victory.
But those same forces that support Ukraine are the same forces that share the alternative vision to the European formula. You seem to think that Ukraine will not fall into the hands of their current American and EU puppeteers?
[Laughs]. No way. It will take 90 years for the energy generated to dissipate. They are will be unleashed. Alright I have to run. Read that stuff.
THIS PIECE IS AVAILABLE IN PRINT FORM IN VOLUME I ISSUE III