Civil Wars: A History in Ideas Hardcover – 3 Feb 2017
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"Given his stature in the academy, Armitage could have easily continued to write learned monographs on focused subjects. Instead, in an attempt to revitalize the historical discipline, he has risked the scorn of his colleagues by trying new methods. Both the impulse to try new ways of writing history and the finished product should be applauded. Armitage's approach might cause a revolution within the discipline. As he knows all too well, that revolution will be preceded by civil war."-Prof. John M. Collins, Reviews in History -- Prof. John M. Collins * Reviews in History * "Armitage's work is consistent and his goal is clear."-Ed Jones, LSE Review of Books -- Ed Jones * LSE Review of Books * "Armitage's goal, in this wide-ranging and informative book, is to examine the history of the idea of civil war as it has developed from the Romans until the present time... He has given us a book that is full of insights."-John Gray, Literary Review, March 2017. -- John Gray * Literary Review * "In "Civil Wars" Mr Armitage traces the evolution of an explosive concept, not to pin down a proper meaning but to show why it remains so slippery... The meaning of civil war, as Mr Armitage shows, is as messy and multifaceted as the conflict it describes. His book offers an illuminating guide through the 2,000-year muddle and does a good job of filling a conspicuous void in the literature of conflict."-The Economist, 10th February 2017 * The Economist *
About the Author
David Armitage is Lloyd C. Blankfein Professor of History and Chair of the Department of History at Harvard University. His books include The History Manifesto (CUP, 2014), Foundations of Modern International Thought (CUP, 2013), The Declaration of Independence: A Global History (Harvard, 2007) and the prize-winning The Ideological Origins of the British Empire (CUP, 2000).
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Descriptions about events, for example what is happening in Iraq, carry moral and political judgements about the causes and the protagonists. However, a description of, say, a civil war invokes facts about how the warring parties view themselves and each other. There is another problem that the Professor addresses here, namely how do you define a civil, war? Today, most if not all insurgent include those from other states. Hence, no longer do those taking part in civil wars regard themselves as belonging to the same community. The Spanish Civil War is another example of this. In addition, sometimes there are civil wars within civil wars.
Armitage has taken on a very complex and contentious subject. His attempt to prove that civil war is historically constructed is not very convincing. Nonetheless, we can learn a great deal from this learned text, a book replete with insights and facts. Regarding the latter, how many people know that a larger proportion of the population of England died in the two civil wars of the 17th century than in the Great War?
The question we have to ask is does it really matter how we describe a war. The slaughter between 1861 and 1865 is in no way made more understandable by being called the American Civil War. What really matters is the constant recurrence of bloody wars throughout human history. This is what we should be addressing.