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IM-1776: The Edward Luttwak Tapes

IM-1776: The Edward Luttwak Tapes
Photo by Ingo Schulz / Unsplash
The paradox of American power

I recently had the privilege of interviewing Edward Luttwak for IM-1776 (The Edward Luttwak Tapes).

Edward Luttwak is an expert in international relations and military strategy, who first rose to prominence at the age of 26 with the publication of his first book, Coup d’Etat: A Practical Handbook. The book immediately garnered attention from around the world, including a ringing endorsement from John le Carré, who called it “an unholy gastronomic guide to political poison;” fifty-five years later, it would seem a prescient description of Luttwak’s whole body of work.

Along with being the author of countless articles and books, including the controversial Grand Strategy of the Roman Empire, Luttwak is also a combat veteran, consultant for the Department of Defense, and former National Security Council member and presidential adviser.

The man is something of an enigma, a Beltway rebel with a Machiavellian mind and the heart of a soldier; too wild and free to be a bureaucrat. So close to power, he could have had it all. But that would mean playing the game, and Luttwak is not the kind to play those games. There are serious and unserious people in the world, and he has little patience for the latter—that became abundantly clear during our conversation.

At first, Luttwak was polite but slightly cold, which is understable, given that he usually takes calls from heads of state and not pseudonymous authors. But after exchanging a few military bona fides, Luttwak seemed more comfortable, and so we talked deserts, guns, and jungles before diving into geopolitics.

Luttwak has always been a controversial figure. Forty years of shaping US foreign policy is just enough time to infuriate ideologues from one end of the spectrum to the other. But I think what makes Luttwak most dangerous in the eyes of Washington’s pointy-headed climbers is that he, as an outsider, says “no” to the game… “no” to promotions and predictability… “no” to corporate decision-making… “no” to authority disguised as power. This is a cardinal sin in Washington and treated with great suspicion.

But Luttwak is a warrior; it’s incurable. The world, especially one as unpredictable and dangerous as ours, cannot and should not be intellectualized. It is best left uncooked; enjoyed in the raw. Otherwise you say “no” to the unpredictability and the mystery… and the mystery is the key.

An excerpt:

“We have this paradox here in America. In the United States, there’s what people call ‘political divisions.’ But these divisions are not, in fact, political; they are much more serious than that. We have cultural divisions. We have a group who believes in a certain societal structure, one where there is the family, and then on top of the family, communities that maintain communal stability, law and order, and decency, with the state above that. These are the Americans. Then there are the other Americans, who reject gender, identity, and the family as a concept. They want to pursue individualism. They do not believe in the family or the community, and they reject the legitimacy of the United States.  

So again, this is the paradox of American power. We are very strong abroad, but we cannot resolve these internal divisions that are so profound they prejudice the power of the United States. Such divisions should nullify this power because power is mass multiplied by cohesion. We have no cohesion, and therefore, we have no power. We may have power invested in structures like the military, but these structures are declining…”

I hope you enjoy, and please feel free to drop your questions or feedback in the comments section below.

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