Gregory R. Copley

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Gregory Copley with friend and colleague, His Imperial Highness Prince Ermias Sahle-Selassie Haile-Selassie, the President of the Crown Council of Ethiopia.

The Art of Victory: The Meaning of the Book

By Gregory R. Copley.

A discussion presentation at Borders Books, Vienna, Virginia, December 7, 2006.


The Art of Victory attempts to extract from the gamut of human experience the lessons of how mankind has come to dominate much of nature, and survive in relative harmony with it. And how we can  and must keep doing it. No small task, but one made more focused by the sole, underlying tenet of the book: that we all seek to survive and to perpetuate our bloodlines, and ensure that, in the process, our lives have meaning. Meaning — however we each interpret this nebulous word — may be one of the greatest drivers of human accomplishment, and therefore human progress and survival.

We are now in the vortex of one of the most dynamic ages of change in human history, and it’s time to take stock, and to plot a course into our future. What is the future of the human species? Can our particular society survive and sustain itself in control of its own destiny (because we know that the life expectancy of societies is precarious)? How will we survive, and how well will we survive? Who and what are our competitors? How do we prevail?

So let me start with the words which commence The Art of Victory:

turn and take one last look around at the life you have known, at the life we humans have built over the past few thousand years. It is already gone. The granite columns of antiquity remain, ’though they crumble. Humanity, more vast in its numbers, remembers little of its past. This great upheaval we see today is how the epochs change.

Our ego tells us that this era of change is different from all other past human experience; that the future is unchartable and unmanageable. But that is not so. We can shape the future as we have always done, now more than ever before. There are golden times again for us to make.

And yet we are in the eye of the hurricane, an Age of Global Transformation, a pivotal time for humanity. The pace of change is accelerating, not just in science and technology: human numbers are surging, and flooding into urban, mostly coastal, cities and towns, creating a cauldron of friction and potentially revolutionary heat. Climates, too, are changing, and yet we remain fixated on the status quo, and on the promises and fears of the future. Forgotten is the fact that in our past mankind was more aware of the tools of survival with which nature equipped us.

… So that begins to answer — in those opening words of The Art of Victory — the question as to why anyone in the 21st Century would write a book on the subject of victory. That word — victory — is, to many, antithetical to the political correctness which pervades today’s culture of self-indulgence. In any event, what does it mean? [By the way, I do not mean to sneer at political correctness: it is a natural human mechanism of survival for segments of all populations; it is a mechanism which automatically self-regulates society, just as militancy is a natural reaction to certain situations.]

Clearly, we first need to define the concept of victory before we can determine what its goals should be at a personal or societal level, let alone consider how we achieve those goals. Here we are, tens of millennia into human social organization, and we have not yet adequately defined one of the most important words in our language.

My work, specifically for the past 35 years, has been largely to analyze events through the prism of grand strategy, which sounds very grand, although all it means is that, as a discipline, things are viewed through an entirely contextual framework, embracing as many factors as possible of current, past, and future life and reality. As my old master, Dr Stefan Possony, would say, it means seeing the big picture, but without neglecting a brushstroke of detail; to be a “specialist generalist”. Understanding strategy, and particularly grand strategy, demands an holistic perspective of the total warp and weft of global history: seeing the long, historical strands — the warp — and the broad geopolitical contextual weave — the weft — of current affairs, economic trends, power and social factors, and so on.  As you can imagine, then, with that task, there is no such thing as a perfect grand strategist.

In total, I have spent more than four decades studying global issues, often in conflict zones and troubled areas, watching societies rise and fall. In the  process, it seemed less than clear that anyone actually remembered what historical occurrences set them on the their path. In essence, mankind seemed to have forgotten where it came from and where it wished to go. In modern, successful societies it had become seemingly unnecessary to ask the basic questions of: who are we and who am I? From whence did I come? And whither do I and my society wish to go? What is necessary for me to survive tomorrow? Not today, but tomorrow.

Most of us in the West — the modern, industrialized states essentially led by secular governments — had, for a half-century or more, the luxury of believing that tomorrow was a linear extrapolation of yesterday. The Cold War period was a comforting respite from the century or more of upheaval and growth which had occurred immediately before it. During the Cold War, we came to believe in growth in all good things, shrugging off minor setbacks. The end of the Cold War saw a return to chaos, or apparent chaos, in many things. The globalization which we saw emerge seemed unlike anything which had been seen in recent history. But it was not unprecedented in its strategic characteristics.

In the book I talk of the reality that Genghis Khan’s iteration of globalization in the early 13th Century has direct parallels to today. Genghis Khan’s approach was to seize territory and decapitate conquered societies, killing their leaders and destroying their hierarchies. This left societies without local leaders, and robbed of much of their sense of identity. His process — incorporating globalization of communications and command and control, globalization of ideas, and capital — ensured that new concepts, and new technologies exploded throughout the Eurasian landmass. So, too, did other things, such as pandemic disease. Because of Genghis Khan’s new world, and only a century after his death, the plague swept with lightning speed from China’s Pacific coast — where it killed more than 50 percent of the population — to Europe’s Atlantic and Mediterranean shores where it ravaged populations. That was the last time, until our present period, when the population of Western Europe declined.

The black death brought some interesting consequences. Historically speaking, the black plague was not entirely black. In Europe, it meant that survivors of the plague became richer, because they inherited from a lot of dead relatives, and so capital formation — and therefore economic growth and social transformation — became easier. Today, the decapitation of hierarchies, however, has been performed by the mass media, but we are often left, nonetheless, leaderless, confused, and riven with angst.

But let me return to the central theme: victory itself.

Victory is not about winning a battle or a war. It is far more complex, and far more elevated than that. It is not just about today, or even the next few tomorrows. This is how I described it in The Art of Victory:

Victory … is infinitely more important than war and peace. Without victory — victory over nature, victory over adversaries, victory over self, victory over ignorance — a society fades to extinction. Mankind can tolerate the uncertainties and costs of conflict, but without victory there is no lasting peace, or any real peace at all: no prosperity, no control over destiny, no guarantee of survival. Victory at its essence is the survival of the species.

Victory is the goal of life and therefore ultimately of the whole range of human emotions and skills; it is a genetic writ within the essence of each individual human being: to survive, dominate, perpetuate, grow.”

And I went on to say:

Victory is not just “winning.” Winning — when viewed down the silent, windswept plains of history — is tactical, a phenomenon which is, by definition, explosive, transitory, and ephemeral. Victory is slow-burning, overarching and transcendent. Victory requires, however, that goals be won or achieved on an ongoing basis. It is neither a permanent nor secure phenomenon. Society too often mistakes the process of conquest for victory itself, which is the sustained delivery of a complex pattern of successes. To be victorious, then, implies the command of an epoch and the fundamental alteration of history, personal or societal. While a single success or defeat may affect history, victory — whether eventually undone or not — marks the path of a society or of mankind.

In other words, victory sounds pretty much like what we see — or rather, what we have seen — all around us in the West. We had conquered and dominated geography over the centuries; we have secured and built our economic wealth, our science, our languages, our literature and beliefs. We became, then, masters of all we surveyed. The question now — in this age when upheaval means that all things are again up for grabs — is whether we in the West wish this path to continue.

Not that this book was written just for a Western audience. Indeed, the large bulk of humanity has been denied a true grasp of victory for centuries, and many now sense intuitively that they have, in the post-Cold War world — the Age of Uncertainty — the opportunity to seize it. The book has 30 chapters, 28 of which are headed by a maxim, explained in the text which follows, and all are equally important to the attainment and the retention of the victory of a society, or of an individual within society. Where possible, I have set the stage for each maxim with an example from current life.

So the book deals heavily with the formulation and components of grand strategy and how they relate to the success or failure of both societies and individuals. It gets into how belief systems are formed, and the rôle of religion; and it gets into one of the main areas of my work for which there has never been a textbook: psychological strategy.

The original paper on which the book is based was intended to follow, and to broaden the context of Sun-tzu’s 2,500-year-old Art of War; Niccolò Machiavelli’s The Prince and Discourses; Carl von Clausewitz’s 1832 classic, On War; and Sir Basil Liddell-Hart’s Strategy. These texts remain essential, of course, but missing were textbooks, or blueprints covering the broader context.

Science has now given us the ability to better understand the impact of climate’s inevitable and immutable process of change, and the impact of geospatial strategic change brought about by mankind’s unprecedented ability to move globally and into space. And, of course, we need to understand the ramifications of changes in scale and pace which the compounding development of human tools has allowed.

The first maxim sets the stage, and says: Victory is the principal goal of a society and the first responsibility of the state, because only in victory is survival possible. And I begin that chapter with an example of how Daimler and Chrysler each began their search for survival, a process which led to their 1998 merger, and how Daimler emerged as the dominant party and the ultimate victor in a corporate sense, and Chrysler, in order to survive, sacrificed a great degree of control over is own destiny: its language, culture, and so on. It was a prosaic version of the fictional space invaders who want to take over earth because their own planet had become untenable. Daimler, like a number of other European (and particularly German) companies such as Deutsche Post and now, increasingly, Airbus Industrie, have literally attempted to almost covertly export their financial center of gravity to the US because the US provided a more habitable climate.

Taking the longer view of the millennia of the construction of the West’s dominance over the globe, it may be that the moves of corporations from, say, Germany to the US amount to nothing more than moving the deck chairs on the Titanic after the iceberg had been struck. Unless … Unless the West, or modern society, decides consciously that it wishes to perpetuate its hard-earned victory, instead of allowing it to be eroded, or broken up; a process which is now possible; and now indeed possible on a rapid scale.

The parallels between the West of today and the decline and fall of the Roman Empire are evident.

In the book, I also note that societies tend to bifurcate — or trifurcate, or even more — when they approach their zenith as was the case with Rome. In Chapter 20, The Never-Ending Challenge, Maxim 20 reads: Victory can never be total, and this is its beauty. Victory is always relative and will ultimately fail if it attempts to be absolute. To provide a current context, I highlighted the reality that, despite the fears of some Western Europeans — and some in disenfranchised societies who rightly feared for the survival of their own cultures and bloodlines — the US at the end of the Cold War was never going to be the sole global power, just as Rome could never have prevailed over the entire planet, neither could the Mongols under Genghis Khan, nor Hitler, nor the so-called “monolithic communism” of which Lenin fantasized.

To illustrate the fact that absolute power absolutely generates competition, I hope I made the book more appealing by citing the parable of financier Sir James Goldsmith, who said: “When you marry your mistress, you automatically create a job vacancy.” The reality is that, like watching the constant splitting of cells under a microscope, we can see masses build, and then, ultimately split and begin new lives as separate entities.

Indeed, maxim 21 notes: The enemy of “identity” is “mass”. Where identity is sacrificed to mass, victory suffers. And in that chapter, under that maxim, I say: “Welcome to an Interregnum of Cratocide and Cratogenesis”. Here, I’m pleased to say that, working with a colleague in Athens, Dr Marios Evriviades, we coined names for two of the phenomena which have once again arisen, as they rise throughout human history: cratocide, the murder of nations; and cratogenesis, the birth of nations. That’s what we will see increasingly over the coming few decades as the world re-defines its structures: nations disappearing and appearing. And that is one reason why the United Nations, which saw its task as freezing the status quo of the world into 1945 terms — the terms of the triumphant powers of World War II — will soon become irrelevant.

The end of the Cold War saw globalization break out, and that spelled the crumbling of the Westphalian principles, which had evolved since 1648 as the absolute definition of sovereignty. And, of course, that also means that what we are pleased to call “international law” as a rigidly codified form of interaction between societies, will also crash about our ears. The world is redefining itself, and essentially many of the artificial, or abstract, structures which we have built will be replaced by more fundamental realities of human interaction and, in time, they too will become complex, and entrenched, and then they too will become sclerotic and brittle, and be replaced.

In many respects, that’s what The Art of Victory attempts to understand: the very fundamental, even genetically-implanted, survival mechanisms which dictate how we must react and interact as individuals and societies if we are to survive and prosper as a species.

As a result, when we discuss the rôle of war in victory, the book attempts to grasp the guiding principles as to when war is productive or counter-productive. Indeed, because conflict now entails so many aspects of maneuver, both physical and psychological, can there ever in the future be clearly defined periods of “war” and “peace”, if there ever were?

Early in The Art of Victory, I attempt to define how we reached our current Age of Global Transformation, which began with the end of the Cold War. In a nutshell, we saw societies building the great tools of power: telecommunications, advanced rapid transportation means, and, most importantly, the ability to amass capital. These were the instruments used by one bloc of societies to oppose another bloc. But with the end of the Cold War, instead of being the tools which divided opposing societies, they became the tools which united mankind on many levels. Humanity, capital, and, most significantly, ideas could now flow virally around the globe, something we had not seen since Genghis Khan’s 13th Century globalization.

The loss of hierarchies induces in societies a justifiable, and arguably visceral, fear for their survival, and, in the uncertainty which prevails, individuals and groups emerge which attempt to re-acquire control over their own destinies. Herein lie the seeds of terrorism, of societal re-awakenings, and of collapse.

In The Art of Victory, I examine what this means in the immediate and coming decades, as well as attempting to define the underlying rationales for societal evolution and morphing. So the book looks, for example, at whether Iran can re-emerge as a great power, or whether China’s and India’s seemingly inexorable rise as superpowers can be sustained. What are the consequences in such scenarios as far as the rest of the world is concerned? And, of course, I attempt to highlight the paths and futures which are available to individuals as well as to societies. By the way, there are no guarantees that the People’s Republic of China, or India, or Iran, will succeed in their strategic goals in the coming decades. The PRC leadership, for example, knows that China is in a race with itself, to build a durable victorious society before resource shortages — including food and water — or population unrest stop the upward spiral of wealth and power in their tracks.

In many respects, as the book discusses, China is massively dependent on external factors — stable global supply of, and demand for, materials and capital and products — at a scale which in many respects has never before been seen. Equally, if China’s quest for victory falters in a decade or two because of resource, food and water shortages, population unrest, or other problems, then the internal reaction to such a crisis could well be a search for a galvanizing distraction abroad, such as war with Taiwan or even Japan or the US. Survival of the leadership at home will outweigh the logic of broader, longer-term ramifications. To put it in Washington parlance: the urgent will always outweigh the important.

The book ends by offering the option to see the Age of Global Transformation as an Age of Opportunity. Indeed, the book in some respects is prescriptive: it attempts to define the maxims by which humanity survives and triumphs. Moreover, it attempts to take us past the immediate fashions, or fashionable morals, which constrain us to short-term perspectives, and looks toward the longer-term virtues of survival and human interaction. It looks at the innate requirement of nature that we have belief systems — often expressed as religion or pseudo-religion — and that we automatically comprehend at an individual level the meaning of “justice”, and the meanings of such concepts as loyalty and duty. These are not just words, or artificial concepts; they are, like the inherent need for species to achieve victory, part of the natural process of survival.  These are devices which enable us to work cooperatively with others; to build alliances for security; to drive our sense of self-worth — of which identity security is such a critical part — and in turn enable us to build achievements which enhance the likelihood of the survival of our bloodline and species down the generations.

What I’ve tried to do in The Art of Victory is to shorten the linkages between the fundamental drivers of human survival and the challenges we face today and into the future. So it attempts to lay out a philosophy and yet to translate that philosophy into immediately practicable actions for individual life, and for the life of societies.

My hope is that The Art of Victory will inspire optimism and the willingness to see vital issues in a broader and more exciting tapestry. We need to escape the characteristic which says “I am rich, therefore I must be smart”, and realize that our wealth as a global society may be exactly what blinds us to the great challenges which face us over the coming decades. Life is exciting. We need an operating manual. But, as with our VCRs, the operating manual is usually only used as a last resort.



Copyright © 2006, Gregory R. Copley. All rights reserved.
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