WAR: Reflecting on the Nature of Conflict and Strategy through the Great Books

War raises questions. Why do men endanger themselves and others in battle? How do large-scale conflicts arise? Do individual men act according to universal principles in killing opponents; is all killing personal?  What is an “enemy?” Why do men kill strangers with whom they have no personal hatred? How has lethal force been controlled or organized for good purposes? What can go wrong? Why does violence have a tendency to take control of human will? How does one act in a just and noble way during conflict? What is the relationship between war and politics? Is there humor in war; why? How should leaders prepare for war? Why is war so memorable? What obligations do successive generations have to those who sacrifice themselves in war?  This course examines the nature of organized conflict and the human response to the sustained and violent struggle that civilized men have called "war."  Readings will focus on classic works which treat the origin and nature of war.

Class begins on Thursday March 7th, at 5pm Pacific (8pm Eastern), and continues for EIGHT Thursdays. NO CLASS on March 28th, due to Holy Week.

“War is the father of all, the king of all.”

—Heraclitus, fragment 22 b53

The student should complete this course with an understanding of man’s capacity to act and reflect in the face of organized violence. He should be able to comment upon the nature of warfare, the possible relationship between culture and warfare.  On a higher level, he should be able accurately to describe and reasonably apply just war theory to specific examples of organized conflict (and weight the probability that just war theory can guide combatants).  He should understand the purposes of literary and artistic reflections on war. Finally, he should deepen his appreciation for human dignity in the face of war’s trial, defeat, and victory.

Texts: Students may need to purchase many of the texts. Where indicated, scanned photocopies of the readings will be made available.   

Amongst the books to purchase or own are: Homer, The Iliad (any edition, Fagles preferred); Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War (any edition); Virgil, Aeneid (any edition); Tacitus, Agricola (any edition); Clausewitz, On War (The Penguin, Pelican, or Princeton University edition is needed; others provide incomplete excerpts); Sun Tzu, The Art of War, translated by Griffith (Oxford University Press edition only).

Scans of poetry and optional readings will also be made available each week when appropriate.

Texts: Students may need to purchase many of the texts. Where indicated, scanned photocopies of the readings will be made available.   

Amongst the books to purchase or own are: Homer, The Iliad (any edition, Fagles preferred); Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War (any edition); Virgil, Aeneid (any edition); Tacitus, Agricola (any edition); Clausewitz, On War (The Penguin, Pelican, or Princeton University edition is needed; others provide incomplete excerpts); Sun Tzu, The Art of War, translated by Griffith (Oxford University Press edition only).

Scans of poetry and optional readings will also be made available each week when appropriate.

Week 1: The Power and the Glory—What is the Nature of War in Western civilization?

Readings Week 1: Homer, Iliad, Book 22 and Simone Weil, “The Iliad: Poem of Might” (Weil will be available in a scan)

Week 2: How shall the Mighty Behave?—War and The Greeks

Readings Week 2: Thucydides (I.23; I.66-88; I.140-46; II.1-8; III.37-51; V.84-116)

Week 3: Are Some Destined to Rule? —War and the Romans

Readings Week 3: Virgil, Aeneid, Book XII and Tacitus, Agricola

Week 4: Is War Compatible with the Good Life?—The Emergence of Just War Theory

Readings Week 4: Just War Theory I: Selections from Cicero, the Early Church, and St. Augustine; and The Battle of Maldon and The Song of Roland LL. 203-291 (scanned copies will be made available)

Week 5: Is Justice in War Realistic?—The Development and Criticism of Just War Theory

Readings Week 5: Just War Theory II: Selections from St. Thomas, Machiavelli, and St. Thomas More (scanned copies will be made available)

Week 6: Modern War—Exaltation of Spirit, Science, or Art? Clausewitz Revolution, part 1

Readings Week 6: Clausewitz, On War, selections from Book I and Book II (To be assigned the previous week).

Week 7: Modern War—Exaltation of Spirit, Science, or Art? Clausewitz Revolution, part 1

Readings Week 7: Clausewitz, On War, selections from Book III, IV, and VIII (To be assigned the previous week).

Week 8: Is Warfare Culturally Specific or Universal?  

Readings Week 8: Sun Tzu, The Art of War (Oxford edition)

About Instructor

William Fahey

William Edmund Fahey is a Fellow at Thomas More College of Liberal Arts (Merrimack, New Hampshire and Rome, Italy), where he also serves as the third president. He grew up in the Western Reserve (Ohio) and coastal Maine. Educated by Jesuits at a young age, Fahey studied at the University of St. Andrews (Scotland) completed the now abolished M.Phil. Mode A in Ancient History. He then studied at the Pontifical Catholic University of America (in Greek and Latin and the Early Christian Studies Program), where he earned an M.A. and the Ph.D. His late-blooming interest in Natural History led to his completion of the M.Sci. in Wildlife Conservation at Unity College (Maine). After a delightful foray in preparatory school teaching, Fahey taught at Christendom College for nearly a decade. There he established the Depart of Classical and Early Christian Studies. His teaching experience over the years has included courses at all levels in Greek and Latin, as well as History (Ancient and Byzantine). Over the last decade he has taught in the ten-semester Great Books Humanities sequence at Thomas More College, as well as a variety of Scripture and Poetry courses, the Senior Seminar, and the one-year sequence in Natural History. He also helped to established the Guild program at Thomas More College, in which he serves at a Guild Master in the St. Hubertus Outdoorsmanship program, as well as directing the College's "Exploring New England" programs--which includes working with the Wooden Boat School in giving students and opportunity to study great books while learning the fundamentals of traditional sailing offthe coast of Maine. Fahey has held a variety of fellowships including the Salvatori Fellowship (Heritage Foundation), Earhart Fellowship, Wilbur Fellowship (with Russell Kirk), Weaver Fellowship, and the Au Sable Fellowship. His publications have appeared in the St. Austin Review, The Imaginative Conservative, University Bookman, the Civilized Reader, Crisis Magazine, Catholic Exchange, the Bryn Mawr Classical Review, and Classical World. He is the editor and translator of The Foundations of Western Monasticism (St. Benedict's Press, 2013). He has served as an advisor to St. Martin's Academy, Harmel Academy, and most recently was appointed a Councilor of the New England Historic Genealogical Society. He is married to Amy Elizabeth Fahey. They have been blessed with five children and one grandchild to date. They reside in New Hampshire within a few hours of places his family has lived since the early 17th Century.

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  • 8 Lessons
  • Course Certificate