Raghav Chopra, Yale University
Book: Art of War
Author: Sun Tzu
Though it was written nearly 2,500 years ago, Sun Tzu’s "Art of War" relates to political leadership today more than ever before. As the world’s oldest military treatise, the book teaches one how to practice effective diplomacy, how to be a competent and responsible leader, and how best to face the challenges of opposing forces or individuals. "Art of War" highlights leadership qualities and strategies that are paramount to ensuring peace and stability in the world today.
Surprisingly, "Art of War" contains ideas quite relevant to the present global situation, especially in the context of the international War on Terrorism. Sun Tzu discusses how leaders should rally a broad base of support so they may act multilaterally whenever possible. The book also underscores the significance of understanding one’s foe, and of drawing from the enemy’s own followers. It suggests avoiding moves that make the opposition more desperate, for desperation empowers the enemy. As the United States and other nations fight terrorism, their political leaders would profit from knowing why political, and not military means, bring about the most lasting victories.
While useful from a military standpoint, "Art of War" is notable because it also applies to challenges that are not war-related. For these reasons, the book has an eternal quality, and applies to political leaders of all capacities.
In the book, Sun Tzu gives considerable importance to the use of tact and diplomacy. He suggests that merely enacting policy or using force is not the test of leadership. Instead, Sun Tzu advocates using one’s resources wisely, planning in advance, and anticipating the consequences of one’s actions. If they took such lessons to heart, our political leaders would be able to avert many of the failures they regularly encounter.
Sun Tzu’s work is also, in some respects, an ethics manual. It demonstrates the value and advantage of being righteous, of securing legitimacy, and of justifying purpose before acting. It implies that one can strictly adhere to rules, yet still be strategic. With frequent misconduct in even high political ranks, it is vital that our political leaders be able to examine their motives and distinguish right from wrong.
"Art of War" comes from a time long before the evolution of intricate political and military systems. Even so, with its simplicity and purity, it offers great insight into the role and duty of a political leader, and how such a leader ought to deal with trials and tribulations. As a result, I would highly recommend "Art of War" as an instructional compendium for our political leaders. This age-old guide will provide them the basic tools they need--tools necessary for tackling some of today’s most pressing problems.