The great dilemmas of geopolitics are not battles of good against evil, where the choices are clear. They are contests of good against good, where the choices are often painful, incompatible and fraught with consequence. That’s the argument that political scientist Robert Kaplan will be making when he comes to Intelligence Squared on May 22 to talk about his acclaimed new book The Tragic Mind: Fear, Fate, and the Burden of Power.
Kaplan’s ideas come not from the armchair or ivory tower but from a career spent reporting on wars, revolutions, and international politics in Europe, the Middle East and East Asia. His conclusion is that the essence of geopolitics – the battle of space and power played out over a geographical setting – is tragedy, at the core of which is the necessity for humans to understand their limitations and know that not every problem can be fixed. Hence what he sees as the hubris of the Iraq war, when Western leaders thought that they could fix a problem abroad, only to wreak havoc because they failed to ‘think tragically’.
Joining Kaplan in conversation will be the political philosopher John Gray, who has said of Kaplan’s book, ‘If there is a single contemporary book that should be pressed into the hands of those who decide issues of war and peace, this is it.’ Together they will discuss how the insights of the Greek tragedians – Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides – as well as Shakespeare and modern philosophers and classic authors can help us understand the central subjects of international politics: order, disorder, rebellion, ambition, loyalty to family and state, violence, and the mistakes of power. And they will explore how viewing events through a tragic lens could guide the West’s strategy for dealing with Russia and China today.