Paradoxes of War

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Course Date: 08 September 2014 to 20 October 2014 (6 weeks)

Price: free

Course Summary

An introduction into the historical, psychological, and sociological analysis of organized conflict.

Estimated Workload: 5-7 hours/week

Course Instructors

Miguel Centeno

Professor Centeno is the Musgrave Professor of Sociology and Professor of Sociology and International Affairs in the WWS. He was the founding Director of the Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies (2003-2007) and Master of Wilson College (1997-2004). In 2000, he founded the Princeton University Preparatory Program. He is interested in political sociology and social change.  He is the author of Democracy within Reason: Technocratic Revolution in Mexico, Blood and Debt: War and the Nation State in Latin America, and Global Capitalism among other works. He is also the editor of Discrimination in an Unequal World, Towards a New Cuba and The Politics of Expertise in Latin AmericaThe Other Mirror: Comparative Theory Through A Latin American Lens (ed. with F. Lopez-Alves); and Mapping the Global Web (ed. with E. Hargittai).  Forthcoming  books include War and Society, 2014 and Building States in the Developing World (w. A. Kohli and D. Yashar). New projects include an analysis of “emergent risk” in global flows and a history of the concept of discipline

Sample publications:

  • 2013 - Republics of the Possible: Liberalism and the Nation State in Iberoamerica (with Agustin Ferraro), Cambridge University Press.
  • 2013 - “Latin America”, Concise Encyclopedia of Comparative Sociology, Jack Goldstone, ed. Brill Publishers
  • 2013 - “A Holistic Approach to Language, Religion, and Ethnicity” (with Maria Abascal), Studies in Ethnicity and Nationalism (SENA), April.
  • 2013 - “Neoliberalism” (with Joseph Cohen) Emerging Trends in the Social and Behavioral Sciences.
  • 2012 - “Unpacking State Capacity” (with Elaine Enriquez) RIMCIS, November
  • 2012 - “War” and “Military”, Encyclopedia of Global Studies, ed. Helmut Anheier, Sage Publications.
  • 2012 - “Internal Wars and Latin American Nationalism” in Hall and Malesevic, eds, War and Nationalism, CUP.
  • 2012 - “The Rise and Fall of Neoliberalism”, for Annual Review of Sociology, Vol. 37 (with Joseph Cohen)

Course Description

The Paradoxes of War teaches us to understand that war is not only a normal part of human existence, but is arguably one of the most important factors in making us who we are. Through this course, I hope that you will come to appreciate that war is both a natural expression of common human emotions and interactions and a constitutive part of how we cohere as groups. That is, war is paradoxically an expression of our basest animal nature and the exemplar of our most vaunted and valued civilized virtues. You will learn some basic military history and sociology in this course as a lens for the more important purpose of seeing the broader social themes and issues related to war. I want you to both learn about war, but more importantly, use it as way of understanding your everyday social world So, for example, the discussion of war and gender will serve to start you thinking about how expectations of masculinity are created and our discussion of nationalism will make clear how easy “us-them” dichotomies can be established and (ab)used. I will suggest some readings for you to complement the class and assign some activities through which you will be able to apply the theoretical insights from the course to your observations of everyday life. At the end of the course, you will start to see war everywhere and come to appreciate how much it defines our life.


  • Does Princeton award credentials or reports regarding my work in this course?

    No certificates, statements of accomplishment, or other credentials will be awarded in connection with this course.


The Warrior's War

  • Is War Natural?
  • Warriors in Battle
  • Why Not Run Away?
  • What Do Soldiers Believe In?
  • Brutality
  • Discipline

From Wars of Armies to Wars of Societies

  • Wars of Armies
  • Progress of Battle 
  • Gunpowder 
  • Industrialization of War
  • Technowar 

War and Society

  • Social Aspects of War
  • States
  • Nationalism
  • Soldiers and Citizens
  • War and Equality
  • Conquest. Genocide, and Armageddon

The Future of War

  • The Rise of the Rest
  • New Challenges
  • Conclusions: Empire and the Western Way of War


This course will consist of lecture videos, activities and various reading assignments.  Students will also be encouraged to participate in the discussion forums.

Suggested Reading

  • Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War, Book 1, 2.1, 2.2-6, 2.7-24, 2.34-46, 2.47-54, 2.59-65, 2.71-78, 3.20-24, 3.35-50, 3.52-68, 3.81-84, 4.3-4.41, 4.46-484, 4.90-101, 4.117-11, 5.6-11, 5.14-24, 5.25-26, 5.42-48, 5.76-83, 5.85-116, Books 6 and 7
  • Homer, Iliad, Books 1,3, 7, 9, 24
  • Virgil Aeneid, Books 2, 4
  • Thomas E. Ricks, Making the Corps
  • E.B. Sledge, With the Old Breed,  Chaps 1-4, 10-15.
  • John Keegan, The Face of Battle, Chs. 2-4.
  • US Grant, Memoirs , Chs. 21-22, 24-25, 30-31, 33-37, 39, 42-44, 49-51, 55-57, 59, 62, 65, 67-68.
  • Michael Gordin, Red Cloud at Dawn, Chs. 1, 2,6, 7, Epilogue
  • Reviel Netz, Barbed Wire. Part III
  • Victor Davis Hanson, Carnage and Culture, Chs. 1, 6, 8, 10, Afterword.
  • Franz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, “Concernign Violence, Colonial War and Mental disorders, Conclusion.
  • Keith Lowe, Savage Continent, Part I (All), Chs. 8-10, 18-20, 22-24.
  • Ian Buruma, Year Zero

Course Workload

5-7 hours/week

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