From Afghanistan to Yemen, civil war is now humanity’s most destructive, most widespread, and most characteristic form of collective organized violence. Yet civil war is not just a contemporary problem but one with a two-thousand-year history. This lectures places our current discontents in long-range historical perspective, from the invention of civil war in republican Rome to current conflicts in Iraq and Syria. Deciding when, and whether, to call a war “civil” has been fraught across this great sweep of history. The lecture asks why civil war has been so contentious for so long, and what the history of struggles over its meaning can tell us about some of our most fundamental political and ethical values.
David Armitage is the Lloyd C. Blankfein Professor of History at Harvard University and the former chair of Harvard’s History Department. He is also an Affiliated Faculty Member at Harvard Law School, an Affiliated Professor in the Harvard Government Department and an Honorary Professor of History at the University of Sydney. Further biographical information can be found at his Harvard web page.