THE INFLUENCE OF SEAPOWER ON HISTORIANSYounghusband
at Coming Anarchy
has an excellent post up now contrasting the ideas of Naval power theorists Alfred T. Mahan
and Julian S. Corbett.
"Mahan was writing for the American public, advocating a better funded Navy (which he was a part of), appealing for the US naval power to mirror that of Britain. Corbett was a professional historian writing for a British audience, writing ont he role of navies in geopolitics. In my opinion Mahan represents a class of “military theorist” that I think should be properly labelled “military advocacy” in that he has an agenda wrapped in an analysis. Another example of this is Napoleonic strategist Antione-Henri Jomini
.Julian Corbett was never in the navy, so he loses points for firsthand experience. Mahan wasn’t a model captain though, crashing most of his ships, and in fact dreaded going to sea
. Corbett was a trained lawyer, and unlike Mahan, was an experienced historian who has a much more professional and robust theoretical approach in Some Principles of Maritime Strategy
. Mahan’s theory rested on inductive reasoning, using carefully selected historical analogues to “prove” his theory, similar to Jomini’s approach in the Art of War. This type of argumentation is prevalent throughout the beginning of the Scientific Age
Mahan was part of an intellectual circle around Theodore Roosevelt
, all of whom were historians ( as was, it must be said, Roosevelt himself) including Frederick Jackson Turner
, Brooks Adams
, Henry Adams
, Henry Cabot Lodge
*and John Hay
. Influenced by Frederick Jackson Turner, all of these men saw America as the great rising power of the twentieth century and were committed, in varying degrees and with somewhat different conceptions, to guiding the country down the path of national greatness and world power. Mahan's thesis was helped frame and was in turn influenced and interpreted according to that common vision. Roosevelt, partly due to Mahan, became a hard-core Naval enthusiast both as Assistant Secretary of the Navy, where he helped provoke war with Spain and as President where he built " The Great White Fleet" and the Panama Canal.
*Lodge actually held a PhD. in Political Science but mentored and assisted Roosevelt as the latter wrote his well-regarded histories of the American West.