Victor Davis Hanson

From Academic Kids

Victor Davis Hanson (born 1953) is an American military historian and political essayist, best known as a scholar of ancient warfare as well as a commentator on modern warfare. He is also a grape farmer and a critic of social trends related to farming and agrarianism.


Early Life & Education

Hanson was born on a farm at Selma, California. He received his B.A. from the University of California, Santa Cruz (1975) and his Ph.D. from Stanford University (1980), and is currently a Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution. Until recently, he was professor at California State University, Fresno, where he began teaching in 1984, having started the classics program there.

Carnage & Culture

Dr. Hanson is most famous for his 2001 book Carnage and Culture in which he argued that the military dominance of Western Civilization, beginning with the ancient Greeks, is the result of certain fundamental aspects of Western culture. Hanson rejects racial explanations for this military preeminence. He also disagrees with environmental explanations, as put forth by authors such as Jared Diamond in Guns, Germs and Steel.

According to Hanson, Western values such as political freedom, capitalism, individualism, democracy, rationalism, and open debate form an especially lethal combination when applied to warfare. Non-Western societies can win the occasional victory when warring against a society with these Western values, writes Hanson, but the "Western way of war" will prevail in the long run. Hanson emphasizes that Western warfare is not necessarily more (or less) moral than war as practiced by other cultures; his argument is simply that the "Western way of war" is unequalled in its devastation and decisiveness.

Carnage and Culture examines nine battles throughout history, each of which is used to illustrate a particular aspect of Western culture that Hanson believes contributes to the dominance of Western warfare. The battles or campaigns recounted (with themes in parenthesis) are the Battle of Salamis (480 BC; free citizens), the Battle of Gaugamela (331 BC; the decisive battle of annihilation), the Battle of Cannae (216 BC; civic militarism), the Battle of Tours/Poitiers (732; infantry), the Battle of Tenochtitlan (1521; technology and reason), the Battle of Lepanto (1571; capitalism), the Battle of Rorke's Drift (1879; discipline), the Battle of Midway (1942; individualism), and the Tet Offensive (1968; dissent).

Though Carnage and Culture appeared before the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, its message that the "Western way of war" will ultimately prevail made the book a best-seller in the wake of those events. In war, people often seek reassurance of victory and this is what Carnage and Culture provided. Immediately after 9/11, Carnage and Culture was re-issued with a new afterword by Hanson in which he explicitly stated that the United States would win the war on terror for the reasons stated in the book.


Iraq War

Hanson believes that the Iraq War is a good and worthwhile undertaking and that it has been, with some reservations, a laudable success. Hanson is often considered to be a neoconservative, although he is ambivalent about the label. Like neoconservatives, Hanson has strongly hawkish, pro-Israel views on the Middle East, and believes that the root cause of radical Islamic terrorism is the lack of individual, religious, and political freedom in Islamic countries, and not the policies of the United States or Israel.

American Education & Classical Studies

Hanson co-authored the book Who Killed Homer? with John Heath. This book explores the issue of how classical education has declined in America and what might be done to restore it to its former place. This is important, according to Hanson, because knowledge of the classical Greeks and Romans is necessary if we are to fully understand our own culture. Significantly, Hanson blames the academic classicists themselves for the decline of their field of study, accusing them of becoming so infected with political correctness and postmodern thinking that they have lost sight of what the classics truly represent.


Hanson sees rural values as underpinning successful democracies, whatever they be ancient Athens or the modern United States. He is a member of the Democratic party but holds conservative and populist views on many issues. Hanson feels that the current Democratic party does not have a morally responsible approach to foreign policy and no longer addresses the concerns of ordinary Americans, writing: "The Democratic Party reminds me of the Republicans circa 1965 or so—impotent, shrill, no ideas, conspiratorial, reactive, out-of-touch with most Americans, isolationist, and full of embarrassing spokesmen." [1] (


Hanson is a contributor to National Review and the Wall Street Journal. He cites the Theban general and statesman Epaminondas, the U.S General William Tecumseh Sherman (1820-1891), the British statesman and historian Winston Churchill (1874-1965) and the U.S General George Patton (1885-1945) as his heroes. In the field of military history, Hanson cites John Keegan as being influential, and shares a mutual admiration with fellow classicist Donald Kagan.


  • Western Way of War: Infantry Battle in Classical Greece. Alfred A. Knopf Publishing, 1989.
  • Hoplites: The Classical Greek Battle Experience, editor. Routledge Publishing, 1993.
  • The Other Greeks: The Family Farm and the Agrarian Roots of Western Civilization. Free Press, 1995.
  • Fields Without Dreams: Defending the Agrarian Ideal. Free Press, 1997.
  • Warfare and Agriculture in Classical Greece. University of California Press, 1998.
  • Who Killed Homer?: The Demise of Classical Education and the Recovery of Greek Wisdom, with John Heath. Free Press, 1998.
  • The Soul of Battle: From Ancient Times to the Present Day, How Three Great Liberators Vanquished Tyranny. Anchor Books, 1999.
  • Carnage and Culture: Landmark Battles in the Rise of Western Power. Anchor Books, 2001. Published in the UK as Why the West has Won. Faber and Faber, 2001. ISBN 0571216404
  • Mexifornia: A State of Becoming. Encounter Books, 2003.
  • Ripples of Battle: How Wars Fought Long Ago Still Determine How We Fight, How We Live, and How We Think. Doubleday, 2003. ISBN 0385504004

External links

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