a16z Podcast

a16z Podcast: Centers of Power, War, and History

Graham Allison and Matthew Colford

Posted August 10, 2017

“When a rising power threatens to displace a ruling power, shit happens.” It’s true of people, it’s true of companies, and it’s even more true of countries. It’s also the fundamental insight captured by ancient Greek historian Thucydides in his History of The Pelopennesian War. But where he was describing the war between Sparta and Athens, modern historian and political scientist Graham Allison describes how U.S. and China can escape this rising vs. ruling power “Thucydides trap” in his new bookDestined for War. Allison — advisor on U.S. national security and policy to several secretaries of defense spanning decades — was former dean of the Kennedy School and most recently Director of Harvard’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.

Based on an internal policy series lunch speaker event earlier this year (and moderated by a16z partner Matthew Colford), the conversation touches very briefly on centers of power and creativity; tech in China; North Korea; and finally, the role of applying history — “applied history“, much like the field of engineering could be considered applied physics — to our thinking about the future. By analyzing the analogs and precedents in the historical record, what clues or insights or lessons might we draw? Because business as usual will produce history as usual argues Allison… but only those of us who fail to study history will repeat it.