Yale for Life

World Order, and The Meaning of History

June 4-10, 2017

“You will not find it [China] mysterious.  When you have become familiar with it, it will not seem so mysterious as before.”

-Zhou Enlai to Henry Kissinger, as related in Kissinger’s book, “World Order”

Is the modern world order permanent, or in question?  Is the state still the basic unit of international affairs, or are empires coming back? What are the prospects for the historical categories of war, revolution, diplomacy, and peace? What will become of “statecraft” in the 21st century?

The search for understanding of today and tomorrow inevitably leads one to yesterday.  For generations, Yale students have had the privilege and tradition of conducting this exploration through the study of foundational texts. In Yale for Life, we have done the same in two previous programs: Directed Studies, and Grand Strategies.

DS, for example, is described on its website:

“Directed Studies offers … an intense interdisciplinary introduction to some of the seminal texts of Western civilization. Working in discussion seminars with top Yale faculty, DS students learn to analyze complex texts and to put them into conversation with one another across time and genre. DS helps students develop their abilities and to engage in thoughtful discussions of fundamental human questions…”

In Grand Strategies, recent Yale students have explored methods of statesmanship and the relation of “means to large ends” in the Grand Strategies program.   They did so through:

“ readings in classical works from Sun Tzu to Clausewitz to Kissinger as well as more contemporary works from the post-Cold War era. Students will identify principles of strategy and examine the extent to which these were or were not applied in historical case studies from the Peloponnesian War to the post-Cold War period.”

Now, Yale for Life, in the tradition of these and many other Yale courses, will explore the fundamental nature of statesmanship.

The diplomat Henry Kissinger, author of the recent “World Order,” and long ago, his doctoral dissertation, “The Meaning of History,” has posed these questions. In this course, we will read these works among many others, and ask not only whether they are “correct,” but what thinkers before our time had to say about these questions; indeed, how the questions came about in the first place.  Our guides will be the great works of not only strategy but also art and literature, history and political philosophy and theory, in an attempt to achieve a new yet classical theory of state action, and a model for decision making and strategic modeling.  We will apply these tools and theories to examine major areas of the world, to see and appraise the models for World Order they imply.  Ultimately, we will apply our theory to an appraisal of Kissinger’s and others’ theories, as we examine them and review critiques and criticisms they have inspired.

Yale for Life could hardly bring greater experts to this task.  Professor Charles Hill, Yale legend and beloved professor to many Yale for Life students, colleague of Kissinger, senior advisor to Secretary of State George P. Shultz and UN Secretary-General Boutros-Ghali, carries many Yale titles, including, notably, “Diplomat-in-Residence,” and “Distinguished Fellow in International Security Studies.”  Few Yale professors inspire such passion in their students or bring such a wide palette of expertise.  Professor Hill is joined by our other lead professor, Norma Thompson, Senior Lecturer in the Humanities, and Director of Undergraduate Studies for Humanities.  Professor Thompson has also memorably taught Yale for Life alumni, as well as current Yalies in Directed Studies and more, and shares with Professor Hill the unusual wide expertise and perspective that our task requires.

Yale for Life does not stop there, however.  Each day, after spending the morning considering the foundational texts, we will in the afternoon explore the application of these lessons in one of five major areas of the world. Thus, those enrolled in Yale for Life participate in three seminars daily: one with each of our two co-professor leads, and a third with the outstanding Guest Professor of the day on a topic that takes a unique angle on the region of the day – from Political Philosophy to Art History.

Program cost is $4,900 which includes all classes, all meals, all readings (books are sent to you), special activities, and lodging at Swing Space (Baker Hall).

Our Lead Faculty:

Charles Hill
Diplomat-in-Residence and Distinguished Fellow in International Security Studies

Charles Hill is a diplomat in residence and lecturer in International Studies at Yale University. He is a career minister in the U.S. Foreign Service, serving in a variety of roles such as Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Middle East at the State Department, Chief of Staff of the same, and executive aid to former U.S. Secretary of State George P. Shultz. He has taught Directed Studies and Grand Strategies to a generation of Yale students.

Norma Thompson
Senior Lecturer in the Humanities, and Director of Undergraduate Studies for Humanities

Norma Thompson is the Director of Undergraduate Studies for the Humanities Major, Associate Director of the Whitney Humanities Center, and Senior Lecturer in the Humanities. Her scholarship and teaching are in the humanities, with special interests in political philosophy and politics and literature.

Learn More About our Lead Faculty!

Guest Professors

The task of exploring the application of the foundational lessons of our morning sessions over a range of places and eras, falls in part on our guest professors.  And what a lineup we have!   From Ancient Rome to modern Russia, Yale for Life continues its emphasis on interdisciplinary study, not only through the variety in the core syllabus, but through these world-class leaders of Yale’s intellectual portfolio.  You are in for a feast!

Kirk Freudenburg
Professor and Chairman of Classics

Kirk Freudenburg, Professor of Classics and Chairman of the Classics Department, is an expert on Rome, Roman poetry, and Roman civilization. He has taught in Directed Studies for years, and taught in Yale for Life in 2011.

David Cameron
Professor of Political Science & Director of EU Studies

David R. Cameron is a Professor of Political Science at Yale and the Director of the Yale Program in European Union Studies. He has taught at Yale since 1975.. He teaches courses on European politics and the European Union. He has written extensively about the impact of trade openness on government and, most recently, the EU’s Eastern Partnership and the crisis in Ukraine.

Jonathan Spence
Sterling Professor Emeritus, History

Jonathan Spence is the epitome of a Yale Professor. He was the subject of a Jefferson Lecture, the highest honor given by the National Endowment for the Humanities; in part, it said, in part: “At Yale, Spence is famous for his undergraduate lecture course in Chinese history… Although it is impossible to reproduce Spence’s dazzling lecture style in book form, the content of the course reached a much larger audience when he published in 1990 his Search for Modern China, now perhaps the most widely used Chinese history textbook in American universities.”

John Lewis Gaddis
Robert A. Lovett Professor of History

John Lewis Gaddis is the Robert A. Lovett Professor of Military and Naval History, and Distinguished Fellow and Director of the Brady-Johnson Program in Grand Strategy. He co-teaches the famous “Studies in Grand Strategy” seminar. Professor Gaddis is considered the leading Cold War historian in the English language. He has won numerous teaching awards at Yale, and received the National Humanities Medal in 2005.

Learn More About our Guest Faculty!


All Yale for Life courses actually start months before our June meeting.  After registration, you will receive all books and scholarly articles for the course, and will immerse yourself in great works curated by our faculty.  “World Order and the Meaning of History” is no exception, with works ranging from Homer’s Iliad to Rousseau; from Kissinger to Hitchens; from timeless primary sources to great books written by your own Yale for Life professors. Read Kissinger’s Harvard thesis and dissertation; the Covenant of the League of Nations; and so much more.

See an excerpt from a Yale for Life Reading List

Special Events

One of Yale for Life’s unique and most beloved features are our Special Events; sessions at a number of Yale’s well-known (such as the Yale Art Gallery) or less-known (such as a 2012 session at the not-yet-processed Kissinger Papers) centers of collection and learning.  “A New Birth of Freedom” is no exception. We are keeping some surprises up our sleeve, but here is a taste:

3798571903_d76e2bfc65_zA little-known but magnificent corner of Yale is located in the basement of the Goldman Law Library, where Michael Widener holds sway over its own Rare Book Room.  Here we will be treated to original, magnificent documents of Grotius, an entire assortment of founding documents of international law, and untold other treasures, with Mike’s inimitable passion and energy at our disposal.

IMG_1668Yale’s Manuscripts and Archives contain untold finds from its many collections. Yale for Life has been the happy audience as the magnificent Judith Schiff, whom you may know as the author of the “Old Yale” column in the Alumni Magazine, has hosted sessions for us, bringing the documents to us to experience them literally “first hand.” We hope this year to gain access to the Kissinger papers, not yet fully processed but so relevant to our purpose.

Learn more about Yale for Life special events

Beyond the Classroom

Everything that happens during the Yale for Life program is colored by the fact that it takes place at Yale.  Learn more about the experience!

Learn more about the living at Yale experience
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