"Restore(s) a little sanity into current political debate" - Kenneth Minogue, TLS "Projects a more expansive and optimistic future for Americans than (the analysis of) Huntington" - James R. Kurth, National Interest "One of (the) most important books I have read in recent years" - Lexington Green
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(I posted this review four years ago…given the continued economic difficulties faced by many Americans, and the political implications thereof, this seems like an appropriate time for a rerun)
I’ve often seen this 1932 book footnoted in histories touching on Weimar Germany; not having previously read it I had been under the vague impression that it was some sort of political screed. Actually it is a novel, and a good one. The political implications are indeed significant, but they’re mostly implicit rather than explicit.
Johannes and Emma, known to one another as Sonny and Lammchen, are a young couple who marry when Lammchen unexpectedly becomes pregnant. Their world is not the world of Weimar’s avant-garde artists and writers, or of its risque-to-outright-degenerate cabaret scene. It is far from the world of a young middle-class intellectual like Sebastian Haffner, whose invaluable memoir I reviewed here. Theirs is the world of people at the absolute bottom of anything that could be considered as even lower-middle-class, struggling to hold on by their fingernails.
When we first meet our protagonists, Sonny is working as a bookkeeper–he was previously a reasonably-successful salesman of men’s clothing, working for the kindly Jewish merchant Mr. Bergmann, but a pointless quarrel with Bergmann’s wife, coupled with a job offer from the local grain merchant (Kleinholz) led to a career change. Sonny soon finds that as a condition of continued employment he is expected to marry Kleinholz’s ugly and unpleasant daughter, never an appealing proposition and one which his marriage to Lammchen clearly makes impossible. Lammchen is from a working-class family: her father is a strong union man and Social Democrat who sees himself as superior to lower-tier white-collar men like Sonny.
When Sonny and Lammchen set up housekeeping, their economic situation continually borders on desperate. Purchasing a stew pot, or indulging in the extravagance of a few bites of salmon for dinner, represents a major financial decision. An impulsive decision on Sonny’s part to please Lammchen by acquiring the dressing table she admires will have long-lasting consequences for their budget.
The great inflation of Weimar has come and gone; the psychological damage lingers. Sonny and Lammchen’s landlady cannot comprehend what happened to her savings:
Young people, before the war, we had a comfortable fifty thousand marks. And now that money’s all gone. How can it all be gone?…I sit here reckoning it up. I’ve written it all down. I sit here, reckoning. Here it says: a pound of butter, three thousand marks…can a pound of butter cost three thousand marks?…I now know that my money’s been stolen. Someone who rented here stole it…he falsified my housekeeping book so I wouldn’t notice. He turned three into three thousand without me realizing…how can fifty thousand have all gone?
Inflation is no longer the problem, unemployment is. There are millions of unemployed, and those who do hold jobs are desperately afraid of losing them and will do anything to keep them.
Over at The Lexicans, Bill Brandt posted an item about an 8-part TV series titled ‘American Genius’…it is about a selection of inventors and entrepreneurs who have had a major impact on technology, society, and history. It sounded worthwhile and I’ve watched about half of the episodes–thanks, Bill!…definitely worth watching, but OTOH I think there are a few things in the series that should have been covered a little differently.
Edison vs Tesla is about the AC-vs-DC power wars, and correctly reports on the sleazy fearmongering tactics that Edison used in his unavailing attempt to maintain DC’s dominance. The show referred to George Westinghouse, who was Tesla’s sponsor in this battle, as “sort of a railroad baron,” completely ignoring the fact that Westinghouse was himself a major American inventor. Most people would think of a ‘railroad baron’ as someone who owns or manages railroads, not someone who invented the air brake.
Farnsworth vs Sarnoff is about the battle to dominate the emerging television industry. It was presented as a David-versus-Goliath story–though Goliath was in this case named David (Sarnoff)–individual inventor versus ruthless tycoon. Sarnoff was indeed ruthless, indeed could be fairly referred to as a prototypical crony capitalist…but it would have been interesting to point out that he wasn’t always a Goliath, wasn’t born to that position, but had in fact come to this country as an impoverished Russian Jewish immigrant and had encountered severe and career-threatening anti-Semitism on his path to Goliath-dom.
Space Race is focused on two individuals, the German/American Wernher von Braun and the Soviet rocket designer Sergei Korolev. Korolev was played by an actor who looked a little too young for the role at the subject time period: more importantly, it should have been mentioned that Korolev had been arrested and sent to the Gulag, where he lost most of his teeth due to the brutal labor-camp conditions. There were psychological scars as well–Boris Chertok , who worked closely with Korolev for years, said that there was only one single time that he saw the man really happy. In a series focused primarily on the leading characters and their conflicts rather than on technical details, these things deserved to be covered.
The program refers to a successful Soviet test in 1957 of a missile with intercontinental range, shortly before the launch of Sputnik. Actually, the test was a failure because the warhead disintegrated on reentry…and reentry, while a critical factor for ICBMs, is not important at all for one-way satellite launches. The American belief that Sputnik meant all of our cities were vulnerable to Soviet missiles was a little premature–not much.
I thought Wernher von Braun got off too easily in this program. The show did mention that the V-2 missile was assembled by slave labor in an underground factory adjacent to a concentration camp: the truly horrific nature of V-2 manufacturing (this was possibly the only weapons system ever made that killed more people in its making than in its employment) could have gotten more emphasis, and the evidence is that von Braun was fully aware of what was going on in this place.
I’m also not convinced that von Braun was as absolutely critical to US missile and space programs as the show implies. The program to build the Atlas missile, which was developed in roughly the same time period as Korolev’s R-7, was directed by USAF General Bernard Schriever, with technology expertise provided largely by the newly-formed Ramo-Wooldgridge Corporation and by Convair. I see no reason why this team could not also have conducted a Moon program, had they been so chartered.
The show does point out that von Braun, in addition to his technical and management contributions, played an important role in popularizing the ideas of rocketry and space travel…I had been unaware of his work with Disney to this end. So, in addition to being a genuine rocket scientist (and, arguably, a war criminal in at least a moral sense), von Braun was also one of the great PR men of the century.
Again, with the omissions and missed opportunities, the series is still very much worth watching.
But, meanwhile, the top-heavy Japanese nobility also began to fear this newly armed peasantry and within a generation had removed guns from the common people. The “Sword Hunt” of 1588 took away not only the farmer’s swords, but their matchlocks as well. This was, perhaps, the earliest gun control of world history. It was followed by the “Separation Edict” of 1591, which made the farmers hereditary serfs. Previously, the great bulk of Japanese fighting men were citizen-soldiers, farmers most of the time, who answered the call when local noblemen needed infantry support. But after the new edicts, only the Samurai could carry swords or shoot matchlocks. The farmers now had only one job: to pay for everything. And pay they did, up to 80 percent of all they grew now went to support the nobility and the Samurai. The Samurai myth has taken on exaggerated elements of chivalry. Popularly represented as brave swordsmen, defenders of the innocent, the truth was often the opposite, for many Samurai were cold-blooded killers who murdered unarmed commoners for perceived insults as slight as simply making eye contact with them. All were merciless, blue-blooded parasites, living off the toil of people they considered vastly inferior. Once the farmers had been disarmed, it was easy to eradicate their few remaining freedoms. So, by the dawn of the Tokugawa Shogunate (military dictatorship), around 1603, Japan had near-total gun control. This notwithstanding, the Japanese myth of “giving up the gun,” and reverting to the sword, often couched as “putting the evil genie back in the bottle,” is more wishful thinking than historical fact. Matchlocks were not gone, they were now only reserved for a favored few. The Samurai still used them for war and hunting, and practiced constantly: marksmanship competitions were not uncommon.
‘Who controls the past,’ ran the Party slogan, ‘controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.’ ~George Orwell, 1984
Controlling our view of the past – even our view of the present – is an obsession with the Progressive Left. Our understanding of history deeply influences our thinking and philosophy. Among other things, it shapes our view of both the morality and social-economic effects of free market capitalism versus socialism.
To that end, a group of enormously successful people from the 19th century were demonized by turn of the century Progressives and have continued to be demonized as The Robber Barons by Leftist historians in primary school and college texts ever since. More subtly, through dark Orwellian references in Leftist entertainment programs and media, they have been thoroughly maligned in the popular imagination as well. Yet few people know who these people actually were and what, for better or worse, they actually did in their lives and how their works affected our lives even today. In his book, Robert Folsom sets out to take fresh look at people we would today call entrepreneurs.
‘When the crocus blossoms,’ hiss the women in Berlin,
‘He will press the button, and the battle will begin.
When the crocus blossoms, up the German knights will go,
And flame and fume and filthiness will terminate the foe…
When the crocus blossoms, not a neutral will remain.’
On May 10, 1940, German forces launched an attack against Belgium, France, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg. Few people among the Allies imagined that France would collapse in only six weeks: Churchill, for example, had a high opinion of the fighting qualities of the French army. But collapse is what happened, of course, and we are still all living with the consequences. General Andre Beaufre, who in 1940 was a young Captain on the French staff, wrote in 1967:
The collapse of the French Army is the most important event of the twentieth century.
If it’s an exaggeration, it’s not much of one. If France had held up to the German assault as effectively as it was expected to do, World War II would probably have never reached the nightmare levels that it in fact did reach. The Hitler regime might well have fallen. The Holocaust would never have happened. Most likely, there would have been no Communist takeover of Eastern Europe.
This campaign has never received much attention in America; it tends to be regarded as something that happened before the “real” war started. Indeed, many denizens of the Anglosphere seem to believe that the French basically gave up without a fight–which is a considerable exaggeration given the French casualties of around 90,000 killed and 200,000 wounded. But I think the fall of France deserves serious study, and that some of the root causes of the defeat are scarily relevant to today’s world.
First, I will very briefly summarize the campaign from a military standpoint, and will then shift focus to the social and political factors involved in the defeat.
Like most people, I have had my private sorrows, but there is no loss that can compare with the agony of losing one’s country, and that is what some of us felt when England accepted Munich. All we believed in seemed to have lost substance.
The life of each of us has roots without which it must wither; these derive sustenance from the soil of our native land, its thoughts, its way of life, its magnificent history; the lineage of the British race is our inspiration. The past tells us what the future should be. When we threw the Czechs to the Nazi wolves, it seemed to me as if the beacon lit centuries ago, and ever since lighting our way, had suddenly gone out, and I could not see ahead.
Yet it was only two years after Munich that Britain demonstrated its magnificent resistance to Nazi conquest.
The novel Once An Eagle (also made into a TV miniseries) tells the story of two American army officers, across a time span ranging from the First World War to the interwar years to World War II and beyond. Sam Damon is a farm boy who has worked his way up in rank: he is committed to accomplishing his assigned missions and looking out for the survival and well-being of the men under his command. Courtney Massengale is a West Point graduate with something of an upper-class background: he seeks out higher rank through political maneuvering, prefers Staff to Line assignments, and has little concern for subordinates. The book is widely-read and highly-regarded in U.S. military circles.
In the story’s climactic scene, Sam is commanding a division destined to participate in an attack on a Japanese-held island. He is not thrilled to find that his division has been placed under the command of Courtney–now a three-star general and corps commander despite having spent his entire career in staff roles. He is even less thrilled when he hears Courtney’s plan for the invasion–“PALLADIUM”–which is in Sam’s judgment far too complex to succeed in actual combat conditions.
The Japanese launch their counterattack while Sam’s division is in a highly vulnerable state, in the midst of the turning maneuver required by the Palladium plan. And the reserve unit which could have saved the situation has been redeployed by Courtney so that he can have the honor of being the first American general to capture a Japanese-held city intact. While Sam is leading a desperate fight for the survival of his division, Courtney is riding in triumph through the town of Reina Blanca.
Sam Damon and Courtney Massengale are endpoints on a spectrum, of course; few real people are as good as Sam or as bad as Courtney. But still, it seems to be useful to ask the following question:
What is the mix of Damon vs Massengale in each of our current presidential candidates and among other members of our national leadership?
My first working years were very interesting as well as being hard-working and, as a man today beyond the sixty mark, I can think of the romance attached to my first job necessitating my calling at some of the most important buildings, firms and institutions in the City. Some are demolished or out of date but just a few remain and I can recount from memory a few of the places and firms.
My old firm was on Ludgate Hill, next St Martin’s Court, which is bordered on one side by the well known City Stationers, W. Straker. While I have him in mind, I must tell you that his first start in life was sitting in a small window in the left hand corner of St Paul’s Church and printing visiting cards at so much per hundred while you wait. In his case, one can quote the old adage, ‘nothing succeeds like success.’ What a character he was, good features, curly grey hair, immaculately dressed. If he ever wore a hat, it was of the sombrero type worn at a rakish angle, with a silk coat, plush waistcoat and very pronounced black and white check trousers. In his spare time, on bright days, he would parade the pavement near or about his premises and people naturally asked, ‘Who’s that?’ He was a city character once seen could never be forgotten.
At the extreme end of St Martin’s Court stood what we boys called the old London Wall – a mass about forty feet by ten and possibly the position of the ancient Lud Gate, one of the many gates protecting the City. I well remember with the tools of those days it took considerable time to demolish it.
Posted by Trent Telenko on 1st April 2016 (All posts by Trent Telenko)
America’s incompetently planned and led wars in the Middle East have acted as a biological process of evolutionary selection that has been creating nastier and more lethal terrorist organizations. This has happened because of the fecklessness of America’s political leaders. (Bing West covers that political fecklessness and the selective pressures on our Islamist enemies in his article America the Weak.)
Nowhere is this selective pressure seen better than with the evolution of ISIS and its adoption of “Auftragstaktik” in order to execute terrorist operations.
“Auftragstaktik” is a German military term that is loosely translated in English as “Mission Tactics”. According to the UK Daily Mail, the terrorist organization ISIS has adopted “Auftragstaktik” as a central organizing theme because Western signals intelligence destroyed other Islamic terrorist organizations like Al-Qaeda that tried to be more centrally directed.
ISIS figured out that if you give a leader resources, a target, and a time to get it done, then tell him to get it done however he can, you will get big, nasty and above all successful terrorist attacks in western nations, because such methods do not require detectable electronic communications.
See this UK Daily Mail clip:
The bloodthirsty militant group admitted to following the technique in a recent issue of Dar al-Islam, its French-language propaganda magazine.
It was this strategy of warfare that led to the November 13 Paris attacks, in which 130 people died, and the Brussels bombings two weeks ago that killed another 32.
The doctrine was first developed in the early 19th century in Prussia in response to the state’s crushing defeat against Napoleon.
This new theory of war – which gave troops the skills to respond to rapidly changing circumstances in the heat of battle – was then refined by general Carl von Clausewitz.
Later fellow Prussian general Moltke the Elder further tweaked his theory, ushering in a new way of commanding modern-day armies.
Today, similar tactics form a crucial component of the U.S. and UK armies military training.
The February ISIS article, which was devoted almost entirely to the Paris bombings, explained that its jihad in Europe encompasses three types of attacks.
This includes ambitious mass slaughter plots carried out by operatives sent from ISIS headquarters in the Middle East, to lone-wolf attacks by people with no connection whatsoever to the group.
It even cited a historical German infantry manual from 1908 as its inspiration.
The soldiers’ manual stated: ‘There is nothing more important than educating the soldier to think and act for himself.
‘Autonomy and his sense of honor push him to do his duty even when it is not in front of his superior.’
According to SOFREP.com, this style of warfare – known in the U.S. as mission-type tactics – translates to: ‘Here is your target, here are your assets, go get it done.’
This, ISIS claimed, allowed its cells to inflict terror in Europe with ‘complete tactical autonomy’ and leaves little evidence that can link back to their commanders.
This ISIS “Auftragstaktik” model will be replicated and improved upon. This will not end well.
We have sowed the wind, now we reap the whirlwind.
(A diversion for a Friday, from the next Luna City Chronicle, which will be launched late this month … since everyone seemed to find the first Chronicle amusing, and to be wondering about the cliffhanger ending …)
There are three official historical markers in Town Square, much cherished by local citizens. The most noted is the one marking the site where Old Charley Mills was nearly lynched by infuriated citizens, which action was forestalled by the timely intervention of somewhat less-infuriated and more clear-thinking individuals, who included Doc Wyler’s father, Albert Wyler and his younger brother Thomas Wyler, the Reverend Calvin Rowbottom, then senior minister of the Luna City First Methodist Church, and a handful of others whose irreproachable respectability was of such a degree that they were able with reason and persuasion, to turn their fellow citizens aside from such an irrevocable action. The second official historical marker is set into the wall of the building now housing Luna Café and Coffee and marks the site of the last officially noted personal gunfight on the streets of Luna City in 1919; this being a duel between Don Antonio Gonzales and Eusebio Garcia Maldonado. The only casualties were the radiator of Don Antonio’s Model-A sedan, a city street-light and a mule hitched to a wagon parked farther down the square felled by a wild shot from Eusebio’s revolver.
The third historical marker is set into the red brick and neo-classical style exterior wall of the what was once the Luna City Savings & Loan, but now houses city offices and the Chamber of Commerce. Read the rest of this entry »
After 240 years of relative quiescence, at 4:53 PM local time on Tuesday 12 January 2010 the Enriquillo fault system ruptured near 18°27’ N, 72°32’ W in an M 7.0 earthquake, followed by numerous aftershocks, mostly westward of the mainshock hypocenter. Institutional functionality, or the lack thereof, in Haiti prior to the earthquake was such that there was no local seismometer network in place, so nuances of slip in the 2010 earthquake involving several associated faults have had to be inferred from kinematic models.
The Enriquillo fault itself forms the boundary between the Gonâve Microplate and the Caribbean Plate, but seismic activity along it is driven by collision with, and subduction of, the North American Plate. The entire fault system may have begun a new cycle of large earthquakes similar to those of the 18th century, in which case there will be several more such events with significant effects in Haiti and the Dominican Republic through, very roughly, 2080.
Around half the entire US population donated money for Haitian earthquake relief in 2010. I may not have been among them, but as initially recounted in this forum in April of 2011, I was drawn into restoration work in a computer lab and fixed-wireless network in Petit-Goâve, and have subsequently assisted in similar efforts in Musac (Mizak), La Vallée-de-Jacmel. Paging through the visa section of my passport, I now find an astonishing number of red ENTRÉE and blue SORTIE stamps from the Ministere de l’Interieur et des Collectivites Territoriales / Direction de l’Immigration. My God, I’ve been down there 16 times. What was I thinking?
Something like this …
It depends on what the meaning of the word shall is, says Seth Barrett Tillman:
Now the people who have opined that President and/or Senate have a constitutional duty (per the Appointments Clause) to nominate a successor to AS are distinguished commentators, whose opinions deserve fair consideration. However, there are people who have taken the opposite position. These include, for example, Professors Lawson and Seidman, Adam J. White, a well-published D.C. practitioner, and Daniel Koffsky, a senior Department of Justice attorney. See, e.g., Gary Lawson & Guy Seidman, Downsizing the Right to Petition, 93 Nw. U. L. Rev. 739, 762 n.123 (1999) (“[T]he Appointments Clause is best read as a grant of power rather than an affirmative duty.”); Adam J. White, Toward the Framers’ Understanding of “Advice and Consent”: A Historical and Textual Inquiry, 29 Harv. J.L. & Pub. Pol’y 103, 147 n.235 (2005) (“[T]he President is under no duty to nominate someone to fill a vacant office—despite the Constitution’s instruction that he ‘shall’ so nominate . . . .”); cf., e.g., Appointment of a Senate-Confirmed Nominee, Op. Off. Legal Counsel 232, 232 (Oct. 12, 1999) (Koffsky, Acting Deputy Asst. Att’y Gen.) (“The Constitution thus calls for three steps before a presidential appointment is complete: first, the President’s submission of a nomination to the Senate; second, the Senate’s advice and consent; third, the President’s appointment of the officer, evidenced by the signing of the commission. All three of these steps are discretionary.”), http://tinyurl.com/gljnnv8. These people are also distinguished commentators, whose opinions deserve fair consideration.
Here we are faced with what are essentially conflicting intuitions in regard to the original public meaning of an 18th century text. Both sides cannot be correct. What to do? We should look for evidence, and fortunately, some good evidence is at hand.
Posted by Trent Telenko on 24th March 2016 (All posts by Trent Telenko)
Today in Europe, in the aftermath of the Brussels terrorist attacks, a dark truth stands reveled about the nature of the Belgian state. Belgium is a failed state at the heart of Europe…and much of the rest of Europe is following.
Belgium quite literally lacks the military means to enforce the sovereignty of the Belgian state in the Muslim neighborhood of Molenbeek in Brussels, the Belgian Capitol.
The following is via John R. Schindler of The UK Observer:
We should expect more guerrilla-like attacks like Brussels yesterday: moderate in scale, relatively easy to plan and execute against soft targets, and utterly terrifying to the public. At some point, angry Europeans, fed up with their supine politi1cal class, will begin to strike back, and that’s when the really terrifying scenarios come into play. European security services worry deeply about the next Anders Breivik targeting not fellow Europeans, but Muslim migrants. “We’re just one Baruch Goldstein away from all-out war,” explained a senior EU terrorism official, citing the American-born Israeli terrorist, fed up with Palestinian violence, who walked into a Hebron mosque in 1994, guns blazing, and murdered 29 innocent Muslims.
When that violence comes, a practically disarmed Europe will be all but powerless to stop it. To take the case of Belgium, at the Cold War’s end a generation ago, its army had seven brigades with 18 infantry battalions, plus some 30 more battalions in the reserve. Today, Belgium’s army has only two brigades and six infantry battalions, some 3,000 bayonets in all. That tiny force would have trouble exerting control over even one bumptious Brussels neighborhood in the event of serious crisis.
…while E.U. Security Forces supporting the Belgians are more concerned with repressing local predominantly white citizens from striking back at terrorist inclined Muslim migrants than dealing with the Muslim problem to begin with.
NB: The EU is now no longer tourist friendly, with all the economic fall out that means.
The political corruption — and ethnic tensions between the Dutch speaking Flems and French speaking Walloons — that dominates the Belgian state make it impossible to remedy the Muslim insurgency there.
Nothing short of Belgian territorial partition between France and Germany can bring effective enough military governance to end the Muslim Insurgency in Brussels.
Given that awful reality, Donald Trump’s idea of reducing America’s role in NATO (Or perhaps even getting out of NATO all together?) is the best thing the USA can do.
Both Vietnam’s and Shia Iraq’s lessons for America’s citizens are that it is a futile waste of American lives and treasure to try and protect people who don’t have either the will nor the means to protect themselves.
Having long been intrigued by lighter-than-air craft (see earlier post on this topic), I picked up a copy of Dr. Eckener’s Dream Machine…Dr Hugo Eckener being the head of the Zeppelin company for many years, and a man who contributed much to the transient success of this transportation mode. Also, I thought the book would be a pleasant vacation from politics. However, that was not to be…
“There’s a difference between the West and the Non-West”
Mr Hanson demonstrates not just what we owe to the Greeks, but how many of the issues they struggled with we still struggle with today: how to look at and understand the world, immigration and assimilation, voting rights, poverty and income equality, social justice, socialism and egalitarianism, and the role and rights of women in society.
Just from the opening:
“Places like India and China are becoming much more like us, if I can use that controversial term, than we are like them. And in our period here at home the irony of all this change, as it expands from the center, I think at the same time there’s never been a period in the West when people who are Western have so little confidence in what they have to offer the world. At the very time that India and China and South Korea and Latin America are embracing Western civilization, we in the West are questioning it. So much so that we created this alternative protocol called Multiculturalism. It sounds great, study all cultures. Two things to remember about it. The Greeks started Multiculturalism with people like Xenophon and Herodotus that were inquisitive and empirical, inductive in their interest in Persian and Egypt. And second, it doesn’t mean study all cultures, it means to advance them as equal to Western culture. I have no problem with that except it’s intellectually dishonest.
Because privately, we in the United States, and indeed in Europe as well, we live two lives. We profess a multicultural utopia, that all the world and the cultures and all the history are all of relatively equal merit, even though we see that China and India and all these countries are adopting business practices, language practices, transparencies like our own. But then we don’t live this multicultural dogma. If I can be very blunt and controversial, if we all want to travel and you have a choice between flying Nigerian Airlines and United, you’ll take United…If you want to say, you happen to be an atheist – God forbid – in this audience, but if you said ‘God is dead!’ you better do it in Salt Lake City – Mormon as it is! – than try to do it in Saudi Arabia where you’ll be executed.
Is it because of race? No. Is it because of genes? No. It’s because of a particular culture, a particular way of looking at the world. What is that way of looking at the world? Primarily it’s empirical. That a person starts his existence without preconceptions. We inherited that from the Socratic tradition. We are not deductive, we don’t start with a premise and make the premise fit the examples. We look at the examples…and then we come up with conclusions about it. The scientific method.
What else is this Western idea? It’s the idea that a person, an individual, has inalienable rights. We see that best epitomized in our own Constitution. But it goes back to Greece.”
And I’ll conclude with a spoiler from his finish because I think it’s so profound. Describing the fall of Rome to a band of thugs after a much smaller Roman Republic had defeated much larger and more dangerous threats:
“Fast forward to the 5th century AD, is this the Roman Republic, 1/4 of Italy? No. It now encompasses 70 million people, from Mesopotamia in the East to the Atlantic ocean in the West, to above Hadrian’s Wall in the North to the Sahara Desert in the South, one million square miles. And they’re attacked, not by a formidable power, the inheritor of classical military science like Hannibal, but a thug like Atilla with some Huns and Visigoths and Vandals. By any measure, the threat was nothing compared to the threat that Romans faced when it was much, much smaller. But why in the world could they not defend themselves….?
The answer is…in 216 BC a Roman knew what it was to be a Roman. And they were under no illusions that they had to be perfect to be good. All they believed was they had an illustrious tradition that was better than alternative and could be better even more…In 450 AD I don’t think the average person who lived under the Roman Empire…knew what it was to be a Roman citizen, he did not believe that it was any better than the alternative. And when that happens in history, history is cruel, it gives nobody a pass. If you cease to believe that your country’s exceptional and has a noble tradition, and it is good without without being perfect, and it’s better than the alternative – If you cease to believe that! – there’s no reason for you to continue, and history says you won’t. And you don’t.”
Can we learn and change course? Or are we doomed to travel that road once more?
Finally, I make this last point with some trepidation. It will strike some as ad hominem. But it is not meant to be so. It is put forward only to clarify the issues. The position that a President has a duty to put forward a Supreme Court nominee is narrowly elitist and overtly judicial-centric. Nothing distinguishes the President in his role here in regard to nominating Supreme Court nominees from (1) his role in regard to nominating other judicial nominees and (2) his coordinate role in regard to nominating persons for any and every other office (however humble) within the President’s orbit. If the President fails to nominate a person to one of these less prominent offices who would say that the President failed in his constitutional duty? I think few, and perhaps no commentators would make such an argument. And if you will not make that argument for each and every one of the less prominent positions subject to presidential nomination, I think there is no good reasoned basis for making it for Supreme Court vacancies—except that the great & good all think the Supreme Court was, is, and must be the center of our attention and political life. In other words, this Supreme Court-centered view is exactly the position that AS fought tooth-and-nail. He was right to do so.
(This being St Patrick’s day, I’m taking advantage of the hook to re-post this review, in the hope of inspiring a few more people to read this incredibly fine historical novel)
Ralph Peters calls this book “the finest historical novel written in English, at least in the twentieth century,” going on to say “except for ‘The Leopard,’ I know of no historical novel that so richly and convincingly captures the ambience of a bygone world.”
In August of 1798, the French revolutionary government landed 1000 troops in County Mayo to support indigenous Irish rebels, with the objective of overthrowing British rule in Ireland. The Year of the French tells the (fictionalized but fact-based) story of these events from the viewpoint of several characters, representing different groups in the complex and strife-ridden Irish social structure of the time.
Owen MacCarthy is a schoolmaster and poet who writes in the Gaelic tradition. He is pressed by illiterate locals to write a threatening letter to a landlord who has evicted tenants while switching land from farming to cattle-raising. With his dark vision of how an attempt at rebellion must end–“In Caslebar. They will load you in carts with your wrists tied behind you and take you down to Castlebar and try you there and hang you there”–MacCarthy is reluctant to get involved, but he writes the letter.
Sam Cooper, the recipient of the letter, is a small-scale landlord, and captain of the local militia. Indigenously Irish, his family converted to Protestantism several generations ago to avoid the crippling social and economic disabilities imposed on Catholics. Cooper’s wife, Kate, herself still Catholic, is a beautiful and utterly ruthless woman…she advises Cooper to respond to the letter by rounding up “a few of the likeliest rogues,” jailing and flogging them, without any concern for actual guilt or innocence. “My God, what a creature you are for a woman,” Cooper responds. “It is a man you should have been born.” “A strange creature that would make me in your bed,” Kate fires back, “It is a woman I am, and fine cause you have to know it…What matters now is who has the land and who will keep it.”
Ferdy O’Donnell is a young hillside farmer on Cooper’s land. Far back in the past, the land was owned by the O’Donnell family…Ferdy had once shown Cooper “a valueless curiosity, a parchment that recorded the fact in faded ink the colour of old, dried blood.”
Arthur Vincent Broome is a Protestant clergyman who is not thrilled by the “wild and dismal region” to which he has been assigned, but who performs his duties as best he can. Broome is resolved to eschew religious bigotry, but…”I affirm most sincerely that distinctions which rest upon creed mean little to me, and yet I confess that my compassion for their misery is mingled with an abhorrence of their alien ways…they live and thrive in mud and squalour…their music, for all that antiquarians and fanatics can find to say in its flavor, is wild and savage…they combine a grave and gentle courtesy with a murderous violence that erupts without warning…”‘
Malcolm Elliott is a Protestant landlord and solicitor, and a member of the Society of United Irishmen. This was a revolutionary group with Enlightenment ideals, dedicated to bringing Catholics and Protestants together in the cause of overthrowing British rule and establishing an Irish Republic. His wife, Judith, is an Englishwoman with romantic ideas about Ireland.
John Moore, also a United Irishman, is a member of one of the few Catholic families that have managed to hold on to their land. He is in love with Ellen Treacy, daughter of another prominent Catholic family: she returns his love, but believes that he is caught in a web of words that can only lead to disaster. “One of these days you will say a loose word to some fellow and he will get on his horse and ride off to Westport to lay an information with Dennis Browne, and that will be the last seen of you”
Dennis Browne is High Sheriff of Mayo…smooth, manipulative, and devoted to the interests of the very largest landowners in the county, such as his brother Lord Altamont and the mysterious Lord Glenthorne, the “Big Lord” who owns vast landholdings and an immense house which he has never visited.
Randall MacDonnell is a Catholic landowner with a decrepit farm and house, devoted primarily to his horses. His motivations for joining the rebellion are quite different from those of the idealistic United Irishman…”For a hundred years of more, those Protestant bastards have been the cocks of the walk, strutting around on acres that belong by rights to the Irish…there are men still living who remember when a son could grab his father’s land by turning Protestant.”
Jean Joseph Humbert is the commander of the French forces. A former dealer in animal skins, he owes his position in life to the revolution. He is a talented commander, but the battle he is most concerned about is the battle for status and supremacy between himself and Napoleon Bonaparte.
Charles Cornwallis, the general who surrendered to the Americans at Yorktown, is now in charge of defeating the French and the rebels and pacifying the rebellious areas of Ireland. Seen through the eyes of a young aide who admires him greatly, Cornwallis is portrayed as a basically kindly man who can be hard when he thinks it necessary, but takes no pleasure in it. “The color of war had long since bleached from his thoughts, and it remained for him only a duty to be scrupulously performed.”
This book is largely about the way in which the past lives on in the present, both in the world of physical objects and the world of social relationships. Two characters who make a brief appearance are Richard Manning, proprietor of a decrepit and debt-laden castle, and his companion Ellen Kirwan:
Keith Meldahl, a geologist and professor of geology, has written one of the most interesting books on the history of the American West I’ve ever encountered. It’s a history of how it got the way it is, physically. He covers the creation of California – it’s only recently been pasted onto North America – how the Sierra Nevada formed and what it actually is, why Nevada looks like it does, how the Colorado Plateau got there, how the Rocky Mountains were formed, and some very interesting and odd details as well. Along the way, he provides a few vignettes of the early explorers and settlers and their often brutal encounters with these features.
Probably the two most important players in all this are something you’ve never heard of, the Farallon Plate, and the North America continent itself. Long story short, 240 million years ago the world’s landmasses had merged together into single massive conglomeration called Pangea (All Land). Prior to that time, North America had moved West to East, the East coast was the active margin and the West coast, which then ended in a line from Wyoming across Utah and through Nevada, trailed along. The eventual impact with Africa raised the Appalachians to Himalaya scale and merged us to it like India to Asia. By 150 million years ago, Pangea was breaking apart and a newly born mid-ocean ridge opened the Atlantic Ocean for the first time. As the ridge continued to build new seafloor, it spread apart. Everything east of that ridge began being pushed to the east, and everything west of it, including North America, began being pushed to the west. It was then that things began changing for the western states. You can page through that 100 million years at Arcadia Street for a glimpse at the plant and animal life you would have seen, had you been there.
What I’m feeling for the GOP is a kind of disinterested sympathy, punctuated with schadenfreude, the disinterest arising from never having been a Republican, the sympathy from the GOP identification of a plurality of my close friends – uniformly horrified by what is happening – and the schadenfreude from the abrupt collapse of three-plus decades of pharisaical social conservatism. Turns out that eventually enough of the electorate whose resentment you’ve been stoking figures out that it’s a waste of time and fastens on to something else, something that matches their actual resentments a lot more closely. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted by Ginny on 29th February 2016 (All posts by Ginny)
I don’t read much lately, but my more libertarian daughter listens to Hoover & Cato podcasts. She mentioned one on The Not So Wild, Wild West: Property Rights on the Frontier So I ordered the book. I don’t know much about economics but have come to admire economists because they so aptly describe human nature, and often give arguments for wise institutions. The authors argue that “entrepreneurs of institutions” helped make life relatively orderly on the frontier. For instance, one maximized the profits and minimized the costs by ensuring Abilene was railhead, where the cowboys ended their long contracts of driving the cattle and the railroads took them east. But often it wasn’t a “middleman” as much as the consensus of a group, as they set out in wagon trains or obtained mining rights. Read the rest of this entry »
I wrote and published this 8-page short story–Purim & My Bangladeshi Friend–a little while back. As I said, today is Purim, and it’s Purim again in a month. So my short story is, I think, once again, timely, and sadly, once again, all too relevant to life in our shared West, in our shared modernity.
In 1861, after Fort Sumter fell, the U.S. Army seized John Merryman, a Maryland citizen and state militia officer, and detained him in Fort McHenry, in Baltimore, Maryland. Merryman’s lawyers sought a writ of habeas corpus. After a hearing, Taney determined that the Army had violated the Constitution by seizing and detaining Merryman absent due process. Taney offered much flowing language—the sort which endears him to do-gooders and starry-eyed civil libertarians. But that is all that Taney did: He offered pieties in a judicial opinion. The reality is that Taney did not grant Merryman habeas corpus. In other words, Taney did not order the Army, or the commander at Fort McHenry (the named defendant in Ex parte Merryman), or the President, or anyone else to release Merryman from the Army’s prison. Now, perhaps the Army would not have obeyed any such a judicial order, but we will never know because Taney never issued one.