(I enjoyed putting together my list of books read in 2004, and got some positive responses. But since the list for the entire year was too long, the individual entries were a little bit truncated. So, I decided to do a more substantive post now, since the additional detail may be of interest so some of our readers.)
H. John Poole, Tactics of the Crescent Moon (January, 2005)
The book adds a specifically Middle Eastern dimension to Poole’s earlier material (Reviewed here.). Poole offers interesting speculation on the key role of Hezbollah and the Iranian Sepah (Revolutionary Guards) as chief instigators of regional terrorism and inventors of suicide bombing. Poole concludes that winning the war on terrorism regionally and globally will require a re-focus away from a maximizing firepower to a light infantry focus with more discriminating use of aimed fire. This too is consistent with Poole’s other writings, which advocate focused and even minimalist employment of firepower — both from a moral and a practical standpoint. Poole also sees the need for a large non-combat element to follow the combat forces, to win the “hearts and minds” battle which is fundamental under current conditions . Poole’s proposals are fully consistent with Thomas Barnett’s prescription for a “SysAdmin” force, and with the requirements of “4th Generation Warfare” as described by William Lind and Thomas X. Hammes. UPDATE: As of March 2005, it is interesting to see the events in Lebanon, which may well isolate and weaken Hezbollah, or engross its energies in a civil war, in light of Poole’s assessment of Hezbollah’s importance as the “worst of the worst” in the world of terrorism.
Jean Danielou, God and the Ways of Knowing (January, 2005)
Good spiritual reading. Well laid-out treatment of God’s progressive disclosure of himself to humanity over the course of history. Particularly valuable for understanding the continuity between the Old and New Testament.
Bruce Gudmundsson, On Armor (January, 2005)
This is yet another solid work by the reliable and extremely knowledgeable Gudmundsson. He discusses the development and use of armor with a focus on tactics and employment rather than hardware. He builds the book on an over-arching theme of the trade-off between operational capability and tactical capability. The USA focused on the latter, the Soviets the former: The Russian tanks were eaten alive in the streets of Grozny, ours needed mountains of fuel to make the march to Baghdad, but were extremely effective once they got there. If Gudmundsson is right, the Army would be making a mistake by moving too far away from these very heavy but very powerful vehicles, which provide excellent crew protection and heavy firepower. These characteristics are by no means obsolete in the contemporary world of urban warfare in third world countries. (Ask the Israelis if they would rather have Strykers instead of their Merkavas — though “both” is probably the right answer.) Gudmundsson describes the various types of armored vehicles and their uses, for example armored cars and assault guns, without an over-focus on the main battle tank. He effectively rebuts the generally accepted notion of the non-utility of cavalry in World War I and in the early inter-war years. I tend to find arguments which show that people in the past were not as stupid as they are often accused of being to be convincing. Looking toward the future, Gudmundsson foresees the development of a variety of types of vehicles, which will be custom-fitted to meet various tactical situations. The age of the main battle tank may be ending, but the age of armored combat vehicles is very much ongoing.
Frederick W. Maitland, Constitutional History of England (January, 2005)
Why this book? Jim Bennett turned me on to the extraordinarily important writer Alan MacFarlane, whom Bennett had run across in the research which led to his book about the Anglosphere. (N.B. that MacFarlane’s website is a treasure-trove of good material, and is the model of what a serious scholar’s website should be.) Since I am very interested in the entire of issue of Anglo-American-Anglospheric political-legal-economic exceptionalism, I was excited to discover MacFarlane. I read MacFarlane’s two-book magnun opus The Riddle of the Modern World and The Making of the Modern World, which I found to be brilliant. Riddle focused on Montesquieu, Adam Smith and Tocqueville, all of whom I was familiar with. Making, however focused on two men about whom I knew little, Frederick W. Maitland and Yukichi Fukuzawa (And here.). Montesquieu, Smith and Tocqueville were forced to theorize about the antiquity of the institutions and culture which underlay modernity and its origins in England. The work of digging back into antiquity was not yet done. Maitland did it, at least sufficiently to confirm the major portions of the historical arguments of these earlier writers. Maitland provided the empirical case for English exceptionalism that the others had taken as a premise. As it happens, Maitland is a delightful writer, and his Constitutional History is an extremely illuminating book. It contains masses of information about the formation of English Government from the Saxons to 1887, when the book was completed. It shows that it was contingency rather than any kind of intentional planning which led to political and personal liberty in England, and this occurred in a context of continuous and organic development of the legal and political order over the centuries. For example, the rise of democratic government as we know it came from notions that people and communities had a right to petition the king. Over the centuries the crown’s recurring need for tax revenue to finance its wars led to a ratchet effect of grants of liberty to individuals and groups in exchange for those taxes and the requirement that there be consent to taxation by the various communities of England. These communities obtained and held a right to be represented in parliaments, which developed over many centuries from a judicial and administrative forum, to use our modern terms, into a legislative body as we would understand it. An American reading this is struck repeatedly by how many of our supposedly exceptional American institutions are derived directly from England, in particular whole swathes of the Federal Constitution. The American Founders may have been establishing a Novus Ordo Seclorum, but they were building on foundations which were already a thousand years old.
Frederick W. Maitland “Outlines Of English Legal History, 560—1600” (February 2005) (It may be found here, on the Online Library of Liberty, in Vol. II of his Collected Papers)
Not a book, but nearly long enough to be one, and full of more valuable details than most books five times its length. It is a good substitute for or addendum to the Constitutional History. Maitland lays out the history of British law as a tale of slow, evolutionary development within an overarching continuity, and the resilience of institutions over time. The common law, embedded in a deeply-rooted network of courts, judges, lawyers and litigants, particularly property owners, was impossible for centralizing monarchs to uproot, as he puts it “too tough a weed”. Again, the story is one of organic change and response developing over centuries. It is also a tale of happenstance, for example, the infamous Court of Star Chamber, which became a byword for oppression under the Stuarts, had been in earlier times been the only effective guardian of the legal system against juries who had been bribed or coerced by the local strongmen. . And, again, it is beautifully written.
Fred Siegel The Future Once Happened Here (February, 2005)
A history of New York, LA and DC from the 60s riots until 1997. Siegel shows the failure of liberal governance, the use by the Black leadership of a “riot ideology”, i.e. threatening to riot, unless government funding was provided for the area, to extract concessions for minority neighborhoods. Liberals were complicit in this arrangement, since it appealed to their sense of guilt. The book reflects a pro-city view from a city booster which is beyond, probably, what the evidence really justifies. So I do not think it goes far enough in its condemnation. Probably most valuable as a portrait of the collective delusion and malice of the so-called liberal reformers who have plagued these cities all these years. Not a pleasant read, but it filled in a lot of history I did not know and made me glad all over again that I was a child in the 60s and missed the action. I would like very much to see Siegel turn his attention to Chicago, which never bought into the riot ideology, and never sank as low as DC and NYC, let alone Detroit, which has virtually been destroyed.
W.J.F. Jenner The Tyranny of History: The Roots of China’s Crisis (February, 2005)
Why this book? Strong recommendations from two different people whose opinions I trust. Jenner’s short, thematic treatment is helpful for a non-expert on China to understanding China, and some of the challenges China will face in trying to make any transition to a more liberal form of rule. Jenner is sympathetic, but pessimistic, which seems to amount to a balanced treatment of the major issues. Jenner discusses Chinese political and cultural history, the role of the family, the role of the writing system, the extraordinary stability of Chinese government power, with the recurring outbreaks of massive revolutionary fervor and violence. This last element makes the Chinese government’s apparent (to westerners) over-reaction to the Falun Gong movement much more comprehensible. Jenner is good on the impact of the Cultural Revolution in uprooting China from its past, and creating a generation of Chinese who are more divorced from their cultural heritage, or burden, than any previous one — for better or for worse. Jenner’s discussion of the China in the early Mao years is interesting, too. One fascinating passage describes the ancient and highly-refined Chinese methods of co-opting potentially dangerous or useful foreigners, by allowing them to believe they have a special insight into the Chinese mind and character, and then manipulating this conceit. American politicians and pundits should take heed. Jenner also makes clear the sense of possibility and the excitement in the air in the early years of Mao’s rule, before the horrors began in earnest. This is typical of a recurring pattern one sees regarding many revolutionary eras, and a recurring temptation to political romantics who want to recapture that buzz by constantly stirring things up and keeping alive the dream of a worldly utopia. Jenner is bleak about a peaceful and orderly transition to a stable and more legitimate political order in China, though he is hoping for the best. I hope he’s wrong, but I think he’s right.
Alan MacFarlane and Gerry Martin Glass: A World History (March 2005)
More an essay or meditation on the impact of glass on world history than a history of glass. But with that caveat, it is a good and eye-opening book. The authors demonstrate convincingly that the advanced development of glass in Europe, and particularly Northwester Europe was a necessary, though not sufficient, condition to the development of modern science and technology. The technical and historical details are interesting, and I wish there were more of them, though I may be idiosyncratic in this regard. (I enjoy books like David Hounshell’s From the American System to Mass Production, 1800-1932: Development of Manufacturing Technology in the United States and Endless Novelty: Specialty Production and American Industrialization, 1865-1925 by Philip Scranton due in large part to the density of factual basis presented for their larger conclusions, as well as the inherent interest of the material.) MacFarlane and Martin also discuss more speculatively the impact of glass on other aspects of culture. The intra-civilizational comparisons are well done, and a reminder and warning that a civilization can not only learn new things but forget how to do things, too. Progress is not inevitable, it is exceptional.
Helen Cam Law-Finders and Law-Makers of Medieval England: Collected Studies in Legal and Constitutional History (March 2005)
Why this book? I noticed that MacFarlane, in his Making of the Modern World, cited to an essay by Helen Cam about F.W. Maitland. This reminded me that her name had been mentioned in Norman Cantor’s good but irritating book Inventing the Middle Ages. Since Cantor was a liberal, I took his somewhat denigrating comments about Cam as an indicating that she was “old-fashioned” and hence, contra Cantor’s assessment, reliable. By happenstance, I stumbled on this book at the used book place in Dupont Circle in DC, which contains the Maitland essay and much else of value. It is technical over various swathes, and hence somewhat beyond me, but it contains many valuable and interesting insights. For example, like Maitland and MacFarlane, Cam is emphatic about the continuity of English history. Like Maitland she emphasized the relatively openness of the English class system compared to that of Continental Europe. She discusses the process whereby even the most autocratic medieval monarchs responded to petitions from various communities and groups, and enacted legislation in response. This goes all the way back, demonstrating the “representative” nature of English politics deep into the so-called Dark Ages. She discusses the “vill”, or village, as a community which could act corporately. We see very early on that the English allowed these villages to act corporately, so sue and be sued, to borrow and to be held accountable for debts, and to have and to hold various privileges, and to petition on the communities behalf, i.e. act in a proto-representative capacity. This is a very ancient and important intermediate institution, which had a legally protected existence. This shows that England anciently had strong intermediate institutions standing between the individual and the higher levels of government — the remote roots of what we have come to know as “civil society”. On a related point, Cam also emphasizes how loyalties in England were to localities rather than social castes, with parliament an assemblage of representatives of shires and boroughs (chartered towns) — a “community of communities”, communitas communitatum — again foreshadowing freely interacting and spontaneously ordering “network of networks” which makes up our modern society, particularly in the Anglosphere. More than Maitland, because of the improved scholarship in the intervening decades, Cam argues that the continuity of English cultural and customary legal practices are rooted deeply in the era before the Norman Conquest. She says good things about Bishop Stubbs, whose Constitutional History of England was rejected in recent decades as too “Whiggish”, specifically he seems to have misread how early parliament took on its legislative character, projecting a 19th century-style parliament too far back into the past. The scholar who demonstrated this error was Maitland — but Maitland respected Stubbs scholarship, while differing on the details of the development of parliament. Stubbs’ more general views about the continuity of English institutions since Saxon times, once derided, are supported by the most modern scholarship, such as James Campbell, The Anglo-Saxon State (which I have not yet read). (Cam also speaks highly of A.V. Dicey and Charles H. McIlwain, whose Introduction to the Study of the Law of the Constitution and Constitutionalism Ancient and Modern, respectively, have sat unread on my shelves for far too long.) She attributes to Dicey the origin of the expression “the Rule of Law”, which I had not known. Bottom line conclusion, while this is a very good book, it is by no means an introductory book on these subjects.
Helen Cam England Before Elizabeth (March, 2005)
After I had gotten going on the Helen Cam book mentioned above, I immediately thought: “I want more”, in particular, I wanted more of her conclusion and less foundation and raw data, since I had decided I trusted her to be honest. I went on the Net and found she’d written this one. It came out in 1960, which is perfect. Cam was a discipline of Maitland and brings his analysis forward to incorporate the scholarship of the 55 or so years after he died, and 73 years after he published Constitutional History of England. 1960 was roughly when the whole enterprise went off the rails with Marxism, etc., anyway, as Alan MacFarlane has described. So, in that sense, this book is still state of the art. In other words, 1960 would be about where we would resume our progress once we came back off the side road. The book is solid. It has good maps and a good timeline. Cam demonstrates in detail the continuity between pre- and post-Conquest England, the waxing and waning of the power of the monarch, the rise of the common law, the notions of local liberties which seem to go back to the deepest antiquity. It is hard for us to imagine it, in an age and place where the state is too powerful, but to medieval Englishman, who were jealous defenders of their liberties, the best thing was a strong king who could keep the peace and make his judges ride the circuit and hear their claims cases and punish criminals and do justice. My new mantra, which I will share with you again, is this: The Anglosphere heritage has not been minimal government, but optimal government. Historically, it has been strong where it needed to be, particularly at maintaining civil order and justice, and has provided a reliable legal framework for voluntary association and action to be carried out on a free and voluntary basis. All in all, Cam’s well-wrought small book is cumulative of what I have been learning from MacFarlane and Maitland and other sources, but adds much additional detail, particularly by pushing the story of English political and legal history back centuries before the Conquest.
Count de Marenches and David AndelmanThe Fourth World War: Diplomacy and Espionage in the Age of Terrorism (March, 2005)
Some time after September 11, I recalled out of the blue a review I had read. I Found the review, in Foreign Affairs, by the usually reliable Eliot A. Cohen (and here). (I have read Cohen’s Supreme Command : Soldiers, Statesmen, and Leadership in Wartime, Military Misfortunes : The Anatomy of Failure in War and Citizens and Soldiers: The Dilemmas of Military Service , and they are all very good.)(I will add with a hint of smug self-satisfaction to see that I have read 31 out of 95 of the books on Prof. Cohen’s Core Reading List, and most of the rest are gathering dust on my shelves waiting for “someday” to come. Why pay good money and defer income to go to graduate school? To meet other people who care about this stuff, I suppose. But I’ll just stick with the lawyer gig, I think.)
Anyway, Cohen, in his 1992 review, had this to say:
The principal author was for 11 years, covering the 1970s, the head of the French intelligence system. He tells his many cloak and dagger stories with verve and color, describing numerous meetings with American counterparts, not all of whom he admired. Certainly he cared more for one of these, William Casey (with whom he could exchange swashbuckling stories), than for the agency Casey led. Indeed the CIA is depicted as a massive intelligence sieve. Marenches goes off track, however, when he looks to the future. He sees the opening skirmishes of a new world war-between South and North-the new enemies being terrorists, drug dealers and dictators. “Mutual Assured Destruction” must now be replaced by a doctrine of “Certain Destruction” of terrorist groups; a “Decent People’s Club” of nations that believe in individual liberty must be created. These extreme views inadvertently cast some doubt on his judgment while running French intelligence.
From a post-9/11 perspective, that sounds not “extreme”, but prescient. The book, as it happens, is very enjoyable and contains many astute comments and much yarn-spinning. De Marenches is very diplomatic, speaking well of most people, reserving his unmitigated disdain for Jimmy Carter and his CIA Director Stansfield Turner, whom he says nearly destroyed America’s humint capabilities. Near the end of the book, de Marenches notes that his concerns about the dangers of terrorism are not being heeded in the USA, and he says this:
My hope for the future enlightenment of the Americans springs … from my certainty that international terrorism will finally find its way to their shores. That is not something I would wish on my most mortal enemy, let alone my friends. But if the terrorist threat has the effect of shaking up the American people and especially their leadership, then it will have had some value. The Americans until now have led a relatively charmed and sheltered existence. Terrorist incidents involving Americans or American property have all happened far from the territory of the United States. [One explanation] is the physical difficulty of operating in the United States, so far from the terrorists’ home bases in the Middle East, and the relative ease of operating in Europe, where equally violent and high-profile ends can be achieved at much lower cost and risk. Many of the circumstances are changing, though. … The Untied States may soon seem a soft and tempting mark. And it will only take one successful terrorist operation there to convince the terrorist international that the United States is a promising new and virtually untapped well of targets for their violence.
De Marenches was right about the American people and leadership being shaken out of their complacency, but so far not right about the USA being a target of ongoing attacks. He offers a policy for the new age, the successor to Mutual Assured Destruction. He says that the United States and its allies must have a policy of Certain Destruction visited upon terrorists and their supporters. That strikes me as the correct approach. It is amusing to contemplate how the chattering classes would have greeted a pronouncement by President Bush that we were adopting a policy called “Certain Destruction” to address terrorists and those who harbor them — the French in particular would have sniffed at his simplisme. Jacksonian Americans might like the clear, unambiguous sound of it, though.
Philip Ziegler, Soldiers : Fighting Men’s Lives, 1901-2001 (March 2005)
This is an enjoyable book. Ziegler interviewed several “in-pensioners”, i.e. retired soldiers of the British Army residing at the Royal Hospital, Chelsea. This remarkable institution has been around since the time of Charles II. (The official website does not mention that legendarily it was Charles’ mistress Nell Gwynne who persuaded him to found a home for poor, sick and injured soldiers. Good old Nell.) Ziegler organizes the book as a series of capsule biographies of nine British enlisted men, or “other ranks” as they would say. The oldest was an ancient man who had gone off to World War I as a teenager. The others were World War II era veterans. The book presents a series of snapshots of their ordinary lives before, during and after their military service. One impression I took away from this book is of the poverty that most of them lived with, seen as normal at the time, in the 1920s and 1930s. Tied to this is the youthful age at which many of these men signed on as “boy soldiers”, in their teens, to get out of hard conditions and to bring in some income for their families. The second impression I had was of the British Army as primarily an imperial defense force, which only focused on major wars against major enemies when it was impelled to do so. They all expected to serve in India or other distant locales. A third impression was of the paternalism and favoritism which seem to pervade Regimental System and the Army as a whole. It seems to have had all kinds of informal ways to get around the bureaucracy. If you are interested in history of the British Army, you will probably find this of interest.