ayjay + history   221

A Bold New Theory Proposes That Humans Tamed Themselves
Central to his argument is the idea that cooperative killing of incurably violent individuals played a central role in our self-domestication. Much as the Russian scientists eliminated the fierce fox pups from the breeding pool, our ancestors killed men who were guilty of repeated acts of violence. Certainly all-male raiding parties have operated in some groups of humans, seeking out and killing victims in neighboring villages (which recalls the patrolling chimps that Wrangham reported on earlier in his career). The twist in his current theory is that such ambushes are turned inward, to protect the group from one of its own: They serve as a form of capital punishment. Wrangham cites a number of examples of anthropologists witnessing a group of men collaborating to kill a violent man in their midst.
history  anthropology  from instapaper
3 days ago by ayjay
Foot, Michael Mackintosh (1913–2010), journalist, politician, and author | Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
Foot was never an analytical political philosopher, and his grasp of economics was always sketchy. Yet he contributed richly to the British radical and socialist traditions. He was a magnificent political pamphleteer: Guilty Men was a political polemic worthy of his cherished Swift. He was a brilliant parliamentarian whose sparkling performances captivated the Commons. As a platform orator he was incomparable, full of wit and rhetorical flourish, always able to summon up a relevant literary phrase. As a political operator his talents revealed themselves late in life, but he proved himself in his distinctive way to be an effective cabinet minister, getting six major bills onto the statute book and, for a time, reversing the tide of legislation on the unions. As leader of the house he kept a minority government afloat with much skill and no little charm. Sadly as a party leader he was out of his element, unable to cope with internal challenge—perhaps because he was too nice a man. He was above all a rare survival of an ancient breed, the Edwardian man of letters in public life reborn, a literate intellectual of acute linguistic sensitivity, a much-loved humanist of warmth and humour. A football steward at Selhurst Park once asked him if he was carrying an offensive weapon. In reply he showed him a copy of the works of Milton, which he claimed was one of the greatest weapons in English history. As always, they let him in.
politics  history  socialism  England 
19 days ago by ayjay
Bevin, Ernest (1881–1951), trade unionist and politician | Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
Bevin was one of Britain's greatest trade union figures. His ministerial career marked the arrival of organized labour at the centre of policy making and the advent of corporatist approaches to the economy. Churchill commented to Anthony Eden of Bevin in October 1944 that Bevin was by 'far the most distinguished man that the Labour Party have thrown up in my time' (J. Colville, The Fringes of Power, 1985, 522). Bevin was perhaps second only to Churchill in the wartime coalition government and was a dominant figure in the post-war Labour governments. He had a strong sense of class and of his own struggle upwards from an educationally deprived background of rural poverty followed by dead-end jobs in his early working life. An unpredictable compound of insights and prejudices, he was intellectually highly able but he distrusted socialist intellectuals, though he was ready to refer to his own socialist credentials.
politics  history  socialism  England 
19 days ago by ayjay
Attlee, Clement Richard, first Earl Attlee (1883–1967), prime minister | Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
Although a single life cannot epitomize so diverse an organization as the Labour Party, Attlee's combination of radical political views with support for so much that was conventional in society has summed up for many the limitations of British social democracy. When Attlee addressed the houses of congress in November 1945, he tried to reassure them about his government by pointing out that 'The Old School Tie can still be seen on the Government benches' (Purpose and Policy, 149). But the larger context for this remark was that the party drew on a wide cross-section of the population. And this was the point about the party under Attlee, epitomized by his close relationship with Ernie Bevin. The public school, Oxford graduate, militarily experienced prime minister was in close step with the orphaned Bristol barrow boy who had left school at thirteen to become leader of one of the most powerful trade unions in Europe. Their judgments on matters big and small usually coincided. This showed what the party could achieve, by integrating the classes in a common purpose. That the two classes could learn from one another was what Attlee had discovered and practised in the East End, and its shining example was his relationship with Bevin. This was a powerful but transient achievement. While his relationship with Bevin may have realized Attlee's ideal for political life, the party could not perpetuate it, however often it resurrected the memory of 1945–51.
politics  history  socialism  England 
19 days ago by ayjay
Bevan, Aneurin [Nye] (1897–1960), politician | Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
Bevan's death established, at once, that widespread affection and respect for his life had caused a real sense of public grief. Press obituaries and a well-attendpolied service in Westminster Abbey appeared to give him the final accolades of respectability and responsibility. Yet in his life itself nothing could have seemed less likely or less welcome. Aneurin Bevan was that rare being, a practical politician with a philosophy for his actions beyond the minutiae of political activity, which was, in turn, only the means to achieve social and cultural ends. When Bevan's petulance and egotism are assessed, along with his misjudgments and errors, his real substance as the pre-eminent British proponent of democratic socialism in the twentieth century outweighs everything. The NHS still survives as the last great, decidedly socialist, monument of the 1945 Labour government. His own legacy has been invoked, sometimes bewilderingly given his class-driven politics, by successive generations of Labour and new Labour leaders. His coruscating phrases are still mint fresh in the mouths of others; his political testament, In Place of Fear (1952), as fragmented and filigree brilliant as the man himself, remains in use and in print.
politics  history  socialism  England 
19 days ago by ayjay
The Searcher of Patterns and the Keeper of Things - Los Angeles Review of Books
As if to forefront both projects’ interest in the form information takes, each exists in two states itself: first as a book, with its mechanics of linearity and indexicality contextualized, and then also as a website. In Silver’s case, this involves a born-digital museum containing high-resolution images of the objects discussed in his book; in Pasanek’s a fully searchable and still-growing database of metaphors, of which his chapters are to be read as samples, continues to be updated. These websites illuminate, expand, and feed back into the books they serve, but they also concretize the lessons Silver and Pasanek have to offer about the mechanics of information-gathering and retrieval. If you followed either of the links above, you’ll get the picture, as well as the practical feel of this claim. Silver and Pasanek both study cognition as it has been imagined physically, through metaphor and the early history of extended cognition. But both also insist at the level of media use that it really has always had a physical substratum.
history  tech  mind  from instapaper
9 weeks ago by ayjay
Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII Enforcer: New Biography | National Review
Cromwell did not come from poverty: His father was fairly successful in business, and, as mentioned earlier, he was not the abusive terror that Mantel and earlier historians made him out to be. Another common myth that the author disproves is that of Cromwell the amoral schemer: MacCulloch shows that Cromwell repeatedly put his principles over his self-interest. After Wolsey fell from the king’s grace, Cromwell would have had every reason to desert Wolsey, but instead Cromwell repeatedly lobbied the king on his behalf. Once in power, Cromwell took huge risks to forge connections between English clerics and considerably more radical reformers in Switzerland, something he did without ever informing the king. Indeed, had the more religiously conservative Henry known of these endeavors, it could have cost Cromwell his life, yet Cromwell continued in this clandestine project out of his own evangelical zeal. Most persistently, MacCulloch argues against the notion that Cromwell targeted England’s monasteries out of naked greed. In fact Cromwell sought initially to reform many monasteries rather than shut them down, but he was overruled by the king.
history  from instapaper
10 weeks ago by ayjay
1968: Radical Year
Of course this is a blind spot Vinen shares with many scholars of the sixties. While every general history of the sixties in the United States includes a mention of Students for a Democratic Society, very few of them take note of the Catholic charismatic renewal that began in 1967 at a retreat held by Duquesne University faculty and students, or the parallel explosion of Pentecostal influence on Protestants, not to mention the Lubavitchers and similar Orthodox Jewish movements. You can’t understand the sixties—68 very much included—unless you include in your view these movements combining intense piety with ecstatic experience. (See Geoffrey O’Brien’s brilliant memoir Dream Time for an unsettling variation on glossolalia, not “religious” but hardly “secular” either.)
history  religion  secularity  from instapaper
12 weeks ago by ayjay
Did the end of the Great War come too soon?
“If peace comes now, it will be a British peace,” Jan Smuts, the future South African premier, told the Imperial War Cabinet on 24 October 1918, “given to the world by the same Empire that settled the Napoleonic wars a century ago.”

But, he warned, if the war continued into 1919 “the peace which will then be imposed on an utterly exhausted Europe will be an American peace” and the United States would have “taken our place as the first military, diplomatic and financial power of the world”.

This fear of an American-imposed peace if the war continued into another campaigning season was one reason why British and French leaders were willing to accept an armistice. They hoped to gain by diplomacy at the peace conference what they had been unable to win on the battlefield.
history  war  from instapaper
november 2018 by ayjay
A Reactionary Renaming: Stanford and English Language Politics - BLARB
In short, one of these two men went into battle against Native Americans and it was not Junipero Serra.

The Stanford Advisory Committee acknowledges that larger structural forces were more to blame for the devastation of native communities and cultures than Junipero Serra himself: “Historical references indicate that he combined piety, self-sacrifice, a love for Native Americans, and a religious passion for their salvation with strict and punitive paternalism, sometimes moderated by significant acts of leniency.”

Meanwhile Walter Isaacson, in his highly praised biography, all but ignores Franklin’s role as an armed combatant. “Franklin enjoyed his stint as a frontier commander,” Isaacson writes, focusing on Franklin’s efforts to get militiamen to go to worship services and his interest in the marriage customs of nearby Moravians. “After seven weeks on the frontier, Franklin returned to Philadelphia.”

So while the California Mission system was devastating to native culture and that the Spanish military presence was genocidal, perhaps Serra’s life and work ought to be evaluated in comparison to the Colonial-era Native American experience on the Atlantic coast. The devastation of native communities by English speaking colonists was arguably more brutal.
history  politics  from instapaper
october 2018 by ayjay
How high to dream? | On the rise of human rights
The heart of his argument is that human rights suffered from bad timing. When core documents like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) were being drafted in the wake of the Second World War, left-wing demands for distributive equality enjoyed a prestige and common currency they now lack. But the opportunity to enshrine those demands explicitly in the Declaration was missed. And if the drafters were open to them, it was only in limited terms: as demands for equalization within nation states, not between them. Moreover, when calls for international equality finally began to gain currency in the 1970s – partly due to energetic pleading on the part of newly assertive and historically disadvantaged postcolonial states – the timing wasn’t quite right.
history  politics  rights 
august 2018 by ayjay
1968 and the summer of our discontent
The British ’68 took a somewhat different form. There was a fundamental division between the working forces and the educational establishment, nicely illustrated by Vinen: at the end of the 1970s, the quarter of a million members of the National Union of Mineworkers contained 15 members of Militant Tendency, nine members of the Socialist Workers Party, and five members of the International Marxist Group. ‘There were fewer Trotskyists in the most important of British trade unions than there were among the staff at North London Polytechnic.’

By contrast, only 2 per cent of students matriculating at Essex in 1968 described themselves as Labour supporters rather than ‘non-party extreme/moderate left’. The occasional Maoist sociology student who tried to reach out to the labouring classes met with, it is fair to say, a ribald or bemused reception. Perhaps the single most effective limit on student protest was the curious English habit that meant that students lived on campus during term time, and went home to mum and dad during the vacation. A Sussex sociologist — not always, despite the impression, the most radical members of staff — observed that ‘the one redeeming feature of all the unrest is that revolutions always go on holiday’.
history  politics  England 
april 2018 by ayjay
Waiting for Steven Pinker’s Enlightenment
Pinker’s problems with history are compounded even further as he tries to defend the Enlightenment against the many scholarly critics who have pointed, over the centuries, to some of its possible baleful consequences. Did Enlightenment forms of reasoning and scientific inquiry lie behind modern biological racism and eugenics? Behind the insistence that women do not have the mental capacity for full citizenship? Not at all, Pinker assures us. That was just a matter of bad science.

Indeed, it was. But Pinker largely fails to deal with the inconvenient fact that, at the time, it was not so obviously bad science. The defenders of these repellent theories, used to justify manifold forms of oppression, were published in scientific journals and appealed to the same standards of reason and utility upheld by Pinker. “Science” did not by itself inevitably beget these theories, but it did provide a new language and new forms of reasoning to justify inequality and oppression and new ways of thinking about and categorizing natural phenomena that suggested to many an immutable hierarchy of human races, the sexes, and the able and disabled. The later disproving of these theories did not just come about because better science prevailed over worse science. It came about as well because of the moral and political activism that forced scientists to question data and conclusions they had largely taken for granted.
enlightenment  scientism  history  from instapaper
march 2018 by ayjay
Polarization Is an Old American Story
The most poignant comparison, however, is the bitterness of the divide. For much of the 1790s, neither Adams’s Federalists nor Jefferson’s Republicans “accepted the legitimacy of the other,” Mr. Wood says. “And of course, the Federalists never thought that they were a party. They were the government,” and Jefferson’s Republicans a malignant faction trying to take the government down. The Republicans, for their part, “thought that the Federalists were turning us into a monarchy and reversing the American Revolution.”

We hear plenty of similarly apocalyptic rhetoric today, but much of it is cynical and self-consciously exaggerated. What was striking about the 1790s, Mr. Wood emphasizes, is the extent to which each party sincerely believed the other posed an existential threat.
politics  history  from instapaper
february 2018 by ayjay
The Great British Empire Debate
The “rebut rather than retract” advice is particularly important because the issue of colonialism is a matter not just for academia but for the wider political culture. According to opinion polling, some 43 percent of Britons think that the British Empire was a “good thing” and 44 percent that British colonialism is “something to be proud of” (compared to 19 percent who think the empire was bad, and 21 percent who believe that colonialism is a matter for “regret”). Other polls have shown even greater support for British colonialism. The public support for colonialism reflects, at least in part, the lack of a full and proper debate on the issue. Against this background, the arguments of Gilley and Biggar may best be seen as an opportunity to have that debate, and to change public opinion, rather than dismiss their claims as “shoddy” and “distorted,” even though they are.
history  academicfreedom 
january 2018 by ayjay
Select Works of Edmund Burke, vol. 1 (Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents; Two Speeches on America) - Online Library of Liberty
There are but very few, who are capable of comparing and digesting what passes before their eyes at different times and occasions, so as to form the whole into a distinct system. But in books everything is settled for them, without the exertion of any considerable diligence or sagacity. For which reason men are wise with but little reflexion, and good with little self-denial, in the business of all times except their own. We are very uncorrupt and tolerably enlightened judges of the transactions of past ages; where no passions deceive, and where the whole train of circumstances, from the trifling cause to the tragical event, is set in an orderly series before us. Few are the partizans of departed tyranny; and to be a Whig on the business of an hundred years ago, is very consistent with every advantage of present servility. This retrospective wisdom, and historical patriotism, are things of wonderful convenience; and serve admirably to reconcile the old quarrel between speculation and practice. Many a stern republican, after gorging himself with a full feast of admiration of the Grecian commonwealths and of our true Saxon constitution, and discharging all the splendid bile of his virtuous indignation on King John and King James, sits down perfectly satisfied to the coarsest work and homeliest job of the day he lives in. I believe there was no professed admirer of Henry the Eighth among the instruments of the last King James; nor in the court of Henry the Eighth was there, I dare say, to be found a single advocate for the favourites of Richard the Second. [...]

For ambition, though it has ever the same general views, has not at all times the same means, nor the same particular objects. A great deal of the furniture of ancient tyranny is worn to rags; the rest is entirely out of fashion. Besides, there are few Statesmen so very clumsy and awkward in their business, as to fall into the identical snare which has proved fatal to their predecessors. When an arbitrary imposition is attempted upon the subject, undoubtedly it will not bear on its forehead the name of *Ship-money*. There is no danger that an extension of the *Forest laws* should be the chosen mode of oppression in this age. And when we hear any instance of ministerial rapacity, to the prejudice of the rights of private life, it will certainly not be the exaction of two hundred pullets, from a woman of fashion, for leave to lye with her own husband.
[Everyone sees previous tyrannies for what they are, and so convince themselves, without real warrant, that they are alert to present ones.]
history  politics 
january 2018 by ayjay
An Eccentric Tradition: The Paradox of 'Western Values'
I fully endorse the sentiment that we need a greater familiarity with our own cultural, religious and intellectual past. But the study of what we might call "the Western tradition" will not turn out to be as comforting to advocates of conservative moral and political values as they might imagine. We will see that there is no neat alignment of the study of tradition with traditionalism and political conservatism. Rather the relevant history will bear witness to an ongoing conversation and a continuous dialogue with other cultural traditions. That dialogue was as robust in the middle ages and early modern period as in the post-Enlightenment era.

It is here that the great potential of a "Western tradition" project lies - not in the fetishizing of some imagined canon of fixed values, but in the preservation of a rich and varied past that can continue to serve as on ongoing challenge to the priorities and "values" of the present.
culture  history  from instapaper
january 2018 by ayjay
Signs of the Times: Recovering the Past, Redeeming the Future from the Tyranny of the Now
Historicist relativism is the form of gnostic knowingness - a claim to have insight into the hidden mysteries of what is going on, or "what the times require" - most typical of our age, with its delusive sense of being cut off from all other ages and experiences of mankind. Circumstances may require specific and novel forms of action of us, but circumstances can be interrogated, analysed, explained and reflected on.

"The times" do not require anything in particular; they are simply give to us to live in, to make something of eternal value out of. That is why present times are hard to read, and those who pretend to read them can always pose as magi. The character of the times is yet to be determined, and that will happen precisely as a result of decisions we have now to take. To rely on the times to guide the decisions, is to commit ourselves to a circle of self-justifying sophistry.
theology  history  from instapaper
january 2018 by ayjay
History and theorizing the secular
But there are also important limitations to this sort of genealogical approach. In the first place, it tends to frame the relationship between Christianity and the secular as one-directional. This makes it difficult to see how Christianity too has been reshaped by its encounter with the secular and how it might continue to play a robust role in the contemporary world beyond the role it has played in shaping various secular formations. A second problem with such genealogical accounts is that they risk falling into a genetic fallacy, by assuming that the Christian origins of secular concepts necessarily determine their current application. Such concepts may well have Christian roots, but it does not follow that they remain in any meaningful sense bound to Christianity or that their current uses are a function of these roots.
history  secularity  from instapaper
december 2017 by ayjay
Surrounded by Books | Chronicles Magazine
The “Blessings of Old Age”? Oh, not at all. How very soon I shall be dead. In a year? In a few months? In a few weeks? I hope that I will not be constrained to move from here to a communal nursing home. I hope; but I cannot know. What I know is that, after my death, this library, this house, will instantly be changed. They are my inheritance for my children and my stepson. My house will be sold at once. My books will go to the library of the University of Notre Dame, thanks to the excellent Rev. Wilson D. (Bill) Miscamble, C.S.C. My furniture and the decorations, chests, vitrines, armoires, antique clocks, paintings, and etchings on the walls will be dispersed among my children or sold. They are still my surroundings, which in this country I assembled from an older America, England, France, Austria, and even one or two pieces from my family in Hungary, miraculously regained almost 70 years ago. Perhaps I have been not much more than an ephemeral owner of an outdated museum. I am not a survivor. I am a crumbling remnant. A remnant of the very end of the Bourgeois Age and a remnant of the Age of Books. Ave atque vale.
books  reading  history  from instapaper
december 2017 by ayjay
The Manifesto | The Dark Mountain Project
If we are indeed teetering on the edge of a massive change in how we live, in how human society itself is constructed, and in how we relate to the rest of the world, then we were led to this point by the stories we have told ourselves — above all, by the story of civilisation.

This story has many variants, religious and secular, scientific, economic and mystic. But all tell of humanity’s original transcendence of its animal beginnings, our growing mastery over a ‘nature’ to which we no longer belong, and the glorious future of plenty and prosperity which will follow when this mastery is complete. It is the story of human centrality, of a species destined to be lord of all it surveys, unconfined by the limits that apply to other, lesser creatures.

What makes this story so dangerous is that, for the most part, we have forgotten that it is a story. It has been told so many times by those who see themselves as rationalists, even scientists; heirs to the Enlightenment’s legacy — a legacy which includes the denial of the role of stories in making the world.
civilization  futurism  history  climate  anthropocene 
november 2017 by ayjay
Uncivilisation: the Dark Mountain Manifesto (response by John Gray)
The notion that the conflicts of history have been left behind is truly apocalyptic, and Kingsnorth and Hine are right to target business-as-usual philosophies of progress. When they posit a cleansing catastrophe, however, they, too, succumb to apocalyptic thinking. How can anyone imagine that the dream-driven human animal will suddenly become sane when its environment starts disintegrating? In their own catastrophist fashion, the authors have swallowed the progressive fairy tale that animates the civilisation they reject.

A change of sensibility in the arts would be highly desirable. The new perspective that is needed, however, is the opposite of apocalyptic. Neither Conrad nor Ballard believed that catastrophe could alter the terms on which human beings live in the world. Both writers were unsparing critics of civilisation, but they never imagined there was a superior alternative. Each had witnessed for himself what the alternative means in practice.

Rightly, Kingsnorth and Hine insist that our present environmental difficulties are not solvable problems, but are inseparable from our current way of living. When confronted with problems that are insoluble, however, the most useful response is not to await disaster in the hope that the difficulties will magically disappear. It is to do whatever can be done, knowing that it will not amount to much. Stoical acceptance of this kind is practically unthinkable at present - an age when emotional self-expression is valued more than anything else. Still, stoicism will be needed if civilised life is to survive an environmental crisis that cannot now be avoided. Walking on lava requires a cool head, not one filled with fiery dreams.
futurism  history  climate  anthropocene 
november 2017 by ayjay
The American Scholar: The Fate of Rome - Charlotte Salley
Recent scientific evidence suggests two of the forces that caused Rome to crumble were climate change and pandemic disease. Historian Kyle Harper examines how, even after hundreds of years as the powerhouse of the Mediterranean and beyond, Rome ultimately could not withstand the debilitating effects of a “little ice age” and a population dwindling from plague. In this excerpt, though, the miasmic Italian terrain actually serves—temporarily—to protect its citizens from the invading Huns.
history  Rome 
november 2017 by ayjay
Paleo Politics | New Republic
It isn’t just that the barbarians are gone. The sense in which we are caught in a world we have built is even stronger than that. The built world that sustains us is so vast that, for every pound of an average person’s body, there are 30 tons of infrastructure: roads, houses, sidewalks, utility grids, intensively farmed soil, and so forth. Without all that, global population would fall to ten million or so, where it stood during much of Scott’s story, or perhaps 200 million, as it was at the beginning of the Common Era. We are creatures of the artificial world that began with Scott’s walls and canals. The Earth is so thoroughly the world we have made that our domestic animals outweigh wild terrestrial mammals by a factor of 25 to one.

We are the only things here, and “here” is a planetary version of the infrastructure state. There really is no more outside. All of this leaves us to ask how far we, on the inside, can overcome the inherited logic of our exploitation machine, and how much of the nonhuman world will be left if we do. Any answers will unavoidably come through political projects to remake this world in gentler and more inclusive forms, so that it can house more kinds of lives. The state got us into this. It is only by using the state for new purposes that we can hope to get ourselves someplace else.
politics  history  anthropocene 
november 2017 by ayjay
The Lost Books of Photios' Bibliotheca - History for Atheists
Far from being less likely to still be extant, the non-Christian works in Photios’ list are actually slightly more likely to survive (60.29%) than the Christian works he mentions (54.16%). This is despite the fact that most of the “pagan” and Jewish works he mentions are much older than most of the Christian works. Of course, Photios only tells us about the books he has read so his list is a snapshot, not a fully representative sample. The Christian books he mentions are heavily skewed toward theological disputations, sermons and scriptural commentaries and the non-Christian works are mainly historical works, speeches and lexicons rather than philosophy or the natural sciences. But probably the other key finding here is exactly how much of the Christian material is no longer extant: a full 45.84% of the works he mentions. If it were mainly “indifference” that accounted for the loss of ancient works, this percentage would be much lower for the works that Christians cared more about. The fact it is so high indicates that while some indifference probably played a part, keeping any work in circulation in this period was a battle against the historical odds.
history  atheism 
october 2017 by ayjay
Barbarian Virtues | The Nation
But in the end it is not so much that Scott is unfair to what people have long glorified as civilization, since he shines a powerful light on its dark side. It is not so much, either, that he romanticizes the lives of those who were dismissed as “savages” by their often murderous enemies, dazzlingly highlighting strategies of resistance by ordinary people past and present. In fact, Scott’s case for the prosecution, and his attempt to bear witness to those defending themselves against states, have always been the most arresting and unforgettable features of his work. But when he turns judge, Scott condemns civilization according to standards that are civilization’s—and modernity’s—own, without ever reflecting on this fact.

“Philosophers who have examined the foundations of society have all felt the necessity of going back to the state of nature,” Jean-Jacques Rousseau once remarked, “but none of them has reached it.” A sometime primitivist like Scott, Rousseau wanted to overturn his predecessor Thomas Hobbes’s depiction of pre-state life as nasty, brutish, and short, by showing that civilized life had produced the evils superimposed on the natural condition of humanity. But two can play that game. What if the very standards by which its inhabitants find their civilization still wanting are owed to civilization itself? If freedom and equality are things that only a specific set of events in the modern history of the state has allowed us to value, then Scott’s project to go back before its origin to find earlier expressions of them is a projection onto our ancestors, not the discovery of an alternative world to be won by turning our backs on modernity. And it is surely no excuse to give up the task of saving our civilizations and states in the name of the modern values only they have allowed propounding.

Yet Scott is so enamored with the versatility of our hunting-and-gathering ancestors—especially when compared with the monotonies of grain cultivation—that he never thinks to describe how they -interpreted the freedom and equality he assigns to them. He never confronts the possibility that only a new kind of state could make new kinds of ideals possible, including his own. His fascinating presentation of human self-domestication is a highlight of Against the Grain. But like Clastres—and, more indirectly, Friedrich Nietzsche before him—Scott is implicitly judging the state wanting by criteria that are unthinkable without its rise. He not only ignores the tremendous defects of “uncivilized” life, but he also fails to reflect on the absence in it of the ideals of liberty and equality that alone could justify his admiration. Scott is a product of the modern state who does not care to know it.
politics  history  economics 
october 2017 by ayjay
Litigating the Line Between Past and Present — Bunk
Gill has also attracted a “historians’ brief”—a type of amicus brief that has become increasingly common in recent years. But the past it returns to is not the 1960s, but the 1780s. “Having rejected and cast off the British notion of ‘virtual representation,’” the brief explains, the revolutionary generation of Americans “demanded a close correspondence between the sovereign people and their legislative assemblies.” Partisan gerrymandering thus violates “the vision of actual representation that was central to the Framers.” Perhaps the Gill historians’ brief, structured around the 18th-century concepts of “actual” and “virtual” representation, will speak to the justices in a way that John Lewis’s memory of getting bludgeoned could not. For it’s a telling paradox about American legal culture that those jurists most eager to invoke the 18th-century past—under the banner of the various modes of “originalism” long in vogue on the legal right—often display less interest in more recent events. Such as the Reconstruction-era debates that forged the Fourteenth Amendment – the provision ostensibly at issue in “equal protection” cases like Gill. Or what happened on the Pettus Bridge almost a century later, within the lifetime of every member of the Supreme Court that decided Shelby County. As children or young adults, the justices may well have watched Bloody Sunday unfold on television, and yet five of them concluded that it must have happened someplace else, in some erstwhile country.
law  politics  history 
october 2017 by ayjay
Revolutionary Possibility
The argument of Embassytown is itself a simile, struggling to become a metaphor, which is in turn struggling to become a truth. The simile is between the revolution the Arieki undergo and the revolution that Miéville wants to see us embark upon. He depicts the aliens changing through revolution from creatures whose thinking is ontologically different to our own (is, in a sense, not thinking at all), to creatures who share our condition, with all its possibilities and ambiguities. Miéville suggests that if we were to undergo revolution, we would ourselves be as radically transformed as the Arieki, so that the world in which we are now trapped would seem incommensurable and inexplicable to our future selves or descendants. For us, too, the possibility of revolution seems like a lie. Yet that lie can be transformed into a truth.

The hope that revolution promises can never be realized by us as we are now. More profoundly, the hope that it actually embodies is unimaginable, since to be able to imagine it is to have undergone it. From this side, we cannot see what the other side looks like. The promise of revolution is inevitably a lie, right up to the moment when the revolutionary transformation occurs, because the person making the promise cannot possibly understand that to which she is committing.
politics  history  SF 
october 2017 by ayjay
History and theorizing the secular – The Immanent Frame
We are by now intensely familiar with the various critiques that scholars have levelled at notions of the secular in recent decades. These include secularism’s mythologization as an intrinsic feature of modernity, its functions as a cypher for racism and xenophobia, its disavowed legacy to a Christian (or especially Protestant) conception of religion, and so on.

Within such critiques, or in their wake, history most often tends to function as critical genealogy. Retracing the various formations of the secular highlights their embeddedness within contexts (and thereby critiques their assumed universalism) and reveals their culturally specific blind-spots. The point is usually to draw revealing comparisons with contemporary debates. For a historian of nineteenth-century Europe the most prominent example is obviously the French Third Republic, whose earth is perpetually tilled by policymakers in search of justifications, and scholars in search of nuances that reveal the problems inherent in precisely such acts of appropriation.

While I reject neither the desirability nor the unavoidability of history having a political function in the present, I wonder whether this use of the past—and particularly certain pasts, such as that of nineteenth-century France—as the conduit for a critique of contemporary European politics might be yielding diminishing returns. The best work today serves a similar function in relation to the bold claims of contemporary social-scientific theory as it does to the grand narratives of contemporary politics: as a critical friend with its own insights to offer, rather than just a source of case studies. I hope historians will continue to think creatively about the role they can play in contributing to debates over religion and the secular beyond simply providing legions of long-dead reinforcements.
secularity  history  disenchantment 
september 2017 by ayjay
The Past, as Zombie Hazard and Consolation - Francis Spufford
The same appetite for connection despite and because of disconnection manifests itself over and over again. We are fascinated by the past, puzzled by the past, horrified by the past; we are unable to look away. The stories we tell ourselves at the moment have an avidly historical bent, and I say this as someone who has just themselves published a historical novel. The lawns of 21st-century British culture are littered with time-machines, dramatised and filmed, broadcast and written, all offering to transport us (but with the option of instant return) out of Now and into Then. The Tardis would be hard put to find a parking space. [...]

There’s always been costume drama, but a wild multiplication has taken place. We want the wars; but we also want the Tudor past, where the origins of the state we inhabit can be seen in rudimentary, barbarous, unshielded form. We want the past of domestic service, with its deference and its hierarchies and its radically different class destinies running along side by side in single households. Explicit subordination is exotic to us; but troublingly interesting, as we come to suspect that the fluidity of contemporary manners is disguising a return to grotesquely unequal life-chances. We want the past just before we were born, when people like us (but not quite) lived in cities like ours (but not quite) and organised experiences like ours (but not quite) according to rules that seem alien now (but not quite). Ancestors are more of a challenge to British sensibilities than migrants or refugees, because they are so indissolubly linked to our intimate self-understanding. They are where we came from, and yet they cannot be assimilated, they will not conform to the expectations of the present. We have to go to them, trying our best to translate their passions into terms we can make sense of. The historian and critic Alison Light, a professional interpreter of the past’s lost social hierarchies, nevertheless came up against an indigestible difference, when she discovered in her family history Common People (2014) that for a century and more her ancestors had been fervent Baptists. She did her best to view this as a form of social defiance on their part, but something remained stubbornly other in it, impossible to dissolve. Similar challenges await the hundreds of thousands of individuals who do genealogy now as a hobby, creating a private origin story for themselves; their own creation myth, if they could but read it.

The forces making the past illegible are our irreligion, when most of our ancestors, even after the Industrial Revolution, still lived within a domain structured to some extent by the sacred, by Whitsun picnics and chapel-influenced or church-influenced politics and Christian behavioural ideals as a default; and our emotional assumption, because our culture has taken ‘the expressive turn’, that to be real feeling must be labile and vivid and performative, when our ancestors filtered their equally passionate lives through more stoical codes; and our prosperity, which makes the old poverty of the past hard to enter into, either as a condition of real limit, or as a condition made survivable by resources of tradition, politics, ritual, solidarity, and working-class self-organisation. The new poverty of the foodbanked present has the limits but (so far) mostly lacks the resources.
history  memory  christian  from instapaper
august 2017 by ayjay
Burgess as Historical Novelist | Unbound
To write historical fiction well, an author needs to be able to bring together two skill-sets that aren't always found together in the same writer. On the one hand, he or she must be able to do all the things that make a ‘regular’ or set-in-the-present-day novel work: narrative, characterisation, style and form. On the other, s/he must be able to do what the best Science Fiction and Fantasy writers do—worldbuilding, as it is sometimes called: the creation, without strain or infodumping, of a world radically different to the one in which we happen to live.
Bad historical novels tend to be full of historical cliché, as a sort of shorthand way of indicating that otherness. Worse, they tend put basically modern characters in period costume and stick a sword, or a fan, in their hands: always a betrayal of the radical difference of history as such. Whatever else your chosen historical period was to the people who lived in it, it was certainly more than just fancy dress. Burgess did neither thing. The same skill that created the powerfully estranged worlds of A Clockwork Orange and The Wanting Seed enabled him to mark out the worlds of his historical novels vividly and deftly, and always in a maner that respected the past's contrariety. The same insight into character, and extraordinary command of style and form, enabled him to put together novels that work brilliantly on their own terms as novels.
history  fiction 
june 2017 by ayjay
The Man in the Box | The New Yorker
That’s how the Tardis got stuck as a police box, but it doesn’t explain why it started out that way. That explanation may lie in the history of policing. Beat policing is a British invention. British police are called bobbies because the London Metropolitan Police, a model for police forces all over the world, was created by Home Secretary Sir Robert (Bobby) Peel, in 1829. Doctor Who polices worlds. The idea of a world’s policeman dates to the First World War and began to come into common usage near the end of the Second. In 1943, during a birthday dinner for Winston Churchill, F.D.R. called upon the allied powers—the United States, Great Britain, the Soviet Union, and China—to serve as the world’s “four policemen.” In 1945, the four policemen became the United Nations Security Council.

“Doctor Who” is, unavoidably, a product of mid-twentieth-century debates about Britain’s role in the world as its empire unravelled. It is also one of the stranger means by which British culture has reckoned with the horrors of the Second World War, the apocalyptic doomsaying of the Cold War, and the lasting madness of twenty-first-century terrorism. Superman, who first appeared in 1938, thwarted gangsters and thugs and criminal masterminds. But Doctor Who, created in the postwar, postcolonial, atomic age, inherited the agony of helplessness: he believes he can use his power to travel through time and space to undo unspeakable slaughter, only to find that, very often, he cannot. “Imagine you were in Pompeii and you tried to save them but in doing so you make it happen,” he says, trying to explain to a woman who is about to die in a nuclear explosion that he is powerless to prevent it. “Everything I do just makes it happen.” (He tries anyway. Moments after he saves her life, she kills herself.)

Doctor Who” is a chronicle of the impossibility of rescue. Yet it contains within it both a liberal fantasy about the heroism of the West in opposing atrocity and a conservative politics of self-congratulation, which, in the end, amount to the same thing. “You act like such a radical,” an alien said to the Doctor, not long ago, “and yet all you want to do is preserve the old order.”
tv  history  England 
june 2017 by ayjay
The ‘Global Order’ Myth | Andrew Bacevitch
Yet collectively, the actions and episodes enumerated above do not suggest a nation committed to liberalism, openness, or the rule of law. What they reveal instead is a pattern of behavior common to all great powers in just about any era: following the rules when it serves their interest to do so; disregarding the rules whenever they become an impediment. Some regimes are nastier than others, but all are law-abiding when the law works to their benefit and not one day longer. Even Hitler’s Third Reich and Stalin’s USSR punctiliously observed the terms of their non-aggression pact as long as it suited both parties to do so. My point is not to charge à la Noam Chomsky that every action undertaken by the United States government is inherently nefarious. Rather, I am suggesting that to depict postwar U.S. policy in terms employed by the pundits quoted above is to whitewash the past. Whether their motive is to deceive or merely to evade discomfiting facts is beside the point. What they are peddling belongs to the universe of alt facts. To characterize American statecraft as “liberal internationalism” is akin to describing the business of Hollywood as “artistic excellence.”
politics  history 
june 2017 by ayjay
What Gershom Scholem and Hannah Arendt Can Teach Us About Evil Today - Los Angeles Review of Books
The first letter Scholem wrote Arendt after reading her book — the initial broadside in an exchange that was ultimately made public — began with a number of concessions to Arendt’s position on the Jewish role in facilitating the operation of the Holocaust. Having spent the past 50 years occupying himself with Jewish history, Scholem declares, he is well aware of the abysses in this narrative: “a demonic decay in the midst of life, insecurity in the face of this world […] and a weakness that is perpetually confounded and mingled with debasement and with lust for power.” It’s invariable, he asserts, that in times of catastrophe these tendencies come to the fore. The question that the young were asking in Israel of how all those millions could have allowed themselves to be killed was valid, he allowed. Arendt was right to want people to reflect on such matters. What he cannot countenance is the idea that such a harrowing dilemma could be resolved with a snappy formula. What is unbearable to him, Scholem writes, is the “malicious tone” Arendt has adopted to discuss matters of such profundity. It is Arendt’s “light-hearted style,” the note of “English flippancy” she has favored over that of pity for Eichmann’s victims — just as she has preferred snarkily caricaturing Eichmann himself to seriously analyzing his character — that repulses Scholem.
history  ethics  evil  politics  war 
june 2017 by ayjay
Hilary Mantel: why I became a historical novelist | Books | The Guardian
The pursuit of the past makes you aware, whether you are novelist or historian, of the dangers of your own fallibility and inbuilt bias. The writer of history is a walking anachronism, a displaced person, using today’s techniques to try to know things about yesterday that yesterday didn’t know itself. He must try to work authentically, hearing the words of the past, but communicating in a language the present understands. The historian, the biographer, the writer of fiction work within different constraints, but in a way that is complementary, not opposite. The novelist’s trade is never just about making things up. The historian’s trade is never simply about stockpiling facts. Even the driest, most data-driven research involves an element of interpretation. Deep research in the archives can be reported in tabular form and lists, by historians talking to each other. But to talk to their public, they use the same devices as all storytellers – selection, elision, artful arrangement. The 19th-century historian Lord Macaulay said, “History has to be burned into the imagination before it can be received by the reason.” So how do we teach history? Is it a set of stories, or a set of skills? Both, I think; we need to pass on the stories, but also impart the skills to hack the stories apart and make new ones.
history  fiction 
june 2017 by ayjay
The Open Society And Its Enemies - K.R. Popper - Google Books
The whole problem of educating man to a sane appreciation of his own importance relative to that of other individuals is thoroughly muddled by these ethics of fame and fate, by a morality which perpetuates an educational system that is still based upon the classics with their romantic view of the history of power and their romantic tribal morality which goes back to Heraclitus; a system whose ultimate basis is the worship of power. Instead of a sober combination of individualism and altruism (to use these labels again)—that is to say, instead of a position like ‘What really matters are human individuals, but I do not take this to mean that it is I who matter very much’—a romantic combination of egoism and collectivism is taken for granted. That is to say, the importance of the self, of its emotional life and its ‘self-expression’, is romantically exaggerated; and with it, the tension between the ‘personality’ and the group, the collective…

It is under the influence of such romantic ideas that individualism is still identified with egoism, as it was by Plato, and altruism with collectivism (i.e. with the substitution of group egoism for the individualist egoism). But this bars the way even to a clear formulation of the main problem, the problem of how to obtain a sane appreciation of one’s own importance in relation to other individuals. Since it is felt, and rightly so, that we have to aim at something beyond our own selves, something to which we can devote ourselves, and for which we may make sacrifices, it is concluded that this must be the collective, with its ‘historical mission’. Thus we are told to make sacrifices, and, at the same time, assured that we shall make an excellent bargain by doing so. We shall make sacrifices, it is said, but we shall thereby obtain honour and fame. We shall become ‘leading actors’, heroes on the Stage of History; for a small risk we shall gain great rewards. This is the dubious morality of a period in which only a tiny minority counted, and in which nobody cared for the common people. It is the morality of those who, being political or intellectual aristocrats, have a chance of getting into the textbooks of history. It cannot possibly be the morality of those who favour justice and equalitarianism; for historical fame cannot be just, and it can be attained only by a very few. The countless number of men who are just as worthy, or worthier, will always be forgotten.

The romantic historicist morality of fame, fortunately, seems to be on the decline. The Unknown Soldier shows it. We are beginning to realize that sacrifice may mean just as much, or even more, when it is made anonymously. Our ethical education must follow suit. We must be taught to do our work; to make our sacrifice for the sake of this work, and not for praise or the avoidance of blame. (The fact that we all need some encouragement, hope, praise, and even blame, is another matter altogether.) We must find our justification in our work, in what we are doing ourselves, and not in a fictitious ‘meaning of history’.

History has no meaning, I contend. But this contention does not imply that all we can do about it is to look aghast at the history of political power, or that we must look on it as a cruel joke. For we can interpret it, with an eye to those problems of power politics whose solution we choose to attempt in our time. We can interpret the history of power politics from the point of view of our fight for the open society, for a rule of reason, for justice, freedom, equality, and for the control of international crime. Although history has no ends, we can impose these ends of ours upon it; and although history has no meaning, we can give it a meaning.
politics  history  democracy 
may 2017 by ayjay
Lecky on superstition
Many superstitions do undoubtedly answer to the Greek conception of slavish 'fear of the Gods,' and have been productive of unspeakable misery to mankind ; but there are very many others of a different tendency. Superstitions appeal to our hopes as well as our fears. They often meet and gratify the inmost longings of the heart. They offer certainties where reason can only afford possibilities or probabilities. They supply conceptions on which the imagination loves to dwell. They sometimes impart even a new sanction to moral truths. Creating wants which they alone can satisfy, and fears which they alone can quell, they often become essential elements of happiness ; and their consoling efficacy is most felt in the languid or troubled hours when it is most needed. We owe more to our illusions than to our knowledge. The imagination, which is altogether constructive, probably contributes more to our happiness than the reason, which in the sphere of speculation is mainly critical and destructive. The rude charm which, in the hour of danger or distress, the savage clasps so confidently to his breast, the sacred picture which is believed to shed a hallowing aud protecting influence over the poor man's cottage, can bestow a more real consolation in the darkest hour of human suffering than can be afforded by the grandest theories of philosophy. . . . No error can be more grave than to imagine that when a critical spirit is abroad the pleasant beliefs will all remain, and the painful ones alone will perish.
history  religion  superstition  from notes
april 2017 by ayjay
Fascism Has Already Come To America - MTV
Fascism has a history in the United States, and we should look to this history to inform our preparations for the darkest timelines. America is not the same country as it was in the Jim Crow era — a new American fascism will adapt to the present, and that means that resistance must adapt as well. This new fascism will have its own face, but America's peculiar history is still the ground from which fascism will rise, making it all the more valuable to examine that terrain. The questions that we're asking ourselves about the tactics and strategy of fascist resistance aren't new to America — they've been asked before, in times that were more dire than they are now. All this has happened before. Good luck.
history  populism  race  politics  election2016 
march 2017 by ayjay
Was Francis Fukuyama the first man to see Trump coming? | Aeon Essays
Fukuyama predicted that such restlessness and resentment would eventually need a political outlet – and when it came, it would be explosive. The anti-capitalist Left, however, was a busted flush. Communism was now a known fraud and failure, and post-Historical people driven by megalothymia would have no truck with its egalitarian pretensions, or its nakedly tyrannical realities. Far more threatening to the stability of liberal capitalist societies would be the emergence of demagogic strongmen from the fascistic Right, cynically feeding narrow self-interest and popular discontent, preying on human impulses for mastery and domination that the hollow comforts of consumer capitalism could not hope to appease.

Fukuyama was here looking to a future that still lies beyond our present (although we might be taking the first steps towards it). His was a grim warning that if overly recognition-thirsty individuals lived in a world ‘characterised by peaceful and prosperous liberal democracy, then they will struggle against that peace and prosperity, and against democracy’. More starkly: ‘Modern thought raises no barriers to a future nihilistic war against liberal democracy on the part of those brought up in its bosom.’
history  election2016 
march 2017 by ayjay
'London Bridge is down': the secret plan for the days after the Queen’s death | UK news | The Guardian
More overwhelming than any of this, though, there will be an almighty psychological reckoning for the kingdom that she leaves behind. The Queen is Britain’s last living link with our former greatness – the nation’s id, its problematic self-regard – which is still defined by our victory in the second world war. One leading historian, who like most people I interviewed for this article declined to be named, stressed that the farewell for this country’s longest-serving monarch will be magnificent. “Oh, she will get everything,” he said. “We were all told that the funeral of Churchill was the requiem for Britain as a great power. But actually it will really be over when she goes.” [...]

The second Elizabethan age is likely to be remembered as a reign of uninterrupted national decline, and even, if she lives long enough and Scotland departs the union, as one of disintegration. Life and politics at the end of her rule will be unrecognisable from their grandeur and innocence at its beginning. “We don’t blame her for it,” Philip Ziegler, the historian and royal biographer, told me. “We have declined with her, so to speak.” [...]

What we think of as the ancient rituals of the monarchy were mainly crafted in the late 19th century, towards the end of Victoria’s reign. Courtiers, politicians and constitutional theorists such as Walter Bagehot worried about the dismal sight of the Empress of India trooping around Windsor in her donkey cart. If the crown was going to give up its executive authority, it would have to inspire loyalty and awe by other means – and theatre was part of the answer. “The more democratic we get,” wrote Bagehot in 1867, “the more we shall get to like state and show.”
England  history  London 
march 2017 by ayjay
Astonishing geomagnetic spike hit the ancient kingdom of Judah
The researchers note that this geomagnetic spike is similar to another that occurred in the 10th century BCE. Data from the 10th century spike and this 8th century one indicate that such events were probably localized, not global. That said, they write that "the exact geographic expanse of this phenomenon has yet to be investigated, and the fact that these are very short-lived features that can be easily missed suggests that there is much more to discover." They compare the scope of these spikes to the South Atlantic Anomaly, a region where the planet's Van Allen radiation belt dips down near the surface of the planet, trapping radioactive particles and causing problems for satellites cruising nearby. Ancient peoples like those in Judah would not have been troubled by a localized geomagnetic field spike, but people in the same region today would call it a disaster. A fluctuation of such intensity would overload electrical grids, destroying transformers and causing widespread blackouts. We often think of the post-industrial age as one where humans control nature. But in some ways, advanced technology has made humanity more vulnerable to the vicissitudes of our planet than our ancestors were.
science  history 
february 2017 by ayjay
Embarrassing bodies: what did the Victorians have to hide? | Books | The Guardian
To the brute proximity of other people’s bodies you would have to add the tyranny of living in your own. In an age without antibiotics or much effective doctoring, discomforts that we moderns can magic away in less than a week – constipation, an aching tooth or swollen toe – became chronic conditions to be endured over decades. In the process a body might become permanently marked with the tokens of its earthly passage – an osteoporotic hump, a dense splatter of smallpox scars, a missing finger – that it carried with it to the grave.

So if the Victorians have a reputation for denying or concealing their bodies, it is only because they were obliged to live with them so intensely. And that reticence slipped naturally into the way that they wrote, or rather didn’t, about their physical selves. Most biographers in the 19th century behaved as if their subjects had taken leave of the body, or had never possessed such a thing in the first place. If flesh and blood registered in Victorian life-writing at all, it was in the broadest, airiest generalities – a manly stride here, the sweetest smile there. Mostly, though, there was a hole in the biographical text where arms, legs, breasts and bellies should have been.
history  body 
january 2017 by ayjay
A. R. Wallace on progress and its discontents | OUPblog
In 1898, Wallace published the ironically titled The Wonderful Century: Its Successes and Failures. Here, he provided a sophisticated deconstruction of many of the icons of late nineteenth-century materialism. Wallace singled out nineteenth-century militarism as a first main target, especially as it has been augmented “by the application to war purposes of those mechanical inventions and scientific discoveries which, properly used, should bring peace and plenty to all, but which, when seized upon by the spirit of militarism, directly tend to enmity among nations and to the misery of the people”. But it is ‘the demon of greed’ that poses in Wallace’s mind a more immediate threat: the enormous and continuous growth of wealth in the Victorian era, without any corresponding increase in the well-being of the general population. For Wallace, it was not science itself but rather capitalism’s myopic deployment of scientific discovery and technology that distorted the industrializing world of the nineteenth century and gave the enormous increase of material productive power almost entirely to the “capitalists, leaving the actual producers of it—the industrial workers and inventors—little, if any, better off than before”. When to this cauldron of inequity is added “the enormous injury to health and shortening of life due to unhealthy and dangerous trades, almost all of which could be made healthy and safe if human life were estimated as of equal value with the acquisition of wealth by individuals,” it becomes clear why Wallace’s critique was so unpalatable to many late Victorian leaders and would be similarly disparaged by many in power today. One need think only of such climate change skeptics as President-elect Donald Trump and many corporate leaders to see the modern parallels.

In the final chapter of Wonderful Century, starkly entitled “The Plunder of the Earth”, Wallace ties environmental concerns directly to the bulk of social, political, and moral deficits of the nineteenth century. His arguments here are reflective of those other thinkers and activists who articulated a set of environmental concerns—including the decrease in natural resources, the fate of “sublime” wilderness, and increasing pollution—in Britain and the United States during the second half of the nineteenth century. But most such arguments proved feeble against the onslaught of the powerful forces of Victorian industrialism. Hopefully, Wallace’s critique of progress will find a larger, more receptive audience in our own day when the baleful cultural and environmental consequences of Victorian progress that Wallace perceived—especially the frenzied global attempt to adapt industry and agriculture to the demands of quick and ever-increasing profitability—are magnified enormously.
history  progress 
january 2017 by ayjay
The Great Myths 2: Christmas, Mithras and Paganism
What is clear, however, is that there is absolutely no evidence linking December 25 to Mithras. Given that the claims about a "virgin birth" for that god are garbled nonsense and the stuff about shepherds and caves are total garbage, the fact that these things keep getting repeated uncritically by New Atheists is more evidence that people who are supposed to be "rationalists" simply don't check their facts when it comes to history. The idea that the date and other elements of Christmas are all derived from paganism is cute, but not sustainable historically. Neat little internet meme "gotchas" may be fun, but those of us who try to be rational and objective should be wary of them in the extreme. Do your homework people.
But Happy Christmas/Yuletide 2016 to all.
history  atheism  from instapaper
december 2016 by ayjay
The Twilight of American Culture - Morris Berman
... three things do jump out of the historical record that are worth mentioning. First, the process of decay may be inevitable, but it is rarely linear. In its three thousand years, for example, Egypt suffered periods of complete political disintegration and foreign domination that sometimes lasted more than a century, and it then bounced back. While its ultimate decline was inevitable, and it was eventually absorbed into the Greco-Roman Empire, three millennia is not exactly an unimpressive showing; and most of those years were "up" (in terms of political coherence), while some of them were "down." So it might conceivably be argued that the United States is going through a bad patch, from which it might recover, at least for a time.

Second, if the classical model of collapse of empire is that of ancient Rome, we have to remember that its fall was, in terms of the larger world system, as much a transformation as it was a decline. Indeed, it was from the ruins of the Roman Empire that medieval European civilization emerged. While the parallels between the Roman case and the American one are not exact, the analogy does suggest some transformative possibilities. If, for example, we are indeed slated for another dark age, it may not have to last six hundred years this time around. This is precisely a case in which something like the monastic option, and the deliberate work of cultural preservation, might come into play.

Third, there is the issue already mentioned in the Introduction, and which I shall discuss later on in this chapter, as well: This is a very lively kind of decline. In this sense, possible hubris notwithstanding, something unprecedented might be happening. Europe's Dark Ages were truly dark—"singularly monochromatic," as the historian Peter Brown put it. Our own transformation is confusing, because of the "invisibility" factor discussed above. For those seduced by noise, toys, and technology, the current transformation to a global economy is nothing less than cultural efflorescence. For those who place their values elsewhere, there is the paradox that the very success of McWorld, the very transformation that it represents, is a darkness that is ultimately every bit as dark as the early Middle Ages, no matter what the surface appearances might indicate. Whether this will make recovery easier or more difficult remains to be seen.

My point, in other words, is that even if decline is historically inevitable, it is still a process that contains unexpected twists and turns. The sine curve may be descending, but there are loopholes in it nonetheless. Furthermore, the precedent of the monastic option suggests that there might be ways of ensuring that what is of value in this civilization can be preserved and handed down in the hope of generating cultural renewal at some later point. As for the individual reader poring over these pages, he or she doesn't have to be a statistic; there are choices to be made that move in directions opposite to the general tide of events.
history  America  decadence 
december 2016 by ayjay
Struggle and Progress | Eric Foner
You look at our own world, with politics today, it’s easy to say, “Hey, it must have been just a bunch of Northern capitalists trying to control the South,” or “It was just states’ rights.” Whenever I lecture, someone raises the issue of states’ rights, and the thing I like to say is: “Yes, you’re right, the South believed in states’ rights. And the right they were interested in was the right to own slaves.” And that was a right created by state law, so naturally they wanted to protect states’ rights.

And then I say, if that was really the issue, then explain the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 to me — which was a federal law, probably the most powerful federal law before the Civil War in terms of overriding local judicial procedures, overriding local law enforcement. Federal troops, federal marshals, going into states, you think that’s a reflection of states’ rights? No.

When it came to vigorous federal action in defense of slavery, the South was perfectly happy to go that route. So they did not dogmatically believe in states’ rights. [...]

So yes, I can understand that people look back at the abolitionist movement and say, first, “Well, the whites were racist.” Well some of them were racist, no question about it. But hey, they were willing to put themselves on the line to end slavery, so what else do you want?

This is a pseudo-politics, a psycho-politics, that says people ought to be loving each other. That’s not what politics is, people loving each other. It’s people acting together, even if they don’t love each other, for a common purpose. If you’re going out to a labor picket line, are they all loving each other, the people on that picket line? Probably not. But they have a common self-interest that they’re pursuing.

Then they say, “It didn’t succeed. They abolished slavery, but racism is permanent, and another form of slavery came in.” Of course, terrible injustice came in. But it wasn’t slavery. I think that’s a very cynical view of social change — that if you don’t get utopia nothing has happened.
history  race 
december 2016 by ayjay
The Key to the Conservative Split on Russia - The Atlantic
Trump is building on this shift to recast GOP foreign policy. He’s moving it away from an ideological confrontation with authoritarian Russia and toward a civilizational conflict with Islam. Trump’s choice for National Security Advisor, General Michael Flynn, has tweeted that “fear of Muslims is rational” and that Islam is “like cancer” When asked in August about Putin, he explained that America “beat Hitler because of our relationship with the Russians” and we should renew that partnership in the new world war against “radical Islamism.” Trump’s chief strategist, Steve Bannon, likes to talk about the “long history of the Judeo-Christian West struggle against Islam … a war of immense proportions” that continues to this day. And in that struggle, he’s argued, “we the Judeo-Christian West really have to look at what he’s [Putin] talking about as far as traditionalism goes—particularly the sense of where it supports the underpinnings of nationalism.” Unlike the globalists of the European Union, Bannon argues, Putin believes in “sovereignty,” which makes him a valuable ally in America’s civilizational fight.
politics  Europe  history  civilization  Islam 
december 2016 by ayjay
A new “Christianist” secularism in Europe « The Immanent Frame
To the extent that the civilizational contrast between the Judeo-Christian West and Islam becomes the master frame of the national-populist Right, this might signal a shift from a national to a civilizational register, and from nationalism to what one might call “civilizationalism.” Of course, one needs no reminder that more classical forms of nationalism are alive and well in Europe. But the civilizational overlay of nationalist rhetoric in Europe is becoming increasingly salient. This raises the paradoxical possibility that what is often called the “national-populist Right” might not be all that substantively national or nationalist. Of course talk of “the nation” would not disappear, but “the nation” would be re-characterized in civilizational terms, with less emphasis on what distinguishes the nation from other nations (such as language) and more emphasis on what distinguishes the broader civilization to which the nation is seen as belonging from other civilizations.

The story I have sketched is laced with ironies and reversals. Secularism is redefined as an ideology of the Right, and the Right is also appropriating liberal themes like gender equality and tolerance of homosexuality. The most secularized region of the world is being characterized in religio-civilizational terms. Christianity is redefined as the matrix of liberalism, secularity, gender equality, and gay rights. Seemingly nationalist parties may be less nationalist than civilizationist. And even as the European project falters—with the eurozone, Schengen, and the European Union itself in deep crisis—a European identity, defined in religio-civilizational terms, has come to figure more centrally in political rhetoric.
Europe  politics  history  from instapaper
december 2016 by ayjay
The Hell General Sherman Made
McDonough is content to soft-pedal the whole business, writing that however we categorize things, “Sherman’s intentions were clear: destroy anything of military value to the Confederacy, while subjecting Southern civilians to the inevitable depredations inflicted by a large army tramping through their country and living off the land.”

But those depredations weren’t inevitable until Sherman made them that way, and the definition of “military value” was from the onset stretched so far as to lose any meaning. Whole towns were put to the torch, despite pleas not to dispossess their women, children, elderly, and infirm. Whole populations were uprooted and put on forced marches. Assaults, rapes, and murders, absent from the general’s recollections, were liberally reported by Southerners; reading accounts less accommodating than McDonough’s leads to the inescapable conclusion that war was “all hell” largely because William Tecumseh Sherman made it that way. In Sherman’s March was born No Gun Ri, My Lai, and a dozen other massacres perpetrated on a helpless and innocent civilian population by U.S. forces allowed to conduct “war with the lid off.”

Sherman succeeded—naturally, since he had no opposition—in scorching Georgia, despoiling the Carolinas, and presenting the captured city of Savannah to President Lincoln as a Christmas present in 1864. By that point, the war was in the mopping-up stages, and when it was over, Sherman was given command of the Military Division of the Missouri, tasked with keeping the railroad expansions of the West free from marauding parties of Indians. He wrote: “We must act with vindictive earnestness against the Sioux … even to their extermination, men, women, and children.” In a phrase that should give every modern-day reader a hard chill, he referred to this extermination of the Plains Indians as “the final solution of the Indian problem.”
history  war 
december 2016 by ayjay
The Contarini Angle | Books and Culture
Some Protestants, including this one, will ask whether Eire has adequately captured the essence of Protestant spiritualty. After accurately describing the insistence of Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, and other Protestants on predestination and justification by faith alone through grace alone, Eire concludes that Protestant piety "focused on an omnipresent, omniscient male deity who needed no intermediaries and favored no location in particular over another." Yes, in part. But as the book's own inclusion of Lucas Cranach's 1555 Weimar altarpiece illustrates, with blood from Christ on the cross pouring onto a Bible held open by Martin Luther, the main replacement in Protestant piety for Catholic saints, Mary, pilgrimages, and the like was an active Christology.

Protestant life, in admitted tension with some aspects of Protestant theology, throve on hymnody, like Luther's "were not the right Man on our side … . You ask who that may be? Christ Jesus it is he." Theocentric speculation regularly took flesh in Christ-centered exposition, as when Calvin discoursed so memorably in The Institutes of the Christian Religion on Christ as prophet, priest, and king. An ever-present Christ, and not a distant deity, inspired Anabaptists as an example to follow even through the fire. The same emphasis long endured as the heart of Protestant popular piety, as in the Heidelberg's Catechism assurance that "my only comfort, in life and death [is] that I belong … not to myself, but to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ." Protestants may have reduced the number of spiritual intermediaries, but the One who remained was far from cold, remote, or simply controlling.
history  reformation  church  Christianity 
november 2016 by ayjay
Most college students think America invented slavery, professor finds - The College Fix
Often, more students connected Thomas Jefferson to slavery then could identify him as president, according to Pesta. On one quiz, 29 out of 32 students responding knew that Jefferson owned slaves, but only three out of the 32 correctly identified him as president. Interestingly, more students— six of 32—actually believed Ben Franklin had been president.

Pesta said he believes these students were given an overwhelmingly negative view of American history in high school, perpetuated by scholars such as Howard Zinn in “A People’s History of the United States,” a frequently assigned textbook.

What’s more, he began to observe a shift in his students’ quiz responses in the early 2000s. Before that time, Pesta described his students as “often historically ignorant, but not politicized.” Since the early 2000s, Pesta has found that “many students come to college preprogrammed in certain ways.”
history  academentia  from instapaper
november 2016 by ayjay
Reimagining a Shadowy Medieval Brotherhood That Probably Didn’t Exist - The New Yorker
In her landmark book “The Rosicrucian Enlightenment,” published in 1972, the historian Frances Yates concluded that the Fraternity of the Rosy Cross did not actually exist—but she also argued that the documents had helped to prompt a new way of thinking about the world, one that not only attempted to “penetrate to deep levels of religious experience” but inspired investigations in science and math as well.* This legacy had been obscured, she wrote, because “the advancing scientific revolution” was “eager to cast off the chrysalis out of which it [was] emerging.” Over the centuries, the Rosicrucian myth became the ur-legend for tales of shadowy groups using magic to alter the course of history. It influenced a number of nineteenth- and twentieth-century magical and mystical Christian orders, some of which claimed to have a direct lineage with the Rosicrucians. (Even Freemasons have claimed an early link to the group.) And the central idea of the manifestos—that through the application of magic and alchemy we might learn that we are a microcosm of the divine—helped to shape, along with Hermeticism, the occult imagination.
history  esoteric  from instapaper
october 2016 by ayjay
The End of Christendom | Eamon Duffy
Yet one may well feel that whether in Gregory’s stark dissection of the leading ideas of Protestantism as the unwitting corrosive which dissolved the moral and religious coherence of Christendom, or in Eire’s more hesitant and nuanced analysis, there is something left unsaid. The principle of sola scriptura and Protestantism’s consequent inability to arrive at workable criteria to determine Christian orthodoxy certainly contributed to the breakdown of Christendom and the emergence of a secular society. But so too did the repressive authoritarianism of post-Tridentine Catholicism, the emergence of a Catholic ecclesiology inimical to true communitas by its overemphasis on clerical power and centralized authority, and the acceptance into Catholic theology, philosophy, and anthropology of a dualistic Cartesianism every bit as inimical to the medieval intellectual and moral synthesis (if such a thing can be said to have existed) as anything that emerged from Wittenberg or Geneva.
history  reformation  Christianity  from instapaper
october 2016 by ayjay
The Dark History of Liberal Reform | New Republic
If Leonard didn’t have the quotes from prominent progressives to back up his claims, this would read like right-wing paranoia: The state’s most innocuous protections reframed as malevolent and ungodly social engineering. But his citations are genuine. Charles Cooley, a founding member of American Sociological Association, warned that providing health care and nutrition for black Americans could be “dysgenic” if not accompanied by population control. The eugenicists weren’t just dreaming: Between 1900 and the early 1980s, over 60,000 Americans were involuntarily sterilized under the law.

To bring right-wing fears full circle, the progressive Supreme Court of 1927 (including Oliver Wendell Holmes and Louis Brandeis) ruled 8-1 in Buck v. Bell that forced sterilization was constitutional. Holmes wrote that, “It is better for all the world if, instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind. The principle that sustains compulsory vaccination is broad enough to cover cutting the Fallopian tubes.” The lone dissent was Justice Pierce Butler, a conservative critic of state intervention, devout Catholic, and one of nine children born to poor Irish immigrants. Butler never wrote his opinion, and the Court has never expressly overruled Buck.
[maybe the facts really ARE conservative after all]
history  politics  progress 
september 2016 by ayjay
Germany's Superpower Quest Caused World War I | The National Interest
Like the leaders of West Germany after World War II and reunited Germany after the Cold War, Germany’s leaders a century ago should have chosen the alternative of being an honored and well-remunerated junior partner in the Anglo-American “world-firm.”  Had they done so, the world would have been spared World War I, World War II, and probably Soviet communism and the Cold War, too.

It’s time to retire the myth that World War I was a meaningless, avoidable tragedy while World War II was a just and necessary crusade.  World War I and World War II had the same cause—the desire of German elites to use aggressive war to turn Germany from a regional power into a global superpower—and the same result—the defeat of Germany by a defensive coalition of Russia, Britain, France and the United States.  If it was right to prevent the German conquest of Europe by the Fuhrer, it was also right to prevent the German conquest of Europe by the Kaiser.  What the world needed in 1914 and 1939 was what the world thankfully has today:  a European Germany, not a German Europe.
history  Europe 
september 2016 by ayjay
Time Bandits | Rick Perlstein
I write all this and feel dirty. The longing to assimilate the strange to the familiar is only human; who am I to hold myself aloof from it? But it’s just not a good way to study history, which when done right invites readers to tack between finding the familiar in the strange and the strange in the familiar. History roils. Its waves are cumulative, one rolling into another, amplifying their thunder. Or they become attenuated via energies pushing in orthogonal or opposite directions. Or they swirl into directionless eddies, with the ocean’s surface appearance as often as not obscuring grander currents just below.

It’s dispiritingly reminiscent of the consensus I sought to demythologize in Before the Storm that some see Trump only in the ways he is exceptional to the usual waves, currents, eddies of our history—except for that time Rick Perlstein writes about in his books, when Americans hated each other enough to kill each other. “How Did Our Politics Get So Harsh and Divisive? Blame 1968,” was how one recent rumination on the sixties-echo effect in the Trump movement got headlined in the Washington Post. Why not blame 1776, when the nation was born in blood and fire, brother fighting brother? Or 1787, when the Constitution repressed the contradictions between slave and free states, with all the core unresolved tensions slowly simmering until the nation had to be born again, from the blood of the better part of a million Americans slaughtering one another? “How Did Our Politics Become So Harsh and Divisive? Blame 1860.”

Heck, why not blame 1877, when an estimated one hundred people were killed in railroad strikes that involved some one hundred thousand people? Or the “Red Summer” of 1919, which set in motion race riots and lynchings, killing hundreds by 1921, when as many as three hundred died in the Tulsa riot alone? Or 1924, when it took the Democratic Party 103 convention ballots and sixteen days to settle whether the party would be represented by its pro– or anti–Ku Klux Klan factions, while tens of thousands of hooded Klansmen rallied across the river in New Jersey? Or 1945–46, when almost two million Americans went on strike? Or 1995, when a madman blew up a federal building and killed 168, including children in daycare? Why not start at the beginning and blame 1492, or the year the English settled in Massachusetts Bay?
history  politics 
september 2016 by ayjay
The Left’s Jewish Problem: Jeremy Corbyn, Israel and Anti‑Semitism – review
If Rich has a fault, it is that as a rational historian, he cannot speculate on the psychological appeal of left antisemitism. Novelists would notice the attraction of an authorised racism to leftists, who in other respects are highly constrained in what they can say by speech codes. They would find that a prejudice that endorsed fascism as well as 2,000 years of Christian polemics and persecutions fitted far-left political beliefs rather well. It is not a large step, after all, to go from saying that democracy is a swindle perpetrated by the “neoliberal” world order, to saying that the swindlers are the “Rothschilds”, the “Zionists” the – oh, let’s just spit it out – the Jews.
antisemitism  history 
september 2016 by ayjay
David Hare – nothing but the truth about a Holocaust denier | Books | The Guardian
Second, it was clear from the start that this film would be a defence of historical truth. It would be arguing that although historians have the right to interpret facts differently, they do not have the right knowingly to misrepresent those facts. But if such integrity was necessary for historians, then it surely had to apply to screenwriters too. If I planned to offer an account of the trial and of Irving’s behaviour, I would enjoy none of the film writer’s usual licence to speculate or invent. From the trial itself there were 32 days of transcript, which took me weeks to read thoroughly. Not only would I refuse to write scenes which offered any hokey psychological explanation for Irving’s character outside the court, I would also be bound to stick rigidly to the exact words used inside it. I could not allow any neo-fascist critic later to claim that I had re-written the testimony. Nor did I want to. The trial scenes are verbatim. To say that such fidelity represented an almost impossible dramatic difficulty – this trial, like any other, was often extremely boring – would be to understate. At times, I would beat my head, wondering why real-life characters couldn’t put things in ways which more pithily expressed their purposes.
[What a fascinating challenge Hare set for himself, or had set for him, in writing this screenplay]
history  film  writing 
september 2016 by ayjay
Saving Science - The New Atlantis
The story of how DOD mobilized science to help create our world exposes the lie for what it is and provides three difficult lessons that have to be learned if science is to evade the calamity it now faces.

First, scientific knowledge advances most rapidly, and is of most value to society, not when its course is determined by the “free play of free intellects” but when it is steered to solve problems — especially those related to technological innovation.

Second, when science is not steered to solve such problems, it tends to go off half-cocked in ways that can be highly detrimental to science itself.

Third — and this is the hardest and scariest lesson — science will be made more reliable and more valuable for society today not by being protected from societal influences but instead by being brought, carefully and appropriately, into a direct, open, and intimate relationship with those influences. [...]

Americans lionize the scientist as head-in-the-clouds genius (the Einstein hero) and the inventor as misfit-in-the-garage genius (the Steve Jobs or Bill Gates hero). The discomfiting reality, however, is that much of today’s technological world exists because of DOD’s role in catalyzing and steering science and technology. This was industrial policy, and it worked because it brought all of the players in the innovation game together, disciplined them by providing strategic, long-term focus for their activities, and shielded them from the market rationality that would have doomed almost every crazy, over-expensive idea that today makes the world go round. The great accomplishments of the military-industrial complex did not result from allowing scientists to pursue “subjects of their own choice, in the manner dictated by their curiosity,” but by channeling that curiosity toward the solution of problems that DOD wanted to solve.
science  history 
august 2016 by ayjay
The Oil Drum: Europe | "Peak Civilization": The Fall of the Roman Empire
Our Druids may be better than those of the times of the Roman Empire, at least they have digital computers. But our leaders are no better apt at understanding complex system than the military commanders who ruled the Roman Empire. Even our leaders were better, they would face the same problems: there are no structures that can gently lead society to where it is going. We have only structures that are there to keep society where it is - no matter how difficult and uncomfortable it is to be there. It is exactly what Tainter says: we react to problems by building structure that are more and more complex and that, in the end, produce a negative return. That's why societies collapse.

So, all our efforts are to keep the status quo ante . For this reason we are so desperately looking for something that can replace crude oil and leave everything else the same. It has to be something that is liquid, that burns and, if possible, even smells bad. Drill more, drill deeper, boil tar sands, make biofuels even if people will starve. We do everything we can to keep things as they are.

And, yet, we are going where the laws of physics are taking us. A world with less crude oil, or with no crude oil at all, cannot be the same world we are used to, but it doesn't need to be the Middle Ages again. If we manage to deploy new sources of energy, renewable or nuclear - fast enough to replace crude oil and the other fossil fuels, we can imagine that the transition would not involve a big loss of complexity, perhaps none at all. More likely, a reduced flux of energy and natural resources in the economic system will entail the kind of collapse described in the simulations of "The Limits to Growth." We can't avoid to go where the laws of physics are taking us.
history  civilization  Rome 
july 2016 by ayjay
All the East is Moving by Tom Holland | Articles | First Things
The conceit that secular liberal democracy embodies an ideal that can transcend its origins in the specific cultural and religious traditions of Europe, and lay claim to a universal legitimacy, is one that has served the continent well. It has helped to heal the grievous wounds inflicted by the calamities of the first half of the twentieth century; to integrate large numbers of people from beyond the borders of Europe; and to provide a degree of equality for women and minorities. What do the sanguinary fantasies of either Breivik or of the jihadists who twice in 2015 brought carnage to the streets of Paris have that can compare? Only one thing, perhaps: a capacity to excite those who find the pieties of Europe’s liberal society boring. The more of these there are, the more—inevitably—the framework for behavior and governance that has prevailed in Western Europe since the end of the Second World War will come under strain. In question is whether the large numbers of migrants who have no familiarity with the norms of a secular and liberal society such as have evolved in a country like Germany will find them appealing enough to adopt; and whether native Europeans, confronted by a vast influx of people from a different cultural background, will themselves be tempted to abandon liberal values, and reach for a Holy Lance.

Otto the Great, despite the brutality with which he trampled down the Hungarians on the plain of the Lech, never doubted that migrants from beyond the limits of Christendom could be integrated into his realm. Baptism offered any pagans who wished to take their place among the ranks of the Christian people a ready entry visa. The defeated Hungarians were not alone in accepting it. In France and England, so did Viking chieftains cornered by their adversaries, and offered lands if they would only bow their necks to Christ. The forefathers of those same Normans who conquered Sicily back from Islam had been worshippers of Odin. Today, though, in a Europe that has ceased to be Christendom, no ritual comparable to baptism exists—nor could possibly exist. The nearest equivalents may be the classes given in Norway to refugees about the principle of sexual consent, or the cards issued by the Austrian government to migrants advising them that it is perfectly permissible for two men to kiss. Whether these rituals will inspire new arrivals to do as the Hungarians and Vikings did, and abandon the convictions and conventions of their homelands, only time will tell. If ideas of freedom and tolerance fail to gain universal acceptance, it may once again become necessary to acknowledge explicitly the Christian faith that was their wellspring and may yet prove to be their mainstay.
Europe  Christianity  history 
july 2016 by ayjay
Roy Harris reviews ‘From Locke to Saussure’ by Hans Aarsleff · LRB 19 August 1982
Aarsleff confesses to the ambitious aim of wishing ‘to restore the study of language to its rightful place in intellectual history’. His concern is not the history of linguistics in the narrow sense, about which he has little good to say. One of his complaints is that the standard histories misrepresent the rise of modern linguistics, in particular the role of Saussure. What they offer is valid only if taken as ‘the internal history of an institutionalised professorial craft’. For Aarsleff, quite rightly, the history of linguistics is far more than this. To cut its very long story very short, Aarsleff’s book as a whole develops the following theme. The philosophical prolegomena to 20th-century linguistics has been grossly misunderstood. Worse still, it has been misrepresented through the abuse of such labels as ‘rationalist’ and ‘empiricist’ by later scholars seeking to bolster their own positions. The ground for this distortion was prepared in advance by the 19th century’s lack of sympathy with the ideas of the 18th. ‘Our chief problem with the 18th century,’ says Aarsleff, ‘is still the 19th century.’ Saussure’s intellectual indebtedness is to the tradition which goes back through the idéologues to Condillac in France and Locke in England. It is to that same tradition that Humboldt and Herder rightly belong. The new linguistics inaugurated by Saussure and Bréal (who comes out as a pioneer of greater stature than anyone has hitherto acknowledged) was a conscious reaction against the German-dominated pseudo-science of language foisted upon a gullible academic world by the more extravagant comparative philologists and ‘Victorian sages’ like Max Müller. The éminence grise of the new linguistics was none other than Taine. (This will come as a major surprise to today’s younger generation of theoretical linguists, many of whom have probably never read a word of Taine, or – is it too unkind to suggest? – even heard of him.) But it was probably from Taine that Saussure got the key concept of valeur, the corresponding doctrine of the linguistic sign, and even the famous image of the recto and verso of a sheet of paper. Also appearing in Aarsleff’s cast of historical characters are celebrated figures such as Leibniz and Wordsworth, as well as more obscure ones like Destutt de Tracy and Thomas Sprat, historian of the Royal Society. In each case Aarsleff never fails to say something interesting or to bring out some nuance in the part they played as contributors to the thread of history he is trying to follow through.
linguistics  language  history  ideas 
june 2016 by ayjay
James Madison and Tiberius Gracchus on representative government | OUPblog
The tension between Gracchus and Octavius—between representatives as agents with a mandate or plenipotentiary trustees—played a prominent role in the debates of the American Founding. Before the Revolution, colonial legislatures adhered to an “ambassador” conception of representation where closeness was prized. In the debates between Federalists and Anti-Federalists these opposing conceptions of representation were again at stake. For the Anti-Federalists, the House of Representatives was not sufficiently alike those it represented and not sufficiently close to them—representatives were bound to be too independent from their electorate, separated by an autonomy gap.

The Federalists admitted that their conception of representation opened up such a gap. Indeed, they were adamant that representatives be insulated from the people, and they even thought the Constitution allowed for a “natural aristocracy.” For the Federalists, such insulation would only contribute to the quality of government. In Federalist 57, Madison welcomed representation by an elite. Degeneracy of this elite would be prevented by constitutional constraints such as term limits. During their term, however, representatives would enjoy the plenipotentiary capacities of Tribunes before Gracchus.
history  politics  from instapaper
june 2016 by ayjay
Bringing Back the Dark Ages
As I read the evidence, “Dark Age” societies like those of post-Roman Britain actually were dark in the sense of severely shrunken and impoverished. Decline was a complex process. Populations declined very steeply indeed, in a way that suggests severe contractions in agriculture, in the area of occupied land, and especially the volume of trade. Towns and trading centers imploded, leaving people confined to a grim subsistence economy. No coins were minted in Britain between around 400 and 650, suggesting the severe shortage of trade. The lack of state mechanisms put the burden of defense and law enforcement on militarized local communities, creating a barbarian order where the life of man was indeed nasty, brutish and short. We are looking at far-reaching societal collapse. In more senses than one, a Dark Age society is a shrunken world.

What we today call infrastructure is one aspect of all this. High civilizations produce roads, bridges, irrigation systems, ports, docks, lighthouses, and so on, all of which depend on strong central authority, and that promotes trade, communication and commerce. When they stop building and doing engineering projects, that means that communications decline accordingly. The less communication and commerce, the less need for that infrastructure.
history  medieval 
june 2016 by ayjay
Giambattista Vico (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
Since history itself, in Vico's view, is the manifestation of Providence in the world, the transition from one stage to the next and the steady ascendance of reason over imagination represent a gradual progress of civilization, a qualitative improvement from simpler to more complex forms of social organization. Vico characterizes this movement as a “necessity of nature” (“Idea of the Work,” §34, p.21) which means that, with the passage of time, human beings and societies tend increasingly towards realizing their full potential. From rude beginnings undirected passion is transformed into virtue, the bestial state of early society is subordinated to the rule of law, and philosophy replaces sentiments of religion. “Out of ferocity, avarice, and ambition, the three vices which run throughout the human race,” Vico says, “legislation creates the military, merchant, and governing classes, and thus the strength, riches, and wisdom of commonwealths. Out of these three great vices, which could certainly destroy all mankind on the face of the earth, it makes civil happiness” (Element VII, §132, p.62). In addition, the transition from poetic to rational consciousness enables reflective individuals — the philosopher, that is, in the shape of Vico — to recover the body of universal history from the particularity of apparently random events. This is a fact attested to by the form and content of The New Science itself.

Although from a general point of view history reveals a progress of civilization through actualizing the potential of human nature, Vico also emphasizes the cyclical feature of historical development. Society progresses towards perfection, but without reaching it (thus history is “ideal”), interrupted as it is by a break or return (ricorso) to a relatively more primitive condition. Out of this reversal, history begins its course anew, albeit from the irreversibly higher point to which it has already attained. Vico observes that in the latter part of the age of men (manifest in the institutions and customs of medieval feudalism) the “barbarism” which marks the first stages of civil society returns as a “civil disease” to corrupt the body politic from within. This development is marked by the decline of popular commonwealths into bureaucratic monarchies, and, by the force of unrestrained passions, the return of corrupt manners which had characterized the earlier societies of gods and heroes. Out of this “second barbarism,” however, either through the appearance of wise legislators, the rise of the fittest, or a the last vestiges of civilization, society returns to the “primitive simplicity of the first world of peoples,” and individuals are again “religious, truthful, and faithful” (“Conclusion of the Work,” §1104–1106, pp.423–4). From this begins a new corso which Vico saw manifest in his own time as the “second age of men” characterized by the “true” Christian religion and the monarchical government of seventeenth century Europe.
philosophy  history  mythology 
june 2016 by ayjay
The Roman way | Books & Essays | spiked
Brague: First, let me belabour the obvious: The European Union is not the same thing as Europe. There is a symbol of sorts for this lack of coincidence: Switzerland. This small country is a small-scale image of Europe. Located in the very heart of Western Europe, it has three official languages and the bulk of its citizens belong to the two main denominations of Western Christendom. Yet, this emphatically European country doesn’t belong to the European Union and hardly wants to join.
At the beginning, the original intention of the European construction was moral in nature: right after the Second World War, the founding fathers wanted to make a further conflict impossible. Putting coal and steel into a common pool would nip in the bud any economic cause of conflict. They didn’t want thereby to maximise profit, but to ensure peace. As a matter of fact, peace did happen, but not thanks to the EU. It’s the other way around: the EU was made possible by peace. And this peace was the result of the Marshall Plan and of the military superiority of the US over the Soviet Union.
In order better to describe the relationship that obtains between the EU and the cultural heritage of Europe, I’m afraid that the right phrase would not be ‘building on’, but rather ‘preying on’. This implies that we, in the long run, destroy what we use, as parasites do. This destruction has recently taken a particularly acute form. I am struck by the rage with which some higher civil servants, in my country [France], act as if they wanted to weigh anchors from our past by doing away with the study of classical languages, by trying to get rid of the Biblical influence, and even by flatly denying that it ever happened.
Europe  history 
may 2016 by ayjay
Mourning, memory, and performance | OUPblog
If Shakespeare was interested in death, he was also interested in its corollaries for the survivors: grief and mourning. These are topics which belong to the area of study we now know as History of the Emotions. Critics trace a shift in attitudes to death about 1600. The shift was from consolation (there was no need to grieve because the dead were now in a better place) to condolence (from the Latin verb con-dolere: to sorrow with someone). If you sorrow with someone you acknowledge that they have reasons for sorrow. This shift in both attitude and terminology is very marked in Elizabethan poetry — G. W. Pigman pinpoints the shift quite precisely, to about 1600. That shift doesn’t map on to drama as easily as it does to poetry but it can’t be a coincidence that Hamlet was written in 1600-01 and is very preoccupied with how one grieves.
[none of this sounds right to me, especially in light of Keith Thomas's work]
criticism  emotion  history 
may 2016 by ayjay
The Anomaly of Barbarism | Lapham’s Quarterly
The rise of ISIS is intensely unsettling to the liberal West, and not just because of the capacity the jihadist group has demonstrated to launch a mass-casualty terrorist attack in a major European city. The group’s advance confounds the predominant Western view of the world. For the current generation of liberal thinkers, modern history is a story of the march of civilization. There have been moments of regression, some of them atrocious, but these are only relapses into the barbarism of the past, interrupting a course of development that is essentially benign. For anyone who thinks in this way, ISIS can only be a mysterious and disastrous anomaly.

For those baffled by ISIS, however, it cannot be only ISIS that is mysterious. So too must be much of modern history. ISIS has brought with it many atrocious assaults on civilized values: the sexual enslavement of women and children; the murder of gay men; the targeted killing of writers, cartoonists, and Jews; indiscriminate slaughter at a rock concert; and what amounted to the attempted genocide of the Yezidi. All of these acts of barbarism have modern precedents, many of them in the past century. The use of sexual violence as a military strategy featured in ethnic cleansing in Bosnia in the 1990s; during Bangladesh’s war of independence in 1971; in Nepal, Colombia, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and many other conflict zones. The destruction of buildings and artworks, which ISIS has perpetrated at the ancient site of Palmyra among other places, has several twentieth-century precedents. Vladimir Lenin’s Bolsheviks razed churches and synagogues in Russia. Mao Zedong demolished large parts of China’s architectural inheritance and most of Tibet’s, while the Pol Pot regime wrecked pagodas and temples and aimed to destroy the country’s cities. In these secular acts of iconoclasm, the goal was to abolish the past and create a new society from “year zero”—an idea that goes back to “year one” of the calendar introduced in France in 1793 to signal the new era inaugurated by the French Revolution. Systematically destroying not only pre-Islamic relics but also long-established Islamic sites, the aim of ISIS is not essentially different. ...

While much remains unknown, there is nothing mysterious in the rise of ISIS. It is baffling only for those who believe—despite everything that occurred in the twentieth century—that modernization and civilization are advancing hand in hand. In fact, now as in the past some of the most modern movements are among the most barbaric. But to admit this would mean surrendering the ruling political faith, a decayed form of liberalism without which Western leaders and opinion formers would be disoriented and lost. To accept that liberal societies may not be “on the right side of history” would leave their lives drained of significance, while a stoical response—which is ready to fight while being doubtful of ultimate victory—seems to be beyond their powers. With mounting bewilderment and desperation, they cling to the faith that the normal course of history has somehow been temporarily derailed.
history  politics  violence  war 
april 2016 by ayjay
The New Dark Ages | GKC
The Dark Ages, properly understood, were that period during which cultural continuity is almost broken between the fall of Rome and the rise of mediaeval society; the time of the barbarian wars and the first beginnings of feudalism. Naturally these critics know very little about the period; they know so little about it as to say that we want to bring it back. And yet the strangest thing, in all the strange things they say, is the fact that there is some truth in what they say. In a sense quite different from what they intend, there really is a parallel between our position and that of people in the Dark Ages.

One way of putting it is that both are faced with a possible triumph of the barbarians. As in their time a new and disproportionate military power arose among provincials, so in our case a new and disproportionate money power has arisen among colonials. Then Rome was sometimes weaker than the Transalpine legions; now Europe is sometimes weaker than the Transatlantic banks. The streets of London are altered, if not destroyed, by tribes that may legitimately be called the Vandals; and for the anarchy beyond the Roman Wall we have the anarchy of Wall Street. But though we might work some such fanciful parallel for the fun of the thing, it would really be very unfair to America, which has inherited some Roman traditions more clearly than we; for instance, the tradition of the Republic. A much truer way of stating the parallel is this; that history is here repeating itself, for once in a way, in connection with a certain idea, which can best be described as the idea of Sanctuary. In the Dark Ages the arts and sciences went into sanctuary. This was true then in a special and technical sense; because they went into the monastery. Because we praise the only thing that saved anything from the wreck, we are actually accused of praising the wreck. We are charged with desiring the Dark Ages, because we praise the few scattered candles that were lit to dispel the darkness. We are charged with desiring the deluge, because we are grateful to the Ark. But the immediate question here is historical rather than religious; and it is a fact attested by all historians that what culture could be found in that barbarous transition was mostly to be found in the shelter of the monastic institutions. We may regret or admire the form which that culture took in that shelter; but nobody denies the storm from which it was sheltered. Nobody denies that St. Dunstan was more cultivated than a Danish pirate or that there is more art in Gothic arches than in Gothic raids. And it is in this sense, of science and art going into sanctuary, that there seems to me to be a real parallel between the barbarian anarchy and the progress that we are enjoying just now.
Distributism  history 
april 2016 by ayjay
Galileo’s reputation is more hyperbole than truth | Aeon Opinions
Galileo’s rise to immortality starts at the end of the 18th century. In this period, scientific biography started to become popular, and Galileo became a favourite subject, largely because of his persecution by the Catholic Church. This effect was immensely magnified by the largely mythical war between science and religion in the late 19th century, waged by two US-based scientist-historians, John William Draper and Andrew Dickson White. They wrote passionately about religion as an obstacle to the forces of progress, and advanced a self-congratulatory thesis in which Western civilisation had steadily emerged from the ignorance of the Dark Ages to the modern age of Enlightenment. This was an outgrowth of the broader rejection of the dominance of religious thought, which had emerged in Europe during the Enlightenment and had been enthusiastically adopted by influential American intellectual figures including Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin.

To fit into this narrative, Galileo was presented as a solitary hero defending Copernicanism against the ignorance and prejudice of the Church. Draper and White also promoted the notion that mediaeval scholars, blinded by theology, had believed the world was flat – another myth that has wormed its way into generally accepted truth.
history  science 
april 2016 by ayjay
Anthony T. Grafton | The Importance of Being Printed
Eisenstein wishes to emphasize how radical the break was between the age of scribes and that of printers. To do so she minimizes the extent to which any text could circulate in stable form before mechanical means of reproduction became available. She suggests that almost no reader in any age of manuscripts could have access to a large number of texts. She both argues and implies that the scribal book trade was a casual and ill-organized affair; she clearly holds that no single scribe could produce any large number of books. She relies heavily on De la Mare's pioneering demonstration that Vespasiano da Bisticci, the most famous Florentine manuscript dealer, operated on a far smaller scale than traditional accounts suggest. And she tends to downplay evidence that lay literacy was increasing rapidly even before printing was invented.

I cannot feel that Eisenstein has done justice to the available evidence. She talks a great deal about Vespasiano's backwardness, but not at all about that well-organized and productive scribe Diebold Lauber, who was innovative enough to issue written broadsides listing and advertising his wares. She says very little about the effects of the new educational institutions that popped up like mushrooms in many parts of Europe during the period 1350 to 1500, which must have had a sizeable impact on the level of literacy among members of the lay elite: for example, the ten German universities, all with law faculties, that were founded between 1365 and 1472. And though she criticizes Kristeller for suggesting that a work preserved in three copies "attained a certain diffusion" (21 I), she says nothing at all about the well-known studies by Soudek and Schucan, both inspired by Kristeller.
print  history  tech 
march 2016 by ayjay
Captive Minds, Then and Now by Tony Judt | NYR Daily | The New York Review of Books
But I began to notice that whereas the novels of Kundera and Andric’, or the memoirs of Kovaly or Yevgenia Ginsburg, remain accessible to American students notwithstanding the alien material, The Captive Mind often encountered incomprehension. Milosz takes for granted his readers’ intuitive grasp of the believer’s state of mind: the man or woman who has identified with History and enthusiastically aligned themselves with a system that denies them freedom of expression. In 1951 he could reasonably assume that this phenomenon—whether associated with communism, fascism, or indeed any other form of political repression—would be familiar.

And indeed, when I first taught the book in the 1970s, I spent most of my time explaining to would-be radical students just why a “captive mind” was not a good thing. Thirty years on, my young audience is simply mystified: why would someone sell his soul to any idea, much less a repressive one? By the turn of the twenty-first century, few of my North American students had ever met a Marxist. A self-abnegating commitment to a secular faith was beyond their imaginative reach. When I started out my challenge was to explain why people became disillusioned with Marxism; today, the insuperable hurdle one faces is explaining the illusion itself. [...]

For Milosz, “the man of the East cannot take Americans seriously because they have never undergone the experiences that teach men how relative their judgments and thinking habits are.” This is doubtless so and explains the continuing skepticism of the East European in the face of Western innocence. But there is nothing innocent about Western (and Eastern) commentators’ voluntary servitude before the new pan-orthodoxy. Many of them, Ketman-like, know better but prefer not to raise their heads above the parapet. In this sense at least, they have something truly in common with the intellectuals of the Communist age. One hundred years after his birth, fifty-seven years after the publication of his seminal essay, Milosz’s indictment of the servile intellectual rings truer than ever: “his chief characteristic is his fear of thinking for himself.”
history  politics  ideas 
february 2016 by ayjay
Rousseau and Smith’s radical resemblances | TLS
This new way of reading Rousseau has become increasingly popular; it is to be found, for example, in a recent book by Frederick Neuhouser, Rousseau’s Critique of Inequality (2014), and can be traced back to Nicholas Dent’s Rousseau: An introduction to his psychological, social and political theory (1989). It is a view not without its critics, since the textual basis on which it stands is relatively slender. In very well-known passages of his Discourse on the Origin of Inequality Rousseau denounced the evil effects of amour propre, the passion that consists in comparison and emulation, and extolled the merits of simple amour de soi, the self-protective instinct in men that leads ideally not to emulation but to a kind of defensive stand-offishness; most readers have concluded from these passages that Rousseau wished to purge men of amour propre, rather than to harness it in a Smithian fashion.

Against these straightforward passages it is possible to cite only a few inscrutable remarks in Rousseau’s Émile about the possibility of “transforming” amour propre into a virtue through generalizing it. Hont however here accepts the new view in its broad outlines, and reasonably enough concludes that if it is correct then the sharp disjunction between Smith and Rousseau has now to be called into question. Hont’s reading of Smith as a kind of Hobbesian makes this task easier, since it has been recognized ever since the Second Discourse and The Social Contract that despite Rousseau’s express criticisms of Hobbes there are deep resemblances between them; Rousseau signalled this when he said in the Discourse that he could derive all the “rules of natural right” without introducing the idea of sociability. So for Hont, both Smith and Rousseau were essentially Hobbesians who (unlike Hobbes himself) turned vainglory and emulation into positive moral and social forces. He proposes, in a particularly subtle part of these lectures, that Rousseau would not have been wholly critical of Smith’s hidden hand mechanism for the equal distribution of the necessities of life, observing that Rousseau certainly shared Smith’s belief that fundamental human needs are relatively sparse and the same for everyone – though Rousseau believed that it is primarily states and their sovereigns that must inevitably embark on endless and pointless consumption, rather than individual citizens. Moreover, Hont argues, Rousseau and Smith shared essentially the same theory of European historical development, and the same concern to find a strategy for growth that would not be overwhelmed either by the claims of agriculture or the claims of industry – the “balanced growth” Hont takes to be the goal of all eighteenthcentury writers on the economy.
history  politics  philosophy  economics 
february 2016 by ayjay
Party Animals: My Family and Other Communists by David Aaronovitch review – at home with the hard left | Books | The Guardian
The temptation for him and the reader is to join those who say that communists were better than the Nazis, and scorn conservatives who draw a moral equivalence. To his credit, Aaronovitch won’t slosh on the whitewash. He says that Lessing had a point about his father’s dogmatism. He investigates the Soviet spies his family knew, and the half-forgotten men who can still produce a shudder among leftists of a certain age. On the party’s instructions, James Klugmann and Derek Kartun produced screamingly mendacious indictments of eastern European communists, who had often been their friends when Stalin decided to kill them. As with today’s propagandists for Putin and Assad, that they were citizens of a free country, who would have suffered nothing more than a few harsh words from their political allies if they had refused to take the Moscow line, makes their behaviour all the more contemptible. Whatever else you say about British communism, you must begin by admitting it was the servile accomplice of an unspeakable regime.
politics  history 
january 2016 by ayjay
Resurrection? | The Economist
TO SEE the future of Christianity in Britain, go on a Sunday morning to an old Welsh Congregational chapel off the Pentonville Road in Islington. The building has been bought by a Pentecostal Ethiopian church; the congregation raises its hands in a show of unEnglish ecstasy to praise God in Amharic. A few hours later, something unexpected happens. A congregation of mainly white members of the Church of England start their service. This group, known as King’s Cross Church, or KXC, has grown from a handful in 2010 to 500 now.

The first service reflects a well-documented phenomenon: an immigrant-led surge in London churchgoing. Weekly participation in Christian services in the capital has grown by 16% since 2005. Most devout Londoners (88%) worship outside the ranks of the established church whose spires pierce the skyline; about a third are Pentecostal. But the second service shows that even some Anglican churches are bucking the downward trend in membership. London is one of several dioceses within the Church of England that are growing, if only a little (see chart)....

For liberals, the reasons for decline are obvious. “English society and the Church of England have gradually drifted apart in terms of values,” says Linda Woodhead, professor of the sociology of religion at Lancaster University. “This was true over issues like remarriage and the ordination of women, and it’s true of same-sex marriage.” Evangelicals say the church is right not to be swayed by changing social mores. They emphasise being counter-cultural and point out that many churches which are growing run against the liberal flow. “What is dying in England is not Christianity but nominal Anglicanism,” says David Goodhew of Durham University, author of “Church Growth in Britain”. The share of evangelicals in the Church of England rose from 26% to 34% between 1989 and 2005, says Peter Brierley, a church demographer, and could now be nearly 50%.
history  London  Christianity 
january 2016 by ayjay
Magical thinking: the history of science, sorcery and the spiritual | Rowan Williams
What is clear, though, from the texts included here is that Christianity created a new set of challenges for the family of activities vaguely referred to as magical. On the one hand, the basic Christian narratives assumed the reality of preternatural agents, angels and demons; on the other, they left little or no ground on which you could justify attempts to manipulate spiritual agencies through your own skills. Such agencies were either good or bad. If good (angelic), they would do only the will of the supreme God, so it would be no use trying to get around this for your own ends. If bad (diabolical), they had their own agenda, which was likely to get you into serious trouble. For consistent Christian theologians, then, dealings with these invisible agents were out of the question. “Conjuring”, summoning spirits, was profoundly dangerous.

At the same time, there were all sorts of mysterious interrelations between different bits of the universe which could be exploited for various purposes by means of traditional techniques; alchemy, for instance, though never unequivocally respectable, did not fall under the usual ecclesiastical suspicion of magical invocation. And the deeply rooted assumptions about the natural resonances between different levels of the universe, going back to what were thought of as Pythagorean doctrines, allowed a wide liberty of experimentation. Indeed, one of the many ways in which medieval thought paved the way for what we should recognise as scientific study of the universe was in making this distinction between the manipulating of spiritual agencies and the manipulating of invisible forces; prohibiting the one made more space for the other.
magic  science  history  theology 
january 2016 by ayjay
VII. Works and Days. Ralph Waldo Emerson. 1904. The Complete Works
  Tantalus, who in old times was seen vainly trying to quench his thirst with a flowing stream which ebbed whenever he approached it, has been seen again lately. He is in Paris, in New York, in Boston. He is now in great spirits; thinks he shall reach it yet; thinks he shall bottle the wave. It is however getting a little doubtful. Things have an ugly look still. No matter how many centuries of culture have preceded, the new man always finds himself standing on the brink of chaos, always in a crisis. Can anybody remember when the times were not hard, and money not scarce? Can anybody remember when sensible men, and the right sort of men, and the right sort of women, were plentiful? Tantalus begins to think steam a delusion, and galvanism no better than it should be.

  Many facts concur to show that we must look deeper for our salvation than to steam, photographs, balloons or astronomy. 7 These tools have some questionable properties. They are reagents. Machinery is aggressive. The weaver becomes a web, the machinist a machine. If you do not use the tools, they use you. All tools are in one sense edge-tools, and dangerous. A man builds a fine house; and now he has a master, and a task for life: he is to furnish, watch, show it, and keep it in repair, the rest of his days. 8 A man has a reputation, and is no longer free, but must respect that. A man makes a picture or a book, and, if it succeeds, ’t is often the worse for him. I saw a brave man the other day, hitherto as free as the hawk or the fox of the wilderness, constructing his cabinet of drawers for shells, eggs, minerals and mounted birds. It was easy to see that he was amusing himself with making pretty links for his own limbs.
tech  history  THM 
january 2016 by ayjay
Letter from Martin Buber to Gandhi | Jewish Virtual Library
Jews are being persecuted, robbed, maltreated, tortured, murdered. And you, Mahatma Gandhi, say that their position in the country where they suffer all this is an exact parallel to the position of Indians in South Africa at the time you inaugurated your famous “Force of Truth” or “Strength of the Soul” (Satyagraha) campaign. There the Indians occupied precisely the same place, and the persecution there also had a religious tinge. There also the constitution denied equality of rights to the white and the black race including the Asiatics; there also the Indians were assigned to ghettos, and the other disqualifications were, at all events, almost of the same type as those of the Jews in Germany. I read and re-read these sentences in your article without being able to understand. Although I know them well, I re-read your South African speeches and writings, and called to mind, with all the attention and imagination at my command, every complaint you made therein, and I did likewise with the accounts of your friends and pupils at that time. But all this did not help me to understand what you say about us. In the first of your speeches with which I am acquainted, that of 1896, you quoted two particular incidents to the accompaniment of hisses from your audience: first, that a band of Europeans had set fire to an Indian village shop, causing some damage; and, second, that another band had thrown burning rockets into an urban shop. If I oppose to this the thousands on thousands of Jewish shops destroyed and burned out, you will perhaps answer that the difference is only one of quantity and that the proceedings were of almost the same type. But, Mahatma, are you not aware of the burning of synagogues and scrolls of the Law? Do you know nothing of all the sacred property of the community - some of it of great antiquity - that has been destroyed in the flames? I am not aware that Boers and Englishmen in South Africa ever injured anything sacred to the Indians. I find only one other concrete complaint quoted in that speech, namely, that three Indian schoolteachers, who were found walking in the streets after 9.00 p.m. contrary to orders, were arrested and only acquitted later on. That is the only incident of the kind you bring forward. Now do you know or do you not know, Mahatma, what a concentration camp is like and what goes on there? Do you know of the torments in the concentration camp, of its methods of slow and quick slaughter? I cannot assume that you know of this; for then this tragi-comic utterance “of almost the same type” could scarcely have crossed your lips. Indians were despised and despicably treated in South Africa. But they were not deprived of rights, they were not outlawed, they were not hostages to a hoped-for change in the behaviour of foreign Powers. And do you think perhaps that a Jew in Germany could pronounce in public one single sentence of a speech such as yours without being knocked down? Of what significance is it to point to a certain something in common when such differences are overlooked?
history  antisemitism 
december 2015 by ayjay
'What if' is a waste of time | Books | The Guardian
Why are we so prone in the early 21st century to approaching history in this way? The fashion for counterfactuals, after all, only began around the mid 90s: before that, they were few and far between, and seldom taken seriously even by those who indulged in them. Now you find them everywhere. No sooner has the New Statesman brought a 40-part series of them to an end than Prospect begins another. Books pour off the presses imagining what Britain might have been like under Prime Minister Heseltine or Portillo. Armchair generals refight hundreds of battles to show they could have done better than Napoleon or Montgomery. Perhaps it’s because we’re living in a postmodern age where the idea of progress has largely disappeared, to be replaced by uncertainty and doubt, and where linear notions of time have become blurred; or because truth and fiction no longer seem such polar opposites as they once did; or because historians now have more licence to be subjective than they used to. But it’s time to be sceptical about this trend. We need, in this year especially, to start to try to understand why the first world war happened, not to wish that it hadn’t, or argue about whether it was ”right” or “wrong”. In the effort to understand, counterfactuals aren’t any real use at all.
december 2015 by ayjay
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