Friday, June 30, 2006

The "Hidden" French in the Anglosphere

Charles Krauthammer "loves" Australia and explains:
Of course I'm prejudiced, having married an Australian, but how not to like a country, in this age of sniveling grubs worldwide, whose treasurer suggests to any person who ``wants to live under sharia law'' to try Saudi Arabia and Iran, ``but not Australia.'' He was elaborating on an earlier suggestion that ``people who ... don't want to live by Australian values and understand them, well then they can basically clear off.'' Contrast this with Canada, historically and culturally Australia's commonwealth twin, where last year Ontario actually gave serious consideration to allowing its Muslims to live under sharia law.
The United States, Canada and Australia are all former British colonies, but while the U.S. and Australia seem to be very much alike, Canada seems more, well, "European." Thus, the U.S. and Aussies seem to have more in common these days. Krauthammer tries to explain why.

Why? Because Australia's geographic and historical isolation has bred a wisdom about the structure of peace -- a wisdom that eludes most other countries. Australia has no illusions about the ``international community'' and its feckless institutions. An island of tranquility in a roiling region, Australia understands that peace and prosperity do not come with the air we breathe, but are maintained by power -- once the power of the British Empire, now the power of the United States.

Australia joined the faraway wars of early-20th-century Europe not out of imperial nostalgia, but out of a deep understanding that its fate and the fate of liberty were intimately bound with that of the British Empire as principal underwriter of the international system. Today the underwriter is America, and Australia understands that an American retreat or defeat -- a chastening consummation devoutly, if secretly, wished by many a Western ally -- would be catastrophic for Australia and for the world.

I would venture to guess (and I'm really just thinking out loud) that the large, Quebecois--and thus not "Anglo-Saxon"--population has influenced Canada in a different direction. Of course, the existence of the Quebecois reminds us that Canada wasn't always a British colony: it was French first. Thus, Canada has been conquered and the conquerors had to deal with a large European population in their new territory. To a large degree, they did this by leaving them alone. Thus, a distinct culture arose in the middle of a "British" colony. Not only were America and Australia never conquered, there really was no such distinct and large group in either the U.S. or Australia. Being conquered and cobbling together a nation composed of two very distinct groups has probably contributed to the differing attitudes of many Canadians. (All that being said, forgive the sweeping generalizations. Like I said, just thinking out loud).

Some Odds and Ends

Cleaning my "drafts" folder of various Odds and Ends before the long Holiday.

First, thanks to Exploratoria for pointing to Shipwreck Central a few days ago. Neat stuff if you're interested in Maritime History and Archaeology.

Second, I ran across these very interesting photographs of North Korea taken by a Russian. (I can't remember where I got the tip, sorry).

Third, I just thought that this observation made by Alan Wolfe in his review of William Bennett's new book was interesting:
Precisely because he is so proud of his country and wants to celebrate its greatness, Bennett calls attention to all those movements toward liberty and equality that enabled the United States to expand its ideals and strengthen its citizens. The fact that so prominent a conservative as Bennett accepts nearly all the major reforms of the 19th century suggests just how much the current American consensus remains a liberal consensus.
I think that Bennett's apparent preference of Jefferson contra Adams and Washington with regard to their respective policy regarding the Barbary Pirates could be interpreted as favoring the more liberal (or libertarian) versus the more conservative.

Fourth, Michael Barone has a job for future historians:
Historians may regard it as a curious thing that the left and the press have been so determined to fit current events into templates based on events that occurred 30 to 40 years ago. The people who effectively framed the issues raised by Vietnam and Watergate did something like the opposite; they insisted that Vietnam was not a reprise of World War II or Korea and that Watergate was something different from the operations J. Edgar Hoover conducted for Franklin Roosevelt or John Kennedy. Journalists in the 1940s, '50s and early '60s tended to believe they had a duty to buttress Americans' faith in their leaders and their government. Journalists since Vietnam and Watergate have tended to believe that they have a duty to undermine such faith, especially when the wrong party is in office.

Back in March, Josiah Ober wondered if democracy was effective. A couple days ago, Jerry Bowyer sketched out the difference between those who do or don't believe in the portability of liberty. These pieces strike me as worthy of comparison. Maybe after the 4th....

Finally, Robert J. Lewis doesn't subscribe to a cyclic view of history and explains why.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Brookhiser in Rhode Island

Historian and National Review contributor Rick Brookhiser will be around these parts to promote his What Would the Founders Do? this Thursday. On NRO, after providing the locations at which he'll be in Rhode Islad, Brookhiser makes this comment about why the smallest state is getting 2 stops:
June 29—Redwood Library & Athenaeum, 50 Bellevue Ave., Newport, Rhode Island. 11 AM-noon.

June 29—Providence Athenaeum, 251 Benefit St. 7-8 PM.

As usual, there will be a talk, a Q&A and a book signing at each place. I can only assume Rhode Island was given two events because, as the last state to sign the Constitution, it needs a good lesson.
That may be, but as any Rhode Island historian (or resident, for that matter) knows, the official name of Rhode Island is really the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. As such, given the fact that most Rhode Islanders pack an overnight bag for any trip over 20 minutes from home, the fact that Brookhiser will be visiting both Rhode Island (Newport) and Providence Plantations (Providence) is really not that big of a surprise. How else could he possibly expect to reach all of the resident's of the state?

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Qualifying Bennett's Jefferson: How Jefferson Was Able to Wage War on the Pirates

In "Jefferson's Crisis," an excerpt from Bill Bennett's America: The Last Best Hope, Bennett writes:

Thomas Jefferson faced a lingering foreign crisis early in his administration. For more than twenty years, he had been urging military action against Arab corsairs on the Barbary coast. These were fast, cheap warships that preyed upon merchant shipping along the northern shore of Africa. Various Arab rulers there would regularly declare war against European countries and then begin seizing their ships and men. The captured crews would be held for ransom or sold in the market as slaves. “Christians are cheap today!” was the auctioneer’s cry.

This practice had been going on for centuries.As many as a million and a quarter Europeans had been enslaved by Muslims operating out of North Africa. When he served as America’s minister to France in the mid-1780s, Jefferson had once confronted an Arab diplomat, demanding to know by what right his country attacked Americans in the Mediterranean:

The Ambassador answered us that it was founded on the Laws of the Prophet, that it was written in their Koran, that all nations who should not have answered their authority were sinners, that it was their right and duty to make war upon them wherever they could be found, and to make slaves of all they could take as prisoners.

Confronted by such obstinacy, Jefferson appealed to John Adams, who was then America’s minister to England. But Adams was unwilling to fight. Jefferson resolved from those early days to fight the Muslim hostage-takers. “We ought to begin a naval power, if we mean to carry on our own commerce. Can we begin it on a more honourable occasions or with a weaker foe?” he wrote to James Madison in 1784. The kidnapping and ransoming of American merchantmen continued for nearly twenty years.

The Washington and Adams administrations had gone along with the European practice of paying off the Barbary rulers. It was a protection racket, pure and simple. Adams believed paying tribute was cheaper than war. “We ought not to fight them at all unless we determine to fight them forever,” he said. Paying off the Barbary rulers was not cheap. When Jefferson came into office, the United States had already paid out nearly $2 million. This was nearly one fifth of the federal government’s yearly income!

The Bashaw of Tripoli declared war on the United States in 1801. Jefferson was determined to fight rather than pay tribute. Jefferson sent Commodore Edward Preble in command of the USS Constitution to strengthen America’s naval forces in the Mediterranean Sea.

Bennett then recounts some of the exploits of Edward Preble and Stephen Decatur and then concludes:

By 1805, the pirates had had enough. Jefferson’s willingness to use force had triumphed in America’s first war on terror in the Middle East.

Well, to quote Paul Harvey, here's "The rest of the story." Or should I say the beginning of the story.

In his effort to praise the apparent foresight of Jefferson, Bennett does a disservice to both George Washington and John Adams. For while it was true that Jefferson did express a desire to directly confront the Barbary threat, the key question is: with what?

The answer was, of course, the navy. And while Jefferson did want to build up the navy in 1786, the developing political situation—in which he emerged as the leader of the decidedly anti-naval Democrat Republicans—definitely affected his public support of a strong navy and thus prevented him from throwing his weight behind a large naval buildup. In fact, he and his party attempted to thwart the Federalist naval program at every turn. They viewed the navy as both inherently expansionist and as a source for government patronage and corruption. They also feared that a strong navy would be used against the French, whom they favored against the British--whom the Federalists favored--in the international arena.

Despite this, some few ships were approved under Washington--and fewer still built under Adams. Despite the reduced naval program, the Federalists still succeeded in building a small and effective force that was used in the undeclared naval war against France (the so-called Quasi War) from 1798-1800.

In fact, thanks to the experience gained during these actions, then Secretary of the Navy Benjamin Stoddert was able to implement various rules and regulations and was able to evaluate both these as well as the performance of naval officers. Thus, the trial by fire of the Quasi-War proved to be a valuable learning tool for the nascent U.S. Navy.

With lessons learned, a much more effective force was prepared to be called upon when and where needed, as in 1805 when President Jefferson turned to them to deal with the Barbary Pirates. Therefore, while Jefferson deserves credit for finally confronting the Barbary Pirates, it must be remembered that he was able to do so only because of the efforts of his two predecessors, and despite the political policies favored by he and his party.

Friday, June 23, 2006

21st Century Yellow Journalism

Jonah Goldberg points out that the new electronic media is actually enabling a return to an earlier journalistic norm than that we've experienced over the past 50 or so years.

Reporters believed in their duty to be objective even if they didn’t always understand that their biases were quite obvious to those, on the left and right, residing outside the elite liberal consensus. Indeed, it’s worth noting that the standard of objectivity itself was partly a product of technological change and partly a rebellion against 19th-century norms...what fascinates me is how the Internet is allowing the nation to return to its historical relationship with the media, not how it’s changing everything.

In the 19th century, newspapers played a different role from the one we think they’re “supposed” to play. Newspapers contributed a sense of community to the boisterous new cities and towns popping up across the country...American newspapers were never as unapologetically and uniformly partisan as European ones were (and still are), but they were still mostly creatures of specific political biases. There were Republican and Democratic newspapers, populist and communist newspapers, union and anti-union newspapers. These publications served as vehicles for partisan education and crusading personalities, in much the same way leading blogs do today.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Secular vs. Christian America Redux

As any regular reader (both of 'em) may know, I've dealt with the debate over the secular vs. Christian origins of America before, specifically the claim that a mostly-forgotten Treaty with Tripoli circa 1800 "proves" that America was not founded as a Christian nation (long analysis here, shorter analysis here). Now, Joseph Knippenberg has provided an example of what could be taken as the U.S. Government promoting religion in the Northwest Ordinance, which stated:
Religion, morality, and knowledge being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.
So, here we have two official documents that could be used to support either side of the argument. The truth is, both ideals can be traced to the founding and no amount of cherry-picking can change that. That is Knippenberg's conclusion, too, as he finds that there is plenty of historical evidence two support both a secular and Christian founding of America. As he summarizes:
In sum, while it may well strain credulity to claim that at least some leading members of the founding generation were orthodox religious believers, it is equally incredible to regard them as rigidly bent on an absolute and inflexible separation of church and state, a wall high and impermeable. Whatever their private beliefs, many at least acquiesced in and even encouraged public expression of religion. They respected, admired, and worked with men like Samuel Adams (to be accurate, the beer label should say “Brewer, Patriot, Orthodox Calvinist”). They loved women whose religious orthodoxy they respected and did not discourage.

To my friends on the Christian Right, I say: You don’t have to stretch claims about the Founders to provide historical support for a religion-friendly public square. If your intention is to defend the rights of believers to worship and witness as they please, and to level the proverbial “playing field” as they seek to influence public policy, the founding generation would offer you plenty of aid and comfort. Your reform efforts fall squarely in an American tradition that includes abolitionism, the civil rights movement, the social Gospel, and the temperance movement.

To my friends on the secular Left, I say: a good portion of the moral energy that sustains our democratic republic has its roots in religious faith. The Founders recognized that and were able to accommodate and work with it. Remember the words of George Washington:
[L]et us with caution indulge the supposition, that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of a peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that National morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.

(via PDTR)

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Gentlemen Revolutionaries

Peter Berkowitz reviews Gordon Woods' Revolutionary Characters: What Made The Founders Different in Policy Review. Here are two key points that I took away. The first is from Wood:
No other major nation honors its past historical characters, especially characters who existed two centuries ago, in quite the manner we Americans do. We want to know what Thomas Jefferson would think of affirmative action, or George Washington of the invasion of Iraq. The British don’t have to check in periodically with, say, either of the two William Pitts, the way we seem to have to check in with Jefferson or Washington. We Americans seem to have a special need for these authentic historical figures in the here and now....

The United States was founded on a set of beliefs and not, as were other nations, on a common ethnicity, language, or religion. Since we are not a nation in any traditional sense of the term, in order to establish our nationhood, we have to reaffirm and reinforce periodically the values of the men who declared independence from Great Britain and framed the Constitution. As long as the Republic endures, in other words, Americans are destined to look back to its founding.
Thus, as a secular nation, we need to maintain some sort of moral touchstone and the Founders are our Pantheon. The second is Berkowitz's characterization of Woods' scholarly approach to the Founders, which can be more broadly applied:
Contrary to the dominant tendencies of his profession, Wood is a historian who, without scanting the impact of larger social forces, respects ideas and the actions of outstanding historical figures — not least, in the case of America’s founders, the actions they undertook to implement their ideas about constitutional government. He has sympathy for the common opinion among nineteenth-century Americans, still shared by many Americans today, that the founders were great men, larger-than-life figures, brilliant thinkers and bold politicians who brought forth a new kind of nation dedicated to principles of universal appeal and application. He rejects for good and sufficient reason the effort to reduce the founders to place-holders for somebody else’s favorite — or despised — ideology and the attempt to reduce the founders to instruments of their time and circumstances. Wood is acutely aware that the founders’ Constitution involved a compromise with evil, but he inclines to Lincoln’s position that the ideas about freedom and equality on which it was based and the political institutions it established set the country on the path to slavery’s eventual extinction. In the process of examining the founders’ characters and principles, and the distinctive importance they attached to both, Wood restores the founders’ complexity and humanity while making their achievements all the more vivid and worthy of study.

(Via Political Theory Daily Review)

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Bush is First President to Speak at U.S. Merchant Marine Academy Graduation

That President Bush was the first sitting U.S. President to speak at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy graduation was indeed historic. It was something for which many have worked and lobbied for quite some time. When I graduated from the Academy in 1991, our commencement speaker was Vice-President Dan Quayle. Until now, he had been the most high profile commencement speaker in Academy history. Now, finally, Kings Point (the Academy is located in the village of Kings Point, NY, and, much like "West Point" is used to refer to the U.S. Military Academy, "Kings Point" is used to refer to the USMMA) is no longer the only one of the five federal academies to not have had the President of the United States speak at a graduation.
Although President Franklin D. Roosevelt spoke at the opening of the academy in 1943, Bush is the first commander in chief to address a graduating class.

"I know that a presidential visit to Kings Point has been a long time in coming," Bush said at the start of his remarks on the school's football field under a blazing 85-degree sun. "I hope it's worth the wait."

He joked with the midshipmen that they had "braved the Jamaican beef patties" of the school cafeteria and "survived the restriction musters that come with missing the train back from Manhattan."

Merchant mariners have long played a vital role in the nation's maritime industry. Kings Points graduates work as deck officers aboard container ships, oil tankers, passenger cruise ships and other vessels. Others are engineers in shipbuilding companies and work in a variety of port operations, including security.

The approximately 250 graduates received bachelor's degrees in marine engineering or marine transportation and a merchant marine officer's license. They are required to spend five years in the maritime industry and eight years in the U.S. Naval Reserve as payback for a free college education. About 25 percent satisfy their obligation with a five-year active duty military commission.

A unique aspect of the education at Kings Point is the so-called "Sea Year" _ internships in which students are placed on working commercial vessels including container ships, oil tankers, passenger liners, and military vessels ferrying supplies to war zones.

"Today Kings Point is still the only one of our five service academies that sends its students into theaters of war," Bush noted. "For that reason it is the only academy authorized to fly a battle standard."
Kings Pointers do have a proud history. Cadet-Midshipmen (as they were called at the time) served on vessels during WWII, and some went down with their ships. Engine Cadet Edwin O'Hara is probably the most well-known--the Academy's gymnasium is named for him--and was one of the many Merchant Mariners whoe received the Distinguished Service Medal for his actions. There were also Cadets among the Merchant Mariners who were POWs during WWII. Cadet-Midshipmen like O'Hara have served in every major conflict since WWII, up to and including operations in support of the Iraq War. They also provided assistance in the aftermath of 9/11 by using watercraft from the Academy to ferry survivors and aid workers to and from the World Trade Center site.

Despite the accomplishments and dedication of both its midshipman and graduates, there has always been a general feeling among us "Kings Pointers" that USMMA was the "stepchild" of the 5 academies and that we had gone unrecognized. In recent years this has changed, thanks in large part to the belated recognition of the contributions the Merchant Marine to the Allied cause during WWII.

By simply attending the 2006 USMMA graduation, President Bush did more for the moral of Kings Pointers past and present than any of the kind words he said. The Academy motto is Acta non Verba, "Deeds not Words". We Kings Pointers pride ourselves on letting our actions speak for us and yesterday, President Bush did the same.

Other Links:
American Merchant Marine at War
American Merchant Marine Museum

Monday, June 19, 2006

Conservativism, Populism, Nationalism, Patriotism

It looks like the conversation concerning the relationship between conservatism and populism (which I've mentioned here and here) continues, and now nationalism and patriotism have been dragged in. What follows is just an effort to tie some different strains of the argument together--however tenuously--for some future consideration. (There's a lot to chew on here, and I can't hope to do it in 5-minute breaks from work!)

Rod Dreher (the Crunchy Con) comments about a David Brooks (TimesSelect) piece. As Dreher notes, Brooks believes we may be seeing the emergence of two new political movements, populist nationalism and progressive globalism. Here's Dreher's summary of Brooks:
Populist nationalists (PNs) would be "liberal on economics, conservative on values and realist on foreign policy." The gist of their politics, in Brooks' words, is: "We are the ordinary, burden-bearing people of this country. We are the ones who work hard and build communities. It's time for us to come together and recognize that our loyalty to our fellow Americans comes first."

....On the other side are the progressive globalists (PGs), who "would be market-oirented on economics, liberal on values and multialteral interventionists in foreign affairs." Brooks cites John McCain, Mitt Romney, Hillary Clinton, Rudy Giuliani and Mark Warner as examples of this orientation. PGs are inspired by economic globalism, "technological dynamis and cultural diversity." They want to build international institutions to share the prosperity. Trade needs to be opened up, not shut down, and new policies must be put into place to manage the flow of people across borders, not close them off. We have to make our economy more flexible, and work together internationally to solve global problems....

"Politics is becoming less about left versus right and more about open versus closed," Brooks concludes (Jim Pinkerton talks about the same conflict under the labels "universalism vs. nationalism."). It's pretty obvious that crunchy conservatism lands squarely on the populist nationalist side of the divide.
Ross Douthat also weighs in and thinks that the elites have been pretty good at staving off populism by co-opting a few hot-button, populist causes now and then:
I think Rod underestimates the power of the elite consensus in American life. Populist nationalism is too, well, popular to be ignored by politicians, but for roughly the last hundred years of American history an overlapping, interlocking series of elite classes has done a truly remarkable job of co-opting and controlling populist sentiment - and I'm skeptical that this will change that much in the new century.
Douthat thinks that Christophere Lasch is the most important read on this topic (The Revolt of the Elites and the Betrayal of Liberty, reviewed here for National Review by Judge Robert Bork). Meanwhile, Douthat's fellow blogger Reihan thinks that what is actually ocurring is a splintering among the elites.

Noah at Gideon's Blog has an interesting "Iron Triangle" theory about the Democrats and Republicans.

Nation === Liberty === Virtue


People === Equality === Merit

He also wonders if his formulation can stand up to the nearly entrenched, Euro-style categorization of a Left and Right in America, which he doesn't think is entirely applicable to the American polity.

In Europe, Charles Kupchan sees populist movements leading to a reemerging nationalism in various countries and Andrew Stuttaford gives an acute example in Germany. Finally, Jonah Goldberg mentions that historian John Lukacs made a distinction between nationalism and patriotism:
John Lukacs has many great observations about the differences between patriotism and nationalism. The difference, to me and I believe to him, is that nationalism is rooted in the mystic concept of a nation — most famously in blood and soil — while patriotism is rooted in adherence to a creed or doctrine. A patriot in the Weimar Republic was considered a traitor by most nationalists, for example.
My brain is having a hard enough time considering the possible changes in America's polity, much less adding in changes in Europe. Obviously, nationalism and patriotism often intersect, but that would me a statement such as "My country, right or wrong!" could be viewed as more nationalistic than patriotic, right? I wonder if what's floating underneath the surface is a return to older forms. Or maybe those forms are always there and they don't change: we just keep renaming them.

UPDATE: 6/20/06

NRO's John Miller, in response to a mention about Lukac's take on nationalism (which is derived from George Orwell's, apparently), offers his take, to which Jonah Goldberg responds that Orwell wasn't talking about nationalism as we understand it today, but of "identity politics."

Friday, June 16, 2006

Morris Berman is Hung Up on America's Impending "Dark Ages"

Here's a candidate for some Bad History. The New York Times' negative review of Morris Berman's Dark Ages America: The Final Phase of Empire explains:
'Dark Ages America' begins as a grim prophecy of decline and fall, citing four traits shared, he says, by the late Roman Empire and the United States today, namely, 'the triumph of religion over reason,' 'the breakdown of education and critical thinking,' the 'legalization of torture' and declining respect and financial power on the world stage.
This isn't the first time Berman has compared America to the last days of the Roman Empire. Back in 2000 he wrote another book, The Twilight of American Culture, that also received a negative review in the Times (by, Alexander Star, editor of Lingua Franca) :
Berman compares the predicament of contemporary America with that of the Roman Empire in its final days. Just like Rome, the United States suffers from an increasing gap between rich and poor, a teeming bazaar of eccentric faiths and a general dumbing-down of the collective intelligence... Despite all of America's entrepreneurial ''dynamism,'' a new dark age is falling.... he tells us that [during the Dark Ages] ''the intellectual disciplines of distinction, definition and dialectic'' were lost...
I'm only going to address the newer book (I included the bit from the second just to show that Berman likes to beat this particular horse) and I'm also going to ignore the American half of Berman's hyperbolic (I believe) comparison.

The first thing to note is that it was only the Western Roman Empire that "fell" as Berman believes. The Eastern half did pretty well (as Byzantium) for another 1000 years or so. In fact, if you're bored already: stop reading. What I just wrote is the most important take away point.

The reasons for the "fall" of the Western half are many, including a weakened political system and failed tax system. One potential causal force that has certainly lost favor is that of a military "Barbarian invasion." Yes, there are still aspects of it that are entirely appropriate, but it's no longer simply crossing the Rhine in A.D. 406 followed by Attila 50 years later and it was all over for Rome. Instead, many argue that the Western Roman Empire essentially assimilated itself away.

Now to deal with Berman's list of 4 reasons for the fall of Rome. Hmm. The "triumph of religion over reason"... please see the point about Byzantium. Seems like they lasted for 1,000 years as a religious empire.

Second--and related to the first--the bit about the "breakdown of education and critical thinking." Well, the first thing that comes to mind is that it was because of the same church that Berman finds so despicable that the philosophy of Aristotle was rescued. Ever hear of Saint Thomas Aquinas?

Third, the "legalization of torture". I confess, I'm not sure what he means by that one. He could be alluding to the Spanish Inquisition that ocurred 1,000 years after the fall of the Western Roman Empire, but who knows? Besides, refresh my memory: wasn't there a guy named Jesus who, along with two other fellas, was crucified by the Roman Empired circa A.D. 35? Or is crucification not torture? Or does Berman's timeline for the "fall" begin sometime after Caesar and before Marcus Arelius?

Then there is the last bit about Rome's declining respect and influence. Well, the respect for Rome declined so much that the various Barbarian kingdoms that cropped up tried to mimic it as much as possible (at least initially). They copied Roman law, tried to use Latin, adopted the Roman Catholic religion and a myriad of other things. Of course (again), there was still quite a bit of respect for and influence felt from the Eastern Roman Empire!!!!

To be fair, all of this is a bit snarky and only based on one review. I guess the main point I'd like to make is that any use of the "Fall of Rome" has to take into consideration the fact that the wealthier, more politically and militarily stable half of the Roman Empire managed to "hold on" for another 1,000 years.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Conservativism Doesn't Mean a Rejection of the Future

In "America's Romance with the Future," Martin Walker offers a warning that America may be losing its way based on his analysis of the current state of the national (and personal) debt, education and other factor. He begins and ends the piece with two anecdotes regarding the future of America:
The thing that got you into this classroom today is belief in the future, a belief that the future can be better than the present and that people will and should sacrifice in the present to get to that better future. That belief has taken man out of the chaos and deprivation that most human beings toiled in for most of history to the point where we are today. One thing will kill our civilization and way of life—when people no longer have the will to undergo the pain required to prefer the future to the present. That is what got your parents to pay this expensive tuition. That is what got us through two wars and the Depression. Future preference. Don’t ever forget that.

{Georgetown University professor Carroll Quigley, who taught future President Bill Clinton}
The prospect really does frighten me that they may finally become so engrossed in a cowardly love of immediate pleasures that their interest in their own future and in that of their descendants may vanish, and that they will prefer tamely to follow the course of their destiny rather than make a sudden energetic effort necessary to set things right.

{Alexis de Tocqueville in Democracy in America, vol. I (1835)}
Both men, at different times, appreciated the American spirit, but saw danger on the horizon. But it is important to note that neither was saying that we should change for change's sake. Put another way, they aren't saying that a better future means the total dismantling of all that is good during the present.

Perhaps a little Edmund Burke would help. Burke also believed that we owed both our ancestors and our progeny more than what we had received.
One of the first and most leading principles on which the commonwealth and its laws are consecrated, is lest the temporary possessors and life-renters in it, unmindful of what they have received from their ancestors, or of what is due to their posterity, should act as if they were the entire masters; that they should not think it among their rights to cut off the entail, or commit waste on the inheritance, by destroying at their pleasure the whole original fabric of their society; hazarding to leave to those who come after them a ruin instead of a habitation--and teaching to these successors as little to respect their contrivances, as they had themselves respected the institutions of their forefathers. {Edmund Burke, "Reflections," Works, II, p.366-67 in Russel Kirk's The Conservative Mind, p.44--yeah, I cribbed it!}
Burke advocated prudent change and didn't think conservatism meant stasis and that life could be a permanent, antiquanarian bliss. "We must all obey the great law of change," he said, "It is the most powerful law of nature, and the means perhaps of its conservation." The type of change he advocated was gradual, one that moved slowly so as to neither cause resentment in those who had benefited--or were simply used to--the old ways nor to stoke the newly lit fires of power within those who gained from the change.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

The Historiography of the Early Midde Ages and National Homogeneity

Götz Aly (via Ralph Luker and Dale Light) writes that it's time for a "complete overhaul of the historical contextualisation of the Holocaust" and points to the work of Raul Hilberg ("The Destruction of the European Jews") and Jacob Burckhardt ("The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy"). As a medievalist, Aly's reference to Burckhardt's work caught my eye and called to mind something important about the historiography of the Early Middle Ages. According to Aly:
[Burckhardt] showed, and he still shows today, how Europe freed itself from the tightly woven veil of "faith, illusion and childish prepossession."

Admittedly, the twentieth century forces us to assume that on the path towards emancipation, the Europeans succumbed to their own modernity, falling victim to more than just a new illusion. In World Wars, in revolutions and also in peace treaties, they put two old ideas into bloody practice: national and social homogenization. (emphasis in original)
Aly goes on to discuss the good and bad aspects of this homogenization in modern European history and his effort to re-contextualize the Holocaust is important. More on that later. My immediate interest lay in the tangential topic of how the contemporary influence of the "national and social homogenization" of the early to mid- 20th century is revealed in the historiography of the early middles ages.

The first important point to make is that the concept of a homogenous people did not originate in the 19th century with the disciples of Ranke or Hegel. The ancient Roman writers Pliny the Elder, Tacitus and Ptolemy already had classified "other" peoples with whom they came into contact in a generic sort of way. In short, there has always been a tendency to homogenize (or generalize) about a society different than one's own. Yet, that is only part of the story. It was the ancient's method of assigning specific identities to the variety of Germanic groups that attracted the attention of the modern historians. (I'm going to focus on the Germanic peoples, who were but one of many groups of "others"--lest we forget Caesar and his Gauls--because I'm most familiar with that particular historiography).

Working from ancient sources, the 19th century historians mined written sources and oral tradition for linguistic evidence to set various Germanic tribes in time and place. According to Patrick Geary (Myth of Nations, p. 16), the impetus for this research was the compilation of the Monumenta Germaniae Historica (MGH). Unfortunately, the conclusions derived from the research behind the MGH, which relied heavily on classifying people according their language family, led to the derivation of various historic nationalities based on this new "scientific" evidence. This new evidence was used--and ultimately misused--by eager archaelogists and the new field of ethnoarchaeology was born. Gustaf Kossinna was at the forefront of these efforts.

Malcolm Todd explained that (The Northern Barbarians, p. 20-21) the centerpiece of the ethnoarchaelogists' theory was an idea of ethnic homogeneity that allowed them to link particular people mentioned in the classic works of Pliny, Tacitus, and others to both the work of the philologists and to specific archeological finds. By determining through philology where a people lived, the ethnoarchaeologists assigned the relics found in those areas to those pre-identified groups. Perhaps Christopher Wickham (Early Medieval Italy, 68) best explained the flaw in this theory, writing,
A man or woman with a Lombard-style brooch is no more necessarily a Lombard than a family in Bradford with a Toyota is Japanese; artifacts are no secure guide to ethnicity.
Nonetheless, the goal of those like Kossinna was to provide continuity from ancient sources, through the middle ages, and to their own time by providing "historical evidence" to buttress claims of a sort of natural right to nationhood. Kossinna’s method convinced himself and others that the Germans had been an ethnically homogenous people from the Bronze age through the Roman Iron Age.

Using this evidence, a race of people, whose forefathers could claim bloodlines from ancient times, would be justified making a legitimate claim to a specific geographical area, even if it lay outside the current borders of a defined nation. Thus, a viable foundation for the establishment and expansion of an ethnically homogenous nation could be made and this fed into the hyper-nationalism that swept Europe and was used to such nefarious ends by the Third Reich during the Second World War.

In the years immediately following World War II, an understandable reaction within the historical community occurred against this nationalistic, ethnically homogenous interpretation. Initially, some historians disclaimed any such thing as a Germanic culture prior to 100 B.C. Subsequent scholarship has since determined that there did exist a traceable Germanic culture during the Iron Age. However, the idea of of an ethnically and culturally united Germanic people is no longer supported.

[SIDENOTE: For instance, as Todd explained in Everyday Life of The Barbarians (p. 10), archaeology has shown that the Celts and Germans were not so ethnically distinct as portrayed by Tacitus and Caesar and that the Rhine as a dividing line between the two cultures was not only misleading, but it obscured a third people who were neither Celtic nor Germanic, though they were culturally similar to both.]

This brings us back to Aly's piece, which explains how the Holocaust--while not the first example of ethnic cleansing in Europe--serves as a "touchstone" for the subsequent "ethnically and socially motivated mass mobilization and 'cleansing'" in Europe. As I've explained, historians have for the most part disavowed the scholarship that undergirded the ideology of a nationhood based on a historically homogenous society. However, the concept of an a priori, historically self-contained, ethnically and culturally consistent nation remains central to the historical narratives of many European nations.

As Aly explains, a new historiography that links the various occasions in which different European nations attempted to purify their societies would highlight the inherently false structure of the perpetually and naturally homogenous society. Hopefully, it would lead nations down the path toward dealing with the "other" in their midst in a different way.

Every nation has its own cultural mores which contribute to a society's sense of self (so to speak) and sovereignty. A nation's willingness to embrace people of different cultures (who are there legally, of course!) by both accepting their differences and helping them to understand the expectations that their new society has of them can only make itself stronger.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Remembering Nathanael Greene

The Providence Journal has been running a series (including sources!) on the life of Rhode Island's Revolutionary War General Nathanael Greene (it's now up to part 10). The series coincides with the recent completion of publication of the Greene Papers (it took 34 years and $4 million) by the Rhode Island Historical Society. Further, the ProJo is distinguishing itself as a very history-friendly paper. The Greene series comes on the heals of an impressive series about Rhode Island and the slave trade.

Finally, it appears as if General Greene may well be the next subject for a David McCullough book. First, there was a story in a small local newspaper--the Warwick Daily Times, story not available on line--that reported that McCullough had been in contact with a research librarian at Providence College concerning General Greene. McCullough was also the keynote speaker at the RIHS History Makers gala and had used the Greene Papers for his recent book on George Washington. Could he be turning to them again to write a biography of Greene? Alexander Hamilton would have thought Greene deserved such recognition:

"For as high as this great man stood in the estimation of his country, the whole extent of his worth was little known," said Alexander Hamilton, the country's first secretary of treasury, in 1789.

Greene, the Warwick native who had fought back the British armies in the South during America's fight for independence, would be remembered, as "this consummate general, this brave soldier, this steady patriot, this virtuous citizen," Hamilton said.

One final note: the RIHS also stated that they would like to put the papers online at some time in the future.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Compare--don't equate--historical events

Ulf Zander (translated by Phil Holmes):
Through concrete examples in the form of more or less manifest analogies between then and now and parallel sequences of events the users of history wish to legitimise their own policy and discredit that of the opposition. The past is then taken into service in a biased way on the basis of current need. The history users try to equate—not compare—then and now. (Emphasis mine)