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DEFINITION OF MODERN: A WESTERN CONTEXT
There is a great deal written about just what the term "modern history" refers to. The first paragraphs here are written to provide what you might call a starting point, a beginning to a definition, a framework, a set of guidelines, to help both me and readers here deal with the term. I leave it to readers who come to this site to read more extensively than the few paragraphs I have provided below, if they want a discussion of the nuances of the term 'modern history.' For my purposes in this sub-section the term modern history describes the historical timeline after the Middle Ages. The end point to the Middle Ages is seen in several possible perspectives, at least for what you might call Eurocentric history.
For Europe as a whole, the conquest of Constantinople by the Turks in 1453 is commonly used as the end date of the Middle Ages. Depending on the context, other events, such as the invention of the moveable type printing press by Johann Gutenberg, circa 1455, the fall of Muslim Spain or Christopher Columbus's voyage to America, both in 1492, can be used for that purpose. For Italy, 1401, the year the contract was awarded to build the north doors of the Florence Baptistery, is often used. In contrast, English historians often use the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485 to mark the end of the period of the Middle Ages. For Spain, the death of King Ferdinand II in 1516 is often used. The Germans, the Russsians, the Belgians, inter alia, all have their own historical views on this subject, & dozens of other countries each have their own perspectives on what has become quite a complex picture when viewed in a global context, a context often outside the western intellectual tradition and its globalizing civilization.
LATE MIDDLE AGES AND EARLY MODERN HISTORY
The term "modern" was coined shortly before 1585 to describe the beginning of a new era. The European Renaissance, about 1420–1630, is an important transition period beginning between the Late Middle Ages and Early Modern Times, which started in Italy. The term "Early Modern" was introduced in the English language in the 1930s to distinguish the time between what we call the Middle Ages & the time of the late Enlightenment. This was the period, say, after 1800 when the meaning of the term the Modern Age was developing its contemporary form. It is important to note that these terms stem from the study of European History itself.
The beginning of the modern era started approximately in the 16th century(1500-1600). Many major events caused Europe to change around the turn of the 16th century. As I pointed out above in relation to the end of the Middle Ages, there are several events involving major changes in European culture & its history: the Fall of Constantinople in 1453, the fall of Muslim Spain, the discovery of the Americas in 1492, & Martin Luther's role in the Protestant Reformation, especially in 1517. In England the modern period is often dated to the start of the Tudor period with the victory of Henry VII over Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485, as I mentioned above. Early modern European history is usually seen to span from the turn of the 15th century, through the Age of Reason & Age of Enlightenment in the 17th and 18th centuries, until the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in the late 18th century.
MORE ON THE EARLY MODERN PERIOD
A. In history, the early modern period of modern history follows the late Middle Ages of the post-classical era. Although the chronological limits of the period are open to debate, the time frame spans the period after the late portion of the post-classical age(c. 1500), known as the Middle Ages, through the beginning of the Age of Revolutions (c. 1800) and is variously demarcated by historians as beginning with the Fall of Constantinople in 1453, with the Renaissance period, and with the Age of Discovery, especially with the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus in 1492, but also with the discovery of the sea route to the East in 1498, and ending around the French Revolution in 1789.
Historians in recent decades have argued that from a worldwide standpoint, the most important feature of the early modern period was its globalizing character. The period witnessed the exploration and colonization of the Americas and the rise of sustained contacts between previously isolated parts of the globe. The historical powers became involved in global trade. This world trading of goods, plants, animals, and food crops saw exchange in the Old World and the New World. The Columbian exchange greatly affected the human environment.
B. In the world, capitalist economies and institutions began to appear, becoming more sophisticated and globally articulated over the course of the early modern period. This process began in the medieval North Italian city-states, particularly Genoa, Venice, and Milan. The early modern period also saw the rise and beginning of the dominance of the economic theory of mercantilism. It also saw the European colonization of the Americas, Asia, and Africa during the 15th to 19th centuries, which spread Christianity around the world.
C.1 Other notable trends of the early modern period include the development of experimental science, the speedup of travel through improvements in mapping and ship design, increasingly rapid technological progress, secularized civic politics and the emergence of nation states. Historians typically date the end of the early modern period when the French Revolution of 1789 and the 1790s began the "modern" period.
C.2 The early modern trends in various regions of the world represented a shift away from medieval modes of organization, politically and at other times economically. The period in Europe witnessed the decline of feudalism, and included the Reformation, the disastrous Thirty Years' War, the Commercial Revolution, the European colonization of the Americas, & the Golden Age of Piracy. Ruling China at the beginning of the early modern period, the Ming Dynasty was “one of the greatest eras of orderly government and social stability in human history”. By the 16th century the Ming economy was stimulated by trade with the Portuguese, the Spanish, and the Dutch. The Azuchi-Momoyama period in Japan saw the Nanban trade after the arrival of the first European Portuguese.
The early modern trends in various regions of the world represented a shift away from medieval modes of organization, politically and at other times economically. The period in Europe witnessed the decline of feudalism, and included the Reformation, the disastrous Thirty Years' War, the Commercial Revolution, the European colonization of the Americas, & the Golden Age of Piracy. Ruling China at the beginning of the early modern period, the Ming Dynasty was “one of the greatest eras of orderly government and social stability in human history”. By the 16th century the Ming economy was stimulated by trade with the Portuguese, the Spanish, and the Dutch. The Azuchi-Momoyama period in Japan saw the Nanban trade after the arrival of the first European Portuguese.
DEFINITION OF MODERN: A GLOBAL CONTEXT
In other parts of the world, such as Asia & in Muslim countries, as well as in the vast expanse of Russia east of the Urals, also in the vast expanses of South and Central America, in Africa, in the many island groups on the planet like Melanesia and Polynesia among others, in the circumpolar regions like the Arctic and Antarctica---the term Modern History is applied in a very different way. The application, though, is often in the context with the contact of these regions with European culture in the Age of Discoveries.
I have found, as far back as my university days in the years, 1963 to 1967, the works of Arnold Toynbee provided me with the kind of global context for a history of civilizations. I have written much on Toynbee for I have spent more than 50 years reading his complex and difficult works. Go to this link for more on Toynbee: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arnold_J._Toynbee I have also been influenced by the writings of other historians since I have spent more than 60 years teaching history, and/or reading it as a student: 1953-2014. In 1953/4 I was in grade 4 and history was slowly coming into my primary school curriculum in Ontario; I have no memories of either reading or studying history before 1953, before grade 4 when I turned 9 years old. I will write more on what has influenced my understanding of history at a later time in the development of this website.
MORE ON TOYNBEE
A. Toynbee argues that civilizations are born out of more primitive societies, not as the result of racialor environmental factors, but as a response to challenges, such as hard country, new ground, blows and pressures from other civilizations, and penalization. He argues that for civilizations to be born, the challenge must be a golden mean; that excessive challenge will crush the civilization, and too little challenge will cause it to stagnate. He argues that civilizations continue to grow only when they meet one challenge only to be met by another. He argues that civilizations develop in different ways due to their different environments and different approaches to the challenges they face. He argues that growth is driven by "Creative Minorities": those who find solutions to the challenges, which others then follow. In 1939 Toynbee wrote, "The challenge of being called upon to create a political world-order, the framework for an economic world-order.......now confronts our Modern Western society." For more go to: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Study_of_History
B. Toynbee argues that as civilizations decay, there is a "schism" within the society. In this environment of discord, people resort to archaism (idealization of the past), futurism (idealization of the future), detachment (removal of oneself from the realities of a decaying world), and transcendence (meeting the challenges of the decaying civilization with new insight, e.g., by following a new religion). From among members of an "internal proletariat" who transcend the social decay a "church" may arise. Such an association would contain new and stronger spiritual insights, around which a subsequent civilization may begin to form. Toynbee here uses the word "church" in a general sense, e.g., to refer to a collective spiritual bond found in common worship, or the unity found in an agreed social order.
THE AMBIGUITY OF HISTORICAL PERIODS
Historians sometimes claim that a particular period, like modern history, properly begins---and for good reasons to justify---at one date rather than another. To be sure, the obligation within the discipline of history to compartmentalize historical periods often imposes barriers that can obscure important continuities between what precedes and what follows a supposedly defining moment. Delimiting fields of study according to hard-and-fast distinctions looks all the more incoherent when we consider that some epochs characterize a dynamic intellectual movement, while others remain subject to the presiding authority of some other factor. But whatever disputes we may have with the peculiar manner in which we find ourselves dividing one period from the next, one date or dates are usually used to designate a decisive turn of events. This is done not only by specialists in history, but also by Everyman who takes even the most casual glance at the subject. Then, of course, there is the other Everyman for whom such questions and such dates are simply not part of their interest inventory and their agenda over the lifespan.
MORE ON HISTORICAL PERIODS
'A Conspiratorial Theory of the Renaissance' by Walter Kaiser is the title of review in the 22/10/'15 issue of The New York Review of Books. It is a review of (i) Must We Divide History into Periods? by Jacques Le Goff, translated from the French by M.B. DeBevoise(Columbia University Press, 160 pages; and (ii) The Ugly Renaissance: Sex, Greed, Violence and Depravity in an Age of Beauty by Alexander Lee(Doubleday, 450 pages). Kaiser writes: "Shortly before his death last year, the eminent French medievalist Jacques Le Goff published a small book that may be considered his scholarly testament. That book has now been translated into English by Malcolm DeBevoise with the title Must We Divide History into Periods? The answer Le Goff ultimately gives to his question is yes, claiming that periodization makes “the study of history both feasible and rewarding”; but the main point of his argument is to redefine the commonly accepted historical period known as the Renaissance. His central thesis, which is a summary restatement of ideas he had expounded in earlier studies, is that the “Middle Ages,” frequently defined as the period from the conversion of the emperor Constantine in the fourth century to the fall of Constantinople in 1453, in fact lasted until at least the middle of the eighteenth century." Kaiser continues:
"Le Goff was a leading member of the influential Annales school of history, named after the scholarly journal founded by Lucien Febvre and Marc Bloch in 1929, which emphasized social, economic, geographic, and long-term trends rather than political, military, or diplomatic history. Although he never knew him personally, Le Goff’s intellectual inspiration was Bloch, murdered by the Nazis in 1944 because of his part in the French resistance and famous for his innovative work on “magic-working kings” in France and on agrarian history in the eighteenth century." For more go to: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2015/oct/22/conspiratorial-theory-renaissance/
EARLY MODERN AND LATE MODERN HISTORY
Modern history can be further broken down into the early modern period and the late modern period after the Great Divergence. The Great Divergence was a term coined by Samuel Huntington(1927-2008), the influential American political scientist whose works covered multiple sub-fields of political science. Huntington used the term in 1996 and also referred to that Great Divergence as the European miracle, a term coined by Eric Jones(1936- ), the British-Australian economist and historian, in 1981. Jones described this European miracle as the process by which the Western world, that is, Western Europe and the parts of the New World where its people became the dominant populations, overcame pre-modern growth constraints and emerged irrefutably during the 19th century as the most powerful and wealthy world civilization of the time, eclipsing Qing China, Mughal India, and Tokugawa Japan.
The process, the miracle, this divergence, was accompanied and reinforced by the Age of Discovery & the subsequent rise of the colonial empires, the Age of Enlightenment, the Commercial Revolution, the Scientific Revolution and, finally, the Industrial Revolution. Scholars have proposed a wide variety of theories to explain why the Great Divergence happened, including government intervention, geography, and customary traditions. Before the Great Divergence, the core developed areas included: China, Western Europe, Japan, and India. In each of these core areas, differing political and cultural institutions allowed varying degrees of development. China, Western Europe, and Japan had developed to a relatively high level and began to face constraints on energy and land use, while India still possessed large amounts of unused resources. Shifts in government policy from mercantilism to laissez faire liberalism aided Western development.
Technological advances, such as railroads, steamboats, mining, and agriculture were embraced to a higher degree in the West than the East during the Great Divergence. Technology led to increased industrialization and economic complexity in the areas of agriculture, trade, fuel and resources, further separating the East and the West. Europe's use of coal as an energy substitute for wood in the mid-19th century gave Europe a major head start in modern energy production. Although China had used coal earlier during the Song and Ming periods, its use declined due to the shift of Chinese industry to the south, far from major deposits, during the destruction of Mongol and Jurchen invasions between 1100 and 1400. The West also had the advantage of larger quantities of raw materials and a substantial trading market. China and Asia did participate in trading, but colonization brought a distinct advantage to the West.
Since all of the above is, in toto, a vast sea of information and developments, of history and movements, much of which is of little interest except to a small handful of history specialists, I encourage readers to continue to the next part of this webpage to the work of Jacques Barzun, and his summary of 500 years of western cultural life.
JACQUES BARZUN: 500 YEARS OF WESTERN CULTURAL LIFE
Barzun(1907-2012) is a French-born American historian of ideas and culture. He has written on a wide range of topics, but is perhaps best known as a philosopher of education. In 2000, when he was 93, he published his From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life, 1500 to the Present.
The Great Books are back, according to a report in The New York Times a dozen or so years ago, on 18/1/'00. But, thanks in part to Jacques Barzun, they never did leave the curriculum at Columbia University. Now, making timelessness timely, Barzun presents his account of all the great works of the Western mind in the last five centuries. If From Dawn to Decadence is not a Great Book itself; it is certainly a great achievement. Encyclopedic without being discontinuous, the book hardly seems as long, as carefully constructed or as densely packed as it is.
The New York Times, which compared Barzun with such scholars Sidney Hook, Daniel Bell, and Lionel Trilling, called him a "distinguished historian, essayist, cultural gadfly and educator who helped establish the modern discipline of cultural history." The NYT named Edward Gibbon, Jacob Burckhardt and Thomas Babington Macaulay as his intellectual ancestors, called him "one of the West's most eminent historians of culture," and saw him as "a champion of the liberal arts tradition in higher education." Barzun deplored what he called the 'gangrene of specialism,'" The Telegraph remarked. Go to this link for more on Barzun: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jacques_Barzun
Though the ideas in this book of Barzun's are often complicated, the explanations it offers are limpidly clear, sparkling with biographical anecdote and counter-canonical observations, entirely free of those deserts of abstraction unrelieved by examples which are often found in works of cultural theory. This is the American style, and Barzun owns it. Arriving from France as a teenager in the 1920's, he became one of the leading lights of an exceptional generation of immigrant intellectuals. He died in 2012, at the age of 105. He had long since retired from teaching; he is no less the ''veritable Pic,'' as French students call those classmates who remind them of Pico della Mirandola -- that young man of the Renaissance who knew everything. For more on this book and Barzun go to: http://www.nytimes.com/books/00/05/21/reviews/000521.21everdet.html
HISTORY BY MEANS OF U-TUBE
People are increasingly turning to u-tube for their history. This is especially true for those who prefer audio-visual material to print. Here is one example; I leave it to readers to access what now seems like an endless list of audio-visual resources of which u-tube is but one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2lIHVpbk-c8 and https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/?tab=wm#inbox/148201c622645744
THREE MODERN HISTORIANS
Edward Gibbon, Jacob Burckhardt and Thomas Macaulay are three of the many modern historians that I would like to bring to the attention of those who come to this sub-section of my website. I leave it to readers with the interest to do a little Googling. For now I will only mention Macaulay. In the London Review of Books(Vol. 34 No. 22, November 2012) the following book was reviewed by Bernard Porter: Macaulay and Son: Architects of Imperial Britain by Catherine Hall(Yale, 400 pages, 2012). The context of the review deserves a read, FYI at: http://www.lrb.co.uk/v34/n22/bernard-porter/manly-voices Porter begins: "Thomas Babington Macaulay was the most influential of all British historians. Sales of the first two volumes of his great History of England, published in 1848, rivalled those of Scott and Dickens.
The main reason for his popularity, apart from his literary style, was that he flattered the English by crediting them with a unique history of evolving ‘freedom’. Catherine Hall thinks, and at first glance it might appear paradoxical, that Macaulay also reconciled them to their empire. Thus bolstered, they strode out into the world, confident both of their own national virtue and in their mission to spread it globally. It’s in this sense that Tom Macaulay & his father, Zachary, can be regarded as ‘architects of imperial Britain’. Thomas Babington Macaulay(1800-1859) was a British historian and Whig politician. For more on Macaulay go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas and http://www.lrb.co.uk/v34/n22/bernard-porter/manly-voices
THE NATION STATE
Steven Weber of the University of California, Berkeley, has advanced the hypothesis that the nation state is an inadvertent by product of 15th-century advances in map-making technologies. For others, the nation existed first, then nationalist movements arose for sovereignty, & the nation state was created to meet that demand. Some "modernization theories" of nationalism see it as a product of government policies to unify and modernize an already existing state. Most theories see the nation state as a 19th-century European phenomenon, facilitated by developments such as state-mandated education, mass literacy and mass media. However, historians also note the early emergence of a relatively unified state and identity in Portugal and the Dutch Republic. For an overview of the nation state go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nation_state#History_and_origins
A micronation, sometimes referred to as a model country or new country project, is an entity that claims to be an independent nation or state but is not officially recognized by world governments or major international organizations. Micronations are distinguished from imaginary countries and from other kinds of social groups, such as eco-villages, campuses, tribes, clans, sects, and residential community associations, by expressing a formal and persistent, even if unrecognized, claim of sovereignty over some physical territory. For more go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Micronation
A MACRO-OVERVIEW OF HISTORY
For a review in The New York Review of Books, May 2013, of The Axial Age and Its Consequences edited by Robert N. Bellah and Hans Joas, go to the following link. The review begins as follows: "Reflecting on human history over the previous millennia, a few European thinkers in the 18th and 19th centuries noticed a surprising conjunction. Many of the world’s most influential figures—Confucius, Buddha, the prophets of Israel (Amos, Isaiah, Jeremiah), Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and Zoroaster all emerged in their respective nations—China, India, Judaea, Greece, and Iran—in the middle of the first millennium BC, roughly between 800 and 200 BC. Although more recent scholarship has tended to move Zoroaster out of this chronological frame back into an earlier one, the coincidence remains impressive.
The French Iranist Abraham Hyacinthe Anquetil-Duperron in the late eighteenth century may have been the first to draw attention to this historical phenomenon, & a German philosopher, Ernst von Lasaulx, subsequently expanded on it in a dense, but little-known, work of 1856 under the bizarre title A New Attempt at an Old Philosophy of History Based on the Truth of Facts. While stressing empirical analysis, von Lasaulx conspicuously privileged religion and argued for organic growth and decay in world history." Go to this link for more: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2013/may/09/different-turning-point-mankind/
WORLD ORDER and INTERNATIONAL SYSTEMS
International Relations, or International affairs is a field of Political Science. International Relations is the study of relationships among countries, the roles of sovereign states, inter-governmental organizations(IGO), international non-governmental organizations(INGO), non-governmental organizations (NGO), and multinational corporations (MNC). International relations is an academic and a public policy field, and so can be positive and normative, because it analyzes and formulates the foreign policy of a given State. As political activity, international relations dates from the time of the Greek historian Thucydides (ca. 460–395 BC), and, in the early 20th century, became a discrete academic field within political science. However, international relations is an interdisciplinary field of study.
Besides political science, the field of international relations draws intellectual materials, inter alia, from the fields of: technology and engineering, economics and history, international law and philosophy, geography and social work, sociology and anthropology, criminology and psychology, gender studies and cultural studies, culturology and diplomacy, and so on. The scope of international relations comprehends globalization, human rights, diplomatic relations, state sovereignty, international security, ecological sustainability, nuclear proliferation, nationalism, economic development, global finance, as well as terrorism and organized crime, human security, foreign interventionism, and human rights. For more go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_relations
The subject of World Order involves many subjects now: (i) Alliance of Civilizations, (ii) Clash of Civilizations, (iii) Illuminati, (iv) New World Order, (v) the World Federalist Movement, and (vi) the Baha'i Faith. It also involves much that is found in Part 1 above: (a) International relations (IR), or International studies (IS), the study of foreign affairs and global issues among states within the international system, International law, implicit and explicit agreements that bind together sovereign states, and the United Nations, an international organization to facilitate international cooperation. For more go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_order
Two new books now join the never-ending debate between the US embracing a leading international role for itself and the US doing all it can to turn its backs on the rest of the world. My inclusion of this review does not mean I endorse the views of either the reviewer or the views of the authors of these books. Henry Kissinger’s World Order and America in Retreat by Bret Stephens, a Pulitzer Prize–winning foreign affairs columnist for The Wall Street Journal. Both sound a call for more powerful and more engaged US leadership around the globe. Both Stephens and Kissinger appear to be worried about a return to isolationism, or at least a more inward-looking American policy, and are doing what they can to head it off. Both offer their own view of the relation between US interests & US values. Stephens’s formula, roughly speaking, is 90% interests, 10% percent values, when convenient. Kissinger frames the debate more elegantly as one of power vs. principle, but he often comes down on both sides of the fence.
Jessica Tuchman Mathews(1946-), who reviewed these 2 books, was President of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a foreign policy think tank in Washington D.C., from 1997 to 2015. She has also held jobs in the executive & legislative branches of government, management & research in nonprofits, and journalism. For her review of these two books in The New York Review of Books(16/3/'15) go to: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2015/mar/19/road-from-westphalia/?insrc=toc For more on Mathews go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jessica_Mathews
In any given presidential campaign, there exists what we might call an “issues palette”—an underlying set of public concerns that seems likely to end up being what the race is fundamentally about. To take three obvious examples: the 1932 election about the Depression; the 1980 campaign focusing on stagflation, the Iranian hostage crisis, & the larger questions of statist failure; and the 2008 campaign, from 15/9/'08 onward, hinging on the economic meltdown & its dangers. The following books, reviewed on 19/3/'15 at The New York Review of Books, are useful for those who take a serious interest in American politics. They also bear, each in their own ways, on the issues of World Order, America's place in the world and, of course, domestic issues: (i) American Dreams: Restoring Economic Opportunity for Everyone by Marco Rubio(Sentinel, 200 pages); (ii) Blue Collar Conservatives: Recommitting to an America That Works by Rick Santorum(Regnery, 220 pages; (iii) The Way Forward: Renewing the American Idea by Paul Ryan(Twelve, 300 pages; (iv) One Nation: What We Can All Do to Save America’s Future by Ben Carson with Candy Carson (Sentinel, 230 pages); (v) God, Guns, Grits, & Gravy by Mike Huckabee(St. Martin’s, 260 pages); & (vi) Unintimidated: A Governor’s Story & a Nation’s Challenge by Scott Walker with Marc Thiessen(Sentinel, 300 pages) My inclusion of these books and this review does not constitute my endorsement of their views. For this review go to: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2015/mar/19/2016-republicans-write/?insrc=toc
COLLECTIVE INTELLIGENCE: A CIVILIZATION
Collective Intelligence: A Civilisation is a book by Pierre Lévy of the Département des sciences du loisir et de la communication sociale Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières in Canada. Pierre Lévy was born in Tunisia, has lived in France and is currently working as a professor at the University of Québec. He is a philosopher who has devoted his professional life to the understanding of the cultural, aesthetic and cognitive impacts of digital technologies and to promote their best social use. He has written a dozen books in French on this subject, which have been translated into more than ten languages. Two have been translated into English:Becoming Virtual: Reality in the Digital Age and Collective Intelligence: Mankind's Emerging World in Cyberspace. Cyberculture will also be available in English translation soon.
A review of Collective Intelligence is found in the online journal Crossings, an ejournal of Art and Technology. Colin Bell, who is a Ph.D. student at Trinity College, Dublin and Maître de Langue at Université de Lille III, has written this review. His current work focuses on postmodern aspects in the fiction of Georges Perec. The review begins under this heading: Towards a Method of Positive Interpretation. "I foretell the coming of one planetwide civilisation," writes Bell, "based on the practice of collective intelligence in cyberspace. However, before coming to the crux of the matter, I would first like to justify my methodology, which is not that of scientific prediction but rather of poetic imagination. To contrast prediction and imagination in this manner is not to imply that imagination equates with falsehood and illusion. On the contrary, I believe that imagination, and especially collective imagination, produces reality. In choosing imagination over prediction, I mean to underline the fact that the future has not yet been written and that we are probably much more free than we think.
We are responsible for the world which we create together through our thoughts, words and deeds. That is why I am convinced that it is much more constructive to use our own powers of perception and freedom of choice in a creative manner rather than denounce, judge and condemn the world as it is, that is to say, at the end of the day, others. Does this mean that we should abandon our critical faculties, our ability to differentiate? Of course not. Rather, every positive thought, word and deed subtly indicates the path which it has chosen not to take. The fact of indicating and then taking a certain path implies a ‘critique’ of those not taken. When we exercise our freedom, and our poetic freedom amongst other things, we necessarily evaluate the alternatives before making a choice. However, in doing this, creative imagination summons a world yet to come rather than reinforcing negative stereotypes, prolonging conflicts or entrenching differences. For more go to: http://crossings.tcd.ie/issues/1.1/Levy/
"International cooperation is in decline" writes George Soros, "both in the political and financial spheres." George Soros is Chairman of Soros Fund Management LLC and the Open Society Foundations. Soros(1930- ), is a Hungarian-born US business magnate, investor, and philanthropist. He is known as "The Man Who Broke the Bank of England" because of his short sale of US$10 billion worth of pounds, giving him a profit of $1 billion during the 1992 Black Wednesday UK currency crisis. Soros is one of the thirty richest people in the world. In The New York Review of Books(July 2015) he writes that: "The UN has failed to address any of the major conflicts since the end of the cold war; the 2009 Copenhagen Climate Change Conference left a sour aftertaste; the World Trade Organization hasn’t concluded a major trade round since 1994. The International Monetary Fund’s legitimacy is increasingly questioned because of its outdated governance; the G20, which emerged during the financial crisis of 2008, a potentially powerful instrument of international cooperation, seems to have lost its way. In all areas, national, sectarian, business, and other special interests take precedence over the common interest. This trend has now reached a point where instead of a global order we must speak of global disorder."
In the political sphere local conflicts fester, & multiply; taken individually these conflicts could possibly be solved; they tend to be interconnected, though, and the losers in one conflict tend to become the spoilers in others. For instance, the Syrian crisis deteriorated when Putin’s Russia and the Iranian government came to Bashar al-Assad’s rescue, each for its own reasons. Saudi Arabia provided the seed money for ISIS and Iran instigated the Houthi rebellion in Yemen to retaliate against Saudi Arabia. Bibi Netanyahu tried to turn the US Congress against the nuclear treaty the US was negotiating with Iran. There are just too many conflicts for international public opinion to exert a positive influence. For more of this article go to: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2015/jul/09/partnership-china-avoid-world-war/ If you like Soros, go to this link for a series of his essays: http://www.nybooks.com/contributors/george-soros/
THE ISLAMIC STATE: SOME COMMENTS
The London Review of Books on 15 July 2015 reviewed the following books: (i) From Deep State to Islamic State: The Arab Counter-Revolution and Its Jihadi Legacy by Jean-Pierre Filiu(Hurst, 350 pages); (ii) Syrian Notebooks: Inside the Homs Uprising by Jonathan Littell(Verso, 250 pages); (iii) The Rise of Islamic State: Isis and the New Sunni Revolution by Patrick Cockburn(Verso, 200 pages); (iv) Isis: Inside the Army of Terror by Michael Weiss and Hassan Hassan(Regan Arts, 300 pages). The review begins as follows: "Damascus was the seat of the Umayyad dynasty, established by a clan of the Prophet’s tribe to rule the first Islamic empire. Syria is where, in 1516, the absorption of the Arab world into the Ottoman Empire began, with the Ottoman victory in the battle of Marj Dabiq; where the nahda, the cultural renaissance of the Arab world, blossomed in the 19th century; where the unified Arab kingdom that the British promised the Hashemites, who led the 1916-18 Arab revolt against the Ottoman Empire, was to have its capital. It is where, in the aftermath of the Second World War, the most politically developed and socially radical version of the dream of Arab unity was conceived by the founders of the Arab Socialist Baath (‘resurrection’) Party. Syria is also the terminus of the Arab Spring." The review continues:
"The country today is in ruins: there are more than 200,000 dead, many thousands of them children, about four million refugees in Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, some seven million people internally displaced and many towns largely destroyed. The movement sparked by the Tunisian revolution has ended up consigning Egypt to a new phase of military dictatorship bleaker than any before and precipitating the descent into mayhem of Libya, Yemen and Syria. The most substantial beneficiary in the region of this turn of events practises the most zealously intolerant, retrograde, vindictively sectarian and brutal form of Islamist politics seen in our lifetimes. Islamic State – with its capital and organising centre in Raqqa in northern Syria – now exerts control over much of Syria and Iraq and is spreading its tentacles south to the Gulf states and west to North Africa. How is this dreadful turn of events to be understood?" For more go to: http://www.lrb.co.uk/v37/n14/hugh-roberts/the-hijackers ...For a useful overview of the Islamic State go to: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islamic_State_of_Iraq_and_the_Levant
DISAPPEARING FROM HISTORY
A.1 STEFAN ZWEIG'S TAKE ON THINGS
Of all the names that ring out from the annals of pre-WWI Viennese cafe society, that storied model for later bohemias, none is more elegiac than Stefan Zweig's. Hitler destroyed that world, but that Great War had already rung the curtain on its golden age. The greatest names and greatest achievements belong to the three decades surrounding the turn of the century: Mahler, Schnitzler, Klimt, Schiele, Freud. After the war, after the Austro-Hungarian Empire, whose tolerance and multinationalism made Vienna's cosmopolitan ferment possible, the mood is all of loss, whether nostalgic or disillusioned, Joseph Roth or Robert Musil. But if Roth and Musil come late, Zweig comes last.
He wasn't the youngest or the last to die, but he believed longest in the pan-European culture Vienna represented, and his career embodied the passing of that ideal. Zweig, the most popular author of his day, knew everyone who mattered in European culture, and he seems to have read every thing that mattered. His outpouring of biographical studies--books and essays not only on Mahler, Schnitzler, Roth and Freud but also on Erasmus and Montaigne, Goethe and Nietsche, Dickens and Dostoyevsky, and many, many others--can be understood as a mission, impelled by a growing sense of doom, to preserve European civilization and the humanistic values for which it stood. But though he escaped the camps, he couldn't escape the sense that everything he cared about was being exterminated. His death in 1942, in a Brazilian backwater, was a suicide. For more on the passing of everything fine in European culture before, during and after WWI go to Barbara Tuckman at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barbara_W._Tuchman and: http://www.thenation.com/article/dead-letters
A.2 BARBARA TUCHMAN
Tuchman's (i) A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century, (ii) The Guns of August, and (iii) The Proud Tower are all worth a read, and I leave Tuchman in the hands and the minds of readers with the interest. The last two books give a view of the decades of pre-WWI in the form of historical fiction at its best. Such is my view.
In the last months of my career as a full-time teacher in 1998/99 in Western Australia & the first months of my sea-change & retirement in Tasmania at the age of 55, Augusto Pinochet was back in the news. I had first come across his name and his activity in Chile while teaching high school in Whyalla South Australia in September 1973, the very month I was hired for a position as senior tutor in human relations at the then Tasmanian College of Advanced Education, now the university of Tasmania.
On both these occasions, in the 1970s and at the turn of the millennium, I was so occupied with my 60 hours a week job as a high school teacher and senior tutor, and then 25 years later as a post-secondary teacher as well as my role in the Baha’i community--another people-centred activity--that I did not really appreciate the details of the story connected with this Chilean dictator’s role in politics and contemporary history.
I won’t go into the details of Pinochet’s political role and his personal, military and notorious history in this prose-poem. Readers can easily find that out on the internet or in books should they be interested in the topic. But on watching the doco-drama, telemovie, Pinochet in Suburbia1 last night and on reading some background on his life and on the history of Chile, I came to form a considered opinion—not so much about Pinochet the man as about the importance of international law in the modern world.-Ron Price with thanks to 1SBS TV, “Pinochet in Suburbia,” 11:55-1:30 p.m. 6 June to 7 June 2010.
My world was a hot, intense landscape
in a dry-dog-biscuit of a town far down
at the bottom-end of the world where I
had come as a young man so long ago--
when I heard the name Pinochet---“was
he an Indian?” I thought to myself trying
as I was to survive after falling in holes in
my young adult-life…..I fell in a few more
before I heard that name in the closing years
of the mirabile dictu incredible century. He’d
been a busy man as I had been a busy man in
those years from 1973 to 1999 and he was a
busy man again in suburbia in the UK1 before
he disappeared from history bit by bit2 while I,
too, was disappearing from history, bit by bit,
taking up a life in cyberspace much safer and
protected from the slings & arrows of fortune.
1 Pinochet was placed under house arrest in Britain and was at the centre of a judicial and public relations battle, the latter run by Thatcherite political operative Patrick Robertson. He was eventually released in March 2000 on medical grounds by the Home Secretary Jack Straw without facing trial. Pinochet returned to Chile on 3 March 2000. The TV program, the telemovie, I watched tonight was centred on this house arrest.
2 On 25 November 2006, after I had given away all PT and casual-volunteer teaching and installed myself as a FT writer, editor and publisher with no name, no fame and no pay-cheque, Pinochet marked his 91st birthday by having his wife read a statement written by him. Read to his admirers it stated in part: "I assume the political responsibility of all that has been done." Two days later, he was again placed under house arrest for the kidnapping and murder of two bodyguards of the then President Salvador Allende who were arrested the day of the 1973 coup d’etat and executed by a firing squad during what was called the Caravan of Death episode. Pinochet died a few days later on 10 December 2006 without having been convicted of any of the many serious crimes of which he was accused.
Note: This is draft #3 and, perhaps, the final edition of this prose-poem.
7/6/'10 to 25/5/'14.
DIVIDING HISTORY INTO DECADES: DECADITIS
When did decaditis first strike? When did people begin to think that slicing the past up into periods of ten years was a useful thing to do? Historians used to deal in reigns and centuries, and it had long been agreed that these might have their own distinctive flavour, including the one that you happened to be living in. Tennyson, for example, in 1846 referred, ironically, to ‘a noble 19th-centuryism’. But, as far as I can see, the 1890s was the first tenner to be identified, and quite quickly identified, as having its own inimitable aroma. Eddie Marsh, writing of Rupert Brooke in 1918, says ‘he entertained a culte for the literature that is now called “ninetyish” – Pater, Wilde and Dowson.’ This is the opening paragraph in the London Review of Books(Vol. 28, No. 22 ,16 November 2006) of Ferdinand Mount's review of Peter Hennessy's book Having It So Good: Britain in the Fifties(Allen Lane, 750 pages, 2006).
Writing a political or cultural history of a decade is a much more recent endeavour, and a much odder one. There is the obvious objection that significant trends are unlikely to fit neatly within such compartments, the longer durée spilling over at both ends. The itch to dig up single spadefuls of the recent past seems somehow fidgety. Choosing to cover such short stretches at a time naturally leads you to insist on how distinct your chosen decade is from the one before and the one after – or else why write about it in isolation? And behind this there presumably lurks the desire to puff up the times we have lived through, to present them as a uniquely thrilling rollercoaster, in which the ups and downs, the changes of pace and direction, make our own lives more amazing than those of previous generations. There is in decaditis a hint of nervous insecurity. For more on this review go to:http://www.lrb.co.uk/v28/n22/ferdinand-mount/the-doctrine-of-unripe-time
CLIVE JAMES'S TAKE ON THE 20TH CENTURY
Why is Anna Akhmatova's legacy important? What was shameful about Jorge Luis Borges' career? These are the kinds of questions esteemed critic Clive James poses and answers in his new book,Cultural Amnesia, a compendium of the intellectuals, artists, and thinkers who shaped the 20th century. Taken together, the essays—presented in an A-to-Z format—offer a compelling alternative history of the last century and of the struggles of liberal humanism against totalitarianism. This 876-page breeze-block of a book, contains alphabetically arranged essays on 106 cultural figures, including Gianfranco Contini, Egon Friedell, Ricarda Huch, Alexandra Kollontai - and many, many more of your favourites. Don't be put off by these names of people you have not heard of. Eleven of these 106, about Tacitus, Hegel, Montesquieu and Heine, among others, belong to the past. But the bulk of the book is devoted to the figures of the twentieth century.
You'll also find pieces on Louis Armstrong, WC Fields, Terry Gilliam and Adolf Hitler. I think you'll have heard of one or two of them. This book, says James in his introduction, has been 40 years in the making - that is, from when he became well-off enough not to have to sell books in order to eat, and could make notes in the margins instead. As he reminds us, this is how Montaigne's essays started. And Montaigne's essays themselves, we may recall, can enter areas not immediately suggested by their titles. There is a theme to the book behind all the names and the many things you will know nothing about. The theme is about knowledge for its own sake, the love of it; his respect for culture, and the humanist struggle against totalitarianism, anti-thought and oblivion. It is also about Clive James's own struggle against these things.
Subtitled Notes in the Margin of My Time, Clive James's Cultural Amnesia is his 15th published collection of criticism. This is one more than the 14 titles listed under other categories, such as autobiography and verse. Among his published works, Cultural Amnesia is a behemoth. Able to read a bit in Spanish, German, French, Italian and Russian, James is an ideal guide to his cast of cultural heroes and villains, who are as diverse as Coco Chanel, Adolf Hitler, Tacitus and Ludwig Wittgenstein. "Cultural Amnesia," with its encyclopedic length and organization and the intense jostle of its ideas, is not to be read at a sitting. It is to be dipped into over weeks and months. If the dipper occasionally brings up exasperation, it brings up astonished delight far more often; and, best of all, exasperated astonished delight.
Despite his remarkable erudition, he is never snooty or obscure and is easy on the reader, getting quickly to the point. Once there, he may sometimes linger too long. That may be inevitable with a book of this size from an author who is so prolific. But almost invariably he retrieves the objects he is juggling, with a telling anecdote or brilliant quote. Polymath, television interviewer and producer, and above all--with the faintest necessary touch of the Yahoo--one of the most ingeniously stimulating literary critics now writing in English. Slate published an exclusive selection of these essays at: http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/clives_lives/2007/02/cultural_amnesia.html
HISTORY OF THE BRITISH EMPIRE
The Oxford History of the British Empire in 5 volumes was published back in 2001. The editor-in-chief was William Louis. William Roger Louis(1936- ) is a distinguished historian at the University of Texas at Austin. He is also the former President of the American Historical Association, the former Chairman of the Department of State Historical Advisory Committee, and the Founding Director of the American Historical Association's National History Center in Washington, D.C. Louis took his B.A. at the University of Oklahoma, M.A. at Harvard University, and D.Phil at Oxford University. For more on Louis go to:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Roger_Louis
This new history of the British Empire might be expected to concern itself with such issues as the construction of military dictatorship through the imposition of martial law; the violent seizure and settlement of land; the genocidal destruction of indigenous peoples, their culture and environment; the establishment of what is now called ‘institutional racism’; and the continuing coercion and induced movement of labour. But this new Oxford History of the British Empire presents a more up-beat version typical of the age of Imperial sunset. An attempt to construct a positive memorial to Empire, these volumes engage only spasmodically with the ‘post-colonial’ debates of the last twenty years, debates which really got going as I was finishing my 50 year student-and-working life in the 1990s. For a review of these 5 volumes go to:http://www.lrb.co.uk/v24/n08/richard-gott/shoot-them-to-be-sure
WAR ON TERROR
The war on terror is different than the Gulf War was, in the sense that it may never end. At least, not in our lifetime.—Former vice president Dick Cheney, quoted in Washington Post, October 21, 2001
The online electronic journal, American Quarterly, explores the continuing centrality of visual culture to the war on terror in its March 2013 issue. As the war on terror creeps through its second decade, the war is both omnipresent & routinely hidden from view. From its initial articulation by the Bush administration in the days after September 11, 2001, to its current incarnation, rebranded the “Oversees Contingency Operation” by the Obama administration, the war on terror has been mediated through an overwhelming array of visual forms & media including: photography and sculpture, painting and film, television and advertisements, cartoons and graphic novels, video games and the Internet. At the same time, as a “different” kind of conflict, much of the war on terror is conducted covertly and remains, like an end to the war, out of sight.
Visibility and invisibility are deeply intertwined in the war on terror, and as such, the study of visual cultures offers a critical vantage point from which to understand what is seen and what remains unseen in this war. Each year brings new events, cultural productions, and images that highlight the relevance of visual culture to the war on terror, and the months in which this forum took shape were no exception. On September 11, 2012, the US mission in Benghazi, Libya, was attacked, and, in the following days, several US embassies in other countries were the sites of protests. Much of the US media coverage of Benghazi & the concurrent protests focused on a low-budget, anti-Islamic film, Innocence of Muslims, and the supposed failure of “Arab Spring” nations to understand the importance of freedom of speech. While Innocence of Muslims did prompt outrage, the media framing of the subsequent protests foregrounded the film’s bizarre production history to the exclusion of a more thorough analysis of how and why the film might have tapped into more specific and historically grounded grievances with US foreign policy. For more on: (a) this topic, and (b) a series of essays in relation to American history and contemporary culture, go to the American Quarterly, Volume 65, Number 1, March 2013 and Matt Delmont's essay "Visual Culture and the War on Terror" at: http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/american_quarterly/toc/aq.65.1.html
Fernand Braudel(1902-1985) was a French historian and a leader of the Annales School. His scholarship focused on three main projects: The Mediterranean (1923–49, then 1949–66), Civilization and Capitalism (1955–79), and the unfinished Identity of France (1970–85). His reputation stems in part from his writings, but even more from his success in making the Annales School the most important engine of historical research in France and much of the world after 1950. As the dominant leader of the Annales School of historiography in the 1950s and 1960s, he exerted enormous influence on historical writing in France and other countries.
The Annales School is a group of historians associated with a style of historiography developed by French historians in the 20th century to stress long-term social history. It is named after its scholarly journal Annales d'histoire économique et sociale, which remains the main source of scholarship, along with many books and monographs. The school has been highly influential in setting the agenda for historiography in France and numerous other countries, especially regarding the use of social scientific methods by historians, emphasizing social rather than political or diplomatic themes, and for being generally hostile to the class analysis of Marxist historiography. For more on this school, this group of historians, go to:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Annales_School
For a review of The Annales School: An Intellectual History by André Burguière(Cornell, 300 pages, 2009) in the London Review of Books(V. 31, N. 23, 3 December 2009) go to: http://www.lrb.co.uk/v31/n23/richard-j-evans/cite-ourselves Among the most exciting of the many approaches, exciting at least to me, was that of the school of French historians associated with the journal Annales: Economies, sociétés, civilisations. What made their work exciting was, first of all, the sense they conveyed that nothing was off-limits for the historian, no aspect of life too obscure: everything, from birth, death & disease to time, space & distance, from fear, hatred & anxiety to faith, fanaticism and delusion, was open to historical investigation.
The most renowned historian of his time, Fernand Braudel owed his international reputation, as I indicated above, to the two great volumes on the Mediterranean in the age of Philip II which he published in 1949, and to his trilogy on the material civilisation of world capitalism, which appeared between 1967 and 1979. For more on Braudel go to:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fernand_Braudel
For more on capitalism readers can access this useful u-tube item: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dIuaW9YWqEU&feature=em-subs_digest For a general overview of capitalism as an economic system and a mode of production in which trade, industries, and the means of production are largely or entirely privately owned go to: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capitalism Private firms and proprietorships usually operate in order to generate profit, but may operate as private non-profit organizations. Central characteristics of capitalism include private property, capital accumulation, wage labour and, in some situations, fully competitive markets. In a capitalist economy, the parties to a transaction typically determine the prices at which they exchange assets, goods, and services.
SCHOOLS OF HISTORY
As a teacher or tutor, lecturer or student of history during the years 1955 to 2015, some sixty years, I became increasingly aware of the explosion that was, and still is, taking place in the study of history. There are many Schools of History each reflecting different historiographical approaches to the subject. There were so many approaches to history that would or could enable me to do something different from my teachers’ generation, the generation that was teaching in the 1950s and 1960s. If all I did was study history, I might have had a chance of getting my head around these many approaches. But I was a generalist as both a student and as a teacher. This website reflects the diverse fields of the social sciences and humanities, as well as the physical, biological and applied sciences, that have occupied my interest in the decades that have been my lifespan.
There were, and are, Schools of History based on differing philosophies: (i) the Annales School, (ii) Marxist historiography, and (iii) Whig history. There are Schools focusing on history through another discipline: (a) the historical school of economics, & (b) the German historical-legal school. There is also Historicism, a mode of thinking that assigns a central and basic significance to a specific context such as: a historical period, a geographical place or a local culture.
Then there is Historiography itself which refers to both the study of the methodology of historians and the development of history as a discipline. Historiography also refers to a body of historical work on a particular subject. The historiography of a specific topic covers how historians have studied that topic using particular sources, techniques, and theoretical approaches. Go to this link for more on historiography: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Historiography
Of the several Schools of History that came under my purview, there were the relative attractions of British Marxist historians like Eric Hobsbawm, Christopher Hill and E.P. Thompson; German neo-Weberians such as Hans-Ulrich Wehler and Jürgen Kocka; American students of social inequality like Stephan Thernstrom; advocates of a social-anthropological approach such as Keith Thomas; partisans of a politically committed history of everyday life like Raphael Samuel and the History Workshop, and many more besides. The world of history has seemed to me, for many a long year, to be not just expanding but exploding, into areas undreamed of by the political and diplomatic historians on whose work I had been exposed to, however briefly,m in the 1950s and 1960s.
World history, global history or transnational history, which is not to be confused with diplomatic or international history, is a field of historical study that emerged as a distinct academic field in the 1980s. It examines history from a global perspective. It is not to be confused with comparative history, which, like world history, deals with the history of multiple cultures and nations, but does not do so on a global scale. World history looks for common patterns that emerge across all cultures. World historians use a thematic approach, with two major focal points: (i) integration, that is, how processes of world history have drawn people of the world together; and (ii) and difference, that is, how patterns of world history reveal the diversity of the human experience. For an example of global history go to the London Review of Books(Vol. 35 No. 18, 26 September 2013) and a review of The French Revolution in Global Perspective edited by Suzanne Desan, Lynn Huntand William Max Nelson(Cornell, 250 pages, 2013) go to:
http://www.lrb.co.uk/v35/n18/linda-colley/wide-angled For more on the field of global history go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_history
THE 20TH CENTURY
"What was the most significant year of the 20th century?" David Runciman asks in his review of Buy Strange Rebels: 1979 and the Birth of the 21st Century by Christian Caryl(Basic, 407 pages) "There are three plausible candidates," answers Runciman in the opening line of his essay, Counter-Counter-Revolution, in the London Review of Books, 26/9/'13. The first is 1917, the year of the Russian Revolution and America’s entry into the First World War, which set in train a century of superpower conflict. The second is 1918, the year that saw Russia’s exit from the war and the defeat of the German and Austro-Hungarian Empires, which set the stage for the triumph of democracy. The third is 1919, the year of the Weimar constitution and the Paris Peace Conference, which ensured that the triumph would be squandered. What this means is that it was the dénouement of the First World War that changed everything: a messy, sprawling, disorderly event that spilled out across all attempts to contain it. Its momentous qualities cannot be made to fit into the timeframe defined by a single year. History rarely can.
David Walter Runciman(1967-) is a British political scientist who teaches political theory at Cambridge University. Runciman has worked as a columnist for The Guardian newspaper and written for many other publications. He currently writes about politics for the London Review of Books. His monograph The Politics of Good Intentions was adapted in part from his LRB articles. His most recent book, Political Hypocrisy (2008), explores the political uses of hypocrisy from a historical perspective. For more on Runciman go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Runciman
It is the very complexity of history, says Runciman, that is the problem with Christian Caryl’s fascinating and frustrating book. No single year can be identified as the most significant of the century. Such an idea is far too simplistic. However momentous the year 1979 was it cannot be considered as giving birth, as Caryl says it did, to the 21st century. Caryl builds his case around five overlapping stories, four about individuals and one about a country. The people are Thatcher, Deng Xiaoping, Ayatollah Khomeini and Pope John Paul II. The place is Afghanistan. The year 1979 mattered to all of them, and that is why Caryl selects 1979 as the big year of the 20th century.
It was the year Thatcher won her first general election. The year Deng embarked on the economic reforms that would transform China. The year the Iranian Revolution swept Khomeini to power. The year the new pope visited his Polish homeland, sparking vast public outpourings of support in defiance of the communist regime. The year Afghanistan was invaded by the Soviets. These were all momentous events. Caryl weaves them together into a single narrative that tags 1979 as the year that the myth of 20th-century secular progress started to unravel. What joins the different bits of the story together is that each one represents the revenge of two forces that the 20th century was supposed to have seen off, or at least got under control: markets and religion. For more of this review go to:http://www.lrb.co.uk/v35/n18/david-runciman/counter-counter-revolution
E H Carr belonged to the British establishment. He was a classical scholar at Trinity College, Cambridge, an official in the Foreign Office from 1916 to 1936, and a leader writer on The Times in the 1940s. After the Second World War he devoted 30 years of his life to a massive and scholarly History of Soviet Russia Since the Revolution in 14 volumes. He was a public figure during a large part of the 20th century & exercised considerable influence through his books, journalism and radio talks. His powerful & original analysis of international relations between the two world wars, The Twenty Years Crisis (1939), became a classic, and his published lectures on What is History? (1961) stimulated a large audience, selling nearly a quarter of a million copies. I came across this latter work of Carr's in my second year of university, 1964-5, while majoring in history and philosophy.
Three years after E.H. Carr’s death in 1982, Mikhail Gorbachev began the process which led to the collapse of the Soviet Union and Soviet Communism, a development which at first sight renders Carr’s life’s work not only irrelevant but absurd, based as it was on a profound admiration for Soviet achievements. The charge of having grossly misread the nature of the Soviet system is likely to dog him in death, just as in his lifetime he could never wholly shake off that of having advocated the appeasement of Nazi Germany. What’s more, as the Soviet archives are gradually opened, they are likely to make his history of Soviet Russia seem totally obsolete. For a review of The Vices of Integrity: E.H.Carr 1892-1928 by Jonathan Haslam, and "what E.H. Carr got right" go to: http://www.lrb.co.uk/v22/n16/anatol-lieven/british-chill
From within the establishment Carr was a persistent critic of the conventional thinking, assumptions & prejudices of the ruling class. He operated on the fringes of Marxism and socialism. For more on Carr go to this link at: http://pubs.socialistreviewindex.org.uk/isj90/manning.htm Readers will find issue 90 of the International Socialism Journal, 2001, and Brian Manning's essay "History & Socialism" which is a review of Jonathan Haslam's The Vices of Integrity: E H Carr, 1892-1982. This link is also useful: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E._H._Carr
TWO MARXIST HISTORIANS
Eric John Ernest Hobsbawm(1917-2012) was a British Marxist historian of the rise of industrial capitalism, socialism, and nationalism. His best-known works include his trilogy about the long 19th century, (i) The Age of Revolution: Europe 1789–1848,(ii) The Age of Capital: 1848–1875, & (iii) The Age of Empire: 1875–1914. The Age of Extremes on the short 20th century, and an edited volume which introduced the influential idea of "invented traditions" were his final two books.
Hobsbawm was born in Egypt but spent his childhood mostly in Vienna and Berlin. Following the death of his parents and the rise to power of Adolf Hitler, Hobsbawm moved to London with his adoptive family, then obtained his PhD in history at the University of Cambridge before serving in the Second World War. In 1998 he was appointed to the Order of the Companions of Honour, a UK national honour bestowed for outstanding achievement in the arts, literature, music, science, politics, industry or religion. He was President of Birkbeck, University of London from 2002 until his death. In 2003 he received the Balzan Prize for European History since 1900 "for his brilliant analysis of the troubled history of twentieth-century Europe and for his ability to combine in-depth historical research with great literary talent."
Eric Hobsbawm remains broadly committed to the Marxist camp. This is a fact worth mentioning, as it would be easy to read How to Change the World: Marx and Marxism 1840-2011 by Eric Hobsbawm(Little, Brown, 500 pages, January 2011), without realising it. This is because of this book's judiciousness, not its shiftiness. Its author has lived through so much of the political turbulence he portrays that it is easy to fantasise that History itself is speaking here, in its wry, all-seeing, dispassionate wisdom. It is hard to think of a critic of Marxism who can address his or her own beliefs with such honesty and equipoise. For a review of this book in the London Review of Books(Vol. 33 No. 5 · 3 March 2011) by Terry Eagleton go to: http://www.lrb.co.uk/v33/n05/terry-eagleton/indomitable For more on Hobsbawm go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eric_Hobsbawm
Terry Eagleton(1943- ) is a prominent British literary theorist, critic and public intellectual. He is currently Distinguished Professor of English Literature at Lancaster University, Professor of Cultural Theory at the National University of Ireland and Distinguished Visiting Professor of English Literature at The University of Notre Dame. Eagleton has published over forty books, but remains best known for Literary Theory: An Introduction (1983), which has sold over 750,000 copies. The work elucidated the emerging literary theory of the period. He has also been a prominent critic of postmodernism, publishing works such as The Illusions of Postmodernism (1996).
Edward Palmer "E. P." Thompson(1924-1993) was a British historian, writer, socialist and peace campaigner. He is probably best known today for his historical work on the British radical movements in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, in particular The Making of the English Working Class (1963). He also published influential biographies of William Morris (1955) and (posthumously) William Blake (1993). He was a prolific journalist and essayist. He also published the novel The Sykaos Papers and a collection of poetry. Although he left the Communist party in 1956 over the Soviet invasion of Hungary, he nevertheless remained a "historian in the Marxist tradition," calling for a rebellion against Stalinism as a prerequisite for the restoration of communists' "confidence in our own revolutionary perspectives". For more on this historian go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E._P._Thompson
HISTORY OF MARXISM
More than 30 years ago the following review appeared in the March 1982 edition of the London Review of Books. It was a review of these books: (i) Marx’s Politics by Alan Gilbert(Martin Robertson, 325 pages, 1981); (ii) The History of Marxism. Vol. 1: Marxism in Marx’s Day edited by Eric Hobsbawm(Harvester, 350 pages, 1982); (iii) Dialectic of Defeat: Contours of Western Marxism by Russell Jacoby(Cambridge, 200 pages, 1982); (iv) Analytical Foundations of Marxian Economic Theory by John Roemer(Cambridge, 230 pages, 1981); and (v) Karl Marx: The Arguments of the Philosophers by Allen Wood(Routledge, 300 pages, 1981). The review begins: Up to a fairly recent time it was the case that all good books on Marx were hostile, or at most neutral. Correlatively, all the books that espoused Marx’s views did so in a way that could only dissuade the reader who approached Marx with the same canons of scholarship and argument that he would apply to any other writer. What is called for is a blend of charity and scepticism. When choosing between interpretations of equal textual plausibility, priority should be given to the reading that makes best substantive sense or fits best with what Marx writes elsewhere.
Yet charity stops here, for once one has arrived at an idea of what Marx was trying to say, his views should be evaluated according to the usual criteria of consistency, fertility and veracity. To extend charity from interpretation to evaluation was, & still largely is, a pervasive defect in writings on Marx by Marxists. It has led to Ptolemaic Marxism of various kinds, embodied in such phrases as ‘determination in the long run’, ‘relative autonomy’, ‘tendential laws’ and the like. To withhold charity even from interpretation has, of course, been the symmetric error of anti-Marxist writings, often perpetrated by ex-Marxist writers such as Karl Wittfogel. For a more recent overview and analysis in The Guardian on 22/3/'11 of Hobsbawm's: Marx How to Change the World: Tales of Marx and Marxism go to:http://www.theguardian.com/books/2011/jan/22/change-world-marx-eric-hobsbawm-review For more go to:http://www.lrb.co.uk/v04/n05/jon-elster/marxismo
STALIN and HITLER
On 26/9/'91 in the London Review of Books "Schools of History" by Walter Laqueur reviews the following two books: Hitler and Stalin: Parallel Lives by Alan Bullock(Harper Collins, 1200 pages, 1991), and Stalin: Breaker of Nations by Robert Conquest(Weidenfeld, 350 pages, 1991). Laqueur begins: ‘About Hitler I can’t think of anything to say,’ thus Karl Kraus in a famous aside in 1935. But a great deal has been said about him ever since and no one has been better at saying it than Alan Bullock. His Hitler: A Study in Tyranny, published in 1952, is still the best biography, and one of the best books on the Nazi phenomenon in general. Only a very few other works come to mind which are in the same league: Konrad Heiden’s history of the Nazi Party and his Hitler biography – but they appeared in 1932 and 1936 respectively – and Joachim Fest’s fine work of 1972." For more go to: http://www.lrb.co.uk/v13/n18/walter-laqueur/schools-of-history For an analysis of Tacitus's work on the Germania, the German tribes during the Roman Empire, and of Mein Kampf, as part of the ideological base of Naziism, I leave that to readers with the interest.
For a review entitled "The Cleverness of Joseph Stalin" by Richard Pipes in The New York Review of Books(20/11/'14) go to this link: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2014/nov/20/cleverness-joseph-stalin/?insrc=toc The book under review is: Stalin: Volume I: Paradoxes of Power, 1878–1928 by Stephen Kotkin(Penguin, 950 pages) The review begins: :Joseph Stalin, for a quarter-century undisputed master of the Soviet Union and its postwar satellites, was one of the leading mass murderers of the murderous twentieth century. So much so that Hitler, Stalin’s competitor in this field, came greatly to admire him. In some of his “table talks,” held in the circle of intimate associates while German troops were ravaging the Soviet Union, Hitler called him a genius and a tiger.”
For another review in the online journal Marxist Update(31/10/'14) go to this link: http://marxistupdate.blogspot.com.au/2014/10/pipes-nyr-review-of-kotkins-stalin-bio_31.html The following is from that review: "There was nothing in Stalin's background to have anticipated that he would wield such monstrous power. He came into the world in the Georgian province of the Russian Empire, the child of a cobbler & a washerwoman, both of whom had been born serfs. His actual year of birth was 1878; in 1922 he decided to rejuvenate himself & proclaimed his birthdate to have been 21/12/'79. Henceforth, as long as he was alive, his birthday was celebrated on that day throughout the Soviet Union. His alleged fiftieth birthday in 1929 was a national holiday."
There is now a vast literature on both Hitler and Stalin, on the Nazi period and the reign of Stalin. A recent book of interest to Nazi enthusiasts is: KL: A History of the Nazi Concentration Camps by Nikolaus Wachsmann(Little Brown, 900 pages, 2015). Thomas Laqueur has written a review in the London Review of Books(24/10/'15) Laqueur is a professor of history at the University of California. His new book The Work of the Dead: A Cultural History of Mortal Remains comes out next month. Laqueur writes:
‘May the world at least behold a drop, a fraction of this tragic world in which we lived,’ Salmen Gradowski wrote in a letter dated 6 September 1944, which he buried in a flask found near the crematoria of Auschwitz-Birkenau after its liberation. His words supply the epigram for Nikolaus Wachsmann’s history of the concentration camps, KL – the Nazi abbreviation of Konzentrationslager. Wachsmann’s book is a world-making history: from the close observations of individual lives and moments, and of historical forces great and small, his subject emerges. It is no ordinary world. ‘There are times when history is let off the leash,’ the Polish academic Jan Kott remembered one of his teachers saying of the war years. Wachsmann understands this. For more go to: http://www.lrb.co.uk/v37/n18/thomas-laqueur/devoted-to-terror
NOT ANOTHER BRITISH HISTORIAN!!
Ten years after the death of Hugh Trevor-Roper(1914-2003) his reputation is still a cauldron of discord. He would have enjoyed that. Steaming in the mix are the resentments of those he expertly wounded, the awe of colleagues at the breadth and depth of his learning, dismay at his serial failures to complete a full-length work of history, delight in the Gibbonian wit and elegance of his writing and – still a major ingredient – Schadenfreude over his awful humiliation in the matter of the Hitler diaries. I leave it to readers with the interest to look-up the meaning of 'schadenfreude.'
In his lifetime, nobody was sure how to take this modern historian. Those who supposed they had his measure soon found that they were wrong. As the Cambridge historian Michael Postan put it, 'many thought him to be a Tory and, over the years, they came to realise that he was a Whig.’ Mrs Thatcher imagined that the scholar who had written The Last Days of Hitler would share her hostility to a reunified Germany. But at an infamous Chequers meeting on Germany in 1990, Trevor-Roper faced her down and tore her arguments to pieces.
Trevor-Roper was known for his lively intellectual controversies with fellow historians. You might like to read about Adam Sisman who wrote this biography of Trevor-Roper, Sisman also wrote the enthralling and award-winning “Boswell’s Presumptuous Task: The Making of the Life of Dr. Johnson.” There, Sisman revealed how a priapic, feckless and often drunk Scotsman created the single greatest biography of all time. Sisman writes with a liveliness and authority about one of the most gifted, beguiling and controversial scholars of the 20th century. For an interview with Sisman go to:http://wwword.com/1601/think/miscellany/being-a-biographer/
Trevor-Roper's most commercially successful book emerged from his assignment as a British intelligence officer in 1945 to discover what happened in the last days of Hitler's bunker. For more on this historian go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hugh_Trevor-Roper For more of this review of Adam Sisman's 600 page biography of Hugh Trevor-Roper published in 2010 go to:http://www.lrb.co.uk/v32/n16/neal-ascherson/liquidator
PRIVACY: A MODERN DEVELOPMENT
At the turn of the twentieth century, when my parents were both children, and my grandparents were young adults, the private enclosures of modern individualism, that is, people's houses, had become increasingly enriched. This enrichment was at the expense of the public and it demanded legal protection from the public. It was only in 1890, with Louis Brandeis and Samuel Warren’s Harvard Law Review article entitled “The Right to Privacy,” that a principle of privacy was legally established to regulate and discipline traffic around, into, and through private spheres. In his extremely informative historical review of the right to privacy, William L. Prosser explains that Brandeis and Warren’s article did not have an immediate effect upon the American legal, economic, and cultural landscapes: “For the next thirty years there was a continued dispute as to whether the right of privacy existed at all.”
Prosser’s point is worth reiterating, because it illustrates that the dimensions of the private sphere of individualism were highly ambiguous and that the private’s relationship to the legal constitution of individual subjects was up for heated academic and popular debate across various legal, social, and cultural institutions from the late 1890s through the 1930s. During this time, in other words, privacy was becoming constitutive of personhood. The idea of privacy emerged primarily in response to technologies of publicity —to protect individuals from invasions by “the too enterprising press, the photographer, or the possessor of any other modern device for recording or reproducing scenes or sounds” (Brandeis and Warren, p 206). It was a defensive principle designed to provide refuge from the modern world and its “unseemly gossip”.
Over the course of at least two or three centuries, intense dialogue and debate over the creation and definition of private property can be found with respect to copyright laws and practices. The author of this essay is concerned with the private property that becomes synonymous with personhood in the early twentieth century. The larger story in this essay concerns the commodification of privacy, made possible by new technologies such as the camera. It is not a unidirectional movement from the public into the private. The private, in many cases, makes itself available for public consumption. Roland Barthes says it best in the following passage: “The age of photography corresponds precisely to the explosion of the private into the public . . . or rather into the creation of a new social value, which is the publicity of the private: the private is consumed as such, publicly.” For more on the historical development of privacy in modern history go to Jessica Blaustein's essay "Counterprivates: An Appeal to Rethink Suburban Interiority," at the Website of the Iowa Journal of Cultural Studies, 2003, at: http://www.uiowa.edu/~ijcs/suburbia/blaustein.htm
OH WHAT A LOVELY WAR
"Oh, What a Lovely War! is a review by Charles Simic of Ian Buruma's book Year Zero: A History of 1945. “How empty, how sickish, how senseless everything suddenly seems the moment the war is over!” Edmund Wilson—who had opposed US involvement in World War II—said after a visit to England in 1945. If London looked grim, the appearance of Berlin, Cologne, Warsaw, Stalingrad, Tokyo, Hiroshima, and hundreds of other places, both in Europe and Asia, defied description. Just in Germany, where British planes attacked by night and American planes by day, the Allies dropped nearly two million tons of bombs, leaving cities and towns reduced to smoldering ruins reeking of death. There were 31.1 cubic meters of rubble for every person in Cologne and 42.8 cubic meters for every inhabitant of Dresden. “The first thing,” Ian Buruma writes in Year Zero: A History of 1945, “that struck many visitors in the early months after the war was the eerie silence.” I was less than one year old when 1945 opened and the war ended in May.
The buildings that remained standing often had some of their floors caved in and their windows blown out from the explosions. There were no more sidewalks since piles of debris lay where houses once stood. The survivors searched through the ruins for anyone still alive and for something to eat. At night, because electricity and gas no longer worked, people groped about with flashlights and candles, sticking to the middle of the street to avoid collapsing walls, leaking water pipes, and the twisted wreckage of civilian and military vehicles. Of course, I saw none of this from my home on the beach strip in Hamilton Ontario. I was still in the cradle and the baby carriage.
When the German officers were signing their surrender on May 8, 1945, Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel told the Russians that he was horrified by the extent of the destruction wrought on Berlin, whereupon a Russian officer asked Keitel whether he had been equally horrified when on his orders thousands of Soviet villages and towns were obliterated & millions of people, including many children, were buried under the ruins. Keitel shrugged his shoulders and said nothing. My parents had just met during WW2; they, too, were far removed from the killing fields. They read about the war and listened to the news on radios which had been part of popular culture in Canada for two decades by then.
The numbers of dead in German cities were staggering, but they were equally ghastly elsewhere. Some 43,000 died in London during the Blitz, 100,000 in Tokyo in 1945, and over 200,000 perished in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. “I’ve lost everything. Everything!” people were heard to say. Many of them had lost not only their possessions but also their families, their homes, and their countries. With anywhere from 50 million to 70 million dead in World War II, a great majority of them civilians, the scale of human misery was so vast and so widespread that comparisons are useless and misleading, since rounded-off figures, which are often nothing more than educated guesses, convey the horror on an abstract level, while concealing the fates of individual human beings. A number like 50,000,001 would be far more terrifying to see, since that one additional man, woman, or child would restore reality to the 50 million others. In many ways the war had not really ended. WWI was followed by WW2 and this was followed by what Henry Miller described in 1941 as follows: "a war far more terrible than the destruction" of the first two wars, the first two phases, with fires that "will rage until the very foundations of this present world crumble."
RUSSIA AND PUTIN
For twenty years now, the Western politicians, journalists, businessmen, & academics who observe & describe the post-Soviet evolution of Russia have almost all followed the same narrative. We begin with the assumption that the Soviet Union ended in 1991, when Mikhail Gorbachev handed over power to Boris Yeltsin and Russia, Ukraine, and the rest of the Soviet republics became independent states. We continue with an account of the early 1990s, an era of “reform,” when some Russian leaders tried to create a democratic political system and a liberal capitalist economy.
We follow the trials and tribulations of the reformers, analyze the attempts at privatization, discuss the ebb and flow of political parties and the growth and decline of an independent media. For more of this review of Putin’s Kleptocracy: Who Owns Russia? by Karen Dawisha(Simon and Schuster, 450 pages, 2014) in The New York Review of Books on 18/12/'14 by Anne Applebaum entitled "How He and His Cronies Stole Russia" go to: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2014/dec/18/how-he-and-his-cronies-stole-russia/?insrc=toc
THE GREAT CHINESE FAMINE
The Xinyang Incident is the subject of the first chapter of Tombstone: The Great Chinese Famine, 1958–1962. This is the Chinese journalist Yang Jisheng’s epic account of the worst famine in history. Yang conservatively estimates that 36 million people died of unnatural causes, mostly due to starvation, but also government-instigated torture and murder of those who opposed the Communist Party’s maniacal economic plans that caused the catastrophe. Its epicenter was Xinyang County where one in eight people died from the famine. The sixty pages Yang spends on Xinyang are a tour de force, a brutal vignette of people dying at the sides of roads, family members eating one another to survive, police blocking refugees from leaving villages, and desperate pleas ignored by Mao Zedong and his spineless courtiers.
It is a chapter that describes a society laid so low that the famine’s effects are still felt half a century later. For more of this incredible, just about unbelieveable, story go to this link for a review of several books about this event which took place in the years I was in high school, and the first years I was a Baha'i: 1959 to 1962 when I began my travelling and pioneering for the Canadian Baha'i community. http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2012/nov/22/china-worse-you-ever-imagined/?
NIALL FERGUSON'S VIEW OF THIS GREAT DIVERGENCE
The Scottish historian Niall Ferguson(1964- ) who works in the fields of international history, economic history, American and British imperial history, and whose influences include: Thomas Hobbes, Norman Stone, A. J. P. Taylor, Kenneth Clark, Adam Smith, Karl Marx, John Maynard Keynes, David Landes---has as his speciality: financial and economic history, particularly hyperinflation and the bond markets, as well as the history of colonialism. He is the Laurence A. Tisch Professor of History at Harvard University. In 2011 he published his Civilization: The West and the Rest examining what Ferguson calls the most "interesting question" of our day: "Why, beginning around 1500, did a few small polities on the western end of the Eurasian landmass come to dominate the rest of the world?" He attributed this divergence to the West's development of six "killer apps" largely missing elsewhere in the world: "competition, science, democracy, medicine, consumerism and the work ethic".
A related documentary Civilization: Is the West History? was broadcast as a six part series on Channel 4 in March and April 2011 and in Australia in 2012. He has done a number of historical docos with a contemporary emphasis. In 2004, he was named as one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time magazine. Since 2011, he has been a contributing editor for Bloomberg Television, and a columnist for Newsweek. In 2012 he began working on the official biography of Henry Kissinger to whom he has been granted unprecedented access. For more on Ferguson go to these two links: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Niall_Ferguson, and: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Niall_Ferguson#Civilization
MORE ON NIALL FERGUSON
In the London Review of Books(Vol. 33 No. 21, November 2011), Pankaj Mishra has written "Watch This Man" a review of Civilisation: The West and the Rest by Niall Ferguson(Allen Lane, 400 pages, 2011). Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World (2003), Ferguson’s previous book, appeared in America with a more didactic subtitle: ‘The Rise and Demise of the British World Order and the Lessons for Global Power’. The word ‘empire’ still caused some unease in the US, whose own national myths originated in an early, short-lived and selective anti-imperialism. An exasperated Ferguson – ‘the United States,’ he claimed, ‘is an empire, in short, that dare not speak its name’ – set out to rescue the word from the discredit into which political correctness had apparently cast it.
Britain’s 19th-century empire ‘undeniably pioneered free trade, free capital movements and, with the abolition of slavery, free labour. It invested immense sums in developing a global network of modern communications. It spread and enforced the rule of law over vast areas.’ ‘Without the spread of British rule around the world,’ he went on, in a typical counterfactual manoeuvre, colonised peoples, such as Indians, would not have what are now their most valuable ideas and institutions: parliamentary democracy, individual freedom and the English language. For more of this review, this critique of Ferguson, and Ferguson's response, to go:http://www.lrb.co.uk/v33/n21/pankaj-mishra/watch-this-man
CONTEMPORARY HISTORY AND POSTMODERN HISTORY
Contemporary history describes the span of historic events that are immediately relevant to the present time. In contrast to the pre-modern era, Western civilization made a gradual transition from premodernity to modernity when scientific methods were developed. This led many to believe that the use of science would lead to all knowledge, thus throwing back the shroud of myth under which pre-modern peoples lived. New information about the world was discovered via empirical observation, versus the historic use of reason and innate knowledge.
"Postmodernism"is a term coined 1949 and has been used in the last six decades to describe a movement more in art than a period of history. Although the term was usually applied to the arts, but not to any events of the very recent history, this changed over the next decades when the term postmodernity came into useage. This latter term was coined to describe the major changes in the 1950s and 1960s in economy, society, culture, and philosophy. Sometimes distinct from the modern periods themselves, the terms "modernity" and "modernism" refer to a new way of thinking, distinct from medieval thinking. "Contemporary" is applied to more recent events because it means "belonging to the same period" and "current.". Here again definitions, their beginning point, their evolution and their meaning have become the subject of lengthy discussions, fine tuning and debate.
In Cultural Conservatism, Political Liberalism, James Seaton provides a devastating critique of postmodernist cultural studies, as exemplified in the writings of Richard Rorty, Stanley Fish, Frederic Jameson, and Edward Said. At the same time Seaton makes a compelling case for the superiority of an older tradition of literary-cultural-political criticism that can be traced back in English at least as far as Samuel Johnson and whose greatest exemplar in the nineteenth century was Matthew Arnold. "Connecting literature to politics without diminishing either," Seaton writes, "this tradition’s commitment to the language of public discourse fosters democracy even when the opinions of its practitioners are unapologetically elitist"—whence the title of his book. I have placed this article in both the modern history and the modern literature sections of my website. I leave it to readers with the interest to google the writers named in this paragraph. For the majority of people in our wide-wide-world these issues simply do not exist. Go to this link for more of this review in the electronic online journal Humanitas:http://www.nhinet.org/humsub/jb11-2.htm
A STUDENT AND TEACHER OF HISTORY
I will not attempt to summarize all the modern history courses and syllabi, books and essays, I read, studied and taught in the years, say, 1953 to 2014. During that time-frame of more than 60 years, though, I studied history at the primary, secondary and tertiary level and taught history as well at all those levels. Thusfar in this sub-section of my site, my comments on much that is modern history over the last approximately 500 years, has only highlighted some of the main threads. If readers go to some of the links I have suggested they will be able to read some of my many posts on modern history in cyberspace. I leave this to the inclination of readers.
Most people, in my experience as a teacher and student, have little knowledge of history, ancient or modern, And so it is that what I write above has little resonance with most readers. My aim in future posts will be to provide some perspective on all this voluminous detail about which the average person knows so little and has, in some ways quite logically in many ways, such little interest. Our world offers up for the votaries of all faiths, of the votaries of all positions on the intellectual ladder of knowledge and belief, and the interests of all people who take any interest in history at all---a cornucopia of resources on virtually everything. The result is a sort of print-glut and information overload and, in the end, a sort of intellectual miasma of stuff combined with popular culture, the morning news, a concern for diet and health and one's bodily functions. Often, too, the result is, as one writer put it, a situation in which: "whom the gods would destory they make simple, and simpler and simpler." The questions the modern world faces have become staggeringly complex with or without a knowledge of history.
Historicism is a mode of thinking among historians that assigns a central and basic significance to a specific context; for example, a historical period, a geographical place, or a local culture. Historicism, as a mode or method of historical thinking, exists in contrast to individualist theories of history and knowledge such as empiricism and rationalism. These latter theories tend to neglect the role of traditions. Historicism therefore tends to be: (i) hermeneutical, because it places great importance on cautious, rigorous and contextualized interpretation of information, and/or (ii) relativist, because it rejects notions of universal, fundamental and immutable interpretations. For more of a general overview of new historicism go to:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Historicism; for a useful overview of historicism go to:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Historicism. I mention "the new historicism" here so that readers do not confuse the two.
New Historicism is a school of literary theory not history. It is grounded in a sociological theory known as critical theory which readers with the interest can review at Wikipedia if they like. The new historicism developed in the 1980s, primarily through the work of the critic Stephen Greenblatt. It gained widespread influence in the 1990s. By the time I taught English literature in the early 1990s at the matriculation, or university entrance, level in Western Australia, the new historicism had become one of the several literary theories which were on the curriculum and which I needed to become familiar with as the lecturer in this technical and further education college.
Stephen Greenblatt(1943- ) is a Pulitzer Prize winning American literary critic, theorist and scholar. Greenblatt is regarded by many as one of the founders of New Historicism, a set of critical practices that he often refers to as "cultural poetics"; his works have been influential since the early 1980s when he introduced the term. Greenblatt has written and edited numerous books and articles relevant to: new historicism, the study of culture, Renaissance studies and Shakespeare studies. He is considered to be an expert in these fields. He is also co-founder of the literary-cultural journal Representations which often publishes articles by new historicists. His most popular work is Will in the World. The book is a biography of Shakespeare that was on the New York Times Best Seller List for nine weeks.
The American academy, beginning in the 1990s, was abuzz with a need to identify and get rid of "foundational" thinking. Students of history like myself were informed that there were: no suprahistorical essences, no permanent ends, no enduring identities, meanings, or truths. Humanity, or at least students of history, were informed that we all live in a "postmetaphysical" and postmodern age. The great fuss, so political historian Claes G. Ryn wrote in 1998, was anachronistic in the sense that similar assertions were made long before.
There was what some have called "a postmetaphysical phase in philosophy" which could be said to have started at least as early as Immanuel Kant(1724-1804). Kant researched, lectured and wrote on philosophy and anthropology during the Enlightenment at the end of the 18th century. Ryn's 1998 article is found in the electronic online journal Humanitas, a journal of the National Humanities Institute in Washington, DC. Ryn is currently a professor of politics at the Catholic University of America where he was also chairperson of his department. He has taught at the University of Virginia and Georgetown University. He is chairperson of the National Humanities Institute and editor of the academic journal Humanitas. He is president of the Academy of Philosophy and Letters, and a past president of the Philadelphia Society.
Kant and German idealism, a speculative philosophical movement that emerged in Germany in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, have long been fumbled and confused in Anglo-American thought. Go to this link for more on German idealism: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/German_idealism. Benedetto Croce(1866-1952), the Italian idealist philosopher, politician, writer on numerous topics including: philosophy and history, methodology of history writing and aesthetics, prominent liberal, and a man who had considerable influence on other prominent Italian intellectuals including both marxist Antonio Gramsci and fascist Giovanni Gentile. He is considered a historicist although his impact was limited. Croce’s aesthetics, imperfectly understood, has had a wide following since the early decades of the century. The historical sense of Croce in philosophically mature form somehow never struck deep roots in Anglo-American soil, a fact in which some American intellectuals, though largely uncomprehending with regard to this type of historicism, take a kind of pride. All of this is, of course, far too complex and seemingly irrelevant to the average reader whose interest in the philosophy of history is minimal. Go to this link for more on historicism:http://www.nhinet.org/humsub/ryn11-2.htm
Deconstructive readings of history and sources have changed the entire discipline of history. In "Deconstructing History", Alun Munslow examines history in what he argues is a postmodern age. He provides an introduction to the debates and issues of postmodernist history. He also surveys the latest research into the relationship between the past, history, and historical practice, as well as forwarding his own challenging theories.
LATE 20TH CENTURY HISTORIOGRAPHY
Two books have appeared—Tim Harris’s Revolution: The Great Crisis of the British Monarchy, 1685–1720 (2006) and Steven Pincus’s 1688: The First Modern Revolution (2009)—and they are very different. But despite the differences they are both expressions of one of the deepest tendencies of late-twentieth-century historiography: the impulse to expand the range of inquiry, to rescale major events and trends into larger settings, and to seek heightened understanding on a more elevated and generalized plane. In every sphere of historical study—intellectual, cultural, political—the scope of inquiry has broadened. It has also been refined and narrowed so that micro-worlds of history are studied by the specialist.
Large-scale comparisons and parallels, though, are explored; national stories become regional, and regional studies become global. One traces the winding filiations of ideas and religious commitments through diverse nations and cultures and across great spaces; one thinks in terms of oceanic “worlds”: Mediterranean, Atlantic, Pacific, Indian. Both Pincus and Harris have relocated the “submerged” fragments of the Glorious Revolution of 1688 into large, transnational, and multicultural unities that allow for explanations that are fuller, more complex, and more coherent than any we have had before. Generally, though, books like these tend to be read by specialists and those with particularist interests, in this case, 17th century England.
THE GLORIOUS REVOLUTION OF 1688
The Glorious Revolution and the Continuity of Law by Richard Kay(Catholic University of America, 300 pages, 2014) has been reviewed by now in several places. In the London Review of Books(24/9/'15) we read: "In 1944, as Richard Kay records, an optimistic litigant challenged the validity of a Victorian statute under which he was being sued, on the ground that Queen Victoria, like all her predecessors since 1689, had had no title to the throne. The argument, which would have wiped the statute book almost clean, was dismissed without much ceremony; but in 1688 and 1689 it occupied the centre of the political and constitutional stage. Could a hereditary monarch, either by violating the constitutional laws of his own realm or by physically abandoning his throne and his country, forfeit the crown? If he could, did the throne pass to his heir? If not, who had power to appoint his replacement? If it was parliament, could it also set conditions of tenure?" These are the words of Stephen Sedley, a former Lord Justice of Appeal who is a visiting professor at Oxford. His essays on the history of English public law, Lions under the Throne, based on his Oxford lectures, have just been published by Cambridge.
The Glorious Revolution and the Continuity of Law explores the relationship between law and revolution. Revolt, armed or not, is often viewed as the overthrow of legitimate rulers. Historical experience, however, shows that revolutions are frequently accompanied by the invocation rather than the repudiation of law. No example is clearer than that of the Glorious Revolution of 1688-89. At that time the unpopular but lawful Catholic king, James II, lost his throne and was replaced by his Protestant son-in-law and daughter, William of Orange and Mary, with James's attempt to recapture the throne thwarted at the Battle of the Boyne in Ireland. The revolutionaries had to negotiate two contradictory but intensely held convictions. The first was that the essential role of law in defining and regulating the activity of the state must be maintained. The second was that constitutional arrangements to limit the unilateral authority of the monarch and preserve an indispensable role for the houses of parliament in public decision-making had to be established.
In the circumstances of 1688-89, the revolutionaries could not be faithful to the second without betraying the first. Their attempts to reconcile these conflicting objectives involved the frequent employment of legal rhetoric to justify their actions. In so doing, they necessarily used the word "law" in different ways. It could denote the specific rules of positive law; it could simply express devotion to the large political and social values that underlay the legal system; or it could do something in between. In 1688-89 it meant all those things to different participants at different times. This study adds a new dimension to the literature of the Glorious Revolution by describing, analyzing and elaborating this central paradox: the revolutionaries tried to break the rules of the constitution and, at the same time, be true to them.
MODERN HISTORY: AN ASIAN PERSPECTIVE
“Let some people get rich first,” the Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping proclaimed a generation ago just before those fin de siecle years, inaugurating a strange new phase in his country’s—and the world’s—history. It now seems clear that nowhere has capitalism’s promise to create wealth been affirmed more forcefully than in post–World War II Asia. By now we have all heard about the rise of China and India as economic powers. But as early as the late 1960s, the rates of economic growth in South Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, and even Thailand, Indonesia, and Malaysia were double the rate in European and American countries.
In most of these nations, collaborations between the military or authoritarian-minded governments and businessmen ensured the rise of big, often monopoly, conglomerates, such as the South Korean chaebols. Most ordinary people suffered from a long denial of democracy and then, following free elections, the subversion of democratic institutions; after decades of uneven economic growth they now try to cope with the irreversible contamination of air, soil, and water. Long working hours, low wages, limited mobility, and perennial job insecurity are the lot of most toilers in Asian economies, especially women. Nevertheless, some people have gotten extremely rich in Asia’s own Gilded Age: for instance, in “rising” India, the number of malnourished children, nearly 50 percent, has barely altered while a handful of Indian billionaires increased their share of national income from less than 1 percent in 1996 to 22 percent in 2008. For more go to:http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2013/apr/25/asia-explosive-transformation/?page=1
Slavoj Žižek is a researcher at Birkbeck College, University of London, and the author of Absolute Recoil and Trouble in Paradise. The following two paragraphs are from his July article in the London Review of Books. An exemplary case of today’s ‘socialism’ is China, where the Communist Party is engaged in a campaign of self-legitimisation which promotes three theses: 1) Communist Party rule alone can guarantee successful capitalism; 2) the rule of the atheist Communist Party alone can guarantee authentic religious freedom; & 3) continuing Communist Party rule alone can guarantee that China will be a society of Confucian conservative values (social harmony, patriotism, moral order). These aren’t simply nonsensical paradoxes. The reasoning might go as follows: 1) without the party’s stabilising power, capitalist development would explode into a chaos of riots and protests; 2) religious factional struggles would disturb social stability; and 3) unbridled hedonist individualism would corrode social harmony. The third point is crucial, since what lies in the background is a fear of the corrosive influence of Western ‘universal values’: freedom, democracy, human rights, & hedonist individualism.
The ultimate enemy is not capitalism as such but the rootless Western culture threatening China through the free flow of the internet. It must be fought with Chinese patriotism; even religion should be ‘sinicised’ to ensure social stability. A Communist Party official in Xinjiang, Zhang Chunxian, said recently that while ‘hostile forces’ are stepping up their infiltration, religions must work under socialism to serve economic development, social harmony, ethnic unity and the unification of the country: ‘Only when one is a good citizen can one be a good believer.’ For more of this essay in the London Review of Books(Vol. 37 No. 14 · 16 July 2015) entitled 'Sinicisation' go to: http://www.lrb.co.uk/v37/n14/slavoj-zizek/sinicisation
A MINOR PLAYER WITH TOO MUCH TO READ
David Halberstam(1934-2007) arrived in Vietnam in the middle of 1962 to be a full-time Vietnam specialist for The New York Times. I was an 18 year old matriculation student in Ontario at the time and hoped to get into an arts degree program in 1963; I knew nothing of Halberstam. I also began my travelling-pioneering for the Canadian Baha’i community in that year. I did not come to read Halberstam until I retired after a 50 year student-working life: 1949-1999.
In the first decade of my retirement from FT work, 1999 to 2009, I began to read a host of essayists that I never had time to read in my working life as a teacher and tutor, lecturer and adult educator. My reading-and-teaching load as well as my responsibilities as a member of the Baha’i community, as a parent of three children, as a volunteer for various associations from the Lions Club to the Red Cross, to say nothing of the inevitable social responsibilities that come from family and community activity, also kept me far away from the major and famous essayists in the last half of the 20th century.
Halberstam was always about a dozen years ahead of me, having graduated as he did in 1955 with an arts degree from Harvard University. I graduated in 1967 with a similar degree and so began my 60+ hour weeks involved as I indicated above until my retirement. I won’t tell you about Halberstam’s working life, nor mine other than to say: his literary life was highly distinguished. He wrote many books and received: (i) the Norman Mailer Prize in 2009 for Distinguished Journalism, and (ii) the Pulitzer Prize in 1964 for International Reporting.-Ron Price, Wikipedia, 7 July 2012.
I read what I had to all through
my primary, secondary, & post-
secondary education: 1949-‘67.
My interests began to fly at uni,
but there were always so many
books that had to get read if one
wanted to pass & go to the next
stage: & that was the way it was
until I became a permanent flier
in my role as teacher in several
schools, colleges & universities
in continental Australia: ’71-‘01.
But I was & never will be in the race
with people like Halberstam. I found
my niche in the years: 1973 to 2013,
but it was always a niche tangentially
connected with so many other things
in life that I will remain a minor poet,
a minor player in the publishing game.
On the internet my writing gets lost
among 380 million sites, & 2 billion
players: time and my fame is now in
nanoseconds; if you sneeze you will
miss me; I don't think that matters!!!
7/7/'12 to 10/11/'14.
TWO WORLD WARS and THEIR AFTERMATH: 1945 TO 2012
In the London Review of Books(Vol. 24 No. 2, January 2002) reviews of yet two more biographies of Churchill are found. They are Churchill: A Study in Greatness by Geoffrey Best(Hambledon, 400 pages, 2001); and Churchill by Roy Jenkins(Macmillan, 1000 pages, 2001). Why two more Churchill biographies? Geoffrey Best reckons there are fifty or a hundred out there already. Two good reasons to want to add to them would be the unearthing of new evidence or a radically different interpretation. Roy Jenkins says he is not ‘a great partisan of the “revelatory” biography’, and claims that for Churchill nearly all the ‘facts’ are known in any case. One of Best’s motives for writing his book is to scotch some of the wilder and recent interpretations which he believes have obscured an older and safer wisdom. Neither author professes originality, and so why did they bother adding to the list? For more of this discussion go to:http://www.lrb.co.uk/v24/n02/bernard-porter/over-several-tops
For interesting perspectives on: (c) the post-WW2 world of Europe, some 70 years, (b) the twentieth century, its two main wars and the effect of Churchill on the entire process; as well as (a) the 21st century Western/American attitude to war go to:
(b) http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2008/may/29/churchill-and-his-myths/?page=1 and
JFK: AND YET MORE VIEWS ON HIS LIFE
The President John F. Kennedy students learn about today is not the one their grandparents’ learned about. "I recall so vividly how good he made us feel about our country and ourselves, and I doubt that any president will ever make me feel that way again," such is a typical sentence spoken by someone from the sixties who probably watched JFK's funeral in November 1963 and who was turned-on by Jackie Kennedy's attractiveness, her virtual celebrity status. By the late sixties, in a high school textbook edited by John M. Blum in 1968, Kennedyhad become a tragic hero, cut down too soon in a transformative presidency, who in his mere 1,000 days in office “revived the idea of America as a young, questing, progressive land, facing the future with confidence and hope.”
By the mid-'80s, though, that heady excitement was a distant memory, and Kennedy the man and the president had become seriously diminished. A textbook written in 1987 by James A. Henretta & several colleagues, for example, complained of gauzy “mythologizing” about his tenure and said the high hopes he generated produced only “rather meager legislative accomplishments.” The first and, for many, the last in-depth lesson that American students learn about this 35th president comes from high school textbooks. And on the eve of the anniversary of his assassination 50 years ago, a review of more than two dozen written since then shows that the portrayal of JFK has fallen sharply over the years. For more on this subject in The New York Times(November 2013) go to: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/11/us/
OVERVIEW OF HISTORY IN TWO PARTS: 1789 TO 1989 AND 1990-2012
For Tony Judt's review of Supercapitalism: The Transformation of Business, Democracy, and Everyday Life by Robert B. Reich go to The New York Review of Books(12/'07) at this link: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2007/dec/06/the-wrecking-ball-of-innovation/?page=1 The review begins with:
"During what Reich calls the “Not Quite Golden Age” of American capitalism, from the end of World War II through the 1970s, American economic life was stable and in comfortable equilibrium. A limited number of giant firms—like General Motors—dominated their predictable and secure markets; skilled workers had steady and (relatively) safe jobs. For all the lip service paid to competition and free markets, the American economy (in this respect comparable to the economies of Western Europe) depended heavily upon protection from foreign competition, as well as standardization, regulation, subsidies, price supports, and government guarantees. The natural inequities of capitalism were softened by the assurance of present well-being and future prosperity and a widespread sentiment, however illusory, of common interest. While Europeans set up cartels and fussed with democratic socialism, America went right to the heart of the matter—creating democratic capitalism as a planned economy, run by business.”(1)
But since the mid-seventies, and with increasing ferocity in recent years, the winds of change—”supercapitalism”—have blown all that away. Thanks to technologies initially supported by or spun off from cold-war research projects—such as computers, fiber optics, satellites, and the Internet—commodities, communications, and information now travel at a vastly accelerated pace. Regulatory structures set in place over the course of a century or more were superseded or dismantled within a few years. In their place came increased competition both for global markets and for the cataract of international funds chasing lucrative investments. Wages and prices were driven down, profits up. Competition and innovation generated new opportunities for some and vast pools of wealth for a few; meanwhile they destroyed jobs, bankrupted firms, and impoverished communities.
(1) This is hardly an original claim, of course. As the Nobel-winning economist James Tobin observed some years ago, "It was a bunch of planners—Truman, Churchill, Keynes, Marshall, Acheson, Monnet, Schuman, Macarthur in Japan—whose vision made possible the prosperous postwar world." --World Finance and Economic Stability: Selected Essays of James Tobin, Edward Elgar, 2003, p. 210.
THE IMPERIAL PRESIDENCY
For an excellent review of the book The Executive Unbound: After the Madisonian Republic by Eric A. Posner and Adrian Vermeule in The New York Review of Books---entitled: Are We Stuck with the Imperial Presidency? June 7, 2012 David Cole go to this link: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2012/jun/07/are-we-stuck-imperial-presidency/
American scholars, politicians, & citizens have debated the issues relating to the separation of powers for the entire course of the nation’s history. But now Eric Posner & Adrian Vermeule, law professors at the University of Chicago & Harvard, respectively, tell us that such questions are beside the point. This is because the separation of powers is just an illusion, a hoary relic of the past ill-equipped for today’s challenges. Executive power in the modern era, they maintain, cannot possibly be constrained by the legislative and judicial branches, or even by law itself, so we might as well get over it. There is nothing to fear from an executive unbound by law, because the real checks on the president are political, not legal. Democracy, they believe, is in good condition in the United States. Liberals’ fears of executive tyranny are not only irrational but positively harmful. The authors’ message echoes the Department of Homeland Security’s early post–September 11 security alerts: the president is legally unfettered, but go about your daily business as usual.
DROWNING IN HISTORY AND INFORMATION
The following link will give you a review of Tim Weiner's Enemies: A History of the FBI(2009). Tim Weiner(1957- ) is a New York Times reporter, author of three books and co-author of a fourth, as well as a winner of the Pulitzer Prize and a National Book Award. He is a graduate of the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University and has worked for The Times since 1993. He was a foreign correspondent in Mexico, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Sudan, as well as a national security correspondent in Washington, DC. for The Times. This review in The New York Review of Books(16/8/'12) is typical of a literal ocean of reviews and histories that have become available in the last half century(1962-2014). From the time I was about to enter university in Canada, and attempt to get an arts degree, to these years in the 2nd decade of the 21st century there has been, as I say, an ocean of reviews. We are all drowning now in an ocean of print as we go into our gardens, our golf courses, our kitchens, our bedrooms and, of course, onto our couches getting to be bigger-and-bigger as couch-potatoes. I wish you all well as you expose yourselves to the pundits and prophets, the pontificators and professors, professionals and prodigies who now fill the air-waves with their wisdoms and analyses, their learned views and the results of their years of reading and study, viewing and listening.
This website makes no effort to provide access to this burgeoning, this massive literature. Readers are on their own and, if they have an interest in history, they will at least have an outside chance to be informed beyond whatever minimal contribution they obtain from the electronic media to their information and intellectual base. Here is that review of the FBI at this link: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2012/aug/16/master-hate/
1933 to 1953: A NEW PERSPECTIVE
Ira Katznelson(1944- ) is a leading American political scientist and historian, noted for his influential research on the liberal state, inequality, social knowledge, and institutions, primarily focused on the USA. Katznelson graduated from Columbia University in 1966 with a B.A., & completed his PhD in history at the University of Cambridge in England in 1969. In 1969 he also co-founded the journal Politics and Society. For more on Katznelson go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ira_Katznelson
The argument of Ira Katznelson in his book Fear Itself: The New Deal and the Origins of Our Time bears laying out in some detail. Nicholas Lemann does just that in his article "The New Deal We Didn’t Know" in The New York Review of Books on 26 September 2013. "Katznelson begins," says Lemann, "by placing the New Deal in a global setting: the severity of the Great Depression presented an existential threat to liberal democracy everywhere, both as an ideal and as a reality. In response to the same economic crisis that confronted the United States, Germany turned to National Socialism, Italy to Fascism, and the Soviet Union already had a form of communism that no liberals except willfully blind ones could believe in. During Roosevelt’s first term these alternate systems were on the verge of imposing themselves by force on many other countries. Roosevelt declared a national state of emergency, giving him extraordinary power, six months in advance of the attack on Pearl Harbor. From this followed loyalty oaths for federal employees, the Japanese internment program, and a vast, overaggressive FBI program of surveillance.....For more of a review of this book go to:http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2013/sep/26/new-deal-we-didnt-know/
POETRY AS HISTORY
The following definitions, or conceptions, of history enable the reader of my poetry to see it as history. Benedetto Croce(1866-1952), an Italian critic, idealist philosopher, and occasionally also politician, wrote that "all history is contemporary history." Given the very contemporary quality to nearly everything I write, the reader can not help but taste some of history's story in what has become a voluminous collection of my writing as I head for old age, according to one model of human development used by psychologists of the lifespan, the years after I reach 80 in 2024.
Jacob Burkhardt(1818-1897), an historian of art and culture, saw history as "contemplation based on sources." The twentieth century's seismic outbursts of irrationality in Communism and Nazism, Racism and Nationalism were four of that century's defining events. There were plenty of thinkers who have also thought so and plenty of sources to prove it. This view of history comes close to a view of history that encompases my poetry. History is the experience of people, and R.G. Collingwood(1889-1943), British philosopher and historian, saw it as "the history of thought." Leopold von Ranke(1795-1886), the German historian considered to be one of the founders of modern source-based history. said "history is concerned with things as they really happened; whereas British historian Arnold Toynbee(1889-1975) said it was "a search for light on the nature and destiny of man." So much of my poetic opus can be seen in the light of these views of history: my poetry, then, is history in addition to being many other things.-Ron Price, Pioneering Over Four Epochs, 28 March 2001 to 3 August 2011.
In these thousands of poems
there is but one poem-the search
for what is fundamental-enduring
and essential in my life-experience
and understanding of society & so
much more about religion & myself.
There is surprise in my words and I
find out what I think on my pilgrimage
toward all that is eschatological, toward
the discovery of truth & the production
of knowledge, truth, reality and this life.
For I deal with the peculiarities
of my time, place and character
and I transcend these restrictions
only with reference to a vast sea
of knowledge which threatens to
drown me in its swirling eddies.
And so I connect a life of facts
with a system of reality making
history speak through me, like,
somewhat of a craft, beyond
Eurocentrism, my part of world(1)
history, any history, any views.(2)
(1) This view of history was challenged in the late 1950s. See Geoffrey Barraclough, Main Trends in History, Holmis & Meier Pub., NY, 1978.
(2) Here I draw on the Dutch historian Huzinga in 1936.
29 March 2001 to 20 November 2011
An authorized biography is written with the permission, cooperation, & at times, participation of a subject or a subject's heirs. An autobiography is written by the person himself or herself, sometimes with the assistance of a collaborator or ghostwriter. Readers will find many authoized biographies and a myriad autobiographies all over the landscape of cyberspace. Charles Moore, for example, has written the first volume of his Margaret Thatcher: The Authorized Biography: From Grantham to the Falklands. Charles Moore, the former editor of The Daily Telegraph, was handpicked by Thatcher to write her authorized biography. He was given access to previously undisclosed papers, friends, colleagues, and, in many hours of interviews, the Lady herself. He insists throughout this fluent, forensically detailed first volume of what will surely become the definitive account that his subject’s “sex”—the word he prefers over the presumably too Guardian-ish “gender”—is the key to understanding her character and her career. After the Lady’s funeral he wrote: "In understanding another person, one must never neglect the obvious. Once, she took me aside and whispered, “You know what’s the matter with Helmut Kohl?” I didn’t. “He’s a German!” she revealed. I laughed at this absurdity. Yet as I review my biographical subject, I ask myself, “You know what is the key to Margaret Thatcher?” and I answer, “She was a woman.” For more of this detailed review of this first volume of this authorized biography go to:http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2013/sep/26/unknown-maggie-thatcher/
A biography or simply 'a bio' is a detailed description or account of a person's life. It entails more than basic facts like education, work, death, and relationships. A biography also portrays a subject's experience of these events. Unlike a profile, curriculum vitae, or a résumé, a biography presents a subject's life story, highlighting various aspects of his or her life, including intimate details of experience. It may also include an analysis of the subject's personality. Biographical works are usually non-fiction, but fiction can also be used to portray a person's life. One in-depth form of biographical coverage is called legacy writing. Works in diverse media—from literature to film—form the genre known as biography. For more on biography go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biography
The internet is littered, as I say above, with autobiographies, biographies & reviews of both. Here are 2 good reviews, each of two books by or about Hillary Clinton in the London Review of Books(Vol. 29 No. 16, 16 August 2007; & Vol. 37 No. 3, 5 February 2015) The books are: (i) A Woman in Charge:The Life of Hillary Rodham Clinton by Carl Bernstein(Hutchinson, 630 pages, 2007); and (ii) Hillary Clinton: Her Way: The Biography by Jeff Gerth and Don Van Natta(Murray, 450 pages, 2007); as well as: (i) Hard Choices by Hillary Clinton(Simon and Schuster, 650 pages, 2014); & (ii) State Secrets and the Rebirth of Hillary Clinton by Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes(Hutchinson, 450 pages, 2014). Go to: http://www.lrb.co.uk/v29/n16/linda-colley/not-like-the-rest-of-us and to: http://www.lrb.co.uk/v37/n03/jackson-lears/we-came-we-saw-he-died
The following paragraphs were written by T. J. Jackson Lears(1947-). He is an American cultural and intellectual historian with interests in comparative religious history, literature and the visual arts, folklore and folk beliefs. Lears was educated at the University of Virginia, the University of North Carolina, & Yale University, where he received a Ph.D. in American Studies. He has held fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, the American Council of Learned Societies, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Winterthur Museum, the Smithsonian Institution, and the Shelby Cullom Davis Center at Princeton University. In October 2003 he received the Public Humanities Award from the New Jersey Council for the Humanities. I draw on the words of Lears for his comments on political biography, and particularly in the United States. He has been a regular contributor to The New Republic, The Nation, The Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, & The New York Times, among other publications. He has taught at Yale University, the University of Missouri, and New York University. For more go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/T._J._Jackson_Lears
"The rise of identity politics in America," he writes in the London Review of Books(5/2/'15), "and, indeed, throughout our global community, was a tragic necessity. No one can deny the legitimacy or urgency of the need felt by women and minorities to have equality on their own terms, to reject the assumption that full participation in society required acceptance of the norms set by straight white males. Yet even as the public sphere has gorwn more inclusive, certainly in the last two decades especially with the world-wide-web tieing us all together, the boundaries of permissible debate seem to be narrowing in some respects. Critiques of concentrated power, imperial or plutocratic, became less common. Indeed, the preoccupation with racial & gender identity has hollowed out political language, the void filled by an apparently apolitical alternative, the neoliberal discourse of antiseptic intervention abroad and efficient productivity at home." Lears continues:
"The hollowing out culminated in the Obama administration, which represents ‘the triumph of identity as content’, as Adolph Reed wrote last year in Harper’s. According to Reed, Obama embodies race as ‘an abstraction, a feel-good evocation severed from history and social relations’. And few on the left or centre-left want to spoil those good feelings by making the sharp criticisms that Obama deserves. So we are reduced, in Reed’s words, to ‘a desiccated leftism’ preoccupied with ‘making up “Just So” stories about dispossession and exploitation recast in the evocative but politically sterile language of disparity and diversity’. The chief electoral alternative to the Republicans’ free market fundamentalism and imperial grandiosity is the Democratic Party’s mixture of technocratic slogans and gestures to identity-based interest groups (gay marriage, abortion rights, immigration reform), topped off by the Democrats’ own version of imperial grandiosity." For more of Lear's review and his views go to: http://www.lrb.co.uk/v37/n03/jackson-lears/we-came-we-saw-he-died
The concept of identity is pervasive in contemporary discourse. Identity has become a general term replacing the terms personality or character since its popularization by the social psychologist Erik Erikson in the 1960s. The term is used today by scholars within all fields of the human sciences. Three political perspectives, which at first do not self-evidently have much in common, have focused on identity: 1) cultural nationalism, 2) communitarianism, and 3) multiculturalism. This convergence over the term identity among three currents in theory and politics typically understood as offering opposed perspectives is suggestive of a general problem. All three positions assume anascriptive concept of the human person, which increasingly bears the imprint of the nation-state.
The genealogy of the term identity reveals its roots in English empirical and utilitarian philosophy. Such a genealogy suggests that identity, as used by such groups as those just mentioned, is beholden to central liberal concepts of state and individual, although the advocates of identity viewpoints such as communitarians and multiculturalists are often understood more typically as critics of liberalism. For more of this essay entitled 'Community and the Politics of Identity: Toward the Genealogy of a Nation-State Concept" in the Stanford Electronic Humanities Review(V. 5, N. 2, 1997) go to: http://web.stanford.edu/group/SHR/5-2/elly.html For more essays on identity, immigration, and American exceptionalism go to: http://web.stanford.edu/group/SHR/5-2/contents.html
EQUALITY: A HISTORICAL AND CONTEMPORARY PERSPECTIVE
Parity between the sexes, harmony between the religions, balance between the cultural differences: these principles all hinge upon the idealistic concept of all things in our human society being equal. In the issue of M/C Journal of Media and Culture(V.11, N. 2, 2008) the notion of ‘equal’ is reviewed and discussed in terms of both its discourse and its application in real life. Beyond the concept of equal itself, uniting each author’s contribution is acknowledgement of the competing objectives which can promote bias and prejudice. Indeed, it is that prejudice, concomitant to the absence of equal treatment by and for all peoples, which is always of concern for the pursuit of social justice. Although it has been reduced to a brand-name of low calorie sugar substitute in the Australian supermarket and cafe set, the philosophical values and objectives behind the concept of equal underpin some of the most highly prized and esteemed ideals of western liberal democracy and its ideas on justice.
To be equal in the modern sense means to be empowered, to enjoy the same entitlements as others and to have the same rights. At the same time, the privileges associated with being equal also come with responsibilities & it these that we continue to struggle with in our supposed enlightened age. The ideals we associate with equal are far from new, since they have informed ideas about citizenship and justice at least from the times of Ancient Greece and perhaps more problematically, the Principate period of the Roman Empire. It was out of the Principate that the notion primus inter pares (‘first among equals’) was implemented under Augustus in an effort to reconcile his role as Emperor within the Republic of Rome. This oxymoron highlights how very early in the history of Western thought inevitable compromises arose between the pursuit of equal treatment and its realisation. After all, Rome is as renowned for its Empire and Senate as it is for the way lions were fed Christians for entertainment. For more go to: http://journal.media-culture.org.au/index.php/mcjournal/article/viewArticle/31
RADIANT AXIS OF BEAUTY
Pilgrimages must have begun to be made by Mankind whereever and whenever one single shrine came to surpass its neighbours in prestige to a degree that moved the regular local votaries of the neighbouring shrines to reinsure their claim on the good graces of the numina(1) by paying occasional or periodical visits to the preeminent shrine as well. -Arnold Toynbee, A Study of History, 1963(1954), Vol. 9, p.97; (1) a Latin term for a mythic or legendary figure guiding the course of events in a particular place or in the whole world. The term was originally used in Roman philosophical and religious thought.
Haramayn, Jerusalem, Bodh Gaya,
Najaf, Karbila, Mecca, Medina, all
cynosures of worlds apart through
time.........Wu-T’ai Shan, Omei, too,
gradually accumulating mana, while
Canterbury, Walsingham, Kurasan,
Lourdes, Lisieux gave birth to shrine
worlds on pilgrimage-horizons, holy
grounds like Nazareth or Bethlehem,
pristine sacredness, soul-resorts, spurs
to superhuman effort, to deft practitioners
to protocols of piety, rehearsed petitioners,
who even now, as they enter some rarified
Presence on some sacred mount, feast their
eyes, gathering memories for the time when
they must leave that holy mountain, perhaps
Carmel’s bony spine & this radiant axis of a
Amidst the sandy convolutions of that landscape
and its grainy, parched surface where hot winds
mutter apocalyptically a gleaming world arises
for some; for others just another tourist site.
26 December 1997 to 3 August 2011
THANKING A READER AT THIS SITE
I want to thank Yvonne Perkins for the idea of posting a review of some book on history at this site. Although I have posted many comments on books written in the last decade and decades, no solid or extensive commentary on one book is found on this modern history page at this website. The following post, I trust, makes up for part of this deficiency. I hope in the months ahead to post a more extensive review on a book about history written in the last decade as Yvonne would like to see. I do encourage Yvonne and others to have a glance at my many commentaries on history at many internet sites. Most of the commentaries are in the form of prose-poems. The links to these sites are found on this page.
EDWARD GIBBON AND ARNOLD TOYNBEE: A Personal Perspective
About five years before Shaykh Ahmad(1743-1826), a critical person whose writings now form part of the spiritual heritage of the Babi-Baha'i religion, left his home in Bahrain, Edward Gibbon completed his six volumes of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. The year was 1788. It was the eve of the French revolution and the eve of a spiritual revolution that was to lead to a new Revelation. This, of course, is a Baha'i historical perspective. Some time in 1960 Arnold Toynbee put his pen down and his Reconsiderations to his ten volume magnum opus, A Study of History, was complete. Toynbee found Gibbon’s work a model and an inspiration. So, too, did Shoghi Effendi, the leader of the Baha'i Faith from 1921 to 1957 who inherited that spiritual heritage beginning arguably with Shaykh Ahmad. Shoghi Effendi's writings have always been for me one of the models for my own writing as were Edward Gibbon's, a fortiori.
In September 1921, about two months before the death of ‘Abdu’l-Baha(1844-1921) another inheritor of that same spiritual heritage, Shoghi Effendi was studying at Oxford. In that same month Arnold Toynbee had an inspiration while travelling on a train. This inspiration was the last, the final, inspiration that led to his A Study of History. He wrote his 11 volume tour de force (11 if one includes his Reconsiderations) during the years of what Baha'is call the Guardianship: 1921-1957. As far as we know, Shoghi Effendi never read Toynbee. It took Gibbon some sixteen years, and Toynbee some thirty-two, to complete their massive, their life's work for which they are now known to history and especially to historians, at least some historians.
Gibbon's Decline and Fall had a profound effect on the Guardian, on his translations and, arguably, on his conception of history and life. The latter, the then leader of what was in the 1920s a new religious Movement of perhaps 80,000 adherents worldwide, began to write his voluminous, his many 1000s of letters, some of which were made into books as well as his book God Passes By published in August 1944, the same month as I was born. Shoghi Effendi's writings were to effect the thoughts of my generation, the generation of Baha'is that came of age in the Ten Year Crusade(1953-1963). His writings also affected the first plans of the Universal House of Justice in the half century 1963 to 2013. Inevitably, only a small fraction of that generation was affected by Toynbee since his whole language was, like Gibbon’s, complex and difficult for the reader. As the decades moved insensibly toward the close of the twentieth century fewer and fewer students had the skills to read Toynbee but, since more and more were graduating in history and the social sciences, a coterie got exposed to Toynbee. A coterie also got exposed to the teachings of the Baha'i Faith. I was one.
SOME OF TOYNBEE'S VIEWS
Toynbee saw the first world war as the opening stage of a period that was like the Peloponnesian War of 431 to 404 BC. In that period in Greek history democracy came to an end, war punctuated the life of the city states and peace eventually came at a heavy price. Three-quarters of a century later Alexander conquered the world in 323 BC. The pattern may repeat itself in a different form in the twenty-first century as the first stirrings of World Order lead the World Order of Baha’u’llah to a position of much greater strength, prestige and influence than it has had in the first two centuries of its existence on this planet. The evolution of global order, assuming global order does in fact evolve, is a process which has only begun in the last century. Any global federation, part of Toynbee's vision for humanity's survival, is still a long way off and only time, of course, will tell what pattern unfolds in global history in the 21st and succeeding centuries.
The Baha’i community has just left the first century and a half of an obscurity in which its history was enshrouded. Toynbee and Gibbon function as stimulating historians to a generation, my generation, which came of age of age in the first decades of the office of the Universal House of Justice, the trustees of the legacy of two prophets-of-God in the nineteenth century--to simply state a Baha'i theological view. Two universal historians, the first at the dawn of this new age as the French revolution was about to take place, and the second at the dawn of the period known to Baha’is as the Kingdom of God on Earth, the period after 1953, have strongly influenced my reading and writing since my days at university in the 1960s. Of course, it must be said, that no secular historian takes seriously the Baha'i theology and even less a Baha'i view of history. And so it is, that I have little expectation that readers of this part of my website, readers who are not Baha'is, will take seriously many of my Baha'i perspectives, That is understandable, to be expected.
As the Baha’i community moved through its international teaching plan, starting in 1937, Toynbee was there waiting in the wings, so to speak. Three volumes were out in 1934 and the tenth volume in 1954 as the first great Baha'i teaching Crusade was getting warmed up and taking this new Faith to every corner of the globe. A universal history up-dated for a global community: 6,290 pages and over three million words was Toynbee’s master work. His master passion, his torment, his labour and his pleasure coincided with the global plans and global energies of an emerging world religion, a religion which claimed to be the latest of the Abrahamic religions. That so few could and did enjoy Toynbee's work was no more insignificant than the reaction of the masses to Shakespeare. In a world that was getting more education, or at least information, as the decades went by there was every reason to hope, especially if imbued with Baha’i philosophy, that Toynbee’s days of being appreciated were just beginning.
I have written before on Toynbee and I will likely write about him again. I had no idea when I bought those 10 volumes in the McMaster University bookshop in 1964 that they would influence my thinking as much as they have in the last half century. The volumes are worn and much the worse for wear, but they have become old friends.
30 March 1996 to 1 October 2011
Some of my internet posts below on modern history:
(contains an excellent interview with the biographer of Manning Clark, Mark McKenna-2011)
(readers can find over 100 posts at this site by clicking: (a) on my photo, (b) on the word 'statistics,' and then on the words (c) 'Find all posts by RonPrice.'
(click on my name and then on the words "Find members posts" for several of my posts on this forum--and then 'search by user name')
(I have 60+ posts on aspects of history and politics, but you must be registered at this site to read them)
(click on my photo, then on the word statistics, & then on the words "Find all posts by RonPrice" to read some 100 posts at this site)
(can't access my posts unless readers are registered at this site)
Some internet sites of good friends and others: (a) some at which I have posted comments and (b) some of which I have had correspondence on the subject of modern history and interdisciplinary subjects:
Some internet forums at which I have posted dozens of comments on aspects of modern history:
(click on my photo, then on the word statistics and then on the words "find all posts by Ron Price)
A VACUOUS WASTELAND
The year I became a pioneer-and-travel teacher for the Canadian Baha'i community, 1962, the famous Australian historian Manning Clark published the first volume of what became his 6-volume A History of Australia. The last volume, number six, was published twenty-five years later in 1987 just as I was about to begin my last dozen years of FT teaching in Western Australia. Clark hoped through his history to take his readers up into the high mountains so that they might catch a glimpse of the great river of life. Clark believed that the twentieth century had become a wasteland, a kingdom of nothingness, where spiritual struggle had been abandoned for the vacuity of modern popular culture.
I had similar hopes & aspirations to Clark in my writing not only in the field of history but in other disciplines. It has been my experience, in those first 19 years of my interest in the Baha'i Faith, and of living in Canada(1953-1971), as well as the 44 years living in Australia(1971-2015), that it was virtually impossible to interest my fellow human beings(except for a few) in the spiritual truths of a Revelation that I believed embodied the soul which modern society needed for its salvation. -Ron Price with thanks to Manning Clark, A History of Australia: An Abridgement, Michael Cathcart, Penguin Books, 1995(1993), pp.x-xii.
I, too, have some beautiful books
for this kingdom of nothingness,
this vacuous wasteland,
but during these years
and your years, too, Manning,
they will sit unread
except by the few
who embraced the Cause,
who aim to stimulate, to enrich
the cultural attainments of the mind.
We try to bring new readers
to the frontier where music
takes over from the words
as they rise above the sound
of phrases and letters
and transcend the murmer
of syllables and sounds.
But how few, thusfar,
how lamentably few.
29/8/'01 to 15/2/'15.
In 1844 the explorer Ludwig Leichhardt, according to Manning Clark in his A History of Australia: Volume 3, was engaged in a "mystical communion with the Australian bush." Clark writes that Leichhardt sensed in those Australian "plains of desolation what he was seeking in life." That same year Leichhardt set out for what is now the Northern Territory. I lived in this Northern Territory for four years, 1982 to 1986.
Leichhardt's journey helped create an image of Australia as "a land of mingled sublimity and beauty." He returned to Sydney in 1846.(1) In 1848 Leichhardt disappeared somewhere on the vast Australian continent. Leichhardt's efforts were part of a fifty year exploration, 1830-1880, that overcame much of the terra incognita that was the outback of Australia.(2) It may be that the Baha'i community is engaged in overcoming a different terra incognita, a process that may take at least two centuries, if not more: 1920-2120++. -Ron Price with thanks to (1)Manning Clark, A History of Australia: Vol.3, Melbourne UP, 1973, pp. 339-340; and (2) Ian Cameron, The History of the Royal Geographical Society: 1830-1980.
We have our terra incognita
and our ghastly blank land.(1)
What will be our Overland
Telegraph Line to take the(2)
'scarcely conceiveable' to
the 'practically possible?'
There's pleasure here
in this land, this vast
with its special kind of
aloneness which preoccupies
me with the writing of a story
in which I freely & continuously
analyse, observe, reflect, describe
& record the experience of 4 epochs.
I have helped to start a voyage
of wonder, mystery and vision
in this second half of the first
century of the Formative Age,
so different from those explorers
who had to deal with the demon
of drought, aridity and indifference.
Mine is a demon of a different ilk.
1 Ray Erickson, Ernest Giles: Explorer and Traveller: 1835-1897, Heinemann, Melb., 1978, p.41.
22 February 2002
Perhaps I will get around to reading Manning Clark's A History of Australia: Volumes 1-6 in the latter years of my latter years. It is still too much for me, too detailed an account for someone like me who likes a general picture and has so much that he wants to read from an immensely burgeoning world of print. But I have found some of the things Clark says provide useful ways of putting my task as a poet in perspective. I try to say, in my poetry, 'what the heart doth say' about one of the great passions of my life--the complex interrelationships between my society, my religion and my own experience.
My poetry attempts to describe the experience of one man pioneering and travelling for and in a new Faith across two continents over four epochs of the first century of the Formative Age of this new world Faith. Here, in what has become my massive poetic opus, is a putting into words of what one man saw when he opened a window on his experience richly coloured as it was by his religion and the story of his society. I have, like Clark and Thomas Hardy before me, watched "that pattern among general things" which my own temperamental idiosyncrasies move me to observe.-Ron Price with thanks to Manning Clark, A History of Australia: Vol. 3 and 6, Preface, 1973 and 1987.
We pay a terrible price
for our fatal flaws---
as you put it when
you were finishing up
your great work.
The one precious gift
we need is to read
the direction of the
river of life and
I have poured much
into that reading.
I have poured my life
into this 'holy crusade.'
It has fortified my days,
but left me worn at the edges
as the light was finally
installed on the hill
in the Vineyard of the Lord.
It wasn't, as Clark concluded,
that no one knew the direction
of the river or had anything to say.(1)
Too many people thought they knew
and even more had something to say.
If I did not have the aid
of those Men of Baha,
I would drown in that
of passionate intensity(2)
and endless, absolutely
endless, opinions filling
the spaces of the print
and electronic media today.
(1) Clark, Vol.6, op.cit., p.500: written on or about May 13th 1987.
(2) W.B. Yeats: in his famous prophetic poem The Second Coming. See the following link for some interpretations of that poem:
22 February 2002
Kahlil Gibran once wrote that Bahá'u'lláh’s Arabic writings were the most stupendous literature that ever was written. Of ‘Abdu’l-Baha he wrote that “for the first time I saw form noble enough to be a receptacle for the Holy Spirit.” This Lebanese writer who has sold more books than all the American poets from Auden(1907-1973) to Whitman(1819-1892) died in 1931. But he possesses a spectacular durability & a burgeoning reputation. In my early years as a teacher, back in 1968, a film was made about Gibran. It was called “The Broken Wings.”
When I retired after teaching for thirty years in 1999 I was given, by one of my fellow lecturers, one of the latest biographies on Gibran, one of the two that had come out in 1998. Gibran had hung around in the popular marketplace all my adult life. From my earliest years in which books became important, somewhere in about 1962, Gibran’s soulful, doleful, portrait stared at me from desks when I studied history and philosophy; it followed me into primary and high schools and would pop up in the most unpredictable places from Baffin island to Zeehan Tasmania. Gibran was, it seemed, an institution and a phenomenon and the author of the most widely-read book of the 20th century.(1)-Ron Price with thanks to (1) Suheil Bushrui and Joe Jenkins, Kahlil Gibran: Man and Poet, Oneworld, Oxford, 1998.
You seem to have followed me like
a shadow-like some second-cousin
in my religious life, out there in the
book shops, a copy with a friend
kept in their bag or on a home-shelf.
You died just when we were getting
our organization together around
the finest writing in Arabic ever
created by the pen of a human.
You had the cadences of the King
James Version-tantalizing paradox,
eternal pronunciamentos, some said
a patented blend of emptiness and
pretension from a man who craved
tranquillity and obscurity back home.
But the age was becoming more complex
and your simple solutions would not do,
would not be enough for our troubled age.
Ours was an age for falcons and eagles
not the simple, sweet flying birds--those
aphorisms for the unpredictable tempest
that was shaking our world apart.
Still, you were eloquent and beautiful
and your lonely voice reached millions,
for you had touched the world of the
imagination that would save us all,
the world of that stupendous writing
from the greatest Being to have lived
perhaps since the origins of life itself.
June 2nd 2006 to 21/7/'12
The French Revolutionaries identified the Enlightenment as the work of a small, brave band of 18th-century philosophes, whom they rushed to entomb as heroes in the gloomy crypt of the Panthéon. In the corrupt and desolate wasteland of the Ancien Régime, the Revolutionaries proclaimed, the philosophes had cast welcoming rays of light and reason, stirring the dull roots of popular discontent. On the other side of the political spectrum, angry defenders of religious and political orthodoxy accepted this image, but in photo-negative: for them, the wasteland was a happy garden; the rays of light were menacing shadows; and the angelic philosophes were demons, casting Europe into perdition.
For two hundred years, these popular images of the Enlightenment have retained considerable force. Textbooks, including Colin Jones’s superb new one(The Great Nation: France from Louis XV to Napoleon, 650 pages, 2002) have repeated them to new generations of readers, while literary historians such as Daniel Mornet have taken them for granted and proceeded to tell the story of the Enlightenment’s steady diffusion outwards from its Parisian source. In the 1960s, Peter Gay gave them new power in his brilliant extended essay The Enlightenment: An Interpretation. Gay recognised the international dimensions of the Enlightenment, and included Scots, English, Germans and Italians as well as French in what he called the ‘little flock of philosophes’. He recast it as a dialectic in which ‘modern paganism’ overcame Christianity and ushered in ‘the science of freedom’ – which he found best expressed in the American rather than the French Revolution. But at heart Gay’s Enlightenment remained the exploit of a handful of brave 18th-century souls.
Yet there have always been challenges to this view. Some critics have tried to expand the Enlightenment’s geographical and chronological boundaries. Others, more daringly, have denied its essential unity. J.G.A. Pocock, in his ongoing study of the intellectual worlds of Edward Gibbon, insists on the existence of multiple Enlightenments, some of them remarkably conservative, religious and devoted to erudition. The most radical critics of all have gone far in the other direction, subsuming the Enlightenment into even larger, sweeping historical shifts. Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno’s notorious, and notoriously abstruse, Dialectic of Enlightenment traced ‘Enlightenment’ thinking back to the age of Homer.
Foucault recast 18th-century Europe as the scene of a dramatic break in Western habits of thought, and darkly associated it with new, menacingly ubiquitous patterns of discipline and repression. Subsequent authors have often mistaken these radical critiques for attacks on the Enlightenment of convention, and proceeded to blame the Parisian philosophes for all the ills of modernity, crediting them with a repressive, even proto-totalitarian ‘Enlightenment Project’. This sort of thinking amounts to vulgar Postmodernism, and enjoys an alarming degree of popularity on American and British university campuses.
L.W.B. Brockliss, in his Calvet’s Web: Enlightenment and the Republic of Letters in 18th-Century France, an elegantly instructive study falls into older traditions of critique. Like the great early 20th-century historian Paul Hazard, Brockliss wants to push the boundaries of the Enlightenment beyond the ‘little flock of philosophes’, and in particular to identify it with the intellectual phenomenon known as the ‘Republic of Letters’ – an international network of correspondents born in the late 17th century and committed to unfettered critical inquiry. Hazard made this argument by showing that the founders of the Republic anticipated the philosophes in many of their lines of thought. As Diderot himself later acknowledged, ‘we had contemporaries during the age of Louis XIV’. Jonathan Israel has recently restated this argument in a new form in Radical Enlightenment, focusing on the Netherlands and the circle of Spinoza. Brockliss takes a different tack. He wants to show, first, that the Republic of Letters survived into the late 18th century and, second, that its membership shared the principal concerns and beliefs of the narrower group of philosophes. ‘The Enlightenment,’ he concludes, ‘should be subsumed within the Republic of Letters and the philosophes treated as the citizens of a singular mini-Republic within a broader federation.’ In fact, Brockliss would like to get rid of the term ‘Enlightenment’ altogether. For more go to:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Age_of_Enlightenment
THE FRENCH REVOLUTION: ALTERATIVE VIEWS
The 900 page book Revolutionary Ideas: An Intellectual History of the French Revolution from The Rights of Man to Robespierre by Jonathan Israel(Princeton University Press, 2014) has been reviewed in The New York Review of Books(10/7/'14). The review begins: "Did a secret society bring about the French Revolution? In the classic fictional version of this widely believed conspiracy theory, Alexandre Dumas’s novel Joseph Balsamo, a Masonic society known as the Illuminati gather in a ruined castle in 1770 and plot the overthrow of the French monarchy. Their leader, called the “Great Copt,” speaks of the day when “the monarchy is dead, religious domination is despised, and social inferiority is extinguished.” For more of this review go to:http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2014/jul/10/very-different-french-revolution/
THE BLOODIEST URBAN REVOLUTION
The Bloodiest Urban Revolution is the title of a review by Robert O. Paxton in The New York Reivew of Books(19/2/'15). The book under review is: Massacre: The Life and Death of the Paris Commune by John Merriman(Basic Books, 325 pages, 2014) Paxton begins: "The Great Terror of 1793–1794 is often considered the bloodiest episode in the history of Paris, thanks perhaps to Charles Dickens. By careful count, Robespierre’s Revolutionary Tribunal ordered 2,639 people executed in Paris between April 1793 and July 1794. But at least seven times that many were killed in the final week of street fighting in Paris from May 21 to May 28, 1871. What has become known as the Commune of Paris, the subject of John Merriman’s new book, Massacre, was the bloodiest urban revolution of the nineteenth century anywhere. Merriman likens it to the Saint Bartholemew’s Day massacre of Protestants in Paris in 1572, & to the Armenian massacre of 1915. During the Commune the working poor of Paris, instead of a religious or ethnic minority, were largely the victims.
An accurate number of Parisians executed in May 1871 by order of courts-martial or simply on the whim of a soldier does not exist, for the same reason that civilian casualty figures for the 2003 war in Iraq do not exist: no one bothered to count. The courts-martial kept sketchy records, and the many individual soldiers or platoons who killed their prisoners out of hand were even less accountable. In addition to somewhere between 17,000 and 35,000 dead, more than 4,500 supposed revolutionaries were subsequently deported to the French possessions in the Pacific, mainly to New Caledonia. Thousands more went into exile nearby, such as the painter Gustave Courbet, who was falsely held responsible for toppling the column in the Place Vendôme with its statue of Napoleon and assessed a huge sum for its repair. Courbet had actually worked to protect the Louvre from arson. He went to Switzerland. For more go to: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2015/feb/19/bloodiest-urban-revolution/?insrc=toc
Born Thomas Peter Ruffell Laslett and educated at the Watford Grammar School for Boys, Peter Laslett studied history at St John's College, Cambridge in 1935. He graduated with a double first in 1938. During World War II he learned Japanese and worked at Bletchley Park & Washington decoding Japanese naval intelligence. It was at Bletchley Park that he met his future wife, Janet Crockett Clark, whom he married in 1947. Returning to Cambridge in 1948 with a research fellowship at St John's College, Laslett edited Robert Filmer's political writings (Patriarcha and Other Political Writings, 1949). According to noted historian J.G.A. Pocock, it was with this work that Laslett provided the initial inspiration for the 'Cambridge School' of the history of political thought, the methods of which are now widely practised throughout the profession. Laslett combined such academic activity with a lifelong concern to engage a wider audience. For more on Laslett go to: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Laslett
He worked simultaneously as a BBC radio producer for the Third Programme. One product of this desire to reach a wider audience was his pathbreaking and highly-popular book The World We Have Lost: England Before the Industrial Age (1965; US edition, 1966), issued in a second edition in 1971 and in a retitled third revised edition, The World We Have Lost: Further Explored (1983; US edition, 1984). Simon Mitton credits Laslett with having launched in 1948 the radio broadcasting career of the astronomer Fred Hoyle. In 1953, Laslett was appointed a university lecturer in history at Cambridge, and was elected a fellow Trinity College in the same year. He continued work in the history of political theory, discovering Locke's library and demonstrating (against the accepted account) that John Locke'sTwo Treatises on Government had been written prior to the English "Glorious Revolution" of 1688–9, remarking that the "Two Treatises is an Exclusion Tract, not a Revolution Pamphlet." Laslett published an edition of the treatises in 1960, subsequently reprinted many times, which is now recognized as the definitive account of these pillars of modern liberal democracy. From 1957 he founded and co-edited Philosophy, Politics and Society, a series of collections on political philosophy.
Paul Hazard was the son of a school teacher. Starting in 1900, he attended the École Normale Supérieure in Paris. He received a doctorate from the Sorbonne in 1910 and became famous for his Ph.D. dissertation La Révolution française et les lettres italiennes (1910). He began his teaching at the University of Lyon in 1910 teaching comparative literature. In 1919 he began teaching also at the Sorbonne. In 1925 he was appointed to the chair of comparative literature at the Collège de France in Paris. In alternating years, from 1932 until 1940, he was a visiting lecturer at Columbia University in New York. During the 1920s and 1930s he also lectured at other American schools. He was elected to the Académie française in 1939. After finishing his semester of teaching at Columbia University in 1940, Hazard voluntarily returned to Nazi occupied France in January 1941.
He continued to teach, at Lyon and Paris, and to study. Later that same year he was nominated to the rectorship of the University of Paris, but was rejected by the Nazis as unacceptable. Working under what have been described as cruel circumstances, he completed European Thought in the Eighteenth Century. In the year of his death, an article, Pour que vive l'âme de la France (So That the Soul of France May Live), appeared in the clandestine review France de demain. He died in Paris on 13 April 1944, three months before I was born. I did not learn about him until I retired from a 50 year student-working life(1949-1999), and began to read extensively in the social sciences. For more on Hazard go to:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Hazard