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    Beat the Reaper Book Review

    Another book review that disappeared. I really love the tagline for this review: "Like Scrubs on crack."

    Beat the Reaper
    by Josh Bazell
    Little, Brown, and Company, 2009
    ISBN 0316032220; $9.99

    Every time I look at this book, I think of the song by Blue Öyster Cult, "The Reaper". This really has nothing to do with the book, but I think it nonetheless. I'm not normally a fan of mafia books, for the reason that mafiosi are so evil that reading about them depresses me. I did like this book, but I was always struggling against the horror that any semi-realistic portrayal of gangster life elicts.

    My favorite part of the book is the random medical facts scattered throughout the book, either in the body or in cute little footnotes. Lest anyone think that the medical mayhem of Manhattan Catholic is entirely fictional, I was recounting to my Mother the episode near the beginning of the book where Dr. Peter Brown comes in for rounds and discovers one of this patients is dead, despite the notation on the chart that claims the patient's temperature is 98.6º with blood pressure 120/80 mmHg. My Mom blurted out, "ooh, that happened to me!" My Mother has a great deal of experience as a nurse, and this exact incident happened to her, with the change that it was the aide who did it to the nurse instead of the nurse to the doctor.

    I have worked in hospitals myself, and currently am a designer of medical devices, so everything about Manhattan Catholic rang true, even though that much misery is not usually concentrated in one place. I can indeed confirm the typical surgeon's potty mouth. I've never heard such astounding things as you can hear in an operating room. I also appreciate Dr. Brown's gallows humor. When you work with death, you need something to help you stay sane. You can't go and cry in your beer every time something goes wrong. The most common method is black humor to provide emotional distance. Less common is sanctification, as practiced by chaplains and religious. I never hear gallows humor out of Sr. Elizabeth. Of course, maybe she just isn't sharing.

    The denoument of the book reminded of the Hitman series by Eidos. Anyone who has played through Hitman: Blood Money will find some similarities. Not huge ones, just reminiscent. The ending was imaginative. Perhaps I should say, strains credulity, but I'm not sure I could do it better. The medical facts do at least make it possible, if not plausible. If you enjoy gangster books, go for this one. If you want to know what hospitals are really like, read this too. No hospital is this bad, but they definitely share a family resemblance. This book is like Scrubs on crack.

    My other book reviews


    The Long View 2002-06-02: The Menace in South Asia

    NagasakiEven now that the Cold War is long past, most Westerners feel horror and shame at the thought of nuclear war. This is understandable, but the possibility of mutual assured destruction, and the intensive cultural revulsion that possibility engenders in us, are the products of a particular time, place, and set of assumptions.

    It took a great deal of time and effort to demonize all things nuclear. Immediately after the Second World War, there intense optimism about harnessing atomic power for the good of mankind. For example, there was Operation Plowshare, which sought a way to turn the crude destructive power of the atom bomb to more mundane purposes, much the same way TNT and other explosives became a tool of the construction and mining industries. The attitudes of 1950s America toward the power of the atom seem blithe to us now, but this is the direct result of a campaign to convince us of the utter horror and unwinnability of a nuclear war.

    There was a losing side of that campaign, for which I feel some sympathy. While they lost the war of public opinion, they definitely won the actual Cold War. After the 9/11 attacks, Paul Krugman suggested creating an office of evil to help the government imagine horrible things so we would not be surprised so badly next time. This role was filled for a long time by men like Edward Teller and Herman Kahn, who were perfectly happy to think the unthinkable in order to better prepare for it. A later entry in the field was the Strategy of Technology by Possony, Pournelle, and Kane. They argued that a decisive advantage in war could be gained by the targeted pursuit of specific technologies, particularly in the Cold War, which was already a technological contest.

    Arguably, this was in fact the strategy that impoverished the Soviet Union to a degree where the dissent of client states like East Germany and Poland could fatally destabilize it. However, at present, the men who brought this about are likely to be remembered for nuclear brinkmanship and warmongering rather than successfully preventing the Cold War from turning into a hot one, and achieving victory as well.

    What is perhaps even less well appreciated is how different the world is now from the peak of the Cold War. The US and Russia still have a lot of nuclear weapons, but the real worry these days is that some unpleasant little excuse for a country like North Korea or Pakistan will start something nuclear. It would be bad if they did, but to see MAD as the result is a failure of the imagination, or perhaps a success of propaganda. Look at the picture that heads this post, and imagine for yourself, "this is one of only two cities ever destroyed by nuclear weapons." And then try to believe your lying eyes.

    The Menace in South Asia


    There are three important points about the current confrontation between India and Pakistan. The first two are commonplaces. The third has not been addressed by policy makers, at least in public.

    First, it is not likely that the fighting between the two countries will go beyond border skirmishes. This is not a situation like 1914 in Europe, when strategic plans had to be carried out like clockwork if they were to be carried out at all. Furthermore, the situations of the parties are not symmetrical. While Pakistan is perhaps most to blame because of its acquiescence in the use of its territory by militants, India would be the actual aggressor in a war. That country's friends and well wishers have let the Indian government know that a war would delay India's accession to the ranks of the great powers.

    Second, even if a serious invasion of Pakistan does occur, it is unlikely that the conflict will go nuclear. On the nuclear level, Pakistan would have to be the aggressor. It is hard to see what Pakistan could gain from that step. The use of tactical nuclear weapons to halt an Indian invasion could cause the Indians to escalate their goals from border security to the destruction of the Pakistani state. In any case, India will always be in a position to declare victory and withdraw. There is no necessary ladder of escalation.

    Third, if there is a war and it does go nuclear, India is going to win decisively. Its traditional enemy will be dismembered and the fragments disarmed. The civilian casualties India would suffer, even in the worst-case scenarios, would be proportionately less than those suffered by Great Britain in the Blitz. The moral that the world would draw from a South Asian nuclear war is that nuclear wars are fightable and winnable.

    The Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union occasioned the creation, not just of new weapons systems, but of new disciplines in logic and political science. Those disciplines applied only in a historically unique situation of overwhelming firepower and comparably high levels of technical competence. Nuclear weapons began, however, as an incremental augmentation to the tactics of area bombing. A substantial amount of time passed before the Cold War competitors had the nuclear devices and the delivery systems that could threaten the existence of each other's societies. India and Pakistan are far from crossing that threshold.

    Several countries around the world aspire to just the situation in South Asia, where the use of nuclear weapons is a rational option. An Indian victory would have obvious policy implications for Iran, Taiwan, the Koreas and even Japan.

    Just yesterday, President George Bush made a speech at West Point in which he declared that deterrence is not enough. He is right, but few people have remarked on the scope of the police project he is proposing. Let us take a deep breath as we prepare to jump in.

    Why post old articles?

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    The Long View: Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes: Law and the Inner Self Book Review

    The Long LifetimeAnd for the final member of the trimumvirate of the American century, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

    The short-hand John used for Holmes and the times he lived through was "The Long Lifetime". Holmes was born just before the American Civil War, and lived to see the Great War. Most of the decisive events in modernity occurred during his lifetime, and he caused at least a couple of them personally.

    Holmes is known best for his oracular opinions from the bench, but he is also one of the foremost scholars of American law. Holmes set Constitutional Law on the course it still follows, although in practice that course has come to subvert what Holmes was trying to do.

    The common law and the natural law had become an abomination in Holmes' time. They were used to justify the exploitation of workers and the destruction of the environment in the name of contract and property rights with which the legislature could not interfere. Holmes great mission in life was to find a rational and defensible legal philosophy that could correct these abuses.

    He did precisely that, formulating a doctrine of legal pragmatism that holds great influence. The law is the embodiment of the will of the sovereign, which in the United States of his time was the People through the mechanism of the Legislature. There is no eternal truth to be found in the law, only the felt need of the moment.  However, it was also a doctrine of legal positivism, that held that that anything not specifically forbidden by the Constitution was permissible to the Legislature. The "discovery" of a right was wholly alien to the law as Holmes saw it. The text of the Constitution mattered very much to him. In a sense, both the current Left and Right in American law are descendants of Holmes.

    With Teddy Roosevelt, who nominated him to the bench, and with Woodrow Wilson, whose policies he helped implement, Justice Holmes fixed us on the path upon which we find ourselves. Everything since has been the working out of the implications of what those men wrought.

    Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes: Law and the Inner Self
    by G. Edward White
    Oxford University Press, 1993
    $18.95, 628 pp.
    ISBN: 0-19-510128-6

    Justice Faustus


    Future historians may well decide that the decisive years in the life of Western civilization were the period from around 1860 to 1945. In retrospect, for instance, the string of great wars from the American Civil War through the end of World War II seems almost like a logical progression, one that may have settled permanently the geopolitical structure of the West. Perhaps more important, those were the years when the dreams of the Enlightenment achieved tangible form. Democracy became a universally accepted principle, as did wholly secular models of human history and of the natural world. ("The Origin of Species" was published in 1859.) Some of these concrete forms were a little disconcerting, of course. Socialism, a logical development of Rousseau's General Will, in practice came to mean the sort of command economy created by Germany and Great Britain to fight World War I, and which Lenin simply made permanent. The year 1945 was no more the end of history than was 1989. However, far more than the latter date, that year marks the point by which certain choices had been made. The molten possibilities of the Enlightenment had become frozen in forms that would be definitive of the future. Everything that has happened since, perhaps, has been just the working out of the implications of those forms.

    The decisive choices thus were made during what amounts to a single, long lifetime. Oliver Wendell Holmes's long adult life almost matched it. In the field of American jurisprudence, many of the final forms are his. He, perhaps more than anyone else, broke American legal thinking of its natural law habits and enshrined positivism as the only respectable philosophy of law. He quite literally wrote the book on legal pragmatism. He provided the theoretical framework that made it possible for the federal government to create the kind of "soft" command economy typical of twentieth century states. He made it possible for labor unions to carry out class war in the courts rather than in the streets. He turned the First Amendment's freedom of the press clause from a dead letter to a premise of American culture. Also, he was never what he seemed.

    I picked up this book with some trepidation because the subtitle, "Law and the Inner Self," suggested that I might be in for another long, tendentious psychobiography. The fear was misplaced. This is a lawyer's book, written by a legal historian at the University of Virginia. (Among other accolades, it won the America Bar Association's "Silver Gavel Award.") The biography is primarily concerned with the subject's ideas, not his supposed mental problems. With the one exception we will get to in a moment, the biographical material is well integrated into this story. Particularly enlightening is the discussion of the probable effect which the young, admiring Progressives associated with the magazine, "The New Republic," had on Holmes's views regarding freedom of speech issues. Malicious persons have sometimes suggested that the mark of a legal mind is the ability to see distinctions that aren't there, and sometimes it seemed to this reviewer that White was finding contradictions in Holmes's court opinions that could have been resolved by a slightly less suspicious reading. Well, these are the '90s, after all, so a bit of deconstruction is only to be expected. Still, the book provides a panoramic window into one of the great transformations in the history of jurisprudence.

    Born in 1841, Holmes was the contemporary and friend of Henry Adams, William and Henry James, and other post-Transcendental New England luminaries he was destined to outlive by a decade or more. He was the son of a famous Boston Brahmin, Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., who abandoned medical practice for a successful career as a lecturer and essayist. (Among other accomplishments, he coined the term, "anaesthesia.") Holmes the younger served with distinction in the Civil War. There may have been other junior Union officers who fought in the Seven Days Peninsular Campaign, at Antietam, and (in a skirmish) near Chancellorsville and lived to tell about it. Still, this particular long-boned Yankee seems to have been singularly indestructible. After his third wound, he took the hint and applied for a staff job. This did not get him wholly out of harm's way; the narrative in this book suggests that the only time he was brave to any purpose in the course of the war was when he outrode a Confederate patrol while carrying a staff message. However, the transfer did at least preserve him from leading an infantry platoon during the Battle of the Wilderness. This, and the fact that he did not reenlist when his three year enlistment ended in the summer of 1864, leads White to speculate at length that Holmes suffered from "survivor guilt" for the rest of life. Maybe he did. However, if so, it was one of those insidious syndromes whose chief symptom was the total suppression of any direct evidence for it in the subject's later life.

    In any event, Holmes survived to become a prominent member of the Massachusetts bar and, on his numerous vacation trips to Europe, a notable ornament of London society. (Predictably, the young Henry Adams at the American legation helped to orchestrate the introductions). White is cautiously agnostic about Holmes's private life, though we are treated to quite a lot of flirtatious correspondence, particularly with one Lady Castledown, a member of the Irish "Ascendancy." Homes married Fanny Bowditch Dixwell in 1872, apparently happily for both parties. She was a somewhat reclusive woman who declined to accompany Holmes on all but one or two of his European excursions. They never had children, a fact that probably requires no explanation beyond the fact they married in their early thirties and Fanny suffered from bouts of scarlet fever. Holmes was, as we will see, a great believer in eugenics and family planning, but he was unlikely to have been of the opinion that his were among the bloodlines that needed to be discontinued.

    There are two traditional ways for an ambitious legal practitioner to make a name for himself: politics and scholarship. Holmes, who was very ambitious indeed, embraced the latter with fierce determination. In 1881 Holmes published "The Common Law," based on the Lowell Lectures he had delivered the year before. Though more praised than read, the book is unique in being simultaneously a history of the common law of England and America, a theory of why it had evolved as it had, and a philosophy of what law is. The next year he joined the Harvard law faculty, a special endowment having been created to support his professorship. To the delight of Harvard-haters for all time, he decided in the course of an afternoon in late 1882 to abandon Harvard in order to accept the unexpected offer of an appointment as an associate justice to the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts. His Harvard colleagues found out about his decision from the newspapers. He served on that court for 20 years, rising eventually to be Chief Justice. He turned out short, compelling, but sometimes rather Delphic opinions on the nut-and-bolts questions that take up most of any court's time.

    President Theodore Roosevelt, apparently mislead by the militaristic rhetoric of Holmes's extra-judicial statements into believing Holmes to be a congenial jingo, appointed him to be an associate justice on the United States Supreme Court in 1902. Always hardworking and never a difficult colleague, he was a respected but slightly obscure figure until the 1920s, when he became the darling of Progressives, civil libertarians and the labor movement. In his 80s, he became a national figure for the first time. Then and for decades afterward, he was the "Yankee from Olympus," the "great dissenter," even "..the greatest legal intellect in the history of the English-speaking world," in the opinion of his Supreme Court successor, Benjamin Cardozo. With his brilliant epigrammatic prose style and fearsome moustaches, he joined Mark Twain and Benjamin Franklin as an archetypical American.

    Though he looked like God and seemed nearly old enough for the job, he was not actually immortal. His work on the court began to fall off in his last judicial term or two, perhaps because of a slight stroke. He was prevailed upon to retire early in 1932, though he remained perfectly lucid for most purposes until his death in 1935 after a brief illness. Fanny, his wife of 57 years, had died in 1929. He often seemed lonely in the final years, though throughout the period he was continually attended by a parade of the Great and the Good from Harvard and Washington, including FDR himself. He was also attended by a law clerk, a young Harvard law graduate, even after he had ceased to serve on the court. The hiring of Supreme Court law clerks, usually law school graduates eager for this most prestigious of post-graduate work, was another of his innovations.

    If the legal systems of Europe based on Roman law are like the French language, all codified by some Academy and with, in principle, a right answer to every stylistic question, the common law of England grew up rather like the English language. Some authorities were more prestigious than others and there were general points on which everyone could agree, but the common law, like the language of the people who lived under it, allowed for numerous decision-makers and incremental innovations, which might survive in practice or be rejected. Judges made the common law, basing their opinions on the opinions of other judges, citing principles so ancient that the memory of man ran not to the contrary. Even today, when most important areas of law have been summarized in civil and criminal codes, still the codes usually just adopt one or another set of common law rules. And when judges in common law countries interpret those statutes, they look first to the opinions of other judges rather than at the text itself.

    For judges in England and the United States before the middle of the last century, the idea that the same "common law" still somehow applied in both countries, and indeed in every state of the American union individually, did not pose a conceptual problem. When the American colonies removed themselves from the jurisdiction of the British Parliament, it never occurred to them that they might be removing themselves from the sway of the common law. Parliament had not made the common law, though of course it had influenced the common law's development throughout history. The common law was never thought to be coincident with the natural law, but the English jurists tended to assume that it had been informed by the natural law. Judges, guided by right reason, could develop existing common law rules to better conform to the natural law. This was how the judge Lord Mansfield finally abolished slavery in England in the late eighteenth century (in the 1830s parliament got around to outlawing it in the colonies). The judges who did this sort of thing said they were not making law, but discovering it. The common law was complicated and often obscure, it rules sometimes manifestly unjust. However, lawyers trained in the common law tradition seemed to always have at the back of their minds the assumption that the common law was the real law. What parliaments and legislatures might decree from time to time would of course be obeyed, but the statutory law that tried to change common law was strictly and suspiciously construed.

    When Holmes was a young man, there was no lack of philosophers of jurisprudence, such as Austin and Bentham, who dedicated their careers to fighting the concept of natural law. They looked on law as simply the command of the sovereign, or of judges representing the sovereign, or of the judges themselves. This approach to the law is known as legal positivism. It arose because the very idea of natural law was becoming incomprehensible to men who lived after Hume and Kant. Natural law, after all, is supposed to be "deontological," that is, somehow derivable from the nature of things. Those philosophers, however, had proven to their own satisfaction that you could not know about the "nature," the essence, of anything. All you could know was how things acted. There are two ways to take this proposition. You could, like the early German Idealists and like the New England Transcendentalists, draw the lesson that, since your knowledge of "how things acted" was simply a matter of sense perception, then all that really existed (as far as you can tell) is the perceptions in your own mind. Alternatively, you might forget about the mind entirely and just concentrate on how things (including people) act. The result is behaviorism.

    Holmes himself is an example of a man who started as an Emersonian Idealist and followed the natural trajectory of this school into behaviorism. The halfway house on the journey is the philosophy of pragmatism, and Holmes was there at the creation. After the Civil War, he was a member of the Metaphysical Club, which included both William James and Charles Peirce, the latter usually regarded as the father of pragmatism. In essence, pragmatism is just another form of idealism. A "problem," in the pragmatist scheme of things, is simply the perception of some incongruity. If you arrange matters so that you no longer have this perception, then the problem is solved. If the new arrangement does not conform to your rules of logic, then there is something wrong with your rules. The direct effect of Peirce on Holmes has been much debated, and some writers have probably exaggerated it. Still, the philosophy of "The Common Law" is pragmatic in the strict sense.

    In the first few lines of the book, Holmes lays down the principle that "[t]he life of the law has not been logic: it has been experience." The common law is not a fixed body of doctrines and the syllogisms derived from them, but an organic structure that has grown up in response to "the felt necessities of the time." The way to evaluate a law, in other words, is to measure the degree of subjective satisfaction it gives the community. By the time of his essay "The Path of the Law," published in 1885, he had completed the evolution to a behaviorist theory of law. Whatever you may think of Holmes's jurisprudence, "The Path of the Law" is an unambiguously great exercise in legal philosophy; certainly it withstands the test of time much better than "The Common Law." Laws should be written, we learn, from the standpoint of "the bad man," he who will do the absolute minimum necessary to avoid the sanctions of his neighbors. In other words, it must create objective standards, that do not depend on the personal virtue or goodwill of the citizens. When the law seeks to determine the "intent" of someone who committed an act for which he is on trial, it is not seeking to determine whether he meant to do good or harm. The law seeks to know only whether he knew what the results of his action would be. The inquiry can be made only by considering the defendant's observable behavior.

    Holmes had a flare for dramatic expression, but his even his most extravagant pronouncements usually had a deal of common sense behind them. In the area of contract law, for instance, behaviorist jurisprudence meant that you did not have to guess whether there had been a "meeting of minds" between the parties to a contract: all you needed to do was determine what they said they had agreed to. If they never said the same thing, then there was no contract. Holmes sought not just to make the law predictable, but its burden light. In the law of torts, he used every opportunity to limit the liability of defendants. To some extent, this was because he believed limited liability was one of the "felt necessities of the time." Businesses could not grow if their every action threatened to incur a law suit. More important, perhaps, was the fact that his legal philosophy left no possible source of duty from one person to another except rules of behavior enunciated by the state. Thus, if the state did not create a cause of civil action, then normally the courts should not supply one.

    In 1917, Holmes gave memorable expression to modern legal positivism in his Supreme Court dissent to the majority opinion in Southern Pacific v. Jensen, which held that a seaman injured in port should not receive the benefit of New York State's workman's compensation law. The general principles of maritime law did not allow for a seaman to receive compensation under the circumstances, and the majority believed that this principle should govern, rather than the statute. Holmes thought otherwise: "The common law is not a brooding omnipresence in the sky, but the articulate voice of some sovereign or quasi-sovereign that can be identified." Derision for that "brooding omnipresence" has proven irresistible to American law professors ever since, but like most forms of skepticism, this thesis turns out to be incoherent if you look at it closely. To say that law is "the command of the sovereign" is tautological, since a sovereign is a legal entity. Moreover, it is an extremely awkward way to look at legal systems, such as those of the United States, where the actual sovereign tells you to go ask a judge or somebody if you want to know what the law is. On the other hand, the idea of an autonomous system of rules that can create order spontaneously, which is what the common law is supposed to be, is actually quite reminiscent of most schools of the philosophy of mathematics in the twentieth century. Many mathematicians, indeed almost all the great ones, believe that they "discover" mathematical entities, not that they make them up. No woolly-pated judge at a shire assize could have quarreled with the principle.

    It is wrong to think of legal positivism as growing from a desire to cut off the law from the transcendent, or for that matter as part of a plot to make the world safe for industrial capitalism. The common law jurisprudence in the America of Holmes's early career had arguably become a force of darkness that all right-thing people were holden to combat. Many people at the time hoped to turn law into a "science," in the sense of a coherent system of statements. However, such people, notably Christopher Langdell of Harvard Law School, seemed to think that the common law was wholly self-referential. The "formalist" period of American law that resulted from this philosophy was not pretty. Judicial decision-making became more and more a mechanical process of finding precedents and applying them, whether or not the result made sense in the context of modern industrial conditions. "Natural law" made its appearance most conspicuously in the discovery by the courts of wide-ranging "rights" to contract and to property. Under this logic, legislatures were found to lack the power to interfere with the right of employers and laborers to bargain for what wages and hours they chose, or for municipalities to interfere with the right of manufacturers to perform whatever industrial processes on their land that the manufacturers saw fit. This view was eventually adopted by the U.S. Supreme Court, by way of the Due Process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. This constitutional doctrine became known as "substantive due process." As many commentators have noted, it bears more than a little resemblance to the philosophy of "reproductive rights" that the court began to discover in the Constitution beginning in the 1960s, beginning with Griswold v. Connecticut. Holmes fought against this approach throughout his career. It was only after his retirement, when the court was threatened with the effective loss of the power of judicial review if it kept blocking FDR's New Deal legislation, that his point of view prevailed.

    Holmes was an honest Social Darwinist. He believed that class war was a fact of life, just as was war between nations. He also thought that unions and labor legislation did nothing to improve the common good. As he remarked in his dissent in Plant v. Wood while he was still a Massachusetts judge: "The annual product, subject to an infinitesimal deduction for the luxuries of the few, is directed to consumption by the multitude, always. Organization and strikes may get a larger share for the member of the organization, but if they do, they get it at the expense of the less organized and less powerful portion of the laboring mass." One will find few purer expressions of Malthusian economics in American law. However, he dissented in that case because he found no reason the union in question should not organize a boycott, which the plaintiff was trying to stop. No statute forbade a boycott, and the common law was ambiguous. In such a situation, the role of the courts was simply to guarantee a fair fight. When the state itself sought to intervene in labor relations, of course, he heard his sovereign's voice and hurried to obey.

    One of Holmes's most famous opinions is his dissent in Lockner v. New York, decided in 1905, in which the Supreme Court struck down a maximum hours law for bakers. The court based its decision on a "liberty of contract" of their own manufacture. There is, of course, a provision in the U.S. Constitution, Article I, Section 10, forbidding the states to pass laws that "impair contracts," but any fair reading of the history of that provision will show that the Founders were mostly concerned about states cancelling the debts of farmers during bad years. (Even that provision has been loosely interpreted to allow for debt moratoria.) In any event, Holmes was having none of it: "...the Fourteenth Amendment does not enact Mr. Herbert Spencer's Social Statics," he harrumpfed magisterially. (Holmes's Mathusianism, incidentally, came by way of Spencer; he got around to reading Malthus himself about ten years after Lockner.) In Holmes's scheme of things, if there was no constitutional provision forbidding the government to do something, then the people, through their elected representatives, could do pretty much any damn fool thing they pleased.

    Thus, if the people pleased to require the sterilization of unsatisfactory persons, Holmes saw no reason to object. Certainly the Constitution had nothing to say about it. Indeed, eugenics was the only one of the Progressive Era reforms that positively engaged his enthusiasm. He does not seem to have had any more than usual of the racial prejudices common to his place and time; probably he had rather less. It may be, as White suggests, that his interest in eugenics did not arise from a fear of drowning in the rising tide of the colored races. Rather, he had a lively sense that human nature itself was flawed. Under the circumstances, the best that the law could do was referee a fair Darwinian fight. If the fight were ever to end, it would have to be because the nature of the combatants had improved.

    Be this as it may, it is at least clear that Holmes's views on the powers of government in this area require no special explanation; they are perfectly consistent with his views on the powers of government in the economic sphere. His opinion in the 1927 case, Buck v. Bell, upheld a Virginia statute that was being used to sterilize a woman who may or may not have been retarded, after a hearing process that looked exemplary on paper but which in practice was apparently rather summary. The opinion is classic Holmes. He uses the argument that "the greater power includes the lesser," always one of his favorites. Since the woman could have been drafted and sent into combat, he reasons, surely the state may require the lesser sacrifice of sterility. The epigrams are memorable. "Three generations of imbeciles are enough," he says about the plaintiff's inaccurately recounted family history. "The Bill of Rights is not a suicide pact," he affirms, to the plaudits of all progressive people everywhere. The truly infuriating thing about the opinion is that it is probably right. The Constitution does not guarantee reproductive rights, it does not forbid either sterilization or abortion. The Founding Fathers did not feel it necessary to address such matters. They thought better of their descendants than to suppose it might be necessary.

    The only area in which Holmes was at all inclined to limit the power of the state was in questions of freedom of speech and the press. This willingness earned him his reputation as a civil libertarian. He would not always have merited the label. In the rare instances when he had to address the matter as a state judge, he held to the conventional view that the only real free speech rights were those provided under common law. This meant that the courts could not exercise "prior restraint," that is, to forbid someone from speaking or publishing. However, once you had your say, you could be fined or imprisoned for saying things that were inconvenient or unpopular, even if they were true. The venerable offense of "criminal libel" excited no animus in the middle-aged Holmes. Once on the U.S. Supreme Court, he at first saw little reason to change his mind. For one thing, the Court did not quite make up its mind until the end of his second decade as a justice whether the First Amendment, which by its terms applies only to the federal government, had been "incorporated" by the Fourteenth Amendment so as to apply to the states. Even when it was thought to apply, it was assumed to be simply declaratory of the very limited protections afforded by the common law.

    Professor White, as I noted, lays out the history of Holmes's friendships with Felix Frankfurter and Harold Laski and the rest of The New Republic crowd to show how their ideas influenced Holmes around the time of the First World War and after. Certainly Holmes was disturbed by broad new laws forbidding speech that tended to "interfere with recruiting" or that advocated the overthrow of the government at some indefinite point in the future, or that otherwise hinted you might be up to no good. He began to grope for a principle that would be consistent with the rest of his ideas about the power of government. His first solution was the "clear and present danger" test. He tried, without much luck, to get the Supreme Court to agree that you could say or print pretty much anything you wanted that did not seem likely to start a riot. This, of course, is really just a rule about evidence, it is not a definition of a personal right that an individual could assert against a hostile government. What he picked up from his young friends was the notion of "the marketplace of ideas" as something necessary for the conduct of a democracy. The courts had to make sure that even bad ideas got a hearing, because otherwise there was no way to be sure good ideas might not be suppressed by accident. The First Amendment was thus not a dead letter after all, but a clear textual restriction on the power of government.

    Professor White finds that this defense of freedom of speech was contradictory, an anomaly in Holmes's positivistic universe. He points out that Holmes's theory of government was that the majority in society will always work its will eventually, yet here was Holmes creating a "fundamental principle of democracy" that was rigidly anti-majoritarian. This assessment, I think, fails to appreciate the true underlying unity of Holmes's thought throughout his career. The justice's late championship of unfettered expression was not a break with his ancient pragmatism. Rather, it was its final flower, the highest good to which the intersubjective mind can attain. Fundamentally the marketplace argument is not new: a version of it was Milton's thesis in favor of free speech in the "Areopagitica." However, for Holmes, who lived in a post-metaphysical intellectual environment, the notion could take on a whole new significance. The marketplace of ideas was as close as Holmes's philosophy would let him come to the idea of truth. As a pragmatist, he had rejected the idea of absolute truth, but he also venerated the search for it. The best he could hope for was a free exchange of ideas, what Richard Rorty would later call "conversation." The transcendent was inaccessible, perhaps, but it could be approximated in this world by a perpetual dynamic stability.

    Readers of Goethe's "Faust" will recognize that these were the very terms on which Faust was damned. The devil had agreed that he would not carry Faust to Hell until Faust found something in which his heart could rest, some moment to which he could say, "stay, you are so fair." At the end of his restless career of ever-growing power and knowledge, Faust finally conceives of a world he could love. It is world of perpetual struggle, in which mankind and nature achieve a kind of stability through their unceasing efforts to overcome each other. It is an eternal conversation of antagonistic forces, a marketplace of will that never closes. When Faust embraced this vision, the devil's bill came due. He had no reason to complain. The clarity of their contract was all that any judge might have wished.


    This article originally appeared in the January 1996 issue of Culture Wars magazine. Please click on the following line for more information:

    Copyright © 1996 by John J. Reilly

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    The Long View: T. R.: The Last Romantic Book Review

    Now for the other half of the beginning of the twentieth century, here is Teddy.

    Theodore Roosevelt redefined the American presidency through sheer force of will. The office of President was at a nadir in the decades following the Civil War, and the Congress was pre-eminent. Roosevelt was placed on the ticket as vice-President in order to get him out of the way. He never really saw eye-to-eye with the Republican party bosses, but his massive popularity was difficult to ignore. Vice-President was a convenient dead-end in which to place him, until an assassin's bullet propelled him into the Oval Office.

    Once there, Teddy did all sorts of outrageous things, often not stopping to inquire whether it was actually within the purview of the Executive Branch to do what he did. And he got away with it.  All that is well known. John is a fan of T. R., as am I, and I am more interested in the less well-known aspects of this fascinating man. Despite his famous belligerency, Roosevelt was a gifted negotiator. He won the Nobel Peace Prize for the deal that ended the Russo-Japanese War, but he also ended the guerrilla war in the Phillipines [although not the Moro Rebellion] and convinced the Kaiser to settle his debts with Latin America instead of sending battleships to collect them.

    Roosevelt was perhaps one of the best read Presidents. He read two to three books a day. When given a book by a guest in the morning, he could discuss the book in detail at dinner. He attempted to reform English spelling by Executive Order, which is perhaps one of the few things in his Presidency that backfired so badly.

    I'm currently working my way through Edmund Morris' magisterial trilogy on T. R., and I also watched a bit of the recent PBS series The Roosevelts, but I skipped the parts about Franklin. I am simply in a Theodore Roosevelt mood, but that is never a bad thing.

    T.R.: The Last Romantic
    by H. W. Brands
    Basic Books, 1997
    897 pages, $35.00
    ISBN: 0-465-06958-4

    Large Policy

    You don't need an excuse to read about Theodore Roosevelt. Still the youngest president (he was just shy of 43 years old when William McKinley's assassination catapulted him from vice-presidential obscurity), he was probably the most knowledgeable person ever to hold that office, even counting Thomas Jefferson. He was certainly the most colorful. In fact, his volcanic stint in office from 1901 to 1909 was a comparatively drab interlude in his life. If he had not existed, G. K. Chesterton would have had to make him up. It would take an awfully bad biographer to write a tedious life of this man, but this single-volume work by H. W. Brand (who teaches history at Texas A&M) is both solid history and a delight to read. The only problem is that, at almost 900 pages, the book is too short.

    Nevertheless, the study of Theodore Roosevelt's administration has become not just entertaining but topical. Historical parallels are always tricky, but many people (including President Clinton) have taken to comparing the present era to the Progressive Era of the first two decades of the 20th century. When Roosevelt took office, the federal government was just coming out of the coma it entered after the Civil War of 1861-65. In the interim, the country had been covered with huge new industries that the law simply did not address. Neither Europe nor Asia were as far away as they had been a few decades before, and for the first time in its history the United States found that it needed a strategic doctrine. At the same time, international capital flows were becoming large enough to affect even the largest economies, while immigration (in those days from eastern and southern Europe) was threatening to change the character of the country. Meanwhile, business and labor united in the demand that tariff policy keep the growing American domestic market all to themselves. Roosevelt proposed to deal with this new environment through what he called "large policy." In the cramped intellectual universe of the post-Cold War, post-federal deficit era, it is not unreasonable that people have started to look to Roosevelt for a more expansive view of government.

    So who was this Roosevelt character? He was born in 1858 to a rich family of stolid Dutchmen that had lived in Manhattan since it was Nieuw Amsterdam. As the whole world knows, he was a scrawny specimen with a life-threatening case of asthma, so he adopted a lifelong program of indoor and outdoor exercise. (He died at 60, battered and half-blind: there is such a thing as overdoing it.) Roosevelt never went to a conventional school until he entered Harvard, but by then he spoke the major modern languages and was already on the way to becoming a serious naturalist. He hunted big game in Africa and the Americas, often at the expense of institutions for which he supplied specimens. His chief regular source of income was a stream of purple-prose popular histories, supplemented by memoirs of his adventures and by ferocious political invective. (He was a distant cousin of Rudyard Kipling; it shows.) He was widowed once and remarried, fathering six children in all.

    Just out of college, Theodore Roosevelt was elected to the New York State Assembly as a Republican in 1881. (At the same time he published his first book, on the naval side of the War of 1812.) He was even briefly the minority leader, until the Republicans unexpectedly gained a majority and decided they did not want a kid running the legislature. He divided his time between politics and ranching in the Dakotas during the 1880s. The latter enterprise, into which he had sunk much of his considerable inheritance, lapsed when his herds were wiped out in the severe winter of 1886-87. Still, he continued to mount nearly annual hunting expeditions, and it was in this period that he began his influential multivolume history, "The Winning of the West." In the 1890s he served on (and dominated) the new federal Civil Service Commission, and then on the New York City Police Commission. (It was while serving in the latter post that cartoonists fell in love with his spectacles, mustache and teeth.) President McKinley made him Assistant Secretary of the Navy in the period leading up to the Spanish-American War of 1898. During that war he served in Cuba with operatic distinction as lieutenant colonel of a volunteer regiment (the "Rough Riders") in the chaotic but successful American advance on Santiago. The Battle of San Juan Hill did not for the most part occur on San Juan Hill, which in any case is actually a ridge, but Roosevelt really was stone courageous.

    Roosevelt's war record, helped not least by his own quickie book on his exploits, got him elected governor of New York State. There he showed a disconcerting tendency to make appointments for reasons other than patronage and to try to regulate monopolies. It was actually in order to restrain him that the Republican Party leaders made him McKinley's second vice president. McKinley's assassination by the self-described anarchist Leon Czolgosz (pronounced "Tsholgosh") put him in the White House.

    Roosevelt in office exercised functions no one knew the president had (and indeed didn't, until Roosevelt made them up). He threatened to send in the Army to take over the coal mines during a potentially catastrophic strike, thereby forcing the owners to come to terms with the union. He turned federally-owned land into the nature preserves that became the National Park System, this with only the flimsiest legislative authorization. At a time when the Supreme Court tended to strike down new business regulation, he got Congress to extend federal control over the inspection of food and drugs. He managed to get some real authority for the Interstate Commerce Commission over the railroads, whose monopoly pricing he remembered from his own days in the Dakotas. He acquired the land to build the Panama Canal. (The transaction, as his Attorney General delicately put it, was accomplished "without the slightest taint of legality.") He sent American forces to briefly occupy Havana without Congressional authorization. In fact, he sent the whole fleet on a round-the-world cruise and dared Congress not to appropriate the money to bring it back. The rules for American football were revised under White House auspices. He also tried to reform English spelling by executive order, but here Congress stopped him cold.

    It is the measure of Roosevelt that, though he often wrote and spoke of war as if it were a kind of extreme sport, he started no war when pulling the trigger was his own responsibility. In fact, he had a knack for negotiation. He negotiated an end to the appalling guerrilla war that had simmered in the Philippines since the U.S. acquired the archipelago in the Spanish-American War. He famously won the Nobel Peace Prize for hosting the negotiations that ended the Russo-Japanese War. Less famously, he was instrumental in defusing the Algeciras Crisis in 1906, and he persuaded the Kaiser to take his bad-debt claims against Latin American countries to the Hague, instead of trying to settle them by sending German battleships into the western hemisphere. Roosevelt was in fact a great believer in international law and the settlement of disputes by arbitration. He was far from pacifism, of course. In his view, it was not the function of international law to discourage war, but to regulate it.

    Roosevelt was an ideological imperialist. He did not just want an American empire, he liked the idea of empires in general. The reason for this was the same as his reason for supporting labor unions: he supported order for its own sake. Much the same motive probably also lay behind his support of a rationalized spelling for English. Put negatively, this means that he feared disorder. He had a particular hatred for anarchists of all descriptions, of course, but much the same sentiment informed his support of business regulation. Laissez faire economics made him nervous, because it appeared to allow chaos.

    One way to put it might be to say that Roosevelt liked power, but power employed to build things. On the whole he assumed that bigger was better. Canals, empires, populations: he supported pronatalist policies against the beginnings of the birth control movement. Even his antitrust policy reflected this principle, since he much preferred regulating monopolies to breaking them up. He had mixed feelings about immigration, but for most of his life he saw it as a good, provided there was no multiculty nonsense about keeping the immigrants in ethnic enclaves. In his mind, being a Lincoln Republican also meant being a an anti-racist Republican, because racism required leaving something unassimilated.

    Roosevelt may have been the first American statesman with a geostrategic sense. He understood that Eurasia has two ends, and the U.S. is in trouble if anything goes seriously wrong at either one. Whenever possible, the U.S. should support the states of the periphery against those of the interior. He had a genuine flash of prescience regarding the peculiar susceptibility of Russia to socialist revolution. In later years, he even understood that, if it became necessary to go to war with Germany, then thereafter it would become necessary to support a weakened Germany against the Slavic threat. This was the script for the 20th century, and he grasped it 30 years before anyone else.

    Roosevelt saw to it that his old friend and right-hand man, William Howard Taft, would get the Republican nomination in 1908. Taft was elected, and Roosevelt, just 50 years of age, left for a triumphal tour of Africa and Europe. This tour made him the most famous man in the world. At the end of it, he represented the U.S. at the funeral of Edward VII, and he was the one the other dignitaries wanted to see. (Roosevelt avoided seeing the young Winston Churchill. He thought Churchill was a shady self-promoter.) Then Roosevelt returned to the United States and spent the rest of Taft's term stabbing his old friend in the back.

    The reason he did this is fundamentally mysterious. Roosevelt had some real policy differences with his successor. Taft was much more accommodating to big business than Roosevelt ever was. (J.P. Morgan offered a toast when Roosevelt left for Africa: "America expects every lion to do its duty!") Still, Taft actually had a more vigorous anti-monopoly program than Roosevelt had had. Taft was friendlier with the Republican Party bosses than Roosevelt was, but that was not much of an accomplishment considering how much they distrusted Roosevelt. The answer seems simply to have been that Roosevelt was jealous. He was also incapable of self-knowledge, so he ascribed incompetence and bad motive to the people who excited his envy. Since there was then no constitutional bar to a third term, Roosevelt spent the rest of his life trying to get back into the White House. In the process, he ensured that Woodrow Wilson, a cerebral history professor of whom he would really and truly have cause to be jealous in a few years, would win the election of 1912.

    That campaign was one of the odder episodes in the history of electoral politics. Party candidates in those days were chosen only in part through popular primaries, so although Roosevelt got most of the elected delegates to the Republican Party Convention, the party bosses renominated Taft. Then Roosevelt's delegates walked out of the Republican Convention to another hall where the nascent Progressive Party was meeting. That Convention then nominated Roosevelt for president.

    Now the Progressive Party did not last long, but it provided the political agenda of the next 40 years. It had a moderate-liberal platform that included such things as unemployment insurance, the direct election of U.S. senators (who at the time were appointed by state legislatures) and an eight-hour workday. They were also the women's party, oddly enough for a body also known as "The Bull Moose Party," since they supported women's suffrage. Their convention, unlike the quadrennial fraternity blow-outs the other two parties would continue to hold until the 1960s, was a serious meeting of serious professional people. They punctuated their deliberations with the singing of serious songs, such as "Onward Christian Soldiers" and "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." This was the sort of Crusader politics for which Roosevelt had waited all his life, and he made the most of it.

    "We stand at Armageddon, and we battle for the Lord!" Roosevelt told the Convention. Interrupted only by roars of approval from the serious audience, he expanded at length on the peril in which civilization itself would be placed if the Progressive movement failed. In retrospect, it is easy to make fun of this kind of apocalyptic language, but the sense of impending apocalypse was quite common throughout Western civilization at the time. We see today that the intuition was correct, even if it sometimes fastened on unlikely objects.

    In the event, Roosevelt came in a distant second to Wilson in the general election. Roosevelt was followed even more distantly by Taft, who had remained in the race only to ensure that Roosevelt would not be reelected. Afterwards, Roosevelt abandoned the Progressives and went on another of his scientific expeditions, this one to the Amazon in the company of his son Kermit. Stricken with various infections, Roosevelt barely survived this trip, though the tributary the expedition mapped is still named after him. (The "Teodoro," people call it locally).

    Soon after his return the First World War broke out. Roosevelt gnashed his famous teeth. He wanted the United States to enter the war. He wanted to organize a volunteer regiment like the "Rough Riders." Most of all, he wanted to be president instead of "that creature" (more specifically "that skunk," or "that lily-livered skunk") Woodrow Wilson. That Wilson was as much a Progressive in policy terms as Roosevelt had ever been was irrelevent.

    Roosevelt became a genuine fanatic in his latter days, especially after the U.S. declared war on Germany in 1917. While previously he had always been able to distinguish doubts about unrestricted immigration from hostility to actual immigrants, in his stump speeches for the war effort he began to speak as if German ancestry were prima-facie evidence of disloyalty. Unable to imagine that some people might hold sincere convictions other than his own, he denounced pacifists and conscientious objects as traitors pure and simple. Neither was treason confined to private persons: his criticism of public officials for the mishandling of American logistics was so heated that the Justice Department actually considered prosecuting him under the era's generously interpreted laws against subversive speech. When the youngest of his four sons, Quentin, died in a dogfight over the Western Front, Roosevelt became if anything even less restrained. Roosevelt corresponded with Georges Clemenceau and Arthur Balfour, explaining as an expert just how weak Wilson's domestic position was after the Democrats did poorly in the congressional elections of 1918. There are lots of reasons why Wilson was unable to extract a moderate peace from the Versailles Conference, but Roosevelt's private diplomacy did not help.

    It may be that Roosevelt's unexpected death from a heart attack in early 1919 prevented him from achieving an even more perfect revenge on Wilson. By the time of his death, he was once again the most popular Republican in America. Had he sought the Republican nomination, he would almost certainly have gotten it, and had he been nominated he would almost certainly have won. Theodore Roosevelt's third term: now that is some alternative history to think about.

    If Roosevelt were alive today, he would have some intemperate things to say about the "New Nationalist" proposals to unplug his policies from the beginning of the 20th century and install them again at the end. His ideas, good and bad, were always forward-looking. He understood that the 20th century was going to be about socialism and world war, and he took the first steps to prepare the nation accordingly. Now these issues have been resolved, and the next century is going to be about something else; you can take your pick about what these things will be. The odds are, though, that we would be well advised to adopt Roosevelt's guiding instincts: we should fear disorder, and we should once again like building things.




    This article originally appeared in the March 1998 issue of Culture Wars magazine. Please click on the following line for more information: Copyright © 1998 by John J. Reilly


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    The Long View: Woodrow Wilson: A Biography

    Wilsonian is a term not often used to express admiration or approbation, but perhaps President Woodrow Wilson deserves another look. This is a fine piece of mild historical revisionism, putting Wilson in historical context, something the man himself would appreciate. How many of us now remember that before Wilson was elected to the presidency, he was generally considered a conservative? He was also a best-selling author and the first President from the South after the Civil War. He was a preacher's son, and his oratorical style exemplified that background:

    [T]he man whose faith is rooted in the Bible knows that reform cannot be stayed, that the finger of God that moves upon the face of the nations is against every man that plots the nation's downfall or the people's deceit; that these men are simply groping and staggering in their ignorance to a fearful day of judgment.

    Wilson was a passionate advocate of state's rights, even to the point of risking war with Japan over a California law preventing Japanese from owning land. Wilson also re-segregated the civil service, appointing Southern whites to positions held by black Republicans under Teddy Roosevelt. These acts are not surprising given his Southern birth, but the label of "Progressive" can easily confuse us today.

    Even Wilson's most [in]famous accomplishments, the Treaty of Versailles and the League of Nations, could perhaps be considered something of a success. The League implemented the Treaty, and then closed up shop when that task was accomplished. Even though the United States never joined the League, most of its goals were accomplished, and it had the form that Wilson intended for it; by and large, Wilson got what he wanted at Versailles.

    Eerie, in retrospect, is this quotation from his whistle-stop tour to advocate for ratification of the Treaty of Versailles:

    You are betrayed. You fought for something that you did not get. And the glory of the armies and navies of the United States is gone like a dream in the night, and there ensues upon it, in the suitable darkness of the night, the nightmare of dread that lay upon the nations before this war came; and there will come some time, in the vengeful Providence of God, another war in which not a few hundred thousand men from America will have to die, but as many millions as are necessary to accomplish the final freedom of the peoples of the world.

    A presentiment of doom was common in fin de siècle Europe, but this is a disturbingly accurate prediction of the rest of the twentieth century. In many ways, Wilson set the tone for the American century, in concert with his predecessor Teddy Roosevelt.

    Some of the premises from which Wilson operated perhaps were ill-considered, but his projects often had the right goals in mind. Both the premises and the goals are still with us, no matter how little regard we have for the man who fostered them.

    Woodrow Wilson
    A Biography
    By August Heckscher
    Charles Scribner's Sons, 1991
    745 Pages, US$35.00
    ISBN: 0-684-19312-4


    Reviewed by
    John J. Reilly


    Since the end of the Cold War, it has become a commonplace to say that the two great revolutionaries of the 20th century were Vladimir Lenin and Woodrow Wilson, and that of the two Wilson has proven to be the more successful. Nonetheless, Wilson has become an oddly disliked figure. The term "Wilsonian" is often used as a derisive synonym for "utopian," and the man himself is recalled as a hectoring minor prophet, too inflexible even to see his pet nostrum, the League of Nations, through to ratification by the United States Senate. This biography of Wilson, written just as the Cold War was ending, puts some of the grosser calumnies against Wilson to rest. Readers should note that the biographer is a fan: August Heckscher is a former president of the Woodrow Wilson Foundation. Still, the book at least touches on the failures as well as the successes of Wilsonianism. We also get personal information essential to understanding Wilson, especially his medical history. More important, though, the book gives us a starting point to discuss an issue that Wilson first broached and whose relevance has only increased since this biography was published: the relationship between democracy and world order.

    Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924) was born "Thomas Wilson," a name that he would gradually drop as his education advanced, though there were always a few friends who called him "Tommy." The place of birth was Virginia. He would become the first president from the South after the Civil War, after having experienced defeat and then occupation in the aftermath of that conflict. In Heckscher's account, however, Wilson was an eccentric Southerner. All four grandparents were born abroad in Scotland or Northern Ireland; his mother came from Scotland. His family on both sides were Presbyterians. Many of his relatives, including his father, were ministers. Old-fashioned Presbyterianism has a reputation as one of the more somber versions of Christianity, but the Presbyterianism of the Wilson family was neither gloomy or old-fashioned: this reviewer was reminded of the minister's family in Norman MacLean's novel, A River Runs Through It. As the biographer puts it:

    Indeed, the religious faith the young Wilson derived from his father's teaching was not the sort manifesting itself only in dark moments, but grew stronger in times of confidence and elation when God's watchfulness seemed to be validated by outward experience. The coming together of worldly good fortune with a feeling of inner blessedness could make the Presbyterian of liberal faith, as it made Wilson in his happiest periods, a charismatic figure.

    Actually, if one is looking for literary analogues to Wilson, one might consider the young H.P. Lovecraft. Both had boyhoods given over to fantasy and dreaming, and both were generally thought to suffer from some mild disability. Both would also acquire a taste for writing self-consciously archaic prose, which Wilson would employ in his popular histories. (The biographer thinks those works, such as A History of the American People and George Washington, were terrible potboilers, but they did sell well). One major difference was that young Lovecraft was precocious, while Wilson did not learn to read until he was nine; debate continues about whether Wilson was dyslexic.

    A greater difference was that Wilson's father did not die young, but saw Wilson through undergraduate school, law school (Wilson practiced law for only a few months), and then graduate school. The bulk of Wilson's academic career was spent at Princeton University, which was still called "The College of New Jersey" when he entered as a sophomore. He would teach at Bryn Mawr, Wesleyan University (in Connecticut), and at Johns Hopkins, where he also did his graduate work in the newest German methods of historiography, but he returned to Princeton and would eventually serve as its president from 1902 to 1910. His career as a young scholar coincided with an expansion of higher education in the United States unmatched until the 1950s. Wilson frequently received invitations to teach at, and sometimes even to head, new universities in the Midwest. He was tempted by these offers, but seemed to understand that his chance of influence in his own lifetime required that he not stray too far from the Boston to Washington DC corridor.

    Though he trained as a historian, Wilson's academic reputation rested on his work as a political scientist. His first book, Congressional Government (published 1885 and still in print) deplored the eclipse of the executive branch in the years after the Civil War and argued for more effective government through greater cooperation between the president and Congress. Indeed, Wilson seemed sometimes to argue for something like a parliamentary system. His desire for more effective government was characteristic of the Progressive Era in which he played so conspicuous a part. The sentiment was remarkably nonpartisan: progressives were Republican and Democrat, conservative and liberal. The progressive agenda was variable, expanding from a core of issues that all sane people saw had to be addressed to more speculative issues with even more speculative solutions. The reformers' to-do list ran from reform of the banking system to female suffrage to ending child labor, and on through assuring the safety of the food supply and the criminalization of the recreational use of narcotics, not to mention the breaking up of business monopolies and the public ownership of utilities and even of the railroads. Wilson once deplored the fact that the term "socialist" had been appropriated by an eccentric school of economics, since obviously all public policy should be concerned with the good of society as a whole. In Wilson's sense, a policy of lowering tariffs to promote competition (something he did during his first term as president) could be characterized as "socialist."

    Towards the end of Wilson's career, Oswald Spengler would predict, in characteristically cryptic fashion, that the final public morality of the West would be something called "Ethical Socialism." Spengler was no doubt thinking of Bismarck's social policy, but the term far better fits Spengler's contemporary, Woodrow Wilson.

    Theodore Roosevelt is the contemporary to whom Wilson is most often compared, but there are stronger parallels (or at least it seems to this reviewer) between Wilson and Oliver Wendell Holmes. They shared an organic view of historical development and a fundamentally historicist metaphysics. The organicism no doubt puts them in the great conservative tradition of Edmund Burke; indeed, during his academic career, Wilson was generally regarded as a conservative. As a historian, Wilson favored narrative that attempted to recapture the texture of the period under discussion. (In this he anticipated the historiography of people like R.G. Collingwood; Wilson even attempted to employ the prose style of the period he was writing about, with results that were not invariably happy.) However, for Wilson there was a characteristically Progressive Era twist to the historical cast of mind. Burke emphasized the incremental and non-programmatic development of society as part of an argument against projects of social engineering. Wilson, in contrast, looked to organic models of change for an argument that change is possible, even mandatory.

    The author notes Wilson's antipathy to the philosophy of Jefferson the Founding Father (though he gave high marks to the record of Jefferson the President). From this we may surmise that Wilson disliked Jefferson's appeal to universal, ahistorical, self-evident truths. This is very much the view that Holmes held toward natural law, and particularly to attempts to impose any theory of pre-existing, non-textual rights through constitutional judicial review. As a practical matter, these concerns met: Holmes spent much of his career as a jurist trying to persuade the courts not to strike down the social legislation that people like Wilson were enacting. Holmes argued that it is fundamentally lawless for the courts to overturn laws on behalf of "rights" not found in the text of the Constitution. This issue would surface again, in another context, in the later 20th century.

    The parallels to Holmes should not be overstated. Holmes was an agnostic Social Darwinist who adopted historicist pragmatism as the last resource against nihilism. In Wilson's view, both business and government had an essentially moral basis. Wilson needed historicism as a medium through which Providence could transform the world. If Wilson rejected the idea of primordial self-evident truths, that was because he believed the future could do better. Though the term does not occur in this biography, Wilson seems to have been a postmillennialist of a very thorough and sophisticated sort. The complaints heard in the early 21st century that the government of the United States is being theocratized in an unprecedented fashion must contend with statements like this from Governor and then President Wilson:


    [T]he man whose faith is rooted in the Bible knows that reform cannot be stayed, that the finger of God that moves upon the face of the nations is against every man that plots the nation's downfall or the people's deceit; that these men are simply groping and staggering in their ignorance to a fearful day of judgment.
    Sometimes, according to the author, Wilson seemed to think there were two kinds of law: law that simply codifies the facts of society as they exist, and law that runs ahead of the facts to fix the moral parameters of the living generation. Where Wilson differed from Lenin, and for that matter from contemporary and later exponents of the "living constitution," is his insistence on fostering revolution through legislation enacted by democratic means.

    If the biographer is to be believed, Wilson displayed a taste for social revolution even as president of Princeton, but in a characteristically Wilsonian fashion. His first concern was to raise academic standards. As a college administrator, he set his face against preferential treatment for athletes (and, perhaps not incidentally, undertook to suppress the riot and vandalism for which the burgeoning college populations of the day were notorious). He attempted to bring the system of elective courses under control. Students should have some control over what they studied, but he insisted that every course of study include some exposure to the whole field of learning. Despite his training in German historiographical methods (or perhaps because of it) he opposed the attempt, then very popular, to make the liberal arts conform to the methods of the physical sciences. He shared Matthew Arnold's insistence on the priority of liberal learning.

    The revolutionary element appeared in Wilson's plan to suppress Princeton's famous "eating clubs," or at least to diminish their importance to a point where they would no longer be the organizing principle of undergraduate life. The eating clubs, Wilson argued, were the preserves of the very rich. Their existence tended to divide the student body on a class basis. Wilson's remedy was to reorganize the campus on the basis of residential quadrangles, which would function something like the system of residential houses at Harvard. In a not unrelated move, he wanted to incorporate Princeton's new graduate schools into the body of the campus. Wilson argued the merits of the arrangement for the coherence of the university. He also made clear his desire to prevent rich alumni from controlling the development of the new schools: Princeton had been offered large gifts conditional on the new schools being located in palatial campuses of their own, far from the main body of the university.

    In carrying out his academic initiatives, Wilson honed his practice of turning controversial questions into matters of principle, with himself occupying a moral high ground from which there could be no retreat. This worked better with some issues than with others. His reform of the curriculum was well received. As university president and as lecturer, Wilson was wildly popular with the students, even the ones in the eating clubs. Long after his tenure as president, the quadrangle plan was carried out. The graduate schools, however, are still over the hills and far away.

    Wilson did have flaws. His marriage to Ellen Axon ended only with her death in 1914 (they had three children: all daughters). We are assured that Wilson's reputation as a womanizer was grossly exaggerated, but there is good evidence for one affair toward the end of Wilson's time at Princeton, during the long, separate vacations that the Wilsons were in the habit of taking:


    These complex relationships show the dualism that often characterized Wilson. He could appear to be different men, the one scarcely aware of what the other was thinking. Thus he seems never to have felt the need to make a choice between [Ellen] his wife and Mary Peck. The same post that in 1909 carried from Bermuda letters to Ellen that might have been those of a bridegroom to his bride, carried to Mary passionate assurance of how ardently she was missed.

    One cannot help but note the same duality in Wilson's dealings with Germany in 1918. In one telegram, he might offer to serve as a mediator between the Central Powers and the Allies; in the next telegram, he might write as a belligerent who required the capitulation of his interlocutor. One cannot also help noting how often this strategy worked, on the public and private level.

    In any case, as a political scientist and a lecturer on government reform, Wilson developed a national reputation of a size that even the politicians noticed. Thus came the invitation from the Democratic Party bosses of New Jersey to run for governor of the state, an eminence to which he was duly elected and served from 1910 to 1912. His platform as a candidate was typical of progressives of both parties: direct election of United States senators, a worker's compensation system, primary elections to select party nominees for almost all offices, the creation of commissions to regulate public utilities. There were differences in emphasis in the bipartisan progressive movement of the time. At first, for instance, Wilson was skeptical of such progressive measures as the referendum and recall elections. Not until he became president did he support suffrage for women, and he never endorsed the prohibition of alcohol. Wilson believed as much as Theodore Roosevelt in the need to expand the functions of government, but he took longer to come to the conclusion that these functions had to be exercised at the federal rather than the state level. Only reluctantly did he abandon the view that business monopolies could be broken up through ordinary legal processes, rather than preserved and regulated in the manner that Roosevelt pioneered.

    Wilson's election to the presidency in 1912 capped the strangest presidential campaign in the 20th century. The Republican Party self-destructed when former president Theodore Roosevelt, denied the Republican nomination, ran as the candidate of the Progressive (or Bull Moose) Party. The incumbent president, Robert Taft, seems to have stayed in the race as the Republican candidate to ensure that Roosevelt would not win. Meanwhile, many progressives who might ordinarily have voted for Wilson voted instead for Eugene Debs, the candidate of the Socialist Party, who received almost a million votes. Wilson actually received fewer popular votes than Democratic candidate William Jennings Bryan did in 1906, when Bryan lost. Nonetheless, not only was Wilson elected, but his party controlled both Houses of Congress.

    Wilson adopted the term "The New Freedom" to describe his program. As the biographer points out, it had a substantially different coloration in his first term from his second. During the first four years, Wilson was concerned with institutional reform. He got Congress to create the Federal Reserve System, which gave the United States a central bank for the first time since the administration of Andrew Jackson. This measure made the financial system less disaster-prone (although, as later events would prove, not disaster-proof). Perhaps more remarkable to contemporaries, he succeeded in lowering tariffs and reforming the tariff system. He did this despite the vampiritic flocks of lobbyists the issue attracted to Capitol Hill, much as business taxes do now. Wilson created the Federal Trade Commission to take some of the responsibility for anti-trust regulation from the Justice Department.

    A worldwide recession was starting as Wilson took office, but despite the increase in unemployment his administration was seen as competent and effective. He won reelection in 1916 by a narrow but respectable margin. He had planned to devote his second term to what we would now call "social issues": an eight-hour day; an end to child labor; provision for cheap credit to farmers. He did make progress towards these goals. He also intervened in some major labor strikes in a way that reassured the labor unions that the federal government was on their side. However, regarding Wilson's domestic initiatives, one must note that his record on racial issues was appalling from first to last, even by the standards of the time. During his first term, the federal bureaucracy began to be racially segregated. Far from extending patronage jobs to black Democrats, which he had hinted in 1912 that he might do, he routinely appointed white southerners to jobs that had been held by black Republicans appointed by Roosevelt and Taft. Wilson declined to tell California that its new legislation barring Japanese from owning land was plainly contrary to United States treaty obligations. In effect, he risked a war with Japan to support a doubtful interpretation of states' rights.

    Wilson had not even mentioned foreign affairs in his first inaugural address. His appointments in this area suggested that it was not one of his priorities. William Jennings Bryan was his first Secretary of State; Bryan was no fool, but he did serve grape juice rather than wine at diplomatic receptions, and his pacifism made him increasingly irrelevant as relations with the Central Powers deteriorated. He would eventually resign, to be replaced by Robert Lansing, a lawyer with a better education and a smaller imagination.

    Actually, Wilson's foreign troubles began long before the First World War. His administration found itself called on to distinguish legitimate from illegitimate revolutions; or perhaps better, revolutions that marked important social transformations from mere changes of dictators. Wilson did not always do this well, particularly with regard to Latin America, and most especially with regard to Mexico. Wilson wanted to see land reform in Mexico in order to ensure the survival of electoral democracy, so he often found himself supporting the more radical alternative against the party with the better chance of maintaining stability. The policy backfired badly when Poncho Villa, whom Wilson had once supported, began making raids into the United States.

    Wilson would later identify the Russian Revolution as a "deep" revolution. He deplored the Bolshevik turn that the originally liberal revolution of 1917 took, but believed that it was just a phase, like the phases of the French Revolution. He had no patience with the English, and especially the French, proposals to back counter-revolutionary forces in Russia, though some Americans were among the Allied troops sent to guard facilities in Russia from the Germans.

    From the outset of the First World War, it was Wilson's position that the strategic interests of the United States lay with an Allied victory, or at least with a conclusion to the fighting that did not diminish the roles of France and Britain in the world. A decisive German victory, he thought, would require the United States to militarize on a permanent basis, a stance Wilson believed incompatible with the institutions of American government. However, the perhaps unfortunate slogan of his 1916 election campaign, "He kept us out of war," was perfectly sincere. The optimum outcome was "peace without victory," resulting in a situation in which the differences between the great powers could be settled by arbitration. The process of arbitration, Wilson also immediately surmised, would have to be permanent, requiring a permanent international institution to coordinate a permanent peace. Even when the United States became a belligerent in 1917, Wilson was very slow to attribute the principal blame for the war to Germany. Neither was he ever altogether willing to abandon the hope of acting as the intermediary between the two sides and negotiating a peace on neutral principles. Wilson's unilateral issuance of the 14 Points as a statement of war aims reiterated this aspiration.

    Strange as it may seem for a southerner, Wilson's model throughout the war was Abraham Lincoln; and moreover, the mystical Lincoln of the Second Inaugural Address. In that statement, Lincoln prescinded from a discussion of the merits of the arguments made by either side for fighting the Civil War. Instead, he directed the nation's attention to the inscrutability of Providence in the course of the war and its effects. Neither side got what it expected or what it desired. Lincoln then spoke of a postwar America reunited "with malice toward none, with charity for all."

    Few nobler words have ever been spoken by a statesman. However, what Wilson the war leader never entirely took on board was that those words had been spoken after victory for the North was assured. It also bears repeating, perhaps, that Wilson's notion of a postwar settlement was implemented more fully than Lincoln's ever was, but the post-Versailles peace of Europe was at least as unsatisfactory as America's Reconstruction Era.

    The 14 Points had not been issued in a vacuum. There had been quiet diplomacy at the end of 1917 and the beginning of 1918 that suggested a negotiated peace might be possible. The 14 Points specified the withdrawal from occupied countries, forbade crushing indemnities to be laid on either side, and sought to dampen the ambition to acquire new colonies by reconceptualizing the colonial empires as a system of trusts for the benefit of their peoples. Meanwhile, there would be an orderly transition to self-determination by the small nations of Europe. All these good things, of course, were to be overseen by a League of Nations. Lincoln could not have done better. However, the magnanimity of Lincoln's Second Inaugural evaporated when the terms of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk were announced. Though the terms were not uniquely harsh for a country as badly defeated as Russia had been, they showed that Germany had no intention of helping to create the world of neutral principles that Wilson envisioned. Wilson's reaction to this rebuff (and of course to the Germans' offensive that spring, which sought to win the war outright) reflected an essential feature of liberalism even at its finest: the enemy was not simply criticized, but delegitimized. The war could now be prosecuted without restraint, because the German Empire had, in effect, seceded from rational humanity. Wilson would again offer to intercede for Germany, but only on the condition of the end of the regime that had distained the principle of universal justice in the form of the 14 Points.

    We see this same evolution in Wilson's own position toward his domestic opponents. Here is a vintage Wilson rejoinder, from as early as the election campaign of 1916, to a telegram from an irate Irish American who accused Wilson of Anglophilia:

    I would feel deeply mortified to have you or anybody like you vote for me. Since you have access to many disloyal Americans and I have not I will ask you to convey this message to them.

    The worst excesses against civil liberties during Wilson's Administration occurred after his major stroke when he we was no longer running his own government, but perhaps there really was less place for dissent in Wilson's scheme of things than was in Jefferson's theory of natural rights, or even in Holmes's pragmatism. There came a point in any controversy with Wilson in which to oppose him was to oppose History. Wilson made it his business to ensure that history won.

    This biography points out that Wilson got quite a lot of what he wanted at the Versailles Conference in 1919, especially during the first session. The League of Nations itself was much as he had proposed it. It was made integral to the Treaty of Versailles (the League Covenant is articles 1 to 26 of the treaty). He certainly succeeded in preventing the French from turning the League into an anti-German alliance, and he helped limit the dismemberment of Germany. He had some success with regard to colonial questions: the European empires at least made their territorial acquisitions in the form of League trusteeships; the Japanese were harder to restrain. His greatest single failure was in connection with reparations to be paid by Germany, especially the open-ended reparations that the Conference initially contemplated. It is not true that there was no negotiation with Germany over the final form of the treaty; Wilson was instrumental in getting the terms clarified, and in some instances mitigated, in response to the German protests at the first draft. However, he opposed a renegotiation of the treaty. He was not unduly concerned with the details of the treaty: its terms would take years to implement, and its more irrational features could be rectified through negotiation under the supervision of the League. That was not so different from what actually happened, but the League turned out to be less important than he had hoped, in part because the United States never joined.

    The biographer's account of Wilson's doomed attempt to get the Treaty of Versailles ratified by the United States Senate may strike some readers as revisionist, though in fact the information is not new. The Democratic Party had lost control of Congress in the elections of 1918 (partly because Wilson was suspected of being soft on Germany), so Wilson's strategy seemed to have been to take a maximalist stand to limit the concessions he might have to make later. Publicly he said that the treaty had to be approved without amendment or reservation, on the grounds that the treaty could not be renegotiated and the Allies would regard conditional approval as a rejection. Privately, however, he prepared a draft of acceptable reservations and gave it to Senate minority leader, to be presented to the Senate only on the president's instruction. Some senators were in fact proposing amendments that were designed to kill the treaty, but some proposed reservations simply clarified that the League Covenant did not override the Constitution of the United States, particularly with regard to the power of Congress to declare war. Such reservations would have been well within the limits of diplomatic practice. With modifications, in fact, the League seemed to enjoy majority popular support.

    Nonetheless, there was opposition among isolationists in the West and Midwest against the League in any form, and Wilson felt that he could not proceed to concessions until it was clear that he had the public unambiguously behind him. So, he undertook the famous whistle-stop tour of 1919, stopping at places large and small to deliver jeremiads like this to increasingly enthusiastic audiences:


    You are betrayed. You fought for something that you did not get. And the glory of the armies and navies of the United States is gone like a dream in the night, and there ensues upon it, in the suitable darkness of the night, the nightmare of dread that lay upon the nations before this war came; and there will come some time, in the vengeful Providence of God, another war in which not a few hundred thousand men from America will have to die, but as many millions as are necessary to accomplish the final freedom of the peoples of the world.

    Strong stuff, and it seemed to be working. However, it was obvious to those around him that Wilson was falling apart. He had actually suffered some minor strokes as early as his tenure as president of Princeton, and there had perhaps been another two incidents during the Versailles Conference. Under the unrelenting stress of the Western Tour he began to seem almost like the politician in the film The Candidate, who is reduced to incoherence in the later part of his campaign. Wilson started saying things that were not his policy, such as that reservations to the treaty were the same as amendments and both were unacceptable. In any case, he eventually suffered a major stroke (another parallel with Lenin, actually). The League campaign lapsed because Wilson was no longer able to negotiate with the Senate and would not allow others to do so for him.

    Not long after the death of his first wife, Ellen, Wilson had created a mild scandal by marrying one Edith Bolling Galt. Edith Wilson is sometimes said to have been the first female president of the United States, because her control of the presidential sick room gave her effective control of the government. This exaggerates her role. Certainly she diminished the influence of Wilson's gray eminence, Edward Mandell House (best known by the courtesy title "Colonel House"), and of and Joseph Tumulty, Wilson's secretary and political advisor from Jersey City. However, as the biographer points out, neither Edith, nor Secretary of State Lansing, nor the relentlessly unassuming Vice President John Mitchel, ran the government during the last year and a half of the Wilson presidency. After some weeks, Wilson was able to conduct carefully controlled courtesy interviews, but he could do little work beyond saying "no." He did understand his condition. He confined most interaction with the executive departments to occasional advice, which he left to the discretion of the cabinet secretaries. In the case of Attorney General Mitchell Palmer, his lack of oversight was to have very unfortunate results.

    After leaving the White House, Wilson recovered somewhat. He was able to greet visitors, make a few public appearances (especially on Armistice Day), and even to make a few speeches. He carried on a limited correspondence (he still typed, though less well than formerly) and published one essay on the theme that the way to combat Bolshevism was to reform capitalism. When he died in 1924, he was scarcely a forgotten man, but one with an ambiguous historical reputation. He and Edith are buried now in the nave of Washington Cathedral.

    Judging by this biography, Senate approval of the Treaty of Versailles was a far nearer thing than we usually imagine, so much so that we must ask ourselves whether it would have made much difference if Wilson had completed his Western Tour and reached an accommodation with the Senate. The idea of a permanent body to administer the terms of a complicated multilateral agreement is far from utopian. The Congress of Vienna, which settled Europe after the Napoleonic Wars, continued after a fashion as the Concert of Europe to oversee the peace. The Concert was an alliance rather than a perpetual diplomatic conference like the League, but the principle was not so different. Wilson, by the way, despised the Congress of Vienna: an odd assessment, considering that the Viennese settlement was far less vindictive than the Treaty of Versailles would be.

    The addition of the United States to the League would have augmented its capacities, and maybe also its sphere of attention (certainly the League would have paid more attention to Latin America and to East Asia). However, it is hard to believe that the effectiveness of the League would have been fundamentally increased, or that World War II would have been prevented. The harsher features of the Treaty of Versailles had already been renegotiated by the time the wheels started to fall off the international system in the 1930s. In any case, it simply was not true that the United States was an isolationist power in the 1920s. The US was deeply involved with the Bank of England in managing the world's monetary system; there were even quite a few US military interventions. US interest in international cooperation waned during the 1930s, and there is no reason to think that US membership in the League would have altered that trend.

    Indeed, one might think of the League as a relative success whose posthumous reputation was blackened by comparison with the rhetoric of its founding. The League was created to oversee the implementation of the treaty of Versailles. Within a dozen years the treaty had been implemented or was obsolete. Soon thereafter the League went out of business. Is that really so surprising?

    But what of the high hopes that accompanied the founding of the League? Wilson's arguments for the League echo Immanuel Kant's proposal for "perpetual peace" guaranteed by a universal confederation of liberal republics. Wilson's logic also reflects the Augustinian principle of the Tranquility of Order. As Wilson put it:


    The world can be at peace only if it is stable and there can be no stability where the will is in rebellion, where there is not tranquility of the spirit and a sense of justice.

    There is some sense in which this has to be true: no order, including a world order, is going to be durable unless the people who live under it accept its demands and benefits as legitimate. No doubt, in the working of the Providence in which Wilson set so much faith, some such legitimate world order will eventually appear. The problem is the premise that the predicate of legitimacy is neutrality, that no just order may retain historically conditioned content, or perhaps may not even serve any moral principle. Oddly enough for a philosophy named after a man with such a lively appreciation of historical context, Wilsonianism makes the organic the enemy of the just.

    Again, there are parallels between Wilson's thought and that of Oliver Wendell Holmes. Holmes famously asserted that law should be made for the "bad man," for the subject who could not be expected to act from higher motives, but would do whatever he could that did not incur legal sanction. This is a clarifying principle that has its uses. However, taken literally, it would mean that everyone subject to the law would have to be treated as a potential criminal. Similarly, Wilson's hope that the peace after the First World War would be a peace without victors might have odd implications if it were made a universal principle. A world without victors would, in effect, be a world in which every country was treated as a conquered country. Whatever was not mandated by the universal consensus of neutral principles would be forbidden. Opposition to the consensus would be delegitimized, in much the way that the government of imperial Germany was delegitimized by its refusal in early 1918 to accept Wilson's offer of arbitration on the basis of disinterested reason.

    These criticisms do not mean that Wilson's goals of effective government and universal peace through justice are either misguided or unobtainable. They do suggest that some of the basic premises of this enterprise need to be rethought.

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    Lord Kalvan of Otherwhen Book Review

    Lord Kalvan of Otherwhen
    by H. Beam Piper
    Ace Books, 1965
    192 Pages; US$0.40

    I picked up this volume because it was mentioned in Armageddon: There Will be War volume VIII. Pournelle cited Piper as a great influence on his own work, especially his Janissaries series, and included in volume VIII was a sequel to Piper's trandimensional adventure story written by John F. Carr and Roland Green. That story was pretty good, so I picked up the original to see what it was all about.

    I'm glad that I did. Piper told a great story, full of humor and action, but it is clear that he knew a great deal of history and science as well. Calvin Morrison is a Pennsylvania State Trooper who finds himself accidentally transported into an adjacent timeline by an industrial accident of a more advanced civilization, in the same place but another when. He immediately finds himself embroiled in a war between princes, and makes himself useful due to his interest in chemistry, military tactics, and industrial organization. He fights. He loves. He wins.

    For a nerd like myself, this is a fun kind of counterfactual speculation: how could you shape the world differently if you knew all the secrets of modern science in a pre-modern world? There are a lot of ways to do this kind of story. Twain decided to go with a rather cynical satire. This is straight-forward adventure with a heavy dose of history and engineering. In addition to Jerry Pournelle, S. M. Stirling is a modern example of this same kind of story, which is immensely fun, and I also find very educational.

    For example, I wondered once what kind of civilization you could rebuild following a technological disaster like the Carrington Event. Nearly all of our advanced technology could be destroyed by a sufficiently powerful solar storm. It turns out that Stirling's novels of the Change have asked almost exactly that question. I wish I had read Stirling sooner, I would have found some answers I was looking for.

    This is hard scifi at its best. You take an insight about how the world really works, and you follow the implications in some interesting and otherworldly setting. In this case, it happens to be the Fourth Level, Aryan-Transpacific sector, Styrphon's House sub-sector. Since Piper lived and died at the height of American civilization, the gifts he brings are the first-fruits of industrialization, plus a boundless confidence in the methods of sociology and anthropology, unleavened by any fears of ecological or cultural collapse. If you want to try the latter, Stirling has explored that space pretty well.

    While you can clearly see the influence of Piper on later authors, there are interesting differences as well. Religion plays a very different role on Tran than it does in the Stryphon's House sub-sector. Each author has their own take on what really makes the world work, and I've enjoyed them all so far.

    I was saddened to learn that Piper took his life shortly after he wrote this book. It is a cracking good yarn, and I would have liked to enjoy more stories of Lord Kalvan. John Carr and Roland Green wrote several more books following on this one, one of which is the short story that brought me here in the first place. I'll pick up the sequels, with the expectation of a homage, true to the spirit of the original.

    My other book reviews


    CrossFit 2014-09-29


    7 minutes

    • 40 single unders
    • Ascending ladder power snatch [85#]

    Score: 5 rounds plus 22 reps


    CrossFit 2014-10-01

    Bench and burn

    Bench press

    • 10/8/6/4/2
    • 115-125-135-140-145F

    Burner 3 rounds

    • 250m row
    • 25 kettlebell swings [1 pood]
    • 250m row
    • rest 1 minute

    CrossFit 2014-09-24


    Do five burpees every minute on the minute while doing:

    • 20 squat thrusters [65#]
    • 20 hang power cleans
    • 20 push presses
    • 20 overhead squats
    • 20 front squats

    Time 12:55


    The Long View 2002-05-21: The Office of Evil

    The Oatmeal clearly agrees with JohnOne notable disagreement of mine with John was the competence of the terrorists who struck the United States on 9/11. I'm sure lots of people, especially at the time, saw bin Laden as a terrorist mastermind, but in retrospect it seems like he got lucky. It is probably the kind of books I read, but a real mastermind would have followed up with something else a little sooner. There certainly were some foiled plots that made it into the news after 9-11, but most of the subsequent attacks were in other countries, such as the London subway attacks, the Beslan school hostage crisis and the Bali nightclub bombing.

    It is at least conceivable that the vast new powers given to the American intelligence agencies after 9/11 have kept us relatively safe, but I'm not terribly impressed by this idea. The rate and scale of pre- and post-9/11 terrorist activity seems about the same in the wider world. And most of that activity happens in Third-world shitholes, just like it always has.

    The Office of Evil

    Thomas Friedman suggested in the New York Times of May 19 that we could use an office like this. The column in question, "A Failure to Imagine," was actually a backhanded exoneration of the Bush Administration for failing to take more radical action last summer, when there was an uptick in information from intelligence sources suggesting that an major attack from Al Qaeda might be impending. He rightly points out that the sort of imagination needed to consider suicide attacks seriously is rare in America. He was probably kidding when he said that a special bureau might be created to cultivate malice at that level, so we are not blindsided again. Most of Friedman's piece, however, is devoted to bemoaning the Administration's "failure to imagine good," meaning in this case the mobilization of youth for progressive causes and the institution of a post-fossil-fuel industrial revolution.

    Thomas Friedman is not the stupidest man who ever lived, but he does not seem to grasp how far from "over" the 911 era is. He has company, of course. The Democrats last week jumped on some quite minor disclosures of internal intelligence documents from just before the attacks to go into full Watergate mode. "What did he know and when did he know it?" they demanded to know, reacting to word that the president received a rather anodyne analysis last August that suggested some sort of attack might be in the offing, perhaps involving airline hijackings. The answer to the question, of course, is "not enough" and "too late," for which the Administration is indeed to some degree at fault. Ironically, the partisan way in which the question was raised seems to have done those who raised it more harm than good. In any case, those who look on 911 as a lost opportunity of some sort can take heart. Similar opportunities may come along any time now that they could find just as useful, assuming they survive the attacks.

    One need not be altogether cynical to surmise that the latest statements coming from the Administration about new threats for the near future are colored by the desire to change the subject from the Democrats' implied accusations of negligence. However, there is no reason to think that the new threats themselves are imaginary: stories about terrorists having recently been brought to the US in cargo ships, for instance, appeared before last week's disclosures. So did the reports that shopping malls could be in particular danger. Actually, cynicism might be in order if you thought that the president's partisan opponents knew about the new dangers. Did they take care to get their accusations on record before possible new attacks? That way, they could position themselves for this fall's Congressional election, when they might raise questions about the Administration's competence. But no, that way madness lies.

    We do seem to be moving into a new situation. Al Qaeda has a track record of launching simultaneous attacks against large, geographically distant, landmark structures. These attacks are made with novel tactics determined by the nature of each target, at intervals of from several months to over a year. The new pattern of terrorism in the Middle East, however, as developed in the intifada against Israel, involves numerous attacks at short intervals. They follow one or two patterns, and they are intended to create casualties. It is reasonable to expect that a synthesis of these methods will be deployed in the United States, by an alliance of hitherto only loosely connected groups. Places of mass public accommodations have been mentioned as possible targets. So have such structures as high-rise apartment buildings, where preparations might be made over time. For what little it's worth, I doubt that landmarks or the transportation systems are very attractive targets anymore. Then again, that's what people said about the airlines until last September.

    Public reaction to new attacks could differ significantly from last year's. For instance, it will be clear that government has only limited ability to protect the people from attack, even when government is paying attention. The Administration would be criticized, not for over reacting in terms of new security measures, but for having done too little. Additionally, depending on where the attacks take place, they could disabuse some parts of the country of the impression that the 911 war is primarily a concern of the Northeast.

    We might even get a bit of a social revolution, though maybe not the one Thomas Friedman was thinking of. Nicholas Kristof, another New York Times columnist, has a piece today entitled "Following God Abroad." It's a glowing report on the new political engagement of American evangelicals, who have been energized by 911 and by the threat to Israel. Kristof praises their practical foreign assistance projects and keen interest in the defense of religious liberty internationally. As evangelists, they are, naturally, evangelizing, and not least in NGO Land:


    "The evangelical movement encompasses one-quarter of Americans and is growing quickly. One measure of its increasing influence is that a newsstand in the United Nations has carried the Left Behind series of religious novels by [Jerry Jenkins and] Tim LaHaye. These books, which have sold 50 million copies so far, describe the battles that precede the Second Coming, and there is indeed a United Nations connection: In the novels, the Antichrist is the secretary general."

    Speaking of Left behind, I finally got around to seeing the movie version, by the Lalonde brothers of Cloud Ten Productions. The authors were displeased with the quality of the film, and it does in fact seem to be the kind of thing that HBO produces for broadcast during the summer, when few people are likely to watch.

    One thing that struck me about the film was the number of pets. After the Rapture, the world was filled with despondent dogs sitting by the empty clothes of their departed masters. While I recognize that this idea would be theologically awkward, I could not help but think how much more affecting those scenes would have been had there been empty collars and dropped leashes lying next to those abandoned clothes.

    The cats would have been left behind for the Tribulation, however. They would have worn little red capes and sprung about in evil glee, knowing that their hour had come.

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