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    CrossFit 2014-08-01

    Escape from Wonderland

    3 rounds

    • 150 single unders
    • 50 air squats
    • 25 Calorie row

    Time 17:31


    CrossFit 2014-07-28

    Ham Sandwich

    • 50 wallballs
    • 25 deadlifts [155#]
    • 50 wallballs
    • EMOTM 5 burpees

    Time 20:00 [capped] 112 reps


    The Long View 2002-03-07: Some Nuclear Fiction

    This is another early blog post that impressed me. John had very acute judgement about things such as the military potential of dirty bombs. The whole point of asymmetric warfare is that you don't have to so much as kill or even truly frighten an enemy you can cause to expend vast amounts of time and treasure attempting to counteract what you are doing. Even less well appreciated is what is likely to happen if you do truly frighten an enemy like the United States. War to the knife. No stone left standing on another. Carthago delenda est.

    Some Nuclear Fiction

    Just this week, we learned that the federal government had plausible information last October that a 10-kiloton warhead had been bought or stolen from a Soviet-era arsenal, and that someone was trying to smuggle it into Manhattan. The information, thank God, turned out to be wrong. Still, public officials in the governments of New York City and New York State immediately began to complain that they had not been told at the time. They insist that, hereafter, they want to be informed even of unconfirmed threats.

    No they don't. Such was the state of morale last October that Manhattan would have been abandoned if the public had received an advisory of such a thing. Even if the authorities had issued no warning, but had merely taken "precautions," such as removing irreplaceable works of art from the island's museums, the news would have leaked in increments. That would have been worse, since the government would have lost credibility and the news would have gotten out anyway. It would have been the biggest man-made urban disaster in America since Sherman burned Atlanta.

    Now terrorism experts are focusing less on fission bombs than on radiological weapons. "Some See Panic as Aim of Dirty Bomb," says a headline in today's New York Times. That pretty much hits the nail on the head.

    An interesting historical aside is that, conceptually, radiological weapons antedate fission and fusion bombs. The first fictional atomic bomb, at least that I know of, appears in The World Set Free by H. G. Wells, which he published in 1914. The world war that the book describes starts in 1956. The atomic bombs in that war are essentially small nuclear reactors. They are dropped into cities and melt into the ground, forming small, radioactive volcanoes. They do not cause immediate mass destruction, but they do cause cities to be abandoned over a period of weeks.

    Less well known is a story that Robert Heinlein wrote in 1940, under the name Anson MacDonald. Entitled "Solution Unsatisfactory," the story appeared in Astounding Science Fiction the next year. This was the sort of story that gave the FBI hysterics in those years, since it described pretty much what the Manhattan Project would soon be doing; it even mentioned an imaginary supersecret military research office dedicated to building an atomic bomb. In this story, the United States does not enter the Second World War until 1945. Also, the attempt to create a fission bomb is shelved in favor of a simpler solution. An ancillary project devises a radioactive dust that can depopulate a city with just a few bomber loads. In addition to the dusting of Berlin, there is a war with a post-Soviet state called the Eurasian Union, or E.U.

    The important thing to note about these speculations is that they have been tried and found wanting. Robert Oppenheimer himself considered doing what the head of the research project in the Heinlein story does. After careful consideration, Oppenheimer abandoned the idea. So, reportedly, did the Iraqi government. There is no practical way to produce mass, immediate casualties with radiological material. It's not that potent, and it's hard to deliver.

    What radiological weapons can do is create a health risk just high enough to make living in an affected area unacceptable. In the New York Times story, experts told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee about scenarios in which all of Manhattan south of Central Park might have to be closed off for decades, like the area around Chernobyl. Maybe no one would be killed in the explosion that would distribute the material over the island, but the stuff would still create a hazard that exceeds federal guidelines.

    We should note that those scenarios are extreme, and involve materials that terrorists probably could not obtain, or handle if they did. Nonetheless, one might create a considerable panic with ordinary radioactive medical waste.

    Why post old articles?

    Who was John J. Reilly?

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    The Long View: The Twilight of Democracy

    Unlike the secretive NSA, sometimes it seems that everyone who retires from the CIA gets a book deal along with their pension. This book review is now nineteen years old, but it seems pertinent to understanding how the Deep State works. The Deep State might seem like a re-tread of Eisenhower's Military-Industrial Complex, but it is both broader and subtler than that. It is more like Cecil Rhode's Round Table groups for the present day, a broad network of like-minded individuals who have responsibility and influence in their own right, largely because of their intelligence and accomplishments, who collaborate informally.

    Mike Lofgren has a pretty good definition of the Deep State, and if you include certain think tanks, contractors, and NGOs the picture would be more complete.

    The Deep State does not consist of the entire government. It is a hybrid of national security and law enforcement agencies: the Department of Defense, the Department of State, the Department of Homeland Security, the Central Intelligence Agency and the Justice Department. I also include the Department of the Treasury because of its jurisdiction over financial flows, its enforcement of international sanctions and its organic symbiosis with Wall Street. All these agencies are coordinated by the Executive Office of the President via the National Security Council. Certain key areas of the judiciary belong to the Deep State, such as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, whose actions are mysterious even to most members of Congress. Also included are a handful of vital federal trial courts, such as the Eastern District of Virginia and the Southern District of Manhattan, where sensitive proceedings in national security cases are conducted. The final government component (and possibly last in precedence among the formal branches of government established by the Constitution) is a kind of rump Congress consisting of the congressional leadership and some (but not all) of the members of the defense and intelligence committees. The rest of Congress, normally so fractious and partisan, is mostly only intermittently aware of the Deep State and when required usually submits to a few well-chosen words from the State’s emissaries.

    If my life had taken a different turn, I could easily have come into contact with the Deep State at some point. One of my math professors suggested I look into working for the NSA, which I never did since the NSA has been a little too good at keeping a low profile; I simply had no idea of what they actually did, other than cryptography. If I had known, I might have pursued this idea at the time. I did interview for a job at Raytheon Missile Systems designing warheads that I ultimately did not take. I also have a number of friends and acquaintances from college or my subsequent working career who have ended up in national laboratories, or the State Department, or one of the big intelligence contractors, working on this or that.

    All of this is clearly pretty peripheral to the Deep State as Lofgren describes it, but that is a good indicator of what the Deep State really is: not a shadowy cabal, but a big and influential part of American society that has sprung out of our victory in the Cold War and our continuing high defense spending from the Global War on Terror. There are probably few Americans who are more than a few degrees separated from this, because it is a major part of our economy. The college-educated STEM workforce is probably even more likely to be part of this, especially because you need to be a citizen of the United States to hold these jobs. Defense spending produces technical jobs that aren't easily available to immigrants.

    Thus the Deep State has a sizable fraction of the population naturally on its side. However, it worth remembering that it was the Deep State that pushed for, and got, war in Afghanistan and Iraq, and is now pushing for some sort of showdown with Russia. Much of the motivation for this comes from a conviction that culture and ideology don't matter; everyone is basically the same once you strip away the ethnographic razzle dazzle. Everyone wants the same things and has the same motivations, thus liberal democracy is all but inevitable once you topple the dictator.

    We have now conducted this social experiment all over the world. Since so much blood and treasure has been expended testing this theory, we ought to pay attention to the results.

    The Twilight of Democracy
    by Patrick E. Kennon
    Doubleday, 1995
    $24.00, 308 pages
    ISBN 0-385-47539-X

    The Screwtape Report

    The author of this book is a recently retired CIA analyst who, after 25 years on the job, is finally able to say in public what he actually thinks. There are, of course, no secrets here. The book is part political theory, part overview of the post-Cold War world situation. As the title suggests, Mr. Kennon is gleefully determined to puncture some secular pieties. The effort is not without success. This analysis would have gladdened the black heart of Ambrose Bierce himself. Thus, we learn that bureaucracy is the key to civilization, that democracy is tolerable only when it is just for show, that no state attains developed status without passing through a period of authoritarian rule. Mr. Kennon's ideas are worth listening to, and some of them might even be true. Still, the book is most interesting, not so much for what it tell us about the world, but because it so perfectly illustrates the failure of imagination of the modern secular mind. This book is supposed to represent what we all really think, but which convention prevents us from saying. Maybe it is what many of us really think, but if so, we're wrong.

    The intellectual apparatus the author brings to bear might be described as nuts-and-bolts sociology, which is to say that it is long on history and Max Weber, and short on underdevelopment economics and a theory of ideologies. Indeed, particular ideas don't seem to make much of a difference in Mr. Kennon's world. There are, of course, categories of ideas, such as nationalism and millenarianism and socialism, that play a large role from time to time. However, one example of these things is much like another from the same category. In any event, such things are simply occasions for the fundamental forces of history to manifest themselves. Like any respectable global thinker, Mr. Kennon's view of things tends to fall into sets of three. The two following trinities are pretty much all the theoretical apparatus you need in order to analyze what is happening in any given society and in the world as a whole.

    The basic forces in any society are, in order of importance, the bureaucracy, the private sector, and politics. Bureaucracy, starting with the priestly administrators of Sumer and Egypt, is what brought mankind out of the cave. While the book is mostly concerned with "public sector," government bureaucracies, bureaucracies of much the same type also exist in business, and in practice often form a united front with their government colleagues. Bureaucracies embody the principle of impersonal, rational order. They are, ideally, directed toward the achievement of a goal, rather than the maintenance of their own power. Bureaus are a world of management, rather than leadership. Most important, a bureaucracy's very impersonality gives it a time horizon longer than the careers of the bureaucrats who work in it. Almost inevitably, bureaucracies come to think in terms of decades, and sometimes of centuries.

    Bureaucracies, we are told to our amazement, do best in emergencies, when they are given a single goal. If you ask them to win a war or to wipe out yellow fever and give them unlimited resources, they will usually succeed. If you give them more than one goal, however, such as winning a war within budget constraints, or fighting an epidemic without annoying the minority groups it most closely affects, they become befuddled and often fail. They are not very good at setting priorities. In normal times, when any number of goals compete for the bureaucrats' attention, they have no sure way to choose between them. Then they start to act like, well, bureaucrats.

    The private sector in this scheme of things is damned with faint praise. The term here is not limited to business, since it includes most features of civil society, from client-patron relationships to labor unions. However, the author is most concerned to show the limits of free market capitalism. A free market, he notes, will supply people with just about any product they want, from education to cocaine. The market is persistent, usually pacific, and ingenious beyond the dreams of the wisest bureaucratic mandarin. Although the free market is wonderful if you are satisfied with a street bazaar economy, it never by itself made any country great. It gives people what they want, even if what they want is toxic, and it persists in selling even when people should be saving for their old age. Some necessary elements of the economy, notably infrastructure and basic research, are beyond the time horizon of even the most farsighted entrepreneur. (Unless, like Cecil Rhodes, he is less interested in running a business than in founding an empire.) Only a bureaucracy of some kind can organize the construction of railroads or the development of passenger jets. Even when private parties do the actual work on this kind of project, they work at the behest of government bureaucracies and with the support of public subsidies. Countries like the United States disguise from themselves the amount of government planning they do by calling it licensing or franchising. If left to itself, in fact, the private sector will undermine the preconditions for its prosperity. The rule of law can disappear in a thicket of bribery, the currency can collapse from nonpayment of taxes, when the private sector is much stronger than the government.

    The great anachronism in modern life, we are told, is politics. The only genuinely stupid parts of the book are those that try to found a theory of politics on the supposed antics of cavemen and their testosterone-crazed leaders. While there are forms of social contract theory that can still be defended, the social Darwinist version given here is singularly uninformed by either anthropology or the study of primate behavior. It is not even clear whether the author understands that the "caveman" is a myth. From this point of view, the template for all political leadership, kings and presidents and parliaments alike, is the charismatic leader of a war band. Such persons might occasionally do their people some good, by robbing other people, but they rarely have thoughts beyond the means to their own self-preservation. They are interested in leadership, not management. The good leader today leads best by deferring to his experts.

    Legislatures also fall into the suspect class of leaders. Legislatures, after all, are composed of local leaders whose livelihood is dependant on currying favor with the rabble at the back of the cave. They may well gain some expertise while working in a legislature, and they might even have some when they are first elected. However, their very position as legislators makes them incapable of using this information objectively. Their purpose is not to find the right answer, but an answer everyone can live with. Wise legislators, even more than wise executives, just do what their staffs tell them.

    Mr. Kennon's discussion of leadership is not without value. In a world in which academic degenerates try to reduce all social life to a contest for power, Kennon sensibly remarks that power is the ability to do something, to achieve a goal. What the academics are burbling about is the sterile accomplishment that Kennon calls "domination." There is also something to be said for the principle that truly great leaders, the exceptional few whom Kennon calls "saints," are those who voluntarily relinquish power to a permanent institution. Washington and Cardenas of Mexico make this short list. So does de Gaulle. Curiously, Lincoln does not. Rather, he is relegated to the much larger group of history's pragmatic troublemakers. I suppose you cannot have everything.

    The place of any country in the world today can be largely described, according to Mr. Kennon, by an examination of how these three elements in society interact. Although he uses the terms "first world," "second world," and "third world," these terms do not quite correspond to what they mean in ordinary parlance.

    The third world, which today includes Russia and its post-Soviet neighbors, is the natural state of civilized man. It shows great variety. Some regions and social sectors enjoy technological prowess and prosperity equal to that of any country in the world. Other regions and sectors, often just next door, suffer neolithic underdevelopment. Some third world countries are ruled by sociopathic tyrants. Others have real elections on a regular basis. It makes little difference: the government has been absorbed by the private sector. It is personal connections, and not impersonal bureaucratic routine, that count. The levers of state power in the presidential palace are not connected to anything. It is only in third world countries that "death squads" are to be found, since the real police are off working second jobs and so are not available to terrorize people. Even if the economy is nominally socialist, the great parastatal corporations are generally the fiefs of certain families or other affinity groups. Nepotism is more important to the functioning of the economy than is the market.

    The third world is as stable as a swamp. Those parts that are absolutely poor are the most stable, since insurrection requires both resources and "relative deprivation," i.e., the frustration of some expectation people had reasonably entertained. In livelier regions, society is held together primarily by patron-client relationships. Apparently, as long as just about everyone has a godfather to complain to when life gets difficult, a revolution cannot occur. Third world countries can offer a great deal of personal freedom, and even intermittent prosperity. However, no one is actually running these places, so disputes between castes or religions or other groups that might be arbitrated by effective courts in the first world or a strong dictator in the second can become genuine civil wars. The process is hard to get started, since the resources for civil strife might not be available. Once it does start, however, it can smolder for years for lack of anyone to put it out.

    Second world countries are third world countries that are ruled by bureaucratically administered force. Some may have tyrants, and some may hold real elections, but the government does not rule by consent. To a large minority or even a majority, the government is not legitimate. It would be overthrown if the police and the army relaxed. Second world countries come in two chief varieties these days: "newly industrialized countries," such as the "little dragons" of East Asia, and modernizing police states, like Iraq, and like Chile was until very recently. (The latter are "police states," not because the police run the government, but because the government depends on the police.) The Soviet Union fell into the second world category after Lenin died and remained there throughout its existence.

    The key to second world status is that the bureaucracy, with the assistance of a patriotic section of the political class, dominates the private sector. The bureaucracy in question may be that of a party, as in Marxist states or as in Mexico, the army, as was historically the case in South America and is now in parts of the Islamic world, or simply a powerful civil service, as was the case in developing Japan and Germany and France.

    Whatever the origin of the keepers of order, their behavior is remarkably similar. They believe in high savings rates to fund domestic investment, so they ensure that consumer goods are expensive and social services are thin. They strangle cults of personalty that might form around popular leaders, including themselves. Personal and political freedoms are variously restricted. They conduct mercantilist trade policies. They generally promote a nationalist ideology. The great predators of history are countries that, like Nazi Germany, either fell out of the first world and into the second, or that, like France after the Ancien Regime, had just climbed out of the third. Most second world states, however, are less interested in conquest than in autarchy, at least for a while. When they have achieved a sufficient level of economic development, they can hope for admission to the first world. Spain did this in the 1980s (Franco clearly counts as one of Kennon's "saints") and so did Japan in the 1960s.

    Second world countries are not inherently stable. They are societies that are kept together only by a conscious act of will by an elite of experts. They can be destroyed if the bureaucracy's plans for savings and development are disrupted by the arbitrary projects of some charismatic dictator. They can also be destroyed if they relax their police measures too soon, before the legitimacy of the regime is generally accepted. Democracy has again and again thrown promising second world countries back into the third word. If you believe Kennon, this even happened to the United States in the first third of the nineteenth century. The original economic development policy of the United States, as set forth by Alexander Hamilton, was as dirigiste as anything conceived by the Japanese economic bureaucrats of the 1960s. It called for mercantilism, sound money issued by an independent central bank, and a program of great infrastructure projects, notably turnpikes and canals. Bit by bit, this clear program was compromised in the early years of the Republic. Finally, Andrew Jackson led the rabble out of the cave and into the White House. The country began to disarticulate politically. It was only after the Civil War that the Robber Baron industrialists and their political allies of the Reconstruction Era coerced the country back onto the path toward first world status.

    The first world itself is the paradise in which all good second world countries seek to be reincarnated. It is, of course, economically developed, which means that its economy is not tied to the deplorably inelastic demand for natural commodities or the primary manufactured products, such as cement or (these days) steel. The bureaucracy reigns in industry and the government, with the cooperation of a private sector strong enough to innovate but not to undermine basic social order. The political sector knows its modest place. Like a good British monarch, it reigns but does not rule. There are, of course, emergencies when the anachronism of political leadership still has some utility. However, these instances become fewer and fewer as civilization advances and its problems become more complicated. Modern civilization is a matter for experts, whose decisions the good president or parliament simply rubberstamps.

    Like the third world, the first world is stable. A first world country may suffer riot, high crime and corruption in high places, but its survival does not depend on the police. The regime is legitimate, even to people who want its whole personnel roster replaced. It can permit a very high level of personal freedom and an efficient legal system at the same time. Of course, it isn't indestructible. Kennon is much taken with Mancur Olson's thesis that developed countries tend to be dragged down by the growth of entitlements and special interest pleading over the course of time. What this is, of course, is the private sector reasserting itself. The result can be something like what happened to Argentina, which stood at the gates of first world status until the Peronist welfare state produced a secular decline. And then there's Hitler. A first world country can reenter the second, if it no longer is possible to rule by impersonal consensus. When that happens, it is necessary to rule by force, to establish a police state. The Germans, of course, got the worst of all possible worlds, a harsh second world police regime and a sociopathic third world leader to run it. The moral of this is that no country is naturally a member of one world or the other. Nations can and do circulate from one level to another.

    As for the future, Kennon suggests that the planet will be ruled by a first world empire by about the middle of the next century. This is not to say that there will be a de jure universal state, but that the international bureaucracies which exist today will ultimately become more important than the national bureaucracies of the first world. Major corporations increasingly think and act internationally, and national bureaucrats, with their natural bureaucratic inclination to bow to expertise, increasingly mesh with multilateral diplomatic and financial organizations. Sovereign states will continue to exist, even in the first world, but they and their elected officialdoms will be reduced to "sources of legitimacy," rather than possessors of actual power. This inner core will be surrounded by a ring of second world countries trying to achieve a sufficient degree of internal cohesion to allow them to enter the core. On the periphery will be the ever-stable third world, rarely policed, sometimes aided, usually ignored.

    The interesting thing about this model is how closely it resembles the "end of history" thesis put forward by Francis Fukuyama at the end of the 1980s. Fukuyama was not suggesting, as his ill-informed detractors suggested, that nothing interesting was ever going to happen again. What he was saying was that modern liberal democracy is the final product of political theory, just as Euclid's solid geometry was the final product of Greek mathematics. It answered the questions that had been asked. In rather the same way, Kennon's universal mandarinate is a sort of final state, one that admits of no further development. It is the peace of exhaustion.

    Mr. Kennon's view of the world is not wildly misleading as a description of the current state of things. (Except perhaps with regard to Israel. I realize that Kennon did not invent the phrase, but I doubt that Israel really deserves to be called a "Herrenvolk Democracy.") His account of history might be politely described as unnuanced, but then he was not trying to write a theory of history. The problem is that Mr. Kennon has a crabbed sense of the possible. He dismisses ninety percent of why governments and cultures say they do things. Mr. Kennon, equipped with his solid 1950s liberal education, knows why these people really did what they did. Surely any reasonable person will have to agree?

    The book has a blind spot regarding religion. (The author has read "The Golden Bough," unfortunately.) While Mr. Kennon has some interesting things to say millenarianism, he does not seem to fully appreciate that the concept has application outside exotic contexts like the Mahdi Rebellion in the 19th century Sudan. The fact that non-apocalyptic varieties of Christian eschatology are intimately linked with the idea of progress has escaped his notice entirely. More serious, he really seems to think that religious faith is something that is felt by the ignorant but can only be pretended to by the learned. He knows that religion isn't dying out, and he knows that it is often positively correlated with education, but he draws no inferences from these facts.

    There is a single conceptual failing in the book that turns Mr. Kennon's portrait of the world into a caricature. The lesson has not sunk in that you cannot predict the future by extrapolation. The fashionable term for unpredictable novelty in physics is "emergent behavior," and history is full of it. This is why all long-range plans, after a certain point, lead to Hell. It is why Marxist command economies make their people poor. It is why export-mad neomercantilist states like Japan eventually discover that they have given their exports away. It is why the search for social and international "stability," the alpha and the omega of CIA policy, is a pernicious chimera. It ensures you will spend your time fighting yesterday's menace and overlook today's opportunity. A bureaucracy can protect you against some kinds of bad luck, but never yet has a bureaucracy made a particle of good luck.

    Caricatures have their uses, of course, and "The Twilight of Democracy" is no exception. Certainly the book performs a useful service in today's climate by de-sentimentalizing democracy. Democracy is not historically inevitable, and it is not an excuse for bad government. Even if leadership is not as negligible a factor in history as Mr. Kennon says, it is good to be reminded that even a demon in power cannot do much harm if he does not have an honest bureaucracy working for him. In any event, the book's view of the world has the modest advantage that accrues to most forms of cynicism. Optimists are bound to be disappointed, but a cynic will go through life being pleasantly surprised.


    Why post old articles?

    Who was John J. Reilly?

    All of John's posts here

    An archive of John's site


    The Long View: Tragedy and Hope

    The Magistra likes to watch period dramas on Netflix. This is a work of the same genre, although Quigley probably didn't know he was writing one at the time. This book is a fossil from that brief and peaceful period in the 1960s before the big cultural upheavals in 1968, which in this case really means something more like the 1950s for most Americans, but more stylish.

    That was the time when "liberal Catholic" meant something like Pope Francis, left-of-center politically, but wholly orthodox. It was also a high point of the self-confidence of the West as a whole, and American liberalism in particular. One of the enthusiams of this book is Operations Research, a formal science that emerged out the the Second World War. This is a discipline that does not bulk large in anyone's mind today, but it was the nanotech of its day, capable of solving any problem in principle. John notes that the belief in Operations Research methods was part of what made Robert McNamara think the war in Vietnam could be managed using metrics and scientific methodology. This famously did not go well, although I can think of at least one old OR man who might dispute that interpretation.

    Quigley's book has achieved a kind of fame, at least amongst the conspiracy minded, due to his singling out of the Round Table groups founded by Cecil Rhodes. The most familiar of these groups today is the Council on Foreign Relations, but Rhodes also founded the Rhodes Scholarships with the same motivation as the Round Table groups; he wanted to build an international network of public-minded and public-spirited men across the English-speaking world.

    The Round Table groups were really just a spontaneous outgrowth of the first period of internationalization, when international trade began to rapidly outpace international institutions, and some mechanism was needed to fill the gap. Industrious Victorians like Rhodes were only too happy to come up with something clever to do just that. As international institutions caught up, the influence of the Round Table groups declined, if for no other reason than they were no longer the only players in the game.

    Anglophilia and conspiracy theories are not the main interest of this book, however. Quigley summed up everything he thought was best about the Western world thus:

    "The Outlook of the West is that broad middle way about which the fads and foibles of the West oscillate. It is what is implied by what the West says it believes, not at one moment but over the long succession of moments that form the history of the West. From that succession of moments it is clear that the West believes in diversity rather than in uniformity, in pluralism, rather than in monism, or dualism, in inclusion rather than exclusion, in liberty rather than in authority, in truth rather than in power, in conversion rather than in annihilation, in the individual rather than in the organization, in reconciliation rather than in triumph, in heterogeneity rather than in homogeneity, in relativisms rather than in absolutes, and in approximations rather than in final answers. The West believes that man and the universe are both complex and that the apparently discordant parts of each can be put into a reasonably workable arrangement with a little good will, patience, and experimentation. In man the West sees body, emotions, and reason as all equally real and necessary, and is prepared to entertain discussion about their relative interrelationships but is not prepared to listen for long to any intolerant insistence that any one of these has a final answer." [Page 1227]

    While at first glance this might seem to be merely to be a summary of the early 1960s liberal consensus, its roots go far deeper. Quigley himself considered this to be an interpretation of Aquinas. That is defensible, there really are ideas like this in Aquinas's thinking. It is also not the only possible interpretation of Aquinas. But it does represent a durable line of thought in the history of the West.

    This line of thought may or may not be true, but it has been with us a long time.

    Tragedy and Hope:
    A History of the World in Our Time
    by Carroll Quigley
    First Published 1966
    The Macmillan Company
    (Reprint GSG & Associates)
    1,348 Pages, US$35.00
    ISBN 0-945001-10-X


    For reasons that are only partly the author's fault, "Tragedy and Hope" has become one of the key texts of conspiracy theory. Famous for its exposition of the workings of the Anglophile American establishment during the first half of the twentieth century, the book is reputed to have "named names" to such a degree that the hidden masters of the world tried to suppress the unabridged edition. It did not diminish the book's reputation that Carroll Quigley (1910-1977), a historian with the Foreign Service School at Georgetown University, made a deep impression on US-president-to-be Bill Clinton during Clinton's undergraduate years at that university. We have Mr. Clinton's own word on this, so it must be true.


    If the hidden masters did try to suppress the book when it first appeared, they seem to have lost interest by now; the only problem I had buying this enormous volume was carrying the 15 pounds of it home. "Tragedy and Hope" has no notes, no bibliography, and a very inadequate index. As with the Bible, its sheer size has done something to ensure that it would be more cited than read. For what it is intended to be, a history of the world from about 1895 to 1964, the book is a failure. As Quigley acknowledges, there are insuperable problems of perspective in writing about one's own time. On the other hand, the book's prejudices are fascinating. It was written at the point in the 1960s just before the American liberal consensus began to unravel. Perhaps as important for Quigley, that was also the brief interval after the Second Vatican Council when "liberal Catholic" did not mean someone who rejected all dogma and tradition. Beyond its value as a period piece, however, the book occasionally transcends its time. Its remarks about the future, presumably a future more distant than our present, are close to becoming conventional wisdom today.


    Quigley's frame of reference is roughly that of Arnold Toynbee: the West, including Europe, the United States, Latin America, and Australasia, has entered an Age of Crisis. Other civilizations, when faced with analogous crises, solved them by entering an Age of Universal Empire. Universal Empires, however, are morbid: they are stultifying at best and eventually collapse in any case. Quigley's objection is not to international institutions, or even to world government. What the West must do, according to Quigley, is end its Age of Crisis without creating a Universal Empire through military conquest. The problem with the 20th century, down to the 1960s, has been repeated attempts by persons and groups to achieve universal power by force or manipulation.


    This analysis sounds much more interesting than it is. Quigley's tale is pretty much a vindication of President Franklin Roosevelt's administration (1933-1945). By Quigley's account, the failure to adopt the policies of those years earlier in the 20th century led to the disasters of the Depression and the Second World War, while the need of the decades that followed was to expand and perfect the Progressive tradition they embodied. Much of the reputation of this book among conspiracy theorists rests on its account of the world financial system of the 1920s, when the Bank of England no longer had the power to regulate the system, as it had before the First World War. The gap was filled by private institutions acting in collusion with the heads of the central banks, generally without oversight from the world's major governments. A combination of bad luck and stupidity made the system collapse at the end of the decade, so that currencies became inexchangeable, trade froze, and force displaced commerce both domestically and internationally. It's not hard to make ordinary banking practices sound like the work of the devil, and in this book the devil's little helpers are Morgans, Rothschilds, and Barings.


    One can take or leave Quigley's long, very long, expositions of economic theory. Many readers will be inclined to leave an argument that suggests the whole of history was preparation for the ultimate enlightenment contained in John Kenneth Galbraith's "The Affluent Society," which argued for Keynsian macroeconomics and a mildly redistributive social policy. (Quigley clearly alludes to that book, published in 1958, but does not cite it.) In any case, Quigley described speculative, international finance-capitalism as a feature of the past; he did not think it had any relevance to his own day.


    What chiefly ensured Quigley's work a lasting place in the pantheon of paranoia, however, was his attempt to provide a social context for this activity. This paragraph appears at the end of a tirade against McCarthyism:


    "This myth, like all fables, does in fact have a modicum of truth. There does exist, and has existed for a generation, an international Anglophile network which operates, to some extent, in the way the radical Right believes the Communists act. In fact, this network, which we may identify as the Round Table Groups, has no aversion to cooperating with the Communists, or any other groups, and frequently does so. I know of the operations of this network because I have studied it for twenty years and was permitted for two years, in the early 1960s, to examine its paper and secret records. I have no aversion to it or to most of its aims and have, for much of my life, been close to it and to many of its instruments. I have objected, both in the past and recently, to a few of its policies (notably to its belief that England was an Atlantic rather than a European Power and must be allied, or even federated, with the United States and must remain isolated from Europe), but in general my chief difference of opinion is that it wishes to remain unknown, and I believe its role in history is significant enough to be known." [Page 950]


    "Anglophilia" sounds like a debilitating psychological ailment, with some reason. In its American manifestation, it suggests a preference for tweedy clothes, water sports that don't require surf, and nominal affiliation with the Anglican Communion. The syndrome has a copious literature, much of it concerned with prep schools, but here is all you need to know in this context. The ideology of Quigley's network can apparently be traced to 19th century Oxford, indeed specifically to All Souls College, back when John Ruskin was expounding a compound of Gothic Revival aesthetics, the glory of the British Empire, and the duty to uplift the downtrodden poor. These ideas seized the imagination of Cecil Rhodes during his years at Oxford. He hoped for a federation of the whole English-speaking world, and provided the money and impetus for institutions to link those countries. (Lord Alfred Milner provided the organizing talent.) The best known of these efforts are the Rhodes Scholarships for study at Oxford. (Bill Clinton is among the many well-know recipients.) They also included informal "Round Table Groups" in the Dominions and the US, which sponsored local Institutes of International Affairs. The US version is the Council on Foreign Relations.


    While the people in these groups were very influential (that is why they were asked to join), Quigley makes clear that the Round Tables never had everything their own way, even in the administration of colonial Africa, where both Rhodes and Milner were especially interested. As with the finance capitalists, the Anglophile network was essentially a league of private persons trying to fill a gap in the international system. As public institutions were created to exercise the Round Tables' consultative and communications functions, the network itself became less important.


    Quigley makes the increasing marginalization of the Anglophile network perfectly clear, and in fact he does not suggest that it was ever more than one factor among many at any point in the 20th century. Nonetheless, it is his failing as a historian to suggest that a causal nexus can be inferred whenever two actors in a historical event can be shown to have met. Consider this excerpt from a discussion of the history of Iran:


    "By that time (summer, 1953) almost irresistible forces were building up against [Prime Minister] Mossadegh, since lack of Soviet interference give the West full freedom of action. The British, the AIOC, the world petroleum cartel, the American government, and the older Iranian elite led by the shah combined to crush Mossadegh. The chief effort came from the American supersecret intelligence agency (CIA) under the personal direction of its director, Allen W. Dulles, brother of the secretary of State. DulIes, as a former director of the Schroeder Bank in New York, was an old associate of Frank C Tiarks, a partner in the Schroeder Bank in London since 1902, and a director of the Bank of England in 1912-1945, as well as Lazard Brothers Bank, and the AIOC. It will be recalled that the Schroeder Bank in Cologne helped to arrange Hitler's accession to power as chancellor in January 1933." [Page 1059]


    I don't quite know what this is supposed to mean; that pretty much the same people overthrew Prime Minister Mossadegh as brought us Hitler? I am reminded of nothing so much as Monty Python's parody of an Icelandic saga, about the deeds of "Hrothgar, son of Sigismund, brother of Grundir, mother of Fingal, who knew Hermann, the cousin of Bob." Maybe this is Quigley's idea of "thick" description. Certainly "Tragedy and Hope" is thick with it; it goes on for pages and pages.


    "Tragedy and Hope" is a fossil, perfectly preserved, of the sophisticated liberalism of the Kennedy era. Quigley takes a partisan position in the debates about nuclear strategy that began in the 1950s. (He sat on several government commissions on scientific questions, including the one that recommended creating NASA. The book explains the physics of nuclear weapons in some detail; Quigley does not just name names, he names the weight of fissionable material necessary for a bomb.) Thus, he praises Oppenheimer and condemns Teller, deplores the cost-cutting strategy of "massive retaliation" embraced by the Eisenhower Administration and supports tactical nuclear devices suitable for conventional war. "Tragedy and Hope" has prose poems to "Operations Research," the application of quantitative analysis to military affairs, which he ranks with Keynsian economics as one of the pillars of modern civilization.


    Though it is not entirely fair to criticize even a book such as this for failing to foresee the immediate future, still I cannot help but remark how many of these ideas were tested in the 1960s and found wanting. The number-crunching military philosophy that Quigley endorsed was essentially that of Robert McNamara's Pentagon; as much as anything else, it is what lost the Vietnam War for the United States. Quigley covers Vietnam up through the assassination of President Diem in 1963, but gives no greater prominence to the conflict there than to other Cold War trouble spots. This book is good evidence, if any more were needed, that even the Americans who knew most had not the tiniest idea what they were doing.


    The problem with the Kennedy Enlightenment is not that elements of its conventional wisdom were wrong; that is true of all eras. The great flaw was its totalitarian streak. Quigley expresses this attitude perfectly:


    "The chief problem of American political life for a long time has been how to make the two Congressional parties more national and more international. The argument that the two parties should represent opposed ideals and policies, one, perhaps of the Right, and the other of the Left, is a foolish idea acceptable only to doctrinaire and academic thinkers. Instead, the two parties should be almost identical so that the American people can 'throw the rascals out' at any election without leading to any profound or extensive shifts in policy. The policies that are vital and necessary for America are no longer subjects of significant disagreement, but are disputable only in terms of procedure, priority and method..." [Page 1248-1249]


    Quigley was aware that there was a substantial number of persons in the nascent conservative movement who did not think that all issues had been settled yet, but he regards their opinions as not just erroneous but illegitimate. Quigley has fits of class analysis, so he tells us that the traditional middle class, considered as a cultural pattern rather than an economic group, was evaporating because of growing prosperity and feminization. (His description of contemporary students as promiscuous, unkempt and unpunctual suggests he had some inkling of just how annoying the Baby Boom generation was going to be.) The Right, however, was dominated by a parody, also destined to be ephemeral in Quigley's estimation, of the disappearing middle class. The Right was "petty bourgeois" (he actually uses the term), grasping, intolerant and careerist. They were ignorant, even the ones who tried to get into top colleges on the basis of good grades, since those grades were achieved by unimaginative drudgery rather than by any real engagement with the life of the mind. The Right even came from unfashionable places, principally the Southwest, where they made fortunes in dreadful extractive industries, like oil and mining. The Right, particularly as manifest in the Republican Party, is merely ignorant. It must be combated, but need not be listened to.


    Let us think less harshly of Bill Clinton hereafter, if these were the opinions he heard from the Wise and the Good of his youth.


    The infuriating thing is that Quigley knows better. He was well aware of the totalitarian trajectory of the respectable consensus of his day, and he was not pleased by it. Consider this paragraph:


    "Because this is the tradition of the West, the West is liberal. Most historians see liberalism as a political outlook and practice founded in the nineteenth century. But nineteenth-century liberalism was simply a temporary organizational manifestation of what has always been the underlying Western outlook. That organizational manifestation is now largely dead, killed as much by twentieth-century liberals as by conservatives or reactionaries...The liberal of about 1880 was anticlerical, antimilitarist, and antistate because these were, to his immediate experience, authoritarian forces that sought to prevent the operation of the Western way. ...But by 1900 or so, these dislikes and likes became ends in themselves. The liberal was prepared to force people to associate with those they could not bear, in the name of freedom of assembly, or he was, in the name of freedom of speech, prepared to force people to listen. His anticlericalism became an effort to prevent people from getting religion, and his antimilitarism took the form of opposing funds for legitimate defense. Most amazing, his earlier opposition to the use of private economic power to restrict individual freedoms took the form of an effort to increase the authority of the state against private economic power and wealth in themselves. Thus the liberal of 1880 and the liberal of 1940 had reversed themselves on the role and power of the state..." [Page 1231]


    Quigley strongly suspected that, whatever else may happen to the West, democracy was likely to be a decreasingly important feature. In part, this was for a reason that would gladden the hearts of defenders of the Second Amendment of the US Constitution: the disarming of the citizenry, at least in comparison to the military. Universal male suffrage was partly a side effect of the dominance in the 19th century of the rifle-armed mass infantry. Firearms were cheap and great equalizers; governments could use such armies only with a high level of consent from the citizens who composed them. In the 20th century, however, the new weapons were beyond the means of private parties or groups, and they could be operated only by trained experts. In a way, the world came back to the era knights and castles, when the bulk of the population figured in politics chiefly as silent taxpayers.


    Quigley did recognize that the trends of the 20th century up to his day might not go on forever, and at this point the book becomes positively disconcerting. He saw no end to the standoff between the US and the Soviet Union, except to the extent that their economic and political systems might be expected to converge in an age increasingly dominated by experts. ("Convergence": now that's a buzzword that brings back memories.) On the other hand, he did think that the lesser countries of each block would be able to operate more independently from the US and the USSR, and even to relax internally. He makes remarks about the possibility of balkanization and decentralization that might almost have been made by Robert Kaplan and Thomas Friedman, who are perhaps best known for their recent writing about chaos and disintegration in the world after the Cold War. Like other people writing 40 years later, Quigley also suggests that, simultaneous with increasing disorder and complexity, new international institutions would also flourish, so that the nations of his day would lose authority to entities both greater and smaller than themselves.


    "Tragedy and Hope" suggests that the future may look something like the Holy Roman Empire of the late medieval period. [Page 1287] In principle, the empire was a federal hierarchy of authorities, but the principle was scarcely visible in the tangle of republics, kingdoms, and bishoprics that composed it. The Imperial Diet was as multichambered as a conch-shell, while the executive functioned only on those rare occasions when the emperor, an elected official, managed to persuade the potentates of the empire that what he wanted to do was in their interest. Actually, Quigley did not have far to seek for this model. The early European Economic Community of his day already was starting to look like just such a horse designed by a committee. Its evolution into the European Union has not lessened the resemblance. Quigley seemed to expect a parallel evolution of institutions universally, through the UN system, for which a united Europe would stand as a model. He is not perfectly clear on this point, however. As is so often the case when people talk about transcending national sovereignty, it is not clear whether they are talking about the evolution of the West, or of the world, or of both.


    To broach a final topic, one of the things that struck me about "Tragedy and Hope" was Quigley's lack of interest in intellectual history, except for science. His treatments of ideology tend to be cursory, misleading or wrong. Lack of interest is his privilege, of course, but to write a 1,300-page book about the first half of the twentieth century without liking ideology is like owning a candy store and not liking chocolate. The only point when the matter seems to fully engage his interest is when he is speculating about the ideology that might help the West to emerge from its Age of Crisis. What the West needs to do, he says, is to hold fast to its special intellectual virtues, which he summaries like this:


    "The Outlook of the West is that broad middle way about which the fads and foibles of the West oscillate. It is what is implied by what the West says it believes, not at one moment but over the long succession of moments that form the history of the West. From that succession of moments it is clear that the West believes in diversity rather than in uniformity, in pluralism, rather than in monism, or dualism, in inclusion rather than exclusion, in liberty rather than in authority, in truth rather than in power, in conversion rather than in annihilation, in the individual rather than in the organization, in reconciliation rather than in triumph, in heterogeneity rather than in homogeneity, in relativisms rather than in absolutes, and in approximations rather than in final answers. The West believes that man and the universe are both complex and that the apparently discordant parts of each can be put into a reasonably workable arrangement with a little good will, patience, and experimentation. In man the West sees body, emotions, and reason as all equally real and necessary, and is prepared to entertain discussion about their relative interrelationships but is not prepared to listen for long to any intolerant insistence that any one of these has a final answer." [Page 1227]


    At first glance, this might seem to be just another instance of the Kennedy Enlightenment assuming that its own parochial ideas are all the ideas there are. Certainly this laundry list looks more than a little like John Dewey's pragmatism. Pragmatism has its virtues, but is hardly the thread that runs through all Western history. However, that is not where the summary comes from. On close examination, Quigley's "Way of the West" has more content than is characteristic of pragmatism, which is a philosophy about procedure. What we have here, as Quigley tells us himself, is a take on the philosophy of Thomas Aquinas.


    Aquinas has been credited and blamed for many things. In the 20th century, he had been called "the father of science" and "the first Whig." There really are features of his ideas that are friendly to empirical science and to limited government with the consent of the government. On the other hand, if you need a detailed account of the physiology of demons, he is your man. A "liberal" Thomas is not the only possible Thomas, but such an interpretation would have appealed to a Catholic scholar like Quigley in the immediate aftermath of the Second Vatican Council, where the ideas of John Cardinal Newman on the development of doctrine seemed to carry all before them.


    There is an obvious pattern in Quigley's ideas about the future. Consider the specifics: the end of mass warfare and mass democracy, the disintegration of the nation state into both a universal polity and local patriotisms, and a global intellectual synthesis that is willing to entertain any idea that is not contrary to faith and morals. (Aquinas was rather more honest about that last part than was Quigley.) What we have here is a vision of the High Middle Ages with International Style architecture. This vision may or may not reflect the future, but it certainly has a long history. Let us let Oswald Spengler have the last word; I suspect this is where the citation-shy Quigley got the idea in the first place:


    "But neither in the creations of this piety nor in the form of the Roman Imperium is there anything primary and spontaneous. Nothing is built up, no idea unfolds itself - it is only as if a mist cleared off the land and revealed the old forms, uncertainly at first, but presently with increasing distinctness. The material of the Second Religiousness is simply that of the first, genuine, young religiousness - only otherwise experienced and expressed. It starts with Rationalism's fading out in helplessness, then the forms of the Springtime become visible, and finally the whole world of the primitive religion, which had receded before the grand forms of the early faith, returns to the foreground, powerful in the guise of the popular syncretism that is to be found in every Culture at this phase."


    The Decline of the West, Volume II, page 311

    Why post old articles?

    Who was John J. Reilly?

    All of John's posts here

    An archive of John's site


    CrossFit 2014-07-23


    3 rounds

    • 800m run
    • 21 power cleans [95#]

    Time 26:19


    The Long View: The Future of the Papacy

    Pope Francis and Pope Emeritus BenedictI see that Richard McBrien has an updated version of The Lives of the Popes. John's essay isn't really a review of McBrien's book, it is more along the lines of an attempt to set the record straight. This essay would be a good counter-point to the reviews of McBrien's book on Amazon.

    I am certain McBrien is thrilled by the election of Pope Francis, but it shall be interesting to see what McBrien says when Francis fails to act on his plan. In his own way, Francis is as mis-understood as Benedict.

    The Future of the Papacy


    by John J. Reilly

    On the whole, Richard McBrien's current bestseller, "The Lives of the Popes," is not a very good book. While the author does have the good grace to warn in the introduction that he is arguing for a particular model of ecclesiology, still the work is usually tendentious, sometimes spiteful and occasionally sloppy. (At the very least, the publisher should have assigned an editor who knew some Latin.) A paradoxical use of the book may be as evidence that Pius X's attitude toward theologians may have been right after all.

    Be this as it may, the Epilogue entitled "The Future of the Papacy" does raise some interesting points. Fr. McBrien notes that history is liberating because it teaches us that things were not always as they are now. Because the papacy in times past was not always as it has been for the past century or so, he suggests, there is some reason to suppose that it will be different again in the future. His point is well taken; John Paul II himself took it in his encyclical "Ut Unum Sint" (That They May Be One). However, in this context, it may not have quite the implications that "The Lives of the Popes" would lead you to believe.

    A notion that runs through the "Lives of the Popes" (as well as through other recent discussions of the subject) is that the history of the papacy falls rather neatly into two halves. In the first millennium of the Christian era, according to this schema, the Bishop of Rome enjoyed a unique prestige among the world's bishops. The Apostolic See even acquired secular power in central Italy as civilization went to wrack and ruin. However, it was only in the second millennium (the pontificate of Gregory VII (1073-1085) makes a reasonable transition point) that the papacy became a sovereign monarchy. This happened first in the secular and then increasingly in the ecclesiastical realm. Although the broadest claims to papal authority are medieval, there is a lot to be said for the observation that the actual power of the papacy over the governance of the Church reached its maximum after 1870, when the Apostolic See was involuntarily stripped of the distraction of the Papal States.

    Today, according to some critics, the process of centralization has reached such an extreme degree that one might reasonably expect it to start to reverse. In fact, the emphasis by the Second Vatican Council on the collegiality of bishops, including the Bishop of Rome, is cited as the beginning of this process. Since we have already had two historical epochs, a proper respect for Hegel (and maybe for Joachim of Fiore) makes it almost inevitable that we consider the possibility of a third. Fr. McBrien is particularly keen on the notion that the third millennium will resemble the first more than the second. The pope will no longer be a monarch, either over secular subjects or over his fellow bishops. Rather, he will be a conciliator, whose special role will be to promote Christian unity. He will leave matters of discipline to local bishops and assemblies, while theology will be the province of the experts. Such as Fr. McBrien.

    Periods of a thousand years do not normally make useful units of historical analysis, but still there is a fair amount of truth to this schema of two eras. There is even some sense in the anticipation of a Third Age. The chief point that needs to be added is that the papacy has never existed in a vacuum. The mutations it has undergone in the past 2000 years are only partly the result of the logic of its own development. The short explanation for these changes is that the papacy was simply mirroring the political evolution of the societies in which it lived. The pope was once a Roman citizen, then a Byzantine official, then a barbarian chieftain, then a feudal lord, then a Renaissance prince, then a Baroque monarch. Since 1870, he has been the chief executive officer of a remarkably efficient international bureaucracy (well, efficient compared to the UN). What you think the papacy will become next therefore depends on your ideas about the future development of the nature of government and of political theory.

    If anything, the papacy has been ahead of the curve in terms of the development of supranational organizations. Without entering into a discussion of the merits of organizations like the WTO and the IMF, still it is a good bet that more and more of the world's business will be looked after by specialized international regulatory agencies. There are already a lot of these. You don't hear about them much because, like the venerable Universal Postal Union, they have the good sense to stick to genuinely international issues and otherwise leave their national affiliates to run themselves. This is the model that the Fr. McBriens of the world would like the Church to embrace.

    On its face, the model is not without merits. The principle of subsidiarity, not to say common sense, dictates that the units of any global organization should normally be self-governing. The Catholic hierarchy is a hierarchy of authority, not of administration. Even those of us who applaud the intervention of the Vatican to correct local scandals in teaching and liturgy must acknowledge that there is something wrong when parents in New Jersey are writing letters to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to complain that the nun teaching their kids' CCD class is a self-proclaimed witch. The real question, of course, is whether the problem is overreaching by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith or incompetence on the part of the witch's bishop.

    As is so often the case with predictions about the future, it seems reasonable to forecast a near-term period of heightened conflict, followed by a durable resolution that may well hold for a large slice of the next millennium. I agree that the current situation is not stable. On the one hand, there is a disgruntled clerisy of theologians in the colleges, plus a few bishops, who want the right to define Catholicism as anything they say it is. On the other hand, there is an episcopate that is reasonably orthodox but reluctant to challenge the experts. The Vatican greatly prefers not to intervene locally, but it is hard not to do so when the increasing ease of communications broadcasts every scandal worldwide. This just makes the clerisy madder, which invites more intervention. Something is going to give here.

    The current assumption among the "just wait until the next pope" liberals is that what will give will be the papacy. The College of Cardinals, tired of getting all those weird letters from New Jersey, will elect a congenial makeweight at the next conclave. He will write a few encyclicals in which he encourages the fashionable theologies to be fruitful and multiply, while most of his time will be spent promoting peace-and-justice initiatives submitted to him from the better Catholic universities. The Catholic Church will then become like the easygoing Anglican Church, with which it will no doubt merge. The papacy will collapse back into its first-millennium role as an inter-episcopal mediator, and everyone will live happily ever after. You bet.

    The problem with this scenario is that it extrapolates the present into the indefinite future. It does seem reasonable that the third millennium of the Catholic Church in general and the papacy in particular will differ from the second. It may also be true that the third will resemble the first in some important ways. The flaw in the predictions made by many of the people who promote this model, however, is that there may be a resemblance between the first millennium and the third that they have not thought of: the absence of professional academic theologians.

    By the end of the 20th century, we have come to think of theologians as just another part of the professoriate. However, the idea of a class of persons paid to teach and do research and criticize is not self-obvious. Most societies have not had such a class at all. Those that have had one have usually had it for only a few centuries at a time. There were such people for the first 500 years of the first millennium in the West. Athens, for instance, was a college town throughout the Roman period. The significant point is that the people who taught there were not theologians, but rhetoricians and philosophers. Although the early Church made use of philosophical ideas developed in the schools, it did not turn the ancient academies into Christian institutions. In fact, it eventually shut them down. A "theologian" in the first millennium was normally a bishop, someone like Augustine or John Chrysostom, who formulated theological propositions for the practical purposes of teaching and apologetics.

    If we are going to think in units of centuries, then we should consider the possibility that the critical style of intellectual life that has characterized the West since the 18th century may cease to be ubiquitous. For instance, Francis Fukuyama's book, "The End of History," was much ridiculed a few years ago for suggesting that history ended with the end of the Cold War. In reality, he suggested nothing so crude. What he did say was that the possibilities of political theory within the Western tradition had been exhausted, which I think is not only plausible but true. Similarly, it is a given among many physicists that we are only a jump or two away from a general unification theory, or "theory of everything." Such a theory would not confer omniscience; it would simply unite cosmology and nuclear physics in a small set of equations. After the theory is achieved, there would still be physicists, but the enterprise of advanced physics would have fundamentally changed. It would become a matter of looking for the implications of what is already known, and of looking for better ways to express it and teach it.

    As I understand it, this is very much what happened to theology in the Eastern Orthodox tradition. For three or four centuries after the Edict of Milan, the practice of theology was exuberantly speculative, and most of it happened in the Byzantine East. It was one of those eras in history in which high theory drove power politics. Popular enthusiasm was engaged by controversies of fantastic subtlety that today are fully understood only by specialists, and you wonder even about the specialists. Thereafter, however, Eastern Christianity lost this speculative quality. It was no longer necessary. The Eastern Church's theology was "finished," just as plane geometry was "finished" in Hellenistic times, and perhaps as physics will be "finished" in the 21st century.

    In the first third of the first millennium, the world's bishops tended to discourage theological subtlety as part of their campaign against Gnosticism. By the last third, the major theological questions had already been settled. It was in the former and the latter contexts that it made sense for the pope to act primarily as an arbitrator and organizer. During the convulsive middle period, of course, the pope did often intervene in the great Christological controversies, but even then he rarely proposed formulations of doctrine himself. When it came time for the papacy to evangelize the newly barbarian West, the deposit of the faith had already been almost completely formulated by the Fathers of the Church. Everything necessary was already on the shelf. Much later, when the West developed its own intellectual life, it became necessary for the pope to act proactively on matters of faith and discipline, rather than just as a mediator. It is necessary still. However, it may not be necessary forever.

    It really is not hard to predict the future, since almost anything you predict that is possible is bound to happen eventually. The trick is to get the timescale right. Nevertheless, I would be willing to suggest the following will be the state of things sooner rather than later: A Vatican that acts more like a senior patriarchate, a laity that rarely feels the need to inquire beyond the local bishop on points of doctrine, and a small class of clerical theologians who see their primary function as apologetics. I don't think you can have one part of this future without the other. It's a package deal.




    Why post old articles?

    Who was John J. Reilly?

    All of John's posts here

    An archive of John's site


    The Long View: Religion

    I wasn't a Catholic when I first started reading John's website. He is probably partly to blame for how I turned out, along with G. K. Chesterton, C. S. Lewis, and Fr. John Neuhaus. Which is just as well, since none of these men are around to defend themselves any longer. John had a theological bent that showed in all of his writing. I was intrigued, and it led me on.

    John's take on papal encyclicals, and the papacy itself was particularly formative. The Anglo-Saxon parts of Europe and their overseas progeny are currently ascendant, and we are right to see those individualistic cultures as uniquely successful, and as the birthplace of the political notions that currently dominate the world. However, it is worth remembering that space was opened in Western Civilization for liberty when a Pope forced an Emperor to kneel in the snow. I have come to see this as one of the defining features of Western Civilization, and also how Western Christianity differs from Eastern. The space that opened up between Church and State allowed for more real freedom than anyone had ever had, and also served as the first example of the principle of checks and balances that American democracy embraces.

    John saw the Papacy as a unique institution in the world, one tied up with the fate of the West. It is also the nucleus of something greater, as the oldest transnational institution. The Bishop of Rome has variously been "a Roman citizen, then a Byzantine official, then a barbarian chieftain, then a feudal lord, then a Renaissance prince, then a Baroque monarch. Since 1870, he has been the chief executive officer of a remarkably efficient international bureaucracy (well, efficient compared to the UN). What you think the papacy will become next therefore depends on your ideas about the future development of the nature of government and of political theory.

    The Pope may not have many divisions, but the Holy See bulks large in international politics. If a system of world governance crystallizes, the Holy See will be a part of it. This is why people who aren't Catholic care so much about who is Pope. They rightly surmise that much is at stake. On a personal level, John was a fan of Benedict the XVI as well. John understood him better than most. I don't think John would have been surprised by Benedict's resignation. John always saw him as an unwilling pope who accepted elevation out of obedience, when he would have much rather gone back to live a life of writing, prayer, and meditation. I am sad that John didn't live to see Pope Francis. I would rather have enjoyed his commentary. Ah well. Perhaps we'll catch up someday.


    I am what is known as an "orthodox" Roman Catholic. This means that, while my views are conservative, I do not think I am any more Catholic than the Pope. This is an important point

    Readers who have looked under the other headings of this Web site will have noticed a certain theological twist in everything I write. Here are some pieces that deal directly with religious questions. Just click on the underlined words:


    The Reformation: A History [Diarmaid MacCulloch on one of God's Great Mistakes.] The Interior Castle [Saint Teresa of Avila describes the best case.]  


    Revelation of the Magi [Brent Landau's translation and commentary of an ancient Syriac text that is not quite the Party Line.] Findings [Charles Upton chronicles the decay of Traditionalism in the latter Kali Yuga.] The Red Book [Carl Gustav Jung's psyche in illuminated color, also called Liber Novus.]


      American Babylon [Father Richard John Neuhaus's last book was on politics in the light of the eschaton.]


      Earthly Powers [Michael Burleigh on "The Clash of Religion and Politics in Europe, from the French Revolution to the Great War."] Eschatology [Joseph Ratzinger (later Benedict XVI) on Death, Eternal Life, and the End of the World.]


      Spe Salvi [A review of Benedict XVI's second encyclical, Saved by Hope. The document is really about the idea of progress.] Americanism: The Fourth Great Western Religion [David Gelernter assures Americans that they are not as other men.]

    Why post old articles?

    Who was John J. Reilly?

    All of John's posts here

    An archive of John's site


    CrossFit 2014-07-18

    Double Dragon

    • 800m run
    • 30 power snatches [75#]
    • 800m run

    Time 14:50


    Firestone Walker Double DBA 2014 Review

    Firestone Walker Double DBA 2014

    Type 31 [Imperial Special Bitter]; 12%ABV; O.G. 28.4 plato; 29 IBU; aged 12 months; British Ale yeast; 27 srm


    I received this beer from the Magistra for my 10 year work anniversary. A mighty fine present.

    Double DBA is Firestone Walker's flagship beer brewed double strength. I guess that makes it a Double Double Barrel Ale? Double2 Barrel Ale?

    Since this is a double strength imperial version of an already malty beer, you should not be surprised at how thick and rich this beer is. Add barrel-aging on top of that, and you are going to have a very sweet, but also a very deep beer. The box advertised toasted coconut, and I think I got that one, although I missed out on the graham cracker.

    Thick on the tongue, sweet on the finish, this is a fine beer for sipping in the evening after the kids have gone to bed. Pick this one up, you won't be disappointed.

    My other beer reviews