Holger Danske

Holger Danske

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    Tuesday
    May132014

    The Long View: Empire

    John mananged to review at least three books by the same title: Empire. This one is famous, it is the book everyone is citing, conciously or not, when they call something "imperialistic". They are also using that word incorrectly, but memes are notoriously bad grammarians.

    Empire

    by Michael Hardt & Antonio Negri

    Harvard University Press, 2000

    478 Pages, $18.95

    ISBN: 0-674-00671-2

     

    You think that globalization is just a device for smothering revolutionary potential, do you? The authors of Empire argue otherwise. One of them, Michael Hardt, is an associate professor in the Literature Program at Duke University. The other, Antonio Negri, has taught political science at the Universities of Paris and Padua. Currently, he is so ineffably progressive that he is actually being held in Rome's Rebibbia prison for the radical violence of decades past. 

    Empire analyzes the current world situation, reformulates contemporary Leftist theory to accommodate it, and tentatively points the way toward the overthrow of post-historic capitalism. The work is relentlessly postmodern; it connects with classical Marxism chiefly to explain why it is no longer relevant. The authors' thesis is that would-be revolutionaries are mistaken if they oppose globalization as such. Globalization really is the end of history, and there is no going back. However, the form that the globalized world is assuming, which the authors call the Empire, is a corruption of the post-historic world. The task of revolutionaries is to find where the Empire is vulnerable.

    The problem is that, to use one of the authors' metaphors, the Empire is Saint Augustine's City of God. As you might imagine, it's a tough nut to crack. Like the Roman Empire, it seems to its subjects to be permanent, eternal, and necessary. It has no outside, at least in principle, and internally it distinguishes neither male nor female, Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free. It does not rest on conquest, but on consensus. The Empire is the post-historical incarnation of eternal justice. The Empire does not merely happen to exist, like a historically contingent state does; rather, the Empire must exist, at least as an ideal. It closes the gap that opened in the Renaissance between the ethical and the juridical. Its wars are just wars, police actions against opponents who can marshal no principled claims against it. No civil or military stresses remain that might threaten it; the Empire is always in a crisis, so its acts are emergency measures that trump the ordinary law of the sovereignties and corporations that comprise it.

    The authors point out that the Empire is not really a state. It does indeed have state-like organs, such as the UN, the IMF, and the WTO. For that matter, it even has a tripartite anatomy. At the top of the top third is the United States, or at any rate its military and cultural power. Immediately below are the G7 countries, or rather their command of the world's money. In the middle third are the governments and corporations that carry out the routine functions of governance. In the bottom third are the NGOs, churches and other organs of civil society. These latter represent the People of the Empire, just as the middle tier represents its aristocracy and the top third the royal power. (The authors are very impressed by the description of the late Roman Republic given by Polybius in the second century B.C.)

    ...

    The biggest single problem with this book is that the authors never clearly explain what they are trying to do. They speak of revealing "the City of Man" under the corruption of the Empire, but we hear nothing about that City's constitution. They say this City of Man will in fact see the end of the human, in the sense of an anthropology that places man above nature. They hope to pursue a wholly immanent ethics, something along the lines of Foucault's "care of the Self."  They say that what they seek is a "re-total" rather than a "re-public." This language is not helpful.

    The authors have had some kind words about the recent great demonstrations against the institutions of globalization, though they continue to point out the futility of opposing globalization itself. Those demonstrations were marked by contempt for free speech, public safety and human life. Quite likely, in those cosmopolitan riots, we saw what the City of Man really looks like. We can't say we were not warned. 

    Monday
    May122014

    The Long View: Eschatology

    This is John's subject index for eschatology, a well populated page indeed. A great deal of John's writing was influenced by this study of the Last Things, so not everything he wrote on the End of the World is referenced here. I particularly recommend John's book, The Perennial Apocalypse. It is a short, but very informative read about how the world keeps trying to come to an end, and sometimes actually does. I would rank it as one of my favorite books of all time. You can get it as an ebook rather inexpensively. John no longer profits from it, but it is a fine study of different cultures approach the end of the world, and what they all have in common when they do.

    Eschatology: The science of the Last Things

    The subject embraces personal death, the goal of history, the end of the world and the fate of the universe.

     

    I have done a comparative study of the end of the world, rather along the lines of "The Hero with a Thousand Faces." You can find information about it here:

    The Perennial Apocalypse
    How the End of the World Shapes History


    Here are some of the shorter things I have written specifically on this subject. Just click on the underlined words to see them. Please note that many of the pieces which appear elsewhere on my website, particularly under "History" and "Science," also bear on eschatology.

    Sunday
    May112014

    CrossFit 2014-05-11

    5k

    Time 28:42 PR!

    Thursday
    May082014

    The Long View: Literature

    Here is John's Literature index. I ended up reading a lot of books because John was interested in them. Some changed the way I see the world, and some ended up just being weird. On the literature list, I remember getting Incubus by Ann Arensberg at the local library after reading a review on John's site. I was completely disappointed and bewildered. John never reviewed either Tim Powers or Neil Gaiman. Either of them are far better authors, who tell far more interesting stories, that overlapped with John's interests. More's the pity.

    Literature


    I might almost have called this section "Just About Everything Else." Here is where I discuss a few of the novels, nonfiction, films, and other works that do not fall into any of the other categories. There is some literary criticism here. There is even some fiction by me. Deliberate fiction, I mean.

    Thursday
    May082014

    CrossFit 2014-05-07

    1RM Snatch

    Max 105# PR!

    1RM Clean&Jerk

    Max 140# PR!

    Thursday
    May082014

    CrossFit 2014-05-06

    Nasty Girls

    3 rounds

    • 50 squats
    • 7 chest to bar pullups
    • 7 ring dips
    • 10 hang power cleans [115#]

    Time 20:02

    Tuesday
    May062014

    CrossFit 2014-05-05

    2014 Regional Event 1

    20 minute time limited 1 RM hang snatch

    Max weight 95# PR!

    Tuesday
    May062014

    The Long View: Alternative History

    I put up the first of John's subject matter indices today: Alternative History.

    Since I am proceeding in roughly chronological order, most of what you see here is not yet uploaded. However, there are some pages filled in at later dates, because John intensively curated his website, and I have been following links to determine what to upload next, rather than simply going by John's publication date.

    I always liked John's indices. It was a fun way to revisit your favorite topic and browse. Even just now, as I uploaded this page, I realized John had reviewed two of S. M. Stirling's books that I have recently enjoyed, The Sky People, and In the Courts of the Crimson Kings. I have certainly read these reviews, but I don't remember them. It will be fun to rediscover them in time.

    Sensible people don't give
    much thought to what the
    world would be like if
    history had gone a little
    differently.
    Here we consider the alternatives.

    ...

     

    Tuesday
    May062014

    The Long View 2002-02-11: The American Prerogative

    This is another short one. I'll copy the whole thing here again, because it illustrates some interesting points in John's thinking, and some interesting developments in the last decade.

    Kyoto HoaxThe Kyoto Protocols were an unenforceable hoax, and it is good someone finally said so. By way of reminder, look at this image from Wikipedia. Most of the world, and most of the worst polluters, had no actual obligations under the treaty, only the West minus the US and Canada had targets to meet [marked in dark green].

    The Durban Conference was not a hoax, but rather more like a protection racket raised to an international level. There really is no upside in humoring ideas like this, although I find the argument comparing Israel with South Africa more compelling than I used to.

    Twelve years ago, when John wrote this, I was not Catholic. Since converting, I have noticed that more political support in America for Israel comes from Evangelical Christians than Jews. Catholics are noticeably cooler than other American Christians, partly for domestic political reasons, but also because of the less than polite treatment Arab Catholics have received in Israel.

    Zionism is not apartheid, although I can see why you might think so. John Kerry didn't actually say this recently, what he actually said was:

    A unitary state winds up either being an apartheid state with second-class citizens — or it ends up being a state that destroys the capacity of Israel to be a Jewish state.

    While whites were able to dominate the governments of both Rhodesia and South Africa for extended periods of time, in the democratic twentieth and twenty-first centuries, you cannot long remain in power without some sort of popular will supporting you. The white population of South Africa decreased from 20% in 1960 [stable since 1904] to less than 10% 2011. Rhodesia had a peak white population of about 200,000, give or take, but between 1960 and 1978 the black population had doubled from 3 million to 6 million. Demography contributed as much to the downfall of each government as boycotts and other political events did.  Israel plays it pretty smart, and I think the Israelis have avoided the fate of South Africa and Rhodesia by not becoming a minority in their own state. Jews went from a minority to a majority in Israel between 1946 and 1948, by displacing between 700,000 and 800,000 Arab Palestinians. Without doing that, Israel would likely have faced the same demographic doom that overwhelmed the intransigence of the white settlers of Africa. If you pay attention, you can see the Israelis are doing their best to keep their country majority Jewish.

    The Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty was a Cold War coup for the Soviets, who managed to build a functional missile defense system before signing a treaty with the US. Abrogating this treaty was an important step in moving beyond the Cold War, although at this point it is hard not to see how we are kicking Russia when they are down.Encircling the Bear

    However, the point of all this for John was that the international system was actually functioning well. John was a fan of the international system. He pointed out that international bodies that do what they are supposed to do rarely make the news, for example the Universal Postal Union. The world's international institutions often do good and necessary work, they also function as an amorphous and unelected legislature of the world.

    America functions as the equally unelected executive, in addition to being the security utility of the world. This restores some balance to the system, as John noted.  Eventually, things will even out, and the system will seem more rational. However, we are in for interesting times until that happens.

    The American Prerogative

    The World Economic Forum ended its meeting in New York City last Monday. The organizers changed the venue from Davos to Manhattan after 911 to show support for the injured city. The hotel and restaurant industries were indeed glad of the business, but the Forum will probably regret the one-time relocation. When the conference was held in an isolated Swiss fastness, it was easy to imagine the event as Night on Bald Mountain with cell phones. Now everyone knows it's the Academy Awards, but without the intellectual seriousness. No good deed goes unpunished.

    Nonetheless, the conference was roused from its fashionable slumber as the full implications of last week's State of the Union Speech sank in. Naturally, most critical comment was about the apparent willingness of the US to conduct open warfare without reference to the UN or NATO. More generally, speakers suggested that the Administration was returning to the policy of unilateralism with which it began.

    Since the Bush Administration came to office, three of its acts have been most frequently cited as evidence of unilateral arrogance. These are: (1) the repudiation of the Kyoto Protocols on Global Warming; (2) the refusal to attend last summer's Third United Nation's Conference on Racism held at Durban, South Africa; and (3) the withdrawal from the Antiballistic Missile Treaty. Let me very briefly address these three questions individually and then tie them all together.

    (1) The Kyoto Protocols were an unenforceable hoax that no major country could ever have implemented. President Bush said this in public when he visited Europe last year. The leaders of the European Union were deeply offended by the charge of hypocrisy, and the protocols were quickly renegotiated to make them easier to enact. They are still a hoax.

    (2) Most of the poverty in the world is caused by looters in office, people who look on government as a license to prey on sources of wealth. The agenda of the Durban Conference was to take this practice international by establishing the principle of reparations for the African slave trade. Additionally, the conference equated Zionism with apartheid. There is no upside to humoring ideas like this.

    (3) Defenses against ballistic missiles are necessary if decisive conventional force is to be used against hostile regimes that possess strategic nuclear weapons. Deterrence is irrelevant when the Rangers are rappelling into the Presidential Palace. It is true that strategic defenses do not stop terrorist attacks. They do make countries that harbor or support terrorists subject to retribution.

    The merits and demerits of these ideas can, of course, be debated. There is substantial international sentiment to the effect the US should have done just that, in the forums provided by the international system, rather than acting unilaterally. However, this criticism misconstrues the situation.

    The merits and demerits of these ideas can, of course, be debated. There is substantial international sentiment to the effect the US should have done just that, in the forums provided by the international system, rather than acting unilaterally. However, this criticism misconstrues the situation.

    When the president of the United States refuses to promote something like the Kyoto Protocols, he is not seceding from the international system. Quite the opposite: he is, in effect, acting as the executive of the system by vetoing a proposal from the tangle of institutions that act as its legislature. As with the presidential veto domestically, such acts are not final, and the power involved is essentially the power to stop things. This is true even of the withdrawal from the ABM Treaty; in a world with an increasing number of small nuclear powers, the old Cold War agreement had come to mean something new. This veto authority is a real, organic development of the international system, far more important than the commissions and special tribunals organized by international activists.

    This American prerogative really is terribly uppity. It would be insupportable, if it were in derogation of democratic institutions, or even of the rule of law. Those features are, however, precisely the features that the "international legislature" lacks. The world's international institutions often do good and necessary work, but they are appointed bodies of experts. The pretenders to democracy in the international system are the non-governmental organizations. These are run by self-designated persons who turned to the international arena because they could not get their agendas accepted domestically.

    As for international law, it has been fatally undermined by international legal experts. Historically, customary international law was a description of how governments actually behaved. Now, increasingly, it means norms devised by international jurists on the basis of nothing more than their own ideology. Some of these norms are good and some are bad. None of them, however, deserves special deference from a responsible elected official.

    The current situation is unstable because existing international institutions lack legitimacy, and sometimes even a name. (As the astrophysicists say, no fact will be accepted until we have a theory to confirm it.) Still, it is not hard to see how things will evolve. Extensive democratization of the international system is probably impractical. However, its predictability will increase when the legislature becomes less irresponsible. The American Prerogative is essential to making that happen.

     

    Saturday
    May032014

    The Long View: The Pity of War

    Niall Ferguson's book on the Great War was written 16 years ago, but his style fits in well today. There is a constellation of quant bloggers that center around Steve Sailer who use a similar style of analysis to Ferguson, heavy on economics and demographics, and looking for direct causal mechanisms that drive behavior. Ferguson used this method to analyze what might have been in 1914 if key decision makers had chosen otherwise in the run-up to war.

    While John was also interested in alternative history, his take was that not every possibility can be actualized in history. Not all things are possible at all times. Especially not at certain times.

    The Pity of War
    by Niall Ferguson
    Basic Books, 1998
    562 Pages, $30.00 (US)
    ISBN: 0-465-05711-X

     

    Niall Ferguson ends this book with the assessment that the First World War was "nothing less than the greatest *error* of modern history." This is not the emotional flourish that it might have been had it come from another historian. Ferguson is an Oxford don whose specialty is financial history, but who has also given considerable thought to the use of alternative historical scenarios as tools of analysis. (He is the author of "Virtual History: Alternatives and Counterfactuals.") When Ferguson says the Great War was an error, he means it literally. Certain men made identifiable decisions that resulted in outcomes that were less than optimal. Those decisions were mistakes, because they produced a history that was identifiably worse than other, speculative histories that did not happen.

    Rather than provide a narrative of the war, Ferguson attempts to answer 10 questions, including such items as: Was the war inevitable? Why did Britain's leaders decide to intervene when war broke out on the Continent? Why did the military superiority of the German Army fail to deliver victory on the Western Front? Why did men keep fighting? Why did they stop fighting? The gist of Ferguson's conclusions, if I understand them correctly, is that, while some major European war was likely in the first two decades of the 20th century, the war that actually occurred was neither inevitable nor particularly likely. Additionally, Ferguson suggests the best outcome for that period of history would have been the establishment of German hegemony in Europe. While this could not have been done without some disruption and perhaps bloodshed, the result would not have been so different from the European Union of today. I found myself wondering how Ferguson failed to cite the witticism that the constitution of the EU is essentially that of the German Empire without the Kaiser.

    Whatever you may think of Ferguson's analysis (and some of it, as we will see, is problematical at best), nonetheless "The Pity of War" contains several fascinating special studies. These try to give about equal weight to English and German sources. (Ferguson reminds us more than once that he himself is a Scot: the first illustration in the book is of his grandfather in the uniform of the Seaforth Highlanders.) There is a long section on the large body of fiction and nonfiction of the late 19th and early 20th centuries that dealt with the "coming war." This literature includes the famous "invasion novels" that described a war between England and Germany, though in fact scenarios like this were a fairly late addition to the genre: earlier works assumed a war between England and France or Russia. Regarding the literature of the postwar period, Ferguson concludes, correctly, that there was much less "disenchantment" and alienation among the literary veterans than is commonly thought. When he tackles the issue of why men continued to fight even in the dismal conditions of the trenches, he feels forced to the conclusion that, at some level, they continued to fight because they enjoyed it. While this topic occasions some Freudian blather about the "death instinct," it seems to me that a more fruitful line of speculation might begin from the fact the memoirs he cites make the war sound like an extreme team-sport.

     

    ...

    It is true that an amazing amount of grief would have been avoided if, by 1920 say, Europe had become a jellyfish-polity like today's European Union. It would have been even better if Europe had done so when Kant was writing of a Universal Republic in the eighteenth century. The fact is, though, that not every goal is possible to a civilization in every period, even when the goal can be clearly imagined. This very good book shows, despite itself, what I take to be the real value of counterfactuals: there is much less contingency in history than we imagine.