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    Tuesday
    Aug192014

    The Long View: Warriors of God

    It is hard to remember now, but Palestine was a sleepy backwater in the domains of the Romans, and then the Ottomans for a very long time. It was not locally ruled any time in the previous twenty centuries except for the longer Hasmonean Dynasty and the very brief Bar Kohkba revolt.

    Warriors of God:
    Richard the Lionheart and Saladin in the Third Crusade
    by James Reston, Jr.
    Doubleday, 2001
    364 Pages, US$27.50
    ISBN 0-385-49561-7

    The Third Crusade (1187-1192) is one of the best imaginable topics for a popular history. The people involved are pretty much the same disputatious crew that we meet in the film, "The Lion in Winter." They and their Muslim opponents and colleagues really did do the kind of things that are supposed to happen only in comic strips. James Reston, who has written about medieval subjects before, does not disappoint in this book. He is to be particularly congratulated for consulting Muslim sources from the period, to balance the well-known European ones. "Warriors of God" has a bibliography short enough to be useful.

    The problem is that Reston has adopted uncritically the anticolonialist reinterpretation of the Crusades that became fashionable in the 20th century. The model does not fit. In the context of the Third Crusade in particular, it makes little sense to speak of a war of Arab resistance, much less of Palestinian nationalism. Richard the Lionheart of England and Phillip Augustus of France were not native to the Levant, but then neither was their principal opponent. Saladin (Salah ad-Din, born Yusuf ad-Din) was a Kurd. His most important troops and commanders were Turks. Those were the people who would dominate the area into the 20th century.

    Neither does it make much sense to think of the Crusades in terms of Muslim natives against Christian aliens. Though Reston's years of research do not touch on the fact, much of the land conquered by the Crusaders still had Christian majorities throughout the Crusader period. Islam, we should remember, spread in the Middle East by force; only gradually did the religion filter down to the general population. We do know that Levantine peasants were often less unhappy when their overlords were Franks. (Frank is a generic term for "Europeans," though it also covered the indigenized aristocracy of the Crusader States.) Frankish lords treated the peasants like European serfs, which meant the peasants had enforceable rights and a personal relationship with their lord. Muslim landlords treated the peasants like sharecroppers.

    The background of the Crusades is this. Islam in Africa and western Asia had been built on the conquest of Christian societies in the three generations after Islam was founded in the 7th century. Though the Jihad's penetration into Europe had been thrown back, as in Italy, or contained, as in Spain, militant Islam remained a lethal threat to all of Christendom. The First Crusade, launched in 1095 after the ringing endorsement of Pope Urban II, was a response to a request for aid from the Byzantine Emperor, Alexis I Comnenus, whose Orthodox Christian empire in Anatolia was being overrun in a renewed offensive by the Seljuk Turks. The Crusaders took Jerusalem in 1099. They established a string of minor principalities, the Crusader States, along the east coast of the Mediterranean, in what are now Israel and Lebanon and Syria. The leading Crusader State was the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem.

    The Franks of the Levant soon went native in most ways, not least in local power politics. They made and broke alliances with each other, the Byzantines and the regional Islamic powers. Most important among the latter were the mutually hostile Sunni regime in Damascus and the Shia regime in Cairo. The Second Crusade, directed largely at Damascus, failed because of Frankish disunity. Towards the end of the 12th century, in contrast, the Shia in Egypt were overthrown by Damascus. The resulting empire, controlled by Saladin, was in a position to attempt the conquest of the Levant. The key event was the Battle of Hattin in 1187, in which Saladin destroyed a combined army of the Crusader States and took King Guy of Jerusalem captive. Not long afterward he took Jerusalem, accepting a surrender on terms. All that remained of the Crusader States were a few ports on the coast, the most important of which was Tyre.

    The revisionist history of the Crusades tends to contrast the magnanimity of Saladin in accepting the surrender of Jerusalem with the ferocity of the Crusaders in 1099, who sacked the city and depopulated it. In point of fact, Saladin depopulated Jerusalem, too. He enslaved the almost entirely Christian population, but let a large fraction ransom themselves for a fixed price per head. When the earlier Crusaders took Jerusalem by storm, they killed many of the Jews and Muslims who lived there. (There had been a large Christian population, too, but some genius decided to expel them as potential fifth columnists when the Crusaders approached; the refugees met the Christian army and told them their tales of woe.) For the rest, the Crusaders ransomed those civilians whose families or communities could afford to pay. Though there was nothing on the Muslim side quite like the anti-Jewish pogroms that broke out in Western Europe when the First Crusade started, neither side was superior in humanity to the other.

    Western Christendom was appalled by the fall of Jerusalem in 1187. The principal rulers of the Franks immediately attempted to devise a coordinated strategy to recover the Latin Kingdom. The Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick Barbarossa, was to lead an army of over 100,000 Germans overland to the Holy Land, while kings Richard I of England and Phillip Augustus of France made their way by ship. Things soon went wrong. Having reached the Middle East, the old emperor died of a heart attack while crossing a river, and his army disintegrated. The remnants of it that reached the Levant received little help or respect from the other crusaders. The Germans bore a special grudge against Richard, the animating spirit of the maritime Franks.

    Proceeding with a small fleet of his own, Richard had an extraordinary time before he even reached Tyre. Among his other adventures, he offhandedly conquered Cyprus, where the ship bearing his fiancee, the Princess Berengaria, had been ignobly detained by the local "emperor." Unfortunately, that petty tyrant happened to be a relative of a real emperor in Constantinople. The Byzantines took it particularly ill when, by and by, Richard installed the ransomed ex-king of Jerusalem as the new ruler of the island. Thus, both of the great Christian empires turned against Richard; the Byzantines routinely sent intelligence to the Muslims.

    Richard and Phillip, as Reston loses no opportunity to remind us, had been lovers. This may explain something of the catty quality of their numerous disputes and reconciliations in Europe and the Holy Land. They did, however, collaborate in the great achievement of the Third Crusade, the successful prosecution of the siege of Acre. The city was in Muslim hands, but invested by a scratch army of Franks, who in turn were being besieged by Saladin. The arrival of Richard and Phillip made Saladin back off. The city surrendered not long thereafter, its population expelled.

    The crusaders then had two objectives: securing more ports along the coast to ensure communication with Europe, and retaking Jerusalem. However, Phillip tired of being upstaged by Richard and returned to Europe. Richard demonstrated that he could defeat any Muslim army that came against him. Indeed, the comparative casualty figures from the engagements he fought were as lopsidedly in the Franks' favor as were those of the British Army in Indian and Africa five centuries later. However, he also came to understand that he could not replace his invincible knights and their huge quarter-horse mounts.

    Richard took several more sites along the coast. He even rebuilt the city of Ascalon, a strategic key that could have supported the invasion of Egypt of which he dreamed. However, though he set out for Jerusalem twice, he never besieged it. On this one count the Franks accused their Lionheart of cowardice, but the fact was that he understood the logistics. Jerusalem might be taken, but the supply routes to the coast and to Europe could not be defended. Neither could the Latin Kingdom as it had formerly existed hope to maintain itself against the combined empire of Damascus and Cairo.

    While all this was going on, Richard and Saladin were in continual communication. During one long truce they discussed the possibility of joint control of Jerusalem. Unfortunately, they could imagine no way of doing that other than through a dynastic marriage whose partners would rule the city. Neither of their religions would countenance such a union without one partner converting to the faith of the other. If the idea of a municipal republic with a Christian and Muslim for chief co-magistrates occurred to them, Reston does not mention it.

    The negotiations between the two were prolonged, courteous, and sometimes hilarious, but the most interesting aspect of this part of the story is the strikingly different political cultures of the two sides. Richard had no equals, but he did have peers, even after Phillip departed. He could be outvoted in the council of leaders and often was. Saladin, though a restrained and reasonable man, was in the final analysis answerable only to his own judgment. He consulted his emirs and he sent polite notes to his nominal suzerain, the Caliph of Baghdad, but he was far less constrained than his notoriously impulsive Frankish rival.

    The sources for the two principal biographical portraits Reston gives us have radically different tones. Medieval chronicles are blunt, even raucous; those qualities come through in Reston's depiction of Richard. Saladin, in contrast, appears as a pious old man, one who dealt with his problems by seeking for an apt verse in the Quran. Maybe patience was indeed Saladin's characteristic virtue. Still, it seems pretty clear that some of the people Reston talked to wanted to make the old sultan out to be a saint. The result is that sometimes "Warriors of God" reads like "Batman versus Gandhi."

    Eventually, they reached a compromise. A diminished Latin Kingdom would continue to exist. Pilgrims passing through it could have free access to Jerusalem. However, the city would stay under Muslim control. Richard had to go. There was treason at home, and even his formidable mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, was having trouble controlling it.

    Going home was a problem, since Richard had alienated the ruler of every country through which he might pass. (An Atlantic journey through the Straits of Gibraltar was out of the question at that time of year, which was winter.) In those days, sovereign immunity meant that the king could not be sued; it did not mean that a sovereign could not be waylaid and held for ransom. That was what happened to Richard. Attempting to sneak through Central Europe by way of the Adriatic, he was taken prisoner by the Duke of Austria and imprisoned for a time in the appropriately sinister-sounding Castle Duernstein. The duke sold him to the new Holy Roman Emperor, Henry VI, who held him for quite literally a king's ransom. This was hard to raise, since his no-account brother John was trying to gain control of England for himself, while the ever-spiteful Phillip was picking off bits of Richard's continental territory, in violation of his Crusader's oath.

    Nonetheless, the money was eventually paid, and Richard returned to England. We also know that he visited Nottingham Castle, and even Sherwood Forest. Did he meet Robin Hood and Maid Marian there and bless their union? Reston gives the only possible answer: "Of course he did!"

    It would be possible to tell this tale without connecting it to events in the Middle East today, but Reston has not chosen to do so, so the matter requires some comment. The analogy he repeatedly seeks to draw is between Israel and the Crusader States. The comparison is not original with him. Muslims eagerly point out that the Franks held Jerusalem for less than 90 years. The Jews have held it for little more than 50, and there is no reason to think their tenure will be any longer. Many Arabs blame their weakness on their disunity, and pine for another Saladin to unite them. The claim to be the new Saladin, in fact, is how ambitious Arabs seek to legitimize themselves.

    The analogy is scarcely irrational. Israel and the Latin Kingdom do have things in common. Both had military technique and equipment vastly superior to that of their enemies. Both of them, however, also have to win every war; the strategic depth of the Levant is no greater in the 21st century than it was in the 12th.

    The real difference between the two eras is this. Islamic societies today do not need unity. They had centuries of unity under the Ottomans and choked on it. Cultures really do age. In the 12th century, Islamic culture was full of potential. That potential was actualized long ago, and now there is no more. Such a culture can still break things, but it cannot make anything new.


    Why post old articles?

    Who was John J. Reilly?

    All of John's posts here

    An archive of John's site

    Monday
    Aug182014

    CrossFit 2014-08-18

    Work up to a single heavy deadlift

    • 245#

    EMOTM

    • Odd minute double under practice
    • Even minute 5 deadlifts [185#]

    12 minutes

    Monday
    Aug182014

    CrossFit 2014-08-14

    Charlie Brown

    3 rounds

    • 15 overhead squats [85#]
    • 30 situps
    • 45 kettlebell swings [35#]

    Time 20:18

    Monday
    Aug182014

    CrossFit 2014-08-08

    Work up to a single heavy back squat

    • 185#

    Every minute on the minute

    • Minute 1 - 5 back squats [135#]
    • Minute 2 - 14 pushups
    • Minute 3 - 21 situps

    15 minutes

    Monday
    Aug182014

    CrossFit 2014-08-06

    Earthworm Jim

    • Power snatch [65#]
    • 25 Calorie row

    Time 11:23

    Monday
    Aug182014

    The Long View 2002-03-01: Black Easter

    Black Easter is one of the most terrifying books I have ever read. I too am glad that most Americans' idea of ritual magic mostly centers around Dungeons & Dragons and Harry Potter. They do not know what they are missing, and the world is a better place for it.

    Tim Powers once said in an interview:

    I suppose I'm always I'm always very sceptical of any supernatural incident anybody ever tells me about. Anybody tells me astrology works or they see ghosts, I'm always terribly sceptical. But at the same time, being Catholic, it's in the rule book. You hope never to be around when it occurs, but it is in the rule book. I'm always tremendously sceptical but at the same time real scared of it, like for Last Call I had to buy a tarot deck, that Rider Waite deck where every single card is an enigmatic picture – two women crying on a beach with three swords stuck upright in the sand and you think what the hell is going on here, you know? And so even though I had to buy the deck in order to look at the cards, I would never shuffle it in the house. I would be terrified.

    In fact one lady I met at a convention once said, "Let me do a reading of you – tarot cards – it won't take a minute. I just lay it out. You wave your hand," or something, however you connect with it, and I said "No thanks. I don't want to do it. I don't want to do it," and I left and somebody else came up to me after and said, "You were smart to decline that offer. I used to do tarot card readings a lot and I was very pleased with it. I thought of my tarot cards as my movable window which I could focus on any situation I was curious about anywhere. And late one rainy night I was laying out my movable window to check out some situation or other and I suddenly got the very clear impression that something on the other side had blundered past and looked in and now knew where I lived and I instantly knocked all the cards onto the ground, but of course by then it was too late. The thing would know me again if it saw me." And I just though Great God! I wouldn't touch these things. I'd rather have plutonium in the house than have these things in the house!!

    Tim and I are on the same page here. I officially don't believe in anything defined as superstition, and I also don't fiddle with it.

    This post also features a prediction John got completely wrong. I still think John is largely right about the motives of Hamas and other similar actors in Palestine. However, he thought that destroying Saddam Hussein's Iraq would encourage Syria to stop supporting Palestinian terrorists. At this point, Assad probably has other things on his mind, and the Palestinians seem to be able to carry on without him. Ah well, I suppose we all make mistakes.

    Black Easter

    Fans of science fiction will recognize Black Easter as the title of James Blish's dismaying novel, published in 1968. (The term has also been used to refer to the days after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Yes, he was shot on Good Friday.) The book deals with the entirely successful attempt by a contemporary magician to raise Hell. Black Easter is actually the first book in a trilogy, but the second two are superfluous. No fantasy writer, perhaps, has ever equaled the impact of the final three words of Black Easter. This is the book you should give to people who think that the Harry Potter series teaches how to do ritual magic. Let them reflect that it has never been made into a film, and then let them count their blessings.

    The term comes to mind this Easter and Passover in connection with the accelerating collapse in the Middle East. These events have clarified the situation. Consider these points:

    After the Passover Massacre by a suicide bomber, Yasser Arafat of the Palestinian Authority called for an unconditional cease-fire, when it was clear that no Israeli government could fail to react. He then claimed that the Israeli retaliation impeded US envoy Anthony Zinni's attempts to restart the peace process.

    At the Arab Summit this week, Iraq reconciled with its neighbors, who declared that any attack on Iraq would be a threat to the national security of all of them. They called on Iraq to comply with any uncompleted weapons inspections required by the UN, but left it up to Iraq to decide whether the requirements had been fulfilled. The leaders of Egypt and Jordan were conspicuous by their absence at the summit.

    When representatives of the Palestinian Authority are asked why the Authority does not stop the suicide bombings, they answer that, if Israel cannot stop the bombings, even with all its power, then how can the Palestinian Authority be expected to do so?

    The place to begin is by understanding just how wrong Mark Shields was on the Jim Lehrer News Hour of March 29, when he said that President Clinton had almost succeeded in negotiating a peace in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Maybe that is what we were trying to do. It was not what the Arabs were trying to do. With the possible exception of Egypt and Jordan, they are interested solely in negotiating a series of ever more advantageous truces until Israel disintegrates or can be depopulated with weapons of mass destruction.

    The Arab front lies all the time. The peace proposal that this week's Arab Summit approved again contained a right of return for the descendants of Palestinian refugees. It is very far from the simple "land-for-peace" deal that the Saudis said they meant to propose, but never actually proposed to anyone but Thomas Friedman of the New York Times. Except with regard to verifiable tactical issues, there is no reason to take what most Arab countries say seriously, whether they say it privately or publicly.

    The Israeli-Palestinian confrontation is not related to the Iraqi menace, even indirectly. However, the Arab front is using the former to delay addressing the latter. Some Arabs no doubt believe that, if the Iraqi regime can be preserved for a year or two, it will develop weapons of mass destruction that will make the region invulnerable to Western intervention.

    Solving the Iraqi question is not contingent on solving the Palestinian situation. Rather, if there is a regime change in Iraq, practical support for the Palestinian campaign against Israel will collapse. In many ways, the key to the situation is Syria, for whom the sister Baathist regime in Baghdad has always provided a sense of strategic depth. With a pro-American government to their east, the Syrians will stop hosting terrorist activity.

    The lesson of these holy seasons is simple: there is nothing to negotiate.


    Why post old articles?

    Who was John J. Reilly?

    All of John's posts here

    An archive of John's site

    Sunday
    Aug172014

    The Long View: The Prophet of Decline

    Spengler with hairOswald Spengler remains of interest in the early twenty-first century because he managed to eerily predict some features of the world today. He didn't get everything right, for example his prediction that the United States would not survive the stress of the Great Depression, but he did manage to foresee both the Cold War and its resolution.

    While the Decline of the West is Spengler's best known work, John here looks at the possibility that Spengler's unexpected death prevented him from elaborating on his theory of history [and probably also prevented the Nazis from eventually needing to deal with his anti-Hitler snark]

    Arnold Toynbee would later publish a tremendous tome, in twelve volumes, expanding this kind of historical analysis from Spengler's seven civilizations to twenty-six.  While these men were rough contemporaries, the tone of their respective works are very different. The circumstances of their lives could not be more different either. Which makes the parallels between them so much more interesting.

    Toynbee became something like the court philosopy of the Kennedy Enlightenment, thanks to Henry Luce. His works were more friendly to the role of religion in society, and more upbeat in general than Spengler's. However, in the end, even cranky old Spengler started talking less about decline [Untergang] and more about perfection [Vollendung]. In science, it is common for multiple researchers to independently converge on the same idea at about the same time. It looks very much like something similar was operating here.

    Prophet of Decline:
    Spengler on World History and Politics
    by John Farrenkopf
    Louisiana University Press, 2001
    $24.96, 304 pages
    ISBN 0-8071-2727-2

    The first volume of Oswald Spengler's great comparative study of history, "The Decline of the West," was published in 1918, just as his native Germany lost the First World War. Spengler (1880-1936) has been with us ever since, though often only in caricature. Sometimes his name stands for little more than the sentiment of "historical pessimism," or for the proposition that "history repeats itself." After the Cold War, discussions about the "clash of civilizations" and hegemonic diplomacy raised issues that Spengler had first broached 80 years before. The time has come for Spengler's work to be critically reintroduced to a 21st century audience.

    John Farrenkopf, an independent scholar who has labored in the Spengler Archive in Munich, here provides a guide to the current state of Spengler studies, particularly in Germany, as well as provocative conclusions based on his own archival work. "Prophet of Decline" answers many common questions about Spengler's politics. The most interesting part of the book, however, is the thesis that Spengler expanded his ideas after "The Decline of the West" into what is really a second, largely unpublished theory of history. The book even has a picture of the notoriously shiny-pated Spengler with hair. Revisionism can go too far.

    Since the last quarter of the 19th century, many people have suggested that the modern era of the West bore significant similarities to the Hellenistic era and the late Roman Republic, a period running roughly from the death of Alexander the Great (330 B.C.) to the assassination of Julius Caesar (44 B.C.) Spengler elaborated this idea in two ways. First, he attempted to work out the analogy systematically. Other writers had noted parallels in the exacerbation of Great Power rivalries. Spengler went beyond that, arguing for parallels in the exhaustion of artistic styles, the domination of both periods by a few great cities, and even claiming that science and mathematics approached final formulations in similar ways in antiquity and modernity. Far more originally, he tried to identify similar patterns of development in seven other "High Cultures." Thus, not just the Greco-Roman World, but Egypt, ancient China, India and other societies had also experienced "modern eras" of two or three centuries. Each had also had its own peculiar "age of faith" (the pyramids, in Spengler's terminology, were "contemporary" with the Gothic cathedrals of Europe) and its cultural climax in a "Baroque."

    Despite the many specific examples the "Decline" employs, the logic of the work is not empirical but metaphysical. It accepts Nietzsche's rejection of Kant's historical optimism, but embraces the limits set by traditional German idealism on the power of pure reason. The story of the High Cultures, in fact, is the tale of societies that seek to transcend the power of human understanding and fail. One may not like this kind of reasoning, but the fact remains that Spengler was the first philosopher of world history to really try to write about the world, rather than just dismiss the other great civilizations as a mere prologue to Western history.

    Farrenkopf gives us a summary of the enormous critical reaction to "The Decline of the West." The critiques often said that Spengler's analogies were factually wrong, or claimed that Spengler's analogies were so obvious as not to need saying; a few critics said both in the same review. What really exasperated his critics from the first, however, was the fact that Spengler's "morphology" of the history of High Cultures had obvious implications for the future of the West. If the analogy from other "modernities" held, then, probably around the end of the 21st century, the West should collapse into a universal empire, with a culture that would ultimately become as stiff and curatorial as Egypt's during the New Kingdom. In the meanwhile, money and democracy would increasingly hollow out the traditional forms of society, until both collapsed in the face of mere power politics. Wars would reach a climax of technical sophistication and speed, even as nations disintegrated internally. This was a gospel of bad news, but Spengler used the worldwide notoriety of "The Decline of the West" to become its prophet. From the start, his success was mixed.

    Spengler conceived the idea for "The Decline of the West" during the Agadir Crisis of 1911, when he realized that a general European war was inevitable. As he put it, the West was entering a period of two centuries of wars for world power, like that between the Battles of Cannae (216 B.C.) and Actium (31 B.C.). Because Germany appeared as a nation state late in Western history, just as Rome did in the Classical world, and because it was an economically dynamic power at the periphery of the ancient core of its wider culture, just as Rome had been relative to Greece, Spengler assumed that Germany would play a role in late Western history like that of Rome in late antiquity. That is, it would overcome the other Great Powers, establish hegemony over Europe, and go on to create an "imperium mundi," a universal empire that might, ephemerally, encompass the whole planet.

    Spengler was a man of wide education, with a PhD in philosophy, though his day job had been teaching mathematics in a secondary school. He had quit some years before 1914 to pursue his literary interests, supported by a small but apparently adequate inheritance from his mother. Unfortunately, his property was largely in American stocks, the income from which became inaccessible during the First World War. He spent the war freezing in a Munich garret, working on the "Decline" and hoping his medical exemption from military service held up. Despite his threadbare circumstances, he took time out to compose a "memorial" for the Kaiser, explaining how best to navigate the difficult years that would follow a German victory. Examining this unfinished and happily unposted document, Farrenkopf reports that Spengler was then instrumentally friendly to democracy. Spengler suggested that support for the monarchy would be strengthened if the bourgeoisie and working classes were given real responsibility, which would have required a more democratic franchise than the class-weighted voting system of Prussia. It would also have required giving the Reichstag far more power than it had under Bismarck's constitution. Spengler came close to suggesting that the German government needed fewer monocle-wearing Junkers and more businessmen and labor leaders. Only thus could Germany achieve the degree of national cohesion necessary to carry out the foreign policy tasks that history had set for it.

    The "Decline of the West" is not a political tract, or even a mirror of princes, but a densely philosophical work. Nonetheless, even Spengler's philosophical detachment was disturbed by the loss of the world war. Spengler accepted the "stab in the back" theory for the catastrophe: Germany was not defeated on the field, but betrayed by subversives and ideologues. He soured on democracy. In the years between the end of the war and the stabilization of the Weimar economy in 1924, he became involved in the plots among right-wing aristocratic circles to overthrow the fledgling government and establish an authoritarian regime. Farrenkopf relates that Spengler even spoke with army chief General Hans von Seeckt about becoming the minister of culture or education in such a government. (The general ultimately stayed loyal to the Weimar regime.) Spengler was peripherally involved with a prospective monarchist coup in Bavaria that was short-circuited by Hitler's own Beer Hall Putsch. Still, in those years Spengler did not spend all his time making a fool of himself, but elaborated a political philosophy that goes beyond the ideas he expressed in the "Decline."

    The chief published presentation of this development is "Prussianism and Socialism" (1919), a short work in which Spengler tried to sketch a final philosophy of governance for the West. There were two options in competition for this role, he suggested. One was the "knightly" tradition, embodied in Prussia, of care for all and the will to plan for even the distant future. The other was the "Viking" tradition of the Anglo-American world. The Viking tradition could operate globally more easily than its competitor, but it was almost purely commercial. Its fate was therefore tied to that of financial capitalism, which Spengler believed to be an extreme and ephemeral characteristic of the modern era. What Germany needed to do, according to Spengler, was to rescue socialism from class warfare in general and Marxism in particular. The socialism of the future ("Ethical Socialism" was his term for it) would not be an economic theory, but a system of morality for the conduct of public affairs. To use a formula Spengler did not use, it would be the "chivalry" of the post-democratic elites of the coming centuries.

    Farrenkopf makes some defense of Spengler's ideas about economics. The turn-of-the-millennium euphoria about a world of free-trade liberal capitalism (the "Viking" option) might not survive another systemic crisis, he reminds us. Additionally, one can say that Spengler's presentation of economic history as a branch of culture, subject to styles and "periods," is a refreshingly novel view of the subject. Even granting both points, I would suggest that Spengler's rather mercantilist preferences illustrate his limitations. Spengler spent his public career emphasizing the cultural unity of the West and the inevitability of the end of national sovereignty. Despite this, he seems never to have seen an international institution that he liked, either public ones like the League of Nations or private ones like the global banking houses. It is as if he imagined that the imperium mundi of which he dreamed would have no institutional predecessors.

    Far more interesting than his politics, however, were the historical and philosophical concerns to which Spengler turned his attention after it became clear that the Weimar Republic would be around for a few more years.

    Readers of "The Decline of the West" are often struck by the questions it does not answer. It does not explain how the group of "High Cultures" arose or what they have to do with each other. Quite the opposite: Spengler's method in his great book is perfect cultural relativism. Each High Culture is equivalent to all the rest. The peculiar ways of looking at the world that each culture develops is true for itself, but fundamentally incomprehensible for the people of the other cultures. While the High Cultures may borrow techniques from each other, they borrow nothing essential, and even what they borrow they put to uses peculiarly their own. (Spengler's best argument for this is mathematics, where he shows how the West put Classical geometry and Magian algebra to uses that were different in kind from those of the societies that invented them.) Historical meaning, in fact, occurs only within each High Culture; there is no truth for mankind as a whole.

    In a scattering of unpublished notes, a few essays and one small book ("Man and Technics," 1931) Spengler modified much of this relativism, or at least created a larger context for it. He became deeply interested in the origin of civilized life. Cultures with civilizations (following an old tradition, Spengler reserved the term "Civilization" for the late phase of a High Culture) have existed for only a small fraction of the time that man has existed zoologically. Spengler at last pursued the possibility that all the High Cultures might be part of a larger story.

    His researches persuaded him that man as we know him is quite young, on the order of 100,000 years. Spengler discerns four ages in the past, roughly the paleolithic (the bulk of human history), neolithic, precivilization (after the last ice age ended about 10,000 B.C.) and the time of the High Cultures, which began in the Near East about 3,000 B.C. This looks like a pattern of accelerated development, but Spengler goes farther even than that. Sounding more than a little like Arnold Toynbee, he says that the members of the class of High Cultures fall into generations, related by the widespread primitive societies from which they developed. The latter High Cultures are more powerful and profound than the earlier ones, with the West reaching a maximum. Indeed, he says that the final phase of the West opens a fifth and final age of the whole human story. By its end, the physical environment of the earth could be seriously disrupted. Human populations could fall back to the sparse numbers of precivilization. The species could even become extinct.

    As Farrenkopf points out, what we see here is Spengler moving from qualified pessimism to full apocalyptic. In these fragments and short works, Spengler is reminiscent of Henry and Brooks Adams, or for that matter a negative image of Teilhard de Chardin. He sounds most of all like H.G. Wells in his last published work, "Mind at the End of Its Tether" (1945). Spengler never worked these new ideas into a coherent system, as he had hoped. (For one thing, he suffered a minor stroke in 1927, which made it difficult for him to concentrate on large projects.) He claimed repeatedly that he never changed his ideas about the pattern of historical development within each of the High Cultures. On the other hand, in his notes, he started to call them "End Cultures," so there was at least a change in emphasis.

    In the "Decline," he had voiced an idea not uncommon around 1900, that Russia was a vital but still fundamentally primitive culture that would eventually supersede the West. While he never entirely took back the prediction that Russia wound someday add a ninth High Culture to his historical eight, in "Man and Technics" this becomes a "maybe." He calls the prospective Russian Culture a mere straggler. What clearly interests him far more is the dramatic vision of the High Cultures as a series of ever-greater failures, with the coming end of the West the greatest catastrophe of all.

    This vision of ultimate doom, however, still left the question of how to manage the more immediate decline. As Farrenkopf points out, the destiny of the West as a High Culture is not purely pessimistic. As the era of Civilization advances, the West could be expected to produce a "final" version of science, of mathematics, of politics, of ethics, even a measure of universal peace in the imperium mundi. Spengler himself at one point suggested that he was really talking about the "Vollendung" of the West, its "fulfillment" or "perfection." ("The Perfection of the West"; now there's a title for you.) However, his advice about how to approach the terminal state was relentlessly anti-idealistic. The goal would not be achieved by nations and individuals cooperating to establish theoretically correct solutions, but through the unprincipled pursuit of national and individual self-interest.

    The term for this attitude in the theory of international relations is "realism," and in fact Spengler's continuing currency rests on the relevance of his ideas to the anti-Wilsonian school of foreign policy. Indeed, one might call Spengler's theory of foreign affairs Social Darwinist, were it not for one thing: Spengler did not believe in Darwin. Part of Spengler's teaching certification required writing a thesis on evolutionary theory, so he was current with the biology of his day. He did not doubt that evolution had occurred, but he was inclined to doubt that it was a teleology of survival. Rather, it was an entelechy of creatures becoming more and more themselves. Thus, man could not make peace with nature by adapting his understanding to it. Man was what he was. As in the drama of the tragic character-flaw, man's story could only be the playing out of the consequences of his nature over time.

    As Farrenkopf tells us, this is a far more fundamental objection to political realism than any posed by Wilsonian idealism. Realism and idealism presuppose there is a right answer; they differ only on how the world works. Spengler's apocalyptic realism, in contrast, suggests that, ultimately, there is no right answer. In the end, he counsels a historically informed Stoicism. This is not without practical merit, as we see in his last major work, "The Hour of Decision" (1933) and in his opposition to the Nazis.

    Spengler's cranky anti-Nazism may have saved his ideas for serious consideration by future generations, but only barely. During the 1920s, Spengler had continued to hope for an authoritarian, perhaps monarchist successor to the Weimar Republic. He made clear his contempt for the Nazis' demagogy and mysticism. Spengler had complicated ideas about the relationship of the Jews to the West, but he did not think that the Jews were the cause of Germany's problems and he had little patience for anyone who claimed they were. Nonetheless, in the final crisis of the Republic, Spengler voted for Hitler twice, with the cryptic explanation that "one must support the Movement." If Spengler had shared the expectation on the Right that a government of old-line conservatives could restrain Hitler in office, he was quickly disappointed. In fact, he took the rather dangerous course of snubbing invitations from Propaganda Minister Goebbels himself, refusing to attend Nazi-sponsored events or to contribute his writings to Nazi publications. Still, his international reputation was such that he was able to publish "The Hour of Decision" in 1933, one of the few works critical of the regime that appeared during the Nazi period. Spengler's sudden death in 1936 may have saved him from arrest or exile.

    Spengler being Spengler, "The Hour of Decision" was not a plea for parliamentary democracy and international understanding. Rather, he wanted to know why there were still all those marches and banners, even after the party had come to power. Did those people know what "government" meant? This book was not the occasion when Spengler made his famous anti-Hitler quip, "What Germany needs is a hero, not a heroic tenor," but the implication is there. Chiefly, though, he complained that Germany had no foreign policy and no military to speak of, this at a time that he characterized as the most fateful in all Western history. Clearly, Spengler said, a second world war was in the offing, one in which Germany faced not just a loss of status, but extinction.

    Farrenkopf points out something that had escaped my notice, the extent to which "The Hour of Decision" anticipates the Cold War. Spengler understood the Bolshevik government of Russia to be alien to Russia. He thought it was destined to be overthrown, without much fuss, at no very distant date. However, he also suggested that, in the meantime, the anti-Western regime could use Bolshevism to organize the non-white world (a group among which he included the Russians themselves) against the West. At times, he seems to forget his nationalist realism and urge a united Western front against "Asia."

    Spengler's advice here could have saved a world of trouble. He implicitly criticizes the Nazi regime again by advocating a purely defensive posture toward the East. We know from his letters and notes that he thought the idea of seeking "Lebensraum" in Russia was nonsense. In "The Hour of Decision," he emphasized that an invasion of Russia for purely strategic purposes was also unworkable; it would be simply a "thrust into empty space" that would not destroy Russia.

    Quite aside from its relevance to the Cold War, Spengler's analysis does look a great deal like the "clash of civilizations" approach that gained favor among the foreign-policy realists of the 1990s. The chief point of difference is Spengler's assertion that old, fossilized civilizations could act only negatively. They could combat Western influence, but they could not become world powers. In contrast, the more recent realists seem to assume that anything is possible to any civilization, given the right circumstances. As Farrenkopf points out, it is still not completely clear who is right about this. Islam is a swamp, and India is a narrowly regional power. Even China could blow up from attempting to modernize. This is not to suggest that Spengler's prescience was ever better than uneven. "The Hour of Decision" contains the memorable prophecy that the United States could break up under stress of the economic collapse of the Great Depression. One successor state might well be a Bolshevik regime in the industrial Midwest, with its capital at Chicago. (Why Chicago? Was Spengler a fan of Bertolt Brecht?)

    Regarding the United States, Farrenkopf notes that Spengler never treats it systematically. Sometimes, it is just a peripheral region of the English sphere, of no significance to the fate of the West. Sometimes, particularly in his earlier work, the US is a contender for the possible founder of the imperium mundi. Farrenkopf goes so far as to suggest that the United States actually did create the Western imperium mundi in 1945, 150 years ahead of schedule. Farrenkopf tries to fit the anomaly into Spengler's system by invoking Spengler's late idea of historical "acceleration." This really doesn't work. The temporal quantum in the life of Spengler's High Cultures is the generation, a measure that changes little over time. In any case, there is really nothing to explain. If you must look for an analogy, the situation of Rome after the end of the Second Punic War was not so different from that of the United States after the Second World War. Anyone who wants to see this idea worked out intelligently should read Amaury de Riencort's "The Coming Caesars" (1957).

    Probably, though, it is better not to look for a close analogy. Spengler's belief that all international systems collapse into universal states has merit. So do his ideas about cultural "completion." So, more tentatively, does his time scale. Beyond that, the logic of his system does not make many specific predictions. Indeed, if we take seriously Spengler's protestations about the uniqueness of historical phenomena, we are required to resist the temptation to predict the future from analogy (something that, according to Farrenkopf, Spengler himself belatedly appreciated). Spengler's model would be consistent with a wide range of futures, from a distended Hohenzollern Empire to Toynbee's ecumenical society.

    Farrenkopf observes that, as time went on, Spengler became less and less concerned with the prospect of universal empire and more worried about German national survival. "The Hour of Decision" is chiefly concerned about staving off mere chaos, another post-Cold War theme that Spengler anticipated. The path to the future that seemed so clear to Spengler when he was freezing in his Munich garret became obscure when he was a respected authority. Perhaps what we have here is not a growth of pessimism, but of a sense of responsibility.


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    Sunday
    Aug102014

    The Long View 2002-03-25: Happy Doomsday!

    Once you know Sauron was overthrown on the Feast of the Annunciation, many things become clear.

    Happy Doomsday!

    From Giants With Feet of Clay: On the Historiography of the Year 1000 by Dr. Richard Landes, Center for Millennial Studies:

    "Why then, would a conservative Parisian cleric invoke the Eschaton in the year 1000? Understandably, someone in Rudolf of Fulda's day might do so, since then it was over a century and a half away -- but why someone with only a generation to go? The answer comes in the next incident Abbo reports: the apocalyptic rumor from Lotharingia which, he claimed, had 'filled almost the entire world.' This computus-based calculation predicted the End when the Passion and the Annunciation coincided on Friday, March 25, the very date of the creation of Adam, of the Annunciation, and of the Passion."

    March 25 may be the most uncanny day in the calendar. Readers of The Lord of the Rings will recall that it is the day Sauron is overthrown, and which is therefore made New Year's Day. Once again, Tolkien was being creatively unoriginal: March 25 was sometimes New Year's Day in the Middle Ages. It is also the traditional date on which Doomsday is expected to occur.

    This is my gift to the world's greeting-card companies.


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    Who was John J. Reilly?

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    Wednesday
    Aug062014

    The Long View 2002-03-15: Kaplan and Spengler

    Robert Kaplan is a good example of who, exactly, is part of the Deep State. Kaplan wrote a number of influential books on foreign policy, and was invited to a closed-door meeting by Paul Wolfowitz during the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. However, he is also a good example of what the Deep State is not. Kaplan was a vocal advocate for the war with Iraq, but he later changed his mind. The Deep State is not monolithic nor conspiratorial, at least for the most part. It is composed of like-minded individuals who cooperate, or not, of their own free will.

    Kaplan & Spengler

    Ever a slave to fashion, I recently read Robert Kaplan's, Warrior Politics: Why Leadership Demands a Pagan Ethos. I also wrote a review of it, which I hope that the journal First Things will publish in due course. Three months after due course, I can put the review on my own site, so I am not going to write another complete review for here. Anyone interested in a full treatment of the book, including answers from the author himself to readers' questions, should look in the Archives of Andrew Sullivan's Book Club. There is a point extraneous to my review, however, that I would like to publicize sooner rather than later.

    Almost every element of Warrior Politics was covered 70 years ago, in Oswald Spengler's The Hour of Decision. That book was published in Germany in 1933, and it is full of old Oswald's crankiness. "No one living in any part of the world of today will be happy," he tells us in the Introduction, the most cheerful part of the work. The Hour of Decision was, famously, the only book critical of the Nazis to be published during the Third Reich. However, his criticism was not that the Nazis were especially brutal, or likely to be so in the future. What bothered him was that they were manifestly incompetent in an age that he correctly understood to be uniquely dangerous.

    Spengler and Kaplan have roughly the same model of history, and some of the same political concerns. As in ancient times, an "Era of Contending States" is coming to rest in an Imperium Mundi. There is a clash of civilizations between the West and the Rest. To allow the norms of domestic politics to govern those of international relations is to invite catastrophe. Warrior Politics and The Hour of Decision are short, suitable for harried statesmen to read on a train or plane trip. They even have the same sort of detailed, narrative Contents pages. Spengler is not mentioned in Warrior Politics, and there is no reason to think the later book was modeled on the earlier. I suspect what we do have here is a striking case of parallel evolution.

    To a large extent, the differences between the books arise from the fact they describe earlier and later stages of what both authors perceive to be the same historical process.

    Spengler was desperate. He knew a second world war was impending and he knew that the Nazis were not the people to handle it. He hoped 15 years earlier, when he was writing The Decline of the West, that Germany would be the organizer of the Imperium Mundi. In The Hour of Decision, he has serious doubts about whether Germany will even survive. Kaplan, in contrast, is past all that. For him, history has made the decisions to which Spengler alluded in the title of his book. The United States is the global hegemon. The question now is how a tolerable world system can be organized.

    Spengler's version of the clash of civilizations may seem to readers today to be cast in repulsively racist terms. Still, his observations are not without insight, so much insight in fact that the danger he foresaw has pretty much come and gone. What he called "the Colored World-Revolution" later took the form of what history calls "The Cold War." In his scheme of things, the Russians count as the leaders of the "coloreds," having seceded from Europe when the Romanov Dynasty was overthrown.

    Spengler characterized the Marxist ideology that Moscow promoted as a brilliant weapon, one used to manipulate what we still call the Third World, and to foment unrest within the West itself. The acme of this particular Spenglerian nightmare was, perhaps, the Bandung Conference of 1955. In any case, he insisted, Marxism had nothing to do with economics, and certainly the Russians did not believe it themselves. Eventually, they would simply drop the charade. Spengler suggested in The Decline of the West that the Russian Communist Party would be peacefully set aside rather than violently overthrown.

    The section of The Hour of Decision that really drags for an early 21st-century reader is the middle third, in the section called "The White World-Revolution." This attempts to explain the state of the class war and its relationship to the economic crisis of the1930s. It is full of little gems, such as "a stock, at bottom, is only a debt," which suggest that Spengler was on firmer ground when he discussed the history of mathematics. Nonetheless, the section is so boring because, as Spengler predicted, the whole subject would be obsolete by the end of the 20th century. In the 20s and 30s of the twentieth century, politics was about "the Worker," meaning the industrial worker in heavy industry. Some people were for a proletarian revolution, and some were against it, but everybody talked about it. It must have been very shocking when Spengler suggested the question was transitory.

    Spengler, of course, was often flat wrong. Looking at the prostrate United States of 1933, he doubted whether the country could avoid civil war and social revolution. Perhaps Chicago would become the Moscow of the New World. More seriously, he seems to have believed that politics meant nothing but the preemptive use of force. No one ever seems to have explained to this man that real Realpolitik is about compromise, procrastination, and restraint.

    Even with the limits to Spengler's political sense, and even with the passage of time, Spengler and Kaplan are still pretty much on the same page. Kaplan foresees an "aristocracy of statesmen," just as Spengler wanted national elites with global vision. Although Spengler's take on the clash of civilizations was conditioned by the Bolshevik menace, still he understood that the phenomenon was broader than that. Kaplan is patronizing to democracy. Spengler is dismissive or hostile. Neither seems to think it will be the organizing principle of the 21st century.

    The model that Kaplan and Spengler employ still has things to say about the future. Maybe in another 50 years, or even 70, another writer could write another book of much the same sort. That will be the last revival, however. The scenario will be played out.


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    Who was John J. Reilly?

    All of John's posts here

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    Tuesday
    Aug052014

    CrossFit 2014-08-05

    Harley Love

    6 rounds

    • 13 squat thrusters [65#]
    • 14 pullups

    Time 19:34