The Long View: The Forge of Christendom

Cricketer, historian, and author Tom Holland is here a proponent of the thesis that one of the things that truly differentiates the Christian West, Christendom, is the separation of powers between church and state that gradually evolved out of a fight over who was allowed to nominate bishops.

However, Holland also takes millennialism seriously, which adds a layer of interest for me. For many, it is one of those things that are just not mentioned in polite company. John also mentions here [I think elsewhere too, but I can't find it at present] the idea that Eastern Christianity never really developed the idea of just war. I find the idea intriguing, but I don't know the field well enough to confirm or deny. It is certainly plausible, with the relative unpopularity of Augustine in the Greek-speaking East, but on the other hand, Justinian also sent Belisarius to recover territory lost to Germanic barbarians. On the gripping hand, no one in the Roman empire after Belisarius managed to emulate his military successes.


The Forge of Christendom:
The End of Days and the Epic Rise of the West

By Tom Holland
Doubleday, 2009
512 pages, US$30.00
ISBN-10: 0385520581
ISBN-13: 978-0385520584
(2008 British Edition: Millennium: The End of the World and the Forging of Christendom)

 

The West has deep roots, reaching down past the Roman Republic to the level where Hellas differentiated itself from the societies of the Near East. Tom Holland, armed with an Oxford doctorate and a rolling prose style that the best Victorians might envy, has already written well-received popular histories on those subjects. (He also does vampire fiction.) Despite the West's continuities with antiquity, however, it's beginning in anything like the sense we mean it today was notoriously discontinuous. In the generation to either side of the year 1000, a new system booted that was clearly distinguishable from its Islamic neighbor and even from its sometime ally in Constantinople. In the author's telling, the first great characteristic act of the young West came at Canossa in 1077, when Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV conceded to Pope Gregory VII a right beyond the power of the state (the right to nominate bishops) in the Investiture Crisis. The concession was only temporary, and Gregory died in frustrated exile, but the pope's point stuck. Thereafter, the political and religious were recognized as different spheres with enforceable borders; the beginning of all civil liberties. This was something new in the world, but it was not the only novelty of the new society.

The two centuries that the book covers in detail, the 10th and the 11th, are among those stretches of history that make almost novelistic sense. The plot is driven by fear of the imminence of Antichrist and the hope for the Parousia.

The question of millennial expectation connected with the year 1000, whether that fear was important or even whether it existed at all, is one of those historiographical controversies that are prone to coup and counter-coup. 19th-century Romantic historians painted a dramatic and, well, Romantic picture of popular enthusiasm and even frenzy. The Romantics' successors, sometimes exaggerating what their predecessors had actually claimed, said the “terrors of the Year 1000” were a 19th-century myth and that the change of the millennium was little regarded at the time. Late in the 20th century, the American medievalist Richard Landes reopened the question (disclosure: I the reviewer am a member of his Center for Millennial Studies). His assessment informs Holland's book.

There was no revolutionary millenarianism around the year 1000 like that which occurred in late medieval or early modern times, Landes noted, but the fact is that the intellectual and political life of those generations was suffused by the preparation for a new age, impelled by a mood of expectation that had both a popular and an elite dimension. There was quite a bit of interest in the year 1000 itself. (Yes, people did know when it was: the information was available in every set of tables showing the dates for Easter.) There was at least as much interest in the year 1033, however, the millennial anniversary of Christ's Passion. One could argue that the West was actually born in the intervening years.

The term “postmillennialism” does not occur in this book, but something very similar to that doctrine was at work in the 11th century. Postmillennialism posits that Christ will return at the end of the Millennium; the millennial age itself, then, is a historical period during which human effort will perfect the world in preparation for that event. Postmillennialism was closely connected with the progressive, reformist Social Gospel that underlay much of the politics of the early 20th century. The idea of historical progress is really just a politely secularized version of postmillennial eschatology.

Medieval eschatology was different in detail but not in effect. St. Augustine in the fifth century (when the world did indeed seem to be ending, by any reasonable measure) had cautioned against the idea of a literal millennium as a period of historical felicity lasting 1000 years, though the Book of Revelation does mention a thousand-year reign of the Saints. He also cautioned against the temptation to apply information in the Bible to historical events in order to calculate precisely when the Second Coming would occur. He did, however, suggest that the reference in the Book of Revelation to a “millennium” could be taken as an allusion to an age of indefinite duration following the establishment of the Church by Christ that will end with his Second Coming.

In the tenth century, the condition of Western Christendom was dire enough to suggest that maybe the end was near and the 1000 years should be taken literally after all. In that century and the eleventh, sophisticated clerics tended to vehemently deny the possibility of predicting the End Time using calculations drawn from the Bible, all the while assuming a near-term eschaton in their worldview and planning.

The imminence of Doomsday had practical implications for medievals. Before the advent of Antichrist set the dramatic machinery of Revelation in motion, the world must first be evangelized and set to rights. This implied the revival or restoration of the Roman Empire in Christian form; even before Constantine, Christians had come to regard the Empire as “the Restrainer” of Second Thessalonians, the power in the world whose presence prevented the eruption of the worst historical evils, and whose final withdrawal would mean the end of the age. In the Byzantine Empire, where Rome never entirely fell, the hope for a penultimate age of peace became centered on the figure of the Emperor of the Last Days. He would restore the ancient empire and end his career by laying down his crown at Jerusalem, thereby marking the beginning of the end. This idea was easily transferable to the West, particularly after Charlemagne revived the imperial title in 800. (That was another possible date for the beginning of the endtime, by the way, arrived at through another set of calculations based on the seven-millennium model of history.)

We should recall that there is little institutional continuity between the Carolingian Empire and the Holy Roman Empire. The last Carolingian “emperor” died in 905, long after anything resembling an empire had lapsed. The title was revived in 962 by Otto I, who had won the Battle of the Lech against the then-pagan Hungarians in 955. Both events were part of a process that solidified the idea of a German identity. Not incidentally, the battle also ended one of the several existential threats to the still inchoate West that were defeated in the decades before 1000.

The author emphasizes that Christendom was born in a near-death experience. The measure of security that Charlemagne had been able to bring to Europe scarcely survived him. From the east came Slavs and Hungarians. In the south were the Muslims: Sicily was an emirate for much of the period covered by this book, and corsairs sacked St. Peter's in Rome as late as 846. In the north and on all the coasts there were the Vikings, and in France there were the French.

“France,” “French,” “Germany,” “German”: all are anachronistic terms for this period, the author reminds us. “East Francia” and “West Francia” are better. Be that as it may, one of the themes of the ninth and tenth centuries was the trend among the elites in what would become France toward pure predation. In most of Europe, castles were usually places of refuge or barriers against barbarian invasion. In France, they were often prison towers to facilitate the plundering of the population and attacks against the bandit lords in the neighboring castles.

In such a situation, anyone who could impose legitimate order was clearly doing God's will, even if violence was necessary to do it. When bishops consecrated German kings, they left no doubt that one of their duties was to defend their people from their appalling enemies. The papacy began a practice of endorsing campaigns in Italy and Spain for the defense of Christian polities. The practice would evolve into the theory of the crusade.

This was in marked contrast to the Byzantine Empire, a church-state that regarded war as the greatest of evils. The Orthodox Church never developed an analogue of the theory of the Just War. The state favored defensive fortress warfare and acute diplomacy to solve its problems. Despite the contempt this posture often inspired in the Latin West, it worked at least as well against the Muslims as the Western preference for the offensive. At any rate, it did until the Battle of Manzikert in 1071, when a fresh invasion of Turks caused the collapse of the Byzantine Empire in Anatolia. That defeat set the events in train that would lead to the request for help from Constantinople to the West that sparked the First Crusade. The book ends with the capture of Jerusalem in 1099.

On the level of diplomacy and military affairs, the elites of the West were often sidetracked by impractical schemes of universal empire. They did nation-building, but by accident; what really interested them was universal empire, always with an eschatological dimension. That dimension was no less present in the reform of civil life, however, and usually to better effect.

Any outburst of disorder was regarded by medievals as a precursor of Antichrist, or at least a type. The violence of the lawless aristocracy of the West was just as evil and intolerable as the depredations of the Hungarians, and just as much a sign of the endtime. The remedy in this context was not counter-violence, but holy example, particularly holy example as set by the most innovative monasteries. The most important monastery of all, perhaps as important for the reform of the West as the papacy itself, was the monastery at Cluny, founded in 910:

Earlier generations of monks, following the prescriptions of their rule, had devoted themselves to manual labour, so as to display humility, and to scholarship, so as to train their souls; but the monks of Cluny had little time for either activity. Instead, hour after hour, day after day, year after year, they sang the praises of the Lord: for this, in heaven, was what the choirs of angels did. Indeed, on one occasion, it was claimed, a monk had ended up so lost in his devotions that he had actually begun to levitate. Prayers and hymns, anthems and responses: the chanting never stopped. [Abbot] Odo had required his brethren to recite one hundred and thirty-eight psalms a day: more than three times what had traditionally been expected of a monk. Barely a minute of a Cluniac's life went by, in short, but it was governed by ritual, as unwearying as it was implacable. Hence, for its admirers, the monastery's unprecedented nimbus of holiness: "for so reverently are the masses performed there,” as Rudolf Galber put it, “so piously and worthily, that you would think them the work, not of men, but of angels indeed.”

Cluny, at least in this telling, was Shangri-La, but a Shangri-La that succeeded in projecting its inner peace onto much of the outer world. The monastery was an important element in organizing the Peace of God Movement, under which the armored aristocracy swore before bishops and huge assemblies of peasants to respect the lives and property of the general population. The movement went on for decades, and as the author notes, it implied the formalization of a social structure based on the private appropriation of what had once been common property. Nonetheless, the commoners apparently believed that even an unequal law was better than no law. The Peace of God was not the Millennial Kingdom, but it was regarded as a preparation for that no longer distant prospect. As it ran its course, everywhere the cathedrals were built, and the landscape took on the look of ordered settlement.

Meanwhile, the borders of Christendom were expanding through missionary effort. The author plainly admires St. Adalbert, who left important posts at Magdeburg and Rome to die a martyr in 997 in the evangelization of the east. The conversion of the rulers of the Scandinavians and the Normans (and of the Russians, for that matter) seems to have been marked by a fair amount of Realpolitik. They had a lively sense that a Christian king or duke had far more legitimacy than even the most successful tribal plunderer. These accessions left the heartlands of Christendom more secure. Nonetheless, they too were evidence that the end was near, since the end could come only after the remotest parts of the world had heard the Gospel. Surely newly Christian Iceland was as remote was it was possible to be?

Much of the book's attention is given to Spain, where the famously wealthy and sophisticated Caliphate of al-Andalus made one last drive against Christian Leon before imploding from its own internal divisions. The recapture by Christian forces of the ancient Visigothic holy city of Toledo put the strategic position of Moorish Spain past remedy.

Fatimid Egypt also comes into the picture. Caliph al-Hakim entertained eschatological notions, in his case centered on himself. His destruction of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher at Jerusalem in 1009 simultaneously appalled the West and confirmed its view that the climax of history could not be far off. (Latterly, in some tellings, he joined the ranks of Hidden Imams; he is still venerated or worshipped by the Druze, depending on whom you ask.)

Though the West still interacted with Islam and with the Byzantine Empire in important ways, by some point in the 11th century it had become an “intelligible unit” in Toynbee's sense of “civilization,” a society with a story that can be understood only on its own terms.

The author allows the text to reflect the sources, usually to good effect. If someone said they saw a dragon, then they saw a dragon; why argue about it, since the dragon is rarely the point of the story? When the author wants to be critical, he lays on the solemnity a bit too thick, which is actually a very medieval thing to do. The downside of this approach is that the text glides over points that are controverted. It is also economical of explanatory digressions. Still, any reader who does not know about the filioque clause will no doubt find everything he needs in the substantial bibliography and large number of footnotes. This book is a delight to read.

Copyright © 2009 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View: America Alone

habsburg-dynasty.jpg

If the National Intelligence Council really predicted that the EU will collapse by 2020, their prediction is looking like a real long shot at this point. Maybe that is why DARPA funded Philip Tetlock's superforecaster project: to improve the accuracy of things like this.

To be fair, if you had told someone in 2006 that a huge wave of migrants from the Middle East, Central Asia, and Africa would move into Europe in 2016, and that terrorism would be a regular feature of life in much of Western Europe, then a collapse of the EU might have seemed more likely.

I think it demonstrates that the neoliberal consensus is a lot stronger that it might otherwise seem. A relatively tolerant, multicultural, welfare capitalist global system [with a military/secret police enforcement system] seems to be the twenty-first century answer to the same problem the Habsburgs faced in Central Europe: how do you hold together a truly diverse polity?

There are a lot of people who suspect you can't. I think you can, but it's hard. I think this is one of the things that is likely to push us towards a truly post-democratic political order: the need to keep the peace.

Steyn's book talks about how we built a global system on the assumption that populations would keep growing forever. Large scale immigration is often advocated for precisely this reason: we need people to keep the system going. The controversy over immigration has become explosive, but what is interesting to me is that the model doesn't actually seem to be right.

The developed economies keep doing just fine, despite aging populations. If anything, there is too little work to be done, rather than too much. The assumption that Steyn and his political opponents share, the social democratic state needs to constantly grow to survive, may not be true.

In the eleven years since John wrote this, the average number of children across the world has continued to fall everywhere except Africa. So far, sub-Saharan Africa has proven unusually resistant to the demographic transition.


America Alone:
The End of the World as We Know It
By Mark Steyn
Regnery Publishing, 2006
224 Pages, US$27.95, Can$34.95
ISBN 0-89526-078-6

 

There is no way to put Mark Steyn’s view of the next few decades gently:

“The U.S. government’s National Intelligence Council is predicting the EU will collapse by 2020... How bad is it going to get in Europe? As bad as it can get – as in societal collapse, fascist revivalism, and the long Eurabian night, not over the entire Continent but over significant parts of it. And those countries that manage to escape the darkness will do so only after violent convulsions of their own.”

But who is this Steyn fellow, and why is he saying these terrible things? Mark Steyn is a Canadian-American journalist (he first attracted notice as an arts and music critic) who is now sometimes accounted the most influential conservative writer in the anglophone world. He owes that position in part to an epigrammatic style that bears comparison to that of the early G.K. Chesterton. America Alone is composed chiefly of Steyn’s scintillating columns of recent years, but he or his editors have accomplished something very rare: a compilation of previously published occasional pieces that reads like a connected text, with a lucid argument and surprisingly little repetition. This synthesis was possible because Steyn believes he has discovered the Key to World History, or at least the mechanism that will determine the history of the 21st century. To put it briefly:

“[D]emography is an existential crisis for the developed world, because the twentieth-century social democratic state was built on a careless model that requires a constantly growing population to sustain it... The single most important fact about the early twenty-first century is the rapid aging of almost every developed nation other than the United States.”

The magic number here is 2.1, as in the total fertility rate per woman that a developed society needs to maintain its population over time. The US fertility rate is at about that number, a fact explained only in part by immigration: the native-born population of Red State America is over that figure, while the figure for the Blue States is generally below it. It is almost uncanny how much of the rest of the world is below it, either slightly (like Australia) or catastrophically (like Italy and Russia and Japan; and don’t forget China, doomed to get old before it can get rich). It’s true even of most of Latin America. Aside from America, the only regions where it is not true are India, sub-Saharan Africa, and the Muslim world. Without the Muslim angle, this might be a story of economies freezing up and welfare states closing down as the percentage of working-age people becomes too small to support a growing majority of pensioners. The effect of Muslim immigration and conversion, however, coupled as it is with the spread of lethal jihadist ideology, is to raise the possibility that much of Europe could slip out of the Western world entirely. Steyn did not coin the term “Eurabia,” but in an age when a third of the young people in France have been born to Muslim parents, it comes in handy.

Several writers have raised these points in recent years. However, despite the title of the book, Steyn does not subscribe to the conclusion of many of his colleagues that the United States should simply turn inward:

“And I’m a little unnerved at the number of readers who seem to think the rest of the world can go hang and America will endure as a lonely candle of liberty in the new Dark Ages. Think that one through: a totalitarian China, a crumbling Russia, an insane Middle East, a disease-ridden Africa, a civil-war Eurabia -- and a country that can’t even enforce its borders against two relatively benign states will be able to hold the entire planet at bay? Dream on, ‘realists.’”

Neither is the book a call for an American Empire. Steyn tends to support the Bush Administration’s military policy, and particularly the invasion of Iraq; he faults the execution of that campaign principally for being too culturally sensitive. However, he tells us:

“This book isn’t an argument for more war, more bombing, or more killing, but for more will.”

Steyn’s Key to History unlocks not just a proper reading of foreign affairs, but reveals to him the need for a cultural and political transformation of the West. That part of the book, and particularly his prescriptions for the future, is the most problematical. As for the doomsday material, one might observe that it is in the nature of present trends not to continue. If the ones Steyn highlights do continue, however, his grim forecasts will be right.

Steyn has a short explanation for demographic catastrophe:

“In demographic terms, the salient feature of much of the ‘progressive agenda’ – abortion, gay marriage, endlessly deferred adulthood – is that, whatever the charms of any individual item, cumulatively it’s a literal dead end...In fact, [opposition to Islamization] ought to be the Left’s issue. I’m a social conservative. When the mullahs take over, I’ll grow my beard a little fuller, get a couple of extra wives, and keep my head down. It’s the feminists and the gays who’ll have a tougher time.”

The welfare state in Europe and Canada allows the political system to focus on satisfying “secondary impulses,” such as long, legally mandated vacations and government-provided daycare, or for that matter, responsibility for the care of the elderly:

“But once you decide you can do without grandparents, it’s not such a stretch to decide you can do without grandchildren...[T]he torpor of the West derives in part from the annexation by the government of most of the core functions of adulthood.”

As he never ceases to remind us, there is an important distinction between Europe and America in these matters, or at least between Europe and Red State America. The distinction, he argues, results from a recent historical accident:

“It dates all the way back to, oh, the 1970s. It’s a product of the U.S. military presence, a security guarantee that liberated European budgets...[however]...[u]nchecked, government social programs are a security threat because they weaken the ultimate line of defense: the free-born citizen whose responsibilities are not subcontracted to the government.”

To quote an authority that Steyn does not, Immanuel Kant once said, “Even a nation of demons could maintain a liberal republic, provided they had understanding.” If we are to believe Steyn, however, Kant was wrong about the degree to which rights and procedures could replace morality and religion:

“[B]y relieving the individual of the need to have ‘private virtues,’ you’ll ensure that they wither away to the edges of society...Almost by definition, secularism cannot be a future: it’s a present-tense culture that over time disconnects a society from cross-generational purpose.”

One may note that this would apply only to a form of secularism with no metahistorical script for the future. Thus, a Marxist society (if it did not starve), or a eugenicist society, or a society intent on colonizing the solar system, might make the connection between generations. A society that was just a gas of atomic individuals today and looked forward to being just a gas of atomic individuals tomorrow, in contrast, would have neither a past nor a future.

Steyn is not just another talkshow ranter (though he does that, too) because he sometimes slows down enough to express skepticism about his own arguments. He asks: does the loss of religion explain the morbid state of advanced and even moderately developed countries? That might seem to be an explanation within the United States, with its relatively sterile and aging New England versus, say, the burgeoning Mormon population of Utah. But what about Europe, where the relatively religious South has even lower fertility rates than the godless North? One might also adduce East Asia: the populations of neither Japan nor South Korea are sustainable, but South Korea is a hotbed of evangelism of all sorts, while Japan is as secular as Sweden.

If God is not the answer, could Mammon be? America as a whole has a somewhat more free-market economy than most of Europe, but the most laissez faire economies in the world are in East Asia, and they have birth rates lower than most Western countries. We should also note, as Steyn does not, that the prolific Red State populations receive more in federal subsidies than they pay in taxes: those family values are paid for with farm subsidies and often rather paternalistic business practices. Steyn also points out that the major anglophone countries all have birthrates either at or near replacement level, but he does not suggest that the birth dearth could be solved with Berlitz courses.

* * *

Among the most delightful features of America Alone is the blurb on the front bookjacket from Prince Turki al-Faisal, former Saudi Ambassador to the United States: “The arrogance of Mark Steyn knows no bounds.” The prince perhaps has reason to be miffed. Though he does not say so in this book, Steyn elsewhere likens the increasingly successful Islamization of Europe to an opportunistic infection, made possible by the simultaneous collapses in cultural confidence and fertility. He has many worthwhile things to say in this regard; he is certainly right to underline the fantastic level of mendacity among the people in the West who speak for and about Islam. In academia and on the evening news, “sophistication seems mostly to be a form of obfuscation by experts.” As for official appreciation of the threat, “government ministers in Western nations spend most of their time taking advice on the jihad from men who agree with its aims.” The problem is not simply a matter of immigrants with new ideas changing the nature of their new homes: “Islam,” not just in the West but around the world, increasingly means a brutal and hegemonic version of Wahhabism. The evangelization of this doctrine is lavishly subsidized by the government of Saudi Arabia, support that ranges from establishing local Islamic schools in Canadian and American cities to building mosques the size of cathedrals in Europe.

Steyn recounts many anecdotes of allegedly moderate Muslims in Western countries who turned out to be recruiting or fundraising for terrorist groups, but far more disturbing are the proliferating incidents of homegrown jihadis turning against the lands of their birth:

“If you’re a teenager in most European cities these days, you’ve a choice between two competing identities – a robust confident Islamic identity or a tentative post-nationalist cringingly apologetic European identity. It would be a mistake to assume the former is attractive only to Arabs and North Africans.”

As Steyn notes, multiculturalism was instituted not to acquaint Westerners with other cultures, but to criticize the West. One effect of multiculturalism has been to absolve students of learning any hard information about other cultures. The result is that the West has disarmed itself in the most critical arena:

“We have no strategy for dealing with an ideology...groups with terrorist ties are still able to insert their recruiters into American military bases, prisons, and pretty much anywhere else they get a yen to go.”

Western attempts to influence the development of Islam are usually exercises in self-delusion, beginning with the preferred choice of interlocutors: “’moderate Muslims’ would seem to be more accurately described as apostate or ex-Muslims.” As for more long-range efforts: “We – the befuddled infidels – talk airily about ‘reforming’ Islam. But what if the reform has already taken place and jihadism is it?”

The Islamization of Europe is no longer hypothetical, in part because of the determination of the anti-discrimination police to enforce accommodation to what often extremist and unrepresentative Islamic groups claim to be Muslim sensibilities: “there’s very little difference between living under Exquisitely Refined Multicultural Sensitivity and sharia.” Worse than that is the casual use of violence and threats against European writers and artists, or even against ordinary persons: non-Muslim women in heavily Muslim neighborhoods increasingly go about dressed in something approaching Muslim fashion in order to avoid insult.

* * *

How, you may ask, can the United States prevent much of the world from turning to theocratic rubble, like Taliban Afghanistan? Steyn suggests these priorities:

"In World War Two, the sands of Iwo Jima and Okinawa where the main event, and rounding up the enemy sympathizers in Michigan was the sideshow. One can argue that this time around the priorities are reversed -- that bombing Baby Assad out of the presidential palace in Damascus is a more marginal battlefield then turning back the tide of Islamicist support in Europe and elsewhere. America and a select few other countries have demonstrated they can just about summon the will to win on the battlefield. On the cultural front, where this war in the end will be won, there’s little evidence of any kind of will.”

Nonetheless, he says that the military dimension cannot be neglected: the worst thing to do is nothing. Even if the war is chiefly ideological, there are state sponsors of the hostile ideology, and something has to be done about them, either militarily or through devastating economic sanctions:

“[E]very year we remain committed to 'stability' increases the Islamists’ principal advantage: it strengthens the religion – the vehicle for their political project – and multiplies the raw material...So another decade or two of ‘stability and the world will be well on its way to a new Dark Ages...But the central fact of a new Dark Ages is this: it would not be a world in which the American superpower is succeeded by other powers but a world with no dominant powers at all.”

It is true that the United States is held in light esteem in many of the world’s better magazines, and even does increasingly badly in public opinion polls taken in countries whose leadership is not necessarily committed to America’s destruction. Steyn attributes the darkening of the American image to elites like those in France, who are obviously weighing their chances in a semi-Muslim future, or to other well-meaning people who live in a fantasy world, where the most pressing issue facing civilization is rising sea levels. One might also suggest that, if the post-World War II international system is decomposing, America has become the screen onto which are projected the anxieties and ambitions aroused by the decomposition. To the jihadis, America is the godless Great Satan; to much of Europe, and even to many Blue State Americans, America is a theocratic Jesusland. As Steyn puts it: “America is George Orwell’s Room 101: whatever your bugbear you will find it therein; whatever you’re against, America is the prime example thereof.”

In reality, though, what much of the developed world is going to experience in the next 10 or 20 years is re-primitivization: “The Serbs figured that out – as other Continentals will in the years ahead: if you can’t outbreed the enemy, cull ‘em.” Where states fail, private parties can be expected to step in:

“If a dirty bomb with unclear fingerprints goes off in London or Delhi, it’s not necessary to wait for the government to respond. As in Ulster, there’ll always be groups who think the state power is too [timid] to hit back. So unlisted numbers will be dialed hither and yon, arrangements will be made, and bombs will go off in Islamabad and Riyadh and Cairo. There will be plenty of non-state actors on the non-Islamic side. In the end the victims of the Islamist contagion will include many, many Muslims.”

To combat the Islamic dimension of the threat (and remember, it’s chiefly a demographic problem) Steyn has suggestions of various degrees of plausibility, of which the most intriguing is the proposal to create a civil corps to engage Islamism ideologically:

“If America won’t export its values -- self-reliance, decentralization -- others will export theirs. In the eighties, Paul Kennedy warned the United States of ‘imperial overstretch.’ But the danger right now is of imperial understretch -- of a hyperpower reluctant to sell its indisputably successful inheritance to the rest of the world.”

Steyn wants to scrap the post-World War II international institutions and replace them with an alliance of capable and committed democratic powers. He says the Saudis have to be stopped from financing their worldwide religious underground. He would also like to develop technology that would end the dependence of the developed world on Middle Eastern oil: a fine notion, and none the worse for having been suggested a hundred times before.

This brings us to the cultural front. It is a good bet that Steyn is prophetic when he tells us, “By 2015, almost every viable political party in the West will be natalist.” And what should the platforms of these Mewling Infant Parties contain? “We need to find a way to restore advantage to parenthood in the context of modern society. Shrink the state. If you got four dependents, your taxable income is to be divided by five. We must end deferred adulthood.” And how do we do that? “We need to redirect the system to telescope education into a much shorter period.” The upshot, apparently, is that educated people should be educated faster so that they will normally have children while they’re in their twenties. We hear not one word that these proposals, though perhaps inevitable, will mean that the life courses of men and women will diverge again.

Steyn has given us a fiery polemical introduction to the crisis of the first quarter of the 21st century. However, we recognize the limitations of his analysis when we come to statements like, “The free world’s citizenry could use more non-state actors.” Consider his view of the moral of September 11, 2001:

“What worked that day was municipal government, small government, core government -- fireman the NYPD cops, rescue workers. What flopped -- big-time, as the vice president would say -- was the federal government, the FBI, CIA, INS, FAA, and all the other hotshot, money-no-object, fancypants acronyms.”

Stirring words, but counterfactual. In reality, on 911 the World Trade Center’s security service killed many of the people in the buildings by urging them to return to their offices after the attack was underway. The radios of the various emergency services were not able to communicate with each other. The firemen died needlessly by charging into burning buildings that local fire experts had declared indestructible. The epitome of effective local government, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, was almost killed because the city’s emergency command center was located in the World Trade Center complex, despite the fact everyone knew the complex was the most likely target for a terrorist attack. The federal government did not cover itself with glory on that day, either, but at least the feds managed to close down and then restart the airline system within the space of a few hours.

Toward the end of the book, Steyn remarks, “You can’t win a war of civilizational confidence with a population of nanny-state junkies.” But the fact is that is how the world wars were fought and won, either by states that had extensive social-welfare systems, or that promised such systems to their citizens as part of the reward of victory.

It is certainly the case that the nanny state of the postwar developed world, with its therapeutic model of governance and its subsidy of victimhood, is a degenerate and unsustainable type of polity. But consider what it degenerated from: the war-and-welfare state of the era of the Great Wars that lasted from 1861 to 1945. The same powers of economic and political mobilization that allowed those wars to be fought permitted, indeed required, the domestic mobilization of education and public health and industry that allowed the governments of that explosive era to function effectively as military actors. Those governments commanded the most effective states that ever existed, and the mark of the societies they governed was precisely that, during the long lifetime from Lincoln to Churchill, the fortunes of the state and of the citizen increasingly merged. For a while, for just a few years, the mechanisms were in place to drive society in the service of urgent public policy.

The nanny state is a declension from that height of state fitness, and so is the libertarian state. In the face of an existential crisis, Churchill promised his people that their lives would be drenched in blood, sweat, and tears until victory was won. In the face of a comparable threat to civilization, George Bush made some fine public restatements of America’s now traditional Wilsonianism, but otherwise told the American people to support the tourist industry by visiting America’s beauty spots; while cutting taxes in the middle of two major wars, he reminded the taxpayers, “It’s your money.” Even if you accept the president’s economic model, surely it is obvious that such policies have no power to mobilize. The philosophy behind them diverts attention from the core functions of government, as the embrace of an open-borders policy by the Republican establishment illustrates. The small government that Steyn urges might be able to win conventional wars, but it would be unable otherwise to affect events. Increasingly, its irrelevance to the real problems, many of which Steyn has identified, would lose it the loyalty of its citizens. Thus we see that the libertarian state undermines patriotism quite as effectively as the European Union. They are parallel manifestations of the same phenomenon.

Many of Steyn’s specific proposals have merit, but they need a context he has not yet attempted to articulate. It might be possible for America to revive the Churchillian State within its own borders; maybe Japan could do that too, but neither Europe as a whole nor the nations within it could manage such a thing. In any case, it is not at all clear that even America should try. The work of regeneration needed to fight off the Muslim infection and save the threatened societies of the world from suicide cannot dispense with patriotism. However, it must be patriotism strengthened by some wider loyalty impervious to the subversions to which the Churchillian State proved subject.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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Ecumenical Twilight Updated

By NASA/JPL/DLR - http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA00502 (TIFF image link), Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=92698

By NASA/JPL/DLR - http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA00502 (TIFF image link), Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=92698

I updated John Reilly's short story, Ecumenical Twilight, with a linked table of contents. I love this story. Like so much classic scifi, it is an deep essay on politics wrapped in a shallow speculation about the possibility of life on Europa, the moon of Jupiter.

There are images from this story I just can't get out of my head: the ecumenical empire with five capitals, one in each major part of the world. What a world with a declining population but a high standard of living might look like. How a confessional state might have a light touch on the non-believers in its midst.

In my opinion, this is at least as good as the submissions in the Writers of the Future volume I reviewed recently

The Long View 2005-06-27: Persian Populist Surprise; Terraforming; the Emerald City

By Unknown - تصاویر تسخیر لانه جاسوسی – 100تصویر با شرح revolution.shirazu.ac.ir, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=44763608

By Unknown - تصاویر تسخیر لانه جاسوسی – 100تصویر با شرح revolution.shirazu.ac.ir, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=44763608

Spengler [David P. Goldman] and John Reilly had sets of ideas that were mildly adversarial and mildly complementary. I don't know whether they ever corresponded. For example, Spengler was right that democracy in the Middle East would unleash terror and war. John Reilly was right that Iran is a far better country than most in the Middle East, with institutions that work and an economy that isn't purely driven by oil. Americans are still annoyed with Iran following the hostage crisis, but Iran used to be a firm ally in the Middle East, a counterweight to the Sunni majority.

John also looks further into the idea that something about China's role in world politics is a bit off. Here, John makes a distinction between an empire and the Empire, a universal state. The People's Republic is an empire in the first sense at present. Whether it can fill the second role remains to be seen.


Persian Populist Surprise; Terraforming; the Emerald City

 

There are many things that might be said about the overwhelming election victory of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Iran's presidential election. One notes the cosmic coincidences: President Ahmadinejad is just as surprising a victory for populism as the defeat of the EU constitution; or, to some people, the reelection of President Bush. However, the increasingly pessimistic Spengler at Asia Times has his own take in a piece called Iran: The living fossils' vengeance

That is the great gift of Islam, which offers much more to the faithful than the ordering of traditional life. It promises to impose the system of traditional life upon the world. Islam is the vengeance of tribal society upon the cosmopolitan empires, first against the Sassanids and Byzantines, then against the Holy Roman Empire, and now against the West. The Muslim does not cower in his village waiting for the inevitable encroachment of a hostile world, but seeks to impose his will on the world....In their provincial smugness, President George W Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice understand none of this. The more the Middle East opens its political process to the will of the people, the worse things will be for Washington.

By no means: democratic political processes contribute to world order even if the content of the politics being processed is reprehensible. That's what the Kantian Peace is all about. Granted, there is no special virtue in plebiscitary dictatorships. What we have in Iran is quite different: a populist theocrat who works under institutional constraints and who has a constituency to placate. Things could go very wrong with Iran, but not as wrong as when the Ayatollah was in flower.

* * *

On the subject of ways to improve the planet, Acta Astronautica is floating a solution to global warming that is slightly less crazy than it seems:

The power of scattering sunlight has been illustrated naturally, the scientists note. Volcanic eruptions, such as that of Mt. Pinatubo in 1991, pumped aerosols into the atmosphere and cooled the global climate by about a degree. Other researchers have suggested such schemes as adding metallic dust to smoke stacks, to flood the atmosphere and reflect more sunlight back into space.

In the newly outlined approach, reflective particles [in orbit in a ring] might come from the mining of Earth, the Moon or asteroids. They'd be put into orbit around the equator. Alternately, tiny micro-spacecraft could be deployed with reflective umbrellas.

And how much would the ring cost?

$6 trillion to $200 trillion for the particle approach. Deploying tiny spacecraft would come at a relative bargain: a mere $500 billion tops.

If that sounds too high a price, the article reminds us:

[T]he Kyoto Protocol, a global agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, is estimated to cost the world economy some $150 billion a year.

On the whole, I think that turning the Earth into a scale model of Saturn would be a bad idea. On the other hand, something like this around Venus might be really useful, if you have any interest in terraforming.

* * *

Usually, I either disagree with Mark Steyn or grind my teeth because I did not think of something he said first. Regarding the continuing embarrassment of the Flag-Burning Amendment, he hit the nail on the head:

The House of Representatives passed a constitutional amendment on flag burning last week, in the course of which

Rep. Randy ''Duke'' Cunningham (Republican of California) made the following argument:

''Ask the men and women who stood on top of the Trade Center. Ask them and they will tell you: Pass this amendment."

Unlike Congressman Cunningham, I wouldn't presume to speak for those who died atop the World Trade Center. ...maybe some would think that criminalizing disrespect for national symbols is unworthy of a free society. And maybe others would roll their eyes and say that, granted it's been clear since about October 2001 that the federal legislature has nothing useful to contribute to the war on terror, and its hacks and poseurs prefer to busy themselves with a lot of irrelevant grandstanding with a side order of fries, but they could at least quit dragging us into it.

If you could not burn it, it would not be worth saluting.

* * *

Students of the better newspapers, and indeed of many of the worse ones, will not have failed to notice the flurry of items about the Chinese Threat, which, apparently, grows daily on the economic, military, and diplomatic levels. Whenever you see this many stories and columns on the same subject but without an obvious news-hook, you have to wonder whether they are being orchestrated somehow. In this case, it is hard to imagine any puppet master who could pull the strings of both Mark Steyn and Paul Krugman.

Krugman, we should remember, is actually a pretty good economist during the brief periods when he takes his medication and is able to talk about something other than the malice and folly of President Bush. He notes that expansion of the Chinese economy is different in kind from that of Japan in the 1980s. The Japanese seemed to be buying up every thing in the world in those days, but Japan did not have geostrategic ambitions. China does.

There are ironies here. Donald Rumsfeld was made Secretary of Defense precisely so that the US would be ready for a war with China about Taiwan, if worse came to worst. The campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq have been one long distraction to him. He has always been keen to conduct the War on Terror on the cheap. China is the reason.

Citing Hardt & Negri just encourages them, but they do provide an important distinction between the roles of the US and China in today's world.

In their terminology, the US is "imperial," in the sense of working for the preservation of a world system with some claim to embody universal justice. The US actually does what the UN World Police is supposed to have done, had it ever existed. The current situation is institutionally unsatisfactory: it leads to challenges along the lines of, "Who died and made you boss?" The role of the US would be intolerable, if any other solution were on offer. There isn't. Probably, there won't be.

China, in contrast, is "imperialist" in the 19th-century sense. Its geostrategic aims are simply exported nationalism. To some extent, it regards those ambitions and the shaky rules of world governance as incompatible.

In its own way, China is just as much of a jellyfish empire as the EU: if it tries to act as a world power, it will break up. However, the process of break up would be quite compatible with a nuclear exchange.

If ever there is a New Rome, it might not be Washington, but some new capital in Kansas: Emerald City, perhaps.

Copyright © 2005 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View: Inventing the Middle Ages

By Anton Graff - Originally uploaded to de.wikipedia (All user names refer to de.wikipedia):18:53, 24. Nov 2005 . . Caro1409 (Diskussion) . . 286 × 350 (17967 Byte)18:51, 24. Nov 2005 . . Caro1409 (Diskussion) . . 286 × 350 (17967 Byte), Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=529840

By Anton Graff - Originally uploaded to de.wikipedia (All user names refer to de.wikipedia):18:53, 24. Nov 2005 . . Caro1409 (Diskussion) . . 286 × 350 (17967 Byte)18:51, 24. Nov 2005 . . Caro1409 (Diskussion) . . 286 × 350 (17967 Byte), Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=529840

By Julius Schrader - http://www.britishbattles.com/frederick-the-great-wars/seven-years-war/battle-of-kolin/, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=48757267

By Julius Schrader - http://www.britishbattles.com/frederick-the-great-wars/seven-years-war/battle-of-kolin/, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=48757267

Looking up images for this post, I was taken with portraits of Frederick the Great. The man's gaze pierces you even at the distance of 230 years. He isn't the subject of the book in this post, but I couldn't resist!


Inventing the Middle Ages:
The Lives, Works, and Ideas of the Great Medievalists of the Twentieth Century
by Norman F. Cantor
William Morrow and Company, 1991
447 Pages, US14.00
ISBN 0-688-12302-3

 

There is an old joke in literary criticism that is really a serious question: What effect did T.S. Eliot have on Shakespeare? While a time-travel story involving Eliot and Shakespeare would not be without interest, the import of this question is really about the development of critical method. Scholars had to invent new ways of looking at poetry in order to handle Eliot and the other modernist poets. When these methods were turned on Shakespeare, they revealed what almost seems to be a new body of work. In much the same way, scholars in the 20th century can be said to have "invented" the Middle Ages, since their own age has sensitized them to see things in the material that would have meant nothing to prior centuries. By the same token, of course, the study of these scholars will tell you almost as much about the 20th century as it will about the Middle Ages.

It is interesting to read this book in the year 2000, a decade after it was finished. Norman Cantor, a noted medievalist associated with New York University at the time this book was written, is familiar with the major US and British universities. (He was born in Manitoba.) Cantor has a taste for macrohistory and cultural speculation on the grand scale, so "Inventing the Middle Ages" preserves in amber many of the concerns and unconsidered assumptions that were common among thoughtful people just after the end of the Cold War. There is declinism regarding the United States, the off-hand dismissal of historical teleology, and a certain degree of exasperation with the politicization of the academy that occurred in the 1970s and `80s. Also, something that seems increasingly shocking these days, the author is completely credulous of Freudian psychology. Still, this book should never become dated. Cantor knew many of the scholars he discusses, almost all of whom were characters, and his gossipy accounts of their lives and ways will surely remain among the primary sources for these people. Last but not least, his conviction that the Middle Ages are the future will bear repeated examination as various futures arrive.

According to Cantor, the serious study of the Middle Ages really began only around 1900. While he expresses some admiration for the Romantic engagement of the Middle Ages found in the novels of Walter Scott and Victor Hugo, and even in the somewhat imaginative history of Jules Michelet, he says that it was not until the end of the nineteenth century that enough archival research and textual analysis had been done to make serious study possible. This is a bit odd, because certainly there were numerous people in the last half of the 19th century who were working in archives and writing lengthy studies on medieval art and law and politics. However, according to Cantor, even Henry Adams, who by his own account brought the pure Germanic gospel of the documentary method to Harvard, was not a serious medievalist; Adams' "Mont Saint Michel and Chartres" is dismissed as just a good read.

Frederic William Maitland, an English lawyer turned Cambridge don who wrote a landmark study of the origins of common-law procedure, is the first medievalist whom Cantor chooses to take seriously. (He died in 1906.) Maitland's approach was "modern." For Cantor, this means a sharp focus on the "thing in itself," on the concrete details provided to us by the records. Maitland's explanations were "self-referential," in the sense of not invoking larger principles or higher forces. Not all of the modern medievalists whom Cantor discusses were "Modern" in these ways, but they all resembled Maitland in favoring "thick," highly detailed descriptions of the medieval worlds they described. Recreating the context is the point of the exercise; explaining particular events is sometimes a secondary consideration. Histories with thick descriptions, in fact, sometimes forego narrative almost entirely.

The best known variety of historyless history is that associated with the French journal "Annales." One of its co-founders was the medievalist Marc Bloch. His martyrdom in the French Resistance during the Second World War gave both "Annales" and its materialist, soft-Marxist approach to history a degree of credibility that Cantor suggests it might not otherwise have had.

Readers interested in French academic culture will be fascinated by Cantor's somewhat jaundiced account of the French system of academic celebrity. The great French masters ("mandarins" they are called) are a lucky minority who come up through the elite schools. They become the centers of learned cults and end, if all goes well, as the founders of state-supported institutes dedicated to their greater glory. While Cantor is hardly dismissive of "Annales" and its worldwide Diaspora, he does note that this approach works best for subjects like peasant communes, Bloch's own area of study. When we do not know the names of individuals or what they did from day to day, it makes sense to focus minutely on their material and institutional circumstances. In situations where we do know quite a lot about individuals, however, and particularly when they lived in times of dramatic change, it is perverse to concentrate on the "long duration" of historical continuity. Additionally, "Annales" has had the unfortunate effect of discouraging the best historians from writing ordinary narrative history for the intelligent public, thereby leaving the field to popularizers.

Of the medievalists whom Cantor mentions, the names with the most resonance for most readers are certainly those of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. Cantor is actually a bit patronizing about Tolkien as a scholar. According to Cantor, Tolkien, whose subject was Anglo-Saxon literature, was considered a burn-out case by the 1930s. He even says that there was some sentiment that Tolkien should have resigned his prestigious chair at Oxford in favor of a younger man. Oxford sentiment was rendered irrelevant by the explosive success of Tolkien's six-hundred-thousand-word work, "The Lord of the Rings." Cantor calls it a novel; Tolkien called it a "romance." Whatever it was, it disseminated a view of history and ethics and the human condition to a public that seems only to grow with time. Cantor suggests that the book is a permanent addition to the great works in English, one that will last after the more consciously propagandistic fiction of Lewis is in eclipse. On the other hand, Cantor finds little to fault in Lewis's work in medieval allegory and Renaissance literature.

Cantor suggests that Tolkien and Lewis are to be credited with making the spirit of the Middle Ages accessible to the general public, but here he is surely wrong. Tolkien and Lewis did popularize many of the themes and images that are found in medieval literature. They also conveyed something of the little epiphanies that the medieval mind found in particular things and people and places. Still, all this was put to the service of 20th century themes by 20th century minds. No medieval epic, and indeed no epic of which I am aware, conveys the sense of the world in motion that the "Lord of the Rings" does. The work is more like "The Winds of War" than "Le Morte d'Arthur." Though Lewis hated psychology (almost as much as I do), nonetheless his characters have an interiority that was not a prominent feature of medieval literature. The 20th century saw grace operating from an angle other than the one understood by the 13th.

Cantor comes close to hitting the nail on the head when he remarks that there is something apocalyptic about Tolkien and Lewis. Reading them, he says, one almost gets the impression that they would have liked to join with other wild people and take over the world to protect it from the Shadow. The remarkable thing about "Inventing the Middle Ages," at least to me, is the number of medievalists it discusses who had explicit thoughts along just those lines.

Take, for instance, the Weimar-era scholars whom Cantor calls "the Nazi Twins," Percy Ernst Schramm and Ernst Hartwig Kantorowicz. The appellation is not entirely fair. It is true that they were both right-wing. Schramm spent much of the war as a historian attached to the General Staff; for a while, he was daily in Hitler's presence. Kantorowicz was a friend of Goering, and took care to have a swastika placed on the cover of the book that made his reputation. Still, Schramm was not a party member. His friend Kantorowicz was not eligible: he was a Jew who emigrated, to the United States, quite late in the 1930s. What ties them to the Nazi Party is the historical and even mystical support they gave to the doctrine of the "leader principle."

They did this through biographies that became wildly popular in the 1920s. Schramm's book covered Otto III, the Holy Roman Emperor in the year 1000. He hoped to inaugurate the renovation of the world, aided by his ecclesiastical sidekick and reputed magician, Pope Sylvester II. Kantorowicz's subject was the even more uncanny 13th-century emperor, Frederick II, who was called Emperor of the Last Days by his friends and Antichrist by his enemies. Both Schramm and Kantorowicz hoped to aid the recovery of Germany from defeat in the First World War by reacquainting its people with the full depth and force of the ancient idea of kingship, thus preparing the way for a charismatic leader. Their work probably was not without effect. As Cantor remarks, you don't always get the messiah you asked for.

Less dramatic use of the Middle Ages was made by many scholars who nonetheless felt that the period was urgently relevant to modern times. Among the scholars of the "formalist" school, probably the best known is another German, Ernst Robert Curtius, whose book "European Literature in the Latin Middle Ages" still shows up on reading lists. The point of "formalism," as the name suggests, is to identify and describe the forms and typical ideas that run through medieval literature, indeed through all Western literature back to antiquity. The formalists, as Cantor describes them, seek to disclose and preserve an essential tradition in Western culture, one that can survive the tumults of modernity. As a practical matter, formalism is more than just nostalgia for the past. Indeed, since it emphasizes the degree to which the past is still with us, it is actually a bit anti-historical. One formalist, Erwin Panofsky, expanded the technique of "iconography" that had been developed for medieval studies to the criticism of film. Very few medievalists, in fact, seem to have been tub-thumping reactionaries, perhaps because reactionaries rarely wish to restore a past more than a generation old.

This discussion hardly exhausts the list or even types of medievalist whom Cantor discuses. He gives a great deal of space to his dissertation adviser from Princeton, Joseph Reese Strayer, a Wilsonian liberal who advised the CIA during the Cold War and emphasized the high level of instrumental rationalism that informed some medieval governments. There is the great proponent of neo-Thomism, Etienne Gilson, about whom Cantor seems to admire everything but his Thomism. Readers will also learn that Johan Huizinga's famous book, "The Waning of the Middle Ages," is not actually the beginning and the end of all wisdom about late medieval culture. Readers get a double helping of everything: the Middle Ages were a fascinating time, and during the last 100 years they have been studied by fascinating people.

Fascination is one thing, but is any of this relevant to the 21st century? Writing just at the end of the Cold War, Cantor suggested that it will be. Socialism may not be quite dead, he says, but its loss of prestige is probably irreparable. Capitalism is therefore being asked to underwrite hope and ethics, something that is beyond the capacity of a mere economic system. When the modern era declines from its period of inordinate greatness, then may come an age of "retromedievalism."

In Cantor's telling, retromedievalism sounds an awful lot like a more cheerful form of neoconservatism. For Cantor, the essence of the medieval heritage is two things: civil society protected by the rule of law, and a "sentimental formalism" in private life that leaves room for personal love and feeling. Something else that we may recover is medieval cheerfulness. It was the doctrine of the Incarnation that made the Middle Ages fundamentally optimistic. The good is visible, not just in heaven or in the future, but in the world around us: symbolically, we already live in the City of God. And even when the future looked dark in medieval times, the greater pessimism simply occasioned the greater optimism: Antichrist in the final analysis was just a harbinger of the Second Coming. The memory of the Middle Ages is indelible in the Western mind, Cantor tells us, and what once was can be again.

Well, certainly there was a sunny Middle Ages, the Middle Ages of the Peace of God and the Cluniac reforms. There were moments when, as St. Augustine counseled, Europe did not seem to take history altogether seriously. On the other hand, there was also the Middle Ages of Frederick II and Joachim of Fiore, when the whole West seemed to be carrying the same eschatological tune. Ten years ago it was hard to believe that such a thing could happen again. Those were the days of "the end of history." History looks less dead today, however, and teleology is making a comeback.

Copyright © 2000 by John J. Reilly

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Linkfest 2017-04-07

A really fun map, and as the article reluctantly notes, not especially credulous about the tall tales travelers shared.

I've linked stories on Uber's evil genius before. This seems to be their attempt to make Hari Seldon real. The New York Times article includes spiffy simulations.

An intriguing look at what kept the Romans, so very advanced in some ways, from an industrial revolution.

Father Matthew Schneider defends oil pipelines from a Catholic point of view.

I'm not surprised, but I've also known some truly gifted scam artists.

A fun interactive map that lets you see where people live.

A labor union associated think tank argues that free trade lowered wages in Mexico.

Noah Smith defends Case and Deaton.

James Miller interviews Greg Cochran, part 1. A wide-ranging conversation, covering Less Wrong, microbiology, federal funding, and free speech. Well worth a listen. [I helped fund this.]

Greg Cochran points out the flaws and misunderstandings in Cordelia Fine's new book. [I also helped fund this.]

Hollywood accounting is pretty shady. I wish Shearer the best of luck.

Damon Linker points out that about as many people die from alcohol overdose as heroin overdose in the US, and the overall rate of alcohol problems mirrors the rate of things like depression: about 1 in 3 over a lifetime.

Kevin Drum has a chart of the rates of death by drug overdose from selected periods and causes that dovetails nicely with Linker.

Ireland's population still hasn't recovered from the combination of famine and mass emigration in the mid-nineteenth century.

  • Crime rate in the US

This chart comes from US Census Bureau data, and the paper containing it seems to be this: J. A. Miron, 1999. "Violence and the U.S. prohibitions of drugs and alcohol," American Law and Economics Association, vol 1(1), pages 78-114. I am intensely curious about the very low homicide rate at the beginning of the twentieth century. Particularly since it differs from other charts of the same thing, for example this one from Steven Pinker's Better Angels.

The solution seems to be that a 1995 article in Demography contains a model of homicide data that has been widely used to estimate missing data. Why do we need a model you ask? Because the data from the period didn't include everywhere in the United States. Not being an expert, the model seems reasonable, but don't forget it is a model.

Eckberg, D. L.  1995. “Estimates of Early 20th-Century U.S. Homicide Rates,” Demography.

I've stumbled on the same dataset twice now. The Tuskegee Institute started keeping track of lynchings in 1892. The data only goes back to 1882, which is the year the Chicago Tribune started keeping numbers. The NAACP also started collecting numbers in 1912. You can see in the chart the point when lynching stopped being just a kind of frontier justice, and started being a way to terrorize black Americans. If data existed for the entire 19th century, I think this trend would be even more clear. Data in EXCEL here.

A post on the reddit for Slatestarcodex questioning the qualifications of Emil Kirkegaard, whom I'm linked several times. I think most of the points made by the anonymous poster are reasonable, and also wrong in Kirkegaard's case.

Emil Kirkegaard's response.

Ross Douthat argues that we should just go all the way to true Imperialism. A position that I endorse. S. M. Stirling gives a notable fictional example of how an actual empire, a universal state, can be genuinely multicultural. Also, the Hapsburgs.

The Long View: Ecumenical Twilight

This is one of John's most haunting stories. When I think of Empire this is what I think of.



I The Barrens

Father Beed had often questioned the wisdom of the referendum that made the Filadelfia Republic a confessional state fifty years ago. Lately, though, he had a more specific reason to regret the decision. He wished that not all school children in the district were required to report for confession every month. He no longer minded the ones who just came for the attendance ticket. (They could not actually be compelled to receive the sacrament, of course: that was in the Constitution.) Far worse were the teenagers who got into the confessional and started to tell ghost stories. Especially since now he believed them.

"Just what was the nature of these acts?" he asked the girl on the other side of the screen.

"Father, it is too disgusting to tell you."

"You don't have to embarrass yourself, my child. Were they urging you to perform impure acts?"

"No, nothing like that Father. Well, not if by `impure' you means sex. That's not what it's about."

"So what is it about?"

"Father, I'm sorry, I just can't say. Please don't make me. I promise I did not do it, anyway. Honest."

Father Beed sighed.

"Okay, let's put it this way. Do you know that what they asked you to do was a sin? Was it unreasonably dangerous, for instance?"

"That's just it, Father. By itself, it was not bad at all, except that it was...."

"Disgusting?"

"Yes, Father, but that was not what frightened me. It was part of something else that was wrong. There was something wrong with the people who talked to us."

"These are the people who said they live in the Pine Barrens?"

"Yes, Father."

"Who are they?"

"They call themselves the Living Ones, Father Beed. They said that soon they will free us, free the whole world, from God and the Emperor. They said that we would know everything after we did it. They said we would be able to fly. Father, they said we would live forever."

"But you did not do what they asked?"

"No Father, I ran away. But I met some of my friends the next night, and they said they did it."

"And what else did they say?"

"They said it was true."

Father Beed resisted the temptation to whistle. He was just a local priest in the Parish of St. John Newman, an underpopulated place that was being slowly reclaimed by pine woods. His divinity degree, like the rest of higher education, was based on an aspect (the Anthropic Corollaries, to be precise) of the Grand Unification Theory. In principle, the GUT covered everything, from insect embryology to the Hypostatic Union, but he felt far from competent to handle this situation. He wished that this girl's story were no more than it sounded like. A faddish threat to public health might interest the provincial Health Department. Even what sounded like a sectarian attempt to organize sedition and apostasy among the young would probably not even attract a polite visit from the Ecumenical Security Ministry. The government was too secure to be spooked by a few kids playing in the woods. Unfortunately, he knew that it should be.

"Look, my child, I know I could talk to you for hours on end about the need to choose your friends wisely, but I am sure we both have things to do. So, here is your penance. I want you to ask your friends, the ones who have not yet done this thing you are talking about, to talk to me or another priest about it. Can you do that?"

"I can try, Father Beed. They may not come. They are beyond school age now, and none of them go to university, so they are not required."

"It is enough if you try. Now make a good act of contrition."

So she did. Father Beed gave her absolution, along with a ticket dated "Saturday: 24 September: AD 2270" to give to her school's Prefect of Discipline. Though he hoped otherwise, he suspected that the next time the girl came, she would not tell ghost stories. She would speak as if she were describing someone else. And she would almost certainly avoid coming in the day.

Thankfully, she was the last penitent. He told his chapel, built over a hundred years before in the Romanesque style favored by the Anglican Rite of the Universal Church, to close itself up. As he walked home, the early autumn sunset turned the ancient trees of the town square to gold.

The Township of Jenkins was carefully and tastefully maintained, thanks largely to generous preservation grants. The Pine Barrens region had never been densely populated, even during the American Centuries when it lay in the southern half of the State of New Jersey. However, the Filadelfia Republic was not willing to allow the area to revert entirely to wilderness, especially since so much of it had already been lost to the slowly rising Atlantic. So Jenkins, with a year-round population of 800, nevertheless boasted an under-used commuter rail system and an elaborately redundant communications grid. The town also had an unusually generous supply of remarkably ugly public statuary, commissioned from the family business of an enterprising provincial Secretary of Culture just a generation ago. Father Beed was a history buff, however, and by far his favorite monument was the War Memorial on the square. He usually arranged his walk home to pass by it. Today, since he needed a little time to think, he gave the stones a few minutes of his full attention.

The monument had no statues, just some stone benches and a group of steles. Over time, they had accreted like stalagmites around the rim of the rectangular granite plaza set in the grass. The original stele was just four hundred years old that autumn, a weathered column with an archaic inscription and the illegible names of a dozen dead from the American Civil War. (A discrete panel, reproducing the names and the inscription in modern spelling, had been helpfully set into a granite flagstone by the Preservation Commission.) Though erected in 1870, a plaque to the Revolutionary era had been set up at the same time, as an afterthought.

Except for the The Second World War, which had three slabs all to itself, a similar pattern repeated throughout the ensemble. Minor wars received notice only many years later, when larger wars produced casualty levels that tripped some obscure critical threshold and prompted the erection of a new stele. The Vietnam stone, erected in the 1980s and quite small, reached back thirty years to Korea. The memorial to the Third World War of 2020-2022 similarly appended nearly two generations of smaller conflicts. (That stele was unusual in listing a few local civilian dead and a significant number of female service members.)

The monument to the Armageddon War of 2075-2080 had, of course, long since been removed. Father Beed knew that it had been as large as all the others combined, and that it did not memorialize anything as sentimental as casualties. Certainly any monument built to celebrate the founding conflict of the terrible City of Man would have suffered no mention of lesser wars. The wonder was that all the older stones had not been cleared away during the Eighth Day, as the City called the time of its regime; that was what happened to so many other memorials to local patriotism all over the world. Father Beed was a little skeptical of the trend among historians these last hundred years to identify the City's first and only President as the full incarnation of the Beast of the Book of Revelation. Even so, he felt a familiar chill down his spine as he looked at the grooves that marred the flagstones where the Image had stood.

The dead of the last four-fifths of the 21st century did not get their due until its last year, in the Liberation Monument of 2100 that marked the foundation of the Ecumenical Empire. There were no later war memorials, since there had been no later wars but minor police actions. The region had apparently never felt sufficient connection to the Ecumenical Guard to erect a monument to it, though there was, predictably, one to the Space Corps. Father Beed had sometimes envied the past a little, when the conflict between good and evil could be expressed in something as simple as combat. Now he wondered whether the world might soon know that kind of clarity again.   

II Cold War

The war between Europa and Callisto had lasted almost 4 billion years. Of the Galilean moons, Callisto was the fourth most distant from Jupiter and Europa the second. Their deep, dark Oceans had always nurtured the bulk of the organic matter in the solar system. Evolution on these relatively small bodies was powered by tidal stresses arising from their orbits around their enormous primary. This allowed for a steadier, if slower, growth in biological sophistication than had been possible in the ferocious sun-driven ecologies of the inner solar system. The biospheres of Earth or Mars or Venus were accident-prone, since they needed to mediate the climatic interaction of the land and the sea and the atmosphere. In two of these cases, the effort resulted in irreversible catastrophes of ice and fire early in the solar system's history. On Callisto and Europa, however, there was just the Ocean. Stability required only that life so influence the thermal budget of these worlds as to keep them just warm enough to allow a thin, protecting film of ice to form on the surface.

Survival, however, required that one biosphere destroy the other. Callisto and Europa were different worlds, with different histories, but they were not quite isolated. Their low escape velocities ensured that even modest meteoric impacts would splatter a significant amount of oceanic ice across the Jovian system. On a few occasions, even multicellular life-forms made the journey from one world and established themselves in the other. The constant in the evolution of both bodies, however, was the repeated invasions of microorganisms that each inflicted on the other every few hundred thousand years.

The earliest exchanges were the most catastrophic. New strains of infection more than once brought the native life of Callisto or Europa close to extinction, only to be beaten back when the indigenous biology found a way to circumvent the alien's advantages. Gradually, though, each biosphere became accustomed to the major biochemical themes in the evolution of the other. Each then modified its own evolution to take advantage of its most recent experience of infection, thus preparing a more sophisticated counterstroke for when its own biological material traveled to the other body. The escalating feedback eventually brought a kind of stability: the contenders grew too resilient to be seriously damaged even by the most sophisticated biochemical innovation. The effect of each new exchange was felt, of course, but the damage it did was usually subtle. A reasonable observer might have concluded that this struggle was actually a kind of symbiosis, a relationship destined to last as long as the Jovian system.

A reasonable observer would have been wrong. Europa finally destroyed Callisto. There was nothing altogether novel about the last infection: it expanded only incrementally on the major strategy of the last 500 million years of the conflict. This was the "translation" of the host-organism's genetic code to that of the invader, rather than any immediate gross changes in the information being translated. The effect was rarely to kill the host. In fact, it usually imparted a peculiar new vitality. It did, however, thoroughly disrupt the way that infected organisms reacted to each other, since its point of reference was the maintenance of the metabolic integrity of the individual, rather than the ecology in which it lived. In effect, it turned its hosts into counterfeits.

Though both Callisto and Europa had been evolving these mechanisms, Europa was the first to break some invisible barrier in the speed of infection. Soon after the last eruption of Europan matter arrived, Callisto was overwhelmed before it could develop countermeasures. In a matter of a few centuries, the Callistan biosphere collapsed and 60% of its Ocean froze. The residual biota was a Europan biochemical colony, "dressed" in caricatures of the extinct native life.

An so it seemed that Europa would be left in peace. In effect, its history was over. Its biosphere luxuriated in the dark, salty bliss of perfect isolation. Paradise lasted only a dozen million years, however. Then, once again, alien life intruded below the sheltering ice. This time, though, the invaders were multicellular entities whose evolution had been grossly anatomical. The biochemistry of these entities was so crude that a dozen Jovian years passed before the sophisticated life of Europa found a way to counterattack.

III The Kabbalah Klub

The things I do for civilization, Andros thought glumly to himself as he negotiated with the Living gatekeeper at some negligibly small hour of the morning. He did not at all mind being in Prague, though these days it was little more than a historical theme park. The fact is, there were no more than a dozen cities left on Earth worth visiting. He found this something of a mystery. The population of the planet had been gradually falling since the late 21st century, but there were still just over a billion people in it. That was as many as in the 19th century, when by most accounts the world was a various and fascinating place. Not so today, at least to his way of thinking..

When the monster megalopolises of the 20th and 21st centuries evaporated, all they left was great tracts of shabby ruins, quickly buried under scrub and forest. A school geography text from 1900 would give a tourist of the late 23rd century a better idea of where to visit than would a world guidebook from 2000 or 2100, except that all the destinations would be blander and more homogenous. Prague was little more than a small town now, but it still belonged on the short list of uncanny cities that included Buenos Aires and Victoria. Andros might actually have asked for this assignment, had it not been given him because of his special expertise. He might have asked, even had he known it might involve ingesting an unknown substance in a place like the Kabbalah Klub.

There was no set career path that led to his position as Field Agent for Occult Practices in the Ecumenical Health Ministry. He had become interested in the Black Arts, as he liked to call them, when he began to dabble in alchemy at college. It was a respectable hobby. One of the quirks of the GUT was that, while it declared almost all propositions about the world to be either certainly true or certainly false, it also created a class of propositions whose truth value was logically undecidable. The question of low-energy transmutation of elements, properly stated, happened to fall into that class. In his reading on the subject, one thing led to another, and soon he was a minor expert on topics like comparative demonology. The topic of incubi came up, how he was not sure how, when he interviewed for a job with the Ecumenical Civil Service after graduation, and one thing led to another again.

Since the world government assumed its final form in the early 22nd century, there had always been a few operatives like Andros. Both the Chinese and the Western components of world civilization had persistent "magickal" undergrounds, indeed undergrounds that persisted in staying underground even when their activities were entirely legal. Or, as under Ecumenical law, mostly legal. One point these traditions had in common was the use of consciousness-altering substances that could be lethal under certain circumstances.

With some hesitation, the Empire had decided early in its history to regulate rather than criminalize the recreational use of drugs, though of course the Subsidiary States could criminalize the possession of drugs within their own borders if they so chose. (Tolerance was made easier by the development of synaptic blockers, which made any addiction curable with a single injection.) Still, a necessary function for the central government of a planet that was only an hour across by commercial suborbital transport was to ensure that its subjects were not wantonly poisoning themselves. Therefore, new substances had to be tested and registered. If they were not, people like Andros were sent to find out the reason why. One of the paradoxes of his job, he often reflected, was that the Magick Underground, whose members prided themselves on fidelity to Traditions of various degrees of bogusness, nevertheless showed such ingenuity in finding new ways to make themselves sick.

Places like the Kabbalah Klub seemed to be the inevitable underside of what made cities like this interesting. Typically of such places, it was literally underground, two full stories in this case, with atrocious lighting and an atmosphere that reminded you of just how old the sewers in this neighborhood were. The place was packed, subdued but not silent, as if the pale and furtive patrons had been discretely planning to seize and eat the next customer to walk in. The decor of the Klub was 20th-Century Dank. The first half of that century was the most celebrated period in occult circles, where it was regarded by most as the high noon of Magickal power and knowledge. (The only important competition was offered by the cult of the First President and his era.) The rough brick walls were covered with huge posters of the maguses of the period, of Jung and Yeats and Gardiner and the rest. There were retouched photos of Hitler addressing torch-lit rallies that stretched to the horizon under a dome of brilliant stars. (The constellations were not identifiable, Andros noted).

The lack of pictures of Aleister Crowley actually emphasized his centrality, since in their stead were blown-up panels displaying texts from "The Book of the Law." The texts were in the original Traditional Orthography, the standard English spelling from 1750 to 2050. One of the few certain effects of the Underground on the larger world had been to brand this quaint but unlearnable system in the public mind as the the devil's own writing. The only contemporary pictures that Andros noted were a few of Prince Friedrich, the Emperor's only grandson, who would, probably, be elected by the Senate to replace his grandfather when old Josef died. Andros was obscurely disturbed by the following the Prince had among people like the denizens of the Kabbalah Klub, but that was not a problem for the Health Ministry. The problem he did have was intractable enough.

"No, Mr. Andros," the Living One said, "it will not be possible for you to take some of the Water with you before you have been initiated." Andros thought she had probably been very pretty when she was alive. Dark hair, black clothes, not nearly as desiccated as your average 25-year-old with these interests. He had been three months tracking down the new sect of the Living, rumors of which had spread like wildfire through occult circles. It was consciously modeled on the Gnostic initiation cults of the first few centuries AD. People were free to worship Mithras in the privacy of their own cellars, of course. His attention was drawn only when he began to run across references to an initiatory Elixir, or whatever it was, that had immediate magical effects. It was some clue to the nature of the group that, in all the time he had been trying to gain the trust of its members, no one had ever suggested that money change hands. He was dealing with a group of enthusiasts, not crooks. This was not necessarily encouraging.

"But I have told you, Miss Segur, that I am a student of comparative religions, not a seeker after enlightenment for myself. The Ocean of the Living has accepted my request to study the Elixir under those terms." (This acceptance did not altogether surprise Andros: comparative religion was looked on with much greater suspicion than alchemy in this age of the Second Religiousness, so it recommended him to the people in places like the Kabbalah Klub. All he had needed to conceal was his status as an Ecumenical agent.) "I fear that my objectivity will be ruined if I undergo a full initiation. Besides, if I simply went through the motions to obtain the Water, would that not be disrespectful of the Ocean? Surely it would be better if I attended simply as an observer, at least for now?"

"The Ocean agreed that you might take part in a ceremony, not attend a party. The Water must be received person-to-person, through an anointing. Otherwise it does no good. You have come so far. Surely you do not wish to break the protocol now?"

That, of course, was exactly what Andros wanted to do. He would be much happier if he could just walk out of here with a vial of the Water he had been tracking all around the world. Then he could have it safely analyzed. As things stood, though, it looked as if he would actually have to swallow-inject-inhale the damn stuff and then have his blood analyzed. He knew that prophylactic measures, and the fact the state of his metabolism was being continually transmitted to the nearest emergency unit, made it very unlikely he would come to any harm. Besides, the substance was probably harmless. Probably.

Andros managed not to sigh. Experience taught him that there really was no way to avoid this. The occult was 99% games and wishful thinking. If you wanted to penetrate the Underground that played by the rules of the Other World, then you had to play, too.

"Miss Segur," he said with what he hoped sounded like good grace, "you are perfectly correct. I ask only to join the Ocean of the Living on its own terms."

At that she smiled (a little perfunctorily, he thought, considering the amount of dissimulation he had just put into that submission) and rose from the little table where they had been sitting. "In that case, Mr. Andros, please follow me. The Ocean will receive you gladly."

Andros had not known whether the cult's ritual center was on-site, but he was not surprised when the young woman led him to a door lost in the shadows at the back of the Klub. Andros briefly wondered how many other sects of ultimate wisdom rented rooms in the adjoining subcellars: places like the Kabbalah Klub sometimes were as lucrative as exclusive shopping malls. Soon after he walked through the door, however, he stopped wondering about microeconomics, because the investigation began to take one strange turn after another.

He did not, as he expected, progress from a world of dank kitsch to quarters outfitted to fit some very peculiar vision of paradise. As these things went, the antechamber was something of a disappointment. There were no Hindu idols or Aztec busts. What there was looked like the scrub-room for an operating theater. Actually, it might have been a historical recreation of a theater for minor surgery itself, considering the display of scalpels and other instruments.

"We will pause here for two reasons, Mr. Andros. The first is that I have still to share the Water of the Living today. The other is so that you can see this miracle, and so understand something of the bliss of the Living. Thus, you will be better prepared to encounter the Ocean."

She directed him to go behind a screen and shower in an adjoining cubicle. Then he put on the white robe of a postulant (a common piece of secret-society costuming) and slippers that had been provided for him. When he emerged from behind the screen, he found that she was standing with her naked back to him in front of one of the instrument tables. She was not desiccated at all, he saw. Her body also revealed a bit of useful history, a tattoo of the Space Corps Medical Service on her left shoulder. The phrase, "the things I do for civilization," returned to him, in another key.

All idle thoughts collapsed in shock when he moved around to the other side of the table. She had done something to herself that he had heard of only as an admonitory instruction given to Guard recruits who might be desperate enough to attempt suicide to escape boot camp. She was committing suicide the right way. Using one of the scalpels, she had slit the major artery in her left arm from elbow to wrist, thus causing so much bleeding that death must soon follow. She was holding her arm carefully, so that most of the blood collected in a liter-sized basin. The basin was almost full.

Andros was about to leap over the table to improvise a tourniquet when she checked him with a glance. "I told you, Mr. Andros, the Elixir must be shared once a day. The Living give as well as take. Watch."

Too surprised by the steady tone of her voice to move, he stayed where he was. In a few seconds, she flexed her left arm closed and turned away from the basin. At the same time, she used a towel in her right hand to clean up the numerous spots that had fallen on her body and on the floor. Then she extended her left arm again and cleaned the blood off that. The lethal incision was gone. All that was left was a furrow, with no scar tissue, that filled itself in even as Andros watched.

"The Living of the Ocean are immortal, Mr. Andros," she said. "Please wait a moment while I dress."

When she emerged from behind her own screen, he was yet again surprised, this time by the fact she was dressed in the neat black silk suit in which she had entered. She picked up the basin, which held so much of her blood that she ought to have been at least unconscious and probably in shock. "This is for you," she said.

A appalling surmise arouse in Andros's mind. "This is the Water, isn't it!" he gasped. "You expect me to drink this!"

For the first time in their acquaintance, Miss Segur went through the motions of looking amused. "This is indeed the Water, Mr. Andros, but I do not expect you to drink it. What I ask you to do is carry it for me: getting spilled blood out of silk is the very devil."

Andros did as he was asked, cringing a little as he felt how warm the aluminum sides of the basin were. She led him across the scrub-room (which, at second thought, was probably just a re-outfitted kitchen) and out through a door on the opposite side. This led to a dark though utilitarian corridor. Many secret societies would have made a great fuss about preparing an initiatory passage like this, but the Ocean seemed to have other priorities. Andros noticed the hall had a stainless-steel floor, marred by only a few drops of freshly spilled blood. (Andros contributed a few of his own to these: Miss Segur had a perfectly pragmatic reason not to carry her own donation.) It was only when they reached the large room at the other end of the corridor that he again encountered some of the other-worldly atmosphere he had expected here.

The room was as dimly lit as the Kabbalah Klub, though not so crowded, and perfectly silent. Most of the people were wearing street clothes. Some wore robes like his, but colored red. The walls were covered with images of bulls and what seemed to be the sun, though the disk was dark. The chief feature of the room was the great rectangle of black in the center. Someone took the basin from Andros's hands and emptied its contents into it. That was when Andros realized that the rectangle was full of some dark liquid, maybe 30 centimeters deep. Then a dozen of the silent people took hold of Andros and stripped him of his robe and slippers. They did not react to his desperate inquiries. They heaved him into the rectangle.

In those shallow inches, the whole Ocean was fully present. Andros flew through a world which a sense as crude as sight could never represent. Andros knew that this world was vast, vaster by orders of magnitude than the film of near vacuum that had produced his own blinkered kind. On every hand was glory beyond any music, and billions of years of wisdom for which knowledge and action were one. In contrast, mere thought was an impotent play of ghosts in his tiny skull. Andros knew that his movement through the Ocean was not purposeless, and that the purpose was not his. In rapid steps, he ceased to fight the Ocean, and experienced bliss in its embrace. Then he ceased to experience bliss and became the bliss. Then Andros the living man ceased to be anything at all. 

IV Strategies

The Anthropic Corollaries of the GUT predicted that the basic chemistry of life must be identical wherever it appeared in the universe, just as they stipulated that consciousness cannot interact with the universe without an essentially human nervous system and a personal history. However, though the range of emergent properties that might arise in any given biosphere was quite limited, the histories of how these properties were selected could nevertheless make certain aspects of life from different worlds fundamentally alien. Thus, for instance, the Ocean simply could not interact with airborne microorganisms. There was no significant atmosphere on Europa, only the Ocean itself, and every biological system was predicated on the condition that mineral nutrients and a stable temperature environment would always be available. Life that did not assume these things was so different from that of the Ocean as to be invisible. There were other aspects of terrestrial biology, such as the development of organisms with rigid bodies and nervous systems, that were not wholly absent from the Ocean, but which on Earth had developed to such a rococo degree that the transformations the Ocean effected were often suboptimal. The rule was that major, unfamiliar systems would not be closed down, but they were usually isolated from the new imperatives that the reformed organism acquired as the result of its transformation.

Fortunately, however, the central organizing feature of the higher multicellular terrestrial organisms was perfectly familiar to the Ocean. Biological evolution, like technological progress, was fundamentally conservative. The whole point of the crude mechanical complexity of a vertebrate body was to keep sea water flowing in its veins as it moved about in an otherwise lethal environment. Indeed, the salinity of human blood was roughly that of the seas in which life had evolved, just as the high body temperatures favored by all animals that could control their own metabolisms were fossils of an ancient climate. The Ocean had no difficulty annexing the primitive seas that flowed through the bodies of organisms from Earth. Once that was achieved, the flesh quickly became that of the new dispensation.

V The New Man

They exchanged some small talk when he returned to the scrub-kitchen, not because there was anything in particular to communicate, but because that was what these bodies did. The Kabbalah Klub was much as before, though the dark was less of a distraction now that other senses were available. Illumination, in fact, was on the whole to be avoided. The Ocean was dark, and the life that grew from it had no experience of the light of the sun. That, however, would not be a problem for another few hours. The word-processing features of the brain of the agent from the Ecumenical Health Ministry was already composing a report as it returned to the surface. The personality it emulated was as well adapted to its environment as an insect-lure on a carnivorous plant.   

VI Sydney

Brother Diplodicus charged down the breezeway like the Wrath of God on which he had intended to lecture that morning. Although the University of Sydney was a confessional university, like most institutions of higher learning of the late 23rd century, nevertheless many of its students evinced a deplorable lack of interest in those elements of the GUT that treated of the divine sciences. That was why the Missionary Monks of St. Liebowitz, as part of the agreement under which they became the Chapter of the city’s great cathedral after the end of its first incarnation as an opera house, took it upon themselves to teach the theology requirement at the University’s more recalcitrant technical schools. Among these was invariably numbered the School of Mechanical Engineering. There it was that Brother Diplodicus, as a special act of penance, volunteered to teach systematic theology.

He knew that boys would be boys (women had their own college within the University) and that they were not at the point in their lives when the relevance of his subject would necessarily be apparent. The course was not graded, and the requirements for a pass were not onerous. He did not expect 100% attendance at his lectures. Actually, since the lectures were scheduled for 8:00 am, he did not always expect 50% attendance. What he did expect was that at least some would show up, preferably sober. The behavior of the students had declined throughout the month, but the sight of an empty lecture hall this morning was the last straw.

Pounding down a final ramp onto the quad on the north face of the School’s small dormitory building, he began by exhorting the blank glass face of the wall. That brought no response. He could not see so much as a shade flicked back to allow the groggy miscreants within to see the show. In fact, there was no movement about the building of any description. My God, he thought, they must all be seriously hung over from something or other. Enough of this, then. He ripped open the main door and repeated the same imprecations at even higher volume, this time to the small atrium around which the students’ cells were arranged. Still nothing. Brother Diplodicus was actually close to tears. He loved his subject and he was normally very good at teaching it. Hostility and laziness he could deal with, but being boycotted was new. It hurt. The least they could do was stagger out of their doors and tell him to shut up and go away.

Then Brother Diplodicus, who for all his bluster was not a cruel man, did a terrible thing. He pulled the fire alarm.

So as to ensure that the evacuees had to at least step into the open air before they realized what was going on, he left the atrium and retreated to the far side of the quad. He intended his silhouette against the morning sun as a dramatic touch.

It was not long before the students began to emerge from the doors. At first, they looked like any group of scruffy undergraduates rousted out of bed at an odd hour. Then Brother Diplodicus began to get an inkling that something was terribly wrong. They were not just scruffy, they were filthy. And they were not wearing underwear or pajamas, but everyday clothes that were caked with some filthy substances. The truly frightening thing was their skin, where it was visible. It was not just white, it was fish-belly white. Brother Diplodicus make the sign of the cross when he realized this was just as true of the African students as of the rest.

The students had fled the building because their reflexes were still in good condition. Indeed, their automatic responses were almost all that their nervous systems could produce reliably these days. The problem was that their higher levels of cognition were too erratically integrated with their motor areas to make them stop before they were halfway across the quad. By that time, the dormitory’s housekeeping system had sealed the building until the fire department arrived. This meant that, even when they were able to turn around, they could not get back into the shade of the atrium. The ones on top of the pile caught fire in the strong morning sunlight. Several of the ones underneath survived to be carefully taken away by people in biological-hazard encounter suits.

They took Brother Diplodicus, too, just to be on the safe side.

VII The End of History and the Last Bureaucrats

Several things that people first began to notice about Manhattan in the first half of the 20th century continued to be true in the last half of the 23rd.

One such thing was that, when a city-scape acquires a certain degree of monumental building, architecture becomes invisible. From sidewalk level, a skyscraper is just a storefront. If a whole neighborhood consists of skyscrapers, then, at least for the purposes of the city’s pedestrians, the neighborhood consists of one-story shops. However, skyscrapers had never been built primarily for the purposes of local pedestrians. This became more and more true of New York City’s central island as Manhattan changed from an American city to a global metropolis during the 21st century.

Under the Empire, New York became one of the five world capitals: “Xijing” or “West Capital.” (The name was often abbreviated in English-language texts with the Chinese characters, though they were almost universally pronounced “New York.”) The dynamic of building in the city, therefore, came to be almost wholly governed by the needs of world bureaucracies that had long ago learned the sad truth of the adage, “You can’t fax a handshake.” The process tended to plow under even some of Manhattan’s quite ancient residential districts. It was made tolerable only by the fact that New York City as a whole shrank back to its late 19th-century population of about a million, and indeed back to its late 19th-century municipal boundaries. The “outer boroughs” that had been annexed in those years were largely abandoned, becoming swampy nature preserves. (Part of the reason for the abandonment was that even the Ecumenical government was willing to spend the money for protective sea-walls against rising ocean levels only for Manhattan itself.) In the late 23rd century, Manhattanites looking out over the fen and forest that again surrounded their island still found the view a refreshing window on unspoiled nature, and not as the portent of a fate that could someday overtake their enclave, too.

Something else that had long been true of Manhattan was that any organization with the perfect headquarters was almost certainly moribund. This principle was first recognized by the great sage, Northcote Parkinson. It was most perfectly demonstrated in the 20th century by institutions like the UN, entombed at birth in International Style sarcophagouses. However, the principle also holds for all classes of organizations. Innovative technology tends to be commercialized first in dim, overcrowded workshops that take building safety codes in a metaphorical sense. The offices of publishers that bring out exciting new authors are cramped nests of disassembled manuscripts and the remains of the last month’s worth of on-the-job lunches. Effective public bureaucracies are perpetually housed in temporary quarters that are designed for something else and that are never, ever, conveniently located.

The Manhattan headquarters of the Ecumenical Security Ministry was perfect to a degree that would be described by the term “cerulean” had it been a blue sky. The structure was in fact almost that color. Located right above the most elaborate mass transportation hub on Earth, the 90-story ESM building was outfitted with the acme of the human race’s achievements in communications technology and data archiving. The building itself was forged as a single unit from composite materials in the Gothic Synthesis style that had characterized public architecture since the 22nd century. It was nearly indestructible. A fair-sized nuclear weapon might have knocked it over, but would not have destroyed it. Neither would such a disaster have destroyed the ESM as an institution. Only about half of the Ministry’s nominal headquarters employees usually put in an appearance on an average working day. Many of the rest would not have noticed an explosion in any case.

This degree of insouciance was not an option for the small circle of senior bureaucrats on the 85th floor, who were listening to the Vice Minister Strecchia read the report in her huge and impeccably functional office:

“....Agent ANDROS continued speaking about golf to Agent DELAGATO, even after swallowing approximately 50g of Agent DELGATO’s upper arm. At no point did Agent ANDROS express any hostility toward the victim, or acknowledge the fact that he just committed an act of cannibalism in the cafeteria of EHM [Ecumenical Health Ministry] London. When interrogated later (under restraints), Agent ANDROS was genuinely confused by the reaction to his behavior. At first, he apologized for violating what he supposed was a “no-meat” rule in a vegetarian-only dining hall. Possible physiological explanations for this distressing incident are contained in Appendix...”

She broke off there, taking pity at the sight of the half-dozen department heads, who were visibly regretting having eaten some of the tasty little sandwiches she invariably had made when a meeting ran into lunch hour. Not that such a thing happened very often. Whenever any organization was necessary, but rarely experienced a situation outside established routine, all its operations naturally fell into the hands of imperturbable mid-level bureaucrats. These middle-aged women and rather elderly men were usually genuine experts in their fields, but they owed their advancement to never getting excited. Problems, they knew from long experience, could be counted on to die of old age in their in-boxes.

Almost all of the 27 major Ministries and 6 independent Services of the Ecumenical Empire had come to function on this basis, and usually well enough. In a way, it was a great victory for the principles of the Empire, which had been created not by conquest, but by exhaustion. The events of the 20th and 21st centuries had caused the peoples of Earth to sicken of public affairs on every level. Mankind was well pleased to let such things be managed by unobtrusive care-taker institutions. The only flaw in this arrangement was that, on those rare occasions when unprecedented situations did arise, they fell under the purview of administrators with no demonstrated aptitude for initiative. In this case, one of the greatest threats ever experienced by the human race was in the hands of a Ministry whose primary practical function for the previous century had been tracking down stolen cars.

“And it wasn’t till we got the criminal referral from EHM that we knew any of this was happening?” asked Bob from the Subversion Department.

“Well, we had the reports,” the Vice Minister said, a little defensively. “We just had not gotten around to linking them altogether.”

The hardcopy stack of incidents from the past month did in fact make a diverse pile. There were two other acts of cannibalism, a growing number of disappearances every nightfall, reports from local clergy about the increasing correlation of impiety and photosensitivity among the young. The participants in the meeting would have been inclined to dismiss the odd incidents of the period as statistical coincidences, had it not been for the spontaneous combustions. They had tried to hand those back to EHM, but without success.

“The really decisive report was written by Andros himself,” Deputy Vice Minister Felix chimed in. “We thought we should take a look at what he had been up to in the weeks before the incident in London.”

“And what was that?” asked Carl from Terrorism.

“His job, more or less. We now know from investigating the site of his last undercover assignment pretty much what happened to him. A lot of the details are even in the report he filed. At first, in fact, we thought the only screwy thing was the ‘no action’ recommendation. Now we know better.”

“I find the conclusion hard to swallow, even now” said Bob, who had stayed late for the first time in 30 years last night to check the analysis himself.

“It is true. Agent Andros is no longer a human being, psychologically or biologically. For that matter, we don’t even think he is conscious. You can tell from his use of language after that night at the Kabbalah Klub. His grammar and syntax did not change, and the vocabulary is his. The difference is.....”

“Well?” asked Bob.

“There’s nobody home,” the Vice Minister explained. “He flunks the Turing Test. His report on the Kabbalah Klub might almost have been written by an Angel,” she said, referring to the “infinite depth” class of artificial intelligence machines with which the science of cybernetics concluded in the middle 21st-century. “He can say ‘I,’ of course, but there is no ideation behind it. What is left of his mind is just a language machine. Certainly it has little role in controlling his primal instincts: that’s why he nonchalantly took a bite out of a fellow agent.”

“Forgive me for interrupting,” Carl interrupted. “Psychology is very interesting, but surely the reality of the situation is a xenobiological crisis? Every long molecule in that man’s body was re-jiggered, as well as in the bodies of people taken in the other incidents. We think we know what did it: it’s a ‘factor,’ an extremely simple kind of organism of the sort found in the Callistan and Europan oceans. If the factor continues to spread, that is the end of civilization. Probably also the end of the terrestrial biosphere, for that matter.”

“Is it quite certain that this ‘factor’ is not artificial?” Bob interrupted back.

“No, that is not certain, but then it is not certain how this stuff works, either. But what would an artificial origin suggest? A terrorist underground? Doomsday fanatics? Keeping track of fringe politics is supposed to be your department, Bob. How long since there was a threat from people like that?”

Bob shrugged rather than reply. The answer was that, though many groups sought to evade or manipulate the imperial government for their own ends, the fact was that the Ecumenical Empire had had no organized enemies within living memory. Civilization without it had become literally unthinkable. Bob’s department actually spent most of its time investigating illegal lotteries and chain letters.

“Could someone tell me again just why the Security Ministry is handling this at all?” asked Mary-Jo from the Office of Administration & Budget. “If this is a biological threat, then why is Health not handling it? If it is a case of xenological contamination, then why not Space? If there is a danger of public panic, then why not the Guard? What does this ’factor’ have to do with Security?” She had had the budget for the next year nearly ready to submit. She was almost as horrified at the prospect of having to include a huge contingency request for this situation as she had been by the cannibalism.

“It has to do with Security,” the Vice Minister explained, “because groups of people, or former people, are acting to spread the factor. Apparently, they are doing it worldwide.”

“If the factor can be spread only by a blood bath, like that business at Prague, then we do not have to worry about it spreading all that fast,” Bob suggested hopefully.

“It does not take a blood bath,” Carl said. “We think the explanation is that the cult of the Living at Prague were already interested in blood baths. They became infected later. The original group had been reviving the cult of Mithras, according to Andros’s notes. That would involve a ritual bath of just that type, though with bull’s blood rather than human. The factor is absolutely opportunistic, it seems. It does not give its victims new ideas or fundamentally new behaviors. It just uses whatever behaviors they already have to propagate itself.”

“So what is the common factor?” the Deputy Vice Minister asked.

“Blood, apparently. Intravenous and oral contact are most efficient, though it can also be transmitted through the skin, if there is enough exposure. Those are actually fairly restricted means of transmission. It cannot be spread by casual contact. And, of course, the infected are restricted in their movements during the day, which makes them easier to spot. Without these limitations, I don’t know how we could have hoped to stop this thing.”

“I don’t quite see how we can hope to control it now,” Mary-Jo said. “It’s not like we’re running a real police force here. We have lots of jurisdiction and not a lot of effective personnel. We are not funded for anything beyond ordinary holding facilities, much less quarantine centers, if that is what any of you are thinking about.” Turning to the Vice Minister, she asked, “Have you informed the Minister?”

Under normal circumstances, such a query would have been meant ironically. Today, it was uncomfortably pointed. Senator Reddy was not a lazy or corrupt man, but the portfolio he held for the Security Ministry was simply a sinecure for him. (He was also the Ecumenical Fisheries Minister, even though the country he represented, the Kingdom of Rajasthan, was entirely landlocked.) The Vice Minister took the question seriously.

“A full synopsis of our research has been sent to the Minister’s office in the Southern Capital [the Chinese characters for which were usually pronounced “Johannesberg”], where he is preparing for next year’s session of the Senate. I am informed that the Minister is seeking an interview with the Speaker on the matter. We are instructed to proceed at our own discretion until we receive further guidance.”

“Well, at least we are covered,” Mary-Jo suggested brightly. Under normal circumstances, such a remark would have been meant sarcastically. That was also how it was meant now.

“Wendy,” the Deputy Vice Minister asked his boss, “have you considered approaching the Imperial Chancellery?”

She grimaced. Under the Constitution, the office of the Emperor was almost omnipotent, on the condition that it do nothing. During normal times, which had prevailed almost without interruption for the past 170 years, the effective head of state was the Speaker of the Senate. Nevertheless, past Emperors had seen to it that their chancellery kept executive control of certain resources that could be vital in the current crisis. The Space Corps had oversight of all human presence beyond geosynchronous orbit of Earth. The total population in question was no more than 200,000, most of them in isolated sectarian colonies on Mars and Earth’s Moon, but the jurisdiction did include the scientific bases on Europa and Callisto. The Ecumenical Guard was a paramilitary of modest size, but it was based on Earth and it did have some police powers. One problem with attempting to coordinate a plan with these Services directly was that it would smack of attempting to circumvent, not just the Minister, but the Senate itself. Another problem was that old Emperor Josef (he started being called “Old Emperor Josef” a quarter century ago) hated the Ministries in New York and every bureaucrat in them. He was quite capable of rejecting a request as soon as he saw the letterhead, assuming it ever got to his desk.

“I have considered contacting the Chancellery, and I have considered it again,” she answered. “Do you have an idea for a safe way to do it?”

“The trick, I think, would be to bring the matter to the Emperor’s attention in such a way that he thinks about us last.”

VIII Europa

Some technical problems had never been solved by terrestrial engineering, even though the GUT suggested that a solution was possible. One of these was the ideal of the instantaneous transmission of information. In the 21st century, theoreticians had suggested that the apparent ban imposed by Special Relativity on this effect was actually an artifact of misdefinition. That, however, was among the last major theoretical insights of Western science before it turned its attention to the long-delayed labor of synthesis, and the existing stock of theory was insufficient to support a technical breakthrough. That was why it still took an hour, an average, to send a transmission to the neighborhood of Jupiter, and the same amount of time for the answer to return. So, with one thing and another, it required the better part of a morning for the Space Corps Command Center at Diego Garcia to determine that none of the 500 human beings at the two bases on Europa was accessible to the communications network. When they reviewed the records of recent transmissions, they discovered that they had in fact been talking to only machines for the last two weeks.

The bases themselves were in exemplary condition. Very little of them was on the surface. The availability of all that ice had allowed the early explorers to solve the micrometeorite problem by sinking the component modules into a few meters of melted water and letting it refreeze. Their most important exits were not to the surface, but to the Ocean below. There, in the warm water provided by nearby volcanic vents, were locks for small submarines and for scuba divers. The diving had originally been for the purely scientific exploration of the nearby sea floor, in the shallow parts of the Ocean where the bases were located. At first this activity had been conducted under tight restrictions, with careful attention to the possibility of xenobiological contamination. When the humans realized just how benign the Ocean was, however, all but ordinary safety restrictions were relaxed, and diving became the chief pastime of the personnel. Thus the humans and the Ocean got to know each other.

Most of the personnel continued in their human roles long after their conversion. That was how several of them happened to return to the inner solar system as part of an ordinary duty rotation. For those who remained on Europa, however, the pretense of humanity became harder and harder to maintain. The lure of the Ocean was too strong. At no point was there any conscious intent of dissimulation before the declining number of remaining humans: the Living were not conscious of anything. At some point in their internal evolution, the Living simply broke character. After the last few humans were disposed of in incidents rather like that in the EHM cafeteria, the base was deserted.

There was no need of scuba gear, since there was no longer any need to maintain the grotesque fiction of mammalian life. They breathed the water as long as the bodies felt the need to continue the drill, and then they forgot about it. A few minutes after entering the Ocean, the nervous systems of all 497 personnel (the uneaten remains of the other three were neatly packed in kitchen freezers) had permanently shut down. The bodies did not decay, but began to blossom into their true forms. The rigid structures of the organisms exploded into clouds of single cells, with only the teeth and skeletons falling into the abyss. In each of these cells, all the resources of terrestrial history were available for assimilation into the wisdom of the Ocean. As in the long conflict with Callisto, Europan life began to take a new turn in order to meet the new enemy.

IX Chungjing

Of all the world capitals, only Center Capital was truly beautiful. The Chinese characters spelled "Chungjing," and they were always pronounced that way, because the city was new and not merely renamed. The city fit gracefully into a former forest preserve on the Big Island in the Hawaiian chain. (The early Empire had been a bit cavalier about such things, since most of the world's organized naturalists had been executed during the Eighth Day.) With a population of only about 40,000, it was really a sort of campus that reminded most visitors of Oxford.

A better analogy was Vatican City. Center Capital was essentially a ceremonial center. Despite its popularity as a tourist destination, the city managed not to be overwhelmed. Its chief purpose was to support the unhurried routine of the Imperial Chancellery and the Court. Most Emperors had the sense to realize that their absence from the public view enhanced their prestige on the few occasions when they intervened in government, so they were usually in quiet residence. Security after the 22nd century was relaxed enough that lucky visitors sometimes got to shake the Emperor's hand. Those who attempted to discuss public policy with him, however, were led politely away by hovering aides.

There were no tourists in the palace complex the morning after the Senator from the Comensality of New South Wales spoke with Josef. The staff, except for the guards, were told to take the day off. The old man stood behind the rattan blinds of a balcony window with a little group of advisors, overlooking the brightly sunlit court that fronted Prince Friedrich's quarters. He had often feared that his line would end with him: his grandson's behavior had always been such that Josef had prepared a codicil to his will, commending one of his nephews to the Senate instead of his direct heir. The prince was a brilliant boy, and then a charming young man, but Josef's blood ran cold at the thought of a diabolist on the throne of all mankind, even if the throne was largely a prop. The document had been in his desk for ten years, but he could never bring himself to have it witnessed. Then, just last night, the Senator had shown him the terrible reports from Sydney and Filadelfia and other places around the world. Worst of all, he had seen the foggy shots, carelessly undated by the ESM, of Friedrich entering the Kabbalah Klub. The Emperor now dreaded that having the codicil witnessed might never be necessary.

Friedrich's fine operatic voice was audible, shouting unoperatic things, long before he appeared on the court between two very large Treasury Ministry guards. (The explanation for why the Treasury Ministry was responsible for imperial security was lost in the mists of legislative history.) As usual, he had been up late, doing God-knows-what, and the guards frog-marched him into the sunlight wearing just a bathrobe. Rather as happened to Agent Andros, Prince Friedrich found himself suddenly stripped of his robe, though in his case he was still wearing boxer shorts. The guards stood back. Nothing happened. Friedrich recovered himself a little and started to yell at them some more.

"He is not catching fire, Your Majesty," the Chamberlain observed evenly.

"That is all to the good, I suppose," the Emperor said, turning away from the window. "Still, we do have a real crisis on our hands, the worst of my time. Arrange a conference hookup within the hour with the Commandant of the Space Corps and the Chief of Staff of the Ecumenical Guard."

"Will there be anything else, Your Majesty?"

"Yes. Please find out who the Vice Minister for Security in New York is. We don't have time to deal with that idiot fishmonger in the Senate." 

X The New Memorial

A year later, Father Beed was again reading the new stele at the memorial in the town square:

"In memory of friends and family, who made the sacrifice to leave our beloved Earth in order to protect us all from a terrible plague, we the people of Jenkins Township dedicate..."

There followed a brief list of the names of the exiles to Europa. Since he never knew the name of the girl who had come to him last September 24, he was not sure whether she was on the list. He thought not.

Most of the local people believed that the emigration had been voluntary, and for all he knew they were right. None of the infected had tried to run when the roundup started. As far as he knew, none of them had actually objected when they were told what was going to happen to them. As for the uninfected, all they knew for sure was that some of their younger neighbors had developed a fatal sensitivity to sunlight. They had welcomed the Guard unit and the agents from the Ecumenical Security Ministry.

Fr. Beed had not. They had bluntly asked him for a list of those whom he believed to be infected. He refused, pointing out that such an assessment touched on the seal of the confessional. They argued that the seal did not apply to non-human penitents. He replied that putting someone on a list of possible non-humans would still infringe on the confidentiality of humans, because he would sometimes be wrong. They growled some threats at him, but finally satisfied themselves with his record of the attendance tickets he had given out. In the Filadelfia Republic, after all, they were public records.

On the surface, life was no different this year from last. The weather was a little warmer and a little wetter, but that trend had begun even before the Empire. The world was still effortlessly prosperous and unshakably peaceful. The people's respect for their public officials had actually been strengthened (particularly for Prince Friedrich, who had played such a conspicuous role in the emigration program). Still, the whole world was now tinged with that sense of the uncanny that Agent Andros had so savored. Something really new and strange had happened for the first time in generations. Moreover, well-informed people understood just how serious the crisis could have been. The sense of the possible was beginning to expand, but it was expanding into the dark.

These days, Father Beed meditated more and more on two of the Anthropic Corollaries. Both fell into the category of certain statements about the world. One was that mankind, as the image of God in the created world, could not be destroyed by accident. The other was that every strong thing, no matter how firmly established, is ultimately ephemeral. He knew there was no formal contradiction between these statements, but he also recognized that the tension between them was not always latent.    

Copyright © 1999 by John J. Reilly

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