The Long View 2007-04-27: Next; Gliese 581c; National Greatness

Gliese 581 system compared to solar system  Zina Deretsky, National Science Foundation [Public domain]

Gliese 581 system compared to solar system

Zina Deretsky, National Science Foundation [Public domain]

This is my go-to quote regarding the works of Philip Dick:

He wasn't a nihilist, but he was ontologically subversive. In contrast, I believe that reality is fragile and merits our support.

Next; Gliese 581c; National Greatness

Philip Dick's stories are unavoidable for someone with my interests, but I cannot say that he has ever been one of my favorite science-fiction writers. He wasn't a nihilist, but he was ontologically subversive. In contrast, I believe that reality is fragile and merits our support. Whatever objections one has to Dick's work, however, no author deserves the sort of manhandling that Dick's story, The Golden Man, received in its just-released film adaptation, Next, starring Nicholas Cage. Here is a summary from Wikipedia of the plot and concept of The Golden Man:

The protagonists of the story are a government agent and his fiancee, members of a government agency tasked with tracking down and sterilizing or eliminating mutants, individuals with physical abnormalities and even superhuman powers (such as the ability to steal the appearance and memories of others) that make them a threat to normal humans. The titular "Golden Man" is a feral young man named Cris with gold-colored skin, who does not appear to be sentient, but possesses the ability to see into the future (specifically, the ability to see all possible outcomes from any single action, described in the story as similar to a chess player with the ability to see all possible moves 5 steps ahead).....The story ends with the protagonist reflecting on how animal instincts have triumphed over human intellect, and how that is the new direction evolution will take if Cris succeeds in replacing humanity.

In some ways, that story is as disturbing as Arthur C. Clarke's Childhood's End. Not only is the human race past its sell-by date, Dick suggests, but there may be a biological property that trumps intelligence. That's a subtle thesis, but not unfilmable: the 1957 film, The Abominable Snowman, made similar points intelligently, and in black-and-white. For that matter, Stephen Spielberg's AI was not so different.

Now see what Hollywood has done with Dick's story in Next:

Cris Johnson (Nicolas Cage) is a Las Vegas magician with the ability to see a few minutes into the future. Seeking to escape government scrutiny, he lives off the grid, performing cheap tricks for meager cash under an assumed name. But when a terrorist group threatens to detonate a nuclear device in Los Angeles, FBI agent Callie Ferris (Julianne Moore) becomes determined to track Cris down and convince him to help stop the attack.

The public would be better served if someone would just film Dick's story.

* * *

Every science buff under our G-class star has heard by now of the discovery of Gliese 581c, the super-Earth (1.5 terrestrial diameters) in an orbit so close around a modest red-dwarf star that the year is only 13 terrestrial days long, but the planet is nonetheless within the "habitable zone" of that star system, where water would normally be liquid. Among the many wonders of Gliese 581c (most of them entirely speculative) I was struck by this point:

Astronomer Wesley Traub of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., doubts Gliese 581c is hospitable enough for life. "It is probably tidally locked to the star, like the moon to the Earth," he says. That means the star-facing side of the planet receives boiling heat, while the far side would be frozen.

Oh come now: "rim worlds" are a staple of hard science fiction. The early instances were based on analogy with Mercury, which was long mistakenly believed to be tidal-locked to the sun. On rim worlds, people live in the twilight area between day and night. One imagines an atmosphere that does not so much circulate as boil. The ice on the dark side melts from chaotic eruptions of light-side air; the melt forms rivers that may or may not carry enough runoff to keep lakes and seas in existence in the light.

There is, of course, not a scintilla of evidence yet that Gliese 581c even has an atmosphere, and if it has an atmosphere, that the atmosphere is not a perpetual furnace on the model of Venus. Still, if we are going to speculate about this planet, let me ask these questions:

On a world where the sky never changes (as it would not on the day side, unless Gliese 581c has one or more conspicuous satellites), how, or when, do you develop astronomy?

On a world where the sky never changes, how do you develop the concept of time?

This piece from the Telegraph may throw some light on the subject:

"We reset our body calendar every summer, when increased light inhibits the production of melatonin. This could explain why sunshine makes us feel happier."

Perhaps Gliese 581c is like the gaming rooms of a gambling casino, clockless and windowless, where obsessed people act out their joyless compulsions oblivious to the dwindling of their resources. I doubt it, though. If the sky did not keep time for us, we and the rest of the biosphere would have internalized the function, in rather the way that endothermic creatures have internalized the regulation of their body temperatures. Folks on Gliese 581c might have an exquisite sense of time. Indeed, perhaps a collectively felt "standard time" is the chief social glue.

* * *

Regarding the Iraq withdrawal measures in Congress, there is no way to avoid stating the obvious, but let me allow Mark Steyn's favorite Anglosphere head of government do it for me:

The US Congress' vote to push for the withdrawal of troops from Iraq was wrong and will bring comfort to Al-Qaeda insurgents, Australian Prime Minister John Howard said Friday. ..."I think it is wrong, and I don't think it is doing anything other than giving great comfort and encouragement to Al-Qaeda and the insurgency in Iraq," Howard said....If there is a perception of an America defeat in Iraq, that will leave the whole of the Middle East in great turmoil and will be an enormous victory for terrorism."

The term "War on Terrorism" may have been coined as a slogan, but it has turned out to be precisely apposite. The war really is a war against a specific terrorist technique, the suicide bombing, which was introduced into the Middle East in the 1980s and has been under successful development ever since. To everyone's surprise, this tactic in Iraq proved capable of producing sustained casualties comparable to anti-population aerial bombardment, but of course the most spectacular attacks of that kind to date occurred in the United States on 911. The withdrawal measures just passed by Congress are, in effect, declarations that 911 succeeded. The mystery is why anyone would expect those declarations to reduce the number of suicide bombings. If they work, there will be more of them. You could write an algorithm.

In reality, the situation in Iraq shows no sign of unraveling: rather the opposite, if you consider developments in Anbar Province. An American withdrawal is more likely to begin than to end next year. The argument in next year's presidential election will probably be about whether the shaky stabilization of Iraq was worth the cost, not whether the war is winnable. Or maybe not: Congress could get what it wished for.

Let me remark that I do not regard as illegitimate the withdrawal measures that were included in the military funding bills for Iraq and Afghanistan. Congress was given the power to appropriate funds for precisely this kind of situation. Yes, Congress does have the ultimate authority to tell the Commander-in-Chief what to do, and even how to do it. The spotless legality of these measures, however, in no way diminishes the fact they are literally suicidal. They are the gateway to a future, and not a distant one, in which cable news is showing the smoldering, slightly radioactive ruins of where the Capitol building used to be, and then cutting away to a room deep under Cheyenne Mountain, where some relatively junior cabinet officer is taking the oath of office as the new president.

After 911, Congress failed to pass legislation that would make assembling a new Congress easier in the event of a successful decapitation attack. That is a great pity.

* * *

And who is to blame for these morose reflections? Well, Mark Steyn is half right:

What these guys, the enemy understand more clearly than the Democrats do, is that America loses wars on the home front. You can’t beat them with the tanks and the planes and the battleships, but you can beat them on the TV networks and in Congress, and in demoralizing the home front.

Actually, the Democratic Party these days is not so much a political force as an opportunistic infection. The people responsible for this sorry state of things are in the Bush Administration. They misplayed a strong hand with a thoroughness that approaches genius. Any government can undersupply a war; the Bush Administration managed not to mention for months at a time the war it was undersupplying. Instead, like the putative inhabitants of Gliese 581c, the Administration compulsively pursued its domestic obsessions without regard to the environment. Even Small Government Conservative Mark Steyn is starting to get a glimmer of the real problem:

But frankly, I think the idea that part of the Republican base essentially wants just to talk about small government and low tax cuts and all the rest of it, yeah, I’m all for those things. But you can’t have those things if you have no credibility around the world as a superpower, and you’re being picked off on all kinds of strategic fronts.

The Weekly Standard promoted the term "National Greatness" to describe the magazine's favored synthesis of a forward US strategic posture abroad, combined with a a Reaganite, "get the government off my back" philosophy at home. National Greatness was supposed to marry Cold War conservatism to small-government, quasi-libertarian conservatism for the post-Cold War era. Candidate George Bush in 2000 was not much taken with National Greatness: his interest in foreign affairs was perfunctory. John McCain, rather, was the candidate of the Weekly Standard. After 911, when foreign engagement was no longer optional, President Bush perforce came around to the National Greatness way of thinking, and tried to govern with the political coalition that National Greatness commended.

In the event, National Greatness turned out not to be a marriage, but a deal with the devil. The defense against the Jihad became dependent on political activists who rejected the possibility of effective government and had even less interest in geopolitics than George Bush had had. Predictably, the domestic side of the deal reneged. The objectionable thing about Mephistopheles is not that he takes you to Hell, but that his checks bounce.

Copyright © 2007 by John J. Reilly

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Stryker's War Book Review

What use is the valor of brave men in the service of evil goals? Stryker’s War is the most gut-wrenching book in the Order of Centurion series so far because it takes a good hard look at the reality that not everything that can get a soldier killed is worth dying for.



Dear Mom and Dad,

If you are reading this, I’m not coming home.

The opening lines of each chapter of Stryker’s War are the words of a dead man. A man who clearly believed in the view of war in St. Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Theologica, which files war under love of neighbor. The letter writer saw his service in the Legion as a noble pursuit, ordered to the common good, the tranquillitas ordinis, the well-ordered peace. It is not enough that there is an absence of conflict. You must also see that justice be done.

Unfortunately, the Galactic Republic isn’t really in the business of dispensing justice any more.

They are still in the business of delivering a smack down to anyone who dares to defy them, which the Legion is willing and capable of supplying. Curiously, the House of Reason, and its appointed officers, do not take the Roman model of solitudinem faciunt, pacem appellant. With increasing political control of the Legion, it would be easy to crush their enemies and see them driven before them, but this isn’t what we see.

The Legion is a calling and the day I signed up, I gave my life to that calling.

I would guess the reason is two-fold: a numerous and well-equipped Legion is a more dangerous Legion, including to the House of Reason. Maybe worse, in their eyes, is that a visibly successful Legion would have greater political legitimacy. This is likely a simple matter of not enabling a likely enemy. But also, it seems that the House of Reason feels that war must be a little wicked, because it costs money.

With this two-fold reason to never really give the Legion what it wants, even as the House of Reason needs it to take care of its problems, we come to the world of Gestor. Unwilling to commit more than a platoon to fix a security problem at a valuable mining operation, everything quickly spirals out of control into one of the most epic charlie foxtrots I have ever seen.

Every Legionnaire that died felt like I lost a friend. I wanted to scream at the stupid point who wouldn’t call in close air support even to save himself. Rage boiled up against the fools who sent so many men to die because they didn’t want to show up in force. My heart broke for the insurgents too, who just wanted their fair share of the profits of their own mine, and who were getting cheated not just by the Republic, but by their underworld contacts as well.

Now I can see why so many were willing to join up with Goth Sullus, and how even the loyal remnant was willing to invoke Article 19 and go to war against the Republic. This is intolerable. Yet, this much, and worse, was tolerated nonetheless.

There are some bad people in the galaxy, and sometimes they need to be taught a lesson. The Legion teaches that lesson well.

I might have finally met my match, but don’t want you to be sad. I stood with my brothers against evil and fought for those who couldn’t.

I only hope I made you proud.

Until the day finally came when good men could stand it no longer.

I was provided a copy of this ebook by the publisher for free.

My other book reviews | Reading Log

Galaxy’s Edge season 1:
Legionnaire: Galaxy's Edge #1 book review
Galactic Outlaws: Galaxy's Edge #2 book review
Kill Team: Galaxy's Edge #3 book review
Attack of Shadows: Galaxy's Edge #4 book review
Sword of the Legion: Galaxy's Edge #5 Book Review
Tin Man: Galaxy's Edge Book Review
Prisoners of Darkness: Galaxy's Edge #6 Book Review
Imperator: Galaxy's Edge Book Review
Turning Point: Galaxy's Edge #7 Book Review
Message for the Dead: Galaxy's Edge #8 Book Review
Retribution: Galaxy’s Edge #9 Book Review

Tyrus Rechs: Contracts & Terminations:
Requiem for Medusa: Tyrus Rechs: Contracts & Terminations Book 1 Review

Takeover: Part 1 Book Review
Takeover: Part 2 Book Review

Order of the Centurion
Order of the Centurion #1 book review
Iron Wolves: Order of the Centurion #2 book review

The Long View 2007-04-23: Catholicism & Open Borders; Tolkein & Higher Loyalties

John J. Reilly wasn’t much amused by the trend toward de facto open borders in American Catholic thinking. It did not turn out to be true that this trend was directly imported into the American church by business interests. I suspect that for many people who argue this way, their motives are exactly as stated.

However, it seemed true in 2007, and still seems true now, that enthusiasm for immigration, consequences be damned, does cover up the fact that American Catholicism is hemorrhaging members as fast as any mainline Protestant denomination.

Courtesy of Gallup, the proportion of Americans who identify as Catholics is holding steady.

Courtesy of Gallup, the proportion of Americans who identify as Catholics is holding steady.

But according to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown, the increase in former Catholics over the last twenty years or so just happens to match the number of Catholics who have moved to America.

Catholicism & Open Borders; Tolkein & Higher Loyalties

About Open-Borders Immigration the readers of this blog already know what I think. Rather than repeat my views yet again, let me point out that this issue seems to be causing one of the great strategic errors in the history of American Christianity:

Too many Catholics believe myths surrounding immigration and immigrants based on misinformation and misconceptions requiring the Catholic Church to respond with a comprehensive fight against ignorance, said a U.S. bishops’ official...Mark Franken, executive director of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services... ...“Our biggest challenge is not the attacks from the immigration restrictionists, the racists, or the xenophobes,” he said. “Our biggest challenge is ignorance!” ...More than 100 Catholic social-justice leaders, diocesan directors and others active in the USCCB Justice for Immigrants campaign gathered for the April 17 – 19 event, which included going to Capitol Hill and urging lawmakers to pass comprehensive immigration reform. The theme of the convening, which drew participants from more than 65 U.S. dioceses and more than 35 states, was “Offering Hope, Promoting Justice"....

Launched in 2005, the Justice for Immigrants: A Journey of Hope campaign was created to unite and mobilize Catholic institutions and individuals in support of a broad legalization program and comprehensive immigration reform. Its goal is to maximize the church’s influence on the issue toward passage of legislative and administrative governmental reforms and to organize Catholic networks to assist qualified immigrants to obtain the benefits received from those reforms. About 80 U.S. Catholic dioceses have formally launched the campaign locally, with most of the others actively engaged in its promotion.

A word to the wise: every penny for this effort better be coming from the people in the pews. If it turns out that this is sponsored, whether directly or through fronts, by agribusiness and the hospitality industry, then there could be the most awkward consequences.

* * *

When deceased writers continue to publish, it's usually a bit disconcerting, though we have come to expect such behavior of Heinlein (and I keep expect Lafferty to appear on CNN: he was always a bit cavalier about this mortality business). In any case, JRR Tolkien has a new book out, with a little help from his son Christopher as editor and redactor: The Children of Hurin. That Spengler at Asia Times has favored us with a review, the gist of which is that the rise and fall of Turin, the son of Hurin, is a cautionary tale about the ethical limits of nationalism. Spengler then relates this moral to a theory of history:

Tolkien's popular Ring trilogy, I have attempted to show, sought to undermine and supplant Richard Wagner's operatic Ring cycle, which had offered so much inspiration for Nazism...With the reconstruction of the young Tolkien's prehistory of Middle-earth, we discern a far broader purpose: to recast as tragedy the heroic myths of pre-Christian peoples, in which the tragic flaw is the pagan's tribal identity. Tolkien saw his generation decimated, and his circle of friends exterminated, by the nationalist compulsions of World War I; he saw the cult of Siegfried replace the cult of Christ during World War II. His life's work was to attack the pagan flaw at the foundation of the West....In The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien returned to this theme of faith in a higher power rather than in one's own force of arms. It is not the valor of the small remnant of free peoples that overcomes Sauron (Morgoth's successor) but rather the improbable mission of the Ringbearer that will overcome the Darkness that threatens Middle-earth.

Is this simply a matter of faith in a higher power, or also of higher loyalties? Consider what Mark Steyn had to say about the Nicholas Hytner's new production of Henry V:

Hytner himself belongs to one of these alternative elites, the holder of a state-funded job at a state-funded theatre and one which ex officio commands a knighthood from his Sovereign. It also ex officio requires a kind of doctrinaire counter -tribalism that Shakespeare would have found incredibly tedious...Shakespeare wasn’t pro-war or anti-war, but pro-chivalry in war, and opposed to breaches of that code. That argument finds support in the play. In Shakespeare’s time as throughout human history, war was a fact of life. What matters is how you conduct it. The Bard would have been all for enforcing the Geneva Convention, but not marching through the street bellowing “No blood for oil.”

Chivalry is what a genuine global patriotism would look like, I think.

Copyright © 2007 by John J. Reilly

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Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

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Uncrowned release scheduled and an interview with Will Wight

Volume seven of Will Wight’s Cradle series, Uncrowned, is coming out in the US September 26th. I wanted to take this opportunity to bring up an interview that Will did with A. C. Cobble in May this year, where Will explained how Eastern fantasy inspired the Cradle series.

I want to read the books that inspired Will, but I also suspect that in translating those ideas for a Western audience, Will may have actually created something even better than his sources. If I have a chance to delve into that background, I’ll write about it here.

If you haven’t gotten into Cradle yet, check out my reviews, I highly recommend this, and all of Will’s work. I am working my way though the Elder Empire series now, so I should have reviews of those soon.

Books by Will Wight

Cradle Series:

Unsouled: Cradle Book 1 Review
Soulsmith: Cradle Book 2 Review
Blackflame: Cradle Book 3 Review
Skysworn: Cradle Book 4 Review
Ghostwater: Cradle Book 5 Review
Underlord: Cradle Book 6 Review

Traveler’s Gate series:

House of Blades: Traveler's Gate Book 1 Review
The Crimson Vault: Traveler's Gate Book 2 Review
City of Light: Traveler's Gate Book 3 Review
Traveler's Gate Chronicles Book Review

Marriage and Divorce in the United States: A Trend

I’ve been meaning to start up a new series of posts that is mostly data-driven, showcasing some interesting bit of information that I’ve come across. Finding a really interesting chart, and then tracking down the data behind it is as good an excuse as any.

Courtesy of H.P. at Hillbilly Highways, I found this dataset on marriage and divorce in the United States compiled by Robert Allison at the SAS Blog. Robert has some notes on where he got it from, mostly the CDC, plus some other miscellaneous sources.

The feature of the divorce “rate” that fascinates me is that it looks very much like there is an underlying trend over time that is temporarily disturbed by things that happen in the world. Robert annotated his chart with some helpful labels that seem pretty reasonable to me.

In order to illustrate the trend, I excluded a few years that look like excursions above trend, and then I fit a simple y = ax + b style model. I’m not really interested in the functional form per se, or a detailed analysis of the years I chose. There are tools for that, but I mostly want to do a visual analysis. However, I will note that the years I picked visually ended up being 1940 - 1955, and 1968 - 2003, which match up pretty well as periods in American life when unusual things were going on in marriage and divorce. I think the charts speak to that.

US Divorce Rate with points above trend hidden for illustration

US Divorce Rate with points above trend hidden for illustration

The same chart with the hidden values added back in

The same chart with the hidden values added back in

The years I picked really do seem like they represented a big surge of divorces, with an almost equally rapid return to trend. The 1968 bump lasted longer, even though the peak magnitude of the disturbance is almost equal to what happened at the end of World War 2.

Now let us look at the other things Robert charted, marriages per year and the ratio of marriages to divorces.

Marriages per year, with my unusual years for divorces highlighted in green

Marriages per year, with my unusual years for divorces highlighted in green

Marriages don’t display a clear trend, but there is a lot of variability over the twentieth century. The long term mean of the twentieth century is higher than the nineteenth as well, which matches up with some things John J. Reilly said in his review of Gertrude Himmelfarb’s The Demoralization of Society. There was a long term project to ameliorate the plight of the common man by shoring up family life, and that effort peaked in the mid-twentieth century. I don’t have comparative data for England, but this would make for a good follow-up post.

Divorces per year divided by marriages per year, with my unusual years for divorce highlighted in green.

Divorces per year divided by marriages per year, with my unusual years for divorce highlighted in green.

The ratio of divorces to marriages shows the long upward trend that is present in the divorce rates, at least until 1976 or so, when it flattens off to where we find it today. It will be interesting to see if the recent downward trend continues, or we return to the long upward trend of the past 150 years.

The Long View: Lucifer's Court

This is John J. Reilly’s masterful summary of not only esoteric fascism, but of the curious historical phenomenon of the Albigensians. John wraps up everything he wrote over a number of years on the subject into a cohesive whole.

Lucifer’s Court:
A Heretic’s Journey in
Search of the Light Bringers

By Otto Rahn

Translated by Christopher Jones
German Original Published 1937
Translation 2008, Inner Traditions International
242 Pages, US$16.95
ISBN 978-159477197-2

Reviewed by John J. Reilly

This review originally appeared
on the website of
The Southern Literary Messenger.


This book and its companion volume,Crusade against the Grail (1), are about as close as we can get to an “authoritative” statement of the esoteric dimension of the Nazi regime in Germany. The publication of the Crusade book in 1933 persuaded SS leader Heinrich Himmler to invite its author, Otto Rahn (1904-1939), to work for the SS as a folklorist. As the book under review here also does in part, that work developed the thesis that the doctrines of the medieval Cathars of Provence were encoded into Parzival, Wolfram von Eschenbach’s 13th-century version of the Grail legend. Rahn later became a member of the Ahnenerbe (“ancestral heritage”(2)) bureau of the SS, in whose employ he finished Lucifer’s Court. It is generally conceded that Rahn’s death by exposure during a winter hike in 1939 was a suicide forced upon him by the SS, because of rumors of homosexuality, or of Jewish ancestry, or both. Nonetheless, Himmler thought highly enough of this book to order a special edition of 5,000 leather-bound copies to be printed during the war; for distribution, presumably, to select SS personnel.

Esoteric Fascism

Both of Rahn’s books have been translated from German into English for the first time by Christopher Jones. These editions include acknowledgements of support and assistance from figures prominent in what has been called the “the esoteric Right” or “esoteric fascism”(3). We may note that the title of the original, Luzifers Hofgesind, might more literally be translated as “Lucifer’s Courtiers,” and in fact some references in English to the German version have used that expression, or “The Courtiers of Lucifer.” This edition has Lucifer’s Court, the translator explains, because translations into other languages use some such title. A minor point: the original subtitle, at least in the German edition I have been able to locate, is “eine Riese zu Europas guten Geistern,” which is “a journey to Europe’s Good Spirits.” The English subtitle of this edition suits the content better, but the author did not think of it.

One cannot discuss this book today without at least mentioning the 1989 Steven Spielberg film, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. The overall story in that film was a quest for the Holy Grail, but finding the Grail required first finding the “Grail Diary” of a cranky old archeologist, in which he had recorded his researches. Lucifer’s Court is a journal rather than a diary, but it does bear a superficial resemblance to the missing document in Spielberg’s film. This book is an account of the travels of a man looking for traditions about the Holy Grail; and sometimes, we may reasonably suspect, for an actual object, understood in Rahn’s case as the legendary treasure of the Cathars. (We will get to the Cathars below, after we have given the devil his due.)

The differences from the film are even more interesting, of course. The Grail for Rahn, to the extent that he considers it a physical object, is the German Grail, the Stone that fell from Heaven in Parzival, rather than the cup associated with Jesus in the Anglo-French Grail stories. The film was devoid of references to the Cathar sect, as indeed was everyone else’s understanding of the Grail legend until the middle of the nineteenth century. Also unlike the film, the book is virulently, relentlessly, jumping-up-and-down anti-Christian. It is particularly anti-Catholic, so much so as to reduce the antisemitic implications of its rejection of Yahweh to a mere subtext. In Crusade against the Grail, Rahn seemed content to accept the Cathars’ view of themselves as the true Christians (a view that Hitler seemed to share, if we may believe Otto Wagener’s Memoirs of a Confidant). In this work, Rahn has become more radical. If the Cathars considered themselves Christians at all, then they were mistaken. Lucifer, properly understood, is the hero of the story.

The sections of the book, all undated and very brief, are headed by place names; the author tells us what he saw or felt or did at each location. The sections are arranged in three groups. The first deals with the author’s visits to cities in France, chiefly sites associated the Cathars and the Albigensian Crusade that destroyed them. The second group includes trips to northern Italy, Switzerland, and southern Germany. The third begins in the author’s native Hesse in Germany and then moves in stages on a trip that leads across the North Atlantic to Iceland. The organizing principle appears to be that the medieval drama of the Grail was played out in the South, but the meaning and perhaps the origin of the Grail is to be found in the furthest North. The North is key for Rahn, both as a symbol and as a source of historical influence from pre-historic times.

Early in the book, in a passage written in Paris, the author cites the verses from Isaiah 14 that are traditionally said to refer to the fall of Satan from Heaven:

How have you fallen from the heavens, O glowing morning star; been cut down to the ground O conqueror of Nations?

For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north...

For Rahn, Isaiah speaks for the great enemy: for Yahweh, the spiritual tyrant of the past 2,000 years, whose prophet here gloats over the discomfiture of a would-be liberator. The liberator, the model for all insurgents, is the Morning Star, called in Latin “Lucifer,” which means “Light Bearer.” We are told explicitly that Lucifer is Apollyon, the Angel of the Pit in Revelation 9:7-11. His adherents are scattered throughout history and in many countries. Among them, Rahn held, was Jakob Böhme (1575-1624), the German mystical writer, whose Aurora is quoted by Rahn as an example of the positive to which Isaiah is the negative:

Look, I will tell you a secret: The time has come for the groom to crown his bride; guess where the crown lies? Toward midnight, because the light is clear in the darkness...

Midnight here, we are given to understand, means “Land of the Midnight Sun,” which Rahn intends to visit. There, and throughout his travels, he hopes to find historical and legendary evidence of the activities of Lucifer’s courtiers:

In this way, I am hoping my readers will appreciate the story of those who sought justice regardless of the Mosaic twelve commandments and from their own sense of justice and duty; those who, rather than ever arrogantly expecting assistance from Mount Sinai, went to a “mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north,” in order to bring solace to their kind; those who placed knowledge above faith and existence above the light; and, not least, those who recognized that Yahweh could never, ever be their divinity and Jesus of Nazareth could never, ever be their salvation. In Lucifer’s house there are many dwellings. Many paths and bridges lead to him.

There are mysteries in that passage, not the least of which is that the Decalogue seems to have sprouted two new commandments. Actually, there are mysteries intentional and otherwise throughout the whole book. Rahn often quotes slabs of text without citation, a deficit that his editors do not always supply. There are questionable specific points. As the translator notes, Rahn’s grasp of mythology was not above criticism. The Argonauts, for instance, whose adventures in Rahn’s imagination seem to have occurred largely in the North Atlantic, are said to have gotten their name from the town “Argos,” rather than from the name of their ship. More serious is the question of whether and to what degree Rahn’s thesis is supposed to relate to history at all.


Rahn clearly does take very seriously the argument of the French occult writer Joséphin Péladan that the Cathars of Provence were the real matter of Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzival, and that the Grail was a secret or object they were protecting. In Lucifer’s Court, Rahn develops this theory in the section “Carcassonne.” Rahn’s initial identification is of the perfectly real 13th-century French poet, Guiot of Provins, with “Kyot of Provence,” the otherwise unknown source to whom Wolfram attributes his information. Provins is a small region to the southeast of Paris, while Provence is a major region in the south of France. This is the kind of wordplay that Wolfram loved, but it is very far from proof that Wolfram was doing more than making good-natured fun of a contemporary’s name, much less that he was recording an esoteric history of events in Provence. As Richard Barber notes in his sober study, The Holy Grail (4), the parallels between the notables of medieval Provence and the characters in Parzival just are not that close. Neither do Rahn’s etymologies help. “Parzival,” the knight of the Grail Quest, is said to mean “cut well” in Occitan, the language of the troubadours of southern France. Rahn, or at least this translation, does not trouble to mention that “Percival” is the original. In any case, he equates this with the name of a Provencal nobleman, “Trencavel,” whose alleged origin (trenca vel) is supposed to mean the same thing. This is not a very telling equation; it grows less so when we consider that the usual etymology of “Percival” is “pierce the valley.”

There are similar problems with Rahn’s understanding of the Cathar heresy as a whole. Catharism is actually a blanket term for a range of sects and beliefs which had some currency throughout Europe. The Cathars of southern France were called “Albigensians,” after the city of Albi. Rahn does not make these distinctions, and since he is concerned with Cathars elsewhere, particularly in Germany, we will use that term.

The Cathars

Catharism is one of those doctrines we know only from the accounts of its enemies, so reconstructing its actual content has always been difficult. (For the incautious, Theodore Roszak’s novel, Flicker (5), may not be too far off the mark.) The Cathars seem to have been Manicheans, in the sense their theology was like that of the third-century Zoroastrian would-be prophet, Mani, though they may not have knowingly looked to him for inspiration. Manicheanism is a kind of dualism, holding that there are independently existing good and evil principles. In the Cathar version, this world, the world of matter, is evil, and Yahweh of the Old Testament is its god. In some versions of this kind of speculation, the Creator was an inferior entity, sometimes called the Demiurge, and his Creation was defective. It is not clear how much of this the Cathars believed, but none of it would have been original with them: the Christian heretic Marcion had jettisoned the Old Testament as the work of the devil in the second century. For him, the New Testament, or part of it, is the revelation of a good, alien God. This God did not create the world. His messenger was Jesus, according to Marcion, though as we have seen, Rahn thought otherwise.

The Cathars seemed to have believed that Jesus was never really material, and that he was never crucified. They further rejected the Church hierarchy and its system of sacraments. They had a sacrament of their own called the consolamentum. Those who received it became perfecti, Latin for “Perfect Ones” (Cathar is Greek for “pure.”) Most Cathars received it on their deathbed; those who took it earlier became clergy. Perfecti pledged to vegetarianism, and not to take life, and to celibacy. Birth was an evil, since the entrapment of human souls in matter was one of the things Catharism was supposed to help remedy. The Cathars seem to have believed in a cycle of reincarnation which, like the Buddhists, they sought to escape. Ordinary believers, who had not yet become perfecti, could and did function normally in medieval society. Among them was the bulk of the aristocracy of Provence; hence Rome’s campaigns, first of evangelization, and then of crusade against the Cathar strongholds.

To this account of possible Cathar doctrines Rahn adds and subtracts with perfect freedom. Cathar anti-natalism and horror of matter disappear entirely: rather, in his account, it is the followers of Yahweh who are hostile to the natural world. There are ancient doctrines which make a hero of Lucifer, or at any rate, of Satan: Rahn mentions more than once the old notion that Lucifer is simply in exile from Heaven, and will return in due course. In the section entitled “On a Southern German Road,” Rahn sets out a vision, or a profound meditation, in which he is instructed in the role of Lucifer as an intermediary, or role model, by a Cathar named Bertrand of Foix. It is not at all clear that the Cathars ever thought any such thing, however. We may note that, after the meditation, he camps with a group of Hitler Youth; they are Courtiers of Lucifer, too.

Rahn’s investigations into Catharism tend to merge into other interests. Rahn was a member of the völkisch wing of the Nazi movement, along with Himmler and Himmler’s personal wizard, Karl-Maria Willigut (also known as “Weisthor”). Rahn followed up references to what in English-language folklore studies is sometimes called “the fairy faith.” He describes how medieval heroes gained immortality by finding the mountaintop rose-garden paradise of Laurin, King of the Dwarfs, a notion he conflates with the mountaintop paradises of Asgard and Olympus, and with that northern mountaintop to which Isaiah says Yahweh is so keen to restrict access. The Courtiers of Lucifer in the West may have been nominally Christian, but they actually hoped to go after death to the “bosom of Arthur,” like Shakespeare’s Falstaff. Shakespeare was in on the secret, too, it seems.

As for the Grail, Rahn’s accounts of it vary as much as the descriptions of legend. Parzival introduced the idea that the Grail Stone had been brought to Earth by angels of ambiguous allegiance. In later developments of the story, the Grail is a jewel that fell from the crown of Lucifer. Rahn likes that expression and uses it repeatedly. As many commentators on Rahn have noted, stones do sometimes fall from the sky. There has been considerable speculation that Rahn may have been seeking, or actually helped recover, a meteoric Cathar relic on his spelunking expeditions to the south of France. However, in the section of this book under “Halberstadt,” he views what is apparently an actual meteoric stone. Called the Teufelstein, the devil allegedly threw it at the local cathedral when it was under construction, in an unsuccessful attempt to prevent the cathedral’s completion. All Rahn says is that “Christians will believe anything.” It is not over reading the text, perhaps, to infer that he is signaling the reader not to make the Grail-meteor connection.

Ultima Thule

By and by, in fact, we learn that maybe we should not take the connection between historical Catharism and Luciferian liberation too literally, either. Rahn mentions a Persian tradition about a holy stone that parallels Parzival’s Grail story in essential ways. In fact, he suggests that “grail” may be derived from the Persian word for the stone, “ghral” (6). The same illumination came to two groups of Aryan peoples, one in Western Europe and the other in the Near East. The familiar Grail story is just one manifestation of it. The quest of the Argonauts for the Golden Fleece is, in some ways, the same story. This illumination is connected with the recollection of a time when the far north was warm and hospitable, and a healthy sort of mankind lived in harmony with nature. The name “Hyperborea” comes up. By Rahn’s own account, his wanderings were always destined to end in Ultimate Thule.

History as Myth

The point has never been the recovery of an empirically verifiable historical tradition. Rather, to use a term that Rahn (or this translation) does not use, Rahn realizes that he has been seeking to clarify an archetype. Or perhaps that term is too easy. In the section under “Runkel an Lahn,” Rahn presents a vision in which the divine is generated by the struggle between life and death. By rising above their individuality and embracing this struggle, heroes can hope to attain a genuine immortality by entering the mythical realm. Readers may be reminded of Julius Evola’s description in Revolt against the Modern World of the mutual permeability of chronological and mythological time (7). The difference is that Evola’s criticism of Nazi mysticism as stultifyingly chthonic seems to apply to Rahn’s ideas: the völkisch worldview is oriented toward the folk soul, rather than to eternity. The fate of the hero is less like apotheosis and more like psychic mulch.

Don Quixote

The Cathars may have been dualists, but Rahn’s ideas are not essentially dualistic. Dualism involves two universal principles in conflict. Rahn’s mythological version of history, in contrast, is a struggle between folk souls, actualized as a struggle between their gods. As it happens, there are just two such entities, Yahweh and Lucifer, that interest Rahn. They represent the Jewish and German (or Aryan) peoples and the struggle between them. However, one might point out that there is no particular reason why there should not be more than two, or more than one. This cosmic struggle is a historical accident; different only in scale, perhaps, from a fight occasioned by a chance encounter between dinosaurs. (8)

A long section of the book is an excerpt from Don Quixote, the story of the old knight whose mind was so addled by reading romances of medieval chivalry that he could no longer tell the difference between the stories and reality. Rahn identifies with Quixote, but not in the sense that either was really deluded. Rather, the stories that entranced Quixote, like the völkisch mythology that absorbed Rahn, are more real than the events of the everyday world. The events of the everyday world, both in the past and in the present, gain their meaning to the extent that they reflect the myths. Legends communicate a higher truth than does sober history.

All these points come together, indeed perhaps the whole tale of the Third Reich and the occult comes together, in the section “Reykholt,” a place in Iceland. Rahn takes care to emphasize his disappointment with Ultimate Thule, the place to which he believed the remnants of ancient Nordic culture fled to escape the Christian infection, and perhaps the last piece of a primordial world that existed before all known history. Iceland as Rahn encountered it, however, was treeless; at the summer solstice, it was not so much nightless as shadowless. Reykjavik the capital was a town of corrugated-iron roofs and concrete walls. The locals were friendly enough, but there seemed nothing to connect this shabby country with the world of the Eddas, Elder or Younger.

Rahn does manage to do some hiking, apparently with another German, who may also have been another SS man: the circumstances and purpose of Rahn’s visit are not described. The two climb a cliff and settle down to admire the view. The companion delivers a lecture.

Much of this discourse expands on the relationship we have just considered between myth and history. Where something divine or celestial strikes the Earth, we are told, a horde may turn into a people. Culture is the striving of the Earth to reach Heaven. Heaven and Earth meet at the point of sacrifice. In a healthy world, the sacrifice is perpetual, a relationship of balanced flow between high and low that unites man and nature. The story of the world since the triumph of Christianity, however, is the story of the consequences of the interruption of that flow. The myths of northern Europe reflect the coming of the current dark age; they also foreshadow its ending.

The twilight of the gods was at the same time the dissolution of tribal loyalty to the gods, heroes, and the almighty forces of nature...In place of mythical divine wisdom, a ritual mechanical intellect has assumed its place in the ‘me’-addicted world of things...The mythical world of prehistory also saw its destruction in the final battle of the gods...Odin was eaten by a wolf...We should remember that Rome’s mother was a she-wolf...Odin’s son, the silent Widmar, killed the wolf in yet another act of revenge. As it says in the Edda, Baldr returned and announced to mankind the divine mystery of the earth and the cosmos: ‘On Gimil’s heights, I saw a room brighter than the sun and decked in gold. Worthy lords must live there...’ What is that strength from above that conquers the power of death and hatred? Who can awaken a very lonely mankind after the twilight of the ‘me’-addiction, so that we can rebuild society in selfless service, taking care not to destroy freedom, but to heal it?


Readers will note that, like the Evolan version of Tradition with which it shares many points, this is essentially a revolutionary project. (9) Despite Rahn’s devotion to European history and mythology, one cannot help but notice that the center of almost every place he visits is a church; a church he hates, either for its architecture, or its history, or the presumed greed of its incumbent clergy. When the myth is the reality, then the visible sticks and stones, and flesh and bones, become not just expendable but intolerable.

I have been studying the Third Reich and the occult for 30 years. This book pretty much sums the subject up.


(1) Crusade against the Grail is reviewed here.

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(2) The nature of the Ahnenerbe is described in Heather Pringle's The Master Plan, reviewed here.

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(3) Postwar esoteric fascism is the subject of the essay, After the Third Age.

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(4) The Holy Grail is reviewed here.

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(5) Flicker is reviewed here.

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(6) Rahn's contemporary, Charles Williams, wrote a book about a Persian stone with Grail-like properties. A review is here.

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(7) The relevant section of Revolt against the Modern World is quoted here.

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(8) Readers may wish to compare Rahn's vision of competing folk souls with the views of the neo-Nazi ideologue, Francis Parker Yockey, in Yockey's Imperium (reviewed here) and the practice of Aeonic Magic by Traditional Satanists (described here).

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(9) For an overview of Tradition, see Mark Sedgwick's Against the Modern World, reviewed here.

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Copyright © 2008 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View: The Master Plan

The Ahnererbe was a peculiar institution in the Third Reich. It had an independent source of revenue in the form of a bicycle reflector patent, which meant that while some of its activities were favored and supported, others weren’t, but it could continue regardless. Its research was a weird mix of actual science and crank obsessions. Real history tends to be better than any comic book.

The Master Plan: Himmler's Scholars and the Holocaust
By Heather Pringle
Disney Books (Little Brown), 2006
463 pages, $18.96
ISBN-10: 0786868864

The Third Reich was certainly influenced by “rejected knowledge” to some degree: many of its principal figures made reference on occasion to occult ideas or to cranky pseudoscientific theories, and at least some of its symbols and ceremonial seem to have been transmitted to it through the Occult Revival of the latter 19th century. One of the most interesting questions in the history of the 20th-century, however, is whether rejected knowledge was central or even constitutive of German National Socialism and of the Third Reich, or whether such ideas were “in the air” at the intersection of politics and popular culture but had no important effect on the regime.

What makes this study by Heather Pringle (a science-writer with an interest in archeology) so valuable is that she does not try to answer the whole question. We don’t get much intellectual history in the text, though the bibliography cites all the major studies. Rather, she focuses on the eccentric research interests of SS-leader Heinrich Himmler, particularly as those were manifest in the activities of an SS bureau known as the “Ahnenerbe.” (The term can be translated in various ways: I would go with “Ancestral Legacy.”) The Ahnenerbe has long played a role in popular history and fiction as the “SS Occult Bureau.” In this book, it is reduced to its proper proportions as an “advocacy-research” service that, before the war, funded some odd enterprises but was otherwise a small organization that worried about its budget and had to hunt for office space. During the war, though, the Ahnenerbe expertise in “racial science” was called upon to facilitate aspects of the Holocaust, while its more conventional medical expertise played a role in criminal human experiments. Several of its members were executed for war crimes, including its managing director, Wolfram Sievers (but not its president, Walther Wüst: like many of the people in this book, he lived to a remarkable old age). Not all of the story is new: the Tibetan expedition of Ernst Schäfer in 1938-39 has been covered in detail before. Even so, this book provides useful supplementary information. And the title is not wholly misleading: Himmler’s use of the Ahnenerbe really does provide important context for describing what the Nazis were trying to do.

Bicycles funded the search for Atlantis. The SS contrived to get control of a patent for pedal-mounted safety reflectors, and then made the use of those reflectors mandatory. The money went to support the Ahnenerbe after its organization in 1935. Himmler felt that some independent source of funding was necessary, because Hitler was not usually keen on Himmler’s investigations into folklore and the borders between history and myth.

Hitler was a free-thinker on these matters. Statements of his can be used to show that he believed in various forms of psychic power, in pre-Ice Age civilizations, and even in Hans Hörbiger’s “World Ice Theory.” (That was a catastrophist model of world history proposing that the Earth had in the past captured a series of moons whose later disintegration had caused a corresponding series of deluges and world ages.) He was also in tune with Himmler on the centrality of race to history, both with regard to the splendid Aryan race in the past and its even more splendid revival in the future. They agreed on the characterization of Jewry as an essentially biological phenomenon that had to be exterminated. Hitler parted company from Himmler, however, regarding the latter’s high evaluation of the pre-historical Nordic past. Himmler was avid to view archeological digs of ancient Germanic settlements and to reconstruct the religion and ethos of the people who had dwelt there. For when empirical investigation failed, he had a literal shaman in his employ, the famous Karl-Marie Willigut, who would channel the ancient dead for Himmler’s edification. (Willigut in a trance could put on a good show, apparently: he told the skeptical Ernst Schäfer some things about Tibet that Schäfer thought only he knew.) Hitler, in contrast, was rather embarrassed by these digs, at least when they dealt with settlements dating from the Roman era; even the most ingenious long-house did not amount to much compared to the Coliseum. Further more, Himmler not only hoped to replace Christianity; he promoted the use by the SS of a calendar of neopagan rituals to replace the Christian ones. Hitler liked this not at all: he may have been a dictator and an apostate who had long-term plans for Christianity, too, but he was also a practical politician who took care not to gratuitously provoke the Catholic and Protestant Churches.

Himmler had been hiring researchers individually since the Nazi Party came to power in 1933. The most important of these, perhaps, was the Grail-hunter Otto Rahn, later an Ahnenerbe member (he is mentioned only in passing in this book). The interest that some senior members of the Nazi Party took in esoteric studies became increasingly well-known. A coffee-magnate built, or planned to build, a “Haus Atlantis” on Böttcherstrasse in Bremen. The structure was to be largely in honor of the first president of the Ahnenerbe, Herman Wirth, a Dutch philologist who had detailed and publicly expressed ideas about where the remnants of Atlantis, the homeland of the Aryan race, might be found in the Atlantic. He also claimed to have discovered the world’s first writing system in the petroglyphs of southeastern Sweden, a view not widely shared then or since. A crisis occurred at the Nuremberg Rally of 1936. Hitler took the trouble to denounce “Böttcherstrasse Culture” as an example of an excessively mystical interpretation of National Socialism. In this, I might point out, he was reiterating the dismissal in Mein Kampf of “völkisch” nationalism. One way to put it, I suppose, was that Hitler was condemning the New Age wing of the Party.

This was an awkward turn of events for Himmler (as I suppose it must also have been for Alfred Rosenberg, the Party ideologist who also had some good words for Atlantis in The Myth of the 20th Century but who did not have any bicycle money to console him). The next year, Himmler replaced Wirth with Walther Wüst, a respectable orientalist who was also keenly interested in Aryans, but in his case they were the less imaginary ones to be found in Sanskrit and Old Persian texts. (The term “Aryan” comes from Sanskrit philology.) Some of the more exotic-sounding projects were closed down. By no means were they all crank schemes, however. One of the projects was a sound-recording tour by a young Finn named Yrjö von Grönhagen of the Karelia region of Finland. His goal was to record the spells and tales of the shamans and witches of the region, which he did in what sounds like an example of ordinary anthropology. The problem was that there was already an extensive literature about the relationship of Finnish folk culture and language to that of ancient Germanic northern Europe, and Wüst quickly satisfied himself that Grönhagen knew nothing about it. He was sent back to the classroom.

The Ahnenerbe thereafter focused on studies that were more verifiable, and even practical, at least from the SS point of view. The bureau backed reputable archeological digs of ancient villages (Hitler could not be everywhere) and funded the excavation of their share of cavemen. An irony here: the scientific consensus at the time had it that Cro-Magnon humans had evolved from the Neanderthalers, but Himmler believed otherwise. Today most anthropologists would say that Himmler was right, but as a rule, Himmler’s ideas were wrong or incoherent. The Party line could raise issues of professional ethics for researchers whose results did not seem to lead them to politically congenial conclusions. To judge by this book, the Ahnenerbe often did serious research that provided useful data, provided you ignored the conclusions.

The Ahnenerbe sometimes mixed science with useful espionage. That was the case with the classics scholar, Franz Altman, who combined library and archeological research in Italy, Dalmatia, and the Middle East with some political and logistical snooping. In Iraq and Syria, he tactfully sounded out local Arab tribal leaders about their attitude toward a revolt against the French and British (they were keen) and laid some of the groundwork for the unsuccessful pro-Axis uprising that occurred during the war. As with many of the scholars in this study, his work for the Ahnenerbe did his career no permanent harm; after the war, be became West Germany’s most eminent classicist.

The crown jewel of all Ahnenerbe projects was the Schäfer expedition to Tibet. At least in Himmler’s mind, the expedition was to demonstrate that Tibetan civilization had been created by an ancient incursion of Aryan conquerors who had then become the upper class. The expedition did quite a lot of animal specimen collecting (Schäfer himself was a zoologist of the megafauna-shooting variety), but its primary purpose was the racial classification of humans. That was chiefly the task of a young racial-studies expert, Bruno Beger. This work involved the detailed study of skull shape and bone length with calipers and rulers, and the making of plaster face-casts. The author tells us that anthropology had largely abandoned this kind of study; it had already been discovered by that time that body shape was dependent on other factors in addition to genetics, and therefore was unhelpful for the taxonomy of human groups. Nonetheless, data of this sort were still taken seriously in Germany. Indeed, they would arguably be the foundation of the Nazi version of applied geopolitics.

The outbreak of war cancelled what would have been the Ahnenerbe’s largest expedition so far: a journey by the sweetly crackers Edmund Kiss to examine million-year-old Aryan ruins in Bolivia. The bureau then turned from theoretical research to aiding the war effort. This rarely had happy results. The most gruesome parts of the book deal with a war-time Ahnenerbe department, the Institute for Military Research. When you hear about Nazi scientists doing deranged-sounding experiments on living subjects, that is probably the group in question. However, there was more to the Ahnenerbe war record than experiments with poison gas and sterilization through irradiation.

As a group with a high level of historical and cultural expertise, the Ahnenerbe was soon prevailed upon to send its agents to remove interesting items from the museum collections of occupied countries. In Poland, they immediately encountered the agents of Hermann Göring, who also liked expensive things and felt entitled to steal them. The agents of Himmler and Göring reached a rough compromise: Göring got most of the fine art of the past few centuries, while the Ahnenerbe got most of the ancient and archeologically important material. The stuff that found its way into Göring's treasuries usually survived the war, but many valuable artifacts were destroyed when the SS partially demolished its academy at Wewelsburg Castle at the end of the war.

Hitler is quoted in this book as saying that his aims were really quite modest: all he wanted to do was resettle the German people on territory that they had occupied before. The disruptive factor was that the romantic popular history promoted by people like the Ahnenerbe said that the Germans, during their earlier incarnation as Goths, had once had a vast empire in most of what is now European Russia. These beliefs had some slight overlap with history in the Crimea, where there had in fact been Gothic cities that alternately attacked and traded with the eastern Roman world in late antiquity. When the Germans occupied the Crimea during their invasion of the Soviet Union, Ahnenerbe scientists went to the Crimea to find the ruins of the Gothic capital and prepare an itinerary for a visit by Himmler.

During this highpoint of Nazi power, Himmler actually took the first steps towards implementing the only real Master Plan the Nazis had: the creation of a German empire the size of a subcontinent. The German military was apparently not supposed to press on all the way through Siberia, but to create an impenetrable border along the Urals. Ahnenerbe officials fantasized about the huge estates they would soon be given in the East. First, though, a new yeomanry was to be settled in what had been the Russias, using persons certified by Ahnenerbe techniques as racially German. Himmler’s experts had the designs for the new villages all prepared, down to the traditional Germanic amphitheaters for public meetings.

Some luckless ethnic Germans from northern Russia were conscripted to begin this project and sent to the Crimea. There they were given small farms on sharecropper-terms: a quota of dairy products for the SS, in return for protection and some material support. The settlers were promised more land if their performance was satisfactory. The project did not come to anything. We may surmise that similar projects would not have come to much, even if Stalin or his successor had made peace with Hitler. There just weren’t that many Germans, inside or outside Germany, who aspired to become peasants. Any persons who were so inclined would probably not have prospered in new settlements that seem likely to have all the organic vitality of a Stalinist collective farm. A Nazi victory would have created a vacuum.

The book touches on several contexts in which Ahnenerbe racial science played a role in the war against the Jews. One of these involved the attempt by Nazi officials to deal with the fact that the ethnology of the Caucasus included mysteries that did not fit their philosophy. The term “Khazar” does not occur in this book, but the Nazis found groups of people, the Mountain Jews, rather like the semi-legendary Khazars: ethnically Turkic tribes, with a manner of life like that of Cossacks, but who identify their religion as Judaism. Except they weren’t necessarily Turkic, either. To complicate matters further, the peoples of the region were not divided into self-contained millets, as in the Middle East, but intermarried and shared their customs. The Nazis were quite prepared to slaughter the genuinely Jewish tribes, but they could not believe that some of the Taras Bulba types they were meeting were really Jewish. So, Ernst Schäfer and Bruno Beger were summoned again, this time to the Caucasus to separate the sheep from the goats. They were to use racial-science criteria to decide whether a people were Jewish or not. If the group met the measurement criteria, it would be eliminated, even if its members prayed toward Mecca five times a day.

As things turned out, the Nazi presence in the Caucasus was too brief for Schäfer and Beger's new expedition to be sent, but the author takes special care to put Beger's role in the later "Jewish Skeleton" project in the worst possible light, which is admittedly pretty bad. The project has been variously described, but the gist of it was that prisoners in concentration camps were to be selected as anatomically typical, killed, and taken to a laboratory in the west where they would be stripped of their flesh; the skeletons were then to become displays in a research museum. Beger later claimed that he had no idea that the people he was measuring at Dachau were to be used for any such purpose, or at least that he found out when it was too late. He suffered some legal troubles in later life when these matters came to light, but experienced embarrassment rather than punishment. The author describes her interview with him in an apartment full of Tibetan mementos: a preternaturally hale and wholly unrepentant 90 year old, like an ambiguous knight who had managed to take a swig from Otto Rahn’s life-prolonging Grail.

The Ahnenerbe was something of a comfort to Himmler in his final days. He had long believed that the legends of Thor’s Hammer and similar stories from the Vedas contained historical memories of wonder weapons used by vanished civilizations. He avidly received reports that they had been rediscovered. One such proposal in the closing weeks of the war led him to declare that the military situation was about to reverse. From the description in the book, the weapon sounds a bit like an electromagnetic-pulse device, but with some relationship to ground current that would have allowed it to disable all electrical equipment across wide regions. The Ahnenerbe duly sent the proposal out for review and eventually reported that the inventor did not know what he was talking about. Nonetheless, while that hope still lived, Himmler had reason to keep the war going. We should remember that Willigut, his own wizard, had prophesied that an invasion of Europe from the East in the 20th century would be stopped at Wewelsburg Castle. The Russians never got so far west, but the Vedic EMP device would have fit the prophecy nicely.

Even a review this long cannot mention all the Ahnenerbe activities the book discusses. Similarly, the book does not purport to be an encyclopedic account of everything the Ahnenerbe did, and it scarcely touches at all on the role of rejected knowledge in the Nazi regime as a whole. It does, however, cover quite enough to be essential reading for anyone interested in this subject.

Copyright © 2007 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View: Himmler's Crusade

Expedition members with hosts in  Gangtok ,  Sikkim  are (from left to right) unknown, unknown Tibetan,  Bruno Beger ,  Ernst Schäfer ,  Sir Basil Gould , Krause, unknown Tibetan, Karl Wienert, Edmund Geer, unknown, unknown  By Bundesarchiv, Bild 135-KA-11-008 / CC-BY-SA 3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0 de,

Expedition members with hosts in Gangtok, Sikkim are (from left to right) unknown, unknown Tibetan, Bruno Beger, Ernst Schäfer, Sir Basil Gould, Krause, unknown Tibetan, Karl Wienert, Edmund Geer, unknown, unknown

By Bundesarchiv, Bild 135-KA-11-008 / CC-BY-SA 3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0 de,

Himmler’s Crusade:
The Nazi Expedition to Find the Origins of the Aryan Race
By Christopher Hale
John Wiley & Sons, 2003
422 Pages, US$27.95 
ISBN 0-471-26292-7

Remarkable stories clustered around the Schäfer Expedition to Tibet of 1938-1939. The project was only one of several German expeditions to that part of the world at about the same time (the one that included Heinrich Harrer is perhaps the best known because of his memoir, Seven Years in Tibet), but the Schäfer Expedition had the backing of SS-Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler and of the Ahnenerbe, the research bureau reputed to be interested in the occult. Besides, it reached the then rarely visited holy city of Lhasa, and the Germans were known to have found favor with the ruling Regent.

The British feared that the Germans were attempting to organize a Himalayan Front against India in preparation for the coming war. Tibetan peasants said that the fearsome leader of the German team drank blood. Later, more imaginative rumors had it that the true purpose of the expedition was to open contacts with the diabolical forces resident in Agarthi, a hidden city of theosophical legend.

Christopher Hale is a noted producer of travel and anthropology documentaries. In this book he never shies away from reporting a lurid story or an intriguing rumor, but he manages to make the Schäfer Expedition and its participants no more fantastic than they really were. Thus, though Himmler seems to have been keen on uncovering the theosophical mysteries of Tibet, the members of the expedition were doing more or less serious science. The Germans and the Tibetans do seem to have been making tentative diplomatic overtures, though perhaps to cross purposes. And yes, the expedition’s leader did drink the blood of animals he killed: it was a hunter’s thing.

That leader was Ernst Schäfer (1910-1992), an ambitious zoologist who specialized in ornithology and big-game hunting. The book is chiefly concerned with him and with Bruno Beger (1911-2004), the team’s anthropologist. They figure most prominently among the five scientists on the expedition. They also had disturbing careers as experts in the biological sciences for the SS during the war.

Schäfer had been in Tibet before, on two specimen-gathering trips led by the wealthy American naturalist Brooke Dolan. Dolan had learned Theodore Roosevelt’s trick of getting scientific institutions (in Dolan’s case, the Philadelphia Academy of Natural History) to fund his hunting expeditions, with the happy side effect of making the hunters moderately famous. Dolan and Schäfer journeyed to eastern Tibet, a debatable land of chronic skirmishing among the Chinese Nationalist government, various war lords, the ineffectual Tibetan army, and, just in time for the second expedition, the Red Army on the Long March. On neither trip did they come anywhere near Lhasa (Dolan did reach Lhasa in 1945, as a member of the OSS), but Schäfer’s books and articles about his adventures made him something of an authority in Germany about Tibet, as well as a minor public figure. Those qualifications and his membership in the SS were more than enough to bring him to the favorable attention of Heinrich Himmler.

Schäfer had been planning his own, more thoroughly scientific expedition to Tibet as soon as he returned home in 1935 from the second and rather acrimonious Dolan expedition. He needed sponsors, and Himmler offered to help him financially and bureaucratically. Part of the cost to Schäfer was that his enterprise would be associated with the Ahnenerbe (usually translated “Ancestral Inheritance Bureau”). That SS agency really did have someone looking for information about the Holy Grail at the time; a close connection with it could ruin an academic career, even in Nazi Germany. Schäfer succeeded in refusing to include an Ahnenerbe expert who had written a novel entitled Springtime in Atlantis, and in fact the financial help that the Ahnenerbe could give was so small that its patronage was not conspicuous. Nonetheless, after his return, Schäfer would manage an independent Asia-studies institute that was technically within the Ahnenerbe.

Hale gives us a history of the role of Tibet in the European imagination. Helena Blavatsky did not originate that country’s reputation for mystery and antiquity, but she did canonize Tibet’s place in the occult canon, particularly the connection with Atlantis and the Aryan race. The story takes several forms. A widespread version, with which Himmler would have been familiar, has it that the early Aryan race was instructed in Tibet by survivors of Atlantean civilization and may have originated in Tibet. A somewhat more prosaic theory embraced by the anthropologist Hans Günther had it that the Aryan race had actually originated in Europe and had spread to Asia in the past and then retreated. Günther was interested in Tibet because he believed that the Tibetan aristocracy might be a remnant of one of the high-water marks of Aryan expansion. That was one of the questions that Günther’s protégé, Bruno Beger, was included in the Schäfer Expedition to explore.

Physical anthropology is not one of the Black Arts. If you believe current television dramas, forensic anthropology is the principal tool of the criminal justice system. Be that as it may, the sort of racial classification that Beger did was old-fashioned even at the time. Hale suggests that it could be dangerous and painful for the subjects of the research; when practiced on colonial peoples, it was not necessarily consensual. Beger, however, promoted trust by also operating a clinic in the regions through which the expedition traveled, though he had no qualifications as a medical doctor. The Germans made themselves fairly popular with the locals. The problem was the English.

Tibet’s complicated history is the story of a nation once as aggressive as the Mongols that had transformed itself into one of history’s notable theocracies. The religion came from the south, but the politics came from the east: theocratic Tibet had evolved under a Chinese protectorate. The Tibetans were traditionally keen to keep that relationship formal (rather like Korea’s traditional relationship with China, perhaps), but Chinese governments made it intimate and coercive when they could. Though the English had occupied Lhasa in 1904 under the suspicion that the Tibetans were colluding with the Russians to subvert the Raj in India, the Tibetans were nonetheless on good terms with the British Empire: the Chinese had occupied Lhasa in 1910, and the 13th Dalai Lama had gone briefly into exile under British protection. From the Tibetan point of view, however, the English were not helpful enough in counterbalancing China, either in terms of diplomatic support or military assistance. The Tibetan army, such as it was, was in serious need of modern armament, which the English would neither give nor allow others to provide. The English were not pleased at the prospect of a delegation appearing at Lhasa from a country with a reputation as an arms manufacturer and whose Japanese ally was already at war with China.

In Hale’s telling, Schäfer outmaneuvered the British at every point. First he went to London and held polite conversations with the India Office. The British offered every facility to assist Schäfer’s progress through India and Sikkim. They also noted that they had no authority to grant access to Tibet, and that the Tibetan government (called the “Kashag”: a committee of ministers) would, alas, almost certainly refuse a visa. Certainly that was what the British agent at Lhasa would advise the Kashag to do, as Schäfer no doubt knew. Nonetheless, he took the offer of a limited trip to Sikkim. In this he acted partly on the advice of Francis Younghusband, the leader of the British expedition of 1904. Younghusband approached Schäfer on his own initiative and told him the best course would be to go as far as he was allowed and then keep going.

That was pretty much what Schäfer did, though without ever quite defying either the Raj or the Kashag. Essentially, once at the border between Sikkim and Tibet, he wheedled a local invitation to cross it. Then he used local contacts to get permission for a two-week stay at Lhasa. Eventually, he was allowed to stay for several months. As Hale points out, that was an odd choice for a naturalist to make if his primary objective was to collect exotic animals.

The diplomatic aspect of the expedition is a murk punctuated by tantalizing hints. The 13th Dalai Lama had died in 1933, and the 14th had been proclaimed in 1937. That child, however, putatively the reincarnation of his predecessor, lived in the border region with China, and the Kashag had not yet managed to negotiate his passage to Lhasa. Schäfer dealt with the Regent, Reting Rimpoche. The Regent granted Schäfer long interviews at short notice, a most unusual practice, during one of which he asked point blank whether Germany would be interested in selling arms to Tibet. He wrote a friendly letter to “his Majesty führer Adolph” Hitler, expressing an interest in improving relations between Germany and Tibet (indeed he wrote two letters, after Schäfer suggested the first was insufficiently effusive). On the other hand, the Nechung Oracle had issued this public prophecy: “Protect the teachings, make sacrifices, be friendly to strangers, but reject their gifts, because they won’t help the living. A dragon rules their world…” Schafer, for his part, was able to send mail back to Germany. This included an anti-British article that appeared in the Frankfurter Zeitung while he was still in Tibet, resulting in an awkward interview with the British political officer from Sikkim. While in India, he is also known to have consulted with the future Axis collaborator, Subhas Chandra Bose.

As war in Europe drew visibly closer, the British became generous with offers of extended permission to explore the Himalayan region: if Schäfer were still in the Raj when hostilities began, he could be interred, as did happen to other German explorers. The Schäfer Expedition got out with a few weeks to spare, however, sailing from India to the Middle East and to Iraq, where German military planes waited to take them home.

During the war, Schäfer developed and Himmler approved a plan to travel to Tibet and organize an anti-British legion. Similar plans were in the works for Afghanistan, and in neither case did they get beyond the discussion stage. Schäfer’s proposal does not appear to have been coordinated with the Kashag, even tentatively. In any case, Schäfer seems to have been the apple of Himmler’s eye, despite Schäfer’s frequent insubordination, or maybe because of it. (He may have been the only person in the Third Reich ever to be sent to the Finnish Front as a punishment.) He spent most of the war working on SS academic projects, notably the Asia-studies institute, which was named after the Swedish explorer, Sven Hedin. He wrote about his latest expedition, and he produced a notable anthropological film, Secret Tibet. In Hale’s estimation, the chief Nazi element in the film is its anti-clericalism. The Tibetans had once been a warrior race with an extensive Asian empire, the film explains, but they had been enervated by a foreign religious philosophy and a tyranny of monks: let Germany beware.

Schäfer also did some consulting. In his capacity as a documentarian, Schäfer was asked to organize the documentation of highly secret SS experiments on the effects of the rapid decompression of aircraft pilots. The subjects would be prisoners of various sorts. Schäfer asked to see the project. Though in the experiment he was shown the subject was only made groggy, Schäfer correctly surmised that the subjects would often be killed in these tests. He seems to have been genuinely horrified. He did not flatly turn down the request to cooperate, but he demanded exotic equipment and made other excuses for delay. Eventually, the matter was dropped (though the experiments continued). Hale suggests, perhaps correctly, that Schäfer was asked to document the experiments not so much because of his qualifications as because his involvement would make him complicit with the SS.

Bruno Beger served for much of the war as a combat officer. Unlike Schäfer, he did not evade participation in an appalling Ahnenerbe project, though it is still not clear how much he knew about it when he first agreed. The SS wanted racial classifications of its prisoners, so Beger was sent to Auschwitz to select interesting subjects (he was particularly on the lookout for Central Asians among the Soviet POWs). He made the familiar measurements of the living subjects. Soon after the measurements were taken, these people were gassed and pickled. The idea was to reduce them to skeletons for a large collection that could be systematically compared with the measurements taken from living bodies. As things turned out, the Ahnenerbe technicians at Strasbourg to whom the bodies were sent never got around to turning them into skeletons, and the attempt to dispose of them as the Allies approached was half-hearted. Beger’s part was overlooked in the immediate aftermath of the war, though this atrocity figured in several war-crimes trials. Then Beger’s name was mentioned at Adolf Eichmann’s trial. Beger himself was tried in 1971, and convicted. Because of extenuating circumstances, and the ambiguity of his role, he was sentenced to time already served.

The members of the Schäfer Expedition adapted well enough to the post-war world. Two went on to conventional academic careers. Schäfer himself was interred and interrogated (the book provides some of the transcripts). When he was released, he decided that his talents might be better employed managing a wildlife preserve in Venezuela. Hale interviewed several elderly Sikkimese who had worked on the Schäfer Expedition. On the whole, they remembered the Germans fondly.

The image of Tibet in the 1930s that we receive from Himmler’s Crusade is confused, which no doubt reflects both the documentary sources and the reality. We do get some good travel writing. On the whole, though, Tibet sounds singularly uninviting. Again and again we hear of “dung,” “muck,” “filth,” and “dung” again. How exactly could Hale have known that the streets of Lhasa were “wet with excrement” during the New Year’s festival? And if Lhasa was so impossibly distant and remote, how was it that the Schäfer Expedition was in fairly regular mail contact with Germany? Not that mail was Schäfer’s only means of communication: the Chinese legation let him use their radio. (Other technical support was supplied by the influential Tibetan contractor who ran the local hydroelectric station.) Hale discusses Tibetan religion as it relates to his story, but apparently with no great interest in the subject itself. Still, there is something to be said for any history that does not treat Tibet as Shangri-La, and a great deal to be said for this one. Anyone with an interest in modern Tibetan history or in the Occult Reich will find this book valuable.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2007-04-20: Gonzales, Bering Tunnel, Mass Murder Today

John J. Reilly’s idea that managing demographics is a pre-constitutional power of government is one my favorites.

Gonzales, Bering Tunnel, Mass Murder Today

Regarding Gonzales v. Carhart, the United States Supreme Court decision upholding the federal law banning partial-birth abortion, the first thing to note is that the law itself was the least that the late Republican congressional majority could do for its pro-life constituents. I mean "least" in the sense that Ambrose Bierce implied in this insufficiently well known rhyme: "If there were less you could have done, that's what you would have done, my son." The law was supposed to symbolize the Republican establishment's engagement with pro-life issues without in any way undermining Roe v. Wade and the related decisions. The fact that the law was upheld may actually remove abortion as an issue for this electoral cycle: the Democrats would be foolish to promise to repeal a widely popular statute that actually does nearly nothing, and the Republicans can claim a symbolic success that will satisfy their electorate.

In the decision itself, there were really just two important points, neither of which was in the majority opinion. One was made in Justice Ginsburg's dissent:

[T]he Court upholds an Act that surely would not survive under the close scrutiny that previously attended state-decreed limitations on a woman's reproductive choices.

When the court does not like some public policy, it applies "strict scrutiny" to any law that seeks to enact it, which essentially means second-guessing the legislature (including Congress) that enacted the statute. When the court puts a policy in the strict-scrutiny category, that means that it is, in effect, constitutionally proscribed. Other statutes are subjected to a "rational basis" test, which means that if the legislature goes through the motions of explaining itself and makes legislative findings, however implausible, to support the need for the law, the court will not interfere. In the 20th century up until the second term of Franklin Roosevelt, the court applied strict scrutiny to most economic regulation with a social welfare dimension. They realized they would be impeached or worse if they kept that up, so they moved that sort of statute to the "rational basis" category. Similarly, for most of American history, the court was willing to accept any reason or unreason that the states gave for laws that had the effect of segregating their populations by race. Then, in the 1950s, such laws began to meet with strict scrutiny. This practice of categorization is neither good nor bad; it just is not obviously law in any meaningful sense.

So, except as a study of rhetoric, there is no point in parsing at length what Justice Kennedy's majority opinion had to say about why the statute in question is constitutional while the substantially identical laws that the court has struck down in the past were not. We are told that this law defines partial-birth abortion more precisely, and that Congress made findings that this procedure was never necessary. Therefore, according to the opinion, the court's rule that such laws must provide an exception "for the health of the mother" did not apply. Actually, that was just another way of saying that the matter had been moved out of the "strict scrutiny" category; "health," in the sense that the Supreme Court had been accustomed to use it in this area, was an infinitely expandable concept, one that everyone understood meant that the court would never allow any abortion restriction at all to stand.

This is a degenerate and, frankly, disgusting mode of jurisprudence, even if you like the result. It runs right through all the autonomy-reproductive-sexual-orientation cases, from Griswold to Roe to Casey to Lawrence. In Gonzales, the only difference is that the result runs the other way.

The other interesting point was in Justice Thomas's concurrence:

I also note that whether the Act constitutes a permissible exercise of Congress's power under the Commerce Clause is not before the Court.

He has a point. Roe v. Wade said that legislatures might restrict abortions in the second trimester or even ban them in the third. The right to an abortion, such as it is, could be said to be the right of the woman, a legal person under the 14th Amendment, whose Due Process rights could be protected by statute. But by what constitutional warrant does the state enact a statute to protect a fetus, a legal nullity?

As I have suggested before, the chief misconception underlying this whole area of law is that it is a civil-liberties matter. In fact, what the court (and the elected branches of government, too) have been doing since Griswold is managing demographics, something government has always done, though historically public policy has sought to promote fertility rather than to restrict it. It would greatly simplify matters is the court would recognize that the statutes dealing with these matters are exercises of a pre-constitutional power of government, a power that any government must have simply by the fact of being a government.

* * *

Here's an obvious notion that is not self-evidently a good idea:

April 18 (Bloomberg) -- Russia plans to build the world's longest tunnel, a transport and pipeline link under the Bering Strait to Alaska, as part of a $65 billion project to supply the U.S. with oil, natural gas and electricity from Siberia...

A 6,000-kilometer (3,700-mile) transport corridor from Siberia into the U.S. will feed into the tunnel, which at 64 miles will be more than twice as long as the underwater section of the Channel Tunnel between the U.K. and France, according to the plan. The tunnel would run in three sections to link the two islands in the Bering Strait between Russia and the U.S...

``It's cheaper to transport electricity east, and with our unique tidal resources, the potential is real,'' [Vasily Zubakin, deputy chief executive officer of OAO Hydro OGK] said. Hydro OGK plans by 2020 to build the Tugurskaya and Pendzhinskaya tidal plants, each with capacity of as much as 10 gigawatts, in the Okhotsk Sea, close to Sakhalin Island.

The project envisions building high-voltage power lines with capacity of up to 15 gigawatts to supply the new rail links and also export to northern America.

I like the idea of being able to take a train from New York to Paris, but we must wonder about the utility of linking one resource-rich wilderness to another. You would have to carry the stuff that travels through those tunnels an awfully long way before you would find someone with a use for it.

* * *

Mark Steyn's thoughts about the Virginia Tech Massacre mischaracterize the event:

On Monday night, Geraldo was all over Fox News saying we have to accept that, in this horrible world we live in, our “children” need to be “protected.”...

Point one: They’re not “children.” The students at Virginia Tech were grown women and — if you’ll forgive the expression — men. They would be regarded as adults by any other society in the history of our planet. Granted, we live in a selectively infantilized culture where twentysomethings are “children” if they’re serving in the Third Infantry Division in Ramadi but grown-ups making rational choices if they drop to the broadloom in President Clinton’s Oval Office. Nonetheless, it’s deeply damaging to portray fit, fully formed adults as children who need to be protected. We should be raising them to understand that there will be moments in life when you need to protect yourself — and, in a “horrible” world, there may come moments when you have to choose between protecting yourself or others.

Professor Liviu Librescu, who died protecting his classroom from the shooter, will rightly be remembered as the hero of the incident, but he was not the only person who responded quickly and intelligently to the attack. In other classroons, the students succeeded in barricading their doors. Some students, pinned to the floor by gunfire, prevented others from panicking and so calling attention to themselves. The victims were not a population infantalized by the nanny-state.

No more helpful was Steyn's libertarian reflex of blaming the local police for failing to publicize across the campus the murder of two students earlier in the morning. The idea was that the students could have decided for themselves what security measures to take. Does anyone refrain from going out in public because a murder has been committed a quarter-mile away? To propose more "choice" as the solution is fatuous.

Objectively speaking (and speaking as someone whose one encounter with gunfire many years ago was to run away as fast as possible), the most life-saving solution would have been for a dozens students to have rushed the shooter and overwhelm him. Several might have been killed, but the casualty rate would not then have reached double digits. Okay, but that's the kind of collective, disinterested action that libertarianism makes almost unimaginable.

* * *

Peggy Noonan's assessment is understandable, but, I think anachronistic:

When Columbine happened, it was weird and terrible, and now there have been some incidents since, and now it's not weird anymore. And that is what's so terrible. It's the difference between "That doesn't happen!" and "That happens."...In terms of school shootings, we are now familiar with the principle...

With all the therapy in our great therapized nation, with all our devotion to emotions and feelings, one senses we are becoming a colder culture, and a colder country. We purport to be compassionate--we must respect Mr. Cho's privacy rights and personal autonomy--but of course it is cold not to have protected others from him. It is cold not to have protected him from himself.

Since the Columbine shootings, suicidal mass murder has become common. There are pictures of it every day from Iraq. When it happens in Israel, it's usually by a student. Therapy does not have a nickel's worth to do with it.

Copyright © 2007 by John J. Reilly

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Iron Wolves: Order of the Centurion Book 2 Review

In Iron Wolves, we get to see a part of the Legion inhabited by men less high-minded than Cohen Chhun or Subs, the Dark Ops legionnaire from Order of the Centurion. Men on the borderline of control. Men interested in chasing skirts. Men who might have trouble adjusting to civilian life again, if they live that long.

Iron Wolves: Order of the Centurion #2 by Jonathan Yanez with Jason Anspach and Nick Cole Kindle Edition, 198 pages Published March 5, 2019 by Galaxy's Edge ASIN B07MV1H51G

Iron Wolves: Order of the Centurion #2
by Jonathan Yanez with Jason Anspach and Nick Cole
Kindle Edition, 198 pages
Published March 5, 2019 by Galaxy's Edge

Sergeant Sam Samson [who knows, maybe back on lost Earth, his distant ancestors were from Iceland] can KTF with the best of them, but he gets a little too enthusiastic about it. Since this isn’t exactly what the Legion is looking for in a recruitment holo, Sam has been promoted to Sergeant and busted back down more times than he would probably like to think about. I get the impression that if Sam ever gets out of the Legion alive, he is going to find civilian life bewildering, at best.

Yet, Sam isn’t a heartless monster who’ll coolly [or heatedly] pull the trigger on anyone he is ordered to, or someone who looks at him funny. His problem is a lack of control, not a lack of a conscience. Sam Samson is not a nice guy, but he does at least try to be good, even if he frequently fails. Guys like him can find a place in the military sometimes, which can put that impulsiveness to use in the field. I bet Sam would be a nightmare on barracks duty though.

Going back 95 years to Beau Geste, or alternatively in the more modern They Shall Not Grow Old, men like Sam have been seen as the foundation of the armed forces. Whether in the conscript armies of the early twentieth century, or the volunteer services we have now in the Anglosphere, men like Sam, crass but loyal, with no real home outside of military life, have been the solid core. They provide the cultural continuity that makes an army work.

But to be a Legionnaire in the waning days of the Galactic Republic is to find your loyalty tested. I take Iron Wolves, like all of the Galaxy’s Edge books, to be a reflection on the lived experience of the men who served. In this book, the central question is: how do you know when following orders is not the right thing to do? When it comes down to it, to whom are you truly loyal?

A persistent problem over time with militaries with strong esprit-de-corps is that the men tend to be loyal to each other, and their commanders, far more than their political masters. In the United States, the strong tradition of civilian control of the military is intended to counter precisely this tendency. At Galaxy’s Edge, the points, appointed officers, are likewise intended to subvert this, for the Legion was intended from the beginning to be inward-looking.

An interesting wrinkle is that professional soldiers like Sam often find themselves growing fond of the peoples and places where they are stationed. They can find a home in many ways more welcoming than their own. Thus when the politicians no longer see benefit in these remote places, and cynically withdraw support, it is not just abstract honor that is offended, but a very real love of place and a sense of belonging. The very things that make men fight.

What Sam Samson and the rest of the Iron Wolves do in response to political cynicism is simply what they do best: kill the other guy before he kills you and let the chips fall where they may. This was the first Order of the Centurion book primarily written by someone other than Jason and Nick, and so far I pleased with how their experiment is turning out.

My other book reviews | Reading Log

Galaxy’s Edge season 1:
Legionnaire: Galaxy's Edge #1 book review
Galactic Outlaws: Galaxy's Edge #2 book review
Kill Team: Galaxy's Edge #3 book review
Attack of Shadows: Galaxy's Edge #4 book review
Sword of the Legion: Galaxy's Edge #5 Book Review
Tin Man: Galaxy's Edge Book Review
Prisoners of Darkness: Galaxy's Edge #6 Book Review
Imperator: Galaxy's Edge Book Review
Turning Point: Galaxy's Edge #7 Book Review
Message for the Dead: Galaxy's Edge #8 Book Review
Retribution: Galaxy’s Edge #9 Book Review

Tyrus Rechs: Contracts & Terminations:
Requiem for Medusa: Tyrus Rechs: Contracts & Terminations Book 1 Review

Takeover: Part 1 Book Review
Takeover: Part 2 Book Review

Order of the Centurion
Order of the Centurion #1 book review

The Long View: Flicker

More fun with Albigensians, this time in novel form.

Flicker: A Novel
By Theodore Roszak
Summit Books, 1991
591 Pages, US$19.95
ISBN 10:155652577X

One pities Mr. Roszak his reader mail, because it’s going to sound like this:

At last the great conspiracy which has lain at the heart of Western history for the past 700 years has been publicly revealed. A single, hidden hand has been gradually guiding science, politics and the arts toward the planned sterilization of the planet in the year 2014. This hand is none other than the underground Albigensian Church.

Otherwise known as the Cathars, or “pure ones,” this sect is the linear descendant of the terrible Gnostic heresy founded by Simon the Magus, Christ’s contemporary and counterfeit. A thousand years later, they were in open control of southern France: the troubadours were their secret missionaries. The textbooks say that they were eradicated by the Albigensian Crusade of the first half of the thirteenth century, (The special courts called the Inquisition were invented to deal with them.)

However, these world-hating heretics were not destroyed. Rather, they spent the intervening centuries planning and infiltrating, until finally no major institution or system of thought in the West, indeed the world, is free of their influence. Of course, people who declare this danger openly are routinely branded insane or, when that will not serve, they simply “disappear.” Therefore Mr. Roszak has cleverly cloaked his revelations in the form of a novel, purporting to be the memoirs of a UCLA film school professor. Those who have discovered the ghastly truth for themselves, however, will see what he is really up to.

Well, maybe. What Mr. Roszak really seems to have done is to have critiqued the antinaturalist streak in modern culture with rare wit and persuasiveness. In point of fact, while the business about Cathars, Templars and Albigensians will prove to be enormously entertaining to connoisseurs of conspiracy theories, the bulk of the book is a rousing satire of film criticism, academic and otherwise. He pulls this off by describing how his hero, a young and slightly gullible film historian, starts his academic career about 1960 viewing film noir masterpieces in a grimy repertory house, only to end up writing reviews (just before the Albigensians get him) of “serious” movies with titles like The Lonesome Lovesong of the Sad Sewer Babies.

The author has argued in some of his earlier works (he is chiefly known for his account of the 1960s, The Making of a Counter-culture), that there is in fact a “Gnostic” element running throughout Western history. This is a tendency to despise the physical world as we perceive it. In the work of scientists, this takes the form of the search for disembodied abstractions behind particular phenomena. On the cultural level, it shows up as a loathing and contempt for ordinary human beings, for ordinary life, for the system of the world as it stands. Though he nowhere says so, Roszak seems to be suggesting that the very notion of the avant garde, the definition of artistic merit as “the shock of the new,” is founded on a hatred for life itself.

We learn about this through the reminiscences of a man who began attending art films in high school so as to see as much exposed female skin as possible. What first brings the hero of the book into contact with the Great Conspiracy, however, is his study of a director from Weimar Germany who immigrated to Hollywood in the 1920s. Once there, this director’s career rapidly degenerated. Finally, he could find work only in horror flicks filled with vampires and mummies.

The young scholar eventually realizes that these B movies are more affecting than they have any right to be. He soon discovers that they have ingenious subliminal effects, movies within movies, designed to make violence seem attractive and normal sex disgusting. (If you’ve ever had any questions about Tantric sex, by the way, this book will answer them, I think.) The clincher is the discovery that these subliminal messages are a form of conditioning by the eccentric religious organization which raised and educated the director.

The Gnostics of history, and apparently also the real Cathars, were Dualists. They held that a good god and an evil god were at war in the universe. The world of history was the domain of the evil god, who keeps the souls of men entrapped and deluded in matter through the horror of organic life. It is the hope of the Cathars (in the book) to end procreation, and indeed biological life.

One can, of course, suggest that a spiritual mood can be reproduced at different times and different places without being transmitted through an organization or a tradition. For instance, the chief modern historian of Gnosticism, Hans Jonas, has suggested that the more manic depressive forms of Existentialism manifest a type of cosmic despair that is strongly reminiscent of Gnosticism but without being derived from it. Roszak’s more modest proposal is that the relentless increase of violence, scatology, and pure horror in the popular media, particularly film, represents a cultural atmosphere that the Cathars would have cultivated if they were alive today.

It was no small accomplishment on Roszak’s part to put this grim thesis across with considerable hilarity. Though his universal conspiracy will probably get more attention than it deserves (it certainly has in this review), it is very good for its class. It is certainly much better than that scruffy crew Umberto Eco got together for Foucault’s Pendulum, which had much the same class of conspiratorial characters. There are lots of nice touches his research obviously suggested, such as the fact that the Cathar bigwigs all bear the names of obscure Gnostics heretics (Father Marcion, Brother Valentius, etc.) from the early Christian era. I might also note that the god Odin, who appears briefly in the guise of a UCLA professor of medieval studies, makes rather a muddle of the relationship between the Cathars and the Templars, but even the muddle is in character.

Of course, any attempt to recite the cultural history of the last thirty years is bound to have some unintended glitches; the one rock group he discusses in detail, called The Extinction Now Boys’ Choir, can’t seem to make up its mind whether it’s early punk or late speed metal. However, this is nitpicking.

This may not be just any book. For decades now, anyone confronted with a film that shocked or reeked of despair would be inclined to give it the benefit of the doubt. Isn’t the breaking down of inhibitions what art is supposed to be about? Roszak suggests, by implication, that it doesn’t have to be.

This review originally appeared in the January 1992 issue of Fidelity.

Copyright © 2007 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2007-04-18: Soggy Internet, Virginia Tech Massacre, The Secret Glory

The infrastructure failure that John mentions here where a big storm inundated NYC and affected theoretically robust networks like the Internet would be repeated on a much larger scale five years later with Hurricane Sandy.

Soggy Internet, Virginia Tech Massacre, The Secret Glory

No, it wasn't a nor'easter: That storm that dropped nine inches of rain on the New York City area over Sunday and Monday was not a coastal storm, which is what nor'easters (I hate that contraction: northeasters) are. The pattern was more like that of a winter continental storm that brings a blizzard.

Anyway, my own neighborhood is right at the mouth of the Hudson on New York Bay. Short of the Deluge, there is no way to get the sort of flooding here that forced evacuations further inland. On the other hand, the ground becomes completely saturated; my condominium's basement took a foot of water, and that was with the pump working.

I mention the storm here only because, while it was happening, the Internet slowed to a crawl and became unusable for a time. This has happened repeatedly in civil emergency and bad weather. I thought the point of the Internet was to be a communication system that would keep working even during a nuclear war.

Maybe it will, if the weather's fine.

* * *

The first mention I saw of the Virginia Tech Massacre characterized it as an assault on our Second Amendment right to own guns. Other variations on this offensive-defense include this surreal column: Virginia Tech's Gun-Free Zone Left Cho Seung-Hui's Victims Defenseless. Actually, if you are a Second Amendment buff, the massacre should cause you no concern. The new Democratic majority in Congress, NPR noted this morning, is based on representatives from rural districts who won election largely by adopting the National Rifle Association's position on gun rights. As we have noted before, the high strategy on the Left is to trade guns rights to the western states in order to secure their support for the Darwin Award Agenda on reproductive and marriage issues.

It could work.

I suspect that, even in Thomas Jefferson's day, students were not expected to come armed to the lecture halls.

* * *

We should compare this latest incident with the murder-suicide at Harvard in 1995. Cho Seung-Hui produced disturbing writings and otherwise gave signs of mental deterioration. So did the Harvard student in her diaries, as well as in letters to perfect strangers asking for help. In both cases, the students absented themselves for a long time from their classes before taking violent action. Perhaps steps should be taken to ensure that faculty note such absences and that the school administration investigate them. That would be more practical than requiring faculty to carry guns, even stun-guns.

The Harvard student was clearly depressed, and was even getting some futile counseling from the school medical service, but did not seem to be dangerous; at least, not to people other than herself. The Virginia Tech student, we are now told, frightened his teachers and fellow students. I wonder how seriously to take that: he was scary, we learn, because he was so, well, so quiet. Even in retrospect, I would not read too much into the violent themes he chose for his class assignments. This is evidence not that he was homicidally insane, but that he had been seeing the films created for his cohort.

* * *

Speaking of violent films, I recently ordered a set of DVDs from Amazon Canada of the films of documentarian and horror-director Richard Stanley. The one item that interests me is his documentary, The Secret Glory, about the life and alleged Grail Quest of Otto Rahn. I got started on this because I just reviewed Rahn's book, Crusade against the Grail. After I finished the book, it occurred to me that Rahn would make a good subject for a documentary. Then I discovered it had already been done.

By the way, despite its vulnerability to inclement weather, the Internet has now advanced to the point of Rahn blogging, as we see at Arcadia, Andrew Gough's blog.

There would still be something to be said for a biopic of Otto Rahn, but it would be a mistake to view him as a hero. Esoteric fascism has never been a good thing.

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Gemini Warrior Book Review

Matthew White and Jason McCrae are oddly similar. Other than being five years apart in age, they could be twins. Living in Serenity City, they easily could have never crossed paths with one another. Except that a mysterious woman needs test subjects who are as similar as possible to one another….

Gemini Warrior: Gemini Man book 1 by J. D. Cowan Published by Silver Empire (2019)

Gemini Warrior: Gemini Man book 1
by J. D. Cowan
Published by Silver Empire (2019)

Once they pass the “test”, Matthew and Jason find themselves trapped in another world, prisoners of their erstwhile employer. And she is only just getting started with making them do things they don’t want to do. Fortunately for them, passing that test means they have possession of an artifact of great power, the Gemini Bracelets.

Castor and Pollux are not amused by your shenanigans

Castor and Pollux are not amused by your shenanigans

Every volume in the Heroes Unleashed series has been very different. Gemini Warrior surprised me by being an isekai, although since I follow the author’s blog, I feel like I shouldn’t have been. Cowan often writes of adventure stories, and isekai in particular. Also, I should say that his series of posts on the history of science fiction as a genre has been an inspiration to my book reviews, changing how I see everything.

In line with Cowan’s argument that the heart of adventure fiction is wonder, Gemini Warrior is a pulpy, desperate quest, where Matthew and Jason try to escape the world of Tyndarus, master their powers, and defeat the wicked. Along the way they might have to learn how to trust one another, narrowly escape death, and somehow find time to get romantically involved.

What it isn’t is a thinkpiece about Tyndarian society, or the character of Matthew and Jason. The other two volumes I’ve reviewed in the Heroes Unleashed universe are like that, and I think they are done well, but I appreciate that Cowan can write a story in a different mode in the same universe, and make it fun.

An only mildly inaccurate portrayal of the object of power in Tyndarus

An only mildly inaccurate portrayal of the object of power in Tyndarus

We do get to see what Tyndarus is like. I am fascinated by the religion of the inhabitants of Tyndarus, its sacramental character, and the frankly Eucharistic object of power that Matthew and Jason contest with the woman who brought them to this world. It is not that there isn’t a great backstory, it just takes a back seat to the immediate problem that lizard men and evil sorcerers are trying kill them.

We also experience the character of our protagonists. If anything, Matthew and Jason are fairly typical young men, in that they are vaguely disappointing by not amounting to much or doing anything worthwhile with their lives. They are both callow youths, unremarkable except for the mysterious similarity that got them into this mess in the first place.

This is of course standard for an adventure story of this sort, but at the same time everything is set up just so, such that subsequent volumes will give us new wonders, and new adventures. By pulpy, I do not mean the opposite of well-crafted. I am also interested to see where Cowan takes the story, since Matthew and Jason don’t seem to be Primes. Maybe everything will all make sense later, but insofar as they were granted powers by an artifact, they seem quite different than Primes, who just wake up one day different than they were before.

Overall, I enjoyed Gemini Warriors. I am happy to see books of this style written, and I look forward to seeing where the adventure takes us next!

I received a free copy of this book via Booksprout.

My other book reviews | Reading Log

Other books in the Heroes Unleashed series

by Morgon Newquist
Heroes Fall: Serenity City book 1

by Cheah Kit Sun
Hollow City: Song of Karma book 1

The Long View: Crusade Against the Grail

Otto Rahn is one of those characters who would have had to be invented, if he didn’t actually exist. And if that were the case, you might accuse the author of fantastical speculations far beyond reason.

This book review by John J. Reilly serves not only as a short biography of Rahn, but also a capsule history of the Albigensian crusade.

Crusade against the Grail
The Struggle between the Cathars, the Templars, and the Church of Rome

========= By Otto Rahn =========

German Original Kreuzzug gegen den Gral: 1933
Translation by Christopher Jones
Inner Traditions International, 2006
229 Pages, US$16.95
ISBN-10: 1-59477-135-9

Anyone who undertakes the study of the intellectual underpinnings of Nazi Germany (1933-1945) will soon notice that at least some members of the regime were doing things that are not covered by the typical survey course in political theory. Researchers who attempt to investigate these anomalies will dig through a swamp of popular and crank literature about the Third Reich’s connection to the occult underground, some of it coincident with conspiracy theory and some of it (often the most coherent works) purely fictional. Nonetheless, a sober study of primary sources will reveal that not all the fantastic rumors were made up out of whole cloth. When researchers strike bedrock, one of the things they find is this book by Otto Rahn, the Nazi who really was looking for the Holy Grail, or at least for traditions about what it was and what happened to it.

Otto Rahn (1904-1939) was an amateur German folklorist with a keen interest in speleology. In company with the Swiss mountaineer Paul-Aléxis Ladame and the folklorist Antonin Gadal, he explored the regions of southern France associated the with Cathar heresy and its suppression in a series of military and evangelical campaigns in the 13th century. The Cathars had made extensive use of the spectacular caves of the mountainous southeast of France as fortresses and refuges, and Rahn duly found new evidence of their occupation of those sites, as well as greater knowledge of the size and interconnection of the caves themselves. He also collected stories and traditions from the local people about the Cathars, the crusade against them, and about the region in general. Most of this book deals with what Rahn calls “Occitania.” The one map the book provides depicts part of the modern region of Languedoc-Rousillon, though the story extends across Alpine and Pyrenean France into Catalonia. Occitania is really a linguistic term, referring to the Romance language of that region, which French has still not wholly displaced. Occitan, better known as Languedoc (which is also a better known term for the region), was the language of the French troubadours, and once was a serious rival to the language of northern France that became modern French.

SS leader Heinrich Himmler might be supposed to have had more practical matters on his mind in 1933, but he found time to read Rahn’s book. Then he invited him to an interview and immediately offered him a job as a professional folklorist for the SS, of which Rahn eventually became a member. Rahn continued to pursue his researches and to write, but he does not seem to have been a happy Nazi. He died of exposure during a hike in 1939; his death was ruled a suicide. The sympathetic Translator’s Introduction notes briefly that there had been rumors about homosexuality and Jewish ancestry. We are not told that alternative (and admittedly unsupported) versions of his biography have him dying in a concentration camp in 1944.

Crusade against the Grail supports the thesis articulated by Joséphin Péladan (1858-1918) in a short work, The Secret of the Troubadours. Péladan, a novelist who favored occult themes, had argued that the legend of Montsalvat, the fortress of the Grail, and the Grail legend as a whole, were closely connected with Montségur, the last great Cathar stronghold, with the Cathar heresy, and (inevitably) with the Templar order of knights that was suppressed early in the 14th century. More particularly, Rahn tried to show that the people and places in the German version of the Grail story created by Wolfram von Eschenbach (1170-1220) are lightly allegorized renderings of real people and places in Occitania in the early 13th century, when Eschenbach composed his Grail epic, Parzival. The most important of these identifications was of the fortress of Montségur (which fell in 1244 to the forces of orthodoxy) with Montsalvat, also known as Muntsalvaesche, or Munsalvaesche, and other variants.

Trying to substantiate Eschenbach’s version of the story has some odd consequences. The original Grail story, composed by Chrétien de Troyes probably in the 1180s, was artfully unclear about the nature of the Grail, except that it was a sort of dish or table that carried the Eucharist and provided nourishment and healing. In the Anglo-French tradition, thanks to the romancer Robert de Boron who wrote a generation after Chrétien, the Grail became associated with the plate or cup used by Jesus at the Last Supper. In Eschenbach’s telling, however, the Grail became a Stone that conferred immortality. Moreover, according to Eschenbach, this Stone had been brought to Earth by angels of ambiguous allegiance during Lucifer’s rebellion against God. In later German tradition, this Stone was said to have broken off from the crown of Lucifer when he fell from Heaven. If we are to believe Rahn, the folk tradition of Occitania also took this view of things. A shepherd is quoted thus:

When the walls of Montségur were still standing, the Cathars, the Pure Ones, kept the Holy Grail inside them. Montségur was in danger; the armies of Lucifer were before its walls. They wanted to take the Grail to insert it again into the diadem of their Prince, from where it had broken off and fallen to Earth during the fall of the angels. At this most critical point, a white dove came from the sky and split the Tabor [the local peak] in two. Esclarmonde, the keeper of the Grail, threw the precious relic into the mountain, where it was hidden. So they saved the Grail. When the devils entered the castle, it was too late. Furious, they burned all the Pure Ones, not far from the rocky castle on the camp des cremats.

One of the interesting differences between a Stone and, say, a chalice (as the Grail was usually pictured in later years) is that the provenance of a chalice would be awfully hard to prove, but stones really do fall from the sky. It is also not unknown for meteoric rocks to become cult objects, as the Kaaba at Mecca exemplifies. So, it is not quite impossible that the Cathar treasure which Rahn frequently mentions could have included a sacred stone. It’s even possible that Rahn was looking for it; that’s part of Rahn’s legend. However, no such specific quest is apparent in Crusade against the Grail. Moreover, though the Translator’s Introduction mentions the meteorite possibility, Rahn, perhaps surprisingly, does not.

Be this as it may, it is very unlikely that Rahn’s thesis about the historicity of Parzival is correct. The fit between Eschenbach’s story and medieval Occitania just is not very close (or so we must judge from this account, which does not describe either systematically). Moreover, the thesis is based on Eschenbach’s claim to have found a more reliable version of the Grail legend than that of Chrétien de Troyes. There is no evidence at all for that. Chrétien’s modest romance was original, and Eschenbach was just exercising his poetic license to take the story in a grander direction.

Even if Rahn was wrong as a historian, his book is by no means without interest as a record of influential esoteric thought. He was not the only person in the first third of the 20th century who admired the Cathars. Another admirer, according to Otto Wagener, an aide to Adolf Hitler in the 1920s, was Hitler himself. Wagener, his book Memoirs of a Confidant (1978), quotes an apparent reference by Hitler to Catharism and its suppression:

During the Middle Ages, a new movement of inner liberation and the establishment of the natural link of man to his God began, which fell back on the true teachings of Christ and the instinctive apprehension of the truth. The reaction was not long in coming. The Inquisition and witch-hunts rooted out all aspects of the heresy, as the hypocritical priesthood called it...

That was, pretty much, Rahn’s understanding of the history, too. In large part, Crusade against the Grail is an anti-Catholic polemic, recounting history “in the tradition of the French Romantic historians,” such as Jules Michelet. This school saddled later generations with the myth that millions of people were executed during the witch-burnings of the late medieval and early modern periods, and that the Inquisition (usually depicted as a single institution, rather than a class of court) would torture thousands of people anywhere in Europe at the asking of an awkward question in a seminary class. The actual crusade against the south of France in the 13th century (yes, it was an official crusade, sanctioned by Pope Innocent III (1161-1216) in the same terms as an expedition to the Holy Land) did not lack for low motives and atrocity. As is usually noted, its chief supporters were the kings of France, whose control of the wealthy and culturally prestigious south traditionally had been nominal. It was also the campaign to which we owe the expression, “Kill them all; let God sort them out!” Nonetheless, Rahn’s account of the suppression of Catharism is simply uncritical popular history.

Who were these Cathars whom Rahn championed? The term “Cathar” is Greek for “pure.” Those who were fully initiated into the Cathar church were “Cathari,” that is to say, “Pure Ones.” (The German word for heretic, by the way, “Ketzer,” is derived from the term.) Catharism, sometimes called Albigensianism after a city in the region, was a form of Gnosticism, a cult of esoteric wisdom that purported to teach its adherents the way to salvation. It incorporated elements of Manicheanism, which held that the world is a duality of spirit and matter; the meaning of salvation was liberation of the spirit from an irredeemably corrupt physical world.

Rahn had a theory that Catharism was a refined resurgence of a form of Manicheanism called Priscillianism. This rather intellectual doctrine had become popular in northern Iberia and southern Gaul in the fourth and fifth centuries. It was the first heresy to be violently suppressed by the secular government (in this case, the collapsing Roman government, which, like Himmler, might be thought to have had more practical things to worry about). Rahn somewhat fantasticates this hypothesis by arguing that Priscillianism worked on the pre-existing Druidism of the region, which already would have included ideas like metempsychosis. Thus, he tells us, the Manicheans converted the Druids to Christianity.

Be that as it may, the Cathar laity of the High Middle ages, called “the believers,” were of every class and way of life. They married and had children. They conducted business and politics in the ordinary way. (Indeed, the Catholic Church may have been so alarmed by Catharism because of its many followers among the aristocracy of Languedoc.) However, Catharism despised matter and even life; birth was a matter of regret. The fully initiated were those who had received the Cathar sacrament called the “consolamentum.” They were expected to be celibate and sterile for the rest of their lives. Similarly, the fully initiated would not kill, even for food, and so were vegetarians. Except for an elite who functioned as clergy, most Cathars took the consolamentum only on their death beds. This book does not mention the rumor that the Cathars encouraged sodomy because it was inherently nonreproductive. It does mention the less controversial point that the Cathari were permitted to take their own lives, preferably through starvation, provided they did not do so from boredom or to evade a duty.

The Cathars despised the physical world because, like most other Gnostics, they held that God had not made it. The world and its ways were the creation of the demiurge, the God of the Old Testament, who had entrapped the spirits of angels in the mechanisms of the world. This reviewer has seen accounts of Rahn’s later work which say that, for Rahn, the demiurge may be the devil, but Lucifer might not be. Rahn is sometimes characterized as a “Luciferian,” which is to say, one who regards Lucifer as the liberator of mankind, and the true object of Cathar devotion. However, that position is not even hinted at here.

In any case, the Cathars held that the demiurge kept the entrapped spirits in its prison universe. These spirits passed from incarnation to incarnation, deluded by the demiurge’s pretension to be the true God. Nonetheless, like Marcion, the 2nd-century heretic who had similarly rejected the Old Testament, the Cathars insisted they were Christians. They accepted parts of the New Testament, particularly John’s Gospel, and held Jesus for their savior. He was the emanation of the true God from beyond the world. However, they also held that Jesus had never had a physical body, but only pretended to be an incarnate being. (The term for that doctrine, incidentally, is “Docetism.”) Thus, Mary was not the Mother of God, and Jesus had never really been crucified. It may or may not be significant that this is also a Muslim doctrine. In any case, the Cathars distained the use of the cross.

They had other liturgical eccentricities, too. In the Lord’s Prayer, which they retained, they asked for “our supersubstantial bread” rather than “our daily bread,” thus perhaps referring to the bread used at the consolamentum and certainly expressing contempt for anything so material as the bread necessary for everyday life. In this they had the support of the Latin text of the Vulgate Bible, where Matthew’s Gospel has “panem...supersubstantialem.” Luke’s Gospel has “panem...cottidianam,” “daily bread,” but both phrases translate the same Greek term, “epiousios,” which means literally “above the substance.” The Greek Orthodox Churches in English-speaking countries today translate that “daily bread.” Go figure.

In any case, Rahn tells us that the Cathar church was also the Church of Amour, the Church of Love. The troubadours of southern France were the apostles of this doctrine, disguised as the cult of chivalric love. (The German troubadours were called “Minnesinger,” which is “love-singers”; “troubadour” means “inventor.”) The novelty is that this love of Languedoc was a cultural novelty: a practice intense personal devotion to some selected individual that systematically rejected sexual consummation. The doctrine of the troubadours was, in effect, a discipline by which human beings could cultivate among themselves the pure love of God, which generates nothing in this world.

Few of these ideas were altogether new even in Rahn’s day, and some may have merit. However, despite the fact the author was not attempting a full account of Grail scholarship, one wishes that he or his translator had addressed a few other issues. For instance, if you are looking for references to Cathars in the Grail stories, the most obvious place to start would be the great French synthesis of the Grail legend, the anonymous, The Lancelot-Grail. In the part of that romance that treated of the Grail Quest, it is precisely the failure to display the cross that excites the suspicion of the Grail knights about the orthodoxy of a monastery they later destroy. That looks more like Innocent III’s crusade than anything Wolfram von Eschenbach had to say.

One might be forgiven for suspecting that the point of Rahn’s hunt for the Grail had less to do with discovering an ancient secret than with divorcing Christianity from its Jewish roots: that would seem to be an implication of a theory that identifies Jehovah with the devil. However, the actual Cathars did not draw antisemitic implications from their doctrine, and neither did Rahn. Indeed, in his praise of Occitanian civilization, he cites the high positions of public service occupied by Jews, and compares it unfavorably with the condemnation of Jewish office-holding by the Church of Rome. Still, quite aside from what he has to say about the Cathars, Rahn tells us that Christianity was a deluded and resentful thing that, in the case of Catharism, happened to form the container in which something quite different appeared. There is demythologized Christianity for you.

Any defects in Rahn’s theological acumen are rarely made good by the translator, who restored Rahn’s citations and added some notes of his own. The text has some oddities. For instance, we are told that the penitential yellow crosses that former Cathars were forced to wear “measured five centimeters wide and ten high [two inches wide and ten high].” The brackets are presumably an editorial insertion, but even editors should be able to do better math. More seriously, there are what appear to be artifacts of translation. For instance, we learn that former Cathars were whipped at Sunday Mass between “the Epistle and the Evangelism.” The German word for “Gospel,” which is “Evangelium,” might also be rendered “Evangelism” in English, but to make that choice here suggests that the translator is not very clear about what happens at an ordinary Catholic liturgy. Aside from the whippings, I mean.

Finally, there is also this: in the long list of people whom the translator thanks for helping to see this book through to publication, we find Michael Moynihan and Alain de Benoist, both notable ornaments of today’s esoteric neo-fascism in its Traditional dimension. Despite Himmler’s patronage, people like Otto Rahn never got the opportunity to make their case freely during the Third Reich. Times change.

Click here for a review of
the companion volume
of this book:
Lucifer's Court

Click here for the truth about the Holy Grail:

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Copyright © 2007 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2007-04-13: Sunspots, Christian Europe, Boomsday, Perpetual Peace

Something John J. Reilly talks about in this post, and something that was really common post 9/11, was the idea that Europeans who were failing to reproduce themselves would be replaced by immigrants from places that had not yet undergone the demographic transition.

Trendlines of central tendency

Trendlines of central tendency

Versus prediction intervals – but you still don’t see the underlying model

Versus prediction intervals – but you still don’t see the underlying model

Much of this was, overwrought, at least. However, even as staid a man as Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI talked about it. Demographic predictions are hard, not least because the simple charts that get published obscure the model, and the model assumptions, that underlay them.

The onset and duration of the demographic transition is one of the things that goes into such a model. In the early 2000s, birthrates were really high in much of the Muslim world, sparking some of the concern about the potential Islamicization of Europe. In the decade or so since, birthrates have fallen almost everywhere, except sub-Saharan Africa.

A merely possible future is that Europe could in fact be re-Christianized by an African diaspora. Which would amount to restoring a faith by displacing a people. However, predictions of this sort are very uncertain, and are best addressed very carefully. I would not be surprised if it turned out differently.

Sunspots, Christian Europe, Boomsday, Perpetual Peace

Do you grab people by their lapels and shout at them that global warming is really caused by variations in the solar magnetosphere? If so, you'll find this study comforting, within limits:

Scientists based at the Institute for Astronomy in Zurich used ice cores from Greenland to construct a picture of our star's activity in the past.

They say that over the last century the number of sunspots rose at the same time that the Earth's climate became steadily warmer.

This trend is being amplified by gases from fossil fuel burning, they argue...

Dr Sami Solanki presenting a paper on the reconstruction of past solar activity at Cool Stars, Stellar Systems And The Sun, a conference in Hamburg, Germany...

But the most striking feature, he says, is that looking at the past 1,150 years the Sun has never been as active as it has been during the past 60 years...

Over the past 20 years, however, the number of sunspots has remained roughly constant, yet the average temperature of the Earth has continued to increase...

This is put down to a human-produced greenhouse effect caused by the combustion of fossil fuels.

Again, the mechanism between solar activity and climate is supposed to be the expansion and contraction of the solar magnetosphere. When the magnetosphere expands (as evidenced by an increase in sunspots), it diminishes the amount of cosmic rays that reach the atmosphere. Cosmic rays promote cloud formation; you get fewer of them, you get fewer clouds, you get warmer weather. Recently (very recently, as these things go), temperatures on Earth have continued to rise while sunspot counts remained level (though historically high).

This suggests that there must be some additional factor driving temperatures. For reasons of basic physics, CO2 is a good candidate. On the other hand, it could be that effects of persistently low cloudiness (which would be expected to correlate with persistently high sunspot counts) would be cumulative. The most obvious candidate would changes in albedo, the reflectiveness of the Earth's surface. Warm weather in one year would melt polar and glacial snow, which means that next year the surface would reflect less heat back into space, which would make the world even warmer, which would melt yet more snow. This kind of feedback mechanism does not progress indefinitely, of course. There would eventually be some new point of equilibrium, which could take several decades to reach.

Climate modelers believe that they have taken these feedback mechanisms into account and found them wanting as explanations for the climate changes of the past 20 years. They have done a sufficiently thorough job that the burden of proof now lies with anyone who supports the hypothesis of a transition to a new solar-magnetosphere equilibrium. Well, the behavior of the atmosphere in the next 20 years or so will tell the tale. Meanwhile, the nukes-and-ethanol proposals to stop the rise in CO2 levels have much to recommend them on strategic and economic grounds.

* * *

In the spirit of Easter, last Sunday's New York Times Magazine ran a feature story, entitled Keeping the Faith, by one Russell Shorto. The article is an assessment of the pontificate of Benedict XVI, and particularly of the prospects for Benedict's plan for the re-evangelization of Europe.

It's not a stupid article. The author understands that last year's Regensburg Address by the pope was not about Islam, but about the centrality of essentially religious issues to the European tradition of humane reason. Nonetheless, it is a Times piece. For instance, even though the author does some original reporting by talking to members of the new lay groups for young Catholics, he never quite reports the fact that these are not associations of young progressives chafing under the restraints of orthodoxy, but groups of keen rigorists who think that the hierarchy is too lax. Worst of all, the author talked to the Usual Suspects who have been misinforming the Mainstream Media about Catholic issues for 40 years:

Benedict may be right that the Catholic Church has a world-historic chance to transform Europe and bring about change. But the church’s own strictures could work against that. The paradox may be that for all his stylistic softening as pope, Joseph Ratzinger’s own labors through the decades, applying his life experience with such rigor to protecting and preserving the church, are precisely what prevent Europeans from reconnecting with their roots. “Think of the silencing of theologians in recent decades,” said Father Reese, the former editor of the Jesuit journal America. “The suppression of discussion and debate. How certain issues become litmus tests for orthodoxy and loyalty. All of these make it very difficult to do the very thing Benedict wants. I wish him well. I want him to succeed. But it seems everything he has done in the past makes it much more difficult to do it.”

Yes, think of the lost opportunities. After all, what people chiefly seek in religion is debate about fundamental issues, that and more wonderful choices. It works every time.

* * *

Speaking of the Usual Suspects, Fr. Richard John Neuhaus has a long piece in the May issue of First Things (not yet available online) entitled "The Much Exaggerated Death of Europe." The article is largely a review of Philip Jenkins' new book, God's Continent: Christianity, Islam, and Europe's Religious Crisis. Jenkins, best known for his earlier work, The Next Christendom, argues in his new book that the Eurabian future of Europe will not occur. He puts particular stress on the success of the United States in absorbing large religious minorities, a success that did not seem at all certain in 1925. Fr. Neuhaus does not dismiss these points, but he ends on this note:

At a recent dinner with European intellectuals, I put to an influential French archbishop Daniel Pipes' projection: Either assimilation or expulsion or Islamic takeover. That, he said, puts the possibilities much too starkly. "We hope for the first," he said, while we work at reducing immigration and prepare ourselves for soft Islamization." Soft Islamization. It is a wan expression.

It is also a misleading expression. Only the early parts of the process will be soft.

* * *

For a further example of wishful thinking, we turn to Christopher Buckley's protestations that his new novel, Boomsday, is a satire in the tradition of Jonathan Swift's "A Modest Proposal." That essay suggested eliminating hunger in Ireland by eating the children of the poor:

From Publishers Weekly...Reviewed by Jessica Cutler: In his latest novel, Buckley imagines a not-so-distant future when America teeters on the brink of economic disaster as the baby boomers start retiring. ...a radical but tantalizingly expedient solution to that most vexing of issues, the Social Security problem—[a wildly popular blogger] proposes that senior citizens kill themselves in exchange for tax breaks.

May I ask why anyone thinks this is a joke? The attempts in the 1990s to create a constitutional right to suicide were struck down by the courts, but the courts were reduced to speaking in tongues when they gave their reasons. The fact is that, if you accept the privacy-autonomy-liberty principle of the Griswald-Roe decisions, then there is no coherent reason why people should not have the right to end their own lives. In some places, notably in Holland, the medical system is already making extensive use of this logical extension. We should recall that, even in the US, the autonomy principle created the suicide question: it was the premise for the successful anti-natalist campaign that kept birthrates substantially below replacement levels in the 1970s and '80s, thus ensuring that there would be far fewer workers to support the Boomers in their old age. It would make perfect historical sense if the principle that created the problem should also solve it.

* * *

Ah, for the good old days of total war: John Dillin notes in The Christian Science Monitor that the US effort in Iraq has been attended by a certain lack of seriousness, which is true enough, and points to the decisive success of America's total wars. But what is a total war?

Total war means everything belonging to the enemy is a potential target – their factories, their cities, even their civilians. With clear orders from Roosevelt, generals such as Dwight Eisenhower and George Patton knew what to do. They obliterated Germany's and Japan's will to fight. The cost was high, including hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths in the Axis homelands.

Not really. Total war consists not so much in what you are willing to do to the enemy as what you are willing to do to yourself. The point is mobilization of the whole society, not annihilation of the other side. (The article remarks that there has been a singular dearth of mobilization for Iraq, which is also true.)

Simply for the purposes of discussion, might I suggest that total war, like the state-monopoly socialism with which it was so closely linked from 1860 to 1945, has become anachronistic? The Bush Administration's problem may be that it deployed the rhetoric of total war for an enterprise that would require no such effort, while the military that was deployed had systematically neglected the civil-administration skills that it would need for the 21st century. Similarly, the Perennial Opposition continued to look abroad for foreign allies and models, just as if Stalin were still in his Kremlin and all were right with the world.

What we may need is not Total War, but the ability to conduct Perpetual War, which by and by will become Perpetual Peace.

Copyright © 2007 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2007-04-10: 2035; God & the Left

Hong Kong protesters attacked by Triads

Hong Kong protesters attacked by Triads

John uses this 2007 report from the British Ministry of Defence to riff on some of his favorite themes. In particular, he seems to have well understood that communications technology could be used to surveil and manipulate just as much as it can be used to enrage mobs, and this was well before social media’s peak.

I’m intrigued by the idea that we might have a better set of transnational institutions if we stopped trying to solve the last century’s problems. John here asserts that most of the features of the international system were created to mitigate the scale of industrialized total war between nation states. Now that we are starting to lose the capacity to mobilize citizens in grand projects, the kind of wars we saw in the twentieth century is becoming less likely. Which isn’t quite the same as saying that we couldn’t have massively destructive wars in our future. It is just that the destruction will be because of violence and chaos spilling out of control because state capacity is on the wane.

While in general, I think John’s thoughts are pretty interesting, at least in the short term, here is one he got wrong:

No, immigration is not going to increase, or even continue at current levels. No, the European demographic dearth is not going to continue until the last Belgian turns out the lights.

After the well-intentioned Angele Merkel invited the world to settle in Germany, lots and lots of migrants took her up on the offer, setting off a populist reaction. The likelihood of lots of people leaving Africa in the 21st century is pretty high too. Lots of people make fun of Steve for talking about the UN demographic predictions that say there will be 4 billion people in Africa by 2100, saying that this is clearly ridiculous.

Maybe. Trends have a way of not continuing forever. One way is that the future people of Africa will find their homes poor and crowded and relatively undeveloped, and they will move elsewhere. This will change everything, as lots and lots of people move into new places. This happened before, in fact. We should expect future demographic transformations to be just as unsettled as the previous ones.

2035; God & the Left

The British Ministry of Defence is entertaining some unhappy thoughts about the year 2035:

Information chips implanted in the brain. Electromagnetic pulse weapons. The middle classes becoming revolutionary, taking on the role of Marx's proletariat. The population of countries in the Middle East increasing by 132%, while Europe's drops as fertility falls. "Flashmobs" - groups rapidly mobilised by criminal gangs or terrorists groups. This is the world in 30 years' time envisaged by a Ministry of Defence [report]... ....

"The middle classes could become a revolutionary class, taking the role envisaged for the proletariat by Marx," says the report. The thesis is based on a growing gap between the middle classes and the super-rich on one hand and an urban under-class threatening social order: "The world's middle classes might unite, using access to knowledge, resources and skills to shape transnational processes in their own class interest". ...

Migration will increase. Globalisation may lead to levels of international integration that effectively bring inter-state warfare to an end. But it may lead to "inter-communal conflict" - communities with shared interests transcending national boundaries and resorting to the use of violence.

There is a tradition of making retrospective fun of predictions made in sober reports written by committees of the great and the good. Nonetheless, reports like this are not as ridiculous as we pretend. In contrast to popular forecasts, they rarely mention flying cars. I remember the early reports from the Trilateral Commission in the 1970s. They forecast, quite correctly, that first the United States, and then Europe, and then Japan, would go through periods of difficult economic restructuring, with each region going into a relative eclipse that would last about a decade. That was pretty much what happened through the 1990s. As for the famous "Soylent Green" future projected by the likes of Paul Ehrlich and The Club of Rome, they do seem to have been attended by an unusually high level of self-delusion, but even they were really just variations on the theme that certain trends can't continue. Well, the trends did not continue, in part because of reactions to the hysterical forecasts. Judging from the press report quoted above, the MOD-UK does not seem to aspire to prophecy. Let me make a few comments about the issues I excerpted:

Flashmobs: We'll take this as a synecdoche for the security-downside of communications technology.

I suspect that most of these problems create their own remedies. For instance, there is likely to be some way that mass political activity organized through a cell-network could be detected and monitored. Technologies like this should actually facilitate the construction of unprecedentedly powerful tools of surveillance.

And if that does not turn out to be true? Prune back the capabilities of the systems. Information may want to be free, but the infrastructure to support all this subversive chatter is licensed public utilities. Mobile personal communications devices could be as highly regulated as handguns, with the difference that the restrictions on these devices could be made to work.

Brain chips: We should be so lucky.

The end of warfare between states: I think we might distinguish between the end of warfare between states and between nation-states.

We must remember that the state preceded the nation-state and will out last it. The scariest aspect of the nineteenth century and the first half of the 20th was the ability of states to mobilize their populations. This was possible because "the nation" became the chief way that people defined themselves politically. The basic machinery of global governance was designed to mitigate the catastrophic scale of total war, of war between populations, and to smooth down the economic instabilities caused by the efforts of states to manage all economic activity within their borders. However, we may see a world where few states can mobilize their populations because "the nation" has evaporated through demographic changes or has become post-democratically non-political. In such a situation, what the state does with the very limited military force it can deploy becomes less important.

Europe in the 18th century, before the period of mass politics, was a continent where war as almost continual because it was limited enough to be tolerable. It is hardly likely that post-political Europe will return to that condition. However, we should not exclude the possibility of a revival of interstate warfare, for the simple reason it will be for limited objectives.

The revolutionary bourgeoisie: Actually, most revolutionaries have always been middle class.

Classical Marxism was in some ways a modest affair. It married the Hegelian model of history to a not wholly misleading theory of economic cycles. The idea was that history would end with the last economic bust, the one that was so severe that it could not be recovered from. The problem was that the economic crashes were largely an effect of inadequate communication of prices; the severity of the crashes were eminently fixable by regulatory oversight (especially oversight to ensure transparency) and better technology. By the end of the 20th century, the hypothesis that capitalism must be mechanically mortal had been as thoroughly refuted as this kind of question can be. Since then, Marxism itself has been moving in an ever more meta trajectory: consider Hardt & Negri's attempt to redefine production as culture.

That sort of analysis has an audience, but such ideas have nothing to do with politics. Indeed, the fashion for such notions is itself a symptom of the retreat of politics.

On a more general level, there were other projections by the MOD about which we can say with some assurance "reversal is the movement of the Tao." No, immigration is not going to increase, or even continue at current levels. No, the European demographic dearth is not going to continue until the last Belgian turns out the lights. And climate change is likely to take care of itself. The scary futures it conjures up bear more than a slight resemblance to the Soylent Green future, and seem likely to produce a similar overreaction (not in promoting an economy of scarcity, but in new presumptions about what constitutes good engineering). The adaptation of societies to climate change will become invisible as time goes on.

* * *

Speaking of ancient futures, PBS last night broadcast a documentary entitled Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple, about the origins of the mass suicide of 1978. With no disrespect intended to people like Jim Wallis, I could not help but be reminded of the project in the Democratic Party to rescue religion from the right-wing fundamentalists. The fact is that the return of religion to American politics started from the Left. Here's a quote from the Jonestown cult's founder, Reverend Jim Jones, in his salad days:

"I represent divine principle, total equality, a society where people own all things in common, where there's no rich or poor, where there are no races. Wherever there are people struggling for justice and righteousness, there I am."

And here's what he said after he shot the visiting congressman and had started passing out the Cool Aid:

In an audiotape that was recovered from the disaster site, Jones declares, "We committed an act of revolutionary suicide protesting the conditions of an inhumane world."

Jones was by no means a marginal figure. He was important on the Left of the Democratic Party in California because he could deliver a respectable-looking crowd within minutes should a national politician come to visit. There is at least one embarrassing picture of him on the same stage as Marilyn Carter, the wife of Jimmy Carter. And about Jimmy Carter, we should remember that it was he who brought evangelical protestantism to the forefront of national politics, as an expansion of the New Deal Coalition.

There are problems with politically conservative religion, just as there are problems with any attempt to define religion in political terms. Nonetheless, at least in the American context, the most catastrophic association between throne and altar has been on the Left.

Copyright © 2007 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2007-04-05: Piracy, Democratic Plan B, More Piracy, Alger Hiss, Fukuyama's End

No letters of marque for you

No letters of marque for you

Letters of marque never really took off, but private military companies seem to have done relatively well in the years since the Iraq War.

Piracy, Democratic Plan B, More Piracy, Alger Hiss, Fukuyama's End

Could the United States prosecute the Terror war by licensing pirates? Instapundit entertains this libertarian fantasy in a posting entitled: BRINGING BACK LETTERS OF MARQUE:

A reader is interested in the idea:

Thing is, I've enough money to hand to train, equip, and deploy six people for six months in the area between Baghdad and Kabul. I'm ex-military, and I'm young enough to be up for a challenge.

Why not open-source the Global War on Terror?

As I recall, the Independent Institute -- a libertarian thinktank not to be confused with that other libertarian thinktank, the Independence Institute -- was pushing this idea right after 9/11. And so was Ron Paul. If I recall correctly (and Wikipedia says the same thing) the United States never signed the treaty renouncing letters of marque and reprisal. So if you want one, apply to Congress, but I doubt the application will be received favorably at this point.

You can read about Letters of Marque here. Again, they were authorizations by a sovereign to private persons to seize and sell the shipping of a designated entity. The point of the authorization was to prevent the recipient of the letter from being hanged as a pirate. In any case, it is irrelevant whether the United States ever signed the Declaration of Paris of 1856, whose signatories foreswore the issuance of these documents. Letters of Marque have dropped out of customary international law in even the most conservative sense. Other states would not recognize them, so parties purporting to operate under their authority would be treated as pirates.

* * *

Speaking of hijacking, Daniel Henninger at Opinion Journal asks whether the attempt by the Democratic Congress to take control of the foreign and military policies of the United States might backfire:

Carried aloft on the gassy fumes of politics, the congressional Democrats may be overshooting on Iraq. Six months from now, they may wish they had been more temperate. Helped finally by the right U.S. military strategy, the Iraq nightmare might be ebbing. Then what?

Actually, there would be a perfectly obvious Plan B. If the Surge in Iraq succeeds (as indeed seems likely at this point: it is really a modest operation), the Democrats could always argue that the establishment of relative peace in Iraq justifies a US withdrawal within a year. Withdrawal could become what tax cuts are to Republicans: a policy for every conceivable situation.

That said, we should remember that the Bush Administration had actually planned to have largely withdrawn by now. Those plans were interrupted by the demolition of the Golden Mosque in 2005 after the last general elections, before which it looked as if peace was supposed to break out. The difference now that a withdrawal can be made to look like a defeat, which suits both the Democrats and Al-Qaeda just fine.

* * *

Returning to piracy in a less metaphorical sense, Victor Davis Hanson says the Iranians captured those British sailors because the Iranians need a war:

It's probably a good rule to do the opposite of anything the Iranian theocracy wants. Apparently, this government is now doing its darnedest to be bombed. So, for the time being, we should not grant them this wish.

In the last three years, the ranting adolescent theocrats in Tehran have alienated the United Nations' Security Council to the point of earning trade sanctions. That's a hard thing to do, given the U.N.'s bias toward the former third world and the way China and Russia value petroleum and trade above all else....

Prior to capturing last month 15 British Navy personnel, Iran had for years misled and embarrassed Britain, Germany and France, who all tried to negotiate a peaceful end to Iranian nuclear proliferation. And as a rule, these are European nations that will suffer almost any indignity to talk a problem away....

It is also nearly impossible to offend the Russian government on any matter of law - except squelching on debts. Still, Iran even accomplished that. Moscow is withdrawing from the country its nuclear technicians, who are critical to Tehran's efforts to obtain the bomb...Those "realists," like former Secretary of State James Baker, who insisted that we talk to Iran are now silent. Iran's serial provocations seem to have finally turned off even those in the West who were always willing to give it a second and third chance...

The Iranian government is desperate to provoke the West to win back friends in the Islamic world...Despite having among the world's largest petroleum reserves, their production is shrinking and they have managed to earn increasingly less petrodollars even as the world price has soared...Their strategy seems to be to find a way to provoke someone to drop a few bombs on them, on the naive assumption that such an assault would be of limited duration and damage. Such an attack, they may figure, would earn them sympathy in much of the world.

There is something to be said for the proposition that the Islamic Republic is like an Eastern European Communist state in the 1980s. I would still argue that the current Iranian regime is working less from desperation than from ambition: they want to show that they can get away with this kind of thing. From what I can gather, however, the resolution has not been a great boost to the domestic popularity of the current regime. Maybe they can't get away with it, but for reasons other than one might have supposed beforehand.

* * *

It's much too late for this:

NEW YORK - A Russian researcher, delving anew into once-secret Soviet files from the Cold War, says she has found no evidence that Alger Hiss spied or that Soviet intelligence had any particular interest in him. In a speech to be delivered at a New York University symposium Thursday, Svetlana A. Chervonnaya says neither Hiss' name nor his alleged spy moniker, Ales, appears in any of dozens of documents from Soviet archives that she has reviewed since the early 1990s.

...[Alger Hiss's son] Tony Hiss, a New York-based writer, said he was encouraged by Chervonnaya's research.

"Her stating of the negative in all this is so strong that it almost becomes a positive," he said. "With her findings, plus new findings from FBI files, we envision reopening the whole field of investigation. After looking for so long like a played-out mine, it's now revealing new veins and whole new galleries of material, but it's far too soon to say this has reached any kind of positive conclusion."

If the Internet had existed in the 1940s and '50s, the Communist-contrived legends of the innocence of Alger Hiss and of the Rosenbergs (the piece mentions them, too) would have been Fisked to shreds in a week or two; there is no reason to suppose this strange attempt to revive them will fare any better. This effort is anachronistic for a deeper reason, however.

It was thought necessary in the Leftist circles of two generations ago to conceal the Soviet element in the American Establishment, until the day would come when progressive influence had grown broad enough to promote Marxism openly. That day arrived in the 1960s. The fellow-traveler network was no longer necessary, because the fellow travelers could work without subterfuge. Well, Der Tag was a dud, and today some explanation is required for younger people to understand what the fuss was all about. These Cold War controversies are less than irrelevant; they are becoming as incomprehensible as Prohibition.

* * *

Moving on to the glorious future, Francis Fukuyama is keen to explain why the thesis he presented in The End of History and the Last Man is not the basis for President Bush's foreign policy. As we read in The Guardian:

To be sure, the desire to live in a modern society and to be free of tyranny is universal, or nearly so...But this is different from saying that there is a universal desire to live in a liberal society - that is, a political order characterised by a sphere of individual rights and the rule of law....The Bush administration seems to have assumed in its approach to post-Saddam Iraq that both democracy and a market economy were default conditions to which societies would revert once oppressive tyranny was removed, rather than a series of complex, interdependent institutions that had to be painstakingly built over time.

Fukuyama has a point when he suggests that the Bush Administration credited Iraqi society with powers of self-assembly it does not possess. However, the point would be more interesting if The End of History were about the sociology of institutions. In fact, it's about the evolution of political culture, as indeed was the Hegelianism of the vile Alexandre Kojève on which Fukuyama's thesis was based. The End of History really does suggest that any regime short of a liberal democracy will be unstable and ephemeral. That thesis may or may not be true, but Fukuyama is, if you will excuse the expression, The Last Man who could claim that his ideas counseled a Burkean caution that the Bush Administration disregarded.

Not content with distancing himself from the Bush Administration, Fukuyama makes a gesture toward tossing America itself into the dustbin of history:

The End of History was never linked to a specifically American model of social or political organisation. Following [the loathsome] Alexandre Kojève, the Russian- French philosopher who inspired my original argument, I believe that the European Union more accurately reflects what the world will look like at the end of history than the contemporary United States. The EU's attempt to transcend sovereignty and traditional power politics by establishing a transnational rule of law is much more in line with a "post-historical" world than the Americans' continuing belief in God, national sovereignty, and their military.

As an aside, we may note that the Bush Administration thought it was establishing the transnational rule of law when it invaded Iraq. Only later did it become clear that the principal international opponents of the invasion were chiefly interested in kickbacks from the Baathist government. The most dispiriting thing about the years around the year 2000 is not that transnational mechanisms were subverted by American hegemonism, but that those mechanisms, many of them lovingly maintained in storage since the 1940s, fell apart as soon as they were turned on.

As for Fukuyama's larger point, it is possible to imagine an EU-like world modeled on that of Isaac Asimov's Trantor: conceived in red-tape, and dedicated to the proposition of the form in quadruplicate. However, such a world would not necessarily be the closed, nihilist sphere of immanence projected onto the future by Kojève.

I never put much credence in the master-slave dialectic that powers Kojève's model of history, but much the same result is reached by the logic of expanding networks that Robert Wright outlined in Nonzero. So, yes, societies move toward civil equality for their citizens; local patriotisms fade; multiple sovereignties move toward structures of universal justice. However, the effect of this broadening of human intercourse is not to banish the transcendent from human experience: quite the opposite. This is the irony of the universal state, something that the unphilosophical Toynbee understood, but which Hegelianism seems to obscure. When the historical process of civilized history eventually clears away the foliage of king and caste, the sky becomes visible, and it turns out not to be empty.

Copyright © 2007 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2007-04-02: Saecula, Bismarck & Lincoln, House of Lords

The acclimation of the Kaiser in the Hall of Mirrors  Von Anton von Werner - Museen Nord / Bismarck Museum: Picture, Gemeinfrei,

The acclimation of the Kaiser in the Hall of Mirrors

Von Anton von Werner - Museen Nord / Bismarck Museum: Picture, Gemeinfrei,

The 1860s were a peculiar decade. You saw the US Civil War, the formation wars of the German Empire, the War of the Triple Alliance in South America that killed something like 70% of all men in Paraguay, and the Taiping Rebellion in China that killed something like 15%-20% of the population.

Saecula, Bismarck & Lincoln, House of Lords

Sometimes, after the world ends, people prefer not to mention the fact, or so we may gather from this comment by David Warren:

The question, at what precise moment did Western Civilization capsize, continues to interest me. ...For long I’ve mentioned August 10th, 1969, as my own estimate for the date of the “great rotation.” ...The proof came to hand, recently, when a friend since early childhood sent me the link to a website where my high school yearbooks were stored: including the entire contents for my Grade IX year of 1967-68, and ditto for my drop-out year of 1969-70. ...The difference is dramatic. The teachers in the earlier yearbook are, when male, invariably in boring suits with narrow ties; and when female, regardless of age, dressed as school marms. The kids themselves, though not uniformed, are almost uniformly wholesome-looking. ...Just two years later, and the teachers are a mess...All these changes happened (not quite literally) overnight. Yet within a year or two, nobody could remember that anything had ever been any different. ....Well, I was kidding about the date. The poet Philip Larkin said the annus mirabilis was 1963.

I have high-school year books from the same period as David Warren, and yes, there is a boundary layer in the 1970 year book, as blatant as a boundary layer of extraterrestrial isotopes in the geological strata that mark the extinction of the dinosaurs. In any case, this mention of a Year of the Great Change inevitably brings to mind Virginia Woolf's famous remark that human nature changed in 1910. However, if we are to believe Louis Menand, writing in The New Yorker, this is one of the famous sayings that were never quite said, or at least not in the way that we recall:

What she wrote was "On or about December 1910 human character changed." The sentence appears in an essay called "Character in Fiction," which attacks the realist novelists of the time for treating character as entirely a product of outer circumstance—of environment and social class. These novelists look at people's clothes, their jobs, their houses, Woolf says, "but never . . . at life, never at human nature." Modernist fiction, on the other hand, because it presents character from the inside, shows how persistent personality is, and how impervious to circumstance.

Of course, the question of the definition of the saeculum in the 20th century was answered conclusively in R. A. Lafferty's The Three Armageddons of Enniscorthy Sweeney, but that's another story.

* * *

Speaking of saecula, regular readers of this site will be aware that I have argued that the period 1860-1945 is an intelligible unit in Western history: in a mere lifetime, the fortunes of the state and the people became coincident. I mention this now because I was searching Google Video over the weekend, and I came across this biopic of Otto von Bismarck. It's a black-and-white film, made in Germany in 1940; the star is Paul Hartmann. There are no dubbing or subtitles. My German is such that I could follow about a third of the dialogue.

I gather that this film is not regarded as one of the Nazi era's better efforts, but it is not bad for a biopic that was made at government behest. The film does make Bismarck's policies and career more similar to Hitler's than they actually were, but the only overt Nazi influence I could detect was that the film went out of its way to identify a would-be assassin of Bismarck as an English Jew. The film takes the story only to the declaration of German Empire in 1871. I suspect we have all seen this painting of the acclamation of the new Kaiser in the Hall or Mirrors at Versailles. Well, this film staged it.

You can't fault the production details, but there seem to have been some constraints on the producers' resources. The story required crowd scenes and battles scenes, and the film duly presents them, but with an economy of personnel. If we see a line of soldiers, for instance, they will always be shown through trees, marching around a corner, the better to disguise the fact there were not very many of them. The compensation is the fine interiors and the location-scenes at Potsdam and Vienna. The better to illustrate the depravity of the French, the members of the French government are usually shown attending elaborate parties. They seem a merry lot. Napoleon III's mustache is the real star of the film.

The contemporaries of the American Civil War and of the German unification wars of 1860s were aware that they were in some sense analogous events. I find it odd, though, as I search around the Internet, that there seem to be few detailed comparisons of Lincoln and Bismarck. The Theosophists are on the case: in their interpretation, Bismarck and Lincoln were representatives of the Black Lodge and the White Lodge respectively. Dualism is always entertaining, but rarely helpful. Whatever his faults, Bismarck was not one of the villains of history; and though Lincoln may have been one of the heroes, he was history incarnate at its most catastrophic.

* * *

Of course, it might be simpler to damn them both, which is what Adam Young, a follower of Ludwig von Mises, does in the essay Lincoln and Bismarck: Enemies of Liberalism:

"...Abraham Lincoln and Otto von Bismarck--should be viewed as allied together in the common cause of destroying the principles of classical liberalism. Both Lincoln and Bismarck followed the course that Mises rightly named after Bismarck.

It shouldn't be surprising that the actions of two despots would closely parallel each other. The activities involved in centralizing power would necessarily involve similar means to that end--chiefly, war, dictatorship, and deception.

Both Lincoln and Bismarck began their careers laboring in their respective wildernesses in pursuit of their twin goals: the consolidation of their general federations into a centralized regime of privilege and the destruction of free trade and other classical liberal ideas. And both Lincoln and Bismarck would found their power on the slave labor of conscript armies.

So, Slavery is Liberalism; but weren't the Draka protectionists?

* * *

Speaking of the enemies of classical liberalism, Bruce Ackerman is seriously missing the point of reforming the House of Lords in his article, Second Chambers, which appears in the London review of books March 8, 2007. The reform of the British House of Lords, like the rules of cricket, is one of those things that foreigners will go to quite a lot of trouble not to have to hear about. The gist of it is that the Blair Government has abandoned the hereditary principle as the definition of the membership of the Upper House of parliament and now finds itself stuck with finding a way to select new members that will ensure that neither House ever acts like an independent legislature. Ackerman shares this dread: [I]t seems wiser to build on the best traditions of the current House of Lords, and create an appointed assembly which draws broadly on the wisdom and experience of proven leaders from political and civil society.

Once this fundamental point is recognized, it might be possible to reintroduce the democratic principle as a minor theme without doing harm.

"Democracy as a minor theme that does no harm": that is the philosophy that keeps the government of the European Union from ever becoming entirely legitimate in the eyes of its citizens. Is it really a good idea to pump the same post-democratic embalming fluid into the British Constitution?

Copyright © 2007 by John J. Reilly

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Order of the Centurion Book Review

…the general said, his voice subdued and low, speaking for just the two of them to hear, “on behalf of a thankful galaxy, I award to you, in the place of your son, the highest honor the Legion can bestow: the Order of the Centurion."

Cover art by  Fabian Saravia

Cover art by Fabian Saravia

Order of the Centurion: Order of the Centurion #1
by Jason Anspach and Nick Cole
Kindle Edition, 314 pages
Published September 21st 2018 by Galaxy's Edge

The Order of the Centurion series is set in Nick Cole and Jason Anspach’s Galaxy’s Edge universe. Other than this first volume, each one is also written with another author or authors, giving us a glimpse not only into other times and places, but differing ways of telling a story around a common theme:

SmartSelect_20190721-124552_Amazon Kindle.jpg

The Order of the Centurion is the highest award that can be bestowed upon an individual serving in, or with, the Legion. When such an individual displays exceptional valor in action against an enemy force, and uncommon loyalty and devotion to the Legion and its legionnaires, refusing to abandon post, mission, or brothers, even unto death, the Legion dutifully recognizes such courage with this award.

Order of the Centurion is set many years before Legionnaire, but it serves to bring us full circle in a way, by showing us both how the Legion was brought low by political interference, and also showing us the value of good men who meekly serve something greater than themselves.

The truth of it is, I understand a bit how Lieutenant Washam feels as one of the first appointed officers in the Legion. While he seems in many ways like a Legionnaire, he is in practice always on the outside looking in. No matter what uniform he wears, or what his rank is, he is not one of them.

The fanbase for the Galaxy’s Edge series is heavily weighted toward veterans of military service. Legionnaire in particular seems like the novelization of the Afghanistan experience, and the series as a whole is frequently praised by veterans as a faithful representation of their lived experience. In addition to the shared jokes of barracks life, and the myriad annoyances of living under a hierarchy of leaders who may or may not have been promoted based on their ability to lead and inspire the rough men who guard us while we sleep, one of the key elements of bonding among combat veterans is their shared experience of exhilaration, terror, and random death. At the same time, this separates them from those of us who quite simply have no idea what this is like.

Unlike me, Wash undergoes a baptism of fire that will haunt him forever. Like me, however, Wash is conscious of a barrier of separation between him and the soldiers that he loves and respects. What makes Wash such an admirable man is that his response to scorn and disbelief is to redouble his own efforts, to make the best of himself and his chosen path that he can, no matter what anyone else thinks.

I’ve said before that the real heroes are often dead, which is why the Order of the Centurion is awarded posthumously 98.4% of the time. However, not every hero dies a glorious death. Sometimes, they just toil away in obscurity, wondering why they are the ones who lived.

My other book reviews | Reading Log

Galaxy’s Edge season 1:
Legionnaire: Galaxy's Edge #1 book review
Galactic Outlaws: Galaxy's Edge #2 book review
Kill Team: Galaxy's Edge #3 book review
Attack of Shadows: Galaxy's Edge #4 book review
Sword of the Legion: Galaxy's Edge #5 Book Review
Tin Man: Galaxy's Edge Book Review
Prisoners of Darkness: Galaxy's Edge #6 Book Review
Imperator: Galaxy's Edge Book Review
Turning Point: Galaxy's Edge #7 Book Review
Message for the Dead: Galaxy's Edge #8 Book Review
Retribution: Galaxy’s Edge #9 Book Review

Tyrus Rechs: Contracts & Terminations:
Requiem for Medusa: Tyrus Rechs: Contracts & Terminations Book 1 Review

Takeover: Part 1 Book Review
Takeover: Part 2 Book Review

The Long View 2007-03-30: Human Nature, Human Rights, Iranian Motives, Goodbye Bees

This is a fun one: I hadn’t remember that John J. Reilly referenced Greg Cochran and John Hawks in 2007.

John also mentions a fairly standard criticism of any attempt to understand human behavior in terms of evolution, the Just So Stories of Kipling. It is sometimes true that such explanations are just ad hoc rationalizations in the mode of fiction, but the charge tends to get used regardless of the merits of the original argument.

A more interesting thing is that many of the most interesting arguments about understanding human behavior in light of evolution and genetics is that the best arguments are often taking advantage of final and formal causation to argue that we can understand something to be true without knowing a detailed mechanism, which then causes the truest of true believers in the supremacy of efficient causes to point and splutter.

Also, I find it a little sad that there have been rumors of war with Iran for the last twelve years at least. Give it up already.

Human Nature, Human Rights, Iranian Motives, Goodbye Bees

Conservatives can appropriate Darwinism in any of several ways. The least problematical is at the intersection of culture and demographics: certain cultural regimes seem to be inconsistent with maintaining the magic replacement-fertility rate of 2.1 children per woman. In this sense, the conservative agenda will have succeeded in all essentials on the day when the phrase "The Darwin Award Agenda" principally calls to mind terms like "same-sex marriage" or "reproductive rights." However, there is also a Darwinian conservatism that aspires to make use of the full resources of sociobiology. Larry Arnhart's blog, Darwinian Conservatism, is an able presentation of this position.

There are two points that anyone interested in following this line of thought should consider. The first is one associated with most applications of "applied Darwinism": the explanations often look suspiciously like Just So Stories. There is also this point: maybe human nature ain't what it used to be:

Human evolution has been speeding up tremendously, a new study contends—so much, that the latest evolutionary changes seem to largely eclipse earlier ones that accompanied modern man’s “origin.” ....The authors are Cochran and anthropologist John Hawks of the University of Wisconsin Madison. “Holocene [from -10K years ago] changes were similar in pattern and... faster than those at the archaic-modern transition,” A “thing that should probably worry people is that brains have been getting smaller for 20,000 to 30,000 years,” said Cochran. But brain size and intelligence aren't tightly linked, he added. Also, growth in more advanced brain areas might have made up for the shrinkage, Cochran said; he speculated that an al­most breakneck evolution of higher foreheads in some peoples may reflect this. A study in the Jan. 14 British Dental Journal found such a trend visible in England in just the past millennium, he noted, a mere eye­blink in evolutionary time. ...[I]n a 2000 book The Riddled Chain..[b]ased on computer models, [John McKee] argued that evolution should speed up as a population grows...Many of the changes found in the genome or fossil record reflect metabolic alterations to adjust to agricultural life, Cochran said. Other changes simply make us weaker.

In the June 2003 issue of the research journal Current Anthropology, Helen Leach of the University of Otago, New Zealand wrote that skeletons from some populations in the human lineage have undergone a progressive shrinkage and weakening, and reduction in tooth size, similar to changes seen in domesticated animals. Humans seem to have domesticated themselves, she argued, causing physical as well as mental changes.

Never let anyone scare you with visions of the human race being replaced by artifacts. We are the artifacts.

* * *

"Human Rights" has become an Orwellian term, according to Joseph Bottum First Things:

“Peace is a communist plot,” Irving Kristol used to observe back during the Cold War...every organization with the word peace in its title was a communist front...the equation holds as true now as did then: Human rights are a communist plot, and international human rights are an international communist plot...Well, maybe not communist...Some amorphous radical leftism is clearly afloat in the world. Generally undefined in philosophy, economics, or eschatology, it seems nonetheless able to unite the most unlikely bedfellows: terrorists, and sexual-transgression artists, and agitators for radical Islam, and abortion activists, and third-world dictators—anybody, anywhere, who thinks there’s an advantage to be gained from claiming that the West is wrong. And they can always join under a banner emblazoned with that noble phrase “human rights.”

There is something to this, particularly at those United Nations agencies where the foxes are in firm possession of the chicken coops. Still, we should remember the insistence by the United States that the Helsinki Accords of 1975 contain a human-rights plank. The Soviet Union had wanted the Accords to set in stone the Cold War division of Europe, but the human-rights plank delegitimized the European Marxist regimes in a mere 15 years.

What's the difference between "human rights" as principles that protect freedom and "human rights" as an ideology that justifies enslavement and promotes extinction? About this, Dinesh D'Souza was perfectly correct: the civil liberties that the Founding Fathers understood are workable and almost universally attractive; the social engineering projects that come out of the transnational human rights industry are disliked and dysfunctional. Could the distinction be as simple as the one that Oliver Wendell Holmes proposed, that between procedural and substantive rights?

* * *

Speaking of catchy turns of phrase, was Vox Day the first to refer to the US presidency as The Cherry Blossom Throne?

* * *

About the Iranian seizure of British sailors in the Persian Gulf, Time Magazine has this to say in connection with the question, Is a U.S.-Iran War Inevitable?:

This week Iranian diplomats are telling interlocutors that, yes, they realize seizing the Brits could lead to a hot war. But, they point out, it wasn't Iran that started taking hostages — it was the U.S., when it arrested five members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in Erbil in Northern Iraq on January 11. They are diplomats, the Iranians insist. They were in Erbil with the approval of the Kurds and therefore, they argue, are under the protection of the Vienna Convention.

Iranian grievances, real and perceived, don't stop there. Tehran is convinced the U.S. or one of its allies was behind the March 2006 separatist violence in Iranian Baluchistan, which ended up with 20 people killed, including an IRGC member executed. And the Iranians believe there is more to come, accusing the U.S. of training and arming Iranian Kurds and Azeris to go back home and cause problems. Needless to say the Iranians are not happy there are American soldiers on two of its borders, as well as two carriers and a dozen warships in the Gulf. You call this paranoia? they ask.

Actually, I would call the Iranians mendacious, and I would call the editors of Time that, too, were not honest stupidity a more economical explanation. Surely the only explanation the incident requires is that the recent votes in the US Congress to, in effect, lose the war in Iraq by a date certain show that US hegemony is evaporating; the Iranians took the sailors to demonstrate that Iran can now act with impunity, and the states of the region should restructure their foreign policies accordingly.

I suspect that that Iran will release the sailors in short order; the Iranians probably believe their point has been made. Of course, it is possible that Iran wants a war now, believing that, however much damage they suffer at first, the US and UK will be unable, for domestic reasons, to sustain it for more than a few days.

* * *

Any reader of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy can read these reports only with great distress:

Across the country, honey bees are disappearing by the thousands. ...

“This is unique in that bees are disappearing,” Hayes said. “The hives are empty. You don’t see dead bodies. The colony, over time, dwindles until you don’t see anything left in the colony.”

So long, thanks for all the gardens?

Copyright © 2007 by John J. Reilly

Why post old articles?

Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

An archive of John's site

Support the Long View re-posting project by downloading Brave browser. With Both Hands is a verified Brave publisher, you can leave me a tip too!