Friday, December 17, 2010

It's Off to Work We Go!

The tension between the way elitists view work and a more moderate view of work runs through history. The nobles of Athens viewed themselves as superior in all ways to their slaves, and saw this superiority confirmed in the fact that the slaves had to work. Work was one of the worst things that could happen to a person in the minds of the Greek aristocracy of the classical era, and it was a badge of shame.

By contrast, the emerging Judeo-Christian tradition saw something respectable in work. The dignity of every human life lent itself to labor, and human effort dignified the task. Yale's Kenneth Latourette describes the attitude toward work among the monks of the early middle ages:

The Benedictine rule and the many derived from it probably helped to give dignity to labour, including manual labour in the fields. This was in striking contrast with the aristocratic conviction of the servile status of manual work which prevailed in much of ancient society and which was also the attitude of the warriors and non‑monastic ecclesiastics who constituted the upper middle classes of the Middle Ages ... To the monasteries ... was obviously due much clearing of land and improvement in methods of agriculture. In the midst of barbarism, the monasteries were centres of orderly and settled life and examples of the skillful management of the soil. Under the Carolingians monks were assigned the duty of road‑building and road repair. Until the rise of the towns in the eleventh century, they were pioneers in industry and commerce. The shops of the monasteries preserved the industries of Roman times ... The earliest use of marl in improving the soil is attributed to them. The great French monastic orders led in the agricultural colonization of Western Europe. Especially did the Cistercians make their houses centres of agriculture and contribute to improvements in that occupation. With their lay brothers and their hired labourers, they became great landed proprietors. In Hungary and on the German frontier the Cistercians were particularly important in reducing the soil to cultivation and in furthering colonization. In Poland, too, the German monasteries set advanced standards in agriculture and introduced artisans and craftsmen.

In addition to being centers of learning, preserving the intellectual treasures of Greek and Roman civilization, the monasteries were also centers of work, and of giving a value and meaning to work. Here we see the emergence of notions which speak indirectly to human equality and human dignity. This might perhaps explain why Europe didn't embrace institutionalized slavery to the extent that other continents did: European culture, and western civilization, could not bring itself to believe that one man was inferior to others merely because he found himself in the role of a manual laborer.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Napoleon's Big Mistake

The crushing defeat which Napoleon's French army experienced in Russia is legendary: Tolstoy wrote a novel about it; films have been made of it. But exactly how did this loss come about? How did an allegedly "great" military leader like Napoleon end up so badly?

To begin, we need to examine two assumptions, as phrased by Joseph C. Goulden (from the University of Texas):

that he was a consistently brilliant military general who ranks as one of the foremost battlefield commanders in history, and that his most calamitous defeat, in his 1812 campaign in Russia, was chiefly a result of "General Winter," the fierce cold and snow that caught his Grande Armee deep inside Russia, hundreds of miles from home.

Perhaps Napoleon wasn't such an excellent commander, strategist, and tactician; and perhaps the Russian victory wasn't merely due to the weather, but rather to the skills of the Russian military.

Napoleon made basic military blunders in the campaign, chiefly by overextending his lines of supply and not providing the logistics necessary to support his army.

In a fight against lesser opponents, those blunders might not be fatal.

But the Russian high command contained intellectual generals who studied military history and knew how to apply the lessons learned to the battlefield. The commander in chief, Mikhail Kutnzov, shrewdly chose to avoid a set battle with Napoleon's superior force. Instead, he relied upon a tactic perfected centuries earlier by the Roman general Quintus Fabius Maximus, who used small unit harassing actions to wear down a larger enemy through attrition. The "Fabian strategy" worked to perfection (and the concept survives today as part of special operations doctrine).

In addition to an intelligent and skillful leadership, the Russian military had another advantage: horses. Dominic Lieven (from the London School of Economics) writes that:

immense herds dwelt on the steppe lands of southern Russia and Siberia,


In many years, the greatest hero of the Russian war effort in 1812-1814 was the horse [which] fulfilled the present day functions of the tank, the lorry, the aeroplane and motorized infantry.

Goulden concludes that

Napoleon could not replace the thousands of horses he lost during the campaign; hence Russian light cavalry relentlessly harassed his retreating columns.

A final Russian advantage was in the field of military intelligence:

Another area in which the Russians enjoyed an overwhelming advantage was espionage. Czarist agents in Paris and elsewhere elicited intelligence from many levels of Napoleon's government.

As the tide turned, and Napoleon's advance became a retreat, the war became one of attrition:

Once Napoleon was put on the run, he desperately fought major rear-guard battles that further depleted his ranks. The Russians, meanwhile, put together a massive logistics operation - 850 carts daily for food and forage, stretching back hundreds of miles. Czar Nicholas and his advisers made an astute political decision: They were not fighting "France" but Napoleon and his insatiable ambitions. His officers strictly enforced an edict to troops to "preserve the strictest discipline and treat the civilian population well." (One cannot resist comparing this conduct with the Red Army's brutality in the waning days of World War II.)

The Russian army of 1812/1814 understood what the Soviet-Russian army of 1945 did not: raping, torturing, and killing the civilian population, along with stealing their goods, burning their houses, and creating famines by annihilating their farms and food supplies are non-productive ways for occupying soldiers to behave. Even as the Russian army of 1814 crushed Napoleon's ego, it won the respect of the lands through which it fought. By contrast, the Soviet army of 1945 earned the contempt of the world by sadistically mistreating civilians.

The legendary proportions of Napoleon's humiliation could, and have, filled books; but

one statistic suffices:Napoleon's Grande Armee numbered 450,000 soldiers when the campaign began. Only 6,000 returned home.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

What Did Adam Smith Believe?

The personal religious beliefs - which are to be distinguished from the private religious beliefs, if any - of Adam Smith are interesting for at least two reasons: first, because they shed some light on his influential economic writings, and second, because Smith, aside from economics, is worth studying, given his multi-disciplinary intellect and his engagement in cultural society of some of the most brilliant minds of history. Kevin Williamson writes:

The exact range and character of Smith's religious beliefs is the subject of some controversy, and the path he took in negotiating what seems to have been the poles in his religious universe - the radical skepticism of his friend David Hume and the Christian Stoicism of his mentor, Francis Hutcheson - is unknown to us. It is presumptuous, and perhaps a little dangerous, to lean too heavily upon Smith's religious beliefs to draw conclusions about his economic analysis.

In any event, Smith seems to have been a member of the Presbyterian Church, gave generously during his life, and left large sums of money to charity upon his death.

James Madison and Public Reason - The Basis for the U.S. Constitution

Just as Thomas Jefferson was the primary author of the Declaration of Independence, so James Madison has often been called "the Father of the Constitution" - both men were implementing a set of ideas into political realities.

To begin with, they wanted to dispel rumors about what the American Independence movement was really about. A series of misunderstanding clouded then, and in some history classrooms still clouds, the goals of the new nation.

One is that the Founders and the Constitution they created had a peculiarly modern and atomistic view of society. According to this myth, the Founders concerned themselves not with the formation of citizens engaged in a common enterprise, but with institutions that played individuals and interest groups off against one another in order to prevent the dominance of one or another faction.

Such an understanding may well be part of twenty-first century politics, but it was not part of Jefferson's view, when he wrote: "Religion, morality, and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged." The understanding of democracy demanded that citizens be educated, not only in the narrow sense of learning texts and facts, but also in the broad sense of developing a moral and practical philosophy. If citizens are to vote, they need a set of intellectual skills which will allow them to analyze complex debates about public virtue, and they need to have developed an ethic and the self-discipline to follow that ethic. Such are the prerequisites for a viable democracy. This also belies another misunderstanding of our constitutional system, which

suggests that the Founders (and Madison in particular) were guilty of anti-democratic elitism,

as Bradley Watson of Claremont Graduate University explains. Although widespread, this notion is undermined by the consistent expansion of suffrage and citizen participation in government, an expansion which began immediately after the ratification of the Constitution and continued steadily. One of the first steps of this expansion of broad-based was the Bill of Rights itself: the ink on the Constitution was barely dry, and already the rights of powers of the citizens over against the government were being expanded. A variation of this slander against Madison

relies on the more positive but still distorting label of aristocracy.

On the contrary, James Madison, was

a man deeply concerned with the ideas of civic virtue, citizen character, and common purpose, albeit in the service of the truly republican principles of the Declaration of Independence,


was well aware that event he cleverest institutional mechanisms are not substitute for the primary check on government: respectable public opinion. The spirit of a regime - that which gives force and direction to its fixed constitutional principle - is manifested and communicated in such opinion. The distinction between sound and unsound opinion runs throughout the founding debates and is evidenced in the structure of the Constitution itself.

At the core of American Independence movement

was the authority of the people and the sovereignty of informed public opinion. And so in Madison we see clearly the extent to which America is based on far more than the pursuit of self- or class-interest.

The "authority of the people" manifests an non-elitist and non-aristocratic outlook; the "informed public opinion" shows how education and ethical reflection forms citizens and is necessary for a sustainable democracy.

The importance of maintaining the cool and deliberate sense of the community as a governing force unites Madison's thoughts and actions into a coherent whole.

In order to carry out the debates and discussions which power a democracy, one needs a sense of community which is strong enough to patriotically bind together citizens who disagree. As citizens are formed, they engage in these debates at a more civilized level. Perfection would not achieved:

Madison rejected the idea of human perfectibility and the inevitability of progress in human knowledge. And yet he was not pessimistic about man's capacity for self-government: If respectable collective opinion were allowed to operate, a free people would be able to control their government and themselves.

The supreme focus of government is not its institutions and procedures, but a community of virtuous citizens.

Madison never doubted the fundamental natural truth revealed to the modern mind - that all men are created equal, and that consent to government is therefore q requirement of justice.

An infrastructure which allows communication is necessary, but only as effective as the level of ethical reflection in its supervisors. The participation of citizens is necessary, but only as salutary as power of the character formation.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Augustine in a Nutshell

Augustine was an extremely influential thinker, writer, philosopher and theologian. He was the man that synthesized many different elements of later Roman society, like classicism, stoicism, rationalism and Christianity. He sometimes called himself a Christian classicist, and saw no problem with combining these terms. And by doing this, he appealed to a wider group of Romans, especially the intellectuals, who finally found Christianity a rational belief that was in concert with their own interests and ideas. Augustine was passionate about God and Christianity, and expressed it with completely new methods. And yet, he went back to the past to find elements that could tie in to Christianity. By doing that, he was able to make Christianity a better fit and more comfortable for the Roman scholars. He was able to remove their objections to Christian theology. The historian Albert Outler stated, “Augustine has played a major role in every intellectual renaissance in the West since the time of Charlemagne. There are Augustinian accents in modern philosophy, and, in a sense, Augustine in the most influential contemporary theologian.”

It is no coincidence that Gregor Mendel (the geneticist) was an Augustinian scholar, as was Thomas Bradwardine the physicist. The Augustinian notion that human reason is powerful, yet susceptible to making mistakes, led to the modern concept of observational science: first, the need to independently confirm observations and replicate them; second, the identification of specific sources of experimental or observational error.

How Glorious Was It?

The political events which ended the reign of James II of England - he was overthrown in part because he was Roman Catholic, and in part because he policy toward France was seen as weakening England's global power - laid the foundation for the American Revolution a century later, and

was traditionally believed to derive much of its gloriousness from its absence of significant bloodshed, except in Ireland (which, revealingly, was not thought to count), a blessing usually put down to the fact that its central drama - the overthrow of James II, England's last Roman Catholic king - was essentially a conservative affair. According to this version of events, the replacement of James with the dual monarchy of the Dutch prince William and his wife (and James’s daughter) Mary was an easy sell, a restoration as much as a revolution, intended by a good number of its supporters to return hallowed (if sometimes fictional) English liberties to their central place in a constitution threatened by the newfangled ways of a monarch in thrall to a foreign religion and, no less sinisterly, to the absolutist ideology of

France's Louis XIV. Those who wanted to get rid of James II were revolutionaries, not in the sense that they wanted to create a new form of government, but rather in the sense that they wanted to return to an older form of government, which gave them all the rights and freedoms in the Magna Carta. James II represented an absolute monarchy instead of the constitutional monarchy which had given English citizens freedom for several centuries. The "Glorious Revolution" - as it has been known ever since - did indeed overthrow the government,

but so far as possible (even during the tricky 1688–89 hiatus) it did so in a way that was in accord with existing law — and who could object to that?

As Oxford's Andrew Stuttaford rhetorically asks. Despite the relatively low body count, the Glorious Revolution was indeed historically significant as the American Revolution which took the same intellectual path, or the French Revolution which took the opposite ideology.

Ensuring Peace Inside the Institution

Augustine is not only known as the thinker who presented Christianity to the pagan Roman society in a manner which made it intelligible, respectable, and appealing to many in that culture, but he also worked to preserve the harmony inside the infant church as it faced some of its first major debates.

Augustine was also responsible for creating some unity within the church, as rival factions and critics, threatened to splinter the church apart. Two main rivals to Augustinian Catholic Christianity were the Donatists and the Pelagians. The Pelagians were group that followed the teachings of Pelagius, a British ascetic, who believed that salvation was given through human will and effort. Pelagius believed that Adam’s ‘Original Sin’ did not taint all of mankind. He believed that humans had a good deal of freedom and autonomy. Augustine had a different belief. Augustine believed in Paul’s ideas regarding Original Sin and salvation. He believed that everyone is born with Adam’s sin, and thus deserve eternal damnation. But God, being forgiving, allows people to be saved. He believes that salvation is a gift from God. Thus, mankind has no role in determining his eternal fate. This idea became known as ‘predestination’. Augustine was firm in his beliefs. He believed that humans have free will, but it had no impact on whether they are saved. Ultimately, the teachings of Pelagius were rejected by the Council of Carthage in 418 A.D. Interestingly, the Catholic Church never adopted Augustine’s interpretation on salvation, and believed instead that salvation was a combination of faith and good works. The debate continued. However, later Protestants, like John Calvin, revived Augustine’s concept of predestination. The fact that Augustine silenced a rival and influenced Protestantism showed his great impact. No doubt, the Romans of his time took notice.

The Donatists were another group that threatened to splinter Christianity into separate sects. The Donatists, named after a Christian man named Donatus, argued that a member of the clergy that had either renounced their faith in a time of persecution, or had sinned in other ways, could not be a member of the church. Thus, they could not give out the sacraments, like the eucharist. They were worried that Christians taking part in this religious rite were not getting the benefits of it, as it was done in an improper manner. So, in essence, the question was, can a clergyman who has fallen from the church in some manner, give the sacraments? Augustine argued they still could. In fact, the debates between the Donatists and Augustine were legendary. Augustine did not relent on any of the issues. He argued persuasively and with reason. His debate with the Donatists forever changed the identity and government of the Church. The fact that he debated publicly the merits of Christianity could not help but be influential to the scholars of Rome.

Augustine's contributions to these discussions worked to sharpen the concept of "grace" - the notion that God's love for human beings is unearned, unmerited, and undeserved. God gives good things to people, not because they deserve it, but because He is generous.

The concept of "predestination" is both complex and misleading. No man can earn or choose salvation from God: man is passive in this process, and God is actively giving the salvation. But once God has given the salvation, man can become active, and choose to reject the free gift. Involved here is a fine distinction between those instances in which the human will is free, and those in which is determined. The discussions continue to this day about the exact meaning of the word "predestination."

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Byron: from Scoundrel to Hero

The British poet Byron squandered his extreme popularity in a series of scandals and flamboyant displays of pure egotism. Once beloved by the reading public, his reputation was so bad that he eventually had to leave England and roamed through Italy, Switzerland, and other parts of Europe. David Pryce-Jones, a scholar at Eton and Oxford, recounts the story from that point:

Back in London, the Greek Committee was established to fight for Greece's independence from the Ottomans. Here was a more rewarding cause than anything in Italy or South America, where Byron also thought of venturing. Several of his friends were members of this committee, and they arranged for him to be their official agent in Greece, well aware of the publicity he was bound to attract. He spent a fortune on specially designed helmets and uniforms, and on the costs of the voyage. Eventually he established himself on the Greek mainland at Missolonghi, more a mud-patch than a proper town.

Byron needed a cause: his life, full of potential at the beginning, had proven empty in the pursuit of mere pleasure and in the attempt to glorify his ego. He now wanted something outside himself: something bigger than himself. He was finally ready to be in the service of something other than himself. Old habits die hard, however, and there was still plenty of swagger in his altruism.

The cause needed Byron: Greece had been attacked, invaded, and occupied by the Islamic army. The resistance was no match for the Muslim military. A famous Englishman like Byron would bring resources to their struggle for freedom.

There he subsidized Greeks and wild Albanians, irregulars who valued his money far more than freedom. He imagined himself at the head of Byron's Brigade, leading a charge and driving the Turks out. Reality overtook fantasy when he caught some sort of fever and suffered mysterious and fatal convulsions. A lonely and untimely death followed; he was only 36.

An instance of Luther's dictum that each man is simultaneously saint and sinner: Byron's effort to help the Greeks was riddled with his own flawed nature, which overflowed into the mercenaries he hired. A moral paradox: he was indeed engaged in a noble task, to help the oppressed victims; but Byron, like all humans, carried his own ethical failings with him even as he did something clearly good.

The Greek Committee and his friends were quick to build the legend that Byron had sacrificed himself in the cause of Greek independence, a hero and martyr for the sacred ideal of freedom.

And indeed, Byron was a martyr who sacrificed himself - not as he might have hoped, gallantly on a battlefield - but rather in diseased mud. Yet his efforts did indeed help the effort to relieve the Greeks from the tyranny of the Islamic military. His life, and death, helped his fellow human beings - both because of his efforts, and despite his person.

The Inner World and the Outer World

The human experience of seeking peace and meaning in life has two sides: to have inner peace is a very different thing than to have out peace. To be sure, both are good. The logic of observing the external world of appearances, whether appreciating the beauty of nature or measuring chemicals in a laboratory or analyzing the trends of world history, is different than the logic of internal reflection and meditation.

Augustine found that answers to the world were not just found outwardly in nature, but inward, in the self. “The foregoing analysis of St. Augustine’s life and philosophy has shown that the chief influence of religion was to turn his attention to the inward of subjective aspects of reality. This led him to discover and emphasize philosophical principles drawn, not from the realm of nature, but from the self,” wrote W. Wylie Spencer. This attitude really appealed to philosophers, especially Platonists. In order for Augustine to appeal theologically to people, he first had to produce a clear philosophy. And he did. He wrote a lot about many different topics. He was clear and succinct in his beliefs and arguments. His philosophy was unique and genuine. Spencer continues: “To this it may be added that the account given by St. Augustine of his search for truth and understanding confirms the judgment that original work was done in the construction of his final philosophy, but, after all, the content of his philosophical system is the surest test of originality.” Augustine’s philosophy and theology have an interesting relationship, but ultimately they supported each other. By creating this original inward-focusing philosophy, the theological system that followed was much more appealing to the intellectuals.

Adam Smith - Not for Beginners

Many students are familiar with the name Adam Smith, and have a few loose associations between that name and a concepts such as free market capitalism and economic equilibria. But he is worthy studying more closely: his nuanced writings cannot be simplified to a few bullet points on a note card. The notion that economies can be self-correcting mechanisms maintaining a sort of balance is part of a larger philosophical outlook, including perhaps Thomas Malthus and John Locke, which saw this same process of homeostasis applied to populations and politics - just as an economy keeps prices from being to high or to low through the interactions of supply and demand, so Malthus thought that populations would keep themselves at sustainable levels by means of corrective measures like wars, plagues, and famines; Locke's embrace of democracy in the form of majority rule was a mathematical averaging of political opinions, designed to keep a government from straying to far from a central balance.

This type of thinking was a response to what Smith, Locke, Malthus, and others (notably David Hume and Thomas Reid) saw as faulty attempts to theorize about political, moral, and ethical questions. Surveying the errors of various social theories, they saw, as Prof. Paul A. Rahe writes, people mistakenly thinking that

political and moral obligations have their foundation in a crass calculation regarding one's own security and material well-being, in a self-forgetting passion for the public good, or in a heroic and selfless will informed by the categorical imperative.

Such notions are both incorrect and doomed to failure, as both reason and experience show, because pure self-interest as a motivation will not sustain a society, because passion for the public good is easily fooled into destructiveness, and because the categorical imperative will instruct about what is right but cannot motivate.

Adam Smith, in place of these failed ethical frameworks, proposes something more subtle: a theory grounded

in the human capacity for sympathy and the natural human desire to garner respect and be genuinely worthy of it.

There is both a hint of selflessness and a bit of self-interest here: this mix is perhaps more realistic about human nature.

Morality is neither selfless nor what we would call selfish, but it is self-regarding. Men, as Smith understands them, are not isolated operators who calculate their interests. They make their way within civil society, and they are embedded in a social nexus in which they find that they have obligations.

Smith rejected naive utopianism, and instead looked for practical ways in which we could make the world, not perfect, but good enough to maintain a just society.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Time Before Time

Probably the first philosopher to precisely analyze the concept of time, using the tools of modern mathematics and physics, was Zeno of Elea (circa 500 B.C.) - which also makes us realize how old "modern" mathematics and physics really are! Ever since, the most brilliant philosophers have pondered the nature of time. All the great ones - Aristotle, Leibniz, Newton, Kant, Husserl - have striven to define the word "time." Augustine, writing around 400 A.D., is no exception.

Augustine systematically explained the history of man from Adam and Eve to his present. One hang-up Romans had with Christianity was that it did not seem to fit properly into the history of the world as they viewed it. Also, Christians had failed to answer some basic questions about time and creation. For example, there was an issue about what God was doing before creation. Augustine argued that time did not exist before creation. Anthony Kenny characterizes Augustine’s response to the Roman questions: “Rejecting the answer ‘Preparing hell for people who ask inquisitive questions’, Augustine responds that before heaven and earth were created, there was no time. We cannot ask what God was doing then, because there was no ‘then’ when there was no time. Equally, we cannot ask why the world was not created sooner, for before the world, there was no sooner.” Augustine believed that time was really only in the mind. While a tough concept, he gave an answer that at least satisfied some intellectuals. He also explained the history of man, from a Christian perspective. He’s able to explain all the earlier civilizations, and their role in history, and explain how all of it was in concert with Christianity. He believed that God has been with mankind since creation and Adam and Eve and could show it. It was an interpretation of time and history that Roman scholars could understand at an intellectual level.

Against a backdrop of pagan mythologies, which told stories about the tragic fates of those who ask questions, Augustine relished the idea of intellectual exploration. Instead of polytheism's mythological warning against inquisitiveness, Augustine eager engaged in mental exploration, including speculations about the nature of time.

Gender and History

Understanding one’s gender, and how one’s gender influences one’s thinking and social interactions, is of interest to philosophers, psychologists, and anthropologists. We also see gender as an important topic in history. One need only think of the wars between Frederick the Great and Empress Maria-Theresa to agree, or to consider the progress which took place as the Judeo-Christian tradition removed some of the limits placed on women by earlier societies. In fact, it can be said that a necessary foundation for any society is the discovery of gender roles. Robert Lewis wrote:

After a lifetime of studying cultures and civilizations, both ancient and modern, the eminent anthropologist Margaret Mead made the following observation: “The central problem of every society is to define appropriate roles for men.” Author George Gilder adds: “Wise societies provide ample means for young men to affirm themselves without afflicting others.”

Psychologically, men are far more fragile than women. Men struggle with their identity much more than women do. Though feminists would have us believe that poor self-esteem is largely a female problem, caused primarily by social inequities, the evidence tells a different story. “Men, more than women,” says David Blankenhorn, “are culture-made.” For this reason, a cultural definition of manhood is critical.

Why would Margaret Mead, herself obviously a woman, stress that the “central” task for any society is to discover the correct roles “for men”? As an anthropologist, she had analyzed the data: the vast majority of major crimes, violent crimes, burglaries, vandalism, and graffiti are committed by men. Essentially all rapes are committed by men. Drunk driving is disproportionately male. Margaret Mead saw that men, if they do not discover their proper roles in society, are dangerous and destructive. Conversely, if men find, or are shown, the roles they ought to assume, they are productive.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Start of Scholasticism

The ancient roots of Scholasticism were Aristotle and Augustine. Centuries after both of them were dead, the philosophers of the Middle Ages created the logical style of analysis which we call Scholasticism, and which formed the foundation for modern physics, mathematics, and chemistry. Scholasticism was characterized by rational debate, in which various viewpoints were examined carefully. As a movement, it reached its high point by around 1250 AD, and was on its way out by the 1400's. It lay dormant during the Renaissance era, when there was neither interest in logical debate, nor openness to competing viewpoints. Scholasticism was re-incarnated as modern philosophy in the disputes between Descartes and John Locke, and in the innovations of Isaac Newton and Robert Boyle.

But can we say that Augustine himself was a Scholastic? Usually he is identified as a "root" of Scholasticism, as one who laid the foundation for it, but not as a Scholastic proper.

Augustine was a scholastic in the sense he reconciled human reason with Christian faith. Scholasticism was actually a popular movement in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, gaining most of its momentum before and after the Crusades and bringing the reading of Greek, and the study of Aristotelian reasoning into Western Europe. The classics of Greece and Rome were never fully lost: from 476 AD onward, there was a continuous reading and study of the great Latin and Greek authors. The claim that the classical heritage was lost to Europe during the "dark ages" is both false and widely-accepted. Famous scholastics from that era like Pierre Abelard, Anselm, and Thomas Aquinas owe a great deal to Augustine. Augustine understood that Christianity was the same kind of truth that Plato and Aristotle discussed. That being the case, then all Christian concepts could be understood using reason, with the exception of God. To Augustine, God was beyond reason, and works in ways humans cannot understand. By showing that reason is a basis to understanding Christianity, Roman scholars could identify with the religion in a deeper manner. It made sense. He said, in one of his sermons, that “If you cannot understand, believe so you can understand.” In essence, he’s saying that faith is a precursor to knowledge. They are not contradictory. After all, you can't know anything unless you believe it. In fact, he believed that faith cleared the mind of confusion. “The skeptic concentrates on the weak points in human knowledge. The man of faith looks and see that there are points of strength also.” In his book City of God, he talks about how reason is a clear characteristic of God’s city. By espousing scholastic ideas, he made Christianity appealing to an even wider group of skeptics. However, this viewpoint of faith and reason will be subject to various interpretations during the middle ages: the Scholastics will present competing theories to explain how faith and reason work together.

In any case, Augustine, although he probably shouldn't be labeled a Scholastic in the technical sense of the word, clearly contains the main currents of Scholastic thought, if in embryonic form.

Architecture and Philosophy

In a strange and difficult-to-describe way, there is a connection between architecture and philosophy: between conversation about life after death and the shape of a stained-glass window; between the logical analysis of time and the curve of a stone arch. It is no mere coincidence that, for example, the great philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein was also an architect. "The disposition of Gothic sculpture," write Ann Mitchell,

is more controlled, since it is confined to the important unites of the building, the load-bearing capitals (in England, the keystones), and finally the facade and portals.

The organized nature of Gothic sculpture corresponds to the mathematical elegance of the philosophical books being written at the same time:

The logical quality is particularly apparent in the cathedrals of the Ile de France whose basis of design shows striking parallels with the forms of the current philosophical system known as Scholasticism. Its major work, the Summa Theologica of Thomas Aquinas, is another of the encyclopedic series of this period. Erwin Panofsky in his Gothic Architecture and Scholasticism has defined the system's three requirements. First, a presentation of the totality of knowledge (theological, moral, natural, and historical). This we have seen in the sculpture of the facades of the cathedrals. Secondly, an arrangement of this knowledge according to a uniform system of division and subdivision. This is best illustrated by the uniformity in design of a sector of the apse, the whole apse, and the choir. And thirdly, these divisions, though related to the whole, should be quite distinct; for example, the cross-section of a pier should explain the whole structure of the church. From the last quarter of the thirteenth century to the end of the middle ages, Scholasticism was beginning to be replaced by other systems and no longer had the same influence; nor was its effect felt so strongly outside the Ile de France.

The emphasis on reason during the era of Scholasticism and Gothic architecture made it an era which gave birth to the concepts which eventually became modern physics, chemistry, and mathematics.

From Plato to Jesus

One of Augustine's claims to fame is that he presented the internal logic of Christianity to Rome's educated classes, who had previously dismissed the new faith as superstition. How did he get them to see the step-by-step rationality of this concept of God, which was new to Rome, but had a long heritage in the Ancient Near East? Augustine understood that the Roman reader could not penetrate the Hebraic style of the New Testament: Jesus was a Rabbi, who presented his ideas in a typically Jewish fashion. The New Testament was a book written by Jews, for Jews, about Jews - and Roman readers were used to Greek philosophy and Latin poetry, which have very different internal logical structures. Augustine repackaged the concepts of Jesus into the language and style of Classical philosophy, and this made them accessible to the Roman reader.

In particular, Augustine was able to make a close link between Platonism and Christianity. He found they had similar themes, like dualism, the theory of the soul, and anti-materialism. The Neo-Platonists, sometimes just called the Platonists, were a group of intellectuals in the 4th and 5th century who studied the works of Plato and believed themselves to be his intellectual heirs. To clearly make that tie between what they were doing and what Christianity was all about was one of the greatest accomplishments of Augustine. “As a Christian, he is sure that he will never depart from the authority of Christ; as a Platonist he is confident that reason will find in Platonism what agrees with Christianity,” writes Peter Brown. Plato believed that the world is broken in the physical and metaphysical realms. The physical realm could not to be trusted. The metaphysical realm contained the ideas of truth and beauty. It was full of goodness. It was a realm that’s beyond physical, so it denied materialism. Augustine saw a very similar link between the metaphysical realm and heaven.

Coming to America

The greatness of America, in innovative science and technology, or in expanding democratic freedoms to include more and more people, arises from its roots. What we call "American" ideals are actually European concepts: the dignity of every human life, freedom of expression, offering equal opportunity - such notions were brought to this continent by Swedes, Norwegians, Poles, Danes, Czechs, Swiss, Austrians, and others. How did this flow of people arrive in America, and why? Thomas Sowell, one of the first African-Americans to earn a doctorate from Harvard, writes:

Later, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the currents of the French Revolution, the conquests of Napoleon, and the Restoration of autocratic rule by the Congress of Vienna after Waterloo all profoundly affected German emigration. About half the overseas German emigrants of the post-Waterloo era went to South America, but from 1830 until World War I, most German overseas emigration was to the United States - as high as 90 percent or more in some years.

This wealth of intellectual creativity - inventors working on everything from telescopes to rockets, from pharmaceuticals to metallurgy - came to America looking for a safe environment in which to work, when their homelands became turbulent, oppressed, or overtaxed:

The rise of liberal and radical opposition to German autocracy led to the abortive Revolution of 1848, after which many fled to escape persecution, or in despair of achieving greater freedom, or simply to find greater social and economic opportunity elsewhere. Nearly a million Germans moved to the United States during the decade of the 1850's.

The timing was crucial - these newcomers would tip the scales in favor of Abraham Lincoln's abolitionist Republican party, and boldly promote the Republican agenda of ending slavery.

The presence of German settlements facilitated the movement of more Germans to the same country, and indeed often to the same region or city. But this depended on the good or bad experiences of earlier emigrants. The South American experience of early German emigrants provided warnings to others in Germany to change their destinations.

Just as harsh conditions dampened the early enthusiasm for moving to South America (who really wants to live in the Amazon rain forest?), the outbreak of the Civil War temporary reduced emigration to the United States for several years.

There were reductions of immigration to the United States associated with the American Civil War, the Franco-Prussian War in Europe, and especially World War I. But in between, German immigration to America was massive. During the decade of the 1880's, about a million and a half Germans moved to the United States.

Again, note the timing - from Europe came the impetus, for example, to allow women to vote. Expanding notions of liberty were the heritage of the great philosophers and cultures, brought to America by these millions.

In the twentieth century, there were usually more immigrants to Germany than emigrants from Germany. Even after the Nazi regime came to power in 1933, repatriated Germans exceeded those leaving. Those leaving, however, included some of the leading German intellectuals and scientists - including a German Jew who would later give the United States the decisive military weapon of World War II, Albert Einstein, a pacifist who ushered in the nuclear age.

America benefited by welcoming some of the greatest minds - the spoils, plunder, and loot which the victors took from World War II were not in the form of jewels and gold, but in the form of intellectual leadership.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Augustine and the Search for Truth

Human being habitually search for truth, and this essential feature creates the possibility for cross-cultural communication. Specifically, Augustine was able to show his Roman readers that they what they valued in Greek philosophy was the same quest for ultimate realities that we find in Augustine's explanation of theology.

Augustine found some key links between the ideas of classical thinkers and Christianity. “Augustine sought to carve out a space for Christianity that was both dignified and classical on the one hand and unyielding on the other.” And both he and the classical philosophers were on a quest for truth. By seeking truth through both philosophy and religion, he appealed to a whole new group of individuals. Christianity was completely foreign to many Romans. They could not relate to the concept of Jesus as savior, the trinity, or ideas of Original Sin. To make Christianity more comfortable for the Romans, there needed to be some commonalities to their previous culture. Augustine provided this link. He was able to show the Romans, through his dynamic sermons, teaching and writing that the two cultures were not so different. Albert Outler, a historian, wrote, “He is misunderstood, however, unless his reader realizes that, in his own eyes, Augustine saw himself as an heir to the tradition of classical culture, as one vitally concerned to appropriate its values and to measure its claims by the norm of Christian truth,” By connecting his Roman culture to classical culture and Christianity, Augustine was doing something that previous Christian thinkers were unable to do. “Augustine deserves to be known on his native ground as a late Latin author whose Christian faith transvalued the classical tradition which formed the nucleus of his culture.” And by doing this, he made Christianity more comfortable to the Romans, especially the intellectuals.

Augustine enabled Roman readers to see that what they found in Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle was linked to what they found in the New Testament: the human mind exercising its rational powers to explore meaning and existence.

Playing Defense

Although Karl Martell (also “Martel”), called “Charles the Hammer” (born 686, died 741) was Mayor of the Palace (“major domo”) of the kingdoms of the Franks, he is remembered for winning the Battle of Tours in 732, which saved Europe from the Emirate of Cordoba's expansion beyond the Iberian Peninsula. Martel's Frankish army defeated an Islamic army, which had crushed all resistance before it. The Muslims had previously invaded Gaul and had been stopped in their northward sweep at the Battle of Toulouse (721).

The Battle of Tours earned Charles the cognomen “Martel” for his victory. Many historians believe that had he failed at Tours, Islam would probably have overrun Gaul, and perhaps the remainder of Europe.

The Battle of Tours probably took place somewhere between Tours and Poitiers. The Frankish army, under Charles Martel, consisted of veteran infantry, somewhere between 15,000 and 75,000 men. Responding to the Muslim invasion, the Franks had avoided the old Roman roads, hoping to take the invaders by surprise. From the Muslim accounts of the battle, the Muslims were indeed taken by surprise to find a large force opposing their expected sack of Tours, and they waited for six days, scouting the enemy. On the seventh day, the Muslim army, consisting of between 60,000 and 400,000 horsemen attacked. The Franks defeated the Islamic army and the emir was killed. While Western accounts are sketchy, Arab accounts are fairly detailed that the Franks formed a large square and fought a brilliant defensive battle. The Muslims were not ready for such a struggle, and should have abandoned the loot that hindered them, but instead trusted their horsemen, who had never failed them. Indeed, it was thought impossible for infantry of that age to withstand armored mounted warriors. Martel managed to inspire his men to stand firm against a force that must have seemed invincible to them, huge mailed horsemen, who in addition probably badly outnumbered the Franks. But bickering between the Islamic generals caused the Muslims to abandon the battlefield, leaving Martel a unique place in history as the savior of Europe, and the only man to ever manage such a victory between such disparate forces. Martel's Franks, virtually all infantry without armor, managed to withstand mailed horsemen, without the aid of bows or firearms, a feat of arms unheard of in medieval history.

Although it took another two generations for the Franks to drive all the Muslim attackers out of Gaul and across the Pyrenees, Charles Martel's halt of the invasion of French soil turned the tide of Islamic advances, and the unification of the Frankish kingdoms under Martel, his son Pippin the Younger (also known as “Pepin the Short”), and his grandson Karl the Great (“Charlemagne”) prevented the Islamic armies from expanding over the Pyrenees.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Fueling the Growth of Christianity

Before Augustine, Christianity had appealed mainly to the lower classes, even women and slaves, with a promise of eternal life and equality, at least at the spiritual level. But Christianity was not popular with the elite and educated classes in Rome. Many powerful Romans believed it a religion of pacifists and the weak. James J. O’Donnell, a modern Augustinian scholar, wrote, “But in the fourth and fifth centuries, Christianity was far from certain to survive and thrive.” Moreover, Christianity had failed to appeal to the Roman intellect: it was Hebrew wisdom, which was a different style of thought, even when translated into Greek and Latin. Augustine was the philosopher that bridges this gap. But why was Augustine able to make Christianity acceptable to the educated classes of Roman society? He did so because he was able to use classical philosophy to express Christian theology, thereby expressing Christian doctrine with clear thought, passionate discourse, and succinct logic. When the Hebrew concepts were rephrased in terms of classical philosophy, the Roman aristocracy understood them, and the numbers of highly-educated Romans converting to the new faith increased. Although controversial, he was enormously influential and brought unity to the church. He showed that Christianity met the moral and intellectual needs of well-educated Romans who were both socially and politically powerful, and in doing so, helped to make the religion popular among Romans of all social classes.

Augustine - the Basics

St. Augustine was an extraordinary philosopher, teacher and bishop born in Northern Africa in 354 AD. His home of Thagaste, a city 200 miles from the coast of the Mediterranean, was firmly within the borders of Rome’s vast empire. This area was rich in ethnic and religious diversity, and for many centuries, it thrived. But by the mid-fourth century, the Roman Empire, including the area around Thagaste, was in decline. There were significant economic and social problems, intensified by a military that no longer could manage all of its borders. W. Wylie Spencer, a historian, said, “Augustine lives his life through, thinks his thoughts, and writes his philosophy in the midst of the most turbulent epoch of change to be found anywhere in the ages between the Greek illumination and the modern rebirth of philosophy.” During this era of constant change, Christianity was gaining momentum. Christianity had become a legal religion in 313 with Constantine’s Edict of Toleration, but it wasn’t until 378 that Christianity was made the official state religion of the Roman Empire.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Augustine in Context

Augustine was born in Northern Africa in 354 AD. His birthplace of Thagaste, a city 200 miles from the coast of the Mediterranean, was firmly within the borders of Rome’s vast empire. This area was rich in ethnic and religious diversity, and for many centuries, it thrived. But by the mid-fourth century, the Roman Empire, including the area around Thagaste, was in decline. There were significant economic and social problems, intensified by a military that no longer could manage all of its borders. During this era of constant change, Christianity was gaining momentum. Christianity had become a legal religion in 313 with Constantine’s Edict of Toleration, but it wasn’t until 393 that Christianity was made the official state religion of the Roman Empire. During most of Augustine’s life, then, Christians were a legal but embattled and oppressed minority group. Before Augustine, Christianity had appealed mainly to the lower classes, even women and slaves, with a promise of eternal life and equality, at least at the spiritual level. But Christianity was not popular with the elite and educated classes in Rome. Many powerful Romans believed it a religion of pacifists and the weak. There were already serious divisive issues that threatened to splinter the church. Moreover, Christianity was perceived as failing to appeal to the intellect. Augustine will be the philosopher who shows it to be otherwise. Why was Augustine able to show Christianity to be appealing to the educated classes of Roman society? Augustine was able to rephrase the concepts of Christian theology into the wordings of Classical philosophy. The original formulations of Christian thought were cast in the setting of Hebrew wisdom literature, which was mystifying to the Roman reader. Augustine recast the Jewish wisdom of Jesus and New Testament into clear Roman-style thoughts, passionate discourse, and succinct logic. Although controversial, he was enormously influential and brought unity to the church. Augustine revealed what Hebrew literary style had kept hidden from Roman eyes: that Christianity met the moral and intellectual needs of man.

He became known as Augustine of Hippo, because he worked mainly in that town. It is only a few miles from Thagaste.

Augustine had a classical education. He studied the writings of classical figures like Vergil, Cicero and Plato. He wrote his letters and books in polished Latin style.

He expressed Christian concepts in the language of Platonic philosophy. Augustine believed Platonic dualism and Christianity have a clear link. He presented his own version of Plato’s Theory of Ideas (The Ideas exist within God). He formulated a Christian Neo-Platonism.

Augustine was an early scholastic, or more accurately a proto-Scholastic, in the sense that he reconciled human reason with Christian faith. When Scholasticism flourishes, centuries after Augustine, there will be a conflict between the Augustinian Scholastics, influenced by Platonism, the Thomist Scholastics, influenced by Aquinas’s study of Aristotle.

Augustine systematically explained the history of man from Adam and Eve to the present. He is one of the earliest philosophers to understand the connection between philosophy and history, and to develop a philosophy of history. He had a clear and well-argued vision of time. In exploring the nature of time, he not only explored the philosophy of history, but also the connections between philosophy and physics. Augustine’s view of history and time incorporated all of mankind.

He examined both similarities and contrasts between Cicero’s stoicism and Christianity. He didn’t like all aspects of stoicism, but could see a tie between Natural Law and God’s universality. Some aspects of morality were similar.

He was constantly on a quest for truth and self-examination. He turned religion into an inward and subjective journey, not with answers found in nature, but within the self. His autobiographical writings are self-critical.

Augustine created unity within the church when rivals like the Donatists and Palagians threatened to separate the church. In resolving these conflicts, he organized logical principles still used today by philosophers.

In 410, Rome was sacked by Visigoths. Many Romans blamed the increasing popularity of Christianity for their misfortunes. He creates, in the City of God, a clear rationale as to why Christians should still be faithful despite the horrors they were experiencing: both from external invaders and from their fellow Romans who made the Christians into scapegoats regarding the invasions. He also demonstrated that the Visigoths attacks in Rome were not caused by the new faith, but that the attacks might have been worse if not for the moderating presence of the belief.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Afghanistan's History

As a region, not a political unit, Afghanistan “was always part of somebody’s empire, beginning with the Persian Empire in the fifth century B.C.,” according to Boston University's Thomas Barfield. Afghanistan has been conquered and occupied continuously “for 2,500 years.”

From Cambridge University, Andrew Roberts writes:

The reason that Alexander stayed in Afghanistan so briefly was that there was so little to keep him there, in terms of wealth or produce; he went to Afghanistan to pass through into India. Afghanistan had already been conquered by the Median and Persian Empires beforehand, and afterwards it was conquered by the Seleucids, the Indo-Greeks, the Turks, and the Mongols. The country was quiet for most of the reigns of the Abbasid Dynasty and its successors between 749 and 1258. When Genghis Khan attacked it in 1219, he exterminated every human being in Herat and Balkh, turning Afghanistan back into an agrarian society. Mongol conqueror Tamerlane treated it scarcely better. The Moghuls held Afghanistan peaceably during the reign of Akbar the Great, and for well over a century afterwards.

When Alexander took Afghanistan, he wasn't taking it from the Afghanis, but rather from the Persians. And when it ceased being part of Alexander's empire, it became part of the Seleucid Empire. There is no phase of independence. In fact, the very name "Afghanistan" was inflicted on the nation by outside conquerors, when the peaceable inhabitants were forced by invading Muslim armies, after thousands of them had been executed merely as a show of power, to accept Islam as the state-imposed religion.

Hardly any of these empires bothered to try to impose centralized direct power; all devolved a good deal of provincial autonomy as the tribal and geographical nature of the country demanded in the period before modern communications and the helicopter gunship. Yet it was they who ruled, and the fact that the first recognizably Afghan sovereign state was not established until 1747, by Ahmad Shah Durrani, illustrates that the idea of sturdy Afghan independence is a myth.

The government of 1747 didn’t last long, as Afghanistan was part of the British Empire during the 1800’s. Despite stories of a British defeat in 1842 with 16,500 casualties, the Afghanis didn't offer any substantial resistance to the English. The reality was that the casualties were mainly non-British, and the few British who died were the victims of the commanding officer's stupidity. In any case, the English hold on the territory wasn’t loosened. Andrew Roberts continues:

For all the undoubted disaster of Britain’s First Afghan War, the popular version of events is faulty in several important respects. It is true that 16,500 people died in the horrific Retreat from Kabul, but fewer than a quarter of them were soldiers, and only one brigade was British. The moronic major-general William George Keith Elphinstone evacuated Kabul in midwinter, on Jan. 6, 1842, and the freezing weather destroyed the column as much as the Afghans did; one Englishwoman recalled frostbite so severe that "men took off their boots and their whole feet with them." Wading through two feet of snow and fast-flowing, freezing rivers killed many more than jezail bullets did, and despite Lady Butler’s painting of assistant surgeon William Brydon entering Jalalabad alone on his pony, in fact several hundred — possibly over a thousand — survived the retreat and were rescued by the punitive expedition that recaptured Kabul by September 1842. Early in 1843, the governor-general, Lord Ellenborough, sent Sir Charles Napier to capture Sind, and thereafter Afghanistan stayed quiet for 30 years. Sir Jasper Nicolls, the commander-in-chief of India, listed the reasons for the defeat at the time as: "1. not having a safe base of operations, 2. the freezing climate, 3. the lack of cattle, and 4. placing our magazines and treasure in indefensible places."

So the 16,500 casualties turns out to be actually less than 4,000 - and instead of one lone survivor, there were many. Of those who did die, the causes of death were not combat-related, or even war-related. But the real bottom line is that English dominance remained. The tales not told are of the 1880 battle, for example, in which the British army suffered almost no casualties while retaining control of Kandahar.

After the 1747 government's brief independence, the next real shot at having their own state was in 1919:

After 1880, in the words of Richard Shannon’s book The Crisis of Imperialism, “Afghan resistance was subdued and Afghanistan was reduced to the status virtually of a British protectorate” until it was given its independence in 1919.

Although independent again for several decades, it was rather unstable - a long string of assassinations kept the government rather shaky. Finally, the Soviet Union occupied it for several years, and when they left, the Taliban would be the next invader.

The lesson: although the Taliban imposed a harsh cruelty on the Afghani people, they were simply the most recent power to occupy the nation. While the Taliban were brutal foreign rulers, the contrast between the Taliban and previous eras of Afghani history is not that the Taliban were foreigners who established their rule over Afghanistan, but rather than they were ruthless in doing so. Afghanis have been accustomed, for centuries, to not having their independence and being part of someone's empire, but Taliban's Islamic severity set them apart from previous imperial governors.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Turning Point

Greek philosophy in the archaic era is quite different from Greek philosophy in classical era. What are the differences? What caused the changes?

In the archaic era, the pre-Socratic philosophers lived largely outside of Greece in the Greek-speaking Mediterranean colonies. They were interested in topics related to physics, astronomy, mathematics, biology, and chemistry. They came from a comfortable middle-class or merchant class, having leisure time to think about such topics. Living away from mainland Greece, they were more adventurous in personality, corresponding to the frontier nature of their surroundings. They were optimistic, because the colonies abounded with financial and political opportunities.

During the classical era, the philosophers lived mainly in Greece itself. While retaining interests in physics and metaphysics, they were very interested in social and ethical questions. They were men of less influence and less wealth.

Certain factors in Greek society may have caused philosophers to focus more on political and moral questions: the Peloponnesian War, begun because of Athenian greed, and carried out under pretentious propaganda, weakened Greece and removed optimism. The fabled democratic government of Athens turned out to be, in reality, a system of bribery and extortion, leading to incidents such as the death of Socrates. Greek heroes, like Themistocles, revealed themselves to be savage and brutal, capable of atrocities. (Remember that Themistocles engaged in human sacrifice on the evening before the Battle of Salamis to ensure his victory.) Small wonder that someone like Plato would write a detailed discussion of the question: what is justice?

Monday, August 23, 2010

Religion in France during the French Revolution

Various governments of France, beginning with the start of the French Revolution in 1789, implemented the following policies:

  • The deportation of clergy and the condemnation of many of them to death,

  • The closing, desecration and pillaging of churches, removal of the word “saint” from street names and other acts to banish Christian culture from the public sphere

  • Removal of statues, plates and other iconography from places of worship

  • Destruction of crosses, bells and other external signs of worship

  • The institution of revolutionary and civic cults, including the Cult of Reason and subsequently the Cult of the Supreme Being,

  • The large scale destruction of religious monuments,

  • The outlawing of public and private worship and religious education,

  • Forced marriages of the clergy,

  • Forced abjuration of priesthood, and

  • The enactment of a law on October 21, 1793 making all nonjuring priests and all persons who harbored them liable to death on sight.

  • The climax was reached with the celebration of the Goddess “Reason” in Notre Dame Cathedral on 10 November.

Under threat of death, imprisonment, military conscription or loss of income, about 20,000 constitutional priests were forced to abdicate or hand over their letters of ordination and 6,000 - 9,000 were coerced to marry, many ceasing their ministerial duties. Some of those who abdicated covertly ministered to the people. By the end of the decade, approximately 30,000 priests were forced to leave France, and thousands who did not leave were executed. Most of France was left without the services of a priest, deprived of the sacraments and any nonjuring priest faced the guillotine or deportation.

The March 1793 conscription requiring Vendeans to fill their district's quota of 300,000 enraged the populace, who took up arms and fought. They stated that, in addition to opposing the conscription, they were fighting above all for the reopening of their parish churches with their former priests. A massacre of 6,000 Vendée prisoners, many of them women, took place after the battle of Savenay, along with the drowning of 3,000 Vendée women at Pont-au-Baux and 5,000 Vendée priests, old men, women, and children killed by drowning at the Loire River at Nantes in what was called the "national bath" - tied in groups in barges and then sunk into the Loire.

With these massacres came formal orders for forced evacuation; also, a 'scorched earth' policy was initiated: farms were destroyed, crops and forests burned and villages razed. There were many reported atrocities and a campaign of mass killing universally targeted at residents of the Vendée regardless of combatant status, political affiliation, age or gender. By July 1796, the estimated Vendean dead numbered between 117,000 and 500,000, out of a population of around 800,000.

The irony is that these atrocities - ruthlessly carried out against anyone who was a Christian, or even seemed to be a Christian - were the product of a revolutionary government which had come to power, in part, to seek freedom of religion!


Although a French Roman Catholic, Bossuet was interested to appeal also to Protestant readers. He wrote some of his books deliberately to explain his views to both Catholics and Protestants, using a style accessible to both groups, and offensive to neither. He believed that Catholicism was correct, and Protestantism mistaken, and that rational persuasion can be used in discussing these two competing interpretations of the faith - not emotional appeals or violence.

Louis XIV liked his style, and so Bossuet became the teacher of Louis XIV’s son.

Bossuet then wrote, partially as a textbook for the future king, that the duties of absolute ruler are: promoting the welfare of state; fostering religion and justice as the good constitution for the welfare of society; making peace; opposing false religion; and being humble because political power is a gift.

Ultimately, Bossuet could not accept the harsh absolutism of Hobbes, and moved beyond it, stating that the royal authority was limited by (a) the king's duty to be paternal to his subjects, (b) the king's duty to behave rationally, and (c) the king's accountability to God, from Whom political power comes.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

The History of Hygiene

Whether you call us "Western Civilization" or "European Culture," we're pretty clean people: we take showers and baths, and between those, we wash our faces and hands. We shampoo our hair, and wash our clothes and dishes. We clean our houses and wash our cars. How did we get to be this way?

We started off well: the Greeks and Romans were clean folk, who bathed regularly.

Despite the stereotypes, the Middle Ages were also a clean time: people took a dive into the nearest river or pond, scrubbed themselves clean, and washed their clothes as well. In fact, soap-making was a big deal in the Medieval Era.

Soap-makers were members of a guild in the late sixth century. Karl the Great ("Charlemagne") even wrote about soap: a Carolingian document, dating to around 800, and sometimes attributed to Charlemagne, mentions soap as being one of the products the stewards of estates are to tally. Soap-making is mentioned both as "women's work" and the produce of "good workmen" alongside other necessities such as the produce of carpenters, blacksmiths and bakers. Although some historians have mistakenly called them the "Dark Ages," these were, in fact, pretty sanitary times.

But then we got dirty. Those murky segments of time known by various names - the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, the Age of Ideas, the Age of Reason, etc. - were years in which people relied more on a dash of cologne or some white powder on the face than on actual washing.

Professor Lynn Thorndike, at Columbia University, writes that "Francis Bacon tells us that people bathed less in his time than they used to do."

How did our culture ever get clean again?

As the English expanded their colonization efforts, they encountered fastidiously clean cultures in southern Asia (India) and eastern Asia (China). Through contact with these cultures, the English learned, or re-learned, the habits of cleanliness. From England, the trend spread to Europe. And from Europe, to the Americas, to Australia, and other outposts of Western Civilization.

And so we are clean!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Women Move Forward Through History

The early Roman Catholic Church had clear, established roles for men and women. Although some formal leadership positions were open only to men, the Roman Catholic system actually gave women higher status than they had in previous systems (in Roman, Greek, or Norse polytheism, for example, the full humanity of women was denied). Although in some folk versions of Roman Catholicism women were considered inferior to men and easily coaxed by the devil, in the large culture of the faith, they were seen as able to take positions of spiritual authority. Although women spoke less in church, and did less in terms of teaching, and had less to do with the administration of the sacraments, they nonetheless made themselves heard and understood in high-level discussions about both abstract theology and the concrete practices of the church. While there was a popular attitude that women were not to participate in conversations about religious issues or leadership in the church, they did in fact do so, and with the blessing of the hierarchy and even the pope.

Specifically, women had some routes in which to express their religious zeal in the Middle Ages, including joining a monastery. In fact, medieval nunneries flourished. Scholastica, the twin sister of Benedict, started a monastery. Other nuns in Europe like Brigid of Ireland and Hilda, Abbess of Whitby, were prominent in areas of teaching and learning. There are many examples of women who were able to exercise their talents in a multitude of areas. Why is there this contradiction between the official thought and practice of the church, which acknowledged women's full humanity and embraced their participation, and the harshly anti-woman attitude in some of the local folk cultures? Was this a hangover from a pre-Christian paganism which saw women as less than fully human? As Christianity progressively rooted out the subtle traces of polytheistic mythologies from European culture, we see the forward movement of women toward equality, not only in the church structure, but in civil rights as well: ultimately, women would be allowed to vote, own property, etc., as a result of the eradication of pre-Christian paganism.

There are plenty of examples of Christian women who were able to rise above these pagan cultures and contribute in amazing ways to Western Civilization. Was Christianity actually liberating to early Christian women?

One of the clearest examples is Hildegard of Bingen. She was not only acknowledged by the pope as an official teacher of theology for the church, but she was also empowered to advise, council, and even rebuke royalty when she determined that the kings and princes had failed to act ethically. This was amazing leadership for anybody in the 1100's, man or woman.

Social Behavior in the Plague

History, ancient and modern, is full of plagues. The most famous one, perhaps, is the Black Death of the 1340's. The most recent one might be the 1918 influenza outbreak. Modern researchers speak of epidemics and pandemics, which are similar to a plague in the broad sense of the word. The word plague itself also has a narrower meaning, a specific disease: the Bubonic plague.

In the early part of the second century a plague broke out in the city of Antioch in Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey). A Roman solider dispatched a rescript to his superiors in Rome giving his report of the outbreak in which his writes that in light of the fact that the disease was spreading, the politicians, medical doctors and even family members had fled the city, and that he too found it necessary to pull his troops back to the periphery of the city to avoid contagion.

This solider then adds a curious detail: only one group remained in Antioch to tend to and bring comfort to the dying. It was, he reports, a sect of disciples of a man executed by his fellow Roman Pontius Pilate several decades previous. The solider found it incomprehensible that people would risk their very lives to bring comfort to the vulnerable and dying. These were early members of the sect of Christians.

In the Easter Letter from around 260 AD written by Dionysius, he indicates that while many Christians, especially the leaders, died, other Christians had survived the plague. Like most survivors, they were immune and were able to nurse many over the course of the plague. Others who had gained immunity by surviving the plague did not choose to care for the sick. This got the attention of the Roman officials. They desired that all citizens should demonstrate this concern.

Later, the Roman Emperor Julian, who hated these "Galileans", sought to get the pagans to imitate their care, but without success. Plagues reinforced faith rather than government edicts. Christianity embraced an new idea foreign to Roman mythologies; God expects his followers not only to worship him, but to care for others. This new religion, Christianity, demanded that its followers care for the sick, even the ailing Roman officials who had been involved with torturing and killing the Christians before the plague broke out. Caring for other humans beyond family ties, beyond business or political interests, as a religious requirement was a revolutionary idea.

Schools During the Industrial Revolution

John Pounds (1766 - 1839) was a teacher and Christian born in Portsmouth, and the man most responsible for the creation of the concept of Ragged Schools. These were schools which were totally free to the children living in the industrial slums of the large English cities; these inner-city neighborhoods were the direct result of the Industrial Revolution. After his death, Thomas Guthrie (often credited with the creation of Ragged Schools) wrote his Plea for Ragged Schools and proclaimed John Pounds as the originator of this idea.

Pounds was severely crippled in his mid-teens, from falling into a dry dock at Portsmouth Dockyard, where he was apprenticed as a shipwright. He could no longer work at the dockyard, and from then onwards made his living as a shoemaker.

He would scour the streets of Portsmouth looking for children who were poor and homeless, taking them in to his small workshop and teaching them basic reading, writing and arithmetic skills. This small workshop was often host to as many as 40 children at any one time.

Many years after his death, John Pounds has become a local hero in his birthplace of Portsmouth. Today a chapel named in his memory stands in Old Portsmouth. He was one of many Christians who worked to relieve the misery caused by the Industrial Revolution.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Rome Gets Stupid

Tenney Frank, in his book Life and Literature in the Roman Republic describes how the quality of literature decreased in the late Roman Republic. He notes that the literary writers acquiesced to the wishes of the audience. He writes "It is not surprising, therefore, that these audiences – eager for entertainment which might exclude all possibility of having to exercise the intellect – finally demanded an extravaganza that appealed solely to eye and ear," and the entertainment fare available catered to the whims of the audience.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Getting Valuable Things from the Past

Historians Will and Ariel Durant, whose socialist and communist leanings have made some of their books rather controversial, finished their book about the decades leading up to the French Revolution by summarizing the both the radical destructiveness of revolutionary trends and the stabilizing calmness of more organically sustainable change.

Tradition is to the group what memory is to the individual; and just as the sapping of memory may bring insanity, so a sudden break with tradition may plunge a whole nation into madness, like France in the Revolution.

The Durants considered their book to be about "The Age of Voltaire," but they perhaps missed one of the more interesting points to be made in this context: that Voltaire himself produced some texts in the radical Robespierre-Rousseau direction, and other texts in a more calmly reasonable Burke direction.

A Turning Point

As we observe how cultures and civilizations consciously re-design themselves over the centuries, occasional short texts can crystallize and highlight the developments. Take, for example, a quote from Homer, as the characters in his book contemplate their gods:

This is the lot the gods have spun for miserable men, that they should live in pain, yet themselves have no sorrow.

Homer's words capture a view of life as it was common before the development of Western Civilization or the Judeo-Christian tradition. Consider the contrasts: Homer's gods formed a "lot" for man, meaning that there was a fixed destiny or fate; now, in European culture, we see that there is chance for change, that people can influence their futures. Rather than a dispassionate deity contemplating our suffering, we have a concept of a God who is saddened by our suffering, and who voluntarily accompanies us in that suffering.

This change in society's concept of God over the centuries fuels the change in other social notions: that it is good to help the poor, that it is good to work for peace and seek to end wars.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Reformation Recap

The Reformation

There are many who know of Martin Luther solely by the words that he spoke at the Diet of Worms in April 1521, “My conscience is captive to the Word of God, here I stand; I can do no other. God help me.” However, these words, as thrilling as they are, cannot alone capture the full essence of Luther and what he believed.

To understand Luther, it is necessary to know the background that brought him to utter those words. To do this, we will review the major historical events previous to the Diet of Worms, the reactions against Luther, and three major tracts that he wrote during the crucial year of 1520.

The Indulgence Controversy of 1517 was more the occasion rather than the cause of the Reformation. The true cause of the Reformation was Luther’s investigation of the Tanakh and New Testament prior to 1517. Through his personal struggles, Luther came to realize that these sacred texts taught that forgiveness was not something to be earned, but rather a free gift from God.

Luther began to compare his conclusions with what the Church had taught. As a faithful monk, Luther had done everything, and more, that the Church commanded. Rather than bringing a settled peace, his attempts only heightened his despair. The understanding that salvation was a gift graciously bestowed by God rather than something earned by his own merits opened Luther’s eyes to the nature of the Church’s teaching.

Thus when John Tetzel came to Mainz, Germany proclaiming the indulgence, Luther’s ire was aroused. The Ninety-five Theses that he attached to the door of the Castle Church on October 31, 1517 rapidly circulated throughout Europe. News of his action quickly reached Rome. Papal officials were caught between feelings of outrage over the audacious actions of a monk and incredulity that someone would dare question the authority of the Church. Rather than attempting to suppress Luther, Rome remained undecided as to whether his actions were heretical or merely mistaken.

In Germany, events continued to progress. In April 1518, Luther defended his teachings at Heidelberg before members of the Augustinian order. As a result, Martin Bucer and Johannes Brenz were won to the cause of the Reformation. Luther’s interview with Cardinal Cajetan (Thomas de Vio) failed to bring a retraction from Luther.

In January 1519 the entire situation was thrown into confusion by the death of the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian. Attention was now diverted from Luther to the task of electing a new Emperor. In June of that year, after months of intrigue and bribery, Maximilian’s grandson, Charles V, was elected as the new Holy Roman Emperor. However, the Papacy had incurred a great debt to the German elector, Frederick the Wise, and Pope Leo X had to agree to his demand that Luther not be sent to Rome for trial but that he would be tried on German soil.

In June 1519, Rome sent its foremost German theologian, John Eck of Ingolstadt, to crush Luther at Leipzig. However, the Augustinian monk refuted the arguments of Eck and stood his ground. It became apparent that the Papacy was facing a true “German Hercules” as Luther was now called. The Papacy paused to regroup and this gave a time of respite to Luther.

In October 1519 Charles V was crowned as the Holy Roman Emperor five months after his election. There was no doubt as to where Charles stood on the issues regarding Luther. He was determined to crush the heretic and restore the true faith to his territory. However, before he could move against Luther, events in Spain caused him to absent himself from Germany for over a year. It would be in late 1520 before Charles would have opportunity to return to Germany.

Meanwhile, Luther appealed to the Pope explaining his actions and asking Leo to assist with the reformation of the church. However, rather than receiving assurances of the Pope’s support, the Pope responded with the promulgation of the bull Exurge Domini that begins with the words, “Rise up, Lord, rise up, Peter, rise up, Paul, rise up, all saints, for a wild boar has invaded your vineyard … there has reached our ears, yes, what is worse, alas, we have seen and read with our own eyes the many and various errors of which several were already condemned by councils … ” Luther was given sixty days in which to recant or be condemned.

However, it was one thing to promulgate the bull, it was another thing to have it placed in Luther’s hands. It was October 1520 before the Papal bull finally reached Luther. Luther had heard of its issuance, but it could not be enforced until it had actually been placed in his hands.

The months after the issuance of the Papal Bull were the most difficult of Luther’s life. There was no reason to believe that Luther had started with the intention of rebelling against the Church. He was not interested in rending its unity. However, he did believe that reformation was imperative and that Pope Leo X would be the first to call for it if he but realized the gravity of the situation. It was a crushing disappointment to Luther to hear that the bull had been pronounced against him.

Whatever may have been Luther’s personal feelings at this turn of events, there was no doubt that these months were among the most productive in his life. Tract after tract flowed from his pen defending the reform of the church. However, there were three tracts that merit special attention. They were entitled To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation, The Babylonian Captivity of the Church, and The Freedom of a Christian. Luther’s works occupy numerous volumes in their various editions. A strong case could be made that these three tracts, about three hundred pages in their modern reprints, may be the most important things that he ever wrote. They were written in August, October, and November of 1520. They summarized Luther’s reasons for the reformation.

Although written nearly five hundred years ago in German and Latin, even in their English translation, they exhibit a vigor and passion that cannot be denied. Luther opened his heart concerning the need for reformation and, at whatever cost to himself, nailed his flag to the mast as he had previously nailed the Ninety-five Theses to the Castle Church door.

On August 18, 1520 To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation was published. The tract was addressed to the nobility because Luther believed that any reformation of the Church was directly dependent on their support. In this broadside against the teachings of the Church, Luther destroyed the three lines of defense that the Church had erected to justify its teachings. Those three walls included the distinction between the clerical and the lay members of the Church, the claim that the Pope was the supreme interpreter of Scripture, and the teaching that the Pope was the supreme authority in the Church. In the second and third parts of the treatise Luther dealt with particular offenses against the people of Germany and gave practical proposals for reform of these abuses.

The writing was controlled indignation against Rome’s treatment of the German nation, religiously and politically. However, Luther’s basic thesis stood out on every page: “the priesthood of all believers.” Rome claimed exclusive power over the priesthood that had been transformed into a sacrificial system by the Mass.

The Pope’s claim that he alone had the authority to interpret correctly the Scriptures also fell. There was no biblical justification for such a claim. The same was true for the superiority of the Pope over Church Councils. Any Christian had the right, even the responsibility, to call for a council of the Church when it became evident that reformation was needed.

Toward the end of the treatise, Luther hinted that this was but the opening salvo in his campaign against Rome’s claims. True to his word in October 1520, in The Babylonian Captivity of the Church, Luther attacked the citadel of Roman power. The title of his second tract was taken from the Babylonian conquest of Judah in the sixth century B.C. As Babylon took Judah into captivity, so Rome had taken the sacraments into captivity. In his first treatise, he had demolished the walls of Rome’s defenses, now he went to the center of the power that Rome held over the souls of men. That power was concentrated in the Sacramental system by which the grace of God was conferred upon men. All people recognized that a sinful man could not approach a Holy God by his own merits. All were in need of the grace of God. Rome taught that God had given all grace to the Church and it was the function and prerogative of the Church exclusively to dispense that grace to the faithful by means of the sacraments.

In The Babylonian Captivity of the Church, Luther discussed the seven sacraments. However, the majority of the book dealt with the sacraments of the Eucharist and Baptism. A true sacrament was comprised of two elements: a phrase of institution or promise by the Jesus, and a visible sign that accompanied it.

Concerning the Eucharist, Luther’s first complaint was that the cup was withheld from the laity. This was in direct contradiction of the words of Christ that participants were to partake of both kinds. However, this was subordinate to Luther’s denial of the doctrine of transubstantiation. This doctrine taught that the elements of the Eucharist were changed into the body and blood of the Lord by the priest’s act of consecration. Luther equated his teaching on the Eucharist with the position of John Wyclif and John Hus, whose teachings had been condemned by the Church as heresy. Luther boldly stated that the doctrine of transubstantiation had never been taught in the church for the first twelve hundred years of its existence. Instead, Luther saw the text as presenting the doctrine of consubstantiation, in which the bread and wine are present along with the body and blood.

In his third complaint regarding the Eucharist, Luther charged Rome with teaching that participation in the Eucharist was a good work and a sacrifice of the Lord. As a result, the necessity of faith had been banished from the sacrament.

In this tract, Luther attacked the Church at its central teaching. As a result, there could be no turning back. The choice was between a complete recantation and casting himself on the mercy of the Pope or continuing forward toward what appeared to be certain destruction. However, not everyone was convinced that these were the only available options. Karl of Miltitz, a Saxon nobleman who previously had attempted to reconcile the two sides, made one final effort. Through the influence of Johann von Staupitz and Wenceslaus Link, the heads of the Augustinian order, Miltitz persuaded Luther to write a conciliatory letter to Pope Leo and to include a devotional tract especially written to explain his teachings on the Christian life.

Luther agreed to this and in November he wrote a letter to Pope Leo X. In the letter, Luther distinguished between the Pope, whom he believed was a captive of the Roman Curia, and Church officials. Although the letter was written in a respectful tone, Luther did not hesitate to remind the Pope that he was responsible for the reformation of the Church. This was not the humble submission that Leo had demanded in his bull against Luther. Whether Leo ever received the letter is unknown to this day.

Accompanying the letter was a tract entitled The Freedom of a Christian. It was one of the most irenic of Luther’s writings. It was the application of Luther’s theology to the Christian life. One of the charges made against Luther’s teaching was that it would lower the moral condition of the people. If Luther’s doctrine of justification by faith were true, people no longer would be required to obey the law of God. This charge is ironic when one considers that the moral conditions in Rome could hardly have gotten any worse.

In The Freedom of a Christian, Luther made a distinction between the law and the gospel. The law showed a person his need of salvation. Once the person had received salvation, he was free from the penalty of the Law. However, he was not free to live as he pleased and to ignore God’s laws. On the contrary, he had been set free from sin to serve others with an attitude of gratitude and love. Thus the Christian was both enslaved and free. He had been freed from sin and had become the servant of all.

There were a number of persons in the Papal Court who commented favorably on the teaching of this tract. However, undergirding it was a theology that differed greatly from the theology of Rome. While Luther demonstrated that his theology would not lead to lawlessness, it was a theology based on faith in Christ and not on the Church. Although he wrote in a conciliatory tone, Luther did not retreat from his position.

This final attempt at reconciliation proved futile. Luther finally received the Bull on October 10, 1520 and was given sixty days to submit. He gave his answer on December 10 when he burned the Papal bull, the canon law and other books. Thus the road was opened to the Diet of Worms where, in April 1521, Luther uttered this declaration, “Here I stand, I can do no other. God help me. Amen.”

Monday, May 17, 2010

The American Dream - Still Alive?

The city of New York bears a special connection to that ambiguous yet powerful concept called the American Dream. What is it? Millions of immigrants have arrived in New York, more than most other cities on our continent. They arrived here to begin a new life. For what were they looking? New York University lies in the heart of the city; an NYU alumnus writes:

People don't dream all their lives of escaping the hellish countries they live in and pay their life savings to underworld types for the privilege of being locked up in a freezing, filthy, stinking container ship and hauled like cargo for weeks until they finally arrive in

cities like Moscow, or Beijing, or Baghdad, or Kabul. No, they sacrifice to get to America, and often the point of entry is New York. Why? Because America stands for, or at least has until now stood for, the concept that drives much of humanity: freedom. What is that concept:

Freedom was the ideas that inspired our Founders, that moved them to break the free of an oppressive regime and envision a better system of government. The framers of our Constitution were determined to establish a governmental structure that would ensure freedom. They understood that freedom was the exception rather than the rule in world history, and were determined to right that wrong.

How do we create a system in which the freedom of the individual, or personal liberty, is protected?

In order to safeguard liberties, they knew they would have to impose limitations on government - limitations that would be etched in a permanent (though amendable) Constitution and would be bolstered by a complex scheme of checks and balances among the various levels and branches of government.

This concept of freedom and liberty has been attacked over and over again through the decades and centuries - by the imperialist power which wanted to keep us as a colony, by the concept of slavery in the American south, by the Nazis, by the Communists, by Islam - but we insist on being free:

One of the principal drawbacks of freedom is that it is inherently vulnerable to attack. By its very nature it permits, and perhaps even invites, assaults from within and without. But freedom is worth fighting and dying for, and Americans have always risen to the challenge.

There are thousands of organized people outside the USA who hate the fact that we have freedom, and they want to stop our concept of liberty, and they want to kill us. There are also people inside the USA who don't like liberty, and would rather have government programs dictate to us about how we should live. But freedom is our political goal, liberty is our political value.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Are We Evil?

A small but significant group of anti-intellectuals, hiding behind the titles of "Ph.D." and "professor" (titles which they have not earned but rather merely obtained by endlessly reformulating the same mantras of political correctness), have urged, in various ways, that Western Civilization be despised and rejected as the source of most, if not all, of the world's misery.

To replace the discarded European (or Eurogenic or Eurocentric) Culture, they propose not the serious study of other civilizations and cultures, which would be admirable, but rather a lack of any serious cultural study, advanced under the deliberately misleading name of multiculturalism.

Just as these anti-educators lack any rigorous knowledge of the civilization they reject - pretending to understand Aristotle without being able to decline a Greek noun, or to explore Shakespeare without have read more than a couple of his plays - so also they have no experience of the cultures they pretend to promote - hailing Afrocentrism without being able to read Ethiopic or Nubian, and saluting Asian wisdom without ever having read the works of Confucius.

This ignorance need not bother the multiculturalists, inasmuch as they do not promote the study of other cultures, but merely pretend to promote such learning. What they actually promote is the endless repackaging of the few simple axioms of a mis-guided, state-centered program of social engineering: their goal being, not knowledge, but the ability to control and re-design society.

Where such ideologues have gained control of educational institutions, the results are predictable. A 1992 report from the Excellence in Broadcasting Network summarizes the situation:

A few years ago, radical students at Stanford University protested against a required course in the great texts of Western civilization. They organized a march, led by the Reverend Jesse Jackson, with a chant, "Hey, hey, ho, ho, Western culture's gotta go." And Stanford capitulated and abolished the Western civilization requirement. It was replaced with watered-down courses in which books were supposed to be examined from the perspective of "race, class, and gender."

Note that not only are certain texts (Aristotle, John Locke, etc.) to be removed from study, but also the way in which we study the remaining texts (those approved by the self-appointed Thought Police) is to be reformulated to ensure that students are not permitted to extract actual meaning or knowledge from the texts, but rather merely use the text as a springboard while jumping into a meaningless sea of emotional experience.

Multiculturalism is billed as a way to make Americans more sensitive to the diverse cultural backgrounds of people in this country. It's time we blew the whistle on that. What is being taught under the guise of multiculturalism is word than historical revisionism; it's more than a distortion of facts; it's an elimination of facts. In some schools, kids are being taught that the ideas of the Constitution were really borrowed from the Iroquois Indians.

Only if students have not been allowed to access information about the Roman Republic, the Magna Carta, the Glorious Revolution of William and Mary, and Dante's essay on monarchy could they possibly believe that the United States Constitution is the product of Native American tribal government. Therefore, the multiculturalists work to ensure that students are not allowed to access those bits of historical evidence, and denounce Humanities courses which expose students to those facts and texts.