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A glass darkly for princes…

Wednesday, October 15th, 2014

[pre-acknowledged by Lynn C. Rees]

Meet Edward Mandell House:

Edward House
 

Mr. House has a reputation for being wise and inscrutable.

He was also nicknamed “Colonel” House.

We need not refer to him by that nickname here. While Mr. House did have a name, he never had a serial number. So he doesn’t deserve the rank: his nickname cheapens the rank of the real Wise and Inscrutable Colonels of history:

The Wise and Inscrutable Colonel
Mr. House does have one distinction: my Dad lives in mortal terror of Mr. House. Many are the times when my father has paused mid-sentence, looked to one side and then the other for treacherous eavesdroppers, and whispered the nickname and name of He Who Cannot Be Nicknamed or Named. And why does Dad fear the unnicknamed shadow of Mr. House when he should fear the Curse of the [actual] Colonel?

You see, Mr. House was…

an anonymous novelist.

Like the tragic geopolitical nerd of yore, fierce ambition to be not only a playa but to be THE PLAYA raced through Mr. House’s bloodless veins. Deep in his black, barely beating heart, Mr. House knew he was a Colonel in Nickname Only, not what future adversary Cousin Theodore (that’s Colonel Roosevelt to you) called “the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood”. So, to fill that non-Colonel abyss in his soul, Mr. House wrote a novel. Being a rich banker, he was able to “persuade”” avant-garde publisher B.W. Huebsh to publish it anonymously in 1912.

It begins with an ominous title:

Philip DruADMINISTRATOR!!!

No word strikes more fear into the hearts of those who still have hearts than ADMINISTRATOR!!!. Its like impartial technocratic professionalism…MADE FLESH!!!

Mr. House reminds us of THE TERROR THAT IS THE POLITICAL CENTER!!! by quoting zombie radical centrist [now, at least] Giuseppi Mazzini:

“No war of classes, no hostility to existing wealth, no wanton or unjust violation of the rights of property, but a constant disposition to ameliorate the condition of the classes least favored by fortune.”

Fear the DREAD VOICE OF MODERATION!!!

The book’s actual action opens with a door to the MILQUETOAST OF HORROR:

In the year 1920, the student and the statesman saw many indications that the social, financial and industrial troubles that had vexed the United States of America for so long a time were about to culminate in civil war.

Wealth had grown so strong, that the few were about to strangle the many, and among the great masses of the people, there was sullen and rebellious discontent.

The laborer in the cities, the producer on the farm, the merchant, the professional man and all save organized capital and its satellites, saw a gloomy and hopeless future.

With these conditions prevailing, the graduation exercises of the class of 1920 of the National Military Academy at West Point, held for many a foreboding promise of momentous changes, but the 12th of June found the usual gay scene at the great institution overlooking the Hudson. The President of the Republic, his Secretary of War and many other distinguished guests were there to do honor to the occasion, together with friends, relatives and admirers of the young men who were being sent out to the ultimate leadership of the Nation’s Army. The scene had all the usual charm of West Point graduations, and the usual intoxicating atmosphere of military display.

The vortex of terror only spirals downward from there. With great bravery, Wikipedia stiff-lipped summarizes the dread plot of Philip DruADMINISTRATOR!!!:

His book’s hero leads the democratic western United States in a civil war against the plutocratic East, and becomes the acclaimed leader of the country until he steps down, having restored justice and democracy.

Faint hearts, stay away. FAR AWAY!!! MuahahaHaHaHa!!!

While Mr. House had romantic Playa envy he (anonymously) shared with the tragic geopolitical nerd, unlike the that poor creature, doomed to die comic pratfall by comic pratfall, Mr. House had an actual superpower: he could become someone else. House lacked the self-destructive instinct of the self-appointed strategist for Playaing the prima donna. He was willing to venture where few ventured, to go where few dared go. He went inside.

If the most primal species of strategist is the Little Father, the Great Captain at War, a Thutmoses III, an Ashurbanipal, a Heraclius, where politics, strategy, and tactics form are joined to form one sharp cutting blade in the arsenal of the Genius Mind, Mr. House stolidly belongs to the next oldest class of strategist: the favorite.

It is a mistake to mistake the favorite, as my Dad does, for Philip Dru….ADMINISTRATOR!!! The gift of ADMINISTRATION!!! is bestowed on few, and then only on the Little Father. The role of the favorite is, in Mr. House’s own words, “to serve wherever and whenever possible”. And the favorite’s greatest service, wherever and whenever possible? To be disposable at pleasure, the pleasure of his keeper. Next to the graves of the indispensable men are the mass graves heaped with their very dispensable favorites. While the Little Father quickly absorbs all credit for any favorite successes, his favorites are there to accept blame for any ill-favored failures. When the public mood shifts from “This evil comes from the Little Father’s favorites. If only the Little Father knew!” to “This evil comes from the Little Father. Down with the Little Father!”, the Bastille is at the door.

If the Little Father wins his role and its power by his intrinsic Little Fatherliness, the favorite gains his role and its power by his ability to cater to the whims of Little Fatherliness. The favorite’s talent is heroic submission, signing his will with all its mind, might, and strength over to his master without limit. Any ambitions he has manifests itself only in how he ever so carefully he contorts himself to ever so carefully refract his masters reflection back onto the Little Father. It is by such subtle bending of white light into brown light, tinged with the Little Father’s favorite colors, that the best of favorites stays the most favored of favorites. If the favorite flashes any light of his own, light that may outshine, however briefly, his master’s rays, the favorite risks becoming less favorite and even not favorite. And a favorite without favor is -ite. And who needs more -ite?

The man who would draw near to Philip DruADMINISTRATOR!!!, even if one step removed from real ADMINISTRATION!!!, must be one with his masters peripheral vision. He should be seen but unseen, felt but unfelt, brown-nosed without visible brown stains. His inner geopolitical nerd must remain leashed, unseen, and unsuspected.

Such leash. Such unseen. Much unsuspect.

The greatest threat to favor remains intoxication by proximity, so close to power, the ultimate intoxicant. If the favorite forgets his power is that of another, drawn from that of another, he’s doomed. In the Hall of Fame of Great Obsequious Americans, Mr. House holds no candle to the sinister Dr. Kissinger, Epic Suck Up to ten presidents, but he did well, for a time, with his one president.

Unfortunately for Mr. House, he was no Cousin Tom. And that doomed him. He too was no mirror for princes.

[Dad, you can come out from underneath the bed now.]

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Mirror for princes…

Wednesday, October 15th, 2014

[finally acknowledged by Lynn C. Rees]

Meet Cousin Tom.


Cousin Tom

Cousin Tom could have stopped Hitler.

Or so they say.

The space-time continuum would have felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of History Channel viewers suddenly cried out in disappointment, and were suddenly silenced. No Nazi Knights Templar From Outer Space in Search Holy Blood, Holy Grail for you, History viewers. Only Knights Templar From Outer Space in Search of Holy Blood, Holy Grail.

Thin gruel.

Two things thwarted Cousin Tom’s sudden silencing of malign time, one Big, one small.

The Big Thing was the missing Twenty-fifth Amendment, which might as well be called Cousin Tom’s Amendment:

Section 1. In case of the removal of the President from office or of his death or resignation, the Vice President shall become President.

Section 2. Whenever there is a vacancy in the office of the Vice President, the President shall nominate a Vice President who shall take office upon confirmation by a majority vote of both Houses of Congress.

Section 3. Whenever the President transmits to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives his written declaration that he is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, and until he transmits to them a written declaration to the contrary, such powers and duties shall be discharged by the Vice President as Acting President.

Section 4. Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.

Thereafter, when the President transmits to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives his written declaration that no inability exists, he shall resume the powers and duties of his office unless the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive department or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit within four days to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office. Thereupon Congress shall decide the issue, assembling within forty-eight hours for that purpose if not in session. If the Congress, within twenty-one days after receipt of the latter written declaration, or, if Congress is not in session, within twenty-one days after Congress is required to assemble, determines by two-thirds vote of both Houses that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall continue to discharge the same as Acting President; otherwise, the President shall resume the powers and duties of his office.

Not ratified until February 10, 1967. Much too late to stop Hitler.

Cousin Tom was stuck with:

In Case of the Removal of the President from Office, or of his Death, Resignation, or Inability to discharge the Powers and Duties of the said Office, the Same shall devolve on the Vice President, and the Congress may by Law provide for the Case of Removal, Death, Resignation or Inability, both of the President and Vice President, declaring what Officer shall then act as President, and such Officer shall act accordingly, until the Disability be removed, or a President shall be elected.

Insufficient to force change on a reluctant timeline. Cousin Tom was no aggressor like the traitor Tyler.

The small thing that prevented Cousin Tom from stopping Hitler? Cousin Tom was no mirror for princes.

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Book Recommendation: Ancient Religions, Modern Politics

Wednesday, August 27th, 2014

[by J. Scott Shipman]

ancient religion

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ancient Religions, Modern Politics, The Islamic Case in Comparative Perspective, by Michael Cook

Charles Cameron recently had a post here at Zenpundit, Which is mightier, the pen or the sword?  Frequent commenter T. Greer recommended this volume in the comment section and I ordered immediately. My copy arrived this morning and I had some quiet time and a bit of commuting time to devote to Cook’s introduction and the first few chapters. This is a very good treatment of roots of Islam and how those roots affect today’s political climate. Cook divides the book into three large parts: Identity, Values, and Fundamentalism. The comparative element is his use of Hinduism and Latin American Catholicism when compared in scope and influence to Islam.

Here are a couple of good pull quotes from the Preface:

I should add some cautions about what the book does not do. First though it has a lot to say about the pre-modern world, it does not provide an account of that world for its own sake, and anyone who read the book as if it did would be likely to come away with a seriously distorted picture. This is perhaps particularly so in the Islamic case—and for two reasons. One is that, to put it bluntly, Islamic civilization died quite some time ago, unlike Islam which is very much alive; we will thus be concerned with the wider civilization only when it is relevant to features of the enduring religious heritage. (emphasis added)

Cook’s emphasis on shared identity is one of the best and most cogent descriptions I’ve found:

“…collective identity, particularly those that really matter to people—so much so that they may be willing to die for them. Identities of this kind, like values, can and do change, but they are not, as academic rhetoric would sometimes have it, in constant flux. The reason is simple; like shared currencies, shared identities are the basis of claims that people can make on each other, and without a degree of stability such an identity would be as useless as a hyperinflated currency. So it is not surprising that in the real world collective identities, though not immutable, often prove robust and recalcitrant, at times disconcertingly so.”

In the same comment thread where T. Greer recommended this Ancient Religions, Charles called Cook’s work his opus. Based on the few hours I’ve spent with the volume and the marginalia, Charles was characteristically “spot-on.”

Published in March of this year, this is a new and important title. With any luck, I’ll complete the book and do a more proper review sometime soon.

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The Fortieth Anniversary of Nixon’s Resignation

Saturday, August 9th, 2014

Forty years ago, Richard M. Nixon, the 37th President of the United States, resigned his office under threat of impeachment for high crimes and misdemeanors.

He committed them.

Richard Nixon left a complicated legacy, of which I wrote last year,  on his hundredth birthday. My views have not changed much in the interim. As a statesman, Richard Nixon was an adept strategist and visionary, who would rank in the company of our greatest presidents if his crimes in Watergate did not render him an epochal failure. Worse, some of his abuses of power that drove Nixon from office are in danger of becoming normalized and institutionalized or exceeded. Nixon’s accomplishments cannot be separated from his misdeeds because we are living with the consequences of both.

Resignation of the Office of the Presidency of the United States was not provided for in the original U.S. Constitution, but was mentioned in the 25th Amendment, ratified in 1967.  Characteristically, Nixon ignored the spirit of the amendment in choosing to submit his resignation to Henry Kissinger, the Secretary of State and his Executive Branch subordinate, rather than to his co-equal peers, the Constitutional officers of the US Congress, as is specified in the 25th Amendment for cases of presidential disability, though not resignation.

Even in being forced from office, Nixon found a technicality to deny his political adversaries that point of satisfaction.


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REVIEW: The Orientalist by Tom Reiss

Monday, August 4th, 2014

[by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. "zen"]

The Orientalist by Tom Reiss 

Some biographies are as much about the era or the milieu as the man. The Orientalist is one of them.

This is not to say that Tom Reiss has written a bad book. On the contrary, it is an enlightening and informative one, even for someone well read in the history of Russia and Germany in the twentieth century, will find that The Orientalist has a rich store of little known anecdotes. In an effort to unlock the mystery of “Kurban Said“, the alleged author of the modern Azeri national epic, Ali and Nino: A Love Story, whose identity is hotly disputed, Reiss became a cultural archaeologist excavating the graveyards of Empires, Tsarist, Wilhemine and Ottoman. It was a search that brought Reiss to a remarkable character, Lev “Essad Bey” Nussimbaum, who had narrowly escaped the Bolshevik CHEKA, made fame and fortune as a literary freebooter in Weimar Germany only to sink into obscurity during WWII, dying in poverty and illness in Fascist Italy.

Lev, who was the son of a millionaire Russian-Jewish oil magnate from Baku, was a cultural chameleon, reinventing himself numerous times, converting to Islam, passing himself off variously as Muslim prince, a Transcaucasian “Wild Jew”, Orientalist scholar, monarchist and anti-Communist writer, briefly a literary star on Germany’s radical far Right. Even in the early days of the Third Reich, despite accusations of being a “Jewish story-swindler”, the many anti-Soviet books of “Essad Bey” were warmly endorsed by Josef Goebbels’ Ministry of Propaganda for reading by the Nazi Party faithful. The famous individuals who reputedly crossed Lev’s path are remarkable - Joseph Stalin, Fyodor Vinberg, Vladimir Nabokov, Walter Benjamin,  Giovanni Gentile, Walter Mehring,  Benito Mussolini, Egon Kisch, George Sylvester Viereck, Grand Duke Cyril Romanov, Max Brod, Stefan Zwieg, Hertha Pauli, and Ezra Pound among others.  “Essad Bey” was the denouement of the respectable intellectual tradition of 19th century Orientalism, particularly that of Jewish European scholars and ethnographer-explorers. Lev Nussimbaum was less a Martin Buber (whom Lev knew) than he was the Karl May of the East, a dime store mythologizer of  Transcaucasia, old Qajar Persia and Islam for popular audiences accustomed to a tabloid press.

Essad Bey as a character reflects the contradictions and juxtapositions of an interwar Europe, especially Germany, ravaged by the Great War and Communist Revolution in ways that would be highly improbable today.  Lev was a talented writer, a  Jewish refugee who was an exponent of Islam and an admirer of Fascism, more glib than insightful, more clever than wise, at home playing the outsider but his place never secure. When the official black sedans of the Fascist secret police rolled up to an ailing Lev’s hotel and found him dead, villagers assumed the OVRA men where there to arrest “the Muslim”; in reality, it was to take Lev to make wartime propaganda broadcasts for Italy in Persian.

Recommended.

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