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A call for wisdom, White House edition

Saturday, November 25th, 2017

[ by Charless Cameron — frankly, waiting for a return to wisdom, or at least something closer to it ]
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In the White House there’s an inscription over the mantel of the State Dining Room which reads:

I Pray Heaven To Bestow The Best Of Blessings On This House And All that shall hereafter Inhabit it. May none but Honest and Wise Men ever rule under This Roof.

That’s from our first president, John Adams, in his letter to his wife, Abigail, but it resonates down to our day.

How do we recognize wisdom?

I don’t believe we can legislate that only the honest and wise can attain the presidency, though we might do well to have Robert Bolt‘s Thomas More in A Man for all Seasons at the head of the Justice department — Thomas More, the Lord Chancellor of England who famously said, answering Roper who said he’d cut down all the laws to offer the Devil no protection:

Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you — where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country’s planted thick with laws from coast to coast — man’s laws, not God’s — and if you cut them down — and you’re just the man to do it — d’you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake.

**

Thomas More was, no doubt a man with his own flaws, and the flaws of his times. Flaws, okay.

Where is a true sense of justice? Of honor? Of integrity? Where is a man for all seasons?

Random DoubleQuotes for later reference

Saturday, August 20th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — a resource, mostly for myself ]
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I’ll use this post to drop in random DoubleQuotes I run across, for storage — so I won’t need to trouble you with every example I find, but they’ll all still here for your consideration should you choose — and for any future writing I may do on the topic.

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From the Rio Olympics, the celebrated women’s basketball match with hijab vs bukini:

egypt sports

**

Two options for a child in Syria, enshrined in two “iconic” photos, and presented as a lose-lose choice by Khalid Albaih.

khalidalbaih dq syrian children stay or go

Albaih has a terrific eye for symmetries, as you can see from these two other examples:

  • Khalid Albaih, Tree of Life
  • Khalid Albaih, Egypt sentences more than 680 people to death
  • **

    Quite different — but also Syria — is this tweet with its paired images of Aleppo —

    If I had my druthers I’d move from photo-reality into illuminated-manuscript-world, and from now into back then. Or would I? And are we really in photo-reality anyway, or is that an optical illusion?

    **

    There will be more — I’ll just drop them quietly in, here or in the comments section.

    Review: The Rule of the Clan

    Wednesday, April 20th, 2016

    [by Mark Safranski / “zen“]

    Rule of the Clan by Mark Weiner

    I often review good books. Sometimes I review great ones. The Rule of the Clan: What an Ancient Form of Social Organization Reveals about the Future of Individual Freedom  by Mark S. Weiner gets the highest compliment of all: it is an academic book that is clearly and engagingly written so as to be broadly useful.

    Weiner is Professor of Law and Sidney I. Reitman Scholar at Rutgers University whose research interests gravitate to societal evolution of constitutional orders and legal anthropology. Weiner has put his talents to use in examining the constitutional nature of a global phenomena that has plagued IR scholars, COIN theorists, diplomats, counterterrorism experts, unconventional warfare officers, strategists, politicians and judges. The problem they wrestle with goes by many names that capture some aspect of its nature – black globalization, failed states, rogue states, 4GW, hybrid war, non-state actors, criminal insurgency, terrorism and many other terms. What Weiner does in The Rule of the Clan is lay out a historical hypothesis of tension between the models of Societies of Contract – that is Western, liberal democratic, states based upon the rule of law – and the ancient Societies of Status based upon kinship networks from which the modern world emerged and now in places has begun to regress.

    Weiner deftly weaves the practical problems of intervention in Libya or counterterrorism against al Qaida with political philosophy, intellectual and legal history, anthropology, sociology and economics. In smooth prose, Weiner illustrates the commonalities and endurance of the values of clan and kinship network lineage systems in societies as diverse as Iceland, Saudi Arabia, Kenya, India and the Scottish highlands, even as the modern state arose around them. The problem of personal security and the dynamic of the feud/vendetta as a social regulator of conduct is examined along with the political difficulties of shifting from systems of socially sanctioned collective vengeance to individual rights based justice systems. Weiner implores liberals (broadly, Westerners) not to underestimate (and ultimately undermine) the degree of delicacy and strategic patience required for non-western states transitioning between Societies of Status to Societies of Contract. The relationship between the state and individualism is complicated because it is inherently paradoxical, argues Weiner: only a state with strong, if limited, powers creates the security and legal structure for individualism and contract to flourish free of the threat of organized private violence and the tyranny of collectivistic identities.

    Weiner’s argument is elegant, well supported and concise (258 pages inc. endnotes and index) and he bends over backwards in The Rule of the Clan to stress the universal nature of clannism in the evolution of human societies, however distant that memory may be for a Frenchman, American or Norwegian. If the mores of clan life are still very real and present for a Palestinian supporter (or enemy) of HAMAS in Gaza, they were once equally real to Saxons, Scots and Franks. This posture can also take the rough edges off the crueler aspects of, say, life for a widow and her children in a Pushtun village by glossing over the negative cultural behaviors that Westerners find antagonizing and so difficult to ignore on humanitarian grounds. This is not to argue that Weiner is wrong, I think he is largely correct, but this approach minimizes the friction involved in the domestic politics of foreign policy-making in Western societies which contain elite constituencies for the spread of liberal values by the force of arms.

    Strongest recommendation.

    Is Islam in need of a Reformation?

    Saturday, September 5th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — perhaps it’s not Wittenberg but Westphalia we should be praying for ]
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    Reformation Qn

    **

    Ayaan Hirsi Ali clearly believes we need an Islamic Reformation, and she’s not alone. That much Mehdi Hasan concedes in a Guardian piece titled Why Islam doesn’t need a reformation:

    In recent months, cliched calls for reform of Islam, a 1,400-year-old faith, have intensified. “We need a Muslim reformation,” announced Newsweek. “Islam needs reformation from within,” said the Huffington Post. Following January’s massacre in Paris, the Financial Times nodded to those in the west who believe the secular Egyptian president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, “could emerge as the Martin Luther of the Muslim world”.

    Hasan’s piece was evidently written in answer to the Guardian’s take on Hirsi Ali’s latest book, Heretic: Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now by Ayaan Hirsi Ali – review, and is subtitled, Those who are calling for a ‘Muslim Martin Luther’ should be careful what they wish for. His reason?

    Martin Luther..

    Luther did not merely nail 95 theses to the door of the Castle church in Wittenberg in 1517, denouncing clerical abuses within the Catholic church. He also demanded that German peasants revolting against their feudal overlords be “struck dead”, comparing them to “mad dogs”, and authored On the Jews and Their Lies in 1543, in which he referred to Jews as “the devil’s people” and called for the destruction of Jewish homes and synagogues.

    **

    On the other hand..

    William Polk proposes what seems a powerful analogy in his December 2013 piece, Sayyid Qutub’s Fundamentalism and Abu Bakr Naji’s Jihadism:

    I have described elsewhere the movements of “purification” inspired by such men as the Arabian Ahmad ibn Abdul Wahhab, the Algerian/Libyan Muhammad bin Ali al-Sanusi, the Sudanese Muhammad Ahmad al-Mahdi, the Iranian activist Jamal ad-Din al-Afghani and the Egyptian theologian Muhammad Abduh. In a fundamental aspect, their teachings and movements resembled those set off in northern Europe by Luther and Calvin. These Christians and Muslims shared a belief in the absolute authority of the unalterable word of God as set out in the original texts. Their task was to go back to discover the “pure” message and lead their followers to implement it. However much they differed, both the Muslims and the Protestants were in this sense salafis.

    To my mind, that’s a far more persuasive analysis.

    Perhaps what we’re seeing today is an Islamic version of the European Wars of Religion, following a Salafist “Reformation”?

    In which case it might be time to work and pray for an Islamic Peace of Westphalia.

    Dawn and Decadence, Innovation, & The Face of Battle — top 3

    Friday, October 4th, 2013

    [by J. Scott Shipman]

    From Dawn to Decadence, 500 Years of Western Cultural Life, by Jacques Barzun

    In a year where I’ve not been able to read as much as normal and with 89 days remaining in 2013, these three titles are the best so far. I’m not finished with Dawn, but it seems like the late Professor Barzun is an old friend (here is a video from 2010). Barzun’s opus was published when he was 93 and was almost ten years in the making. Dawn has been sitting on my shelves for four or five years and I’d started it two or three times only to get bogged down and lose interest. Well over half way finished and I’m pretty sure I’ll be rereading this title for years to come (co-blogger Lynn Rees reports he’s read it four times). Barzun’s scope covers the gamut: religion, literature, poetry, theater, painting, sculpture, philosophy, and the aristocracy/life at court. Since many of these topics are interconnected he uses an ingenious method to assist the reader in keeping up. He uses this: (<page number)(page number>) to direct the reader to something previously discussed or something he will cover later. In the text, he will recommend “the book to read is” “the book to browse is” in brackets. I’ve found this method distracting as I’ve read three books he referenced since I started… Barzun also provides generous lift quotes in the margins to give the reader a flavor for a particular writer or idea/example. If the book had a traditional bibliography, I dare say it would cover a couple hundred pages–at least. Dawn has been a pleasure I’ve been taking in small doses and am in no hurry to finish. This is the best book of the genre that I’ve read.

    Men, Machines and Modern Times, by Elting Morison

    Elting Morison’s Men, Machines is reviewed at Amazon by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich as “purely and simply one of the best books ever written on the process of innovation and the interaction of technology, culture, systems, and individual personalities.” I could not agree more. Morison’s book is a collection of essays dealing with change and man’s inherit but paradoxical reaction to it:

    Yet, if human beings are attached to the known, to the realm of things as they are, they also, regrettably for their peace of mind, are incessantly attracted to the unknown and things as they might be. As Ecclesiastes glumly pointed out, men persist in disordering their settled ways and beliefs by seeing out many inventions…Change has always been a constant in human affairs…

    From gunnery at sea to 19th Century railroads, Morison provides illustration after illustration of man, his institutions, and the almost universal resistance of both to change. Morison observes of inventors (real “disruptive thinkers’) [this was written in the early 1950’s]:

    I once collected evidence on the lives of about thirty of these men who flourished in the nineteenth century. A surprising number turned out to be people with little formal education, who drank a good deal, who were careless with money, and who had trouble with wives or other women.

    Morison devotes one essay to the characteristics and ills of a “bureau.” He describes the difficulty of getting anything accomplished within an average bureaucracy—largely because bureaucrats live for process and harmony. He says:

    Taken together, a set of regulations provides a pattern of behavior for the energies bureaus are set up to regulate….Regulations are a way of keeping a system of energies working in harmony and balance…First it is easier to make a regulation than to abolish it.

    Morison’s eighth and concluding essay provide Some Proposals for dealing with change and newness—in a word, solutions to many of the problems identified earlier. That said, only the most dedicated reader will complete the seventh (and longest) chapter, according the Morison, originally intended to be a book about the history of 19th Century American railroad innovation. Overall, I concur with Speaker Gingrich and highly recommend this title.

    The Face of Battle, by John Keegan

    A title needing no introduction at Zenpundit, I’ll only offer this title as one of the best books of the genre I’ve read. Keegan covers three battles across 500 years of history, Agincourt, Waterloo, and The Somme. In each, he brings alive the battlefield and provides the conditions faced by combatants—often up close and personal. Keegan’s scholarship, insight, and importantly, his humility in addressing a topic he admittedly had no first hand experience make this a must read for anyone in the profession of arms, and recommended for anyone seeking more insight into how we fight.

    That’s a wrap, be back soon! 


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