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Guest Post: Recommended readings, real and imagined for Military Leaders—Part III. Timothy R. Furnish, PhD

Tuesday, July 6th, 2021

Zen here – today we continue a series by Dr. Timothy R. Furnish, a longtime friend of ZP blog. Timothy Furnish is an Army vet and former civilian consultant to Special Operations Command with a PhD is in Islamic history. He’s written five books and runs the website Occidental Jihadist.

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by Dr. Timothy R. Furnish

In the previous two installments, I provided an overview of fiction books used in military education, and then a synopsis of the Future History fiction series that sprang from the brow of Jerry Pournelle and John F. Carr, with a little help from their friends. Now I will turn to specific examples of how these brilliant and entertaining books treat grand strategy, strategy, tactics, and even logistics. [Definitions thereof taken from Stephen Morillo, What is Military History?]  In doing so, I hope to make a cogent and convincing case that at least some of the 20+ books that make up the galactic backstory of the superb novel The Mote in God’s Eye should be part of American professional military education. 

Let’s start at the top, with grand strategy—which is “where warfare and politics merge: a country’s grand strategy in a war describes its goals not strictly in military terms but in political, economic, or even cultural terms with military action, including strategy, seen from this perspective as one tool, with diplomacy, bribery, marriage alliance, and so forth, of grand strategy.” (Morillo is great on substance, but he does tend toward run-on sentences.) In the Pournelle-Carr universe, the best example of this is the centuries-long struggle between the Empire of Man, on the one hand,  and Secessionist systems led by the genetically-engineered Saurons, on the other. This is covered in detail in John Carr and Don Hawthorne, War World: The Battle of Sauron (2007).  Although the actual war between the “cattle” of the Empire (as the Saurons derisively refer to normal humans) and the future übermensch lasts only 37 years, the conflict actually lasted for centuries—Sauron was part of the Co-Dominium-undermining “Brotherhood” of planets, and engaging in outlawed genetic engineering, by the mid-21st century. Five hundred years later, not only are all Saurons enhanced, but in the 2400s they began creating Cyborg “super-soldiers.” But open military conflict does not erupt until the early 27th century. For some years prior to that Sauron was the leader of the Secessionist movement of planets demanding the right, in the Imperial Parliament, to withdraw from the Empire. Much of the Secessionist dissatisfaction is with the Empire’s taxation and perceived heavy-handedness; but there are also the usual political squabbles, as well—with “Claimants” to the Imperial throne advancing their right to rule, while also carving off quadrants and systems as their own fiefs. (Roman, or for that matter Ottoman or Ming, imperial history transferred to the future and an interstellar setting, in other words.) The Saurons, of course, see themselves as not just the rightful rulers of humanity but the next step in human evolution. And normal humans as simply breeding receptacles and drones for them. The Empire, for all its flaws, is the only hope for humanity to avoid slavery—or worse. So it engages in intense propaganda against Sauron, branding its people as monstrously supremacist. Yet this succeeded because it was largely accurate. Also, in a brilliant stroke that helped win the war, the Imperial center on the planet Sparta granted amnesty  to traitorous Secessionists—who then brought their fleets of spaceships to assist the Imperial forces in not only defeating space forces of Sauron, but in destroying all life on the planet. Although one ship of Saurons escaped, the existential threat to normal humanity was ended—but at the cost of the First Empire collapsing shortly afterwards. As Galen Diettinger, the commander of the lone surviving contingent of Saurons (and a surprisingly sympathetic figure, as devised by Carr and Hawthorne), remarked:

“we led a totalitarian state into war against a representative Empire, a republic in all but name. Hannibal’s ironic victory was that his actions forced the Romans to adopt policies that did doom their Republic….” Likewise for the First Empire of Man.

Other great examples of grand strategy in the Pournelle-Carr Future History series are the accounts of the later 21st century attempts by Grand Admiral of the CoDominium Fleet, Sergei Lermontov, to deploy elements of the CoDo Marines—in particular the 42nd Marine Regiment commanded by Colonel John Christian Falkenberg, which had been decommissioned and turned into a mercenary outfit—to prevent any other colony planets’ military forces from rising to challenge to CoDominium.  And to help ensure stability on key planets so that society will survive on them once the CoDominium inevitably collapses. Lermontov’s grand strategic goals were largely successful. 

A level down from grand strategy is strategy: “the level of military action and analysis that has to do with deciding the objectives of operations in specific theaters.” There are legions of examples of such (pun intended), many of which involved the aforementioned Colonel Falkenberg. In particular, two of his brilliant campaigns are worth studying in this regard. One, on Haven, against a Muslim leader claiming to be the Mahdi. (See Carr, War World: Falkenberg’s Regiment, 2018, as well as Carr, ed., War World: Jihad!, 2013). Another, on New Washington, which is trying to stave off conquest by another colonized planet in the same solar system, Franklin—the latter employing its own mercenaries, infantry from the Scottish planet Covenant and armor from the German-settled Friedland. (Laid out in Pournelle and S.M. Stirling, The Prince, 2002). 

Haven is the setting for many of the War World stories.  It’s actually a (barely) habitable moon of a gas giant, quite cold and with thin atmosphere. It’s also, in the 21st century, the most distant colony from Earth—some 65 light-years away, which takes a year or so to reach. That makes it a convenient dumping ground for Earth’s undesirables and criminals; so “BuReLoc”—the Bureau of Relocation—transports many such there. Haven is also a very important source of several crucial minerals, as well as precious stones. And there’s a sizable presence of a new religious sect, the Church of New Harmony. In 2075 an Arab Muslim, Tawfiq al-Talib, is proclaimed Mahdi and begins a jihad on Haven—supported, behind the scenes, by the Arab planet Levant. He finds willing troops, as 60% of Haven’s 4.5 million population is Muslim. Falkenberg’s 42nd is sent to bolster the 77th Marine regiment already on Haven. They also bring in a Gurkha battalion from Earth, and arm miners’ militias. But the CoDo forces number at most 15,000, and face at least 200,000 Mahdists. 

Thus, Falkenberg relies on innovative—if politically incorrect—tactics and logistics. The former are “what armed forces use in combat. They can be offensive (a cavalry charge, a tank attack, etc.) or defensive (a shield wall, digging a trench, or occupying a fortification, among other tactics)…. Tactics can also apply to ship-to-ship combat…and air-to-air….”).  The latter are “how armed forces are supplied, both in peacetime and on campaign.” It is important to realize “how significantly the strategic choices supposedly open to commanders [are] constrained by the potential availability of food and water sources….”  For example, Colonel Falkenberg leverages the latter by dropping pig carcass parts into every well, oasis and spring on the northern plains where the Mahdi’s supporters live, thereby effectively denying his hundreds of thousands of men potable water. The Mahdists persevere and attack a CoDo fort along a river. “In preparation for this mines had been laid in the shallows and along both banks. At the spot where the guns and rockets were all zeroed in, stakes had been planted at an upstream angle with their sharpened ends just beneath the faint ripple of current…. Their principal purpose was to deflate the [Mahdists’] rubber rafts and create maximum confusion at this point…. As the Mahdi’s forces predictably jammed and clotted among the stakes…the artillerists up at the fort made their contribution, proximity fuses spreading shrapnel at an optimum height….” (Falkenberg’s Regiment, p. 141). “By the third time this maneuver had been pulled off, the river—temporarily  dammed by the corpses of the Mahdi’s finest—had stopped flowing….” (p. 142).  Some time later the Marines took on the Mahdi’s Bedouin forces in a non-siege situation. “The Arabs, used to the Haven militias’ hunting rifles, had not expected men with automatic weapons. At the first shot they rushed. The Seventy-Seventh’s men responded with traversing fire from two light machines guns and something over a hundred automatic rifles. Fifty of the Mahdi’s men went down in the first few seconds before they realized their mistake….” (p. 165).  And so on.  The Mahdi’s forces are squeezed logistically (Falkenberg also has his forces round up, or kill, herd animals), goaded/lured into attacking CoDo armed nodes, then eventually cut off from their outside support. So he Mahdists are eventually defeated—but you’ll have to read the book to find out exactly how.

On New Washington Falkenberg’s forces effectively win the war via a mixture of subterfuge and relentless attack. Unlike the campaign on Haven, this was a clash of modern forces and conventional tactics. First Falkenberg’s men took the main enemy (Franklin) fortress by pulling off a Trojan horse maneuver: hiding soldiers inside boxes marked “commissary supplies,” who then emerge in the middle of the night to open the gates to the 42nd’s main forces. Falkenberg then sent the regiment north into a heavily-populated river valley, which motivated many of the local ranchers to turn out with their weapons in support. (It also gave the New Washingtonians control of the most fertile food producing area.) But their main objective, carried out, was to move artillery pieces several hundred kilometers north in order to cover the Friedland tanks moving west, through the only possible route, to attack his forces. That armored brigade was decimated by artillery strikes, and so too was the enemy infantry. These mercenary units then surrendered. Once the occupying power (Franklin) had lost these purchased forces, it could no longer hold on to New Washington with its own military. The strategy worked perfectly to undergird the grand strategy: “Neutralize this planet with minimum CD [CoDominium] investment and without destroying the industries.” But ensure that neither Franklin nor New Washington would be able to build their own space fleets for some time.


Such are just a few examples of grand strategy, strategy, tactics and logistics from the Pournelle-Carr Future History series. Per David Webb, whom I quoted in my first installment: these are engaging and thoughtful stories which “portray the military within a science-fiction context.” They are not “bug-shoots.” They are “about human beings…caught up in warfare and carnage.”  The many War World books; The Battle for Sauron; the 1000+ pages of The Prince—all are just as worthy of study by America’s professional military as Ender’s Game or Starship Troopers. In fact, I think the many volumes comprising the back history to The Mote in God’s Eye are, in fact, more worthy of gracing the reading lists of the service Commandants, the military academies, and the war colleges. Don’t believe me? Read some yourself. 

Guest Post: Recommended readings, real and imagined for Military Leaders—Part II. Timothy R. Furnish, PhD

Friday, June 11th, 2021

Zen here – today we continue a series by Dr. Timothy R. Furnish, a longtime friend of ZP blog. Timothy Furnish is an Army vet and former civilian consultant to Special Operations Command with a PhD is in Islamic history. He’s written five books and runs the website Occidental Jihadist.

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Pournelle’s “Future History” Setting and Politics

by Dr. Timothy R. Furnish

Forty-seven years ago Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle published The Mote in God’s Eye. It’s not about religion, but about humanity’s first contact with aliens in the early 31st century. (I consider it one of the three greatest sci-fi novels ever—along with Frank Herbert’s Dune and A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr.) A sequel by the same authors, The Gripping Hand, came out in 1993. Since then, some 22 volumes have been published dealing with that universe’s millennium-long backstory. The books are “hard” science fiction—that is, in the genre that strives for scientific accuracy and avoids mysticism, magic, and the like. (Star Trek is usually classified as “hard,” Star Wars as soft—if not downright squishy.) They could furthermore be classified as “military” sci-fi, which speaks for itself. 

A website with info on the stories and novels, as well as the Secondary “World” (more properly, universe) itself, is complete up through 2018—although another volume came out in March, 2020 (with even more to come, according to series chief John F. Carr, with whom I’ve been in contact). Many writers have contributed, although the heaviest hitters have been Pournelle (before his death in 2017), the aforementioned, and prolific, Carr, and S.M. Stirling (author of the superb Dies the Fire and its many “Emberverse” sequels). Larry Niven, the original co-author, largely parted ways with the series after the two seminal novels. But Pournelle—whose doctorate was in political science—had a great deal to do with shaping what has come to be known as his “Future History.”

In brief, this alternative history starts with the USSR surviving and joining with the USA in the 1990s to create the “CoDominium:” joint Soviet-American rule of the planet, carried out by the Grand Senate composed of American and Soviet politicians. CoDominium military forces, notably a Space Navy and Marines, are created. In the early 21st century an instantaneous interstellar drive is invented and by 2020 colonies are founded outside our solar system.  Before the century is up, there are at least 70 of them, many established by various countries on Earth, and/or by separatist and religious groups. The most important are Sparta, St. Ekaterina and Sauron. The first was founded by American professors who set up a dual monarchy with representative government. The second is Russian more than Soviet and eventually allies with Sparta. The last is run by “English separatists from Quebec and South African white expatriates” who soon embark on a program of genetic engineering to create a master race. By the beginning of the 22nd century, the US and USSR break their alliance and engage in nuclear war on Earth—making the stage of human activity the former colonies.  There are, arguably, four crucial aspects to this Future History.

First, although interstellar travel is possible, it has drawbacks. The Alderson Drive can only move ships between star systems, and is useless within one. There is no “warp drive” or ability to travel even close to light speed. “Starships,” whether commercial or military, take weeks or months to move within extrasolar systems in order to reach the “Alderson Point,” which is a “tramline” to another system. They then travel there instantaneously, but must repeat the slow process to reach the planets within the destination system. Ships do have powerful lasers, and nuclear weapons, but they fight each other at sub-light speeds. And most importantly in terms of military tactics, at least for the first few centuries of this history, armed forces that can be moved instantaneously between star systems still have to fight as infantry with rifles, artillery and the like on distant planets. 

Second, from the early 21st to early 31st centuries, there are no alien foes. All of the battles and wars take place between humans, albeit spread across hundreds of light-years. In this regard Pournelle’s universe resembles that of Frank Herbert’s Dune, in which homo sapiens is the sole sentient measure. Man’s inhumanity to Man is spread to the stars, but is thus that much more fathomable. 

Third, this Future History is cyclical. Dr. Pournelle was known to be a  fan of C. Northcote Parkinson. Parkinson’s primary thesis (besides his famous law) is that history “reveals…a sequence in which one form of rule replaces another, each in turn achieving not perfection but decay” (The Evolution of Political Thought, p. 9). Indeed, “there is no historical reason for supposing that our present systems of governance are other than quite temporary expedients.” The Western arrogance that “the development of political institutions has progressed steadily from the days of Lycurgus or Solon down to the present day” with “the ultimate achievement being British Parliamentary Democracy or perhaps the American Way of Life” is just that that (Ibid., p. 8).  In sum, drawing on anthropology as well as history, Parkinson sees the human cycle of political systems running thusly: monarchy, oligarchy, democracy, dictatorship. The final then institutionalizes into monarchy, and the process starts all over again. There are variations on each of the four types (see Parkinson, p. 12, drawing on Aristotle), but in toto those are adequate. Across space (literally!) and time, humans try each of these—sometimes more than one, simultaneously, on the same planet.

Fourth, the series is rife with Great Power conflict. The CoDominium initially serves as a hegemon, not an imperial power—the single most powerful polity, but unable to directly rule all the colonies. (See here for a succinct analysis of hegemony v. empire.) It’s largely a unipolar interstellar system, then. After the nuclear war on Earth, the system becomes multipolar, with various colonies—now independent planets—vying for the upper hand via their own fleets and military forces (both planetary and mercenary). Eventually Sparta emerges as the next hegemon, thanks in main to the fact that the bulk of the CoDominium Navy swears allegiance to the Spartan throne. Over the course of 150 years, Sparta then creates an Empire by consolidating—both peacefully and violently—most of the other human-settled planets into its rule. Pax Spartanica then lasts until the 27th century, when the First Empire falls mainly after exhausting itself in defeating the Nazi-like, genetically-engineered Saurons—during which human-occupied space was bipolar in conflict terms. Not until the early 30th century is the Second Empire (once again ruled by Sparta), proclaimed, consisting of over 200 planets, all human; that is, until 3017. 

[Up next: how these political divisions played out in various wars, on various planets and moons, across the centuries.]

Guest Post: Recommended readings, real and imagined for Military Leaders—Part I. Timothy R. Furnish, PhD

Sunday, May 30th, 2021

Zen here – today we start a series by Dr. Timothy R. Furnish, a longtime friend of ZP blog. Timothy Furnish is an Army vet and former civilian consultant to Special Operations Command with a PhD is in Islamic history. He’s written five books and runs the website Occidental Jihadist.

Fictional novels about war have been around for quite some time. Millennia, in fact, if we include The Iliad in the category (although Homer likely thought he was recounting actual history). The genre, more realistically, began with La Chartreuse de Parme by “Stendhal” in 1839, who wrote about the Napoleonic Wars in Italy. Such proliferated in 19th, then 20th century, with realistic novels such as All Quiet on the Western Front, about WWI, or The Thin Red Line, set in WWII’s Pacific theater. Military science fiction kicked in the genre’s door in 1959, with Robert Heinlein’s (in)famous Starship Troopers. The following decade alternate military histories began to proliferate, thanks in large part to Philip K. Dick’s famous The Man in the High Castle (which was made into an arresting Amazon Prime TV show, 2015-2019). Perhaps the most famous, and influential, military fiction books of recent years have been Stephen Pressfield’s Gates of Fire, about the Spartans at the battle of Thermopylae; and Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game, set several centuries in the future, during an interstellar war humanity is waging to survive.

I am a big fan of historical fiction in my world history courses, and always assign a relevant novel, such as Gore Vidal’s Creation. In military history courses, I have used Robert Graves’ Count Belisarius, Michael Shaara’s Civil War classic The Killer Angels, and Gates of Fire. 

In recent decades, such books have found their way onto some professional military reading lists. And why shouldn’t they? As genre author David Webb has said: “military science-fiction is science-fiction which is written about a military situation with a fundamental understanding of how military lifestyles and characters differ from civilian lifestyles and characters. It is science-fiction which attempts to realistically portray the military within a science-fiction context. It is not ‘bug shoots.’ It is about human beings, and members of other species, caught up in warfare and carnage. It isn’t an excuse for simplistic solutions to problems.” Certainly, a nation with a Space Force might find it worthwhile for future military leaders to study thoughtful, intelligent, well-written military fiction, set in the future as well as the past. Yes, there are some who would not deem it wise—for the danger exists that military fiction “confirms existing thought patterns of political and military leaders about future military conflict.” That is, “rather than fighting the last war, as the old axiom goes, military leaders may be more susceptible to fighting the fictional wars of their imagination, fueled by war fiction, instead of the conflict unfolding in front of them.” This same critic contends that “future war fiction, especially in the English-speaking world, tends to use super-weapons and surprise attacks as the two major plot devices.” 

As for the first objection, methinks it’s more contrived than concrete. The examples offered are unconvincing, and in fact one of them—that President Reagan, because of The Hunt for Red October, increased military spending—proves just the opposite, since Reagan’s defense build-up was largely responsible for the Cold War ending sans nuclear war.  Also, this objection presupposes that an educated leadership cannot distinguish between reality and fiction. Finally, not all futuristic military fiction in the Anglosphere utilizes “super-weapons and surprise attacks.” In fact, one major, largely-ignored series of such books employs the former rarely, and the latter not at all: Jerry Pournelle’s Future History.

Before examining the books and stories set in the universe created by Dr. Jerry Pournelle and further elaborated upon by S.M. Stirling, John F. Carr, and Don Hawthorne, as well as other contributors, let’s take a look at the fiction books on several major military institution’s recommended reading lists. In 2017 the Army Chief of Staff recommended professional reading list included 98 books, five of which were fiction: The Aeneid, The Iliad and The Odyssey (lumped together as one work), Gates of Fire, Singer & Cole’s Ghost Fleet (about a future world war between the US and Russia + China), and Marlantes’ Vietnam novel, Matterhorn. The most recent list from the US Army Chief of Staff includes only one fiction book, Anton Myrer’s Once An Eagle. That’s one more than the Air Force CoS recommends, however. Ditto for the JFK Special Warfare Center and School. Neither the Air Force chief, nor the folks who educate our special ops, think much of fiction, it appears. In 2019 the Commandant of the Marine Corps put out a list with dozens of books, including four fictions ones: The Killer Angels, Gates of Fire, Starship Troopers and Ender’s Game. But those are recommended only for junior enlisted, not at all for officers. And the 2020 list from the same office had removed even those. The Chief of Naval Operations does recommend some fiction, notably the aforementioned Matterhorn, as well as Singer and Cole and Starship Troopers. But the CNO also wants sailors to read Ibrahim X. Kendi’s How to be an Antiracist—which might well qualify as fiction, come to think of it. 

Contrast these with the 131-page list, nay volume, of approved books promulgated by the Chief of the Australian Army. A full 25 of those are fiction. These include the usual suspects: Pressfield, Heinlein, Card, Shaara. But also ones on the Romans, the British in India, the Napoleonic wars and even a few alternative histories, such as Robert Harris’ Fatherland (another “Nazis won WWII” take) and the even more surprising, and little-known, Years of Rice and Salt by Kim Stanley Robinson—in which Europeans were wiped out by the plague, and the modern world is dominated by China, India and Islamic states. Last year two Marine Corps officers even suggested that The Lord of the Rings be read “because of the focus…on alliances, coalition building, and strategy.” (As the author of a book on the political history of Middle-earth, I strongly agree.)

I have read many (but not all) of the fictions books mentioned herein. And I can still say that Pournelle, et al., stands with—or above—any of them in terms of potential value to the professional education of military leaders.

[Up next: a detailed look at the politics- and war-riven interstellar setting, 2020-3018 AD, which grew out of Pournelle and Larry Niven’s famous novel The Mote in God’s Eye.

Book Review: Dominion, by Tom Holland

Sunday, August 2nd, 2020

[ intro only by Charles Cameron — I’m delighted to welcome blog-friend Dr Omar Ali, who here reviews Tom Holland‘s book, Dominion — no, it’s not about Rushdoony-style Dominionism. This review was originally posted in our companion blog, Brownpundits !

Dominion: How the Christian Revolution Remade the World
Tom Holland
Basic Books
ISBN-13: 978-0465093502
$22.97 at Amazon
Brownpundits / Zenpundit Review by Dr Omar Ali


Tom Holland started off writing vampire novels but moved on to non-fiction and has since written an excellent history of the Persian invasion of Greece, several books about the Romans, one about Islam and one about the slow rise of Christian Europe that started around 1000 AD; in retrospect at least, all his non-fiction books have had a hint of Christian Western European apologetics (some of it is probably well deserved reaction to the excesses of contemporary wokeness) but this book makes it explicit. Dominion is well written and well researched and he does make a lot of effort to include the nasty bits of Christian history, but in the end it IS a work of Christian apologetics, albeit from a modern liberal angle. Tom Holland’s basic thesis is that almost the entire set of “humanist” values modern liberals take for granted (universal human equality and dignity, separation of church and state, care for the weaker sections of society, suspicion of power, privilege and wealth, condemnation of slavery, cruelty and oppression, valorization of the weak and downtrodden, etc) is purely Christian in origin. No other civilization or culture had these values (or at least, foregrounded them in quite the same way as Christianity). For example, while some thinkers have always been unhappy with slavery, the abolition of slavery was a Christian effort through and through. True, the slave owners had their own Biblical justification for slavery, but those who opposed them did so on the basis of their Christian beliefs, and they won the argument.

Holland also insists that the most viciously anti-Christian progressive thinkers of the post-enlightenment era also turn out be using Christian values to attack Christianity. When Marx cries out against the oppression of the proletariat or Lennon sings “all you need is love”, they are really being more Christian than most Christians. Since Nietszche thought something similar (that liberalism is “Christianity without Christ”), he gets a lot of positive play in this book, which is a bit ironic, since he also regarded Christianity as something of a disease.

As expected, the book is well written and stylish, sometimes with too much style; I am not picky about such things but some readers may tire of all his little reveals (a new character is discussed without being named for a few lines, giving readers the opportunity to guess who he or she is, then revealed; this is done in practically every chapter). He has done his research and as far as I could tell, there were no glaring errors of fact. But while he is scrupulous about his facts, he is not shy of cherry picking and framing to fit his thesis. Nero is a pagan monster who killed his own wife and mother; Constantine, the first Christian emperor, also viciously killed his wife and son, but that does not reflect badly on Christianity. Terrible and cruel punishments in pagan Rome are a sign of paganism’s shorcomings, but terrible and cruel punishments inflicted by inquisitors and priests (and described in horrifying detail in this book) are not Christian shorcomings (the thought is that eventually Christian Europe gave them up; why they were given up in a time of anti-clerical and even anti-Christian upheaval and not when the Church was at its mightiest, is assigned to Christian values taking 1800 years to make their mark, and then doing so surreptitiously). By the time the book gets to the modern world the thesis really begins to look like one of those Hindutvvadi posts about how everything was invented in India; no matter what any activists themselves may say, Tom Holland knows their beliefs and motivations are entirely Christian. This is probably partly true, but leaves open the question of where Christianity itself comes from. Unless one believes the Son of God thing, the explanation is likely to be that some mix of human nature and human history created Christianity, just at it created every other ideology. So why stop at Paul (or Christ if you prefer)? Everythying in this world seems to be derived from some combination of earlier things, why not Christianity? And why believe that the same results would not have arisen (somewhere, at some point) even if there had never been a Christ or a Paul? Maybe those impulses are also human universals, and can and do arise repeatedly, not just as an episode in the history of Jewish superstition? And of course there is always the possibility that some of this progress is not really progress at all, but a mistake. Especially with the “woke”, it is by no means universally agreed that they are a good thing, so crediting all of their values to Christ may not be a winning move for Christianity.

Anyway, I don’t find his thesis completely wrong; the tension between certain Christian values and various vicious aspects of Christian society is real and those values did lead some Christians to take up the cause of diverse oppressed groups, most spectacularly and successfully, against slavery. Economic explanations of why the British empire not only abolished slavery but expended diplomatic capital, real money and military might to stop the trade of slaves by others, are not sufficient, and are an insult to the memory of countless Quakers and other good Christians who made it their life’s work to fight the good fight and succeeded to the point that no modern society regards slavery as an acceptable institution anymore. But Holland insists that Christianity is the ONLY source of most of our modern liberal notions, which seems a bit of a strech. It is also not a unique claim. In fact, there are books written about how the Jews created modern rights, or Islam did, or for that matter, the Native Americans did; and of course Sufis take TomHollandism to another level, with a secret brotherhood using everyone from Abraham and Moses to Ghazali and Rumi to insert progressive ideas into human culture. But the most glaring omission in this book is the “Eastern Religions”; the entire book start and ends in the Middle East and Western Europe (Eastern Christianity gets no love either) and the ideas of India and China are dismissed practically without examination. Mahavir, Buddha, the authors of the Upanishads, the philosophers and thinkers of China, none find any mention in this book or get any credit for any human advance. On the other hand, the Christian West did have a disproportionate role in creating the modern world (for better and for worse), so he does have a case, but maybe not as strong a case as advertised.

But irrespective of what you think of his basic thesis, the book is still a great read. Tom Holland writes well, reads widely and has an eye for fascinating anecdotes that every reader can enjoy even if he or she does not agree with the underlying thesis. In fact, if you do NOT agree with this thesis you should especially read the book to see how well your preferred theory stands up against a well written Christian version. If he is wrong, why is he wrong? Trying to answer that question should be a fruitful exercise for anyone. Well worth reading.


“It is the audacity of it—the audacity of finding in a twisted and defeated corpse the glory of the creator of the universe—that serves to explain, more surely than anything else, the sheer strangeness of Christianity, and of the civilization to which it gave birth. Today, the power of this strangeness remains as alive as it has ever been. It is manifest in the great surge of conversions that has swept Africa and Asia over the past century; in the conviction of millions upon millions that the breath of the Spirit, like a living fire, still blows upon the world; and, in Europe and North America, in the assumptions of many more millions who would never think to describe themselves as Christian. All are heirs to the same revolution: a revolution that has, at its molten heart, the image of a god dead on a cross.”

“In a city famed for its wealth, Paul proclaimed that it was the ‘low and despised in the world, mere nothings, who ranked first. Among a people who had always celebrated the agon, the contest to be the best, he announced that God had chosen the foolish to shame the wise, and the weak to shame the strong. In a world that took for granted the hierarchy of human chattels and their owners, he insisted that the distinctions between slave and free, now that Christ himself had suffered the death of a slave, were of no more account than those between Greek and Jew.”

Announcing The Children’s Illustrated Clausewitz!!

Thursday, July 9th, 2020

[ by Charles Cameron — just too good to miss! ]


I’m delighted to pass along this message from Caitlin Fitz Gerald, who to my mind (and eye and heart) has achieved her audacious goal of putting Clausewitz into verbal and pictorial language suitable for “bright ten-year-olds” and delightful, as well as hopefully informative, to adults — all this with intelligence, skill and wit..

Caitlin writes:

I know many of you already know this, but I wanted to spread the word that the Kickstarter for the Children’s Illustrated Clausewitz is now live! Thank you so much for all of your support over the years. It really means a lot, and I’m so excited to finally see this project in print thanks to my partnership with Nic Jenzen-Jones at Helios House Press!

If you’re so inclined, I’d love for you to spread the word. The Kickstarter runs through the end of the month.



I’m pleased to note that Caitlin and her publisher, Helios House, have raised more than $40,000 on Kickstarter, with an initial goal of $7,500 — I’ve been waiting for Caitlin’s brilliant work to receive the recognition is so clearly deserves.

Act now to obtain the standard edition for a pledge of £25 or more! And pass the word!

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