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The British Are Coming

Monday, May 20th, 2019

[by J. Scott Shipman]

The British Are Coming, by Rick Atkinson

A couple of Rick Atkinson’s books (WWII) are in my anti-library, but on the urging of a friend, I purchased Mr. Atkinson’s first volume of a planned trilogy on the American Revolution. About 100 pages in and I find myself trying to make time to finish (it doesn’t help that I’ve embarked on a project that requires even more reading…). Mr. Atkinson may be the best narrative historian since William Manchester.

Preemptively highly recommended.

 

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?

Enantiodromia: the French Revolution

Thursday, January 1st, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — abstraction and pattern recognition as devices to evade one’s foibles, preferences, analytic assumptions ]
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Robespierre facial reconstruction
Robespierre, forensic reconstruction

**

The itaicized portion of the quote below just happens to be a concise statement of the pattern known as enantiodromia [1, 2, 3] — and the puzzlement it represents to linear (as opposed to loopish) thinkers:

Since the collapse of Jacobin rule after Robespierre’s execution in Thermidor Year II, debate has raged over how an event that began with the promise of liberty and fraternity degenerated so rapidly into fifteen months of mass imprisonment and death.

**

The quote above is from The World Turned Upside Down, a review of Jonathan Israel‘s Revolutionary Ideas: An Intellectual History of the French Revolution from the Rights of Man to Robespierre by Hugh Gough in the Dublin Review of Books. Here’s the full para:

Anyone looking for a neat explanation of the French revolutionary terror faces the problem of choice. Since the collapse of Jacobin rule after Robespierre’s execution in Thermidor Year II, debate has raged over how an event that began with the promise of liberty and fraternity degenerated so rapidly into fifteen months of mass imprisonment and death. During 1793 and 1794 around three hundred thousand people were jailed, many of them dying from disease and neglect, a further seventeen thousand were guillotined or shot and a quarter of a million killed in civil wars, of which the Vendée was by far the most deadly. After Thermidor the revolution’s opponents argued that terror on such a scale was inherent in the entire revolutionary project from the outset, part of a “genetic code” of violence and intolerance deeply embedded in the revolutionary gene. The revolution’s supporters, on the other hand, defended terror as the product of difficult circumstances, a regrettable but necessary expedient to combat the threats posed to the republic by civil war and military invasion.

**

Dichotomy.

The two sides of the debate are separated by their political associations with the events in question. Take away the sentiment-engagers — bread vs cake, revolution, Bastille, Marseillaise, the guillotine, the tricoteuses, the American revolution, Marx, whatever — thus viewing the image as simply one of contending forces, preferring neither one to the other, and the paradox resolves itself into a simple self-biting circle: the oppressed press back until they are themselves the pressors.

Jung knew this archetypal pattern — but I suspect he is little known in the history silo, and has indeed been expelled from the silo of the psychologists.

Somewhere in back of the event is a pattern, and when sufficiently abstracted the pattern will illustrate with commendable impartiality the forces in play in the whole.

For the analyst, that impartiality, that wholistic perspective, is pure gold.

For myself, it was Reason enthroned in Notre Dame that truly set my teeth on edge.

**

Image source:

  • Robespierre’s likely appearance, a forensic reconstruction
  • **

    And a Happy New Year to us all!

    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! 

    Ronfeldt’s In-Depth Review of America 3.0

    Monday, September 23rd, 2013

     

     David Ronfeldt, RAND strategist and theorist has done a deep two-part  review of America 3.0 over at his Visions from Two Theories blog. Ronfeldt has been spending the last few years developing his TIMN analytic framework (Tribes, Institutions [hierarchical], Markets and Networks) which you can get a taste from here  and here or a full reading with this RAND paper.

    David regards the familial structure thesis put forward by James Bennett and Michael Lotus in America 3.0 as “captivating”  and “compelling” for  “illuminating the importance of the nuclear family for America’s evolution in ways that, in my view, help validate and reinforce TIMN”. Both reviews are detailed and should be read in their entirety, but I will have some excerpts below:

    America 3.0 illuminates significance of nuclear families — in line with TIMN (Part 1 of 2) 

    ….Bennett and Lotus show at length (Chapter 2, pp. 29-45) that the nuclear family explains a lot about our distinctive culture and society:

    “It has caused Americans to have a uniquely strong concept of each person as an individual self, with an identity that is not bound by family or tribal or social ties. … Our distinctive type [of] American nuclear family has made us what we are.” (p. 29)And “what we are” as a result is individualistic, liberty-loving, nonegalitarian (without being inegalitarian), competitive, enterprising, mobile, and voluntaristic. In addition, Americans tend to have middle-class values, an instrumental view of government, and a preference for suburban lifestyles. 

    As the authors carefully note, these are generally positive traits, but they have both bright and dark sides, noticeable for example in the ways they make America a “high-risk, high-return culture” (p. 38) — much to the bane of some individuals. The traits also interact in interesting ways, such that Americans tend to be loners as individuals and families, but also joiners “who form an incomprehensibly dense network of voluntary associations” — much to the benefit of civil society (p. 39). 

    In sum, the American-style nuclear family is the major cause of “American exceptionalism” — the basis of our freedom and prosperity, our “amazing powers of assimilation” (p. 53), and our unique institutions:

    “It was the deepest basis for the development of freedom and prosperity in England, and then in America. Further, the underlying Anglo-American family type was the foundation for all of the institutions, laws, and cultural practices that gave rise to our freedom and prosperity over the centuries.” (p. 52)The authors go on to show this for America 1.0 and 2.0 in detail. They also reiterate that Americans have long taken the nuclear family for granted. Yet, very different marriage and family practices are the norm in most societies around the world. And the difference is profoundly significant for the kinds of cultural, social, economic, and political evolution that ensue. Indeed, the pull of the nuclear model in the American context is so strong that it has a liberating effect on immigrants who come from societies that are organized around extended families and clans (p. 55) — an important point, since America is a land of immigrants from all over, not just from Anglo-Saxon nuclear-family cultures.

    ….As for foreign policy, the authors commend “an emerging phenomenon we call “Network Commonwealth,” which is an alignment of nations … who share common ties that may include language, culture and common legal systems.” (p. 260) Above all, they’d like to see the “Anglosphere” take shape. And as the world coalesces into various “global networks of affinity” engaged in shifting coalitions (p. 265), America 3.0 would cease emphasizing democracy-promotion abroad, and “reorient its national strategy to a primary emphasis on maintaining the freedom of the global commons of air, sea, and space.” (p. 263) [UPDATE: For more about the Network Commonwealth and Anglosphere concepts, see Bennett’s 2007 paper here.]

    Read the whole thing here.

    America 3.0 illuminates significance of nuclear families — in line with TIMN (Part 2 of 2)  

    ….Overlaps with TIMN themes and propositions

    Part 1 discussed America 3.0’s key overlap with TIMN: the prevalence and significance of the nuclear family in the American case. This leads to questions about family matters elsewhere. Furthermore, it should be pointed out that there is more to TIMN’s tribal form than the nature of the family. I also spotted several additional thematic overlaps between America 3.0 and TIMN, and I want to highlight those as well. Thus, in outline form, this post addresses:

    • Seeking a fuller understanding of family matters beyond the American case.
    • Gaining a fuller understanding of the tribal/T form.
    • Anticipating the rise of the network/+N form.
    • Recognizing that every form has bright and dark sides.
    • Recognizing the importance of separation among the forms/realms.
    • Recognizing that balance among them is important too.
    • Cautioning against the exportability of the American model.

    After these points, the post ends by summarily noting that America 3.0 is more triformist than quadriformist in conception — but a worthy kind of triformist plus, well worth reading.

    My discussion emphasizes the T and +N forms. Bennett and Lotus also have lots to say about +I and +M matters — government and business — and I’ll squeeze in a few remarks along the way. But this post mostly skips +I and +M matters. For I’m more interested in how America 3.0 focuses on T (quite sharply) and +N (too diffusely). 

    By the way, America 3.0 contains lots of interesting observations that I do not discuss — e.g., that treating land as a commodity was a feature of nuclear-family society (p. 105), and so was creating trusts (p. 112). Readers are advised to harvest the book’s contents for themselves.

    ….Caution about the exportability of the American model: TIMN sharpens — at least it is supposed to sharpen — our understanding that how societies work depends on how they use four cardinal forms of organization. This simplification leaves room for great complexity, for it is open to great variation in how those forms may be applied in particular societies. Analysts, strategists, and policymakers should be careful about assuming that what works in one society can be made to work in another. 

    ….In retrospect it seems I pulled my punch there. I left out what might/should have come next: TIMN-based counsel to be wary about assuming that the American model, especially its liberal democracy, can be exported into dramatically different cultures. I recall thinking that at the time; but I was also trying to shape a study of just the tribal form, without getting into more sweeping matters. So I must have pulled that punch, and I can’t find anywhere else I used it. Even so, my view of TIMN is that it does indeed caution against presuming that the American model is exportable, or that foreign societies can be forced into becoming liberal democracies of their own design.

    Meanwhile, America 3.0 clearly insists that Americans should be wary of trying to export the American model of democracy. Since so much about the American model depends on the nature of the nuclear family, policies that work well in the United States may not work well in other societies with different cultures — and vice-versa. Accordingly, the authors warn,

    “American politicians are likely to be wrong when they tell us that we can successfully export democracy, or make other countries look and act more like the United States.” (p. 24)

    “A foreign-policy based primarily on “democracy-promotion” and “nation-building” is one that will fail more times than not, … .” (p. 254)TIMN is not a framework about foreign policy. But as a framework about social evolution, it may have foreign-policy implications that overlap with those of America 3.0. In my nascent view (notably herehere, and here), the two winningest systems of the last half-century or so are liberal democracy and patrimonial corporatism. The former is prominent among the more-advanced societies, the latter among the less-developed (e.g., see here). As Bennett and Lotus point out, liberal democracy is most suitable where nuclear families hold sway. And as I’ve pointed out, patrimonial corporatism is more attractive in societies where clannish tribalism holds sway. 

    Read the rest here.

    This discussion about America 3.0 and TIMN seems particularly appropriate in light of the need to process, digest and distill the lessons of more than a decade of COIN and counter-terrorism warfare in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and – increasingly- Africa. One of the more difficult aspects of COIN operations has been for American military and diplomatic to decipher the layered relationships and interplay of family honor, tribe, political institution, emerging market and networks in a nation shattered by dictatorship and war like Iraq or to import modern institutions and  a democratic political system in Afghanistan where they had never existed.

    Many of these aspects were opaque and were understood only through hard-won experience (frequently lost with new unit rotation) or still remain elusive to Americans even after ten years of fighting among alien cultures which were also permeated by the sectarian nuances and conflicts of Islam. A religion to which relatively few Americans adhere or know sufficiently about, yet is a critical psychological driver for many of our adversaries as well as our allies.

    Arguably, the eye-opening response of people to America 3.0 indicates we do not even understand ourselves, much less others


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