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Category: European History

Book Review: The Arms of Krupp 1587-1968 (William Manchester)

The late William Manchester, master of twentieth century popular history, made his reputation with this book, published in 1968.  There will never be another book on the Krupp family like it, and not just because it’s so long, nearly half a million words and a thousand pages.  It is also because the Krupps are largely forgotten today, fifty years later—and because Manchester personally talked to nearly everyone in, and connected to, the Krupp family at its height, and those people are all dead.  Just as dead is the firm itself, since the sole proprietorship that was “Krupp” no longer exists in that form or has any connection to the Krupp family.  Sic transit gloria mundi, if “gloria” is the right word.

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Book Review: The Revolt of the Masses (José Ortega y Gasset)

Oh, but this is a fascinating book.  Written in 1930 by the Spanish philosopher José Ortega y Gasset, it is one of those books that is occasionally mentioned, especially recently, but rarely actually read.  1930, in Spain, was the hinge of fate, and it has been nearly a hundred years since Ortega wrote.  That means we can see where he was wrong, and where he was right, and what he wrote says to us today.

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Book Review: Republics Ancient & Modern, Vol. 2: New Modes & Orders in Early Modern Political Thought
(Paul Rahe)

To my surprise, I found this to be an extremely topical book, even though it discusses only people long dead.  It bridges, or at least brings more clarity to the framework of, recent bestselling books such as Patrick Deneen’s Why Liberalism Failed and Steven Pinker’s Enlightenment Now.  The former claims that the Enlightenment was a mistake and is now playing out its bitter end.  The latter, conversely, claims that the Enlightenment continues to make everything better, and will do so forever.  This book, twenty-five years old, makes no such claims about the future.  Rather, it tells us how we got here—how and why the West abandoned the Ancient Greek focus on virtue and political participation as the prime goals of a good life.  And the book addresses, without really meaning to, a current obsession of mine—to what degree is our current material prosperity, such that we not only have giant flat screen TVs, but, much more importantly, that we do not spend our days removing live Guinea worms slowly from our flesh, necessarily tied to the Enlightenment?  That is, in an alternate reality where the Enlightenment never happened, and we all lived in a West with the values, political and otherwise, of the High Middle Ages, what would our material lives look like?

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Book Review: Can It Happen Here? Authoritarianism in America
(Cass Sunstein, ed.)

Cass Sunstein has gathered an ensemble cast of today’s intellectual Davoisie (several of whom taught me in law school) to tell us, in seventeen separate essays, whether Trump is the harbinger of American structural doom, and if so, how.  It is illuminating to read this book immediately after having read Glenn Reynolds’s The Judiciary’s Class War, with its distinction between the ruling Front-Row Kids and the ruled Back-Row Kids. This is because ultimately nearly all the authors presented here believe that “it” can’t, or is extremely unlikely to, “happen here,” because they expect the Front-Row Kids to be able to stop “it.”  That is, in different ways but with the same result, the authors expect that people just like them will continue to rule, Trump and the peasants be damned.

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Book Review: The Middle Ages
(Johannes Fried)

It is universally accepted today that the Dark Ages are a myth, roughly as believable as the Australian bunyip.  In fact, medieval Europe was far more dynamic and far more intelligent than it was once portrayed.  Certainly, post-Roman Europe underwent material decline, and it temporarily lost the high culture, and high thought, of Rome.  But soon enough it began to rebound and expand, both geographically and mentally.  Johannes Fried’s main theme in this book, which covers A.D. 500—1500, is the rebirth of “mental acuity and of methodically controlled thinking” in the West, and the creation thereby of a new thing, from which the modern world is made.

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Book Review: The Square and the Tower: Networks and Power, from the Freemasons to Facebook (Niall Ferguson)

This book, by the always fascinating Niall Ferguson (though his main product for sale is always himself), analyzes capsule summaries of episodes from history, in order to negatively contrast spontaneous, networked action (the “square”) with hierarchical control (the “tower”).  Two theses flow from this, one stated early on, the other only explicitly presented at the end.  The first is that our networked age is not unique; in fact, it is the second such age, and lessons are to be gained from this, including that, from a historical perspective, networks are too often ignored in favor of focus on hierarchies.  The second is that networks with actual power are mostly anarchistic poison.

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Book Review: Reflections on the Revolution In Europe: Immigration, Islam, and the West (Christopher Caldwell)

This book, published in 2009, shows its age.  It was written before the mass immigration to Europe of the past few years, and also before the increase in Muslim terror.  While nothing the book says is wrong, and its analysis is sound enough (though it nowhere justifies, or even attempts to justify, the echo of Burke in its title), its problem is that nearly everything it contains is outdated.  The future has arrived, and it is much worse than Caldwell pessimistically predicted, though at least we can now look forward to a fresh future for Europe that will be even farther downhill.

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Book Review: The Reckless Mind: Intellectuals in Politics (Mark Lilla)

Mark Lilla’s books are all polished gems, perfectly and fluidly written, brief yet complete within the ambit Lilla sets for each of his works.  This book, The Reckless Mind: Intellectuals in Politics, was written about a decade after the collapse of Communism.  From its title, the casual browser might think it was a general attack on intellectuals.  It is not that at all—Lilla is nothing if not an intellectual himself, and he sees a lot of merit in the world of ideas, if he also sees its limitations.  Rather, this is an examination of why brilliant men and women of the modern world so often willingly dance with tyranny, and an attempt to draw a distinction between mere intellectuals, who often toady to raw power, and true philosophers, who pursue virtue.

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Book Review: Stasiland (Anna Funder)

The wicked reality of Communism has, over the past twenty-five years, been deliberately erased from Western education and, more broadly, from the Western mind.  This was entirely predictable.  The reasons behind the erasure are not complex.  The ruling classes and social tastemakers in the West at the time that Communism fell, and for decades before and since, had and have a lot of sympathy for Communism.  They were appalled by efforts, like Reagan’s, to actually end Communism, and  they had no real problem with it in practice.  To nobody’s surprise, today they have no interest in admitting their support for evil, or in exposing their guilt to a new generation.  Moreover, as Ryszard Legutko has explained at length, Communism has much in common with modern liberal democracy—far more than liberal democracy has with pre-liberal forms of political thought.  Education and the media are today controlled by these philo-Communists, throughout the West (with a few virtuous exceptions, notably Poland and Hungary).  As a result, from a combination of self-interest and ideological sympathy/compatibility, the vast majority of people under forty today have little idea that Communism was the most evil and most lethal political system ever derived, because the truth has been deliberately hidden from them.

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Book Review: The Gunpowder Age: China, Military Innovation, and the Rise of the West in World History (Tonio Andrade)

The Gunpowder Age succeeds in its lesser goal, which is convincing the reader that the common belief the Chinese only used gunpowder for fireworks is wrong.  But it fails in its greater goal, which is convincing the reader that except for a brief period in recent history, China has been the equal of the West in the technology of warfare.  And, in the wreckage of its failure, it confirms and reinforces the accurate perception that China has, for a thousand years, been lacking in scientific and cultural innovation.  Since a lack of innovation has negative implications for the Chinese future, and by modern Western standards is a negative judgment on Chinese society, this is probably not the effect that the Sinophile author of this book, Tonio Andrade, intended to achieve.

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