Book Reviews, Charles, Ethnography, European History, Great Divergence, Social Behavior
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The Moral Basis of a Backward Society (Edward C. Banfield)

Most cultures throughout history have been terrible. The natural state of so-called civilized man is somewhere between today’s Venezuela and today’s Somalia. Large-scale success, exceptions to the general rule, offering long-term stability combined with some degree of flourishing, has been limited to a handful of cultures. If you add actual accomplishment that advances the whole human race, you are left with only three, the Greeks, the Romans, and Christendom—which three, no surprise, are closely linked in history and in attributes. None of this is news, although it is denied by the malicious clowns now temporarily in charge of public discourse.

But why are most cultures in history terrible? Asked this question, most people would point to a culture’s ruling class, painting it as extractive, oppressive, arbitrary, and so forth. Certainly this is often part of the problem, but what is lost in such an analysis is that the culture of a society is equally, or more, determined by the masses. True, the masses are irrelevant to the chosen history of a culture, which is determined only by the ruling classes, but they are not therefore irrelevant to its history. Bad culture at the bottom means, in most cases, no success at the top, and ultimate failure of a civilization. Even a superb ruling class cannot make a culture flourish if the raw material of the society is defective. This book, Edward Banfield’s The Moral Basis of a Backward Society, illustrates this principle in microcosm in 1950s Italy.

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Banfield was an American political scientist. He began his career as a New Deal functionary, but actual experience of government “helping” made him skeptical that funneling cash to the poor actually improved their lives, and he turned to academic analysis of the culture of poverty. In the past month, his most famous work, The Unheavenly City: The Nature and the Future of Our Urban Crisis, has received new interest. That 1970 book attacked Great Society policies as failures, analyzed the differences between urban classes, and became part of the underpinning of “broken windows” policing. Banfield made his reputation earlier, however, with this 1958 book, studying not America, but the culture of a small southern Italian village.

The Moral Basis of a Backward Society is a social science analysis of a village Banfield calls Montegrano, but which is really Chiaromonte. Then as now, Montegrano was built on top of a modest mountain, surrounded by small plots of land. Most of the village’s residents, about seventy percent, earned their living by farming. Some were landless laborers; the majority worked tiny scattered plots of land (scattered in part because of inheritance and dowry, but also because the peasants liked it that way, since, for example, a hailstorm would probably not wipe out their entire crop). Yields were low, since the land was dry, artificial irrigation lacking, and fertilizer use rare. Most of the peasants, except those with outlying farms (who tended to have larger farms and be a little more well-off), lived in one-room or two-room homes in town, and walked to their plots every day they farmed. Sometimes they were able to supplement their income with wage work, either for a larger landowner or for the state, but this was only occasional and could not be relied upon. In other words, this was, for those who worked the land, a subsistence existence.

For the other thirty percent of the villagers, such as blacksmiths or merchants, existence was slightly above subsistence, but not comfortable. Even the handful of socially superior villagers, such as state bureaucrats, professionals such as the one doctor or the one lawyer, or the gentry who owned modest holdings, were far from wealthy. They were higher in social status because they did not work with their hands, but shared many of the economic concerns of the peasants, as well as, crucially, most of their social outlook.

Montegrano, although it lay within (long) walking distance of similar towns, was fundamentally isolated. No newspapers were published. More relevantly for Banfield’s analysis, no charitable endeavors of any kind existed, and no coordinated action for improvements ever occurred. In Banfield’s term, there was no public spirit and no “political capacity”—that is, no ability to organize to achieve any community goal of any kind, even a private but long-term business goal. There was no religious spirit, either; the peasants were mostly either indifferent or anti-clerical, and the few devout were superstitious and ignorant of basic religious doctrine. For example, they assumed that God had a relationship with the saints similar to theirs with their neighbors—one full of suspicion and dominated by the fear that the neighbors were getting one over on them. To the extent any benefit might accrue to the town, such as road improvements or an ambulance service, it could only be provided by the Italian state. No villager would ever lift a finger to even request such a thing as an individual, much less collectively. If some benefit arrived, it arrived in the same way as rain—unexpected and not tied to any effort of the villagers.

Banfield documented the perspectives of the villagers using a variety of social science tools, such as surveys and tests that asked villagers to make up a story when shown a picture card or a blank card (the “Thematic Apperception Test”). The results were pretty horrifying. In short, he discovered that with no exceptions, the villagers cared for nobody at all outside the nuclear family, and their time horizon was limited to the immediate future. Coupled with this was a constant bone-deep pessimism and fear, both of losing social status and of losing the necessities of life and thereby becoming a beggar. Banfield concluded the obvious—the villagers lacked political capacity because their culture made it impossible.

Why was it this way, given that the end result for the people was much worse than if some collective action could have been undertaken? Banfield attempted to answer this question, but first listed “usual explanations” for the incapacities that plagued Montegrano, rejecting them as inadequate, and only then offering, and supporting, his alternative explanation. Yes, the people were desperately poor—but they had plenty of time, vast amounts of time given the modest demands of their farming, that they could have devoted to collective action. Instead, they chose to loaf. Yes, the people were uneducated—but they were neither stupid nor ignorant, and usually gave thoughtful answers to any abstract question, and as Banfield pointed out, men and women on the American frontier were just as uneducated, yet their “capacity for self-government and mutual aid was nevertheless extraordinarily great.” Yes, the classes were divided—but there was no class antagonism to speak of, nor antagonism toward the state, so that could not explain political incapacity. Yes, the lower classes were fatalistic—but they were perfectly able to make decisions and take action when they deemed it necessary.

Banfield’s alternative explanation, rejecting the “usual explanations,” was that the culture of the villagers embodied what he called “amoral familism,” a term he invented. By this, he meant their social decision-making criterion was to maximize short-term benefit to the nuclear family, that included only mother, father, and children, while ignoring long-term benefits (and costs) and any impact outside the nuclear family, including to the extended family. The result was that all the peasants were, in Banfield’s account, existentially miserable. This was not merely because they were always on the edge of disaster; such precariousness is common in many cultures. It is because they were atomized, unable to rely in any way on others, so they always lived on the edge. Yet rather than forming social webs to provide a safety net, they constantly viewed their neighbors with suspicion, aware that their neighbors returned the favor. Thus, Montegrano was filled with a “melancholy,” largely based in envy. Villagers had much in common with the Russian peasant who, granted a magical wish with the sole condition that his neighbor would get double whatever he asked for, requested he be blinded in one eye.

How did such a defective culture, that today would be called totally lacking in social capital, arise? Banfield ascribes this debilitating set of attitudes, tentatively, to a historically high death rate combined with no extended families (although this does not explain why there were no extended families, which Banfield notes were common in other areas of Italy not far distant). He only occasionally adverts to the past of Montegrano, and there are clues that amoral familism, envy, and melancholy were a function of modernity. Villagers in past generations, Banfield says, had less yet were apparently happier. They were embedded in a wider tangle of responsibilities, rather than being atomized. That amoral familism was new is also suggested by Banfield’s point that it could not exist for long without the outside agency of the state, since it would end in violence as feuds built and no resources from the outside smoothed over rough patches. Thus, Montegrano is not a proxy for Italian society, or even southern Italian society, of its time—it is a snapshot of a particular defective culture in practice, one that if it were universal, would collapse an entire society in short order.

A substantial element of financial pressure on villagers was the need to provide dowries for daughters, if they were to have an “acceptable” marriage, meaning one not to a man lower in the social scale. I have long wondered why some cultures, including most or all European cultures, insist on dowries, while other cultures have the opposite practice, “bride price.” The usual explanation is that in cultures where agricultural labor by women is important, more important than portable property or capital, bride price is found. In other words, the husband is paying for the loss of the labor to the bride’s family. This capital-labor distinction is not entirely convincing, though, since bride price is also found in societies where agricultural labor by women is not important. Examined more closely, it’s evident that dowry is part of a larger complex of social rules in any society, tied to those governing inheritance and usually designed to protect members of the family from penury. Thus, although dowry is a burden for the bride’s family, and often seen as simply a matter of enriching the groom and his family, by those involved it is primarily seen as for the benefit of the bride, such that she can be certain to live an adequate lifestyle. This is reinforced by the often-related tradition of dower, money or property secured wholly to the bride, either by the groom or by the bride’s family, in order to protect her if the husband dies or abandons her. No doubt societies have other reasons, some not evident, why they pick a particular pattern. As with most social practices, on the principle of Chesterton’s Fence, we should initially presume that what is done in a particular area has coherent reasons behind it. Though, to be sure, as shown by amoral familism, this principle has its limits, and moreover, what is a coherent reason in primitive societies is often not acceptable to the moral standards of Christendom, the yardstick against which any dubious practice should be ultimately measured.

Most of the book is straight analysis. Only at the end does Banfield draw larger lessons, all pessimistic. He notes that “[e]xcept in Europe and America, the concerting of behavior in political associations and corporate organizations is a rare and recent thing.” By this he does not mean electoral politics or corporate business. Rather, he means intermediary institutions focused on achieving some benefit for the common good, often a longer-range benefit. He notes that coordinated action beyond the family or tribe is rare, and our assumption that it arises naturally when needed is false, and wholly dependent on culture. He directly ties such organizations to a society’s success, focusing on economic success. It is true enough that such organizations do not seem to exist outside of Europe and America (although they are not at all recent—they characterized the successful parts of Europe for a thousand years, and America until, ironically, just after Banfield wrote his book). I’m not so sure, however, that they are necessary for economic success—as far as I can tell, they are mostly lacking in China, where a strong state and a different culture appears to substitute. I suspect they are entirely necessary for true long-term civilizational success, as I somewhat narrowly define it, and there is much evidence that China will again, as it always has, fail to achieve such success, perhaps in part because of this lack. (Maybe James C. Scott is right, in his Against the Grain, that civilization itself is overrated, and we’d all be happier off as hunter-gatherers.)

Banfield wrote, though, when the success of the West seemed it might be achievable for the rest of the world (and there appeared no chance the West would fall from its pinnacle). He struck a pessimistic note at a time when others assumed the rest of the world was following the path blazed by the West, unemotionally concluding, “There is some reason to doubt that the non-Western cultures of the world will prove capable of creating and maintaining the high degree of organization without which a modern economy and a democratic political order are impossible.” Banfield was aware that Italy as a whole was fairly successful; his point was that in a society composed only of Montegranos, success was impossible. And so it has proved to be, by and large. True, some non-Western cultures have, since 1958, managed to maintain a modest degree of what appears to be civilizational success, at least in economic development. This has always been done only by adopting Western practices and technology, and it is not clear how sustainable this is, especially if a country also imports today’s Western corrosive and destructive cultural practices, we having left what made us successful far behind.

What of Montegrano, that is, Chiaromonte, today? Very little English-language information is available. The population is now only 2,000—as with most European farming villages, there is little to keep people there, especially as the population ages, other than tourism. You can walk through it virtually, using Google, but you can’t find any information about its current social situation. It would be interesting to know if there is more social cohesion today than then. Italy itself, of course, like all of Europe, is a dying society, with far bigger problems than the corrosion of amoral familism, so it doesn’t really matter. Still, it’s surprising nobody seems to have done a follow-up.

And the key question—has America itself become a version of what Montegrano was? The same defects found in Montegrano, along with many others far more pernicious, have, unfortunately, become common in America, as our nation reverts to the historical global mean. True, even in its early years, America was far from a monolithic or ideal culture, and as outlined in the classic Albion’s Seed, had superior and inferior sub-cultures, that somehow managed to produce an excellent ruling class and enough virtue and competence to build a strong and radically successful country. With the destruction of the social fabric wrought by the Left over the past hundred, and especially over the past sixty, years, neither of these things is now true. The American equivalents of Montegrano have been documented recently by authors such as Chris Arnade and J. D. Vance, but such defective sub-cultures have become far more widespread and far more deficient than they once were, creating tens of millions of Americans living in a permanent grossly culturally defective underclass, ruled by a atrocious ruling class. The Left is fine with this, as long as they can gain power and profit as a result, and in fact keeps power in our pseudo-democracy by manipulating the sometimes-justified resentments of the underclass to their benefit. As we rocket downhill, all the while the catamite Right, self-delusional as always, still believes, against all evidence, that American culture is still sound, simply experiencing a few challenges, and we’ll be all the better for going through a little turmoil.

It is thus hopeless to hope for a return of the old strong American culture. Or so it seems, on our screens, whence now comes all information. Perhaps this is mostly an illusion, though. Perhaps what our screens offer is mere gaslighting propaganda, with the aim of demoralizing the virtuous among us so they can be easily steamrolled into the mass graves the Left always prepares for its enemies. This is the question of the hour, or of the millennium, and on it, everything turns. One thing we know—there exist, as there always have in the West, pockets, perhaps giant pockets, where the old culture that made America successful still soldiers onward. Their inhabitants are gagged and bound by the poisonous lords of this present age, but they chafe and seethe. How many are they? Are they willing and able to decisively act in their interests, especially if granted, for the first time in a hundred years or more, a leader who can and will actually reify their cherished wishes? If not, our future is Montegrano writ larger and nastier. If yes, we will find the way out by going through. Which it is, we are likely to find out soon. Or, as the memes say, “Which way, Western man?”

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  1. Cayman says

    You ought to read more history books if you think it was only Greeks, Romans, and Christians which advanced the whole of humanity. A simple question like, from which peoples did the ancient Greeks or Romans take their inspiration from would be a good start.

    • Charles says

      So mysterious! Why don’t you begin by telling us which other cultures advanced the whole of humanity? (The ancient Greeks and Romans didn’t take their inspiration from anyone at all, except the latter from the former to a certain degree. Like Athena from the forehead of Zeus, they sprang to life from nothing, through processes mysterious to us. Minoan Crete and other “precursor” civilizations are not to the contrary.)

      • fokas says

        Well, the real important ones were Summerians, Assyrians, Egyptians, Indians, and, independently the Chinese.

        “The ancient Greeks and Romans didn’t take their inspiration from anyone at all,”. That’s no true. They got the alphabet from elsewhere, geometry from elsewhere, several later Greek gods came from elsewhere, the first legal code was Hamurabi’s, and lots of other stuff besides.

        And of course fundamental things like farming, irrigation, and such, weren’t invented by the Greeks and Romans.

        • Charles says

          This is not true, on two levels. First, as discussed in other comments, the accomplishments of Sumer and similar civilizations did not “inspire” the achievements of the Greeks, which were sui generis. Geometry, for example, simply did not exist before the Greeks as any kind of organized science. Alphabets did, but that’s been discovered, like farming and irrigation, in many places at separate times, and those are inevitable accomplishments, unlike what the Greeks and Romans accomplished.

          That said, I clarified the basic point in the comments to:

          “I will admit, though, that my major point could have been phrased, “since 600 B.C.” only three cultures have advanced the human race. (I think that was implicit, but whatever.) Sumer is irrelevant to everything present day, but the three cultures I named are utterly relevant to the present day. That is to say, no non-Western civilization has done anything relevant for the world since shortly after the (first) invention of writing.”

        • Carlos Danger says

          Fokas, you say the first legal code was Hammurabi’s. That’s not true — earlier codes have been found. But there is no evidence that any of these codes had influence on Roman law, let alone today’s Western law. No one in the modern world even knew about Hammurabi’s code until 1901.

          On the other hand, the influence of Roman law on Western civilization was immense. I studied Japanese law at Tokyo University many years ago. I still remember that the lectures for the Civil Code class I took were filled with references to “Rouma Hou” (Roman law).

          Roman influence has been stronger in civil law countries like Japan (and France and Germany, where Japan took its law from). Indeed, such countries are sometimes called Roman law countries. But even in common law countries like the United States much of the legal vocabulary is in Latin, reflecting the influence of Roman law.

          Your comment reminds me of how often people mistakenly credit an early idea with influence. Ada Byron is a good example of that. Matt Ridley in his recent book How Innovation Works recites the tired trope that she was the first computer programmer.

          No, she wasn’t. Even if she had been, she had no influence on the development of computer programming. None.

          Charles has eloquently made that point in at least two of his reviews here, referring in one review to “the fantasy that Ada Lovelace was the first computer programmer, which you hear everywhere, even though it’s equivalent in truth to saying she was the first Egyptian pharaoh”.

          Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against Ada Byron (Countess of Lovelace) or those who admire her. (I buy a fair amount of stuff from pink- and punk-haired Limor “Lady Ada” Fried’s shop Adafruit.) But to suggest that Ada Byron or her mentor George Babbage (with his steampunk calculating engines) had any influence on computers or programming is debunked bunk.

          Why, it would be like suggesting that Hammurabi’s code was the basis for Western legal thought. And that’s just nonsense.

          • Carlos Danger says

            Sorry, Charles Babbage, for calling you George.

  2. Cayman says

    So the Sumerians or the other civilizations of the Near East didn’t influence and inspire the Greeks? What about the ancient Egyptians, with whom Plato and other prominent philosphers were very interested in?
    Simple black and white projections are the easiest theories but often fail to take account of life’s many nuances.

    • Charles says

      Correct–or at least there is no such evidence. True, it might have been lost, as the origins of the Greeks and their culture are lost in the mist, even in their own geographical area, much less connections to Sumer and the like. But there is zero evidence Sumer “influence[d] and inspire[d]” the Greeks. (One might argue Sumer advanced humanity, by being one of the, if not the, first civilization. But someone had to be first, and there is little or no evidence Sumer had a lasting impact, and much evidence that writing, for example, was repeatedly originally invented.)

      Plato was not interested in the Egyptians for philosophy. Greek philosophy was utterly sui generis. Pretending otherwise is folly. True, he cited Egyptian science in astronomy, a little, but none of that is relevant in any way whatsoever to Greek accomplishments.

      But all this ignores the real issue–you name no civilization after Sumer and Ancient Egypt, which long antedate the cultures I cited, that supposedly advanced humanity. Which suggests, of course, that you know I’m right.

      • Cayman says

        ” If you add actual accomplishment that advances the whole human race, you are left with only three, the Greeks, the Romans, and Christendom…”
        This is what you wrote. It is an opinion, not a fact. If you study comparative civilizations you would be less likely to come to such an opinion. At the very least you would add several caveats. Now had you written that in your opinion the three cultures/civilizations outlined above added the most to modern human advancement I would have less to disagree with. But you made a blanket statement with zero nuances.
        As for Sumer it is the basis of every other civilization that came into being in Mesopotamia and to a lessor extent Asia Minor and the Caucasus. Religion, astrology, astronomy, arithmetic, government, farming/animal husbandry, measurement of time, etc all owe a debt to Sumer. I would suggest you read History Begins at Sumer: Thirty-Nine Firsts in Man’s Recorded History by Samuel Noah Kramer. There are newer books that provide more updates since the 1950s as archeologists and historians have learned more about Sumeria, but Kramer’s book is a classic and remains timely.
        And you asked me to name another culture/civilization that advanced humanity, not name one that came after the Greco-Roman civilization.

        Also, you conveniently left out the ancient Israelites. What is the reason for that?

        • Charles says

          Opinions in history are (usually) indistinguishable from facts. That is the nature of intepretation.

          As I said earlier, that a civilization did something first does not mean it advanced humanity. I note you fail to provide any link whatsoever between Greece and Sumer.

          I will admit, though, that my major point could have been phrased, “since 600 B.C.” only three cultures have advanced the human race. (I think that was implicit, but whatever.) Sumer is irrelevant to everything present day, but the three cultures I named are utterly relevant to the present day. That is to say, no non-Western civilization has done anything relevant for the world since shortly after the (first) invention of writing. Thus, if you cannot name a post-600 B.C. culture that has advanced mankind, you are just engaging in sophistry.

          Ha ha–no “Jewish Question” on this blog, as you’ll see from elsewhere! I’m very philo-Jewish. The Israelites advanced mankind with their religion (it being true and all, until Christ came). But here I am focused primarily on the other blessings of the West, from philosophy to technology, and the Israelites, with their insular nature, were not relevant to that, except as through their religious influence on Christendom.

  3. Cayman says

    You keep changing the goal posts so to speak. You made a claim, I pointed out the hole(s) and now you are accusing me of sophistry.

    History is full of opinions, distortions, lies, and yes, facts too. The further back we go in time the less primary sources we have to work with. This is a major reason why we have to rely so much more on archaeology the further back in time we go, as you are likely aware.
    The civilization I mentioned, Sumer, laid the groundwork for all that followed in the region, both immediately and many centuries later. The Greeks were influenced by Mesopotamia, this isn’t my opinion but widely accepted by historians and scholars of the Ancient Greeks and Ancient Mesopotamia. Agriculture for one is thought to have spread from Asia Minor to surrounding regions, including what we now call Greece. So yes, a people, culture, or civilization doing something first, and then having that accomplishment spread near and far is quite a feat. One should not be so dismissive.

    “That is to say, no non-Western civilization has done anything relevant for the world since shortly after the (first) invention of writing. Thus, if you cannot name a post-600 B.C. culture that has advanced mankind, you are just engaging in sophistry.”

    Again, another blanket claim missing important caveats. So what about paper, gun powder, algebra, Arabic numerals? Not important and did not change the course of history, right?

    I dare ask, are you aware which culture came up with 60 seconds in a minute, 60 minutes in an hour and 24 hours in a day?

    And as for the ancient Israelites, the fact that their faith is the primary cornerstone of both Christianity and Islam allows one to put their civilization as another world changing civilization.

    • Charles says

      Gunpowder is a perfect example–invented by the Chinese. Who did nothing with it for a thousand years, as outlined here. Paper much the same. Algebra was invented by Diophantus, a Greek, and in any case nearly all higher level math was developed in the West, and math was only applied to practical uses in the West (as opposed to, say, finding out how to pray more accurately in the direction of Mecca, or reading horoscopes). Arabic numerals were invented in India, and, again, only applied to advance mankind by the West.

      Aside from this, you are not answering my question. It is not sophistry to point out that you ignore the obvious real thrust of the initial statement, and then ignore it again, repeatedly, when the initial statement is “clarified.” Which proves my point–that everything that has advanced mankind for the past 2500 years comes from one of three Western civilizations. When you come up with an exception to that statement, which you can’t, I’ll find it interesting.

  4. Karen Bradford says

    Refreshing to see opposing POV, even though you clearly made your case. More! More!

  5. Karen Bradford says

    China and India has had an intact culture for 4000 years. Also, the Levant has been populated for 100,000(?) Years. That should have been enough time to contribute to the advancement of civilization.

    Please recommend reading that I can learn more about the contributions of the Arab world. Thank you.

    • Charles says

      1) Well, they had an intact culture, though not at all the same culture, for 4,000 years. But in a real way, that proves the point–nothing resulted from that 4,000 years that “advanced the whole human race.” Certain local accomplishments resulted, but not more.

      2) Civilization by definition requires cities, so what happened 50,000 years ago isn’t really relevant. No doubt things happened in pre-history that advanced the human race–though I think most of those, such as agriculture and archery, were discovered multiple times in multiple places.

      3) More generally, as I say, the three civilizations I mentioned contributed, solely, to the “advancement of the whole human race” in the time frame that is relevant for any aspect of the world as it exists today. So, for example, the Egyptians did not contribute anything relevant, even though they were an important civilization. (In the anecdote I like best, when Athenian naval mercenaries were hired in 500 B.C. in an Egyptian war, and rowed up the Nile, they passed the Pyramids–which were already 2,000 years old.)

      4) The standard work on the Islamic world (not the same thing as the Arab world, exactly) is Lapidus. (Or Hodgson’s three volumes, if you’re ambitious.) Patai’s The Arab Mind is also interesting for modern thoughts. But the Arab/Islamic world did not contribute anything at all that “advanced the whole human race.” True, the brief Muslim efflorescence caused by the shaking up the senescent East produced some second-order math and astronomy, and helped preserve Greek thought. But that’s it, despite enormous modern propaganda to the contrary. The simple fact is that Arabs as Arabs contributed nothing, and the Muslim world little or nothing.

  6. Karen Susan Bradford says

    For many decades statements are made (both from books and in-person conversations) that Europe owes so much to the Arabs, particularly to Islamic Spain. (As you’ve stated above, there has been a lot of propaganda and it goes back many decades.)

    I don’t know, perhaps it’s not worth my time to pursue it. Reading Albion’s Seed now. Friends read the “Arab Mind” so heard the discussions but at the time I wanted to focus on other subjects so didn’t bother with it. Might look into Lapidus. Thanks for the recommendations.

  7. Troilus says

    The debate between Charles and Cayman, I think, can be resolved by a close study of Herodotus. It may be said that his chief inquiry is: what is ‘Greekness?’

    Now the Inquiries is a very long and difficult book, but my short, and therefore admittedly insufficient, understanding of Herodotus’ answer is that the Greeks are a mongrel people, who for that reason, are something new. That is, the Greeks draw from and combine things they’ve learned from the other world-historical peoples in their proximity: the Egyptians, the Persians, and the Scythians into something that is new and wholly different from these various parents. They do not spring up “sui generis” but their development, their political movement (‘cycle of regimes’) is not the inevitable development of any of their sources. The development of Persia has a ceiling, and that ceiling is Persia, or any other such Eastern despotate empire. Egypt has a ceiling, etc. Scythia is protean, and it is more likely that if the Scythian-like peoples were to conquer a more developed but softer sedentary people, they are likely to become another Persia or an Egypt, as has happened countless times, (Mongols, Turks, Parthians) unless they conquer a political people, who are the descendants of the Greeks (Franks, Saxons), and take up Western notions, and the Western project.

    What fundamentally separated the Greeks from their surrounding people, and what separates the West still today? The Greeks discovered nature beneath convention, whereas all other peoples confuse the two into one. Westerners have inherited that discovery, and therefore see the brotherhood of man, and can work for the development of the species. Other peoples divide human beings between good and bad, and the bad ones, the ones who don’t believe what they believe, who are not inheritors of that tradition, are in a sense sub-human (China as ‘Middle Kingdom’, Islam versus the ‘House of War’). In our time, we suffer from a particularly Western form of forgetting the distinction between nature and convention, namely, relativism. There is no nature, everything is only convention, from which it follows that ‘might is right.’ And so there is nothing ‘wrong’ with the oligarchs destroying the middle-classes in the West (Covid, reperations), in order to secure their position permanently. This is all very mathematically put, but I do believe is generally true. I am open to further elaboration. There is also the problem of the connection between the discovery of politics and the discovery of nature, for which I do not have a clear understanding. Cheers.

  8. max says

    Classical Christian Education Is Like Marxist Christian Education, But a Lot More Subtle.
    Gary North – February 24, 2008

    What if I came before a group of Christian mothers at a home school convention and asked this question?

    Would you spend money to buy a curriculum program based on a philosophy of education that assumes the following? (1) The legitimacy of homosexuality, especially the seduction of teenage boys by men over age 30; (2) warfare as a man’s supremely meaningful activity; (3) polytheism; (4) a personal demon as a philosopher’s source of correct logic; (5) slavery as the foundation of civilization; (6) politics as mankind’s only means of attaining the good life, meaning salvation; (7) the exclusion of women from all aspects of public religion; (8) the legitimacy of female infanticide.

    The Classical Christian Curriculum: Marriage to a Corpse
    Gary North – July 16, 2014

    In his 1981 book, The Philosophy of the Christian Curriculum, Rushdoony began with a frontal assault against both Greek education and Roman education. He identified both as humanism incarnate. He identified both as statist.

    The statist purpose of humanistic education was even more clearly emphasized by the Romans. According to Grimal, “Roman morality has a very distinct aim — the subordination of the individual to the City.” Religion and piety had reference to the City, for the gods with the gods of the City, and religion, by binding man to the gods, bound them to the City of the gods. . . .
    The liberal arts curriculum thus had a statist orientation. Man’s liberty, man’s salvation, was to be found in faithful subordination of himself and all his being to the City of Man. The chief end of man, a political and social animal, was to glorify the state and to serve and enjoy it all the days of his life.
    It is not surprising, therefore, that Christianity came into rapid conflict with Rome and the entire world. It was a battle between Christ and Caesar, between the City of God and the City of Man, for control of the world and of history. One hand, the emphasis was on the triune God and His eternal decree, and on the other hand the emphasis was on the primacy of time, on the civil order as the order of the incarnation and divinity, and on the temporal decree of the total state.(pp. 5-6).

    The Academic Case Against Latin
    Gary North – October 24, 2015

    Classical education begins with a premise: the student must learn the classics. The classics are pagan: Greek and Roman literature and philosophy. They were based on the premise that man is the measure of all things, that man’s reason is ultimate. The rational side of the Renaissance was based on the same premise. (Its irrational side was also a revival of Greek and Roman religion: occult, magical, and either chance-based or fatalistic.)
    Medieval Scholasticism was as committed to the classics as the Renaissance was, though without classical occultism and pornography. The Scholastics were committed academically far more to Aristotle than to the Bible, especially in their political philosophy. They worshiped at Aristotle’s shrine. Prior to the eleventh century, medieval theologians had worshiped at Plato’s shrine: neo-platonic mysticism. The Scholastics substituted Aristotle for Plato. There was some gain — Aristotle at least was not a communist, as Plato was — but not in the realm of men’s presuppositions. For humanism, man is the measure, and man’s mind is the sole valid instrument of measurement. The Bible denies this view.
    From the beginning, the medieval university was committed to classical education, and from the beginning, rationalism and irrationalism (mysticism) undermined the Christian roots of education.

    Nine Corrupt Pillars of Classical Greece
    Gary North – October 23, 2015

    Classical Christian Education: The Real Deal
    Gary North – July 12, 2014

    …why our curriculum is built on the five pillars of classical culture.

    1. Polytheism: the dead spirits of male family heads, plus fertility gods
    2. Slavery, which alone made classical culture possible
    3. Warfare, with The Iliad as the central cultural document
    4. Human sacrifice
    5. Pederasty, which brought teenage boys and mature men together (the gymnasium)

  9. Wow, what a shame that the entire discussion here didn’t get past Charles’ fourth sentence. Banfield’s insights deserve better.

  10. Feher Peter says

    I found Banfield’s book very interesting when I read it, and I have to say I don’t regret stumbling upon this review, where you touched upon some very important aspects. However, I’d be curious, what do you make of Banfield’s analysis of immigrant communities? He did, for instance, study the Montegranos who emigrated to the New World(particularly US, and particularly New York, like most Mezzogiorno Italians) and found they had no changed in their habits at all, in the sense they lacked any civic participation, did not coalesce around to form a community of their own, or did not, in fact, join any community of Mezzogiorno Italians there, communities which were few anyway, since their main form of social organization was the mafia anyway(especially curious when you compare this to Polish immigrants at the same time, who built statues and churches, and left on Chicago their mark). This lead Banfield to think that the problem was deeper than the social context for, even when exposed to the joyous and enlivened US, Montegranos still behaved the same, and acted as leeches on their new hosts. Unfortunately, no study was done on descendants of American Montegranos, though I imagine not much could be learned from there.

    Getting to solutions, while Banfield doesn’t have many, I’m thinking there is potential for self-correcting, but some societies seem to have a certain predilection to falling in this disrepair, and no healing can be definitive. I’d be thinking here of the Mezzogiorno, but also of its „sister” peoples, the Romanians, who I’m living in the middle of(and my ancestors have been living in the middle of for hundreds of years). What’s interesting is that Romanians are, in a sense, Montegrano-lite. Save for a few pockets of gross underdevelopment, they’re not as bad as Montegrano, but the hint is clearly there. Especially following the fall of communism, but even before due to the rations caused by an idiotic leader, you can see this is an incredibly low-trust society. People almost never presume strangers can be respected, even if they’re of the same nation. Only long-time neighbors and extended family can be treated with, others are presumed untrustworthy, and not much social activity happens. You can see this even in Parliament, as everything revolves around pensions, handouts and benefits. Fun fact, they weren’t even able to call a snap election, because that needed the vote of MPs, who would thus stand to lose part of their pension(!), as a half-mandate wouldn’t count for it…priorities, I guess…

    And this is where the emigrant game comes into play. Romania has a large diaspora, numbering 3-4 million people. Most are in Italy & Spain, although significant numbers are present in France, UK and Germany too, as well as the US. Looking at these communities, you’ll find there are plenty of Facebook pages and groups, websites etc, but there is no collective action, no indigenous party of any sort, and whatever happens in generally directed from back home. The only degree of organization that could be commended was in building churches, but it was nothing like what the Poles did in Chicago, in the sense that they built small wooden Orthodox Churches for the few who decided to keep their faith(most weren’t that religious and just didn’t care either way).

    Some also argue there’s a genetic argument behind this. It’s been claimed, for instance, that Romanians are like this because of their very high genetic diversity, matched only by neighboring Bulgarians and Serbians. This is thus limiting trust and cohesion, because everyone is essentially different, from a different people that happened to cross the territory. However, this theory has its limits. Hungarian Pannonia, for instance, was wrecked population-wise by the Ottoman Wars, and when the Habsburgs conquered it, they resettled it with Slovaks, Serbs and Ukrainians, in the hopes that this would divide the area and make it easier to control, while also weakening Hungarian culture on the sidelines and making room for Austrian domination. Much to their surprise, most immigrants easily assimilated, and became patriotic Hungarians, furthering their cause and culture(most famously at 1848, where Lajos Kossuth and Petofi Sandor were both of Slavic descent; incidentally, Romanians betrayed Hungary yet again, siding with the Transylvanian Saxons and Austrians…this would be a recurring theme, with Romanians frequently asking for help from the Crown against Hungarians, like a beaten child snitching his „bully” to the teacher in hopes of retribution). But, to go back, this stretches the limits of genetics, since Hungary is marginally more Slavic than Romania, and on par with Serbia, yet has an incredible level of cohesion, and has maintained it for centuries, so this can’t be more than a small part of the explanation either.

    With uncertain causes, it’s hard to find certain solutions. Thankfully, one can see some amount of self-correcting, with there being an important level of implication in flowering cities such as Kolozsvar(Cluj in Romanian) or Temesvar(Timisoara in Romanian), with people congregating to help the needy and deliver food to elderly during lockdown, and local initiative taking helm and directing city budgets etc, while the churches in the countryside seem to have increased the sense of community, but communism left many people amoral, and the religion of the youth isn’t Orthodoxy by any measure, but something much more sinister and Western(neoliberalism/libertinism, of course).

    As an extra point, if you will, you could look at the Hungarians of Transylvania for an example in community building. They have not only dominated and ruled Transylvania themselves while Pannonia was occupied by the Ottomans, but they have also held on to their traditions, and continue to flourish even today, despite being divided between multiple churches(Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Reformed, Unitarian etc). Orban Viktor’s support is also not to be downplayed, although the fact RMDSZ(Hungarians of Transylvania) align with Fidesz ideologically is a question of principle, more than funding. There is also the joke that Hungarians in Transylvania and Transkarpathia in Ukraine(Ungvar and the like) are closer to their Ugric heritage than those in Pannonia, partly because of the defense of the mountains. Genetically, it’s true that we are closer to the Finns, but anecdotally, you’d be hard pressed to separate a Szekely from a Pannonian Hungarian(which is all the more proof Szekelys are in fact of Hungarian descent and not assimilated Romanians, as propaganda would have you believe).

    As for the end, what I can say is that I hope the Worthy House was indeed enlivened by my comment, and not bored to death by its length.

    Thank you!


    • Charles Haywood says

      Interesting! And thank you for the long comment; it most definitely enlivens TWH!

      1) I did not know about the follow-up in America. I’d need to learn more about it, but I suppose it’s not surprising that culture follows the acculturated, at least for the first generation or two.

      2) As you doubtless know, I am half Hungarian (and you are Hungarian, from your name). I’ve travelled extensively in Transylvania (though it’s been some years), and am familiar with the cultural differences so visibly on display among Hungarians, Rumanians, and Saxons (and Gypsies, of course, at the bottom end of the scale). So what you say doesn’t surprise me. I understand that the Rumanians now don’t like to talk about their mountain peasant origins, but maybe there is some overlap there that results in a particular cultural affect.

      3) Hungarian culture is, no doubt, very different (and superior, in my not-unbiased opinion). Of course, as my wife noticed visiting the National Museum the first time we went, Hungarians mostly spend their history picking fights they lose. But unlike the Rumanians, they go down fighting. My grandfather fought at the very end of World War II (he was in his forties, so drafted late), and had to retreat pell-mell when the Rumanians switched sides and let the Russians in through the southern Carpathian passes (he was given leave to collect his family from Mándok, where they were living).

      4) What is the current situation of Hungarians in Rumania? Is the collective action you describe in Kolozsvár and Temesvár cross-cultural? What’s the birth rate, in the absolute and relative to the Rumanians?

      • Feher Peter says

        1) You’re right, it does follow for first generations. Biggest effect seems to be education and assimilation into wider community. This is how I’d tackle it here too. Use public schooling to forge relations between children and foster community spirit, with Israel coming to mind on this, although I’m unsure if in Israel this is a natural consequence of their very high level of intra-group trust and cooperation, rather than a reinforcing cause. These things are never easy to plan, and one must, as Beccaria said, calculate all possibilities of law before promulgation. Perhaps it wouldn’t hurt if politicians were more like chess players, and thought 30 moves in advance, rather than 1 or 2. Advent of tech might help on this.

        2) Haha, I found out you were half-Hungarian after reading around the site a little(that comment was my first, after all, so I didn’t know it when I wrote it). I’m also only partly Hungarian, but the name survived(even if it came from great-grandmother, but that’s another story), and while I grew up Romanian pretty much(since grandpa’s Romanian father imposed as one of the conditions no Hungarian first names or Hungarian language inhouse), I am trying to explore this side of mine(a shame my grandpa doesn’t want to apply for Hungarian citizenship, since that would give me the right as well. It would help that we are both pretty Hungarian looking, and, as a fun story, when we went to an event hosted by local Nokia factory(back in 2011), despite being a child myself, I was asked in Finnish by one of the foreign directors if I hailed from Eastern Finland. Had a good laugh after we switched to English, but it happened with Hungarians too. I have the phenotype of Medgyessy Peter, sort of, and my grandpa is almost a carbon copy of him.

        As for origin of Romanians, that’s a long discussion, and I don’t want to pollute too much with it, since details don’t matter as much to our discussion. But it’s worth noting that there are many peoples that are mixed into what constitutes Romanians, like with many other peoples in the region, with Dacian, Thracian, Illyrian, Slavic, Cumanic, Kipchak origins(and many others). Needless to say, there was always a certain passivity over here, which reminds me of the Mezzogiorno in Italy. You would go through villages and people would just sit and stare, or, as the joke goes „Hey shepherd, are sitting and thinking?” „No, just sitting”. The historiography ignores most of the period that constitutes birth of Romanian people, and instead thinks a straight line can be drawn from Aurelian retreat to the Romance speaking voivodes who the Hungarians defeated(Gelu, Glad and Menumorut, if you heard of them) which is insane, if only because those princes’ names are Slavic. In fact, chances are without Hungarian conquest, Slavicization would have ensued and Romanity lost, as it happened in neighboring Serbia and Croatia(an area that was Vulgar Latin speaking until defeats of the Byzantines). As for Transylvanian Question, it’s worth again noting that the Romanians became a majority due to migration from south of Carpathians, with Hungarians initially outnumbering them. Migration from Transylvania only started after 18th century, as oppression ensued and taxation become more heavily enforced by Austrians, but I digress.

        3) Mandok is close to Transkarpathia, isn’t it(even if still in Panonnian plain)? As for picking fights to lose, I’ll have to disagree. Hungarians have a spirit of survivors and fighters. There’s a reason they’re the only migrating tribe to have survived and kept its language(Bulgars were slavicized), and to then survive even after Ottoman near-wipeout. You could further look at the two fights the Hungarians picked and won that defined their future and solidified them, which were Battle of Pozsony and challenge of forming the Hungarian Kingdom in 1867. Sure, if you only look at Battle of Posada, Varna Crusade, Battles of Mohacs and Szigetvar, Rackoczi and Dozsa Gyorgy’s uprisings, or 1848, it may seem like they fought when they shouldn’t, but the reality is Hungarians were and are very successful, and certainly have a royal fighting spirit, very close in a sense to that of the Polish.

        As for WW2, it’s important to remember Horthy Miklos tried to switch sides before the Romanians even thought of it, but the Germans were quick to notice and imposed their will. The reason this failed in Romania was the influence of the King and his Western links, as Hungary was ruled by a Prince Regent, but did not bring Karl von Habsburg back on throne. I wouldn’t call it a stab in the back on Hungarians, as Romanians never saw them as allies, but more of a stab in the back of the Germans, with the ability to reconquer Eszak-Erdely being seen as an added benefit.

        4) Yes, those actions are cross-cultural, since they’re united by general anti-corruption sentiment(as a rule of thumb, ethnically diverse cities of Transylvania tend to not care for ethnic differences, and what happens happens in unison pretty much, like in the dream world of Franz Ferdinand’s United States of Austria-Hungary). RMDSZ, despite having a certain bit of influence, is limited by its ethnic exclusivity and small voting base. That said, it’s been pushing for pro-natalist policies, with Fidesz backing, and trying to raise child allowances, improve maternity leave for fathers(it’s already pretty generous for mothers at 2 years) and they’ve even hinted at supporting a similar no-income tax policy for under 25s(which would be tremendous for me, as a 20-year-old law student) to Hungary’s. When the government tried to cut back on child allowances, they came back harshly, and managed to stop it.

        As for birth rates, they are pretty much equal to the Romanians’, which is to be expected since policies do not discriminate. That said, they are higher than in Hungary proper(1.8 vs 1.55), but still below 2.1 minimum threshold. Anecdotally, most in the Hungarian community have children, although they typically stop at 2, and 3 is the maximum one could encounter. Romanians are similar, although I imagine a boom is incoming, as every time I’ve went shopping at supermarkets or even groceries I’ve seen pregnant women. Of the women I’ve encountered, more were pregnant than not(and these are actual Romanians, not Gypsies), and the men I’ve seen were buying baby milk, pampers and the like. It might have something to do with return from abroad, but not sure.

        Finally, as an addendum to the review, one could posit on the self-correcting character of the Montegrano society, specifically on its dying out and rebirth. What I failed to mention in the previous comment was that many of those with Montegrano tendencies are dying out, and a good amount are childless. While their strain on social services and voting behavior is ignored at own peril, I think there’s merit in being hopeful.

        Hopefully I’ve been just as enlivening, and not let you down!


        • Charles Haywood says

          Excellent; thank you! Not much to add, and I have learned a lot, as well. No disagreement on Hungarians as survivors; it’s to their credit they always dust themselves off and try again, and Orbán has made progress on keeping Hungarian culture from being ruined like the Germans. What I take from your comments is optimism. Just need to push through a few things, and then have lots of babies!

          Check out the other writings, and comment, too. I wrote one on Lasse Skytt’s Orbánland . . . .

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