All posts filed under: European History

A Humane Economy: The Social Framework of the Free Market (Wilhelm Röpke)

This classic book, by a long-dead and almost-forgotten German economist, is suddenly relevant again. I have had a copy on my bookshelf for thirty years, never read, and I was startled by how timely A Humane Economy is. Today, elements of Left and Right are ganging up to kick neoliberalism when it’s down, aiming to break the long-dominant alliance between the corporatist Left and Right, and thereby to overturn the instrumentalist view of humans as fodder for an economic machine. We are simply awaiting the next crisis to see what will emerge. Wilhelm Röpke foresaw the problems we face today, because he lived through their early days—though I am not sure his solutions are practical, at least until a lot more chaos first sweeps across the land.

A History of Venice (John Julius Norwich)

This long but smoothly written book, by the very recently deceased John Julius Norwich, scion of English nobility, covers more than a thousand years of Venetian history. Nowadays Venice is mostly known as an overloaded tourist destination, or as a victim of environmental degradation, rather than as the world power it was for most of its history. Norwich, who loved the city and talks in detail not only about its past but also its architecture, often tying the two together, ably restores the place of Venice in history. And in so doing, he manages to both be interesting and to show us viable alternatives to the dead end into which “liberal democracy” has led us.

Trotsky: A Biography (Robert Service)

I continue to be fascinated by the Bolshevik Revolution, because in its success there are many lessons.  Unbiased history and biography of the Bolsheviks is a relatively recent phenomenon; prior to 1991, a combination of lack of primary materials and philo-Communism among Western historians meant very few objective books were published.  Since 1991, though, the balance has shifted, even if plenty of Communist-loving propaganda is still published by major historians, because the global Left has always, and continues to, fully support the goals and methods of Communism.  They mostly just keep it a bit more quiet in public than they used to.

Before Church and State: A Study of Social Order in the Sacramental Kingdom of St. Louis IX (Andrew Willard Jones)

Like Diogenes searching for an honest man, I spend my days searching for a useful political program.  Necessarily rejecting all Left philosophies as anti-human and anti-reality, I go searching through the thickets on the Right, where of late various new approaches have arisen, to accompany various old ones that are getting fresh attention.  They do not get much older than the one espoused in this book, Catholic integralism—versions of the idea, in essence, that church and state should be cooperative joint actors in pursuit of a flourishing society, rather than separate spheres of action.  There is a lot to be said for this approach, but as always, its modern proponents spend too much time talking about the past, and too little on how elements of this approach could be used to build the future. Before Church and State is a very detailed examination of the relationship of church and state in the kingdom of Saint Louis IX (r. 1226–1270).  The focus is not so much on the king, although he appears often in the vehicle …

Three New Deals: Reflections on Roosevelt’s America, Mussolini’s Italy, and Hitler’s Germany, 1933-1939 (Wolfgang Schivelbusch)

This book, a brief work of cultural history, outlines four parallel aspects of three political systems: the American New Deal, Italian Fascism, and German Nazism.  The point of Three New Deals is that these political systems shared core similarities in certain programmatic manifestations.  The author, Wolfgang Schivelbusch, fortunately does not claim that the three systems were essentially the same.  He offers, instead, a discussion of the interplay between the governed and the governors in each of these systems—how each shaped the other, in ways that can be compared and contrasted across systems.  The result is a book of modest interest from which, perhaps, something more can be spun.

Gun Control in Nazi Occupied-France: Tyranny and Resistance (Stephen P. Halbrook)

This is an academic monograph, rather than a work of propaganda or political inspiration. Those looking for a rabble-rousing polemic in the style of today’s mass-popular conservative authors, or of a Wayne LaPierre speech, will be disappointed.  What the reader gets instead is far more valuable:  an understanding of modern history as it relates to gun control, and illumination of how gun seizures may work in practice if our own government turns criminal.

The Enemy: An Intellectual Portrait of Carl Schmitt (Gopal Balakrishnan)

Carl Schmitt, preeminent antiliberal, is that rare thing, the modern political philosopher relevant long after his time.  The simple remember him only for his grasping embrace of Nazism, but the more astute, especially on the Left, have in recent times found much to ponder in Schmitt’s protean writings.  He did not offer ideology, as did so many forgotten political philosophers, but instead clear analysis of power relations, untied to any specific system or regime.  So, as the neoliberal new world order collapses, and the old dragons of man, lulled for decades by the false promises of liberal democracy, rise from slumber, such matters are become relevant once more, and Schmitt informs our times, echoing, as they do, his times.

Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland (Christopher R. Browning)

It seems to me that we in the West are like men in a cavern, out of which lead many paths, none signposted.  Some paths lead to bright futures, but other paths lead to terrible ones, among them those where, once again as we did not so very long ago, we slaughter each other over ideology.  And the way back is closed, so we must choose one path forward.  The service of this book is that it illustrates Solzhenitsyn’s dictum, that the line between good and evil runs through every human heart.  Thus, reflecting upon this book may help us choose the correct exit from the cavern, and to that end, it is worth bearing the unease that comes over us when we read books like this. This book, a staple of Holocaust studies for twenty-five years, has recently risen to fresh prominence due to repeated mentions of it by Canadian psychologist, and superstar, Jordan Peterson.  His focus on the book arises from his own decades-long study of evil regimes, and his thought on how …

The White King: Charles I, Traitor, Murderer, Martyr (Leanda de Lisle)

As with Nicholas II, the last ruling Romanov, how we view Charles I is largely set by how his days ended.  And as with Nicholas, we have been further conditioned by generations of propaganda pumped out by the winners and their ideological allies, claiming that it was Charles’s own bad philosophy, coupled with incompetence, rather than mostly bad luck and choices only wrong in retrospect, that led to his death.  Leanda de Lisle’s The White King rejects the fake news and offers an even-handed view.

The Forest Passage (Ernst Jünger)

Ernst Jünger was one of the more fascinating men of the twentieth century.  Remembered in the English-speaking world primarily for his World War I memoir, The Storm of Steel, he was famous in Europe for a range of right-leaning thought spanning nearly eighty years (he lived from 1896 to 1998).  His output was prodigious, more than fifty books along with voluminous correspondence, and not meant or useful as a seamless ideology, although certain themes apparently recur.  This book, The Forest Passage, was published in 1951, and is a compelling examination of how life should be conducted under modern ideological tyranny.