As I and my family continue our inevitable pivot toward Orthodoxy, I have been reading more works on, you guessed it, Orthodoxy. This book, by the English theologian Timothy Ware, who as a bishop uses the baptismal name Kallistos, is a classic introduction to Orthodoxy. It was first published in 1963 but has more recently been revised, so it is fully up to date on history—and doctrine has not changed in Orthodoxy since 1963, or 963, for that matter. I’ve actually owned the book for several years, but have only now read it, having been told by several people that it is very much worth reading. And they were right—it is an excellent book.
I think Robert Louis Wilken is fantastic, but this is the weakest book of his that I have read. It is not that it is bad, or wrong, or stupid, in any way. It is that it falls into the genre I call “capsule history,” where many short chapters cover different happenings, and only a loose framework connects the chapters. The result is that a reader can learn something, or can even learn quite a bit, but the experience is too much like reading an encyclopedia. On the other hand, the book does consistently excel in one thing—communicating the loss suffered when Islam dominated or exterminated Christianity in its lands of first flourishing, from northern Africa to Mesopotamia. And if you’re looking for a factual overview of the first thousand years of Christianity, you’ll certainly get it here.
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or even attempts to justify, the echo of Burke in its title), its problem is that nearly everything it contains is outdated.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.
Americans have always liked fighting stories: autobiographical and third person, fictional and non-fictional. From dime novels about outlaws and Indians to, more recently, war movies, Americans have vicariously enjoyed American combat, and American successes in combat. There are even meta fighting stories: an organizing frame of Clint Eastwood’s movie Unforgiven is a biographer trailing Eastwood’s character to write a dime novel. As far as the recent Afghanistan and Iraq wars, early movies (i.e., under Bush) were mostly high-profile flops attacking America (Rendition; Lions for Lambs). Later movies (i.e., under Obama, where it was no longer regarded as necessary by those controlling the film industry to attack Bush rather than make profits) included some such, but moved toward depicting American heroism (Lone Survivor; American Sniper). Not incidentally, those two latter movies were based on autobiographical books, rather than the fever dreams of Hollywood leftists, and this book, Clinton Romesha’s Red Platoon, falls squarely into that genre.
I oppose the theory and practice of Euro-multiculturalism as both stupid and suicidal. Thus, when I read Pankaj Mishra’s recent review of Rita Chin’s book in The New York Times, it struck me that, in order to be fair, I should read it. All work and no play makes Jack a dull and narrow boy, after all. I was not a fan of the most recent pro-multicultural book I read, James Kirchick’s The End of Europe, but I figured that maybe the second time would be a charm. It was not, but this book was interesting, and not dreadful, which is really all one can ask of any pro-multicultural book, since it necessarily has to fight an uphill battle against facts and reason.
This book is ferociously erudite, but tinged with obsession. True, nearly all modern academic and popular mention of Muslim Spain endorses an easily disproved falsehood—that Muslim Spain was a golden land of tolerance, offering unique scientific and cultural advancement. So I suppose that the opposite falsehood, that Muslim Spain was a nasty land of unbroken intolerance where nothing was accomplished, in a sense merely balances the scales. But a reader of The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise still feels like he’s once again only getting part of the picture, and getting berated into the bargain, rather than getting what most readers really want, which is an analysis that is as objective as possible.
Mass immigration to Europe is one of those topics about which there is little mainstream discussion, both in the United States and even more so (paradoxically) in Europe. What discussion does happen is purely facile, on the “pro” side, or often lacking nuance, on the “anti” side. Douglas Murray’s book, The Strange Death of Europe, sets out to remedy both faults. The book is good, if a bit meandering; it offers historical and political analysis, along with relevant philosophical thoughts. The difficulty, though, as Murray hints himself, is that properly viewed, the topic does not rate an analysis so much as a dirge. To the extent there is a problem, it has no real solution, and in any case the problem only exists as a second-order problem, made possible by the pre-existing exhaustion of Europe, most obvious in its childlessness. If Europe was not exhausted, this book would not exist. Nonetheless, by offering clarity of thought about how Europe got to its current position, The Strange Death of Europe performs a valuable service.
Everyone knows about the French Foreign Legion. Mostly, though, our knowledge ranges from impressionistic to false, derived largely from movies and with an overlay of the kneejerk odium that attends colonialism. At The Edge of the World: The Heroic Century of the French Foreign Legion corrects that lack of knowledge—it gives an excellent overview, both factually and, as it were, spiritually, of the Legion in its heyday, along with some oblique perspectives on the positive and negative aspects of colonialism.
I have read David Goldman for a long time, under his alter ego, Spengler, a columnist for the Asia Times. His columns are invariably excellent—pithy, insightful, and a pleasure to read. But the talent set required to be a columnist is very different than that required of a book author. Many columnists are unable to write a book that is other than either a set of compiled columns or a padded out column. The late Joseph Sobran, who wrote for National Review when it was more than a forum for third-rate neoconservatives angling for jobs under Republican politicians, was one such. David Goldman is another, and it shows in the many defects of this 2011 book, How Civilizations Die.
When I think about Albania, which is not often, I usually think about Communist dictator Enver Hoxha and the hundreds of thousands of reinforced concrete pillboxes he scattered around Albania, preparing for the imminent assault of the imperialists. Other than that, if I’m in a historical mood, I think about Skanderbeg, the Sixteenth Century freedom fighter against the conquering Ottomans. If I’m thinking about the modern era, maybe I think about Mother Teresa, or on a less exalted level, Jim Belushi. I don’t, or didn’t, think about Venice, or Lepanto, or Jesuits, or any of the very interesting, and even exciting, places, people, and happenings Noel Malcolm covers. This book, however, has changed my perspective.