It’s Lent, so let’s spend a little time away from politics. The Holy Fire, first published in 1957, when Eastern Orthodoxy had zero presence in the religious consciousness of most of America, is a beautifully-written popular history of ten towering eastern Fathers of the Church. Popular history in 1957 is not comparable to popular history in 2023, however, so this book reads like what might be an advanced college text today, if colleges studied anything worthwhile. Regardless, Payne’s book is an outstanding introduction to Orthodoxy in historical context, which is, no doubt, why St. Vladimir’s Press republished it.
Let’s talk about the Jews. No, not about how the Jews supposedly run the world (although there is some truth buried in that claim, to which we will return). I mean about the actual Jews, the past and present people who have been, arguably, more central to the story of mankind than any other people. This book, Guy MacLean Roger’s For the Freedom of Zion, exhaustively narrates the First Jewish-Roman War, A.D. 66–74, in which the Romans defeated a Jewish revolt, and during which the Romans destroyed the Second Temple. From it we can take both fascinating history and useful thoughts for today.
In 1952, Ralph Ellison published, to great acclaim, his first and only novel, Invisible Man. The book narrated how Ellison’s protagonist, a black man, suffered social oppression. But that was long ago, and one thing black people definitely don’t suffer anymore is oppression. Rather, many dish it out, aided by their allies of other races, as seen most dramatically in the terroristic Floyd Riots, but it happens every day in every organization in America. The targets are, most of all, those at the bottom of today’s social hierarchy—heterosexual (that is, normal) white men outside the professional-managerial elite. And Samuel Finlay’s Breakfast with the Dirt Cult is, one might say, the new Invisible Man.
It has been a long time, a millennium and a half, since Ethiopia was a relevant player on the world stage. But I sometimes wonder if, as the present age grinds to its stupid end, the time of Ethiopia, with its ancient, self-confident Christian civilization, has come round again. Out of the corner of my mind’s eye, I see the Ethiopians sweeping northwards to dominate the Middle East, then replacing much of what is left of the decayed Europeans, perhaps linking up with their Orthodox brethren, expelling the Turks, and returning most of Eurasia to the Christian fold, igniting a new syncretic civilization. Probably not, but why not? That’s what we’re going to explore today.
For twenty years, our rulers have propagandized us with two contradictory claims. First, that the West is locked in an existential conflict with Islam, justifying any spending, any killing, and any erasure of our ancient liberties. And second, that no Muslim, as a Muslim, is any threat to anybody whatsoever. Resolving the contradiction is not hard, but why bother, because what American cares about global Islam now? As the American empire collapses inward and America’s divisions are elucidated ever more clearly, our internal conflicts have superseded any conflict with Islam. Still, maybe conflict will return when the West is reborn, or replaced, and as always we can learn a lot from studying the past that may yet be useful in the future.
Americans do not understand Australia. At all. If Australia is brought up, they think of a few movie and television stars. They think of a vast red desert, perhaps, with a big rock, what’s-its-name (Ayers Rock), sticking up against a bright blue sky. They think Australians eat kangaroos (they don’t; they’re vermin). Most of all, they have a vague idea that Australians are a lot like Americans, only more informal, and more rugged and self-reliant. They once were, true, and a few still are. But the Australians are in many ways more ruined than Americans today (though we are accelerating to see if we can pass them). The 2014 book Dark Emu, or rather the insane racial-religious grift of which it is a small part, is one example.
This book appears, to the casual reader, to be propaganda designed to persuade a Great Power, the United States, to aid the Kurdish fight for independence. Like all good wartime propaganda, it grabs the reader’s attention and tugs at his heartstrings. But it’s double propaganda, cleverly done, because beneath the top layer of propaganda is another, artfully concealed. The goal of that second layer is to sell to Americans the Kurdish People’s Party (PKK), a crypto-Maoist combination of political party and war machine. And it’s the PKK, and more broadly the politics surrounding so-called Kurdistan, that I want to explore today.
Without specific intention, I seem to have turned into a Roger Crowley fanboy, as shown by that I have now read every one of his books. Crowley is a British maritime historian, all of whose books are tied to the Mediterranean in the pre-modern portion of the second millennium, many centering around the interaction of Christianity and Islam. Conquerors is somewhat of a departure—still a maritime history, even more so than most of his books, but focused not on the Mediterranean, instead on the nearly unbelievable accomplishments of the Portuguese in the Atlantic and Indian Oceans between 1490 and 1520. Crowley makes the colorful, dramatic, and heroic deeds of the Portuguese leap off the page.
When we think of Late Antiquity, we usually think of Rome, either its decline in the West or its continuation in the East. When we are feeling particularly adventurous, we may think of the Sassanid Persians, or ponder the stirrings of the Franks in the dark forests of Gaul. We usually don’t think of the farther reaches of the Red Sea—Ethiopia, the Horn of Africa, and what are today the oil- and blood-soaked sands of Saudi Arabia and Yemen. But in the several centuries after Christ, all these were very much part of the known world, if somewhat peripheral. The Throne of Adulis reconstructs, from fragmentary evidence, those centuries, through the prism of wars conducted across the Red Sea.
For Americans who think that so-called liberal democracy is neither, and in any case is a dead end, successful modern societies with a different political model always intrigue. In the West, notable such are Hungary and Poland, who have effectively executed a mild and tentative turn away from the most extreme vices of liberal democracy, though there is a long way to go. Singapore, which has apparently successfully blended economic success, certain virtues, and limited democracy, offers another possible model, one with a longer track record. Unfortunately, Singapore’s example is of very limited use to a future well-run America, and this book of the thoughts of Lee Kuan Yew, who built modern Singapore, helps show why.