Harvard Classics, Volume 7: Augustine & Kempis

I promised when I finished Gibbon’s Decline & Fall of the Roman Empire, that I’d be dedicating more time to working on the Harvard Classics. However, when faced with this volume, I decided that I needed to read the Gospels before undertaking two very important works of Christianity. I would have preferred to have read the whole New Testament, and I will with time, but I needed a better base to interact with these works. Much of these texts is lost on a reader who doesn’t have some appreciation for the Gospels and Scripture as a whole. As I had never deliberately read the whole of any of the Gospels, I was well served having the necessary context to understand these works and catch most of the allusions they made to scripture.

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19th Century Liberal Nationalism, an Antecedent to Trumpism?

I’m a big fan of Mike Duncan’s podcast “Revolutions”. The first revolution it covered were the English Civil War, which would make Moldbug happy. The podcast has also covered colonial revolutions in the Thirteen Colonies, Haiti & South America as well as the French Revolution. Recently, the podcast has covered the revolutions, both failed and successful that took place after the Bourbon Restoration and before the spring of 1848, when attempted revolutions took place across Europe.

Between 1830-1850, there were attempted or successful revolutions by liberal nationalists in every European nation except Russia. Even the Canadians got in on the action.

While it is hard to pin down so many disparate groups over such a wide span of space, it was clear that these groups shared some basic ideals in common.

First, was national self-determination. These movement’s large sought to bring the borders of the state and the borders of the nation into harmony. This meant rejecting the multinational imperialism of the Austrian Empire by Italians, Hungarian, Germans and an assortment of Slavic groups as well as the Greeks towards the Ottoman Empire. This also meant agitation for the German and Italian peoples to unify into a single state.

In addition, these movements were not purely nationalistic, they were usually pushing for Western European​ liberalism in the form of constitutions, and guaranteed rights like freedom of the press and freedom of speech.

Lastly, these movements largely sought to curb the privileges of the aristocracy and the church. 

These issues are echoed in the reasons why people supported Donald Trump for president. National pride is an obvious theme of the campaign and among his supporters. So is an end to political correctness, which is, in essence, a means by which the elite caste controls the bounds of acceptable discourse and intellectual interrogation of ideas.

The last notion is an issue that is not so obvious. However, to the modern American, draining the swamp is a desirable outcome for the same reasons that ending the ancien régime was desired across Europe. Like the Continental Aristocracy, the swamp dwellers have grown comfortable in power, abandoning the provinces for the capital and court life. They put up massive debts while sneering at the people they  rule cannot understand why they are so hated.

This is an interesting parallel between current events and fairly recent history. The consequences remain to be seen, but I think much of the structure of these revolutions serve as a model for political organization for the resurgent right against the bifactional conservative & neoliberal ruling class. Most of these revolutions sought for peaceful reform of the system, not wholesale replacement, and in my opinion, that’s the right choice.

The Body Slam Heard Round The World

Last night, on the eve of a special election, Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs reported that he had been bodyslammed by Montana Congressional candidate Greg Gianforte. The Gianforte campaign said they grappled and fell down, another news report said Gianforte punched Jacobs repeatedly while he was on the ground. Gianforte was cited for misdemeanor assault.

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Social Media Censorship is Twenty-First Century Book Burning

On various social media sites, except Gab, suppression of right wing thinking and commentary is rampant at every term. Whether it is in the form biased moderation removing posts & punishing users, the manipulation of trending topics by a staff of curators, or by filtering your feed for “quality”, social media outlets use their power to influence the thoughts and opinions of the public using their websites. The reasons behind this are the same reasons books have been burned throughout the centuries.

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Yet Another Terrorist Attack

Another week, another mass casualty event in Europe perpetuated by a Mohammedan. There was a time when this sort of thing never happened. There was a time when it happened once in a lifetime.  There was a time when it happened once every few years. Accelerating and accelerating it seems that these types of attacks are now happening every few weeks. Europe is enjoying its own initfada.

The elite’s only response to this is, as usual, to tighten the police state. More security at more events, more police in combat gear patrolling the streets, more inconvenience for native populations. Being subject to a cavity search to board an airplane is, after all, a small price to pay for diversity, which I am reliably informed is our greatest strength.

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How To Learn Things For Free On The Internet

The great promise of the internet was the wealth of human knowledge immediately available to anyone with a connection. This promise has been kept. However, most people don’t take advantage of it. Constantly seeking ways to improve yourself is a requirement for an active individual. Keeping pace requires keeping up with new technology and new areas of study. Getting ahead demands a person teach themselves additional skills to find and explore new niches.

With that in mind, here are some of the tools I’ve used to learn through the internet:

Duolingo – Learn languages through a smartphone game. There are a wide range of modern languages. It focuses on gaining conversational level proficiency. I’ve been working on my French, and I’m hoping to get back to a level where I could take a try at Houellebecq.

Coursera – When it comes to learning college level material, Coursera is a great tool. It offers courses and specializations with video lectures for free, but includes a paid option with credit.

W3Schools – A good reference and tutorial for simple website building and scripting. Here you’ll find HTML, CSS, Bootstrap sections along with more complex tools like JavaScript and XML. If you’re looking to put together a basic website or tweak a website template, these are good tutorials to make you savvy enough to do what you want to do.

Old BooKs

The tools I use to find old books get their own heading. That’s because finding old works is often a tough exercise. The most difficult thing is learning to identify what old books you want to read. This could take the form of a reading list, such as the Harvard Classics, or this old Army field manual. When you’re working off of an outdated list, you have to find the works yourself. These are the sites I use, and how I use them.

Project Gutenburg – This is the first place I go to look up an old book. While it doesn’t always have what I’m looking for, what it does have is consistently well formatted and easy to use.

Wikisource – My main source for shorter writings as well as sources in non-English languages. The collection is more focused on short documents, so I tend to only visit here if there’s something short I have in mind.

Archive.org – This site attempts to included everything that exists in the public domain. In terms of public domain books, there’s no other site which will have what you want more often than this one.

Google Books – When there’s a book I’m interested in that’s still in copyright, Google Books is very useful.  Take for example Storing’s Complete Anti-Federalist. That book was published in the 1980’s, so I would have had to find it in a library to read it easily. However, Google Books had enough of the book, freely available, to largely reconstruct the sources the book made use of.


Trump in Saudi Arabia

This weekend President Trump visited Saudi Arabia, where he closed a huge arms deal and gave a speech on Islam. Many of his diehard supporters are feeling disappointed with this. I’m a bit more tepid about the situation.

The arms deal will give America lots of money, but a good number of those arms will probably end up in the hands of terrorists. That’s not a good thing. The deal does drain Saudi coffers and trade their gains from selling oil into weapons. This makes Saudi Arabia even stronger on the stage in the Middle East.

At the center of this discussion is what America’s stance on Saudi Arabia ought to be. The past 20 years have show the US to be very cozy with the Saudi regime. Consistency in foreign policy is important, and this arms deal continues the existing relationship between the US and the Saudis. Also, Saudi Arabia runs a stable country in a region that is notoriously difficult to control. Gibbon describes the Arabs as unruly nomads who ran over much of the world and ruled over it, while the people who stayed behind were ultimately still unruly and tribal. Stability is a good thing.

On the other hand, the Saudi government is the biggest sponsor of a hypercharged Islamism that is in stark contrast to the type of Islam pushed by Ottoman and Persian governments for centuries. This Islam is arguably closer to the original strain of the religion that lead to massive conquests. Fifteen of the nineteen hijackers on 9/11 were Saudi after all.

There’s a pull between the consistency & stability on the one hand versus standing firmly against Islamic extremism on the other. It seems we’ll be on the side of consistency & stability. At least we got $100 billion out of it.

Trump also gave a speech on Islam, which, given the lack of reaction, seems like it was mouthing the same types of platitudes we’ve come to expect from American presidents. All and all it looks like Trump will be keeping things the same on the foreign policy front, rather than changing them.

Discussion of Decline & Fall of the Roman Empire

About four years ago, I decided that I should read Edward Gibbon’s History of the Decline & Fall of the Roman Empire. Over a weekend I read through the first of six volumes in my set, covering the Age of the Antonines until the accession of Constantine the Great. After a long hiatus, I finally committed to finishing the series, which covers the reign of Constantine the Great, all the way down to Constantine the Eleventh, a period spanning more than a millennium. Today, I finished the series.

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