The ninth volume of the Harvard Classics moved from Ancient Greece to Rome. This volume was divided between two major political figures, separated by a century, and some of their copious surviving writings.
Recently I finished Volume 8 of the Harvard Classics, which was nine ancient Greek dramas. Ancient Greek drama flourished over the course of two generations at the height of Classical Athens. It is really more appropriate to call it Athenian drama rather than Greek drama, as the most important playwrights all hailed from and performed in the great city.
Carl Von Clausewitz’s On War is widely considered the peak of books on military theory. That is certainly my take away after reading series of books that make up On War. Clausewitz is pre-eminently qualified to write a book like this. At the age of 12 he joined the war against Revolutionary France. His young adult life was spent in service in the Prussian army, and was one of the minds behind rebuilding the army in the wake of its dissolution by Napoleon. Thereafter, at the age of 30, he entered the service of the Russian army as Prussia, a subject of France at that time, was a part of the invading force. During the Waterloo campaign, Clausewitz served as chief of staff to the Prussian Third Corps. After the Napoleonic wars, he served as head of the Prussian War College.
However, Clausewitz died an untimely death due to cholera, and left behind an uncompleted work. Much of On War is made up of lists, summaries and outlines of the work that was to follow. The work that was clearly well-polished, like the book on Defense, stands out above the rest in its quality.
Clausewitz’s mode of philosophy struck me as very inspired by contemporary trends in German philosophy. His book seeks an idealistic representation of war, describing it in its most abstract forms, and building from that starting point. This makes the book feel well organized and structured. One of the things Clausewitz lacked was the mathematical theory to describe some of the ideas he had on probability. He clearly is trying to make points about the Bayeseian nature of the various factors of war. Each factor influences probabilities, but nothing forms any certainties.
Clausewitz often finds himself pre-empting critics who will look to his general principles for understanding war and look for exceptions to try and prove him wrong. This is generally known as the “Not all X are like that” argument, which is supposed to contradict generalizations. As Clausewitz repeatedly points out, if you cannot make imperfect generalizations about the world, it is impossible to interpret it in any useful way. Just because one in ten times something doesn’t match a pattern doesn’t mean that one should ignore the fact that nine out of ten times it does match that pattern.
While Clausewitz is a brilliant writer who has many fine things to share, I think reading the book isn’t something people should undertake lightly or is particularly necessary to a well-rounded education. Clausewitz’s examples are almost always drawn from the Napoleonic Wars or the campaigns of Fredrick The Great. These are the sorts of things that I’m sure aspiring Prussian generals were quite familiar with, but to even a history buff like myself, I found myself constantly reference Infogalactic to read about the battles he draws his examples from.
Ultimately, I’m glad I read Clausewitz, and I fully understand why he is so revered, but unless you’re a serious military historian, theorist or aspiring combat leader, this is a work you could let pass.
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.
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.
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.
I am loathe to write about the events transpiring around a widely circulated photoshoot Kathy Griffin did with a prop of the disembodied head of President Trump. This story is the conflagration of everything wrong with modernity and American politics.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.