Netheral and Superversive Science Fiction

Unlike most of the book reviews I do here, which function mainly as a consumer guide, I’m going to take a look at Netheral, by Brian Niemeier from a cultural and literary perspective in as neutral of a voice as I can muster. Its function on these levels as at least as important as the entertainment value it provides and given the critical success of the novel and its follow-up works a deeper look into the novel is warranted.

I should note there have been three novels published to date in this series, and I have only read the first. Its part in the larger narrative the author is constructing remains a point for future discussion.

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US Military Officer’s Reading List Circa 1941

On February 15, 2016, a friendly twitter gnome  posted a set of recommended reading for military officers at various stages of their career. This list comes from the 4th edition of “The Officer’s Guide: A Ready Reference of Customs and Correct Procedures Followed Within the Army Which Pertain to Commissioned Officers”, published in 1941.  I didn’t want this great list and opportunity to pass by with the forgetfulness that normally accompanies tweets, so I made this post. This is a great opportunity for those of us who like to read old books, as it is nicely curated by people who can generally be trusted to steer the student in the correct direction.

Reading old books is an important thing to do as it enables us to strip away the conceits and influences on modern culture and look at how people from a different era viewed the world, including their own history. This helps to form a better understanding of not just of their era, but our shared past and culture.

I looked into finding the text itself, but I have been unable to find a copy of this particular edition or ones close to it available publicly online. Google Books has editions from throughout and after the war digitized that allows for the searching of phrases to find similar book lists to this one. However, this reading list seems the most complete and the only one readily available to me.

Given that the reading list was compiled before Pearl Harbor and the US entry into World War Two it represents the works deemed most useful to officers who were about to embark on the monumental task of winning a two front war against world powers. Considering the time it is from, it looks to provide a list of books which cover American history, world history and military history without the negative influence of modern historical scholarship. The works appear to be of the highest detail, scholarship and relevance. This extensive list is designed to be read over two decades over the officer’s career.

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Anti-Federalists Part 6: Brutus

Brutus is possibly the most famous of the anti-Federalist writers in modern times. While his arguments are not as thorough as the Federal Farmer, nor as impassioned as Centinel, nor did he stand the test of time as well as Cato, he is first in eloquence and quotability. He also delivers on all of qualities mentioned above at a more than satisfactory level, and so he is considered the single best Anti-Federalist author.

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Anti-Federalists Part 5: Federal Farmer

The eighteen essays of the Federal Farmer are some of the most important of the Anti-Federalist works. While he is a proponent of federalism in concept, and agrees that the Articles of Confederation were insufficient for dealing with the issues that needed to be considered at the federal level, he has major objections to the formulation of the Constitution. He felt that power concentrates in capital cities, and therefore many capitals was the appropriate course. These essays were historically considered to be written by the last president under the Articles of Confederation, Richard Henry Lee. Modern scholarship identifies New York delegate Melancton Smith as the most likely author. His outlook on the purpose of government is well defined in the following quote:

Liberty, in its genuine sense, is security to enjoy the effects of our honest industry and labours, in a free and mild government, and personal security from all illegal restraints.”

The Federal Farmer’s overriding concern is in maintaining a proper balance of powers. He identifies that there is not just the problem of separating executive, legislative and judicial power, there is also a problem of separating state from federal power. Ensuring that this structure prevails is his major task. He feels that failure to lead the US to become a set of independent republics or a nation where states are meaningless administrative districts. His purpose is to ensure the notion of a federal republic is maintained. The specific issues the Federal Farmer takes with the Constitution are “too much power, undefined power and unsecured power”

The author adopts a conservative tone, believing that successful people in the current regime ought to be listened to most of all, while people hoping to gain power in the new system ought to be ignored. His main critique stems from the risk of the federal government becoming the only government that matters. He believes the current system will also tend towards de facto aristocracy over time due to ambitious, impatient and disorderly men.

Like previous authors, The Federal Farmer notes that it was somewhat duplicitous for the convention to be held on amendments to the Articles of Confederation only to be turned into a convention for a whole new government.

The Federal Farmer notes that preserving the union is a difficult task, and that the various states already have very different ideas on the proper role of government and their laws. He also notes the socio-economic differences, concentrated wealth in the South, getting more equal the further north you go and he separates the states into three distinct groups. Another example presented of how people are divided is that merchants prefer property taxes and farmers prefer tariffs

A point that the Federal Farmer comes back to over and over is that the character of the people involved in government are ultimately what decides how good it is.

“…as long as the people are free they will preserve free governments; and that when they shall become tired of freedom, arbitrary government must take place.”

A major objection of the Federal Farmer is the nature of Congressional representation. When the Constitution was written, Congress was a body which at the time had one member for every 50,000 citizens. Today it is one representative per 710,000, so many of his criticisms ring much more clearly. He felt that when 50,000 people chose a single representative, it would naturally be limited to current politicians, lawyers, and former military officers, as these people would consistently rise to the top. The Federal Farmer thought it was important that the House of Representatives, “The People’s House” ought to have members which reflected the nature of the people. He also makes an interesting note that the general population of each state is fundamentally more different than the elites they would elect, echoing modern criticisms of cosmopolitan elites.

While the Federal Farmer goes so far as to propose an alternative government based around state constitutions, eventually it became obvious the Constitution would be adopted and so the tone of the essays switches to making improvements to the new system.

After examining the Roman and British systems of government and reiterating his belief in the need for a Bill of Rights, the Federal Farmer lists specific concerns with the new constitution.

The potential for a standing army frightened the Federal Farmer like it did many Founding Fathers. A standing army limits the potential for the people to rebel against a tyrant.

The Senate earns the worst of the Federal Farmer’s scorn. It has powers that fall under both the executive (treaties, approving appointments) and the legislative branches of government. The Senate is too small to make a good legislature, but is too big to be helpful as the president’s advisors. The Federal Farmer also thinks it is odd that the state legislatures appoint Senators to six year turns instead of being serving at their pleasure.

As far as the House of Representatives, the Federal Farmer worries about the number of people each representative is representing. While the plan was already for the number of representatives to grow dramatically with America, he still opposed the 50,000 to 1 ratio. He is worried that without specific rules for choosing representatives, gerrymandering or worse would result. The Federal Farmer also dislikes that the House has both the power to tax and wage war, and that these powers should be held by separate entities.

When it comes to the executive branch, the Federal Farmer has some objections to the structure of Presidential power, but his other objection is more interesting. The Federal Farmer believes that there should be a formal advisory council to the President, described in the Constitution that was distinct from the heads of the departments and would take on many of the Senate’s roles.

When it comes to the judicial branch, two criticisms stood out. The first is that the Federal Farmer thought there should be several Supreme Courts, each with limited jurisdiction. He also repeatedly stated that only juries should judge facts and judges should only judge law. The Federal Farmer felt like the Supreme Court had too much ability to dictate policy and that a Judge’s decision was much easier to make than it was to overturn.

In his final essays, the Federal Farmer goes back to discussing things in the more philosophical realm. He considers the issue of building and maintaining a national culture of liberty, which yields no great answers for today. The Federal Farmer also goes into detail about the powers a federal government ought to have, and specifically, that federal laws should only apply to states, never to the people. The federal government is supposed to be for the benefit for the states, and therefore needs no larger jurisdiction.

Put together, the Federal Farmer lays out the most comphrensive Anti-Federalist work so far. At 180 pages of text, it represents a big push on my part to read through. Next time, I’ll be back to cover the last of the major Anti-Federalist essayists, Brutus.

Anti-Federalists Part 4: The Letters of Centinel

I posted a version of this post the other day and I decided I didn’t like splitting Centinel up into multiple parts, and thought he should be discussed all at once. I found myself trying to write a post and read Centinel simultaneously, and it just didn’t go well, so I’m going to do a complete post on Centinel and pretend like the last one never happened. I won’t delete it, because I don’t think that erasing one’s published work is a good idea.

The letters of Centinel are a series of 18 essay published in Philadelphia newspapers by Samuel Bryan. Unlike other founding fathers, Bryan’s mark on history is exclusively tied to his pseudonymous persona, which he rigorously defends against attempts to discern his true identity. From his final essay:

Great pains have been taken to discover the author of these papers, with a view, no doubt, to villify his private character, and thereby lessen the usefulness of his writings, and many suppose they have made the discovery, but in this they are mistaken. The Centinel submits his performance to the public judgement, and challenges fair argumentation; the information he has given from time to time, has stood the test of the severest scrutiny, and thus his reputation as a writer, is established beyond the injury of his enemies. If it were in the least material to the argument, or answered any one good purpose, he would not hesitate a moment in using his own signature; as it would not, but on the contrary, point where the shafts of malice could be levelled with most effect, and thus divert the public attention from the proper object, to a personal altercation, he from the first determined that the prying eye of party or curiosity, should never be gratified with his real name, and to that end to be the sole depository of the secret.

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Harvard Classics, Volume 4: The Poetry of John Milton

After the fiasco of the last Harvard Classics volume where my Kindle edition of the classics did not have all of the texts, I was rushing through to get myself to this fourth volume. This volume was certainly the most difficult and rewarding so far, as it contained what many consider to be the greatest work ever written in the English language, Paradise Lost.

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Anti-Federalists Part 4: Letters of Centinel I – VI

The letters of Centinel, at least the ones pertaining to the adoption of the Constitution, are a collection of 18 essays by Samuel Bryan, who, unlike many of the other pseudonymous authors, isn’t of any particular importance except as the author of these essays. These essays were addressed to the citizens of Pennsylvania.

The first letter opens with a discussion of the Pennsylvania constitution. In light of the current age, I believe it is important to emphasize that like John Milton, Centinel treats the phrases “free press” and “freely publishing your thoughts” as synonymous, as opposed to the modern definition. Also Centinel uses the phrase “so great a disparity in the talent, wisdom and industry of mankind”, which should indicate that he held the correct view of human equality that most Americans in public life would be afraid to say.

Centinel’s main point in his first essay seems to be that a free republic requires that it be filled of men of virtue and relatively equal status. If this can be obtained, a small government with frequent elections and term limits on representatives is all that is required for good governance.

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Harvard Classics, Volume 3: Essays by Milton

Volume 3 of the Harvard Classics was short and narrowly focused. It contained the text of a pamphlet written by John Milton on free press and a letter he wrote on education. [Edit: 12/22/2016, the edition I had ommitted 2/3 of the volume. Works by Francis Bacon and Thomas Browne were included as well. I’ve added an update at the end.]

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Harvard Classics, Volume 2: Ancient Philosophy

At times a work like the Harvard Classics seems incredibly expansive, but when I realized that Ancient Philosophy had been distilled to a single volume, I realized how much of a surface treatment this truly is.

This volume of the Harvard Classics contains works from three philosophers: Plato, Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius. This gives excellent coverage to Stoicism, but doesn’t delve deeply into anything else. The works of Plato that are included, Apology, Crito and Phaedo do not delve very deeply into Plato’s philosophy. Continue reading “Harvard Classics, Volume 2: Ancient Philosophy”