Wednesday, September 19, 2007

What I've been doing at Europe Endless #2

Nigh is the time to switch your bookmarks.

MA is the New BA
I think I’ve complained about this trend before. MA programs are used to cull prospective students, without giving them resources to do serious research–without giving them a taste of what a real doctoral program is like–just rushing them out and collecting their cash. Students who take that additional one year to add an MA to cap their undergraduate career are being short-changed, especially since they’ll have to do it all over when they start a PhD program.

Where are the Historians of Popular Political Discourse?
Ben Johnson sent this down the pipe at H-Borderlands:

The Mexico-US border has been all over the news recently, what with the proposed border fence and US congressional debate over immigration. Yet H-Borderlands remains muy, muy tranquilo.

I’m wondering if we can jump-start a discussion so that those of us subscribed can take advantage of our collective wisdom. And contemporary debates actually prompt my question: what role could the “new” borderlands history play in informing contemporary debates in North America about borders and border enforcement? I see economists, political scientists, scholars of immigration, and sometimes legal experts interviewed extensively in recent news coverage, but can’t think of a single borderlands historian who’s been a talking head in major news coverage. What does that say about our field?

Good question, but it could also be generalized. Why have historians, as a group, remained silent? Why have generic arguments been made about the immigrant experience rather than zeroing in on the place of Latinos/Latinas (especially Cubans, Mexicans, and Puerto Ricans) *** in American history? Why are those specific groups boxed into the immigrant experience? And why has so little effort to put current immigration to the US, legal and illegal, in global context?

*** If Scots suddenly clamored to come to America, we’d hear some arguments about cultural compatibility or pre-adaptation. Yet these three communities, by their historical presence, offer a portal to the assimilation of groups coming from Latin America.

A Democratic Style, A German Style
Why did Germany rebuild its cities as it did, with such unrelenting modernism? This question keeps resurfacing as cities decide to replace buildings from the postwar era with those that reflect earlier historical eras. I’ve found this but of nostalgia problematic, failing to appreciate the lacuna caused by the Second World War. Hermann Glaser’s The Rubble Years: The Cultural Roots of Postwar Germany, 1945-1948 puts some of these issues into perspective, mining the brief moment immediately following the war.

In light of the devastation of the war, it was estimated that 6.5 million apartments were needed. “Rebuilding? Technologically, financially impossible, I tell you. What do I say? Psychologically impossible! However, it is possible to build simple rooms on the present foundations and out of salvageable debris . . . bright rooms in which a simple law, equal and understandable for all, is discussed and decided upon . . . no small print . . . no embellishment. Rise, up, lawyers and architects! Plan and design models, rooms of pure, simple clarity and power . . . rooms in which our children and grand- children can follow honorably and freely the universally accepted law!” This Passage Comes from Otto Bartning’s Ketzerische Gedanken am Rande der Trümmerhaufen (Heretical Thoughts at the Edge of the Rubble Heaps), which characterizes the mood of the survivors who experienced, after a total war, total defeat. The dominant mood was one of despair, pessimism, and resignation. In almost every city, however, people began to work on restoration plans based on more optimistic premises

The mood in postwar Germany was understandably dismal. People returned home to find literally nothing. The question of how to continue to live was inextricable linked to the question of where to live. Moreover, Germans were uncertain of their national future, having values shattered in a few years. Perhaps it is obvious that the new architectural style would reflect necessity and humility. Modernism seemed to answer the spiritual need to create distance with the past and repent for it.

In [Walter Gropius’s] lectures, he re-installed the idea of the ‘Bauhaus’ … .The socially conscious architecture, once expelled from Germany, was brought back to a bewildered Germany as a symbol of freedom and individuality by one its most prominent representatives. The modern architecture was supposed to represent and mirror the honesty, transparency, and openness of the young country. Its light, eager, liberal, and international style was completely focused on the Progress of technology and civilization, and expressed the social and utopian ideal of equal housing. It was opposed to provincialism, folkishness, monumentalism, and historism, especially since National Socialism favored these forms of architecture.

All cities took the opportunity to reform their urban plans, simplify streets and utilities, etc. The question to rebuild what had been destroyed or build anew was up in the air. Different cities took different tacts. But references to eras past would not necessarily succeed in expressing a new democratic age in Germany. On the one hand, democracy was not triumphant: it was prescriptive. On the other, the styles that normally represented democratic institutions–Hellenic and Roman–had already been exhausted by German historicism. Rather than democracy, the represented beauty and spirit, ideas that had lost credibility to a public that had mentally checked out. Gothic, which might have connected Germany to the past of urban republics, had been swept up by Romanticism. If remembering was painful, history provided no solace. If the past were a source of symbols, the war made them unavailable. Modern architecture was far from being insensitive to the needs of the people. It addressed those needs directly.

Would contemporary Germans recognize this wisdom in their postwar ancestors? The pursuit of unity seems to extend to history as well as geography and demography, seeking out a continuous history of the German people, if not nation. But as I have said before, modernism treats space as disposable, thus modernism is itself disposable.

What's Spanish for Chutzpah?
I tend to lose track of time. It’s a bad quality for an historian, but confronting the same boring file for hours speeds the passage of time even though one perceives it grinding to a halt. I had been picking away at the same document today (in between bouts of looking after my son) before I gave up, turned on the TV, and surrendered to the pablum of cable news.

Only I didn’t realize what time it was. Suddenly, the dreaded words, “Lou Dobbs Tonight,” appeared in the bottom corner of the screen. Yes, it was that hour when CNN imitates Radio Rwanda, only tonight the Grand Wizard surrendered his stool for his underling (according to the rumor mill, Dobbs wants to import remnants of the Berlin Wall to southern Texas).

As with any other night, another story about Mexico or Mexican immigrants was being broadcasted. This one carried the title, “Mexico’s Chutzpah.” Unfortunately, it carried the subtitle, “What’s Spanish for Chutzpah?” Some clever tech or intern must have thought that one up on the fly. Did they really mean to destroy the credibility of the news shows raison d’être? Did they know it is a loan word from Yiddish, assimilated by English?

Indeed, what is Spanish for chutzpah? Is Yiddish spoken on the streets of Mexico City or Monterrey? Surely a Spanish equivalent can be found ( atrevimiento?), but chutzpah carries with it an ethnic flavor and a certain demonstrative quality that Spanish words might not have. But perhaps there is some word, based on Hebrew’s contact with Spanish, some bit of Ladino slang that affected Spanish, surviving the expulsion.

Of course, asking the question reflects a certain insolence. Is not Chutzpah evidence how language survives and grows when in contact with immigrants and their culture? Does it not show reveal the success of Jewry in acculturating to American life over generations?

So, if we assume that chutzpah is Spanish for chutzpah, we would reference a successfully assimilated minority. If there is a Ladino-Spanish equivalent, we would reference a successfully assimilated minority that was converted by force, dispossessed of property, and expelled.

Perhaps we could say huevos. It’s already part of American slang.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

What I've been doing at Europe Endless

If you haven't switched over yet, do so now.

Autonomy in the Academy

The Brussels-based think tank, BRUEGEL, is rankling some feathers with its report on the performance of European universities, “Why Reform Europe’s Universities?” (full report loads in pdf form). According to its methods (which I won’t analyze–note attention to patenting below), American universities perform vastly better than European, with some American states beating out higher education in all European nations.

Chart from BRUEGEL Report

Explanations focus on spending, especially the amount spent on research. What I find interesting is that the report also focuses on the governance of universities,
noting that administrations of Americans universities have greater latitude in determining how to spend available funds.

There is considerable variation in university governance across states. States vary not only in the relative importance of private versus public universities, but also in the degree of autonomy granted by state authorities to public universities. Sometimes, even neighbouring states display sharp differences in governance. For instance, public universities in Illinois enjoy on average rather low autonomy, while their neighbours in Ohio enjoy high autonomy. These differences are persistent over time and often go back to the idiosyncratic origin of American universities, which in turn reflect differences in the preferences of university founders … .

Our strategy is to take US states’ differences in university autonomy as given and then ask the following question: Does a given investment in higher education produce more patenting in a US state if universities in that state are more autonomous? … The answer to our question is a resounding ‘yes’. As illustrated in Figure 2, the effect of additional spending on patenting is roughly twice as high for states with more university autonomy. Autonomy therefore greatly enhances the efficiency of spending.


Limits of Liberal Tolerance?

John Holbo, responding to Stanley Fish, wrote the following last week:

I would also like to request a moratorium on critiques of liberalism that consist entirely of a flourish for effect – with accompanying air of discovery – of the familiar consideration that liberalism is inconsistent with blanket, categorical tolerance of absolutely every possible act and attitude. That is, liberalism is incompatible, in practice, with any form of illiberalism that destroys liberalism. If something is inconsistent with liberalism, it is inconsistent with liberalism. Yes. Quite. We noticed.

Also, it might not be a half-bad idea to notice that liberalism is not incompatible with religion, merely with illiberal forms of religion. Just as liberalism is incompatible with illiberal forms of secularism.

Of course, liberalism need not devolve into a celebration of all philosophical systems, all world-views. It’s reasonable to expect that, given liberalism’s attention to the individual, aspects of any philosophy or belief that limits individual action would come under criticism. Certainly liberalism would not seek to become self-defeating. However, Mr. Holbo wants to believe that liberalism is itself intolerant of intolerance, that the compromises made in the midst of political discourse does not undermine the philosophical foundations of liberalism.

Is liberalism intolerant of intolerance? I find it hard to swallow. In practice, liberalism reveals itself as a different beast from its self-image. The history of its application reveals difficulties in accepting completely open political discourse. Liberal political parties started by introducing voting qualification or making elections indirect. Later compromises followed. (I could launch into another long exposition about Jacobins or the Kulturkampf, but I’ve decided not to write about them for the next few months.)

There are two problems: how liberalism constructs its legitimacy, and the makeup of liberalism itself. Tolerance is but one idea that liberals employ to set themselves off against other groups; the dichotomy between tolerance and intolerance is meant to empower the former at the expense of the latter. In the broader sense, liberalism tends to a singular vision of truth which only with difficulty allows plurality in the public sphere. Indeed the pattern of liberal politics, according to Pierre Rosanvallon, has been to introduce “counter-democratic” institutions in the attempt to limit the individual’s free use of political rights.

Liberalism itself is a problematic concept. Some historians have stopped approaching it as a philosophy. Instead they look at the constellation of political, social and economic interests that come to embody liberal politics. In an upcoming book, L’Empire du moindre mal, Jean-Claude Michéa argues that liberalism was primarily an economic phenomenon that developed a complimentary philosophical tradition. Market economy and democratic politics were two aspects–two “translations”–of liberalism, though the former imposed itself on the latter more forcefully. Defending property and economic rights became more central to their programs, and in nations where they were weak, liberals compromised ideals.

Unfortunately, practice must be taken seriously in understanding liberalism. The liberal critique of traditional institutions provided a powerful tool in political reform, even when applied by non-liberal groups. Liberalism itself has had a shakier history.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Letter to a Future Historian

To whom this may concern:

Will an American president ever utter the phrase, “crimes committed in the name of the American people”? After an acrimonious election and faced with concluding a contentious war in Iraq, the public will need some idea, some formula, to move forward.

I doubt this exact phrase will be used, given that it is how Adenauer convinced Germans of their guilt in the postwar era. “In the name of” allowed enough ambiguity as to what role the German public played in Nazism and the atrocities it caused. It allowed them to sense that they were victims as well as perpetrators of the horrors of war. And given Germans reacted better post-WWII than post-WWI, it was a more effective means of dealing with the recent past.

Eventually, scholars turned their attention to the people, much as I expect will happen in American history. After political history has been exhausted, the public becomes a prime target for analysis. First the policy, then the people. You are the first historian to look at the ambitions and fears of Americans in the “aughts,” and your book will rankle those invested in a particular interpretation of the Iraq War, especially its origins. As much as I welcome the change in discourse on foreign policy, it seems that most Americans are running from defeat rather than embracing ethics and responsibility. Few talk of what we owe Iraqis in the longterm. Public complicity is on no one’s tongue.

Until your monograph is published, historians will have focussed on the deception, or in a few cases, uncertainty. They will have focused on President Bush and his administration. Lies are, however, told for war, but they always find an audience hungry to hear them. Who looked for the River Ebro on a map? Why was “remembering the Maine” such a belligerent act? The invasion of Iraq was sold to a public that feared the foreigner, feared the world, and resented so-called friends who would restrain our global initiatives. It was a public that distrusted the UN. It was a public that put Arabs, Muslims and Middle East countries in the same constellation as terrorism. It was a public convinced that behind every major action, there was a state. It was a public whose faith in the war was unshaken by scandals like Abu Ghraib when they were revealed.

You will receive accolades and harangues. Please, though, be kind to us. You are one generation looking back on another. The middle class is always slow to mobilize, and memory takes time to integrate painful images and experiences. Like the young Germans of the 1960s, you will have a perspective borne in distance that helps you see the war.

Good luck, and good sales,

Nathanael D. Robinson

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

The Great Blog Migration

I've thought about this for a while, perhaps too long, but I am joining the great blog migration and setting up in Wordpress over at some place I call Europe Endless. Like many migrations, I'll cross vast seas in dangerous vessels, expansive desserts searching for water, before I arrive. So, until October, I'll be posting the same material at both sites as I get the latter set up.

Next month in .

The One Who Must Go

It’s been a while since a new addition of Hate Watch. The minor victories of neo-nazi parties in state in local elections were tempered with resolve by the major parties to shut them out of power, to prevent them from exercising any influence. However, the slide into racism is becoming more real, as the Rheinisches Merkur reported this weekend:

A study published last November by the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung arrived at shocking conclusions: almost ten percent of western Germans, and more than double that in the east, are antisemitic, every eleventh German has a reactiony (rechtsextreme) worldview, and in the east every third German is a xenophobe. Accroding to a study by the University of Bielefeld, two of every three Saxons holds a xenophobic position. [Despite divergences in the numbers], it is still certain that in the east, people with dark hair run the risk of being attacked. Xenophobia has become the cultural norm. The stranger is the one who should leave.

Racism, of course, often is a stigmatization of the other, the fear of an ideally threating stranger in the midst of an ideally composed, harmonious community. As the article points out, the other are increasingly not present (only two percent of people living in Saxony are of non-German origin). Their foreignness is imagined and constructed far ahead of their arrival, their presence a priori unacceptable.

It would be easy to say that Germans have not changed (even Goldhagen grants them some redemption). Racism, however, is not just finding new targets, it is behaving differently. The German racist is evolving into an advanced scout announcing a fantasy enemy. Resentment plays less of a role in his/her make-up. Correspondingly, the reaction of Germans to reactionary racism is remarkably different. If xenophobia is becoming the norm, resisting it has become a necessary and automatic response for the German public.

Friday, August 31, 2007

About a Boy

Too Late to the Dance

It must be fall semester. I know because Jonathan Dresner burdens his students with my writing. Actually, it's a great syllabus that seeks to include students in conversations about history that are current on the blogosphere. Perhaps in the future his classes will be live-blogged?

Over at the group blog that Jonathan started, Frog in a Well, an interesting discussion has broken out over Brad DeLong's long post on Chinese economic history. It's a fascinating discussion about how Chinese development is understood and explained--entering into areas I am not qualified to discuss. However, the notion of "late industrialization" pops up in the comments there and at Grasping at Reality with Both Hands. Intellectual milieu of Confucian bureaucracy, strong hand of the center, hyper-efficiency of agricultural production--usual suspects make their appearance.

What's interesting is that the trope of late industrialization appears in the historiographical writing of a number of countries. It's used to explain the rise of anti-democratic traditions, especially in Germany, Italy and Russia. (Never mind that more democratically minded countries, like France and Netherlands, took longer to industrialize.) Give the wide application of this trope, it would seem that (proper) industrialization was a one man race only Britain could win. In the case of Germany (among the second wave of industrialization), this has become a hard sell. The work of Geoff Eley, David Blackbourn, George Mosse, and Modris Eksteins has shown that rather than being "peculiar", Germans grasped modernity better than Brits. The timing of economic development does not explain as much, especially since it occurred after many of the Bismarckian compromises between Prussian and dynasties and between Junkers and manufacturers were still to come. Perhaps what was more important was how the nationalist movement was co-opted from the Wirtschaftsbuergertum and handed over to the Junkers.

I don't want to dismiss theories of political economy. Economic backwardness and the timing of industrialization have their place, but they do not provide automatic explanations. China is an interesting case because its ascendancy as a modern economic powerhouse occurs as ideas about energy and environment have changed. Chinese industrialization had been critiqued as an albatross, burdening the global supply of oil and taxing the limits of environment. Perhaps there is no room for an industrialized China: natural resources won't tolerate it.

If this is the case, should the notion of late industrialization stand? Energy and environment put more emphasis on material factors; will to modernize seems less important. Indeed empire may be a more important factor in industrialization. What would the global economy have looked like if China were competitive when England, United States, Germany and Belgium were at the height of their industrial production?

I'm not sure that I am articulating this problem well. Under the weight of environmental history, the timeliness of industrialization ought to be reconsidered. Projecting power, either by force or commerce, may play a greater role.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Standing on Shaky Ground

It's not about the sex, it's about the public lewd behaviour. Sure, whatever. Larry Craig's misdemeanor has driven a lot of talk not just about sexual identities, but the practices of homosexuals.

Andrew at Air Pollution has been critiquing those who would label Senator Craig (as those before him) as being gay. He has also been dissecting the icky factor in reporting this story: bathrooms and cruising. Andrew and I have had a number of discussions about the construction of sexual identities, and for different reasons we have been uneasy with the politics thereof. However, we completely agree that professing sexuality in public has its problems:
Many college students, in my experience, see the development of GLBT identities in a pretty straightforward trajectory: in the nineteenth-century we couldn't speak, now we can. Many of them have, in fact, read Foucault and they understand that identities are historically constituted and change over time. But what is so often missing in these discussions, both on college campus and on the internet, is how the injunction to speak can often be just as limiting as it can be emancipatory. Speaking creates categories, forcing people into them against their will. Obviously Foucault made this point, and it probably does little good for me to say it here in this form, but I think its important to emphasize when this sort of thing happens. The automatic reaction should not be "if only he could have come out of the closet," but rather, "how unfortunate we live in a society where the ability to freely express sexual desires, in all their (consensual) forms, remains a dream."
Indeed the creation of a defined category produces conformity as well. Why should everyone be labeled? Could not Senator Craig simply have sought gratification?

Last semester I assigned André Gide's The Immoralist to some students (a book that I picked with Andrew's assistance). I was myself surprised at one student's reaction: she was unwilling to accept the sexual openness proposed in the book. In her opinion, Michel's unwillingness to come out the closet made him sick, made his wife sick, made the people whom he touched sick. Simply put, his disease was not admitting his true sexuality.

Andrew isn't he only one talking about sexual identities. On the other side of the political spectrum, Marc at Spinning Clio is criticizing a work that purports to find same-sex marriage in the late Middle Ages. Projecting contemporary homosexuality, in particular the desire to marry one's same sex partner, reads too much into the past. In communities where each marriage was scrutinized, would not couples affrèrés meet resistance? Would homosexual men and women seek emotional fulfillment through marriage? Marc hits an important point: deep affection between men need not be manifested sexually.

All these examples show more about how identities are constructed and employed than how sexuality is conceived. So many identities are constructed on the belief of unchangeable, unshakable natures that they become essentialist, bordering on nativism or indigenism. These identities become so confining that they tend to isolate those who employ them. Indeed they are best employed when the identifying group wishes to resist modernization. The danger is that they will not participate in the discussion about modernization, rather it will occur around them as they are immune to it. Or that modernization will disturb the root assumptions upon which identities are based. Among the problems faced by Alsatians under German rule, for example, was how to argue that they were who they were (people shaped by history and tradition) and participate in German politics and global commerce.

The point is best driven home by Mahmood Mamdani in Citizen and Subject. By identifying Africans with tribal communities, colonial governments could keep them under traditional tribal justice and traditional tribal authority. Thus they had limited access to European institutions. The African worker, in particular, could not make choices about development and progress. S/he was always a visitor to the modern world, and what s/he experienced could not change African society.

Labeling Senator Craig "gay" potentially constrains him to being a man who cruises for sex in bathrooms--as much as it constrains gay men. It constrains him to live up to an identity that is not as stable as it seems.

(Disclosure: I hate people who fuck in public places. It unnerves me. Sorry, Andrew, I've reported a few couples in various states of passion in the library because, dammit, I have work to do. They were all heterosexual.)

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Secular Critique for Believers

How times can Christiane Amanpour repeat the phrase "G-d's Warriors," either directly or in variation? What ought to have been compelling reportage on fundamentalism turned into a rhetorical exercise. Perhaps I should expect no more: this was journalism, not rigorous scholarship. However, this leitmotiv couched the fact that Amanpour exposed the mobilization of religious sentiment in conflict while ignoring the conflict writ large. During the segment on "G-ds Jewish Warriors," I was repeatedly troubled that Amanpour did not follow the involvement of secular and atheist Israelis (although she calls them only Jews) in the settlements in the West Bank. What connection was there for the Israeli who cared nothing for religion, who, so to speak, did not "long for Messiah"?

It would be easy to call this anti-religion, but reductive seems more appropriate. These fundamentalists, reactionaries, terrorists ... whatever you will call them ... respond to a call that Amanpour hastens to avoid. By calling the series "G-d's warriors," she invites the audience to believe that this is "G-d's War," the crux of the religious calling. It is religion detached from society, and in many cases, many within society cannot be called religious practitioners. This is the danger that Horkheimer diagnosed: the loss of dialogue between religion and reason to the detriment of both.

The program fits well next to Harris, Hitchens and Dawkins. They reduce religion to hate and intolerance, qualities that are by no means exclusively religious. Religion, like society, politics, and culture, is multi-faceted: a nexus of beliefs, institutions, and practices that are not all harmonious with one another and that can serve as a repository of ideas for both love and hate.

In some ways I welcomed Mark Lilla's essay, "The Politics of God," which appeared in the New York Times magazine last week. Many things in the essay were problematic. Lilla seemed to have unreserved faith in non-religious politics, ignoring the rise of ideology that occurred after Luther, religious and non-religious. When he says, "That is what happened in Weimar Germany," I feel compelled to remind him that Germans longed for leadership, spirit and power, and they checked religion at the door.

However, Lilla's emphasis on political theology has merits. Brandon expressed reservations about the concept because of its vagueness. But there needs to be some means of focusing in on the relationship between religion and politics. In particular, how religion is imported into the field of politics, either directly or symbolically, to justify aggression.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Tales from a Monocausal Universe, pt. 2

In my previous post about Prof. Gregory Clark's forthcoming book, I set out several issues that I felt would disfavor a genetic cause of industrialization, whether cultural or biological. I had planned to write about them in depth, but alas, I haven't the time. In place of thoroughness, here is, perhaps, some brevity.

Most of my objections regard the periodization of capitalism. Prof. Clark's argument seems to focus on the pre-industrial, commercial stage of capitalism, when trade dominated. Don't get me wrong: capitalism put pressure on manufacturing to reform, but so-called proto-industry was not industry, and some would argue that was a shaky foundation for industry, at best. Industrialization was an intellectual leap, and capitalism was not deterministically bound to discover it.

Who was the Dutch Arkwright? Well, no one, of course. However, it order for Prof. Clark's argument to be effective, he must deal with "the first modern economy." Why industrialization took hold only late in Netherlands is a compelling subject. Broadly speaking, the Dutch capitalism was a high level equilibrium trap of its own (though I'll still blame wars with England); capitalism continued without making the next step.

In this context, however, the question of why Netherlands did not industrialize is not as interesting as why the Dutch did not develop industry. Prof. Clark seems to want us to believe that the emergence of genetic traits, either biologically or culturally received, created a natural evolution toward industrialization. The same traits appeared in the Dutch bourgeoisie, earlier and just as forcefully, as the English. Certainly, many of the financial tools were already in place. It would not be difficult to imagine a Dutch version of the industrial factory--it would be the Xerox Alto of economic history.

What makes the question more interesting is that regions of Europe that fell under the United Province's broad economic hinterland would next industrialize. Dutch commerce drew Belgian and Rhenish merchants into capitalism, creating classes who were willing not just to take on industry, but to innovate it.

I expect that, on closer examination, Prof. Clark will have played fast and loose with capitalism, industry and proto-industry.

Another area of concern is the effect of the downward social mobility of which Prof. Clark writes. It's not clear to me that the dispossessed sons of aristocrats and bourgeoisie would apply their superior economic ethics (if they had them) to preparing labor for industrialization. Why would they? Would they not be just as likely to apply their good sense to strengthen corporations, notably guilds, at the lower ends? It seems more likely that they would force greater skill among trades rather than lead the trend to a generalized labor force (such as Gellner described).

Tomorrow, Prof. Clark promises to answer his critics. I look forward to his detailed answers.


The Discoveries of America--yes, I'm putting it into the plural. It seems like everyone was there before Columbus, like the English and the Chinese before them. Of course, the first people there were the Vikings ... and, er, the Native Americans (... or aliens).

Discovery, however, is not well defined. At Albion's Seedlings, Peter Saint-Andre argues that England discovered America first, albeit its presence evolved very slowly.
Yet it appears that North America was discovered first, by venturesome sailors from the English port of Bristol who maintained an active trade with Iceland starting in the 1300s and who fished the Grand Banks off Newfoundland as early as 1481. News of these fisheries — and land or islands sighted to the west thereof — filtered down to Portugal and Spain, probably inspiring (in part) the voyages of Columbus. ... Despite the fact that the English seem to have discovered new lands to the west before the Spanish did, their colonization efforts lagged.
Anglers find fertile waters, a few new rocks. Peter underplays the effects of the so-called discovery. Indeed, the Vikings knew of many of the same areas of modern maritime Canada. Even after their colonies in Vinland failed, Greenlanders revisited the territories for logging. Moreover, we ought to consider Greenland to be the first European colony in the Americans. Because settlement was not permanent, the honor is withheld.

More importantly, the Viking discovery, like Richard Amerike's, didn't affect the European imagination. Finding new land was not earth-shattering; mariners had done it many times. Finding a new world was. "The Discovery of America", a term fraught with difficulties, ought to relate to changes of European intellect and culture. This means the processes that would lead to permanent settlement.

Moreover, it should reflect those processes that inspired the cartographic imagination, turning the Americas into knowledge. Amerigo Vespucci's Mundus Novus put the newly discovered territories in global context by attending to their geography and changing how Europeans saw the world.

Let's give props to the real discoverer of America: Amerigo Vespucci, the man who put America on the map (or, at least, got Waldseemuller to put it on the map).

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Frankfurt, you're not alone

Another article in Die Welt about a city reconstructing its pre-war city center. This time, it's Kaliningrad, currently a Russian city that was the capital of East Prussia. The website set up by lead architect Arthur Sarnitz is rife with plans and photographs of the restoration, with more to come (perhaps an English version as well).

Tales from the Monocausal Universe, pt. 1

Japanese workers are shorter and have smaller fingers. Thus, they are better suited to working with electronics than Americans. That’s what Crazy People taught me. Throw in something about work ethic, filial responsibility, honor, the smart breeding with the smart, and a few other clichés, and presto: an attractive theory!

You hopefully know from my sarcasm that I won’t read the Clark book. The issues it addresses and the approach it takes not only seem dated, they seem exhausted. Why European countries dominated geopolitics and economics from as early as the seventeenth century to the last few decades is an important question, but cannot be reduced as Clark seems to have done.

Some writers have compared this approach to Jared Diamond, but at least he knew how to use an indefinite article, writing about the role of technology without losing sight of it being a cause of political-economic development, not the cause. Indeed, Diamonds attempt to draw together environment, culture and politics in Collapse, though flawed, raises important questions that historians can’t ignore.

Genetic or evolutionary explanations for industrialization tread on dangerous ground. Biologists and anthropologists from the last century spent great energy to discover reasons for the superiority of the west, sometimes emphasizing the backwardness of culture, other times the limits of biology. This knowledge was often applied in dangerous ways. Personally, I would need a truly good reason--a profound reason--to reconsider this subject.

However, I also think there are numerous reasons why the proposition of a genetic cause/basis for industrialization is problematic. I hope to discuss each of them in future posts.
  • Much of the groundwork for industry was laid as early in the sixteenth century, with the commercial activities of Portuguese and Dutch traders.
  • Why not the Netherlands? The Dutch were social more advanced than the English, and developed similar cultural characteristics before them.
  • Can the intellectual genius of industry be explained by cultural mentality?
  • Much of the success of industry depended on the adaptability and education of workers.
  • After the invention of the factory and steam engine, much of the history of industrialization is a variation on a theme.
  • Industry--technology and skills--was easily imported to other areas.
  • The costs of industrialization from the mid-1850s on rose, depending less on the freedom of the entrepreneurial class and more on state planning. (Should we see a comparable evolution of the sociability?)
  • Freed from their dependence on European nations, non-western nations (like India) could more effectively develop their native industries.

[Part 2 here.]

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Kaczyńskis and the Politics of History

Vilhelm Konnander's Weblog has an important post on the political turns of contemporary Poland:
How to deal with the past, has become the central issue in Polish politics with the rise to power of the Kaczyński twins. Their policy of lustracja represents the wrath of the malcontents - a revanchist policy for all those former dissidents, members of Solidarity, or ordinary people, who never got a slice of the pie during the 1990s' privatisation. Their populist target is the "Salon" - communists, apparatchiks, bureaucrats, and collaborateurs, who were able to benefit from the privatisation schemes as only the very top echelons of the communist system were removed from power. However, having not previously dealt with history has made most politicans potential victims of persecution, as more or less fabricated scandals about a communist past have often come in handy when populists or others have wanted to permanently discredit next to any public figure. Being able to taint leading personalities of the Solidarity generation, has become a method for young and aspiring politicians to make careers and gain power by removing their seniors by rumours and allegations.

Stegner: American Mobility vs. Stability

From "The Sense of Place" by Wallace Stegner:

But if every American is several people, and one of them is or, would like to be a placed person, another is the opposite, the displaced person, cousin not to Thoreau but to Daniel Boone, dreamer not of Walden Ponds but of far horizons, traveler not in Concord but in wild unsettled places, explorer not inward ‘but outward. Adventurous, restless, seeking, asocial or -antisocial, the displaced American persists by the million, long after the frontier has vanished. He exists to some extent in all of us, the inevitable by-product of our history: the New World transient.

To the placed person he seems hasty, shallow, and restless. He has a current like the Platte, a mile wide and an inch deep. As a species, he is non territorial, be lacks a stamping ground. Acquainted with many places, he is rooted in none. Culturally he is a discarder or transplanter, not a builder or conserver. He even seems to like and value his rootlessness, though to the placed person he shows the symptoms of nutritional deficiency, as if be suffered from some obscure scurvy or pellagra of the soul. . . .

Indifferent to, or contemptuous of, or afraid to commit ourselves to, our physical and social surroundings, always hopeful of something better, hooked on change, a lot of us have never stayed in one place long enough to learn it, or have learned it only to leave it.

Rebuilding Frankfurt

Some of my thoughts on Germany's mania to recover the architectural past at Cliopatria.