Keeping Ourselves Open To Adventure

This morning, when I woke up more than a little tired after the long day yesterday, a day in which I had quite a few good conversations but did not end up doing any dancing [1], I did not have in mind a particularly adventuresome day for today at all.  Instead, the first few hours of my day were spent in a way that might be considered particularly adventuresome at all, at least for me.  I sat on my bed, patiently dealing with the occasional interruption from someone who was staying in the same house as I was, and finished reading three books to add to my list of books to read and review.  Those books contained much of interest, and I will have to get to those as soon as I can, which will hopefully be tomorrow, but reading several books in a day is fairly ordinary and cannot be considered as adventuresome at all, not for me at least.

When I at length roused myself to go to the gym and at least make an appearance for Sports Day, I found myself watching the last part of a dodge ball game and explaining the rules to someone who was unfamiliar with the game but who had children playing.  I did the best I could, and tried to make myself as unobtrusive as possible.  I managed to get my first lunch (I ate like a Hobbit today, it must be admitted) just as the crowd was coming out of the game, and managed to sit and chat with many people and enjoy myself for a couple of hours.  I tried to decipher the views that people would occasionally give me, sometimes without much excess.  What did the blank stare signify, or the look that conveys a knowledge of the subtext but with an evident desire not to engage in a conversation on it.  These things are all too common, given the fact that those who understand what I am getting at are under no obligation to agree with me, and may positively want to think as little about what they understand as possible.  Even so, despite the awkwardness that comes along with me being me, I did get a chance to chat with the gentleman who gave the Bible Study yesterday about his experiences fixing up a house near a university and helping to integrate a neighborhood, something I have experience in.

At some point, after I had eaten lunch for the first time but when some of my compatriots there were still hungry, I picked a restaurant that was not Mexican and not a chain restaurant, and off we went.  As is sometimes the case, I ended up enjoying a fine conversation with a group where I was the only lady, and there was a young woman among our party whom I had never had the chance to have a proper conversation with, there being no obvious excuse for me to do so before since she had never been in choir or at previous sporting events that I had been able to see.  The hours passed enjoyably in conversation and in our eating, and then it was time to go once again as I made my long way home, wondering what sort of adventures one tends to find where one does not expect them but where one simply enjoys what one has found along the way.  It is a worthwhile model for future days of this kind.

[1] See, also:

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Book Review: The Kindness Challenge

The Kindness Challenge:  Thirty Days To Improve Any Relationship, by Shaunti Feldhahn

[Note:  This book was provided free of charge by Blogging For Books/Waterbrook.  All thoughts and opinions are my own.]

I found this book surprising in a number of ways.  In reading this book, I expected the sort of book that serves as the centerpiece for a Christian-oriented movie, where someone who happens to be a bit of a curmudgeon reaches a point of crisis where his or her negativity threatens a marriage and job and is challenged to be kind for thirty days and finds it changes their lives.  While the book’s tone and even the way in which the author wanted to lead a revolution of kindness to oppose the strident and ugly sort of public discourse that has become all too common is not surprising [1], what was surprising was the way in which the author opened up about her own struggles with social intelligence as a child and the way in which she sought to ground her advice in statistical data, with a large enough sample size to make the conclusions reasonably sound, although regrettably the author did not include the detailed crosstabs and statistical apparatus in this particular book for those of us who are most interested in data.

For the most part, the contents of this book are straightforward, and extremely ambitious in a good way.  After a lot of comments in praise of the book at the beginning, which is usually the sign that the author is saying something provocative and wants the reader to see that a lot of people approve of the message beforehand, the book contains ten chapters and three parts.  An introduction as to the importance of kindness leads into the first part of the book, where the author discusses why kindness matters, which contains five chapters on such topics as the surprising importance of a simple challenge, the immense power kindness has in influencing those around us, addressing concerns about kindness based on misunderstanding what it means, what kindness means in practice, and exposing the blindness many people have about their level of kindness.  The second part of the book contains the book’s remaining chapters, which amount to an altar call for people to take the kindness challenge, encouraging readers to get rid of 7 types of negativity in their treatment of others, overcoming ten tricky traps that prevent us from praising others as we ought, eight types of kindness to try, giving male readers an alternative challenge where the reader is encouraged to pay attention to their wives and really listen for fifteen minutes, and then seek to implement these principles for life.  The end of the book consists of three different thirty-day plans, depending on whether the reader wishes to do it for a husband, a wife, or anyone.

In reading this book, I found myself in rather alarming amounts.  I suspect many readers will find this to be true in reading this book as well.  The author clearly belongs to the school of thought that urges upon those who view themselves as being wronged by the sins of others–whether that means a cheating spouse or someone who has hurt one deeply through abuse and ridicule.  This is a writer who takes the biblical injunctions about seeking peace and goodwill for all extremely seriously, and who sees in a lack of kindness and a lack of anyone to accept being wronged as being responsible for the drastic decay in our social fabric at present.  I can’t say I blame her or disagree with her–I can certainly see myself as having some difficulties being kind to others, like my boss or like people with whom I am in serious and lasting disagreements, and I do not celebrate my own moments of irritation while dealing with people in my way, or the similar irritation and frustration and unkindness I see around me in the wreckage of broken relationships that one finds all around.  I am not sure that I will take the kindness challenge myself, although there are certainly people in my life I could stand to be a lot more kind to.  At least in the context of my life, the biggest issue I have with the book is the way that it places the burden of being kind on those who have suffered the most unkindness.  Why should I have to be gracious to those who are ungracious to me, or kind to those who have been unkind and abusive?  No doubt many people feel the same way, which makes this a book likely to be more appreciated than practiced.

[1] See, for example:

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Book Review: Control Girl

Control Girl:  Lessons On Surrendering Your Burden Of Control From Seven Women In The Bible, by Shannon Popkin

[Note:  This book was provided free of charge by Kregel Book Tours.  All thoughts and opinions are my own.]

This book, although modest in size at only about two hundred pages, helped me answer a worthwhile question about my reading habits.  Many readers of this book are aware that I frequently read books by women for women and about women [1].  Often I ask myself why this is the case, aside from my generally broad tastes in nonfiction reading.  In reading this book, I got the distinct feeling that I was reading the female equivalent of male locker room conversation, the sort of open honesty combined with a bit of braggadocio and vulnerability that a woman would not likely want to show to a man but felt comfortable with to an audience of women.  This book features a woman opening up about her control freak tendencies and it is definitely an unpleasant picture to read as a guy.  In fact, looking at this account, I am impressed at how patient her husband is with her shrewish tendencies, as I would find it horrifying to marry a woman like this author was/is.  In reading this novel one gets the feeling that fighting control freak tendencies is not a one-time battle but is the sort of battle that has to be fought over and over again, and the fact that the author is aware of the problem and has decided to write about it publicly should at least encourage her to work on it better.

The contents of this book are well-organized.  One could say, without being unkind, that the author showed a considerable degree of control over her material with a very tight organizational scheme.  The author begins by talking about the path of a control girl, and then gives discussions about Eve, Sarah, Hagar, Rebekah, Leah, Rachel, and Miriam, before closing with a discussion of how one goes from a control girl to a Jesus girl.  Reading the personal stories interwoven with the scriptural discussion, one gets the distinct feeling that the author has not progressed very far along that path yet, although, bless her heart, she is trying at least.  Each of the chapters includes several lessons for the readers on how they can learn to give up control to God and threat their husbands and children and those around them with better respect.  The author apparently belongs to the vaudeville school of moral demonstration by being candid about her failings in the hope that this will make her advice go down easier and be less offensive to other people with control freak tendencies and her observations about the women she chooses to discuss are generally shrewd.

Nevertheless, it is difficult to read this book without getting the feeling that the author is a bit self-deluded about her mastery over her control freak tendencies.  This is a book that offers a great deal of painful and unpleasant truths, but sometimes the author simply muffs it.  For example, the author does not discuss Rachel’s theft of her father’s idols as an aspect of her control freak tendencies nor does she comment on Rachel’s death in childbirth as an aspect of her unhappy ending, but rather leaves the discussion vague.  It is also curious that the author chooses all of her examples from the Law, rather than seeking a broader range of time, which would seem to imply that control girls are more of an early OT phenomenon and taking advantage of the general hostility of many Christian readers to the laws of God.  If this was an intentional choice, it is a cunning one.  At any rate, this is a good book, especially for women, and its message can be wholeheartedly embraced even if its messenger is a particularly unfortunate choice, but it could have been an even better book.  Still, for those women who want encouragement to respect others better and rein in their control girl tendencies, this is a worthwhile book.

[1] See, for example:


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Voulez-Vous Danser Avec Moi Ce Soir

As someone who has read more than my fair share of books by Theonomists, especially at an earlier period of life before starting this blog, I am struck by how they deal with Genesis 4.  When God confronted Cain about murdering Abel, Cain rather contemptuously replied with a question about whether he was his brother’s keeper, since Abel was himself a keeper of sheep.  And Theonomists get a great deal of mileage out of claiming that Abel didn’t need a keeper at all, as it is all too common for people to ask if we are our brother’s keeper.  Yet those who ask the question are wiser after a fashion than the Theonomists, since while it is is true that Abel didn’t need a keeper, those who ask themselves the question are not really wishing to view others like sheep that need to be kept, but whether our brethren need our encouragement, need our prayers, need our help if we can provide it.  And that is precisely the right question, even if it is the wrong term.  It is more important to get our hearts and behaviors right than it is always know the right expression to use to describe it, after all.

As might be expected given previous experiences [1], today was a fairly busy day for me.  I arrived at the Bible Study this morning just in time to hear the prayer and then find a seat in the front row as is my fashion.  The Bible Study itself, from a former ABC instructor of mine, was quite well done, and it dealt with being in the world and not of it.  The two split sermons were well done and complementary in content and approach, as the first speaker (the gentleman who gave the Bible Study) went deep on a single passage, namely the Parable of the Good Samaritan, and the second speaker decided to draw encouragement from some of the prophecies about the world to come and the adventures that would come from being a child that survived into the millennial reign of Jesus Christ.  Every child needs a good adventure after all.  What is to keep life interesting in the face of boredom and frustration?

Part of what kept me busy was the music.  Although I was not one of the two Nathans who performed during the talent show portions of the dance, I did play in the hymn ensemble and sang in the combined choir, and that required enough work to suit even someone like myself, and that is not even including the other logistical work I managed to do in setup and take down and so on.  The music went well, which made it more enjoyable for me, and the food was good too–eating lunch first was nice and I was pretty early in line for dinner as well, with my food being served by a young lady in our congregation with whom I have a lengthy personal history.  It is little wonder that I should have to ponder so much about why it is that I was able to do so much talking but so little dancing.  Perhaps that is to be expected in a situation like my own.

[1] See, for example:

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Book Review: Libro De Amo

Libro De Amo, edited by Arieh ben Guni

In reviewing this book it is necessary to discuss its genre before going into more details.  As a poet myself [1], from time to time I read books of poetry as a way of seeing the sort of verses that other people are writing that find themselves into publishing for one reason or another [2].  This particular book is a book of love poetry (its title means “Book of Love) in Esperanto.  How you feel about this book will depend in large part on how much of it you can understand, and what your feelings are about a book that manages to discuss many areas of love.  The poems included in this work run the full spectrum of love ranging from spiritual love to carnal love to melancholy reflections on past love and praise of love poets from times past.  Most of the book, perhaps predictably, focuses on physical love.  I spent enough of my time trying to figure out what words were being used and being impressed at the complicated rhyming and meter that I was probably not as shocked by the content of the book as I should have been.  I get the distinct feeling that this book, published in 1969, was written to shock the reader, but at this point the book has lost a lot of its sting in light of the cultural changes over the past few decades of increasing decadence and moral corruption.

The contents of the book amply demonstrate its broad scope of material.  The book opens with a foreword by the editor of the work, Arieh Ben Guni, about whom I know nothing at all, except that he spends a few pages summarizing the poems in a big picture view.  After this there comes a selection titled “Secret Sonnets” that include quotations about love from various writers and thinkers translated into Esperanto, more than fifty love sonnets which follow a Petrarchian approach of two quatrains and two segments in terza rima, along with a section focused on complete clarity and a short epilogue.  After this comes a short section made of two cycles of poetry related to Greek myths on Hercules and the Centaurs and Artemis and the nymphs.  After this comes a section of poetry focusing on the unmasking of one’s sensual desires and romantic longings.  Little more detail needs to be said about that, except that some of these poems are translations from others, where the original (one poem each in English, Spanish, Italian, Latin, German, and French, all of which I was able to follow in the original) was on the left page and the Esperanto translation into striking and excellent verse was on the other page.  Following this was a selection of religious poetry called “Secret Anthology” translated from Egyptian, Jewish (the Song of Solomon), Greek, Roman, French, English, Chinese, Spanish, and Japanese sources.  Why the love poetry of these traditions, much of which is fairly recognizable and well-known, had to be considered a secret is beyond me.  As a person who studied Chinese pillow books as a teenager, the erotic and romantic literature of the world is not unfamiliar to me, and certainly not unfamiliar to many readers far more experienced in la arto de amo as I am.  The book, more than 250 pages in total length, is closed by a brief section that looks at love from a didactic as well as Renaissance perspective and citations of the sources cited from, a glossary of terms, and the table of contents, which strangely in Esperanto books often comes at the end, a convention I must admit I find somewhat odd.

So, how does one view a book like this.  I am of two minds concerning the book myself.  On the negative side, this book clearly revels in carnal lust and is deliberately seeking to shock those with fairly traditional standards of moral behavior.  That said, the sort of love discussed here would not be improper between a husband and wife, and as someone with fairly strong romantic inclinations who has written on more than one occasion such longings in particularly graphic form this is definitely poetry that is not unfamiliar to my own material as a poet.  Much of how one reads this book depends on one’s perspective–to the extent one sees this as a celebration of love in the broad scope and a recognition that passionate sexual love is not in itself wrong, I would not disagree with that, although I would not argue that simply because something is felt or desired that it is legitimate, whether I am speaking for my own longings or those possessed by others.  Just because one feels attraction does not mean that one has a right to fulfill one’s longings without consequences or repercussions.  This book, likely, was written with precisely that aim.  On a different level, this book is abundant evidence of the richness and variety that can be found in Esperanto as a language to express poetry in a beautiful way, and therefore the book has considerable value as a cultural artifact, apart from concerns about its contents and the motives of its poets and compilers.  Sometimes, books are complicated.

[1] See, for example:

[2] See, for example:


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Book Review: Plene Idiota Vortaro

Plene Idiota Vortaro Kun Suplemento, by K. Paringhien

The odds are good that this review will contain more text in it than the book itself.  When I find particularly odd books like this one, I find it worthwhile to report on their existence as it may be something that few people are aware of.  I found this particular volume during a recent weekly Esperanto meeting sitting on the shelf, and one of my fellow Esperantists was reading the dictionary and wondering why it was called a complete idiotic dictionary.  I patiently translated some of the words in the dictionary and it quickly became evident to him what sort of dictionary this is, which made it worthwhile to review in the general context of books in and about Esperanto that are part of my beat as a book reviewer [1].  Any time someone like myself finds a book like this one, a book that has escaped the general notice of the reading public and may only be known to a few individuals, I feel it necessary to comment upon it and its reasons for being in the hope that it will get at least some of the attention that any author looks for when writing anything, even a complete idiotic dictionary as this one claims to be.

The book’s contents itself are striking and odd, and quite disturbing.  The book itself is only 9 pages, if one includes the introductory material at the beginning of the book.  Obviously, for the author to call this a full dictionary of any kind is being more than a little bit facetious.  The book is also a bilingual dictionary in Esperanto and Japanese, and not Esperanto and English as many readers would normally expect, although the subject matter is fairly familiar for those who are aware of the nature of Japanese manga and anime.  The two column text (one column in Esperanto, the other in a Japanese script of some kind, and I do not know enough Japanese to tell which one of their scripts, perhaps kanji) is arranged alphabetically in Esperanto and contains words of a generally immoral nature.  If you wanted to know the Esperanto words (and their Japanese equivalents) for such words as to abort or commit adultery, bordello, to circumcise, to deflower, erogenous, gonorrhea, hymen, impotency, impregnate, impotence, catamite (spelled with a k in Esperanto to keep the same pronunciation), lascivious, necrophiliac, pederast, sybaritic, venereal, or any other number of terms along those lines, this book might have what you are looking for.  To be sure, it contains a lot of words (some of them perhaps coined by the author himself) that one would not find in many dictionaries but that many people would likely discuss in their cruder moments.

This book in many ways is a historical artifact.  Written in the early 1970s, it is evidence within the Esperanto culture of the way that even then pornographic literature from Japanese was influencing a certain part of the world culture, and it is evidence of the uninhibited sexuality of the period before there was any fear of AIDS (which is not in this particular dictionary because it was published in 1972).  One wonders whether the person who made this simply wanted to give Esperanto the linguistic tools to deal with a discussion about sexual perversion, wanted to encourage other people to live like that, and what happened to the author or those who followed his lead.  How many copies of this curio were made, and into whose hands did they end up, aside from mine?  This is a little book, but its presence and very existence is itself evidence of the sort of cultural changes that have corrupted and debased our culture in the last few decades.  As an artifact of our cultural decadence, however quaint it may seem in our times, this book has an importance that far outweighs its modest size.

[1] See, for example:

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Liker Du Bøker?

I find it striking, and sometimes even a little bit depressing, how much of my life has been spent in books and in book learning.  Last night and this morning, as I was readying my things to bring them with me on my annual pilgrimage to Tacoma [1], I pondered how many books I was going to be bringing with me to read.  I had the two books I had picked up last night at the library, and both of those looked particularly interesting.  I had two more books that I had purchased before a recent concert that interested me, not least because they were about plays.  I had the three books I had finished reading last night that were owed a normal review and a fourth book I had read that night that added to the list of books owed a scholarly review that would take a bit more time.  I had the audiobooks in my car, at least two of them because I knew that I would finish one of them by the time I returned home and wanted to make sure not to waste time on the road that could be spent in pleasant enjoyment of someone reading Jane Austen novels.  I had four other books to finish in my usual work bag, including a book of Sherlock Holmes stories I have not been able to finish for many weeks because of the tyranny of the urgent, including many books to review that find their way happily into my library.  And that is not even including the books that are on my computer that I have obligated myself to read and review within the next couple of months, even though I do not read as many ebooks as one would expect.

I find it striking that it is said that a substantial number of people never read another book even after finishing their studies for a bachelor’s degree.  It is hard for me to conceive of such a thing, being as prolific a reader as I am.  I do not say this to brag, or even to humblebrag, but rather as a statement of fact.  To be sure, books are bulky, and are somewhat more demanding than more passive forms of entertainment, but being someone of a rich imagination I find the effort needed to read and understand books to be greatly rewarding.  And, like anything else, once the mind has been disciplined to enjoy books, it enjoys them more and more.  Reading books well, and enjoying them, feeds on itself.  So does any other activity.  What we enjoy we want to do more of, sometimes enjoying the same sort of material out of a love of familiarity, or perhaps a slight and occasional subversion of genre conventions to keep things from getting too s tale, and sometimes what we enjoy gives us confidence to move beyond, to read more challenging books as a result of what we have mastered.

The same is true, it should be noted, with other ways of spending one’s time.  And there are always opportunity costs to be had.  Time spent reading books cannot profitably be spent watching television or movies, or playing video games, or attempting to hone one’s poor skills at flirtation or courtship.  It might be argued that there would be plenty of other ways that I could productively spend my time, ways that would be better suited to helping me better relate to those around me who might find my voracious appetite for nonfiction to be somewhat alarming or off-putting.  I don’t consider myself particularly snobby about my interests.  I do not mind other people having different interests than my own.  I happen to know some people that spend many hours looking up sermons, others watching television shows and movies, still others listening to large amounts of music.  Some people prefer that which is popular, and some deliberately seek out the obscure, and I enjoy those who share my interests as well as those who are able to provide insights on that which I neither have the time or inclination to focus on myself.

But much depends on motives.  We cannot impute someone’s motives simply by what someone likes.  A fondness for watching sitcoms, for example, does not speak ill of a person or their intellect or character.  A fondness for reading obscure nonfiction books in several languages, such as I have, is not necessarily a sign of intellectual arrogance or a desire to show off one’s erudition.  I would hope that, for all of the attention that I sometimes unwillingly receive, that whoring after attention and applause is not my motive.  Sometimes our motives are mixed or hidden to ourselves.  Some might rightly question, for example, the sort of love for fellowship that leads me to travel to a place that stresses me out year after year, perhaps hoping it will be different this time.  Perhaps that is another reason to enjoy that which stretches one’s mind, if one puts oneself in the position of having to wrestle with so many difficulties.  Sometimes one needs to move beyond the book to see how things look in life and not only on the page.

[1] See, for example:

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Book Review: The Triumph Of William McKinley

The Triumph Of William McKinley:  Why The Election of 1896 Still Matters, by Karl Rove

I have to admit at the outset that I am pleasantly surprised by how good this book is, having never read a book from the former senior adviser to President George W Bush.  When reading a book like this [1], one has to be very aware of the purpose and agenda of the book.  No one writes books that are nearly 400 pages of core text without having a purpose, and when the book comes from someone involved in politics, the certainty of there being some kind of ulterior motive is even higher.  In this particular case, the ulterior motive is pretty clear in that Rove has some definite ideas about what sort of Republican party there should be, arguing implicitly through his historical analysis of McKinley’s rise to power that it was the inclusiveness of McKinley’s vision for the GOP and his ability to avoid treating people as permanent enemies that allowed him to build an enduring coalition that lasted for nearly four decades of Republican dominance from 1896 to 1932.  People reading this book in light of the 2016 election can come to different conclusions, like the fact that a candidate with commitment to the well-being of the commonfolk and a sense of optimism can undercut the power of political bosses through appealing directly to the grass roots of a party while building a successful coalition, even if the specific makeup of that coalition can differ.  The triumph of McKinley, like any success, can be attributed to any number of factors, and different people may draw lessons from different factors than the author does given his own perspective and rhetorical aim.

This book is a sizable work, one that begins by giving the context of McKinley’s life including his rise to power within the frequently decisive swing state of Ohio.  Of the book’s 29 chapters, roughly half of them take place before McKinley was chosen as the Republican nominee in 1896, itself a moment of drama, and about half of the chapters look at the campaign itself.  Rove is part of a group of revisionist historians who view McKinley as more than a genial nonentity but as someone whose character, ideals, and ability to notice talent and successful recruit it make him a notable if somewhat transitional character in the tail end of one generation of politics with weak presidents and the lingering influence of the Civil War on the electorate and the beginning of the age of American imperialism.  The book also spends a lot of time focusing on McKinley’s opponent, the charismatic but radical and undisciplined William Jennings Bryan, whose rise to power gives Rove the chance to make some subtle (or not-so-subtle) digs at populism and its lack of broad appeal in the American republic, something which clearly has not been the case recently.  Particularly of interest is the way that Rove demonstrates how McKinley drew correct insights about Bryan’s rise and the dangers of straddling on the important issue of sound money, which allowed McKinley to build a coalition including conservative Democrats concerned about Bryan’s radicalism.

What kind of book should one expect in reading this?  Well, the book has an excellent style and is well-researched, with extensive endnotes.  The author is genial and has a lot of positive comments to make about McKinley, and manages to keep his ulterior motives from being too offensive to the reader.  If you a taste for detailed political reportage from about a century or so ago, and really enjoy the tactics and strategies and logistics of political campaigns, this is a good book.  Despite the fact that I drew somewhat different lessons than the author did, I found this book to be a worthwhile combination of historical biography and election analysis, both of which happen to be genres of nonfiction writing I find to be enjoyable to read.  To be sure, not everyone will find McKinley to be a winning character, although his high-minded ideals about racial and religious toleration and acceptance ought to be worthy of praise, and his knowledge of his own limitations as a stump speaker and his preference for prepared speeches led him to avoid trying to engage in a negative campaign against the pugnacious Bryan, but rather to play to his own strengths.  We all have strengths and weaknesses, and we do best to play to our strengths while also making our opponent’s strengths into weaknesses, something this book discusses very well, giving a compelling reason why we should care about the 1896 election in the face of a divided populace and the rise of populism and the concern among common people about the difficulties of rising to the level of one’s abilities and ambitions.

[1] See, for example:

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Book Review: The Birth Of Modern Politics

The Birth Of Modern Politics:  Andrew Jackson, John Quincy Adams, and the Election of 1828, by Lynn Hudson Parsons

In reading this book, published in 2009, I was struck by how relevant it was to the contemporary political environment.  Of course, the author wanted to mark 2008 as a decisive election, a bit prematurely, but this book is far more useful as a precursor of the 2016 election in terms of its themes and course.  The 1828 election marked the beginning of the second party system and for that reason the author makes marks it as the period where modern politics was born, and manages to make a strong case for her claim.  Of course, this book will be most enjoyable if you are fond of reading books about American political history [1].  If you are, this book offers a lot of context and quite a bit of detail of how it was that John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson turned from nationalist allies to bitter enemies who could not even stand to be around each other after the bitter election of 1828.  And as our day and age is no stranger to bitter elections, this book is important in reminding of us of what sort of stakes elections get tied up into, and what sort of myths become enshrined in historical memory as a result of their repetition, despite the fact that those who make the lies know them to be false.  This book will show that Democrats have lied about their opposition for a long, long time, as if that needed to be told.

The book is organized in a very nondescript way, with an editor’s note talking about various elections recognized afterward as decisive, like 1800, 1860, 1932, to which the author somewhat prematurely puts 2008 (which, in retrospect, looks more like the election of 1912 than 1932), and then six chapters and an epilogue that take up the rest of the book’s 200 pages.  This book has a long buildup, in that it spends a great deal of time talking about the political education of both John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson, the former a long set of duties as an undiplomatic diplomat with a passion for furthering American political interests in far off posts like St. Petersburg and Ghent (where he helped negotiate the treaty that ended the War of 1812), and the latter a somewhat corrupt land speculator and autocratic military man who rose to political power on the strength of his populist appeal and his railing against out-of-touch Eastern elites.  It is hard not to see the echoes of this particular campaign in the course of the 2016 election, in retrospect, considering that John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson had once been friends before becoming serious enemies.

This book, although it is short, manages to become relevant in the way it describes the growing importance of ambition and the decline of caucuses, where politicians had to appeal to the common person with their anti-intellectual prejudices and their tendency to see their progress thwarted by elites and those who considered themselves their betters.  In light of the contemporary political climate, this book gives an indirect but strong warning to those who seek to win high office without being able to show an ability to connect with ordinary people and their concerns, and that the image of being relatable is often more important than the reality of living the same sort of life as one’s partisans and constituents.  Thus a slaveowning autocrat was able to appeal to populist desires to throw out an elite that was threatening to dominate the American republic with its intelligencia and its snobbery and its high culture.  Whether we like it or lament it, there has long been a tendency within American politics where those who were flamboyantly intelligent had to to show the more friendly side of their personalities to counteract the perceived coldness of their approach, and that trend was decisive as early as 1828, showing just how slowly a culture changes its fundamental approaches to authority and legitimacy.

[1] See, for example:

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The Price Of Heresy

Some years ago [1], I read a book written by a libertarian which promoted itself, falsely, as being a book about the “real” Abraham Lincoln when it was nothing of the kind.  At the time, I was content to give the book a well-earned thrashing and not consider it worth much more of my time and attention.  Indeed, the attention I had given by reading and reviewing the book had been more than the book deserved on its own nonexistent merits.  It was therefore somewhat to my surprise that I saw the author cited as a great historian in another book I recently read [2], and where the author spent a lot of time whining about how he was not accepted in a supposed ‘cult of Lincoln’ because of his supposed heresy in having written what amounted to a libelous hack job on him.  If Lincoln had been alive and we were in a nation with libel laws like the United Kingdom, it is almost certain that DiLorenzo would have been taken to the cleaners for libel, which is a great deal more serious in the here and now to any heresy to a civil religion.

Nevertheless, the thought did come to my mind as I was irritated at the writer that perhaps there were some people who did not realize the opportunity costs of rhetorical strategies.  DiLorenzo chose as his strategy an intellectual dishonest and extremely forceful condemnation of a man nearly universally thought of as a great president, if not a perfect man by any means.  He thought, perhaps correctly, that by positioning himself in opposition to Lincoln’s record as a strong nationalist that he could gain some support from fellow libertarians who dislike the way that Lincoln’s presidency made America a far stronger nation than it had been originally.  A great deal of my own dislike of the book was not so much in the author’s libertarian position itself but rather the way that he hypocritically condemned Lincoln for actions taken against civil liberties while not criticizing the Confederates for the same actions.  It was the double standard taken, not the author’s misguided perspective, that was of most offense.

I have noticed this particular double standard to be a common one among those taken by those in sympathy with Von Mises [3].  There is, in general, a combination of neo-Confederate perspectives of the Civil War that whitewash the South of having taken socialist positions like the income tax or draft in the Civil War, deny the cause of the Civil War was slavery, attack the Sabbath law and the biblical focus on freedom from debt and slavery.  One wonders if it was not simply that Lincoln was a strong president that crushed rebellion that offends DiLorenzo so much.  Rather, it was the fact that Lincoln served as a shepherd of a sort, seeking to use government power to deal with those who were rebellious above and tyrannical below.  One sees, in other words, in DiLorenzo’s desire for libertarianism a covert desire to oppress others and support the oppression of others without a third party interfering with it.  In that sense, liberty is not desired so much to be free of oppression, but rather to be free to oppress, and that is where contemporary libertarianism draws so much opposition from others.  It is not that people desire to be slaves but that they trust some authorities more or less than others, and do not trust their own strength to remain free without help from another place.

Yet, be that as it may, the choice made by DiLorenzo to attack Lincoln so harshly cut off other options, namely among those who respect Lincoln.  There are some whose support of Lincoln is based on their opposition to rebellion and the threat of anarchy, others whose support is based on a belief in his stand as being a principled one, and others who want to exercise the power of government themselves.  Of course, DiLorenzo does not want to hold that kind of power nor does he want anyone else to.  He simply wants to be free to do what he wants to do without interference, and such a thing is not going to be found in any country that can do something about it.  Perhaps he could find a libertarian paradise in Somalia or Sicily or some other area like that, but it is likely he would find it too violent, likely because he does not seem fond of others possessing the strength to resist, which is why he defends the slave society of the South, where a libertarian paradise was blended with a totalitarian state as far as the slaves were concerned.

What is it that makes DiLorenzo’s thoughts heretical?  Well, if there is a cult when it comes to America’s civil religion, the neo-Confederate views he holds would be those who lost a ferocious civil religion, and he would be said to be someone who would want to go back to a particular time and place where his views were considered legitimate, before those holding such views had overplayed their hand.  In many ways, the course of civic religion can be compared to ordinary religious beliefs which have quarrels over power as well as over what beliefs can be considered legitimate.  If you want to get support for being different than anyone else, you have to accept that there will be others who may consider you outside the pale.  Every attempt to mark oneself off as different from the crowd for the sake of being different means that one may step over lines and agreed upon boundaries to being considered as legitimate.  If DiLorenzo is unhappy about that fate in his own academic career, he only has himself to blame for wanting to be different and accepted by everyone else at the same time.  Sometimes we have to choose.


[2] Review forthcoming:

[3] See, for example:

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