The Uses of History, 17 – France, Revolution #4, 1870-1, Part 3

(Image Credit – Wikipedia – Battle of Koniggratz, July 3, 1866, by Georg Bliebtru)

The wiliest international statesman of the 19th Century was Otto von Bismarck, Minister-President of Prussia (1862-71) and then Chancellor of Imperial Germany from 1871-1890. It is perhaps not too much to say that the unification of Germany in 1871 was almost entirely his doing.

In the 1860’s, France under Emperor Napoleon III was the undisputed leading military power in Europe. Any plan of uniting Germany would have to somehow either render France a neutral observer or include defeating France in battle.

The reader might fairly wonder why the unification of Germany was any of France’s business. The answer is that since the Thirty Years War (1618-48), France had taken a very active interest in German affairs. When the Thirty Years War ended with the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, France had established itself as Austria’s main rival in exercising influence in Germany. That influence had been fairly won by direct French intervention in crucial moments on German battlefields.

As confusing as this may seem, let us remember that Germany in the 1600s was not a nation but a geographical region in the middle of Europe, divided into approximately 300 petty-states, with a few larger ones in that mix, such as Brandenburg (later expanded as Brandenburg-Prussia, and then just Prussia) Bavaria, and Saxony. France saw its sphere of influence as including western Germany, chiefly the Rhineland (the area between France and the Rhine River) and Bavaria. The presence or control of any other major power in that area would be interpreted as a threat to France, and counter to King Louis XIV’s, the “Sun King”, (1642-1715) great ambition of eventually annexing all territory between France’s eastern frontier and the Rhine River. That, with the Alps and the Pyrenees in the south, he dubbed France’s “natural frontiers”.

Napoleon the Great had finally done what Louis never completed despite great effort through long long wars in the late 17th and early 18th Centuries. The Great One had annexed all those lands plus much more directly into his French Empire between 1806 and 1810. It had all been lost after Napoleon’s first defeat in 1814. By 1860, Napoleon III had successfully restored France’s pre-eminent military and diplomatic position in Europe as the #1 power to be reckoned with in any further major readjustment of important borders. He had also added two small provinces to France itself in Europe and overseen a considerable expansion of France’s Empire in North Africa and South-East Asia. Once more, a Bonaparte Emperor looked upon South-West Germany as his legitimate zone of influence. However, the Rhineland already belonged to Prussia since the Peace of Vienna in 1815, and Napoleon did not look favourably upon further Prussian ambitions southward.

When Bismarck became Minister-President of Prussia in 1862 at the behest of King Wilhelm I, he was given a mandate to rebuild and modernize Prussia’s army with the aim of being able to face any probable conflict with another major power. Bismarck succeeded over the next eight years. He also told the King that Prussia would unite Germany and he would become the first Kaiser (Emperor) of the united nation of Germany within ten years!

Wilhelm and Bismarck developed a tight working relationship based on mutual respect and trust. Bismarck promised a modern, well-equipped, first-rank army capable of winning any war it might have to engage in. He promised to support it by strong industrial development, including armaments industry and a first-class railway network to facilitate trade and commerce and rapid military deployment. He took strong measures to make these promises a reality. Prussia sent military attaché observers to the United States during the Civil War, and, watching how a modern nation used its railways and industry to manage a tremendous winning war-effort, learned a great deal which would soon be applied to great effect in Europe.

In 1864, Bismarck engaged in a minor war with Denmark to gain control of Schleswig and Holstein, two small Danish provinces on the northern edge of Germany. Still needing to avoid conflict with Austria, Bismarck manoeuvred the Danes into declaring war to defend their claim to the two Duchies. Austria joined Prussia in invading and defeating the Danes. The two great powers split rule of the two Duchies between them.

Two years later, Austria cancelled the agreement about the two formerly Danish Duchies. For Bismarck, the moment had come to remove Austria from direct involvement in Germany. Prussian declared war.

Prussia now used its vastly superior rail network to mass its forces in the south before Austria could fully move its numerically superior army to meet them at full strength. Most of the rest of Germany was taking Austria’s side, but Bismarck’s strategy was to take out Austria quickly and force its surrender before the collected force of the rest of Germany could do any real harm. In the event only Saxony fielded any sizeable force to help Austria. The Prussians brushed them aside. In addition, Bismarck made an alliance with newly united Italy, promising Italy Venetia in return for its aid against Austria. This drew off Austrian forces to the south.

On July 3, 1866, the new, modern Prussian army decisively defeated the main Austrian forces in a hard-fought battle at Koniggratz in Bohemia, now Czechia. The following peace was lenient for Austria, as Bismarck did not want to make Austria a bitter, permanent enemy. The rest of the German Confederation bowed to the result, and was dissolved. Germany, minus Austria, was soon reconfigured as the North German Confederation, under Prussia’s firm domination, and the South German Confederation, with Bavaria as its major component.

Bismarck was a realist and practiced what he dubbed “Realpolitik” – the politics of reality – in both domestic and foreign affairs. In day-to-day concerns, one does what is necessary to move things towards the greater goal one envisions. This requires flexibility in adapting to circumstances and waiting for the right moment to move decisively towards the greater aim.

Meanwhile, Napoleon III had suffered a setback in his foreign adventurism. This involved an ill-advised foray into Mexico from 1861-66. Mexico under Jaurez had defaulted on debt repayment to its European creditors – chiefly Spain, Britain, and France. The three powers sent an occupation force to Veracruz in early 1861. A year later, Britain and Spain withdrew after reaching a provisional arrangement with Juarez’s government, but the French stayed on, sending in substantial reinforcements and hoping to overthrow Juarez and create a new Mexican Empire with Archduke Maximilian of Austria as its Emperor – and a dependent of France.

This was a clear violation of the American Monroe Doctrine (1823) which declared that no European encroachment into the Americas beyond what already existed would be accepted by the United States, which would oppose such encroachment. Napoleon believed that France could get around this because, as of April 1861, the USA was embroiled in the tremendous crisis of the Civil War, and therefore either about to collapse, as many Europeans believed, or would be rather preoccupied until it was resolved.

When the Civil War ended in 1865 with a newly reunited USA now able to tell France to get out or face possible American intervention to restore Juarez as President and overturn the “Empire”, French troops wisely withdrew in 1866 rather than face a USA with the most battle-hardened army in the world equipped with the most modern weapons. By June 1867, Maximilian was dead, along with his key Mexican collaborators, and Napoleon III had egg on his face.

Bismarck and Prussia, on the other hand, were now clearly the masters of most of Germany. Bismarck was biding his time, now confident that the Prussian Army, along with support from much of Germany behind them, would be equal to the task of facing the French Army when the right opportunity presented itself.

In France, the opposition to Napoleon was growing more restive and bolder in its criticism, and there were signs of popular discontent with the restrictions on personal liberties, as well as signs that even the moderates were pushing for more freedoms, especially as they witnessed Britain’s labourers and middle-class gaining more freedoms and greater economic prosperity through hard-won campaigns for Parliamentary and social reform. In Prussia, Bismarck was creating similar conditions, and the Prussian economy, along with that of much of Germany, was booming and advancing rapidly into the industrial era.

Between 1867-70, there were a number of episodes, which we will not go into, that told Bismarck and Germany that French interference in Germany would have to be met with some measure of force in order to achieve final national unity, for which there was a growing pan-German nationalist appetite. Germany was no longer a mere geographical region, but a nation which had awakened to a sense of national destiny to be found among the Great Powers of the world. It was no longer acceptable to be held back by the hubris and sense of historical privilege of interference by France, which for two hundred years had dictated to Germany what degree of nationhood would be permitted within its own borders.

The opportunity Bismarck was sure would come presented itself in the summer of 1870.


The Uses of History, 16 – France, Revolution #4, 1870-1, Part 2

(Image credit – Wikipedia)

Napoleon III, Emperor of the French, reigned from 1852-70. His regime has been called “The Liberal Empire”. As Emperor of the French, he brought France fully into the industrial age, modernizing cities, creating a national transportation network, and promoting a liberal economic system within France and widening international trade outside, including a free trade treaty with Great Britain. He instituted universal male suffrage, although it was used only to rubberstamp his major measures.

His Empire was liberal economically and commercially, but he maintained a tight grip on internal affairs, resurrecting the Imperial State Police to watch for dissident elements who concocted plots to overthrow his regime and even assassinate him. The principal opposition with such intentions came from the socialists, while early supporters among liberals such as Thiers, Lamartine, and Victor Hugo, the great novelist and poet, were bitterly disillusioned. Hugo denounced him and went into exile, publishing a virulent opposition newspaper in Belgium.

Internationally, Napoleon III could not ignore the mantle left by his much more illustrious uncle, Napoleon the Great. From his perspective, he had to prove that he was worthy to own the name Napoleon Bonaparte, having dropped the prénom Louis once he assumed the imperial purple. The weight of the Great One’s legacy never left him and finally led to his downfall.

Napoleon III began his foreign sallies by sending heavy reinforcements to Algeria to ensure France that held to its expanding North African Empire, He set about expediting naval and army forces to Indochina (Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia today) in 1854 to make sure that France gained a foothold in South Asia to demonstrate her power far overseas, just as the British (in China and Australia) and even the United States (in Japan) had begun to do. The French colonial regime in Indochina ended exactly a century later in 1954 after a stunning defeat of the French forces at the hands of Vietnamese Communist revolutionaries under the leadership of Ho Chi Minh.

In the 1850s, a French naval squadron went into the South Pacific to lay claim to some of the newly discovered island chains in Polynesia and Melanesia. Tahiti remains a French Overseas Department to this day.

But Napoleon III’s most significant efforts were made to impress Europe with France’s newfound recovery of strength. He set out to exert French influence and power across the whole continent. He was careful not to project a plan to overthrow the whole established system put in place since 1815. Rather, his goal was to have France reassume her “proper place” as the continental arbiter of Europe, supplanting Austria, which had taken that place since the Congress of Vienna in 1815. The two areas of special interest to Napoleon were Italy and Germany.

The first sally into these potentially dangerous waters came in 1854 when Turkey went to war with Russia because of Russian encroachment upon Turkey’s Balkan provinces. Turkey was no match for Russia on its own, but Great Britain came to the aid of the Turks, and France, not to be outdone, joined the British. The two western Great Powers jointly attacked the Crimea, Russia’s main stronghold in the Black Sea. Hence the appellation “The Crimean War” in the history books. For 21st Century people, Russia’s seizure of the Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 will perhaps make a little more sense in this retrospective look. Russia has viewed Crimea as its legitimate territory for several centuries. Its inhabitants when Russia first took it over were not Ukrainians, but Tatars.

In 1854, the Franco-British objective was to draw off major Russian forces from advancing against Istanbul. They succeeded, and the Crimean War successfully prevented a Russian seizure of Romania, Bulgaria, and Istanbul, allowing the Turks to hold their ground. Austria, also not wanting a Russian advance deep into the Balkans, remained neutral.

Russia sued for peace in 1856 and withdrew behind its previous frontier in south-east Europe, even giving back some minor territories to the Ottoman Empire in the Caucasus. Thus, Napoleon could claim a major foreign success. Even if he had to share some of the glory with Britain, the bulk of the Western armies involved had been French.[i]

The next important demonstration of the renewed French Empire’s strength came in Italy in 1858-9. In 1815, Italy had been assigned to Austria’s direct tutelage, and Austria had annexed two Italian provinces to ensure that Italy’s incipient unification and liberalization movements were held in check. Here, Napoleon III played a carefully calculated double game. As President of France in 1849, Louis Napoleon had driven back Italian patriot republican forces from Rome and protected the Pope’s hold on Rome and its surrounding Papal State in central Italy. The Italian effort to free Italy from Austria and authoritarian rule in 1848-9 had collapsed, with one exception. The small Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia had held onto its liberalized Constitutional Monarchy and set about creating a modern liberal state to serve as a beacon and model to the rest of Italy.

In 1858, the Austrians decided it was time to put this upstart Kingdom in its place and replace its liberal monarchy with a properly autocratic one. The excuse was its harboring of draft dodgers and dissidents against Austrian rule in Lombardy and Venetia, the two Austrian provinces in north-east Italy. Piedmont appealed to Napoleon III for help, pleading the memory of Napoleon the Great’s creation of a liberal Italy during his hold over Italy (1797-1814). Napoleon, riding the high of France’s recent victory over Russia (revenge for 1812!), agreed to send a French army. But he insisted on a secret quid pro quo: when the war had been won, Piedmont would cede to France the two small provinces of Nice and Savoy on its Western frontier. Cavour, the wily Piedmontese Prime Minister, agreed. After all, he stood to gain the much more rich and fertile provinces of Lombardy and Venetia.

The Franco-Austrian War of 1858-9 was short but bloody. Napoleon went to be on the scene for himself to share in the glory of his victorious army. However, after surveying the terrible carnage of the battlefield at Solferino, a great victory for the French and Piedmontese, a sickened Napoleon broke his accord with Piedmont and negotiated a unilateral peace with Austria that gave Piedmont only Lombardy, while still insisting that Piedmont hand over Nice and Savoy.

Nevertheless, France had now humiliated two of its old Congress enemies in war, re-emerged as Europe’s #1 land power, and become friendly with Great Britain, its old nemesis. At this point, who was to gainsay the will of France in European affairs? Even many of Napoleon’s bitterest critics had to be impressed and admit that France was prospering as never before in modern times and was playing a major role in world affairs once more. The would-be revolutionaries in exile or hiding could only brood and wait.

The next testing ground would be Germany. The last remaining major power of the former autocratic Holy Alliance that had not faced France on the battlefield was Prussia. Napoleon the Great’s abject humiliation of Prussia during his quasi-conquest of Europe had awakened, in fact virtually created, German nationalism. The Great One had also much simplified German affairs in 1807 by abolishing the Medieval political relic called the Holy Roman Empire. It had never been in any sense “Roman”. In fact, it was Frankish (early French), having been founded by Charlemagne in 800 CE.

Two hundred years later it had essentially become a Germanic Empire after Charlemagne’s death in 814. His inheritance had been divided among his three sons. Two centuries later, only two realms were left standing. By the late Middle Ages, the eastern realm’s Emperor was almost always of the Hapsburg Dynasty of Austria, while the western realm had evolved into “Francia”, or France. Germany was a mere geographical term for the area where various German-speaking peoples abided under the Emperor’s general authority, while dozens and eventually hundreds of petty states squabbled about lands and rights and privileges.

In 1806 Napoleon I utterly crushed Prussia in a lightning campaign. He considered wiping Prussia right off the map, but thought that would leave too large a vacuum and tempt Russia to move West. Instead, he wiped away the moribund Holy Roman Empire, greatly reduced Prussia in size and made it a subservient ally with a decree reducing Germany to a more manageable region of 39 states. The two largest were Prussia in the North-East, and Bavaria in the South-West. He called this new entity the German Confederation and gave it a constitution that recognized its vassal status under the French Empire.

After Napoleon’s disastrous defeat in Russia in 1812, Prussia remained loyal to Napoleon until Russian troops were on its borders late in the year. Prussia declared itself neutral. In early 1813, the Prussians switched sides, regained control of their territory, and once more raised and trained a formidable army. In Germany itself there was a great upsurge of a new sense of “Germany” needing to throw off the yoke of the Emperor.

The Prussian army played a major royal in Napoleon’s defeat in 1814, and was instrumental in crushing his last major army at Waterloo on June 18, 1815. The reward for that great contribution had been a large expansion of Prussia’s territory in the Peace of Vienna, and a recognized role as a leadership candidate in the emerging sense of a united “German nation” waiting to be born.

The major obstacle to the birth of that nation-in-waiting was Austria, which held itself to be the leading German nation. The Austrian empire was an amalgam of at least a dozen ethnicities, one of which, the Magyars of Hungary, had its own distinguished history to look back on until the mid-16th Century. The Magyars were almost as numerous and certainly as proud as the Germanic Austrians. Nevertheless, the Hapsburg Emperor warned Prussia that if they attempted a unification of Germany, they would have to face determined and even armed opposition from Austria.

The attitude of France in that final showdown, which all could see approaching by 1860, would be crucial. No one could predict which way Napoleon III might choose to lean, or whether he might even directly intervene once an Austro-Prussian War began. He might just take the opportunity to carve out more gains for France at the expense of Germany, whether united without Austria, as Prussia wanted, or still under the thumb of Austria, should the Hapsburgs win. And with the Germans fighting it out among themselves, who could stop the battle-tested and well-armed French Army from doing what they chose?


[i] A French general who witnessed the famous but pointless Charge of the Light Brigade at the Battle of Balaclava, immortalized in Tennyson’s great poem of the same name, had quipped at the time, “It is magnificent, but it is not war!” It was slaughter in the name of false gallantry.

The Uses of History, 15 – Utopian Interlude

(Image credit – Wikipedia)

We humans live with the conviction that somehow, if we will it hard enough and direct our course with sufficient skill and resolution, we can some day create Utopia. We can conceive of almost endless versions of the Perfect World, the Perfect Society, of “Nowhere”, which is what the word “Utopia” actually means in Greek. Sir [Saint] Thomas More borrowed the word when he used it as the title of his version, the first on record, of the perfect society in the early 16th Century.

We persist in believing that it is within our native, inborn power and nature to conquer, once and for all, our demonic side, “the Dark Side” as the modern mythology of Star Wars puts it. When we finally do, we will arrive at an age where we will fully release the “better angels of our nature” so that, by a proper ordering of our minds and hearts, we become perennially benevolent to one another. Utopians believe that the incorrigible rebels and recalcitrant egoists, the potential disrupters of our coming perfect social and economic felicity, will then somehow be restrained and be so isolated in their pariahhood that they will be shamed into conformity to the liberty of total equality and complete freedom of opportunity for all.

Few Utopians of the left, who currently exercise a strong grip on the general development of the West’s culture and society, and a stranglehold on public Western discourse, will openly confess, at least at this moment, to this sort of paradigm. Nevertheless, with some variation, it is the directing vision of their ineluctable machinations to eliminate the old restraints and limit (from their perspective) the nefarious influences of the original ideas of liberal democracy. The old, now “outmoded” notion of democracy characterized by Abraham Lincoln as “government of the people, by the people, for the people” is tainted forever by its latent, if only half-acknowledged, debt to the even more original foundation of the West in Judeo-Christianity.

Part of the political, social, and economic crisis facing the West, and by extension the whole world, is the hard core of the old Judeo-Christian, liberal-democratic culture and social order still deeply embedded in the Western soul. The world outside of the formerly nominally Christian realms does not have the deep roots in Christendom that still torture Europe and its most completely assimilated ex-colonies, but they cannot help feeling and being buffeted by the shock-waves emanating from the disruptive issues washing into their lands through the world-wide web and global socio-economic order.

One of our delusions is that we have come to a place of almost total inclusiveness and openness to every notion of what freedom and rights should include. But fervent Utopians have never really been inclusive and broad-minded. The present crop of Utopian social-engineers à-la-WOKE-ultra-Progressive are as hypocritical in this respect as any of the older versions of the West that they love to condemn and moralize about as having been enslaved by religion, superstition, and blind prejudice.

The former society which is being purposefully and systematically dismantled had at least one superior characteristic in its notion of Utopia compared to the present manifestation: it declared that we humans are really and truly flawed and cannot create Utopia by our own efforts. Utopia really is “Nowhere” to be found, or humanly manufactured. Instead, we are dependent on the Creator to heal our innate brokenness, to redeem us from our sins and forgive us for our perpetual rebellion.

As to a perfect world, a perfect flawless human state, that can only happen through the unmerited goodness and mercy of the Creator Him-/Her/Self. However, humanity will enter perfect being, first following death in being joined to God through God’s own action of adopting us into the “God-family”. God has opened this family to all who will come to Him/Her through the incarnate Son of God. The second way to Utopia will come at a time chosen by the Creator, when He/She will renew and remake the broken creation into an everlasting one from which all evil, suffering, and distortion will be banished forever. It will not be of human construction.

This is the story now so despised and ridiculed by all Utopianists following Thomas More’s conception of such a society. Sir Thomas still put the Creator in his story. But the Enlightenment’s quest to rid Europe of its dependence on religious dogma and superstition required a more rigorously secular humanist response. For those who are interested in this Enlightenment saga of the quest for truth independent of the Creator, it has been recounted now many times. These are variations around the central theme of how the West liberated itself from its medieval tutelage by turning to Reason, Rationalism, Science, and “Natural Philosophy”, but the core narrative remains firmly in place after three hundred years or so.

Our purpose here is not to rehash old news, but to study what has ensued historically. We must note that humans are bred-in-the-bone, gene-driven believers. The laws of physics reflect the nature of reality, and they are not disconnected to the spiritual and psychological truths which are just as real. A physical vacuum is inevitably filled by whatever surrounds it most closely. In the realms of the spirit and mind, which are just as real, the law of the vacuum is just as true. In the spiritual realm, you cannot drive out one form of faith without it being filled by another. We humans are formed for faith as much as we are formed to think and feel. We will inevitably believe in, put our trust in, something or someone as truth-giving. We will construct our paradigm of reality around that essential, central core of “truth”. It is a fallacy to say we can remain undecided, if only because, if we trust in nothing or no one else, we will by default choose ourselves as the ultimate source of truth.

However, for the vast majority of people of whatever ethnic origin, we quickly find ourselves a very fragile and fallible source of truth-knowing and truth-speaking. Narcissists and very arrogant people are actually pathetically deluded in this respect. The rest of us inevitably turn to some other source of paradigm-forming faith, which is really nothing more than choosing whom and what to put ultimate trust in.

As we enter 2023, we find that the formerly accepted, traditional paradigms about truth and its source(s) have been or are in the process of being driven out, more and more forcefully. We are being given a hodge-podge of a fantastic farrago in their stead, despite the blatant self-contradictions of this “mess of pottage” which attempts to include everything and claim the validity of just about anything you can image as some manifestation of universal truth. But such ephemeral clouds cannot really be defined except in the most nebulous language such as “all you need is love; love is all you need”, as per the Beatles early anthem to this wondrous revelation.

Just as a vacuum of the spirit cannot go long unfilled, neither can a vacuum in the human soul, which intuitively seeks Heaven, Paradise, Nirvana, Valhalla, Elysium, the Happy Hunting Grounds, or any other formulation we can come up with to indicate the unfilled hole-in-the-soul, as Blaise Pascal once termed it in his posthumous masterpiece, Pensées.

Many of the later Enlightenment philosophes in the 18th Century, followed by their numerous disciples in the Second Wave Enlightenment in the 19th Century, dogmatically chose to remove the Creator from the equation. They therefore created a spiritual and theological vacuum. As we have noted, a vacuum begs and demands to be filled. It always will be.

What moved in to take the place of the Creator and theology? As Nietzsche declared, “God is dead and we have killed Him”. He predicted that the vacuum created by His death would, had to be filled. He predicted, with deadly accuracy, that ideology would move into the place of theology. Into the place of the “dead” God would step the “Ubermensch”, the Superman, who would form the world in his own image by the exercise of his superior will to power.

Modern revolutions have borne out Nietzsche’s prophecy with a vengeance. The Age of Ideology has moved into the vacuum left by the erasure Judeo-Christianity. Ideology is the dramatic mask (as in ancient Greek theatre) of the will to power, the rationalization of the ubermensch drive to remake the world in the image of the paradigm of truth adopted by the enforcers of the ideology.

The fruits of this reformation are always presented as a promised Utopia – a paradise of sorts based on eliminating the sources of injustice and oppression and equalizing the distribution of resources and opportunity. The problem is always what to do with the dissenters, the incorrigibles who cannot or will not see the light and accept the new truth.

Since the First French Revolution (1789-99), the record is clear. The resisters of the New Order (the Nazi formulation of their promised Utopia) are systematically rooted out and eliminated. Every time we have witnessed one of these socio-political-economic tsunamis attempting to create the latest and greatest plan for Utopia, we have seen a hecatomb of mayhem and slaughter in its wake. The body counts belie every claim that humans can create the Promised Land; the ensuing multi-generational devastation denies every claim of every Utopian vision, whether Marxist, Maoist, Fascist, Nazi, Capitalist, whatever-ist.

But the answer of the next promisers of the coming socially engineered Utopia is to double-down and ignore (or obfuscate) history and soft-sell their own new soft Totalitarianism as per neo-Enlightenment wisdom.

Soft Totalitarianism is in the long run still taking us to the same destination. The chefs chortle, “Perhaps if we just turn up the heat more gradually and gently, the frog in the pot will be lulled to sleep and will not wake up (if ever) until our new world order is in place…”

Remember, Utopia = Nowhere, now and always. The Creator-God alone can fulfill the longing in your soul.

The Uses of History, 14 – France, Revolution #4, 1870-1, Part 1

(Photo credit – Louis Napoleon Bonaparte, 1849 – Wikimedia Commons)

Until 1871, no one in continental Europe or anywhere in the world with knowledgeable connections to Europe, as in North America or areas under European domination in other continents, questioned that the greatest European power after the United Kingdom was France. Britain, as unchallenged mistress of the world’s oceans and the wealthiest nation on earth, was in a class by itself. Despite all France’s tumultuous peregrinations from one regime to another, France was still the continental power most to be reckoned with in case of conflict or threatened conflict anywhere in Europe.

In 1848, an incredible series of revolutions and near revolutions had shaken Europe’s established order of Kingdoms and Empires, catalyzed once more by the French overthrow of the latest (and last) King and the establishment of The Second French Republic. The effects of that political earthquake shattered the ultra-Conservative control of Europe’s political and social life which had been imposed from on high in 1815 at the Congress of Vienna, and which had been enforced since then by the Holy Trinity of Autocracy, Austria, Russia, and Prussia.

Chinks in the Vienna order had inevitably appeared. When the Belgians revolted against the repressive royal regime of the Netherlands in 1830, the Three Autocrats pressured France’s new “Bourgeois King”, Louis-Philippe, to send in French troops to crush this violation of sanctioned order. Great Britain stepped in and “suggested” to the French that this would be most unwise, for the British intended to support Belgian independence. When Prussia threatened to come to the aid of the Dutch to crush this revolution, Britain and France jointly declared that Belgium would become a recognized neutral state and convened a convention in London to which all the Great Powers were signatories guaranteeing Belgium’s territorial integrity and political neutrality in any future great power disputes.

The Belgian episode was not even the first time the Congress of Vienna’s guarantee of the sacrosanctity of the Old Autocratic Order had been set aside. Greece had revolted against Ottoman tyranny in 1821, and the Turkish repression was so brutal that Western volunteers, filled with sympathy for the birthplace of ancient classic culture, one of the cornerstones of the West’s identity, joined the Greek rebels by the hundreds, as in a modern crusade against heathen Turks of old. The Autocrats at first declared hands off, for if rebels were justified in one place in overthrowing tyranny, how could they consistently repress the incipient liberalization movements within their own borders while encouraging them in another just because they happened to be Greeks. Besides, the ancient Greeks had been too close to democracy at their pinnacle, and they could hardly support that.

However, the British were not bound by “The Holy Alliance” or Austrian Foreign Minister Metternich’s post-Vienna machinations to crush any sign of rebellion and revolution anywhere on European soil. Sympathy for the Greeks in France was high as well. Disgusted and pressured by public opinion to take a hand in ending the genocide and massacres taking place in Greece and among Christian subjects of the Ottomans outside of Greece, in 1827 British and French Mediterranean squadrons were sent to “observe” off the coast of Greece. In the course of its patrols and “observations” near the Isle of Hydra at Navarino, they sank the Turkish-Egyptian Fleet which was carrying large reinforcements to the hard-pressed Turkish forces in the Morea.

Not to be outdone, and confessing a new conscience about allowing their Greek “brothers in the Orthodox faith” to be massacred by Muslim infidels, Russia declared war on Turkey, breaking ranks with Austria and Prussia, which had sworn neutrality. This war lasted till 1829, and one of its peace provisions, once more insisted on by British intervention, as the British were alarmed by Russian ambitions to capture and control Istanbul, was to recognize Greek independence. Austria was also alarmed by Russian expansionism into the Balkans, where Austria had her sights set as well. Russia was warned to scale back its demands on Turkish territory and accept Greece’s independence. The overall effect was the shattering of the Holy Alliance and the isolation of Russia.

With the Holy Alliance now thoroughly broken as of 1830, and the Vienna Congress order badly shaken, the Poles rose against Russia to regain their independence in late 1830. In 1831a full-blown war erupted after initial Polish success.

There was a large Polish émigré community in France, and especially in Paris, as there had been since Napoleon’s time. But in 1831, France was half a continent away and Louis-Philippe was as far as a monarch could be from Napoleon the Great. France sent its sympathy and moral support, and the Poles fought with great gallantry and futility. The King of Prussia sent troops to help the Russians crush the rebellion with great slaughter, for Prussia had its own Polish ethnic regions which it had usurped in the Partition of Poland among Russia, Prussia, and Austria in 1795. The Austrians kept an eye on their own Polish regions, but sent no troops into Poland itself, although asked to by Russia. More Poles emigrated to France, and refugees from terrible Russian oppression flooded even into Prussia and Austria.

But what of 1848? Russia’s liberal elements had gone underground and maintained a very precarious existence within the Tsarist empire after the Decembrist Revolt of 1825. While revolutionary and liberal democratic fervor were sweeping across Western and Central Europe, Tsar Nicholas 1 made sure little news of it leaked into his realm and ruthless police actions snuffed the least glimmer of stirrings out as soon as they appeared.

Meanwhile in France, great things were afoot, much to the envy of the Russian and Polish exiles, who discovered they had some things in common. However, Russian hubris and pan-Slavic Messianism towards all other Slavic peoples has always prevented the formation of any unified action plan. Ultimately, it seems, Russians view the rest of the Slavic world as their rightful sphere of imperial mission, and even the Greeks, who are certainly not Slavs, seem to be annexed to this notion by virtue of their Orthodox faith. For Russia inherited the role of Protector of the true Orthodox Christian Faith following the fall of the Byzantine Empire in 1453 at the hands of the Turks.

The French abolished their monarchy for the second time in 1848 and wrote themselves yet another constitution. However, finding the turmoil of what began to look like a return to resurgent Jacobinism (now wearing a Socialist costume with newly-minted Marxist credentials licking its heels) too much to stomach, in 1850 the voters elected the Second Republic’s First (and only) President in the person of non other than Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte, the nephew of the Great One!

Louis-Napoleon was not his uncle, but he was no political dolt either. He had a ready-to-hand playbook. In 1851, with the pretext of maintaining law and order and assuring the security and prosperity of the Republic for the benefit of everyone of all classes, Louis-Napoleon had himself confirmed as “President for Life” by plebiscite. (The plebiscite/referendum had been Napoleon the Great’s favourite tool to claim the sanction of popular approval for his most critical changes to the regime.) This was followed in 1852 by – you guessed it! – Louis-Napoleon assuming the Imperial Crown as Napoleon III (II had been I’s very briefly reigned son in 1814, after I’s first abdication), once more receiving a massive sanction by plebiscite.

Which takes us down the road to 1870-1 and Revolution #4.


The Uses of History, 13 – Christmas, 2

He who controls the present controls the past. He who controls the past controls the future.

George Orwell, 1984

(Image credit – Wikipedia)

In this pithy, punchy statement, Orwell’s insight is extraordinary. For any reader who has not yet read 1984, Orwell’s great masterpiece, one of the greatest works of literature in any language, I can only say emphatically, “YOU SHOULD!” All the more as we watch the current world, including the democratic nations, sliding ever closer to the downward spiral into creeping totalitarianism.

 Although the actual calendar date 1984 is now long past, the book is not about the historical year 1984. Rather, it is an extended parable about living under totalitarianism, whether of the left or the right. As such, it is as relevant today as it was when he first published it in 1949. Along with the rest of the world, Orwell had just watched humanity almost annihilate itself in the hecatomb of World War II. He had first had the idea for the book in the 1930s when he had seen his great hopes of a true revolution liberating the ordinary people dissolve in both the Fascist and Soviet versions of utopia-cum-nightmare. With Nazism and Fascism vanquished, in 1949 the world of East vs West stood on the brink of “Mutually Assured [nuclear] Destruction,” as the sobering phrase of the 1970s put it. Russia now had “the Bomb” and China had been taken over by Mao and the “People’s Liberation [Enslavement] Army”. The West was reluctantly accepting rearmament and forming NATO.

One of the chief characteristics of the 1984 dystopia was “Newspeak” – taking old words and assigning them new meanings, often diametrically opposed to the original signification. Newspeak’s twin was “Newthink”. Ideology was the key component of both these and to inculcate them, education had been completely coopted for indoctrination. Penalties for daring to think or speak differently involved what we would now term erasing the faulty algorithms – brainwashing, which in the novel involved chemical reprogramming.

A close understanding shows us that as a society and culture we have certainly been moving along the Orwellian trajectory with many of the laws, regulations, and policies governments and courts today have been implementing to reform (as in form over) the societies they control so that they conform to (as in line up with) the accepted ideology of the putatively wise people telling the politicians and their closest advisers the proper ways to think and act progressively.

This is not conspiracy theory. It has been and is observable across the whole gamut of culture and society, at least in Western civilization, over the last fifty years and more. It is phrased in language designed to appeal to the voters as “the right way to think; the right way to act; the right way to speak; the right way to educate; the right things to accept”, such as unlimited abortion, unlimited access to euthanasia [now a big push in Canada, the battle over abortion having long since been decisively won by the ultra-progressives], restrictions on unacceptable ideas which right-thinking people should now find objectionable in any form (and therefore they are hate-speech), no-fault criminal behaviour, exclusion of “retrogressives” from positions of influence, elimination of “outmoded” traditions from public life [mainly Christianity and its symbols and vocabulary in the West], and the demonization of just about everything built upon the traditional foundations of what was once called “Christendom” – and we could go on.

Which brings us once more, at this time of year, to Christmas and its irreplaceable place in the West, and the world.

Christmas is primarily about a birth. Not just any birth, but, according to the Christian story, the most important birth, human or of any other sort, in all of history. In fact, the big context of the story declares that this specific and extraordinary birth of a human baby boy had universal, Cosmic significance.

How is such a thing even possible – that a human baby’s birth should be connected to the outworking of something infinitely significant? The majority of modern-post-modern Christians in the 21st Century themselves struggle greatly with this notion, and many are actually embarrassed if asked to explain it, let alone defend it.

I confess to such feelings on occasion, especially around people who clearly message me that I am out of my league among “my betters”. However, in my curmudgeonly aging, I am no longer (much) intimidated by such vacuous pretentions and am willing to take up the challenge that the Apostle Peter put forward almost two thousand years ago: “But in your hearts, set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience…” (New Testament, First Letter of Peter, chapter 3, vss 15-16a, New International Version.)

“Keeping a clear conscience” is perhaps the big sticking point for most of us. After all, who ever has a 100% clear conscience? Especially in a culture which tells us that, individually, right and wrong are personal choices. But the same culture tells us, almost daily, about all the sins of commission and omission which past generations of Westerners have ever perpetrated on an otherwise innocent, defenseless world. Two contradictory standards in clear sight, but who’s noticing? Personally, I decide for myself what is really wrong. But collectively, those nasty ancestors of ours were terrible people because they didn’t adhere to our new morality.

In our individual lives we are well-enough aware of our failings and faults (sins, if you like). Religious or not, everyone haa a conscience to remind them of those, unless they are sociopaths, psychopaths, and narcissists. (The first two on this short list are usually the last one as well.) And, when we scratch deep enough, we discover that even supposed liberated Wokers know pretty clearly that at least some things are just plain wrong. But no absolutism please!?!

For our individual sins/faults/failings, the remedy is straight forward enough – repentance, confession, asking for forgiveness from God and anyone we have offended against (cf. the Jesus strategy in “The Lord’s Prayer”), then making restitution where possible. Agnostics and Atheists may leave God out, but the formula remains the same otherwise.

But how can we be absolved of all that Christians and nominal Christians and Western oppressors have supposedly, and too often really, done against so many others, both Christian and non-Christian, over the last millennium and more?

In the powerful Civil War film “Glory”, Colonel Robert Gould Shaw has a conversation with Trip, one of his ex-slave recruits in the 54th Massachusetts Infantry, the first all-black regiment, albeit officered by whites, in the United States Army. The setting is July 1863, the decisive month in the war. The conversation is fictionalized but probable.

Trip: “We’s all in it up to our necks, Kuhnel. Ain’t nobody clean.”

Shaw: “How do we get clean?”

Trip, pausing: “Ah reckon we ante up and kick in like men.”

When we refuse to “ante up and kick in like men” the denigrators and deconstructionists win by default. Meekness does not mean weakness. It is possible to accept that great injustice and even horrors are part of our ancestors’ sins. It is necessary to denounce them and abhor them, dedicating ourselves not to repeat them and to make right what can be made right.

But the great fake-out, the enormous fallacy that paralyses the present generation, and will keep paralyzing future generations, is that everything that has come down to us from our Christian forebears and our two-millennial old roots and traditions is invalid and hence just mythological bunk by association, by some sort of collective contamination.

That would be a correct inference, if it were actually true. But it is patently and blatantly false. It is so false that it is a lie of Goebbelsian proportions (as in Josef Goebbels, Adolf Hitler’s Minister of Propaganda and master manipulator of truth, public sentiment, and opinion in Nazi Germany). Goebbels: “Tell the biggest lie possible as loudly as possible and as often as possible and people will believe it.” Hitler had written the same thing in Mein Kampf. Goebbels learned the lesson and the technique from its true master.

If the anti-Christian mythology is true, let us also give up the pursuit of reason, science, and higher learning. Let us forsake the quest to shed our ignorance and find the right path to truth, justice, real equality, real liberty, peace, and the very notion that some things are absolutely, not just relatively, right or wrong. Let us make mercy and compassion dependent on the whim of the present coterie of intellectual sages, rulers, law-makers and administrators. Let us renounce the supposed great leap forward in understanding and applying fair standards in human rights of the last two hundred years.

“But”, you say, “these things are our inheritance from the Enlightenment and are inherently opposite to the dogmas and superstition of the “Old-Time Religion” that kept people in darkness and fear for centuries.”

Ignorance is indeed a great enemy. It is now born of our collective amnesia and modern myth-making about the superstition and blind dogmatism of those presumably benighted forebears who had supposedly been duped and deceived by religion (Christianity).

When you study at a university or any institution of higher learning, you study at an institution which was born in and emerged out of the Christian culture of medieval and early modern Europe. When you enjoy the benefits of universal public education, you are reaping the benefits of the foundational work of many generations of churchmen and churchwomen who believed in the right of ordinary people to know how to read, write, and do basic mathematics – then extended that to the right of all who could and would seek it to pursue the knowledge and skills God had created them to understand and be able to develop.

When you go to a hospital and receive medical care dedicated to “doing no harm” and treating you with the respect you deserve whether young or old, rich or poor, male or female, of any religion or ethnicity, you are benefitting from the Christian view of human beings as being made in God’s image and worthy of all care and consideration because all lives are of equal and infinite value in God’s eyes. That is the whole basis of universal public health care, of universal public education, of universal human rights.

If you don’t believe it, do the hard research to trace the origins of all these wonderful modern benefits we enjoy but which are once more being threatened, eroded, and devalued by outrageous claims and arbitrary limitations being imposed by truly ignorant, or perhaps willfully ignorant, people who “know better” and, we are to believe, are wiser than all the predecessors who fought for these things and discovered what they meant.

The very notion of modern science as an ordered, disciplined, verifiable pursuit of knowledge about the natural world is based on the order and beauty and wondrous complexity that demonstrates the nature of the Creator. And because the Creator made the Cosmos with order and design, it can be discovered and explored to reliably enrich human life and the very quality of existence for both humans and all creatures.

It is only later that unscrupulous exploiters of the new science and technology sought to justify their rampaging and ever-expanding pillaging of the creation. They used decontextualized Scriptures to say that God had given humankind dominion over all the world to use it as they wished. Humans, they claimed, have carte blanche to do with it what we will. Leaders of all kinds, in government or business, and even in religion, are always tempted away from the true order and proper boundaries the Creator intends for all His works. They are bewitched by the allure of more wealth, more influence, and more control at their disposal, and therefore more power and luxury to display their prowess.

The fallacy of blaming this exploitation on the corrupting influence of Christianity in particular is, or should be, virtually transparent to any fair-minded person with the most rudimentary understanding of history and human nature. It is not a peculiar failing of professing (or nominal) Christians to give in to greed, to seize control, to exploit people and the planet for selfish gain, fame, wealth, power, and prestige. Pagans did it extensively in antiquity. People in power and authority have done it and still do it in China, India, Africa, Asia, among the indigenous in every continent, since time immemorial. If “Christians” have done it and still do, so too Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Shintoists, Animists, Agnostics, and Atheists.

Injustice and oppression are, sadly, a universal condition of human societies, whether in huge empires or in tiny enclaves. While religion can play into this is as a tool to control and exploit, it is certainly not the cause. That is in the heart of humankind as it is, as far back as we can see, and as far-wide as we can look, regardless of time or place or social structure, regardless of believing in God or any number of divinities or demi-gods.

The birth of Jesus is not a myth. It is historical fact. The events and meaning of his life and his legacy are the exact opposite and the only antidote to all of the preposterous myths which have more and more captivated the public discourse about Christianity since the later 18th Century. This same Jesus is the only real hope that the human race has of staving off its growing danger of destroying itself.

A Good Tale

(copyright V. Marquis, Dec. 13, 2022)

(Image credit – Wikimedia Commons)

Let me hear a good tale

a tale of hope and ordinary folk

doing good things for one another

reaching out in others’ need

helping a stranger no questions asked

not passing by on the other side

with eyes averted and ears stoppered

to avoid the appeal and meeting those eyes

full of pain and need.

Let me hear a good tale

like when you gave up your time

inconvenient and all

effort, energy, dollars

not wanting or expecting any return

doing the needed and beyond

then quietly moving on to take no credit

just a blessing left behind.

Let me hear a good tale

of heroism offered quietly

to save those who could not save themselves

daring and risking full knowing

what might result

but understanding it must be done

and no one else went in but you.

Let me hear a good tale

that brings light and hope

in the dark and gloom

as if there is yet an angel

bringing good tidings of great joy

meant for every girl and boy

every woman and man

every creature high and low

that the Creator has not forgotten

these little folk so low-esteemed

while high and mighty gloat and preen.

Let me hear a good tale

of babies born,

tiny lives full of possibility

hope, joy, light in little eyes

innocent yet of any wrong

having not yet learned to be mean

to demean, to put down and shove aside.

Let me hear a good tale

of that tiny life all lying ahead

eagerly awaiting the Maker’s grace

eagerly expecting to see the Holy face

not yearning for shrewd conniving

and self-indulgent striving

which all too readily will invade his course.

Let me hear the great good tale

of the Bethlehem baby

born in all humility

hidden away in obscurity

to no-account parents in poverty

not even a crib to lay him in

not even a warm blanket to wrap him in

but only swaddling rags in a stable manger.

Let me hear once more this great good tale

of how this meek babe’s lowly estate

inspired hosts of angels to celebrate

brought poor shepherds to investigate

drew distant sages to congregate

confounding all we humans elevate

as what we consider great.

So you, tiny babe in your mother’s arms

surrounded by hope and love

may you soon know that Other Child

who brings to all who seek Him out

the greatest peace and answer of all –

you are loved by Infinite Love

and you belong to that One first and last.

The Uses of History, 12 – Christmas, 1

(Photo credit – Wikipedia)

The feast of Christmas as we generally know and observe it now in the West is a strange amalgam. Since the mid-1960s, in the name of inclusiveness and sensitivity, reinforced in the 1970s and 1980s by persistent lobbying and even legal action to remove the overtly Christian symbols and narrative around the feast from public view and even public discourse, a vaguely “warm and fuzzy” cultural feel-good hybrid has emerged. Its main narrative character is Santa Claus, an “elf” bearing little to no resemblance to his actual historical antecedent, a self-sacrificing and extravagantly generous 4th Century CE Christian Bishop from Anatolia (now central Turkey).

Because the Christian values of love, joy, peace, and compassion are universally valid in human hearts and aspirations, they are still extolled as the “true meaning of Christmas” – even by atheists and completely secular individuals who would never willingly associate them with Christianity or darken a church door.

Much effort has gone into changing the channel to replace the historical narrative about why Christmas still plays a pivotal role in the post-Christian, post-modern West’s culture. There is still an occasional, symbolic nod to Bethlehem and the stable where Jesus/Yeshua was born sometime between 6-4 BCE. After all, unless you want to ridiculously deny (as some do) that the historical person, Jesus of Nazareth, actually lived and was something like the person portrayed in the Christian New Testament, he cannot be completely avoided. Our “Common Era” calendar is, in reality, dated from his birth, the event we now strive to ignore, and the whole world now acknowledges this by using that dating system for everyday intercultural concourse. The feast was first marked by solemn observance among Christians beginning in the 4th Century CE.

For two hundred years previously there had been lively discussion among Christian scholars as to the date of Jesus’ birth, and the time of year. Sextus Julius Africanus, a Roman Christian historian, calculated that Jesus was conceived in Mary’s (his mother) womb on March 25. Nine months later for the birth would be December 25, which also coincided with the old Roman pagan feast of Saturnalia. Over time, some of Saturnalia’s less orgiastic elements, such as gift-giving, crept into how the feast was observed. Gift-giving as a recognition of God’s love for each one of his children seemed like a good thing to retain and has been part of the tradition ever since. Everyone loves to receive gifts and be made to feel special for one day of the year.

The word “Christmas” comes from “Christ Mass” – the solemn observance of Christ’s birth by Christians in their worship assemblies. The adoption of “neutral” substitutes for “Merry/Happy Christmas” such as “Happy Holidays” and “Season’s Greetings” across the West, formerly known as “Christendom”, is an indicator of how far a once vibrant civilization which had, until three generations ago, proudly declared its foundational values to be anchored in the life and person of Jesus of Nazareth, has fallen from its best days.

We are more than saturated with the tired, mea culpa narrative of how the Christian West systematically committed global imperial aggression and perpetrated manifold exploitation and atrocities upon the whole earth with its barbarous use of technological and military ascendancy and conscienceless capitalism. While too much of that is true, shunted to the side are many of the more positive impacts that accompanied the West’s one-time and, historically speaking, rather brief hegemony, a matter of perhaps two centuries, which, in long-term perspective, is rather short-lived. More on that to follow.

Observing and demonstrating the accuracy of such a claim is quite unpopular in the Woke-ultra-Progressive ideology that has taken hold of so much of what now passes for Western public policy-making. Instead of open, democratic debate and free discussion, we are met with haranguing, sententious, ironically holier-than-thou monologue, bombarding us from people who despise the very notion of spiritual “holiness”. Like the relentless chorus in an ancient Greek tragedy by Sophocles, this ceaseless refrain has replaced true discourse. As a last resort to drown out opposition, the woke-chorus is called out to shout down the “cultural Neanderthals” who mount a threatening challenge. In Canada, among many other episodes that could be cited, we have a recent and graphic exemplar of this in the treatment of Dr. Jordan Peterson, who, love him or hate him, and despite the best efforts of the neo-enlightened academic elite, is now the most-widely recognized intellectual in the world.

But I digress. Until the last fifty years, Christmas was mainly a Western feast-time focused on the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God and Son of Man, the Saviour born to free humanity from its slavery to sin. No wonder it was seen as a time for joyous celebration! No wonder that, for a brief season of 12 days (the traditional length of the Christmas Season from December 25 to January 6, the Feast of the Epiphany), quarrels and animosities could, or at least ought to be set aside, and, as much as possible, reconciled. The Prince of Peace took precedence over grudges and rancor.

Now largely emptied of the Christ-child, the mainstream has striven to somehow hang onto the good sentiments and message of hope he generates, This is a tall order when he is replaced by the religiously neutered term “the holidays” (a word ironically derived from “Holy Days”) and a spate of feel-good films, inundations of Holiday musak, a round of parties while running ourselves to exhaustion to meet social and gift-giving expectations. Nevertheless, the heart of the Christmas message is contagious enough that it has taken hold in many Asian countries which have no significant historical attachment to Christianity.

It would seem that the Spirit of Christmas that the Bethlehem Baby brought into the world with him 2000 years ago is working and touching many, despite all the fervent efforts of many secularists to render him irrelevant. After all, they can hardly make the Spirit invisible, since that is what He is already by His very nature. But that does not make Him unknowable or unreachable. Empty positive thought and proper inclusiveness rhetoric aside, the Spirit and the Son are far from irrelevant. Both are more relevant and more needed than ever in a world that has grown so fraught with bitter division and angry recrimination. The growing sense of disquiet and impending apocalypse is obvious now everywhere, on every continent, in every nation, whether formerly Christian, Muslim, Communist, Hindu, Buddhist, or of any other cultural identity we can name.

I am not nullifying or minimizing any of the wrongs done by Western imperialist expansion. I am certainly not excusing them, all the more when some of these things were carried out in the name of “the white man’s burden to bring civilization Christianize the the benighted world”.

Without excusing anything, let us observe that all of the sins and wrongs cited above are and historically have been endemic to militaristic and economic imperialism as far back into antiquity as we can trace. Documented and archeological historical records trace these terrible adjuncts of aggression and conquest as far back as the Assyrians (900-600 BCE). In every major imperialist upsurge since then, regardless of the religious or other aspects of the expansionist culture, the same patterns emerge. “The gods have favoured us. We are the Chosen people. Our destiny is to rule, and clearly therefore to not only dominate but subjugate and exploit.”

The works of pillage, rapine, and ruin and subsequent oppression and exploitation have been done very thoroughly in the name of the gods of Assyria, Babylon, China, Persia, Greece, Rome, Islam, and even one or another of the Hindu deities and Buddha, the ultimate pacifist. More recently all this has been done even more horribly in the name the secular religions Fascism, Nazism, and the “world-revolution” of Communism in its different shades and nuances. In fact, the slaughters and horrors carried out in the name of the ideological idols of the 19th and 20th Centuries were the most horrendous of all. So much for “established religion” being the root of all evil. The palpable ignorance of denying that all fanatical ideological commitments are indeed nothing less than religions minus a Deity (except the “Great Leader” at the center) is just willful, blind hypocrisy.

As Bob Dylan put it so powerfully, “You gotta serve somebody.”

Which brings us back to the Bethlehem Baby who grew up to be the greatest inspirational figure in all human history. Remove all the subsequent distortions of what He and His first followers said and began, and no message ever brought or still extant brings greater light and hope. Try as hard as we might, He and His Good News cannot ever be replaced with anything remotely comparable from any other source.

Merry Christmas and many blessings to you, dear Readers.


The Uses of History, 11 – USA Meltdown, 2 – Revolutionary Reset

““A house divided against itself cannot stand.” I believe this government cannot endure half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved – I do not expect the house to fall – but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other.”

Abraham Lincoln, June 16, 1858, speech to Republican Illinois State Convention delegates at 8PM.

This quote is drawn from one of Lincoln’s most famous speeches, surpassed only by the Gettysburg Address in November 1863 and the Second Inaugural in March 1865. It is also the most prophetic pronouncement ever given by America’s greatest President, perhaps by any American President. As he predicted, the “House” of America could not continue so divided as it had become since 1783, when it had won its independence. Not until the Thirteenth Amendment was ratified on December 6, 1865, after Lincoln’s assassination, did the official division of the House end.

However, the course of American history since 1865 demonstrates that the political, social, and economic roots of division are still deeply embedded in the fabric of American culture and society. Racism and class divisions cannot be erased by any law or whole gaggle of laws, such as the 1964 Civil Rights Act or any subsequent legislation.

From its beginning, the United States institutionalized racism in its constitution. For the next 76 years it remained there with the official acceptance of African slavery within the very fabric of the nation’s foundation. The agitation and bitterness and roiling dissension it gradually caused among the regions, North and South, East and West, as the nation overran the southern half of North America was never far below the surface. The North resented it and proceeded to eliminate slavery from its states, while the South became more and more anchored in its dependence on its “peculiar institution”.

As new territories and states were added, the rivalry to maintain a precarious balance between “free soil” and “slave soil” became increasingly ideological and theological. The outworking of this animosity became more and more hostile and violent until, in 1854, Kansas Territory erupted in a full-blown rehearsal for the coming Civil War. The hatred spilled over into Congress on May 22, 1856, when hate- and rage-filled South Carolina Representative Preston Brooks almost killed Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner on the floor of the Senate by caning him as the Senator was giving a speech denouncing South Carolina Senator Butler’s role in the violence in Kansas. Sumner was in critical condition before Brooks was disarmed and forcibly dragged out. He was fully six months in convalescence.

The 1860 Presidential race was focused on one issue – slavery and its spread throughout the country. The Supreme Court’s Dred Scott decision of 1854 had opened the door for slavery to infiltrate the hitherto Free States. For a majority of northern voters, this was a bridge too far. The Republican Presidential nominee, Abraham Lincoln, was the only candidate clearly committed to ending the spread of slavery. So far gone were things that the Southern State electoral authorities refused to even put Lincoln’s name on the ballot, falsely labeling him a flaming abolitionist.

Many of the slave states said that if Lincoln were elected they would secede. Despite all the anti-democratic actions, the hate-language, and the hand-wringing and dire warnings of northern Democrats over Lincoln’s “radicalism” threatening to dismantle the country, northern voters, thoroughly disgusted with the Southern domination of the Executive and the Courts, elected Lincoln in every free state, giving him victory in the Electoral College despite his illegal exclusion from the ballot in the South.

Lincoln was sworn in on March 4, 1861 in Washington, after having had to travel through slave-state Maryland incognito under multiple death threats. By that point, seven slave-states had seceded and formed the Confederate States of America on February 8, 1861. By April, the “Confederacy” would encompass eleven states.

The Civil War which erupted with the Confederate bombardment on Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor on April 12, 1861 would last until May 26, 1865. In human terms, there were 750 000 military deaths, more than all American military deaths in the War of 1812, the Indian Wars, the Spanish-American War, World Wars 1 and 2, Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War, Iraq, and Afghanistan combined. There is no reliable number given for civilian deaths by “collateral damage”, but we can be sure that the total dead, military and civilian, were well over a million in four years of horrendous carnage. The total population of the US in 1861 was 18.5 million in the North, 5.5 million whites and 3.5 million slaves in the South, and 2.5 million 0.5 million slaves in the border states for a total of about 31 million.

As the war dragged on with an every higher “butcher’s bill” piling up, Lincoln became morally convinced and religiously convicted that it would not end until “every drop of blood shed by the (slave-plantation and workshop) Overseer’s lash” had been paid for by the blood of the free population of both North and South. He had come to see the war as an expiation for all the unresolved sins and failures of the Founding Fathers in not dealing with the most glaring violations of the solemnly affirmed foundational values right at the start.

Who’s to say that Lincoln was not right? His plan for the post-war was framed around justice and reconciliation to ensure the South would not be driven to desperation and into further retrenchment in resentment and bitterness by a vengeful and triumphant North. Tragically for his family and his country, his noble life was cut short by a southern-sympathizing big-name actor and ideological fanatic named John Wilkes Booth on April 14, 1865 as the President was relaxing with his wife taking in a light comedy at Ford’s Theatre in Washington. His vision for national reconciliation and the cleansing of the nation’s racist sins so it could move into the future in a new and more generous spirit died with him.

The administration which ensued was governed by the revenge-minded Republican-controlled Congress. The South was treated like a beaten foe. When “Reconstruction” ended in 1877 and northern troops withdrew, the North’s financiers, industrialists, and commercial exploiters were happy to reap huge fiscal benefits from the South and ignore the violations of human and constitutional rights as the old white dominance by white supremacists returned to power. The newly emancipated Blacks were reduced to virtual serfdom as the northern business plutocrats quickly reverted to “business as usual”, choosing to look the other way as African Americans were systematically cheated and deprived of the rights that had been recognized as theirs by law and Constitution.[i]

Thus, while Lincoln had sought to set right the failures of the Revolution and had understood that the war had been the result of those failures, he believed that, at the same time, it had given the country a second chance, an opportunity for “a new birth of freedom” as he put it in his Gettysburg Address, one of the greatest political speeches of all time. With his assassination, the dead President’s charitable magnanimity evaporated in the red-fury which followed. The opportunity was wasted and the Revolutionary reset of the Civil War failed to take.

Thus we are left with the long, suffering road to today. The American Revolution remains incomplete. The bitter fruit of the Sins of the Fathers are still being visited on a nation still embroiled at its tortured heart. The original racist infection festers and has metastasized in numerous tendrils of intolerance. Unhappily, some of the most ardent and bitter rival factions claim that they stand for the true values of the God Lincoln had come to believe was intimately concerned with bringing America through its great crisis. Lincoln had aimed to guide America into a true and final understanding of its place in the world as a beacon of hope and liberty and true equality among all its peoples from all their origins. It would be fair to say that Mr. Lincoln would be very hard-pressed to recognize much of his vision still living among significant portions of the zealots now calling themselves “true American patriots”.

[i] One might be forgiven for seeing similarities with how whole global regions have been treated by American and Western capitalists since World War 2.

The Uses of History, 10 – USA Meltdown, 1

History is a dance with the past, with a phantom or ghost – sometimes well-defined, sometimes mere outline, always mysterious.

VJM, 2022

The infant United States of America emerged from its successful Revolution in 1783 far from unified. The Treaty of Paris brought peace with Great Britain and an enormous addition of territory between the Appalachians and the Mississippi River. But it did not bring internal unity. The former colonies had ended the struggle as a loose affiliation of autonomous entities called the Confederation of the United States of America. The poorly funded central government had little power to sway the internal conditions or politics of the thirteen individual state governments.

South of Virginia, there was serious division and social turmoil. In the North, New York had more or less reluctantly accepted the result of the war, with much of its population, especially in the east, having maintained close ties with the British, who had occupied New York City and most of the Hudson Valley since 1776. The British did not leave until 1784 under an agreement to allow those wishing to leave the USA for British territory in Canada or elsewhere to exit via New York aboard British ships. For all who chose this, including some thousands of African-Americans who had fought for the British on the promise of freedom from slavery, the trek to New York was through thoroughly unfriendly country and filled with perils from vengefully-minded Americans.

We will not rehearse the early internal vicissitudes of the newly-minted independent nation on the eastern seaboard of North America. Suffice it to say that it became quickly apparent that the first constitution, the Articles of Confederation, in force since 1777, proved woefully inadequate to knit together such a disparate group of semi-independent states all jealous of their newly-won autonomy, and quite unwilling to surrender any significant part of their freedom to determine their own future. It was also already becoming clear that north of Maryland the states were moving towards eliminating slavery, while from Maryland south slavery was deeply anchored in the economic and social fabric.

A group of zealous patriots could see that unless they found a way to really create unity, the new country would disintegrate. A gaggle of thirteen petty countries would fall prey to European predators, and particularly Great Britain which, with its immense naval and commercial power, was expecting and waiting for its old provinces to collapse in chaos. Mother could then woo some of them, at least, to rejoin the imperial fold.

In 1787, the zealots of unity met in Philadelphia to draft a new constitution. What emerged is the current basic foundational law of the United States. In 1789 it came into effect after all thirteen states ratified it. Many amendments have been added to it since then to deal with critical issues needing resolution over the last 232 years.

Some historians have seen the Constitution as the effective end of the American Revolution. Others have said that the Revolution was unfinished until the Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery after the Civil War (1861-65). Some say that it has never been finished; the deepest issues that have divided the American psyche ever since 1789 have never been truly resolved.

When the Constitution took effect in 1789 it had glaring omissions from its provisions. In seeking to strike a balance between democratic freedom and restrictions on freedoms that would prevent the new experiment in equality from blowing up in their faces, the “Fathers” could not or would not tackle such questions head-on. Here are the three most significant: (1) the acceptance of slavery as a sort of normal human condition for the great mass of African-Americans; (2) the exclusion of women from the very notion of equality with men; (3) the complete absence of consideration for Native Americans in any capacity. The consequences of these omissions over the long term would be and remain devastating. In all three cases, only males of European descent were actually considered as being “created equal” as far as the actions of the “Founding Fathers” are concerned.

It is easy to excuse these exclusions as due to the normal conceptions and conditions of society in the 18th and 19th Centuries. But, when we look more closely, we find that awareness of the blatant injustice of these assumptions was certainly circulating. The Quakers, who still had a strong voice and influence in Pennsylvania, certainly made such views (their own) known. As did others. Abigail Adams, now considered a proto-feminist, wife of John Quincy Adams, one of the Founding Fathers and a future President from Massachusetts, gave strong voice to the injustices, as did some other persons. Some of the Constitution’s signatories had private reservations, recognizing that their work was incomplete. But it seemed as if they had taken things as far as they could then go, and resolution of these great questions would have to wait for a more propitious time. Even Thomas Jefferson, a slave-owner and principal author of much of the document, knew that there were glaring insufficiencies in it. But the goal was a compromise of unity, not moral perfection or absolute justice. Even he was not willing to part with his estates and slaves for the sake of moral purity or racial justice.

We cannot retell all the wheeling and dealing that took place to get the thing done and accepted. Numerous sources and studies have shown all this in great detail. But, when it all shakes down, the basic mindset of white male supremacy and right to govern was set in virtual stone. What’s more, the right to dominate and exploit the “inferior races” (African and Native) and “weaker gender” (female) were firmly entrenched, sanctified by a pseudo-religious sanction as being the order of things ordained by the Deity who had blessed the American cause with victory and set America up as a light in the world to proclaim democratic freedom to amazed humanity.

The acceptance of such “preordained” conditions was not universal. A strong and increasingly vocal minority of people, especially in the north, began almost immediately to declare that the preconditions for a future explosion had been laid down – especially on the slavery and race question. People of conscience were also already denouncing the terrible injustices being perpetrated on the Natives as they were being systematically forced out of their ancestral lands with no compensation and no regard for the atrocities being inflicted on them. Greed for access to the unlimited resources of the West, for opportunities to exploit and become rich regardless of the human cost or the impact on the land, became a burning drive and continuous theme in America’s “Manifest Destiny” to win hegemony over all the Americas. Progress and development of the vast “empty wilderness were their own justification, and the right of conquest was the order of things as God had made them.

In the short term, the race to subdue, dominate, and exploit a whole continent rapidly made the United States an economic and territorial phenomenon which all could quickly recognize would transform the “land of the free” into a global great power and a regional superpower. However, the innate internal contradictions which lay in its foundations because of the “Unfinished Revolution” would one day rise to the surface. Many predicted just such an outcome. But as long as the rush to gain the continent’s enormous potential for development could keep them buried, one way or another the problems could be brushed aside and postponed for the sake of power, money, and personal fulfillment.


Changing our mind with final consequences

This post was written a couple of months ago but scheduled for the end of November. Recent developments in Canada have caused me to publish it now. I’ve seen a few of those lengthy on-line advertisements promoting a wonder drug, somewhat like the traveling medicine shows of the old west, wanting to part us with […]

Changing our mind with final consequences

This is a guest post from the Blog “Bookends2016”. It is well worth reading. Follow the link to read the full post.