March 10, 2015

1. Netanyahu

Netanyahu’s recent speech seemed like a memorable historical moment, hence it was a sought-after ticket. I thought the speech was moving and eloquent, I’m glad I watched it, though Netanyahu himself seems to lack a flair for the dramatic. It might be a good speech for high-school students to watch — it reviews the history of the Jews and the history of Israel, and it deals with current affairs. Netanyahu emphasized Israeli gratitude for American assistance, and expressed Israel’s determination to fight for its own survival — with or without American help. Netanyahu repeated one of the basic principles of the Jewish people and the Jewish state: Never Again. Never again allow Jews to be slaughtered without resisting in every possible way.

One objection that might be made to Netanyahu’s speech, and to Zionism in general, is that it’s backward-looking, it focuses on preserving the past, it doesn’t focus on spiritual and cultural growth. We can’t foster spiritual and cultural growth, in my view, by studying the ancient texts in the ancient languages. A Muslim doesn’t develop his inner life by memorizing the Koran, nor does a Protestant by poring over the works of Martin Luther. Though we may respect the past and study the past, life is about the future, it’s about growing not clinging. When Einstein saw conservative Jews praying at the Wailing Wall, he said they were “men with a past but without a future.”

That which fostered spiritual growth in past epochs is unlikely to foster it today. What Forster said of Christianity is equally true of Islam and Judaism: “It was a spiritual force once, but the indwelling spirit will have to be restated if it is to calm the waters again, and probably restated in a non-Christian form.”1 A narrow focus on preserving the past divides Jew from Muslim, and Muslim from Christian. If we face the future, and develop new approaches to spirituality, we’ll bring Jews, Muslims, and Christians closer together.

Ortega said that a nation must be based on “an inspiring plan for a life in common.”2 The slogan Never Again, while understandable as a reaction to the past, isn’t a plan for the future, let alone an inspiring plan. It’s not a positive goal, it’s a negative goal.

The sharpest critic of Israel that I’ve read is Elie Kedourie, who was not only a Jew himself, he was a devout Jew, a leader in the Jewish community; indeed, his family had been leaders in the Jewish community for centuries, if not millennia. In his politics, Kedourie was a staunch conservative. Kedourie took a dim view of nationalism in general, and of Zionism in particular. He was critical of Israel for mixing religion and politics, for making Hebrew the national language, etc.3

The decision to revive Hebrew was like the decision of Irish nationalists to revive Gaelic. Such a decision is backward-looking, and inhibits communication between peoples. A young Irish intellectual, or a young Israeli intellectual, would be wise to write in English, and teach his children English, he’d be wise to face the future, rather than live in the past.

What would Kedourie have said about the Arab Spring? He would have been skeptical of the Arab Spring, and he wouldn’t have been surprised to see the Arab Spring turn into the Arab Chaos. About fifty years ago, Kedourie said, “the distemper of the modern east is not a passing one, [its] political instability is rather the outcome of a deep social and intellectual crisis which the schemes of the reformer and the goodwill of the philanthropist can scarcely assuage or modify.”4


Netanyahu’s father, Benzion Netanyahu, died in 2012 at the age of 102. Born in Warsaw, Benzion moved with his family to Palestine in 1920. He studied medieval history, becoming a specialist in Spanish Jews and the Spanish Inquisition. He was also active in politics, supporting the right-wing Revisionist Zionists, who were opposed to the Labor Zionists.

Benzion was an associate of Ze’ev Jabotinsky, leader of the Revisionist Zionists. Jabotinsky was a hard-liner and militant before going to Israel, before the Holocaust; while living in the Russian Empire, Jabotinsky organized armed resistance to pogroms. His slogan was, “Jewish youth, learn to shoot!” He adopted the name Ze’ev, Hebrew for wolf. The hard line that Benjamin Netanyahu takes today is the same hard line that his forebears have taken for a century. Benzion was a friend of Abba Ahimeir, who admired Mussolini, and wanted to build Israel on Fascist principles.

Benzion had three sons, all of whom served in the Israeli Special Forces. His eldest son, Yonaton or “Yoni”, led the Entebbe raid, was the only soldier killed in that raid, and became an Israeli national hero. Since Benzion was a scholar/professor in the U.S., his sons spent many years in the U.S. Yoni studied philosophy at Harvard, Benjamin earned an architecture degree and an MBA from MIT, and Iddo (Benzion’s youngest son) studied at Cornell and became a doctor.

Click here for a good documentary about the Entebbe raid.5 One of the Israeli soldiers interviewed for the documentary said, “We had a rehearsal the night before the raid. It was a bad rehearsal. For a good operation, you need a bad rehearsal.” A bad rehearsal protects you from over-confidence, keeps you on your toes, gives you what the Chinese call a small heart (xiao xin), prevents you from getting a “big head.”

2. Miscellaneous

A. Are footnotes still necessary? If quotes can be traced online, a footnote may not be needed. If, for example, I quote Dickens, the quote can be found in Google, and traced to a certain book/chapter, so why would a footnote be necessary? Likewise, if I quote the New York Times, the quote can probably be traced online, making a footnote unnecessary.

B. ISIS is to Al-Qaeda as the Jacobins are to the Girondists. Perhaps every radical movement evolves in an ever-more-radical direction, until a reaction sets in. In the case of the French Revolution, the reaction is termed The Thermidorian Reaction. When ISIS burned a Jordanian pilot, some people hoped that this would be the turning point, this would spark anti-ISIS feeling in the Muslim world. One observer said, “These people are in many ways their own worst enemies. You just have to give them time and space and their extremity will alienate their own base.”

C. I saw a 1995 Booknotes interview with Donald Kagan. Kagan says that war is often caused, not by the desire for money or land, but by the desire for honor, prestige, respect. Is this what drives Muslim violence — a feeling that they’re forgotten, neglected, etc.?

Kagan praises Thucydides for being contradictory, for keeping contradictory ideas in his head, such as these ideas:

  • there are vast forces that we can’t control
  • some people can have an influence on events

I think Kagan’s view is profound, and I’ve often emphasized that reality is contradictory, truth is contradictory. Did Kagan get this idea from Momigliano? This is the kind of profound idea that one finds in Momigliano. I’m not suggesting that Kagan isn’t capable of profound ideas. But we know that Kagan was an admirer of Momigliano, and I have a hunch that this particular idea comes from Momigliano.

D. A 24-year-old visited my website and we exchanged e-mail. I offered him some advice:

  • stay positive, try to take small steps in a positive direction
  • try yoga and meditation
  • travel if you possibly can
  • try to acquire practical skills like carpentry and electrical
  • keep reading and learning
  • keep writing, but don’t worry if fame eludes you

E. I saw an interesting interview with Newt Gingrich. Gingrich discusses American politics, especially the period from 1975 to 1995. The interview is part of the series called Conversations With Bill Kristol. Click here for Part II of the Gingrich interview. Kristol’s 2-hour interview with Elliott Abrams is also lively and interesting; Abrams discusses the State Department, George W. Bush, etc.

Abrams says that, after the 9/11 attacks, Bush tried to understand the motive for the attacks, and he decided that dictatorship was a breeding-ground for terrorism, dictatorship gave young men no hope for advancement. Thus, a dictator like Saddam indirectly fostered terrorism, and replacing Saddam with a system that was politically and economically open would undermine terrorism. An open society in Iraq might have a ripple effect throughout the Middle East, toppling dictators and undermining terrorism. Of course, this wasn’t the only reason why Bush invaded Iraq in 2003, but it was one of the reasons.

Click here for Kristol’s interview with economist Larry Summers, and here for a talk by Kristol himself.

F. I discovered a science writer named Peter Medawar. He was a pioneer in organ transplants, and he won a Nobel Prize. Richard Dawkins called him “the wittiest of all scientific writers.” Among his books is Induction and Intuition in Scientific Thought (1969).

G. In several previous issues, I’ve praised the writings of David Brooks, but I take issue with a sentence from one of his recent columns: “Research by Raj Chetty of Harvard and others suggests that having a really good teacher for only one year raises a child’s cumulative lifetime income by $80,000.” Can we identify which teachers are good and which aren’t? Can we identify which are “really good” and which are just good? How can we possibly attach a dollar figure to having a “really good” teacher for one year? Isn’t this a case of a researcher collecting and shaping data to support a thesis that he likes? Imagine a researcher saying, “Having a really good teacher doesn’t affect lifetime income, so we should hire those who are willing to work for the least money.” Isn’t education about enriching life in more than a financial sense? I think Brooks has too much respect for SocialScience research, which is often an unreliable guide to truth.

3. The Third Man

Where does the phrase “third man” come from? Why did Graham Greene use it as the title of a movie (and a novella)?

As I mentioned in the last issue, a character in the movie, Harry Lime, is said to be based on Greene’s old chum, Kim Philby. Lime tries to escape the police by descending into Vienna’s sewer system, as Philby once helped communists escape by guiding them through Vienna’s sewers. Perhaps Philby told Greene about his adventures when they were working together for MI6; perhaps Greene thought that such adventures, in such a city, would make a good story. Greene often used reality as material for his fiction.

In the movie, it turns out that Lime/Philby is the third man. And in 1951, when the British diplomats Burgess and Maclean disappeared, it was suspected that they had defected to the Soviet Union, and that Philby had tipped them off, that Philby was the “third man.”6 But the movie was released in 1949, before Burgess and Maclean defected, before it was suspected that Philby was the “third man.” So what prompted Greene to call his movie/novella The Third Man? And why was Lime/Philby in the role of “third man”? Is this a case of life imitating art? We know there are cases where art anticipates life in astonishing ways: the death of Proust’s beloved chauffeur, Poe’s Richard Parker, Morgan Robertson’s Titan, etc. Is this another such case?

Around 1960, Philby was spending a long, relaxing evening in a Beirut bar, and a friend asked him, “Were you the third man?” He responded, “When your friends are in trouble, you have to help them.” In other words, Philby admitted that he was the third man. He might have said, “Yes, I was the third man both in reality and in film — in film first, and then in reality.”

If you search Wikipedia for Third Man, you reach a page about the Third Man Factor, or Third Man Syndrome. This happens when two people are struggling in a life-threatening situation, and a third person, some sort of spirit, seems to accompany them; sometimes the spirit accompanies more than two people.

Shackleton, in his book South, described his belief that an incorporeal being joined him and two others during the final leg of their journey. Shackleton wrote, “during that long and racking march of thirty-six hours over the unnamed mountains and glaciers of South Georgia, it seemed to me often that we were four, not three.” His admission resulted in other survivors of extreme hardship coming forward and sharing similar experiences.

Readers of this e-zine may recall the case of Dieter Dengler: “Dengler’s father was a German soldier, and died in World War II. Dengler was once running from the communists [during the Vietnam War], came to a fork in the trail, and saw a vision of his father pointing the way to safety.” For more on this subject, consider a book called The Third Man Factor: Surviving the Impossible.

4. Ancient Rome

A. The Provinces

I’d like to continue discussing Roman history, as set forth in Cary and Scullard’s A History of Rome Down to the Reign of Constantine.

According to Cary and Scullard, Rome exploited the provinces during the Republican period. On the whole, however, the provinces were better off with the Romans than without them, since the Romans brought peace (or at least, more peace than before), since not all Roman governors were corrupt, and since the provincials retained “a liberal amount of local self-government.”7

Our authors say that Rome didn’t exploit Italy as it exploited the provinces. Italy is where Republican Rome recruited many of its soldiers. In the provinces, on the other hand, military arts were forgotten, and the people were powerless to resist greedy governors.

Roman politicians felt obliged to sponsor games and festivals in Rome, so they wanted to extract money from the provinces. They viewed their service in the provinces as a chance to get rich, and they sold various forms of power. If you were a provincial, and you wanted to influence the outcome of a trial, or if you wanted to be exempted from quartering troops, you would pay the governor.

And you had to deal with the tax collectors, also known as tax farmers (publicani). The tax collectors paid the total tax to the Roman treasury, then collected taxes from the people. Some of them bought grain at harvest time, when prices were low, and sold it at high prices during lean times. Some loaned money at usurious rates, then used force to collect their debts. So provincials had to cope with various forms of exploitation, especially if they were ruled by an unscrupulous governor. Hence provincials were generally less satisfied with Roman rule than Italians were.

B. Domestic Politics

Turning to domestic politics, our authors say that many of the crises of the late Republic can be traced to one cause: the difficulty of adjusting the institutions of a city-state to the new realities of an extensive empire. Our authors compare this challenge to the modern challenge of adjusting British institutions to the Industrial Revolution and the revolution in communications. Some might say that we’re currently in the throes of adjusting to the Information/Computer/Internet Revolution.

When we look at the last thousand years of history, it appears that the power of the people steadily grows, and the power of the aristocracy steadily declines.8 In fact, one could argue that the aristocracy no longer exists. During the Roman Republic, however, the power of the aristocracy didn’t steadily decline. Discussing the 2nd century BC (200 BC to 100 BC), our authors say that the power of the aristocracy grew because they were able to buy the votes of the urban electorate, manipulate them with games, feed them with free food, etc.

Every aristocratic politician had a bevy of clients, dependents, followers. There were no political parties, but there were competing families, and elections were hotly contested. Rivalries spilled over from elections to trials, as politicians found ways to charge their rivals with illegal conduct. For example, Cato the Elder was “ever on the look-out for a pretext to invoke the law against his adversaries.”9 He himself was impeached 44 times in the course of his long career.

Politicians appealed to voters not by advocating certain policies, but by doing favors for them, and by their personal charm. In an earlier period of Roman history, there was a sturdy middle class that fought for their rights, and checked the power of the aristocracy, but now there was just a city population of dependents.

The aristocracy was reluctant to reform antiquated institutions because they occupied a privileged position in society, they liked things the way they were. And why change a system that had worked for so many centuries, and had brought Rome to such a lofty height of power and prestige? And so the antiquated institutions stumbled on until they finally collapsed.


We take it for granted that the year begins on January 1, but why not March 1 or June 1 or any other day? Why does the year begin on January 1? Cary and Scullard say that the Roman year began in March until the Romans realized that the new consuls for the new year were arriving in Spain too late to organize their army for the spring campaign. So they decided to send the new consuls to Spain on January 1, which meant starting the year on January 1. (The Romans identified years by the names of that year’s consuls. “The year 59 BC in the modern calendar was called by the Romans ‘the consulship of Caesar and Bibulus’.”10)

C. Roman Society 200 BC to 100 BC

There were two kinds of slaves: house slaves, who were often more educated than their masters, and were often Greek, and field slaves, who were treated little better than farm animals, and were generally non-Greek, “barbarian.” Greek slaves sometimes acted as tutors to Roman youth, and helped spread Greek culture to Italy. As the poet Horace said, “Captured Greece took the savage victor captive [Graecia capta ferum victorem cepit].” One is reminded of China civilizing the conquering Mongols and Manchus.

Field slaves often lived in underground chambers, which they doubtless dug themselves. They were given just enough food to allow them to work from morning to night. They could attempt revolt, or just slow the pace of their work and reduce their effort. Since slaves had little incentive to work hard, slave labor was unproductive, barely profitable.

Why didn’t Rome experience an Industrial Revolution? Why did its industry remain stuck at a primitive level? One reason, according to Cary and Scullard, was “a restricted internal market due to the poverty of the masses.”11 (We heard this explanation before, when we discussed Rostovtzeff.) Another reason was the difficulty of transporting goods: “Few of the rivers of Italy lend themselves to the transport of industrial or natural products, and the cost of transport by land was crippling.” The Romans used a choking collar on their horses; a better collar wasn’t invented until the Middle Ages.12

Like the U.S., Rome had an unfavorable trade balance — it imported much, exported little. Nonetheless, money ended up in Rome as a result of taxation, and in the form of war booty. The Romans enjoyed a virtual monopoly of money-lending.

While Roman industry was primitive, Roman finance was advanced. When the tax farmers (publicani) were going to advance money to the treasury, they joined together to spread risk, and they sold shares to the public. The Dutch are often credited with creating the joint-stock company, but actually this credit should go to the Romans. A company of tax farmers could incorporate and become a “legal person,” which “survived the death or retirement of the individual associates.”13 In the field of finance, the Romans “left the Greeks and Orientals far behind them.”

Just as the use of money can be considered more advanced than barter, so too the use of credit can be considered more advanced than the use of money. The Romans often used credit — that is, they maintained an account at a bank, and bought things with checks, letters of credit, etc.

Turning to Roman literature, our authors say that Cato the Elder is justly called the father of Latin prose. At a time when most Romans writers used Greek, Cato used Latin. He was a prolific writer: “Besides publishing over 150 of his speeches, [Cato] wrote encyclopedic works on rhetoric, medicine, military matters, law and not least his surviving De Agricultura.” His Origines dealt with the history of Rome, and Italy in general, from its early days to his own time; the Origines survives only in fragments.

Turning to philosophy, our authors say that the first Greek philosophers who came to Rome were viewed as “intellectual and moral anarchists,” and were promptly banished.14 The Romans had no patience with logical puzzles and metaphysical abstractions; they were hostile to the skepticism of the Academic school, and they looked askance at the Epicurean school, which advocated enjoyment of life and detachment from public affairs. But the Romans warmly embraced the Stoic school, which advocated endurance of suffering and participation in public affairs. Some of the leading Stoic writers, like Seneca and Marcus Aurelius, were Romans.

5. Bernard Bailyn

The historian Gordon Wood, who’s now 81, recently published a book review in the Weekly Standard. Wood reviewed a book by Bernard Bailyn, Sometimes an Art: Nine Essays on History. Bailyn was Wood’s mentor at Harvard; now 92, Bailyn is still active, still writing.15

Bailyn’s specialty (and Wood’s specialty) is early American history. According to Wood,

Few, if any, American historians in the modern era of professional history-writing have dominated their particular subject of specialization to the degree that Bernard Bailyn has dominated early American history in the past half-century.

One of Bailyn’s best-known books is The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution (1967), which argues that ideas mattered to the Founding Fathers, they weren’t motivated by economic interests, as Charles Beard had argued. The Founding Fathers were attached to the idea of liberty, which had developed in England over centuries. They rebelled against the British because they thought the British were trying to replace liberty with tyranny. Bailyn’s Ideological Origins won both a Pulitzer Prize and a Bancroft Prize.

Bailyn’s interest in intellectual history may have been sparked by his mentor Perry Miller, author of The Life of the Mind in America; according to Wood, Bailyn “greatly admires” Miller.16 Another inspiration for Bailyn was Charles McLean Andrews, a historian who specialized in the colonial period. Andrews is a prominent figure in the “Imperial School,” which views early America in the context of the British Empire. A third inspiration for Bailyn was Oscar Handlin, who was one of Bailyn’s teachers at Harvard. Handlin was interested in immigration, and won a Pulitzer Prize for The Uprooted: The Epic Story of the Great Migrations That Made the American People.

Immigration became a focus of Bailyn’s work. Bailyn wrote a series of books called The Peopling of British North America. One volume in this series is Voyagers to the West: A Passage in the Peopling of America on the Eve of the Revolution. Voyagers won a Pulitzer Prize in 1987.

The only biography Bailyn wrote is The Ordeal of Thomas Hutchinson, which won a National Book Award. It deals with a Tory, a Loyalist, who was the Governor of Massachusetts in the years leading up to the American Revolution; Hutchinson was torn between his loyalty to Massachusetts and his loyalty to the British Empire.

In an earlier issue, I discussed an interview with Gordon Wood. I said that Wood “decries the current view that the most worthy topics for historical research are race, gender, and class.” In his piece in the Weekly Standard, Wood returns to this theme. He says that Bailyn’s work is criticized by contemporary scholars because it doesn’t focus on race, gender, etc.

College students and many historians [Wood writes] have become obsessed with inequality and white privilege in American society.... The general reading public that wants to learn about the whole of our nation’s past has had to turn to history books written by non-academics. The new generation of historians has devoted itself to isolating and recovering stories of the dispossessed: the women kept in dependence; the American Indians shorn of their lands; the black slaves brought in chains from Africa. Consequently, much of their history is fragmentary and essentially anachronistic — condemning the past for not being more like the present. It has no real interest in the pastness of the past.

One might suppose that this is a recent phenomenon, but actually it can be traced back 60 years or more. Wood writes,

In one of his essays, Bailyn quotes Isaiah Berlin’s reactions to American universities and American students during his visit to Harvard in the late 1940s. In contrast to Oxbridge, said Berlin, America’s universities and students were “painfully aware of the social and economic miseries of their society.” They found it hard to justify studying, say, the early Greek epic while the poor went hungry and blacks were denied fundamental rights. How, Berlin wondered, could disinterested scholarship, disinterested history-writing, flourish in such morally painful circumstances?

Bailyn isn’t well-known outside academia. Wood, on the other hand, became widely known after he was praised by Newt Gingrich.17 Gingrich liked Wood’s book The Radicalism of the American Revolution, which won a Pulitzer Prize in 1993.

© L. James Hammond 2015
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1. Two Cheers For Democracy, “What I Believe” back
2. Invertebrate Spain, 1 back
3. Kedourie’s family was from Baghdad, so he regarded himself as an “Oriental Jew.” Kedourie speaks of, “the Zionist thesis: that Jewish life in the Diaspora was poisonous and impossible, that the only salvation was to become pioneers on the land, in the collectives of Eretz Israel. Zionism is a doctrine that had no appeal to oriental Jewries. Their historical experience is profoundly different from that of the east European Jewries, where Zionism was invented.”(The Chatham House Version and Other Middle Eastern Studies, Ch. 10, “Minorities”)

Kedourie points out that some Arab nationalists viewed Islam as “a mere buttress of Arab nationalism.” Kedourie continues: “The same tendency of nationalist doctrine to assimilate a religion to the national folklore is observed in Zionism.” A sculpture of the burning bush, encountered by Moses, stands outside the Israeli Chamber of Deputies; “the noumenal has been degraded into the political.”(Nationalism in Asia and Africa, Introduction, #2) back

4. The Chatham House Version and Other Middle Eastern Studies, Ch. 1, “The Middle East and the Powers” back
5. The documentary is called Operation Thunderbolt: Entebbe Documentary (2000) back
6. Apparently British authorities had information about three different Soviet agents in Britain, with three different code-names. So when Burgess and Maclean disappeared/defected, the authorities naturally asked, “Who is the third man?” back
7. “Under Roman rule the provinces passed from a condition in which warfare was a normal experience to one in which it was a rare incident.” Ch. 17, #6 back
8. Tocqueville wrote, “If, beginning at the eleventh century, one takes stock of what was happening in France at fifty-year intervals, one finds each time that a double revolution has taken place in the state of society. The noble has gone down in the social scale, and the commoner gone up; as the one falls, the other rises. Each half century brings them closer, and soon they will touch.” (Democracy in America, Intro.) back
9. Ch. 18, #3 back
10. Wikipedia back
11. Ch. 19, #3 back
12. If I remember correctly, the McNeills discuss collars/harnesses in their book The Human Web: A Bird’s-Eye View of World History. This is the sort of practical matter that the McNeills focus on. back
13. Ch. 19, #3 back
14. Ch. 19, #9 back
15. One of Bailyn’s mentors was the Harvard professor Oscar Handlin, who died at 95. As I asked in an earlier issue, “Is there something in the scholarly life that conduces to longevity?” back
16. Miller was also a mentor of Edmund Morgan, whom I mentioned in a recent issue. back
17. In an earlier issue, I pointed out that Ian Fleming became well known after he was mentioned by John Kennedy, and Tom Clancy became well known after he was mentioned by Reagan.

Wood has been a professor at Brown for many years, and I sometimes see him at lectures in the Providence area. Another student of Bailyn who writes about early America is Jack Rakove, a Stanford professor. Rakove is the author of Revolutionaries: A New History of the Invention of America, and James Madison and the Creation of the American Republic. Forrest McDonald also specialized in early America. McDonald was a conservative and a professor at Alabama. Among his books are Novus Ordo Seclorum: The Intellectual Origins of the Constitution, and E Pluribus Unum: The Formation of the American Republic. back