Monday, May 31, 2021

On Richard Lionheart’s Crusade

After mentioning that Richard Lionheart’s life came to a close when he was hit by a stray arrow shot from a rebel castle in France on 26 March 1199, Steven Runciman uses a single sentence to deliver his judgement on Lionheart’s life: “He was a bad son, a bad husband and a bad king, but a gallant and splendid soldier.” (A History of the Crusades III: The Kingdom of Acre; Chapter III, “Coeur-de-Lion”)

Lionheart was not fully committed to the war for the Holy Land—his first priority was to safeguard the interests of his empire in England and France. He arrived in Acre on 8 June 1191 and departed for Europe on 9 October 1192. During his sixteen months that he spent in the Levant, Lionheart acted like a shrewd political operator and a pragmatic military commander. He carried out long negotiations with Emperor Saladin even as they were trying to defeat each other in a series of battles. He and Saladin delighted in being respectful and generous to each other. Lionheart realized that with the kind of military commitment that Western Europe could make in the Levant, Saladin and other oriental forces could not be defeated. 

After a siege that lasted for about two years (started by King Guy in August 1189), the crusaders conquered Acre on 12 July 1191. Lionheart played a decisive role in the success at Acre. In September 1191, Lionheart defeated Saladin in a battle north of Arsuf. Towards the end of May 1192, the crusaders had taken all the coastal areas that they had lost to Saladin. In January 1192, and then for the second time in June 1192, the crusaders were just ten to twelve miles from Jerusalem, which was largely undefended since most of Saladin’s forces were committed to other parts of the battlefield. On both occasions, Lionheart refused to besiege Jerusalem. He believed that even if the crusaders managed to conquer Jerusalem, they would not be able to hold it while Saladin was the ruler of Egypt and Syria. 

Lionheart’s struggle to make it back to England proved to be as perilous as his struggle against Saladin. The ship in which he left Acre was wrecked by a storm near Venice, forcing him to continue his journey overland. To evade his European enemies, he was traveling in disguise, but he was captured by Duke Leopold of Austria. Leopold accused Lionheart of the murder of Conrad of Montferrat and locked him in a castle. On 28 March 1193, Lionheart was handed over to Holy Roman Emperor Henry VI, who imprisoned him in a castle in Germany. After the payment of a ransom, Lionheart was released on 4 February 1194. On his release, King Philip of France sent a message to John, Lionheart’s brother: “Look to yourself; the devil is loose"

Sunday, May 30, 2021

A View of the Mahabharata’s Lunar Dynasty

The Mahabharata is the history of the Chandravansha (the Lunar dynasty), which originated with Soma, the Moon God. The son of Soma was Chandra. Chandra had a son called Pururava who ruled the kingdom of Prayaga, whose capital was located at Pratisthana. Pururava’s eldest son Āyu had a son called Nahusha. Nahusha married Viraja and they had six or seven sons. The second son was Yayati. According to another legend, Nahusha married Ashokasundari, the daughter of Shiva and Parvati, and she gave birth to Yayati and a hundred daughters. 

Yayati had five sons: Yadu and Turvasu, through his first wife Devayani; Druhyu, Anu and Puru, through his second wife Sharmishtha. When Yayati became old, he continued to lust for the pleasures of a youthful life. He summoned his five sons and asked them to temporarily loan him their youth. Four of his sons refused. They were cursed by Yayati that they would never be kings—this curse impacted the Yadava dynasty too, since one of Yayati’s five sons was Yadu. Puru, Yayati’s youngest son, agreed to loan his youth to his father. After enjoying the pleasures of the senses for a thousand years, Yayati returned to Puru the youth that he had borrowed from him, and made him the king. The lunar dynasty goes forward with Puru. 

Puru’s son Duhshanta married Shakuntala and they had a son called Bharata (the founder of the empire called Bharatavarsha). Bharata had a grandson called Kuru, whose descendent Pratipa had a son called Shantanu. Shantanu married Satyavati and they had two sons: Chitrangada and Vichitravirya. Krishna Dvaipayana (Veda Vyasa) had been born through a union between Sage Parashara and Satyavati. A union between Shantanu and Ganga had resulted in the birth of the powerful warrior Bhishma. Krishna Dvaipayana fathered Dhristarashtra on Vichitravirya’s first wife Ambika, and Pandu on Vichitravirya’s second wife Ambalika. He also fathered a son called Vidura on Vichitravirya’s maid. 

The hundred Kourava brothers were the sons of Dhristarashtra, and the five Pandava brothers were the acknowledged sons of Pandu. Since Kuru was the common ancestor of both the Kouravas and the Pandavas—in terms of bloodline, the five Pandava brothers too were Kouravas. Krishna was born in the Yadava branch of the Lunar dynasty.

Friday, May 28, 2021

The Fourth Crusade: The 1204 Sack of Constantinople

The claim that the crusaders sacked Constantinople in 1204 is not the complete truth. The crusaders didn’t sack Constantinople. They engineered a regime change in the Byzantine Empire, at the behest of a powerful faction in Byzantine politics and some Venetian and French nobles. Here’s a brief account of the Fourth Crusade:

Pope Innocent III was elected on 8 January 1198. On 15 August 1198, he launched a new crusade (the fourth one). By the summer of 1200, a sizable crusading army had taken shape. Instead of taking a land route, which experience of the past crusades had shown was fraught with danger, the crusaders decided to take the route that Richard Lionheart and Philip II Augustus had taken during the Third Crusade. They planned to sail across the Mediterranean to Palestine.

The French Barons who were leading the Fourth Crusade entered into an agreement with Enrico Dandolo, the half-blind octogenarian Doge of Venice. Dandolo agreed to build ships for ferrying about forty-thousand crusaders, including the knights and their horses, across the Mediterranean for 85,000 silver marks. Pope Innocent III had exhorted the crusaders to conquer the Kingdom of Jerusalem, but without informing the Pope, the French Barons and Dandolo decided that the crusaders would conquer Egypt first. 

The crusaders had to arrive at the Venetian port no later than June 1202, but most of them were late. By August 1202, only eleven thousand men had gathered, and to make matters worse, they didn’t have enough money to pay the shipping charges to the Venetians. The Venetians suggested that they would postpone the payment if the crusaders helped Venice conquer its enemy, the Croatian port town of Zadar. Zadar was under a Christian king, and several crusaders, who thought that they were going to fight for the Kingdom of Jerusalem, were appalled by the idea of attacking a Christian state. But most crusaders went ahead with the new plan. They conquered Zadar for the Venetians in November 1202. 

From Zadar, the crusader ships should have gone to Egypt—that is what the general mass of crusaders had been expecting. But the crusaders found themselves in Constantinople. Who made the decision to navigate the ships towards Constantinople is one of the great mysteries of history. A powerful faction of Byzantine politics certainly had a role to play. 

Alexius Angelus, son of the deposed and blinded Byzantine emperor Isaac II Angelus, had reached Europe before the Fourth Crusade departed from Venice. He offered to clear the Fourth Crusade’s entire debt to Venice, and equip the crusaders with enough manpower and funds to ensure the success of their campaign to conquer the Kingdom of Jerusalem, if they reinstated his father on the throne of the Byzantine Empire. He also offered to end the schism between Orthodox Christianity and Latin Christianity. 

A deal must have been struck between some leaders of the Fourth Crusade and Alexius Angelus. This deal must have enjoyed Venetian support, since they controlled the shipping routes and without their cooperation the ships carrying the crusaders could not be diverted to Constantinople. The Venetians were in a position to gain a lot of commercial benefits if the regime change operation in Constantinople was successful. It is possible that the deal had German and French support since Alexius Angelus had meetings with German and French nobility before he arrived at Venice. Who was not part of the deal? Pope Innocent III and many of the crusaders. 

On June 24, 1203, the Fourth Crusade had reached Constantinople. They demanded that Isaac II Angelus and his son Alexius Angelus should be restored to the throne. When Alexius III, who was then the Emperor, refused, the crusaders went on a rampage. In July 1203, Alexius III fled from the city. Isaac II Angelus and Alexius Angelus were proclaimed the joint rulers of the Byzantine Empire. The crusaders had accomplished their mission. But now a new problem arose—the two new Emperors were unable to honor the lavish promises that they had made to the crusaders and the Venetians. This led to a rapid deterioration in the popularity of their regime. 

The two Emperors were arrested on 27 January 1204—apparently without the knowledge of the crusaders. Isaac II Angelus died soon after his arrest (perhaps due to poisoning). On 8 February 1204, Alexius III was killed by strangling. Despite the failure of Isaac II Angelus and Alexius Angelus to honor their commitments, the crusaders interpreted the deposition and murder of the two Emperors as a coup. They besieged Constantinople for more than a month. On 12 April 1204, they managed to enter the city. For three days, they rioted, vandalized, and looted, causing significant damage to life and property in Constantinople. 

The two regimes that the Fourth Crusade toppled were Christian: Zadar and the Byzantine Empire. The Fourth Crusade never went to Palestine. The crusaders never marched towards Jerusalem. They stayed in Constantinople and founded a new kingdom to which they gave the name Romania. They first offered the imperial crown to Enrico Dandolo who refused it. Baldwin I was crowned as the first emperor of Romania on 9 May 1204. The surviving members of the Byzantine Empire’s aristocracy founded their own empire in Nicaea, where they awaited for an opportunity to win back the empire that they had lost.

On Viking Wisdom

“Wake early if you want another man’s life or land. No land for the lazy wolf. No battle’s won in bed.” ~ A viking saying (Edda of Saemund the Wise, a collection of the sayings of Odin). This viking saying makes sense—a nation that does not awake early to the political realities will lose its land and culture. 

The vikings were not doctrinaires. Their religious and cultural tradition was oral. But they were good political thinkers. There is a lot that can be learned from their history. Between the eighth and eleventh centuries, they played a major role in awakening the West from the slumber in which it had fallen after the end of the Western Roman Empire.

Thursday, May 27, 2021

Kant: The Spectator of the French Revolution

Kant was a supporter of the idea of a French Revolution before 1789, the year when the French Revolution commenced. He thought that the revolution would lead to the rise of a culture of liberty, science, and reason in Europe. He was shocked when he learned of the massive violence that the revolutionaries were unleashing in France. To his close associates, he used to say with agitation that the revolutionaries were children with weapons who had gone out of control. 

In her book Lectures on Kant's Political Philosophy, Hannah Arendt writes: 

“[Kant’s] final position on the French Revolution, an event that played a central role in his old age, when he waited with great impatience every day for the newspapers, was decided by this attitude of the mere spectator, of those "who are not engaged in the game themselves" but only follow it with "wishful, passionate participation," which certainly did not mean, least of all for Kant, that they now wanted to make a revolution; their sym­pathy arose from mere "contemplative pleasure and inactive de­light.”

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

On The Political Influence Of Books

“Is it this simple to influence the world. If any ambitious man have a fancy to revolutionize at one effort the universal world of human thought, human opinion, and human sentiment, the opportunity is his own — the road to immortal renown lies straight, open, and unencumbered before him. All that he has to do is to write and publish a very little book. Its title should be simple — a few plain words — "My Heart Laid Bare." But — this little book must be true to its title.” ~ Edgar Allan Poe in 1844. 

I disagree with Edgar Allan Poe. It is not simple to influence the world. A book can influence the world only if it appears at the right place, at the right time, and is discovered by the right kind of politicians. Marx could become known as the great revolutionary philosopher of the twentieth century because politicians like Lenin and Trotsky decided to use the tenets of Marxism to build a ruthless revolutionary army which went on to overthrow the tsarist regime in Russia. The success of Lenin and Trotsky in overthrowing the Russian monarchy turned Marxism into the twentieth century’s most lethal political weapon.

Without the revolutionary actions of politicians like Lenin and Trotsky, a philosopher like Marx has no power to influence the world.

Monday, May 24, 2021

Religion and Science

It is not possible to refute God and religion by using the methods of science and technology. This is because a belief in God and religion is not the mark of an irrational, uneducated, and naive mind, as the atheists claim. The religious people are often more well-read, rational, philosophical, and brilliant than those who reject religious belief. 

To prove God’s existence, the religious thinkers develop philosophical (theological) theories which are brilliant because they are rationally argued. People believe in God because they are driven by a biological instinct to transcend the material world and find a spiritual explanation for the universe. Some of the best philosophers, scientists, discoverers, and innovators in history were people with a religious bent of mind. The idea that religious people cannot make advancements in science and other intellectual endeavors is atheist propaganda. 

The need for God and theology (religion is more fundamental to human beings than the desire for the marvels of technology.

History Does Not Vindicate The Truth

History is made by the historians, not by the people who participate in the political events in any particular age. You might feel certain that the political truth is on your side, that your cause is just, and that though your cause does not enjoy much support today, history will vindicate your political position. But if the historians of the future are against your type of politics, then you won’t find support in the pages of history—you will be discarded by history just as, in the present, you are being discarded by your contemporaries. History is a view of the past developed by the intellectual elites, who are more interested in currying favor with the political establishment than in describing the facts.

Sunday, May 23, 2021

The Most Important Historical Events of Three Centuries

In the nineteenth century, the most important historical event was the defeat of Napoleon—this set the stage for the creation of Pax Britannica (the British Empire became the global hegemonic power). In the twentieth century, the most important historical event was the fall of the British Empire —this century was not about the communist movements (the rise and fall of the Soviet Union) but about anti-imperialism. What will be the most important historical event of the twenty-first century? The USA could fall due to a combination of factors—the collapse of the dollar, soaring inflation, political scandals, civil unrest, and military pressure from its geopolitical adversaries. The end of the USA would mark the end of Western power in the world.

Runciman’s Judgement of the Crusades

Steven Runciman concludes the final volume (Volume 3) of his A History of the Crusades with the following judgement on the two centuries of the crusades: 

“The triumphs of the Crusade were the triumphs of faith. But faith without wisdom is a dangerous thing. By the inexorable laws of history the whole world pays for the crimes and follies of each of its citizens. In the long sequence of interaction and fusion between Orient and Occident out of which our civilization has grown, the Crusades were a tragic and destructive episode. The historian as he gazes back across the centuries at their gallant story must find his admiration overcast by sorrow at the witness that it bears to the limitations of human nature. There was so much courage and so little honor, so much devotion and so little understanding. High ideals were besmirched by cruelty and greed, enterprise and endurance by a blind and narrow self-righteousness; and the Holy War itself is nothing more than a long act of intolerance in the name of God, which is the sin against the Holy Ghost.”

Saturday, May 22, 2021

The Battle of the Somme Versus the Iraq War

The Battle of the Somme (during the First World War), which pitted the troops of the British Empire and the French Third Republic against the German Empire, began on July 1, 1916. On this single day of fighting, the British side suffered 57,470 casualties (worst in British history), out of which 19,240 died. But there were no calls for ending the battle in Britain and France. The battle went on for four months (till November 18, 1916 ), leading to over a million casualties on both sides, and the war continued for another two years. 

The majority of the people in the USA and the UK turned against the Iraq war when about 3000 of their soldiers died. In the twenty-first century, for good or for bad, the West is no longer the ruthless fighting machine that it used to be till the first half of the twentieth century. The twenty-first century Westerners are not willing to die in the name of a “Holy War” or “to save their nation”. Yet they want to be regarded as a superpower—but this is not possible. To be a superpower, you have to be prepared to make super-sacrifices. 

I have never supported the Western military interventions in the Middle East in the last two decades, because I have always known that the West could not win against an old oriental civilization defending its home turf. But the people in the West thought that they could win these wars without suffering any casualties.

Some Troubling Facts

Here are some troubling facts: The liberals don’t stand for liberty; they are control-freaks and totalitarians. The conservatives are unintellectual, weak, and pompous; they are incapable of conserving the economy and culture of their nation. The libertarians are a tiny 100 year old cult led by academics; they hold an idealistic and unworkable view of liberty, and are out of touch with reality. The anarchists (anarcho-libertarians) assert that they stand for a state-less society (whatever that means), but in their eagerness to overthrow the state, they support violent revolutionary groups. The socialists, instead of empowering the working classes, destroy them.

Friday, May 21, 2021

The Keynesian Ponzi Scheme

The FED’s balance sheet has soared to $7.923 trillion. Next week it will cross $8 trillion, and by 2022 it is certain to surpass $10 trillion. Add to this the high balance sheets that the central banks in other nations, especially the democratic ones, are running. We are living in the age of the greatest ponzi scheme in history. When this ponzi scheme goes bust, which will be quite soon, it will hit life on this planet with the force of a giant meteor. The world economy will be wiped out. A depression like condition will prevail for up to thirty years. The Western countries, which have a consumer driven economy, will be the hardest hit. But let’s look at the bright picture: With the annihilation of the world economy, we will finally manage to prove that the Keynesian theory of economics does not work.

Kritovoulos: On the Fall of Constantinople

The Greek scholar Michael Kritovoulos, who was in the service of Ottoman Emperor Sultan Mehmed II when the Byzantine Empire fell in 1453, wrote a history of the Ottoman Empire. The book contains an account of the siege and fall of Constantinople. Though he was employed by Mehmed II, Kritovoulos was sympathetic to Byzantine culture and its last emperor Constantine XI Dragases Palaiologos. He viewed the fall of Constantinople as an event far more worrisome than the fall of the last Crusader stronghold of Acre in 1291. Here’s an excerpt from Kritovoulos’s elegy over Emperor Palaiologos: 

“The Emperor Constantine himself, as I have said, died fighting. He was wise and moderate in his private life and diligent to the highest degree in prudence and virtue, sagacious as the most highly-trained of men. In political affairs and in matters of government he yielded to no one of the kings before him in preeminence. Quick to perceive his duty, and still more quick to do it, he was eloquent in speech, clever in thought, and very accomplished in talking of public affairs. He was exact in his judgments of the present, as someone has said of Pericles, and usually correct in regard to the future, a splendid worker, who chose to do and to suffer everything for the fatherland and his subjects. Therefore, when he saw with his own eyes the evident danger threatening the City, and was able to save himself, he did not choose to do so, although there were many who begged him to, but preferred to die with his country and his subjects, or rather to die beforehand himself, so that he might not see his country captured and all the inhabitants either cruelly murdered or made captive and ignominiously taken away. For when he saw the enemy pressing in on him and coming into the City through the broken wall, he is stated to have cried aloud this last word: “The city is taken and it is useless for me to live any longer.” So saying he hurled himself into the midst of the enemy and was cut to pieces. He was a splendid man and the guardian of the common good, but unfortunate all through his life and doubly unfortunate at its close.” (Source: Kritovoulos, History of Mehmed the Conqueror, trans. Charles Riggs)

Kritovoulos’s book includes an account of the past Ottoman conquests. He saw the crossing of the Hellespont (the capture of Gallipoli) in March 1354, by the troops led by Ottoman Emperor Orhan Ghazi, as a symbolic beginning of the Ottoman expansion into Europe. He uses Herodotus’s terminology to describe Orhan Ghaz’s crossing of the Hellespont, comparing that event with Xerxes’s foray into Ancient Greece. He uses the term “Persians” to describe the Ottoman troops.

Thursday, May 20, 2021

Brainy Orthodox Versus Brawny Catholics

In the Middle Ages, the Orthodox Christians of the Middle East and North Africa saw themselves as the brainy people, who were the true guardians of the holy faith and the inheritors of the legacy of the Roman Empire. The Roman Catholics of Europe saw themselves as the brawny people, on whom had fallen the mantle of freeing the Holy Land. The Catholics blamed the Orthodox Christians for being weak, doctrinal, and amoral. The Orthodox Christians blamed the Catholics for being greedy, ambitious, and warlike. 

Anna Komnene, the daughter of Alexius I Comnenus, the Byzantine Emperor who ruled from 1081 to 1118, wrote a biography of her father in which she commented on the pilgrims and warriors who arrived during the First Crusade. She was disgusted by the destructive behavior of the crusaders. She wrote: “Alexius had dreaded [the arrival of the Franks], knowing as he did their uncontrollable passion, their erratic character, and their irresolution, not to mention their greed.” Her comments were colored by hindsight—by the experience of the failures of the First Crusade. 

While the Orthodox Christians (brainy people) and the Catholics (brawny people) shared a common religion and history, the divide between them could not be reconciled.

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Herodotus The Barbarophile

Herodotus was viewed as a Barbarophile (a lover of barbarians) by the Ancient Greeks and Ancient Romans because in his Histories he had disparaged Greek culture while heaping praise on the non-Greek cultures. The Histories contains a glowing account of the achievements of the Egyptian pharaohs and the grandeur of their kingdom, before their lands fell into the hands of the Persians. The book has lot of good things to say about the Persians too. 

Plutarch, who came almost four centuries after Herodotus, wrote an essay, “On the Malice of Herodotus,” which takes Herodotus to task for vilifying the Greek world while falsely praising non-Greek cultures. He accuses Herodotus of being obsessed with non-Greek cultures and ignoring the achievements of Greek culture. He calls Herodotus a “foreigner-lover,” by which he means “Egyptian-lover” and “Persian-lover,” and a lair. Here’s an excerpt from Plutarch’s essay:

“Hitherto no one has dared to expose him [Herodotus] as a liar. Since his principal victims are the Boeotians and the Corinthians, though he spares no one, I think it is proper that I should now stand up for the cause of my ancestors and the cause of truth and show how dishonest this part of his work is; it would, of course, take many books if one wanted to describe all his other lies and fabrications.”

Along with being a historian, Plutarch served as the priest of Apollo at Delphi. Perhaps his antipathy to Herodotus is a result of Herodotus’s criticism of the role that the oracle played in the Persian Wars. Herodotus had suggested that the Delphic oracle was pro-Persian. He gave the Delphic oracle no credit for the Hellenic victory at Platae. But Plutarch believed that the Delphic oracle told the Hellenes where the battle must be fought, and what Gods and heroes must be propitiated in order to ensure victory.

Technology and Tyranny

In the early days of the digital revolution, it seemed that the proliferation of digital technologies would lead to an improvement in the human condition but the industry fell into the hands of nihilists, communists, racketeers, looters, tyrants, and psychopaths who want to control the world and create a global digital utopia. Perhaps it is the fate of all new technologies to become a tool for imposing a new kind of tyranny. 

In his 1945 essay, “You and the Atomic Bomb,” George Orwell lamented: 

“We were once told that the aeroplane had “abolished frontiers”; actually it is only since the aeroplane became a serious weapon that frontiers have become definitely impassable. The radio was once expected to promote international understanding and co-operation; it has turned out to be a means of insulating one nation from another. The atomic bomb may complete the process by robbing the exploited classes and peoples of all power to revolt…”

Monday, May 17, 2021

What is history?

What is history? The best answer is the despairing line that Macbeth speaks when he hears of Lady Macbeth's death: “It is a tale. Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury. Signifying nothing.” Emotional motivations, prejudices, jealousies, and chance events play a far bigger role in history than political, economic, and intellectual considerations. Large patterns and regularities are precisely the kind of things which cannot be found in the procession of historical events. We can learn lessons from history, but these lessons are useless in predicting the future.

Sunday, May 16, 2021

Victor Hugo: On the Fate of Napoleon

Victor Hugo’s commentary on the fate of Napoleon (from his novel Les Misérables): 

“Was it possible that Napoleon should have won that battle? We answer No. Why? Because of Wellington? Because of Blücher? No. Because of God. 

“Bonaparte victor at Waterloo; that does not come within the law of the nineteenth century. Another series of facts was in preparation, in which there was no longer any room for Napoleon. The ill will of events had declared itself long before. 

“It was time that this vast man should fall. 

“The excessive weight of this man in human destiny disturbed the balance. This individual alone counted for more than a universal group. These plethoras of all human vitality concentrated in a single head; the world mounting to the brain of one man,—this would be mortal to civilization were it to last. The moment had arrived for the incorruptible and supreme equity to alter its plan. Probably the principles and the elements, on which the regular gravitations of the moral, as of the material, world depend, had complained. Smoking blood, over-filled cemeteries, mothers in tears,—these are formidable pleaders. When the earth is suffering from too heavy a burden, there are mysterious groanings of the shades, to which the abyss lends an ear. 

“Napoleon had been denounced in the infinite and his fall had been decided on. 

“He embarrassed God. 

“Waterloo is not a battle; it is a change of front on the part of the Universe.”

Saturday, May 15, 2021

Victor Hugo: The Sound of Revolution

In 1831 Victor Hugo wrote that he was hearing “the dull sound of revolution, still deep down in the earth, pushing out under every kingdom in Europe its subterranean galleries from the central shaft of the mine which is Paris.” In 1847 the sound grew louder. In 1848 the revolution erupted, beginning in Sicily and spreading to France, Germany, Italy, and the Austrian Empire. Europe was on fire. In 2021, a dull sound of revolution can be heard once again. For which nations the bells of revolution toll this time—we will soon find out.

Friday, May 14, 2021

The Renaissance Humanists Versus The Arabic Scholars

The European Renaissance of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries led to a large-scale rejection of Arabic scholarship. The humanist scholars of the Renaissance quested for the original texts of Herodotus, Thucydides, Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, and other ancient masters. Most of these manuscripts were available to the European scholars of this period in texts translated into Latin from the previous Arabic translations. The Renaissance humanists rejected the translations which were based on Arabic texts—they claimed that the Arabic translations were missing the real essence of the ancient masters. 

To make their case against Arabic scholarship, the humanists cited the views of the thirteenth and fourteenth century scholars like Thomas Aquinas, Roger Bacon, and Francesco Petrarch. For his work on Aristotle, Aquinas had gone beyond the Latin translations of the Arabic translations of Aristotle and relied upon William of Moerbeke's Latin translation from original Greek resources. Bacon had complained about the European hacks who lower the quality of scholarship by translating the old texts from Arabic to Latin. Petrarch, a strong critic of Arab culture, complained that the Arabic translations were clumsy and inaccurate, and he often targeted Averroes for propagating a weak version of Aristotle in Europe.

With more original texts becoming available to the Renaissance humanists, they were able to establish that there were significant style-related and philosophy-related deviations between the teachings of the ancient masters and the Arabic translations.

Aristotle’s View of Persian Culture

In his treatise, The Politics, Aristotle’s focus is on the political structure of the Greek city-states, but in some passages he offers a scathing critique of Persian despotism. Persia in those days was a political rival of the Greek city-states, and Aristotle must have felt obliged to comment negatively on their political system. 

His anti-Persian sentiments might also be related to the torture and murder of his friend Hermeias (an associate of King Philip) by a Persian general. 

Aristotle lambasts Persia as a tyranny which keeps its citizens under surveillance and does not allow them to form private associations. He says that such tyranny is acceptable to the people of Persia because, being barbarians, they are “by natural character more slavish than Greeks and they tolerate despotic rule without resentment.” 

In the final passages of The Politics, Aristotle reflects on the role that climate can exercise on people’s political inclinations. In Greek city-states, he says, climate makes people full of energy and lusting to be free. In Persia, the climate is such that the Persians, though not lacking in brains and skill, become denuded of the courage and will to resist tyranny. 

Aristotle’s view of the impact of climate on the human mind finds a reflection in some of the works of Montesquieu and Voltaire.

Thursday, May 13, 2021

The Culture Wars of the Twentieth Century

“The culture wars have ended in America in a near-universal victory of the left. Many of those appointed as the guardians of Western culture will seize on any argument, however flawed, and any scholarship, however phony, in order to denigrate their cultural inheritance. We have entered a period of cultural suicide, comparable to that undergone by Islam after the ossification of the Ottoman Empire.” ~ writes Roger Scruton in his book Fools, Frauds, and Firebrands

There are two ways by which the left acquires political power in a country: first, through a proletarian revolution (Russia, China, Cambodia, Cuba); second, through the subversion of culture (the UK, the USA). In the early decades of the twentieth century, the USA didn’t possess a poor and powerless proletariat, so there was no possibility of organizing a communist revolution here. The only way by which the left could have conquered this country is by subverting its culture. American culture turned into a battleground between the left and the capitalist establishment which was being intellectually defended (in a feeble way) by the conservatives.

Between the 1930s and 1990s, the left had managed to conclusively defeat the conservative intellectuals and gain control of American culture. When the conservatives were celebrating the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, they didn’t realize that in the battle for culture, they had lost.

The Winter of Despair for World Markets

What will be the point of no return for the global stock markets? There are several numbers that can be watched but I think two of the most crucial numbers are the DOW (Dow Jones Industrial Average) and the inflation figures in the USA. When the DOW goes below 15000 and the inflation in the USA edges close to 20%, then it will be a point of no return. 

I call this the point of no return, because from here there will be no possibility of recovery. This will herald the end of the American and British led world order. History will come to an end for the Western civilization.

The famous line by Charles Dickens comes to my mind: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Can History Take an Unexpected Turn?

The major historical event of the twentieth century was not the rise and defeat of fascism and nazism, it was not the rise and fall of the Soviet Union either, but the end of colonization with the fall of the British Empire and the empires of other Western powers. The end of colonization spawned several new nations, some of which made great progress after the 1970s and now they command a major slice of global economy and military strength. History repeats itself but in unexpected ways: I won’t be surprised if in the twenty-first century, many of the Western powers become colonies of those nations which were the colonies of the West in the twentieth century.

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

The Faith of the Communists

“The theories of Marx are true because they are correct.” ~ slogan popular among the Russian communists in the 1930s (generally attributed to Josef Stalin). 

Communism might be a God that has failed, but the leftists will never lose their faith. Their devotion to their ideology becomes stronger with every political disaster which is caused by the policies and methods of the communist regimes.

Kant: The Moral Norms are Priceless

“In the Kingdom of Ends everything has either a price or a dignity. If it has a price, something else can be put in its place as an equivalent; if it is exalted above all price and so admits of no equivalent, then it has a dignity.” ~ Immanuel Kant in Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals. Kant believed that only morality, which is founded on the religious and philosophical teachings of the past, has dignity, and that this morality is priceless and is irreplaceable.

Monday, May 10, 2021

The Rubbish That Rules People's Mind

People venerate the rubbish that dehumanizes and enslaves them. This is why the mainstream media, the movie industry, and modern art, which show a profound indifference to the human condition and seek to impose frivolous and destructive remedies, are so popular and powerful.

The Two Enemies Who are in Love: Communism & Capitalism

Communism and capitalism are like two enemies who are in love with one another. Each claims that it will destroy the other, but they cannot bear to live without each other. Every capitalist country is driven by a natural instinct to embrace some form of communism, and every communist country is driven to embrace some form of capitalism.

Sunday, May 9, 2021

Orwell: Small Arms are Democratic

In his 1945 essay, “You and the Atom Bomb,” Orwell predicted that the nuclear powers would become like the “slave empires of antiquity.” Here’s an excerpt from his essay: 

“It is a commonplace that the history of civilization is largely the history of weapons. In particular, the connection between the discovery of gunpowder and the overthrow of feudalism by the bourgeoisie has been pointed out over and over again. And though I have no doubt exceptions can be brought forward, I think the following rule would be found generally true: that ages in which the dominant weapon is expensive or difficult to make will tend to be ages of despotism, whereas when the dominant weapon is cheap and simple, the common people have a chance. Thus, for example, tanks, battleships and bombing planes are inherently tyrannical weapons, while rifles, muskets, long-bows and hand-grenades are inherently democratic weapons. A complex weapon makes the strong stronger, while a simple weapon – so long as there is no answer to it – gives claws to the weak.

“The great age of democracy and of national self-determination was the age of the musket and the rifle. After the invention of the flintlock, and before the invention of the percussion cap, the musket was a fairly efficient weapon, and at the same time so simple that it could be produced almost anywhere. Its combination of qualities made possible the success of the American and French revolutions, and made a popular insurrection a more serious business than it could be in our own day. After the musket came the breech-loading rifle. This was a comparatively complex thing, but it could still be produced in scores of countries, and it was cheap, easily smuggled and economical of ammunition. Even the most backward nation could always get hold of rifles from one source or another, so that Boers, Bulgars, Abyssinians, Moroccans – even Tibetans – could put up a fight for their independence, sometimes with success. But thereafter every development in military technique has favored the State as against the individual, and the industrialized country as against the backward one.”

Saturday, May 8, 2021

History’s Happy Revolution: The Industrial Revolution

The Industrial Revolution which took place in Britain in the nineteenth century led to a steep rise in manufacturing activity and immense social transformations. The way of life of every class in Britain was transformed beyond recognition in the first fifty years of the nineteenth century. 

These social transformations were not met with social unrest. Most British in that period supported the social transformations and they willingly participated in the industrial activity. 

The intellectuals in our time claim that the religious and conservative people are against industrial development because they oppose all large-scale social transformations. But nineteenth century Britain was very religious and conservative. The question is: Why didn’t the religious and conservative people in nineteenth century Britain rebel? 

They didn’t rebel because along with social transformations, the Industrial Revolution led to economic betterment. People started earning more. Their standard of living improved. They started enjoying more liberty. They had access to better goods and services. Better infrastructure came up in their country.

Friday, May 7, 2021

The Pitfalls of Power and Brilliance

In the world of superheroes: With great power comes great responsibility. In the world of mortals: With great power comes great insanity, and with great brilliance comes great stupidity.

Faulkner: To Transcend the Clock

Man invented the clock, and the clock made man its prisoner. Man became awed by the hands on the clock’s face. He became habituated to looking at the clock’s face for guidance. The clock’s hands started exercising tyrannical control over his daily routine. 

Faulkner’s novel The Sound and the Fury offers an insight on the power that time exercises on man. Faulkner writes: “A man is the sum of his misfortunes. One day you'd think misfortune would get tired but then time is your misfortune.” In another passage, he writes, “And so as soon as I knew I couldn’t see it, I began to wonder what time it was. Father said that constant speculation regarding the position of mechanical hands on an arbitrary dial which is a symptom of mind-function.” He suggests that time cannot become alive until the clock is abandoned: “Clocks slay time... time is dead as long as it is being clicked off by little wheels; only when the clock stops does time come to life.” Quentin’s act of breaking his watch is an act of rebellion.

In his novels, Proust reminisces about time. In The Sound and the Fury, Faulkner’s focus is not on time but on absolution from the clock.

Thursday, May 6, 2021

The Dark Regime of the Brilliant Totalitarians

If civilization is to survive, then the regime of brilliant totalitarians—politicians, intellectuals, experts, celebrities, journalists, and businessmen—has to be overthrown. Their “brilliance” has made them blind to reality. They are creating darkness everywhere. They will not stop regulating; they will not stop imposing new restrictions; they will not stop propagating new fears. They will drive us into a new Stone Age. 

The stupid people are the wise people—they understand reality far better than the brilliant people. The world is safer when political power is being wielded by the stupid. 

There is much wisdom in what Ivan Karamazov says to his younger brother Alexei Karamazov in Dostoevsky’s novel The Brothers Karamazov: “the stupider one is, the closer one is to reality. The stupider one is, the clearer one is. Stupidity is brief and artless, while intelligence wriggles and hides itself. Intelligence is a knave, but stupidity is honest and straightforward. I’ve led the conversation to my despair, and the more stupidly I have presented it, the better for me.”

Socialism: The Politics of Santa Claus

Socialism is the God that has repeatedly failed to create a utopia, but since it is the God, it will always preside over our destiny. In his 1985 essay, “The Problems of a Successful American Foreign Policy,” Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn explains why the socialist parties enjoy a massive political advantage in democratic societies. He writes: “Socialism is a leftist ideology and as such it has the advantage of creating radical "Santa Claus parties," (i.e., parties promising material gifts to the many—and "security" besides). These parties, all of them left—some way left—of center, are in a more favorable position than the ones which are right of center. Nobody wants to kill Santa Claus and thus these parties cannot be defeated. They can, however, terminate their rule by committing proving utterly corrupt, by general failure, by putting up candidates who are obviously fools, bad orators or, worse still, ones who are unphotogenic. Yet, by appealing to one of the strongest (and lowest) human vices, envy, socialism-communism can arouse the masses anywhere, anytime, in the name of social justice.”

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

The Leftist Historiography of Hobsbawm

“In theory its [The Enlightenment] object was to set all human beings free. All progressive, rationalist and humanist ideologies are implicit in it and indeed come out of it.” ~ Eric Hobsbawm in his 1962 book The Age of Revolution

Hobsbawm saw the Enlightenment as the first step towards the achievement of a global communist utopia. In his 1971 book Primitive Rebels, he posited that “utopianism is probably a necessary social device for generating the superhuman efforts without which no major revolution is achieved.” In a 1994 interview with Michael Ignatieff, Hobsbawm said that the death of fifteen to twenty million people for the achievement of a utopia is justified. 

Hobsbawm joined the British Communist Party in 1936 and stayed with it until 1991, when the Party was dissolved. He never wavered in his commitment to the Soviet Union. When the Soviet Union invaded Hungary in 1956, he wrote in an article stating that he approved of their action in Hungary, though “with a heavy heart.” In his 2002 autobiography, Interesting Times, he wrote that being a communist means “utter emotional identification” and “total dedication” to communism.

In 1990, when it became clear that the Soviet Union was on the verge of disintegrating, he lamented that the disintegration of the Soviet Union would revive the reactionary forces which the Soviet communists “have been kept frozen for up to 70 years.”

Monday, May 3, 2021

The Communist True Believers

The intellectuals of the left, between the 1920s and 1990s (from the Russian Revolution to the fall of the Soviet Union), trenchantly rejected the idea that the masses could reject communism. H. G. Wells and Sidney and Beatrice Webb were convinced that communism was synonymous with progress, and if the nations were given a free choice, their masses would opt for the communist model. 

In 1968, when there was a rebellion against the communist government in Czechoslovakia (the Prague Spring), Jean-Paul Sartre argued that the Czechs were not rebelling against communism but against the communist system with which they cannot identify since this system was not “home grown.” He explained that the Soviet Union made a mistake when it compelled the “Czechs of the 1950s” to accept a communist system that was fit for the “Russian peasants of the 1920s,” and that the rebellion would not have happened if Czechoslovakia had been allowed to develop its own form of communism.

Eric Hobsbawm refused to believe that the Czechs could be against communism. He firmly defended the cruelty with which the Soviet Union was suppressing the Czech rebellion as “a necessity of time.” Saving the communist government was for him the absolute priority.

Sunday, May 2, 2021

Mephistopheles: The Creature of Communism & Capitalism

In Goethe’s play Faust, when the demon Mephistopheles is asked to reveal his true nature, he says that he is the spirit who always invalidates, who reduces something to nothing, and who undoes the acts of creation. Here’s a translation of Mephistopheles’s words:   

“I am the spirit that negates.
And rightly so, for all that comes to be
Deserves to perish wretchedly;
'Twere better nothing would begin.
Thus everything that that your terms, sin,
Destruction, evil represent—
That is my proper element.” 

Mephistopheles is like the twin forces of modernity: communism and capitalism. Like the communists and the capitalists, he is devoted to saying no to the facts of reality. He wants to obliterate the traditional systems and impose his own ideological agenda. 

Saturday, May 1, 2021

Liberty: The Collectivist Ideal

Liberty is not individualistic—it is a collectivist ideal which is found in societies where people are united under the umbrella of a good culture. A people cannot make liberty their aim unless they make the liberty of others in their society their aim. To make the liberty of others their aim, they have to identify with a good culture—which entails a shared sense of religion, morality, tradition, history, political principles, and nationhood. 

Since the individualists are obsessed with themselves, they are incapable of making liberty of all their aim. They demand liberty for those who accept their brand of individualism and ignore rest of the population. Their liberty is founded on a sense of alienation from society. They become part of anarchist and libertarian movements. Some individualists accept the pseudo-conception of total freedom, which is a form of fascism.

Heidegger: Greek Philosophy and Christian Theology

Why did Christian theology supplant Greek religious practices in Europe during the final years of the Roman Empire? Heidegger briefly dwells on this issue in his 1929 lecture on metaphysics. He notes that metaphysics has a twofold character—first, it represents beings as beings, or the truth of beings in their universality; second, it tries to represent the truth of the highest being (which can be regarded as God, though Heidegger has not used the word “God” in his lecture). 

The first character of metaphysics (beings in their universality) is ontological, while the second character (being of the highest being) is theological. Thus, metaphysics as a whole has no choice but to be onto-theological. The Greek philosophy which was popular in the Roman Republic and the subsequent Roman Empire was ontological—the theological element was missing from it. By supplying the crucial theological element, Christian theology fulfilled the vacuum in Greek metaphysics and supplanted Greek philosophy.

In light of what Heidegger has said, Aquinas’s work in the thirteenth century can be viewed as a continuation of the Christian theological project, which began in the Roman era, on Greek (chiefly Aristotelian, in the case of Aquinas’s work) philosophy.