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Archive for June, 2008

Like so many people, I have thought over the coming election and studied the field of candidates. As a result of my analysis of the coming vote and especially of its historical significance, I have tentatively switched to the “None of the Above” camp.

I get the sense that most people like myself who believe in America’s founding principles, i.e. individual rights, will vote Republican despite the attempts of Ayn Rand’s intellectual heir, Leonard Peikoff, to convince them otherwise. The reasons are obvious: Obama is a Marxist. He’s so far left, it’s scary. And so, the reasoning goes, we must–however distasteful it may be–vote Republican. At least Republicans accept a mongrel form of Americanism, including the desire to defend America in an increasingly hostile world.

I disagree strongly that the Republican party has any essential scrap of Americanism left in it, or that it will properly defend America if its presidential tenure is extended. So, there is no way I could vote for McCain. But I am concerned that socialism is not really dead, that collectivism can indeed continue to expand with incredibly dire consequences for America, so I could never vote for Obama either. (Libertarians please–please–move on; I have no stomach for the ultimate perversion of liberty which you represent.) So there are no options. The only choice is to strongly denounce all the available choices, and not vote.

I know that Leonard Peikoff denounces this option just as vehemently as he does voting Republican, but I consider that I understand history, Objectivsm, and the role of philosophy in shaping civilizations quite well myself, and I believe that the most potent political option for promoting cultural change is principled, vocal abstention. So, once I’ve completed my final lecture in my current lecture series, The Islamist Entanglement, I’m going to switch my attention to this topic, and see if I can’t state in proper terms, why I think this is the only way to go.

Lesser Evil?

Meanwhile, I’m hoping people out there who are tortured about the vote will make a survey of the “None of the Above” sites and see whether or not there are already any good ones. The image that I have above, which certainly states a valid sentiment, nonetheless links to a site that I definitely do not agree with–for the simple reason that the home page refers to “American democracy.” In my view, anyone that uses the term “democracy” to describe America is so ignorant as to be criminally negligent of history. In fact, as I’ll elaborate in upcoming posts, It’s precisely because America is not a democracy that Americans should stop voting. We must reject the use of force against our fellow citizens on principle, and not voting is the only way. But it can’t just be a private act. It has to be political–as a means of sparking a “discourse” in American society about the tragic decline of our political culture, and thus allow the advocates of reason and individualism to reach a wider audience and make more of a difference.

More soon.

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Apparently, the International Olympic Committee is considering a ban of Saudi Arabia.

Sounds good. The Olympic motto is “Citius, Altius, Fortius,” which is Latin for “Swifter, Higher, Stronger.” It is an ideal that encompasses all people, including women. An organization that stands for this ideal cannot rightly allow a member state that systematically denies equal rights to one sex, and indeed systematically oppresses that sex.

Obviously, the IOC doesn’t exactly have a consistent history of standing up to the world’s worst regimes (such as the Nazis and the Soviets), but it did give South Africa the boot, and it should ban the Saudis next.

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As I was preparing my lecture on Israel–listen live tonight, I wanted to try to find an apt comparison to demonstrate just how small Israel is. A quick Google search revealed a great site: IRIS.ORG.IL (IRIS stands for “Information Regarding Israel’s Security”) that has great comparative maps.

Here’s the pick of the litter:

How Big is Israel–A Special Map for Americans:

How Big is Israel–a Special Map for Canadians:

How Big is Israel–a Special Map for Arabs:

Actually, the Arab World is so big, it won’t even fit in my blog window! You can click on the map to see the original, if you like. No wonder the Arab world had so much trouble accommodating the Palestinian refugees. Where would they all fit?

(IRIS also has a decent BLOG, but I couldn’t for the life of me figure out how to leave a comment on some of their more interesting posts. If you manage to do so, let me know how!)

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In returning to the history of Saudi Arabia in preparation for my recent lecture on the Islamist Entanglement and struggling to define the precise relationship between the United States and its so-called ally, it finally struck me what the two countries have colluded in creating. In essence the United States has adopted a feudal relationship with the Saudi monarchy. What is worse, rather than champion its distinctive founding ideology of individual rights, the US has essentially captained the re-institution of the feudal system as the basic system of international relations throughout the world. Viewed from this perspective, US actions in support of dictators, theocracies and other oppressive regimes around the world are understandable, and completely consonant with the poor treatment the US and its closer allies often reserve for each other. God help us, because we’re headed back to the Dark Ages!

Ibn Saud becomes the vassal of the United States

Want to know why this tribal barbarian is so happy? He’s just been infeuded by the most powerful lord in all of history!

Feudalism, a political system found in various forms in all developing world cultures through history, but especially associated with the darkest time in the history of Western civilization, is an attempt to mitigate human barbarism not by identifying the principles required for people to live in peace, but rather by establishing a set of inter-dependencies to discourage war and to accrue short term advantages.

When the feudal system originated in Europe, it was because the most powerful chieftains could not directly manage their territories during the constant war that was life in the post-Roman world. Charlemagne, for instance, was constantly running from one front to another—from the Muslims in Spain, to the Lombards in Italy, to the Germans in central Europe. Despite his martial prowess, he understood that no area that he had conquered would stay conquered for long in the religious and tribal setting of the time, so he extended the system of “stem duchies,” whereby semi-independent regional rulers were entrusted with maintaining order on the frontiers. In the south, there was the “Spanish March.” In the east, there were numerous regions such as Bavaria and Saxony, each ruled by a “dux” (a duke).

To make sure that the system functioned by design, and that no part became too self-involved, Charlemagne sent envoys to every part of his empire on a regular basis. They were known as the “Missi Dominici.” The Missi were foreign to the territory they managed, so that they wouldn’t have special ties to its rulers, and they were sent to insure that imperial directives were implemented. One was a lay official, the other an ecclesiast, so that both dimensions of medieval governance could be managed.

The fundamental relationship that the Missi Dominici were supposed to oversee through their “shuttle diplomacy” was the basic form of barter that defines every feudal relationship: “land for loyalty” (sometimes known as Frankish Resolution 242!)

In this barter arrangement, a vassal was granted territory (a fief or “feud”) by his lord in exchange for various expressions of loyalty. Whenever the lord required an army in defense of his broader objectives, the vassal was to provide a levy of knights and peasants from his territory. In exchange the vassal’s claim to his land was sanctioned and protected by his lord. If one landholder’s claim was threatened by another it was the lord’s obligation to arbitrate the relative claims of his vassals and to interpose his military might when needed. This type of relationship existed at every level within the medieval social hierarchy, from serfs and farmers to knights, barons, counts and dukes, all the way up to kings and emperors.

An important aspect of this system was that the moral legitimacy of any particular regime took a back seat to power politics. Feudalism was the systematization of “might makes right.” For instance, before Charlemagne’s reign, when Frankish feudalism was still in its infancy, Pippin—a servant of the reigning Merovingian king Childeric III—went to the Pope and demonstrated that it was he, not Childeric, who exercised real power in the kingdom. The Pope then sanctioned the transfer of power from the Merovingians to Pippin’s family, later known as the Carolingians.

Childeric deposed by Pippin. (His hair is being cut in preparation for life in the monastery.)

Later, when Rollo the Viking was granted Normandy by the king of France in 911, it wasn’t because he had a moral claim to it, but rather because he promised to “stabilize” a region that was otherwise subject to the very depredations that Rollo had engaged in but was now supposedly willing to forgo. (You could say he was willing to play Fatah to other the Vikings’ Hamas.) Not surprisingly, Rollo’s powerful descendants nearly toppled the French kingdom on multiple occasions thereafter. The French-Norman version of the “peace process” extended for many centuries, and only closed with the Hundred Years’ War.

What on earth does this have to do with the present day? I’m sure to some of you (especially my students!) the parallels may already be evident. Before revealing the trappings of the modern feudal system, however, I still need to elaborate on how feudalism works in Part 2: False Morality, Pragmatism, and Collectivism. Stay tuned!

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Powell History is proud to announce the creation of a new forum for anyone interested in history: the HistoryAtOurHouse Yahoo group.

The group’s description is as follows:

HistoryAtOurHouse is a forum for anyone interested in the value of a secular history education. Parents of homeschoolers and afterschoolers are especially welcome. The group serves as a complement to the HistoryAtOurHouse program and blog, but it is open to discussion of any secular history curricula and issues related to history and homeschooling.

Obviously, readers of PHR are more than welcome!

Join the group at: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/historyatourhouse

Best,

Scott Powell

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