Posts Tagged ‘Europe’

The Prescience and Presumption of Karl Marx

May 17, 2018

If you take the time to read Marx and Engels’ Communist Manifesto, you may be surprised at how accurate is their assessment of the 19th century industrializing world.

Before Marx and Engels were born, back in the last quarter of the 18th-century, the world witnessed two major revolutions, the American one in 1776. and the French version in 1789.

These two major historical uprisings evolved very differently, although they had both originated conceptually with the Enlightenment ideas of Liberty, Equality and Justice.

Here in the USA, all we had to do was eject King George III and his soldiers. We sent them packin’ back to the old country, England. Then we had what appeared  to be a virgin continent 4000 miles wide populated by indigenous tribes who had not yet been industrially developed.

In France it was a very different story. The newfound revolutionaries, after decapitating old monarchs and killing off their privileged network of landed royalty, still found their mob-enforced movement dragged down by a thousand-year-old heavy baggage of entrenched, fortified autocratic economy.

I can simplify an explanation the difference between the American and French Revolutions for you this way:

In France, the whole revolutionary process got a lot bloodier, more vicious, and it took a hell of a lot longer time to play out.

A few years after the revolting peasants decapitated Louis XVI and his queen Marie Antoinette, Napolean came along, took charge of the debilitated French state and rearranged everything. Later, after he went down, France  was in disarray for the next century, trapped in a revolving door of revolutionary fervor, anarchy, stubborn monarchists and a world that was changing faster than you can say “modernizing industry.”

Into this cauldron of overheating European political and mechanizing discontent, Karl Marx was born in 1818.

KarlMarx

Although the young communist was of German birth, his entrance to this world came in Trier, a town very near the French border.

Karl was a very smart guy. During the time of his educated, idealistic youth, he noticed and publicly identified many trends of modernizing industry and economics that were rapidly industrializing Europe and  eventually the entire world. Things were changing faster than a speeding locomotive.

Within all those changes, Marx identified a new socio-economic class that was establishing itself as the new people in-charge, after the fall of the French monarchy (the first of many monarchies that would be destroyed in coming years). This new, rising class of merchants, managers and craftsmen he called the “bourgeoisie.”

In his eerily prescient analysis of that emerging upper-middle class, Marx also hit on a description of  what we would later call ‘globalization,” Marx wrote:

“The bourgeoisie, by the rapid improvements of all instruments of production, (and) by the immensely facilitated means of communication, draws (sucks) all– even the most barbarian– nations into civilization. The cheap prices of its (the bourgeois’) commodities are the heavy artillery with which it batters down all Chinese walls, (and) with which it forces ‘the barbarians’ intensely obstinate hatred of foreigners to capitulate. It compels all nations, on pain of extinction, to adopt the bourgeois  mode of production; it compels them to introduce what it calls civilization into their midst, i.e., to become bourgeois themselves. In one word, it creates a world after its own image.”

During the turbulent 1840’s, Marx labored with his associate Friedrich Engels to describe and evaluate these historical changes. Together they devised a fix for the world’s problem of a new bourgeois upper-class cruelly exploiting proletarian workers. Thus the Communist Manifesto developed. In 1848, they published the first version of their hot-off-the-press world-changing document. Here’s one part of their assessment of a rapidly industrializing 18th-century Europe:

“Modern industry has converted the little workshop of the patriarchal master into the great factory of the industrial capitalist. Masses of laborers, crowded into the factory, are organized like soldiers. As privates of the industrial army they are placed under the command of a perfect hierarchy of officers and sergeants. Not only are they slaves of the bourgeois class, and of the bourgeois State; they are daily and hourly enslaved by the machine, by the overlooker, and above all, by the individual bourgeois manufacturer himself.”

Marx and Engels identified the disruptive attributes of a new, capitalizing economic steamroller of modern industrialization. They foresaw its accompanying alienation, which would, it seemed, forever confound the proletarian working classes  in Europe, Russia and eventually every nation in the world. In the Communist Manifesto of 1848, Marx and Engels wrote:

“The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionizing the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society. . . Constant revolutionizing of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. All fixed fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away; all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face, with sober senses, his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind.”

The dynamic theorizing duo, Marx and Engels, had figured out that very disruptive bourgeois-imposed changes were in store for humanity. Little did they realize that the revolutionary, ostensibly corrective measures they would soon be positing would be ultimately just as disruptive, if not more-so, than the maelstrom of rapidly escalating industrialism that was fast overtaking 19th-century Europe.

Marx and Engels went on to concoct an elaborate prescription to fix the world and thus deliver us from the ravages of modern capitalism and its dehumanizing industrialization.

If you look at the implementation of their communist doctrine as it has evolved in the last  century and a half, you may be dismayed at how brutally the zealous proponents of Marxist communism (Stalin, Mao, Ho Chi Minh, Pol Pot et al) screwed up the original idealized vision for world communism.

Which goes to show that the best-laid plans of mice and men are generally worked out in programs and institutions very different from their original visions and versions.

Later, when Socialists came along, attempting to reconcile the old System of autocratic Europe with a perpetually revolutionizing Communist big-fix, Marx pooh-poohed the wimpish compromisers, remarking . . .

“. . . Socialism, however, (does not) understand the (necessary) abolition of the bourgeois relations of production, an abolition that can be effected only by a revolution.”

So here’s my question for Karl and Fred:

Hey, since you did identify  the extremely disruptive, debilitating bourgeois rearrangement of a capitalist, 19th-century world,   would your proposed communist remedy  be less disruptive and crippling than the total, ongoing revolution that a communist fix would require?

I think not.

Furthermore, if subsequent history is any indicator, the changes in human activity that would be necessary to manifest a communist society as idealized by Marx and Engels—such changes would require constant correction, and therefore perpetual revolution.

Doesn’t sound very beneficial, from a human standpoint.

Furthermore, this writer would suggest:

Since your theorized systems for world improvement dictate that the revolutionizing proletariat must cast aside their “opiate” of religion, and thus deny the presence and power of “God” . . .

it would seem that many of the simpleminded 21st-century religious proletariat workers out there in flyover country or Manchester or Italy or wherever—they might rise up and reject the technocratic decrees of their elitist deep-state Marx-inspired EU overlords.

I know you wanta write them present-day uncooperative proles off as “alt-right” and reactionary, but it seems to me they are the same “proletarian” workers that Marx and Engels thought they had identified as the future vanguard of true communism.

Apparently they have something else in mind than technocrat-generated statism, maybe just a “leave us alone” revolution.

King of Soul

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The killing of God

May 2, 2018

Just because the potentates of old Europe wrangled the Bible away from its Hebrew roots and turned it into dead religion doesn’t mean God doesn’t exist.

God did, after all, create humans with a free will. We are not programmed bots. Just because we homo sapiens screwed it up over the course of a few thousand years doesn’t mean that God wasn’t in the midst of it all somewhere, trying to break through our cerebral density, carnal shenanigans and political bullshit.

Actually, God did break through. But look what we did to him.

In the Middle Eastern crossroads where our wayward cruelties had taken advantage of 1st-century Empire-building power politics to nail him, a stake was driven in the ground. It turned out to be a bloody mess and a sacrifice of universal proportions.

So, as the centuries rolled by, the movers and the shakers among us took that bloody sacrifice and ran with it, transformed it into a first-class religious system that rolled on through time and continent like a runaway ox-cart on a roman road. A thousand years later, we’d manhandled that pivotal sacrifice into high-powered religion, through which men and women worldwide were either convinced or manipulated (depending upon your interpretation of it) into the mysteries of practiced religion.

Long about 1500 ad dominum, a few upstart readers who were paying attention to the original scripts started to figure out that something had gone wrong somewhere along the line.

HusPrague

So they raised some issues. Well, long story short, all hell broke loose.

That great institutional juggernaut that had rolled down through a millennium of pox humana religiosity suddenly was under attack from men who were trying to get to the bottom of it all, which is to say . . . trying to get through all that institutional religiosity to . . . the truth.

The truth? What is truth?

Haha glad you asked.

This little question became a matter of serious debate.

Now that the snake was out of the bag, everybody and their brother was trying to figure out what the truth really was and how it should be used to improve the human condition. People like Rousseau, Hegel, Engels and Marx, Lenin and several other notorious bastards.

As the movement to replace God with human wisdom and government gathered steam, human history heated up quite a bit. And the conflagration of it increased exponentially because this historic development just happened to coincide with the 19th-century Industrial Revolution. So we had a lot more fire power to implement all the big changes that needed to happen in order to get mankind delivered from the great religious debacle that had held us in bondage for so long.

Some guys in Prussia figured out that, since the great juggernaut institution of religion had been exposed to be the manipulative Oz-like empire that it was, the immediate conclusion was that not only had we killed religion, but we humans had managed to finally kill God! Voltaire, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche made this point perfectly clear.

Several bloody revolutions and a couple of world wars later, we are in the process now of finally getting our ducks in a row and ourselves straightened out, now that we’ve finally gotten God out of the way.

Even though we had already killed him one time before, but that’s another story.

Actually, it’s The Story.

His-story.

You can’t kill it, because that death-sentence strategy has already been implemented several times, yet without conclusive results.

We humanos insist on perpetually resurrecting that Story. We just can’t get enough of the un-killable presence among us. It refuses to stay dead. Might be worth looking into.

King of Soul

The Castle Paradox

March 20, 2018

Once upon a time, and oh, so far, far away from these here United States, many of our ancestors lived and worked in the Old Country.

It was a feudal society over there. The royal houses would feud among themselves while their servants labored to bring home the bacon.

Back then, the countries had not even assembled themselves into nations yet. The lands of the Old Country were divided into kingdoms and fiefdoms. Vast estates were owned and ruled by kings and queens, princes and princesses, dukes and duchesses. In the domain of each royal arrangement, lords and ladies would call the shots, while their loyal serfs and vassals would toil every day, out in the hinterlands amongst the hedgerows and fields where they produced a bounty of crops and goods. In this manner, everybody—the royals and the peasants— were fed and housed, and even in some cases fat ’n happy.

Or so the story has been told. . . once upon a time, in a land far, far away.

By ’n by, the times they were a-changin’ and all things became different from what they had been before.

Fresh breezes of liberty swept through the hearts and minds of men and women. Notions of liberty and equality arose among the people. These zeitgeist winds of change compelled many a former  vassal to cast off the ancient bonds of indentured servitude. Many a craftsman forsook the security of the royal house, to move into town and set up shop. Striking out on their own, many a blacksmith, many a weaver, butcher, baker and candlestickmaker established paths of industrious productivity of their own, apart and independent from the Old Order.

And a New Order arose in the Old Country.

Long about this time, folks heard about a new place called America, and . . . well, you know the story. All this  American stuff that you see around us now rose up in about two or three hundred years, whereas the heavily stratified infrastructure of the Old World had taken two or three thousand years to develop.

By ’n by, here in America, we got fed up with King George and his taxing shenanigans. We threw his red-coated soldiers out, sent ‘em packing back to Britain with their tail between their legs.

Our American revolution was no small accomplishment. A lot of our people, having caught a whiff of that Enlightened wind, got inspired toward liberty big time, and so we took up our muskets and fought our way to independence. Many a minute man and backwoods farmer died while defeating them redcoats at Bunker Hill and Yorktown and Valley Forge.

But really it was a walk in the park compared to the bloody French Revolution, which came a few years later in the Old Country. Those madcap peasants chopped the king’s head off and the queen’s head and a lot of other royal heads, heads of privilege, heads of power, even a bunch of innocent heads, because the rabble crowds, so caught up in their egalitarian frenzy went plum crazy once the blood started to flow in the streets and sewers of Paris. Those furious French shocked their way into the 19th-century, whereas we merely fought our way into it.

You see, those French revolutionaries were dealing with ancient bands of power that went way back in time; there was huge institutional baggage that they felt they had to throw out with all those bloody royal heads.

Whereas, we here in America only had to send the king and his army packin’ back to England. Once we had gotten rid of them, we only had a vast, undeveloped virgin contintent to deal with.

We had four thousand miles of opportunity stretched westward before us, whereas the proletarians of Europe had thousands of years of old habits and old baggage to try to reconstruct in order to usher in a New Order. Those former vassals found themselves with a lot of unpleasant work to do before they could see their way clear to this new thing called democracy and/or republic. (Actually the liberating notions were  very old, but that’s another story, a Greek and Roman one.)

Well, by ’n by, the times were a changin’ . . . but sometimes things have to take a few steps backward before the forward motion cranks up again.

Whereas, in the Olden days Once upon a time, all the peasants were gathered around a castle, now it seems we’ve found, in our modern liberty,  ourselves a new castle to gather around. . .

CastleD

Now that every man is a king, every woman a queen of her own destiny, now that every son is a prince and every daughter a princess, the New Order has morphed into a revised version of the Old Order. What goes around comes around. Take your place on the great Mandela. Millions of us from all over the world congregate at a New Castle every year, yearning for something special, hoping to find something magical, wishing upon a star . . .

What is it we’re really wishing for?

King of Soul

Stickin’ to it.

February 18, 2018

In the late ’70’s many of us wandered up to a cool mountain town; we were trying to figure out what the hell had happened. Some had survived the excesses of countercultural lifestyle; others were just there to do the college thing.

  By that time, the ’60’s flower-power revolution that had failed to actuate had been appropriated into the Establishment. Now you could buy faux hippie threads from the JCPenney catalog; that reality was really a bummer, but people were buying the stuff anyway.. The free love thing had been commandeered by Hollywood. It seemed like everybody was “doing it.”

Our little group of wanderers and students found ourselves congregated in the mother-earth lap of an Appalachian river valley. We had gravitated here to, as John Denver had phrased it, “find Jesus on our own.”

“On our own” turned out to mean: apart from the institutional Church, because it was out of touch with what was happening in the real world and everybody knew it was full of foolishness and hypocrites. Haha.

As the gathering developed, however, our little charismatic experiment turned out to be a little more infected with the ways of the world than we had anticipated. Even though we were a bunch of young bucks and does banded together, raising our kids as a sheltered new testament tribe, showing all the local old-school religious folks what the kingdom of God was all about, eventually after about 20 years it flew apart and we all went our separate ways.

But the failure of men to do God’s will is not the conclusive evidence about the credibility of Him whose crucifixion was inflicted by that same failure, our human failure. Ultimately his resurrection overcomes the crucifixion. The message of Jesus is not about what men do or fail to do; It’s about what he did for us.

By the late ’90’s when our little congregation fell apart, our three offspring had gone off to University, where they got a different view of things, different from the churchified bubble they had been raised in. Long story short: it was good for them to be educated, and all three retained their faith.

Meanwhile back at the ranch, some of us maturing saints—shell-shocked survivors of the great postmodern charismatic reactionary push—began gathering in our homes to “on our own” collectively continue our covenantal search to discern the Lord’s will for us. So we were then, and still now, gathering in our living rooms to read the Bible, pray, and seek God.

As for me and my wife, we have walked a middle road between that house-church body of Christ and another church, which is  a more conventional arrangement for presenting and living out the gospel in society.

This has worked well for us.

By ’n by, all three of our offspring became world travelers for one reason or another. Over the years we have done a lot of globetrotting, following them to various fascinating destinations around the world.

Like for instance, Europe. When we went to that Old World, I began to understand that America is the new kid on the block. Over there, they’ve been doing this Christianity thing for a very long time, about 2000 years.

While it is plain to see that there is a huge institutional legacy of the “Church” in the Americas, the cathedrals of Europe can be seen as indicators of a very different religious experience in days gone by.  Every major city presents evidence of some stupendous religious megalith that dominated European society in a big way for a very long time, until the purveyors of human rationalism came along to challenge their authority.

This Church as a human institution, whatever it shoulda woulda coulda been spiritually, was for a very long time the big kid on the block, the elephant in the room, the megalith institution that dominated  Old World society and cultural In a BIG way.

Those 1st-millennium continental Catholics erected a bunch of huge, monumental edifices. You can find them in every major city and small town.  Europe displays an infrastructure of past religious hegemony on a massive scale. The Reformers later did more of the same.

Case in point. Last year, when we were in Prague, Czech Republic, I snapped this pic inside a cathedral:

PChrch

So I’m thinking. It’s plain to see, this Christianity thing is much, much larger than what is represented by, say, the quaint quasi-classical structure down on our Main Street USA. Beholding this magnificent structure presents a challenge in many ways: it’s a theological, cultural, architectural wonder!

Who built this thing? Was it erected through the blood and toil and sweat of impoverished medieval slave-serfs? Was it founded upon the heretical  manipulations of indulgence-selling ecclesiastical con-men? What kind of empire were they building here? A corrupted hierarchy of covetous clergy? Does it give glory to God, or to the works of Man?

Now I could speculate vainly about the motivations and corrupt practices of those who went before me as  constructors of what is purported to be the Kingdom of God. I could judge them as users and abusers who took advantage of clueless poor people who probably could barely afford to pay the light bill and keep gas in the cart and the kids in shoes while they were fretting about their deceased relatives in purgatory or limbo. I could conclude presumptuously that this humongous structure is nothing more than a work of vanity and hubris and systemic abuse that was erected by men who were surely just as guilty, just as culpable, just as sinful and suspect as myself. I could condemn them as robber-baron ecclesiastic manipulators who were no doubt serving  Babylon or Rome or the  Pride of Man.

But, sinner that I know myself to be, I shall not so judge them. Rather, I shall admire the building for being, in an imperfect world, what  it should have been, and is generally in retrospect considered to be: overpowering evidence of the human impulse that strives to glorify God.

Furthermore, I understand that my assessment is considered to be an obsolete way of thinking. I realize, from both my common observations and study of history, that the religious  hegemony of this huge institutionalized Church has been supplanted, governmentally and socially, by the humanistic, democratic and socialistic movements of  the 19th and 20th centuries.

And that’s okay. Shit happens and nobody’s perfect, not even the humanists, who havre proven through their own systemic abuses that human government and politics falls far short of true justice.

We Christians do need reminders that there are other people in this world who have different fixes than we do for rectifying human injustice and misery. We don’t have to agree with everybody, but we do have to, as Christ and his apostles commanded, live peacefully with everybody insofar as it its possible.

What I am seeing now, in the present predicament of our world is this:

That big guilty-as-charged Churchified juggernaut that sought to order human activity and governance in the last sixteen hundred years—it is being challenged and threatened by a newer Religious juggernaut from the east.

And if I must choose between the two, I’ll go with the one that I know to be true, even though it has not always been righteous. In the end, I think it is better to build upon the testimony of the one who died on a cross and was, three days later, resurrected. It is better to stand with Him than with another religious empire whose plan would be to get us kaffirs all on our knees five times a day.

In his final revelation to those he loves, Jesus counseled his friend John to “strengthen the things that remain.”

So therefore and henceforth, I say unto thee: I’m with Jesus.

The failure of men to do God’s will is not the conclusive evidence about the credibility of Him whose crucifixion was inflicted by that same failure, our human failure. Ultimately his resurrection overcomes the crucifixion. The message of Jesus is not about what men do or fail to do; It’s about what he did for us.

That’s my faith and I’m sticking to it.

King of Soul

Vienna

July 8, 2017

My mama raised me to be a Catholic. Daddy wasn’t into religion much.

After I grew up, and became a man who could/would relate to the world on my own terms–after I had reached the age of reason and I had decided for myself what this life was all about. . . after I had lived life to the full, and managed to do a few things right and many a thing wrong–after I had made a grand mess of my life, then allowed the Lord of the Universe, our Creator, to take hold of me at the ripe old age of 27 and turn me around and plant my wayward feet firmly in the ground of the gospel of Jesus Christ–after all that. . .

I met my wonderful little women, Pat from New Jersey. We got married in 1980 and by n’ by she presented three lovely children to me. Eventually the kids grew up, became responsible adults, etc and, long story short, we have followed each one of them to various points of interest all over the world.

Our current adventure in following progeny has brought us to the wonderful city of Vienna, Austria.

Now I have to say that this is an amazing place. Walking around this city for just one evening has already taught me some profundities about what life is all about and where things came from, long before I was born. Previously unexplained elements of my childhood, my heritage as a Catholic kid who later turned born-again Christian, can now be contemplated from the perspectives of history itself, and the movement of certain people groups at various periods of time from the Old World to the New, which is to say, America.

I mean, we grow up and we see things and we don’t really have a clue where all this stuff came from or how it got here and how we came to be in the midst of it all. In my case, I was a kid in the middle of the Deep South, in Mississippi in the 1950’s. Growing up, snotty-nosed and clueless as I was, now I’m wondering how likely it could have been that I grew up Catholic instead of Southern Baptist.

Well, my mama was a French-American Catholic from Louisiana, and my daddy’s people were from Scotch-Irish stock from up in the piney wood of Mississippi and before that they had come through Pennsylvania and before that from the old country, Ireland or Scotland or somewhere over there on the other side of the Pond.

So now, at this particular moment in time, it just so happens that I wake up this morning on the other side of the Pond, which is to say: now we are in Europe, the Old World, because yesterday (or maybe it was the day before that) we flew from America– formerly the New World– to this Old World, and one plane led to another and now I find myself in Vienna on a sunny morning and thanking God for such a wonderful life a the one we now find ourselves in.

As we strolled along the Karntnerstrasse last evening, we encountered this very impressive big cathedral structure, so I snapped a pic:

Steph-z

The immensity of history–what has gone before–is what I’m feeling as I pondered this structure. The erection of this church building took lifetimes of work and toil and sweat, and devotion, back in the days of the Holy Roman Empire, whatever that was, and its long tails of historical development through Peter and Paul and later Constantine and then all the Popes in Rome and eventually the Austro-Hungarian empire and the Hapsburgs and their hunky-dory relationship to the Catholic Church. . .

Until that fateful day in 1914 when the Archduke Franz Ferdinand got shot in Sarajevo by an angry young Serb and the Empire ended and the Old World ended and World War I dealt the final death blows to the ancient reins of power and the reigns of the royal houses that had ruled Europe for a couple a thousand years or so.

As I was pondering all this, we did stroll inside, into the Church at Stephensplatz. We found there a group of devoted Catholics celebrating Mass. This kind of thing has been going on here for a long time. And I don’t care what you think or say about it . . . This was a good thing.

Steph-in

That devotional setting took me back to childhood memories of being Catholic because that’s the way Mama raised me, even though Daddy wasn’t into it.

So as I contemplated, and in some sense, entered into. . . the devotion of these congregants to their belief in the Lord Jesus Christ, and their expression of that devotion in the sacrifice of the Mass,  and as I reconciled in my mind between those ancient strains of high-church faith and the Protestant Reformation that later changed everything . . . right down to the johnny-come-lately tides of Charismata that had drawn me into my experience of the Christian faith in 1978, and my present appreciation for all that God has done for me and Pat and our grown-up children and their spouses. . . as I stood there in the quiet reverence of a tourist who just happened into a cathedral while other believers worshipped in their strange high-church way . . .

I could relate. I could relate to what they were feeling.

This morning, I can still feel it, devotion.

Devotion goes way back. This is a good thing.

King of Soul 

Austerity or Stimulus?

February 25, 2017

Well this is an improvement.

When I was still a gleam in my daddy’s eye, Germany fought a world-sized war against France. But now, in 2017, all the obsolete ideology that then fueled both fanaticisms–fascist v. communist–has withered down into a battle of ideas.

Fiscal ideas, like whether budgets should be balanced, or put on hold until things get better.

From a Peace vs. War standpoint, I’d say that delicate balancing act is an improvement, wouldn’t you? Budgets and Economic Plans are, theoretically, much more manageable than tanked-up military campaigns.

Now Germany and France– those two nation-state heavyweights whose fiscal priorities set the course for the rest of Europe–they are getting along just fine now. They expend financial energies trying to keep the whole of Europe humming along on all cylinders. Budget deficits that drag down Euro economies are generated mostly in the lackadaisical southern  economies–Greece, Italy and Spain.

But those two mid-continent economic heavyweights–France and Germany, function as fiscal opposites, polarizing European values and budget priorities in opposite directions. They are two very different countries; and yet Germany and France are not as opposite as they used to be. A lot has changed since they finally made peace back in 1945.

At the time of that last Great War, early 1940’s, Germany was suffering through the death-throes of a dying monarchy. What was left of the Kaiser’s authoritative legacy had been lethally manipulated into a world-class death regime by a demonic tyrant who wore an odd, obnoxious little mustache on his flat German face.

France up to that time was still stumbling through a sort of awkwardly adolescent stage, having booted their kings and queens out back in the early stages of the industrial revolution, and then replacing, in stages, the ancient monarchy with a struggling new Republic.

What the French did as the 18th-century came to a close was similar to what we Americans did, but different. We had ditched King George III in 1776. The French cut off Louis XVI in 1792. On the other side of the Rhine, the Germans kept their Wilhelm top dog hanging on a thread until the Allies ran him down in 1918.

We Americans did a whole new thing after we rejected the old wineskins of monarchic government back in 1776; we had a lot going for us–a vast, nearly-virgin continent that stretched out for 3000+ miles, with plenty of room to grow,  and to expand our new-found explorations for Life, Liberty and Pursuits of Happiness.

The Europeans–neither the French nor the Germans–did not have all that fruited-plains expansion space like we had. They were cramped up over there in the Old World.

Having wielded a fierce guillotine ruthlessness upon their king and queen, the French tried to spread the wealth all around, ensuring that everybody got a chunk of it. They had wrung a blood-stained liberte from the palaces of privilege in 1789. Over the course of the next century and a half, they generally moved leftward the whole time, toward an egalitarian idea of solidarity.

The Germans have always tended toward authoritarian leadership, which is one reason why Hitler was able to pull off the abominations that he did. But we Allies put that to an end in 1945.

Thank God.

Now in the post-WWII Europe, the Germans have turned out to be pretty good kids on the block, considering all that had happened back in the day. The last 3/4 of a century has seen a remarkable recovery. They went through some serious changes, rebuilding after  losing two wars, and then being divide into two different countries.

Since 1990, when Germany became united again into one country, those krauts have established a pretty impressive record. They now have the strongest, most stable economy in Europe.  One reason it turned out this way is: the Germans have historically been, by necessity, very disciplined, rational people and they know how to get things done.

The French are different from that. You gotta love the French. As the Germans have made the world a better place with their great music (Bach and Beethoven), the French have brightened and lightened our worldly life with their very lively, expressive and impressionistic art, coupled with their unbridled Joie de vivre. And let’s not forget the original architectural piece-de-resistance of the Western World. It was French creativity married to inventive 19th-century industrialism that brought us the Eiffel Tower in 1889.

ParisGargoyl

The French do progress with style and artistry; the Germans get it done with impressive efficiency and precision.

As an American who has geneologic roots in both cultures, this fascinates me.

Their two different attitudes about generating prosperity also encompass, respectively, their approaches to solving money problems.

Or more specifically. . . solving “lack of money” problems.

A new book, Europe and the Battle of Ideas, explains how these two nations, as the two polarizing States of modern Europe, each lead in their own way to set policy, together,  for solving Europe’s financial problems. Their tandem leadership is enhanced by their two very different strategies.

The simplest way to describe their treatments of European deficits is this:

The Germans are into Austerity; the French are into Stimulus.

Or to put it into a classic perspective:

The Germans want to balance the books,  thereby squeezing all governments and banks into economic stability. The French want the assets to get spread around so everybody can have a chunk of it.

How do I know anything about this?

This morning I saw Markus Brunnermeir being interviewed; he is one of the authors of the new book, Europe and the Battle of Ideas.

  https://www.socialeurope.eu/2017/02/europes-future-will-settled-battle-ideas/

In this fascinating, very informative interview, the questions are being posed by Rob Johnson, President of Institute for New Thinking, whatever that is.

Together, these two guys explore the two basic problem-solving approaches to working out Europe’s economic deficiencies. And it just so happens that the two main strategies are related to those two old nationalized culture, described above, between Germany and France.

Sounds simplistic perhaps, but this comparative analysis makes a lot of sense when you hear these two knowledgable men talk about the present condition of economic Europe.

So, rather than try to explain it to you, I’ll simply leave you with this list of characteristics, as identified by. Mr Markus Brunnermeier. The list identifies how each country’s budgetary priorities contributes to a strategy for solving Europe’s fiscal woes.  My oversimplified version of it  looks like this:

France

Germany

1.Stimulus

1.Austerity

2.Liquidity

2.Solvency

3.Solidarity

3.Liability

4.Discretion

4.Rules

5.Bail-out

5.Bail-In

Consider these two lists of national characteristics as two different strategies for solving large-scale economic problems.

Here are a few notes I made while watching Mr. Johnson interview Mr. Brunnermeier:

For French, the problem is always liquidity. Stimulus will flush money out of markets again.

Germans see problems as solvency difficulty. Fix the fundamentals. Don’t throw good money after bad.

French: If you see it as a liquidity problem, just bail them out.

German. If you see it as solvency problem,  Bail in, to avoid future hazards. Bail-in means: Bond holders who essentially gambled with a country or bank and  then reap the gains on upside– they should take losses on downside.

There was a radical shift in attitudes in Europe over the Cyprus bank crisis in spring 2013. Who pays? Who covers the losses?

. . . Bail-in or bail-out?

French fear systemic risk so they tend toward governmental bail-outs.

The Germans, on the other hand, see crisis as an opportunity to address and solve the systemic deficiencies. So penalize  the depositors/ investors; others will learn from that, and you will have bank-runs in other places. Such circumstances provide incentives for institutions and individuals to take responsibility for their own actions and investments.

Just how the Europeans get all this worked out, we shall see in the days ahead. And the working-out may provide some lessons for all of us.

Smoke

An Ambassador On Point

February 16, 2017

President Trump went to our Capital city with an intention to drain the swamp.

Good luck with that. However, if I’m not mistaken, the swamp in that Chesapeake area was drained at about the time President Washington took office, over 200 years ago, and Congress decided to build us a Capital in that environs.

Now two weeks into the Trump administration we already see some rearrangement of the chairs from which our multi-layered  executive branch of governance will administrate.

With Gen. Michael Flynn’s resignation as National Security Advisor, all the media talking heads were abuzz  yesterday with speculation about what this early switcheroo means for the future of our  security and national defense. Trump’s  shoot-from-the-hip  leadership style seems to impose on his nascent administration a wild wild west kind of drama upon which the media talking heads thrive.

In order to gain some comprehension of what is happening on that national security front,  I, citizen, was listening on my radio yesterday to Tom Ashbrook’s  NPR talk-show On Point.

   http://www.wbur.org/onpoint

Host Tom’s introduction of his 2/15/2017 guests included a few words about William Burns, who is President of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.   

That mention of the Carnegie Endowment triggered a 2015 memory in which I had been walking along Massachusetts Avenue in Washington, DC. On that summer day, I had snapped this pic:

CarnegEn

I suppose I had thought to  take this picture because the  legacy of Andrew Carnegie in our national development has, for a long time, fascinated me. His work as an immigrant industrialist turned out to be a fulcrum in our  exceptional westward continental expansion. Carnegie’s role, in later life, as a generous philanthropist is legendary.

So Ambassador William Burns’ role as President of that Carnegie foundation for peace got my attention. Furthermore,  I found Mr. Burns’ comments to be informative and well-delivered.

I daresay it was the voice of experience glinting through in his cogent analysis that lent authenticity to Ambassador Burns’ observation.  William Burns’ former role (2005-08) as Russian ambassador certainly lent to his perspective a readily identifiable authenticity on the currently hot topic of Russian influence in our internal affairs. It seemed to me his perspective is not that of your run-of-the-mill inside-the-beltway pontificator, but rather, a truly informed opinion.

Our former Ambassador to the Russian Federation said,

“New administrations typically try to do a couple of things early on. The first is reassure your allies and partners, and the second is to sober your adversaries. What we’ve seen in less than a month is almost the opposite of that, creating a fair amount of unease among allies and unnerving partners, while at the same time giving adversaries and potential adversaries the sense that there are opportunities out there.”

After hearing this, and listening to yesterday’s On Point discussion, I visited the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace website. I read there an Op-ed letter written by William Burns that the New York Times had published on Jan. 7.

In the letter, he describes Vladimir Putin as a leader who is playing rough.

He observes that Putin has sought a deferential government in Kiev while grabbing Crimea and trying to provoke a dysfunctional Ukraine.

Vladimir is flexing Russia’s military muscle in Syria to preserve Assad’s brutal government, thus emasculating the West by making us appear conciliatory. The Assad/Russian brutality forces  many war-displaced Syrians to flee toward Europe and the West. Putin’s  Assad-boosting military adventure thus spawns the infamous emigration that destabilizes those countries to which the Syrian refugees flee.   Putin  exploits this ongoing destabilization  by striving to  replace, by strong-arm intimidation, European instability with Russian power.

This scenario becomes evidence of our need to maintain our “absolute commitment to NATO.” William Burns writes, “Our network of allies is not a millstone around America’s neck, but a powerful asset that sets us apart.”

I agree with this statement. American alliances based on shared values and principles that cultivate liberty do set us apart from the  bullies of the world–the historical ones such as Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, Pol Pot, Castro, Chavez etc, but also those dictators who may be lurking in the world today, waiting for an opportunity to pounce on weakened nation-states.

Ambassador Burns served in Moscow as our Ambassador during 2005-2008. He  expresses respect for the Russian people and their contributions to Western civilization. But he warns that Putin’s aggressive tactics must be countered with American firmness and vigilance. We Americans should remain confident in our enduring strengths, and unapologetic about our values.

Our values call for, I remind you, government of the people, by the people and for the people.

Not power plays by bullies.

Glass half-Full

Aftermath of a Musical Dream

October 18, 2015

While catching up on some tasks around the homeplace yesterday, a mid-afternoon weariness came upon me, and so I decided to take a little siesta.

Having finished the outdoor chores, I was inside the house. WDAV was tuned in on the radio. My favorite deejay, Mike McKay, was introducing the station’s 3 pm airing of a performance by the Charlotte Symphony.

I lost track of what Mike was saying as I stretched me weary ole bones upon the floor to partake of a wee bit of personalized yoga recovery, otherwise known as dozing off while stretching.

The next thing I know, my mind was stirred in wakefulness that attended a hearing of some incredibly beautiful music.

The experience was ethereal, as if I were dreaming, and yet there I was, my conscious attention approaching some orchestral destination that was being played out in my mind, or in the airwaves, or in the room, or somewhere I’ve never been.

I listened.

A little while later, I checked the WDAV website to find out what that music was that had stirred my awareness up from a necessary mid-afternoon slumber.

http://www.wdav.org/1_33_38.cfm

Now, the next day, a little Google search brings me to some comprehension about the source of yesterday’s dreamy revery: Ralph Vaughn Williams’ Fantasia on a theme by theme by Thomas Tallis.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fantasia_on_a_Theme_by_Thomas_Tallis

This symphonic piece was composed in 1910, and later revised in 1913 and 1919.

When I read the Wikipedia info about the dates of  this music’s conception and revision, I immediately thought of the First Big War, which had happened from 1914-1918. That war has been a subject of my research for the last few years, as its aftermath pertains to the novel, Smoke, that I published last year.

The composer, a Brit, Ralfph (pronounced Rafe) Von Williams wrote the music in 1910, four years before the cataclysmic conflagration of early 20th-century European history, World War I. He later revised that music in 1913, just before the war started, and then again after the war had ended.

And I am wondering, this bright autumn Sunday afternoon, if that traumatic experience of world war might have had some effect on Mr. Williams that compelled him to revise his 9-year old masterpiece.

I think that First Big War did had an impact on this incredibly voluptuous statement of orchestral pathos, or tragedy, or whatever it is this haunting Phrygian melody imposes on my soul.

The music is similar to, and a compositional precedent to, a famous piece written two decades later by Samuel Barber,  Adagio for Strings (1936).

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adagio_for_Strings

That’s another great, prescient pre-war piece of musical angst created four years before a Big War (the Second one).

Perhaps there is some composer out there today writing such a piece, but entirely new and expressive of whatever the hell is going on in our world today.

I wanted to provide a link so you can hear the piece of music that has inspired all this. So I went back to the WDAV website, which represents a great media source for classical music enrichment and enjoyment. It was there I had learned the name of the music.

I treasure WDAV and support their work with an annual contribution. However, for purposes of this online presentation I . . . long story short, stumbled upon this video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ihx5LCF1yJY

from BBC Symphony Orchestra, which is captured for YouTube in a performance at a cathedral in England. If you watch the performance, you may agree that both the music and the setting represent the union of two elements of our profoundly great Western cultural heritage: music and church.

After composing, Vaughn Williams noted an association between this Fantasia and the message of Psalm 2:

Why are the nations in an uproar

and the peoples devising a vain thing?

The kings of the earth take their stand

and the rulers take counsel together

against the Lord and against his Anointed?

 

Smoke

Be aware of Greeks bearing debts

April 25, 2015

Greece is, you see, the opposite of California, and I’ll tell you why.

The first thing is: Greece is very old. California is, on the other hand, very new.

The “West”–that is to say, California and all the rest of us New World types– actually started in Greece about three thousand years ago. Greece was the “West” because it was westward from what was, in ancient times, the Old Country, the region we now call the Middle East, or Levant, or Holy Land, depending on your point of view.

Long ago, after Alexander and his military legacy turned the Persians back at the battle of Marathon, long about 490 b.c.e., the people of the Greek city-states began joining together to form an historical entity that we now call Ancient Greece.

And since that time, the whole thing of Greek culture moved westward and northward over a couple of millennia  of time. The great thrust of Western thought, anchored in a mental discipline called philosophy and a political idea called Democracy,  inspired empires and nations from those ancient days until the present day.

We still dream about governing ourselves in this thing call a democracy, but it has never quite manifested in a way authentic to the original concept.

Probably never will, but it’s a nice thought.

A  couple hundred years after the Greek Golden Age, the Romans came along with their Republic and their empire. Much of their marvelously innovative empire-building was rooted in Greek thought and mathematics (Euclid and Pythagoras). A lot of what the Romans did was direct imitation of Greek stuff. A good example of this is their omnipresent use of Columns for holding buildings up.

You’ve heard of Doric columns, Ionic columns?

That’s Greek stuff. Except that–guess what!–the Doric and Ionic names originated across the Aegean sea from Greece, in a region called Asia (Minor), which is now Turkey. Go figure!

A couple hundred years after the Greek Golden Age, along came the Romans. What they ended up doing was much grander and more elaborate than what the Greeks did. They took Greek columns and turned them into a universal architectural art-form. Those two earlier Column designs–the Doric and the Ionian– were not fancy enough to suit the Roman sense of grandiosity. So the Romans decorated the capitals (tops) of their columns with new, leafy frou-frou carvings and castings  which came to be called Corinthian.

The Corinthian name, however, was not Roman, but Greek. Corinth was an important city in Greece.  So once again, go figure.

Figuring is important to the whole advance of Western civilization. Everywhere Greeks and their European progeny went, they were figuring stuff out.

Thus did Western Civilization expand over millenia of time. Along came the Germans, French, Spanish, British, all of them making ever grander plans,  striving to construct their own versions of civilization.

When the Greco-Roman enterprise got to the big Sea at the end of Europe–aka the End of the Earth–its expansion was delayed for a few hundred years. But then along came Cristoforo Columbo and Presto!, Western civilization took a grand leap across the Atlantic Ocean.

Now we Americans know about Boston, New Yawk, Philly, etc etc etc;  and we are intimately familiar with Paul Revere and Grampa George Washington. Why we even know about Charleston and Savannah and all that unreconstructed goings-on down south, but what’s important here is California!

Why?

Because Americans are adventurers. Our forefathers and foremothers hit the ground running after we got off the boat in Baltimore or Ellis Island or wherever it was.

Before you knew it, we were all the way over on the far other edge of the continent, in California, baby!

Or bust! That’s what the Okies said.

And that was, if you think about it, the very end of the Greek frontier. From Athens to Anaheim, westward ho all along the way. That’s all she wrote.

The westward expansion of Greek culture ended at California. It couldn’t go any farther. Why, even when they o’erleaped the wide Pacific, what did they find?

China!

It doesn’t get any older than that–China. No Westward expansion there, although the Brits made a few dents, and of course there was Marx and all that People’s trial and bloody error.

Now We Americans have a saying: as California goes, so goes the nation.

That means that, from the 1849 Gold Rush on, the great exploratory thrust of American ingenuity and creativity originates in place called California.

The land of fruits and nuts.

And broccoli, lettuce, grapes, wine, silicon, integrated circuit chips, beach boys, beach girls, computers, iPhones, movies and pop culture, etc etc etc.

So once all the migrant Europeans got themselves planted on the East Coast back in the 1800s, they built so many cities, and built them so quickly, that before you know it they got overcrowded and pulled up stakes to head West.

Go West, young man, wrote Horace Greeley, about a hundred and fifty years ago.

And very quickly. We developed America from raw earth,  from Schenectady to San Francisco in less than a hundred years, blazing a yankee trail all along the way.

And when we hit up against that great Pacific rim, the grand tide of our exuberance struck a sea wall and then it swayled back the other way: Disney in Paris, McDonald’s in Athens, Kennedy in Berlin!

But now–and my mind misgives some consequence yet hanging in the stars–our grand millenia-old Restatement of Greco-Roman expansionism strikes, back at its ancient nascence, an Athenian rampart.

So I see the next phase of history this way: As Greece goes, so goes the West. And this is what it looks like, according to a pic I recently snapped in Athens:

EarthBraceAgor2

Which is to say, a propped up portal. Where can we go from here?

Glass Chimera

The Ascent of Man

February 22, 2015

In the beginning

of his life, the man is born into this world. He is born and raised as a child.

Over years of time, the boy becomes a man. Finding himself in the midst of mankind, he looks around at the world and the people in it, and he  wonders what it is all about.

The man tries to make his way in the world, striving to find his place in it, but the attempt is not easy, nor is it simple.

One day, he sees the mountain. MtnCity

He is drawn to the mountain. He begins ascending it. After climbing to the top, he pauses to consider the city below, from whence he has just come. AcropEdgWal2

That’s interesting.

But there’s more to getting perspective than just climbing a mountain. Because he lives in the 21st century, the man is afforded even better opportunities to get a lofty view of the world. And so he ascends even further. AirAlps10

After the man comes down, and his head is no longer in the clouds, he finds himself once again in the midst of the world, struggling to attain mastery over the elemental forces of nature, and contending among the diverse populations of mankind for his very own place of fulfillment and destiny.  QuirnalSculp

After a while, he pauses to  gather his thoughts. Writing them down for his children, for posterity, for whatever rhyme or reason, he attains a certain satisfaction in having experienced life. Reflecting upon his experience, he writes. RomeWrite

Life is good: life. But he knows there is something meaningful behind it all, some lofty purpose, but it is beyond his field of vision. He he cannot see it, and so he cannot readily identify it.  He is not quite sure what is up there. ColmRestor

Nevertheless, the man continues. He rises from his reflection, and trudges on, moving through the opinions of mankind, and among the great monuments and feats of men and women upon the face of the earth, and the revelation of God among the men and women of the wide world.

For many and many a year, he sojourns along the path that is laid before him, for many risings and descendings, many decades, and yeah I say unto thee even, vicariously, through many historical epochs of mankind, and upwards into the mountain peaks of experience and downwards into the valleys to drink from cool, babbling brooks of refreshment, and then quieting himself to discover still, quiet pools of reflection.

It is good.

Then one day, he finds himself at an unprecedented place. A place he has never been before, nor will ever be again, a place from which there is no egress.

The man opens wide his eyes and looks fearfully, studying with wonder whatever it is that is in front of him. There, between the two constructs of experience and reflection, there directly across his forward path, he sees the obelisk of his destiny. He looks up; he squints, trying to figure it out.

There, at the top of the monument–there is nothing there.

No, wait. There is something there. What is it? ColCross

At the top of his obelisk of destiny, there it is: the way of all flesh. But beyond the way of all flesh, he could see only open sky.

And so he entered into it. But that was no end; it was the beginning.

 

Glass half-Full