November 7, 2017

1. Presentiments

A. I recommend a documentary called Command and Control; it’s part of the American Experience series. It’s about a nuclear-missile accident in Arkansas in 1980. The message of the documentary is that, if you have lots of nuclear weapons, eventually there will be an accidental detonation. The documentary doesn’t consider the possibility of a detonation caused by malice; in my view, a malicious detonation may be as likely as an accidental detonation.

As the crew drives to the site to contain the problem, Dave Livingston says, “Someone is going to die out here tonight, I just feel it, I have a bad vibe.” Livingston himself was the only person who died in the accident.

B. I also recommend a documentary called Tesla: Master of Lightning, about the inventor Nikola Tesla. As a child, Tesla anticipated harnessing the power of Niagara Falls; later he worked on that project. As an adult, he saw his mother in a dream, in the guise of an angel; he felt sure that she had died, as in fact she had. He felt that he and his mother were tuned to the same frequency.

C. In his Memoirs, Ulysses Grant says that, when he was a young WestPoint cadet, General Winfield Scott visited and reviewed the cadets. “With his commanding figure, his quite colossal size and showy uniform, I thought him the finest specimen of manhood my eyes had ever beheld, and the most to be envied.” Grant had a presentiment that someday he’d be the reviewer, instead of the reviewed:

I could never resemble him in appearance, but I believe I did have a presentiment for a moment that someday I should occupy his place... although I had no intention then of remaining in the army.

Everyone dislikes being ridiculed, but Grant was especially sensitive to ridicule, so he didn’t tell anyone about his presentiment.

D. In an earlier issue, I discussed the high-wire performer Philippe Petit and the novelist Joseph Conrad:

When Petit was a teenager, he was in a dentist’s waiting room, looking at a magazine, and saw a picture of the Twin Towers. The picture struck a chord in him, he knew immediately that this was his destiny; he tore out the picture (coughing to hide the tearing sound), and left the office.... When Joseph Conrad was 9, he put his finger in the middle of a map of Africa and said, “When I grow up, I’m going to go there.” Conrad’s later trip to the Belgian Congo formed a turning-point in his life.

E. In another issue, I mentioned

the cellist Jacqueline du Pré, who suffered from multiple sclerosis. Her sister, Hilary, “recalls a chilling childhood memory of Jacqueline’s intense expression and secretive whisper, ‘Hil, don’t tell Mum but when I grow up, I won’t be able to walk or move.’” .... A film called The Diving Bell and the Butterfly ...deals with a paralyzed man who can communicate only by blinking; before he became paralyzed, he was preoccupied with a novel that has a character who is paralyzed and communicates by blinking.

F. Napoleon anticipated the various stages of his career: “I always had an inner sense [Napoleon said] of what awaited me.... Nothing ever happened to me which I did not foresee, and I alone did not wonder at what I had accomplished.”

Napoleon even anticipated that he would eventually be a prisoner of the British. When he was 17, Napoleon wrote a story about a Corsican king, Theodor, who was imprisoned by the British. While in prison, Theodor wrote to the British prime minister, Walpole, as follows: “‘I wanted to make my people happy, and for one brief moment I succeeded; but fate was fickle to me, I am a prisoner...’ Walpole replies: ‘You suffer, you are unfortunate: this is sufficient to give you a right to the compassion of the British people.’”

G. When I was about 15, I was looking at my grandmother’s books, and came across a coffee-table book about the Renaissance. I knew immediately that this was my destiny, my future, though I didn’t know much about renaissances, and didn’t know how I would be involved in a renaissance. The idea of a renaissance is important in my life because I’m both a predicter of, and a participant in, a renaissance. My most original theory is a theory of renaissance and decadence, a theory that predicts a renaissance in our time, a theory that says we’re in the middle of a renaissance now, the first renaissance in most Western nations since the days of Shakespeare and Michelangelo.

H. How are people able to foresee the future? In some mysterious way, the future already exists, the future is shaped by Fate, and Fate can be perceived through hunches, dreams, omens, etc. The future isn’t determined by a chain of causes, as reason believes; the future isn’t determined by chance events.

Primitive man believed in fate, not chance. We’re beginning to realize that there’s much wisdom in the primitive worldview, and much error in the modern/Western/rational/scientific worldview. Time, space, and causality aren’t linear, as rational thinking believes. We need to re-think our basic assumptions about reality. We’re surrounded by mysteries.

2. Atheism and Murder

The recent shooting in Texas, which claimed 26 lives, was perpetrated by someone who was “vocally anti-Christian.” An acquaintance said, “He was always talking about how people who believe in God were stupid and trying to preach his atheism.”

In an earlier issue, I discussed an Oregon murderer, noting his

loathing for organized religion, especially Christianity.... I’m puzzled by this loathing for religion. Did [he] have some sort of envy for believers, just as other shooters envy young lovers? Is it possible that he wanted to believe but couldn’t? Did he want a religion?

How often are killers unbelievers? How often do believing Christians go on shooting sprees? Were there fewer shooting sprees when the number of believers was larger, and the number of unbelievers smaller? The problem of the shooting spree is, at least in part, a religious/philosophical problem. Suicide, homicide, and genocide are related, they all raise the problem of the value and meaning of human life, they all raise religious/philosophical issues. Dostoyevsky treats homicide as a philosophical problem in Crime and Punishment, and he treats suicide as a philosophical problem in The Possessed.

In a recent case in Japan, suicide and homicide are interwoven. A Japanese serial killer

told his father that his life had no meaning. Then he went looking for others who felt the same way, and apparently killed them.... The authorities were initially led to Mr. Shiraishi’s apartment while searching for a missing 23-year-old Tokyo woman who had posted on Twitter that she was “looking for someone who will die with me”.... The suspect told the police that he had sent a Twitter message to the woman saying, “Let’s die together”.... Mr. Shiraishi’s case is not the first involving the killing of suicidal people identified online. A man who lured three people he found on a suicide message board in Osaka was convicted of killing them in 2005 and was given the death sentence.1

Perhaps Japanese society has an especially strong stigma against anti-social activity, so a person with homicidal urges tries to justify those urges. In the Shiraishi case, the justification would be, “they wanted to die, I was helping them.” Another Japanese murderer killed 19 people at a center for the disabled, then justified his act by saying, “all the handicapped should disappear.”

I’m reminded of a passage in Nietzsche: “The weak and ill-constituted shall perish: first principle of our philanthropy. And one shall help them to do so.”2 The rational, Western tradition in philosophy culminates in Nietzsche, who leaves the door open to suicide, homicide, and genocide. Dostoyevsky shuddered at the Nietzschean approach, and retreated to the Orthodox Church. Leo Strauss shuddered at the Nietzschean approach, and retreated to Plato and Aristotle. I reject both of these retreats, and advocate a new, mystical, Zennish worldview.

3. Putin

I saw several documentaries about Putin. He grew up in St. Petersburg, learned German in high school, and graduated from law school. In 1975, when he was 23, he joined the KGB, working in counter-intelligence. From 1985 to 1990, he was stationed in East Germany, where he witnessed the collapse of the EastGerman state. Then he returned to St. Petersburg, and got a job in the office of Mayor Anatoly Sobchak, his former law professor. Putin apparently believed that communism was dying, and he supported Gorbachev during the 1991 coup attempt. Putin became a high official in St. Petersburg, despite being charged with corruption. In 1996, when Sobchak lost his bid for re-election, Putin moved to the Moscow government, where he won favor with Yeltsin. In 1998, Yeltsin appointed him head of the KGB, which had been re-named the FSB. In August 1999, Putin was chosen Prime Minister by Yeltsin.

It has been argued that Yeltsin and his family/friends feared prosecution for corruption, and were impressed with Putin because he had been loyal to his old boss, Mayor Anatoly Sobchak, after Sobchak lost power. When Yeltsin resigned the Presidency on December 31, 1999, Putin became Acting President. The first decree that Putin signed was called “On guarantees for former president of the Russian Federation and members of his family.” This decree stifled investigations of Yeltsin’s family/friends.

A few months earlier, in August 1999, Putin became a candidate for President. But there were several other candidates for President, and Putin was largely unknown among Russian voters. To raise his profile, and enhance his popularity, Putin apparently decided to have his henchmen bomb several apartment buildings in Russia. Putin blamed the bombings on Chechen terrorists, and he launched the Second Chechen War.3

The bombings occurred in September 1999, and caused about 300 deaths. A bomb in Ryazan failed to detonate, and Ryazan police arrested three FSB agents. When an investigation of the Ryazan affair was proposed in the Duma, Putin’s party voted unanimously against the investigation.

Some say that Putin is a prisoner in the Kremlin — he can’t leave because a successor might charge him with the apartment bombings, with assassinating political opponents, with taking bribes, etc. It is believed that, as a result of bribes, Putin has become one of the world’s richest people, with a net worth of some $40 billion.

Putin blames the U.S. for fomenting revolution in Ukraine, Georgia, etc. He also blames the U.S. for the “Arab Spring” revolutions in Egypt, Libya, etc. He seems to fear a “Russia Spring,” he seems to fear revolution in Russia. He blamed Hillary Clinton for fomenting anti-Putin protests in Russia in 2011. In 2016, Putin unleashed computer hackers against Hillary’s campaign.

Putin is gradually abandoning the pretense of democracy, and he’s gradually abandoning the attempt to have good relations with the U.S. “The common sense in Moscow foreign policy circles today is that Russia can regain its great power status only by confronting the United States, not by cooperating with it.”4

Documentaries:
Putin’s Revenge, part 1, part 2
Putin’s Way, on PBS and Youtube

4. Momigliano, Miller, and Antiquarianism

The historian Peter Miller deals with intellectual life in the Early Modern period.5 Miller has a special interest in Peiresc, a French antiquary and astronomer who lived around 1600; one of Miller’s books is Peiresc’s Europe: Learning and Virtue in the Seventeenth Century. According to Wikipedia, “Peiresc’s position as a great intellectual at the time of the scientific revolution has led to his being called a ‘Prince of the Republic of Letters.’” Peiresc was a prolific letter-writer; 10,000 of his letters survive.

In a lecture in Providence, Miller says that antiquarianism has become a hot topic in recent years.6 The historian Arnaldo Momigliano is often mentioned in connection with antiquarianism. In essays like “Ancient History and the Antiquarian” (1950), Momigliano discussed how the antiquarian gradually became respected by the historian. Momigliano said that antiquarianism gave birth to archaeology, anthropology, history of religion, history of art, etc. Miller edited a book called Momigliano and Antiquarianism: Foundations of the Modern Cultural Sciences.

In ancient times, historians were distinguished from antiquaries. Historians like Livy wrote political/military history, they took a chronological approach, and they were concerned with style; they aimed to inspire the reader with examples of heroism, rather than provide the reader with solid facts.7 On the other hand, antiquaries like Pausanias and Strabo were more concerned with place than with chronology, more concerned with artifacts than texts.

In the 18th century, philosopher-historians like Hume and Voltaire took a chronological approach, and tried to deepen it with philosophical insights and large themes. Gibbon admired the philosopher-historians, but he wanted to combine the philosophical approach with the antiquarian approach. Gibbon respected the scholars who handled history instead of just reading it, respected the scholars who got their hands dirty. For example, Gibbon respected the antiquary William Camden, calling him “the British Strabo” and “the father of our antiquities.”8

In more recent times, some leading historians like Rostovtzeff doubled as archaeologists, and spent much of their time digging. Thus, the historian and the antiquarian have merged. “The ancient separation of history and antiquities has at last been transcended.”9 The political-military approach of historians like Livy has been gradually broadened; today’s historians deal with life in the broadest sense.

Gibbon is a key figure in this tale because he combined the literary-philosophical approach to history with the antiquarian-philological approach. Thus, Gibbon can be considered the first modern historian. Another key figure in this tale is Momigliano, who was one of the foremost scholars of historical method, one of the foremost historians of history.

The philosophy of history, as I understand it, is in many ways the opposite of the antiquarian approach. The philosophy of history believes that diligent fact-collecting can’t lead to bold new theories; we must begin with the idea, the flash of intuition. As Ortega said, “We are now approaching a splendid flowering of the historic sciences,” since historians will first “construct an imaginary reality,” then compare it “with the actual facts.”10

Another difference between the antiquarian and the philosopher of history is that the antiquarian is concerned with solid facts rather than the causes of facts, the sequence of facts; the antiquarian is often “sequentially and causally incurious”.11 The philosopher of history, on the other hand, is concerned above all with causes, causes that lie deep in human nature, causes that can be neither seen nor touched, causes that might be called metaphysical or psychological; the philosopher of history is concerned with the life- and death-instincts of societies.

© L. James Hammond 2017
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Footnotes
1. New York Times back
2. The Anti-Christ, #2 back
3. One is reminded of how the Nazis used the Reichstag fire to consolidate power. back
4. Op-ed in New York Times back
5. In an earlier issue, I mentioned two other historians, Ann Blair and Anthony Grafton, who deal with intellectual life in the Early Modern period. back
6. Another hot topic in the field of history is the history of the book. Antiquarianism often overlaps with the history of the book, and writers like Anthony Grafton deal with both topics. Both topics are far removed from my specialty, the philosophy of history. back
7. Nietzsche argued that history should inspire, should provide us with examples: “We need [history] for life and action, not as a convenient way to avoid life and action.... The historical sense makes its servants passive and retrospective.” (“The Use and Abuse of History”) In the last issue, I mentioned a book by David Brooks called The Road to Character. Brooks’ book uses history to inspire, to provide examples. back
8. Quoted in Atlantic Europe in the First Millennium BC: Crossing the Divide, p. 641.

James Turner: “Gibbon paraded in the philosophic historian’s shirt — worn over the antiquarian’s undershirt.... Gibbon combined the moral vision and narrative force of philosophical history with philology’s insistence on critically certified documentary evidence.” (Philology: The Forgotten Origins of the Modern Humanities, p. 111) Though not a philologist himself, Gibbon respected philologists. back

9. Article by Mark Salber Phillips. back
10. Man and Crisis, Ch. 1 back
11. Turner, p. 111 back