July 3, 2013

1. Natural Morality

In Kant’s philosophy, there’s a place for traditional religion and traditional morality. In Schopenhauer’s philosophy, God is missing, religion is scorned, but the moral absolute survives, Kant’s “categorical imperative” isn’t scorned. In Nietzsche’s philosophy, God is missing and so is the moral absolute; Nietzsche argues that both traditional religion and traditional morality are dead. Surely this is a crisis in Western civilization, and surely this contributed to the genocides and calamities of the 20th century. But the tone of Nietzsche’s work is cultured and optimistic, not dark and despairing. Is there perhaps a morality implicit in his work, an embryonic morality that will emerge in time?

I’ve argued that the two pillars of the Philosophy of Today are the psychology of the unconscious (especially Jung’s psychology) and Eastern philosophy (especially Zen). Jung and Zen both offer a kind of morality, though not the kind that’s traditional in Western civilization. Both Jung and Zen advocate what might be called natural morality. Jung urges us to listen to our unconscious, listen to what our deepest nature is telling us, and Zen urges us to find our center and act spontaneously.

Nietzsche’s favorite morality was natural morality, hence there’s a common thread running through Nietzsche, Jung, and Zen.1 Nietzsche was a big fan of Goethe, who put the doctrine of natural morality into the mouth of the “fair saint” in Wilhelm Meister: “I freely follow my emotions and know as little of constraint as of repentance.”2

The Philosophy of Today agrees with Nietzsche that traditional Western religion (monotheistic religion) is dead, and traditional Western morality (the moral absolute, the categorical imperative, “thou shalt”) is dead. But the Philosophy of Today believes there are hopeful new approaches to religion and morality — some inspired by psychology, some inspired by Zen, some inspired by the natural morality that we find in Montaigne, Goethe, Nietzsche, etc.

2. The Human Web

I read a book called The Human Web: A Bird’s-Eye View of World History, by William McNeill and his son, J. R. McNeill (I mentioned this book in an earlier issue). It’s a top-notch book, learned yet readable, concise yet detailed. In my Realms of Gold, I recommended A Little History of the World, by Ernst Gombrich. Gombrich’s history deals with Socrates, Shakespeare, Copernicus, etc. The Human Web is utterly different: it deals with practical matters like the development of corn, rice, and other crops, the spread of disease, the use of fossil fuels, etc. The Human Web is longer and requires more patience than Gombrich’s book, but it gives you a better understanding of human history. The Human Web is strong where A Little History is weak, and vice versa; the two books complement each other.

The theme of The Human Web is communication, cooperation, networking. It’s often said that today’s world is inter-connected, thanks to the world wide web, etc. But the McNeills argue that the world has always been inter-connected; they argue that if the bow-and-arrow was invented in 1,500 BC in northern India, it would gradually spread throughout the world, as the result of contacts between human groups. There has always been a “world wide web,” but today’s web has faster communication, cheaper transportation, and greater specialization than ever before.

The McNeills mention the “Monsoon Exchange,” that is, the exchange of goods and ideas between India and Africa (across the Arabian Sea). They also mention the “Columbian Exchange,” that is, the exchange of goods and ideas between the Old World and the New World, an exchange that began with the voyages of Columbus. “People had transferred crops with their migrations for many millennia, but after 1492 they did so much faster. American food crops quickly proved their usefulness in Africa and Eurasia.”3 Among the American crops that proved useful in the Old World are corn (also called maize), potatoes, peanuts, cocoa, pineapple, and tomatoes.

The Old World introduced several crops to the Americas: wheat, oats, barley, citrus fruits, sugar, coffee, etc. The Old World also introduced several animals to the New World: cattle, horses, pigs, goats, and sheep. Finally, the Old World introduced diseases to the Americas, diseases that had a devastating effect on native Americans. The only disease that was exported from the New World to the Old was syphilis. In addition to the “Monsoon Exchange” and the “Columbian Exchange,” there was the “Cook Exchange,” that is, the introduction of various plants and animals to Australia following Captain Cook’s voyage.

By the eighteenth century, major diseases had spread around the world, and everyone had a chance to develop immunity, so deadly epidemics became rarer, and population rose. “The eighteenth century was a turning point in the world’s population history, the beginning of the modern age of very rapid population growth. The global ecological shifts in crops and diseases were the main reasons.”4 During the next century, advances in sanitation and medicine also contributed to population growth. In recent decades, though, the birth rate in many countries has declined. “The world’s population growth rate peaked around 1970, at around 2 percent per annum. It has fallen, irregularly, ever since, and demographers expect it will slow to zero by 2050 or 2070.”

In the past few centuries, as population has grown, cities have also grown. For most of human history, the great majority of people lived in the country, but now an increasingly large percentage of mankind lives in cities.

The McNeills discuss the long voyages undertaken by the Polynesians, who developed the outrigger canoe. They also discuss how Western sailors began with a square sail, then developed a lateen sail, which made it possible to sail against the wind. Western shipbuilders eventually learned to make ships strong enough to support cannon, and this gave Western nations a significant military advantage.

Outrigger canoe

Lateen sail

One of the longest voyages made by the Polynesians was to Easter Island, which was settled by the Polynesians around 400 AD. But the settlers “soon lost contact with the rest of humankind, and eventually lost all memory of others, believing themselves to be the only people on earth. That illusion lasted until 1722, when a Dutch ship stopped off for a day (Easter Sunday). But Easter Island remained so far off the beaten track that the islanders were left almost to themselves for the next 140 years.”5 In the 1860s, people from Peru were collecting guano (sea-bird droppings), which is useful for fertilizers and explosives. The Peruvians kidnapped and enslaved people from Easter Island, and forced them to collect guano. Some of the people from Easter Island eventually returned, bringing diseases; “epidemics scythed down much of the island’s remaining population.”6 This is an example of the destruction that often occurs when an isolated place is brought into the world wide web.

In a recent issue, I discussed Jane Austen, and said that “in Austen’s time, the landed aristocracy was declining, and the merchant class was rising.” The McNeills make the same point: “As the role of commerce grew, the distribution of wealth and income changed.... Men of commerce came to rival the old landed elites in wealth.... Eventually the rising commercial class would insist on a share of political power, provoking crises around the world.”7

3. The Civil War

A. Killer Angels

I read The Killer Angels, a novel about the battle of Gettysburg; it was written by Michael Shaara, published in 1974, and won a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1975. If you like historical fiction, I recommend The Killer Angels. If you don’t like historical fiction, The Killer Angels will change your mind, and make you a fan. Shaara draws on the memoirs of Longstreet, Chamberlain, etc.; his work is true to history, and contains numerous maps. Most historical novels focus on fictional characters, but Shaara’s work focuses on real people — it’s a new approach to historical fiction, it succeeds both as fiction and as history. According to Wikipedia, “General H. Norman Schwarzkopf described The Killer Angels as ‘the best and most realistic historical novel about war that I have ever read.’ The filmmaker Ken Burns has mentioned the influence of the book in developing his interest in the Civil War.” The Killer Angels was the basis for the 4-hour movie Gettysburg (1993); it’s a good movie, and the DVD has valuable “Special Features” — commentary by historians James McPherson and Craig Symonds, etc.

Shaara isn’t a great writer, but he may have written a great book, and he’s developed an effective new approach to history. He didn’t become either rich or famous, and he died in obscurity, but Killer Angels became increasingly popular after his death. His son, Jeff Shaara, wrote several historical novels using his father’s technique. Click here for a 3-hour interview with Jeff Shaara. Jeff isn’t an intellectual or a scholar or a literary person, but he’s full of enthusiasm, and several of his books have been bestsellers. His first book was Gods and Generals, which deals with the Civil War (Eastern Theater) before Gettysburg; his second was The Last Full Measure, which covers the period after Gettysburg. He also wrote two volumes of historical fiction on the American Revolution. He’s now writing a 4-volume work on the Civil War’s Western Theater.

Michael Shaara was fond of Shakespeare, and there are several Shakespeare quotations in Killer Angels. According to Wikipedia, Shaara said that “he was aiming to produce an epic military study modeled after William Shakespeare’s Henry V. His choice for a specific subject was inspired by a family vacation that Shaara took to the site of the battle in 1966.”

Shakespeare is, indirectly, the source of the phrase “killer angels.” Shaara depicts Chamberlain recalling an incident from his youth, an incident involving his father:

Once Chamberlain had a speech memorized from Shakespeare and gave it proudly, the old man listening but not looking, and Chamberlain remembered it still: “What a piece of work is man... in action how like an angel!” And the old man, grinning, had scratched his head and then said stiffly, “Well, boy, if he’s an angel, he’s sure a murderin’ angel.” And Chamberlain had gone on to school to make an oration on the subject: Man, the Killer Angel.

In one passage of Killer Angels, Longstreet sees Lee, and thinks “incredible eyes.” Not much is invented in Killer Angels, and I’m sure this remark isn’t invented, I’m sure it comes from a memoir. Lee’s “incredible eyes” may be an indication of genius. As Schopenhauer said, “It is only the eye which is any real evidence of genius....8 The glance of the man in whom genius lives and works readily distinguishes him; it is both vivid and firm and bears the character of thoughtfulness, of contemplation.”9 Lee’s eyes were notable for their melancholy; Moxley Sorrel said they were “the saddest it seems to me of all men’s.” I’m reminded of Aristotle’s remark, “All geniuses are melancholy.”

Robert E. Lee...

before the Civil War...

...and after the start of the Civil War

Another reason to think that Lee was a genius is his military success, which might be compared to that of geniuses like Caesar and Napoleon. A third reason is Lee’s deft use of language. As Eggleston said, “General Lee had a sententious way of saying things which made all his utterances peculiarly forceful. His language was always happily chosen, and a single sentence from his lips often left nothing more to be said.”10 One is reminded of Caesar’s deft use of language; Caesar was a master orator as well as a master writer. At the start of the Civil War, Lee anticipated its course with striking accuracy, saying it would last at least four years.

As Lee deserves credit for anticipating the course of the war, so Winfield Scott deserves credit for anticipating Lee’s success as a commander. Scott worked closely with Lee during the Mexican War of 1846-48, and Scott realized that Lee was an unusually gifted soldier. When Lee sided with the Confederacy, Scott said that Lee was worth 50,000 men to the Confederate cause. Scott anticipated that Lee would side with the Confederacy, and he anticipated that Lee’s decision would end in disaster; he called it “the worst decision” of Lee’s life.

Scott himself was a successful commander in the War of 1812 as well as the Mexican War; his Mexican campaign prompted the Duke of Wellington to call him “the greatest living general.” Scott’s firm grasp of grand strategy is apparent in his Anaconda Plan, drawn up at the start of the Civil War. This plan advocated blockading Southern ports, splitting the Confederacy vertically with an advance along the Mississippi River, and splitting the Confederacy horizontally by advancing eastward through the Tennessee River Valley, and then beyond (as Sherman later did in his march eastward to the sea). Scott’s Anaconda Plan proved effective, and may have guided Lincoln’s thinking during the war. (The Confederacy had its own splitting strategy: “As late as 1864 Confederate generals dreamed of launching an invasion from northern Kentucky through Ohio and on to Lake Erie, effectively splitting the United States in two.”NYT During the American Revolution, the British tried to split the colonies by controlling New York City and the Hudson River.)

It’s often said that Lee was very aggressive, that he had lots of “killer instinct.” One suspects that he would have been a passionate hunter and athlete. Doubtless his aggressiveness helped to make him a successful general, but it may also have led him into debacles like Gettysburg and Malvern Hill.

Shaara often speaks of the excitement of war, how memorable the experience is, how intensely alive the soldier feels, how beautiful the battle lines are. Chamberlain thinks,

You learn to love it. Isn’t that amazing? Long marches and no rest, up very early in the morning and asleep late in the rain, and there’s a marvelous excitement to it, a joy to wake in the morning and feel the army all around you and see the campfires in the morning and smell the coffee.

In the last chapter, Chamberlain thinks about what he has witnessed:

He had seen them come out of the trees and begin the march up the slope [i.e., Pickett’s Charge]. He knew that he would carry it with him as long as he lived.... The way the men had looked as they came out into the open and formed for the assault, the way they stood there shining and immobile, all the flags high and tilting and glittering in the sun, and then the way they all kicked to motion, suddenly, all beginning to move at once.... It was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. No book or music would have that beauty.... Even above your own fear came the sensation of unspeakable beauty.

Since the war made such a deep impression on participants, it often came back to them in their final, delirious moments. For example, the last words of the Union General John Buford were, “Put guards on all the roads and don’t let the men run to rear.” When Lee died five years after the end of the war, the war was apparently still on his mind; his last words were said to be, “Tell Hill he must come up. Strike the tent.” Jackson’s last words were, “Let us cross over the river, and rest under the shade of the trees.”

Shaara points out that the South was highly homogeneous, while the North had various ethnic groups. Most immigrants settled in the North, because they didn’t want to compete against slave labor; many Northern soldiers had been born abroad. “In the South there was one religion, as in England, one way of life.... By and large they were all the same nationality, same religion, same customs.” The South’s homogeneity seemed to foster feelings of community and fraternity. Here’s a passage from a novel by the Virginia writer Ellen Glasgow:

Once a line of Confederate cavalrymen rode by at a gallop and saluted her as her face showed at the window. They were strangers to her, but with the peculiar feeling of kinship which united the people of the South, she leaned out to wish them “God speed.”10A

The social scientist Robert Putnam, author of Bowling Alone, argues that, in a multi-ethnic society, there’s less community/fraternity, even among people of the same ethnic group.

Immigrants increased the North’s political power, since electoral votes, and seats in the House of Representatives, are apportioned by population. The North’s increasing power made the South feel besieged, desperate. The North’s rising population gave it not only political power but also military power; the North enjoyed a big manpower advantage over the South.10B

B. Civil War Literature

Books often lead you to other books. As I read Killer Angels, I became more interested in the Civil War, and in Civil War literature, especially memoirs of participants. I mentioned above that Michael Shaara drew on the memoir of Confederate general James Longstreet, and on the memoir of Union hero Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain. He also drew on a memoir by Longstreet aide Moxley Sorrel (Recollections of a Confederate Staff Officer); Sorrel’s memoir is said to contain “a hundred touches of humor and revealing strokes of swift characterization.” Lee’s aide, Walter Taylor, also wrote a memoir, Robert E. Lee: His Campaign in Virginia: 1861-1865.11

Jeff Shaara has high praise for Memoirs of Stonewall Jackson, by His Widow, and high praise for Reminiscences of Winfield Scott Hancock by his wife, Almira. A classic of Civil War literature is Mary Chesnut’s 900-page memoir (Mary Chesnut’s Civil War, edited by C. Vann Woodward). Also popular is the memoir of a British observer, Arthur Fremantle (The Fremantle Diary: A Journal of the Confederacy, edited by Walter Lord). In my Realms of Gold, I mentioned A Rebel’s Recollections, a highly readable memoir by George C. Eggleston, a member of Jeb Stuart’s cavalry. A Confederate private named Sam Watkins wrote a popular memoir called Company Aytch, which has been edited and illustrated by Philip Leigh.

A minor character in Killer Angels is Frank Haskell, whose memoir of Gettysburg has been called “one of the genuine classics of Civil War literature” (The Battle of Gettysburg, edited by Bruce Catton). Both Grant and Sherman wrote memoirs; Jeff Shaara says that Grant’s memoirs are the best ever written by an American President, and one of his favorite books. Grant’s memoirs have been published with an introduction and notes by James McPherson; consider also the LibraryOfAmerica edition of Grant’s memoirs, which has numerous letters written by Grant. Sherman’s memoirs were published by Penguin Classics and edited by Michael Fellman.

If you have a literary bent, consider Thomas Wolfe’s Civil War, which includes a short story called “Chickamauga”; also consider Ambrose Bierce’s Civil War, which includes a story called “Chickamauga,” and memoirs called “A Little of Chickamauga” and “What I Saw of Shiloh.”

If you want a comprehensive, one-volume history of the Civil War, consider James McPherson’s Battle Cry of Freedom, which won a Pulitzer Prize in 1989.12 McPherson’s scholarly credentials are impeccable, and he tries to appeal to the layman as well as the scholar. And then there’s Shelby Foote’s renowned three-volume work, which I’ve mentioned in earlier issues.

McPherson appeared on both Booknotes and In Depth. His attitude toward Shelby Foote is somewhat dismissive (“a novelist”), somewhat critical, perhaps somewhat envious. Clearly, Foote wrote for the layman, and isn’t a favorite with academics.

David Herbert Donald, the Lincoln biographer, has more admiration for Foote than most academic historians; Donald calls Foote “a great narrative historian.” Donald is more interested in belles-lettres than most historians; Donald wrote a biography of the novelist Thomas Wolfe. Donald compares history-writing to novel-writing, and he says that he tries to tell stories in his historical works. Both Donald and Foote hailed from Mississippi.

Donald is fond of psychological analysis, and he recommends a writer named Charles Strozier, who wrote a psychological study of Lincoln, Lincoln’s Quest for Union. Strozier also edited a book called The Leader: Psychological Essays.13

Donald has high praise for Doug Wilson, who wrote about Lincoln’s early years. Wilson is the author of Herndon’s Informants: Letters, Interviews, and Statements about Abraham Lincoln, and Honor’s Voice: The Transformation of Abraham Lincoln. Click here for an interview with Wilson.

Donald’s mentor at the University of Illinois was James G. Randall, author of a 4-volume work called Lincoln the President, which won a Bancroft Prize in 1956. Randall wanted hard evidence, and had no use for the sort of stories that Herndon collected and Doug Wilson sorted through. This may explain why Randall skipped over Lincoln’s youth, and focused on Lincoln the President.14

If you want a short biography of Lincoln, Donald recommends William Gienapp’s Abraham Lincoln and Civil War America (250 pages).

If you want a first-hand look at Lincoln, consider Inside Lincoln’s White House: The Complete Civil War Diary of John Hay, edited by Michael Burlingame and John R. Turner Ettlinger. For more on John Hay, consider All the Great Prizes: The Life of John Hay, by John Taliaferro. Tyler Dennett won a Pulitzer Prize for his biography of John Hay, which was published in 1933. Hay had a literary bent, and he was a close friend of Henry Adams.

A prominent historian from Donald’s generation is T. Harry Williams, author of Lincoln and His Generals, The History of American Wars, etc. While Donald was a Southerner who spent his career in the North, Williams was a Northerner who spent his career in the South. Williams was a popular lecturer at LSU. His biography of Huey Long won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. Williams and Donald each wrote a chapter of Why the North Won the Civil War.15

T. Harry Williams should not be confused with Kenneth P. Williams, a math professor who wrote a multi-volume work called Lincoln Finds A General, which deals with Grant and the Union Army.

Craig Symonds wrote about the war at sea. Symonds was the Chairman of the History Department at the Naval Academy. Among his books are Lincoln and His Admirals and The Civil War At Sea.

One of the giants of Civil War literature is Douglas Southall Freeman, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his 4-volume biography of Lee (Freeman also won a Pulitzer for his 7-volume biography of Washington). Freeman was born in 1886, and his father fought in Lee’s army. Freeman was a Virginian, and said he was “deeply rooted in the soil of old Virginia.... I think the American people lose a large part of the joy of life because they do not live for generations in the same place.” Perhaps his feeling of being rooted and at home made him more productive; he was a prolific journalist, and made daily radio broadcasts, in addition to writing his voluminous historical works.

His analysis of the military campaigns of World War I and World War II brought him fame throughout the United States — especially in military circles. Presidents and leading commanders such as Chester W. Nimitz, and generals George Marshall, Douglas MacArthur, and Dwight D. Eisenhower sought his friendship and advice. Eisenhower would later indicate that it was Freeman who first persuaded him to think seriously about running for the presidency.

Freeman’s military knowledge is especially apparent in his 3-volume work, Lee’s Lieutenants: A Study in Command. Freeman earned a PhD in history from Johns Hopkins, and began building a reputation as a historian with Lee’s Dispatches to Jefferson Davis, 1862-1865. Freeman’s prose is lively.

Besides being a major historian himself, Freeman is a guide to other historians. He wrote a book called The South to Posterity: An Introduction to the Writings of Confederate History. Freeman praises Personal Reminiscences of General Robert E. Lee, by John William Jones (sometimes called J. William Jones). This was one of the first books written about Lee; it focuses on his personal life and his piety. Freeman also praises Recollections and Letters of General Lee, by Lee’s son, Captain Robert E. Lee, Jr. There are several modern editions of this book. There’s also a biography of General Lee by his nephew, Fitzhugh Lee, a cavalry officer who served under Jeb Stuart.

An excellent Civil War memoir, according to Freeman, is Destruction and Reconstruction, by Lt. Gen. Richard Taylor, the son of President Zachary Taylor. Freeman says that Richard Taylor is “the one Confederate general who possessed literary art that approached first rank.” Freeman was especially fond of the early part of Taylor’s book, which deals with his service under Stonewall Jackson.16

Another guide to Civil War literature is Patriotic Gore, by the famous literary critic Edmund Wilson. But Wilson’s book isn’t a rapid survey, it’s 800 pages of literary criticism; it’s for people who have a special interest in Grant’s Memoirs or Mary Chesnut’s Diary or Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

For more on American historians, click here.

4. Carl Sandburg

In his InDepth interview, David Donald discusses Carl Sandburg. Around 1950, Carl Sandburg’s position was similar to Shelby Foote’s position today: Sandburg’s multi-volume biography of Lincoln was popular with the general public, but not with academics. Donald himself, however, is a fan of Sandburg, just as he’s a fan of Foote. Donald is especially fond of Sandburg’s 4-volume work, Abraham Lincoln: The War Years, which won a Pulitzer Prize in 1940; Donald calls it “magisterial” and “panoramic,” though he says it has some errors and flaws. Sandburg’s earlier work, Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years, began as a children’s book, and is a fictionalized account of Lincoln’s youth.

Sandburg is well-known for his poetry as well as his biographical works, and his poetry won two Pulitzer Prizes. A product of the Midwest, Sandburg wrote poems about Chicago and other American topics. He made collections of ballads and folklore. Sandburg didn’t write avant-garde, modernist poetry; he’s been called a “populist poet.”

Sandburg’s 1927 anthology, The American Songbag, enjoyed enormous popularity, going through many editions; and Sandburg himself was perhaps the first American urban folk singer, accompanying himself on solo guitar at lectures and poetry recitals, and in recordings.17

Pete Seeger called The American Songbag “a landmark.”

Sandburg felt that European fairy tales, with their princesses and kings, weren’t suitable for American children, so he tried to create American fairy tales. “Sandburg [is] remembered by generations of children for his Rootabaga Stories and Rootabaga Pigeons, a series of whimsical, sometimes melancholy stories he originally created for his own daughters.”

During his early years, Sandburg worked as a journalist, writing for the Chicago Daily News. Everything Sandburg wrote — articles, tales, poems, biographies — dealt with America. H. L. Mencken said that Sandburg was “indubitably an American in every pulse-beat.”

5. Miscellaneous

A. As one looks at Civil War casualty figures, one is struck by the large number of soldiers who died of disease (400,000), the large number who died while they were prisoners of war (50,000), the relatively small number who died in combat, and the much higher Northern casualties (140,000 Northern soldiers died in combat, only 70,000 Southern).

It should be noted, however, that it’s difficult to define “disease death” and “combat death.” Consider, for example, the death of Stonewall Jackson: he was wounded in the arm, his arm was amputated, he caught pneumonia, he died eight days later. Is this a disease death or a combat death? It could be classified as either one. (Strictly speaking, Jackson wasn’t wounded in combat, but rather by friendly fire.)

B. I discovered a writer named William Henry Hudson (1841-1922), who became well-known for his writings about South America. Hudson’s novel The Purple Land is set in Uruguay; Hemingway said that The Purple Land deals with “an intensely romantic land, the scenery of which is very well described.” Borges called The Purple Land “the best work of gaucho literature.” Hudson is also known for the novel Green Mansions, the autobiography Far Away and Long Ago, and other works. Hudson was a naturalist as well as a novelist; he wrote about the English countryside, South American birds, etc.

C. I discovered a Scottish writer named John Buchan (1875-1940), who’s best known for adventure novels like The Thirty-Nine Steps. I found The Thirty-Nine Steps to be enjoyable reading, though shallow and improbable. Much of the action takes place in Buchan’s native Scotland, in the years just before World War I.18

Buchan’s Blanket of the Dark is a novel set in England during the reign of Henry VIII. Among the novel’s fans are Rudyard Kipling and Rose Macaulay.

Buchan also wrote history and biography; his biography of the Scottish hero Montrose won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize. Buchan’s autobiography, Pilgrim’s Way (also called Memory Hold-the-Door), was John F. Kennedy’s favorite book.

D. The Renaissance isn’t one historical period, but rather a succession of periods that rolled across Europe. The Italian Renaissance seems to come first, with Leonardo (born 1452), Machiavelli (born 1469), and Michelangelo (born 1475). The French Renaissance comes later, with Rabelais (born 1494), and Montaigne (born 1533). Finally, there’s the English Renaissance, with Shakespeare (born 1550), and Bacon (born 1561). The Dutch Golden Age, with Rembrandt (born 1606), Vermeer (born 1632), and Spinoza (born 1632), should probably be considered post-Renaissance.

6. The Humanities Today

In a recent column, David Brooks discusses the humanities, and argues that college professors aren’t as passionate about the humanities as they once were. The humanities today, Brooks says, are “less about the old notions of truth, beauty and goodness and more about political and social categories like race, class and gender.”

Brooks mentions a professor at the University of Chicago named Karl Weintraub; Weintraub was a popular professor when Brooks was a student at Chicago. Weintraub taught Western Civilization. According to Weintraub, today’s students don’t connect with the classics, don’t live in the classics, don’t feel the pains and pleasures of the authors they read:

Oh, God, my dear student, why cannot you see that this matter is a real, real matter, often a matter of the very being, for the person, for the historical men and women you are looking at.... If I do not come to feel any of the love which Pericles feels for his city, how can I understand the Funeral Oration?

Weintraub wrote a book called The Value of the Individual: Self and Circumstance in Autobiography; he also wrote an introduction to Goethe’s autobiography. Another book by Weintraub is Visions of Culture: Voltaire, Guizot, Burckhardt, Lamprecht, Huizinga and Ortega y Gasset.

Several of these names were familiar to me, but not Lamprecht, so I looked him up in Wikipedia, and here’s what I learned:

Karl Lamprecht was active around 1900, and wrote a 13-volume work on German social history. “He was the chief exponent of the Kulturgeschichte (‘History of Culture’), and believed intensely in the superiority of German culture.” Lamprecht took an inter-disciplinary approach that was controversial in Germany, but better received in France and the U.S. He influenced Marc Bloch, Lucien Febvre, and the Annales School. “In 1904, [Lamprecht] was invited to give a series of lectures at Columbia University, which were translated and published in 1905 as What is history? Five lectures on the modern science of history.”

Some of Lamprecht’s ideas resemble my theory of history, my theory of society’s instincts. Lamprecht believed in “psychological forces as the basic forces in all of history. But they derived from the collective psyche of every nation and not from the idiosyncratic forces of individual psyches.” Lamprecht spoke of Volksseele, folk soul, which resembles my idea of a society’s unconscious instincts.

© L. James Hammond 2013
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1. Nietzsche: “All naturalism in morality, that is, all healthy morality, is dominated by an instinct of life.... Anti-natural morality, that is, virtually every morality that has hitherto been taught... turns on the contrary precisely against the instincts of life.”(Twilight of the Idols, “Morality as Anti-Nature,” #4) back
2. I quoted this passage in my book of aphorisms. I also wrote, “Montaigne believed in natural ethics, in expressing one’s whole nature, rather than in repressive ethics. ‘I have... adopted for my own use [wrote Montaigne] the ancient rule that we cannot go wrong in following nature.... I have not, like Socrates, corrected my natural disposition by force of reason, nor used any art to interfere with my native inclinations.’” back
3. Ch. 6, “Ecological Shifts and Biological Exchange,” p. 207 back
4. Ch. 6, “Effects on World Population,” p. 210 back
5. Ch. 7, “Enlarging the Web,” p. 215 back
6. ibid back
7. Ch. 6, “Social Strains and Shifts,” p. 205 back
8. The Art of Controversy, “Genius and Virtue” back
9. The World As Will and Idea, vol. 1, #36. Click here for more on this subject. back
10. A Rebel’s Recollections, ch. 7 back
10A. The Battleground, III, v, “The Woman’s Part”

Glasgow’s Battleground (1902) was a popular novel. It depicts the South before and during the Civil War, and was hailed as “the first and best realistic treatment of the war from the southern point of view.” It was part of Glasgow’s series of novels about Virginia history. One might describe it as historical rather than psychological. In her later novels, Glasgow strove for more psychological depth. “The Deliverance [1904] is regarded as her first mature work and Virginia, Barren Ground, The Romantic Comedians, and The Sheltered Life as the four most successful.” (website) In 1942, Glasgow won the Pulitzer Prize for her novel In This Our Life. Louis Auchincloss wrote a short book on Glasgow. Glasgow was a friend of writer James Branch Cabell, who also lived in Richmond, and also had aristocratic origins. Though rarely read now, Cabell was once highly regarded for his fiction. back

10B. Richard Taylor argues that immigration affected the level of civilization:
The vast immigration that poured into the country between the years 1840 and 1860 had a very important influence in directing the events of the latter year. The numbers were too great to be absorbed and assimilated by the native population. States in the West were controlled by German and Scandinavian voters, while the Irish took possession of the seaboard towns. Although the balance of party strength was not much affected by these naturalized voters, the modes of political thought were seriously disturbed, and a tendency was manifested to transfer exciting topics from the domain of argument to that of violence.
11. See also Lee’s Adjutant: The Wartime Letters of Colonel Walter Herron Taylor, 1862-1865.

A historian named Stephen Oates used an approach similar to Michael and Jeff Shaara — that is, he wrote history from the perspective of different characters. Oates wrote The Approaching Fury: Voices of the Storm, 1820-1861 and a sequel, The Whirlwind of War: Voices of the Storm, 1861-1865. Was Oates influenced by the Shaaras? Probably. Oates wrote a biography of Faulkner, and he says that he was influenced by Faulkner’s use of multiple narrators, multiple perspectives. Was Michael Shaara also influenced by Faulkner?

In a Booknotes interview, Oates picked up a copy of The Approaching Fury, and read an excerpt in which John Brown quarrels with William Lloyd Garrison. Oates is full of enthusiasm, and he energetically defended his multiple-perspective approach. Not all of his books use this approach; he wrote “standard biographies” of Clara Barton, John Brown, Lincoln, etc.

Oates taught at UMass; in his classes, he made use of documentaries (like the Ken Burns documentary) and feature films (like Gone With the Wind and Glory). Oates believes in teaching history not only through books but also through films. Oates was accused of plagiarism, but later exonerated by a UMass committee and by a committee of historians. back

12. First edition 1988, illustrated edition 2003. back
13. More precisely, this book was edited by Oliger Abdyli, Daniel Offer, and Charles Strozier. back
14. One of Randall’s contemporaries was Allan Nevins, a Columbia professor known for an 8-volume work called The Ordeal of the Union, which covers the period 1847-1865. The last two volumes of this work won the National Book Award in 1972, a year after Nevins died. Nevins also won a Pulitzer Prize in 1933 for his biography of Grover Cleveland. A prolific writer, Nevins wrote multi-volume works on John D. Rockefeller, Henry Ford, and Hamilton Fish. Most of Nevins’ books deal with the late 1800s and early 1900s. back
15. Richard Current also wrote a chapter of Why the North Won the Civil War. Current lived to be 100, and wrote some well-regarded books about Lincoln and the Civil War era.

Alan Brinkley wrote a study of Huey Long that won a National Book Award; Brinkley’s book is called Voices of Protest: Huey Long, Father Coughlin, and the Great Depression.

Another prominent historian from Donald’s generation is C. Vann Woodward, who taught at Johns Hopkins and Yale. He began his career on the left side of the political spectrum; his study of segregation in the South, The Strange Career of Jim Crow, was hailed by Martin Luther King as “the historical bible of the Civil Rights Movement.” Later, Woodward moved to the right, and defended Dinesh D’Souza. Woodward often looked at economic factors in history, as Charles Beard had done. Woodward wrote The Origins of the New South, 1877-1913, which focused on economic factors, and won the Bancroft Prize in 1952. He also won the Pulitzer Prize for his edition of Mary Chesnut’s diary.

A popular Lincoln book from recent years is Team of Rivals, by Doris Kearns Goodwin; Team of Rivals deals with Lincoln’s cabinet. It was the basis for Steven Spielberg’s film Lincoln (2012). Goodwin appeared on Booknotes and InDepth.

A prominent Civil War historian in our own time is Allen Guelzo, who was born in 1953, attended Penn, and now teaches at Gettysburg College. Guelzo recently published a 600-page book about the Battle of Gettysburg (Gettysburg: The Last Invasion). He also wrote an intellectual biography of Lincoln (Abraham Lincoln: Redeemer President), a history of the whole Civil War period (Fateful Lightning), and a “Very Short Introduction” to Lincoln. Guelzo seems to have Straussian sympathies; he has high praise for Harry Jaffa’s book about Lincoln (Crisis of the House Divided), and he has written for the Weekly Standard.

Other contemporary historians of the Civil War period:

  • Edward Ayers is the author of In the Presence of Mine Enemies: The Civil War in the Heart of America, 1859-1864, which won a Bancroft Prize in 2004.
  • Emory Thomas, a professor at the University of Georgia, has written biographies of Jeb Stuart and Robert E. Lee. His Lee biography was described by H. W. Crocker as “a brilliant biography, masterfully concise and perceptive.”
  • William C. Davis, who wrote The American Frontier: Pioneers, Settlers, and Cowboys 1800-1899, and numerous books about the Civil War.
  • Gary Gallagher, who wrote The Union War and The Confederate War, among other books.
  • Harold Holzer, who has written countless books about Lincoln.
  • Frank Williams, a Lincoln scholar who appeared on Booknotes.
16. Freeman calls our attention to The Life and Campaigns of Jeb Stuart, by Maj. H. B. McClellan, and John W. Thomason’s Jeb Stuart, which Freeman calls “dazzling... a classic of Confederate literature.” back
17. Wikipedia back
18. Buchan’s Thirty-Nine Steps has been made into a movie several times. Alfred Hitchcock’s version is somewhat entertaining, but the audio is rough because it’s an old movie (1935). Perhaps Buchan’s most popular novel, after The Thirty-Nine Steps, is John Macnab. He also wrote a novel set in South Africa, Prester John, and a novel set in Canada, Sick Heart River (also known as Mountain Meadow).

Buchan’s sister, Anna, was also an author; she wrote light fiction and a memoir called Unforgettable, Unforgotten, which deals with her brother and her early years. She published under the pen name “O. Douglas”.

One of the classics of Scottish literature is Jane Porter’s Scottish Chiefs, which deals with William Wallace’s rebellion against the English king, Edward I. It’s enjoyable to read, full of action, well-written. It teaches you something about Scottish history/geography. However, few adult readers will make it to end, it’s better suited to young readers. back