January 21, 2023

1. Into the Abyss

Into the Abyss (2011) is a moving documentary about murder and capital punishment, from the famous German director Werner Herzog.

Herzog interviews the young men who were convicted, both of whom blame the other guy. He interviews the relatives of the victims, and he shows that death leaves a hole in the heart. He interviews the father of one of the convicts, who blames himself for his son’s crimes. He interviews a young woman who somehow fell in love with one of the convicts, married him, and became pregnant, all while he was in prison. And finally, Herzog interviews a man who had the job of carrying out executions, executed about 125 people, and finally couldn’t take it anymore and quit, though he lost his pension. Herzog is opposed to capital punishment, but this belief doesn’t dominate the film.

At first, the movie is depressing; Roger Ebert said it was “perhaps the saddest film Werner Herzog has ever made.” But I was gradually drawn in, and at the end, I was glad I saw it. Another great film by Herzog.

Previously I discussed other Herzog films:

  1. Little Dieter Needs To Fly
  2. Encounters at the End of the World
  3. Happy People: A Year in the Taiga
  4. Grizzly Man
  5. Into the Inferno
  6. Fireball
  7. La Soufrière
  8. Nomad: In the Footsteps of Bruce Chatwin
  9. The Great Ecstasy of the Woodcarver Steiner
  10. Pilgrimage
  11. Portrait Werner Herzog
  12. Aguirre, Wrath of God
  13. Fitzcarraldo
  14. Burden of Dreams
  15. Heart of Glass

All these films are documentaries except 12, 13, and 15.

2. Nietzsche and Shaw

In the last issue, I discussed the view that solid matter is an illusion, that we live in a world of shadows. Nietzsche took a similar view; Nietzsche said that “materialistic atomism” has been demolished, and “no one in the learned world” believes in it. Nietzsche said that the person who demolished materialistic atomism was Boscovich, a Croatian scientist who died in 1787.1

Boscovich explained the hardness of objects “in terms of force rather than matter.” If Nietzsche is right, Boscovich carried the day, and everyone has abandoned the belief in hard particles. But people continued to believe in matter, as if Boscovich had never existed; people didn’t apply Boscovich’s theory to the world around them. The biologist George Gaylord Simpson said, “It does seem that the problem [of evolution] is now essentially solved and that the mechanism of adaptation is known. It turns out to be basically materialistic.... Man is the result of a purposeless and materialistic process.”2 Biologists were eager to explain evolution in terms of solid matter, and dismiss intangible forces like will and life-instinct. Did Boscovich work in vain?

Nietzsche felt that modern scholars had a materialistic bent. Nietzsche contrasted the modern approach with Plato’s approach. Plato emphasized Ideas, that is, non-material archetypes or templates; nobody ever saw or touched a Platonic Idea. Modern thinking emphasizes the material and tangible. “The Platonic way of thinking,” Nietzsche wrote, was “a noble way of thinking,” it “consisted precisely in resistance to obvious sense-evidence.”

Modern man puts his faith in the senses. A materialistic theory, like the Neo-Darwinian theory of evolution, is popular, “eyes and fingers speak in its favor... this strikes an age with fundamentally plebeian tastes as fascinating, persuasive, and convincing.” Plato’s approach, Nietzsche says, offered one sort of enjoyment, the materialistic approach offers a different sort of enjoyment. Among the materialists, Nietzsche includes “Darwinists and anti-teleologists.”3

Nietzsche favors the non-materialist position because of Boscovich’s arguments, and because it has an aesthetic beauty, an intellectual nobility. But did Nietzsche apply the non-materialist position as widely as it could be applied? Nietzsche had little interest in psychic phenomena, and he criticized Schopenhauer for his interest in the occult, so Nietzsche’s enthusiasm for the non-materialist position was limited.

Nietzsche did, however, view will as the driving force behind evolution. Schopenhauer, Nietzsche’s mentor, had spoken of a will to life. Nietzsche felt that organisms strive for more than mere existence, they strive for a better life, so Nietzsche replaced Schopenhauer’s Will with a Will to Power. Both Schopenhauer and Nietzsche can be classed as Vitalists and Lamarckians; they both emphasize will rather than circumstances, will rather than random mutation.

The Lamarckian George Bernard Shaw placed Nietzsche among the “Vitalist philosophers,” and Shaw spoke of “the great central truth of the Will to Power.”4 Shaw was especially fond of Schopenhauer. Though Schopenhauer rejected Lamarck, and rejected evolution, Shaw realized that Schopenhauer’s emphasis on will makes him an ally of Lamarckians. Shaw wrote, “In 1819 Schopenhauer published his treatise on The World as Will, which is the metaphysical complement to Lamarck’s natural history, as it demonstrates that the driving force behind Evolution is a will-to-live, and to live... more abundantly.”5 The Lamarckian slogan is, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.”

Nietzsche realized that the will can move mountains, the will can shape circumstances. Nietzsche wrote, “Against the doctrine of the influence of the milieu and external causes: the force within is infinitely superior; much that looks like external influence is merely its adaptation from within.”6 According to Nietzsche, Darwin underrated will/urge, and overrated environment/circumstances: “The influence of ‘external circumstances’ is overestimated by Darwin to a ridiculous extent: the essential thing in the life process is precisely the tremendous shaping, form-creating force working from within.”7

I’ve long been an adherent of Freud’s theory of life- and death-instincts. My theory of history explains renaissance and decadence as expressions of these opposing instincts. Nietzsche, too, contrasted a positive will with a negative will. He felt that the negative will was as strong as the positive will, and the negative will was embedded in religious traditions, as well as in pessimistic philosophers like Schopenhauer. Nietzsche wrote, “The will to nothingness has the upper hand over the will to life — and the overall aim is, in Christian, Buddhist, Schopenhauerian terms: ‘better not to be than to be’.... The decadent types... have the upper hand.”8 Hence Nietzsche opposes religion and morality; he said, “I abhor Christianity with a deadly hatred.”9

Perhaps the first evolutionary thinker was Empedocles. Like Freud and Nietzsche, Empedocles viewed life as the outcome of two opposed instincts. Different species, according to Empedocles, weren’t created on Day One, they arose from mixing the basic elements. Shaw wrote, “Empedocles opined that all forms of life are transformations of four elements, Fire, Air, Earth, and Water, effected by the two innate forces of attraction and repulsion, or love and hate.”10 This emphasis on “innate forces” reminds one of Freud, Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, and Lamarck.

Because Nietzsche took a dim view of religion, he doesn’t discuss developing a new religion. He admired Greco-Roman culture, an aristocratic culture that had no religion — or at least, nothing that resembled our religions. Shaw, on the other hand, who was contemporary with Nietzsche, says that a new religion is essential, and says that “Creative Evolution” should be the new religion.

Shaw’s goal was a race of supermen, “an England in which every man is a Cromwell... a Germany in which every man is a Luther plus a Goethe.”11 Shaw’s goal doesn’t attract anyone today, we’re more apt to aim at a Zennish appreciation of the present moment than at a distant utopia. But Shaw argues persuasively that modern society lacks a worldview, lacks a religion/philosophy that people really believe in, and this is a big problem for modern society.

Shaw said that Lamarckism “is emerging, under the title of Creative Evolution, as the genuinely scientific religion for which all wise men are now anxiously looking.”12 One of the weaknesses of the old religions is that they’re often at odds with science. Shaw makes a valid point: a new worldview, a new philosophy/religion, should be consistent with science. But Shaw understood that we can’t stop at science, we need to build a culture on top of a scientific foundation. Shaw wanted to start with Creative Evolution (Lamarckism), then adorn it with art. Shaw wrote,

Creative Evolution is already a religion, and is indeed now unmistakably the religion of the twentieth century, newly arisen from the ashes of pseudo-Christianity, of mere skepticism, and of the soulless affirmations and blind negations of the Mechanists and Neo-Darwinians. But it cannot become a popular religion until it has its legends, its parables, its miracles.... It will be seen then that the revival of religion on a scientific basis does not mean the death of art, but a glorious rebirth of it. Indeed art has never been great when it was not providing an iconography for a live religion.13

I made the same point in an earlier issue. The decline of the arts is due, at least in part, to “a failure in ‘metaphysics,’ that is, an inability to make sense of the world as a whole.” We don’t have a “live religion,” and therefore we don’t have great art.

The only cure for the arts is a new worldview, a worldview consistent with science, a worldview that people can really believe in, a worldview that’s comprehensive, a worldview that deals with the universe as a whole and everything in it. Shaw argues that such a worldview is not only the cure for art, but also the cure for politics: “Our statesmen must get a religion by hook or crook; and as we are committed to Adult Suffrage it must be a religion capable of vulgarization.”14 All aspects of human life — art, politics, everything — start with a worldview, and suffer from the lack of a worldview. As Shaw put it, “Civilization needs a religion as a matter of life or death.”

Shaw understood that a new worldview/philosophy/religion should be universal, should appeal to all mankind. The old religions appeal to particular groups, hence they divide mankind rather than bring us together. Shaw wrote,

The test of a dogma is its universality. As long as the Church of England preaches a single doctrine that the Brahman, the Buddhist, the Mussulman, the Parsee, and all the other sectarians who are British subjects cannot accept, it has no legitimate place in the counsels of the British Commonwealth.

Shaw understood that Lamarckism is about will, the power of will to change the body and change circumstances. Shaw understood that our will impacts whether we have a long life or a short life. Shaw wrote, “Among other matters apparently changeable at will is the duration of individual life.”15

Shaw says that his new religion of Creative Evolution isn’t really new, it’s the eternal religion in a new form: “The religion of metaphysical Vitalism... has always been with us.... There is no question of a new religion, but rather of redistilling the eternal spirit of religion.”16 A new religion in our time should respect life, celebrate life, help people to live — in short, it should do what religions have always done. It should say that existence, with all its suffering, is better than non-existence. It should be a foundation for art because “All the sweetness of religion is conveyed to the world by the hands of storytellers and image-makers.”17

3. Freud and Periodicity

Periodicity means the cycles, the oscillations, the regular changes, of mental or physical states. These cycles might be compared to the path of a comet, sometimes called the comet’s period. In a recent issue, I discussed periodicity with reference to Goethe, Fliess, etc.

One scholar who studied Freud’s views on periodicity is Frank Sulloway, author of Freud: Biologist of the Mind.18 Sulloway says that most scholars have played down Freud’s interest in periods, perhaps because they viewed periods as “pseudoscience.” For example, Ernst Kris and Ernest Jones were “defensive” about Freud’s interest in periods, and insisted it was a peripheral interest of Freud’s.

Sulloway argues that Freud had a strong interest in periods, shared Fliess’ interest in the subject, and participated actively in Fliess’ research on periods. Sulloway writes, “The periodic ebb and flow of vital phenomena that concerned these two investigators was one that they had jointly sought to corroborate.”

Freud and Fliess believed that periods begin in infancy. Sulloway quotes a scholar named Wollheim: “The most general feature of infantile sexual development, as recounted by Freud, is that it is periodic or oscillatory,” perhaps because sexual drives wax and wane, perhaps because the repression of those drives waxes and wanes. It’s likely that adolescent sexual development, like infantile sexual development, is periodic or oscillatory. Perhaps many adolescents have oscillating moods, as I did.

Freud noticed oscillations in patients who suffered from melancholy. “It is a very remarkable experience,” wrote Freud, “to observe morality... functioning as a periodic phenomenon.... The melancholic during periods of health can, like anyone else, be more or less severe towards himself; but when he has a melancholic attack, his super-ego becomes oversevere.”19

Freud never abandoned his belief in periods, and he applied the concept of periods to a wide range of phenomena. In 1913, Freud wrote, “Wilhelm Fliess’ writings have revealed the biological significance of certain periods of time.” Freud “eventually came to question the extreme rigidity with which Fliess himself was wont to apply his periodic laws, but he seems never to have questioned Fliess’ central premise that life, sexual as well as otherwise, is governed by a periodic ebb and flow.”

My most original theory is my theory of history, which speaks of a “periodic ebb and flow” of civilizations, an oscillation between renaissance and decadence. Civilizations are organisms, in my view, and they’re influenced by life- and death-instincts, which oscillate. As Freud wrote in his book on life- and death-instincts, “One group of instincts rushes forward so as to reach the final aim of life as swiftly as possible; but when a particular stage in the advance has been reached, the other group jerks back to a certain point to make a fresh start and so prolong the journey.”20 This “jerking back” is like the movement of a pendulum.

When decadence (i.e., the death-instinct in society) reaches an extreme, the life-instinct “jerks back,” creating a renaissance. The life-instinct is strongest at the moment of “jerk,” the moment of reversal, hence the purest renaissance follows the most extreme decadence. My theory says that we’re now in the middle of the purest kind of renaissance. I developed this theory forty years ago, and I’ve never seen any reason to doubt it or change it.

The oscillation that Freud speaks of was understood by ancient Greek and Chinese thinkers. Heraclitus spoke of enantiodromia, running to the opposite. The Chinese believed that “yang at its highest point changes into yin, and positive into negative.”

When we look at periodicity, we find what we’ve found before: cutting-edge ideas are often ancient, and cutting-edge ideas are often dismissed by the Establishment as “pseudoscience.” If a young intellectual wants to make an important discovery, perhaps he should seek out subjects that are regarded as pseudoscience.

4. Snyder on Ukraine: Lectures 6-10

Timothy Snyder is teaching a class at Yale in Ukrainian history. In an earlier issue, I shared my notes on the first five lectures. Here are notes on the next five lectures:

Lecture 6
The Grand Duchy of Lithuania

  1. the Rus leader Vladimir, who converted to eastern Christianity in 988 AD, was Viking/Scandinavian, as were his successors
  2. upon conversion, he took the Greek name Basil
  3. Vladimir had many wives, many mistresses, many sons
  4. at the time of Vladimir’s death (1015 AD), one of his sons, Sviatopolk, was in prison; and Vladimir was at war with another son, Yaroslav
  5. after Vladimir died, Sviatopolk and Yaroslav fought; after many twists and turns, Yaroslav rules in Kyiv
  6. Yaroslav has a long reign (1019-1054); he was known as Yaroslav the Wise (Sviatopolk becomes known as Sviatopolk the Accursed)
  7. Yaroslav’s long reign is regarded as the Golden Age of Kievan Rus
  8. Yaroslav completes Saint Sophia Cathedral in Kyiv
  9. the first priests in Kyiv are Greeks from Constantinople, but gradually Yaroslav develops Slavic priests, and changes the church language from Greek to Old Church Slavonic
  10. Old Church Slavonic is gradually infused with vernacular words, becomes known as Chancery Slavonic, becomes the language of the state (and law) as well as the church
  11. written law is a source of historical knowledge; Rus law reveals a society following the “agriculture model”: the government taxes farmers; this is a departure from the earlier model of raiding and slave-trading
  12. Rus law reveals a society moving from personal revenge to the settling of disputes in court
  13. “Icelandic sagas are the earliest significant European literature”; these sagas sometimes deal with historical events; these sagas mention Yaroslav
  14. one of Yaroslav’s daughters married the King of France; she became known as Anne of Kyiv
  15. during the reign of Yaroslav, Rus is more than today’s Ukraine, Rus is also Belarus, and much of what is now European Russia (western Russia); Rus extends slightly to the east of what is now Moscow
  16. after Yaroslav dies in 1054, there’s a long, messy succession struggle (as there was after the death of Yaroslav’s father, Vladimir)
  17. the succession mess isn’t resolved before the conquest of Kyiv by the Mongols in 1241 AD21
  18. during the long succession mess, a city called Vladimir was founded east of where Moscow was later built; the area around Vladimir was called Suzdal (scholars speak of “Vladimir-Suzdal”)
  19. in 1169, the ruler of Vladimir, Andrey Bogolyubsky, sacked Kyiv, and took an important icon back to Vladimir
  20. Andrey probably wanted to make Vladimir the most important Rus city; Andrey built a church in Vladimir that was modelled after Saint Sophia in Kyiv
  21. around 1241, the Mongols wiped out Vladimir, wiped out all of Kievan Rus; the Mongols wanted to establish trade routes on favorable terms22; Rus had internal divisions
  22. after Mongol onslaught...
    • western Rus becomes the Kingdom of Galicia-Volhynia; around 1350, the Galicia section becomes part of Poland
    • eastern Rus (Vladimir-Suzdal) remains under Mongol domination
    • central Rus becomes part of Grand Duchy of Lithuania
  23. Ruthenia” means Rus (“Ruthenia” comes from Medieval Latin)
  24. having taken over central Rus, Lithuanians take over the “civilization package” that had developed under Yaroslav — Chancery Slavonic, the written law, etc.
  25. Lithuania was the biggest country in Europe
  26. Lithuania emerged in early 1300s in response to pressure from two directions: from the West, Teutonic knights invaded, killed all the men, baptized the women and children; from the East, the Mongols invaded; apparently the Lithuanians thought there was safety to the south, in what is now Belarus and Ukraine; perhaps Mongol incursions had created a power-vacuum in Belarus and Ukraine23
  27. the Lithuanians were pagans who raided neighboring nations and brought back slaves; their ancient capital was at Vilnius; in early 1300s, they move into central Rus, and abandon slave-based economy, opting instead to control land and tax farmers
  28. after 1300, the Lithuanians remained pagans for another four centuries, ruling eastern Christians in Belarus/Ukraine24
  29. since Rus was weakened by internal divisions and Mongol incursions, the Lithuanians took over Rus almost without a fight; the Lithuanians were tolerant of Rus Christianity
  30. meanwhile, along the Baltic coast, the Teutonic knights establish a state, stretching from northern Poland to Estonia; Germans remain along that coast for the next 700 years, until 1945, when they’re driven out by the Soviet army
  31. the Teutonic knights were “armed monks,” willing to sacrifice themselves in a Christian crusade
  32. the Lithuanians finally defeated the Teutonic knights by forming an alliance with Poland; the Teutonic knights are defeated in 1410 at the Battle of Grunwald25 (also known as the Battle of Tannenberg)
  33. beginning around 1385, Lithuania and Poland are united; this union lasts about 400 years (200 years as a “personal union,” then another 200 years as a “real union”)
  34. from about 1320 to 1670, Rus/Kyiv (central Rus) is connected to Lithuania and Poland

Lecture 7
Rise of Muscovite Power

  1. Mongols control eastern Rus (Vladimir-Suzdal) from 1240 to “deep into the 15th century”; some Mongols converted to Islam
  2. Moscow was a post-Rus entity and a post-Mongol entity
  3. another post-Mongol entity was the Crimean Khanate, which lasted until 1783
  4. the Tatars of Crimea were partly an indigenous Turkic people, partly descended from Mongols
  5. “Mongol Rus” had a new principle of succession: the Mongols (often called the “Golden Horde”) would choose as leader of Moscow whoever could collect taxes/tribute most effectively
  6. Moscow became significant after Mongol onslaught, after 1240; the head of Moscow married the Khan’s sister
  7. in late 1300s, Moscow remembered Rus, and the leader of Moscow claimed to be the head of all Rus, but he still paid tribute to the Khan/Sultan
  8. Moscow acquires some military methods from Golden Horde, but they don’t acquire Kyiv’s legal/bureaucratic heritage; Moscow’s basic legal principle is that the Czar owns everything, you only own land insofar as you serve the Czar; this service to the Czar is usually military service
  9. Moscow nobles are only nobles at the Czar’s pleasure, there are no official patents of nobility, the nobility isn’t a legal estate; so the Moscow state has neither property rights nor feudal rights
  10. Moscow farms have serfs; the serfs initially have the right to leave the farm they’re on, but this right is taken away around 1500; by 1649, serfdom is solidified, the serf can’t leave the farm even for one day per year, and if he leaves, his boss can bring him back; 99% of the population are serfs26
  11. the Moscow system works because the state is continually acquiring more land; the Moscow state grows “spectacularly” for at least the next two centuries; Muscovy in 1533 is six times as big as it was in 1462
  12. the first wave of Moscow expansion, in the late 1400s, is westward (toward Europe); Moscow takes over Novgorod, now known as “Veliky Novgorod”27 (the birth of Russia is traditionally dated to 862 AD, when Rurik arrives in Novgorod; the Rurik Dynasty was the first important Russian dynasty, it lasted until around 1600, succeeded by Romanov Dynasty, which lasted from 1613 to 1917)
  13. the second wave of Moscow expansion is southward and eastward, in the latter 1500s, under Ivan the Terrible (Ivan IV)
  14. Ivan takes Kazan in 1552 (today Kazan is one of Russia’s largest cities; Snyder says it’s “still a Muslim place”; many of the people are Tatars); so Muscovy is already, in 1552, an empire that controls people of a different religion
  15. Kazan is east of Moscow, on the Volga, so Kazan becomes, for Muscovy, a door to the Volga and to the extensive lands east of the Volga, lands that are often called Siberia, lands that are sparsely populated
  16. Muscovy then turns toward Latvia — the so-called Livonian Wars; Moscow’s goal is to acquire the Baltic lands previously conquered by the Teutonic knights
  17. Ivan IV began the Livonian Wars in 1558; at this time, the descendants of the Teutonic knights were Lutheran traders, weak enough militarily to tempt Ivan IV
  18. but Ivan encounters resistance from Poland-Lithuania, Danes, Norwegians, and Swedes; eventually Muscovy itself is invaded; so Ivan IV fails to conquer the Baltic states28; the Livonian Wars drag on for 25 years
  19. Ivan’s difficulties in the Livonian Wars make him paranoid, and he carries out purges in Novgorod and other Muscovy cities; there’s a “Reign of Terror all over Muscovy,” hence Ivan IV is dubbed “Ivan the Terrible” (Ivan’s purges remind one of Stalin’s purges)
  20. Moscow’s setbacks in the Livonian Wars tempt the Crimean Khanate, which invades Muscovy, and almost captures Moscow itself in 1571
  21. in the latter 1500s, Russia begins an Atlantic trade (trade with England); in the early 1600s, Russia begins a Pacific trade, after its merchants and Cossacks push east to the Pacific, with the help of European weapons; one of Russia’s main exports is fur
  22. a Russian expedition reaches the Pacific in 1639; Russians cross the Bering Strait to Alaska in 1647, sign a treaty with China in 1689, trade with China
  23. Russia’s expansion can be viewed as part of European Age of Discovery, and as part of trend toward globalization
  24. one might compare Russia’s eastward expansion in the 1600s to America’s westward expansion in the 1800s

Lecture 8
Jews of Ukraine by Glenn Dynner

  1. Ukrainians colonized by Lithuanians, Poles, etc.; Jews of Ukraine were neither colonizers nor colonized, they were a “guest” people, a “diaspora” people
  2. Jews had wide social and business contacts, but they were physically vulnerable, so they served the powerful, they served the colonizers (Lithuanians and Poles); so Ukrainians resented the Jews; Dynner calls Jews “a pariah group”
  3. Jews had their own language, most spoke Yiddish; Hebrew was a literary or clerical language, like Latin
  4. many taverns in Eastern Europe were run by Jews; Jews leased taverns from the nobility; Jews weren’t allowed to own land, so they move into “trade, crafts, money-lending, lease-holding”
  5. Augustine had said, Let the Jews live, let them live in misery and subjection, to show what happens to people who deny Christ; Jewish leaders sometimes urged Jews not to wear jewelry and fancy clothes, lest they provoke the anger of Gentiles, who thought Jews should live in misery and subjection
  6. by 1880, 75% of all Jews lived in Eastern Europe, only 8% in Near East
  7. some people believe that the Khazars, who lived in Ukraine around 800 AD, converted to Judaism; Dynner says, “I can’t say anything for sure”; Dynner says that Zionists oppose the idea that there was a Khazar-Jewish state, they argue that Palestine is the Jewish homeland; on the other hand, anti-Zionists say there was a Khazar-Jewish state; Wikipedia says “For some three centuries (c. 650-965) the Khazars dominated the vast area extending from the Volga-Don steppes to the eastern Crimea and the northern Caucasus”
  8. in Kievan Rus, the Jewish population is small; around 1500, when Lithuanians are colonizing Ukraine, the Jewish population grows slightly; by 1505, there are 4,000 Jews in 24 Ukrainian towns
  9. in 1569, the Lithuanians ally with the Poles; Polish nobles grab lots of land, and bring in Jews to run their enterprises
  10. Jews are being pushed out of Germany, Czech lands, and Poland; Jews are moving east to Ukraine, etc.
  11. by 1648, there are 40,000 Jews living in 115 Ukrainian towns
  12. Jews prosper, leasing taverns etc. and getting protection from the noble landlords; the landlords benefit, they can borrow money from Jews; even if Jews become wealthy, they can’t threaten political power of Polish nobility
  13. since Jews are in charge of taverns, mills, tolls, etc., they’re more prosperous than Ukrainian peasants, hence the peasants are resentful; sometimes Jews lease taxes, i.e., they become tax-collectors (tax farmers)
  14. the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was called “heaven for the nobles, paradise for the Jews, hell for the serfs”
  15. the nobles, as a body, became more powerful than the king; the king is elected by the nobles
  16. Jews were self-governing; their autonomous communities were called “kahals” (c. 1510); since the kahal collected taxes, the Polish nobility didn’t need to collect taxes directly from individual Jews
  17. in 1519, kahals joined together in Regional Councils; they paid one lump-sum tax to Poland, one to Lithuania
  18. in 1590, the Regional Councils joined together to form Council of 4 Lands, which embraces much of Eastern Europe; the Council is mostly merchants; the rabbis, or religious leaders, meet separately
  19. in 1648, a Ukrainian named Bohdan Khmelnytsky rose up against Poles/Lithuanians; he became a hero to Ukrainians; he massacred Jews
  20. Wikipedia says, “In 1648, Bohdan Khmelnytsky led the largest of the Cossack uprisings against the [Polish-Lithuanian] Commonwealth. [The uprising] enjoyed wide support from the local population. Khmelnytsky founded the Cossack Hetmanate.”
  21. the Cossack Hetmanate pledged loyalty to Russia in return for Russian help against Poles, Lithuanians (in Lecture 9, Snyder says that the Cossack uprising is the beginning of Ukrainian national history, or at least anti-colonial history)
  22. in 1666, a false Messiah, Shabbetai Tzevi, pops up in the Jewish community, promising to avenge the 1648 massacres; he appeals to Jews all over the world
  23. Jewish communities bounce back from 1648 massacres; Jewish communities are “relatively secure and prosperous” until the late 1800s, when Polish nobility loses control, and pogroms occur

Lecture 9
Polish Power and Cossack Revolution

  1. Polish influence in Ukraine brings Western influence, RomanCatholic influence (Poland is northwest of Ukraine)
  2. Polish influence also brings the ambiguous idea of the republic; while Muscovy is a vertical polity, in which the Czar is everything, Poland is a horizontal polity, in which the nobles are more important than the monarch; in Muscovy, the monarch selects the nobles; in Poland, the nobles select the monarch; in Muscovy, no one has rights; in Poland, the nobles have rights, and these rights expand over time
  3. the Polish nobility is big — about 10% of the population; when this nobility votes, more Poles are voting than anywhere else, until British parliamentary reform in the 1800s
  4. the king of Poland is Lithuanian from late 1300s to late 1500s; each new king had to visit the Polish nobles at their estates, and promise them things; there are no regular taxes, so if the king wants to collect a tax, he needs to offer something in exchange, such as enduring rights
  5. in 1422, the Polish nobility acquires property rights (in Muscovy, the Czar owns everything); in 1430, the Polish nobility acquires another right: they can’t be imprisoned for no reason (this right is similar to habeas corpus); then they acquire a right to have small local parliaments, made up of small local nobles; these small parliaments or diets were called dietines; the dietine would elect someone to represent them at the diet
  6. the historic core of Poland is around Krakow; the Warsaw area becomes part of Poland later, in 1526
  7. in Ukraine, there were some especially powerful nobles — some Polish, some Ukrainian — who were called magnates; these magnates owned vast estates, had thousands of serfs, and had private armies
  8. the Habsburgs were ancient rivals of the Poles; the Habsburgs ally with Russia or Prussia to strengthen their hand against the Poles
  9. Poland became East European, instead of Central European, when their royalty married Lithuanian royalty, instead of Habsburg royalty
  10. in early 1500s, the Poles try to make peace with the Habsburgs by a marriage; the Polish “spouse” dies and his claims to Bohemia and Hungary go to Habsburgs [these events are somewhat unclear]
  11. in 1500s, Poland acknowledges control of Prussia by House of Hohenzollern; Prussia is originally a tributary state of Poland
  12. Sigismund II was King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania; ruled from 1548 to 1572; his reign is considered Poland’s Golden Age
  13. in 1569, Sigismund II signed Union of Lublin, which changed “personal union” between Poland and Lithuania into “real union,” and created Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth
  14. Union of Lublin put Ukraine in Polish section (it had been in Lithuanian section), so Polish nobles could own land in Ukraine; Belarus is in Lithuanian section
  15. Sigismund II was the last male monarch from the Jagiellonian dynasty; he introduced elective monarchy; he defeated Ivan the Terrible in Livonian Wars
  16. Ukraine is affected by Reformation; Ukrainian clerics learn foreign languages and engage in theological disputes; Renaissance also reaches Ukraine; Moscow, on the other hand, is unaffected by Reformation and Renaissance; eventually Moscow will acquire learning/languages/theology from Kyiv, from Ukraine
  17. Lithuanian nobles learn Polish language; educated people in Ukraine used Polish for discussion of religion, etc.
  18. in the Renaissance, there’s a “language question,” i.e., a choice between writing Latin and writing the vernacular; in Ukraine, there’s a choice between Ukrainian, Polish, and Old Church Slavonic; Polish wins out, but that means the vast majority of the population is excluded
  19. there are Polish Catholics and Polish Protestants in Ukraine, but the vast majority of the population is Orthodox Christian; most of the Poles who converted to Protestantism re-convert to Catholicism
  20. so in Ukraine, 1% or 2% of the population is Catholic, Polish-speaking, land-owning; the rest of the population is Orthodox, Ukrainian-speaking, doesn’t own land
  21. the Cossacks break out of this polarizing system; the Cossacks escape serfdom, escape to the steppe, in the southeastern part of Ukraine; they farm, fish, and raid; the Polish nobles don’t allow them into the “Polish system,” into the land-owning class, but some are allowed to be “registered Cossacks”
  22. in the late 1500s and early 1600s, Poland is successful militarily, and expands, with Cossacks as infantry, Polish nobles as cavalry; but in 1648, when this “combined army” gathers to fight the Ottomans, Khmelnytsky persuades the Cossacks to fight the Poles instead
  23. initially the Cossacks are victorious against the small group of Polish nobles in Ukraine; later, however, the Polish army comes from Poland, and the tide turns against the Cossacks
  24. at first the Cossacks get help from Crimean Khanate, later they get help from Muscovy; in 1654, the Cossack Hetmanate becomes a vassal of Muscovy; soon after 1654, Muscovy begins asserting control of Cossack state; in 1708, Cossacks try and fail to break out of Russia’s embrace; after 1708, “Cossack autonomy was severely restricted. Catherine II of Russia officially abolished the institute of the Hetman in 1764”

Lecture 10
Global Empires29

  1. Spain and Portugal build early empires, then the Dutch begin empire-building, then the British and French
  2. in 1721, Muscovy adopts the title “Russian Empire,” and it prohibits Ukrainian grain from being sold except through Russian ports
  3. Russia builds a land empire; its naval ambitions are dashed by Russo-Japanese War
  4. serfs are tied to the land, but slaves are mobile; imperial powers transport slaves; a major slave market was in Crimea, in a city called Kaffa
  5. Kaffa is in southeastern Crimea; it’s also known as Theodosia or Feodosia or Caffa; around 1340, it was a colony of Genoa; Kaffa was a busy port, and a major slave market; some people say that, when Genoa-controlled Kaffa was fighting Mongols, and the Mongols were suffering from Bubonic Plague, the Mongols threw infected corpses into Kaffa with catapults, and thus began the Black Death that ravaged Europe
  6. when Ottomans took Constantinople in 1453, the land route to Asia was closed, so Europeans looked for other routes; Vasco da Gama went around Africa, Columbus went west, the English tried unsuccessfully to reach the Orient by sailing north of Russia, the Dutch take Cape of Good Hope from Portugal in 1652
  7. for Ottomans and others, Africa gradually becomes an important source of slaves; Ottoman slave trade ends in 1882
  8. U.S. was born from colonial rivalry between England and France; before Seven Years War, American colonies needed British protection from French; once France was expelled (by Seven Years War), then American colonies didn’t need British [the British wanted the colonies to pay taxes to defray cost of Seven Years War — a fair proposal, but politics is about the future, and colonists were asking, What will these taxes do for us in the future? Do we need British protection now that France is gone?]
  9. at the time of the American Revolution and the French Revolution, the Cossack state (the Cossack Hetmanate) crumbles (absorbed into Russia), the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth crumbles, and the Ottomans begin retreating from Europe
  10. Napoleon was an empire-builder, but also, to some degree, a friend of nationalism, a promoter of national liberation; imperialism and nationalism are sometimes entangled; as the Russians invade Ukraine in 2022, they say they’re freeing Ukrainians from the imperial designs of the Europeans, the Americans, etc.

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1. See Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, #12 back
2. See Koestler, Janus, Ch. 10, #2 back
3. Beyond Good and Evil, #14. Nietzsche often takes jabs at Darwin, but Nietzsche doesn’t defend Lamarck, and Nietzsche seems to have little interest in how evolution works. In Nietzsche’s day, the sciences and the humanities were growing apart. Nietzsche sticks to the humanities, he doesn’t involve himself in the sciences as much as Kant or Schopenhauer or Goethe did.

We’ve seen that Nietzsche views materialism as plebeian, middle-class, and he views non-materialism as aristocratic. He also thinks that the English have a materialistic bent, while Germans are more apt to speak of will, instinct, idea. Shaw argued that modern materialism was a reaction against a religious mindset that saw spirit everywhere. back

4. Shaw, Back to Methuselah, Preface, “A Sample of Lamarcko-Shavian Invective” back
5. Shaw, Back to Methuselah, Preface, “Discovery Anticipated By Divination.” The phrase “more abundantly” seems to fit Nietzsche’s Will to Power better than Schopenhauer’s Will. Perhaps Shaw was putting his own thought into Schopenhauer.

On Schopenhauer’s rejection of Lamarck and evolution, see Nietzsche, Gay Science, #99

Shaw said that Lamarck “held as his fundamental proposition that living organisms changed because they wanted to. As he stated it, the great factor in Evolution is use and disuse. If you have no eyes, and want to see, and keep trying to see, you will finally get eyes. If, like a mole or a subterranean fish, you have eyes and don’t want to see, you will lose your eyes.”(Shaw, Back to Methuselah, Preface, “The Advent of the Neo-Lamarckians”) An animal doesn’t lose its eyes because of a random mutation and a selection advantage, it loses its eyes because it doesn’t use them or want them, they’re superfluous.

Shaw understood that Lamarckism is uplifting, Darwinism dismal. Shaw said that Lamarck’s way is “the way of life, will, aspiration, and achievement,” while Darwin’s way is the “way of hunger, death, stupidity, delusion, chance, and bare survival.” back

6. Will to Power, #70, edited by Walter Kaufmann back
7. Will to Power, #647 back
8. Will to Power, #685. In Ecce Homo, Nietzsche wrote, “I was the first to see the real opposition: the degenerating instinct that turns against life with subterranean vengefulness (Christianity, the philosophy of Schopenhauer...) versus a formula for the highest affirmation, born of fullness, of overfullness, a Yes-saying without reservation, even to suffering, even to guilt, even to everything that is questionable and strange in existence.”(Ecce Homo, “The Birth of Tragedy,” #2) back
9. ibid back
10. Shaw, Back to Methuselah, Preface, “The Early Evolutionists” back
11. Shaw, Man and Superman, “The Revolutionist’s Handbook and Pocket Companion” back
12. Shaw, Back to Methuselah, Preface, “Voluntary Longevity.” How can Lamarckism make any headway, as religion or as science, in a world that blindly accepts Darwinism, a world that doesn’t see any mystery in evolution? back
13. Shaw, Back to Methuselah, Preface, “The Religious Art of the Twentieth Century.” One wonders if Shaw’s interest in will was connected to an interest in psychic phenomena. back
14. Shaw, Back to Methuselah, Preface, “Religion and Romance” back
15. Shaw, Back to Methuselah, Preface, “Voluntary Longevity” back
16. Shaw, Back to Methuselah, Preface, “The Homeopathic Reaction Against Darwinism” back
17. Shaw, Back to Methuselah, Preface, “What To Do with the Legends” back
18. See Ch. 6, #3 ==> “Libidinal Development: Its Periodic Ebb and Flow” back
19. Quoted in E. Hitschmann, Great Men: Psychoanalytic Studies, “Boswell” back
20. Beyond the Pleasure Principle, Ch. 5, p. 35 back
21. Snyder says it’s one thing to found a state, another to continue it. It’s founded by a charismatic leader or a major achievement (as Max Weber said), but the memory of that leader/achievement gradually fades. So it can be difficult to continue a state.

States often expand immediately after their founding/consolidation, as if the energy/will involved in the founding spills over the original boundaries. Examples of immediate expansion are Lithuania, Muscovy, and perhaps the Arab/Muslim state founded by Muhammad. back

22. Is Snyder correct to say that the Mongols sought trade routes? Can you really have trading relations with a people whom you attack so aggressively? I think Snyder is depicting the Mongols as more moderate and reasonable than they were. back
23. The knight in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales fought with the Teutonic knights:

Ful ofte tyme he hadde the bord bigonne
Aboven alle naciouns in Pruce.
In Lettow hadde he reysed and in Ruce,
No Cristen man so ofte of his degree.

We can translate this as,

Often he sat at the head of the table
Above all nations in Prussia.
In Lithuania he crusaded and in Rus
No Christian man of his class so often.
    --Canterbury Tales, Prologue, lines 52-55

This essay argues that Russia (eastern Rus) was already Christian (eastern Christian), so only brigands would attack Russia. So the crusading Christian knights (Teutonic knights) must have been fighting a different nation, not Russia. “Ruce” doesn’t refer to Russia (according to this view), it refers to Rossenia, an area north of Prussia. Snyder says that “Ruce” is neither Russia nor Rossenia, it’s Rus, which was centered in Kyiv.

Despite religious differences between Russians and Lithuanians, “many Russians served in the Lithuanian army.” Perhaps Slavic peoples were generally sympathetic toward the Lithuanians, generally hostile toward the Teutonic knights.

Regardless of what “Ruce” refers to, it’s likely that the crusades of the Teutonic knights were carried out primarily against pagans, and attracted Christian knights from various European countries, as the earlier crusades to the Holy Land attracted knights from various European countries. If you wanted to crusade at this time, you had various options, in addition to the Baltic coast; there were crusades in Turkey, Egypt, Spain, etc. Wherever Muslims or pagans were in control, there was a suitable place for a crusade.

The Battle of Grunwald in 1410, in which the Teutonic knights were defeated, may have been the “last hurrah” of the crusading knight. The knight was “a vanishing species.... Chivalry itself was dying.” back

24. This contradicts what Snyder says later, namely, that the Lithuanian royal family converted to Christianity when they married into the Polish royal family, around 1385. Perhaps some Lithuanian nobles were Christian, others pagan. back
25. This battle is commemorated, Snyder says, by a statue in Central Park, a statue that depicts King Jagiello of Poland-Lithuania with two swords. According to legend, one sword is his own, the other was given him by the Teutonic leader at the start of the battle, as if to say, “you’re going to need this.” According to this web-page, “The Polish sculptor Stanislaw Ostrowski created the monument for the Polish pavilion at the 1939 World’s Fair in Queens.” back
26. This must be an exaggeration, since it would leave few people for the army. back
27. Veliky Novgorod is northeast of Moscow, not far from St. Petersburg. Veliky Novgorod should not be confused with Nizhny Novgorod, which is east of Moscow, on the Volga. “Veliky Novgorod” means “Great Newtown,” while “Nizhny Novgorod” means “Lower Newtown.” back
28. One might compare Ivan’s overreach to Putin’s overreach, i.e., Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. back
29. This is an interesting lecture, but a difficult lecture to take notes on; the notes are rather disjointed. back