November 11, 2010


I just want to take a moment of appreciation for that dwindling body of 'old school' teachers, the members of the teaching academia who, against the odds, value education over entertainment, who value fact over opinion, who value the nuanced over the shallow, who value truth over falsity, who value substance over form, who value knowledge over over ignorance. You are increasingly viewed as obsolete, and thus marginalized, in American academia. You are the seed corn eaten (up and spit out) rather than planted, tended to, and nurtured. You gave it a good run, but it is over. The barbarians (marketeers) have won.

November 9, 2010


Bisson, Thomas N., The Crisis of the Twelfth Century: Power, Lordship, and the Origins of European Government (Princeton & Oxford: Princeton U. Press, 2009) ("[I]t is ironic in the extreme that the most conspicuous crisis of power of this age turned on the bad lordship not of a castellan or baron but a king, no less. The crisis of Magna Carta, although by no means uncomplicated, would never have happened had it not been for the arbitrary, sometimes brutal behavior of King John (1199-1216). John wriggled out of one jam after another. In the end the Great Charter of 1215 itself played into his canny strategy. But already by 1210, with the loss of Normandy unavenged and the English church under costly interdict, John's authority had plummeted as his habits of coercive violence became clear. Everyone knew that Matilda of Braose together with her son had been wilfully starved to death in a Windsor dungeon because her husband's financial default and alleged contumacy. Perhaps not everyone knew, or dared to say, what one (unreliable) chronicler ungallantly said of Matilda: that 'with womanish imprudence' she had babbled to the king's men that she knew what had happened to Arthur of Brittany. In this event were linked the two worst atrocities of John's stormy reign." "Yet both were uncharacteristic. John's oppressive ways, as with lesser bad lords, was to coerce and to exploit, not to kill. It was abuse in the courts and the manipulative excesses of customary obligation that induced his victims to converse and to compare experiences. . . . Many of John's sworn barons ceased to trust him. . . ." Id. at 516-517.).

November 8, 2010


Gillingham, John, Richard I (Yale English Monarchs) (New Haven & London: Yale U. Press, 1999) ("Richard himself summarized the events of 20 August in a letter of 1 October to the abbot of Clairvaux. 'The time limit expired and, as the treaty to which Saladin had agreed was entirely void, we quite properly had the Saracens that we had in custody--about 2,600 of them--put to death. A few more of the noble ones were spared, and we hope to recover the Cross and certain Christian captives in exchange for them.' . . . " "Of all Richard's deed this is the one most bitterly condemned by modern historians. It has been called both barbarous and stupid and has been cited to show that there were no depths to which he could not sink in a fit of anger or to relieve his supposed frustrations. . . . Could the crusaders afford to march away leaving only a garrison to guard nearly 3,000 Muslims? Merely to feed so many men would be difficult enough since, on Saladin's orders, the countryside around Acre had been thoroughly devastated. Presumably Richard could simply have freed them all in return for the payment of the first instalment, but in that case he would have lost the confidence of his army for allowing himself to be outmanoeuvred by Saladin. By the 20th the prisoners had become an embarrassment rather than an asset and it seems that Richard and his fellow-soldiers had no compunction in ridding themselves of them in a fashion that was brutally efficient." Id. at 169-170.).

November 7, 2010


Chrimes, S. B., Henry VII (Yale English Monarchs (New Haven & London: Yale U. Press, 1999) ("This book is not to be regarded as primarily a biography . . . ." "Nor is this book intended to be a history of England during his reign. It might perhaps best be described as a study of the impact of Henry Tudor upon the government of England. It seeks to analyse and assess Henry's actions and policies as king, as the man in whom supreme executive power, and therefore ultimate responsibility, was vested." Id. at xxi. "The inherent difficulty in expounding diplomatic history lies in the fact that whereas in reality a multitude of motives, moves, and negotiations are activated more or less simultaneously, it is impossible in exposition to unravel the threads at the rate of more than one or two at a time if the exposition is to be intelligible. The selectivity necessarily imposed upon the historian of any theme inevitably results in an oversimplification and artificiality which fail to reflect the complex reality. This defect is perhaps nowhere more apparent than in diplomatic history. As in all historical studies, the historian has an advantage denied to men who made the history itself. We are in a position to know the outcome of their actions, whereas they could only guess and hope what the upshot would be." Id. at 277. "If it be true that England showed a greatness and a marked flowering of her spirit and genius in the course of the sixteenth century, such a development would have been inconceivable without the intermediation of Henry of Richmond's regime. Not for him were the vast egoisms of his son Henry nor the gloriations of his grand-daughter Elizabeth. But without his unspectacular statecraft their creative achievement would have had no roots. His steady purposefulness saved England from mediocrity. It was not the union of the Roses that mattered, symbolic enough through that was. What mattered most in the long was the spadework which the springs of national genius would not be freed. In the ultimate analysis, the quality of Henry VII was not that of a creator, but rather of a stabilizer, for lack of whom the ships of State are apt to founder. For that quality he stands out pre-emient among British monarchs. Id. at 321-322.).

November 6, 2010


Saul, Nigel, Richard II (Yale English Monarchs) (New Haven & London: Yale U. Press, 1997) ("Richard can easily emerge from the evidence as a bundle of contradictions - on the one hand, a kindly, generous, considerate, and thoughtful man, and on the other, a tyrant: cruel, arrogant and capricious. Is there anyway in which a coherent picture can be formed of Richard's character and personality?" "The most plausible way of reconciling the opposites is to see Richard's personality as essentially narcissistic. Narcissism describes a condition in which only the person himself - his own body, his own needs and feelings - are experienced as fully real: everybody and everything else lacks reality or interest. Generally a narcissistic person achieves a sense of security in his own subjective conviction of his perfection, rather than through being related to others. He needs to hold on to his narcissistic self-image - for, without it, his sense of worth and identity is lost. Commonly, if his narcissism is wounded by criticism or humiliation, he reacts with intense anger, whether or not he shows it or is even aware of it. The intensity of this aggressive reaction is evident from the fact that hardly ever will such a person forgive anyone who has wounded his narcissism. Very often he feels a burning desire for vengeance which would be less intense if it had been his body or property that had been attacked." Id. at 459 (citing Erich Fromm, The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness (London, 1974) at 201-2.). "Narcissistic tendencies are commonly found in rulers with a powerful sense of their providential mission. . . . The highly public way in which [Richard] achieved his ends owed much to the narcissist's craving for recognition and outward success. It seems likely that the cruelty which he visited upon his enemies among the former Appellants had is origins in so-called 'narcissist aggression'. In the assault which they had launched on the prerogatives ten years earlier the Appellants had shattered Richard's narcissistic self-image. In the manner characteristic of his type he now exacted a terrible revenge on them." Id. at 459.).

November 5, 2010


That said, let me recommend your reading Roger Cohen's op-ed piece in today's New York Times.

OPINION | November 05, 2010
Op-Ed Columnist: American Dreamland
For many voters, Obama crossed the bridge from American self-reliance to the European nanny state.


Ross, Charles, Edward IV (Yale English Monarchs) (New Haven & London: Yale U. Press, 1998) ("To maintain effective order and to enforce his laws were among the more intractable problems confronting a medieval king. Violence was endemic in English society. This was scarcely surprising in a land where men normally carried arms, where there was neither police force nor standing army, and where the machinery of justice was cumbrous, slow-moving and open to corruption. The result was a crime rate of appalling proportion. Self-help was a constant temptation which few chose to resist." "If medieval men accepted a high level of violence as a normal feature of social life, they were a good deal less complacent about the ease and frequency with which so many criminals escaped justice. Complaints about lack of justice and failure by the Crown to enforce the laws were bitter and frequent and only too fully justified by the facts. . . ." Id. at 388. "There is a variety of reasons--legal, social and political--why so many wrongdoers escaped the clutches of the law. Contemporary English law contained a number of devices to protect the accused, and many of these could be used improperly to delay or divert the course of justice. It was often very difficult to apprehend indicted men, and sheriff's officers sometimes went in fear of their lives. Forcing a messenger to eat the parchment writ of summons he carried was not uncommon practice amongst those who thumbed their noses at the law. . . . Id. at 389. "Many wrongdoers, even when tried and found guilty, escaped the penalties of their crimes by procuring a royal pardon. The Crown itself contributed to the problem of lawlessness by its readiness to grant pardons even for major crimes. Purchasing a pardon (it has be claimed) was a routine pecuniary transaction for many offences including murder. For those with influence at court, pardons could be obtained for even the most scandalous offences. . . . Id. at 390.).

November 4, 2010


Hume, David, The History of England From The Invasion of Julius Caesar To The Revolution in 1688, Volume I (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1983) ("When any person in any tything or decennary was guilty of a crime, the borsholder was summoned to answer for him; and if he were not willing to be surety for his appearance and his clearing himself, the criminal was committed to prison, and there detained till his trial. If he fled, either before or after finding sureties, the borsholder and decennary became liable to enquiry, and were exposed to the penalties of law. Thirty-one days were allowed them for producing the criminal; and if that time elapsed without their being able to find him, the borsholder, with two other members of the decennary, was obliged to appear, and together with three chief members of the three neighbouring decennaries (making twelve in all) to swear that his decennary was free from all privity both of the crime commited, and of the escape of the criminal. If the borsholder could not find such a number to answer for their innocence, the decennary was compelled by fine to make satisfaction to the king, according to the degree of the offence. By this institution every man was obliged from his own interest to keep watchful eye over the conduct of his neighbours; and was in a manner surety for the behavior of those who were placed under the division, to which he belonged: Whence these decenanaries received the name of frank-pledges. " Id. at 76.).

Hume, David, The History of England From The Invasion of Julius Caesar To The Revolution in 1688, Volume II (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1983) ("That neglect, almost total, of truth and justice, which sovereign states discover in their transactions with each other, is an evil universal and inveterate; is one great source of the misery to which the human race is continually exposed; and it may be doubted, whether in many instances it be found in the end to contribute to the interests of those princes themselves, who thus sacrifice their integrity to their politics." Id. at 133. "It is easy to see what advantages Europe must have reaped by its inheriting at once from the ancients, so complete an art, which was also so necessary for giving security to all others arts, and which, by refining, and still more, by bestowing solidity on the judgment, served as a model to farther improvements. The sensible utility of the Roman law both to public and private interest recommended the study of it, at a time when the more exalted and speculative sciences carried no charms with them; and thus the last branch of ancient literature, which remained uncorrupted, was happily the first transmitted to the modern world. For it is remarkable, that in the decline of Roman learning, when the philosophers were universally infected with superstition and sophistry, and the poets and historians with barbarism, the lawyers, who, in other countries, are seldom models of science or politeness, were yet able, by the constant study and close imitation of their predecessors, to maintain the same good sense in their decisions and reasonings, and the same purity in their language and expression." Id. at 521.).

Hume, David, The History of England From The Invasion of Julius Caesar To The Revolution in 1688, Volume III (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1983) ("The practice of persecution . . . is the scandal of all religion; and the theological animosity, so fierce and violent, far from being an argument of men's conviction in their opposite sects, is certain proof, that they have never reached any serious persuasion with regard to these remote and sublime subjects. Even those, who are the most impatient of contradiction in other controversies, are mild and moderate in comparison of polemical divines; and wherever a man's knowledge and experience give him a perfect assurance in his own opinion, he regards with contempt, rather than anger, the opposition and mistakes of others. . . . As healthful bodies are ruined by too nice a regimen, and are thereby rendered incapable of bearing the unavoidable incidents of human life; a people, who never were allowed to imagine, that their principles could be contested, fly out into the most outrageous violence, when any event (and such events are common) produce a faction among their clergy, and gives rise to any difference in tenet or opinion. But whatever may be said in suppressing, by persecution, the first beginnings of heresy, no solid argument can be alleged for extending severity towards multitudes, or endeavouring, by capital punishment, to extirpate an opinion, which has diffused itself among men of every rank and station. Besides the extreme barbarity of such attempt, it commonly proves ineffectual to the purpose intended; and serves only to make men more obstinate in their persuasion, and to encrease the number of their proselytes. . . .The glory of martyrdom stimulates all the more furious zealots, especially the leaders and preachers: Where a violent animosity is excited by oppression, men naturally pass, from hating the persons of their tyrants, to a more violent abhorrence of their doctrines: And the spectators, moved with pity towards the supposed martyrs, are easily seduced to embrace those principle, which can inspire men with a constancy that appears almost supernatural. Open the door to toleration, mutual hatred relaxes among the sectaries; their attachment to their particular modes of religion decays; the common occupations and pleasures of life succeed to the acrimony of disputation; and the same man, who, in other circumstances, would have braved flames and torture, is induced to change his sect from the smallest prospect of favour and advancement, or even from the frivolous hope of becoming more fashionable in his principles. . . . Id. at 432-433.).

Hume, David, The History of England From The Invasion of Julius Caesar To The Revolution in 1688, Volume IV (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1983).

Hume, David, The History of England From The Invasion of Julius Caesar To The Revolution in 1688, Volume V (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1983) ("But above all branches of prerogatives, that which is most necessary to be preserved, is the power of imprisonment. Faction and discontent, like diseases, frequently arise in every political body; and during these disorders, it is by the salutary exercise alone of this discretionary power, that rebellious and civil wars can be prevented. To circumscribe this power, is to destroy its nature: Entirely to abrogate it, is impracticable; and the attempt itself must prove dangerous, if not pernicious to the public. The supreme magistrate, in critical and turbulent time, will never, agreeably either to prudence or duty, allow the state to perish, while there remains a remedy which, how irregular soever, it is still in his power to apply. And if, moved by a regard to public good, he employs any exercise of power condemned by recent and express statute, how greedily, in such dangerous times, will factious leaders seize this pretence of throwing on his government the imputation of tyranny and despotism? Were the alternative4 quite necessary, it were surely much better for human society to b deprived of liberty than to be destitute of government." Id. at 194. "No government, at that time, appeared in the world, nor is perhaps to be found in the records of any history, which subsisted without a mixture of some arbitrary authority, committed to some magistrate; and it might reasonably, beforehand, appear doubtful, whether human society could ever reach that state of perfection, as to support itself with no other control than the general and rigid maxims of law and equity. But the parliament justly thought, that the king was too eminent a magistrate to be trusted with discretionary power, which he might easily turn to the destruction of liberty. And in the event it has hitherto been found, that, though some sensible inconveniences arise from the maxim of adhering strictly to the law, yet the advantages overbalance them, and should render the English grateful to the memory of their ancestors, who, after repeated contests, at last established that noble, though dangerous, principle." Id. at 329-330.).

Hume, David, The History of England From The Invasion of Julius Caesar To The Revolution in 1688, Volume VI and Index (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1983) ("The English laws of treason, both in the manner of defining that crime, and in the proof required, are the mildest and most indulgent, and consequently the most equitable, that are any where to be found. The two chief species of treason, contained in the statute of Edward III., are the compassing and intending of the king's death, and the actually levying of war against him; and by the law of Mary, the crime must be proved by the concurring testimony of two witnesses, to some overt act, tending to these purposes. But lawyers, partly desirous of paying court to the sovereign, partly convinced of ill consequences, which might attend such narrow limitations, had introduced a greater latitude, both in the proof and definition of the crime. It was not required, that the two witnesses should testify the same precise overt act: It was sufficient, that they both testified some overt act of the same treason; and though this evasion may seen a subtilty, it had long prevailed in the courts of judicature, and had at last been solemnly fixed in parliament at the trial of lord Stafford. The lawyers had observed the same freedom with the law of Edward III. They had observed, that, by the statute, if a man should enter into a conspiracy for a rebellion, should even fix a correspondence with foreign powers for that purpose, should provide arms and money, yet, if he were detected and no rebellion ensued, he could not be tried for treason. To prevent this inconvenience, which it had been better to remedy by a new law, they had commonly laid their indictment for intending the death of the king, and had produced the intention o rebellion as a proof of that other intention. But thought this form of indictment and trial was very frequent, and many criminals had received sentence upon it, it was still considered as somewhat irregular, and was plainly confounding, by a sophism, two species of treason, which the statute had accurately distinguished. What made this refinement still more exceptionable, was, that a law had passed soon after the restoration; in which the consulting or the intending of a rebellion, was, during Charles's life-time, declared treason; and it was required, that the prosecution should be commenced within six months after the crime was committed. But notwithstanding this statute, the lawyers had persevered, as they still do persevere, in the old form of indictment. . . . Such was the general horror, entertained against the old republicans, and the popish conspirators, that no one had murmured against this interpretation of the statute; and the lawyers thought, they they might follow the precedent, even in the case of the popular and beloved lord Russel. Russel's crime fell plainly within the statute of Charles the IId; but the facts sworn to by Rumsey and Shepard were beyond the six months required by the law, and to the other facts Howard was a single witness, To make the indictment, therefore, more extensive, the intention of murdering the king was comprehended to it; and the for proof of this intention the conspiracy for raising a rebellion was assigned; and what seemed to bring the matter still near, the design of attacking the king's guards." "Russel perceived this irregularity, and desired to have the pot argued by counsel: The chief justice told him, that this favour could not be granted, unless he previously confessed the facts charged upon him. . . ." Id. at 432-433.).

November 3, 2010


Americans went to the polls yesterday. And, sad to say, voted on the basis of ignorance, fear, and hatred. A nation is only as good as its people. An ignorant, fearful, hateful people is not the basis for building a strong, vibrant, democratic nation. WOE BE US!

November 2, 2010


Sowell, Thomas, Dismantling America (New York: Basic Books, 2010) (This is a collection of recent Sowell essays. Though I disagree with most of the points or positions taken by Sowell in these essays, I do agree with his overall concerns. There is, however, one passage with which I wholeheartedly (almost) agree with Sowell. "History fully vindicates the late William F. Buckley's view that he would rather be ruled by people represented by the first 100 names in the Boston phone book than by the faculty of Harvard." "How have intellectuals managed to be so wrong, so often? By thinking that because they are knowledgeable--or even expert--within some narrow band out of the vast spectrum of human concerns, that makes them wise guides to the masses as to the rules of the nation." "But the ignorance of Ph.D.s is still ignorance and high-IQ groupthink is still groupthink, which is the antithesis of real thinking." From the essay, "Intellectuals," reprinted at 258, 260. Groupthink is an epidemic in twenty-first century American society, and Ph.D.s (and J.D.s) are not immune from the disease. Just about everyone touts his or her ability to engage in critical thinking. Yet, when you ask most individuals what they think about important social and political issues the most common responses are "I have never really thought about that", or the poor regurgitation of whatever the person heard on yesterday's talk radio. Fewer and fewer individuals, including many supposedly well-educated professionals, take the time to educate themselves on important issues. To be well-informed takes time and advanced planning, but we don't want to take the time and we are incapable of advanced planning in this area. The result is a vulnerability to the groupthink illness. An academia, especially as more and more universities adopt a business model at the expense on an education model, is a hot-house for group think.).


Anderson, Elizabeth, The Imperative of Integration (Princeton & Oxford: Princeton U. Press, 2010) ("But is racial integration just a pipe dream? While implementation of . . . mostly state-centered policies would have important effects, at foreseeable scales their impact would be modest compared to the vast scale of de facto segregation. Truly large-scale state-centered attempts to racially integrate K-12 schools, as took place in the busing era, consistently encounter massive white resistance and are not politically feasible. Hence the project of integration inevitably rests with the spontaneous actions of citizens in civil society. Here there are a few promising, if small signs--for example, of churches seeking integrated congregations and promoting programs of racial reconciliation. Yet the overall picture is gloomy. Spontaneous residential racial integration of blacks proceeds at a glacial pace. Voter initiatives and state legislatures are rolling back affirmative action by public universities, while the Supreme Court is restricting voluntary integration by K-12 schools. Federal enforcement of key civil rights initiatives--Brown v. Board of Education and its successors cases, the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and the Fair Housing Act--is little more than perfunctory. Opinion research suggests that this state of affairs is just how whites want it--except that they think they are not getting it since they believe government is doing too much." Id. at 189. "This raises the question of what sort of realism is demanded in political philosophy. Throughout this book, I have stressed the centrality of nonideal theorizing in a sound political philosophy. Political philosophy should start with a diagnosis of what ails us, and construct remedies that are attentive to empirical constraints, including the limitations of human psychology. We are not nearly as rational, self-aware, and self-controlled as we imagine ourselves to be. Normative recommendations must take these limitations into account, lest they prescribe standards that are impossible for people to meet." Id. at 189-190. How many of us can say, "I am not a de facto segregationist", and say it honestly? Very few of us are truly good on racial issues. It it America's major weakness. We talk a good game about social justice, fairness, equality, etc. Then we head on home to our everyone-is-the-same-as-me neighborhoods. Social prisons keeping the others out . . . and keeping us in. More of us need to be active integrationists.).

November 1, 2010


Chemerinsky, Erwin, The Conservative Assault on the Constitution (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2010) (From the book jacket: "As a result of political pressure from conservatives and a series of Supreme Court decisions, our public schools are increasingly separate and unequal, to the great disadvantage of poor and minority students. Right-wing politicians and justices are dismantling the wall separating church and state, allowing ever greater government support of religion. With the blessing of the Supreme Court, absurdly harsh sentences are being handed down to criminal defendants, such as life sentences for shoplifting and other petty offenses. Even in death penalty cases, defendants are being denied the right to competent counsel at trial, and as a s result innocent people have been convicted and sentenced to death. Right-wing politicians complain that government is too big and intrusive while at the same time they are only happy to insert the government into the most intimate aspect of the private lives of citizens when doing so conforms to conservative morality. Conservative activist judges say that the Constitution gives people an inherent right to own firearms by not to make their own medical decisions, In some states it is easier to buy an assault rifle than to obtain an abortion." Nowhere has the conservative assault on the Constitution been more visible or more successful than in redefining the role of the president. From Richard Nixon to George W. Bush, conservatives have sought o significantly increase presidential power. The result in recent years has been unprecedented abuses, including indefinite detentions, illegal surveillance, and torture of innocent people. " Finally, access to the courts is being restricted by new rulings that deny legal protections to ordinary Americans. Fewer lawsuits alleging discrimination in employment are heard; fewer people are able to sue corporations or governments for injuries they have suffered; and even when these cases do go to trial, new restrictions limit damages that plaintiff's can collect." Chemerinsky has written a thought-provoking polemic. It is a worthwhile read, especially if you read it before voting on Election.).