Category Archives: Books

Eric Hoffer: The Longshoreman Philosopher by Thomas Bethell

From my notion book review template

The Book in 3 Sentences

  1. This book is an honest account of the life of Eric Hoffer. It is an honest summary, including actual independent research and not just Hoffer’s version of his life. Bethell focuses his attention on his life and hot his political views.


I liked it a lot – it did actual research and dispelled lots of the Eric Hoffer self created legend and made him a much more interesting and mysterious character. This is one of the rare cases where more details adds mystery instead of taking it away.

How I Discovered It

An Amazon recomendation

Who Should Read It?

Eric Hoffer Fans

How the Book Changed Me

How my life / behaviour / thoughts / ideas have changed as a result of reading the book.

I don’t think it will change anything – perhaps it increases my willingness to disbelieve weird life origin stories in favor of even weirder life origin stories.

My Top 6 Quotes

  • Quite possibly, he was born in Germany and never became a legal resident of the United States.
  • It seems extraordinary, then, that no one from Hoffer’s early life should ever have shown up. Possibly—just possibly—he actually came to America for the first time across the Mexican border in 1934, the year after the El Centro camp was opened. Perhaps he walked to San Diego and was by then every bit as hungry as he said he was, ate some cabbage “cow fashion,” and found the truck driver who took him to El Centro.
  • It’s understandable that Hoffer might have concealed his background if he were indeed undocumented. If born abroad he was not an American citizen, for he never went through any naturalization ceremony. Congress severely restricted immigration to the United States in 1924 and by the 1930s, when jobs were scarce, U.S. residents found to be here illegally were deported without due process. Some were minor children born in the United States. In one report, “between 1929 and 1935 some 164,000 people were deported for being here illegally, about 20 percent of them Mexican.”32 Others estimate that between 1929 and 1939 as many as a million people were unceremoniously repatriated, many of them to Mexico. If Hoffer himself was in the United States illegally, he was wise to keep quiet about it.
  • Hoffer’s blindness has functioned in all accounts as an alibi, explaining why he didn’t go to school, didn’t have friends, spoke with a German accent, had “shadowy” recollections, and so on. How reliable is his blindness story?
  • Much later, Hoffer decided that “the social scientist is no more a scientist than a Christian scientist is a scientist.”
  • An ideal environment for him, he said, was one in which he was surrounded by people and yet not part of them.

Summary + Notes


As for Hoffer, Selden said: “All his conclusions are wrong—every one of them. But he writes beautifully and he asks the right questions.” They remained on good terms, and when Eric Hoffer died two years later, in the room where we had met, Selden was with him.

His date of birth is uncertain, often given as 1902 but more likely 1898.

And the account he often gave of losing his sight at an early age and then regaining it several years later doesn’t fit with some


Quite possibly, he was born in Germany and never became a legal resident of the 
United States.


Over the next thirty-three years she knew him better than anyone in the world. But, she said: “I never met anyone who knew Eric in his earlier life.”


One day, when he was six, she fell down a flight of stairs while she was carrying him. Two years later, she died and Hoffer went blind. His blindness lasted for eight years. When asked, “Did the fall cause those things?” he responded, “I don’t know.”5 Hoffer also didn’t remember the fall itself, nor could he recall whether his sight returned suddenly or gradually. In an early account he said that he went “practically blind,” followed by a “gradual improvement.”


Martha Bauer was a “Bavarian peasant” and his German accent came from


It seems extraordinary, then, that no one from Hoffer’s early life should ever have shown up. Possibly—just possibly—he actually came to America for the first time across the Mexican border in 1934, the year after the El Centro camp was opened. Perhaps he walked to San Diego and was by then every bit as hungry as he said he was, ate some cabbage “cow fashion,” and found the truck driver who took him to El Centro.

and during those fifteen years Cole saw Hoffer almost every week. His account coincides with Lili’s: “I never met a single person who knew him before he worked on the waterfront.”

It’s understandable that Hoffer might have concealed his background if he were indeed undocumented. If born abroad he was not an American citizen, for he never went through any naturalization ceremony. Congress severely restricted immigration to the United States in 1924 and by the 1930s, when jobs were scarce, U.S. residents found to be here illegally were deported without due process. Some were minor children born in the United States. In one report, “between 1929 and 1935 some 164,000 people were deported for being here illegally, about 20 percent of them Mexican.”32 Others estimate that between 1929 and 1939 as many as a million people were unceremoniously repatriated, many of them to Mexico. If Hoffer himself was in the United States illegally, he was wise to keep quiet about it.

Hoffer also spoke German and did so fluently.

Hoffer’s blindness has functioned in all accounts as an alibi, explaining why he didn’t go to school, didn’t have friends, spoke with a German accent, had “shadowy” recollections, and so on. How reliable is his blindness story?

There is no Martha, and in this account he clearly lived with this aunt for a year after his father died, thus accounting for the gap between his father’s 1920 death and his 1922 departure for Los Angeles. Hoffer’s later and oft-repeated account of a $300 legacy from his father’s guild is also contradicted.

“Martha had often consoled him with the advice: ‘Don’t worry Eric. You come from a short-lived family. You will die before you are forty. Your troubles will not last long.’ ” These thoughts

All attempts to locate Hoffer or his parents, Knut and Elsa, in the Bronx, either through census data or, have drawn a blank.

He was almost forty years old before he acquired a definite street address.


What may be more likely is that Hoffer came to America as a teenager or young adult and never did live in New York.

It’s easy to understand why Hoffer would make up an American background if he was eager to avoid questions about his citizenship, but why so elaborate a ruse? Hoffer was a great storyteller, and he insisted that a writer should entertain as well as inform his audience. He was also a master at diverting attention from his own background. Finally, he did provide a few hints that his story shouldn’t be taken too seriously.

Much later, Hoffer decided that “the social scientist is no more a scientist than a Christian scientist is a scientist.” But

Although they were white Anglo-Americans, Starr writes, and often fleeing from the Dustbowl in Oklahoma, Texas, and elsewhere, they were regarded as a despised racial minority by much of white California.

In 1935 California had 4.7 percent of the nation’s population but triple that percentage of its dependent transients.

worked.” He described Hoffer as a natural loner; in fact, all his life he wanted to be left alone. For many years his relations with women were therefore confined, with one exception, to prostitutes.19 Koerner adds that Hoffer was “terrifically lusty”:


The earliest documentary record of Hoffer’s existence is a photostat of his application for a Social Security account, filled out on June 10, 1937. He said at the time that he was thirty-eight years old, having been born in New York City on July 25, 1898. If so, of course, he was four years older than he claimed at other times.

identified himself as the son of Knut Hoffer and Elsa Goebel, and gave his address as 101 Eye Street, Sacramento. His employer at the time was the U.S. Forest Service in Placerville, California. It is the only documentary evidence of his life to be found in the archives before he moved permanently to San Francisco.

Vigorous walking seems to ease the flow of words; and

The feeling of being a stranger in this world is probably the result of some organic disorder. It is strongest in me when I’m hungry or tired. But even when nothing is wrong I sometimes find it easy to look at the world around me as if I saw it for the first time.

The war, the nationwide draft, and a labor shortage on the docks made it possible for him to become a longshoreman at the age of forty-five.

There were many accidents. In 1943 a five-ton crate crashed to the wharf and just missed him, but it destroyed his right thumb. He was in the hospital for months as a new one was reconstructed from his own thigh. It was little more than a stump.

my case conditions seem ideal. I average about 40 hours a week, which is more than enough to live on. And all I have to do is put in 20 hours of actual work. It’s a racket and I love it.

Selden became a “diet faddist,” and Hoffer noticed that, too. How true is it, he wondered, “that true believers have an affinity for diet cults? You attain immortality either by embracing an eternal cause or by living forever.” Selden told Eric that when he ate, he methodically chewed so many times on one side, so many times on the other.

“It would be hard to find another occupation with so suitable a combination of freedom, exercise, leisure and income,” he wrote to Margaret Anderson in 1949. “By working only Saturday and Sunday (eighteen hours at pay and a half) I can earn 40–50 dollars a week. This to me is rolling in dough.”10 But in a 1944 notebook he recorded that creative thought was incompatible with hard physical work.

An ideal environment for him, he said, was one in which he was surrounded by people and yet not part of them.

But routine work was compatible with an active mind. On the other hand a highly eventful life could be mentally exhausting and drain all creative energy. He cited John Milton, who wrote political pamphlets throughout the Puritan agitation, and postponed Paradise Lost until his life was more peaceful.

Clumsiness, he concluded, is inconspicuous for those who are not on their home turf. Similarly, the cultural avant-garde attracts people without real talent, “whether as writers or artists.” Why? Because everybody expects innovators to be clumsy. “They are probably people without real talent,” he decided. But those who experiment with a new form have a built-in excuse.11

and it began with this issue. The union “was run by nobodies,” just like America, Hoffer said.

“It did not occur to the intellectuals,” Hoffer commented, “that in this country nobodies perform tasks which in other countries are reserved for elites.” It was one of his favorite reflections.

Financial records show that Hoffer made $4,100 as a longshoreman and $1,095 in True Believer royalties in 1953.

The examples of Lenin, Mussolini and Hitler, where intellectually undistinguished men made themselves through faith and single-minded dedication into shapers of history is a challenge to every mediocrity hungering for power and capable of self delusion.

During the day it occurred to me that if it were true that all my life I have had but a single train of thought then it must be the problem of the uniqueness of man.

Most days he set off for a “five mile hike in the Golden Gate Park,” he wrote, and there he found that he could “think according to schedule”: I have done it every day for weeks. Each day I took a problem to the park and returned with a more or less satisfactory solution . . . The book was written in complete intellectual isolation. I have not discussed one idea with any human being, and have not mentioned the book to anyone but

A visiting reporter, Sheila K. Johnson of the Los Angeles Times, said of this apartment: “There are no pictures on the walls, no easy chair, no floor lamps, no television set, no radio, no phonograph. There are in short no distractions.”

Hoffer himself received his retirement papers from the longshoremen’s union in 1966. He may have already received that news when he accompanied Tomkins to the docks later that

Here is a case where a genuine belief in God would make a difference. He is obviously drifting to an unmarked grave in a godforsaken graveyard. In lucid intervals he drifts back to San Francisco but does not stay long.2

“He wanted to change the world, and he wanted to change it alone,” Lili recalled. “He made a single convert—his mother.” Years after his death, reflecting on her former husband’s impractical nature, Lili still seemed amazed. “The idea that he chose to express his ideas was by leaflets,” she said with an emphasis that conveyed her frustration.

Reflecting on Hoffer’s account of his early life, and the implausibility of his claim that as a large child he was carried downstairs by a small woman who tumbled and then died, Gladstone said: “I don’t believe a word of it.”

In 1979, Eric moved to Alaska, became a fisherman, married, and had a family. He lives in western Alaska to this day.

At the San Francisco reception following his mother’s funeral in October 2010, Eric (by now the father of six) was receptive to the idea that Hoffer’s account of his early life didn’t quite add up. He thought Hoffer’s case might be comparable to that of B. Traven, the mysterious German author of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. (B. Traven was a pen name for a German novelist whose actual identity, nationality, and date and place of birth are still unknown. The book, published in Germany in 1927, then in English in 1935, was made into the famous movie of the same name in 1948.)

Of the paternity question, Stephen said, “Has there been a DNA test? No. But Eric suspected that Hoffer [which he pronounced Hoafer] was his father. He asked my mother and she said yes.”

I have been generous with myself and my money and the truth is that Selden did not love Lili and felt my invasion as a liberation. He told me yesterday that my intrusion enriched the children’s life and whatever I have saved will be theirs when I am gone. My attachment to Lili after 33 years is undiminished. In Lili’s hand beneath she wrote: “Dear, dear Eric! Always beloved.”

Some of these fanatics act out of the weakness of their personalities, the reviewer added; some out of the strength. But by the end of the book Hoffer had brought “the fanatical leader and the fanatical follower into a single natural species.”

True believers don’t start mass movements, Hoffer wrote. That is achieved by “men of words.” But the true believers do energize those movements. Hoffer’s understanding of the relationship between true believers and mass movements was Hitler’s relationship to the Nazi Party. The German Workers Party—its name was later changed—was founded in 1919. Hitler soon joined it and ousted the founder, Anton Drexler, in 1921. With all the zeal of the true believer, Hitler infused it with fanaticism and Nazism became a mass movement. Hoffer did not make this Hitler relationship explicit in his book but it was his unstated guide.

“the preoccupation with the book is with theories—right or wrong. I cannot get excited about anything unless I have a theory about

For a movement to prevail, the existing order must first be discredited. And that “is the deliberate work of men of words with a grievance.” If they lack a grievance, the prevailing dispensation may persist indefinitely.8 Sometimes, a regime in power may survive by co-opting the intellectuals. The partnership between the Roman rulers and the Greek men of words allowed the Roman Empire to last for as long as it did.

As Hoffer saw it, then, men of words laid the groundwork for mass movements by creating receptivity to a new faith. This could be done only by men who were first and foremost talkers or writers, recognized as such by all. If that ground had not been prepared, the masses wouldn’t listen. True believers could move in and take charge only after the prevailing order had been discredited and had lost the allegiance of the masses.11 Mass movements are not equally good or bad, Hoffer wrote. “The tomato and the nightshade are of the same family, the Solanaceae,” and have many traits in common. But one is nutritious and the other poisonous.12 In adding this he was probably responding to another caution from Fischer, who wrote that some in-house readers “. . . got the impression that Hoffer is implying that all mass movements are equally good or bad, that the ideas on which they are based are always predominantly irrational, and that from the standpoint of value judgments there is not much distinction between, say, the Nazi movement, Christianity, and the Gandhi movement in India.”

The Harper contract to publish the book was sent to Hoffer in June 1950. Harper scheduled the book for publication and, not surprisingly, wanted some independent report about this mysterious author who was unreachable by phone, worked on the docks, had never gone to school, and yet wrote so well.

After publication, some reviewers, including the New York Times’s Orville Prescott, also called the work cynical—“as cynical about human motives as Machiavelli.”14 The libertarian author Murray Rothbard, writing for Faith and Freedom under the pen name Jonathan Randolph, was also highly critical. “Hoffer may be anti-Communist,” he wrote, “but only because he sneers at all moral and political principles.”

Hoffer later became openly political, attacking Stalin, Communism, and leftist intellectuals en masse. He had “a savage heart,” he reflected, and “could have been a true believer myself.”17 America and Israel were to become his great causes. But the neutrality of The True Believer contributed to its critical success.

Fischer also pointed out that the book would be more readable “if the author would make greater use of examples and illustrations.” Readers of The True Believer do indeed encounter a sea of abstractions—fanaticism, enthusiasm, substitution, conversion, frustration, unification—and many will have scanned its pages, often in vain, looking for the tall masts and capital letters of a proper name.

As a historical assessment, nonetheless, Hoffer’s treatment was questionable on several fronts. Longevity was just one. Nazism lasted for twelve years, Communism’s span was measured in decades, while Christianity has endured for two thousand years and shows no sign of disappearing.

Pipes has great admiration for Hoffer and assigned The True Believer to his Harvard class. “Mass movements do occasionally occur,” he added, “but my feeling is that most such movements are organized and directed by minorities simply because the ‘masses,’ especially in agrarian societies, have to get back to work to milk the cows and mow the hay. They don’t make revolutions: they make a living.”

Communism resembled a religion but it was the faith of disaffected Western intellectuals, not of the masses. After the immediate revolutionary fervor cooled it was sustained, in Russia and everywhere else, by coercion and terror. Communism never did bring about a release of human energies—or if so, only for a short time.

The explosive component in the contemporary scene, Hoffer wrote, was not “the clamor of the masses but the self righteous claims of a multitude of graduates from schools and universities.” An “army of scribes” was working to achieve a society “in which planning, regulation and supervision are paramount, and the prerogative of the educated.”

In its May 22, 1983, obituary on Hoffer, the Washington Post said that The True Believer is “difficult to summarize [but] easy to admire.”

In contemplating the mystery of Eric Hoffer, Lili Osborne would ask herself how a self-educated laborer came to write so abstract a work. His early manuscripts had shown that he was a polished writer before he (apparently) had much experience of writing anything. His comments to Margaret Anderson give one or two clues. Looking back over his earlier notebooks, he was surprised to find how hard it had been for him to reach insights “which now seem to me trite.” The key was that “the inspiration that counts is the one that comes from uninterrupted application.” Sitting around waiting for lightning to strike got one nowhere.

His rewritten drafts of The True Believer showed how much he owed to perseverance. His self-assurance and stylistic mastery were remarkable coming from someone who had not yet published anything. But if his success with The True Believer were to be attributed to any single quality, it would be his capacity to concentrate and persevere. His ability to exercise these talents also explained his self-confidence. Still, the mystery never quite goes away.

warning them that woe betides a society that reaches a turning point and does not turn.

He worried that if workers’ skills were no longer needed they might become “a dangerously volatile element in a totally new kind of American society.” America itself might be undermined—no longer shaped by “the masses” but by the intellectuals. Hoffer increasingly saw them emerging as villains in the continuing American drama.

The culmination of the industrial revolution should enable the mass of people to recapture the rhythm, the fullness and the variety of pre-industrial times.

By now Hoffer’s life story was fixed. The KQED version became, in effect, the canonical account. In later interviews—by Tomkins, James Koerner, Eric Sevareid, and others—Hoffer stuck to the same script, sometimes almost word for word. He told the same anecdotes with no new details. The inconsistencies in his earlier accounts were gone. It was as though by 1963 he had settled on the story of his life and he no longer deviated from it.

Later, the FBI heard that Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber, an assistant professor at Berkeley at that time, might have visited the class; at one point, agents combed through Hoffer’s papers at Hoover. “Anyone could drop in to Hoffer’s class,” Cole said. “But they never established that Ted Kaczynski was there. Lili asked me if I remembered him. I didn’t.”

So he taught himself Hebrew, “and his pronunciation was wonderful.” Cole heard Hoffer “more than a few times say something in Hebrew. He had such a great ear.” Hoffer told another interviewer that he had learned Hebrew while on skid row in Los Angeles. “I think I mastered it. I can speak it, but I cannot make out the text,” he said.

He memorialized this appeal to brevity by funding the Lili Fabilli and Eric Hoffer Essay Prize at UC–Berkeley. It is awarded each year for the best essays of 500 words or less on a topic chosen by the Committee on Prizes.

At least one of these columns was read by Pauline Phillips, the author of the “Dear Abby” column, who had been friends with Hoffer for some time.

At the time of the anti-Soviet revolt in East Germany in 1953, Hoffer recognized the Communist evil. He noticed, too, that the West held Communism in awe.9 But he was also impressed by what Communism had apparently achieved. Stalin had shown unbounded contempt for human beings, but he could justify it by pointing to “the breathtaking results of sheer coercion.” Cruelty worked, in other words. “Idealism, courage, tremendous achievements both cultural and material, faith and loyalty unto death can be achieved by relentless, persistent coercion.”

That industrial production had in fact collapsed following the Bolshevik Revolution and had made only a faltering recovery was not appreciated for decades. Led by U.S. government agencies that took Soviet statistics at face value, policy analysts and economic textbooks continued making the same mistake right up to 1989.

As always, he was aiming for the widest generalization.

An enduring problem was that Hoffer was not interested in economics and paid little attention to political institutions. He either took private property and the rule of law for granted, or thought them unimportant. “Far more important than the structure of a governmental system is the make-up of the men who operate it,” he wrote in 1952.

He persisted, surely, because his underlying argument—mass movements had animated societies by releasing pent-up energies—came from The True Believer.13 Abandon this search, then, and his argument about the role of mass movements might collapse. He had referred to his new book as “vol. 2.” His prolonged difficulty with that unwritten book was rooted in “vol. 1,” on which his reputation was largely based. Later on, Hoffer was inclined to ignore and even to disparage mass movements.

He had no wife and no debts, and his rent was as low as rents in San Francisco ever get. His expenses were minimal and his frugality ingrained. Pen, paper, and books from the public library were for him the key ingredients of contentment. When

A related theme was often found in his notebooks: “What tires us most is work left undone.” He kept insisting that he was not a writer, but to continue functioning he had to keep on writing:

He also saw reasons for believing that “Russia’s day of judgment will come sometime in the 1990s.” (The Soviet Union was always “Russia” in Hoffer’s lexicon.) “And when the day comes everyone will wonder that few people foresaw the inevitability of the end.”

There will be no peace in this land for decades. The journalists have had a taste of history-making and have become man-eating tigers. Life will become a succession of crises . . . What will political life be like when history is made by journalists?

As a symptom of aging, he noted what many in retirement have reported: he felt hurried though no one was pursuing him.

Working on an essay about the old, he knew that “to function well the old need praise, deference, special treatment—even when they have not done anything to deserve it. Old age is not a rumor.”

They say that on his deathbed Voltaire, asked to renounce the devil, said: “This is no time to be making new enemies.”

This talk of living a life of quiet desperation is the blown-up twaddle of juveniles and if it hits the mark it does so with empty people. I have no daemon in me; never had. There is a murderous savagery against people I have never met; a potential malice which is not realized because of a lack of social intercourse.

In the usual sense of the word, Hoffer himself was an intellectual. He read books and wrote them. But he had no desire to teach others, he said, and this made him “a non-intellectual.” For the intellectual is someone who “considers it his God-given right to tell others what to

Another correspondent was the community organizer Saul Alinsky.

the language is cryptic because the idea is not clear.”

He viewed them as a dangerous species. They scorn profit and worship power; they aim to make history, not money. Their abiding dissatisfaction is with “things as they are.” They want to rule by coercion and yet retain our admiration. They see in the common criminal “a fellow militant in the effort to destroy the existing system.” Societies where the common people are relatively prosperous displease them because intellectuals know that their leadership will be rejected in the absence of a widespread grievance. The cockiness and independence of common folk offend their aristocratic outlook. The free-market system renders their leadership superfluous. Their quest for influence and status is always uppermost.

free society is as much a threat to the intellectual’s sense of worth as an automated economy is a threat to the worker’s sense of worth. Any social order, however just and noble, which can function well with a minimum of leadership, will be anathema to the intellectual.

The intellectual regards the masses much as a colonial official views the natives. Hoffer thought it plausible that the British Empire, by exporting many of its intellectuals, had played a counter-revolutionary role at home. Employment and status abroad for a large portion of the educated class may have “served as a preventive of revolution.”

All intellectuals are homesick for the Middle Ages, Hoffer wrote. It was “the El Dorado of the clerks”—a time when “the masses knew their place and did not trespass from their low estate.”

Eric Osborne recalled one humorous incident: “Once Eric Hoffer was talking and a rabbi was in the audience; or maybe Hoffer was talking to a bunch of rabbis, and he was telling them that there is no God. One rabbi said, ‘Mr. Hoffer, there is no God and you are His prophet.’

Yet he continued to ponder the nature of God. It was speculation without faith—more philosophy than religion—but it was never far from his mind. In his notebooks he often wrote as though God was a reality whether he believed in Him or not. And he did (sometimes) capitalize the pronoun.

Sometimes you think how much of a better world it would be if Judaism, Christianity and Islam with their driving vehemence had never happened. Then you think of all the misery and boundless cruelty practiced in lands that never heard of Jehovah, his son and his messenger.

Hoffer’s ideas about the uniqueness of man and the great error of trying to assimilate man into nature—a key dogma of modernity—was perhaps his most original venture into philosophy.

Hoffer was strongly opposed to the modern tendency to see science and religion as antagonists. On the contrary, religious ideas about the Creator had inspired the early scientists. They tried to work out how God had created the world and science emerged from this study.

He believed Israel revealed that history is not a mere process, but an unfolding drama.

The insights and thoughts that survive and endure are those that can be put into everyday words. They are like the enduring seed—compact, plain looking and made for endurance.

La Rochefoucauld, in his maxims, delighted Hoffer with his brevity and wit, sometimes bordering on cynicism (“We are always strong enough to bear the misfortunes of others”).

Philosophers, on the other hand, had little to boast about. Why was this? Russell concluded, “As soon as definite knowledge concerning any subject becomes possible this subject ceases to be called philosophy and becomes a separate science. The whole study of the heavens, which now belongs to astronomy, was once included in philosophy; Newton’s great work was called ‘The Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy.’ Similarly, the study of the human mind, which was a part of philosophy, has now become separated from philosophy and has become the science of psychology. . . . [Only those questions] to which, at present, no definite answer can be given, remain to form the residue which is called philosophy.”1

He once wrote that “the trouble with the Germans is that they are trying to express in prose what could only be expressed in music.”

There was “a German desire for murkiness,” Hoffer argued, “a fear of the lucid and tangible.” Worse, “the German disease of making things difficult” had conquered the world.

The less we know of motives, the better we are off. Worse than having unseemly motives is the conviction that our motives are all good. The proclamation of a noble motive can be an alibi for doing things that are not noble. Other people are much better judges of our motives than we are ourselves. And their judgment, however malicious, is probably correct. I would rather be judged by my deeds than by my motives. It is indecent to read other people’s minds. As for reading our own minds, its only worthwhile purpose is to fill us with humility.

Nowhere is freedom more cherished than in a non-free society, for example. “An affluent free society invents imaginary grievances and decries plenty as a pig heaven.”

As for deciphering others, the only real key is our self. And considering how obscure that is, “the use of it as a key in deciphering others is like using hieroglyphs to decipher hieroglyphs.”

Sophistication is for juveniles and the birds. For the essence of naivety is to see the familiar as if it were new and maybe also the capacity to recognize the familiar in the unprecedentedly new. There can be no genuine acceptance of the brotherhood of men without naivety.

The most intense insecurity comes from standing alone. We are not alone when we imitate. So, too, when we follow a trail blazed by others, even a deer trail.

At times he felt euphoric and he wondered how that arose. He came to believe that “the uninterrupted performance of some tasks” was the key to happiness. It was not the quality of the task, which could be trivial or even futile. “What counts is the completion of the circuit—the uninterrupted flow between conception and completion. Each such completion generates a sense of fulfillment.”

Whenever conditions are so favorable that struggle becomes meaningless man goes to the dogs. All through the ages there were wise men who had an inkling of this disconcerting truth. . . . There is apparently no correspondence between what man wants and what is good for him.

Flaubert and Nietzsche have emphasized the importance of standing up and walking in the process of thinking. The peripatetics were perhaps motivated by the same awareness. Yet purposeful walking—what we call marching—is an enemy of thought and is used as a powerful instrument for the suppression of independent thought and the inculcation of unquestioned obedience.

Originality is not something continuous but something intermittent—a flash of the briefest duration. One must have the time and be watchful (be attuned) to catch the flash and fix it. One must know how to preserve these scant flakes of gold sluiced out of the sand and rocks of everyday life. Originality does not come nugget-size.

Like Hoffer, Montaigne almost never mentioned his mother, who came from a family of Sephardic Jews. Hoffer said that when he read Montaigne’s essays in 1936 he felt “all the time that he was writing about me. I recognize myself on every page.”

Overall, however, he found it remarkable “how little we worry about the things that are sure to happen to us, like old age and death, and how quick we are to worry ourselves sick about things which never come to pass.” Montaigne said something very similar. His life had been full of “terrible misfortunes,” he said, “most of which never happened.”

Theorizing in the future, he predicted, would tend to regard humanity “as unchangeable and unreformable.”

“I shall not welcome death,” Hoffer wrote. “But the passage to nothingness seems neither strange nor frightful. I shall be joining an endless and most ancient caravan. Death would be a weary thing had I believed in heaven and life beyond.”

September 27, 1981 How does a man die? Does he know when death approaches? Friday night (25th) I vomited the first time in my life. The vomit was dark and bitter. The new experience of vomiting gave me the feeling that I was entering the realm of the unknown.

As they lay there in the dark, Selden once again heard Eric’s heavy breathing. Reassured, Selden went back to sleep. But when he woke up again, perhaps an hour or two hours later, Eric’s breathing could be heard no more. He was gone—you could say that he didn’t say goodbye to anyone.

He was buried at the Holy Cross Cemetery in Colma, just outside San Francisco. Lili Osborne’s grave is next to his.

the well-off will no longer be able to derive a sense of uniqueness from riches. In an affluent society the rich and their children become radicalized. They decry the value of a materialist society and clamor for change. They will occupy positions of power in the universities, the media, and public life. In some affluent societies the children of the rich will savor power by forming bands of terrorists.

Bacon touches upon two crucial differences between Judeo-Christianity and other religions. In a monotheistic universe nature is stripped of divine qualities—this is a downgrading of nature. At the same time, in a monotheistic universe, man is wholly unique, unlike any living thing. It would have gone against Bacon’s aristocratic grain to point out that the monotheistic God, unlike the God of other religions, is not an aristocrat but a worker, a skilled engineer. Bacon could have predicted the coming of a machine age by suggesting that if God made man in his own image, he made him in the image of a machine-making engineer.

An aphorism states a half truth and hints at a larger truth. To an aphorist all facts are perishable. His aim is to entertain and stimulate. Instruction means the stuffing of people with perishable facts. And since in human affairs the truthful is usually paradoxical, aphoristic writing is likely to prove helpful.

The French Revolution and its Napoleonic aftermath were the first instances of history on a large scale made by nobodies.

The intellectuals loathe democracy because democracy creates a political climate without deference and worship. In a democracy the intellectual is without an unquestioned sense of superiority and a sense of social usefulness. He is not listened to and not taken seriously. The sheer possession of power does not satisfy the intellectual. He wants to be worshipped.

years of pauseless killing of the First World War. This tangibility of death created a climate inhospitable to illusion..

But it is probably true that from the beginning of time talents have been wasted on an enormous scale. It is the duty of a society to create a milieu optimal for the realization of talents. Such a society will preach self-development as a duty—a holy duty to finish God’s work.

Where the creative live together they live the lives of witches.

The Story of Russia by Orlando Figes is one of the greatest history books I’ve ever read

TLDR – five stars, one of the best history books I’ve ever read. Go read it.

The Story of Russia by Orlando Figes is the history of Russia I’ve been looking for all these years. Figes’ writing is very good prose, concise, very well sourced and actually answers the questions like “how is it possible that {XXX} happened” to a greater degree than any book I’ve come across.

It starts at the very beginning where what we now call Russia formed (coalesced might be a better word) Unlike most histories of Russia it’s not just a listing of Czars and their internal political dramas but covers a lot of other life in Russia, i.e. peasants, workers, etc.

Figes makes the point again and again (the emphasis is correct) that there is, and has never been, that while family life is very strong, and the central government is strong, everything in between is weak. There are not, and have never been strong unions, minority political parties, non orthodox churches, non-state affiliated business, etc, etc. There were not any strong nobles, or regional powers. Essentially there is no middleware, which renders what we in the West think of as democracy impossible.

I think in every other country the monarch bubbled out of the nobility, in Russia it was the reverse.

One thing Figes did not highlight is how Russia land policies encouraged population growth in the pre-revolutionary times, in sort of a way that the pre-civil war American south favored the accumulation of slaves. “Human capital” became a very literal term. In the American south, the limiting factors were land and slaves to work the land. In Russia land was reallocated periodically according to the number of “eaters” which encouraged extremely high population growth, apparently higher than anywhere else. This meant very, very, weak property rights and consequently limited physical capital accumulation.

It seems that a lot of Russia has always lived under some form of village level proto-communism. It would be approximately Socialism 3.5 by this definition, but at the peasant village level.

I feel like reading it again just to let everything sink in. Figes wrote the most information dense book I’ve read in years.

Addendum – I now get much more of the Russian rhetoric regarding Ukraine, as well as references to “The Russias” instead of just Russia – the Anglosphere is sort of a comparison.

Things I highlighted in the book.

The only written account that we have , the Tale of Bygone Years , known as the Primary Chronicle , was compiled by the monk Nestor and other monks in Kiev during the 1110s .

in 862 , the warring Slavic tribes of north – west Russia agreed jointly to invite the Rus , a branch of the Vikings , to rule over them : ‘ Our land is vast and abundant , but there is no order in it . Come and reign as princes and have authority over us ! ‘

The timescale of the chronicle is biblical . It charts the history of the Rus from Noah in the Book of Genesis , claiming them to be the descendants of his son Japheth , so that Kievan Rus is understood to have been created as part of the divine plan . 4

Russia grew on the forest lands and steppes between Europe and Asia . There are no natural boundaries , neither seas nor mountain ranges , to define its territory , which throughout its history has been colonised by peoples from both continents . The Ural mountains , said to be the frontier dividing ‘ European Russia ‘ from Siberia , offered no protection to the Russian settlers against the nomadic tribes from the Asiatic steppe . They are a series of high ranges broken up by broad passes . In many places they are more like hills . It is significant that the word in Russian for a ‘ hill ‘ or ‘ mountain ‘ is the same ( gora ) . This is a country on one horizontal plain .

Pine forests give way to mixed woodlands and open wooded steppelands to the south of Moscow , where the rich black soil is in places up to several metres deep .

As their power grew , the Rus warriors attacked the Khazar tribute – paying lands between the Volga and Dnieper . In 882 they captured Kiev , which became the capital of Kievan Rus .

To grow the population and tax base of the new state the grand prince Vladimir forcibly transported entire Slav communities from the northern forests to the regions around Kiev . It was the start of a long tradition of mass population movements enforced by the Russian state .

Instead of the act of self – determination celebrated by the modern Russian and Ukrainian states , Vladimir’s conversion to the Eastern Church may have been a declaration of his kingdom’s subjugation to the Byzantine Empire .

Later it would be replaced by a high wall of icons , the iconostasis , whose visual beauty is a central feature of the Eastern Church . Seeing is believing for the Orthodox . Russians pray with their eyes open – their gaze fixed on an icon , which serves as a window on the divine sphere . 22 The icon is the focal point of the believers ‘ spiritual emotions – a sacred object able to elicit miracles . Icons weep and produce myrrh . They are lost and reappear , intervening in events to steer them on a divine path .

Of the 800 Russian saints created up until the eighteenth century , over a hundred had been princes or princesses . 26 No other country in the world has made so many saints from its rulers . Nowhere else has power been so sacralised .

At the core of the Russian faith is a distinctive stress on motherhood which never really took root in the Latin West . Where the Catholic tradition placed its emphasis on the Madonna’s purity , the Russian emphasised her divine motherhood ( bogoroditsa ) . This

Each prince was equipped with an army or druzhina of a few thousand horsemen led by warriors , known as boyars , who received part of the prince’s land .

On the death of the grand prince or one of his sons there was a reshuffling of the principalities held by the remaining kin . Normally the throne of the grand prince would pass , not from father to son , but from the elder brother to the younger one ( usually until the fourth brother ) . Only then would it pass down to the next generation . When the eldest brother took the throne in Kiev , all the others moved up to the principality on the next step of the ladder . It was a system of collateral succession not found elsewhere in Europe .

Kinship not kingship was its constitutional principle . The grand prince was not the equal of a king , but primus inter pares , a figurehead of unity . Outside Kiev itself , in the principalities , his authority was limited .

Kiev had a population of 40,000 people , more than London and not much less than Paris , at the start of the thirteenth century .

In fact , politically , Muscovy was different from Kievan Rus . Two hundred and fifty years of Mongol occupation had created a fundamental break between the two .

army was in a good position to conquer Europe , whose disunited countries had little chance of withstanding the onslaught . But the West was saved by the death of the great khan Ögedei , the favourite son of Chingiz Khan , in December 1241 . When Batu received the news , the following spring , he called off the western offensive and took his army back to Karakorum , the empire’s capital on the Mongolian steppe , to stake his claim to the succession .

They preferred indeed to fight in the winter when the rivers and marshlands – the main impediment to their horses – were frozen .

being punished by the Tatar infidels for its sins ( they called them the ‘ Tartars ‘ , with an extra ‘ r ‘ , to associate them with Tartarus , the Greek name for ‘ hell ‘ ) . In

So many craftsmen were captured by the Mongols that practically no stone or brick buildings were built in the half – abandoned towns during the next fifty years .

Nevsky’s collaboration was no doubt motivated by his mistrust of the West , which he regarded as a greater threat to Orthodox Russia than the Golden Horde , generally tolerant of religions . He

The Church too collaborated with the Golden Horde . The khan exempted it from taxation , protected its property and outlawed the persecution of all Christians , on condition that its priests said prayers for him , meaning that they upheld his authority . These dispensations allowed the Church to thrive . Under the Mongols it made its first real inroads into the pagan countryside .

An important part of this monastic movement was led by men of deep religious feeling who rebelled against the worldly hierarchies of the Orthodox Church and went into the wilderness to live an ascetic life of private prayer and contemplation , book – learning and manual work . They took their spiritual guidance from the hesychasm of Byzantium , a contemplative mysticism ( from the Greek hesychia , meaning ‘ quietude ‘ ) founded on the idea that the way to God was through a life of poverty and prayer under the guidance of a holy man or elder . The

the bringer of Christianity to the Komi people , who fought hard to defend their animist beliefs ( the artist Kandinsky found them still in existence when he visited the remote Komi region in 1889 ) ,

West . These lands ‘ political development was later shaped by the Polish – Lithuanian Commonwealth , a constitutional monarchy with an elected king and parliament dominated by the local landed nobles , which would rule this polyethnic area from the sixteenth to the eighteenth century .

The Mongols ‘ growing fear of Lithuania was also an important factor in their promotion of Moscow . In the early fourteenth century the Lithuanians were steadily expanding their control to the former western lands of Kievan Rus . Where they were unable to annex them by pressure or persuasion , the Lithuanians turned to religion . They established a separate metropolitan to prise away the western territories from the rest of Orthodox Russia . By the 1330s , Smolensk , Novgorod and Tver were all close to throwing in their lot with Lithuania ; Moscow was struggling to rein them in through military threats ; and the Mongols were confronted by the danger of a powerful new state appearing on their western frontier that might undermine their empire in the Russian lands .

‘ national awakening ‘ . Kulikovo is still celebrated in Russia . Putin has frequently referred to it as evidence that Russia was already a great power – the saviour of Europe from the Mongol threat – in the fourteenth century . This idea – Russia as a guard protecting Europe from the ‘ Asiatic hordes ‘ – became part of the national myth from the sixteenth century , as Muscovy began to see itself as a European power on the Asian steppe .

Today the Kulikovo victory is linked in the nationalist consciousness to other episodes when Russia’s military sacrifice ‘ saved ‘ the West , in 1812 – 15 ( against Napoleon ) or 1941 – 5 , for example ; each time its sacrifice had been unthanked , unrecognised by its Western allies in these wars . The country’s deep resentment of the West is rooted in this national myth .

Just as the Mongols were dealing with the challenge from Moscow , they faced a new threat from the Central Asian empire that was then emerging under the command of Timur , better known as Tamerlane . Timur’s army conquered Persia and the Caucasus and then went on to destroy the key trading bases of the Golden Horde , which began a slow but terminal decline . The weakening of the Horde , however , was due less to outside military threats than to the Black Death , which began on the Central Asian steppe in the mid – fourteenth century .

pandemic turned trade routes into plague routes , devastating the economy and killing perhaps half the population of the Golden Horde , which over the next century broke up into three khanates ( Kazan , Crimea , Astrakhan ) .

Muscovy remained a vassal of the khans until 1502 . Long before , however , it began to act as if it were an independent state .

Mongols stayed in Russia for more than three centuries . It was not until the 1550s that the khanates of Kazan and Astrakhan were finally defeated by Ivan IV ( the khanate of Crimea survived until 1783 ) . How much impact did these centuries have on the course of Russian history ? There

The Mongol period brought some positive advances for Russia . The postal system was the fastest in the world – a vast network of relay stations , each equipped with teams of fresh horses capable of carrying officials to all corners of the Mongol Empire at unheard – of speeds . It became the basis of the Muscovite system , which so impressed foreigners . Sigismund

The nineteenth – century socialist Alexander Herzen compared the repressive Nicholas I ( who reigned from 1825 to 1855 ) to ‘ Chingiz Khan with a telegraph ‘ . The Bolshevik Nikolai Bukharin said that Stalin was like ‘ Chingiz Khan with a telephone ‘ .

The most senior boyar clans – those who were closest through marriage or royal favour to the Moscow court – formed an oligarchic ruling class , which at times , when the grand prince was weak , might direct his government . But their wealth and power came from him . They kept them only for as long as they retained his protection . It was a system of dependency upon the ruler that has lasted to this day . Putin’s oligarchs are totally dependent on his will .

To some extent this greater freedom from the Mongol influence set the lands of Kiev on a different historical trajectory from Muscovy . The Kievan lands were more oriented to the West , less exposed to the institutions of patrimonial autocracy .

The dual nature of the Christian ruler – fallible in his humanity but divine in his princely functions – was a common notion in Europe . 4 The

By the 1530s the idea had been fleshed out in church tracts and legendary tales into what would later become known as the ‘ Third Rome doctrine ‘ .

year . Moscow itself had a population of perhaps 100,000 people by the early sixteenth century , almost twice as many as London .

Its vast complex of palaces and churches was constructed largely by Italians . The Hall of Facets ( the tsar’s palace ) was the work of the Venetian architects Marco Ruffo and Pietro Antonio Solari , who built the Kremlin’s walls in the style of the Sforza castle in Milan . Aristotele Fioravanti was responsible for the newly rebuilt Dormition Cathedral ( 1475 – 9 ) and Alevise Novi for the Archangel Cathedral , completed twenty years later . Over centuries many of the Kremlin’s buildings became Russified – Russian architectural elements and ornaments were gradually added – so that today visitors will not easily recognise its Italianate character . There

‘ All the people consider themselves to be the slaves of their Tsar , ‘ remarked Herberstein , who thought that ‘ in the sway which he holds over his people , he surpasses the monarchs of the whole world ‘ . 8 Ivan referred to his servitors as ‘ slaves ‘ ( kholopy ) . Protocol required every boyar , even members of the princely clans , to refer to themselves as ‘ your slave ‘ when addressing him – a ritual reminiscent of the servility displayed by the Mongols to their khans . This subservience was fundamental to the patrimonial autocracy that distinguished Russia from the European monarchies .

As this service class increased in size , the pressure on the state to find more land for it intensified . This became a major driving force of Russia’s territorial expansion – the conquest of new lands for the military servitors .

One result of the pomeste system was the creation of a landowning service class with only weak ties to a particular community . The pomeshchiki were creatures of the state .

The persistence of autocracy in Russia is explained less by the state’s strength than by the weakness of society . There were few public institutions to resist the power of the monarchy . The landowning class was overly dependent on the tsar .

This imbalance – between a dominating state and a weak society

Between 1500 and the revolution of 1917 , the Russian Empire grew at an astonishing rate , 130 square kilometres on average every day . 10 From the nucleus of Muscovy it expanded into the world’s largest territorial empire . The history of Russia , as Kliuchevsky put it , is the ‘ history of a country that is colonizing itself ‘ . 11

The Cossacks ‘ name derived from the Turkic word qazaqi , meaning ‘ adventurers ‘ or ‘ vagrant soldiers ‘ who lived in freedom as bandits on the steppe . Many of the Cossacks were remnants of the Mongol army ( Tamerlane had started out as a qazaq ) . They were joined by Russians from the north who fled in growing numbers to the ‘ wild lands ‘ of the south because of the economic crises caused by wars , rising taxes and crop failures in the ‘ little ice age ‘ of the sixteenth century .

The iconography borrows from the Book of Revelation , in which Michael defeats Satan before the Apocalypse . Ivan appears as a new King David and the Russians as God’s Chosen People , the new Israelites , reinforcing Moscow’s mythic status and mission in the world as the Third Rome . 12

Russian folklore , the ‘ fool for the sake of Christ ‘ , or Holy Fool , held the status of a saint , though he acted more like a madman or a clown , dressed in bizarre clothes , with an iron cap or harness on his head and chains beneath his shirt , like the shamans of Asia . He wandered as a poor man round the countryside , living off the alms of villagers , who found portents in his strange riddles and believed in his supernatural powers of divination and healing . Unafraid to speak the truth to the rich and powerful , he was frequently received by the nobility and became a common presence at the court . Ivan enjoyed the company of Holy Fools .

Instead he licensed private entrepreneurs to settle on the land , allowing them to exploit it for their own economic purposes and defend themselves with mercenary troops , usually Cossacks . The Stroganovs were the first big beneficiaries of this colonial policy . A wealthy merchant family with interests in saltworks and mining , in 1558 they leased vast tracts of land on the Kama River between Kazan and Perm . Their

Ivan became ‘ the Terrible ‘ – in the sense we understand today – only in the eighteenth century . The epithet ( grozny ) was first applied to him in the early seventeenth century , when a rich folklore about the tsar was just developing . At that time the meaning of the word was closer to the sense of awe – inspiring and formidable rather than cruel or harsh – so basically positive . In

They dressed in long black cloaks like a monk’s habit and rode around the country on black horses with dogs ‘ heads and brooms attached to their bridles – symbols of their mission to hunt out the tsar’s enemies and sweep them from the land . 15

The horror of the scene was captured by Repin in his 1885 painting Ivan the Terrible and his Son Ivan on 16 November 1581 , in which Ivan is shown consumed by remorse .

He was particularly angered by the film’s depiction of the oprichniki who , he said , appeared as ‘ the worst kind of filth , degenerates , something like the Ku Klux Klan ‘ , no doubt fearing that the viewing public would see in them a reference to his own political police .

The crucial factor in the tsar’s authority – his godlike personality projected through the myth of the holy tsar – could thus be turned against him if his actions did not meet the people’s expectations of his sacred cult .

There were dozens of ‘ pretender tsars ‘ ( samozvantsy ) who stirred the people to revolt by claiming they were the true tsar , the deliverer of God’s justice . At least twenty – three of these pretenders have been documented before 1700 , and there would be over forty in the eighteenth century .

The only way the Russians could legitimise rebellion was in the name of the true tsar . No other concept of the state – neither the idea of the public good nor the commonwealth – carried any force in the peasant mind .

historiography as the first peasant revolutionary . In fact he was a small – scale landowner and military servitor who , like so many of his kind , had fallen on hard times and run away to join the Cossacks , living as a bandit on the steppe .

Petitioning the tsar had a long tradition in Russia . It continued through the Soviet period when millions of people wrote to Stalin for his help against the abuses of his officials , and can still be seen in Putin’s annual TV programme Direct Line when viewers call in with their questions for the president .

The new Law Code extended their collective duty to mutual surveillance and denunciation of sedition to the state .

In one section worthy of the Stalinist regime , the code stated that the families of ‘ traitors ‘ , even children , were liable to execution if they failed to denounce their seditious relatives . Included in such crimes were expressions of intent to rebel against the tsar or public statements against him . The practice of informing became deeply rooted in society . By the late nineteenth century it was an effective tool of the police .

The Law Code divided the population into legally defined classes , known as estates ( sosloviia ) , strictly ordered in a hierarchy according to their service to the state . Each class was closed and self – contained . The service nobles , townsmen , clergy and peasants could neither leave their class nor hope their children would .

The social mobility that made Western societies so dynamic in the early modern age was basically absent in Russia . The town population in Russia was permanently fixed .

They sold themselves as slaves to the richer servicemen , which meant fighting in their place . The struggling pomeshchiki begged the tsar to support them . They wanted stricter laws to bind the peasants to their land . The result of their pleas was the institution of serfdom under the provisions of the new Law Code .

Stepan Razin was a Cossack from an area of the Don overrun by peasant fugitives . The migrants were ready to become ‘ Cossacks ‘ , to live a life of freedom , without masters or taxes .

Around 60,000 Jews were killed in 1648 alone – a level of killing that would not be equalled until the pogroms of the Russian Civil War .

In 1686 , Russia signed a Treaty of Eternal Peace with the Polish – Lithuanian Commonwealth .

Publishing was also controlled by the Church . Russia was the only country in Europe without private publishers , printed news sheets or journals , printed plays or poetry . When Peter the Great came to the throne , in 1682 , no more than three books of a non – religious nature had been published by the Moscow press since its establishment in the 1560s .

where priests were trained in Latin as well as Slavonic .

Elsewhere , as the soldiers of the tsar approached , the Old Believers shut themselves inside their wooden churches and burned themselves to death to avoid submitting to the Antichrist .

They continued to follow the teachings of Avvakum , disseminated from his place of enforced exile in the Arctic fort of Pustozersk , where in 1680 he was burned at the stake .

Until the eighteenth century , the Russians followed the Byzantine custom of counting years from the creation of the world , an event which they believed had occurred 5,508 years before the birth of Christ . But in December 1699 Tsar Peter decreed a calendar reform . Henceforth years were to be numbered from Christ’s birth , ‘ in the manner of European Christian nations ‘ , beginning on 1 January 1700 ( 7209 in the old system ) .

Peter was a man in a hurry . Almost seven feet in height ,

He set up a new system of conscription , unparalleled in Europe , in which units of twenty peasant households were each collectively responsible for sending one man for life into the army every year , and even more at times of war . This sweeping militarisation of society produced the largest standing army in the world – some 300,000 troops by Peter’s death , in 1725 , and 2 million men by 1801.4 No other state could mobilise so many men .

It was said that Peter made his city in the sky and then lowered it , like a giant model , to the ground . Here was a new imperial capital without roots in Russian soil .

He gave himself the Latin title ‘ Imperator ‘ and had his image cast on a new rouble coin , with laurel wreath and armour , in imitation of Caesar . It was a symbolic break from Muscovy , with its Byzantine mythology , in which the tsar had been portrayed as a divine agent and defender of the faith . Now he appeared in armour with a Western crown and cloak and imperial regalia

He made state service compulsory for the nobility , whose status was defined by the seniority of their office rather than by birth .

The Table of Ranks , introduced in 1722 , established fourteen ranks or categories of state service , in which hereditary nobility was conferred on office – holders in the top eight ranks . Commoners could enter at the bottom rank and earn noble titles by working up to the eighth rank ( collegiate assessor in the government , major in the army or third captain in the navy ) . This ordering of the nobles by their service to the state lasted until 1917 . It had a deep effect on the nobles ‘ way of life , further weakening their attachment to the land . Because promotion was normally by seniority , the system rewarded time – servers and encouraged bureaucratic mediocrity .

From the middle of the eighteenth century we can see the emergence of a new national consciousness which found its first expression in an anti – Western ideology . It was based on the defence of Russian customs and morals against the corrupting impact of the West – a trope of the later Slavophiles .

Whether Saltykov was Paul’s father remains unknown , but Catherine’s memoirs hinted that he was , much to the horror of her nineteenth – century descendants , who censored any mention of his name .

Peter meekly surrendered ( on hearing of his overthrow , Frederick the Great said that he had ‘ let himself be driven from the throne as a child is sent to bed ‘ ) . Peter was exiled to one of his estates near St Petersburg , where he was murdered three weeks later by Orlov . It was announced that he had died of ‘ haemorrhoidal colic ‘ – prompting one French wit to note that haemorrhoids must be very dangerous in Russia . 18

A follower of the Enlightenment , she emphasised the need to educate the nobles as agents of enlightened government . She wanted to create a noble class that would serve the public good , not by compulsion but from a sense of obligation to society ( noblesse oblige ) .

What she meant by this simple statement was that , on account of its European character , Russia had a natural mastery over all the peoples of Asia .

Montesquieu . Although she disputed Montesquieu’s conception of Russia as an oriental despotism , she accepted his idea that laws should be consistent with the spirit of a nation shaped by climate and geography .

‘ You were right in not wanting to be counted among the philosophes , ‘ she wrote to Grimm at the height of the Jacobin terror in 1794 , ‘ for experience has shown that all of that leads to ruin ; no matter what they say or do , the world will never cease to need authority . It is better to endure the tyranny of one man than the insanity of the multitude . ‘

On his accession to the throne Paul restored the principle of primogeniture to the law of succession , effectively ensuring that his mother would be the last female ruler of Russia .

Appalled by his tyranny , a small group of drunken officers broke into the Mikhailovsky Palace and strangled Paul to death on the night of 23 – 24 March 1801 . The officers were acting on the orders of a court conspiracy with close links to Alexander , son of Paul and heir to the throne , who had set the date for the killing .

Barely 10 per cent of the invasion force would make it back

Alexander was convinced that all these groups were connected to a secret international Bonapartist organisation . He urged the Holy Alliance to root them out and destroy them before they spread to Poland and Russia . At

The officers began to organise themselves in secret circles of conspirators , like those in Spain and Italy , often building on the networks of the Freemasons , banned by Alexander in 1822 , to which most of them belonged . All were in favour of a liberal constitution and the abolition of serfdom , but they were divided over how to bring this end about . Some wanted to wait for the tsar to die , whereupon they would refuse to swear allegiance to his successor unless reforms were introduced .

His younger brother Nicholas did not announce his decision to take the crown instead until 12 December . Pestel resolved to seize the moment for revolt and hurried to St Petersburg to organise it with his fellow officers – the Decembrists as they would be known .

They conceived of the uprising as a military putsch , instigated by orders issued by the officers , without even thinking whether the soldiers ( who showed no inclination for an armed revolt ) would go along with them . In the end , the Decembrist leaders rallied the support of 3,000 troops in Petersburg – far fewer than the hoped – for 20,000 men , but still enough perhaps to bring about a change of government if well organised and resolute . But that they were not .

Pestel and four others were hanged in the courtyard of the fortress , even though officially the death penalty had been abolished in Russia . When the five were strung up on the gallows and the floor traps were released , three of the condemned proved too heavy for their ropes and , still alive , fell into the ditch . ‘ What a wretched country ! ‘ cried one of them . ‘ They don’t even know how to hang properly . ‘ 6

Known as ‘ official nationality ‘ , this new ideology was based on the old myth that the Russians were distinguished from the Europeans by the strength of their devotion to the Church and tsar and by their capacity for sacrifice in the service of a higher patriotic goal .

The Slavophiles were opposed to the Westernising reforms begun by Peter the Great . They feared that these changes , imposed by a state that was ‘ foreign ‘ to the peasants , would result in the loss of Russia’s national character , its native customs and traditions . The

‘ Intelligentsia ‘ is in origin a Russian word .

Published in the same year as Uncle Tom’s Cabin , the Sketches had as big an impact in swaying Russian views against serfdom as Harriet Beecher Stowe’s book had on the anti – slavery movement in America .

The humiliation was to leave a deep and lasting sense of resentment towards the West . It continues to this day . All Putin’s talk of Western ‘ double standards ‘ and ‘ hypocrisy ‘ , of Western ‘ Russophobia ‘ and ‘ disrespect ‘ for Russia , goes back to this history . In

The war had brutally exposed the country’s many weaknesses : the corruption and incompetence of the command ; the technological backwardness of the army and navy ; the poor roads and lack of railways that accounted for the chronic problems of supply ; the poverty of the army’s serf conscripts ; the inability of the economy to sustain a state of war against the industrial powers ; the weakness of the country’s finances ; and the failures of autocracy . Critics focused on the tsar , whose arrogant and wilful policies , as they now seemed , had led the country to defeat and sacrificed so many lives . Even within the governing elite the bankruptcy of the Nicholaevan system was coming to be recognised .

‘ My God , so many victims , ‘ wrote the tsarist censor Alexander Nikitenko in his diary . ‘ All at the behest of a mad will , drunk with absolute power … We have been waging war not for two years , but for thirty , maintaining an army of a million men and constantly threatening Europe . What was the point of it all ? ‘

They found one , a semiliterate peasant and Old Believer called Andrei Petrov . After studying the proclamation for three days , he managed to interpret the statutes in a way that told the peasants what they had wanted to hear all along .

The commune emerged from the Emancipation as the basic unit of administration in the countryside . The mir , as it was called , a word that also means ‘ world ‘ and ‘ universe ‘ , regulated every aspect of the peasants ‘ lives : it decided the rotation of the crops ( the open – field system of strip farming necessitated uniformity ) ; took care of the woods and pasture lands ; saw to the repair of roads and bridges ; established welfare schemes for widows and the poor ; organised the payment of redemption dues and taxes ; fulfilled the conscription of soldiers ; maintained public order ; and enforced justice through customary law .

Second was the labour principle – basically a peasant version of the labour theory of value . The peasants attached rights to labour on the land . They believed in a sacred link between the two . The land belonged to God . It could not be owned by anyone . But every peasant family should have the right to feed itself from its own labour on the land . On this principle the landowners did not fairly own their land , and the hungry peasants were fully justified in claiming their right to farm it . A constant battle was thus fought between the state’s written law , framed to defend property , and the peasants ‘ customary law , which they used to defend their transgressions of the landowners ‘ property . The

The practice of communal repartitioning encouraged the peasants to have bigger families – the main criterion for receiving land . The birth rate in Russia was nearly twice the European average in the latter nineteenth century . The rapid growth of the peasant population ( from 50 to 79 millions between 1861 and 1897 ) resulted in a worsening land shortage . By the turn of the century 7 per cent of the peasant households in the central zone had no land at all , while one in five had less than one hectare . Although

Lacking the capital to modernise their farms , the easiest way the peasants had to feed themselves was by ploughing more land at the expense of fallow and other pasture lands . But this made the situation worse . It meant reducing livestock herds ( the main source of fertiliser ) and the exhaustion of the soil . By 1900 , one in three peasant households did not have a horse . 6 To cultivate

The common image of the tsarist regime as omnipresent and all – powerful was largely an invention of the revolutionaries , who spent their lives in fear of it , living in the underground . The reality was different . For every 1,000 inhabitants of the Russian Empire there were only four state officials at the turn of the twentieth century , compared with 7.3 in England and Wales , 12.6 in Germany and 17.6 in France . For a rural population of 100 million people , Russia in 1900 had no more than 1,852 police sergeants and 6,874 police constables . The average constable was responsible for policing 50,000 people in dozens of settlements scattered across 5,000 square kilometres . 10

After the failure of the ‘ Going to the people ‘ , as the events of 1874 were known , Tkachev argued that such methods were too slow . Before a social revolution could be organised a class of richer peasants , whose interests lay in the status quo , would appear as a result of capitalist development and assert its domination in the countryside . Tkachev argued for a putsch by a disciplined vanguard , which would set up a dictatorship before engineering the creation of a socialist society by waging civil war against the rich . He claimed the time was ripe to carry out this coup , since as yet there was no major social force , just a weak landowning class , prepared to defend the monarchy . Delay would be fatal , Tkachev argued , because soon there would be such a force , a bourgeoisie , supported by the ‘ petty – bourgeois ‘ peasantry , which would be formed by the new market forces in Russia .

It is hard to think of a more momentous turning – point in Russian history . On the day the tsar was killed , 1 March , he had agreed to a reform that would include elected representatives from the zemstvos and town councils in a new consultative assembly . Although it was a limited reform , by no means implying the creation of a constitutional monarchy , it showed that Alexander was prepared to involve the public in the work of government . On 8 March , the proposal was rejected by his son and heir , Alexander III , in a meeting of grand dukes and ministers . The most reactionary and influential critic , Konstantin Pobedonostsev , procurator of the Holy Synod , warned that accepting the reform would represent a first decisive step on the road to constitutional government . At this time of crisis , he maintained , Russia was in need not of a ‘ talking shop ‘ but of firm actions by the government . From that point , the new tsar , who would rule from 1881 to 1894 , pursued an unbending course of political reaction to restore the autocratic principle .

Until 1904 , they could even have the peasants flogged for minor crimes . The impact of such corporal punishments – decades after the Emancipation – cannot be overstressed . It made it clear to the peasantry that violence was the basis of state power – and that violence was the only way to remove it .

Russian was made compulsory in schools and public offices . Polish students at Warsaw University had to suffer the indignity of studying their national literature in Russian translation .

During the 1907 cholera epidemic in the Kiev area , doctors were forbidden to publish warnings not to drink the water in Ukrainian . But the peasants could not read the Russian signs , and many died as a result .

The last two tsars encouraged this . Nicholas II , in particular , saw the pogroms as an act of loyalty by the ‘ good and simple Russian folk ‘ . He became a patron of the Union of the Russian People , formed in 1905 , which instigated more than one pogrom . Little wonder , then , that Jews were prominent in the revolutionary underground . The Marxist movement , in particular , was attractive to the Jews . The

Whereas Populism had proposed to build a socialism based on peasant Russia , the land of pogroms , Marxism was based on a modern Western vision of Russia . It promised to assimilate the Jews into a movement of universal human liberation based on internationalism .

Millions of peasants came into the towns , some drawn by ambition , others forced to leave the countryside because of overpopulation on the land . Between 1861 and 1914 the empire’s urban population grew from 7 to 28 million people . First came the young men , then the married men , then unmarried girls , who worked mainly in domestic service , and finally the married women with children

Contrary to the Soviet myth , in which Lenin was a Marxist theorist from his infancy , he came late to politics . He was born in 1870 into a respectable and prosperous family in Simbirsk , a typical provincial town on the Volga . His father was inspector of the Simbirsk district’s primary schools . In Lenin’s final year at secondary school , a middle – class gymnasium , he was highly praised by his headmaster , who by one of those strange historical ironies was the father of Alexander Kerensky , the prime minister Lenin would overthrow in October 1917 .

Lenin came to Marx already armed with set ideas . All the main components of his ideology – his stress on the need for a disciplined ‘ vanguard ‘ ; his belief that action ( the ‘ subjective factor ‘ ) could alter the objective course of history ; his defence of terror and dictatorship ; his contempt for democrats ( and for socialists who compromised with them ) – stemmed not just from Marx but from Tkachev and the People’s Will . He injected a distinctly Russian dose of conspiratorial politics into a Marxist dialectic that might have remained passive otherwise , tied down by a willingness to wait for the revolution to develop socially rather than bringing it about through political action . It was not Marxism that made Lenin a revolutionary but Lenin who made Marxism revolutionary .

He wanted followers who would devote their whole lives to the Party’s cause . It had to be a small but secret party made up of committed revolutionaries ( be they workers or , more likely , intellectuals ) who understood ‘ the fine art of not getting arrested ‘ .

From his tutor , the arch – reactionary Pobedonostsev , Nicholas had learned to see his sovereignty as absolute , unlimited by bureaucracy , parliaments or public opinion , and guided only by his conscience before God .

Kovno did not have the peasant commune . The peasants owned their land , and as a result they farmed it more efficiently than the peasants did in central Russia where the commune gave them no incentive to improve their landholdings . Stolypin’s solution to the land question was to help the peasants break away from the commune and consolidate their landholding as private property .

Stolypin had misunderstood the peasantry’s attachment to the mir . He had assumed that they were poor because of it . But in fact it was the other way around : the commune served to share the burden of their poverty , and as long as they were poor they had no reason to leave

They believed that Europe was heading unavoidably towards a final struggle between the Teutons and the Slavs . They saw the Drang nach Osten , the Drive to the East , as part of a broader German plan to undermine Slavic civilisation , concluding that , unless it made a firm stand to defend its Balkan allies , Russia would suffer a long period of imperial decline and subjugation to Germany . ‘ In

eight Ukrainian provinces produced one – third of the Russian Empire’s wheat , two – thirds of its coal and more than half its steel . If Russia lost Ukraine , it would no longer be a great power .

Nicholas was under intense pressure from his generals and ministers , Duma leaders and the press to go to war . Sergei Sazonov , his foreign minister , told him that ‘ unless he yielded to the popular demand for war and unsheathed the sword on Serbia’s behalf , he would run the risk of a revolution and perhaps the loss of his throne ‘ . Nicholas went pale . ‘ Just think of the responsibility you’re advising me to assume , ‘ he said to Sazonov . But he was too weak to argue against

The soldiers , for the most part , were strangers to the sentiment of patriotism . With little direct knowledge of the world outside their villages , they had only a weak sense of their identity as Russians . They thought of themselves as natives of their village or region . ‘ We are from here and Orthodox , ‘ they would say in response to questions about their nationality . As

A large proportion of the population was younger than the minimum draft age . Where 12 per cent of the German population was mobilised for military service , Russia was able to call up only 5 per cent .

By 1915 , new recruits were being trained without rifles . Thrown into battle , they were ordered to retrieve the guns dropped by men shot down in the line in front of them .

The collapse of discipline was related to the spread of rumours about treason at the court . It was said that the empress and Rasputin were working for the Germans , that they were pushing for a separate peace ( a myth encouraged by the German press which printed fake news of negotiations with the Russian government ) . The court had no idea how to counteract these damaging rumours .

It had never attached any importance to public opinion and had not learned to manage

The Soviet leaders , mostly Mensheviks , believed in line with Marxist doctrine that Russia was too backward to proceed at once to a socialist government . Marx had taught them that what was needed now was a ‘ bourgeois democratic ‘ period of development with freedom for the masses to organise themselves through trade unions , political parties and so on . These

The monarchy was dead . All its institutions of support had collapsed virtually overnight . No one tried to revive it . None of the counter – revolutionary armies of the Civil War – the fight to remove the Bolsheviks from power after 1917 – embraced monarchism as a cause , although many of their officers were monarchists .

In the countryside the peasants formed their own ad hoc committees ( they sometimes called them Soviets ) and seized the gentry’s property , first the tools and livestock and then their fields , which the commune divided in line with its customary principles ( usually according to

Soldiers ‘ committees supervised relations with the officers and discussed their military commands . In some units they refused to fight for more than eight hours a day , claiming the same rights as the workers . Throughout the army they demanded to be treated as equals by their officers when they were not engaged in fighting . This assertion of ‘ soldier power ‘ was essential to the spirit of ‘ trench Bolshevism ‘ – a term used by the officers to describe the troops ‘ refusal to obey their orders

Kerensky , now the minister of war , toured the front to raise the troops ‘ morale . He dressed in military uniform and wore his right arm in a sling , although no one knew of any injury . Kerensky was an actor – politician , made for the revolutionary stage , where his fiery speeches , filled with theatrical gestures and even fainting fits , genuine but timed to coincide with the dramatic climax of his speech , captured the emotions of the crowd .

For two days the Russians advanced , led by the Women’s Battalion of Death , formed by female volunteers in 1917 and chosen now to shame the men into fighting ; but when the Germans launched a counteroffensive , the Russians fled to the rear in panic .

The failed uprising sparked a reaction from the right . Leaflets were released by the Ministry of Justice claiming that the Bolsheviks were German agents – an idea based on concrete evidence ( the Bolsheviks undoubtedly received German money and logistical support in 1917 ) but giving rise to the dangerous myth that Soviet power was imposed on Russia by the Germans , Jews and other foreign enemies of the country .

He did not want to share power . From his hideout in Finland , he had been calling for an armed uprising before the Congress met . The Party ‘ can and must ‘ seize power , he had argued in a series of impatient letters to the Bolshevik Central Committee . He said ‘ can ‘ because the Party had enough support to win a civil war , which was more important than elections at this point . And ‘ must ‘ because by waiting for a vote in the Congress they would give time to Kerensky to organise a counter – revolutionary force and close down the Soviet .

He had left that morning for the Northern Front in a desperate search for loyal troops . His government by this time was so helpless that it did not even have a car : he had departed in a Renault seized from the American Embassy . The

By walking out of the Congress , the Mensheviks and SRs had surrendered the Soviet to the Bolsheviks .

Trotsky pounced on the opportunity . Denouncing Martov’s resolution , he gave his verdict on the renegades : ‘ You are miserable bankrupts , your role is played out ; go where you ought to go – into the dustbin of history ! ‘ Trotsky then proposed a resolution condemning their ‘ treacherous ‘ attempts to kill Soviet power at its birth . 16 The Soviet delegates , who did not understand what they were doing , raised their hands to support it . The effect of their action was to give a Soviet stamp of approval for a Bolshevik dictatorship . Not

Meanwhile , at the grass – roots level of society , the Bolsheviks gave free rein to the ‘ looting of the looters ‘ – mob trials , lynchings , violent robberies and requisitionings of anyone who bore the slightest trace of wealth or privilege .

‘ especially distrustful of a Russian when he gets power into his own hands . Not long ago a slave , he becomes the most unbridled despot as soon as he has the chance to become his neighbour’s master . ‘ 17

Their terror took a leaf out of the old playbook of krugovaya poruka , collective responsibility , applied now to a whole social class . They called this terror the ‘ internal front ‘ of the Civil War .

The Civil War demanded an immediate peace , or as Lenin put it with his usual bluntness , ‘ The bourgeoisie has to be throttled and for that we need both hands free . ‘

All in all , the Soviet Republic lost 34 per cent of its population ( 55 million people ) , 32 per cent of its agricultural land , 54 per cent of its industrial capacity and 89 per cent of its coalmines ( peat and wood now became its biggest source of fuel ) . 20 As a European power , Russia was reduced to a status on a par with seventeenth – century Muscovy .

The armies of the Civil War were being formed . The anti – Bolshevik forces , known as the ‘ Whites ‘ ( a name derived from the white cockades worn in the hats of the anti – Jacobins during the French revolutionary wars ) , were a motley bunch without a clear or unifying ideology except to remove the

Where they found none , they assumed that it was being hidden by the ‘ kulaks ‘ – the phantom class of ‘ capitalist ‘ peasants invented by the Bolsheviks – and an unequal ‘ battle for grain ‘ began . The brigades beat and tortured villagers ; villages were burned , until they handed over what they had , which was often their last stocks of food and seed for the next year . There were hundreds of peasant uprisings – a ‘ kulak counter – revolution ‘ according to the Bolsheviks – behind the Red fronts in the Civil War .

By 1920 , some 3 million people were employed in the Soviet bureaucracy . This was not a Dictatorship of the Proletariat but a Dictatorship of the Bureaucracy .

Their propaganda was cleverly adapted to the old religious myths of social justice and freedom which had long inspired popular rebellions . It was communicated in a simple visual and iconic form easily accessible and understood by a population with low rates of literacy and little understanding of political discourse . Pamphlets for the rural poor compared socialism to the work of Christ . The cult of Lenin , which took off from August 1918 after he was wounded in an assassination attempt , carried clear religious overtones . Lenin was depicted as a Christlike figure , ready to die for the people’s cause , and , because he had survived , blessed with miraculous powers .

The Whites ‘ refusal to recognise the national independence movements was disastrous . It lost them the support of the Poles , Ukrainians , Estonians and Finns – any one of which could have tipped the military balance in their favour – and complicated their relations with the Cossacks , who wanted more autonomy from Russia than the White leaders were prepared to give .

Once the Whites had been defeated the peasants turned against the Bolsheviks , whose requisitionings had brought them to the brink of starvation . By the autumn of 1920 , the whole of the country was engulfed in peasant wars . Most were small revolts but there were also larger armies , sometimes called the Greens , such as Makhno’s in Ukraine or Antonov’s in Tambov , which set up peasant governments . Everywhere their aims were basically the same : to restore the peasant self – rule of 1917 . Some expressed this in the slogan ‘ Soviets without Communists ! ‘

But Lenin insisted that as long as the state controlled the ‘ commanding heights of the economy ‘ ( heavy industry , the utilities and natural resources ) , there was no danger in allowing private farming , retail trade and handicrafts to satisfy consumer needs .

The NEP was to be a temporary retreat from the utopian dream of building socialism by decree – the essence of the War Communist model .

should support their country’s war campaign . To mark their ideological opposition to the Social Democrats , some of whom had backed their national wartime governments , the Bolsheviks in 1918 changed their name from the SDs to the Communist Party . The distinction was reinforced by the Comintern , known as the Third International , whose ‘ Twenty – One Conditions ‘ ( passed in 1920 ) obliged its member parties to rename themselves as Communist , to fight against the ‘ social patriots ‘ of the parliamentary socialist parties and give loyal support to the Soviet Republic , which , as the sole existing seat of Communism in the world , was their only true homeland .

During the Civil War he took on many jobs that others had considered too mundane . He

a consequence he had gained a reputation for modest and industrious mediocrity .

the police . Hidden in a drawer inside his desk , Stalin had a secret telephone on which he was able to listen to the private conversations of senior government officials in the Kremlin . He knew all his comrades ‘ weaknesses – their mistresses , their cocaine use , their homosexuality – and knew how to exploit them .

Lenin had asked to be buried next to his mother’s grave in Petrograd . But Stalin wanted to embalm the corpse and put it on display . In the Russian Orthodox tradition the uncorrupted body was a sign of holiness .

the market mechanisms of the NEP alive , requisitioning was brought back for the 1928 harvest .

Most of the peasants were afraid of giving up a way of life their families had lived for centuries – a life based on the family farm , the peasant commune , the village and its church , all of which were to be swept away as legacies of ‘ backwardness ‘ . In many villages there were demonstrations and riots , assaults on Communists , attacks on kolkhoz property and protests against church closures in which peasant women often took the lead . It was almost a return to the situation at the end of the Civil War , when peasant wars had forced the Bolsheviks to abandon requisitioning , only this time the regime was strong enough to crush the resistance . Realising their own weakness , the peasants ran away or slaughtered their livestock to prevent them being requisitioned for the collective farms . The number of cattle in the Soviet Union fell by 30 per cent in 1929 – 30 , and by half from 1928 to 1933 .

The war against the kulaks was an economic disaster , on top of its immense human costs . It deprived the new collective farms of the best and hardest – working peasants ( because these are what the kulaks in fact were ) and ultimately led to the terminal decline of the Soviet economy .

Tied to the collective farm by an internal passport system , the peasants saw this enforced labour as the restoration of serfdom .

the levies on collective farms were particularly high . This has prompted some historians to argue that the ‘ terror – famine ‘ was a calculated policy of genocide against Ukrainians , although that is hard to prove . 6 Certainly the famine , or Holodomor ( ‘ killing by starvation ‘ in Ukrainian ) , has left a bitter legacy of hatred towards Russia among the descendants of Ukrainians who died from Soviet policies . Although

The rates of growth that Stalin had demanded in the Five – Year Plan could not have been achieved without the use of forced labour , particularly in the cold and remote regions of the Far North and Siberia , where so many of the Soviet Union’s precious economic resources ( diamonds , gold , platinum and nickel , oil , coal and timber ) were located but where nobody would freely go . The Gulag was the key to the colonisation of these areas . A vast slave economy organised by the police , the Gulag ( an acronym for the Main Administration of Corrective Labour Camps and Colonies ) oversaw the process of arresting ‘ enemies ‘ and sending them to prison camps where they were worked to death on construction sites , building railways and canals , mining coal and gold by hand , and chopping down whole forests in the Arctic zone . Their labour made an incalculable contribution to the country’s economic growth – far more valuable than any figures can communicate because of its added benefit of colonising these inhospitable regions with their precious resources .

The speed of change in the early 1930s was intoxicating . There were so many signs of the country’s progress – or so it seemed from the Soviet press and other propaganda media – that people believed

propaganda aimed to foster the belief that the utopia was imminent , that it could be reached by one last collective effort . The promise was renewed by every Five – Year Plan , of which there were twelve , but the utopia was never reached .

Whereas Lenin , in his cult , appeared as a human god or saint , a sacred guide for the Party orphaned by his death , the cult of Stalin portrayed him as a tsar , the ‘ little – father tsar ‘ or tsar – batiushka of folklore , who would protect the people , like his children , and guide them to a better life . ‘ The Russians need a tsar ‘ , Stalin said on many occasions . 8

Dmitry studied hard but could not go to university or hold down a proper job because of his kulak origins . Yet he never ceased believing in Stalin , and was himself , in his own words , an ‘ ardent Stalinist ‘ . Looking back on his life decades later , he said in interviews : ‘ it was easier for us [ the repressed ] to survive our punishments if we continued to believe in Stalin , to think that Stalin was deceived by enemies of the people , rather than to give up hope in him … Perhaps it was a form of self – deception , but psychologically it made life much easier to bear , believing in the justice of Stalin . It took away our fear . ‘ 9

Better known as the Riutin Platform , the typescript was a blistering critique of Stalin’s politics and personality , denouncing him as a mediocre thinker , ‘ unscrupulous intriguer ‘ and ‘ gravedigger of the revolution ‘ through his catastrophic policies , which , in forcing through collectivisation , had betrayed Lenin’s voluntarist principles . 11

She went to her room and shot herself with a pistol . Among her things they found a note to Stalin in which she had written that she was opposed to everything he was doing . They also found a copy of the Riutin Platform . Stalin

The army had been the one institution capable of standing up to Stalin in his quest for complete power ( which is why the Trial of the Generals had been in secret ) . Now its leadership was virtually destroyed : of the 767 members of the high command , 512 were shot , 29 died in prison , 3 committed suicide and 59 were still in jail when the war with Germany began in 1941 .

The typical provincial town was ruled by a clique of senior officials – the district Party boss , the police chief , the heads of local factories , collective farms and prisons – who each had their own client networks in the institutions they controlled . These officials protected one another as long as their power – circle was maintained . But the arrest of one official would inevitably lead to the arrest of all the other members of the ruling clique , as well as their hangers – on , once the NKVD got to work revealing the connections between them .

The duty to inform was a long – established principle in Russian governance , dating back to the sixteenth century , as we have seen . It was connected to the obligations of krugovaya poruka , the medieval principle of collective responsibility , which we have observed as a recurrent feature in the country’s history . During

The concept of ‘ objective guilt ‘ applied to crimes against the state – meaning that a person might act with sincere and innocent intentions and yet serve the counter – revolution through their behaviour . It was the objective consequence ( the ‘ meaning ‘ ) of a person’s actions that determined guilt or innocence .

‘ To win a battle , ‘ Stalin warned in 1937 , ‘ several corps of soldiers are needed . But to subvert this victory on the front , all that is needed are a few spies somewhere in army headquarters . ‘ On this reasoning , if only 5 per cent of those arrested turned out to be truly enemies , ‘ that ‘ , Stalin said , ‘ would be a good result ‘ . 13

He would surely put things right if they wrote to him , as many people did , continuing the old tradition of petitioning the tsar to correct the abuses of his officials .

himself was exposed as an ‘ enemy of the people ‘ . It was said that he had tried to undermine the government by spreading discontent through false arrests . He was later shot in a basement near the Lubianka , the NKVD headquarters .

Stalin realised that patriotic pride was a more solid base of popular belief than Marxist ideology . After the mass upheavals of the Five – Year Plan , he recognised the need to reunite the country around familiar national symbols and ideas .

Under Stalin’s leadership the Bolsheviks continued with their atheist campaigns against the Church , but they adopted new ‘ pro – family policies ‘ ( for example , the outlawing of abortion , more state child support , the prosecution of homosexuals ) to boost the birth rate , which had fallen sharply since the launching of the Five – Year Plan . Like Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany , Stalin’s Russia needed more young people for its military . The

On 7 September , he told his inner circle that they would wait for the Western powers and Nazi Germany to exhaust themselves in a long war before they joined the fighting to ‘ tip the scales ‘ and emerge as the victors . The capitalist system ( in which he included the Fascist states ) would be weakened , enabling the Red Army to export the Soviet revolution as it marched into Europe .

‘ You can send your “ source ” from German aviation headquarters back to his fucking mother . This is disinformation , not a “ source ” , ‘ he wrote to his state security commissar , who on 17 June had warned of an imminent attack .

Hitler wanted the destruction of Russia . He viewed the Russians , like the Slavs , as ‘ sub – humans ‘ , incapable of building their own civilisation . He once said , in terms reminding us of the early German historians of Russia we met in the first chapter , that ‘ unless other peoples , beginning with the Vikings , had imported some rudiments of organisation into Russian humanity , the Russians would still be living like rabbits ‘ .

By 1941 , they were more prepared than other peoples for the hardships of the war – the sharp decline in living standards , the breaking – up of families , the death and disappearance of their relatives – because they had been through these during the 1930s . The most selfless sacrifice was made by teenagers .

Her generation fought with reckless bravery . Only 3 per cent of the eighteen – year – olds mobilised in 1941 would still be alive in 1945 .

The Soviet command economy was made for war . Its ability to organise production for the military campaign – to move and build new factories overnight , to subject workers to martial law and to work to death a million Gulag slaves mining fuel and minerals – gave it an advantage over the Nazis , who were unable to demand so much from the Germans .

Only by considering this ruthless disregard for human life can we explain the shocking losses of the Red Army – around 12 million soldiers killed between 1941 and 1945 – three times the number of German military losses between 1939 and 1945.13

The poem ‘ Kill Him ! ‘ by Konstantin Simonov was read to soldiers by their officers before they went into battle :

Around 2 million German women are believed to have been raped by Soviet soldiers , whose actions went unpunished by their commanders . When

‘ Everyone imposes his own system as far as his army can reach . ‘ Stalin

Timofei Lysenko , the director of the Soviet Institute of Genetics , even claimed to have developed a new strain of wheat that would grow in the Arctic – a bogus claim that was responsible for millions of deaths in Maoist China where the pseudoscience was adopted during the 1950s .

might have been saved if medical assistance had been called in time . But in the panic of the Doctors ‘ Plot none of Stalin’s inner circle dared take the initiative . He became the final victim of his system of terror .

The Gulag population reached its peak in 1952 , when there were around 2 million prisoners in its labour camps and colonies .

In 1957 , Moscow hosted the World Festival of Youth . The Kremlin’s aim was to win over the young people of the capitalist countries to the Soviet way of life . But the outcome was the opposite . With their jeans and easy – going manner the visitors converted Soviet youth to the Western way of life . Rock and roll and its attendant fashions captured the imagination of a generation of Soviet students too sophisticated for the dull , conformist culture of the Komsomol , the Communist Youth League . On their short – wave radios , they listened to the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe , where rock and jazz were the draw for news and information about the freedoms of the West . This

By 1960 , more than half the population was under thirty years of age . The October Revolution was not something they could relate to – for them it was ancient history – while the Great Patriotic War was something that their parents had lived through . It was a challenge to engage this generation in the system’s values and beliefs .

Like so many Party apparatchiks promoted during Stalin’s purges and the war , he had more practical than intellectual capacities ( according to his brightest minister , Alexander Yakovlev , his main talent was an uncanny ability to ‘ recognise precisely who was his friend and who was his enemy ‘ ) . 29 He was good at building political alliances and networks of support among the regional Party leaders , many of them comrades from the 1930s , when he had risen from the factory floor to become the propaganda chief of the Dnepropetrovsk Party organisation in Ukraine .

received protection from the Party leadership . Nationalism was regarded as an antidote to the growing influence of Western ideas and culture . It

By the end of the 1970s , they took up 4 per cent of the country’s agricultural land , but produced 40 per cent of its pork and poultry , 42 per cent of its fruit and over half its potatoes . 31 The prices in the peasant markets were too high for most

man goes into a shop and asks : ‘ You don’t have any meat ? ‘ ‘ No , ‘ replies the sales assistant , ‘ we don’t have any fish . It’s the shop across the street that has no meat . ‘

The one product not in short supply was alcohol . Consumption more than doubled in the Brezhnev years . By the early 1980s , the average kolkhoz family was spending one – third of its household income on vodka . Alcoholism was the national disease . It had a major impact on crime rates ( 10 million people every year were detained by the police for drunkenness ) and male life expectancy , which declined from sixty – six in 1964 to just sixty – two in 1980 . Brezhnev’s

Oil revenues rescued the regime from probable

Before the revolution , Russia had been a major agricultural exporter . But within sixty years of 1917 it had become the biggest food importer in the world . One – third of all baked goods were made from foreign cereals . Cattle farming was entirely dependent on imported grain .

After only fifteen months in office , Andropov died from a long illness . He had nominated Gorbachev to succeed him , but Chernenko took his place . Within weeks he too became terminally ill . The Bolsheviks were dying of old age .

A tired – looking Yanaev , his hands seized by alcoholic tremors , announced uncertainly to the world’s press that he was taking over as the Soviet president .

But in a referendum on 1 December the Ukrainians voted by a huge majority for independence . Their departure blew a massive hole in the Soviet ship of state , an act that would not be forgotten by those who saw its sinking as a tragedy . A

Gorbachev declared that he could not support the abolition of the Soviet Union . It had not been ratified by constitutional procedures or even by a democratic vote . Popular opinion had been in favour of a union , but the nationalist leaders had gone against the people’s will . 11 ENDS How does the story of Russia end ?

The events of 1991 were not a revolution but an abdication of power by the Communist Party . There was no mass uprising or opposition movement to bring down the Soviet regime in Russia . There were no parties , no trade unions or civic forum groups ready to take power , as they did in the east European revolutions of 1989 .

Without a democratic revolution , the old elites soon re – emerged at the top of the post – Soviet system . The KGB renamed itself the Federal Counter – Intelligence Service ( later changed to the Federal Security Service , or FSB ) without changes in its personnel . Yeltsin filled his government with former Communists and set about reclaiming the old Soviet bodies ( the army , the state bank , the Soviet seat in the United Nations ) for Russia .

Even the leaders of the August putsch were amnestied in February 1994 . Some went straight from jail to leading positions in Russia’s largest banks and companies .

Yeltsin wanted a successor who would protect him . His choice fell on Putin , Berezovsky’s favoured candidate , whom he made prime minister in August 1999 , announcing at the same time that he wanted Putin to succeed him as the president . One of Putin’s first acts in that office was to grant immunity to Yeltsin and his family .

His victory depended , not on an assessment of his policies ( no one knew what he stood for ) but on how he came across on television screens : sober , clean – cut , competent , someone who would not bring shame to Russia on the international stage – in sum , Yeltsin’s opposite .

Russia had existed as an empire for so long that it could not simply reinvent itself as a nation after 1991 .

Outside the main cities , few people had the internet in their homes . Eight out of ten received their news from the

Vladislav Surkov , Putin’s deputy chief of staff and principal adviser , whose approach to words was the same as Humpty Dumpty’s in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass ( ‘ When I use a word … it means just what I choose it to mean ‘ ) . The meaning of ‘ sovereign democracy ‘ , as Surkov defined it , was that Russia should be free to choose its own political system and call it a ‘ democracy ‘ ( Putin , after all , had been elected ) .

Fifteen hundred Serbians , half of them civilians , were killed by NATO aerial bombardment between March and

Statues of the partisan leader were erected in cities such as Lviv and Ternopil . The Bandera cult was a gift for Moscow’s propaganda about the threat of ‘ Nazis ‘ in Ukraine .

it Putin argued , yet again , that the Russians and Ukrainians were one nation , that Ukraine was a part of ‘ greater Russia ‘ ( an entity at times he equated with the Soviet Union and at times with its inner Slavic core ) and , as such , had no real statehood of its own .

The Russians began their military build – up in March 2021 .

His decision surprised even senior Kremlin officials . It must be explained by Putin’s isolation from reality . Terrified of Covid , he had spent the past two years in lockdown on his own in the Kremlin , seldom meeting anybody in person ( even the President of Kazakhstan was made to spend two weeks in quarantine before Putin would see him ) .

It relied on heavy firepower and on its sheer size to overwhelm its better – supplied and more agile opponents – a distinctly Russian way of fighting wars , as we have seen . The

Society has been too weak , too divided and too disorganised to sustain an opposition movement , let alone a revolution , for long enough to bring about a change in the character of state power . Today

With only fossil fuels , precious metals and raw materials to offer the Chinese , Russia would become the junior partner in this new relationship .

Russia might have taken a more democratic path . It had strong traditions of self – rule in its medieval city republics , in the peasant commune and the Cossack hetmanates and not least in the zemstvos , which might have laid the basis for a more inclusive form of national government .

Seeing is believing for the Orthodox . Russians pray with their eyes open , their gaze fixed on an icon , which serves as a window onto the divine sphere .

Ivan the Terrible and his Son Ivan on 16 November 1581 ( 1885 ) . The remorseful tsar , haunted by his own destructive terror , captured the imagination of many artists from the nineteenth century .

Peter was a man in a hurry . Almost seven feet in height , he walked with giant , rapid strides , leaving his advisers far behind .

Can Such Things Be by Ambrose Bierce

From my Notion book template

What It’s About

A collection of short stories by mysterious and cynical hall of famer Ambrose Bierce

How I Discovered It

I was originally looking up the name “Carcosa” from the series true detective, which led me to the fictional city, which was created by Bierce, and used by HP Lovecraft in a few of his stories. The “An Inhabitant of Carcosa” story was written in 1886. I came across Bierce in Florence King’s With Charity Towards None book in the 90s. I think I read The Devil’s Dictionary then too.


I liked it – it was very uneven with minimal editing, which made some things hard to follow, but kept a mystery around others. Bierce felt uncompelled to end things neatly which has the effect of keeping me as the reader in suspense.

What I Liked About It

I liked the genuine feeling of suspense and periodically dread. I had very little idea of where many of the stories were going – very much a random walk in a horrible place.

What I Didn’t Like About It

Sometime the editing was too minimal – events in the stories made very little sense and a lot of stuff was under introduced.

Who Would Like It?

Anyone who like HP Lovecraft

Related Books

Anything by HP Lovecraft.


As he grew to such manhood as is attainable by a Southerner who does not care which way elections go.

and there is a graveyard that would delight a poet.

Nevertheless, there was something lacking. I had a sense of comfort, but not of security.

Unfortunately, our feelings do not always respect the law of probabilities, and to me that evening, the possible and the impossible were equally disquieting.

If there is ever sunshine I do not recall it; if there are birds they do not sing.

To each and all, the peace that was not mine.

“Because you cannot without affirming what you wish to deny, namely, intelligent cooperation among the constituent elements of the crystals. When soldiers form lines, or hollow squares, you call it reason. When wild geese in flight take the form of a letter V you say instinct. When the homogeneous atoms of a mineral, moving freely in solution, arrange themselves into shapes mathematically perfect, or particles of frozen moisture into the symmetrical and beautiful forms of snowflakes, you have nothing to say. You have not even invented a name to conceal your heroic unreason.”

I had never been invited into the machine-shop— had, indeed, been denied admittance, as had all others, with one exception, a skilled metal worker, of whom no one knew anything except that his name was Haley and his habit silence.

“Who rescued me?” “Well, if that interests you— I did.” “Thank you, Mr. Haley, and may God bless you for it. Did you rescue, also, that charming product of your skill, the automaton chess-player that murdered its inventor?” The man was silent a long time, looking away from me. Presently he turned and gravely said: “Do you know that?” “I do,” I replied; “I saw it done.”

The forest was boundless; men and the habitations of men did not exist. The universe was one primeval mystery of darkness, without form and void, himself the sole, dumb questioner of its eternal secret.

What we inherit as a superstition our barbarous ancestors must have held as a reasonable conviction. Doubtless they believed themselves justified by facts whose nature we cannot even conjecture in thinking a dead body a malign thing endowed with some strange power of mischief, with perhaps a will and a purpose to exert it.

The old belief in the malevolence of the dead body was lost from the creeds and even perished from tradition, but it left its heritage of terror, which is transmitted from generation to generation— is as much a part of us as are our blood and bones.”

I ventured faintly to remonstrate with Jo. for his unchristian spirit, but he merely explained that there was nothing about Chinamen in the New Testament, and strode away to wreak his displeasure upon his dog, which also, I suppose, the inspired scribes had overlooked.

It was as if the Old-World barbarism and the New-World civilization had reconciled their differences by the arbitration of an impartial decay— as is the way of civilizations.

They had a child which they named Joseph and dearly loved, as was then the fashion among parents in all that region.

“I have so frequently related them that nothing but observation could shake my conviction. Why, gentlemen, I have my own word for it.”

Many of the graves were sunken, from others grew sturdy pines, whose roots had committed unspeakable sin.

the place was a dishonor to the living, a calumny on the dead, a blasphemy against God.

As to John Bartine, my friend, my patient for five minutes, and— Heaven forgive me!— my victim for eternity, there is no more to say. He is buried, and his watch with him— I saw to that.

Soldiers in the intervals of battle laugh easily, and a jest in the death chamber conquers by surprise.

Scattered here and there, more massive blocks showed where some pompous tomb or ambitious monument had once flung its feeble defiance at oblivion.

And then I knew that these were ruins of the ancient and famous city of Carcosa.

Such are the facts imparted to the medium Bayrolles by the spirit Hoseib Alar Robardin.

man is like a tree: in a forest of his fellows he will grow as straight as his generic and individual nature permits; alone in the open, he yields to the deforming stresses and tortions that environ him.

Storm of Steel by Ernst Junger

The Book in 3 Sentences

Ernst Junger writes about his experiences in the trenches of World War 1. It covers events of epic drama in a hyper-descriptive, unemotional fashion, which creates a weird, ambient feel of both drama and dread over time. What struck me most was how small the difference was between a victory and defeat for Junger.

How I Discovered It

I think I came across Junger on Time Ghost or the Great War on YouTube

Who Should Read It?

History buffs, and anyone needing to see a contrast between our times of excessive virtuality and something very, very different.

How the Book Changed Me

Over time, and maybe not on purpose, but Storm of Steel presented a very broad view of the human experience by detailing a very narrow view of a very broad event – such is life in the trenches. Junger is pretty much one of a kind, and made to thrive on trench warfare – pretty much a German Sargent York, Audie Murphy, Captain America and Sargent Rock all rolled into one. The Great War was a transcendent experience for him, who knows how.

Maybe this is just what autism looks like in German people.


Regardless, an officer must not be separated under any circumstances from the dangers experienced by his men. Danger is the noblest moment of his military profession, because it is needed to prove superior manliness. Honor and chivalry elevate an officer to the lord of the hour. What is more lofty than for a hundred men to march forward to death? The rank and file will never deny the commands of a noble personality; his acts of courage spread in a flash through the ranks with exhilarating power.

The Battle of Eparges was my first. It was very different from what I expected. I had been in a major combat operation, without having an opportunity to directly face an opponent. Only much later, I experienced that confrontation.

The security of a position is based on the freshness and the inexhaustible courage of its defenders, not on its construction and approaches, or on the depth of its trenches.

Old men crept along, slumped over by the new order of things. The war alienated them with brutal ruthlessness from the place where they had spent all their lives.

We interacted with the French locals only if we brought them our laundry for cleaning, or wanted to buy butter and eggs. Intimate relations among the sexes were extremely rare. Eroticism found no place in the dry, disrupted order of things.

was dubbed “Bellevue,” or “Beautiful View,” because of its wide-ranging vista of the battlefront.

Large pits were in the ground, strangely beckoning with their mysterious darkness. They sometimes revealed a cellar of a leveled house. Perhaps down below, the skeletons of unfortunate former residents were being gnawed by very busy swarms of rats.

However, we had in our company commander, Lieutenant d. R. Brecht, an officer who was the right man for defending such a place. A former German emigrant to America, he had hurried back over at the beginning of the war. His bold nature sought danger and brought him, in the end, a death full of glory.

Some cats are drawn from the destroyed villages into the trenches. They like to be close to the people. A large white cat, with a gunshot through the front paw, often haunts us, and seems to frequent both sides of the front.

The trench makes thousands of construction requests daily to us. We dig deep tunnels; build bomb shelters and concrete blockhouses; and prepare barbed-wire obstacles. We also create drainage systems; put down floor boarding and supports; level, increase, and slope off the earth; pour out latrines; and so on.

Thus our days passed in stressful monotony.

The only consolation was that the opposing Englishman fared no better. Our troops saw how energetically water was pumped from his trenches. Since we are somewhat on higher ground, we pumped downstream to him our abundance of water and mud.

The cascading water eroded trench walls. A number of buried bodies were exposed from the fighting of the previous autumn.

The local inhabitants (French civilians) were under strict discipline. Transgressions and offenses were punished by the local commander with prompt justice, e.g., painful fines and imprisonment. As much as I am in favor of the logic of the power concept, i.e., might makes right, its excesses were, in my view, too repugnant and embarrassing, even at that time.

For example, it was the duty of every inhabitant, even the women, to salute the German officers they encountered on the street. Such arrangements are pointless, degrading, and harmful. Yet we generated a lot of this animosity throughout the war. We were “smart” in little things, but weak in opposing severe harm to the heart of our cause.

However, I am tempted to say that we conversed more in a manner like a sportsman’s mutual respect, than as enemies. At the end of our talk, we even would have liked to exchange a gift as a souvenir. It has always been my ideal in war, to look at the enemy as opponents only in battle. I eliminate any personal feeling of hatred, and consider the courage of the man. I have learned that many English officers had similar feelings. As regards to our truce that day, we restored normal relations: The English officer and I solemnly agreed to return to war within three minutes after breaking off the negotiations.

In this and similar ways, we all had moments of losses due to carelessness that occurred with the constant handling of explosives. One unsettling neighbor in this respect was Lieutenant Pook. He lived in a lonely dugout in an intricate confusion of trenches behind the left flank. He had dragged there a number of huge artillery duds and busied himself by unscrewing the fuses and studying their design. If my duties led me near his place, I made a big detour around this eerie abode every time.

With all my energy, I had provided for the defense of my 200 meters (220 yards) of combat trenches, and for the welfare of my 60 men.

They had lit a roaring log fire and bent over the purifying flame to escape the effects of the chlorine. I joined them in this activity, until the shell fire had subsided, and then went forward through runner-trench Number 6.

We had endured an open air “blister” attack of pure chlorine, a poison gas that works by etching and burning the lungs.

Only a single Englishman climbed over and got through the obstacle. Our Lieutenant Brecht grabbed the man by the throat and greeted him in English with “Come here, you son of a bitch!” (Lieutenant Brecht had been a planter in America before the war.)

I only realized later that this patrol experience had gone to my nerves. That night, I lay with chattering teeth on a cot in the dugout and could not sleep despite the exhaustion. The next morning, I could barely walk, because out of one of my knees I extracted a long broken wire, and in the other, a piece of shrapnel protruded from the grenade thrown by Bartels.

You could tell that the man had tasted every horror until he despaired, and then had learned to despise it all. Nothing seemed left in him except a great and manly indifference.

Because of violent headaches and ear pains, we could communicate only by fragmentary, shouted words. The ability for logical thought and the sense of gravity seemed suspended.

Finally, our guide found the way again to reach the rendezvous point to deliver his promised squads of living corpses.

Behind me there was a persistent, unpleasant sound. I had a remarkable lack of emotion when I realized what it was. The noise came from a gigantic, decomposing corpse that was slowly merging into the surrounding soil. (The sound was the hissing outgas of rotting flesh.)

The excited, misplaced grasp of a single man, Sergeant H., had triggered our whole mighty war machine. He was, and remained, a man of misfortune. That same night, while loading his pistol, he even fired a flare into the legging of his boot. He had to be carried back with severe burns.

The doctor congratulated me for being so lucky, because the lead ball passed cleanly between the tibia and fibula, without injuring any bones. “Habent sua fata libelli et balli,” (“Books and bullets have their own destinies”) said the old Medical Corps student in Latin.

The days of Guillemont made known to me for the first time the devastating effects of the battle of materiel, the battle against things. We had to adapt to completely new forms of war.

Above all, there fell the flower of our disciplined youth into the dust. The lofty values that had made great the German people, shone there again in dazzling splendor. Yet, slowly those same values perished in a sea of mud and

Such small observations gave me a comforting assurance:  In France, national pride is also not a characteristic of the general public. After the war, this realization helped me endure the remarkable reception which some of our comrades received upon returning to Germany, after four honorable years of hard combat. “Il y a des cochons partout.” (French for “There are pigs everywhere.”)―

stopped in my tracks. On the modern battlefield, unpopulated areas are always suspicious.

There were only five men remaining in the 2nd Company who had also celebrated the previous Christmas with me in the trenches of Monchy.

In war, everything is determined by unintended effects. From that probably also came the preference of field troops for alcohol in its concentrated forms. Sexual relations with the opposing civilian population was, in part, unwanted intimacy. Venus, the mythical goddess of love, deprived Mars, the god of war, of some of his servants.

We later learned that the whole position was undermined by the enemy (tunneling underneath to plant explosives).

Note:That is where that word originates

As for the English sergeant, he had both legs all but torn off by shrapnel from hand grenades. Yet with a stoic peace, he clenched his short pipe in his teeth up to the moment of death.

Soon, the land that awaited the advancing enemy, was transformed into a most desolate wasteland. The moral justification for this destruction is much disputed. However, it seems to me that the chauvinistic howls of rage then supporting it, is best interpreted as the satisfied cheers of armchair soldiers and newspaper writers. When thousands of peaceful people living in these areas were robbed of their homes, one has to mention the selfish pleasure of power.

As a necessity of fact, I am, as a Prussian officer, naturally without a moment of doubt (and follow orders). The conduct of war calls for seeking to destroy the opponent by varied uses of power without regards to consequences. War is the hardest of crafts; its master may be humane morality only so long as the heart is open to it, and as long as that heart itself cannot be hurt in the war.

This was the sole, but very important, message that I passed on to my superiors during the three weeks of my stay in Fresnoy. By itself, it justified my large organization devoted solely to the collection of intelligence. Alas, now, when my men were of greatest value, artillery fire knocked out of action almost all of my installations.This was the consequence of over-centralization, i.e., basing too many assets in a small area.

The frontline officer in war must sometimes commit tactical mistakes for reasons of a subjective nature (i.e., accept personal risk so as to maintain the respect of the men).

The respect for this commander raises every chivalrous-minded man in the ranks above himself, and spurs him on to ever greater achievements. As such, commander and men kindle within each other powerful manifestations of energy. The morale factor is the most important element of war.

I could say with satisfaction, that through mastery of the situation and personal influence on my people, I gave the enemy leader a bad disappointment and an early grave.

What did Nietzsche say about a warrior people? “You may only have enemies which are to be hated, but not enemies to be held in contempt. You must be proud of your enemy, then the achievements of the enemy are also your achievements (when you defeat him).”

To be a leader with a clear head, is in itself the finest reward a man can have, just as cowardice is its own punishment. I have always pitied the coward. For him, a battle becomes a series of hellish torments. By contrast, the courageous man is filled with great vigor, and views battle only as a chain of more exciting events.

This shows above all the consequences of an arcane system of promotion. Based solely on their seniority, i.e., years of service, officers of obscure military specialties are given command of infantry companies engaged in combat. Yet, in their previous service, they have not once ordered “Guns at the ready! Prepare to fire!” (The above company commander formerly belonged to the horse cavalry.) One may prefer such ancient traditions as seniority, if you believe you cannot manage without it. However, it should only be used where men’s lives are not at risk. O

Following the principle of old soldiers: “A good breakfast holds body and soul together,” my first action was to eat heartily. I then lit my pipe, and looked at what was going on outside our house.

The hours we just experienced were without a doubt the most dreadful of the whole war. You cower alone, scrunched up in your foxhole, and feel abandoned to a relentless, blind force of destruction. With horror, you sense that all your intelligence, skills, spiritual and physical abilities, have become trivial, laughable things. Already, while you are thinking this, iron projectiles could have begun their whining path through the sky to smash you into a formless nothing. Your anxiety focuses on your sense of hearing: You try to pick out the approaching flutter of the “Bringer of Death” from the clutter of background noise. For

Yet you are observed by someone. The symbolic man of morals may unconsciously work in you. He confines you to this place because of two powerful forces: Duty and Honor. You know you are placed in this piece of trench to fight, and a whole nation trusts that you will do your job. The feeling is that if I leave my position, I am a coward in my own eyes, a villain who must later blush at every word of praise. Hence, you clench your teeth and remain where you are, standing your ground.

The limestone was a reddish-white rock and crawling with fossils. After every time I walked through the trench, I came back to my dugout with pockets full of fossilized mussel shells, starfish, and Ammon horns.

The division commander greeted me very kindly and soon soothed my discontent. At lunch I sat next to him in a ragged field coat with a bandaged hand. I remembered the old saying, “Only bums are modest!”, and endeavored to depict our actions of the morning in the best light.

I jumped on this pathetic soldier, a product of a failed military training. By holding a pistol under his nose, I forced information from him. If since then, the man has not yet been killed or deserted, he will certainly have bolstered the antiwar activists of the German Spartacus League as a worthy member.

It is not good to send two sons to war in the same regiment. We had four pairs of brothers in the officer corps of the regiment. Of these eight young people, five fell in battle, and two, including my brother, took severe injuries back to their homes. I am the only one who has come out in some measure unharmed. This small example illustrates the losses of the Fusiliers Regiment.

His first words demonstrated that I had a man in front of me: “We were surrounded.” He was compelled to declare to his opponent why his company had so quickly yielded. We chatted in French about different topics.

Even modern industrial war has its moments of glory. One hears so often the mistaken view that infantry combat has sunk to a dull mass slaughter. On the contrary, today more than ever, the individual soldier decides the outcome. This is known by everyone who has seen them in their kingdom: Soldiers are princes of the trench, and rule with hard, determined faces. They are daring and fluid, gracefully jumping back and forth with sharp, bloodthirsty eyes. They are the heroes that no official report ever cites by name.

One time, a gunner in my company tested his light machine gun and accidentally shot the commander of a regiment of foreign allies. The latter was on a saddle-horse in the midst of a parade review. Fortunately, the wound was slight, and our involvement not clearly proven.

Every midday at exactly 12 noon, a black ball was lowered from our observation balloons, and then disappeared at 12:10 p.m. This was apparently done to provide the troops with more exact hourly time.

Someday, after the passage of many years, the waves of hatred against us will fade; history will then recognize that we fought like a people never before us.

Yet immediately retorted the other voice, “Man, you’re the company commander!” Exactly so. I do not say it to boast. I would rather say: To whom God gives a position of authority, God also gives the wisdom to do it.

I reached the end of my mental rope with this last observation. I threw myself to the ground and burst into convulsive sobs. My people stood around me in a dark mood.

Also in the bomb shelter were the advanced scouts who had gotten us lost in the first place. Since that day, whenever we moved into a new position, I have always personally made the selection of the advanced scouts, and with the greatest care. War is a great teacher of fundamental lessons, but the tuition is expensive.

Our joy was disturbed by tears and the burning of our mucous membranes. The wind was blowing back the toxic vapors of our own gas-filled shells!  The unpleasant effects of “Blue Cross” gas (hydrogen cyanide)—gagging and coughing—forced many people to tear off their gas masks. I was very worried about the gas, but I firmly trusted our leaders. They could not possibly have made a miscalculation that would be our undoing. Still, by summoning all my energy, I forced back my first coughs, so as to avoid increasing attention to the problem.

fell short

Note:So mny expressions came from ww1

The immense desire for destruction dominated our thinking and behavior. It weighed heavily upon the battlefield, and concentrated itself in the brain. This was not unique in history. The men of the Renaissance were in the grip of passion. Cellini, the Florentine artist, wanted to be full of fury. Werewolves, on the other hand, rushed howling through the night to drink blood.

A bullet hit him in the eye, and he fell dead at the bottom of the trench. The man had been the last man alive in Lieutenant Wedelstädt’s company. When Wedelstädt saw him fall, he leaned his head on the trench wall and wept. The lieutenant would also not survive the day. I

As I learned later, the artillery had orders to fire continuously at maximum range into the enemy’s rear. This incomprehensible arrangement tore from our grasp the most beautiful fruits of victory. Grudgingly gnashing our teeth, we had to call a halt to our advance in front of the fiery wall of artillery blasts.

However, my escort claimed that he could not see my brains coming out. So, I pulled myself up and ran on with him.

There this sixth double-wounding healed as well as the previous ones.


Then we had to one more time to retreat to the main defensive trench in the rear, because our relief battalion had been nearly wiped out by the Spanish disease (a world-wide flu epidemic). Also in our own company, several men daily reported sick. In the neighboring division the flu also raged strongly.

I attempted to stop the “friendly fire.” I sent one protest after another to the artillery command posts. I urgently called for a cease fire, or for the presence of artillery officers, or spotters, in the trench. Instead of answering me, a heavy mortar began to again fire on us, and, in my opinion, completely made the trench into a slaughterhouse.

Note:Friendly Fire way higher than thought

The bright full moon of the nights favored frequent visits by enemy aircraft. They gave us an idea of the overwhelming material superiority of the opposite side. Night after night, multiple squadrons floated and zoomed

The discipline of drilling, e.g., practice marching in formation, is a means to an end. No army can do without it. Neither formal education, nor athletic training, can entirely replace strict drilling. A man who has doubtful self-esteem in a crisis, must learn to obey orders, even in a dull stupor. His instincts to run from danger must be curbed by the spirited demands of his commander, even in the most terrifying moments.

found it quite smart for the English to bomb the German mind with poems, and also quite flattering for us. A war where you fight through poetic verses would be a quite blessed invention.

A bullet had pierced his steel helmet and struck him in the temple. This brave man sealed his loyalty to his commander with death. He was a teacher’s son from Letter, a town near Hanover. I later visited his family, and hold his memory sacred.

Although I have not been an enemy of women, their feminine nature irritated me every time when my fate after battle was thrown into the bed of a sick ward. From the masculine, goal-oriented, and practical actions of war, I was immersed in an atmosphere of indefinable, emotional outpourings. A pleasant exception was the down-to-earth practicality of the Catholic order of sisters.

However, at age 23, author Ernst Jünger finished the war as one of the most decorated soldiers on either side. He survived being wounded on seven occasions, and never fought troops from his cherished American West. See

A “Fusilier” was an 18th-cenetury soldier armed with a light flintlock musket, or “fusil.”]

No less than Hitler himself admired Mr. Jünger’s war memoir, and the Nazis actively courted Mr. Jünger.  Mr. Jünger, though, politely, but firmly, refused to join the Nazi Party.

Mr. Jünger also distanced himself from rising antisemitism. He and his brother both resigned in protest from their veterans’ organization, after its Jewish members were expelled.

wing organizations associated with Mr. Jünger.  On the eve of the Second World War, the author published On Marble Cliffs, a thinly veiled, anti-Hitler allegory.

Mr. Jünger ultimately published around 50 books. In 1982, he won the much-coveted Goethe Prize of the City of Frankfurt. However, passionate left-wing protesters raged through the streets, denouncing his alleged militarism.

In 1992, captured Nazi archives from the collapsed Soviet Union became available. A stunning 1944 memo confirmed the planned arrest by the Nazis of one Captain Ernst Jünger for disloyalty. Surprisingly, the German dictator Adolf Hitler abruptly halted the proceedings, without comment, and much to the disappointment of his henchmen.

Conspiracy by Ryan Holiday

From my notion template – goodreads digest here

The Book in 3 Sentences

  1. The story of Peter Theil’s feud with Gawker
  2. A periodically interesting look at the nature of conspiracies and grudges
  3. A nice study in patience and the power of our modern tech oligarchs
  4. The oligarch’s power resides in the ability to be patient and thoroughly work the system


Conspiracy by Ryan Holiday – would have made a great Atavist article, as a book it is ignorable – the subject matter is interesting, but it is overlong and very padded

My Top Quotes

  • Alexandre Dumas once wrote that the king of the press has a throne everywhere.
  • To begin you must study the end. You don’t want to be the first to act, you want to be the last man standing.
  • Ethics don’t win the war, but they do help keep the peace.
  • The majority of their communication is done over the phone or alone in Peter’s home. Emails can be subpoenaed, or can be hacked. Meeting in public, being seen at Thiel’s offices or in public
  • Mr. A claims that the conspirators had nothing to do with starting Gamergate, but they undoubtedly fanned the flames. His description of Gamergate to me as “largely autonomous but very helpful” is perfectly typical of the lawyerly gymnastics I’ve come to expect from him.
  • The line attributed to the management guru Peter Drucker is that culture eats strategy. It’s a truism that applies as much to conspiracies as it does to businesses. It doesn’t matter how great your plan is, it doesn’t matter who your people are, if what binds them all together is weak or toxic, so, too, will be the outcome—if you even get that far. But if the ties that bind you together are strong, if you have a sense
  • As far as I know, Gawker conducted no mock trials—at least it couldn’t in the Tampa Bay region. Because Mr. A claims he hired the only two firms in the area to conflict them out of being able to work with Gawker. His simple move had kept the fog of war thick around them. No chance for last-minute clarity or perspective.
  • “It became very clear that the kind of jurors we wanted were overweight women. Most people can’t empathize with a sex tape, but overweight women are sensitive about their bodies and feel like they have been bullied on the internet. Men don’t have that problem. Attractive women don’t have that problem. They haven’t been body shamed,” Mr. A tells me proudly. Hypothetical Juror #3 might not have been a victim of revenge porn. She might not care about celebrity privacy. Hypothetical Juror #3 might not have known what it feels like to be Hulk Hogan, but she knows what it’s like to have an unflattering picture of herself on the internet. She knows what it feels like to be embarrassed or ashamed. Which is why they would choose her.
  • The great sin for a leader, Frederick the Great once observed, was not in being defeated but in being surprised.
  • Without a way out, tensions only increase and combatants have no choice but to fight on. Scipio Africanus, the general who defeated Hannibal, would say that an army should not only leave a road for their enemy to retreat by, they should pave it. The Romans had a name for this road, the Gallic Way.

Odd John by Olaf Stapledon

From my notion template – good reads link here

What the book is about

A new race “Homo Superior” much like mutants in X-men, emerges – this is their story

How I Discovered It

From Star Maker by Olaf Stapledon


Pretty weird and brilliant

What I Liked About It

It was a big story, lots of weird detail – insightful in lots of ways – particularly with the “only part he had to play was to be an ugly hateful trap (paraphrase)” and the part about the wise old man letting the kids do their thing, while he did important work like contemplating God.

What I Didn’t Like About It

Kind of short – no clear resolution to several of the characters

Who Would Like It?

Science Fiction people – between wars fiction people

Related Books

Star Maker


  • To this day I know little but the amazing facts of his career. I know that he never walked till he was six, that before he was ten he committed several burglaries and killed a policeman, that at eighteen, when he still looked a young boy, he founded his preposterous colony in the South Seas, and that at twenty-three, in appearance but little altered, he outwitted the six warships that six Great Powers had sent to seize him. I know also how John and all his followers died.
  • discovered, the great majority of these very rare supernormals, whom John sometimes called “wide-awakes,” are either so delicate physically or so unbalanced mentally that they leave no considerable mark on the world.
  • John’s birth had put the great maternal animal to a severe strain. She carried her burden for eleven months, till the doctors decided that at all costs she must be relieved.
  • On a certain Tuesday he was merely babbling as usual. On Wednesday he was exceptionally quiet, and seemed for the first time to understand something of his mother’s baby-talk. On Thursday morning he startled the family by remarking very slowly but very correctly, “I—want—milk.” That afternoon he said to a visitor who no longer interested him, “Go—away. I—do—not—like—you—much.”
  • The latter was for John the easier task. He set about studying our conduct and our motives, partly by questioning us, partly by observation. He soon discovered two important facts, first that we were often surprisingly ignorant of our own motives, and second that in many respects he differed from the rest of us. In later years he himself told me that this was the time when he first began to realize his uniqueness.
  • He was at this time plainly going through a phase of concentrated self-assertion.
  • “Philosophy,” he said, “is really very helpful to the growing mind, but it’s terribly disappointing too. At first I thought I’d found the mature human intelligence at work at last. Reading Plato, and Spinoza, and Kant, and some of the modern realists too, I almost felt I had come across people of my own kind. I walked in step with them. I played their game with a sense that it called out powers that I had never exercised before. Sometimes I couldn’t follow them. I seemed to miss some vital move. The exhilaration of puzzling over these critical points, and feeling one had met a real master mind at last! But as I went on from philosopher to philosopher and browsed around all over the place, I began to realize the shocking truth that these critical points were not what I thought they were, but just outrageous howlers. It had seemed incredible that these obviously well-developed minds could make simple mistakes; and so I had respectfully dismissed the possibility, and looked for some profound truth. But oh my God, I was wrong! Howler after howler! Sometimes a philosopher’s opponents spot his howlers, and are frightfully set up with their own cleverness. But most of them never get spotted at all, so far as I can discover. Philosophy is an amazing tissue of really fine thinking and incredible, puerile mistakes. It’s like one of those rubber ‘bones’ they give dogs to chew, damned good for the mind’s teeth, but as food—no bloody good at all.”
  • He wanted my affair with the Pax-like girl to go forward and complete itself not only because, as my friend, he espoused my need, but also because, if I were to give it up for his sake, I should become a vindictive rather than a willing slave. He preferred, I imagine, to be served by a free and roving hound rather than by a chained and hungry wolf.
  • But he regarded the whole commercial world with a contempt which suggested now the child, and now the philosopher. He was at once below it and above
  • Examining her racquet, she suddenly asked, “Do you blame me, about John?” While I was trying to reply, she added, “I expect you know what a power he has. He’s like—a god pretending to be a monkey. When you’ve been noticed by him, you can’t bother about ordinary people.”
  • “Well, they’re damned fine stuff, these fishermen, and Abe and Mark are two of the best. You see, when Homo sapiens is up against the sort of job and the sort of life that’s not really beyond him, he’s all right. It’s only when civilization gives him a job that’s too much for his intelligence or too much for his imagination that he fails. And then the failure poisons him through and through.”
  • “Ninety-nine per cent. slush and one per cent.—something else, but what?”
  • What’s the group, anyhow, but just everybody lumped together, and nearly all fools or pimps or knaves? It’s not simply the group that fires him. It’s justice, righteousness, and the whole spiritual music that ought to be made by the group. Damned funny, that! Of course, I know all Communists are not religious, some are merely—well, like that bloody little man the other day. But this fellow is religious. And so was Lenin, I guess. It’s not enough to say his root motive was desire to avenge his brother. In a sense that’s true. But one can feel behind nearly everything he said a sense of being the chosen instrument of Fate, of the Dialectic, of what might almost as well be called God.”
  • Things haven’t got bad enough for that in England yet. At present all that can be done by blokes like this is to spout hate and give the other side a fine excuse for repressing Communism. Of course, hosts of well-off people and would-be-well-off people are just as ashamed of themselves subconsciously as that blighter, and just as full of hate, and in need of a scapegoat to exercise their hate upon. He and his like are a godsend to them.”
  • “You talk,” he said, “as if hate were rational, as if men only hated what they had reason to hate. If you want to understand modern Europe and the world, you have to keep in mind three things that are really quite distinct although they are all tangled up together. First there’s this almost universal need to hate something, rationally or irrationally, to find something to unload your own sins on to, and then smash it. In perfectly healthy minds (even of your species) this need to hate plays a small part. But nearly all minds are damnably unhealthy, and so they must have something to hate. Mostly, they just hate their neighbours or their wives or husbands or parents or children. But they get a much more exalted sort of excitement by hating foreigners. A nation, after all, is just a society for hating foreigners, a sort of super-hate-club. The second thing to bear in mind is the obvious one of economic disorder. The people with economic power try to run the world for their own profit. Not long ago they succeeded, more or less, but now the job has got beyond them, and, as we all know, there’s the hell of a mess. This gives hate a new outlet. The have-nots with very good reason exercise their hate upon the haves, who have made the mess and can’t clean it up. The haves fear and therefore zestfully hate the have-nots. What people can’t realize is that if there were no deep-rooted need to hate in almost every mind the social problem would be at least intelligently faced, perhaps solved. Then there’s the third factor, namely, the growing sense that there’s something all wrong with modern solely-scientific culture. I don’t mean that people are intellectually doubtful about science. It’s much deeper than that. They are simply finding that modern culture isn’t enough to live by. It just doesn’t work in practice. It has got a screw loose somewhere. Or some vital bit of it is dead. Now this horror against modern culture, against science and mechanization and standardization, is only just beginning to be a serious factor. It’s newer than Bolshevism. The Bolshies, and all the socially left-wing people, are still content with modern culture. Or rather, they put all its faults down to capitalism, dear innocent theorists. But the essence of it they still accept. They’re rationalistic, scientific, mechanistic, brass-tack-istic. But another crowd, scattered about all over the place, are having the hell of a deep revulsion against all this. They don’t know what’s the matter with it, but they’re sure it’s not enough. Some of them, feeling that lack, just creep back into church, specially the Roman Church. But too much water has passed under the bridge since the churches were alive, so that’s no real use. The crowds who can’t swallow the Christian dope are terribly in need of something, though they don’t know what, or even know they’re in need at all. And this deep need gets mixed up with their hate-need; and, if they’re middle class, it gets mixed up also with their…
  • Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
  • Note the sin eater
  • what happened in Italy. That sort of thing will spread. I’d bet my boots that in a few years there’ll be a tremendous anti-left movement all over Europe, inspired partly by fear and hate, partly by that vague, fumbling suspicion that there’s something all wrong with scientific culture. It’s more than an intellectual suspicion. It’s a certainty of the bowels, call it a sort of brute-blind religious hunger. Didn’t you feel the beginnings of it in Germany last year when we…
  • so worthy and so easily twisted into something bloody. If Christianity could hold it in and discipline it, it might do wonders. But Christianity’s played out. So these folk will probably invent some ghastly religion of their own. Their God will be the God of the hate-club, the nation. That’s what’s coming. The new Messiahs (one for each tribe) won’t triumph by love and gentleness, but by hate and ruthlessness. Just because…
  • “The best minds!” he said. “One of the main troubles of your unhappy species is that the best minds can go even farther astray than the second best, much farther than the umpteenth best. That’s what has been happening during the last few centuries. Swarms of the best minds have been leading the populace down blind alley after blind alley, and doing it with tremendous courage and resource. Your trouble, as a species, is that you can’t keep hold of everything at once. Any one who is very wide awake toward one set of facts invariably loses sight of all the other equally important sets. And as you have practically no inner…
  • They also demanded aesthetic pleasure of a rather self-indulgent sort, and the thoroughly self-indulgent pleasure of tasting ideas, just for their spiciness or tang, so to speak. Bright young things! Yes, blowflies of a decaying civilization. Poor wretches! How they must hate themselves, really. But damn it, after all, they’re mostly good stuff gone wrong.”
  • You see they’re all very sensitive creatures, very susceptible to pleasure and pain; and early in their lives, whenever they bumped into anything like a fundamental experience, they found it terribly upsetting. And so they formed habits of avoiding that sort of thing. And they made up for this persistent avoidance by drenching themselves in all sorts of minor and superficial (though sensational) experiences; and also by talking big about Experience with a capital E, and buzzing intellectually.”
  • Homo sapiens is a spider trying to crawl out of a basin. The higher he crawls, the steeper the hill. Sooner or later, down he goes. So long as he’s on the bottom, he can get along quite nicely, but as soon as he starts climbing, he begins to slip. And the higher he climbs the farther he falls. It doesn’t matter which direction he tries. He can make civilization after civilization, but every
  • with bleeding blisters. But the deed was accomplished. The hunters of all the ages saluted him, for he had done what none of them could have done. A child, he had gone naked into the wilderness and conquered it. And the angels of heaven smiled at him, and beckoned him to a higher adventure.
  • It began to dawn on me that the discovery of his own kind, even in a lunatic asylum, must have been for John a deeply moving experience. I began to realize that, having lived for nearly eighteen years with mere animals, he had at last discovered a human being.
  • In fact he’s the sort any decent society would drown at birth. But the mother loves him like a tigress; though she’s scared stiff of him too, and loathes him. Neither parent has any idea he’s—what he is. They think he’s just an ordinary little cripple. And because he’s a cripple, and because they treat him all wrong, he’s brewing the most murderous hate imaginable.
  • Presently I began to ask myself what sort of a devil this baby Satan really was. Was he one of ‘us,’ or something quite different? But there was very little doubt in my mind, actually. Of course he was one of us, and probably a much mightier one than either J. J. or myself. But everything had gone wrong with him, from conception onwards. His body had failed him, and was tormenting him, and his mind was as crippled as his body, and his parents were quite unable to give him a fair chance. So the only self-expression possible to him was hate. And he had specialized in hate pretty thoroughly. But the oddest thing about it all was this. The further I got away from the experience, the more clearly it was borne in on me that his ecstasy of hate was really quite self-detached. He wasn’t hating for himself. He hated himself as much as me. He hated everything, including hate.
  • And why? Because, as I begin to discover, there’s a sort of minute, blazing star of worship right down in the pit of his hell. He sees everything from the side of eternity just as clearly as I do, perhaps more clearly; but—how shall I put it?—he conceives his part in the picture to be the devil’s part, and he’s playing it with a combination of passion and detachment like a great artist, and for the glory of God, if you understand what I mean. And he’s right. It’s the only thing he can do, and he does it with style. I take off my hat to him, in spite of everything. But it’s pretty ghastly, really. Think of the life he’s living; just like an infant’s, and with his powers! I dare say he’ll manage to find some trick for blowing up the whole planet some day, if he lives much longer. And there’s another thing. I’ve got to keep a sharp look-out or he’ll catch me again. He can reach me anywhere, in Australia or Patagonia. God! I can feel him now!
  • I asked what language they had been talking. “English,” he said. “She wanted to tell me a lot about herself, and didn’t want the old one to know about it, so she started in on English-back-to-front. I’ve never tried that before, but it’s quite easy, for us.” There was a faint stress on the “us.”
  • For some years she lived upon him, latterly giving him nothing in return but the terrible charm of her society once a week at dinner.
  • Save for these, John found nothing but lunatics, cripples, invalids, and inveterate old vagabonds in whom the superior mentality had been hopelessly distorted by contact with the normal species.
  • But Adlan’s brilliance made his way of life seem all the more perplexing. With some complacency John assured himself that if he were to live as long as Adlan he would not have to spend his old age toiling for a pittance from Homo sapiens. But before he parted from Adlan he began to take a humbler view of himself and a more respectful attitude to Adlan.
  • “My son, my dear son,” he said, “Allah wills of his creatures two kinds of service. One is that they should toil to fulfil his active purpose in the world, and that is the service which you have most at heart. The other is that they should observe with understanding and praise with discriminate delight the excellent form of his handiwork. And this is my service, to lay at Allah’s feet such a life of praise that no man, not even you, my very dear son, can give him. He has fashioned you in such a manner that you may serve him best in action, though in action inspired always by deep-searching contemplation. But me he has fashioned such that I must serve him directly through contemplation and praise, though for this end I had first to pass through the school of action.”
  • One morning she came down to breakfast as though nothing had happened, but looking, so John said, “like a corpse animated by a soul out of Hell.”
  • Distance, apparently, made no difference to the ease with which he could pick up the psychic processes of other supernormals. Success depended entirely on his ability to “tune in” to their mental “setting” or mode of experience, and this depended on the degree of similarity of their mode to his own.
  • And we know, you must remember, that Homo sapiens has little more to contribute to the music of this planet, nothing in fact but vain repetition. It is time for finer instruments to take up the theme.”
  • One bit of hypnotic technique (or magic, if you like) I felt sure I could now perform successfully on normal minds in which there were strong religious convictions. This we decided to use. The natives had welcomed us to their island and arranged a feast for us. After the feast there were ritual dances and religious rites. When the excitement was at a climax, I made Lo dance for them. And when she had done, I said to them, in their own language, that we were gods, that we needed their island, that they must therefore make a great funeral pyre for themselves, mount it together, lie down together, and gladly die. This they did, most gladly, men, women and children. When they had all died we set fire to the faggots and their bodies were burnt.”
  • Her general appearance was that of a cretin; yet she had supernormal intelligence and temperament, and also hyper-sensitive vision. Not only did she distinguish two primary colours within the spectrum-band that we call blue, but also she could see well down into the infra-red. In addition to this colour-discrimination, she had a sense of form that was, so to speak, much finer-grained than ours. Probably there were more nerve-endings in her retinae than in normal eyes, for she could read a newspaper at twenty yards’ distance, and she could see at a glance that a penny was not accurately circular.
  • Seeing all these supernormals together, I was struck by a pervading Chinese or Mongolian expression about them. They had come from many lands, but they had a family likeness. John might well be right in guessing that all had sprung from a single “sporting point” centuries ago, probably in Central Asia. From that original mutation, or perhaps from a number of similar mutations, successive generations of offspring had spread over Asia, Europe, Africa, interbreeding with the normal kind, but producing occasionally a true supernormal individual.
  • One of the most disconcerting features of life on the island was that much of the conversation of the colonists was carried on telepathically. So far as I could judge, vocal speech was in process of atrophy. The younger members still used it as the normal means of communication, and even among the elders it was often indulged in for its own sake, much as we may prefer to walk rather than take a bus. The spoken language was prized chiefly for its aesthetic value. Not only did the islanders make formal poems for one another as frequently as the cultured Japanese; they also delighted sometimes to converse with one another in subtle metre, assonance and rhyme. Vocal speech was used also for sheer emotional expression, both deliberately and inadvertently. Our civilization had left its mark on the island in such ejaculations as “damn” and “blast” and several which we do not yet tolerate in print. In all reactions to the personality of others, too, speech played an important part. It was often a vehicle for the expression of rivalry, friendship and love. But even in this field all finer intercourse, I was told, depended on telepathy. Speech was but an obbligato to the real theme.
  • “helped greatly by Shên Kuo, whose genius moves in that sphere. We attained also a kind of astronomical consciousness. Some of us at least glimpsed the myriads of peopled worlds, and even the minds of stars and of nebulae. We saw also very clearly that we must soon die. And there were other things which I must not tell you.”
  • The true purpose of the awakened spirit, they reminded me, is twofold, namely to help in the practical talk of world-building, and to employ itself to the best of its capacity in intelligent worship. Under the first head they had at least created something glorious though ephemeral, a microcosm, a world in little. But the more ambitious part of their practical purpose, the founding of a new species, they were destined never to fulfil. Therefore they were concentrating all their strength upon the second aim. They must apprehend existence as precisely and zestfully as they could, and salute That in the universe which was of supreme excellence.
  • The Commander was one of those exceptional seamen who spend a good deal of their time in reading. His mind had a background of ideas which rendered him susceptible to the technique.
  • Note:That is deep. the more ideas the more convincible you are or susceptible to bad ideas maybe
  • But at this point, apparently, Shên Kuo interposed, and urged that the project should be abandoned. He pointed out that it would absorb the whole energy of the colony, and that the great spiritual task would have to be shelved, at any rate for a very long time. “Any resistance on our part,” he said, “would bring the whole force of the inferior species against us, and there would be no peace till we had conquered the world. That would take a long time. We are young, and we should have to spend the most critical years of our lives in warfare. When we had finished the great slaughter, should we be any longer fit mentally for our real work, for the founding of a finer species, and for worship? No! We should be ruined, hopelessly distorted in spirit. Violent practical undertakings would have blotted out for ever such insight as we have now gained into the true purpose of life. Perhaps if we were all thirty years older we should be sufficiently mature to pass through a decade of warfare without becoming too impoverished, spiritually, for our real work. But as things are, surely the wise course is to forego the weapon, and make up our minds to fulfil as much as possible of our accepted spiritual task of worship before we are destroyed.”

From Eros To Gaia

From my notion template

From Eros to Gaia

The Book in 3 Sentences

  1. A rambling book by Freeman Dyson – some nuggets not seen anywhere else, some duplicated in his other books. It could have been a bit more focused but I think this was a collection of essays that did not fit elsewhere

How I Discovered It

I’m working my way through all of the more mainstream Freeman Dyson Books

Who Should Read It?

Freeman Dyson Fans – everyone else should start with his other works

How the Book Changed Me

  • The most interesting nugget of wisdom is the thought that the size of any human endeavor, while measurable quantifiabley, is inherently a qualitative trait/attribute – i.e. comparisons are hard to accurately make and very few things are “just” half the size of, twice as long as, 3X the weight of, etc”
  • If it involves humans everything should be measured by my dad’s definition of order of magnitude – which is to say that all comparisons are imprecise by definition and are comparisons of fundamentally different things that differ by more than just the size, even if the size is the only apparently different variable

My Top 3 Quotes

  • Humanity is fortunate in having such a variety of energy resources at its disposal. In the very long run we shall need energy that is unpolluting; we shall have sunlight. In the fairly long run we shall need energy that is inexhaustible and moderately clean; we shall have deuterium. In the short run we shall need energy that is readily usable and abundant; we shall have uranium. Right now we need energy that is cheap and convenient; we have coal and oil. Nature has been kinder to us than we had any right to expect.
  • The destiny of our species is shaped by the imperatives of survival on six distinct time scales. To survive means to compete successfully on all six time scales. But the unit of survival is different at each of the six time scales. On a time scale of years, the unit is the individual. On a time scale of decades, the unit is the family. On a time scale of centuries, the unit is the tribe or nation. On a time scale of millennia, the unit is the culture. On a time scale of tens of millennia, the unit is the species. On a time scale of eons, the unit is the whole web of life on our planet. Every human being is the product of adaptation to the demands of all six time scales. That is why conflicting loyalties are deep in our nature. In order to survive, we have needed to be loyal to ourselves, to our families, to our tribes,
  • You can drop a mouse down a thousand-yard mine shaft; and, on arriving at the bottom, it gets a slight shock and walks away. A rat is killed, a man is broken, a horse splashes.


  • The pilgrimage from Eros to Gaia is a good metaphor for the life of a writer, beginning with a joyful fantasy of interplanetary fireworks and ending with a serene fantasy of green leaves and peaceful death.
  • You can drop a mouse down a thousand-yard mine shaft; and, on arriving at the bottom, it gets a slight shock and walks away. A rat is killed, a man is broken, a horse splashes.
  • Plan B gave the political authorities in Moscow what they wanted, a tangible symbol of Soviet greatness. Plan A might have been better for science. Plan A might have saved a whole generation of astronomers from frustration. But with plan A, the political authorities would not have had the satisfaction of building the biggest telescope in the world, and there would have been no hundred-foot wall for the visitors to write their names
  • In science, as in the quest for a village water supply, big projects bring enhanced status; small projects do not. In the competition for status, big projects usually win, whether or not they are scientifically justified. As the committees of academic professionals compete for power and influence, big science becomes more and more preponderant over small science.
  • Fortunately, the American academic system is pluralistic and chaotic enough that first-rate small science can still be done in spite of the committees. In odd corners, in out-of-the-way universities, and in obscure industrial laboratories, our Fulanis are still at work.
  • One of the main differences is that accelerators have short working lives, whereas telescopes last forever. An accelerator usually does its most important work within five years of being switched on. At the age of ten it is ready to be scrapped or converted into an injector for a larger machine. Telescopes are still young at forty. The forty-year-old 200-inch at Palomar is still as productive as it has ever been. The seventy-year-old 100-inch at Mount Wilson was recently retired, not because the telescope itself was obsolete but because the growth of the city of Los Angeles had made the sky too bright for serious astronomy. Almost all the major telescopes that have ever been built are still in use.
  • A high-visibility accelerator project, driven by political prestige rather than by scientific need, usually sets back the progress of particle physics in a country by about ten years.
  • This is another criterion for deciding the right size for a scientific project. The right size means a size at which you can afford to take a gamble. If you are too big to gamble, you are too big to do creative science.
  • The success of Apollo was mainly due to the fact that the project was conceived and honestly presented to the public as an international sporting event and not as a contribution to science. The order of priorities in Apollo was accurately reflected by the first item to be unloaded after each landing on the Moon’s surface, the television camera. The landing, the coming and going of the astronauts, the exploring of the Moon’s surface, the gathering of Moon rocks and the earthward departure, all were expertly choreographed with the cameras placed in the right positions to make a dramatic show on television.
  • The history of the shuttle is a typical example of a generic problem that occurs frequently in the development of science and technology, the problem of premature choice. Premature choice means betting all your money on one horse before you have found out whether she is lame. Politicians and administrators responsible for large projects are often obsessed with avoiding waste. To avoid waste they find it reasonable to choose one design as soon as possible and shut down the support of alternatives. So it was with the shuttle.
  • In science and technology, as in biological evolution, waste is the secret of efficiency. Without waste you cannot find out which horse is the fittest. This is a hard lesson for politicians and administrators to learn.
  • It occurred to me then that there might be a connection between the wastefulness and the flourishing of science at Cornell. If you want to do well in science, you had better not be too much concerned with saving envelopes.
  • The moral of this story is clear. Even a smart twenty-two-year-old is not a reliable guide to the future of science.
  • From a military point of view the attack was more costly to England than to Germany. Like many other such follies, it was a public-relations triumph and was made into a successful movie.
  • He chose to keep his squadron busy with operations which were technically brilliant, emotionally satisfying to the British public, and not too dangerous to his crews. Bert Harris, usually a hard man to please, loved these cheap and spectacular victories. The cheapest and most spectacular of all was the sinking of the Tirpitz. So it happened that Tait achieved the ritualization of strategic bombing operations, even before the war was over. And the operational exercise at Fairchild was only the same process of ritualization carried to its logical conclusion. I
  • The reason why LeMay succeeded while Bert Harris failed was that the Japanese did not have effective defenses. LeMay was able to ignore such defenses as there were over Japan. The fact that the Japanese defenses were negligible is well known. Another fact is not so well known. The Japanese might have had an effective defense when LeMay attacked. It was, like the Battle of Waterloo, a close-run thing. The Japanese had a twin-engined night fighter, called by them the Gekko and by the Americans the Irving.
  • While I was inspecting Tomahawks at various stages of their manufacture and deployment, I could see the pride and joy which these weapons inspire in those who handle them. That is the tragedy of the Tomahawk. It is a genuine work of art. It is an expression of human genius. Thousands of talented and dedicated people are devoting their lives to it. My friend and colleague Sidney Drell said, after visiting one of our cruise missile assembly plants, “these people build cruise missiles the way Stradivarius built violins.” Why must our skilled craftsmen and engineers find their fulfillment in building such lethal toys? Why can’t they build violins?
  • Physicists talk about two kinds of fields: classical fields and quantum fields. Actually, we believe that all fields in nature are quantum fields. A classical field is just a large-scale manifestation of a quantum field. But since classical fields were discovered first and are easier to understand, it is useful to say what we mean by a classical field first, and to talk about quantum fields later.
  • Quantum field theory is a theory of the behavior of field strengths averaged over finite regions of space and time.
  • Some ten or twenty different quantum fields exist. Each fills the whole of space and has its own particular properties. There is nothing else except these fields; the whole of the material universe is built of them. Between various pairs of fields there are various kinds of interaction. Each field manifests itself as a type of elementary particle. The particles of a given type are identical and indistinguishable. The number of particles of a given type is not fixed, for particles are constantly being created or annihilated or transmuted into one another. The properties of the interactions determine the rules for creation and transmutation of particles.
  • For any speculation that does not at first glance look crazy, there is no hope.
  • Energy of a higher form can be degraded into a lower form, but a lower form can never be wholly converted back into a higher form. The direction of energy flow in the universe is determined by one basic fact, that gravitational energy is not only predominant in quantity but also highest in quality. Gravitation carries no entropy and stands first in the order of merit.
  • I do not say that the experts are giving us wrong answers. I say that they are frequently not asking the right questions.
  • To indicate the crucial nature of the nonclimatic effects of carbon dioxide, it is sufficient to mention the fact that a field of corn plants growing in full sunshine will completely deplete the carbon dioxide from the air within one meter of ground in a time of the order of five minutes.
  • We scientists must share the blame. It is much more comfortable for a scientist to run a computer model in an air-conditioned supercomputer center rather than to put on winter clothes and try to keep instruments correctly calibrated outside in the mud
  • Up to a point, the computer models are useful and necessary. They are only harmful when they become a substitute for real-world observation.
  • The moral of this story is that for plants growing under dry conditions, enriched carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is a substitute for water. Give a plant more carbon dioxide, and it can make do with less water.
  • But the snobs at our Institute could not tolerate the presence of electrical engineers who sullied with their dirty hands the purity of our scholarly atmosphere. Von Neumann was like Bragg, strong enough to override the opposition. But when von Neumann tragically died, the snobs took their revenge and got rid of the computing project root and branch.
  • We are trying to strengthen and extend in our own era the scientific conspiracy of nations.
  • “There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion.”
  • intelligent enough to tell the difference between a challenging intellectual adventure and a welfare program for holders of the Ph.D.
  • Complementarity says that nature is too subtle to be described from any single point of view.
  • Perhaps that is why, during all those years when the schools were teaching Latin and Greek and totally neglecting science, England produced so few great classical scholars and so many great scientists.
  • At Cambridge I learned that it is almost impossible for a Russian, even a Russian with wide knowledge of the Western world, to grasp the idea of a government being unable to do whatever it decides to do.
  • One fact of human life is nationalism. In all parts of the world nationalism is the strongest political force. In most places it is the only effective force making possible the organization of people’s efforts for peace or war. Where nationalism is weak, as in Nigeria or Belgium, it is usually because a smaller political unit, a tribe or a province, has usurped the place of the nation in people’s minds. The strength of nationalism in the world as a whole has steadily increased during recent centuries, and is probably still increasing.
  • In the pure white English society into which I was born, having at that time no racial problems to worry about, we developed our famous class system instead. As a middle-class child, I was unable to communicate with most of the children of my neighborhood, since they were “Oiks” and spoke a different dialect.
  • This is human life the way it is, my son wearing his hair odiously long because I dislike to be seen together with it in public, and we of the older generation fulfilling our duty as parents by keeping our hair short and marijuana illegal.
  • We all have a psychological need to feel identified with a group, preferably not too large a group, with a common purpose and a common enemy. Countries as big as the United States are already far too big to fulfill this need satisfactorily. Countries as small as Holland or Switzerland generally handle social problems better than big countries do. Nationalism is most genuine and spontaneous in countries which are both small and threatened, such as Finland or Israel.
  • People will prefer to live in filth with the threat of annihilation hanging over their heads, rather than allow foreigners to tax them.
  • After a government kills one thorium-breeding reactor project, nobody has the heart to try to begin another.
  • Inventive spirits rebel against such rules and leave the leadership of technology to the uninventive. These are the hidden costs of saying no. To mitigate such costs, lawyers and legislators should carry in their hearts the other lesson that Blake has taught us: “One Law for the Lion and Ox is Oppression.”
  • He fails to understand the historical background of the 1940s and 1950s because his interpretations are dominated by the ideological clichés of the 1960s and 1970s. I am not saying that history ought to be morally neutral. I am saying only that history ought to understand before it condemns
  • He came closer than any later historian can come to answering the crucial question, “Would Japan have surrendered if the atomic bombs had not been dropped?” I asked Butow this question explicitly when he was visiting Princeton. Butow replied, “The Japanese leaders themselves do not know the answer to that question, and if they cannot answer it, neither can I.” Butow went on to explain that the Japanese government in 1945 was delicately balanced between the civilian leaders, who were trying to open peace negotiations through the Soviet Union, and the military leaders, who were preparing to defend every inch of Japanese soil with the same suicidal ferocity with which they had defended Okinawa.
  • preventive war in 1936, when Germany was still effectively disarmed and incapable of serious resistance against invading forces, might have overturned Hitler’s regime in a few days and saved the 50 million human beings who were to die in World War 2.
  • a free society needed superior military technology to withstand the superior discipline of a totalitarian enemy, and the military establishment needed a free society to allow scientists and soldiers to work together in an informal and creative style that a totalitarian state could not match.
  • When Heims writes of von Neumann and of the arms race without discussing the notion of “Fighting for Freedom,” that grand illusion that lies at the root of the turmoil and tragedy of our times, he is plowing a shallow furrow in the rich soil of history.
  • The healthy growth of science requires that both traditions be honored. Bacon without Descartes would reduce science to butterfly collecting; Descartes without Bacon would reduce science to pure mathematics.
  • Tolstoy’s uniqueness lies in his profound understanding of the ordinary, and in the very ordinariness of his profound understanding. In his view, truth is not buried but camouflaged. Unlike most thinkers of his time and ours, he rejected philosophy’s prevailing impulse to locate meaning in the distance, in a concealed order. Tolstoy was instead a philosopher of the present, of the open present, with all its unrealized opportunities and wasteful carelessness. (Steve Note – i.e. the god of the open spaces)
  • My friend and colleague, the physicist Chen Ning Yang, told me once that when he was a boy of six in China he looked up at the stars and asked what are the laws that make them move across the sky. But when I was a boy of six in England, I looked up at the stars and asked what are their names
  • When fear of death assails me, as it assails everyone from time to time, I take courage from that memory of green leaves and blue sky. Perhaps, when death comes, he will once again come as a friend.
  • Just as no single termite knows how to build a nest, no single human knows how to build a culture. A single termite alone cannot survive, and a single human being alone is not human. Termite societies are glued together with mud and saliva; human societies are glued together with conversation and friendship. Conversation is the natural and characteristic activity of human beings. Friendship is the milieu within which we function.
  • The destiny of our species is shaped by the imperatives of survival on six distinct time scales. To survive means to compete successfully on all six time scales. But the unit of survival is different at each of the six time scales. On a time scale of years, the unit is the individual. On a time scale of decades, the unit is the family. On a time scale of centuries, the unit is the tribe or nation. On a time scale of millennia, the unit is the culture. On a time scale of tens of millennia, the unit is the species. On a time scale of eons, the unit is the whole web of life on our planet. Every human being is the product of adaptation to the demands of all six time scales. That is why conflicting loyalties are deep in our nature. In order to survive, we have needed to be loyal to ourselves, to our families, to our tribes,

A Hell of a Woman by Jim Thompson

From my notion book review template

A Hell of a Woman by Jim Thompson

What It’s About – lowlife surrounded by other lowlife’s meets desperate woman – the lowlife reveals himself to be quite low over the course of the book

How I Discovered It – Amazon sent me an email saying I would like it, and it was on sale

Thoughts – The pacing is the most interesting part – Thompson starts the main character off in the first person as the inner dialogue of a regular guy, then it changes to the dialogue of the average lowlife, then it gets much worse – all very believable though.

Calling Thompson the “Dimestore Dostoevsky” is pretty accurate

What I Liked About It – the character progression as a moral descent, which in hindsight, was obvious. Also the book was a very fast read – I read it in two or three sittings.

What I Didn’t Like About It – the ending had too many new things which hurt the concepts a bit

Who Would Like It? – any hard boiled fiction fans

Related Books – Pop 1280, the Grifters

Book Review – The Screwtape Letters by CS Lewis

From my notion book review template

The Book

The Screwtape Letters by CS Lewis

What It’s About

Letters from an older demon to his demon nephew on how to lure humanity into damnation – similar to the role of mobile phones and social media in our modern age

How I Discovered It

A book by Freeman Dyson – in his Templeton section on Theological Fiction


An interesting approach to the subject of moral progress

What I Liked About It

The perspective – one never hears the devil’s perspective, not does one ever read a book about moral progress as a process, instead of just arriving at an ideal end state

What I Didn’t Like About It

Nothing in particular

Who Would Like It?

People who are more prone to pondering religion and existence than going to church

Related Books

StarMaker by Olaf Stapledon

Money Quotes

There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.

Keep everything hazy in his mind now, and you will have all eternity wherein to amuse yourself by producing in him the peculiar kind of clarity which Hell affords.

What he says, even on his knees, about his own sinfulness is all parrot talk. At bottom, he still believes he has run up a very favourable credit-balance in the Enemy’s ledger by allowing himself to be converted, and thinks that he is showing great humility and condescension in going to church with these ‘smug’, commonplace neighbours at all.

Keep his mind off the most elementary duties by directing it to the most advanced and spiritual ones. Aggravate that most useful human characteristic, the horror and neglect of the obvious. You must bring him to a condition in which he can practise self-examination for an hour without discovering any of those facts about himself which are perfectly clear to anyone who has ever lived in the same house with him or worked in the same office.

Once this habit is well established you have the delightful situation of a human saying things with the express purpose of offending and yet having a grievance when offence is taken

And how disastrous for us is the continual remembrance of death which war enforces. One of our best weapons, contented worldliness, is rendered useless.

Do what you will, there is going to be some benevolence, as well as some malice, in your patient’s soul. The great thing is to direct the malice to his immediate neighbours whom he meets every day and to thrust his benevolence out to the remote circumference, to people he does not know. The malice thus becomes wholly real and the benevolence largely imaginary.

the healthy and out-going activities which we want him to avoid can be inhibited and nothing given in return, so that at least he may say, as one of my own patients said on his arrival down here, ‘I now see that I spent most of my life in doing neither what I ought nor what I liked.’

Let him have the feeling that he starts each day as the lawful possessor of twenty-four hours. Let him feel as a grievous tax that portion of this property which he has to make over to his employers, and as a generous donation that further portion which he allows to religious duties. But what he must never be permitted to doubt is that the total from which these deductions have been made was, in some mysterious sense, his own personal birthright.

Certainly we do not want men to allow their Christianity to flow over into their political life, for the establishment of anything like a really just society would be a major disaster. On the other hand we do want, and want very much, to make men treat Christianity as a means; preferably, of course, as a means to their own advancement, but, failing that, as a means to anything—even to social justice. The thing to do is to get a man at first to value social justice as a thing which the Enemy demands, and then work him on to the stage at which he values Christianity because it may produce social justice. For the Enemy will not be used as a convenience.

who think they can revive the Faith in order to make a good society might just as well think they can use the stairs of Heaven as a short cut to the nearest chemist’s shop. Fortunately it is quite easy to coax humans round this little corner. Only today I have found a passage in a Christian writer where he recommends his own version of Christianity on the ground that ‘only such a faith can outlast the death of old cultures and the birth of new civilisations’. You see the little rift? ‘Believe this, not because it is true, but for some other reason.’ That’s the game,

The real trouble about the set your patient is living in is that it is merely Christian. They all have individual interests, of course, but the bond remains mere Christianity. What we want, if men become Christians at all, is to keep them in the state of mind I call ‘Christianity And’. You know—Christianity and the Crisis, Christianity and the New Psychology, Christianity and the New Order, Christianity and Faith Healing, Christianity and Psychical Research, Christianity and Vegetarianism, Christianity and Spelling Reform.

At any rate, you will soon find that the justice of Hell is purely realistic, and concerned only with results. Bring us back food, or be food yourself.

American Republics by Alan Taylor – a series of thoughts

I recently finished American Republics by Alan Taylor and liked it quite a bit – some random disjointed thoughts

  1. America is optimized for grand irony and strives for it at  all times
  2. The whole notion of states rights, and that people saw themselves as citizens of individual states is quite true but incomplete – during the early American days there was no “American” identity with which to identify – it would be like identifying as a member of NATO
  3. John Marshall was much more influential than one would think in the long term
  4. American did not have priorities as much as it had an agenda of “Let’s support whatever the settlers are already doing and act like it’s our idea”
  5. There was much, much more European involvement in North America than I would have thought, or knew about
  6. It was mostly a record of American public crime and barbarism, which is fine, the shoe fits, but it does leave out anything that could be labeled “good” or “neutral” – it barely discusses any sort of technology or anything that happened in the free states, or immigrants
  7. The whole notion of defensive imperialism makes more sense now – it’s similar to Russian imperialism over time in some ways
  8. The whole notion of States Rights is truer than I would have thought, but slavery was built way into the fabric of society to about the same degree that I thought too (very, very built in) – the two notions are an odd sort of separate, but related in practice
  9. Andrew Jackson (and Polk) were more thorough bastards than I would have thought possible
  10. Settlers led, and the government followed
  11. Anti-British sentiment loomed larger than I would have thought
  12. Being informed about the relative populations put a lot of things into focus
  13. The fear of slave revolts (which never really happened at all) was a driving force behind a lot of things