Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Tudor Government and Terror
A Brief Note

Henry VIII

There is a tendency among some historians to try to justify brutal , authoritarian rule on the grounds that it is necessary to preserve order.

A classic example of this is the work of Sir Geoffrey Elton. In The Tudor Revolution in Government,1 and Policy and Police2 our author seeks to excuse what amounts to terror and judicial tyranny.

Geoffrey Elton's hero is Henry VIII's great minister Thomas Cromwell and Elton seeks to prove that in confiscating church land, dissolving the monasteries and implementing Henry VIII's reformation policies Thomas Cromwell was not carrying out a "reign of terror" and tyranny.

Thomas Cromwell

But then Geoffrey Elton believes in the need to control political freedom and the virtues of order.3

Now one of Geoffrey Elton's heros is in fact Thomas Cromwell, a thoroughly unpleasant and ruthless man and he approves of the the "fact" that Thomas Cromwell improved Tudor government by vastly increasing its efficiency. Further Geoffrey Elton argues that since Thomas Cromwell's means of implementing Henry VIII's policy had legal sanction by means of Parliamentary legislation and royal degree they were not tyranny but sound policy and of course the government was doing the right thing in suppression of opposition. The suppression of opposition included such things as the execution by torture of people who spread rumours questioning royal policy. Further Geoffrey Elton thinks the government policy of encouraging people to spy on and denounce their neighbours was a good thing.

This is pure apologetics. The fact is the suppression of the Church was a violent uprooting of long established custom and involved what can only be described has mass looting of Church property the fact that this effort was cloaked in legality should not make anyone mistake it for what it was. It was simply a revolution.

The dissolution of the monasteries for example involved forcibly expelling large numbers of Nuns and Monks from their places of residence, it involved the use of royal troops and enforcers, the actual destruction of monasteries, destruction of relics, the pillaging of shrines etc. In other words it was carried out by force. Not surprisingly this generated a lot of opposition including some rebellions which were crushed violently.4

The violent suppression of old religious practice and the large scale looting of the old church's riches were cloaked indeed in "legal" dress but were ultimately tyrannical. One of those methods was the way Thomas Cromwell and Henry VIII encouraged denunciations of thought crime, i.e., any voicing of opposition to the King's policies. In the end Thomas Cromwell who had destroyed so many was destroyed in a sordid intrigue after his promotion of the disastrous marriage of Henry VIII and Anne of Cleves. Like several of his enemies Thomas Cromwell ended up with his head chopped off.5

In many ways Thomas Cromwell helped organize something much like a modern police state and the results were not very pleasant for the victims. Geoffrey Elton's rosy view of this whole process is simply unacceptable. To quote a review:
Dr. Elton seems to be totally unaware of the damage done to the fabric of society when governments positively encourage denunciations of neighbours by neighbours, thus opening up a Pandora's box of local malice and slander. No one who has read a little about life in occupied Europe under the Nazi, or has seen the movie Le Chagrin et La Pitie, [A documentary about life in France during the Nazi Occupation] could share the satisfaction of Dr. Elton as he triumphantly concludes that his hero encouraged private delation rather than relying on a system of paid informers.6
I would like to add that Stalin's Russia also encouraged this sort of spying and denunciation of neighbour by neighbour.

In the end Geoffrey's defence of Thomas Cromwell and Henry VIII amounts to the same old boring state worship.

1. Elton, Geoffrey, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1953.

2.Elton, Geoffrey, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1972.

3. See Kenyon, J.P., The History Men, University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh PENN., 1984, p. 223.

4. For brief accounts of the violent process of the Reformation in England see Lockyer, Roger, Tudor and Stuart England: 1471-1714, 2nd Edition, Longman, Hong Kong, 1985, pp. 48-63, Scarisbrick, J. J., Henry VIII, University of California Press, Berkeley CA, 1970 pp. 241-304, MacCulloch, Diarmaid, Reformation, Penguin Books, London, 2003, pp. 198-204. The best account of the traumatic, often violent nature, of the English Reformation is Duffy, Eamon, The Stripping of the Altars, Yale University Press, New Haven CONN., 1992.

5. IBID.

6. Stone, Lawrence, The Past and the Present, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London, 1981, pp. 109-110.

Pierre Cloutier

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Moral Cretinism Part I
The Omnipotent State

Bones from the Cambodian Killing Fields.

Moral cretinism is not unfortunately a rare phenomenon it exists in so many places and among so many people. It is a lapse in the ability to think that leads to the combination of wickedness and stupidity that is moral cretinism.

This article called Cambodia: Year Zero on Trial, published in the New Internationalist; in September 2008 is an excellent example of moral cretinism.1 The author Brooks Duncan is described as a “lawyer and anthropologist who works in the field of international legal development and human rights.”2

Our author makes a good start by criticizing the trials for being used at least partially has a way of ignoring the well documented abuses of the current Hun Sen government, and the rather terrible / brutal bombing of Cambodia by the Americans between 1969-1973. The abuses by both the Chinese and Vietnamese in Cambodia and the French Colonial regime.3

Alas this good start is soon trashed by our author. For example:

There is little doubt that the defendants were engaged in a brutal civil war in which they ordered murder and destruction on a massive scale between 1975 and 1980, and that they sought to remake the country and start it again at what they called ‘Year Zero’. There is little doubt that they opposed urbanization and sought to turn the country back to an agrarian society.4
Well for one thing the civil war was 1970-1975. Our author’s attempt to contextualize the brutalities of Khmer Rouge rule between 1975-1980 as part of a civil war is purest nonsense. There was no civil war then. Given that the author accepts that the defendants ordered mass murder and destruction what real objection does he have to the trial? After all some justice is better than no justice. However our author doesn’t disappoint.

Our author states:
In order to prove its case, the prosecution will have to demonstrate a motive for the killings. Were the defendants’ beliefs and rationale reasonable? If so, is anything being done to change the circumstances that led to the choice of criminal acts, or is there potential for the same kinds of killings to occur in future? Further, are the trials just of criminal acts, or are they really attempts to outlaw beliefs, the new ‘thought crimes’ of globalism?5
Our author is supposed to be a Lawyer yet he says that the prosecution must provide a motivation for the killings. Actually they do not, they merely have to prove intent to kill, directly or through criminal / irresponsible negligence of the obvious consequences of their acts. What motivated these acts is irrelevant if you can prove the above; it is NOT required. As for the question of is anything being done to prevent such acts in the future. Good question; but what does that have to do with a criminal trial? But in this bit of vitriol we come to the real reasons why our author is upset. That screed about globalization is the real reason. For our author starts to create in his head an hallucination / fantasy about the “thought crimes" outlawed.

Our author makes the point that a document he has read claims, incorrectly, that c. 3 million died under the Khmer Rouge. While the real figure is something between 750.000 – 1,800.000. If his point was that it was bad enough without the need to exaggerate fine but that is not his point, his point seems to be that this is unfair to the defendants. Really so instead of murdering 10 people someone only murdered 5; in terms of being guilty of murder it makes little difference.6

Let us go through some more of our our author’s fantasies.
To quote: But is forced radical de-urbanization a crime against humanity, in a world where urbanization is leading us to an environmental crisis that could result in millions of deaths from similar causes and where forced urbanization through government land-grabs has yet to be put on trial? Is rural culture – or an attempt to recreate Angkorian culture, the agricultural empire that is considered the high point of Khmer civilization and what the Khmer Rouge may have considered a model – to be criminalized?
Most scholars think the Khmer Rouge leaders legitimately believed they were returning the country to its rural Angkorian roots, and that they were seeking to do this in some kind of egalitarian way. The motive wasn’t individual enrichment for élites. The Khmer Rouge leaders weren’t impoverishing peasants and buying expensive toys for themselves – as current and previous leaders, who also killed their opponents, have done. That activity is easy to criminalize – but none of those leaders is being put on trial.7
The hilarity begins. Anyone with any knowledge knows that in April 1975 when the Khmer Rouge won the various cities were over crowded and there was a need to move people to rural areas where they could be fed. Also that food was in short supply. So that simply emptying the cities was not the crime. The crime was the brutal way it was carried out and the brutal way those former cities dwellers were treated once they were in the country side. Further it is indisputable that certain Khmer Rouge policies like forced collectivization, deliberately starving certain categories of people and brutal slave labour killed large sections of the population.8 It is entirely the authors fantasy that trying the Khmer Rouge leadership for this is to criminalize rural development.

As for seeking to do development in some sort of egalitarian way! Well that is nonsense. The system was rigid hierarchical and dictatorial, with power concentrated in the center under rule of a rigid one party state with a ruthless and brutal secret police. As for the motive not being individual enrichment. Well certainly Pol Pot and his associates in power lived vastly better than the brutalized masses below them with the best of food and medical care. And one thing Pol Pot and his associates were very rich in was power while the struggling and staving masses below them had very little. Their motive was obviously the enjoyment of untrammelled power over others and its perpetuation into the indefinite future, along with all the prerogatives that go with such power. Oh and the Khmer Rouge did impoverish and exploit the peasants under them to such an extent that many died all in the interest of extending the power of the state, and thus their own power.9 Also they did buy expensive toys for themselves like limousines and planes and lived in nice villas.

The next section is that supposedly the prosecution will criminalize Khmer Rouge opposition to the passivity and hierarchy created by the French.10

This is beautifully ironic in that what the Khmer Rouge leadership wanted was the population to passively obey it. Certainly opposition to it was ruthlessly crushed. So despite our author’s apparent belief the Khmer Rouge leadership heartily approved of passivity and obedience so long has the passivity and obedience was to it.

Our author then puts in the mouth of the Khmer Rouge on trial that most of the deaths were the result of angry out of control youth and outside of the control of the leadership. This is nonsense. The evidence indicates centralized control on a very high level.11

Our author says:
Or did the Khmer Rouge just use the killing machine that the French and Americans created, but with greater damage and the ‘wrong’ results?13
So what! Even if it is true how does it alleviate the guilt of the accused? Aside from the fact that the way the Khmer Rouge killed was vastly more brutal than the Lon Nol regime or the French. This is like pointing to a series of statistics and saying “so many get away with murder so why shouldn’t I?”

Besides as said above it appears that the Khmer Rouge “killing machine” created by the Khmer Rouge was not simply a version of the French American one but one of their own devising.14

Our author talks about the alleged fact that the Khmer Rouge opposed the passivity created by the French and traditional Khmer culture.
…the prosecutors will make their case by saying that their preferred version of Khmer culture – the one foreigners and this trial are now trying to restore – is one of blind obedience and fear of authority, and that the defendants opposed it.15
As indicated above, the Khmer Rouge approved of blind obedience and fear of authority and by terror and mass violence instilled it in throughout Cambodia during their rule. Our author “forgets” that. Of course our author’s version of what the prosecutor's version of Khmer culture is pure hallucination based on fantasy. The prosecutor's are simply out to prove the defendants guilty of ghastly crimes not promote an “ideal” form of society. Besides it appears the Khmer Rouge and the current government want the same sort of “blind obedience and fear of authority”.16

Our author then engages in a word salad about how criminalizing the Khmer Rouge leadership is criminalizing trying to change a system of unquestioning obedience and therefore reversing the principle of Nuremberg that obedience to orders is not a defence.17 This is of course nonsense in that the Khmer Rouge wanted unquestioning, “blind” obedience to their orders and also wanted to instill mindless fear.

As for foreigners trying to restore a system of system of obedience to authority? The idea that the Khmer Rouge opposed it is just ludicrous. The evidence is they were all for it.

Our author then states:
Moreover, if the principles of democracy and justice are to be applied internationally, mustn’t they give all parties equal access to international processes, to hold all abuses of power accountable, rather than selectively to prosecute and enforce the laws discriminatorily against political groups whose ideologies are in the minority, while those who remain in power commit similar crimes?18
So? The world is not perfect. Has mentioned above some justice is better than no justice. But then this is a typical argument used to justify / excuse mass murder. The implication is that x should be allowed to get away with serious crimes because y is getting away with crimes. This is simply contemptible.

About the Khmer Rouge attack on religion our author says:
The prosecution will say that the Khmer Rouge destroyed Khmer religion and culture by attacking Buddhism and monks. That will be easy to prove: the murders are clear and punishable crimes.19
In which case what is the problem with charging the leadership for this crime? I note our author avoids mentioning the mass murder of Buddhist monks that occurred. But our author doesn’t like Buddhism so tries to excuse this rather brutal atrocity.
But the Khmer Rouge leaders on trial could raise troubling questions about whether Buddhism in Cambodia is really Khmer. They will likely note that Buddhism was an Indian religion that arrived well after other religions. They will ask whether this foreign religion, and the monks promoting it, were protecting Khmer culture or making the Khmer more passive, obedient and vulnerable. They will say that they were cleansing the country of an outside religion that symbolized and presided over 600 years of the country’s decline, including the loss of most of its land to Thailand and Vietnam. They will ask about Buddhism’s effectiveness in promoting equality and protecting nature, and point to pagodas in Phnom Penh that have become concrete enclaves filled with the ostentatious funerary towers of the rich. They will ask: how does all the money spent on idol worship and chanting really confront the injustices in society? They will note that Khmer Buddhists do little themselves to promote or protect the country’s history and monuments. They will ask: how does Buddhism promote the development of a strong Khmer society, able to resist military powers both within the region and outside it?

The question for the trial is whether the criminalization of attacks on Buddhism as a religion are designed to protect the Khmer, or are designed by foreign prosecutors – and the Khmer élite aligned with them – to criminalize attempts at independence and reform.20
So our author continues to fantasize. Of course once again it should be pointed out that the Khmer Rouge had no problem with blind passive obedience to them. As for Buddhism being of foreign origin. So what! Let us see Christianity is of foreign origin in Europe but would anyone say it isn’t a European religion? As for 600 years of decline; again so what. The fact is Buddhism was an integral part of Cambodian society permeating all aspects of that society attempting to eradicate Buddhism by terror and mass murder is not simply genocide it is also cultural genocide. Let us for example imagine some one trying to eradicate Christianity from England by similar means. It would be not only genocide but cultural genocide. Our Author should look up a few UN conventions. As for confronting the injustices of society? Well Buddhist monks have always been heavily involved in various charitable works.21

As for criminalizing attempt at “independence and reform”, again our author fantasizes. Although is our author saying that mass murder and cultural genocide are “attempts at independence and reform”?

The next section our author then takes up Khmer Rouge paranoia about Viet Nam.
Today, the ever-expanding Vietnamese population will likely go to the same place it went throughout most of the last century with French, then American, support – into the lands of the Khmer and Lao. Vietnamese expansion continued into Khmer lands after the near extermination of the Cham in the 17th century – an empire once the size of Vietnam – who have been almost entirely driven from Vietnam and who now number less than 400,000. This policy of imperialist expansion – tien Nam – has never been rescinded by the Vietnamese. It will be interesting to see how the trials try to make Khmer fear of Vietnamese expansionism into a crime.22
It will of course be more interesting to see how paranoid our author will be. It is fascinating how our author reproduces Khmer Rouge paranoia about Viet Nam. Thus after mentioning the mass murder of Vietnamese by the Khmer Rouge he tries to excuse it in this convoluted manner. As for expansion of the Vietnamese population into Cambodia and Laos. Any evidence aside from hysterical declarations? The conquest of the Cham Kingdom was not a pleasant affair but how this excuses the Khmer Rouge is beyond me. Of course our Author fails to mention how the Khmer Rouge leadership before the Vietnamese invasion did their level best to provoke the Vietnamese with vicious, murderous attacks.23

Of course the author hallucinates about turning fear of Vietnamese expansion into a crime. The crime was of course mass murder of Vietnamese by the Khmer Rouge; which it appears our author wants to forget about.

The next section our author talks about the Cham. Unable to deny that the Cham were indeed the targets of a genocidal assault our author with slacker sarcasm says:
It would, of course, be as ridiculous to think that the Khmer Rouge feared the Cham as it would be for Western countries to fear Muslims – and to suggest that preemptive strikes were necessary for protection.24
It would be easier to take this sort of idiocy seriously if Western Governments were imprisoning their Muslim populations en mass or killing them at genocidal levels. Since they are not the comparison falls flat and is nothing more than a beside the point polemic.

As for accusing various governments of hypocrisy for not supporting a Cham homeland. Just what does that have to do with a prosecution for mass murder? It is another beside the point polemical flourish. I also really liked how after mentioning how twice the Cham took over the government of Cambodia our author mentions that it was a long time ago and that now the Cham are loyal citizens. Then why did the Author mention this at all? It is so obvious what our Author is trying to do and it is not pretty; for our author is trying ever so subtlety to plant the idea that the Khmer Rouge had reason to doubt the loyalty of the Cham.25

Later our author states that opposition to neo-colonial trade policies and urbanization is being criminalized:
They [Khmer Rouge] saw the cities as promoting the excesses of the rich, destroying nature and human dignity, exploiting the poor and promoting squalor, under intense foreign pressure, while doing little to promote anything Khmer. Is it their fear of the kind of place that many observers say Phnom Penh has become today that is being criminalized?26
The hilarity continues. It is especially amusing to note that supposedly the Khmer Rouge were upset about cities destroying “human dignity”. Yeah right! The idea of the Khmer Rouge being upset about the destruction of nature is also hilarious. It is so easy to document the massive Khmer Rouge effort to destroy human dignity via mass murder, torture and genocidal policies. Of course it is also very easy to demonstrate how they promoted squalor and of course attacked and attempted to erase large sections of Khmer culture. Of course our author fantasizes about fear and dislike of urbanization being criminalized. Our author just doesn’t seem to get it that mass murder is mainly what this trial is about.27

Of course our author “forgets” to mention the sort of place that Cambodia became under the Khmer Rouge, which can best be described as a huge Gulag. A city slum is better than that.

Our author then says:
The defendants are ethnically Cambodian or mixed. In order to make a case for Khmer Rouge ‘genocide’ against the ‘Khmer’ people or culture under genocide law, the prosecution will have to define what ‘Khmer’ actually is. That is something they will almost certainly try to avoid, because it is the very thing the foreign community seems intent on denying. Did the Khmer Rouge leaders try to destroy ‘Khmer’ culture, or were they reaffirming it? Who today is trying to define and defend ‘Khmer culture’? The trial materials don’t even mention it.28
Our author is supposedly a Lawyer yet he seems to have missed article two of the Genocide Convention which says:
In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

a) Killing members of the group;
b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within a group;
e) Forcibly transferring children of a group to another group.29
So frankly defining who is and is not Khmer is easy. Is our author going to deny that the Khmer are a national and / or ethnic group? Whether or not defendants are or are not Khmer that is entirely irrelevant to the issue of whether or not the defendants are guilty of genocide. I suppose our Author raises the issue mainly to cloud the issue with irrelevancies. As article two of the Genocide Convention indicates the issue is whether or not they committed one or more of the acts listed as genocide.

Our author than fantasizes about the “foreign community” denying Khmer identity / culture. This is pure fantasy. It is of course ironic that it is so easy to demonstrate that the Khmer Rouge were in fact trying to destroy Khmer culture, which the attack on Buddhism was an integral part. The implied idea that foreigners are attacking Khmer culture but not the Khmer Rouge which murdered and destroyed on an impressive scale was even arguably “affirming” Khmer culture is risible. Unless of course Khmer culture consists of torture, murder and destruction.

As for who today is trying to defend / define Khmer culture. How about the present government. Certainly it has been relatively lavish with largess to various cultural institutions.

The final piece of stupidity is our author’s argument that:
‘Sane’ countries allow an insanity defence when they deal with psychopathic behaviour. Were the Khmer Rouge leaders acting rationally in their policies but insanely in their methods? If so, what made them insane?30
Our author is supposed to be a Lawyer! The onus is on the defendant in pleading insanity to prove that they are insane not the prosecution proving that they are sane. Also the author provides zero evidence that the defendants cannot not make such a plea. Further if the evidence is anything to go by an insanity plea is simply absurd. Simply believing in absurd things is not enough, someone must not understand the nature and consequences of his / her acts. The evidence is that the accused understood very well what they were doing.31

The author then tries to blame the fact that one of the defendants was tortured for his behaviour. So? That hardly proves that he was clinically or legally insane. The author then whines about massive consumption of luxury goods by urban elites and consumption of alcohol and tobacco. Which are apparently far greater sins than torture and mass murder. The author further complains about violence by youth today and the lack of psychological services. Of course the violence committed by Khmer Rouge youth during the years of the killing fields is of less concern or the immense psychological damage done to millions by the years of genocidal, brutal Khmer Rouge rule. That disappears down our author’s huge memory hole. Our author is simply not interested in dealing with that psychological harm. He prefers to whine about tobacco and alcohol use instead.32

The author then states the following:
How much is building a real rule of law and true democracy, with the opportunityto discuss alternatives for the country’s future – other than the one the foreign community has imposed again, as in the 1950s and 1960s?33
Whatever is “true democracy” or “a real rule of law”, one can be assured the Khmer Rouge never came within a million miles of either. Mass murder and terror are not conducive to either. But then our author seems to be using Khmer Rouge code. The Khmer Rouge wanted total independence and self sufficiency. Given our author’s aversion to foreigners and their influence it seems a goal he sympathizes with. Of course such a state would of necessity be brutal and very authoritarian if not murderous. One may complain legitimately of the brutality and cruelty of the modern Cambodian government but it seems pretty obvious that it is a radical improvement over the Khmer Rouge. Our author seems stuck in a fantasy land of perfectly independent, culturally and self sufficient economically states. That cannot exist in the real world. Of course the author seems to forget that the solution violently imposed by the Khmer Rouge did not allow for any alternatives period. It is also clear that modern Cambodians do not want anything like the Khmer Rouge back. Once was enough.
The political agenda, like the trials, has been pre-determined by those who are paying for it. Is there really less abuse of power today – or is it only of a different kind, and one that the international community doesn’t criminalize?34
Our author fantasizes about how the trials have been pre-determined without of course providing evidence but by simple (minded) assertion. The statement that is there really less abuse of power or merely a different sort of power abuse is pure polemics and devoid of real content. Once again the author seeks to mitigate and excuse Khmer Rouge atrocities. There are of course different types of abuse of power. One can say categorically that abuse of power that tortures, starves, murders and crushes dissent to the extent that existed under the Khmer Rouge does not exist in anything the same extent in the Cambodia of today and in that sense there is definitely less abuse of power in today’s Cambodia.

This essay is so shoddy, for example there are precisely two footnotes, that I suspect that this whole piece may be a parody of what a truly asinine “defence” of the Khmer Rouge might be like. I further suspect that Brooks Duncan is not the author’s real name but an alias. Certainly the idea that a real Lawyer involved in Human Rights could come up with this piece of intellectual excrement that seeks to excuse such evil acts is breathtaking. I further wonder if New Internationalist published the piece solely for the purpose of creating a stir and so knowingly published a piece of tripe.

Assuming this piece is for real I wonder if Brooks Duncan, whoever he actually is, was once one of the apologists for the Khmer Rouge in the past and is seeking to further exercise his intellectual efforts to excuse the inexcusable.

Well whatever the “real” purpose of this article it is an outstanding example of moral cretinism.

Map of Cambodia

1. See Duncan, Brooks, Cambodia: Year Zero on Trial, New Internationalist, Here

2. IBID.

3. IBID.

4. IBID.

5. IBID.

6. IBID. The best summing up of the death total under the Khmer Rouge is Kiernan, Ben, The Pol Pot Regime, Yale University Press, New Haven CONN., 1996, pp. 456-460. Kiernan gives a figure of at least 1.5 million.

7. IBID. Duncan.

8. See Kiernan 1996, pp. 31-101, 159-250, Twining, Charles H., The Economy, in Editor, Jackson, Karl D., Cambodia: 1975-1978, Princeton University Press, Princeton NJ., 1989, pp. 109-150, Shawcross, William, Sideshow, Pocket Books, New York, 1979, pp. 365-392.

9. Kiernan 1996, pp. 159-250, 313-356, Carney, Timothy, The Organization of Power, in Jackson, pp. 79-107.

10. Duncan.

11. See Footnote 8.

13. Duncan.

14. See Kiernan 1996.

15. Duncan.

16. Kiernan 1996.

17. Duncan.

18. IBID.

19. IBID.

20. IBID.

21. Kiernan 1996, pp. 55-59, for more information on the persecution of Buddhist monks. For the text of the Genocide Convention see Kuper, Leo, Genocide, Penguin Books, London, 1981, pp. 210-214.

22. Duncan.

23. For the destruction of the Cham kingdom see Kiernan, Ben, Blood and Soil, Yale University Press, New Haven CONN., 2007, pp. 102-112. For the Khmer Rouge and their provoking of Viet Nam see Evans, Grant & Rowley, Kelvin, Red Brotherhood at War, Verso, London, 1990, pp. 81-113.

24. Duncan.

25. See Kiernan 1996, pp. 252-288, for the mass murder of the Chams.

26. Duncan.

27. See Kiernan 1996. For an example of how the Khmer Rouge regarded the safe guarding of “human dignity” how about Tuol Sleng Prison in Phnom Penh. There people numbering in the thousands were tortured into making confessions to non-existent crimes and then murdered. See Hawk, David, The Photographic Record, in Jackson, pp. 209-211.

28. Duncan.

29. Quoted in Kuper, p. 210.

30. Duncan.

31. See Kiernan 1996.

32. See Kiernan 1996, for psychological damage.

33. Duncan.

34. IBID.

Pierre Cloutier

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Degree of Themistocles and Military Probability

Degree of Themistocles

One of the most significant events in history was the successful Greek defence against Persia in 480-479 B. C.E. The decisive event was the naval battle of Salamis just off the coast of Attica near Athens, where the Greeks defeated the Persian navy.

The most important Greek naval contingent was that of Athens and the most influential Greek Naval leader was the Athenian statesman Themistocles, who engineered the Greek victory at Salamis.

The Greeks had tried to stop the Persians at the pass of Thermopylae, with naval forces stationed at nearby Artemisium. The plan failed when the Persians broke through by outflanking the pass. The Persians advanced and ravaged Athens and Attica. The Chief account of this is that of Herodotus who describes panic and what amounts to hysteria in Athens. The Athenians evacuate their women and children to the island of Salamis and parts of the Peloponnesus and man their fleet with the men. The Greek fleet assembles at Salamis to cover the evacuation. The Persian fleet bottles up the Greek Fleet at Salamis and in the panic some of the Greek leaders contemplate withdrawal. By a judicious combination of diplomacy and blackmail Themistocles keeps the fleet together and eggs on the Persians to attack. The result is the battle of Salamis. Afterwards the Persians withdraw part of their forces and fleet withdraws also to Asia Minor. The next year the Greeks defeat the Persians at Plataea ending the Persian threat.1

Map of Greece

Such is the story as usually told.

In 1959 at Troezen in the part of Greece called the Peloponnesus was found an inscription that was supposed to be a 3rd century B.C.E., copy of a 5th century B.C.E., degree of the Athenian Assembly dated 480 B.C.E.2 It dealt with plans for the defence of Greece from the Persian Invasion and goes has follows:

(1) [Gods]. It was resol[ved] by the boule and the people: Themis[tokl]es son of Neokles of Phrearrhioi proposed the motion: [to en]tr[u]st th[e] ci[ty] to Athena [who protlects, Athens (5) a[nd to all the other gods to guard an[d] ke[ep off the ba]rbar[i]an in defence of the country; and that [a]l[l] Athenian[s and the foreig]ners living in Athens should place [their chil]dre[n and wives i[n] Troizen [ .... ? in the protection of Theseus] the founder of the land; and that they should pla[ce] (10) t[he old people and the] moveable possessions on Salamis[; and that the treasurers and the priestesses should remain on the acropolis guarding the belongings of th]e gods; and that all the other Athenians and the foreigners who have reached adulthood should embark o[n the prepared 200 ships and (15) resi[st] t[he barbarian on behalf of freedom, both their own [and that of the other Greeks], along with the Spartans and Corin[thians and Aeginetans] and the others who wish] to sh[are in the danger; and that the gene[r]al[s] should appoint [200] trierar[chs, one for] each ship, (20) [beginning tomorrow, from those who o[w]n both la[nd a]nd [hom]e in Ath[e]ns and who have legit[imate] childr[en and are not more th]an fifty years of age, an[d] should [a]ss[ign t]he ships t[o t]hem by lot; vv they should also choose [t]en ma[r]ines [for each ship from those between twenty [and (25) thirty years of age and four archers; they should [a]lso ap[point by lot] the officers for the ships when they al[so] appoint [the trierar]chs by lot; the generals should als[o] list [the others ship] by ship on notice4boards, the Athenians according to the deme (lexiarchic) registers (30) and the] foreigners from those registered wi[t]h the [pole]m[archj they should list them, assigning them [t]o 200 divisions of [u]p to 100 men each and inscribe for each [divis]ion the name of the trireme and the trierarch and the offi[ce]rs so that they may know on which trireme (35) e[a]ch [d]ivision should e[m]bark; and when al[1] the divisions have been assigned and allocated to the triremes, the boule and t[h]e general[s] are to man a[l]l the 200 ships after [sa]crificing to propitiate Zeus the Almighty (Pankrates) and Athena and Victory (Nike) and Poseidon (40) the Preser[v]er (Asphaleios); and when the ships are manned, with 100 of th[e]m they are to assist Artemis[i]on in Euboea, and with the other 100 around Salamis and the rest of Attica they are to lie in wait and guard the country. So that all Athenians may be united (45) in resisting the barbarian, those who have changed their residence for [ten] years are to go to Salamis and stay there until the people should decide about them; and those [deprived of civic rights ....]3

Not surprisingly the document has been controversial. It for example clearly contradicts Herodotus’ account on a number of points. The most important being as follows:

1. That the Athenian assembly voted to evacuate non-combatants before the battles of Thermopylae and Artemisium and in fact the evacuation began then.

2. The Athenians held back part of their fleet at Salamis. Sending only 100 to Artemisium and keeping 100 at Salamis.

3. The Athenians in fact only intended Artemisium and Thermopylae has temporary holding actions and were preparing for a decisive action at Salamis.

Now one of the problems is that in the 4th and 3rd century B.C.E., there were a number of faked Athenian degrees allegedly from earlier times. Further the language and form of the lettering is in some respects early 3rd century B.C.E. Given that at the very least this degree if its based on an authentic degree of 480 B.C.E., the document has been modified / edited.4

As mentioned above this scenario contradicts Herodotus’ account which is over all quite believable if problematic on details. It is hard to believe that Herodotus could have missed this if it was true. Of course this is not decisive it is simply a problem.5

However the chief problems with the degree are simple military ones. If this was the Athenian plan, or more precisely Themistocles’, then it was an unbelievably stupid plan. And on top of it is very hard to believe that the Athenian assembly would have agreed to such a plan to say nothing of Athens’s allies.

Some of Athens’s allies lived in the area just south of the pass of Thermopylae, just what would they have thought about Athenian commitment to defence against Persia knowing that Athens was already planning to evacuate its non-combatants and abandon Attica and Athens to Persia and keeping ships behind at Salamis. One wonders just what the Spartans would have thought of such plan. Almost certainly it would have infuriated them.

Regarding the Athenian Assembly. Is it remotely serious as even a flight of fancy that even before Artemisium and Thermopylae had been breached that the Assembly would have agreed to open up their city, farms etc., to be looted and devastated by Persian troops has part of some hair-brained scheme of defence? It would be clear that acting out of simple self interest that the Assembly would want the Persians halted as far away from Athens as reasonably possible.

From a psychological point of view it is hard to think up a strategy more effective in demoralizing a population before hand and infuriating your allies.

It is generally recognized that the Greek land and naval forces at Artemisium and Thermopylae were intended to halt the Persian forces permanently. Certainly Herodotus’ account would seem to indicate this.6 Attempt to find a trace of a version of events similar to the degree in Herodotus center on the second oracle of Delphi prophecy given to Athenian emissaries before the battle of Salamis. Part of it goes has follows:

Yet Zeus the all-seeing grants to Athene’s prayer
That the wooden wall only shall not fail, but help you and your children
But await not the host of horse and foot coming from Asia,
Nor be still, but turn your back and withdraw from the foe.
Truly come when you will meet him face to face.
Divine Salamis, you will bring death to women’s sons
When the corn is scattered, or the harvest gathered in.7

Aside from the question of whether or not this prophecy was ever uttered for real or if it is a post-hoc creation; it is a rather slender reed to build on and it still faces the problem that the plan for defence as outlined in the degree is military idiocy.

To illustrate some of the problems with this document look at this photo of the island of Salamis.

Arial Photo of Salamis and surrounding area

The fact is the bay of Salamis is a trap. You can see in the left center the narrow strait between the island of Salamis and the mainland. In antiquity it was even narrower and shallower. It is unlikely that the Greek fleet could have escaped through it or even navigate it!8 All the Persians had to do was block the main strait and blockade the Greek fleet in its trap and sooner or latter the Greeks would have been forced to capitulate or come out and fight in far more open waters were the greater numbers and speed of the Persian fleet would have given the Persians the advantage.

Any plan to set up Salamis has an ultimate defensive position is simply moronic. In fact it appears that the plan was simply for the Greek fleet to cover the evacuation of the population of Athens and Attica to the island of Salamis and the Peloponnesus. I have little doubt that the Persian Admirals were simply ecstatic to find the Greek fleet at Salamis, where it could be blockaded and the transports of the fleet had used to transport part of the army directly to the Peloponnesus out flanking the wall, manned by the Spartans and others across the Isthmus of Corinth.

Now an argument can be made that ignoring the Greek fleet at Salamis was not an option, possible flank attacks, and that the lateness of the campaign season would have forced the Persians to retire to winter quarters.9

I rather doubt that all the Persian fleet would have been required to keep the Greeks bottled up. Only a portion of the fleet was necessary and of course with the Greek fleet at Salamis it would have been easy for Persian transports carrying troops to invade the island of Aegina , (second greatest Greek sea power) and the Peloponnesus. Further the Athenians had abandoned Attica just before harvest. Some food would have been available for Persian troops. Also the Persians had the alliance of Thebes which gave them a substantial Greek ally in central Greece. It is debatable whether or not the Persians were under any real military pressure to attack.

Finally the Greek alliance was fragile, with each city state extremely suspicious of each other and ready at virtually any moment to accuse each other of betrayal. In fact Herodotus’ account of the events in the Greek camp before Salamis indicate an alliance on the point of collapse, with massive mutual recrimination. Herodotus’ account describes in fair detail how the Greeks were ready to flee to their respective homes with their ships and how Themistocles through a combination of trickery and blackmail managed to thwart their efforts.10 It is hard to believe that the Persians were not aware of this from their spies. If anything it was the Greeks who needed a battle soon to save their crumbling alliance.

Herodotus gives to Artemisia, ruler of Halicarnassus, the following words:
Let me tell you how I think things will now go with the enemy; if only you are not in too great a hurry to fight at sea – if you keep the fleet on the coast where it now is – then, whether you stay here or advance into the Peloponnese, you will easily accomplish your purpose. The Greeks will not be able to hold out against you for long; you will soon cause their forces to disperse – they will soon break up and go home. I hear they have no supplies in the island where they now are; and the Peloponnesian contingents, at least are not likely to be very easy in their minds if you march with the army towards their country – they will hardly care to fight in defence of Athens.11
Now it is virtually certain that Artemisia never uttered those words but in my opinion they represent an accurate overview of the situation before the battle of Salamis.

It is interesting that Herodotus says that Themistocles sent a secret message to the Persians telling them that the Greeks were completely disunited and would offer little resistance and that the Persians would have a easy victory if they attacked.12

Strait of Salamis where the battle occurred

The end result of all of this was the Greek victory at Salamis. Even if one doubts certain aspects of the story like Themistocles message to the Persians; the picture it gives of an alliance hanging together by a thread rings true. It also indicates desperation for a battle as soon has possible before the alliance collapses into mutual recriminations.

Themistocles was one of the most astute politicians of his time and it appears he pulled of the equivalent of a military / political miracle. It is rather ironic that he ended up as governor of Magnesia in Asia Minor for the Persian King Artxerxes son of King Xerxes who he had defeated at Salamis!13

It is a common place that in war things hardly ever go according to plan and it is very hard to believe that the apparent plan indicated in the degree would have worked out so well; given its glaring defects and lack of common sense. Further any such degree passed before Artemisium and Thermopylae would have told the Persians well ahead of time Greek, or at least Athenian strategy.

It is virtually certain that at the very least the degree we have is not an exact / accurate copy of the Athenian degree passed at the time and that its more controversial sections that contradict Herodotus should simply not be taken seriously.

1. Sealey, Raphael, A History of the Greek City States: 700 – 338 B.C.E., University of California Press, Los Angles, 1976, pp. 208-228, Buckley, Terry, Aspects of Greek History: 750 – 323 B.C., Routledge, London, 1996, pp. 170-188, Ehrenberg, Victor, From Solon to Socrates, 2nd Edition, Routledge, London, 1973, pp. 152-174, For Herodotus see Herodotus, The Histories, Revd Edition, Penguin Books, London, 2003. For the panic in Athens see Book 8, s. 40-48, See also The Rise and Fall of Athens, Plutarch, Penguin Books, London, 1960, Themistocles, s. 9-10, Fuller, J.F.C., A Military History of the Western World, v. 1, Da Capo Press, New York, 1954, pp. 26-52, Burn, A.R., The Pelican History of Greece, Penguin Books, London, 1965, pp. 177-192.

2. Buckley, p. 174.

3. Dillon, Matthew, & Garland, Lynda, Ancient Greece: Social and Historical Documents from Archaic times to the Death of Socrates, 2nd Edition, Routledge, London, 2000, p. 203. Other translations include, Lewis, Naphtali, Greek Historical Documents, The Fifth Century B.C., A.M. Hakkert Ltd., Toronto, 1971, pp. 4-5, Meiggs, R., & Lewis, D., A Selection of Greek Historical Inscriptions to the End of the Fifth Century B.C., University of Oxford Press, Oxford, 1969, No. 23, Fornara, Charles W., Translated Documents of Greece and Rome 1: Archaic times to the end of the Peloponnesian War, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2nd Edition, 1983, No. 55, pp. 54-55.

4. Buckley, p. 174, Lewis, p. 4, Ehrenburg, pp. 156, 426 n. 59, Sealey, pp. 214-216.

5. See Buckley, pp. 170-175, Sealey, pp. 208-221.

6. IBID. Buckley, and Herodotus, Book 7, s. 196-239.

7. Herodotus, Book 7, s. 141.

8. Sealey, p. 220.

9. Buckley, p. 178.

10. Herodotus, Book 8, s. 50-65.

11. IBID. Book 8, s. 68.

12. IBID. Book 8. s. 75-77.

13. Plutarch, Themistocles, s. 27-32.

Pierre Cloutier

Friday, July 17, 2009

Revisiting Jerry Falwell’s Mother and Stanley Fish

Prof. Stanley Fish

This essay is not about Jerry Falwell’s mother instead it is about Stanley Fish says about Free Speech. What does Jerry Falwell’s mother to do with this? In 1983 Larry Flynn, publisher of Hustler, published a parody interview with Jerry Falwell in which Mr. Falwell remises about his first time. In this case his first time was with his mother in an outhouse! Mr. Falwell sued and lost. The various courts ruling that Larry Flynn’s freedom of speech rights were trumped Jerry Falwell and his mother’s damaged reputations. Well some people were disturbed by this outcome. One of them was Stanley Fish a Professor of Duke University and a noted Post-Modernist thinker. But then Prof. Stanley Fish entitled a collection of his essays There’s No Such Thing as Free Speech and it’s a good thing too.1 The book contains a essay on Freedom of Speech, with the title above which is also used as the title of the book, which is about how Freedom of Speech doesn’t really exist and an essay about the libel case involving Jerry Falwell.

Through it all Prof. Fish manages quite simply not to get it.

For example he says:
“Free speech” is just the name we give to verbal behaviour that serves the substantive agendas we wish to advance; and we give out preferred verbal behaviours that name when we can, when we have the power to do so, because in the rhetoric of American life, the label “Free Speech” is one you want for your favourites to wear. Free speech, in short, is not an independent value but a political prize, and if that prize has been captured by a politics opposed to yours, it can no longer be invoked in ways that further your purposes, for it is now an obstacle to those purposes.2
Later Prof. Fish articulates the idea that freedom of expression assumes that some speech is meaningless or wrong to say. Really?

Prof. Fish is articulating a position which states that the demand for “Free Speech” is always inherently political and used to advance a position and that it is not a independent position. In other words it is always political and that no one really believes in “Free Speech” as an abstract value.

By arguing that “Free Speech” is political Prof. Fish brings it into the argument for debate, by assuming it is political he can argue that limitations on it are merely like “Free Speech” political positions. Thus Prof. Fish can argue for limitations on speech.

But then Prof. Fishes' point is that the crowd of anti “politically correct” pundits etc., have captured the ground of “Free Speech” so that arguments for “Free Speech” by “Liberal” or “Progressive” groups etc., have conceded that ground to the enemy so that the debate must shift to how “Free Speech” isn’t real and how it can be and is limited, so we can then discuss what can be banned.

One wonders how Prof. Fish with his assumption that “Free Speech” is always political tailors with people like Prof, Chomsky’ defence of Holocaust deniers like Robert Faurisson right to speak.3 Prof. Fish seems to think that “Free Speech” is purely a political act designed to advance a particular political position. This is false. To quote Chomsky:
But I’m saying if you believe in freedom of speech, you believe in freedom of speech for views you don’t like. I mean Goebbels was in favor of freedom of speech for views he liked. Right? So was Stalin. If you’re in favor of freedom of speech, that means you’re in favour of freedom of speech precisely for views you despise, otherwise you’re not in favour of freedom of speech. There’s two positions you can have on freedom of speech, and you can decide which position you want.4
Prof. Fish seems to be totally unaware of this sort of position.

Prof. Fish then goes into a rather useless rant about how speech related injuries can be hurtful and painful and should not be trivialized and then Prof. Fish talks about how a recommended solution that the solution to this is more speech trivializes the harm. That speech operates in the real world and that to treat speech like it was mere ideas forgets that they are actions.5

This of course a straw man and Prof. Fish’s statement that the more speech argument trivializes the “harm” speech can do is a nice example of Prof. Fish indicating that he is in the end not very radical at all. Chomsky among many others can tell him how the media is constrained by market and other forces to marginalize and largely shut out opinion contrary to powerful interests. Such that more speech is indeed a powerful tool and very much in the interest of the powerless and marginal. Further that constraints on speech will be controlled directly and / or indirectly by these powerful interests, so just how would the powerless and marginal benefit from that? Chomsky and others like him have a powerful distrust of the state and its various institutions and Prof. Fish is here indicating quite strongly an almost childlike trust in such things.6

The speech codes that Prof. Fish is here defending are of course under control of the institutions in question and Prof. Fish’s trust in the good faith of those institutions is touching and frankly naïve.

But then Prof. Fish “knows” that “Free Speech” is always about politics:
When the First Amendment is successfully invoked, the result is not a victory for free speech in the face of a challenge from politics but a political victory won by the party that has managed to wrap its agenda in the mantle of free speech.7
Really? I just wonder how this explains the ACLU defending the rights of Klansmen, Neo-Nazi and Fundamentalists to “Free Speech”. Given that the ACLU routinely defends groups and people whose positions are radically different from and contrary to ACLU positions on all sorts of issues.8

Prof. Fish does not seem to understand that the ACLU position and those who think along the same lines, is that you give opinions you despise freedom to be expressed, precisely to defend your own freedom to express your own opinions. Not as he seems to think that “Freedom of Speech” will lead in the end to “right” or “true” opinions to dominate. As for the Prof. Fish’s argument that speech can cause “harm”, well so what! The problem is that which speech causes “harm” is very much a personal matter. I have little doubt that I could easily find Conservative pundits, Fundamentalists who regard the speech of Fish and others like him has “grievous and deeply wounding”9, and of course causing untold harm, and therefore it should be suppressed.

Prof. Fish seems to be totally unaware that there are other grounds for attacking so-called Conservatives wrapping themselves in the mantle of “Free Speech”. One of course is the unmitigated hypocrisy of such a stance when many so-called Conservative pundits routinely call for the suppression of speech they do not like, and in fact have engaged in quite disgusting campaigns of attempted suppression. Or that Conservative educational institutions, Fundamentalist schools etc., routinely suppress “Free Speech” and other First Amendment rights but that Conservative pundits etc., pass over these offences in silence.10

Further that speech codes can be defended on the grounds that they are often vastly less restrictive than the arbitrary authority and grounds which the authorities who run those institutions can discipline for “bad” behaviour or words. Further that it is important to realize that these institutions being private institutions have a greater right to regulate the behaviour of the people who are privileged to be allowed into them. These arguments may be good or bad but they are certainly better than the convoluted stew that Prof. Fish argues for.11

But then in a rather convoluted series of passages Prof. Fish ends up arguing for regulation of speech, because in the end Prof. Fish doesn’t wish to hear speech he doesn’t like. Of course Prof. Fish is utterly unaware that there are people who don’t want to hear his opinions and wish to suppress them, using the very same logic he does.

What does this have to do with Jerry Falwell’s mother?

Reverend Jerry Falwell
Well in 1983 Larry Flynn published, in his sex magazine Hustler, a vicious parody of Reverend Jerry Falwell reminiscing about his first time; first time having sex that is. Making it problematic Reverend Falwell was describing having sex with his mother in an outhouse. That is definitely really nasty! Certainly this is to put it mildly tasteless and certainly going after Jerry Falwell is one thing but his mother also?! Jerry Falwell sued for libel.

But then Prof. Fish ruins the whole thing by a couple of statements such as:
So what we have here is a false and malicious depiction of two people with the avowed intention of wounding one so that his ability to function as a minister of the gospel would be destroyed.12
Well poor Reverend Falwell! I note that Prof. Fish says this after admitting that the article says very clearly that it is a parody. It is rather interesting that Prof. Fish avoids any mention of Reverend Falwell’s own very well developed capacity for malice and cruelty. As for being a minister of the gospel many would disagree with that. But then the phrase is purposely designed to raise sympathy for Mr. Falwell. Forgetting of course that in the departments of political and economic power Falwell vastly exceeded Flynn. We are not talking about an innocent here. Then Prof. Fish makes it very clear that he doesn’t like Flynn very much or pornography or considers pornography a form of legitimate “speech” because it is not about politics. At this point Prof. Fish makes the comment about the founding fathers would not have considered obscenity true speech. So!?13 At that point it is hard to take Prof. Fish seriously.

This entire spiel is designed to once again support the idea that certain types of speech should be suppressed in this case pornography. This requires, in the present example, a demonization of Larry Flynn. I will simply tell Prof. Fish that he should read Gore Vidal’s essay Sex is Politics,14 if he seriously thinks pornography is not a form of speech.
Larry Flynn

Later Prof. Fish makes some comment that we already regulate speech with the rather obvious implied and direct contention that we should continue to regulate speech.15 Prof. Fish once again doesn’t get it. Everything that exists in human life is regulated one way or the other that is the nature of human existence and frankly even the most extreme free speech absolutist knows this. (Prof. Fish creates a rather absurd caricature of such a person). After all everyone with any sense knows about yelling “fire” in a crowded theatre when there is no fire is not protected speech. The point is how much / how speech should be regulated. By redefining the issue to whether or not speech should be regulated at all Prof. Fish avoids this problem. Of course setting up the straw man of the position that the alternative to that position is one of no regulation, and demonstrating that such a position is simply stupid Prof. Fish once again tilts at windmills.

It is of interest that Prof. Fish admits that attempts to define a rational basis for declaring something obscene are contradictory, difficult and absurd but draws no conclusions that perhaps this indicates that trying to do so outside very narrow range of limits perhaps should not be done. Instead Prof. Fish believes that this indicates that perhaps deciding what is obscene should be deduced entirely outside rational discourse. Which of course would make it possible to ban pornography because he finds it personally icky. One again Prof. Fish forgets that many people might find his type of discourse also personally icky and so therefore it should be banned.

Now regarding the above case I wonder if Prof. Fish is ready to allow everyone to be sued who refers to someone has a “son of a bitch”, because after all such a statement calls someone’s mother a dog. In this case the piece was clearly indicated to be a parody and not to be taken seriously, and it is clear that the piece was an attack on Reverend Falwell not his mother. So frankly I agree with the verdict that rejected the libel claim. Despite Prof Fish’s insinuations the fact that Larry Flynn publishes pornography is simply not relevant in this case. But then it is clear that Prof. Fish doesn’t like Larry Flynn or pornography. So he is here basically arguing for allowing the suppression of pornography on the grounds it is not legitimate “speech”.

That said I still find the parody piece offensive and it would have been nice if Larry Flynn had published an apology to Jerry Falwell’s mother.16 In my opinion the piece was unnecessarily tasteless and Jerry Falwell’s mother should have been left alone.

In the end Prof Fish seems to have problems with freedom so I quote:

Those who do not understand that freedom has value in itself, though its expression necessarily produces evil as well as good, are poorly suited to the culture of democracy.17
1, Fish, Stanley, Oxford University Press, New York, 1994.

2, IBID, p. 102.

3, A lot of nonsense as been written about this. I would just note that Chomsky’s defence of Robert Faurisson is solely a defence of his right to speak and not be silenced, not of Robert Faurisson’s utterly repellent views. I will forgo linking to or referring to any of Robert Faurisson’s works. You just need to Google to find his filth. See Wintonick, Peter, & Achbar, Mark, Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media, Black Rose Books, Montreal, 1994, pp.175-191.

4, Wintonick et al, p. 184.

5, IBID, pp. 108-109.

6, See Chomsky, Noam, & Herman, Edward S., Manufacturing Consent, Revd. Edition, Pantheon Books, New York, 2004.

7, Fish, p. 110.

8, See the ACLU website, Here.

9. Fish p. 109.

10, See for example Wilson, John K., The Myth of Political Correctness, Duke University Press, London, 1995, and Jenkinson, Edward B., Censors in the Class Room, Discus Books, 1979. See also Weiner, Jon, Historians in Trouble, The New Press, New York, 2005. A classic action is the ouster of Ward Churchill who was ousted from his tenure position at the University of Colorado over alleged academic misconduct when the actual reason, (as determined by a trial) was some controversial, and frankly rather disgusting statements regarding 911 he foolishly uttered and wrote. I will not repeat them, just Google. Well Prof. Churchill won his wrongful termination suit. Basically a lot of so called Conservative pundits and others went baying for his blood and to get him turfed. They got more than they bargained for from Prof. Churchill. I still find his comments repellent but frankly the Universities teem with Profs having disgusting opinions that is no reason to fire them. See The Ward Churchill Trial, Here.

11, See Wilson, pp. 90-135.

12, Fish, p. 120.

13. IBID, pp. 120-133.

14, in The Second American Revolution and other Essays 1976-1982, Random house, New York, 1982.

15, Fish, pp. 128-130.

16. As far as I can tell Hustler never printed an apology to Jerry Falwell’s mother. I in all modesty suggest the following:
Mrs Falwell we would like to apologize for unintentially causing you pain and anguish. It was our intention to hit that hypocrite turd of a son of yours and it was a mistake to drag you into our dispute with him. So once again our sincere apologies.
17. Revel, Jean-Francois, The Totalitarian Temptation, Penguin Books, New York, 1977, p. 17.

Pierre Cloutier

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

William G. Dever and the Minimalists

William G. Dever

I was going to do a piece about the school of Biblical Minimalism and its use of Post-Modernism but the Archaeologist William G. Dever has beat me too it. So I'll just quote two passages from one of his books. Now Biblical Minimalism is a hyper-critical school of criticism that maintains that the Bible is a collection of "texts" that have little or nothing to do with events that really happened. They are "fictions" that have nothing or next to nothing to tell us about what really happened. This school of thought is commonly called the Copenhagen school. This school views the Bible has a collection of texts that have to be approached suspiciously for their "real" purpose which is to support an ideological position and does not except in the most tenuous sense tell use anything about real events. Further this school assumes that very little if any older material got into the Bible, and that it reflects overwhelmingly the late Persian / Hellenistic period and were used to justify policies and positions that existed then.

Dever's first summarizes his view of the "new" Post-Modernist literary approach.

A Brief Critique of New Literary Criticism

My own misgivings about the new literary critical approach to texts concern primarily the following:

1. Its determined “anti-historical” stance, for which! find no justification.

2. Its promise of superior results; but does this approach truly edify us, or merely entertain us?

3. Its lack of sophistication, despite its claims, particularly in its inchoate theories of “literary production.” These are usually borrowed from other disciplines long after they have become obsolete.

4. Its largely reactionary character, self-consciously situated on the “margins” of society and preoccupied with questions of ideology and power and political discourse that may be totally foreign to the text.

5. Its stress on the “social context” of all knowledge, but its ignoring the original context of the text itself.

6. Its minimalization of the importance of philological, historical, and comparative-analytical competence; its “know-nothing” attitude toward, or denial of, any original context.

7. Its contradiction in insisting upon the “isolation” of an individual text, but at the same time arguing that “intertextuality” is essential in reading texts.

8. Its positing that a text must be “tested;’ but producing no criteria by which that might be accomplished.

9. Its denial of “authorial intent;’ which defies common sense.

10. Its ultimate cultural relativism, which makes the text mean anything the reader wants. This is no different from the distortion and exploitation of texts of which they accuse both Fundamentalists and the liberal religious establishment in the past.

11. Its fondness for “posing questions” of the text, but its lack of any answers.

12. Its elevation of the reader’s subjective concerns to the status of final arbiter of “meaning,” which I find arrogant and self-indulgent.

13. The oppressively ideological and polemical character of the entire movement, which substitutes slogans for sustained rational argument.

14. The superiority of this approach is often asserted, usually dogmatically; but its actual reading of texts often borders on the fantastic.

15. A typical postmodern stance is assumed as essential, but it is rarely defended. Is the latest fad (for that is what it will in time be seen to have been) really the best?1

The next quote is William G. Dever's summary of the "revisionist", "post modern" positions and tactics.

1. Always attack the Establishment on principle, and in the name of “revolutionary progress?’ Set in motion a counter-culture, even if it means repudiating your own earlier works, but pretending that you have not done so.

2. Pose a set of convenient false issues; create an imagined dichotomy between positions; polarize the discussion.

3. Reject consensus scholarship; deplore the middle ground; carry the argument to its most extreme; celebrate the bizarre, since it gets attention.

4. Caricature the history of traditional scholarship; demonize any remaining opponents.

5. Deny that there are objective facts; insist that everything is relative, and that all interpretations (except your own) are under suspicion.

6. Pretend to be scientific, but discard evidence that doesn’t fit; falsify the rest.

7. Be “politically correct” at all times; pretend to identify with the oppressed minorities, while still maintaining your elitist privileges.

8. Substitute clever epigrams for sustained rational argument; use catchy slogans to conceal the real agenda.

9. Declare yourself innovative and “revolutionary”; inflate banalities into presumptuous social pronouncements.

10. Reject empiricism and positivism as outdated and perverse; but promote your own Utopian visions.

11. Elevate skepticism into a scholarly method; cherish cynicism; pride yourself on how little real knowledge you possess, since that suggests modesty and honesty.

12. Remember that the real issue is always ideology: race, gender, class, power, and above all politics. Expose others’ ideology, but deny that you have any.

13. Escalate the level of rhetoric, so that the issues are obscured.

14. Announce the “New Truth” triumphantly,

15. When exposed, decamp; accept martyrdom gracefully.

If all this sounds familiar, it is. It is precisely the method and agenda of the extreme forms of postmodernism that I have posited above as the intellectual and social matrix of revisionism. This is not sound, careful, balanced, honest scholarship: it is demagoguery.2

Certainly the above is both blistering and highly nasty, but frankly having read some of this stuff it is hard NOT to react the way Dever did. (Check Dever for a bibliography of such works)3 Other books by Dever include:

Who Were the Early Israelities and Where did They come from?, William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., Grand Rapids Michigan, 2003.

Did God Have a Wife?: Archaeology and Folk Religion in Ancient Israel, William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., Grand Rapids Michigan, 2005.

1. Dever, William G., What Did the Biblical Writers Know and When Did They Know it?, William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., Grand Rapids Michigan, 2001, pp. 15-16.

2. IBID. pp. 52.

3. See for example Thompson, Thomas L., The mythic Past: Biblical Archaeology and the Myth of Israel, Basic Books, London, 1999, and Davies, Philip R., In Search of "Ancient Israel", Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, Supplement 148, Sheffield Academic, Sheffield, 1992.

Pierre Cloutier

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus: a few notes

Constantine VII Porphrogenitus

Constantine Porphrogenitus was a Byzantine Emperor who reigned 913-959 C.E... He was the son of Leo VI called the Wise. Constantine VII Porphrogentius was born in 905 C.E.1 His nick name Prophrogenitus simply mean “born to the purple”.2 He was called this because he was born to a reigning Emperor.

Constantine was not born legitimately. His father Leo had been married three times before and had failed to have a son who lived. The Orthodox Church frowned on the idea of a fourth marriage so after his third wife died Leo did not marry his new mistress Zoe Carbonopsina, (meaning dark eyed). Leo had taken up with her in 902 C.E. When Constantine was born in late 905 C.E., Leo decided he had to risk a crisis in the Church for the sake of securing the succession which could only be done by legitimizing his son. Under the laws of the time Leo would legitimize any children born out of wedlock by marrying the mother. This Leo did, marrying Zoe secretly in early 906 C.E. When word got out this provoked a serious crisis in Church and State. Eventually after a rather terminable and tedious dispute the marriage was accepted and Constantine legitimized. The condition was that fourth marriages would not be accepted in the future.3
Leo VI, the Wise

Leo died in 912 C.E. and was succeeded by his brother (or half brother) Alexander who only reigned for 13 months.4 What evidence we have indicates that Alexander detested Leo and disliked both Constantine and his mother Zoe, who he forced in a Convent. When Alexander died he had created a board of seven regents for his young nephew.5

Soon afterwards a tedious power struggle began which lasted for seven years. It involved The Patriarch Nicholas Mysticus and Zoe, who had returned from her Convent and later the general Romanus Lecapenus. The ins and outs of this struggle although of interest will be past over here. In the end the upstart general Romanus I called Lecapenus won and put Zoe back in the Convent, this time for good in 920 C.E.6
Coin with Portrait of Romanus I, Lecapenus

It seems to be quite clear that Romanus intended to displace the Imperial family and establish his own family on the throne permanently. Constantine was in the way of this so the established Byzantine practices of murdering him, castrating him or blinding him would seem to be in order so that this could be done. However Constantine was saved by a number of factors. Firstly he was still very young about 14 years of age. Secondly he was since birth plagued by the poor health that would bother him until he died. Finally Romanus does not seem to have been, for a Byzantine Emperor, especially blood thirsty or ruthless. So Romanus dealt with the situation by marrying Constantine to his daughter Helena and probably hoping that Constantine would just die of natural causes.7

Probably by this time Constantine had developed the scholarly interests that would be his chief interest and career during the years that he was out of power. Probably these very same interests helped to keep him safe by making Romanus and his sons not take him too seriously. His marriage to Helena was also a success it appears that she became a voice at court in favour of her husband’s interests.

Romanus’ reign was an overall success.8 Romanus was however a total failure in his efforts to establish a new Imperial line. His favourite son Christopher died young in 931 C.E. Romanus’ two other sons Stephen and Constantine were too put it mildly unsuitable. Making it even more difficult Helena and Constantine VI had several children including a eldest son named, like his grandfather, Romanus. Romanus was also faced with the indisputable fact that Constantine was not dying and was through his considerable scholarly pursuits showing clear signs of real intelligence. That and the fact that Romanus began to believe that he was being punished for trying to overthrow the legitimate dynasty. The fact that if Constantine succeeded him Romanus’ grandchild would reign probably played a role in Romanus recognizing his son in law as his successor.9

Romanus’ two other sons faced with the near certainty of being forced into a monastery at best when their brother in law succeeded to power upon their fathers death decided to overthrow their father. On December 20th 944 C.E., The sons having secreted their supporters into the palace kidnapped their father from his bedroom and sent him by boat to become a monk in a monastery on a near by island close to the capital Constantinople. Unfortunately for the usurpers upon hearing of the overthrow of Romanus a mob gathered in front of the palace demanding to see Constantine VI. Fearing what the mob might do the two brothers showed Constantine to the crowd, although he looked dishevelled and had been fetched from the Imperial libraries where he had been researching another book.10

In consequence to the mobs threats the brothers were forced to recognize Constantine VI has senior Emperor. They however plotted to kill Constantine and take sole power. Unfortunately for them Constantine acted before they did. Aided by his wife Helena the two brothers were arrested, on the 27th of January 945 C.E., and they were both exiled and imprisoned. They both died in prison, one most conveniently “while trying to escape”. 11

The two brothers were briefly imprisoned on the same island with their father who said to them:

“Oh happy hour,’ he cried, ‘that has compelled Your Majesties to visit my humble estate. That filial affection which drove me from the palace, I suppose, has not allowed you yourselves to remain there any longer. How fortunate that you should have sent me here some time in advance: my brother-monks and fellow soldiers in Christ devote their days to things of the spirit, and would not have known how Emperors should be received had they not had me with them, an expert in imperial protocol. Here is boiled water for you, colder than the Gothic snows; here are soft beans, all manner of greenstuffs, and leeks freshly plucked. You will find none of those delicacies from the fishmongers that cause illness; such maladies as we have here are brought about by our frequent fasts. Our modest abode has no place for a large and extravagant company; but it is just large enough for your Majesties, who have refused to desert your father in his old age.”12

Romanus died in that monastery on June 15, 948 C.E.13

Constantine VI reigned until 959 C.E., when he died, and was overall a successful monarch.14...

Constantine VII, Porphrogenitus Being crowned by Christ

Constantine as adult was described as tall and broad shouldered, with a large black beard and pale blue eyes. He also apparently drank a lot. It is of interest to point out that Constantine was also an icon painter and apparently the only Byzantine Emperor to be one.15

Constantine was mainly a scholar and that remained until he died his chief interest and passion. Since it is hard to distinguish between works he commissioned or wrote himself here is a list of the major works either written by him or commissioned by him.

De Thematibus, A history of the development of the Byzantine administrative Theme system complete with an over view of how it worked in Constantine’s day. Written by Constantine.

Genesius’ History, A History of Byzantium.

Theophanes Continuatus, Books I-IV, A continuation of The Chronicle of Theophanes.

Constantine’s biography of his supposed grandfather Basil I. (Theophanes Continuatus, Book V). Written by Constantine.

De Administrando Imperio, An overview of Byzantine foreign affairs contains much information that would have been considered in Constantine’s day state secrets. Written for Constantine's heir Romanus II.

De Caerimoniis Aulae Byzantinae, An overview of Byzantine court ceremonial. Written by Constantine.16

Among other things Constantine also commissioned an immense work of 53 books of extracts from Greek literature grouped around topics.17 Constantine cannot be described by a long shot has a great writer, but he had access to sources we do not have today and was, apparently from the books we have of his today, a tireless researcher.18

Here I will discuss only one of Constantine’s books his De Administrando Imperio.19

The De Administrando Imperio, is divided into sections by country described and outlines proper / or recommended imperial policy towards said country. It also contains in many respects brief outline histories of some of these countries, in some cases it is the first even remotely reliable histories of these countries brief has these sections are. In some places Constantine extensively quotes other authors, and further he gives some geographical information.

In his introduction Constantine says:

(Proem) A wise man maketh glad a father, and an affectionate father taketh delight in a prudent son….

Lo, I set a doctrine before thee, so that being sharpened thereby in experience and knowledge, thou shall not stumble concerning the best counsels and the common good: first, in what each nation has power to advantage the Romans, [The Byzantines] and in what to hurt, and how and by what other nation each severally may be encountered in arms and subdued; then, concerning their ravenous and insatiate temper and the gifts they demand inordinately; next concerning also the difference between other nations, their origins and customs, and manner of life, and the position and climate of the land they dwell in, its geographical description and measurement, and moreover concerning events which have occurred at various times between the Romans and different nations; and thereafter, what reforms have been introduced from time to time in our state, and also throughout the Roman Empire.20

This book gives us some insight into the workings of Imperial policy and certainly an insight into Imperial realpolitik. For example:

(s. 4) So long as the Emperor of the Romans [The Byzantine Emperor] is at peace with the Pechenegs, [A Nomadic steppe people] neither the Russians nor Turks can come upon the Roman dominions by force of arms, nor can they exact from the Romans large and inflated sums in money or goods as the price of peace, for they fear the strength of this nation which the Emperor can turn against them while they are campaigning against the Romans. For the Pechenegs, if they are leagued in friendship with the emperor and won over by him by letters and gifts, can easily come upon the country of both the Russians and of the Turks, and enslave their women and children and ravage their country.21

Being a Christian he describes the prophet Mohammed as

(s. 14) “The blasphemous and obscene Mahomet,…

But as he had the disease of epilepsy, his wife, a noble and wealthy lady, was greatly cast down at being united to this man, who was not only destitute but an epileptic into the bargain, and so he deceived her by alleging: ‘I behold a dreadful vision of an Angel called Gabriel, and being unable to endure his sight, I faint and fall’;..”22
Not exactly an exercise in ecumenical understanding, too put it mildly, but an excellent view into the mind set of a pious Byzantine Christian of the 1oth century C.E.

About the early history of some of the Slavic settlers of the Balkans Constantine has some interesting information. For example concerning the Croatians he say:

(s. 31) The Croats who now live in the region of Dalmatia are descended from the unbaptized Croats, also called ‘white’, who lived beyond Turkey [Not modern Turkey but the steppe region] and next to Francia, and have for Slav neighbours the anabaptized Serbs. ‘Croats’ in the Slav tongue means ‘those who occupy much territory’. These same Croats arrived to claim the protection of the emperor Romans Heraclius before the Serbs claimed the protection of the same emperor Heraclius at that time when the Avars had fought and expelled from those parts the Romani whom the emperor Diocletian had brought from Rome and settled there, and who were therefore called ‘Romani’ from their having been translated from Rome to those countries, I mean, to those now called Croatia and Serbia. These same Romani having been expelled by the Avars in the days of this same Emperor of the Romans Heraclitus, their countries were made desolate. And so, by command of the Emperor Heraclius these same Croats defeated and expelled the Avars from these parts, and by mandate of Heraclius the emperor they settled down in that same country of the Avars, where they now dwell. These same Croats had at that time for prince the father of Porgas. The Emperor Heraclius sent and brought priests from Rome, and made of them an archbishop and a bishop and elders and deacons, and baptized the Croats; and at that time the these Croats had Porgas for their prince.23

In another section Constantine gives the genealogy of King Hugh, his father in law, whose daughter Eudocia was married to his son, Romanus II; no doubt to flatter his father in law and his son.

(s. 26) Now, she who came up to Constantinople and was joined in marriage to Romanus, the son born in the purple of Constantine, the Christ-loving sovereign, was the daughter of the same illustrious king Hugh, and she was called Bertha after the name of her grandmother, I mean the elder Bertha, who after the death of Adalbert her husband reigned ten years; but she, the young Bertha changed her name to Eudocia, after the grandmother and sister of Constantine, the Christ loving sovereign.24

The above is just a sampling from this work.

As I said Constantine VII died in 959 C.E., to be succeeded by his son Romanus II.

Constantine’s legacy is not his doings as monarch but his scholarship, without which we would have a good deal less knowledge and insight into the Byzantine world.

Solidus coin with Portrait of Constantine VII, Porphrogenitus

1. Runciman, Steven, The Emperor Romanus Lecapenus & his reign, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1929, pp. 41-42.

2. Norwich, John Julius, Byzantium: The Apogee, Penguin Books, London, 1991, p. 119.

3. Ostrogorsky, George, History of the Byzantine State, Basil Blackwell, London, 1956, pp. 259-260, Treadgold, Warren, A History of the Byzantine State and Society, Stanford University Press, Stanford CA, 1997, pp. 468-470, Jenkins, Romilly, Byzantium: The Imperial Centuries AD 610-1071, University of Toronto Press, Toronto, 1987, pp. 212-226, Norwich, pp. 113-119.

4. Both Alexander and Leo VI had the same mother there is a dispute over whether or not they had the same father. It is possible that Leo’s real father was Michael III, who Basil I, Leo’s supposed father had assassinated so he could take the throne. See Jenkins, pp. 165-166, 98-199, Norwich, pp. 80-81, 102, Treadgold, pp. 455, 462, Ostrogorsky, pp. 233-234. Perhaps at another time I will tell the story of this rather complicated mess.

5. Treadgold, pp. 471-472, Norwich, pp. 122-126.

6. Treadgold, pp. 473-476.

7. Norwich, pp. 117-126.

8. More than one Byzantine Emperor could reign at a time so that Constantine continued to reign, without any power or influence during Romanus’ reign. See Runciman for the best account in English of the reign.

9. Runciman, pp. pp. 229-237.

10. Runciman, pp. 232-233.

11. Runciman, pp. 234-235.

12. Norwich, p. 158, quoting the Anapodosis of Liudprand, v, 23.

13. Runciman, p. 236.

14. Treadgold, pp. 487-494, Norwich, pp. 162-174, Jenkins, pp. 256-268,

15, Norwich, p. 162, Jenkins, pp. 256-257, Toynbee, Arnold, Constantine Porphyrogenitus and his World, Oxford University Press, London, 1973, pp. 5, 19-21.

16. Toynbee, pp. 576-577.

17. IBID. p. 576.

18. IBID. pp. 575-605.

19. Constantine Porphyrogenitus: De Administrando Imperio, Revised Edition, Translated by Jenkins, Romilly J. H., Dumbarton Oaks, Center for Byzantine Studies, Washington D.C., 1967. This edition contains the original Greek text and on the facing page a translation in English of that page.

20. IBID. pp. 45-47.

21. IBID. pp. 51-53.

22. IBID. pp. 77-79.

23. IBID. pp. 147-149.

24. IBID. p. 113.

Pierre Cloutier