Wednesday, April 28, 2010


The Lizard is a Turkey
A Review of Godzilla: The Movie
 


Poster for the movie Godzilla: The Movie
 

More than ten years ago I saw Godzilla: The Movie (1998). What an experience that was! All bad!! The idea was to do an Americanized version of the low-budget Japanese camp classic films. The two guys who did this film were the same duo that brought us Independence Day. That should have warned us about what to expect. That and their quite public arrogance about what they were doing. They went on and on about how much better their film would be than any of the Japanese Godzilla movies. Well they blew it their film atrocity was worst than any of the Japanese Godzilla movies, but cost many, many multiples of all the Japanese Godzilla films put together. For not only was it lousy in virtually all respects it was no fun at all!!

This is, for Gods sake!, a Godzilla film so I didn’t go into the film with high expectations. I was expecting a silly, mindless and campy romp. What I got was something well below my lowest expectations and I had low expectations to begin with.


Poster of Godzilla: The movie
 
To mention just a few of the films many shortcomings, the lizard is the T-Rex from Jurassic Park along with many scenes being carbon copy rip-offs of the same film. For example the chasing of the little Godzillas in the movie is copied from the fight with the Raptors in Jurassic Park. The plot is just plain dumb, like why the hell does Godzilla go to New York. Why does Godzilla not eat all the actors, I would think he would like turkey and ham sandwiches. Why does everyone behave like morons in the movie? Why is the editing so bad? Why does Godzilla not go to Hollywood and destroy the studio that inflicted this upon humanity?

The script and dialogue have to be heard to be believed, but then what can you say about a film whoose catch phrase is "size does matter". The acting is beyond pathetic, if you thought the wooden performances in Japanese Godzilla films is risible and bad just watch the performances in this film. The performances in the Japanese Godzilla film are at least funny, but in this film the performances are positively painful to watch. Also Godzilla's behavior makes absolutely no sense even in the context of the movie. Why the hell does Godzilla want to lay his / her?, eggs. (Whether or not Godzilla was male or female was something this movie could not make its mind up about.) however crazy the Japanese Godzilla pics they at least made sense in terms of the imaginary world created.

The two makers of this flick seem to have forgotten that a film of this type is not supposed to be "good", in fact it can be bad, but it MUST be fun. They forgot that and produced this abomination. Toho studios of Japan which made the Japanese Godzilla films had sold the rights to make this Godzilla movie. They were apparently so pissed off with the result that they swore never to sell off the rights to another Studio to make a Godzilla film ever again.

Ironically the cartoon series Godzilla: The Series,1 is in virtually every way superior to the movie even though it is a sequel to this thunderously bad movie. What is especially notable is that the acting (in this case the cartoon voice acting) is massively superior to the movie and most importantly the plots and scripts are a major improvement. But then it appears that our two makers of the film had little to do with the series.

Godzilla: The Movie, is the sort of movie for which I and anyone else who saw it should have been paid to see. A bad film can be quite enjoyable as the Japanese Godzilla films show; but this is beyond bad it was positively torture to watch.

DO NOT PAY MONEY TO SEE THIS FILM, RENT OR BUY THE VIDEO!


Scene from Godzilla: The Series
 
1. For Godzilla: The Series, see Wikipedia Here, and The Ultimate Guide to Godzilla: The Series Here.

Pierre Cloutier
To Good to be True
The alleged stopping of Euthanasia in Germany in 1941

Main Administration Building of the Asylum at Hadamar

At the beginning of the movie The Mad Women of Chaillot (1969) there is brief written prologue that goes:

This is story about Good Triumphing over Evil. Of course it is a fantasy.1

In this posting I am examining another fantasy of Good triumphing over Evil. In this case it is an historical fantasy of the triumph of Good over Evil, and like most such fantasies it is not altogether false but is distorted and conceals more than it reveals.

It is also a fantasy that helps people feel good and downplays just how really difficult it is to do good and by neglecting the failure, or more accurately turning failure into success it lies. However it does serve the purpose of helping to hide a shameful series of moral failures and in making people feel good about themselves and how supposedly easy it is to do good in difficult circumstances.

The example I’m giving is the Hitler’s order to stop the Euthanasia campaign in August of 1941 due to a sermon by a Bishop Clemens August Graf von Galen of Munster (Hereinafter Galen), (1878-1946). In August 1941 Galen gave his sermon and then arranged copies of his sermon to be widely distributed. The public disquiet was so clear that Hitler then ordered that the Euthanasia campaign be halted shortly after Galen gave his sermon. Thus many lives were saved and a brutal regime was forced to back away from its plans to kill even more. It is a nice appealing story which is however so distorted as to be a lie.2

Bishop Clemens August Graf von Galen of Munster

The so-called Euthanasia murder policy had been set in motion in August of 1939 its purpose was to kill, mentally and physically handicapped individuals deemed to be burdens on the state and the most common description of the individuals marked for destruction was “useless eaters”.3 Already the Nazi state had sterilized more than 360,000 individuals and was proceeding to the next step.4

Sometime in early 1939 Hitler gave oral instructions to begin the killing of handicapped children, later in the year sometime in August 1939 and again orally Hitler gave orders to begin the killing of handicapped adults.5

During all this there was a considerable amount of preparation and planning done before the mass killings began, which took time but already some killing was already taking place.6 The killing of children was called Kdf and the murder of adults was called T-4. Those were the names of the programs for the murder of the mentally ill in Germany they do not include the murder of the handicapped in areas outside of Germany.

In fact the first mass killings of the mentally and physically handicapped occurred shortly during and shortly after the invasion of Poland. Beginning on September 22, 1939 and continuing for a few weeks c. 2000 mental patients from various Polish asylums were murdered in a wood near the town of Kocborowo. They were shot by specially trained SS death squads. In a grim forecast of what was to come inmates from a hospital in the town of Owinska were stuffed into a sealed room and killed by carbon monoxide gas. The massacre of mental and handicapped patients continued until more than 12,000 had been killed.7

When August 1939 Hitler gave the go ahead to start the mass murder of the handicapped it took some time for the program to set up. However it started in 1940 and continued well into 1941.

Although they used a variety of methods, like injections, starvation etc., the chief method of murder was gas. People would be sent too frequently by bus or truck to one of 6 different facilities and then after being “processed” they would be murdered by gas, in specially constructed chambers.

Now it is known that operation T-4 had a goal of terminating the lives of c. 70,000 people which was the goal that the Nazi’s, in this case specifically Hitler, selected for the program.8 The program was also centralized in terms of co-ordination and control and most of the killing in 1940-1941 was done in 6 centralized facilities. The program of murder was subject to bureaucratic centralized control and many if not most of the people staffing the program were Nazi fanatics or at least psychopathic in their attitudes towards their victims.9

The killing centers were Grafeneck, Brandenburg, Hartheim, Sonnenstein, Bernburg and Hadamar. The inmates were told by the staff arranging them to be murdered, various stories, like they were going out on an excursion, that they were going to be medically examined and such like to put their minds at ease. At Hadamar the victims, who had been taken to the facility in buses, usually grey painted postal buses, were disembarked in one of a series of wooden garages and taken to the main building via a specially constructed wooden corridor. In the main building they were undressed and given military overcoats and then examined by a Doctor who would help in thus fabricating plausible causes of dearth to give to their loved ones.

The victims were then escorted into the basement / cellar. They were told they were going into a shower and jammed 60 at a time, into a small room and there by the turn of valve they were gassed to death by carbon monoxide gas. The victims took up to an hour to die. Experiencing terror, panic and the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning, such as severe headaches, dizziness, nausea, and shortness of breath. It was not a pleasant death.

Gas Chamber at Hadamar

After fans got rid of what was left of the gas, “disinfectors”, cleaned up and disentangled the bodies. Those who had been marked before hand of potential interest would be autopsied in another room and their brain or other organs of interest sent to various Universities for more research. Gold teeth would of course be removed. The bodies were then burned in crematoria and the ashes randomly distributed into urns to be sent to the family. Bones would be crushed, if they did not fully burn.

People could see the thick cloud of ash from the asylum chimney after each transport to Hadamar and quickly but two and two together. Arrangements were made for families to have Urns with ashes and to deceive them into thinking the ashes came from near were the patient had been in an asylum. Further Doctors had ready a list of 62 possible reasons for death to send to the relatives of the deceased giving the fabricated “reason” for their loved one’s death. They used a carefully designed form letter that had space for a few personal details, to send these lies to the bereaved. Enclosed with this fraudulent letter would be 2 death certificates listing the false cause of death.10

Sometimes it is best to let the facts speak for themselves. I have nothing to add to the above description.

The six killing centers murdered the following numbers of people between 1940-1941.

Grafeneck – 9,839
Brandenburg - 9,772
Hartheim - 18,269
Sonnenstein - 13,720
Bernburg – 8,601
Hadamar - 10,072
Total - 70,273 11

Now the figures listed above are only for German patients murdered in Germany and exclude those murdered abroad; for example those killed in Poland. In this phase of the killing program it is rather sickening to report that c. ½ of the victims were in private or ecclesiastical institutions. It just wasn’t the state institutions that were corrupted by this murderous idea but private institutions including those run by various churches.12

The corrupting ideology behind the Euthanasia murder program was eugenics the idea that lives of certain classes of handicapped individuals were devoid of value and burden on the community at large and so ought to be terminated. The language of Euthanasia was used, but it was not allowing people, legally competent, who suffered from debilitating or terminal diseases to consent to or in fact take those own lives but simple murder. It can be stated without contradiction that “Euthanasia” was used as a smoke screen to hide the fact that it was murder. The fact that those carrying out the murders went to extraordinary efforts to deceive both patients and their families indicates that the killers knew that they were engaged in murder pure and simple.13

Has mentioned above in late August 1941 Hitler gave a stop order for T-4 and this was shortly after Galen gave a sermon and distributed copies of a hard hitting sermon. Not surprisingly many people have assumed a link and in fact they are not wrong, however they are wrong to assume it stopped the killing. The story of Galen’s sermon is as follows.

Galen was made Roman Catholic Bishop of Munster in 1933 and from the get go had a rocky relationship with the Nazis, who he regarded has upstart oafs. He was especially offended by what he saw as Nazi attacks on the church. It appears that Galen had been in receipt of information regarding the Euthanasia program since July 1940, but kept quiet for the time being. It is not completely clear why he kept quiet although it appears that like other members of the Church hierarchy who knew about the program he was concerned that any protest would simply backfire on the church. It appears that he considered going public in August 1940 but was talked out of it by Cardinal Bertram who was concerned about the possible negative effect on the church.

In July 1941 Galen was incensed about the seizure of Jesuit property in Munster by the Gestapo for state purposes decided to act.14 On August 3, 1941 Galen gave his sermon. In it he said:

If you establish and apply the principle that you can kill “unproductive” human beings, then woe betide us all when we become old and frail! If one is allowed to kill unproductive people, then woe betide the invalids who have used up, sacrificed and lost their health and strength in the productive process. If one is allowed forcibly to remove one’s unproductive fellow human beings, then woe betide loyal soldiers who return to the homeland seriously disabled, as cripples, as invalids …Woe to mankind, woe to our German nation, if God’s holy commandment “Thou shalt not kill!”, which God proclaimed on Mount Sinai amidst thunder and lightening, which God our Creator inscribed in the conscience of mankind from the very beginning, is not only broken, but if this transgression is actually tolerated and permitted to go unpunished.15

We are not talking here about a machine, a horse, nor a cow …No, we are talking about men and women, our compatriots, our brothers and sisters. Poor unproductive people if you wish, but does this mean that they have lost their right to live?16

The Nazis were infuriated by Galen’s sermon and seriously considered arresting him and sending him to a concentration camp. Galen’s sermon was made illegal and possession of copies of it a crime and several people associated with the production, creation and distribution of the sermon jailed or sent to concentration camps along with people who had it in their possession. Copies were smuggled out of Germany and the allied powers dropped copies of it over German cities. There was even before Galen’s sermon a serious level of unease over the Euthanasia program, despite the effort to conceal and hide it. The Sermon raised the level of public awareness and unease. Creating a problem for the Nazis. Which wasn’t helped by the fact Galen tried to have murder charges levelled against some of those involved.17

Hitler was furious but decided to bide his time. Hitler said:

I am quite sure that a man like the Bishop von Galen knows that after the war I shall extract retribution down to the last farthing. And if he does not succeed in the meanwhile in getting himself transferred to the Collegium Germanicum in Rome, he may rest assured that in the balancing of our accounts no “t” will remain uncrossed, no “i” left undotted.18

Fortunately for Galen Hitler and the Nazis lost the war and were therefore unable to extract vengeance on him.

Aside from infuriating Hitler and creating problems for the Nazis just what effect did Galen’s sermon have on T-4 and the Euthanasia killings? It appears that it played a role in stopping the program, so that Hitler gave a oral stop order in late August 1941, but was not the sole reason and probably not as important as two other reasons. First the T-4 killings had already achieved their goal in terms of the number of killings. Secondly the personal associated with T-4 were needed for the vastly greater killings being planned for in the east, of which the so-called Final Solution, was just a part.19

Also Kdf, the murder of children, was continued on Hitler’s express orders. Also continued was the murder of Concentration camp inmates and prisoners, under the Euthanasia banner called 14f13. Finally only the T-4 program stopped, not the killings. Instead of a centralized bureaucratic system with a few killing centers the program was decentralized and a lot was left to local initiative, strongly urged by the state.20

This is the so-called period of “Wild Euthanasia”, in which the killing was to a large extent decentralized and left to local initiative. The preferred methods of killing was not the mass gassing of the previous period but hunger and / or drug overdoses. Basically patients were frequently starved to death or deliberately given diets that caused severe bodily deterioration so that moderate injections of drugs would kill them.

This included such practices as feeding the patients diets without protein or other essential foods like fats, so that they would die more easily. Sometimes patients were simply, starved to death by not being fed at all. The usual deception and lying was done to conceal how the patient actually died from the bereaved relatives. This campaign continued right until the end of the war.21

An example of how “efficient” “Wild Euthanasia” could be is that between August 1942 and March 1945 4,817 patients were sent to Hadamar of those 4,442 died. A death rate over 90%.22

The records that were kept for the “Wild Euthanasia” killings are not very complete but it appears to have been considerably more than were killed in T-4. The absolute minimum figure seems to be 100,000.23

Aside from those killed above in both the T-4 gassing's and “Wild Euthanasia” there were those killed by starvation and / or medication before the end of T-4 those numbered c. 20,000. To this must be added those killed in KdF at least 5,000 and those killed in 14f13 c. 20,000.24

The above figures total 215,000 people murdered, and this figure is probably too low, and even so they do not include the tens of thousands non-Germans killed in the Euthanasia program in areas conquered by Germany. For example the over 10 thousand killed in Poland in 1939-1940, or the over ten thousand killed in the Soviet Union or the c. 40,000 killed in France. It appears that only c. 40,000 mental patients survived the war in Germany.25

Thus this series of programs, under the Euthanasia euphemism, altogether murdered at least 275,000 human beings and the actual figure is probably over 300,000. Compared to other massacres carried out during World War II by the Nazis this may seem small but remember it is over a ¼ of a million human beings and probably close to 1/3 of a million.

At most c. 95,000 were murdered before the stop order of August 1941 most of the victims were murdered, even in Germany, after the stop order was given. The stop order was not to stop the killings but to stop the mass gassing's of inmates. The killing was ordered to go on by other methods and did so with great, indeed horrible success.

Galen’s very brave public statement although infuriating to the Nazi authorities and very embarrassing did not stop the killing. What it helped to stopped was a particular mode of killing that it must be remembered had already achieved its stated goal when it was stopped and further its practitioners were being prepared for another campaign of murder so that they were willing to for gore for the time being. Also as I’ve said before the killing did not stop at all it went on and on using other methods. Galen’s protest despite postwar myths did not stop the Euthanasia campaign. That particular hopeful myth must be laid to rest. To quote:

Hitler’s stop order of August 1941 did not end the destruction of those considered “unworthy of life.” The belief that his stop order ended the killings is based on postwar myth. The stop order applied only to the killing centers; mass murder of the handicapped continued by other means. Moreover the stop order did not apply to children’s euthanasia, which had never utilized gas chambers. As with children, after the stop order physicians and nurses killed handicapped adults with tablets, injections and starvation. In fact, more victims of Euthanasia perished after the stop order was issued than before.26

Two Victims of the Euthanasia programs

1. I’m relying on my memory since it has been 30+ years since I’ve seen the movie.

2. An excellent example of this myth is A Lost Chance to save the Jews, in The New York Review of Books, April 27, 1989, by Conor Cruise O’Brien at Here. See also O’Brien’s response to a letter critiquing his view of the stop Euthanasia order at Here, dated October 26, 1989.

3. Chorover, Stephan L, From Genesis to Genocide, MIT Press, Cambridge MASS, 1979, quoted on p. 101.

4. Evans, Richard J., The Third Reich at War, Penguin Books, London, 2008, p. 77.

5. Friedlander, Henry, The Origins of Nazi Genocide, University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill NC, 1995, pp. 39-41, 62-64.

6. Burleigh, Michael, Death and Deliverance, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1994, pp. 93-129, Friedlander, pp. 62-80, Evans, pp. 77-90, Muller-Hill, Benno, Murderous Science, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1988, pp. 39-45.

7. Evans, pp. 75-77.

8. IBID, pp. 99-100.

9. Burleigh, pp. 93-161, Muller-hill, pp. 39-65.

10, Burleigh, pp. 144-153, Friedlander, pp. 107-110.

11. Friedlander, p. 109.

12. Burleigh, p. 173.

13. IBID, pp. 43-92, 183-219, Friedlander, pp. 23-38, Chorover, pp. 93-104, Muller-Hill, pp. 7-13, Lifton, Robert Jay, The Nazi Doctors, Basic Books Inc., New York, 1986, pp. 22-44.

14. Burleigh, pp. 175-178.

15. IBID, quoting Galen, p. 178.

16. Lifton, quoting Galen, p. 94.

17. Burleigh, pp. 178-180, Evans, pp. 97-101, Lifton, pp. 90-95.

18. Burleigh, quoting Hitler, p. 178.

19. Friedlander, pp. 151-163, Lifton, pp. 135-148, Evans, 100-101, Sereny, Gitta, Into That Darkness, Andre Deutsch, London, 1974, pp. 79-90.

20. Friedlander, pp. 39-61, 131-163, Lifton, pp. 96-102, 134-146, Burleigh, pp. 93-129, 220-266, Evans, pp. 524-530, Muller-Hill, pp. 15, 63-65.

21. IBID.

22. Evans, p. 527.

23. Muller-Hill, p. 65, Friedlander, p. 151, Chorover, p. 101.

24. Lifton, p. 142, Friedlander, pp. 61, 150.

25, Muller-Hill, p. 65, Evans, 528-530, Burleigh, pp. 220-237, Friedlander, pp. 151-163, Chorover, p. 101.

26. Friedlander, p. 151.

Pierre Cloutier

Friday, April 23, 2010


Moral Cretinism Part III
Longing for Big Brother


Maurice Merleau-Ponty

In two previous postings I looked at two other examples of morally cretinistic points of view. Both of them were intellectually lightweight as well as being morally bankrupt. In this example we have something that is intellectually heavyweight but just as much morally bankrupt and yes cretinistic.

The piece I will look at today is one of the works of Maurice Merleau-Ponty, (1908-1961).1 The work is Humanism and Terror.2 The book is in many respects a typical work of the French twentieth century philosophical school(s). It is in many places highly obtuse and rather difficult. Further it must be remembered that Merleau-Ponty was in many respects an Existential thinker, much concerned with the issue of responsibility and how people relate to each other. Also Merleau-Ponty’s writings are extremely important for twentieth pcentury philosophical notions of reality, epistemology, and phenomenology.3

Humanism and Terror is quite simply an apologia for the Stalinist terror. The fact that it is relatively complex in argument and that then Communists also denounced the book, mainly because it was not sufficiently subservient to Communist / Stalinist shibboleths,4 should not detract from the fact that the book is basically an apologia for terror.

Now in many respects Humanism and Terror, is an aberration in Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s career. Shortly after writing it he abandoned much of its argument and reverted back to a position of being highly critical of the Soviet Union and Stalinism in general.5

It is important to set the book into its context in order to understand why Merleau-Ponty went off the rails so to speak. In this case it is important to remember that France had just emerged from the Second World having been occupied for most of it (1940-1944), and that the French Communists had been heavily involved in the resistance to the Nazi occupation. Also important was the role played by the Soviet Union in defeating Nazi Germany. All of this gave Communism and the Soviet Union enormous prestige in the minds of many intellectuals in Europe.

To this was allied the desire to avoid entanglement in another war after the recent appearance of the last devastating one. For a while it appeared that after the war it might be possible for France and much of Western Europe to become a “third way” between the Soviet Union and America. Any strong alliance with America would foreclose this possibility. So there was intellectual resistance to a firm alliance with the rising wave of anti-Soviet antagonism. Finally in many respects many intellectuals saw in rising anti-Soviet agitation something very similar to the rise of Nazism. Of course the belief, not unfounded, among many intellectuals that there was a movement towards a preventive war against the Soviet Union was also a factor in generating pro-Soviet intellectual beliefs. This is combined with a fear that the emerging western alliance against the USSR would preclude any sort of independent policy for Europe.6

Now Merleau-Ponty, wrote his book in large part in response to Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon,7 which is Arthur Koestler’s great novel about the Great Purges in Russia. It important to remember that Arthur Koestler, a former Hungarian Communist who became quite disillusioned about Communism because of the Great Purge, was the object of sustained hysterical attack from Communists and fellow travellers because of his book. Nowadays it is rather hard to see, or more accurately read, what the fuss was about. Anyone reading the novel would note right away that compared to what we do know about the Great Terror the horrors in the novel, albeit real, are pretty tame.8

What seems to have truly infuriated Merleau-Ponty about Koestler’s novel is that Koestler’s “hero” Rubashov seems to have had a very crude and limited understanding of Marxism. Merleau-Ponty also commits the error of assuming that the alleged Marxist crudities of Rubashov are in fact Koestler’s own ideas about Marxism. In fact Merleau-Ponty seems to assume that Soviet Marxists, those in power at least, have ideas about Marxism similar to his own.

Of course Koestler’s novel has stood the test of time rather well. Merleau-Ponty’s work, not so well. So let us get started with looking at Merleau-Ponty’s work.

Let us start with the following from the Author’s Preface:
Any serious discussion of Communism must therefore pose the problem in Communist terms, that is to say, not on the grounds of principles but on the ground of human relations. It will not brandish liberal principles in order to topple communism; it will examine whether it is doing anything to resolve the problem rightly raised by communism, namely to establish among men relations that are human.9
Right away Merleau-Ponty is tipping the scale. There is no reason to automatically assume that the problem must be posed in Communist terms for to do so is to predetermine the outcome right away. This is called loading the dice and fixing the race. What is also of interest is Merleau-Ponty’s relative lack of interest in determining whether or not more “human relations”, (which he does not clearly or more than cursory defines) exist in the Soviet Union. This effort to fix the outcome before hand is intellectually indefensible.
This is the spirit in which we have reopened the question of Communist violence which Koestler brought to light in Darkness at Noon. We have not examined whether in fact Bukharin led an organized opposition nor whether the execution of the old Bolsheviks was really indispensable to the order and the national defense of the U.S.S.R. We did not undertake to re-enact the 1937 trials. Our purpose was to understand Bukharin as Koestler sought to understand Rubashov. For the trial of Bukharin brings to light the theory and practice of violence under communism since Bukharin exercises violence upon himself and brings about his own condemnation. So we tried to discover what he really thought beneath the conventions of language.10
We learn from this passage that bluntly Merleau-Ponty is not interested in the innocence or lack of innocence of the accused; nor is Merleau-Ponty interested in mere fact as it pertains to the trials. Merleau-Ponty is simply interested in what the trial tells us about high abstract theories of justified and unjustified violence. Of course this rejection of mere fact has to be done otherwise Merleau-Ponty would have to consider the fact that the statements made by Bukharin made at his show trial are complete gobblygook he was forced to utter and are no more revealing of his “real” ideas than a confession extracted under torture.

It is of interest that it is utterly clear that Bukharin’s answers, statements etc at his trial have been revealed to be concoctions stage managed to justify the trial and death sentence.11 In order to use Bukharin’s statements Merleau-Ponty must with great intellectual discipline avoid all questions of the validity Bukharin’s testimony. As it is it is valueless. At the time that Merleau-Ponty could easily have been aware that Bukharin’s testimony was likely worthless, as is testimony in all such farcical show trials, but in pursuit of his “higher” truths Merleau-Ponty choose to ignore that.

Later Merleau-Ponty says:
Thus we find ourselves in an inextricable situation. The Marxist critique of capitalism is still valid and it is clear that anti-Sovietism today resembles the brutality, hybris, vertigo, and anguish that already found expression in fascism. On the other side, the Revolution has come to a halt: it maintains and aggravates the dictatorial apparatus renouncing the revolutionary liberty of the proletariat in the Soviets and its Party and abandoning the humane control of the state. It is impossible to be an anti-Communist and it is not possible to be a Communist.12
The above quote is one of the reasons why Communists at the time disliked intensely Merleau-Ponty’s essay despite its apologetic nature. As will become clear it is also clear that at the time of writing this Merleau-Ponty longed to become a Communist and love Big Brother.

Thus later when discussing violence in Revolutions Merleau-Ponty says:
In reality the most serious threat to civilization is not to kill a man because of his ideas (this has often been done in wartime), but to do so without recognizing it or saying so, and to hide revolutionary justice behind the mask of the penal code. For, by hiding violence one grows accustomed to it and makes an institution of it. On the other hand, if one gives violence its name and if one uses it, as the revolutionaries always did, without pleasure, there remains a chance of driving it out of history.13
Aside from the absurd reference to the revolutionaries committing acts of violence without pleasure which is pure propaganda about so-called pure minded, selfless revolutionary leaders, which is nothing but suck up nonsense, it is simply not true that lawless violence is not inherently corrupting. What Merleau-Ponty is talking about is in fact lawless violence. He is right that once that, violence, becomes institutionalized it becomes dangerous, but the bottom lined is that Revolutionary violence is institutional violence also and as such rather dangerous. Especially if the practitioners of said violence are glorified as selfless, disinterested saints.

In a chapter of the book Bukharin and the Ambiguity of History,14 Merleau-Ponty examines Bukharin’s trial and testimony. Amazingly Merleau-Ponty takes it seriously! This of course involves a wilful and deliberate ignorance off the facts of the trial then ascertainable. The idea that Bukharin’s testimony can tell us much about Bukharin’s “real” ideas is absurd. It is even more absurd now that we know that Bukharin was tortured and was told that his wife and young son would be arrested and murdered if he didn’t cooperate.15

Thus on page 59 Merleau-Ponty quotes Bukharin’s “testimony” as if it is unproblematic and untainted. It is obvious that Merleau-Ponty wants very much to believe that Bukharin’s testimony is in fact unproblematic, clear and untainted by such things as torture and threats of arrest and murder of his loved ones. Neither does Merleau-Ponty want to believe that it is corrupted by being rehearsed and faked to serve a specific political purpose, i.e., justifying the “guilt” of the accused and the death sentence and thus cementing Stalin’s power. Merleau-Ponty wants to believe the all powerful, all wise, all knowing and all beneficent Big Brother.

Thus although Merleau-Ponty acknowledges that Bukharin and his fellow accused were:
…up against a persistent police force and an implacable dictatorship.16
Merleau-Ponty still quotes Bukarin as saying:
“World history is a world court of judgement.”17
Merleau-Ponty assumes that this somehow represents the “real” views of Bukharin, which again illustrates nothing except Merleau-Ponty’s desire to believe Big Brother.

The airy-fairy nonsense that Merleau-Ponty assumes that Bukharin accepts his guilt for a large constellation of highly abstract theoretical reasoning based on the assumption that “History” is the ultimate justification and excuse for human actions and that if one opposes “History” one is guilty. Merleau-Ponty wants very much to believe that “History” is the ultimate judge of what is right and wrong and that those things that help “History” towards its goal are justified and thus those historical forces and personages that work towards those ends are morally justified. To but it bluntly the ends justify the means. Thus since Communists are working towards freeing humans they are justified in doing that which furthers that goal. That this would justify all sorts of human abominations and atrocities doesn’t seem to worry Merleau-Ponty very much.

That Merleau-Ponty very much wants to believe this, and surrender his intellect to Big Brother is obvious. What is also obvious despite Merleau-Ponty’s desire is that he can’t do it. Merleau-Ponty just can’t submit to Big Brother.

Of course History as not been kind to Merleau-Ponty’s fantasies regarding Bukharin’s motivations for his testimony. Instead of Merleau-Ponty’s intellectual abstractions it boiled down to torture and threats.

Thus we have Merleau-Ponty say:
The confessions in the Moscow Trials are only the extreme instance of those letters of submission to the central Committee which in 1938 were a feature of daily life in the U.S.S.R. They are only mystifying to those who overlook the dialectic between the subjective and objective factors in Marxist politics.18
The only real mystery is Merleau-Ponty’s inability to discover the dialectic between a prisoner and his jailer, mediated by endless interrogation, starvation, sleep deprivation, beatings and sundry other variations of violent coercion.

Merleau-Ponty then closes this particular chapter by quoting Vyshinsky and Stalin.19 Now Vyshinsky was the head prosecutor of the Moscow show trial and one of the chief orchestraters of that fraud. Why should Vyshinsky’s comments about the accused be taken seriously? As for Stalin anything he as to say about this Judicial Murder is not to be taken seriously. Its of interest that Merleau-Ponty resists the idea that Moscow trials were stage managed and hence valueless as telling us much about the accused. Further it is interesting that Merleau-Ponty leaves the last word about Bukharin’s guilt to his murderers. It is obvious that Merleau-Ponty really wants to believe that Bukharin was working towards effecting a “Capitalist” restoration, and thus Stalin, i.e., Big Brother was justified but once again Merleau-Ponty can’t quite go all the way and submit.

Although Merleau-Ponty denies that he is excusing Stalin by accepting Stalin’s justifications for the terror Merleau-Ponty says thing like:
But then one can say that Stalin overruled the opposition in order to prevent German militarism from thwarting the only country in the world in which socialist forms of production had been established.20
One can say all sorts of things, but about this one can say that it is self serving propaganda, much weakened by the Nazi-Soviet pact of 1939-1941.

Another passage that indicate Merleau-Ponty’s deep longing to service Big Brother is:
Although the actions of the Bolsheviks cannot at every moment reflect the immediate sentiments of the proletariat, they must on balance and in the world as a whole hasten the advancement of the proletariat and continuously raise the consciousness of the proletariat’s condition because it is the initiation of truly human coexistence.21
A clear indication that Merleau-Ponty wants to join a cult; in other words an omnipotent organization that can do no wrong and that by definition all it does is “right” even if the people it supposedly represents reject it. In the end the party is the embodiment of “history” and the fulfilling of the “true” needs of human beings. Besides only “history” can really judge if the “right” thing as been done. Once again the longing to submit to Big Brother.

Merleau-Ponty then goes into a long and rather convoluted mystification on the Proletariat and how this gives the party and Marxism its driving force.22 That the Proletariat as the embodiment of the future inevitable course of human history and development, through its mouth piece the party excuses and justifies actions taken on its behalf and only the future can justify, or damn the means used. Thus we read stomach turning bromides like this:
It is no accident, nor, I suppose, out of any romantic disposition that the first newspaper of the U.S.S.R. was given the name Pravda. [Truth] The cause of the Proletariat is so universal that it can tolerate the truth better than any other.23
I suppose one can throw up now. Pravda got by the late twenties at the earliest and especially under Stalin a deserved reputation for outrageous official lying. Once again Merleau-Ponty just cannot help himself he wants Big Brother’s bullet in his brain. The fact is lying in the name of the Proletariat by Communists was almost derigure. So much for love of truth.

It is pointless to quote Merleau-Ponty further on his desire to submit it would only be tedious and annoying however one beautiful quote that illustrates once again Merleau-Ponty’s singularly obtuse refusal to pay attention to mere empirical fact is this:
Within the U.S.S.R. violence and deception have official status while humanity is to be found in daily life. On the contrary, in democracies the principles are humane but deception and violence rule daily life.24
Thus speaks the fellow traveller and obtuse fool who doesn’t wish to learn anything about real life in the Soviet Union at the time. Obviously Merleau-Ponty read all sorts of lying and deceptive accounts by Communists and others about life in the Soviet Union and took it seriously or wanted very much to take it seriously. The dream of the omnipotent state in which people were happy, especially to those on conducted tours is what Merleau-Ponty is indulging in here. Sorry but there was plenty of violence in everyday Soviet life. The violence of intrusive unaccountable officialdom and the violence of continual surveillance.25

In this essay the terrors and mass murders of the regime from Collectivization to the Purges and the labour camps and so forth that took over ten million lives are whisked away in a fog of philosophical abstraction. To call this morally cretinist is to merely call a spade a spade. Fortunately Merleau-Ponty regained his moral footing.26

As I mentioned near the beginning Merleau-Ponty’s flirtation remained just that a flirtation with Communism. Very soon he reverted back to a vastly more critical attitude, which included very rigorous and through denunciations of Soviet foreign policies and the Gulag.27

For a brief time Merleau-Ponty wanted Big Brother’s bullet in his brain, because accepting the omnipotence of the all wise party and Big Brother would have enabled him to avoid the very difficult task of thinking for himself.

Of course “History” as not been kind to Merleau-Ponty’s essay. The view that only “History” can really judge, held by the Communists at the time, and that the ends of “history” justify the means has produced the result that Communism has been swept away into the trash heap of history. History as cast it aside as a murderous aberration in the development of the human race. It was not the embodiment of “history” and its ends but a dead end.

1. Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Wikipedia Here.

2. Merleau-Ponty, Maurice, Humanism and Terror, Beacon Press, Boston, 1969. (Originally published in 1947 in French).

3. See Footnote 1.

4. See Merleau-Ponty, pp. xiii-xlvii.

5. Judt, Tony, Past Imperfect: French Intellectuals 1944-1956, University of California Press, Berkeley CA, 1994, pp. 113-115, 123-127, Caute, David, The Fellow Travellers, Rev. Edition, Yale University Press, New Haven CT, 1988, p. 331-332.

6. Caute, pp. 329-346, Merleau-Ponty, pp. xiii-xlvii, 178-189.

7. Koestler, Arthur, Darkness at Noon, Bantam Books, New York, 1941.

8. For details about the terror see Conquest, Robert, The Great Terror, Revised Edition, Pimlico, London, 1990, pp. 117-119. Much is not talked about very much in the novel, for example torture is almost entirely absent, and the horrors of the slave labour camps and of collectivization are also largely absent.

9. Merleau-Ponty, p. xv.

10. IBID, p. xv.

11. Conquest, pp. 341-398. We know that Bukharin was tortured and his wife and son threatened with death in order to get Bukharin to “voluntarily” confess see Conquest, pp. 364-365..

12. Merleau-Ponty, p. xxi.

13. IBID, p. 34.

14. IBID, pp. 25-70.

15.See Footnote 11.

16. Merleau-Ponty, p. 62.

17. IBID.

18. IBID, p. 68.

19, IBID, pp. 69-70.

20. IBID, p. 87.

21. IBID, p. 112.

22. IBID, pp. 115-130.

23. IBID, p. 123.

24. IBID, p. 180.

25. Caute, pp. 64-139.

26. See Conquest and Applebaum, Anne, Gulag: A History, Anchor Books, New York, 2003, Khlevniuk, Oleg V., The History of the Gulag, Yale University Press, New Have CT, 2004.

27, See Footnote 5.

Pierre Cloutier

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Stoned Nailmaker’s
“Jump the Shark Page” Post Part II
In a previous posting I listed 10 TV shows and my opinion of when they “jumped the shark”. Here are 10 more.

11, Absolutely Fabulous. The Fourth Season. After using the concept of just 3 seasons of 6 episodes each and working together a satisfactory, even brilliant, story arch about our two drug-ridden, drunken pieces of garbage, the creators decide to go to the cash cow two more times. Sorry it didn’t work from the first “Darling”. The fact is the antics of two middle aged narcissistic alcoholic potheads can get very tedious. My favorite character was the very practical Saffron who could barely tolerate her hideous mother Edina.

Scene from Absolutely Fabulous

12, The Honeymooners. A show which had the good sense not to go on forever and thus did not “jump the shark”. A truly amazing piece of TV history. Proof that mass entertainment doesn’t have to be stupid. Endlessly ripped off by far less creative people terrified of new ideas and thus attracted to necrophilia. The most common rip-off is the wacky next door neighbour Ed Norton; see Kramer. (Like Jerry Seinfeld and TV executives). I should mention that I adore this show even though I dislike Jackie Gleason quite intensely.


Scene From The Honeymooners

13, I Love Lucy. A show that stayed on a generally high note for its entire run. Watching episodes of I Love Lucy and then Leave it to Beaver is shocking. It is hard to believe that they were made at the same time! However a decline started with Lucy and Rickie going to California. From then on the show increasingly depended on guests and gimmicks and started to lose its edge. For example virtually the entire Ricardo’s visit Europe series was one very long exercise in self indulgence.

Cast of I Love Lucy
14, Married with Children. The only thing that keeps this show from being a “in the Toilet from day one show” is that it was deliberately and relentlessly horrid and totally without pretentiousness. The regulars worked real hard to be horrible and they were! So Married with Children was very much a guilty pleasure. The show started downhill when they introduced Seven a cute eight year old for part of one season. The introduction of “family values” fatally damaged the hideous ambiance of the show. The show had the distinction of being considered through most of its runs one of the most tasteless, crude pieces of trash on TV, but at least it was not pretentious, unlike Seinfeld.

Cast of Married With Children
15, Bonanza. One of the “essential” TV westerns, complete with hackneyed plots in an ersatz west. It definitely had a certain charm. Show started to decline when Parnell Roberts as the eldest son, (who had an attitude problem) left leaving the field to the fat guy and the goody-good younger son. I don’t know about you but Michael Landon especially when he was later incarnated into the prefect father, Little House on the Prairie, and then an angel in Highway to Heaven was very annoying. Also the repeated use of the same shots of them riding around got stale fast.

Cast of Bonanza
16, My Mother the Car. Another Hollywood abortion. Who thought this idea would work? Only TV executives who can seem to be amazingly clueless. Moment it went downhill, when we realize that our “hero’s” mother was reincarnated in a car. (Idea brought to us by cowardly 60’s TV executives). Yes it is hard to believe that this show was for real, and lasted for ONE full season of 30 episodes before it was killed by lethal injection. The “star” of the show took well over a decade to have his carrier recover from this fiasco. (He stared as the lead in Coach)

Scene from My Mother the Car
17, Get Smart. A totally in your face farce on spying. With the wonderful Don Adams and the underrated Barbara Feldon as the wondrous 99. You have to have a high tolerance for blunt slapstick and really bad puns to like this one. Decline began when Max and 99 decide to get married. The tension between the intelligent 99 and the really stupid Max (Agent 86) was lost forever. They also had twins. There were attempts latter on to create sequels to the show. The less said the better about those “efforts”.

Scene from Get Smart
18, The John Larroquette Show. After a really great first season which played up the story of a man who had wreaked his and other peoples lives through his alcoholism trying to get back up and out of the pit he dug for himself. Then the network decides to “improve” the show by giving John a new apartment and to really downplay the “downer” aspects of the show. The result was another sitcom full of “characters” with no depth. Under the shows “new” “improved” direction the main characters drinking problems and literary interests largely disappeared from the plots of the episodes making the show just another generic sitcom. The show survived the mutilation for a couple of years but was unwatchable.

Cast of John Larroquette Show
19, Keeping up Appearances. A show with one of the most horrid TV characters ever created, the infamous Hyacinth Bucket. A snob, social climber to the nth degree. The show was very funny and creative but decline it did. I never quite figured how her and her husband could have had a son? How could anyone or anything have sex with Ms. Bouquet? Yuck at the thought!! The show did not “jump the shark” at any one moment but more or less did so gradually as the audience wonders why no one has told that “bitch” off or at least shot her to death. (A Judge would have considered it a mercy killing). My favorite character was Ms. Bouquet’s brother in law Onslow, who would lie in bed and read books about such things as quantum mechanics. Onslow also quite rightly realized what a curse Hyacinth is.

Scene from Keeping Up Appearances
20, The Dukes of Hazzard. A definite Hollywood blackhead filled with infested rotting pus. How this made it on the air let alone lasted 6 years is inexplicable and a possible proof that TV executives are indeed in league with Satan. Another show that started in the tank and stayed there only to became infested with fungi. Turning point came when the two leads were temporarily replaced revealing that the best actor in the series was indeed the car the General Lee. The show consisted of the Dukes getting in their car being chased, getting out of their car, getting back in their car, being chased, and repeat and repeat. The show also was “notable” for showing both front and back cleavage, (Daisy Duke). The show spawned (Yep that’s the word), a number of even more horrid spin-offs that are now hopefully forgotten.

Cast of The Dukes of Hazzard

Pierre Cloutier

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Montesquieu’s Myth of Depopulation

Montesquieu

In Montesquieu’s work Persian Letters, there is a discussion of the depopulation of the Modern world as compared to the Ancient world. This was at the time a common historical myth, but it is of interest in terms of what it tells us about how historical myths arise and become fashionable, even when their basis is paper thin or in fact non-existent.

Montesquieu was one of the first great writers and thinkers of that movement and period of European history called the Enlightenment. Montesquieu was born in France in a small town near the city of Bordeaux in 1689. He was a member of the nobility and published on writings on many subjects. He was also a traveller, who visited other countries including England. Montesquieu is best known for his great work The Spirit of Laws, (published 1748 C.E.) which set forth his vision of secular, law abiding and balanced government. To say that this book had an enormous impact is to understate its impact. It is virtually impossible to understand Enlightenment political and moral thought without reference to this book to say nothing of its impact on both American and French Revolutionaries. Montesquieu died after a short illness in 1755.

A book that serves has a sort of prelude to The Spirit of Laws, is the above mentioned Persian Letters that were originally published in 1721 C.E. This work is written in the form of an expository novel, (i.e., a novel written in the form of letters by various characters to each other), by two fictional Persian noblemen, Usbek and Rica, touring Europe to each other and various other characters. Despite its form it is not really a novel but an examination of European life, letters, society, mores and politics from the point of view of two fictional outsiders. The work is also a reflection of European attitudes towards the orient in the letters that describe the customs and practices of the “orient” as the fictional letter writers reflect on their own culture through reflecting on European culture.

Unfortunately while the insight on European culture etc is incisive and clever and brilliant at times, the insight into the “orient” is most of the time a collection of stereotypes and clich├ęs of oriental despotism and harem sensuality and depravity that reflected both little real knowledge and virtually no capacity to see the point of view of the “other”.

The bottom line is that our two Persian Noblemen, Usbek and Rica are nothing more than thinly disguised Enlightenment philosophers and thinkers and not Persian, Muslim, Shia noblemen. Montesquieu is simply using “aliens” as a way of expressing his own ideas and giving himself a shield by which to deny that the ideas are really his own. After all Montesquieu could simply say if the ideas bother anyone, “What do you expect from two Saracen heathens?”

An indication of just how superficial was Montesquieu’s actual real knowledge of Persian culture and his efforts to get into the actual point of view of outsiders to European culture was superficial is the calendar that his Persians use. It is not the actual lunar calendar used by Muslims but simply the Gregorian calendar with Muslim names.1

Thus we can take it for granted that the opinions given by the two Persians are European opinions, put in the mouths of Persian characters and have little to do with the then opinions of actual Persians.

Thus we can take it for granted that letters 112-122,2 that lament the alleged depopulation of the world as compared to ancient times reflects a European intellectual fashion and historical myth at the time and does not reflect the interests of Persian or other Muslim thinkers of the time. This being the case both the idea and the arguments that follow in the letters are both purely European and purely reflections of Montesquieu’s own interests.

One of the characters, Rhedi, writes to Usbek and states that he is thinking about the following problem:

Why is it that the world is so thinly populated in comparison to former times? How is that nature has managed to lose the prodigious fertility that she had originally? Could she be already in old age, and failing from lack of strength?3

Of this is a straw question argument it was not demonstrated that the population of former times was in fact massively greater; it is here simply assumed. After raising this straw question to a mystery that probably never existed we get into some details.

Rhedi states that he as been in Italy for over a year and that the towns were empty and unpopulated and that ancient Rome had the population of a large kingdom. He claims that ancient Roman citizens had 10,000-20,000 slaves excluding their country estates and that the population of Rome was huge. Further Sicily once had a large population. He states that Greece had not one hundredth of the population it used to have and Spain is largely desolate and empty. Also France is depopulated in comparison to Gaul when Caesar conquered it. Further Turkey in Europe and Poland are under populated and America contains not 1/50th of the population it used to have. Asia Minor as only one or two great cities left when formally there were many and Persia it’s self as only a fraction of the population it had under Xerxes and Darius.4 As our writer says:

In a word, as I scan the earth, all I find is ruins; I seem to see it recovering from the ravages of plague and famine.5

About Africa our author says little because at the time little was known.6 But our author concludes:

After making as exact a calculation as is possible with this sort of subject, I have come to the conclusion that there is scarcely a tenth of the number of men on earth that there were in former times.7

The above description is a tissue of absurd assumptions and fantasies on Montesquieu’s part. That he was engaged pulling “facts" out of thin air is revealed when in various drafts of his Persian letters he replaced 1/50th with 1/10th and 1/100th with /50th and so forth.8

Not all of it is entirely fantasy by Montesquieu but the residue of fact underlying it all is just that a residue. For example the statement that Italian towns were empty is false in that we know that in 1700 C.E., there were more people in Italy than in 1600 C.E. Also on both dates the population of Italy was greater than under the Roman Empire. The residue of fact is that it is undoubtedly true that in 1700 C.E., the population of Rome was less than it was under the Roman Empire, although the absurd figures given at the time like 14 million for the city of Rome is nonsense and so is the figure of 1 million.9

After this we come to the reason why Montesquieu accepts these absurd figures. His reference to Roman citizens having huge numbers of slaves. Montesquieu accepts the absurd and frequently quite ridiculous figures given by ancient authorities, from Herodotus down who give figures, some times in the millions, for armies and other frequently absurd figures they simply pull out of thin air. Montesquieu accepts those figures and so of course concludes that ancient populations must have been much larger than modern ones.10

The statement for Sicily being depopulated. It does seem that Sicily at this time was economically stagnant but its population had not spectacularly declined.

Greece probably at this time had a population less than at its height in the 5th / 4th century B.C.E., however the idea it was just 2% that that figure is stuff and nonsense. Spain had experienced a significant decline in population during the 17th century but it was still much greater than in Roman times and further the decline was on the order of 10-20% not anything like 90-98%. Spain was also at the time Montesquieu wrote this in the process of recovery in terms of economy and population.11

As for France; the population was more than double what it was under Rome and further France had in the 17th and continuing throughout the 18th century significant indeed massive population growth.12

Poland was not experiencing a population decline or depopulation at the time and neither was Turkey in Europe.13

The Americas is the one area were significant, indeed spectacular population decline had in fact happened recently. Modern estimates are on the order of 80-95%, which is indeed truly spectacular. However it seems to have been mainly the result of disease, although, conquest, cultural shock and exploitation helped it along.14

As regards Persia, there can be little doubt that Persia c. 1700 C.E. had significantly more people than it did in 480 B.C.E.15

Since it appears that Europe in 1700 C.E., had significantly more people than when Rome was at its height;16 Montesquieu when in latter letters proposes answers to the question of why there is depopulation at least in Europe / Asia he answering a question that as not been posed by the facts.

Still the answers Montesquieu suggests are of interest.

In letter 113,17 Usbek, who in this letter is Montesquieu’s mouthpiece speculates that the human race was nearly whipped out by the Black death a few centuries earlier. This of course reflects the then common idea that the Black Death killed well over half the population of Europe, then it appears that the actual figure is more like 1/3rd. Montesquieu then speculates that the ravaging effects of syphilis may have had an effect in reducing the population. Interestingly Montesquieu speculates that the earth is more than 6000 years old here.

In letter 114,18 Montesquieu speculates that the Romans had a greater population than either modern day Christian and Muslim lands (this is false), because Christian lands limit or forbid divorce and Muslim lands practice polygamy. Montesquieu writes:

It seems to me that a Muslim is like an athlete doomed to compete without respite, who is weakened and overcome by is initial efforts, and languishes on the very field of victory, lying buried, so to speak, beneath his own triumphs.19

To Montesquieu the Muslim male with many wives, exhausted trying to satisfy them sexually, produces few and weak children. This says more about the sexual fantasies of Montesquieu and his milieu than anything else and can be dismissed as fantasy. Of course Montesquieu seemed to be unaware that the great majority Muslim men only had one wife and that the harems were women “always grow old there in a miserable state of virginity”20 were small in number and had only a few women over all in them.

In letter 115,21 Montesquieu suggests that the Romans by allowing their slaves to “marry” and in other ways encouraging the enterprise of their slaves encouraged them to breed. This of course presents far too rosy a picture of the actual situation of slaves in ancient Rome and again it is fallacious.22

In letter 116,23 Montesquieu states that among Christians the lack of divorce is stated to cause a lack of children due to people being unable to leave childless marriages so that the population suffered a decline. Montesquieu critiques the notion that marriage is something other than a contract. This is of course an obvious attack on the idea that marriage is a Sacrament. This is of course fallacious given that in Montesquieu’s day Europe was experiencing significant population growth.

In letter 117,24 Montesquieu claims that Christian countries because of the great number of Priests, Nuns and Monks, have taken people out of the marriage market and this diminished the population.

This career of chastity has annihilated more men than plagues or the most savage wars.25

Montesquieu is of course giving voice to the opinion, common among Enlightenment thinkers, that the various Church orders etc., were social and economic detriments and ought to be suppressed. Of course their actual effect on population was minimal.

Montesquieu then goes on to say that given that Protestant countries do not have this large number of chaste individuals that they are inevitably more populous and prosperous than Catholic countries. This is of course pure polemics with little to support it in reality.

Letter 118,26 talks about the slave trade and its disastrous effects on Africa. Montesquieu’s argument is that the effects of the slave trade have depopulated Africa. Montesquieu seems to think that Africans were transported to the New world mainly to work in the mines. This is not true. In Montesquieu’s time as later they were sent to the Americas to work on plantations. Further it is a debatable proposition that the slave trade had much effect on the population of Africa however much it was a human atrocity / tragedy.27

In letter 119,28 Montesquieu considers that ideas of ancestor worship, as in China, and hope for the future, as in Judaism, may be helpful in increasing reproduction. However the attitude that we are just travellers here, that life is unimportant, decreases effort and leads to population decrease.

We consider that we are travellers who should always be thinking of our other homeland; to us there seems to be something unjustifiable about doing useful, durable work, or making efforts to ensure security for our children, or planning for when our short and ephemeral life is over. We are calm about the present, unworried by the future, and do not take the trouble to keep our public buildings in good repair, or to clear waste ground, or to work tat land which is capable of being cultivated: we live in a state of general apathy. Leaving everything to be done by Providence.29

Although this comment is supposed to apply to the Muslim world only, and it also carries the old stereotype of the unchanging, fatalistic east, it is clear that it is meant to apply also to such attitudes in Christian Europe. Again it is not clear that this has much if any impact on population growth.

Montesquieu then critiques the common European practice of primogeniture, i.e., the practice of reserving the bulk I, if not the entire amount of a family’s inheritance to the eldest male child, and failing that eldest female child. Montesquieu contends that this discourages people from having children. Montesquieu seems to have it backwards. It seems to be the case that equal inheritance discourages people from having large families because in a situation of growing population this leads to property especially land becoming divided into smaller and smaller portions so families limit family size to prevent this. France in the 19th century was a classic example of this.30

In letter 120,31 Montesquieu contends that primitive hunter-gatherers have an aversion to work, and through the practice of abortions have low populations. Although Montesquieu admits that hunting etc., will support far fewer people he contends such people are frequently ravaged by famine. That is simply not true. As for Montesquieu’s statements about women having abortions to retain their looks that is a conceit of his own society like “savages” alleged aversion to work. Abortion before very recent times was highly dangerous and was generally a population control measure not to preserve looks.32

Letter 121,33 claims that colonization almost always never works and in many cases helps to depopulate a country. In the main Montesquieu as the example of the Spanish empire where because of plague and the effects of conquest the population was drastically reduced and even by 1700 had not recovered.
The Spaniards, giving up any hope of ensuring the loyalty of the conquered nations, chose to exterminate them, and to send out a loyal population from Spain; never has a wicked plan been more punctiliously carried out. A people as numerous as the whole population of Europe was seen to disappear from the earth at the arrival of these barbarians, whose4 only thought, in conquering the Indies, seems to have been to reveal to mankind the ultimate limits of cruelty.34
What Montesquieu is describing is the so-called Black Legend of the Spanish conquest of the New World. Rooted in the denunciations of the Conquest by Spanish writers like de Las Casas it was a propaganda tool used to attack Spanish imperial power in the 16th, 17th and 18th century. What is generally ignored in the legend was that the main cause of the depopulation was not Spanish cruelty or oppression but the unintended effects of epidemic diseases on the population. None of this means that Spanish conquest / rule was not accompanied by massive amounts of cruelty and oppression it just means that contrary to Montesquieu’s statement there was no deliberate intention to wipe out the natives an replace them with Spaniards. Montesquieu is simply engaging in agit-prop here.35

Over all Montesquieu’s point seems to be that colonies drain off population and are of no advantage to increasing the population. In fairness to Montesquieu, colonies especially when they were starting did tend to have high death rates, but subsequent history especially of the English colonies would reveal that Montesquieu was after all way wrong here. So Montesquieu’s advice that people stay home so the population can increase seems wrong, and it appears that in fact colonies have an over all impact of increasing commerce and development and increasing the populations of both the colony and mother country. The effects on the natives is often very negative however.36

Letter 122,37 describes that gentle methods of government combined with some degree of affluence encourage people to have children and that poverty creates a class of weak children who cannot survive. Basically Montesquieu argues that poor people do not have children because they cannot take care of them, whereas people with some affluence do have children.
Men are like plants, which never grow well unless they are properly cultivated; in nations stricken by poverty the species suffers, and sometimes even degenerates.38
Although Montesquieu makes some good points the fact of the matter is that why people have children is for a variety of reasons. In Europe until recently and still in much of the world people had little security in their old age except from relatives and especially their children. A poor old person with no children was in a very precarious position in 18th century Europe. Children were old age security. So not surprisingly even the poor would have children for economic reasons. People practiced family limitation at the time by a variety of methods because of economic constraints and tended to limit the number of children to those they needed for economic viability and their potential needs in old age. In the modern world having large families tends to be limited by economic security and by women being able to have input into decisions regarding their fertility. Montesquieu’s assumption that if people have affluence they will have more children seems to be at best a half truth.39

Montesquieu’s letters in regard to this problem provide a fascinating insight into the thoughts and ideas of the European Enlightenment, however it is still insight regarding a problem that never existed.

1. Montesquieu, Persian Letters, Penguin Books, London, 1973, pp. 301-302.

2. IBID, pp. 202-220.

3. IBID, Letter 112, p. 202.

4. IBID, pp. 202-203.

5. IBID, p. 203.

6. IBID.

7. IBID, pp. 203-204.

8. IBID, p. 326.

9. Finley, M. I., Ancient Slavery and Modern Ideology, Penguin Books, London, 1980, pp. 29-31, Ferdinand, Lot, The End of the Ancient World and the Beginnings of the Middle Ages, Harper Torch Books, New York, 1961, pp. 69-70.

10. IBID, Finley, and pp. 34, 45, 64-65, 79-80, Lot, and pp.63-75.

11. Elliott, J. H., Imperial Spain 1469-1716, Penguin Books, London, 1963, pp. 292-293, 364-370, McEvedy, Colin, and Jones, Richard, Atlas of World Population History, Penguin Books, London, 1978, pp. 99-101, 110-114. McEvedy and Jones give Greece a population of 2.5 million in 200 B.C.E., 2 million in 200 C.E., and 1.5 million in 1700 C.E.

12. IBID, McEvedy, pp. 55-60. McEvedy give France a population of 6.5 million in 200 C.E., and 22 million in 1700 C.E., with a total population of 29 million in 1800 C.E.

13. IBID, pp. 92-97, 110-114. The total population of Turkey in Europe was c. 10 million in 1700 C.E., as against a total of c. 6 million in 200 C.E.

14. See for example Stannard, David E., American Holocaust, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1992, pp. 57-95, Cook, Noble David, and Lovell, W. George, Unravelling the Web of Disease, in Ed. Cook, Noble David, and Lovell, W. George, “Secret Judgements of God”, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, 1992, pp. 213-214, Denevan, William M., Native American Populations in 1492: Recent Research and a Revised Hemispheric Estimate, in Editor, Denevan, William, The Native Population of the Americas, Second Edition, University of Wisconsin Press, Madison, 1992, pp. xvii-xxix.

15. McEvedy, pp. 152-155. The figures give Iran (Persia) a population of c. 4 million in 200 C.E., and a population of 5 million in 1700 C.E.

16. IBID, pp. 18-39. The figures give Europe a population of 36 million in 200 C.E., and 120 million in 1700 C.E.

17. Montesquieu, pp. 204-206.

18. IBID, pp. 206-208.

19. IBID, p. 207.

20. IBID, p. 207.

21, IBID, pp. 208-209.

22. Finley, pp. 93-122. See also Patterson, Orlando, Slavery and Social Death, Harvard University Press, Cambridge MASS, 1982.

23. Montesquieu, pp. 209-211.

24, IBID, pp. 211-213.

25, IBID, pp. 211-212.

26. IBID, pp. 213-214

27. McEvedy, pp. 213-217. See also Thomas, Hugh, The Slave Trade, Papermac, London, 1997.

28. Montesquieu, pp. 214-215.

29. IBID, p. 215.

30. McEvedy, p. 56.

31. Montesquieu, pp. 215-216.

32. Harris, Marvin, Cannibals and Kings, Vintage Books, New York, 1997, pp. 11-25.

33. Montesquieu, pp. 216-219.

34. IBID, p. 218.

35. See de Las Casas, A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies, Penguin Books, London, 1992, and the items listed in Footnote 14. I should point out that Spanish rule, sometimes, as in the island of Hispaniola was so brutal and destroyed the natives so effectively and completely that calling it deliberate or at least criminal negligence amounting to homicide is not far off. See Stannard, pp. 67-75, 200-206.

36. See Braudel, Fernand, The Perspective of the World, Harper and Row Pub., New York, 1984, pp. 392-401.

37, Montesquieu, pp. 219-220.

38. IBID, p. 220.

39. McEvedy, pp. 343-351.

Pierre Cloutier

Friday, April 09, 2010

Frederick the Overrated I
Frederick II and the Outbreak of the Seven Years War.


Frederick the “Great”
One of the joys of historical research is finding out that some historical personages who are celebrated to the skies may not be quite as wonderful as their legions of worshipers / hagiographers, opps1 sorry, biographers / historians, claim that they are. Just recently I came across a book about the Seven Years War that in between describing the battles and campaigns of the Seven Years War in Europe manages to take assorted pot shots at Frederick the “Great's’” reputation. Those more than occasional interludes of truly cattish scratching are thoroughly enjoyable and frankly about time.2

Frederick is called the “Great” because he was successful at war, or should I say thought to be successful at war, and because he succeeded in conquering territory and making Prussia one of the great powers of Europe. Basically he is a “Great” man because he succeeded. The actual manner by which he achieved his success and the cost of his success for others is as per usual in these things downgraded / ignored. This worship of military success leads to the idea that Frederick was “Great” in all sorts of things and a fawning, hero worship that writhes in ecstasy at his “glorious” victories and genuflects at his shrine.3

One can go into the rather puzzling question about how a King who massively strengthened the militaristic nature of the Prussian state, and its Police State apparatus and in effect completed the process of turning the Prussian state from a State with an army to an Army with a State could for a moment fool anyone into thinking he was an “Enlightened” monarch. But then military success does tend to dazzle. But then Frederick easily put on “enlightened” airs and dazzled the literati of his day with a lot of words and pretty speeches about “enlightened” values while increasing the subordination of society to the state and its army. That Frederick was also incredibly vain, arrogant and loath to take responsibility for things if things went wrong, (blaming other people was a fine if childish art with Frederick). That Frederick was also in many respects a reckless diplomat and frequently engaged in political and other acts of fairly dubious morality is often forgotten.4

For example when Maria-Theresa inherited the Austrian throne in 1740, Austria had been going through a long term period of decline and it was only with difficulty that Maria-Theresa’s father Charles VI was able to arrange for the myriad domains of the house of Habsburg to accept the succession of his daughter Maria-Theresa; who became the only female ruler of the house of Habsburg. This so-called Pragmatic Sanction was then accepted by the various major powers of Europe through the tireless diplomacy of Charles VI who was anxious to avoid a diplomatic crisis upon the accession of his daughter. Also there was his concern that the other powers would seek to take advantage of Maria-Theresa’s accession to attack Austria and attempt to partition the empire between them.

Despite the anticipation of crisis Maria-Theresa succeeded her father in 1740 and at first it looked as if the various powers would accept the Pragmatic Sanction and let Maria-Theresa reign in peace. Frederick who had recently come to the throne of Prussia decided that given that so many powers were just waiting to attack Austria and carve her up that he would start the whole process, this was after he had signed a treaty saying he would respect the Pragmatic Sanction.5

The result was the war of Austrian Succession an interminable 8 year war during which Prussia was able to wrest the province of Silesia from Austria. Despite the serious decay of Austrian institutions and military during Charles VI’s reign, (Charles was a good diplomat but not a good administrator and Austria fell behind and looked like ripe pickings for the other powers), Maria-Theresa, who had not been educated or trained in any fashion to rule proved to be a very capable if not great ruler, and despite her almost total lack of experience rose to the challenge.6

Frederick went to war, made peace and unmade alliances almost at will with little regard to any moral imperatives or even his word. Frederick blithely betrayed his allies twice by making separate peace treaties with Austria and broke his agreements with Austria with equal facility. In the end though Frederick ended up with Silesia a province that increased the population of Prussia by more than 50% and a even larger increase in wealth. In fact Prussia’s pretensions of being a great power were dependent on possession of Silesia.7

Frederick had inherited from his father, Frederick William I, (a man whose behavior indicated a psychopathic personality), an excellent, large standing army that by means of the most draconian exploitation of the country he was able to extract from his fairly small country. Frederick had great ambitions and from the first wanted to take Austrian lands to further those ambitions.8

Austria was able fight off this attempt to partition her. Aside from Silesia Austria lost very little territory. But the war convinced Maria-Theresa of the urgent need to reform and revitalize the state. As an “enlightened” monarch Maria-Theresa easily puts Frederick in the shade and unlike him the challenges that she faced and difficulties she had to overcome were quite significantly greater. Further unlike Frederick Maria-Theresa had real moral scruples which did affect her behavior and policies. The idea of subordinating the state to the army was anathema to her. If Maria-Theresa had inherited a ramshackle state she was with remarkable skill able to hold the great majority of it together despite everything.9

Despite the ohhs and awws of the literati Frederick’s double dealing in this period had left a bad taste in the mouths of many including that of Frederick’s allies, especially France. Although many were dazzled by Frederick’s military victories, Frederick had a serious enemy in Maria-Theresa, who wanted Silesia back and it would have been prudent for Frederick to make every effort to remain an ally of France in order to hold Austria back from a war of revenge. Well to put it bluntly Frederick muffed it.10

The story of the long diplomatic intrigues that eventually resulted in the alliance of Russia, France and Austria against Prussia belongs in another essay suffice to say Frederick proved a clumsy and basically inept diplomat at the time. The fact that he was suspected of having further massive territorial designs especially on the lands of the Austrian monarchy, which were in fact true, increased the determination of Maria-Theresa to cut him down to size. Prussian schemes to annex parts of Poland increased Russian anxieties and France was utterly infuriated by Frederick’s behavior during the war of Austrian Succession and felt it could not trust him at all.11

In the end France, reversing a policy of long standing (centuries) signed an alliance with Austria and Russia joined in. Now this alliance, which was only formalized after Frederick attacked Saxony, was defensive in nature and frankly neither France nor Russia was really all that interested in a war to gain Silesia back for Austria, but all three powers were determined to contain Prussia, and its King who they viewed as a loose cannon liable to go off in any direction.12

Frederick muffed it again. In 1756 he invaded Saxony and then Austria deliberately starting a war with France, Austria and Russia.

Faced with a circle of enemies Frederick decided to attack. Frederick’s defenders have from that day to this have defended his action as a preventive strike designed to anticipate his enemies and hence a move a great boldness.

Further Frederick is congratulated for trying to break up his enemies by attacking first and trying to drive Austria out of the alliance and thus breaking up the coalition against him. This is of course to take Frederick’s self serving apologia at face value. What is forgotten is that Austria, Russia and France had a defensive alliance not an offensive one. Neither France nor Russia were terribly eager to fight a war solely for Austria to get back Silesia. Further Frederick attacked Saxony an ally of Austria, not Austria. What is forgotten is also that Frederick did indeed want to defeat Saxony and Austria quickly, and then impose on both a peace that would satisfy his long standing desire for much more territory from both of them. In other words Frederick attacked Austria and Saxony in order to extract from both has much territory as possible not just to break up a coalition against him. He also had plans to impose a heavy indemnity on both. What happened is that both Russia and France pursuant to their alliance with Austria declared war on Prussia. Thus Frederick had, with great efficiency, created a powerful coalition against himself.13

Having thus set himself up for failure and being crushed by a much more powerful coalition, Frederick would spend most of the next seven years desperately trying to save himself from the predicament he had so expertly put himself in. Needless to say the Frederick gawkers would spend centuries afterwards writhing in ecstasy at Frederick’s “greatness” in holding off a much more powerful coalition and repeating Frederick’s self serving apologia that the war was inevitable and that he was thus justified in attacking first, carefully avoiding the fact that the so-called inevitable attack was NOT inevitable. Further that Frederick’s behavior was in effect a self fulfilling prophecy and that Frederick had very ambitious territorial ambitions, against Austria, Saxony and Poland, which he was most anxious to satisfy. In other words Frederick's attack was an act of aggression designed to seize territory, at least in part.14

It takes real incompetence to put your head in the noose the way Frederick did. Frederick in the end was only saved one of the most bizarre strokes of good fortune ever, for which he could take no responsibility. Another time I will go into that stroke of fortune. Meanwhile the people of Prussia, Saxony, Austria, Russia, Germany, and France would pay for Frederick’s incompetent diplomacy, lack of scruple and ambition in spades.15

1. The number of suck-up biographies of Frederick the “Great” is legion perhaps the most stomach turning, at least in English, is Carlyle, Thomas, History of Frederick the Great, Six Volumes, Robson and Son, London, 1858-1865. Google Books, Here, see also Fuller, J. F. C., A Military History of the Western World, v. 2, DaCapo, New York, 1955, pp. 192-215.

2. Szabo, Franz A., The Seven Years War in Europe 1756-1763, Pearson, Longman, London, 2008.

3. See Carlyle above and Duffy, Christopher, Frederick the Great: A Military Life, Routledge, London, 1985 for many examples.

4. See Duffy, pp. 195-196, Szabo, pp. 87-88, 238-240, 253-255, Williams, E. N., The Ancien Regime in Europe, Penguin Books, London, 1970, pp. 372-398, Waite, Robert, G. L., The Psychopathic God, Signet, New York, 1977, pp. 306-311, Ogg, David, Europe of the Ancien Regime 1715-1783, Harper Torchbooks, New York, 1965, pp. 212-217, Hufton, Olwen, Europe: Privilege and Protest: 1730-1789, Fontana Books, London, 1980, pp. 191-219.

5. IBID, Waite, Williams, pp. 430-432, Ogg, pp. 124-127.161-168.

6. No really good biography of Maria-Theresa exists in English, but see Williams, pp. 435-459, Ogg, 206-211, Hufton, pp. 160-73.

7. Hufton, pp. 191, 206.

8. See Williams, pp. 335-351, Waite, 306-307, Williams, 376-378, Hufton, 205-206, Ogg, 161-168.

9. Ogg, pp. 210-211, Williams, 435-459, Hufton, 160-173.

10. Williams, pp. 437-438, Ogg, pp. 138-143, Duffy, pp. 82-85, Szabo, pp. 8-18.

11. IBID.

12. IBID.

13. IBID, and Szabo, pp. 10, 37, 82.

14. IBID.

15. Duffy, pp. 242, 244, Hufton, pp. 211-212. Prussia for example lost 400-500 thousand people.

Pierre Cloutier