How Women Civilized the West


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Steven Pinker

“The one great universal in the study of violence is that most of it is committed by fifteen-to-thirty-year-old men. Not only are males the more competitive sex in most mammalian species, but with Homo sapiens a man’s position in the pecking order is secured by reputation, an investment with a lifelong payout that must be started early in adulthood.

The violence of men, though, is modulated by a slider: they can allocate their energy along a continuum from competing with other men for access to women to wooing the women themselves and investing in their children, a continuum that biologists sometimes call ‘cads versus dads.’ […]

The West was eventually tamed not just by flinty-eyed marshals and hanging judges but by an influx of women. The Hollywood westerns’ ‘prim pretty schoolteacher[s] arriving in Roaring Gulch’ captures a historical reality. Nature abhors a lopsided sex ratio, and women in eastern cities and farms eventually flowed westward along the sexual concentration gradient. Widows, spinsters, and young single women sought their fortunes in the marriage market, encouraged by the lonely men themselves and by municipal and commercial officials who became increasingly exasperated by the degeneracy of their western hellholes. As the women arrived, they used their bargaining position to transform the West into an environment better suited to their interests. They insisted that the men abandon their brawling and boozing for marriage and family life, encouraged the building of schools and churches, and shut down saloons, brothels, gambling dens, and other rivals for the men’s attention. Churches, with their coed membership, Sunday morning discipline, and glorification of norms on temperance, added institutional muscle to the women’s civilizing offensive. Today we guffaw at the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (with its ax-wielding tavern terrorist Carrie Nation) and at the Salvation Army, whose anthem, according to the satire, includes the lines ‘We never eat cookies ‘cause cookies have yeast / And one little bite turns a man to a beast.’ But the early feminists of the temperance movement were responding to the very real catastrophe of alcohol-fueled bloodbaths in male-dominated enclaves.

The idea that young men are civilized by women and marriage may seem as corny as Kansas in August, but it has become a commonplace of modern criminology. A famous study that tracked a thousand low-income Boston teenagers for forty-five years discovered that two factors predicted whether a delinquent would go on to avoid a life of crime: getting a stable job, and marrying a woman he cared about and supporting her and her children. The effect of marriage was substantial: three-quarters of the bachelors, but only a third of the husbands, went on to commit more crimes. This difference alone cannot tell us whether marriage keeps men away from crime or career criminals are less likely to get married, but the sociologists Robert Sampson, John Laub, and Christopher Wimer have shown that marriage really does seem to be a pacifying cause. When they held constant all the factors that typically push men into marriage, they found that actually getting married made a man less likely to commit crimes immediately thereafter. The causal pathway has been pithily explained by Johnny Cash: Because you’re mine, I walk the line.”


Excerpted from Steven Pinker’s monumental study of human violence The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined.

Wrapping up this chapter, titled “Violence in These United States,” Pinker frames America’s long path to pacification within the lingering differences in how North and South, Liberals and Conservatives regard violence. He writes,

An appreciation of the Civilizing Process in the American West and rural South helps to make sense of the American political landscape today. Many northern and coastal intellectuals are puzzled by the culture of their red state compatriots, with their embrace of guns, capital punishment, small government, evangelical Christianity, ‘family values,’ and sexual propriety. Their opposite numbers are just as baffled by the blue staters’ timidity toward criminals and foreign enemies, their trust in government, their intellectualized secularism, and their tolerance of licentiousness. This so-called culture war, I suspect, is the product of a history in which white America took two different paths to civilization. The North is an extension of Europe and continued the court- and commerce-driven Civilizing Process that had been gathering momentum since the Middle Ages. The South and West preserved the culture of honor that sprang up in the anarchic parts of the growing country, balanced by their own civilizing forces of churches, families, and temperance.

Pinker runs through the well documented findings of this book — which I can recommend with a confident tilt of the head to almost anyone — in his 2013 talk at the University of Edinburgh:

And continue reading:

Who Is the Happiest Man?


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“Croesus, king of Lydia, asked him as follows: ‘Athenian guest, much report of thee has come to us, both in regard to thy wisdom and thy wanderings… a desire has come upon me to ask whether thou hast seen any whom thou deem to be of all men the most happy.’ This he asked supposing that he himself was the happiest of men; but Solon, using no flattery but the truth only, said: ‘Yes, O king, Tellos the Athenian.’

Croesus, marveling at that which he said, asked him earnestly, ‘In what respect dost thou judge Tellos to be the most happy?’ And he said: ‘Tellos, in the first place, living while his native State was prosperous, had sons fair and good and saw from all of them children begotten and living to grow up; and secondly he had what with us is accounted wealth, and after his life a most glorious end. For when a battle was fought by the Athenians at Eleusis against the neighbouring people, he brought up supports and routed the foe and there died by a most fair death; and his people buried him publicly where he fell, and honoured him greatly.’ […]

Croesus was moved to anger and said: ‘Athenian guest, hast thou then so cast aside our prosperous state as worth nothing, that thou dost prefer to us even men of private station?’ And he said: ‘Croesus, thou art inquiring about human fortunes of one who well knows that fate is apt to disturb our lot. For in the course of long time a man may see many things which he would not desire to see, and suffer also many things which he would not desire to suffer… As for thee, I perceive that thou art both great in wealth and king of many men, but that of which thou didst ask me I cannot call thee yet, until I learn that thou hast brought thy life to a fair ending: for the very rich man is not at all to be accounted more happy than he who has but his subsistence from day-to-day, unless also the fortune go with him to possess things of value. For many very wealthy men are not happy, while many who have but a moderate living are fortunate… But we must of every thing examine the end and how it will turn out at the last, for to many fate shows but a glimpse of happiness and then plucks them up by the roots and overturns them.'”


Excerpted from the opening third of Herodtus’s The Histories, the only surviving work of the earliest known historian. (The excerpt is from the at-times haughtier G.C. Macauley version, which lends some gravity to sections like the one above. I haven’t read Tom Holland’s translation, but I assume it’s the best vernacular version out there.)

In The Histories, Herodotus notes that Croesus is a “Lydian by race,” a “ruler of the nations between the Syrians and the Paphlagonians,” and the “first Barbarian of whom we have knowledge.”

Read on:

A Quick Note


For about a year and a half, I’ve been receiving emails every so often from online advertisers who want me to hawk their stuff. This is the new wave of internet “native” advertising, where companies and online stores will pay even modestly popular blogs a small sum to publish posts linking to them. I’ve had fun telling them no.

A site, like anything else, isn’t free. To fund TBP, I’ve been an Amazon affiliate for much of this year. This means that anything you buy on Amazon — whether it’s a book linked on here or anything else in their catalog, from eye drops to high tops — will go towards supporting this site, so long as you first click to Amazon through any link on here.

This is a way to show your support for a website that’s doing something rare on the internet: giving air to evergreen ideas about things that matter. My goal — if I can, in retrospect, claim one — has never been to be a million people’s hundredth favorite blog, but 10,000 people’s favorite blog.

But that’s not the only reason to make all your Amazon purchases here.

Beyond operating costs (which go mostly toward keeping this space clean and ad-free), 20% of funds raised through the Amazon affiliate program will now go directly to fund the Mattie Miracle Cancer Foundation, a Virginia-based nonprofit that’s changing the way we care for children with cancer. I sort of stumbled into teaming up with this organization early this year, and have been extremely impressed by the energy, commitment, and kindness that its members bring to what is a seemingly unbearable and unfair challenge – serious childhood illness.

A lot of charities do the necessary, elevated work of searching for cures, but these people train doctors and nurses and lobby Congress to funnel research dollars more effectively.

So, at the end of this year, a donation will be made to them on behalf of us. It won’t be a lot, but it’ll have some effect. And in January, we’ll look to other groups to support for ’16.

To learn more about the organization, please check out their website, which I built this summer,

As always, drop me a line if you’ve picked up a book from here or enjoyed browsing. I enjoy hearing from you:

That Time Margaret Thatcher Spanked Christopher Hitchens


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Margaret Thatcher

“I had written a longish article for The New York Times Magazine, saying in effect that, if Labour could not revolutionize British society, then the task might well fall to the right. I had also written a shorter piece for the New Statesman, reporting from the Conservative Party conference and saying in passing that I thought Mrs. Thatcher was surprisingly sexy. (To this day, I have never had so much anger mail, saying, in effect, ‘How could you?’)

I felt immune to Mrs. Thatcher in most other ways, since for all her glib ‘free market’ advocacy on one front she seemed to be an emotional ally of the authoritarian and protectionist white-settler regime in Rhodesia. And it was this very thing that afforded me the opportunity to grapple with her so early in her career…

Almost as soon as we shook hands on immediate introduction, I felt that she knew my name and had perhaps connected it to the socialist weekly that had recently called her rather sexy. While she struggled adorably with this moment of pretty confusion, I felt obliged to seek controversy and picked a fight with her on a detail of Rhodesia/Zimbabwe policy. She took me up on it. I was (as it happened) right on the small point of fact, and she was wrong. But she maintained her wrongness with such adamantine strength that I eventually conceded the point and even bowed slightly to emphasize my acknowledgment. ‘No,’ she said. ‘Bow lower!’ Smiling agreeably, I bent forward a bit farther. ‘No, no,’ she trilled. ‘Much lower!’ By this time, a little group of interested bystanders was gathering. I again bent forward, this time much more self-consciously. Stepping around behind me, she unmasked her batteries and smote me on the rear with the parliamentary order paper that she had been rolling into a cylinder behind her back. I regained the vertical with some awkwardness. As she walked away, she looked over her shoulder and gave an almost imperceptibly slight roll of the hip while mouthing the words ‘Naughty boy!’

I had and have eyewitnesses to this. At the time, though, I hardly believed it myself. It is only from a later perspective, looking back on the manner in which she slaughtered and cowed all the former male leadership of her party and replaced them with pliant tools, that I appreciate the premonitory glimpse—of what someone in another context once called ‘the smack of firm government’—that I had been afforded. Even at the time, as I left that party, I knew I had met someone rather impressive. And the worst of ‘Thatcherism,’ as I was beginning by degrees to discover, was the rodent slowly stirring in my viscera: the uneasy but unbanishable feeling that on some essential matters she might be right.”

Margaret Thatcher 2


A segment from Christopher Hitchens’s memoir Hitch-22.

I thought of this encounter as I was watching the last GOP debate and saw Mrs. Fiorina dispense one by one with her male counterparts, even spurring The Donald to bow in submission (a first for him, no doubt). That their particular clash came on the heels of Trump’s remark about “that face” only doubled the association to Thatcher, whose looks, despite what Austin Powers may’ve thought, had more than a few fans on the left and right. (I’ve heard similar compliments about Carly, confirmed just a few days ago by a female journalist friend who interviewed her last week.)

It was Thatcher who once mused, in a poached version of a famous labor union saying, that, “being powerful is like being ladylike — if you have to say you are, you probably aren’t.” The same goes for other adjectives, like smart, classy, rich, and many of Trump’s other favorite words which he likes to apply to himself. Yet it’s precisely this do-don’t-tell orientation which makes a female politician like Thatcher so potent. What you think you see ain’t necessarily what you’ll get. As Mitterand said, “she had the eyes of Caligula and mouth of Marilyn Monroe.”

If you’re at all familiar with Hitch’s work, you’ll know this type of fixation on and flirtation with women were central to his persona. His best pal, Martin Amis, along with Amis’s father Kingsley and several other Englishmen of those generations, had a lot to say about Mrs. Thatcher — most of which didn’t have to do with her stance on Rhodesia. Martin uses the above interaction as a basis to analyze Thatcher’s appeal to the English male psyche. In an excerpt pulled from his essay collection The War Against Cliché, he writes:

I once discussed Mrs Thatcher’s feminine qualities with Christopher Hitchens who had recently spent some time in her company. This was his verdict: ‘Oh, she stinks of sex.’ And this is my father, Kingsley Amis, in his Memoirs: her beauty, he writes, is ‘so extreme that… it can trap me for a split second into thinking I am looking at a science-fiction illustration of some time ago showing the beautiful girl who has become President of the Solar Federation in the year 2200. The fact that that is not a sensual or sexy beauty does not make it a less sexual beauty, and that sexuality is still, I think, an underrated factor in her appeal (or repellence).’ Helplessley I reach for the commonplace about the glamour of power. I could further infuriate my father’s shade by adducing another cliché: English nostalgia for chastisement. Philip Larkin shared his friend’s enthusiasm for the Prime Minister (‘I adore Mrs Thatcher’). Larkin was a great poet… he once asked Mrs Thatcher, who had professed herself a fan, to quote a line of his. She blinked and said, ‘All the unhurried day/ Your mind lay open like a drawer of knives.’

I like that she could quote Larkin. Counts for a lot in my book. What would my Larkin nomination be? I’m glad you asked. “The trees are coming into leaf/ Like something almost being said.”

By the way, is his repetition of  “saying, in effect…” in the first paragraph a rare Hitchens misstep? Watch him relay the encounter below.

You can also move on:

“Blackbird” by C.K. Williams


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There was nothing I could have done—
a flurry of blackbirds burst
from the weeds at the edge of a field
and one veered out into my wheel
and went under. I had a moment
to hope he’d emerge as sometimes
they will from beneath the back
of the car and fly off,
but I saw him behind on the roadbed,
the shadowless sail of a wing
lifted vainly from the clumsy
bundle of matter he’d become.

There was nothing I could have done,
though perhaps I was distracted:
I’d been listening to news of the war,
hearing that what we’d suspected
were lies had proved to be lies,
that many were dying for those lies,
but as usual now, it wouldn’t matter.
I’d been thinking of Lincoln’s
“…You can’t fool all of the people
all of the time…,” how I once
took comfort from the hope and trust
it implied, but no longer.

I had to slow down now,
a tractor hauling a load of hay
was approaching on the narrow lane.
The farmer and I gave way and waved:
the high-piled bales swayed
menacingly over my head but held.
Out in the harvested fields,
already disliked and raw,
more blackbirds, uncountable
clouds of them, rose, held
for an instant, then broke,
scattered as though by a gale.


“Blackbird” by C.K. Williams, which you’ll find in his collection Wait.

Williams, who for three decades taught at Princeton, passed away last Sunday. His poems are sometimes challenging, always ambitious, and unusually sincere as they traverse public and private life. I think “Blackbird” is a good example of this ability, as well as of Williams’s knack for speaking with emotion and cunning intelligence in the same breath.

For many years, his poems and critical essays were included in The New Yorker. Most are worth a read, though the opening line of his tribute to his friend the poet Galway Kinnell resonates today:

About the death of any friend one feels sadness; with some, though, that sadness is tempered by gratitude, by a feeling of privilege to have been able to live in the world at the same time as the one who’s gone.

“Blackbird” is basically a mash up of Larkin’s “The Mower,” Bly’s “Awakening,” and “On Being Asked to Write a Poem against the War in Vietnam” by Hayden Carruth. If you want to stick with Williams, his “Repression” is a good place to start.

The photo: snapped outside Charlottesville, Virginia.

C. K. Williams

W. H. Auden: When Pity Replaces Justice


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W.H. Auden

“Reason will be replaced by Revelation. Instead of Rational Law, objective truths perceptible to any who will undergo the necessary intellectual discipline, Knowledge will degenerate into a riot of subjective visions… Whole cosmogonies will be created out of some forgotten personal resentment, complete epics written in private languages, the daubs of schoolchildren ranked above the greatest masterpieces. Idealism will be replaced by Materialism. Life after death will be an eternal dinner party where all the guests are 20 years old… Justice will be replaced by Pity as the cardinal human virtue, and all fear of retribution will vanish… The New Aristocracy will consist exclusively of hermits, bums and permanent invalids. The Rough Diamond, the Consumptive Whore, the bandit who is good to his mother, the epileptic girl who has a way with animals will be the heroes and heroines of the New Age, when the general, the statesman, and the philosopher have become the butt of every farce and satire.”


A highly prophetic section pulled from W.H. Auden’s “For the Time Being”. You’ll find it in his Collected Poems.

If you’re reading this and not seeing some parallels to today — some Consumptive Whores and generous bandits elevated in our society; some daubs supplanting masterpieces and an ethos of pity and therapy thickening around us — I think you’re reading it wrong. It doesn’t matter that it’s actually King Herod who delivers this judgement in the poem.

“For The Time Being” is a poem about the incarnation (“A Christmas Oratorio”, as the subtitle says), but this bit concerns what happened after Jesus’s birth, when Herod massacred the Innocents. Herod’s fear, it turns out, is not just that a new king will replace him, but that this successor will bring on an age of unreason.

Herod is conflicted about the action he is taking, because he’s a liberal at heart. Yet he can justify the means with the ends, and can contemplate doing evil so long as the word “lesser” is in front of it.

I think this section of the poem is wonderful because it piles on details like the excesses of the described scenario. The excerpt’s diction is absolutely superb and its loose, run-on punctuation adds to its frantic energy. (I’m reminded of C.K. Williams, who passed away last week, and his ability to string together one-sentence poems that pulse with kinetic, frenetic force.)

Returning to the present, I’m also reminded of an apropos line. It comes from the film adaptation of Ethan Canin’s imperishable short story “The Palace Thief”. In it, the protagonist, a classics teacher at an elite New England prep school, lives to witness one of his star students grow into a hungry and corrupt politician. Towards the end of the story, he reflects on the student: “I was wrong about him. But as a student of history, I could be shocked neither by his audacity nor by his success.” Without growing complacent, I often think of this nowadays when I look out the window or into the TV at what seems like cultural or moral entropy.

Read on:

Leon Wieseltier: We’re Inebriated with Technology


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Drew Gilpin Faust: You’ve said that we’re inebriated by technology. If we weren’t inebriated, what would we be doing instead?

Leon Wieseltier: We would be living more slowly to begin with. The single most important fact about the technology is its speed, as far as I can tell.

Ten years ago, I frequently remarked to myself from my perch at The New Republic, that they finally invented a medium of communication with no limits in physical space — yet everything on it had to be 400 words.

And the reason was the speed.

The acceleration of everything is troublesome to me. I think we’re extending ourselves beyond what our hearts and our minds can actually absorb. And we’re all living checklist lives; we’re all just getting everything done.

There are bastions against this acceleration. Reading — I mean real reading. Sex. You can’t fast forward it. Music. You can walk out of a Bruckner symphony but you cannot speed it up. You are at the mercy of whatever the tempo of a piece of music is, which is why music is one of the great spiritual correctives of our era.

And if you speed things up, what you’re really doing is diminishing or impoverishing or in some ways even abolishing experience, because experience takes place in time.

There’s a tenth century Jewish philosopher who wrote a very influential book of philosophy in what is now Iraq. And in the forward to the book, he asks a perfectly sensible question: if God wanted us to know the answers, why didn’t he just tell us?

And the answer that Saadia Gaon gives is that because if He had told us, we wouldn’t in any strict sense know it. What would be absent is the dimension of time — or struggle or method, which is time.

The experience of acquiring knowledge is part of the certainty that we have it in some way.

And I’m not in any way a luddite, but the technology reduces all knowledge to the status of information.


Leon Wieseltier, former editor The New Republic and current visiting professor of civics at Harvard, in conversation with the president of the school, Drew Gilpin Faust earlier this year. Wieseltier revolves around many of these same ideas of pace and meaning in his book Kaddish.

Gaon may’ve been early by about a millennium, but his line of reasoning fits nicely in the “knowledge argument” that psychologists and philosophers have now been fighting over for a century. In short, the debate goes: is there such thing as knowledge that is not “physical” but exclusively “experiential”?

Fred Jackson outlined the most famous thought experiment on the subject in his 1982 paper “Epiphenomenal Qualia” (perfect the next time you need a cocktail party conversation starter!):

Mary is a brilliant scientist who is, for whatever reason, forced to investigate the world from a black and white room via a black and white television monitor. She specializes in the neurophysiology of vision and acquires, let us suppose, all the physical information there is to obtain about what goes on when we see ripe tomatoes, or the sky, and use terms like ‘red’, ‘blue’, and so on. She discovers, for example, just which wavelength combinations from the sky stimulate the retina, and exactly how this produces via the central nervous system the contraction of the vocal cords and expulsion of air from the lungs that results in the uttering of the sentence ‘The sky is blue’. […] What will happen when Mary is released from her black and white room or is given a color television monitor? Will she learn anything or not?

The basic point is this: if Mary knows every bit of physical knowledge about human color vision before she is realized from the monochrome room, does she “learn” anything once released into a world of tomatoes and sky? If so, what exactly does she learn in apprehending these things for the first time? Several philosophers I’ve posted about — most notably the great Thomas Nagel — have taken sides on this issue and made arguments worth exploring.

Read on:

Leon Wieseltier

“Days” by Philip Larkin


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What are days for?
Days are where we live.
They come, they wake us
Time and time over.
They are to be happy in:
Where can we live but days?

Ah, solving that question
Brings the priest and the doctor
In their long coats
Running over the fields.


“Days” by Philip Larkin, which you’ll find in his Complete Poems.

“Solving that question” is just a euphemistic way of saying… well, what activity involves a priest and doctor? There couldn’t be a more Larkinesque way of capping off a poem about finding contentment in life’s diurnality. The lone image in the poem, those long coats coming from over the fields, seems to me to suggest something like foreignness and opportunism.

I took the picture in northern Virginia.

More Larkin:

I Am a Strange Loop


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Carol and Douglas Hofstader

“In the month of December, 1993, when we were just a quarter of the way into my sabbatical year in Trento, Italy, my wife Carol died very suddenly, essentially without warning, of a brain tumor. She was not yet 43, and our children, Danny and Monica, were but five and two. I was shattered in a way I could never have possibly imagined before our marriage. There had been a bright shining soul behind those eyes, and that soul had been suddenly eclipsed. The light had gone out.

What hit me by far the hardest was not my own personal loss (‘Oh, what shall I do now? Who will I turn to in moments of need? Who will I cuddle up beside at night?’) — it was Carol’s personal loss. Of course I missed her, I missed her enormously — but what troubled me much more was that I could not get over what she had lost: the chance to watch her children grow up, see their personalities develop, savor their talents, comfort them in their sad times, read them bedtime stories, sing them songs, smile at their childish jokes, paint their rooms, pencil in their heights on their closet walls, teach them to ride a bike, travel with them to other lands, expose them to other languages, get them a pet dog, meet their friends, take them skiing and skating, watch old videos together in our playroom, and on and on. All this future, once so easily taken for granted, Carol had lost in a flash, and I couldn’t deal with it.

There was a time, many months later, back in the United States, when I tried out therapy sessions for recently bereaved spouses — ‘Healing Hearts’, I think they were called — and I saw that most of the people whose mates had died were focused on their own pain, on their own loss, on what they themselves were going to do now. That, of course, was the meaning of the sessions’ name — you were supposed to heal, to get better. But how was Carol going to heal?

I truly felt as if the other people in these sessions and I were talking past each other. We didn’t have similar concerns at all! I was the only one whose mate had died when the children were tiny, and this fact seemed to make all the difference. Everything had been ripped away from Carol, and I could not stand thinking about — but I could not stop thinking about — what she’d been cheated out of. This bitter injustice to Carol was the overwhelming feeling I felt, and my friends kept on saying to me (oddly enough, in a well-meaning attempt to comfort me), ‘You can’t feel sorry for her! She’s dead! There’s no one to feel sorry for any more!’ How utterly, totally wrong this felt to me.

One day, as I gazed at a photograph of Carol taken a couple of months before her death, I looked at her face and I looked so deeply that I felt I was behind her eyes, and all at once, I found myself saying, as tears flowed, ‘That’s me! That’s me!’ And those simple words brought back many thoughts that I had had before, about the fusion of our souls into one higher-level entity, about the fact that at the core of both our souls lay our identical hopes and dreams for our children, about the notion that those hopes were not separate or distinct hopes but were just one hope, one clear thing that defined us both, that welded us together into a unit, the kind of unit I had but dimly imagined before being married and having children. I realized then that although Carol had died, that core piece of her had not died at all, but that it lived on very determinedly in my brain.”


The most moving section of Douglas R. Hofstadter’s endlessly layered and enigmatic book about the nature of self, I Am a Strange Loop.

I should mention that I first heard of Hofstadter’s work from David Brooks, who has cited this passage in several of his columns since first quoting it in “A Partnership of Minds” in July 2007. These remarks command a full page in his newest book The Road to Character.

Read on:

What Is Mein Kampf about?


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Adolf Hitler in Color

Mein Kampf is fundamentally a text about nature. About what belongs in nature and what doesn’t belong in nature.

It describes nature as a conflict of races; everything else is incidental. The only things which truly exists in the human world are races, and the only thing they’re supposed to be doing is competing for land and resources.

In this text, the Jews figure not as a race — not as an inferior race, not as a superior race — but as something totally supernatural which has somehow come into the world and introduced evil.

The Jews have an ability which is, in effect, superhuman. They can do one thing that no one else can do, and that’s bring ways of thinking into the world.

So from Hitler’s point of view, the Jews are not actually subhuman. They’re more like superhuman, though that’s not quite right either. From Hitler’s point of view, and from the point of view of several leading Nazis, the Jews are not really human at all. They’re para-human: they only appear to be human, but are actually something else.

The evil that the Jews have introduced into the world — and this strikes me as very important — is ethical thinking. What the Jews have done which is so wrong, is to confuse our minds by introducing ideas which are not about racial struggle. They’ve introduced ethical life to the world.

So Hitler presents capitalism as Jewish; he presents communism as Jewish; he presents Christianity as Jewish.

Why? Because all of these ideas, different though they might seem, have the common feature that they allow people to see each other in non-racial terms. Whether I’m signing a contract with you, making a revolution with you, attending mass with you, it’s not race that matters. It’s some kind of other reciprocity.

Therefore Hitler could say, as he did say, that Saint Paul was basically the same person as Leon Trotsky…

Nature can only be pure if the Jews are gone, because Jews are the special, supernatural beings who make us something that we’re not.”


Timothy Snyder, speaking in Krakow at the “Unimaginable” conference earlier this year. (He also touches on these themes around minute 20 in this 2013 talk at the Graduate Institute of Geneva.)

Snyder, who teaches history at Yale, has a new book out, Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Writing. I can highly recommend not only his talks like the one above, but his written work, which is dynamic and crisp, and shows a true mastering of the broad political, cultural, and military forces of the early 20th century. His last effort, the highly acclaimed, subversive history of the second world war Bloodlands: Europe between Hitler and Stalin, has a place at the top of my shelf.

To get a condensed version of Snyder’s take on the ideology of the Reich, you can check out his article soon to be published in the New York Review of Books, “Hitler’s World”. In it, he gives depth to some of the concepts detailed above (Snyder has clearly been fixated on the project of clearing up Hitlerite ideology for some time). The following slice is among the most informative of the piece, and it lays bare the claims of those on both sides of the religious-atheist debate who try to claim the Führer as their opponents’ ally:

Hitler’s presentation of the Jewish threat revealed his particular amalgamation of religious and zoological ideas. If the Jew triumphs, Hitler wrote, “then his crown of victory will be the funeral wreath of the human species.” On the one hand, Hitler’s image of a universe without human beings accepted science’s verdict of an ancient planet on which humanity had evolved. After the Jewish victory, he wrote, “earth will once again wing its way through the universe entirely without humans, as was the case millions of years ago.” At the same time, as he made clear in the very same passage of My Struggle, this ancient earth of races and extermination was the Creation of God. “Therefore I believe myself to be acting according to the wishes of the Creator. Insofar as I restrain the Jew, I am defending the work of the Lord.”

Continue on topic:

Timothy Snyder

The Value of Leisure


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Josef Pieper

“Work is necessary, and it’s good in its place: as a means to an end, the end being to provide the necessities of life. From the time of the Greeks to the rise of industrialism that was the idea — work was a means to an end. But when work was over was the time of true human life: time for family, friends, community, for the life of the mind and the life of the spirit.

At the zenith of the Middle Ages… it was held that sloth and restlessness, ‘leisurelessness’, the incapacity to enjoy leisure, were all closely connected; sloth was held to be the source of restlessness, and the ultimate cause of ‘work for work’s sake’. It may well seem paradoxical to maintain that the restlessness at the bottom of a fanatical and suicidal activity should come from the lack of will to action…

Our culture feels in its bones that ‘hard work is good.’ Aquinas, the great medieval philosopher, propounded a contrary opinion: `The essence of virtue consists in the good rather than in the difficult. Not everything that is more difficult is necessarily more virtuous; it must be more difficult in such a way that it achieves a higher good as well as being more difficult.’

The tendency to overvalue hard work and the effort of doing something difficult is so deep-rooted that it even infects our notion of love. Why should it be that the average Christian regards loving one’s enemy as the most exalted form of love? Principally because it offers an example of a natural bent heroically curbed; the exceptional difficulty, the impossibility… of loving one’s enemy constitutes the greatness of the love. And what does Aquinas say? ‘It is not the difficulty of loving one’s enemy that matters when the essence of the merit of doing so is concerned, excepting in so far as the perfection of love wipes out the difficulty…’

The inmost significance of the exaggerated value which is set upon work appears to be this: man seems to mistrust everything that is effortless… he refuses to have anything as a gift. We have only to think for a moment how much the Christian understanding of life depends upon the existence of ‘Grace’; let us recall that the Holy Spirit of God is Himself called a ‘gift’ in a special sense; that the great teachers of Christianity say that the premise of God’s justice is his love; that everything gained and everything claimed follows upon something given, and comes after something gratuitous and unearned; that in the beginning there is always a gift—we have only to think of all this for a moment in order to see what a chasm separates the tradition of the Christian West and that other view [of classical Greece].”


Pulled from Josef Pieper’s Leisure: The Basis of Culture.

A couple days late for Labor Day. I would’ve posted it earlier, but, well, work got in the way.

Read on:


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