The Final Solution

solution

The Final Solution –
The Fate of the Jews 1933 – 49
By David Cesarani
Macmillan – £30.00

This book grew out of a concern about the discord between, on the one side, evocations of The Holocaust in popular culture, education and its commemoration and, on the other, the revelations by researchers in many disciplines, operating within and outside an academic framework.

Greed not anti-Semitism motivated many people to align themselves with the German occupiers. Jew-hatred became as much a justification for despoliation as a motive.

[…] what survivors offer is a wonderful example of how youthful traumas can be overcome. They show how it is possible to rebuild in one generation what was mercilessly destroyed in the previous one. Inspiring testimony such as this inevitably carries a redemptive message. No matter how unpleasant or unvarnished the content, the age of the speaker, and the courage they show in recalling horrendous times bestows on them a heroic aura. They are envoys from a fearful distant past, bearing a message of hope – that survival and recuperation is possible whatever the odds against them.

The above quotations come from both the Introduction and the Prologue of what is a rather beautiful book.

Now I’m well aware that the word beautiful might be an odd word used to describe such an intrinsically harrowing subject as The Final Solution – but what I mean is: beautiful in the complexity of its extensive research. A research unquestionably brazen yet brave, redemptive yet regal.

All at the same time. From beginning to end.

Indeed, the nigh accepted narrative of humanity’s darkest hour, has – regardless of the trajectory of every telling, of every trauma – yet to be fully understood and perhaps diagnosed as having been understood. In and of itself, this might be deemed a subliminally good thing. A good thing in as much as: would it be wise to fully comprehend the reasoning behind the tragedy of The Holocaust?

To honour the Holocaust and it’s millions of unfortunate victims, is one thing. To analyse the varying mindset(s) of the vile, human machinery behind it, really is quite another. Another, as in a certain psychology or place, I personally don’t want to understand, nor embrace, nor inherit, nor have anything to do with.

After all: ”in 1947 the British were holding more Jews behind barbed wire than the Germans had been in 1937.” While a mere few weeks off 2017, the despicable Islamist movement, Hamas, still crave to annihilate the State of Israel from that of the face of the earth. This is why David Cesarani’s ”sweeping reappraisal challenges accepted explanations for the anti-Jewish politics of Nazi Germany and the inevitability of the ‘Final Solution.”’ Although what accounts for The Final Solution – The Fate of the Jews 1933 – 49 being such an intelligent and really important read, is the vastness of political, historical and essentially German social terrain, it covers.

In essence, no stone is left un-turned and it is this quintessential quality which accounts for the book’s seismic shift of historical, and to a certain degree, Third-Reich-theological parameters of persuasion: ”Hitler’s route to power was paved by idealism, the desire for strong communities, and love of Germany. For some Germans anti-Semitism helped to define the nation and the community, with Jews embodying everything that was false, corrupt, alien and wrong. But Hitler was not made Chancellor of Germany because of anti-Semitism” (Prologue).

Internationally recognised as one of this generation’s leading Jewish and Holocaust scholars, Cesarani has herein written a book that is simply outstanding in its seemingly endless scope of portrayal. For instance, he disputes the iconic role of railways, deportation trains and even that of Auschwitz itself, and reveals that plunder was more a cause of anti-Jewish feeling than a consequence of it.

No-where was such a cacophonous calamity of all these disputes on display than during the initial outbreak of the war in 1939, when Germany invaded Poland – literally high on hate. The all-consuming, barbaric consequences of which, Cesarani adroitly addresses in the book’s fourth chapter, ‘War – 1939-1941’: ”The army that prepared to invade Poland was primed to blame the Jews for causing war in the first place. It was imbued with animosity towards Jews, with a particular asperity reserved for the Ostjuden or eastern Jews who had featured so largely in pre-war hate literature. In the figure of the Ostjude anti-Jewish prejudice melded with anti-Polish prejudice. Young Germans had been filled with a spirit of revenge against the Poles who allegedly oppressed their countrymen in the lands taken away in 1918-19. Youths were taught to despise Polish society for its mediocre living standards and supposed cultural backwardness. This was a poisonous combination that lent itself to brutality even before the fighting men had experienced the shock of combat and the loss of comrades […]. The invasion of Poland was not going to be an ordinary military campaign, either. In a clandestine briefing of the senior military leadership at Berchtesgaden on 22 August, Hitler had summed up the goal as ‘Annihilation of Poland.”

Amid the calculated cloak of such ravenous German mendacity, the above almost speaks for itself; but from a sheer writing perspective, said chapter, along with The Final Solution as a whole, is profoundly authoritative.

An alarmingly trust-worthy read, although occasionally disturbing, this book remains undeniably focused in its complexity and fortitude. Each of its 796 pages (excluding Maps, List of Illustrations, Acknowledgements, Introduction, Glossary, Bibliography, Notes and Index) remain unsurprisingly resolute in telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the (soul destroying) truth.

Is it any wonder David Cesarani, who died in 2015, was awarded an OBE for his work in the establishment of Holocaust Memorial Day in the UK – while serving on the country’s delegation to the International Task Force for Holocaust Remembrance, Education and Research?

If it were to be recommended that all those who voted for President Elect, Donald Trump, were to read just one book, then this should be it.

David Marx

Confessions – St Augustine

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Confessions – St Augustine
Translated by Benignus O’Rourke
Darton Longman & Todd – £12.99

Yet, I chose to steal.
I stole, not because of poverty or need,
unless the lack of a sense of justice
counts as a need.
I stole because I was bored of doing right,
and had a greedy love of doing wrong.
For the things I stole I already had in plenty,
and were of better quality.
I had no desire to enjoy what I stole.
What I wanted to enjoy was the actual stealing,
and the sin itself.

‘Bored Of Doing Right’

It’s not often one reads such hyper-honesty as that pronounced, or should I say, confessed above; especially the line: ”I stole because I was bored of doing right/and had a greedy love of doing wrong.”

Indeed, who in their right mind would to admit to such subliminal darkness? Other than the likes of Jack Nicholson and perhaps Johnny Cash, there aren’t many who would confide such reflective openness.

There again, St Augustine wasn’t of the sort you’d stumble across everyday, which is what partially accounts for Confessions being as disturbing yet as vibrant as it is; of which this particular rendition, published by Darton Longman & Todd, rally does need to be looked into. In the words of the author of Into The Silent Land, Martin Laird, this is ”a daringly original contribution to the history of English translations of Confessions.”

And one can understand why.

According to many, not only is the latter ”a canticle to God and full of psychological insights which might have been written yesterday, the Confessions is ”the story of a soul, and also the story of God and how he is constantly at work seeking us.”

For me personally, it’s the underlying meaning and varying text(s) to which I am fundamentally drawn, because it is nigh impossible to open almost any of these 394 pages (excluding the Foreword by Laird, Introduction and Notes) and not be touched in some literal or theological way:

Now that I had begun to understand
that what is incorruptible
is better than what is corruptible,
I tried to explore further

‘The Highest and Most Perfect Good’

So I joined a group of men who,
though calling themselves philosophers,
were mainly slick talkers,
very sensual and proud to the point of madness.

‘Closer To Me Than I Was To Myself’

Do the last two lines not sound resoundingly familiar? Do they not resonate with all the trajectory a charade of middle management at a marketing convention?
Either way, Confessions makes for top-notch, provocative and enlightened reading.

As if you didn’t already know!

David Marx

A Culture Of Growth

culture

A Culture Of Growth –
The Origins of the Modern Economy
By Joel Mokyr
Princeton University Press – £24.95

The Industrial Revolution is primarily responsible for much to today’s unprecedented prosperity in the West – Discuss…

An interesting hypothesis or utter hog-wash of the first degree?

Should either persuasion pique your curiosity, then A Culture Of Growth – The Origins of the Modern Economy is definitely a book you should read, wherein, celebrated economic historian, Joel Mokyr, argues in favour of the former in a most substantive and altogether astute manner. Primarily, that a culture of growth, specific to early modern Europe and the European Enlightenment was responsible for having laid the foundations for the scientific advances and pioneering inventions that would eventually instigate explosive technological and economic development.

By weaving together economics, a history of science and technology, as well as varying models of cultural evolution, Mokyr demonstrates that culture (the beliefs, values, and preferences in society most capable of changing behaviour) has been a fundamental deciding factor in social transformation(s).

Indeed, by combining ideas woven from an economic, cultural template, these 342 pages (excluding Acknowledgements, Preface, References, Index) provide for an abundance of reasoning as to why the foundations of our modern economy were fundamentally brought to bear a mere two centuries between Columbus and Newton.

That’s not to say A Culture Of Growth comes across as a dour and academic read, but rather, a story that really does need to be told (rather than studied).

In the Preface, Mokyr writes: ”Economic history and intellectual history are two dynamic and active disciplines that barely interest, which is a shame. Except for the crude materialist hypothesis which explains changes in what people believed and knew by arguing for the supremacy of economic structures, not much has been done to show that much of what happened in the economies of the world in the past three centuries was a function of what people believed.
[…]
In the two centuries between Columbus and Newton, European elite culture underwent radical intellectual change. In what follows, I analyse this change, using material from intellectual history and the history of science and technology to achieve an explanation of a question primarily by economists: how do we explain the ”modern economy”?”

Hmm, good question and one which warrants or could at least, trigger much discussion.

In five parts: ‘Evolution, Culture and Economic History,’ ‘Cultural Entrepreneurs and Economic Change, 1500-1700,’ ‘Innovation, Competition and Pluralism in Europe 1500-1700,’ ‘Prelude to the Enlightenment’ and ‘Cultural Change in the East and West,’ these 17 chapters plus an Epilogue (entitled Useful Knowledge and Economic Growth) have been written in an altogether approachable and easy going manner. A quality I have to confess to finding somewhat surprising, especially considering the subject at hand.

There again, Joel Mokyr, who is the Robert H. Strotz Professor of Arts and Sciences and Professor of Economics and History at Northwestern University (not to mention Sackler Professor at the Eitan Berglas School of Economics at the University of Tel Aviv), has already written widely on the subject (The Enlightened Economy and The Gifts of Athena), so he’s absolutely no novice when it comes to writing: ”Many […] intellectuals moved from country to country in search of learning, and teaching positions, escaping religious intolerance and at times creditors, jealous husbands, and other sources of distraction, but they also travelled to find and newest and best knowledge to sell their own ideas in larger markets than their place of birth […]. Above all, travelling was a safeguard against oppression and intellectual persecution, and the common knowledge that moving elsewhere was an option for heterodox scholars helped cultivate the rise of tolerance in Europe.

It is telling for the way the Republic of Letters worked that Hobbes wrote Leviathan in Paris and Locke his Letter on Toleration in Amsterdam. The Dutch jurist Hugo Grotius fled The Netherlands and took refuge in Paris. Descartes, who lived for much of his life in the Netherlands, left the country when Prince Maurice took the side of hard-line Calvinists in 1619” (‘Fragmentation, Competition and Cultural Change’).

A fine, invigorating read, one I’d most strongly recommend for anyone remotely interested in the actual origins of the (modern, European) economy.

David Marx

The Demarchy Manifesto

demarchy

The Demarchy Manifesto –
How To Enlighten, Articulate and Give Effect to Public Opinion
By John Burnheim
Societas – £9.95

The Demarchy Manifesto is divided into three, very distinct and compartmentalised sections: ‘Exploring the Problem,’ ‘Suggested Solutions’ and ‘Objections Considered,’ of which its 137 pages (excluding Preface, Appendix 1 and 2) is an altogether forthright read that takes absolutely no political prisoners.

It is what it is – you either agree with it. Or you don’t.

For instance, in the Preface of this compact and most pragmatic of books, John Burnheim writes: ”Democratic theory and practice has been focused on problems of power. It is torn between two objectives, giving power to the people and minimising power over the individual. I accept that our present democratic institutions are a reasonable solution to most of those problems, but they are not a satisfactory way of getting sound policies on many matters” (my italics).

Hmm; a ”reasonable solution to most of those problems/a satisfactory way of getting sound policies on many matters.” At the end of the day – one has to reasonably ask, what is reasonable? Immediately followed by: how does one fundamentally substantiate what is satisfactory?

In the Introduction, the author writes: ”What I call ‘demarchy’ is primarily a process of transferring the initiative in formulating policy options from political parties to councils representative of the people most directly affected by those policies […]. There is no question of constitutional change, no new parties or new laws, no call for a mass conversion of opinion, but a suggestion about how to initiate a change in accepted practice, starting with actions that may seem of little significance in the big picture, but are still justified by their specific purposes. My focus is on how policy is produced and adopted. I am not concerned with questions about the philosophical basis of state power, or human rights, or crime and punishment (again, my italics).

Regardless of what one is writing about, how can one not be concerned with questions of/about human rights?

Ought such a dictum of thought or ideology, actually be allowed to exist?

According to Dickinson McGaw of the American Political Science Review, The Demarchy Manifesto is ”penetrating, subtle and original;” to which I can only respond: with the (possible) exception that this book may be original, it isn’t in the least penetrating.
Let alone subtle.

David Marx

Resolve In International Politics

resolve

Resolve In International Politics
By Joshua D. Kertzer
Princeton University Press – £29.95/$39.50

Desire, wish, will, are states of mind which everyone knows, and which no definition can make plainer.

                                                                                 William Jones

This is a book which undoubtedly needs to be fully read by the pending/upcoming Donald Trump administration, but probably won’t. Reason being, Resolve In International Politics is far too sensible, far too considered and, I hasten to add, far too internationalist in both tonality and persuasion.

From the very outset of the first chapter (which, lest it be said, opens with the above quote), author Joshua D. Kertzer writes: ”On January 12, 2010, an earthquake struck the island nation of Haiti, reducing much of the capital city Port-au-Prince to rubble. In the days afterward, as the casualty estimates grew by the hundreds of thousands and the international community turned its attention toward rebuilding the ravaged country, pundits pontificated on the uphill battle faced by a country that had suffered as many man-made disasters as natural ones. Bob Herbert, writing in The New York Times, struck an optimistic note: the Haitians would succeed, he argued, because they had shown ”resolve among the ruins.”

Herbert is not alone in positing resolve and its synonyms – willpower, self-control, dedication, tenacity, determination, drive, and so on – as a solution to political problems.”

No, he’s not alone, but from what I’ve so far seen and read of Messrs. Newt Gingrich, Steve Bannon and Corey Lewandowski et al, the pending US powers that be look far too isolationist and overtly yahoo orientated to be taken remotely seriously.

As statesmen at least. Let alone deduced as serious contenders thereof.

This essentially explains why, as mentioned above, Trump and co would be more than wise to fully digest this book’s six chapters and two equally important Appendixes (‘Supplementary Theoretical Materials’ and ‘Supplementary Empirical Materials). Especially if international relations and politics are to continue on some sort of even keel.

For as Kertzer states throughout, political endeavour really is far more than just a metaphor – or some sort of figure of speech.

By combining laboratory and survey experiments with studies of great power military interventions amid the postwar era of 1946 to 2003, the Assistant Professor of Government at Harvard University emphatically shows how time, risk preferences, honour orientation, self-control and leaders – along with members of the public – help define the tumultuous variant of situation(s) they invariably face.

And in so doing, weighing the fundamental trade-offs between the costs of fighting and the costs of ”backing down.”

As Columbia University’s, Robert Jervis has said: ”Resolve is central to much international relations theorizing, but all too often is underanalyzed. Not in this book. Kertzer develops and tests the foundations of resolve by combining the characteristics of the actor and the situation. Using experiments and historical data, Resolve In International Politics moves us a big step forward.”

As a continuing caveat, this book has critical implications for the understanding of public opinion about foreign policy, leaders in military interventions, political psychology and international security as a whole; all of which, Trump and his cohorts of calamity continue to know absolutely NOTHING about.

Admittedly, these 204 pages may be a dry and rather more scientific read than need be, which may explain why it will probably appeal more to those who are actively involved in international politics than the laymen reader or mere cultural bystander. That there are a number of specific Tables scattered throughout – from ‘Rationales for international theorizing’ to ‘Treatments effects based on initial decision to invade,’ from ‘Demographic characteristics and the duration of intervention’ to ‘Little evidence of heterogeneous casualty treatment effects’ – goes some way in substantiating as much.

That said, Rose McDermott of Brown University has stated: ”A tour de force, this rich and original book will become the seminal and definitive treatment of this topic.” So there you go (Donald).

David Marx

Ireland’s Immortals

immortals

Ireland’s Immortals –
A History of the Gods of Irish Myth
By Mark Williams
Princeton University Press – £29.95

Brother and kin to all the twilit gods,
Living, forgot, long dead; sad Shadow of pale hopes,
Forgotten dreams and madness of men’s minds:
Outcast among the gods, and called the Fool,
Yet dreaded even by those immortal eyes…

(The Immortal Hour – Macleod)

Equally complicated and complex, majestic and mythological, Mark Williams herein presents what the likes of the poet, William Butler Yeats, born in Sandymount, Ireland, and the singer Van Morrison, born in Belfast, Northern Ireland; professed, alluded and bowed (down) to, for the best part of their entire careers.

In other words, the everlasting search for that which is honourably translucent. Or, to come really, really clean, honourably honest.

In Morrison’s case, he sung about his ”healing” having ”begun” a number of years back, but not before himself having relinquished all that is fundamentally vile in a world gone horribly AWOL. AWOL without permission at that. A seminal kernel of which – among many – is most succinctly addressed at the very outset of the ninth chapter of this most elegiac of books.

Entitled ‘Highland Divinities’ (under the sub-heading ‘The Celtic Revival in Scotland’), the British novelist and philosopher, John Cooper Powys, is unsurprisingly, poignantly, yet quintessentially quoted: ”Not the wretchedest man or woman but has a deep secretive mythology with which to wrestle with the material world and to overcome it and pass beyond it… We are all creators. We all create a mythological world of our own out of certain shapeless materials.”

We do all indeed ”create a mythological world of our own,” wherein admittedly, the parameters of considered rationality can sometimes count for very little; which, lest it be said, is where Williams most fundamental assertion of Ireland’s Immortals – A History of the Gods of Irish Myth comes into play.

In the words of the University of Oxford’s R. F. Foster: ”In 1896, George Russell wrote to W.B. Yeats announcing that ‘the Gods have returned to Celtic realms; Mark Williams’ brilliant and powerful book makes good the claim. Learned, discursive, masterfully organized, and often very funny, it illuminates the cults, characters, personalities, and uses of Irish divinities from their emergence in saga, pseudo-history, and folklore through to their exploitation in the Celtic Revival and the literature of fantasy, and their analysis in modern scholarship. This is an important contribution to the history of religion, nationalism and Gaelic culture; it is also so well written as to be unputdownable.”

Yay, know what Foster means with regards un-put-downable.

At 501 pages (excluding Illustrations, Abbreviations, Preface, Guide to Pronunciation, Acknowledgements, Glossary of Technical Terms, Conspectus of Medieval Sources, Works Cited and Index), these twelve chapters, which happen to be broken into Two Parts, are a most powerful dissertation of all that which the book’s title suggests.

For instance, in ‘Divine Culture’ (chapter three), the author quotes ‘The Adventure of Connlae’:

Stately folk without blemish,
conception without sin, without lust.

We see everyone on every side,
and no one sees us.
It is the shadow-veil of Adam’s sin
that has prevented us from being counted

which, in and of itself, casts any form of ‘blemish’ aside.

Reason being, one could well ask if there is any form of ‘veil’ within that of which we already know/don’t know of ‘Adam’s sin.’

Under the sub-heading ‘Land and Territory’ in the very same same chapter, Williams confronts, or should I say, elaborates upon this further: ”It is clear thus far how debate about the nature of the gods could be exploited to powerful literary effect. In the sagas there is a second aspect to this phenomenon in that ideas about the gods’ natures were inseparably yoked to the places where they were supposed to live – specifically, their relationship to the geography of Ireland itself.”

Replete with a stirring number of black and white illustrations, Ireland’s Immortals – A History of the Gods of Irish Myth really is one of those books that warrants total embracing. Like a fine wine, or a delectable bourbon, it absolutely should not be rushed; but rather, read with the utmost of consideration and patience.

As such, I’d like to conclude with the aforementioned W. B Yeats’ ‘Irish Wonders’: ”Tradition is always the same. The earliest poet of India and the Irish peasant in his hovel nod to each other across the ages, and are in perfect agreement.”

Indeed, ‘perfect agreement’ (my italics).

David Marx

The Great Convergence

convergance

The Great Convergence –
Information Technology and the New Globalization
By Richard Baldwin
Belknap Harvard University Press – £22.95

”Despite the best efforts of the smartest humans, no one has found a way to know the future. This ineluctable fact has caused many thinkers to shy away from making predictions. As the Confucian poet Lao Tzu put it: ”Those who have knowledge, don’t predict. Those who predict, don’t have knowledge.”

But this is wrong headed. We have a duty to think hard about what may be so as to better prepare society for the changes that may come. As Henri Poincare wrote in The Foundations of Science, ”It is far better to foresee even without certainty than not to foresee at all.” Following his wise words […]., my guess is that the changes will be radical and disruptive.”

                                                                                        (‘Looking Ahead’)

If the corrosive events of the last week in America are anything to go by, economist Richard Baldwin is absolutely, stunningly (yet unfortunately) correct. That said, this book does endeavour to change the way we think about globalization – rather than the future of humanity.

To be sure, other than having taken a colossal leap forward in the early 1800s (when steam power and a period of global peace lowered the costs of moving goods); it ought to perhaps be emphasised that globalization underwent a revolutionary change in communication technology during the 1990s. The result of which fundamentally altered globalization forever, which Baldwin – both commendably and logically – tackles head-on throughout The Great Convergence – Information Technology and the New Globalization.

A book, that so far as a road-map for readers is concerned, is augmented with a helpful array of charts and graphs, and has also been written in five prime parts: ‘The Long History of Globalization in Short,’ ‘Extending the Globalization Narrative,’ ‘Understanding Globalization’s Changes,’ ‘Why It Matters’ and ‘Looking Ahead’ (quoted above).

Indeed, these 301 pages (excluding Notes, Acknowledgements and Index) should, as Jeffrey G. Williamson of Harvard University describes it: ”change the way we think about globalization. There have been two big globalization booms over the past two centuries. The first caused divergence between rich and poor nations while the second, since the 1970s, has caused convergence. With elegance, economist Richard Baldwin tells us why.”

It’s understandable as to why Williamson should think this; Baldwin is after all, Professor of International Economics at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva, and Director of the Centre for Economics Policy Research (CEPR) in London.

So in all, it’s hard to disagree with almost anything that’s written herein.
­
What is important or at stake however, is essentially coming to terms with the validity of the book’s dense, yet economically idiosyncratic information. Simply because it is technological change and fragmentation that (now) stands at the vanguard of globalization. The ultimate impact of which is more sudden and selective.

And, dare I say it, more unpredictable and uncontrollable; although the history of initial/factual globalization is far more predictable. The following of which, will no doubt be much to the chagrin of the recently elected white supremacist, soon to be American President, Donald Trump: ”Modern humans appeared about 200 millennia ago in Africa. As the population rose and fell, the search for additional food expanded and contracted humanity’s geographic range. For seventy-five millennia or so, this consumption-moving-to-production happened only in Africa.”

Suck on that Trump….

David Marx