The Elements of Conservative Economic Theory within the GOP today: How the Republican Party is conflicted as to its principles related to economics and what this means to the decisions it makes regarding the welfare of the republic

Historically the US became a world power as a result of its belated involvement in World War One, which for obvious reasons at the time was not called that but instead the Great War. Much has been written about Wilson’s losing attempts to rewrite the structure of world governance after that war and much more will be devoted to this theme in the future. Yet, it was the Second World War that positioned us in the most dominant position, one that many claim made the 20th Century the American Century. ironcurtain1This conflict destroyed the lives of millions of Europeans, leaving many regions in waste and denuded the participating European countries of infrastructure, population and resources. It also clearly divided the region into camps, divided most egregiously by what Churchill called the Iron Curtain.

It was the USA that benefitted from this shift in political, military and economic power. That one of the winners was the Soviet Union, which practiced an economic system that had been held in suspicion for more than two decades by that time, a polarized world resulted and infused the politics of America with a conservatism that is still percolating and which reacted adversely to anything that involved state control and management of the economy.

As the war wound down, and indeed throughout much of the 30s when the world was in the Depression, economists argued about the correct direction for governance related to economic decisions. The two main systems were described then by Hayek and Keynes, though Marx was certainly on view in many places but rejected by the West’s leadership (there were Communist political parties in most Western countries in the 30s) . In the US, under FDR, there was much state intervention in the economy and the arrival of war only exacerbated this trend. We are still arguing about the efficacy of government intervention and control based on this experience.

After 1929 capitalism was on its heels and classical liberal economics that espoused laissez faire lost much of its audience. Interestingly, Walter Lippmann, one of the most influential journalists of the century, promoted discussions about how to reinvigorate capitalism and liberalism. Prior to the war he formed, with Hayek, a colloquium to discuss governance and economics and this group morphed into the Mont Peleron group after the war. The congress attendees disagreed on many points: Is freedom an end in itself or merely a means? Is liberalism (here the term was referring to 19th century economic laissez-faire ideology) only the rigorous application of the laws of economics or an ideology? Does liberalism have to take into account the provision of social security? Clear oppositions surfaced several times. With regard to the question of industrial concentration, it was criticized by the economists, whereas the industrialists defended the trusts. Thus, the backers of the Colloque Lippmann were not of one mind along many dimensions.  (page 48  The Road from Mont Peleron)

Recently there has been more attention given to this small, exclusive group of individuals, most of whom initially were economists, who met at the invitation of Hayek to a region of Switzerland to found a movement that still has the name of the initial meeting place, the Mont Pelerin Society. That society included Hayek, Ludwig von Mises, Milton Friedman, James Buchanan (a figure discussed briefly in the previous blog), and ultimately Charles Koch.

James Buchanan became a Nobel Prize winning economist, who went from UVA to George Mason University, James-Buchanan-1986-1024x719where he set up a think tank the initiated and promoted conservative, libertarian economic views. These views grew out of the Austrian Economic School, Hayek and other individualist voices who felt any interference in competition in a free enterprise system should be avoided by the state, whose goals should only focus on impartiality and the security of the citizens. Socialism was the supreme enemy, though any support given the by the state would be attacked. As events unfolded, even public schools were unacceptable, civil rights decisions were government meddling in states’ rights, income taxes were government coercion and the federal bureaucracy was fraudulent waste.

It turns out his views were caught by the likes of the Koch brothers. They and a wing of the GOP used the caveat of education andkock buchanan from slate article the changing media and the US Congress and Supreme Court to gather momentum around the agenda that includes less government, less regulation, less involvement in individual decisions. Also in that movement was a big push to reduce taxation. What occurred is the list that follows. As an historian, I have been working on these thoughts for years and now feel the composition of the list and thoughts about the impact on the US contained with each topic’s background are more relevant than ever. Future blog posts will deal with each topic independently, even though they all overlap each other in the American story.

  1. GOP fear of communism and by extension any thoughts that resemble what they claim is a socialist solution. That we can now use the term and that Bernie Sanders has had such an appeal within the under thirty age group is heartening to the future of the country, though the recent actions by the present Congress point to an all out attack on social programs set up in the 30s and again in the 60s.
  2. GOP weakening of government regulation of the air waves and by extension the Internet. From the 1920s expectations when radio came into being for the masses, to the 40s when television was added, to the 80s when it was cable to this century when the internet became the issue, there have been clear signals that Conservatism wants to use the media to spread its message. Whether this is free speech or a propaganda attempt is a complex question. The rise of Alex Jones, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Sean Spencer, Bill O’Reilly and the list goes on comes from a very concerted effort by wealthy backers to push their messages.
  3. Civil rights and education. The long troubled history involving racism was put under additional stress in the 60s with the events originating in the South. This led to laws that attempted to desegregate communities, specifically in schools. The white flight to the suburbs and the growth of independent schools ensued. The appointment of DeVos as EdSecy is an example of a part of the GOP wing’s desires to control the educational process for their own good. What is education and best practice is one of the most critical questions this country should be asking.
  4. Think tanks, CPAC-like groups (see its speakers list below) and private funding for many ideological issues. Going back to Buchanan and others, the educational institutions, private think tanks and money flowing into Congress increased drastically in the past three or four decades. Within this is the “Southern Strategy”, the rise of ‘false news’ claims, hoax claims about scientific positions, Citizens United, etc.
  5. The big question, involved in all of these, is, “How do you separate an ideological stand from one that seems to point to a selfish position?” The old saying that a democratic is a person who hasn’t yet been robbed and a republican is a person that wants to keep everything he earns or inherits is still on the table. The GOP now has several wings within its caucus: The Tea Party libertarians, The Rand Paul libertarians (he is more of a true libertarian of the Ayn Rand type), the Paul Ryan ideologues who walk over dead bodies because those bodies must be lazy and deserve it, the old GOP wing that harkens back to Reagan and his compassionate conservatism (though they often misuse his words and actions and are already revisionists on much), a few Teddy Roosevelt Republicans who understand science and conservation but wish for limited government control of financial matters and it seems many that just like the power and money that comes from working for corporations’ needs.

More later

Mont Pèlerin Society

Los Angeles Times reporter Margot Roosevelt called the Koch Brothers “the nation’s most prominent funders of efforts to prevent curbs on fossil-fuel burning”

From an interview in the Slate with MacLean about her book, Democracy in Chains…..The most important thing I want readers to take from this book is an understanding that the Koch network and all of these people are doing what they’re doing because they understand that their ideas make them a permanent minority. They cannot win if they are honest about what they’re doing. That’s why they’re doing things in the deceitful and frightening ways that they are.

And that, I think, is a sign of great power for the majority of people, who I think are fundamentally decent, and agree on much more than we’re led to believe.

CPAC  Conservative Political Action Conference founded in 1973   speakers  Donald Trump,[2] Ronald Reagan,[3][4][5] George W. Bush,[6] Dick Cheney,[7] Pat Buchanan,[8] Karl Rove, Newt Gingrich,[6] Sarah Palin, Ron Paul,[9] Mitt Romney,[6] Tony Snow,[6] Glenn Beck,[10] Rush Limbaugh,[11] Ann Coulter,[7] Allen West,[12] Michele Bachmann,[13] Laura Ingraham, Sean Hannity, Gary Johnson, Mike Pence, Jeanine Pirro, Betsy DeVos, Lou Dobbs, Nigel Farage


The Pull and Push on the Populace: Who controls the voice, the message and the audience in America’s recent history?

Over the past few years, and decades really, there has been a continued fraying of authority. For those of us on the liberal side, we are vexed with the current state of everything and are flummoxed that, for what seems easy for us to grasp as we navigate the options presented us, there is a huge portion of this country that either ignores, suppresses or challenges what we believe to be true.

Recently Mackenzie recommended a new book, Democracy in Chains, which gives some background into how several individuals have willfully contributed to this state of affairs. That they seem to have acted on moral grounds is part of the conundrum. It offers me another opportunity to speak to my own truths and to write a little further and leave a few bread crumbs in the historical record. In deference to whatever audience there is for these and with respect for you, George, in your recommendations regarding these blog posts, I will keep this as concise and brief as is possible for me, which means that I will break these thoughts into several blogs.

As an historian, I have been frustrated with many of us Americans for some time, telling an old friend decades ago that there are perhaps 30% of us who act as though we are uninformed. I truly believe there is a willful wall of ignorance out there that is acting poorly and not in the world’s best interests, let alone a small community’s. Interestingly, though, after having lived among many of these individuals, I have to admit that they are pleasant, “God-fearing” (whatever that now means, too) and seemingly good neighbors (and family members, too). This year, we liberals are actively attempting to increase the percentage of neighbors who make a greater attempt at finding meaning and veracity in their words and lives. I hope we are succeeding. When this morning’s news points out only 14% of Republicans believe the media and that for the first forty days of Trump’s presidency he told at least one lie each day and that he constantly dissembles or distracts, we are fighting a headwind.

Those who live inside their willful wall use a variety of tools to inform their views. The Tea Party has its group. Some follow Alex Jones. All use the same conduits as I do, though the veins found in these conduits of media are certainly different than the ones I use, even though I doggedly mine their veins in disbelief and incredulity on occasion to find out what and why they take their stands. Over the past century, the media has altered what it is an how it is distributed to the masses. The government, businesses and the public have been interested in this change and have engaged in the process. These changes have been the most significant in determining what we now claim to be the truth. We have myriad platforms today for disseminating the truth and this contributes to the fracturing of truth as we know it. Future blogs will look at this historical exposition and delve into government’s role, the nature of economics and ask questions about fairness, sustainability and liberty. The MacLean book certainly works with these themes.

 ~As I watch the news in the background as I type this (another issue with our multi-taxed/tasked world) about the freeing of Raqqa, the troops there are charged with not only getting rid of ISIS fighters, but also promoting the system that will replace them. The ‘truth’ these residents lived under for the past several years was something out of a George Orwell or Margaret Atwood novel and now we are charged with overseeing the building of a new society. The American troops who supported this expulsion of ISIS are now shown fist bumping with teenaged boys, a sight that is heartwarming, and their life threatening role is one we should applaud. Rather than simply fighting a foe and winning a war, we have been nation-building for more than a decade, which means one has to replace one system with another. We all know this is much more complicated than putting up a “Mission Accomplished” banner and that sending our troops into harms way needs much, much oversight.~

The new book, Democracy in Chains, deals with the issues of capitalism, government authority and individual liberty. Within it (I have as yet only read the reviews and critiques), the novel that needs to be referenced for this one is Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. This is a book all 9th graders should read, but only for a basis of discussion and comparison, in my opinion. It’s tenets should be discussed and discarded soon after ones male moth-wing-pulling testosterone-skewed gang-initiated sentiments are put into perspective. We are responsible to others throughout our lives. We need to be taught us and them, we, and other such terms in a broader context. Truth, sustainable and fair are themes central to this discussion.

In the MacLaen book, James Buchanan buchananis a central figure and Rand is central to Buchanan. He was a mid-century economist who, like Rand in my opinion, should have a fleeting exposure in school as one grows up and becomes an adult. But, many people in authority and with extreme means have been using her and his philosophies to build their own truth and seek to build a community based on those truths. Paul Ryan, Rand Paul and the Koch brothers are central in the building of this world. Unfortunately for us liberals, theirs are the voices who have the gavel now. What I will discuss going forward will deal with these issues. Stay tuned….

Related to MacLean’s book on Democracy in Chains

About Buchanan in other sources

America’s Heartland as a harbinger of immigration issues/solutions: Who is an American anymore? Do we look at Nebraska, our nation’s geographic center?

Again, it was the internet that provided the food for these thoughts. A posting by a new FB friend about basketball-playing immigrants in Omaha had a certain draw for me with my own BBall background. The added hook was that these players were new to America and a product of the world’s recent problems that grew out of religious conflict, old imperialism issues, oil, nation building and globalism.

It turns out that, of all places, the largest concentration of Southern Sudanese immigrants in the US is Omaha. They settled in an area near Pulaski Park, itself a former immigrant area settled by Poles in the early 20th century. It seems these Sudanese are perfectly suited for the game of basketball. One of them, Koang Duluony, was good enough to play for the Univ. of Indiana and, upon returning to Omaha after graduation, has mentored other Sudanese in learning the craft of basketball.sudanbb

They first used the public Pulaski Park court, though the neighbors did not like the constant action and noise and someone removed one of the baskets to prevent full court games. (It should also be noted that some vandalism occurred recently there with the removal of a plaque honoring a beloved favorite Polish son of the neighborhood-it has seen been replaced by a new one). The point here is that there is some tension in the community over the influx of these particular immigrants, though there have been issues with other immigrants throughout Omaha’s history.

Duluony has finally moved his group indoors to a defunct church gym that has been provided and sponsors the Talons, a club for South Sudanese players. They are being seen by all the major recruiters now and we should be hearing about the better ones in the next few years. It’s a nice story, with some of the NCAA issues thrown in to make it less Cinderella like.

In looking into immigration in Nebraska, I came upon the tiny town of Wilber, less than a hour’s drive to the southwest from Omaha. It was originally settled by Czechs from the Austrian Empire in 1865 (I would love to know the story there, as the Germans and Austrians were fighting over Bohemia at that time). It is still a major Czech town, having been granted the title, “Czech capitol of the US” by Ronald Reagan.

In the late 19th century, one Czech citizen was talented enough to study and play with Dvorak in Europe and taught and played in Nebraska in the latter part of his life. His name was August Molzer. Another Wilber family, the Karpiseks,e mail. Russ Karpisek, running for Legis., Dist. 32, of Wilber, Ne. started a processing/butcher store and that store still sells the best Czech wurst and meats after nearly a hundred years in existence. But, its most recent descendant has left the family business, married, had children, divorced, taken to politics, insurance and banking, and is apparently just another American at this point.


That brings us to Ben Sasse, junior senator from Nebraska only a couple years into his first term. He has been making the rounds and making a name, becoming an early and constant Never Trump adherent, writing a book about why Americans are losing their work ethic and, it seems to me, setting up a run in 2020.

I have enjoyed his television interviews, but deeper digging has left disappointing ore visible once the scratch gets through the veneer. He did introduce a term-limit bill to the Senate just after arrival, which, of course, went nowhere. He has little in his legislative resume, though he does favor pro-life positions, strong religious moral stands, is pro-gun and believes that every family should be tough on its children and teach them the value of hard labor. He thinks we need to focus on producing with our hands and not simply consuming. To quote his book, Americans “are a drifting and aimless people—awash in material goods and yet spiritually aching for meaning.” He recently wrote a column for the NYPost titled “It’s Time to Make Millennials Suffer”.

He’s one of those Republicans who favor self-reliance and sticking to your goals. He attended Harvard, a junior year at Oxford, Yale, St. Johns and was a university president. He has worked in the Bush administration in health policy and admin and I am very interested in watching where his morality lands on the upcoming vote on the new and less mean, though still very mean, Senate version of the BHCA.

Sasse touts his fifth-generation status, coming from German Lutheran immigrants who probably exited Germany about the same time as the Czechs came to Wilber. They proved hardworking farmers and have been the very fiber of Nebraska. His family certainly looks all-American.sassefamily Where will he fall on the immigration policies of the Trump term? He has only said that border security has not been a serious issue for both parties. Yet, immigration, both legal and not, has always been utilized by all those involved in Nebraska’s agriculture.

Tyson Foods, a huge provider of meat for America, has a very spotty record on immigration and use of immigrants in its plants. They have been prosecuted for bringing in illegal immigrants, have been sued for labor issues and are draconian in their treatment of employees in their chicken plants. We are finding this year is a difficult one for the agriculture sector, as labor is in short supply. In fact, it is in short supply in all the manual labor sectors in the States.

The issues of immigration are complicated. Just as the health care and its reform is very complicated. It’s time to have clear discussions for the public to see and from which to assess the solutions we need to move forward. We could take George Carlin’s assessment, but it is not very hopeful.


If you don’t build it, they will come….

Adam Gopnik on Jane Jacobs janejacobs

Citizen Jane: How post-war New York dealt with growth, race, gender, tradition and community. The wisdom of Jane Jacobs and her vision for the city and people of Manhattan.

Recently I have been musing on the issues surrounding gender and race and how they have positively impacted culture and what the United States has done in favor of and to limit the effects of both. Last week Charlie Rose interviewed the director and producer of a new film called “Citizen Jane”, which reveres the life and role Jane Jacobs had on the inner cities of America, but which also speak to gender and race with a new eye while engaging in the methods by which decisions are made in America and how the common man can be a part of those decisions.

I knew who she was from my own ventures into history, though, if you would have asked me who was the individual who took on Robert Moses when he wanted to remold Manhattan in the Post War, I would have been unable to pull up a name. We had enjoyed the Ken Burns series on the city of New York and I am a fan of Robert Caro’s book on Moses, which has its own life and history that now has further need of exploring based on this new view of history. There is also the positive look at Moses in the American Masters series that speaks to the conflict with Jacobs. It has always been one of the most intriguing aspects of history that it continues to change based on the way the contemporary composition of values puts on its history lens to look back at ‘the way it really was’. We are always so biased in what we find important and valuable to report.

Jane was one of those confrontational characters that is either viewed as a saint or a thorn, depending on ones bias, though I am one who is most happy that she was around and feel that we benefit greatly from her opposition to “progress”, that most value-laden of words. In fact, Mary and I, on our recent visit to Manhattan, enjoyed what Jane accomplished most when we wandered the Village on several afternoons and evenings, marveling at the survival of the old buildings that seem so out of place when juxtaposed to their neighbors to the tip of the Battery and towards the Park, which have grown up and which comprise some of our best examples of modern architecture. Too, this is partly due to geology, as this central area is not as conducive to holding up a huge building, but we must give Jane her due and consider her actions in the 50s and 60s, when America was speaking “urban renewal”, fins on cars, TV dinners, McDonalds and worshipping on the altar of obsolescence.

What I found intriguing and which connected my recent thoughts, generated from reading, viewing and musing, about the state of America in this Annus Horriblus, is that her quest was all the more important as a marker for historians to utilize. It was not a simple choice between making the city viable for the automobile in the Post War, it was also about the status and value of the woman’s voice and the attempt to solve the urban issues that had plagued mayors and government for decades; what can you do about immigrants, whether they are foreign or only those undesirable blacks who had moved north in Reconstruction and in the early 20th century. James Baldwin referred to Urban Renewal as Negro Removal. Then, as Ms. Jacobs was a female, she was denigrated for this fact and the opposition treated her position as one unworthy simply because of this fact.

It is remarkable that she was victorious, given that the overwhelming impetus of action and policy-making during this time was to ‘remake’ the culture of America. She was an anachronism and we could take lessons from her backward-looking visions, in my opinion, in this era of Uber, Amazon, Apple and Google running our lives. Too, the recent election in the Atlanta suburbs (a term that is also Post War and has its own timbre related to ‘progress’, race relations, a product of the automobile, educational issues and our present split in opinion about the direction of the country) is another statement about how Americans view solutions in this country.

As usual, when I delve into these topics, I have the linked distractions I experienced in my quick research for your further perusal. If you have the time, you may enjoy the articles by Adam Gopnik of the New Yorker, the YouTube clips that harken back to the earlier works on Ms. Jacobs, or the other authors who have opined on her impact. They are referenced and also listed at the bottom.

There is much to celebrate in what Jacobs accomplished and our present view of her is a positive one. Yet, even in her own time persons whom we might think should agree with her were critical of her efforts. Lewis Mumford, who spoke out against modernization in his own works and coined terms such as “megatechnics” of civilization, was certainly someone who was suspect of what was going on in America at the time and I love his philosophy. Still, he reviewed her book by calling it Mother Jacobs Home Remedies. Here is an excerpt from his article and critique referencing Jane Austen, which I love as we recently viewed some videos about Austen and I mused a bit on her, too. His critique refers to a Harvard talk that made Jacobs a star figure for some:

Whereas “Sense and Sensibility” could have been the title of her Harvard talk, what she sets forth in “The Death and Life of Great American Cities” comes close to deserving the secondary title of “Pride and Prejudice.” The shrewd critic of dehumanized housing and faulty design is still evident, and has applied some of her sharp observations and her municipal political experience to the analysis of urban activities as a whole. But this excellent clinical analyst has been joined by a character who has patched together out of bits and pieces of her local personal observations nothing less than a universal theory about the life and death of our great—by “great,” Mrs. Jacobs seems always to mean “big”—American cities. This new costume of theory, though not quite as airy as the Emperor’s clothes, exposes such large areas of naked unawareness that it devaluates Mrs. Jacobs’ many sound statements.

The recent New Yorker Adam Gopnik article is also measured, though mainly positive. Here are some of my favorite excerpts from the Gopnik article: these come from his references this opus magnus, “The Death and Life of Great American Cities”, which has never gone out of print. I have also placed my favorite excerpt from this book at the end of the article, in which Jacobs describes the very life of the streets in her wonderful turn of phrase.

From Gopnik’s article about the book and Jacobs

It makes connections among things which are like sudden illuminations, so that you exclaim in delight at not having noticed what was always there to see. 

We are disappointed to find that the self-taught are also self-centered, although a moment’s reflection should tell us that you have to be self-centered to become self-taught. 

Other insights remain evergreen: she shows that bad old buildings are as important to civic health as good old buildings, because, while the good old buildings get recycled upward, the bad ones prove to be a kind of urban mulch in which prospective new businesses can make a start.

555 Hudson Street, an address that, for certain students of American originals, has attained the status of Thoreau’s cabin at Walden

There is an excellent review written by Lloyd Rodwin in 1961 when Jacob’s book first came out that explains how and why Jacobs finds the segregation of cities by wealth repulsive. He explains her views on diversity, which she felt brought security, vibrancy and true life to the inner city. It is also interesting to note his opinions on her views at the time and measure them against our present time, more than 50 years later, when we are trying to make sense of our culture and the divisions that have been self-inflicted on so many levels. She loved the mix, the hubbub, the confluence of the strange with the comfortable which, for her, bred opportunity.

Her work promoted and contributed to other conflicts throughout America where Women’s Groups and others stood up to renewal in places like Savannah, the North End of Boston, Georgetown in Washington, Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia, the “Back of the Yards” in Chicago, and Telegraph Hill in San Francisco. It was the genesis of Historical and Preservation Societies throughout the country. It is a timely production and one to which I look forward.

The excerpt from “The Death and Life….” by Jane Jacobs:

Under the seeming disorder of the old city, wherever the old city is working successfully, is a marvelous order for maintaining the safety of the streets and the freedom of the city. It is a complex order. Its essence is intricacy of sidewalk use, bringing with it a constant succession of eyes. The order is all composed of movement and change, and although it is life, not art, we may fancifully call it the art form of the city and liken it to the dance . . . an intricate ballet in which the individual dancers and ensembles all have distinctive parts which miraculously reinforce each other and compose an orderly whole . . . Mr. Halpert unlocking the laundry’s handcart from its mooring to a cellar door, Joe Cornacchia’s son-in-law stacking out the empty crates from the delicatessen, the barber bringing out his sidewalk folding chair, Mr. Goldstein arranging the coils of wire which proclaim the hardware store is open, the wife of the tenement’s superintendent depositing her chunky three-year-old with a toy mandolin on the stoop, the vantage point from which he is learning the English that his mother cannot speak. . . . When I get home after work, the ballet is reaching its crescendo. This is the time of roller skates and stilts and tricycles, and games in the lee of the stoop with bottletops and plastic cowboys; this is the time of bundles and packages, zigzagging from the drug store to the fruit stand and back over to the butcher’s; this is the time when teen-agers, all dressed up, are pausing to ask if their slips show or their collars look right; this is the time when beautiful girls get out of MG’s; this is the time when fire engines go through; this is the time when anybody you know around Hudson Street will go by.”

Charlie Rose interview

Citizen Jane trailer

Review by Rodwin

Article by Adam Gopnik in the New Yorker

American Masters series

YouTube clip on Jane Jacobs

Ken Burns New York

Jane Jacobs reading from her book…

Macat Intro to the book in a great clip

Jane Jacobs Forum for a 50 Year Anniversary symposium in NY

Defenestration: Real, Imagined and Metaphorical

The inhabitants of Bohemian have provided much fodder for history and culture. Three times in history (actually four, but history focuses on only two as being important in the religious determination of the Czechs to charter their own course in power and decision-making and the last, in 1948, is clouded in mystery) those in power in Prague made a statement about the current state of affairs in the capital by throwing the opposition out of a window in the building where a meeting over who was the true authority was occurring.

The genesis of three of these arguments had to do with the tension between local politics and imperial power, with an emperor, a pope and the leaders of Prague involved in the disputes. The issues were over what is the truth, who controlled the money, where was the money best spent and what was morally the best way to rule and serve the people. Sound familiar? Recently Woody Barr posted an article that reminded me of these incidents. The article was by Rebecca Solnit which composed a fairytale-like story of a man who exceeded his Principles of Peter by such a breadth that he was now in free fall and about to land in a heap of dung. This is where the metaphor and reality brought me to this musing.

In concluding her article Rebecca described not a “defenestration” from the French, “out the window”, but a self-imposed “defenestration” where supposedly the person who has gone too far in exerting his power realizes he is outside of the boundary of reality and is admonished and removed from power. When he starts smelling the stint, he knows he’s returned to earth and reality and there is no where else to go but to the showers to wash off the dung and attempt to begin a cleanse course and rehabilitation.

Here is the concluding section from Rebecca’s article… “One way or another, he knows he has stepped off a cliff, pronounced himself king of the air, and is in freefall. Another dungheap awaits his landing; the dung is all his; when he plunges into it he will be, at last, a self-made man.”

We will return to this quote after a short history review that will cover four incidents, from the early 15th century up until the 20th century and then into our own present time. The Bohemians who are the object of these history stories, some of whom are now part of our own varied American culture, were very clear about how they interpreted the words in the Bible in the early 15th century (which at the time of the first incident was only written in Latin and only a very few people were literate and in possession of the power of interpretation). They were frustrated by what they felt was the immorality of actions allowed or taken by the clergy. Some civic and local church leaders took it upon themselves to assert their own clarification of proper demeanor and behavior, which ended up with the emissary of the emperor (who was the supporter of the Pope) being tossed out of the window in the first Defenestration in the 15th century. This led to their leader, Jan Huss, being burned at the state, his followers persecuted and hunted down, with some of them fleeing and seeking refuge elsewhere. Those ideas have never really been expunged completely, only reinterpreted as latter adherents took up the gauntlet of meaning and power. Some of those descendants even ended up in the colonies and became the forerunners of our Southern Baptists of today. There was another confrontation over religion later in the 1400s, but it was not as significant, and I only note it for citation’s sake.

The third incident, in 1618, kicked off what some historians call the true first world war, though most of it took place in German lands and therefore was not such a ‘world’ war. Yet, it did involve the Pope, the Holy Roman Emperor, Catholics, Protestants of a variety of denominations (some of whom fought alongside the Catholics), the Spanish, the English, Swedes, Dutch, French, the Three Musketeers, a bunch of different kinds of Italians, and, of course, the Bohemians and obliquely, the Turks.

The Bohemians were descendants of those earlier Hussites, though not exactly interpreting the Latin in the same way as the 15th century Bohemians. By the time of the beginning of what was to become known as the Thirty Years’ War in 1618, the Bible was by then reinterpreted in several languages: German, English and so on because of Martin Luther’s argument beginning in 1517, then picked up and altered by Henry VIII and added to by various other sects throughout Europe later in the 1500s, which was then carried across the water and continued by colonists in Massachusetts, Appalachia, Virginia, Minnesota, Missouri, etc. [It has, in fact, just been reinterpreted by the Southern Baptists this last week to update the language and make it relevant to our own time. An example of this is their new meaning applied to the term ‘brothers’ from Mark’s teaching, I believe, which has been updated to ‘brothers and sisters’….hmm…but I digress] Back to Prague and 1618.  LINK

In this argument, the Protestant leaders in Prague, who were subjects of the Holy Roman Emperor living in Vienna, took umbrage to the expectation that they follow the law of Vienna and chose to decide things locally. It led to that first landing in dung, as the meeting was taking place in the Royal Palace up on the hill above the Charles Bridge and above the River Moldau or River Vltava (depending on your language and loyalty) in Prague. The two emissaries were throw out of the window and fell a fairly long distance onto a pile of horse dung which often collected outside of dwellings in European cities at that time.Painting of The Defenestration of Prague Historians have pondered the fate of these two men, who apparently either were slowed down by their flowing robes, angels or the depth of the dung. One was later honored by the emperor and given the name “von Hohenfall”. It took thirty years to prosecute this argument, at the end of which nothing really changed in the new lands and everyone agreed that local power was mostly the best.

My point is that the issue of local freedom to decide vs. centralized power under a distant leader, and who should control laws, morality, money, etc. were the basis of the arguments…how little has changed. Keep in mind, too, that at about the same time, Elisabeth of England had recently died and the English allowed the Scottish king, James, to take over in London. This led to Puritans leaving for America, Catholics attacking Parliament and a whole rash of problems that we are still sorting. We even have a Shakespearian play being staged in Central Park in Manhattan being attacked by the Right for its portrayal of #45 as Julius Caesar, whom Shakespeare metaphorically used to describe his own time (1599) to demonstrate how difficult it is to force change in the political process. Beware of what you wish for. Shakespeare-in-the-parkAlso, learn a little history and literature and the meaning of metaphor before you pop off. It’s nice if you read occasionally to gain some nuance. Now, back to that free falling body of a dung-clinging aspirant.

masarykThe last of the Prague incidents occurred when Jan Masaryk fell to his death in 1948 shortly after the Communists took power at the beginning of the Cold War. Historians are not sure of what happened, a suicide was reported by the Communists, who had just taken power and who started a four-decades-long control over the Czechs and Slovaks. Masaryk is one of the true heroes of history and a great liberal and humanist, but sadly sometimes buffoons are better remembered than heroes.

If you analyze Rebecca’s conclusion: “One way or another, he knows he has stepped off a cliff, pronounced himself king of the air, and is in freefall. Another dungheap awaits his landing; the dung is all his; when he plunges into it he will be, at last, a self-made man.”

Ask these questions as we utilize what we have learned in the last year or so about #45 and especially since Inauguration Day:

  1. Will he ever know he has stepped off a cliff?
  2. What portion of the populace knows that he is only a “king of the air” and what that means?
  3. What will the real dungheap be that stops the fall? Will it be a resignation, impeachment, Article 25, none-of-the-above or a stint on a new cable program where he endlessly offers a government in exile to those who foment anger, hatred, misogyny, homophobia, xenophobia and a bit of that good ol’ “Christian” morality?
  4. Finally, will history ever grant #45 the true title that accompanies a person who claims the moniker “self-made man”? This term, when applied to #45 has a very negative connotation when I put together my own view of him.

Have a great day…it’s sunny and in the 70s in Northeast Harbor for us today.


From Doll’s House to Wonder Woman to a detour to Nigeria and Harvard: What do Jane Austen, Henrik Ibsen, Big Bang Theory, Wonder Woman and Hafsat Abiola have in common?

The status of progressive, liberal ideas are not meshing well with a portion of the populace here in America of late. The current administration weathered a contentious campaign, one that the Left accused of misogyny for any number of incidents. Misogyny, as a word, has also recently been revisited in this cultural/historical context , especially since so many incidents involving it have occurred, that this musing relates to its exploration and to that of the plight of feminists over time.

As I recently had a post with a slight nod to Jane Austen in my Lucy Worsley segment, I will make some reference to Ms. Austen’s perspectives on the place of gender and the disadvantaged life of a female in England in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.  But, two cultural events have occurred recently that I will discuss, as they are each examples of their own of revisiting earlier narratives of gender issues in literature. What is fascinating to me as an historian, is that each was originally voiced in time periods very different  from our present one, but deal with issues that needed to be brought to light when the author addressed them, one in the late 19th century and the other in the mid-20th century, but, today’s versions are relevant also because gender issues are still very provocative in today’s world.

I am speaking about Nora, in A Doll’s House and Wonder Woman. Then, after looking at the recent musing that involved Jane Austen’s work, let’s overlap the discussion with a little of today’s Archie Bunker kids, those on the Big Bang Theory series. Finally, a recent airing of a documentary directed by a female director, Joanna Lipper, called The Supreme Price, brought out the issue of gender and the concept of heroism, in the very real world. From what I have learned of Hafsat Abiola, she has sacrificed much in the pursuit of the common good and to advance the status of women in her country and she deserves our continued attention.

As we know, Jane Austen portrayed the rural life of England as one that, for a female, revolved around class, connections and a good marriage. Women in her time were not given rights, opportunity to inherit property and were subject to the will of the men in their lives. England was in one of the more progressive countries of the early 19th century, but a country that never-the-less accumulated a dismal record of resisting reforms aimed at giving females more countenance and importance in society, where they could assume free choice in their lives and be given support for such decisions by society.

In the latter half of that century in Europe Henrik Ibsen used his pen to describe the circumstances of Norway’s disenfranchised and shackled individuals. His narratives spoke to any person’s loss of liberty, but he was especially profound in his work, The Doll’s House, again with the focus on gender issues. Nora slamming the door on her life, her husband, her children, reverberated throughout Europe and beyond and greatly shocked the public of 1879. Much has been discussed about the play and that moment in universities since that time, too. Now there is a new play, The Doll’s House, Part II. 28DOLLHOUSE-master768How should we view this new play? The first play was meant for an 1879 audience. Is this new one?…of course not, it is meant for 2017. Does that mean it is really connected to the original author and to his intent? Would Nora, now returning after a fifteen year absence to her former home, where she confronts and is confronted by her husband, her children, the maid and the life she left behind find satisfaction? What judgments should be make, what are fair judgments to be made, was the author, Lucas Hnath, correct in his decision to make Nora a successful writer? She could have, in the restrictive society of 1879 Norway, just as easily ended up a prostitute or working dismal hours in a dismal factory. Yet, the circumstances he presents us shows that life is complicated. Nora did get to act on her convictions. But, there is still a price, as life’s choices often have such accompanying them.

Then, last weekend a new film opened with a female heroine, Wonder Woman.american-scholar-image-pg.-85_custom-74cb4b0d9cb7050d3540e16691094402dc991fa0-s300-c85 She was presented in the 1940s and later with Linda Carter. The heroine originated as a story in 1941 off the pen of William Moulton Marston. He was a fascinating figure, as he was married, had a mistress, loved feminism and apparently erotic pin-up figures. Marston’s figure shares much with the 2017 version, though the film version’s central character’s naiveté, resulting from a lifetime absent of males and committed to an ideological philosophy of life, is tested by the real world.

The modern Wonder Woman is unique in that it was directed by a female and is making a ton of money. Mary and I were not so impressed with it as a narrative piece, nor for its editing or much else. We love Chris Pine, but he was not developed so well as a character and the disjunct relationship between to two leads found them on separate planes, different courses and wondering if they  belonged in the same movie. Yet, with Rottentomatoes judging it at 93% and some Academy voting opining that perhaps it was Oscar-worthy, who are we to judge. Was the feminist expectations in the original 1941 Wonder Woman unrealistic and those of today’s heroine equally as unrealizable in today’s world. We didn’t feel many questions were asked of us as an audience and I am not particularly looking forward to Wonder Woman, Part 2, even though they set up the sequel, for sure.

The Big Bang Theory reference was to a comment made by Bernadette to Howard when, during their courtship and impending engagement the question of children came up. Bernadette had a very strong aversion to the little suckers. She let that be known and Howard was not sure if that was a deal-breaker. Bernadette came up with the solution, though, as she was the larger breadwinner, Howard wanted children and why didn’t he stay home and raise them. Nora should have had such an option in 1879…or was that what Ibsen was getting at?

My real heroine came from the last film I listed, The Supreme Price. This linked clip is worth fifteen minutes. GV-TheSupremePrice_1-crop-321x150Young Ms. Abiola was raised in Nigeria in privilege, in a family where her father had many wives and concubines and Hafsat had 55 or 56 half-siblings. She is from the Muslim region of Nigeria and her successful father and mother wished her to be educated, as her mother, who for many reasons did not get the opportunity, made sure her daughter was going to go to university. Her father, who had his own multi-mothered, half-sibling upbringing, was sharp enough to get elected head of Nigeria in the 1990s, only to denied power by the military. At that time, while he was arrested, Hafsat’s mother assumed the position as spokesperson for liberty and the voice of democracy while her husband was incarcerated. Hafsat had, up to this time, been pursuing that education, first at Phillip’s Academy and then, when her father was arrested, at Harvard. It was there, in Boston, that Hafsat started her journey to sacrificing for the common good.

What triggered this path was other students on campus approaching her on their own mission, that of advocates for justice and democracy, and with the hope of freeing a political prisoner. They approached her on the quad seeking her support on a petition about a Nigerian individual they felt wrongly arrested and denied his place at the head of the government. Hafsat broke into tears, explaining that it was her father for whom they had initiated their campaign. From then on she has been heavily invested in Nigerian democracy and women’s rights. It is a fascinating story. Her mother was killed on the way to Hafsat’s graduation and her father soon thereafter died of a mysterious illness in prison. The film is riveting, but the article about her story is almost as good. This one, too.

Gender issues have become much more apparent and public, though the pushback seems equally robust. Some countries allow harsh punishment to those females who try to break free. Even in the US we find quarters where the voice of gender is drowned out. Historians will surely judge gender a significant issue in the 2016 election. Can’t wait for the next installment on stage, film or in book form. Step by small step it goes.


Life’s bumps, bruises, opportunities and strange links to growth

Music is a wonderful salve to help us express, heal or speak with our emotional voice. In wandering the news this morning, it was the link that showed Ravi and Anoushka Shankar playing together in the late 90s that was the genesis of this musing. As an old Baby Boomer, I have enjoyed the connections forged when the Beatles’ George Harrison was drawn towards Eastern music and the work of Ravi Shankar. This movement has only grown and fostered such wonderful global moments, like the Silk Road Ensemble with Yo Yo Ma and the blending and appreciation we all benefit from when ideas and cultures pollinate. From the father/daughter concert, here are some links and thoughts for you to ponder.

George Harrison with Ravi Shankar, at Harrison’s last interview talking about friends, philosophy and music…LINK

Consider Ravi Shankar’s relationship with Sue Jones, after he was brought into the American public through his Beatle connection and became a worldwide star, led to the birth of Geethali Norah Jones Shankar in 1979 and an initial bumpy ride for that child. The grown up Geethali will adopt the name Norah Jones, reconcile with her father and befriend her half-sister, Anoushka, and collaborate on some work together LINK  When their father died in Southern California, where he had lived for the last part of his life at the retreat in Encinitas, the two came together for the funeral and later accepted his lifetime achievement award.

There is an interesting article in the Hindustan Times that traces Norah Jone’s birth to accepting the Lifetime Achievement Award with her half sister which I found interesting LINK

Enjoy the music links…

Ravi and Anoushka Shankar

Interview with Harrison

Anoushka and Nora

Lifetime Achievement

Anoushka and others, including Sting

Hindustan article