Nov 30, 2007

Leeland Eisenberg, Clinton Campaign Office Hostage Suspect

Leeland Eisenberg, showing reporters how he found a warning notice in his vehicle that was left behind by a Rochester police officerLeft: AP photo of Leeland Eisenberg, showing reporters how he found a warning notice in his vehicle that was left behind by a Rochester police officer in March 2007

Leeland Eisenberg, who held at least five campaign workers hostage this afternoon at a Hillary Clinton campaign office in Rochester, NH, surrendered to police at 6:15 this evening. Cable news caught live the arrest with Eisenberg, in a white shirt and red tie, emerging from the building, dropping to his knees, then being handcuffed and whisked away.

The 46-year-old Eisenberg, who lives in Somersworth, NH, was scheduled to appear at Strafford County Superior Court at 1:30 p.m. today with his wife Lisa (Warren) Eisenberg for a final domestic violence hearing.

From the Rochester Times:
Divorce papers filed on Nov. 27 indicated Eisenberg was arrested and charged with criminal mischief, domestic related, and violation of a protective order. In the papers, Warren said the divorce was a result irreconcilable differences and complained that Eisenberg suffered from "severe alcohol and drug abuse, several verbal abuse and threats."
Eisenberg filed suit in 2002 against the Archdiocese of Boston, alleging that he was sexually abused by a Catholic priest. The lawsuit filings indicate that Leeland Eli Eisenberg was a 21-year-old homeless man, living in abandoned cars, when he was purportedly molested on numerous occasions by the priest.

The documents also list an alias for Eisenberg of Ralph E. Woodward, Jr. Court documents from Massachusetts also describe Leeland Eisenberg as an inmate at the Massachusetts Department of Corrections facility in Bridgewater, MA in 1999.

Leeland Eisenberg was also arrested on a DUI charge 11 June 2007.

Eisenberg told hostage negotiators today that he wanted to contact Senator Clinton to complain about his mental-health treatment. Eisenberg also reportedly called CNN during the standoff and and talked to network staffers.

There is still no word from media or government sources on the mystery over earlier reports providing two different names - Troy Alan Stanley and Leeland Eisenberg - as the possible suspect. The information attributed to the people identified as relatives of a Troy Alan Stanley coincides with what is known about Eisenberg, who reportedly has used a number of aliases in the past.

Eisenberg got into an argument with local police in March over their efforts to place warning flyers in unlocked cars, which police commenced in order to reduce auto thefts. The flyers reminded targeted individuals to make sure that they locked their car doors. Eisenberg complained that the campaign was a violation of property rights and was in conflict with the Fourth Amendment, which guards against illegal searches and seizures.

"It's an outrage, it's an absolute outrage," Eisenberg told WMUR television, adding that he planned to demand that state and federal authorities investigate the Rochester police. "That's a crime. They violated my civil rights and the rights of many citizens in this city that are not even aware of it."

Rochester resident Melissa Picard took issue with the "antics" of Eisenberg, and defended the local police in a 20 March 2007 letter to the Foster's Daily Democrat:

Rochester police get slap in the face

To the editor:

The Rochester Police Department was trying to be proactive and help the citizen’s of Rochester from thieves and what they got was a slap in the face.

For every minute that Capt. Dumas has to spend dealing with the antics of Leeland Eisenberg it is one less minute he has to spend helping someone with something important. Mr. Eisenberg is wasting the time and the money of the taxpayers.

Police officers risk their life every day helping people, and to make them question if they should put a piece of paper in a car is just wrong.

Why can’t people focus on the important things?

Melissa Picard


Clinton Campaign Hostage Suspect: Troy Alan Stanley or Leeland Eisenberg?

SWAT team members outside Hillary Clinton's campaign office in Rochester, N.H., where a man named Troy ALan Stanley has taken hostages and claims to be strapped with a bombLeft: AP photo of SWAT team members outside Hillary Clinton's campaign office in Rochester, N.H., where a man named Troy Alan Stanley took as many as five hostages and claimed to be strapped with a bomb

The network news and the blogosphere are abuzz with the story out of Rochester, New Hampshire, in which a mentally ill man named Troy Alan Stanley took as many as five people hostage in the New Hampshire campaign office of Hilary Clinton.

The 44-year-old Stanley apparently has suffered a number of personal crises in recent months, including a divorce and the death of a close friend, who may have been a local real estate agent. Reports indicate that Stanley also has been living in the woods outside of downtown Rochester, and claims that the government has placed an electronic chip in his head.

Stanley apparently walked into the campaign office and announced that he was taking hostages, displaying what he claimed was a bomb duct-taped to his torso. A man identified as Troy Stanley, Jr., the suspect's son, said that his father only has road flares taped to his body, and Stanley reportedly told his son to "watch the news today".

Police waiting in Rochester, NH after a man named Troy Alan Stanley wearing what he claimed to be a bomb walked into a Hillary Rodham Clinton campaign office Friday and initially took at least five hostagesLeft: AP photo of police waiting in Rochester, NH on hostage suspect Troy Alan Stanley

The only demand Stanley has reportedly given so far is a request to speak with Senator Clinton. Reports indicate that at least three hostages have been released, one of whom was described as young child.

MSNBC, however, is reporting that the suspect is actually 46-year-old Leland Eisenberg and not Troy Stanley. It is not known if Leland Eisenberg is an alias of Troy Stanley, or if this is an altogether different suspect. The Rochester, NH police blog lists a Leeland Eisenberg, age 46, of Somersworth as being charged with two counts of stalking on 6 April 2007.

A man named Arnold Bennett, who claimed to be a longtime friend of Stanley, told FOX News that the suspect espoused Libertarian philosophies and often discussed "crazy" political conspiracies. A family member told a FOX News reporter that"Stanley had been on a 72-hour drinking binge" before the hostage incident.

FOX News reported that Stanley's ex-wife told police that the suspect is a "diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic" who has been prescribed lithium, and who has not been taking his medication for some time now. Stanley was arrested on 6 November 2007 by Rochester police on a bench warrant for disorderly conduct. Stanley was also charged with criminal trespass and obstructing government administration on 14 August 2007.

This item also appeared in the Barrington, NH police log 7 July 2007:
Troy A. Stanley, 44, of 201 Sofield Apartments, Rochester was charged with suspended registration and driving after revocation or suspension at 12:56 p.m. on July 27. He will appear Sept. 14 in Rochester District Court.

On Things We Can Learn From Dogs

Left: Eddie Haskell, my 2-year-old Puggle

I have been acquainted with many dogs in my life, and I can say that I have yet to meet a dog that did not have at least some redeeming qualities. I should add that every dog, in my humble opinion, is a creature capable of modeling vituous behavior.

Unlike some humans, truth be told.

Here, then, is a list of characteristics that most dogs exemplify, and from which we humans could take a few lessons. If more of us acted like our dogs, I suspect that the world would be a better place.

Show affection to those around you. When I return home after even a short errand, my dogs greet me at the door with joy and love. Even though I might be in the foulest of moods, I cannot help but be cheered by the canine love-fest that awaits me.

Loyalty is a virtue. Yes, dogs will tolerate almost any environment, but the strong bond dogs exhibit toward their masters should be a reminder that loyalty is an important trait to cultivate.

Take time to play. Dogs sometimes find inappropriate mechanisms by which they engage in play, such as chewing on furniture, the bathroom vanities, or sneaking out of the backyard, but they can model for us that personal happiness requires regular participation in enjoyable activities.

When you are tired, take a nap. Seems like common-sense advice to me, yet I often find myself pushing myself to the point of mental and physical exhaustion when I would be much better off by simply closing my eyes and recharging my body and mind.

There is much that is fascinating in the world. Humans are creatures who would become bored with a satellite dish that can produce only 300 stations, while dogs can be content chewing a tree branch. While I am not suggesting that we exercise our molars on pieces of dead oak, I do think that we could emulate dogs in their sense of wonderment and their ability to enjoy the moment.

Squirrels are evil, and vigilance must be the word of the day against this rodential menace. If al-Qaeda members could take an animal form, there is little doubt that they would choose that of the squirrel. Actually, my dogs told me to type this, as they are currently barking in unison at a devious-looking member of the Sciuridae family that is plotting mischief near my bird feeders.

Nov 29, 2007

On Pedro de Cieza de León, Fossils, and a Race of Giants

Left: Human femur; Right: Fossil femur of the Pleistocene elephant Palaeoloxodon antiquus

Following on the heels of Spanish conquistadores and adventurers in the Americas was a significant number of fellow Crown subjects who – for a variety of motives – hoped to provide accounts of these unprecedented events. Among these chroniclers was Pedro de Cieza de León, the son of a minor Extremaduran merchant who had connections to the Castilian court. Few writers of the early period of Spanish conquest retain as much respect among modern historians as Cieza de León, whose straightforward style and simple prose camouflaged the sharp-eyed analysis and detached ethnography lurking in the thousands of pages of material he composed.

I came across a fascinating chapter in Cieza de León's Crónicas dedicated to a Peruvian myth of the appearance of giant beings on the Pacific coast. The passage provides insight into the ways in which early modern thinkers understood natural history, and how the natural world affects the human myth-making process.

The keen-eyed Cieza de León - despite his historical reputation as a reliable source - remained solidly a man of the sixteenth century in his understanding of the natural world. The author heard from a variety of Spanish and native sources that a race of giants once landed on the coast of Punta Santa Elena, which is located west of modern-day Guayaquil, Ecuador. Cieza de León noted that he ignored the exaggerated stories “current among the vulgar,” instead parsing together the origin of the myth of Peruvian giants from reliable indigenous sources.

The purported giants, noted Cieza de León, arrived on the shore in “boats made of reeds, as big as large ships.” The giants were “men of such size that, from the knee downwards, their height was as great as the entire height of an ordinary man,” and these gargantuan interlopers had eyes the size of “small plates.” Possessing appetites to match their immense stature, the giants were such voracious eaters that “one of them ate more meat than fifty of the natives of the country could.”

Ever the dedicated collector of information about sexual practices in Peru, Cieza de León also learned that the giants angered the indigenous peoples because “in using their [Peruvian] women, they killed them, and the men also in another way;” the invading behemoths, it appears, were bisexual in their wanton desires for the peoples of coastal Santa Elena, and the horror of leviathan-rape ended only when – in Sodom-like fashion – a “terrible fire came down from heaven with a great noise.” Cieza de León recorded that the fossilized bones that remained were left as a “memorial of this punishment,” ostensibly to prevent another return of the oversexed titans from the Pacific.

Readers of the work of this sixteenth century chronicler will find the chapter on the giants of Punta Santa Elena to be a fascinating example of early modern thinkers coming to grips with puzzling paleontological evidence. Evolutionary theory was, of course, centuries away in human history, and Cieza de León possessed only Biblical and classical explanations for the presence of large objects that looked like enormous examples of the skeletal remains of known creatures.

Nov 28, 2007

Rapid Rhetoric: RAMELLOSE

Raphael's depiction of Plato defining the difference between true and false rhetoric This is an irregular feature - both in frequency and oddness - dedicated to a word I came across that I have never previously used.

ramellose (RAH-meh-lohs) adj. (botany) bearing small branches; pertaining to small branches.

"Ramellose" comes to the English language via the Latin word ramus ("branch"), and the diminuitive form ramellus ("small branch").

I have been able to find little else about this word beyond its narrow botanical uses, except that it has been used in the Scripps-Howard Spelling Bee several times. Ramellose appears to be one of those words that is only used by the hyper-literate, or those who wish to use obscure words as a form of intellectual intimidation.

Thus, I suggest that we either begin to find unique ways to fit the word "ramellose" into new meanings ("Percy's nose hairs began to etxend downward in a disturbingly ramellose fashion"), or that we pack our camping gear and then take this under-utilized word and heave it into the river.

Nov 27, 2007

Quirky Websites: Bus Plunge!

The Quirky Website of the Week is a regular feature on this site. Feel free to recommend other quirky websites in the Comments section.

Yes, we have all seen at least a few examples of the journalistic morbidity known as the "bus plunge," but the website known as Bus Plunge! collects all these stories and photos in one place, where web surfers can get their fill of bus plungery.

The site also provides examples of "Un-Plunges," in which buses do not actually plunge, but partake in dangerous activities like colliding with giraffes. True, for the surviving victims of a bus plunge the event is likely a traumatic memory, but for the rest of us, bus plunging makes for darned good entertainment.

The Quote Shelf

Medieval text with Latin script A frequent feature on this site; feel free to comment on the quote or to supply a competing quote.

It is not easy to find happiness in ourselves, and it is not possible to find it elsewhere. -- Agnes Repplier

Nov 26, 2007

Rapid Rhetoric: JACQUERIE

Raphael's depiction of Plato defining the difference between true and false rhetoric This is an irregular feature - both in frequency and oddness - dedicated to a word I came across that I have never previously used.

jacquerie (zhah-keh-REE) n. a peasant revolt; (capitalized) the 1359 peasant uprising against noble landlords.

Derived from the Old French word jacquerie ("peasantry"), the 1358 rebellion involved tens of thousands of peasants angry over being forced to pay higher taxes amidst the government's inability to protect the peasantry from marauding criminals and mercenaries during the Hundred Years' War.

The term jacquerie has its origin in the name "Jacques," as nobles were in the habit of referring to all peasants with this common name, much like we might use the name "Joe Six-Pack" today. French chronicler Jean Froissart provided a lengthy passage on the 1358 Jacquerie in his Chronicles:
Not long after the King of Navarre had been set free, there were very strange and terrible happenings in several parts of the kingdom of France. They occurred in the region of Beauvais, in Brie and on the Marne, in Valois, in Laonnais, in the fief of Coucy and round Soissons. They began when some of the men from the country towns came together in the Beauvais region. They had no leaders and at first they numbered scarcely a hundred. One of them got up and said that the nobility of France, knights and squires, were disgracing and betraying the realm, and that it would be a good thing if they were all destroyed. At this they all shouted: "He's right! He's right! Same on any man who saves the gentry from being wiped out!"

They banded together at went off, without further deliberation and unarmed except for pikes and knives, to the house of a knight who lived near by. They broke in and killed the knight, with his lady and his children, big and small, and set fire to the house. Next they went to another castle and did much worse; for, having seized the knight and bound him securely to a post, several of them violated his wife and daughter before his eyes. Then they killed the wife, who was pregnant, and the daughter and all the other children, and finally put the knight to death with great cruelty and burned and razed the castle.

Nov 25, 2007

On Information Access and Wikipedia Addiction

I just spent 45 minutes creating a Wikipedia article on the Incan structures known as tambos to replace a poorly-written predecessor. While the topic is one in which I have developed a bit of expertise based upon my recent research, I have to confess that my interest in Wikipedia borders on the obsessive.

Now, I do not go out of my way to create Wikipedia pages, but when I come across what appears to me to be a glaring hole in the knowledge base of the site, I feel a compulsion to weigh in on the topic. Thus, instead of spending that time working on the 30-page essay that is only tangentially related to the topic of tambos, I felt the burning need to bring this obscure word to a global audience.

It would be simple to dismiss this as an exercise in vanity, and I admit that my ego sometimes causes me to broadcast my expertise in a few narrow subjects. Yet there is something disturbing to me when I come across a Wikipedia article rife with factual and grammatical errors, or which possesses biased viewpoints that harm the integrity of the information.

I see Wikipedia and similar sites as performing a function that borders on the sacred: to collect the accumulated knowledge of the billions of human beings who inhabit the planet, and to provide access of this vast store of knowledge to everyone with Internet access.

In short, Wikipedia represents the global democratization of information.

Thus, despite my seeming inability to visit a Wikipedia page without adding or improving page material, I think that this obsessiveness at least offers some redeeming virtues. The world's accumulation of knowledge increases by a tiny amount, I get the opportunity to unload some of the excess trivia in my head, and somewhere a few Wikipedia readers will find the answers to questions they have about tambos.

Nov 24, 2007

Tips On Writing a Research Paper

The genre of writing a research paper has its own unwritten rules and unique quirks, and those who partake in this type of writing should be aware of what some of these are. In this post I offer a few ideas on how to successfully complete a research paper, whether in an academic, business, or organizational setting.

I have worked for a number of years as a writing tutor and a freelance editor, and have observed firsthand some of the typical problems writers of research papers encounter. Below are some suggestions to help you along with the process; be sure to pass them along if you found them useful (links are always appreciated).

1. Before writing, read, read, and read. As the writer of a research paper, you are exected to be an expert, and the only way to become an expert is by becoming thoroughly familiar with the literature related to your topic. Unfortunately, there are few shortcuts to this step, so if you landed on this page looking for advice on a paper due tomorrow, I suggest that you ask for an extension.

2. Argue something. Yes, the paper is supposed to express your research, but a well-written research paper has an identifiable thesis and includes arguments that support that thesis. If you cannot think of a position to argue, you either need to read more, to develop a spine, or pick a topic that better interests you.

3. Develop an outline and stick to it. Few writers are able to juggle dozens of references and thousands of words of text in their heads, and those who claim to be able to do so are either geniuses or liars. Outlines help you stay organized, and also keep you from drifting into writing that is irrelevant to your topic.

4. Work in an environment conducive to writing. While you do not necessarily need to invest in expensive maxim lighting, your workspace should be free from distractions, have comfortable seating, and should be equipped with everything you need to be successful.

5. Break up your paper into smaller chunks. The idea of a 10-page or 20-page paper sends some writers into panic mode, so try to conceive of a longer paper as a series of short essays that are interrelated. If you are writing a 15-page paper on, for example, the causes of the First World War, you might think of 3-page essays on the topics of militarism, imperialism, nationalism, alliances, and crazed Serbian assassins. As you complete each smaller section, remember to tie the sections together with subheadings or transitional text.

6. Work on your paper every day until it is completed. The term "work" is, of course, used in a relative sense. Reading literature on your topic is work, and so is typing your bibliography or title pages. Writers get into trouble when they try to cram everything into one night, and I look skeptically at writers who claim that "I do my best work when I am under a deadline." W-R-O-N-G. You do your best writing when you know your topic, when you are comfortable and relaxed, and when you have confidence in your abilities - none of these applies to the pressure cooker that is the looming deadline.

Pedro de Cieza de León, Soldier-Scholar

Front cover of 1553 edition of Chronica del Perú by Pedro de Cieza de LeónThe following is an excerpt of some research in which I am currently involved. Feel free to offer feedback, comments, suggestions, or free tickets to the Hannah Montana tour.

Left: Front cover of 1553 edition of Chronica del Perú by Pedro de Cieza de León

Following on the heels of Spanish conquistadores and adventurers in the Americas was a significant number of fellow Crown subjects who – for a variety of motives – hoped to provide accounts of these unprecedented events. Among these chroniclers was Pedro de Cieza de León, the son of a minor Extremaduran merchant who had connections to the Castilian court. Few writers of the early period of Spanish conquest retain as much respect among modern historians as Cieza de León, whose straightforward style and simple prose camouflaged the sharp-eyed analysis and detached ethnography lurking in the thousands of pages of material he composed.

This essay examines the writings and historical legacy of Cieza de León within the context of several perspectives. The attitudes of Cieza de León toward natural phenomena he encountered in the Americas are the first subject of inquiry. Elements of early modern humanism that creep into Cieza de León’s writing are next examined, and the essay concludes with an analysis of the views of Cieza de León with regard to the indigenous peoples who inhabited the lands through which he traveled.

The secondary literature on Pedro de Cieza de León is relatively limited, and such commentary that exists consists mainly of brief introductions to translations of his works. Part of the reason for this paucity of secondary sources is due to the fact that there is little material in the documentary record on the life of Cieza de León beyond his own writings. Yet one might convincingly argue that Cieza de León has been overlooked by biographers and literary critics, his work remaining obscure beyond the narrow circle of colonial Peruvian historians, while chroniclers such as Bartolomé de las Casas have been the subject of a wide variety of biographical and analytical texts.

Then again, the works of Cieza de León fell into obscurity after a brief period of popularity in the mid- to late-sixteenth century, and with William Prescott’s considerable use of Cieza de León’s Crónicas in his History of the Conquest of Peru, the historical reputation of Cieza de León as an authoritative source on pre-conquest Peru and the first decades of Spanish domination of the former Incan Empire began to rise. It was not until Clements Markham began translating the Cieza de León texts in the nineteenth century, though, that historians began to appreciate the soldier-scholar.

Pedro de Cieza de León was likely born in 1520 in Llerena, a town in southeastern Extremadura. Little is known of his early life; given the fact that he left home at age thirteen, Cook argued that it is doubtful that Cieza de León received more than a rudimentary education at a local parish school. His father, Lope de León, was a shopkeeper in the town, and his mother was a native of Llerena, and there is scant documentary evidence of the young Cieza de León’s childhood. Von Hagen postulated that the poor soil of “this bald and eroded land” was one of the reasons that Extremadura seemed to be the birthplace of so many New World conquistadores. Still, the lure of the reputed vast wealth of the newly discovered lands would have likely served as a magnet to impoverished young men irrespective of the relative fertility of the Extremaduran soil.

Map depicting expansion of Incan Empire from 1438 to 1527Left: Map depicting expansion of Incan Empire from 1438 to 1527

It appears that Cieza de León began his journey to the Americas aboard a ship referred to in the Asientos de Pasajeros as “the vessel of Cifuentes.” The date of departure was listed as 2 April 1535, and von Hagen provided the text of the brief entry delineating Cieza de León’s passage to the New World:
Pedro de León, son of Lope de León and of Leonor de Cazalla, citizens of Llerena, sailed with Juan del Junco to Cartagena in the vessel of Cifuentes; Rodrgo Pérez and Luis de Llerena swore that he is not one of the forbidden ones.
After arriving in Cartagena, Cieza de León joined an expedition headed by Pedro de Heredia that raided native tombs in Cenú. Likely working initially as a page to one of the expedition’s officers, Cieza de León was duly impressed with the quantity of gold being harvested from Cenú gravesites:
Some of them [native tombs] were so ancient, that there were tall trees growing on them, and they got more than a million from these sepulchers, besides what the Indians took, and what was lost in the ground. In other parts great treasure has been, and is every day, found in the tombs.
Cieza de León was next assigned to an expedition headed by Alonso de Cáceres that was created to subdue the indigenous peoples of the Urabá Gulf region. Von Hagen noted that it was during this period that the young Cieza de León began taking “mental notes” of the peoples, practices, and landscapes he encountered. Cieza de León observed that the region was unhealthy for his compatriots, though he placed the blame for illness and death on the food choices of the hungry conquistadores:
But the province is covered with dense forest in many parts, and the plains are full of very large palm trees with thick bark, and bearing large palmitos, which are white and very sweet. When the Spaniards explored this country, in the time when Alonzo Lopes de Alaya was lieutenant to the governor of this city, they ate nothing for many days except these palmitos. The wood is so hard and difficult to cut, that it took a man half a day before he could cut a tree down and get the palmitos, which they ate without bread, and drank much water, so that many Spaniards died.
After helping to found the cities of Antioquía and Cartago, Cieza de León spent the six years from 1541-46 in and around the Cartago region. Von Hagen wrote that it was during this period of a relatively settled state that Cieza de León began the process of writing his Crónicas. Cieza de León described his primary motivation for beginning what would become the largest part of his life’s work, the Crónicas:
The first [consideration] was, that in all the parts I had been, no one was engaged in writing anything concerning what had occurred; and time destroys the memories of events in such sort that soon there is no knowledge of what has passed.
Cieza de León’s six-year career as an encomendero came to an abrupt end with the arrival and enforcement of the royal proclamation containing the “New Laws”, which were ostensibly designed to protect indigenous peoples but which instead fomented a period of civil war between the some of the encomenderos and representatives of the Spanish monarchy. Cieza de León wound up fighting with the royalist forces, and participated in many of the major battles led by Pedro de la Gasca. It was during this time that the budding scholar came to the attention of the influential La Gasca, who would become the acting Viceroy of Peru. Impressed with Cieza de León’s work, La Gasca appointed him to the position of Cronista de Indias, a position he held until he turned in his manuscripts to royal authorities in July 1550. After obtaining clearance from the Audiencia of Lima, Cieza de León returned to Seville in 1551.

Pedro de la Gasca, Spanish bishop, diplomat, and the second (acting) viceroy of PeruLeft: Pedro de la Gasca, Spanish bishop, diplomat, and the second (acting) viceroy of Peru

Yet Cieza de León did not live to profit from his fifteen-year project to document the history of Peru, and the few years he spent back in Spain were filled with tragedy. His young bride Isabella, who Pedro married immediately after his 1551 return, died of unknown causes in 1554, and the author himself died six weeks later; only the Primera Parte had been printed. The task of seeing the rest of the Crónicas to print fell to Cieza de León’s brother, and the manuscripts became lost in a bureaucratic maze.

Ultimately, much of Parts Two, Three, and Four of the Crónicas wound up being incorporated – often line-for-line – in a multi-volume collection by court historian Antonio de Herrera y Tordesillas entitled Historia General de los Hechos de los Castellanos en las Islas y Tierra Firme del Mar Océano.

Since the rediscovery process of Cieza de León’s works began in the nineteenth century, historians have poured praise upon the soldier-scholar. Prescott expressed his appreciation of the “great comprehensiveness of mind” of Cieza de León, commending his “highly respectable, sometimes even rich and picturesque” literary style. Markham lauded Cieza de León as “the most important historian, and is now the best authority, on ancient Peru,” and added that the chronicler was “an intelligent observer, humane and conscientious, striving after impartiality.” Diffie maintained that Cieza de Leon’s works are “indispensable and should be the first read” for scholars working on Incan society. Von Hagen argued that the observations of Cieza de León were “extraordinary,” and that the only chronicler who came close to matching Cieza de León’s objectivity and accuracy was Bernal Díaz del Castillo. Pease argued that Cieza de León “surpasses the classic definition of a chronicler,” and he noted that Cieza de León possessed skills that placed him in a rarified category of early modern writers:
Cieza de León was working within a particular temporal context in his Chronicle of Peru, but he also depicts the events with minute detail and makes a distinction between various historical periods, far exceeding the standard criteria of his contemporaries.
Scholars interested in using the Crónicas should be aware that there exist a number of English-language translations of Cieza de León’s works, that some editions omit portions of the original manuscripts, and that certain translations may be lacking in both quality and completeness. The first comprehensive efforts to publish the Crónicas were undertaken by Clements Markham, who published considerable portions of Parts I, II, and III through the Hakluyt Society between 1864 and 1883.

These English translations were considered definitive for nearly a century, but Diffie began the movement to diminish the value of Markham’s work. Diffie discovered over two hundred mistranslations and omissions in The Travels of Pedro de Cieza de León, and he excoriated Markham for being unwilling to “bear to put into English Cieza’s observations on the sexual perversions of the Indians.” The 1959 translation by Harriet de Onis, while much more careful to the original and possessing a higher degree of readability, skips Chapters I-XXXV of the Prima Crónica because these chapters are focused on lands outside of the Incan Empire (largely modern-day Colombia and Panama). The excellent work of Alexandra Parma Cook and Noble David Cook establishes new standards for future translators, but unfortunately the pair only translated Part Three of the Crónicas - The Discovery and Conquest of Peru.

Yet for general readers, all of the aforementioned translations of the work of Cieza de León offer compelling depictions of indigenous societies, native-newcomer relations, and the natural world of the portions of the Americas traversed by the soldier-scholar. Cieza de León’s keen eye for detail and his conscious efforts to maintain objectivity are especially remarkable given the fact that the writer essentially learned as he went along, and the resulting works are a phenomenal ethnographic effort that continue to offer insight nearly five centuries after they were written.

The Quote Shelf

Medieval text with Latin script A frequent feature on this site; feel free to comment on the quote or to supply a competing quote.

Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony. -- Mahatma Gandhi

Nov 23, 2007

Book Review: Lessons of October

Leon Trotsky (Лeв Давидович Трóцкий), also known as Lev Davidovich Trotsky and Lev Davidovich BronsteinTrotsky, Leon
New York: Pioneer Publishers, 1937 (1924)

Leon Trotsky played an integral part in the October Revolution and the subsequent Russian Civil War, moving from revolutionary to politician to military commander of the Red Army. Yet for all his political activities, perhaps Trotsky’s greatest legacy is his work as a writer and theorist. Lessons of October is a lengthy essay originally intended to be a preface to a larger collection of Trotsky’s writings, and contains many of the same themes to be found in his three-volume History of the Russian Revolution. Written in 1924, only months after the death of Lenin, this text contains considerable evidence of the worsening rift between Trotsky and the troika of Josef Stalin, Grigory Zinoviev, and Lev Kamenev, and the book also highlights the philosophical difference in opinions between the internationalist perspective of Trotsky and the nationalist, “socialism in one country” approach of Stalin.

While Trotsky claimed that he wrote Lessons of October merely to address the lack of a “single work which gives a comprehensive picture of the October upheaval,” readers might also sense an underlying agenda of political payback from the increasingly isolated Trotsky against his Party rivals. Still, there is credibility in Trotsky’s argument that the Bolsheviks were “part of the International, and the workers in all other countries are still faced with the solution of the problem of their own ‘October.’” In Trotsky’s eyes, the October Revolution could serve as a political and organizational blueprint for future socialist revolutions around the globe, and any “trifling personal considerations” that might arise from embarrassing disclosures in the book were insignificant in comparison with the inspiration that Lessons of October could offer fellow revolutionaries. With the memories of failed revolutions still fresh in his mind, Trotsky asserted that an objective analysis of the October Revolution was necessary for the success of future revolutions and for the future of socialism itself:
It is difficult, however, to speak of an analysis of the events in Bulgaria and Germany when we have not, up to the present, given a politically and tactically elaborated account of the October Revolution. We have never made clear to ourselves what we accomplished and how we accomplished it. After October, in the flush of victory, it seemed as if the events of Europe would develop of their own accord and, moreover, within so brief a period as would leave no time for any theoretical assimilation of the lessons of October. But the events have proved that without a party capable of directing the proletarian revolution, the revolution itself is rendered impossible. The proletariat cannot seize power by a spontaneous uprising.
Trotsky took polemical aim at the “petty bourgeois revolutionary parties” – such as the Mensheviks, the Social Revolutionaries, and the Constitutional Democrats – that supported the Provisional Government. In Trotsky’s eyes, any political party that joined with the new government was merely exchanging one tyrant (the Tsar) for another (the Provisional Government), and he praised Lenin for his steadfast refusal to support the Provisional Government, a body riddled with “defensism and conciliationism.” Those who cooperated with the Provisional Government, argued Trotsky, were in direct conflict with Marxist theories of revolution, and the Bolsheviks were faced with clear choices in 1917:
The war created a revolutionary situation precisely by reason of the fact that it left no room for any reformist “pressure.” The only alternative was either to go the whole way with the bourgeoisie, or to rouse the masses against it so as to wrest the power from its hands. In the first case it might have been possible to secure from the bourgeoisie some kind of sop with regard to home policy, on the condition of unqualified support of their foreign imperialist policy. For this very reason social reformism transformed itself openly, at the outset of the war, into social imperialism. For the same reason the genuinely revolutionary elements were forced to initiate the creation of this new International.

Russian general Lavr Georgiyevich Kornilov (Лавр Георгиевич Корнилов)Left: Russian general Lavr Georgiyevich Kornilov

The Kornilov Affair, in which rightist forces attempted to overthrow the Provisional Government in July 1917, merits little attention in Trotsky’s evaluation of the revolutionary year, although the author did acknowledge that the failed coup d'état “created an abrupt shift in the situation in our favor.” It is interesting to compare the lengthy discussion given by Alexander Kerensky of the events surrounding the actions of Lavr Kornilov in The Catastrophe with the brief account provided by Trotsky; one gets the sense that the Bolsheviks viewed this event as a minor episode in a tumultuous year, while Kerensky viewed the event as a crucial turning point away from democracy and toward Bolshevik tyranny.

Trotsky’s efforts to describe the rift between Bolshevik factions in the weeks prior to the October Revolution is also the section of the book in which the author painted rivals Kamenev and Zinoviev in the worst light. He quoted extensively from a letter entitled “On the Current Situation,” which was written and signed by the pair on 11 October 1917 and immediately delivered to leading Bolshevik figures. The authors of the letter, Trotsky argued, lacked the vision and faith necessary to move forward with the revolution, and instead advocated a course of “passive fatalism” in which the Bolsheviks should participate in the planned Constituent Assembly. He argued that – if the Bolsheviks had followed the advice of Kamenev and Zinoviev – the Bolshevik Revolution might never have occurred:
On the other hand, a party which carries on a protracted revolutionary agitation, tearing the masses away from the influence of the conciliationists, and then, after the confidence of the masses has been raised to the utmost, begins to vacillate, to split hairs, to hedge, and to temporize -- such a party paralyzes the activity of the masses, sows disillusion and disintegration among them, and brings ruin to the revolution; but in return it provides itself with the ready excuse -- after the debacle -- that the masses were insufficiently active. This was precisely the course steered by the letter "On the Current Situation." Luckily, our party under the leadership of Lenin was decisively able to liquidate such moods among the leaders. Because of this alone it was able to guide a victorious revolution.

Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov (Влади́мир Ильи́ч Улья́нов), better known by the alias Vladimir Lenin (Ленин)Left: Vladimir Ilyich Lenin

It was vision and courage of Lenin, in Trotsky’s opinion, that was the deciding factor in the Bolshevik Revolution, and Trotsky reiterated this theme throughout the text. No doubt this was driven in part by the author’s reverence for the late Bolshevik leader, but there lurks under the surface an implicit polemic that the troika of Stalin, Zinoviev, and Kamenev were betraying both the legacy of Lenin and the Revolution itself. Lenin, noted Trotsky, embodied a relentless “anger, protest, and indignation” against the “fatalistic, temporizing, social democratic, Menshevik attitude to revolution,” and the author argued that Lenin’s perseverance in forcing the party to seize the initiative away from the stalling tactics of the likes of Kamenev and Zinoviev was the primary factor in the ultimate success of the October Revolution:
To lose several weeks, several days, and sometimes even a single day, is tantamount under certain conditions to the surrender of the revolution, to capitulation. Had Lenin not sounded the alarm, had there not been all this pressure and criticism on his part, had it not been for his intense and passionate revolutionary mistrust, the party would probably have failed to align its front at the decisive moment, for the opposition among the party leaders was very strong, and the staff plays a major role in all wars, including civil wars.
The chronological approach used by Trotsky in Lessons of October makes the text useful for undergraduate and graduate readers, though general readers unfamiliar with Marxist rhetoric might struggle with some of the more theoretical passages Trotsky developed. One can also see evidence of Trotsky moving toward his theory of permanent revolution in this text, both in terms of his internationalist approach to Bolshevism and his awareness that counter-revolutionary forces tend to arise within a revolutionary struggle even as the revolution is unfolding. Trotsky also intended that this text serve as guidance to future revolutionaries, and – while noting that each revolution has its own unique set of circumstances and history – the author reminded readers that to ignore the lessons of the October Revolution “is to invite inevitable defeats.” Finally, it is clear that Trotsky’s admonition found its way toward future revolutionaries such as Che Guevara and Hugo Chavez, and the lessons he drew from the October Revolution continue to provide insight into the rise of the Bolshevik regime.

The Quote Shelf

Medieval text with Latin script A frequent feature on this site; feel free to comment on the quote or to supply a competing quote.

It is fortunate to be of high birth, but it is no less so to be of such character that people do not care to know whether you are or are not. -- Jean de La Bruyère

Nov 21, 2007

On Paratroopers, Normandy, and Leon Trotsky

I am in the process of preparing for my doctoral exams next spring, and the Russia Revolution will likely be a topic upon which I will be tested. I am reading a book by Leon Trotsky, the Bolshevik revolutionary, one-time leader of the Red Army in the civil war that followed the October Revolution, and Marxist theoretician who was murdered by operatives of Stalin in 1940.

When I first opened the book, I noticed a sticker on the inside front cover indicating that the Carl Joseph Memorial Library Fund paid for the book. The inscription indicated that Joseph was a paratrooper who was killed in action during the 1944 Normandy invasion.

Joseph grew up in an area of North Toledo once known as Little Syria, though the area today might be better known as "Crackville." Among the famous Toledoans who grew up in that area were entertainers Jamie Farr and Danny Thomas, and it is possible that Thomas and Joseph bumped elbows a few times in Little Syria, being only one year apart in age.

Joseph also worked at the Spicer Manufacturing plant on Bennett Road in Toledo until some time before his deployment overseas. The sticker also notes that he was a member of the UAW-CIO and the NAACP, and at some point attended the University of Toledo.

Yet beyond these few facts I have been able to learn little about Carl Joseph and the family members who likely started the Carl Joseph Memorial Library Fund. It is a testament to the legacy of Joseph that books were viewed as one of the best ways to remember this patriotic 29-year-old man cut down just as he was entering the best years of his life.

Yet I am also curious about the choice of books that the fund selected. While Trotsky's observations about the Russian Revolution are important to the study of history, I am almost surprised to see that the administrators of this fund had the willingness to purchase texts written by (GASP!) known Communists. This was the era before such technological innovations as fiber cable and the Internet, when books and newspapers were the primary sources of information.

And after all, this was a period of time in which communism was viewed as some sort of dangerous philosophy, and by the end of the Second World War, Harry S. Truman commenced the newest wave of Red-baiting that culminated in the phenomena known as McCarthyism. I keep drifting back to the front cover of the text instead of dissecting Trotskyist political philosophy, because the mystery of Carl Joseph is much more interesting to me tonight than Trotsky's revolutionary analysis and doctrinaire dictums.

A belated thanks for the book, though, to Mr. Carl Joseph, a man I never met and know only through the sticker I chanced upon today in a dusty library book.

Nov 20, 2007

Book Review: Frederick the Great of Prussia - Absolutism and Administration

Frederick II of Prussia, also known as Frederick the Great (Friedrich der Große) and nicknamed der alte Fritz (the old Fritz)Hubatsch, Walther
London: Thames and Hudson, 1975

Hubatsch was a prolific writer who taught at the University of Bonn, specializing in German political and military history. Frederick the Great of Prussia: Absolutism and Administration examines the seeming paradox between the centralizing reforms of Frederick the Great and the Prussian state’s simultaneous existence within the political, cultural, and military spheres of the Holy Roman Empire.

One of the most useful aspects of Hubatsch’s Frederick the Great of Prussia is the wealth of ancillary materials the author included. Hubatsch procured dozens of illustrations and photographs related to Frederick from collections across Europe in a 16-page center section. The appendices include such practical accoutrements as a glossary, a genealogical table of the Hohenzollerns, a list of the Prussian governmental authorities and their offices circa 1775, a four-page chronological summary of the life and reign of Frederick, detailed maps, population charts, and bibliographical and archival summaries. The book follows a chronological progression, and the infrequent page notes are supplemented by a lengthy section with bibliographical notes. In addition, the careful translation of the text from the original German by Patrick Doran brings this excellent resource to an international English-speaking audience previously unfamiliar with the work of Hubatsch.

The idealistic young Frederick composed a number of works on governance, and perhaps the most noteworthy of these was the 1740 anonymously-published pamphlet Anti-Machiavel. Hubatsch included an excerpt that provides insight into the Prussian monarch’s views on absolutist rule, and – despite Frederick’s efforts to critique Machiavelli – there are prescient glimpses of the nature of future Frederician rule in the text:
There are two kinds of princes in the world: those who see everything with their own eyes and who really govern, and those who depend on their ministers, allowing themselves to be led by those who have gained influence over them. Princes of the first kind are, so to speak, the embodiment of the state. On them rests the burden of government, like the world on the shoulders of Atlas. They direct internal as well as foreign affairs; all orders, laws and instructions emanate from them; they are, simultaneously, ministers of Justice, commanders-in-chief of the army and ministers of finance: in short, every aspect of policy demands their decision.
Territorial expansion of Prussia, from 1600 to 1795Left: Territorial expansion of Prussia, from 1600 to 1795; click for larger image

One of the first policy changes Frederick enacted after his coronation was the 1740 creation of what was to become known as the Fifth Department. Frederick envisioned that this agency would coordinate economic and financial policy between the far-flung Prussian territories, and this department initially focused on promoting Prussian manufactures, establishing new industries, and attracting skilled artisans to Prussia from the surrounding nations. Hubatsch argued that, while perhaps influenced by the mercantilist programs of French finance minister Jean-Baptiste Colbert, the Frederician financial reforms could better be described as cameralist in nature. Chief among the industries Frederick sought to bolster – after first stabilizing the supply of grain at affordable prices - were textiles (especially wool and silk), porcelain, and armaments, and Hubatsch argued that the Prussian king was determined to develop national self-sufficiency as much as he was interested in turning a profit.

Frederick viewed territorial expansion as a means to improve the geopolitical position of Prussia in Europe, and the young monarch wasted little time in adding to the territories controlled by the state. The mineral-rich region of Silesia was the first target of Frederick’s expansionist policies, and his successful 1740 Silesian invasion was confirmed at the end of both the War of Austrian Succession and the Seven Years’ War. The annexations of East Prussia and West Prussia during the partitions of Poland gave the Prussians control over the vital Vistula River grain traffic. However, it was the acquisition of East Friesland, argued Hubatsch, that was the most important territorial gain during the reign of Frederick II, as this provided Prussia with access to two seas.

While Frederick’s military exploits are among the dimensions of his reign most memorable to historians, Hubatsch singled out the Prussian king for his strengths in managing state finances. The accomplishments of Frederick are even more impressive given the fact that there were few years in which Prussian troops were not engaged in some form of military action, and the Seven Years’ War in particular proved to have devastating effects on the Prussian treasury. Hubatsch lauded the financial acumen of the Prussian king:
At the end of his reign Frederick had more than 51 million talers in the Staatschatz [state treasury] and its associated funds. With this amount of money he could have waged six campaigns without raising taxes or incurring debt… Frederick kept almost obsessively free from debt. This gave him almost unlimited possibilities in the use of his financial means and resources. His reserves never reached the rumored 100 million talers but – given the basic poverty of the country – Prussia’s financial accomplishments during his reign are astonishing. They are a testimonial to the energy of its population and the financial management of its ruler.
Left: Crown Prince Frederick, circa 1730

Yet all monarchs have limits to their abilities to exercise power and bring about reform, even practitioners of the enlightened absolutism for which Frederick the Great is famed. Hubatsch argued that Frederick’s agricultural policies were the area in which the Prussian king’s efforts to bring about change were weakest, noting that in “no other field of Frederician administrative reform” was the execution of royal decree “so long, laborious and full of divergences as in the field of agriculture.” Despite his Enlightenment-era views on the human condition, Frederick was unable to bring significant reform to the institution of serfdom. Hubatsch quoted from a 1779 essay that Frederick penned in which the Prussian monarch decried the resistance by the nobility toward abolitionist and reformist initiatives:
Of all the conditions this is the most unhappy and must stir human feeling most deeply. Surely no human being can be born to be the slave of his equals. One rightly despises this abuse and thinks that only will power is necessary to abolish this barbaric custom. But this proves not to be so… If one tried to abolish this loathsome custom at one stroke, one could cause upheavals throughout all agriculture and the nobility would have to be compensated for the financial losses sustained by them.
While not a true biography, Frederick the Great of Prussia provides a significant amount of biographical material in its examination of the absolutist tendencies of the Prussian king. General readers familiar with Prussian and German history should be able to follow the narrative, and the text is ideal for both upper-level undergraduates and graduate students seeking greater knowledge of the Prussian bureaucracy. The paucity of direct footnotes, however, limits the use of this text by scholars specializing in Frederician absolutism, and this might explain the reason why such a useful text has unfortunately gone out of print.

The Quote Shelf

Medieval text with Latin script A frequent feature on this site; feel free to comment on the quote or to supply a competing quote.

I was about to conquer the world, but then I got distracted by something sparkly. -- Unknown author, widely quoted Internet meme

Nov 19, 2007

Thinking of Jimmie Rodgers and Hoboes

Jimmie Rodgers, also known as 'The Singing Brakeman,' 'America's Blue Yodeler,' and 'The Father of Country Music.'There must be something about the dreary days of November that resonates with the wandering hobo that lurks within me, as I have been listening lately to a compilation CD of songs recorded by Jimmie Rodgers. Another disc to which I have been listening is the fine collection of songs by Jimmie Rodgers performed by Merle Haggard called Same Train, Different Time, which also includes some insightful commentary by Haggard in between songs.

Rodgers, for the uninitiated, earned the alternate nicknames of "The Singing Brakeman," "America's Blue Yodeler," and perhaps his most important moniker: "The Father of Country Music." He combined traditional bluegrass music with the blues to great effect, inspiring the genre of country music.

One of my favorite Rodgers songs is "Waiting for a Train," which was recorded on October 22, 1928. The song depicts the lonely life of a Depression-era hobo, who has been traveling in boxcars in search of work and misses his home:

All around the water tank, waiting for a train
A thousand miles away from home, sleeping in the rain
I walked up to a brakeman just to give him a line of talk
He said "If you got money, boy, I'll see that you don't walk
I haven't got a nickel, not a penny can I show
"Get off, get off, you railroad bum" and slammed the boxcar door

He put me off in Texas, a state I dearly love
The wide open spaces all around me, the moon and the stars up above
Nobody seems to want me, or lend me a helping hand
I'm on my way from Frisco, going back to Dixieland
My pocket book is empty and my heart is full of pain
I'm a thousand miles away from home just waiting for a train

And as I walk along a set of train tracks this morning, with the cold November breeze reminding me to start wearing a hat and gloves, I can only imagine the hardships of a life spent living day-to-day in boxcars and makeshift camps. Thanks to Jimmie Rodgers, the world of the railroad bum is forever a part of Americana.

Nov 18, 2007

Rapid Rhetoric: COMME IL FAUT

Raphael's depiction of Plato defining the difference between true and false rhetoric This is an irregular feature - both in frequency and oddness - dedicated to a word I came across that I have never previously used.

comme il faut (kohm-eel-FOE) adj. in accordance with accepted standards or conventions; socially acceptable; in keeping with customs or propriety; proper.

This phrase is derived from the French words comme ("like, as") and il faut ("it is necessary"), and is one of those foreign expressions I have difficulty keeping straight in my head. My French is spotty, as I am self-taught in the Gallic tongue, and French idioms are one of my weakest points, due in no small part that I speak the language poorly and rarely use it.

I came across the phrase today in a book on the Prussian king Frederick the Great, in which the free-spirited crown prince mused about his 1732 assignment by his father (Frederick William I) to a military post in Neuruppin:
We drill here comme il faut, new brooms must sweep clean, and I must justify my rank and demonstrate that I am an 'efficient officer.'

Nov 17, 2007

Book Review: Absolutism in Central Europe

Wilson, Peter H.
New York: Routledge, 2000

Wilson is the G.F. Grant Professor of History at the University of Hull, focusing on German history and military-civil relations in early modern Europe. Absolutism in Central Europe examines the aforementioned political phenomenon as it developed in the Hohenzollern, Habsburg, and other German dynasties in the Holy Roman Empire from the Peace of Westphalia through the Napoleonic era. While conceding that the “image conveyed by absolutism was a myth of power,” Wilson nonetheless held that “the process of projecting and sustaining this myth constituted a tangible reality and helped shape the practice of political authority.”

The author used a thematic approach in developing the text, describing Central European absolutism in terms of its emergence, its theoretical basis, the practical results of efforts at achieving absolute rule, and the period of so-called enlightened absolutism in the eighteenth century. While largely a synthesis based upon secondary works on absolutism, Absolutism in Central Europe also incorporates some primary source material in its examination of the Hohenzollern and Habsburg monarchies. Wilson also included a 12-page bibliography of secondary works that will prove useful to scholars unfamiliar with the historiography of absolutism.

Wilson warned against the tendency by many historians of absolutism to seek “the fundamental driving force in history” in this particular political form. Instead, he argued, absolutism was a political philosophy that “emerged from human interaction, especially within the overlapping matrices of collaboration and competition to exploit and enjoy scarce resources.” Wilson argued that absolutism arose in large part due to the state’s ability to “sever formal connections between local and regional power-holders in one territory with those in another,” thus increasing the dependency of local political leaders on the central government.

Leopold I, Holy Roman Emperor (full name - Leopold Ignaz Joseph Balthasar Felician) and member of the Habsburg dynastyLeopold I, Holy Roman Emperor and member of the Habsburg dynasty

Wilson argued that the political fragmentation characteristic of German states under the Holy Roman Empire occurred because of the failure of the principle of primogeniture to take hold, a philosophical trend that he traced to the Protestant Reformation. This inclination to partition lands among heirs “proved a political liability during the Thirty Years War,” and the periods of warfare with France and the Ottoman Empire after 1648 “reinforced the necessity of a large resource base” among German princes, becoming an essential component in the development of absolutism in Central Europe.

Wilson maintained that secular and religious thinkers in Germany fostered a social philosophy that promoted obedience to secular authorities. While acknowledging that Martin Luther’s early invectives against the Emperor represented a decided anti-authoritarian tendency, Wilson argued that there also arose a “separate tradition of Lutheran authoritarianism” that stressed unqualified obedience to secular authorities. German Neostoicism, he argued, emphasized self-discipline by all members of society, and worked with Reformed Christianity to contribute to “the model of the prince as the firm but kind ‘father of the territory’ (Landesvater).” Wilson argued that this philosophy dovetailed with the contemporary concept of the Hausvater, the patriarch of the home who exerted his authority over the household economy and the behavior of the members of the family:
As Landesvater, the prince had personal authority over the state and paternal responsibility for its subjects who, as Landeskinder (literally, ‘children of the territory’), were regarded as minors, incapable of acting or thinking without guidance from above. The duty to obey was reinforced, while opposition to princely rule was equated with the horrors of patricide.

Frederick II, also known as Frederick the Great, King of Prussia (1740–1786) from the Hohenzollern dynastyLeft: Frederick II, also known as Frederick the Great, King of Prussia (1740–1786) from the Hohenzollern dynasty

Central European monarchs, noted Wilson, matched their Western European counterparts in many of the typical manifestations of absolutist rule. The author demonstrated that many German princes in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries relied upon the development of extravagant courts and elaborate ceremonies to communicate their power; Wilson argued that the court “symbolized absolutism and was intended to encourage a belief in its power and legitimacy.” The military forces of most of the larger German states grew during this period, with standing armies representing what Wilson described as “symbols of their [German princes] authority and political autonomy.” Still, the author advised readers to avoid jumping to conclusions about the extent to which Central European absolutist regimes were able to express their respective royal power:
The inhabitants of the central European monarchies and principalities were not cowed into silence, nor did they meekly submit to authoritarian social discipline. Their behaviour was certainly disrupted by growing interference in their personal lives, while fiscal and military burdens caused widespread hardship and misery. The response to this outside the Reich was often violent, but the lack of large-scale protest within the German territories is misleading. Though communities were riven with tension and conflict, they nonetheless provided a basis for sustained opposition to the demands of those in higher authority. This opposition was not straightforward rejection of absolutism, but grasped what opportunities it offered to advance individual and popular goals and, in doing so, also helped sustain absolute rule.
Absolutism in Central Europe is a text that relies heavily upon political and philosophical theory, and undergraduate students will likely have some difficulty understanding some of the nuances of Wilson’s arguments. Well-read general readers and graduate students should be able to keep up with the discourse in the book, though previous familiarity with early modern Europe will enhance comprehension. It is for students of European absolutism, however, that Wilson’s text aims to reach, and this reflective work should be considered an indispensable addition to reading lists of such scholars. Most importantly, Wilson frequently engages the existing historiography in his writing, bringing readers a wealth of historical perspectives in his examination of absolutism.

The Quote Shelf

Medieval text with Latin script A frequent feature on this site; feel free to comment on the quote or to supply a competing quote.

That's what learning is, after all; not whether we lose the game, but how we lose and how we've changed because of it and what we take away from it that we never had before, to apply to other games. Losing, in a curious way, is winning. -- Richard Bach

Nov 16, 2007

Book Review: The Catastrophe - Kerensky’s Own Story of the Russian Revolution

Alexander Fyodorovich Kerensky (Алекса́ндр Фёдорович Ке́ренский), who served as the second Prime Minister of the Russian Provisional Government until the Bolshevik RevolutionKerensky, Alexander F.
New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1927

Alexander Kerensky was a Russian politician who became the second Prime Minister of the Russian Provisional Government until Lenin took power after the October Revolution in 1917. To his credit, Kerensky freely admitted that he was not a historian, and he wrote that he had not “tried to write history” but rather he “sought to add some raw material for history.” Kerensky’s account, while containing the sorts of biases and self-serving passages one would expect from a first person narrative, nonetheless offers a different perspective to the Bolshevik Revolution than found in Soviet-era history or virulently anti-communist writers, and the book includes a great deal of inside information unavailable in standard histories of the revolutionary period.

Kerensky occasionally delved into rhetoric that was both self-serving and decidedly skewed toward an positive assessment of the accomplishments of the first phase of the Revolution. In the following passage, which sums up his chapter recounting the first 100 hours after Tsar Nicholas II attempted to dissolve the Duma, the author engaged in discourse so euphoric that it ignored the chaos and bloodshed associated with the eventual abdication of Nicholas, and evoked a sense of the dreamy, quasi-religiosity that he later scorned when used by the Bolsheviks:
But what enthusiasm, what faith, what devotion we found among the thousands who crowded the Tauride Palace! How quickly everything was organized! How many threw themselves wholly into the common cause! How many were ready to live and die together! Those innumerable delegations, processions, greetings, those bright, shining faces, those outbursts of delight and faith seemed to prove to us all that the people had found themselves at last, that they had cast off the accursed yoke and were advancing joyfully, in festal garments, towards the new day that was already dawning. A mighty living impulse, a divine spirit, a transfiguring ecstasy descended upon the land.
Kerensky defended his record in dealing with the Bolsheviks in the earliest days of the February Revolution. He argued that those who believe he should have taken a harsher stance against the Bolsheviks possessed the wisdon gained from hindsight, and that the Provsional Government had an important obligation to uphold the rule of law after the arbitrary rule of the Romanovs:
People from the Right have blamed and are still blaming me for my leniency toward the Left, i.e., towards the Bolsheviki. They forget that on the principle they put forward I should have been obliged to begin applying the terror not to the Left but to the Right, that I had not the right to shed the blood of the Bolsheviki unless I had first shed streams of blood in the early days and weeks of the Revolution, when I risked my authority and prestige with the masses by fighting against the demand that the Czar and all the members of the fallen dynasty and all its servants should be atrociously punished. I remain a decided adversary of every form of terror.
The character of Vladimir Lenin appears only a few times in throughout the book, and Kerensky noted that he only met the Bolshevik leader one time. Kerensky steadfastly believed that Lenin was being funded by and working directly for the German government in 1917, and he argued that “Lenin’s treason to Russia, committed in the very heat of the War, is an historically unquestionable and undeniable fact.” He claimed that Generals Alexeyev and Denikin possessed direct documentary evidence demonstrating a link between “the Russian traitors and their highly placed German friends,” and that the Provisional Government was within days of capturing a spy (Jacob Fürstenberg, also known by his alias “Gantetsky”), who supposedly held incriminating evidence that would have proved damning to Lenin. Kerensky claimed that Minister of Justice Perverzev inadvertently tipped off a media source about Ganetsky, who then turned back to Stockholm. This reviewer in unaware of any exiting documentation to support a Lenin-German collaboration beyond the decision by Generalquartiermeister Erich Ludendorff to allow Lenin to travel through German territory in a sealed train back to Russia; Kerensky, though, claimed that Russian troops at the front received from their German counterparts a series flyers ten days in advance of both the July and October Bolshevik uprisings.

Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov (Влади́мир Ильи́ч Улья́нов), better known to the West as Vladimir LeninVladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, better known to the West as Vladimir Lenin

Among the most interesting of chapters in The Catastrophe is one that recounts Kerensky’s interviews with the former Tsar, who was being held prisoner at the Alexander Palace in Tsarskoye Selo. Kerensky admitted that – though he was an opponent of capital punishment and supported the move by the Provisional Government to abolish the death penalty – he harbored extreme anger toward the Tsar, and he confessed that “the only death warrant I could bear to sign would be that of Nicholas II.” Yet Kerensky was taken aback when he finally met the Nicholas and the Empress Alexandra Fyodorovna in August 1917:
What I had seen of the former Empress made her character quite clear to me and corresponded with what every one who knew her had said about her. But Nicholas, with his beautiful blue eyes and his whole manner and appearance, was a puzzle to me… It seemed incredible that that slow-moving, diffident simpleton, who looked as if he were dressed in some one else’s clothes, had been Emperor of All Russia, Czar of Poland, Grand Duke of Finland, etc. etc., and had ruled over an immense empire for twenty-five years!
Nicholas, noted Kerensky, seemed to be an inscrutable conglomeration of contradictions, and was a ruler who simply disliked the obligations associated with his office:
He was an extremely reserved man, who distrusted and utterly despised mankind. He was not well educated, but had some knowledge of human nature. He did not care for anything or any one except his son, and perhaps his daughters. This terrible indifference to all things made him seem like some unnatural automaton. As I studied his face, I seemed to see beyond his smile and his charming eyes a stiff, frozen mask of utter loneliness and desolation. I think he may have been a mystic, seeking communion with Heaven patiently and passionately, and weary of all earthly things… It seemed as if a heavy burden had fallen from his shoulders and that he was greatly relieved.
Kerensky was convinced that everything he had previously heard about the Empress was accurate, and he described Alexandra at their first meeting as “stiff, proud, and haughty” and a “clever woman with a strong will.” The Empress, he recalled, “keenly felt the loss of her authority and could not resign herself to the new state of affairs.” He recalled the last conversation that he and the Empress shared, which occurred as the last of the belongings of the Romanov family was being loaded for the trip to Tobolsk; Alexandra expressed frustration with her inability to forge a bond with the Russian people:
Suddenly her face flushed and she flared up: “I don’t understand why people speak ill of me. I have always liked Russia from the first time I came here. I have always sympathized with Russia. Why do people think I am siding with Germany and out enemies? There is nothing German about me. I am English by education and English is my language!”

Empress Alexandra Fyodorovna of Russia (Императрица Александра Фёдоровна Романова), Empress consort of Russian Tsar Nicholas IILeft: Empress Alexandra Fyodorovna of Russia, Empress consort of Russian Tsar Nicholas II

For Kerensky, the turning point in the future of the Provisional Government – and ultimately the history of Russia – was the Kornilov Affair, which he referred to as a “revolt.” Kerensky believed that Kornilov had been recruited by rightist opponents of the Provisional Government some time before the general became commander-in-chief in late July 1917 and, that during Kornilov’s tenure, his “entire attention was devoted to the development of the military side of the conspiracy, to measures intended to assure its success.” Kerensky implied that elements within the British government were in support of the attempted coup, claiming that pamphlets touting “Korniloff, the National Hero” were printed at the expense of the British Military Mission and distributed in Moscow. Kerensky argued that the net result of the aborted revolt was a tremendous opportunity for the Bolsheviks, who began to spread propaganda based upon a rumor that Kerensky betrayed Kornilov in what was to have been a rightist coup engineered by elements within the Provisional Government:
This slanderous invention was immediately taken up by the Bolsheviki, who used it as dynamite with which, within a few days, they succeeded in destroying the confidence of the rank and file of the Army in the Provisional Government. The Korniloff uprising destroyed the entire work of the restoration of discipline in the army, achieved after almost superhuman efforts. Lenin, still in hiding, immediately grasped the significance of the service performed for him by the organizers of the Korniloff rebellion.
Kerensky devoted surprisingly little of the book to the actual Bolshevik Revolution, and his account centers on his own efforts to save the Provisional Government and his own life following the Petrograd uprising. He argued that the rightist opponents of the government – especially those in power in the military – failed to defend the Provisional Government from the Bolsheviks, and that they planned to install a military government, thinking that a military dictatorship could “finish the Bolsheviki in three weeks.” Unfortunately, noted Kerensky, the rightist opposition merely ignited a destructive period of civil warfare between White and Red factions, with the Russian population caught in the crosshairs of the internal struggle for power.

The Catastrophe is a well-written, thoughtful book that offers a unique view on the events leading up to the Bolshevik Revolution. General readers will find this text to be accessible, and there is value in Kerensky’s work for scholars at all levels of research. Certainly readers should be aware of Kerensky’s efforts to place himself and the Provisional Government in the best possible light, but the author’s role as Prime Minister and his access to government documents makes the text an informative viewpoint from one of the principal actors of this period of unprecedented upheaval.