Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Do Wars Make States? - Part II

Continued from Part I

In the case of the United States, the kind of fiscal-military pressures outlined above were instrumental in the development of the young republic. Though possessing a militia tradition and certain resources, the colonies were without significant armed forces at the outbreak of the Revolution. As a result, military and financial institutions had to be created, institutions which gave substance to the new state. “The first central administrative organs of American government came into being during the conflict… They were almost exclusively military or fiscal in their function” (Bruce Porter, War and the Rise of the State, 251).

Even after the fighting of the Revolution was over, other military demands remained, ensuring that the national government, with the authority to “exercise clear priorities” over local institutions, did not slip into powerlessness. Ongoing military threats, both foreign and domestic (such as Shays’ Rebellion), were a major consideration in one of the earliest and greatest political changes in American history: the adoption of the Constitution. “Nationalist leaders… pressed the case for a central government largely on military grounds, arguing that individual states could not wield adequate forces for either defense or the maintenance of order” (Porter 252). The resulting document reflected this emphasis on war powers: “Of the eighteen clauses defining the powers of Congress, nine directly concerned military affairs” (Porter 253).

War not only created important American state institutions, but also helped form American ideology. “The proximate causes of the American revolt were military in substance, stemming from Britain’s attempt to maintain a permanent military force in the western territories of the colonies” (Porter 249). Moreover, the onset of violence helped push colonists off the fence and into one of the two emerging camps. “Each time an American died so did some part of moderation” (Robert Middlekauff, quoted in Porter 248). Finally, the shared experience of war helped to bond together colonies which had previous viewed themselves as separate entities. “At the Battle of Brandywine in 1777, Nathaniel Greene from Rhode Island led a Virginia division, while Anthony Wayne of Pennsylvania commanded troops from New Jersey. This arrangement, unthinkable at the onset of the war, epitomized the unifying effect of military service” (Porter 250-1).

Several thinkers have pointed out that, by placing considerable demands upon the population of a state, warfare changes the relationship of a population to its government.
Reliance on mass conscription, confiscatory taxation, and conversion of production to the ends of war made any state vulnerable to popular resistance, and answerable to popular demands, as never before. From that point onward, the character of war changed, and the relationship between warmaking and civilian politics altered fundamentally (Tilly 83).

In the case of the United States, Bruce Porter notes that “over half the states broadened the franchise during or shortly after the [Revolution]” (251). The general argument is that “universal and compulsory military service” implies “democratic forms of government,” with soldiers demanding political and social rights in return for their service (Eliot Cohen, Citizens and Soldiers, 117). While this is one possible outcome, as the American example shows, there are reasons to doubt that the states produced by war will necessarily or even usually be democratic. Authoritarian sentiment, limited service and militaristic populism all militate against pro-democratic forces.

Adam Smith pointed out that a “‘well-disciplined and well-exercised standing army’ will always be superior to a militia composed of men accustomed to liberty” (Cohen 119). Thus, the desire for victory may bring with it certain undemocratic elements, among them authoritarian discipline. Smith believed that “if the sovereign is commander-in-chief and the nobility and gentry of a country make up the officer corps, a country need have little fear of military dictatorship,” since would-be dictators would have a stake in the system and would therefore be reluctant to overthrow it (Cohen 120). In a democratic system, high pay and social status go some way to ensuring that officers feel invested in the system; however, extraordinary political powers for military leaders would be at odds with the political equality of democracy.

Moreover, Cohen’s argument that universal service military service leads to democracy assumes that war imposes universal service, which is not always the case. Wars may simply be too small to require such outpouring of civic service. Or societies may choose, for reasons distinct from the conflict itself, to limit the size of their military forces. Smith contended that in a commercial society no more than 1% of the population may be spared for military service without imperiling the economy (Cohen 120).

“In the long run,” Tilly writes, “military requirements for men, money, and supplies grew so demanding that rulers bargained with the bulk of the population” (95). But bargaining does not always mean democracy. If the “bulk of the population” must buy in, significant minorities may still be left out or even oppressed. Moreover, populist militarism may win over the population with economic incentives or the glories of conquest, while still withholding participation in the political process. This is precisely what occurred in 19th century Germany. “The advent of the modern cadre/conscript army… was in no way coupled with political liberalism; indeed, the introduction of military service allowed the Prussian monarchy to subvert and eventually abolish the real military bulwark of Prussian liberalism, the voluntary Landwehr” (Cohen 124).

Thus, we see that the pressures of war drive the formation of states and their institutions, as happened in the United States. The need to mobilize a population for war may have democratic effects, but these can be counteracted by a variety of other forces.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Do Wars Make States? - Part I

Due to its high costs, war plays a major role in the formation of states, creating the need for an organization larger than the individual, family or tribe. This and the following post will consider that phenomenon and highlight the United States as a case study. While some scholars contend that war has a democratizing effect, I will argue that democracy is by no means the necessary outcome of the pressures of war.

War is a costly undertaking and has only become more so with changes in warfare. “Every thirteenth-century noble household owned swords, but no twentieth-century household owns an aircraft carrier” (Charles Tilly, Coercion, Capital, and European States, AD 990-1990, 84). Mobilizing military power requires personnel, weapons and a considerable variety of supplies, things almost inevitably outside the resources of any single individual. Thus, Charles Tilly points out, “war and preparations for war involved rulers in extracting the means of war from others who held the essential resources – men, arms, supplies, or money to buy them” (15). In order to extract these resources and deploy them for war, states have emerged.

Before proceeding further, it may be useful to define what states are. Tilly describes them as “coercion-wielding organizations that are distinct from households and kinship groups and exercise clear priorities in some respects over all other organizations within substantial territories” (Tilly 1). Three elements of this definition are noteworthy. First, states wield coercion; while this may be domestically or abroad, by physical violence or other means, states are clearly in the business of force. Second, states are distinct from households and kinship groups; neither is sufficiently large to mobilize significant military forces. Third, states exercise priority over other organizations; it is precisely the state’s ability to extract resources from others, by persuasion or coercion, which gives it the ability to meet the demands of war.

When considering the origins of city-states, Lewis Mumford saw that “two great forces drive the growth of cities: the concentration of political power and the expansion of productive means” (Tilly 13). Both forces are required, or at least highly desirable, for an entity waging war. Political power enables taxation and conscription of citizens for military service; productive means increase a state’s ability to produce, and therefore deploy, war materiel. Tilly makes this point explicit when he argues that “the organization of coercion and preparation for war [should be] squarely in the middle of the analysis [of state formation]… State structures appeared chiefly as a by-product of rulers’ efforts to acquire the means of war” (14).

Failure in war has done much to drive the development of states, by destroying those states with few or weak institutions. However, success in war can also be a driver of state formation. “To the extent that [states] are successful in subduing their rivals outside or inside the territory they claim, the wielders of coercion find themselves obligated to administer the lands, goods, and people they acquire” (Tilly 20). These administrative obligations produce new taxes, new garrisons and new administrative mechanisms, which in turn reinforce the state and its ability to wage war.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Ten Films to Get You in the Mood for Pulps Gaming!

I have a confession to make: I play miniature war games. Many years ago I got my start with these guys, though I never owned more than a handful. But now I've acquired an army of crusaders for this game, an army which is only slowly getting painted and assembled, but should take the field some time in the spring. However, there is yet a third genre of war gaming which has caught my fancy... Pulps. Yes, like the sleazy dime store novels. Well, sort of. Let me share the description of miniatures craftsman Bob Murch, whose figures you can see below and left:

Pulp Figures and Rugged Adventures are primarily designed for a fictionalized historical setting we call the 'Pulp Era'. The pulps were entertainment magazines of the early 20th century and reached their peak of popularity in the period between the first and second world wars. The pulp magazine venue introduced tough guy detective stories with famed characters like Sam Spade and Philip Marlow, occult action/adventure stories from authors such as Robert E. Howard, the creator of Conan or Sax Rohmer of Dr. Fu Manchu fame. They also introduced the jungle fantasy adventures of Tarzan of the Apes. Within the pages of the pulps you might join an expedition into distant lands in search of a lost city. You might sail an airship through a polar gateway to a pre-historic world at the center of the earth. It was an action packed world of brave heroes standing alone against sinister villains plotting world conquest, tough dames, spies and even the occasional brilliant scientist with a newly invented rocket ship. It was a brightly coloured world of action packed, spine tingling adventure.

Is it any wonder that folks want to game this stuff? To get in the mood, I've assembled a few films:

Zulu (1964). Too late for the golden age of pulps, this classic film nevertheless has a lot of the key elements: Europeans in nifty uniforms, exotic setting, guns, danger, heroism... The Battle of Rorke's Drift was a tad early, but there are plenty of figures from slightly later decades of the British Empire.

The adventures of Indiana Jones (1981, 1984, 1989, 2008). This fedora wearing, whip wielding, Nazi (and Communist) fighting archaeologist is probably the most iconic pulp hero known to contemporary audiences. He's also the reason any game worth its salt had better include at least a smattering of these.

The Rocketeer (1991). Though this movie came out in 1991, I have never seen it. But clearly the film (and the comic books) were the inspiration for these guys.

Michael Collins (1996). Not exactly a pulp action film, this historical biopic is nevertheless set in a real conflict featuring soldiers and policemen, spies, guerrillas and gun-runners, and a real-life hero.

The Mummy and sequels (1999, 2001, 2008). High cinema? Probably but. But they feature archaeological adventurers. And a librarian. I don't know; maybe I just have a thing for librarians...

The Aviator (2004). It's a movie about Howard Hughes. Featuring a lot of amazing airplanes. Need I say more? Incidentally, this film references a film Hughes made about World War I: Hell's Angels (1930). Which might open the door to these guys. Alternatively, one could envision a scenario built around Hell's Angels involving these folks.

First on the Moon / Первые на Луне (2005). This fictional documentary of a Soviet lunar landing in the 1930s could be quite interesting, if one could get one's hands on a copy (which might not be easy). Space travel? you ask. Sure: mad scientists are a classic part of the genre. Soviets? Well, true, the Nazis are the totalitarians of choice, but sometimes they're so overused they get a bit out of hand.

The White Countess (2005). This is not really a pulp film; it's more of a historical drama. But it's set in one of the wildest cities of the 1930s: Shanghai. I think the film does a superb job depicting that world of American businessmen, Chinese warlords, Japanese spies, Jewish refugees and White Russian exiles that it deserves inclusion here.

Public Enemies (2009). There are plenty of gangster movies from which to choose. Indeed, Bonnie & Clyde (1967) might be a better film, but a gamer's interested in shootouts more than cinematography. Likewise, The Untouchables (1987) also deserves mention.

The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn (2011). Nevermind that this film has not yet been released. The three comic books upon which it's based are quite fun and Tintin has more than enough pulp hero qualities: intelligence, bravado, world-wide travels and a faithful sidekick (even if he is just a dog).

Some people might worry that the pulp fiction genre - along with the movies and games it has spawned - is violent, racist, sexist and jingoistic. This is all probably true. I would, however, note two things. (1) Modern pulps tend to exaggerate, even caricature, these vices, reducing the danger that we might notice them, even while imbibing them. (2) Modern pulps knock-offs often caricature these vices to the point of mocking them. And it's rather hard to accept ideas you don't even take seriously.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

My Christmas Dream Tour

Do you ever put together dream tours, groups of musicians you'd just love to see together? Every now and again, these kind of miracles happen, as when Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson played together as The Highwaymen. Oh, that I might have seen that glorious combination...

But today I've been thinking about my dream Christmas tour: Sufjan Stevens, Rosie Thomas, Denny Witmer and The Innocence Mission. They're all friends, so I don't see why this couldn't happen. And just to get you in the mood...

Have a dream tour of your own (Christmas or otherwise)? Do share!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Intercession of Holy Women

Today is the feast of St. Jane Frances de Chantal. I must confess that I do not know that much about her, nor do I have any particular devotion to her. However, I do know that for her feast we use the Common of Holy Women, the intentions from Evening Prayer II of which I really like. I think they beautifully summarize the variety of vocations to which women (and, with minor variation, men) are called.

Through the intercession of holy women let us pray for the Church in these words:

Through all the women martyrs who conquered bodily death by their courage,
-strengthen Your Church in the hour of trial.

Through married women who have advanced in grace by holy matrimony,
-make the apostolic mission of Your Church fruitful.

Through widows who eased their loneliness and sanctified it by prayer and hospitality,
-help Your Church reveal the mystery of Your love in the world.

Through mothers who have borne children for the kingdom of God and the human community,
-help Your Church bring all men and women to a rebirth in life and salvation.

Through all Your holy women who have been worthy to contemplate the light of Your countenance,
-let the deceased members of Your Church exult in that same vision forever

St. Jane Frances de Chantal and all you holy women, pray for us!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Do the Editors of The Onion Read St. Augustine?

A recent headline from "America's finest news source," The Onion (New Study Reveals Most Children Unrepentant Sociopaths), brought to mind the first book of the Confessions, where St. Augustine reflects on his childhood, even trying to remember his own sins as an infant:

Who remindeth me of the sins of my infancy? for in Thy sight none is pure from sin, not even the infant whose life is but a day upon the earth.
So, even a day-old baby is a sinner. But, just in case you think he was joking, St. Augustine continues:

Who remindeth me? doth not each little infant, in whom I see what of myself I remember not? What then was my sin? was it that I hung upon the breast and cried? for should I now so do for food suitable to my age, justly should I be laughed at and reproved.
But, you might object, how can an infant sin when it cannot knowingly choose sin? Well, any thoughts you might have had of the innocence of the young, St. Augustine rejects quite explicitly:

Or was it then good, even for a while, to cry for what, if given, would hurt? bitterly to resent, that persons free, and its own elders, yea, the very authors of its birth, served it not? that many besides, wise than it, obeyed not the nod of its good pleasure? to do its best to strike and hurt, because commands were not obeyed, which had been obeyed to its hurt? The weakness then of infant limbs, not its will, is its innocence.
A little later, just to make it clear that he was sinful even as an infant, St. Augustine cites Ps. 51 for support, interpreting it quite literally:

But if I was shapen in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me, where, I beseech Thee, O my God, where, Lord, or when, was I Thy servant guileless?
Now, if you go back and read the article I linked, you might notice that the "study" sounds a lot like a modern, secularized version of St. Augustine's doctrine of original sin, and of the doctrine of concupiscence. The gist of St. Augustine's arugment and of the "study" is the same. Even the cutest little kids have seriously twisted wills, are self-centered, and manipulative. Even the quote near the end of the article stating that "the disorder is considered untreatable" meshes fairly well with St. Augustine (indeed, orthodox Christian theology, in general) that sin cannot be treated like a simple disease. (Incidentally, today's feast day reminds us that it takes a miracle to make a human being free of original sin.)

Of course, the writers at The Onion turn not to theologians for support, but to psychologists. Rather than invoking a set doctrine, they rely on studies and documented psychoses. They do not speak of the essence of man, but refer to the percentage of children suffering from a psychosis. They do not call for conversion, but rather for rehabilitation.

All in all, it was a striking resemblance, I thought.

Now, to finish, and to do the unspeakable: I will try to explain a joke. Why is the article from The Onion funny, at least to someone with a twised sense of humor like my own? It is funny because everybody today believes in a doctrine of original innocence of children, not original sin. The thought that St. Augustine might be correct would probably never occur to most of The Onion's readers. And that's a problem.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Your Smart Phone Is Making You Look Stupid

Many people - dare I say most? - today have "smart phones", mobile telephones which not only engage in telephony but also have cameras and lots of nifty applications, including email. Smart phone owners may feel very proud of themselves for being high tech, "with it" and, well, smart. Alas, I have bad news: your smart phone is making you look stupid.

The data which have led me to this conclusion have come from several sources over the last few months. The first are emails from my students. An unseemly number of emails - usually asking me to excuse their absences, raise their grades or otherwise do something nice for them - lack a proper salutation. Moreover, they usually lack capitalization. And some days the students really seem to be gunning for my ire, with messages such as, "when r u going to give back the essays?"

The second source of data is an international discussion forum - by invitation only - of highly educated people discussing matters of great importance. One might expect higher standards in such a place, even if it is only an online forum. However, while the incidents are rarer, it is not by a wide margin. Typos abound. Capitalization is frequently optional. And comments are frequently terse, with antecedents unclear and thoughts undeveloped.

A third source of data comes from students who spend their class time twittering, playing games or otherwise distracting themselves from the studies for which they/their parents/the taxpayers are spending good money.

There are, of course, logical explanations for all these occurrences. Classes are boring and, besides, the professor won't notice me texting the girl sitting next to me. The buttons on phones, no matter how generous, are not as large as those on a keyboard (which, oddly enough, are usually just a tad larger than one's fingertips), making typos a fact of life. And in an effort to curtail the frustrating and time-consuming process of typing on such a thing, shorthand is common. Finally, many smart phones simply are not capable of differentiating capital letters.

However, there are good reasons to dismiss all these explanations. The professor can see you and does think less of you for allowing the little gizmo in your hand to distract you from your studies. Many smart phones can do capital letters (though you usually have to press an extra button or two - what a time-waster!), making a lack of capitalization unacceptable. But more to the point: if you cannot craft an adequate business message on your phone, what business have you using it for business at all? If you think that the ability to send über-prompt messages will outweigh their sloppy contents, I assure you it does not. The only message that your terse communiques, sans capitalization, sends is that their contents were not of sufficient concern to you to bother sitting down at a computer and sending a proper email.

It would seem that I must amend my title statement. Your smart phone is not making you look stupid: it is revealing you for the idiot you are.