History, Military History, Politics, Uncategorized

The Praetorian Guard, the U.S. Intelligence Community, and Michael Flynn: Dangerous Precedents

The Praetorian GuardOn the first day of my Ancient and Medieval Civilizations class, I always ask my students why we study history. One of them always replies that if we don’t learn from history, we will be doomed to repeat it.

I think this is true. I also think that we as a people never learn from history.

The early weeks of the Trump administration brought up an interesting case in point. President Donald Trump’s National Security Director, Michael T. Flynn, was forced to resign after someone in the intelligence community intercepted and leaked to the media a recording of a conversation between Flynn and Russian ambassador Sergey I. Kislyak, in which Flynn seemed to suggest that relief of U.S. sanctions against Russia was possible under Trump.

Many in the media hailed the leaker as a hero who’d exposed an alleged violation of the 1799 Logan Act, which prohibits private citizens from engaging in diplomacy. After all, Flynn wasn’t appointed National Security Director until a few weeks after the conversation with Kislyak.

Not everyone, though, viewed this development in a positive light. Nor was it only Trump supporters and fellow Republicans who expressed concerns about the wiretapping and leaks. Former Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), who is perhaps best known for his attempts to impeach President George W. Bush in 2008, gave an interview in which he strongly condemned the actions of the mysterious leaker and warned of the secret power plays at work in the CIA. “The American people,” Kucinich said, “have to know that there’s a game going on inside the intelligence community where there are those who want to separate the U.S. from Russia in a way that would reignite the Cold War. That’s what’s at the bottom of all this.” He also mentioned that “what’s going on in the intelligence community with this new President is unprecedented. They’re making every effort to upend him.”

Whether they like Trump or hate him, I think all U.S. citizens should be troubled to learn of unknown and unelected bureaucrats working covertly to sabotage a presidential administration. We are not the first civilization to tread over this dangerous ground.

For much of its early history, the city of Rome did not tolerate armed troops within its official boundaries. Returning armies marching through the city in victory processions had to leave their weapons outside the city limits. The presence of armed troops within the city was viewed as too great a danger to the freedoms of Rome’s citizens.

This policy changed with the rise of Caesar Augustus and the emperors who followed in his footsteps. Augustus, arguing that he needed bodyguards, allowed armed troops into the city in the form of his elite Praetorian Guard. As the years passed, the Praetorian Guard grew more influential and more accustomed to protecting its own interests. It eventually became so powerful that it was able to depose emperors and proclaim new ones.

Over the centuries that followed Augustus’s reign, a total of thirteen Roman emperors died at the hands of those who were supposed to be their bodyguards. It’s true that many of these rulers were evil or incompetent or both, but the Praetorian Guard wasn’t just looking out for the good of Rome. It had a vested interest in ensuring that there would always be an emperor in need of its protection. Thus, after the Praetorians murdered the vicious emperor, Caligula, they moved quickly to thwart the plans of the senators for restoring the Roman Republic by declaring Caligula’s uncle, Claudius, the new emperor. By doing so, they ensured that they would maintain their position of power within the Roman government.

To be clear, I’m not suggesting that Trump or any future President is going to get assassinated by the CIA or any other government agency. But I am questioning how comfortable we should be with unelected bureaucrats pulling strings and calling the shots from the shadows, especially when those bureaucrats belong to an agency known around the world for its role in regime changes.

In the United States we have a Constitution with a system of checks and balances in place to prevent any branch of the government from becoming too powerful. If a President (or one of his subordinates) does something illegal, he needs to answer to the people’s representatives in Congress. That’s how our system is supposed to work. While it might be easier to let the intelligence services take care of the problem, it’s also far more dangerous.

 

Nicholas Kaminsky

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Culture, History, Philosophy, Political Philosophy

Phillip Blond on the Tyranny of Liberalism

Rebellion and Revolution in France

“The dilemma arises, however, of how to uphold the precedence of the individual over and above the society with which he or she must necessarily engage. The answer is a two-stage path to modern tyranny – first collectivism and then the authoritarian state. The extreme individualism that underpins the liberal account of human nature in the end demands collectivism as a means of preserving the sanctity of the singular when confronted with the reality of others. If enduring human relationships – the family, corporations, communities – offer only subjugation, society must be stripped of its oppositional forces and of a genuine difference in order to preserve this radical idea of liberty intact. Individuality cut away from human relationships and inherited traditions demands that, in order to preserve this extreme sense of identity, all individuals must be exactly like each other: this is exactly why John Rawls imagined that one could only construct a model for a liberal society by imagining a ‘veil of ignorance’ in which no one knows what identity or what social role they would occupy in any actual social arrangement. But genuine decision-making is always a reflection upon what we have received and what we owe each other: a fictional abstract subject, identical to all other subjects and free of all relationships, can only choose a society that preserves this formal identity and equality as far as possible. Such a society will be bound to become tyrannical: to purchase identical freedom for all at the price of a terrifying control of all by all, which will be exercised in the name of what Rousseau called the ‘general will’ by a tiny elite.

Precisely because he conceived liberty in such individualistic terms, Rousseau was forced to say that the price of sustaining a mutual recognition of liberty is to hand over all our rights to the power of the state. We then receive our rights to freedom back from the state in an enhanced form, supposedly, and together we participate in the mystical collective liberty of the power of the state itself. But in reality this conception of liberty leads to conformism and terror, as first the French Revolution and many subsequent revolutions have shown. Yet, in rightly attacking the revolutionary tradition, conservatives too often lose sight of the fact that the entire liberal tradition has fomented a dangerous creeping revolution – and alongside this a creeping terror and a creeping conformism, as we have so clearly seen with new Labour and its restrictions on civil liberties and association.

The alternative to this modern form of tyranny is a virtue society and a polity that constantly seeks to discern a just order of priorities between differential claims and between various associative groups in society for the attainment of various purposes.

Liberalism, then, paradoxically tends to promise a totalizing unity within an overriding collectivist framework that nullifies opposition in the very name of negative freedom. For an authoritarian state claims only to intrude upon the will of the individual when it moves against those associations that are restrictive of individual freedom. By attacking potential constraints, rather than promoting specific goals, it seeks to insulate itself against opposition by perpetually eradicating anything that might prove a barrier to self-gratification. But almost any positively creative assertion of free action impinges in some way upon another person…and in this way can be taken to reduce the other’s freedom of choice and scope for unhampered activity. Thus, the state is driven to homogenise individuality in the very name of individual diversity. Individual liberty becomes inexorably the ‘general will’ of the social whole and the only truly freedom belongs to that individual write large – which is the state. Competing claims to loyalty, from customary tradition, localities and the family, are anathema to this modern state, because they are supposedly anathema to the unfettered freedom of the individual agency.”

– Phillip Blond, Red Tory

– Lucas G. Westman


*Red Tory: How Left and Right Have Broken Britain and How We Can Fix It, Pg. 148-151

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Apologetics, Church Fathers, History, Philosophy, Saint Augustine, Theology

Genealogical Narratives & Their Villians

St. Augustine WritingThe competing genealogical narratives of the advent of secular modernity are vast. Some of these interpretations of historical progression into the cultural, social, economic, and political reality we now participate consider such developments to be a good thing. Other interpretations cast a negative light on the secular modern instinct. Most often these narratives drifting toward the negative are invented by academics willing to pin the blame on a single intellectual villain, exhume the thought of said villain from the grave, to which these academics will create a movement committed to a perpetual ritualistic burning in effigy of the image created for said narrative purposes. An example of this would be Radical Orthodoxy’s treatment of Bl. John Duns Scotus. This may be a bit too strong of a depiction, but the famous “Scotus story” is one that continually casts the humble friar in a negative light.

The Radical Orthodoxy movement is a theological persuasion initiated by John Milbank’s book, Theology and Social Theory: Beyond Secular Reason. Following this publication, Radical Orthodoxy has grown significantly in its influence, and the work attributed to this movement is voluminous. And like any other movement Radical Orthodoxy has their villains, to which I point to the aforementioned Bl. John Duns Scotus. Milbank identifies Scotus as the nefarious character associated with the genealogical conundrum of the modernist ontological destabilization of the West. Not Galileo, or Descartes, or Hume, or Kant, or Newton, or Marx, or Comte, or Nietzsche, or any combination of these names. Not even the Devil himself is to blame for the disaster of modernity. Instead, the villain identified as the culprit is a Franciscan theologian and philosopher; the theological master that inherited from St. Bonaventure a tradition dedicated to the primacy of Christ and vigorously defended the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The latter is of course an official Marian dogma of the Catholic Church. The person bringing every aspect of his thought into the framework of the spirituality of the Seraphic Father, the primacy of Christ, and the Blessed Mother, instigated the downfall of Christendom – or so Radical Orthodox theologians would have you believe.

Indeed, there are many people other than Scotus that have been blamed for instigating the downfall of the West. One example of this is William of Ockham. Another is Martin Luther. Another is Descartes. Another is Aquinas. Another is Bonaventure. And yet another is Augustine. No doubt there are other names that could be added to the list, but the point is that there are many candidates vying for the title of the one who is responsible for sowing the seeds that would eventually destroy Western Civilization. To be sure, some of these individuals, such as Ockham, are heroes to those who consider modernity a blessing. So again, the story matters for the purpose of the one telling it. In my view, a few names mentioned above deserve to probably be categorized as propagating such a negative trajectory. However, I want to focus on something else that happens when theoretical genealogies are created to explain how we got into the mess we are currently in.

I have noticed an interpretative pattern for those looking to find a villain for a genealogical theory. The pattern initially unfolds by totally ignoring the context of the views espoused by the person being transformed into the antagonist of Western Civilization. For example, I am yet to witness critics of Bonaventure and Scotus engage the specific Franciscan spirituality they were working within. Instead of looking to understand their thought as distinctively Franciscan, a particularity in their thought will be isolated from the correct context, to which it is criticized apart from the appropriate spiritual framework, and then stripped of its spiritually relevant import to the entire system and tradition from which it came. This mistaken handling of the material also ignores the historical milieu from which the thinker is working, therefore ignoring the questions relevant to the person attempting to provide answers for various quandaries. Moreover, if influential thinkers after them used elements of their thought for their own purposes, abusing an idea for a differing pet theory, the original thinker is blamed for the mistreatment rather than the one committing the act of intellectual thievery.

If this pattern is followed – the persistent stripping away of contextual relevance of a specific thinker – a villain is most likely being created to support an academic movement. This is almost a necessary step for an academic because the “villianization” of a person is usually juxtaposed with a proposed corrective theoretical remedy.

This is precisely what has taken place with Scotus and the Radical Orthodoxy movement. And despite many correctives being offered by the relevant Scotus scholars, one shouldn’t expect a change of tune any time soon. Scotus experts such as Thomas Williams, Richard Cross, Mary Beth Ingham, Daniel Horan, and others have offered corrective rebuttals to critics of Scotus, but to no avail. The “Scotus story” continues forward unabated. It is one thing to argue against the Subtle Doctor’s theory of the univocity of being, but it is quite another thing to identify that theory with the cataclysmic events following the institutionalization of modern ideals.

In addition to the “Scotus story,” I have now encountered this same pattern of critical reductionism in Eastern Orthodox criticism of St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas. According to the story being told, Augustine and Aquinas are responsible for planting the seeds, unbeknownst to them, for the development of modern atheism. I have been attempting to interact with these critical arguments with charity, which in turn forces me to dig deeper into the thought of these two great theological and philosophical masters. Despite my efforts, I am finding it very difficult to find the seeds of atheism lurking underneath the theological richness of Augustine’s work on the Trinity, Christian Doctrine, or the City of God; nor have I detected the detriments of atheism in the biblical commentaries of Aquinas. It is equally difficult to discover atheism among Augustine’s passionately devoted defenses of the true faith against Manichaeism and the Pelagian heresy. I have also been left empty handed when examining Augustine’s homilies and soliloquies. Augustine’s Confessions also brought me to a dead end in this investigation. Moreover, the view of nature these two put forth is unambiguously infused with telos, with a final end that ultimately glorifies God, nature’s transcendent Creator. So I am unable to find an atheistic understanding of nature in their ancient, organic view of the natural world.

It is difficult to take serious a genealogical narrative identifying the seeds of atheism in Augustine when it is his thought especially that influenced the development of Western Christendom in the first place. If an interpretative theory is identifying the downfall of a Christo-centric civilization in the thought of the very person responsible for influencing its actualization, then said theory has gone off the rails. Moreover, how atheism went unnoticed for several hundred years to only be recognized after the dreadful schism between the East and West is entirely mysterious. Not to mention that the Protestant revolt and the era of Enlightenment rationalism, which were movements dedicated to overthrowing the cultural hegemony of the Church, were motivated to move away from the Scholastic synthesis and its Patristic inheritance.

What these Eastern critics have actually accomplished by creating this narrative is to set up an impossible standard for doing theology and philosophy from a Christian perspective. If St. Augustine (who is recognized as a saint in the East) and St. Thomas Aquinas can be pinned with the responsibility of introducing, even if only latently, the errors of modern atheism, the standard of infallibility must be inexorably linked to the task of doing theology and philosophy. If atheism is the default critique concerning an area of disagreement with the theological articulation of an important position, then ideology, rather than serious charitable interaction may be guiding the critical project at hand.

According to what I have encountered within this narrative, Eastern critics of Augustine and Aquinas are treating them with the same pattern identified above regarding the “Scotus story.” And it is worth noting that those treating these two as the progenitors of modern atheism happen to be on the other side of a schismatic theological dispute. This is a convenience that is most likely being used to justify a specific religious identity. Just as Protestants must exert continued effort to not become too Papist in their thought, those on the East seem to be associating their identity with not being associated with the West.

To be sure, the specific arguments underpinning the narrative itself still need to be dealt with, but this does not prevent us from recognizing the enormous leap in logic needed to make such a claim regarding Augustine and Aquinas. The lesson to be learned is that we ought to be extra attentive of the desire for some to pin the downfall of an entire culture on a single individual in history. The picture is often much more complex than what is being suggested.

 

– Lucas G. Westman


NOTE: A specific book I have in mind making this argument concerning Augustine and Aquinas is, Aristotle East and West: Metaphysics and the Division of Christendom, by David Bradshaw. There is much to learn from the book, but the overall narrative it is attempting to create in order to justify Eastern Orthodoxy as the true apostolic Church is, well, quite farfetched in my humble of opinion.

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History, Politics

Enlightenment as Religion

This is an insightful paragraph, and the quote highlighted in the meme is a lucid description of the intellectual spirit of the founding era. The predominantly Protestant Christian presence in the colonies, coupled with Enlightenment rationalism, created an odd sort of secular “christian” theistic rationalism in the culture rather than the “orthodoxy” many of the evangelicals believe existed during this time. It is also important to note that Freemasonry was the collective expression for “Enlightenment as religion”


enlightenment-as-religion“The secular version of this intellectual set of interpretations for America’s ‘common faith’ offers the various phases of the Enlightenment (and religious belief, most especially not evangelical Protestantism) as the basis for the profound distrust of Catholicism in the United States. In this account of America’s intellectual life, it is the bracing air of reason, pressed by figures like Tom Paine, Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin, and John Adams, that bequeathed to the Republic its distrust of hierarchical institutions and the argument from authority. Scholars like Daniel Boorstin, Henry May, Bernard Bailyn, and Gordon Wood have presented the real American intellectual tradition as intimately tied to the Enlightenment’s distrust of both revealed truths and nondemocratic sources of authority in every form. This approach was most elegantly presented in May’s great study of four enlightenments that hit British North American culture in successive waves of influence: the real key for understanding U.S. culture was not the relation of Enlightenment and religion, but rather Enlightenment as religion for the founders of the American republic. This version of the intellectualist reading of American cultural roots argued that the common cultural faith was rooted in profoundly egalitarian, rationalist presuppositions about the world, and anti-authoritarian impulses against which the Catholic tradition appeared to many as an easy target.”

– Mark S. Massa S.J., Anti-Catholicism in America: The Last Acceptable Prejudice –


 

– Lucas G. Westman

 

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History, Politics

Culture & Constitution

jefferson-hamiltonI go back and forth on whether or not I should do posts on the constitution, jurisprudence, SCOTUS rulings etc. The reason I go back and forth on this is because I don’t think a written constitution means anything if the unwritten constitution of the culture usurps the text and transforms it into something it was never meant to become. It is the unwritten constitution of culture that needs to be transformed before a truly cogent understanding of the written text can become meaningful in any objectively relevant manner.

I am convinced the founding era didn’t know exactly how cultural ramifications would influence the interpretation of the written text. A microcosm of this uncertainty can be found in the rivalry between Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson. Hamilton’s vision was more in line with a robust industrial economy, centralization as an embodiment of strengthened nationalism, and a “loose” constructive interpretative lens of the constitution in order to accomplish what he thought was best for a young America. Jefferson’s vision was more in line with a romantic agrarianism, decentralization to strengthen the individual and local communities, and a “strict” constructionist interpretative lens of the constitution in order to accomplish what he thought was best for a young America. These comparative descriptions are quite crude, and do not come close to specifically identifying the nuances of the Hamiltonian/Jeffersonian divide concerning political philosophy. To be sure, the divergent and competing political philosophies of these founding rivals does not suggest that their policy visions are what inexorably follow from their philosophical commitments. For now, I will ignore nuance to make a much broader point.

At first, Hamilton won many of these battles with Marshall at the helm of the Supreme Court. Following the collapse of the Federalist Party, a Jeffersonian perspective won other battles concerning culture and the constitution. Either way, the interpretation of the constitution was directly influenced by the cultural vision of those men in political positions able to shape the direction the country would take given early circumstances.

In order to appropriately offer arguments for a transformation of our cultural predicament, I must also make the constitutional arguments. Our identity as Americans is tightly wrapped in how we understand our culture and the constitution. Hence, to offer a compelling vision for American culture, one must also persuade their fellow citizens of its constitutionality. Moreover, if consistency is a virtue to be sought in critical thinking, we must be willing to properly recognize where amendments are needed rather than legislation.

Finally, we have to find the best interpretative philosophical lens for understanding the written text of the constitution. The necessity of interpretation forces us to enter into philosophical debates concerning competing views of jurisprudence, political philosophy, and legal reasoning.

Indeed, we do not need to look back to the founding era for rivalries to support my case; examples of this can be found in our own time. Rather than focusing on two individuals, we can look at two law firms seeking to shape our culture and constitution according to their vision of freedom, and human flourishing.

These law firms are:

  1. American Civil Liberties Union
  2. Alliance Defending Freedom

The ACLU could be fairly summarized as an organization guided by secular progressive values and interprets the constitution as a living document. The ADF could be fairly summarized as an organization guided by traditional values and interprets the constitution according to its original meaning.

Catholics must enter this discussion. Much is at stake, and the Catholic worldview has a unique perspective that may be able to untie many of the knots tightened in today’s ideologically driven culture war.

 

– Lucas G. Westman

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Foreign Policy, History, Military History, Politics

Andrew Bacevich on the Secularization of U.S. Foreign Policy

americas-war-for-the-greater-middle-eastThese two paragraphs from Andrew Bacevich’s book, America’s War for the Greater Middle East, expose a very difficult truth the U.S. needs to take seriously.

Bacevich says,

“But among those paid to think about strategy, soldiers and civilians alike, history and religion counted for little. In the wake of World War II, in large part due to the primacy assigned to nuclear issues, economists, mathematicians, political scientists, and specialists in game theory had come to exercise an outsized influence on framing the debate over basic national security policy. On matter where so little history existed, historians seemingly had little to offer and could therefore safely be ignored. As for theologians, with rare exceptions, they were excluded altogether. National security policy was a thoroughly secular enterprise.

For Generals Kingston, Crist, and Schwarzkopf to incorporate history or religion into their thinking alongside geography or the prospective enemy’s order of battle would have required an enormous leap of creative imagination. At CENTCOM headquarters, such imagination was – and would remain – in short supply.”

I would argue that it is largely due to the secularization of our foreign policy that we are completely unable to come to grips with how to deal with Islamic countries (many of which should be our allies), Islamic terror organizations, and the broader Middle Eastern region. Secularism has created massive blind spots when dealing with these deeply religions cultures, and I see very little hope for improvement in the future.

 

– Lucas G. Westman

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Conservative Thought, History, Politics

Whittaker Chambers on His Conversion

Whittaker Chambers WitnessThe fantastic passage is taken from Whittaker Chambers’s book, Witness:

“What I had been fell from me like dirty rags. The rags that fell from me were not only Communism. What fell was the whole web of the materialist modern mind – the luminous shroud which it has been spun about the spirit of man, paralyzing in the name of rationalism the instinct of his soul for God, denying in the name of knowledge the reality of the soul and its birthright in that mystery on which mere knowledge falters and shatters at every step. If I had rejected only Communism, I would have rejected only one political expression of the modern mind, the most logical because the most brutal in enforcing the myth of man’s material perfectibility, the most persuasive because the least hypocritical in announcing its purpose and forcibly removing the obstacles to it. If I had rejected only Communism, I should have changed my faith; I would not have changed the force that made it possible. I should have remained within that modern intellectual mood which gives birth to Communism, and denies the soul in the name of the mind, and the soul’s salvation in suffering in the name of man’s salvation here and now. What I sensed without being able to phrase it was what has since been phrased with the simplicity of an axiom: “Man cannot organize the world for himself without God; without God man can only organize the world against man.” The gas ovens of Buchenwald and the Communist execution cellars exist first within our minds.

But the torrent that swept through me in 1937 and the first months of 1938 swept my spirit clear to discern one truth: “Man without mysticism is a monster.” I do not mean, of course, that I denied the usefulness of reason and knowledge. What I grasped was that religion begins at the point where reason and knowledge are powerless and forever fail – the point at which man senses the mystery of his good and evil, his suffering and his destiny as a soul in search of God. Thus, in pain, I learned the distinction between wisdom and knowledge – knowledge, which however exalted, is seldom more than the making of careful measurements, and wisdom, which includes knowledge, but also includes man’s mystery.” – Whittaker Chambers, Witness, Pg. 83

 

– Lucas G. Westman

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Foreign Policy, History, Military History, Politics

Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates – “On War”

Robert Gates DutyThis passage is taken from the section of Robert Gates’s memoir titled, “On War”:

“Usually we don’t get to choose and almost never accurately predict the kind of war we will fight next. I am always amused when I hear a senior military officer or a politician declare that we will never fight certain kinds of wars again. After Vietnam, our defense “experts” avowed we would never again try to fight an insurgency, yet we have done so in both Iraq and Afghanistan. We are hearing the same claim now. Those who assert we will fight only certain kinds of wars in the future forget history and the reality that our enemies, as I’ve said, always have a vote, as do future presidents. In the forty years since Vietnam, our record in predicting where we will be militarily engaged next, even six months out, is perfect: we have never once gotten it right, not in Grenada, Haiti, Panama, Libya (twice), Iraq (twice), Afghanistan, the Balkans, or Somalia. When it comes to predicting future conflicts, what kind of fights they will be, and what will be needed, we need a lot more humility.

Wars are a lot easier to get into than out of, a point I hope I have made clear. Those who ask about exit strategies or what happens if assumptions prove wrong are rarely welcome at the conference table when the fire-breathers argue we must act militarily – as they did when advocating an invasion of Iraq, intervening in Libya and Syria, or bombing Iranian nuclear sites. The argument against military action is almost never about capabilities but whether it is wise. As Petraeus said early on in Iraq, “Tell me how this ends.” Too often the question is not even asked, much less answered.

My time as secretary of defense reinforced my belief that in recent decades, American presidents, confronted with a tough problem abroad, have too often been quick to reach for a gun – to use military force, despite all the realities I have been describing. They could have done worse than to follow the example of President Dwight D. Eisenhower. During his presidency, the Soviet Union became a thermonuclear power, China became a nuclear power, and there were calls for preventive nuclear war against both; the Joint Chiefs unanimously recommended that he use nuclear weapons to help the French in Vietnam; there were several crises with China related to Taiwan; a war in the Middle East; a revolution in Cuba; and uprisings in East Germany, Poland, and Hungary. And yet after Eisenhower agreed to the armistice in Korea in the summer of 1953, not one American soldier was killed in action during his presidency.

Too many ideologues call for the use of the American military as the first option rather than a last resort to address problems. On the left, we hear about the “responsibility to protect” as a justification for military intervention in Libya, Syria, the Sudan, and elsewhere. On the right, the failure to use military force in Libya, Syria, or Iraq is deemed an abdication of American leadership and a symptom of a “soft” foreign policy. Obama’s “pivot” to Asia was framed almost entirely in military terms as opposed to economic and political priorities. And so the rest of the world sees America, above all else, as a militaristic country too quick to launch planes, cruise missiles, and armed drones deep into sovereign countries or ungoverned spaces.

I strongly believe America must continue to fulfill its global responsibilities. We are the “indispensable nation,” and few international problems can be addressed successfully without our leadership. But we also need to better appreciate that there are limits to what the United States – still by far the strongest and greatest nation on earth – can do in an often cruel and challenging world. The power of our military’s global reach has been an indispensable contributor to peace and stability in many regions and must remain so. But not every outrage, every act of aggression, every oppression, or every crisis can or should elicit an American military response.” (Pg. 590, 591)

 

– Lucas G. Westman

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History

Identifying the Progressive Narrative of History

Aztec Sacrifice

Progressive historians have a remarkable ability to exponentially magnify the violence of Western Civilization while simaltaneously downplaying the violence of other primitive cultures. These politically motivated, erroneous interpretations should be identified and corrected. Let’s examine an instance of this with Eric Foner’s treatment of the Aztecs in his textbook, Give Me Liberty Volume I.

The Aztec civilization/empire came into direct contact with the Spanish fleets during their voyages to the new world. Aztecs dominated their region with brute force, and often kidnapped surrounding tribes for the purposes of mass sacrificial rituals. The first explorer to encounter the Aztecs was Cortes, who arrived at the ‘capital’ of the Aztec empire located at Tenochtitlan (Foner, Pg. 21). Foner does something peculiar when describing the Aztec civilization. He says, “The Aztecs were violent warriors who engaged in the ritual sacrifice of captives and others, sometimes thousands at a time. This practice thoroughly alienated their neighbors and reinforced the Spanish view of America’s native inhabitants as barbarians, even though in Europe at this time thousands of men and women were burned at the stake as witches or religious heretics, and criminals were executed in public spectacles that attracted throngs of onlookers.” (Pg. 21) Notice how Foner compares the ritualistic sacrifices of the Aztecs as “thousands” with the supposed “thousands” of ritualistic sacrifices done by the Europeans. In my view, Foner is attempting to suggest that there were really no civilizational differences between the Aztecs and Christian European culture, at least with regard to the idea of human sacrifice and barbarism. He offers no sources with regard to his claims about either culture, rather, he merely asserts this comparison as fact and moves on.

But is this the case? Can such a flippant comparison be legitimately made of the two cultures? I am inclined to say a comparison like this is entirely untenable. 

Let’s bring a bit more detail to the evaluation to see if one culture was actually worse than the other, rather than neutral in the levels of sacrifice and cruelty. In, A Patriot’s History of the United States, Larry Schweikart and Michael Allen say this, “But it was sacrifice, not science, that defined the Aztec society, whose pyramids, after all, were execution sites. A four-day sacrifice in 1487 by the Aztec king Ahuitzotl involved the butchery of 80,400 prisoners by shifts of priests working four at a time at convex killing tables who kicked lifeless, heartless bodies down the side of the pyramid temple. This worked out to be a ‘killing rate of fourteen victims a minute over the ninety-six-hour bloodbath.'” (Pg. 5) Schweikart and Allen then provide a source to back this claim. The source provided is Victor Davis Hanson’s book, Carnage and Culture, Pg. 195. Now, if this is an accurate depiction of what was taking place in the Aztec culture, we may infer that despite the occasion of burning people at the stake in Europe, it was not even close to rivaling the roughly 100,000 people butchered in the span of four days by the Aztecs. What Foner may have in mind when making this comparison is the Spanish Inquisition that lasted over a span of several hundred years and resulted in the killing of a few thousand people. Now that is potentially a few thousand too many, but a few thousand over several hundred years is much different than 100,000 people in 4 days. Moreover, the United States presently sacrifices unborn babies by the hundreds of thousands every year, and roughly 3,000 per day in the name of liberal bodily autonomy. Our contemporary progressive culture, unfortunately, has more in common with the sacrificial barbarism of the Aztecs than it does with Christian Europe.

Henry Kamen’s work, The Spanish Inquisition: A Historical Revision (now in its fourth edition), is a reputable source that constructs a more realistic account of the Inquisition than is popularly referenced by New Atheists and their secular progressive followers. The Inquisition, much like the Crusades, is surrounded by negative mythic interpretations. A lot of new scholarship has only recently begun to challenge these falsehoods.

Another critique I have of Foner’s narrative is the notion that the brutal practices of the Aztecs merely “alienated” their neighbors. The Aztecs did not alienate the neighboring tribes. They killed, sacrificed, and enslaved them. Alienation would have been a welcome invitation compared to having your beating heart ripped from your chest followed by having your lifeless body kicked down the stares of the pyramid where your public execution had just taken place. Moreover, the judgment of Cortes to utilize various tribes to defeat the Aztecs may have been shrewd, but it is also misleading to suggest that the neighboring tribes did not welcome such an ally in order to defeat their brutal oppressors. Maybe the shrewdness was mutually beneficial. 

Foner also suggests that disease was a significant cause of the devastation of the Aztec society. This is also a debatable claim that recent scholarship has challenged. Yes, natives did not have immunity to some of the diseases brought over from Europe, but this suggests that no epidemics took place before the Europeans arrived. Schwiekart and Allen show this to be the case on Pg. 6-9 of the book previously referenced, and they provide ample source material to back their claim.

History is important, and it is equally important to expose the politically motivated slants used to justify contemporary agendas.  

– Lucas G. Westman

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