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Joseph S. Lucas and Donald A. Yerxa, Editors 

President's Corner | Agriculture as History | The Study of the Nobilities of Latin Europe
Crossing Borders | Interview with J.R. McNeill and William H. McNeill | Big History | Dispatch from Germany |
The Past Perfect | The Third American Republic | The Battle Over Constitutional Interpretation | The Prisoners | Letters

November 2002

Volume IV, Number 2


One of the most pressing tasks world historians have had in recent years is to develop a more adequate conceptualization of human history as a whole, one that combines the insights of the comparative history of separate civilizations with world systems analysis. Any schema, moreover, that fails to take into account the importance of humanity’s encounters and collisions with the organisms of the earth’s ecosystem and the reciprocal impact of climate and environment on human history is clearly inadequate. Admittedly, the attempt to understand human history as a whole is a daunting task, but one that historians cannot avoid simply because of its magnitude and complexity. With that in mind, we advance the notion of the centrality of webs of interaction in human history as the basis of a more satisfactory account of the past. The career of webs of communication and interaction, we submit, provides the overarching structure of human history. 

A web, as we see it, is a set of connections that link people to one another. These connections may take many forms: chance encounters, kinship, friendship, common worship, rivalry, enmity, economic exchange, ecological exchange, political cooperation, even military competition. In all such relationships, people communicate information and use that information to shape their future behavior. They also communicate, or transfer, useful technologies, goods, crops, ideas, and much else. Furthermore, they inadvertently exchange diseases and weeds, items they cannot use but which affect their lives (and deaths) nonetheless. The exchange and spread of such information, items, and inconveniences, and human responses to these, shape history. 

What drives history is the human ambition to alter one’s condition to match one’s hopes. But just what people hoped for, both in the material and spiritual realms, and how they pursued their hopes, depended on the information, ideas, and examples available to them. Thus webs channeled and coordinated everyday human ambition. 

Although always present, over time the human web changed its nature and meaning so much that we will speak of webs in the plural. At its most basic level, the human web dates at least to the development of human speech. Our distant ancestors created social solidarity within their small bands through exchanges of information and goods. Beyond this, even tens of thousands of years ago, bands interacted and communicated with one another, if only sporadically. Despite migrations that took our forebears to every continent except Antarctica, we remain a single species today, testament to the exchange of genes and mates among bands through the ages. Moreover, the spread of bows and arrows throughout most of the world (not Australia) in remote times shows how a useful technology could pass from group to group. These exchanges are evidence of a very loose, very far-flung, very old web of communication and interaction: the first worldwide web. But people were few and the earth was large, so the web remained loose until about 12,000 years ago. 

With the denser populations that came with agriculture, new and tighter webs arose, superimposed on the loose, original web. The first worldwide web never disappeared, but sections within it grew so much more interactive that they formed smaller webs of their own. These arose in select environments where agriculture or an unusual abundance of fish made a more settled life feasible, allowing regular, sustained interactions among larger numbers of people. These webs were local or regional in scope. 

Eventually, after about 5,000 years, some of these local and regional webs grew tighter still, thanks to the development of cities that served as crossroads and storehouses for information and goods (and infections). They became metropolitan webs, based on interactions connecting cities to agricultural and pastoral hinterlands, and on other interactions connecting cities to one another. Metropolitan webs did not link everyone. Some people (until recent times) remained outside, economically self-sufficient, culturally distinct, politically independent. The first metropolitan web formed 5,000 years ago around the cities of ancient Sumer. The largest, formed about 2,000 years ago by a gradual amalgamation of many smaller ones, spanned most of Eurasia and North Africa. 

Some of these metropolitan webs survived, spread, and absorbed or merged with others. Other webs prospered for a time but eventually fell apart. In the last 500 years, oceanic navigation united the world’s metropolitan webs (and its few remaining local webs) into a single, modern worldwide web. And in the last 160 years, beginning with the telegraph, this modern worldwide web became increasingly electrified, allowing more and faster exchanges. Today, although people experience it in vastly different ways, everyone lives inside a single global web, a unitary maelstrom of cooperation and competition. 

• • • 

All webs combine cooperation and competition. The ultimate basis of social power is communication that encourages cooperation among people. This allows many people to focus on the same goals, and it allows people to specialize at what they do best. Within a cooperative framework, specialization and division of labor can make a society far richer and more powerful than it might otherwise be. It also makes that society more stratified, more unequal. If the cooperative framework can be maintained, the larger the web gets, the more wealth, power, and inequality its participating populations exhibit. 

But, paradoxically, hostile competition can also foster the same process. Rivals share information too, if only in the shape of threats. Threats, when believed, provoke responses. Usually responses involve some closer form of cooperation. If for example, one kingdom threatens another, the threatened king will seek ways to organize his subjects more effectively in defense of the realm. He may also seek closer alliance with other kingdoms. Competition at one level, then, promotes cooperation at other levels. 

Over time, those groups (families, clans, tribes, chiefdoms, states, armies, monasteries, banking houses, multinational corporations) that achieved more efficient communication and cooperation within their own ranks improved their survival chances and competitive position. They acquired resources, property, followers, at the expense of other groups with less effective internal communication and cooperation. So, over time, the general direction of history has been toward greater and greater social cooperation—both voluntary and compelled—driven by the realities of social competition. Over time, groups tended to grow in size to the point where their internal cohesion, their ability to communicate and cooperate, broke down. 

The tight webs of interaction, linking groups of all sorts, tended to grow for several reasons. They conferred advantages on their participants. Through their communication and cooperation, societies inside metropolitan webs became far more formidable than societies outside. Participation in a web brought economic advantages via specialization of labor and exchange. Military advantages came in the form of larger numbers of warriors, often full-time specialists in the arts of violence, aware of (and usually choosing to use) the cutting edge of military technology. Epidemiological advantages accrued to people living inside metropolitan webs, because they were more likely to acquire immunities to a wider array of diseases than could other people. 

All these advantages to life inside a web came at a cost. Economic specialization and exchange created poverty as well as wealth. Skilled warriors sometimes turned their weapons against people who looked to them for protection. And people acquired disease immunities only by repeated exposure to lethal epidemics. Nonetheless, the survivors of these risks enjoyed a marked formidability in relation to peoples outside of webs. 

But there was more to the expansion of webs than this. Webs were unconscious and unrecognized social units. But nonetheless they contained many organizations—lineages, tribes, castes, churches, companies, armies, empires—all of which had leaders who exercised unusual power. These leaders caused webs to expand by pursuing their own interests. Leaders of any hierarchy enjoy an upward flow of goods, services, deference and prestige. They normally struggle to expand the scope of their operations so as to increase this upward flow. Their followers help, to avoid punishment and to earn a share (however paltry in comparison to the leaders) of the anticipated rewards. In the past, this urge to expand often came at the expense of people outside of existing webs, who were poorly organized to defend their own persons, property, territory, or religion. Survivors found themselves enmeshed in new economic, political, and cultural linkages, in a word, in a web. Thus leaders of organizations within a web, in seeking to enhance their own power and status, persistently (if unconsciously) expanded the webs in which they operated. 

Webs also tended to expand because communications and transport technology improved. Writing, printing, and the Internet, for example, were major advances in the transmission of information. Each reduced information costs, and made it easier to build and sustain larger networks of cooperation. Sailing vessels, wheels, and railroads, similarly, cut transport costs and promoted cooperation and exchange over broader spaces and among larger populations. 

So webs involved both cooperation and competition, as their scale tended to grow. So too did their influence upon history. The original worldwide web lacked writing, wheels, and pack animals. The volume and velocity of messages and things that circulated within it was always small and slow by later standards. Its power to shape daily life was weak, although it could occasionally transmit major changes. But the more tightly woven metropolitan webs that evolved in the past 5,000 years transmitted more things more quickly, and thus played a larger role in history. As webs grew and fused, fewer and fewer societies existed in isolation, evolving in parallel with others, and more and more existed and evolved in communication with others. Between 12,000 and 5,000 years ago at least seven societies around the world invented agriculture, in most cases quite independently: parallel pressures led to parallel solutions. The steam engine did not have to be invented seven times to spread around the world: by the 18th century once was enough. 

The power of human communication, cooperation, and competition shaped the earth’s history as well as human history. Concerted human action upset prevailing ecological relationships, first through the deliberate use of fire, coordinated hunting of big game, and the domestication of animals and plants. Eventually, humankind learned to divert ever-larger shares of the earth’s energy and material flows for our own purposes, vastly expanding our niche and our numbers. This, in turn, made the infrastructure of webs—the ships, roads, rails, and Internet— easier to build and sustain. The process of web-building and the process of enlarging the human niche supported one another. We would not be six billion strong without the myriad of interconnections, the flows and exchanges of food, energy, technology, money, that comprise the modern web. 

How people created these webs of interaction, how those webs grew, what shapes they took in different parts of the world, how they combined in recent times into a single worldwide web, and how this altered the human role on earth is the subject of our short book. 

William H. McNeill, the Robert A. Millikan Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus at the University of Chicago, is widely considered to be the dean of world historians. His most recent book is Keeping Together in Time: Dance and Drill in Human History (Harvard University Press, 1995). J.R. McNeill is professor of history at Georgetown University. His Something New Under the Sun: An Environmental History of the Twentieth-Century World (Norton, 2000) was co-winner of the World History Association Book Prize. 

An Interview with J.R. McNeill and William H. McNeill
Conducted by Donald A. Yerxa in anticipation of J.R. McNeill and William H. McNeill, The Human Web: A Birds-Eye View of World History (Norton, forthcoming in 2003).

William H. McNeill, the Robert A. Millikan Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus at the University of Chicago, is widely considered the dean of world historians. His most recent book is Keeping Together in Time: Dance and Drill in Human History (Harvard University Press, 1995). J.R. McNeill is professor of history at Georgetown University. His Something New Under the Sun: An Environmental History of the Twentieth-Century World (Norton, 2000) was co-winner of the World History Association Book Prize. 

Yerxa: What are you trying to accomplish with The Human Web?

JR McNeill:  A number of things at the same time, I suppose. On the intellectual level, my dad and I are trying to get across a vision of world history—one that is, we hope, coherent, accessible, and compelling. And our vision, simply stated, is that the means of interaction among communities throughout history have served to provoke the changes that are the main currents of history, and this is quite consistent from the earliest human times to the present. The emphasis is on communications, networks of communications, technologies of communications, and of transport as well.

Yerxa:  How do your webs of communication and interaction improve upon existing conceptual schemes in world history?

JR McNeill:  There isn’t a wide variety of existing conceptual schemes within world history, if by world history we mean attempts to tell the whole story of the human experience—or perhaps I should put it better—attempts to give structure, pattern, and meaning to the whole history of the human experience. By far the dominant approach, certainly within the English-language historical tradition, has been to divide the world up—at least over the last 5,000 years—among various civilizations. That is, to take elite culture as the primary unit of analysis, because it is elite culture that defines a given civilization, whether that is Egyptian, Chinese, or what have you. And this is the approach that informs most of the textbooks, but it is not the only one. In the last fifteen to twenty years a rival vision has popped up—one that my father has done something to advance beginning forty years ago—and that is to see world history as the story of interaction among various cultures and to privilege cross-cultural exchanges, influences, contacts, etc. I would say the primary exponent of this view currently is Jerry Bentley, editor of the Journal of World History and author of what I believe is the best textbook on the market. But that’s about it in terms of coherent visions of world history. So what this web concept tries to do is take the latter of these two positions a little bit further and try to give some structure to the concept of, not perhaps cross-cultural interactions, but cross-community interactions. That is, people need not be of different cultures when interacting; they can be approximately of the same culture and yet locked in some competitive struggle or, equally, locked in some sort of cooperative arrangement. So we try to give a bit more structure and pattern to the notion of group interaction than does any other vision of world history that I’m aware of.

William McNeill: Let me add a bit here. When I was young, there were two visions of world history that were commonplace. One was based on notions of the Judeo-Christian revelation, and it understood meaningful history as the history of God’s relationship to men. This was far from dead; there were lots of people in the United States, and in other countries as well, for whom this version of world history was the true one. That is, God’s relationship to man was what really mattered. At the core of this vision of world history was the assumption that Christians were the people who had received the true revelation. Muslims had exactly the same view of their world, but it was a different revelation from the same God. And then there was the 18th- and 19th-century secularization of the Christian epos—as I like to call it—that was taught in the universities. This vision of world history was anchored in the notion of progress, interpreted in largely material terms: technological improvements, printing, and all the changes that followed from that, as well as changes of ideas. The notion of European progress had been ascendant up to the First World War. And when I was a young man, the First World War presented a tremendous challenge to vision of human progress. It contradicted everything in which those who thought Europe was progressive had believed. This was simply unresolved by historians who still thought of progress as the old, Enlightenment sort of vision. For them, history stopped with 1914 and the controversy over war guilt, and there was no effort to meet this great intellectual challenge to the picture of progress. Progress was one of the great ideas of the Western world, and I was brought up with all that. I distinctly remember the week in which I encountered Toynbee as a second-year graduate student at Cornell.  I suddenly realized that the history I had been taught had been confined to ancient Greece and Rome and the Western world, and the rest of the world only joined history when the Europeans conquered it. 

Yerxa:  What year was this when you first encountered Toynbee?

William McNeill:   It must have been 1940. I didn’t know Toynbee’s reputation at all. Cornell's library only had the first three volumes of A Study of History, and since Cornell did not have any formal graduate courses then, I had free time—something that I’ve never had since—to explore Toynbee's thought. I was captivated by his picture of a multiplicity of civilizations, each—as he said—philosophically equivalent to another, and this meant that the world was enormously wider than I had previously understood.  When I wrote my Rise of the West [1963], I was still very much influenced by Toynbee and his vision of the multiplicity of civilizations as the way to handle world history. And then later I was influenced to some extent by world-systems analysis of Immanuel Wallerstein and others, but I also felt that the world-systems approach was also not totally satisfactory. So now here we are advancing an alternative model, the web. The web extends from every word you say, every time, every message. This is the texture of human life within families, within primary communities, within cities, and among all kinds of subgroups with professional linkages. We have, it seems to me, a conceptual scheme that puts the world together in a far more effective fashion than had been true before. 

Yerxa:   Seen through the lens of webs of interaction, history reveals a trajectory toward greater size and complexity. Is this necessarily so? To borrow from the late Stephen Jay Gould, if it were possible to replay the tape of human history from the beginning, would we be likely or unlikely to see the same or similar trajectory?

JR McNeill: Certainly, this is a meta-question. My answer to it, which I offer without great confidence, is that if we were to replay the tape of human history from precisely the same initial starting conditions—let’s say 100,000 years ago or one million years ago—that the probability is that we would end up with approximately the same results in very broad patterns. And I stress approximately. We would likely see an evolution toward greater complexities of social arrangements and an evolution toward larger and larger units of society. Now, that is not to say that we would necessarily arrive at an industrial revolution; we would not necessarily arrive at a world with lots of democracies in it. Those seem to me on this scale to be matters of detail that could easily have turned out differently. But the proposition that the general drift of cultural evolution is toward more complex and larger-scale social units seems to me highly probable. Not absolutely ironclad, guaranteed, but highly probable.

Yerxa:  What does all this suggest about human agency? If these webs function as the driving force of historical change, how should we view human agency? 

JR McNeill:  I would say that the webs are the shaping force of human history, not so much the driving force. The driving force is the ambitions—individual and collective—of people. There’s plenty of room for human agency, but as Marx put it, men make their own history, but not just as they please. I think this is an apt aphorism. The webs shape what is possible, but the driving forces are the opportunities and challenges that people see. Now those challenges and opportunities that they see, what they are aware of—all that is dependent upon the information that comes to them. Information that comes to them comes via these webs of interaction. So human agency, within the context of the webs, works to shape ultimate results. And then on the more detailed level—getting away from the meta-scale and the grand vision—there is plenty of room for contingency and human agency on what for most historians are rather large-scale questions: whether it’s the nature and character of the French Revolution or the Taiping Rebellion or of Alexander’s Macedonian empire. On these scales, which are pretty big scales for historians to operate on, there is still plenty of room for contingency and human agency. Had Alexander died at age sixteen instead of thirty-three, things would have been quite different. 

Yerxa:  We’ve seen an explosion of books dealing with macro-historical themes. What do you make of this?

JR McNeill: I’m delighted to see an explosion of macrohistories. I note that many of them are not written by historians; they are written by journalists or, in the case of Jared Diamond, someone who is part ornithologist and part human physiologist. This seems fine to me; the additional perspectives of people outside of the cadre of professional historians is very welcome. But I do wish that historians would also more frequently adopt the macro-perspective for two reasons. First of all, intellectually, historians, as a group, need to operate on every scale—not that every individual historian needs to do so, but as a group. That is, micro-studies are necessary and valuable, but to make them maximally interesting and useful, they need to be situated and contextualized in larger-scale macrohistorical patterns. At the same time, macrohistories are impossible without the large number of microhistories. So both scales and, by extension, all scales between the smallest and the largest are helpful and useful. But the professional training of historians in this and other countries is very slanted toward producing small scale studies, and they exist in great profusion. I do not object to that. I do wish that there were more historians eager to operate on the larger scale at the other end of that spectrum. Secondly, I think it’s important because historians, at present, have some purchase on the public imagination. This is delightful, but it is not a birthright of historians. There are academic disciplines that exist tenuously because they don’t have anything directly to say to the general public. I’m thinking, for example, of classics, which one hundred years ago was a vital discipline in the universities and is now a marginal one within certainly American universities. And this has happened to other disciplines as well. History, happily, has avoided developing its own impenetrable jargon, although there are historians who have succeeded magnificently in writing impenetrable jargon. Nonetheless, on the whole, historians still write accessibly, which rather few academic disciplines still do. And a number of historians write things that the general public is happy to read. In order to maintain that situation and, ideally, in order to improve it and expand the general interest in the work of historians, I think historians need to write at the big scale. The general public in most cases will not be interested in microhistories. There’s always an exception to that; there’s always a market for certain kinds of military or presidential histories in this country. But in general, it’s the bigger pictures, the bigger sweeps that are going to be the most appealing to the general public. So I am eager to see historians do that and not leave the field of macrohistory to historical sociologists, ornithologists, and journalists.

Yerxa:  What is your assessment of the present state of world history?

JR McNeill:  I’m pretty cheerful about it, for a couple of reasons. First of all, I believe in world history; I think it is a feasible project both as a teaching enterprise and as a writing enterprise. Obviously, I think the latter; otherwise I wouldn’t have written this book with my dad. I also believe it is appropriate as an educational mission for young people in this and in all countries. And I’m happy to say that I think it’s getting better, in at least two respects: the number of people in the field is growing and the quality of work in the field is improving. In the English-language community, I think that’s primarily due to the Journal of World History, which has been going for about twelve years now and has served as a forum for ideas, very effectively in my view. And then as a pedagogical matter, the number of world history courses in this country is growing by leaps and bounds, and in some other countries that’s true as well. I don’t know if that’s true generally around the world, though I wouldn’t be surprised if it were. And this seems to me a positive development. Now more than ever—although I think it has always been the case—it would be desirable to educate people in the broadest human context rather than in their own national context or, for example in this country, in the Western Civ. context. Those things are actually useful and valuable, but on their own they are quite incomplete. As a pedagogical matter, the growth of world history is a very favorable development. 

William McNeill:  The field is experiencing very rapid evolution. There are a lot of people interested in world history all of a sudden, and fortunately there are some very good minds at work. One of most impressive, in my opinion, is David Christian. Of course, many others are doing serious work. Peter Stearns has joined the chorus, and, if I may say, my son and I are doing serious work. This maturation of world history is not surprising.  Obviously, the world is a tightly integrated whole today, and anyone who looks at the world knows that the European past—much less the American past—is not the whole past. We are immersed in this worldwide web. And I think it is very important to know how it got that way, which is why my son and I wrote our book. 

Yerxa: Do you think rank and file historians have paid sufficient attention to world history?

William McNeill: Of course not.

Yerxa: Why not?

William McNeill: In my opinion, one of the problems has been the historical profession’s resistance to history that is not based in primary texts. We have an enormous fixation on, what seems to me to be, the naïve idea that truth resides in what somebody wrote sometime in the past. If it's not written down, it isn’t true. And that’s absurd. But it’s the way historians are trained: you have to have a source, and if you don’t have something you can cite from an original source, in the original language, then you’re not a really good historian, you’re are not scientific, you’re not true. The idea that truth resides in what was said is highly problematic. People in the past didn’t always know what was most important even when it was going on around them. Similarly, we probably don’t know what’s most important going on around us today. To assume that only our conscious awareness of what we think we are doing is what should constitute history is silly. What happens is a process in which hopes and wishes and consciousness enter, but we don’t get what we want; we get something mixed with what other people want, with unsuspected and surprising results for all concerned, over and over again. Now if you take only what has been written down—that which happens to have been preserved, which is a small fraction of what was actually written down—as what historians should deal with, you automatically abbreviate the human career. You leave out pre-history; you leave out all the non-literate populations; and you concentrate in effect on a very small number of people, often a very skewed example of the upper classes even, the clerics, the literate, which was sometimes very, very small.  So clearly I consider the obsession with written sources to be an absurdity if you’re trying to understand what happened. It means that people who write books such as ours—which is full of lots of hypotheses based upon little or no material evidence and great leaps of the imagination—may be dismissed as having engaged not in history but historical speculation. I think this is why many people avoid world history. They have their own Ph.D. to work on; they have to do a book; having done that they’re now an expert on whatever it is; they have new problems to look at and new sources to consult; and they’re too busy to think of the larger context in which their own particular study takes place. My son’s remarks about the importance of world history’s context for more specific history are exactly right. Don't misunderstand me; I don’t wish to overthrow textual history, history based on sources. Far from it. It’s the interweaving of that with larger concepts that I support. Ever since 1914 there has been no received sense of the whole drift of human history. After the notion of progress was basically discredited, no one dared ask what mattered for the history of humankind as a whole. I think that if we can begin to do that, there will be a great healing for history and history will be in much more fruitful contact with the other social and biological sciences.

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President’s Corner
by George Huppert

It seems fitting, as my term of office has come to an end, that I should say a few words about how we are doing as an association. Perhaps I should also provide a few candid observations regarding my experiences while in office. It was in June of 2000, at our second national conference in Boston, that I found myself nominated for the office of president of our society. I accepted, not without some reluctance. Now, two years later, I have to confess that this has been a pleasurable and instructive experience. Of course, there is some fairly time-consuming work involved, but the net benefit, which I had not counted on, has been a remarkable widening of my horizon. As a historian of Renaissance France, I have maintained relations over the years almost exclusively with other specialists in my field, both here and in Europe. I rarely used to read books or articles unrelated to my research. This is not something I am proud of, but somehow there was never enough time to stray from my own work. This failure of mine is probably not unique in our profession.

Over the course of the past two years, things have been quite different. Inevitably, mixing with all kinds of historians, I have come into contact with any number of interesting colleagues whose work, of necessity, I had to sample, at least in passing. This has turned out to be an exhilarating experience. I recommend it highly.

During my tenure, the Historical Society has matured, and in the process, undergone considerable changes. We started out, four years ago, in reaction to trends in the profession that concerned us. As we went along, talking to each other and inviting contributions to our meetings and publications, we gradually realized that we were creating a new forum and a new community. We may have started out like angry prophets in the desert, calling the wrath of heaven down on miscreants who were wrapping trivia in the swaddling cloth of ideology. But now, four years later, we have created a unique organization, a smaller, calmer meeting ground, where we can talk to each other “in an atmosphere of civility, mutual respect, and common courtesy.”

This we have achieved. The next step is to overcome fragmentation. This is the daunting task with which I have saddled the program directors for our next conference. 

As it happens, one of the program directors, Peter Coclanis, is the new president of the Historical Society. We could not have chosen a better man for the job. Peter is one of the many colleagues whom I would never have gotten to know had I not accepted the job of president. In the past two years, I have not only read his work, which is first rate, but also worked closely with him and learned to appreciate his affable and supportive presence. I look forward to further close collaboration with him. 

George Huppert is professor of history at the University of Illinois at Chicago. His book After the Black Death: A Social History of Early Modern Europe (Indiana University Press, 1986) is now available in a second, expanded edition. 

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Agriculture as History
by Peter A. Coclanis
Peter A. Coclanis is the Historical Society's new president

Farming and farmers don’t get much attention, much less respect in American academic circles any more. With farmers constituting such a small proportion of the U.S. labor force, and with the cultural turn in the humanities two decades ago, agriculture and agriculturalists now seem so elemental, so material in the eyes of many as to disqualify these subjects from the list of those deemed worthy of serious—i.e., fundable and  prize-worthy—scholarship. It’s hard to make hogs or harrows transgressive, I guess.

This inattention, however depressing, does have its comic aspects, one of which relates to the growing distance and estrangement of agriculture from the mainstream cultural milieu. A few years ago, for example, in the Daily Tar Heel, the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill’s student newspaper, a graduate-student columnist (in history, no less) opined that college was the time for young people to “sew” their wild oats.[1] (Where is Isaac Merrit Singer when you need him?) Similarly, in the actress Mary Frann’s 1998 New York Times obituary, a friend was quoted as saying that in the last year or two before her death, Frann had had “a hard road to hoe.”[2] Most roads would be hard to hoe, I suspect. And just last spring, I was second reader on a senior honors thesis at UNC, the writer of which at one point included a passage stating that “in a capitalistic society . . . one man weeps, the other sows . . .”[3] Fair enough, but if true, it must follow, then, that in socialist societies people reap what they need, not necessarily what they sew, right?

Other types of evidence attest to my point as well.  In the late 1980s, for example, that venerable body for rural youth, the Future Farmers of America, officially changed its name to the National FFA Organization.[4] Now the change may have come about in part because farming qua vocation doesn’t have much of a future, but it arguably also came about—like Kentucky Fried Chicken’s name change to KFC—because farming, like frying, is now considered déclassé. More tellingly still, an article entitled “Auburn Seeks to Revamp Aggie Image,” appeared in the Wall Street Journal a few years back. According to the piece, the school was changing the name of the Department of Agricultural Engineering to the Department of Biosystems Engineering, because the old name was turning off the public, which increasingly views agriculture in negative terms as “an unsophisticated, low-technology field.”[5] Auburn! When a place like Auburn—a land-grant school since 1872—is embarrassed to be associated with farming, you better believe that academic research on the history of agriculture is in trouble. 

In its brief history, the Historical Society has tried to remedy this problem, publishing impressive pieces in the Journal of the Historical Society on farmers and farming by Victor Davis Hanson and Louis A. Ferleger, respectively. [6] Every little bit helps, of course, but I’m still pessimistic. For a lot of reasons. There is the case involving one of my US history colleagues, a senior historian, who recently told me that he leaves farmers completely out of his survey on US history since 1865 because they don’t contribute to the narrative thrust of the course. In the spirit of Farmers’ Alliance firebrand Mary Elizabeth Lease, I should have replied with a “Thrust this!” I’m still kicking myself that I didn’t. 

One can go on and on with this type of anecdotal evidence. The editorship of the journal Agricultural History is currently open, and I was approached about the position, an attractive one in many ways, but one that demands a modest level of institutional support. I approached my home institution about the possibility of such support, and learned that agriculture is not where we as an institution want to position ourselves for the future. Cultural studies, nanoscience, or globalization, anyone? Finally, last summer I gave a set of lectures in China on agricultural history. In working on one of the lectures, I had to check on some developments in English agricultural history, so I walked over to UNC’s Walter R. Davis Library and went straight to the source: the much-renowned, multi-volume series The Agrarian History of England and Wales, edited over the years by luminaries such as H.P.R. Finberg, G.E. Mingay, and Joan Thirsk, among others.[7] I needed to look at four volumes, three of which were published in the 1970s and 1980s, and one published in 2000. None of the former had been checked out since 1991, and the most recent volume had never been checked out at all. O tempora, o mores!

What then to do? Hold ’em or fold ’em? A tough call. I’m not much for tilting at windmills, spitting into the wind, etc., but I really do believe there are ways to interest a new generation in agriculture. In fact, in one of my lectures in China and in two papers I’m preparing for publication, I’ve outlined a way to do just that. It won’t be easy, and it will require agricultural historians to reinvent themselves, to shift cultivation, as it were. Briefly put, what I’m pushing is for scholars interested in agriculture to adopt a broader research purview, and, in so doing, to devote less attention (in relative terms at least) to isolated farmers in the field and to embed the study of farming—particularly in the modern period—in an analysis of what might be called the “food system” as a whole. Such an approach will at once allow scholars to develop a more sophisticated and holistic approach to agricultural production itself, and more explicitly to relate the farm sector to developments in the manufacturing and service sectors of the economy. If we are lucky, we may as a concomitant attract the interest of bright, ambitious young scholars— scholars who right now wouldn’t be caught dead pursuing research in agricultural history as traditionally conceived. (Not to mention the attention of readers interested in subjects such as industrialization, trade and marketing, consumer behavior, technology, and cooking.) Anyone who doubts the appeal of the last of these need only check out the slick new journal Gastronomica, published by the University of California Press, or check out the ratings of “The Iron Chef” on the Food Network! 

What, one might ask, do I mean by the term food system? What activities are included under this rubric? To answer the latter question first: all activities involved directly or indirectly in the production, storage, processing, financing, distribution, and consumption of outputs produced in the farm sector per se. As such, the “food system” approach in some ways resembles the so-called commoditychain approach championed by an increasing number of social scientists around the world. In this approach, a scholar interested in the athletic shoe industry, for example, would begin with rubber tapping in Malaysia or Indonesia and not end until he or she has adequately explained how and why poor African- American youths in US ghettoes buy so many pairs of expensive Michael Jordan and Allen Iverson model basketball shoes. 

In principle, then, adoption of the “systems” approach to agriculture entails study of: the process by which farm inputs are acquired; cultivation practices broadly conceived; the manner in which production is financed; how and where farm output is stored; the processing of such output; transportation logistics; all levels of marketing and distribution; and, of course, consumption. Nor do these matters, even taken together, exhaust the list of relevant areas of inquiry. Clearly, the state’s role, positive or negative, is crucial to the systems approach, particularly assessing the state’s ability to provide a stable context for production and exchange to take place, and its capacity to develop human capital generally and to foster and sustain the production and dissemination of specialized agricultural knowledge specifically. In these matters, private and non-statal institutions and organizations obviously also play roles, whether we’re speaking of market stabilization (trade associations, co-operatives), risk reduction (futures markets, formal or informal crop-insurance schemes), or human capital development (private schools, NGOs, and international donors and foreign aid). 

To pursue the systems approach one need not necessarily study all of these aspects of agriculture, certainly not in a methodical way. Just as a business firm need not be completely vertically integrated to achieve some of the benefits of the strategy, a researcher can achieve positive gains by approaching and conceptualizing agricultural problems in a relational, systemic, process-oriented way. In this regard the words of Eugene Genovese are very instructive: 

No subject is too small to treat. But a good historian writes well on a small subject while taking account (if only implicitly and without a direct reference) of the whole, whereas an inferior one confuses the need to isolate a small portion of the whole with the license to assume that that portion thought and acted in isolation.[8]

To complicate our task a bit more, let me say that however much I appreciate the intellectual value added by the “commodity-chain” approach, and by the “chain” metaphor itself, other metaphors actually come closer to what I have in mind in making my case. History is not linear and agriculture is not plane geometry. Human behavior is more complex than that. Rather than leaving you with an image of a chain linking together the various components of the food system, I would propose a more intricate and elaborate metaphor, one that could be rendered graphically via a threedimensional image of some type or another perhaps, or verbally by invoking the image of a web, or—borrowing from physics—that of a field. In each case, the idea is to move us away from the rigidity and constraints imposed by metaphors invoking chains. 

Once we begin to think of things in this way, we can begin to connect Farmer Alpha to Consumer Zed, not to mention History Professor X from Boll Weevil A & M to History Professor Y from Skyscraper Metropolitan. In other words, let’s implicate more people and more processes in the farmer’s “plot.” We can ask no less, for the stakes are too great. As Ferleger points out in the piece mentioned above, as much as 50% of the world’s labor force may still be directly involved in agriculture today. And as Hanson suggests in his essay, knowing something about agricultural history may help us “moderns” to understand, if not remember, something important about balance in life, ethical purpose, and moral restraint. 

The Historical Society’s current president, Peter A. Coclanis is Albert R. Newsome Professor and chairman of the history department at the University of North Carolina- Chapel Hill. He is the author, with David L. Carlton, of The South, the Nation, and the World: Perspectives on Southern Economic Development (University Press of Virginia, forthcoming in 2003).

[1] Daily Tar Heel, January 26, 1998, 10.
[2] New York Times, September 25, 1998, A22.
[3] Robert Vice, “The Portland Canal,” Senior Honors Thesis, History, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2002, 54.

[4] Richard P. Horwitz, Hog Ties: Pigs, Manure, and Mortality in American Culture (St. Martin’s Press, 1998), 181. 

[5] Wall Street Journal, October 21, 1998, S1, S2. The quote in the text appears on page S1. 

[6] Victor Davis Hanson, “Agricultural Equilibrium, Ancient and Modern,” Journal of the Historical Society 1 (Spring 2000): 101–133; Louis A. Ferleger, “A World of Farmers, But Not a Farmer’s World,” Journal of the Historical Society 2 (Winter 2002): 43–53. 

[7] The Agrarian History of England and Wales, eds. H.P.R. Finberg, et al., 8 vols. (Cambridge University Press, 1967–2000). 

[8] Eugene D. Genovese, “American Slaves and Their History,” in Genovese, In Red and Black: Marxian Explorations in Southern and Afro-American History (Vintage Books, 1972), 103. 

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A Fair Field Full of Folk (But Only Beyond the Sea): The Study of the Nobilities of Latin Europe
by D'Arcy Jonathan Dacre Boulton

The field in which I work is one of the oldest in the history of historiography, and one of the most vibrant in the discipline today, attracting not only scores of active historians, but some of the best minds in the profession. Nevertheless, in North America my field has never been popular, and has become increasingly marginalized since World War II. The field I refer to is the history of those hereditary societal elites that are most commonly called “nobilities,” groups distinguished by a claim to descent from ancestors who held one or more of a certain range of honorable statuses, and by the transmission of membership to all of their legitimate children at birth. Nobilities have dominated not only in high barbarian societies like those of the Celtic and Germanic peoples in the first centuries of the Christian era, but in most agricultural civilizations and in a number of important societies (including the British Empire) in the first stages of industrial civilization. In most of Europe, and in some of the overseas colonies of France, Spain, and Portugal as well, the nobility remained the dominant order of society in the economic sphere into the 19th century, and in both the cultural and the political spheres until the early 20th century.

Unfortunately, the violent overthrow between 1917 and 1919 of many of the socio-political regimes in which nobilities had been dominant cast a cloud over many aspects of nobiliary history. Studies of such themes as heraldry, knighthood, knightly orders, chivalry, courts, and courtliness fell suddenly out of fashion among professional historians, and even were treated with scorn in some countries. Historians did not cease to study nobiliary history, but they now restricted themselves to themes that seemed politically neutral or particularly relevant to contemporary questions. Scholarly attention everywhere focused not on the nobility or its culture as such, but upon the institutions through which its members had exercised their political and military authority—especially those that had come to be associated with the artificial construct “feudalism."

Since the end of World War II, however, under the influence of such distinguished historians as Georges Duby, Jacques Boussard, Pierre Feuchère, and Philippe Contamine, in France; Léopold Génicot in Belgium; Gerd Tellenbach, Karl Bosl, Karl-Ferdinand Werner, and Werner Paravicini in Germany; Claudio Sánchez-Albornoz and Salvador de Moxó in Spain; Giovanni Tabacco, Gina Fasoli, and Sylvie Pollastri in Italy; and K. B. McFarlane, Maurice Keen, Malcolm Vale, Chris Given-Wilson, Peter Coss, David Crouch, and Nigel Saul in England, interest in the history of the classic nobility before the Reformation has grown steadily in most European countries. The growth in scholarly production increased slowly to 1960, but exponentially thereafter, and now exceeds 100 works a year. The expansion of studies of the later medieval nobilities in the last fifty years has involved not merely a growth in the number of books and articles published, but an increase in the number of subfields devoted to different themes. Some of these were essentially revivals. After half a century of neglect, studies of knighthood, the knightly social stratum, knightly culture (especially the ideology and mythology of chivalry), and knightly organizations began to appear in the early 1970s, and have given rise to major works of synthesis, and to regular international colloquia in England and Portugal. Similarly, the history of royal and princely courts, of the great households that formed the institutional core of such courts, and of the ideology of courtliness that governed the behavior of their habitués, have become important themes of scholarship in the last twenty years. So has the history of the buildings in which courts and households functioned, including villas, halls, manor-houses, palaces, and castles. The new science of castellology is a particularly vital subfield, and inventories of castles (with plans and maps) have been made for several countries. Finally, the ancillary fields of heraldry and sigillography (the study of seals) have been revived in most of the countries of Europe through the founding of national societies and of an international academy to promote comparative scholarship. 

These subfields all owe something to the antiquarian tradition, in which they began in the 16th century, but others have been created in response to fashionable trends in the discipline as a whole. Although racial distinctions in the modern sense were not relevant to the history of European nobilities before the 15th century, the increasingly important notion of the “purity of blood” characteristic of nobilities from that century onward contributed to later forms of racism, and has accordingly been examined with some care. More importantly, the rise of gender studies has inspired work on noblewomen, the noble family as a functional unit, and the ideals of both womanliness and manliness in the noble order. 

Studies of nobiliary gender roles (an important element of the ideology of chivalry) are closely related to other studies by historians and anthropologists of the growing set of social phenomena associated with the word “honor.” The importance in most pre-industrial societies of what I call the “honor nexus”—the set of culturally determined attitudes and behaviors associated with esteem and its positive and negative bases and manifestations—was admirably set forth in a recent essay in these pages by Bertram Wyatt-Brown (Historically Speaking, June 2002). Noble status actually rested upon a recognized claim to superior honorableness derived both from descent from honorable ancestors and from adherence to their behavioral code—the core of which was usually a form of pugnacious hypermasculinity, requiring the assertion and defense of the honorableness of both individual and kindred. Historians of nobiliary honor before 1500 have traditionally concentrated on the nature of the current version of the code (including the codes of chivalry and courtliness), and the attitudes and behaviors they engendered. Recently, however, historians have been giving increased attention to the ways in which inherited honorableness could be augmented through the acquisition of new domains (the principal source of honorable wealth, power, and rank) or, alternatively, on the conferral of increased honorableness through such acts of royal grace as admission to the nobility or the general order of knighthood, promotion in nobiliary rank, appointment to an honorific office, or admission to a princely order of knighthood like the Garter or the Golden Fleece—all practices that grew steadily from about 1280/1325 to about 1660, and persisted thereafter. 

While many long-neglected areas of nobiliary history have thus been investigated since 1970, the established subfields have themselves been revolutionized by new techniques and supplemented by new ancillary sciences. Feudo-vassalic institutions, for example, have been carefully distinguished and examined, and their changing position in the military systems of different kingdoms has been set against the development of various alternative systems of recruitment and organization, especially retaining by contract. The latter system was also employed after about 1350 to establish political clienteles or “affinities” comparable to vassalages, and this phenomenon has also attracted considerable attention from scholars since World War II. Growing numbers of detailed studies of the formation and growth of particular principalities, baronies, castellanies, and manors in Latin Europe, or of all of the dominions of one of these classes of a particular region, have given us far more precise ideas about the history of these nobiliary jurisdictions. And historical cartography can now depict very clearly the complex relationships among jurisdictions on all levels. 

Historians have also given us a much clearer notion both of the range of sources of nobiliary incomes and of the changing ways in which noble estates were administered. Biographical, genealogical, and lineal or dynastic studies (generally possible only for the nobility before about 1500) have continued, and have been increasingly supplemented by anthroponymic and prosopographical ones. They have also been supplemented, especially in France and England, by detailed studies of the nobility of a single district in a period of from one to three centuries. The study of the nobility’s place as the second of the functional “estates” of society was also revived in the 1970s, as was the study of the closely related function of noblemen as members of one or more of the chambers of the representative assemblies that began to be created in the decades around 1300: the Parliaments of England, Ireland, and Scotland, the Estats of France and its regions and provinces, the Cortes of Castile, and so forth. 

In many European countries, the history of the nobility both before and after 1500 has moved steadily in the direction of becoming a recognized division of the discipline since its revival after World War II. Ever larger numbers of historians have devoted ever larger parts of their scholarly activities to questions in which some part of some nobility, at least, occupies a central place. By contrast, the place of nobiliary studies in the pre-industrial historiography in North America was never very great, and despite the prominence and productivity of some of its practitioners (including Sidney Painter, Joseph Strayer, Bryce Lyon, Warren Hollister, Bernard Bachrach, John Freed, Joel Rosenthal, Theodore Evergates, Patrick Geary, and Constance Bouchard among the medievalists), its share of the places in the profession has actually declined in relative terms (along with that of medieval studies) since 1970. 

It disturbs me that a subfield of historiography that is not only important because of the centrality of its object in the history of most pre-industrial civilizations, but is actually flourishing in most of Europe, should be so small and isolated in North America. Several factors seem to have contributed to its marginality in the United States in particular. In the first place, nobiliary studies—like pre-industrial studies more generally—appear to have been a victim of the parochialism and presentism that underlie most academic historiography in the United States, and lead a substantial majority of historians here to concentrate on the history of this country and on themes that explain some aspect of its current culture. Since there is nothing resembling a nobility in the United States today, and the upper class has hidden itself so effectively since 1945 that most citizens believe it has ceased to exist, it is easy for American historians to believe that there is no point in studying the history of nobilities. 

Another factor that surely contributed to the decline in interest in the field of nobiliary history after 1970 is the triumph of the radically populist and anti-elitist attitudes associated with the New Social History, and the subsequent rise of its various politically correct offshoots. The more extreme adherents of these schools have not been content to promote the study of their particular neglected category (something that in itself can only be praised for widening the scope of historiography), but have actively opposed the study of elites of all kinds, whom they typically portray as hateful oppressors of the poor, weak, and non-white. This attitude—defensible in political contexts, but not in academic ones—not only discourages graduate students from undertaking work on nobilities, but also makes the hiring and tenuring of those who have undertaken such work extremely difficult. 

My own position is that nobilities should be studied regardless of one’s personal feelings about them for the simple reason that they were the socially, politically, and culturally dominant element of most agricultural civilizations—and therefore for all but the last century or two of recorded history. I also believe that the primary obligation of historians is to understand the totality of the recorded past as fully as possible, not merely to explain present conditions through highly selective lines of inquiry that ignore most of past reality. 

Even from a presentist perspective, however, it can be argued that the history of the classic nobility of Latin Europe, at least, is worthy of more widespread attention in the United States. Many elements of American culture—those associated with constitutional government, political liberty, and property rights, as well as those associated with comfort, security, courtesy, fashion, and “high culture”— were created either by or for members of that nobility: especially, of course, in England. Indeed, in the decades between about 1870 and 1900, the ideals of the English gentry spread throughout the newly crystallized upper class of the United States generally, and are not wholly extinguished in that class today. Just as the common culture of the United States cannot be understood without understanding the culture of England from which it is still very largely derived, so the culture of its most powerful class cannot be understood without a good knowledge of that of its English predecessor. The culture of chivalry has also been maintained in the officer corps of the armed forces of the United States, whose members are all officially “gentlemen” and still carry knightly swords on formal occasions. 

Let me finally propose a very different argument in favor of the study of nobilities and the societies they dominated. One of the principal reasons for studying the culture of agricultural civilizations, including that of Latin Europe, is that they were very different in many fundamental respects from the industrial civilizations of today, and invariably held very different beliefs about the just distribution of prestige, civil rights, property, and power in society. With a tiny handful of partial exceptions, they maintained steep and rigid social hierarchies composed of juridical and differentially privileged orders rather than economic classes, and were organized politically as hybrids of monarchy and various forms of aristocracy. As recent events suggest, Americans need a much greater awareness of just how recent and unusual their most cherished social and political beliefs really are by world-historical standards, how far they must seem from being “self-evident truths” in the eyes of the members of other civilizations even today—and how precarious their own egalitarian, libertarian democracy really is. 

In any case, refusing to study the classic nobilities of Latin Europe because they are irrelevant to Americans is clearly an indefensible position. Refusing to study them simply because one does not approve of elites is downright silly. After all, few today approve of slavery, racism, fascism, or genocide, but these unpleasant topics have nevertheless attracted a good deal of attention from historians. Nobilities, for all their faults, made many contributions to historical cultures that are still generally regarded as positive, and are at least equally deserving of the attention of scholars. 

D’Arcy Jonathan Dacre Boulton is a fellow of the Medieval Institute and associate professor of history at the University of Notre Dame. His most recent book is an expanded second edition of his The Knights of the Crown: The Monarchical Orders of Knighthood in Later Medieval Europe, 1326–1520 (Boydell Press, 2000). 

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Crossing Borders[*]
by Peter Paret 

In 1942, at the age of eighteen, I became a freshman at Berkeley. The basic history surveys seemed to me—no doubt unfairly—little better than verbal equivalents of the lists of dates and events familiar from my school years in Europe. Different altogether were the elegantly clear lectures on British history by George Guttridge, which he permitted me to attend although the course was limited to upper-division students. I was drafted the following year, and did not return until the fall of 1946. From my second period at Berkeley I recall with special pleasure William Hesseltine’s summer session course on the American Civil War, his left-wing take on events only rarely exploding in bursts of sarcasm; and a survey of Sicily in the Middle Ages, delivered—chanted would be more accurate—by Ernst Kantorowicz. It was not difficult to see that his search for universals, at its most impressive when animated by such specifics as the phrasing of a Papal missive or the architecture of a Norman watchtower, could reflect only a part of how things had actually been. His respect for evidence was that of the artist as much as that of the scholar.

I was twenty-five years old when I graduated. Family obligations took me back to Europe, and I did not begin graduate study at King’s College, London until 1956. The choice of the University of London was motivated by my wish to remain in Europe for the time being, and by the presence at King’s of Michael Howard, at that time a lecturer in war studies. My intention to write a dissertation on war seemed to clash with my preoccupation with literature and the fine arts. But service in an infantry battalion in New Guinea and the Philippines raised questions that did not disappear when the fighting stopped. How men faced danger; how the course of fighting could be described and interpreted with some accuracy; how a country’s social and political energies were transformed into organized violence—these were matters to investigate and understand. 

Graduate study at King’s placed few restraints on the student. I audited Howard’s excellent survey of the history of war, took the necessary qualifying examinations, and attended two seminars at the Institute of Historical Research: one conducted by Howard; the other, on European history, by W. Norton Medlicott, who with great professionalism and kindness oversaw a large, international group of students trying their hand on a wide range of topics and approaches. One of his assistants, Kenneth Bourne, later Medlicott’s successor as professor of international history at the London School of Economics, became a life-long friend. 

My dissertation addressed the change in Prussian infantry tactics at the end of the 18th century and in the Napoleonic period. The subject may seem narrow and technical, but it was closely linked to issues of broad significance, from an expansion of operational and strategic possibilities to the treatment of the common soldier and his place in society. The so-called break-up of the linear system of the ancien régime—more correctly, its modification by column and open order—had long been associated with the American and French Revolutions, an interpretation emotionally validated by the powerfully symbolic contrast between citizen soldiers and mercenary automata. Not surprisingly, I found that the change was the outcome of developments antedating 1776 and 1789. In two later articles I demonstrated—at least to my satisfaction —that the War of American Independence had little impact on European military practice. 

While working on the dissertation, I gained teaching experience as a resident tutor in the Delegacy of Extra-Mural Studies at Oxford. I began to review books for several journals, but with a troubled conscience, not yet having written a book myself. I also published a number of articles, but on subjects far removed from my dissertation topic: two on current defense issues, which led to membership in the recently founded Institute for Strategic Studies, a third in the Bulletin of the Institute of Historical Research on the history of the Third Reich. The latter resulted from a chance discovery. While searching for 18th-century military manuals in the library of the Royal United Service Institution, I noticed a crudely bound folio, used by library attendants as a tray for their tea mugs, which turned out to be the register of a Gestapo prison established on July 21, 1944, the day after the attempt on Hitler’s life. It had come as war booty to the library, where it remained unnoticed. The volume was of some historical importance because it dated the admission, release, or execution of several hundred prisoners. With the help of a former inmate, the Rev. Eberhard Bethge, a relative and biographer of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, I located and interviewed survivors, as well as relatives and associates of the victims, and reconstructed the history of the prison and of the prison community. 

Until I defended my dissertation in the spring of 1960, I gave little thought to finding an academic position. The expansion of colleges and universities, especially in the United States, was at high tide, and opportunities seemed to exist everywhere. The difference between conditions then and now can hardly be exaggerated. Today the pernicious institutional reliance on temporary appointments places a burden on a new generation of scholars that forty years ago we could not have imagined. At the time I never doubted that something would turn up, even though I labored under two handicaps: at thirty-six I was older than many of my peers, and I had no academic contacts in the United States, to which I now wanted to return, my future wife, a psychologist, having been offered a position in New York. It was lucky for me that Klaus Knorr, then the associate director of the Center of International Studies at Princeton, was starting a research project on “internal war.” At a conference in Oxford, at which I gave a paper on the subject, he offered me a one-year renewable appointment as a research associate at the Center. 

In Princeton I was one of two historians among a group of highly theoretical social scientists. My fixation on the tangible and specific prevented me from profiting as much as I had hoped from the variety of abstract orientations I now encountered; the efforts of my new colleagues to create hypotheses and taxonomies by committee baffled me. I made up for my theoretical naïveté by being among the first to publish work credited to the project—a study of the constants of internal war and pacification as illustrated by the uprising of the Vendée during the French Revolution, and with John W. Shy, at the time an instructor in the history department, an article on “Guerrilla War and U.S. Policy.” The latter piece was reprinted in various places, and led us to write a short book, Guerrillas in the 1960s, which appeared in 1961. A revised edition followed in 1962. The book evidently filled a need; for some years even the service academies used it, although our argument that resorting to unconventional war would pose serious difficulties for this country went against a strong current of official opinion. Two years later, I wrote a book on a related subject, guerre révolutionnaire, the doctrine, developed by the French army in Indochina and Algeria, of opposing insurgents with variants of their own methods. The doctrine was an impressive intellectual response to a military-political problem, but deeply compromised by psychological and moral shortcomings. 

The part of the book I most enjoyed writing was a chapter on the doctrine’s historical antecedents; clearly I was not cast for a career as a defense analyst. Several historians, among them Felix Gilbert, whom I had met even before he came to Princeton in 1961, knew my dissertation and some papers I had written on German history and historiography, and recommended me to departments that had openings in modern European history. In the fall of 1962 I joined the history department of the University of California at Davis. 

Davis had only recently expanded from the agricultural college of the university to a general campus, and the history department made new appointments every year. Its rapid growth was guided by several able men: the agricultural historian James Shideler; Bickford O’Brien, author of two books on Muscovy; and Walter Woodfill, whose book on musicians and society in England I had read some years earlier. They made certain that the department became known for strong teaching and that faculty research was supported. During a period of constant change, with its inevitable tensions, they maintained a rare sense of mutual responsibility and collegiality. 

In 1966, the year I was promoted to professor, I published my revised dissertation on the era of Prussian reform. Among the changes was a fuller discussion of Clausewitz’s activities in the reform movement. In the following years I wrote several articles on his life and thought, and by 1969, when I joined the Stanford history department, I had decided to write a book on the development of Clausewitz’s ideas in conjunction with a study of his life. Above all, I wanted to analyze the interaction of Clausewitz’s intellectual growth and creativity with the culture in which he lived, and with the political and military changes he experienced. I was far less interested in Clausewitz’s “influence”—especially on modern war. I studied him as I would have studied Montesquieu for his political theories or Kleist for his drama and prose— for what they achieved in their time, not for their impact on French political thought or German literature in the 20th century. 

During the years I worked on the biography, I diverted time to related projects, among them the translation, with Michael Howard, of Clausewitz’s On War, and a new edition of Makers of Modern Strategy, a collection of essays by different authors, first published in 1943, and now reissued with seven of the original essays and twenty-two new ones. These works confirmed my identity as a military historian—a specialization of doubtful esteem in this country, even if some departments offered courses in the field, usually by professors of American history. The subject suffered from the emotional and political reverberations of the war in Vietnam, and from the dominance of social history at the time, although it seems strange that social historians should not be interested in the impact that arrangements for attack and defense have always had on society. Nor did it help that much writing on war consisted of possibly dramatic but hardly analytic campaign narrative. That more than a few military historians took a broader, integrative approach did not lessen the sometimes unpleasantly doctrinaire dismissal of a field of study the significance of which for our understanding of the past is self-evident.[1]

The Stanford history department, like my former department at Davis, paid attention to teaching. Only the chair— George H. Knoles when I arrived—and a few others with significant administrative responsibilities had reduced teaching loads. At various times I taught the second and third quarters of the year-long freshman survey, an undergraduate course on the history of war; but I mainly taught undergraduate and graduate courses in European history and culture. A graduate colloquium, in which we defined and analyzed the political and social themes of Daumier’s lithographs from the 1830s to 1880, has stayed in my mind as particularly stimulating. 

Clausewitz and the State was published in 1976. A few articles followed that continued to explore themes of the book from different perspectives or as new material became known. Dispatches from British diplomats in the British Museum and the Public Record Office allowed me to reconstruct Clausewitz’s failed effort, against conservative opposition, to exchange active service for a diplomatic appointment—an episode indicative of his fascination with politics as well as of the reactionary pressures to which he was exposed in Prussia after 1815. 

But the main focus of my research was shifting away from war to the interaction of art and politics. Once again, a personal element gave direction to my work. Even as a boy I had been superficially aware of the conflict over modernism in German art at the end of the 19th century, because my maternal grandfather, an art dealer and publisher, had been active in support of the new. Art historians generally approached the subject from an exclusively modernist perspective. To strip the conflict of its myths and to understand its historical as well as art historical significance called for more balanced treatment. In archives in Berlin, Potsdam, and Merseburg, especially in the files of the imperial Zivilkabinett, I found information on official policy and on conflicting attitudes toward modern art in the cultural bureaucracy to complement documentation on the avant garde. The first result was an article in 1978 (“Art and the National Image: The Conflict over Germany’s Participation in the St. Louis Exposition,” Central European History 11 [June 1978]). Two years later I published a book on the politically most significant of the secessionist movements that in the 1890s sprang up throughout Central Europe: The Berlin Secession: Modernism and its Enemies in Imperial Germany

In a generously positive review, Carl Schorske noted that I had scarcely tried to analyze the work of the artists whose struggle for acceptance I traced (American Historical Review 87 [October 1982]). His point was well taken. Although it can be useful to separate the social and political impact of a work of art from its aesthetic characteristics, and the degree of attention given to content and style should fit the historian’s purpose, my study of the quarrel between Wilhelm II and the Secession should have said more about the art itself. But at the time, more so than today, I was troubled by the subjectivity of aesthetic theory, and I was very conscious of the fact that such phenomena as patronage policies are more susceptible to firm interpretations than would be a work’s strengths and weaknesses. 

The German translation of the book led to an exhibition of Secessionist artists in Berlin, which I helped curate. Since then I have worked on a number of exhibitions, and closer contact with paintings and graphics has given me some of the art historical freedom I previously lacked. I did not stop writing on subjects that concern art without being about art: in 1981“The Tschudi Affair,” a study of Wilhelm II’s attempt to replace the director of the Berlin National Gallery with a conservative, which was defeated largely by senior officials in the cultural bureaucracy;[2] and the 1984 Leo Baeck Memorial Lecture— The Enemy Within—which discussed the Jewish painter Max Liebermann as president of the Prussian Academy of Arts from 1920 to 1932—a tenure the Right denounced as a subversion of German culture. But increasingly the work of art itself moved toward the center of my research. 

In 1986, I became a professor at the Institute for Advanced Study. Two years later I published Art as History, which in works of art and literature traced the rise and decline of German liberalism. The book included a study of the historical poems of Theodor Fontane, a writer I have admired since adolescence, when—much too early—I read Effi Briest. It was the beginning of a sequence of essays and of talks at meetings of the Theodor Fontane Gesellschaft, which continue to the present. 

Two further works centered on images. I collaborated with Beth Irwin Lewis—her just published book Art for All? continues her important exploration of the role of art in German society—and my son Paul on a study of posters as historical documents, Persuasive Images, which appeared in 1992. Several preliminary studies—one a seminar paper at the Institute, later published as a pamphlet, Witnesses to Life: Women and Children in some Images of War, 1789–1830—led in 1997 to Imagined Battles: Reflections of War in European Art, which brought together my two principal research interests. 

Earlier essays became building blocks for a third book. Among the posters we examined for Persuasive Images were vicious and powerful specimens by the National Socialist propagandist who worked under the pseudonym “Mjölnir”—hammer of the Norse god Thor. I combined his work and the record of his trial after 1945 in a talk at a meeting of the American Philosophical Society. [3] After thirty-three years I had returned to the history of the Third Reich. In an expanded version, which noted that Mjölnir hounded the sculptor Ernst Barlach as a degenerate artist, the piece was included in a collection of my essays on cultural history, entitled German Encounters with Modernism, 1840–1945. To strengthen the volume’s continuity, I wrote two new essays, one on Barlach, which made me realize that I still had more to say about him. The result was An Artist against the Third Reich: Ernst Barlach, 1933–1938, which is being published this coming spring. Again, as in the conflict over modernism in Wilhelmine Germany, I have tried to address the motives and actions of all sides: the reasons for Hitler’s hatred of modernism in art, which was anything but a whim; the search by Goebbels and some other National Socialists for an acceptable “Nordic modernism”; and Barlach’s refusal to be intimidated, expressed above all in the further radicalization of his art. 

Forty-five years ago, when I first attempted to write about history, my subjects were social groups—inmates of a Gestapo prison, sons of the poor forced to serve in the armies of the ancien régime and of the First Republic—or such impersonal phenomena as military doctrines. Later I turned toward the creative individual, whether in war, art, or literature. Creativity and its place in society became primary interests. In writing about social groups or about war or high culture, I searched for links between different, even disparate elements. I made comparisons not only to generate questions and sharpen delineations, but also to explore the relationship among some of the many components of the networks of ideas and action that together constitute historical reality. Crossing borders that separate fields of study has not been invariably welcomed. Dogma, categories, and the pride of specialization can be remarkably powerful. Still, the edgy freedom of our academic world has been a forgiving environment in which to catch hold of bits of the past, perhaps add to their factual substance, and give them new—temporary— meaning. 

Peter Paret is Mellon Professor in the Humanities Emeritus in the School of Historical Studies of the Institute for Advanced Study. He is the author of An Artist against the Third Reich: Ernst Barlach, 1933–1938 (Cambridge University Press, forthcoming in 2003).

[1] I have discussed the opposition to the history of war in the 1960s and 1970s in “The History of War and the New Military History,” in my collection Understanding War: Essays on Clausewitz and the History of Military Power (Princeton University Press, 1992) and, more recently, in “The History of Armed Power,” in Lloyd Kramer and Sarah Maza, eds., A Companion to Western Historical Thought (Blackwell, 2002). 

[3] Journal of Modern History 53 (December 1981). 

[3] “God’s Hammer,” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 136 (June 1992).

[*]With Professor Paret's essay, we launch a series of occasional essays wherein senior historians recount and reflect upon their careers. –The Editors

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by Marnie Hughes-Warrington

It is a common complaint that world history—as practiced by historians—does not live up to the scope of its terms. Michael Geyer and Charles Bright, for instance, have argued that the “central challenge of a renewed world history at the end of the 20th century” is to tell of the world’s past in a global age.[1] Some have interpreted this as a call for the study of human interactions through frameworks wider than that of the nation-state, while others see it as an invitation to consider something bigger: the origins and evolution of the earth and its inhabitants. For a small but growing number of historians, though, even the shift from world to global history is not enough. What they seek is way beyond the commonly perceived boundaries of history, and thus the comfort zone of many historians. For them, history must tell the biggest story of all, that of the origins and evolution of human beings, life, the earth, and the universe—hence, “big history.”

Unlike the Big Bang, big history does not begin with a single point. Probably the strongest claim we can make on its origins is that it arose in the context of the enormous growth of historical sciences such as cosmology, evolutionary biology, evolutionary psychology, and geology in the 1980s. How it reached those trained in areas traditionally considered far away from the sciences is via the vast outpouring of popular science publications that followed. Of particular relevance are those works in which writers draw together separate fields, such as the Big Bang (cosmology) and the origins of life (biology) (e.g. Isaac Asimov, Beginnings [1987]; Preston Cloud, Cosmos, Earth and Man [1978]; Arnaud Delsemme, Our Cosmic Origins [1998]; Siegfried Kutter, The Universe and Life [1987]; Harry McSween and Brian Swimm, Fanfare for Earth [1997]; and Thomas Berry, The Universe Story [1992]). Such works evidently revealed the possibilities of interdisciplinary studies and suggested a bigger project uniting the sciences and humanities. 

It is only with the publication of works by David Christian and Fred Spier in the 1990s that we begin to see big history assume a historiographical profile. Christian’s interest in big history first emerged, rather pragmatically, during a lively staff meeting in 1988 at Macquarie University, Sydney, where he taught until 2001. At the meeting, Christian suggested that first year classes should “start at the beginning.” Thinking more about that suggestion, he became intrigued by the questions “What is the whole of history?” and “Where does human history begin?” and was led back to the point where there is no evidence or certainty about “before:” the Big Bang, some 12–15 billion years ago. In 1989, “HIST112: An Introduction to World History” began and, two years later, his “The Case for ‘Big History’” appeared in the Journal of World History. That Christian came to big history via teaching rather than theory shows very clearly in his various writings on the subject: he readily adopts and adapts ideas from an incredibly varied range of sources without the fear of someone trained to know his historiographical boundaries. Even his decision to describe what he was doing as “big history” suggests a “work in progress”:

When I first used the label “big history” in the early 1990s, I felt it was simple and catchy; and it helped me avoid some simple circumlocutions. In retrospect, I fear the label was also grandiose, portentous, and somewhat pretentious. So I need to make it clear . . . that I use the phrase with some hesitation. I continue to use it because it has acquired some currency in the last ten years, and . . . I can’t think of anything better![2]

Though Christian’s account of the past, present, and future shifts continually, his work is at base a “map of reality” or “a single, and remarkably coherent story, a story whose general shape turns out to be that of a Creation Myth, even if its contents draw on modern scientific research.”[3] The modern creation myth begins with the origins of the universe (as suggested in the Big Bang theory) and goes on to tell about the origins of the stars and planets, the earth and life, human beings and societies and ends with speculations about our cosmic future. 

Christian’s historiographical reflections on big history are very much focused on those who engage with it: it is a project in which past, present, and future must be drawn together for understanding of self and of others. Spier’s historiographical writings, on the other hand, concentrate more on patterns in the subject matter. Spier was introduced to big history by Johan Goudsblom, who in turn first learned about it from Christian. Spier and Goudsblom introduced a big history course to the University of Amsterdam in the 1995–96 academic year, and Spier has convened the course since Goudsblom’s retirement in 1998. Goudsblom has written about the way the course was set up in Stof Waar Honger uit Onstond (2001), but their “Big History Project” will be better known to English readers through Spier’s The Structure of Big History (1991, revised as Geschiedenis in het Groot: Een alomvattende visie, 1999). Drawing on his training in historical sociology, Spier argues that “regimes” are the organizing principle of big history. The term “regime” enjoys such a wide usage in sociology that it is difficult to attribute any technical meaning to it at all. Spier suggests that all uses of the term refer to “more or less commonly shared behavioral standards,” “patterns of constraint and self-restraint,” and “an interdependency constellation of all people who conform more or less to a certain social order.” Such definitions clearly refer to human behavior, so in order for the term to be useful in big history, he extends its meaning to “a more or less regular but ultimately unstable pattern that has a certain temporal permanence.” [4] Spier detects such patterns at all levels of complexity and in a wide range of places and times, from the fundamental atomic forces, through hunter-gathering societies, to the orbits of the planets.

As Spier notes, there is clearly an alignment between regimes and what Christian—drawing on Stephen Jay Gould—calls “equilibrium systems.” These are systems, as Christian writes, “that achieve a temporary but always precarious balance, undergo periodic crises, re-establish new equilibria, but eventually succumb to the larger forces of imbalance represented by the principle of ‘entropy.’”[5] In Christian’s more recent writings, though, the concept of “equilibrium systems” has disappeared. He is still interested in patterns, and the “constantly shifting waltz of chaos and complexity,” as This Fleeting World attests, but he does not want to stake out a technical term or system of structures as Spier does. 
Christian and Spier, like all “big historians” are interested in patterns of balance and imbalance between order and disorder, but they express their interest through different conceptual frames. Drawing on Marshall Hodgson’s concept of “transmutations,” for instance, John Mears suggests that in human history, for instance, we see three radical periods of imbalance that led to the introduction of deep changes in the organization of societies: the revolution of the Upper Paleolithic, the advent of complex societies, and the global integration of human societies. Akop Nazaretyan, in Intelligence in the Universe: Origin, Formation, Prospects (1991) and Civilization Crises within the Context of Universal History (2001), argues that in all contexts of historical change—the universe, earth, biota—we see punctuated equilibria, but that, overall, history shows a directional tendency toward negentropy (loosely, the increase of order and information in a system). Eric Chaisson also looks to entropy, but realizes its implications more fully through physics. In Cosmic Evolution (2000), Chaisson notes that the universe appears to be getting more complex: after the Big Bang, elementary particles came together to form simple atoms; gravitational attraction among atoms laid the foundations for galaxies; within galaxies, stars, and planetary systems differentiated; and in these, with the emergence of the heavier elements, complex chemical, biological, and ultimately cultural entities arose. Chaisson argues that this increase in complexity is consistent with the second law of thermodynamics. The second law, in its statistical-mechanical interpretation, suggests that disorder (the opposite of complexity) increases in closed systems, but as structures like galaxies, stars and organisms are in an open system, they are able to generate and sustain complexity by exporting enough disorder to the surrounding environment to more than make up for internal gains. For Chaisson, complexity is to be found as energy density. He analyzes the flows of energy through various objects and shows how these flows seem to be related to the complexity of the objects. The greater the energy flow, the greater the complexity. And through a table and a series of graphs, he shows that complexity increases from atoms to galaxies to societies and therefore also increases over time. This is what is meant by “cosmic evolution.” 

As the case of entropy shows, conceptual frames and emphases vary among big history practitioners. Indeed, apart from a common interest in the large-scale patterns in the history of the universe, earth, and life, it might be difficult to identify them as “big historians” at all. Of help here is Wittgenstein’s family resemblances view of concepts. On this view, concepts like “big history” are not characterized by a list of criteria that all works and practitioners must satisfy, but rather by a network of overlapping similarities or “family resemblances.” 

Conceptual matters aside, where are we to locate big history in “the house of history?” Recently, Christian has spoken of big history as macrohistory: might this offer us a clue? Historiographically, macrohistory refers to the study of large-scale social systems or social patterns. On the face of it, this definition would certainly fit well with the sociological orientation of both Spier’s and Johan Goudsblom’s works. In stretching “regimes” beyond the social, though, they step way beyond the territory of sociology. Consequently, macrohistory is not big enough to encompass big history.

Big history can be more fruitfully located in the tradition of universal history that began with the new internationalism fostered by Alexander the Great. Writers like Diodorus of Sicily (ca. 90–21 BC) claimed that peoples of different times and places could be connected by universal history into one body through the efforts of historians, “ministers of Divine Providence”:

For just as Providence, having brought the orderly arrangement of the visible stars and the nature of men together into one common relationship . . . so likewise the historians, in recording the common affairs of the inhabited world as though they were those of a single state, have made of their treatises a single reckoning of past events . . . . (The Library of History, §1.1.3–4)

This idea of a “single reckoning of past events” was readily adapted in an eschatological fashion by Christian and Islamic writers such as St. Augustine of Hippo (City of God [413–26]), Paulus Orosius (Seven Books of History Against the Pagans [ca.417]), Bishop Otto of Freysing (The Two Cities [1146]), Ibn Khaldun (Muqaddimah [1357–58]), and Jacques Bénigne Bossuet (Discourse on Universal History [1681]). Growing information about the non-European world from the 16th century onward revealed the limitations of monotheistic narratives, but universal history continued to thrive. In the hands of Gimbattista Vico (The New Science [1744]) and later Johann Gottfried Herder (Reflections on the Philosophy of the History of Mankind [1784–91]), Immanuel Kant (“Idea of a Universal History from a Cosmopolitan Point of View” [1784]), G. W. F. Hegel (Philosophy of History [1822–31]), and Leopold von Ranke (Universal History [1884]), universal history was transformed into a “new science” with a philosophical foundation. These writers searched for the presuppositions that shaped human actions and concluded either—as in the case of Vico—that history revealed a circular or spiral pattern of birth, life, decline, and regrowth or—as in the case of Hegel—the progressive realization of freedom. Later in the 19th century, Marx inverted Hegel’s philosophical program, suggesting that the material conditions of life shape human consciousness and society, not the other way around, and Oswald Spengler tracked the birth, growth, and decline of eight cultures, Western Europe included. 

Spengler’s work enjoyed enormous popular success, but increasingly, universal history was marginalized in the discipline. The epic works of H. G. Wells, Arnold Toynbee, and Pitirim Sorokin were judged to be overly speculative and insufficiently attentive to detail. Some felt as Pieter Geyl did about Toynbee: “One follows [Toynbee] with the excitement with which one follows an incredibly supple and audacious tight-rope walker. One feels inclined to exclaim: ‘C’est magnifique, mais ce n’est pas l’histoire.’”[6] Many dismissed these writers as an embarrassment to a discipline trying both to put itself on a scientific footing and to recover the experiences of ordinary people, people traditionally passed over in silence in surveys of “civilization.” To most historians, universal history was like a rogue relative that no one wants to talk about.

Histories on a larger scale did not of course disappear in the latter half of the 20th century, as the world- and macro-historical works of William McNeill, Marshall Hodgson, Andre Gunder Frank, Immanuel Wallerstein, Fernand Braudel, Philip Curtin, Peter Stearns, Alfred Crosby, Eric Wolf, and Clive Ponting testify. But the perception was that single, all-encompassing, unified histories—which seemed to fit Lyotard’s description of “grand narratives”—could not withstand methodological or ethical scrutiny. Allan Megill, for instance, concludes his entry on universal history in the Dictionary of Historians and Historical Writing in the following fashion:
One historiographical strategy in what is now called “world history” is the making of limited comparisons between different parts of the world that the historian selects for comparison in the hope of generating insight. Such work, however, is clearly not universal history as it was known in the past, but a mark of its absence.

Except for big history, that is. The interest that big historians have in a “single . . . coherent story” marks them out as universal historians. But they have also adapted universal history in at least two important ways. First, big history stretches much further backwards in time than any earlier universal history. This is clear from the introduction to even the most recent universal histories such as H. G. Wells’s The Outline of History. Wells’s history begins with the geology of the earth: prior to that there is no history, for space is “cold, lifeless, and void.” Wells is not unusual in this conclusion, for up until about forty years ago, the majority of people—including scientists—believed that the universe was static, unchanging, steady. Now, all but a tiny number of scientists believe that the universe has an origin—an explosive event dubbed the Big Bang some 12–15 billion years ago; that it is expanding and cooling and thus changing; and that it will continue to do so long into the future. The Big Bang is the agreed starting point for big historians as it is for physicists.

Second, big history veers away from the anthropocentrism of earlier universal histories. Traditionally, universal historians—if they consider the sciences at all—have presented the origins and evolution of the earth and life as a prologue to human history. Big history relocates humans in the biota, on the earth, in the universe. In doing so, it reveals how small, destructive, and recent a phenomenon we are. Such a view of humanity appears to clash with the conventional historiographical desire to seek out the individual, to seek out agency. It is as if the lens through which we view the past has got stuck at a certain magnification—the “viewing individual actions” lens—and that over time we have forgotten that other lenses are available. Big history invites us to consider the past over different scales and helps us to see new patterns, like those of regimes, punctuated equilibrium, negentropy, or cosmic evolution. Thus it is with big history, I believe, that we see the realization of William H. McNeill’s claim that historians can contribute to what Edward O. Wilson calls “consilience,” the unity of knowledge.[7]

[1] Michael Geyer and Charles Bright, “World History in a Global Age,” in Ross Dunn, ed., The New World History (Bedford, 2000) 566.
[2] David Christian, “The Play of Scales: Macrohistory,” unpublished ms. Presented at the annual conference of the American Historical Association, January 2002, n. 5.
[3] David Christian, This Fleeting World: An Introduction to “Big History” (University of California Press, forthcoming), 100, 103.
[4] Fred Spier, The Structure of Big History: From the Big Bang until Today (Amsterdam University Press, 1996), 5, 14.
[5] Quoted in Spier, Structure of Big History, 3. 
[6] Pieter Geyl, The Pattern of the Past: Can We Determine It? (with A. Toynbee and P. Sorokin) (Beacon, 1949) 43.
[7] William. H. McNeill, “History and the Scientific Worldview,” History and Theory 37 (1998):1-15; Edward O. Wilson, Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge (Abacus, 1998).

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A Dispatch from Germany
by Michael Hochgeschwender

Recent discussions among both German historians and the German public about German history have been shaped by two apparently contradictory schemes. On the one hand, the events of 1989-1991—the fall of the Berlin wall, the sudden collapse of the Soviet empire, and German reunification—led to an intensified and renewed interest in the history of the German nation-state. On the other hand, in the light of European unification, globalization, and the events of September 11, 2001, Germans also feel the need to see their history in an international context.

Since 1989, German historians have tended to focus on national history, especially the Nazi past and the murder of European Jewry. Mass media, especially television, fed this trend. For example, Guido Knopp, Germany’s leading TV historian, concentrated his attention on the history of the Third Reich and the Second World War. Further, he and the influential weekly Die Zeit—together with other media—covered all the major historiographical debates relating to 1933-1945, such as the heated controversies about the theses of Daniel Goldhagen, Norman Finkelstein, and Peter Novick. This media coverage, however, was only a small part of a larger effort to come to terms with the German past. 

Professional historians tried to cope with the problems of the pre-Nazi era. This research produced detailed and subtle treatments of German history. Hans-Ulrich Wehler and Heinrich-August Winkler, for example, published multi-volume master narratives of 19th- and 20th-century German history. Yet the focus of these and other works produced some negative side effects. The obsession with the nation-state provincialized German historiography. Non-German themes were neglected. The histories of Eastern Europe, the U.S., Asia, and Africa became marginalized—what value did these have for interpreting German national identity? 

At the Historikertage (meetings of the German Historical Association) of 1998 and 2000 this insularity reached its peak. Non-German history—even European history—was barely mentioned. This phenomenon did not escape the critical notice of the public and the media. And today, the one-sidedness of  German historiography in the 1990s seems especially inappropriate.

Germans (and other Europeans) have to learn to cope intellectually with their common future and to think in terms of a common past. At present, there are two popular book series here focused on a European history (Europäische Geschichte, edited by Wolfgang Benz, and Europa bauen, edited by the French historian Jacques LeGoff). If only there were more. Viewing German history from the perspective of European or world history need not be an attempt to get rid of the negative apects of a specifically German past. Just the opposite is true.In an international context, the particularities of German history will become even clearer. 

In a recent article in Geschichte und Gesellschaft, Sebastian Conrad argues for a transnational approach to German history. Conrad believes that the the histories of Africa, America, Asia, and Europe form a common human past. Travel, commerce,slavery, even disease contributed to this shared history. In Germany, however, those historians who, in recent years, have looked beyond the nation’s borders have tended to comb European and North American archives for the secrets to the mystery of modernization. 

According to Conrad, modernization is indeed an important subject, and he thinks it can be understood better if scholars widen their range of vision. Europe’s colonies, he argues, were laboratories for the modernizationprocess in Europe and the United States. Therefore, it should be possible to form a research design that interprets, for instance, urbanization in different nations and cultures, including non-Western ones. Conrad was not the first to argue for a more transnational approach to German history. Since the 1980s a minority of German historians have been trying to escape the narrowness of the nation-state as the dominant point of reference fortheir work. German-American relations has proved to be an especially valuable field of experimentation. The notions of Americanization (Volker R. Berghahn) and Westernization (Anselm Doering-Manteuffel, Axel Schildt) arose from the analysis of German- American relations. Students of Americanization have examined the material and social impacts of American popular culture on Western Europe, especially West Germany and with a special focus on the post-World War II era. Thereby, its research program at a very early time became transnationalized, treating business and entrepreneurial strategies, working-class culture, or the icons of pop art not primarily in a comparative way, but as a history of interchanges. 

Scholars who endorse the notion of Westernization, on the other hand, believe that political culture in the U.S. and Western Europe has a transnational social basis. They have argued, for instance, for the long-term development of common concepts amongAmerican liberals and European socialists based on mutual experiences during the 1930s. While Americanization stresses the importance of American influence in these processes, Westernization assumes a certain parity between Americans and Europeans in the cultural sphere. 

Other historiographical approaches, such as the study of intercultural transfer (Johannes Paulmann) or the new approaches to the history of international relations developed by Jürgen Osterhammel and Eckart Conze, may better be able to satisfy the growing desire for the globalization of German historiography. Paulmann broadens the scope of the Westernization approach by going deeper into the past. He extends the analysis of early modern political thought—initiated in the 1960s by, among others, Quentin Skinner, J.G.A. Pocock, Bernard Bailyn, and Gordon S. Wood—into the 20th century. In much of his work, transnationally acting intellectuals and academics occupy center stage. Osterhammel, on the other hand, writes transnational social history, with a particular focus on industrialization. 

A younger generation of German historians is developing its own way of dealing with German history based on a broader focus. The 2002 German Historikertag, which took place in Halle, may serve as evidence. While the traditional focus on the German nation-state was still influential, more and more panels started to ask different questions. Even the German Bundespräsident, Johannes Rau, invited German historians to write a new German history with a more multicultural, multiethnic, and, perhaps, transnational focus. It is still not clear whether or not Halle was a breakthrough, yet some new departures in German historiography are clearly in the works. 

Dr. Michael Hochgeschwender teaches history at Tübingen University and is the author of Freiheit in der Offensive? Der Kongress für kulturelle Freiheit und die Deutschen (Oldenbourg, 1998).

The Past Perfect, or Understanding History
by Stanley Sandler

In the midst of the Civil War, a little volume entitled The Last Men of the Revolution diverted Americans by chronicling the lives of the last living veterans of the War for Independence.[1] The book treated these old soldiers as antediluvians who had survived to witness the modern age of railroads, ironclads, the telegraph, and the unprecedented social, political, and economic challenges of the 1860s. But The Last Men of the Revolution can tell us more about the American Civil War than about the American Revolution. 

When we write history, we often compare the past with our own era. And if we resist the temptation, our readers are certain to draw the comparisons themselves. Like the authors of The Last Men of the Revolution, we often define as relevant historical scholarship that which uses the past to speak to the present, even when we know the people who lived the history we write obviously did not see themselves simply as precursors to our time.

This hardly counts as a novel observation. Perceptive historians know, for example, that such recreated slices of the past as Colonial Williamsburg are viewed through the distorting prism of the present.Visitors to today’s pristine historical reconstructions need not fear vermin, filth, slavery, or the hazard of being roasted over a slow fire by marauding Indians. Historians might complicate this observation by pointing out that the 17th and 18th centuries were basically unconcerned with flies and slavery.

When we consider meticulously recreated historic communities, military reenactments, or carefully restored technologies such as antique aircraft or automobiles, we might conclude that historical restorations, like historical scholarship, fascinate us because they provide context and points of origin for the present in which we live. We fix upon the giant radial piston engines, leaking oil by the quart; or the non counter-sunk rivets of a World War II B-17; or the gold-thread upholstery and soaring tail fins of a 1958 DeSoto. By recognizing and recreating these details, we feel that these artifacts can give us some insight into our past.

We know that these restorations represent a history that serves the needs and desires of the present.  But we must recognize that, in their times, they were anything but antique—again, a fairly obvious observation. Yet this insight is hard to sustain.Rather, we persist in our inability to view, for example, a Model A Ford with the eyes of 1927, which would have seen it as something wonderfully advanced and modern, a symbol of “The New Age”. For us, the Model A Ford or the 1958 DeSoto are embedded almost inextricably in their times. Historians can well sympathize with the frustration of one of Randall Jarrell’s characters as he viewed a daguerreotype of a 19th-century battlefield: 

[W]e look at an old photograph and feel that the people in it must surely have some intimation of how old-fashioned they were. We feel this even when the photograph is a photograph of corpses strewn in their old-fashioned uniformsalong an old-fashioned trench.2 

Is it possible, then, to interpret the past without the expectations and preconceptions of the present? The late Barbara Tuchman thought that she might have come close when she claimed that she wrote “as of the time without using the benefit of hindsight, resisting always the temptation to refer to events stillahead.”3 The effort is admirable and no doubt necessary, but even the most determined can never achieve a completely blank slate. 

A far more attainable solution to the problem of historical interpretation lies in the past’s past, what I would term the “past perfect.” Every point in history, obviously, had its own history to shape it. Egypt’s pyramids once glistened new and white in the sun, and there was a time when Stonehenge must have beenconsidered the work of the “younger generation.” Beowulf, the earliest surviving intact literary work from the Anglo-Saxon period, was once fresh, and more than one stanza harks back to earlier times: 

Then was song and revel The aged Scylding [Dane] From well-stored mind Spoke much of the past. 

Yet what in the 21st century is more “of the past” than Beowulf? 

Looking at the past has been compared to viewing a distant scene through a powerful telescope, in which the foreground appears in its essentials, but the background seems foreshortened or blurred. We tend to focus on the foreground and treat its background as mere prologue. Yet it is that background, the past perfect, that shaped the foreground we study, and we come closer to an understanding of any period of the past by comparingit to its precedents rather than to the times in which we live. If we can understand the hold that its own past exercised upon any era, we should be well on our way to understanding that era. For example, something new and unprecedented captured the image of those long-dead soldiers who so frustrate Mr. Jarrell’s character. Perhaps if we remember that the earliest photographs were hailed as “Sun pictures,” wondrous inventions of the age of unprecedented progress, we can better understand the mid-19th century. The soldiers’ “antique” uniforms came from the military reforms of Louis XIV, who had replaced the earlier hodge-podge of martial accoutrements with uniform dress—and if uniforms had to be gaudy to distinguish friend from foe on a smoky battlefield, so much the better. Furthermore, those trenches were far from old fashioned; rather, they represented an innovative response to the new killing power of rifled small arms. Without this historical understanding, we could only agree with Malcom Muggeridge that “[t]he camera always lies.” Or take again the example of the “old-fashioned” Model A Ford. The 1929 model may appear awkwardly angular to our modern eyes, but it represented the epitome of advanced design and technological efficiency to its owners, who compared the 1929 Model A to the spindly vehicles of 1919 or 1909, particularly the Model T Ford. (Henry Ford, himself, alarmed by the advances incorporated in his Model A, exclaimed, “We can’t put that car on the road! We’ll kill them all!”) 

Soldiers in 1864 and motorists in 1927 could look back only to their own pasts, the past perfect, to define their present experiences. Understandably, they imagined themselves to be members of the most advanced and technologically sophisticated age the world had ever known. Although they lived in what some might term “the good old days,” when, we believe in our ignorance, that the pace of life was slower and technology had not overtaken daily life, they experienced their age as fast-paced, rapidly changing, and technologically advanced. It is a sentiment shared in every “modern age.” 

Historical interpretations that rely on comparisons to later periods often result in history that passes judgment on the past based on criteria that postdate it. Those who lived in the 1920s did not experience the decade as a precursor to the Great Depression. We must compare the 1920s with itspast years—say, 1919, a year of massive strikes, inflation, race riots, and the Big Red Scare. With that comparison in mind, a vote for the GOP ticket seems hardly ignoble, whatever one now thinks of Harding or Coolidge. For those who lived through the previous decade, the 1920s seemed to inaugurate something close to “normalcy,” witha lowered cost of living and a dollar that, once again, was worth, by 1926, exactly 100 cents. Given the past perfect, is it fair to characterize the 1920s as trivial? Or would it be more accurate to characterize the decade as a general sigh of relief after the upheaval of the preceding decade? 

Another example of the power of the past’s past lies in histories of World War II that deal with the Allies’ refusal to take seriously reports of the Nazis’ near-extermination of the Jews of Occupied Europe, damning the Allies as “blind” and “insensitive,” or that implicate the Allies in the Holocaust because they ignored reports of Hitler’s Final Solution. The “past perfect” of the Allies’ inaction to prevent or end the Holocaust reveals at least a partial explanation. During World War I, the Allies spread horrifying stories of German atrocities throughout the world. After World War I, these stories, which had been widely believed, were proven in the main to be false. Thus what appears to be a callous disregard on the part of the Allies in World War II to the fate of millions of people may have resulted, in part, from a reaction to the inflated and groundless stories of German atrocities in World War I.

Each generation, at least in the West, looking back, seems to have believed that it was in something like the final stages of an historical process. Medieval Christians, for example, generally believed that the world had passed through six stages of life and was now in a seventh and, of course, final “end by putrefaction.” Later, Edmund Spenser, overwhelmed by the speed of life in 16th-century England, moaned that “the world's runne quite out of square.” Ralph Waldo Emerson, referring to the technological innovations of his era, exclaimed, “How is the face of the world changed from the era of Noah to that of Napoleon!” And Thomas Carlyle roared about “velocity increasing . . . as the square of time . . . the world has changed less since Jesus Christ than it has done in the last thirty years.” President Lincoln, in an oft-quoted passage, informed Congress that “[t]he dogmas of the quiet past” were “not adequate to the stormy present,” and Woodrow Wilson opined that “[h]istory grows infinitely complex about us; the tasks of this country are no longer simple.” 

People have often believed that they were living on the hinge of history, swamped by the forces of accelerating change and decay. The early 21st century is no different. Military historian Sir Michael Howard insists that “history has become the record of ever more rapid and bewildering change throughout the world.”4 But as another late 20th-century historian noted perceptively: 

The belief that the world is changing rapidly and in fundamental ways may simply be one of those ideas that survive as prejudices and formulas after they have ceased to be true. It is flattering to ourselves to think that wherever society is going, it is going there fast . . . . Whether the direction of the change is toward ruin or toward accomplishment, it is intolerable to think that the process is mediocre.5 

Indeed, viewing past times as “slow-moving,” their artifacts as “simple” or “primitive,” and eras rich in complexity as “old” or “pre-” or “early,” can cause us to misunderstand and even to denigrate the past. If past times were less complex, then they probably were less challenging as well—and, ultimately, less important than our present day. In this view, two world wars and a global depression can diminish into mere preludes to the cataclysmic “postmodern era.” Not too long ago, “sophisticated” commentators declared World War II more straightforwardand simple than the Vietnam conflict because, in the earlier war, our enemies were out in the open and in uniform; their leaders were obviously evil; and the conflict was supported on the home front. But the argument weakens considerably when one interviews survivors of the Bataan Death March or Omaha Beach. 

To approximate the past perfect more clearly, historians might consider dropping such labels as “Early American,” “Late Gothic,” the “Old Kingdom,” “Mid-Victorian,” and so on, which, again, define the past as it relates to later periods. Such terms invite imprecision and inaccuracy. They also can be historically confusing. The “Old [U.S.] Navy,” for example, usually referred to the pre-1890s service of wooden hulls, muzzleloaders, and spit-and-polish. But the term could refer also to the pre-Pearl Harbor U.S. Navy, its backbone the battleship, and its carriers termed, somewhat condescendingly, “the eyes of the fleet.” Yet that Navy had been built at enormous cost in time, money, and controversy to project U.S. power around the globe and to shoot straight at long range. And it, too, often was called the “New Navy.” 

We stand on somewhat firmer historical ground with the “new,” in that most ages and eras have tended to regard themselves as being “new,” or “modern.” But for historians to use the term to refer to their own times leaves them open to the charge of presentmindedness —and certainly to a lack of originality. The “New History” now seems dated, a fate that will undoubtedly befall “La Nouvell Histoire,” the “New Military History,” the “New Social History,” or the “New Political History,” not to mention the New Left and the New Right. “New” rarely wears well; consider, for example, New College, Oxford, founded in 1379; or New York’s New School of Social Research, now well over sixty years old. One would think that historians would be the first to point out that Young Turks soon enough become Old Bolsheviks. In most cases, straightforward chronological descriptions, such as “early 20th century,” “postwar,” etc., would provide more accurate historical categorization. 

Accuracy is not the only casualty when historians forget the past perfect. By labelingand categorizing the past through direct or indirect comparison to the present, we often obliterate the sense of wonder felt by the witnesses of history. Some listeners apparently fainted when they first heard polyphony, and the use of perspective in paintings must have shocked the first viewers who were confronted with it. What do these experiences tell us about the Renaissance? No one challenged Thomas Edison’s phonograph patent application because no one could imagine putting sound in a box and taking it out again. Can we dismiss this prodigious leap of Edison’s imagination by speaking of his phonograph as “primitive?” Early motion pictures strike us as, for the most part, technically clumsy, poorly staged, and grossly over-acted. And yet, to the audiences who viewed the first films, the images struck them as nothing short of miraculous. The first moving pictures sparked some audience members to jump from their seats when a locomotive seemed to come hurtling out of the screen towards them. 

Of course, historians know how it will all end, or at least what comes next. This knowledge lends a sense of completion, perhaps even a patness, to historical inquiry that is difficult to overcome. Events seem to move logically through inception and development toward resolution. If nothing else, such progression certainly makes for boring history for our students. For example, few historians who write about the Great Depression of the 1930s take up one obvious reason why the Depression was so depressing: those living through it could not foresee its end. No one could predict the long-term boost that rearmament and wartime production would give to the American economy. In fact, given the intensely pacifistic sentiments of the 1930s in the democracies, such a knowledge would have seemed repulsive. 

Our foreknowledge of the story’s resolution numbs the tension, fear, and hope felt by history’s participants. Perhaps this is inevitable. But historians should make the attempt to recapture the immediacy, the frightening uncertainty, of the time and events they describe. Studying and interpreting history should be a humbling exercise. The achievements of other eras offer far more than simply the building blocks or preludes to our own times—that way lies the discredited “Whig” interpretation of history. “Our times” will soon enough cease to be ours as they are daily transformed into the history of the future. 

Historical interest looms large in contemporary America and much of the rest of the world. Professional historians may groan when they see a group of British World War II re-enactors in authentic U.S. Army uniforms cruising England’s coastal roads in carefully restored jeeps, army trucks, and half-tracks, their pockets stuffed with Wrigley's gum and Life Savers, having the time of their lives as they pretend to be “Yanks” in training for D-Day. But these historical re-enacters’ fanatical attention to details of the past speaks to our collective hunger for the immediate experience of historical events, evidenced in the History Channel, a site which was unimaginable even ten years ago. History matters to the 21st century, and not only as a prelude to the present. A decent respect for the past, and a realization that then, as now, an age could only measure itself against its own past—the past perfect—should not be too much to ask of historians if we are to provide a better understanding of history. 

Stanley Sandler retired in 1999 as a command historian with the U.S. Army Special Operations Command, Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Among his more recent books is The Korean War: No Victors, No Vanquished (University of Kentucky Press, 2001). 

1 N. A. and R. A. Moore, The Last Men of the Revolution: A Photograph of Each From Life . . . Accompanied by Brief Biographical Sketches (Hartford, CT, 1864). 2 Randall Jarrell, Pictures From an Institution (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1954), 207. 3 Barbara Tuchman, Practicing History: Selected Essays (Knopf, 1981), 71. 4 Sir Michael Howard, Times Literary Supplement, June 23, 1989. 5 R. MacGillivray, The Slopes of the Andes: Four Essays on the Rural Myth in Ontario (Mika Publishing Company, 1990), 179.

[1] N. A. and R. A. Moore, The Last Men of the Revolution:  A Photograph of Each From Life . . .  Accompanied by Brief Biographical Sketches (Hartford, CT, 1864).

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Coming to Terms with the Third American Republic
by James Livingston

Only in the United States do the losers, deviants, miscreants, and malcontents get to narrate the national experience. In historiographical time, for example, coming to terms with the second American republic codified in the Fourteenth Amendment took almost a century. Why? Because the formative moment known as Reconstruction was originally defined by historians who identified with the good old causes of Southern honor and white supremacy. But an even better example is the historiography of the Progressive Era, which qualifies, by all accounts, as an equally formative moment in the making of the nation. Here, too, professional historians who have proudly identified with the good old lost causes (especially, but not only Populism) have been able to define the moment in question, and to shape research agendas accordingly. In this sense, coming to terms with the third American republic—the one that resides in the emergence of corporate capitalism, ca. 1890-1930—has been no less difficult than coming to terms with the second.

Several years ago, in a graduate reading seminar that covered the period 1880 to 1930, I was reminded of just how difficult it has been for professional historians to acknowledge the legitimacy of this third republic. I assigned Richard Hofstadter's Age of Reform (1955), a key text in the making of the discipline as well as an important interpretation of the Progressive era from which we can still learn a great deal. I knew that the graduate students would be suspicious of a so-called consensus historian who was agnostic on the “democratic promise” of Populism. But I was not prepared for their refusal to consider the possibility that Hofstadter wrote from the Left—the possibility that we can be agnostic on the anti-monopoly tradition and yet keep the democratic faith, or, what is the same thing, that we can treat the relation between corporate capitalism and social democracy as reciprocal rather than antithetical. Their refusal taught me that these possibilities cannot be contemplated, let alone realized, unless we learn to treat the historical fact of corporate capitalism as the source rather than the solvent of a social-democratic promise, that is, until we acknowledge the legitimacy of the third American republic.

We—historians and their constituents —need a new way of thinking about the 20th century. We need to be able to think about it as something other or more than the non-heroic residue of the tragedy staged in the 1890s, when the Populists were defeated, or in the 1940s, when the anti-corporate animus of the New Deal expired, the Congress of Industrial Organization settled for collective bargaining rather than workers’ control of the assembly line, and intellectuals turned their backs on the unions if not the masses. We need a new way of thinking about progress in the Progressive era and after, particularly the “after” that is our own time. 

We also need a way of thinking that doesn’t require that we worship at the shrine of Theodore Roosevelt’s “New Nationalism” in measuring progress in the Progressive era. We need, that is, to get beyond a narrowly political, policy-relevant approach to the accomplishments of this era; in this sense, we need to accredit recent social, cultural, intellectual, and women’s history, and thus acknowledge the extraordinary innovations made “out of doors” in domains that were, and that remain, invisible to professional politicians. And once we’re out there in civil society, we must get beyond the reflexive critique of consumer culture, for its ideological function is to reinstate the model of subjectivity —the “man of reason,” the self-determining producer of himself—invented in the early modern period. In today’s world, this sort of independence is no longer possible. Progressive era intellectuals understood that the days of the self-sufficient, independent man were long gone. In the early 20th century, pragmatists and feminists converged on a “critique of the subject,” demonstrating that the transcendental (Kantian) subject was a metaphysical conceit that had lost its explanatory adequacy because it excluded any historical periodization of selfhood and remained resolutely male in both its theoretical expressions and practical applications. Pragmatists and feminists insisted that there was “no ego outside and behind the scene of action,” as John Dewey put it: the autonomous self and the moral personality were not the prior conditions of authentic subjectivity or moral decisions; they were the results. These same pragmatists and feminists, from William James, Dewey, and Jane Addams to Jane Flax and Judith Butler, also sponsored the notion of a “social self.” Further, they located the historical origins of this notion in the socialization of property and markets—“the regress of self sufficiency and the progress of association,” as Henry Carter Adams put it—which was permitted and enforced by corporate enterprise.

• • • 

Conservatives and radicals agree that the United States is exceptional because revolution —like socialism—is a foreign import without historical roots in the American experience. Conservatives revere the American past because they believe it was never disfigured by revolution, while radicals renounce this past because they believe it was never redeemed by revolution. They agree, then, that revolution is by definition a complete break from the past, a unique moment when the conflict between “ought” and “is”— between ethical principles and historical circumstances —is violently resolved in favor of the former, and anything becomes possible. If we refuse the either/or choice between conservatism and radicalism by mediating between them as pragmatism and feminism teach us to, we might posit a different definition of revolution and a different attitude toward our history. We might define revolution as the suture rather than the rupture of past, present, and future, or as the politically synthetic effort to make the relations between these temporal moments continuous rather than incommensurable. To do so would, however, require that we follow the lead of Hannah Arendt and learn to treat the French Revolution (and its Bolshevik reprise) as just one species in a profuse and increasingly plural genus. We would also have to learn that American revolutions remain unfinished because the nation itself has been, and will always be, a work in progress. 

James Livingston is a professor of history at Rutgers University. His most recent book is Pragmatism, Feminism, and Democracy: Rethinking the Politics of American History (Routledge, 2001).

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The Battle Over “Turning Back the Clock” in Constitutional Interpretation
by Stephen B. Presser
Do we still have a Constitution? There is no doubt that the “original” understanding of Constitutional exegesis was that the document ought to be interpreted in an objective manner, according to the “original” understanding of Constitutional terms.[1] As everyone who has gone to law school since 1954 knows, however, the United States Supreme Court, in the middle of the 20th century, departed from that original philosophy of Constitutional interpretation, in order to bring the Constitution more in line with what the Justices thought to be convenient for a modern democracy. The theory, consistent with the still-prevailing jurisprudence of “legal realism,” was that the Constitution ought to be viewed as a “living document,” which should change with the times. As Earl Warren remarked, in deciding the landmark school desegregation case of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (1954), “we cannot turn the clock back” to the time when the Fourteenth Amendment was passed to understand what it ought to mean today. Warren’s Court (and, to a great extent, the Burger and Rehnquist Courts which followed his) altered the meaning of many provisions of the Constitution, in order substantially to limit the scope of what the states could do in terms of policy-making, and in order to promote a secularized and individualized philosophy of government. 

Woe be to those who challenge the Warren (and Burger and Rehnquist) Court’s decisions in the areas of race, religion, and, in particular, abortion. Consider, for example, Robert Bork, the victim of a grossly unfair attack by so-called “public interest groups” and their sympathizers in the Senate which kept him off the Supreme Court. More recently, Bork argued in the New Criterion that the Supreme Court’s decisions in the second half of the 20th century regarding “speech, religion, abortion, secularity, welfare, public education and much else” made the Court, in effect “the enemy of traditional culture.”[2] With this essay, Bork sought to rally support for judicial nominees who espouse original intent. In response, Jeffrey Rosen, a law professor and the legal affairs editor of the New Republic (a reliable indicator of what passes for moderation among media views), blasted Bork in the New York Times Magazine, as “living in a dystopian time warp.”[3]

Bork blamed the Court for the current “suffocating vulgarity of [our] popular culture,” but Rosen argued that “MTV, the Internet, the expansion of sexual equality and other democratizing forces of popular culture” have led to the decline of traditional values. Indeed, Rosen praised the “Supreme Court’s relatively moderate compromises on abortion and religion.” For Rosen, and for most of the legal academy for the last forty years, the role of the Court is to reflect the decisions that have been made by the popular culture. In the words of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., the patron saint of the currently dominant jurisprudential school of legal realism: “The substance of the law, at any given time, pretty nearly corresponds, so far as it goes, with what is then understood to be convenient.” 

Holmes got it wrong. So does Rosen. Bork is right. A Constitution that is a “living document” is a rope of sand, and offers little hope of doing what the Constitution is supposed to do. The Constitution was intended to reign in the excesses of the state legislatures, which were seeking to appease popular opinion by issuing increasingly worthless paper currency and by suspending debts. The Constitution put in place a federal government that was to make commercial markets more secure by centralizing the creation of currency, and by forbidding interference with private contracts on the part of the state governments. As high school students used to learn, the federal Constitution also attempted to put in place structural mechanisms which would prevent even the federal government from becoming too powerful. These were basically two-fold. One was the principle that we now know as “federalism” or “dual sovereignty,” the notion that the federal government was to be one of limited and enumerated powers, with the state governments as the primary legislative and policy-making bodies for the country. The Constitution was supposed to deal with common concerns of all the states, such as interstate commerce, navigation, a circulating currency, and national defense. Other matters, including the basic doctrines of contracts, torts, property, criminal law, family law, and religion were to be the province of state and local governments. The second structural safeguard was borrowed from Montesquieu, and that was the idea that there ought to be separation of powers, so that the legislature would be the maker of law, the executive would carry out the law (pursuant to the directives of the Constitution and Congress), and the courts would police the Constitutional scheme, in particular making sure that Congress (and the states) did not go beyond the bounds of Constitutional directives. 

Until the New Deal, by and large, the original Constitutional scheme was kept intact. After the Civil War, with the passage of the Reconstruction Amendments (the Thirteenth, which abolished slavery; the Fourteenth, which forbade states from depriving any person of “due process,” the “equal protection of the laws,” or the “privileges and immunities” of United States citizenship; and the Fifteenth, which forbade denial of the right to vote because of “race, color, or previous condition of servitude”), Congress was given the power to enforce the Amendments by appropriate legislation, which did involve the federal government in new areas of concern. Yet Congressional enforcement efforts with regard to these three Amendments were modest. Some further economic regulation was accomplished through the establishment of the Interstate Commerce Commission in 1881 (which was given the power to regularize railroad rates), and the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890 (which gave the federal government the power to act against restraints of trade in interstate commerce). Still, most of the national economy, and most political and judicial activity, remained regulated at the state and local levels. This changed dramatically under Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, which sought comprehensively to regulate both interstate and intrastate trade in a manner ostensibly calculated to get the nation out of the most horrific depression it had yet experienced. The Supreme Court at first balked at the scope of this new federal legislation, and tossed out some early New Deal measures. But from 1937 until the middle of the 1990s, no federal law was thrown out on the grounds that exceeded Congress’s authority to regulate interstate commerce. Congress was permitted to set up comprehensive schemes permitting collective bargaining, the regulation of drugs, of aviation, of trading in national securities, and of a whole host of other matters. The range of legislative action which the courts now permitted to Congress was matched in scope by the range of matters the federal courts now moved to supervise. For the first time, the Court undertook a wholesale examination of what state and local law enforcement could and could not do because of alleged strictures of the Fourth and Fifth Amendments. This was the genesis of the famed Miranda warnings and the exclusionaryrule, which forbid the use of evidence obtained by practices suddenly declared toviolate the Fourth Amendment, even if that evidence clearly establishes the guilt of the defendant. The U.S. remains the only Western nation to employ such a rule. Employing a simplistic conception of “one person, one vote” nowhere to be found in the Constitution, but presumably anchored in the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee of “equal protection,” the Warren Court proceeded to declare unconstitutional any state bicameral legislative scheme that seated a branch of government in any manner other than election based on population. Thus, the bicameral model of the state legislatures, which, like the federal government, had featured one legislative body selected by historical political subdivisions (the states for the federal government, and, usually, counties for the states), and the other apportioned on the basis of population—a model which had been in use in some states for nearly two centuries, was suddenly declared to violate the Constitution. In the early 1960s, a series of decisions which continued into the late 20th century ruled that states could not require bible reading or prayers in the public schools, and,eventually, that they could not mandate prayers at high school graduations or permit them at football games, or even permit the display of the Ten Commandments on public property. Until quite late in the 20th century the Supreme Court permitted state and local governments to apportion resources, or to allocate opportunities, on the basis of the race of individuals (affirmative action), even though the historical understanding of the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection clause (and of the Fifteenth Amendment) would seem to forbid anything but equal treatment for all. Finally, even though the original federalist scheme would clearly have left sucha domestic matter to the discretion of the state and local governments, in the last four decades of the 20th century the Court discovered an implicit “right to privacy” inherent somewhere in the Bill of Rights which forbids the states from prohibiting married adults (and later unmarried ones) access to contraception and then, eventually, from prohibiting most restrictions on abortion. Constitutional historians scrambled to find some justification for what theWarren and Burger Courts had done in these areas. They claimed that the Justices were engaging in “representation reinforcing,” wisely applying insights from moral philosophy, or functioning in a “religious” manner similar to that of the Old Testament prophets.4 The problem, of course, was that the historic role of the courts was not, in a forward-looking manner, to promote social change according to some conception of what was best for the polity, but rather, in a conservative manner, to apply the pre-existing rules of law, leaving law-making and policy formulation to the legislative or executive branches, or to the state and local governments. 

Much of this explosion of judicial law and policy-making was anchored in what has come to be called the “incorporation” doctrine. This interpretive tool began to appear in the middle of the 20th century, when a few Justices argued that the Bill of Rights, in the light of the Fourteenth Amendment, ought to protect individuals against not only the federal but also the state and local governments. Thus, the criminal procedure decisions of the Warren Court were defended on the grounds that the Fourth and FifthAmendment strictures ought to be applied, through the Fourteenth Amendment, against the states. And the school prayer decisions were now justified because the First Amendment’s prohibitions (e.g. “Congress shall make no law regarding an establishment of religion”) should be read as if it applied to state and local legislatures as well as Congress. 

This was an absolutely unparalleled act of judicial legerdemain, because the original purpose of those who drafted the Bill of Rights was to restrain the federal government and, in particular, any adventurous federal judges. But the Warren, Burger, and Rehnquist Courts, through their application of the incorporation doctrine, engaged in the very conduct the Bill of Rights’ framers had feared. To be fair to the historians who defended the incorporation doctrine (and that has become one of the great cottage industries among Constitutional historians),5 there were at least some members of Congress whose words at the time of the passage of the Fourteenth Amendment could be broadly construed to allow such an interpretation. Still, given the extraordinary reach of such a doctrine and how it, in effect, would have had to have been understood as radically restructuring the prerogatives of state and local governments, one would have expected much clearer articulation of such an “incorporation purpose” and much more resistance to the idea in the debates over the Amendments.6 One can argue passionately (if not cogently) for the correctness of what the Warren, Burger, and Rehnquist Courts did with the incorporation doctrine, but one cannot base that argument easily on the historical understanding of the Fourteenth Amendment. Even so, those who dare to question the incorporation doctrine these days are excoriated, as, for example, was Reagan’s attorney general Edwin Meese (a former law professor) when he expressed some skepticism. 

Though it is almost never acknowledged, what seems to be driving the current controversy over “judicial ideology” and President Bush’s nominees to the federal bench are the beginnings of a return to “original understanding” on the part of the Supreme Court. When he was campaigning for the White House, Bush took the very unusual step of indicating that he believed that the models for his appointments to the judiciary should be Associate Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. They are the two Justices who have most frequently indicated their belief in interpreting the Constitution according to its original understanding; they are the two who have most clearly rejected the “living constitution” theory; and they are among the four Justices who have indicated a desire to overrule Roe v. Wade. Scalia and Thomas, along with Chief Justice William Rehnquist and Justices William Kennedy and Sandra Day O’Connor, have also been involved in the spate of decisions which, for the first time since the New Deal, rejected federal legislation as unauthorized by the commerce clause and reveal a new willingness to understand the state governments as the nation’s primary law-making bodies. Finally, these five Justices have begun more narrowly to construe the Warren and Burger Courts’ interpretations of the First Amendment’s purported separation of church and state, so that, for example, they permitted religious extra-curricular organizations to use public school property on the same basis as non-religious organizations, and they permitted states and localities to operate “voucher programs” which benefited religious as well as secular schools. None of the Justices has yet come out against the incorporation theory itself, but this is not inconceivable, and it must be part of what worries the Court’s critics. 

These critics, principally the Senate Democrats, but also the liberal public interest groups such as People for the American Way, the American Civil Liberties Union, Planned Parenthood, and the National Organization of Women, believe that if Bush is to have his way, the entire edifice of individually- oriented “living constitution” jurisprudence might well be threatened. Thus, for the first time in American history, a political party has taken the position that a president (from a different party) should not be able to have his nominations to the bench confirmed if their “judicial ideology” would result in a majority of judges or Justices who believe in the jurisprudence of “original understanding.” The defenders of what the Senate Democrats and their “public-interest” allies are up to claim that “judicial ideology” is not a new means of criticizing nominees, and they point to such things as the rejection of George Washington’s nomination of Associate Justice John Rutledge as Chief Justice and Herbert Hoover’s nomination (in 1930) of John Parker as early examples. But in these cases and others like them, it was the particular views of the individual (in Rutledge’s case his approval of the Jay Treaty and in Parker’s case his “perceived aversion to the labor movement and to civil rights for blacks”) and not their common adherence to a jurisprudential perspective (that was presumed to be the only legitimate one at our founding) that subjected them to criticism.7 Strangely, members of the history discipline have been virtually silent about this fact, and even Republican politicians have not made an appeal to history to defend the judicial philosophy of their nominees. 

Perhaps a reason for this hesitation is a deep-seated ambivalence over the framers’ project, and a belief that their world was so different from ours that there really is something illegitimate about implementing the “original understanding” of the Constitution. After all, many of the framers were slaveholders and virtually all of them believed in limiting the franchise to white male owners of a substantial interest in landed property. Most, if not all of the framers, believed in the law of nature and nature’s God, and nearly all of them believed that the United States was a “Christian Country.” Moreover, it was a generally understood maxim of interpretation in the late 18th century that one could have no order without law, no law without morality, and no morality without religion (and a religion probably of some Protestant variety). How could anything worth saving come from people whose views were so obviously different from the views of those who now embrace democracy, legal realism, racial equality, feminism, secularism, and individualism? The simple answer is that even though the framers may have gotten some things wrong, they did understand some things regarding what they called “the science of politics” that we have all but forgotten. They managed to state some timeless truths which are dangerous for us to ignore. 

This isn’t the place to go into details,8 but it is enough to remark here that the framers understood that our government had to be a republic, not a democracy, because one can’t govern a polity of hundreds of millions of people (or millions in the late 18th century) by thoroughly democratic means. Some hierarchy in society is inevitable, they knew, and American government could only protect “ordered liberty” (a phrase generally attributed to the framers, though probably coined in the later 19th century) if a structure were erected which protected the Constitution from the people, the people from their repub-lican rulers, and the rulers from themselves. 

Demagoguery in our politics, a federal leviathan, a set of strange notions about human nature, and judges who make law have taken us far away from the original understanding on which the Constitution was based. These days, what passes for an understanding of human nature among our judges is too often the sentiment expressed in the famous “mystery passage” from the plurality opinion in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, a 1992 decision which upheld Roe v. Wade’s interpretation of the Constitution. Said three of the Justices: “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.” But that is hardly what liberty is really about, as our Constitution’s framers understood the term. Meaning in life comes from associations with others, and the radical individualism of the mystery passage and of modern American culture tends more toward despair and self-indulgence than to the pursuit of happiness Jefferson had in mind. Indeed, the framers probably also understood better than many in government and culture today that the good life requires adherence to traditions, religious faith, and altruism rather than secularism and self-actualization. It is true that a Constitution forged in the late 18th century, without changes, is not fit for governance in the 20th. But the Constitution does contain an amendment process which was put in place to meet that need. 

Not judges, but the American people, through their Congressional representatives and state legislatures, following the Constitution’s own procedures, should be in the business of altering the Constitution. None of this is anything new, of course, but all of it is now regarded with skepticism, if not downright hostility in most of the American academy. There are signs, though, that this is changing. The current battle over “judicial ideology” has at least the benefit of forcing us to articulate the proper conception of the judicial role, and, indeed, of our regime of separation of powers, and, again, as the framers understood, it is always useful to restate the first principles of our government. Even more encouraging is a spate of new works by academics comfortably situated in the highest ivory towers who have been able to rearticulate with admiration, appreciation, and endorsement several principles of the framers’ Constitution. For example, Princeton professor Keith Whittington has recently published a brilliant defense of the “original understanding” method of interpretation, Philip Hamberger of the University of Chicago has written a thorough monograph debunking the notion that “separation of church and state” was a constant in American government, and Albert Alschuler, also of the University of Chicago, has given us a devastating critique of the jurisprudence of legal realism and its spiritual father, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. 

Those of us who share Benjamin Franklin’s belief that the hand of “Providence” was evident in the framing of the Constitution cannot help but be encouraged by the appearance of this recent turn in political science, Constitutional history, and judicial biography. Right now, we don’t really have our Constitution, but there are laudable efforts underway to recapture it. Some in the Senate and in the media would like to pretend otherwise, but if we lose the benefits of the wisdom of the framers, as Judge Bork was trying to suggest, we’ve failed as historians. 

Stephen B. Presser is the Raoul Berger Professor of Legal History at Northwestern University School of Law, a professor of business law in Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management, and an associate research fellow at the Institute of United States Studies of the University of London. He is the author, with Jamil S. Zainaldin, of Law and Jurisprudence in American History, 4th ed. (West Group, 2000).

[1] The now seminal piece on “original understanding,” as the originally-intended means of Constitutional interpretation is H. Jefferson Powell, “The Original Understanding of Original Intent,” Harvard Law Review 98 (1985): 885.
[2] Robert Bork, “Adversary Jurisprudence,” New Criterion 20 (2002).
[3] Jeffrey Rosen, “Obstruction of Judges,” New York Times, August 11, 2002. 

4 Michael J. Perry, The Constitution, the Courts, and Human Rights: An Inquiry into the Legitimacy of Constitutional Policymaking by the Judiciary (Yale University Press, 1982) presents a good summary of these arguments. Perry advances the theory that the Court should function in what he calls a “religious” manner. 

5 Among the best such defenses are Akhil R. Amar, The Bill of Rights: Creation and Reconstruction (Yale University Press, 1998); Michael Kent Curtis, No State Shall Abridge: The Fourteenth Amendment and the Bill of Rights (Duke University Press, 1986); and William E. Nelson, The Fourteenth Amendment: From Political Principle to Judicial Doctrine (Harvard University Press, 1988). 

6 This was the most impressive argument made in the most widely-read recent critique of the “incorporation doctrine,” Raoul Berger, Government by Judiciary: The Transformation of the Fourteenth Amendment, 2nd ed. (Liberty Fund, 1997). 

7 For the attempt to use the Rutledge and Parker imbroglios as support for the current conduct of the Senate Democrats, see, e.g., Randall Kennedy, “The Law: Rejection Sustained: Republicans are Suddenly Steamed that ‘Politics’ is Holding Up Judicial Appointments. But Politics is the Point,” Atlantic Monthly 290 (2002). 

8 For the details see, e.g., Stephen B. Presser, Recapturing the Constitution: Race, Religion, and Abortion Reconsidered (Regnery Publishing, 1994).

The Prisoners
by Armstrong Starkey

The detainment of hundreds of suspected terrorists at Guantanamo has left President Bush’s administration groping for definitions of their legal status. Furthermore, the debate over the possible prosecution of prisoners through military or civil courts raises questions about the definition of war. Since the 18th century, war has been defined in international law as conflict between established nation-states. In the 18th century, soldiers came to be recognized as the servants of increasingly centralized and impersonal states, and uniforms clearly marked their nationality: British red, Prussian blue, and the white uniforms of Catholic countries. Soldiers were perceived as the lawful agents of those states and, as such, were entitled to protection when wounded or captured by the enemy. In 1758, the Swiss writer Emmerich de Vattel published The Law of Nations which applied traditional just war theory to modern conditions. Even though he published his great work during the Seven Years’ War, one of the most destructive conflicts of the era, Vattel praised the advances in the humane conduct of war, particularly with respect to the good treatment of prisoners. In doing so, he established a norm that influenced 19th-century codes such as the Lieber Rules, established to guide the conduct of the Union army during the American Civil War.

Although Vattel extended his standards to cover militias and participants in civil wars, The Law of Nations was intended only to provide direction for wars between established states. Stateless peoples such as Native Americans or Pugachev’s Cossack rebels could not expect the protection of the law. Vattel was explicit in stating that a nation attacked by irregular means in an informal, illegitimate war was not obliged to observe the formal rules of war, and could treat the enemies as robbers. Savage nations, which observed no rules, could be dealt with severely. 

International conventions of the 19th century confirmed the direction established by Vattel. These conventions were binding upon signatory states. It was understood that war was between states and that the purpose of the conventions was to ameliorate conflict for the benefit both of the warring parties and the international community of nation-states. On occasion, the conventions strived to distinguish civilians from soldiers and to restrict warfare to the latter. They also tried to place limits upon the destructiveness of weapons. And the rights of prisoners remained a primary focus of these agreements which, for example, recognized the International Red Cross as an agency of prisoner assistance.

Today, prisoners are defined by the 1949 Geneva Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War and the two 1977 Geneva Protocols Additional. The Protocols reflected the evolving nature of war; Protocol I extended the application of the Geneva Convention to include “armed conflicts in which peoples are fighting against colonial domination and alien occupation and against racist regimes in exercise of their right of self-determination.” The Protocols addressed what critics saw as a pro-European and imperialist bias in international law, which could be traced to the guidelines established by Vattel. They recognized the rights of guerrillas who fought against colonial or other occupying regimes. War was no longer limited to conflict between established states. Vattel’s view that international law did not apply to conflicts between savage and civilized peoples—so often used to justify atrocities against non-European peoples—seemed to have lost meaning . . . .


To the Editors, 

John L. Harper’s “America and Europe” in the June 2002 Historically Speaking is mistitled. It should have been “What Anti-American Europeans Think about America.” The author, who never speaks for himself but attributes everything to anonymous “Europeans,” pretends to be offering insights into the “gulf in perceptions” between Europe and America, but everything is seen from one side of the gulf only. It’s actually an accurate summary of what you will read in the left-wing and center European press, particularly from its most America-hating and Jew-baiting sectors. But the author never utters a syllable of criticism of anything “Europeans think,” no matter how idiotic, and never allows the American side to be heard at all. One wonders what the purpose of this article could be. Does Professor Harper really think we have not heard this litany before? Does he think anyone will be persuaded by this one-sided rehearsal of European Americanophobia at its most reflexive and mindless? I seriously wondered if the article could be meant as a parody. Unfortunately I guess it isn’t. 

Here are a few examples of what “Europeans think.” “Europeans also tend to believe that most countries stocking missiles and/or weapons of mass destruction do not do so because they contemplate a suicidal first strike on the West but because they do not want to be bullied by local rivals or the United States.” That’s what Americans believe, too. Nobody objected to the stocking of weapons of mass destruction by “most countries,” such as Britain, France, Israel, and India. It becomes a problem when dangerous regimes like Iraq do this. As for Iraq: “Where is the evidence, Europeans ask . . . that Iraq (assuming it were able to) would be mad enough to attack Western targets?” Well, there is the little matter that within three years Saddam Hussein will have nuclear weapons and missiles to deliver them, and then he will think, probably correctly, that he can do whatever he wants. A short list of what he is known to want: reconquer Kuwait; master the world’s oil supply and blackmail the West; start a nuclear confrontation with Israel; and offer an impregnable base for the many terrorist groups he subsidizes so they can blow up places like Bologna with impunity, etc. 

But here is the lowest point. “Europeans are appalled by Palestinian suicide bombings, but even more so by what many see as Ariel Sharon’s brutal, strategically blind attempt to crush the Palestinian Authority (a policy in place before the current wave of suicide bombings) with tacit U.S. support” (my emphases). One never ceases to be amazed that “Europeans think” they can rewrite history like this. Less than two years ago Israel offered the Palestinians a Palestinian state with its capital in Jerusalem; the Palestinians rejected the offer and launched a new jihad with the avowed aim of destroying the Jewish state and people. But in the version of events constantly reiterated nowadays by European leftists, it was exactly the other way around: Israel, not the Palestinians, destroyed the peace process; the Israeli peace offer never existed; there was a secret Jewish plot (already “in place,” Professor Harper assures us) to crush the Palestinian Authority, which merely acted in self-defense. It’s unfortunate that all those Jewish children have to be killed by nail bombs dipped in rat poison, but after all there is nothing “brutal” about that; what would be “brutal” would be removing the murderers from office. That is the part that made me wonder if I could be reading a parody. 

Finally, Professor Harper solemnly warns that if America does not attend to what “Europeans think” it may have to go it alone in the campaign against terrorism. Professor Harper must have been out of the country a long time. The great majority of Americans have long realized that the invasion of Iraq is necessary and that we will have to go it alone, except perhaps for the other English-speaking countries. They know that the Europeans, except for the British, are useless as military allies; that their uselessness will not prevent them from acting as if they have a right to direct American foreign policy; and that in any case most of them can be expected to jump on board as soon as they see the war is won.

For a clear-headed and temperate statement of what Americans think about Europe, I should recommend Andrew Sullivan’s splendid essay “Memo to Europe: Grow Up On Iraq” in the Sunday Times of London (August 11, 2002, and also available on his Website, www.andrewsullivan.com). His conclusion: “The question for European leaders is therefore not whether they want to back America or not. The question is whether they want to be adult players in a new and dangerous world. Grow up and join in—or pipe down and let us do it. That’s the message America is now sending to Europe. And it’s a message long, long overdue.”

Doyne Dawson
Sejong University

John Harper replies:

In reply to a similar letter from Professor Dawson, Professor Tony Judt of New York University dealt effectively with the implication that anyone with the temerity to criticize Arik Sharon must be anti-Israeli and/or anti-Semitic. (See the New York Review of Books, May 9, 2002.) Anyone following the European press knows that the positions I presented are in the mainstream, and not a parody of left-wing opinion. As to the merits of those positions, readers will judge for themselves. I don’t see how they can dispute the point that well before September 11, 2001, and before the wave of Palestinian suicide bombings, Sharon was not plotting but quite openly trying to dismantle the Palestinian Authority and to extend Israeli settlements in the occupied territories (for Professor Dawson that might be the “so-called occupied territories.”) As to the unofficial offer made to Arafat at Taba, my personal opinion is that he was very foolish not to accept it. But it is not often pointed out that the whole Camp David-Taba process was pushed to suit Barak’s and Clinton’s electoral timetables, that pro-Western Arab governments pressured Arafat not to accept the deal, and that if he had accepted it there is no guarantee that a majority of Israelis would have. Likud and its allies would have fought it tooth and nail. 

Since the heart of the matter is now Iraq, here are the questions which skeptics in Europe and elsewhere are asking. Professor Dawson might reflect on them, too. His observations are easy to mistake for a parody of the overwrought neoconservative view of the world.

1) Is there hard evidence linking Iraq to al Qaeda and/or September 11, 2001? Not so far, and not for lack of trying to find it. Why then did Washington decide to conflate the war on al Qaeda with regime change in Iraq? 

2) Does the fact that Iraq used chemical weapons against its own people mean (as the White House mantra goes) that it would use them, unprovoked, against Israel or the United States? Does the bully who beats up smaller boys in his neighborhood attack a heavily-armed squad of police?

3) Having suffered a crushing defeat in 1991, with the U.S. in control of two-thirds of Iraqi airspace, his army half the size it was in 1991, and facing a formidable U.S. military presence in the area, is Saddam Hussein, as some claim to believe, a serious candidate to become the Hitler of the Middle East? Why did the chief of staff of the Israeli armed forces and Israel’s chief of military intelligence recently say (see the New York Times, Oct. 7, 2002) that they are not losing any sleep over “the Iraq threat.”

4) Does Iraq have nuclear weapons? No informed person claims that it does. The question is how long it would take Iraq to make them if it could obtain sufficient fissile material. The experts disagree.

5) If Iraq did have nuclear weapons, and the missiles to deliver them, would it launch them in an unprovoked first strike against Israel or the United States? Where is the evidence that in addition to his other pathologies Saddam wishes to commit suicide?

6) If Saddam Hussein had a handful of nuclear weapons could he successfully use them to blackmail the U.S. into surrendering Kuwait or some other piece of territory? Does anybody believe that in such a case the U.S. would cave in, any more than it would have if the USSR had threatened to seize West Berlin? When in history has anyone used a small—or a large—nuclear arsenal successfully to advance a policy of territorial aggrandizement?

7) If Iraq managed to obtain a few nuclear weapons might it give them (or other types of weapons of mass destruction) to terrorists? This cannot be ruled out, but the last terrorist act that the White House attributes to Saddam Hussein was the attempt to kill George H.W. Bush in 1993. If al Qaeda is looking for nuclear materials wouldn’t they be more likely to do so in a country that has them and where al Qaeda is well connected? Is anybody talking about regime change in that country? (I note that Pakistan is not on Dawson’s list of safe possessors of weapons of mass destruction.) As the CIA has suggested to the Senate Intelligence Committee, the one circumstance in which Iraq would surely be tempted to give weapons of mass destruction to terrorists would be to organize a revenge attack on a U.S. or Israeli target to be carried out during or after a U.S. invasion of Iraq.

8) Can one legitimately make war on the basis of conjecture? If the U.S. makes that claim, should it be surprised if Russia, India, China, and other countries do likewise? What kind of world are we going to have if preventative military action becomes the rule?

9) Since a U.S. war (with token support from a few countries) looks like a foregone conclusion, is it going to be a “cakewalk”? Will the population of Baghdad deck U.S. forces with garlands of flowers, or will the U.S. have to take serious casualties? 

10) After getting rid of Saddam Hussein will we have an Iraqi Karzai and a wave of liberalization across the Middle East, helping to solve the Israel-Palestine problem in the process, as Dennis Ross and administration officials like Paul Wolfowitz seem to believe? Or will we have an Iraqi Musharraf presiding over a highly unstable situation, with the United States turning its attention elsewhere and the UN and the EU expected to clean up the mess on the ground?

11) Or is Washington’s real design to create a full-fledged client state in Iraq, with U.S. bases and privileged access to Iraqi oil, allowing the U.S to dispense with Saudi Arabia and point a gun at the backs of Syria and Iran? Once we “own” Iraq, does Iran abandon or accelerate its nuclear weapons program? Assuming it’s the latter, is it going to be “next stop, Teheran”?

12) Will military action against Iraq lead to less or to more terrorism against Western targets? Does al Qaeda gain or lose? As elements of al Qaeda quietly move from Pakistan back into Afghanistan, the U.S. “crusaders” shift resources and attention away from that country, antagonize Muslim opinion worldwide, possibly involve Israel in a military confrontation with an Arab state, and topple a regime which al Qaeda has always despised. Doesn’t it start to look like a script written by bin Laden himself?

13) Was it necessary to threaten invasion in order to get Iraq finally to readmit UN inspectors? Or is that an academic question because U.S. insistence on regime change will eliminate whatever possibility there might have been that Iraq will permit their return?

14) Might George W. Bush have ulterior motives in pressing for action against Iraq by early 2003? His personal psychodrama? The state of the U.S. economy? The 2004 elections? 

In lambasting Judt, Professor Dawson wrote, “I think all reasonable observers have come to the conclusion that there is no hope for peace until the Palestinians have been dealt a crushing military defeat. Sharon appears to be doing that quite well so far.” People were saying exactly the same thing as Sharon’s army besieged Beirut twenty years ago. Like the Bush administration today, Sharon, too, thought he had a plan to cut the Gordian knot and recast the Middle East by starting a war. The idea was to crush the PLO and consolidate a pro-Western state in Lebanon. The Begin-Sharon government had not only overwhelming military superiority, but (in the beginning at least) broad public support at home. The result, however, was international embarrassment, isolation, and more terrorism. As Thomas Friedman shows in his brilliant reportage, From Beirut to Jerusalem, Hezbollah was born as the Israeli Defense Forces rolled over Shia villages. The Syrians promptly assassinated the younger Gemayel, Sharon’s man in Beirut. The Likud government would have done well to heed Machiavelli’s words, "Because anybody can start a war when he wants, but not finish it, before taking on such an enterprise, a prince must measure his strengths, and govern his conduct on that basis."

Let us hope the Bush administration heeds them as well. At the moment, not only is it giving Sharon a free hand in the territories, it shows signs of adopting his model of foreign policy on a grander scale, namely, the iron fist and (aside from lip service) to hell with what the world thinks. As an expert on warfare over the centuries, Professor Dawson must know that this has not proven to be a winning formula.

John L. Harper

Bologna Center of the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies

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