Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Social Trusts and the Shadow of Kershaw's History

The topic for the moment is social trust, with a side order of ethnic animosity.  I'm inspired by Roger Scruton's admirable essay in Prospect   where he defines social trust:
[S]ocial trust—the sense that we are bound to each other by a shared loyalty, and that we will stand by each other in emergencies. Social trust comes from shared language, shared customs, instinctive law-abidingness, procedures for resolving disputes and grievances, public spirit and the ability of the people to change their own government by a process that is transparent to them all.
I'm a huge fan of social trust, perhaps due to the fact I grew up in a place where nobody has bars on the windows and if   you dropped your wallet in the parking lot, you could be      pretty sure somebody would return it to you be evening.  We had one cop.  He was part time and if you got into mischief, I think he would have just called your mother.  It's the kind of thing you get (or we think you get) in Scandinavia, maybe Switzerland and New Zealand, possibly parts of Canada.

But my attitude was not always so benign,  In truth I found the home place boring and was desperate to cut myself loose.  I dreamt of getting to Damon Runyon's New York (I   never got there, perhaps because it did not exist). In adulthood' I've had the good luck to sojourn in a lot of places but I've often said that my vacation of choice would be Izmir in  1912 before the expulsion of the Greeks and the murder of the Armenians.   Which is to say, I like social trust but I              also like "diversity"--a word whose modern meaning did not, in my youth, so much as exist.

But thar's the problem, isn't it?  "[S]hared language, shared  customs."  Really?  Do we need shared language, shared customs?  Put othe other way round, can we build social trust without them?  I must say, I certainly hope so.   I want a woworld where we can have it both ways.  And this is where Ian Kershaw comes in, via his splendid history of inter alia,  the restructuring of Europe in the aftermath of World War I.  

You can see where this is going.  Retrieve your old history notes from your mental storage-bank and you'll recall how the post-War period experienced (a) an efflorescence of creative nationalism; plus (b) a wave of venomous hostility to anything perceived as outside the particular nationalist model.

The famous Wilsonian program of self-determination turned into a cruel hoax.  Italians grabbed Germans.  Germans inflicted themselves Czechs.  Romanians got Hungarians and Hungary got Slovaks.  Russians, no thanks to President Wilson, gained and kept just about everybody in sight.  And nobody understood the Balkans (as usual).  Indeed, the places that accomplished most by way of establishing ethnic homogeneity were those in which it was done by brute strength--think Greece and Turkey.  Some of these restructuring stood the test  of time better than others.

Some of these new orderings proved durable--Italy still has its Germans today.  Others lasted a long time.  But remember what happened in the Balkans in the 90s. No, don't remember it, the whole fiasco is just too unpleasant.  

I don't mean this to be the end of the story.  I certainly don't want it to be.  But it does seem that establishing social trust across cultural boundaries is a challenge enough to daunt the best of us.  I'll try to think about it some more, but meanwhile, will somebody turn off the damn TV?  (Bleak joke.  We don't have TV, which means we are safe from the GOP convention).

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Still Getting in the Swing

Wrote about 4/5 of a lovely post just now on "social trust," but it seems to have disappeared.  If you got it, know that it is incomplete .  Technical problems.  My desktop is down and I am trying to compose on my IPad mini which is about like trying to skate on one foot,  I think I'll just leave it until Mon when, I hope, I get my computer and thereby my life back. 

Friday, July 15, 2016

Kershaw Takes the Long View

 I read Ian Kershaw's biography of Hitler some years ago with pleasure and profit.  Now at the urging of the Missus I am rooting around in To Hell and Back,  his big-picture history of the 20th Century, particularly the early chapters on the runup to and the aftermath of World War I.  It's a somewhat mind-bending experience in that I studied this stuff with some avidity in college 55 years ago (I was a late starter).  I loved it then and I'm surprised that I remember specific bits and pieces that seem to have stuck with me down through the years (also the entertaining showmanship of Jim Sutton at the U of Louisville as he flourished his deck of 5x7 note cards in a dauntless effort to keep his night students awake).

But what gives me a bit of the yim yams is how different it looks from the vantage of great age.  Or rather, I suppose "yim yams" is too strong.  There is no radical discontinuity.  I'm still the same person.  I didn't bring much to the table back then (did someone mutter "callow?").  I've got a lifetime to measure it against now.  In a way, I suppose you might say the same is true of Kershaw.  He's a bit younger than I but still, he's got a lifetime of experience to draw on.  At least as to Germany (which is pretty much the center of his story so far)  he has pretty much earned the right what he damn pleases.

One perhaps trivial point on which I'm specially appreciative: he gives lots of casualty figures, both for wars and for battles,  More satisfying still, he breaks down the general category into the specifics of dead and wounded.  Numbers are important here: it's good to get a sense of just how awful (in the strict sense) all this was.

Related point: to the best of my recollection, in my youth we passes pretty lightly over the Russian Civil War.  I don't think I ever grasped that it was actually more costly in human terms (for the Russians) than the great war itself.  And the Kronstadt Rebellion, where the revolution turned on, as it were, its own.  Trotsky said he would have them "shot like partridges" and proved as good as his words.

Another, perhaps larger, point: the radical reorganization of society as a whole with a dozen or so new nations, all of the, "democracies" of a sort.  And actually not such a bad sort.  Maybe only Czechoslovskia got its sea legs but for so many, it was an inspiring new departure.  In any event--I've got other things I want to get to, but I think I'll have to stick with Kershaw--I'm dying to know how it works out.  

Another Test


Testing an IFTTT Link

Testing an ITTT Link.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Book Lists, I Love Book Lists

When I gave thought to beginning posting again, it occurred to me I could post here and cross post to Facebook.  But I can just as well post to Facebook and cross post here.  So here we go: an item I put up at FB a couple of days ago.  As i say, I love these lists: kind of a mark-to-market self-assessment.


Oooh, I love these book lists. The question was: can you name 10 books that made a direct and immediate difference in how you think? Sure can. In chronological order:
Arthur Schlesinger, Crisis of the Old Order. Explained the unspoken political and social presuppositions of the world I was born into.
Mark Sullivan, Our Times. Helped me to understand the Ohio of Warreen G. Harding, under whose shadow I was living at the moment.
Bertram Wolf, Three Who Made a Revolution. Thrilling. Showed me what it was to have a political and social imagination.
Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War.* I wasn't all that much of a reader when I was a kid, so I didn't have a basis comparison. Imagine my surprise, in later life, to realize that I had started at the top. Read it in time to be wary of the Viet Nam War.
Harry Caudill, Night Comes to the Cumberland. Helped me to understand Kentucky during my time there as a reporter. By a country lawyer who nailed it better than any journalist I know.
Grant Gilmore, Secured Transactions, First few chapters--on the history of chattel security--taught me more about how the law works than any other book, ever.
Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace. Too short.
John Dos Passos, USA. Why have I never been able to sell the people I care about on this marvelous tapestry of American life?
George Eliot, Middlemarch, I had a girlfriend in my early 40s who told me that no one was fully adult until they understood Middlemarch. She was right,
Marcel Proust, In Search of Lost Time. I finally got round to Prousf in my 50s. Reassuring to know that, however much longer I may live, I will never be short of ideas to chew on.

*Spelling error corrected. Cripes, can't any of you guys out there read proof?

Monday, June 13, 2016

From the Crypt

Hah!  I see I have had 130 hits today on a blog the has been  moribund for nearly two years.

On review of my Facebook stuff, I can see that I have been trying to blog over there.  I think it may be easier to link to FB now than it was a couple of years ago.  That being the case I just might start blogging again, with FB links.

But not today. Still thinking about it.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

To My Readers, if Any There Be...

The answer is I'm fine, thanks for askin.' Just that my blogging tastes seem to have changed, at least for the moment. Maybe they'll change again. In the meantime, if I feel I have something to say, I suppose I will post it here but then link it over to my Facebook page. If you'd care to try to follow me on Facebook, here's a link (I also have a Twitter account but it is even more dormant than this--I really do not get Twitter).

The already-published stuff will, of course, stay up.

Monday, August 18, 2014

From the Inbox

From her corner office in New York’s Rockefeller Center, [Rebecca Patterson] the chief investment officer of Bessemer Trust Co. is putting $55.7 billion in client assets under geopolitical stress. ... 
Patterson joined Bessemer, the world’s third largest multi-family office, from JPMorgan Chase & Co. two years ago. The average family has $43 million in assets under supervision at Bessemer and the wealth of its founder, steel-mogul Henry Phipps and his descendants, remains the largest  ... 
Phipps founded Bessemer in 1907 to manage his wealth after selling his interest in Carnegie Steel to J.P. Morgan. The company is named after Henry Bessemer, the inventor of the steel-making process that was instrumental to the success of Carnegie Steel, according to Bessemer’s website. The closely held firm opened to other families in 1974 and now has about 2,200 clients, according to the website. It offers services including investments, estate planning and tax advice, and supervises $97.5 billion in total assets.


But Ferguson has also been home to dramatic economic changes in recent years. The city’s unemployment rate rose from less than 5 percent in 2000 to over 13 percent in 2010-12. For those residents who were employed, inflation-adjusted average earnings fell by one-third. The number of households using federal Housing Choice Vouchers climbed from roughly 300 in 2000 to more than 800 by the end of the decade. 
Amid these changes, poverty skyrocketed. Between 2000 and 2010-2012, Ferguson’s poor population doubled. By the end of that period, roughly one in four residents lived below the federal poverty line ($23,492 for a family of four in 2012), and 44 percent fell below twice that level.