Sunday, December 17, 2006
On the Nature of Warfare: And hence, I say, the nature of warfare is always aggressive and never inevitable! The great destruction caused by war serves as a large hindrance to human progress. Kant referred to war as "the greatest obstacle to morality." Even though some good things may arise from the rubble, warfare as a whole can be characterized as an unwarranted evil caused by the competitive nature of mankind. Nietzsche held that it was natural for man to compare, compete, conquer, and destroy; yet he meant that in a scholarly, albeit aphoristic, fashion. And thus, competition is a necessary component of the human 'will to power,' but it certainly does not have to manifest itself in the form of a combative war. There are others way to conquer people. Why not engage in an intellectual war? Debate and discourse appear to be rather virtuous endeavors in the sense that they benefit both the winners and losers in the end. In short, wars are necessarily a product of human actions, which naturally stem from human ambitions. Still, man must learn to live in structural anarchy and let diplomacy conduct the pursuit of a country's national interests.
Friday, December 15, 2006
On the Civic Virtue: And hence, I ponder, what does it mean to be a good citizen? Does it entail the faithful following of all laws created by the state? Or does being a good citizen involve being an ethical person? The life of Martin Luther King Jr. is certainly a plausible answer to this last question. His founding of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) surely corroborates that idea. But how does the civic virtue interconnect with the state? Nietzsche often referred to the state as 'The New Idol' in which man consistently relinquished his freedom since he perceived it as the ultimate objective reality. In fact, Hegel's 'Objective Spirit' made the state out to be the highest form of reality provided that it combined the forces of law and consciousness. Neglecting the possibility of an afterlife, the secular forces of postmodern society teach man to revere the state or else it will inevitably consume him. Natural Laws, however, do not originate with the state, and thus, they are infallible. Yet since state laws are always imperfect, man must continuously work to correct them in the name of justice. But what drives justice? Justice is a woman who loves fairness, and therefore, her incessant drive for creating a moral economy makes her one of the only women I have ever loved.
Thursday, December 14, 2006
On Immortality: And hence, I say, human beings have already attained immortality! No longer shall people fret over death since it is merely a necessary and certain step in the greater realm of eternity. The deepest yearning of the heart is to be eternal. And yet Christ's miraculous resurrection of Lazarus (pictured above) was a metaphor for how one is to conquer time. Through a Kierkegaardian 'Leap of Faith,' man is to cross over from the finite to the infinite. In doing so, he loses nothing of the finite for it all returns to him in the hereafter. Still, all human beings possess a soul and that is precisely what gets passed on through the generations. Since the soul is eternal by definition, when people reproduce, their souls come together in their progeny. Therefore, a person is necessarily a synthesis of both finite and infinite elements. Most people despair over their finite side because they do not fully recognize their infinite side. But why worry about worldly goods? There seems to be no foundational point after all. Death is said to be the great equalizer. Even so, many human beings merely concern themselves with all things materialistic and mundane, which in the end, will only be considered a profound waste of time.
Wednesday, December 13, 2006
Rawls and Justice: Published in 1971, A Theory of Justice remains one of the foremost works concerning the abstract notion of justice. John Rawls' idea of "justice as fairness" seems to be the primary concept that he intended to convey in his book. For the most part, one can consider his theory of justice as being heavily rooted in morality. It is distributive justice in is most basic form. That is, equal access to resources ought to be the primary concern of any just society. Ergo, Rawls' conception of justice is essentially a moral philosophy with hints of political liberalism. With his justice theory, Rawls also attempted to justify the main reason why citizens ought to follow the laws created by states. In a sense, Rawls claimed that citizens have consented to the will of the lawmakers by vesting power in them through a "social contract." This notion of a "social contract" between the government and its respective citizenry was born during the Enlightenment era. Thinkers like John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau contemplated the relationship of man and government, and thus, they concluded that man emerged from his self-imposed triviality through reason.
Tuesday, December 12, 2006
Maoism and China: On the whole, Maoism can be seen as a Chinese ideological adaptation of both Marxism and Leninism. Its origins essentially date back to October 1949 when Mao Zedong, leader of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), defeated Chiang Kai-shek and the Nationalists during the Chinese Civil War. Yet where Maoism fundamentally differs from the ideas of Marx and Lenin is when considering what defines the proletariat. For Marx and Lenin, the proletariat signified an urban working underclass that became dehumanized and oppressed by the capitalist bourgeoisie during modern industrialization. But for Mao, the proletariat could only be found in the rural peasantry class. This distinction in identifying the proletariat is necessary insofar as China was not as industrialized as Russia. Therefore, when Mao sought to adopt communist policies for China, he turned to the Chinese peasant to legitimize his claim to power. Even so, given that the Chinese people were deeply ingrained with Confucian ideals, their transition to Maoism required a rather short leap of faith.
Monday, December 11, 2006
The Mexican Revolution: Beginning with a call to arms in 1910, the Mexican Revolution did not settle down until well into the 1920s. Undoubtedly, the most important moment came in 1917 with the official adoption of the current Mexican constitution. A variety of issues are attributed to the causes of this monumental event in Mexican history. For the most part, the Mexican people had had enough of Porfirio Díaz; who was the self-proclaimed military dictator of the country since 1876. Although great leaps forward had been made in terms of agrarian land reform and industrialization, the end of Díaz's regime was well-overdue. Two key members of the Revolution include Pancho Villa (pictured above) and Emiliano Zapata. In effect, these two men conducted the civil war to oust Díaz. With Villa attacking from the North and Zapata attacking from South, Díaz was effectively squeezed out of the capital (Mexico City). In the wake of Díaz's departure, Villa and Zapata sought to fashion a more stable Mexican government - one that emphasized the plight of Mexico's forgotten peoples, namely the millions of mestizos, or mixed-race folk, who toiled the land for basic survival in the countryside.
Sunday, December 10, 2006
Dien Bien Phu: On March 13, 1954, the French occupying forces of Indochina (Vietnam) embarked on a despairingly dreadful military campaign against the Viet Minh (Vietnamese revolutionary forces). This military excursion marked the last major battle of the First Indochina War, which occurred from 1946 until 1954. Of course, the Second Indochina War would be fought on behalf of the United States from 1959 until 1975. After an overwhelmingly decisive victory for the Viet Minh at Dien Bien Phu in May 1954, France sought an armistice to conduct an honorable withdrawal from Indochina. The peace treaty that ensued would come to be known as the Geneva Accords (1954), and thus, it permitted an ephemeral peace to reign supreme in the newly independent Vietnam. Even so, darkness appeared to loom on the horizon for this rather unassuming nation. The United States became increasingly interested in containing the spread of communism throughout Southeast Asia. And yet, Dien Bien Phu serves as a testament to the guerrilla tactics employed by the Viet Minh as well as the inception of independence from the various trials and tribulations necessarily associated with imperialism.
Saturday, December 9, 2006
The Fifth Column: During the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), Nationalist General Emilio Mola referred to his subversives in Madrid as the "fifth column" of his army corps. That is, Mola saw the people who clandestinely worked to undermine the Second Spanish Republic as the ultimate factor in his pursuit of victory. When the four primary columns of the Nationalist army approached Madrid, Mola asserted that the fifth column had already taken control of the city through underground efforts. Nevertheless, the Siege of Madrid lasted over two years, so the effectiveness of Mola's fifth column is certainly debatable. For the most part, the Spanish Civil War can be viewed as a dress rehearsal for World War II insofar as Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany gave substantial aid to the Nationalists while the Soviet Union provided arms to the Republicans. In a way, the Spanish Civil War represented the first battleground of World War II. And yet, little did Europeans know, the Second World War would be many times more deadly and destructive than the First - due in large part to advances in warfare technologies like the airplane, tank, and submarine.
Friday, December 8, 2006
Aristotelian Ethics: A prominent philosopher of Ancient Greece, the works of Aristotle have had a profound impact on nearly all subjects of western philosophy. Concerning the philosophical entity of ethics, Aristotle produced a work entitled the Nicomachean Ethics. This work actually represents a series of lectures that Aristotle gave at his school in Athens called the Lyceum. Essentially, he claimed that the ultimate purpose of all human action is happiness. Happiness is complete, self-sufficient, and the end of all actions. Ethics for Aristotle therefore is founded upon habitual action. Since all human actions are done for the ultimate sake of happiness, he asserted that man must follow a strict routine in order to foster more perfect virtues. Virtues are active and mean conditions whereby man seeks to strike an appropriate balance between the vices of excessiveness and deficiency. An example that Aristotle employed in order to corroborate his conception of virtues is that of courage. He said that courage is precisely the mean condition regarding the vices of rashness (excess) and cowardice (deficiency).
Thursday, December 7, 2006
The Equivocal Equiano: Born in 1745 in the Igbo tribal region of what is modern day Nigeria, Olaudah Equiano published his Interesting Narrative in 1789. His book serves as one of the early firsthand testaments to the horrors of slavery. Writing in the midst of the transatlantic slave trade, Equiano demonstrated the brutality of slavery as a socioeconomic institution, and likewise, that it must be overcome to fashion a just society based on the ideals of liberty and equality for all. But the transatlantic slave trade had become an integral part of many European economies during the eighteenth century. In particular, Britain had a rather large stake in the slave trade given the numerous colonies it possessed throughout the Americas. Thus, undoing this deeply ingrained institution would be no easy task. Even so, Equiano's Interesting Narrative certainly provoked opposition to the slave trade, as it was eventually abolished by Britain in 1807 with its Parliament's passage of the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act. And given that Equiano's book appeared in multiple editions throughout the Atlantic world, there was a growing debate among the literate public over the general morality of slavery.
Wednesday, December 6, 2006
The Kaiser and His War: For the British, World War I was the "Kaiser's War." Upon further investigation into this claim, one will discover that war between Europe's continental powers was the last thing that Kaiser Wilhelm II wanted to have happen. In spite of the Kaiser's apparent headstrong attitude toward foreign affairs, he always saw war as the greatest obstacle to progress, and likewise, the least plausible solution to any diplomatic crisis. Supporting this statement, European historian Michael Balfour (who wrote The Kaiser and His Times) claims the Kaiser could have easily taken Germany to war with France in 1905 over the First Morocco Crisis. Yet the Kaiser restrained himself, as he decided to navigate the crisis through diplomatic means. And some European historians have even concluded that Germany would have won the First World War (decisively), if it had taken place in 1905. That's because Britain would have most likely remained neutral in the event of a 1905 Franco-German War. At the time, British Prime Minister Arthur Balfour (of Balfour Declaration notability) struggled with the growing prospects of Irish separatism.
Tuesday, December 5, 2006
Machiavelli's Machinations: Published five years after his death in 1532, The Prince represents Machiavelli's treatise on the art of politics. On the whole, Machiavelli (1469-1527) wrote during a period in European history commonly referred to as the Renaissance. At that time, Europe was undergoing many changes, especially with respect to the development of modern science. Machiavelli embraced change as well as initiated it. In fact, with regard to the art of politics, he developed a new body of thought. This new body of political thought entailed the foundational premises of realism whereby a prince would essentially orient his outlook toward results. That is to say, Machiavelli believed a prince should base his political designs less on moral imperatives and more on effectual truths. Additionally, he asserted that a prince ought to become a master of military strategy. As Machiavelli saw it, in order for a prince to acquire and maintain power in his principality, then he ought to know how to defend his state and conquer others.
Monday, December 4, 2006
Tocqueville's Times: With the publication of Democracy in America in 1835, Alexis de Tocqueville became one of France's most prominent political thinkers in the nineteenth century. He is often credited with fostering the notion of 'soft tyranny' in which the particular social conditions of a country effectively hinder any prospect of hope among its people. In general, Tocqueville believed that hope was the driving force behind all democratic institutions. And as such, whenever this all-encompassing hope is taken away from the people, liberal democracy fails. Examples of this failure can be seen in the Weimar Republic of Germany during the 1930s or in the French Third Republic during the 1940s. Hope for a better future essentially died in both of the aforementioned societies. As a result, fascist regimes were established to fill the void left by the departure of hope. Yet man cannot deceive himself with blind optimism for he will grow old and aloof prematurely. Tocqueville also enjoyed comparing the American and French Revolutions. For the most part, he saw the American Revolution as one of true freedom and ingenuity while he deemed the French Revolution nothing more than a radical farce. Ultimately, Tocqueville's work serves as a testament to what the loaded term of liberty really means.
Sunday, December 3, 2006
Saddam and Gomorrah: As Saddam Hussein waits to be executed, it becomes fitting to address the contentious questions surrounding the War in Iraq. A basic question on many people's minds is how long will it take to secure the country and begin the nation building process? One of the biggest mistakes of the U.S. military was the systematic dismantling of the Iraqi Army. As a result, the U.S. Army had to keep the peace and root out terrorists largely on its own. With the various suicide bombings that occur on almost a daily basis, it is clear that the United States cannot maintain its current course much longer. Either a troop surge ought to happen or a comprehensive framework for withdrawal should be instituted. Training a new Iraqi Army has taken time and cost lives. During this time, terrorists have plotted and carried out numerous counter-attacks. If American politicians wish to construct a timetable for the ordered removal of U.S. forces, it should be based on the number of capable officers in the new Iraqi Army. Otherwise, Saddam's imminent demise will coincide with Gomorrah's (Baghdad) sustained turmoil. At the same time, setting a withdrawal date can embolden the enemy, as insurgents will simply lay low until the level of occupying troops declines.
Saturday, December 2, 2006
Italian Fascism: With his infamous "March on Rome" in 1922, Benito Mussolini sought to ingrain the Italian populace with the concept that the greater good of the community always came before the individual. In other words, the state became the highest form of socio-political reality for all Italians under Mussolini's regime. And yet, it is fair to say that World War II brought about the demise of Italian fascism as an effective political ideology. The idea of the Italian people being governed by the strength of a few was nothing new. Tracing its roots to the feudal societies of Medieval Europe, Italian fascism embodied the notion that individuals detracted from the common good, and thus, absolute unity was required for the survival of the state. Having taken away certain civil liberties in the name of the greater good, Mussolini challenged the Italian people to live by the codes of a communal or collective morality; a morality that was heavily rooted in the rhetoric of Italian nationalism and devoid of attention to most, if not all, Catholic/Vatican principles.
Friday, December 1, 2006
The Culture Struggle: From approximately 1871-1878, the Imperial Chancellor of Germany, Otto von Bismarck waged a culture war against German Catholics. Otherwise known as Der Kulturkampf, Bismark perceived the Catholic faction as potentially subversive to the Protestant order established by Martin Luther in the Holy Roman Empire during the sixteenth century. The Holy Roman Empire is often considered the First German Reich. Bismarck had effectively initiated the Second German Reich with the official unification of Imperial Germany coming after the Franco-Prussian War in 1871. To make matters worse, Bismarck had the Jesuits expelled from Germany in 1873. He believed that Catholics and particularly the Jesuits held their ultimate allegiance to the Pope in Rome rather than to the German national government in Berlin. Therefore, Bismarck sought to 'Germanize' the Catholic faction within German society. In order to accomplish this task, he put forth a series of education and civil service reforms. German Catholics were to be indoctrinated with German nationalism at all costs.
Thursday, November 30, 2006
Mill and Liberty: A well-known political philosopher of nineteenth century Great Britain, John Stuart Mill published a comprehensive essay entitled On Liberty in 1859. For the most part, Mill claimed that righteous governments must be heavily rooted in the principles of Liberalism. Mill believed that genuine governments could only be enacted at the consent of the governed. And it would be with a republican constitution that the true ideas of Liberty could be espoused. He was also a staunch advocate of natural rights in which man was entitled to certain inalienable rights insofar as they were necessary to keep him free from governmental constraints. Another concept worth noting in Mill's essay is the idea of harm. He endorsed the notion that man had a natural right to act in any manner fitting to his character so long as he did not inflict harm upon others. This 'harm principle' as it came to be known stemmed greatly from Mill's belief in Utilitarianism. That is, man should always act in a way such that his actions produce the greatest amount of happiness for the greatest number of people. Friedrich Nietzsche would later label Mill a 'hedonist' for his espousal of Utilitarian ideals.
Wednesday, November 29, 2006
Thoreau and Transcendentalism: A major premise of transcendentalism entails the idea of striking a balance between industry and nature. Otherwise known as the pastoral ideal, this balance could effectively be achieved through simplifying and harmonizing man's position in the natural world. It seems that man's destiny is to rip materials from First Nature (that which God creates) and transform them into Second Nature (that which man builds). Nineteenth-century America saw a rapid rise in the pace of industrialization, and thus, transcendentalists like Henry David Thoreau became concerned. To a certain degree, finding the balance between industry and nature is a constant process. Convinced that America was heading down the wrong path with respect to industrialization, Thoreau attempted to reshape the way that Americans understood their relationship to nature. In fact, with his 1854 publication of Walden, Thoreau put forth his vision for a basic life in which man could live on mere subsistence farming and sub-manufacture. Through rudimentary farming techniques and rigorous self-discipline, an elemental existence for mankind was achievable. Therefore, Thoreau's time spent at Walden Pond serves as an indelible testament to the transcendental movement.
Tuesday, November 28, 2006
Nietzsche and Nihilism: According to Friedrich Nietzsche's philosophy, man should only be concerned with his existence in this life. Although Nietzsche appears to espouse a philosophy of atheistic humanism, which undoubtedly contains many nihilistic features, he is an existentialist at bottom. His writing is aphoristic in nature, which requires the reader to supply personal interpretations of his words. In general, Nietzsche asserts that life has no explicit purpose, and thus, man should seek out an implicit meaning for his life. He attributes the nihilistic features of life to Christian morality, which is ultimately a product of fear. In effect, Nietzsche believes that Christianity hinders man from becoming his true Self. He refers to priests as "the preachers of death" due to their undying attachment to the afterlife. By teaching its adherents to put Faith in a life unbeknownst to exist, Nietzsche suggests that Christianity is fundamentally an anti-life institution. He also argues that God is merely an abstract idea Who ceases to exist when man denies belief in Him. Lastly, Nietzsche claims that he arrived at these philosophical conclusions concerning God and Christianity through instinct instead of reason.
Monday, November 27, 2006
Marx and Secularization: The political philosophy of Karl Marx can be considered one of the most powerful forces of secularization in nineteenth-century European society. It essentially instructed people to become materialists. Belief in the hereafter was a means of social control; an "opiate of the masses." As a member of the Young Hegelians, he devoutly adhered to the basic tenets of Georg Hegel's philosophy of history. Marx believed that history could be understood as a rational progression, and thus, it could also be explained scientifically. He even went so far as to claim that his political philosophy was scientific in the sense that it applied the Hegelian dialectic to social concerns. In fact, Marx asserted that the growing industrial proletariat represented a thesis and the ruling capitalist bourgeoisie signified its anti-thesis. Therefore, according to the Hegelian dialectic, which deemed all historical events as inevitable by their very nature, these two social classes were bound to clash and form a synthesis: classless society. The resulting utopian society would effectively encompass the elements of basic communism where everyone's fundamental interest resided in economics. However, such a society could only be formed after many years of tension between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. This tension would have at least brought about the means of production to sustain a communal society. In short, Marx would have never considered Russia as an appropriate setting to have the first communist revolution.
Monday, November 20, 2006
Hegel and History: Widely regarded as an ardent optimist, Georg Hegel espoused a philosophy of history. His philosophy can be seen as a systematic inquiry into the various happenings of society and history over time. In effect, Hegel's philosophy claims that history is an inevitable progression, as it flows either toward (BC) or away (AD) from Christ. Therefore, every event in history has happened for a specific reason. Hegel saw history as a rational process which he sought to explain scientifically. He refers to any historical event as a thesis and the dialectical opposite of that event as the anti-thesis. And hence, the Hegelian dialectic is born! When these two opposing events clash, which is bound to occur given that history is inevitable; Hegel claims that a synthesis emerges. This synthesis contains a combination of elements from the two clashing events, and therefore, Hegel considered it to be a greater evocation of reality. Ultimately however, Hegel's philosophy of history can be viewed as a continuation of Greek determinism, where fate controls all events, and thus, the free will of mankind ceases to exist.
Sunday, November 19, 2006
Kant and Morality: Often considered the last great philosopher of the Enlightenment era, Immanuel Kant put forth a moral philosophy based solely upon reason itself. As the archetypal German idealist, Kant contended that through reason, every man will arrive at the same conclusion concerning morality. And that is the universal moral law or what Kant called the "categorical imperative." The categorical imperative declares that man should always act in a manner such that the maxim of his action shall become a universal law. In other words, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" (Luke 6:31). Moreover, Kant claimed that no man should make himself an exception to this moral law since it effectively holds true for everyone. In doing so, Kant suggested that mankind will raise its collective moral consciousness. That is, people will be treated as ends rather than means, and thus, the kingdom of ends will manifest itself on Earth in the form of a republic. But when Kant stated, "the death of dogma is the birth of morality," it was clear for him that organized religion and objective morality were mutually exclusive concepts.
Saturday, November 18, 2006
Kierkegaard and Despair: According to the existentialist philosophy of Søren Kierkegaard, the Self is freedom. It is not only the freedom to choose, but also the freedom to create choices. Therefore, man is fundamentally neither his thoughts nor his feelings but rather he is his Self. The Self relates directly to itself and is subject to no one and everyone at the same time. In effect, when man does not come into a full consciousness of his Self, then he is said to be in despair. Just as a physician will tell you that no one is completely healthy, anyone who knows anything about man will tell you that he must despair at certain moments in his life. To be in despair is to reflect upon the Self. If man does not engage in the art of despair, then he shall become stuck in a state of inertia with no effective progression or regression and that is the worst state of all. But more importantly, from where does despair originate? For Kierkegaard, it originates from doubt. Whenever man doubts, whether it be something as monumental as the existence of God or as mundane as the directions to Grandma's house, he seeks to upend custom in favor of novelty. And when the novelty proves insufficient for man's needs, he quickly brushes it aside in despair. So, the questions begs wonderment, does doubt beget sin or does sin beget doubt? Kierkegaard rightfully concludes that doubt begets sin, as man cannot fully manage the infinite desires that inevitably arise when he assumes the mentality of a Doubting Thomas.
Friday, November 17, 2006
The Ghost of Dostoyevsky: With the publication of Crime and Punishment in 1866, Fyodor Dostoyevsky became one of Russia's most prominent authors in the nineteenth century. And as such, he has been labeled one of the founding fathers of the philosophical movement known as existentialism. In particular, his Notes from Underground (1864) has been depicted as a founding work of existentialism. For Dostoyevsky, war is the rebellion of the people against the idea that reason guides everything. And thus, reason by itself, cannot be a guiding principle for either history or mankind. In a sense, then, there must be something (Faith) beyond reason, which man cannot fully comprehend, that drives human actions. Having been exiled to the city of Omsk (Siberia) in 1849, many of Dostoyevsky's writings entail notions of suffering and despair. Perhaps his best known existentialist work is "The Grand Inquisitor." As a subsection of his larger novel, The Brothers Karamazov (1880), Dostoyevsky sought to uncover people's reactions when Christ returned to Earth. Set during the fifteenth-century Spanish Inquisition, Christ is arrested by Church officials and told that the free will He gave to man through His death on the Cross was the most profound injustice of all. And ultimately, that's because the vast majority of mankind could never be expected to handle a mental burden as heavy as free will.
Thursday, November 16, 2006
The Confessing Church: When the Nazis were consolidating their power in Germany during the 1930s, one of the areas they exercised significant control over was the German State Church (Lutheranism). Various Protestant theologians, including Dietrich Bonhoeffer (pictured above) and Karl Barth, decided to resist the encroaching Nazi influence. Common forms of resistance entailed underground assemblies in order to espouse anti-Nazi rhetoric as well as the active hiding of many Jews from the horrors of the concentration camps. This underground resistance movement on behalf of German pastors and theologians became known as The Confessing Church. Its founding document was the Barmen Declaration, which rejected Nazism as not being in line with Christian doctrine. Unfortunately, many leaders of this underground movement, including Bonhoeffer himself, were sent to concentration camps and later executed for their "treasonous" undertakings. His 1937 book The Cost of Discipleship served as a testament to the degree in which Bonhoeffer held the Grace of God above all else. In the end, Bonhoeffer drew heavily upon Scripture as his source of Faith because the situation in Nazi Germany proved ghastly by all accounts of Christian morality.