Friday, August 28, 2015

Friday BookReview: Robert Moses -- the outsized power of an unelected official

"The pivotal day in my life as a young reporter,” [historian Robert] Caro recalls, was when he was covering the state capitol in Albany. There was a proposal to build a bridge across Long Island Sound, a project which virtually no one favored, because it would increase pollution and congestion. But, Caro remembers, the news was whispered through the capitol that Robert Moses was there, and “the next thing I knew everybody from the governor on down was for the bridge. I saw I didn’t know how anything works."


From a review by the president of Harper's magazine of Robert Caro's study of urban planner Robert Moses (1888-1981):

It is something of a mystery why the Bodley Head has decided to publish Robert Caro’s The Power Broker in Britain more than 40 years after the initial appearance in the US of this classic work — but better late than never. Caro’s remarkable portrait of New York City’s master planner Robert Moses merits publication in any language, at any moment in time. For its scope extends beyond Moses, fascinating though he was as a person, builder, wrecker, and manipulator of men and money.

Caro’s ambition — in a journalistic sense equal to Moses’s ambition in architecture, park creation, and road and bridge construction — is greater than conventional biography. Over 1,200-odd pages, with immense precision and considerable verve, Caro aims to describe the essence and pathology of Moses’s political power, not just the uses to which he put it or how he got away with the worst of his bulldozing, both physical and political. So we learn as much about the intoxication and addiction of power as we do about the bureaucratic titan whose imprint on New York bears comparison with his only modern equivalent, the smasher and rebuilder of Paris, Baron Haussmann.

Unfortunately, New York today remains ugly, congested, and harsh compared with Paris, and the tactics Moses employed to transform the city, adjacent Long Island, and upstate New York to suit his tastes were uglier still. Thus any assessment of Moses’s legacy, or potential revision of Caro’s devastating critique, must include the question: did Robert Moses make New York a better or a worse place to live?

Caro demonstrates that he made the city and the surrounding state much worse... though he can’t help acknowledging successes like Jones Beach State Park, Moses’s first big public-works project, which was constructed in the late 1920s on the South Shore of Long Island.

This vast refuge for the sweltering masses exists, in part, because the Yale and Oxford-educated Moses began his career as an earnest, idealistic reformer, very much in the mainstream of Progressive Era thinking. Principally interested in the reform of government administration, he wrote his Oxford PhD thesis on the British civil service, and upon his return to New York he campaigned for the elimination of patronage appointments by political bosses.

But, as Caro recounts, Moses at Oxford shortly before the first world war was already exhibiting the arrogant elitism that would mark the rest of his life, no matter how public-spirited his projects purported to be: ‘What Moses admired’ in the British administrative system was its rigidity and segregation — ‘that it had two separate and distinct classes’ of chiefs and drones. ‘The competition Moses wanted [in civil service exams] was a competition open only to a highly educated upper class.’

Good intentions, such as they were, didn’t get Moses anywhere back home, and he despaired of beating the political professionals at their own game. That is, until he attracted the attention of Belle Moskowitz, a pragmatic reformer who had allied herself with New York governor Al Smith, a brilliant machine politician with an eighth-grade education. Smith was just the sort of talented poor boy that the well-born Moses wanted to exclude from meaningful government service. But when Moses realised that Smith, a pure product of Tammany Hall, could guarantee him a pathway to power through park-building, he threw all his enormous energy, intelligence and charm into befriending him.

Al Smith with Babe Ruth

The Irish-Catholic Smith protected and promoted the secular-Jewish Moses because huge, contentious park projects made good politics, especially when the press presented these projects as clashes between an oppressed working class, desperate for greenery and fresh air, and land-hogging robber barons devoted to preserving their privacy and privileges. Moses had no formal legal training, nor had he studied engineering or architecture. But he was the quickest of studies in the laws of appropriation and eminent domain, trial tactics, bill drafting, public bond issues, and the short and long-term political effects of pouring concrete.

And he was a ruthlessly adept political infighter, propagandist, and dispenser of patronage himself. Until 1962, when his command of the two main state parks administrations finally ended, he ruled almost unchallenged in the realm of public construction and urban renewal in the commercial and cultural capital of the United States. Having expanded his influence far beyond the preservation of open space — by controlling the boards of public, bond-issuing ‘authorities’ like the one governing the Triborough Bridge — Moses intimidated and outlasted a succession of governors and mayors, who came to fear him as much as they needed him to get the big jobs done.

But the big jobs, especially road-building, were a brutal business that defaced and constricted New York forever. As ‘America’s…most vocal, effective and prestigious apologist for the automobile’, Moses also influenced other cities, as he had New York, to chop themselves up with expressways and starve desperately needed public transport for generations to come.

Ironically, it was a patrician adversary, W. Kingsland Macy, who first seems to have recognised the danger Moses posed to the ordinary people he pretended to champion. Responding to the Long Island State Park Commission’s blatantly illegal seizure of a millionaire’s hunting preserve, Macy warned that if Moses prevailed, ‘No one’s home is safe.’ Little did Macy know that in future decades Moses’s expressway construction and ‘slum clearance’ would uproot, displace, and demoralise at least half a million low-income New Yorkers, predominantly black and Puerto Rican, who had none of the influence and money of the wealthy Long Islanders.

Moses’s Cross-Bronx Expressway also destroyed the working-class and largely Jewish East Tremont neighbourhood, and it’s in these chapters that Caro most vividly exposes the gratuitousness, the sheer cruelty of Moses at his darkest. The one mile of roadway that did the most damage, that stabbed the heart of East Tremont, could easily and inexpensively have been shifted to a less intrusive route than the one selected by Moses. As Caro writes, ‘Democracy had not solved the problem of building large-scale urban public works, so Moses solved it by ignoring democracy.’ But with his ‘dictator’s powers’, Moses wasn’t, like some other dictators, merely concerned with constructing enormous edifices. He was a sadist who enjoyed his powers —

"for using them gave him what was his greatest pleasure: the imposition of his will on other people…. He didn’t just feel that he had to swing the meat axe. He loved to swing it."

Caro has moved on to writing the definitive biography of Lyndon Johnson, for which he is justly lauded. But sadly, his detailed reporting and rhythmic prose, his great acuity for understanding and describing the nuances of politics and power, seems to be going out of fashion. He has no contemporary rivals, and perhaps only a few imitators. It’s worth noting that he learned the reporter’s craft on 'Newsday,' the once-excellent Long Island daily, and not on the 'New York Times,' so often the handmaiden to Moses’s most grandiose projects — projects that aggravated traffic jams while they enhanced Moses’s political sway through toll-collection on bridges and tunnels and by the judicious awarding of insurance business.

A couple of years ago, I ran into Caro on Central Park West, where we both live, and we chatted about the hideous high-rise luxury apartment buildings sprouting up on West 57th Street, now visible from a great distance to the north. I asked him why the then mayor, the billionaire Michael Bloomberg, got such easy treatment from the press, despite his terrible laxity on zoning and his excessive tolerance of the super rich. ‘I think everybody gets a pass nowadays,’ Caro said. I think he’s right.

"I was so angry at Robert Moses. He dispossessed five thousand people from one block -- elderly Jewish people -- to build the Cross-Bronx Expressway. When I interviewed these people, I’d ask them, ‘What is your life like now? ” And they’d say, ‘Lonely.’ And in my experience, that’s a word people don’t say unless it comes from deep inside. One evening I went to interview Moses and asked him if he thought these people were upset. He said, ‘No, there’s very little discomfort. It was a political thing that stirred up the animals there.’ I wanted to punch him in the teeth."

Mr. Moses in 1938 

Monday, August 24, 2015

Map on Monday: JAPAN

The Physical Ecology, Communal Loyalties, and Geopolitics of Japan

by A. Joseph Lynch 

Physical Ecology: Natural Resources and Physical Geography

The island nation of Japan is composed of four main islands: Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku, and Kyushu. Japan also stretches southward through the Ryukyu Islands. To Japan's north are the Kuril Islands - claimed by both Japan and Russia. Japan's physical geography generally orients it towards the Korean peninsula and Russia to the west and north (which taken together forms a perimeter around the Sea of Japan), and the Pacific Ocean to the east and south. Honshu, where the capital of Tokyo is located, is slightly larger than Great Britain, the second most populated island on the planet after Java, and the seventh largest island in the world. About 60% of Japan's population lives on Honshu. Japan has very few natural resources and with its forested and mountainous terrain, only 12% of Japan is suitable for agriculture. Japan is the world's largest importer of coal and natural gas and the second largest importer of oil.

Communal Loyalties: Ethnicity, Language, and Religion  

At 871 people per square mile, Japan is one of the most densely populated nations in the world, ranked fourth behind Bangladesh (2,840), India (999), and the Philippines (873) among nations with populations above 100 million.  At the other end of the spectrum are the United States (84.5), Brazil (62), and Russia (22). In addition to its issues of population density, however, Japan faces another demographic problem: an aging population. Over one quarter of Japan's population is over the age of 65 and sales of adult diapers in Japan are eclipsing those of infants. Language in Japan is split between Japanese language spoken on the main islands and the Ryukyuan languages of the Ryukyu Islands, the latter becoming endangered due to the spread of mainland Japanese throughout the islands. Kanbun - or classical Chinese - also played an important linguistic role in Japan. Akin to Latin in Europe, many classical, intellectual, and official works of Japan were written in Kanbun and the language remains a mandatory subject in Japanese secondary schools. Religion in Japan is dominated by folk Shintoism (52% of the population) and Buddhism (35% of the population). The non-religious population comprises 7% of the population while Christianity stands at less than 3% (compare this to nearby South Korea where the nation is almost 30% Christian and rising).

Geopolitics: Political Geography and Foreign Policy

Japan's geographic orientation towards the Korean peninsula and Russia brings Japan into potentially confrontational contact with its peninsular and continental neighbors. While much media attention is given to North Korea, the dispute of the Kuril Islands has kept Japan and Russia from signing a peace treaty since the end of World War II. A 2012 poll of Japanese revealed that, with a 72% unfavorable view of Russia, Japan was the most Russophobic nation surveyed at the time. Japan's past history with South Korea and China, particularly during the days of Imperial Japan, leave her in poor standing with both today. The rise of China, however, has led South Korea and Japan to move more closely towards military pacts (both have security agreements with the United States). Where the Japanese islands - numbering 6,852 in total - face China are in Kyushu and the Ryukyu islands (of which Okinawa forms the southernmost bastion). These islands play a key defensive role in containing any potential Chinese military aggression while also denying Chinese fleets entry into the Pacific. As Prime Minister Shinzo Abe seeks to bolster Japan's armed forces, a defensive strategy such as this is one of his options. Japan also play an important role in the geopolitics of the South China Sea.

Stratfor on Japan's Geographic Challenges

Stratfor - short for Strategic Forecasting, Inc. - is a private global intelligence company that offers geopolitical insight into the interplay of nations. Stratfor has developed an excellent series of short (~2-4 minute) videos which provide the viewer with a specific nation, along with its basic history, geography, culture, and geopolitical allies and adversaries. In the following video, they present the geographic challenges facing Japan.

For more information on Japan, visit its page on the CIA World Factbook along with our Friday Book review on Japan - the first great modern Asian nation.  

This post originally appeared on Anthropology of Accord on March 2, 2015.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

August 22 -- QUEENSHIP OF MARY: Ruling from the Inside

(first published August 22, 2014)

by David Pence

Keeping sacred time with the Church means that the central events are always prepared for by a season -- Lent for Easter and Advent for Christmas. It also means that solemn feast days are never allowed to come and go with one rising and setting of the Sun. The great solemnities are celebrated as Octaves. Eight days has an ancient meaning as a unit of time signifying a new creation. So eight days after we celebrated the Assumption of Our Lady into Heaven... we are still contemplating her place in her new home as we celebrate her Queenship. A man who desires to love God our Father as a son and build brotherhood in the priesthood, city, and nation can never spend too much time contemplating the perfection of the feminine in Our Lady. These sacral sexual roles depend on each other and are clarified by contrast, complement, and communal context.

Our Lady lived the Trinitarian roles of the woman. She is the daughter of the Father, the Spouse of the Holy Spirit, and the Mother of Jesus. She humbly obeyed her Father. For all His life, she kept hold of her Son wrapped in swaddling at Bethlehem and draped in burial clothes at Gethsemane. Her perfect virginity established a perpetual barrier to the evil of sin while making her permeable to her Spouse: the Holy Spirit. She was “guarded by the angels, prefigured by the patriarchs, and promised by the prophets.”

Feminism is the reigning atheist ideology of our day set against the person of Our Lady as surely as the Dragon was set against her in Revelation. Wherever the confusing mist of feminism infiltrates the mind, statues of our Lady are put in the closet. Wherever feminist language is spoken, her songs are left unsung. Wherever she is photo-shopped into a picture of the Last Supper, the picture of her suffering heart is pulled from the wall as too gruesome. The "feminist implant" of atheist thinking has replaced the armed atheism of Marxism. This is a more devastating lie. Seven demons have filled the house that was swept clear of one. Wherever feminism reigns, Our Lady is dethroned.
It is hard for gentlemen to oppose even counterfeit femininity. But we must reject this anti-Marian heresy for the sake of women around the world. The white feminists of the West squandered the moral capital of the Christian interracial movement by twisting the just claims to be colorblind with the less virtuous desire to be sexually confused. The face-to-face sisterhood of Mary visiting Elizabeth was always too small a love for them. So they conjure the delusion that the coalition of selfish white female careerists in university, church, and government jobs is a worldwide sisterhood rivaling the masculine protective fraternity of priesthood and nations. Those who kill patriarchy multiply the widows and orphans, and at some point the dark skin of those victims will scream for justice against this racist trickery. Mary did not seek to be an apostle. She is a Queen. As Pope Francis said about women cardinals: “I don’t know where this idea sprang from. Women in the Church must be valued, not ‘clericalised.’ Whoever thinks of women as cardinals suffers a bit from clericalism.”

It is an ancient tradition that after Christ’s death, the apostles hid Mary. The Roman soldiers and Jewish high priests could never lay a hand on her. Had they tried, the sword of Peter would not have stayed sheathed. Twenty centuries later the Church with her feast days, prayers, and contemplations tells the whole world who our Lady is and where she is. She is safe now, so the Apostolic Church can publicly proclaim what John and the apostles once held in secret, and the Catholic faithful affirmed in the glorious mysteries of the rosary. The Dragon and the violent world held too much ground for the apostles to speak too loudly and too clearly of her too soon. For it is always an imprudent risk to reveal a feminine beauty in an evil world if one cannot protect her from attack. But, now, let us rejoice and be glad.

Look up on this feast day and see the blue sky with white clouds in the daytime Sun. Those are reflections of the Queen’s garments in Heaven. The Virgin Mother is safe up there in the midst of the Trinity, so the Church can now illuminate the world by explaining the nature of her rule. She is queen of the interior life. She rules in the vast expanse of the inner chambers opened by prayer and contemplation. The feminine rules from the inside. There is amidst the Trinity of masculine persons a feminine interior -- a whole, a beauty that is never spoken but is integral to God. That timeless feminine reality precedes Mary who is a creature.  Mary is not the  fourth person of the Trinity nor is she the incarnation of the Holy Spirit. She is queen because she humbled herself before the Father. The whole world is at her feet because she opened a virgin’s heart to the wind of the Holy Spirit. In conforming herself to the will of the Father, she exercised the interior freedom of a soul in love. When men follow our mother in such acts of interior surrender we shall regain our stature as lords of creation. Only then will we fulfill the original mission of our species: to rule the Earth in his Name.


UPDATE: See our post on the Assumption of Mary.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Friday BookReview: Stalingrad


The Battle of Stalingrad began on the 23rd of August 1942, and lasted roughly five months. It may well be the bloodiest struggle in all of recorded history.


Here are excerpts from a review that appeared in the Cleveland newspaper:

Yorktown and Gettysburg rank highest among American martial epics of valor and victory. Most Brits would probably choose the World War II aerial Battle of Britain as their "finest hour." To the French, Verdun – with its defiant cry, "they shall not pass" – represents a national Calvary of agony and endurance in World War I.

For the Russian people, even more deeply engraved on the national psyche, it's Stalingrad, "the most ferocious and lethal battle in human history." This titanic five-month encounter, with roughly a million casualties – dead, wounded, captured or missing – on each side, culminated in a shattering defeat of the Nazi invaders by the Soviets.

Military historians universally recognize it as the turning point of the Second World War, or, as it's known in Russia, the Great Patriotic War.

In Stalingrad: The City That Defeated the Third Reich, Jochen Hellbeck assembles what amounts to an ... all-encompassing chronicle, of this pivotal contest. The book, previously published to great acclaim in Germany, centers around a remarkable collection of oral histories gathered by Soviet researchers during, and in the immediate aftermath of, the battle in 1942-43.

This documentary trove languished in the basement of a Moscow archive until Hellbeck, a German-born historian who teaches at Rutgers University, came upon it in 2008.

Comprising 215 eyewitness accounts – thousands of typescript pages – from participants ranging from generals to privates, as well as civilians, these interviews paint, writes Hellbeck, a "multifaceted picture" of incredible bravery and fortitude. Due, however, to their "candor and complexity," they were censored during the war.


Afterward, the scholar who compiled them fell into political disfavor, and his project was buried and forgotten for more than six decades.

Hellbeck's signal achievement lies in how he deploys and supplements his sources. He begins with an overview of the battle, placing it in the context of both the war and Soviet society. He reminds us that the U.S.S.R. did more than any country to defeat the Nazis and paid a much higher price.

The Red Army inflicted about 75 percent of all the casualties suffered by the Wehrmacht. Roughly 27 million Soviet citizens died – around 15 percent of Russia's prewar population. In contrast, American World War II deaths number just over 400,000...

[W]e get multiple angles of vision on events such as the capture of the overall German commander at Stalingrad or a costly, failed assault on a Nazi-held position. Hellbeck aptly likens the effect to "a chorus of soldierly and civilian voices."

The book also contains gripping, stand-alone accounts. Nurse Vera Gurova was among the nearly 1 million women who served in the Red Army. She and her sisters elicited this from her commander: "They can't do what a man can do physically, but they outdo men in terms of courage."

Sniper Vasily Zaytsev killed 242 Germans and was honored as a Hero of the Soviet Union. Explaining his remorseless hatred for the enemy, he commented to his interviewer: "You see girls hanging from the trees. Does that get to you?"
Barmaley Fountain in Stalingrad
Rounding out Stalingrad are many photos, transcripts of German prisoner interrogations, excerpts from the diary of a dead German soldier and a brief coda that describes the battle's aftermath and the unhappy fate of the band of researchers who tried to capture the Stalingrad experience in full.

Besides illuminating the human side of this colossal battle, Hellbeck also revises the common Western image of the Red Army as a horde driven forward "by pistol-waving political officers."

To be sure, savage penalties were meted out to perceived shirkers. One general casually remarked that he personally "shot the commander and commissar of one regiment, and a short while later" executed "two brigade commanders" for their failings.

Nevertheless, Hellbeck's findings compellingly suggest that it wasn't just, or even mostly, coercion that motivated Soviet troops. Rather, it was a combination of effective "political conditioning" and genuine patriotism that inspired them.

Hellbeck concludes with a visit to the giant memorial in Volgograd, the name that replaced Stalingrad in 1961 as part of that era's de-Stalinization. Words penned about the battle and its heroes by the renowned Soviet novelist Vasily Grossman are engraved on an exterior wall: "An iron wind struck them in the face, yet they kept moving forward. . . . Are these mortals?"

Inscribed inside the monument is this response: "Yes, we were mortal and few of us survived, but we all discharged our patriotic duty to our sacred Motherland."

A comment that appeared in another review:
"It is important to keep Soviet history in mind when thinking about morale at Stalingrad. During the Russian Civil War, Joseph Stalin led communist forces in defending the city of Tsaritsyn against the White Army. The city was renamed Stalingrad in 1925 to recognize this achievement. Soviet soldiers who fought at Stalingrad did not see Stalin as a ruthless dictator responsible for the deaths of millions; most, according to Hellbeck, were proud to be fighting in the same city that he had defended."

UPDATE: While all this was going on, life in Leningrad was also hell as residents were enduring an almost 900-day siege. It was lifted in late January of 1944.

Some of the experiences of a teenage girl who survived.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Map on Monday: NIGERIA

The Physical Ecology, Communal Loyalties, and Geopolitics of Nigeria

by A. Joseph Lynch

Physical Ecology: Natural Resources and Physical Geography

Nigeria is located in western Africa with its Atlantic coast oriented south just four degrees north of the Equator. At roughly 356,000 square miles in size, Nigeria is about twice the size of California. Nigeria's two largest rivers, the Niger and the Benue, converge at the Niger Delta and flow together into the Atlantic Ocean from the north. This southern part of Nigeria is also home to a tropical rainforest climate. In the north, however, Nigeria borers the dry Sahel, a semi-arid region that runs along the Sahara's south. Rugged highlands in Nigeria's east form a geographic border between Nigeria and Cameroon. In the far northeast is Lake Chad (which is also bordered by three other nations: Chad, Cameroon, and Niger). Nigeria is a resource-rich nation with deposits of tin, iron ore, coal, bauxite, gold, tantalite, limestone, niobium, lead, zinc, and natural gas. Almost 80% of Nigeria's land is arable. Despite this, Nigeria's agriculture has been overlooked by government development in favor of another vital natural resource: oil. Nigeria is the world's 12th largest producer of oil and is ranked 10th in overall proven reserves.

Communal Loyalties: Ethnicity, Language, and Religion

Nigeria is the most populous nation in Africa. At nearly 174 million people, it accounts for about one-sixth of the continent's population and one-fifth of Africa's sub-Saharan population. Nigeria's focus on oil production over agriculture has lead to food shortages as much of its arable land is either unused or poorly farmed without modern equipment. Although Nigeria is divided among 250 ethnic groups, the largest three comprise some 68% of the population. The largest ethnic group is the Islamic Hausa-Fulani in the north at 29%, followed by the Yoruba (21%) and the Igbo (18%). Despite the fact that over 500 languages are spoken in Nigeria, the British left behind their unifying national language after leaving Nigeria in 1960. Christianity and Islam comprise the two largest religious groups in Nigeria with a religious civilizational fault line dividing the Islamic north and the Christian south. Although Islam has had a long presence in Nigeria, Christianity is now only slightly behind Islam demographically in Nigeria.

Geopolitics: Political Geography and Foreign Policy

Nigeria is bordered by Christian-majority Benin to the west, Islamic Niger to the north, Islamic-majority Chad to the northeast, and Christian Cameroon to the east, with access to the Atlantic in the south. Despite the large size of Lagos (9 million) on the coast, Nigeria made Abuja its capital both due to its central location and also to the area's perceived neutrality between Nigeria's various communal loyalties. Since its independence in 1960, Nigeria has placed much emphasis on the African subcontinent, opposing apartheid in South Africa, sending military into the Congo, and promoting self-government among former European colonies. It's military (200,000 men) has been involved in peace-keeping efforts in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Ivory Coast. Nigeria remains non-aligned yet formed strong ties to Israel in the 1960s. Radical Islam is perhaps Nigeria's gravest military threat. The terrorist group Boko Haram operates in Nigeria's northeast, but is also found within Niger, Chad, and Cameroon, making its defeat difficult for any one nation. Boko Haram has killed some 17,000 since 2009 and is perhaps known most for its kidnapping of 276 schoolgirls in 2014.

Stratfor on Nigeria's Geographic Challenges

Stratfor - short for Strategic Forecasting, Inc. - is a private global intelligence company that offers geopolitical insight into the interplay of nations. Stratfor has developed an excellent series of short (~2-4 minute) videos which provide the viewer with a specific nation, along with its basic history, geography, culture, and geopolitical allies and adversaries. In the following video, they present the geographic challenges facing Nigeria.

For more information on Nigeria, visit its page on the CIA World Fact Book along with our post from 2011. The April 2015 election of Muslim Muhammend Buhari was a set back for Boko Haram - here were our thoughts at the time.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

August 15 -- THE SOLEMNITY OF THE ASSUMPTION: Purity on Earth and the Feminine in Heaven

(first published August 15, 2014)

by David Pence

"By the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and by our own authority, we pronounce, declare, and define it to be a divinely revealed dogma: that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly declaration of glory.”                (Pope Pius XII, November 1, 1950)

When Christ asked Peter who the apostles thought he was, Peter made the first infallible papal statement. He said, “Thou art the Son of the living God.” Christ made it clear it was not personal insight which allowed this Petrine testimony without error. “Not flesh and Blood but my Father in heaven” had allowed Peter to proclaim this central truth of our Faith for the brethren. And so again, 2000 years later, Pius XII did not wake up one November morning in 1950 and introduce to the flock a novel teaching he and some cardinals had been concocting about Our Lady. He stated what the praying Church had known devotionally for centuries. The pope, though, with a singular voice spoke the Truth from Rome as Peter had spoken for all the apostles at Caesarea Philippi.

The Pope in a few terse words described the perfection of matter -- the most perfect blossom of the tree of Jesse.  She was Immaculate -- conceived without sin. She is the Mother of God -- the locus of the Incarnation where God came into flesh to draw human flesh into his Body. She is ever Virgin -- an intact virgin not entered by man nor torn asunder by birth. And yet in the unity and holiness which the intactness of virginity represents there is a permeability to the Spirit which brings forth the Son. This moment in history of uncorrupted feminine flesh reminds all men of our original nature in Eden and of our present capacity for perfection. This Marian perfection of matter was never allowed to be corrupted by death, though she suffered it. In this modern era when the corrupted mist of the world seems omnipresent, the Church reminds us that purity is possible. The person separated from Evil can bear Christ on earth and will be drawn into Him where he sits at the right hand of the Father. Purity on earth is possible and the spiritual ordering of the flesh leads to Eternal life. Humans are not evolving to some higher form; perfection comes from imitating a form who was already here in a specific time and place. Let us sing of Mary.


Of heaven there is less to say. How will she reign where her son is the King and the King has a Father? She might be drawn to some inner chamber where the feminine holds the three masculine persons of the Trinity in One.  C.S. Lewis described heaven as going higher and higher and deeper and deeper. Mary is not a Queen on a throne; she is the Queen of those depths. There is some inner chamber of the hidden God which we never name with a pronoun… but if we did it would be feminine. For the feminine is interiority.

There is an intact interior that separates God from all creation. This radical separation is the meaning of HOLY. Mary and the consecrated virgins of the Church seek not crowns for their heads, but an interior milieu where their hearts can come to final rest and ponder anew. Come let us sing of Mary who on this day turns our eyes to Heaven where she abides with her Son. Let us admire from a distance the beauty of the Church’s consecrated virgins who keep us vigilant for our returning King by waiting for Him as their Bridegroom.

"Neither the tomb, nor death could hold the Theotokos,
Who is constant in prayer and our firm hope in her intercessions.
For being the Mother of Life,
She was translated to life by the One who dwelt in her virginal womb."

UPDATE: Take notice of what Christ is holding (above). Taylor Marshall on the traditional teaching of the Church.

See our post on the Queenship of Mary.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Friday BookReview: "The first nation in history to have worldwide reach"


Here are excerpts from a review of Spain: The Centre of the World, 1519–1682 by Robert Goodwin, a London professor:
As every schoolboy knows, ‘the empire on which the sun never set’ was British, and ‘blue-blooded’ was a phrase applied to the nobility who ruled it for most of its history. And every schoolboy is wrong. The phrase was coined to describe the dominions of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V (or Charles I of Spain), which were the first to span the requisite number of time zones; and ‘blue blood’ — sangre azul — referred to his Visigothic ancestors who reconquered Spain from the Moors, who had held it since 711 AD. These northern warlords would apparently show the purity of their ancestry by revealing the visible veins in their untanned forearms. 
The Reconquista was completed by Charles’s grandparents, Ferdinand and Isabella, in 1492, when they finally took Granada. A few weeks later they met Columbus in Cordoba and sent him on his ultimately vastly remunerative westerly voyage to the ‘Indies.’ 
Robert Goodwin’s book — whose title correctly places Spain, Jerusalem-like, at the centre of the 16th-century geopolitical map — picks up events in 1519, just as the first American treasures arrived in Seville, the southern capital of Spain and sole licensee to all cargo returning across the Atlantic.
On one level this book is the story of how that treasure was spent: on pomp and on war, on the arts and the architecture to house them. And what a lot of treasure there was...  
These vast riches were placed in the hands of the master of one of the most brutal and battle-hardened armies in the world at the very moment that the faith of which he was secular head was undergoing a massive schism. Martin Luther penned his 95 theses in 1517.
What distinguishes Goodwin from other historians of the period is the sheer multiplicity of his perspectives. He is erudite and concise in covering familiar ground, while full of original insight when it comes to the motives and actions of the key players...  
Goodwin also has an eye for the apposite detail to illustrate his general theme. In 1580 Spain had a greater caseload of litigation in its courts than the United States did in 1970, yet had a 20th of the population. This endless recourse to law across all social classes was the direct result of a system of legal aid so comprehensive it almost ground this global empire to a halt.

However, Goodwin’s real interest shines through in his description of the art and literature of this golden age, and he offers a detailed analysis of many great works, from the famous — such as Don Quixote, Cervantes’s postmodern take on the picaresque, and ‘Las Meninas,’ Velázquez’s masterpiece of misdirection and reflection [above] — down to lesser-known masterpieces such as Francisco de Zurbaran’s vivid ‘Christ on the cross’ and Juan de Valdés Leal’s terrifying ‘In ictu oculi’... 
The most notable effect on this reader was an urge to return to Spain, especially to Goodwin’s beloved Seville, that ‘deeply religious and very beautiful provincial backwater’, with ‘its quiet lanes and courtyards’, its ‘grand monuments’ and its ‘ghosts’. After all, it is not enough to bring truth to history. One must also bring life — and this book has it in golden abundance.
Zurbaran's painting is in the Art Institute of Chicago

From an interview with Professor Goodwin --

"Centre of the World"? Really?

Yes. I’m going to quote my book here: “On Halloween, 1519, a lone carrack [large merchant ship] reached the shores of southern Spain and sailed up the Guadalquivir, the Great River of the Moors, to Seville, capital of Andalusia, a region known to medieval Arab poets as paradise on earth. The first ship to reach Europe from the newly conquered coast of Mexico, the little Santa María had 'so much gold on board that there was no other ballast than gold,' or so it was reported to King Charles. At that moment, the modern Western world was born and globalization began”...

The great thing about Columbus was not so much that he reached America, but that he came home with the news.

So your book is about Spain as the centre of this globalising world. How were Spaniards affected by all this money?

During the 1500s Spain was held together by a relatively strong crown and perhaps the most fascinating consequence of that combination of grass-roots chaos and an overall sense of order is that Spaniards became one of the most litigious societies in history. They trusted their courts because of the strong crown, despite some cases lasting for generations (Columbus v. the Crown, begun in 1510, was eventually settled in the 18th century) and levels of corruption that seem astonishing to us. (An advocate was struck off in the 1550s after he was discovered to have accepted instruction from both the aristocratic plaintiff and the powerful municipal defendant.) But illiterate peasants and even slaves also went to court and they did not just sue each other, they also took on their lords.

Another massive structural social consequence was the growth of education and universities, the institutions needed to train so many lawyers and the officials who administered the empire abroad and the government of Spain at home. This led to considerable social mobility. Where there is education, there is also intellectualisation. So in a world we usually associate with the Inquisition, there is perhaps no better example of independence of thought than the School of Salamanca, a group of theologians and jurists who sowed the seeds of modern international law and human rights on the fertile soil of Catholic faith.

The Inquisition still happened, of course.

Yes. But there was enlightenment too. The Habsburgs were deeply troubled by the rise of Protestantism and Spaniards came to dominate the Counter-Reformation. On the one hand it encouraged religious intolerance generally and specifically gave the Inquisition raison d’être after it had run out of steam in the 1520s. On the other, it gave impetus and focus in art, both high religious art like that of El Greco or Murillo, but also popular art, most obviously manifest in the fluoresence of Holy Week, Semana Santa, which survives today.


So all that money was partly invested in culture?

So far as Spanish culture goes, this was the period known as the Golden Age. There is a fascinating intersection of the twin influences of religious devotion and the kind of moral and existential self-questioning displayed by the Salamancans and their monarchs, that produced some of the most brilliant poetry, theatre and literature to sit alongside the beautiful paintings of Diego Velázquez... .

But unquestionably the greatest figure of this world of belles lettres was Miguel de Cervantes, who drew on his experience travelling the length and breadth of Andalusia as a tax-gatherer to write "Don Quixote." It was not simply the first modern novel... but the very rise of the novel to its supreme form in 18th-century Britain is unimaginable without Cervantes showing Defoe, Swift, Sterne and Fielding the way. Mark Twain as much as admitted that there could have been no Moby Dick without Quixote and Sancho.

The intersection of novel experience and religion led Spaniards to question every aspect of reality itself. They had a name for this phenomenon, this strange crisis of faith; they called it 'desengaño' or disillusionment and they sought the experience of a sudden revelation of the real beneath the imaginary at every opportunity. And desengaño could be divine. The great art critic, Antonio Palomino, wrote in the early 1700s that Martínez Montañés had created the breathtaking image of the Christ for the leading Seville Confraternity of the Passion, “with such an anguished expression that it excited the devotion of even the most lukewarm heart and it is said that when they carried this sacred image in procession during Holy Week, the artist himself exclaimed it was impossible that he should have made something so wondrous and realistic.”

In the Seville Cathedral (where Columbus is buried)

UPDATE: Take a look at our earlier post about Spain (and its map).