What do Margaret Thatcher, Ayatollah Khomeini, Deng Xiaoping, and Pope John Paul II have in common? At first thought, you wouldn’t think much. But according to Christian Caryl, they were all radicals who began to change the world in 1979. In Strange Rebels:1979 and the Birth of the 21st Century (Basic Books, 2013), Caryl argues that these very different people from these very different places were brought together by one thing: a belief that the future would not be secular and socialist (as most of the old-line socialist and liberal establishment thought), but rather religious and capitalist. The Marxist project in all its forms, they said, had failed. People did not abandon their faiths, nor did they accept socialist economies. They wanted to worship and they wanted to be free. Thatcher, Khomeini, Xiaoping, and John Paul’s reactionary revolution, as it turned out, was successful. We live in the world they helped create.
In 1971, President Richard Nixon declared a “War on Drugs.” We are still fighting that war today. According to many people, we’ve lost but don’t know it. Rates of drug use in the US remain, by historical standards, high and our prisons are full of people–many of whom are hardly drug kingpins–who have violated drug laws. And, of course, it all costs a fortune. What to do? In her book The War on Drugs in America, 1940-1973 (Cambridge University Press, 2013), historian Kathleen J. Frydl argues that there is a better way to control drugs. She points out that prior to the “War on Drugs” the Federal government had controlled the distribution of narcotics and other drugs largely (though not entirely) by means of taxation. The “Federal Bureau of Narcotics” was a branch of the Department of the Treasury. The run up to Nixon’s “War on Drugs” and the war itself changed all that: enforcement of drug laws was transfered to the Department of Justice. Essentially, the Fed had criminalized drug distribution and use and told the states to aggessively pursue distributors and users, or else. According to Frydl, this was a disastrous move. Better, she says, to de-criminalize and even legalize drugs, control them by means of taxation, and support prevention and treatment initiatives. It’s a controversial position, and near the end of the interview we debate it at some length. I hope you enjoy the discussion.
Most people today think of war–or really violence of any sort–as for the most part useless. It’s better, we say, just to talk things out or perhaps buy our enemies off. And that usually works. But what if you lived in a culture where fighting was an important part of social status and earning a living? What if, say, you couldn’t get married unless you had gone to war? What if, say, you couldn’t feed your family without raiding your enemies? Such was the case with Chiricahua Apache of the Southwest. As Lance R. Blyth shows in his terrific book Chirichahua and Janos: Communities of Violence in the Southwestern Borderlands, 1680-1880 (Nebraska UP, 2012), war was a necessary part of Chiricahua life, at least in the 17th and 18th centuries. They needed to fight the Spanish in Janos, and there was nothing the Spanish could really do to stop them, at least in the long term. Of course the Spanish–who were, it should be said, invaders–fought back. And so the two communities entered into a two century-long struggle that only ended with the “removal” of the Chiricahua Apache by the United States in the nineteenth century. Listen to Lance tell the fascinating story.
[Cross-posted from New Books in African American Studies] German military theorist Carl Von Clausewitz observed that many of the important variables in war exist in ‘clouds of great uncertainty’ which create disconnects and confusion that persist even after the fighting has ended. The conflict between the Black Panther Party and the United States government is in ways illustrative of this phenomenon–or ‘the fog of war’ as it has come to be called–and helps explain why the Party is so well known yet misunderstood. For many, the Black Panther Party exists in image fragments: bullet-pocked storefronts, raised fists, drawings of mutant-pig policemen, Huey P. Newton on a wicker throne. For others, it exists in biographies of its leaders: Revolutionary Suicide, Seize the Time, This Side of Glory, A Taste of Power, just to name a few. Historians and political theorists have weighed in as well exploring the excesses of COINTELPRO, the failures of party leaders, gender inequity, missed opportunities, failed alliances, and endless betrayals. Yet there is still much to learn. In Black Against Empire: The History and Politics of the Black Panther Party (University of California Press, 2013), authors Joshua Bloom and Waldo Martin do an excellent job of putting the movement in its historical and philosophical context as not merely a challenge to American racism, but to American empire. Joshua was kind enough to speak to us about his book. I hope you enjoy.
You may have heard of a fellow named Ivan or John Demjanuik. He made the news–repeatedly over a 30 year period– because he was, as many people probably remember, a Nazi war criminal nick-named “Ivan the Terrible” for his brutal treatment of Jews (and others) in the Sobibor death camp. The trouble is, as Richard Rashke points out in his new book Useful Enemies: John Demjanjuk and America’s Open-Door Policy for Nazi War Criminals (Delphinium, 2013), Demjanuik was not a Nazi, was not “Ivan the Terrible,” and, though he was certainly a guard at Sobibor, it’s not entirely clear what he did (though it was likely very bad). Again and again he was brought to trial for his alleged crimes. Again and again the courts failed to agree on what he had done. Demjaniuk was and remains something of a mystery, a vital mystery that we badly want to solve but cannot. After all, we need to know who is a war criminal and who is not. What’s most interesting about Demjaniuk–at least to this reader–is the moral complexity of his story. As Rashke shows, he was repeatedly compelled to make life and death choices as he tried to stay survive in Stalinist Russia, in Nazi-occupied Eastern Europe, and even after the war. He had options, but they were almost always bad ones, and often deadly ones. He was a “collaborator” to be sure. But, Rashke asks, what exactly is a “collaborator”? Could he have chosen differently and hoped to survive? Could he have acted “morally” in the context within which he found himself? Rashke says “yes.” Listen in and find out why.
When I went to college long ago, everyone had to read Marx and Engels’ Communist Manifesto (1848). I think I read it in half-a-dozen classes. Today Marx is out. Benedict Anderson, however, is in. You’d be hard-pressed to get a college degree without reading or at least hearing about his book Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (1983). That book says, in a phrase, that nations were invented, and quite recently at that. The trouble is that according to Azar Gat, Anderson is wrong. In his new book Nations: The Long History and Deep Roots of Political Ethnicity and Nationalism (Cambridge University Press, 2013), Gat musters a significant amount of evidence suggesting that humans are more-or-less hardwired for kin and ethnic preference–we’ve always liked people who look, talk and act like “us” more than “strangers” because we are built to do so. We didn’t “invent” the nation; it was–and remains–in us. Moreover, he shows that the historical record itself makes clear that something like nations have been with us since the state appeared 5,000 years ago. To be sure, their form has; but they were always around. This is important for the way we think about the world today. Marx thought classes were going to disappear They didn’t. Anderson and those who follow him seem to think that nations are going to disappear. They aren’t.
Nicholas Popper’s new book is a thoughtfully crafted and rich contribution to early modern studies, to the history of history, and to the history of science. Walter Ralegh’s History of the World and the Historical Culture of the Late Renaissance (University of Chicago Press, 2012) takes readers into the texture of Walter Ralegh’s masterwork and the textual and epistemic practices through which he used the past to understand and offer counsel on the events of the present. Ralegh passed seven of his many years of incarceration in the Tower of London excerpting, rearranging, editing, and recopying passages from his 500+ volume library to produce a book that has been read and interpreted in many different (and sometimes conflicting) ways in the hundreds of years since its initial printing. Popper’s book uses a very focused account of the texture of this single book as a basis from which to offer a wonderfully expansive account of the practices of history in the Renaissance, and the ways that Ralegh’s work and associated practices of historical analysis ultimately transformed European politics, religion, and scholarship. Along the way, there are fascinating accounts of the origins of the modern archival mode of historiography, the differences between causal and narrative accounts of the past, and the many ways that early modern historical practices were inextricable from scriptural exegesis. Popper’s study is both inspired by the methods and insights of the historiography of science, and offers a way to think about the practices of knowledge-production that help identify what we’re talking about when we talk about early modern “science.” Enjoy!
Americans love Prague. They visit and have even moved there in considerable numbers. They like the place for a lot of reasons. One is that Prague is a very beautiful city. But another is that the Czech Republic has a widespread repuation in the U.S. (and more generally, I think) as a very liberal, democratic place. Czechs, we think, are different and long have been. In many ways, they are, of course. But as Mary Heimann suggests in her controversial book Czechoslovakia: The State That Failed (Yale UP, 2009; paperback, 2011), the Czechs (and Slovaks) were not as exceptional, historically speaking, as many think, and certainly not as exceptional as some historians have led us to believe. Czechoslovakia was not immune to some of the more harmful movements of the late nineteenth and twentieth century–strident nationalism, fascism, and communism among them. Sometimes Czech and Slovak leaders acted liberally and democratically; sometimes they did not. In that way, they were like all their European neighbors, that is, not exceptional at all. Listen to Mary explain why.
Many people have probably heard of Betty Friedan, Bela Abzug, Gloria Steinem, and Andrea Dworkin, all stars of Second Wave Feminism. They were also all Jewish (by heritage if not faith). As Melissa R. Klapper shows in her new book Ballots, Babies, and Banners of Peace: American Jewish Women’s Activism, 1890-1940 (New York University Press, 2013), this was no accident. Freidan et al. inherited a rich tradition Jewish women’s activism in the U.S. These women did not burn their bras (it’s not clear that any feminists did, actually), but they did fight for the vote, for birth control, and for peace. In this interview, Melissa explains why, how, and to what extent they succeeded.
Many people complain about sensationalism in the press. If a man slaughters his entire family, a jilted lover kills her erstwhile boyfriend, or a high school student murders several of his classmates, it’s going to be “all over the news.” But it’s hard to blame the press, exclusively at least. Joy Wiltenburg‘s Crime & Culture in Early Modern Germany (University of Virginia Press, 2012) suggests (to me at least), that those who criticize the press for sensationalism have cause and effect reversed: the press doesn’t cause demand for sensational stories, the people who buy the press do. When the “press” first emerged in the sixteenth century, “demand” for “if it bleeds, it leads” style reporting seems to have been already quite developed. There’s just something emotionally compelling about a man who chops up his family. The early modern Germans wanted to read about and so do we. Joy explains why.
Russians have a reputation for xenophobia, that is, it’s said they don’t much like foreigners. According to Eric Lohr‘s new book, Russian Citizenship: From Empire to Soviet Union (Harvard University Press, 2012), this reputation is at once deserved and undeserved. It’s true that at various moments in Russian history, foreigners have not been permitted to enter Russia, let alone become citizens (or, in an earlier period, “subjects”) of the state. But, intermittently, the Russian state actively recruited foreigners, and especially foreign experts and capital, to aid in economic development. In the period after the Great Reforms, for example, the Russian state actively encouraged foreign investment and immigration. Late Imperial Russia seemed to be on a kind of glide path to a modern notion of citizenship. As Eric explains, all that ended with the Bolshevik seizure of power in 1917 (with catastrophic economic results). Listen in.
There were always and will always be orphans. The question is what to do with them. In his terrific new book The Charleston Orphan House: Children’s Lives in the First Public Orphanage in America (University of Chicago Press, 2013), economic historian John E. Murray tells us how one Southern American city did it in the 18th and 19th centuries. Charleston was a city divided between free whites and enslaved African Americans. The whites felt insecure and, according to Murray, this is one of the reasons they founded and funded America’s first public orphanage. The white-only institution not only helped indigent parents and their children, but it also brought the city’s white population together in a way no other body did. It was an expression of civic humanity, but it was also an expression of white unity against the black masses. Listen to John tell the tale.
The Republic of Ireland (aka The Irish Free State, Éire) declared neutrality during the Second World War. That wasn’t particularly unusual: Portugal Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland did too. Yet around 60,000 “neutral” Irish volunteered to fight on one side (with the Allies, in this case). That was unusual. After the war, most of the Irish volunteers remained in the UK. But 12,000 of them came back to Ireland. In Returning Home: Irish Ex-Servicemen and the Second World War (Merrion, 2012), Bernard Kelly tells their story. Like most things in Irish history, it’s complicated. On the one hand, the volunteers had served in the armed forces of Ireland’s archenemy (at least according to Republicans). On the other hand, they had fought the Nazis and thereby protected the Free World. Bernard explains how the Irish veterans were received and, interestingly, how they are still being discussed in Ireland today.
I imagine everyone who listens to this podcast knows about the Nazi effort to remake Central and Eastern Europe by expelling and murdering massive numbers of Slavs, Jews, and Gypsies. The results, of course, were catastrophic. Fewer listeners are probably well informed about the Allied effort after the War to remake Central and Eastern Europe by expelling massive numbers of Germans. The results, as R. M. Douglas demonstrates in his well-researched, even-handed book Orderly and Humane: The Expulsion of the Germans after the Second World War (Yale University Press, 2012), were catastrophic. As many as 14 million Germans were displaced and somewhere between 500,000 and 1.5 million parished. Of course the Nazi and Allied “ethnic cleansings” (if that’s the right word) were not equivalent, a point that Douglas goes to great pains to emphasis. But the one is well known and the other is not. Until now. I urge you to read this book and find out what happened in this largely forgotten (and very disturbing) episode in the history of the Second World War and its aftermath.
Most people who listen to this podcast will have heard of Joseph McCarthy and HUAC (The House Committee on Un-American Activities). His activities and those of HUAC were, however, only the tip of a very large iceberg. In the 1940s and 1950s, the U.S. government conducted something like a “purge” of federal employees with leftist pasts. Thousands of federal workers were invested and hundreds (at least) were terminated. In The Second Red Scare and the Unmaking of the New Deal Left (Princeton UP, 2012), Landon Storrs tells this untold (and very disturbing) story. Listen in.