Category Archives: history

In Praise of Byzantium


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In Praise of Byzantium – Why should we remember Byzantium?
by Richard Blake
(The Baltic Review, 9th August 2014)

Based in Constantinople (modern Istanbul), it lasted until 1453. At times, it was the richest and most powerful state in the known world. Today, it is almost forgotten. Its main presence in the English language is as a word meaning complex bureaucracy. What is it so forgotten? Why should it be remembered?

Let’s take the first question. Looking at our own family history, we tend to pay more attention to our grandparents than our cousins. Whatever they did, we have a duty to think well of our grandparents. We often forget our cousins. So far as they are rivals, we may come to despise or hate them. So it has been with Western Europe and the Byzantine Empire. The Barbarians who crossed the Rhine and North Sea in the fifth century are our parents. They founded a new civilisation from which ours is, in terms of blood and culture, the development. Their history is our history. The Greeks and Romans are our grandparents. In the strict sense, our parents were interlopers who dispossessed them. But the classical and Christian influence has been so pervasive that we even look at our early history through their eyes. The Jews also we shoehorn into the family tree. For all they still may find it embarrassing, they gave us the Christian Faith. We have no choice but to know about them down to the burning of the Temple in 70AD. The Egyptians have little to do with us. But we study them because their arts impose on our senses, and because they have been safely irrelevant for a very long time.

Byzantium is different. Though part of the family tree, it is outside the direct line of succession. In our civilisation, the average educated person studies the Greeks till they were conquered by the Romans, and the Romans till the last Western Emperor was deposed in 476AD. After that, we switch to the Germanic kingdoms, with increasing emphasis on the particular kingdom that evolved into our own nation. The continuing Empire, ruled from Constantinople, has no place in this scheme. Educated people know it existed. It must be taken into account in histories of the Crusades. But the record of so many dynasties is passed over in a blur. Its cultural and theological concerns have no place in our thought. We may thank it for preserving and handing on virtually the whole body of Classical Greek literature that survives. But its history is not our history. It seems, in itself, to tell us nothing about ourselves.

Indeed, where not overlooked, the Byzantines have been actively disliked. Our ancestors feared the Eastern Empire. They resented its contempt for their barbarism and poverty, and its ruthless meddling in their affairs. They hated it for its heretical and semi-heretical views about the Liturgy or the Nature of Christ. They were pleased enough to rip the Empire apart in 1204, and lifted barely a finger to save it from the Turks in 1453. After a spasm of interest in the seventeenth century, the balance of scholarly opinion in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries was to despise it for its conservatism and superstition, and for its alleged falling away from the Classical ideals – and for its ultimate failure to survive. If scholarly opinion since then has become less negative, this has not had any wider cultural effect.

Now to the second question: Why should we remember Byzantium? Well, everyone admires the Greeks and the Roman Empires. But, once your eyes adjust, and you look below the glittering surface, you see that it wasn’t a time any reasonable person would choose to be alive. The Greeks were a collection of ethnocentric tribes who fought and killed each other till they nearly died out. The Roman Empire was held together by a vampire bureaucracy directed more often than in any European state since then by idiots or lunatics. Life was jolly enough for the privileged two or three per cent. But everything they had was got from the enslavement or fiscal exploitation of everyone else.

Yet, while the Roman State grew steadily worse until the collapse of its Western half, the Eastern half that remained went into reverse. The more Byzantine the Eastern Roman Empire became, the less awful it was for ordinary people. This is why it lasted another thousand years. The consensus of educated opinion used to be that it survived by accident. Even without looking at the evidence, this doesn’t seem likely. In fact, during the seventh century, the Empire faced three challenges. First, there was the combined assault of the Persians from the east and the Avars and Slavs from the north. Though the Balkans and much of the East were temporarily lost, the Persians were annihilated. Then a few years after the victory celebrations in Jerusalem, Islam burst into the world. Syria and Egypt were overrun at once. North Africa followed. But the Home Provinces – these being roughly the territory of modern Turkey – held firm. The Arabs could sometimes invade, and occasionally devastate. They couldn’t conquer.

One of the few certain lessons that History teaches is that, when it goes on the warpath, you don’t face down Islam by accident. More often than not, you don’t face it down at all. In the 630s, the Arabs took what remained of the Persian Empire in a single campaign. Despite immensely long chains of supply and command, they took Spain within a dozen years. Yet, repeatedly and with their entire force, they beat against the Home Provinces of the Byzantine Empire. Each time, they were thrown back with catastrophic losses. The Byzantines never lost overall control of the sea. Eventually, they hit back, retaking large parts of Syria. More than once, the Caliphs were forced to pay tribute. You don’t manage this by accident.

The Byzantine historians themselves are disappointingly vague about the seventh and eight centuries. Our only evidence for what happened comes from the description of established facts in the tenth century. As early as the seventh century, though, the Byzantine State pulled off the miracle of reforming itself internally while fighting a war of survival on every frontier. Large parts of the bureaucracy were scrapped. Taxes were cut. The silver coinage was stabilised. Above all, the great senatorial estates of the Later Roman Empire were broken up. Land was given to the peasants in return for military service. In the West, the Goths and Franks and Lombards had moved among populations of disarmed tax-slaves. Not surprisingly, no one raised a hand against them. Time and again, the Arabs smashed against a wall of armed freeholders. A few generations after losing Syria and Egypt, the Byzantine Empire was the richest and most powerful state in the known world.

This is an inspiring story – as inspiring as the resistance put up by the Greek city states a thousand years before to Darius and Xerxes. If the Turks, who destroyed it in 1453, can admire the Byzantine Empire, and even feel proud of it, why shouldn’t the rest of humanity admire it?

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Jane Cobden: Carrying on Her Father’s Work


by Sheldon Richman
http://c4ss.org/content/29751

Jane Cobden: Carrying on Her Father’s Work

Among libertarians and classical liberals, the name Richard Cobden (1804–1865) evokes admiration and applause. His activities — and successes — on behalf of freedom, free markets, and government retrenchment are legendary. Most famously, he cofounded — with John Bright — the Anti–Corn Law League, which successfully campaigned for repeal of the import tariffs on grain. Those trade restrictions had made food expensive for England’s working class while enriching the landed aristocracy. Continue reading

Comment on Jihad Watch


by Ahmet the Turk

Original Post: Robert Spencer, Jihad Watch, July 25, 2014

Response:

I wasn’t aware that Geller had written an equally length refutal. Sometimes there is a section header titled message history, which hides the message instead of the history. I didn’t click to expand it, that’s why I didn’t see what Geller wrote, which is also lengthy. If you want me to discuss any part of it in detail please point it out, otherwise I am responding to the general drift of these accusations.

Turkish uses plenty of Arabic and Farsi vocabulary in exactly the same way English uses Latin and Greek words. I looked it up in the 1890 edition of the Redhouse dictionary. This dictionary was published when Turkey’s emperor officially had zimmi subjects and it was published by an American lexicographer, Sir James Redhouse, who was working for the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions. A zimmi (feminine zimmiye) is simply defined as “A non-Muslim subject of the Ottoman Empire or of a Muslim state.” Full stop. Continue reading

Peace Through Superior Firepower


David Davis

Three and more decades ago, when the Libertarian Alliance kept “The Alternative Bookshop” in Covent Garden, we used to print badges that said useful things to people: rather as if we were Marxists-Turned-Upside-Down – in the words of one of my very perceptive and incisive University chums.


I call this badge to mind [I have kept in the Main Lower Library's Archive Of Objects an example of all the best ones we made] in view of the events of Thursday et-seq. If the Liberal Capitalist West was properly at “Defence-Stations” – and it is not – then it is quite inconceivable that the Russian dictatorship-Junta would even dare to contemplate thinking even privately of destabilizing Ukraine to chew off bits of it – let alone (worse) inveigling traitorous Marxist-sympathisers within Ukraine to do so as its catspaws.


Incidentally we also wouldn’t have more than a light regional but nugatory difficulty with “Islam”: which it is believed is a sort of mysogynistic pre-capitalist desert-survival-guide, but which most of its tacit adherents resignedly accept the Fatwa that it is a “Religion”. For the individual human costs of trying to “leave” it, as prescribed in its Book, don’t bear thinking about.

A major and exact historical parallel, in the same continent, is in front of our noses. In 1938 as you all know, this is when the Third Reich privately egged on the Sudeten-”Germans” under the fascistleftoid Nazi Conrad Henlein, in their efforts to dismember Czechosolvakia. In that instance a major reason was the intended confiscation of Europe’s third largest military organisation, plus the hijacking of Czech and Slovak heavy industry like the Skoda armaments-complex. The Czechoslovak Army alone fielded 43 divisions in that year, not counting its armour-capability.
Eastern Ukraine, as you all know, contains the major part of that country’s industrial and coal mining areas.

I leave you all to draw your own conclusions.

In the meantime, as War Secretary, I’ll ensure that all Anglosphere Nations that wish to “travel with us on the Rad Map For Peace”  – the proper one, not the US Democratic Party one – at the very least, are armed to the teeth, without any sort of restriction.
I’ll also be tearing up the Ottawa Treaty and denouncing it on behalf of the UK, for which I will have defence responsibility. It will be my decision, taken in the UK’s best interests. It’s no other nation’s damn business whether we choose to deploy “airfield denial weapons” or not, for example.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ottawa_Treaty

Richard Blake on the Byzantine Empire


Heraclius: Emperor of Byzantium
Walter E. Kaegi
Cambridge University Press, 2003, 380pp
ISBN 0 521 81459 6
Reviewed by Richard Blake

This is the first biography of Heraclius in over a century, and the first ever in English. That a biography was worth writing should be clear from the book’s cover note:

This book evaluates the life and times of the pivotal yet controversial and poorly understood Byzantine Emperor Heraclius (AD 610-641), a contemporary of the Prophet Muhammad. Heraclius’ reign is critical for understanding the background to fundamental changes in the Balkans and the Middle East, including the emergence of Islam, at the end of Antiquity.

Though few in England know of him, Heraclius is one of the most astonishing figures in history. Except they are true, the facts of his life read like something out of legend. He seized power in 610 just as the Persians were turning their war with the Empire from a set of opportunistic raids into an attempt at its destruction. During the next ten years, every Imperial frontier crumbled. After a thousand years of control by Greeks, or by Greeks and Romans, Persia and Egypt fell to the Persians.. The Slavs and Avars took most of Greece. The Lombards and Visigoths nibbled away at the remaining European provinces in the West. Africa aside, the Empire was reduced to a core that covered roughly the same area as modern Turkey. Continue reading

Macaulay on Our Revolution With a Difference


This I’ve found to be the most telling quote from ‘History of England’ so far. Before I give you Macaulay, here is the LA’s own John Kersey. The words below are from his 2013 speech to the Traditional Britain Group:

The first difficulty we face is really more of a historical phenomenon than anything else. It is that where change of a widespread and fundamental nature has occurred, it is then near-impossible to return to the status quo ante. If we look to English history, there are events – such as the Restoration of 1660 – that may seem to look backwards, but in reality constitute the combination of elements of the past and present. The most usual pattern is that of thesis – which in this example is absolute monarchy; antithesis – the Puritan Commonwealth; and then synthesis – the constitutional monarchy that constitutes the Restoration. England is very good indeed at giving the veneer of continuity to what is in fact profound change.

 

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AMERICA’S HEROIC DAWN


by the Rev. Dr Alan Clifford
1776? 1620?
What about the events of 1562-5?
As sexual perversion and Islamic darkness tighten their grip on the USA, Americans need to recover their earliest history…

AMERICA’S HEROIC DAWN
THE HUGUENOT MARTYRS OF FLORIDA

Dr Alan C. Clifford

UN

A largely-forgotten history reminds us that the first attempted Christian settlement in North America was by Huguenots seeking a haven from persecution in France. This follows the era of Christopher Columbus whose first adventures to the New World date from 1492, soon followed by the Cabots from England a few years later. Not to forget the English Jamestown settlement of 1607, the Huguenot adventure occurred sixty years before the Pilgrim Fathers founded the Plymouth plantation in 1620.

This was the era of Iberian domination, when Spain was the world’s ‘super power’. With the blessing of the Pope, Spain and Portugal laid claim to the New World. Their brutal Central and South American conquests brought justifiable opprobrium upon the cruel fascism of King Philip II and his ilk. Predictably, war was inevitable as less-compliant European nations resisted this evil and expanding tyranny. The Protestant Reformation fuelled the animosity as anti-Catholic sailors from Normandy found courage to challenge Spanish arrogance. One form of resistance was to attack the Spanish treasure ships bringing gold and silver from Mexico, Peru and elsewhere. Outraged by the cruel horrors of the Spanish Inquisition, hot-headed French pirates thought nothing of enriching themselves at Spain’s expense. They were the scourge of the Spanish Main. The Spaniards called these high-seas raiders corsarios luteranos, i.e. ‘Lutheran pirates’. However, among these ‘Protestant adventurers’ were more noble souls with more honourable aspirations, properly called Calvinists. Continue reading