Two historical references for a discussion on the right to keep and bear arms

Battle  of Courcelette
Battle of Courcelette
Like the observer in the tree in the right foreground, painter Louis Weirter witnessed this Somme battle as a soldier. His painting depicts the chaos and complexity of fighting on the Western Front, and the use of combined arms tactics. The capture of the ruined town of Courcelette, France on 15 September 1916 was a significant Canadian victory. It was also the first time tanks (left foreground) were used in battle.
Painted by Louis Alexander Weirter
Beaverbrook Collection of War Art

One of the most controversial discussions in the last few weeks has been the one around guns, its regulation and controls, its production, on the rights to use guns, on private gun ownership and the arguments of those in favor/against the Right to keep and bear arms in the United States of America.  The right to keep and bear arms in that country has a historical significance rooted in a long standing common law, prior even to the existence of their Constitution.  In England, a similar legal wording can be found in the Bill of Rights 1689 which states “Subjects which are Protestants may have Arms for their Defense”.

The historical significance of this argument is long standing and varies from country to country (specially those with a common law system).  The principle behind this topic is the relation of the private ownership (historically contextualized of course) of the “means of force” versus the monopoly of the use of force by government.  Today I have two recommendations on this topic for those of you looking for essays and books to read:

tilly-diagram

The monopoly of the use of force is claimed to be the reason behind why some kings in Europe succeed in wining wars and enriching their countries; and also the reason why others were subjugated and conquered (see the work of War Making and State Making as Organized Crime by Charles Tilly for a complete picture on this topic (online pdf) a Chapter from Bringing the State Back In (1985), edited by Peter Evans, Dietrich Rueschemeyer, and Theda Skocpol).  But also, in a longer historical perspective it has been the monopoly of the use of force by specific authorities which for other authors built/destroyed entire civilizations (see the work of The Shield of Achilles: War, Peace and the Course of History (2002) by Philip Bobbitt).

Have a happy reading!

Conference: Global History of Agrarian Labor Regimes, 1750 to 2000 (Harvard University)

My interest in Agrarian Labor Regimes was first awaken in my research on Opium trade in India. Since then, more readings have made me realize the complex structures behind the history of agrarian labor in a global context.

If you are also interested in the topic, the *Weatherhead Initiative on Global History (WIGH)* at Harvard University is planning a conference for *April 2013* that is focusing on changing labor regimes within global agriculture.

As posted by Blog de la AMHE by Manuel Bautista, they are interested in exploring the diversity of labor regimes, the paths along which they changed, and—most especially—the connections between these changes in different parts of the world. We are interested in work that explores the connected histories of propertied farming, sharecropping, wage labor, slavery, *cultures obligatoires*, and other such forms of labor, and how they have been connected to the spatial and social spread of capitalism.We are seeking proposals from historians, political scientists, economists, sociologists, and anthropologists at all stages of their academic career, including graduate students. We encourage proposals from those in relevant career paths or institutions outside the university. We are particularly interested in forging a global discussion of these topics, and therefore welcome especially contributions from outside North America and Europe.

The conference will try to balance broad comparative papers and revealing case studies. The Weatherhead Initiative on Global History is a newly created center that responds to the growing interest at Harvard in the encompassing study of global history. The Initiative is committed to the systematic scrutiny of developments that have unfolded across national, regional, and continental boundaries as well as to analysis of the interconnections—cultural, economic, ecological and demographic—among world societies. For further information about WIGH as well as the conference, please consult our website at http://wigh.wcfia.harvard.edu.

Proposals should include an abstract of no more than two pages and a brief curriculum vita. Please email your submissions to Jessica Barnard ( jbarnard @ wcfia.harvard.edu ) before *November 30, 2012*. Travel expenses as well as accommodation will be covered.

Holger Droessler hdroessl @ fas.harvard.edu

Travel Diary: Prices, Unions and Freedom in one of the richest countries of the World

Prices in a capitalist economy reflect the relative scarcity of a good or service as well as the amount and intensity of consumer demand. Free-market prices are the only viable means of rational economic calculation. If a good or service becomes in shorter supply, for whatever reason, its price will rise, all other things being equal. The higher price will give consumers the proper incentive to do what is needed whenever anything becomes scarcer: conserve, or cut back on consumption. DiLorenzo in “How Capitalism Saved America

Last weekend I had the pleasure of attending the Oslo Objectivist Conference 2012 in Oslo, Norway in which I enjoyed a weekend of Philosophy, Objectivity and a celebration of Individual Rights.  On Monday before returning to my base in Leipzig, I decided to spend the day enjoying the parks and streets of the city (one of my favorites) and during lunch I went to eat buffalo wings in front of the City Hall Park.

That noon I was reading the last pages of the book “How Capitalism Saved America” by Thomas DiLorenzo and was writing extensive notes in my notebook criticizing many of his arguments in favor of capitalism due to lack of consistency and integration.  Leaving those morality issues aside, I was very interested in his historical explanation on the role that Unions (and privileged groups of interest) have had in destroying the foundations (principles) of capitalism in the United States since the foundation of the country.  Curiously, that same day the Farmers Union of Norway gathered in front of the park to do a countrywide protest (news).

As DiLorenzo writes, Unions have claimed for decades to be representatives of the “interests” of society, workers, middle class, proletarians and et. al. However, it has been actually only in the interests of the Union’s leadership and their pursuit of cronyism that they have actually worked by being concerned only in “their own membership rolls and dues revenues”. Examples from the Unions intervention in the destruction of the most successful industries of the  United States are explained by DiLorenzo’s book.

On Monday, the disgruntled Norwegian farmers decided to take the streets against the recent decisions of the government in April, 2012 to subsidy of Agriculture by granting only 625 million Norwegian Kroner instead of the 2.2 billion they asked.  The Norwegian Farmers’ Union (NFU) decided to take their trucks and cows and occupy the doors of the City Hall in Oslo; in other cities and towns the mayors were even kidnapped by the unionists.

This protest arise after the Parliament decided that that food prices should rise 20 percent in the next 20 years in line with expected population growth, providing sufficient income to both achieve this and ensure continued recruitment to farming (this reminds me of Hayek’s ideas on the Fatal Conceit). The NFU doesn’t agree.  They consider that the average annual incomes are under 300,000 kroner per man-labour year, whilst it is 469,000 on average in other sectors.  They also claim to represent the “interests” of 100,000 jobs in agriculture and food industry and not only to be seeking for more money for farmers (yeah, right).

Norway is one of the richest countries in the world and its society lives in very comfortable conditions.  The Leviathan in government charges immense amounts of taxes and inflation is incredible.  Just to illustrate the size of Leviathan: The buffalo wings and a beer cost me the high price of 250 krone (aprox. 33 euro or US$41.00 in T.G.I. Friday’s) That same meal would have cost me much less if bought in the U.S. or anywhere else in the world .

How can they afford it? The population earns artificial higher incomes due to the government interventions in the economy and disrupts the economy of the country.  How did the country reached such a condition can only be understood by taking a close and detailed attention to the role interventionism has in a country’s economy.  The effect: high prices, unstoppable high taxes and widespread limitation of liberties behind the power that Unions, groups of interests, politicians and bureacrats have had in the economy for decades.

Slowly but consistently, the Unions and crony capitalists in the bureaucracy of the Norwegian country have made it impossible to be free to exchange products in the country without any type of government intervention.  While Norwegians seem to be free, their daily lives are unconsciously been managed and controlled by a gigantic government that regulated every instant of their lives.

As DiLorenzo described, “Ludwig von Mises initially explained back in the 50s in this theory of government interventionism: one intervention (such as subsidies for railroads) leads to market distortions, which create problems for which the public “demands” solutions. Government responds with even more interventions, usually in the form of more regulation of business activities, which cause even more problems, which lead to more intervention, and on and on. The end result is that free-market capitalism is more and more heavily stifled by regulation. And on top of that, usually the free market, not government intervention, gets the blame.”

I would love to go back to Oslo and if possibilities arise to settle and live there for a couple years. I wish that my passion for buffalo wings will bring me to experience a story to write about and meditate again.  As for now, I return to write about Capitalism while sitting in a desk in Leipzig, Germany.

Global integration of trade

National Geographic is running a wonderful website on Globalization, the international exchange of goods, services, cultures, ideas, has brought increased wealth for many and transformed forever the way humans interact. But while its roots may be in commerce, globalization‘s effects can be very personal.

Advances in communication and transportation have created a rich, unprecedented mixing of cultures throughout the world. But there is a drawback. As international travel, economic migration, and the global spread of music, films, and literature bring more people than ever into intimate contact, human diversity is vanishing.

A shared language is perhaps the most profound expression of group identity and a critical tool for passing cultural knowledge from one generation to the next. But globalization is about integration. Whether by choice, by circumstance, or under duress, thousands of cultural and linguistic traditions are disappearing as their new generations adopt dominant national and global languages.

Workers, from wealthy consultants to unskilled laborers, are also on the move as never before. Some migrants are encouraged by host countries or regional agreements; others avoid official avenues and often live a shadowy, parallel existence once they arrive. Immigration is high, but it is economic migrants—seeking work more than a new homeland—who define our age.

Read more from them here: EarthPulse by National Geographic

Did Empire Matter? Indian Migration in Global Context 1834-1940

Bombay Fort
Image via Wikipedia

Prof. Adam McKeown from Columbia University did an online conference a couple weeks ago (November 08, 2011. University of Pittsburgh. World History Center.).  The title was “Did Empire Matter? Indian Migration in Global Context 1834-1940” as a continuation of the Global Migrations Discussion.  I have uploaded a summary of that lecture’s content and here’s the link to the pdf,

McKeown - Migrations

You can still watch the tape of the online conference in this link: LIVE Conference (taped)

Prof. Adam McKeown, is a leading figure in world-historical interpretation, has shown the value of migration studies in clarifying global patterns. He is author of studies including, Melancholy Order: Asian Migration and the Globalization of Borders /(2008), and he is writing a history of globalization since 1760. He co-directs the International and Global History graduate track at Columbia.

Journal Reco: Globalization and Global History in Toynbee

ArnoldToynbee1961
Image by cesarharada.com via Flickr

Abstract

This article traces the intellectual history of Arnold J. Toynbee. It centers on early twentieth-century British social thought and its synthesis of idealism and evolution. Toynbee used this framework to interpret imperial and international affairs, and, like his mentors, he focused especially on the unprecedented, progressive possibilities of global integration. With the failure of the Paris Peace Conference, however, Toynbee began to regard globalization as a contradiction between social unity and spiritual disjuncture. A Study of History, his endeavor to bring historical writing into its global present, followed from this opposition, which he sought to explain and hoped to resolve. By the mid 1930s, world events finally overwhelmed Toynbee’s commitment to the old conceptual synthesis. He returned to such thinking after World War II, but his brief declaration of methodological limitations illuminated for historical study the antinomy of the global scale.

Universal history must be construed and denied.

To many world historians today, Arnold J. Toynbee is regarded like an embarrassing uncle at a house party. He gets a requisite introduction by virtue of his place on the family tree, but he is quickly passed over for other friends and relatives. For much of the twentieth century though, Toynbee was perhaps the world’s most read, translated, and discussed living scholar. His output was enormous, hundreds of books, pamphlets, and articles. Of these, scores were translated into thirty different languages. In 1947, Time magazine considered his historical significance to be on par with Marx.2 Among intellectuals, response to his work was de rigueur. Indeed, the critical reaction to Toynbee constitutes a veritable intellectual history of the midcentury: we find, for example, Aron, Frye, Huxley, Kennan, Kracauer, Kroeber, Morgenthau, Mumford, Niebuhr, Ortega y Gasset, Popper, Ricouer, [End Page 747] and Sweezy, as well as a long list of the period’s most important historians, Beard, Braudel, Collingwood, and so on.

A survey of these responses consistently reveals odd contradictions between positions. In recent historical work, for example, Reba Soffer aligns 1930s-era Toynbee with Britain’s “radical right,” while Christopher Brewin describes his politics of the same period as “progressive liberal.”3 In Toynbee’s own time, two of the most sustained attacks came from E. H. Carr and Pieter Geyl, each in a certain way the inverse of the other. Carr translated the Marxist critique of bourgeois moralism into his study of international relations; he assailed Toynbee’s “utopian prescriptions” as so many alibis for British national interest. And as in Marxism, spotlight on the furtive particular in turn revealed a sturdier universal, in this case, what Carr called “the nature of politics.” Geyl, on the other hand, read Toynbee’s “impossibly universalist system” not as façade for a specific concern, but as its disintegration; he deemed Toynbee’s world history as an attempt to “escape” the uniqueness of the West. Toynbee’s “passion for unity,” Geyl wrote, was “fundamentally antagonistic to history, the guardian of the particular.”4 So which was it: the camouflage of self-interest or an ecumenical hallucination? And which was the corrective to Toynbee’s grand failure? Naturalism or historicism? Siegfried Kracauer shook his head: “There is something schizophrenic about Toynbee.”5

One approach toward understanding this contradiction can be found in Karl Löwith‘s brief comments on Toynbee in Meaning in History. All modern temporality, according to Löwith, was an “inconsistent compound” of ancient Greek cyclicality and a Christian theology of history. In addition, the latter’s eschatology endowed the historical process with “universality,” evoking above every smaller narrative the single, imagined identity of “mankind.” With this broad phrasing, Löwith fittingly characterized the two-sidedness of Toynbee’s thinking,[End Page 748] but he left unattended Toynbee’s struggle against a categorical universalism.6 Löwith’s high degree of abstraction offers little to the historiographer assessing world history and the varied circumstances that have contributed to its diverse formulations. My own reading stays considerably closer to the text. For in understanding Toynbee, philosophical generalization, like a quick dismissal, misses the struggles and contradictions in his attempt at world history. These break points help elucidate the history of the field, as well as the history of global thought and twentieth-century intellectual currents more generally. Perhaps too, they present to contemporary world-historical thinking an insight of value, even as Toynbee’s system has long stood in ruins.

The basis for Toynbee’s historical logic, and the source of its core difficulty, derived from a set of ideas which are best described as “evolutionary idealism.” One of the dominant trends in early twentieth-century British social thought, evolutionary idealism sought to combine Darwinian naturalism and teleological purpose, two positions hitherto locked in debate. Writers applied this synthesis to questions of imperial affairs, and it underscored much of the era’s thinking on the globe and its history. From this conceptual framework, Toynbee reckoned that the single most significant feature of his age was world integration, a “unification [that] . . . has caught in its meshes the whole living generation of mankind and all the habitable lands and navigable seas on the face of the Planet.”7 Indeed, Toynbee’s entire career as historian and political analyst can be read as a massive reflection on what came to be called globalization. His earliest such writings fully mirrored the evolutionary idealism of his educators. Yet this outlook faced a serious challenge in the immediate aftermath of World War I. The strains of colonial violence and worldwide turmoil fragmented teleology into a multiplicity of beliefs and interests. Toynbee persistently and loudly emphasized this problem of difference. At the same time, and throughout the interwar years, he remained committed to evolutionary idealism and strained to refashion it for the new, polycentric world. Both his rationale and his method for a history of the globe followed from that effort. The contradictions, however, could not be contained, and by the late 1930s, internal adjustments appeared inadequate. With the Italian invasion of Ethiopia and the attendant fiasco at the League of [End Page 749] Nations, Toynbee renounced his previous position. For a brief but significant moment, he neither synthesized nor hybridized the unity of the globe and its diversity of ideals. World integration rendered the universal and the particular into categories at once interdependent and irreconcilable, at once complementary and contradictory. After World War II he returned to the principle of synthesis with ever new and ever unsatisfactory attempts at reconciliation. Across Toynbee’s reception then, as in Carr and Geyl, his key concepts hopelessly chased each other in circles. Yet this indetermination anticipated in a uniquely interrelated way some of the major philosophical and historiographical currents of later years, expressing the irresolvability of postmodernism, the renewed interest in religion, and world history itself.

Read more: Michael Lang. “Globalization and Global History in Toynbee.” Journal of World History 22.4 (2011): 747-783. Project MUSE. Web. 25 Nov. 2011. <http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/journal_of_world_history/v022/22.4.lang.html&gt;.

Republican Debate Highlights on Foreign Policy and National Security

Its been long since the last time I heard a candidate from the GOP really defending the values of fiscal conservatism, respect for individual freedom and a non-interventionist foreign policy for the US in a debate. I have heard it in some Democrat candidates from past debates but never in a Republican debate.  Luckily, I was happy to hear Ron Paul doing so and getting my support and applauses.

Last night, November 23th 2011, CNN, the American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation sponsored a debate on foreign policy. I leave you now with an interesting summary and some notes done by CBS of the most relevant candidates:

  • WINNERS:

Ron Paul

This was the Texas lawmaker’s strongest debate, getting lots of airtime and challenging many of his rivals about U.S. foreign policy. His views are not in the mainstream of Republican orthodoxy, but he is consistent in his beliefs and not afraid to tell voters what he really thinks. His fundraising numbers could go up in the short-term, based on his debate performance Tuesday night, even if long-term it may be hard for him to broaden his support.

Newt Gingrich

Success begets success. Newt has done well in past debates and it has helped him in the polls. With his polling success, moderators gave him more airtime, which allowed the one-time afterthought and current front-runner to show off his debating skills. He took a risk by going against conservative Republican orthodoxy on immigration, and that could backfire, but overall Gingrich showed that he has been thinking about these issues for decades. And since it was a debate focused on foreign policy, no one asked him about his relationship with mortgage giant Freddie Mac and the $1.6 million he earned, which also helped the former House speaker.

Jon Huntsman

As the former ambassador to both China and Singapore, Tuesday’s national security debate was Jon Huntsman’s moment to shine. And for the most part, he succeeded: Huntsman, who touted throughout the debate his experience living abroad, presented clear policy positions on Pakistan and Afghanistan – at one point getting into a heated debate with Mitt Romney over the Afghan troop drawdown ¬- and even managed to bring the conversation back around to the American economy. Perhaps for the first time in the campaign, the former Utah governor was able to set himself apart from the rest of the GOP crowd.

Michele Bachmann

Despite having largely been written off as a major player in the race for the Republican presidential nomination, Rep. Michele Bachmann delivered a strong performance in Tuesday’s debate, demonstrating her confidence discussing policy issues, and taking her competitors to task when they faltered. In a heated exchange with Rick Perry over providing aid to Pakistan, the Minnesota lawmaker blasted the Texas governor for what she described as his “highly naïve” take on the issue; later, she sparred with Newt Gingrich for his stance on immigration. Whether or not Bachmann’s performance was strong enough to get her back in the game remains to be seen – but she certainly earned more screen time than in recent debates.

Mitt Romney

Romney had one of his worst performances of the 11 debates so far, but he still managed to do fairly well. Romney is a front-runner for a reason: he has been running for president for five years and that practice has paid off for the former Massachusetts governor. Romney skillfully turned questions about foreign policy into answers about domestic issues where he was able to contrast his own positions with those of President Obama, cementing the idea that this race is going to come down to Romney and one other candidate.

Rick Santorum

Rick Santorum is still widely considered a long-shot candidate, but he earned his fair share of airtime in Tuesday’s debate. And while the former Pennsylvania senator may not have said much to change how America feels about him – he endorsed racial profiling Muslims and mistakenly referred to Africa as a country – he made his best effort to make his way back onto the public’s radar.

  • LOSERS

Herman Cain

Herman Cain did not have the standout moment he needed to prove to voters he has a command of foreign policy. After surging in the polls, Cain’s campaign has lost momentum in recent days, most notably after stumbling over a question regarding Libya. The only memorable moment from Cain in this debate came when he flubbed debate moderator Wolf Blitzer’s name, calling the CNN anchor “Blitz.”

Rick Perry

The Texas governor took some bold positions during this debate, but his policy stances were vigorously challenged by his colleagues. Perry almost seemed to immediately backtrack on the tough stance he took against foreign aid to Pakistan after Michele Bachmann called his position “naive.” Perry was also on the defense when other candidates — Mitt Romney, Herman Cain and Ron Paul — said they disagreed with Perry’s assertion that the U.S. should consider a no-fly zone over Syria.