Sunday, March 25, 2012

Dep't of And What Rough Beast, Etc.

Just when the gods had ceased to be and the Christ had not yet come, there was a unique moment in history, between Cicero and Marcus Aurelius, when man stood alone.

—Flaubert, letter to Madame Roger des Genettes

... quoted by Stephen Greenblatt in The Swerve: How the World Became Modern, a little book about the Epicurean poet-philosopher Lucretius and how the sole surviving manuscript of his work was recovered during the Renaissance by a humanist book-hunter. Rather an odd thing to win the Pulitzer, I thought, so I picked it up from the library. Yep, it's odd: they've somehow made a bestseller of a book about manuscript-copying and Italian classics-worshippers. (Greenblatt wrote a short take on his book in the New Yorker.)

To Petrarch and his admirers, the period after the fall of Rome was a period of miserable barbarism. Recently it became fashionable to rehabilitate "the Dark Ages" as not dark, just differently lighted. Now, I think, the pendulum is, correctly, swinging back, and we are starting to realize what a disaster for the West the fall of Rome was: we lost a millenium.

As Nietzsche put it: "The whole labor of the ancient world in vain: I have no words to express my feelings about something so tremendous." Can it happen again? Can it not happen again?


  1. Hasn't essentially every thinking person in the European communities wondered the "can it happen again" question at least since the 18th Century?

    Avian flu or the like might do it, combined with some other bad run of cards. Say, massive droughts from global warming in the world's grain belt, to pick a couple of possibilities floating out there. Surely we are in a better position to recover.

    Given the roller coaster that is Chinese history, I wonder what similar question an intellectual raised on that places history would ask.

  2. I didn't mean to claim any originality for the question, but I think JFJ's response is closer to my line of thought. Superflu, climate change, a stray asteroid - we can easily see how those could end Civilization As We Know It.

    But what's striking to me about the fall of the Romans - and I am not highly rating the rump empire in Constantinople and environs - is that it's NOT a case of some alien, non-human force's intervention. Human systems for government, that seemed highly effective at the time, broke down, so slowly that people at the time didn't realize quite what they were living through - but in a couple of centuries, civil society was drastically different.

  3. Speaking of the decline and fall of political institutions, here's Romney:

    One of the things I found in a short campaign against Ted Kennedy was that when I said, for instance, that I wanted to eliminate the Department of Education, that was used to suggest I don’t care about education,” Romney recalled. “So I think it’s important for me to point out that I anticipate that there will be departments and agencies that will either be eliminated or combined with other agencies. So for instance, I anticipate that housing vouchers will be turned over to the states rather than be administered at the federal level, and so at this point I think of the programs to be eliminated or to be returned to the states, and we’ll see what consolidation opportunities exist as a result of those program eliminations. So will there be some that get eliminated or combined? The answer is yes, but I’m not going to give you a list right now.

    As Jon Chait sums that up, "One of the things I have found in previous elections is that announcing my plans makes people want to vote against me!"

  4. Anderson, DeL understood Lott and wrote that he would be interested in a position that MAY come available. Hence, he knew those positions out there were NOT available to him.

    (March 30 letter ... show you ... remember our time frame, talk about Southern judgeship... look at first sentence?) He says, interested in position that MAY come available. Like he acknowledges there wasn’t one available. I never talked .... never saw his resume until a year ago.

    Read more: - Scruggs First afternoon witnesses describe senators contacts about DeLaughter s interest in judgeship

  5. 12:35, interesting stuff, but did you perhaps mean to post this at NMC's blog?

  6. He won't let me. And I know of no other way to communicate with you.

  7. Ohhhhhhh.

    Anyway, "position that may come available" doesn't readily bear the strong meaning you (and Lott) are putting on it. Standard polite letter talk.

    A jury could go either way perhaps, but if Scruggs has to prove "actual innocence," that is thin gruel.

  8. So, I wonder why NMC thinks the letter is so damaging. He is a self-fulling profecy with your help.

    Compare. Here's what you said thought was interesting from his first post:

    (We don’t question your intent. But when look at DeL’s letter to you next day, he says thanks for call … that he said very interested, honored by your consideration. I guess it speaks for itself. My point, DeL may not have interpreted as you mean it?) I can’t speak for his state of mind.

    That should be that, so far as Lott’s testimony is concerned.

    And this to what NMC later thinks about the letter:

    I don’t think the letter is overwhelming, but the phrasing of it is damaging.

    Compared to what the letter really said:

    (March 30 letter ... show you ... remember our time frame, talk about Southern judgeship... look at first sentence?) He says, interested in position that MAY come available. Like he acknowledges there wasn’t one available. I never talked .... never saw his resume until a year ago.

    So what's so damaging? NMC sold his soul to the devil a long time ago. I don't know why you believe him at all.

    There is more at my site.

  9. Let me guess. Natchez ip address?


  10. 4:15, you appear not to understand the burden of proof here. Scruggs isn't entitled to any benefit of the doubt here. He had a chance to go to a jury and ask them to accept the theories you describe. For reasons he knows better than you or I, he chose instead to swear he was guilty.

    Now homework has to show, by clear and convincing evidence IIRC, that he is actually innocent. A letter that can be read either way won't cut ice.

    Finally, if you are going to comment here, kindly refrain from personal attacks. As you note, you have your own piece of internet for that. Thanks!

  11. Now he, not homework. What I get for commenting via iPhone.

  12. I understand about the burden of proof. And I wasn't just talking about the letter, but the way NMC was putting so much weight on it, when it really kind of helped Scruggs in that DeLaughter knew he wasn't getting any of the open judge seats available.

    I don't understand the timing either. Or the fact that DeLaughter ruled against Scruggs while Peters was working for Scruggs on some occasions, just as Peters said he would. And DeLaughter had no idea that Peters was getting paid by Scruggs. When you hunt the man and not the crime because there wasn't one and you have to make one up out of hole cloth, one can make anyone look guilty.

  13. What NMC actually wrote was "I don’t think the letter is overwhelming, but the phrasing of it is damaging." And "helped Scruggs" is only one inference; a jury could've inferred that DeLaughter really thought he had a shot (hey, they asked for my resume! woo!).

    If Scruggs thought there was no crime, he had the right to a jury trial. He evidently didn't think that his prospects looked too hot. Who am I to argue with him on that?

  14. The law was different back then wasn't it?