Saturday, December 26, 2009

J. Maritain and N. Berdyaev on the Meaning of History

It appears I am on a philosophy of history kick this holiday season. I just read J. Maritain and N. Berdyaev on the Meaning of History and liked it. It is a comparison between Jacques Maritain and Nicolas Berdyaev's Christian philosophy of history and their impact on the Christian views of history and of mankind's future. It was written by Boris. L. Goubman of Tver State University.

Works covered include Amato J. Mounier and Maritain: a French Catholic Understanding of the Modern World. N.Y., 1975, Berdyaev N. Samopoznanie. M., 1991, Berdyaev N. Smysl istoriji. M., 1990, Berdyaev. N. Smysl tvorchestva  // Philosophia svobodi. Smysl tvorchestva. M., 1989, Berdyaev N. O naznacheniji cheloveka // O naznacheniji cheloveka. M., 1993, Maritain J. Humanisme integral. P., 1968, Maritain J. On the Philosophy of History. N.Y., 1957, Maritain J. Le paysan de la Garonne. P., 1966, Maritain J. Le personne et le bien commun // Oeuvres, 1940-1963. P., 1979, Maritain J. Religion et culture // Oeuvres, 1912-1939. P., 1975, Nicolas J.- H. Le Christ - centre et fin de l’histoire // Revue thomiste. 1981.

From the site:

Engaged in a prolific philosophical dialogue, both Jacques Maritain and Nicolas Berdyaev made a significant contribution to the formation of the twentieth century religious vision of history. Despite differences in the philosophical background of their doctrines and differences regarding various metaphysical issues, there is a striking similarity in their understanding of the meaning of history. No less interesting is the coincidence of their interpretation of particular phenomena of modernity and contemporary world. A nonbiased analyst of their doctrines may find an evidence of mutual influence in their treatment of different stages of history as well as in their analysis of the significance of contemporary political and cultural events. The affinity between their visions of history should be considered not only as a result of their mutual involvement in a common cultural and political situation, but also of their desire to find a new philosophical approach to the meaning of history without leaving the platform of religious belief.

Raised in a non-similar cultural and social milieu, Berdyaev and Maritain met at ecumenical discussions in Paris in 1925. After his expulsion from Russia, Berdyaev became quite popular in Europe and had a growing influence in the circles of Christian intellectuals permitting him to create contacts with a number of important Catholic and Protestant thinkers. Berdyaev thought that the inter-confessional discussions in the Boulevard Montparnasse organized by the Russian diaspora provided an opportunity for both Catholics and Protestants to get together and debate significant philosophical issues, creating the climate of mutual respect and recognition. This was a step forward, he believed, to the formation of a Christian philosophical milieu in the “non-religious desert” of early twentieth century Europe (Berdyaev 1991: 232). Despite confessional and philosophical discord regarding some issues, Berdyaev and Maritain felt certain sympathy to each other and found common approaches to some problems of mutual concern.

At the time they met, Maritain was an evident leader in the neo-Thomist movement. Although he pretended to be an orthodox follower of Aquinas, “a paleo-Thomist”, Berdyaev suspected him to be “a modernist under the guise of Thomism”. The Russian philosopher rightly remarked that Maritain was deeply interested in Aristotle and Aquinas, but at the same time his understanding of the world was deeply colored by a mystical gift. This mystical feeling was in reality at the origin of Maritain’s existential interpretation of Thomism and his decision to carry over from Bergson an emphasis on the role of intuition in human knowledge which was otherwise foreign to the Thomist project. It finally made possible a rapprochement between Berdyaev and Maritain. Their contacts were also facilitated by the mutual interest in the current cultural and social situation demanding new philosophical approaches to a variety of issues. Berdyaev thought that Maritain was very sensitive to “the new trends” in the area of cultural and social change. Among his main achievements was an ability to “adjust new problems to Thomism and Thomism to new problems” (Berdyaev 1991:237). Among the philosophical issues that attracted attention of both thinkers was the problem of man’s cultural creativity in history. This common ground was, of course, an essential premise of their prolific cooperation and philosophical dialogue paving the way to a certain common vision of a number of cultural, social, and political problems. Their collaboration in L’Esprit published by Emmanuel Mounier looks symptomatic in this respect.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Some Patterns in World History and How they can be Used to Predict the Future

I found an interesting philosophy of history site today. Some Patterns in World History and How they can be Used to Predict the Future provides a summary of William McGaughey's Five Epochs of Civilization, which splits history into four epochs each centered on a key communication technology. The fifth epoch is his prediction of the future. The ideas here are worth thinking about.

The site summarizes these epochs as:

Civilization I: This is the earliest form of civilized society beginning in the 4th millennium B.C. with the rise of Mesopotamian and Egyptian city-states and culminating in the four great empires - Roman, Parthian, Kushan, and Han Chinese - of the 2nd and early 3rd centuries A.D. Its age was characterized by by conflict between nomadic and agricultural societies and by wars and political empire-building. The technology of writing (originally, in ideographic form) supported its culture.

Civilization II: This is what civilized societies became after the philosophical and spiritual awakening of the 6th and 5th centuries B.C. which was, in turn, related to the invention of alphabetic writing. Although this civilization was begun in a period dominated by political empires, it came into its own after the Huns and other nomads destroyed these empires between the 3rd and 6th centuries A.D. The dominant institution in society became religion. The three world religions - Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam - and other religious or philosophical systems such as Hinduism, Judaism, and Confucianism dominated human culture in the first 1,500 years of the Christian era.

Civilization III: This is the civilization of European secular culture which began with the Italian Renaissance of the 14th and 15th centuries A.D. and continued through the first two decades of the 20th century A.D. Humanist literature and art as well as empirical science mounted a challenge to philosophically based religions. This civilization was predominantly commercial although secular education also played an important role. Society became organized in European-style nation states. The technology of printing supported its culture.

Civilization IV: This is the culture of news and entertainment that we have come to know in the late 20th century. Advertising drives commerce, and the media in which advertising takes place (especially television) become powerful institutions within society. Various electronic technologies such as the telephone, sound recordings, cinema, radio, and television support this culture which emphasizes the sensuous aspect of human personality.

Civilization V: All we know about this culture is that it is computer-based. Computers, which support two-way communication between man and machine, are quite unlike the technologies of mass communications. However, computer-based systems and applications are developing so rapidly that it is hard to predict what will come next.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Tonight on History Channel - Santa Quest!

The History Channel is pleased to announce even more insightful historically significant programming for the holidays. In the tradion of Ice Road Truckers and Monster Quest, we present Santa Quest!

For generations, throughout the world, there have been reports of a strange creature who trespasses in homes and often leaves evidence of the visit. Is it a man, an alien, or perhaps an animal unknown to science? Join us tonight as Santa Quest explores this intriguing, if perhaps alarming, story of the reputed Santa Claus. Is it real? Is it dangerous? Our crack team of investigators will interview eyewitnesses such as six year old Timmy Smith who had a personal upclose encounter with the "Santa" last year. In addition, our team will examine camera trap evidence of the supposed visitations by strategically leaving the traps near Christmas Trees and Chimneys around America. What these traps uncovered will shock you.

Also in the wings for the new year is Bunny Quest which will scientifically examine in a historically astute manner the mystery of the Easter Bunny.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Book Review: The World's Bloodiest History - Massacres, Genocide, and the Scars They Left on Civilization

I received a free review copy of The World's Bloodiest History - Massacres, Genocide, and the Scars They Left on Civilization last week. On the whole, I enjoyed reading it even if the subject matter was less than pleasant.

Here is a description of the book:

In a somber survey leavened by sparse but inspiring accounts of heroism, author Joseph Cummins revisits some of the most dreadful and destructive acts of violence in history—from moments of sheer madness and merciless military offensives, such as that of the Spanish conquistadors in 1521 in what is now Mexico City, to clinically orchestrated campaigns of genocide, as took place in early twentieth-century Armenia, Nazi-occupied Eastern Europe, and 1970s Cambodia. Engaging, harrowing, and enlightening, his accounts convey the terror and trauma of these incidents while identifying the zealotry, prejudices, and animosities that fuelled them, and analyzing, in revealing fashion, their enduring and sometimes insidious influence on history. Handsomely illustrated with more than 100 striking, sometimes shocking, archival images gathered from around the world, The World’s Bloodiest History combines compelling depictions of momentous events with fascinating character portraits and arresting eyewitness accounts to create an absorbing, multifaceted chronicle of a sobering, all-too-human legacy.

The incidents recorded are easy to read. The historical background of each event are covered and are followed with accounts of the actual horrors. It also gives some opinion on how each event may have altered history. First hand testimony is also shared from survivors if such accounts are available. Some events are true genocides (such as the fate of Carthage and the Armenians in Turkey) while others are well known massacres (such as Calcutta in 1756 and Sharpeville, South Africa.)

The author (Joseph Cummins) has strong opinions. He clearly has big sympathies with the victims he is writing about. This is mostly good but it also appears to give him a strong anti-Mormon bias (in the chapter on the Mountain Meadows Massacre) and a strong anti-Catholic bias (in the chapter on the St. Bartholomew's Massacre). Some editing could have made these chapters less objectionable although I am sure some enjoy that tone. Despite the case that Cummins makes, I have trouble believing that either church is guilty today even if some followers and leaders in the past were responsible. What religion, ethnic group or nation is not responsible for some evil at some point in their history? Why make examples of these two churches?

Probably the most interesting chapter to me was the first which dealt with the Roman genocide of Carthage. Cummins gives a nice account of Roman-Carthage relations which ended in the destruction of Carthage in the Third Punic War. He also is willing to point out flaws in the society of Carthage such as the practice of infant sacrifice. My complaint is that there are not more ancient or even medieval history chapters. Could not the Huns, Mongols, or Mayans been included? History has accounts of questionable bloodletting from each of these for example. The tome is too heavily skewed towards the 20th Century.

If you are interested in this topic, buy this book. It is a worthy read despite some flaws which I have pointed out. I hope many libraries stock this book as well. This is an area that I wish many students learn about in hopes it may cut down on these events in the future.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Comment Spam for the Holidays

Ah, I love the holidays. I get to spend Christmas, New Years, and various free days off from the university with my family. It is relaxing and gives me time for writing and blogging too. And, I get to delete an excessive amount of comment spamfrom this blog.

I guess people with poor websites get desperate at holiday time. They worked hard on a site and then the realization hits them that no one is visiting their crappy domains. In addition, search engines like Google and Yahoo! seem broke because they are not delivering massive amounts of traffic which would allow the Web developer to become a millionaire working only in his underwear from his computer. So, these "entrepreneurs" begin to spam every site they can find to get links which they think will rocket them to the top of Google and allow the site creator to retire to the Bahamas.

And every holiday season, these web gurus start spamming the comment sections of blogs as part of their holiday resolutions for a better life. This includes them spamming this blog. I have deleted over forty of them since Sunday this week. (Hello Bathmate! I sure will visit and buy a pump from you soon.)

Here is why this will not work here even though I realize spammers will not read this:

1. All comments need approval. Any comment that has links in the name of the submitter or in the text to another site gets deleted. Spam comments never get published.

2. Blogger (on which this site is hosted) automatically inserts a do not follow tag to any link which appears in comments. So even if a spam link is approved, it still will generate zero credit in the search rankings for the seach engines. (I bet many spammers do not know even know what the do not follow tag means.)

3. For obnoxious spammers, I send a nice e-mail to informing Google of the behavior. I allow God (I mean Google) to make the final determination of any site that has to spam comments on blogs to be found by anyone. (Yes Bathmate, I was nice and told Google about you since you seem to want publicity.)

OK, my yearly anti-spam rant is over. See you next December.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Spanish History at Spain Then and Now

While browsing online, I found a nice site for Spanish history. It is Overview of Spanish History at Spain Then and Now. It is easy to read and had a surprising amount of depth for a site clearly designed to generate revenue from Google Adsense ads.

The site notes:

Spain has a fascinating and varied history. Although there are prehistoric remains found in Spanish caves dating back more than 1,000,000 years, for many people Spain’s story begins much later with magnificent cave and rock paintings from about 15,000 to 5,000 years ago. Still, we don’t know who these early “painters” were and the meaning of their works is conjectural. So much of these early years is a mystery, including some remarkable dolmens (burial chambers) erected about 2,000 years ago, and the fabled kingdom of Tartessus (approximately 600 BC). Even the two groups that figure most prominently as the early inhabitants of the Iberian Peninsula (present day Spain and Portugal), the Iberians and the Celts are something of a puzzle.

Here are a few example chapters from the site:

The Earliest Years

The Phoenicians in Spain

Granada to the 17th Century

The Political Scene: Spain in the 20th Century to Today

Mind you, the site is not perfect. Note this howler from the site, "The Romans controlled Spain for about 600 years, far longer than they did any other European country." Really? Like longer than Italy? Or how about the Eastern Roman Empire which lasted until the 15th Century and controlled Greece and the Balkans for much of that time? Did some of this material come from Wikipedia? Still, the site is a good overview and worth perusing.