Friday, January 5, 2018

quick morning thoughts on the value of studying history

Significant and seminal moments define our experiences in reference to the rest of our lives and our understandings thereof, but the only people who ever really "make history" are, well, historians.

This is not to say "I'm a historian and you are not, thus bow to the might of my cultivated knowledge and know your place." It's to say we should all become historians in some way, shape, or form in our own lives through an unremitting study of the past (even if it's only your personal past) amalgamated and perpetually processing into an interpretation useful to leveraging ourselves past the visible spectrum of what our accumulated experiences and conditioning have taught us is sane, sober, realistic, and safe and into a wider space of possibility where one can draw on lessons fed from the aggregate nexus of all recorded human experience in its grasped entirety (or, all remembered / recorded personal experience if history as a larger subject really isn't your thing).

It's the act of creating meaning through adding your particular (mis)understanding to the greater dance of emergent meaning across space and time. To actively deny oneself such self-analysis and constant evaluation is akin to dancing in the dark with no music. You don't have to dance with others around you, and you can still dance in the dark, but tune into the music to guide your movements at the very least.

In this sense, history is the music, and your interpretation thereof is the dance. Find all the creative ways to move within the tempo the song provides, because our only genuine guides in life are coherent interpretative models which balance our sensations of "I" with our sensations of "everything (and everyone) else." There is no end to this process of general and self-inquiry, because the point is to join the dance. However, as has already been analogically demonstrated, even if you are alone, you never really dance alone so long as you move and gyrate to the music of another.

Thus, the point is to dance, but to something other than the exclusive beat of your own drum.

(If anything, learn to beat your own drum in a band cus I've heard percussionists are hard to come by these days).

Sunday, December 31, 2017

The Strait of Georgia (prose poem)

The wind is a slack freeze billowing 
across the low structures of the ferry 
as it floats indelibly towards the coastal 
island landmass once known as Quadra 
and Vancouver's Island, now maintaining 
only the former prefix as if either dub of 
the landscape was a 'fix' at all. There is a 
Canadian flag tangling with itself in the cold, 
wound around a metal cable wire on the top sun 
deck reserved for smokers avoiding the crisp air 
for the formaldehyde devil they already know. 

Waves ripple through the fabric flag above and 
the fabric water below, both tossed by the same 
heavenly forces forever wafting throughout the 
globe as if all the steam ever boiled never truly 
left the biosphere nor converted back into liquid 
but instead became yet another one of many 
of our 
oh-so human 

yet another 
one of many 
left to ring in 
our ears til we 
cease as observers, 
thus ceasing to 

It is above as it is below” 
there is no difference between 
the observer and the observed.” 
Not my thoughts, nor I doubt 
anyone's thoughts 
in particular.

Snow dusts the caressed peaks, 
valleys, and crevices of the 
Pacific Coastal mountain range, 
each geological mound standing 
shoulder-to-shoulder looking 
across the withered liquid mounds 
in quicker motion atop the Georgia 
Strait below as if watching a child 
relative playing with new toys 
received on 
Christmas morning. 

I have no words 
adequate enough 
to express all this 

All I can do 
is help you 
read my mind 
and hope 
wordless words 
poetic telepathy.

The wind is still a slack freeze as I exit the ferry. 
There's no one here but all of us, 

Sunday, December 24, 2017

the everything set before the mind (stream-of-consciousness prose poem)

If only there was a way 
to explode into an aperture 
of terminal ecstasy, massing 
an army too small for invasion 
at the borders of a conflagration 
far larger than our individual bodies 
crafted of flesh, bone, and water. Sort 
of like oatmeal rising with the addition 
of a liquid, expanding to become the last 
thought you'd imagine you'd ever hear 
spoken aloud in a busy thoroughfare strip 
mall lost in the sprawl of cityscape snowed 
over in light sprinkles like icing sugar across 
the soft top part of our holiday muffin. 

location, location! 

Look at those palisades 
of rock, ice, and tree, 
evergreen (  maybe 

FOREVERgreen   )

Soak the fire! 
we're all about 
to spot a light 
at tunnel's

Flashlights off. 

Eyes closed. 

And with your 
eyes closed, close 
your eyes 

-  -  -

Thank u 
for the 


Tuesday, December 19, 2017

"my failures" (stream-of-consciousness prose poem)

I did nothing today as pertains 
academia. I AM  a mess of a 
man. a mess of a manly manly 
man. not that I need to be a manly 
manly man, but I would like to be 
at least moderately successful in my 
ventures (I have too many dreams to 
hold silent in a space as small as this 
skull of mine). Dance with me in this 
awfulness, like a she-wolf lone in the 
wilderness with nothing but a collar 
to tell it that it was once a dog. Tell me 
your wrongs and I'll tell you mine. 
Together, we'll make it 

Together, as I said, we will make it 

Lost in an unmapped maze, we are 
forced to draw our own from the 
narrow chinks in our particular 
caverns. Unique in amazement 
and pain. Unique in the colors 
our blood takes when converted 
to paint. Unique in the ways we 
slowly kill ourselves. Unique in 
the ways we slowly work to build 
life's very meaning from nothing 
but a blank canvas always declaring 
that "tomorrow never comes." 
But I think you understand 
as well as I do: 
this was the point all along.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

An Analysis of the Life, Legend, and Legacy of Cecil Rhodes

On the 11th of November 1965, the former colonial protectorate of Britain known as Rhodesia unilaterally declared independence from the United Kingdom.1 Ian Smith, the Prime Minister of this new and contested sovereign nation, was the first such leader of a former British possession to unilaterally declare independence from the empire since the American Declaration of Independence close to two centuries prior.2 Perhaps not so dissimilar as one may think, American and Rhodesian separatism were in large part pushed to imperial defection by a desire among certain circles of patrician elite to maintain, protect, and/or augment their existing privileges. Both can also be seen as party to perpetuating a cynically cavalier racial dominion over Africans and their kidnapped American progeny in the interests of white supremacy, though this is more often than not overlooked in the popular history of the American Revolution (needless to say this is not the case with the Civil War). There are very obvious historical reasons for this as unlike Rhodesia in 1965, the American defectors of the late 18th century were not troubled by the rather overwhelming problem of maintaining a form of minority rule over a massive and racially-disenfranchised majority on the very continent they had called home for millenia.3 Alongside this, colonialism as a concept and legitimate tool of statecraft was no longer in vogue even in the mother country of Britain itself; this, in fact, was one of the primary reasons Ian Smith felt compelled to sign the Unilateral Declaration of Independence in order to veer away from Britain's post-colonial framework for establishing genuine majority rule in the country.4 Wishing to preserve white minority rule as the Republic of South Africa was doing through the policy of apartheid, Smith and his rebel cabal represented the last hopes to maintain this vision, one on par with and undoubtedly deeply influenced by Cecil Rhodes, the man for whom the region of Rhodesia was named. It gained this namesake during the apex of British imperialism under Queen Victoria in 1895,5 and part and parcel to this imperial pride and fervour for wider domination, Rhodes wrote the following very telling words in his final will and testament of 1902: “The world is nearly all parcelled out, and what there is left of it is being divided up, conquered and colonised. To think of these stars that you see overhead at night, these vast worlds which we can never reach. I would annex the planets if I could; I often think of that. It makes me sad to see them so clear and yet so far.”6 So who exactly was Cecil Rhodes and how much power and influence did he truly wield during his time in southern Africa? As well, what cursory effects did his legacy have throughout the period following his death and into the present era, and what can his story tell us about life in the Victorian age?

It would be impossible to claim Rhodes' ambitions as the exclusive or overpowering force behind the British colonial project on the southern half of the continent. As with all historical leviathans, his legend obfuscates much of the details of what he intended to accomplish as well as the key role his multifarious influences played in shaping his worldview and intentions. His myth is a great plume of smoke, and where there is smoke, there is fire. Although the smoke of his popular myth is an important subject which will be broached later in this writing, the discipline of historical analyses demands we investigate the fire and trace an accurately compelling sketch of all that from which Cecil Rhodes emerged to become such a controversial force to be reckoned with. One of his favourite books which he carried with him practically everywhere he went was the “Meditations” of the ancient Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius. Throughout his copy of the book, Rhodes avidly emphasized the passages most affecting to him through ubiquitous circling and underlining in such a way as to communicate the earnest intensity of his revelations. He called “Meditations” his “guide in life” and his “most precious possession.”7 Through an analysis of the 101 passages Rhodes particularly emphasized (and provided by Rotberg8) the gist of the relevant themes can be broadly grouped into four categories:
1: Death can come at any moment, thus one should live as if it were imminent;
2: Intellect and reason take precedence over emotions;
3: “Just acts are their own reward”; in other words, do what is seriously meaningful, and avoid engagement in all that is deemed frivolous;
4: Success in one's life and ventures is largely contingent on working well with others, staying open to compromise, cultivating and maintaining the ability to listen, and not being so prideful so as to become closed to changing one's mind.9
From this analytical distillation, we can see that Rhodes was driven largely by a humanistic set of values emanating from the Renaissance and its trend towards the venerated study of ancient authors. By and large, it is likely that Rhodes already had a sense of all he learned from Aurelius, but found a certain confirmation of his ambitious intentions better articulated in the words of another. However, “Meditations” was not the only work of literature Rhodes found himself enamoured with at the time. Written by William Winwood Reade and published in 1872, “The Martyrdom of Man” was a highly controversial secular work of 'universal' history which broadly supported political liberalism alongside a particular vision of social Darwinism.10 The section most contested by critics was one which attacked Christian dogmas at length, and it lead many to misinterpret Reade as an atheist when he had, in fact, believed in some sort of Creator, just not in the set image decided upon by the established religions of his day.11 In this sense, he viewed the Christianity of his time as committing conceptual idolatry, thus facilitating a general ignorance resulting in dangerous worldly consequences as all operated on the basis of a collective illusion within which ultimate 'truth' was thought to reside. Rhodes, though a more traditional Christian than Winwood Reade, was deeply influenced by Reade's book. It seemed to confirm much of his intuitions regarding organized religion, acknowledging that God does indeed exist, but that he is not interested in humans as individuals, nor did he create man in his image.12 By 1889, as he reached the apex of his power, Rhodes, according to his good friend and key guarantor of his will William Stead, “neatly reconciles the two opposing tectonic movements of the Victorian age, science and religion, by concluding that God was supervising the perfection of the species by a process of natural selection ... and [that] the struggle for existence [was] recognised as the favourite instruments of the Divine Ruler.'”13 From this base of humanistic imperial thought stems the paternalistic racism which Rhodes came to embody for many during his lifetime and long past his death.

It was the overtures of yet another author contemporary to his time that many historians mark as the key and timely inspiration to Cecil's ambitions to expand the British Empire. In a lecture at Oxford University which is now part of school's lore, famous literary critic John Ruskin implored his audience that “[t]here is a destiny now possible to us … We are still undegenerate in race; a race mingled of the best northern blood … We are not yet dissolute in temper … Will you youth of England make your country again a royal throne of kings? … This is what England must do or perish, she must found colonies as far and as fast as she is able.”14 Many previous tellings of Rhodes' life portray him as present at the lecture itself, though this has been proven to be untrue through later investigation. Instead, it seems he purchased or otherwise obtained a transcript published by the Clarendon Press not long following Ruskin's 1870 address.15 The influence this lecture exerted on Rhodes, however, is uncontested. This is evidenced in his own words when he writes that Ruskin's “lectures made a great impression on one [and] [o]ne of them which set out the privileges and opportunities of the young men in the Empire made a forceful entry into my mind.”16 It once again reinforced his grand ambitions and explicitly imbued them with a sense of innate racial superiority alongside an ethereal urgency to 'correct' the course of humanity as a whole under British tutelage. This struggle for global hegemonic survival, a macrocosm of the preferred 'instruments' of the Divine Ruler as Cecil believed, seemed to precipitate a zero-sum view of politics and the proverbial “Other” through the normalized magnifier of late Victorian melodrama.

This melodrama was, for all intents and purposes, the closest thing to the language of scientific objectivity accepted in public discourse at the time. The 'discipline' of history as we once understood it was a melodramatic focus on an event in light of Victorian morality and/or one actor's inflated heroics or villainy, qualifying it more as a way for British imperialism at the time to spawn and cultivate a mythology capable of perpetuating a dominantly coherent image and 'sensation' of the empire's powerful grandeur.17 Neil Hultgren, in his book “Melodramatic Imperial Writing: From the Sepoy Rebellion to Cecil Rhodes,” writes that ‘‘[t]hrough its vividness and ability to reimagine complexities via readily accessible binaries and concepts, melodrama made the British Empire appear unified and comprehensible. It was one of the central fictions through which another fiction—that of the British Empire—might be understood.’’18 This last sentence of Hultgren's quote (with italic emphasis added by the author of this paper) points to the importance of melodrama as one of the key socially constructive pillars which permitted the Union Jack to continue billowing listlessly in the wind across the disparate width and breadth of the globe. To perpetuate itself across a series of held territories and dominions whose aggregate non-British population was beyond any doubt the very vast majority, the empire had to make itself seem larger and more powerful than it actually was, a purpose which this melodrama more than sufficiently served during its time. Cecil Rhodes was no exception to this trend as he earnestly bought into this spirit of the day through his wild ambitions and penchant to glorify his own achievements, even if at times this was only in the framework of the 'selfless martyrdom' of his efforts on behalf of the British imperial project. In short, Rhodes had a tendency—instrumental in his role as the 'Colossus of Africa' and not unusual for his time—to self-mythologize. As his notoriety spread for better and for worse, this process of self-mythologizing would likely have become a recurring feedback loop as the melodramatic Victorian press breathlessly disseminated reports of his glorious achievements, reinforcing Rhodes own self-sense as someone who was now larger than life, perhaps even a 'prophet' of a secular religion of sorts coalescing around the colloquial church of British imperial dogmas. Perhaps one of the best ways to demonstrate Cecil's imperial melodrama is to point the reader back to his quote provided on page two at the end of the introductory paragraph, the last half in which he declares that “[t]o think of these stars that you see overhead at night, these vast worlds which we can never reach. I would annex the planets if I could; I often think of that. It makes me sad to see them so clear and yet so far.”19 This statement was something that even many in the 19th century would have found pejoratively melodramatic, though as the legend of Cecil Rhodes continued to wildly inflate, the perceived preposterousness of this and his other similar statements by-and-large diminished as he was informally 'canonized' as a gloriously heroic example of British imperial virtue in the same league as characters like King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. However, Rhodes is unique in the longevity his mythologized idolatry has enjoyed, even up to and including the present day. Though its origins undoubtedly reside in the British imperialism of the late Victorian era, this longevity can largely be attributed to the fact that Rhodes was also the founder of the modern diamond industry.

Rhodes, after outmaneuvering market rivals in the area of Kimberley (situated in what is now the north-central region of the Republic of South Africa) in the midst of a diamond rush in the 1870s-80s, established DeBeers Consolidated Mines in 1888.20 In the decades immediately following Rhodes' death, DeBeers would go on to socially construct the modern cultural preference for diamond rings as the new orthodox necessity to be presented when proposing marriage.21 Remarkably, it was a way of controlling not only the supply side of the industry, but also its demand through manufacturing the perception that the combination of diamonds and marriage was a cultural necessity, and as such one could no longer adequately claim to have the latter without sacrificing to gift the former.22 Even the pithy maxim asserting “A Diamond Is Forever” originated from an assertive DeBeers public relations campaign in the late 1940s,23 though an investigation and assessment of Rhodes' company in the decades and century following his passing is a topic in itself best left to detailed treatment elsewhere as it is beyond the scope of this essay. Regardless, such a cursory look at this aspect of his immense legacy does indeed demonstrate his historical relevance as it pertains to understanding the global market and cultural context of the present day. As well, through all that has been said of Cecil Rhodes thus far there has been, save for the introductory paragraph, the conspicuous absence of any meaningful investigation and analysis of his Anglophilic white supremacy. This topic will be addressed in the following and final paragraph which will also double as the paper's conclusion, bringing us back full circle to the 1960s, the decade which saw the beginning of the end for the country bearing his namesake.

In the same final will and testament of 1902 in which he declared his melodramatic desire to 'annex the planets,' Rhodes also wrote that “I contend that we [the English] are the first race in the world, and that the more of the world we inhabit the better it is for the human race.”24 Buying wholesale into the racialization of empire—in part a result of the force his personal interpretation of Winwood Reade's social Darwinism had on him via “The Martyrdom of Man”—Rhodes began to speak of the native African population as a rightly disenfranchised subject peoples. In an 1887 address to the House of Assembly in Cape Town, Rhodes explicitly stated that “[t]he native is to be treated as a child and denied the franchise. We must adopt a system of despotism in our relations with the barbarians of South Africa.”25 Under his auspices, the taking of land from native Africans using armed force became acceptably routine.26 The prestigious Rhodes Scholarship, established through funds authorized by his estate following his death, does curiously stipulate that no one can be denied a scholarship on the basis of race, ethnicity, or religion.27 Educational historian Marybeth Gasman asserts this was likely not in reference to the native black population, but rather the white Boers, with whom British settlers and their progeny had shared a long and mutually adversarial distrust. Eventually, however, even the Rhodes Scholarship went the way of Rhodesia and had to capitulate to the demography of the native majority. However, though it went the way of Rhodesia, it did not go away as Rhodesia did in 1980 when Robert Mugabe won power and re-branded the country as Zimbabwe. Instead, as time went on and policies of apartheid were repealed or overthrown across the southern half of the continent, the Rhodes Scholarship simply cancelled the criteria which had previously barred both women and black Africans from eligibility.28 Its imperial origins are still controversial among many, though just as Cecil Rhodes himself was a product of his time (eg.: a product of Victorian melodrama as his cultural modus operandi), so too was the Rhodes Scholarship. As history has sped forward, its context has evolved to become displaced and more just than it was at inception, just as we have all evolved to understand that what Cecil saw in the “Other” as embodied in the native Africans was, perhaps, less an accurate appraisal of another than it was a reflection of himself: an intensely driven megalomaniac who could—and does, in many contemporary African eyes—likewise qualify as a barbarian in his own terrible right, a self-confessed despot who could not be trusted to rule equitably.


Aurelius, Marcus. Meditations. New York: E.P. Dutton & Co., 1906.
Bivona, Daniel. "Review: Melodramatic Imperial Writing: From The Sepoy Rebellion To Cecil Rhodes By Neil Hultgren". Nineteenth-Century Literature 70, no. 3 (2015): 405-409. doi:10.1525/ncl.2015.70.3.405.
Fleming, John V. "Winwood Reade And The Martyrdom Of Man". The Princeton Independent, 2003.
Friedman, Uri. "We Buy Engagement Rings Because A Diamond Company Wanted Us To". The Atlantic, February 13th, 2015.
Gasman, Marybeth. "Philip Ziegler. Legacy: Cecil Rhodes, The Rhodes Trust And Rhodes Scholarships.". History Of Education Quarterly 50, no. 02 (2010): 261-262. doi:10.1111/j.1748-5959.2010.00271.x.
Gebrial, Dalia. "We Don't Want To Erase Cecil Rhodes From History. We Want Everyone To Know His Crimes". The Telegraph, December 22nd, 2015.
Nyerere, Julius K. "Rhodesia In The Context Of Southern Africa". Foreign Affairs 44, no. 3 (1966): 373. doi:10.2307/20039174.
Reade, William W. The Martyrdom Of Man. 18th ed. New York: The Truth Seeker Co., 1910.
Rhodes, Cecil, and W. T Stead. The Last Will And Testament Of Cecil John Rhodes. London: "Review of Reviews" Office, 1902.
Riches, Christopher, and Jan Palmowski. "Zimbabwe". A Dictionary Of Contemporary World History. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016.
Rotberg, Robert I. "Did Cecil Rhodes Really Try To Control The World?". The Journal Of Imperial And Commonwealth History 42, no. 3 (2014): 551-567. doi:10.1080/03086534.2014.934000.
Walker, George. "‘So Much To Do’: Oxford And The Wills Of Cecil Rhodes". The Journal Of Imperial And Commonwealth History 44, no. 4 (2016): 697-716. doi:10.1080/03086534.2016.1211295.
"Who Can Apply?" Rhodes House: Home Of The Rhodes Scholarships, 2017.

1Julius K. Nyerere, "Rhodesia In The Context Of Southern Africa", Foreign Affairs 44, no. 3 (1966): 373, doi:10.2307/20039174.
5Christopher Riches and Jan Palmowski, "Zimbabwe", A Dictionary Of Contemporary World History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016).
6Cecil Rhodes and W. T Stead, The Last Will And Testament Of Cecil John Rhodes (London: "Review of Reviews" Office, 1902).
7George Walker, "‘So Much To Do’: Oxford And The Wills Of Cecil Rhodes", The Journal Of Imperial And Commonwealth History 44, no. 4 (2016): 697-716, doi:10.1080/03086534.2016.1211295, 708.
10William W. Reade, The Martyrdom Of Man, 18th ed. (New York: The Truth Seeker Co., 1910), vii.
11John V. Fleming, "Winwood Reade And The Martyrdom Of Man", The Princeton Independent, 2003.
12George Walker, "‘So Much To Do’: Oxford And The Wills Of Cecil Rhodes", The Journal Of Imperial And Commonwealth History 44, no. 4 (2016): 697-716, doi:10.1080/03086534.2016.1211295, 707.
13Ibid, 706.
14Ibid, 705.
17D. Bivona, "Review: Melodramatic Imperial Writing: From The Sepoy Rebellion To Cecil Rhodes By Neil Hultgren", Nineteenth-Century Literature 70, no. 3 (2015): 405-409, doi:10.1525/ncl.2015.70.3.405, p. 406.
18Ibid (italic emphasis in Hultgren quote added by the author of this paper).
19Cecil Rhodes and W. T Stead, The Last Will And Testament Of Cecil John Rhodes (London: "Review of Reviews" Office, 1902).
20Marybeth Gasman, "Philip Ziegler. Legacy: Cecil Rhodes, The Rhodes Trust And Rhodes Scholarships.", History Of Education Quarterly 50, no. 02 (2010): 261-262, doi:10.1111/j.1748-5959.2010.00271.x, p. 261.
21Uri Friedman, "We Buy Engagement Rings Because A Diamond Company Wanted Us To", The Atlantic, February 13th, 2015,
24Cecil Rhodes and W. T Stead, The Last Will And Testament Of Cecil John Rhodes (London: "Review of Reviews" Office, 1902).
25Dalia Gebrial, "We Don't Want To Erase Cecil Rhodes From History. We Want Everyone To Know His Crimes", The Telegraph, December 22nd, 2015,
27Marybeth Gasman, "Philip Ziegler. Legacy: Cecil Rhodes, The Rhodes Trust And Rhodes Scholarships.", History Of Education Quarterly 50, no. 02 (2010): 261-262, doi:10.1111/j.1748-5959.2010.00271.x, p. 262.

28"Who Can Apply?", Rhodes House: Home Of The Rhodes Scholarships, 2017,   

Thursday, November 16, 2017

A Conceptual History of European Unity & What It Suggests for the Geopolitical Future of the Continent (Grand Narrative Essay)


The prolific 17th century European polyglot, philosopher, and mathematician Gottfried Leibniz once said that "ambition is not less effective than love" in achieving political ends beneficial to all (Roldan 2011). In particular, what he meant by this was that were a sovereign to decide to invest himself in the project of uniting the European continent, it would matter not whether this sovereign did it with the altruistic objective of establishing “perpetual peace,” or if he pushed such advocacy on the self-interested premise of causing the collapse of the House of Hapsburg for his own relative gain. So long as the effort worked to the ultimate political and material benefit of the vast majority, it was something to be supported in good conscience regardless of the hegemonic agency's ulterior motives. Leibniz's point was greater than that, though; he was attempting to illustrate through example a position of political realism in his critique of a popular treatise advocating 'perpetual peace' in Europe. Written in 1713 by Charles-Irénée Castel, better known simply by his religious title of the abbé de Saint-Pierre, the treatise advocated for the formation of a confederal union not only of Europe, but ultimately the entire world in idealistic eventuality (Roldan 2011). Leibniz, though he deeply admired Castel's work in its attempt and good intentions, asserted that the monk had not solved the perennial issue of how to make monarchs “want perpetual peace,” even if he believed that were such a hypothetical objective achieved, said perpetual peace was conceivably possible. The problem was not logistics or a lack of aggregate human ability to stop war, but the vicissitudes of human nature itself; and though we now live in an era where a form of European political unity has been achieved (whether meaningfully or nominally is a matter of strong debate), these very same critical observations ring just as true in form as they did at their time of conception three centuries ago. This essay will briefly summarize, investigate, and analyze the history of the concept of European unity and will present the ways in which such an investigation can give us a deeper understanding of the issues facing the contemporary European Union by posing and answering—to the greatest extent possible—what could be described as either one question in two parts, or two questions in one. First: what was the proposed anatomy of—and the ultimate cause of failure for—attempts at European unity proposed prior to the 20th century? And two: based on the demonstrable presupposition that such unifying projects were conceived of and organized in opposition to a larger perceived external threat and lacking such a similar cohesive opposition narrative as the Soviet Cold War threat with which the modern European project legitimized much of its supranational-integrationist character, what kind of future can be reasonably expected for the EU based on the patterns observed in a broader evaluation of the history of such a union in both concept and attempt? As well, all of this will be contextualized within the complexity of our present era, a direct result of the fracturing of these internal and external unifying grand narrative structures and contrasts across the world as a result of globalization and asymmetrical warfare with hostile non-state actors such as ISIS and al Qaeda.

'European Unity' Then and Now:
As of November 2017, the time of this writing, it seems clear to both political observers and scholars of political science that the primary source of dissonance in the Union exists in a clash between localized identities and cosmopolitan neoliberal capitalism (Pan 2016). The Brexit referendum of June 2016 is a clear demonstration of this as one of the greatest points of domestic controversy in the United Kingdom at the time was the prolific hiring of workers from Central and Eastern Europe for menial employment at low wages throughout the country. This was a result of an essential component of the EU Single Market facilitating the free movement of labor and capital throughout the Eurozone. The fact that such a concern for lost jobs focused on the continued presence of other Europeans simultaneous to the destabilizing influx of refugees and migrants from the war-zones of Libya, Iraq, and Syria speaks volumes on the resurfacing showdown between compartmentalized nationalism(s) and European integrationism throughout the continent. In one respect, it seems logical that long and strongly established nationalist sentiments would maintain a problematic magnetism as compared to the attempts to cultivate a larger, though ethereal, form of European collective identity. On another level, however, there indeed has been a potent sense of shifting common European identity for just over half a millennia which, up to and including the inauguration of the European Union itself with the signing of the Treaty of Rome in 1952, has found greater stimulus and dissemination with the publication of formal and informal proposals for a European political union, sometimes in the form of a massive continental superstate, and other times through the looser intergovernmental framework of institutions established to facilitate perpetual multilateral dialogue and coordination. Such proposed multilateralism was an anomalous novelty until it saw practice through meaningful implementation in the 20th century amidst the aftermath of the immense industrial slaughters and destruction of World War's One and Two. However, collective identities are not forged with any meaningful longevity merely from proposition or disseminated discourse and debate alone, but from the composition, mythologies and institutional arrangements of concrete political entities such as states, confederations, and empires. In this respect, the echo of European unity was established in territorial precedent during the zenith years of the Roman Empire, though at this time there was no such concept—and thus no such thing—as “Europe” as we would understand it today. The story of the contemporary concept of Europe as we know it begins with the Christian religiously-centred geographical abstraction of Christianitas, which gained popular use for the first time in Late Antiquity with the ever-growing number of devotees to the new faith who scattered themselves across the Roman Empire—first, to flee persecution from Roman authorities, and not long after to evangelize so-called 'pagans' (Pasture 2015). This concept of Christianitas soon became supplanted by the near-equivalent and more ubiquitously recognizable term Christendom as the years of Late Antiquity faded into what would come to be known as the early medieval period (Pasture 2015). It is here that our survey investigation and analysis begins.

A Brief History of 'Europe' in Concept and Etymology:
Although the ancient Greeks coined the term “Europa” long prior even to the establishment of early Rome, it was not an abstraction of geography, but rather the name of one of their Phoenician deities. A princess god who, aside from a shared terminological etymology with “Europe,” had no relation to or influence on the future concept or its associated cultural and political practices (Pasture 2015). During their time, the Greeks actually feared and despised the greater European landmass and its inhabitants, preferring instead to cultivate a set of tentative connections in and knowledge of the civilizations to the east of their island-dotted peninsula. Historical records indicate that the term “Europe” was first used in reference to the continent (or segments of it) by Pope Gregory I in the 6th century not, as one may assume, in self-reference, but rather in reference to invading tribes from the northern Germanic territories. The term is then first used in external reference by those who we would traditionally consider culturally 'non-European' in the middle of the 8th century as evidenced from the work of an otherwise unknown Mozarab chronicler living in Umayyad Spain (Pasture 2015). In his writings, he identified Christian forces under the command of the Frankish King Charles Martel as “European,” thus implying that the Umayyad's were not. This demonstrates both the cultural centrality and the geographic ambiguity of Europe in concept throughout this and subsequent centuries, up to and including the present European Union. It is also a potent example of how external threats played a central role in the process of forming a European identity via contrast, regardless of whether such terminology was utilized by those external or internal to its amorphous and constantly shifting purview of definition. However, to provide a full synopsis of Europe as a basic cultural and geographical concept is beyond the scope of this paper. Having examined the relative linguistic and etymological origins of such, we will now turn to investigate the origins and first recorded instances of proposals for a political union of Europe (eg: Christendom), starting with the Hussite George of Poděbrady who was King of Bohemia in the 15th century from the year of his coronation in 1458 until his death in 1471.

The Project for Perpetual Peace:
George of Poděbrady, as sovereign of Bohemia, penned a formal diplomatic document known in English as the “Treaty on the Establishment of Peace throughout Christendom” sometime during or just prior to the year 1464 (Šimůnek 2010). Predicated on the aforementioned religious-territorial idea of Christendom, which at the time would have consisted geographically of roughly most of Europe west of the modern Russian Federation (with some notable exceptions), the Treaty sought to establish a permanent political union of equal but independent Christian/European states, both terms being at this time fluidly interchangeable (Šimůnek 2010, Pasture 2015). It differed quite radically from the conventional instruments of medieval diplomacy in that its proposal took the obtuse form of a multilateral agreement at a time when bilateral arrangements between realms were largely—if not entirely—the exclusive norm and practice. It is in respect to this attempted multilateralism that historians as well as political scholars of modern Europe assert King George's Treaty proposal to be the first clear precedent to the contemporary European Union in 'deep' history.1 George was also a part of the pre-Protestant Christian reformers known as the Hussite's and was thus considered a heretic by the Holy See in Rome. His strategic calculus in penning his proposal for a Christian union was in part influenced by his desire to offset the overwhelming coercive power of the Catholic Church (Šimůnek 2010) and can thus additionally be seen as an antecedent component to the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century. Although serious formal discussions to realize this vision of political unity did indeed take place between 1462 and 1464, these efforts stalled and ultimately fell apart entirely as vitriolic accusations of heresy were flung back and forth and wars of words often escalated into physical military confrontations between states and sectarian actors (Šimůnek 2010). King George of Poděbrady died in 1471 having failed in his efforts to bring together the realms of Christendom in a political union on the justification of uniting against the Turkish threat to the east (Šimůnek 2010). Although a single sovereign had at least nominally taken up the cause of a relative form of 'perpetual peace,' the seminal impediment observed by Leibniz as to how to make monarchs “want perpetual peace” on a scale significant enough to truly manifest meaningful or even somewhat tangible results had not been overcome. Regardless, an important historical precedent had now been set which would be largely overlooked for centuries as new proposals for European unity began to appear independently of the example set by King George. One such proposal was the treatise mentioned in the introduction to this paper written by Charles-Irénée Castel, the abbé de Saint-Pierre, in 1713. Titled the “Projet pour rendre la paix perpétuelle en Europe” (which literally translates as the “Project to make peace perpetual in Europe”), Castel's treatise was inspired by and based on an even earlier proposal made by William Penn, the notorious English Quaker and colonial founder of the modern day American state of Pennsylvania, in 1693. Penn wrote that to secure peace and justice, the powers of Europe had to organize an international meeting place at which a European Parliament, assembly of Estates, or Imperial Diet could congregate on a constantly ongoing multilateral basis to coordinate certain matters of policy as well as arbitrate disputes between members of equal standing (Pasture 2015). In his proposal for a European Parliament, Penn even went so far as to elaborate on the the amount of seats any particular member state should reasonably hold, basing his numbers on population and existing geopolitical power differentials. The exact details utilized to illustrate his argument were only hypothetical in his writing seeing as there is no historical evidence to suggest he was privy to official information on European demography. In substance, his proposed European Parliament was not only much before its time, it was also so uncannily similar to the mandate and structure of the modern European Parliament of the 21st century as to seem almost accidentally prophetic. His proposal was also unprecedented in its injunction to enrol the non-Christian powers of the Muscovites and Turks into this supranational union as fully equal partners, thus uniquely marking the phenomenon of war itself as the primary external threat against which all should congregate in solidarity to defeat or, at the very least, restrain (Pasture 2015). In a continent still physically at war with itself over matters of religious conscience, however, Penn's was an extremely outlandish proposal. Though it was studied sincerely by scholars of subsequent decades and extracted of its most seminal insights, the broadness of his vision was not something that would convince a critical mass of already bickering and prejudicial sovereigns to take up the project of perpetual peace as it was based not on any sense of political realism, but instead on an extreme idealism. In other words, it was based on love and did not appeal to any executive ambition with which it could have perhaps garnered some relative leverage in the political discourse taking place within the corridors of power. Castel's work essentially repeated this naive faux pas as he, like Penn, was working not from a place of political sobriety, but religiously-inspired idealism. In both cases, the intentions were laudable, but Leibniz's central point still stood. In the century and a half following the publication of Castel's work, two of history's great philosophical powerhouses, Immanuel Kant and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, would also articulately insert themselves into the debate and subsequent discourse on this “Project for Perpetual Peace.” Having elaborated in detail on the primary precedents under inspection in this writing, however, we will unfortunately be largely overlooking the contributions of these two men as limitations on length restrict them both to beyond the scope of this paper. Having established the key precedents to the modern project of European unity, we will now briefly touch upon the events of the mid-20th century directly leading into the 1952 signing of the Treaty of Rome before concluding with a predictive analysis as to what all of the above can tell us about the geopolitical future of the continent as we edge closer to the dawn of the 2020's.

      Churchill, the United States of Europe,
and a Closing Word on Europe's Today and Tomorrow:
Winston Churchill, known best for his tenure as British Prime Minister during the chaotic period of the Second World War, had in years prior already been exposed to the cause of politically uniting Europe through the public relations campaigns and explicit overtures of such prominent organizations as the International Paneuropean Union created and lead by the famous Austrian-Japanese philosopher and politician Count Richard von Coudenhove-Kalergi (Packwood 2016). In fact, Churchill had been pondering European unity in some form or another since as early as 1904, as evidenced in papers on the topic which were in his possession at the time. His advocacy for a proverbial 'United States of Europe' began officially, however, on February 15th, 1930 with the publication of an eponymously titled article in the Saturday Evening Post where he described the overwhelming need to preserve what he identified as 'the best of European civilization' by abolishing “the tangled growth and network of tariff barriers designed to restrict trade and production to particular areas,” thus consequently returning to “the old foundations of Europe” in which unity was contiguously imposed and maintained by such venerated authorities as the Roman Empire, the Holy Roman Empire, the “catholicity” of European Christendom, and Napoleon Bonaparte (Packwood 2016). Finally, it seemed like there was a chance of convincing a critical mass of sovereigns (or, rather, the political equivalents of their time) to endorse a concrete form of continental political unity. The destruction of (particularly western) Europe as a result of World War Two prompted a radical intervention from the United States in the form of the Marshall Plan (Pasture 2015). Its mandate was to bankroll as well as provide physical assistance in the reconstruction of the continent, but it came with a catch. In return for this unprecedented international assistance, Europe had to agree to re-organize itself along the lines of a bonafide United States of Europe. Though part of this was motivated by an altruistic will to assist devastated allies and alleviate the suffering of fellow human beings, another motivation—just as important—was to guarantee against the threat of further Soviet communist expansion, whether in the form of directly annexed territory or the exertion of indirect geopolitical influence. Churchill's official position on the matter notably changed following the agreement to and implementation of the Marshall Plan. Once a great supporter of the United Kingdom being “with Europe” but “not of it,” he suddenly came out in relative support of Britain's incorporation into this united European polity (Packwood 2016). Thus, through the force of collective economic compromise in the wake of the most devastating war in human history, the new unipolar American global superpower bargained a critical mass of these colloquial European sovereigns into finally endorsing political union. Leibniz's objection to the abbé de Saint-Pierre had finally been overcome by the force of history and the quirks of an ascendant world order, the likes of which the world had never known before. However, history is the story of precedents which are set and later used to guide future efforts, but too often we are dragged into new situations and world order's that have no precedent or existing playbook and which we must awkwardly stumble through blindly in order to truly receive their lessons for posterity. The 21st century is one such era, and at this point, we can only hope we as a race will make it through this catastrophic bottleneck to pass on what we have learned to future generations through the precedents we have—and have yet—to set. The grand unifying narratives of old have, for the most part, faded entirely or fragmented into the compartmentalized echo-chambers of partisan identity politics. For once, there is no clear enemy or conventional threat with defined borders and a standing army with which to identify collectively in opposition against. The new 'enemies' are jihadist sleeper-cells and lone wolves who legally pass as civilians until their deed is clearly already in process and it is too late to prevent their assault, as well as the shadowy 'political elite' in Brussels and the many cabals of elected representatives throughout the member states of the European Union who seem to be 'collaborating' with them; a worldview demonstrably acted upon in the slim victory of the 'Leave' campaign in the UK's Brexit referendum. The state is no longer a standard basis of identity, but an obtuse vessel in a world order defined primarily by relational asymmetry between individuals, groups, organizations, and, yes, even nations themselves on a nearly-unrestricted scale spanning the length and width of the entire globe. Previous attempts at and proposals for European unity throughout history failed because everyone knew far too well who they were and who they were not; hence a Catholic knew without a doubt that living in peace with a Lutheran was unthinkable as it was a matter of religious conscience and risked one losing access to eternal life in the Heavenly Kingdom. The current enterprise at European unity, if it does not collapse entirely under the weight of old ghosts and bad habits that refuse to die, will remain in at least relative precariousness—embroiled in political spats and potentially even outright geopolitical upheaval—until the end of humanity, and thus the end of large groups with which a spectrum of conflicting viewpoints much be reconciled with and compromised between. Old habits truly do die hard, as evidenced in our desire for that Biblical Shining City on a Hill, or for our desire to see an end to conflict in and of itself when conflict is an inevitable fact of life insofar as we have ever known or observed it. In conclusion, although length restricted him from incorporation through meaningful analysis in this paper, it seems that the words of Jean-Jacques Rousseau from his “A Lasting Peace through the Federation of Europe” are just as true now as they were in 1782:

The present balance of Europe is just firm enough to remain in perpetual oscillation without losing itself altogether; and, if our troubles cannot increase, still less can we put an end to them, seeing that any sweeping revolution is henceforth an impossibility” (Rousseau 1782).

1'Deep history' here meaning that it is beyond the usual purview of European Union history as investigated and reviewed within the limited confines of the 20th/21st centuries and their many seminal moments. Essentially, it is the investigation of precedents to European unity prior to 1900 CE, whereas anything after this threshold would be considered 'recent' history for the sake of this paper.       



Kant, Immanuel. (1795). Towards Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch. Ebook. John Bennett.

Packwood, A. (2016). Churchill and the United States of Europe, 1904-1948. Comillas Journal of International Relations, 7(1).

Pan, David. (2016). "European Union and Holy Roman Empire". Telos 2016 (176): 202-208. Telos Press. Doi:10.3817/0916176202.

Pasture, Patrick. (2015). Imagining European unity since 1000 AD. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, pp.11-31.

Roldan, C. (2011). Perpetual Peace, Federalism and the Republic of the Spirits: Leibniz Between Saint-Pierre and Kant. Studia Leibnitiana, 43(1).

Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. (1782). A Lasting Peace Through The Federation Of Europe. Ebook. Zurich: International Relations and Security Network, p.5.

Šimůnek, Robert. (2010). "George of Poděbrady (Jiří z Poděbrad)". Oxford Reference.

van den Dungen, P. (2014). The Plans for European Peace by Quaker Authors William Penn (1693) and John Bellers (1710). Araucaria, (32), pp.69-92.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

thoughts on "response-ability"

Often lately I've been contemplating “responsibility,” both as a concept and a word. To say we have a responsibility means, as is quite literally enumerated in the word itself, your ability to respond; eg. your “response-ability.” It's not so much an abstract construct as it is a general disposition contingent on your capacity to notice events, people, and objects around you and thus 'compute' your responses to such based on your available repertoire of abilities. At its most basic form, it's nothing more than how you respond to life and all events, people, and objects in it. In its higher form, it's also what initiatives one's intention to respond may generate and thus entail.

Ultimately, both basic and higher form response-ability are unavoidable. To attempt to abdicate either is simply to stand in petrified denial of life itself. The beautiful thing, however, is that there is no concrete road-map or template with which to assuage existential angst or command yourself with unwavering certainty as to what a 'correct' response would be or might look like. Some of the more philosophically traumatized writers of the past century have presented this as a terrifying state of affairs in the absence of the illusory certainty previously provided by Judaeo-Christianity, often topping off a similar diatribe about the ambiguity inherent in one's choosing how to respond in any given circumstance with, “and now man is utterly alone in the universe, condemned to act and react to life in its totality on the fragmentary and thus flawed moral and ethical merits devised and implemented by himself, and himself alone.”

This is one of many 19th and 20th century philosophical examples (paraphrased and reduced from the writings of many nihilists, existentialists, post-structuralists, etc.) of the psychic overcompensation for the loss of God in the general cultural metanarrative(s) of our day. This was expected even by Nietzsche, the man who himself declared God dead when he wrote: “After Buddha was dead, his shadow was still shown for centuries in a cave - a tremendous, gruesome shadow. God is dead; but given the way of men, there may still be caves for thousands of years in which his shadow will be shown. And we still have to vanquish his shadow, too.” In the absence of God, our metanarratives became, at best, emptier, more confusing, seemingly illegible—while at worst, they morphed into vacuous black-holes that sucked away all that was previously thought so sacred and meaningful in our lives.

Either way, the important point is that a collective psychological wound was inflicted upon us, and as all organisms do when wounded, we recoiled in pain. But since it was a collective reflex recorded in detail for posterity through the work of many brilliant thinkers, many of us became as immersed in and as convinced of these new insights like they were eternal religious truths, something to fill the gaping hole of meaning left by God, even if this 'meaning' described its central meaningful insight as 'meaninglessness.' Some philosophers and their readers thus found the certainty they had lost in their new doctrinal uncertainty. In other words, they were no longer simply uncertain; they were certainly uncertain. Even if this led to bleakness in perspective, some of those who felt they needed the guarantee of certainty were willing to go to the darkest corners of the psyche to find it.

In this certain uncertainty, many of us fell for the illusion of a fiercely hyperbolic individuality and lost our ability to respond meaningfully to life, because life, though certain in its uncertainty, remained as dead as before. This describes the state and sensation of abdicating responsibility (response-ability) on both key levels, and demonstrates the petrified denial of life itself that results from and embodies this attitude.

It is my assertion that we now have the will and ability to cross this horizon of hopelessness in human thinking. By taking responsibility for ourselves, holding a belief in our honest heroics, truly cultivating our ability to respond to anything life does or can throw at us without compromise, and trusting our impulses to meaning without becoming intoxicated by neatly ordered systematized worldviews that appear to offer us some form of certainty equivalent to the old self-evident religious truths we've lost, and if we can do all of this without rejecting meaning wholesale whenever we lack the old conventional resorts provided by ready-made worldviews, we'll once again wake ourselves up and ask the most important question of all: “is it not beautiful?”      

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The world is meaningless,

there is no God or gods, there are no morals, the universe is not moving inexorably towards any higher purpose.
All meaning is man-made, so make your own, and make it well.
Do not treat life as a way to pass the time until you die.
Do not try to "find yourself", you must make yourself.
Choose what you want to find meaningful and live, create, love, hate, cry, destroy, fight and die for it.
Do not let your life and your values and your actions slip easily into any mold, other that that which you create for yourself, and say with conviction, "This is who I make myself".
Do not give in to hope.
Remember that nothing you do has any significance beyond that with which you imbue it.
Whatever you do, do it for its own sake.
When the universe looks on with indifference, laugh, and shout back, "Fuck You!".
Rembember that to fight meaninglessness is futile, but fight anyway, in spite of and because of its futility.
The world may be empty of meaning, but it is a blank canvas on which to paint meanings of your own.
Live deliberately. You are free.