Innumerable as the Starrs of Night,
Or Starrs of Morning,
Dew-drops, which the Sun
on every leaf and every flouer
NGC3132 ©
Beauty is truth, truth beauty,
— that is all
Ye know on earth, and all
ye need to know.

E = M

Energy is eternal delight.
William Blake

Impearls: 2003-11-30 Archive

Earthdate 2003-12-05

Why people like the occidental coast

A quote from Encyclopædia Britannica tells it all: 1

The climate of the entire Pacific Coast is milder and more uniform in temperature than that of the states in corresponding latitudes east of the mountains.  A mean annual temperature as low as that of Halifax, N.S. (latitude 44° 39′ N), is not found at any Pacific Coast point south of Sitka, Alaska (latitude 57° N), while the mean at San Diego is 6° to 7° F (3.3° to 3.9° C) less than that at Vicksburg, Miss., and Charleston, S.C., in roughly the same latitude.  The means of winter and summer are very near the yearly mean.  This condition is not so marked inward from the coast; yet everywhere, save in the high mountains, the winters are comparatively mild.

Halifax, Nova Scotia's latitude of 44° 39′ N crosses the eastern U.S. some miles south of Bangor, Maine, and on the west coast passes just north of Albany, Oregon — about 20 miles south of Salem, and way way south (more than 850 miles or 1,370 km in latitudinal north-south distance) from Sitka.


1 “The United States of America: The Pacific Coast,” Encyclopædia Britannica, Britannica CD 1997, Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc.

Impearls: 2003-11-30 Archive

Earthdate 2003-12-04

Canada and Sweden vis-a-vis the United States

Jeff Jarvis, writing in Buzz Machine, has a piece “A non story, overplayed, eh?” concerning news from the New York Times that Canada and the U.S. are different.  As Jeff says:

Robertson Davies, the essential Canadian author, always said that Canada had less in common with American than with Scandinavia and I agreed with him.  The story is thus way overplayed.  But what's most disturbing is that it continues this media meme: Europe v. America, Europe as a touchpoint for social sensibility:  “A more distinctive Canadian identity — one far more in line with European sensibilities — is emerging and generating new frictions with the United States.”  Europe is being presented, even in the pinnacle of American media, as the new norm.

American leftists' concept of Sweden and some other European nations as epitomes of socialist perfection has always mystified and astounded me.  A perfect comeback to this conceit (bringing Canada into the relative mix as well as Sweden) was offered, not by a conservative, or a “capitalist,” but by one of the most respected of American socialists, Michael Harrington, via an interview broadcast shortly after his death, in 1989, on the MacNeil-Lehrer Newshour.  Here's what Harrington had to say (I'll include his whole interview for context; it's not very long): 1

Robert MacNeil:  Finally, tonight, we remember political activist Michael Harrington, who died yesterday; he was 61 years old.  Harrington began his career as a leftist political organizer, author, lecturer, and teacher in the early 50s.  He became co-chairman of the Democratic Socialists of America in 1983.  Among his books was The Other America: Poverty in the United States, published in 1962; it was widely viewed as helping set the scene for the Johnson Administration's War on Poverty.  I spoke with Harrington a year ago, when he was already suffering from the cancer that led to his death.  I asked why he thought socialism had never caught on in the United States.

Michael Harrington:  I think that's very complicated, but to just tick off a number of the reasons:

Number one, we're a presidential country, not a parliamentary country.  In Canada, so much like us, there's a socialist party which in the polls right now is at about 28-29 percent, which has been 20 percent or better for years.  In part that's because in Canada you can vote for your socialist candidate for Parliament, and he or she can then affect the Executive in the Parliament.

Number two:  Because the United States in the period when most European workers were becoming socialist, which was the period roughly from 1880 to 1914, in the United States that was the period in which it was more important that you were Catholic, Protestant or Jewish, white or black, Italian, Irish, etc.  That is to say, our race, our ethnicity, all of those complexities made it difficult to develop a class consciousness when people were much more ethnically and religiously and racially conscious.

Finally, the most complex of all, in my opinion.  There's a sense in which I think America is the most socialist country on the face of the earth right now — which is one of the reasons we don't have a socialist movement.  By that I mean that the United States I think has always been one of the most egalitarian, open, non-deferential societies.  We've never had any real Tories — any real conservatives — in America.  One of the reasons that Canada has a socialist movement is that our Tories went to Canada after the Revolution, and sat around and told the workers that they were human refuse: that they were no good!  And one of the things that generates socialist consciousness is having a bunch of upper-class snobs trying to push people down — we've never had it.  And, I think, in a crazy way — socially — I've always thought that America is really much more socialist than Sweden!

MacNeil:  You have been an influential commentator on the state of America from the time your first book The Other America, dealing with American poverty, was published.  These thirty years later, how do you see the condition of America now?

Harrington:  Oh, I think it's better.  That is to say, I find that the 80s under Reagan were nowhere near as bad as the 50s with Joe McCarthy and the 50s under Eisenhower.  The students have not been totally cowed.  We have not forgotten the poor.  I think the media have done a good job; I think the media have really… everybody knows about homelessness!  You don't need a book about the “invisible poor,” I mean you can't miss the homeless any more.

So, I think that the consciousness of America is in fairly good shape, and the conscience of America is in fairly good shape, that's why I'm optimistic.  I think we have gone through an interregnum, with a President who was enormously popular as an individual, but not as a thinker — if you can call Reagan a thinker in any way, shape, or form.  And I think that now there's a sense that let's get on with it, let's begin to deal with these problems.  We just can't have these people lying out on the streets.  And that means we have to deal with the problem of housing; that means we have to deal with the problem of the working poor.  Many, many of the homeless are working poor people, they're not welfare poor people.

So, I … I happen to be an almost sentimental patriot.  I love this country very, very much.  I think this country has got a very decent heart.  Sometimes its head upsets me, but not its heart.  And I think we're about to enter a period where its head might get halfway as good as its heart.

So, American leftists and socialists, when one of America's best respected socialists declares that from his point of view, “I think America is the most socialist country on the face of the earth right now […]; in a crazy way — socially — I've always thought that America is really much more socialist than Sweden!”, what then does this imply for those European (and Canadian) socialist wonderlands?  As for Canada latching more strongly onto those European models, from Michael Harrington's viewpoint this merely means Canada is getting back to its inegalitarian roots.


1 Robert MacNeil interview with Michael Harrington, PBS MacNeil-Lehrer Newshour, broadcast 1989-08-02.

UPDATE:  2003-12-11 20:30 UT:  Mark Steyn had a reader inquire of him concerning the very same New York Times article that Michael Harrington's words were turned into responding to above.  It's interesting, I think, how Steyn's reply extends and amplifies Harrington's, even though Michael's an American socialist, speaking a decade and a half ago, whereas Mark is a modern-day Canadian conservative. 

Steyn doesn't provide permanent archival links to his articles (tsk tsk), so for context I'll include the full text of his piece, which is called “The Great Divide” (love that title!).

Mark's reader asked him:  “I know what all the manifest differences are [between Canada and the Europeans versus the United States] (the nanny state, PC, foreign policy, etc) but what is really at the heart of this fundamental (and historic) split in the Western world?  I realize that the same split also divides the USA itself in many ways.  If you had to sum it up in a paragraph, what would it be?”

In reply, Steyn wrote:

If you look at it objectively, the two countries are bound to have diverged somewhat and to diverge further.  This continent was originally settled by men and women of similar stock some of whom had a falling out with the Crown, some of whom stayed loyal.  But that aside, the two halves of North America had much in common.  What's happened in the last 40 years is that the Liberal Party reinvented the old Britannic Dominion of Canada as an explicitly un-American project: mere political policies — socialized health care, gun control, peacekeeping — were elevated to indispensable components of Canadian identity, as if they date back to the 18th century rather than the 1960s.

Furthermore, since Quebec separatism established itself as a permanent component in Canadian politics, what old-time Brit military types still call “the senior Dominion” has ceased to be an effective part of the Anglosphere.  Britain and Australia fought alongside the US in Iraq, but Canada, being semi-French, is a semi-detached member of the Anglosphere.  The disproportionate influence of Quebec in Canadian life means that its particular characteristics — post-Christian secularism, pacifism, anti-Americanism — are amplified nationally.  Take Quebec out of the equation, and anglophone Canadians were comparatively supportive of American policy in Iraq.

But even that's changing.  Canadian immigration policy is designed to shore up the Liberals' re-invention of Canada: the principal sources of US immigration (Latin America) and Canadian immigration (the Islamic world, Eastern Europe) widen the differences still further.  During the last three decades, as Americans have become more conservative, Canadians have moved closer to a European Union social democracy that somehow wound up on the wrong continent.

Impearls: 2003-11-30 Archive

Earthdate 2003-12-03

Crusades III – The End of the Crusades

The Cause of the Crusades (to be specific, the cause of the First Crusade) was explored in an earlier article, as was the civilizational relationship between the East Roman Empire and the states of the medieval West.  Once the Crusades were launched, they continued intermittently in progress for centuries.  It turns out that the original cause of the (First) Crusade differs from the reasons why they continued on for so long, and why they came to an end is for a different reason yet.  What were those causes?

Since we've been using The Cambridge Medieval History as a major reference to the Middle Ages, it's worth noting that one can take an overall view of the whole of the medieval period by simply reviewing the titles of the (originally) eight volumes in the set, which summarize in a nutshell the (its) story of the Middle Ages in the West, to wit:

I.  The Christian Roman Empire and the Foundation of the Teutonic Kingdoms
II.  The Rise of the Saracens and the Foundation of the Western [Holy Roman] Empire
III.  Germany and the Western Empire
IV.  The Eastern Roman Empire
V.  Contest of [Western] Empire and Papacy
VI.  Victory of the Papacy
VII.  Decline of Empire and Papacy
VIII.  The Close of the Middle Ages

Notice that the overall story of the later medieval period, revealed by the names of the volumes of The Cambridge Medieval History, is a long-drawn-out contest between the Papacy and the Western (or Holy Roman) Empire, in which the Papacy was for a time victorious, but after which both Papacy and Empire declined.

Recall the questions of why, once launched, the Crusades became a movement which continued for centuries, and why they ultimately came to an end.  While for the Eastern Empire, as previously noted, the Crusades were “simply a series of barbarian invasions of a particularly embarrassing kind,” for the West the Crusades served as a key instrument in the great play during the Middle Ages by the Papacy for ultimate power.  The Crusades thus continued so long as they proved to be a source of increased power and influence for the Papacy; they came to an end when the “sacred office” became so corrupted in view of the public by secularizing influences resulting from its acquired Imperial role that that power base evaporated.

Here's how historian E. J. Passant, writing in The Cambridge Medieval History, described the matter: 1

The Crusades were initiated by the Papacy, and from the moment of Urban II's appeal to the Council of Clermont down to the fall of Acre — and indeed for long after — they remained one of the first preoccupations of every Pope.  Describing the policy of the Curia of so late a date as the middle of the fourteenth century, Viollet remarks that “Rome ne cessait guère, dans l'intérêt général de la chrétienté, d'entretenir de grands mais stériles projets de Croisade; c'est pour elle un impérissable honneur.”  And what was true of the French Papacy of Avignon was far more true of the Popes of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries at the height of their power.  It were strange if this continuous direction for two hundred years of the armed forces of Europe in the campaign against the infidel should have left no mark upon the Papacy itself.  When Nicholas II, in 1059, issued the decree regulating the election of future Popes, the great effort of the Church to emancipate itself from the secularisation involved in its acceptance of a feudal constitution began.  The long struggle with the Empire, which opens between Hildebrand and Henry IV, and which continued relentlessly throughout the period of the Crusades, was an attempt — successful in the main — to organise the Church as a “societas perfecta,” to use a phrase of later controversy, independent of the secular power within its own sphere, and only dependent upon that power in so far as it needed the sword of material force to carry out the sentences of spiritual judgment.  In all other respects the Divine Society was to be as superior to the secular as its very nature demanded.  The attempt to attain this ideal, with all its tremendous implications, involved the Popes not only in continual warfare with successive Emperors but also in decisive conflict with the Kings of England and France, and, in an increasing degree, it involved the secularisation of the Papacy itself.  To be successful its occupants must be statesmen first and men of God second; to carry on war they must raise men and money, and resort to shifts of all kinds to do so; to seize every advantage, to shape policy to fit every change of circumstance, they must be prepared to use diplomatic dissimulation and, if necessary, to lie with hardihood.  That this process of degradation, from the lofty heights of spiritual control to the lowest levels of political expediency, set in, is not difficult of proof; it suffices to compare Gregory VII with Innocent IV, or the enthusiastic response with which the call to the First Crusade was met, with the indifference and even hostility which greeted such appeals in the later thirteenth century.  The wheel had gone full circle, and the attempt to free the members of the Church from secular control ended in a more subtle secularisation of its very heart — the Papacy itself.

In that process the Crusades played an important part.  They were one of the main sources of papal strength throughout the twelfth century, for they provided the Popes with the moral support of Europe, and placed the Papacy in a position of acknowledged leadership which was one of the greatest value in the struggle with the secular powers.  The literal mind of the Middle Ages found it more easy to understand the task of succouring the earthly Jerusalem by the force of arms than that of gaining the heavenly Jerusalem by the practice of the Christian virtues, and in this case the natural man could at once find an outlet for his martial energies and also, by virtue of the indulgence attached to the Crusade, make certain of attaining the heavenly reward.  Every motive of self-sacrifice or self-interest, every desire for glory or for gain, was appealed to by the call to the Crusade.  The noble could hope to carve out a principality in the East; the merchant to make gain by transporting the crusading armies and supplying their necessities; the peasant to escape from the crushing burdens of his servile status.  But foremost in the minds of all, at least in the early days, was the unselfish desire to regain for Christ the city made sacred by His life and death, and, inspired by this common aim, men of every class and country of Europe flocked to take the Cross at the instigation of the one authority acknowledged by them all — Christ's earthly Vicar.  Here for the first time Christian Europe gave expression to a common mind and will, and it is of the highest significance that this mind and will had been formed and educated by the Church and was now placed at the service of the Church's head.

There can be little doubt that this moral enthusiasm of Europe proved in the twelfth century an almost incalculable assistance to the Papacy in its struggle with the Empire.  To this force of a united Christendom behind them the successors of that Gregory VII who died in exile owed much of the great advance which they were able to make in the century after his death.  For the Crusades were a living parable of the doctrine of the superiority of the spiritual sword.  They were organised by the Popes and directed by their legates, and, what was more, all those who took the Cross became by that act the subjects of the Papacy in a new and special sense.  Their goods during their absence, themselves before they departed and until they returned with their vows fulfilled, were removed from secular and placed under ecclesiastical jurisdiction.  The Kings of France or England, of Hungary or Naples, the very Emperors themselves were, as crusaders, at the orders of the Pope, and the value of the moral compulsion of public opinion upon which the Popes could rely in forcing reluctant monarchs to take the Cross is clearly evidenced by the example of Henry II in his extreme old age, or of Philip Augustus, or of Frederick II.  It is difficult indeed, except by this explanation, to account for the amazing difference between the position of the Papacy at the accession of Urban II, staggering under the defeat of Gregory VII and the schism which followed, faced too with a Church as yet but half-hearted in support of the reforming policy, and the position of almost undisputed supremacy occupied by Innocent III.  After making all allowances for the ability of Alexander III and the persistence with which the “Hildebrandine” policy was pursued, after taking into account all the circumstances which were favourable to Innocent III's own assertion of his claims — the folly of John, the death of Henry VI, and the youth of Frederick II — there remains the fact that in an age when emotional religion was becoming steadily more powerful, the Pope, as leader of the conflict with the infidel, was enabled to command to an unprecedented degree the devotion of the faithful.

Yet, in the thirteenth century, much of this prestige and much of this popular devotion were lost.  It was not merely that the Holy Land little by little fell into the hands of the Saracen and that the respect given to success was withdrawn when failure followed.  The Papacy might have retained undiminished reverence had it failed, as St Louis failed, with clean hands and for no lack of high courage.  But the very success which had attended the crusading appeal proved too strong a temptation to the Popes, and the appeal to take the Cross not only ceased to attract but definitely alienated the faithful when it was used as a weapon in the struggle against the Hohenstaufen.  The list of so-called crusades in the thirteenth century, not directed against the Saracen, makes sad reading.  No good Christian, indeed, was likely to be shocked by an appeal to take the Cross against the infidels of Provence, though a full Holy Land indulgence for forty days' service might seem almost too easily won when “the greater part of the faithful returned home after the forty days were over”; but since the expedition of Prince Louis against the English king was announced as a crusade, since the papal feud with the Hohenstaufen, so obviously maintained to safeguard the Papal States from danger, was provided with religious sanctions, it is not improbable that Matthew Paris represents a genuine popular reaction, and not merely his own opinion, when he writes of the “crusade” of 1255:  “When the faithful heard this, they marvelled that he should promise them reward for shedding the blood of Christian men that was in former time promised for the shedding of infidel blood.”

But, apart from the direct effect upon public opinion of this misuse of the Crusade for party ends, there emerged from the crusading movement two financial weapons of lasting importance to the papal armoury — the indulgence and the tithe.  […]


1 E. J. Passant (M.A., Fellow of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge), Chapter IX: “The Effects of the Crusades upon Western Europe,” Volume V: Contest of Empire and Papacy, edited by J. R. Tanner, C. W. Previté-Orton, and Z. N. Brooke, The Cambridge Medieval History, planned by J. B. Bury, Cambridge at the University Press, London, 1926; pp. 320-323.

UPDATE:  2003-12-13 12:00 UT:  A supplemental article Crusades IV – the Byzantine Crusades, concerning crusades undertaken by the Eastern Empire itself, has been posted.

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