The New Eighteenth Century

Among those concerned by the incoming Trump Administration, one of the most common appellations for our time has become “The New Gilded Age”. This is quite apt, what with plutocratic interests on the verge of rolling back worker’s rights and protections across the board, supported by a subservient ruling political class. But I would argue that the situation is perhaps even worse. The clock is not just being turned back to the late 19th century, in many ways we are returning to the 18th century. This is not true in every way of course–I do not foresee the return of outright slavery or the monarchy–but the likely outcome of the various GOP assaults on the franchise is a version of ‘democracy’ in which the various reforms made to Western Democracy over the last two centuries are abolished.

More simply put, rural constituencies will have vastly more representation than urban constituencies, districts will be well-shaped so as to be dominated by a few families and businesses, the voter rolls will be well purged of People of Color, students, and anyone else who falls afoul of the increasingly restrictive laws, and an aristocratic class will dominate our political affairs. None of these concerns are new to Americans. But while we talk of gerrymandering and voter suppression, we fail to realize that these are merely new words for rotten boroughs and property requirements. Or at least, while they may differ in the technicalities, they retain virtually the same function: to maintain electoral power in the hands of the elite.

Much of the political history of the 19th century is the story of how brave reformers fought to take the inchoate democracy of the parliaments and assemblies of the 18th century and hammered it into something actually democratic. But for the sake of brevity, I’ll (mostly) restrict myself to one example: the Representation of the People Act of 1832. This was the first step in the (very, very long) process of reforming the British Parliament, and virtually everything it tried to fight against is something advocated by the modern Republican Party.

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First Page of the 1832 Reform Bill

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Napoleonic Victory Fragments

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The League of Europe, 1815

I’m currently working on a real post about Napoleon Bonaparte filled with actual history but as that has been delayed due to various reasons, I’ve decided to tide over my hordes of screaming fans with some creative writing. These are my Napoleonic Victory Fragments! The conceit is that they are excepts from history books written in a world where Napoleon won. I hope you find them amusing. 

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CHAPTER THREE: THE CONGRESS OF FRANKFURT (1814)

The degree to which the Continental System and associated French economic warfare brought about the British capitulation has long been debated, and this volume will not abstain from that discussion. Still, the deciding blow to British counsels certainly came on the 21st of June, 1813, at the Battle of Vitoria. When news reached London that the largest British army yet put into the field had been routed, and that the Marquess of Wellington was dead, financial markets plummeted. When, mere weeks later, word arrived that American troops had destroyed York, the capitol of Upper Canada, spirits sunk even lower. The news that Sir Thomas Graham had surrendered the remnants of the Anglo-Spanish army at Bilbo on July 11th was the final straw, and the Cabinet voted to agree to discuss the possibility of a peace settlement. It was not that British war capacity was exhausted that brought about this decision, but that it had become apparent that a British victory would take decades more. No more continental powers remained to take the field against the Corsican: Prussia was broken beyond recovery, Austria was bound to France by ties of marriage, and the Franco-Russian Alliance had proven surprisingly resilient. Finally shorn of puppets, British arms had dared take the field against the Titan—and had been cast down. Today, Britain’s concession seems foredoomed, but we should remember that even then peace negotiations could have broken down…… Continue reading

The Roads Not Taken: Part One

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Alternate History! Wheeeeeee!

For every decision made, there was an alternative. For every plan put into action, for every policy enacted or project begun, there was another option that was put aside instead. History is littered with the desiccated remains of these alternatives, each one bearing within it the seed of another history or timeline. Their details are unknowable, but we can often catch glimpses of what might have been. This of course is the basis of alternate history, one of my favorite genres of fiction. However, alternate history scenarios usually start from a new reality and work their way backwards to a divergent point in time that could have created it. ‘What if the South won the Civil War?’ ‘What if the Nazis won World War II?’ In this series, I’d like to do something a little different.

Instead of looking at different ways events could have turned out, I’ll be examining specific, concrete historical proposals that would have radically changed the direction of history but, for whatever reason, were never carried out. Each of these schemes were put forward at historical junctures, were examined and considered, and then–cast by the wayside. Usually for good reason, if I’m being honest. In today’s edition, we’ll be looking at proposals that were unknown until their recent rediscovery, decades after their creation. I hope you find these as fascinating as I do.

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The Final Definitive Ranking Of All U.S Presidents

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United States Presidential Seal

It’s what it says in the title folks. As Barack Obama is the very last president of the United States of America, THERE’S NOBODY AFTER HIM, NOPE, THAT’S IT, THAT’S THE END, I thought it worthwhile to compile a final ranking of all of our presidents. The list is divided into four tiers:

(1) ‘Presidents Who Made America Better, Mostly’: 1–12

(2) ‘Flawed Presidents Who Still Did Alright I Guess’: 13–20

(3) ‘Presidents Who Just Showed Up And Did Their Job’: 21–33

(4) ‘Presidents Who Made America Worse’: 34–43

This list has been devised with scientific precision, based on a combination of gut instinct and quick scans of numerous Wikapedia pages. It is a 100% objective historical fact, and will not be gainsaid.

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Don’t Turn Your Back On A Bureaucrat

Lavrentiy Beria was the longest-serving head of the Soviet secret police. As head of the NKVD in the 1930s, he supervised the final act of the Great Purge, bringing Stalin’s justice to those who had torn the heart out of the Soviet army and government. During World War II he built the Gulag system, and populated it with tens of thousands of political prisoners and members of ‘unreliable’ ethnic groups. In Eastern Europe, his death squads carried out the initial stages of Stalinization, exterminating bourgeois elements in Poland and the Baltic States. When off duty, he used his position to carry out a sexual reign of terror, being responsible for dozens if not hundreds of sexual assaults and rapes. At the Yalta Conference, Stalin jokingly introduced him to F.D.R as “Our Himmler.” For twenty-five years he was the most feared man in the Soviet Union. When Stalin died in 1953, he became the most powerful man in the Soviet Union too.

Nikita Khrushchev was a party apparatchik from Ukraine, with a good record of loyalty to Stalin and success. Though he served as a Commissar during the Great Patriotic War and was responsible for purging the Ukrainian Party during the 1930s, most of his career was in mining engineering and agriculture, attempting to rebuild the Ukrainian economy after the twin disasters of the Holodomor and the Nazi Occupation. He was generally successful at this, and was promoted to a position in Moscow in 1949, where he continued to focus on agriculture and housing policy in the city. When Stalin died, Khrushchev was demoted, relieved of his responsibilities and relegated to a ceremonial position.

One of these men would go on to rule the Soviet Union for twelve years.

The other would die screaming in a prison cell.

This is the story of how that came to be.

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State Emblem of the Soviet Union

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Port of Call: The Revolution Will Be Critiqued. A Guest Post.

This is a a guest post I did for my friend Cooper’s blog about a year ago. (It’s a great blog. Check it out! https://theairshipchronos.wordpress.com/). It’s about politics in Legend of Korra and what the show gets right and what it gets wrong.

The Airship Chronos

Legend of Korra is about politics. It’s about other things too, of course, but the exploration of different political ideologies and structures forms a core theme of the show, running from beginning to end. This is in contrast to its predecessor show,  Avatar: The Last Airbender, where Aang spends the entirety of the show engaged in the relatively simple tasks of stopping the expansion of a militaristic empire and ending a war. The thorny questions of post-war recovery are relegated to later. When the series ends, the Air Nomads and Southern Water Tribe have been irrevocably shattered, and most of the Earth Kingdom has been under a military occupation for nearly a century. Merely ending the Hundred Years War doesn’t repair the damage. Many of those unresolved problems show up here. In Legend, Korra spends each season engaging with and ultimately rejecting a form of radical political ideology…

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You’re Probably Not Smarter Than A Château General

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General Melchett, One Of The British Army’s Top Strategists

The definition of insanity is thinking that while the combined military-political establishments of the Great Powers of Europe were too stupid to solve the tactical problems of trench warfare, you are are very smart and could solve them easily.

Oh wait, never mind, I forgot it’s “Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”

Of course, that’s not true either, but I think my definition makes more sense, at least in the context of the First World War. I can’t tell you how often someone quotes that stupid, quippy “definition” in discussions of WWI, acting like they’ve just said something profound. Nonsense. Hindsight is an endemic problem in the study of history, and if not carefully watched for, it can lead to arrogance. There are stupid people in this world, but not as many as one might think. Most historical actions that seem insane or indefensible were usually undertaken for what seemed like perfectly sound reasons at the time.

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Miyazaki And The Intersection of Marxism and Feminism

DISCLAIMER: Nathan knows little to nothing about any of the topics he will be discussing in the following post. Literally everything here may be complete and spurious nonsense.

The films of Hayao Miyazaki are rightfully beloved for many reasons, one of which is their feminism. The protagonists of  almost all of his movies are women or girls, who take center stage in his narratives, supported by boys, but never supplanted. Avoiding the cliche of the “strong female character”, Miyazaki’s heroines feel frightfully real, endowed with strengths and weaknesses but always characterized by empathy, kindness, and determination. Many, many smarter people than I have examined and discussed this aspect of these movies, but I do think there’s something that goes unnoticed: Miyazaki’s deep admiration for the practice of physical labor, and the ways in which this intersects with feminism to create a coherent narrative.

The title of this piece is “The Intersection of Marxism and Feminism”, and I want to make it clear that I when I refer to Marxism, I’m not referring to the economic, historical, or revolutionary theories, but rather some of Marx’s philosophical writings, specifically the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844. My knowledge of this is limited to a single course in college, so it’s possible that my understanding is completely off. If you’re an actual scholar of Marxist theory, please correct me! But anyways, in this piece, Marx attempts a theoretical explanation of the importance of the proletariat. Cooperative labor, as in factories, he argues, is the highest form of human activity, as it enables us to create objects that do not and cannot exist in nature. Other activities, eating, drinking, having sex, relaxing, etc, these are mere animal pleasures, and should be minimized. The Great Sin of Capitalism in this paradigm is that it alienates us from labor. Labor, which should be a pleasure and joy, is reduced to a hated chore by the demands of capitalist economics.  Or, as my father succinctly put when I was discussing this with him: “Capitalists value work too, but for what it brings them. For Miyazaki, it’s a good in and of itself.” Miyazaki may not explicitly denounce capitalist oppression, but his movies serve as showcases for a Marxist idealism of labor, filtered through a feminist lens.  

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The Eponymous Kiki

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Are We In 1860 Or 1912?

A few weeks ago I was reading an article on 538 about the recent split within the GOP between the Trump Loyalists and the #NeverTrump movement, reborn like the Phoenix after the Billy Bush tape. In the article, the staff declare that they can’t think of any precedent for the current situation, though they eventually settle on the Republican Party abandoning Nixon in 1974 as the closest parallel. This struck me as a rather odd conclusion to reach. There are at least two other cases in American history where a major political party split in an election year, and though neither of them is an exact parallel to the current kerfuffle, they both bear examining.

The Election Of 1860

1860 is a pivotal year in American history. The election of Abraham Lincoln triggers the secession of the eleven southern states, as well as the subsequent Civil War needed to bring them back to heel, as well as the abolition of slavery. So it’s an important election. But in looking at the broader picture, I think we sometimes miss the affect 1860 had on the history of American political parties. Namely, the complete and utter destruction of the Democratic Party for multiple generations.

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1860 Electoral Map

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