Eco and Defamiliarization in Reverse

I am a huge fan of Eco. One of the many things I love about his work is the way his historical fiction does not stop at building an “accurate” portrayal of the physical universe of whatever time period his story takes place in, but works to accomplish the far more difficult task of building an alien intellectual universe in which religion, ideas, and ways of thinking differ from our own, or in which material objects have entirely different meanings for those who interact with them. On every page you can feel his enthusiasm for playing with long lost categories, and helping us all come closer to understanding the rich world of his characters. You can see this in all his fiction, including the three I enjoyed the most The Name of the Rose, Baudolino, and The Island of the Day Before. One day I hope to make use some of his techniques in some fictional writing of my own. For many readers, who feel overwhelmed by the detail and long discussions of obscure topics, it turns them forever away from his writing, but for others, such as myself, his passion filled writing has the capacity to ignite a curiosity and excitement few writers can match.

Today I was delighted to come across a passage in which he talks about this aspect of his work:

…the only essay I have ever written on the semiotics of the theater begins with the story of Averroes. What is so extraordinary about that story? It is that Borges‘s Averroes is stupid not in personal terms but culturally, because he has reality before his eyes (the children playing) and yet he cannot make that relate to what the book is describing to him…Averroes’s situation is that of the poetics of “defamiliarization,” which the Russian formalists describe as representing something in such a way that one feels as if one were seeing it for the first time, thus making the perception of the object difficult for the reader. I would say that in my novels I reverse the “Averroes model”: the (culturally ignorant) character often describes with astonishment something he sees and about which he does not understand very much, whereby the reader is led to understand it. That is to say, I work to produce an intelligent Averroes.

As someone said, it may be that this is one of the reasons for the popularity of my fiction: mine is the opposite of the “defamiliarization” technique; I make the reader familiar with something he did not know until then. I take a reader from Texas, who has never seen Europe, into a medieval abbey (or into a Templar commandery, or a museum full of complicated objects, or into a Baroque room) and make them feel at ease. I show him the medieval character who takes out a pair of glasses as if it were completely natural, and I depict his contemporaries, who are astonished at this sight; at first the reader does not understand why they are amazed, but in the end he realizes that spectacles were invented in the Middle Ages, this is not a Borgesian technique; mine is an “anti-Averroes model,” but without Borges’s model before me I would never have been able to conceive of it.”1

  1. Eco, Umberto “Borges and My Anxiety of Influence” On Literature, 127-8 []

Mark Twain, Traitor

I really enjoyed an article I found by chance today about Twain’s attempts to narrate and justify his conduct during the US Civil War. From the closing paragraph:

My title, “Mark Twain, Traitor,” hails the Mark Twain who appears as such in his major work, whose text is constantly involved with the question of betrayal, of confused loyalties, not edifying us, giving us resolutions, just describing betrayal’s performance, its reasoning soliloquy. Huck guiltily betrays Uncle Jake in Tom Sawyer. and he desperately strives to betray Jim in Huckleberry Finn. “Mark Twain” is, of course, the key phrase in any letter of denunciation written for some police authority. Someone is not who he or she says he or she is. I report a Mark Twain whose post–Civil War nationalist identification is questionable, a Mark Twain at play with his progressive Unionist/Republican identification, at play with his reactionary Southern patrician identification, a Mark Twain who might be a double agent, or worse, a “free” agent, outside the rules of either comity, outside the several codes of honor, a marker, not the twain, not Southern, not Northern. I report a Mark Twain loose in his loyalties, Northern in his detestation of Southern moral turpitude, Southern in his contempt for the moral rectitude of the hypocritical Northeast, always an unreliable narrator, and for that reason always somewhere in rebellion, defying the positivities of both (particular) Confederacy and (universal) Union, their different disciplines. Mark that fellow. The name itself is a denunciation. How indeed did this transsectional Civil War rogue, migrant in all the sections of the country, never at home, always moving, become the principal icon of post–Civil War patriotic nationality? Mark Twain’s humor, William Dean Howells writes in My Mark Twain (1910), “is as simple in form and direct as the statesmanship of Lincoln or the generalship of Grant” (118). I have no idea what this means. Mark Twain’s humor is never simple and direct. In 1901, telling his Civil War story at Lincoln Birthday Dinner, amid the patriotic pieties, Mark Twain would again directly address the question: why did you desert the Civil War? Why did he not fight for Abraham Lincoln’s noble cause? Great humorist that he is, he tells the truth. It was the weather, Mark Twain says in 1901. You never saw such weather (Mark Twain Speaking 382).1

  1. Neil Schmitz “Mark Twain, Traitor” Arizona Quarterly: A Journal of American Literature, Culture, and Theory 63.4 (2007) 34-35 []

Of Knols, Trolls, and Goblins

Google recently announced its new Knol Project. Quite a number of news articles and many more blog postings have appeared to comment on the launch of the new project.

I’m rather puzzled by a lot of concerns shown by some whose writing on similar issues I usually admire. Further down in this posting, I will respond to some of the critiques of Crooked Timber‘s John Quiggin made in his posting Knols, wikis and reality and if:book‘s Ben Vershbow rough notes on knols.

This new Google project in some ways reminds me of that other competitor of Wikipedia that rarely seems to get mentioned, Everything2. Like the new Knol project, articles at Everything2 are written by single authors and can be rated by community members. There are even Google ads. Like the Knol project, there can be many articles on a given topic, which vary widely in content, length, quality, and often offer completely different kinds of material on similar topics.

It also reminds me of a software project I started designing a few years ago but never got around to writing up (funny how a PhD program can get in the way of one’s amateur programming projects). My plan was to create a history knowledge-base which contained contributed articles, all under a Creative Commons or other similar license, which were rated by the community of readers and which competed directly with other contributed articles on similar topics. The number of points any reader could give was a function of their own “value” in the community as judged by the aggregate point value of their own contributions (in the form of articles and comments). This was not to be pure democracy but a tyranny of meritocracy – a huge difference with Wikipedia but similar in some ways to Everything2. In my own system, the currently “winning” article would be the most prominently listed or displayed article on a topic but might always be replaced with a new better article. The most important feature was this: since all future writers on a topic were free to copy/steal any amount of any previous article new articles could, like Wikipedia articles are supposed to, be small incremental improvements of any previous article. However, unlike Wikipedia but like Everything2, I also wanted to design the system so it encouraged “new narratives” and completely fresh approaches to old topics.

By contrast, in Wikipedia if you decide to completely rewrite a popular and controversial entry on the Nanjing Massacre, which you certainly have the power to do and I have been tempted to do, the chances are your efforts will be completely wasted as you newly written article is completely reverted to whatever chaotic and inconsistent mess prevailed before your arrival. Thus, hidden in the long list of revisions on any popular wikipedia article might lurk alternative narratives that can still be viewed, but only if they are looked for by patient visitors to the site.

Wikipedia is at its core an Enlightenment project.

Its god, NPOV (Neutral Point of View), the very core of its being, is a myth. The policy requires “that where multiple or conflicting perspectives exist within a topic each should be presented fairly” and that views be presented “without bias.” NPOV is a useful myth, and not one that we should spend too much time mocking (especially those of us aspiring to professionalism in academic life), but we should always be conscious of its limits. I think every 6th grade elementary school student of the future should be given an exercise wherein they are given the opportunity to discover how any controversial Wikipedia article one might pick, no matter how well written, not only completely violates NPOV but can never hope to achieve anything remotely close to NPOV. NPOV is impossible. The greatest theoretical challenge of the post-Enlightment world is, “How do we deal with that?”

I think that we must have a strong competitor to Wikipedia which is based on the fundamental idea that we need competing narratives, we need them juxtaposed, we need them competing with each-other, and we need the ability to monitor their changes and popularity across time so that we don’t completely become slaves of the present. This doesn’t mean we have to completely abandon the incremental approach and the amazing power of building upon the work of others, but also allow for easy access to competing approaches to a problem in a single tidy, convenient, and familiar interface. Despite some key innovations, projects like Everything2 have failed to challenge Wikipedia. My own abandoned ideas for a project were half-baked and I have no time to spend in the kitchen.

So what about Google Knol? All we have seen of what it might become is in this single screenshot. It is surely a little early to judge.

John Quiggin of the wonderful group weblog Crooked Timber has looked at the sample article from the screenshot and is not happy with its author centered approach:

As regards simple factual statements anyone is likely to care about, I’d rather go with Wikipedia than with an individually written article, even one by an expert. Wikipedia will usually have a citation, and, if there are conflicting claims, report them. With an individual author, it’s much harder to tell if a given statistic is generally agreed to be accurate and representative of the situation.

I find this really hard to understand. A friend of mine, now a professor in his field, used to help edit dozens of articles related to pre-modern Chinese history before he abandoned it in exhaustion. I really want to like Wikipedia – there is a kind of “storm the Bastille” kind of excitement in its democratic vision. Yet, in the end, having read through dozens of Wikipedia talk pages where my friend battled desperately against irrational and, unfortunately, completely ignorant voices, I see that quite often it is completely mistaken “simple factual statements,” of the kind Quiggin is speaking of, including those which get a citation, which get inserted by contributors that have little or no access to good materials, no training in judging their sources, and no knowledge of context. The sad reality is that for many topics, the rational, knowledgeable, and in many simple cases the accurate contributions get drowned out in talk pages by voices that are either more numerous or which have more idle time to dedicate to the “edit wars” that can result. I really can’t understand why a mass edited Wikipedia article with citations will win by default over an article written by an expert. Will either have a monopoly on good research? Certainly no. Will the latter always use the best data or come to the correct conclusion? Of course not. But an author based approach does not have any inherent weaknesses that outweigh similar inherent weaknesses of the average Wikipedia article.

if:book is one of my favorite weblogs that discusses the future of reading, writing, narration, and the technologies that go with them. Ben Vershbow has posted some of his notes on the Knol project.

Vershbow has a lot of concerns, beginning with the term “knol” which he says is “possibly the worst Internet neologism in recent memory.” I am actually quite fond of it, it reminds me of similar wards like “node” and other single syllable words familiar to programmers that are used to represent single atomic units of something. It can hardly qualify as the worst, a position which I believe is still safely held by the word “blog.”

Vershbow points out some of the features of the knol project which I think are commendable and which resemble some of the best ideas out there: 1) Anyone can write 2) Multiple knols can compete on a single topic 2) Readers can rate the articles 3) a “Darwinian writers’ market where the fittest knols rise to the top.

This sounds a lot like what I had imagined for a CMS but I think the key would be a license that would allow any future or competing writers to use any or all of previous knols to build better articles.

One of Vershbow’s main concerns, which he shares with Anil Dash of Six Apart, is that Google is suffering from a kind of lack of “theory of mind” – an inability to understand the contradiction between what it is: a large profit-run corporation whose profits are intricately connected to the kind of content its searches produce, and its altruistic dreams.

While I share with Vershbow and other Google critics a whole host of complaints about Google projects such as Google books, which I have on occasion gone into some length here at Muninn, I am a bit surprised at critiques like this which seem to attack Google’s new projects almost on principle. He also has deep worries for the future when knol articles might come to displace untainted non-Google articles in the search results.

It is not so much that I disagree with Vershbow’s deep suspicions about Google or pessimism about the role of mammoths like Google in both being a host of content (Youtube, Google Books, Knol) and the most popular manager and ranker of metadata about such content, since I’m sure I can be persuaded with good arguments.

It is the complete lack of confidence in the contributors of content, in the authors, experts, and web users of the future. I think Google’s hegemony is limited and requires our continued complicity. The knol project doesn’t lock content in, as far as I understand it, especially if users can choose their own licenses.

Finally, Vershbow, like Quiggin, has doubts about the author-centric nature of the project.

The basic unit of authorial action in Wikipedia is the edit. Edits by multiple contributors are combined, through a complicated consensus process, into a single amalgamated product. On Google’s encyclopedia the basic unit is the knol. For each knol (god, it’s hard to keep writing that word) there is a one to one correspondence with an individual, identifiable voice. There may be multiple competing knols, and by extension competing voices (you have this on Wikipedia too, but it’s relegated to the discussion pages).

Vershbow intelligently withholds final judgment on whether this author based approach, similar to Larry Sanger’s Citizendium, will work out but raises many doubts:

I wonder… whether this system will really produce quality. Whether there are enough checks and balances. Whether the community rating mechanisms will be meaningful and confidence-inspiring. Whether self-appointed experts will seem authoritative in this context or shabby, second-rate and opportunistic. Whether this will have the feeling of an enlightened knowledge project or of sleezy intellectual link farming (or something perfectly useful in between).

I think he is right to have such doubts, but could we not raise a whole host of similar questions about Wikipedia, the tool which know even its most hostile detractors around me use on a daily basis? Ultimately, Vershbow is inclined to trust Wikipedia, which “wears its flaws on its sleeve” and works for a “higher aim.” Google’s project, after all, is born in sin, tainted as it is by its capitalist origins.

My own feeling is that as long as the content is not locked in, signed away to Google, we shouldn’t conflate the sinner with the products of her collaborating contributors. This is a great time to test a (at least in some ways) new model for knowledge sharing.

I still believe this new approach would stand the best chance of making an improvement over existing alternatives if it was more dictatorial in one respect: that all contributions should be released with some license which requires a minimum level of permission for sharing – so that future competing writers of knols can either provide fresh competing articles, or, at some or all sections, quickly and easily lift and modify chunks of earlier knols, perhaps with due attribution accessible somewhere from the Knol’s page. That would allow it to combine the best of Wikipedia’s collaborative approach, with the benefits of author-based control.

Making Choices in Research

I have recently switched to almost full-time reading of early postwar Korean newspapers. I’m avoiding those newspapers (조선일보, 동아일보, 서울신문) from this period that I have easy access to back in my library in the US or through online databases. There are two bound and published collections with copies of early postwar newspapers easily available to me in Yonsei’s central library and in the 국학연구원 that I am affiliated with. I’m sure microfilm or other versions of these newspapers exist in other libraries, including the national library, but these bound volumes serve well for now.

I launched right in without much thought, as I usually do with an exciting new source, beginning somewhat arbitrarily with one of the newspapers I have often seen cited in secondary works from the period which was only around for a few years, 自由新聞. The series with this collections of newspapers is a “mere” two dozen volumes or so with about 550 pages of newspapers (usually 2 pages per issue) in each volume stretching from 1945-1950.

I’ll just cruise through them all, I must have been thinking—you know—get a feel for the lay of the “media” land and the period. I scan through each issue of the newspaper, take pictures of articles directly relevant to my topic for later use noting down their titles, dates and topics, and read some of the more important articles immediately, all while taking a notes on what issues dominate in the newspaper at the time. After just a few days of this I forced myself to make a reality check. At the pace I was going, I calculated, it would take me 23 weeks to go through just the single collection of newspapers I am looking at and this is only one of many kinds of sources I want to look at while I’m Korea. Doubling my daily pace would still take about 11 weeks, which is still too long. While it is very likely my pace will increase naturally as I become more familiar with the materials and improve my reading/scanning skills this will just not do. Clearly I have to change strategies.

This is really a classic research problem, one that all of us face in doing research for even high school or undergraduate history papers (and in many related fields) and as a teaching assistant I have had to advise my own students on this problem in the past. Somehow though, the much larger scale of the project and time available to complete it has a way of making us forget the scarcity of time available.

More experienced historians surely know better than I, but it seems to me that there are a number of approaches one can take to surveying a large quantity of potentially useful primary materials such as this collection of Korean newspapers from 1945-50.

I have an issue, a problem, and certain historical questions I want to answer. I believe that, if approached with care, this particular collection of sources can help me get answers to some of those questions, or at the very least, help point me towards specific places, people, or events that I can explore in other sources that will help me answer some of those questions. Here are a few approaches that come to mind that might be used for a newspaper collection like this:

The lazy scholar approach: Read all the academic work related to your problem, note down all citations from the primary source you are interested in, look up those citations, read the originals, and use them in your own work.

Seal off a perimeter approach: Make a list of events or key periods of time when things happened or when you think things might have happened which are relevant to your issue. Then, depending on the quantity of primary materials and your time available, read or scan through issues within a fixed range around that period of time.

Headline lightning scan: Make a very small list of keywords, and blaze through the entire collection in the time period you are working for, stopping only to photo articles with your keywords in the headlines.

Section focus approach: Look through a few issues of each newspaper from across the span of your period of interest in order to get a good understanding of the way the newspaper is organized, what articles appear where, where articles which may be of interest to you are likely to appear in the paper, and take note of specific regular columns or editorial sections which may be relevant to your research. Then look only at only these sections or columns for the whole span of time.

Locked in the tower approach: Go through it all, starting with the most important works and then just keep going until you suddenly run out of time.
Continue reading Making Choices in Research

The File and the Ethics of Transitional Justice

Timothy Garton Ash The File: A Personal History (BF)

The File is a highly reflective and contemplative journey of the author Timothy Garton Ash, a trained historian and journalist, through his East German Ministry for State Security (MfS or Stasi) file. Ash has written widely about central and eastern Europe in the last years and aftermath of Communist and the Cold War. He earned his Stasi intelligence file during his time spent as a Oxford based researcher, claiming to be studying Nazi period Berlin while in fact collecting material for a book on East Germany. After the Stasi identified him as an author critical of the East, he was banned from entry into East Germany for number of years. Ash compares his diary notes about his time spent behind the iron curtain with his Stasi file, available to him and to everyone who has a file through the elaborate East German Gauck Authority since 1991. He identifies and confronts most of his informers as well as many of the Stasi officers listed in his file and at various points explains the system of domestic intelligence in a country where one in fifty East Germans were directly connected with the secret police (p84).

If confronting and exposing informers was all this book was about, it would not be much of an impressive achievement. As Ash himself notes, the work would amount to the vain and disruptive project of a famous journalist (who never truly suffered anything under Communism) written for his own and other readers’ amusement.

Instead, I found the book particularly interesting because Ash uses all of this to repeatedly pose a number of other more difficult questions that historians in general, researchers of and citizens in post-transition regimes in particular need to consider. Some of his observations build on eachother:
Continue reading The File and the Ethics of Transitional Justice

Five Varieties of Homo sapiens

Carl Linné, who plays an important role in the creation of the nomenclature of the biological world (Linnaeus, W) separated the homo sapiens into a number of subcategories (1758).

1. Wild man. Four-footed, mute, hairy.
2. American. Copper-coloured, choleric, erect. Hair black, straight,
thick; nostrils wide; face harsh; beard, scanty; obstinate, content, free.
Paints himself with fine red lines. Regulated by customs.
3. European. Fair, sanguine, brawny. Hair yellow brown, flowing; eyes
blue; gentle, acute, inventive. Covered with close vestments. Governed
by laws.
4. Asiatic. Sooty, melancholy, rigid. Hair black; eyes dark; severe,
haughty, covetous. Covered with loose garments. Governed by
5. African. Black, phlegmatic, relaxed. Hair black, frizzled; skin silky;
nose flat; lips tumid; crafty, indolent, negligent. Anoints himself with
grease. Governed by caprice.

I must say I’m partial to loose garments, but I’m not sure about the rest…
Which would you choose to be?

(Separate from this are “monsters” which include dwarfs and giants and “anthropomorpha” like eunuchs.)

I saw this quoted in Mary Louise Pratt’s Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation p. 32 but you can also find it here and cited as in:

Sir Charles Linne, A General System of Nature through the Three Grand Kingdoms ofAnimals, Vegetables and Minerals, 7 vols, Lackington, Allen and Co., London, 1806, vol. 1, p. 9.

Losing Your Language

Another book I looked through today was a fascinating memoir by a Osvald Harjo Moskva kjenner ingen tårer (Moscow knows no tears). Harjo was raised a Communist in northern Norway. Even before World War II his family often housed Russian intelligence officers and helped them transmit intelligence back to the Soviet Union.

During the war Harjo, who spoke both Norwegian and Finnish, worked with anti-German communist partisans in the north and continued to help Russian radio operatives and other spies get their intelligence back to the Soviets. Another captured partisan gave up Harjo and his father’s name to the Germans. He was arrested, tortured and interrogated for weeks by the Gestapo before finally escaping thanks to the help of a sympathetic Norwegian policeman. Harjo then fled to the East with partisans and eventually crossed into Soviet controlled territory.

This is where the tragedy of Harjo’s memoirs begin. He had the audacity to send Stalin a letter early in 1943 with some minor complaints about the conditions in the North, suggesting that there were perhaps some administrative problems he might want to look into. Very soon after Harjo was arrested and accused of being a German spy. Later charges were brought against him for leading the Germans to a Russian radio operative, which Harjo claims in his memoir was impossible since he had not worked with the operative he was supposed to have given up.

The rest of the book traces the more than a decade Harjo spent in Soviet camps until December, 1955. It seems as though pressure from the Norwegian government, including pleas from labor party prime minister Einar Gerhardsen during his visit to Moscow in 1955 were instrumental in his release. He tells of his final meeting with a Russian officer who asks him if he was “dissatisfied with his experience in the Soviet Union.” Harjo writes that he replied, “I have sat in prison camps for 13 years, convicted of crimes I did not commit.” The officer says that upon review of his papers, he realizes that the conviction was a mistake but that Harjo should never have admitted to the Gestapo (under torture) that he had spied for the Soviet Union and that he hoped that Harjo would only tell the truth about the Soviet Union upon his return to Norway.

The book was unique among the Norwegian war memoirs I looked through but was nowhere near as eloquent or powerful a work as some of the other memoirs of Soviet gulag experiences I have read. Clearly the horrors of the experience gave him deeply bitter feelings about the cause he dedicated his life for until he was imprisoned and this does come through clearly. Harjo notes in his final chapter how, in contrast to the active support he received from the anti-Communist labor party in power then (as now), the Norwegian Communist Party had no interest in helping him.

There was one short passage in the book that interested me more than anything else and it doesn’t really have anything to do with the books main themes. Harjo writes that one day in the “grey monotony of camp number 14″ he suddenly met with a surprise:

Jeg våknet og satte meg opp i køya. På gulvet framfor meg sto det en kortvokst, lubben kar. Han spurte på russisk hvem jeg var. “Jeg er nordmann,” svarte jeg. Da kom det på syngende Finnmarksdialekt: “Æ e’ også fra Norge, æ e’ fra Kiberg”. Det var Otto Larsen. Jeg hadde ikke sett en nordmann siden 1944. Vi snakket litt sammen på norsk, men vi hadde vanskeligheter med vårt eget språk, så vi gikk over til russisk…”

Harjo had woken up one day to find himself face to face with a new cellmate. The man asked him, in Russian, who he was.

Horjo answered, “I am a Norwegian.” Then he replied in a singing Finnmark dialect “I am also from Norway, I’m from Kiberg.” It was Otto Larsen. I had not seen a Norwegian since 1944. We spoke together a little in Norwegian, but we had difficulty with our own language and switched over into Russian.”

I have posted previously about my fascinating with code-switching, or switching between several languages in daily communication, not the least because I do it frequently myself. What is described in the above passage, the loss of full command and comfort in the use of one’s native language is another phenomenon I’m interested in. I first encountered it with my first girlfriend in college. I met her upon her return from several years of living with a German family in Germany, and for a number of weeks she had trouble putting her thoughts into normal English sentences, even though English was her native tongue. My mother, who is a native Norwegian speaker also sometimes switches into English when we speak Norwegian together either because she feels more comfortable with English or finds speaking Norwegian tiring.

Here we have another example of this phenomenon. Two Norwegians from northern Norway meet in a Russian prison camp and after briefly speaking to each other in their native tongue switch into Russian because of “difficulties” with their native tongue.

Word of the day: onomastic

As always, my reading provides me lots of opportunities to learn new words. In a discussion of the French royal cosmographer Thevet’s fantastical lists of creatures, places, and monuments:

In this exercise in Rabelaisian nomenclature, Colossus generates Column by, it seems, the repetition of a common radical; Ypodrome proceeds from pyramid by inverting the first two letters; and the Obelisk consummates, with its terminal erection, the alignment of Colossi with Columns by borrowing from them a pivotal vowel o. The onomastic play that represented, along with a vogue for anagrams and for the equivocal, one of the bases of the poetic science of the Renaissance.” Frank Lestringant Mapping the Renaissance World: The Geographical Imagination in the Age of Discovery U of C Press, 1994, 34.

Onomastic apparently means, “of or relating to the study of the history and origin of proper names.”

Henry Luce and The American Century

I have been looking at various conceptions of internationalism and especially world federalism in early postwar Japan and for background research, the history of similar movements worldwide. One article which popped up during the course of my reading was the famous February 1941 Life magazine editorial by publisher Henry Luce entitled “The American Century.” I have heard of it before but didn’t read it until today. I have never found a more explicit expression of American exceptionalism than this article, nor a more direct call for American world domination in the name of “American ideals.”

Interestingly, before launching into its nationalist, if not boldly imperialist arguments, the article makes mention of a book by world federalist Clarence Streit called Union Now which argues for a supernational federalist government. Unlike many other world federalists during this time and after the war, Streit wanted to limit his federalist state to democracies, thus splitting the movement even before it becomes strong for a brief period in the early postwar period. Early in his article Luce says Streit’s approach, “may not be the right approach to our problem. But no thoughtful American has done his duty by the United States of America until he has read and pondered Clarence Streit’s book presenting that proposal.” (164) Luce then begins by invoking the core ideals at stake:

“in postulating the indivisibility of the contemporary world, one does not necessarily imagine that anything like a world state – a parliament of men- must be brought about in this century. Nor need we assume that war can be abolished. All that it is necessary to feel – and to feel deeply – is that terrific forces of magnetic attraction and repulsion will operate as between every large group of human beings on this planet….Tyrannies may require a large amount of living space. But Freedom requires and will require far greater living space than Tyranny. Peace cannot endure unless it prevails over a very large part of the world. Justice will come near to losing all meaning in the minds of men unless Justice can have approximately the same fundamental meanings in many lands and among many peoples.” (168)

In other words, peace and justice must be found at the level of the universal, and cannot be maintained if only a few play along. The question, of course, is how this is to be accomplished. The world federalists had one solution, the founders of the United Nations had a somewhat more limited vision, but Luce clearly has something a little different in mind. He begins by looking at the word “internationalism” He notes that the word doesn’t tell you very much by itself. Indeed Rome, the Vatican, Genghis Khan, the Ottoman Turks, Chinese emperors, 19th century England, Lenin, and Hitler all had their own kind of “internationalism” to offer.

“But what internationalism have we Americans to offer? Ours cannot come out of the vision of any one man. It must be the product of the imaginations of many men. It must be a sharing with all peoples of our Bill of Rights, our Declaration of Independence, our Constitution, our magnificent industrial products, our technical skills. It must be an internationalism of the people, by the people, and for the people.”

The contrast to those empires of old, which he is directly comparing America too, cannot be more stark:

“…Unlike the prestige of Rome or Genghis Khan or 19th Century England, American prestige throughout the world is faith in the good intentions as well as in the ultimate intelligence and ultimate strength of the whole American people.” (169)

Throughout the article, the transmission is one way, from America to the world, for it is America who is the wellspring of virtue. No clearer expression of this can be found than here:

“…We have some things in this country which are infinitely precious and especially American – a love of freedom, a feeling for the equality of opportunity, a tradition of self-reliance and independence and also of co-operation. In addition to ideals and notions which are especially American, we are inheritors of all the great principles of Western civilization – above all Justice, the love of Truth, the ideal of Charity. The other day Herbert Hoover said that America was fast becoming the sanctuary of the ideals of civilization. For the moment it may be enough to be the sanctuary of these ideals. But not for long. It now becomes our time to be the powerhouse from which the ideals spread throughout the world and do their mysterious work of lifting the life of mankind from the level of the beasts to what the Psalmist called a little lower than the angels.

America as the dynamic center of ever-widening spheres of enterprise, America as the training center of the skillful servants of mankind, America as the Good Samaritan, really believing again that it is more blessed to give than to receive, and America as the powerhouse of the ideals of Freedom and Justice – out of these elements surely can be fashioned a vision of the 20th Century to which we can and will devote ourselves in joy and gladness and vigor and enthusiasm.” (170)

Freedom, equal opportunity, self-reliance and independence are “especially American” while America has also, as by some auspicious royal marriage, come to inherit guardianship over the principles of Justice, Truth, and Charity – the “ideals of civilization.” These She will share with the world.

Does this sound familiar? I was not raised in the United States so these words are perhaps less familiar to me than many. However, more than ever, we hear echoes of such passionate idealism and frightening conceit around us in much that we read and hear. Its supporters today want a new American century and much like Luce, embrace a vision in which a benevolent and virtuous America may, through her own “internationalism” dictate her terms to the world.

Note: I’m citing from a reprint of Luce’s article in Diplomatic History 23, no. 2 (Spring 1999): 159-171

Speaking of Totalitarianism: Linking Fascism and Communism

Another issue that Lagrou takes a close look at in The Legacy of Nazi Occupation is the effective move by anti-Communist forces in the early postwar period (especially from 1947 on) to build a close tie between the Communist enemy and the strong existing anti-Fascist sentiment in the aftermath of the war. This is none other than the development of theories on and propaganda about Totalitarianism. The most famous theoretician of totalitarianism which conflates fascism with communism is Hannah Arendt. I blogged earlier some notes on an article about her by Samantha Power. I’m sure we can all think of other places we have seen this at work, whether it is our own textbooks, the speeches of Truman, or the essays of George Orwell. It is one of the fundamental theoretical building blocks of the deeply flawed binary between the “free world” and the Communist evil empire we struggled against in the Cold War—one which was and continues to be selectively applied as political expedience requires.

Lagrou focuses in on the specific ways this link is found in the postwar resistance/veteran associations, the associations of wartime victims and generally how, “the memory of Nazi persecution became the battle horse of anti-Communism.” (269) Lagrou notes that the early postwar anti-fascist organizations and the anti-totalitarian memories of the cold war shared one major feature in common from the start:

“They systematically obscured the specificity of the genocide. The anti-fascist discourse assimilated all victims of fascism with anti-fascists. The genocide was not recognised as distinct from the overall anti-fascist martyrdom….The anti-totalitarian discourse was more exclusive; its freedom fighters were mostly recruited from nationalist resistance circles, who did not admit victims of the genocide to their clubs. Above all, not only did it obscure the genocide, but genocide was strictly incompatible with its aim. An assimilation betwen Nazi persecution and the Gulag essentially required the omission of genocide.” (285)

In other words, in the Cold War anti-totalitarian rhetoric, the general oppression and the concentration camps (for forced labor, PoWs, and Jews – all mashed together in one category) of Nazi occupation were placed in parallel to the Gulag as its central and most powerful symbol. However, as Lagrou and I’m sure others show, however, this is requires forgetting the specificity of the holocaust—the memory of which resists all attempts to be dragged into a simple Fascism=Communism equation.

Of course, the anti-totalitarian discourse of our own side in the Cold War certainly shares parallels to a similarly reductive discourses related to fascism and imperialism that were popular under Communism. However, it might be worth reminding ourselves of the interesting early postwar genesis and historical consequences of some the most compelling ideas of recent generations. In this specific case, the rapid shift to a dominant anti-totalitarian ideology equating fascism with communism greatly served the radicalization of anti-communism in Western Europe and as Lagrou shows throughout his book, had devastating consequences for Communist resistance fighters or other Communist victims of Nazi persecution repatriated after the war.