Pistols and Pointed Pens: The Dueling Editors of the Old South by Virginius Dabney


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Dabney’s Pistols and Pointed Pens: The Dueling Editors of Old Virginia (187 pages) peels back the veil of the news as it was reported over a century ago when newspapermen flung hyperbole and vitriol at one another through their publications. Often using them as naked tools in political battles, southern editors insulted public figures and one another, not infrequently resulting in challenges on the field of honor. Pistols and Pointed Pens offers insight into how editors of the time reported national and state events to their readers. It serves not only to add to our understanding of Virginia history, but as an invaluable resource to researchers using Richmond periodicals as primary sources in their own work.

Virginius Dabney is a symbol of Virginia in more than name only. The son of a Professor of History at the University of Virginia and a descendant of Thomas Jefferson through his mother, Dabney devoted his professional life to journalism in and about Virginia and won the Pulitzer Prize as editor of the Richmond Times-Dispatch. He authored many books on the great commonwealth, including Virginia: The New Dominion. In his last work, Pistols and Pointed Pens, he combines his lifelong work in Virginia’s newspapers with his expertise on the history of the state. Pistols is not a long work, but it is a gem from some years ago (1987) that should be brought back to the attention of modern students of Virginia in particular as well as the Antebellum and Postbellum South in general.

Dabney’s focus is the nineteenth century. The first paper that receives significant attention is the Richmond Enquirer, established in 1804 and his work ends with editors that died in the very first years of the twentieth century. It is organized into short biographical chapters about individual editors (and one group of them that surrounded post-Civil War political boss General Mahone). Events and personalities from around the state fill the book, but the editors and papers that Dabney focuses on are all in Richmond.

While he gives various editors’ interests, the areas most thoroughly covered in this volume are slavery, views on the Union and States’ rights, readjustment of Virginia’s Civil War debt, changing views on race in Postbellum Virginia, free silver, political corruption during the time of the railroads, and the State Convention of 1901-1902 that instituted Jim Crow laws. Pistols and Pointed Pens may serve a secondary purpose as a vague primer on these events for readers not already familiar with them, even though Dabney’s focus is squarely on the editors whose biographies he writes.

More subtly perhaps, reading through these turbulent journalistic endeavors, as well as the personal ethics and views of the editors, gives us a taste of how values and mores changed. Students of journalism as well as of the changing social views of the South will do well to give this book a particularly thorough reading. It guides the reader through a pre-Civil War debate on slavery and states’ rights to a post-Reconstruction South that had somewhat tolerant views on race, and then on to the time as that view falls apart towards the end of the century, resulting in the institution of Jim Crow laws. Dabney also chronicles changing views on some kinds of violence. His story pointedly begins at a time when dueling was respectable and a man guilty of killing another in a duel would be promptly acquitted by a sympathetic jury, and then watch as Joseph Bryan, Dabney’s final biographical subject, refused a duel in 1893 on moral grounds, thus bringing an end to the practice to widespread congratulations. This same editor also brought a largely unprecedented measure of ethics to political reporting, publicly disparaging the political treachery committed at the time even by the party that he and his publication supported.

The one area in which we find Pistols and Pointed Pens lacking is thorough documentation. Dabney leaves out footnotes and endnotes entirely. Readers wishing to verify or follow his work must use the works given in the bibliography at the end to track down references themselves. The plus side is that he offers comments in the bibliography that may be useful to researchers as they search for further works on specific people or areas. Dabney’s style is engaging and usually easy to follow. He offers short conclusion on each of his subjects and through some of these his genuine admiration for a few of his subjects may be seen. The lone non-editor to get a chapter devoted to him is George W. Bagby. The excerpts from his writing that Dabney provides reveal a truly enchanting style that readers should take time to soak in and appreciate. The beauty and insight in even these few passages are enough to make further reading tempting.

Pistols and Pointed Pens will only take three or four dedicated evenings of reading to get through, but it offers its readers much for such a small investment of time.

The Great Debate: Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine, and the Birth of Right and Left by Yuval Levin


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Yuval Levin’s The Great Debate: Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine, and the birth of Right and Left connects modern audiences with a debate that has been shaping our collective thought for over two centuries – without most of us ever being aware. It is an argument between two philosophers, Edmund Burke and Thomas Paine, that nearly every westerner who debates or thinks about politics carries on today. Levin’s book is intended for American readers, though it is drawn from English and French history at least as much as American, and its lessons could be usefully appropriated by thinkers on either side of the pond. Levin himself is a senior American politician, having served in Senate offices and then with President George W. Bush. After fighting on the front lines of American politics, he stepped back to do a doctorate in political philosophy in order to seek the coherent, systematic thinking that drives both sides. Through this book, he has given the rest of us a rare, approachable window into the philosophies that drove America’s founding and Europe’s development. Though compact in size and page count, his work lets us into a conversation about the best goals and assumptions to drive our government as well as what the Enlightenment really means.

I became persuaded that the complicated policy debates that take place on the surface of our politics are moved not just by partisan passions but by deeper questions that, perhaps ironically, can be much more accessible to average citizens. These debates pose moral and philosophical questions regarding what each of us takes to be true and important about human life and how this influences our expectations of politics – Yuval Levin

Levin opens with biographical outlines of the lives, careers, and major works of both Burke and Paine. They have common elements to their backgrounds: both came from religiously mixed households, had a fantastic command of English rhetoric and prose, and made their career in countries other than those where they were born. Burke saw and Paine suffered from poverty. Similar circumstances brought forth different men though: Paine came away believing in an absolute morality separate from all religion, while Burke gained an appreciation of the complexities of practical situations that could not be governed by detached absolute principles. Burke began as a political writer in London, became secretary to William Gerard Hamilton, an ambitious British politician and Member of Parliament. Burke then became a Member of Parliament himself. He was a Whig, and as such defined by the Glorious Revolution of 1688, in which Parliament had deposed and replaced a Catholic monarch for the good of England. Burke was unique, or at least rare, among contemporary Whigs, however, because he viewed this act essentially as a preservation of the long-proven English system (“Constitution”) rather than a standing principle of always limiting the powers of the monarchy.

Thomas Paine was formally educated only for five years, beginning when he was seven. He went from childhood poverty to adult hardship as a stay maker, during which time his wife died. He then took up the very difficult life of an English tax collector and went broke in London trying to lobby for better treatment of everyone in that profession. It was there that he met Benjamin Franklin, who recognized his potential and sent him to America, where Paine began to write and publish in Philadelphia and soon after wrote the work for which he is best known to Americans – Common Sense. The first meetings of Burke and Paine were amicable (Burke too supported American Independence, though for reasons quite different from Paine’s) but they deteriorated at the onset of the French Revolution, which revealed the irreconcilable differences in the two men’s political philosophies.

Chapter two launches the discussion that will take up the rest of the book: the point-by-point comparison of Burke’s and Paine’s philosophies. Levin begins with their respective foundations. Paine bases his ethics on his notion of the natural state of humanity. He approaches man as an individual by nature, who then joins together to form societies for his benefit, including the full exercise of the rights with which nature has endowed him. Some are trusted to oversee this society as representatives of the others – this is government. These three things – the individual, society, and government are always separated in Paine’s thinking. Because Paine views man as an individual first, his individual rights are a natural entitlement on which no government may rightly impose. Burke on the other hand founded his political philosophy on history. He suspected that man’s beginnings lay in barbarism and feared that a revolution would return him to that state. Man is by nature social and is born into a social context. Burke cannot separate man as an individual from man in society. Moreover, because art is in man’s nature, the artifice of government is likewise natural. Burke also believed that Paine gave too much credit to man’s reason and not enough to other faculties, like his imagination. People’s sentiments should be developed to appreciate in the institutions that they have inherited, because if they lose them then the only thing that can claim their loyalty is the force of despotism.

The legislators who framed the ancient republics knew that their business was too arduous to be accomplished with no better apparatus than the metaphysics of an undergraduate, and the  mathematics and arithmetic of an exciseman. They had to do with men, and they were obliged to study human nature. They had to do with citizens, and they were obliged to study the effects of those habits which are communicated by the circumstances of civil life. – Edmund Burke

In the following chapter, Levin explores both men’s concepts of justice. Levin spends far more time breaking down Burke’s view than he does Paine’s, but to be fair, Paine’s ideas should be fairly well ingrained into the modern reader already. He believed in social equality, abolishing class distinctions, and that any defense of the existing system was an excuse to overlook its terrible injustices. Burke believed that stability and order more than equality were the goals of politics. This is not to say that he placed no limits on what the existing political system could justly ordain, but the exact boundaries are hard to gather from his writings. Levin goes through multiple schools of thought that have tried to make sense of Burke in this regard, including those who have viewed him as a procedural conservative and a religious conservative. Levin continues in subsequent chapters to contrast Burke and Paine on various other points – emphasis on individual choice (Paine), versus obligation (Burke). Paine emphasizes making political decisions based on abstract reasoning, with no regard for existing political institutions. Burke, skeptical of the power of human reason, believed in drawing on precedent.

The penultimate chapter of the book is titled Revolution and Reform. This difference between the two philosophers is critical because it centers on the seminal events of their time: the American and especially the French Revolutions. Both men’s conflicting interpretations of English history as it relates to these revolutions are also important. This is where all of the components of their philosophies discussed earlier really come to fruition.

Paine advocated revolution – a complete tearing apart of the irredeemably corrupt political systems that man has inherited in order to make way for a new era guided by the rising sun of Enlightenment reason. This is not to say that Paine does not acknowledge the trouble that revolution will cause – he does. However, he is adamant that, while it should not be a first course of action, it is the only course that can upend the current world order of injustice. Man must return to his original individual rights and rebuild society under a new, less oppressive government. Paine leaves no room for hereditary rule of any kind.

Man is not the enemy of man, but through the medium of a false system of government. – Thomas Paine

Burke on the other hand believed in reform. Levin is careful to point out that Burke’s commitment to existing systems does not rule out change, but insists that, to be accomplished safely, change must be guided by precedent and accomplished with respect to existing institutions, long practice, and the sentiment of the people. Burke believed that completely tearing apart existing institutions would lose the sentiments that people attached to them and that the resulting vacuum would leave no anchor for loyalty, which could then only be held by force. History proved him at least partly right: Burke’s prediction of a charismatic general who would arise a result correctly anticipated Napoleon. Burke believed that lasting institutions, including hereditary ones, provided an indispensable source of stability.

There is one more chapter before the conclusion, in which Levin examines both men’s view of politics over time and the obligations that one generation owes to the next. By this point in the book, their conclusions are unsurprising: Paine believed that we owe posterity the right to freely apply reason for themselves, and that we must refrain from establishing institutions that would burden their natural rights, whereas Burke believed that we owe faithful preservation and passing on of the effective systems we have inherited.

Apart from a few passing references, it is not until his conclusion that Levin connects the dots from Burke and Paine to the present day. The conclusion is very well-wrought, and Levin successfully anticipated and answered the few objections I had built up while reading the book – areas where I thought I saw inconsistencies between Burke’s and Paine’s argument and America’s current dichotomy between right and left. Levin also brings out other ideas not hinted at in his previous text – is Enlightenment Liberalism (to which Burke and Paine both belong, under this understanding of the term) an achievement that has been made and must be reinforced (Burke) or a set of theoretical principles yet to be achieved (Paine)? Levin also critiques both the American Right and Left against their primogenitors. He finds both sides wanting compared to the full, original philosophies that drove them – Paine’s descendants on the left fail to apply his restraint of the government’s power over individuals, while the right have not governed with Burke’s respect for the sentiments and attachments of the people.

Levin’s style is highly approachable and I would suggest this book as a must read for anyone looking to understand the foundations of American political thought. He is detailed, and documents his sources well – most of what he writes is based directly on Burke’s and Paine’s various treatises. An added bonus to this book is that it serves as a guide to the reader interested in exploring these two philosophers for himself. The first chapter is particularly helpful in this regard, but extensive quotations throughout will serve anyone looking for springboards to dig deeper into the subject. There are of course many more fine points explored than I could possibly summarize here. All in all, the book is engaging. Levin is deliberately systematic – one of his notes on both philosophers is how all of their writings fit together into a remarkably coherent, consistent structure of belief. His style reinforces this, with chapter endings that clearly guide the reader into the subject matter to come and explain the connections with what has gone before. The only small downside is that he is so eager to point forward at the beginning and to connect the dots backward as the book goes on that by the end there is some redundancy. By the last chapter the reader finds himself going over entire sentences and here and there paragraphs of content that seem to have come before. Fortunately, this repetition was neither so tiresome nor so empty as to make reading the to end too much of a chore. It may even prove useful in that a reader interested in one chapter in particular has the material there to fit the subject of that chapter back into the context of the whole discussion. In the event that a reader decides to skip certain pages, he or she is highly advised to make sure to read the conclusion.

Levin is honest up front – he is not disinterested in the discussion, as a member of the American right. He does not claim to lay aside his beliefs but his stated goal was to represent both sides completely and fairly and it seems to me that he did, though I welcome Paine’s more civil and moderate disciples to weigh in on that in the comments below. This is one book from which I can say I have gained immensely – closing the cover, I am more able to discern the assumptions behind the arguments I hear, as well as my own beliefs, and can view modern problems through two sets of lenses I could never have completely used, or separated, before.

The Reformation of Suffering: Pastoral Theology and Lay Piety in Late Medieval and Early Modern Germany by Ronald K. Rittgers


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Ronald Rittgers’ The Reformation of Suffering: Pastoral Theology and Lay Piety in Late Medieval and Early Modern Germany is a thorough and masterful examination of how the church’s ministry to suffering laypeople changed under the Lutheran Reformation as a result of the teaching of salvation by faith alone. It combines many of the virtues we would hope to see in a historical text: insightful scholarship, diligence in documenting and analyzing sources, a demonstrated concern for re-discovering to the extent possible the religious experience of late medieval and early modern Christians, all combined in a very, very readable style.

Rittgers spends his first three chapters laying out groundwork, namely the understandings of suffering that existed in Germany in the late Middle Ages under the institution that we now refer to as Roman Catholicism. The first chapter examines common pastoral responses to suffering, particularly as they were influenced by the First Lateran Council of 1215 AD and the pastoralia literature that arose in response to it. These pastoralia were manuals to performing the sacraments, with little in the way of counseling or catechism, which, Rittgers teaches us, was very often what late medieval Christians wanted. To many, particularly those of the emerging merchant class, a version of Christianity still very much based on Carolingian royal and religious ideals and its do-ut-des (I give so that you give) was highly appealing. In this view, the role of suffering , if borne patiently, was that Christians might offer it to God to remit some portion of their sins, thus decreasing time to be spent in purgatory.

In the second chapter, Rittgers retraces suffering in Christian literature extending back to Pagan sources. He covers theological developments through the late Middle Ages. The third chapter is devoted to the always fascinating topics of passion piety and medieval mysticism, where suffering could frequently be a sign of the absence of the presence of Christ that the mystic craved, or more rarely of His presence. It also could play a role in preparing the mystic for such a union. Rittgers is keen here and throughout the book to examine exactly if and how ordinary Christians of the time were brought into contact with the material he covers. The chapter on literature, for example, discusses the state of priestly education and thus the likelihood that the ideas he presents would have been transmitted very frequently. The chapter on passion piety describes how it was transmitted beyond the cells of ascetics, namely through itinerant Franciscan monks.

The next two chapters cover Martin Luther’s theological development, particularly in the area of soteriology. Rittgers identifies how Luther’s notions of suffering change as his doctrine develops. At the time of his earliest published writings, Luther believed that Christians had to be put through suffering and submit to it as a preliminary step to salvation, that it might strip their self-confidence and give them the humility that would precede faith. As his monergism developed, any role of the believer’s suffering in salvation dropped away quickly. By the end of the fourth chapter, we arrive at Luther’s belief that already knowing God’s forgiveness is what allows the faithful to endure suffering and we have the core of his belief. The fifth chapter adds later details that emerge in Luther’s writing and catalogs in some detail his various departures from late medieval theology, including the complicated ways that Luther drew on much mysticism while stoutly rejecting some of its key aspects.

Rittgers is clear about his approach to Luther and the Reformation – he seeks a balance between the “great man” approach of old scholarship and the emphasis that more recent researchers have placed on the Wittenberg movement as a whole. Rittgers notes that Luther’s writings on suffering exceeded those of other reformers in quantity and depth and that he is quoted far more frequently that any of the others in the consolation writings of the generations that immediately followed. From Luther, Rittgers moves into a vast examination of the literature that followed him and takes time to touch on some of his non-Lutheran contemporaries.

The first of these chapters (the sixth of the book) examines a wide range of Lutheran pastoral writings, as well as that of two laypeople, Lazarus Spengler (an associate of Staupitz whose first attempt at writing on the subject fell short of Lutheran orthodoxy on salvation), and Katarina Schütz-Zell. Schütz-Zell drew on both Lutheran and Zwinglian writings in a work of consolation to women whose husbands were suffering Roman Catholic persecution for the Gospel. The Lutheran pastoral writings, of which a handful are examined in considerable depth, all rely on Luther’s theology of the cross. Other influences in this chapter are Zwingli and the Radical Anabaptists. The latter discounted any suffering that was not persecution for the gospel, which separated them from Lutherans who recognized any form of suffering as legitimate for the Christian.

The seventh chapter examines the kirchenordenungen, or church ordinances, that guided church discipline and instructed pastors on how to console. They gave a great deal more insight into this issue than their late medieval counterparts, the pastoralia. Here we see the emergence of a Lutheran trend that has roots in the late Middle Ages even as it seeks to turn laypeople from medieval practices – the use of suffering and consolation as a way of catechizing the masses. As the Lateran Council emphasized the sacraments as a way to dissuade people from turning to pagan practices like magic for relief from suffering, so the Lutherans turned to consolation in the knowledge of Christ’s redeeming grace alone as a bulwark against not only magic, but also recourse to relics and the intervention of the saints.

The next chapter picks up with a new generation of writers, who seek to expand what was written by their predecessors. The kirchenordenungen offered discussions of dealing with suffering in general, but few specific types of suffering. A generation later, practical manuals that pastors first wrote for their own, individual use began to appear in published form for the use of others in ministry. Suffering became increasingly tied to confessional Lutheran doctrine. A variety of additional subjects come into play now, including a re-examination of the role of suffering in salvation. Lutherans acknowledged that it was possible for a believer to fall from belief and lose salvation. Suffering, though it couldn’t contribute to attaining salvation, became a means to keep the believer on the narrow path once set upon it by God’s monergistic action alone. Lutherans occasionally asserted that New Testament-like miracles could still happen and sometimes identified them in their own history, such as in the translation of the Bible into German. Lutherans also added an emphasis on angels in order to replace the cult of the saints.

Chapter nine examines the return of mysticism to the Lutheran consolation literature, which had been present in Luther but absent from his immediate followers. The mystics were defended as pre-Reformation figures on account of their criticisms of the church back then. The return of their influence led to a greater sense of unity between Christ and the Christian. Also in this chapter, Rittgers examines how many church libraries had the literature he has been citing, and the answer is that it was very few. Most pastors learned through catechesis, kirchenordenungen, and being mentored. They were taught that they must look at their own suffering – God-forsakenness – to be able to understand that of their flocks and provide consolation.

Whereas Rittgers examines competing scholarly views in multiple places, it is in chapter 10 that he decides to stake his claim alone against a widespread contemporary trend. Over and against those today who analyze the Reformation on a pass/fail basis according to the widespread popularity its teachings did not gain, Rittgers insists that this is to judge it on terms other than its own. He delves into records left of Lutheran lay piety to show that, while the Reformation was limited in how far it penetrated, it did have demonstrable effects on some laypeople and communities. In a book packed with wonderful primary sources, many of which recommend themselves for further reading, it is worth pointing out that this chapter contains one of the absolute gems. Over and over, Rittgers unpacks Oelhafen’s Pious Meditations on the Most Sorrowful Bereavement, a journal kept after the loss of a beloved wife. Any modern Christian will find Oelhafen’s prayers and poetry deeply personal, sublime, and bittersweet.

Rittger’s conclusion is his final analysis, in which he examines the trends in Lutheran consolation literature and why it is rejected by so many schools of thought today, such as Feminism. One trend that he identified in his text is particularly on his mind here: that there is no room for lament, no permission to protest against God for suffering that one is encountering. This he attributes to the use of consolation: catechesis against paganism or idolatry rather than the intellectual battle for Christianity’s foundations against atheism with which we faithful are so familiar today. He seems to blame this lack of lament (finding scriptural support against it) for the decline of popularity of Christianity against these other world views. One has to wonder here if Rittgers hasn’t fallen into the trap that he himself identified back in chapter 10 – that of judging the Reformation on terms other than its own. To change the teaching of consolation in order to fight an intellectual battle for Christianity is hard to imagine in light of the role that Luther and the Wittenberg school though that reason could not have in bringing a person to saving faith.

Rittgers’ work would almost be difficult to praise too highly. Its combination of detailed, well-documented scholarship and relatively easy readability stands out. Perhaps most engaging is the way Rittgers takes pains to identify not just the content of his sources but their impact. He takes every opportunity to point out how many editions a work was printed in, how widespread it was, where it was referenced, and so forth. His analysis of pastoral education and the degree to which books would or would not have been transmitted to the laity is one of the features of this work that make it both fascinating and useful – it is a genuine attempt to re-create as much of the experience of late medieval and early modern Christians in Germany as possible as it was created and influenced by the teachings of the churches of the Middle Ages and the Reformation. To the greatest extent possible on the other side of so many centuries, Rittgers succeeds admirably.

A Warrior Dynasty: The Rise and Fall of Sweden as a Military Superpower, 1611 – 1721


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Henrik Lunde’s A Warrior Dynasty: The Rise and Fall of Sweden as a Military Superpower, 1611-1721 is an attempt to fill a gaping hole in English sources on a subject of key importance to international political and military history. The author describes his book as a historiographical effort to compensate for a lack of writings on Sweden, particularly during the reigns of Gustav Adolph and Karl XII (I will follow Lunde’s practice of using Swedish rather than Latinized spellings of monarchs’ names). It is also Lunde’s intent to examine the rise of a superpower who relied primarily on military skill where economic resources, including wealth and population, were limited.

Lunde treats his subject chronologically. The introduction lays the groundwork by reaching backward into Scandavian history, covering the period leading up to the Kalmar Union when the Baltic countries were united under a joint monarchy, then its dissolution and the resulting rise of the Vasa dynasty, whose reign he treats. He briefly treats the first two Vasa monarchs in the introduction to being with Sweden’s rise to power under Gustav Adolph, famously called the “Father of Modern Warfare.” Under Gustav Adolph, Sweden emerged into international power by entering the Thirty Years War against the Holy Roman Empire. Remembered as a defense of Protestantism, Lunde is focused on Gustav Adolph’s strategic goal: cementing complete control of the Baltic for Sweden. With the secret backing of Roman Catholic France, Adolph checked the Holy Roman Empire to take Pomerania, as well as significant portions of modern day Germany. His success and strategic thinking were driven by a sophisticated concern for logistics, and Lunde lays out that pillar of Adolph’s thinking in great detail. His military-economic policy was to make war pay for itself through occupation and charging for Sweden’s military services. Technology and innovative tactics rounded out his success. These factors combined and reached their climax at the stunning battle of Breitenfeld in 1631, where Adolph cemented Sweden’s military reputation and dealt a crushing blow to the forces of the Holy Roman Empire that once seemed invincible. Adolph never made it home. His insistence on leading from the front over the objections of his advisors would cost him his life at the battle of Lützen in 1632.

The reign of Adolph’s daughter, Kristina, is covered briefly as a period that damaged Sweden’s power by giving away lands that once paid taxes to the Swedish crown. Karl X and Karl XI receive summary but significant attention before Lunde turns to the second star of the book, Karl XII, who led Sweden in the Great Northern War. He is most famous for having preceded both Napoleon and Hitler in his disastrous attempt to invade Russia. Combatting the fact that Karl XII is often solely remembered for his blunders, Lunde attempts to recover his military prowess by examining the victories that preceded the failed offensive. His disastrous mistake was in the area at which his ancestor Gustav excelled – logistics. Karl sent his supply train far away from his invading army and was defeated by Russia’s forces at Poltava (1709) when attempting to meet it. This effectively ended Sweden’s period as the dominant power in Northern Europe and signaled the rise of Russia as a great power under Peter the Great. Like Gustav, Karl led from the front, suffering greatly at the time of Poltava from a recent foot wound. He was killed in 1718 by a Norwegian sniper.


What came of Lunde’s effort is a patchwork of historiography and tertiary history. Historiography is supposed to be a studied contrast of various historians’ views. This happens, but rarely, in A Warrior Dynasty. Lunde does engage various scholars in his examination of Karl XII and his analysis of the Great Northern War’s casualty figures is quite thorough. Apart from these, we rarely find any in-depth contrast of differing historical perspectives. Most of this work is a narrative that cites one source at a time. Here and there, two or more historians are contrasted and Lunde sometimes chooses one as the more likely to be correct, but without much discussion as to why. He also has a habit of introducing quotes from historians to cap off his own summation of events rather than to examine the thinking behind the statement.

Left with a work that, between its preface and conclusion, reads more like history than historiography, we would like a more thorough engagement (or any engagement) with primary sources in order to have faith in the accuracy of what we’re reading. There are other frequent annoyances, such as introducing information that is not explained. For example, Lunde states that Field Marshal Stanislaw Koniecpolski, Gustav’s Polish opponent “was to become Gustav’s foremost instructor in the art of war.” Reading that, we expect some discussion of how Gustav appropriated what he learned from fighting Koniecpolski into his tactics. There is none. Lunde never follows up on the thought. Another is a reference to the outbreak of guerilla warfare against the Swedes in Russia in 1708. Lunde doesn’t even identify the attackers (civilian or Russian forces?).

There are also editorial blunders, including awkward or confusing sentences. These are significant but few enough to be irritating and occasionally confusing without detracting overmuch from the value of the book. A prime example is the last sentence in the part of his conclusion dedicated to economics (p. 282), which is indecipherable. While some maps are provided, they are not often highly detailed. They are also completely absent from some places where they are desperately needed, most notably the description of Gustav Adolph’s campaign along the Oder and throughout Germany. One last discrepancy is probably the fault of the publisher rather than the author: the differences between the Julian calendar used by the Russians and the Swedish calendar. The text gives the date of the Battle of Poltava as June 28 while the map on the facing page is labelled July 8.

The critical hole in A Warrior Dynasty is the almost dismissive treatment of Sweden’s navy. Naval battles are normally dealt with in a sentence or three where they are particularly critical to the outcome of a campaign. There is almost no treatment of Swedish merchant shipping. When examining the rise of a great power, particularly when its overarching strategic goal was the control of a major waterway (the Baltic Sea), failure to give more than passing attention to seafaring issues can only be considered a grievous shortcoming. We glimpse the critical importance the sea may have played when Lunde briefly discusses the tolls they enjoyed (p. 90). We also learn from the text that arms exports (dependent on merchant shipping) played a vital part in Sweden’s economic solvency when they enjoyed a technological edge over the rest of Europe. Yet the navy never makes it into a systematic discussion of Sweden’s economic, military, or diplomatic affairs. One of Lunde’s chief theses is that Sweden proves how military skill can compensate for other shortcomings (e.g., economic resources) to help a nation achieve great power status. He mentions Sweden’s lack of urbanization and natural resources as well as its relatively low population as support, but without a thorough look at its control of waterways, it is hard to accept that this discussion is complete.


If Lunde’s work is far from perfect, it is equally far from useless. It does fill a hole: the need for a summary introduction to Swedish history in the English language that bridges the gap from its well-known rise during the Thirty Years’ War to its well-known decline as a result of the Great Northern War. Lunde also does a good job in defining Sweden’s place in relation to other major powers when he discusses alliances and treaties. His treatment conveys a sense of the balance of world affairs during the Early Modern period, when each power sought to check any other from ascending too much. We learn both how Sweden benefitted and fell victim to this tendency. We also learn the general direction of Sweden’s military-economic policy from Gustav through Karl XII, most critically a shift from making war pay for itself to reliance on foreign loans, in part necessitated by a shift toward wars of aggression. We also learn the basic Swedish system of taxation (income arises from land directly belonging to the crown) and how that affected both its military capability and the crown’s relation with Sweden’s other classes. Perhaps most tempting for further research is the unique indelningsverket system of recruitment and military supply that underlay Sweden’s military-economic structure. A Warrior Dynasty may not fulfill everything it sets out to be, but it has earned a place on the bookshelf of any military history enthusiast or anyone seeking to broaden and deepen his understanding of Early Modern Europe.

On the Run: Fugitive Life in an American City by Alice Goffman


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Alice Goffman’s On the Run: Fugitive Life in an American City (277 pp.) is a sociologist’s intimate and immersive account of years of field work in the Philadelphia ghetto. She focuses particularly on the neighborhood in which she lived for some time, to which she gives the pseudonym 6th Street. Readers from middle or upper class areas, and even many poorer ones, are given a far closer experience of this corner of American life than they would have access to otherwise. Goffman’s aim is more than entertainment or informing her readers, though. Her book is framed as an indictment of the criminal justice system that she believes serves to trap the residents of 6th Street in lives of crime, fear, broken relationships, and poverty. Further, she frames the tough-on-crime policies directed toward 6th Street as racist, a penal measurement taken against an entire community and directed primarily toward young black men, albeit with destructive consequences for their families and communities.

Goffman’s text is not supported by documented sources that can use to verify its authenticity. This is first person field work of a sort where the names of the subjects must be altered for their legal protection. Therefore we will evaluate her book on its internal consistency – do her conclusions and presuppositions match her own observations? We will also get some supplemental help and perspective from a work that Goffman herself cites, Peter Moskos’ Cop in the Hood.

I hope that my readers will excuse an unusually long review, even for me. I make a point of giving each work the attention it deserves and analyzing it thoroughly. I have tried to contain the length of this review, but Goffman’s work, despite being a fast read, is highly intricate and makes claims that must be taken seriously. I hope that my readers will find the corresponding investment of time and effort on their part and mine worthwhile.


Goffman’s note in her introduction that “6th Street is not the poorest or most dangerous neighborhood in the large Black section of Philadelphia of which it is a part – far from it,”[1] sounds benign. She supports this assertion with testimony from both the police and residents of surrounding neighborhoods who both attest that it is considered peaceful when compared to much of what neighbors it. This becomes jaw-dropping as we read through the rest of her account. Characterized by surveillance cameras, police checkpoints, and overhead helicopter flights, 6th Street is the stage of a three-phase gang war that includes numerous shootouts and causes multiple fatalities during Goffman’s stay. Marijuana and crack are routinely consumed by many as a way of life and the subjects who are the center of Goffman’s study are actively involved in the drug trade, all with pre-existing criminal records (she has smaller sections dealing with “clean” people).

For these subjects, fear of and conflict with law enforcement drive their way of life. Police actively stop and search those out and about, as well as people simply sitting on their stoops. They also stake out emergency rooms. This produces constant tension for the young men that Goffman studied because they are nearly always wanted, even if they have committed no fresh crimes. They can and often are brought in for court costs they cannot pay, as well as for violations of parole or probation. Goffman also bears witness to brutal drug raids that include willful destruction of property, theft of cash, and wanton brutality in which suspects are beaten despite being handcuffed and subdued. Police also apply extreme pressure on her subjects’ family members, particularly girlfriends and mothers, in an effort to turn them against the men whom they seek.

This creates a climate in which men that Goffman likes to refer to as “legally precarious” have to live in hiding. It makes it very difficult for them to apply for and keep a steady job, and it is tremendously destructive to their family lives, where the bonds of trust between intimates are shattered under the hand of police manipulation. Goffman details a web of interconnecting causes – the criminal justice system makes it difficult for those once convicted to get ID’s and paperwork, and they must keep up with a dizzying array of court appearances, any one of which might result in their being taken away. Both of these add to the difficulty in finding employment. The constant police stakeout of the hospital means that fathers must choose between their freedom and watching the births of their sons and daughters and that many go without vital medical treatment in order to avoid prison. The social landmarks of the lives of young men caught in this web are their court appearances, sentencing hearings, and releases from jail. Their friendships are defined by who will hide them and support them during incarceration.

Goffman also delves into the lives of some of the neighborhood’s “clean” people – those who have no record and can pass a police checkpoint without difficulty. For reference, the young men (those most likely to be incarcerated) around 6th Street are divided 60/40 between clean and dirty. The list of clean people includes families who gather and live regular lives with no need to hide, as well as some who suffer hardship through their bonds with the dirty. For many of the former, their awareness of police activity is mostly limited to hearing sirens outside their homes.


At least some of the treatment that Goffman alleges at the hands of the police is not difficult to believe, especially when we compare her work with that of Moskos, who did his sociological fieldwork as an active police officer. Moskos was a patrol officer, but notes in passing the “notoriously harsh tactics” employed by drug squads, such as those who would perform the raids on individual residences that Goffman describes.[2] Further, Moskos offers an illuminating discussion of the dehumanization of junkies in the eyes of police officers.[3] This ongoing process would almost certainly be compounded as police officers made frequent raids on ghetto homes whose squalor is described by both Goffman and Moskos in enough detail to make squeamish readers feel ill. This also provides some grounds to accept Goffman’s accounts of degradation (some of which she experienced personally) at the hands of law enforcement, often received when one is questioned or arrested. Her claims of surveillance cameras and checkpoints should be publically verifiable and fit well with the continuing, forceful effort of modern politicians and law enforcement agencies to side step Fourth Amendment rights.

Goffman’s claim that these War on Crime tactics in fact create more crime, by increasing  recidivism and by creating a need for a black market that supplies fake IDs and the like for those so burdened by the criminal justice system that they cannot obtain these things, is also easy to accept. To her credit, Goffman takes care to qualify her argument so that we know it is not the only factor in contributing to further crime. It adds to pre-existing poverty, lack of education, and other factors. She also points out times where her research subjects could have gotten jobs as there were no warrants out for them at the time, but nevertheless used the criminal justice system as an excuse not to seek regular employment. However, based on the already discussed difficulties that this system introduces for a legally precarious man in finding employment and its role in shattering both his family life and dignity, we can accept it as a contributing factor to continued crime.

Goffman’s book is predicated upon the assumption that the current criminal justice system is racist. This is central enough to her work that she owes us a detailed discussion of why we should accept that and, moreover, why we should believe it applies to the population she has studied. She notes that one in nine young black men are in prison compared to less than two percent of whites. She dedicates one brief paragraph of her literature survey to sociologists who have reached this same conclusion, citing their works but giving almost no description of their arguments. She also describes the current situation as a chapter following previous forms of racial oppression, but doesn’t give hard proof of a historical link.

Moreover, she neglects to analyze information that she presents both explicitly and implicitly in order to credibly isolate racism as an underlying element of the police pressure that some young men of 6th Street face. For example, while forty percent of the young men of the neighborhood do get in trouble with the law, sixty don’t. The forty percent is a staggeringly and saddeningly high figure to be sure. However, to define race as the cause neglects to note that many of the clean residents, young men included, with whom Goffman spends time, don’t have to run from police. She produces no stories of clean young black men being falsely accused of crimes and subsequently locked up. Goffman’s discussion with Mr. George, grandfather of some of her research subjects, is also illuminating. He talks of how the crime enforcement climate of 6th Street arose. While he sees some element of racism due to the number of young black men locked up, he also clearly outlines a chain of events. The police attention began not after blacks began moving into the neighborhood, nor when the white residents moved out. It began after crime arose and was initially welcomed by many in the community.

A fantastic case in point is when one of her unfortunate research subjects, whose pseudonym is Mike, finds himself the subject of a body warrant[4] as an indirect result of the fact that he is dirty and therefore cannot seek police protection. The chain of events linking his dirty status and the warrant are instructive for multiple reasons. After a rival in previous criminal activity firebombed his car, Mike decided in conjunction with his 6th Street friends that the best course of action was to seek revenge, at which point he went to his rival’s apartment and fired multiple rounds at the building from his handgun. To label the ensuing and intense police hunt for Mike as racist fails to take into account that the residents of the building who presumably reported him were black, and the dense urban community into which Mike fired multiple unaccounted for bullets that can be lethal for over a mile away is inhabited by black people, all of whom are the ones that the police responded to initially and protect when he is removed from the streets.

In sum, Goffman makes race a central theme in her work. Therefore, she owes us her own detailed analysis, whether based on prior scholarship or her own observations, that allows us to isolate racism as a definite cause rather than merely identify a correlation of the police enforcement so feared on 6th Street. Let me be clear: I am not denying that there is an element of racial injustice in our criminal justice system. I am making no claim one way or the other. I am only pointing out that in making her assumptions regarding racism so integral to her book, Goffman took on a burden of proof that she failed to meet.

The description of Mike’s actions above transitions into one last criticism. Another cause of the terrible cycle in which Goffman’s subjects find themselves sometimes seems almost lost on her at times: their own free will. To her credit as an objective field researcher, she makes it clear that they broke parole or probation conditions for reasons of convenience or recreation, and that they engaged in crimes including attempted murder, accessory to murder, and drug trafficking, which even they viewed as morally troublesome. This is added to personal lives that abound in adultery. The number of times that they are caught carrying drugs also leads us to wonder whether incompetence at their criminal trade is also a factor (one of her subjects voluntarily allowed himself to be searched when he knew he was carrying drugs and then tried to run when they were found).[5] With this in mind, the sympathy with which she seems to treat them, and the tone of victimhood with which she talks of them, leads us to question her judgment. She details in her methodological note the intense emotional attachment she developed towards her subjects, and this must be taken into account when evaluating her work.

 Concluding Recommendation

These criticisms notwithstanding, I commend Goffman’s book to everyone. What I have discussed with academic distance above, she humanizes dramatically. I said that “many go without vital medical treatment in order to avoid prison.” She describes music turned up to muffle the screams of people undergoing surgery with or without anesthetic and performed by any untrained person with access to medical supplies. This book offers many Americans the closest thing to a firsthand experience of the ghetto that we are likely to get. We need this glimpse, because as voters and citizens we are making decisions that support or will turn the tide on the policies of Goffman describes. Here is where we learn what the smiling District Attorney running for Congress means when he says he has been “tough on crime.” As slow a read as this review may have been, rest assured that Goffman’s actual book is easy to fly through. Read it because of what it will teach you about America, and how fascinated you’ll be with the degree to which she immerses you in what is an alien culture to most of us.

                [1] P. 4. Goffman makes a point of capitalizing the word “Black,” following W.E.B. DuBois’ capitalization of “Negro.” I will retain her usage when quoting her and revert to standard practice otherwise.

                [2] Moskos, Cop in the City: MyYear Policing Baltimore’s Eastern District (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008), p. 70. Please note that all of my page references for Moskos refer to the Kindle Edition.

                I should point out here that Moskos was a police officer in Baltimore rather than Philadelphia. However, the high level sharing of tactics and methods among law enforcement officers nationwide, the federal (and therefore centralized) impetus that drives the War on Drugs of which both departments are part, as well as the repeated parallels between Moskos’ and Goffman’s observations suggest a similarity in tactics. The notion that their approaches would be similar compounded by the fact that the cities are located very close together, and have gangs that are organized similarly – in small, local groups rather than the large city-wide organizations  epitomized by Los Angeles’ infamous Crips and Bloods.

                [3] Ibid., pp. 42-45.

                [4] This is when the police actively seek someone for arrest, as opposed to a bench warrant when they will simply take him in if they find him.

                [5] According to Moskos (p. 106), this is not uncommon

Stephen Decatur by Robert Allison


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Robert Allison’s Stephen Decatur (221 pp.) is a capably written account of one of America’s first nationally celebrated personalities. It is best suited for a reader already acquainted with the broad sweep of the early American Navy and especially the War of 1812 (as provided by Budiansky or Toll), but for those who have already read up on this subject, Allison not only fills out the biographical details of one of its most enchanting personalities, but adds dimensions that will expand their understanding not just of Decatur himself, but of the circle of officers that gave the U.S. Navy its early character and practices.

Decatur’s daring and capability under fire, made famous by his destruction of the USS Philadelphia and then his actions during the assault on Tripoli’s harbor in 1804, as well as his taking of the British frigate Macedonian during the War of 1812, have made him a legendary American hero, or rather would if Americans paid attention to their heroes anymore. His death from a gunshot received at the hands of the disgraced frigate captain James Barron in a pistol duel is just as well known. After the war, Decatur physically blocked Andrew Jackson’s attempted entrance into the Capital when Jackson had threatened violence against senators who had opposed his actions in Spain. Histories of the War of 1812 have made Decatur’s other activities during the conflict reasonably available in general military literature – he spent much of the War of 1812 bottled up along the Atlantic coast by the blockading British fleet, charged with defending New London, Connecticut, from British attack, a task made highly difficult by the secessionist and pro-British leanings of New London’s own residents. He later was in charge of defending New York City from anticipated attack before the British moved on to their real target: the Chesapeake Bay.

Allison introduces us to Stephen Decatur the disinterested schoolboy and eldest son of a naval officer who was not highly literate himself. This young Decatur finally threw himself into learning when allowed to begin studying sailing and navigation, penciling charts into the wood of the ship where he could memorize them. We get only a few details of family and childhood activity beyond this, but if Allison’s picture of this young Decatur has less information than we’d like, it is for the very good reason that he stayed within the bounds of what available sources told him.

Here also we learn of Decatur’s interest in and advocacy for new technology, particularly including the weapon systems and steam ships conceived by naval inventor Robert Fulton. Decatur was one of the only Naval officers open to new technologies (John Rodgers, a contemporary of Decatur’s and fellow Commodore, dismissed Fulton as a lunatic). During his time bottled up on the Eastern Seaboard by the British blockade, Decatur advocated for Fulton’s technologies, becoming a founding member of a company set up in New York City for the express purpose of financing his innovations. They put one steam frigate to sea, the Demologos, though it was never tested in combat.

Decatur spent a great deal of his private time making up for the education he had neglected as a boy. As his public success grew, he was uncomfortable in the social circles in which he had to associate and in giving public speeches. He consulted with the famous physician Benjamin Rush, who prescribed a course of study that Decatur followed with such commitment that he later earned praise for his wide knowledge. As he moved to Washington and into political life, he consulted with none other than Madison himself for instruction in the basics of American politics.

We are also forced to confront Decatur at his worst. While Allison limits himself to a description of Decatur’s actions that only implies criticism, it is hard to read his well-documented account of the 1815 voyage to the Mediterranean and judge Decatur’s actions as anything other than self-serving and attention seeking. Allison establishes through correspondence between Decatur and Secretary of the Navy Crowninshield (and on added strength of documented advice from writer Washington Irving to Decatur) that Decatur specifically sought to beat his superior officer, William Bainbridge, to the Mediterranean to deal with the threat posed by Algiers after Bainbridge had already been appointed head of the expedition. Arranging an appointment as the head of an advance squadron that he suggested himself, Decatur deliberately beat Bainbridge in preparing and manning his ships and arrived in the Mediterranean in time to complete not only the mission to Algiers, but dealt with subsequent problems in Tunis and Tripoli, before Bainbridge could arrive. Decatur’s loss of control of his desire for attention was confirmed in his confrontation with the Algerian frigate Meshouda, in which he ordered back two other ships under his command who were prepared to claim victory so that he could do it himself in a tactical blunder that resulted in the injuies and deaths of some of Decatur’s own men. He then refused to strike his Commodore’s pennant when Bainbridge confronted him and legally ordered him to do so. Decatur further made sure to he beat Bainbridge back to America with news of his astounding success. In light of the rest of the book, we can this as an isolated stain on the career of an officer otherwise dominated in all things by a sense of honor and integrity, though detractors from other time periods of his life seem to have found this flaw lurking beneath his surface.

Allison’s biography of Decatur is valuable also in that it emphasizes the early American Navy, and Decatur’s generation of officers in particular, as a self-contained circle of military leaders who set about deliberately setting a future course for Naval policy and practice. This coterie might be said to begin with the young midshipmen and lieutenants under the command of Edward Preble during his 1804 mission to the Mediterranean. The lessons they learned there included the need for a powerful U.S. naval presence to protect both its honor and its shipping as well as the need for U.S. bases of operation and supply to avoid reliance on foreign powers. This same community supplied the officers who oversaw the inquiry into the conduct of James Barron following the Chesapeake disaster of 1807, as well as subsequent inquiries into the actions of other officers during that same crisis and numerous other disciplinary hearings during the War of 1812 and following it. It was these same officers from whom the Naval Commission created by Congress in 1815 was drawn. Allison places more emphasis on this circle of officers as a community of practice than any historian I have yet read, and by following them past the War of 1812, traces their role in American policy further than many others.

There are moments where we would like more clarity in Allison’s writing. He notes the “limited success” of mines and submarine weapons against British ships, but doesn’t really clarify describe what those successes were, so it’s hard to evaluate his suggestion that the British overreacted to the threat. He does describe a trap set by a merchantman, the Eagle, that was rigged to blow, but this doesn’t seem to qualify as a mine or submarine. Immediately after this, he gives two conflicting explanations from the same source, one Samuel Griswold Goodrich, for the appearance of lights at New London that might or might not have been used by treasonous Americans to communicate with the British. He makes no attempt to explain why the same man hypothesized that they might be signals from British sailors on shore but also “attributed [them] to Decatur’s imagination.” He occasionally misses facts that should be included. His description of the events leading up to the 1807 Chesapeake debacle are correctly told but a reader new to these events needs to know that the deserted British sailors actually encountered and mocked their former captain on in the town of Norfolk in order to appreciate the depth of insult that the British felt by the American Navy’s inclusion of their deserters. Allison omits this detail. There are also a very few conclusions that are not well substantiated in the text, such as his summary of Decatur’s view of a professional military in the American republic. The primary sources he cites beforehand do not lead to his conclusion.

In the main though Allison’s treatment of his sources is sound and even laudable. He uses Mackenzie’s early biography of Decatur but with appropriate caution, correcting popular myths that Mackenzie started and that have appeared as fact in the writings of credible historians. There are two. One is that the quote famously attributed to Nelson declaring Decatur’s sinking of the Philadelphia as the most daring naval feat of the age is almost certainly a fabrication, appearing nowhere before Mackenzie’s work. The other is that Reuben James has been falsely credited with saving Decatur’s life during his famous struggle with the Tripolitan captain who had taken his brother’s life. The honor for this, according to Allison’s thorough reading of primary sources, goes to Daniel Frazier, who changed his name from James North. Frazier was badly wounded saving his commander and Allison restores to him due credit. The detailed discussion of the bibliographical correction is reserved to the relevant endnote, so be sure to examine this in detail when reading this work.

Allison’s style is balanced between fast-moving and scholarly. It is dramatic in places, but takes time to cover his subject in detail and with scholarly discipline as much as sources allow. His work is best suited to those with at least an elementary familiarity with the birth of the American Navy and the events that provoked the War of 1812, but will add depth to the knowledge of any student of American naval history. He brings together a variety of primary sources to paint a compelling and reasonably complete biographical picture of one of early America’s most alluring and tragic characters.

Praying and Believing in Early Christianity by Maxwell E. Johnson


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Maxwell E. Johnson’s Praying and Believing in Early Christianity: The Interplay between Christian Worship and Doctrine (143 pp.) is an exactingly thorough examination of how liturgical worship influenced the development of early Christian doctrine and, conversely, how doctrine influenced liturgy through the lens of the oft repeated formula lex orandi, lex credendi [the law of praying [establishes] the law of believing]. It is for the most part extremely well constructed and defended. Engaging patristic sources in considerable depth (and with lengthy quotations), modern liturgical scholarship, and popular piety of late antiquity, Johnson’s is a work of high scholarship, suitable for those with some familiarity with the early church and its conflicts, councils and theologians. Readers new to the study of early Christianity will do well to start with more general histories (Pelikan’s is one option) and theological texts (as in the Popular Patristics series, among others) and then proceed to Johnson’s work.

Johnson’s first examination is of the Council of Orange in the year 529, which provided 25 canons against the Pelagian and semi-Pelagian heretics. Chronologically it is not the first of the doctrinal developments he examines, but he begins here because the debate surrounding Orange provided the origin of the phrase that was later reduced to lex orandi, lex credendi. In defending the necessity of God’s grace in salvation, theologian Prosper of Aquitaine made reference to the prayers of the church for various groups of non-believers to come to salvation, including Pagans, Jews, heretics, the lapsed, etc., to make the point that praying to God for their salvation implies that the power to effect their conversion lies with God and not in the wills of those prayed for. Johnson’s salient point here is the placement of Prosper’s original quote, ut legem credendi lex supplicat supplicandi [let the law of prayer establish the law of belief] in its original context: namely, that Prosper was careful to establish that the prayers he was using were handed down by Apostolic authority. In so doing, he rejects the misuse of lex orandi, lex credendi as argument to establish that liturgical prayer alone (without, for example, Biblical support) can serve as an authoritative norm to establish or test doctrine.

Johnson then walks us through the ecumenical councils from Nicaea through Chalcedon in chronological order. Regarding the divinity of Christ, Maxwell lines up evidence of liturgical worship of Christ as God in the form of the hymn found in the New Testament itself (Philippians 2:5-11) through numerous direct prayers to Christ as divine, particularly in Eucharistic prayers. He returns to well-known sources like the Didadche, but does not rely on these alone. As in the rest of his work, he takes care here to establish sources from a wide range of geographical regions and languages to demonstrate that the beliefs he is demonstrating are standard across the church catholic and not isolated appearances. The apologist answering the false claims of books like The da Vinci Code that try to pass Christ’s divinity off as a later invention will find as much useful material here as the liturgist.

Liturgical influence on the doctrines of the Holy Spirit’s divinity as articulated at the Council of Constantinople is included in the same chapter as Christ’s. Here the Fathers (Basil in particular of course) use baptism in the triune formula to defend not only Christ’s Godhead but the Spirit’s as well, establishing that the baptism that the Orthodox, Arians, and Pneumatomachians all used demanded the divinity of all three persons of the Trinity. Eucharistic prayers that invoked the action of the Holy Spirit toward the bread and wine of communion are presented as a later development intended to emphasize among Christians the place of the Holy Spirit as equal to the Father and Son after this was finally established at Constantinople and the Niceno-Constantinopolitan creed was formulated.

Maxwell finds less evidence of liturgical influence preceding the Councils of Ephesus and Chalcedon. According to his sources, the title Theotokos [God Bearer] was applied to Mary by various factions, including Arians and the like, as an honorific (and Marian piety was already in existence) before the Council of Ephesus was ever called to determine whether that title was correct. He does argue credibly that the liturgical popularity of the term was one factor that led to the calling of the Council to resolve the Nestorian controversy to begin with, as Christians felt offense at a term they often used. Theotokos took on new meaning after Ephesus to emphasize its teachings and its place in the liturgy was emphasized accordingly. Maxwell’s treatment of the Council of Chalcedon is very brief, where he finds little liturgical prayer ahead of time to support its findings and only minor alterations to drive them home.

The final chapter before the conclusion is considerably removed from the rest of the book and frankly feels forced. In it, Maxwell tries to tie the lex orandi and the lex credendi into the next step, the lex agendi [law of doing]. He presents solid arguments, none of them particularly new, that what a believer does in his life confirms or denies the validity of his worship. He uses Scripture itself, homilies and doctrinal writings from the Fathers, as well as modern scholars, but finds almost nothing in the way of actual liturgical rites that emphasize this apart from an isolated Baptismal initiation rite that required the candidate to attest to the purity of his life. There is some scholarly tie-in with the Eucharist and Christianity as a rejection of Pagan sacrifices, but ultimately no real direct line from praying (lex orandi) to doctrine (lex credendi) and thence to action (lex agendi) originating in liturgical rites.

As stated above, Maxwell engages thoroughly with modern and recent scholars. Perhaps he is most concerned with Joseph Jungmann, whose foundational work he does not entirely accept. Citing other scholars, including a triad of papers presented at a conference at Yale Divinity School, he rejects Jungmann’s claim that originally prayer was only to be made to the Father through the Son in the Holy Spirit, accepting sources from early antiquity that Jungmann insisted were extraneous. Maxwell does not entirely discard his predecessor however, noting that that the relationship of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit described above (to – through – in) must be accepted as orthodox in doctrine, and he persuasively cites Saint Basil’s explanation of this doxology, called the uncoordinated or economic doxology. He also supports Jungmann’s conclusion that as this doxology fell into disuse to avoid confusion over the Godhead of Son and Holy Spirit, Christ’s humanity and priestly mediation were lost along with it, creating a vacuum filled by devotion to Mary and other martyrs and saints.

Most conservative theologians will find much to praise in Maxwell’s work with a few exceptions. While he seems to view the councils of Nicaea and Constantinople as authentically dividing Christians from heresy, he reflects more ruefully on the divisions created at Ephesus and Chalcedon, implying that they created lamentable and, presumably, unnecessary divisions between Christians. It is also odd that at the outset he expresses confusion as to why Protestants distrust the idea of lex orandi, lex credendi when it was introduced in defense of salvation by grace alone [sola gratia], apparently missing the problems that some might have when comparing it to sola scriptura, the sole authority of Scripture (though I must hasten to add that Johnson’s own interpretation of lex orandi, lex credendi can be accepted without compromising the sole authority of the Bible).

Maxwell’s concluding chapter must be read, in part because some of his ideas introduced earlier don’t come to their full or clearest fruition until the end of the text. His final suggestion is that, because of the demonstrable influence of prayer upon belief, a church that preserves the liturgy will be more well equipped to pass on sound doctrine in a tumultuous and changing world. While this final argument is a brief one, his book as a whole makes it a more convincing argument for why the liturgy should perhaps be considered normative than those of many other high church conservatives.

In sum, I highly recommend the book and am already planning to read more of his work. It is not a fast read nor one to be undertaken lightly. The prepared student of Christian history and liturgy however is bound to expand his own understanding of how the doctrines he accepts took shape as well as the content of the ancient sources that contain them, and also to consider the roles of worship and doctrine in his own parish.

The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker


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Gavin de Becker’s The Gift of Fear (335 pp.) was widely read a decade or two ago. I came to order it just recently on the recommendation of some members of the tactical community (Andrew Branca, author of The Law of Self Defense, among them). This is itself quite a compliment since de Becker makes his antipathy and even contempt for civilian gun ownership clear throughout the pages of his work and firearms owners are well known for ardent dislike of the so-called “antis.” My own marksmanship instructor recommended the book right before warning me in capital letters to make sure I bought a used copy.

De Becker’s main idea, dealt with most specifically at the beginning and end of the book, is that true fear, when separated from imposters like worry, is an invaluable resource of the human being. This true fear is closely linked to intuition, which is something that he believes we should trust more often. Closely tied to these notions is his belief in the predictability of human behavior. His primary predictor for violence is JACA – Justification, Alternatives, Consequences, Ability (all preceded by the word “perceived”). The middle of the book is dedicated to dealing with specific challenges, like threats and possible workplace and domestic violence. It is the fear connected with violence, by the way, that is de Becker’s topic throughout the book. True fear, by his own criteria given in the last chapter, must be connected with death or pain.

One caveat when I say that de Becker’s “main idea” deals with true fear is that his not-so-subtle message throughout is “Try my company for ALL of your personal protection needs (if you’re absurdly rich).” This book’s obvious main intent is to sell his company – we’re constantly being reminded of his own resume, hearing of his company’s services, stories about how they protected so-and-so, how many Pre-Event Indicators (PINs) they use, how many threats they track, their MOSAIC-20 system first adopted in LA and now used by the Supreme Court, etc.

The most glaring fault (and my readers may tire of hearing me say this) is the lack of documentation. Nearly the only source of de Becker’s authority is his admittedly impressive resume. In the few cases where statistics are mentioned, their sources are not given. He cites books and authors in text, but more to use their words to sum up his point than to establish a chain of empirical evidence on which we may judge his claims, which should be based on documented science. Further evidence is entirely anecdotal in nature, much of it unverifiable although interesting. Readers therefore are left to decide whether to accept his conclusions on the basis of his resume, or not. His use of language and concepts at times leaves much to be desired in the area of precision. A good example is the first in his elements of prediction, “Measurability of Outcome.” His idea of a measurable event is a bomb going off in an auditorium, whereas an immeasurable event is whether everyone will have a good time on a trip to Hawaii. Except that the good time is measurable – you simply ask someone to rate numerically, on whatever scale you choose, how good of a time that they had. The term he’s looking for is not “measurability,” it is “objectivity.” Unless, of course, he did mean “measurability” and simply chose a bad example.

Probably the most useful sections of his book are those dealing with practical behavior. His discussion of threats versus intimidation and how to react to both is something that all of us will deal with at one time or another. His further chapters on preventing workplace violence, spousal violence, and stalking, will be useful to varying people in varying degrees. His handling of restraining orders, and when they should and should not be used, makes excellent sense and it is to his great credit that he debunks his readers of the idea that they can be relied upon to prevent violence. His chapter on assassinations and the motives of their perpetrators, particularly his criticism of the media’s handling of such, should be read and re-read for its application to the modern mass shooter. Though violence provides the context for all of de Becker’s advice, much of it can be applied outside of it. Many of the same verbal tricks used to lure the rape victim whose story opens the book, tricks which he examines in detail, are used in all sorts of situations. De Becker’s tips here can help you deal with pushy salespeople and so-called friends looking for a loan as well as rapists.

While I didn’t find it useless as a tactical supplement, I didn’t find in it quite the value I was told to expect, mostly because he didn’t provide enough evidence to convince me of his view of human intuition as nigh-infallible. Indeed, one could walk away from the book feeling justified in thinking that every person that struck him as odd must truly be a person to fear. One fact de Becker brings up should be filed away by all tactical folks though: if someone has a gun aimed at you and you are hoping to de-escalate the situation, their backing up might look like a good thing. It isn’t. They are de-personalizing you in preparation to shoot.

De Becker’s book is a very fast, light read. If you want some practical advice on dealing with threats and predicting potential violence, or on distinguishing between fear and worry, you might consider it. Likewise, if you’d like a blend of psychology-lite and mildly narrated true crime stories, go ahead and enjoy… a used copy, of course.


Six Frigates by Ian W. Toll


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Ian W. Toll’s Six Frigates (467 pp.) is the story of the United States Navy from its birth under the Adams administration, when Congress was successfully persuaded to provide six frigates for the protection of United States commerce against the Barbary pirates, through the end of the War of 1812. It is very engagingly written, a non-fiction book you will not want to put down.

Toll places the story of the early United States Navy in its broader economic and international contexts: the United States, beginning with Washington’s policy of neutrality, depended economically upon the ability to trade as a neutral nation with multiple parties to conflicts. Any interruption of this policy, as when the British shut the West Indies to us in 1783 or when the Barbary Pirates made the Mediterranean unsafe for us ten years later, created dire economic crises at home. America depended upon trade with both France and Great Britain, and as relations with the British improved during the 1790’s, the French became hostile, leading to the Quasi War, an undeclared naval war with our former Revolutionary allies. Later, after our relations with France improved, and as British impressment threatened our own shipping and their maritime hegemony our trade, the War of 1812 was the result. Thus the War of 1812 appears in Toll’s narrative as a result of the United States’ dependence upon foreign trade in a time when the world was split between Britain’s and France’s wars and colonial ambitions.

Not long ago, I reviewed a similar work by Stephen Budiansky and it is difficult not to compare the two. While Toll’s work is on a par with Budiansky’s for being well-written and engaging, his documentation is not quite as thorough and is a bit unwieldy to use. There are endnotes following the text, and they are tied to a page number, but not to a specific point in the text. So using them requires some searching that a more thorough documentation effort would have prevented. Toll covers many of the same main points regarding the War of 1812 as Budiansky, but there are differences. Budiansky takes on the human aspect a great deal more, and we get more of a sense of the day-to-day lives of sailors in his book, as well as the captains’ personalities. Toll gives us more insight into the captains’ careers. Budiansky gives a far deeper view of the English side of the War of 1812; Toll sets the war more thoroughly into the context of the French-English conflicts that surrounded it. We might say in the end that Budiansky is more focused on England and America, and on biographical details of the driving personalities behind the war, whereas Toll sets the conflict more broadly on a global scale. Toll also places a special emphasis on the American economic dependence on neutrality for trade as a consistent pillar of our foreign policy beginning with Washington’s administration, and later interrupted by the Quasi War and the War of 1812.

I don’t recommend one over the other, but to get a complete picture of the War of 1812 and the birth of the American Navy, I would read both. For example, there are causes leading up to the war that one may miss by reading only one. Budiansky covers the act of economic warfare in which the English ambassador was caught in an attempt to sabotage American currency, which Toll does not mention. Toll however is the only one that mentions the British attack on Copenhagen and its demonstration of British willingness to attack neutrals as a contributing factor.

Shotgun Justice: One Prosecutor’s Crusade Against Crime and Corruption in Alexandria & Washington by Michael Lee Pope


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Michael Lee Pope is an area journalist who tried his hand at historical authorship in Shotgun Justice: One Prosecutor’s Crusade against Crime and Corruption in Alexandria & Arlington (118 pp.). Its subject is the history of crime and corruption in Rosslyn and parts of Alexandria around the turn of the twentieth century and the efforts of Commonwealth Attorney Crandal Mackey to clean these areas up.

Pope begins with a chapter introducing Crandal Mackey’s early life and then the politics of turn-of-the-century Virginia, heavily emphasizing the rise of Jim Crow laws and the railroad machine even though they are only tangentially related to the rest of the book and never explored in depth. The Anti-Saloon League featured does help set the background, but the author doesn’t connect Mackey’s actions back to it as the book goes on.

He then sets the scene by exploring the rise of criminal elements in separate geographical areas in Northern Virginia, with a chapter on Rosslyn, one on Jackson City (once part of Alexandria along the river where the George-Washington Parkway now runs, including the Navy-Merchant Marine memorial and Regan National Airport), and one on the racetracks, primarily Saint Asaph, near Alexandria’s present Del Ray neighborhood. After this, he begins telling of shotgun-wielding Crandal Mackey’s raids to shut these areas down, on which he was accompanied by a posse of men carrying axes and guns. Then we read of his extended legal battles to shut down the Saint Asaph race track, followed by other sundry cases in Mackey’s prosecutorial career, and last the end of of his political career.

Pope’s work is less than clearly written. For example, referring to a time before the 1847 retrocession of portions of Alexandria that were once part of Washington, D.C. but then returned to Virginia, Pope refers to the Washington District and Alexandria District. He doesn’t clarify for readers in this part of the book that these parts of Alexandria were then part of Washington, nor does he ever specify that when they were, they were treated as entirely separate districts within Washington D.C. Other geographical references can be hard to follow as well, as can his timeline. Some confusion might have been alleviated if the book had included a map, particularly for anyone who tries to use this book without a current familiarity with the modern landmarks to which Pope sometimes refers. There are chronological disconnects as well. Pope discusses a case Mackey had to fight to keep Alexandria City from taking land from Alexandria County and describes Alexandria City’s attempt as a total failure. Then, six pages later, in the course of discussing something else, it turns out there was an appeal we didn’t hear about before, and the City got something, but not as much as they wanted. We’re never told how much they did get.

Far worse is the fact that the work he’s published is incomplete. Paging through his bibliography, we find that the vast majority of his sources are newspapers from the time. In fact these are his only primary sources. They are rounded out by a few secondary histories of Arlington County and Virginia. From these he draws few insights, but mostly selects quotations that sum up descriptions he’s already given.

The absence of the primary sources that should have been consulted is telling in the book. Supposedly the history of a prosecutorial crusade, there are no citations of court documents whatsoever. It is no surprise then that the legal discussion of Mackey’s methods is lacking in the extreme. He tells us about legislation set up to provide loopholes so that the Saint Asaph racetrack could continue to run in spite of anti-gambling laws, but we never read about Mackey’s strategy to combat this in court after he has Saint Asaph personnel arrested. We don’t know how or why he selected the men who joined his posse; only one is ever identified. Mackey’s men commit raids in which they destroy property without any due process of law by hacking up bars, paintings, etc. There is no direct explanation of why they were allowed to do this or if they faced consequences. We can imagine that the influence of the previously introduced Anti-Saloon League has something to do with this climate, but Pope doesn’t bother connecting the dots. He leaves a dangling thread at the end as well, as Mackey’s career ends in a host of accusations that he himself has become part of the “machine” politics he was sent to combat. Is this true? We are offered no explanation. Pope never seems to investigate Mackey himself very deeply.

Shotgun Justice lacks any footnotes or endnotes whatsoever. There a few quotes attributed to individuals from the time, but we have no idea what source Pope himself took them from. There are also items we would greatly like to verify. On page 54, he tells us that in Rosslyn, “Murders would happen every week, if not more frequently.” Where did he get that statistic? He cites no official crime reports or collection thereof. If his source is an old newspaper article, is this someone’s general description of how bad the place is (prone to exaggeration, not to be regarded as a reliable source of statistics) or did he take it from a legitimate study?

There is only one reason to read this work: fun. If you’re from Northern Virginia and don’t know the past attached to some of today’s most pristine sites, you may well enjoy knowing what our area once looked like and come to appreciate how much of the appearance we take for granted is only relatively recently come. Even more rewarding, you can impress your friends for a couple of weeks explaining how names like Rosslyn and Ballston came to exist. Pope’s work belongs on the shelf next to a book of “Alexandria Ghost Stories.” It will provide area-specific amusement, but is of little additional value.