Good link: Classic Military Books for an Age of Irregular warfare

John Arquilla in Foreign Policy, 24 September 2012.  

‘Guerilla Lit 101’

West Point’s recently released list of the top 10 military classics is replete with doorstop-sized accounts of conflict from ancient to relatively modern times — but almost completely neglects insurgency, terrorism, and other forms of irregular warfare. The U.S. Military Academy’s list does a fine job of capturing the “horizontal” dynamic of clashes of roughly equal great powers armed with the most advanced weapons. But the history and shape of the world system have been just as influenced by the “vertical” axis — the unequal struggles that have seen guerrillas, bandits, and commandos waging “wars of the knife” against empires and nations. And it is this latter mode of conflict that has dominated world affairs for the past half-century — and will likely do so for at least a century to come.

878 not 1066 for the Foundation of the English state; Or Denmark, France and England

The most famous date in British history is 1066, by some margin.  It refers to the defeat of Harold Godwinson, the last Anglo-Saxon king, by the French Norman Duke, William the Bastard more generally known as William the Conqueror, or William I of England.  This is also the story of a conflict between two rulers of Danish background.  Names ending in ‘son’ in English indicate Danish ancestry.  Danish vikings had started large scale raids on England in the late eighth century, a process which became one of settlement.  The raids from the north may go back to the end of the Roman era, but only become politically significant in the period under discussion here.  So significant that one of the major monarchs in English history was Cnut (Canute), who was also Danish king.  So there was a period of union between England and Denmark, but only a personal union through the monarch, not a union of laws or political institutions.  Harold’s father Harold Godwin (no Danish ‘son’) rose under Cnut, marrying a Danish noblewoman, Gytha who was a sister of a brother-in-law of Cnut.  Presumably these links are why Harold Godwin’s son was known by the Danish style of Godwinson.

Duke William was descended from a Danish chieftain Rollo who was given land and the exalted title of Duke by King Charles of France, in response to defeating or expelling the Viking invaders.  Rollo may have been Norwegain rather than Danish in origin, but is normally referred to as Danish.  Rollo converted to Christianity, and the line of Dukes became completely Gallic and Christian, so not connected with Danish-Norse culture.  In adopting French, they were using a language not connected to or influenced by Danish-Norse.

English includes very few words of Danish-Norse origin, but they are all Germanic languages, there are certainly words of Norse origin in the dialects of northern England and Scotland (known as Scots).  The first major work of English literature is usually considered to be Beowulf, a long Anglo-Saxon poem referring to Danish legend and tradition about a King Beowulf.  I cannot resist pointing out that J.R.R. Tolkein did a lot of the work of establishing that Beowulf stood out from surviving Anglo-Saxon manuscripts as a great work of literature, so we must consider it an influence on The Lord of the Rings.

So in 1066, Harold Godwinson was defeated by the Dano-French Duke of Normandy, who became the King of England.  William and future English Kings were maybe more French than English right up to the fourteenth century when Edward III started using English for official documents.  William was related to the English royal family and Norman influence was favoured by Harold’s predecessor as King of England Edward the Confessor (who sought a counterweight to the power of the Godwins).  Nevertheless, without a doubt William was more Norman-French than English.  French became the language of state, different laws applied to the French and the Saxons in England, a more feudal system was introduced, and castles appeared over England as never before.

Harold’s claim to England goes back to Alfred (the Great, as he became known centuries after his death), who was King of Wessex (the West Saxons in the southwest of England) from 871 to 879, and claimed the title of Rex Saxonum or Rex Anglorum et Saxonum, King of the (Anglo-)Saxons.  Alfred himself claimed descent from the original west Saxon king (more of tribal chieftain than the kind of king Alfred was) Cerdic who ruled in the early sixth century, so emerging from the defeat and absorption of post-Roman celts/Britons by invaders from northern Germany and Denmark.  The time of Alfred was the time of maximum Danish viking expansion, to the extent that the existence of the Anglo-Saxon states was under question, and England was on the verge of becoming a viking realm, with the possible consequence that those who know speak English would speak something that would belong to the Norse family of languages.

Anyway, Alfred prevented such a scenario, along with his subjects in Wessex, through a refusal to give into Danish predominance.  The Danes won victories in Wessex, and Alfred retreated into the marshes around his family lands in Somerset, deep into Wessex.  The decisive victory over the Danes from this desperate position was at Ethandun, now  known Edington in 878.  From this victory Alfred was able to keep advancing against the Danes, and though he did not take over the whole of England, and was far from doing so, he was able to take London and create the beginnings of an English state.

Alfred was a remarkable man and ruler, a much more sympathetic figure than William the Bastard with a much wider range of achievements.  Alfred was a thiner about government, religion and education.  He translated the great late Roman philosopher Boethius in Anglo-Saxon.  A modern English version of Alfred’s translation can be found here.  The Anglo-Saxon text can be found here.    Modern English translations of all of Alfred’s writings and translations from Latin, including legal, religious and historiographical texts, can be found here.  He was a reformer of the military institutions of Wessex, which affected the future administration of England in civil and military terms.  So he create a series of royal fortresses, burghs, which became the centre of towns, and that is why there are many British towns with -burgh or -borough at the end of the name.  The word also survives in ‘borough’ as a unit of local government.  Alfred favoured moderation in the administration of justice and had a principled concern with the moral foundations of government.   We can put some of this down to the necessities of survival, but certainly a less sympathetic man would have done things more brutally and cruelly, as indeed most of his successors did.

William was a man of great military and administrative qualities,  and was capable of inspiring great loyalty amongst his followers.  He was kind to his wife and showed genuine religious feeling.  However, none of these things is incompatible with great cruelty and William was a harsh ruler even by the standards of the time.  Some of this comes from circumstance.  Survival as Duke of Normandy, a position he held from childhood required extreme cunning and the destruction of enemies.  When he first took over England he made some efforts to co-operate with the Anglo-Saxon aristocracy, who still conspired against his rule.  There is however no getting round the basic facts of his rule.  Those who opposed him, of any station, were treated with cruelty.  In the north of England this extended to the destruction of the population of York, and of many others in the north, along with the slaughter of farm animals to ensure the starvation  of survivors.  Anglo-Saxon England would not strike us as a model of human rights, humane law, and equality before the law.  It was built on laws and institutions understood and accepted by most, and was administered by people who shared the language and culture of the people as a whole.  We cannot say these things about Norman England, and as noted above the situation of shared language, laws and culture was not restored until after the end of the Norman dynasty, under an Angevin-Plantagenet king three centuries later.

The beginnings of English kingship in Alfred must be qualified by the usual ambiguities that arise in defining the historical beginning. It was Alfred’s grandson Athelstan who was the first King of all England.  The late eight century King of Mercia (Middle England) Offa used the title Rex Anglorum, though no one believes he had any interest in creating an all England state.  We could take English statehood back to Cerdic, Alfred’s apparent, but not proven, ancestor in the sixth century.  No doubt other ambiguities could be found in the origin of the English state, which is the nucleus and the by far dominant part of the current British state.  Alfred is remembered well, though somehow his great victory over the Danes has not stuck in the collective consciousness like Harold’s defeat by the Norman French.  It’s a strange fact that the English remember their most decisive  defeat so well, but not their most decisive victory, the one which ensured there would be an English people and nation, later on within a British state, as much as we can give so much weight to one victory.  There are more records of the Battle of Hasting than of the Battle of Ethandun.  There is no equivalent of the Bayeux tapestry, which shows in a beautiful visual narrative how William the Bastard became Rex Anglorum, for Ethandun.  William did shape England in ways which lasted and became part of the deep history of England.  We can say the same of Alfred, however, and we can find much more to admire.

The forgetting of the really important dates is an English  habit.  The Glorious Revolution of 1688 which guaranteed the supremacy of Parliament in making laws, and raising taxes ever since, and the whole idea of the accountability of the government to bodies representing the nation, has only the vaguest presence in collective memory, much less distinct than 1066.  878, like 1688, is a year to remember, along with 1215, the year of Magna Carta which lies somewhere between 1066 and 878 in collective consciousness.

Ethics of Tragedy in Hegel

Hegel addresses tragedy in The Phenomenology of Spirit  and in the Aesthetics.  On the face of it, The Phenomenology says hardly anything about tragedy.  However, tragedy is very much present in the discussion of ethical world and ethical action in the ‘Spirit’ section of the Phenomenology which contains two brief references to Sophocles’ Antigone. Hegel writes at some length directly on tragedy in Aesthetics: Lectures on Fine Art, a much later text.  The discussion of tragedy ends the lectures, appropriately as Hegel brings in a version of his end of art argument there.  The last post had a few things to say about that.  Tragedy is identified by Hegel as the highest form of art, and as a culmination of art.  I’ll sum up some ideas from the two books below, but without references as this is a blog not an academic publication.  I am working on this in an academic context, and will be writing something longer with full referencing there.  The account below is more inspired by Hegel than an exact account of Hegel’s approach.

A large part of that elevated status of tragedy, maybe the major part is its ethical status.   This is ethical in Hegel’s sense which refers to the customs and habits of a people rather than to moral theory.  That distinction was revived by Bernard Williams in the late 20th century, though without much reference to Hegel.  The historical period in which moral theory becomes an issue is the period in which tragedy dies.  The birth of tragedy is almost simultaneous with its eat in Hegel’s view.  Tragedy exists in its pure form only in Aeschylus and Sophocles.  Euripides, who represents third generation of tragedy after Aeschylus and Sophocles, is already decadent in Hegel’s view (foreshadowing Nietzsche’s view).  That decadence had been noted by the comic dramatist Aristophanes.  

What is usually regarded as the first moral theory in philosophy emerges in the time of Sophocles and Euripides in Plato and then in Aristotle.  Plato draws on the the ideas of his teacher Socrates, and was also drawing on, and reacting to, the Sophists.  We have no dşrect knowledge of the teachings of Socrates and the Sophists though, Plato is oır main source in both cases.  Though Hegel does not say so directly, hşs account suggests that tragedy belongs to the end of ethics in its pure state, in the moment in which moral theory is born.  The idea of ethics as divine law preceding any deliberate reflection, or decision making, by humans is itself present in tragedy, but tragedy also questions it.  Tragedy questions the existing customary ethical assumptions, in articulating them and even articulating them less clearly than in Plato or Aristotle.  The moment of articulation is the moment of criticism.  So defending customary ethics is completely tangled up with its critique.  Tragedy does not directly criticise customary ethics, but does express great suffering and incomprehension at the order of the universe.

Hegel sees Sophocles’ Oedipus the King as an expression of the way that customary ethics divides against itself.  Oedipus follows opportunities without reflection when he murders King Laius (not recognising him as his father) and marries Laius’s widow Jocasta (not recognising her as his mother).  The completely natural way of life, which follows customary ethics spontaneously is shown to allow for sin, and therefore must divide against itself.  For Hegel tragedy is about conflicts of points of view which have gods beneath them.  This is itself a reference to the way the Greek tragedies show gods, and the conflicts between gods, at the basis of terrible events in the life of the hero or a whole family.  

As we see in Oedipus, the conflict can be between the natural and the less natural aspects of ethics, that is between acting without thought and acting on reflection based on knowledge.  That becomes the conflict between human and divine law in Antigone. Hegel may not have realised that Sophocles’ three Theban plays, Oedipus at Colonus in addition to the two just mentioned) were from separate trilogies written at different times, and only brought together because of the loss of all the other plays from those three trilogies.  Hegel provides back story to Antigone in his view of the development of Greek ethics before Socrates and the Sophists.  The family buries its dead members, in a move which simultaneously affirms and contains the importance of the earth and of death, and any associated divine forces.  The burial of the dead, and the ways the dead are preserved in memory are basic to the existence of the family, which is itself necessary for the existence of other ethical institutions.  The starting point for Antigone is that Creon forbids everyone to mourn and bury the body of Polyneices who had attacked the city to take it from his brother.  Antigone, brother to Polyneices, comes into conflict with Creon on this issue, and is condemned to be placed in a  tomb herself.  This looks very connected with Hegel’s account of the relation between the family and its dead members, in which women are important.  Women act as the guardians of the most material, elemental and customary aspects of ethics, and of the life of the family itself.  The woman’s connection with her brother who she is not linked to by sexual desire and who is not the product of any sexual union of which she is part, is itself a major ethical aspect of the family, which is necessary for the family to have ethical meaning.  Universality and national life as associated with men, which we can link with Creon, ruler of Thebes, in Antigone.  

The play contains reconciliation at the end, as all tragedy does, according to Hegel.  He refers to he way that Creon realises he has made a mistake incurring divine displeasure, but too late to prevent the suicide of Antigone, followed by the suicide of Creon’s son who was engaged to Antigone, followed by the suicide of Creon’s wife.  Two women and one young man are sacrificed leaving Creon still in power.  In an abrupt Hegelian leap, the reconciliation in Antigone, that is Creon becoming wiser with regard to divine-feminine law, is followed by the move to a Roman ethics, based on isolated individualism under a more systematic form of state law.  Antigone’s sacrifice is an end to tragedy and is the end of the Greek participatory city state, replaces by the Roman state of non-political individuals under law.  The reconciliation of divine-feminine law and human-male law at the end of Antigone must be understood then as  the greater articulation of state law, to give more rights to individuals who are now isolated from the formulation of law, and the government of the state.  Antigone dies because civil law cannot incorporate her one sided commitment to her brother, divine law, along with the forces of the earth, and the forces of death.  That ethics is ground out by civil law in the Roman world, which is surely the victory of Creon, who represents the universality that Hegel wants in both ethics and tragedy.  Tragedy must rises above subjective drives, sympathy for suffering (which Hegel associates with ‘provincial women’) and singularity.  That is all about rising above the female, confirming the sacrifice of Antigone as necessary to the moral order of the Roman state.  

Hegel and the Double Death of Tragedy

Art dies in some sense in Hegel in his own time.  Not in the sense that he claims there will be no more art, but in the sense he does not think it can have the kind of adequacy for presenting truth it had in the past.  The death of art in his time is tied up with a death of tragedy in his time, though not expressed very clearly.  He does express a death of tragedy in Ancient Greece in much more precise terms.

The death of tragedy in  Greece relates to the giving way of the Greek world to the Roman world in Hegel’s very schematic view of history.  If we look carefully at Hegel we can see that sweeping schematism does have detail that goes beyond the schema, not that Hegel ever abandons a tendency towards reductive schemas.  The death of tragedy is referred to the end of Greece, but on close inspection refers to a supposed failure of democracy in Athens. Rome is seen as less prone to a supposedly self-destructive democracy.  Hegel expresses that largely as the role of law in Rome including the idea of a legal persona.  He is less concerned with the form of sovereignty, but presumably regards the Roman republic as a mixture of monarchy, aristocracy and democracy, in the manner of the two great thinker of Roman republicanism, Polybius and Cicero.  He presumably finds this more stable than democracy in Athens, and presumably also finds the revival of monarchy in the form of absolute power of the ‘Emperor’ (a purely military title at that time) more compatible with law and institutional stability than Athenian democracy.

I would not defend Hegel’s view, which was not at all unique to him.  Athenian democracy lasted a long time, long after the mockery of the city’s politics in the plays of Aristophanes, which Hegel sees as showing the decadence of the democracy we associate with Pericles though it long preceded him and lived on long after his death.  Hegel himself refers to the importance of legal institutions in Athens when he discusses the emergence of the court of  Areopagus in Aeschylus’ Oresteia trilogy.   In Hegel’s view the tragedies of Aeschylus and Sophocles show a world of pure ethics detached from the politics of Athens.  That is an ethics which is pure in the unreflective commitment of characters to ethical reactions which are part of the social world in which they live.  Such reactions lead to ethical ambiguity, for Hegel, because actions collide, and are explained by differing ethical references, which emerge in the process of conflicting actions, and in the process of discovering conflicts between immediate actions unguided by knowledge and ethical judgements in the light of knowledge.  Athenian tragedy even ends before it ends.  It ends most obviously in Aristophanes’ comedies which Hegel regards as essentially mockeries of democracy, and which Hegel thinks target tragedy of the time as not proper tragedy.  Hegel takes Euripides as the target bad tragedian.  He suggests that Euripides lets go of proper tragic form by allowing subjectivity and decision making, instead the complete universality in a national sense, combined with unreflective action, that Hegel thinks he finds in Aeschylus and Sophocles.  Tragedy also ends with Sophocles’ Antigone, which is the greatest of tragedies fır Hegel.  It is Antigone that takes the tension between instinctive ethics, identified as feminine, and civil, which is also the conflict between the family’s relation to the death of a member and state principles.

The Roman world of law gets beyond the polarisation of forms of law in Antigone, with the notion of the ‘persona’, legal personality, in its law codes.  There is an individuation in Rome, which avoids tragic conflict, since we just have relations between individuals under the sovereign legal power, rather than irresolvable conflicts.  Hegel seems to have overlooked conflict between individuals and that sovereign power, the state, or struggles which become political and violent in Roman history.  The justification is probably that underneath all that the Roman state recognised individuality in ways which prevent the kind of conflicts that emerge in Athenian tragedy.  A situation that Hegel finds bourgeois.  Hegel brusquely dismisses Seneca’s plays as failures, which may be true with regard to performance, but is not true with regard to reading, and possibly recital in Seneca’s own time.  Hegel is very dismissive of recitals of drama, it’s possible that this is directed at Seneca, but there is no clear suggestion of such a thing.

Tragedy other than that of the Ancient Greeks is a poor thing for Hegel.  He contrasts ancient and modern tragedy.  He finds them very different, and finds that only Shakespeare can measure up to the great Athenians.  Modern tragedy is weakened by the subjectivity and indecision of characters, along with the multiple life guiding concerns that emerge in plays and in the characters.  Only Shakespeare rises above this by totally investing his main characters with some defining quality.  Tragedies are referred to by Schiller and Goethe, with Goethe’s Faust the most highly ranked, though Faust might be considered a failure with regard to performance, it is certainly not staged very often, and it is not at all similar to Athenian tragedy.  Hegel sees German dramatic culture as marked by an undue wish to listen to the public and satisfy multiple interests and sympathies. Sympathy is something that Hegel regards as a very inferior response to tragedy if directed towards suffering rather than the principles of that character. France seems less prone to such an error, but nevertheless tragedy has died in a world of multiplying interests and goals.  Hegel is reacting to an increasingly bourgeois world, and a world of increasing legality.  Again law and bourgeois individualism are the end of tragedy, and in this case the end of art.

The Wire, Politics, and Greek Tragedy

The Wire was an HBO series broadcast from 2002 to 2008, set in Baltimore focused on the conflict between police and drug gangs.  Other aspects of city life receive attention, in particular city politics, school teaching, unionised workers in the declining docks, and s city newspaper.  The main creator was David Simon who had been a journalist on the Baltimore Sun.  The main co-writer on the series is Ed Burns who had been a Baltimore policeman and school teacher.  Evidently the series drew on their experience of the city of Baltimore, and whether we take the show episode by episode by episode, season by season, or as a whole, it produces an effect of being in the middle of life in the city, and of a kaleidoscope, where any sides of the city are simultaneously present.

Simon is Marxist in politics and some Marxist cultural critics have been attracted to the show, but it is not obviously guided by Marxist thinking.  The most Marxist element is the portrayal of one of the drug gang leaders Stringer Bell (played by the English actor Idris Elba) as student of economics and business studies, trying to bring knowledge of those areas into entrepreneurship in the illegal narcotics sectors.  When he dies, at the hands of other criminals, the policemen who searches his apartment, the best known character in the series, Jimmy McNulty (also played by an English actor, Dominic West) sees a copy of Adam Smiths’s An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations on the shelves.  This apparent dig at capitalism as all implicitly criminal is not likely to satisfy serious Marxists though, who will be aware that Smith was himself a man of high moral character and intentions, who goes to a lot of trouble to distinguish between what he sees as genuine commerce  according to natural liberty and anti-social manipulation of economic power.

The aspect of the show that has attracted most attention from marxist commentators is the theme of unions on the docks.  The workers are portrayed sympathetically, particularly through Nick Sobotka (played by Pablo Schreiber) and his uncle Frank Sobotka (played by Chris Bauer).  Frank runs the union, and though he is given some of the grandeur of a Shakespearean tragic hero, it is clear that the union is deeply involved in what can most kindly be described as petty criminality of a kind likely to drive business away.  Nick becomes involved in more serious criminality leading to Frank’s rather noble and redemptive death.  Some Marxist commentators are inclined to see this theme as one of capitalism destroying a working class community, they are not likely to find success in persuading those of a different political orientation.  What is shown to destroy communities and social morality more is the war on drugs.  The show overall is more concerned with corruption within politics and the public sector, so is not surprisingly popular with free market libertarians, who also appreciate the decriminalise drugs message.  The most popular character in the show, Omar Little (played by Michael K. Williams), is a romantic outlaw who only commits crimes directed at drug gangs (he is one of Stringer Bell’s killers).  Other features are that he is gay, takes his mother to church on Sundays though he appears to have no religious inclinations himself, and mixes his extreme outsider status with concern for  communal values.  It seems to me to be foolish to try to pin a political label on him.

Getting on to the main purpose of this post, Simon and the most loyal fans of the show, who really are a most fervent bunch, like the ideas that the show draws a lot on Greek tragedy.  Aeschylus’ Oresteia tragedy is the main reference here.  I don’t really see the relevance except in the most general sense that one killing can lead to another, which leads to another and so on.  The story line that comes up in relation to Greek tragedy most is that round D’Angelo Barksdale (played by Larry Gilliard, Jr), who is locked into drugs and associated killing by his family. His uncle Avon (played by Wood Harris) is the leader of the drug dealing community.  D’Angelo is pushed into fast track drug gang career, and when he wants to make a deal with the police, his mother puts emotional pressure on him to stay loyal and stick out his time in prison.  We first see D’Angelo after  he has publicly killed a man (though not in a way which pleases his uncle) and escapes conviction through witness intimidation.  While he is in prison, Stringer Bell realises that his heart is not with his uncle’s gang (Stringer is Avon’s business partner),and arranges for him to be killed in prison in way which looks like suicide.  The resemblance with the Oresteia, or any Greek tragedy are so general as to lack meaning.  D’Angelo’s act of murder does lead to his own murder, he finds that he cannot escape fate, in the sense that he cannot escape his family’s leadership role in the drug dealing community.  The Oresteia tells of the murder of King Agamemnon by his wife Clytemnestra, in revenge for the sacrifice of their daughter to the gods at the beginning of the Trojan War.  Their son, Orestes, then kills Clytemnestra and her lover.  The furies pursue Orestes, who flees to Athens where a divinely ordained court acquits him of any illegal killing.  The background is the killings within the House of Atreus to which Agamemnon belongs, as a result of divine displeasure   Death leading to death, and the sense of fate, are n0t really enough to strongly connect the trilogy with The Wire.

It has been noted that the complex presentation of Baltimore is very novelistic, which is certainly in contrast to the strong unity and narrow focus of tragedy, ancient and modern.  Like a novel, the TV series incorporates fragments of tragic rather than following tragedy as a unified form.  The newspaper office which is a major theme in the final season is important here.  A newspaper editor, who is a negative character nevertheless expresses an important truth, when he tells a journalist to make it Dickensian.  The portrayal through multiple view points has many parallels in Dickens, Bleak House takes this aspect of his work to its greatest extent.  The misery of Baltimore in the show could also be seen as Dickensian in a rather vulgar use of the word.  Perhaps Simon thinks there is something more pure and culturally elevated about references to antique tragedy.  He would do his show more service by dropping any claim that any storyline in the show strongly resembles any storyline in Attic tragedy.


What does Hegel see in Ancient Tragedy?

In Hegel Ancient tragedy means Athenian tragedy.   This is partly because Athens was the unique source of Ancient Greek tragedy.  It is partly because Hegel ignores the tragedies of Seneca, the most obvious Roman achievement in tragedy.  For Hegel, satire dominates Roman poetry.  There are scholars who argue that Seneca’s plays were written more for private recital than public performance, and I’m not aware of many attempts, in fact no attempts, to stage Seneca in recent years.  Nevertheless Seneca is a major write and he wrote tragedies.  This overlooking of Seneca largely comes to Hegel’s need to see tragedy as a Greek problem of tension between natural/divine and civil law, which he sees as resolved in Roman law.  Sophocles’ Antigone gets a special role for Hegel as the play that shows the extremism of that tension.  It could be countered that such a polarisation is cured in some Greek tragedies.  Aeschlus’ Oresteia trilogy, which Hegel does discuss, does suggest that the Athenian court, Areopagus resolves such a tension, through Aeschylus’ suggestion that the court originates in a judgement of Orestes for the murder of his mother Clytemnestra, who had murdered her husband, Orestes’ father.  There is a reconciliation in which the furies avenging Clytemnestra become the kindly ones.  In large degree the conflict is about divine law, in conflicting commitments to different family members.  Politics does enter into the play, since the motivation of Orestes’ is partly to stop Clytemnestra, and her lover, ruling Argos (Mycenae).  

Hegel also sees in Ancient Greek literature a struggle against the east, by which he seems to mean a struggle against tyranny and against a state-society with no inner distinctions between individuals and spheres.  It is a struggle against oneness.  It’s not clear how this could apply to the beginning of Greek literature in Homer since the war against Troy culminates in the absolute destruction of Troy by Greeks, and Troy is not portrayed as ruled by a despot, or as ıunduly unified in oneness.  It’s main characters are often considered more sympathetic than the Greek characters in the Iliad.  The plays of Athens could be considered in the context of Greek struggle with Persia, but we could just as well consider them in the light of Athenian struggle with Sparta.  We could also consider them in the light of Athenian ambitions to place as much of Greece under its control as possible, which does not seem to fit Hegel’s schema at all.  

Hegel’s view of tragedy is of what is essentially concerned with struggle between different subjective points of view, but also as what situates subjectivity in universality, through the chorus.  These ways of framing tragedy pull in different directions.  If there is a conflict of subjective positions what guarantees that the chorus is universal and not just another moment in the conflicts of particular points of view.  Any claim to universality should surely take all points of view in the play into account.  

Hegel was not sympathetic to agonistic aspect of ancient Greek states, that is the way that contests and proofs of personal excellence were at the centre of the culture.  We could see the legal culture of ancient Athens in that light as well.  It’s difficult for him to understand the ways in which law could operate within a contestatory agonistic culture, and not only as what rises above the agon.  The tensions of tragedy can never be given the highest place in Hegel.  Elements of the Philosophy of Right makes it clear why that is so.  



Epic to Novel or Tragedy to Novel?: Hegel and Nietzsche

Hegel places the epic at the origin of the novel, which probably matches what most people think about the development of literary genres.  One aspect of this worth mentioning is that the novels of James Joyce build on the philosophical-historical reading of Homeric epic in Giambattista Vico’s work of Enlightenment thought, The New Science.  That construction of possibly the most important novels of the 20th century through a return to a reflection on epic, is in interesting issue itself which I should return to on another occasion.  Returning to Hegel, he has little to say about the novel, and clearly regards it as inferior compared with the epic, just as he is inclined to regard prose as inferior to poetry, suggesting that Goethe improved those works which he rewrote in verse after a first version in prose.    Lukács gives more weight to the novel, but follows a Hegelian way of thinking (referring mainly to Theory of the Novel here) in which the development of the novel is itself a tale of the break up of the ancient epic world in which the hero could be seen as unified with the world.  The novelistic hero is increasingly at odds with the environment, so becoming a criminal or a mad man.  Lukács’ account is certainly valuable though highly schematic.  Are not Achille and Odyssesus in Homer at odds with the world in some way?  Of course Lukács would say there is an underlying belonging, but we do not have to accept that.  

Nietzsche offers a rather different account of the emergence of the novel in Birth of Tragedy.  He suggests that we can see Plato’s dialogues as a philosophical novel, and that we can see these as the degeneration of tragedy, in which Euripides plays the key role along with Socrates, whom Nietzsche suppose Euripides put on stage.  Even before Hegel’s discussions of aesthetics, the Jena Romantics had already suggested that the Platonic dialogue leads the way to the novel, though they put a very different evaluation on this, seeing the Platonic dialogue as a fusion of philosophy and poetry which is again achieved in the novel. To some degree this is endorsed in the 1840s by Kierkegaard, since The Concept of Irony suggests some continuity between Socratic irony in Plato’s dialogues and the irony of the Jena Romantics in both their theoretical and literary creations.  Some of Kierkegaard’s own works look like like a response to the idea of a fusion of philosophy and poetry in a novel, particularly Either/Or, Repetition and Stages on Life’s Way.  

Getting back to Nietzsche, the Platonic dialogue has a rationalist dialectic which is taken as a decline from the tragic unity of the Dionysian (loss of identity, the body) and the Apollinian (identity, reason).  The naturalism of the novel is an inferior version of the Dionysian and the dialectic is an inferior version the Apolline.  The novel was a minor form in antiquity, or so literary hierarchies presumed.  Only one has lasted as a widely read classic, and that in Latin,  Apuleius’ Metamorphoses or Golden Ass. In Birth of Tragedy, Nietzsche assumes that Greek tragedy and Wagnerian opera are the cultural highlights of European history, the two moments of perfect but tense union between the Dionysian and the Apollinian.  Implicitly the novel is cast down in status in various ways by Birth of Tragedy, after all Nietzsche was writing in the time that the novel emerged as accepted a great literary genre.

Later writing by Nietzsche suggests he came to give the novel a higher status, he certainly has a positive opinion of Stendhal and Dostoevsky.  Regardless of his initial low valuation of the novel, Nietzsche’s early suggestion that the novel is a form of tragedy is a fascinating suggestion, that does fit with how the novel is often understood.  That is the novel is often understood as more concerned with clear cut individual characters, their inner life, conflicts between them and their environment, than epic is.  In these senses the novel is closer to tragedy, going back to the way that Aristotle discusses tragedy and epic, something on which Hegel draws heavily.  


Describing and Replacing the Analytic-Continental Distinction in Philosophy

There is a well entrenched habit of referring to philosophy (in the ‘west’) as divided between Analytic and Continental European (usually just one of these words is used, most frequently the first) philosophy.  The distinction is widely understood to be unsatisfactory but still persists.  One clear problem with the distinction is that the first term refers to a way of doing philosophy, and the second refers to a geographical area.  Though the habit of referring to ‘continental’ philosophy detaches that form of philosophy from geographical context, as if it was the kind of philosophy practised in continental land masses rather than in isolated islands or archipelagoes.  That comes from the distinction that was being made between philosophy as undertaken in the island of Britain (and maybe the island of Ireland) as opposed to the continental land mass of Europe.

Other problems include: the late 19th and early 20th century origins of Analytic philosophy in Germany (Frege and then the Berlin Circle), Austria (Vienna Circle) and Poland; the predominance of Analytic philosophy in Nordic countries; the growing presence of Analytic philosophy in Continental Europe, interesting departments from that point of view exist in the universities of Barcelona, Geneva, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Bilkent (Ankara, Turkey), and so on; continental philosophy has been on the rise in Britain and in the Anglo-sphere (Ireland, Canada, United States, New Zealand and Australia) for some time, that rise might have levelled out a few years ago, but anyway clearly more attention is paid now than in the 60s; the American philosopher Richard Rorty has some claim to be a major ‘continental’ philosopher (I’m not convinced myself), and some major Continentals spent significant time in America (Adorno, Horkheimer, Habermas) or even ended up there for most of their professional life (Marcuse, Arendt); there is a current of Analytic discussion of Continental texts, tending of concentrate on philosophy of mind and moral psychology; at least one Continental text has become a major reference in philosophy of Mind, Merleau-Ponty’s Phenomenology of Mind; American Pragmatism was strongly influenced by Hegel, and that influence has resurfaced in the work of some recent Pragmatists, including Robert Brandom; ‘Analytic’ philosophy has tended to move away from conceptual analysis and become more concerned with empirical science; early Husserl and early Phenomenology in general has a very awkward relation with Continental philosophy, but though it seems close to Analytic philosophy, it has had a big influence on Continental philosophy.  

Is there a way out?  I think so, though it still needs some awareness of difficult boundary issues.  The distinction is surely that between a hard science, logical, conceptual analysis current and a cultural, historical, aestheticising approach.  I will call this the distinction between Conceptual-Scientific philosophy and Cultural-Historical philosophy There are reasons why this distinction has not really taken, though it is hard to see anyone denying that it has some truth to it.  I’m inclined to think that these reasons can be tamed far enough for the distinction to be a better one than Analytic/Continental.

The reasons for the distinction is that Analytic philosophy is a term for those concerned with the nature of knowledge (science and perception are the key aspects of knowledge) and with conceptual clarity in all fields; Continental philosophy is a term for those concerned with culture (including the distinction between culture and nature), history, and with the analysis of culture and history as models.  The distinction in preoccupations is often reflected in a distinction between styles: a dry style of conceptual clarity abstracted from linguistic-cultural context, and a poetic style emphasising the ways in which concepts exist in a linguistic-cultural context.  Art, aesthetics and culture has a central role in what has been normally labelled Continental philosophy lacking in what has been known as Analytic philosophy, though Analytic philosophy does sometimes take those kinds of things as objects of investigation, it rarely takes them as models of exposition. The major exception is Wittgenstein, one could also mention Stanley Cavell, but not many others.  Anyway, no one is going to get very far with Wittgenstein who lacks an understanding of his relation to questions of logic, conceptual clarity, foundations of perception and so on.  

What are the problems here?  The major one is Husserl, who usually comes up when this kind of distinction is discussed.  His earlier work seems much closer to Analytic/Conceptual-Scientific philosophy than Continental/Cultural-Historical Philosophy, but many of the second category of philosophers devoted considerable effort to studying early Husserl (Heidegger, Sartre, Lévinas, Derrida, etc).  The answer to that is that early Husserl belongs to the Conceptual-Scientific side, but he pushed some questions of the nature of our conscious experience of the world to a limit where a cultural-historical understanding of experience starts to appear at least in the margins, which was taken further in Husserl’s later work and in the Cultural-Historical philosophers mentioned.  

Another problem is that some Cultural-Historical philosophy deals with science.  There work of Gaston Bachelard and Georges Canguilhem on science is a major part of the background to Foucault and Derrida, while seeming close to the American historian and philosopher of science Thomas Kuhn.  The answer to that is that Bachelard moved into a poetic exploration of experience, Canguilhem is concerned with the historical nature of scientific concepts.  Canguilhem is close to some aspects of Kuhn, but Kuhn produced a much more unified view of how concepts operate, which refers to history but is more abstracted from history and culture than what the French thinkers were doing.  Kuhn joins with Foucault to some degree in sociology and history of science but from different ends.  Kuhn’s model is the psychology of perception, Foucault’s model is poetic experience.

Merleau-Ponty has been taken up on the Conceptual-Scientific side, but in his earlier phase in which he was more concerned with the psychology of perception, and even there he is very concerned with an at least slightly poetic reporting of experience, with historical situation, and with the aestheticisation of perception.  

Gilles Deleuze had a lot to say about science and about the production of concepts.  However, very few philosophers of science are Deleuzian (I can’t think of any well known figures), and what he means by production of concepts is much less systematic than what the Conceptual-Scientfic current does.  A lot of Deleuze works through striking metaphors and rapid shifts between domains of knowledge, which are used in the formulation of Deleuze’s philosophy rather than given systematic foundations.  

Nietzsche is sometime taken as a philosopher concerned with natural science as a model of philosophy and as a privileged object of philosophical study.  This sort of thing has become quite influential and is perfectly meritorious within its own limits, but is really a deeply misleading way of reading Nietzsche.  The natural-scientific models in Nietzsche are changeable and provisional, he frequently writes in a poetic rhetorical style foreign to the Conceptual-Scientific current. The more scientistic moments in Nietzsche can always be matched by moments which question that.  The text most often appealed to by the Analytic Nietzscheans, On the Genealogy of Morals, is an example of cultural-historical interpretation much more embedded in rhetorical strategies, performative styles, and provocations than the Analytic Nietzscheans are able to acknowledge.  

Hegel wrote The Science of Logic which is evidently concerned with the metaphysical structure of reality, the foundations of science and logic.  However, who takes it as a major text in any of those fields anymore?  It is not that Hegel is irrelevant to those concerns, as that what he write about those concerns is guided by his first major text, the Phenomenology of Spirit which obviously puts the cultural-historical development of consciousness and human community at the centre, even if has some things to say of interest from the conceptual-scientific side.  

Heidegger wrote Being and Time which appears, at least in its beginning, to be concerned with the clarification of abstract metaphysical concepts as do some later texts.  However, Being and Time moves quickly into questions of the cultural-historical embedding of being, via the suggestion that the question of Being be approached through the possibility of asking the question, and includes much discussion of subjective experience, history and so on, in terms which are not those of a conceptual framework even if work has been done to taken  some of his ideas in that direction.  Similar remarks apply to later texts of Heidegger.  Heidegger is preoccupied with the nature of philosophy in a historical and cultural context, including the history of its texts, even if he does not put the issue in quite hat way.

Habermas writes in a way that is influenced by, and converges with ‘analytic’ philosophy of language and social science, at some points.  However, he began his career with a book on the history of the public sphere, historical and cultural questions are always present in Habermas in a way we do not find in the conceptual-scientific philosophers. 

If we think of ‘Continental’ philosophy as cultural-historical philosophy, then we can get beyond the standard construction of it as a one branch of Kantian philosopher, as it developed in later German Idealism.  That aspect of German idealism was itself formed by Cultural-Historical works of Enlightenment thought, as in Giambattista Vico, Montesquieu and Adam Ferguson.  We can go back further to Pascal and before Pascal, Montaigne.  Both Foucault and Derrida indicated that they were deeply affected by Montaigne.  We can then think of the Continental-Analytc split as the split between Montaigne in the Renaissance and the slightly later thought of Francis Bacon, then Descartes, who was the object of Pascal’s criticisms. 


When does the history of European union start?

One thing comes up sometimes in reading about the idea of Europe, a suggestion that we cannot equate the project of European political union with the Roman Empire or Alexander’s earlier European based imperial venture.  A prime recent example is the economist and social philosopher Amartya Sen in ‘What happened to Europe?’.  Sen argues that Alexander the Great was more concerned with India than much of Europe, while both Julius Caesar and Mark Anthony identified more with Egyptians than north Europeans (possibly a reference to the amorous relations both Romans enjoyed with Cleopatra, the Egyptian queen descended from Alexander the Great’s General, Ptolemy).

The first claim is undoubtedly correct.  What did Alexander know of northern and western Europe?  Very little, and he probably cared even less.  The second claim is slightly more shaky.  Caesar did invade England twice, and did cross the Rhine at least once in Germany, all tied up with the conquest of Gaul, which must have seem very western and northern to the Romans of the time.  Mark Anthony’s rather more long term involvement with Cleopatra than that of his mentor Caesar (yes Anthony did live as the husband of the woman his surrogate father had tarried with, quite the Oedipus, or maybe Polyneices since he was at war with Caesar’s adoptive son Augustus) was not popular in Rome.  He either hope to found an eastern dynasty with Cleopatra, or to rule the Roman wold from Alexandria, either way was most unacceptable to the elite and the crowd in Rome.

Returning to Sen, his article suggests that he thinks that a political idea of Europe comes from Christendom, with the decisive moment being a manifesto of George of Podĕbrady, a 15th century King of Bohemia.  Podĕbrady was arguing for a political union of Christendom against the Muslims.  At that time Christianity had been displaced by Islam from Morocco to Istanbul.  Islam had also spread beyond those areas which are still predominantly Muslim into Greece and the Balkans, through the conquests of the Ottomans.  Some of those territories still have large Muslim minorities, pluralities and outright majorities (Albania, Kosovo, Macedonia, Greece, Bosnia, Bulgaria).

If Christendom, the Medieval understanding of a transnational Christian community, has a history though, that history begins in Rome.  The Catholic Church was the state church of the Roman Empire in the west, and the Pope still enjoys a title used by the Roman Emperors, which goes very far back in Roman history, Pontifex Maximus (High Priest).  The Orthodox church began as the state church of the Roman Empire in the east (what became known as Byzantium). The original centres of Christianity were Jerusalem, Alexandria and Antioch (now the Turkish city of Antakya).

Turkey,  I believe, is part of political Europe.  That is not just a belief, it is an institutional and legal fact, however much some may resist the necessary outcome of Turkish membership of the European Union.  If history had been very slightly different Antakya would be part of Syria, and I would not argue that Antakya was part of Europe then, but this just shows us that there are no absolute frontiers.  After all Europe without Turkey is Europe without Edirne (Adrianople), Istanbul (Constantinople), Izmir (Smyrna) and so on.

Anyway, the main point here is that Christianity began outside Europe in Jerusalem and some other major centres were clearly outside Europe, including Carthage where Augustine of Hippo was Bishop of Carthage, in what is now Tunisia (he was born in what is now Algeria).  We could complicate this picture by dealing with claim that has been put forward for Israel joining the European Union.  I am sure, however, this makes no sense and that if such a policy was implemented the European Union would have to expand to cover all of the states bordering the Mediterranean, south as well as north.

The North African and Near Eastern territories became part of the House of Islam rather than Christendom soon after the death of Mohammed, but crusaders tried to claim back territories from Anatolia down to Palestine, and did create Christian states which lasted for a couple of centuries.  Anyway, Islam was dominant in Iberia for centuries, with some presence still in the time of George of Podĕbrady, and had a shorter period of dominance in Sicily.  So really we’re not going to get very far in equating Medieval Christendom with Europe, even if it is certainly true that some sense of solidarity between Christians had a part in the emergence of a European political structure.

We cannot talk of Christendom without talking of Rome, and while we cannot talk about the history of the idea of Europe without reference to Christendom, it is no way the bedrock reference.  Alexander the Great evidently reinforced Greek influence in the non-European Mediterranean world.  It did already have a considerable presence, so that the translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek precedes Alexander’s conquests.  He took that influence to what is now Iran, then what is now Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.  The influence was not a matter of just transmitting Macedonian-Hellenic influence to those lands.  Alexander’s idea of his sovereignty was shaped by the Persian Great Kings, and that influence was transmitted to Julius Caesar and then to the Roman Emperors, and then to all European monarchs. Europe has interacted with other regions, and in a great many ways.

We could regard Europe as an off shoot of the ancient Near East, an exaggeration but a useful one.  None of this is reason to deny that the idea of Europe has reference to political structures long preceding 15th century proposals to unite Christian against Muslims.  The Roman Empire importantly expanded outside Europe, but was always centred in Europe (despite Mark Anthony’s ambitions), whether that centre was Rome (sometimes Milan or Ravenna towards the end of the Empire in the west) and Constantinople-Istanbul.  Ottoman Sultans claimed to be Caesars of the Romans (in Ottoman Turkish) after the fall of Constantinople, not before.

Alexander’s Empire fragmented after his death, which is where we get the Ptolemaic dynasty to which Cleopatra belonged.  Clearly everyone thinks his Empire was an expanded Macedonian-Hellenic Empire that continued more in the major fragment centred on Macedonia than it did in the other major fragments of Ptolemaic Egypt or the Seleucid Empire, centred on Antakya/Antioch for a large part of its history.  The Ptolemaic dynasty adopted Egyptian customs and forms of sovereignty, the Seleucids were more distinctly Macedonian-Greek for a longer time, but that identity belonged to an elite not the people they ruled as a whole.

There is no absolute beginning to the history of European political sovereignty, just as there is no absolute definition of the boundaries of Europe.  We can see threads of European sovereignty go back to Alexander, and further back to the very loose notions of Greek community which preceded Macedonian dominance.  We could make a case for seeing some very early stage of emergent sovereignty in the bonds between celtic peoples across Europe.  That is open to debate.  One thing is for sure, forms of European sovereignty precede the 15th century, precede Christendom and are bound up with Roman antiquity.

Hegel on History of Literature, with some reference to politics.

Hegel’s view of literary history is now doubt too complex to be summarised as it will be here, but Hegel himself had many moments of extremely reductive synthesis and summary, and what is suggested here is a reasonable framework for approaching what Hegel is doing with literature.  What follows summarises Hegel in ways that don’t always match his most direct statements, but seem to me to capture his enterprise.


There are two major stages of European culture, for Hegel, and that is the culture that matters to Hegel.  The first is classical and refers to the pre-Christian era where gods are many and the world of the sacred is like an exaggerated version of the everyday world, rather than something than can be seen as transcending the everyday world.  The second stage is the romantic, and refers to the Christian era.  This is open to confusion since the term is normally used for subjective expressivist tendencies in art as they appeared in the late eighteenth and early 19th centuries.  Hegel deals with that but not in a fully integrated way, with reference to extremes of subjectivity and the end of art, as what can match philosophy and religion.  Art in the Christian era refers to art which tries to refer to the transcendent world of the Christian God.

The essential classical work of literature is the epics of Homer (the use of the name ‘Homer’ stands in for the large number of possible forms of authorship for the collection of verses we attribute to Homer) which present a world of unified rules and mores.  The essential romantic work of literature is Dante’s Divine Comedy,which presents the author on a journey through the three parts of the transcendent world in Catholic Christianity: Hell, Purgatory (where sins are purged from those who are destined for Heaven, but were not perfect enough in earthly life to earn direct passage to Heaven), Heaven.  Homer showed a unified vision of archaic Greece based on war and primitive aristocracy, from the point of view of a much later Greek world; Dante shows a unified northern Italian Medieval world through an exploration of the structures of its religious consciousness.

Later literature is disintegrative from Hegel’s point of view.  Tragedy is the product of Athenian democracy, which Hegel finds admirable but non-sustainbable:  Tragedy shows the conflicts of values, something Hegel by his famous account of Sophocles’ Antigone as a way of dealing with the conceptual limits and the historical end of ideas of sacred and civic law at that time.  The novel is quite an uncomfortable form for Hegel, because it lacks the integrated world view of Homeric and Dantean epic.  The novel deals with subjective perspectives, often multiple, shifting and ironised.  That idea of the novel had been seen as ideal union of poetry and philosophy shortly before Hegel’s started writing his best known work (that is from the Phenomenology of Spiritwhich was published in 1807.   However, Hegel reacts against this view to be found in the Jena Romantic essays of Friedrich Schlegel, Novalis etcetera. There is a political undercurrent.  İn the last years oıf the 18th century, the Jena Romantics associated multiple view points in art with ‘republicanism’, what we know call political liberalism or liberal democracy.  Like the founders of the American Republic, Hegel was suspicious of ‘democracy’, and like them said remarkably interesting things about politics, but also like them did not quite understand how republicanism could exist in the modern world through a unified system of  representative democracy. The present American system is essentially an attempt to marry a revival of Rome with the constant application of  the principle of the people directly electing representatives  at the heat of modern republicanism.    Unlike the American founders, Hegel’s thoughts perspicuous and otherwise, were not encoded as a constitution that still dominates his own nation.

The novel in the flow of Hegel’s argument is a romantic form expressing disintegrative aspects of romanticism, so hardly rising to the level of a fully formed romantic piece of writing.  This fits with his critical attitude to Romantic aesthetic theory, summarised above, and other more indirect allusions to the danger of subjectivity in literature.  There are references in Phenomenology of Spirit and later, certainly in Elements of the Philosophy of Right, to the dangers of extremes of inner self-perfection and obsession in ethics and culture, as we see in discussions of the unhappy consciousness, the beautiful soul, and subjective morality that become evil.  Some of this must refer to the dark side of romanticism, the melancholia and eventual mental collapse of Hegel’s friend, the poet Hölderlinor the suicide portrayed by Goethe in Sorrows of Young Werther, which inspired copycat suicides.

Tragedy, Athenian and Shakespearean can only be seen as disintegrative even if great, lyric poetry cam only be seen as a step towards subjective alienation from communal ethics.  Hegel has many very perceptive things to say about these forms, but cannot see the possibility of recurring greatness in literature, which most obviously conditions his view of the novel in a very limiting way.  It also leaves him with a schematic view of tragedy and a failure to grasp its continuing possibilities.