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Preparing for the Best and Brightest event reminded me once again of René Descartes and his method.

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Henry Ford decided to produce the rubber for Ford vehicles. East Indian rubber from Ceylon and Malaya was too expensive and controlled by Britain. Much of that rubber had come from trees seeded from Brazil a hundred years before. Ergo Ford turned to Brazil, while he also invested heavily in Thomas Alva Edison's research to synthesise rubber in the United States.

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This novel is set in the deep Amazon jungle where the Ford company created a vast rubber plantation. It is told from the perspective of a new employee whose job it is to recruit labor for the colossal work of producing a quarter of the world's supply of rubber. He is an Argentine, neither European, American, nor Brazilian, and so at a distance.

His journey upriver through the morning mists, the afternoon miasmas, and the ominous nights reminded this reader of Captain Willard's trip to find his Mr Kurtz. (You either get it or you don't, Mortimer.)

The enormity and eternity of the Amazon are described along with the many locals whom our protagonist meets as he seeks employees. Against the relentless pressure of the jungle, the efforts of the Ford officials decay from idealism to pragmatism to despotism. Their mission to bring civilisation to the jungle reduces them to lesser men.

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There is woman from the Ford Company's sociology department researching the project and she provides our hero with a love interest in a small aside.

The tension in the novel is encapsulated early by one of the local Ford executives who said, 'we work twelve hours a day to civilise the land and the jungle works twenty-four hours a day against us.' It wins in the end.

The rubber trees flourish in the jungle in part because they are at distance from one another, whereas in the plantation they are closer together. When a fungus assails one tree in the planation it passes to the others in a flash. In a day a thousand treees have it. Over night ten thousand. Worse the diseased trees attract pests from the jungles that speeds the rot and carry diseases that effect humans. The only treatment if to burn the infected trees.

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The fungus does not exist in the East Indies, so says the botanical expert brought in to consult far too late in the piece. That is why Brazilian trees taken there a century before have prospered.

To admit defeat would be to admit that Ford might, ingenuity, machines, money, and enlightenment science cannot tame nature. It also spells the end of several careers.

Before the crisis there is some travelogue up and down the river where many different types are encountered.

Interspersed with the Amazon chapters are some from Detroit featuring Henry Ford. I found those interesting enough to consider finding a biography of him. In these pages he is reasonable, patient, and more willing to face reality than his subordinates. He is also obstinate and treats his only son Edsel like a puppet, and a hypocrite, yet he shows avuncular patience with a worker on the assembly line at Rogue River. His anti-semitism is iterated but mechanically.

Despite the glowing reports from the executives in Brazil, Ford reads between the lines of the reports and visits the place himself. It takes him a few hours to realise that the jungle has won and the best thing is to declare victory and leave. To hide the defeat he buys off the parties involved, rather than punishing them and admitting the failure.

The period seems to be between the middle of 1929 and say 1932 or 1933 to judge by the passing references to world events.

The novel is easy to read with a well judged combination of description, dialogue, and some action. The cross cutting between the corporate jungle of Detroit and the wilds of the Amazon are in proportion, though it is a technique that I do not like.

While it is clear the author found the whole idea of the plantation repellant, the book lets the events and characters act it out, leaving the reader to draw conclusions. There are no sermons nor are there any one-dimensional characters. The author is an historian and this is his first novel. Whether there is second I do not know.

Eduardo_Sguiglia_2.jpg Eduardo Sguilia

There were a couple times when I thought the translation clanged; don't know why, but it did not sound quite right.

I also have a book about Fordlandia by a historian to read. Since it was published later I read the novel first.

A wide-ranging and informative account of Fordlandia by an historian.  There is much about Ford the man and Ford the company at the outset that was new to me but not altogether necessary to the story of Fordlandia, leaving me with the feeling that everything the author found was forced into the book relevant or not.  For a book about the Jungle City more than half of it is about Dearborn Michigan.  

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That Ford came to replicate Dearborn in the Amazon may be true but we did not need quite so much background for that point to be made.  

Ford's proselytising efforts to mould new industrial men, my phrase, in his workforce is interesting.  Like other paternalistic employers, Ford thought that if he paid well and supported clean living, the men will be responsible employees and that is that.  Fordlandia became a laboratory test of that proposition on a green fields site far away from the temptations of Detroit.  

The size of Ford's industrial empire was enormous in the 1920s.  Seventy-five thousand employees in Michigan and a like number elsewhere.  

Ford had long believed in vertical integration.  Growing its own rubber fit with that approach.

Settling on the Amazon was fraught for many reasons.  There was much corruption in doing the deal, though Ford did not know it.  There was much incompetence in the management and constant blame shifty and backbiting among the managers. Ford did know some of that.  

To compress a longer story.  None of the managers sent there knew anything about the tropics, the local people, or rubber trees.  

Instead they were enjoined to replicate Dearborn there.  To wit the buildings were planned in Dearborn for Michigan conditions and built there.  These building were all wrong for the climate and terrain but it had to be that way for the press photographs.  

When the rubber market changed, Ford pressed on in part simply to show that with enough effort it could be done.  Climate, jungle, tropical pests, Brazilians, they would all yield to the genius of science, engineering, rationality, and logic.   And money.

The original contract that ceded the land called for planting of a thousand trees by the end of the second year. To meet that deadline planting started in the wet season when it should have started in the dry season. Most of the plants were washed away even as they were planted. Those who managed knew nothing about wet and dry seasons in the Amazon jungle. But they had a can-do attitude learned in Dearborn and they set about replicating Dearborn in the jungle with brick houses and metal roofs that made them sweat boxes.   But such will power cannot overturn nature.

The jungle prevailed. While the Brazilian rubber trees seeded in South East Asia flourished because they had no natural predators, in the Amazon there were many fungi and insects that feed on the rubber tree. When planted close together in a plantation, the rubber trees perished easily and readily. The Ford company took no advice from botanists, though some did try to tell it.

Fordlania remenants 1.jpg What remains.

There are many similar stories where the assumption was that if enough money was spent, enough equipment deployed, enough men employed, then it could be done.  But there was never enough to overcome the Amazon.  Think Fitzcarraldo.  

With age Henry Ford became more and more stubborn and less and less reasonable.  What started out as good intentions in paternalism became despotic.  

There was also a good deal of mission creep. The stated goal changed and changed again to avoid admitting defeat. First it was to grow rubber. Then it was to develop the Amazon interior as a philanthropic gesture. Then it was to support the Brazilian government through investment. Next it was to export the American model of community. Finally it was to hang on to American interest in Brazil to keep it on the Allies’ side in World War II.

Fordlania remenants 2.jpg Ruins.

I learned a lot from the book but I found the author's didactic tone irksome.  Rather it than informing the reader and then letting the reader decide, the moral is asserted early and often.  Because of all the extraneous material as mentioned at the outset, I found the book hard to follow, though I already knew some of the story.  Reading all this detail, makes me appreciate the way the novelist distilled enough for the story he told out of the morass of facts.

The obvious comparison, not made by the author, is with the building of Brasilia a generation. Although Brasilia was not built in the Amazon jungle but on a high, arid plateau in the middle of nowhere.  

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I found nothing that relates to utopian theory or practice.

The author makes two broad points in this extremely well crafted study of a much maligned and seldom understood institution.

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(1) The original Constitution of the United States created a federal republic, rather than a democracy. That is, democratic elections were but one part of the institutional array arrived at by compromise to create a strong but limited central government. The Electoral College was born of that desire to refract public and popular opinion, not merely transmit it, though the selection and timing of the Electoral College vote which were products of Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century manners, morēs, and technology.

(2) The democratic impulse has since grown and grown in step with the growth of the legal and moral authority of the chief executive, the President, since 1789. The rhetoric of democracy, the reality of corruption in some legislatures, and the speed of communication technology have combined to make the democratic presidential election the highest expression of the Constitution, leaving the Electoral College a relic of the past (and the Supreme Court an annoyance to be tamed through appointments). Or so it might seem to a casual observer.

The author makes very cogent arguments for the continued importance of the Electoral College, though of necessity each argument ultimately rests on speculation.

The first argument is that the need to secure a majority of Electoral votes means a winning candidate has to gather support across the nation. Without the check of the Electoral College, astute candidates would concentrate their efforts where the voters are: California, Florida, New York, Texas, Illinois, and Pennsylvania. In those states they would further concentrate on the big cities. This assertion is not entirely speculative since this concentration occurs now, but as the author demonstrates it is currently balanced by the need to distribute effort.

The second argument must needs be speculative. It is that the Electoral College, by aggregating support from across the country, drives candidates to the middle range of opinion to find that magic 50% + 1. It is an institutional disincentive to extremism. In so doing it is also a buttress to the two-party system. While third party candidates have had impact - Ross Perot, Ralph Nader, and George Wallace, in particular - none has had a chance to win. The speculation is that without the need for a majority in the Electoral College, the field of candidates would increase. In 2016 we could then imagine Bernie Sanders running as an independent and Mitt Romney acting on his words as another independent candidate, along with Hillary Clinton and Trump Donald. Plus that man who has never heard of Aleppo. Well, so what?

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With more than two high-profile candidates, it is likely that none of them would secure an overall majority of popular votes. If the slate in 2016 were Clinton, Romney, Sanders, and Trump that certainly seems likely. One of the four would have a plurality, that is, more votes than any other single candidate, but in such a crowded field it is unlikely to be a majority, and there would also be other minor candidates draining votes, say a resurgent Al Gore, to pick an amusing example.

A Constitutional amendment would be necessary to anticipate such a possibility. currently the Constitution does have provision for a contingent election where no candidates has a majority in the Electoral College; a joint sitting of Congress would choose from among the top two candidates. Would such a contingent election, a likely outcome of the democratic impulse, be democratic? Moreover, the question might be which Congress? The one that exists or the one elected coincidentally with the Presidential election? There are many complications here because the House is elected in whole while the Senate only by thirds.

In fact, Congress in a contingent election would act as an Electoral College and in so doing would subordinate the executive to the legislature. The scope for politicking in this eventuality is unlimited and nearly unprecedented. By the way, there was such divisive four-way race despite the Electoral College in 1860 and that precipitated the Civil War though Abraham Lincoln won sixty percent of Electoral votes his support was purely Northern, and his popular vote was forty percent, far ahead of the second place. Not an example to be repeated to be sure, but not discussed in these pages either.

The author also suggests in passing the scope for recounts and other ex post facto contests would be greatly expanded in the search for a national majority or plurality. This does seem likely with the result that vote counting could take longer and longer and the incentives for disputes, political, moral, and legal, would increase, as per the 2000 election, and be settled perhaps by a court. Hardly a democratic outcome.

Note well, there is no constitutional provision for a chief executive once the incumbent’s term expires in January. Vote counting and resolution could go well beyond that date. I can add to the speculation by supposing that there would be some who would try to influence the outcome by affecting eligibility laws.

The author also points the numerous lacuna in the United States Constitution, which ought to be fixed long before the Electoral College is changed. Here are a couple to consider.

Let us imagine Trump Donald wins the November 2016 election with a sizeable majority of popular votes that guarantee sufficient Electoral votes. Then a week later, after the poll is official, he dies. (Those voodoo dolls finally come through!)

Who is in line to be the next president? No, not his Vice-Presidential running mate because he did not get the votes for president and in any event he has not been sworn in, and the Constitution does not recognise the political parties so the Republican Party, much as it would like to do so, cannot put up David Duke instead. There is no remedy in the Constitution.

Here’s another. A triumphant Trump survives and the Electoral College meets in December and gives him a majority, while Congress is in recess. Then he dies the day after. Again there is no path to a president. His Vice-Presidential running mate has still not yet taken the oath of office and has no claim on the office of president, though he would have a legal claim to the office of Vice President as explained below. The Electoral College results only become constitutional when they are submitted to and accepted by Congress in January. There are measures for emergency sessions, true, and the sitting President can call for an emergency session, but it is too late if Trump Donald died.

In this scenario Trump’s Vice Presidential running mate would have a claim to be Vice President because on inauguration day, the Vice President-elect is sworn in first in the Senate. This practice evolved to insure that the Vice President was available should the President-elect die on the spot. This provision came into being after an assassination attempt on Andrew Jackson. Swearing in a Vice President without a President, there is no constitutional or legal justification for that. Nor is there any legal or constitutional provision for another election. Still less is there any constitutional or legal framework for a caretaker government by the incumbent whose term expires on inauguration day.

No, commonsense would certainly not prevail.

In the polarised and poisonous miasma that now suffocates Washington, D.C. every step would be contested ad nauseam, and the struggle for supremacy among the talking heads would fan every ember into a conflagration. Imagine Murdoch’s Organs as king-maker. Shiver.

The author concludes that the Electoral College be kept pretty much as it is, but that the casting of its vote be made automatic on the majority result in each state, on a winner take all basis. There is another complication here for a later date.

It should be kept, she argues, because it bolsters the two-party system which in turn moderates public opinion to the centre from the extremes and it promotes a nationwide campaign. Though it cannot absolutely guarantee to deliver each of these benefits with certainty, it does provide palpable incentives for each, as was the original intention of its creation.

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The author also supports the winner-take-all approach to Electoral votes so that if Trump Donald wins 50% + 1 of popular votes in New York state he gets all of its Electoral votes. This is currently the law in forty-eight states. The winner-take-all rule makes the fewer votes of the smaller states more valuable, goes the argument. As poker pots are won in all and not split by the value of the hands of the respective players, so are Electoral votes. Yet it is two small states (Maine and Nebraska) that have split their few votes according to congressional districts, a quirk that allowed Barry Obama to win one Nebraska electoral vote. Amazing. The winner-take-all provision magnifies the winner’s support and that is supposed to increase legitimacy. Yet to many these days it does the opposite; it decreases respect for the process by inflating the margin of victory contrary to the popular vote per 2000 and 2016. The author is silent on this point.

By the way, official results are those certified by each state attorney-general as compliant with state laws. There is plenty of room in this process for dirty work. Check Florida for recent examples where lawsuits go away with campaign donations.

The author does not consider Facebook as an alternative to the Electoral College. A glaring omission that is. The candidate with the most friends and then the most likes wins! There are some entries on Facebook about the Electoral College but none to be recommended.

While the author refers to many historical examples, in none of them does the Electoral College save the day. Yet that is the master narrative. Hmmm.

Tara Ross.jpg Tara Ross

The book is very well written and very thorough. The prose is clear and specific. The approach is analytic. Having said that the author’s preference for retention of the Electoral College is apparent from the start.

There is more to the book and I may do another comment, but I wanted to publish this one before the United States election, so here it is.

An aside for Australian readers: The preferential ballot in Australia has the same function of creating and magnifying a majority, even creating one where none existed. This fiction is enthusiastically embraced by Australian voters, despite the anomalies it sometimes creates through elaborate preference deals that give parliamentary seats to candidates with few first preferences. In some ways it is just as wacky as the Electoral College but it is an article of faith not to be questioned.

To fathom Trump Donald’s loyal following turn off the television talking heads for whom last week is the long term perspective and the pubescent professional worriers contributing to op-ed pages. Far too much of news reporting is journalists talking to each other, and journalistic analyses occurs when they write down their conversations.

Turn instead to the bookshelf and find Leon Festinger’s ‘When Prophecy Fails’ (1956) a superb empirical study of a cult, placed in the context of the many end-of-days prophecies that preceded it.

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His finding, at its simplest, is that believers reduce the cognitive dissonance between two contradictory beliefs by affirming one, usually the existing one, untouched by contrary facts. Primacy, the belief that came first usually, but not always, prevails. The belief that comes at the higher or highest cost may be the one to prevail. Cost can be psychic, monetary, social, moral, and more.


When the prophet predicts the second coming of Christ the Saviour at 3 pm on Thursday 3 April 1925 and nothing happens on the day; the failure of the Advent, the ridicule of outsiders, these combine to strengthen the commitment of the prophet’s followers, rather than to weaken it! Failure is just another path to success. Such believers redouble their own efforts after a failure, rather than scrape it.

Counter-intuitive, but nonetheless quite true. Yet it makes sense.

If the believer has sold his home, shed a pet, moved his family, endured ridicule and abuse from friends and neighbours, overcome family dissent, and more to be ready on 3 April, all the costs have been sunk. Retaining the belief in face of failure on the day is relatively easier than admitting the colossal error in the first place. The cost of continued belief at the point of disappointment is little compared to that already endured.

Sports fans will recognise this phenomenon in themselves. For years I gave freely of my interest, support, time, and personal identity to follow a certain sports team. Year after year, I supposed this would be the year in which the team blossomed. Pathetic losses, self-defeating trades, crazy management decisions, lackadaisical play, the clear preference of the players to be elsewhere, all these I ignored in favour of the larger goal. Facts bounced off my conviction.

This is the story of an individual, but the phenomenon can be general, as in the case of the all of the fans of the Chicago Cubs who form a cult of sorts.

According to Festinger, the greater commitment followers make to a prophecy (and its prophet) (or team) the less likely they are to quit when contradicted by facts.

Followers with an enormous sunk-cost in the prophecy will instead rebound from failure somehow. Yes, of course, some will drop off, who were never very committed, but the interesting ones are those that persist, and they are many. Surprisingly many. The ‘somehow’ is by denying the contradiction, suppressing the dissonance. This what psychologists in another context call denial. Festinger transferred that concept to social relations.

One upshot of this suppression of dissonance is that the more abuse heaped on believers, the more contradictory evidence is pushed at them, the more they are criticised, then the more tightly they will cling to the belief. Ergo the social media and other attacks on Trump Donald’s followers entrenches their conviction, rather than erodes it.

Most of us, most of the time do not hold any beliefs so firmly as to precipitate dissonance. We may believe something to be true, and then discover evidence to the contrary and qualify or reject our earlier belief, and move on. That is how it works in general. I believed for years that … then I read a few documents that showed otherwise, so I stamped ‘mistaken’ or ‘false’ over that belief and removed it from my mind, so to speak. But a believer with enormous sunk costs, might, when confronted by the documents, instead reject them as forgeries, as the seed of a conspiracy, as irrelevant, as only to be expected from paper pushers.

To judge from the media representations, many of Trump Donald’s most enthusiastic supporters are new to political mobilisation. Never been to campaign rally before. Never spoken up for a candidate. Never took part in a demonstration before. Never been registered to vote for a primary election. Never voted before. Never…. Perhaps many of these individuals have absented themselves from the political system with the prophylactic cynicism most of people use now and again about politics. To put that carapace aside and engage with the political process is an enormous commitment for many such people.

To register, to go to a rally, publicly to endorse a candidate, to declare oneself a Republican, each of these is a big commitment, and it will take a lot more than the mockery of social media types to dislodge it.

Indeed the mockery from such types is kerosine on the fire of their belief. It vindicates the belief that dark forces are working against them and their kind.

Festinger's two stooges became participant-observers in a group, let’s call it a cult for reference, whose members believed they were communicating with beings from outer space. These spacemen told them that on 20 December a great flood would devastate much of North America. On the 19th the Spacemen would land and evacuate all those who gathered at a certain location. I said 'stooges' to be provocative. They were hired assistants.


Believers sold their houses, moved near the location, took pets to animal shelters, sold cars, stock piled food and water, sold clothes and generally divested themselves of possessions. Several quit jobs to be free to prepare. All of this caused dissension in some families and much ridicule from neighbours and friends. There were about a dozen hard-core believers and a few others at one remove in the group.

The designated date came and went without devastation.

Failure did not dishearten the hard-core members, but rather stimulated them to proselytise others. This is the phenomenon that Festinger found the most remarkable. Failure led to redouble efforts.

The account of the cult and its members is measured and respectful. While many of their beliefs and actions seem wacky the reporting is absolutely deadpan without a whisper of humour or irony. Indeed, a reader suspects Festinger grew to like some of the members, and to admire their courage in the face of derision.

A strongly held belief, in the name of which considerable sacrifices have been made, will endure even the most obvious failure. When a high price has already been paid, the payer will stick with it. We have all done something like that, made the best of a bad lot.

dilbert on cognitive dissonance.jpg Dilbert knows.

Dilbert 2.gif Rather like a Ted talk. So much show, so little go that one dare not admit it.

Here is another parallel analogy. British Bomber Command in World War II has been a sacred cow for two generations. Though it contributed virtually nothing to the war effort and compiled astonishing casualties while slaughtering innocents, it has been above criticism. Why? Those casualties, that is why. So many men were killed that it had to mean something, despite the facts. On the corruption and incompetence of Bomber Command see Freeman Dyson, ‘The Children’s Crusade.’

When I re-read 'When Prophecy Fails' I thought that this kind of research would not likely be done today. It might not even be on the curriculum today. Why not?

Festinger.png Leon Festinger

The barriers of privacy and informed consent would make it either hard or counterproductive to examine such a sect as a participant-observer. Explaining the nature and purpose of the investigation to those under study would undermine it, yet the procedures recommended by the American Psychological Association, for one, do just that. This is the legacy of Stanley Milgram. Imagine how a research ethics office, asked to approve such a study, would react. Shudder!

Funding bodies spend all the money on other, smaller more controlled studies before one such as this would get a look. The small studies will certainly be done, whereas something on this scale is far less certain. That is, most social psychological studies there days are done with undergraduate students in classrooms (called laboratories to sound scientific). I have read scores of such studies in the last few years, and they are inevitably done in class. These are captive subjects who are far from representative of anyone else, but we have collectively decided to ignore that.

There is not a single equation in this study which relies entirely of narrative, i.e., qualitative data. Imagine the criticisms an anonymous journal reviewer would level against this kind of work today. The boom would be lowered. This absence of the quantitative makes me wonder if it would even be assigned, against the competition of so many quantitative studies of this and that.

More generally, the career incentives are so short-term that a broad gauged study that takes time to do the field work would invite a negative report by a research manager. I have seen it happen in a partly analogous case where a scholar who had been publishing fine books every three to five years was questioned ay an interview about why he so unproductive in the intervening periods! In that case, wiser heads prevailed, but for how much longer?

I wanted to read this little book (unpaginated) because my efforts—thrice over the years—to read Auguste Comte’s (1798–1857) ‘Système de politique positive’ (six volumes, 1851-1854) failed. While Comte was the centre of much intellectual ferment he has not attracted much attention so I have not come across another exposition. I also thought Mill a good expositor, most of the time.

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Comte was private secretary to Henri de Saint-Simon, that father of French utopian socialism, in the tag that Karl Marx hung on him never to be shed, who was himself a relative of the diarist Le Duc de St.-Simon of the Sun King’s Court. Moreover, any history of sociology will accord Comte pride of place alongside such giants as George Simmel and Émile Durkheim. George Eliot, the novelist, mentions him in some of her novels in a very favourable way. His name comes up now and again. When I was in Montpelier for a conference I saw a plaque on a school where he was educated. Time to scratch this itch, if only a little.

The ‘Système de politique positive’ offered a philosophy of history that explains humanity’s social evolution through the stages of theological and metaphysical, culminating in the age dawning in 1851, the age of Positivism. These stages take different forms in mathematics, science, the arts, industry and so on, and Comte described them in great detail.

Comte and three stages.jpg Auguste Comte with the three stages of social evolution.

In this context ‘positivism’ means a lot more than positive. It means saying only what is demonstrable. He is a materialist after Karl Marx’s own heart. Facts shape ideas, and not vice versa. One of many consequences of this foundation is that reason serves feeling but does not govern it. Herbert Spencer took much of this epistemology on board, and, like it or not, set it forth much more succinctly and clearly than did Comte.

In Comte’s interpretation mathematics is THE science, the foundation of all else, because it is the simplest and sociology is the last science because it is the most complicated. The Wikipedia entry has a potted account that shows signs of the editorial wars for which it is infamous.

Social evolution, per Comte, thanks to Positivism, will lead to a unanimity on all matters, starting with mathematics, by sticking only to the demonstrable. The result is utopia, though Comte does not use the word. Once this unanimity is achieved, then a corporation of philosophers, regarded with reverence, but excluded from political power or material riches, with a modest support from the state, will direct the on-going education (and life) of each individual and the society as a whole. While they have no authority, a sanction from this college of philosopher has a crushing social and moral force. They superintend both the public life and the private life of each and all. They are a panel of very Big Brothers.

Comte hierarch of sciences.jpg Comte's hierarchy of the sciences.

There co-exists a temporal government which is comprised of an aristocracy of capitalists, led by bankers, seconded by merchants, then manufacturers, and finally agriculturalists. In each case the noun refers to the owners not the workers in these domains. There is nary a word about a role or voice for the multitude who do not own banks, grands magazines, factories, or farms. However, there is completely free discussion. The elephantine six volumes brings forth this rather simple-minded pastiche on Plato’s philosopher-kings. Absent is any mentioned of women, contra Plato. By the way, St. Simon was a banker.

Comte could see no reason why inferiors should elect the superiors who will rule them. Public officials should be responsible for training and selecting their own successors subject only to the approbation of their own superiors. This is a man who believed in hierarchies. A citizen must have a settled career by thirty-five, and after that may not change. This is a man who believed in order at any price. No one may pursue occupations that are not useful. So much for basic research. He was specific about stopping useless research into magnetism, archeology, astronomy, and more. Imagine how popular he would be today with budget cutters. The corporation of philosophers will decide what is useful. End. This corporation will also decide which one hundred, yes, one hundred books will survive and the rest will be burned! One hundred is enough, the rest mere distractions.

Comte regarded rich capitalists as a public functionaries and stipulated that they must act accordingly. Talk about a dreamer. What socialists would achieve by law, Comte hoped to achieve by education and suasion, capped with the peer pressure of public opinion.

Such a result may cause a reader to doubt that it is worth the effort to study the volumes that lead to it in order to understand how Comte arrived at such banalities. So says Mill in one of his drôle asides.

The second half of this unpaginated book is another essay on Comte’s later works which were just as ponderous. Comte took the time to explain his own genius. He never read anything but reflected within himself. Echo Rousseau. The result is an autodidact with a great conviction. He was mentally unstable as a youth, voluntarily spending time in an asylum, and later attempting suicide. In middle age, like Mill, he found the love of his life and told the world. This comparison to Mill’s austere passion for Harriet Taylor might have warmed Mill to Comte.

In the latter works Comte goes even further, devising a social religion that leaves behind the metaphysical and theological claptrap of organised religion and preaches this doctrine and this doctrine alone: live for others. In arriving at this creed, he coined the word ‘altruism.’

‘Live for others’ is literal. One should only do what benefits others. This is not Jesus’s admonition to love neighbours as oneself, but rather not to love oneself at all but only to love neighbours.

Comte was systematic as indicated by the title of the work cited above, and he carried this creed through in everything, from diet (eat only enough to be able to serve others), to dress (simple and utilitarian to serve others), and so on. Everything becomes a moral question settled by this one doctrine. In short, he required that each of us live as a saint practicing self-abnegation in our every act. Followers? He had none. Nor is there any reason to belief he lived as he advocated, rather like most pundits today, he preferred preaching to practicing.

His lady-love died within a year of their conjunction, consequently Comte, like others so bereaved, was attracted to spiritualism. He included guardian angels in his civil religion, and it seemed to be more than a metaphor.

He also proposed an elaborate civil religion with a Pontiff Positive, which would preach the doctrines he proposed. He supported Napoleon III’s coup d’état because it did away with the charade of elective democracy (which Comte always dismissed as the English disease), and predicted that in a few years Napoleon would turn over government to three wise men. Guess who would be the first to be chosen. That day came and went without the magi.

Comte was not a man who knew when to quit. He proposed to give each day of the year a name, to make the week ten-days along, to rename the planets, to change spelling and orthography, spending pages and pages on the evils of diphthongs. (Look it up!)

The more one reads of Aristotle, the more clear is his towering genius. Ditto many others. In the case of Comte, the more one reads, the less one wants to read any more.

Recently I saw on Télévision Française 2’s news broadcast aired by SBS each morning, which I watch for my daily French lesson, the induction of a scholar into the immortals of the Collège de France, the robes, the ritual procession, the pecking order, the props were all very Masonic to this vulgarian. (There were no more than three women; the immortals number one hundred and no one may resign, ergo someone has to die for a new member to be selected.) These individuals are the sort Comte had in mind for rule.

college de france.png Collège de France logo. I could not find any imagines of a ceremony such as I saw on the news.

Of course, while they retain the trappings of veneration, in fact the broadcast had the air of curiosity more than reverence.

This book is not Mill at his best as an exposition. But it soothed my it itch for Comte. Each sentence is a thicket of dependent clauses, noun phases so long that a GPS is needed to find the predicate, encyclopaedic asides, orphaned relative pronouns, that it taxed this reader. In the essays, for which he was paid by the word, Mill is prolix; in his books which he paid for publishing by the word, he is terse. Go figure. His father had Scots ancestry.

This novel is derived from the the life of Job Harriman (1861-1925) an American socialist leader. He was Eugene V. Debs’s running mate in the 1900 presidential election. He also contested the mayoralty elections in Los Angeles twice prior to the Great War.

Harriman pin.jpg 1911 campaign button

Though afflicted by tuberculous he campaigned with a fierce determination. Giving up on politics later, he led a band of true believers into the Mojave Desert east of Los Angeles to carve out a city on the hill at Llano. That effort failed and a splitter group followed this Messiah to the wilderness of Louisiana to New Llano in the pine forests on the Texas border.

Dynamite cover.jpg

The Los Angeles elections were brutal, marked by street fighting and bombs. Harriman was born to the priesthood, and campaigning gave him a chance to preach which he did with vigour and vehemence. Those who were trying to establish labor unions saw socialist politics as a distraction or worse. Then there were the Wobblies who had no use for union incrementalism or socialist election campaigns. All three of these elements were well represented in Los Angeles before World War I. Ranged against them were the plutocrats and robber merchants of the era along with the railroad magnets, who were the worst of a bad lot. In between these zealots, as always were the decent majority.

In the novel Harriman (in these pages styled Bannerman, for some reason) campaigns diligently for the Debs ticket in 1900. ‘Based on a true story,’ as they say in Hollywood, because Harriman did not campaign at all. Harriman could barely abide being in the same room with Debs (who was a union man first and last) and Harriman went to a conference in Europe to talk about socialism during the entire campaign. Because of his origins and commitment to labor unions, the hope was that Debs would unite the factions but he was reviled by the holier-than-thou socialists like Harriman and despised by the Wobbles. Harriman was on the ticket not to help Debs campaign but to hold a place for a real socialist.

The ‘dynamite’ in the title has two meanings. The first is Harriman at the pulpit; he was a dynamite speaker. The second, literal meaning, refers to the bombing of the Los Angeles Times building in 1910. The owners blamed the socialists, labor unions, and Wobblies without bothering with the minute distinctions among them that so pre-occupied them. The socialists and labor unionists said that the owners had blown it up to put the blame on them. The Wobblies wished they had bombed it. If all this starts to sound like the Reichstag fire in 1933, there are parallels. No doubt some among the plutocrats would have been capable of such a deed, but they did not have to do it.

Clarence Darrow led the defence for the two brothers accused of the bombing, and Harriman worked with him. But the bombers confessed, having killed twenty-one (21) workers and injuring a hundred more, it hardly seemed a blow for the cause. The novel slides over the top of these facts, as it does many others. Bannerman-Harriman convinces himself, perhaps thanks to a feverish dream caused by his tuberculous, that the bombing and subsequent trial represented some kind of victory for socialism.

The move to Llano proved difficult in every respect.

Llano ad.jpg Recruiting advertisement

The one thing that money cannot buy in Southern California is…water. The Mojave desert, home to Joshua trees, is called a ‘desert’ for a very good reason.

Joshua tree.jpg Joshua Tree

Llano was on the edge of the Mojave and water was scarce. The United States Weather Service says the average daily temperature at Llano ranges from 37C to 41C over a year. Whew! Booming Los Angeles soaked up all the water there was. See ‘Chinatown’ (1974) for a reminder. Long after Harriman and his band of believers left the area, Aldous Huxley spent some time nearby using peyote and, he said, starting to write ‘Brave New World’ in that drug-induced state.

ruins llano.jpg Ruins at Llano.

A hard core followed the prophet Harriman to the pine forests of northwest Louisiana near Leesville and founded New Llano which eked out an existence for a few more years in a sawmill operation. It demonstrated admirable pragmatism in finding means to sustain itself, unlike many other intentional communities. The economic boom of World War I made the mill profitable, while those in New Llano denounced the war as a plutocrats’ war and avoided the draft with ingenuity. In both Llano and New Llano Harriman was something of a tyrant imposing his will on one and all, when he had the strength to do so, but that is omitted from this story. One of the reason Llano fractured was because, as one participant said, they had but exchanged one boss for another. By the way, Job Harriman was no relation to Averell Harriman (1891-1986) of New York.

New Llano.jpg From Museum of West Louisiana

The Los Angeles Times had sworn a vendetta against Harriman, it seems, and it maintained the rage with repeated press attacks on him while he was in Llano, and even when he moved to Louisiana it did not relent. The attacks were as creative and truthful as Fox News. The Llano colony lasted three years and New Llano another seven years. In the annals of such intentional communities ten years is a good run.

Robert-Hine.jpg Robert Hine

California historian Robert Hine turned his hand to novels, this being the second. It is all rather didactic and the characters are all surface.

This book is an intellectual biography of that singular individual John Stuart Mill, son of James Mill and husband of Harriet Taylor, these two being the most important facts in his life. Hereinafter James Mill will be referred to as James Mill and John Stuart Mill as Mill. Got it?

capoldi cover.jpg

James Mill’s father, Mill’s grandfather, was a shoemaker in Scotland. James Mill was a bright lad and earned scholarship to finish a basic education and became ever after an autodidactic. The family was and remained irreligious and that barred James Mill and Mill from the clergy, the most learned of professions, as well as from the law and parliament, and also universities. A lawyer, a parliamentarian, and a university don, each had to accept publicly the thirty-nine orders of the Anglican Church and neither James Mill nor, later, Mill would do so in contravention of their own beliefs. For someone with intellectual interest and ambitions there was little other opportunity, but to work as a clerk. Since Ebenezer Scrooge was not hiring, James Mill found his way to the East India Company, which was a private corporation and did not require allegiance to the established Church.

james-mill.jpg James Mill

James Mill was a hyper-Calvinist in everything but theology. He was exacting and critical. He prospered at work, and educated all of nine children at home. His education of Mill at home is well known. It started at about age 3 by which time young Mill was reading Plato’s dialogues. It was a massive and unremitting program of force-feeding. Mill in turn was made to teach his siblings. The children seldom left the house and none had any friends. Mill does not mention his mother even once in his ‘Autobiography’ and James Mill treated her like a servant, said those who visited the house.

Mill was a child prodigy and completely inept social and physically. He had no friends and never played any games that boys played and so his motor skills were limited to shoe tying. The same is true of the other children but Mill is the focus here.

John-Stuart-Mill-4.jpg John Stuart Mill

James Mill was an acolyte of Jeremy Bentham and together they sired utilitarianism as a social and moral school of thought. Bentham became a de facto godfather to Mill who in turn was the godfather of Bertrand Russell. Bentham discretely supported James Mill’s family, having made a pile of money by investing in a mill in Scotland. The milll was at New Lanark and run by Robert Owen, himself a social reformer of note.

bentham.jpg Jeremy Bentham

Bentham had a joie de vivre that James Mill lacked and Bentham in time revealed to young Mill something of the wider world of poetry, drama, literature, and walks in nature, and a visit to France which made the young Mill a Francophile. James Mill deferred to Bentham’s influence on his son, Mill, but turned each new interest into another assignment. A walk became an exercise in collecting, identifying, researching, and preserving botany samples. The visit to France with Bentham required Mill to learn French. To read Shakespeare became and exercise in the history of the English monarchy. James Mill drew a line at Shakespeare’s history plays. These Mill could read but not the tragedies or comedies. They might be a bad influence. See Plato on the dangers of poetry. James Mill made Mr. Gradgrind look like light relief. See Charles Dickens’s ‘Hard Times.’

I have long thought that Mill had the education of a Platonic philosopher-king. At first he learned by rote and repetition, seldom understanding what he read. His father was impossible to please and the slightest hesitation, not to say error, would mean the whole lesson had to be repeated from the beginning. Mill feared his father’s judgement. (Yes, James Mill was feared rather than loved but not hated.) One lifelong friend of James Mill said that he, James Mill, never praised anyone and criticised everyone immediately and often. When Mill taught his younger siblings, if one of them made a mistake, James Mill required Mill to repeated the lesson until all eight children were letter perfect. Their home schooling started each of seven days at 5 am and continued to 9 pm. James Mill conducted the hours 5am to 9 am and then went to work at the India House, returning for the testing session from 6pm-9pm. From 9 am to 6 pm Mill schooled his siblings. Such reinforcement as James Mill offered was always negative, though never corporeal.

James Mill educated his children at home because school education was too shallow and sloppy. His children seldom left the house. Likewise he saw no need for any of his children to go to a university. He particularly concentrated on Mill to make him the perfect and complete exposition of utilitarianism. James Mill created Mill so that he could go forth and reform the world in the image of Jeremy Bentham. Mill was an android artificially made for a mission. Indeed some of Mill’s peers in later life referred to him as the mechanical man. Mill’s upbringing differed from Plato’s philosopher-kings who were reared with others destined to be guardians and auxiliaries and even when crowned they did have annual sexual relations and common families, but Mill did not have any of that. They had social and sex lives, albeit constrained, that he did not have. A single purpose android is a more accurate description, like Mr Data without the tap dancing.

The software in the android became corrupted and Mill had a nervous breakdown when he was twenty (20). In his ‘Autobiography’ Mill blames this breakdown on the strain of his intellectual work. Capaldi, like just about everyone else, sees in it a suppressed rebellion against his domineering father. Mill did gradually recover his health and continued publicly to support his father in every way, but he began at this time to think for himself and gradually to step out of his father’s shadow in the safety of his own mind. After his father’s death Mill began to change utilitarianism, adopt liberalism, court Harriet, and more.

Mill and HArriet.jpg Harriet Taylor

Mill’s long courtship of Harriet is well known. It was contentious and scandalous at the time. She was a married woman, and yet they were seen everywhere together, she clinging to his arm and he deferring to her, including at least one unchaperoned trip to France. Mr. Taylor was none too pleased about any of this. Given Mill’s repressed nature it is unlikely that Mill and Harriet had sexual relations, but by the standards of the day, that hardly mattered. He thought the world of her and extolled her qualities far beyond the mere mortal. When Taylor died that freed Harriet, divorce having been out of the question, the appearance of adultery was preferable, it seems.

They married almost immediately after Taylor’s death and had about ten years before she died. I had not realised it, but the three most famous of his works came after her death: ‘Utilitarianism,’ ‘On Liberty,’ and ‘Considerations on Representative Government.’ Mill thought of these essays as memorials to her. In all of these three, along with his earlier work, the underlying and unifying theme is autonomy, defined as the capacity, the ability, and the responsibility to decide for oneself. Achieving that was a moral goal for individuals and a determinant for public policy to create the conditions for individuals to develop the ability and capacity for autonomy through education, example, discipline, exposure, personal growth, and surrender to the larger whole. Insofar as democratic political institution encouraged and promoted autonomy he supported them though he had learned from Tocqueville to fear the tyranny of the majority (for a current example, watch 7MATE for one whole day).

Autonomy is not license or freedom, nor even liberty. Think of an orchestra. Now take away the conductor, the first violin and any other authority or leader. If the musicians are autonomous their own comprehension of the the needs of a given piece of music will lead them to participate, or sit it out, and to do it a certain way that blends them together into a whole. a if they had a conductor. If and when that happens, that is autonomy. By the way, there are leaderless orchestras that do not descend into the conflagration of the Fellini’s ‘Orchestra Rehearsal’ (1978). Another example that came to mind is the Gospel of Mathew that calls upon believers to decide for themselves, and in so doing their decision will coincide with the divine. Emmanuel Kant makes a powerful example from that gospel by urging the devout believer even to turn away from a risen Christ, and decide… In the telling most of the power is lost; read it in Kant.

Cover Mill.jpg

He also served one term in parliament where he was a formidable committee man, I believe, but none of his committee work is mentioned in these pages. I have read Hansard micro-cards that record of some of his testimony to parliamentary committees and interventions while on committees and found them to be trenchant. What I saw related to the Northcote and Trevelyan reforms of the civil service. In his parliamentary career Mill was usually on the side of the angels but not always. He argued and voted for the death penalty for murders.

Capaldi does a superb job analysing Mill’s many, many texts and shows Mill to be a far more complex thinker than revealed by the simple elegance of his own prose. Capaldi brings out well the the French and German influences on Mill. For the French there is Tocqueville, of course, but also Saint-Simon fils and Auguste Comte. For the Germans the romantic poets and even that dynamic duo of Kant and Hegel. In all, Capaldi goes a long way to establishing Mill as a figure who cannot be typecast. Was he a conservative? a liberal? a radical? a democrat? an elitist? a deontologist? a utilitarian? a positivist? an empiricist? The answer in each case is ‘yes’ but in his own special way. He was both a liberal and a conservative.

Mill had form. He was arrested for obscenity while a teenager. The crime, of which he was certainly guilty, was passing out pamphlets urging birth control.

Mill was a lifelong proponent of female suffrage. When he and Harriet married, they went to some pains to avoid the norm according to which he would have become the owner of all of her goods, including a considerable inheritance from Taylor.

Mill’s book ‘A System of Logic’ made his name in the first instance. It was so highly regarded that in addition to large sales, almost immediately, it also went on the curriculum at Oxford and Cambridge. In short order, his other books began to follow on to the curriculum, including ‘On Liberty’ and ‘Representative Government’ and they in turn could be best understand by reference to the previous thinkers he analysed and synthesised and so was born ‘Political Theory’ as a field of study in universities. Indeed his impact on the Oxbridge universities, where he never set foot, was so great that after his death, academic reputations were made by tarnishing his; the attack of the pygmies on the defenceless is always a sure sign of stature.

Because of the range of Mill’s works, after his death he was claimed as a precursor by a wide variety of causes from co-operatives, Fabian socialism, and the 800 Club. To his contemporaries Mill was an enigma: he did not fit into any of the categories available, and they knew it. It is still true that he is an odd man out but we generally no longer recognise that, and force him into one box or another, and then dismiss him. Our loss. Today he has largely been reduced to a stereotype no less distorted than that which applies to Machiavelli.

I would have liked a more clearly presented chronology, maybe as an appendix. I also found it hard to read, especially the extensive quotations from secondary sources and Mill’s own ‘Autobiography’ which interrupted any flow the text had. While the early chapters fill out Mill’s life well, that falls away in favour of ever finer-grained examination of his ideas, arguments, and publications, despite the subtitle: ‘A biography.’ I found almost nothing about his forty (40) years of work for the East India Company, though the author does suggest that his responsibilities were comparable to a cabinet minister. I stress this reference to India because the last pages of ‘Considerations on Representative Government’ say somethings about India that give one pause. Indeed the last lines refer to India as ‘semi-barbarous.’ His tenure with the East India Company included the Sepoy Rebellion, so it was not all business as usual.

Capaldi mug.jpg Nicholas Capaldi

The wheel turns. James Mill and Mill did much to govern India from London and today India does the same for Britain through those call centres. In fact, there is so much demand for Indian call centres, I discovered, that Indian companies are sub-contracting many of them to the Philippines. I am pretty sure that recently when I called AusGrid to report a burned out street light outside our front door, the agent I spoke to was probably in India, the accent, the slight lag in voice transmission, the formality of word choice…maybe.

‘Obsessive?’ ‘Obsessive!’ Yes, indeedy.

From little asides big myths grow. The sum total of human knowledge of Atlantis comes from a couple of pages in two of Plato’s dialogues, the ‘Timaeus’ and the Critias.’ These two are not in the first rank of Platonic dialogues. A great many admirers and readers of Plato have never heard of them.

The ‘Timaeus’ is a conversation set the day after the conclusion of the discussion of the ‘Republic.’ (Since there is no republic in it, for millenia pedants always wonder about that title. Answer: It was bestowed on the work by Cicero hundreds of years after Plato’s death. Cicero was not much interested in accuracy, think of him as a Fox journalist. No doubt it suited his purpose to have Plato legitimate a republic on the assumption that no one else would read the whole book.)

In turn, the ‘Critias’ continues the ‘Timaeus.’ In the few lines that mention Atlantis it is at a great remove from Plato. It is allegedly a story that an Egyptian told Solon hundreds of years earlier that is reported by one of the interlocutors. It mixes very specific details like the colour of building blocks, and the measurements of temple while being maddeningly vague about where the place was except for a reference that has been translated as ‘beyond the pillars of Hercules.’

What with all his labours, Hercules seems to gotten around the Mediterranean. Atlantologists have located the pillars at Gibraltar, Malta, Messina, Crete, Santorini, Morocco, the Crimea, and, believe it or not, Ireland. Yes, Ripley this really is ‘Believe it or not’ country.

Atlantis book.jpg

Our cicerone is not quite right in that subtitle above. The book is not about his quest so much as that the other Atlantogolists he seeks and meets. Some he sought out in libraries and archives, and others on the internet, and he went to meet many of them in person. The book is a travelogue about the Atlantologists from Ireland, Germany, Morocco, Sicily, Greece, Malta, United States, Great Britain, and more. He had some travel budget did Mark.

The one place bruited as Atlantis that he did not visit was…. Antartica. Yes, Antartica has been identified by some as Atlantis, which drifted south after a cataclysm.

The tone is light and the prose snappy. While he is not a true believer in the Big ‘A,’ there are no cheap shots at those who do believe in Atlantis. This is no Bill Bryson hatchet job passed off as humour.

He does call the many interpretations of Atlantis ‘theories’ and that annoyed me because they are speculations, not theories. A theory joins evidence and analysis. Speculation is guess work without either.

The many ways in which Plato’s few lines are interpreted include, deciding that he meant 900 and not 9000, and the latter is a transcription error made by a scribe in ancient Egypt. Well, yes, it could be, and that scribe might have had red hair but however are we to know?

As for the ‘pillars of Hercules,’ every part of that is deconstructed and reconstructed to suit the desires of the speaker. ‘Pillars’ can refer to many things, far more than I ever thought. And Hercules, well he was several other chaps with the same name all over the place like John Smith. On it goes. The Wikipedia entry is a site of constant conflict. It changes every day as the Atlantologists slug it out on their keyboards.

When I first read the ‘Timaeus’ I thought the reference to Atlantis there was an undeveloped allegory on the hubris of peoples, not a road map. I took it to be a parallel of the Allegory of the Cave, and no one has yet set out to find that very CAVE. Silly me, once again I missed the point.

Some of the Atlantologists he met are safe, safe, and sober who discount the wild speculations of the many more zealous of their number, but find the subject fascinating. One of these triple esses (safe, sane, and sober) runs a web site: atlantipedia.ie.

Others are obsessive, no doubt about it. Any claim Mark Adams has to be being obsessive is bleached out by some of the characters he met. Among them are those that cannot make eye contact, talk in 45 minutes monologues and then lapse into catatonic states, talk to him through doors for security reasons (someone might steal my Atlantis map if I let anyone in). These are not in the safe, sane, an sober zone of inquiry.

Some promote a location, like Sicily, Santorini, or Malta, as Atlantis for purely venal reasons: it brings a few tourists (even if they are nut-cases, they pay hotel bills).

ATLANTIS MAP.jpg One of many maps on the internet.

Mixed in among these types are a collection of serious archeologists who are studying ancient ruins here and there and whose work, an Atlantologist thinks, has something to do with Atlantis. Huh? Well, goes the interpretation, these archeologists keep secret their interest in Atlantis, (a) because of the conspiracy of the rose (on this, see below) or (b) their funding would be cut if they admitted it. Maybe this is the paranoid side of the coin. Or (c) they foolishly do not realise the connection to Atlantis.

Atlantis temple.gif One of many representations of a building on Atlantis.

Francis Bacon (1561–1626) called his little book in praise of science ‘The New Atlantis’ and in it speculated on what science could do to conquer nature and improve humankind. Because of the great powers of science for ill as well as good, Bacon imagined its use confined to a sect who worked with this secret knowledge for the good of all on an island. (Yes, this is the same Bacon who wrote the complete work of Shakespeare according to some….)

bacon-francis1.jpg Francis Bacon (I have seen this image passed off as Machiavelli more than once, believe it or not, Ripley.)

Fatherhood followed. He sired, as so many have claimed, without knowing it, Rosicrucianism. This doctrine has followers today at your nearest public library, though they will not wear a rose on the lapel.

Rose cross.png The rose cross,

Start checking out, reading, asking about books on Francis Bacon and the Followers of the Rose will ever so subtly make themselves known. They live and breathe conspiracy, arcane knowledge, numerology, and a lot else not to be found on the curriculum at a university. (Not yet, anyway. I omit Pepperdine, where shoe tying is an advanced course.)

Rosicrucian_Egyptian_Museum_grounds4.jpg Where else? California near San José.

It is proof positive that Atlantis existed to the Rosicrucians that NASA named a space shuttle Atlantis. That was, they say, a coded message not only to Earthlings, but to aliens, as well. Gulp! Yes, there is an Erich van Donkey element to all this. The spell-checker changed the egregious Swiss hotelier’s name to Donkey and I decided to accept it as fitting.

Adams meets a few of the adherents of the rose along the way, nods a lot in agreement with them, hides in the bathroom to avoid others, and leaves town as soon as possible when he encounters a coven of them. Reading of his experiences made me wonder the Rosicrucians had never figured in ‘Midsomer Murders.’

Jules Verne, Walt Disney, Star Gate, an eponymous television series in 2013, and scores of others have made use of the name recognition of Atlantis, and in so doing have scattered its seed further, and by repetition perhaps planted it deeper. A google search returns a gazillion hits or 110,000,000 without even working up a sweat.

Adams Mark.jpg Mark Adams

Having made light of it all above, I must conclude by saying that Adams does shift the evidence and evaluate the arguments he heard, without denigrating anyone, and concludes, with a phalanx of qualifications, that the ancient city of Tartessos near Cadiz in Spain is the best candidate. That is, if there ever was an Atlantis. This city has a genealogy as Tartessos but perhaps Atlantis previously occupied the site before it was obliterated in a tsunami. As to the details Plato gives of colours and dimensions, these might simply be artistic touches of verisimilitude that can be dismissed. Hey, presto! We have arrived at Atlantis!

Thus inspired I re-read the ‘Timaeus’ and the ‘Critias’ to see for myself where the fire started. The reference to Atlantis is brief in the former and continued in some tantalising detail in the latter. In the ‘Timaeus.’ An Egyptian priest told Solon, who upon his return to Greece told Dropicles, who told Critias’s grandfather who told his grandson also named Critias. These four tellings span the two hundred years from Solon to Plato. That make me think of those ‘pass it on’ exercises in school. The teacher whispers in the ear of the first child ‘The sky is blue,’ now tell your neighbour and by the time it went around the class, the ceiling was falling. The morale of the story in that case was do not believe everything said.

The ‘Critias’ has all those details that have set Atlantological hearts a-pounding. Distance, dimensions, durations, depths, and more, all of which are well canvassed by Adams.

Reading it now the point of the story seems to me to this: As big and powerful and grand as Atlantis was, our noble ancestors, the Athenians, defeated them. Atlantis had all the wealth and power but this pre-historic Athens had all the virtue: they held all things in common, the warriors lived apart as warriors, features in the fictional city of the ‘Republic’ now given an Athenian pedigree and a track record of success. And why does not the Greek in the street know this already, why because a flood swept away Atlantis and most of Greece, too, so angry was Poseidon at the hubris of the Atlanteans. This devastating flood killed all the literate men who might have remembered or recorded the story, sparing only a few rude and crude mountain men from whose loins Athens was eventually re-populated. This flood stripped Attica of its topsoil and carved the Athenian acropolis out. End of story.

Get it? Atlantis was big and powerful but no match for a virtuous Athens. Athens was virtuous because no one there cared about gold, jewels, luxuries that the Atlanteans had in plenty.

We went on a guided tour of Castlecrag over two and a half hours. Recommended to those with an interest in social history.

The walk was informative and interesting. It focussed on Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony, and also those whom they influenced in the continued development of Castle Crag, as it was spelt in those days. We walked there once on a rainy day and saw some of the streetscapes and houses, thanks to the web site of the Walter Burley Griffith Society. http://www.griffinsociety.org/index.html

Griffin Walk102.jpg

That gave us a familiarity, but this walk was more detailed. It filled in many details and emphasized the community-building parts of the plan. We had the choice of an arduous clamor down to the water and back or a more gentile walk, which we choose. It was the right choice for my knees though I did (barely) mange to ascend and descend Edinburgh Rock. It was a fine and crisp autumnal day and the guide was knowledgeable and informative.

The common areas reminded me a little of the playgrounds and common areas in the Daceyville. Though Daceyville was earlier and a creation of official state planning which began in 1912 and was converted into a project for returned soldiers after The Great War. It was the product of the scourge of creative types who peopled Castle Crag, it seems from the repeated and caustic way they are mentioned, bureaucrats. It did not subordinate buildings to the salt bush plain.

DaceyVille book.png

In contrast to Castle Crag, Daceyville was working class. The houses are conventional both within and without. But rather than rows of terrace houses they were spaced around rings with inner play grounds and parks. It was for dinky-die Australians who still felt themselves to be British. Indeed the overall look of Daceyville is English.

For more see Audaciousville
Thanks to tax dollars, a free download.

In contrast, we we were reminded on our walk, Castle Crag, planned and partly built by two ex-patriot Americans attracted Chinese and European investors and residents. The Chinese came from Melbourne, while the Europeans fled Naziism. Its early residents, which were too few to make the project financially viable, were often self-styled Bohemians: artists, poets, and other dreamers, who also could never pay top pound for the Griffin-Mahony creations.

I heard it said that aboriginals were leaving on the point at Castle Crag when Griffin and Mahony came but there is nothing about that in the material.

griffin house.jpg

Both Daceyville and Castle Crag seem to follow a line from the Garden City movement in England which was in turn was informed by William Morris's News from Nowhere. For Griffith and Mahoney that line ran through Frank Lloyd Wright. For Daceyville it was directly inspired by Ebenezer Howard’s Letchworth, the first of the Garden Cities in England just outside London. When Howard failed to make a living in Lincoln Nebraska, Howard returned to England and in time he turned to town planning.

Aside, we have seen many references to the fact that in latter in life, after Walter had died, Mahony went back over some of the drawings done in his name and blacked it out. She never explained, so the slather (what is a slather?) is open. The feminists declare that she was reclaiming her own work that the dastardly Griffin had appropriated. The grey Marxists claim she was reclaiming her own work that the evils of capitalism had forced her to disown, and so on. The ideologues always find what they want to find. As predictable as a late bus.

griffin and mahony.jpg

How about this: she was mad at him for dying and leaving her alone. Everything we know, everything the above interpreters reluctantly admit, is that the two were nearly one in everything they did, though not given to spouting off about it. Then he went and died and left her alone, half. No wonder she was angry, which psychology bores will tell us is part of grief. No ideological mileage in that but maybe some truth, something that seldom interests either ideologues or journalists.


One of the items on my list of things to do for many years has been to visit Castlecrag, residential area of Sydney in the leafy North Shore (a term that means a lot here and nothing anywhere else). What is the allure of Castlecrag? The original subdivision was planned and some of the houses designed built by Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony. After they completed with their commission in designing and starting the lay out of Canberra, they spent time in both Melbourne and Sydney to practice their profession: architecture.

In Sydney they were commissioned to develop Castlecrag. The local historical association provides a map for the Griffith-Mahony work;


I could not find a copy of Wanda Spathopoulos, The Crag - Castlecrag 1924-1936. Blackheath: Schlesigner, 2007.

William Morris in his novel News from Nowhere (1890) called for a reintegration of man with nature as the Industrial Revolution hummed along. For this work he has been accorded a place in the pantheon of Utopian thinkers. I have included it on syllabi more than once. Morris had some faint influence on Frank Lloyd Wright, if anyone can be said to have influenced that man of granite, and Wright was the mentor of Griffin and Mahony. The line of influence most probably ran through the Garden City movement of Ebenezer Howard, see his Garden Cities of Tomorrow.

News from Nowhere was serialized first and over time Morris re-worked before it finally appeared as a book. It was in good part a reaction to the mechanistic and materialistic image of the future offered by Edward Bellamy in Looking Backward (1887). Howard was aware of Morris's book and published his own first edition shortly after News from Nowhere.

Moreover, the idea of a planned city build on a greenfield is a motif in utopian thinking about the New Jerusalem with a clean start, i.e., Canberra in this case.

So we decided to do it one rainy Friday. The rain was persistent but light and we have long since decided not to let the elements dictate to us in any but the more exceptional cases.

We saw an image of Griffin but not Mahony


We saw a number of unmistakeable houses integrated into the escarpment. Often overlooked by McMansions of more recent vintage.


Footnote on William Morris. I tried to read a biography of him but gave up reading the record of his endless petulant tantrums -- precious, indeed! For a Green avant le mot he did good business. His designs founded the Morris Company which operated from 1875-1940 as Morris & Co. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Morris_%26_Co.

One of the most loyal customers of Morris & Co. was the Carrick Family of South Australia. With the result that the South Australia Art Gallery and Museum have many items form Morris & Co., including some clothing. In addition, Carrick Hill offers many more Morris & Co. items in situ. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carrick_Hill
When in Adelaide it is well worth a visit.

Thanks to the suggestion of a friend I went to Richard Ford’s session at the Sydney Writers’ Festival. I have read two of his novels: Independence Day and The Sportswriter. I found them easy to read but, for some reason, I was not engaged enough to want to read more. Indeed there was a ten year gap between reading these two.


However I found Ford an engaging character on the stage, and I liked his literal-mindedness: What I mean is what I say; What I say [write] is what I mean. Do not go looking for symbols or signs. Wonderful.

Likewise the host did a fine job in bringing out what Ford had to say, and the talking heads were punctuated with Ford doing some short readings from his most recent novel Canada.

Ford said in passing early in the discussion that, literal though he was, he did write with a ‘higher purpose’ and I was glad that the first question from the floor took him back to that passing aside. He explained that this higher purpose was to renew in the reader emotions and thoughts of the complete person. I have not got his words quite right, for I was not taking notes, but that is the gist. I found that explanation to be both simple and compelling. But imagine what the Derridaistas would make of that. The heavy artillery of cant and ideology, disguised as scholarship, would rumble.

Having never attended a Sydney Writers’ Festival event before I enjoyed it and just might do it again. The only false note came from the host who made a gratuitous and deprecating reference to Des Moines, Iowa. I know people make these kinds of quips without thinking, and indeed that is the point and the problem. It betrays an enduring mindset.

Here is the web description of Ford's talk:

Richard Ford: – 15 July, City Recital Hall

One of the masters of American fiction, Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Richard Ford comes to Sydney for an exclusive event presented by Sydney Writers’ Festival. Ford visits Australia on the heels of the publication of Canada, hailed by John Banville as “an extraordinary, overwhelming book”.


With one of the most finely tuned ears in contemporary fiction Ford explores the big issues of our time with a disarming use of the vernacular. Born in Jackson, Mississippi in 1944, Richard Ford is the author of six novels and four collections of stories. Independence Day was awarded the Pulitzer Prize and the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, the first time the same book won both prizes.

He talks to Artistic Director of Sydney Writers’ Festival, Chip Rolley.

The Prince is a handbook for gangsters, he said, or did he?

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Everyone is a democrat, but what is "democracy?"

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The Icarians who went west from Nauvoo settled in Corning Iowa on the Nodaway River.



Utopia in the desert.


Greeley Colorado Utopia Road leads through Greeley Colorado and the Union Colony. I mispoke and said Union College when I meant Colony. Is there a Dr Freud in the house?


Race and utopia and more race and reality.


More of utopia road.


Another thrilling episode of Utopia Road!


Patient readers will find a short video at the end of the text. Do the reading first and come to the video prepared to discuss the assignment!


Part V of travels in ancient Greece.

Chaironeia and Delphi


Acropolis now

A video account of part of my trip to Greece in 2007/

The National Archaeological Museum is all of Greece at once.
T_Archaeological M.jpg


They landed on an island in the Kyklades.


Acropolis Museum and New Acropolis Museum.


The temple of Zeus.


All I know about triremes comes from Wikipedia these days.

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My first goal in Athens was to find Plato’s Academy.

On the origins of the phrase "it's all Greek to me," see http://www.worldwidewords.org/qa/qa-gre1.htm

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The 42.19 kilometer Marathon


The Pnyx had no tourists but us.


The Cimetière du Père-Lachaise of Ancient Athens


Next stop Chaeronea

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Ethereal and eerie.




Searching for Mr Aristotle


The above image of Aristotle is the wallpaper on my hand held computer-telephone such is my allegiance to The Philosopher, as Thomas Hobbes called him.

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Socrates was a gadfly on the rump of Athens, usually in the Agora.


Thucydides sent me to Melos. Mission accomplished, Hegemon.

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When in Athens eat as the Ancient Athenians did.

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Wasn't that the title of some tedious television series about pizza delivery, or am I thinking of West Wing?


Bleaders unite! You have nothing to lose. Really.

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Having spent a lot of time in a mental Greece, now I am going to see something of the real thing.


Just when the coast seems clear, theory appears!

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A reader raised this question, though in a rather different tone.

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Tarah asks, “I was wondering what qualified a political theorist as being one that is sufficiently noteworthy for you to write about?”

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One of my ambitions as a political theorist is to publish on each theorist in the canon of political theory.

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Have fun with this game.

I am told that Don Baker has put the Euthrypro Dialog1 on line a:


One of my ambitions as a political theorist is to publish on each theorist in the canon of political theory.


Plato and the philosopher's phone: the essay.


What shall we do with all our leisure? Keep busy!


A theorist and nothing but.

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Aristotle applied readily today.

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Let's start with Big Aristotle.

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Plato is sometimes put to other uses. Chapter Twelve: Plato conscripted.


These days to tell a student that Plato was an idealist condemns him to utter irrelevance.


What can a mere mortal say about Plato.

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Life, meaning, and death.

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The war that never ends continues.




My essay “Cracking the Thucydides code” has appeared recently in the Antioch Review, a literary magazine of some note. It is the kind of publication many large libraries have.

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Aristotle was something of a character in his own time, an omnivore with an appetite for all knowledge, collecting mollusks, geodes, plants, animals, and books. He is credited with the first private library so large was his collection of books (scrolls). Any foreigner visiting Athens, whether theorist-tourist or not, might sell to Aristotle artifacts collected on the voyage.


What is the best life?


The adventure of going to class with little idea of how many students there will be.


What does the very word "theory" mean?

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I will be blogging about my recent, treasured experience of teaching political theory for a bit. I have also taken the liberty of contacting a number of people at this time of year to alert them to the blog. Best to one and all.

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Download file
The rough draft of a conference paper for the Law and Parliament Conference in Ottawa, Canada, November 2006.

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British Library.jpg

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Plato's Republic is the foundation text of political theory in general and utopian theory and practice in particular. It has had many Englsih translations. The first in Scotland in 1760's. What is that translation like and why has it disappeared? Is hegemony the answer? I went to the Rare Book Room to find out.

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About the Blog

Thoughts on the canon of poltical theory and life.

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