Book Review: The Terror: The Merciless War for Freedom in Revolutionary France by David Andress

So a while ago I started to write a review about David Andress’ beautiful work: “Terror: The Merciless War for Freedom in Revolutionary France” and for reasons beyond my control I kept forgetting to finish it. The review is more of a fragmant and a sketch than a full review, but I thought it was worth posting in its rough shape because: a) its a great book and every person should pick a copy up ASAP, b) I’m bored  and c) it’s my blog.

Thus:

History tends to remember the blade that fell on Louis XI neck, while forgetting the tens of thousands of necks it also separated. Of course, few of those whose death was to take place under the “Terror”, the period of time when the Committee of Public Safety, were to be remembered in such vivid terms as Louis Bourbon.

Andress is skillful in humanizing the twelve men who for a brief period of time were the ultimate power over the whole of France and outwardly were a monolithic institution, but behind the doors of the Tuilleries, the power struggle that was being waged daily was sometimes comical, sometimes horrifying in its turbulence.

It is important to reiterate what others, notably Adam Thorpe in The Guardian has said: none of these men who ran the Terror were “great men” to couch the term in historiographic terms. While Danton is often written about as a giant of the Revolution, not just because of his physical but also his political stature, even he suffers moments where his leadership skills are left wanting.

Danton takes the mystique out of the men who have been at various times villains and heroes of the political order. To some on the Left, Robespierre is virtue embodied. Willing to sacrifice the whole of the body politic in service of greater Rousseau virtue. To conservatives, the Terror is an extreme example of revolutions run amok. It is after all, from Edmund Burke we get the model for modern parliamentary conservatism.

I’ve linked to it before, but its worth taking another look at Zizek’s comments on Jacobinism pace Andress and the skeptics:

Andress’ work is wonderous is scope and character. Engaging and well-written, it is a brave and forthright account that eschews ideology in sake of truth.

 

 

 

Book Review: Tudors: The History of England from Henry VIII to Elizabeth I

91+Lue-yzDLVolume II of Peter Ackroyd’s ambitious historical project charting the history of England from its earliest days to the present focuses on the reign of Henry VIII, his son and two daughters.

While Henry VIII was  not the first Tudor,(Henry VII was technically the first king from this welsh household), no other ruler besides perhaps his daughter Elizabeth exemplified the manic energy of their clan.

Ackroyd is not the first historian to chart English history through the rise of either the English church or the relatively brief dynastic reign of the Tudor clan. What makes Ackroyd so successful is the delight he seems to take in telling this story.

While this is not a critical examination of the Tudors (there are already enough of those), it is not a whitewash of a dynasty either. Ackroyd is perfectly keen to note Elizabeth’s indecisiveness, Edwards gullibility, Mary’s messianic drive, and Henry’s general disregard for decency. but while he shows us the flaws that make these rulers, “all too human”, he is also emphatic that the sometimes murky orders Henry, Edward, and Elizabeth especially gave helped to slowly etch away at what had been the Catholic church in England and ended up becoming a distinctly English invention: the Anglican Church (Church of England). Put another way, ecclesiastical matters went from being dealt as the Church IN England to the Church OF  England.

Describing the development of the Anglican Church, starting as it does in fits and spurts, has been a difficult endeavor for historians and faithful alike. surprisingly, Ackroyd is able to describe the whole evolution of the English Reformation from the dissolution of the monasteries to the settlement  under Elizabeth with surprising ease. His transitions from reign to reign are assisted by the presence of a colourful supporting cast from Sir Thomas More to Archbishop Cranmer to Elizabeth’s cousin Mary Queen of Scots. The rise and fall of  these eclectic persons add wonderful context to the events that surround the monarch and provide anecdotal support to Ackroyd’s interpretation of events.

Most refreshing in Ackroyd’s volume is the distinct absence of sentiment or interest regarding the love affairs of the Tudor dynasty. Henry VIII was a notorious philanderer with an obsession concerning male progeny that borders on compulsion. Additionally, Elizabeth’s oft written on-off affair with Robert Dudley does not feature as prominently a narrative device. Instead, Ackroyd spends a great deal of time on the administrative costs of war, poverty, and reformation/counter-reform.

None of which is to say that Ackroyd’s story is devoid of rhetorical flourishes. Instead, he brings the reader’s focus back to the ground amid the dirty streets of London or the bloody marshes battlefields in Calais. In both respects Ackroyd’s talent as a storyteller is on display. abjuring sensationalist stories, Ackroyd spends time to weave complex narrative into a digestible, if long, tapestry.

Tudors: The History of England from Henry VIII to Elizabeth I by Peter Ackroyd. St. Martin’s Griffin 2014. 528 pages. Purchased Copy

Book Review: Chavs: the Demonization of the Working Class by Owen Jones

To describe author and activist Owen Jones as a “Bennite” would be something of an understatement. While never having lived through the tumultous  Wilson or Callaghan Labour governments of the 1960’s and 1970’s, (neither did I, though), Jones is very clear at who is at fault for the ills that have befallen the working class in Great Britain.

Thatcher.

The vitriol Jones reserves for Thatcher and her cabinet ministers, and even journalists in Tory papers is unevenly matched against the lamenting school-teacher tone regarding his left-wing friends in the Labour Party.

To understand the premise of Jones’ work, one must first understand what the focal point Jones is entering the discussion. Namely, the disenfranchisement of historically working class men and women in Great Britain who, starting in the end of the Thather era, began to be derisively titled “Chavs” by middle and upper class society. “Chavs”, as both the author and a cursory glance at wikipedia both reveal is a person obsessed with the illusion of station;  as Wikipedia states: “…a young lower-class person who displays brash and loutish behaviour and wears real or imitation designer clothes.”

To be a “chav” then, is to be a the fringes of acceptable society, even within the working class.

Jones leans heavily on his background within British left-wing society to argue that the corruption of the virtuous working class was due in large part to consumerism, Thatcherism, and an unwillingness of Labour leadership to stand up to the rising tide of austerity:

There was a time when working-class people had been patronized, rather than openly despised. Disraeli had called working-class people ‘angels in marble’. ‘Salt of the earth’ was another phrase once associated with them. Today, they are more likely than not to be called chavs. From salt of the earth to scum of the earth. This is the legacy of Thatcherism—the demonization of everything associated with the working class

Jones likely spent hundreds of hours collecting quotes and contrasting perspectives, from  Geoffrey Howe, Lady Thatcher’s first chancellor of the exchequer, to Neil Kinnock, the man who led Labour through some of its most bruising times in recent history.

From the information provided, Kinnock appears resigned that the Left forfeited the fights of the 1980’s rather than create any kind of meaningful change. when asked if the Tories were the ‘real’ class-warriors in British politics, Kinnock shakes his head and bemoans, “ ‘No, because they’ve never had to engage in a class war,’ he said. ‘Largely because we signed the peace treaty without realizing that they hadn’t.'”

Jones concludes that largely as a result of the sustained electoral beatings that Labour suffered from 1979-1992, the survivors of this shipwrecked party latched onto any idea that would keep them from becoming consigned to history, (a very real worry given the declining state of the Liberal party through this time period, which managed to stave off its own place on the ash heap only by creating an odd marriage of convenience with disaffected social democrats to create the modern “Lib-Dem” party), a fact Jones notes with characteristic bluntness:

Because of this desperation and demoralization, Blair and his followers were able to impose the Thatcherite settlement on the Labour Party. Part an parcel of this settlement was the idea that everyone should aspire to be middle class. Little wonder that. when asked what her greatest achievement was, Margaret Thather answered without hesitation: ‘Tony Blair and New Labour. We forced our opponents to change their minds.”

Jones writes lovingly and longingly for a working class establishment that no longer exists in modern Britain, but does not advocate burning down Apple stores to return to this Eden. Instead, his goal is surprisingly reasonable given the disparaging remarks and high standard he holds the Left to in his book.  the result is not a game-changing, epoch-defining solution. Instead, Jones advocates that the Left do what it has always done: advocate and implement good-paying, skilled jobs that provide a decent and dignified income to the working-class.

Admittedly after reading about 260 pages of commentary on how the Left had failed the working class, and the Tories were hell-bent on their destruction, I was a little dejected that the solution Jones advocates is so unsurprising and reasoned. Instead of a Zizek retort, we’re left with a policy proposal.

Chav’s does many things well; chief among them is the crystallization of working-class discontent for the last 30 years. Jones writes with exacting skill and twists the knife into the the Conservative Party with a certain amount of vigour. However, it becomes tiring to read line after line about the moral indecency with which the Tories have governed. After 100 pages or so, I found myself wishing Jones would just wrap it up and get to the point.

Chavs: the Demonization of the Working Class by Owen Jones. Verso 2011 298 pages. Purchased copy

 

 

A few of my favourite things right now:

 1.) this New Order song/performance:

2.) These new Brooks’ trainers I am looking to buy
I am a firm fan of Brooks’ running shoes after being sidelined by a moderate case of Plantar Fascitus two months ago.

3.) Pulse by Adidas eau de toilette
I have been looking for a light smelling cologne to wear after the gym or during a stressful day, and this is easily a better choice than some of the more expensive items I have seen Sephora.

4.) Genius Scan for iphone
I travel a lot for work and consequently have to scan a lot of reciepts. This app lets you do that without having to hold on to all of them until you get back to the office.

5.) Capital in the Twentiy-First Century by Thomas Piketty
This new book has been blowing up on Amazon and has been getting a really good review by the people whose opinion I think matters. I am debating ordering it in print as well just to mark it all up and be able to share.

6.) up&up Facial Moisurizing with SPF 15
Until this miracle in a bottle, my facial complexion hovers betweeen either dried out cracked or greasy shine. I apply about a half squeeze after washing my face and then shaving and havent had a breakout in weeks.

7.) Gillette Regular Shaving Cream
Having spent a fair amount of money on different types of soaps/lotions/gels, the original is still the best, in my humble opinion.

8.) Chavs: Demonization of the Working Class by Owen Jones
 Although this came out a while ago, I have just now gotten around to reading this great thinkpiece by Jones. My disagreements with Jones are manifold, but his writing pulls no punches and is a tour de force for the Labour movement.

9.) This interview with Chris Martin about Coldplay’s new album and breaking up with Gwyneth
 Up to now, Martin has been notoriously cagey about his relationship with Paltrow, which of course is his right, but he has been remarkably candid lately.

10.) This new Coldplay single, of course

The Paltrow-Martin Split

 

I’ve been on a deep dive of coldplay material from the last 15 years recently (see previous blog post).

I think part of it was the recent news of Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin’s choice to divorce. It wasn’t that I was surprised, because honestly I think people had been calling time on that relationship for the better part of a decade.  Emily Yoshida, writing for Grantland wrote an awesome piece on why the Pro and anti-Gwyneth crowd might be perplexed to say the least at her lifestyle. She also makes a great observation that if anything this seems to have created a fissure in the gleaming façade that was Paltrow’s image. Yoshida is refreshingly up front about the idiosyncrasy of spending time and words examining Paltrow.

Yoshida:

While it’s probably a waste of energy to personally mourn the life tragedies of celebrities we’ve never met and probably never will, so is exalting in them, and the overall sentiment of most of the reactions I’ve seen have been “Hah! That’s what she gets for thinking she could have a perfect life!” If you actually believed Paltrow’s life was perfect, that’s kind of on you for taking every blog post and flowery Vogue profile literally (and not reading the tabloids!)

Admittedly, I subscribe to goop and agree with what Graydon Carter wrote in Vanity Fair when he chose not run the magazine’s piece on Paltrow: there isn’t a lot there that you don’t find in other comparable women’s magazines at the grocer. Instead, it strikes me that immense amount of privilege that Paltrow approaches her life comes across totally different to even upper middle class persons. But I also agree with Yoshida, that I never get the feeling that she is consciously making a case for how her life was *better* than yours or mine. Simply that there is a scale to her life that is far grander than the one most people live in.

While I was on this rehash of old Coldplay records, article and interviews I stumbled upon the realization that while Coldplay had been my all-consuming pop culture obsession when I was a teen and early 20’s person, I had taken a sojourn in different directions away from their music. It was such a fun experience revisiting all these songs and stories behind the music and reminding myself why I fell in love with their music initially.

It would be kind of crass to try and read the tea leaves of albums liner notes looking for strains and triumphs in Martin and Paltrow’s marriage. At the heart of it, I really don’t want to believe all the awful things that have been said about Martin, and I don’t think Gwyneth earns the amount of vitriol that is thrown at her.

What’s continually amazing to me about the whole affair is the fact that neither person has really slung a lot of mud publically and has spent a lot of money shooting down rumors and innuendo. And whichever one of them decided that that was how it should end deserves lot of credit.

As Yoshida mentioned earlier, it’s probably a waste of energy to bemoan the end of a relationship between two people I will likely never meet, and whose problems are wildly different than mine. But at the end of the day they are still two people, who were once in love and aren’t anymore. And there’s nothing wrong with taking a moment to remark on the unfortunate nature of that.