(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘American Revolution

“One who deceives will always find those who allow themselves to be deceived”*…

Even if 2020 [and indeed, the events of January 6, 2021] felt apocalyptic, it is reasonable to think we have not yet hit rock bottom. The threat of climate disaster and resource wars, the building of walls and refugee camps, the exorbitant wealth of powerful oligarchs alongside poverty and precarity—these will not go away with vaccines or new presidents. Amidst all this, no wonder Niccolò Machiavelli has returned to our reading lists. In his new biography of the Florentine Secretary, Machiavelli: The Art of Teaching the People What to Fear, originally published in French in 2017, historian Patrick Boucheron reminds us that there is always interest in Machiavelli in turbulent times “because he’s the man to philosophize in heavy weather. If we’re reading him today, it means we should be worried. He’s back: wake up.”

Born in 1469 in Florence, Machiavelli is a central figure in the Western canon of political philosophy. Though he is best known in the popular imagination as the conniving mastermind behind The Prince (written in 1513), which so many think of as a kind of House of Cards how-to guide for seizing and maintaining political power, we miss what is crucial when we reduce his political thought to the simplistic thesis that the ends justify the means. It is not this misunderstood consequentialism that is noteworthy in Machiavelli’s philosophy; what really makes his writing so radically distinctive is his class-based, materialist outlook. He came from an impoverished household, and his philosophy disrupted naturalized hierarchies and the hegemonic ideas that reproduce them. John Adams would rightly describe him as the founder of a “plebeian philosophy” that marshaled strong arguments for embracing popular control over government…

The introduction to the English edition of The Art of Teaching the People What to Fear, written in June 2019 for readers in the United States, begins with the theme of fear in politics and an issue of Time magazine with Trump on the cover. Boucheron argues that the United States had entered a “Machiavellian moment”—“the dawning realization of the inadequacy of the republican ideal”—in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and that today, under “Trumpian America,” a fusion of politics and fiction has allowed for techniques of domination to be perfected, setting “a general disregard for the ‘actual truth of the matter.’” Referencing George Orwell’s 1984, Boucheron sees the United States as captured by a propaganda machine that has undermined reality and common sense—“that sixth sense Machiavelli spoke of, the accessory knowledge that the people have of what is dominating them.” Given the pervasive lack of realism in U.S. politics today, it is clear that the republic would appear to Machiavelli as a corrupt order, not because the powerful few break the rules or because a faction attempts to undermine the integrity of elections, but because the people have been “either deceived or forced into decreeing their own ruin.” Perhaps the most important part of Machiavelli’s wisdom for our own time is that republics tend to become oligarchic, giving the powerful few indirect control over government…

Much maligned as a mere tactician of power, Machiavelli was in fact a philosopher of the people. His critique of oligarchic domination remains essential today: “Our Machiavellian Moment.”

* Niccolò Machiavelli

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As we ponder populism, we might recall that it was on this date in 1776 that Thomas Paine first published (albeit anonymously) his pamphlet “Common Sense.”  A scathing attack on “tyrant” King George III’s reign over the colonies and a call for complete independence, “Common Sense” advocated immediate action.  America, Paine argued, had a moral obligation to reject monarchy and declare independence.  An instant bestseller in both the colonies and Britain (over 120,000 copies in just a few months), it greatly affected public sentiment at a time when the question of independence was still undecided, and helped shape the deliberations of the Continental Congress leading up to the Declaration of Independence.

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“If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito”*…

 

mosquito

 

A month after the opening salvos of the American Revolution at Lexington and Concord in April 1775, the newly appointed commander in chief of the Continental Army, George Wash­ington, had a request for his political masters in the Continental Con­gress. He urged them to buy up as much cinchona bark and quinine powder as possible. Given the dire financial pressures of the squabbling colonial government, and the dearth of pretty much everything needed to fight a war, his total allotment was a paltry 300 pounds. General Washington was a frequent visitor to the quinine chest as he suffered from recurrent bouts (and reinfection) of malaria since first contracting the disease in 1749 at the age of seventeen.

Luckily for the Americans, the British were also drastically short of Peruvian Spanish-supplied quinine throughout the war. In 1778, shortly before they entered the fray in support of the American cause, the Spanish cut off this supply completely. Any available stores were sent to British troops in India and the Caribbean. At the same time, the mosquito’s mer­ciless, unrelenting strikes on unseasoned British troops lacking quinine during the final British southern campaign — launched in 1780 with the capture of Charleston, the strategic port city and mosquito sanctuary­ — determined the fate of the United States of America.

As J. R. McNeill colorfully contours, ‘The argument here is straight­forward: In the American Revolution the British southern campaigns ultimately led to defeat at Yorktown in October 1781 in part because their forces were much more susceptible to malaria than were the American. . . . [T]he balance tipped because Britain’s grand strategy committed a larger proportion of the army to malarial (and yellow fever) zones.’ A full 70% of the British Army that marched into this southern mosquito maelstrom in 1780 was recruited from the poorer, famished regions of Scotland and the northern counties of England, outside the malaria belt of Pip’s Fenland marshes. Those who had already served some time in the colonies had done so in the northern zone of infection and had not yet been seasoned to American malaria.

General Washington and the Continental Congress, on the other hand, had the advantage of commanding acclimated, malaria-seasoned colonial troops. American militiamen had been hardened to their sur­roundings during the Seven Years’ War and the turbulent decades head­ing toward open hostilities against their king. Washington personally recognized, albeit short of scientific affirmation or medical endorsement, that with his recurrent malarial seasonings, ‘I have been protected be­yond all human probability or expectation.’ While they did not know it at the time, this might well have been the Americans’ only advantage over the British when, after twelve years of seething resentment and discontent since the passing of the Royal Proclamation [of 1763 that prohibited land sales to colonists], war suddenly and unexpectedly came.

The Americans’ secret weapon– an excerpt from Timothy C. Winegard’s Mosquito: A Human History of of our Deadliest Predator: “George Washington, Mosquitoes, and the American Revolution.”

[via the ever-illuminating Delanceyplace.com]

* Dalia Lama XIV

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As we douse ourselves in DEET, we might recall that it was on this date in 1781– before the fall of Yorktown, but after a decisive week of fighting– that General George Washington wrote to the President of the Continental Congress to give an account of the recent action.  Three days later the Siege of Yorktown (as it became known) ended with the surrender of British forces under General Cornwallis.  It was the final major land battle of the Revolutionary War; the capture of Cornwallis and his army prompted the British government to negotiate an end to the conflict.

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Surrender of Lord Cornwallis, by John Trumbull

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

October 16, 2019 at 1:01 am

“Clients often ask, jokingly, whether we learn our trade in prison”*…

 

safecracker

I spent more than six months shadowing [Charlie] Santore because I wanted to know what the city looks like through the eyes of a safecracker, a person for whom no vault is an actual barrier and no safe is truly secure. There are a lot of safecrackers, I learned, but the good ones, like Santore, live in a state of magical realism, suspended somewhere between technology and superstition. The safecracker sees what everyone else has been hiding—the stashed cash and jewels, the embarrassing photographs. He is a kind of human X-ray revealing the true, naked secrets of a city…

A fascinating profile of L.A.’s preeminent (lock) picker: “Meet the Safecracker of Last Resort.”

* Master safecracker Ken Doyle in a McSweeney’s interview well-worth a read

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As we twist the tumbler, we might recall that it was on this date in 1773 that a group of colonists known as the Sons of Liberty, disguised as Mohawk Indians, boarded three British tea ships and dumped 342 chests of tea (worth 18,000– over half a million dollars in today’s currency) into Boston harbor.  The provocation was the Tea Act of May 10, 1773, which allowed the British East India company to sell tea from China in American colonies without paying taxes apart from those imposed by the Townshend Acts— which American Patriots strongly opposed as a violation of their rights. Colonists objected to the Tea Act because they believed that it violated their rights as Englishmen to “no taxation without representation.”

The Boston Tea Party was a significant event in the gestation of the American Revolution. Parliament responded in 1774 with the Intolerable Acts, which, among other provisions, ended local self-government in Massachusetts and closed Boston’s commerce.  Colonists up and down the Thirteen Colonies in turn responded to the Intolerable Acts with additional acts of protest, and by convening the First Continental Congress, which petitioned the British monarch for repeal of the acts– and probably more impactfully, coordinated colonial resistance to them.  The crisis escalated, and the American Revolutionary War began near Boston in 1775.

by-nathaniel-currier

The Boston Tea Party, as rendered by Nathaniel Currier

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

December 16, 2018 at 1:01 am

Are you a man or a…

From the BBC, “Sex I.D.: The Brain-Sex Test“– complete a series of exercises, and discover whether your brain functions more like most men’s or most women’s.

As we ponder the mysteries of gender, we might recall that it was on this date in 1776 that South Carolina became the first American colony to declare its independence from Great Britain and set up its own government.

The Palmetto State clearly has an itchy trigger finger:  your correspondent’s ancestral seat was also the first state to declare its secession from the Union. On April 12, 1861, Confederate batteries began shelling Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, and the American Civil War began.

Revolutionaries fighting the forces of the Crown, Charleston, 1776
(U.S. Army Center for Military History)

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