Category Archives: History

Einstein the reluctant nationalist

He had been recruited by the pioneering Zionist leader Kurt Blumenfeld, who paid a call on Einstein in Berlin in early 1919. “With extreme naïveté he asked questions,” Blumenfeld recalled. Among Einstein’s queries: With their intellectual gifts, why should Jews create a homeland that was primarily agricultural? Why did it have to be its own nation-state? Wasn’t nationalism the problem rather than the solution? Eventually, Einstein came around. “I am, as a human being, an opponent of nationalism,” he told Blumenfeld. “But as a Jew, I am from today a supporter of the Zionist effort.”

via How Einstein Divided America’s Jews – Magazine – The Atlantic.

Not liking Erasmus that much

A Man is then a certain monstrous beast compact together of parts two or three of great diversity. Of a soul as of a certain goodly thing, and of a body as it were a brute or dumb beast. For certainly we so greatly excel not all other kinds of brute beasts in perfectness of body, but that we in all his natural gifts are found to them inferiors. In our minds verily we be so celestial and of godly capacity that we may surmount above the nature of angels, and be unite, knit and made one with God. If thy body had not been added to thee, thou hadst been a celestial or godly thing. If this mind had not been grafted in thee, plainly thou hadst been a brute beast.

via Online Library of Liberty – Of the outward and inward man.: Chap. iv. – The Manual of a Christian Knight.

I’m surprised how much I am not enjoying Erasmus’ Enchiridion. I am tempted to write off the Northern Renaissance as Platonic counter-revolution against Aristotle. But I really don’t know enough yet to be sure of anything… except that I’m finding the book a disappointment.

The archaic translation I quoted above is not the one I am reading (see here). It translated the second to last sentence as:

If your body had not been added to you, you would have been Godhead.

I am working from memory because I have mislaid the book, but I promise it used the word “Godhead” and there was no way to mitigate the use of the word in the sentence.

The book seems to consist thus far, in many spurs to pursue real holiness, some admirable statements about faith, a few embarrassing formulations that involve merit (not surprising in 1501), and a great deal of dualism that seems to lead to an idea of “God” as a Platonic oversoul. When Erasmus moves from dichotomous descriptions of human nature, his portrayal of trichotomism sounds like it was ripped off by Freud to give us id (body, passions), ego (soul), and superego (spirit).

Perhaps someone who knows Latin can tell me the best way to translate what looks like a smoking gun to me. I don’t understand how Erasmus did not get in immediate trouble for writing that statement. Yet the book was a best seller in all the languages of Europe.

So I guess, so far, if we view John Calvin as “coming out of” humanism, he looks even more impressive.

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Evidence that John Jay was no prophet

The JUST causes of war, for the most part, arise either from violation of treaties or from direct violence. America has already formed treaties with no less than six foreign nations, and all of them, except Prussia, are maritime, and therefore able to annoy and injure us. She has also extensive commerce with Portugal, Spain, and Britain, and, with respect to the two latter, has, in addition, the circumstance of neighborhood to attend to.

It is of high importance to the peace of America that she observe the laws of nations towards all these powers, and to me it appears evident that this will be more perfectly and punctually done by one national government than it could be either by thirteen separate States or by three or four distinct confederacies.

Because when once an efficient national government is established, the best men in the country will not only consent to serve, but also will generally be appointed to manage it; for, although town or country, or other contracted influence, may place men in State assemblies, or senates, or courts of justice, or executive departments, yet more general and extensive reputation for talents and other qualifications will be necessary to recommend men to offices under the national government,–especially as it will have the widest field for choice, and never experience that want of proper persons which is not uncommon in some of the States. Hence, it will result that the administration, the political counsels, and the judicial decisions of the national government will be more wise, systematical, and judicious than those of individual States, and consequently more satisfactory with respect to other nations, as well as more SAFE with respect to us.

via Federalist Papers: FEDERALIST No. 3.


Perhaps Jay would defend himself by saying the thirteen states would be worse than what we have experienced.

But I would reply that the thirteen states worrying about each other, would be less likely to play hegemon on other continents.

Of course, reading the predictions made in the Federalist Papers is a forceful reminder of the foolishness of trying to shepherd the wind, as Solomon writes in Ecclesiastes. While it matters not on the question of whether the thirteen states needed a new, stronger, government at the time, the fact is that no generation can guarantee anything for the next.

Guest post: Advice from Erasmus on how to deal with the Muslim enemy

The best way and most effectual to overcome and win the Turks, should be if they shall perceive that thing which Christ taught and expressed in his living to shine in us. If they shall perceive that we do not highly gape for their empires, do not desire their gold and good, do not covet their possessions, but that we seek nothing else but only their souls’ health and the glory of God. This is that right true and effectuous divinity, the which in time past subdued unto Christ arrogant and proud philosophers, and also the mighty and invincible princes: and if we thus do, then shall Christ ever be present and help us.

For truly it is not meet nor convenient to declare ourselves christian men by this proof or token, if we kill very many, but rather if we save very many: not if we send thousands of heathen people to hell, but if we make many infidels faithful: not if we cruelly curse and excommunicate them, but if we with devout prayers and with all our hearts desire their health and pray unto God to send them better minds. If this be not our intent it shall sooner come to pass that we shall degenerate and turn into Turks ourselves, than that we shall cause them to become christian men.

(From Enchiridion or The Manual of the Christian Knight)

Oh, those poor rich people forced to offer us such low prices…

The House of Morgan: An American Banking Dynasty and the Rise of Modern FinanceThe House of Morgan: An American Banking Dynasty and the Rise of Modern Finance by Ron Chernow

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I haven’t finished this book yet, but I have gotten far enough (up to WWII) to see its value in exposing how the American populace is being gamed by socialists/monopolists/technocrats/bankers. See this frank admission of his views made by President Obama, as an example.

It seems anomalous that America’s most famous financier was a sworn foe of free markets. Yet it followed logically from the anarchy of late nineteenth-century railroads, with their rate wars, blackmail lines [Note: I think the comma between blackmail and lines is a typo], and lack of standardized gauges. To destroy competing lines, railroads could simply refust to transfer freight to roads that abutted theirs. From an engineering standpoint, Pierpont knew little about railroads. What he did know is that they required steady revenues to cover their fixed interest costs on bonds marketed in New York and London. In the mid-1880s, freight rates were declining sharply under the pressur of savage price-cutting.

For Pierpont, the leading symbol of railway monopoly, pure competition was never an option. Years later, he a said, “The American public seems unwilling to admit… that it has a choice between regulated legals agreements and unregulated extralegal agreements. We should have cast away more than 50 years ago the impossible doctrine of protection of the public by railway competition. As we shall see, the House of Morgan always favored government planning over private compilation, but private planning over either.

As the top manufacturer of crude steel, Carnegie decided to branch out into finished products, such as pipe and wire. As the head of the second largest steel group, Pierpont feared a replication of the railroad chaos with overbuilding and price wars. He growled that Carnegie would “demoralize” the entire industry through competition.

Backed by representatives of Barings and Brown Brothers, Pierpont offered the railroad presidents a deal: if they refrained from rate-cutting and cutthroat competition, the financiers would stop underwriting competing railways. It was a clever move, for while Wall Street accused railroads of irresponsible behavior, the railroads blamed Wall Street for floating too many securities and creating the overexpansion that led to price wars.

The populace might dread the power of Pierpont Morgan, but he paid his bills promptly, always stuck by his word, and was almost universally respected among businessmen. He also saw competition as a destructive, inefficient force and instinctively favored large-scale combination as the cure.

Where Pierpont’s theorizing was largely nonexistent [partner, Goerge W.] Perkin’s was sophisticated. He gave speeches and published pamphlets on every conceivable subject. He was an oddity at the world most cryptic bank. he preached a gospel of industrial cooperation, contending that small-scall business depressed wages and retarded technological advance. Not Wall Street, he said, but steam engines and telephones produced trusts. “What is the difference,” he proclaimed, “between the US Steel Corporation, as it was organized by Mr. Morgan, and a Department of Steel as it might be organized by the Government?” He drew a parallel Pierpont wouldn’t admit to–that trusts, with their centralized production and distribution, were a form of private socialism. And unlike Pierpont, he saw that they had acquired a public character, and he favored government licensing of interstate companies and extended worker benefits, including profit sharing, social insurance, and old-age pensions. This, he boasted, would be “socialism of the highest, best, and most ideal sort.” Although Teddy Roosevelt sometimes wondered whether Perkins simply rationalized a selfish Morgan agenda, there was a striking likeness between their views.

That a Morgan partner should advocate socialism is not so startling. After all, Pierpont, starting with his Railway associations of the late 1880s, espoused industrial cooperation instead of competition. He like his capitalism neat, tidy, and under bankers’ control… Perkins wasn’t the only one in the Morgan camp to applaud moves toward a planned, integrated economy. Later on, Judge Elbert Gary of U.S. Steel, who held private dinners to fix prices in the steel industry, testified: “I would be very glad if we had some place where we could go, to a responsible governmental authority, and say to them, ‘Here are our facts and figures, here is our property, here our cost of production; now you tell us what we have the right to do and what prices we have the right to charge.'”

On why Morgan got along with Teddy Roosevelt progressives:

As we shall see, the mortal attacks on the House of Morgan came not from socialists but from such trustbusters as Louis D. Brandeis, Felix Frankfurter, and William O. Douglas, who favored small economic units and sharp competition. This tradition would lambaste the Morgan Money Trust as the biggest and most dangerous trust of all. Because the House of Morgan preached socialism for the rich, it always had a partial affinity for those who preached it for the poor.


Chernow is an advocate and defender for the Morgans, just as his latest book defends and advocates the mercantilism of Alexander Hamilton over against the Constitutionalist, limited-government, vision of Jefferson. So this is no prosecution’s case but the testimony of a friend.

So what happens under real Capitalism? Answer: The rich end up giving low-cost goodies to the poor and middle class but often end up rejoining those classes because they lose all their wealth in the process. Capitalism does not lead to concentrations of economic power but constantly threatens them. People who want to keep their economic power go to the government to protect it from the competition of the market. Despite Pierpont’s preference for “private planning” his efforts never lasted. He needed the government to get a real cartel going.

People who try to protect us from the concentration of economic power by concentrating economic power are not worth following.

For some more questions about the history of the cartel Utopia (mainly in the oil industry), see these posts:

“Progresive” Cartelization
Are we trying to get more oil or create a shortage
“Conservation” for cartels

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Alastair on substantiations and other aspects of the Lord’s Supper in Protestantism

It is popularly supposed in certain quarters that the general denial of transubstantiation among Protestants and particularly by the Reformers was occasioned by a resistance to the ideas of the ‘Real Presence’ of Christ in the Eucharist, or to the notion of our participation in the substance of his flesh and blood in the sacrament. Having recently responded to this assumption, and being very surprised by the fact that the person in question held it, I thought that I would repost an edited version of my response here. While I am fairly certain that for the significant majority of the followers of this blog, the following is olde hatte, experience is teaching me that there are certain facts whose knowledge one shouldn’t take for granted. There are ideas that have a lot of popular currency, despite their utter lack of historical support. For those whose impressions of Protestantism are derived from the experience of independent evangelicalism, with its low view of the church, sacraments, and the liturgy, it can come as some shock to discover that the Reformers generally held quite different visions. As I appreciate that the following post may be completely familiar to you, I beg your indulgence for the sake of those for whom this really is new.

via Protestantism, Eucharistic Participation in Christ’s Flesh, and Transubstantiation | Alastair’s Adversaria.

Please go read the entire article. It is a great one-stop-shop resource on the entire issue.

Jean Balard of Geneva

In Calvin’s Geneva, E. William Monter gives Balard’s dates as circa 1488 to 1555. He lived in the Lower City of Geneva near the Eastern gate. (Note here are what look like confirming documents for Monter, but I don’t read French.)

Balard was a merchant specializing in ironware, according to Monter, but he was also part of the city government for several years.

He had been active in civic councils since 1515, participating in 40 of 149 sessions over the next decade. He was suddenly raised to prominence in 1525 as one of Geneva’s four Syndics or chief magistrates,; the portion of his diary that has survived begins in that year (pp. 9-10)

According to D’Aubigne, during an early military crisis, Balard was against Reform.

Balard proposed another remedy: ‘Let mass be publicly celebrated once more,’ he said; ‘the mass is an expiation that will render God propitious to us.’ — ‘The mass is not worth a straw,’ exclaimed a huguenot. — ‘If it is so,’ retorted a catholic, ‘the death and passion of Jesus Christ are good for nothing.’ At these words the assembly became greatly excited. ‘Blasphemy!’ exclaimed some. ‘Balard has spoken blasphemy! He is a heretic. All who maintain the sacrifice of the host nullify the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.’ The council put an end to the discussion by resolving ‘that the priests should prove that the preachers spoke falsely, or else that they should go to the sermons and convince themselves that the ministers spoke the truth.’

According to Philip Schaff, Calvin “was appointed, together with the Syndics Roset, Porral, and Balard, to draw up a new code of laws, as early as Nov. 1, 1541.”

Schaff elaborates:

We have seen that in his first interview with the Syndics and Council after his return, Sept. 13, 1541, he insisted on the introduction of an ecclesiastical constitution and discipline in accordance with the Word of God and the primitive Church.685 The Council complied with his wishes, and intrusted the work to the five pastors (Calvin, Viret, Jacques Bernard, Henry de la Mare, and Aym‚ Champereau) and six councillors (decided Guillermins), to whom was added Jean Balard as advisory member. The document was prepared under his directing influence, submitted to the Councils, slightly altered, and solemnly ratified by a general assembly of citizens (the Conseil g‚n‚ral), Jan. 2, 1542, as the fundamental church law of the Republic of Geneva.686 Its essential features have passed into the constitution and discipline of most of the Reformed and Presbyterian Churches of Europe and America. The official text of the “Ordinances “is preserved in the Registers of the Venerable Company, and opens with the following introduction: – “In the name of God Almighty, we, the Syndics, Small and Great Councils with our people assembled at the sound of the trumpet and the great clock, according to our ancient customs, have considered that the matter above all others worthy of recommendation is to preserve the doctrine of the holy gospel of our Lord in its purity, to protect the Christian Church, to instruct faithfully the youth, and to provide a hospital for the proper support of the poor,-all of which cannot be done without a definite order and rule of life, from which every estate may learn the duty of its office. For this reason we have deemed it wise to reduce the spiritual government, such as our Lord has shown us and instituted by his Word, to a good form to be introduced and observed among us. Therefore we have ordered and established to follow and to guard in our city and territory the following ecclesiastical polity, taken from the gospel of Jesus Christ.” (boldface added)

And some more from D’Aubigne:

They wanted Balard to go to sermon, but he did not; they wanted him to leave the city, but he remained; they wanted him to close his warehouse (he was a large ironmonger), and it was no sooner shut than he reopened it. fo163 He continued to be a member of the Council and discharged all its functions. Girardet de la Rive took his child a league from the city to have it christened by a priest; and yet he was re-elected syndic in 1539 and 1543, and in Calvin’s time, in 1547, was appointed one of the six commissioners for drawing up the ordinances of justice.

While Balard was better off than the average Genevan, he only owned one house and a bit of pasture and vineyard outside the Genevan walls. He could hardly be claimed to have influence with his peers due to his wealth when many of them owned six of more homes in various places in and out of the city.

He both seem to have eventually succumbed to some degree to the Reformation in the city. After being put on the Small Council for the second time in 1539, he received more scrutiny. Monter writes:

However, at Christmas 1539, he was once again interrogated about his religious beliefs by the Republic’s prosecuting attorney, Thomas Genod (formerly parish priest at St. Gervais, now married to the only Genevan nun who had accepted the Reformation). Balard responded that he was “entirely ready to believe all the articles of faith that the whole city believes, and that he wishes his body to be united with the body of the city, as a loyal citizen should do,” but his interrogators were unsatisfied. A second interrogation on Christmas Eve ended when Balard answered that, “he couldn’t judge things which he didn’t know or understand; but since it pleases the government that he say the Mass is evil, he will say that the Mass is evil.” He added that “no one could judge of a man’s heart, and the Gospel says that those who are godly shall live and these who are ungodly will perish.” “Afterwards he confessed the Mass to be evil,” calmly remarks the official register, and no doubt Balard took communion that Christmas.

But he left the Small Council at that point, never to return to it.

Balard served Geneva in others ways as well including giving from his own finances to help the city. He was one of the many people who worked for Genevan independence from the House of Savoy even though he wasn’t a big fan of the Swiss Alliance.

Reading Calvin’s Geneva has been a frustrating experience in many ways. I feel like the way I have thought of Reformation Church history has been really anachronistic and artificially teaching-centered. John Calvin is this pastor who writes theology that we learn from him. But what do we really learn about a man from a book he writes? What do we learn about his real life?

Calvin taught, we are told, that lesser magistrates could resist “higher” magistrates. We act as if we owe this to Calvin. What nonsense. Geneva was doing this long before they had ever heard of Calvin. The only reason there was ever a place for Calvin in Geneva was due to Geneva’s struggle for independence against the House of Savoy.

(The House of Savoy… several times a phrase in the history I’m reading now makes me think back to… reading Frank Herbert’s Dune! The Medieval world is so strange to us. No wonder we simplify it.)

Calvin may, at most, be credited with passing on to us the consensus of many in the medieval world. But his transmission should not be used to steal credit from the source.

And what about “the spirituality of the Church”? What a joke! As a born and raised American pluralist/secularist, I can say the thought of a city prosecutor badgering a man to confess that Mass is evil is somewhat painful to contemplate. But “the Spirituality of Geneva” is something that would give Thornwell nightmares. John Calvin has more in common with Constantine the Great than he does with any contemporary Calvinist. Mere agreement with the teaching in the Institutes simply does not cover that much of Calvin’s life and mission.

I’ll keep the post title, even though I’m now not sure what this post is about or why I’m writing it…

Some provisional thoughts from studying John Calvin’s life

  • The French Evangelicals were initially protected by Francis I against persecution from the provincial parlemonts. There was no reason at all for Calvin to associate republicanism with safety for Protestantism and monarchy with persecution of Protestantism.
  • And, in any case, Calvin had no problem respecting monarchs. The Institutes was written to Francis I, and the Bible said lots of good things about hereditary kings.
  • Nor did Calvin invent a doctrine of “interposition.” It was already there. Medieval Europeans knew how to overthrow tyrants and had done so. Frederic the Wise didn’t have Calvin to tell him he should protect Luther and he didn’t need Calvin to tell him so. He already knew he had the right and duty to resist higher magistrates when they attempted evil.
  • Calvin’s belief that local congregations should “choose” their pastors means exactly nothing about how rulers should be chosen to run a commonwealth. Oddly, people who insist that Calvin was jus divinum seem to want to also claim that his view of church polity dictated his view of how the commonwealth should be ruled. (I use quotation marks because it is not clear how the congregation was to determine its own will in calling a pastor.)
  • Historically, the idea that government should be “by consent” has never dictated democratic or republican procedures. The point is not that governments should be run by popularity contest, but that the people have the right to overthrow tyrants and establish just rulers, including new dynasties. Even Thomas Jefferson, as late as the declaration, uses the phrase to justify revolution, not the establishment of democracy as the only legitimate form of government. So Calvin’s traditional medieval belief in the right of the people with lesser magistrates to overthrow tyrants does not mean he was a father of democratic governance.
  • Ironically, France became an enemy of Protestantism because the kings had already resisted the Papacy. That success made the Pope an assett to support the pretensions of the monarchy. What would be the point of gaining concessions from the Pope to rule the French churches if the Reformation gave them back to the Bible?
  • When one is measuring Calvin’s place in the trajectory of history, one might bear in mind that, historically, the rise of representative legislatures has coincided with the extinction of resistance to civil government.

    … But as American interest in England’s “revolution principles” increased, those ideas slowly retreated into obsolescence for the most influential Englishmen. It was symptomatic of this change that Sir William Blackstone tried to explain away Locke’s fundamental assertion that “there remains… inherent in the people supreme power to remove or alter the legislative, when they find the legislative act contrary to the trust reposed in them.” However just this may be “in theory,” the jurist wrote in early editions of his Commentaries on the Law of England, “we cannot adopt it, nor argue from it, under any dispensation or government at present actually existing.” His statements reflected the effect of a century of complex change in England. Blackstone had to reconcile traditional English notions of limited government with his more modern belief that “so long … as the English constitution lasts … the power of parliament is absolute and without control. He did this, in effect, by resigning revolutionary beliefs to the purer realm of philosophy, denying that the people in real life had the right to resist a legislative power that abust its trust–denying, in effect, the notion that public officials ipso facto surrendered legal authority by violating their trust. For Blackstone and many other contemporary Englishmen, that conception had become otiose by the mid-eighteenth century. Parliament had, in effect, replaced the people as the repository of sovereignty (source).

    So it simply does not make sense to claim that preaching the right to resist is the same as preaching for government by popularly elected officers.


The myth of the Republican (or Democratic) John Calvin

John Calvin comments on 1 Timothy 2.2 (boldface added):

For kings He expressly mentions kings and other magistrates because, more than all others, they might be hated by Christians. All the magistrates who existed at that time were so many sworn enemies of Christ; and therefore this thought might occur to them, that they ought not to pray for those who devoted all their power and all their wealth to fight against the kingdom of Christ, the extension of which is above all things desirable. The apostle meets this difficulty, and expressly enjoins Christians to pray for them also. And, indeed, the depravity of men is not a reason why God’s ordinance should not be loved. Accordingly, seeing that God appointed magistrates and princes for the preservation of mankind, however much they fall short of the divine appointment, still we must not on that account cease to love what belongs to God, and to desire that it may remain in force. That is the reason why believers, in whatever country they live, must not only obey the laws and the government of magistrates, but likewise in their prayers supplicate God for their salvation. Jeremiah said to the Israelites,

“Pray for the peace of Babylon, for in their peace ye shall have peace.” (Jeremiah 29:7.)

The universal doctrine is this, that we should desire the continuance and peaceful condition of those governments which have been appointed by God.

via Commentary on Timothy, Titus, Philemon | Christian Classics Ethereal Library.

Or consider Calvin’s comments on Psalm 72.11 (boldface added):

And all kings shall prostrate themselves before him. This verse contains a more distinct statement of the truth, That the whole world will be brought in subjection to the authority of Christ. The kingdom of Judah was unquestionably never more flourishing than under the reign of Solomon; but even then there were only a small number of kings who paid tribute to him, and what they paid was inconsiderable in amount; and, moreover, it was paid upon condition that they should be allowed to live in the enjoyment of liberty under their own laws. While David then began with his own son, and the posterity of his son, he rose by the Spirit of prophecy to the spiritual kingdom of Christ; a point worthy of our special notice, since it teaches us that we have not been called to the hope of everlasting salvation by chance, but because our heavenly Father had already destined to give us to his Son. From this we also learn, that in the Church and flock of Christ there is a place for kings; whom David does not here disarm of their sword nor despoil of their crown, in order to admit them into the Church, but rather declares that they will come with all the dignity of their station to prostrate themselves at the feet of Christ.

via Commentary on Psalms – Volume 3 | Christian Classics Ethereal Library.

In my opinion, the fact that the Institutes are appeals to a king should settle the matter…

Bribing preachers in order to sell bonds

George Peabody sold bonds in London. The bonds were issued by states to fund infrastructure projects. I’m sure these projects were done with complete transparency and accountability with zero corruption. Sure.

Eventually, the states learned that they had to raise taxes to pay on the bonds. Taxpayers didn’t like being forced into higher taxes due to past decisions in which they had no say. States eventually caved to taxpayers and repudiated debts. George Peabody, who was the beginning of what became the House of Morgan, had not yet invented the IMF to deal with these states.


A hallmark of merchant bankers was that they vouched for the securities they sponsored. At first, Peabody merely sent letters to Baltimore friends, scolding them about the need for Maryland to resume interest payments. Then he tired of persuasion and rewarded reporters with small gratuities for favorable articles about he state. At last, in 1845 he conspired with Barings to push Maryland into resuming payment. They set up a political slush fund to spread propaganda for debt resumption and to elect sympathetic legislators, they even drafted the clergy into giving sermons on the sanctity of contracts. By means of a secret account, the two firms transferred 1000 pounds to Baltimore, 90 percent from Barings and 10 percent from Peabody–a strategy Barings duplicated in Pennsylvania. Most shocking of all, Barings bribed Daniel Webster, the orator and statesman, to make speeches for debt repayment.