So if you think we live in a modern world

22 11 2016

I’ve mentioned before my attempt to grasp modern ideologies, an attempt since grown into a project I’m calling Modernity’s Ideologies.

Here, in maximally-minimalist form, is my sketch of the argument:

Terri Peterson ©2016

Terri Peterson ©2016. Do not quote without permission.

It’s hard to see (click to, y’know, see it), but the basic outline is MODERNITY as historical moment; Liberalism, Totalitarianism, and Reaction as worldviews; the attendant ideologies to these worldviews; and, finally, the types of regimes most compatible to these worldviews & ideologies.

The ideologies in the chart proper are referred to as ‘governing ideologies’: these refer to ideologies which offer a more-complete view of government and politics, which take account of individuals, groups, society, culture, economics, and governmental institutions. ‘Adjunct ideologies’, listed below the chart, are so-called because they are incomplete: they may cover some aspect of politics, but are unable on their own to provide a full and practical understanding of politics.

These are, of course, highly contestable claims; libertarians and anarchists, in particular, are likely to assert the wholeness of their ideologies (and, shoot, I should probably add ‘communitarianism’ to the list of adjuncts). I am unconvinced, although I do recognized that I’ll need to make the case for their adjunct status. As it stands, I argue that adjuncts may be fitted (more and less easily) with the various governing ideologies, that you could find, say, black liberation or women’s liberation accompanying liberalism or reform socialism—just as you could find white supremacism and anti-Semitism accompanying the same.

Anyway, the basic argument is that modernity emerges in European history and in so doing provides opportunities for the development of new worldviews, which in turn give rise to various worldviews. Liberalism and Totalitarianism are included on the same line insofar as both worldviews (or Weltanschauungen—I think I should stick to ‘worldview’ but oh, I’d like to sneak in that bit of German) accept modernity and the forward movement of time; Reaction rejects modernity and looks to the past.

Note as well that I list no ideologies coming out of Reaction. This is because I accept the view of ideology as a modern phenomenon; insofar as Reactionaries reject modernity, so too do they fail to develop ideologies. Reactionary regimes, however, lasted centuries into modernity: arguably, they didn’t disappear until the end of WWI.

And, again, this chart arises from European history: I make no claims about the history of ideologies elsewhere. Given that ideas, like people, travel—see communism in Asia, for example—I’m not arguing for the geographic and cultural exclusivity of these ideologies; rather, I haven’t done the work to make any claims one way or the other. Scholars steeped in the histories of the rest of the world would almost certainly generate their own, distinct, genealogies.

I have a lot of work to do: define modernity, define Europe, and then, oh yes, the worldviews and the ideologies themselves. I also have to make decisions regarding the spread of these ideas as Europeans colonized other parts of the world: do I stick strictly to the continent, or look European ideologies in, say, the Americas, in India, across Africa?

Finally, I’ll have a last chapter, ‘Post-Modernities?’ in which I’ll take up the challenges of those who think we’re already beyond. I used to be in that group, but now think, no, we’re still in modernity, frayed though it may be.

Anyway, when I refer in the future to any kind of ideologies, this is how I’ll be making sense of them. Whether it makes sense to anyone else remains to be seen.

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Map of the world

11 02 2015

My medieval-modernity project may have fallen apart, but I’m still hoovering up books about old Europe.

And the words do work for me—I’ve said in the past that I’m a text- rather than visually-oriented person—but sometimes, mmm, sometimes you need a map to make sense.

To cite one example: I just finished John Julius Norwich’s A Short History of Byzantium (great fun: I want to track down the 3-vol. series), and I kept flipping between the copy and the maps at the front of the book to figure out where, exactly, were the boundaries of the empire or the position of yet another battle. It helped, some, but the maps were few and small and I couldn’t always determine where the characters or I were.

So I happened to ask my colleague and friend Jtte. if she had any suggestions for atlases (Jtte. does historical research and has constructed a number of terrific maps for her work), and she immediately said “William Shepherd, Historical Atlas“.

Shepherd constructed his atlas in the early 20th century, so I wouldn’t be surprised if archaeological work in the intervening years might yield different maps, but oh, are these maps beautiful.

Jtte. pointed me to the Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection at UT-Austin, which includes a section on historical maps, and a link to a 1911 and 1923-26 edition of Shepherd’s work.

Here’s one from the 1920s edition, of Asia Minor:

asia_minor_p20

Reference Map of Asia Minor under the Greeks and Romans

Or this one, of Europe under Rome (I’m finally reading Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire):

european_provinces_rome

Reference Map of the European Provinces of the Roman Empire

Click to make ’em see-able & zoom-able.

These are gorgeous, and a bit of a mess, but isn’t that exactly what an historical atlas should be?

Happily, the Strand had an 8th edition (1956, with maps added to Shepherd’s final 1929 edition), so I won’t have to go online to see, say, The Growth of Russia in Europe, 1300-1796 or The Ottoman Empire, 1481-1683 or or the Growth of Frankish Power 481-814 or or or. . . .

(Of course, the zoom feature is pretty handy: lifting my glasses and sticking my nose an inch or two from the page isn’t always enough.)

Oh, I am going toss away so many hours leafing through and peering at these maps, and to no discernible productive end whatsoever.

Ain’t knowledge grand?





And I know things now

7 05 2014

Modernity is dead is in a coma.

Okay, not modernity—modernity is still kickin’—but my medieval/modern project to suss out the beginnings of modernity, yeah, that’s on life support. I’ll probably never pull the plug, but the chances of recovery at this point are slim.

The main problem was that I never had a thesis. As a former post-modernist I was interested in the pre-mod: learning about the last great (Euro) transition might help me to make sense of what may or may not be another transitional moment.

And I learned a lot! I knew pitifully little about European history—couldn’t have told you the difference between the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, that’s how bad I was—and now I know something more. I’d now be comfortable positioning the Renaissance as the final flowering of the medieval era, arguing that the 16th and 17th centuries were the double-hinge between the medieval and the modern, that the Enlightenment was about the new moderns getting chesty, that Nietzsche crowbarred open the crack first noticed by the sophists, and that the medieval era in Europe did not truly end until the end of World War I.

None of these is a particularly novel observation. I make no pretense of expertise nor even much beyond a rudimentary working knowledge: there are still large gaps in my knowledge and large books to be read. And I will continue reading for a very long time.

But I don’t have a point to that reading beyond the knowledge itself. It’s possible that something at some point will present itself as a specific route to be followed, but right now, the past is an ocean, not a river.

That’s all right. I’m a fan of useless knowledge and wandering thoughts.