The Thucydides trap

The White House is full of aficionados of Thucydides, the Greek historian and chronicler of the Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta.  In fact, Thucydides is very much in vogue today among lots of diplomats and foreign policy experts.  In the White House, Defense Secretary James Mattis, National Security advisor H. R. McMaster, and Trump’s key advisor Steve Bannon are way into Thucydides.

Recently, international affairs scholar Graham Allison was invited to the White House to brief staffers on the subject of his new book:  Destined for War:  Can America and China Escape Thucydides’ Trap?

He applies Thucydides’ explanation of the Peloponnesian War:  “What made war inevitable was the growth of Athenian power and the fear which this caused in Sparta.”

Established powers fear the rise of new powers.  Just as the United States fears the rise of China.  Or might come to fear the rise of China as it becomes more and more powerful and influential in the world.

Which raises the question:  At some point, will there be a war between China and the United States?

We think of fear as a deterrent, but, as Thucydides has shown and as history often bears out, fear can also motivate war.  Do you think that will happen with China and the United States?

Illustration:  “The Fall of the Athenian Army, ” by J.G.Vogt, Illustrierte Weltgeschichte, vol. 1, Leipzig (E.Wiest) 1893. (fonte) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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The history of pews


Lutheran writer and humorous church historian Luke T. Harrington writes about the history of church pews.

In Luther’s day and before, everyone stood or kneeled sometimes in church.  The pews were invented first as private boxes that allowed the nobility to avoid mixing with the vulgar masses.  Then they kept evolving.

Read what happened, including a cultural study of sitting, after the jump. [Read more…]

From preoccupation with society to preoccupation with the self


Still more things I’ve picked up from Kenneth L. Woodward’s  Getting Religion:  Faith, Culture, and Politics from the Age of Eisenhower to the Era of Obama.  (See my earlier posts on Woodward’s book here and here and here.)

After the disillusionment with “the secular city,” liberal theology turned to a new frontier.  It was the Sixties.  Lucy was in the Sky with Diamonds.  The Maharishi was on television.  And in the academic world new frontiers of psychology were apparently opening up.

Liberal theology went “experiential.”  This, according to Woodward, “was the antithesis” of the social gospel “and reflected disillusionment with protest politics and social reform.  What mattered was transformation of self rather than of society; myth and metaphysics rather than morality; expanded (or altered or higher) consciousness rather than appeals to conscience” (p. 256). [Read more…]

“When the secular was sacred”


I grew up in a liberal mainline denomination in the 1950s and 1960s, going to the conventions and participating in the youth conferences.  Reading Kenneth L. Woodward’s account of this phase of church history in Getting Religion:  Faith, Culture, and Politics from the Age of Eisenhower to the Era of Obama explains a lot of things that I witnessed and had to go through.  (See my earlier posts on Woodward’s book here and here.)

Woodward, the religious editor for Newsweek, tells about the impact of the Civil Rights Movement on mainline Protestant pastors and church people.  In addition to giving them a truly righteous cause, it introduced them to the black church, which seemed to be a truly socially relevant institution, unlike their own church bodies.  The excitement soon extended to other kinds of social activism.  And then came the Kennedy euphoria.

It seemed to many mainline Protestant theologians that the secular world–not the church–was where the real action is.  Also the real virtues, the real meaning, the realm where God was truly working.

As Woodward puts it, “the nation’s liberal Protestant leadership came to embrace the secular as sacred:  that is, to assume that if God is to be found anywhere, it is in the secular world, not the church” (p. 96). [Read more…]

Embedded religion vs. movement religion

Walther League 1928I’ve been reading Kenneth L. Woodward’s Getting Religion:  Faith, Culture, and Politics from the Age of Eisenhower to the Era of Obama.  I’ll be publishing a review of it for the Concordia Historical Institute Journal.  Woodward was the religion editor of Newsweek for nearly four decades before his retirement, an old-school journalist who is widely respected from all sides.  He treats the developments in American religion since the end of World War II as a historian but also as a first hand witness who came to know many of the players and covered the key stories of that tumultuous period.

He distinguishes between “embedded religion” and “movement religion.” [Read more…]

The founding document of professional sports


On February 2, 1876, the constitution of the National Baseball League was signed.

Before that, playing a sport professionally meant that the players split the money that the fans paid to watch the game.  Amateur sports was considered far more honorable.

The document establishing the National League not only was foundational for baseball.  It was foundational for all professional sports to come.   Among other things, it established that teams would be owned and that the owners would pay athletes to play for them.

This founding document has been put up for sale.  (The auction referred to in the story after the jump has been postponed, due to a dispute over who currently owns it.) [Read more…]