Author Archives: Richard Landes
In preparing to post the speech I gave to a Conference on Homeland Security about Cogwar this month, I found myself elaborating on several points beyond what the talk itself could bear. So I’ve moved some of the discussion to separate posts. The first concerns the Danish Cartoon Affair, which I used to illustrate the way that our news media and the intelligentsia in our public sphere failed to report on a crucial detail of the efforts of radical Imams to make the Danish Cartoons into an occasion to “spread Sharia” to Dar al Islam. As a result, a “teaching moment” for civil society and tolerance became a “bullying moment” for an aggressive, triumphalist religion of conquest.
From the global Jihadi perspective, this incident represented an effort to extend Sharia over areas of targeted Dar al Harb. Indeed since Khoumeini’s fatwa against Salmon Rushdie, global Jihadis have sought to get Westerners to adopt Sharia’s (heavily censuring) position on articulating anything they might consider blasphemous. In the most zealous of Muslim formulations, the depiction of Muhammad was forbidden to Muslims (for fear of idolatry). But here Islamist activists insisted that not even non-Dhimmi infidels (i.e., independent non-Muslims) have no right to violate (their strict reading of) Sharia. The stakes were high, both in terms of freedom of speech and in terms of the demopathic demand that infidels show respect for Islam, even as cartoons all over the Muslim world depicted the infidel (especially the Jew) in the most grotesque, hate-mongering fashion.
And yet, in the entire Muhammad Cartoon episode, only the blogosphere discussed at any length the three fake Muhammad Cartoons, by far the outrageous of the lot, the most blasphemous, created specifically by the radical preachers who wanted to inflame the Muslim Street: Muhammad as pig, as paedophile, as being raped by a dog while praying. These were “lethal narratives,” false tales told to make the Western infidel as odious to Muslims as possible, even as they used them to gain sympathy from Western liberals by illustrating the atmosphere of Islamophobia in which Western Muslims must live.
Charles Enderlin posted at his blog an essay on “Netanyahu’s Vision,” which reveals all the sloppy prejudices that he has internalized from an international consensus that it’s all Israel’s fault. Victor Perez at his blog, manages to draw out many of the elements the explain why Charles’ readership is so fully misinformed.
Certains s’interrogent sur les raisons de la poussée de l’antisémitisme en Europe et principalement en France. Une hostilité systématique envers les Juifs cachée sous le paravent d’un anti-sionisme développé dans les médias nationaux par la bouche et/ou les écrits des journalistes à demeure, ou envoyés, en Israël.
L’envoyé permanent de France 2 à Jérusalem, pourtant juif, israélien et, paraît-il, ayant fait son service militaire ne déroge pas à la règle de ses employeurs. Charles Enderlin en bon petit soldat de la guerre larvée qui se joue contre l’Etat du peuple juif a une idéologie à soutenir.
La logique et le bon sens ont, vraisemblablement, déserté sa réflexion !
Dans un texte intitulé « La vision de Netanyahu », publié dans son blog, il confirme que tout le mal vient des Israéliens ! Il nous affirme qu’il « sera quasi impossible d’évacuer cent mille colons installés au cœur de la Cisjordanie, les 260000 autres étant regroupés dans des blocs d’implantations. En admettant que cela se fasse, resterait le problème de Jérusalem Est (…) »
One of the more fruitful ways of understanding the dilemma of dealing with Iran is a cognitive warfare analysis. Cognitive warfare is the main theater of war for “weak” insurgencies in an asymmetric conflict. Unable to win on the kinetic battlefield, insurgencies must pursue means to prevent the stronger side from using their strength to prevent them from gaining strength. In the case of non-democratic insurgencies against superior democratic foes – the majority of such conflicts in the modern period – the “weak” side must deploy both their own deceptions and exploit the vulnerabilities of their foes in order to proceed. When the enemies are democracies who, in principle, consider the use of force a last resort, this means insurgencies must use the pacific (pacifist) tendencies of their foes to paralyze them.
In the case of Iranian nuclear ambitions this involves clearly high stakes: not only is Iran a Shi’i theocracy with an apocalyptic worldview, whose leaders have made clear since the inception of the regime in 1979 (1400 AH), that their resort to war is neither inhibited by modern norms, nor defensive, but also that Iran’s acquisition would trigger a much larger nuclear push on the part of their foes in the Sunni Muslim world. Thus, from any angle, whether from the huge increase in a nuclear Iran’s hegemonic influence among her immediate neighbors, or from the metastasis of nuclear weapons in other, pre-modern polities in so unstable a region, it seems an imperative that the West should prevent Iran from acquiring these weapons. Indeed, one might argue that with this cognitive-war victory (acquiring the nuclear bomb without opposition), Iran could dramatically alter the kinetic battlefield, and with this power to threaten and intimidate, to immeasurably increase their cognitive position of demanding concessions.
In the immediate aftermath of 9-11, President Bush appeared with members of the American Muslim community on September 17, 2001, at Islamic Center in DC to declare that Islam is a religion of peace. His comments:
Like the good folks standing with me, the American people were appalled and outraged at last Tuesday’s attacks. And so were Muslims all across the world. Both Americans and Muslim friends and citizens, tax-paying citizens, and Muslims in nations were just appalled and could not believe what we saw on our TV screens. These acts of violence against innocents violate the fundamental tenets of the Islamic faith. And it’s important for my fellow Americans to understand that. The English translation is not as eloquent as the original Arabic, but let me quote from the Koran, itself: ‘In the long run, evil in the extreme will be the end of those who do evil. For that they rejected the signs of Allah and held them up to ridicule.’ The face of terror is not the true faith of Islam. That’s not what Islam is all about. Islam is peace. These terrorists don’t represent peace. They represent evil and war.”
Now were we a “reality-based” community with a sophisticated sense of both the narratives and the exegetical principles of the “other,” such a statement would have been met with howls of derision, especially from academics whose knowledge of the history of Islam would make such a characterization as “religion of peace” risible, and who knew alas only too well what shouts of joy 9-11 provoked in Muslim, Arab and even other audiences the world over.
Moreover, more than one person should have been equipped to explain to the President that the man standing by his side, Nihad Awad of CAIR, who may well have supplied the president with the oh-so eloquent Qur’anic quote, heard those words to mean precisely the opposite of what Bush thought: “In the long run [i.e., finally, now], evil in the extreme will be the end of those who do evil [i.e., America]. For that they [Americans] rejected the signs of Allah and held them up to ridicule.”
The other anniversary is of the visit President George W. Bush made to a Washington mosque just six days after the attack, where he spoke eloquently against the harassment of Arabs and Muslims living in the United States and about the need to respect Islam. This act of leadership and statesmanship, however, has all but vanished from the national collective memory. It deserves, instead, to be noted and heeded and esteemed. (NYT, Sept. 7, 2012)
HT: Jeffrey Bale who notes:
It should go without saying that in a truly free society, no ideas, beliefs, and ideologies have a “right” not to be criticized, just as no individual has a “right” not to be offended by criticism of his or her ideas. It’s sad that one nowadays feels compelled to state this obvious point, over and over again, in a world in which so many people apparently feel that their beliefs should be immune from criticism or that no one else has a right to offend them.
This problem is about to reach epic proportions if the European Parliament enacts a well-intentioned but misconceived legislation against “intolerance” (which protects an undefined “Islamophobia“). All of this effort to legislate tolerance and mutual respect stems from the appalling inability of the progressive intellectual elite to speak out against the grotesque abuse of free speech by Muslims who revile Israel with Nazi-like hate speech.
If they did (rather than defend it as “free speech” – as if free speech should not be criticized), we wouldn’t need legislation that is just waiting to be exploited by demopaths. The response to intolerance is courageous criticism, not legislation.
In a recent WSJ article one finds the following (HT: YE):
5. Wall Street Journal (Ben Rooney), Oct. 24: It is extremely hard not to be a bit star-struck by the Israeli technology scene…. ‘It is Silicon Valley for the rest of the world‘ said Saul Klein, a London-based venture capitalist…. ‘On a scale of one to 10, the innovation I see in Germany would be close to zero. In Israel, it is a 10,’ said Mark Tluszcz, co-founder of Mangrove Capital Partners, a Luxembourg-based venture firm…. What’s the secret? Reasons include the role of the Israeli Defense Forces, and in particular the high-tech Unit 8200; the unique cultural values of a country forged from centuries of oppression; and Jewish mothers…. The link with America remains as strong as ever. If you look at the flight schedules into Tel Aviv, there are just three direct flights a week from Beijing, and another three from Seoul. There are at least that many a day from the U.S.”
Lots of explanations available. I tend towards the one about the Jewish culture of dispute, and the way that one is encouraged to ask challenging questions. About which, two anecdotes and a thought:
1) The first time I studied Talmud, I learned with a venerable and brilliant man, Rabbi Abraham Lappin. At the end of a long passage in which we read carefully and exhaustively not only Rashi’s commentary by that of every Tosafot, he asked us if we understood. We all nodded dutifully. To which he replied, “no you don’t.” When he saw the pained look on our faces, he added, “if you did, you’d have questions.”
2) On a plane from Israel to Germany in the late 1990s, sitting next to an Israeli businessman with factories in Germany and Israel. “Is there a difference between Israeli workers and German workers?” I asked. “Yes,” he replied, “if I ask a German worker to do something, he says, ‘Yes boss.’ If I ask an Israeli worker to do something, he says, ‘Why do you want to do that?’”
3) This is intimately linked to the difference between honor-shame dynamics and integrity-guilt. I you view challenges as attacks on your “face”, as forms of zero-sum one-upsmanship, then questions from subordinates is insubordination; if you take challenges as occasions to up your game, as potentially positive-sum ways to learn from an exchange with another person who may have a different and valuable perspective, then such questions are opportunities.
When Abba Eban said, “the Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity,” he got is somewhat wrong. For them, positive-sum encounters in which both sides win (i.e., Israel also wins) are not viewed as opportunities, but decisive defeats in the zero-sum world of honor lost (by Israel’s successful resistance and survival), and the overriding need to regain face by destroying her.
One man’s opportunity is another’s shame… at the core of the difference between innovative and productive cultures on the one hand, and cultures of impoverishment on the other.
UPDATE: Apparently Dawkins is puzzled by the phenomenon. In an interview with the New Republic he admits:
RD: …the number of Jews who have won Nobel Prizes is phenomenally high.
IC: OK, but what do you make of that?
RD: Race does not come into it. It is pure religion and culture. Something about the cultural tradition of Jews is way, way more sympathetic to science and learning and intellectual pursuits than Islam. That would have been a fair comparison. Ironically, I originally wrote the tweet with Jews and thought, That might give offense. And so I thought I better change it.
IC: I still want to know what you draw from this. Do you think the Torah is more progressive than the Koran?
RD: No, I doubt it. I don’t think that.
Of course he has no idea; and like Christopher Hitchens, his exposure to the Hebrew Bible is via his Anglican teachers whom he apparently disliked intensely. A Christian lens, especially one formed in the crucible of invidious identity formation, is not the way to find out just how “progressive” the Torah is.
And I don’t think that the key is in the text (although that’s critical), but how the community reads the text. The culture of dispute is unquestionably encouraged by the text – think of Abraham arguing with God about just how much innocent collateral damage is acceptable to punish the guilty – but unless that is embodied in the relations of the community, the idea has no life.
IC: So then what?
RD: I haven’t thought it through. I don’t know. But I don’t think it is a minor thing; it is colossal. I think more than 20 percent of Nobel Prizes have been won by Jews (24% of Science).
Ted Belman reposted this article from Saul Singer from 2007. Imnsho it’s right on. Readers who bristle at these suggestions should ask themselves why they bristle, and what assumptions underly their reaction about who should make concessions. And finally, whether their acceptance of assumptions that the Israelis should be making the concessions stems from serious independent thought, or an unexamined acceptance of a Palestinian victim narrative that imposes itself not by empiric accuracy but… what?
Saul Singer advises How to pressure for peace.
I go further and suggest that the peace process has it bass-ackwards.
Rather than arm and train the terrorists (Fatah) it should force their disarmament.
Rather than finance them to the tune of $7.4 billion thereby enabling them to continue the “resistance”, they should be left to fend for themselves.
Rather than force Israel to freeze settlement activity thereby removing time as an issue it should allow Israel to build to its heart’s content thereby forcing the Palestinians to compromise quickly rather than to allow an erosion of their position in a final settlement.
Rather than force Israel to make goodwill gestures which merely encourages intransigence, it should force the Palestinians to make goodwill gestures. Whatever resistance Israelis have to the “peace process”, it will be reduced with such real gestures.
This is so obvious that one must conclude that the peace process is designed to continue the conflict rather than end it.
I should point out that no one is demanding peace at the end of the process. You will recall that one of the things Arafat balked at at Camp David, was signing an “end of conflict agreement”. Today no one is even mentioning such a thing and the Arab League is only offering “normalization” whatever that means..
Israel knows this. That is why it is demanding, so far, recognition as a Jewish state. If there was going to be a real peace agreement and a real peace, there would be no need to demand this recognition. Israel, as a sovereign state, could be what it wanted to be. Unfortunately, such recognition if it is given, will be a poor substitute for real peace.
The Arabs are refusing such recognition because their ultimate goal is to destroy Israel as a Jewish state. This they cannot accept. They also would not accept Israel with a Jewish majority even if it were a state like any other. They want Palestine to include Israel and the Jews there to become dhimmis. The peace process is just one step along the way.
The peace process, from Israel’s point of view, is simply a negotiated withdrawal from the Westbank as opposed to the unilateral withdrawal from Gaza.
Here’s a good place to meditate if your reaction is “Exactly! And so it should be.”
To my mind, whether Israel just withdraws or negotiates terms of withdrawal or signs a peace agreement, as with Egypt, it makes little difference as the Arabs don’t and won’t abide by the agreements.
I recently got the following request from a Dutch journalist doing an article on conspiracy theories. I responded in some detail, and thought I’d post it here for a wider readership.
As a Dutch freelance journalist I’m writing an article about conspiracy theories, and their potential danger to modern societies.
While doing my research, I found a very interesting lecture from the Hebrew University, in which you took part and said some very interesting things about this subject.
However, some things are still unclear to me, and I hope that you are willing to cast some light upon these questions.
You called the internet a petri dish for conspiracy theories. While these theories do seem to reach more people who might believe in those theories, do you believe that universities and media – from a moral and socially responsible point of view – should put more emphasis on debating and debunking such theories? Are such theories actually more dangerous in our internet age than ever before?
As you know from my article, I wanted to have a conference on conspiracy, and my colleagues showed considerable timidity about the possibility of drawing the wrong crowd. Academics are not known for their courage, even (I’d say especially) those who pretend to be courageous in their criticism of their own governments (which protect their right to criticize them), while yielding to the intimidation of other governments (who threaten them with everything from barred access – China – to worse). It’s particularly easy to dump on people who don’t retaliate. Hence, for example, post-colonialism does very little to address the profound imperialism and colonialism embedded in Islam.
RICHARD LANDES. Heaven on Earth: The Varieties of the Millennial Experience.
Richard Landes. Heaven on Earth: The Varieties of the Millennial Experience. New York: Oxford University Press. 2011. Pp. xix, 499. $35.00.
University of Alberta
This is an immense and wide-ranging book (a “craggy edifice,” as Garry Trompf rightly notes in his blurb for the back cover); all attempts to review it must fail in view of its breadth, diversity, and ambition. Richard Landes’s first “law of apocalyptic dynamics” is “Wrong does not mean inconsequential”; the second is “One person’s messiah is another’s antichrist.” The first “law” is in fact not a universal law, but a powerful historiographic program of revision: just because chroniclers and historians since antiquity have correctly noted that apocalyptic hopes and/or fears have always been dashed does not mean that such hopes were unimportant, transitory, superficial or merely crazed, as most historians have assumed and continue to claim.
Landes’s career as a scholar of millennialism began with a reassessment of the Truce of God and Peace of God movements of the late tenth and early eleventh centuries in Carolingian and Capetian France, around the year 1000 (during which feudal warlords were tamed and France was “blanketed by a white mantle of churches”). He has persistently argued that these episodes were mass movements of millennial enthusiasm, the core of which was elided and denied by clerical observers after the fact (or, in Landes’s catchy phrase, after their collapse: ex post defectu), and then radically downplayed in all subsequent historiography. Such activity Landes considers to be the work of “owls” commenting disapprovingly on the disproven nonsense so recently crowed by apocalyptic “roosters” and enjoining all to settle down and sleep some more, as it is still night, not yet the heralded new dawn.
Landes employs a bestiary of types based on a Talmudic story about a rooster and a bat waiting for the dawn, with the rooster wondering what is in it for the bat. The attempt to set up “ideal [animal] types” representing both apocalyptic prophets and (anti-apocalyptic, Augustinian) scholars is reminiscent of Jean de La Fontaine’s Fables; it is also a novel move that places both prophetic doomsayers and scholarly naysayers in the same notional category, based on what seems like a tacit premise that scholarly claims to objectivity (or at least to stand outside the fray) are hollow. They often are, but this leveling move pre-selects both data and possible approaches to it.
Landes’s core complaint about historians is that we have been unreasonably unwilling to contemplate the often indirect evidence of millennial and apocalyptic movements in the past because they left so few traces—as owls effaced the evidence and laughed roosters to scorn. One of Landes’s most prominent critics, the distinguished French medievalist Dominique Barthélémy, has repeatedly insisted that there is no (written) evidence for a mass millennial/millenarian movement around the year 1000, nor for a great “mutation” or change in Western society as a result. He is in prestigious company, with Jacques Le Goff and Jean Delumeau.
Heaven on Earth, by Richard Allen Landes
A Book Review by Wendell Krossa
‘Heaven on Earth’ covers The Varieties of Millennial Experience, as another great study of apocalyptic thought and history. Landes says historians often resist seeing the influence of apocalyptic myth on modern secular movements. But, Landes insists, apocalyptic is there working on allegedly modern, enlightened minds. He sees apocalyptic notably in contemporary Islamic radicalism.
Landes approach looks quite intriguing as he tries to understand the dynamics of this mythology on past peoples and on the present… ”The most striking and horrifying of these movements respond badly to disappointment. They deny, they rage, they grow paranoid, they lash out, they turn the passion of their followers into rivers of blood and mountains of skulls, they go down in flames”. He notes that post-moderns have declared the end of all grand narratives, but he says, grand narratives are still here and “Indeed, millennial world histories are the mother of all grand narratives (and I would argue, mother to many of the West’s grand narratives)”.
This book is one of those volumes that satisfy on many levels. The sense of getting to the root of what is wrong in public consciousness and corrective alternatives (he doesn’t deal so much with alternative narratives, as he spends all his effort on critique of the millennial one), but his work opens up the vista with ideas for alternatives that avoid the violence of the millennial narrative.
Heaven on Earth: The Varieties of the Millennial Experience (review)
Martin E. Marty
From: Journal of Interdisciplinary History Volume 43, Number 3, Winter 2013 p. 462 |
Landes contends that “secular” historians have often failed to account for millennial prophecies and millennialist movements, mainly because they are ill at ease with religious movements. That is, they have often walked away from such movements or failed to understand them, thus undervaluing the drama of their ordinarily turbulent, if not catastrophic, consequences.
Methodologically he supports his thesis with a conventional narrative history comprising ten movements or episodes. He is at heart a storyteller who cannot resist breaking up his larger narrative with brief asides that are usually humorous or satirical. Yet he cannot be content merely to rely on narratives, since he has a grand interpretive scheme in mind that involves many different kinds of evidence. He has to be at home with “intellectual” history, because the millennial prophets on whom he focuses are given to extravagant—many would say “weird”— ideas that he must probe and then connect to form a coherent plot. Call what he does “cultural” history, because he deals with assemblages of behavior used with ideas, the proper subject of cultural studies. He also needs and favors the methods of “theological” history, which resemble the “philosophical” ones, except in subject matter.
To be precise, one would have to say this book is a multi-methodological history, or, in exasperated moments of reading, that it is a study devoid of method, just a set of engrossing ideas culled from Landes’ reading in idiosyncratic stories. Landes leaps from one subject to another with a style that a cynical reviewer might expect from someone with attention deficit disorder. Nonetheless, it would not be fair to damn the book with faint praise, because the research is vast and deep, discovering meanings that one might have overlooked, had one not the impulse to upset convention.
The Journal of Religion, Vol. 93, No. 3 (July 2013), pp. 384-386
Reviewed work: Landes, Richard. Heaven on Earth: The Varieties of Millennial Experience. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011. xix+499 pp. $35.00 (cloth).
Jon Butler, Yale University (Emeritus).
Richard Landes’s thick Heaven on Earth is more and less than the sum of its complex parts. Obviously, scholars interested in millennialism should read it. But political historians are Landes’s most urgent audience, followed by scholars concerned about religion and politics anywhere in any century. Its ultimate value and frustration lie in Landes’s persistent argument about the importance of millennial dynamics that drive many political movements, including movements like the French Revolution that ostensibly denied any religiosity, or Marxism and Communism, which formally rejected religion altogether. If religion and politics lie at the heart of frustrations with Heaven on Earth, they also give the book the intellectual thrust that makes it the persistently challenging read it promises to be.
Heaven on Earth argues straightforwardly that a “near universality of millennialism” (xi) shapes many revolutionary political movements from the times of Akhenaten (1360–1347 BCE) to the present, and it deliberately focuses on ten case studies of “non-Christian and non-Jewish movements” (xi) to give the argument an aggressively non-Western, seemingly secular edge. Landes frequently references Christian and Jewish millennialists and millennial prophets from Joachim of Fiore and Sabbatai Zevi to Jim Jones and millennial Zionists. But Heaven on Earth advances its universalist argument by examining what Landes sees as millennial dynamics at the heart of nineteenth-century Xhosa cattle slaying, Papuan cargo cults, the French Revolution, Marx, the Bolsheviks, Hitler and the Nazis, UFO cults, and the Islamic Jihad.
Heaven on Earth’s most powerful insights derive from its emphasis on millennialism’s cultural malleability. Landes argues that the search for a perfect time, an end to tribulations, and in some cases the destruction of enemies occurs in widespread cultures and settings and with many different consequences, though most are disastrous.
Looking through some of the pieces my father and I wrote, I came across this one. It’s attributed at the TNR site to Walter Lacquer, and I don’t have a copy of the original, but I’m pretty sure it was ours.
The Zionist Anomaly
Zionism poses the same anomaly to post-modern culture that Judaism posed to pre-modern and modern: a historical case that goes against type, that in some sense defies the “laws” that define human culture and behavior. The Jews themselves represent, of course, one of the great historical anomalies: the only cultural personality of late antiquity to survive, not only in a series of written works cherished also by other cultures, but as a people with a history and an intellectual community driving across millennia. The survival is the more notable because it was achieved without that sine qua non of survival: power, sovereignty, the might and right to protect itself and dominate others.
Of course, historians who do not love anomalies try to sweep this one aside as almost unworthy of attention. As Gavin Langmuir pointed out over three decades ago, no textbook deals seriously with the place of the Jews in medieval life. And this neglect is only the milder version of a much older, more widespread phenomenon, found high and low in Christian and Muslim cultures: the attempt to eliminate Jews as a voice in society. In the Latin West, this found expression in forced conversion and mass killing. Normally one does not put so much energy into silencing the insignificant.
On top of this anomaly comes Israel, the only national liberation movement of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries to succeed in modernizing the society it created. (This is what such movements were presumably made for.) Most of the countries of the undeveloped world have failed here, even those with exceptional material endowments such as Uganda, Brazil and the oil producers of the Middle East. But here is Israel, poor in natural resources, beset by enemies, able in one generation to go from a Third World agricultural economy to one of the most effective producers pound for pound in the world. The story is familiar, so much so that many have grown tired of it. Yet this familiarity should not inure us to the accomplishment.
Going over some of the articles my father and I jointly published, I ran across this one from October 8, 2001.
Among the popular explanations for September 11′s cunning, devastating attacks on the United States is American support for Israel. The argument runs like this: If the United States had not aided and abetted the Muslim world’s primary enemy, we would not have become Islam’s enemy ourselves, and therefore would not have been a target for reprisals. That argument, however, is a dodge. Even if there were no Israel, the Muslim world would still likely feel deep and deepening hostility toward the West.
That hostility predates the formation of the Jewish State, and has its roots in the West’s growing cultural, political, economic, and military dominance over the lands of Islam, a dominance that has been building for centuries but was by no means inevitable, and which many Muslims find baffling and infuriating. Hundreds of years ago, Islamic civilization stood at the pinnacle of global achievement, politically and intellectually. Muslim empires ruled over the Middle East, stretched west to Spain and Portugal and east to India and the borderlands of China. Islam was deservedly reputed for its ecumenism, its ability to learn from and assimilate other societies. And then something went wrong.
The following is a longer and linked version of the op-ed that appeared in the Wall Street Journal in 2012 in response to Romney’s comments of the difference between Israeli and Palestinian economic culture. At the time, I could only post a portion of the essay on my blog (i.e., material that was not in the Journal version). Here is the complete version.
To clarify what aspects of this essay specifically reflect my father’s thinking, I have put those passages in bold. But generally, I would say, he tended not to get embroiled in political fights and stuck to his specialties in historical matters, so in some senses these are sentiments he held but did not share publicly.
We did jointly publish a couple of essays in the New Republic, one in 1997 (the fiftieth anniversary of Zionism), and one on 9-11 in October of 2001, and given their tenor, I think he did not have any hard and fast position on not publishing his political ideas.
In rereading it, I am struck by how much subsequent events have borne out this analysis.
Cultures of Development, Cultures of Impoverishment
Mitt Romney’s comments in Jerusalem last week about the cultural dimensions of economic growth have raised a firestorm. Palestinian spokesman Saeb Erekat, (correctly) seeing an implied criticism at Palestinian culture (which Romney tried to deny), called Romney a racist and complained that the occupation stopped the “Palestinian economy from reaching its full potential.” Journalists then jumped on Erekat’s reaction to point out how Romney’s blunt partisanship for Israel has disqualified him as a broker for peace.
The comment and the reactions, however, reveal as much about the misunderstandings at play in the Middle East conflict, both socio-cultural and political, as they do about presidential politics. First, the issue of culture and economic development, in which Romney cited The Wealth and Poverty of Nations. Like so many other fields of social “science,” economists argue about whether development derives from cultural advantages or built-in natural advantages like resistance to disease, access to primary resources and location. Jared Diamond, author of the “evolution” inclined Guns, Germs and Steel, has written a NYT op-ed where he moves toward the middle (both) and tries to draw David Landes in with him.
But Israel (which neither book examined) and the Arab world (which only Wealth and Poverty examined) illustrate the primacy of culture as both necessary and sufficient. As Romney himself has earlier noted, Israel illustrates the sufficiency of culture alone: a country with no natural resources, an economic backwater even in the economic backwater of the Ottoman Empire, it rose from the bottom of the third world to the top of the first world, in a century: Israel, the Start-up Nation. The Arab nations, on the other hand, illustrate the necessity of (a certain kind of) culture: even those with vast petrodollars still have among the least productive economies in the world. Alas, Saudi Arabia’s major exports are oil and hatred.
I’m posting the obit that Douglas Martin wrote in the NYT today. The comments about the Romney/Palestinian brouhaha bothered all us siblings. I’ve commented it in the text below.
David S. Landes, Historian and Author, Is Dead at 89
By DOUGLAS MARTIN
Published: September 7, 2013
David S. Landes, a distinguished Harvard scholar of economic history, saw tidal movements in the rise of seemingly small things. He suggested that the development of eyeglasses made precision tools possible. Maybe, he said, using chopsticks helped Asian workers gain the manual dexterity needed to make microprocessors.
Jane Reed/Harvard University
David S. Landes in 2002.
In his 482-page “Revolution in Time: Clocks and the Making of the Modern World” (1983), Professor Landes, who died last month at 89, examined the growth of the industrial age through the history of timepieces, tracing their origin to medieval European monasteries; monks, he wrote, needed something to tell them when to gather for a regular round of group prayer.
To Professor Landes, the development of timepieces — more than steamships — drove the industrial age by molding the very culture of capitalism. Factory owners, for example, awarded watches to punctual workers, while workers bought watches to make sure they were not being misused by the factory clock.
Professor Landes was preoccupied by the importance of culture in shaping economic and social progress or stagnation. His most influential work, “The Wealth and Poverty of Nations: Why Some Are So Rich and Some So Poor” (1998), answered the question posed in its title (a play on that of Adam Smith’s classic work) by pointing to the importance of the Protestant work ethic and European attitudes toward science and technology.
Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential nominee in 2012, acknowledged Professor Landes as an influence. “There are superior cultures and ours is one of them,” Mr. Romney wrote in his 2010 book, “No Apology: The Case for American Greatness.” “As David Landes observed, ‘Culture makes all the difference.’ ”
My father was the most brilliant person I ever knew. His last years were tragic in many ways. He had a stroke 5 years ago which left him unable to communicate in but the most rudimentary ways, unable to read more than a headline, unable to be in charge—which had always been his role.
Once in a while a spark of the old daddy peeked through. Like a few weeks ago when we were sitting watching the news together and the newsman was talking about gerrymandering and suddenly I heard daddy say “It’s /ˈɡɛri/;mander.” So I said “I thought a g folllowed by an e or an i was soft.” And he said “There are exceptions.” So I went home to look it up and wouldn’t you know, the work is named after a governor Gerry and was originally pronounced /ˈɡɛri/;mander, and only recently has been commonly pronounced /ˈdʒɛriˌ/mander.
Or the time that Ed was trying to manage some mutual funds for my father and the lady at Vanguard said she needed daddy’s permission to talk to Ed. So he prepared her saying that daddy really couldn’t talk, that he understood but she probably woudn’t get more than a yes or no from him. The next morning, we went over to see him, explained what the lady would ask, called Vanguard and put him on the line and out of his mouth came “What can I do for you this morning young lady ?” Ed was mortified.
But mostly he was silent. His world narrowed. Sitting with Sonia and holding her hand defined its boundaries. For me and Richard and Alison, there was a classic and instantaneous role reversal. We were taking care of him. And after Sonia died in April, his small world became a profoundly lonely one. It is not a surprise that he did not survive her for long. He got thinner, sadder, limper and faded away.
So I have spent the last couple days trying to put the earth back in its orbit. Trying to remember my father the way he was nearly all of my life—the master of the universe. Because that he surely was—our family’s universe, the academic universe, the Jewish universe. He was a force to be loved, admired and to be reckoned with in each of these. He set high standards and we all did our best to meet them.
My beloved father David was a towering intellect and a great mensch, a demanding teacher and a loving father.
He skipped four grades on the way to graduating college at 18 years old.
He loved detective stories and puzzles, and became an adept of decryption after reading Poe’s “The Gold Bug,” in which deciphering a secret message plays a central role in the plot. Already as a teenager, he followed US Army Signal Corps mail-order courses in cryptanalysis, and when drafted in 1943, he joined the cryptanalysis team deciphering Japanese messages.
He was omnivorous in his intellectual pursuits: finishing at the top of the NY State Regents exams in topics as varied as Math, Latin, and History. He used to read the dictionary on the toilet, and developed a prodigious vocabulary, grammar, pronunciation.
He loved to argue, loved when people argued with him, and for us children, he would always listen to our arguments, and if we could convince him, change his mind about some decision he had made about our lives.
But it was so hard to argue with someone who constantly corrected you:
the adjective may be frē′kwənt, but the verb is “to frəquənt′,”
and “if I were you…” is subjunctive contrary to fact, but “if I was on time to today’s funeral, it may have been unwōnted, but not accidental…”
He loved Ping pong and squash, both of which he played with talent, intelligence, and ferocious competitiveness. In addition to being the runner-up for the B-class West Coast championship while still at Berkeley, he prided himself on playing and occasionally the beating the top four players on Harvard’s championship team, not because he was better, but because he played smarter. For him, squash was a physical chess match. I basically had to wait till he got older and slower before I could beat him; and he never let me win.
In fact his passion for squash taught me something profound about his love of my mother, Sonia. I remember well one time he and I were watching the national squash championships at the Hemenway gym at Harvard. We had perfect seats in the midst of overflowing stands. The match was spectacular: two players, grand masters, who took ten, fifteen shots to set up a winner, and who had fought to a two-two tie. At the beginning of the rubber match, my father looked at his watch and announced, “I have to go.” “What?” I said, looking at him as if he had lost his mind. (Teenagers are so good at controlling their tone of voice.) “Your mom wants me home. We have a dinner date tonight.” And with that he left. Only now, decades later, do I really understand that choice, that when the passions of life stack up against each other, what makes your true love happy tops any vicarious pleasure.
Sonia this love of his life, is a tale which has inspired not just us, his children, but to hear from their friends and even our friends, it has inspired many with the real possibility of fairy tales coming true, from true love at (almost) first sight to sixty-nine years of happily ever after. One reason they lived so happily together was their patience with each others’ foibles. We used to joke that if they got vanity plates, my mother’s would say IMLOST, and my father’s would say, IMLATE.
This last Saturday afternoon, August 17, 2013, my father, David Landes died in Haverford PA. The following is a brief obit to which I will add when I have more time.
He was the beloved husband of Sonia T. Landes, who died on April 12, 2013, after 69 years of marriage.
He was the father of Jane Landes Foster, Richard Allen Landes and Alison Landes Fiekowsky, grandfather of eight and great-grandfather of nine.
Sylvia Landes (née Silberman) gave birth to David on April 29, 1924. Harry Landes was her husband, and he immigrated to New York from Husi, Romania in 1904.
David and Sonia met and fell almost instantaneously in love in Seagate, New York when they were 14 and 15 years old. They married when they were 19 years of age and were inseparable forever thereafter.
David had a childhood hobby of decryption (a passion ignited by a reading of Poe’s “Gold Bug”), and therefore served in the Signal Corp. of the U.S.Army in World War II, decrypting Japanese messages. He become a Second Lieutenant with a field promotion in May 1944, the highest army rank in the Landes family until his granddaughter Aliza became a captain in the IDF.
Professionally, he served as a Junior Fellow at Harvard University, then at Columbia. His work focused on entrepreneurship and economic development. Asked to write the section of the Cambridge Economic History on the Industrial Revolution, that morphed in the 1960s into his first major work, The Unbound Prometheus: Technological Change and Industrial Development in Western Europe from 1750 to the Present, his definitive study of the Industrial Revolution in Europe.
He began teaching at Columbia University, and after a year at the Center for the Study of Behavioral Sciences in Palo Alto, he went to UC Berkeley. He came to Harvard University in 1964 where he remained throughout his subsequent career, retiring in 1997, as the Coolidge Professor of History and Professor of Economics, bridging the disciplines of history and economics.
In the late 1960s and 70s he became an astute and avid watch collector, known to makers and devotees of watches and time keeping. That passion led to the writing of his most innovative work, Revolution in Time: Clocks and the Making of the Modern World (1983).
In a sense, his entire oeuvre was dedicated to answering the question “why the West?” (or more specifically, how is it that the West generated a culture of economic development that most other cultures have difficulty imitating?) His students and family would joke that his course on economic history was unofficially entitled “The West and the Rest.”
He was, accordingly, admired and denounced for being a Eurocentric historian, a perspective increasingly considered not politically correct, even as the evidence for the uniqueness of the West continued (and continues) to pile up.
His Wealth and Poverty of Nations: Why Some are so Rich and Some are so Poor (1998) embodies his approach to the importance of culture in contributing to either economic development or poverty.
He served as Chairman of American Professors for Peace in the Middle East in the 1970s. He was devoted to Judaism, the Jewish people and the land of Israel, a legacy continued by his descendants.
He was an avid squash player, coming in second in the B-Class of the West Coast championship in 1963, and, after coming to Harvard, prided himself on his cunning in challenging and sometimes beating the top four members of the Harvard Squash Team.
His children are sitting shiva in Philadelphia at the Fiekowsky house on 438 Ballytore Road, Wynnewood, PA 19096 from Tuesday through Thursday, August 20-22, and at Richard’s house on Thursday at 8 Priscilla Road in Brighton, MA until Monday morning August 22-26. Donations may be made in his name to Harvard Hillel.