Ann Sterzinger reviews Martin van Creveld’s EQUALITY: THE IMPOSSIBLE QUEST in a fairly detailed article entitled: “Your Stupid Questions Have No Answers: Martin van Creveld vs. the Chimera of Equality”:
Van Creveld’s Equality is one of Castalia’s most absorbing
releases, if you’re interested in history anyway—past history, not the
historical destiny of your marching-drum ideology—the sort of history
that’s not only full of holes where the victors and the monks wrote over
chunks of the evidence, but the sort of history that, as far as we can tell, indeed has been repeating itself rather drearily.
As van Creveld says in his preface, the histories of our other two
unattainable ideals, liberty and justice, have been written before—or,
rather, attempted; there’s too much to read on all three of these
subjects for one guy to do it at a go. But van Creveld does his best to
describe all our tragic, failed attempts at equality. When we’ve bothered to make an attempt, that is.
Van Creveld also dwells on one of my all-time favorite tear-jerkers:
the tragic failure of the classical fifth-century democracy at Athens.
This was history’s most famous attempt at “one man, one vote on every
issue,” and the resulting polis served as the cradle of the
greatest explosion of civilized thought and art in our history. The
glory lasted all of about a generation and a half, during which time the
Athenian mob destroyed themselves by repeatedly voting to attack their
neighbors at Sparta.
The Spartan attempt at equality, by the way, is more thoroughly given
its due by van Creveld than I’ve seen in any other historical text. He
also includes fresh perspectives on the interesting mishmash that was
feudalism (a derogatory name invented by snooty post-feudalists); Locke
vs. Rousseau vs. Montesquieu; the fitful, failed, and often bloody
attempts of Hellenic city-states to achieve equality after Alexander;
the ironically “vicious inequalities” of communism; the ever-miserable
war of the sexes; and the medieval revolt of the French jacquerie. The book is as rich in historical detail and perspective as it is thick with bitter disappointment.
Over and over again, van Creveld is forced toward the same conclusion: there are hardly ever two individuals who
are equal, much less entire social classes. And as lovely as it may be
to enjoy citizenship (if you can get it) in a relatively egalitarian
city-state, it’s only a matter of time before your polis gets
swallowed up by the greater driving power—a power which may actually be
the result of greater inequality and therefore organization—of a nearby
empire. Take, for instance, the way the squabbling Greek city-states
were swallowed by the burgeoning Macedonians’ power-lust. Alexander the
Great actually managed to co-opt the Greek cultural prestige while
stripping the Greeks of their political sovereignty and moving on to
bulldoze the Middle East.
Oh, and capitalism never helped much. It may have used the traders
and urban islands—which, clinging to the margins of feudalism, added a
dash of meritocracy to the stupid-son mix—to get its momentum going. But
then, says van Creveld, “The shift towards capitalism and absolutism
did not mean that inequality grew less pronounced. On the contrary, the
growing power of the modern state, which in many ways was based on a
firm partnership between the kings and their nobilities, caused it to be
accentuated even more.”
Read the whole thing there. As for the book itself, EQUALITY: THE IMPOSSIBLE QUEST is available at Amazon and at Castalia House. And speaking of Castalia House, you won’t want to miss Jeffro’s interview with Thomas Mays, US Navy Commander and author of A SWORD INTO DARKNESS:
Jeffro: I have to hand it to you… I was utterly riveted by the scene from your A Sword Into Darkness when they used those fancy missiles of yours on an asteroid for target practice. It’s never crossed my mind that such a thing could be a problem in the first place, much less that a real spaceship would have all manner of ancillary problems to deal with in the process. How did you come up with all of that?
Thomas Mays: You mean in terms of “It’s not like Star Wars, where the target blows up and that’s it?” Well, It’s a question of weapon effects. If you’re going to vaporize something, you have to have a mechanism that can contain the target long enough to apply sufficient energy to break down every molecular bond it has. That’s . . . a LOT of energy and actually very difficult to do. Even with antimatter, the target and the antimatter would tend to blow one another away from contact after only a few micrograms exploded. Aside from my engine (which is a handwavium 1g reaction drive with no reaction mass requirement, used so the story stays exciting (it moves at the speed of plot!)), most of the tech is within the realm of reason.
For the most bang for my buck, I wanted nukes. But nukes don’t work the same way exo-atmospheric. They burn and vaporize up close, and only produce a real blast effect if they blow up inside something. And if you do that, you’re going to have a lot of debris. How do you handle that? Use a different weapon that can reach out and touch someone. So I thought, LASER! But no. Lasers don’t zap things. They burn and vaporize, and they take time and focus. So that means I need big mirrors or lenses, and still the focal length will be relatively small. Lasers weapons are shorter range devices. Kind of like CIWS.
So, I went to my old standby: electromagnetic railguns, which I worked on for my Master’s Degree in Applied Physics. Figure out the proper shell velocity, then figure out your ammo for various effects. Everything in that scene derives from first principles. But I did have a lot of help and reference material from the Atomic Rockets website by Winchell Chung. That helped with a lot of the book’s technical details.