October 9, 2015

Cyprus, the Crusades, and Commandaria

Filed under: History, Wine — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Paul Lewandowski on the quite distinctive wine of Cyprus and its place in history:

Cyprus was not just the home of Richard [the Lionheart]’s first victory; it was also the site of his marriage. His fiancé, Berengaria of Navarre, was the daughter of Sancho VI of Navarre. The marriage was a politically beneficial one. Some scholars believe that Richard and Berengaria were actually romantic lovers, since they had met many years prior, and Richard married Berengaria despite his betrothal to the Countess of Vexin. Regardless of the reason for the marriage however, Richard threw a party worthy of a king. Richard, who was unfamiliar with Cyprus, had the local wine variety served at his nuptials. Upon tasting the wine, legend has it the king proclaimed that it was, “The wine of kings and the king of wines.”

Wine in the middle ages was generally awful. The logistical difficulty of preserving wine meant that additives must be used to preserve the wine. This could include marble dust, lye-ash, or pitch. Of course, this made wine awful by today’s standards. To make it slightly palatable, the wine would sometimes be cut with honey, dried fruit, or even salt water. Wine in the middle ages was valuable not only because it could render the drinker intoxicated, but because it was also a source of potable water. Wine only began to improve when it became a commodity, a tradable good that competed with beer and tea. For someone used to a saltwater-and-pitch concoction, an authentic, Cypriot dessert wine must have tasted truly amazing. It comes as little surprise that after the crusader’s time in Cyprus, the island and its wine were deemed valuable.

Richard would go on to sell the island to the Knights Templar not long after departing for the Middle East. In 1192, the Templar Order resold the island to another nobleman. However, the Templars were so smitten with the local wine, they retained a feudal estate where wine could be produced. They named their estate La Grande Commanderie, which roughly translates to “the main command post.” The region soon became known as Commandaria. Wine production increased as the Knights Templar sought to fund their operations through the export of wine. The Templars also provided the wine to pilgrims journeying toward Jerusalem. Soon the wine assumed the name of the region, and Commandaria became famous throughout Europe. Its popularity remained high for centuries, as late as the 1870s, when the region was producing 230,000 liters of wine annually for export to Austria alone.

Commandaria is made from two strains of native Cypriot grapes: Xynisteri, a white grape, and Mavro, a red. Both are dried partially in the sun before fermentation and pressing. This concentrates the sugars, giving the wine its sweet character. Following fermentation, the wine is aged a minimum of two years in oak barrels, but high-end Commandaria is often aged longer. The result is a sweet dessert wine with honey, fruit, and toffee flavors. It is often fortified, but even unfortified Commandaria can exceed 15% alcohol by volume.

Commandaria is the world’s oldest continually cultivated wine. Descriptions of the wine and its unique manufacture appear in accounts as early as 800 BC. Some scholars claim the wine is over 3,000 years old. Its long history makes it the stuff of legend. It is supposedly the winner of the first recorded wine tasting in history, held in France in 1224. The Ottoman Sultan Selim II is said to have invaded Cyprus just to get the wine. Still another legend is that the grapes from Cyprus were exported to Portugal and were used in some of the earliest port wines. Before assuming the name Commandaria, it was known as “Mana” because it was considered a divine gift.

October 8, 2015

Europe: The First Crusade – IV: Men of Iron – Extra History

Filed under: Europe, History, Middle East, Religion — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 29 Aug 2015

Having sworn their oaths to Emperor Alexius Comnenus, the Crusaders finally sailed across the Bosphorus River to Turkey. When they disembarked, however, there were no Turkish armies waiting for them. Unopposed, they marched to Nicaea, the capitol of the Sultanate of Rum, and laid siege to it. At last word reached the sultan, Kilij Arslan, who rode back to save his city (and his family) only to realize that this army of crusaders was much larger and better organized than the People’s Crusade which had come before. They had not yet realized, however, that the city of Nicaea was being secretly resupplied by ships arriving by night from Lake Askania. Once they did, the Byzantines transported their own ships overland to blockade the lake and launch a coordinated assault with the crusaders to force the city to surrender. The crusaders marched towards Jerusalem, but along the way, the Turks launched a surprise assault on Bohemond’s army. He ordered his knights to form a shield wall around the priests and civilians traveling with them, and they held for hours under a burning sun until reinforcements from the other crusading armies arrived. They rallied, defeated the Turks, and resumed their march.

QotD: The religious life of the early Roman Empire

Filed under: History, Quotations, Religion — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

The policy of the emperors and the senate, as far as it concerned religion, was happily seconded by the reflections of the enlightened, and by the habits of the superstitious, part of their subjects. The various modes of worship, which prevailed in the Roman world, were all considered by the people, as equally true; by the philosopher, as equally false; and by the magistrate, as equally useful. And thus toleration produced not only mutual indulgence, but even religious concord.

The superstition of the people was not imbittered by any mixture of theological rancor; nor was it confined by the chains of any speculative system. The devout polytheist, though fondly attached to his national rites, admitted with implicit faith the different religions of the earth. Fear, gratitude, and curiosity, a dream or an omen, a singular disorder, or a distant journey, perpetually disposed him to multiply the articles of his belief, and to enlarge the list of his protectors. The thin texture of the Pagan mythology was interwoven with various but not discordant materials. As soon as it was allowed that sages and heroes, who had lived or who had died for the benefit of their country, were exalted to a state of power and immortality, it was universally confessed, that they deserved, if not the adoration, at least the reverence, of all mankind. The deities of a thousand groves and a thousand streams possessed, in peace, their local and respective influence; nor could the Romans who deprecated the wrath of the Tiber, deride the Egyptian who presented his offering to the beneficent genius of the Nile. The visible powers of nature, the planets, and the elements were the same throughout the universe. The invisible governors of the moral world were inevitably cast in a similar mould of fiction and allegory. Every virtue, and even vice, acquired its divine representative; every art and profession its patron, whose attributes, in the most distant ages and countries, were uniformly derived from the character of their peculiar votaries. A republic of gods of such opposite tempers and interests required, in every system, the moderating hand of a supreme magistrate, who, by the progress of knowledge and flattery, was gradually invested with the sublime perfections of an Eternal Parent, and an Omnipotent Monarch. Such was the mild spirit of antiquity, that the nations were less attentive to the difference, than to the resemblance, of their religious worship. The Greek, the Roman, and the Barbarian, as they met before their respective altars, easily persuaded themselves, that under various names, and with various ceremonies, they adored the same deities. The elegant mythology of Homer gave a beautiful, and almost a regular form, to the polytheism of the ancient world.

The philosophers of Greece deduced their morals from the nature of man, rather than from that of God. They meditated, however, on the Divine Nature, as a very curious and important speculation; and in the profound inquiry, they displayed the strength and weakness of the human understanding. Of the four most celebrated schools, the Stoics and the Platonists endeavored to reconcile the jarring interests of reason and piety. They have left us the most sublime proofs of the existence and perfections of the first cause; but, as it was impossible for them to conceive the creation of matter, the workman in the Stoic philosophy was not sufficiently distinguished from the work; whilst, on the contrary, the spiritual God of Plato and his disciples resembled an idea, rather than a substance. The opinions of the Academics and Epicureans were of a less religious cast; but whilst the modest science of the former induced them to doubt, the positive ignorance of the latter urged them to deny, the providence of a Supreme Ruler. The spirit of inquiry, prompted by emulation, and supported by freedom, had divided the public teachers of philosophy into a variety of contending sects; but the ingenious youth, who, from every part, resorted to Athens, and the other seats of learning in the Roman empire, were alike instructed in every school to reject and to despise the religion of the multitude. How, indeed, was it possible that a philosopher should accept, as divine truths, the idle tales of the poets, and the incoherent traditions of antiquity; or that he should adore, as gods, those imperfect beings whom he must have despised, as men? Against such unworthy adversaries, Cicero condescended to employ the arms of reason and eloquence; but the satire of Lucian was a much more adequate, as well as more efficacious, weapon. We may be well assured, that a writer, conversant with the world, would never have ventured to expose the gods of his country to public ridicule, had they not already been the objects of secret contempt among the polished and enlightened orders of society.

Edward Gibbon, “Chapter II: The Internal Prosperity In The Age Of The Antonines — Part I”, History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, 1782.

October 7, 2015

Argentina’s colonial history

Filed under: Americas, History — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Ralph Peters on the history of Argentina during the colonial era:

In the 19th century in the Western hemisphere, two states fought a protracted series of wars to subdue their frontiers, the United States and Argentina. Others, such as Chile or Canada, saw lesser violence, but the great wars of conquest were directed from Washington and Buenos Aires.

And the Argentine conquest appears to have been the crueler.

Settlers in the Spanish territory that became Argentina faced Indian threats from the beginning, but as the population swelled and expanded its territorial claims, the violence grew more frequent and extreme, with Indian raids on settlers similar to those experienced on the American frontier. Finally, in 1833, Juan Manuel de Rosas — a man of great vision and spectacular brutality who would rule Argentina as dictator — launched his “Desert Campaign,” which pushed back the frontier to Patagonia. Still, Indian raids continued, on and off, as did minor punitive expeditions, until the 1870s saw the years-long campaign, the “Conquest of the Desert,” that finally mastered all of Patagonia — which would become Argentina’s agricultural heartland, facilitating a turn-of-the-century economic boom.

Those wars saw a long list of massacres, atrocities, forced removals and the treatment of Argentina’s aboriginal peoples as animals, rather than humans.

When the Pope told Americans not to judge the past by today’s standards, we thought of our “Trail of Tears,” or of the last, murderous drives to contain our Indians on bleak reservations. But the Pope saw mounted troops in Argentine uniforms hunting down natives like game animals.

QotD: The long, long history of slavery

Filed under: Africa, Asia, History, Middle East, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

What about slavery? Slavery certainly has its place among the horrors of humanity. But our “educators” today, along with the media, present a highly edited segment of the history of slavery. Those who have been through our schools and colleges, or who have seen our movies or television miniseries, may well come away thinking that slavery means white people enslaving black people. But slavery was a worldwide curse for thousands of years, as far back as recorded history goes.

Over all that expanse of time and space, it is very unlikely that most slaves, or most slave owners, were either black or white. Slavery was common among the vast populations in Asia. Slavery was also common among the Polynesians, and the indigenous peoples of the Western Hemisphere enslaved other indigenous peoples before anyone on this side of the Atlantic had ever seen a European.

More whites were brought as slaves to North Africa than blacks brought as slaves to the United States or to the 13 colonies from which it was formed. White slaves were still being bought and sold in the Ottoman Empire, decades after blacks were freed in the United States.

Thomas Sowell, “Indoctrination by Grievance-Mongers: Anti-American educational elites need a dose of reality”, National Review, 2014-10-15.

October 6, 2015

Bulgaria in World War 1 – The New Central Power I THE GREAT WAR – Special

Filed under: Europe, History, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on 5 Oct 2015

Thank you Plamen Ganev for helping with the research for this episode!

Bulgaria joined the ranks of the Central Powers in World War 1 in October 1915 and shortly after invaded neighbouring Serbia to support the German-Austro offensive on Belgrade. A lot of promises about territory were made towards Ferdinand I and especially the chance of getting back territories lost in the Balkan Wars was music to Bulgarian ears. Find out all about Bulgaria joining World War 1 in our special episode.

QotD: Real science

Filed under: History, Quotations, Science — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

The easy way to tell real religion from fake religion is that real religion doesn’t make you feel good. It doesn’t assure you that everything you’re doing is right and that you ought to keep on doing it.

The same holds true for science. Real science doesn’t make you feel smart. Fake science does.

No matter how smart you think you are, real science will make you feel stupid far more often than it will make you feel smart. Real science not only tells us how much more we don’t know than we know, a state of affairs that will continue for all of human history, but it tells us how fragile the knowledge that we have gained is, how prone we are to making childish mistakes and allowing our biases to think for us.

Science is a rigorous way of making fewer mistakes. It’s not very useful to people who already know everything. Science is for stupid people who know how much they don’t know.

A look back at the march of science doesn’t show an even line of progress led by smooth-talking popularizers who are never wrong. Instead the cabinets of science are full of oddballs, unqualified, jealous, obsessed and eccentric, whose pivotal discoveries sometimes came about by accident. Science, like so much of human accomplishment, often depended on lucky accidents to provide a result that could then be isolated and systematized into a useful understanding of the process.

Daniel Greenfield, “Science is for Stupid People”, Sultan Knish, 2014-09-30.

October 4, 2015

QotD: The “value” of the Mensur

Filed under: Europe, History — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Whether anything can properly be said in favour of the German Mensur I am doubtful; but if so it concerns only the two combatants. Upon the spectators it can and does, I am convinced, exercise nothing but evil. I know myself sufficiently well to be sure I am not of an unusually bloodthirsty disposition. The effect it had upon me can only be the usual effect. At first, before the actual work commenced, my sensation was curiosity mingled with anxiety as to how the sight would trouble me, though some slight acquaintance with dissecting-rooms and operating tables left me less doubt on that point than I might otherwise have felt. As the blood began to flow, and nerves and muscles to be laid bare, I experienced a mingling of disgust and pity. But with the second duel, I must confess, my finer feelings began to disappear; and by the time the third was well upon its way, and the room heavy with the curious hot odour of blood, I began, as the American expression is, to see things red.

I wanted more. I looked from face to face surrounding me, and in most of them I found reflected undoubtedly my own sensations. If it be a good thing to excite this blood thirst in the modern man, then the Mensur is a useful institution. But is it a good thing? We prate about our civilisation and humanity, but those of us who do not carry hypocrisy to the length of self-deception know that underneath our starched shirts there lurks the savage, with all his savage instincts untouched. Occasionally he may be wanted, but we never need fear his dying out. On the other hand, it seems unwise to over-nourish him.

In favour of the duel, seriously considered, there are many points to be urged. But the Mensur serves no good purpose whatever. It is childishness, and the fact of its being a cruel and brutal game makes it none the less childish. Wounds have no intrinsic value of their own; it is the cause that dignifies them, not their size. William Tell is rightly one of the heroes of the world; but what should we think of the members of a club of fathers, formed with the object of meeting twice a week to shoot apples from their sons’ heads with cross-bows? These young German gentlemen could obtain all the results of which they are so proud by teasing a wild cat! To join a society for the mere purpose of getting yourself hacked about reduces a man to the intellectual level of a dancing Dervish. Travellers tell us of savages in Central Africa who express their feelings on festive occasions by jumping about and slashing themselves. But there is no need for Europe to imitate them. The Mensur is, in fact, the reductio ad absurdum of the duel; and if the Germans themselves cannot see that it is funny, one can only regret their lack of humour.

Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men on the Bummel, 1914.

October 3, 2015

Great Britons: Isambard Kingdom Brunel Hosted by Jeremy Clarkson – BBC Documentary

Filed under: Britain, History, Railways, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 16 Jul 2014

Jeremy Clarkson follows in the footsteps of the great engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel whose designs for bridges, railways, steamships, docks and buildings revolutionised modern engineering. But his boldness and determination to succeed often led him to repeatedly risk his own life. Jeremy Clarkson, discovers for himself just how terrifying that was.

H/T to Ghost of a Flea for the link.

October 2, 2015

The Battle of Loos – New Offensives On The Western Front I THE GREAT WAR – Week 62

Filed under: Britain, Europe, History, Military — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Published on 1 Oct 2015

After weeks of preparation the French and British Armies unleash a new offensive on the Western Front. Not only is it supposed to relieve pressure on the Russians on the Eastern Front but the Entente wants to achieve the decisive breakthrough. The French actually break through German trenches only to realise that they have a second line of trenches completely intact right behind the first line. The British attack at Loos also turns into carnage even though the British use gas for the first time.

Marcus Porcius Cato – the man who almost stopped Julius Caesar

Filed under: Europe, History, Law, Liberty — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

In The Freeman, Lawrence W. Reed talks about one of the last few Republicans in the Rome of Julius Caesar’s ascendance:

In the estimations of many historians, two men hold the honor as the most notable defenders of the Roman Republic. Marcus Tullius Cicero was one. Marcus Porcius Cato, or “Cato the Younger,” was the other.

Since there was a “younger,” there must have been an “elder,” too. Cato the Elder was the great grandfather of the younger. Both men, separated by more than a century, were influential in public office. Think of the elder as the social conservative, concerned in his day with preserving the customs and traditions of Rome. The younger was one of history’s early libertarians, interested more in personal and political liberties because he believed that if they were lost, nothing else mattered. It is this second one to whom I refer in the balance of this essay as simply “Cato.”

By the time of Cato’s birth in 95 BC, the Roman Republic was long in the tooth. Founded four centuries earlier, it had risen from obscurity to political and economic dominance in the Mediterranean. Rome was easily the world’s wealthiest and most powerful society. It wasn’t a libertarian paradise — slavery was a part of its makeup, as it was even more brutal everywhere else — but Rome had taken liberty to a zenith the world had never seen before and wouldn’t see again for a long time after it finally fell. The constitution of the republic embodied term limits; separation of powers; checks and balances; due process; habeas corpus; the rule of law; individual rights; and elected, representative legislative bodies, including the famous Senate. All of this was hanging by a thread in the first century BC.

Cato was just five years of age when Rome went to war with its former allies in the Italian peninsula — the so-called “Social War.” Though the conflict lasted just two years, its deleterious effects were huge. The decades to follow would be marked by the rise of factions and conflict and local armies loyal to their commanders instead of the larger society. A “welfare-warfare” state was putting down deep roots as Cato grew up. The limited government, personal responsibility and extensive civil society so critical to the republic’s previous success were in an agonizing, century-long process of collapse. Even many of those who recognized the decay around them nonetheless drank the Kool-Aid, succumbing to the temptations of power or subsidies or both.

Before the age of 30, Cato had become a supremely disciplined individual, a devotee of Stoicism in every respect. He commanded a legion in Macedon and won immense loyalty and respect from the soldiers for the example he set, living and laboring no differently from day to day than he required of his men. He first won election to public office (to the post of quaestor, supervising financial and budgetary matters for the state) in 65 BC and quickly earned a reputation as scrupulously meticulous and uncompromisingly honest. He went out of his way to hold previous quaestors accountable for their dishonesty and misappropriation of funds, which he himself uncovered.

Later he served in the Roman Senate, where he never missed a session and criticized other senators who did. Through his superb oratory in public and deft maneuverings in private, he worked tirelessly to restore fealty to the ideals of the fading Republic.

October 1, 2015

“Siege economics”

Filed under: Britain, Economics, History — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Paul T. Horgan explains why socialist politicians love “siege economics”:

Labour loves siege economies, really adores them. It allows full throated socialism to operate, enabling properly-selected and correctly-motivated state officials to mediate on every commercial transaction between individuals and entities, all in the name of necessity. This is Pitt’s ‘creed of slaves’, using controls to dictate how much can be sold to whom and if it can be sold at all.

Socialists love these economic dictatorships where the function of money as a storage of value and provider of price information is destroyed, where maximum wages and profits are imposed through penal taxation. State ownership of commerce is a given.

Socialists swoon at the thought of regulating demand by rationing supplies to all but a favoured few; it means there is no need for an economic strategy. No need for an interest rate policy if no amount of borrowed money can buy anything. Official inflation is perpetually low when prices are under statutory regulation, despite the inevitable shortages and consequent rise of the black market and the crime of hoarding newly-scarce everyday goods, which requires more Peoples’ Commissars to detect and punish.

Ordinary people who are forced to commit economic crimes just for everyday survival are easier to dominate as their guilt promotes a constant fear of the State and denunciation by their neighbours and friends. Control a person’s economics and you control the person, and socialism is all about the control. And Labour loves to run people’s lives by occupying the commanding heights of the economy to maximise dependency and promote clientelism in the electorate.

This explains why Labour were in their element when Churchill left Atlee, Morrison and Bevin to run the civilian economy while Britain’s greatest warlord used all his energies to create and focus a a domestic military machine and a global coalition to destroy fascism. It is ironic, given modern socialist rhetoric, that the greatest anti-fascist in human history was a Conservative. Perhaps leftists still feel guilt over their fellow travellers’ 1930s pacifism.

Europe: The First Crusade – III: A Good Crusade? – Extra History

Filed under: Europe, History, Middle East, Religion — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 22 Aug 2015

Although it finds Peter the Hermit’s group from the People’s Crusade in shambles, the summer of 1096 finally sees the “official” forces of the First Crusade set out for Jerusalem. This was not one army, however, but five separate armies led by men with very different motivations and sympathies – many of them surprisingly hostile towards the Pope or the Byzantine Empire. Hugh of Vermandois, brother of the King of France, led one army despite his brother having been excommunicated by Pope Urban II. Godfrey de Bouillon from the German territory had actually helped kick the Pope out of Rome and install the anti-Pope. Bohemond of Taranto brought an army whose experience primarily came from fighting the Romans twelve years prior. Raymond of Toulouse led the largest army and believed himself the main leader of the Crusade, despite the fact that he traveled with the Pope’s appointed leader, Bishop Adhemar. Only Robert of Flanders could be said to be on good terms with both the Pope and the Eastern Roman Empire. When the five armies arrived in Constantinople, Emperor Alexius Comnenus approached them all privately with bribes and threats to get them to swear an oath that any land they conquered on Crusade would be returned to him. They all took it (except Bohemond’s nephew, Tancred) and so the emperor sent them across the Bosphorus to attack the Turks at last.

September 30, 2015

Let’s all just leave the Governor General out of everyone’s election scenario-making exercises

Filed under: Cancon, History, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Colby Cosh on the sudden interest among the chattering classes about the role of the Governor General during election campaigns:

What’s with malcontent nitwit constitutional experts popping up in the newspaper to warn of “political instability” because we’re having a three-sided election? You know, this isn’t really that hard. The United Kingdom, a nuclear-armed power across the Atlantic that may be vaguely familiar, had an election in 2010 that failed to produce a majority. Its 650-seat House of Commons ended up with 306 Conservatives, 258 Labour MPs, 62 Liberal Democrats and a ragbag of deputies from nationalist and leftist parties.


If there is no majority party, that will involve tough decisions, most likely falling upon whomever finds himself in third place. But it should not end up with the governor general making some kind of awkward choice in a vacuum. The party leaders should feel enormous pressure to arrive at a decision between them, as if there were a taboo protecting the governor general’s door. The Privy Council Office is probably already creating that pressure. A governor general should never be presented with anything but a fait accompli. He plays the role of the Queen locally, and should be thought of like the Queen, as being above political decision-making.

The proper thing for constitutional pundits to be doing right now is to strengthen that taboo. Musings about imaginary scenarios in which the viceroy might have to involve himself in the selection of a government are fun — exactly the kind of thing I myself enjoy. But if you are cooking up such an op-ed, or giving quotes of that nature to a journalist, you are signing a license for party leaders to prolong the negotiation period that might follow our election, and encouraging them to make illicit use of sly appeals to the public about what the governor general ought to be doing.

In a minority situation, the temptation will be there: some leader will want to suggest that an arrangement for government that leaves him out has been arrived at unfairly. Or a third-place finisher who should be deciding the identity of a prime minister other than himself, and who has the real power to decide, might lose his nerve and start thinking he can evade the choice.

QotD: Self-government and the scale problem

Filed under: Europe, Government, History, Quotations — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

The pioneering political thinkers of the West — Greeks, mostly Athenian, including the sublime Aristotle — devoted much thought to this question of scale. Their consensus was that a state of more than about five thousand people (plus slaves, of course) was essentially unmanageable, at least by its citizens. Large empires or alliances of states might attempt to guarantee the freedom and independence of these small states (or might not), but the hard fact was that above around five thousand souls, the participation of the citizen in his own government ceases to be reality, and becomes rather a pious (or impious) myth.

Skip forward to 1789, the year of the French Revolution. As I have written elsewhere, perhaps the most permanent effect of that Revolution was the transformation of local government across France. Overnight, the seemingly timeless boundaries of 60,000 French parishes, each governed in its own unique way — were erased and replaced with 36,000 “communes,” governed identically and now under central direction from Paris.

This model was copied, across most of Europe, for even those national politicians who did not share in the ideals of the Revolution were attracted by the prospect of central power. France has mostly preserved her revolutionary communes, of a piece in land area, though now a city such as Paris is a single commune with more than two million people. In other countries, these small districts were merged and merged again, into ever larger territorial units, ever more bureaucratic and ever more subject to central direction.


According to me — and I have mulled this at length, with my own feeble mental powers — the Greeks were right. Five thousand is near the top end of a population that can attempt genuine self-government, deciding for themselves what they will and will not put up with, inside their own little domains. In huge conurbations, I would say that is about the maximum size for a self-governing urban borough or ward, necessarily small in area. Outside, rural districts would be rather larger, and there the question of maximum acreage comes into view, balanced against the minimum population to make any formal government necessary.

Boundaries are important. Above the parish or ward, the county seems to be the next higher natural level of government, for the resolution of issues that cross parish boundaries. But at all levels, attention should be given to geography. The boundaries of the jurisdiction should correspond as closely as possible to natural landmarks, and elevations of land, such that e.g. riparian responsibilities can be assigned to the visibly appropriate jurisdiction.

What has all this got to do with the environmental management of the planet? Everything. Where people can see the cause and effect of their actions, problems such as pollution will be tackled, and beauties such as birdsong will not be sacrificed. If the problems aren’t tackled, and the blight spills into another jurisdiction, penalties may be imposed from a higher level, but first give people the chance and the power to solve their own problems at source. Give them ownership, and stable rule by law — not by central planning which rewrites laws for its own convenience.

David Warren, “Five thousand max”, Essays in Idleness, 2015-06-19.

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