Friday, January 24, 2014

Review: A. J. P. Taylor's The Struggle For Mastery In Europe: 1848-1918

Alan John Percival Taylor has been dead for almost a quarter century.  His near 600 page work on the decades leading up to World War I will turn 60 this year.  Furthermore, Taylor was born into a family of Communists and remained a committed socialist his entire life.

Nevertheless, The Struggle For Mastery In Europe is worth reading for anyone looking to gain information and insight into the murky and twisting turns taken by each major power leading up to the war.

In his writings, Taylor despised pomp and loved irony.  No one knows if he would have laughed at the fate of his work and genre.  Taylor wrote of leaders, their accomplishments, and, most often and pleasurably, their blunders.  Past generations of historians embraced the "Great Man Theory," but Taylor was more comfortable with the "Great Clumsy Man Theory."  In his world, leading men stumbled more often than calculated.  Success usually came either by accident or by skillful definition after the fact.

Modern left wing academics, however, despise the emphasis on individuals, male or female, skillful or blundering.  They interpret history as a flowing tide in which all people ride.  If there had not been a George Washington, they theorize, someone else with a different name would have done the same thing.  Leftist historians concentrate heavily on the story of the common man (not a bad thing, necessarily) and care much less for traditional diplomatic, political, or military history.

Taylor's work does not reflect agreement with these leftists.  In fact, Struggle returns again and again to the powerful impact of Napoleon III on the second half of the 19th century.

Leftists generally do not refer to him, or even remember him.  After his death, conservatives more often celebrated his contribution to scholarship.  The American Conservative magazine last September trumpeted that "A. J. P. Taylor Is History."

Struggle combines Taylor's best attributes of thorough research and telling as much of the story as possible.  He uses dry humor and generalizations more than most academics would like.  His work, however, goes much more in depth than most studies.

In this book, the reader gets a twisting turning tale that somehow ends up coherent and even entertaining.  An endless parade of royalty, ministers of state, ambassadors, generals, and others march past. It takes talent to collect all of the varied moves of diplomacy and its actors in one nation, much less all of Europe's Great Powers of the time.

Repeated themes include the discord between traditional empires and what Taylor called "revolutionary" national states.  He appreciated the oddness of traditional empires such as Austria-Hungary and Russia ending up allied to nationalist Germany and France.  This interpretation encouraged him to pry into the uncomfortable relations that afflicted these alliances right down to the end of World War I.

The main theme, however, is that wars come about through a logical, rational process.  This notion earned him scorn when his Origins of the Second World War ended up explaining Hitler as a traditional power politics player instead of an abnormal malevolent beast.  Taylor even discusses how Europe by World War I had come to see war as abnormal and irrational, something to be cured instead of understood.  His explanations of each nation's conduct leaves the reader understanding how each nation could have stumbled into the pit.

Likely, Taylor would have rather have a reader understand war in this way.  If war is understood as the culmination of a logical process, it can be better averted.  Wars happen because of reasonable decisions, they just don't fall out of the sky.

Not one commoner, however, makes an appearance.  Smaller nations receive some mention, but not much specific description.  Even Japan and the United States only assume bit parts in this production.  There is no use crying over who got excluded because the title explains all.  Common people, Japan, the United States, Portugal, etc. had almost no say in the unfolding of this story.

Taylor, like many writers and speakers, had a talent for the wry remark.  Unlike most, his wit formed the tip of the iceberg of research and knowledge that lay beneath.  Most of the footnotes in his works come from primary sources in vastly separated locations.  New scholars, consider this was a time prior to electronic communications of any sort.

Most importantly, Taylor's work remains mostly objective.  Any interpretations or themes rely on copious evidence to back them up.

Struggle is an excellent book that describes the machinations of diplomats and leaders during these decades.  When combined with Robert Massie's Dreadnought: Britain, Germany, and the Coming of the Great War , one can get a very complete and powerful look at the story.  Massie's work, which will be reviewed later, combines the Taylorian history with stunningly deep personal profiles of the major figures involved.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

How Pro-Life Voters Are Gaining In Importance and Influence

The 2014 election cycle is setting in.  Primary races are gearing up.  Some issues, like free silver and Medicare coverage of prescription drugs, lie in history.  Others never fade.

Abortion has remained one of the most divisive social and political issues and will likely remain so.  Signs indicate, however, that the pro-life side has pulled even with abortion supporters and may soon pull ahead.

The West Virginia Second District Congressional race demonstrates the issue's importance.  Charleston area Republican candidate Charlotte Lane, long known for favoring abortion rights, issued a recent and very public mea culpa.  She apologized for her previous support of abortion and pledged to oppose it from this point on.  That could come from personal conviction.  It could stem from the fact that Eastern Panhandle based candidate  Alex Mooney has a long and very public record aggressively fighting for the pro-life cause.  Regardless, it illustrates trends within West Virginia and around the nation.

During the tenure of a liberal, abortion supporting president, pollsters have seen more Americans opposing the practice.  Last summer for the first time in decades, support for abortion dipped below 50 percent.  Rasmussen, often criticized as leaning conservative, published that 46 percent identified as pro choice, 43 percent as pro life.  The Gallup Poll showed a different result.  Forty-eight percent opposed abortion while support for the practice was set at five points lower.

Immigration will likely tip this balance even further against abortion.  National Catholic Register's Peter Jesserer Smith reported that Hispanic groups are only now tapping their potential to support the pro-life cause.  Over half of Hispanics oppose abortion and many are first generation migrants from countries that strongly oppose the practice.  Most still identify with a Roman Catholic faith that staunchly opposes abortion. 

The groups have formed to counter efforts by those such as Planned Parenthood to crack into the Hispanic culture to promote pro-abortion ideals.  One such attempt is a telenovella aimed at Hispanic teens called East Los High.  Planned Parenthood plays a major role in shaping the storytelling on the program.  

This type of message, however, has grown rare on mainstream television and motion pictures.  Characters advocating abortion are almost always sinister and selfish characters.  Keeping the baby, regardless of circumstances, is portrayed as the virtuous choice.  Modern technology has nullified the old arguments that an unborn child is not human.  

The changing social currents on other major social conservative issues have strengthened the hand of those opposed to abortion.  Gay marriage at one point attracted much more support and attention among conservative groups.  As state legislatures and courts have acted, however, opposition to gay unions has declined considerably.  Abortion opponents will have more resources as gay marriage opposition dissipates.

For the foreseeable future, which in politics means the next two major elections, abortion will remain an important issue that divides constituencies.  Conservatives can take heart, however, that as on issues of small government and taxes, they know that more and more people are with them.

And Now Some Good Numbers For the Mountain State . . .

Last week, a Mercatus study forecast ominous signs for the West Virginia state government's future finances. It articulated concerns about the state's ability to pay its obligations in the near and long term future.  West Virginia, however, sits on a much more secure position than many other states, including some of the nation's largest and most prosperous.

A Washington Examiner study shows that the Mountain State's economically conservative policies of gradual tax reduction and paying down liabilities have benefited.   The state sits at 39th in unfunded pensions and total debt.  For debt per person, the state ranks higher, at 29th.

This is a ranking where being lower is better.

Credit, in part, goes to Governors Manchin and Tomblin for imposing common sense.  Manchin to a great extent and Tomblin to a lesser kept the lid on spending and gradually reduced the taxes that harmed the least able to pay.

They also took advantage of a boom in coal production and revenues that started under Bush, but is now grinding to a halt under the onerous policies of Obama's EPA.  Gas production continues to rise, but not fast enough to replace falling tax revenues from coal.

Mercatus concerns center around the state's need to address the problem of prosperity.  Manchin and Tomblin rightly deserve credit for helping to keep the state's financial position sound, but they did not take the opportunity to enact enough needed reforms.  The state needs to change its business regulation and tax regime so that small business has opportunity to start and a fighting chance to survive.  Economic observers praise the state's personal liberty, but blast the lack of economic freedom.

A state that ranks near the bottom for business friendliness and freedom cannot prosper.  With the federal government assaulting the state's main industry, the Governor and Legislature need to look at ways to unleash West Virginia's entrepreneurial spirit.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

With Coal and Renewable, "All of the Above" Makes More Sense Than Zero Sum Game

Since 1960, according to the World Bank,  the United States has almost tripled its per capita rate of electricity consumption.  Although Americans produce goods more efficiently than ever, the nation still needs to expand energy production. Higher production means lower energy prices, which gives the United States a greater advantage in retaining and expanding needed manufacturing jobs.

This makes the zero sum argument advanced by some circles very perplexing.  Many pro renewable energy (which includes, wind, solar, hydroelectric, etc.) see expansion of coal, oil, or gas as a defeat for their side. Conversely, any obstacle put in the way of coal, they see as a victory for progress.  This may stem from the notion that any figure that supports expanding coal production and jobs must be anti-renewable.  This is far from the truth.

West Virginia Republicans have for years embraced the "all of the above" ideal of energy.  Support whatever works in a given area.  Leading the way has been Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito, current US Senate candidate.  One of the nation's strongest defenders of coal and toughest critics of Obama's Environmental Protection Agency, Capito has voted to support temporary renewable energy tax credits as well as research into geothermal, landfill gas harvesting, and other innovative power production ideas.

Within the state, Delegate Gary Howell has backed the Intrastate Coal and Use Act.  This would strengthen state laws against EPA regulation of coal facilities that only sell their product within state lines.  Howell also, however, has studied the potential of wind energy for 30 years.  Wind energy production in certain parts of West Virginia drives development.  Said Howell of a wind project in his district, "I want to see growth in my community.  I want to see jobs brought into my community."

And it is not just Mountain State Republicans.  Before 2012's Iowa caucuses, six Republican presidential candidates autographed a wind turbine in that state, signifying support for innovation.

That being said, all renewable energy sources combined are dwarfed by reliance on coal alone.  For the foreseeable future, renewable sources must supplement, not replace, traditional sources of energy production.  Any profitable production, however, helps to return the US to the energy production dominance enjoyed until just after World War II.

America needs to emphasize energy.  The environment is better off if America burns its coal in plants that, even prior to the new standards, operated more cleanly than almost any nation on Earth.  Refining oil drilled in the Dakotas instead of the Middle East enhances US security.  Using and exporting natural gas drives down the world prices of that commodity, taking away some of Russia's leverage.

Each part of the US should explore how it can most safely and efficiently develop energy to its advantage.  Some parts of West Virginia should keep producing coal.  Ridgetops, however, are perfect places to put turbines.  The desert southwest should keep building solar farms to take in as much of the sun's bounty as possible.  Volcanic activity in the Northwest may be perfect for harvesting geothermal.  Even the vast landfills of the Northeast might be able to provide energy producing gasses.

West Virginia Republicans have for years publicly endorsed common sense solutions on national energy policy.  Liberals and leftists may try to tar them as a one trick pony, but the record indicates otherwise. Also, cutting back on tried and true sources of cheap energy is counterproductive.