TAC Bookshelf for the Week of March 11
Gilbert T. Sewall, contributor: I have been reading defense expert John D. Caldwell’s Anatomy of Victory, a critique of U.S. military strategy endorsed by Mark Helprin. Caldwell compares planning and operations in World War II to later limited wars that have nonetheless had enormous national consequences: Korea, Vietnam, and Iraq. His detailed, well-documented account indicates that the U.S. forces repeatedly suffer from ill-conceived strategies and increasing lack of realism. His point of view is more hawkish than mine, but the critique of limited war is knowledgeable and compelling. It is an argument that others, more informed on military affairs than I am, heed.
I am also reading Timothy P. Carney’s sharply thought essay in the Washington Examiner adapted from his new book, Alienated America: Why Some Places Thrive While Others Collapse. Carney writes on layers of society and institutions that enable a common culture and social cooperation. Communities have lost the connective tissue that ties individuals together, channeling Robert Nisbet and Robert Putnam. Such a support complex is indispensable for raising a family and getting ahead, Carney suggests. But the middle layer of society is so eroded that many people, “especially those most affected by its absence, can no longer imagine it or see its value.” The elites don’t care, favoring instead immigration, free trade, and global adventure—or possibly white Christian deposition. “The core Trump voters weren’t the people dying of opioids, obviously. They weren’t even necessarily the unhealthy ones. They weren’t necessarily the people drawing disability payments or dropping out of the workforce. Trump’s core voters were these people’s neighbors,” Carney writes. “Trump’s win, specifically his wins in the early primaries, is best explained by his support in places where communities are in disarray.” Those communities remain fractured and unstable in the run-up to the 2020 presidential election. This grim state of affairs comes when televised federal politics alone captures the nation’s attention, which of course is part of the problem.
Scott Beauchamp, contributor: I’m going admit it upfront: I wasn’t ready for Italian publisher and man of letters Roberto Calasso’s The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony. A few weeks ago I finished his nonfiction masterpiece Literature and the Gods, a sumptuous foray into the history of transcendent beings in literature and their disappearance (or transformation?) during the Age of Reason. It was challenging and breathtaking in scope. But it didn’t really prepare me for Cadmus, which is all that but even more so. I suppose it’s a work of “fiction”, but it’s suffused with Greek history and mythology and, of course, complex ideas eloquently stated. Like any great work, it’s so unique that it’s genre-bending. A genre of it’s own, really. And my “I read Edith Hamilton a few times” knowledge-level of myth bent and then broke under Calasso’s vast learning. I had to read the book with Google at the ready, in other words. Gentle reader, let me tell you, it was worth it. A couple quotes to enter into evidence:
With time, men and gods would develop a common language made up of hierogamy and sacrifice . . . . And, when it became a dead language, people started talking about mythology.
Zeus is never ridiculous. Because his dignity is of no concern to him.
As the Greeks see it, elegance arises from excavation, from the cavity.
I’m looking forward to working my way through his translated oeuvre over the next few months.