Category: History

Dostoyevsky’s Possessed in Modern Day America

“Peter Verkhovensky meet John Styn. John, Peter is the descendant of godless liberal enlightenment thinkers who now wants violence and revolution. Peter, John is the descendant of an ex-Baptist minister who likes to hug a lot.”

That’s what went through years ago when I clicked on a Yahoo feature story about a website called “Hug Nation” that promotes actual and cyber hugging. Hugs, hugs, hugs; it’s all about hugs. Young John Styn started it with his elderly grandfather, Caleb Shikles.

Relevant excerpts: “Hug Nation was the brainchild of Caleb’s grandson, John Styn, a Burning Man disciple, artist and Internet pioneer with pierced nipples, washboard abs, shocking pink hair and a dizzying creative energy. . . [Caleb] went to college, got married and became a Baptist preacher. A civil rights and anti-war activist, he worked with Martin Luther King for a week during a trip to Denver.”

A few things stand out about Caleb. He’s an ex Baptist minister, though he apparently didn’t lose his faith entirely (his funeral was held at a United Church of Christ church). He lived in California. He was part of the civil rights movement and an anti-war activist. Based on the foregoing and a few other things I read about the man online, I’m reasonably certain he had a strong leftward bent. I think it’s safe to say his faith was probably the watered-down version that’ is more interested in what faith can do for the world rather than how the world can bring us to faith.… Read the rest

Blowing Away Fascist Resentment

The redemption of Philip Johnson

photography of roadway during dusk
Photo by Jiarong Deng on

Cancel culture comes at another dead white male. But this time, it’s a dead white homosexual male: Philip Johnson, Ohioan, architect, and Nazi. But doesn’t like it. It understands it. “White supremacy,” it says, is “the west’s original sin,” so it’s no surprise that Johnson fell for it in one of its worst forms (Fascism), but he changed his views, employed black men, and banged dudes, so he ought to be forgiven.

I gotta say, that last redeeming trait gives me the biggest motivation of all not to be perceived as a racist. “Well, Eric, you applied a toxic blanket characterization to an entire race of people. You can either die a scourge of society, with your children spending the rest of their lives apologizing for your indiscretion, or you can let Franz the Trans bed you publicly. Your call.”

It’s interesting that Johnson is now being attacked. When he died back in 2005, no one said anything about his embrace of Fascism. Here’s Richard John Neuhaus writing in 2005:… Read the rest

Patrick and Justinian

Not related at all, but they’re combined in one section of my forthcoming e-book about obtaining an historical perspective.This is an excerpt:

Two Men You Should Know

This next section will deviate a bit from the book’s approach, but I believe it’s important to mention two men from this period who didn’t fit into the above narrative: St. Patrick and Justinian.

St. Patrick was a Romano-Britain. He was kidnapped in an Irish raid (something that occurred more often as the last of the legions withdrew from Britain in 410). He escaped years later, then went back to Christianize Ireland, which he did successfully.

When the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes later took control of Britain, the place became pagan. Christianity was all but eliminated.

But then, shortly after 600, Irish monks crossed the Irish Sea to re-convert Britain. They had great success.

This is one of those neat incidents in history: one culture evangelizing the other, then the other returning the favor many years later. Here, Britain sent St. Patrick, Britain subsequently became pagan, St. Patrick’s spiritual descendants then reconverted Britain.… Read the rest

Sobriety is a Sin?

The Friday “Drinking Matters” Column (BYCU)

wine glass with red wine
Photo by Posawee Suwannaphati on

Sunday marks the Feast Day of Thomas Aquinas. Well, not really. It was his Feast Day until 1969, when “they” moved it to January 28th (apparently, so it wouldn’t fall during Lent).

In his Summa Theologica, he wrote that “if a man were knowingly to abstain from wine to the extent of molesting nature grievously, he would not be free from sin.”

Many years ago, when I was the editor of Gilbert Magazine, this passage prompted an email-chain discussion about whether Aquinas thought teetotalling is a sin. At least one of the participants said that wasn’t Aquinas’ position. Aquinas’ position is that every extreme that gives rise to sin must have a countervailing sin on the other extreme. So, for instance, cowardice is a sin, but so is reckless disregard for one’s safety. In this case, Aquinas pointed out that drunkenness is a sin, so there must be a sin on the other extreme, and that’s all he was saying. He wasn’t articulating what, exactly, that sin consists of, other than, if you abstain to the extent of molesting your nature, you’re in sin.

That makes sense to me.

Though it should be noted that tetotalling is a sin. Abstaining is not a sin, but teetotalling is. The difference is, tetotalling is refusal to drink alcohol on grounds that it’s evil. It’s a type of ancient Gnosticism (which thought creation evil). Abstinence, on the other hand, is a refusal to drink alcohol in pursuit of something better. The person who abstains doesn’t believe alcohol is evil, anymore than a person who declines to reads newspapers because he’d rather read more substantive fare thinks that newspapers are evil.… Read the rest

The Real Transylvania

From the One Thing File

Dracula’s Castle. Photo by Jorge Fernández Salas on Unsplash

“The One Thing File” is a practice I learned from Econtalk. It’s the practice of writing just one thing (okay, maybe more than one) that I learn from a book, essay, documentary, podcast, whatever.

For younger TDE readers, think of it as Reddit’s “Today I Learned” feature.

The One Thing: William Penn was so impressed by the religious freedom in Transylvania that he almost named his American colony “Transylvania.”

Details: Transylvania is not culturally the same as the rest of Romania.

It lies west of the Carpathian Mountains and was not, unlike the rest of the Balkans, conquered by the Turks during the Middle Ages, meaning it experienced the high Middle Ages like the rest of Central and Western Europe and its cathedrals, Cistercians, Baroque, and the Enlightenment.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula—and its evil-looking and suspicious peasants, howling wolves, and midnight thunderstorms—resembles Moldavia far more than Transylvania (and Dracula himself is based on Vlad the Impaler, whose castle was in Wallachia, not Transylvania).

(Bonus one thing: Bram Stoker never visited Romania.)

Robert D. Kaplan, Balkan Ghosts.… Read the rest

Solzhenitsyn Saw Cancel Culture

gray wooden house burning
Photo by Simon Berger on

“A left-wing newspaper can print the most subversive of articles, a left-wing speaker can deliver the most incendiary of speeches—but just try pointing out the dangers of such utterances and the whole leftist camp will raise a howl of denunciation.”

Solzhenitsyn & the Engine of History by Robert D. Kaplan

I was pretty stoked when my first issue of The New Criterion showed up. (I don’t know if I was more excited about the issue, or a book that coincidentally arrived the same day, Willie Mosconi’s 1965 classic, Winning Pocket Billiards, which was a mainstay of my youth.)

I was even more excited when I saw that one of its six feature essays is by Robert D. Kaplan, whose 2005 Balkan Ghosts has been grabbing my attention (albeit off-and-on) for the past month and keeps getting better and better. I mean, I thought the chapter on Croatia was excellent, and then Serbia was even better. And now that I’m on Rumania, the land of prostitutes and Dracula? I’m having a hard time putting it down at night.

(Did you know Bucharest has about as much metropolitan history as Chicago? It’s a very new city.)

Well, Kaplan’s essay on Solzhenitsyn didn’t disappoint. I curled up in my library last night and read it straight-through, relishing the non-pixelated print.

He provided an overview of Solzhenitsyn’s massive work, The Red Wheel, and used it to draw comparisons between the Rise of the Soviet Union and the United States today.

Yeah, the essay is a bit chilling, as evidenced by Solzhenitsyn’s words about leftist publications in the opening quote above. He was writing in the 1970s (or thereabouts) about the Communist Revolution (in the mid-1910s) . . . way before cancel culture and technological censorship.

Like … Read the rest

Why Weak Fools Can Dominate

Exploring the fool in Christ and the fool in Antichrist

Ivan the Terrible

Czar Ivan IV was a psychologically unbalanced and cruel man: ambitious, unpredictable, frightening to be around.

In the sixteenth century, Ivan strove furiously to expand Russia’s borders, bring her into modern commerce, and unify her under the authority of the Czar.

He waged ceaseless and unjust wars against neighbors. He endorsed the aggressive merchant/Cossack conquest of sleeping Serbia. He instituted a ten-year reign of terror throughout his realm in an intense effort to crush opposition to his domestic policies. He mercilessly executed opponents, including their wives and children. He confiscated lands, forcing families to relocate to different countries.

His ferocity climaxed against the city of Novgorod in 1570. When he heard that a document was discovered in Novgorod which pledged the city’s cooperation with Poland to overthrow him, he immediately pounced on the entire city (without even waiting to determine whether the questionable document was authentic).

He racked vengeance on all, attacking even the innocent. The monasteries were sacked. Clerics were arrested and held for fifty rubles’ ransom — those who couldn’t pay were flogged to death. Thousands were massacred. All the shops were burned; merchants’ homes in the suburbs were torn down; farmhouses in the countryside were destroyed.

No Russian dared oppose Ivan. No one rebuked him.

You’d be a fool.

And a fool did.

Nicholas of Pskov walked up to Ivan and rebuked him by slapping a piece of bloody raw meat in Ivan’s hands, vividly symbolizing Ivan’s bloody sins.

The Yourodivyje

Nicholas of Pskov was one of those men known by the Russians as the yourodivyje, the fools in Christ (the word is derived from the word yourod, meaning “something strange”).

The fool in Christ was a frequent phenomenon in Ivan’s sixteenth-century Russia — … Read the rest