Monday, April 27, 2015


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.

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Blogger Poor Guy April 27, 2015 3:41 PM  

A double-topic post! From failed equality of ancient Greece to weapons in space in a blink. Politics and space battles, two of my favorite things.

" “The shift towards capitalism and absolutism did not mean that inequality grew less pronounced. "

I am not so sure why "capitalism" and absolutism would have to go together.

Anonymous patrick kelly April 27, 2015 3:53 PM  

"I am not so sure why "capitalism" and absolutism would have to go together."

Ann is a genius at expressing her insanity.....

Blogger Vox April 27, 2015 3:58 PM  

I am not so sure why "capitalism" and absolutism would have to go together.

They didn't have to, necessarily. But they did. Van Creveld explains why in TECHNOLOGY AND WAR.

Blogger praetorian April 27, 2015 3:59 PM  

“speaks volumes in favor of the system that the vast majority of people would not exchange their U.S. citizenship for any other,”

The United States: still better than Mexico.


Blogger swiftfoxmark2 April 27, 2015 4:01 PM  

Wow, a science fiction story that uses actual science as a premise.

Blogger Mark Citadel April 27, 2015 4:24 PM  

Will definitely need to check this out!

Anonymous roo_ster April 27, 2015 4:31 PM  

I dismissed MVC's ETIQ the first go 'round, but picked it up via Amazon this time. Same with Thomas Mays's book. Today has seen a bumper crop of reading material.

Growing the market indeed.

Blogger Jay Lucas April 27, 2015 4:34 PM  


Blogger Salt April 27, 2015 4:39 PM  

a handwavium 1g reaction drive

Science priceless.

Blogger automatthew April 27, 2015 4:45 PM  

The Mays book is first-rate SF. It's got a little bit of silly feminism in it, but that's ignorable.

Anonymous Pedant April 27, 2015 5:35 PM  

Look! A nit! Can I pick it?

Shouldn't that be a 1g "reactionless" drive? Like what the Puppeteers bought from the Outsiders in Ringworld?

Blogger Poor Guy April 27, 2015 5:44 PM  

roo- That is so right! On Twitter there is a guy pushing his novel "BRIGEND" or something, probably a self-published ebook but it sounded interesting

Anonymous Giuseppe April 27, 2015 6:28 PM  

Railguns is where it's at. That's what I have in my SF too.

OpenID bc64a9f8-765e-11e3-8683-000bcdcb2996 April 27, 2015 7:26 PM  

"How did you come up with that?"
Um...I spent a lot of quarters playing Asteroids"?

Blogger Bro. Longtail April 27, 2015 8:53 PM  

Ann Sterzinger just single-handedly restored by faith that amazing women do still exist in our time.

Anonymous The other robot April 27, 2015 9:33 PM  

I was very keen to read A Sword into Darkness until I came on all the SJW craziness. It almost like the author transplanted Abbie from NCIS into his novel.

Anonymous Orville April 27, 2015 11:38 PM  

Can't wait till Mays comes out with a sequel.

Anonymous Seneca April 28, 2015 1:55 AM  

Abbie is the semi-goth chick from NCIS? That's exactly who I thought of. Still an entertaining novel, but that was a bit distracting.

Anonymous Father of 10 April 28, 2015 11:21 AM  

A question for Vox and Castalia. If I want to purchase these books, Amazon is VERY convenient. Is it better for Castalia and the author for me to go through the fairly minor inconvenience of buying through Castalia?

Blogger J.M. April 28, 2015 1:08 PM  

Vox, one question: Will there be a hard copy of this book. It does look good.

Anonymous The other robot April 28, 2015 11:32 PM  

Abbie is the semi-goth chick from NCIS?

Yeah, she calls herself a scientist (or the script writers put those words in her mouth) but she is really only a technician.

I really love it when one of them announces: "I got his IP address! Its"

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