I finished Yuri Slezkine’s “The Jewish Century” yesterday. As I predicted, I didn’t find the later (and longer, each is roughly double the size of its predecessor) chapters as interesting as the “outside view” of the first. I thought there was excessive use of metaphor and literary references (to books I haven’t read, the gall of Slezkine!) as may be typical of continental philosophy. Nevertheless, I agree with the author that “Hodl’s story” (with that daughter of Tevye representing all who left the Pale of Settlement and headed east to Russian cities) is one that has gone relatively untold and is worth hearing. I might add that the story of the German-Russian Mercurians whose WW1 induced absence they filled is another one that could use a good telling, though Sowell also briefly touches on it in Black Rednecks & White Liberals. Hodl is not for him a figure to be looked back on fondly and nostalgically (as Tevye is in Fiddler on the Roof), but as someone who must look back upon her life and view much of it as a mistake (as his own grandmother did). Slezkine explicitly compares Hodl’s generation of the Jewish Revolution against the Jewishness of their traditionalist mercantile parents to the later generation who renounced the Soviet failed paradise they inherited from their parents. Slezkine’s own account is of a piece with the often quite biting criticism that generation had for their elders he documents in his book. One might not say he is digging up a previous generation’s bones to put them on a collective trial, but he is shining an unfavorable light on their unsightly side and (however he feels about his own identity) from an externalist perspective. It is for that reason that his book is often cited by anti-Semites like Kevin MacDonald. At the same time, it has been rather well reviewed in Jewish publications and received awards from Jewish organizations. As Mark Oppenheimer has noted, the two groups can have some quite similar obsessions.
The book I’ve replaced it with is Richard Preston’s The Demon in the Freezer, which I heard about from his appearance on Bloggingheads. Its a relatively short book about scientists preparing for possible outbreaks of smallpox, accessible for mass audiences with no endnotes in the back. Since I expect to finish it shortly I put in an inter-library request for The 10,000 Year Explosion. Its nearly always unavailable (apparently quite popular) so I’ve also got Tom Woods’ & Kevin Gutzman’s Who Killed the Constitution? on order.
Kevin Gutzman has recently been involved in a debate with Austin Bramwell about his take on the Constitution. I was reminded of that (along with Jeffrey Hummel’s review of Tom Woods) when I read Stephan Kinsella’s LRC blog post on tax protesters and unwritten positive law (hat tip to Roderick Long). A native son of Louisiana, Kinsella laughs at silly Protestants obsessed with official/authoritative written texts which anyone can read over the traditions respected by authorities and actually carried out. It made me nostalgic for my days as a Protestant. He (and Lou Rollins) have a point about how silly it is rely on some claim about what the law REALLY is when that scrap of paper has no effect. Hear that, Glenn Greenwald, there’s no difference between law and practice! But I don’t think he’s completely right. As Tim Worstall reminds us, sometimes the written law really does have authority and can override what for years has been the established practice of law-upholders who don’t bother to read the law too carefully. There are also hierarchical layers of law, from directives issued by a regulatory or law enforcement agency, statutory laws passed by legislature, articles and amendments of the Constitution (if your country does have a written one), and according to a bunch of mistaken people there is also Natural Law above that.
Speaking of law, I was inspired by another of Bramwell’s essays to see if I could find Raoul Berger’s Government by Judiciary: The Transformation of the Fourteenth Amendment. Rather than a hard-copy, I found that the Online Library of Liberty presents in various html and pdf formats, just as it does Bruno Leoni’s Freedom and the Law. I recall being excited when I found the same website had Herbert Spencer’s Social Statics, but I never got around to really reading that and probably won’t read these either. I have, however, been slowly reading Anthony de Jasay’s The State at work when I have nothing better to do.
On a final unrelated note, I found this Kids Prefer Cheese post on poorly managed Indian textile factories interesting. You should definitely check out the pictures of rotting firehazards taking up space. The narrative here contrasts with that of Greg Clark, who found that English managed textile factories in colonial India operated poorly because the native “working stiff” wasn’t up to the snuff of his English analogue. Bad management or bad labor? Or could it be both? At any rate, I’m curious as to whether the reforms these MBA consultants put in place will remain there over a year or more.