Monday, March 7, 2016

What is a Philippic?

Athenian orator Demosthenes who wrote philippics against Philip II of Macedon

Former 2012 GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney recently came out of the woodwork to publicly condemn Donald Trump and derail his chances at becoming the 2016 party nominee. In his speech he said, "...[that] Donald Trump is indeed a phony.  I understand the anger Americans feel today. In the past, our presidents have channeled that anger and forged it into resolve, into endurance and high purpose, and into the will to defeat the enemies of freedom. Our anger was transformed into energy directed for good. Mr. Trump is directing our anger for less than noble purposes. He creates scapegoats of Muslims and Mexican immigrants. He calls for the use of torture. He calls for killing the innocent children and family members of terrorists. He cheers assaults on protesters. He applauds the prospect of twisting the Constitution to limit First Amendment freedom of the press. This is the very brand of anger that has led other nations into the abyss. ...Here’s what I know. Donald Trump is a phony, a fraud. His promises are as worthless as a degree from Trump University. ...He’s playing the members of the American public for suckers. He gets a free ride to the White House and all we get is a lousy hat."

The speech that former governor Romney gave is a common political tactic called a philippic, a speech that is delivered with the intent in condemning a person who is perceived to be a threat to the survival of the State. It is designed to make the individual be seen as a threat to the people and meant to unite them against the person. Throughout history there have been many philippics delivered. The two most famous orators who delivered the most were Demosthenes of Athens and Marcus Tullius Cicero of Rome. Demosthenes delivered philippics against Philip II of Macedon and Cicero delivered philippics, a total of 14 against Marcus Antonius (Marc Anthony).

Demosthenes, who lived in Athens 384-322 B.C. wrote against the King of Macedon, calling him a threat to Athens, a "bad man" who, "[is]...drunk with the magnitude of his achievements and dreams of further triumphs..." He called on Athenians to stand united against this foe and said that with unifed effort he could be beaten.

Cicero, who was a Roman orator and statesman lived in Rome around 106-43 B.C. and served in the Senate during the waning days of the Roman Republic. Cicero wrote 14 philippics against Marcus Antonius, and warned that he must be stopped if the Republic is to survive.

In likewise fashion, Mitt Romney was following in the footsteps of those great orators who came out against threats to their societies. I will not commentate on whether Romney's speech matches in comparison to the great orators of the past. For that I leave it up to you to decide. I trust my readers are intelligent enough to make an honest assessment.

Yet, now we turn to whether Mitt Romney's speech condemning Trump will ultimately work. For that we too must look to the past. Did Demosthenes and Cicero's speeches do anything to change the course of their society? Athens was ultimately conquered by Philip II, and in 322 B.C. Demosthenes committed suicide by drinking poison after being captured while in exile from the Macedonians. A mild punishment for sure when we consider the fate of Cicero. In Rome, the republic eventually did fall, and for the Roman orator, he was not just beheaded, but also had the hands he used to write his speeches chopped off and displayed in the Forum as a warning to future philippic writers.

I don't anticipate anything of the sort happening to Mitt Romney, but insofar as the success his speech has will be entirely up to the American people. In hindsight, it appears the odds may be stacked against him.


George Orwell on Mein Kampf


In 1940, English writer Eric Blair, better known as George Orwell reviewed Adolf Hitler's diatribe Mein Kampf, ("My Struggle"). Orwell expertly dissected the appeal of the Nazis and national socialism in Germany.

Orwell writes:
The fact is that there is something deeply appealing about him. […] Hitler … knows that human beings don’t only want comfort, safety, short working-hours, hygiene, birth-control and, in general, common sense; they also, at least intermittently, want struggle and self-sacrifice, not to mention drums, flags and loyalty-parades. However they may be as economic theories, Fascism and Nazism are psychologically far sounder than any hedonistic conception of life.
Orwell despised Hitler. He further wrote, imagining what the world be like under the Nazis:

 What [Hitler] envisages, a hundred years hence, is a continuous state of 250 million Germans with plenty of “living room” (i.e. stretching to Afghanistan or there- abouts), a horrible brainless empire in which, essentially, nothing ever happens except the training of young men for war and the endless breeding of fresh cannon-fodder.
One could see the seeds of his later works Animal Farm and 1984 beginning to sprout.

Via: Open Culture

You can read Orwell's full review of Mein Kampf here.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

#HistoryBookHaul | New Books for The Historical Reader!

In the video below I showcase a few "new" (used) books that have been added since January 2016 to The Historical Reader HQ's library. Enjoy! I look forward to reading your comments.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

St. Valentine 269 A.D.


Today is February 14th, and that means that it is Valentine's Day. Today men and women will express their love for each other by gifting flowers, heart-shaped boxes of assorted chocolates, gold and other jewelry, and wine and dine themselves.  But, what is the real history of the day named after a Catholic saint martyred in 269 A.D.?

In Church history there has been at least 3 saints named Valentine, all of them martyrs. One named Valentinus was a bishop in Rome around 269 A.D.

It was under the reign of Roman Emperor Claudius II, (also known as Claudius the Cruel, for reasons we will soon learn) that St. Valentinus was martyred. Claudius II needing to maintain a strong army for the empire was having trouble finding new soldiers. He believed this was because many young men had formed strong attachments to their wives and families. To solve the problem, Claudius II banned all marriages and engagements in Rome. Valentinus, recognizing the injustice in this defied the emperor. He continued to perform marriages in secret.

When Claudius II found this out he became outraged. He ordered Valentinus arrested and sentenced to death. He was brought before Rome's prefect and beaten with clubs before being beheaded. According to legend, Valentinus left a note for the jailor's daughter who he befriended that read "from your Valentine".

Valentinus was later declared a saint for his service by the Catholic Church.

The popular customs associated with modern Valentine's Day can be traced back to England and France during the Middle Ages, when it was tradition that on the 14 February, the middle of the month birds began to pair in anticipation of Spring and mating time. Chaucer makes note of this in Parliament of Foules:

 "For this was sent on Seynt Valentyne's day
Whan every foul cometh ther to choose his mate."

For this reason, it was believed that 14 February was set aside as day especially consecrated for lovers. It was customary for lovers to send letters and exchange tokens of affection for one another.

This tradition continues to this day.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Reqiescat en pace Justice Antonin Scalia (1936-2016)

The country's faithful servant, but God's first.
A former high school classmate and a future official of the State of New York said of Justice Scalia:

"This kid was a conservative when he was 17 years old. An archconservative Catholic. He could have been a member of the Curia. He was the top student in the class. He was brilliant, way above everybody else."
Read more here.

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