Friday, March 21, 2014

The rise of Europe; Common features of the Early Modern Period

Early Modern Period Commonalities

            The Early Modern period, from about 1450 to the 1790’s was a time of immense change in every facet of Western life. In 1450, the Western world, and particularly Western Europe was less than a desirable place; plague was still a reality, causing a culture obsessed with death; ethnic and social tensions were high, and political organization from the church to the king was in flux. (Levack pg. 354-363) Culturally, 1450 Europe paled compared to places like China and the middle east; though this was starting to change. By 1800, Europe was the undisputed center of the civilized world, it’s nations had the best weapons and tactics, held massive overseas territories, and collectively managed the world economy through control of trade routes. (James pg. 165-167) How did such a transformation take place? Three common factors of the Early modern period led to this great surge in economic and military power among western nations: European exploratory efforts, European economic expansion due to control of international trade, and the balance of power wars that dominated European political life in the period.
            European efforts towards exploration started in the mid 1450’s, right at the beginning of the early modern period, and continued on until the early 20th century with several well-documented voyages to the North Pole and Antarctica. Through these efforts the world was explored quite thoroughly. Exploration started through the efforts of Portuguese Prince Henry the Navigator. (Levack pg. 399) One of the main goals of early European explorers was to find a way to the commodities of the East, especially the various spices found in Southeast Asia. This was certainly the driving force behind Vascoe De Gama’s voyage to India. While sailing to India, the expedition stopped regularly to try and assess whether they had reached a land that held the goods they desired:

 The captain-major landed and showed them a variety of merchandise, with the view of finding out whether such things were to be found in their country. This merchandise included cinnamon, cloves, seed-pearls, gold, and many other things, but it was evident that they had no knowledge whatever of such articles, and they were consequently given round bells and tin rings.” (De Gama)

            When they found they had not, they moved on and eventually did reach India. The desire to go directly to the goods themselves was sparked by Christian conflict with the Ottoman Empire. The Ottomans fought with Christian powers in the Mediterranean and Balkans and this meant that trade slowed to a trickle and prices of eastern goods like spices, silk, and porcelain skyrocketed. (Levack pg. 398) Thus was born an economic motivation to sail a ship across the world. Two theories dominated; the first was that you could simply sail around the world to China and India, and the second that it made more sense to sail around Africa. These immense voyages were very profitable despite their enormous cost and the danger involved, for example: nutmeg could have a markup as high as 60,000%! (Levack pg. 416) Voyages of exploration lasted throughout the entire early modern period, routes to Asia and the America’s were discovered in the late 1400’s and throughout the 1550’s and 1600’s. The Interior of the Americas was explored in the 17-and-1800’s as Australia was discovered then as well. The journeys to find new lands for trade and colonization lasted the entire period, and these voyages were an integral part of European economic success. Because the voyages were private-led but public-funded[1], the explorers had the income they needed for the trip as well as the private, economic motivation to take risks in order to achieve success. This meant that those actually doing the exploring were constantly seeking new profit, which led them to eventually travel the entire world and establish trade, colonies, and protectorates wherever they could, but in the name of their monarch. This exploration characterized the entire period, and set the stage for another major characteristic of the Early Modern world: Western European domination of international trade.
            World trade was not monopolized by Europe in a day, to be sure. Rather it was a gradual process which started with European incursions into Africa and the Americas and culminated in the mid 1800’s with European economic domination being hefted onto even mighty China. In the Americas and Western Africa the Europeans came quickly to dominate trade. This was largely because blue-ocean trade was simply non-existent in these places. West Africans stuck to the interior of the continent, and the civilizations of the Americas lacked the sophisticated ship building technology to venture far out to sea. The American natives were also, like the Africans, more inward looking[2] and had little economic imperative to venture out into the dangerous ocean. So when the Europeans arrived in their ships, they simply controlled the means of transport and thus had a ready-made monopoly. In the Indian and Pacific Oceans Europeans had competition from Islamic and East Asian (especially Chinese) traders. They built trade posts and effectively worked themselves into the system that existed in Asia. They were still able to make enormous profits though because, as mentioned above, the goods available in Asia brought extremely high prices. Even though they faced competition in Asia itself, Europeans knew the route back to Europe well, since they had come from there, while Chinese traders would not have been able to sail themselves to Europe to sell directly to Europeans. So in this way, Europeans merchants took over for Islamic merchants as the middlemen to Europe. (Levack pg. 415) They still were only there as traders however, rather than conquerors as they were in the Americas.
            This was not just a haphazard strategy. Many Europeans, particularly those in government had a rudimentary understanding that control of trade would enrich them. Consider the word’s of one of the directors of the East India Company, and British company assigned by the crown to handle trade in India:
“Although a Kingdom may be enriched by gifts received, or by purchase taken from some other Nations, yet these are things uncertain and of small consideration when they happen. The ordinary means therefore to increase our wealth and treasure is by Foreign Trade, wherein wee must ever observe this rule; to sell more to strangers yearly than wee consume of theirs in value.” (Mun)

            So Europeans understood that by taking control of major trade routes, they were going to be making a lot of money for themselves and for their Kingdom. The above quote also outlines well the European strategy, which was to sell manufactured goods to people around the world, while buying raw materials to make those goods in those same places and for relatively cheap. This strategy was not limited to the early stages of the Early Modern period either, but was common policy in regards even to settler colonies like the British Colonies in the Americas. William Pitt, when defending the American colonies against the stamp act stated the relationship between Kingdom and colony very well:
“I maintain, that the parliament has a right to bind, to restrain America. Our legaislative power over the colonies is soveriegn and supreme. When it ceases to be sovereign and supreme, I would advise every gentleman to sell his lands, if he can, and embark for that country. When two countries are connected together, like England and her colonies, without being incorporated, the one must necessarily govern; the greater must rule the less; but so rule it, as not to contradict the fundamental principles that are common to both.” (Pitt)

            He was only explaining how the colony-ruler relationship worked. It was meant to be to the benefit of the Ruler and not the ruled. This applied to colonies settled by Kingdom subjects as well as natives. This policy existed in the early 1500’s and it was still in evidence in the late 1700’s. European purposeful domination of international trade was a strategy consistently pursued during the early modern period and it helped to drive Europe towards world economic dominance.
            Foreign exploration and trade drove the European economy and created massive potential for wealth to be created, making Europe prosperous. Another major factor which dominated this time period also contributed to European military success, and this is the balance-of-power wars which were fought incessantly from the 1500’s to the First World War. There were minor wars and major ones. One early major conflict was the Italian Wars. (1494-1530) The Italian wars saw France pitted against Spain and the Holy Roman Empire[3], fighting for dominance in the Italian peninsula. This war was the first war that was truly early-modern in that it saw massive armies sent to the field by powerful Kingdoms France and Spain, often made up of hired mercenaries. This was the first major conflict to involve large armies armed with firearms and cannon, though pikemen and knights continued to play vital roles on the battlefield as well. This war set the stage for how European wars in the period tended to go: Two power blocs formed around two or more powerful Western Kingdoms and they went to war, fighting for some European territory. In this war, Spain won dominance over Italy except for Venice. This shows a trend that dominated Early modern warfare too; namely that it was initiated to gain territory. Fredrick II, King of Prussia went to war with Austria for much the same reason nearly 200 years later that Spain had gone to war in Italy. Fredrick desired the industrious Austrian province of Silesia to be included in his kingdom, just as Spain (and France) had desired to bring the rich Italian peninsula into their kingdoms. Though Prussia was small and poor, it had the same ambition that might kingdoms like France and Spain had years before.
            These Balance-of-Power wars were fought for territory and to keep potential enemies from getting too strong. They followed a basic pattern, with short periods of intense fighting, followed by periods of nothing, and finally more fighting which led to one state or another gaining a temporary advantage and gaining some relatively small territory in Europe. The important thing about these wars was that they did two things to Europeans; they became relatively habituated to large scale wars, and they were spurred to develop better weapons. For example, the use of cannon in war led to the introduction of better forts, which led to better cannon. The use of personal firearms led to knights wearing thicker armor, which led to even more powerful firearms. The matchlock musket was supplanted by the more effective Flintlock, and the pikemen were done away with by the introduction of bayonets. It was because Europeans were constantly fighting that these innovations happened. For proof, consider the stable-by-comparison Empires of Asia. The Ottomans, Safavids, Mughals, and Chinese all ruled relatively stable Empires who totally dominated their neighbors. Sir William Eaton, when surveying the Ottoman military in 1799 remarked on Ottoman military decline:
“The artillery they have, and which is chiefly brass, comprehends many find pieces of cannon; but notwithstanding the reiterated instruction of so many French engineers, they are ignorant of its management. Their musket-barrels are much esteemed but they are too heavy; nor do they possess any quality superior to common iron barrels which have been much hammered, and are very soft Swedish iron. The art of tempering their sabers is now lost, and all the blades of great value are ancient.”

Having a “big kid” on the block made these regions more stable and less prone to wars that each side actually had a chance to win. They were more likely to fight small skirmishes with rebel groups and raiders from central Asia, which did not necessitate technological innovation or understanding of battlefield tactics, but rather the ability to use local forces to move quickly and quash threats. In Europe, no single nation was so much stronger than all the others that it was able to dominate in this way. For this reason, the Eastern Empires didn’t need to develop weapons at the same pace as European nations did. Eastern Empires’ people weren’t used to war, hardship, and fighting in the same way that say, Germans during the Thirty Years War were used to it. Thus, Europeans developed weapons that were better to gain an edge over opponents of similar power. Eastern Empires in other parts of the world faced different challenges and didn’t have to. That is why European countries eventually came to dominate militarily; the routine fighting they did necessitated innovation. These wars were a constant throughout the period and helped make Europe militarily dominate by the mid 1800’s.
The Early Modern period saw Europe rise from backwater to world dominance. They did this by several agents. The first was their penchant for exploration during this era; they got to and mapped many places before non-Europeans had the chance or the drive to do so. There was nothing inherently superior about European navigation ability; they were simply the only ones with the proper economic motivation to make journey across the globe for profit. Arab Dhows could have made similar voyages, but they didn’t need to; Ming China certainly could have chosen to explore the entire world with it’s massive fleet, but decided it wasn’t worth it. This same economic principle meant that European nations, who knew the trade routes, naturally came to dominate them. They had the technology and knowledge, as well as the economic incentive to control international trade. Finally, European nations in this period fought a series of wars to gain advantage in the European balance of power. These wars caused them to innovate militarily in order to gain tactical advantage over their opponents. When they later encountered the armies of the Americas, Africa and eventually even India and China they were able to use their superior weapons and tactics to crush them in the field. The British conquered India, and along with the French they used military force to make the Chinese Empire trade with them during the Opium wars. (James pg. 169-175) Earlier in the Americas, disease contributed to the process as well, but the terrifying noise and horrible wounds caused by firearms; as well as the relative invincibility afforded by plate armor meant that the armies of the mighty Aztec and Incan Empires were beaten as well. These three factors were constants during the Early Modern period, and each one contributed to making Europe the dominant continent on the globe by the 1800’s.


Eaton, William. A Survey of the Turkish Empire. Ed. Jerome Arkenburg. London: n.p., 1799. Web. 4 Dec. 2013. <>.

Gama, Vascoe De. Round Africa to India. Vol. 5. Trans. Oliver j. Thatcher. Ed. J.S. Arkenberg. Milwalkee: Milwaukee University, 1907. 26-40. Print.

James, Lawrence. Rise and Fall of the British Empire. 2nd ed. London: Abacus, 1995.      Print.

Levack, Brian, Edward Muir, and Meredith Veldman. “The West: Encounters & Transformations.” 3rd ed. Vol. 1. Boston: Longman, 2011. 231-393. Print.

Mun, Thomas. "England's Treasure by Foreign Trade." Vol. II. The Western Tradition. Ed. Eugene Weber. 4th ed. Lexington, MA:, 1990. N. pag. Internet History Sourcebook. Web. 1 Dec. 2013. <>.

Pitt, William. "William Pitt's speech on the Stamp Act January 14 1766." American History: From Revolution to Reconstruction. University of Groningen, 1994. Internet History Sourcebook. Web. 3 Dec. 2013. <>.

[1] Levack, pg. 415 – Most European explorers went asking the king/queen to license them, rather than being government initiated.
[2] Levack pg. 401 – These societies were very focused on internal wars and squabbling, much as Europe had been for the past few hundred years.
[3] Levack, pg. 388 – As well as an ever shifting series of alliances with against and between various Italian states.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

A brief History of the Super Bowl

A breif history of the Super bowl

Super Bowl 1969

Super Bowl History

The Very first Super Bowl, played on January 16, 1967 was known not as the Super Bowl but the somewhat more cumbersome “First World Championship Game: AFL Vs. NFL.” The name Super Bowl actually originated from a joke made by Lamar Hunt, the Former owner of the Kansas City Chiefs and founding member of the American Football League (AFL). Mr. Hunt saw his children playing with a Super Ball and, unable to come up with a good name for the “First World Championship Game: AFL Vs. NFL” suggested the name “Super Bowl.”
The first two Super Bowls were therefore not known as the “Super Bowl” Officially. It was only after the name began resonating with the public that they began calling the game the “Super Bowl.” So Super Bowl III was the first one called as such, but the pages of history were re-written to identify the “World Championship Game: AFL Vs. NFL” as Super Bowls I and II.
For the first three years the Super Bowl was actually being played by teams from two entirely separate leagues which were actually owned by different heads as part of a merger agreement announced on June 8, 1966. In the first two years the Green Bay Packers trounced the AFL champions sent against them (the Kansas City Chiefs and then the Oakland Raiders) leading many to questions whether the AFL teams would be capable of competing with the more dominant NFL.
Super Bowl III however was a Win for the AFL. The New York Jets defeated the Baltimore Colts 16 to 7 and worries about the merger eased. So in 1970 the two leagues became one and went from being two “leagues “ to being two “conferences.” The Baltimore Colts, Cleveland Browns, and Pittsburgh Steelers agreed to join the AFL in order to even out the number of teams. Thus the AFC and NFC were created.
As it would turn out those rooting for the former AFL didn’t have much to worry about as the Super Bowl was dominated by the AFC throughout the 1970’s. In Fact only the NFC’s Dallas Cowboys managed to win any Super Bowls at all in this decade. We should note however that the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Colts did win five of the Super Bowls in this decade for the AFC, but were NFL and not AFL franchises just years earlier. Also worth noting is that the during the 1970’s as many Super Bowls were won by the Miami Dolphins and Pittsburgh Steelers than all other teams combined. Miami Won Super Bowl’s Seven and eight (VII and VIII) and Pittsburgh won Super Bowl’s nine, ten, and thirteen(IX, X, and XII.) As far as Pittsburgh is concerned this is somewhat telling given that they have since become the team with the most super bowl wins and the second most appearances in the Super Bowl. Pittsburgh has appeared in Seven super bowls and won Six of them. Only The Dallas Cowboys have appeared in more, being in eight Super Bowl’s total, however, they have only managed five wins in the big game.
The eighties were a time of resurgence for the NFC. It was the San Francisco 49ers who blazed the trail winning four Super Bowls and in the 1984 season going 18-1. The eighties were also the time of the “Super Bowl Shuffle:” a song and dance routine preformed by the Chicago Bears prior to their appearance in Super Bowl XX. Apparently this was what they needed to put them over the edge because they smashed the New England Patriots 46 to 10. Leading at the half 23-3 with 239 yards of total offense compared to the Patriot’s -19, yes, negative 19.
The 1980’s was also when the Super Bowl really became a place for ads. To be sure, many companies put their best ads on during the big game before the eighties but they weren’t the kind of “high concept” ads that we see today. Everything really broke free in 1984 when Apple ran their “1984” ad (referencing the book.) In the ad an athletic looking blonde woman rushes towards a giant screen depicting images of “Big brother” chanting to his drones. The woman smashes the screen with a giant sledgehammer and message rocks the audience: “On January 24th Apple computer will introduce Macintosh, and you’ll see why 1984 won’t be like ‘1984.’” This ad never showed the product for sale, it never talked about and yet, it conveyed something to people. From 1984 the Super Bowl increasingly became the spot for the best ads of the year.
The Super Bowl in the nineties remained largely the plaything of the NFC. The early nineties were a time dominated by the Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers who together won five of the Super bowl’s of the decade. The Buffalo Bills were strong early on, making it into four of the first five Super bowls of the decade but did not manage to actually win one. Green bay also had a revival near the end of the nineties, rising in Super bowl XXXI to defeat the Patriots 35 to 21. However the next year they were beaten quite soundly by the Denver Broncos. The Broncos closed out the nineties with wins over Green Bay and then the Atlanta Falcons. In the nineties super bowl attendance rose slightly from 72,919 in 1990 to 74,803 in 1999. Viewership however went soaring up from about 110 million people in 1990 to nearly 130 million people by 1999. The cost of 30 seconds of commercial time also went up from about $700,000 in 1990 to $1,600,000 in 1999! The Super Bowl has always been a big game for Football fans, and now it was quickly becoming ripe ground for the kind of super witty, super expensive commercials we all know of today. For three million dollars a minute I would squeeze everything out of my ad guy’s brains too!
The new millennium opened with a boom when it comes to Super Bowls. Viewership for the game was over 134 million people in the USA and nearly 800 million people worldwide! Ad rates also leapt to 2,200,000! No wonder though, with nearly a billion people watching. The Saint Louis Rams had the privilege of beating the Tennessee Titans 23 to 16 in this groundbreaking game (that is, the price for an ad was groundbreaking!) The game itself ended on a dramatic note itself, with Mike Jones tackling Kevin Dyson just short of the one yard line as time ran out. A touchdown would have tied the game and lead to the first ever overtime in Super Bowl history. A dramatic end to an otherwise uneventful game. The Patriots began the forging of a dynasty in the 2000’s, appearing in four Super Bowl’s and winning three of them. The Patriots also nearly managed a 19-0 season in 2008 but were beaten in Super bowl XLII by the New York Giants. In games XL and XLIII the Steelers beat Seattle and Arizona respectively jettisoning them to more Super Bowl wins than any other team in football history.
Super Bowl XLIV, played 2-7-2010 was an exciting game. Not only did the underdog win, and by a lot, but the ratings were higher than they have been in 23 years! This game scored 46.4/68 ( in Neilson ratings, up 10% from last year. People tuned in to see New Orleans’ first ever super bowl victory. The game itself looked like it was going to be a fairly dull win for the colts. It was in the fourth quarter that the Saints, one point behind really broke the lead out. They managed a touchdown pass to Jeremy Shockey followed by a 2-point conversion pass putting them up by seven. Next it looked like the Colts were going to tie it, having driven deep into Saints territory. However, Tracy Porter intercepted a pass by Peyton Manning and ran it back for a 74 yards for a Saints touchdown. The nail was in the coffin, the Saints were Super Champions for the first time ever.
 Super Bowl XLVII, played in 2013, was a game to behold. Not only was it tremendously close and hard fought, game, but it pitched two brother coaches against one-another. Jim and John Harbaugh, head coaches of the 49ers and Ravens, respectively—coached against one another (there parents must be so proud!) earning it the nickname Harbaugh Bowl or The Harbowl. Another significant event was "the blackout." Baltimore took a 28–6 lead early in the third quarter before a partial power outage in the Superdome suspended play for 34 minutes (earning the game the nickname Blackout Bowl, and freaking out every last person watching it). After play resumed, San Francisco scored 17 unanswered third-quarter points to cut the Ravens' lead, 28–23, and continued to chip away in the fourth quarter. With the Ravens leading late in the game, 34–29, the 49ers advanced to the Baltimore 7-yard line just before the two-minute warning and turned over the ball on downs. The Ravens then took an intentional safety in the waning moments of the game to preserve the victory. Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco, who completed 22 of 33 passes for 287 yards and three touchdowns, was named Super Bowl MVP. Two brother coaches, a power outage and an intentional safety... these are the things of inspirational movies; but they all really happened. Hopefully next years game will be just as interesting!
As time passes, and the most recent game indicates the Super bowl seems to just keep growing. In 2009 the super bowl had an average of 98.8 million people watching it at any given second. This game also featured ad space selling for over 3 million dollars. Each year the game seems to have more people tuning in just to watch the commercials as the game has become known for having some very “high concept” commercials. If they aren’t all “high concept” it can easily be agreed that they are however the funniest, wittiest and by far most expensive commercials of all time. What it comes down to is that the Super Bowl is a legend among Americans. Whether it’s the game, the commercials or just because it’s were the party is the viewership continues to grow and not shockingly, so does the money involved. There is simply no other event of this scale, airing with this regularity, drawing this much talent (athletes, advertisers, musicians, ect.) to even compete with the Super Bowl. As an example of this: In 1985 Ronald Reagan’s presidential inauguration was actually postponed to January 21st in deference to the big game. Making the Federal Government step back and wave you on? That is power.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

My Workout


This workout is designed for someone (me, as a matter of fact) who doesn't have more than a few hours a week to work out and limited access to fitness equipment. The sum total of my fitness equipment at home is one barbell, some weights and a heavy bag; and my time available to workout is limited to a maximum of 2-3 hours a week. This workout is designed to function as a "quick" option for weightlifters or a good, fast workout to maintain a higher fitness level when you don't have enough time for a limited time period, such as when on vacation or temporarily working extra hours.

So, if you have or are able to purchase one barbell, and can commit to one hour, several times a week, this workout will be perfect for you!

Warm up

To warm up, do a short, light run, probably about 15-20 minutes. Don't kill yourself here, it's not a race, just a way to get your blood pumping.
Also, once your run is completed make sure to stretch. Some examples:
Pull your arms (one at a time) across your body, holding your own shoulder, and hold for 20 seconds.
Pull your arms (one at a time) behind your head to your back, holding your elbow, and hold for 20 seconds.
Stretch your back by putting your knees on the ground, just more than shoulder width apart, and then reaching out with your hands as far as you can, hold for 30 seconds.
Stretch your legs by laying on the ground or a mat and pulling each leg in turn across your body, rotating your hips as you pull your leg across, hold for 20 seconds.
Slowly lower your body to one side (then the other), stretching out your right and left leg in turn, hold for 20 seconds.

The barbell

This is a very simple workout, all these exercises can be performed with a simple exercise mat and a one barbell, set and kept at one weight. My barbell is 85 lbs because that's what works for my fitness level, but you should adjust yours to whatever weight works best for you. Between sets and reps give yourself about 30-40 seconds of rest: but not more. This part of the workout should take no more than 25 minutes.

3 sets of 50 crunches
3 sets of 30 pushups
3 sets of 8 Cleans
3 sets of 12 curls
3 sets of 15 Standing rows
3 sets of 10 standing pullovers
3 sets of 15 shoulder-rolls
3 sets of 10 squats

Monday, December 16, 2013

The Enlightenment

Here is another paper I wrote for school that I really liked.

The enlightenment was a philosophical movement dedicated to personal freedom and knowledge seeking centered on the eighteenth century. The enlightenment espoused ideas ranging from sexual freedom to economic policy. One of the main focuses of the enlightenment period was increased social and political freedom as well as creating a more just society. Enlightenment thinkers such as Kant summed this up with the phrase “Have the Courage to Know!” Three areas that the enlightenment touched in an ultimately long lasting way were Economics and economic policy, the rights of women, and the relationship between the government and the people. The enlightenment laid the intellectual foundations for future liberal democracies.

            Adam smith’s The wealth of Nations was an influence book written about economic policy. In it, Smith’s argued for more economic freedom and a significant relaxing of regulation. Smith’s work laid the foundation for the liberal economic system that would eventually be called capitalism. He talks about economic concepts such as the division of labor, which was a radical turn at the time from the artisanal one-man-shop common in Europe since at least the Middle Ages. This book is remarkably modern seeming in its descriptions; probably because it is so foundational to western economic theory. Smith also talks about education; he details how factory life can cause a person’s intellect to suffer while eating all his time too. He recommends that before people start working they go to school and learn basic math, reading and writing. Once again, the idea of universal, government supported education is a very modern seeming one. At the time it was not an established institution however.
            Mary Wollstonecraft’s Vindication of the rights of woman was a book advocating equal rights for women in society. Wollstonecraft’s opinion is that while women may be physically inferior to men; they should not allow men to look at them as un-intellectual or simply as objects of sexual desire. She sums up exactly what she means by saying:

“If by this appellation men mean to inveigh against their ardour in hunting, shooting, and gaming, I shall most cordially join in the cry; but if it be against the imitation of manly virtues, or, more properly speaking, the attainment of those talents and virtues, the exercise of which ennobles the human character, and which raises females in the scale of animal being, when they are comprehensively termed mankind; - all those who view them with a philosophical eye must, I should think, wish with me, that they may every day grow more and more masculine."

            Basically she trying to say that she doesn’t think women need to act like men and engage in the same hobbies and interests; but that they should pursue what were at the time considered “male” virtues, such as physical courage, pursuing talents, and asserting oneself. Wollstonecraft’s ideas are very modern, and in fact are shadowed by how many women think today. It’s practically the basis of modern feminism; to be able to have a career, even one traditionally thought of as male-dominated, and at the same time still be a woman interested in the same things as other women and possibly also balancing children and a family with a career as well. The enlightenment is where the idea of equal rights for women took root. Her ideas are modern in the freedom she encourages women to grasp, but somewhat archaic too in that she identifies women as weaker then men, she just happens to think they should still be equal.
            Jean-Jacques Rousseau in The Social contract wrote about how a social contract was the basis for an operable society. In this book Rousseau’s social contract emphases how the contract is between all people in a society. Rousseau believed that society should best be run by what he calls “the general will.” The general will is, as Rousseau defined it the true will of society, basically society’s best interest; he did not equate this idea with the idea of voting or direct democracy however, because he saw the general will as the sovereignty of all the people and as exercising it’s power in the best interest of all the people. He says that the general will is enforced by everyone who makes up a portion of it, what he calls “the whole body politic.” Essentially, everyone forces you to obey the rules that everyone has agreed on. This idea is very modern; in fact, I would say modern society largely runs just like this. This idea is even more applicable when dealing with a modern liberal democracy of course, because in it there is a free press which hounds those who seems to be defying the “general will” and there are elections to remove politicians who defy it or reward those who follow it. Think about it like this; in modern western society, politicians who win their elections by a significant margin often take this to mean they have a “mandate” from the people to take some policy action which was a major focus of their campaign. This concept of the general will is essentially what they are invoking, they believe that they know what is both best for and desired by the society they govern.
            John Locke’s argues in the Second Treatise on Civil Government in a natural state people exist as a political unit all on their own, able to make all their own decisions and to execute judgment on those who defy their rights or hurt them. He says that you give up some of these rights by joining with other people in society and be protected by laws. However, he argues that the government exists entirely to serve the needs of the people and that the people can and should dispose of it if it stops properly serving the people’s needs. This is modern in the sense that it explains how being in a social unit with other people means you have to follow rules you might not like or do things you might not want to and also in the sense that he describes the government as existing to serve the people rather than the other way around.
            Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence echoes’ some of the thoughts  of John Locke, which is unsurprising considering he was attempting to justify armed rebellion. He argues that all men are created equal and have rights that are natural to them and not given to them by their government, and he then goes on to explain that if the government is not respecting these rights the people should dissolve it. He then goes on to details the specific abuses that the British government has committed against the colonies; he concludes the statement by declaring that the thirteen united colonies are severing all connections with the government of Great Britain and the King. This particular document is one of the foundations of the American nation, the first nation on earth which was a republic with a body politic encompassing all property-owning men and a written constitution. This was a huge step towards establishing liberal democracies all over the west.

            The enlightenment espoused many ideas that we now consider modern. In a really significant way the philosophes of the enlightenment were men and women ahead of their time. Though they lived in societies that were transitioning from feudal or quasi-feudal to early industrial, and most lived under the rule of absolutist monarchs or princes too; they were able to articulate and espouse ideas which were put into practice only much later by societies much freer and more “enlightened” than the ones they were born into.

On a side note, some Enlightenment inspired artwork!

                                                                             Washington Crossing the Delaware

Weimar's Courtyard of the Muses 

Lady Liberty

Saturday, December 14, 2013

How a mighty Republic became a dictatorship

Here is a paper I wrote for my Early Western History class about the fall of the Roman Republic and how and why it gave way to the Empire and the subsequent loss of political and eventually economic freedom. This lesson from history is instructive for anyone who is interested in maintaining liberty in a democratic society.  So here it is:

From Freedom to slavery

            The Roman Empire stands out to a modern person looking back. The sheer size of the empire compared to modern countries in Europe, as well as the treasure trove of monuments and other architectural marvels that remain even today make quite the impression. The imagery, pageantry, and drama of the empire have appeared in countless plays, movies, and books over the years. Impressive as this all is, the Empire, ruled by an autocratic “Tribune” built itself upon the foundation laid by the relatively free Republic of Rome. It is true that the republic had problems governing, especially outside of the Italian peninsula;[1] but despite these issues the Republic gave representation to every Roman citizen and had a legal system set up to create checks and balances in a shadow of the much later American system of government. [2] During the early Roman Empire, the people lost their voice in government; as a result personal freedom was considerably curtailed.  
            In the Roman Republic, control of the government was divided between the tribal assembly, which was composed of members of each “tribe” (tribe in this sense denoting a political division similar to how modern cities and states are broken up into “districts) and elected the lower magistrates; the Centuriate assembly, which was composed of Patricians (noblemen) dealt with military matters and elected the upper magistrates; and the Plebian Assembly, which was composed entirely of Plebeians, could pass legislation binding on the whole state; and then their was the senate, made up of wealthy patricians and some plebeians, it was technically an advisory body only, but practically it was the most powerful part of the government.[3]  The Roman republican system was far from perfect, the rich were heavily favored for advancement, slaves, women and those not of Roman birth had no chance at attaining the franchise. However, it was a government of the people; and even the poorest farm boy legally had a voice in the running of government.
In the Roman empire, control of the government was vested entirely with the emperor. Of course this was not done directly in the sense of the position of “emperor” being created. Instead, Octavian, renamed Augustus, referred to himself only as Princeps meaning “first citizen.” He was given the power of a Tribune for life. A Tribune was normally a temporary position and it made the bearer immune to prosecution, able to conduct business in the senate, and gave him the ability to legally interfere with and control legal and military affairs.[4] Essentially Augustus became a permanent dictator, even if it was cloaked in Republican terminology.
The Roman republic was a government controlled by the people. The Roman Empire was a government ultimately controlled by one man. How did the people of Rome feel about the loss of their freedom? It is a complicated question; Augustus achieved his position essentially by being popular with the military. Control of the military in ancient Rome meant control of the state as soldiers increasingly felt more connected to their general than to the government. [5] Caesar, and his heir Augustus, appealed to popular sentiment, especially among soldiers.  They sought to curtail the extravagance of the rich and banned many luxury items.[6] This was popular among the lower classes who did not care to see patricians riding in the streets on litters carried by slaves for example. At the same time, this moralizing, paternal kind of government helped to reinforce the emperor’s divine status. Tacitus remarks on the death of Augustus and ascension of Tiberius:

“Meanwhile at Rome people plunged into slavery- consuls, senators, knights. The higher a man’s rank, the more eager his hypocrisy, and his looks the more carefully studied, so as neither to betray joy at the decease of one emperor nor sorrow at the rise of another…” (Tacitus, “The Annals”)

            It was not just political freedom that fell by the wayside in imperial Rome. As mentioned above, the emperor held complete control over everything that happened in the empire. He controlled the army, he controlled the government, and he did everything he could to control people’s daily lives too. This caused the perspective of people to shift: in the Republic, every man had some say in government, some vague control over his own destiny and the destiny of his country. Now it was the decision of the emperor that guided the hand of Rome. Any Roman citizen was now subject to the emperor and he had no real rights despite the pretense kept up by the first few Roman Emperors. [7] Now anyone who wanted to participate did so by befriending the emperor; the rich and noble had to be careful, as illustrated in the quote from Tacitus above, not to seem disloyal to the emperor in any way. A man who did not have the emperor’s favor could easily see his career cut short; and if he was unfortunate enough to displease the aspiring demi-god he could see his life cut short as well.
               The worst part about the new Roman Empire was imperial succession.  The empire came about in the first place because the military decided it wanted a popular general in charge. This pattern did not diminish, and the next emperor was often selected by the military, especially the Praetorian Guard. “The soldiery of the capital, who were imbued with the spirit of an old allegiance to the Caesars, and who  had been led to desert Nero by intrigues and influences from without rather than by their own feelings, were inclined for change” (Tacitus, “The Histories”) This manner of succession led to numerous civil wars and tore the Roman empire apart.
               It could fairly be said that the greatest failing of the Roman Republic was that it gave far too much power to its generals. This is what caused the fall of the republic after all; the soldiers were willing to use force to make their favored general the head of government. This problem persisted into the Roman Empire and only got worse and worse. This social trend first caused the world’s foremost republic to fall into dictatorship, and eventually caused it to rip itself apart. The Empire only made this problem worse by turning itself into practically a police state which tried to regulate everything from foreign policy to what sort of dinner plate people were allowed to use. [8] This sort of absolute power that belonged to the emperor meant that the people were no beholden to one man instead of a government of their peers. This loss of personal and political freedom caused people to pander to the emperor and his agents to retain whatever freedom they could; causing a fundamental shift in the dynamics of Roman culture. The loss of the Roman Republic meant the loss of political, and then personal freedom for the bulk of the populace.


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[1] Freeman pg. 35
[2] abid. pg. 361
[3] abid pg. 45-46
[4] Levack et al. pg. 170
[5] Freeman pg. 361
[6] abid. Pg. 337
[7] Tacitus “The Annals”
[8] Freeman pg. 337