Victor Davis Hanson Private Papers

Tag Archives: Classics

What Drives Vladimir Putin?

Aggressors often attack weaker neighbors to restore a sense of pride. 

by Victor Davis Hanson // National Review Online 

Vladimir Putin’s Russia is a disaster of a declining population, corruption, authoritarianism, a warped economy, and a high rate of alcoholism.

Photo by:  www.kremlin.ru.

Photo by: www.kremlin.ru.

Why, then, would Putin want to ruin additional territory in Crimea and Ukraine the way that he has wrecked most of Russia?

 Doesn’t Russia have enough land for its diminishing population? Are there not enough minerals, timber, gas, and oil for Putin’s kleptocrats?

In the modern age, especially since Karl Marx, we rationalize the causes of wars as understandable fights over real things, like access to ports, oil fields, good farmland, and the like. Yet in the last 2,500 years of Western history, nations have just as often invaded and attacked each other for intangibles. The historian Thucydides wrote that the classical Athenians had won and kept their empire mostly out of “fear, honor, and self-interest.”

Maybe that was why most battles in ancient Greece broke out over rocky and mountainous borderlands. Possession of these largely worthless corridors did not add to the material riches of the Spartans, Thebans, or Athenians. But dying for such victories did wonders for their national pride and collective sense of self.

Why did the Argentine dictatorship invade the British Falkland Islands in 1982? The great Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges dismissed the entire Argentine–British dispute over the isolated, windswept rocks as a pathetic fight between “two bald men over a comb.”

Taking the “Malvinas” apparently was critical to restoring the Argentine dictatorship’s lost pride. In contrast, the descendants of Lord Nelson were not about to allow a few peacock generals to insult the honor of the British Royal Navy.

Doesn’t China have enough land without starting a beef with Japan over the uninhabited Senkaku Islands? While there may be some oil in the vicinity, apparently both sides see these desolate mountainous islets as symbols of more important issues of national prestige and will. Lose the Senkaku Islands and what larger island goes next? Read more →

The Death of the Humanities

A liberal arts education was once a gateway to wisdom; now it can breed ignorance and arrogance.

by Victor Davis Hanson // Defining Ideas 

The humanities are in their latest periodic crisis. Though the causes of the

Moyan_Brenn via Flickr

Moyan_Brenn via Flickr

ongoing decline may be debated, everyone accepts the dismal news about eroding university enrollments, ever fewer new faculty positions, the decline in majors, and the lack of jobs for humanities graduates. Less than 8% of current BA degrees are awarded to humanities majors. The New York Times recently reported that while 45% of the undergraduate faculty at Stanford teach in the humanities, only 15% of the students major in them.

Of course, the numbers of humanities majors have been in decline since the 1970s. But what seems different today is that the humanities are less sacrosanct in the university. Literature, philosophy, and art are no longer immune from budget cuts by virtue of their traditional intrinsic value to the university. Either Read more →

An American Satyricon

Our elites would be right at home in Petronius’s world of debauchery and bored melodrama.

by Victor Davis Hanson // National Review Online

Sometime in the mid-first century a.d., an otherwise little known consular official, Gaius Petronius, wrote a brilliant satirical novel about the gross and pretentious new Roman-imperial elite. The Satyricon is an often-cruel parody about how the Roman agrarian republic of old had degenerated into a wealth-obsessed, empty society of wannabe new elites, flush with money, and both obsessed with and bored with sex. Most of the Satyricon is lost. But in its longest surviving chapter — “Dinner with Trimalchio” — Petronius might as well have been describing our own 21st-century nomenklatura.

For the buffoonish libertine guests of the host Trimalchio, food and sex are in such surfeit that they have to be repackaged in bizarre and Read more →

How Hollywood Has Ruined Sex

by Bruce S. Thornton // Acculturated.com

 

In the early 80s my mom and her sister dropped by our condo while my wife and I were watching Payday on HBO. (If you’re unfamiliar with this movie and Rip Torn’s brilliant performance, just think Crazy Heart for Hollywood_Signgrown-ups.) They happened to come in during a scene in which Rip Torn’s girlfriend is sitting up in bed bare-breasted. The ladies, Italians raised Catholic in rural California during the 30s, looked at the screen, looked at each other, and simultaneously said in a shocked voice, “Whaaa?” Read more →

Needed: A Tragic Hero

In good times, the larger-than-life figure is an affront; in crisis, he is necessary.

by Victor Davis Hanson // National Review Online

Tragic heroes — from Sophocles’ Ajax and Antigone to the Western films’ Shane and Woodrow Call — can be defined in a variety of ways. But the searcherscommon archetype is a larger-than-life figure. He is endowed with extraordinary gifts and sometimes even more monumental flaws. Fate decrees that even his departure or self-destruction will be memorable.

Read more →

Nemesis, After All

by Victor Davis Hanson

PJ Media

A Plodding Goddess

Like a broken record, for the last five years I have invoked the Greek concept of Nemesis, or divine retribution for unchecked hubris, to explain what was in store for the Obama administration. Read more →

Book Review: The Savior Generals – The Tough Who Got Going

by Mark Moyar

Wall Street Journal

For a police chief, keeping the streets of Beverly Hills safe will probably never qualify as an act of great leadership, if only because the task itself lacks a certain degree of difficulty. Read more →

Why Read Old Books?

by Victor Davis Hanson

PJ Media

We all know the usual reasons why we are prodded to read the classics — moving characters, seminal ideas, blueprints of our culture, and paradigms of sterling prose and poetry. Then we nod and snooze. Read more →

Modern Wisdom from Ancient Minds

by Victor Davis Hanson

PJ Media

The Tragic View

Of course we can acquire a sense of man’s predictable fragilities from religion, the Judeo-Christian view in particular, or from the school of hard knocks. Losing a grape crop to rain a day before harvest, or seeing a warehouse full of goods go up in smoke the week before their sale, or being diagnosed with leukemia on the day of a long-awaited promotion convinces even the most naïve optimist that the world sort of works in tragic ways that we must accept, but do not fully understand. Read more →

T-Ball War in the Middle East

by Victor Davis Hanson

Tribune Media Services

Classical explanations of conventional wars run something like this: An aggressor state seeks political advantage through military force. It has a hunch that the threatened target will likely either make concessions to avoid losing a war, or, if war breaks out, the resulting political gains will be worth the military costs to achieve victory. Read more →

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