An Avalanche of Scholarship – Flood tide at the Augean Stables, more on the dialectic of “culture counts” and the revolution in civil polity in medieval Europe

A torrent of scholarship cleanses the Augean Stables [The Twelve Labors of Hercules, 1808, colorized by Atani]

Turn your back for one moment and you find yourself three or four posts behind the power curve.

It seems in the last week since my previous post,  Landes, Landes, Taleb and MemeMerchants, that there has been an avalanche of scholarship over at TheAugeanStables.  My previous post noted the recent congruencies between this blog and Prof. Richard Landes and his blog TheAugeanStables, regarding some ideas about the dialectic of “cultural capital” and “societies that make things vs societies that take things”, the current bit torrent over at TheAugeanStables greatly expands the previous enterprise into interesting and new dimensions about the origin of civil polity in the West.

Two days ago I noticed that Prof. Richard Landes had posted a second in a series of articles at his blog, regarding the fallout from the recent “culture counts” controversy surrounding US Presidential candidate Mitt Romney over remarks he made during a recent visit to Israel, for which he received wide spread criticism, especially from Palestinians who felt slighted by Mr. Romney’s remarks.

Yesterday I posted a comment there and then set to working that idea up into a new post here.  As I was getting set to post that article here, I noticed that I had in missed the real second article in the series over at Landes’ blog and I had actually read article number three, and that as I was typing he had posted two new articles.

Needless to say I wound up scrapping the article I had just written and spent the rest of the afternoon playing a very interested game of catch up.  Usually with TheAugeanStables, posts are infrequent enough that I only stop by once a week or so and expect to have a couple of days to think about an article before I make any comments.  That plan got shot out of the water this week.  There’s a lot to digest here, I’m not sure how long it will take me to work myself up to a comment.

It is not Meme Merchants policy to ‘reblog’ other peoples blog articles here, but we will strongly suggest you follow the links below to Prof. Landes’ blog and read his series through from start to finish, it’s a ‘must read’ in my opinion – unless you happen to be a very well read and scholarly medievalist already.  You probably didn’t get any of this in your undergrad survey courses on the subject[s].

I will also confirm that David Landes, professor emeritus of economics at Harvard and author of The Wealth and Poverty of Nations, and which figured prominently in the controversy, is Richard Landes’ father.

1] The original July 31st article:  Romney cites David Landes, offends Palestinians…

2] The 1st follow-up article: Zakaria on Capitalism vs. Culture: Master of the Question mal posée

3] The 2nd follow-up article:  Acemoglu and Robinson contrast culture with institutions

4] The 3rd follow-up article:  Demotic Religiosity and Economic Growth

5] The 4th follow-up article:  Cultures of Development, Cultures of Impoverishment: WSJ Op-ed – [notes on his currently embargoed Op-ed piece from The Wall Street Journal]

Here are a few random bits from comments of mine that you might want to keep in your head as you read.

From my comment on the 2nd follow-up

Commentor Walter Sobchak wrote:

Dear Professor Landes:

I read this article in the NYTimes today:

“Israel’s Fading Democracy” By Avraham Burg in the NYTimes on August 5, 2012 at page SR5.

It struck me as being a distillation of several themes you have written about, and I would appreciate your comments on it.

I responded:

I read Walter S’s link to Avraham Burg [in the New York Times], and would also be interested in Richard’s thoughts, especially on the Israeli constitutional issue.

Myself, I was first struck by the complete absence of mention of Palestinian participation in the dynamic, a kind of totalization of Masochistic Omnipotent Complex – as Richard terms it – which I’ve always called, “Treating the Palestinians like pets.”

Burg’s MOC seems to be so complete that one has to wonder if there isn’t an even deeper psychological complex lurking beneath that, namely an unconscious recognition that the Palestinian intransigence is so rigid that you can no longer think about them as being part of any realistic solution. I’m not sure if that’s the case, but I wonder.

There is a kind of dialectic going on between the two cultures, Israeli and Palestinian, a pretty dysfunctional one to be sure, but you can’t even begin to discuss how to improve the dialectic if you completely ignore the contributions of one of the participants to the process.

I was also thinking that another way to look at the I-P conflict is that Israel is defeating the Palestinians with prosperity. The short sighted strategy of Palestinians in diverting all available resources to maintaining some kind face saving offensive action against Israel is assuring that they will never succeed, unless they can get Israel to surrender unilaterally [possible it seems].

On another note.

I’m not sure Acemoglu and Robinson’s argument is very convincing where they argue against Landes, at least in the examples they use.

You could look at China’s pre-Deng crazy, reality denying communist economic and political institutions as a kind of lid on top of Chinese culture, remove the lid [or replace the cast iron lid with a perforated lid] and the natural inclinations of a culture start to operate more normally. The two Koreas may also not be a great example, I don’t know about Korean society in particular, but based on the antebellum differences in economic culture north and south of the Mason Dixon Line, such a difference is at least possible. In any case, in the lead up to the Korean War, pretty much anyone who was capable of showing any daring, risk taking, and initiative FLED to the south, a kind of instant cultural sieve. Then the cast iron lid went on the North Korean culture and hasn’t been removed since. You also cannot overlook the kind of intense cultural changes that did take place after the war due to South Korean contact with Western economies – bad example in my book.

Third thought, and slightly off topic, it just came to me as I was reading the discussion. Does “cheap labor” represent some kind of a “resource curse” for countries like China? Meaning, rather than the Chinese workforce being used effectively as “cultural capital” is it just being ‘mined’, ‘exploited’ and ‘consumed’ as an available resource in exactly the way an abundance of coal, iron or oil is exploited – to the detriment of other sectors of the economy?

Having kind of missed the boat, on three articles in the series, Prof. Landes, does go on to elaborate upon these very questions.   Read for yourself.  It’s probably not light reading for most of us, they are probably the most heavily footnoted blog articles I’ve seen in a while, but they do genuinely raise the bar in the discussion.  You will also really want to peruse some of the hyper-linked articles, also very informative.

Good luck with your reading.



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