Unlike Volume 1, with its focus on Plato, I’m a bit less familiar with the material here – largely Hegel and Marx – so it can be a bit hard to know how to take Popper when he goes off on one. As ever, he’s a very convincing writer but often drifts into his own take on things. Hegel, he doesn’t like at all – taking a view from Schopenhauer for much of it. Popper dismisses him as a charlatan and a fraud deliberately prophesying whatever his employer Prussia wanted. We get a bit on Aristotle too (he doesn’t much like him either).
The book improves as the author starts to tackle Marx – he doesn’t necessarily agree with him but he seems to respect the talent with which he deals with the material and the dire social situation that spurred him to do his writing. He picks out some of the flaws in Marx’s work rather skilfully – the inability to factor in that democracy and compromise could dilute capitalism and improve life for the workers.
Where Marx like the others seemed to get caught in the predictions of his model, Popper finds a core of rationalism. At other points though, Popper deals with issues that seem somewhat tangential or nitpicking – Marx as anti-psychologism in sociology, his views on materialism. It’s clear that the criticisms often aren’t of Marxism as such as it became, but of the actual philosophy of Marx and this means that they occasionally feel like a contribution to an argument that no one else cares about.
Towards the end of the book Popper gets back to his familiar topic of historicism, rationalism and reason: constantly pushing for a middle ground and for the role of liberal democracy in improving a world without a plan or destiny. It’s an enjoyable, if very uneven read.
I first heard of this book around fifteen years ago on Channel 4’s Football Italia. It had nothing to do with the former Watford and A.C Milan striker, but in the UK that connection did get it in the media as a bizarre “and finally” style story. This Luther Blissett is (or was) a collective of Italian anarchist writers who used the name as a anonymous group nom de plume for their works (“Anyone can be Luther Blissett simply by adopting the name Luther Blissett”).
The premise of the book, however, did interest me. The Reformation. Revolting Peasants. Prophetic Anabaptist preachers. Scheming bankers. The intrigue of the medieval catholic church. Much of this is not fiction – the book follows a character through the German Peasants’ War, the Munster Rebellion, and fringe groups of the reformation in Antwerp and Venice. He changes his name several times and, perhaps, becomes harder and more cynical.
These changes do feel natural. Although the chapters are short and the book skips quickly through its thirty year time span, the character and his path are shown, not told. Life as a protestant radical is given the feeling of a left wing political movement, an anarchist protest, or occasionally a football crowd. The atmosphere of the book throughout the Munster rebellion is fantastic with hope for a brighter future drifting into despair and terror as Jan Matthys finally arrives.
At times the blending of anti-capitalism and religion is a little heavy handed. I felt that Imprimatur by Monaldi & Sorti (another Italian novel from the same time) featured the murky dealings of the church’s agents with more subtlety. I wouldn’t hold that against it, it feels very suited to the radical hero of the book. The final showdown with Q, a papal spy and the main antagonist, feels like a little bit of an anti-climax; but I suspect that was only because the journey to that point was so enjoyable.
The authors behind Luther Blissett have since changed their name to Wu Ming, and I look forward to reading more of their work!
I picked this up from my local library recently for a holiday to Berlin. As it turns out, there’s maybe not a whole lot of relevancy for such a city break – Berlin has been so rebuilt from the time of old Prussia in both physical form and outlook; and, in any case, the history of Prussia was always dominated by the fringes. The eastern Dukedom that provided the name and the old military Junker families is now back in Polish hands, and the rest of German has found an easier, less Prussian, form of German unification. It was however a fascinating book.
With the reputation that Prussian has, I was expecting fairly blunt military history but Clark delicately covers the social, religious and economic aspects of history too. We don’t just get the monarchs (inevitably called either William or Frederick, sometimes both) and the aristocrats, but also the working people – both native Prussians and minorities, often Polish or Jewish. Packing all this in, the book is a big one. It is not, however, heavy going – Clark writes accessibly, even on the more difficult topics.
As Prussia forms and leads a unified Germany, the book could become more of a standard history of the World Wars. Thankfully, Clark finds his own angle on this. Alongside the main narrative of the rise of the Nazi Party, for instance, we see the Prussian state dominated by the Social Democrats. Throughout the book, there were a lit of similar bits, previously unknown to me, that came together to help explain the path that Prussia took through history. It may not have quite been the perfect holiday book, but I really enjoyed this.