A bit dissapointed to not see here The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity by David Graeber and David Wengrow, which also tries relatively well in my opinion, to dispel the myth of social development starting with prehistory, and that the hierarchical construct we have built four ourselves slowly and using innordinate amount of force and bloodshed for the past 5,000 years is very different from the diverse types of societies that existed not too long ago around the world.

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A full list would be good!

I used to consider myself very well read on world affairs and history, but in recent years I've come to realize how flawed my choices were and how much I was led astray by my reliance on 'what everyone was reading', not to mention my lack of language skills. Some problems in the literature are just a matter of groupthink and sourcing - I now know that pretty much every book on WWII in Europe written prior to the opening up of Soviet sources is fundamentally wrong, and much the same applies to WWI and much writing on colonialism. And of course it is extremely important to be selective when reading western writers on topics including Africa and much of Asia, there is a vast amount of misleading or over-ideological junk filling up bookshelves. In some respects things are getting worse - I've noticed that in the past couple of years ago quite a few academic writers on Russia and China have retreated to the career saving option of simply regurgitating what they are supposed to write, even though many appear to know full well that they are essentially lying about what they know. Its all very disappointing.

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Thank you! How did you put it? “Been There and Done That” – in that spirit, and from a different domain, I would suggest Fyodor Dostoevsky’s *Notes from the Underground* and *The Brothers Karamazov*. I would say that Dostoyvsky was as much a seismographer of the changes after ‘the death of God’, as was Nietzsche.

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I think that my only caveat to this listing is that if you are my age, you realize that you should have been more diligent in the past.

In my humble opinion, I would argue that the first step would be found in your paragraph positing that the way we think "now" is not the way that people thought "then". I fully agree that Timaeus and Jaynes will give folks a great deal to think about.

The past holds up a mirror that allows us to see the warts and disfigurement of what we have become.

Machiavelli is always seen as distasteful, because he points out that the "better angels of our nature" are a mythology, and Nietzsche always is unpopular because it violates our most cherished belief that humanity is better now than it was then.

Lots to ponder here. Thanks again for taking time to write these. I truly appreciate your efforts.

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Nov 2, 2023·edited Nov 2, 2023

Why do you think slave trade in MENA & Eastern Europe is the same as what USA did? Isn't that horrible ( along with justifications etc.,) compared to this trade including the scale of it ? CIA didn't set up ISIS but USA collaborated with Al-Qaeda in Syria.

Tell what will BLM accomplish ? Will police won't kill black people in future? Why is it a a splash of cold water : what Nietzsche said about morality? Isn't Christian morals in europe or other religious morals in other parts of world sustained and violated by powerful ( aristocracies & now elites)?

Colonization: Between aristocracies as people are not relevant in age of kings, Elites( aristocratic etc.,) in colonial countries were horrified with the treatment meted out to them as Europeans treated them like they treated their lower classes and europeans also took away material resources which enriched them previously. Ofcourse now there are comprador elites as USA implemented " elites of world unite" since the cold war which is why I think USA allowed immigration from 1970's if u exclude humanitarian ones

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It took over 20 years for Basil Davidson's magisterial series AFRICA to appear on YouTube. Highly recommended in more ways than one. I am so happy you mentioned him in your essay. Thank you.

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Long ago I read David Froomkin and saved this quote:

“In the rest of the world European political assumptions are so taken for granted that nobody thinks about them anymore; but at least one of these assumptions, the modern belief in secular civil government, is an alien creed in a region most of whose inhabitants, for more than a thousand years, have avowed faith in a Holy Law that governs all of life, including government and politics.”

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I would love to read your list of books to help me navigate "the degenerate, Kafkaesque, tragic farce of western civilisation today". Lovely writing, thank you. I need to avoid sinking further into the Slough of Despond...

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Just a short text by a young Italian professor, Lorenzo Castellani, who summarizes with respect to the topic we are interested in here, the thought of Henry Kissinger, through some of his books, indeed especially through the last one in particular, 'Leadership'.

Here is the original link, and below is a translation of mine:



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Dear Aurelien,

Thank you very much. I read your article first thing on Saturday morning and spent time over the weekend thinking about it and following up on your recommendations. As always, many aspects are highly interesting. Perhaps the most enlightening perspective for me was the consideration that a combination of experience and the ability to verbalise it intelligibly and concisely might be a pretty rare gift: "I've Been There and Done That". Just reading something doesn't help you understand the world better. Choosing authors carefully, taking into account how authentic they are, and then investing time in reading them is definitely a good approach, thank you for your many recommendations. Biography and experience is part of being a thinking person.

Intuitively, I have been following this approach for many years. I call it the " Guru Approach". Once you have identified a "Guru" in a particular area of interest, it helps you to take an "I've Been There and Done That" perspective. The languages I speak and read, with the corresponding percentages of reading in each language in parentheses, are as follows: Russian (5%) is my mother tongue, German (25%), English (30%) and French (40%). Having spent most of my life in a German-speaking environment, German is something like my second mother tongue. The list of my "gurus" is quite long, including Alexander Kluge and Jürgen Habermas, who are friends with each other. While I agree with Alexander Kluge in every respect in his interviews on the conflict in Ukraine, I was more than disappointed by Jürgen Habermas' articles.

He has written several articles on the subject that have been heavily criticised in the mainstream media for not reflecting the main message. For example, he made a clear distinction between the possibility for Ukraine to protect itself and the fight against Russia. However, I disagree with him on many aspects, but it would take too long to explain this in a comment. While reading your article, I had to reflect on my disappointment with Habermas' articles. Being an intellectual does not qualify a person in all areas of social and political life. I certainly question the opinions of my Gurus. The most interesting thing is always not to seek confirmation of one's own opinion, but to be convinced of the opposite of what one thinks and thus to question and possibly change one's own opinion. A balance between confirmation and confrontation with one's own opinion makes reading enjoyable, which is what I often feel with your articles.

Thank you once again,


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Garrett Mattingly, "Renaissance Diplomacy", 1955.


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I would like to express my gratitude for your effort! Learned a lot from reading your post, especially your eagerness for syntopical reading. Of course, everyone could add dozens of books. That is good news actually, since it demonstrates remnants of critical thinking. Thank you for reminding us of the power of reflection.

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I was rather taken with your magical portrayal of "the Greek mind", so to speak, as god-haunted in a way different from later religious experience. But even limited exposure to, say St John of the Cross, or for that matter just reading the Koran or Jeremiah/ Ezekiel / Ecclesiasticus suggests that they were not in that sense really unique and latter equivalents are not hard to find (cf. G.M. Hopkins, for instance),. Yes, there are senses in which "the Greek mind" is indeed different, whether one looks at the plays, Aristophanes as well as Sopholus and Aeschycles (and the poems - and the built remains !); or at the organisation of different states; or at the astonishing universalism of many thinkers. But I am not sure that cosmogony can account for it all

While your appraisal of late mediaeval or Renaissance thinking as again ineffably incomprehensible suffers from the same problem, of what is to the human mind ineffable, or to steal a description from a friend of a furry friend, effanineffable. Detailed analysis of how later mediaeval Europe actually worked (e.g Bloch, R.H. Hilton) suggest that people were very like ourselves, just constrained by an impossible system, economic as well as the theocratic one. Yes, Chaucer's cosmogony differs from our own (though not many creatively writing diplomats and customs agents would have written a treatise on the Astrolabe) But you cannot assume that because in the Legend of Good Women he censures the Romaunt of the Rose that he necessarily believed in either: that indeed is not how writers work. Of course understandings change: As has been noted, Johnson perplexedly discerned of Shakespeare, that "he seems to write without any moral purpose": but do any of us think that ? If you seek to understand the significance of the difference in beliefs, then perhaps Montaigne is your best guide.

Later you return to what I take to be your main concern, the dominance of a "rational, liberal, materialist and managerial society". And at that point, after helpful pointers in the philosophical sphere, you shake the stick of the failure of human thinking and perhaps the crozier of religion but let them fall, and offer no direct propositions for the future.: I suppose that is probably correct in an essay such as this, even supposing you can go further.

But you are immensely helpful, as you seem to have studied not only much more politics than I have but also areas of philosophy that I have not explored. To your list I would only suggest adding e.g. for anyone who wants to go beyond Baggini, R.L.Kirkham's Theories of truth. and to "development" I would supplement Ha-Joon Chang's Bad Samaritans with his splendid Kicking away the ladder. And thank you.

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Might I suggest "The History of the Peloponnesian War" by Thucydides, in particular, "The Melian Dialogue" (open access on the Web), "Moral Man and Immoral Society: A Study in Ethics and Politics" by Reinhold Niebuhr, Robert Ardrey's Nature of Man Series, especially the first two books: "African Genesis" and "The Territorial Imperative", and "The True and Only Heaven: Progress and Its Critics" by Christopher Lasch.

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Dorian Lynskey, not Dorian Lynsey.

I am old enough to remember him writing much of Varsity with Alexis Petridis. :-)

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