The End of the Nation-State

The nation-state is coming to its end. And thank god for that.

For five hundred years, since the emergence of Spain and England as more than a collection of defeated princedoms and duchies but coherent entities with shared customs, religions, allegiances, and language, the nation-state has been the way most societies have ordered their politie

Indeed, nowadays there are as many as 195 recognized states in the United Nations, but many of those are known as failed states–Somalia, Haiti, Syria, and Yemen, for example—and one organization that measures such things, a Fund for Peace think tank in America, found in 2023 that two dozen others are so fragile that they cannot provide a full range of basic state functions, plus another 84 that have one or more warning signs of failure. In other words, the arrangement of government by nations that the West has foisted on the world has not been much of a success, in view of the fact that in fully 64 per cent there is no fully cohesive state and in many of the others either internal or external pressures have eroded the essentials of such a state.

But we don’t have to go traipsing around to find the best example: it is here. The America of 2024 could no longer be called a nation, in the sense of a common culture, common loyalties, common beliefs, common religion, common ideology, common vision, common allegiance, or even common language.  It does not have a common agreement on what marriages should be or how many genders there are (ABC news in 2024 counted 53 in use), or what the country’s history has been or even what year it started, or what constitutes a crime; it does not have a working system for public education in any state; it does not even have defended borders, the minimum task that a civil body must fulfill to be a nation.

People might move around as usual, some facades in the Washington Potemkin village might still be standing, but the core, the nation that was supposed to be at the heart of it all, is slowly vanishing.  In the U. S., as in most European countries, loyalty to nation has quietly withered away, to be replaced by loyalty to a cause, a race, a religion, a job, an ideology, or simply a market. Patriotism is for posing politicians.

Public confidence in the institutions of the nation is at an all-time low, with those professing great or a lot of trust in the Supreme Court at 27 per cent, the Presidency 26 per cent and the Congress 8 per cent;  the three branches of government in America muster trust from less than a quarter of its people, what we might dismiss caustically as “like a Third-World country.” Other areas fare hardly better:  newspapers gain only 18 per cent and TV news 14 per cent; banks, public schools and organized labor earn 26 per cent. In fact taken all together, only a little over a quarter of the American public can muster confidence in any of the systems and organizations that run their lives. They do not trust them.

It comes as no surprise then, to know that rates of suicide, alcohol use, and drugs are at all-time highs in 2024.  Suicide rates have increased every year of the 21st century, standing at more than 50,000 people in 2024—and here’s the indicator of the depth of the problem: the large majority of them are white men, and many of those in the 55 to 70 age range, just the population that should be running the country; the other large group were adolescents, just the population that should be inheriting it.  Drug deaths—not suicides, accidents—are running about 110,000 in these past few years, a great many from fentanyl, originating in China (which was simultaneously poisoning American youth through TikTok), and opioids, legal and illegal.  Alcohol “use disorder” (addiction, sickness) affected almost 30 million Americans, and more than 140,000 died each year.  Two-thirds of all adults then were either addicted to drugs or liquor or had someone in the family who was—that’s around 175 million people, an astounding figure.

The American economy is teetering, no matter what Jerome Powell professes, with the American dollar threatened abroad by the rise of the growing BRICS alliance using other currencies –Brazil, Russia, India, China, and now with Saudi Arabia and theUnited Arab Emirates—and the national debt crippling faith in the Federal Reserve system at home.  Month by month it has gotten through the post-pandemic years, largely dependent on creative fiddling by the hedge-fund-and-big-bank accord rather than manufacturing or production of anything, but the basic sickness of the economy was immune to healing.  No one could be confident that the teetering was going to end, and almost everyone realized that the national instruments, including Congress and the Presidency, were helpless—and the national debt, at the bottom of it all, was an astounding $34 trillion, and mounting every year.

In the March 2024 issue of Chronicles magazine, its managing editor wondered that no one was talking about observing the 250th anniversary of the country’s birth in 2026, although the Bicentennial in 1976 was a much-ballyhooed event with large public support.  No one. “Perhaps,” she said, “Americans don’t want to take part in the hypocrisy of celebrating the ‘birthday’ of an already dead regime….I don’t mean that the country called the United States no longer exists. I mean that its soul has been drained out…

“We cannot, rightly, call this doppelganger going by the name ‘United States of America’ the same regime as the regime of our founders. Celebrating the occasion of America’s birth as if it had not already slipped away and become something else is to take part in a lie.”

As in the U.S., so in most of the other nations of the West, including those of Europe.  No country was without its “populist” uprising, consisting of those left out of the “neoliberal” techno-economy of the 21st century whose earnings hadn’t even kept up with inflation.  What little remained of borders in the European Union were shattered by waves of mass migration from the Middle East and Africa in the 2010’s, and as in America common cultural, linguistic, and religious ties were overwhelmed, and nationalism as a unifying ideal ceased to exist.

On top of it all, an organization centered in Davos, Switzerland, the World Economic Forum, had been working since the 1970’s with considerable financial clout to create a world managed by multinational corporations and non-governmental organizations, working toward a “Great Reset” in which there would be a “General Redesign of Power” and centralized property ownership—in other words, a world government  without nations—or borders—at all.  It has great influence at the World Health Organization, where a new Pandemic Treaty threatens nation sovereignty, and the World Bank, failing in its attempts to sustain nations everywhere, and it has globalist allies in important positions throughout the richer nations.

The death of the nation state may not come with a bang, and its last, declining whimpers may take a few more years to be final.  But the patient is dying, and every sign is that its final days are near. It served its usefulness for quite some time, but it’s proven useless now. Requiem for a long time in pace.

This Should Be Required Reading In Every U.S. History Course

Don’t Miss The Political Truths That Nobody Wants To Know

Joe Biden and Abe Lincoln — The Similarities Are Uncanny

By Kevin Orlin Johnson, Ph.D.

May 27, 2024

Looking up at the sculpture of Abraham Lincoln at the Lincoln Memorial

Headlines are so contentious these days, even vicious, one way or the other.  But, in fairness, nobody can rightly say that Joe Biden is the first president in our history to weaponize federal agencies to censor political speech, or even to indict or imprison his political opponents.  Abraham Lincoln was.

Most Americans find it hard to reconcile that with everything else that we’ve learned about Lincoln.  But in fact there’s a long train of abuses across the Lincoln administration, with ample documentation that’s always been available — just ignored.  A good place to start is John A. Marshall’s American Bastile:  A History of the Illegal Arrests and Imprisonment of American Citizens in the Northern and Border States on Account of Their Political Opinions During the Late Civil War (Philadelphia 1883).

Then there are the private letters, diaries, and memoirs that relate how the Lincoln administration posted armed troops at the polling places across the North, ready to arrest anybody who picked up a Democrat ballot.  How Lincoln soldiers kicked in the doors of opposition candidates at midnight and dragged them away to military prisons a thousand miles away, without charge or habeas corpus, leaving Republicans to run unopposed.  How they smashed the presses of opposition — or even just accurate — newspapers.  Posted armed guards in churches to ensure that only the sermons written by the Secretary of War were proclaimed from the pulpit — and pistol whipped any clergyman who strayed, dragging him bloody through the congregation and off to those same distant prisons.

Well, even the standard histories of the time tell how the administration cut off the South’s trade with all parts of the world, and declared themselves invested with power to legislate in all cases whatsoever.  How they affected to render the military independent of and superior to the civil power, keeping among Americans, North and South, standing armies, quartering large bodies of armed troops in people’s houses, protecting soldiers from punishment even for murder while depriving citizens of the benefits of trial by jury — took away our charters, abolished our most valuable laws, and altered fundamentally the forms of our governments — plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people — in short, how the Lincoln administration combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our Constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws, running through practically the whole list of grievances in the Declaration of Independence four score and seven years before.

Best documented and most outrageous, there’s the overlooked case of Clement Vallandigham, sitting Representative of Ohio, arrested, imprisoned, tried by a military tribunal on vacant charges and transported contrary to the First Amendment and Art. I Sec. 6 (“The Senators and Representatives shall … be privileged from Arrest during their Attendance at the Session of their respective Houses, and … for any Speech or Debate in either House, they shall not be questioned in any other Place”, you know).  But his was only one of thousands of such cases — all of them in the North, where the Lincoln administration still had its civil authority, and most in states that had voted the Party into office, where state and local officials wouldn’t interfere.

Of course, like Biden and Carter and quite a few other recent incumbents, Lincoln had very little idea of what was being wrought in his name.  His handlers had chosen him as a candidate explicitly because they themselves were too well known to be electable and he was a complete non-entity.  His brief but famous speeches were written by others to be read off under strict orders to never speak extemporaneously.  Nobody attended his posted cabinet meetings; his secretaries ignored his scattershot and usually trivial orders, and normally Secretary of State William H. Seward told the president what was going to be done, or really what had been done.

Most interesting in that line, there’s Seward’s troubling “Some thoughts for the President’s consideration” of April 1, 1861.

“My system is built upon this idea as a ruling one,” Seward wrote, “namely that we must Change the question before the Public from one upon Slavery, or about Slavery for a question upon Union or Disunion.”

In other words, from what would be regarded as a Party question to one of Patriotism or Union

The occupation or evacuation of Fort Sumter, although not in fact a slavery, or a party question is so regarded

I would therefore terminate it as a safe means for changing the issue.

Lincoln replied that same day:  “I do not perceive how the re-inforcement of Fort Sumpter would be done on a slavery, or party issue”.  So they changed it.

Well, clearly, if you can’t do what you want to do in your war on the pretext of slavery — if you can change the pretext for your war from slavery to something else — then slavery wasn’t the real reason for your war in the first place.

That correspondence has always been plainly on the record — it’s in Roy P. Basler’s Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln (Rutgers 1955), volume 4, pages 316-318 — but Lincoln Studiers and qualified historians alike have uniformly ignored it, as indeed they’ve ignored the affidavit in which Lincoln ordered the sale of his slaves.

That’s a pivotal document that I found uncatalogued in a cardboard box at the Regenstein Library of the University of Chicago and reproduced in my book, The Lincolns in the White House.  Nobody has disputed the affidavit’s authenticity.  It’s now included in the online Law Practice of Abraham Lincoln, doc. no. 137259, in Parker v. Richardson et al., case L05935.  Yet everybody in Lincoln Studies persistently ignores it, too.

A few who have mentioned it try to push it aside as out of context, although it’s impossible to misconstrue the plain statement that “Abraham Lincoln and Mary his wife … are willing that the slaves mentioned in the Bill shall be sold on such terms as the Court may think advisable.”  Some few others have tried to bury it under misinformation about the relevant standing law of that time and place, as if to relieve Lincoln of any volition or intent.  Why, he never even knew about it, really.

But the laws are as plainly documented as the sale itself and all of Lincoln’s own acts and statements about slavery.  But so far nobody has published a revision of his stance.  In fact, nobody has published a revision of anything about Lincoln for a century and a half.  Even Stalin and Mussolini, even the German dictator, get their histories updated at least once in a generation.  Not Lincoln.

That seems inexplicable.  But, based on discussions with, and the shrieks of, professional Lincoln Studiers, I always cite two important studies that may explain it.  In 1949 J. S. Bruner and Leo Postman, in their “On the Perception of Incongruity:  A Paradigm” (Journal of Personality 18:206 ff.), discovered an unexpected fact.  If we’re taught a limited catalogue of possibilities — they used the normal four-suit deck of cards — then we are simply unable to perceive anything that doesn’t fit that classification.  We’re all taught that Lincoln was a lifelong and even a passionate abolitionist, so the ample documentation of his real attitude and his real actions, including his ownership and sale of slaves, simply does not exist in the universe as we Americans can see it.  Yet there it is.

Then in 1999 David Dunning and Justin Kruger came up with another principle that governs Lincoln Studies.  In their “Unskilled and Unaware of It:  How Difficulties in Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments” (Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 77:1121 ff.), they showed that people who — how can we say this — people too stupid to — well, let’s say that incompetence in any given pursuit will predictably extend to prevent the person’s perception of his own incompetence.

That principle shapes academic fields because it sorts potential students.  A smart kid taking the basic course in a field that makes no sense will either move to a field more logically rigorous or, less frequently, stay on for an easy ride.  But classes in that field will be filled largely by students who can’t understand that it makes no sense.  And those who most uncritically parrot the professors’ nonsense will proceed, lauded and well referenced, to grad school, and they’ll ultimately succeed to those professorial chairs.

And all along the way they’ll be unable to perceive any counter evidence and — their reputations being their primary concern — they’ll fight like sunlit vampires to keep anybody from publishing any of it once it’s pointed out to them.

In Lincoln Studies they go as far as burning that evidence.  Henry Horner, Vice President of the Abraham Lincoln Association and Governor of Illinois; Oliver R. Barrett, President of the Board of Trustees of the Illinois State Historical Library; and Robert Todd Lincoln himself are all on record as destroying whole trunks full of original documents, most of them from Lincoln’s own hand, and Mary Todd’s.  Lincoln’s prolific biographer Rev. William E. Barton stole whole carloads of documents and rare books from public repositories — his loot filled actual railroad boxcars — to keep honest historians from even knowing that they exist.  That’s where I found the affidavit.

Still, the assertion that the Party undertook the War to abolish slavery is immovable.  It’s by far the touchiest point in all of this:  you have only to present documentation articulating objectively anything to do with slavery, and the full weight of denial slams down upon you.

It seems usually to be a case for Dunning and Kruger, or more charitably for Bruner and Postman.  The documents, of course, deflate the assertion; they show uniformly that Lincoln throughout his private life aspired to ownership, and throughout his public life promised strictly never to interfere with slavery where it existed.

It’s explicit in his First Inaugural, when he repeated and then reaffirmed his consistent statement:  “I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists.  I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.”  So either he was no enemy of slavery, or Honest Abe was a liar.

We have only to read the Emancipation Proclamation and think about what it says, precisely, and then clarify the resulting puzzlement over this baffling text, also explicitly contrary to our expectations and riddled with loopholes and prevarications as it is, by studying the context of its genesis and its reception by the foreign powers that received it, and derided it or even mocked it as the shabbiest and most heartless humbug.

In fact, the simple chronology shows that Lincoln had even less to do with emancipation than he had to do with anything else.  The Thirteenth Amendment was pushed through Congress by the Radical Republicans led by James Mitchell Ashley of Ohio and Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania, Lincoln’s fierce opponents within the Party.  Lyman Trumbull of Illinois was instrumental, too, and you may remember that he won a seat in the Senate in 1855 by running as an anti-slavery candidate in clear distinction against Lincoln.

Nor was the Amendment swept along on a wave of popular support.  The Radicals resorted to trying to change the rules for passage of a proposed amendment; they failed, but in 1864 it failed in the House to get the two-thirds majority required.  This is what prompted Maj. Gen. John C. Frémont to start a third party calling for abolition, in frank contrast to the Republicans.  The struggle to ratify the Amendment didn’t end until December 6, 1865, more than eight months after Lincoln was killed, with the Radicals fully in control of the only effective government in the land.

Well, after the War the whole history of the Amendment and of abolition, of Reconstruction and civil rights, is a tangle almost impenetrable, with nobody on the right side of anything and everybody doing the very opposite of what the Revised Standard Version claims.  Here we only have space enough to follow the normal method of Lincoln Studies, and walk silently around it.

We should remember, too, that Lincoln never advocated equal rights for African Americans, either — “even when you cease to be slaves,” he told a delegation of Black leaders at the White House on August 14, 1862, “you are yet far removed from being placed on an equality with the white race.”

That, too, gets sandburged into obscurity — Lincoln didn’t mean that, Lincoln abandoned the idea — Lincoln freed the slaves.  But did mean it, and he went farther.  “But for your race among us there could not be war,” he told them, “although many men engaged on either side do not care for you one way or the other.”

And he kept at it.  Only one day before he issued the Emancipation Proclamation he signed a contract with Florida planter Bernard Kock to ship five thousand freedmen to the bleak little Île à Vache off the coast of Haiti.  That first shipment suffered horribly from starvation and disease, and a quarter of them died.

Despite that atrocity he brought us once again to the brink of war by chartering another ship, without due process, without regular governmental contract procedure, without even consultation with his cabinet or the Monroe Doctrine, to dump free Black families on the shores Chiriquí Province on the Isthmus of Panama to work coal mines and establish a new colony, to be called Linconia.  That move also failed when Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica threatened to repel the expedition with armed force.

And Lincoln Studies’ standard texts notwithstanding, he never abandoned the idea of deporting all Americans of African descent to the Caribbean or “back” to Africa.  Only four days before his death he told Gen. “Spoons” Butler that he could “hardly believe that the South and North can live in peace, unless we can get rid of the negroes”.

Why does this matter?  Because both Democrats and Republicans — both sides of the Uniparty, some would say — are tussling for control of a government thoroughly reconstituted after the War.  That War can’t be justified by any principle of law — again, it was itself the same long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object, that we find in the Declaration.  But everybody will agree that slavery is an evil, irreformable and unjustifiable; so if the War was about slavery, then the government that emerged after winning the War is right and unquestionably good.  If you criticize that government, then you obviously hate Blacks and want to reinstitute slavery, because this government was founded on the abolition of slavery.

Yet nobody denies that the War swept away the Constitution as it had stood before.  Instantly after Appomattox the Party, exultant in what it called its “perpetual ascendancy”, stood Lincoln next to Washington as the Father of the Country.  Within months they pushed Washington aside, replacing the foundational history of Washington’s administration with the myths of Lincoln’s — even today politicians, all of them, justify their positions with incessant references to Lincoln but never a mention of Washington.  How could they mention him?  That would lead directly to the Constitution.

The War was basically the same as we see in any number of other régimes throughout history and around the world:  a roundly unpopular minority party winning control of the government, by any means necessary, and weaponizing every agency, military and civil alike, to secure themselves in power immune to ballots.  On any pretext, which can change to follow the fortunes of war.

For the Party, it was a fortunate war indeed.  For the rest of the century we had an unbroken series of victorious President-Generals:  General of the Army Ulysses S. Grant, Gen. Rutherford B. Hayes, Maj. Gen. James A. Garfield, Gen. Chester A. Arthur, Brig. Gen. Grover Cleveland, Brig. Gen. Benjamin Harrison, Bvt. Maj. William McKinley, who was too young to make it to General before Appomattox — when we see this pattern overseas we sneer at whatever tin-pot República de la Banana was laughable enough to let that happen.

Those decades are never understood as the predictable aftermath of a violent military coup d’état.  It was a time when the Party was still working out how to perpetuate a revolution while preserving the form of the ancien régime.  Beyond the civil disturbances that erupted at every election, think of the monkey business with the Electoral College to get General Hayes into office in 1876, which was fairly typical of elections at every level in those days.  A little later and nobody remembered how things had been before — “A generation born since Abraham Lincoln died has already reached manhood and womanhood,” as the Party’s chief propagandist Richard Watson Gilder said.  By then the Party’s control was absolute and its bipartisan unity indivisible.

Today we wonder at the state of the Union, but we forget that régimes imposed that way by such parties invariably fail, and fail catastrophically.  When they fail, the government doesn’t do anything that it was constituted to do, while everything that it does is not just unconstitutional but bungled.  When they fail, every problem facing their people — economic, educational, social, cultural, security, every problem — is caused by the purposeful acts of that government.  When they fail, every year starts looking a lot like 1865.

Kevin Orlin Johnson is the author of The Lincolns in the White House:  Slanders, Scandals, and Lincoln’s Slave Trading Revealed and Mrs. Lincoln’s Recovery:  How Trauma, Malpractice, and a Despicable Son Destroyed a First Lady’s Reputation.  Both are available at bookstores everywhere and at for fast delivery.

Copyright © Kevin Orlin Johnson, Ph.D.

The Reckoning

Dike and Nemesis, by Pierre-Paul Prud’hon

“But let’s be clear what happens to you and your family when old ghosts in new garments seize power, [who] come for the freedoms you thought belonged to you . . .” — Remarks by President Biden to the Morehouse College Class of 2024

Oh, we and our families get it, Mr. President, starting with our recognition that your speechwriters’ characterizations of “MAGA Republicans” as racist fascists led by a new Grand Wizard are, in fact, chiaroscuro projections of themselves. And of you.

Can it be, Mr. President, that in your long life no one has stood before you, as Nathan stood before David, to proclaim that “You are the man”? That you are that man — the “old ghost” of Marxists past, wearing a new-spun garment made from that synthetic fabric known as DEI, the material so flattering that it allows Antifa, BLM, transsexual and Pro-Hamas thugs to view themselves in the mirror as saints, and that transforms globalist Titans into saviors of the world?

Of course, it would be equally true to point out that you are also that man in Prud’hon’s painting above, making off with a stolen garment, like David’s stolen wife, and with it another man’s life and identity. When your new garment endears you with one audience but not with another, it’s always good to be able to slip into something more traditional and familiar, as you did at Morehouse College in wearing the mantle of a Martin Luther King Era champion of Civil Rights, ill-fitting as that garment might be.

We get it, Mr. President, you’re a serial plagiarist who can steal anything from anyone. Something old, something new — whatever works in the moment, and whatever helps line your pockets and consolidate your power.

And if you are the man in this painting, we’re the guy on the ground, whom neither the police nor the courts are any longer able or willing to protect, from whom you and your cartel have stolen everything from elections to our urban parks and playgrounds, which you are filling up with every manner of human filth.

“Let’s be clear,” you say? By all means. It’s time to take off those “aviator” sunglasses and raise your eyes, Mr. President. Somewhere on “a street called Straight,” an Ananias could be waiting for you, to remove the scales from those eyes.

And what you might see then, as in this painting, is that she is coming for you — that winged, dark-faced goddess from whom there is no escape. Who carries a measuring rod (or tally stick) and scales, and wields a whip or a sword by which to mete out what is due, in proportion to what is deserved.

She is Nemesis, and it is she who bends the long arc of the Universe toward justice. Implacable justice.

And, lest you think she is confined to Greek mythology, it is she who, with the disembodied hand of a man, wrote the writing on the wall beheld by Belshazzar in the Book of Daniel — You have been tried in the balance and found wanting.

She is universal, Mr. President, sensed by every soul across the spectrum of humankind, who for whatever reason fears a reckoning.

Surely your Catholic Faith, Mr. President, with its notion of mortal sin, has alerted you to her presence.

Surely you have heard phrases like “poetic justice” and expressions like “What goes around comes around.” Surely you know what they mean.

But perhaps you don’t. You pretend not to know what Donald Trump meant when he used the term blood bath. “What the hell is that about?!” you shout, doing your demagogic best to inspire fears of a Reign of Terror should Trump prevail. Never mind that he was speaking metaphorically of an economic downturn following your kleptocratic and foolish policies. Never mind that when he said he would be a dictator, but only on Day One, he was parodying your own conduct on your first day in office.

You pretend also that the judgment of the Supreme Court doesn’t apply to your effort to buy votes by dismissing student debt with taxpayer dollars. What the hell do they know, these servants of Lady Justice, who like Nemesis holds a balance and a sword? They say I can’t do it, but I’m going to find a way to do it. To hell with The Take Care Clause. I did away with the Nation’s borders, and no one did squat about it.

But she is not no one, and she’s coming, Mr. President. With winged haste and fury. You may be near death, but do not think that Death can cheat her.

“The prayers of a righteous man availeth much,” you said to the Morehouse graduates. Are you that man? Who will say so? Who will testify to your “fundamental decency,” that you have found so lacking in your political opponent that you have unleashed every weapon in your Justice Department in an effort to imprison or at least impugn him?

When your hands are clutching your Rosary, beseeching the Mother of God to pray for you in the hour of your death, will she be hearing the voice of a righteous man? Or that of just one more of us who continue to crucify Her Son?

Do you beseech that son — O My Jesus, forgive us our sins, Save us from the fires of hell —while simultaneously flogging his Evangelical and Rad-Trad Catholic followers as “domestic terrorists” and “MAGA extremists”? And while incongruously making the Sign of the Cross in bizarre contexts and settings, as at pro-abortion rallies?

You have become a Clown Catholic. And a Cartoon President.

What good have you done for anyone? How will this end well?

It can’t. It won’t.

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"In 1892 at Stanford University, an 18-year-old student was struggling to pay his fees. He was an orphan, and not knowing where to turn for money, he came up with a bright idea. He and a friend decided to host a musical concert on campus to raise money for their education.
They reached out to the great pianist Ignacy J. Paderewski. His manager demanded a guaranteed fee of $2000 for the piano recital. A deal was struck and the boys began to work to make the concert a success.
The big day arrived. But unfortunately, they had not managed to sell enough tickets. The total collection was only $1600. Disappointed, they went to Paderewski and explained their plight.
They gave him the entire $1600, plus a cheque for the balance $400. They promised to honour the cheque at the soonest possible.
“No,” said Paderewski. “This is not acceptable.” He tore up the cheque, returned the $1600 and told the two boys: “Here’s the $1600. Please deduct whatever expenses you have incurred.
Keep the money you need for your fees. And just give me whatever is left”. The boys were surprised, and thanked him profusely.It was a small act of kindness. But it clearly marked out Paderewski as a great human being.
Why should he help two people he did not even know? We all come across situations like these in our lives. And most of us only think “If I help them, what would happen to me?” The truly great people think, “If I don’t help them, what will happen to them?” They don’t do it expecting something in return. They do it because they feel it’s the right thing to do.
Paderewski later went on to become the Prime Minister of Poland. He was a great leader, but unfortunately when the World War began, Poland was ravaged. There were more than 1.5 million people starving in his country, and no money to feed them.
Paderewski did not know where to turn for help. He reached out to the US Food and Relief Administration for help.He heard there was a man called Herbert Hoover — who later went on to become the US President. Hoover agreed to help and quickly shipped tons of food grains to feed the starving Polish people.A calamity was averted.
Paderewski was relieved.
He decided to go across to meet Hoover and personally thank him. When Paderewski began to thank Hoover for his noble gesture, Hoover quickly interjected and said, “You shouldn’t be thanking me Mr. Prime Minister. You may not remember this, but several years ago, you helped two young students go through college. I was one of them.”

Heh. Hoover was a brilliant mining engineer. After some year in China, he was returning to America by steamship. He struck up a friendship with a lady during the meals..  A day before they docked, the lady asked Hoover what he did for a living. "I am an engineer." "Oh! And I thought you were a gentleman!" she gasped.

Abraham Lincoln and the Indian Wars

Today's selection-- from The Rise and Fall of the Second American Republic by Manisha Sinha. The Native Americans in the Civil War:

When recalling his time in an Illinois militia in the Black Hawk war of 1832, Abraham Lincoln, whose settler grandfather had been killed by Indians, joked that the only thing he had killed were mosquitoes. The so-called Black Hawk war, named after a Sauk chief, was a merciless slaughter of Sauks and Foxes (Mesquakies), who had returned to their lands after being forcibly exiled by the US Army. Like other settlers who served in the militia, Lincoln received a land grant for his service, further dispossessing the Sauks.

“During the Civil War, preoccupied with defeating the Confederacy, President Lincoln—who, compared to many Americans, was not a diehard Indian hater—did not give much thought to the Indian wars. In 1862, 303 Dakota warriors were condemned to execution in a summary military trial after the Dakota-US conflict led by Little Crow in Minnesota, after years of reneged treaties, land grabs, and mistreatment that had reduced the Dakota Sioux to starvation and desperation. Lincoln pored over the trial records and commuted the sentences of all except thirty-nine accused of particularly egregious actions. In the end, thirty eight were hanged—the largest mass hanging in American history and a blot on Lincoln's presidency. And like most US presidents, Lincoln signed off on laws dispossessing Indians. Besides indigenous people themselves, only abolitionists like the Indian advocate John Beeson protested. As he put it, the Dakota were a ‘sovereign people’ and ‘their hostile acts in Minnesota ... [were] one of war, and not rebellion; and for what the most civilized nations would deem sufficient occasion for war.’ The Dakota Sioux and some Ho-Chunks (Winnebagos), who had not taken part in the uprising, were expelled from their homes and consigned to reservations.

“The Civil War brought devastation to Native America. Even as army regulars stationed in the West were summoned east, volunteers under generals such as James Carleton continued to wage war on the Indian frontier. The gruesome Sand Creek Massacre in Colorado Territory in 1864 saw volunteers of the Third Colorado Cavalry murder nearly four hundred Arapaho and Cheyenne, mainly women and children. Captain Silas Soule, an abolitionist, blew the whistle on his commanding officer, Col. John Chivington, a Methodist minister, who ordered the massacre. At a court-martial led by Samuel F. Tappan of the abolitionist Tappan family, another officer, Major Patrick Wynkoop, testified that the Indian women had been tortured and ‘profaned’ in a manner that was truly ‘sickening.’

Sauk Indian family photographed by Frank Rinehart in 1899

“The report of the Congressional Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War, written by radical Benjamin F. Wade, strongly condemned Chivington's actions and the victims were given forty thousand dollars. Congress passed a joint resolution suspending all pay and allowances to Chivington's regiment. Charles Sumner called it an ‘exceptional crime,’ the ‘most atrocious in the history of any country.’ Despite congressional inquiries, Chivington went mostly unpunished. A month after the Sand Creek massacre, a Colorado cavalry regiment killed Lean Bear, a Cheyenne chief and one of the peace chiefs who had met with Lincoln in 1863 to protest settler encroachments. He was still wearing the peace medal Lincoln had given to him when he was murdered.

“Indigenous nations in ‘Indian territory,’ what is now the state of Oklahoma,—the so-called five civilized nations that had been expelled from their homelands in the 1830s-signed treaties with the Confederacy and fought on its behalf. Yet substantial numbers of people in these nations, especially among the Creeks and the Seminoles, many of whom had intermarried with former slaves, sided with the Union. Such indigenous unionists formed the first Indian regiments of the Civil War, in Kansas. Stand Watie, like many of the ‘mixed blood’ slaveholding elites of the Cherokee nation, supported the Confederacy and rose to the rank of a brigadier general in the Confederate army. His rival, John Ross, the ‘principal chief’ of the Cherokees, whom abolitionists had lauded before the war, had initially advocated neutrality and supported the Union. The Cherokees eventually surrendered to Union forces, and Ross met with Lincoln in 1862, trying to preserve the sovereignty of his nation. In a subsequent letter, Ross assured Lincoln that his nation had signed a treaty with the Confederacy out of necessity and that the true loyalty of Cherokees lay with the United States. At the end of the war, the fact that many of these nations were slaveholding—a mark of ‘civilization’ in the South—left them vulnerable when they signed treaties with the United States in 1866 that abolished slavery and recognized the equality of Indian freedpeople. (The status of Afro-Indians as full fledged members of Indian nations continues to be disputed.) In the late nineteenth century, the federal government gave Indian freedpeople and black settlers land in Indian territory, even as the abolitionist dream of land reform in the South withered.

“The pitting of freedpeople's rights against tribal sovereignty was the tragedy of formal Reconstruction in Indian territory. The southern Creeks, Chickasaws, and Choctaws abused freedpeople in much the same way as southern ex-slaveholders, reported agents of the Freedmen's Bureau. The remarkable northern Creek chief, Oktarsars Harjo, posited an alternative and, unfortunately, a minority vision: native sovereignty that included freedpeople. As he put it, ‘we were all one nation.’ Black settlers, fleeing southern terrorism, also cannot simply be viewed as equal participants in American colonialism in the West. The 1866 treaties between the US government and the five ‘civilized’ southern Indian nations resulted, C. N. Vann of the Cherokee nation argued, in land being taken from them and given to railroad corporations or designated as public domain. He was outraged ‘that the Government shall rob its wards and cover itself with ignominy, in order that these corporations may pile up mountainous fortunes.’ Indian territory would be opened to white settlement in 1889, paving the way for further dispossession and Oklahoma statehood. The loss of sovereignty suffered by indigenous nations in the West was compounded by wartime laws that were predicated on their dispossession: the Homestead Acts, which gave homesteads to settlers, citizens as well as immigrants, on ‘public’ lands, and the Pacific Railroad Act, which allowed for the construction of a transcontinental railroad through Native America.”

The Rise and Fall of the Second American Republic: Reconstruction, 1860-1920
author: Manisha Sinha  
title: The Rise and Fall of the Second American Republic: Reconstruction, 1860-1920  
publisher: Liveright  
page(s): 310-312

The Spy Who Failed: Kurt Gödel

The spy who flunked it: Kurt Gödel’s forgotten part in the atom-bomb story

Kurt Goedel and Albert Einstein. Princton. Photography. 1950.

Kurt Gödel (left) and Albert Einstein in Princeton, New Jersey, in 1950.Credit: Imagno/Getty

The 2023 film Oppenheimer narrates the story of the atomic bomb entirely from the perspective of its eponymous hero. But there’s much that is left out. It is well-known that US efforts to build the bomb started years before physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer took over as director of the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos Laboratory in New Mexico in 1943. That project was initiated by fellow physicist Leo Szilard. Concerned by the pace at which nuclear-science discoveries were being made in Germany, Szilard persuaded Albert Einstein in August 1939 to write a letter to then-president Franklin D. Roosevelt, warning him of the risk of an atomic bomb in Adolf Hitler’s hands.

But Szilard wasn’t the only physicist to try to use Einstein’s prestige to alert the president. Viennese physicist Hans Thirring independently arrived at the same idea. Thirring’s attempt petered out, but deserves a footnote in history, if only because it involves none less than Kurt Gödel in the unexpected role of a secret agent. The tale has all the trappings of an Alfred Hitchcock movie.

Vienna Circle

Gödel, a mathematician and philosopher, was called by Einstein “the greatest logician since Aristotle” — a phrase coined in 1924 that stuck. Yet when Kurt enrolled at the University of Vienna 100 years ago, he started out in physics. Relativity was all the rage then, and Gödel’s professor, Hans Thirring, was an expert. He had just co-discovered an important feature of the Universe — that the gravitational field of a spinning ball (such as Earth) differs from that when the ball is still, now known as the Lense–Thirring effect. The difference is tiny, however, and it wasn’t measured until 80 years later, using first-rate space technology.

The avant-garde philosophers of the Vienna Circle, a group of self-appointed heralds of the scientific world view, also influenced Gödel and turned his mind towards the foundations of mathematics. By age 25, he had discovered his ‘incompleteness theorem’, which states roughly that there is no consistent formal system in which all arithmetical propositions can be proved. This was an epoch-making result.

Gödel became one of the first postdocs to be invited to the newly founded Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey. But when he returned from the United States to Vienna in 1934, he had a nervous breakdown. Indeed, bouts of persecution mania and fears of poisoning would dog him for the rest of his life. Thus, during the 1930s, Gödel shuttled between seminars in Vienna, the Institute for Advanced Study and mental-health clinics.

His mathematical work shifted to ‘set theory’, especially the theory of infinites. And again, he achieved a landmark result. He obsessively pursued the ‘continuum hypothesis’, which states roughly that the infinitude of real numbers is next largest to that of natural numbers. Gödel managed to show that this hypothesis is compatible with the axioms of set theory — a brilliant feat. His shorthand notebooks from that period, which are currently being deciphered and published, show that he pursued in parallel a stupendous range of interests, including parapsychology and quantum mechanics — two fields that also engrossed his former physics professor, with whom he had never lost touch.

Thirring was charismatic, popular with his students and brim-full of ideas. He had invented a cape-like ‘hover-coat’ for skiers and held a patent on films with sound. He, too, was in close touch with the hard-nosed ‘positivists’ of the Vienna Circle, who thought that knowledge comes only from experience and logical analysis. But this did not dampen Thirring’s interest in paranormal phenomena.

To hold a truly scientific world view, one must be ready to swim against the mainstream. This applies to political tides, too: Thirring was one of the woefully few in Vienna to stand up firmly against the flood of Nazi students after Hitler came to power. The ‘brownshirt’ storm troopers — the paramilitary wing of the Nazi Party — could not accuse him of being of Jewish descent, but his support of Einstein (who was Jewish) was bad enough in their eyes. And in 1938, as soon as Austria was annexed to the Third Reich, 50-year-old Thirring lost his professorial chair. But he did not lose contact with former colleagues. And he was well aware that, in physics labs everywhere, everyone was talking about nuclear fission — the division of the atomic nucleus and the resulting release of energy — which had just been discovered in Hitler’s Berlin.

Mounting concern

In the summer of 1939, after reading an article in the scientific journal Die Naturwissenschaften by Siegfried Flügge — later a leading member of Uranverein, the ominous ‘Uranium Club’ that was behind the German effort to build a nuclear bomb — Thirring had learnt enough to feel that the US government should be warned. Like Szilard, and at about the same time, he came up with the idea to use Einstein to alert Roosevelt. But how could Thirring contact Einstein? The Gestapo, the Nazi secret police force, would intercept every phone call or letter from Vienna to Princeton, where Einstein lived.

This is when Thirring heard that Gödel happened to be on a brief visit to Vienna, to see his mother and take his wife Adele back with him to Princeton. Why not use Gödel as a secret messenger to reach Einstein? Thirring entrusted Gödel confidentially with the task of warning Einstein about Hitler’s bomb.

Unfortunately, the plan proved ill-fated. Gödel’s departure was delayed for nearly four months by an avalanche of bureaucratic hurdles. At times, escape looked hopeless.

Difficulties and chicanery piled up. After Germany annexed Austria, Gödel automatically became a German citizen, and had to return his old passport. The visa for multiple re-entry into the United States was in the old passport, and the hopelessly overtaxed US consulate could not simply transfer it to the new one. Gödel had to re-apply to enter the United States, and thus join a queue of thousands who were desperately trying to escape from the Reich.

The Ski-Sailing” invented in Austria has now also entered Switzerland, where the famous ski resort at St. Moritz has been demonstrated. Photo: An impression of the new sport, St. Moritz, Switzerland January 1938.

The ‘hover-coat’ designed by Hans Thirring.Credit: BNA Photographic/Alamy

Gödel had also lost his lectureship, and thus his professorial status. The Nazis were re-structuring academic life, and Gödel’s former contacts aroused their suspicion. Would he be able to represent ‘New Germany’ abroad? A minor bureaucrat had found fault with Gödel’s previous journey to the United States; the revenue service questioned the few hundred dollars on his account. It seemed he was of Aryan descent, but where was his grandparents’ marriage certificate, and that of his wife’s grandparents? Administration ran amok.

As one Viennese eye-witness, the writer Leo Perutz, described it: “Obscure offices that no one had ever heard of before would suddenly emerge from hiding, would make their demands imperiously known, and would insist on being satisfied, or at least noticed and consulted.”

Gödel and his wife had moved out of their flat in September — but because they couldn’t leave the country as planned, they had to look urgently for new lodgings. On top of it all, a mustering commission of the German armed forces, the Wehrmacht, declared Gödel fit for garrison duty. It was like a bad dream. Indeed, many years later, he would still be plagued by nightmares about being trapped in Vienna.

Perilous flight

In the end, thanks to vigorous interventions by mathematician John von Neumann and others at the Institute for Advanced Study, the visas came through in early January 1940. By then, Hitler’s troops had overrun Poland, and Europe was torn apart by war. The United States wasn’t involved yet, and some neutral vessels still plied the Atlantic Ocean. However, they were routinely searched by Allied warships, and all German passengers were sent to internment camps. On top of that, there was the risk of running through the periscope sight of a trigger-happy German U-boat skipper. Obviously, an Atlantic crossing would not do.

The only way out was the other way around: eastward, through Siberia and the Pacific. A tight-rope act, but just feasible. The Soviet Union and Japan were both waging wars, but not against Germany, or the United States, or each other.

Thirring’s plan was still alive, and on the eve of Gödel’s departure, the dauntless physicist met him and relayed the secret message. It was by no means sure that it would reach its destination. At each hitch, the Gödels risked being stopped. They had a long way to go.

To Berlin first, for some final stamps on their documents. From there, across half of Prussia, to reach occupied Poland, with its bombed railway stations and baleful troop transports clustering the sidings. On through twilight Latvia and Lithuania, and into Joseph Stalin’s Soviet Union. Each border crossing took hours. Each luggage search was nerve-racking, and each knock on the compartment door was ill-boding. Finally in Moscow, the Gödels spent a night in the gigantic Hotel Metropol, a gloomy block housing mostly Communist Party delegates, some anxiously awaiting their upcoming trials for disloyalty. These were the heydays of communist purges and spy scares.

At Yaroslavski station in central Moscow, the Gödels boarded the Trans-Siberian Express. Its other terminus was more than 9,000 kilometres away, in Vladivostok. During the seemingly endless nights of ice and snow, the train accumulated a colossal delay. After finally reaching Vladivostok, they had to take a ship — often running behind schedule — to Yokohama, Japan. While in Berlin, Gödel and Adele had booked a cabin in the SS President Taft for the leg from Yokohama to San Francisco, California. Inevitably, they missed the ocean liner, and had to wait for two weeks for the next one, the SS President Cleveland.

Once aboard, things started picking up. A day’s stopover in sight of Oahu, Hawaii, came as a welcome change from icy Siberian train platforms. The coast of California rising from the horizon was the climax. Years later, Gödel would still enthuse: “San Francisco is absolutely the most beautiful city I have ever seen.” There was just one last formality before landing: the immigration papers, with their obnoxious queries — “Have you ever been a patient in an institution for the care and treatment of the insane?” No.

Another railway ticket; another trans-continental ride, now in an elegant Pullman sleeper train; and the safe haven of Princeton at last, after almost two months of travelling. Gödel’s long-time friend, economist Oskar Morgenstern, reported in his diary on 12 March 1940: “Gödel arrived. This time with wife. Via Siberia. When asked about Vienna: The coffee is wretched!”

After having circled three-quarters of the globe, Gödel had reached Einstein’s doorstep. He could finally fulfil his mission. Despite all obstacles, Thirring’s message had arrived. Quite conceivably, it could save the world.

And this is where Gödel failed.

He confessed it to Thirring more than three decades later: on meeting Einstein, Gödel had not transmitted the warning, but merely “greetings from Thirring”. The bizarre excuse: he, Gödel, had felt that a nuclear chain reaction would be possible only “in a distant future”.

Lost legacy

What did Thirring make of this? We can only wonder. He had outlasted the Third Reich unbowed, reassumed his professorship and become one of the firmest voices against nuclear armament. By then, however, Einstein’s letter to Roosevelt, prompted by Szilard, was public knowledge. Thirring’s son Walter, who was also a theoretical physicist and a colleague of mine in Vienna, later told me that his father was always uneasy about his (imagined) role in the bomb project. Hans, who was an inveterate pacifist, saw himself as a link in the causal chain that had led to the horrors of the atom bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan in 1945. Only in 1972, shortly before his death and already weakened by a stroke, did he learn that his message had never reached its goal.

As a secret agent, Gödel had proved a dud. But then again, fortunately, the spectre of Hitler’s atomic bomb had turned out to be no great shakes either.

Nature 627, 26-28 (2024)



  • Correction 20 March 2024: Owing to a late editorial change, the originally published text of this Essay made an erroneous statement about the nature of the continuum hypothesis, and stated mistakenly that Hans Thirring had lost contact with former colleagues.

The Mongol Conquests

Today's selection -- from A Short History of the World by H.G. Wells. The Mongols achieved “a series of conquests as has no parallel in history:” 

Mongolia Travel Map  Road Map Mongolia  Tourist Map Mongolia

“In the thirteenth century, … Turkish people from the country to the north of China rose suddenly to prominence in the world's affairs, and achieved such a series of conquests as has no parallel in history. These were the Mongols. At the opening of the thirteenth century they were a horde of nomadic horsemen, living very much as their predecessors, the Huns, had done, subsisting chiefly upon meat and mare's milk and living in tents of skin. They had shaken themselves free from Chinese dominion, and brought a number of other Turkish tribes into a military confederacy. Their central camp was Karakorum in Mongolia. 

“At this time China was in a state of division. The great dynasty of Tang had passed into decay by the tenth century, and after a phase of division into warring states, three main empires, that of Kin in the north with Pekin as its capital and that of Sung in the south with a capital at Nankin, and Hsia in the centre, remain. In 1214 Jengis Khan, the leader of the Mongol confederates, made war on the Kin Empire and captured Pekin (1214). He then turned westward and conquered Western Turkestan, Persia, Armenia, India down Lahore, and South Russia as far as Kieff. He died master of a vast empire that reached from the Pacific to the Dnieper. 

“His successor, Ogdai Khan, continued this astonishing career of conquest. His armies were organized to a very high level of efficiency; and they had with them a new Chinese invention, gunpowder, which they used in small field guns. He completed the conquest of the Kin Empire and then swept his hosts right across Asia to Russia (1235), an altogether amazing march. Kieff was destroyed in 1240, and nearly all Russia became tributary to the Mongols. Poland was ravaged, and a mixed army of Poles and Germans was annihilated at the battle of Liegnitz in Lower Silesia in 1241. The Emperor Frederick II does not seem to have made any great efforts to stay the advancing tide. 

“‘It is only recently,’ says Bury in his notes to Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, ‘that European history has begun to understand that the successes of the Mongol army which overran Poland and occupied Hungary in the spring of A.D. 1241 were won by consummate strategy and were not due to a mere overwhelming superiority of numbers. But this fact has not yet become a matter of common knowledge; the vulgar opinion which represents the Tartars as a wild horde carrying all before them solely by their multitude, and galloping through Eastern Europe without a strategic plan, rushing at all obstacles and overcoming them by mere weight, still prevails .... 

“‘It was wonderful how punctually and effectually the arrangements were carried out in operations extending from the Lower Vistula to Transylvania. Such a campaign was quite beyond the power of any European army of the time, and it was beyond the vision of any European commander. There was no general in Europe, from Frederick II downward, who was not a tyro in strategy compared to Subutai. It should also be noticed that the Mongols embarked upon the enterprise with full knowledge of the political situation of Hungary and the condition of Poland—they had taken care to inform themselves by a well-organized system of spies; on the other hand, the Hungarians and the Christian powers, like childish barbarians, knew hardly anything about their enemies.’"

Portrayal of Ögedei Khan in a 14th-century Yuan-era album, originally painted in 1278

“But though the Mongols were victorious at Liegnitz, they did not continue their drive westward. They were getting into woodlands and hilly country, which did not suit their tactics; and so they turned southward and prepared to settle in Hungary, massacring or assimilating the kindred Magyar, even as these had previously massacred and assimilated the mixed Scythians and Avars and Huns before them. From the Hungarian plain they would probably have made raids west and south as the Hungarians had done in the ninth century, the Avars in the seventh and eighth and the Huns in the fifth. But Ogdai died suddenly, and in 1242 there was trouble about

the succession, and recalled by this, the undefeated hosts of Mongols began to pour back across Hungary and Rumania towards the east.

“Thereafter the Mongols concentrated their attention upon their Asiatic conquests. By the middle of the thirteenth century they had conquered the Sung Empire. Mangu Khan succeeded Ogdai Khan as Great Khan in 1251, and made his brother Kublai Khan governor of China. In 1280 Kublai Khan had been formally recognized Emperor of China, and so founded the Yuan dynasty which lasted until 1368. While the last ruins of the Sung rule were going down in China, another brother of Mangu, Hulagu, was conquering Persia and Syria. The Mongols displayed a bitter animosity to Islam at this time, and not only massacred the population of Bagdad when they captured that city, but set to work to destroy the immemorial irrigation system which had kept Mesopotamia incessantly prosperous and populous from the early days of Sumeria. From that time until our own Mesopotamia has been a desert of ruins, sustaining only a scanty population. Into Egypt the Mongols never penetrated; the Sultan of Egypt completely defeated an army of Hulagu's in Palestine in 1260.

“After that disaster the tide of Mongol victory ebbed. The dominions of the Great Khan fell into a number of separate states. The eastern Mongols became Buddhists, like the Chinese; the western became Moslim. The Chinese threw off the rule of the Yuan dynasty in 1368, and set up the native Ming dynasty which flourished from 1368 to 1644. The Russians remained tributary to the Tartar hordes upon the south-east steppes until 1480, when the Grand Duke of Moscow repudiated his allegiance and laid the foundation of modern Russia.

“In the fourteenth century there was a brief revival of Mongol vigour under Timurlane, a descendant of Jengis Khan. He established himself in Western Turkestan, assumed the title of Grand Khan in 1369, and conquered from Syria to Delhi. He was the most savage and destructive of all the Mongol conquerors. He established an empire of desolation that did not survive his death. In 1505, however, a descendant of this Timur, an adventurer named Baber, got together an army with guns and swept down upon the plain of India. His grandson Akbar (1556-1605) completed his conques and this Mongol (or ‘Mogul’ as the Arabs called it) dynasty ruled in Delhi over the greater part of India until the eighteenth century."

A Short History of the World
author: H.G. Wells  
title: A Short History of the World  
publisher: Fingerprint! Publishing  
page(s): 302-208