From reviving fantasies of Britain’s imperial past to saying goodbye to the American Century, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.
Theresa May’s government is frantically trying to square all sorts of circles, but it cannot conceal the abject confusion about post-Brexit Britain’s place in the world. Can it act alone on a crowded stage? How can it compete against giants like the European Union, the United States, or China? Should it even try?
Many of the leading Brexiteers have proposed a simple answer to these questions: the Anglosphere. Britain, they suggest, should reanimate its long-standing relationship with its “natural” allies—principally Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the US. In championing this far-flung union, the Brexiteers draw—sometimes consciously, sometimes unconsciously—on a strand of thought that stretches back to the Victorian age. Like so much else about the current moment—from the planned restoration of grammar schools to cries for relaunching the Royal Yacht Britannia—the past serves as inspiration and guide. We are invited to march back to the future. [continue reading]
Robin D. G. Kelley
Cedric J. Robinson’s passing this summer at the age of seventy-five went virtually unnoticed. Professor emeritus of political science and black studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and arguably one of the most original political theorists of his generation, no major U.S. newspaper determined that Robinson’s passing merited even a single paragraph. Although he deliberately avoided the pitfalls of intellectual celebrity, his influence was greater than perhaps he may have realized. Today’s insurgent black movements against state violence and mass incarceration call for an end to “racial capitalism” and see their work as part of a “black radical tradition”—terms associated with Robinson’s work.
Born November 5, 1940, Robinson grew up in a black working-class neighborhood in West Oakland. A genuine polymath educated in public schools, he spent hours in the public library absorbing everything from Greek philosophy and world history to modern literature. Soft-spoken but never “quiet,” he attended the University of California, Berkeley, where he majored in social anthropology and rose to prominence as a campus activist. He helped bring Malcolm X to campus and protested the Bay of Pigs Invasion, for which he received a one-semester suspension. [continue reading]
Erik Prince, America’s most notorious mercenary, is lurking in the shadows of the incoming Trump administration. A former senior U.S. official who has advised the Trump transition told The Intercept that Prince has been advising the team on matters related to intelligence and defense, including weighing in on candidates for the Defense and State departments. The official asked not to be identified because of a transition policy prohibiting discussion of confidential deliberations.
On election night, Prince’s latest wife, Stacy DeLuke, posted pictures from inside Trump’s campaign headquarters as Donald Trump and Mike Pence watched the returns come in, including a close shot of Pence and Trump with their families. “We know some people who worked closely with [Trump] on his campaign,” DeLuke wrote. “Waiting for the numbers to come in last night. It was well worth the wait!!!! #PresidentTrump2016.” Prince’s sister, billionaire Betsy DeVos, is Trump’s nominee for education secretary and Prince (and his mother) gave large sums of money to a Trump Super PAC. [continue reading]
Daniel Victor and Erin McCann
New York Times
A magician walks into a laboratory. It’s not the beginning of a joke. It’s the subject of a declassified 1969 Central Intelligence Agency memo, one of more than 930,000 searchable documents that the agency posted online on Tuesday. The memo about the magician was among the more unusual files in the trove of declassified reports, which include more than 12 million pages of dispatches and correspondence that document the history of the C.I.A.
If you wanted, you could read up on the United States government’s research on “spiritualist healers in Mexico,” the “dreamlike structure of telepathic assertions” or “an assessment of the evidence for psychic functioning.” Or you could examine the agency’s actions and research during the Vietnam and Korean Wars. Maybe you would prefer to read through the files of Henry A. Kissinger, who was secretary of state under Richard M. Nixon and Gerald R. Ford, or a description of the Berlin Tunnel, a wiretapping effort to monitor the Soviet Union during the Cold War. You can look through intelligence reports on specific countries or events, find recipes for invisible ink or learn how to open sealed letters. [continue reading]
The American Century is over. We can tell, not only because the Americans have elected a ludicrous President, but because, for all his nationalist braggadocio, Trump’s ambitions are so modest. He aspires, after all, only to make America great again. Not only does this acknowledge America’s fallen state. It puts Trump’s Presidency on the level with the likes of Erdogan and Putin.
But greatness is for everyone. The American century in its pomp was lit not by greatness, but by supremacy, the certainty of being called by destiny, divine or secular, to play a role that was not just unique, but above all others. This is the literal meaning of a message that echoed down the century from Woodrow Wilson, to FDR, Kennedy, Reagan, Bush junior and Obama. The theological strain always sounded strange in foreign ears. But, will we miss it when it is gone? [continue reading]