Historians, philosophers, and armchair historians have often pondered the role of chance in history. To what extent does randomness or luck dictate what happens to us? Are the events of history just a random spin on the wheel of fate, or is there a more determined explanation of historical events? Bringing up questions about historical free will, determinism, and cause-effect relationships, this episode goes through some of the history of people thinking about these types of questions. It also discusses some historical examples of "chance" in action, and the implications that asking these questions has for the study of history-particularly as it relates to the recent rise of "counterfactual" history.
When Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon to ignite yet another Roman Civil War, nobody at the time knew that this was the end of the Republic. Caesar's victory in his clash with the forces of Pompey, his former friend and member of the 1st triumvirate, led to Caesar's rule as dictator in which he tried to alleviate the problems of the Republic in a similar fashion as popular reformers of years past. But the Ides of March were coming, and Caesar's heir Octavian would emerge from a struggle with Marc Antony as undisputed emperor of the Roman World: Augustus Caesar. The Roman Republic was dead.
This is the final episode in a series on the downfall of the Roman Republic. It focuses on the final years of the Roman Republic, and summarizes why it fell by a combination of factors that have been discussed in the series. Thanks for listening.
With the Republic rebuilding after the wreckage caused by Marius and Sulla, a new cast of political characters was taking power in Rome. Julius Caesar, Pompey, Crassus, Cicero, Cato, and others are all legends of history for good reason. The interplay between these men and their competing ambitions combined with the long term structural issues that had plagued the Republic since the beginning to create the conditions for one last Civil War that would put the dying Republic out of it's misery.
This is Part V in a series on the downfall of the Roman Republic. It focuses on the rise of some of the key political figures in the late stages of the Roman Republic and how violence and cynical political norms were now integrated into the Roman system.
As violence increasingly became a tool at the disposal of corrupt and cynical Romans, it also became a last resort for frustrated and hopeless Romans and Italian Allies. As a result of the Republic's failure to address systemic social and economic issues, the Social War broke out between Rome and the Italian Allies. In the aftermath of this devastating war, the famous Gaius Marius and Lucius Cornelius Sulla waged a titanic and bloody war for the fate of the Roman Republic. The endemic violence and zero-sum nature of the conflict ultimately ensured the future demise of the Republic.
This is Part IV in a series on the downfall of the Roman Republic. It focuses on questions of citizenship in Ancient Rome, the Social War, and the epic struggle between Sulla and Marius. Sulla claimed victory, but ultimately for the Roman Republic it was ashes in the end.
Many historians have cited moral decline that began after the Punic Wars as a leading cause in the decline of the Roman Republic. While there are different interpretations of this idea, the conflict between ambition and equality was a problem that was built into the Roman system and was ultimately never completely resolved in the Republic. A frustrated underclass of Roman citizens and other Italians who saw their farms shrinking and their economic opportunities limited as a result of the changing economic conditions after the Punic War provided the perfect opportunity for cynical politicians to appeal to populism and ambitious maneuvering to increase their own power and prestige. Whether you view them as populists or genuine reformers, men like Tiberius Gracchus and Gaius Gracchus identified problems in the Roman system and tried to fix them as they saw fit. Ultimately the system swallowed them up and they failed to produce long lasting change to the corrupted system. But their demise introduced a new crisis that the Republic would never solve: political violence.
This is Part III in a series on the downfall of the Roman Republic. It focuses on Tiberius and Gaius Gracchus and their attempt to alleviate disenfranchised Romans who felt the new Roman economic system was leaving them behind.
The Roman Republic's victory over Carthage in the Punic Wars established Rome as the dominant power in the Mediterranean. But not without cost. In order to defeat Carthage, Rome had to resort to it's own ancient version of total war, which would have insidious effects that would only manifest themselves in the years to come. Victory in the war also led to a fundamental change in the way the Roman economy worked over the years. This led to increased wealth inequality, political and economic corruption, population shifts, and questions over citizenship that would ultimately create friction in the Republic.
This is Part II in a series on the fall of the ancient Roman Republic. It gives an overview of the Punic Wars, and goes over how Rome's victory in these wars led to incredible shifts in Roman politics, economics, and moral norms that would ultimately create the conditions necessary for the Republic to fall.
Does history repeat itself? Many people have asked this question over the years, but it seems more relevant as interested parties look to the past for answers to solve our seemingly increasing mess of problems in the modern world. If the goal of studying history is to learn from the past and avoid making the same mistakes, there is perhaps no better topic to learn about than the ancient Roman Republic. The downfall of the once durable and effective democratic institution is worth studying and is an important tale that can teach lessons relevant to virtually every element of modern life, from politics to economics to everyday social life.
This is Part I in a series on the downfall of the ancient Roman Republic. It goes over the basic structure of the Roman democracy, some of the features that were built into the system, and takes a look at how and why the system was effective.
What can a guy who spent much of his day naked in public as he heckled bystanders from his perch in a bath tub teach us about philosophy and history? Quite a bit it turns out. Known as "the dog" for his shameless and strange behavior, Diogenes the Cynic is one of the most widely revered of the Ancient Greek thinkers and one of the first philosophers of cynicism. Analyzing his life can lead to important lessons on moral virtue, happiness, freedom of speech, self-sufficiency, mental and physical toughness, endurance, humor, and materialism.
Colonialism and Imperialism are among the most controversial historical narratives. An outbreak of Sleeping Sickness disease in the Belgian Congo during the early 1900's provides a lens through which to examine the legacy of European Imperialism and the Scramble for Africa. The epidemic brings up interesting questions about the implementation of control by colonial authorities, the use of western medicine in Africa, and the legacy of Imperialism.
After the death of Mao Zedong in 1976, a fierce political battle ensued for the soul of modern China. But it was the ordinary people of China who had spent the past 10 years fighting through chaos, violence, and oppression who helped forge a new path. Many never made it through the revolution, but many also took matters into their own hands by finding creative ways to survive and seize economic opportunities to put food on the table and protect their families. Millions took part in a "silent revolution" to preserve their traditions, cultures, and identities in the face of unimaginable tragedy. For the survivors who made it out on the other side of the Cultural Revolution, the world would never be the same.
This is the final episode in a series on the Cultural Revolution. It focuses on the politics surrounding Mao Zedong as well as the actions of everyday people to survive and drive change in China. Thanks for listening to the series.
In the 1970's Red Guards and "undesirables" were forced to toil away in rural China working at re-education camps or doing manual labor in the people's communes. The ordinary people of China continued to suffer and found little motivation to carry on the Cultural Revolution. Mao and the communist party realized they needed to add extra incentive if the revolutionary goals were to be realized. It turns out nothing motivates like a strong dose of nationalism and the fear of nuclear war.
This is part VII in a multi-part series on the Cultural Revolution in China. It focuses on the mass movement of people into the countryside, and the mobilization of the entire country for a potential war. The next episode after this will be the last episode in the series, discussing the end of the Cultural Revolution.
The Cultural Revolution began as a campaign against bad class elements, but spiraled out of control as counter-revolutions emerged throughout the country between rebel groups and the local party establishments. As the chaos got out of control, the army had to step in and take control of the country. But whose side would they be on? Sadly for the average person in China at this period, it probably didn't matter as the violence and destruction would continue.
This is Part VI in a series on the Cultural Revolution. It focuses on what was probably the most chaotic and destructive period of the Cultural Revolution. Future episodes will discuss how the end of the Cultural Revolution is in sight, but a whole lot more tragedy would unfold before then.
By 1967, China was engulfed in the chaos of the Cultural Revolution. But the violence of the counter-revolutions and counter-counter-revolutions was not the only source of misery for ordinary people in China. As fear spread and the Cultural Revolution expanded, it began to have a significant impact on the command economy of China. The campaign to eliminate the Four Olds was growing in intensity, leaving businesses destroyed, trade halted, libraries burned, and people struggling to make a living. The entire economy of China revolved around one man: Mao Zedong.
This is Part V in a series on the Cultural Revolution. It focuses on the campaign to eliminate the Four Olds and how this impacted the economy of China. Future episodes will chronicle the further ebbs and flows of the Cultural Revolution.
By the end of August in 1966, it was clear that the Cultural Revolution was going to be a unique historical period of violence and upheaval. Violence and brutality were becoming routine, symptoms of the incredibly modern issues that the Cultural Revolution was creating, including student protests and the psychology behind them, leadership seemingly stoking the fires of mistrust and intimidation, and people not knowing which news sources to trust. One of the saddest elements of this violence and chaos was that it was often perpetrated by teenagers. What was life like for the Red Guards, what kinds of experiences did they have at mass rallies, and what made them tick?
This is Part IV in a series on the Cultural Revolution. It focuses on the escalation of the Cultural Revolution in it's early phases and the experiences of Red Guards at mass rallies in Tiananmen Square. Future episodes will chronicle the further ebbs and flows of the Cultural Revolution.
During the first month of the Cultural Revolution Mao Zedong unleashed a whirlwind of chaos and confusion in China. Mao mobilized students as "Red Guards"- one part student group, one part paramilitary group- to terrorize class enemies and spread fear and paranoia. As Red Guard violence escalated from attacks on teachers to attacks on the power structure itself, within a single month the Cultural Revolution was already spiraling out of control.
This is Part III in a series on the Cultural Revolution. It focuses on the formation of the Red Guards and the violence and chaos of the first month of the Cultural Revolution. Future episodes will chronicle the expansion and further tragedy of the Cultural Revolution.
After the deaths of tens of millions of people during the Great Leap Forward, Mao Zedong had to re-establish control over the Communist Party in China. Through a process of political maneuvering and ruthless policy making, by 1966 Mao was finally ready to begin his Cultural Revolution.
This is Part II in a series on the Cultural Revolution. It talks mostly about the impacts of the Great Leap Forward and how Mao had to pave a new way forward that would ultimately culminate in the Cultural Revolution. This episode sets up a lot of the background and some of Mao's thought processes before the Cultural Revolution began. Later episodes will look at some more of the specific details and events of the Cultural Revolution.
The Cultural Revolution in China lasted roughly from 1966-1976. But the cultural disintegration and scars left from Mao Zedong's final campaign of terror and violence will last for generations to come.
This is Part I in a series on the Cultural Revolution in China. It focuses on some of the bigger picture themes and ideas that will be discussed in the series. More specific details on the events of the Cultural Revolution will come in later parts of the series.
As Ji-Li Jiang describes in "Red Scarf Girl," the Cultural Revolution became more sinister over time and the psychological pressure on Ji-Li to conform became greater. When the humiliations, beatings, and deaths started hitting close to home, Mao Zedong's ultimate loyalty test was given to millions of children in China: Party or family?
This is the second and final part in a series on Ji-Li Jiang's experience during the Cultural Revolution.
Kids often get overlooked in traditional historical narratives. But in China around 1966, the communist leader Mao Zedong realized that he could weaponize the youth of China to achieve his political goals. The result was disastrously tragic. In her memoir "Red Scarf Girl," Ji-li Jiang tells the horrifying story of the Cultural Revolution through the eyes of a young adult.
This is Part I in a series on Ji-Li Jiang's experience during the Cultural Revolution. Part II should be out in a few weeks.
What is it that makes you, you? How would your identity change if you suddenly belonged to a new country? For the people of East Germany, this hypothetical became a reality shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War in the early 1990's. In her book "Where the World Ended," Daphne Berdahl takes a look at the complex interaction between history and identity.
The end of the Cold War is often simplified to the triumph of democracy and capitalism over communism. But what impact did this triumph have on the everyday people involved? Shortly after the fall of the Berlin wall and the re-unification of Germany, anthropologist Daphne Berdahl traveled to the East German village of Kella to find out. Based on her insight, this episode takes a look at everyday life from a political and social perspective under the authoritarian regime. How much control did the state have over the political and social life of it's citizens? Was their any room for dissent? What role did religion play? How did all of this change once the borders were opened and Germany was reunified?
Picking up where the last episode left off, this episode looks at some of the core principles and wisdom contained in "The Tao of Pooh." The Taoist concepts of inner nature, yin and yang, wu wei, the uncarved block, simplicity, patience, and compassion are all discussed. It is difficult to read the book and not come away thinking that Taoism is an underrated and useful philosophy in modern times.
Written in 1982 by Benjamin Hoff, "The Tao of Pooh" gives an overview of the ancient philosophy of Taoism. The book is accessible and full of wisdom, but perhaps its most useful element is how it sheds light on the concerning trends in the modern education system. Intellectual curiosity and the search for meaning seem to be taking a backseat to practicality and career readiness.
The Bystander Effect is a psychological term for the tendency for people to be less likely to help victims in need when other people are present. During the Holocaust, a significant number of people around the globe knew about the mass murders, deportations, and concentration camps, and yet did nothing to help the victims. Why? What made people more (or less) likely to step up and help?
The fighting may have ended in 1918, but the Treaty of Versailles negotiations in 1919 may have been just as important. Woodrow Wilson’s noble ideas like “self determination” and “fair and lasting peace” didn’t amount to much as the Allied powers sought mainly to punish Germany. A continued naval blockade, the war guilt clause, reparations, and exclusion from the League of Nations helped put Europe on the path to World War II.
Scene from “Rome” on HBO: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=9SFsAqqN7fU
For more on how the Treaty of Versailles and other factors contributed to the rise of Hitler and Nazi Germany, check out Episode 20.