Tag Archives: Philosophy

Book Review: Mao’s Little Red Book: A Global History

Once Mao Tse-tung’s thought is grasped by the broad masses, it becomes a source of strength and a spiritual atom bomb of infinite power. ~ Lin Biao 

Mao's Little Red Book by Alexander C Cook

Alexander C. Cook has put together a great book about the second most read book in the world. The Quotations of Chairman Mao, or simply Mao’s Little Red Book, took the world by storm and created fans as well as enemies. Cook put together the a collection of scholarly essays from experienced scholars in this extremely well documented book. The amount of documentation and citations is well above and beyond what I would have expected. The writing is clear, to the point, and gives a variety of viewpoints. 

Mao’s quotations on revolution and socialism may seem dated to many casual readers or those without a history or political science background. But it must be remembered that the world was a very different place fifty years ago. Fifty years may not seem like a great deal of time, but a great deal of change happens over a fifty year period. Consider that World War II and the Desert Storm were fifty years apart and think of the changes weapons, technology, and economies.

Mao’s Little Red Book covers the effect it had in China and around the world. The Little Red Book was originally intended for the People’s Army as a tool to keep moral, dedication, and the revolutionary spirit live and well. The demand from the public for a copy was overwhelming. The printing office needed to outsource the production of the book to try and keep up with the demand. Having a copy was a sign of pride and duty for the average citizen. It was quoted and brought up even in casual conversations. It did create a cult of Mao though. That may seem strange and on par with the Kim Il dynasty in North Korea, but it was not that odd in China. Collected quotes had a long history in Chinese culture going back to the Confucius. 

The book was taken in different ways throughout the world. Originally not intended for outside use, even to the point of Chinese officials asking that visitors return any copies of The Little Red Book that they may have. The government felt that outsiders would not get the proper message in context by reading the small sampling and urged interested people to instead read the more complete volumes. China did print The Little Red Book in a few languages, and then more including Swahili. The Swahili edition was published for Tanzania and made available at a very low cost. The problem there, however, even with the support the government, was with the people. High illiteracy rates made even a very inexpensive book almost useless. This was fixed with broadcasts of from Radio Peking in East Africa. 

The book although widely popular in many parts of the world was a complete flop in the Soviet Union. China and the USSR had a difference of opinion that sometimes lead to bloodshed. China saw revolution as active and the USSR believed it achieved all there was. Mao said the Soviet Union lost its way with industrialization; the people no longer poor or agrarian had lost touch with the revolution. The book also was not a hit in the Western Hemisphere. In America, outside of Berkeley and the Black Panthers, it had little effect. Although South and Latin America had more than their share of communist influence, it was mostly from Moscow. The exception, however, was on of the most well known revolutionary/terror groups in the Western Hemisphere: The Shining Path. 

The use of different scholars and different regional expertise gives Mao’s Little Red Book: A Global History far more range, coverage, and grasp on how Mao’s little book influenced the world and where it succeeded and where it failed and more importantly why. The book may be above the grasp of the causal history reader, but well worth the read to those with an interest and a background. It is probably one of the more heavily documented books I have read outside of graduate school. Footnotes take up significantly more space than most mass marketed nonfiction books usually use. An excellent scholarly examination.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Review

Book Review: A Philosophy of Walking

A Philosophy of Walking by Frédéric Gros

A Philosophy of Walking by Frederic Gros is an enlightening look into the most basic form of human transportation. Gros is a French philosopher who specializes in Michel Foucault. He is a professor of political philosophy at the University of Paris XII and the Institute of Political Studies of Paris. 

Walking one of the simplest acts a person can complete. We depend on it and rarely think of it. Gros argues it is more than just a form of transport; it, in a way, defines us. Today, we think of walking simply as a means the takes us from one place to another. The start and the destination are the important parts. Walking is just a means to get to our ends. 

American Indians walked barefoot so that they would stay in contact with the earth that nourishes everything including the walker through direct contact. Walking should connect the walker with nature. It is becoming one with your surroundings. Nietzsche walked for hours on end; it disconnected him from the world around him. His ideas came to him while walking, and walking was a type of mediation where ideas became clear and could be written later. It may not be surprising that Nietzsche’s insanity did not begin until he was unable to continue his walks. Thoreau was at one with nature and walked. Rousseau had to walk, and he walked all over Europe. “I was young, and in good health; I had sufficient money and abundant hopes; I traveled on foot and I traveled alone.” Rimbaud walked when he was poor and to escape. After he lost part of his leg he waited impatiently for his wooden prosthesis so he could resume his walking. Kant never walked far, but he walked everyday. For Kant, walking was cleansing. It was a break from the musty indoors of the library. It is said he walked the same loop in the park for years, only deviating from it twice. His path became known as the “Philosopher’s Walk.” 

There are other reasons for walking. Pilgrimages are a reason for walking. Christian pilgrims went to to sites to give thanks to God. The sites were usually a great distance so the walk became a form of payment for good fortune. Pilgrims traveled simply. A walking stick, a pouch to hold documents and meager rations, a broad brimmed hat, and a large cape. The pouch was made of leather to remind the pilgrim of his mortality and the pouch was always open because the pilgrim was required to share. Other pilgrimages were for penance. A priest might assign a pilgrimage as penance for sins. The graver the sins the longer the pilgrimage. Here walking is still a connection with nature, but the church’s definition of nature. 

Walking follows us into modern times. Gandhi walked with the masses for freedom. We can walk with purpose even in the cities. Rather than connecting with nature, it is a blocking of modern distraction to try and achieve that feeling of walking in nature. Walking in nature has become impractical for most of us today. Even in city parks we hear traffic, our cell phones, and many other modern distractions. We have lost the connection to earth that the Indians had. We have lost the ability to walk for hours completely alone in the wilderness. In modern suburbs, we have lost the ability to walk to the store or let out children walk to school because there are no longer sidewalks. Walking is something people do to get from their car in the parking lot to their desk at work or from their car to the grocery store. Something I remember from years ago: “We now have plenty of philosophy teachers, but no philosophers.” Perhaps we need to walk more.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Review

Book Review: The Cave and the Light: Plato Versus Aristotle, and the Struggle for the Soul of Western Civilization

The Cave and the Light: Plato Versus Aristotle, and the Struggle for the Soul of Western Civilization

The Cave and the Light: Plato Versus Aristotle, and the Struggle for the Soul of Western Civilization by Arthur Herman is a detailed account of historical philosophy in Western civilization. Herman earned his PhD from John Hopkins University. He has taught at several universities including Georgetown. Herman also won the Pulitzer Prize for his book Gandhi and Churchill: The Epic Rivalry That Destroyed an Empire and Forged Our Age.

Western philosophy with its roots deeply set in ancient Greece and names familiar to all: Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. It’s modest beginnings with Socrates volunteering to drink hemlock as it is better to suffer a wrong than inflict it. His faithful student carries on and Plato keeps Socrates “alive” in his dialogs. It is Plato’s student that rises and breaks from him: Aristotle. The painting The School in Athens by Raphael shows the two great philosophers, center stage among many other philosophers. Plato is pointing to the heavens showing that all perfection, all knowledge and virtue, comes from above. Aristotle, pointing to the earth all knowledge is experienced. The other philosophers are discussed in the book, but clearly the two who made the greatest impact in the West were Plato and Aristotle. 

From Greece, we are taken to Rome and to early Christianity and through Medieval Europe. There is a battle between Aristotle and Plato. Plato worked well into the early thinking of the Church, but Aristotle did not fit as well but provided a realistic description of earth. Plato’s perfection in heaven and corruption on earth fit well with Christianity. Aristotle was science orientated. The story continues through the Middle Ages and into the Enlightenment. The French Revolution and Rousseau, all leave their mark on history and the story expands to Mill, Hegel, and Marx Then Modern times bloom in science with Darwin, Maxwell, and Einstein. Plato and Aristotle move through Western history competing for dominance only hitting a speed bump at Nietzsche, before moving ahead again. It moves through the rise of America and two bloody world wars to the current world situation. All these events and all this this history are connected back to a thought experiment of shadows on a cave wall. 

The Cave and the Light is an outstanding book covering the history of Western Philosophy. I have highlighted and noted more passages in this book than I have another book since graduate school. My background in philosophy mostly limited to political philosophy as and undergraduate and graduate student. I was pleasantly surprised to see an accurate portrayal of Machiavelli and that his support for a republic as well as his major work The Discourses on Livy, rather than the basic “ends justify the means” of the Cliff Note version of The Prince. The writing flows well,everything is connected, and concise. Herman provides sixty-seven pages of notes and a very useful eighteen pages of bibliography. This is an excellent read and reference book for those interested in Western Philosophy . Although it is not needed a basic background in history and philosophy is helpful. The Cave and the Light is a must read book: Five stars.

1 Comment

Filed under Book Review