Faustian Bargain by Ian Ona Johnson

Faustian Bargain by Ian Ona Johnson is published by Oxford University Press.

It is subtitled The Soviet-German Partnership and the Origins of the Second World War. Dr. Johnson is a professor of military history at Notre Dame University.

As I write this review, the world’s attention is once again focused on events in Russia and particularly in Ukraine. Like most conflicts in history, this story didn’t begin this past week or month or year. The issues and troubles are rooted in centuries of Russian and Ukrainian history. And like most of history, it is not simply a remake of an earlier event. Many conflicts that might resemble the opening moves of World Wars I and II led to nothing like those wars.

Historical studies are insightful, but they are not necessarily predictive prophecy. Related to this is the most egregious statement on foreign policy ever made by former President Obama when he chided Mitt Romney saying, “Gov. Romney…when you were asked what is the biggest geopolitical group facing America, you said Russia… And the 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back.”

No study of the modern world is complete without factoring in the major role Russia played from at least the beginning of the 20th century and the Russo-Japanese War, continuing on with the World Wars, the Russian Revolution, the Cold War, and the breakup of the Soviet Union.

In recent months, well before this current crisis, I turned my attention to the Russo-German War, which was a major part of World War II. It all began with Stalin’s War: A New History of World War II by Sean McMeekin.

When I first saw this book, my thought was “Nope. I have too many unread books about Stalin and about World War II.” As usual, a review and a recommendation and an interview with the author by Tony Williams weakened my easily swayed resolve.

Although this is a rather hefty book, I read it rather quickly and with great interest. I hate to say it was enjoyable, because the accounts in it were grim, brutal, and depressing. Hitler deservedly gets high billing for the causes, extent, and horrors of World War II. But this book crowds Hitler off of his perch and gives much more credit to Stalin for the design, unfolding, and events of that war. He was not the wizard behind the scenes causing each step and misstep, but he was always active, always plotting, and always deceptive in his goals and mission.

Lend Lease was a well-intentioned American effort to pump weapons and materials into the hands of other nations who were fighting on the side we favored. Most of it went to the Soviet Union. There is much to commend in the Lend Lease program, but this book reveals quite a bit that was excessive. We were giving things to Russia that we needed for our own efforts. We were giving to Russia while they were imprisoning Americans who were forced to land planes in that country. We were allowing Russians to freely spy on our production facilities. In short, we were selling out to the Russians.

Russia, to use an old phrase, was “playing both sides against the middle.” Russia was gobbling up neighboring countries right alongside of Germany’s conquests. Russia was co-existing with the Japanese while supposedly helping us in our two-ocean war. Russia was run like a mob boss was at its helm. Except, I don’t think most mob bosses are as evil as Stalin, Beria, and company.

I really thought that Faustian Bargain would be yet another retelling of the story that Stalin’s War covered. I like history enough to enjoy hearing the same story, or reading about the same events, numerous times. But I soon discovered that these two books are not echoes of one another, but rather are complementary accounts of events.

The Soviet-German partnership began in the waning days of World War I. In a real sense, both Germany and Russia lost that war. For Russia, it was a disaster from the very beginning. Events of the war led to the toppling of the Czarist government. Further difficulties led to the short life of the Kerensky government.

When the Bolsheviks managed to gain control, the first and major issue was extricating Russia from the quagmire of the war with Germany. The result was the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, which was a bundle of major land concessions by the Russian government. Short term, it was a disaster, but it gave breathing room for the Soviet government to consolidate its power and turn its attention to the Civil War.

When the dust of World War I finally settled, Germany was stripped of much of its military power and forbidden to reconstruct its military. But when all else fails, use deceit! Germany needed space and opportunities to enhance research and development for future weaponry. And Germany rightly knew that while armies of the past moved on their bellies, future armies would move on their petrol tanks. Russia needed military upgrades as well. They lost the war in large part because they could not equip or mobilize their armies adequately. And the horses and lances of World War I were certainly not going to defend or expand the military boundaries of the post-war world.

It was a match made in Hell. A “Faustian bargain” refers to the German legend, often retold in literature, of a man who sells his soul to the devil in return for certain powers. Whether Germany or Russia was the devil in this case is hard to figure.

The years from roughly 1919 through 1939 were filled with treaties, meetings, agreements, and under-the-table deals between Russia and Germany. In Germany, it certainly didn’t start with Hitler. One of the areas where the two powers cooperated related to furthering the development of poison gas. By the mercies of God, those horrible weapons were outlawed by the Geneva Convention after World War I and surprisingly not reintroduced in World War II (although both sides kept such weapons close by–just in case). Russia’s lands provided great venues for R&D on gases.

Airplanes had made a major impact on the previous war, and the door was opened for both good and bad uses of air flight. Germany was forbidden to have an air force, so Russia provided a curtain for them to engage in building factories, improving designs, and testing new methods.

Tanks had entered into the last portions of World War I. Those creepy looking contraptions from the war now look like poorly drawn monsters. But this was the age of mechanization. Just as automobiles and airplanes were being constantly upgraded, so were tanks. A few people on all sides were seeing the future potential and dangers of mechanized armored warfare. A few strategists and military folks (like Basil Liddell-Hart in England, Heinz Guderian in Germany, Charles De Guallle in France, and George Patton in the USA) were envisioning a type of warfare that would come to be known as the Blitzkrieg in the upcoming war.

Germany had long had a tradition of outstanding military training methods and facilities. The Prussian state, which was the premier German principality before the union of the peoples in 1870, had a reputation of being a militant nation. Russian officers were eager to learn from these teaching masters.

The relationship between Germany and Russia was never pure, never without distrust, and never benevolent. While neither country knew exactly where they would end up in the coming decades, neither anticipated an age of peace.

Johnson’s book is dense with details. His work lacks the narrative style of McMeekin’s work. But he published this work with a university academic press. It bears the marks of a dissertation, for it is exacting, heavily documented, weighted with source materials not generally known to the average reader, and a matter-of-fact style. And it has chapters that are all amazingly short. While it was not the most engaging reading, it was very readable because after a few pages, the chapter would end.

One of the most bizarre, wicked, and potentially fatal things that Stalin did was his ravaging purge of his military. Some of his best generals, including several who had been sent to Germany to be groomed in the military sciences, were placed against the wall and shot. A few were “merely tortured and exiled,” so Stalin was able to rehabilitate them for the Second World War.

The Faustian Bargain climaxed in the Russo-German Non-Aggression Pact of 1939. This diplomatic triumph ended with a feast where Poland was served up and carved up. World War II had begun. For Russia and Germany, barring a few tensions, it was a love feast.

Germany’s need for Russia still existed because Germany lacked the vital fuel resources necessary to keep its armies and Luftwaffe in motion. And then the time came when Germany felt it could slip past its bargain and further endanger her sold-out soul and attack Russia.

Operation Barbarossa: The History of a Cataclysm by Jonathan Dimbleby is also published by Oxford University Academic Press.

I have not started reading this one yet. Until then, I will be praying that the now occurring cataclysm will be soon resolved.

Soaring High With Lexham Press

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To visit the website for Lexham Press, please click HERE.

I can’t remember how or when I first became aware of Lexham Press. It was a few years back, and I began receiving and reading and reviewing books that were publishing.

Lexham Press is the premier publisher of the works of the great Dutch Christian thinker, writer, theologian, Abraham Kuyper. Someday, when the money flow is abundant, I hope to acquire every Kuyper volume they have published.

But along with that Dutchman, they have also published some of the works of Geerhardus Vos. I recently reviewed a book of sermons by Vos (from another publisher), but my main Vos collection are the five volumes called Reformed Dogmatics.

Add to that, Lexham Press has published several (maybe most or all) of Michael Heiser’s intriguing and informative books.

Among the books I have reviewed over the last year is my friend Thaddeus Williams’s God Reforms Hearts: Rethinking Free Will and the Problem of Evil.

I could go adding more and more books that I have that they have published and more that they have that I want.

But now, let me proclaim a major public repentance and proclamation: I AM VERY SORRY FOR SEVERAL TIMES IN THE PAST WHEN I REFERRED TO LEHAM PRESS AS A SMALL PUBLISHER!

I am no stranger to being wrong or to underestimating matters. But for sure, this is no small, hole-in-the-wall book printing operation. I will rank them right up there with many of the biggest names in Christian publishing.

And add this: They are not merely putting out a bevy of books. What they are publishing are books that are wide ranging in style, content, and audience-focus. There are deep theological works, middling theology (meaning books for the reading, but not technically trained, Christian), commentaries, reprints and first-time-in-English translations (as is the case with Kuyper and Vos), practical Christian living books, and children’s books.

I am drowning in the riches of this publisher. We are living in a book producing renaissance, reformation, revival, tidal wave, great awakening, and outpouring of blessings upon blessings.

I want to call attention to just 4 books I have received in recent months from Lexham and highlight a few useful features of each.

The Apostles’ Creed: For All God’s Children (A Fat Cat Book) is by Ben Myers (text) and Natasha Kennedy (art).

A few weeks ago, I was leaving to go teach my class of Tuesday/Thursday students. The topic was the Creeds, starting with the Apostles’ Creed. I have been on a kick about the Apostles’ Creed for several years now. On several occasions, I have filled in the pulpit at a friend’s church, and each time I have used the Creed as the basic for my sermons. And in my church, which only recites the Creed when it shows up in the New City Catechism once a year, I am beginning my Sunday school class with my teen boys with us saying the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Ten Commandments. (It’s an SBC church.)

Ben Myers wrote a book called The Apostles’ Creed: An Ancient Guide for Modern Believers that I have read and referred back too often. That book is published by….guess who? You’re right: Lexham Press. It is one of four volumes in a really nice set called Christian Essentials. I have read and loved all four volumes.

It is vital, useful, and a blessing to be trained on the Apostles’ Creed from childhood. The Methodist upbringing I received left many key issues and teachings unfilled and untouched. But the church did regularly recite the Creed. My heart was being formed to believe and embrace the teachings of the Bible.

But I remember being confused over who the guy was in the Creed who was a pilot. (Pontus Pilate) And I wasn’t sure why we were Methodists, but we always affirmed that we believed in the Catholic Church. Saying and drilling the Creed was great, but our children need to be taught what it means.

This book is beautiful, readable, but it is not a picture book with only a few words on each page. And like any really good children’s book, it is a help to adults.

This would be a great book to give to your children for Easter!

Spirits in Bondage: A Cycle of Lyrics is by C. S. Lewis

This book is a bit unusual for Lexham Press. The reason is that this is a book written by a person who was not a Christian! Before you gasp too many times, let me clarify: This was C. S. Lewis’s first published work. At the time it came out, he was not yet a believer. He was struggling to clarify his views, his style, his literary directions, and the type of works he would write.

He set out to be a poet. As we all know, he went on, after his conversion, to write a number of different types of books and even continued to write a few poems. But this is the first glimpse at the man who would become the creator of Narnia and the author of so many beloved volumes.

Published in 1919 using the name Clive Hamilton, this book reflects the troubles Lewis had with God and the experiences he had in World War I. Although those who have read and studied the work suggest that the poems were not top quality works, they did show promise.

Those who like poetry, particularly the challenges of modern–meaning 20th Century–poetry, this is a volume to put on the shelf beside the early works of Eliot, Frost, Wallace, and the Fugitive Poets. But the greater attraction will be for those of us who love poetry and the later C. S. Lewis.

Here is the heart of a man who is yet untamed by God, endangered by Aslan, and unable to locate Joy.

Added to that, this is a beautiful hardback book. Sorry that Valentine’s Day is already past, for it would be the perfect complement to a dozen roses and a box of chocolates.

.But it’s never too late to get or give a book. (I’m still accepting Christmas and birthday presents.)

Signs of the Messiah: An Introduction to John’s Gospel is by Andreas J. Kostenberger.

I received and read this book back in 2021. I thought it was a good book. But I was needing some guidance and help this year when I was teaching the Gospel of John to my class, which I previously mentioned.

I read this introduction again and read it properly, meaning that I read it in conjunction with reading John’s Gospel and with an eye for structure and application.

This is not a commentary on the Gospel. Kostenberger has written one however. This book deals with an outline of the book and major themes. It is a great book to use as I did for teaching an overview of the Gospel. For pastors teaching John in an expository series (which is how it should be taught), this is the definite before book to read with some referring back along the way.

For people who like to have some accessible helps and prods for their own Bible study, again this book works. And again, as is often the case with Lexham, the book is published in a nice hardback format.

Pointing to the Pasturelands: Reflections on Evangelicalism, Doctrine, and Culture is by J. I. Packer.

Truly, I have saved the best for last!

It should be enough to see that the author of this book is the late J. I. Packer. Not sure we had many in the recent century quite at his level. Theologically, he was at the top of his class. But stylistically, he excels even that compliment. His book Knowing God is a gem. It is one of the key books to have and read and reread. I could list many titles and could wax eloquently about them.

This book is a collection of short articles that Packer contributed to the magazine Christianity Today over the course of several decades. The articles are really short, but really delightful. I have to purposely refrain myself from over-indulging and read five or ten at a time.

I never thought of Packer being particularly witty until I started reading this book. And, as usual, he can be profound, moving, convicting, and instructive all in one essay.

This book is a part of a series that Lexham Press has consists of reprints of articles from Christianity Today. For decades, that magazine has published articles by the biggest names in evangelical Christianity. Now, the best of them are being made available in nice, hardback editions.

The Best of Christianity Today as published by Lexham Press.

Final Note: There’s more from Lexham Press that I have not yet called attention to, but this is enough for now.

And for the benefit of my more modern, less book hoarding friends, I sadly confess that all of these works and more from Lexham Press are available in digital formats.

Make Lexham Press one of your go-to sources for books.

Grace and Glory by Geerhardus Vos

cover image of Grace and Glory by Geerhardus Vos

Grace and Glory: Sermons Preached at Princeton Seminary by Geerhardus Vos is published by the Banner of Truth Trust.

A few years ago, I waded out into the ever surprisingly deep waters of Dutch theology and philosophy. We still await a really good book about how the Dutch, while maybe not saving civilization, have highlighted what a saved civilization would believe and think.

Very few colleges offer courses in the Dutch language. It is a minor topic in most historical studies. They did have a lesser role in the establishment of the American colonies. At times, they are noted for weighing in on the bigger events of European history. For example, the Glorious Revolution in Britain came about because the King of the Netherlands, William, was married to the daughter of the English King James II. William and Mary were invited to move back into her parents’ home, contingent on kicking dad and his son out, and based in large part on William and Mary being Protestant.

Occasionally, attention is given to some of the greater minds from the Dutch nation, such as Spinoza. But history courses tend to give short shrift to quite a few religious theological and philosophical leaders. But the small, partially below sea level, land of tulips, and windmills is heavily weighted with some of the most brilliant, profound minds of the 19th and 20th centuries.

The most prominent names are Groen Guillame van Prinsterer, Abraham, Kuyper, and Herman Dooyeweerd. Perhaps the most widely read and currently acclaimed theologian/philosopher is Herman Bavinck. But there are quite a few more, some of whom are best known in the land they were transplanted into, meaning the United States. Here one encounters the great systematic theologian Louis Berkof, the apologist Cornelius Van Til, and the subject of this post Geerhardus Vos.

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Vos’ dates were 1862 to 1949. He was a professor of Biblical theology during most of his years at Princeton Theological Seminary. He was a peer to and friend with Kuyper and Bavinck in the Netherlands. In fact, they tried to persuade him to stay in the old country and teach in a seminary there. But he returned to the United States (the land he had moved to with his family in his 19th year). His colleagues here included the Presbyterian theologians Benjamin Warfield and J. Gresham Machen.

He wasn’t just surrounded by theological luminaries: he was one himself. He is often considered to be the father of Biblical theology. While many theological studies focus on systematic theology, the biblical theologian focuses on the development of a doctrine through the course of the Bible itself, without heavy emphasis on previous theologians, church history, creeds, confessions, and the like.

Vos’ writings have been in print through the years, but he was not one whose style and content was popular or attractive. He was, as we sometimes hear, a weighty and academically rigorous theologian. Much more popular is his wife’s work. The Children’s Story Bible, now also published by Banner of Truth.

Several years ago, Lexham Press began publishing Reformed Dogmatics, available in English for the first time. These five volumes made much of the thought and teachings of Vos available for modern readers. Still, this was more theology for the theologians and serious readers. (And that doesn’t mean you have to be a seminary student or a college graduate to read them!)

And here, to load the cart a little heavier is a partial bibliography of some of Vos’s works. \

  •  The Mosaic Origin of the Pentateuchal Codes. New York: A. C. Armstrong & Son.
  • ——— (1894). The Idea of Biblical Theology as a Science and as a Theological Discipline: The Inauguration Of Rev. Geerhardus Vos, Ph.D., D.D., as Professor Of Biblical Theology. New York: A. D. F. Randolph. 
  • ——— (1903). The Teaching of Jesus Concerning the Kingdom of God and the Church. New York: American Tract Society.
  • ——— (1922). Grace and Glory: sermons preached in the chapel of Princeton Theological Seminary. Grand Rapids, MI: Reformed Press.
  • ——— (1926). The Self-Disclosure of Jesus: The Modern Debate about the Messianic Consciousness. New York: George H. Doran Co. 
  • ——— (1930). The Pauline Eschatology. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House. 
  • ——— (1934). Biblical Theology: Old and New Testaments. Philadelphia, PA: Theological Seminary of the Reformed Episcopal Church. 
  • ——— (1944). The Teaching of the Epistle to the Hebrews. Philadelphia, PA: Theological Seminary of the Reformed Episcopal Church.
  • ——— (2001). The Eschatology of the Old Testament Phillipsburg, NJP&R Publishing
  • ——— (1980). Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation: The Shorter Writings of Geerhardus Vos. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing. 

What I am not sure of is which of these books are NOT readily available, having been reprinted in more recent years.

But notice that Grace and Glory first appeared in 1922. Bless those at Banner of Truth who find and reset and reprint these treasures. And they have updated and expanded the number of sermons in the book.

Grace and Glory consists of 16 sermons. They are, in several cases, rather lengthy. I say that because I sometimes read a whole sermon during my morning readings, but some were basically divided into two sections.

These sermons are a perfect fit for those who want something with enough devotional/emotional/spiritually motivational impact to set the day on a good course. In other words, you need your heart to sing praises to God.

But these are not snappy, uplifting five minute or less inspirational thoughts. This is heavy theology by a brilliant theological mind. These were sermons being preached to some of the most promising and bright theology students of their times.

If you want some ideas on how to preach this upcoming Sunday, look elsewhere. I cannot imagine being able to preach with this depth and height and magnitude. If you want to be brought to your knees in awe of the God we worship, read these sermons.

Sinclair Ferguson’s quote on the back of the dust jacket is worth repeating: “In these pages the reader is invited, almost commanded and certainly demanded, to become a spiritual mountaineer.”

So true. Such a good characterization of what is contained in this book. These sermons are well worthy of being read, reread, quoted, meditated on, and shared.

Side note: Banner of Truth also has another Vos book in publication: Biblical Theology. And, of course, I want it.


Here are a couple of the quotes I shared a few months back when I was reading Grace and Glory:

“Thanks be to God, He is a Saviour who seeks the lost, who with eyes supernaturally far-sighted discerns us a long way off, and draws our interest to Himself by the sweet constraint of His grace, till we are face to face with Him and our soul is saved. “

“The only thing that can give a faint suggestion of the engrossing character of the divine hold upon his people is the first awakening of what we call romantic love in the youthful heart. “

As if it needs to be said at this point: Buy and read Grace and Glory by Geerhardus Vos!

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Cronyism: Liberty VS Power in America 1607-1849 by Patrick Newman

Cronyism: Liberty and Power in America, 1607–1849 by Patrick Newman is published by The Mises Institute.

I first became acquainted with Dr. Patrick Newman a year or two ago I read the long-awaited fifth volume of Murray Rothbard’s Conceived in Liberty. Newman labored through the indecipherable handwritten manuscript that Rothbard had left.

Conceived in Liberty by Murray N. Rothbard

I read, reviewed, and enjoyed that book. And that led to my acquiring Rothbard’s work titled The Progressive Era, which consists of a series of essays about the ideas, events, and leaders of a movement that has dominated much of American history and historiography since the late 1800s. (See my review of Bradley Watson’s fine study Progressivism: The Strange History of a Radical Idea.)

The Progressive Era

A few months ago, I was pleased to see that Newman had written a book on American history, titled Cronyism: Liberty vs. Power 1607-1849. And in typical Ben House-fashion, I was more thrilled when I received a copy of the book. And in frequent Ben House-fashion, I am quite awed and impressed after having read the book.

First let me say this: Libertarians, anarchists, ultra conservative folks, political cynics, and many others of similar mindsets will be quite pleased with the nature and contents of this book. While none of those terms describe me, I have lots of sympathies and shared belief with those folks. For the record, I am much more of a Reagan Republican than a libertarian.

I want to make the case for this book for those of US who are not devotees of Murray Rothbard, those who may have never heard of and read Ludwig von Mises, those who see more goofiness than sanity in Ayn Rand, those who vote for less than satisfying Republicans, those who even prefer to call themselves moderates, and even those who reject anything that has even the faintest odor of less government.

American history is a vast, deep, many layered, and complex subject. Every issue that is on the news headlines today is rooted in long-term conflicts, ideas, wars, political fights, and killings related to our past. As I said recently concerning the War Between the States, it hasn’t ended. Or as William Faulkner said, “The past isn’t dead. It isn’t even past.”

A Rothbardian view of American history is rarely put forth in history classes. I know that we are often simply trying to teach some names and timelines to younger children. Sadly, freshman level American history in college is often a repeat of high school American history. (I “Clepped” out of American history, having already learned the stuff, but end up in a life-changing freshman course anyway.)

But even graduate courses are often too narrowly focused or too consumed with the latest books off of the university presses to examine other views.

Sometimes people will question me for reading certain books. “Why are you reading Allen Guelzo’s biography of Robert E. Lee?” I was asked. It was not to learn about Lee, for I have read at least a couple of dozen books that focused entirely or largely on Marse Robert. I was searching for perspectives. And even though I was not satisfied with Guelzo’s take on the man, I did gain from reading the book.

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I confess to having a desire to read what the older historians say about a matter, what the recent scholarship reveals, what the more Marxist or leftists say, what the more conservative authors say, what the self-consciously Christian writers think, what unbelievers think, and what both fans and foes latch on to.

Granted some books are trash and some ideas are garbage. More often some books recount what is generally agreed on and some books are expanded Wikipedia accounts.

If one wishes for a review of American history along the standard traditional lines of thought, go elsewhere. There are good standard American histories. (I suggest Samuel Elliot Morison or Thomas Bailey for slightly older accounts and Wilfred McClay or Thomas Kidd for more recent accounts. And I think that Englishman Paul Johnson’s study of American history is quite fun.)

The Rothbard-Newman rendition is different. You will think you are going to hear a familiar tune and get quite surprised. I called it Rothbard-Newman because Dr. Newman dedicated the book to Rothbard, quotes or cites his work extensively, and attributes his way of thinking to Rothbard.

Get ready for lots of mud to thrown on your favorite heroes from the past. Or rather, be prepared to discover they the mud came from their own choices to wallow in the hog pen.

“Follow the money” and “all politicians are corrupt” are often used phrases. But we will just as often assume that in yesteryear, we were governed by marble statesmen. Some will hate Alexander Hamilton, some Andrew Jackson, some James Madison, and even the untouchable Lincoln gets black marks from some readers. But we want to think that the Washington Swamp is more recent. And, truthfully, recent readings about Progressives have pushed me in that direction. Also, the high degree of current corruption, much of it ignored by the media and condoned by the perpetrators, bears a recent and new trademark, or so we think.

But what if money and monied interests have been there all along? What if power really does corrupt, but it also fleshes out the bank account? What if ruling for the good of the people has almost always financially benefited those who ruled (and possibly the people)?

What I love about Newman’s book in this regard is that it is unconvincing! After all, he and Rothbard find little to praise about The Federalist Papers, the Constitution, and the “Miracle at Philadelphia.” Did they overlook those charts in the history books telling us of the weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation?

Newman says that Jefferson’s decision to make the purchase after his Monopoly figure landed on Louisiana for a mere 15 million was not right, good, and certainly not Constitutional.

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And while he praises those like Jefferson, Jackson, Tyler, Polk, and a few others for hitting the brakes now and then on a national bank and some other matters, he makes it clear that they fell short, that they succumbed to corruption, that they were political hypocrites, and that they contributed in the long run to problems we still have.

Newman is unconvincing! That is why I love his book. He has hit the walls of my thinking with massive stones. His historical trebuchet is lethal.

While I keep wanting to respond to what I read with “Well, I don’t think so,” Newman pulls out his arsenal of weaponry from his vast understanding of economics as well as history. All too many history teachers and students, of which I am both, have studied battlefields and personalities, but not economics.

I don’t even stutter when trying to answer Newman’s arguments. I am silenced.

I know there are readers and reviewers who can climb into the ring and do battle better than I can. Believe me, I would cut and paste from their reviews when needed. But I need to read these kinds of “change everything you thought you knew” kinds of books.

I look forward to a sequel to this book where Patrick Newman carries the story on up to the present. Until then, this book is a good beginning. I really hope some college professors either assign or recommend it. While I know that libertarian-leaning students will love it, I hope that some of the rest of us get put through this obstacle course.

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Progressivism: The Strange History of a Radical Idea by Bradley Watson


Progressivism: The Strange History of a Radical Idea by Bradley C. S. Watson is published by Notre Dame Press.

I heard once of an American history teacher with pacifist leanings who skipped all of the wars in our nation’s history. That is an amazing agenda and commitment. Unfortunately, such a teaching method and agenda completely misrepresents what our history is about.

History is taught from a set of presuppositions and an agenda. My worst history teacher was *******, who taught 7th grade Texas history. There were a large number of us students in the class, and we were scattered around tables in the library/study hall. The teacher’s method was to say, “Read the chapter and answer the questions at the end.” She never once made any comment about Texas history or any aspect of history or knowledge whatsoever.

She also had a group of girls (and they must have been real dummies) who graded our papers. Occasionally, she allowed Jackie Love, a student, to turn the slides on the projector that covered various aspect of Texas history. Believe me, Texas has a fascinating history. It took some real effort to make the class as bad as it was.

The fact that kids in junior high and high school and young people in college are often unaware and oblivious to agendas. Maybe with the current controversies regarding Critical Race Theory there is more awareness of what is or is not being taught.

As a college history major and as a holder of numerous hours of graduate credit in history, I got little instruction regarding the schools of thought, the interpretive grids, and the viewpoints being taught overtly or subtly. There is an almost inescapable notion that history is “just a bunch of facts.”

Dr. Watson’s book, Progressivism, is a valuable resource for history teachers and history-minded people. It is not the kind of historical study that regular history lovers will want to read. The narratives of warfare, the lives of famous people, daring escapes, cruel sieges, conflicts ranging from bedrooms to battlefields are all the types of readings that we history people love.

This book deals with a philosophy, a mind-set, and a set of presuppositions that have had a huge influence on historians, political theorists, authors, and professors. Sitting in some of their classes were the people who would occupy government positions, both elected and appointed. Also, there were those in other areas who would influence thought.

The root word in progressivism is progress. Isn’t that just basic to history? We all rejoice in the progress made in dentistry, and we could add numerous other areas where we have things today that are better than anything produced in the supposed “good old days.”

And while Progressivism certainly assumed that things were improving, it was more of a mindset that this evolution was best advanced by ever changing and ever-expanding ideas of what government and other institutions could do for us.

The Progressive Movement usually shows up in the history books sometime after chapters dealing with the settlement of the west and the growth of urban areas and the expanding industrialization. There was a movement called the Populist Movement that appealed to farmers and others who increasingly saw themselves as the “have nots” in a society that was increasingly controlled by the “haves,” including those who are often labeled as Robber Barons.

Angry farmers, crowded city dwellers, and factory workers seeking to unionize comprised a large voting bloc. Political parties supported by such folks usually went nowhere, but third parties in America often end up being absorbed by the major parties.

The Progressive Movement, as it developed, came to embrace more leaders of thought and leaders in the halls of power. A big component of the movement is what came to be called the Social Gospel. Religious leaders arose who spoke out on social injustices and called for reformation. Unlike their predecessors who called for conversion and a Bible centered churches, the Social Gospel leaders, highly influenced by the Higher Critical movement and Darwinian naturalism, departed from historic orthodox Christianity and basically looked to government action as a messiah.

In the early 20th century, Progressives became the dominant influence in national elections. William Jennings Bryan, although he lost the race three times, was a spokesman for Progressive causes. And that was in spite of or alongside of his personally being an evangelical Christian.

The more successful Progressives were Woodrow Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt. The later manifestation of the cause was the man who was a political descendant of both, and that was Franklin Roosevelt.

The key to all of this was a belief that the Constitution came from a time and contained a mentality that was antithetical to the later times, meaning the late 19th and then 20th centuries. Neither Wilson, nor the Roosevelts would have publicly jettisoned the Constitution, but it was treated with the same method as the way that the theological liberals treated the Bible. This means, that one could largely pick and choose how or if or when to apply a Constitutional guideline.

As the story continued, more academics began fashioning their studies of American history around this Exodus pattern. The Progressives were the Moses-es who led the nation out of the bondage of the old ways of thinking to a more broad, modern, scientific, and most certainly progressive way of thinking.

They wrote books. They wrote historical studies. Most people never read such, but it didn’t matter and still doesn’t matter. The people who did read them were fellow academics. Their audience were the future movers and shakers of the modern thought processes.

Many people in my conservative circles hate liberals and liberalism. They can rattle off the names of the people who have ruined America. Most of those named are Democrats who currently or recently held power. Some of these conservative friends include Republicans in the enemies list. Labeling them as RINOs, these conservatives are convinced that such recent kind of folks are the ones who have messed things up.

But, since ideas have consequences, we need to figure whether we are being faced with ideas or consequences. The current stuff going on is part of a long line of ideas, political platforms, academic studies, and other factors that have produced the radical ideas that Bradley Watson outlines.

Want a fun history? Look elsewhere. Want to relive some of the drama of battles in World War II. It’s not here. Want inspiring biographies? Nope

Want to understand where we are and how we got here? Want to know what has driven the field of history and the impact that field has had on society? Want to know something of what is really wrong?

Read Progressivism: The Strange History of a Radical Idea.