Rasputin And The Demons of Russia’s Silver Age

“During what became know as Russia’s Silver Age, from roughly 1890 to 1914, a period that overlaps almost exactly with the rise and fall of Rasputin, the country’s educated classes exhibited a fascination for mysticism and the occult in all manner of the supernatural.”

Of all the charlatans of the time, it is Rasputin we will never forget, for “it cannot be stressed enough that the image of Rasputin that developed in the years before the Great War, an image which remains to this day, was created less by Rasputin the man—by the true nature of his character and the actual record of his actions—than by Russia’s diseased zeitgeist of the early 1900s.” Unceasing political turmoil, rapid modernization, and defeat on the battlefield had caused his nation to lose its collective mind.

Every troubled age needs a scapegoat.

from “Rasputin: Faith, Power, and The Twilight of The Romanovs” by Douglas Smith

The Difficulty of Prediction

“The reason that the future is difficult to predict is that it depends on choices yet to be made, including by our governments, in circumstances that remain uncertain. We ask questions about the future to inform choices not to succumb to fatalism. By stressing this aspect if thinking about war, peace, and the use of armed force this book provides a reminder that history is made by people who do not know what is going to happen next. Many developments that were awaited, either fearfully or eagerly, never happened. Those things that did happen we’re sometimes seen to be inevitable in retrospect but they were rarely identified as inevitable in prospect. ‘History’ as John Comaroff has observed, can be usefully studied as ‘any succession of rupturing events which together bring to light our misunderstandings and misrecognitions of the present.'”

The Future of War by Lawrence Freedman

Hubris And The Polemic

“Polemos appeared in Greek literature as war’s vicious personification. One of Aesop’s fables describes how, as the God’s chose their mates, Polemos struggled to find a partner. Eventually only Hybris was left. She was the goddess of reckless, arrogant pride, from when we get the word ‘hubris’. Polemos fell madly in love with Hybris and followed her wherever she went. The moral of the story was that the nations of the world should never allow Hybris to come among them for if they did war would not be far behind.”

The Future of War by Lawrence Freedman

Random Reading: ‘Hello Goodbye Hello’ 


A circle of 101 remarkable meetings beginning and ending with Adolf Hitler.

This book caught my eye a couple years ago back at my old library in Denver. I’d forgotten the title but came across it again today while browsing the stacks.

It’s a collection of anecdotes of chance encounters between notable people. The anecdotes are a bit humdrum but the unbroken chain of chance encounters between mid-20th and late-19th century intelligentsia, politicians and pop stars is in itself fascinating (For instance, Elvis Presley isn’t too many chance encounters removed from Rasputin; just as Helen Keller isn’t far removed from Michael Jackson) :

Adolf Hitler——> John Scott-Ellis——> Rudyard Kipling——> Mark Twain——> Helen Keller——> Martha Graham——> Madonna——> Michael Jackson——> Nancy Reagan——> Andy Warhol——> Jackie Kennedy——> Queen Elizabeth II——> The Duke of Windsor——> Elizabeth Taylor——> James Dean——> Alec Guinness——> Evelyn Waugh——> Igor Stravinsky——> Walt Disney——> P.L. Travers——> George Ivanovich Gurfjieff——> Frank Lloyd Wright——> Marilyn Monroe——> Nikita Kruschev——> George Brown——> Eli Wallach——> Frank Sinatra——> Dominick Dunne——> Phil Spector——> Leonard Cohen——> Janis Joplin——> Patti Smith——> Allen Ginsberg——> Francis Bacon——> Princess Margaret——> Kenneth Tynan——> Truman Capote——> Peggy Lee——> President Richard Nixon——> Elvis Presley——> Paul McCartney——> Noel Coward——> Prince Felix Youssoupoff——> Grigori Rasputin——> Tsar Nicholas II——> Harry Houdini——> President Theodore Roosevelt——> H.G. Wells——> Josef Stalin——> Maxim Gorky——> Leo Tolstoy——> Pyotr Il’ich Tchaikovsky——> Sergei Rachmaninoff——> Harpo Marx——> George Bernard Shaw——> Bertrand Russel——> Sarah Miles——> Terence Stamp——> Edward Heath——> Walter Sickert——> Winston Churchill——> Laurence Olivier——> J.D. Salinger——> Ernest Hemingway——> Ford Madox Ford——> Oscar Wild——> Marcel Proust——> James Joyce——> Harold Nicholson——> Cecil Beaton——> Mick Jagger——> Tom Driberg——> Christopher Hitchens——> George Galloway——> Michael Barrymore——> Princess Diana——> Princess Grace——> Alfred Hitchcock——> Raymond Chandler——> Howard Hawks——> Howard Hughes——> Cubby Broccoli——> George Lazenby——> Simon Dee——> Michael Ramsey——> Geoffery Fisher——> Roald Dahl——> Kingsley Amis——> Anthony Armstrong-Jones——> Barry Humphries——> Salvador Dali——> Sigmund Freud——> Gustav Mahler——> Auguste Rodin——> Isadora Duncan——> Jean Cocteau——> Charlie Chaplin——> Groucho Marx——> T.S. Eliot——> Queen Elizabeth I——> The Duchess of Windsor——> Adolf Hitler

I suppose it’s appropriate that this list begins and ends with Hitler. At this point in time, he might be the single most recognizable person of the 20th century. Ghoulish as the shadow he casts over humanity is.