New Publication: The War of Paraguay

Cover of The War of Paraguay. Text: A diplomatic history of South America's deadliest inter-state war

The translation I’ve been working on off and on for three years is finally complete! In celebration of Public Domain Day, I’m ceding the entirety of the publication, with the exception of the cover, to the public domain. If you want to throw some money my way you can set your price for it on Smashwords, or you can download a free copy in the following formats: DocxEpubMobiPDF.

Readers who’ve been following the blog for a while have seen earlier posts about this translation, including posts of each chapter translated. This version of the book is a much revised version of those posts, with the addition of translated footnotes, a translated appendix, expanded introduction, and a map of disputed territory and important locations. Those posts will remain up for posterity’s sake, but the version I am publishing today is vastly superior.

For those of you unfamiliar with this project, below is an excerpt of the Translator’s Foreword to give you an idea of what this book is, and why I’ve stuck with it through all this time:

Following my sophomore year of college, I decided to undertake a translation project. I didn’t have a specific text in mind—that was secondary to my desire to improve my Spanish and get some practice translating, which was a skill I wanted to develop.

So my criteria for choosing the source text were 1. That it be public domain, so I could post my translation online and eventually sell it. 2. That it be a work never before translated into English, so that I could feel I was not just doing a bad job that had already been done better. And 3. That the book be interesting to me.

This last criterion brought my attention the Paraguayan War, which I had only just learned about earlier that year, and which I was eager to know more about. Scanning the bibliography of its Wikipedia page I latched onto La guerra del Paraguay by Joaquim Nabuco, and although it satisfied all my criteria, this was truly a terrible choice for my first foray into translation.

Read More »

The War of Paraguay: Chapter XVIII, The Emperor in Rio Grande do Sul. — Letters from Ferraz and Boa Vista. — Ferraz and the Cabinet.

twop-c-10This post remains available for posterity’s sake, but a much revised and much expanded version of this translation is available completely for free! The revised version includes translated footnotes, a translated appendix, an expanded introduction, and a map of disputed territory and important locations. You can download a copy in the following formats: DocxEpubMobiPDF. Or, if you want to throw some money my way, you can set your price for it on Smashwords. And it’s in the public domain!

The Emperor’s presence in Rio Grande do Sul during the invasion, and concurrent with the allied troops’ arrival, was an act of great consequences—not only for the strengthening of Monarchist sentiments, especially in Rio Grande, but also for the strengthening of the alliance. The letters from Ferraz to Nabuco, written during the voyage, are noteworthy documents. Nabuco was Ferraz’s closest friend in the ministry, perhaps the only one to whom Ferraz could freely vent, without fear of political mistrust or memories of old disagreements. He shows himself extremely protective of his authority, clothing himself with the regalia that his position as ministerial delegate requires. What things he would’ve done, and how he would’ve had to reign everyone in, had the Emperor not been there!

Reaching Santa Catarina (1) on 13 July, Ferraz writes to Nabuco, “The minister has disappeared. The Emperor intrudes in even the most minor details, and everything revolves around him. He has at his disposal even the employees of my office, he gives orders through De Lamare (2), and through any other means. He is stubborn, but then he changes his mind. It is impossible for me to bear. There is no money here for the troops. Let us hope that Dias de Carvalho (3) does something, or takes some measure. I beg that you tell our colleague Silveira Lobo to order the authorities and subordinates in Rio Grande to obey my orders, and only my orders, or those of the governor of the province …”

On 16 July the Emperor unexpectedly arrives in Rio Grande; on the 18th Ferraz writes from that city: “Today, or better said, within two hours (eight thirty), we march to Porto-Alegre. Everything is going well. Enthusiasm has surpassed what was expected. The Emperor is satisfied and is doing well for the moment. The enemy’s plan is to stir up the Blancos … We have to be prepared for everything and we don’t even have cannons … Rest assured that these people think highly of me and are satisfied.”

On 21 July he complains from Porto-Alegre (4) about the state of the palace, and about the manner in which they were received, and on the 22nd he says:

Ângelo Moniz da Silva Ferraz, as depicted in Galeria dos Brasileiros Ilústres by Sébastien Auguste Sisson.

“They have put me in a jam. They wanted rich tack (5) of silver for the Emperor and the prince; they want for Cabral, Meirelles, and De Lamare also rich tack of three hundred to four hundred thousand réis (6) each, and all this at the Ministry of War’s expense. The demands are constant. They want horses for everyone, and even revolvers for the servants. The Emperor is fine, but he listens to these people despite the fact that he recognizes their (illegible). Caxias has comported himself discreetly and well. It’s been going around that he will be named chief general. Porto-Alegre’s appointment was done at the Emperor’s instruction, after hearing that Caxias and I were pleased with him, because this way everyone is content. Danger has silenced the partisan spirit to the point of seeming dead. ‘Good riddance,’ people tell me, ‘to arms and munitions. There is no money, our colleague who’s giving timely orders as fast as possible.’ The active troops are unpaid and unequipped.”Read More »

The War of Paraguay: Chapter XVI, Necessity of Adjournment. — Silveira Lobo, Minister. — Saldanha Marino.

This post remains available for posterity’s sake, but a much revised and much expanded version of this translation is available completely for free! The revised version includes translated footnotes, a translated appendix, an expanded introduction, and a map of disputed territory and important locations. You can download a copy in the following formats: DocxEpubMobiPDF. Or, if you want to throw some money my way, you can set your price for it on Smashwords. And it’s in the public domain!

Lithograph of the Palácio do Conde dos Arcos, published in Robert Walsh’s Notices of Brazil in 1828 and 1829.

Furtado, resentful of Saraiva, reluctantly supports the ministry and gets his friends to contain themselves. “I will give the government,” he says in the Senate, of which he was then a member, in July, “the means of sustaining the foreign war in which the empire finds itself endeavored, and my support, until events come to disavow the words of your excellencies … While events are forthcoming, I will keep a look out to see if the political swallows migrate (1). I have nowhere to which to migrate.”

The rift, the separation between Liberals and Conservatives that they’d sealed in 1862, was evident. The Liberals were getting along better with the pure Conservatives (2), with which they united against the Olinda government, than they did with their allies of yesterday. The more this breakdown of the party affected Nabuco, the further he found himself from wanting to contribute to it; nor did it suit him to aid the opposition in eliminating the Conservative element from the party, of which element he himself was a part.

Considering both halves separately, he still preferred that which represented the doctrine of Paraná, Conciliation, which represented the earliest Liberal tradition; recognizing, however, the insufficiency of that element as a third party, he preferred the government of the Conservatives, who formed an essential party. With the fusion of Liberals and moderates to form the other party not being possible, the Conservative party should have governed, the Conservative party which, since Itaboraí surrendered power to Paraná in 1853, had not returned to power except with the reconstructed Abaeté ministry in 1859, and with the Caxias-Paranhos ministry, also reconstructed, and which even in these two cases of purification had lacked Conservative leaders.

The truth is that the Nabuco’s spirit was objective and practical enough to let itself be dominated, especially during grand crises, by traditions without tangibility, by divisions without distinction, by sides with names that had only personal scope, and by relationships that were purely negative. He considered administration to be a practical thing, that required skill, preparation, the height of vision, and a sense of responsibility; for him there was not but one mode of administration, as in the navigation of waters there is not but one course to follow. Ferraz being at the head of the war chest seemed well to Nabuco, as Ferraz was an energetic, expeditious man, with his own resources and audacious initiatives; Nabuco did not have to enter into inquiries about if in 1860 he had fought with all his might in favor of the Conservative party; he accepted Ferraz’s word of honor of not being already joined with that group, without putting forth clear motives or intentions, nor entering into the examination of the past.

The Chamber’s adjournment freed the government from political minutiae; the recess would be long and would provide time for work. Nabuco would make an effort, would work tirelessly all through this period (almost a year) and then when the Chamber reconvened, if political passions showed themselves to be unyielding, rather than ingratiating himself with one of the sides, he would abandon power. Instead of volunteering to destroy the edifice he had raised, he would leave the work of demolishing it to the architects of ruins, precisely because he was sure that the common enemy would not delay in making a sudden invasion into the house divided, interrupting the work of the internal collapse.Read More »

The War of Paraguay: Chapter XV, Speech on the “Status Quo.” — The Government.

twop-c-10This post remains available for posterity’s sake, but a much revised and much expanded version of this translation is available completely for free! The revised version includes translated footnotes, a translated appendix, an expanded introduction, and a map of disputed territory and important locations. You can download a copy in the following formats: DocxEpubMobiPDF. Or, if you want to throw some money my way, you can set your price for it on Smashwords. And it’s in the public domain!

The speech Nabuco gave in the Chamber on 26 May 1865 was, for that divided assembly, like a shining ray of patriotic eloquence. In the middle of the partisan disagreements, which only tended to worsen and become more irreconcilable, no one expected that appeal to harmony, that invitation to a political armistice in the name of the invaded country. In that moment, his speech had everyone’s assent. Nabuco’s presence beside Olinda was in itself only an agenda of political truces, since one could not forget the sacrifice that he made—his little fondness for power, and his neutrality in personal rivalries. A year later historians will come to do justice to Nabuco’s intentions to save the government and avoid internal struggle. From the first day, his attitude was such that, upon the ministry’s fall, he would continue to be the organizer preferred by the political spirits of the majority and the minority. The session had been very busy. “I have seen you shine today in the Chamber of Deputies,” the humorist Abaeté writes to him, “and I would have envied you if the feeling of friendship did not prevail over that of envy. There is nothing like being minister of the King!”

The speech was short, as fit an appeal to national sentiment, but, precisely because of this, it was vibrant. After having explained the reasons he had for not wanting to take on the task of forming a cabinet, he declares the reasons that moved him to accept his role as justice:

José Tomás Nabuco as depicted in Galeria dos Brasileiros Ilústres by Sébastien Auguste Sisson.

“My noble friend senhor Minister of the Navy has already explained the reason for my entry into the current ministry. It was a sacrifice that patriotism imposed on us all. You know the circumstances in which the country found itself: the crisis was becoming prolonged; public anxiety instantly increased; each day wasted harmed the great concern by which everyone was preoccupied, that is to say, the dream of returning our national honor and dignity. There does not exist any contradiction in my behavior, given the circumstances that suddenly arose, and besides, there is a great difference between organizing such a cabinet—being its brain—and forming a part of it. What’s more, this ministry’s agenda has been reduced to the war, not wanting to alter the political status quo. The noble deputy of Minas province (i), explaining the reasons that he has for not putting confidence in the current ministry, examined some of its members, attending only to the Liberal element, but upon doing so forgot the principle that serves as the basis of the current government. In effect, so that the noble deputy may deny the ministry his trust for such a reason, he should begin by proving that the Progressive Party, under whose government this Chamber was elected, is dissolved.”

Finally, he invoked with the solemnity of his convictions, words, and gestures, the irresistible motivation of the country’s defense, winning over the Chamber and making it forget its divisions:

“It is evident, senhores, that the same thinking that stopped me from accepting the charge to form a ministry, has brought me to enter into this one; that is, the desire to not alter the status quo during a war. Nothing is less timely than exciting political passions in these moments in which we need the concurrence of everyone to save the country, which has been invaded and bloodied by foreigners. This is not a good opportunity to divide the Chamber, making it powerless to do good and making the life of any ministry impossible.

“I believe, senhores, that with the government limited to this agenda of making war without altering the status quo of our political system, it can’t help but deserve the trust and support of this Chamber and of the whole country.

“I could say more, senhores, but I conclude by making these vows: God would not wish that the country, swayed by political passions, come to be powerless against the foreigners that have insulted our flag; God would not wish that history deplore the fluke of a young nation full of resources and life, but disgraced by its own failings … Let us take on the responsibility of the war and leave the settling of scores for after the victory.”Read More »

The War of Paraguay: Chapter XIV, The Ministry Before the Chamber. — Nabuco’s Reasons for Not Accepting the Presidency of the Council.

twop-c-10This post remains available for posterity’s sake, but a much revised and much expanded version of this translation is available completely for free! The revised version includes translated footnotes, a translated appendix, an expanded introduction, and a map of disputed territory and important locations. You can download a copy in the following formats: DocxEpubMobiPDF. Or, if you want to throw some money my way, you can set your price for it on Smashwords. And it’s in the public domain!

Note: I know I said it last chapter, but this chapter you really will be completely lost without reading this supplemental post on politics of the Empire of Brazil.

The ministry reflected the situation of the party, but with respect to the hope of restoring unity to the party, the sacrifices that the ministers made were certainly in vain. Otaviano—representative of the Liberal Party in the organization, confidante and friend to Teófilo Ottoni, Furtado, and Sousa Franco—soon proved it, refusing the position offered him. The reason alleged by Otaviano was that he had been designated by Furtado, that is, by his own friends; and for an ambassador of his prestige, standing before the Progressive cabinets, the role of minister did not equate to the position of executor of the Triple Alliance, which he himself ended up signing, or the position of arbiter in the theater of war.

But the reasons he alleged did not leave doubt about the insurmountable division of the old allied parties. To Olinda, who had informed him of his appointment, he answers with the following, in a letter dated 29 May: “The names of political friends, friends at whose side I have been since I began to form part of one of the two parties, appeared in the previous potential cabinets. With such names suppressed in the last and definitive ministerial organization, I don’t consider seemly for me, nor useful for the ministry, my separation from those friends, becoming weakened and without moral force, alongside another citizen friend of mine—a personal friend worthy of my admiration for his talent, but with whom the nation has seen me fighting some in the press, on the debate platform, and in elections, when I appealed to the people who were convinced that he’d fulfilled a great debt.”

The friend alluded to is Ferraz (1), although few politicians have shown more willingness to forget old fights and personal offenses upon entering that cabinet than he. With his political self-sacrifice upon accepting this reliable post, exposing himself openly before the Chamber to the attacks of his adversaries from 1860, he seems to symbolize the sacrifices that partisan interests had to make for the sake of our forces’ victory in the South—sacrifices of which the most heroic was without a doubt that of Caxias (2), who, aged and ailing, went to suffer the fatigues of long campaigns in the marshes and under the sun of Paraguay.Read More »

The War of Paraguay: Chapter XIII, Nabuco Recuses Himself from Forming a Ministry. — He Accepts the Role of Minister of Justice.

twop-c-10This post remains available for posterity’s sake, but a much revised and much expanded version of this translation is available completely for free! The revised version includes translated footnotes, a translated appendix, an expanded introduction, and a map of disputed territory and important locations. You can download a copy in the following formats: DocxEpubMobiPDF. Or, if you want to throw some money my way, you can set your price for it on Smashwords. And it’s in the public domain!

Note: This chapter and the next few deal heavily with the politics of the Empire of Brazil (should these chapters even be included in this book?), so I recommend reading this supplemental post first. Or you could just skip these chapters entirely. I think they’re neat, but they’re not directly related to the war.

The Furtado ministry fell in a secret ballot vote soon after Parliament reconvened, having not wanted to call for a roll-call vote. They did not want or need to know their enemies.

Firstly, the Emperor called on the Viscount of Abaeté, who for a long time had been a mere spectator of the partisan fighting, to form a government. Abaeté put forward Saraiva’s name. Saraiva, fruitlessly, attempted to form a ministry—Furtado’s friends did not forgive him for that Liberal government’s fall, to which he had contributed (1). In vain, he tried to come to an agreement with Teófilo Ottoni, typical of Saraiva. Giving up, he indicated the name of Nabuco, who was then summoned.

For the first time the Emperor looked to Nabuco, after there’d been five ministries formed with members of the “League” (2), of which party Nabuco had been, in everyone’s opinion, the creator—and the sovereign did not even arrive at him without first having tried two other options. One could believe that the direness of the situation forced the Emperor to turn to Nabuco at the last moment; a circumstance that contributed much to Nabuco, in turn, not accepting.

It was not that some overblown pride moved him: none of his colleagues in the Paraná ministry (3) had even reached this position; Paranhos (Viscount of Rio Branco) would only reach it in 1871; Wanderley (Baron of Cotegipe) in 1885; Pedreira (Viscount of Bom Retiro) had renounced politics. Eusebio de Quierós, who had governed in, made, or unmade every ministry since a certain time, had been called only once to San Cristobal. But Nabuco had created the ruling government, and was, of everyone, the most proper to lead it, because he brought, in a greater degree than any other, the spirit of benevolence, the impartiality necessary to maintain it, and a spirit that inspired great confidence, to—their respective leaders aside—each one of the parties. He had destroyed the Conservative oligarchy in the senate and made possible the new political environment. Of this environment, he was, intellectually, the oracle; politically he had a neutral title—moderator. Because of this, since 1862, every summons to São Cristóvão that was not made to him (although for each time there has been some provisional reason not to name Nabuco) seems to be a preterition (4) For this the belief that he was a persona non grata had been ingrained in political circles; a belief that also existed with respect to Paraná, Eusebio de Quierós, Cotegipe, both Paulino de Sousas, Teófilo Ottoni, and others.

The primary condition for the success of any ministry is the Emperor’s goodwill, and not because he can betray a president of his Council, but because only his discretion can be enough to destroy the minister’s necessary trust in his own stability. So, perfect accord between the two entities—the Emperor and the head of the cabinet—was essential for the government’s progress. The two times that Nabuco had served in the cabinet the Emperor gave him no reason to complain, nor even the third. The reasons that had moved the Emperor to put him off as an option seemed to him plausible, from a strictly parliamentary point of view, given the detachedness in which, without ceasing to guide the government, Nabuco had been placed, and which he himself proclaimed. He also knew the Emperor’s methods well enough to know that if Dom Pedro II had wanted to have him as prime minister, he would have gone looking for him in his exile, as with others he had done on such occasions, even with statesmen that had ostracized themselves. That lack, not of trust, but of desire, of affinity, which the Emperor had toward him, weighed more on Nabuco’s spirit, making him refuse the belated investment of power, than some sensitivity to being summoned only after other ministers.

But more than anything, the visible division of the Conservative Party dominated the Chamber. Nabuco, who had not taken part in Furtado’s fall, was better looked on by historians than Olinda (5), Zacarias, and Saraiva, while the Progressives considered him their most eminent leader. But to form a ministry it was absolutely essential to ingratiate himself with one group or another; in matters of people—which is what these matters come down to, not anything else—and matters of cabinet, for deputies and senators, it was necessary to support their faith in the balance of power, and at the first moment that this was neglected, the minister, whoever they were, had to be excised, which was perhaps feared by Nabuco more than anyone. He would faithfully explain his qualms before the Chamber, and the reasons for his renouncement.

Pedro de Araújo Lima, Marquis of Olinda, ca. 1860.

Hearing this, the Emperor summoned the Marquis of Olinda, and Nabuco, as well as Saraiva, acceded to serve at Olinda’s command, proving that they were not motivated by any ambition for that highest position. The ministry was constituted in the following manner: President of the Council and Empire, Marquis of Olinda; Justice, Nabuco; Navy, Saraiva; War, Ferraz; Treasury, Días de Carvalho; Foreign Affairs, Otaviano; Agriculture, Paula e Sousa. Counting those who had been charged with organizing a cabinet and had not achieved it, the ministry brought under its wings four ex-presidents of the Council—Olinda, Ferraz, Nabuco, and Saraiva. Besides these, Otaviano would’ve entered among them, who found himself at the time in the Río de la Plata, and who could not accept. For such names was the ministry known by the denomination of the cabinet of eagles.Read More »

The War of Paraguay: Supplement 3, Brazilian Politics of the Mid-19th Century

twop-c-10This post remains available for posterity’s sake, but a much revised and much expanded version of this translation is available completely for free! The revised version includes translated footnotes, a translated appendix, an expanded introduction, and a map of disputed territory and important locations. You can download a copy in the following formats: DocxEpubMobiPDF. Or, if you want to throw some money my way, you can set your price for it on Smashwords. And it’s in the public domain!

Overview of the Government

The constitution of the Empire of Brazil stated that “The representatives of the Brazilian Nation are the Emperor, and the General Assembly.” [Art. 11. Os Representantes da Nação Brazileira são o Imperador, e a Assembléa Geral.] In this way, the Empire of Brazil was a constitutional monarchy, wherein the Emperor and the Parliament were servants of the people of the empire. The idea was that the emperor was the enduring, big-picture ruler (the “permanent will” as Nabuco says in Um Estadista [vontade permanente]), while the General Assembly attended more to the day to day concerns of the state.

The Emperor appointed judges, magistrates, senators, provincial presidents, ministers of state, and eventually the President of the Council of Ministers—a position similar to Prime Minister. The Emperor was responsible for sanctioning laws in order for them to go into effect, though parliament could force a bill into law if it was voted through by two consecutive legislatures. The Emperor could also commute sentences and grant amnesty.

While it’s wrong to say that the emperor was just a figurehead, certainly the General Assembly was the main governing body of the Empire. It consisted of the Chamber of Deputies (the lower house) and the Senate (upper house.) The General Assembly (which is alternately referred to as “parliament” and “the legislature”) held the power of the purse, power to modify, suspend, and enact laws, control of the military, and power to create government offices.Read More »

Representations of Kids, Politics, Apocalypse, MSD, Tallahassee ca. 2045


Last week there was a school shooting in Parkland, Florida. Following the shooting, many of the survivors—high schoolers—have come together to voice their outrage at the current state of gun regulation in America, spearheading a movement to pass better gun control laws, with the hope of preventing what happened to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High from ever happening to another American school. You can find out more about their cause here.

Just days before the attack, I began editing and writing the afterword for a play I wrote last year, Tallahassee Ca. 2045. In the play, a group of high school students (heavily inspired by my own very politically conscious friends from high school) organize a protest for youth rights, to lower the minimum voting age. After a global catastrophe strikes, the nature of the protest changes, and it steadily grows out of control, ultimately collapsing with little more than token reforms made. And it takes place in Tallahassee, capital of Florida. Needless to say, I wish the MSD students much better luck than the characters in my play.

So for the past week, these students, and the way people are reacting to them, and the way some people are trying to discredit them, and whether or not they’ll succeed, and the fact that most of them can’t vote, and the general perception of teenagers, have all been on my mind. I’m in Spain right now, and I so wish that I could be in my hometown of Tallahassee to protest in front of the capitol, or even just in Iowa City, where I go to school. I would love to throw my support behind these kids by physically marching with them, but I can’t. What I can do is post this.

If you can’t tell already, it’s a strange post. It’s not really about gun control, but rather about why we should listen to the kids campaigning for better gun control right now, and general misconceptions about the apoliticality of kids. My main purpose here is to provide insight into my personal understanding of young people, particularly high schoolers, re: politics—which should be a pretty solid understanding, given that I’m 20. So, here we go. The following is a segment of the Tallahassee Ca. 2045 afterword, adapted slightly for this post.

You could say that I fell in with the right crowd in high school. “Fell in” because, for the most part, I met them first as friends of friends, not through any shared extracurricular interest or from any effort on my part to meet new people. And “right crowd” not because they were straight-laced t-totalers or anything, but because they were incredible kids (and are incredible people, for that matter.) They were kids who talked about politics during lunch. Kids who talked about, and argued about, Ferguson and Santa Barbara and Syria, about Common Core and Jackie Pons and gay marriage, about dress code and rape culture and climate change. Kids who made up jingles about socialism. Kids who discussed gender and sexuality without the tied tongues of adults nor the giggles of less mature kids. Kids who participated in Model UN and Peace Jam and GSA. Kids (a few of them at least) who once went to the principal to ask that he improve the school’s nearly non-existent sex-ed. Very liberal kids all, some of whom had liberal parents and some of whom had conservative parents. Kids who were vegetarian and vegan. Kids who acted, kids who ran, kids who wrote, kids who played instruments, kids who spoke Spanish, a kid who spoke Portuguese, a kid who spoke Russian, kids who knew Latin (and who could speak it, though it’s Latin, so they mostly didn’t.) I don’t mean to give the impression that we were all just pundits or politicians—we of course did talk about other things, about teachers and homework, tattoos and vacations, books and movies, food and theatre—but these are the relevant points for this afterword.Read More »

Review: Imagined Communities by Benedict Anderson

Cover of the first German edition, courtesy of Campus Fachbuch

I heard about this book around the time I was starting to form my own ideas about why people identify themselves as Americans, Porteños, Quebecois—and why other people don’t. Essentially, what does it take to convince people that they belong to a group? Why did US citizens identify more with their states than their nation, in the early 19th century? When does state building fail, and when does it succeed? Imagined Communities does not examine those specific questions, but it effectively answers them, and provides a whole bunch of tools for understanding nationalism, and, I ‘unno, separatist movements like the one that is happening right now. Might be worth picking up now for that reason.

The central conceit of Imagined Communities is that nationalism, even the concept of clearly delineated nations as the ultimate form of legitimacy, is recent, and that it was only possible with the rise of print capitalism. When reading newspapers based in Venezuela, inhabitants of the country could imagine other “Venezuelans” reading the same text as them, reading about the same political appointments, the same market changes, the same marriages of nobility. This “imagined community” is the nation. Of course, there are other imagined communities (Anderson describes religious community as the greatest precursor to national community), but because of the insularity of nations, and a host of other factors which he delineates in the book, this imagined community becomes one that people are willing to die for.Read More »

Political Analysis: Median Voter Theorem and Voting Systems

In this final, though not very conclusive, post on political analysis, we’re talking voting, voting systems, and ice cream.

The Median voter theorem helps explain the importance of the swing voter. For the MVT there are four elements:

  1. A set of n voters where n is odd (apparently an even number can work too, but we didn’t really talk about it, and, as in Minecraft, odd numbers just work better.)
  2. Unidimensional policy space (i.e. right vs. left, socialist vs. capitalist, more funding vs. less funding)
  3. Voters have quadratic or “single-peaked” preferences that can be represented by the equation U[x] = [x1 – x’]2. So they have one ideal point (x’) and whichever option falls closer to their ideal point is what they’ll vote for.
  4. The group makes decisions by majority rule (and we’ll talk about alternatives to this in a  bit.)

The theorem states that, if every voter in the group has an ideal point, the voter with the median ideal point is an indicator of how the group will vote.

To apply this, here’s an example:

The International Space Committee is voting between two bills to send colonists to Mars. There are seven seats on the committee. Three of them are hardliners who think colonization is a waster of resources, and their ideal point is 0 colonists. On the other end of the spectrum is a sci-fi fan who wants to send a hundred colonists. Then in the middle we have someone who wants to send three colonists, someone who wants to send five, and someone who wants to send twelve. Read More »

Political Analysis: Coalitions

In this penultimate post taken from my Intro to Political Analysis class notes, we’re talking about coalitions—and how to predict which coalitions will form. 

The fundamental building block of politics is the mass political party. The first mass political party was formed in the US. After the “corrupt bargain” of the election of 1824, Jackson’s supporters formed a mass political party, fully recognized as the Democrats by 1840.

But we won’t be really talking about the US, because we don’t have coalitions, because of our party system. Party systems (as with any systems, according to systemic theory) can be categorized as the one, the few, and the many.

The one would be places like China and Cuba, with only one party.

The US’s two-party system would be considered “the few.”

And the many is what you see in parliamentary countries (like most of Europe.) This is the kind of system we’ll focus on.Read More »

Political Analysis: The Decentralized Solution

Last week I wrote about the prisoner’s dilemma, and a centralized, Hobbesian solution to that—essentially, to get people to cooperate you have to bring in an outside authority, like a monarch. This is the decentralized solution.

The decentralized solution to the prisoner’s dilemma has three elements:

  1. The game is repeated an unknown number of times
  2. The strategy is reciprocity—if A cooperates, B does too. If A defects, B does too.
  3. The shadow of the future is sufficiently long.

That “unknown” bit is important. If people know the game’s gonna end, and they know when, there’s no reason to develop trust with the other person. “Unknown” can mean infinite iterations, or just a percentage chance each time that the game will be replayed.

So if you’re going to play forever (or potentially forever), two basics strategies are always defecting (“All-D”), or always cooperating (“All-C.”) These strategies are useful for reference points, but they aren’t actually practical, because they aren’t reciprocal strategy—they’re not based on what the other person is doing. And in a normal-form game, what the other person does, combined with what you do, determines your payoff.

One reciprocal strategy is “Tit-for-Tat”—whatever the player did last turn, do that this turn.

We’re going to focus on the “Grim Trigger” strategy. God, that sounds badass. With Grim Trigger, you start out by always cooperating, but if the other player ever defects, you switch to All-D.Read More »

Political Analysis: The Prisoner’s Dilemma

Now for a classic of political analysis—the prisoner’s dilemma.

“Rational individuals select actions to achieve their most preferred outcomes. If two rational individuals can do better by acting collectively, then they will do so, because they are rational.”

Annnnh! Wrong! That is the rock pile method, and it’s false, and we can see this with the prisoner’s dilemma.

A lot of people teach the Prisoner’s Dilemma, and a lot of them get it wrong. “If you’ve heard of it or had a class that covered it, get a lobotomy to eliminate that part of the brain,” says Professor Dion.

I’ll get to some misconceptions in a moment, but first, here’s the story of the prisoner’s dilemma: two accomplices in a crime are taken in for questioning. The police have enough to convict the two on a small charge, but they want to get them on this bigger crime. The two criminals are separated, and each is offered a deal—rat on the other guy (“defect”) and you’ll get to walk free, and the other guy will get a really harsh sentence. They’re also told that this deal is being presented to both of them. What ends up happening? They both defect, of course. If they expect the other person to say nothing (to “cooperate”), it’s best to defect, because then they’ll walk free. And if they expect the other person to rat on them, it’s also best to defect, because while they’ll still get a harsh sentence, it won’t be as harsh, because it’s split between them.

So, here’s the Canonical prisoner’s dilemma, shown as a normal-form game.

PD-canonicalRead More »

Political Analysis: Condorcet Jury Theorem

Last post I introduced the concept of aggregation in political analysis, and how you can’t always make inferences about members of a group based on the character of the group as a whole—or visa versa. This post will go further into that, and also why democracy works.

In college, it’s easy to forget how much smarter you are than everyone, because you’re surrounded by people as smart or smarter than you—but really, a lot of people are highly ignorant. [NOTE FROM THE NOTE-TAKER: This is how Professor Dion introduced the topic, not me just throwing in my own color. But it is kind of true.]

For example, only 74% of Americans believe that the Earth orbits around the sun. As for politics, in 2010 only 54% knew the controlling party of the House of Representatives.

So, is democracy doomed? The idea with democracy is that an individual is the best judge of their own interests, and will elect a good representative for themself. But if people are ignorant, will they really?Read More »

Political Analysis: Aggregation and the Ecological Fallacy

Well, with little planned in the way of textual posts (although I have plenty planned for other types of posts), now is as good a time as any to start posting the second half of my political analysis notes. I already posted the notes from the first half of the semester, which you can find grouped together here. Those posts are all about power. These coming posts will be from the second half of the semester, and will focus on aggregation. So, let’s begin.

The Latin word “grex” means “flock,” and “ad” (which becomes “agg” in aggregation) means “to,” so “aggregation” is assembling a flock. It’s clear how power pertains to politics—but how does aggregation relate to it?

Well, let’s start with another question: Why war?

Maybe it’s a spiritual problem, as the Dalai Lama would assert—a problem of misunderstanding and hatred.

Other people believe it is a diversionary tactic—leaders need support of the selectorate (the critical sectors of the voting society.) So when there are domestic problems, the leader will create a foreign policy crisis to distract the electorate and unify them against the common enemy.

Then there’s the strategic theory. The strategic theory says you need two states for a war, so it can be modeled as a game. And as we’ve seen, if people don’t trust each other, they’ll end up with suboptimal results—war. Another strategic theory is that war comes about when there is incomplete information—both sides are unsure if they can win an armed conflict, so they have to duke it out to find out, rather than relying on the validity of each other’s threats.

Finally, there’s systemic theory. Systemic theories don’t look at individual states or dyads (pairings), they look at the system. There are three types of systems—the one, the few, and the many.

The one, or unipolar, is a system with a single strong state, like the Aztec Empire in Mesoamerica, or the US since 1989. Also Childhood’s End.

The few, or bipolar, is a system with two powerful states, like Athens vs. Sparta, or the Cold War.

The many, or multipolar, is a system with more than two powerful states, usually a lot more than two. Examples are the concert of Europe, the Warring States Period of China, or A Song of Ice and Fire.

And if you want to determine if a war will happen, or why a war will happen, you have to determine what kind of system is present.

Hobbes said unipolar systems are best, because everyone will be subject to one power which will ensure that there’s no infighting. We’ll talk more about this later.

Neorealism disagrees with this, arguing that bipolar systems are better, because the two powers will be in competition, and both will work harder to ensure that what they control is peaceful.

And Wilsonian idealism champions multipolar systems, and a peaceful league of nations.

So, why all these theories? Which one is right?

That’s tough, because they’re all explaining war at different levels. The spiritual explanation looks at individuals, where diversionary theory looks at a single nation, strategic theory focuses on dyads, and systemic theory looks at the whole big mess.

So how do you link these levels together? How do you aggregate them? This, to some extent, is our question.

The Ecological Fallacy

The most basic form of aggregation is just to put everything together. Put together a bunch of individuals, you get a nation. Put together a couple nations, you get a dyad. Put together a bunch of dyads, you have a system. That’s what Professor Dion calls the “rock pile” method. If you put together a bunch of rocks, you get a rock pile. So if you have put together a bunch of dumb people, you’ll get a dumb group. If a majority of republicans are elected into congress, you’ll get a congress that votes republican.

But this isn’t actually the case. When you put a bunch of individuals together, things get weird.

To explore this, we’ll look at another question, similar to “why war?”: Who voted for the Nazis?

The problem is, they used secret ballots, and this information isn’t readily available. We could look at precincts and see how they voted, and what their demographics were. From that we can find a rough correlation between certain groups and voting patterns. This is perfect, right—or as close to it?

Not necessarily, because it’s an ecological fallacy. That name is a bit misleading, so I’ll explain. It comes from sociologists applying biological sciences to individuals—moving from individuals to whole groups, just like biologists moved from species to ecological systems to better understand the individuals. So sociologists applied this ecological approach, using the same sort of precinct analysis above, but this method was proven ineffective and inaccurate.

To summarize, the ecological fallacy involves using information from one level of analysis to make inferences about another level of analysis.

An example:

A Berkley graduate admission study in the 70s found that 46% of men were admitted, while only 36% of women were admitted. An ecologically fallacious argument would be that the school is biased against women. But by looking at each department, they found that some departments actually heavily favored women, while others just slightly favored men. So what happened?

Men applied to departments with high acceptance rates for everyone, while women applied more often to departments with lower acceptance rates. So it wasn’t that UC Berkley was discriminating against women—it was a problem of analysis on one level versus another.

Next post will look at a more accurate use of aggregation—the Condorcet Jury Theorem.

Political Analysis: Expectations

Now we come to the final topic from my notes on political analysis—at least from the first half of the class. I’ll probably do another series of posts at the end of this semester, but for now, this is the final word on power.

“How many divisions does the Pope have?”

Thus spake Joseph Stalin in response to Churchill’s concerns about the Vatican’s views.

So far in this discussion of power, we’ve focused on hard power—threats, bargains, consequences—the kind of stuff that Stalin could respect. But what about the Pope? Does he not have power just because his only divisions are brightly dressed swiss pikemen?

It turns out (sorry Stalin) that there is such a thing as soft power, and to talk about soft power we have to talk about expectations, and to talk about expectations, we’re going to talk about John Maynard Keynes and beauty contests.Read More »

Political Analysis: Games

This post we’ll be talking about games—contrary to what people often say in dramas, this is a game.

An extensive-form game is a tree of decisions branching out, with actors forming the nodes in the branches, and the branches representing choices that the actors can make. The assumption is always that each actor is making rational choices, trying to get their best outcome, at every point.

To determine the outcome of an extensive-form game, you work from the ends backward to the beginning, using backwards induction. To demonstrate, here’s this game:

EFG-volunteerRead More »

Political Analysis: Choice

Now we’re talking about choice—why do people choose to do things? Why do they take bribes?

If we suppose an individual faced with a set of actions to choose from, and all of the actions are linked to clear outcomes, there are two principles of rational choice.

Principle One: The individual has a consistent set of preferences for outcomes. There are two types of preference ordering: strict and weak. Strict ordering is like a total dominance hierarchy. No matter what, between two outcomes the individual will always have a preference. Weak ordering is like a partial dominance hierarchy, and an individual can have outcomes that are tied in preference. Unlike a partial dominance hierarchy however, the ordering will never be ambiguous—choices will always be tied or ranked, never unknown (as they were in the black male/white female scenario.)

Principle Two: The individual chooses an action to achieve the most preferred outcomes. Sometimes the choice is easy. Sometimes the link between action and outcome isn’t clear. Sometimes the outcome depends on chance, or someone else’s choice.

Well this seems pretty obvious, so what use is it? It’s useful because by understanding what a person’s preferences are, it’s possible to predict more complex decisions involving the interaction of multiple preferences.Read More »

Political Analysis: Networks

In this continuing series of posts taken from the notes for my Intro to Political Analysis class, we’ll look now at networks and what they tell us about power.

Networks are composed of nodes and ties. Nodes are like points. Each represents an actor. An actor can be any individual, institution, nation-state, or social group with a distinct personality. It can even be a chemical.

Ties are like lines connecting nodes. They can represent any relationship—economic, romantic, religious, chemical. These ties have characteristics, like strength, direction, and elements. Strength can be dichotomous (binary) or cardinal (being represented by a number on a scale.) A tie can be undirected (two-way) or directed (one-way, and assymetric.) The elements of a tie can be univalent (just one relationship), or multivalent (with multiple strands of relationships.)

This is what a total (left) and partial (right) dominance hierarchy look like drawn as networks. The arrows point to the dominators (so A has the most dominance in both networks.)


Read More »

Political Analysis: Dominance

I just had my midterm for my Intro to Political Analysis class, taught by the eccentric, chalk-wielding, duck-loving Professor Douglas Dion, and in preparation for it I typed up all of my notes. Over the years I’ve found that the best way for me to remember notes, and be able to easily study them afterward, is by writing them down in full sentences and paragraphs. Sometimes they even end up being readable and well organized, and I think this is one of those cases. So, here is the first post in a probably four-part series of my notes on political analysis from the first quarter of the Spring semester, and specifically, power. This post in particular is taken from lectures on dominance theory.

The word “politics” comes from a treatise by Aristotle, deriving from the word “polis.” A practical definition is: the theory or practice of government. It can also mean a person’s ideology (i.e., “what are your politics?”) It could be a term for the acquisition of power or status. From all these definitions, politics might seem a mess, which is why we need analysis—another Greek derivation, from a term that means “to unravel.”

Read More »