Daniel Larison, senior editor:
- Rome and Persia in Late Antiquity: Neighbours and Rivals by Beate Dignas and Engelbert Winter: The Roman Empire and Sasanian Persia were the two great powers of antiquity, and the ongoing struggle between them in the Near East shaped more than four centuries of the ancient world’s history. Dignas and Winter offer a rich trove of translated primary sources from both empires organized chronologically and divided according to their subject matter (e.g., Julian’s Persian War, Armenia, etc.). The brief survey of Roman-Sasanian rivalry at the start of the book is also a handy reference for those familiar with the political and military history of the period and a valuable introduction for new students.
- The Bretons by Patrick Galliou and Michael Jones. Among the remaining Celtic nations of Europe, the Bretons may be the least well-known in the English-speaking world. This survey of the ancient and medieval history of Armorica/Brittany helps to correct that. The Bretons explores the origins and development of this people in great detail, mapping the spread of the Breton language and its relationship with its fellow Brythonic languages of Cornish and Welsh. Galliou and Jones trace the Bretons’ history from the earliest human inhabitants on the peninsula through the end of Brittany’s independence in the late middle ages.
- From the Oxus to Euphrates: the World of Late Antique Iran by Touraj Daryaee and Khodadad Rezakhani. This short volume summarizes the arguments from Daryaee’s longer monograph, Sasanian Persia, and gives the reader a crash course in Sasanian history, culture, religion, and language. The authors emphasize the unity of the Sasanian world defined by the concept of Iranshahr (the empire of the Iranians), and explore the Sasanians’ imperial ideology and its relationship with Zoroastrianism. The book covers an impressive amount of material, but cannot fully develop many of the ideas it introduces in such a brief work.
Casey Chalk, contributor: One of my recent TAC pieces on the vital, irreplaceable role of religion in society was in part inspired by reading the 1907 dystopian science fiction novel Lord of the World. In it, Robert Hugh Benson contemplates a global empire that promotes peace and prosperity under the banner of secular humanism. The throngs rejoice at the end of all wars, accomplished by the shadowy anti-Christ figure Felsenburgh. Yet the state wields a power over its subjects reminiscent of Big Brother, where euthanasia for any interested (or uninterested) persons is widely prevalent, and where freedom of speech and religion are increasingly eliminated for the sake of uniting the world under a single pantheistic faith that worships man as God.
An imagined editorial in the book speaks of the ideology dominant in this “brave new world,” a creed that eschews tradition in favor of a unifying progressivist paradise. It reads in part:
There shall be no more an appeal to arms, but to justice; no longer a crying after a God Who hides Himself, but to Man who has learned his own Divinity. The Supernatural is dead; rather, we know now that it never yet has been alive. What remains is to work out this new lesson, to bring every action, word and thought to the bar of Love and Justice; and this will be, no doubt, the task of years. Every code must be reversed; every barrier thrown down; party must unite with party, country with country, and continent with continent….
Yet without reference to religious institutions separate from and in tension with the state, “love and justice” are anything but, as religious and political dissidents are persecuted and murdered in a utilitarian calculus that reasons that such public offenders simply must go in order to usher in humanist heaven on earth. Perhaps most terrifying, with earth ruled by a single, monolithic government, to where can religious or political dissenters run? Christianity goes underground.
This book comes highly recommended. Prior to assuming the pontificate as Benedict XVI, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger referenced the prophetic power of Benson’s novel when he warned in 1992 of “a similar unified civilization and its power to destroy the spirit. The anti-Christ is represented as the great carrier of peace in a similar new world order.” Similarly, Pope Francis in a November 2013 sermon praised Lord of the World as presenting “the spirit of the world which leads to apostasy.” In a time when we may discern the rumblings of a similar progressivist humanism that aims to sanctify the state and create a monolithic civil religion untethered from nature and tradition, Robert Hugh Benson’s century-old text is a sober, if necessary warning.