Category Archives: Editorials

Optimism and Belief

Cloud-line

In my life, there have been two things standing as constants: optimism and belief. I have embraced these two guiding principles, and striven in due course to live a better life as a part of the wider human community through them. For me, my faith as a Catholic and as a Christian is an inherently positive one; it is a faith in Resurrection, in Union with the Divine Essence, in the fulfilment of the circle and restoration of humanity to paradise.

Yet to allow this faith to persist I have found myself inherently optimistic, always expecting the best from people, and looking at even the darkest of situations with the hope that is required to believe in something greater than Reality. True, this is blind faith, something entirely counter to the principles of our scientific age, yet in the end is not blind faith equally necessary in a scientific setting? After all, we have yet to learn all that there is to know about nature, our sciences are as of yet unfinished in amassing the totality of reality. Therefore, if we are to accept science as an effective and prosperous measure of nature, then we must also accept that that measure is man-made and limited in its scope.

I see those things measured by science each and every day, and I am in awe of their wonder. I see how the Sun rises in the east and sets in the west, how the stars circle in the sky as the year passes. I hear the wind bristling through the leaves of the trees, and across the tall grass prairies. I have known what it means to be caught on the beach at high tide, and to be at the mercy of the awesome tempestuous power of lightning. Past generations might well have worshiped these forces of nature, seen them as gods like Zeus, Taranis, or Ukko, yet I see them as terrestrial, as natural, as real. The true force, the veritable essence to be worshiped is far greater than even the rolling thunder or bristling lightning.

In these circumstances I am reminded of the American hymn How Great Thou Art, yet in the smallest of moments too I am reminded of God’s coming to Elijah on the softest breath of wind in the cave. Divinity and the essence that made all that we know and love is so far beyond our own understanding, yet in that realisation I find my peace.

Often it can be said that I find my belief renewed through music, through that purest, most mellifluous of sound. Some of the most sacred moments of my life, the most moving moments in the story of my belief have come in moments of music, from operas like Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte to the Pilgrim’s Chorus in Wagner’s Tannhäuser to great orchestral outbursts of emotion as in Stravinsky’s Firebird and most all of Mahler’s symphonies; yet equally spiritually potent for me are the more recently composed naturalistic Mass settings that I sang with the Rockhurst University Chorus while an undergraduate student there from 2011 to 2015. Music has long been said to be the Voice of the Heavens, and certainly it has appeared to be so to me.

Yet what I find the most fulfilling to my belief in the Divine is humanity. In the Christian tradition we believe that humanity was “Created in the Image and Likeness of God.” For me, this means that our souls particularly were made in the Divine Image, but that our bodies also have Divine inspiration. When I see humanity, with all our faults, all our problems, all our pain and anguish, I can’t help but be swept off my feet in grief. Yet at the end of the day I always remember the old adage echoed by Little Orphan Annie, “Tomorrow will be a brighter day.”

I believe that one day that will come true, that one day all will be sorted out in our capitals, our courts, our executive palaces. I believe that one day we will march through our cities, not in protest or in anger, not out of anguish or to alleviate our suffering, but because we are celebrating that most essential characteristic of our humanity: liberty. I believe that someday all humanity will walk together, singing in unison, a multitude of voices, of languages, of cultures and creeds making one song. I believe in optimism, and I am optimistic about my belief.

Designing Cities for People

St Paul's at Sunset - April 2016

St Paul’s at Sunset

In older standards of measurement, the imperial mile (1.609 km) was not the longest measurement of distance available; the league filled that role instead. As I have understood it, one league is equal to the distance a person can walk in one hour. For me, that is around three miles, thus making 1 league equal to a decent distance for a nice morning stroll. In 2016 when I was undertaking my first Master’s degree, this one in International Relations and Democratic Politics, at the University of Westminster, I would occasionally decide to walk the league from the university on Regent Street back to my flat in the shadow of Fenchurch Street station on the eastern edge of the old Roman city.

The walk was quite pleasant, a stroll first down from the university to Oxford Circus, then eastwards along Oxford Street to Holborn, and then down High Holborn across the Holborn Viaduct and past the Old Bailey at Newgate, past St Paul’s and onto Cheapside, crossing in front of the Royal Exchange and Bank of England before continuing down Lombard Street and onto Fenchurch Street. At Fenchurch Street station, I would descend a short flight of steps leading towards St Olave’s Hart Street and under the station viaduct itself past the city walls and into my building on Minories.

What made this a nice walk was that I was able to see so much of the capital, everything from the imperial Edwardian grandeur of Regent Street to the new skyscrapers that are being built across the Square Mile to the east. It was an opportunity to experience London as so many had done so before, to get to know the metropolis by foot. In London this is something that can fairly easily be done, one can walk around the capital if one wants to. Sure, most of the suburbs are out of reach for the pedestrian, but with the well established system of underground and suburban railways, as well with the very thorough bus network, London is a city that a person can easily live in without owning a car, let alone riding in one on a daily basis.

When I moved back to Kansas City at the end of August 2016, I thought I would try at keeping up my walking, to walk the same ten miles each day. Yet that didn’t happen. Far from it, I found Kansas City to a.) be built largely for cars, and b.) with a climate far more harsh than the one I had known in London. As a result, not only did I not walk nearly as much as I had wanted, but I found myself hardly walking at all beyond going out of my parents’ house to get into the car and drive somewhere.

While my own lack of fortitude certainly is to blame in part for this sudden drop in my exercise, I also have to lay blame on the city planners here in Kansas City. This city, like so many others in the United States and Canada were designed, or re-designed, for motorists. In fact, it is illegal for a human being to walk in the street in Kansas City, Missouri; if you’re human, you have to stay to the sidewalks (pavements). The rest of the street is reserved for cars, buses, bicycles, vans, and trucks. We have built this city and so many others like it without the human touch that has made cities so universally human in nature.

For thousands of years, our ancestors have lived in cities that were not unlike the Central London; they were just big enough that an able-bodied person could walk from one end to another in about an hour. Cities were built with walking in mind, with the understanding that all of the basic necessities that a city offers should be within walking distance of each citizen’s home. Smaller medieval cities like Besançon in France, Canterbury in England, or Galway in Ireland are prime examples of this sort of pedestrian-focused urban planning.

“In fact, it is illegal for a human being to walk in the street in Kansas City, Missouri”

Here in the United States too there are some attempts at returning to this older model of having residential and commercial establishments within the same general area. Here in Greater Kansas City there are some newer developments that aspire to this goal. Two in particular that I visited this last Friday stand out to me as examples of how to undertake this task, and how not to do so. The latest pieces in the Town Center shopping complex, Park Place is an excellent example of such a development.

A set of winding, narrower streets lined by three and four story buildings, its street level fronts are filled with shops, restaurants, and some offices, while the upper levels are largely residential. In this way, one can live in a compact community, within which one does not necessarily need a car to get around. I first was able to experience Park Place two years ago when walking a 5K through the Town Center area. At that time Park Place was still under construction, yet even as a construction site it seemed vastly out of place when compared to its neighbours in the most arch-suburban of American counties, Johnson County, Kansas. What particularly makes Park Place odd, and in the end stunted in its growth and feasibility is that one has to have a car to access it. Sure, one could live within Park Place as a pedestrian, but going beyond its towering confines on foot can be a perilous exercise with traffic on the surrounding avenues averaging a speed of around 45 mph (72 km/h).

What Park Place does well is its compactness, including both commercial and residential in the same area. Another, equally new development a few miles south of Park Place ignores this principle of traditional urban planning, setting the residential aside from the commercial. This particular development is the fascinatingly misplaced Prairiefire complex on 135th Street in Leawood, Kansas. Another physically enormous complex, Prairiefire’s crown jewel is the Museum at Prairiefire, billed as Kansas City’s Natural History Museum, and an affiliate with the American Museum of Natural History in New York. While the Prairiefire Museum’s architecture is aesthetically beautiful, its size is much like the rest of the Prairiefire development: lacking long-term thinking.

My biggest problem with Prairiefire is the way in which its residential development is divided from its commercial sector by a massive concrete parking garage. Prairiefire was designed by a suburbanite intending to create their image of a compact urban community, albeit without ever having stepped foot inside of a traditional compact city. By splitting the residential from the commercial, they make it far less amenable to residents to take advantage of the shops, restaurants, and entertainment in the commercial side of the property. What’s more, the Museum at Prairiefire itself is deeply flawed in that it is not built with the ability to expand in mind. The current structure is small, built more like a community arts centre and less like a great temple dedicated to nature.

Our over-reliance on cars here in the United States is flawed at the utmost degree. Should there be a major energy crisis in the near future, the vast majority of our cities and states will find themselves paralysed, unable to function owing to the lack of oil to fuel our cars. Developments like Park Place and Prariefire might be able to last for longer, owing to their relative compactness compared to the more traditional suburban sprawl, yet their isolation amidst the sea of suburbia will soon find these two developments in the same situation as the traditional suburban developments.

Our cities must first and foremost be self-reliant; we must be able to grow our own food, and use our own renewable energy sources to power all aspects of our lives. Yet along side this if we are going to build smart, self-sufficient cities, we must build them more compactly, with ourselves in mind. Just consider, if you are suddenly without your car, and don’t have the option of taking public transport, how will you get around? You could certainly walk around your city, but that prospect is only truly viable if said city is designed for walking.

Today, I generally prefer using metric to the more traditional imperial standards of measurement, yet that most old-fashioned of imperial measures, the league, is one that should be maintained. It keeps us humans at the centre, and reminds us of our own physical limitations and abilities. When we consistently push ourselves far beyond those abilities, we endanger the stability of our societies, making any potential crisis even more disastrous.

Going forward from the U.K. General Election & Hung Parliament

So here we are, Friday morning, the Sun already having risen over the United Kingdom, the Moon at its most brilliant over my home here in the American Midwest, and the results are in for the 2017 U.K. General Election. This election, called by Prime Minister Theresa May in an attempt to secure her majority in the Commons, was a victory for a number of parties: Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the Greens, and of course for joint BBC/ITV/Sky poll, which unlike its predecessors in the last U.S. election in November, the Brexit Referendum before that, and of course the U.K.’s 2015 General Election was actually fairly accurate.

Yet missing from this list of winners are some of the key players in British politics in recent years: some of the top brass at the Scottish National Party (S.N.P.), the U.K. Independence Party (U.K.I.P.), and of course Theresa May and the Conservatives. What was supposed to be a rousing victory for the Tories ended up being one of the biggest political mishaps of recent British electoral history, which is saying a lot considering in the last ten years we have seen the fall of New Labour, the Tory-Lib Dem coalition, the Milliband brothers, David Cameron, and the omnipresent Scottish Independence and Brexit referenda.

As of publication, 649 of the 650 constituencies have been declared, with the Conservatives leading at 318 seats, Labour in second at 261 seats, the S.N.P. In third with 35 seats, the Liberal Democrats in fourth with 12 seats, Northern Ireland’s two main parties the Democratic Unionists (D.U.P.) and Sinn Féin in fifth and sixth with 10 and 7 seats respectively, and finally the Welsh nationalist party Plaid Cymru in seventh with 4 seats and the Greens in eighth with 1 seat. This leaves the Conservatives in a bit of a pickle, sitting 11 seats shy of the 326 that they need to hold a majority in the House of Commons. Thus, with no dominant party, the United Kingdom officially, for the time being, has a Hung Parliament.

A Hung Parliament is that often most dreaded of moments in any parliamentary election when the results come back with no clear winner. Ideally it will result in the largest of the elected parties forming a coalition with smaller parties of a similar ideology to form a government. This happened in 2010 when that year’s U.K. General Election resulted in the leading Conservatives entering into a coalition with their historical rivals the Liberal Democrats to form the first coalition government since the Second World War.

Should the largest party be unable to form a coalition, let alone choose its leader, as may well be an issue this time around, the next largest party will have an opportunity to form a coalition government with its ideological neighbours. While a very rare occurrence, this would nevertheless prevent the potentially most unwanted eventuality from happening: a second round of the General Election.

So, with this in mind what should the two largest parties, the Conservatives (aka Tories) and their opponents Labour do to ensure that they can craft a government in their image?

The Conservative Prospect

Photo: The Sun

Reports from the BBC Election Night coverage have stated that Conservative Party leadership is in a state of disarray. They did not expect to perform so poorly in this election, and in hindsight it’s early calling (this election was due to be held in 2020) shines horribly on Tory leader and Prime Minister Theresa May. The first question for the Tories is whether or not they want Ms May to remain as leader of their party going forward from this election. Should the Conservatives cast a vote of no confidence in Ms May’s leadership, or should she resign, then the Conservatives will first have to sort out their own leadership before turning to the necessity of forming a coalition.

As to their coalition prospects, they have a fairly simple choice. Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party is a clear ally to the Conservatives. Not only that but the D.U.P. came out of Thursday’s election with 10 seats, their greatest ever victory in Westminster. Should they join the Conservatives in either a coalition government, or as a reliable junior partner it will increase the Conservative majority to 328 seats. The Tories will then need at least one more M.P., most likely an Independent, to join them in their coalition to have a full majority of 326 M.P.s.

All this said, a 1 seat majority is far less safe than what the Conservatives were hoping for when they had their breakfast on Thursday morning. They will have a hard three years ahead of them before the 2020 election when potentially they could lose even that slim majority to Labour and the Liberal Democrats.

The Labour Prospect

Photo: The Islington Gazette

Labour is in a slightly more percarious position, yet after seven years of Conservative government under David Cameron and Theresa May they can see the potential, no matter how slim, to take this Hung Parliament to their advantage and form a slightly more diverse coalition government. With 261 seats, Labour is 65 seats short of the 326 needed for a majority. But whereas the Tories are limited in their allies, Labour has a wide range of centrist and centre-left parties to choose from.

In an ideal situation, Labour could seek to form a coalition with the S.N.P. (35), the Liberal Democrats (10), Plaid Cymru (4), the Greens (1), and the one Independent M.P. This would give Labour a coalition of 312 M.P.s, still 14 seats shy of the total needed for a majority. However with the current total from all but 1 constituency (Kensington), which voted Tory in 2015, it seems unlikely that that seat will go for Labour or one of its potential allies.

Labour may be able to form a minority government, but only if the Tories cannot form a majority government with the D.U.P. Yet like the potential Conservative coalition government with a 1 seat majority, a Labour minority government would have their work cut out for them for the next three years in the lead up to the 2020 General Election. Nevertheless, such minority governments have been successful in the past.

Conclusions

In the end, the 2017 General Election might well be called Theresa May’s folly; holding the snap election was her decision to make, and in the end she made it in April when the Conservatives had far higher polling numbers. What Theresa May did not take into account was a.) the reaction to Brexit, b.) the terror attacks in London and Manchester, and c.) the way in which Jeremy Corbyn and Labour would react to her campaign strategy, message, and tone, countering it with an equally potent and frankly more positive message for Britain.

At this point, I do not know what will happen in the next fortnight in Westminster, let alone who will occupy 10 Downing Street when the dust has settled from Thursday’s democratic festivities. All that I can say is that perhaps more than any other time in the last ten years has the U.K.’s General Election reflected events going on beyond its shores. Its unsure results is by far a sign of these most uncertain of times.

 

Edits: 9 June 2017 at 15:12 BST, 09:12 CDT: article updated to reflect current seat totals with 649 of 650 constituencies reporting.

We Stand Together

18946991_10213047198957274_893548281_o.jpgAt this point in time, after so many terror attacks around the world in recent years, my initial reaction to the attack in London last night was somewhat muted and reserved. I was not surprised that it had happened; yet I was nevertheless deeply distressed that innocent people would be so brutally assaulted. The three attackers, their identities as of yet unannounced by the Metropolitan Police, will spend eternity lapping in the seas of ignominy, far from the verdant peaceful halls of rest that they may wished to have known.

They died attacking innocents; their last actions in this life were in the spirit of chaos. With all that said, they were still human, and as a Christian I believe they, like the rest of us, were made in the image and likeness of God. So, as time passes and I think on their final acts, I will be helpless but to consider them as humans, like the rest of us, and so mourn their poor decisions and pray for their souls, that eventually they, and their victims, might find peace.

We are all human; we all start our lives with that one equalising factor. If terrorists, warlords, and fearmongers seek to divide us, we must constantly remember what unites us. For the sake of our future we must stand together. In the wake of the latest attack we have a choice: to retaliate with ever increasing violence and terror, or to stand taller and remain above their cowardly and weak tactics. When they offer war we must offer peace. When they taunt us towards destroying all they know and love, we must not validate their evil by doing so.

Our societies and governments are founded upon the basic principles of constitutionalism. They are built on the principle that no one should be above the law. Justice is the rudder of our ship of state. Every time we treat anyone as less than their rightful station, every time we jump to conclusions about a person without facts or evidence, every time we respond to terror with terror, baying for blood, we undermine that omnipresent principle of justice for all. After all, once we begin to look out from beneath our blinders and consider the people around us, we will surely see another human being with feelings and hopes, with dreams and desires not unlike our own.

I did not know the men who attacked the crowds on London Bridge or in Borough Market. As of the time of publication the police have not released their names. Nor did I know the seven people whom they killed. I do not know what they were like, what they dreamed about at night, who they loved, or what their favourite things were. What I do know however is that they were all humans like me.

In my culture the golden rule is to treat others as you would want to be treated, and while these attackers certainly did not do that, how can I stand by that rule without seeing them as humans. Sure they were flawed, after all what they did is reprehensible to the highest degree, but all the same they were human. I hope that all involved, perpetrators and victims alike can find peace in this life or in the next. At the end of the day if we want the terror to cease, we must stand together as one common humanity. We must be the change, the light that will douse the darkness. The day we cease to preach and live love is the day we give in to terror and chaos.

Donald Trump and the slow death of American Federalism

US flag

Today the world was flabbergasted and disgusted with our President once again. This time it was not due to his bullish techniques for getting in the front of a group picture, nor his obscene rudeness towards our closest European allies, nor even his disregard for the basic fundamental principles that all humans deserve equal treatment and rights. Far from that, today Donald Trump decided, for whatever reason, to do away with the safety mechanism that would at least temper the oncoming tide of climate change and preserve the planet that we’ve called home for millions of years. But that does not seem to matter to Donald Trump, the human epitome of ego.

He does not seem to care that withdrawing from the Paris Climate Deal will have disastrous effects for all humanity for generations to come. All he cares about is that “America receive a fair deal.” He is a businessman who has never had to deal with the realities of the world; he is a man who has never been fit to serve as President, and frankly is even less fit to do so today.

Climate change is a very real and present danger to humanity, to all of us living on Earth. We have developed our civilisations, our industries, our technologies in a manner that until recently has had a careless attitude. We have raped the Earth of its natural riches, leaving its soils forever changed, its seas void of so much vibrancy and life, and its air thick and soupy with the fumes of our industrial might.

Eventually, in the long run, humanity will inevitably outgrow this our nest, but until that day comes in the future we are stuck here. For the time that we have left on Earth we must do our best to maintain it, to keep it fresh and clean. Anyone who has maintained their own house without the help of servants will know what it means to keep the house in order. Judging from his biography, and his attitude towards the rest of humanity, I doubt Donald Trump has ever been in our shoes.

I have found myself on a daily basis pronouncing my embarrassment at the President’s actions to friends both overseas and here within our borders. My shame at seeing that most self-serving of men occupying the People’s House is far beyond anything I have ever experienced.

Setting aside the climate for one moment, though to be honest that is nigh impossible to do, as everything else is reliant on the climate’s continued health and survival, there is one other more directly American issue at hand here. For the past four months, Donald Trump has done pretty much what he promised to do, to bring stark change to Washington; but the changes that have come about in his time in office have been hardly positive. For one thing the long standing norms of the American body politick are finding themselves being forcibly changed, in many respects against their will. States like California, New York, Massachusetts, and Illinois, long considered key supporters of federalism, in comparison with the likes of Texas, Arizona, Kansas, and most of the South, are now finding their long held faith in Washington to be suddenly, and dramatically unfounded.

What Donald Trump has done is nothing short of contribute to the process of nailing together the coffin of federalism in the United States. Our country has always been an odd fit, some parts more willing than others to play along with the idea of federalism. Trump, a New Yorker, has played into the hands of the anti-federalist extremists on both the left and right, particularly the Tea Party Republicans in Congress and in the respective State Capitols around the country. When the State governments choose to ignore the needs of all their constituents, instead focusing on the demands of a few, we the citizens look to the Federal Government to back us up and defend our rights. Yet now both a majority of State Governments and the Federal Government are controlled by the same faction within the Republican Party that has cried foul at the regulations set up by big government to ensure the continued prosperity of a majority of Americans.

Their self-serving agenda has seen that this country elect one of the least qualified Presidents in its history, and that this country’s legislative electoral process be so mangled that they the small-government “we serve ourselves” far-right Republicans will be mathematically guaranteed to win for many elections to come. Now the rest of us who are not being served by this narrow-mindedness amongst those in power are left to look to the lowest levels of our government, to our cities, for protection and aid. Cities like New York, Chicago, D.C., Boston, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, Portland, and Kansas City are our last refuge in this our darkest hour. For the time being, while the current faction of Republicans remains in charge of the rest of our government, we must rely on our big-city mayors and our city councils to do what they can to ensure our cities remain safe for American democracy and multiculturalism.

As a European American male, I am a part of the least threatened demographic in the country, yet as an American I am a part of the most threatened demographic of all; for when one American’s inalienable rights are threatened, then the rights of all the rest of us are threatened as well. The day when we return to saying otherwise is the day when we, the United States of America, the nation of immigrants, of opportunity, of possibility, will be the day when we lose our national spirit.

The Pope and the President

Today a rather oddly stacked meeting took place in the splendid halls of the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican. It was a meeting between two men who could not have possibly been more ideologically or culturally opposed to each other. Yet there they were, Pope Francis and President Trump standing side-by-side. Their meeting was a diplomatic affair, in part to appease the conservative Catholic base that had aided Trump in winning the presidency in November 2016.

I was unsurprised when a few weeks ago the news broke that Trump would be visiting Pope Francis in the Vatican, after all every American president since Eisenhower had made a visit to the Holy See to meet with every pontiff since Pope Saint John XXIII. Yet I found myself hoping, even praying, that Pope Francis would bend traditional diplomatic protocol ever so slightly and arrange for his meeting with the new president not in the splendour of the Apostolic Palace where all the temporal power and wealth of the Church is to be found. Rather, I hoped the Holy Father would invite the President to meet him in one of the Vatican’s charitable centres, perhaps in the homeless shelter that Pope Francis opened in January of this year, or in one of the city-state’s soup kitchens.

If there is one trait that the current United States President does not understand, let alone practice, it is humility. During his visit to the Eternal City he should take the time to visit the Basilica of Saint Lawrence outside the Walls (San Lorenzo fuori le Mura). It was here in the third century that Saint Lawrence, a martyr of the Early Church, was buried. When asked by the Prefect of Rome to hand over all the riches of the Church to the Imperial Treasury, Lawrence responded by gathering all of the poor and destitute who had benefited from the Church’s charity and brought them together to line the street leading to the centre of the old Christian Quarter.

When the Prefect returned, Lawrence announced that he had gathered the riches of the Church together in one place for the Prefect to view. Lawrence then led the Prefect down the street, showing him the great mass of people before him, announcing, “These are the riches of the Church.” For his efforts, Saint Lawrence was grilled alive, yet his message rings just as resoundingly now as it did eighteen centuries ago.

Donald Trump is a fairly successful man. He’s done well for himself crafting a business empire based primarily on his name brand. Yet his brand of gaudy luxury cannot compare to that which is truly worthwhile in life. I have found that as much as wealth, power, and prestige can bring me happiness in the short term, it does not bring me long-term fulfilment. I have found some other qualities, love, charity, compassion, and a general sense of goodwill to be the true key to happiness.

I have seen what power can do to people, and know all to well that I want as little as possible to do with it. All I want in life is to be with the people I love, to see that they fare well, and to ensure that the generations to come have a better life than I could possibly imagine. While having some wealth can certainly contribute to this, enough to ensure that in the confines of our economic system my family will not have to worry, that money ought to always be of secondary importance to all of us. We need money to live, but we should not live for money. Unfortunately for him, and for the rest of us it seems that President Trump has yet to figure that out.

The Constancy of the Modern

If we can learn anything from history, it is that our story has always been acted out and subsequently recorded by people, not unlike us. Each successive generation has done their part to immortalise their greatest tales through stories, both oral and written, into the collective memory of society. As time has passed, each generation of historians has endeavoured to best tell these stories of their predecessors in a way which their own generation can well understand. To the historians of the Renaissance, the millennium immediately proceeding their own time quickly gained the pejorative name the Dark Ages, while its architecture was equally appallingly disparaged as Gothic.

To the Renaissance and subsequent Enlightenment historians, the time to hearken back to with all glory was that of Classical Antiquity, of Greece and Rome. The intervening millennium in between the Fall of Rome in 476 CE and the rebirth of classical learning in the Italian city-states in the late fifteenth century was merely a setback in the onward march of human progress. It was a setback defined by religious fervour and superstition, when science was equated to wizardry and the light of literacy confined to only a select class of clerics and aristocrats.

Each generation of historians has strived to understand the past both in the light of their own times and in the understanding of how those in the past understood themselves. Yet for the analytical nature of the study of history in our present scientifically-centred age to be properly propped up, contemporary historians must continue to classify and divide history into particular periods, places, and categories. Political history must remain distinct from cultural history and social history, while the aforementioned Renaissance must somehow be understood as different from the Medieval period that came before it.

What is most striking is the division of the discipline into broad spans of time, particularly concerning European history. One has a choice of diving deep into the past with Ancient history, a concentration primarily focused upon the Mediterranean world from the earliest communities to the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 CE. Or perhaps one would prefer to study Medieval History, focusing on Europe during the ten centuries between the aforementioned fall of the Western Roman Empire and the eventual fall of the Eastern Roman Empire in 1453.

Or, if that does not suit one’s fancy, one could try one’s hand at Early Modern History, covering the period of time between the turn of the sixteenth century to the French Revolution. While modern, this period still has its fair share of the medieval about it to make it more remote. Then there are the modernists, those whose focus is squarely on recent European history, the stuff that has happened since the fall of the Ancien Régime in 1792 and the rise of modern European liberal democracy through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

What this model of understanding European history is founded on is the old Renaissance understanding that Europe will always be dominated by the legacy of Rome; therefore all European history must be understood in relation to the glories of the Roman Empire. The medieval is a giant leap backwards in the ruins of the once great imperial edifice, while the rise of modernity marks the return of European society to its former Roman glory. The other thing that this model is focused on is we modern man. Since it was first devised in the seventeenth century, this understanding of history has always held modernity as the pinnacle of human achievement, at least to that point.

The term modern itself comes from the Late Latin modernus, an adjectival modification of the Classical Latin adverb modo, meaning “just now.” Modernus in turn developed into the Middle French moderne by the fourteenth century, indicating that something similar to our understanding of the present time as modern was in use as early as what we would now call the Late Middle Ages. True, to my generation devices like the digital tablet, electric car, or the ability to make videocalls are decidedly modern, our grandparents could equally have said the same fifty years ago for the television, jet airplane, and IBM 7080 computer were equally modern to their own time. Likewise for our great-grandparents the very idea of a subway, car, or airplane on its own was incredibly modern.

The way I see it, the term modern is the hour hand on the clock of time; it is the pointer that marks where we are on the cycle that is human history. Just as Edward III was a modern monarch for his own time so too Elizabeth II is for ours. Likewise, while Geoffrey Chaucer may well have been seen as a modern writer for his day and age, working into the late hours of the night in his rooms within the edifice of London’s Aldgate, so too someone like me is all too modern for my own time. Though I write so often about the past, and do my best to draw connections between what has been and what is present, I cannot help but understand the people, places, and things that have already come and gone through the lens of my own times, of my modernity.

Therefore to define ourselves as modern is not to make us anymore unique than our predecessors. Rather, to do so we not only continue on the legacies of their respective modernities, and write our own story, always utilising this most constant of chronological labels.