It is easy to think that the countries we know of that we live in and grew up in, will always be here. Our lives are so short that it is often hard for we humans to grasp. This seems especially so now with many acting as if the EU were some ancient institution when its only decades old, or that Canada’s values and culture date back to the creation of the charter of rights and freedoms in the 1980s. In the age of television and mass media our memory has been reduced even further. In the introduction to his book, Davies mentions how the teaching of history (and the classics) has become ever more marginalized and the young are increasingly growing up “with very little sense of the pitiless passage of time.” (p. 8). Instead they are met with increasing materialism and consumerism. Of course this means an ever reduced understanding of their own history and heritage.
Vanished Kingdoms (2011) by Norman Davies seeks to examine several now defunct countries within Europe. There are many, many examples of ‘vanished kingdoms’ in Europe alone so there is almost no need to look elsewhere but of course as a historian of Poland, Davies field of expertise is Europe, so it makes sense for him to limit his discussion to this one continent. Each chapter is on a different defunct state and is split into three parts: the first is a brief sketch of the area in question today; the second is a history of the state in question; and the third part of each chapter supposed to be about how the dead state is remembered or not. In reality, however, this is not always the case. For example, the end of the chapters on Alt Clut and Ireland he basically just goes on about his views on the future of the UK.
This book covers a mere fifteen of the countless vanished and largely forgotten kingdoms, duchies, republics, et al. that have existed on the European continent. These are:
- Burgundy (a series of monarchical entities that existed in what is now France and Switzerland)
- Grand Duchy of Lithuania (from here on referred to as GDL)
- Byzantine Empire
- Saxe-Coburg and Gotha
- Montenegro (original royal incarnation; not modern republic)
Why does he have Ireland, Byzantium and the USSR? These are well known and Ireland is still here. Why not have had Volga Bulgaria or Great Bulgaria or the Crusader states of the Balkans or or the Gepid Kingdom or the Avar Khanate or the Kingdom of Mann and the Isles; or one of the various Cossack, Finnic and other anti-Bolshevik republics that sprang up within Russia during the Russian Civil War instead?
If it makes sense for GDL, Prussia and Aragon to be included than why not the Genoese and Pisano Empires? These last two entities are, I would say, less known in the Anglosphere than the preceding three. I suppose the issue here is that vanished does not necessarily mean forgotten although I believe it would have been better to have focused entirely on forgotten states, or at least ones that are virtually unknown in the Anglosphere, instead of including well known entities like the USSR, Byzantium and Ireland.
He mentions Gabriele D’Annunzio’s Italian Regency of Carnaro but states he couldn’t fit it in; he should have. It would make far more sense to have Fiume than many of the entities that did make it in. Then again if he had included Fiume Davies would no doubt have been very critical and scornful given D’Annunzio’s proto-fascist politics.
And why does he have the ‘Kingdom of Tolosa?’ As interesting as it is to learn about the Visigothic presence in Southern France the fact is it was not a separate entity, but part of a larger Visigothic Kingdom which stretched south into Iberia. Similarly, his chapter on Burgundy could have done without his revised list of how many Burgundies there have been, as 13 (a royal province) and 15 (region of the French Republic) are not sovereign states.
His inclusion of the USSR it should be noted, is almost entirely about the Estonian portion. In fact, it is essentially a history of Estonia up until the fall of the USSR; including its short lived republic of 1919-1939. Similarly, his chapter on Lithuania is more about the Belorussian portions it controlled. The Byzantine chapter is essentially a jumping off point for Davies to discuss how long dead entities are remembered. He makes a good point that liberal thinkers of the 18th century portrayed it in a very negative light and simply used it as a foil to promote their own ideologies. Though of course as a liberal Davies doesn’t actually condemn liberalism, he just happens to disagree with early liberal thinkers’ views on Byzantium.
Ireland chapter seems to be more of a way for him to muse about the possible breakup of the UK. He thought Scottish referendum would not happen until after a Brexit and that it would be a success. If he really wanted to include Ireland than why not have the Irish Catholic Confederation? Of course the main reason for his inclusion of Ireland is to discuss the breakup of the UK. This book was written just before the failed Scottish independence referendum of 2014 and his view on how the UK will dissolve is interesting. He felt that Brexit would come before an independence referendum and the Scots would vote to leave. As we know this did not happen.[i]
It would have been better to have discussed aspects of the USSR, Ireland and Byzantine portions in the conclusion where he discusses how states die. He could have used the conclusion to have talked about how dead states are remembered (using Byzantine example) and what could happen with the UK (using the Irish example).
He provides interesting tidbits that most are unaware of like how the King of Rheged (Urien) formed a union of Brythonic kingdoms in Hen Ogledd (the Old North) that nearly drove the Angles out of England, but at the moment of victory King Morcant had Urien assassinated out of jealousy over Urien’s success and possibly fear of Urien’s ambitions. The union fell apart and the Angles went back on the offensive.[ii] Interestingly, he also notes how the Duchy of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (what he calls Rosenau) was the first to give the National Socialists a majority, no doubt because of how it had essentially been taken over by communists after the First World War (p. 568). Davies also goes on to note the mistreatment of the last duke by the Americans after the Second World War; he was malnourished and left to rot in a prison camp for his pro-Hitlerist views until 1947 when his family secured his release (p. 569). He ended up dying alone and destitute. But just before he passed away he was able to see, thanks to a showing at a local cinema, the coronation of his cousin’s granddaughter; Queen Elizabeth II.
As stated before some of these chapters are not so much about the state in question but are jumping off points for his musings on other issues. This tends to give the book a somewhat schizophrenic quality.
Of course this is the work of a liberal historian and this is not always a terrible thing. There are plenty of texts out there written by liberal or liberal-conservative or even further leftist historians where the political message is generally kept down. In such cases one can read a book without be overwhelmed by an obvious political message. I don’t know of Davies’ other work, but this one was certainly quite obviously political.
Primarily it was political in the sense of its anti-Russian narrative. As I mentioned earlier the USSR chapter largely a history of Estonia, however it also seems like more of an excuse for him to condemn Russians. I sympathize with Estonia and its struggles for independence and agree that Soviet rule was crushing in all SSRs (including Russia), but this chapter just seems unnecessary. If he had wanted to talk about the USSR, then why only focus on Estonia? He says in this chapter that there is a difference between Russia and the Soviet Union, but then he does what many Russian patriots worry Westerners do and conflates the two (p. 698). Similarly, in the chapters on Lithuania, Prussia and Galicia we see anti-Russian sentiment shine through.
He never mentions Polish mistreatment of their Orthodox subjects in the Lithuanian or Galician chapters which he could have if he were trying to be balanced. His chapter on Lithuania is full of condemnations of the Grand Duchy of Moscow, Russia and russification, but little to none about Polonization, and he does not go into further details about mass Ukrainian uprising against Polish rule in the 17th century. Nor does he seem to care too greatly about Polish expansionism. My take-away from Vanished Kingdoms is that Davies’ texts on Polish history would go out of the way to promote Polish expansionism and apologize for it.
I would say that in many ways this book is a great example of a great problem with historians. Those who are experts on a particular people can often develop biases against said people’s enemies. In this case Davies is an expert on Poland and one of Poland’s greatest enemies historically was Russia. Of course Russia is not some innocent little lamb and the Kremlin puts out propaganda like everyone else, but nor is it some terrible pariah that needs to be constantly signaled against.
Given the ever looming spectre of the Holocaust on European history and Eastern European history in particular, Davies of course mentions the status of Jewry in several chapters. He doesn’t spend too much time on them, mind you, outside of the chapter on Galicia. In that kingdom Jews were 10% of the population with the rest more or less evenly split between Catholics and Orthodox; former of which could be split between Byzantine Rite Ukrainians and Latin Rite Poles. Despite them being a minority it sounds like, from Davies, their part of Galician history is being remembered. On page 486 Davies states that he worries about historical memory of Galicia-Lodomeria and says little is being done to preserve it, before then noting that in fact the Jewish aspect is. Speaking of Jews, Davies claims Bundists were about building “a better world for all.” (p. 299).[iii] I don’t know of how familiar Davies is or isn’t with Coundenhove-Kalergi, but this respect for Jewish socialists is reminiscent of Coudenhove-Kalergi, who believed they alone were trying to save the world. As such Coundenhove-Kalergi believed the Jews alone should thus be spared miscegenation.
And clearly Davies is all for multiculturalism. When it comes to Galicia-Lodomeria, one gets the impression that Davies wants to revive multicultural nature of the former kingdom, just like he does a multicultural GDL. Given Davies is writing about ‘vanished kingdoms’ and how states die, he more than anyone should understand this simple truth: multiculturalism is a great way to kill a state.
When trying to attack official Russian narrative of history he states that none of Europe’s nations are truly native (p. 240); but why would that be? Because humanity evolved elsewhere? Would he say the same about Asians or Amerindians? I doubt it. There was no need to have included that; it is simply about signalling. At one point he also notes how the enslavement of 40,000 Muslims by Aragon a milestone in the “grim history” of European slavery (p. 199). Why such dour and serious expressions for European slavery but not Muslim? Where is the mentioning of Islamic slavery? Perhaps I am being overly sensitive here but it is quite common for historians to ignore or downplay Arab and other non-White slave trades whilst endlessly condemning European variants.
All states come to an end and maybe this would be a good thing for the US and Canada. Greg Johnson has written positively about Calexit, for example, and I often wonder if such break-ups wouldn’t be better for us in the long run. In the case of California if it seceded then with any luck it would become a beacon for self-hating Whites, mestizos and others to self-deport to. In the case of Canada, I think it would have been best if Quebec had never been part of confederation to begin with. Certainly the English-French divide has proven an easy avenue for cultural Marxists to use to promote the “post-national” society the country now finds itself in.
The extraordinary change in the demographics of the US, Canada and most other White countries means that secessionism and complete breakdown of central order may be a foregone conclusion. Why even ancient entities like the Kingdom of England may disappear off the map; to be replaced by a hodgepodge of smaller entities. But then again even without the terrible and unprecedented demographic changes afflicting the wider Occidental world, there is no reason to suggest our various kingdoms, republics and the like would last forever. As Davies notes, no state does.
One wonders what memories will remain of our present states when they eventually disappear. Some of the examples given are of entities which are almost completely forgotten; will the same be true of the US or Canada? For all its problems, Vanished Kingdoms at least offers a glimpse into the lives of a few such entities which have come and gone and with any luck will spur the reader into pondering the fate of all states, including their own.
[i]Although the possibility of there being a second referendum still exists even if it is unlikely for the time being.
[ii]For more information on the English portions of the ‘Old North’ check out my take on Max Adams’ history of Northumbria.
[iii]In the past Jewish historians have apparently condemned Davies for not spending enough time talking about muh shoah and daring to look at the suffering of others. I don’t think this book will have assuaged such criticism. No amount of cucking is ever enough.