Martin van Creveld reminds us of when we were free

Summary: Historian Martin van Creveld reminds us of when we were free, and how tightly our lives today are regulated. Remembering what we have lost is the first step to a better future.

Male prisoner with his hands in chains
ID 155936053 © Elnur | Dreamstime.

On Tuesday I asked what were the limits of our institutions’ power over us, as their regulation of our most intimate behaviors grows each year. In 1964, Berkeley students protested for the right the say “fu*k” and sleep together at will in dormitories {see Wikipedia}. Now universities and corporations regulate their subject’s speech (even jokes), who they flirt with, who they date, and countless other minutia of daily life. They want us to interact like drones serving a giant machine, with humanity – and all its mistakes and wonders – squeezed out. Like life in Orwell’s 1984. Who gives them this power?

Perhaps we allow it because we forgot what we lost. Here Martin van Creveld reminds us of a time when men and women were free. It was not that long ago.

I Have a Confession to Make

By Martin van Creveld. From his website, 24 October 2019.
Posted with his generous permission. Links added.

I  have a confession to make. One morning thirty-seven years ago I was standing in front of a class at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. The course was “The Scientific Revolution of the Seventeenth Century.” It had thirty students, most of them freshmen and -women in their early twenties (Israeli students, owing to their conscript service, tend to be two to four years older than their colleagues abroad). For many of them, mine was the first university class they had ever attended.

As a teacher in such a situation, what do you do? This was a workshop for the study of primary sources. The students knew nothing about anything. They themselves, being aware of that fact, either hesitated to speak up or went off in all kinds of weird directions. So you lower your expectations and try to explain a few elementary things; so elementary, perhaps, that they had never thought about them.

In this particular case, the point I wanted to make was very relevant to the topic at hand. Namely, that whatever is regarded as “normal” today may not have been so considered long ago; and the other way around, of course. By way of an example this was long before students were supposed to require “safe places” to protect their tender souls I asked the class what they would say if I stripped naked right there and then. It was, of course, meant as a joke. But also as an illustration of the kind of dramatic change history, moving along, often entails.

Sitting opposite me was a student about ten years older than most. Looking me straight in the eye she shot back, “I would like it very much.” The class roared with laughter, and I, I was later told, turned as red as a beet. From that point on the ice between them and me was broken and we spent a wonderful academic year discussing the likes of Francis Bacon, Galileo, and Newton. It was, incidentally, one of the very few courses I gave in which female students took a more lively part than male ones did. More important for the two of us, she and I continued on our own steam. First we went for a coffee, and the rest followed. About a year later Dvora – her name – and I decided to join forces and start living together. We still do.

Had the exchange taken place only a few years later, the outcome would have been entirely different. In any number of schools, both in Israel and abroad “flirting” with students, as well as other faculty members, is prohibited. So are making “suggestive” comments, “dating” (at what point does an extramural meeting with a student turn into a “date”?), “requests” for sexual activity, physical “displays” of affection, making “inappropriate” personal gifts, “frequent personal” communication with a student unrelated to course work or official school matters, “inappropriate” touching, and engaging in sexual contact and/or sexual relations. Briefly, anything that reeks, however slightly, of people getting to feel closer to one another would have caused those who engage in it to be censured, probably fired.

Social life is not math, which explains why none of the terms in quotation marks is capable of being defined. Any attempts to do so can merely lead to ever-growing confusion and, in the end, the kind of absurd hair-splitting lawyers produce in a never-ending stream. Such being the case, the inevitable outcome is to create a situation in which everyone is suspicious of everyone else. Everyone is constantly looking across his or her shoulder, and everyone has to consider every word he or she utters for fear it will be misinterpreted. An atmosphere less conducive both to teaching and to study would be hard to find.

Looking back over thirty-seven years, both Dvora and I thank our stars for the fact that, at the time, for a student to fall in love with her teacher, and the other way around, was still permitted. On top of that, I thank mine for the fact that cracking a joke, even a “suggestive” one, in the presence of young adult was still allowed. And also for the fact that, being 73 years old and an “emeritus,” I am no longer caught up in a system that puts so little trust in both faculty and students as to surround them with prohibitions of this kind.

As some Chinese sage – I forget which one – is supposed to have said: woe the generation whose teachers are afraid of their students.


Editor’s note

Institutions have such powers because we allow it. We can be free again. But it has, as always, to be fought for.

Martin van Creveld

About the Author

Martin van Creveld is Professor Emeritus of History at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and one of the world’s most renowned experts on military history and strategy. See his Wikipedia entry.

The central role of Professor van Creveld in the development of theory about modern war is difficult to exaggerate. He has written 24 books about almost every significant aspect of war. See links to his articles at The Essential 4GW reading list: Martin van Creveld.

OF more general interest are his books about western culture: Men, Women & War: Do Women Belong in the Front Line?, The Privileged Sex, and Pussycats: Why the Rest Keeps Beating the West.

To better understand our future, see his magnum opus – the dense but mind-opening The Rise and Decline of the State – describes the political order unfolding before our eyes.

His latest book is Hitler in Hell, a mind-blowing memoir “by” one of the most remarkable men of 20th century.

For More Information

Ideas! For shopping ideas see my recommended books and films at Amazon.

See the bigger picture in Are there limits to government regulation of our actions?

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. See all posts about the changing relations between men and women, and especially these …

  1. Men are abandoning the rat race, & changing American society. — See the data.
  2. Will young men break America’s family structure?
  3. Part 1: Why men are avoiding work and marriage.
  4. Part 2: Will today’s young men marry? America’s future depends on the answer.
  5. The coming crash as men and women go their own way.
  6. Men are going Galt. Marriage is dying. – A review of books from the cutting edge of the revolution.
  7. Marriage dying. Less sex. More loneliness. Society dying.

26 thoughts on “Martin van Creveld reminds us of when we were free”

  1. My brother, who was in academia until he was forty, thought the decline of freedom began when the secret ballot was made the norm. His point was that the social aspect of voting ruined. It allowed for more orderly voting, made it difficult for discrimination based on who you voted for, and other social goods, but voting lost its social cost.

    I wonder how much we as a nation have given up in order to avoid social discomforts.

    Ben Franklin “They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety. Those Who Sacrifice Liberty For Security Deserve Neither. He who would trade liberty for some temporary security, deserves neither liberty nor security.”

    I use this example not as an explanation of all, but to point out that in the cases we have discussed here at this blog, they all seem to have started as a way to avoid a social cost. So, I would add not only is it about what we have traded, but that part of the why, is that we have chosen to give up ruling, which indeed has costs.

    Reminds me of a friend who was a coach. He started his offense with a running play that went about 10 yards, then he mixed the play up from left to right as he felt, until the other team made him punt. I pointed out that he could have had a touchdown if he mixed in some other plays. His reply “The other coach will now be worried about that play because he knows I CAN mix it up and score. I am dictating how he thinks. If I can dictate how he thinks, I can dictate that I win and he loses.” He won the game easily.

    Those whom we allow to dictate, will dictate that they win. I don’t think they care much of what it is costing us.

  2. We gave up what we thought very little to allow the academics and bureaucrats to serve us better.
    Now both are openly destroying our society and government.
    I hope you explore at length the NYTs claim that the bureaucrats undermining our government are the good guys. The implications of your prescient articles about the administrative state really need to be more widely discussed.

  3. I know of a LT who dated a young WM (that’s Woman Marine) who was a PFC at the time. She was worth it, had he gotten caught. Hot as Hell.

    Of course it never lasted, he was an O, she an E. but my buddy tapped that after wards. sloppy seconds, hehehe. But that never happens 99.9% of the time, because in the military we have this thing called fraternization.

    O’s don’t screw E’s. not even have lunch with them.

    Sure a ‘prof on co-ed’ action is sizzling, but at heart its like the O and E relationship, he’s the manager, she’s the worker. What’s the point??? an easy “A”??? hot for teacher, kinky?

    it’s like master and slave, master taking advantage of slave, in the 3rd world this happens a lot. man of the house, maid (domestic helper) is young, poor & powerless. she gets tapped once or twice a night, wife of husband either knows or unwitting.

    Bill Clinton and Monica, that was wrong not so much because of the sanctity of the office, but because he was the darn US President and she was some young intern.

    Fraternization. Should be observed, not just in the military but in society as a whole, makes for better society IMHO. What’s next high school PE coach and his now “18” year old student??? c’mon.

    1. If humans and love were strictly rational I would agree with you, LCPL, but it is not. And, as I told a boss who was a West Point grad, I accepted the job, I didn’t enlist, when he wanted to dictate too much of my personal life.

      I find the explanation of master/slave and “fraternization” too naive, meaning without much explanatory capability. The article itself points to a 37 year successful relationship in a world of easily obtained divorce. The loss of this relationship would highlight why not letting people be people will cost something that we should oppose its cost. Also, as your comment shows, when you try to dictate the emotional part of humans, they cheat the rules. I would postulate that such cheating has a worse effect on the institution than the activity because of the tendency to corrupt. Your language indicates such corruption by its use of master/slave, that prof on co-ed is “sizzling, and that there is something called sanctity. There should be the sanctity of choice in a free society which was part of the author’s post.

      these are my thoughts and opinions, YMMV.

      1. When Mary Kay Letourneau Fualaau was forced to go public in 1997 with an affair she was having with her former sixth grade student, Vili Fualaau, after she became pregnant with his child, it was the teacher-student sex scandal heard around the world.

        At the time, Mary was a 34-year-old, married teacher in Seattle, who already had four children of her own. Vili was just 13 years old. Mary was arrested and served seven and a half years in prison.
        Today, Mary is 53 and Vili is 31. The couple is still together and are about to celebrate their 10th wedding anniversary. The two daughters they have together are now teenagers — older than Vili was when the affair started.

        Mary and Vili sat down for an exclusive interview with Barbara Walters to talk about how they managed to stay together all these years, despite their very public and forbidden relationship.

        “If it wasn’t strong enough in the beginning, it wouldn’t have carried through those years,” Mary told Walters.


        i remember being in junior high at the time and thinking man why can’t this happen to me? (i had a really hot history teacher, she weirdly enough was also from Israel).

        Sure there are stuff we desire, and fantasize doing, Pursuit of Happiness and all that good stuff, but this blanket fraternization i’m talking about, one i’m very familiar with in the military, i’m sure serves a grander purpose. Sure, hot female teacher/13 yr old male jock, is something to snicker about, but can you imagine that flipped and it’s some old dude and a 13 yr old girl??? i’m not saying everything is same-same, but that there is a reason for these blanket rules, whether hard rules as in middle school teacher/13 year old (that’s child molesting), or prof on coed (now both consenting adults).

        But the essence of said rule is still, about disparity of power (by age, knowledge, status, rank, etc. etc.). Sure we can cherry pick happy-endings (both literally and figuratively) , but in general are those rules, child molestation , fraternization , there are no rules in the 3rd world for this anything goes. and something I learnt later on in the military having visited Israel, fraternization isn’t really hard and fast like over here, and judging from the many hotties in Israel (Gal Gadot is one perfect example), i understand why no rules as such exist.

        So i know the Israeli cultural expressed in the article.

        here though there are rules, Penal Code to UCMJ, then to more college Ethics Code stuff, which i lump in this good Prof’s experience. but in the end, these rules seek to adjust this disparity, and any rule that enforces parity i’m for. I’m no lib, but that’s something I like about the military. everyone knows their place in the whole scheme of things. Sure is there hanky panky, yeah… like that LT/PFC tryst but the UCMJ had they been caught would’ve prevailed.

        I’m not gonna argue the UCMJ should be amended to allow for “love”, that’s hippie crap.

  4. Yes, and I am not and did not argue to allow child molestation or other crimes. That said, my point is the fraternization limits maybe useful, but freedom is a right. The comparison of two adults versus one adult and child is not valid. Likewise rules that make sense for the military can infringe on civilian rights.

    1. John,

      You point to something common in these discussions. The rebuttals to fears about expanding regulation are usually extreme. Worried about false #MeToo claims about events years ago with no evidence? Well, what about the violent rape of girls by gangs! Worry about restricting flirting and dating among coworkers? Well, what about violent attacks in the workplace!

      Support for free speech is consistent with reasonable regulation. It does not mean that screaming “fire” in a crowded theater is OK. Similarly, broad restrictions on relations between coworkers does not mean that no restrictions are feasible.

      What you are seeing is just chaff thrown into the debate by people cheering for the next step in our forced march to authoritarianism. It is always accompanied by cheers. History shows that freedom is rare desire. And it is fading in America, as the Founders feared that it would.

      1. I’m just talking about parity vs. disparity here, Larry.

        Teachers as a rule should not be allowed to date students. And

        Officers not allowed to date enlisted (and those of lesser rank than them).

        Managers should not be allowed to date workers. both in gov’t and corporate settings. if you run your own small business and have two workers, one is hot— sure, that’s fair game.

        But i’m talking about in general where there’s a lot of hierarchy involved. the rule that makes it illegal to frowns upon on high/low fraternization should be upheld. that’s what i’m defending. Simply that vis a vis the article above.

        Theres no fear in this, just that parity is promoted. Probably sure it would be better for free love, and the hippies are right. And we all should follow our instincts.

        But i’m more a rules guy, especially this rule to be clear. this is where we differ, and it’s fine— it’s a free country.

        Youre now conflating different things, it’s just about parity vs. disparity, Larry. of high and low relationships. and putting a stop to it.

        if you’re for free love , then that’s cool too, i can respect that; but then you can’t say Bill and Monica were in love, and defend their tryst.

    2. John, my point about bringing up that teacher/13 yr old affair isn’t to high light child molestation, but to answer your “look now they are happily married” rebutt.

      IF you judge something by what happened in the end, then sure you can defend it afterwards; but my argument is more for during and before (‘after’, if our Criminal Justice system worked this way, we’d get rid of the prison debate all together now won’t we?), so why not put a rule on the table (PC to UCMJ to Ethics Code) so as not to encourage thus.

      my argument = don’t encourage disparity.

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  6. LCPL, the author’s post and mine were not just about the end. I stated: “The article itself points to a 37 year successful relationship in a world of easily obtained divorce” . I did not and still do not think it requires explanation with regards to child molesting versus legal adult actions. They are different things. As I think that 37 years means a lot of beginning, middle, and nearing the end that is indicated by the word relationship.

    Please reread what I said. I agree it would not be proper for teacher/13 year old. But I did not make that claim, and the reasoning for adults having the freedom to choose still stands. Using teacher/13 year old does not falsify my rebuttal. I stated “I find the explanation of master/slave and “fraternization” too naive, meaning without much explanatory capability.” If it was unclear that I meant adults, please add that to my post in your mind.


    1. Now we’re getting somewhere close to an understandment.

      For me, IMHO, it’s the same species, namely senior position, junior position, neither the twain shall meet. Age, rank, position, status whatever it is.

      So whether in the 70s or now, I still think its a good idea to have some kind of university/college rule that mandates, hey buddy Professors shall not dip into the student body for dates. Simple.

      Now i don’t think something like that should necessarily be in the Penal Code (the 13 yr old/teacher must be), for college they can write it in their Ethics Code. firing to sabaticals to Antartica can be their punishment, i dunno. up to them.

      I would add too doctor/patient . Like your point above re voting and anonymity , here no need for state/gov’t to enforce and no jails , but work place/institutions must have something that “shames” professor/student relationship in colleges, so as to not encourage it, same

      with doctor/patient in hospitals also.

      Do we have consensus, or closer to consensus now???

  7. John,

    let me present two other disparity relationships that tend to screw up society. sure you may disagree with types or kinds (and I can appreciate our disagreement here), but bare with me that they are the same as the above kinds i’ve listed. Types being of different types (your argument); kinds (same kind, my argument, namely about disparity).

    Philippines. Catholic priests in the country , small towns, regularly prey on the hottest young females. Let’s take away child molestation, which happens a lot too, and say 18. Father/18 yr old hottie. Gets pregnant, either the priest denies, or priest takes responsibility. Both occur. No father child, screws up family; Father of the child claims to be the father, screws up the town.
    Syria (pretty much all over the ME). cousin-cousin marriage. at first glance you might say, hey that’s your parity right there , LCpl_X ! no sir, culture encourages that first dibs for any hottie (and non-hotties) in the family/clan is her 1st cousin. kinda like arrange marriage in India. but none too strict, just that 1st cousins get first dibs, if she doesn’t consider her 1st cousins first, then ostracize. how that screws up society? gene pool is narrowed. And why the ME is so screwed up.

    Disparity in the Syria example is that the oldies (tradition) is dictating human affairs; Philippines its Catholic priestly traditions (from Spanish times) that is doing the same.

    So to connect to the topic at hand, say we take the good Prof’s point to its logical end and say, hey all college aged students must date their Professor, with consent of course. that would be nuts.

  8. I would wish that it were that simple. The fact is that things change. And while there is a lot to the saying that the more it changes, the more it is the same, it does not help with real change.

    The advent of effective birth control, consistent high speed machinery, and now AI, has changed much of what we, as a species, were constrained by evolution to experience/expect.

    It is unsurprising that honor and other systems are under stress. Add in how activists are basing what they demand of us on ideology, rather than the institutions that took centuries to millennia to develop, and you have a real wicked mess that is hard to impossible to untangle.

    I would say that, yes, one of the problems is that our physical accomplishments have rendered much of shame systems moot. And, yes, psychological and emotional needs means we need brakes, and backstops for human desire.

    However, curtailing freedom among adults has many problems. Enabling institutions rather than law to dictate to adults decreases freedom and tends to corrupt. Use your example of the armed forces who have a separate legal system. It can be afforded by the amount we budget for our common defense. In the workplace, jokes, dating, staring, etc go on. Going to the legal system is the last resort, due to costs. Yet, if the company or individual does not like the outcome, the fight becomes expensive. This expense should not be born by citizens because freedom causes discomfort. We have laws about discrimination, favoritism, and sexual harassment. There comes a point that we either reject intrusion of our rights, or they will be taken away.

    That is why I quoted Franklin “Those Who Sacrifice Liberty For Security Deserve Neither” in my first post. I would rather citizens have freedom and pay its cost, than regulations that magnify the cost but put it in an area that is hard to account. This does not apply to the military. Full disclosure, I am one that thinks drafting should be illegal, or a requirement for literally almost everybody. But I also recognize the costs of such a strict approach, and that it is wise that we have compromise when a draft is needed.

      1. Larry:

        Yes, I agree mostly. But many of the institutions still exist, whether the culture persists or not. Don’t know if the phoenix can rise again. In fact, my opinion is that part of the wicked nature comes from the institutions and how they are trying to cope. It appears to me that many are having to use themselves and us as guinea pigs, because doing nothing and just accepting the loss, is unacceptable.

      2. To me honor is a bad word when thrown about willy nilly. It’s like piety and courage, something one can throw around, just to say “I have honor”, “you don’t have it”.

        if it’s promoted outwardly then it has already been weaponized.

        The definition is hard to define, but i imagine it as something like an offspring of both piety and courage.

        Sure there’s a performative aspect of it, but I imagine, true honor (like piety/courage) is internal and not external. like an ice berg, 90% undiscernable. only known to self.

        This word is easily weaponized, hence all should stay clear from it. Just do good. Period. Whether one has piety, courage and/or honor, that’s their business, precisely because much of it is internal,

        thus if expressed outwardly, nullifies it immediately. i don’t mean to channel Wittgenstein there, but IMHO best unsaid.

        But from my experience, most people in the military and in gov’t service, that come closest to having honor both inward and outward are Mormons,

        i dunno if it’s the family friendly environment, their religion which favors blind faith almost, or that they mostly grow up in small towns. But they tend to possess all three.

        They are also more open to other ways of life too, though they will not budge on their own faith… they adjust very well to those that don’t share it. I’m sure this is their missionary position, that lends to better understanding of others.

      3. LCPL: I agree about bandying about things like honor. Especially by politicians and their like. One of my pet peeves is a promise. If you make a promise even to yourself, you have to keep it, or at worst, after much effort, learn why you broke your promise and never do it, or similar, again. Otherwise you are just another occasional liar.

  9. We have bigger fish to fry than worrying about college profs having relationships with their students. I’d be more concerned about loss of 1st and 2nd Amendment rights through “hate speech” laws and Beto gun grabbing lunacy. That’ll be the loss of real freedoms.

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