Montana Ethic Project: Terror and the lessons of history


Hugh Carey

Richard Drake: “Terrorism and the Consolation of History.”

This is the first chapter of the 32-part video series “The Montana Ethic Project.” You can watch the whole video below. Here is how it opens:

“My name is Richard Drake and I teach history at the University of Montana. I’ve been at the University since 1982 and one of the courses that I teach here at the university is ‘Terrorism in the Modern World.’ We cover the history of terrorism from the French Revolution in the late 18th century, all the way down to the present time.

“Now, terrorism is generally defined as illegal or immoral violence that has a political aim. And since 9/11, American foreign policy and much of American domestic policy has focused on the problem of terrorism.

“What I’d like to do today is talk about the lessons of history that the great historians of the past can teach us about terrorism.”

And here is an edited excerpt from Drake’s presentation:

“The medieval chronicles reek of terrorist violence. The two greatest chroniclers of the crusades, Jean Froissart and Geoffrey Villehardouin, write about endless scenes of pillaging and massacres on really both sides—the Muslim as well as the Christian side of that struggle. They describe one scene where Crusaders butchered a civilian population to the cries of ‘God Be Praised.’ There are many scenes of that kind scattered throughout the chronicles of the Crusades.

“There are two authoritative historians about the Renaissance, Leonardo Bruni and Francesco Guicciardini, who write almost exclusively about the political violence that engulfed Italy all through the 14th and 15th centuries. Bruni talks of politicized violence, dynastic violence, which resulted in cruel scenes of massacres, assassinations, betrayals, feuds. We think of the Renaissance as a great time of cultural achievements in literature and art, but you would never know that any of the artistic and cultural achievements were going on based on what Leonardo Bruni tells us in his class book, ‘History of the Florentine People.’ The whole book deals mainly with war, violence, terrorism in all forms.

“In Francesco Guicciardini’s ‘The History of Italy,’ we find the same message. Again he was writing at a time when Michelangelo and Leonardo de Vinci and Raffaello Sanzio were creating their artistic masterpieces of the High Renaissance. He doesn’t write a line about any of that. All he can talk about are the wars and the political rivalries that are just drenching the streets of Florence and Rome in blood. He has a particularly vivid image about the violence of the period. He says that what was actually going on was that the Arno River in Florence and the Tiber River in Rome were full of cadavers. It was a time of unlimited violence of the worst kind.

“So we are not alone in facing the problems of politicized violence.”

PERC_Logo_MontanaEthicPERC—the Property & Environment Research Center—is a proud sponsor of the Montana Ethic Project. To learn how PERC’s ideas can help us honor one another’s rights to land, water, and wildlife, visit


Last week: Project introduction.

Next week: Mike Gear on “The Value of Athletics.”


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