Book Review: How the West Won

HowWestWonby Brad Nelson   6/16/14
Maybe one of you fine people here could write an article on why it matters getting the story of Western Civilization straight. This book doesn’t do that. It spends its well-spent time actually setting the record straight.

I take it as axiomatic that one of the prime purposes of Cultural Marxism (“Progressivism,” Leftism, socialism, Communism, or liberalism) is to erase our institutional memory in order to replace it with something else — e.g, “fundamental transformation.” That is, we are to be indoctrinated with lies, half-truths, and various distortions in the pursuit of a hackneyed utopian end.

Why this end should be pursued zealously by so many is suitable for a full-length book. But much of the desire to erase our memories and program them with a bogus history is because of an ingrained hatred for America and Western Civilization by people who inherently feel alienated and have made sort of a religion out of it. Michael Savage calls liberalism a mental disorder and I don’t think he’s that far off.

Any serious look at history — including the history of Western Civilization — will find an imperfect mankind with lots of warts. And there are plenty of warts regarding the upward path of Western Civilization itself. But most of these have been exaggerated by the Left. And always Western Civilization is compared to the ideal and damned harshly for never measuring up to this utopia.

Hatred is a very poor thing upon which to base a civilization. And hatred is at the heart of the Left, combined with a naive romantic vision of Utopia. It’s poison combined with kool-aid — never a good combination, even in the best of times.

To me, it’s obvious why we should work to understand history as it actually is instead of distorting it for political purposes. And regarding Western Civilization, this is particularly so because we stand upon the shoulder of giants, not a bunch of “old white men” who should be dethroned because they’re all “racists, sexists, and homophobes.”

This is only one book. And no one book has all the answers or the only correct perspective. But, baby, this one comes close.

There was a lot of information in this book. I learned much. Things I thought I knew I found out were false. This is interesting considering that I’m not a blinkered and angry Leftist who wants to believe the worst about my country. Nor when I was younger did I attend a school infected with Progressivism. Even so, the propaganda and misinformation have been so thick culture-wide, they’re difficult to avoid. It’s poisoned us all to some degree.

And this book is a remedy, a keen antidote to the willful and spiteful Marxist revisionism. Our entire history has been redefined by a relatively small group of axe-grinding college professors, historians, and other ne’er-do-wells of the Left. In short, they have spread the primary lie that only after escaping the influence of Christianity did Western Civilization flourish.

I knew this was a lie beforehand. But I didn’t understand how big of a lie it was. I had an inkling of the idea that the belief in a God who created a rational universe — which was thus rationally understandable — facilitated the growth of science. What I didn’t quite understand before is that it did not just facilitate it, it was absolutely crucial to it. Indeed, the very idea of progress is directly attributable to the Christian world view.

There are very few books where I say “Drop everything and read this.” This book is one of them. I’ve blabbed enough about it for now. This series of short excerpts will give you the taste of the book that you should run out and buy now:

The prolific Cambridge professor J. B. Bury’s 1920 book The Idea of Progress dominated opinion for several generations with the message that belief in progress is a recent development, having originated during the eighteenth-century era sometimes called the Enlightenment. This claim is as mistaken as the notion that science developed despite the barriers religion erected. The truth is that science arose only because the doctrine of the rational creator of a rational universe made scientific inquiry plausible. Similarly, the idea of progress was inherent in Jewish conceptions of history and was central to Christian thought from very early days.

There was another aspect to Christian faith in progress as well: almost without exception, Christian theologians have assumed that the application of reason can yield an increasingly more accurate understanding of God’s will . . . In addition, with all these thinkers we see the Christian belief in man’s rational nature—what Augustine called that “unspeakable boon”—and also in God himself as the epitome of reason.48 Had they seen God as an inexplicable essence, as had the Greek philosophers, the very idea of rational theology—and, more broadly, of progress itself—would have been unthinkable.

The Palestinian historian Tarif Khalidi interpreted these passages—which were “both frequently cited and commented upon” by Muslim scholars—to “suggest a universe running down, an imminent end to man and all his works.”52 They also imply the superior virtue of the past. In this context, prohibiting the printing press was not surprising, for books written by hand—the standard from the past—would seem inherently better. Even more important, Islam holds that the universe is inherently irrational—that there is no cause and effect—because everything happens as the direct result of Allah’s will at that particular time. Anything is possible. Attempts at science, then, are not only foolish but also blasphemous, in that they imply limits to Allah’s power and authority.53 Therefore, Muslim scholars study law (what does Allah require?), not science.

But what of the “Golden Era” of Muslim science and learning that flourished while Europe languished in the “Dark Ages”? Chapter 4 makes it clear that the “Dark Ages” are a myth. The “Golden Era” of Islamic science and learning is too. Some Muslim-occupied societies gave the appearance of sophistication only because of the culture sustained by their subject peoples—-Jews and various brands of Christianity (see chapter 14).

Belief in the Dark Ages remains so persistent that it seems appropriate to begin this chapter by quickly revealing that this is a myth made up by eighteenth-century intellectuals determined to slander Christianity and to celebrate their own sagacity.

One of the most important ideas facilitating the rise of the West is the belief in free will. Whereas most (if not all) ancient societies believed in fate, Westerners came to believe that humans are relatively free to follow the dictates of their conscience and that, to a substantial degree, they make their own fate. This belief had remarkable behavioral consequences. Most important, perhaps, it created a tendency for people not to be resigned to things as they are but rather to attempt to make the situation better. Moreover, belief in free will led directly to valuing the right of the individual to freely choose, with the result that medieval Europe rejected slavery—the only culture ever to have done so without external compulsion.

What is capitalism? Several thousand books have been written on the subject, but very few authors explain what they mean by the term capitalism.45 This is not because no definition is needed;46 it is because capitalism is difficult to define, having originated not as an economic concept but as a pejorative term used by nineteenth-century leftists to condemn wealth and privilege. To adapt the term for serious analysis is a bit like trying to make a social-scientific concept out of a reactionary pig.

Capitalism rests on free markets, secure property rights, and free (uncoerced) labor.49 Free markets are needed for firms to enter areas of opportunity, which is precluded when markets are closed or highly regulated by the state. Only if property rights are secure will people invest in pursuit of greater gains, rather than hide, hoard, or consume their wealth. Uncoerced labor is needed so firms can attract motivated workers or dismiss them in response to market conditions. Coerced labor not only lacks motivation but also may be difficult to obtain and hard to get rid of. The capacity to motivate work and the systematic reinvestment of profits account for the immense productivity of capitalism.

But note that the Bible does not directly condemn commerce or merchants. Moreover, soon after the conversion of Constantine (312 BC) the Church ceased to be dominated by ascetics, and attitudes toward commerce began to mellow. Augustine’s writings reflected this change. He taught that wickedness was not inherent in commerce but that, as with any occupation, it was up to the individual to live righteously.52 Augustine also gave legitimacy to free-trade practices when he ruled that price was a function not simply of the seller’s costs but also of the buyer’s desire for the item sold.

—-

The Church’s bursting treasuries had another effect. Monks began to leave their fields, hiring a labor force that proved more productive.65 Thus, as “religious capitalism” unfolded, more monks worked as executives and foremen. In this way, the medieval monasteries came to resemble modern firms—well administered and quick to adopt the latest technological advances.

Just as important as these economic developments were changes in attitudes toward work that Christianity inspired. Notions of the dignity of labor were incomprehensible in ancient Rome or any other precapitalist society. Traditional societies celebrated consumption while holding work in contempt. In China, for example, the Mandarins grew their fingernails as long as they could (even wearing silver sheaths to protect them from breaking) to make it evident that they did no labor. Capitalism required and encouraged a remarkably different attitude, one that saw work as intrinsically virtuous.

In the fourteenth century Walter Hilton, the English Augustinian, wrote, “By the discipline of the physical life we are enabled for spiritual effort.”71 This commitment to manual labor distinguishes Christian asceticism from that found in the other great religious cultures, where piety is associated with rejection of the world and its activities. Eastern holy men, for example, specialized in meditation and lived by charity, whereas most medieval Christian monastics lived by their own labor, sustaining highly productive estates. Being of the world sustained a healthy concern with economic affairs. Although the Protestant-ethic thesis was wrong, capitalism was indeed linked to a Christian ethic.

The proximate cause of the rise of Italian capitalism was freedom from the rapacious rulers who repressed and consumed economic progress in most of the world, including most of Europe. Although their political life often was turbulent, these city-states were true republics able to sustain the freedom capitalism requires. Second, centuries of technological progress had laid the necessary foundations for the rise of capitalism, especially the agricultural surpluses needed to sustain cities and to permit specialization. In addition, Christian theology encouraged the idea of progress, which justified long-term investment strategies, and provided moral justifications for the business practices fundamental to capitalism.

If there is a single factor responsible for the rise of the West, it is freedom. Freedom to hope. Freedom to act. Freedom to invest. Freedom to enjoy the fruits of one’s dreams as well as one’s labor. So much of that freedom emerged during the so-called Dark Ages. The ramifications would be felt for centuries to come.

Just as there were no “Dark Ages,” there was no “Scientific Revolution.” Rather, the notion of a Scientific Revolution was invented to discredit the medieval Church by claiming that science burst forth in full bloom (thus owing no debts to prior Scholastic scholars) only when a weakened Christianity no longer could suppress it.

To the extent that Muslim elites acquired a sophisticated culture, they learned it from their subject peoples . . . What has largely been ignored is that that culture could not keep up with the West because so-called Muslim culture was largely an illusion, resting on a complex mix of dhimmi cultures. As soon the dhimmis were repressed as heretical, that culture would be lost. Hence, when Muslims stamped out nearly all religious nonconformity in the fourteenth century, Muslim backwardness came to the fore.

Just as a group of eighteenth-century philosophers invented the notion of the “Dark Ages” to discredit Christianity, they labeled their own era the “Enlightenment” on grounds that religious darkness had finally been dispelled by secular humanism.

Science arose only in Christian Europe because only medieval Europeans believed that science was possible and desirable. And the basis of their belief was their image of God and his creation. This was dramatically asserted to a distinguished audience of scholars attending the 1925 Lowell Lectures at Harvard by the great English philosopher and mathematician Alfred North Whitehead, who explained that science developed in Europe because of the widespread “faith in the possibility of science … derivative from medieval theology.”25 This claim shocked not only his audience but Western intellectuals in general when his lectures were published. How could this world-famous thinker, coauthor with Bertrand Russell of the landmark Principia Mathematica (1910–13), not know that religion is the unrelenting enemy of science?

The greatest contribution of medievalism to the formation of the scientific movement [was] the inexpugnable belief … that there was a secret, a secret which can be unveiled. How has this conviction been so vividly implanted in the European mind? … It must come from the medieval insistence on the rationality of God, conceived as with the personal energy of Jehovah and with the rationality of a Greek philosopher. Every detail was supervised and ordered: the search into nature could only result in the vindication of faith in rationality.

In contrast, most religions outside the Judeo-Christian tradition do not posit a creation at all. The universe is said to be eternal, without beginning or purpose; never having been created, it has no Creator. From this view, the universe is a supreme mystery, inconsistent, unpredictable, and (perhaps) arbitrary. For those holding this view, the only paths to wisdom are meditation or inspiration—there being nothing to reason about. But if the universe was created in accord with rational rules by a perfect, rational creator, then it ought to yield its secrets to reason and observation. Hence the scientific truism that nature is a book meant to be read.

In contrast, most religions outside the Judeo-Christian tradition do not posit a creation at all. The universe is said to be eternal, without beginning or purpose; never having been created, it has no Creator. From this view, the universe is a supreme mystery, inconsistent, unpredictable, and (perhaps) arbitrary. For those holding this view, the only paths to wisdom are meditation or inspiration—there being nothing to reason about. But if the universe was created in accord with rational rules by a perfect, rational creator, then it ought to yield its secrets to reason and observation. Hence the scientific truism that nature is a book meant to be read.

There is no suggestion in the Qur’an that Allah set his creation in motion and then let it run. Rather, it is assumed that he often intrudes in the world and changes things as it pleases him. Through the centuries, therefore, many influential Muslim scholars have held that efforts to formulate natural laws are blasphemy because they would seem to deny Allah’s freedom to act. Thus did the Chinese, Greek, and Muslim images of God and the universe deflect scientific efforts.

It was only because Europeans believed in God as the Intelligent Designer of a rational universe that they pursued the secrets of creation. Johannes Kepler stated, “The chief aim of all investigations of the external world should be to discover the rational order and harmony imposed on it by God and which he revealed to us in the language of mathematics.”

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the rise of science is not that the early scientists searched for natural laws, confident that they existed, but that they found them. It thus could be said that the proposition that the universe had an Intelligent Designer is the most fundamental of all scientific theories and that it has been successfully put to empirical tests again and again. For, as Albert Einstein once remarked, the most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible: “A priori one should expect a chaotic world which cannot be grasped by the mind in any way.… That is the ‘miracle’ which is constantly being reinforced as our knowledge expands.”35 And that is the “miracle” that testifies to a creation guided by intention and rationality.

Of course, although Christianity was essential for the development of Western science, that dependency no longer exists. Once properly launched, science has been able to stand on its own, and the conviction that the secrets of nature will yield to prolonged inquiry is now as much a secular article of faith as it originally was Christian. The rise of an independent scientific establishment has given birth to new tensions between theology and science. If the church fathers were leery of the implications of science for theology, there now exists a militant group of atheists, only some of them actually scientists, who attack religion as superstitious non-sense and claim that science refutes the existence of God and the possibility of miracles. Amazingly, several of the most prominent of these are confident that godlike beings have evolved on distant planets.

From the start, the Industrial Revolution has been denounced as a catastrophe that devastated the quality of life. Critics have imagined a now-lost bucolic utopia wherein no one hungered or shivered, and everyone enjoyed doing creative work, with short hours, allowing ample time to tend their vegetable gardens and enjoy an intimate family life. In truth, life in preindustrial rural villages was, as Thomas Hobbes put it, “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”

The technological basis of the Industrial Revolution has always inspired fear and antagonism, especially among urban intellectuals. The romantic movement in art, music, and especially literature was partly a reaction against the rationality embodied in the new technology and against the “pollution” of nature and of spontaneous feelings by the rise of the mechanical. Technophobia began with poets such as Wordsworth and Blake, was celebrated in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818), and launched a whole series of movies in which technology dehumanizes or even attacks people—from Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times (1936) to The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) to The Terminator (1984) and on to Avatar (2009). In the political sphere, technophobia propels many so-called green proposals, such as allowing all the agricultural land in the Midwest to return to a state of nature and outlawing most forms of electrical generation—not only fossil and atomic fuels but even dams.

The singular aspect of bourgeois societies is the belief that status and power should be achieved through merit rather than through inheritance. Innovation is valued and rewarded. Consequently, the two primary supports of bourgeois societies are education and liberty.


Brad is editor and chief disorganizer of StubbornThings.
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About Brad Nelson

I like books, nature, politics, old movies, Ronald Reagan (you get sort of a three-fer with that one), and the founding ideals of this country. We are the Shining City on the Hill — or ought to be. However, our land has been poisoned by Utopian aspirations and feel-good bromides. Both have replaced wisdom and facts.

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36 Responses to Book Review: How the West Won

  1. Timothy Lane says:

    Very interesting, and it sounds like I should look it up when I can find an affordable copy. I might recommend that you check out the series of Politically Incorrect Guides on various topics, both cultural and historical. I have a large stack of them. As for the leftist attitude toward history, they’re following an IngSoc maxim: “Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.”

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      I’ve read a couple PIG’s, including one on Islam and Kevin Williamson’s on socialism. Both were above average.

      Speaking of affordable, I thought this was a terrific value on the Kindle at about $8.00.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        Some nice related PIGs include the one on the Great Depression and the New Deal (since that’s what did the most to bring our form of socialism/fascism to America) and the Middle East.

        • David Ray says:

          The PIGs are in the same genre as the “[Blank] for Dummies”.

          PIGs are fun as their concise and to the point. Different authors under the same umbrella of conservative common-sense.
          I sometimes donate to the Richardson library. (I’ve given some of the PIGs and replaced a few Ann Coulter audio CDs that got severely scratched.)

          • Timothy Lane says:

            I wonder if those audio CDs got scratched from heavy use, or from sabotage by “tolerant, open-minded” liberals.

            • David Ray says:

              I think we both know the answer. To wit: Two CDs were too “worn from heavy use”. A third one was never checked back in.
              And when you consider I also replaced Dinesh D’Sousa’s “What’s so Great about America” CD.

              Same stats are revealing when liberals steal elections.
              Ballots show up with staggeringly lop-sided percentages. Not to worry; gutless Norm Coleman made sure he was seen as “fair”. Al Franken made sure he was seen being sworn in the Senate.

  2. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    A few additional notes:

    This book explains why the West, and no one else, became modern and had a sense of progress (and produced actual progress). It truly matters what we believe.

    A fair look at Islam will show that it is still the same backward totalitarian system that it was at its inception. And yet the caustically irreligious dogma of the college-professor Marxists (and their progeny) insist that not only isn’t this so, but that Islam and Christianity are on the same level.

    That is, to the “secular” types, all religions are the same (with Christianity being usually considered worse). And this is a horrid “truth” that has penetrated our system and soured our scientists and science on the true wonders of this world and of nature.

    Yes, this is a subjective view. And, yes, technology keeps marching along. But the secular-socialist-atheist view of the world is a self-deflating one. The “grandness” of the world is belittled. The idea of a Creator is shat on, willfully and with pleasure.

    Why does this matter? It matters because the “secular” vision of Western Civilization is the ruin of Western Civilization (see: Mark Steyn). If we say that the very things that produced our modernity are bad, and we also say that the things that had nothing to do with it are given credit, we are lost. We then become (as Leftism is) an ideology dedicating to knocking down the pillars of civilization and celebrating as we do.

    The Godless culture of secularism – whatever one believes specifically about God – is a civilizational cancer. This book does not generally delve this deeply into philosophy, but it does set the groundwork for retaking the West and doing so with buoyancy and gusto.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      The important thing about Christianity is that it regards all human life as having equal merit, and it regards the world as rationally organized. This is how, despite its inevitable flaws, it ultimately encouraged the Enlightenment. But few people know that Copernicus was a canon, that Galileo was a good Catholic whose supportive daughter was a nun, and that Newton wrote more about religion than he did about science and math. The PIG on Western civilization covers this very nicely too, though probably in less detail than How the West Won.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        This is how, despite its inevitable flaws, it ultimately encouraged the Enlightenment.

        Again, at least according to Stark, to see “the Enlightenment” as some end point or major change is to miss the supposed fact that it was a mere continuation of earlier times. “The Enlightenment” is little more than the 18th century version of the conceit of “We are the ones we have been waiting for.” It’s a complete fiction. More typical revisionism of the Left.

  3. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    An interesting point that Rodney Stark makes in this book is that the collapse of the Roman Empire was a good thing in regards to gaining modernity. He says the Romans did not generally innovate. He said they had only two significant inventions. One of them was concrete and I forget the other.

    The breakup of the Roman Empire allowed true “diversity” and competition to arise. Granted, this also led to a bunch of warring European factions. But even in this, the drive for military superiority led to technological innovation. The enemy of modernity is some power trying (like Obama) to horde all the power and wealth for himself. The norm is these types of people who stifled innovation and growth.

    And then what really changed things socially was the Black Death. Europe had been mired in feudalism. And serfs were not the absolute slaves you may think. They had certain rights and privileges. But it was not a particularly dynamic economic system. There was no incentive to have larger crops because the Lord would just confiscate them.

    But the Black Death pretty much changed the labor market, there now being a shortage of labor. And this caused a much more free market approach to be adopted because laborers were in demand. And with so much land literally left abandoned, larger farms emerged which benefitted from the economies of scale. And once surplus food was abundant, then cities, and specialization, could arise and thrive.

    Also, there was no “Dark Age.” It was a long period of steady innovation, mostly driven by European inventiveness, but sometimes borrowing from other cultures (such as China) who did not exploit their inventions. Conversely, the “Enlightenment” is purely an invention. Isaac Newton was honest enough to say “I stand on the shoulders of giants.” But the anti-religious bigots (then as now in academia) declared that only with the coming of them (sound familiar?) had real change happened.

    The many lies of Cultural Marxists are refuted in this book. One of the most interesting lies is regarding the supposed idea that the European powers got rich by “exploiting” third world peoples via imperialism. Stark says the truth is that the colonies were more of a prestige item for the European powers, that they all lost money on their colonies. (Not to mention that many colonies, particularly British colonies such as India, benefitted greatly from colonialism.)

    It is so sad that the American electorate has been so corrupted and poisoned by Marxist dogma…to the extent that we not only elected a Marxist for president but re-elected him. This book will help free the minds of those who have been indoctrinated into the Church of Leftism where the words “diversity,” “equality,” “sensitivity,” and “multiculturalism” have turned people’s brains into a useless and empty mush.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      I think we can say that there was indeed a Dark Age, when the accumulated knowledge from the Roman Empire was largely lost in western Europe, and there was a breakdown in transportation. Similarly, there was indeed an Englightenment; like the Renaissance, it was just a development from what went before, when a number of gradual changes simultaneously reached a critical mass.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        According to Stark, this just isn’t so. The “barbarians” were not barbarians but in many cases were more sophisticated than the Romans. Some things were lost (such as much of the trade for luxury goods with the far east…paid for by Roman conquest of other people’s property), and some things — many things — were gained.

        Again, Stark’s thesis is that the breaking up of the Roman Empire was absolutely necessary for modernity because the Roman Empire put a damper on innovation — as all top-down structures throughout time usually have done. He tells a great anecdote of one of the Chinese emperors who, in one fell swoop, put an end to the burgeoning iron-working industry. And when some Chinese explorer (I forget his name) began exploring (with huge fleets of sophisticated ships) all the way to the coast of Africa, an Emperor (again, I forget which one), by the stroke of his pen, declared an end to this exploration.

        In particular, the Roman’s reliance on cheap slave labor caused them to forego innovation. It was a stagnant empire, but a powerful one militarily.

        As for the Enlightenment, I would suggest you read the book to find out just how much of a PR thing this “Enlightenment” really was. As far as Stark is concerned, whatever “Enlightenment” there was was simply the continuation of the innovation and evolution (in terms of a freer, market-based economy with a healthy and expanding bourgeoisie) of earlier times (also slandered by these same religious bigots as “The Dark Ages”).

        I guess any age (including our own) could call itself an “Enlighten” one. After all, we have jet planes and computers. But take a look at the word itself to see the roots of it. It was meant to convey the idea that the Church had been finally overcome so that science could break free from superstition. And if there is one thing you’ll gain from this book, it’s that this idea is a complete crock.

        • Timothy Lane says:

          That’s actually close to my point on the Enlightenment. It wasn’t some big difference, just the accumulation of various changes (such as the development of the first steam engine at the end of the 17th century, which became important when Watt developed a more efficient version around 1750). The Enlightenment really began around 1600, but modernists like to start it a century later in order to minimize the religious connection. But it was really a steady progression of intellectual developments that built on the previous ones.

          The Chinese admiral who went exploring (and trading, and claiming Chinese sovereignty; I was recently discussing it with my friend who teaches history at Laredo Junior College) was Chen Ho (Wade-Giles transliteration; I think the Pinyin may be Chen He), I don’t remember which of the Ming dynasty emperors stopped the voyages, but the reason was that they cost a lot of money for little return (at least by the emperor’s standards).

          Incidentally, I rather liked that part earlier about the 2 Roman inventions, concrete and something else. It’s sort of like Grant’s famous claim that he knew 2 tunes: One was “Yankee Doodle” and the other wasn’t.

          By the way, it’s also briefly amusing when the program reports “1 views”. Over 30 years ago, a friend programmed an encounter table for role-playing on his pocket computer, which assumed that certain character types were single and others plural. It was amazing how often we seemed to encounter “2 merchant with 1 guards”. He later modified it to pluralize (which required no complex plurals) if there was more than 1 of anything.

          • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

            The Enlightenment really began around 1600

            According to Stark, the “Enlightenment” began in the 19th century when groups of scholars and other intellectuals anointed that age as such.

            Wasn’t Chen Ho Steve McGarrett’s sidekick?

            Yes, the Roman invention of concrete was big. But as Stark notes, the abundance of slave labor but a damper on innovation. They had the water wheel during this period but made practically no use of it.

            • Timothy Lane says:

              What the heck, Heron of Alexandria developed the first use of steam power. It was used for a toy (the aeolipile), and they never did anything else with it.

              Well, Kung Fu Zu in effect corrected my spelling. I must admit I rather liked Hawaii Five-O ever since my mother and I saw an amusing episode about some guy taking his revenge on various businesses (at one point, seeing a videocamera where he was robbing a bank, he fired at it — with his water pistol).

              • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

                What the heck, Heron of Alexandria developed the first use of steam power. It was used for a toy (the aeolipile), and they never did anything else with it.

                I take it as a given that the Left (and those who support them) is made up of fools, Vandals, and dumb-asses. Note that many of these actually regressive people smarm around under the banner of “Progressive.”

                But as Stark notes, the very idea of progress can be laid at the doctrine of the Christians and Jews. Only in a rational universe governed by a rational god will people become deeply committed to the idea that you can incrementally learn more about this world. And that’s exactly what happened, and only in the West.

                It’s a fair question as to whether having iPhones in twelve different color is progress. But Stark deflates the absurd notions of the Cultural Marxists that modernity is some kind of inherent “exploitation” and misuse of native peoples who otherwise would live in a Rousseau-ian noble-savage paradise. Ancient times, and most tribal cultures, are quite barbaric and harsh. Progress via new medicines and technology hasn’t always been painless. But Stark notes that Western ideas of progress beat the hell out of many of the truly barbaric practices of other cultures.

                And he also notes (see one of the great excerpts above) how there is a Luddite element to the Left, how they actually want to go back, how they are little different from the first Luddites in England who smashed the automated looms because they were supposedly taking jobs away from people.

                There are many ways to parse the Left’s environmental wacko-ism, including our Marxist-in-Chief’s hostility toward laying pipelines. But one of those factors is that these “Progressives” are anything but for progress. Many share the nitwit and naive Rousseau-ian romantic notion of an uncorrupted (by capitalism and the West) people living in perfect harmony with nature. We also call them “hippies.”

  4. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

    And when some Chinese explorer (I forget his name) began exploring (with huge fleets of sophisticated ships) all the way to the coast of Africa, an Emperor (again, I forget which one), by the stroke of his pen, declared an end to this exploration

    That would be Admiral Cheng Ho now written Zheng He. He was a non-Han who had been born Muslim and was captured when the Chinese conquered Yunnan. Somehow he earned the trust of the emperor and gained command over seven voyages to the West. Apparently, there were two emperors who put a stop to the voyages. They were from the Ming Dynasty.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Thanks for the refresher. Now I remember that as soon as the Ming (more of an isolationist group) replaced the Mongol rulers, China turned very much inward.

      And history is tricky. I was reading this other book (the title escapes me at the moment) that gleefully trumpeted that China was ahead of the West because of its metallurgy. (It was clear this was a left-of-center book, or at least a useful idiot, university-educated sort of book.)

      But the truth seems to be that this was so only in a point of time, a mere footnote, because China didn’t do much with it. The Emperors (unlike the Queens of England) saw a growing bourgeois class as a threat. So the Chinese emperors tended to squash these industries.

      As, of course, the Romans did so as well (if only because of cheap slave labor), as was typical for many other rulers throughout time. And that’s the very point of this book, that it was a series of ideas and practices — that occurred only in the West — that led to our modern world of free markets, freedom, and the very idea of progress itself.

      Stark notes that Queen Elizabeth, on the other hand, was very much an entrepreneur herself, investing in many ventures. This is quite a change from the typical ruler (such as Obama) who wants to dominate every industry or squash them altogether.

      • David Ray says:

        Chinese and B. Hussein weren’t the only ones to squash industry.
        Stalin could’ve been years ahead in the space race. Instead he took the gifted scientist Korolov and tossed him in a gulag along with MANY other academics.
        When Stalin decided he wanted a V2 rocket for himself he let Korolov out. Damned decent of him.

        Oh. I believe one of the ventures Queen E1 invested in was Francis Drake, but even she would get cold feet at times. (In 1587 Frances had to get the hell outta port before she could retain him. Good thing he did because he sailed into the port of Cadiz and beat the hell outta the Spanish. It gave the English a badly needed 1 year delay of the Armada invasion.)

        • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

          Indeed, David.

          Stark has an interesting chapter in this book titled “The Blessings of Disunity.” At times he ranges a bit close to going off the libertarian deep end with his favoritism for anarchy. But his point is well made: What has stifled human freedom and progress is the top-down squelching of initiative and the lack of respect for property rights. And although many historians lament the fall of the Roman Empire, Stark notes that it was a necessary prerequisite for modernity. Rome, especially with slavery and plundering as its main means of wealth generation, put the kibosh on the kind of industry, innovation, and freedom we know is only possible outside of a constraining and dominating central force.

          He notes that England, in particular, was way ahead on these things (which is one reason the industrial revolution — which was not a myth — exploded there first). England protected not only the property rights of its citizens but guaranteed the property rights of foreign merchants. This is exactly the opposite of the kind of top-down statism we see from the Democrats and from many Republicans. (Anyone who supports Common Core, or supports a candidate such as Jeb Bush who supports Common Core, has little or no respect for the ills of a top-down imposed structure).

          That’s not to say that England was perfect. But these policies by Elizabeth and others (some drawing strength from the Magna Carta) were crucial to the type of liberty and prosperity that we now take for granted today (except for the eff-tards who keep voting for these “Progressive” idiots, of either party).

          Yes, QE1 indeed did invest in Francis Drake. Good point. She made a lot of money from that investment. Part of that money was made from plundering Spanish treasure ships.

          And there’s a brief but interesting account of Drake’s military ventures into Cadiz that, as you said, gave the English an extra year to prepare. There’s a lot of good history such as that in this book.

          • Timothy Lane says:

            David Weber has been writing a series of books in which humanity has fled from an alien race to a new world, banning modern technology lest the aliens detect it by a newly-created religion. The key is the struggle of a robot avatar of one of the members of the fleet that initially fled there using one country, which is basically early modern England, to overthrow the viciously corrupted worldwide established church and allow a careful development of the technology they’ll eventually need when the aliens someday find them. (The worst villain, the chief of the Inquisition, is named Zhaspahr Clyntahn. Of course, there’s also a character named Nahrmhan Baytz.)

          • David Ray says:

            Damn you, Nelson! You just cost me $22.34! (Amazon thanks you, and the Richardson Public Library just might thank you in the future.)

            • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

              Nothing does my heart as much good as hearing that my enthusiasm for a book or movie rubbed off on someone. And remind me to hold some kind of a Kindle-a-thon for you. If you get an electronic book reader, the Kindle edition is only about nine bucks. 😀

              • Timothy Lane says:

                The problem is that I need somewhere to keep a list of books like this for when I can find them in affordable versions (probably trade paperback, but possibly at Half Price Books)

        • Timothy Lane says:

          Donald Kingsbury wrote a book (The Moon Goddess and the Sun, I think) which featured, among other things, a game for Soviet Russian kids in which they could redo World War II — and if they got rid of Stalin soon enough, conquer Europe.

  5. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Another big aspect of this book is a proper slam-dunking of Islam. Islam had no “golden age” other than its using of the fruits of the smart people that they conquered. As one of those above excerpts from the book notes, when religious tolerance drove out (or killed) the Dhimmis who were fueling whatever innovation it had, Islam returned to the backward way of life that it inherently is.

    There is a reason (perhaps more intuitive than self-conscious) that I promote Christianity on this site. It’s because it has been so badly slandered. And if you look at what Mark Steyn is saying about the big picture in regards to Europe, the West cannot survive on its Leftist-secular beliefs.

    For better or for worse (almost always for the better), Western Civilization is predicated on Christianity (and Judaism). To try to separate the one from the other is to engage in intellectual dishonesty, if not civilizational vandalism.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      One of the interesting aspects of Muslim/Arab culture is its extreme insularity. If you want a history or study of Islam they’ll supply plenty (all orthodox in their views, of course). And that’s it. I think it was Bernard Lewis who noted that several hundred years ago, some mullah proclaimed that all knowledge (or at least all that was compatible with the religion of Submission) had been learned, so there was no need for anything more. So no more science or math, no history other than Muslim and Arab history, no other social sciences, no literature other than Islamic advocacy. And so it has been since, which is why you don’t find too many Nobels won by Arab Muslims. Israel has contributed more to the world intellectually than all of Araby for the past century or so.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        So no more science or math, no history other than Muslim and Arab history, no other social sciences, no literature other than Islamic advocacy.

        There are certainly many factors that make Islam backward in regards to traditional Western notions of progress. Stark says that one of the primary factors is that Islam says that Allah stated the literal Truth for all time and that he intervenes in nature continually. Thus any attempt to understand the workings of nature in terms of rational and consistent forces or laws is not only absurd, in principle, but blasphemous. Such a thing would be restricting what Allah can do.

        And where Christianity differs significantly on this point (very much underpinned by Thomas Aquinas) — and is thus quite compatible with change (despite the propaganda about Galileo) — is the idea that there is one truth, with the natural world and the spiritual world pointing toward that same truth. Therefore if some fact of the natural world contradicts a traditional interpretation of scripture, Aquinas opined that we must re-interpret scripture (and he also noted that scripture, by nature, had always been interpreted anyway). And his opinion on this, as with many things, tended to predominate.

        This aspect is lost on a secular world long made hostile toward Christianity by those who are just nasty atheists or who became indoctrinated useful idiots via the Cultural Marxist (and earlier) public relations coup of the “secular” types who, in one fell swoop with the word “Enlightenment,” claimed civilization as their own and slandered all competitors — as we see happening today from these same ideological fiends.

  6. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

    One of the most important ideas facilitating the rise of the West is the belief in free will

    I think this is the most important single reason the West developed so differently from the East. The concept of free will comes directly from the Bible!

    Asian religions and philosophies are generally fatalistic. A man’s fate is written in stone. The fact that, in the West, a person believed he could change and improve things is a huge positive.

    Just as there were no “Dark Ages,” there was no “Scientific Revolution.” Rather, the notion of a Scientific Revolution was invented to discredit the medieval Church by claiming that science burst forth in full bloom (thus owing no debts to prior Scholastic scholars) only when a weakened Christianity no longer could suppress it.

    “Inventions of the Middle Ages” by Chiara Frugoni gives an idea of the many inventions which our benighted forebears came up with.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Yes, Stark stresses the free will aspect. And it’s perhaps difficult for us moderns to appreciate this aspect, if only because of the Palmolive Madge rule: “You’re soaking in it”. We exist inside this culture and it is difficult to imagine such fatalism, although such fatalism does exist in great quantities with the Left who believe man is a mere pawn of “society.”

      He also makes mention of the Ten Commandments. Such Commandments make little sense to a culture driven by fatalism. And as Stark notes, in a fatalistic culture (or at least one which sees no inherent rational order to the universe), all one is left to do is naval-gaze.

      Although most of today’s scientists have forgotten this, it was the Judeo-Christian idea of a ration universe produced by an ordered and rational Supreme Being that ignited the very possibility of incremental understanding. The conflict between religion and science is one mostly ignited both by the uninformed religious (uninformed of the rich intellectual heritage of their own faith) and willfully ignorant secularists who tend to be hostile to the very idea of religion, and perhaps for odd psychological reasons more than anything else.

      But the gap between science and Christian religion is generally one specifically made and nurtured by the caustic atheists and Leftists amongst us. We should not forget that. Yes, a contributing factor are those who forgot the lessons of Thomas Aquinas and the accumulated wisdom of the Catholic Church. They are those who insist that the earth is 5000 years old, despite all evidence. Christian doctrine in no way requires that the facts of the world be shut out.

      Some have said the “fundamentalist Christians” are to blame for this backward walking of the faith. But haven’t we seen a dumbing-down in all aspects of our society in the last 50 years? As a conservative, we must not just give lip service to honoring the past. We must realize that there were some very smart people who figured many things out long ago.

      Of course, the secular culture driven by the thoroughly materialist homo economicus — leavened with narcissism and drunk on utopia — has insisted that “science” can tell us all that we need to know. It dismisses all that came before in a postmodern orgy of conceit and an inflated sense of self. This attitude has had a major impact on our short-sightedness.

  7. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

    One point which I did not see in your quotes, but is extremely important, is that information is freely exchanged in the West. For hundreds of years, this was generally done in Latin between scholars and men of science. But with the development of the various vernaculars and Gutenberg’s movable type it exploded. The Chinese had developed a wooden movable type some centuries before Gutenberg, but nothing came of it. Such knowledge was rarely shared in Asia.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      I have a book on Ancient Inventions which notices the same thing about them. Someone would come up with some invention, but keep the secret to himself and maybe an apprentice or two, which made it very easy for the secret to be lost to even a small catastrophe (one good sack of the wrong town could easily do it, as the fate of Archimedes demonstrated).

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      He doesn’t go into detail on the importance of movable type. But certainly that was important.

      He does note that literacy (obviously) was an important factor in the West. England, in particular, made various types of schools widespread (and free). Without literacy, there isn’t much of a market for books outside the universities.

      And here again, Stark notes that the university is a product not only of the West but specifically of Christianity. Most of the first universities were Christian institutions. So much for the “Enlightenment” finally freeing man from the constraints of superstition.

      And regarding the benefits of the collapse of the Roman Empire (just a subject I found interesting in general), here’s part of his take on that:

      There may have been some serious, but short-lived, dislocations associated with the collapse of Roman rule and the organization of new local political units. But the myth of the Dark Ages posits many centuries of ignorant misery based on four primary factors: (1) most cities were abandoned and fell into ruin; (2) trade collapsed, throwing local communities onto their own, very limited resources; (3) literacy all but disappeared; and (4) the standard of living of the average person fell to a bare subsistence level.

      It is true that Roman cities and towns declined greatly in number and size after the fall of Rome. The population of the city of Rome dropped from about five hundred thousand in the year 400 to about fifty thousand in 600. Of 372 Roman cities in Italy listed by Pliny, a third disappeared soon after the fall. 14 Many towns and cities in Gaul and Britain “became like ghost towns, with small populations,” according to Roger Osborne in Civilization. 15 All told, most of the empire’s estimated 2,000 “cities” (mostly towns) suffered this fate. 16

      But these changes did not mean that the West had slid into backwardness. The truth is that most Roman cities no longer served any purpose. They had been funded by the state and existed only for governing: for collecting taxes, administering local rule, and quartering troops. As Osborne noted, “they were centres of consumption, not production, and had no autonomous reason for existence.” 17 In contrast, the towns that arose or survived in post-Roman Europe were centers of trade and manufacturing—as were the many towns in the “barbarian” North, which continued to flourish. The towns and cities of this new era tended not to be large, because there were no state subsidies to pay for daily distributions of free food and entertainment for idle masses. Those people “now were not fed at all unless they made shift to feed themselves,” as the historian A. R. Bridbury put it.

      Surely this was a major change. Just as surely, it was not decay.

      With the demise of the fabulously rich Roman elite , the luxury trade bringing exotic food, jewels, and cloth from distant sources may have declined . But proponents of the Dark Ages myth propose that all forms of trade soon disappeared: in Van Doren’s words, “the roads were empty of travelers and freight.” 19 But it wasn’t so—there was far more European trade after the fall. For one thing, although the Romans transported a lot of goods, it wasn’t really trade but merely “a traffic in rent and tribute,” in Robin Williams-McClanahan’s apt phrase. 20 Coins and precious metals, food, slaves, and luxury goods flowed to Rome; little came back except tax collectors and soldiers. As Bridbury explained, Roman trade “did not generate income, it simply impoverished those from whom it was extorted.” 21 Second, long before the fall of Rome the “barbarian” areas had established very active, dense, long-distance trade networks, 22 and these not only survived but soon were extended south and westward. Post-Roman Europe sustained busy trade networks dealing in practical things such as iron tools and weapons, pottery, glassware , and woolens. Most of these items were well within the means of ordinary people, and some of the goods traveled several thousand miles. 23

      “Everyone” knows that the fall of Rome soon resulted in an age of illiteracy. No doubt most people in the post-Roman world were unable to read or write. But this was nothing new: literacy was probably below 5 percent during the days of the empire as well. 24 It also is true that after the fall, fewer people wrote in Latin or Greek— since they did not speak them either. Meanwhile, many of the “barbarian” tongues already were, or soon became, written languages. For example, written Gothic dates from the fourth century and Old English from about the fifth.

      As for the average person’s standard of living, it is true that the state no longer subsidized food or made daily free distributions of bread, olive oil, and wine. But studies based on isotopic analysis of skeletons have found that people in the so-called Dark Ages ate very well, getting lots of meat, and as a result they grew larger than people had during the days of the empire. 25

      According to Stark, the idea that the Dark Ages was a myth is now rather academically well-known and acknowledged. Apparently the evidence is just too overwhelming. Now, whether this sinks deeper into the culture and we reconnect with our heritage is another thing. For many, there is no more to the West than a history of racism, sexism, and exploitation. That is, a comic book view espoused by comic book minds has pillaged the intellectual bank of the West.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        Interesting. Of course, my knowledge of that period tends to be from a few decades ago; that has never been a particular field of interest (except, to some degree, Byzantine history), especially from 600 to 800. (I do know that Alfred the Great was greatly interested in improving literacy among the Anglo-Saxons.)

        • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

          Timothy, even though I know the Progressive false narrative about the West is strongly planted and that this book isn’t likely to change things, it was a tonic to read it.

          We need good things in our lives. We need truth. I think Rodney Stark provided that in a very well-written and interesting book. I don’t care to get lost in a pleasing and self-satisfying fantasy as “Progressives” want to do. I’ll take the truth, warts and all. This books supplies that.

  8. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    The problem is that I need somewhere to keep a list of books like this for when I can find them in affordable versions (probably trade paperback, but possibly at Half Price Books)

    Get yourself a Kindle, Timothy. I don’t know if this book is one that can be loaned. But some can be.

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