The Roots of Non-Discrimination - Liberalism or Marxism?
What is the driving force behind the ideology of absolute equality and total non-discrimination in the Western world? I’ve seen many different explanations blaming it on Christianity, democracy of universal suffrage, Marxism, decolonization or - perhaps most likely - on Nazism and the devastation caused by the Second World War. This triggered a rejection of absolutely everything perceived to be divisive, including the nation state, and has enabled a Multicultural ideology that is, ironically, itself becoming increasingly totalitarian.
American blogger Lawrence Auster believes that this civilization-wide epiphany that intolerance is the worst thing and must be eliminated “is the logical outcome of the older, more moderate-seeming liberalism, not of radical leftism. But even if I am mistaken and the present insane liberalism is the child of the radical left, it doesn’t matter, because that leftist-born liberalism is now the mainstream orthodoxy of the Western world.”
According to Auster, “liberalism” has meant many things over the last 300 years and has provided significant benefits to the human race. He distinguishes between three main stages of liberalism, which can overlap and co-exist with each other:
Classical liberalism, where “All men are created equal” meant no one is born to a different order, above other men. Liberalism meant the removal of traditional or arbitrary distinctions that were imposed on people. Liberalism meant restraints on the power of the state and a government of laws, not of men. It meant the self-government of a people, through their constitution and system of laws.
The Progressive Era, with its New Deal and Great Society liberalism, came to mean the use of government to prevent the economically powerful from having too much power, and to improve and raise up people’s condition and (in its Great Society phase). It was designed to make all people equal. Instead restraining government (because unrestrained government had earlier been seen as the main threat to liberty), liberalism now meant the indefinite increase of government in order to expand the provision of concrete social goods.
Finally, we have modern liberalism, established after the Second World War and especially after the 1960s: “Liberalism then came to mean that there is nothing outside or above the human self, that any higher or collective social reality (or even natural reality, such as sex distinctions) is an oppression. It came to mean that nations, religions, families are not legitimate because they impose a collective order on individual selves. It came to mean that the only legitimate order is a global world consisting of radically free persons, as in John Lennon’s ‘Imagine.’ It came to mean that truth itself is an oppression because if there is truth then the person is not absolutely free to do as he likes. It came to mean the elimination of self-government, because a people acting through its majority will still be exercising power over minorities and individuals. Therefore it came to mean unelected, unaccountable elites enforcing the individual rights of the whole of humanity.”
In Auster’s view, liberalism has formed much of the modern world and is associated with all kinds of goods, but has now been carried to an extreme that is destructive of civilization itself. Yet because people still have a positive image of liberalism, they are unable to see the destruction it is wreaking or to imagine a social order that goes beyond it.
I have a couple of comments to this. What Auster calls classical liberalism is exemplified by the quote “All men are created equal” from the United States Declaration of Independence written by Tomas Jefferson in 1776. It states that: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
I like many things in the American Declaration of Independence. It embodies the concept of self-determination and the right to institute a new government if the present one is hostile to your interests. However, I have reservations about the phrase “all men are created equal.” This is followed by the concept of “rights,” but it is still problematic. I am in favor of equality before the law, but this can be distorted into a demand for equality of outcome in all walks of life. Having equal rights does not mean we are created possessing equal potential. Some are more talented than others. This distinction is of great importance, as the idea that all human beings are not just equal before the law but equal in ability is now common.
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Perhaps this is rooted in older, cultural ideas of egalitarianism. One could make a strong case that it has also been strengthened by the nature of the democratic system with universal suffrage, part of which stipulates that the political opinions of all human beings are equally valid. This political equivalence could lead to cultural democratization and the idea that the lifestyle choices of all human beings share a moral equivalence , one choice being as valid as another. In other words, this view leads to Multiculturalism and to cultural relativism.
To put it in another way: Will abolishing all social and political hierarchies sooner or later also lead to abolishing all cultural and even natural hierarchies? Were the seeds of the modern liberalism of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries sown already during the classical liberalism of the eighteenth century?
Cathy Young writes at the newspaper The Boston Globe and is a contributing editor to Reason magazine, which is dedicated to libertarian ideas, individual choice and to “free minds and free markets.” Young immigrated to the Unites States as a refugee from the Soviet Union. Whatever her politics, she cannot remotely be labelled a Marxist.
However, she has warned against the Islamophobia of writers such as Robert Spencer:
“Spencer cites the atrocities perpetuated by medieval Muslim armies in Jerusalem,Constantinople, and other conquered cities as evidence that barbaric ‘jihadism’ is endemic to Islam, without acknowledging that the Christian crusaders’ actions were at least as bad.”
Spencer himself points out in his book, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades) that he does in fact call the Crusaders’ sack of Jerusalem in 1099 an “atrocity,” an “outrage,” and a “heinous crime.” Young’s conclusion regarding Islam is that “The best hope for peaceful coexistence is for the Islamic world to embrace modernization and individual liberty, not for the West to turn its back on those values.”
Exactly how this is going to happen she doesn’t say. Cathy Young sticks to the belief that Western liberalism can be exported to the Islamic world, despite mounting evidence to the contrary. Instead, they are currently exporting sharia to us.
As Canadian journalist Ken MacQueen writes, should polygamists win recognition for their view of marriage in court - a real possibility - Canada’s already suspect polygamy law would be blown out of the water:
“Marriage has already been legally redefined to include same-sex unions to meet equality provisions of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. As the Supreme Court of Canada noted in the same-sex marriage reference, the notion of a ‘Christian’ marriage is no longer relevant. ‘Canada is a pluralistic society,’ the court ruled.”
“Anecdotally, we hear that in Toronto and Ottawa some so-called religious leaders are performing Muslim [polygamous] marriages,” says Alia Hogben, executive director of the Canadian Council of Muslim Women. Asad Dean, chair of the Meadowvale Islamic Centre, agrees many multiple Islamic marriages are conducted in Canada but are simply not registered. It’s no different than others who live common-law, he says. “No one says, ‘hey, you have to be married to live together.’ Those days are over.”
Polygamous families emigrating to Canada are less fortunate. Their marriages aren’t recognized, so multiple wives and their children don’t gain entry. “We should allow it,” Hogben says. “We should respect different people.” Queen’s professor Bala warns if polygamy is decriminalized, polygamous immigration would certainly follow. “We can’t discriminate against someone from, say, Afghanistan, who wants to move here with their four wives, or indeed, 30 wives and their 20 or 100 children.”
Exactly why can we not “discriminate” against polygamy or Islamic culture? This assertion that a law against polygamy is discriminatioin is never explained, its "unfairness" is simply taken for granted. However,the emphasis on monogamy, even among kings and nobility in the West, enforced by the Church, was of great importance in shaping our civilization. Abolishing the institution of monogamous marriage will destabilize this civilization.
I have seen suggestions in Western countries that polygamy should be legalized. Some of the advocates for this are free market libertarians who justify their position from the point of view that states should not interfere with individual liberty. This is why Lawrence Auster talks about “right-wing liberals” and “left-wing liberals,” claiming that there is little difference between the two. In some cases this is probably correct. In immigration, many of the so-called right-wing factions, too, embrace the idea of total non-discrimination regarding the ethnic and cultural background of immigrants.
Professor Helmuth Nyborg at Aarhus University did research which revealed that there are differences between the sexes when it comes to intelligence. This triggered massive resistance and accusations, later disproved, of flawed scientific practices. According to Nyborg -
“Within the realms of psychology you are not allowed to talk about intelligence. You cannot measure intelligence and you cannot rank people according to intelligence. The entire field of intelligence is a so-called ‘no-go-area.’“
If you still choose to proceed, you are a bad person, one who is willing to rank other human beings according to their worth. If you also look at differences between groups of people, sexes or races, you are simply immoral.
According to Professor Annica Dahlstrom, an expert in neuroscience, men are found at the extremes of high and low intelligence, and although female geniuses do exist, they are much less frequent than their male counterparts. She has also stated that children should be left primarily in the care of their mother during their first years of living. The feminist establishment are angry and claim that she has misused her position as a scientist to reinforce gender stereotypes.
As Dahlström says, “The difference between boys and girls, in terms of their biology and brain, is greater than we could ever have imagined.” Differences between the sexes emerge even in fetuses and are clearly recognizable at the age of three. The centers of the brain dealing with communication, the interpretation of facial expressions, body language and tone of voice are more developed in girls even at this early age. Forcing boys to behave like girls are vice versa is unnatural and will inevitably hurt them. Such a policy could even be viewed as “mental abuse” of children in her view. Yet this is exactly what is happening, and sometimes with government support.
Journalist Kurt Lundgren reported on his blog about a magazine aimed at preschool teachers who take care of children between the ages of 0-6 years old. It included recommendations to promote “gender equality” and “sexual equality.” He said that in a kindergarten in Stockholm, parents were encouraged by the preschool teachers to equip their sons with dresses and female first names. There are now weeks in some places when boys HAVE TO wear a dress. Lundgren considers this sexual indoctrination to be worse than political propaganda:
“To give sex education to preschool children, to force them to have an opinion on gay sex and queer (lesbians, transsexuals, bisexuality, fetishism, cross over, sex change etc..) I regard as abuse of children. (…) Little children, we are talking about three to six-year-olds here, cannot in the preschool protect themselves from these sexual assaults. Their parents are not there, the children are totally left to themselves.”
This is presented as sexual liberation, but it is actually about breaking down the traditional Judeo-Christian culture and the nuclear family. Such practices leave the state more powerful since it can regulate all aspects of life and indoctrinate children without undue parental influence.
In Norway, a specialist in early childhood education stirred debate by supporting “sexual games” for children of pre-school age. “The only thing that is absolutely certain is that children, sooner or later, will play sexual games and examine each other,” pre-school specialist Pia Friis said. She thought children should be able -
“to look at each other and examine each other’s bodies. They can play doctor, play mother and father, dance naked and masturbate. But their sexuality must also be socialized, so they are not, for example, allowed to masturbate while sitting and eating. Nor can they be allowed to pressure other children into doing things they don’t want to.”
Family therapist Jesper Juul conceded that “many are disturbed by children’s sexuality, but I think it’s important to put it on the agenda.”
Most Norwegians send their children to the kindergartens before they begin school at age six, and many average citizens were shocked by this. “I thought at first that this was a joke,” said Karin Ståhl Woldseth, a spokesman for the Progress Party. “Children don’t need more exposure to this in kindergartens. We think it will damage their health.”
Child psychologist Thore Langfeldt in an interview apparently admitted that these sex games were encouraged by those who feared we could become infected by conservative Christian groups and wanted to make children immune to Christian morality as early as possible.
I do not believe sex in itself is sinful and disagree with the celibacy rules of Catholic priests because I don’t think it is natural for most human beings, men in particular, to totally repress these instincts throughout their lives. However, being civilized means precisely that you have to control your urges and natural impulses. Sex in this situation isn’t “natural,” it is specifically being used for destructive ideological purposes.
This sexualization of childhood is prevalent all over the Western world. A report published by the American Psychological Association (APA) warned against the early sexualizing of young girls, especially through media and marketing. They also found that teachers and parents are among the influences in the over-sexualization of children. Joseph D’Agostino of the Population Research Institute (PRI) wrote that radical feminism teaches girls that chastity is a form of oppression:
“They have taught that there are no natural limits to sexuality. Based on feminist principles, why shouldn’t little girls sexualize themselves? And why shouldn’t adult men and women view them as sexual if there is no such thing as unnatural sexuality?”
One interpretation of this trend is that its promoters want to destroy any form of civilization whatsoever. French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau believed civilization corrupts human beings. This could be a reflection of the Rousseauan idea of liberation through dismantling all forms of social restrictions imposed upon us by society. Perhaps it is also the result of people who lack any religion and transcendental purpose to their lives.
Eric Hoffer has explained this in his book The True Believer:
“Passionate hatred can give meaning and purpose to an empty life. Thus people haunted by the purposelessness of their lives try to find a new content not only by dedicating themselves to a holy cause but also by nursing a fanatical grievance. A mass movement offers them unlimited opportunities for both.”
“There is perhaps no more reliable indicator of a society’s ripeness for a mass movement than the prevalence of unrelieved boredom. In almost all the descriptions of the periods preceding the rise of mass movements there is reference to vast ennui; and in their earliest stages mass movements are more likely to find sympathizers and support among the bored than among the exploited and oppressed.”
“It is obvious that a proselytizing mass movement must break down all existing group ties if it is to win a considerable following. The ideal potential convert is the individual who stands alone, who has no collective body he can blend with and lose himself in and so mask the pettiness, meaninglessness and shabbiness of his individual existence. Where a mass movement finds the corporate pattern of family, tribe, country, etcetera, in a state of disruption and decay, it moves in and gathers the harvest. Where it finds the corporate pattern in good repair, it must attack and disrupt.”
Hoffer encapsulates well what is happening in post-Christian Western Europe. However, I suspect the obsession with equality in Socialist nations such as Sweden comes from the influences of Marxism, at least Marxism in a particular form.
Marxists theoretician Gramsci concluded after WW1, when the Revolution in Russia failed to spread, that the Marxist was blocked by the “Christian soul” of the West. Hence, breaking down this identity became a matter of great importance. In 1919, cultural Marxist Georg Lukacs became Deputy Commissar for Culture in the short-lived Communist regime in Hungary. He set plans to de-Christianize the country by undermining Christian sexual ethics among children.
It is not difficult to hear an echo of this strategy now. The sexualization of children is promoted in order to break down their sense of modesty. However, some of the people advocating this show much more respect for Islam than for Christianity. Muhammad married a six year old child, so maybe sexualizing children is a form of soft-Islamization?
In general, Leftists hate Judeo-Christian values far more than they like Islam. Perhaps they think they can control Islam, or perhaps they are attracted to its totalitarian mindset. Either way, it is a fact that many of them are more aggressive against Christianity than against Islam.
Maybe I have a conspiratorial mindset, but the way left-wingers condemn Christianity and praise Islam is so consistent and aggressive that I cannot help but ask whether some of them have deliberately set out to uproot the plague of Christianity from our culture once and for all. They ridicule it at any given opportunity and destroy the values of the native culture, and at the same time they import a rival religion and groom it to replace the traditional one. When the day comes that people get sufficiently tired of nihilism, Christianity will have become so discredited as to have been eliminated as a viable alternative, and people are left with Islam.
In Sweden, the natives have been subject to ridicule of Western culture -- and Christianity in particular -- for generations. They are supposed to abase themselves in front of immigrants and tell them how worthless their culture is, or alternatively how much they lament the fact that they don’t have a culture. Swedish girls are told to be sexually liberated and end up getting raped and called “ infidel whores“ by Muslim immigrants. Meanwhile, Swedish boys are taught to be as “gender neutral” as possible.
To sum it up, I see some indications that our obsession with non-discrimination is rooted in classical liberalism, which became more radical after the Second World War. However, there are also impulses from Marxism at work. The notion that men and women are identical would have been considered ridiculous by most human cultures throughout history. It was pushed in the West by radical Leftists groups, but has since become adopted by society as a whole. In this case, conservatives fought a rearguard battle which they have constantly lost. At best they have managed to slow down the advances of ideas emanating from the Left, without ever being able to stop them.
It remains to be seen whether this trend can be reversed.
The Fatherless Civilization
American columnist Diana West recently released her book The Death of the Grown-up, where she traces the decline of Western civilization to the permanent youth rebellions of the past two generations. The decade from the first half of the 1960s to the first half of the 1970s was clearly a major watershed in Western history, with the start of non-Western mass immigration in the USA, the birth of Eurabia in Western Europe and the rise of Multiculturalism and radical Feminism.
The paradox is that the people who viciously attacked their own civilization had enjoyed uninterrupted economic growth for decades, yet embraced Marxist-inspired ideologies and decided to undermine the very society which had allowed them to live privileged lives. Maybe this isn't as strange as it seems. Karl Marx himself was aided by the wealth of Friedrich Engels, the son of a successful industrialist.
This was also the age of decolonization in Western Europe and desegregation in the USA, which created an atmosphere where Western civilization was seen as evil. Whatever the cause, we have since been stuck in a pattern of eternal opposition to our own civilization. Some of these problems may well have older roots, but they became institutionalized to an unprecedented degree during the 1960s.
According to Diana West, the organizing thesis of her book "is that the unprecedented transfer of cultural authority from adults to adolescents over the past half century or so has dire implications for the survival of the Western world." Having redirected our natural development away from adulthood and maturity in order to strike the pop-influenced pose of eternally cool youth – ever-open, non-judgmental, self-absorbed, searching for (or just plain lacking) identity – we have fostered a society marked by these same traits. In short: Westerners live in a state of perpetual adolescence, but also with a corresponding perpetual identity crisis. West thinks maturity went out of style in the rebellious 1960s, "the biggest temper tantrum in the history of the world," which flouted authority figures of any kind.
She also believes that although the most radical break with the past took place during the 60s and 70s, the roots of Western youth culture are to be found in the 1950s with the birth of rock and roll music, Elvis Presley and actors such as James Dean. Pop group The Beatles embodied this in the early 60s, but changed radically in favor of drugs and the rejection of established wisdom as they approached 1970, a shift which was reflected in the entire culture.
Personally, one of my favorite movies from the 1980s was Back to the Future. In one of the scenes, actor Michael J. Fox travels in time from 1985 to 1955. Before he leaves 1985, he hears the slogan "Re-elect Mayor....Progress is his middle name." The same slogan is repeated in 1955, only with a different name. Politics is politics in any age. Writers Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale have stated that they chose the year 1955 as the setting of the movie because this was the age of the birth of teen culture: This was when the teenager started to rule, and he has ruled ever since.
As West says, many things changed in the economic boom in the decades following the Second World War: "When you talk about the postwar period, the vast new affluence is a big factor in reorienting the culture to adolescent desire. You see a shift in cultural authority going to the young. Instead of kids who might take a job to be able to help with household expenses, all of a sudden that pocket money was going into the manufacture of a massive new culture. That conferred such importance to a period of adolescence that had never been there before." After generations of this celebration of youth, the adults have no confidence left: "Kids are planning expensive trips, going out unchaperoned, they are drinking, debauching, absolutely running amok, yet the parents say, 'I can't do anything about it.' Parents have abdicated responsibilities to give in to adolescent desire."
She believes that "Where womanhood stands today is deeply affected by the death of grown-up. I would say the sexualized female is part of the phenomenon I'm talking about, so I don't think they're immune to the death of the grown-up. Women are still emulating young fashion. Where sex is more available, there are no longer the same incentives building toward married life, which once was a big motivation toward the maturing process."
Is she right? Have we become a civilization of Peter Pans refusing to grow up? Have we been cut off from the past by disparaging everything old as outmoded? I know blogger Conservative Swede, who likes Friedrich Nietzsche, thinks we suffer from "slave morality," but I sometimes wonder whether we suffer from child morality rather than slave morality. However, there are other forces at work here as well.
The welfare state encourages an infantilization of society where people return to childhood by being provided for by others. This creates not just a culture obsessed with youth but with adolescent irresponsibility. Many people live in a constant state of rebellion against not just their parents but their nation, their culture and their civilization.
Writer Theodore Dalrymple thinks one reason for the epidemic of self-destructiveness in Western societies is the avoidance of boredom: "For people who have no transcendent purpose to their lives and cannot invent one through contributing to a cultural tradition (for example), in other words who have no religious belief and no intellectual interests to stimulate them, self-destruction and the creation of crises in their life is one way of warding off meaninglessness."
According to him, what we are seeing now is "a society in which people demand to behave more or less as they wish, that is to say whimsically, in accordance with their kaleidoscopically changing desires, at the same time as being protected from the natural consequences of their own behaviour by agencies of the state. The result is a combination of Sodom and Gomorrah and a vast and impersonal bureaucracy of welfare."
The welfare state deprives you of the possibility of deriving self-respect from your work. This can hurt a person's self-respect, but more so for men than for women because masculine identity is closely tied to providing for others. Stripped of this, male self-respect declines and society with it. Dalrymple also worries about the end of fatherhood, and believes that the worst child abusers are governments promoting the very circumstances in which child abuse and neglect are most likely to take place: "He who promotes single parenthood is indifferent to the fate of children." Fatherhood scarcely exists, except in the merest biological sense:
"I worked in a hospital in which had it not been for the children of Indian immigrants, the illegitimacy rate of children born there would have approached one hundred per cent. It became an almost indelicate question to ask of a young person who his or her father was; to me, it was still an astounding thing to be asked, 'Do you mean my father now, at the moment?' as if it could change at any time and had in fact changed several times before."
This is because "women are to have children merely because they want them, as is their government-given right, irrespective of their ability to bring them up, or who has to pay for them, or the consequences to the children themselves. Men are to be permanently infantilised, their income being in essence pocket money for them to spend on their enjoyments, having no serious responsibilities at all (beyond paying tax). Henceforth, the state will be father to the child, and the father will be child of the state."
As Swedish writer Per Bylund explains: "Most of us were not raised by our parents at all. We were raised by the authorities in state daycare centers from the time of infancy; then pushed on to public schools, public high schools, and public universities; and later to employment in the public sector and more education via the powerful labor unions and their educational associations. The state is ever-present and is to many the only means of survival – and its welfare benefits the only possible way to gain independence."
Though Sweden is arguably an extreme case, author Melanie Phillips notices the same trends in Britain, too: "Our culture is now deep into uncharted territory. Generations of family disintegration in turn are unravelling the fundamentals of civilised human behaviour. Committed fathers are crucial to their children's emotional development. As a result of the incalculable irresponsibility of our elites, however, fathers have been seen for the past three decades as expendable and disposable. Lone parenthood stopped being a source of shame and turned instead into a woman's inalienable right. The state has provided more and more inducements to women – through child benefit, council flats and other welfare provision – to have children without committed fathers. This has produced generations of women-only households, where emotionally needy girls so often become hopelessly inadequate mothers who abuse and neglect their own children – who, in turn, perpetuate the destructive pattern. This is culturally nothing less than suicidal."
I sometimes wonder whether the modern West, and Western Europe in particular, should be dubbed the Fatherless Civilization. Fathers have been turned into a caricature and there is a striking demonization of traditional male values. Any person attempting to enforce rules and authority, a traditional male preserve, is seen as a Fascist and ridiculed, starting with God the Father. We end up with a society of vague fathers who can be replaced at the whim of the mothers at any given moment. Even the mothers have largely abdicated, leaving the upbringing of children to schools, kindergartens and television. In fashion and lifestyle, mothers imitate their daughters, not vice versa.
The elaborate welfare state model in Western Europe is frequently labelled "the nanny state," but perhaps it could also be named "the husband state." Why? Well, in a traditional society, the role of men was to physically protect and financially provide for their women. In our modern society, part of this task has been "outsourced" to the state, which helps explain why women in general give disproportionate support to high taxation and pro-welfare state parties. According to anthropologist Lionel Tiger, the ancient unit of a mother, a child and a father has morphed from monogamy into "bureaugamy," a mother, a child and a bureaucrat. The state has become a substitute husband. In fact, it doesn't replace just the husband, it replaces the entire nuclear and extended family, raises the children and cares for the elderly.
Øystein Djupedal, Minister of Education and Research from the Socialist Left Party and responsible for Norwegian education from kindergartens via high schools to PhD level, has stated: "I think that it's simply a mistaken view of child-rearing to believe that parents are the best to raise children. 'Children need a village,' said Hillary Clinton. But we don't have that. The village of our time is the kindergarten." He later retracted this statement, saying that parents have the main responsibility for raising children, but that "kindergartens are a fantastic device for children, and it is good for children to spend time in kindergarten before [they] start school."
The problem is that some of his colleagues use the kindergarten as the blueprint for society as a whole, even for adults. In the fall of 2007, Norway's center-left government issued a warning to 140 companies that still hadn't fulfilled the state-mandated quota of 40 percent women on their boards of directors. Equality minister Karita Bekkemellem stated that companies failing to meet the quota will face involuntary dissolution, despite the fact that many are within traditionally male-oriented branches like the offshore oil industry, shipping and finance. She called the law "historic and radical" and said it will be enforced.
Bekkemellem is thus punishing the naughty children who refuse to do as Mother State tells them to, even if these children happen to be private corporations. The state replaces the father in the sense that it provides for you financially, but it acts more like a mother in removing risks and turning society into a cozy, regulated kindergarten with ice cream and speech codes.
Blog reader Tim W. thinks women tend to be more selfish than men vis-a-vis the opposite sex: "Men show concern for women and children while women.... well, they show concern for themselves and children. I'm not saying that individual women don't show concern for husbands or brothers, but as a group (or voting bloc) they have no particular interest in men's well-being. Women's problems are always a major concern but men's problems aren't. Every political candidate is expected to address women's concerns, but a candidate even acknowledging that men might have concerns worth addressing would be ostracized." What if men lived an average of five years and eight months longer than women? Well, if that were the case, we'd never hear the end of it: "Feminists and women candidates would walk around wearing buttons with 'five years, eight months' written on them to constantly remind themselves and the world about this horrendous inequity. That this would happen, and surely it would, says something about the differing natures of male and female voters."
Bernard Chapin interviewed Dr. John Lott at Frontpage Magazine. According to Lott, "I think that women are generally more risk averse then men are and they see government as one way of providing insurance against life's vagaries. I also think that divorced women with kids particularly turn towards government for protection. Simply giving women the right to vote explained at least a third of the growth in government for about 45 years."
He thinks this "explains a lot of the government's growth in the US but also the rest of the world over the last century. When states gave women the right to vote, government spending and tax revenue, even after adjusting for inflation and population, went from not growing at all to more than doubling in ten years. As women gradually made up a greater and greater share of the electorate, the size of government kept on increasing. This continued for 45 years as a lot of older women who hadn't been used to voting when suffrage first passed were gradually replaced by younger women. After you get to the 1960s, the continued growth in government is driven by higher divorce rates. Divorce causes women with children to turn much more to government programs." The liberalization of abortion also led to more single parent families.
Diana West thinks what we saw in the counterculture of the 1960s was a leveling of all sorts of hierarchies, both of learning and of authority. From that emerged the leveling of culture and by extension Multiculturalism. She also links this trend to the nanny state:
"In considering the strong links between an increasingly paternalistic nanny state and the death of the grown-up, I found that Tocqueville (of course) had long ago made the connections. He tried to imagine under what conditions despotism could come to the United States. He came up with a vision of the nation characterized, on the one hand, by an 'innumerable multitude of men, alike and equal, constantly circling around in pursuit of the petty and banal pleasures with which they glut their souls,' and, on the other, by the 'immense protective power' of the state. 'Banal pleasures' and 'immense state power' might have sounded downright science-fictional in the middle of the 19th century; by the start of the 21st century, it begins to sound all too familiar. Indeed, speaking of the all-powerful state, he wrote: 'It would resemble parental authority if, fatherlike, it tried to prepare its charges for a man's life, but, on the contrary, it only tries to keep them in perpetual childhood.' Perhaps the extent to which we, liberals and conservatives alike, have acquiesced to our state's parental authority shows how far along we, as a culture, have reached Tocqueville's state of 'perpetual childhood.'"
This problem is even worse in Western Europe, a region with more elaborate welfare states than the USA and which has lived under the American military umbrella for generations, thus further enhancing the tendency for adolescent behavior.
The question, which was indirectly raised by Alexis de Tocqueville in the 1830s in his book Democracy in America, is this: If democracy of universal suffrage means that everybody's opinion is as good as everybody else's, will this sooner or later turn into a society where everybody's choices are also as good as everybody else's, which leads to cultural relativism? Tocqueville wrote at a time when only men had the vote. Will universal suffrage also lead to a situation where women vote themselves into possession of men's finances while reducing their authority and creating powerful state regulation of everything?
I don't know the answer to that. What I do know is that the current situation isn't sustainable. The absence of fatherhood has created a society full of social pathologies, and the lack of male self-confidence has made us easy prey for our enemies. If the West is to survive, we need to reassert a healthy dose of male authority. In order to do so we need to roll back the welfare state. Perhaps we need to roll back some of the excesses of Western Feminism, too.
Islam, Christian Europe, and the Greek Heritage
I have written a couple of essays regarding the Greek impact on the rise of modern science, and why the Scientific Revolution didn’t happen in the Islamic world. I find this to be an interesting topic, especially since there are so many myths regarding this perpetrated by Muslims and their apologists today, so I will explore the subject in some detail.
I mentioned the ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs in one of my previous essays. It has been claimed by one researcher that an Arab alchemist in the ninth century managed to decode some of the hieroglyphs. Even if this should be true, his research didn’t leave any lasting impact and wasn’t followed up by others, which is in itself significant. The proven track record is that Arab Muslims had controlled Egypt for more than a thousand years, yet never managed to decipher the hieroglyphs nor for the most part displayed much interest in doing so. The trilingual Rosetta Stone was employed by the French philologist Jean-François Champollion to decipher the hieroglyphs in 1822. He chose an intuitive (though ultimately correct) approach by employing the Coptic language, the liturgical language of the Egyptian Christians (which was a direct descendant of that of the ancient Pharaohs, as opposed to the language of the Arab invaders) rather than the more mathematical approach of his English rival Thomas Young.
For the sake of historical accuracy, it should be mentioned that when hieroglyphs were finally put out of use, thus ending one of the oldest continuous cultural traditions on the planet, dating back at least to the Narmer Palette celebrating the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt in the 32nd century B.C., this was also done by Christians. The process was begun in the fourth century AD, before the partition of the Roman Empire, and was completed by the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Emperor Justinian who abolished the worship of Isis on the island of Philae in the sixth century. As the Egyptian religion was shut down, so the writing system associated with it was forgotten. The remnants of Plato’s Academy were also closed in the name of Christian (Nicaean) unity.
Justinian is otherwise remembered for constructing the Hagia Sophia, the grandest cathedral in Christendom for almost a thousand years, and for his ultimately unsuccessful attempts at restoring the unity of the Roman Empire by reconquering the Western lands. This stretched the resources of the Empire, and along with a plague pandemic, drained its strength. The long wars between the Byzantines and the Sassanid (Persian) Empire weakened both states and were one of the reasons why the Arabs could make their Islamic conquests in the seventh century.
Logically speaking, the Middle East should be perfectly situated to combine the knowledge of all major centers of civilization in the Old World, from the Mediterranean and the Greco-Roman world via the Persian and other pre-Islamic cultures in the Middle East to India and the civilizations of the Far East. As I will demonstrate, the Muslim thinkers and scientists whose names are worth mentioning did just that.
According to scholar F. R. Rosenthal: “Islamic rational scholarship, which we have mainly in mind when we speak of the greatness of Muslim civilisation, depends in its entirety on classical antiquity…in Islam as in every civilisation, what is really important is not the individual elements but the synthesis that combines them into a living organism of its own…Islamic civilisation as we know it would simply not have existed without the Greek heritage.”
Greek thought was certainly an important inspiration for virtually all Muslim thinkers, but it wasn’t the only one. Alkindus (Al-Kindi), the Arab mathematician who lived in Baghdad in the ninth century and was close to several Abbasid Caliphs, was one of the first to attempt reconciling Islam with Greek philosophy, especially Aristotle, a project that was to last for several centuries and prove ultimately unsuccessful. His other lasting impact was his writings about Indian arithmetic and numerals. Alkindus was one of a handful of people primarily responsible for spreading the knowledge and use of Indian numerals in the Middle East.
India has a long-standing mathematical tradition and the Hindu numerical system is one of its most important contributions to world culture. It was slowly introduced in Western Europe during the Middle Ages, gained momentum after the Italian mathematician Fibonacci in 1202 published his book Liber Abaci and reached wide acceptance during the Renaissance. Europeans learned about Indian numerals via Arabs, which is why they were mistakenly called Arabic numerals in the West. They were superior to Roman numerals in several ways, the revolutionary concept of zero being one of them. There is no doubt that this numerical system reached the West via the Islamic world, but we should remember that since the Middle East is situated between India and Europe, any ideas from India by necessity had to pass through that region to reach Europe. I’m not sure how much credit we should give Islam for this geographical accident.
Al-Razi was a talented Persian physician and chemist who lived in the ninth and early tenth century. He combined Greek, Indian and Persian traditions, and relied on clinical observance of patients in the Hippocratic tradition. He also commented, and criticized, the works of philosophers such as Aristotle. Some of his writings were translated into Latin. As Ibn Warraq writes in his book Why I Am Not a Muslim, “Perhaps the greatest freethinker in the whole of Islam was al-Razi, the Rhazes of Medieval Europe (or Razis of Chaucer), where his prestige and authority remained unchallenged until the seventeenth century. Meyerhof also calls him the ‘greatest physician of the Islamic world and one of the great physicians of all time.’” He was also highly critical of Islamic doctrines, and considered the Koran to be an assorted mixture of “absurd and inconsistent fables.” Moreover, “His heretical writings, significantly, have not survived and were not widely read; nonetheless, they are witness to a remarkably tolerant culture and society — a tolerance lacking in other periods and places.”
Avicenna (Ibn Sina) was a Persian physician who continued the course set by al-Razi of mixing Greek, Indian, East Asian and Middle Eastern medical learning. His book The Canon of Medicine from the early eleventh century was a standard medical text for centuries. A striking number of the Muslims who did leave some imprint upon the history of science were Persians, who could tap into their proud pre-Islamic heritage. Historian Ibn Khaldun admitted that “It is strange that most of the learned among the Muslims who have excelled in the religious or intellectual sciences are non-Arabs with rare exceptions.”It is also interesting to notice that virtually all freethinkers and rationalists within the Islamic world, such as Avicenna or Farabi, were at odds with Islamic orthodoxy and were frequently harassed for this. Whatever discoveries they made were more in spite of Islam than because of Islam, and in the end, Islam won. As Ibn Warraq notes, “orthodox Islam emerged victorious from the encounter with Greek philosophy. Islam rejected the idea that one could attain truth with unaided human reason and settled for the unreflective comforts of the putatively superior truth of divine revelation. Wherever one decides to place the date of this victory of orthodox Islam (perhaps in the ninth century with the conversion of al-Ashari, or in the eleventh century with the works of al-Ghazali), it has been, I believe, an unmitigated disaster for all Muslims, indeed all mankind.”
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Averroes (Ibn Rushd) was born in Córdoba, Spain (Andalusia) in the twelfth century. He held comparatively progressive views on women, was in some ways a freethinker and faced trouble for this, yet he was also a jurist in the Maliki school of sharia law and served as a qadi, Islamic judge, in Seville. He supported the traditional view, held by leading scholars even into the twenty-first century, of the death penalty for persons leaving Islam: “An apostate…is to be executed by agreement in the case of a man, because of the words of the Prophet, ‘Slay those who change their din [religion]’…Asking the apostate to repent was stipulated as a condition…prior to his execution.”
Still, Averroes is chiefly remembered for his attempts at combining Aristotelian philosophy and Islam. According to Ibn Warraq, he had a profound influence on the Latin scientists of the thirteenth century, yet “had no influence at all on the development of Islamic philosophy. After his death, he was practically forgotten in the Islamic world.” Philosophy in general went into permanent decline. One of the reasons for this was the influential al-Ghazali, by many considered the most important Muslim after Muhammad himself, who argued that much of Greek philosophy was logically incoherent and an affront to Islam. Averroes’ attempts at refuting al-Ghazali were ignored and forgotten.
The leading Jewish thinker of this era was the rabbi and physician Moses Maimonides. He was born in 1135 in Córdoba in Islamic-occupied Spain, but had to flee through North Africa when the devout Berber Almohades invaded from Morocco and attacked Christians and Jews in a classical Jihad fashion. Maimonides eagerly read Greek philosophy, some of which was available in Arabic. He also, for the most part, wrote in Arabic. His attempts at reconciling Aristotelian philosophy with the Torah influenced the great Christian thinker Saint Thomas Aquinas, who made similar efforts at reconciling Greek thought with biblical Scripture a few generations later.
One of the most persistent myths so eagerly promoted by Eurabians is that of the “shared Greco-Roman heritage” between Europeans and Arabs, which is now going to lay the foundations for a new Euro-Mediterranean entity, Eurabia. It is true that countries such as Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Algeria were just as much a part of the Roman Empire as were England or France. However, the Arab conquerors later rejected many elements of this Greco-Roman era once they invaded these nations. Some Greek and other classics were indeed translated to Arabic, but Muslims could be highly particular about which texts to exclude. There was thus a great deal of Greek thought that could never have been “transferred” to Europeans by Arabs, as is frequently claimed by Western Multiculturalists, because many Greek works had never been translated into Arabic in the first place. Muslims especially turned down political texts, since these included descriptions of systems in which men ruled themselves according to their own laws. This was considered blasphemous by Muslims, as laws are made by Allah and rule belongs to his representatives.
As British philosopher Roger Scruton has explained, one of the most important legacies of the Roman Empire was the idea of secular laws, which were unconcerned with a person’s religious affiliations as long as he accepted the political authority of the Roman state. This left a major impact on Christian Europe, but was neglected in the Middle East because it clashed fundamentally with the basic principles of sharia, the laws of Allah. Scruton calls this “the greatest of all Roman achievements, which was the universal system of law as a means for the resolution of conflicts.” The Roman law was secular and “could change in response to changing circumstances. That conception of law is perhaps the most important force in the emergence of European forms of sovereignty.”
Iranian intellectual Amir Taheri states that “To understand a civilisation it is important to understand its vocabulary. If it was not on their tongues it is likely that it was not on their minds either. There was no word in any of the Muslim languages for democracy until the 1890s. Even then the Greek word democracy entered Muslim languages with little change: democrasi in Persian, dimokraytiyah in Arabic, demokratio in Turkish. (…) It is no accident that early Muslims translated numerous ancient Greek texts but never those related to political matters. The great Avicenna himself translated Aristotle’s Poetics. But there was no translation of Aristotle’s Politics in Persian until 1963.”
According to scholar John Dunn, the word demokratia entered modern Western discourse in the 1260s in the Latin translation by the Dominican Friar William of Moerbeke of Aristotle’s Politics, “the most systematic analysis of politics as a practical activity which survived from the ancient world.”
William of Moerbeke was a Flemish scholar and prolific translator who probably did more than any other individual for the transmission of Greek thought to the West. His translation of virtually all of the works of Aristotle and many by Archimedes, Hero of Alexandria and others paved the way for the Renaissance. He was fluent in Greek, and was for a time Catholic bishop of Corinth in Greece. He made highly accurate translations directly from the Greek originals, and even improved earlier, flawed translations of some works. His Latin translation of Aristotle’s Politics, one of the important works that were not available in Arabic, was completed around 1260, and helped expand the political vocabulary in the West. His friend Thomas Aquinas used this translation as the basis for his groundbreaking work The Summa Theologica. Aquinas did refer to Maimonides as well as to Averroes and Avicenna and was familiar with their writing, but he was rather critical of Averroes and refuted some of his use of Aristotle.
Like Aquinas, William of Moerbeke was a friar of the Dominican order and had personal contacts at the top levels of the Vatican. Several texts, among them some of Archimedes, would have been lost without the efforts of Moerbeke and a few others, and he clearly did his work on behalf of the Roman Catholic Church. Moreover, one of the reasons why he did this was because the translations that were available in Arabic were incomplete and sometimes of poor quality. The Arabic translations, although they did serve as an early reintroduction for some Western Europeans to Greek thought, didn’t “save” Greek knowledge as it had never been lost. It had been preserved in an unbroken line since Classical times by Greek, Byzantine Christians, who still considered themselves Romans, and it could be recovered there. There was extensive contact between Eastern and Western Christians at this time; sometimes amiable, sometimes less so and occasionally downright hostile, but contact nonetheless. The permanent recovery of Greek and Classical learning was undertaken as a direct transmission from Greek, Orthodox Christians to Western, Latin Christians. There were no Muslim middlemen involved.
As a result, by the late 1200s, Saint Thomas Aquinas and early Renaissance figures such as the poet Dante and the humanist Petrarch had at their disposal a much more complete and accurate body of Greek thought than any of the renowned Muslim philosophers ever did. What’s more, many of the translations that did exist in Arabic had been undertaken by Christians in the first place, not by Muslims.
At the American Thinker, Dr. Jonathan David Carson dispels some of the hype regarding Islam’s role in the history of science. In his view, “The ‘Islamic scholars’ who translated ‘ancient Greece’s natural philosophy’ were a curious group of Muslims, since all or almost all of the translators from Greek to Arabic were Christians or Jews.” Moreover, most Greek texts “did not make the long journey from Greek to Syriac or Hebrew to Arabic to Latin, and Western Europeans preferred [surprise!] translations of Aristotle directly from the Greek, which were not only superior but also more readily available.”
In A History of Philosophy, Frederick Copleston says that “it is a mistake to imagine that the Latin scholastics were entirely dependent upon translations from Arabic or even that translation from the Arabic always preceded translation from the Greek.” Indeed, “translation from the Greek generally preceded translation from the Arabic.” This view is confirmed by Peter Dronke in A History of Twelfth—Century Western Philosophy: “most of the works of Aristotle, however, were translated directly from the Greek, and only exceptionally by way of an Arabic intermediary…translations from the Arabic must be given their full importance, but not more.”
As Carson sees it, “the great rescue of Greek philosophy by translation into Arabic turns out to mean no rescue of Plato and the transmission of Latin translations of Arabic translations of Greek texts of Aristotle, either directly or more often via Syriac or Hebrew, to a Christendom that already had the Greek texts and had already translated most of them into Latin.”
Moreover, the intellectual curiosity was entirely one-sided. J.M. Roberts put it this way: “Why, until very recently, did Islamic scholars show no wish to translate Latin or western European texts into Arabic? (…) It is clear that an explanation of European inquisitiveness and adventurousness must lie deeper than economics, important though they may have been.”
Much has been made of Spain’s glorious Islamic past, yet more books are translated in Spain now in a single year than have been translated into Arabic over the past 1,000 years. As I have shown, what existed of advances in sciences in the early centuries of Islamic rule owed its existence almost entirely to the infusion of pre-Islamic thought, and even at the best of times the translations from non-Muslim ideas and books could be quite selective. Later, even the limited debate of Greek philosophy was curtailed. Muslims were assured of their God-given superiority and did not bother to look into ideas from worthless infidel cultures.
Toby E. Huff, author of the book The Rise of Early Modern Science: Islam, China and the West, takes a look at the development of science. A landmark in Western science was Nicholas Copernicus’ The Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres from 1543. The same years also saw another milestone in the rise of modern science: Vesalius’ On the Fabric of the Human Body, which created the foundations for modern medicine by representing an empirical agenda, the first-hand examination of the body through human dissection (autopsy).
According to Huff, “Vesalius claimed to have corrected over 200 errors in Galen’s account of human anatomy,” and his “illustrations are far superior to anything to be found in the Arabic/Islamic tradition (where pictorial representation of the human body was particularly suspect) or, for that matter, in the Chinese and (I presume) Indian traditions.” In astronomy, “Kepler went far beyond Ptolemy’s methods, and discovered entirely new principles for the precise description of the motions of bodies in the heavens,” thus proving the elliptical (and hence not perfectly circular) orbit of Mars.
In the eyes of Toby E. Huff, “the twelfth and thirteenth centuries witnessed a social, intellectual and legal revolution that laid the intellectual and institutional foundations upon which modern science was later constructed. At the heart of this development was the jurisprudential idea of a corporation, a collection of individuals who were recognized as a singular ‘whole body’ and granted legitimate legal autonomy. Such entities were given the right to sue and be sued, to buy and sell property, to make rules and laws regulating their activities, to adjudicate those laws and to operate according to the principle of election by consent as well as the Roman legal aphorism, what affects everyone should be considered and approved by everyone. Among the entities granted status as legitimate corporations were cities and towns, charitable organizations, professional guilds (especially of physicians) and, of course, universities. Nothing comparable to this kind of legal autonomy emerged in China or under Islam. In short, the European medievals created autonomous, self-governing institutions of higher learning and then imported into them a methodologically powerful and metaphysically rich cosmology that directly challenged and contradicted many aspects of the traditional Christian world-view.”
This was also a time period noted for the growth of early modern capitalism, but Huff rejects any simplistic connection between money and science. Christian Europe exhibited an intellectual curiosity, a desire to uncover truth, that could not be reduced simply to a matter of economic interests: “There was indeed a ‘commercial revolution’ sweeping Europe from about the twelfth century, but that hardly explains the great interest in Aristotle in the universities of that period or the decision by medical practitioners to undertake dissections and to incorporate medical education into the university curriculum. Similarly, there was another rise in commercial activities in the sixteenth century, but this hardly explains either the motivation of the clerical Copernicus, or of Galileo, Kepler, or Tycho Brahe in developing a new astronomy against the interests of the Church.”
One of the most groundbreaking innovations in Europe during the High Middle Ages was the creation of an ongoing, university-centered debate. This made all the difference, since, as Huff points out, “it is one thing if an activity is pursued randomly by various actors; it is something else altogether if that activity is carried on collectively as a result of a regularized process.” While Islamic madrasas excluded all of the natural works of Aristotle, as well as logic and natural theology, European scholars benefited from “a surprising degree of freedom of inquiry” which “did not exist in the Arab/Muslim world then and does not exist now.”
Centers of learning have existed in civilizations throughout recorded history, yet most of them did not possess all of the qualities generally associated with a university today. It is possible that the Chinese, the Koreans, the Japanese, the Indians and others had institutions that could be called universities already at this early age; I don’t know Asian history intimately enough to judge that. But the Islamic world definitely did not.
The German-Syrian reformist Bassam Tibi points out that the Muslim thinkers who developed Greek rationalism are today despised in their own civilization. As he writes in his book Islam Between Culture and Politics , “rational sciences were – in medieval Islam – considered to be ‘foreign sciences’ and at times heretical. At present, Islamic fundamentalists do not seem to know that rational sciences in Islam were based on what was termed ulum al-qudama (the sciences of the Ancients), that it, the Greeks.”
Science was viewed as Islamic science, the study of the Koran, the hadith, Arab history etc. The Islamic madrasa was not concerned with a process of reason-based investigation or unrestrained enquiry but with a learning process in the sacral sense. Tibi believes it is thus incorrect to call institutions such as Al-Azhar in Cairo, Egypt, the highest institution of learning in Sunni Islam, a university: “Some Islamic historians wrongly translate the term madrasa as university. This is plainly incorrect: If we understand a university as universitas litterarum , or consider, without the bias of Eurocentrism, the cast of the universitas magistrorum of the thirteenth century in Paris, we are bound to recognise that the university as a seat for free and unrestrained enquiry based on reason, is a European innovation in the history of mankind.”
It is noteworthy that the first medieval European universities were sometimes developed out of monasteries or religious schools. However, here the Greek knowledge was adopted in a far more unfettered manner than it was in the Middle East. The earliest European universities, such as the University of Bologna in Italy and Oxford in England, were created in the eleventh century. More were established during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, for instance the University of Paris (Sorbonne), the University of Cambridge, the University of Salamanca in Spain and the University of Coimbra in Portugal.
According to Bassam Tibi, the situation has changed less than one might think: “In Muslim societies, where higher institutions of learning have a deeply rooted procedure of rote-learning, the content of positive sciences adopted from Europe is treated in a similar fashion. Verses of the Koran are learned by heart because they are infallible and not to be enquired into. Immanuel Kant’s Critiques or David Hume’s Enquiry, now available in Arabic translation, are learned by heart in a similar manner and not conceived of in terms of their nature as problem-oriented enquiries.” As a result, “In contrast to the European and the US-model, students educated in a traditional Islamic institution of learning neither have a Bildung (general education) nor an Ausbildung (training).”
This is a problem members of this culture bring with them abroad if they move. In Denmark, Århus city council member Ali Nuur complained that one of the challenges certain immigrant groups face in the education system is that they are unfamiliar with tests rooted in a rational, critical and analytical way of thinking. Guess who?
Another issue is the lack of individual liberty. I still haven’t read Atlas Shrugged, a novel I know many Americans hold in high regard, and I have mixed feelings about Ayn Rand’s philosophies. However, one thing I do agree with her about is that “Civilization is the progress toward a society of privacy. The savage’s whole existence is public, ruled by the laws of his tribe. Civilization is the process of setting man free from men.” A Danish man who lived in Iran before the Revolution in 1979 noticed that if he suggested to his Muslim friends that he would like to enjoy some privacy for while, they thought he was crazy. The very notion of “privacy” was alien to them because it implies that you are an autonomous individual with needs of your own. A Muslim is simply an organic part of the Umma, the Islamic community. This lack of individualism and individual liberty is one of the main reasons why Muslims lost out to other cultures.
On the other hand, I believe the West has in recent decades gone too far in making individualism the sole basis of our culture. When a nation is reduced to nothing more than an atomized collection of individuals, with no ties to the past and no obligations to future generations, mounting a defense of a lasting society becomes difficult, if not impossible.According to scholar Lynda Shaffer, “Francis Bacon (1561-1626), an early advocate of the empirical method, upon which the scientific revolution was based, attributed Western Europe’s early modern take-off to three things in particular: printing, the compass, and gunpowder. Bacon had no idea where these things had come from, but historians now know that all three were invented in China. Since, unlike Europe, China did not take off onto a path leading from the scientific to the Industrial Revolution, some historians are now asking why these inventions were so revolutionary in Western Europe and, apparently, so unrevolutionary in China.”
The Song dynasty, from the tenth to the thirteenth century, was arguably the most dynamic period in Chinese history. Although printing “was invented by Buddhist monks in China, and at first benefited Buddhism, by the middle of the tenth century printers were turning out innumerable copies of the classical Confucian corpus.”
According to Shaffer, “The origin of the civil service examination system in China can be traced back to the Han dynasty, but in the Song dynasty government-administered examinations became the most important route to political power in China. For almost a thousand years (except the early period of Mongol rule), China was governed by men who had come to power simply because they had done exceedingly well in examinations on the Neo-Confucian canon. At any one time thousands of students were studying for the exams, and thousands of inexpensive books were required. Without printing, such a system would not have been possible.”
As she explains, “China developed the world’s largest and most technologically sophisticated merchant marine and navy.” The Chinese “could have made the arduous journey around the tip of Africa and sail into Portuguese ports; however, they had no reason to do so. Although the Western European economy was prospering, it offered nothing that China could not acquire much closer to home at much less cost.”
In contrast, the Portuguese, the Spanish and other Europeans were trying to reach the Spice Islands, what is now Indonesia. “It was this spice market that lured Columbus westward from Spain and drew Vasco da Gama around Africa and across the Indian Ocean.” In Shaffer’s view, technologies such as gunpowder and the compass had a different impact in China than they had in Europe, and it is “unfair to ask why the Chinese did not accidentally bump into the Western Hemisphere while sailing east across the Pacific to find the wool markets of Spain.”
Yes, Asia was the most prosperous region on the planet at this time. Europeans embarked on their Age of Exploration of the seas precisely out of a desire to reach the wealthy Asian lands (and bypass Muslim middlemen), which is why Christopher Columbus and his men mistakenly believed they had arrived in India when they reached the Americas. Asians did not possess a similar desire to reach Europe. But this still doesn’t explain why the Chinese didn’t embark on the final and most crucial stage of the Industrial Revolution in the West: Harnessing the force of steam and the use of fossil fuels to build stronger, more efficient machinery, faster ships and eventually railways, cars and airplanes.
Printing and literacy greatly expanded during Song times; the world’s first printed paper money (bank notes) was introduced and a system of canals and roads was built, all facilitating an unprecedented population growth. Iron smelting and the use of coal multiplied several times over as China reached a stage sometimes called “proto-industrial.” And yet China produced no Thomas Savery, Thomas Newcomen or James Watt to develop successful steam engines, nor a George Stephenson to build railway lines or a Karl Benz to make the first gasoline-powered automobile. Although experiments with flying had been undertaken in many nations around the world, the airplane was made possible only with the invention of modern engines, which is why China didn’t produce the Wright brothers.
For thousands of years, human beings were limited by their ability to harness muscle power, of men and animals. This was later supplemented with windmills, watermills and similar inventions, which could be important, but in a limited fashion. The harnessing of steam power for engines and machinery was a revolution which provided the basis for enormous improvements in output and efficiency. For some reason, China never did take this final step, and although the country remained prosperous for centuries, later dynasties never quite matched the dynamism under Song times. Emphasis was on cultural continuity, and China experienced no great cultural flowing or event similar to the Renaissance, the Reformation and the Enlightenment in Europe. China was in its own eyes the Middle Kingdom. It did face military threats from barbarians at its frontiers, but it had no immediate neighbors to rival its size and thus had less incentive for improvement. The result was relative (though not necessarily absolute) scientific stagnation. China could afford to grow self-satisfied, and she did. In contrast, Europeans, divided into numerous smaller states in a constant state of rivalry instead of one, large unified state, had stronger incentives for innovation.
The Mongol invasion, which ended the Song dynasty, is sometimes blamed for this loss of impetus. After the conquest of Beijing in 1215 the city burnt for months and the soil was greasy with human fat. According to Genghis Khan, “The greatest pleasure is to vanquish your enemies and chase them before you, to rob them of their wealth and see those dear to them bathed in tears, to ride their horses and clasp to your bosom their wives and daughters.” He believed in practicing what you preach. DNA studies indicate that he may have as many as 16 million descendants living today.
The Mongols were notorious for their brutality, but they had a particular dislike for Muslims. Hulagu Khan led the Mongol forces as they completely destroyed Baghdad in 1258, thus ending what remained of the Abbasid Caliphate. The Christian community was largely spared, allegedly thanks to the intercession of Hulagu’s Nestorian Christian wife.
The irony is that many Mongols soon adopted Islam as their preferred creed. Maybe the warlike nature of this religion appealed to them. It is possible to make a comparison between Muhammad and Genghis Khan. Temüjin, who gained the title Khan when he founded the Mongol Empire in 1206, did believe he had received a divine mandate to conquer the world, and he created an impressive military force out of nothing by uniting scattered tribes and directing their aggressive energies outwards. He created a Mongolian nation where no nation had existed before, similar to what Muhammad had done with the Arabs. The difference is that the Mongols didn’t establish a religion of their own throughout their empire which outlasted their rule. We should probably be grateful for that, otherwise the Organization of the Mongolian Conference would be the largest voting bloc at the United Nations today, our schools would teach us about the glories of Mongol science and tolerance and our media would constantly warn us against the dangers of Genghisophobia.
In Europe, the Mongol conquests had the most lasting impact in the Ukraine and Russia. The city of Kiev was devastated while a new Russian state slowly grew out of Moscow. Ivan the Great in the 1400s expanded the Russian state and defeated the Tatar yoke, as the now Islamized Turko-Mongols of the Golden Horde were called. The Mongols invaded Eastern Europe and in the course of a few years attacked Hungary, Poland, Lithuania, Bulgaria and Serbia. They had reached as far as Vienna in 1241 when the Great Khan suddenly died and the commanders had to return to elect a new leader.
The Black Death, the great Eurasian plague pandemic, swept from Central Asia along the Silk Road through the Mongol Empire, reaching the Mediterranean and the Middle East in the 1340s. The disease, which killed at least a third of the population and more than 70% in some regions, probably reached Europe after the Golden Horde used biological warfare during a siege of the Black Sea port of Caffa, catapulting plague-infested corpses into the city. It was then carried to the European continent with fleeing Genoese traders. The Mongols thus didn’t invade Western Europe, but at least they gave us the plague.
Many historians place great macrohistorical importance on the Mongol conquest. It certainly had a disruptive impact, and the trail of devastation it left behind severely depopulated regions from China and Korea via Iran and Iraq to Eastern Europe. It ended the dynamic Song dynasty, yet even before the Mongol conquest, there were few indications that a development towards modern machinery was about to take place in China. Japan, which has always learned a lot from China, escaped unscathed. A series of typhoons, dubbed kamikaze or “divine wind” by the Japanese, saved the country from the Mongol fleets in 1274 and 1281, but they, too, didn’t develop a fully fledged industry until they adopted a Western model during the Meiji Restoration in the late nineteenth century.
Moreover, even if Western Europe escaped the Mongols, we should remember that Europeans had recently experienced centuries of political disintegration and population decline, longer than in any period in Chinese history for several thousand years. Europe also had to face a much more prolonged assault by Islam. Belgian scholar Henri Pirenne in his work Mohammed and Charlemagne asserted that the definitive break between the Classical world and the Middle Ages in the West was not the downfall of the Western Roman Empire following the partition in 395, but the Islamic conquests in the seventh century.In Pirenne’s view, although the Germanic tribes caused imperial authority to collapse in the fifth century, Western Europe was not totally cut off from the Eastern Roman Empire. The Mediterranean, Mare Nostrum or “Our Sea” as the Romans called it, still remained a Christian lake. This changed decisively during the seventh century when North Africa came under Islamic rule, as did the Iberian Peninsula. Although the Arab conquest was halted by the forces of Charles Martel at the Battle of Tours in France in 732, arguably the most important battle in Western history, Islamic attacks continued for centuries since Jihad is a permanent obligation and should be carried out on regular intervals. Jihad piracy, slave trade and looting across the Mediterranean accompanied by inland raids, occasionally as far north as the Alps in Switzerland, made normal communication between the Christian West and the Christian East extremely difficult. In fact, Jihad piracy and slavery from North Africa remained a serious threat to Europeans for more than a thousand years, even into the nineteenth century. As historian Ibn Khaldun, a devout Muslim and therefore anti-Christian, proclaimed: “The Christian could no longer float a plank upon the sea.”
This was certainly true in the West, though the Byzantines still held their ground in the Aegean Sea. The Eastern Roman Empire was attacked by Arab Muslims in the 630s and quickly lost Syria, Palestine and Egypt, but managed to survive. Only a few years earlier the official language had been changed from Latin to Greek. It is custom to call the remaining, smaller and Hellenized Roman state the Byzantine Empire.
The Carolingian Empire, named after Charles Martel (Carolus in Latin), was the “scaffold of the Middle Ages.” Although it didn’t survive for long, the structures put in place by Charles Martel and his grandson Charlemagne were to shape Western Europe for centuries. While civilization in Europe had always been centered on the Mediterranean, the center of power in the West was now north of the Alps. The Carolingian capital was established in Aachen in present-day Germany, as Muslims made access to the sea difficult. Charlemagne held his imperial coronation by Pope Leo III in Saint Peter’s Basilica in the year 800, yet already in the year 846 Muslims sacked Rome and stole every piece of gold and silver in Saint Peter’s. Arabs also occupied Sicily for several centuries, and attacked Naples, Capua, Calabria and Sardinia repeatedly.
As Pirenne says, “the coast from the Gulf of Lyons and the Riviera to the mouth of the Tiber, ravaged by war and the pirates, whom the Christians, having no fleet, were powerless to resist, was now merely a solitude and a prey to piracy. The ports and the cities were deserted. The link with the Orient was severed, and there was no communication with the Saracen [Muslim] coasts. There was nothing but death. The Carolingian Empire presented the most striking contrast with the Byzantine. It was purely an inland power, for it had no outlets. The Mediterranean territories, formerly the most active portions of the Empire, which supported the life of the whole, were now the poorest, the most desolate, the most constantly menaced. For the first time in history the axis of Occidental civilization was displaced towards the North, and for many centuries it remained between the Seine and the Rhine. And the Germanic peoples, which had hitherto played only the negative part of destroyers, were now called upon to play a positive part in the reconstruction of European civilization.”
Pirenne’s thesis has been debated for generations, and new archaeological evidence has been uncovered since it was published in the 1930s. I personally think he underestimated the extent to which civilization collapsed in the West after the Germanic raids, but he is right that the Mediterranean was still open for communication, and that this changed dramatically after the Arab conquest. Though contacts between the Byzantines and Western Europe were limited during this time period, we should remember that they were never zero. Findings from Viking graves indicate that there was trade between the Baltic Sea and Constantinople even at this point, but trade was certainly diminished compared to what it had been previously.
The reason why the Christian West for centuries didn’t have easy access to the Classical learning of the Christian East was because Muslims and Jihad had made the Mediterranean unsafe. It has to be the height of absurdity to block access to something and then take credit for transmitting it, yet that is precisely what Arabs do. As stronger states slowly grew up in the West, regular contact with their Eastern cousins was gradually re-established, starting with the Italian city-states. And as soon as direct contact was established, Western Europeans gained access to the original Greco-Roman manuscripts preserved in Constantinople. They didn’t need to rely on limited translations in Arabic, which were anyway made from the same Byzantine manuscripts in the first place, and frequently by Christians. Moreover, Muslims have spent more than one thousand years systematically wiping out Greek culture in the Mediterranean region, a process which continues at Cyprus even into the twenty-first century, which makes it patently ridiculous when they now brag about how much we owe them for their efforts at “preserving the Greek heritage.” The efforts of Arabs are, in my view, as overrated as those by the Byzantine Empire are underrated.
John Argyropoulos, who was born in 1415 in Constantinople and died in 1487 in Italy, was a Byzantine expert on Greek history who played an important role in the revival of Classical learning in the West. He lectured at the universities of Florence and Rome. Among his students was Lorenzo the Magnificent from the influential Medici family, who sponsored Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and others. Sandro Botticelli was working under the patronage of the Medicis when he in the 1480s painted The Birth of Venus. Pagan motifs inspired by the mythology of ancient Greece and Rome were widely popular at this time. Apparently, Leonardo da Vinci, too, attended the lectures of Argyropoulos. The universal genius was passionately interested in Classical learning, perhaps especially in science and mechanical engineering, a field in which he created numerous inventions. He was certainly familiar with the Ten Books on Architecture by the Roman engineer Vitruvius, the only major work on architecture and technology to survive from the Greco-Roman world, which was also a vital inspiration for Renaissance architects Brunelleschi and Alberti. Leonardo’s famous drawing the Vitruvian Man was inspired by Vitruvius’ writings about architecture and its relations to the proportions of the human body.
In the words of Deno Geanakoplos, Professor of Byzantine History, “We know that until the ninth century the patron saint of Venice was not Mark but the Greek Theodore, and that in the eleventh century Byzantine workmen were summoned by the Doge in order to embellish, perhaps entirely to construct, the church of St. Mark. Venetian-Byzantine contacts became more frequent in the twelfth century as a result of the growth of the large Venetian commercial colony in Constantinople.” These contacts continued to grow during the High Middle Ages and into the Renaissance, and “In the half century or so before Constantinople’s fall in 1453, a gradually increasing number of refugees from the East poured into the West. Venice, as lord of important territories in the Greek East, especially the island of Crete, and as the chief port of debarkation in Italy, received the major part of these refugees. This stream quickened rapidly after 1453.”
He stresses that it is a mistake to believe that all Greek texts were transported out after the fall of Constantinople. Most of the refugees fleeing the Turkish Jihad could carry few possessions with them. The process of transferring Classical knowledge to the West took generations, even centuries, but was now greatly aided by the introduction of the printing press. There were experiments with printing going on several places in Europe, including in Holland and in Avignon, France at the time, yet Johannes Gutenberg has been credited with making the first movable type printing press around the year 1450 in Mainz, Germany.
It was a major stroke of historical luck – a religious person would probably say divine providence — that printing was reinvented in Europe at exactly the same time as the last vestige of the ancient Roman Empire fell to Muslims. The texts that had been preserved by the Byzantines for a thousand years after Rome collapsed could now be rescued forever instead of quietly disappearing. This ensured that the Renaissance marked a permanent infusion of Greco-Roman knowledge into Western thought, not just a temporary one.
As historian Elizabeth L. Eisenstein says in her celebrated book The Printing Press as an Agent of Change: “The classical editions, dictionaries, grammar and reference guides issued from print shops made it possible to achieve an unprecedented mastery of Alexandrian learning even while laying the basis for a new kind of permanent Greek revival in the West. (…) We now tend to take for granted that the study of Greek would continue to flourish after the main Greek manuscript centers had fallen into alien hands and hence fail to appreciate how remarkable it was to find that Homer and Plato had not been buried anew but had, on the contrary, been disinterred forever more. Surely Ottoman advances would have been catastrophic before the advent of printing. Texts and scholars scattered in nearby regions might have prolonged the study of Greek but only in a temporary way.”
According to Deno Geanakoplos, in the late fifteenth century “only one city in Italy, Venice, could fulfil all the complex requirements of a Greek press. Venice possessed a class sufficiently wealthy to buy, and the leisure to read, the printed classics. Venice was less subject to papal pressures than other Italian cities. Important too in [printer] Aldus’ thinking must have been Venetian possession of the precious collection of Greek manuscripts bequeathed by Bessarion — manuscripts which could serve as paradigms for his books. And hardly less significant for him must have been the presence in Venice of a large, thriving Greek community. (…) By the time of Aldus’ death in 1515, his press had given to the world practically all the major Greek authors of classical antiquity.”
Historian Bernard Lewis writes in his book What Went Wrong?: “In the vast bibliography of works translated in the Middle Ages from Greek into Arabic, we find no poets, no dramatists, not even historians. These were not useful and they were of no interest; they did not figure in the translation programs. This was clearly a cultural rejection: you take what is useful from the infidel; but you don’t need to look at his absurd ideas or to try and understand his inferior literature, or to study his meaningless history.”
Muslims who wanted translations of Greek or other non-Islamic works were primarily concerned with topics of medicine, astronomy, mathematics and philosophy. They usually ignored playwrights and dramatists such as Sophocles and Euripides, historians such as Thucydides and Herodotus and poets such as Homer. This entire corpus of literature could only be saved from the originals preserved in Constantinople. Moreover, in addition to being selective about Greek works, Muslims showed little interest in Latin writers, for instance Cicero. There was thus a large body of Greco-Roman learning and valuable literature that was never available in Arabic in the first place.
It is true that a number of Greek works were translated to Arabic, especially in the ninth century when a group called Mu’tazilites attempted, without lasting success, to reconcile Islamic with logic. They have gained a modern reputation as freethinkers, but as Ibn Warraq writes about them: “However, it is clear now that the Mu’tazilites were first and foremost Muslims, living in the circle of Islamic ideas, and were motivated by religious concerns. There was no sign of absolute liberated thinking, or a desire, as [Hungarian orientalist] Goldziher put it, ‘to throw off chafing shackles, to the detriment of the rigorously orthodox view of life.’ Furthermore, far from being ‘liberal,’ they turned out to be exceedingly intolerant, and were involved in the Mihna, the Muslim Inquisition under the Abbasids. However, the Mu’tazilites are important for having introduced Greek philosophical ideas into the discussion of Islamic dogmas.”
According to writer Patrick Poole, “Western Christianity’s rational tradition developed in the Medieval era precisely as a result of the outright rejection of the irrationalism inherent in Islamic philosophy, not the embracing of it.” As he states, “a rationalist philosophy had begun to develop under the Mu’tazilite school of interpretation, which advocated for a created, as opposed to an uncreated, Quran. But Caliph al-Mutawakkil [reign 847-861] condemned the Mu’tazilite school, which opened the door for the rival Ash’arite interpretation, founded by al-Ash’ari (d. 935), to eventually take preeminence within Sunni Islam.” Rationalism also faced an uphill battle because of the view of Allah as an unpredictable and whimsical deity, since “only Allah truly acts with real effect; all seemingly natural observances of causation are merely manifestations of Allah’s habits, for Allah simultaneously creates both the cause and the effect according to his arbitrary will. This view is best expressed by one of the Islamic philosophers cited by [Tariq] Ramadan, al-Ghazali (1059-1111), in his book, The Incoherence of the Philosophers.”
The Caliph al-Ma’mun (reign 813 — 833), who was influenced by the Mu’tazilite movement, created the House of Wisdom, a library and translation office. The Baghdad-centered Abbasid dynasty, which replaced the Damascus-centered Umayyad dynasty in 750, was closer to Persian culture and was probably inspired by the Sassanid practice of translating works and creating great libraries. Alkindus (Al-Kindi) was appointed to participate in the undertaking. Philosophical and scientific texts were translated into Arabic from Persian and Indian (Sanskrit) sources, but above all from Greek ones. Great efforts were made to collect and buy important Greek works and manuscripts from the Byzantines and have them translated.
In the book How Greek Science Passed to the Arabs, De Lacy O’Leary states that “Aristotelian study proper began with Abu Yusuf Ya’qub ibn Ishaq al-Kindi (d. after 873), commonly known as ‘the Philosopher of the Arabs.’ It is significant that almost all the great scientists and philosophers of the Arabs were classed as Aristotelians tracing their intellectual descent from al-Kindi and al-Farabi.”
At the heart of these efforts was a Nestorian (Assyrian) Christian named Johannitius (Hunayn ibn Ishaq). He had studied Greek by living in Greek lands, presumably in the Byzantine Empire, and was put in charge of translations at the House of Wisdom. Soon, he, his son and his nephew had made available in Arabic and Syriac Galen’s medical treatises as well as Hippocrates and texts by Aristotle, Plato and others. In some cases, he apparently translated a work into Syriac and his son Ishaq translated this further into Arabic. Most senior medical doctors in the Islamic world, including Avicenna and Rhazes, were later influenced by these translations of Greek medicine.
In 431 Nestorius, a Christian Patriarch, was expelled from Constantinople for heresy. The so-called Assyrian Church of the East thus split from the Byzantine Church. Their followers found a new home in the Syriac-speaking world and were welcomed in the Sassanid Persian Empire, the rival of Byzantium. They brought with them a collection of Greek texts, among them medical works of Galen and Hippocrates. It was these texts, aided by other manuscripts acquired and bought from Constantinople later, which provided the basis for translations of Greek texts into Arabic. The followers of this Eastern church, usually called Nestorians in the West, had communities spread out across much of Iraq, Iran and Central Asia, and were respected for their medical skills.
According to scholar Thomas T. Allsen, “Nestorians in the East were closely associated with the medical profession. A considerable body of Syriac medical literature, some in the original and some in translation, has been recovered in central Asia. This is hardly surprising, because Eastern Christians were an important fixture in West Asian medicine.” Western medicine in Yuan (Mongol ruled) China, often characterized as “Muslim,” was almost always in the hands of Nestorians, a situation that Western travelers found worthy of note.
Syriac is a dialect of Aramaic, a Semitic language close to Hebrew which was in widespread use in the region and most likely used by Jesus and his closest apostles for preaching. Aramaic was once the lingua franca of the Middle East. It had a major impact on the development of Arabic, which later replaced it following the Islamic conquests. The Nabataeans, a Semitic people associated with the famous rock city of Petra close to the Dead Sea in present-day Jordan, were greatly influenced by Aramaic, and the Arabic alphabet developed out of their alphabet. The most unorthodox scholars even suggest that the Islamic religion itself may have developed closer to this region, at the northern fringes of Arabia, than around Mecca in central Arabia.
Some researchers believe that Syriac, or Syro-Aramaic, was also the root of the Koran. When it was composed, Arabic was not fully developed as a written language. Syriac, however, was widely used in the region at the time. Ibn Warraq estimates that up to 20% of the Koran is incomprehensible even to educated Arabs because segments of it were originally written in another, related language before Muhammad was born. A German professor of ancient Semitic and Arabic languages writes about the subject under the pseudonym Christoph Luxenberg. If you believe Luxenberg, the chapters or suras of the Koran usually ascribed to the Mecca period, which are also the most tolerant and non-violent ones as opposed to the much harsher and more violent chapters from Medina, are not “Islamic” at all, but Christian:
“In its origin, the Koran is a Syro-Aramaic liturgical book, with hymns and extracts from Scriptures which might have been used in sacred Christian services. (…) Its socio-political sections, which are not especially related to the original Koran, were added later in Medina. At its beginning, the Koran was not conceived as the foundation of a new religion. It presupposes belief in the Scriptures, and thus functioned merely as an inroad into Arabic society.” Monte Cassino is a monastery in southern Italy, founded by Saint Benedict in the sixth century, which was sacked and burned and its monks killed in 883 by Arabs in one of their countless Jihad raids in Western Europe. It was later rebuilt, and from here the monk Constantine the African in the eleventh century translated medical texts from Arabic into Latin, including those of Hippocrates and Galen done by Johannitius in Baghdad. Constantine also translated medical treatises written in Arabic by the Egyptian Jew Isaac Israeli ben Solomon, who was again influenced by Hippocrates, Galen, Aristotle and Plato.
It is easy to track how Arabic translations of Greek texts from Byzantine manuscripts, often done by Christians, made their way from the Islamic East to the Iberian Peninsula in the Islamic West, where some of them were translated by Christians, for instance in the multilingual city of Toledo in Spain, back to Latin. It is thus true that some Greek texts were reintroduced to the West via Arabic, sometimes passing via Syriac or Hebrew along the way, but this was always based, in the end, on originals from the Byzantine Empire.
The work led by Johannitius in Baghdad preserved via the Arabic translation some of Galen’s works lost in the Greek original. The Greek physician Galen worked in the second century A.D., systematized medical knowledge in the Greco-Roman world and supplied this with his own research. He lamented the fact that he couldn’t perform dissection of human corpses, but this wasn’t allowed during Roman times so he based his studies of human anatomy on dissections of animals such as dogs, apes and pigs. This is funny if you are familiar with the low status dogs, apes and pigs have in Islam, and know that most subsequent medicine in the Muslim world was inspired by Galen. Since dissection of human corpses was taboo in the Islamic world, too, Galen’s errors remained unchallenged for centuries, until the Renaissance in Christian Europe. Leonardo da Vinci made numerous accurate anatomical drawings but didn’t share this knowledge much at his time. The final breakthrough came with the anatomist Andreas Vesalius from Brussels, who published his book On the Workings of the Human Body in 1543 based on observation through autopsy. He is considered the father of modern anatomy in the Western world.
The great British expert on Chinese science history Joseph Needham has written about how the “four great inventions of China,” the compass, printing, papermaking and gunpowder, were exported to the rest of the world. Although Needham is good at writing about technology, he doesn’t always provide sufficient evidence of transmission for these inventions. Only one of them, paper, can be said with absolute certainty to have reached the West as a fully developed product. According to Professor T.F. Carter, “Back of the invention of printing lies the use of paper, which is the most certain and the most complete of China’s inventions.”
As Lucien Febvre and Henri-Jean Martin write in The Coming of the Book, “It would have been impossible to invent printing had it not been for the impetus given by paper, which had arrived in Europe from China via the Arabs two centuries earlier and came into general use by the late 14th century.” In the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, Europe was becoming covered with paper mills. The traditional parchment was expensive and not well suited for mass production.
During the Protestant Reformation in the sixteenth century, the reformers wanted the Bible to be available in the common language, not in Latin. Martin Luther thus helped shape the modern German language. Scholar Irving Fang says in the book A History of Mass Communication that “Vernacular printing also led French readers to think of themselves as being part of France, and English readers to regard themselves as part of England.”
In some ways, we are witnessing a reversal of this trend towards nationalization now with global communications and the rise of English as an international lingua franca. Febvre and Martin believe, though, that about 77% of the books printed before 1500 were still in Latin, with religious books still predominant. This gradually gave way to secular books and other languages, but “it was not until the late 17th century that Latin was finally overthrown and replaced by the other national languages and by French as the natural language of philosophy, science and diplomacy. Every educated European then had to know French.” They estimate that about 20 million books were printed in Europe before the year 1500, and that “between 150-200 million copies were published in the 16th century. This is a conservative estimate and probably well below the actual figure.”
This is even more impressive if we remember that Europe of that day was far less populous than it is now and that only a minority could read. There was obviously a change then, and a swift one, compared to the slow, expensive and sometimes inaccurate process of copying each individual book by hand.
Printing did have a major impact in East Asia, but it didn’t trigger quite the same immediate revolution as it did in the West. The invention of woodblock printing during the Tang dynasty in China (around the seventh century AD) was intimately linked to Buddhist monasteries and Buddhist art, and stamped figures of the Buddha marked the transition from seal impression to woodcut. Buddhism came to Japan via China and Korea, and monks brought with them, in addition to tea and thus the basis for the elaborate Japanese tea ceremonies, other aspects of Chinese civilization, among them printing in the eight century. Yet until the late sixteenth century the Japanese printed only Buddhist scriptures. Europe also benefited from having a more diverse book trade than China and from having more competition in general.
As Irving Fang states, “Printing had not disturbed the monolithic Chinese empire. The introduction of printing in mid-fifteenth century Europe might also have made little headway if Europe were not ripe for change.” He believes the emergence of European universities from the twelfth century onwards marked the end of the Monastic Age. Monasteries and the Church had carried literate civilization since the fall of Rome, yet according to Febvre and Martin, from the High Middle Ages monasteries were no longer the sole producers of books. A new, urban reading public of merchants and lawyers emerged. Intellectual life was now centered outside the monasteries, and it was in the universities that scholars, teachers and students, working in co-operation with artisans and craftsmen, organized an active book trade.
Ronald J. Deibert states in Parchment, Printing, and Hypermedia: “While the Roman Catholic Church had maintained a monopoly over written communications up to the twelfth century, from that point onward a gradual change in the communications environment began to occur, as evidenced by the growth of secular literacy and the use and reproduction of written documents outside of the formal papal-monastic network. In this respect, the invention of printing actually represents the culmination of slowly accumulating social pressures. In other words, the invention of printing was not a sudden ‘out-of-nowhere’ development, but was an outgrowth of converging social pressures for more efficient communications. In conjunction with the broader social and economic conditions of the time, however, once printing began to spread through Western Europe, it revolutionized the communications environment with significant consequences for society and politics.”
The Protestant Reformation in the first half of the sixteenth century is frequently cited as an event that could not have happened before the advent of printing. As Febvre and Martin state: “One is justifiably inclined to wonder, as Henri Hauser did, what might have happened if some of the earlier heresies (the Hussite, for example) had had the power of the press at their disposal – power that Luther and Calvin used with great skill, first in the attack on Rome and then in the diffusion of their new doctrines.” The Hussites were the followers of Jan Hus, or John Huss, an important pre-Reformation Czech religious reformer, influenced by the views of the English theologian John Wycliffe, who was excommunicated by the Church in 1411 and burned at the stake.
The idea that printing “created” the Reformation is simplistic. Martin Luther also benefited from luck and favorable political circumstances. There had been calls for reforms of the Church for generations, and the rising power of nation states favored those who wanted to curtail the political influence of the Catholic Church. Luther was under the protection of his sovereign Frederick of Saxony long enough to develop and spread his message. The Pope initially underestimated the importance of the quarrel, and Charles V who was Holy Roman Emperor ruled vast realms from Spain to the Netherlands and found himself simultaneously at war with the French, who feared his power, and the Ottoman Turks who advanced into Europe at the time.
Still, it is indeed hard to believe that the Reformation could have happened the way it did without printing. When Luther in October 1517 fastened to the door o
The Age of White Masochism
Imagine if you planned a country’s economic future using calculations exclusively based on even numbers. For ideological reasons you excluded odd numbers because you declared that they represent bigotry and have divisive nature since they cannot be divided equally in half. Absolutely all calculations for the future would then end up being wrong. This sounds insane and improbable, but what we’re doing now in the Western world is exactly this naïve. In the name of Multiculturalism we completely ignore all ethnic, religious, cultural and, yes, racial differences, because we have decided that these things don’t matter. But in real life, ethnicity, culture, religion and race do matter. Doesn’t that mean that all our projections for the future by necessity will end up being wrong, since they fail to take important factors into account?
Policy needs to be rooted in a realistic assessment of human nature, not in wishful thinking. Good intentions are far from sufficient to ensure good results. History is full of well-intended policies gone horrible wrong. We know from past experience that basing an ideological world view on a fundamentally flawed understanding of human nature is bound to end in disaster. Society will become more and more totalitarian in order to suppress all the information that doesn’t conform to the official ideology. Isn’t this what is happening in the West now?
I used to believe until quite recently that skin color was irrelevant. I was brought up that way. I still don’t think ethnicity or race does or should mean everything. In fact, I would say it is patently uncivilized to claim that it means everything. But I can no longer say with a straight face that it means absolutely nothing, and if it means more than nothing, it needs to be taken into account. Whether we like this or not is immaterial.
Numerous studies have demonstrated that people tend to prefer their own ethnic group above others. An international poll in 2007 showed that 90 percent of the inhabitants in Egypt, Indonesia and India believed that each country should guard their innate culture and lifestyle. Immigration concerned people in 44 out of the 47 countries.
Guarding your identity is thus a universal human trait, not a white trait. In fact, it is less pronounced among whites today than among anybody else. Only whites cling onto the idea of universalism, everybody else sticks with their own ethnic group. In white majority Western nations it has become a state-sponsored ideology to “celebrate diversity,” despite the fact that all available evidence indicates that more diversity leads to more conflict.
Ayman al-ZawahriIn May 2007, Osama bin Laden’s deputy terrorist leader Ayman al-Zawahri stated that “Al-Qaida is not merely for the benefit of Muslims. That’s why I want blacks in America, people of color, American Indians, Hispanics, and all the weak and oppressed in North and South America, in Africa and Asia, and all over the world.”
Read that statement closely. This Jihadist organization is calling for a global war against whites. Not Christians or Jews. Whites. I have been told all of my life that skin color is irrelevant, but this balancing act gets a lot more difficult when somebody declares war against you because of your race.
According to the columnist Leo McKinstry, the British government has declared war on white English people:
In the name of cultural diversity, Labour attacks anything that smacks of Englishness. The mainstream public are treated with contempt, their rights ignored, their history trashed. In their own land, the English are being turned into second-class citizens.
Keith Best, head of the Immigration Advisory Service, stated that immigrants are “better citizens” than native Britons. Matthew Elliott of the Taxpayers’ Alliance pressure group was shocked and replied that “Taxpayers shouldn’t be funding an outfit that describes them as being second-rate citizens.” But apparently, now they do.
DNA studies have proved that a significant majority of those who live in the British Isles today are descended directly from the Ice Age hunters, despite the Roman, Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Norman invasions. This accounts for 88% of the Irish, 81% of the Welsh, 70% of the Scots and 68% of the English.
Kill those who insult the prophetThe UK Commission for Racial Equality in 1996 claimed that “everyone who lives in Britain today is either an immigrant or the descendant of an immigrant.” But if everybody is an immigrant, how come people of European stock in the Americas and Australia are still viewed as alien elements by some, even though many of them have lived there for centuries? As Professor David Conway demonstrates in his book A Nation Of Immigrants?, after the invasion led by William the Conqueror in 1066, the total number of Norman settlers in Britain was never more than five per cent of the population. The inflow now is 25 times any previous level and frequently from totally alien cultures, not from neighboring territories and cultural cousins as previously.
I’m sure the English are told that this is a result of colonialism, but there are no Britons left in Pakistan, so why should there be Pakistanis in Britain? The Germans had a colony in Namibia. Why should they accept millions of Turks, who have a thousand years of extremely brutal colonial history of their own, because of this? There are not many Dutch people left in Indonesia, so why should the Dutch be rendered a minority in their major cities by Moroccans and others? And why should European countries such as Portugal, Spain and Greece, which have all suffered from centuries of Islamic colonization, have to accept Muslims into their lands? Switzerland, Sweden, Finland and Norway hardly have any colonial history at all, yet are still subject to mass immigration. The truth is that immigration policies bear little correlation to past colonialist history, population density or size. Ireland, Denmark, Britain, France, Sweden, Italy, Germany and the Netherlands have one, and only one, thing in common: The natives are white, and thereby have no legitimate claim to their own countries.
Ida Magli: Omaggio agli italianiAs Professor Ida Magli writes in an Italian essay entitled A Nation for Sale: “Why can’t we protest? Why aren’t we allowed what every people has always had the right to say, that is that no ruler, whatever the system of government — monarchy, dictatorship, democracy — has either the power or the right to sell off the homeland of their own subjects?”
The columnist Kevin Myers in Ireland thinks that no country has ever accepted, never mind assimilated, the volumes of immigrants now present in his country:
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Why the presumption that an Asian Muslim who lives in Ireland is in any way Irish? My mother lived most of her life in England, but never for a second thought of herself as English. The media should be asking the big question, ‘Why are we still admitting hundreds of thousands of immigrants?’ Instead, we are obsessing with the relatively trivial question of: Are the Irish people, who after all have admitted vast armies of strangers to their national home, racist? This is self-hatred at its most pathetic, and its most self-defeating.
Rune GerhardsenRune Gerhardsen of the Labor Party in Oslo, the son of Norway’s longest-serving Prime Minister in history, states that “When I went to school we were taught about the Great Migrations. Today’s migrations are just as big. This is part of an international trend we neither can nor want to stop. I think this development is first and foremost exciting and positive.” He likes to say that we have lived for 10,000 years without anybody visiting us. Now we’ve had a massive change within an extremely brief historical period of time.
I will give Gerhardsen credit for frankly admitting that this is by far the greatest demographic change in our nation’s history since the end of the last Ice Age. The problem is, this change, which has already made the country a lot less safe than it was only a generation ago, has been conducted without real debate, solely with propaganda and censorship. And I’m not so sure all of these groups have come merely to “visit” us. Some of them are here to colonize and subdue us, and readily admit this if you care to listen to them.
According to the writer Kent Andersen, the greatest social experiment the population has ever been subject to was never decided democratically. The native majority were never allowed to have a say about whether they wanted to change the country forever. In his view, you don’t get mass immigration for decades unless somebody with power allows this and desires it.
During the Multicultural craze of the 1990s, novelist Torgrim Eggen in an essay entitled “The psychotic racism” warned against “race wars in the streets” as a result of mass immigration. The solution to this was not to limit immigration, but to limit criticism of immigration. According to Eggen, xenophobia and opposition to mass immigration should be viewed as a mental illness, and hence “the solution to this xenophobia is that you should distribute medication to those who are seriously affected. I have discussed this with professor of community medicine, Dr. Per Fugelli, and he liked the idea.” Mr Fugelli suggested putting anti psychotic drugs in the city’s drinking water.
This may sound too extreme to be meant seriously, but Mr. Fugelli has continued to publicly chastise those who are critical of national immigration policies. Eggen warned that arguments about how ordinary people are concerned over mass immigration shouldn’t be accepted because this could lead to Fascism: “One should be on one’s guard against people, especially politicians, who invoke xenophobia on behalf of others. And if certain people start their reasoning with phrases such as ‘ordinary people feel that,’ one shouldn’t argue at all, one should hit [them].”
RinkebyRepeated violence committed by non-white immigrants against whites is dismissed because they come from “weak groups.” But whites are a weak group. We are a rapidly shrinking global minority, and Nordic-looking Scandinavians are a minority of a minority. Ethnologist Maria Bäckman in her study “Whiteness and gender” followed a group of Swedish girls in the immigrant-dominated suburb of Rinkeby outside Stockholm. Several of the native girls stated that they had dyed their hair to avoid harassment and being called “whore.” We thus already now have a situation where being blond in certain areas of Sweden, not just in Pakistan or Egypt, makes you a target of harassment and aggression.
In my country, the Equality and Anti-Discrimination Ombud from 2006 made Multiculturalism and total non-discrimination into an official state ideology. If a Muslim immigrant claims that a native has somehow discriminated against him, the native non-Muslim has to mount proof of his own innocence. I have later discovered that similar laws have been passed across much of Western Europe, encouraged by the European Union.
Native Europeans are being told that we don’t have a history and a culture, and that we thus “gain” a culture when others move to our countries. This is an insult to thousands of years of European history, to the Celtic, Germanic, Slavic and cultures and the Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian heritage all Westerners share in. The funny part is, the next second we are told that we do have a culture, but it consists of nothing but a long line of crimes and is thus nothing to preserve, anyway.
My nation doesn’t even have a colonial history. It gained its independence as late as the twentieth century, at which point it was a poor country, yet because I am white, I am to be held personally responsible for every bad act, perceived or real, committed by every person who happens to have roughly similar skin color throughout history. American novelist Susan Sontag even stated that “The white race is the cancer of human history.” I am told that I am evil specifically because of my race, and five minutes later I’m told that race doesn’t matter.
I do not hold Abdullah who sells kebab down on the corner personally responsible for sacking Constantinople, abducting millions of Europeans to slavery, colonizing the Iberian Peninsula, ruining the Balkans or threatening Vienna several times. I criticize Islam because Muslims have never admitted their past and will continue to commit atrocities as long as the institution of Jihad is alive. I do not believe in collective responsibility, and I do not think a person should be held responsible for actions made by his ancestors centuries ago.
On the other hand, if I am to take the blame, personally, for every bad act, perceived or real, committed by any white person in the past, it is only fair that I, personally, should also take credit for their achievements. It was peoples of European stock who created the modern world, not anybody else. If I am to be held personally responsible for colonialism, I want personal credit for being a part of the one civilization that has taken the greatest strides for mankind of any civilization that has ever existed on this planet. I’m done with apologizing for my existence for the nameless crime of being born white.
As African-American writer Elizabeth Wright says:
After decades of inundation about the evils of ‘white racism’ coming from all directions, and most especially from the media and education establishments, the average white is programmed to avoid anything that smacks of conscious endorsement of his own race. In the current social climate, to display favorable regard towards that which is white, not only is forbidden, but is viewed as an automatic disparagement of non-whites. A ‘White Pride’ T-shirt is deemed a threatening symbol, whereas a ‘Black Supremacy’ slogan on a button or garment is viewed as an understandable, albeit angry response to undeserved past abuses. Any public effort to promote a white theme is doomed to failure, even if the proper bows to racial diversity are adhered to. Whites learn early to censor themselves.
I’ve been told by Americans that they have moved beyond race, but judging from examples such as this, it looks more as if they have established a culture of institutionalized white masochism. It’s not that Americans have moved beyond race, it’s just that the whites have unilaterally surrendered. The United States was almost 90% white as late as 1965, and will be minority white within a couple of generations. I don’t know of any example where the formerly dominant group has become a minority and this has not resulted in a complete change of the nature of that country, or to its dissolution, but in the USA, this entire subject is taboo because it is “racist.” That’s not rational.
Highway into the heart of EuropeI have listened to claims regarding the supposed benefits of mass immigration, why it is inevitable and why those who resist are bad people. The propaganda is remarkably similar from the Netherlands via Britain to Sweden and Italy, and that’s not a coincidence. This is all happening as a coordinated and well-planned assault on established national cultures, organized by the European Union and supported by the national political and media elites.
It has happened many times that a people move into an area and subdue those living there, but the natives have at least been allowed to defend themselves. It is unprecedented in the annals of history that a people is banned by their own leaders from defending their lands from foreign colonization and are even expected to fund this colonization. It is one of the greatest crimes of our age that the indigenous people of an entire continent, at least the Western half of it, are systematically deprived of their heritage, their history, their land and ultimately perhaps their entire physical existence, all with the active aid of the very individuals who are supposed to protect their interests. The only reason why this is considered positive, or even remotely acceptable, is because the natives in this case are white. There is no other reason for this.
Mohammad SarwarIn Glasgow, Scotland, Kriss Donald, a 15-year-old totally innocent white schoolboy was abducted, stabbed repeatedly and then doused in petrol and burned to death by a group of Pakistani immigrants. Labour politician Mohammad Sarwar, who helped in bringing some of the men to justice, later became the first elected representative in Britain to step down due to threats against his family.
The established historical pattern is that people who are conquered by others are harassed by the newcomers. I don’t see any reason to expect this to be different just because the natives happen to be white. On the contrary. We will be attacked even more viciously because we are a formerly dominant group. When we are told that mass immigration is “inevitable,” we are actually being told that verbal and physical abuse of out children is inevitable and that we should “get used to it.” I see no reason to accept that. If mass immigration leads to harassment of my children, it is my duty to resist it.
Jews were once told to “get back to Palestine.” When they did, they were told to “get out of Palestine.” The people who said this didn’t object to where Jews lived, they objected to the fact that they existed at all. I sometimes wonder whether whites of European descent, a global minority, are the Jews of the 21st century. I also notice that while people of European descent are told to “get back to Europe” in North America or Australia, whites in Europe are demonized if they resist being turned into a minority in their own countries. The problem then, apparently, isn’t where whites live, it’s that we exist at all.
Observer Ole Kulterstad notes that Europeans who are against free migration are labeled as “right-wing extremists.” But common sense indicates that giving away your country to alien cultures is more extreme than merely wanting to preserve it as it once was. I agree with him. I’m sick of hearing how Islamic organizations that want to destroy my civilization are called “moderates,” whereas Westerners are extremists if we resist, yet that is exactly what our media and our authorities do. We are not extremists; we are subject to policies that are extreme. Is gradually reducing a people to a minority in their own land, without proper debate about future consequences, not to be regarded as extreme?
I hear some writers fear an extremist backlash in Europe, but if people are so concerned about white extremism then they should cease creating the foundations for such extremism to grow. Native Europeans increasingly get the feeling that they are pushed into a corner and have an entirely justifiable fear of being overwhelmed. Fear leads to desperation, and desperation sometimes leads to aggression. If we do get an outbreak of political movements in Europe that really are extremist — and I sometimes fear this outcome, too — this will not come about because white Europeans are born evil, it will come about because white Europeans will be pushed into extremism, feel that their continued existence is at stake and that they have been abandoned by their own authorities. The solution to this is simply to recognize that Western nations have accepted more immigration from alien cultures in a shorter period of time than any other civilization has done peacefully in history. We have reached our limits and we need a break from mass immigration before our entire political and economic system breaks down.
The idea that every white person who desires self-determination and self-preservation is a racist, a white supremacist and a Nazi is nonsense and should flatly be rejected. The vast majority of racist violence in Western nations is by non-whites attacking whites. Consequently, if we limit immigration this is anti-racism, since we are protecting our children against racist violence. It is not about white supremacy, either, it is about equality. Whites are currently the only racial group specifically denied the opportunity to defend their countries and heritage. If we assert our right to do so we are thus fighting for equality, not supremacy.
The “Nazi” accusations so carelessly thrown out these days are completely baseless in this context. The Nazis believed that whites, and blondes in particular, had the right to colonize or eradicate others. But the policy we follow today could be dubbed reversed Nazism since it is based on the assumption that whites should have fewer rights than others and can be colonized or culturally eradicated with impunity. I don’t see why I should either be a “Nazi” or embrace and celebrate my extinction. It’s a false choice.
I suspect future historians will call this era the Age of White Masochism. The white man conquered the world and then suffered a nervous breakdown, a kind of collective neurosis shared by an entire civilization. However, I sense that this era is slowly coming to an end.
I would use two arguments as to why the current mass immigration the West should be halted:
1. Whites, too, have a right to exist. The primary duty you have as a human being is to preserve the heritage of your ancestors and pass on to your children a country they can call their own and where they can live in dignity.
2. The ongoing immigration is population dumping where less successful cultures dump their population in more successful ones. This is a form of global Communism and will generate the same effects by destroying successful communities and centers of excellence.
I believe whites in the 21st century should desire a room of our own where we can prosper, live in a major Western city without having to fear violence because of our race, and without being stripped of our heritage in order to placate people who moved to our countries out of their own free will. We have the right to preserve our heritage and are under no obligation to commit collective suicide or serve as a dumping ground for other countries. It has nothing to do with animosity towards others. For my part, I am being entirely honest if I say that I still love visiting other cultures, but I will love this even more if I know I can also return to my own.
Islam, the Greeks and the Scientific Revolution, part 3
The great British expert on Chinese science history Joseph Needham has written about how the "four great inventions of China," the compass, printing, papermaking and gunpowder, were exported to the rest of the world. Although Needham is good at writing about technology, he doesn't always provide sufficient evidence of transmission for these inventions. Only one of them, paper, can be said with absolute certainty to have reached the West as a fully developed product. According to Professor T.F. Carter, "Back of the invention of printing lies the use of paper, which is the most certain and the most complete of China's inventions."
As Lucien Febvre and Henri-Jean Martin write in The Coming of the Book, "It would have been impossible to invent printing had it not been for the impetus given by paper, which had arrived in Europe from China via the Arabs two centuries earlier and came into general use by the late 14th century." In the period from 1450 to 1550, Europe was becoming covered with paper mills. The traditional parchment was expensive and not well suited for mass production.
During the Protestant Reformation in the sixteenth century, the reformers wanted the Bible to be available in the common language, not in Latin. Martin Luther thus helped shape the modern German language. As scholar Irving Fang states in the book A History of Mass Communication, "Vernacular printing also led French readers to think of themselves as being part of France, and English readers to regard themselves as part of England."
In some ways, we are witnessing a reversal of this trend towards nationalization now with global communications and the rise of English as an international lingua franca. Febvre and Martin believe, though, that about 77% of the books printed before 1500 were still in Latin, with religious books still predominant. This gradually gave way to secular books and other languages, but "it was not until the late 17th century that Latin was finally overthrown and replaced by the other national languages and by French as the natural language of philosophy, science and diplomacy. Every educated European then had to know French." They estimate that about 20 million books were printed in Europe before the year 1500, and that "between 150-200 million copies were published in the 16th century. This is a conservative estimate and probably well below the actual figure." This is even more impressive if we remember that Europe of that day was far less populous than it is now and that only a minority could read. There was obviously a change then, and a swift one, compared to the slow, expensive and sometimes inaccurate process of copying each individual book by hand.
Printing did have a major impact in East Asia, but it didn't trigger quite the same revolution as it did in the West. Buddhism came to Japan via China and Korea, and Buddhist monks also brought with them, in addition to tea and thus the basis for the elaborate Japanese tea ceremonies, other aspects of Chinese civilization, among them printing in the eight century. Yet until the late sixteenth century the Japanese printed only Buddhist scriptures. Europe also benefited from having a more diverse book trade than China and from having more competition in general.
As Irving Fang states, "Printing had not disturbed the monolithic Chinese empire. The introduction of printing in mid-fifteenth century Europe might also have made little headway if Europe were not ripe for change." According to him, the "establishment of European universities from the twelfth century onward marked the end of the 700-year-old Monastic Age. The more secular age that followed saw the emergence of a literate middle class and a rising demand for books of all kinds."
Movable type printing had been invented in China by Bi Sheng around 1040, but it never gained widespread popularity. The nature of the Chinese language with its nonalphabetic script presumably didn't help. To solve this dilemma, in the first half of the 1400s the Korean King Sejong the Great encouraged book production and ordered his scholars to create an alphabet for the common people as opposed to the complicated Chinese script with its thousands of characters. They produced hangul, "Korean letters," a phonetic system inspired by other alphabetic scripts, among them Sanskrit.
Movable type printing with metal types and an alphabetic script was thus in use in Korea before Gutenberg began printing Bibles in Germany, but there are no indications of a connection between what happened in Korea and what happened in Europe. The geographical distance is too big and the time difference too small to make such a connection likely. The Chinese used baked clay for their characters, and only started employing metal types after their use in Europe. Gutenberg was a goldsmith and naturally created his letters out of metal.
According to Fang, "What Gutenberg produced that did not exist in Asia was a printing system. Most obvious among its elements were controlled, exact dimensions of alphabet type cast from metal punches made of hardened steel. These were not unlike the dies, stamps, and punches that were well known to European leather workers, metalsmiths, and pewter makers."
Although possible, no link between the Eastern and the Western printing traditions has ever been conclusively proven. The different nature of the systems involved has caused many historians to believe that printing was developed in Europe independently of Asia. In contrast, we know with 100% certainty that Muslims were familiar with East Asian printing. The Mongols left a trail of devastation across much of Eurasia in the 1200s, but their vast empire did open up unprecedented opportunities for cultural exchange. As scholar Thomas T. Allsen shows, however, being exposed to foreign ideas doesn't necessarily mean that you will adopt them. Local scholars often clung to the inherited tradition. He uses Russia at the time of Peter the Great as an example where some elements of that society were fanatically opposed to all innovation while others enthusiastically embraced all things foreign. Allsen has described how the authorities in Iran under Mongolian rule in 1294 attempted to introduce Chinese-style printed banknotes, but failed, despite severe threats, due to massive popular resistance:
"Certainly the Muslim world exhibited an active and sustained opposition to movable type technologies emanating from Europe in the fifteenth century and later. This opposition, based on social, religious, and political considerations, lasted well into the eighteenth century. Only then were presses of European origin introduced into the Ottoman Empire and only in the next century did printing become widespread in the Arab world and Iran. This long-term reluctance, the disinterest in European typography, and the failure to exploit the indigenous printing traditions of Egypt certainly argue for some kind of fundamental structural or ideological antipathy to this particular technology."
I am definitely not a believer in technological determinism, but some technologies do have a greater impact than others. One of the most important inventions ever made has to be printing. Surely it is no coincidence that the Scientific Revolution decisively took off in Europe after the introduction of printing, just as it is not a coincidence that the one civilization that came closest to a similar breakthrough, China, was the one where printing had first been invented. It is likely that the rejection of printing alone set the Islamic world back centuries vis-à-vis non-Muslims.
As David Crowley and Paul Heyer write in Communication in History: Technology, Culture, and Society, "Traditionally, the view has been that printing, along with numerous other developments, marked the transition between the end of the Middle Ages and the dawn of the modern era. However, the more we study this remarkable invention, the more we realize that it was not just one factor among many. Although we hesitate to argue for historical 'prime-movers,' certainly the printing press comes close to what is meant by this term. It was a technology that influenced other technologies - a prototype for mass production - and one that impacted directly on the world of ideas by making knowledge widely available, thereby creating a space in which new forms of expression could flourish. The repercussions of the printing press in early modern Europe did not come about in an inherently deterministic manner. Rather, they resulted from the existence of conditions whereby print could enhance a context receptive to its potential."
The spread of printing in East Asia was intimately connected to the Buddhist religion, just as it was used in Europe to print Bibles. Yet while Buddhists, Christians and Jews eagerly embraced this new technology, Muslims stubbornly rejected it. The contrast is striking if we compare this to how eagerly Muslims embraced another Chinese invention: gunpowder. Gunpowder wasn't the first chemical substance used in warfare.
According to legend, "Greek fire," a feared weapon in its time, was invented in the seventh century by Callinicus, a refugee from the Arab conquest of Syria. It was successfully used to defeat sieges by Arab Muslims of Constantinople in 674 and in 718, and helped the Byzantine Empire to survive for as long as it did. Its qualities appear to be somewhat similar to modern napalm. James R. Partington suggests in his book A History of Greek Fire and Gunpowder that it consisted of a mixture of "sulphur, pitch, dissolved nitre, and petroleum." The term "Greek fire" is a misnomer as the Byzantines called themselves Romans. The greatest revolution in the history of warfare, however, came with the introduction of gunpowder. According to Dr James B. Calvert, professor of engineering, "The fundamental inventions of gunpowder and cannon had been made by 1300, but the sources are rare, difficult to interpret, hard to date, and often contradictory. The best guess is that gunpowder followed quickly after saltpetre was discovered (that is, a process for its purification was developed) by Chinese alchemists around AD 900 and introduced to Europe via trade routes and travellers around AD 1225, and that cannon were invented in southern Europe just before AD 1300."
One of the problems in determining this accurately is that Chinese writers can be just as ethnocentric as Western ones, sometimes more so. There is some debate whether gunpowder was invented independently in several regions, but most historians have settled for the explanation that it was first manufactured in China. Gunpowder (black powder) consists of charcoal, sulphur and potassium nitrate, or saltpeter, and was impossible to create until you could manufacture saltpeter with a high degree of purity. This was a specialty of Chinese alchemists quite early. The discovery reached the Middle East and Europe, probably via the Silk Road, and became known as "Chinese snow." Black powder remained the principle explosive until the nineteenth century, when the invention of unstable nitroglycerine made it possible for Swedish chemist Alfred Nobel to patent the more stable version of dynamite in 1867, and accumulate the great wealth which was later used to fund the various Nobel Prizes.
In the thirteenth century, the English Franciscan friar Roger Bacon, as well as the German Dominican friar Albertus Magnus, both theologians and scientists with an interest in alchemy, mention a recipe for gunpowder. The Mongol conquests spread the knowledge of the fire-lance, a gunpowder-filled tube made of bamboo which could fire various projectiles, across Eurasia. The development of this weapon stagnated in China proper. According to James B. Calvert, "The place and time of the invention of the cannon is unknown, but its evolution from the fire lance among the Turks, Arabs and Europeans can hardly be doubted. (…) The earliest use of cannon is not definitely known, but occurred sometime between 1300 and 1350. The use of cannon spread rapidly between 1350 and 1400."
Cannon were used during the Hundred Years' War between France and England, and Turkish Muslims successfully employed prolonged bombardment by massive Hungarian-made cannon during the conquest of Constantinople in 1453 to breach the walls of the city. Joel Mokyr, professor at the Department of Economics at Northwestern University and author of The Gifts of Athena: Historical Origins of the Knowledge Economy, writes about innovation and economic history. According to him (pdf), glass, although known in China, was not in wide use as tea was drunk in porcelain cups and the Chinese examined themselves in polished bronze mirrors. Islamic countries had a significant glass industry, yet they never came up with spectacles: "Tokugawa Japan had a flourishing industry making glass trinkets and ornaments, but no optical instruments emerged there either until the Meiji restoration [from 1867]. Not having access to the Hellenistic geometry that served not only Ptolemy and Alhazen, but also sixteenth century Italians such as Francesco Maurolico (1494-1575) who studied the characteristics of lenses, made the development of optics in the Orient difficult." The earliest known lenses were made of rock crystal, quartz, and other minerals, and have been used in Eastern and Western lands since ancient times. There is evidence that lenses were known in the Greco-Roman world. They have been used as burning glasses and magnifying glasses for centuries, and so-called reading stones were in common use during the Middle Ages, for instance the Visby lenses, lens-shaped rock crystals of high quality from in a Viking grave in Gotland, Sweden. The oldest one we know of is the Nimrud lens, found in modern Iraq. Estimated to be almost three thousand years old, it indicates that the ancient Assyrians did have some basic understanding of optics. Iraq, seat of the Sumerian, Akkadian and Assyrian kingdoms, is home to one of the world's oldest astronomical traditions. Babylonian astronomy greatly influenced many subsequent cultures, Middle Eastern, Greek and Indian, and the sexagesimal (based on the number sixty) numeral system of the Sumerians is still with us today, in the form of sixty minutes to the hour and 360 degrees in a circle.
The Iraqi-born scientist Ibn al-Haitham, known in the West as Alhacen or Alhazen, had a powerful influence on several Western scientists. Alhazen was a pioneer in the scientific method by basing hypothesis upon systematic observation. He is most commonly remembered for his great contributions in the field of optics, where he pondered the nature of light, speculated on the colors of the sunset and described the qualities of magnifying lenses. His eleventh century Book of Optics was translated into Latin during the late twelfth century, and left a significant impact on Roger Bacon and others in the thirteenth century.
Bacon was educated at Oxford and lectured on Aristotle at the University of Paris, the intellectual center among the small, but growing number of European universities. His teacher, the English bishop and scholar Robert Grosseteste, was a proponent of validating theory through experimentation. Roger Bacon wrote about many subjects, including optics, and was among the first persons to argue that lenses could be used for the correction of eyesight. He asserted that "philosophy is the special province of the unbelievers," and urged scholars to learn Arabic.
The Chinese experimented with lenses and mirrors, too, and produced a type of sunglasses, or eyeglasses with colored lenses. However, these appear to have been mainly for decorative purposes and possessed no corrective properties. The science of optics stagnated in China after initial advances. The first fully developed spectacles were made in Europe, in Northern Italy from the late thirteenth century onwards. The American scientist and inventor Benjamin Franklin invented bifocals in the eighteenth century, during the early years of the United States.
In 1572 Freidrich Risner printed some of Alhazen's work on optics, as well as a work by the thirteenth century Polish friar Witelo which was similar to it, and thus made Alhazen widely known to new generations of scholars. Notable among them was the German astronomer Johannes Kepler. Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe, who died in 1601, was perhaps the most meticulous astronomer of the pre-telescopic era. During the final year of his life, Brahe passed on his observations of Mars to Kepler. These precise notes were important for Kepler's work on planetary motion, but another breakthrough that could verify his thesis was soon to come.
As corrective lenses for near-sightedness became more sophisticated, the demand for high quality glass lenses grew. In the Netherlands in the seventeenth century, Baruch Spinoza could make a decent living as a skilled lens grinder while working on his philosophical theories. This was during the Dutch Golden Age when the country was a refuge for many groups suffering from religious persecution, for instance Huguenots (Protestants) from France. Spinoza descended from Jews who had been expelled from Spain and Portugal following the Reconquista. The production of spectacles opened up new arenas for optics. A Dutch eyeglass maker, Hans Lippershey, is said to have created the first practical telescope and made it publicly available in 1608.
Within a few months of the news, Italian scientist Galileo Galilei had made his own telescope, and became the first person to turn the new invention towards the sky, discovering the four major moons of Jupiter in 1610. Kepler developed the Galilean telescope further by 1611 and described the theoretical basis for telescopic optics, in part inspired by Alhazen's work. The telescope had traveled from the Netherlands via Italy to Kepler in Prague within three years of its invention and had been improved along the way, a remarkable pace of innovation and diffusion of knowledge. Sir Isaac Newton's Principia Mathematica from 1687 and his laws of motion and gravity were derived from, among other things, Galileo's telescopic observations and Kepler's Laws of Planetary Motion.
Dutch eyeglass maker Zacharias Janssen and his father Hans are usually credited with inventing the first microscope in the late 1500s. The microscope was improved in the seventeenth century by their countryman Antonie van Leeuwenhoek, who was the first to spot bacteria and thus opened up an entirely new field of microbiology. This in turn led to great advances in the natural sciences. The German physician Robert Koch and the French chemist Louis Pasteur founded the science of bacteriology in the nineteenth century. The understanding that disease is caused by bacteria and microscopic germs produced the greatest strides in medicine in history.
According to the free online encyclopaedia Wikipedia, reading stone lenses were invented by polymath Armen Firman (Abbas Ibn Firnas) in Córdoba in Islamic-occupied Spain in the ninth century, and later spread throughout Europe. Wikipedia embodies both the good and some of the problematic aspects of the Internet. I have found useful information there more than once, but it can also be notoriously unreliable on certain subjects due to its numerous editors and lack of professional oversight. Let's assume for a moment that this information is correct. If so, how come lenses weren't developed further by Muslims? The telescope and the microscope were by-products of advances in the production of glass lenses. They made possible, for the first time ever, the study of what is not visible to the naked human eye and radically altered our understanding of the universe, both in the realms of the very small and the very big. All of this could have happened in the Islamic world. So why didn't it, despite the fact that lenses were know there at least as early as in Europe, and despite the fact that the region produced a gifted optical scientist, Alhazen?
Alhazen personally should be credited with being one of the greatest scientists of his age in any discipline, Eastern or Western, yet his inquisitive attitude and scientific mindset wasn't always appreciated by his contemporaries. Here is how his writings were received by fellow Muslims, as quoted in Ibn Warraq's book Why I Am Not a Muslim: "A disciple of Maimonides, the Jewish philosopher, relates that he was in Baghdad on business, when the library of a certain philosopher (who died in 1214) was burned there. The preacher, who conducted the execution of the sentence, threw into the flames, with his own hands, an astronomical work of Ibn al-Haitham [Alhazen], after he had pointed to a delineation therein given of the sphere of the earth, as an unhappy symbol of impious Atheism."
Alhazen made numerous books, many of which are lost today. His groundbreaking Book of Optics survives to us in Latin translation. Muslims thus had access to ideas, but they failed to appreciate them and exploit their potential. This pattern was repeated on several occasions. The first windmills were probably made in Persia prior to the Islamic conquest in the seventh century. Windmills were introduced in Europe during the High Middle Ages, at least from the twelfth century onwards, and spread rapidly across Western Europe during a prolonged period of great improvements. Persian-style windmills spread from Central Asia to China following the Mongol conquest in the thirteenth century, yet in 1206 the leading Arab engineer of the day observed to his readers that the notion of driving mills by the wind was nonsense.
Sundials have been used in Egypt and other civilizations since prehistoric times. Water clocks, too, date from ancient times and had reached a certain level of complexity in the Greco-Roman world. The ancient Greeks created devices resembling clock-work, for instance the Antikythera mechanism (second century B.C.) which has been called a mechanical computer. Early clocks (though not fully developed) were made in Asia, especially China, and could have been known in the Middle East. Around the year 800, Caliph Harun al-Rashid from Baghdad presented Charlemagne with the gift of a complex water clock which struck the hours. In 850 the three Persians Banu Musa, as part of the translation efforts undertaken at the House of Wisdom in Baghdad, published The Book of Ingenious Devices describing many mechanical inventions developed by earlier cultures. They were interested in the work of Greek engineer Hero of Alexandria who made the first known steam-powered device. Again, there is plenty of evidence that Muslims had at their disposal both the theoretical knowledge and the practical examples necessary to create mechanical clocks.
Despite having access to much of the same knowledge as did Christian Europeans, Muslims didn't develop fully mechanical clocks. This happened in Europe in the thirteenth century. The invention spread rapidly throughout Italy, France and England. One was installed in the Old St Paul's Cathedral in London in 1286. The fourteenth century English author Geoffrey Chaucer mentioned a clock, apparently meaning one with a bell which struck the hour. Salisbury cathedral is thought to have the oldest functioning clock in existence, dating back to the year 1386. Clocks were initially large and were used to decorate public buildings. By the year 1500, the coiled spring had been invented, paving the way for smaller clocks. The first portable timepiece was created in Nuremberg, Germany by locksmith Peter Henlein in 1505 in the shape of a sphere worn as a jewel. Dutch scientist Christiaan Huygens, by employing Galileo's law of the pendulum, in 1656 made the first pendulum clock, which was much more accurate than previous models. He also invented the balance wheel and spring assembly underlying many modern watches. French mathematician Blaise Pascal is said to have made a wristwatch by attaching his portable clock to his wrist with a string.
I'm not suggesting that no scientific achievements were made in the Islamic world. Avicenna's Canon of Medicine was translated into Latin in the twelfth century, and as late as the sixteenth century, Vesalius wrote a thesis commenting on Rhazes. It is impossible to write the medical history of the West during this age without mentioning Middle Eastern physicians such as Avicenna and Rhazes. What I am suggesting is that the number of achievements steadily declined, and I'm not sure how much Islam should be credited with those achievements that were actually made.
Muslims failed to develop clocks and eyeglasses and were actively hostile to printing, yet immediately embraced gunpowder and firearms (though the development of the latter soon stagnated, too). I think this highly selective view of technology tells us something about their mentality: They didn't see the value in printing, but they liked gunpowder since it could be used to terrorize and intimidate non-Muslims. Infidel technology is primarily interesting if it can be used to blow up other infidels. Sadly, I'm not so sure Islamic mentality has changed significantly in the 800 years since then. During the past few decades, globalization, Muslim immigration to the West and the massive influx of petrodollars to Muslim nations with huge reserves of petroleum have enabled Muslims to acquire or buy technology they are unable to develop themselves. The result, along with a huge demographic increase in Muslims which is again caused by infidel advances in medicine, has been a tidal wave of Jihad sweeping across the world. The lesson for non-Muslims should be: If you provide Muslims with technology and know-how, this will not be used to create peaceful and prosperous societies; it will be used to kill or subjugate you.
As writer Bassam Tibi notes, Muslims today tend to view science as something that is separated from society, and believe they can adopt or appropriate modern science and technology but not the wider framework that goes with them.
I agree with Tibi. Muslims have no understanding of science as the basis of technological progress, and free speech and rational criticism of everything, including religious doctrines, as the basis of science. They talk about science as if it were a commodity, a television or a personal computer, something which Muslims "had" earlier, then "lost" or handed over to Westerners who "took" it from them. Hence, Muslims shouldn't feel grateful for anything infidel science provides them with, since science was really "theirs" in the first place and they're just taking back something which rightfully belongs to them. But science isn't a commodity; it is a method, a way of looking critically and rationally at the world.
In my view, this failure to see the connection between cause, science and a free society, and effect, technological progress, stems from a fundamental flaw in the Islamic way of looking at the universe: They see no connection between cause and effect because their entire religious world view is based on the notion that everything is subject to the whims of Allah, and that there is no predictable logic behind anything. As Hugh Fitzgerald frequently says, this resigned Inshallah-fatalism ("If Allah wills it, it will happen") greatly inhibits progress of any kind. The ultimate irony and tragedy is that Muslims move to infidel societies in order to enjoy the commodities and consumer goods produced there, yet immediately set out to destroy the conditions which created these advances in the first place, political freedom and manmade laws.
At least two conditions are necessary for the creation of a successful nation: The ability to produce talented individuals with great ideas, and the cultural and structural ability of society to recognize the full potential of these ideas and utilize them. The Islamic world, for a while, performed reasonably well at the former task, but failed miserably and consistently at the latter. Even if it could occasionally give birth to gifted individuals they tended to be unorthodox Muslims or, in the case of Rhazes, outright hostile to Islam. The frequency of thinkers of Avicenna's and certainly Alhazen's stature also steadily declined. This strongly indicates that "Islamic science" had little to do with Islam, but was the amalgam of pre-Islamic knowledge, Greek, Indian, Persian, Jewish, Assyrian Christian and other. As Muslims gradually became numerically dominant and Islamic orthodoxy more firmly established, this pre-Islamic heritage was slowly extinguished, hence science declined and never recovered. This failure was intimately linked to the Islam's hostility towards innovation and freethinking. In contrast, the Christian and Jewish religions proved more receptive towards new ideas. At the very least they were not as aggressively hostile to logic as was Islam, and in certain situations even facilitated it.
Europe did produce many talented individuals, yet what ultimately set it apart from the Islamic world, and even from non-Muslim Asians at this age, was the remarkable pace of diffusion of new ideas, home-grown or imported, and the speed with which further improvements were made once an idea had been introduced. This was due to a combination of factors: A successful marriage between Christian doctrines and the Greco-Roman heritage during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, the ability to continuously generate new knowledge and put it into practical application through the accumulation of capital and a dynamic merchant class, an institutionalized framework for scholarly debate through universities with a significant degree of free enquiry, the adoption of printing, which made communication easier and facilitated the accumulation of ever-more accurate knowledge, and last, but not least, a higher degree of individualism and political liberty, which encouraged freethinking, a non-traditionalist outlook and by extension innovation.
Upon saying this, I must confess that I cannot say with a straight face that these are hallmarks of Europe today. We have always been told that there is a basic conflict between religion and reason, which would presumably mean that the less religious we become, the more rational we should become. Western Europe is currently less religious than we have ever been, yet I see no indication that we have become more reasonable because of this. We may not have a formal index of forbidden books, as did the Catholic Church for centuries, but we do have an informal index of forbidden topics which can be equally effective in suppressing free enquiry and stifling debate. This is now done in the name of tolerance and Multicultural diversity, not God, but the result is much the same. The end of religion, thus, didn't herald an age of reason; it led to a new age of secular superstition and new forms of witch-hunts. Bad things can be said about medieval Europeans, but at least they didn't import Muslims in large numbers and congratulate themselves for their tolerance. Secular Europeans do.
Andrew G. Bostom keeps referring to Julien Benda and his 1928 book The Treason of the Intellectuals, about how the abandonment of objective truths abetted totalitarian ideologies, which led to World War II. Bostom identifies a similar failure of Western intellectuals to acknowledge the history of Jihad today. From what I gather, Benda was a bit too anti-religious and anti-nationalist for my taste, but otherwise I agree: The problems faced by the West now in confronting Jihad have been facilitated by a failure of our education system, our media and indeed our entire society to uphold the ideal of critical thinking. If the rise of the West was linked to political liberty, rational thinking, free speech and universities championing free enquiry, the decline of the West can be linked to the decline of the same factors.
Author V.S. Naipaul thinks Islam is parasitical by nature and preys upon the pre-Islamic culture in the conquered lands. I will add that it is also the kind of parasite which kills its host. I have no doubt that if Muslims should succeed in conquering Europe, this will in the future be hailed as a Golden Age of Islam. But it wouldn't be a Golden Age of Islam, it would be the twilight of Europe, just as the previous Golden Age was the twilight of the Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Zoroastrian and Buddhist cultures from North Africa to Central Asia, and the much vaunted accomplishments of "Islamic medieval science" were echoes of the heritage of Egyptians, Babylonians, Persians, Syrians and Greeks.
Yes, I know Mughal emperors could create magnificent architecture such as the Taj Mahal in India, but this was still a slave-state based upon the exploitation and persecution of non-Muslims. And yes, there can be rulers such as Akbar the Great, with his religious tolerance and imperial garden with thousands of cheetahs, but he was tolerant precisely because he was a Muslim in name only. Any such ruler will be succeeded by more pious Muslims, as was the case with Aurangzeb who reinstated the Jizya tax for infidels and destroyed Hindu temples. Anything good that happens in countries under Islamic rule generally happens in spite of Islam, not because of Islam, and the good parts will soon be reversed in the name of sharia. There will always be at least a dozen Aurangzebs to every Akbar.
We are currently witnessing major global shifts in power. In a macrohistorical perspective, China was the leading civilization a millennium ago but was surpassed by Europe. I firmly believe free speech and political liberty have long-term effects, and I'm not convinced China can keep up her economic progress unless she undertakes reforms. I'm also not convinced Europe's Islamization is inevitable, yet, but if present trends continue, maybe we will see a reversal of roles in the twenty-first century: China will prosper and Europe will disintegrate. In the meantime, however, when Muslims get their hands on Western technology and Europe's accumulated wealth, the world from Britain to Thailand could be plunged into a new age of Jihad.