“Western civilisation” works? Yes, but be honest about its dark side.

 

Liberals are undermining western civilisation, writes Professor Robert Tombs (1), April 23 2018, The Times

 

FEATURED:  Jacob Lawrence (1917-2000. The Life of Toussaint L’Ouverture. 1938. Panel no. 5: “Slave trade reaches its height in Haiti, 1730.” Tempera on paper, 29.21 × 48.26 cm. Amistad Research Center, Tulane University, New Orleans.

 

Not being open about “Western civilisation’s” full story significantly undermines its marketability

  • Professor Tombs is on the right track, but is telling only part of the story, leaving out the dark side of “Western civilisation’s” emergence, its ugly violent gestation.
  • Yes he leaves out the widespread predatory European imperialist / colonial engagement, in the Americas, then Africa and Asia.
  • In particular he leaves out slavery and the slave trade, especially across the Atlantic.
  • So he omits the sad and flagrant hypocritical betrayal of “Western” values by the newly born USA, in its treatment of blacks and native Americans.
  • And he could throw in two world wars in the 20th C and their appalling consequences. Thus WW1 should never have happened, was self-inflicted, caused by deficient collective leadership succumbing to deadly nationalistic ambitions.  .
  • Not being open about these failures “undermines” credibility in selling the virtues of the “Western” liberal-democratic model (WLDM). It gives greater licence to reactionary repressive authoritarian regimes today.
  • Which is a great pity for the WLDM is clearly universally valid as an optimum approach for nations managing their collective affairs in the modern world, both for 1/ demonstrated far superior economic and associated outcomes; and 2/ far superior political outcomes, human rights and freedoms.
  • Importantly the WLDM is ”Western” only because it happened to emerge there. But it’s as valid universally as Newton’s laws.

 

1/ A “chequered” history – the dark side of “Western civilisation”.

The Professor misses grievous failings in the story of “Western civilisation”.

 

2/ Slavery

We can start with the marred US “achievement”, the American Revolution, launched by the high-minded Founding Fathers’ Declaration of Rights, Constitution etc ., in the wake of 18th C European Enlightenment.

Except their admirable and just lofty ideals applied only to.. . whites! Like a club it was Members Only.

And this club was not open to slaves or native Americans, at a frighful cost, in the end to both sides, and to this day. Look at the 2017 furore over Confederate statues. Which would not be a lot different to neo-Nazis in Germany wanting Guderian etc on horseback in bronze.

Instead, at a great ultimate cost, the South chose to fight to maintain the bonanza that was their cotton-based economy, underpinned by nearly 4 million slaves and selling to a Europe then booming as the industrial revolution marched on.

Then having fought and lost the Civil War the South, with the acquiescence of the US Federal Government, managed to effectively “re-enslave” the blacks through Jim Crow laws and disenfranchisement, for nigh on another century!

The Civil War was a terrible price paid by the Republic for its hypocrisy.

 

This US experience was one facet of a much wider economically motivated criminal enterprise, chiefly in the Americas.

Yes the damning truth is that slavery has been a major blight on “Western civilisation”.

How many fancy old houses in Britain were funded by slavery and the slave trade?

 

4/ Western imperialism.

Slavery was part of the wider blight of Western imperialism, the widespread predatory foreign colonial engagement by European powers especially in the Americas to start, through Spain then Portugal, thence Africa and Asia, through England, France and the Netherlands. Then even the US joined in in a small way, end of the 19th C.

 

Taking the experience of one frustrated imperial power, look at the appalling post WW2 failure by France, its futile desperation in trying to cling to its substantial colonial footholds in Vietnam then Algeria, at great cost to locals and the French visitors. And the Algerian debacle occurred after the ignominious 1954 defeat in Vietnam, as if they learned nothing in Indo-China.

 

5/ And two world wars and the rest! Our fault?!

Finally we can throw in the two world wars of the 20th C (ie parts 1 and 2 of the same war), and their appalling consequences, certainly like the Russian Revolution, and the Holocaust, and perhaps too the Depression and the Maoist Revolution.

Yes WW1 was basically self-inflicted by the European powers, should never have happened. It was caused simply by an egregious failure in leadership by the governments of the main European powers, succumbing to the temptations of Old World nationalistic ambitions.

Except now, ironically, these countries were armed with the best the booming newly industrialised economies could provide, in volume and deadly killing efficiency.

 

6/ The value of “Western civilisation”, “Western” values.

However, the Professor’s main point is right, the value of “Western values”.

 

Importantly, they are now “Western” only in the sense they happened to emerge there, in the West.

Though their relevance is now universal – like Kepler’s or Newton’s Laws – in the sense they are by far the best practical arrangements Man has devised for management of his collective affairs, within group political entites, within nations.

 

And for two major reasons.

First, through regulated private free markets and rule of law, they are by far the most successful arrangements for economic outcomes, and associated consequent benefits, in terms of matters like nutrition, shelter, leisure and health,

Second, they provide by far the best outcome for effective freedom of individuals, human rights etc.

But the result, while far superior to all the authoritarian alternatives, will still always be messy, “chequered”, sub-optimal, not least because of a/ necessary adaptation to never-ending ongoing disruptive economic and technological change, b/ reactionary opposition; c/ bad governments and other actors.

 

7/ But avoiding the dark side of “Western civilisation” has consequences, impairs its marketability, 

It’s not an academic matter.

Not telling the truth, the whole truth, about the history of “Western civilisation”, undermines its wider appeal, especially to countries today plagued by.. ..Old Values!

It allows self-interested opponents in authoritarian countries greater licence in stirring opposition to “Western” values.

So there is a responsibility, even a moral one, to sell the value of “Western civilisation”, and to be honest about its failures on the journey,

 

Note. 1/  Professor Robert Tombs is author of The English and their History.
Meanwhile the heading “Liberals are undermining western civilisation” uses “Liberals” in a misleading way, namely the confusing American terminology referring to Left wing protagonists.
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Seven Types of Atheism – Round the bend.

Seven Types of Atheism – Round the bend, a triumph of lazy Invention over laborious Experience

 

FEATURED: Allan Ramsay (1713–1784) 1754. Portrait of David Hume (1711-76). Age 43. Oil on canvas, 76.2 × 63.5 cm, Scottish National Portrait Gallery

 

 

H4  H5

Steve DiBenedetto (born 1958) 2015, Drone Souvlaki (courtesy Steve DiBenedetto/Derek Eller Gallery); Vasili Kandinsky 1942 Intime Message 49.2 x 49.6 cm tempera, cardboard, Pompidou, Paris

ABOVE:                                 Laborious Experience  

Liberal Modernity: messy, generally not pretty, never finished, but it’s actually working.

BELOW:               Lazy Invention

Religion, Nationalism: tidy, complete, pretty as you like, something for everyone, and possibly an after-life thrown in.

 

ROUND THE BEND

Brilliantly written”, but still rubbish! But not the first time.

So John Gray’s argument – when boiled down, the regulus in the crucible – is that the Atheists are all tarred with the same brush, as those they criticise, the believers.

Thus “your atheism is just another belief”. And therefore also a matter of blind faith, not of evidence, of experience.

So that’s that. Pace Robert Graves, we call this playing with words, such that debate becomes meaningless.

For the argument, the believers believe.

The theists believe in a personal or specific god, the Christians in God who “speaks” through the [hands who wrote the] Bible, the Word of God, and the legion of stories therein. And all the Saints’ stories etc.

Deists present a more elusive target, believe in a vague impersonal divine “cause”.

Atheists say there isn’t a God or gods, and agnostics just say who knows, I don’t.

 

Bit like two chaps reach a corner, and cannot see round it.

The believer says, Round the corner is a café serving the best coffee and Portuguese tarts.

How does he know? He doesn’t, he just “believes”.

Could just as well be a brass band, resting between performances. All the same to the believer.

The agnostic says, I don’t know, because I can’t see round the bend.

The atheist says, I don’t know either, but there’s not a café serving the best coffee and Portuguese tarts, which of course he cannot know for sure.

But the believer says, Your statements are all just “beliefs” too.

Which makes debate with the believer meaningless because he dismisses anything anyone says. As beliefs, detached from evidence.

So the believer makes his position untestable.

Which is a hallmark of faith.

 

But the simple reality is that the onus is on the believers, to prove their claims on what’s round the blind corner.

Ball is in their court.

Meanwhile among what the atheists / agnostics “know”, based on long Experience, is:

1/ now all the weird and weirder science of the universe;

and 2/ logical psychological reasons for humans ”believing”, as conscious animals, aware of their mortality, reasons for surrendering to seductive encompassing certainties, however they are determined, and however detached from any supporting evidence;

and 3/ most specific “gods”, in all cultures, past and present, are anthropomorphic.

 

MODERN “OPTIMISTS”

In a similar fallacious vein the cheerful John Gray also lays into the modern Optimists, like Pinker, Ridley etc, claims their “humanism”, “liberal democracy”, ”progress” are all “God substitutes”.

So “Gray.. believes… humanists are in bad faith. Most of them are atheists, but all they have done is substitute humanity for God. They thus remain in thrall to the very religious faith they reject..”

Then Terry Eagleton in reviewing Gray’s book calls Pinker et al “wide-eyed optimists”, and “.. just as one-sided as the prophets of doom”.

Which of course is total misrepresentation, fashioning a straw-man.

Per David Hume, the “humanists” views, the Optimists views, are based on laborious never ending sifting of Experience.

Not Invention.

They are based on hard work assembling evidence not on wide-eyed mute submission.

Belief is the triumph of lazy Invention over laborious Experience.

Though Mr Eagleton does at least hold Mr Gray’s feet to the fire, labels him the “card-carrying misanthrope for whom human life has no unique importance”. Spoken like an agnostic. Mr Hume would agree.  And “Gray belongs to a group of thinkers who turn to transcendence without content, epitomised by Hollywood spirituality.” Boom boom.

 

The evidence of the Optimists is extensive, wide-ranging, and emphatic, if necessarily imperfect.

So the modern outcome is also inevitably messy, untidy, always Heraclitean, always changing.

Unlike gods, which arrive box-wrapped, tidy, complete and eternal.

Which is chiefly why believers choose them! No complications.

And so there will always be something to excite that sizeable cohort of Born Worriers, those who will never quite be happy.

 

“PROGRESS”

So Pinker et al are simply addressing evidence, the outcome of Experience.

And they call the outcome “progress” – epitomised by Liberal Democracy – on the evidence, because on average, generally speaking, conditions at point A are demonstrably better than earlier point B. It is what it is.

Thus, stepping right back to get perspective, it’s fair to say approximately say three-quarters of all people in advanced affluent economies today have never had it so good.

And if they are not happy then they have only themselves to blame!

 

But meanwhile in NO way do the “Optimists” ever claim that “progress”, such as it is, will necessarily continue, that it’s somehow inevitable.

Nothing is “fated”, and also they are too aware of their evidence!

Like how the French Revolution was commandeered by the quasi-religious Jacobins, then by Napoleon Inc. rampaging about Europe, “reforming” or “modernising” France chiefly to help resource his military enterprises, in his wake installing family in imperial posts.

Like how the calamitous outbreak of WW1 punctured, shattered many decades of “progress”, when massed reactionary throwback nationalism – alas, and ironically, abundantly armed with the best means modern economies could provide – unleashed two world wars (ie parts 1 and 2 of the same war) and, for good measure, the disastrous Russian Revolution, practical ”Comminism”, the after effects of which still plague the world today.

 

Whatever the “progress” we have achieved, whatever we might keep achieving, the outcome will always be messy, not least because it will always be obstructed by the un-Enlightened Old World, by Tradition loyalties and especially the “religious mindset”, the born believers, broadly defined.

For there will always be the capable and ambitious who see a rewarding career in pandering to this mindset, offering seductive if hollow certainties.

It’s a long honour roll, including: the Pied Piper, Napoleon, Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mao, that Hubbard chap, Jim Jones.

Nietzsche – the Greeks got there first.

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900, 56).

  • Overrated.
  • God is dead”? Yes, but the Greeks got there first, and then he only got half way. And the easy half!
  • Less than helpful in what to do next.
  • A reactionary conservative, not remotely in touch with Modernity’s liberal democracy project.

 

FEATURED: Edvard Munch (1863-1944) 1906. Portrait of Friedrich Nietzsche, oil, 201 × 160 cm, Thielska Galleriet, Stockholm

n1112

Auguste Renoir (1841-1919) Onions, 1881, Clark Art Institute.

COMMENT: Renoir’s down to earth – grounded – painting is a good antidote for the “brilliant”, intense malady-plagued Nietzsche, epitomising what’s missing from the great thinker’s work, a stroll through a village Monday morning, watching it come to life, pausing for coffee, buying onions on the way home. And garlic.

 In essence.

  • Overrated. Nietzsche was a classic ivory tower intellectual, at home with his tomes, detached from, oblivious to the diverse, complicated fast changing “real world”.
  • God is dead”? Yes, but he only got half way. And the easy half!
  • Furthermore the ancient Greeks (whose works he knew well) got there first, about 2.5 millennia earlier.
  • Thus he left out what’s Man to DO next, sensibly do, after finding there is no God, beyond exercising a strong “will”?! Or the similarly trite, “Become what you are.”
  • In particular he also claimed that with God “dead” there is no right “absolute” answer on what to do, that we are thus completely adrift, facing nihilism, making your / our own rules.
  • He had a dim view of the capacities of the common man, indeed humanity itself, and thus had no regard for the capacity of post-Enlightenment Man to take mature responsibility for running his collective community affairs, once freed of fanciful (Christian) theological guidance.
  • So basically Nietzsche never escaped the philosophical clutches of Tradition, of Man having to seek refuge one way or another in some theological construct. So he was a reactionary conservative, out of touch with, discounting Modernity’s liberal-democratic project, then underway particularly in the English speaking world.
  • Implementing the liberal-democratic project is not easy, is messy, always will be, not least because of self-serving resistance by reactionary, “traditional” interests, especially religious and nationalistic. No quick fix.
  • So end of the day Nietzsche’s greatest failing was irresponsibility, recognising that with freedom comes responsibility (ie the core message of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, restated by G. B.Shaw), ie in particular responsibility for devising sound Government,
  • But at least he saw through Christianity (the Church), how it devalues, demotes Man, for its own ends.
  • So why did he make the big splash, if after all his views really not that radical or novel? Because a/ he had his say at a very opportune time, as the challenges of Modernity were evident; b/ he said it colourfully; c/ he then became famous / infamous after being practically adopted by 20th C Fascist dictators; and d/ his fierce walrus-moustached face.
  • He then became controversial when was keenly appropriated, promoted, exploited by self-serving Fascist forces.
  • Discerning the “real” Nietzsche is harder because of his aphoristic dot point writing style, then his sister’s later self-serving changes to some works, adulteration.
  • He sold poorly in his lifetime but became famous in his after-life.

 

Context historical?

Two key backdrops were;

1/ Germany on the up.

2/ Modernity marching on, the industrial revolution gathering steam.

 

Quick run through.

1/ God is dead. And we killed him! This just means traditional religion fails as an authentic life philosophy.

Also he specially criticised Christianity for its notion of original sin, devaluing Man, including its repression of sexuality.

Also he attacked faith as closing Man’s mind, rejecting curiosity. “Faith, according to Nietzsche, means not wanting to know what is true.”

If you wish to strive for peace of soul and happiness, then believe,’ he wrote to his sister; ‘if you wish to be a disciple of truth, then inquire.’

So rightly he said religion is a cop out, eg faith = closing one’s mind, not wanting to know truth, denying curiosity

BUT the Greeks there long before in undoing gods, a bunch of them were. They saw through the G thing, saw gods merely as Man creations.

 

2/ BUT it worried him because he saw the “death” of God as the end of moral absolutes!?

So regarding a/ rules for living, and b/ meaning in life, he saw all as relative now, hence we are “Beyond good and evil”, facing a “consequent gaping hole in human existence”, thus making ours a nihilistic age.

Thus he discounted any attempts at an objective truth, claimed all knowledge is “contingent and conditional”, always shifting, a view now called “perspectivism.

 

3/ so WHERE to now? Here is Nietzsche’s major error? Lapse.

He just said, tautologically, life is what you make it.

For an authentic life you must DO something, man should TRY.

A favorite motto of Nietzsche, taken from Pindar, reads: “Become what you are.””.

But become what?

The closest he got was to suggest… must have WILL power.  Which is trite? Even self-evident.

The will to power”, ‘live dangerously’ (appealed to Benito Mussolini), as – Übermensch /‘the superman’, ‘Become who you are’, ‘Strife is the perpetual food of the soul(1862).

And will was weak or strong. And “The man of strong will and clear sight was the Übermensch (literally the ‘Overman’ (from Thus Spoke Zarathustra), the man who has overcome himself, often rendered as the ‘Superman’). Such a one was almost a god. “

 

And in DOING something YOU then make own rules/morality.

Since now “no set purpose, and therefore we had to devise our own.”

“‘Man should sooner have the void for his purpose than be void of purpose’; if we have our why we can put up with any how”.

He tried to define good and evil. ‘What is good? All that heightens the feeling of power, the will to power, power itself in man. What is bad? All that proceeds from weakness.’

“..by the mid-1880s, [some see] Nietzsche’s outlook was almost theological, though he had replaced God with the Superman, divine grace by will-power, and eternal life with eternal recurrence. “

This was HIS view, but vague, adds what for common man??

 

So.. “ freedom was the essence of his philosophy – and this, as George Bernard Shaw, a Nietzschean thinker, once wrote, ‘means responsibility’. (He added, perceptively, ‘That is why most men dread it’.)”

Here GB Shaw, for once, was dead right.

 

4/ Nietzsche also stressed the primacy of change, everything always in flux, again borrowed from the Greeks, Heraclitus. And which again is trite? Self evident?

 

5/ so in summary Nietzsche only got half way, and the easy half!

Yes God dead and yes Man should seek truth, an authentic life.

But beyond that he had NOTHING constructive to offer.

And leaving others to misuse his ideas.

 

6/ so in particular he MISSED the whole Modern notion of liberal order, of devising / implementing a collective rules based democratic process, Man running his affairs.

He saw liberalism as “herd mentality”. He did not trust the masses, had “lofty contempt” for them.

“…he decided that liberalism was a product of the ‘herd mentality’” And “He cast scorn on the ‘non-sense of numbers’ and the ‘superstition of majorities’’‘.

 

7/ Basically, fundamentally, Nietzsche never escaped the philosophical clutches of Tradition, of Man having to seek refuge one way or another in some confected theological construct. He was trapped in the past.

7a/ no confidence in Man, the common man.

In particular in looking at implications for wider society he saw “too many people lived inauthentic lives – they were ‘human, all too human’ (meaning weak, cowardly, self-deceptive, petty, selfish, lazy, small-minded, ignorant, dishonest, malicious, pathetic).”

But more than that his thought was antiquated, unscientific, “Nietzsche believes that aristocratic nature is to some degree bred into us, so that some of us are simply born better off than others”.

Are thieves and villains proportionately more common further down the socio-economic ladder?

 

7b/ So  he favoured an elitist anti-democratic take on history. He wrote of “master-morality” and “slave-morality”, former as “good”, coming from “a warrior aristocracy and other ruling castes”, versus the latter as “bad”, “a reaction to master-morality”. He sees “Modern culture is defined by a tension between two kinds of morality”.

“…  it is clear from his own writings that Nietzsche wanted the victory of master morality. He linked the “salvation and future of the human race with the unconditional dominance” of master morality and called master morality “a higher order of values, the noble ones, those that say Yes to life, those that guarantee the future”. Just as “there is an order of rank between man and man,” there is also an order of rank “between morality and morality “.

This is all crazy. Nietzsche stands as a good old fashioned reactionary.

 

8/ Other notions.

8a/ “Eternal return” / “eternal recurrence”

Eternal return” (also known as “eternal recurrence“) is a hypothetical concept that posits that the universe has been recurring, and will continue to recur, in a self-similar form for an infinite number of times across infinite time or space.” From The Gay Science.

This talks to his preoccupation with change, which he found in the Greeks.

Does this add much?

 

8b/ “Apollonian” versus the “Dionysian

Artistic creation depends on a tension between two opposing forces, which Nietzsche terms the “Apollonian” and the “Dionysian”. From The birth of tragedy. “Apollo represents harmony, progress, clarity and logic, whereas Dionysus represents disorder, intoxication, emotion and ecstasy.

Which the poet Hölderlin had spoken of?

A useful observation.

 

9/ Nietzsche later was appropriated by others for their ends, especially by assorted nationalists, thence 20th C fascist dictatorships.

Yes Hitler read him, then feted Nietzsche’s sister Elizabeth, who did promote her brother’s application to Fascism.

Thus Spoke Zarathustra sold 140,000 copies in 1917.

But Nietzsche didn’t help, eg

You should love peace as a means of new wars,’ he wrote; ‘and the short peace more than the long … I do not exhort you to peace but to victory.’

And “and the man who fired the first shot in the war, the assassin Gavrilo Princip, admired Nietzsche and was given to quoting his works, especially the line: ‘Insatiable as flame, I burn and consume myself’.”

Was he speaking metaphorically? “When Nietzsche had talked of waging war, he had in fact meant fighting against one’s own weaknesses, self-deceptions and follies. He did not expect to be taken literally,”

Maybe.

 

10/ But Nietzsche was mostly not “political”, a nationalist, not an anti-Semite? Rather, per contra, he “hated the German militarism after 1871 Unification”.

The new Reich, he said, is the ‘politicisation and thus destruction of the true German spirit’, which to his mind was cultural.

And 1887, ‘He wrote in February 1887 that ‘I have no respect left for present-day Germany, bristling, hedgehog-fashion, with arms. It represents the most stupid, the most depraved, the most mendacious form of the German spirit that ever was’.”

He “scorned” Wagner’s love of Teutonic myths, his nationalism and anti-Semitism.

So broadly speaking we cannot blame him for the German 20th C rampage.

“ If thinkers are to be held responsible for glorifying war… then those figures – from John Ruskin to Max Weber – who glorified real war must be indicted before N. Nietzsche’s views were not ‘militarism run mad’.. they were individualism run mad.” 

Irony that “his individualism – which in political terms equates with anarchism – would have been even more opposed to the far greater collectivised tyranny of totalitarianism. Nevertheless both Mussolini and Hitler admired him.”

Hitler too was impressed. He read him as a prisoner in Landsberg (‘my university’), or so he said, and later gave Mussolini a copy of the collected works for his sixtieth birthday. … In 1934 Hitler travelled to Weimar to pay his respects to Nietzsche’s sister, Elizabeth Förster-Nietzsche, presenting her with a huge bouquet of flowers and speaking of his ‘unchanging reverence’ for her ‘estimable brother’.

But “the version of Nietzsche of which many fascists approved was that painted by his sister in “The Will to Power”. Elizabeth evidently did have extreme nationalist, racist and fascist sympathies, and her husband more so. “

 

11/ A thought. It seems likely Nietzsche’s big health problems – right through life, including syphilis, which finished him?  – drove, influenced his thought? Eg his affection for Schopenhauer and especially his stress on WILL, on the individual taking the reins.

Perhaps Nietzsche had to cultivate heroic will-power in order to avoid succumbing completely to ill health…. the hero of his great book of 1885, Zarathustra, affirms life nobly, joyfully and sometimes even ecstatically, despite all its problems and disappointments. “

Influence too his idea of ‘eternal recurrence’, “one of his most curious late ideas…”

 

12/ Interesting, Nietzsche’s tale helps remind us that Liberal democracy is very much an English achievement, emerged there, with help from the Dutch. So the whole notion of Democracy was radical in Europe then, offended many conservatives.

Though Greeks were there 2500 years before.

So the real English achievement was developing a practical working replacement for God!

Though the outcome will always be messy, a work in progress, never complete, never come boxed, wrapped and ribboned.

Thus Man can find Meaning, find collective moral standards.

If he works at it.

And arguably these “values” are ABSOLUTE, have universal applicability, are not relative, anything goes.

Thus Franklin Delano Roosevelt was clearly heading in this direction in his famous early 1941 State of the Union “Four Freedoms” speech, free speech, free religion and freedom from want and fear. Not a bad start,

Unfortunately his grand post-war vision (which later included the United Nations) was brutally hijacked after WW2 by not one but two “Communist” dictatorships, first the USSR, giving us the 44 year long Cold War, and second, from 1949, “Communist” China, which famously changed economic direction after Mao’s death, but remains staunchly authoritarian. This sad outcome also gave us the Korean and Vietnam wars.

Both states are of course far more nationalistic than they are “Communist”. Thus their evident observed preoccupations do not extend to liberating the oppressed proletariat.

And around 75 years after WW2 these two antagonistic anti-democratic major powers are still with us, still allergic to liberal-democracy.

 

Influences on Nietzsche?

Greek philosophers, especially pre-Socratic Heraclitus, that all is change, “who stressed competition / emotion rather than mere logic”;

The Greek materialist thinkers, “who denied the existence of anything metaphysical (including a self separate from the body)”; also “Darwin and other evolutionists, who saw no reason to presuppose the existence of a creator”.

Schopenhauer (Mr Pessimism, Schopenhauer, only death will end your misery!) impressed, was a major stimulus to his interest in philosophy, partly because of his pessimistic outlook on life. “It’s best to envisage the world as a sort of penal colony, insisted Schopenhauer: after all, life is ‘a disappointment and a cheat’ (words he wrote in English), death a welcome oblivion”. ‘No rose without a thorn,’ he quipped, ‘but many a thorn without a rose.’

This appealed to the suffering Nietzsche?

Schopenhauer saw us in two worlds, the superficial “world as representation”, which we see, and the “world as will,” which lies behind the senses, and is the “real world”

The other major influence was Wagner, whom Nietzsche met in Switzerland. ‘When I am near him,’ he wrote in August 1869, ‘I feel as if I am near the divine.’ They quarrelled in the late 1870s, like over Wagner’s nationalism and ant—Semitism, but Nietzsche took from him and his music was the “notion of the hero”.

 

LIFE

From a conservative family. He was born in 1844 at Röcken, near Leipzig, in rural Prussian Saxony, son of a Lutheran pastor, both his grandfathers were Lutheran ministers. His father (who died 1849) was a royalist, called him Friedrich Wilhelm after the King of Prussia. Bright early, educated in Naumburg, at Pforta boarding school and at the universities of Bonn and Leipzig. Then, at the young age of 24 (1868), he became Professor of Philology (specialising in classical Greek language and culture) at the University of Basel in Switzerland.

Awkward socially? Contracted syphilis early?

He had suffered migraine headaches and poor eyesight from early years, volunteered to serve as a nursing orderly in the Franco-Prussian war in 1870, he soon collapsed from dysentery and diphtheria. He was never really well again.

By 1879 N’s health so poor he retired on a small pension from Basel University, began travelling – to Germany, Switzerland, Italy, France – living simply, incessantly writing.

In January 1880 he was suffering a ‘semi-paralysis which makes it hard for me to talk’ and also ‘furious attacks’ which had him vomiting for three days and nights at a stretch

On 3 January 1889, in Turin, he “saw a cabman beating his horse”, intervened, “when he retained consciousness, he was no longer sane”.

For the last 11 years of his life, from the age of 44, he was looked after by his mother and then his sister, Elizabeth.. for the last two years he could not speak. He died on 25 August 1900”.

Yet even before 1889 there were signs that Nietzsche was becoming unbalanced. Self-obsessed. His short autobiography Ecce Home (‘Behold the man’, words used by Pilate about Christ), published in 1888, contains chapters with the titles ‘Why I am so wise’, ‘Why I am so clever’, ‘Why I write such excellent books’, ‘Why I am a destiny’.

 

Understanding his work?

Problems, 1/ his sister? “The problems of [understanding] N.. compounded by .. his sister edited his surviving notes, containing ideas he’d rejected, into an often misleading work, The Will to Power, published 1901.”

2/ his writing style. “..  in his prime, Nietzsche sometimes wrote in poems, parables, aphorisms, riddles and metaphors which are often difficult to fathom”.

The “return of Empire? No. Modernity marches on.

How to grasp a 5 million year moment for species “Homo”?

FEATURED:  A modern Faust.

 g2

Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1525-69) 1563, detail from Dulle Griet (Mad Meg). Oil on panel, 115 cm × 161 cm, Museum Mayer van den Bergh, Antwerp

COMMENT: a visual metaphor for Modernity? Remorseless, unstoppable, robotically fanatical, sans sentiment in confronting, swallowing Tradition?

 

If a man will begin with certainties he shall end in doubts; but if he will be content to begin with doubts he shall end in certainties (Francis Bacon (1561-1626), ie the certainty of uncertainty.

The humanist has four leading characteristics – curiosity, a free mind, belief in good taste, and belief in the human race. English writer, EM Forster (1879-1970). Not a bad checklist.

 

The liberal “West”? Very much alive.

Yes the old liberal “West” has “problems”, and always will, coping with:

  • adjustment from never ending economic and technological change,
  • dissent from within from its own fractious reactionary elements, hostage to the Siren-call of Tradition.
  • and reactionary states – run by conflicted elites – hostile to the liberal-democratic model, like China, Russia etc.

 

While the model is called “Western” that only refers to its origins. Like quantum physics and other scientific constructs the precepts are now relevant universally.

 

But the liberal heart is still beating, and remains inherently strong, sustained simply, ultimately, by popular appetite for democracy and freedom.

So at least it’s backing the winning team, ie listening to voters who can access a rules based competitive liberal democratic system.

And the reactionary authoritarian states will keep paying a price for their misguided loyalty to tradition,not least economically.

The cork is out of the bottle – freedom is loosed, abroad – and will never go back.

 

People wonder why Modernity’s obvious success (material, health, freedom) has not left people generally happier. “Tradition” left people poor and powerless but its slower pace and comfortable (if illusonal) “ideological”certainties appealed to many, especially now in hindsight as bad memories of it faded.

So Modernity’s biggest single challenge in seeing off “tradition” is enabling people to still find “spiritual” meaning or purpose.

 

The return of Empire? No. No match for “Modernity”.

Mr Kaplan (1) got Iraq wrong (but kept good company in so doing), and it now seems likely he’s dead wrong again, in his The Return of Marco Polo’s World (Robert D. Kaplan  Random House,2018). James Traub reviewed him in the WSJ (March 2018) headlining thus:Empires Strike Back. A combination of state failure, globalization and technological change has eroded state sovereignty and begun to restore an older world.”

Mr Kaplan is right to discern nostalgic / reactionary “Imperial” inclinations in countries like.. Iran, Russia and China.

But end of the day they are all losers, on the wrong side of history, resisting, recoiling from Modernity, from the rational open-eyed free thinking liberal democratic model.

It’s costing them, and will keep costing them.

Note:1. Return of Marco Polo’s World’ Review: The Empires Strike Back. A combination of state failure, globalization and technological change has eroded state sovereignty and begun to restore an older world. By James Traub  March 5, 2018  WSJ.  And 9 march 2018. The Return of Marco Polo’s World By Robert D. Kaplan  Random House, 280 pages, $28

 

China? Paying a price for not liberalising.

The prognosis for “Communist” China is complex, other than to say, whatever economic progress to date, its failure to liberalise is costing them..

Many are pessimistic for China’s economy (like Carl Minzner, End of an Era: How China’s Authoritarian Revival Is Undermining Its Rise”, 2018).  But China meanwhile has marched on, confounding many “experts”, apparently still growing at well over 5% pa, and now off a much larger base.

It is certainly authoritarian / autocratic, but the regime does remain strongly focussed on (now cleaner) economic growth, doing what it can to foster this. Rationally they understand the economic value of “Western” liberal practices like competitive markets and rule of law, see how well it works in Chinese flavoured jurisdictions like Taiwan and Singapore, where Chinese people are economically incentivised.

So they’re trying to have best of both worlds, to keep a lid on people’s democratic aspirations but grow the economy. So within the constraints of an authoritarian political system they do what they can to encourage a positive economic outcome, through promoting foreign trade, infrastructure and innovation, and also (notwithstanding obvious constraints) “rule of law”.

The contrast with its large western and also authoritarian neighbour Russia could hardly be sharper.

But end of the day contradictions abound.

Stepping right back, the blunt and unhappy reality for China – or rather its “Communist” leadership – is that they are a nostalgic reactionary cast, out of step with the remorseless march of Modernity.

The illiberal authoritarian system will inevitably mean a poorer economic result than otherwise. So end of the day “Communist” China will pay a price for not liberalising, economic and political.

And who cares recently if Mr Xi stays there indefinitely? It’s the same authoritarian system, and not as if his successor would be in any way voted by the people. And who cares if Mr Xi wants to promote his alternative model. Who else wants it? Look what autocracy is doing for economic miracles like Russia and Iran.

It’s called “Communist”, referring back to Lenin, Marx, Socialism etc, but that’s just a useful ideological construct to support a rigidly authoritarian system which sees itself far more as Chinese than working for grand dreams of a son of Trier.

 

And other “Empires” like Russia? Paying an even bigger price.

Russia and Iran are both paying a high economic price for their belligerent thuggish, corrupt, reactionary kleptocracies, much higher than China, which is at least giving economic progress some priority.

 

The wider debate: whereto Modernity? The improbable 5 million year moment for species “homo”.

The topic goes to the heart of the biggest global polico-economic question of all today: the fate of Modernity in the modern world, child of the Enlightenment Project.

 

This goes to the contest between the competitive liberal-democratic (LD) model – which is the basic organisational framework of Modernity – versus the long running traditional authoritarian model, where a ruling group, clique, caste, rules the common masses, through:

1/ a self-serving supportive validating ideology / mythology, especially traditionally, religion, and later nationalism, especially post the French Revolution, ie after the Church and traditional monarchies were finally sidelined, and authoritarian governments then appealed to their own ethnic culture/history for legitimacy.

Both models, religious and secular, take advantage of profound popular appetite for “spiritual” sustenance.

And 2/ force, security forces: enlisted and paid enough, to repel dissenters.

 

Meanwhile, after a long and bitter and violent gestation, across 3 centuries, seeing off strenuously reactionary foes (especially religious, then including supporters of slavery and imperialism, and visceral nationalism), at great cost (like the 30 Years War, the Napoleonic Wars,  then not one but two world wars), the LD model is now out of the bag and established in the “West”, in Europe whence it emerged, and in Europe’s offshoot the US, but now, post WW2, in other parts too, in parts of Asia and South America.

 

The LD model has been hugely successful, in three respects (eg refer to host of relevant books, lately like “Enlightenment Now: A Manifesto for Science, Reason, Humanism, and Progress”,  Steven Pinker, 2018, Allen Lane):

1/ in politics, allowing meaningful full franchise democratic political freedoms, also great strides in human rights .

2/ the economy. Freedom is powerfully effective economic medicine, through harnessing Man’s creative abilities, in a collective competitive system, overseen, managed by democratic governments.

And 3/ health outcomes, with dramatic boost in longevity.

Manged competition among economic agents is perhaps the single key driver of economic progress, as it was for the success of post Bronze Age classical Greece..

The comparative economic experience of the two systems evident in divided Germany, in China and Korea illustrates the difference starkly.

 

Modernity is a dramatic and unparalleled state of affairs. The last few centuries, continuing fiercely now, is a 5 millon year moment for species Homo.

So it’s no wonder a species which has been evolving that long may have trouble adjusting to such a sudden and  drastic change in affairs.

 

Yes there are “problems”. There always are.

The outcome is never perfect, is always sub-optimal, especially coping with:

1/ adjustment from never ending economic change the inherent processes of “creative destruction”,

2/ and reactionary dissent, sometimes exploiting popular appetite for “tradition”, “meaning in life”.

 

So yes there is now opposition, resistance:

  • Yes from states outside, notably from China, not least for its size, and also Russia, Iran
  • And from within LD states too, reactionary forces, citing tradition. Yes religious and nationalistic.
  • And there is always (criminal) opposition from Bad People.

 

Modernity’s Faustian deal brings its biggest challenge? Answering life “purpose”.

Modernity’s biggest single challenge in seeing off, fighting off “tradition” and its ardent proponents is enabling people to still find “spiritual” meaning or purpose.

Tradition”in one guise or another supplies easy spiritual moorings, the simple encompassing (if delusional) spiritual “quick fix”, usually or typically religious but also for many simply loyalty to some notion of human group: community, tribe, nation, communing with home-land and ancestors one way or another, formally and informally.

Anti-liberal states, institutional religions, and nefarious charlatans all, exploit for their own ends these ready DIY spiritual answers to pervasive curiosity about the circumstances of existence.

 

Modernity’s millstone is that it upends easy existential answers.

The door to Modernity brings Man to the Faustian turnstiles, to Man’s modern grand Faustian predicament: he trades “spiritual certainty” for freedom!

Freedom brings extraordinary knowledge, opportunities, material abundance, antibiotics, but the price of this knowledge, at least for the open-eyed, diligent and intellectually honest is – paradoxically – uncertainty! The price is profound mystery, awareness of the limits of knowledge, and thus surrendering the certainty offered by Man’s spiritual sand castles, surrendering submission to some seductive carefully human fabricated. self-serving, but delusional belief system, whether based on religion or or community and location (nationalism etc).

 

Man is left living with mystery, however exquisite, tantalising.

 

It’s an important reason many people still “worry”, apparently “irrationally”, despite the extraordinary progress – economic and political – loudly recorded by writers like Steven Pinker.

 

BERT: Bill’s Eternal Ripple Theory

But there is a curious possibility,perhaps awaiting a Nobel Prize to help confirm.

Every life, short or long, high or low, accumulates manifold thoughts and actions, which may echo, ripple`forever after, somehow,somewhere.

Leave some manner of footprint.

So we may live on after all, in some infinitesimal way.

 

Meanwhile the cork is out of the bottle, for good.

End of the day, EOD, there is strong popular, universal, appetite for rules-based “democracy”, for responsibly discharged freedom.

Arguably too this is now reinforced especially by increasing education, globally, everywhere,  opening eyes, which, importantly, chips away at the appeal of traditional authority.

Education is a problem for states hostile to liberal democracy. Thus success in a modern economy means having educated, literate workers, but such education will only open popular eyes to liberal-democracy.

The cork is out of the bottle – freedom is loosed, abroad – and will never go back.

 

Though the practical task of keeping the LD model in shape never ceases, educating the next generation and fighting off multiple antagonists.

 

The reactionary states, where ruling elites reject the LD model out of power and financial self-interest, are not immune to the “disease” of freedom:

  • They have to cope with dissent triggered by popular democratic aspirations,
  • and they will pay a big ongoing economic price for suppressing it.

Peter Doig meets Kazimir Malevich?

 

A serendipitous similarity – 1991 meets 1908.

 

FEATURED: Look, Vistula is Near! Poster. 1914. Lithograph. 51.3 x 33.40 cm.

 

 S2

 

Kazimir Malevich (1878-1935). Landscape with Yellow House. 1906-1907. Oil on cardboard. 19.2 x 29.5 cm The Russian Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia.

S3

Peter Doig (b. 1959). 1991, THE ARCHITECT’S HOME IN THE RAVINE, oil on canvas, 200 by 250 cm (source: Sothebys etc)

 

There is some striking similarity between this small early (1908) “Impressionist” Kazimir Malevich (1878-1935), just before his Russian-hued Cubo-Futurist adventures, and this distinctive much larger 1991 work by Peter Doig (b. 1959), which just sold for Stg14.4m through Sothebys.

Mr Doig is now feted by the feverish mainstream commercial art market- and not without reason, for works which are distinctive, colorful and figurative enough to lure visually curious sentient- where “discovered” painters become Big Bucks, fuelled by:

1/ the global wealth generated by the ever growing modern economies (especially now Asian economies, with an aggregate population now near 3 billion?),

2/ thus by collectors accessing this vast wealth to indulge in a little psychologically rewarding Narcissistic-flavoured Conspicuous Consumption (T. Veblen? Cf JK Galbraith’s books),

3/ and by art fashions they succumb to, validate, with a little earnest financially incentivised help from the commercial art houses.

 

 

The Cosmic Question – “You’re steering now soldier!”

 

Allegorical literary aids to facing, comprehending the human predicament?

And the answer: in our hands now.

 

Jack B. Yeats (Irish, 1871-1957), “Driftwood in a Cave,” 1948. , 14 x 21 in, oil on canvas. On loan from the Donald and Marilyn Keough Family.

COMMENT; He sees the light? He arrives at the threshold of adulthood, responsibility. Relentless change. Uncertainty. And opportunity.

aw2

Gábor Melegh (1801–1835). 1827, Portrait of a Man (Franz Schubert), oil on panel, 60 x 48 cm, Hungarian National Gallery

aw3

Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra CD cover (Franz Schubert’s (1797-1828) Symphony No. 8 in B Minor, D. 759 (the “Unfinished”) )

 

A/ Allegorical literary aids to coping with Man’s Existential Predicament

We have by chance literary allegorical aids, heuristic texts, to help wrestle, cope with the Big Question, WHY are we here? What purpose?

And now, post the species-bending post 17th C technical take-off, where are we going?

Man’s technical takeoff, since c1600, gathered steam in the 19th C especially and has now accelerated since c1945, with global implications.

 

Thus the Faust story (via Marlowe, Goethe in particular) summarises the predicament, the cost-benefit dilemma.

The story arose, is presented traditionally within a Christian context (ie Faust sells his soul to Satan hereafter in return for riches, love and power today) but it can be stripped of this to reveal a wider core message, which is allegorically speaking the essence of modern post Enlightenment Man’s predicament. Or post-modern if “modern” we define as the specific historic arrival of the modern, the New Dispensation.

Thus we basically GAIN adulthood, and all the opportunities therein. We gain open-eyed curiosity, power, an explosion in knowledge, technology, and immense material benefits on the side.

But we LOSE God/gods. We lose certainty, our childhood, “innocence”, lose simply accepting the planet’s natural ouput.

In particular with our new uncovered adulthood comes RESPONSIBILITY, which can be construed as a cost.

 

We have to become more comfortable with uncertainy, living with mystery, with Man as a work in progress, unfinished. So here Franz Schubert’s (1797-1828) Symphony No. 8 in B Minor, D. 759 (the “Unfinished”) is another helpful cultural walking cane! Yes it’s unfinished and yes comes with mystery, like why it was unfinished, 6 busy years before he died at only 31

 

The Greek myth (eg from Hesiod’s Theogony) of Prometheus talks of Man gaining technical prowess, through being gifted Fire, stolen by Prometheus from the gods.

Pandora’s Box is a dark misogynistic story with a curiously optimistic coda. So Pandora (“the all gifted”) was the old Greek Eve, was the first woman, “created” by the gods, by Hephaestus and Athena, overseen by Zeus, with various gods endowing her with “seductive gifts”, all as punishment for Man after the recalcitrant Prometheus pinched the firestick for Man.

And the box contained… all Man’s troubles?! Yes Pandora opened the box, or jar, and.. all the “evils of humanity” flew out! Yes delivered by the First Woman, just as Eve has misled Adam, coaxed him to eat the apple, triggering Original Sin, Man the miserable imperfect hopeless loser, which was / is the foundation stone of the Christian Church’s business model, ie selling the joys of salvation (including eternal after life) to sinners, warning of eternal damnation (and toasting)  for dissenters. So the Christian and Jewish religions used this misogyny.

But the flicker of optimism the in the coda? After opened the box one thing remained.. a wee grain of Hope!? A glimmer! A shred of salvatory possiblility.

 

Finally Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (an extraordinary and prescient feat of creation) basically talks to the matter of Man exercising his new found responsibility, having effectively now become an adult following the technical takeoff, in now applying the new technology, “gift of the gods”, “stolen from the gods”!

It can bring good or ill. It’s up to you.

 

B/ The cost-benefit balance of the technical takeoff.

Cost-benefit

We GAIN, it delivers… food, shelter, heating, health, transport, communication etc. It is an exercise in species-wide economic / material endowment which is historically unparalleled in the plus 5 million year history of hominids.

It obviously has species profound implications.

Suddenly, after millions of years on the natural teat, we can “feed” ourselves, not rely on measley natural welfare, wait for “god’s” handout.

And interestingly we also gain sufficient resources / knowledge / technical capability to react to, to alleviate the costs of natural calamities, especially climate change, ie especially global cooling / droughts, eg caused by volcanoes, and myriad other natural factors, which have been devastating for Man in recorded history (eg the dramatic end of the Bronze Age, c1200BC, which arguably cleared te stage for the epic rise of Classical Greece), and in the recent geological past, like the many ice ages.

 

The core COST is now coping with engendered change, with remorseless ongoing CHANGE, with chronic uncertainty.

We can’t get off. We can’t go back, return to our childhood

And now the rate of change seems to be accelerating, say since WW2, with developments in genetics, computing, the internet / social media / global digital world etc.

We LOSE “innocence”, tradition.

And we face the RISK of technical dystopia? All kinds of risks, like pandemics, nuclear calamity, runaway technology, collapse of digital global networks etc.

The Faustian context

The FAUSTIAN pact?!

Thus we GAIN knowledge, open eyed curiosity.

Much of the world (but not all! Tradition fights back!) is no longer restrained by superstition, by irrational traditional authority, and especially by self serving organised institutional religion, in league with secular authority.

We gain…. possibilities.

It effectively means we are“playing god”, yes Man is god (cf Yuval Harari etc) now WE have hands on the wheel.

Yes Man IS god. Like it or not.

And the COST is the profound implication that the New Dispensation Comes with RESPONSIBILITY for Man.

Like child growing up to Adulthood.

‘You’re steering soldier!”

The technical takeoff

So I was reminded again of Faust running last Sat 27th January and hearing the ABC (Australian) radio Science Show, talking quantum computing, a great example of the technical takeoff apparently accelerating.

It is accelerating because

a/ feeds on itself

b/ the great increase in economic resources means a huge increase in education globally, in research, in more bright minds applied to task.

c/ Man is inherently competitive.

The best parallel in history – and very relevant – is Classical Greece?

Arguably the important pivotal inflection was say end WW2?

Broadly the big areas of development are:

0/ health, increased life span.

2/ energy supply.

3/ genetic manipulation, a huge issue, Man now playing under the hood with his genetic rules, protocols!

4/ Computing, especially now quantum computing. Hence matters of data storge / manipulation.

This facilitates.

a/ control of machines, in manufacturing, infrastructure, transport (all vehicles, cars, trains, planes etc).

b/ power plants, electricity.

c/ communication.

 

C/ Outcome?

Risk

Yes there is the risk of technical dystopia?

So tes we may be on the Runaway Train? Like Jon Voigt in the 1985 film by Andrei Konchalovsky.

It’s easy to get depressed, fashion disaster scenarios, eg pandemics, accidental or delibereate nuclear explosions, dire implications of Artificial Intelligence, vulnerability of huge complex digital global networks to sabotage?

 

And Opportunity? Up to us.

So far the material rewards have been astounding, more recently for 100s of millions of Chinese.

THE Big Question today for Man is definitely not climate change.

Though it surely will be when global cooling returns, as it surely will, eg looking at the planet’s long term mercury reading, the temperature chart, which shows about 12 ice ages in last one  million years.

Instead today the really big question is can Man manage the ongoing Technical Take Off for his collective benefit, or is he likely condemned by its almost inevitable systemic failure?

Can he stay in charge?

Many are pessimistic, eg Stephen Hawking, and (I notice) Yuval Noah Harari (he would be with that middle name).

It’s easy to concoct dystopian scenarios?

But one thing we DO know is that no one knows, for sure.

We need an open mind

The outcome will depend especially on:

a/ how technology keeps changing, the detail,

b/ taking responsibility, the Good guys (ie principally relevant Governments, some countries more than others), versus Bad guys, the BGs now including some obvious States, also violent theocratic entities, anarchistic organisations, all of which use the benefits of the technical takeoff to attack it.

There are reasons to be cautiously optimistic.

Are there Protocols for Survival?

History of the “Western World” in 721 words

 

Piet Mondrian (1872-1944). 1909 View from the Dunes with Beach and Piers Domburg, oil and pencil on cardboard, 28.5 x 38.5 cm, MOMA

 

Let’s try spell it out.

 

Christian complications.

The idea that “God’ should appear to Man around 1AD, in Judea, seems ridiculous.

Why precisely there and then? Why 14,165,897,285 years after Big Bang? And why not in Patagonia or East Chezzetcook? And why Man? Why not birds or dolphins?

Some Greeks worked it out around 500 years earlier, how humankind has a habit of dreaming up gods, unsurprisingly more  or less in their own image. Because it makes them feel better. But also because some saw a career in it, because it suited kings and priests.

Anyway the Christian story was written down some time after 1 AD by men. Because it made them feel better, and gave them a job.

But in a strange twist Christianity was born and nurtured within the body of the Roman Empire, a then exceptional political construct in its geographic extent.

So Christianity was fortuitously propagated, first by inhabiting this structure, and second, after centuries of persecution, by eventually converting its leadership, which saw advantages in the association.

Once in power, the Church quickly consolidated and grew, the institution based in Rome selling the Christian story to build its business, and enlisting monarchs like Charlemagne to the cause.

Thus the inherently sinful, flawed Man can only be saved by Jesus, and only then through the good services of the Church. And on the other hand if you don’t get saved the alternative is nasty. Like everlasting diabolical toasting.

It also suppressed perceived enemies, violently if necessary, albeit inconsistently, depending on practical politics of the time.

Thus it inveigled its way onto the bridge, in self-serving-  albeit unsteady – league with European kings, till people – shaken by the Black Death and becoming better educated – and some Churchmen eventually got sick of it and protested, triggering the Reformation. But, unphased, the Church met this not by “reform’ but a protracted and violent 16th and 17th C fightback.

 

Modernity .

But the 16th and 17th C science and thought revolutions took hold, European powers took to the seas to explore and engage the world, and Modernity slowly, painfully emerged.

Yes its gestation came at a terrible price, as Old Order predjudices and loyalties persisted, expressed in illiberal, quasi-religious We Know the Answer mentalities.

These regressive sympathies brought forth industrial scale slave exports to the New World, the Raj, the French Revolution, 19th C Western Imperial depredations, the US Civil War, and then two world wars and the Russian revolution and militant fascism, all in the 20th C.

Finally the once prominent Church was sidelined.

That’s now academic. What’s not academic is the Church now speciously trying to rewrite history, to appropriate the origins of democratic liberalism, for its own purposes, to try make it more relevant today.

It’s wrong. The Church fought freedom of thought, sometimes violently.

 

Democracy’s origins .

Rather democracy’s origins go back to old Greece (though the franchise was limited), partly thanks to the collapse of the Bronze Age civilizations (fortuitous climate change?) which disrupted the traditional tyranny of kings and priests, allowed room for a trading based free thinking economy to grow rapidly.

Then the dispersed Germanic and Norse tribal bands in north Europe, peripheral like the Greeks, seem important. Thus democracy finally emerged in Britain (also later in the Netherlands), where some Germanic tribes (and later Vikings)  migrated, again at the periphery, there surviving in part thanks to the protection of the English Channel.

There’s a topic, the role of geography in facilitating democracy.

Thus the bane of most lives throughout recorded history has been (authoritarian) kings / emperors, undemocratic, and usually co-operating with priests, propagating some self-serving religious ideology, which just happened also to allow for divine blessing of the rulers. The Christian Church played this game for some time.

 

Universal relevance?

Democratic liberalism – incorporating rule of law, representative democracy, freedom of expression, tolerance, and prosperity-inducing Government regulated private commercial markets – was by happenstance, trial and error, born in the “West”, as a propitious practical rational evidence-based way for humankind to collectively conduct its affairs.

But it is not inherently or uniquely “Western”. So arguably it has universal relevance.

But practical experience also shows, firstly, its success requires meaningful collective commitment, and secondly, it is vulnerable to being abused or denied by groups enlisting and promoting Old Order loyalties.