The noted blogger Fjordman is filing this report via Gates of Vienna.
For a complete Fjordman blogography, see The Fjordman Files. There is also a multi-index listing here.
In this essay I will compare the works and theories of Jared Diamond, especially his international bestseller Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies from 1997 and to a lesser extent his 2005 book Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, with the 2007 book Understanding Human History by the American astrophysicist Michael H. Hart. Diamond’s work is very focused on the importance of geography, which brings out useful perspectives in some cases but not in all. Hart puts his emphasis on differences in intelligence between various ethnic groups seen in light of the theory of evolution. I will quote books by other authors, too, to assess the importance of law, religion, education system, capitalism etc.
I am sometimes critical of Mr. Diamond’s writings, especially his overall conclusions, but that doesn’t mean that I believe everything he says is wrong. He correctly points out that environmental destruction is far from limited to Western culture, and he doesn’t hesitate in stating that brutal and violent practices were carried out in many societies around the world.
Along with other Mesoamerican civilizations, the Maya lacked metal tools, boats with sails, wheels and domestic animals large enough to carry loads or pull a plow, but they nevertheless had impressively high population densities by pre-industrial standards before the so-called Classic Maya collapse after AD 800. Because of breakthroughs in the decipherment of Mayan glyphs in the late twentieth century, our understanding of Mayan society and culture is now far greater than it was a few generations ago. Diamond elaborates in his book Collapse:
“Archaeologists for a long time believed the ancient Maya to be gentle and peaceful people. We now know that Maya warfare was intense, chronic, and unresolvable, because limitations of food supply and transportation made it impossible for any Maya principality to unite the whole region in an empire, in the way the Aztecs and Incas united Central Mexico and the Andes, respectively….Captives were tortured in unpleasant ways depicted clearly on the monuments and murals (such as yanking fingers out of sockets, pulling out teeth, cutting off the lower jaw, trimming off the lips and fingertips, pulling out the fingernails, and driving a pin through the lips), culminating (sometimes several years later) in the sacrifice of the captive in other equally unpleasant ways (such as tying the captive up into a ball by binding the arms and legs together, then rolling the balled-up captive down the steep stone staircase of a temple).”
It is interesting to notice that Western observers, contrary to what is often claimed, often show non-Western cultures too much good faith rather than being “Eurocentric.” When I was young I was once told that regularly practiced cannibalism didn’t exist in any society in early modern times; this was a racist, colonialist lie invented by prejudiced Europeans to demonize other peoples and cultures. One example would be the former cannibal dubbed “Friday” who was converted to Christianity in Daniel Defoe’s 1719 novel Robinson Crusoe. As I grow older and investigate things for myself, I see clearly how wrong this claim was.
In New Zealand, Paul Moon in his book This Horrid Practice: The Myth and Reality of Traditional Maori Cannibalism looks at the Maori tradition of eating each other in what was generally an extremely violent society. Cannibalism lasted until the mid-nineteenth century, says Moon, a history professor at the Auckland University of Technology. It didn’t disappear until after the arrival of Europeans and Christian missionaries. Infanticide was widely practiced, too. Tribes wanted men to be warriors, and mothers often killed their daughters by smothering them or pushing a finger through the soft tissue of the skull. Cannibalism was part of a post-battle rage. “One of the arguments is really if you want to punish your enemy killing them is not enough. If you can chop them up and eat them and turn them into excrement that is the greatest humiliation you can impose on them,” says Moon. “The amount of evidence is so overwhelming it would be unfair to pretend it didn’t happen. It is too important to ignore.”
The head of the Maori Studies Department at Auckland University, Professor Margaret Mutu, says cannibalism was widespread in New Zealand. “It was definitely there. It’s recorded in all sorts of ways in our histories and traditions, a lot of place names refer to it.” She said Maori cannibalism was not referred to by many historians because it was counter to English culture.
We are being told that Europeans invent negative stereotypes about other peoples. Notice how in this case — and it is far from the only such example to be found — Europeans actually downplayed very real flaws in other cultures, and this was even during the colonial period. We know that cannibalism was practiced among a number of peoples in the Americas as well, most likely including the prehistoric Anasazi in what is today the southwestern United States.
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As Diamond says in his book Collapse, “the existence of non-emergency cannibalism is controversial. In fact, it was reported in hundreds of non-European societies at the times when they were first contacted by Europeans within recent centuries. The practice took two forms: eating either the bodies of enemies killed in war, or else eating one’s own relatives who had died of natural causes. New Guineans with whom I have worked over the past 40 years have matter-of-factly described their cannibalistic practices, have expressed disgust at our own Western burial customs of burying relatives without doing them the honor of eating them, and one of my best New Guinean workers quit his job with me in 1965 in order to partake in the consumption of his recently deceased prospective son-in-law. There have also been many archaeological finds of ancient human bones in contexts suggestive of cannibalism.”
Jared Diamond writes in Guns, Germs, and Steel that “…the virus causing laughing sickness (kuru) in the New Guinea highlands used to pass to a person from another person who was eaten. It was transmitted by cannibalism, when highland babies made the fatal mistake of licking their fingers after playing with raw brains that their mothers had just cut out of dead kuru victims awaiting cooking.”
Diamond, an evolutionary biologist, does not reject the possibility that there could be unequal levels of intelligence among ethnic groups developed over thousands of years, but insists that if there are, Europeans are less intelligent than others, as “natural selection promoting genes for intelligence has probably been far more ruthless in New Guinea than in more densely populated, politically complex societies, where natural selection for body chemistry was instead more potent….there is also a second reason why New Guineans may have come to be smarter than Westerners. Modern European and American children spend much of their time being passively entertained by television, radio, and movies….This effect surely contributes a non-genetic component to the superior average mental function displayed by New Guineans. That is, in mental ability New Guineans are probably genetically superior to Westerners.”
Mr. Diamond has just stated that many New Guineans have widely practiced cannibalism until the present day. He says this matter-of-factly but does not clearly indicate that he disapproves of this. In fact, in his writings he appears to be more critical of television than he is of cannibalism. Moreover, he thinks it is morally loathsome if those denounced as “white supremacists” should believe that people of European origins might have higher intelligence than, say, Australian Aborigines, but he apparently thinks it is fine to say that New Guineans have higher intelligence than Europeans. Does that make him a New Guinean supremacist?
You can find traces of the concept of cannibalism in modern European culture, for instance in the story about Hansel and Gretel, one of the many traditional folk tales and fairy tales such as Snow White, Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella that were collected and popularized by the influential German scholars and linguists Jacob Grimm (1785-1863) and Wilhelm Grimm (1786-1859) in the early nineteenth century. However, in this fairy tale adapted by the Brothers Grimm, the idea of eating people was attributed to the villain of the story, the evil witch, and the practice was seen as self-evidently immoral and totally unacceptable.
Diamond indicates that he writes specifically in order to dispel “Eurocentrism” and claims that IQ tests measure cultural learning only, not innate intelligence. Yet studies have shown that people with higher IQs make wiser economic choices. Richard Lynn and Tatu Vanhanen in their 2002 book IQ and the Wealth of Nations argue that a significant part of the gap between rich and poor countries is due to differences in national intelligence measured in IQ.
According to Swedish Professor Annica Dahlström, an expert in neuroscience, men are found more frequently than women at the extremes of high and low intelligence. Female geniuses exist, but they are much less frequent than male ones. The feminist establishment claims that she has misused her position as a scientist to reinforce “gender stereotypes,” yet as Dahlström says, “The difference between boys and girls, in terms of their biology and brain, is greater than we could ever have imagined.” We can now scan and follow brain activity in real time. Differences between the sexes are clearly recognizable at the age of three, if not before. The centers of the brain dealing with verbal communication, interpretation of facial expressions and body language are more developed in girls even at this early age.
In the USA, Larry Summers, President of the prestigious Harvard University, was forced to resign partly because of a 2005 speech where he suggested that women’s under-representation in the top levels of academia is due to a “different availability of aptitude at the high end.”
Professor Helmuth Nyborg at Aarhus University in Denmark did research which revealed that there are differences between the sexes when it comes to intelligence. This triggered massive resistance from his colleagues. He states that “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. If you also look at differences between groups of people, not just between men and women, you are immoral and a “Nazi.” This is certainly the case for white scholars, though interestingly enough not always for Asian ones.
The problem is that this view is not logically consistent. If you believe that God, or some divine being or force, created all human beings exactly as equals, then you can talk about racism. If, on the other hand, you believe that human beings are the result of evolution, then the entire concept of “racism” is scientifically meaningless. The West at the turn of the twenty-first century is dominated by Darwinists who don’t believe in the theory of evolution. If you think that sounds like a contradiction in terms, consider the message of Guns, Germs, and Steel. The essence of Diamond’s beliefs is that evolution has been going on for billions of years, creating elephants and whales out of single-cell organisms, but then it miraculously stopped about 50,000 years ago and you are evil if you suggest that human beings were subject to evolutionary pressures after this. This is, rationally speaking, completely absurd, yet this is the unquestioned ruling ideology in Western media and academia today.
Diamond himself attempts to give a summary of his entire book in just one sentence: “History followed different courses for different peoples because of differences among peoples’ environments, not because of biological differences among peoples themselves.”
Yes, but what if these different natural environments also changed the biology of early human groups in non-superficial ways, something which the theory of evolution would indicate?
The Near East had access to a wealth of useful local plants and animals. Four species of big mammals — the goat, sheep, pig and cow — were domesticated very early in the Fertile Crescent, possibly earlier than any other animal except the dog anywhere else in the world. Agriculture was launched in the Fertile Crescent by the early domestication of eight “founder crops,” the cereals emmer wheat, einkorn wheat and barley; the pulses lentil, pea, chickpea, and bitter vetch and the fiber crop flax. Thanks to this availability of suitable wild mammals and plants, people in this region could quickly assemble a potent and balanced biological package for intensive food production, which again led to complex, socially stratified societies with bureaucracies that needed some system of recording. According to Diamond, writing arose independently in the Near East (Mesopotamia), Mexico and possibly in China because those were the first areas where food production emerged in their respective hemispheres, a theory which appears plausible. This constitutes the strongest part of his work.
Something momentous took place in the capabilities of early humans between 100,000 and 50,000 years ago. Diamond calls this the Great Leap Forward. Whether this was caused by a perfection of verbal skills or a general change in brain organization remains unresolved. Around 40,000 years ago the Cro-Magnons moved into Europe and after some millennia of coexistence displaced the Neanderthals. At about the same time we find the first evidence of human colonization of New Guinea and Australia via Southeast Asia. As Diamond writes:
“The rate of development was undetectably slow at the beginning, when hundreds of thousands of years passed with no discernible change in our stone tools and with no surviving evidence for artifacts made of other materials. Today, technology advances so rapidly that it is reported in the daily newspaper. In this long history of accelerating development, one can single out two especially significant jumps. The first, occurring between 100,000 and 50,000 years ago, probably was made possible by genetic changes in our bodies: namely, by evolution of the modern anatomy permitting modern speech or modern brain function, or both. That jump led to bone tools, single-purpose stone tools, and compound tools. The second jump resulted from our adoption of a sedentary lifestyle, which happened at different times in different parts of the world, as early as 13,000 years ago in some areas and not even today in others. For the most part, that adoption was linked to our adoption of food production, which required us to remain close to our crops, orchards, and stored food surpluses. Sedentary living was decisive for the history of technology, because it enabled people to accumulate nonportable possessions.”
Diamond accepts the possibility that there could have been major genetic changes until about 50,000 BC, but considers it “loathsome” and “racist” to suggest that genetic changes between various human groups could have happened after this. This is not sustainable when confronted with historical realities. Those early humans who settled in Africa, Europe, many parts of Asia, Australia and finally North and South America lived in different natural environments for thousands or tens of thousands of years after this and adapted to their local environments.
In fact, recent studies indicate not only that human evolution continued but that it accelerated and became greater during the last 10,000 years. This was after the beginning of agriculture and the rise of urban civilizations, when our bodies had to adapt to new living conditions, new crowd diseases and different types of food. This is the theory behind the 2009 title The 10,000 Year Explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution by Gregory Cochran and Henry Harpending, which I haven’t yet had the opportunity to read when writing these words.
The main theory of Michael Hart’s book Understanding Human History is that when early humans after about 60,000 BC left Africa and settled on other continents (he uses the out-of Africa theory as his starting point, but early human evolutionary history is highly complex and much-debated), the average IQ was about 70 or lower, almost certainly not higher than that. There are humans living in Africa today who have average IQs of less than 70, and there is no strong reason to believe that human intelligence has declined in the past sixty thousand years. This level rose slowly (not more than one IQ point per millennium) during tens of thousands of years due to evolutionary pressures, but more in some regions than in others. Hart supports the “cold weather” hypothesis which says that as the climate got colder, people developed higher intelligence in order to survive in the challenging natural environment, which essentially means that the further north you get, the higher the average IQ becomes.
Theoretically speaking you should be able to see the same trend in the Southern Hemisphere the further south you get, but Antarctica was uninhabited by humans until very recently, and the only people who live there for any extended periods of time even today are scientists. In practice, therefore, this principle only applies to the Northern Hemisphere. People from Sweden or Russia should accordingly have higher IQs than people from the Nile Valley. Similarly, Koreans or Japanese should have higher average IQs than people from South India or New Guinea. Both of these examples roughly correspond to observed reality.
Evolutionary changes in human anatomy and physiology that lead to higher intelligence do not come cost free, since larger brains require greater amounts of energy as well as larger heads, which create strains on the muscular and skeletal structure. However, in challenging colder climates, the advantages of higher intelligence outweighed these costs.
The idea that climate could somehow be related to the culture and mentality of different peoples has an ancient pedigree, going back to the Greek geographer Strabo, to China, Ibn Khaldun in medieval North Africa and to the great French political thinker Baron de Montesquieu in The Spirit of Laws (L’esprit des lois) from 1748. All of this was long before any coherent theory of evolution or knowledge of genetic mutation had been developed.
The Upper Paleolithic is the last subdivision of the Paleolithic or Old Stone Age, about 40,000 to 10,000 years ago. The Upper Paleolithic Revolution is the name given to the phenomenon that Homo sapiens during this age began to demonstrate signs of a new level of sophistication and abstract thought. Stone tools made hundreds of thousands of years ago by early humanoids were very crude and can barely be recognized as man-made objects. In contrast to this painfully slow rate of progress, rapid changes occurred during the Upper Paleolithic with the introduction of such innovations as sewing needles, early ceramics, bow and arrow, harpoons, fishhooks, flutes for music etc. Archaeological evidence indicates that few of these inventions were made by groups of humans in tropical regions; they were made by humans living in cooler climates. Michael H. Hart writes in Understanding Human History:
“Whatever the exact dates of the inventions listed may be, it is plain that the rate of technological advance was much, much higher in the Upper Paleolithic than in preceding eras. What was the cause of this great increase (the ‘Upper Paleolithic Revolution’) in the rate of technological advance? It is sometimes said that the rapid rate of intellectual and technological progress in recent eras results primarily from the fact that we are building on the foundations that earlier peoples laid. While this may be one factor, it is certainly not the whole story. After all, at most times in the distant past, human beings were not making advances over the achievements of earlier generations. The main reason why the rate of progress increased during the Upper Paleolithic was simply that humans living then were more intelligent than their distant ancestors had been. (One aspect of that greater intelligence, of course, was their greater linguistic ability.) Similarly, an important reason why the rate of progress has been even higher in recent millennia than in the Upper Paleolithic is that human intelligence has continued to grow, and is higher today than it was then.”
Technological progress accelerated during the Neolithic Era, or New Stone Age. In the Neolithic Revolution, agriculture arose more or less independently in at least half a dozen separate regions around the world, which brings us to a couple of intriguing questions: Why did this development not begin until after about 10,000 BC, and why did it then occur in several widely separated places within a few thousand years? Why was agriculture not invented in 30 or 40,000 BC even though plants and animals suitable for domestication existed already then, and humans lived in all major landmasses except the Americas?
In Michael Hart’s view, useful plants and animals were a necessary factor for the rise of agriculture, but not a sufficient one; a population with a minimum level of intelligence was needed, too. The reason why agriculture wasn’t invented by early humans forty thousand years ago is that none of them had yet developed the necessary intelligence to successfully make the conceptual leap that was required to start growing food. Hart believes that the “threshold” level required to originate agriculture even in a region with suitable climate, plants and animals was a mean IQ in the high 80s. Following tens of thousands of years of evolutionary pressures, the average IQ of some human groups had finally become high enough, but agriculture was nevertheless not introduced first in challenging northern climates.
The period from 13,000-9,000 BC marked the end of the last Ice Age and the establishment of a climate similar to our own. Nevertheless, the tropical regions, for example in sub-Saharan Africa, had been relatively warm even during the Ice Age, and food was probably plentiful.
Hart considers the alternative geography-focused hypothesis for the development of civilization presented by Professor Jared Diamond in Guns, Germs, and Steel. He suggests that the comparative backwardness of pre-colonial Australia and parts of the Americas compared to major Eurasian civilizations was entirely due to geographic factors, climate and the lack of a favorable flora and fauna. Surprisingly, he is willing to consider the possibility that there could a genetic component to intelligence as long as this reflects poorly on whites, which is so intellectually dishonest that it very seriously undermines his general conclusions.
Michael Hart is careful, and in my view correct, in not dismissing everything Mr. Diamond says out of hand. The ancient Near East really did have a favorable climate as well as a far greater local supply of useful and easily domesticable plants and animals than any other region, which is in all likelihood a very important reason why agriculture and urban civilization emerged so early there; both Australia and the region we know as the United States were indeed badly lacking in such species. However, according to Hart the facts do not support Diamond’s theory when it is applied to a comparison between sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) and Mesoamerica. As regards fauna, SSA had a great advantage over Mesoamerica as it was not completely cut off from the civilizations of Eurasia. Some important aspects of Eurasian technology like pottery-making, bronze working and ironworking reached SSA from the Middle East, as did the use of domesticated camels, sheep and goats:
“Using his criteria, civilization should have begun earlier in SSA than it did in Mesoamerica, and it should have progressed more there (prior to the European expansion of modern times) than it did in Mesoamerica. In fact, though, by 1000 AD, Mesoamerica was far more advanced than SSA was, or ever had been. For example, Mesoamericans had originated writing on their own, had constructed many large stone structures, and had built large cities (rivaling any existing in Europe, and far larger than any in sub-Saharan Africa). Furthermore, the Mayan achievements in mathematics and astronomy dwarf any intellectual achievements in SSA. We must therefore conclude that, although Guns, Germs, and Steel is an informative book, the obvious superiority of Mesoamerican technology to that of sub-Saharan Africa appears to be a fatal blow to the main arguments presented in it.”
Michael H. Hart evaluates the accomplishments of various civilizations. He claims that the contributions of the ancient Egyptians were relatively meager. The Sumerians in Mesopotamia invented writing first, which the Egyptians may well have been aware of. The Egyptian political structure was an absolute monarchy, which was not an original idea and did not influence modern thinkers. They made no significant contributions to astronomical theory nor to physics, chemistry, biology or geology. While the pyramids are visually impressive, the pyramid is strictly speaking a simple architectural structure and for the most part not a very useful one. Because the climate in Egypt is so dry, the architecture (and the mummies) they created survive better there than elsewhere. Their monuments are still visible. Hart is not claiming that the Egyptians were savages, only that their contributions are often overrated.
Personally, I think he slights the Egyptians somewhat. It is true that they were not very scientifically advanced, and Classical Greek art was far more lifelike than Egyptian art ever had been, but the Greeks were inspired by Egyptian studies of the proportions of the human body. According to art historian Gombrich, “the Greek masters went to school with the Egyptians, and we are all the pupils of the Greeks.” As American writer Lawrence Auster puts it, “Let’s remember to give the Egyptians credit for first developing the beautiful human form, which the Greeks then adopted and made more alive. Camille Paglia is mostly silly, but be sure to read the first chapter of her book Sexual Personae, where she discusses the Egyptian creation of the clear, perfect, ‘Apollonian’ form which became the basis of Western art.’“
In science, the ancient Greeks easily outperformed the Egyptians. Greek deductive geometry turned out to be an indispensable prelude to the advent of modern science, and apart from mathematics and astronomy they made great contributions to poetry, history, drama and mythology, produced elegant architecture such as the Parthenon in Athens as well as great sculptors and painters. The works of Plato and Aristotle are among the oldest analytical writings on political theory. If people in the twenty-first century read Aristotle’s Politics to see what it says about democracy, this is not just out of historical curiosity but because this is considered relevant today. In contrast, virtually nobody reads “Pharaonic” political theory.
Why did the ancient Greeks achieve so much? Possibly the geography of Greece made them a seafaring nation and led them to engage in exploration and trade. Yet there were many other peoples who enjoyed a similar geographic advantage, too, and the Phoenicians, while being great seafarers and traders, did not create anything near the scientific achievements of the Greeks according to historical evidence. Hart believes that while other Europeans had at least as high IQ as the Greeks, science is above all the creation of urban, literate cultures, and in this the Greeks benefited from early contact with the literate civilizations of the Middle East:
“The best explanation for the Greek phenomenon lies in a combination of genetic and geographic factors. The peoples living in the cold regions of Europe had, over a period of many millennia, evolved higher average intelligence than the peoples living in the Middle East. However, because of the mild climate in the Middle East, and the availability of a large assortment of useful domesticable plants and animals, the inhabitants of the Middle East developed agriculture long before the peoples of northern Europe. The early advent of agriculture and cities in the Middle East enabled them to make major progress during the Neolithic Era and the early historic era, and to get a big jump on the rest of the world in technology and in intellectual matters. In time, the superior genetic endowment of the Europeans would enable them to overcome that head start. However, between European groups, the one most likely to advance first was the one which had the earliest opportunity of learning from the civilizations of the Middle East and Egypt. Because of their geographic location, the Greeks were the first European people to come into contact with those civilizations.”
In Understanding Human History, Michael H. Hart also evaluates the Islamic world. He says, correctly, that non-Muslim dhimmis under Islamic rule were hardly even second-rate citizens, but rather non-citizens who lacked many basic civil rights. For example, they could not testify in court against a Muslim. He disputes whether conversion to Islam were always “voluntary,” given the various humiliations, pressures and taxes non-Muslims continuously had to face just for the sake of being non-Muslims. Regarding cultural achievements, he mentions some noteworthy scholars and figures. One is the Moroccan Berber explorer and writer Ibn Batutta (1304-1369), who traveled from West Africa via southeastern Europe and India to China in the fourteenth century and described his experiences in his book Rihlah (Travels).
Ibn Khaldun could be mentioned for his work in historiography, although he shared the contempt for all non-Muslim cultures which hampered the growth of archaeology and comparative linguistics in the Islamic world. Muslim scholars did not seriously study other cultures with curiosity and describe them with fairness, the Persian universal scholar al-Biruni’s (973-1048) writings about Hinduism and India being one of very few exceptions to this rule. He had taken the trouble to learn enough Sanskrit to be able to translate in both directions between this language and Arabic (for him also a learned language). As author John Keay writes in his book India: A History, Muslims were viewed by Indians as just another group of foreigners, perhaps annoying but essentially marginal. This was a big mistake:
“There is no evidence of an Indian appreciation of the global threat which they represented; and the peculiar nature of their mission — to impose a new monotheist orthodoxy by military conquest and political dominion — was so alien to Indian tradition that it went uncomprehended. No doubt a certain complacency contributed to this indifference. As al-Biruni (Alberuni), the great Islamic scholar of the eleventh century, would put it, ‘the Hindus believe that there is no country but theirs, no science like theirs.’…his scientific celebrity in the Arab world would owe much to his mastery of Sanskrit and access to Indian scholarship….Unlike Alexander’s Greeks, Muslim invaders were well aware of India’s immensity, and mightily excited by its resources….Since at least Roman times the subcontinent seems to have enjoyed a favourable balance of payments….The devout Muslim, although ostensibly bent on converting the infidel, would find his zeal handsomely rewarded.”
Personally, I wouldn’t say that absolutely no achievements were made in the medieval Islamic world, only that they are greatly exaggerated for political reasons today. Let us divide scholars into three categories: Category 1 consists of those who make minor contributions, category 2 medium-level ones. Category 3 consists of scholars who make major, fundamental contributions to an important branch of science. Not a single scholar of this stature has ever been produced in the Islamic world even at the best of times. Finding some Muslim scholars who made minor contributions to mathematics, medicine or alchemy is not difficult, and I can probably name half a dozen to a dozen individuals who might qualify under category 2, for instance al–Khwarizmi, Omar Khayyam, Rhazes, Geber and perhaps Avicenna and Averroes.
Hart says that Alhazen was “probably the greatest” of all the scholars in the Islamic world, which I agree with, but even he was a good scholar in category 2, not 3. Muslim original contributions to engineering were minor and they do not appear to have equaled the achievements of the Romans. He notes that the mediocre contributions of Middle Easterners are all the more striking given their geographically favorable position, which gave them a unique opportunity to gain knowledge from all major Eurasian civilizations simultaneously.
According to Hart, Middle Eastern scholars made few major discoveries in science or technology, nothing comparable to printing and gunpowder in China in the Early Middle Ages or spectacles and mechanical clocks in Western Europe during the High Middle Ages. While they did produce, for a while, a number of scholars who made minor contributions and a handful or two who made medium-level contributions, they never produced truly great geniuses such as Aristotle, Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler or Newton. Hart attributes this to their lower IQ compared to Europeans. I would personally add the repressive atmosphere created by Islamic orthodoxy as a significant contributing factor as well. Ideas have consequences.
Michael H. Hart writes about India, by which he means the entire Indian subcontinent, which has been affected by several human migrations/invasions from the northwest. At its peak between 2500 and 2000 BC, the Indus Valley or Harappan civilization close to Sumerian Mesopotamia in the northwest was larger and more advanced than anything we know from China during the same time period. It is noteworthy that civilization originated in the far north of India, in a region that was geographically and maybe genetically more closely attached to the civilizations of the Middle East than to South India, which was usually more backward.
Hart believes that the peculiar caste system in India originally had a racial component and dates back to the invasion of lighter-skinned peoples from the northwest. It is conceivable that this peculiar Indian institution originated as an IQ preservationist strategy. High-caste peoples typically have slightly lighter skin color than those of lower caste, although there are exceptions to this rule. Few societies are more obsessed with skin color than modern India.
He devotes considerable space to arts and literature. The Rigveda is a collection of hymns composed between 1500 and 1200 BC; the Upanishads from around 900-500 BC are prose commentaries on the Vedas. The two most famous works of epic poetry are the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. India has produced a great deal of lyric poetry, and theater has been a major art form there, as it was in ancient Greece, for many centuries; Kalidasa from the fifth century AD has a position within Sanskrit literature comparable to that of Shakespeare in English literature. India has a long tradition of sophisticated music and musical theory, painting and above all sculpture, but Indian music and literature is not widely followed elsewhere in the world, at least outside of Southeast Asia. India did relatively well in the arts but was weaker in science and technology, with the partial exception of mathematics.
Buddhism was a local creed until about 250 BC when Emperor Ashoka the Great (304-232 BC) converted and promoted this religion in India and far beyond. Buddhism was of limited importance in a global perspective, but it had a great influence throughout Asia and as such easily trumps any ideology developed in China. Chinese philosophies such as Confucianism and Taoism had some impact among China’s immediate neighbors, the Koreans, the Japanese and the Vietnamese, but little in other regions. The Chinese will no doubt say that this is because they do not impose their ways on others, but given China’s size and the fact that it was for centuries the world’s largest economy, the Chinese ideological impact abroad must be described as surprisingly limited. According to Thomas T. Allsen in Culture and Conquest in Mongol Eurasia, “Almost all of the major religious movements originating in the Middle East — Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity, Manichaeanism, and Islam — reached China, while Chinese ideological systems made no inroads in the West. This intriguing and persistent pattern, which has never been explained, was apparently established quite early.”
As Michael H. Hart sums up, “no other non-European civilization has produced nearly the variety of high-quality literature, music, and art that India has. The mathematical knowledge of the ancient Greeks was eventually transmitted to India. However, the only important advance made by Hindu mathematicians was the invention of positional notation, which greatly simplifies arithmetic operations. Positional notation was probably invented about 700 AD; however, the first complete description is by Bhaskara, about 1150 AD. Prior to the modern era, Indians do not appear to have made significant contributions to science; nor did any important inventions come from India. The Indian subcontinent produced a thriving civilization, and in pre-modern times its culture was incomparably more sophisticated than that of backward regions such as Australia or sub-Saharan Africa.”
Let us consider the case of China. The Chinese were convinced of their superiority to all other nations and kept careful historical records. The most celebrated Chinese historian of ancient times was the palace eunuch Sima Qian (ca. 145-86 BC) during the Han Dynasty, who had an enormous influence on later Chinese historiography and on how the Chinese view their own civilization. His great work Records of the Grand Historian “is generally considered to be superior to anything written by European historians before modern times,” according to Hart.
As Bruce G. Trigger states in his fine A History of Archaeological Thought, second edition, Confucian Imperial scholars in China stressed the past as a guide to moral behavior and made historical studies an important component of the unifying Chinese culture. Bronze vessels and jade carvings from the ancient Shang Dynasty were treasured as prestige objects the way ancient vases or statues were viewed in the Classical Mediterranean. Yet the Chinese did not develop a specific corpus of techniques for recovering and studying such artifacts comparable to European archaeology. Even the ancient Greeks and Romans did not develop a systematic science dedicated to the study of physical remains from the past. According to Trigger,
“Wealthy Romans admired the works of talented Greek artists and sought to purchase the originals or good copies of them. This interest inspired the Roman author Pliny the Elder’s (AD 23-79) historical account of Greek art and artists. Yet, despite a growing interest in ancient works of art, scholars made no effort to recover or collect such artifacts systematically, nor, with the notable exception of a few works, such as that of Pliny on art, did artifacts become a specialized focus of analysis….Educated Greeks and Romans were aware that the culture of the remote past was different from that of the present and valued the fine art works from earlier times as collectibles. Yet, they did not develop a sense that these objects could be used as a basis for learning more about the past, as written records and oral traditions were being used.”
There was a general gap between theory and practice in Greek science and a strong dislike among intellectuals for studying mundane objects. Archaeology was created in early modern Europe, beginning with the growth of antiquarians from the Renaissance to the Enlightenment. The influential German antiquary Johann Winckelmann (1717-1768) carefully studied Greco-Roman art and is sometimes called “the first archaeologist.” However, while his comparative work represented a great step forward in the systematic study of the past, he was not interested in the everyday life of the ancients and studied objects removed from their archaeological context. “Hence, in many ways, the claim that he was the founder of art history may be even more appropriate than the claim that he was the father of classical archaeology. Winckelmann clearly was responsible for establishing a close and lasting relation between classical studies and what was to become the separate discipline of art history.”
The eighteenth century witnessed more systematic archaeological excavations, especially at the buried Roman sites of Herculaneum and Pompeii near Naples, Italy, but prehistoric archaeology was born with the scholar Christian Jürgensen Thomsen(1788-1865) from Denmark in the early 1800s. Although he was inspired by earlier ideas and Enlightenment ideals, it was Thomsen who developed the highly influential Three Age system (Stone Age, Bronze Age and Iron Age). During the Napoleonic Wars the Danish fleet had been destroyed by the British, so Danes needed national consolation and reassurance in their past. His importance is often underrated in historical accounts, but “Thomson’s work constituted the chronological breakthrough that set the study of prehistory on a scientific basis. His work was as fundamental for the development of prehistoric archaeology as were the major theoretical discoveries in historical geography and biology during the nineteenth century.”
Compared with the West the Chinese were a conspicuously practical people who had relatively little interest in pure mathematics or theology and no European-style religious wars. They made many useful practical inventions, from papermaking, block printing, the magnetic compass, cast iron, porcelain, wheelbarrows and canal lock gates to the use of coal as fuel.
As a writing material, bamboo was cumbersome and silk was expensive. With the invention of paper, China had a better and cheaper writing material than anything used anywhere else in the world, although a certain type of bark paper books were made by the Maya and others in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica. Hart believes that the introduction of paper partly explains why China was so dynamic in the period which corresponds to the Early Middle Ages in Europe. In contrast, the famous Great Wall of China is somewhat overrated. Author Julia Lovell explains in the book The Great Wall: China Against the World, 1000 BC — AD 2000:
“Wall-building was in general an unpopular choice because it was associated with defeat and political collapse, with short-lived imperial houses such as the brutal Qin (221-206 BC) — the first regime to erect a more or less continuous barrier across northern China — or the Sui (581-618). And the Great Wall simply hasn’t worked that well as a barrier to protect China from marauding barbarians. Ever since walls were first built across Chinese frontiers, they have provided no more than a temporary advantage over determined raiders and pillagers. When Genghis Khan and his Mongol hordes conquered China in the thirteenth century AD, frontier walls proved little obstacle. The Great Wall offered no protection to the greatest wall-builders of all, the Ming dynasty, from their most threatening adversaries, the Manchus of the north-east, who ruled China as the Qing dynasty from 1644. Invaders could make detours around strong defences until they found weaknesses and gaps or, less effortfully, simply bribe Chinese officials to open the Great Wall forts. When the Manchus decided to make their final move on Beijing in 1644, they were let through a Great Wall pass by a disaffected Chinese general.”
The Great Wall could be compared to the Maginot Line, the elaborate system of concrete bunkers, tunnels and machine gun posts which France had constructed along its eastern borders following World War I. These expensive fortifications provided little effective defense for the French as the Germans during WW2 circumvented it and invaded France, anyway. When the Chinese built their Great Wall they spent a very large amount of financial and human resources on something that was, in the end, not very effective. When the Chinese invented paper and printed paper books they changed the course of human history. Sometimes the most visually spectacular creation is not necessarily the most historically important one.
A great feat of Chinese engineering which actually worked as intended was the Grand Canal, which has later been extended and now stretches from Beijing to the city of Hangzhou, roughly 1,770 km. The Japanese Buddhist pilgrim and writer Ennin (ca. 794-864), who is better known in Japan as Jikaku Daishi, was one of the many visitors who were impressed by the sheer size of the Grand Canal. Nevertheless, in architecture “The Chinese were relatively late in making use of the arch and the dome; and although they did build many attractive homes and other buildings, they did not construct anything that rivals the Parthenon in Athens, Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, or the magnificent cathedrals of medieval Europe.”
In sharp contrast to the impressive list of great practical inventions was the relative sparseness of major Chinese achievements in science and mathematics. They suffered from a general lack of interest in theory in the sciences. For instance, the Chinese were diligent in keeping astronomical records, but they never created any elaborate theoretical structure and never deduced that the Earth was round. Their failure to do so made significant progress in astronomy difficult. In 1600 AD, Chinese astronomy was at least 2000 years behind the West. The Chinese made no major contributions to physics, chemistry or geology, either.
During politically strong periods China expanded into neighboring territories in the immediate south and west, especially Xinjiang and Central Asia as well as Vietnam. There were a few exceptions, mainly related to the introduction of Buddhism when some scholars went to India to study, but the Chinese usually showed little interest in exploration beyond this. There were the famous naval expeditions in the Indian Ocean during the Ming Dynasty in the early fifteenth century AD led by men such as the admiral Zheng He (1371-1433), which reached as far as the east coast of Africa. Yet the whole reason why these expeditions have generated so much attention is precisely because they constituted a rare event. The project happened comparatively late and was eventually discontinued. Claims that the Chinese reached the Americas before Christopher Columbus in 1492 are not convincing. If anything, they might have brought Eurasian crowd diseases, which means that many of the Native American peoples could in that case have died from smallpox even before the first Europeans got there.
The Chinese produced many beautiful landscape paintings, great calligraphy and a very extensive literature in philosophy, poetry, fiction and history. Relatively few of these works are widely read outside of East Asia today, one of them being the Tao Te Ching (“The Classic of the Way and its Power”) ascribed to Lao Tzu or Laozi, considered to be the founder of Taoism, some Confucian classics and above all The Art of War by Sun Tzu, by universal acclaim the greatest treatise on the psychology of warfare ever written in any language.
Virtually all of the admirable features of their civilization were created by the Chinese themselves, whereas Muslims relied heavily on knowledge generated by others, ancient Greeks, Byzantines, Persians, Hindus and Chinese. Michael H. Hart rates Chinese civilization as the only one that rivals European civilization:
“The Chinese — virtually unaided by outsiders — created a complex and complete civilization, with a smoothly functioning government, and multitudinous achievements in technology, construction, literature, the arts, and philosophy. They had a wide variety of skilled craftsmen; they maintained large, powerful armies; and they created a school system, a network of roads, an elaborate (and delicious) cuisine, and all the other attributes of a sophisticated civilization. In general, the Chinese enjoyed more internal unity than Europe. Europe has usually consisted of many independent states, often fighting one another. In contrast, China has usually been politically unified. Between 600 and 1300 AD, China was clearly more prosperous than the West. Because of this, it has often been asserted that (until the rise of modern science in the last five centuries) China was usually more advanced than the West. However, that assertion is incorrect. In the first place, even during that period, China was far behind the West in mathematics and science. In the second place, the interval 600-1300 AD was atypical. For most of recorded history — and for most of the last ten thousand years — China has been well behind the Western world in both technology and the arts.”
Yet in spite of all this, there were no Chinese equivalents to Copernicus, Newton, Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Columbus or Magellan. In the ancient world, there were none to Pythagoras, Archimedes, Euclid, Hipparchus or Ptolemy, either.
During the unusually dynamic Song Dynasty (960-1279) they issued the first banknotes (paper money) and recorded the first known use of gunpowder and the magnetic compass. According to Arnold Pacey in Technology in World Civilization, “In 1100, China was undoubtedly the most technically ‘advanced’ region in the world, particularly with regard to the use of coke in iron smelting, canal transport and farm implements. Bridge design and textile machinery had also been developing rapidly. In all these fields, there were techniques in use in eleventh-century China which had no parallel in Europe until around 1700.”
The practice of footbinding, which lasted until the twentieth century and affected countless Chinese women, began during Song times. Confucian scholars found nothing objectionable about this. J. M. Roberts’ The New Penguin History of the World is somewhat dismissive of the negative impact of Islamic Jihad but still worth reading. As Roberts indicates, the history of women is often obscured by the bias of the documentation, but in China especially so:
“We hear little of them, even in literature, except in sad little poems and love stories. Yet presumably they must have made up about half of the population, or perhaps slightly less, for in hard times girl babies were exposed by poor families to die. That fact, perhaps, characterizes women’s place in China until very recent times even better than the more familiar and superficially striking practice of foot-binding, which produced grotesque deformations and could leave a high-born lady almost incapable of walking. Another China still all but excluded from the historical evidence by the nature of the established tradition was that of the peasants. They become shadowly visible only as numbers in the census returns and as eruptions of revolt; after the Han pottery figures, there is little in Chinese art to reveal them, and certainly nothing to match the uninterrupted (and often idealized) recording of the life of the common man in the fields, which runs from medieval European illumination, through the vernacular literature to the Romantics, and into the peasant subjects of the early Impressionists.”
This does not by any means indicate that the rest of Asia was technologically primitive, but China’s role was disproportionate. Professor Derk Bodde lists a number of innovations from porcelain, tea, paper and gunpowder to dominoes, playing cards and the shadow play that made their way to the West. Lacquer, like silk, is one of the products longest known in China. It comes from the sap of a tree which is native to China and is used to paint decorative designs on wooden boxes and other objects. European agriculture was improved after the arrival of tools such as the moldboard plow. The Dutch and others saw that the Chinese plough did not suit their type of soil, but Asian prototypes stimulated them to produce new designs.
Even though you can find a number of practical innovations that came to the West from China, very few theoretical scientific ideas came from East Asia. Moreover, it would be fair to say that by now China owes vastly more science and technology to the West than vice versa. Arnold Pacey admits that “…the most significant developments in Asia were the technical books published in Japan during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, a handful of Chinese scientific works, and very occasional episodes in India such as the use of models in the design of the Taj Mahal in the 1630s, and the systematic use of scale drawings by some shipbuilders by the end of the eighteenth century. But such examples are few and isolated. The great preponderance of new technological potential generated by increased ability to conceptualize technical problems was accruing in the West.”
Geography may well have contributed to the early cultural and political unification of China, which was difficult in the more rugged terrain of Europe. As Jared Diamond states in Guns, Germs, and Steel, the “Sinifaction” of East Asia “involved the drastic homogenization of a huge region” and the repopulation of tropical Southeast Asia by people of Chinese origins:
“Some developments spread from south to north in China, especially iron smelting and rice cultivation. But the predominant direction of spread was from north to south. That trend is clearest for writing…All three of China’s first three dynasties, the Xia and Shang and Zhou Dynasties, arose in North China in the second millennium B.C. Preserved writings of the first millennium B.C. show that ethnic Chinese already tended then (as many still do today) to feel culturally superior to non-Chinese ‘barbarians,’ while North Chinese tended to regard even South Chinese as barbarians.”
Although Southeast Asia was originally populated by dark-skinned peoples comparable to some New Guinean groups, only a few New Guinean-like populations remain in this region today, among them the Negritos living in mountainous areas of the Philippines. The rest have been more or less completely eradicated. As Diamond writes, “The historical southward expansions of Burmese, Laotians, and Thais from South China completed the Sinification of tropical Southeast Asia. All those modern peoples are recent offshoots of their South Chinese cousins. So overwhelming was this Chinese steamroller that the former peoples of tropical Southeast Asia have left behind few traces in the region’s modern populations.”
Regarding the Indo-European expansion, Michael H. Hart supports the hypothesis championed by scholars like the archeologist Marija Gimbutas (1921-1994), born in Vilnius, Lithuania and later based in the USA, in believing that the Proto-Indo-European homeland was in the region of southern Ukraine and Russia north of the Black Sea. Gimbutas identified the early speakers of PIE with the so-called Kurgan people who lived there after 4000 BC. These people got their name from the low mounds, kurgans, where they often buried their dead. Speakers of an early Indo-European branch which would evolve into Greek probably entered Greece from the north between 2200-2000 BC, when we can find traces indicating a disruptive intrusion in the archaeological record. The ancient Greeks themselves referred to an earlier people (the Pelasgians) who had lived in Greece before them, although he exact nature of these people and their culture is still a matter of contention. How can we explain the spread of the Indo-European languages into so many different regions and forms of terrain?
“The simplest explanation is that the original speakers of PIE possessed, on average, considerably higher intelligence than most of the peoples they defeated (including the Egyptians, Babylonians, Assyrians, Carthaginians, Phoenicians, Pelasgians, Tartessians, Iberians, Etruscans, Berbers, and Dravidian-speaking peoples), all of whom had evolved in milder climates than had the ancestors of the Indo-Europeans. This hypothesis has the added advantage of also applying to the modern expansion of the Indo-Europeans, and it also explains their remarkable intellectual achievements. No other hypothesis comes close to explaining all of these phenomena.”
While the basic premise may well be correct, I personally find this a little simplistic since the Indo-European languages also displaced the native tongues of the northern peoples, who presumably had at least as high IQ as the Ukrainians. The only surviving pre-IE language on the entire European continent is believed to be Basque. The Basque people inhabit the Pyrenees in northern Spain and southwestern France. Their tongue has no known relatives and contains words for axe and other tools which carry the root meaning “stone.” It is perhaps a direct descendant of the languages spoken in some regions of Europe during the Stone Age. Does this mean that the Basque had uniquely high IQs since their language alone survived?
In this age of DNA analysis, some earlier findings of comparative linguistics can be confirmed through genetics. In 2008, Fox News reported that a Cornell University-led study found that white (European) Americans are genetically weaker and less diverse than their black compatriots. This follows the first rule of Political Correctness, which says that there are no significant genetic differences between different groups of people, and if there are, whites must always be inferior. I’m glad our weak genes didn’t prevent Europeans from producing individuals such as Galileo, Copernicus, Newton, Beethoven and Pasteur.
The study showed that genetic diversity was greatest among Africans and smallest among Native Americans. This is consistent with the fact that North and South America were the last major landmasses to be settled by humans. The study also showed that the Basques are not closely related genetically to anyone else. Judged by a combination of linguistic and genetic evidence, the Basque people have a strong claim to being the oldest distinct nation in Europe.
Throughout history, most of the instances where people from one region have conquered another have involved “northerners” invading lands to the south. China has never been conquered by the populous nations south of it but has been repeatedly attacked from the north. On two occasions — the Mongols and the Manchus — invaders conquered all of China. Within China itself, it was the northerners who first created a unified country by conquering southern China. India, despite its large population, has never invaded the lands north of it, but has itself been repeatedly invaded from the north and northwest. The three Indian dynasties which came closest to ruling the entire subcontinent (the Mauryas, the Guptas and the Mughals) all originated in the north. According to Hart, “The obvious — and, I believe, the correct — explanation for the military superiority of the northerly peoples is the higher average intelligence of those peoples compared with the inhabitants of more tropical regions.”
Michael H. Hart admits that the Muslim conquests constitute a major counter-example to this general rule. It is true that Muslims never managed to establish lasting control over Europe, as they did in North Africa and the Middle East, but the impact of Islamic Jihad over many centuries on the nations of southern Europe was far from marginal. Regarding the Mongols, as soon as they left the dry and colder region of the mountains, both warriors and horses weakened and grew sick. They failed to adapt their successful strategies based on horses to the sea, and never conquered most of India and Southeast Asia. Their conquest of Iran and Iraq but defeat by the Egyptian Mamluks in 1260 cannot be attributed to differences in IQ.
Some would say that the mass immigration of many low-IQ peoples to white majority Western nations at the turn of the twenty-first century is another major counter-example, but this development constitutes such an anomaly in world history that it must be treated as a special case. Western nations have not been military defeated. These immigrants/colonists would not have been able to settle in these countries if they couldn’t exploit the deranged altruism and political-ideological flaws of the modern West, and they have always received substantial aid from high-IQ groups within the West itself, among them white Marxists.
Scandinavian (Norse) Vikings dominated much of northern Europe from the late eighth century on, trading as well as plundering. At home they were free farmers. The Viking Age ended in the eleventh century AD when they faced stronger states abroad and Christianization at home, at which point Scandinavia became integrated into the Christian civilization of Europe. From Sweden they went down the rivers of Eastern Europe to Kiev and the Black Sea and founded what would later become the Russian state. Norwegians went to Scotland, Ireland and the North Atlantic. Dublin was the richest of the Norse colonies in Ireland.
The Viking impact was especially strong in the British Isles, destructive but also transformative. From Denmark they raided and settled in Normandy and Brittany. The northeastern and central parts of England where the Vikings settled became known as the Danelaw because Danish laws and customs, not English, prevailed there. Scholars argue that some legal institutions such as the ancestor of the modern grand jury may have originated in the Danelaw. Danegeld was an English tax levied to buy off the invaders. The Danish King Canute the Great (ca. 990-1035) still ruled much of England in the early eleventh century.
Charles “the Simple” III (879-929) of France in 911 signed a treaty with the Viking leader Rollo for what would become Normandy (French: Normandie) along the English Channel coast of northern France. The Vikings (“Northmen”) were given this territory in the hope that they would fend off future Viking raids against France. Their descendants of mixed French and Norse origins, the Normans, would successfully conquer England in 1066.
The causes of the Viking expansion are still not known, but their ships were certainly a critical factor in this story. They were perhaps the fastest craft in the world at that time. Scandinavia and the Baltic Sea was originally one of the most remote regions of Europe, far removed from the Mediterranean-dominated Roman civilization. Rock carvings from before 1500 BC demonstrate that boat-building with oared vessels was known here at least by that time, but the first depictions of sailing vessels come from the Swedish island of Gotland as late as around AD 600. Soon after this they developed remarkably fast and maneuverable sailed-and-rowed ships that could also be used on rivers, allowing them to carry out trade as well as raids and to get away without being overtaken to the slower ships of the locals.
The great rivers that criss-cross the European Peninsula provided a network of routes linking the ocean interfaces together. Not all rivers were easily navigable, but with some effort it was possible to haul even large vessels overland between navigable waterways and around rapids. The Vikings were not the first Europeans to do this; the ancient Greek geographer Strabo mentioned it centuries earlier. Nevertheless, their uniquely mobile longships have become the symbol of the Viking Age. Else Roesdahl explains in the book The Vikings: Revised Edition:
“A reliable description of the main type used in Scandinavia, and some insight into its specialization, can be given on the basis of the many ships and fragments discovered. This main type has also been found in England and in the Slav regions south of the Baltic, with local modifications. It was probably introduced in both places as the result of Scandinavian influence. The ships which William the Conqueror, a Viking descendant, had built for his invasion of England in 1066 were of the same type. The finds also tell us that within Scandinavia ships varied according to local natural conditions, and there is evidence that they developed technically during the Viking Age. Sails seem to have been introduced during the centuries preceding the Viking Age, although sailing ships had then been used in Western Europe for many hundreds of years. In Scandinavia sailing ships rapidly attained a level of sophistication that was outstanding for their time. Without sails, the Vikings’ far-flung exploits would have been impossible. Many of the ships are now dated by dendrochronology. The best-preserved and the most famous Viking ships are the magnificent Norwegian burial ships from Oseberg and Gokstad in Vestfold.”
Dendrochronology (tree-ring dating) shows that the well-preserved Oseberg ship was buried in AD 834. The Gokstad ship was found beneath a burial mound at a farm in Vestfold and excavated in 1880. It is 24 meters long, 5 meters wide and very seaworthy. Both ships can be seen on display in the Viking Ship Museum in Oslo, Norway. Tønsberg in Vestfold County was probably founded in the 800s and is one of the oldest still-existing towns in Scandinavia. The trading center Hedeby in southern Denmark flourished from the eighth to the eleventh centuries. Birka west of present-day Stockholm in Sweden was linked via the Baltic and the rivers of Eastern Europe to the Black Sea, the Byzantine Empire and the Abbasid Caliphate. The Norse referred to impressive Constantinople as Miklagard (“the Great City”).
After making long journeys where they had to fight off enemies at every point, it is not surprising that Scandinavians at this time earned a reputation as fierce, determined warriors. As Timothy Gregory says in A History of Byzantium, the Byzantine Empire suffered from a decline in its conscript army. Because of this, “the state had to rely more and more on foreign mercenaries, at first Varangians from Russia but increasingly Normans from Sicily and France, Anglo-Saxons from England, and others. The most famous of these was the Varangian Duzina, attested from 1034 onward, which enrolled Vikings from Russia and eventually Anglo-Saxons. This elite guard, whose members had distinct arms and uniforms, had its quarters in Constantinople but also took part in field campaigns.”
The Varangian Guard, who were recognized for the massive battle-axes that they wielded as well as for their drunkenness, defended Constantinople during the shameful Fourth Crusade in 1204. One of their prominent members was the future king Harald Hardråde (1015-1066), “Hard-ruler,” whose story was told by Icelandic poet and historian Snorri Sturluson (1178-1241) in the Heimskringla. Harald participated in a number of battles against Muslims and returned to Norway with great wealth. He wasn’t the only one to do so. Many Byzantine gold coins and Islamic silver coins have been found in Scandinavia. He is most remembered for his invasion of England with several hundred longships. Hardråde was killed at the Battle of Stamford Bridge in England in 1066. The victor Harold Godwinson (ca. 1022-1066) was himself defeated by William the Conqueror (ca. 1027-1087) and his Normans at the Battle of Hastings the same year. This story has been immortalized in the beautiful Bayeux Tapestry.
The Norse explorer Leif Eriksson, or Ericson (ca. 975-ca.1020), son of the Norwegian outlaw Erik the Red who had founded two Norse colonies on Greenland, was probably the first European to land in North America. Research done in the 1950s and 1960s by the Norwegian explorer Helge Ingstad (1899-2001) and his archaeologist wife Anne Stine Ingstad (1918-1997) identified a medieval Norse settlement located at Newfoundland in eastern Canada.
As author Barry Cunliffe states in Europe Between the Oceans, “The Scandinavian diaspora of the eighth to tenth centuries was a remarkable phenomenon, quite unprecedented in its magnitude. At the moment that Swedish Vikings were crossing the Caspian Sea on their way to trade in Baghdad, Norwegians were sailing down the coast of Labrador looking for suitable land to settle in America. The Scandinavians were the first Europeans to have sailed in all of Europe’s seas.”
The only pre-modern oceanic exploration that can match the Viking expansion is the Polynesian expansion of peoples speaking Austronesian languages. The origin of the Austronesian language family is believed to be in Taiwan just off the southeastern coast of China before 3000 BC. It spread in stages from Southeast Asia and throughout the scattered islands of the Pacific Ocean. As Jared Diamond writes in Collapse, “The prehistoric Polynesian expansion was the most dramatic burst of overwater exploration in human prehistory….By around A.D. 1200, Polynesians had reached every habitable scrap of land in the vast watery triangle of ocean whose apexes are Hawaii, New Zealand, and Easter Island….both the discoveries and the settlements were meticulously planned.”
This exploration was challenging and must have required a certain minimum IQ to develop canoes capable of surviving such long sea voyages. Native Australians lived close to the Pacific Ocean for tens of thousand of years, but as far as we currently know they had never undertaken anything similar to these Polynesian voyages, not even to nearby New Zealand.
In an extreme case of the experimental method where he put his own life on the line to prove the viability of his theories, the Norwegian explorer and author Thor Heyerdahl (1914-2002) with his Kon-Tiki balsa raft in a 1947 expedition crossed much of the Pacific Ocean from South America to the Polynesian islands. He believed that these islands had been settled from South America. A combination of linguistic as well as genetic evidence strongly indicates that the peoples inhabiting the Pacific islands are of Southeast Asian origin. What Heyerdahl did prove with this and later voyages was that transoceanic contacts between distant cultures was possible at least in theory with what we would today consider relatively simple watercraft.
The most impressive aspect of the Viking expansion is how Scandinavians managed to create some of the fastest ships in the world only a few generations after they had first become familiar with the concept of sails. This extremely quick innovative response is not unprecedented. As Diamond mentions, firearms reached Japan in 1543 when two Portuguese adventurers armed with harquebuses (primitive guns) arrived on a Chinese cargo ship. The Japanese quickly commenced indigenous gun production and by the year 1600 “owned more and better guns than any other country in the world.” This met with resistance from their numerous and powerful warrior class, the samurai, for whom swords rated as class symbols, but the response was nevertheless impressive. Was this remarkably fast rate of innovation, which has been matched in Japan in more recent times in electronics, a product of the high Japanese IQ? Jared Diamond does not ask this question, but I believe it is a relevant one.
As we have seen, the main hypothesis for IQ differences between ethnic groups championed by Michael H. Hart in Understanding Human History is that people living in colder regions had to evolve higher intelligence in order to survive in the harsh natural environment. For tens of thousands of years this may indeed have been the single most important driving force behind human evolution, though not necessarily the only one. In more recent millennia, after the rise of agriculture, towns and cities, other forces came into play, too. Human beings themselves increasingly shape the environment they live in and can now enjoy electric heating in near-Arctic areas. One of the most fascinating tales of human evolution apparently had nothing to do with cold weather, that of Ashkenazi Jewish communities in medieval Europe.
According to a hypothesis presented by Gregory Cochran, Jason Hardy and Henry Harpending in 2005, which is largely supported by Hart, the extremely high average IQ of modern Ashkenazi Jews is an example of Darwinian evolution in response to external social pressures, as European Jews for many centuries had to occupy a very narrow and unusual economic niche as merchants, tax collectors and moneylenders, occupations which placed great practical value on high intelligence. The Christian majority population was forbidden from taking interest, and many occupations were closed to Jews. Only those with very high IQs managed to flourish in this cultural climate and pass on their genes. This situation prevailed from the Early Middle Ages until legal emancipation after the Enlightenment and created a social environment which substantially raised the average IQ of an entire people.
This combination of factors had not existed in the ancient world. In the Islamic world Jews faced bureaucratic and commercial competition from groups such as Greeks and Armenians. Jews in the Islamic world were also discriminated against, yet they did not experience a similar rise in IQ. “Discrimination” alone was not sufficient to achieve this effect.
The scientific contribution of the Greeks 2500-1800 years ago vastly exceeded the relatively minor contributions made by Jews during the same time period, yet this picture has been almost exactly reversed from the nineteenth century on: We now have Jewish geniuses such as Einstein, but no longer any Greek geniuses comparable to Aristotle or Archimedes. We possess no convincing evidence that Jews in Antiquity had a very high a level of intelligence. Those claiming so would point to the disproportionate historical influence of Jewish religious texts, which date back to this era, but the absence of prominent Jewish scientists of that time and the fact that Middle Eastern Jews do not have unusually high IQs today indicate that the high IQ among Jews from the European diaspora was a product of post-Roman times.
The case of Ashkenazi Jews is interesting for a number of reasons. First of all for the sheer speed of it: The intelligence of an entire people was raised with perhaps 10 IQ points in roughly a thousand years, many times faster than the slower “climatic” evolution of high IQ during previous millennia. Second of all, this evolution was most likely caused by the social and cultural environment, not the natural environment as had been the case during the Stone Age. European Jews did not evolve a higher IQ because they lived in a colder climate than other Europeans; they evolved it as an unintended consequence of social pressures forcing them into a narrow range of occupations in which high IQ was absolutely necessary, and were able to pass on these traits because there was relatively little intermarriage between the Christian majority and the Jewish minority population. Finally, and most importantly, it proves beyond reasonable doubt that human evolution has continued well into historical times and can probably produce significant results even today.
As mentioned before, Jared Diamond in Guns, Germs, and Steel does not talk about the possibility of human evolution during the past fifty thousand years as he considers this to be “racist.” Yet his bestselling book was written by a high-IQ person. The irony is that Jared Diamond’s theories fail to explain the existence of Jared Diamond. Mr. Diamond is an Ashkenazi Jew, as is Michael H. Hart, which means that he comes from the one ethnic group on the planet with the highest average IQ. This also happens to be the one ethnic group with the highest number of Nobel Prizes per capita in the hard sciences, which strongly indicates that IQ does indeed measure something that is relevant to the discussion of intelligence.
Several objections can be raised against using IQ as a measurement. By far the most common one is that it is immoral because it implicitly suggests that not all human beings are equally intelligent. This is an entirely anti-scientific argument and should be dismissed as such.
The second objection is that because IQ-measurements were initially developed by Europeans they are by nature “Eurocentric” and therefore biased. This is a silly argument. Almost all modern measurements of everything from electric charge to air pressure were invented by Europeans. All temperature scales in use in the industrialized world were developed by men from Western Europe. As far as I know, Europeans were the only ones to create the barometer and to develop a method for measuring atmospheric pressure. In order to be logically consistent you would have to reject the meteorological terms “high pressure” and “low pressure” along with IQ since these concepts, too, were developed exclusively by Europeans. I wish those individuals good luck in creating a non-Eurocentric weather forecast.
Another possible objection is that human intelligence is too complex to be ranked in a few simple numbers. Intelligence does consist of different factors, not all of which can successfully be measured by IQ, but we have evidence that at least some aspects of it can be indicated by such tests. Jews of European descent are the one ethnic group on the planet with the highest average IQ, but they have never had their own country. Israel is a predominantly Jewish state but with a large Arab Muslim minority, and Middle Eastern and Ethiopian Jews do not have similarly high IQs. Consequently, the country with the highest average IQ is probably Japan, a fact which corresponds well with Japan’s very high technological level. East Asians — Koreans, Vietnamese, Japanese and Chinese — all have high IQs. In Western universities where people from all over the world compete on more or less equal terms, Jews, East Asians and Europeans generally perform the best, and they are all high-IQ groups.
When people mention an average IQ around 105 for “Asians,” they are referring to East Asians, or more specifically, Northeast Asians, Japanese, Korean, Chinese and maybe Vietnamese people. I can accept that number as roughly correct. The fact that people of European origins are willing to use IQ even if they do not necessarily come out on top of the rankings strengthens the credibility of IQ as a measurement. Even within Europe there are detectable differences in average national IQ, and not necessarily insignificant ones, but they are not nearly as great as those encountered within Asia. “Asia” is just a geographical term.
While IQ does explain a lot there are still quite a few things that rankings of average IQ do not explain. It is noteworthy that the Scientific and Industrial Revolutions took place among Europeans, not among East Asians, despite the fact that the latter have at least as high average IQs. This could indicate that IQ measures some relevant aspects of intelligence but not all of them; maybe Europeans have a higher score in verbal intelligence. It is also possible that whites, i.e. people of European stock, have a higher standard deviation than East Asians, which means that they have more low-IQ people and more people with extremely high IQ.
In The Lever of Riches: Technological Creativity and Economic Progress, the American economic historian Joel Mokyr talks about microinventions, which improve and adapt existing technologies, thereby making them cheaper and more efficient, and macroinventions, which introduce a new idea without clear precedent. Both types are needed for economic growth. While you need a large number of people with reasonably high intelligence to maintain a sophisticated society and add minor improvements, it could be argued that scientific and technological progress is disproportionately driven by geniuses. In order to establish the laws of universal gravity you needed one person as smart as Isaac Newton, not a thousand individuals with merely average intelligence. Or rather, you needed a small number of geniuses of which Newton was simply the greatest; not even he could have achieved what he did without the prior work of men such as Copernicus, Tycho Brahe, Kepler and Galileo.
Finally, in order to explain why the Scientific Revolution took place in Europe and not in East Asia, it is quite likely that once you have reached a certain minimum level of average intelligence, perhaps around 100 in IQ as many European peoples typically have, other forces and factors come into play as well, for instance law, religion, education and political system. I will explore some of these factors here, with a special emphasis on China vs. Western Europe.
Michael Hart does not attribute a genetic explanation to everything. For instance, why did the (Western) Roman Empire collapse? Many different interpretations have been suggested by historians and no real consensus has yet been reached. Loss of traditional religion, where the growth of Christianity was both an effect and a cause, was one factor. Loss of patriotic and nationalist feelings could be another one. Roman expansion began from the city of Rome and surrounding regions, but when Roman citizens were no longer just Romans or even Italians but, from the third century AD, all free subjects of the Empire, there was no longer any strong ethnic loyalty to the Empire. This decline of traditional religion and feelings of ethnic loyalty corresponded to increased public corruption. Hart’s conclusion is that the cause of the collapse of Rome is still an undecided question, but he favors some combination of the social decay hypotheses and perhaps climate changes, not primarily a genetic explanation.
Large industrial undertakings with hundreds of employees — shipyards and mines, for example — were not entirely unknown before the Industrial Revolution. The IR did not “invent” the factory system, but spread it and brought about factories were none had existed before. The Englishman Richard Arkwright’s (1733-1792) water frame spinning machine was one of the important innovations in this process. British cotton mills soon employed steam power and grew rapidly in size. In textiles other than cotton, the factories marched on as well.
Why did the Industrial Revolution begin in Britain? According to Hart, it could only have begun in a country where the average intelligence of the inhabitants was very high, but it was unlikely to originate in a region where the average IQ was high but the total population was low, for instance in Scandinavia. It was more likely to arise in a region where slavery was rare or absent, as an abundance of cheap labor decreases the need for labor-saving machinery and technology. This was one of the factors that held back the Romans in ancient times.
The Industrial Revolution was more likely to originate in a region where there was considerable intellectual ferment; the Inquisition made the expression of heterodox opinions difficult in Spain and Portugal, and Russia was politically repressive. In some areas of Western Europe, the effects of overseas explorations added to the intellectual ferment of the post-Renaissance era. This was to the comparative disadvantage of countries like Germany and Poland. The IR was less likely to originate in a region which was politically fragmented, such as Italy or Germany, as the free trade zone and the internal market were smaller.
It was a great advantage to have abundant local iron ore and coal deposits, as those resources were especially important during the IR. Finally, the Industrial Revolution was more likely to arise in a politically stable country where property rights were secure. Although a number of these factors were present in several countries, the only place where all of them were present by the late eighteenth century was Britain. This does not prove that the Industrial Revolution was predestined to start in Britain, but it was more likely to start there than anywhere else.
I disagree with Hart on a few issues. Understanding Human History is thought-provoking and well worth reading, but it sometimes relies a little bit too much on IQ as an all-purpose explanation. As Hart himself points out, for the past 2500 years the West has generally been superior to East Asia in mathematics, sometimes by a very wide margin. That difference could be in the process of leveling out now and may not remain so pronounced in the future, but in the past it was pronounced. Despite the fact that China clearly has a substantially higher average IQ than does India, one could claim that the highest peaks of Indian mathematicians have been just as high as those of Chinese ones. It is hard to name a single Chinese mathematician who should be ranked as superior in ability and importance to Brahmagupta.
It is quite possible to claim that the reason why Japan was the first non-Western country to successfully industrialize was due to their very high native intelligence. The IQ hypothesis does not successfully explain why high-IQ Japan performed better during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries than high-IQ China did. My personal opinion is that this was caused by cultural and mental flexibility: Because the Japanese lived next door to China, they already had a long history of creative technological borrowing. It was more difficult to learn from the West for countries with a strong cultural superiority complex, like the Chinese often had.
I could add that the Chinese are behaving very differently in the early twenty-first century; the deliberate, large-scale technological borrowing from other nations, as Chinese students and companies are currently doing in the West, has no precedent in Chinese history, which is precisely why it appears to be working. China benefits greatly from attracting investments by Western and other foreign capitalists and has become “the workshop of the world.”
It is interesting to ponder what cannot be explained by IQ, and in this case Hart’s book does have a few weaknesses. The present economic backwardness of the Ukraine cannot be explained entirely by IQ. It is after all the most likely candidate as the cradle of the entire Indo-European family, the largest and most influential language family in recorded human history, which has been spreading in waves for more than five thousand years and continues to do so with the rise of English as a global lingua franca. The Ukraine’s current weakness is caused by corruption and a long history of political repression and lack of economic freedom.
The Middle Ages witnessed the rise of the specifically European, above all Western European, phenomenon of the semi-autonomous city, organized and known as commune. Stadtluft macht frei ran the medieval European dictum — city air makes one free. When the count of Flanders tried to reclaim a runaway serf whom he ran across in the market of Bruges, the bourgeois drove him out of the city. Cities consequently became poles of attraction and places of refuge. Migration to urban areas improved the income and status of the migrants and their families, but not their health. Cities were dirty and vulnerable to crowd diseases, European ones at least as much as some Asian cities. It was only in-migration that sustained the numbers of urban dwellers. Serf emancipation in Western Europe was directly linked to franchised villages and urban communes and to the density and proximity of these gateways.
Where cities and towns were few and less free, as was the case in much of Eastern Europe, serfdom persisted and worsened. Between 1500 and 1650, the social and legal conditions of peasants in the eastern half of Europe declined, as many free farmers lost their freedom. Russian, Polish and other lords seized more land for their own estates and demanded ever more unpaid serf labor. The everyday life of peasants was hard everywhere, but the visibly harsher social conditions in the East were commented upon by Western European travelers.
The political power of peasants in Eastern Europe was weaker than in the West and declined steadily after 1400. Many serfs were bound to their lords in hereditary service and had to do much forced labor without pay. Russian serf families were regularly sold with or without land, and serfdom was abolished in Russia as late as in 1861. The Slavic Christian East was not too different from Western Europe by the twelfth century, but this changed considerably after the Mongol conquests. According to A History of Western Society, Seventh Edition:
“Brutally conquered and subjugated by a foreign invader, Russia created a system of rule that was virtually unknown in the West. Thus the differences between Russia and the West became striking and profound in the long period from about 1250 until 1700. And when absolute monarchy triumphed under the rough guidance of Peter the Great in the early eighteenth century, it was a quite different type of absolute monarchy from that of France or even Prussia. Like the Germans and the Italians, the eastern Slavs might have emerged from the Middle Ages weak and politically divided had it not been for the Mongol conquest of the Kievan principality.”
The Mongols never reached Western Europe. They invaded and pillaged, but did not stay in east-central Europe except for Russia, the Ukraine and the easternmost regions of the Continent. Having devastated and conquered, the Mongols ruled the eastern Slavs for more than two centuries, the so-called Mongol Yoke. After the fall of Constantinople, the Second Rome, to the Turks, Russians identified Moscow as the “Third Rome,” the legitimate heir to Orthodox Christianity. The prince of Moscow was the absolute ruler, Tsar — the Slavic contraction for “Caesar.” The Tsars saw themselves as khans, exercising unrestrained power:
“Ivan the Terrible’s system of autocracy and compulsory service struck foreign observers forcibly. Sigismund Herberstein, a German traveler to Russia, wrote in 1571: ‘All the people consider themselves to be kholops, that is, slaves of their Prince.’ At the same time, Jean Bodin, the French thinker who did so much to develop the modern concept of sovereignty, concluded that Russia’s political system was fundamentally different from those of all other European monarchies and comparable only to that of the Ottoman Empire. In both the Ottoman Empire and Russia, ‘the prince is become lord of the goods and persons of his subjects…governing them as a master of a family does his slaves.’ The Mongol inheritance weighed heavily on Russia.”
The French lawyer and political philosopher Jean Bodin (1530-1596) is known for his theory of sovereignty, but he was a pioneering economist who analyzed the flood of silver arriving in Spain from Latin America and the inflation it caused in the late sixteenth century. Unfortunately, he was also an advocate of the use of torture in cases of suspected witchcraft.
Why did Western European rulers grant rights to townsmen, in effect transferring some of their powers to others? For one thing, trade and markets brought more revenue and thus power to them. Free farmers and townsmen were the natural enemies of the landed aristocracy and would often support the crown in its struggles with local seigneurs. David S. Landes explains in The Wealth and Poverty of Nations: Why Some Are So Rich and Some So Poor:
“European rulers and enterprising lords who sought to grow revenues in this manner had to attract participants by the grant of franchises, freedoms, and privileges — in short, by making deals. They had to persuade them to come. (That was not the way in China, where rulers moved thousands and tens of thousands of human cattle and planted them on the soil, the better to grow things.) These exemptions from material burdens and grants of economic privilege, moreover, often led to political concessions and self-government. Here the initiative came from below, and this too was an essentially European pattern. Implicit in it was a sense of rights and contract — the right to negotiate as well as petition — with gains to the freedom and security of economic activity.”
In The Cambridge Illustrated History of China, Patricia Buckley Ebrey states that even during the dynamic Song period, “The rapid development of commerce and appearance of commercial cities did not play the same political or intellectual role in China as it did in Europe slightly later. Chinese cities did not become places identified with personal freedom.”
The prominence of a scholar-official elite selected mainly for their literary abilities through an examination process was unique to Chinese civilization, for better or worse. China was comparatively advanced in the field of meritocracy, the rule by personal merit. If you were a man of humble origins but high intelligence, you would usually have enjoyed greater social mobility in China than in India. The Indian caste system is a deeply rigidified institution in which personal achievement “is excluded in principle.” Europe had an edge over other civilizations when it came to developing self-ruled entities. Author Toby E. Huff elaborates:
“I argued that 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.”
As Joseph Schacht states in An Introduction to Islamic Law, “The concept of corporation does not exist in Islamic law.” Moreover, “There is also no freedom of association.” This legal defect had major implications for Islamic civilization, not least in the sphere of economic development, as Timor Kuran has made clear.
The Late Middle Ages was noted for the growth of early capitalism, but Huff rejects any simplistic connection between money and science. Christian Europe exhibited an intellectual curiosity that cannot be reduced simply to a matter of economic interests, he argues:
“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.”
It is true that there is no automatic correlation between wealth and science; China was the world’s largest economy for centuries, yet it never produced anything resembling the European Scientific Revolution. One of the most extreme cases would be twentieth century Saudi Arabia, which has earned countless billions from its oil reserves yet has contributed virtually nothing of value to the arts or sciences. This does not necessarily mean that there is no connection at all between wealth and achievement. It is likely that there is one. The Medici banking family in Florence, who rose to prominence after the thirteenth century, for generations sponsored great achievements in Tuscany, from artists such as Donatello to the astronomer and physicist Galileo. As Gardner’s Art Through the Ages, Tenth Edition states:
“Especially significant for art were the increasing professionalization of the artist and the passing of patronage from the Church to the great princes and princely families, in alliance with or independent of wealthy cities. We have seen this happening in the city-states of Italy. What made it happen was the acquisition and accumulation of capital. Despite the calamities of the age, an economic system was evolving — the early stage of European capitalism.”
The Florentines “developed a culture that was stimulated and supported by a vast accumulation of wealth, a situation much like that in Periclean Athens, except that in Athens it was the city-state, not private individuals, that commissioned the major buildings, paintings, and statues of the Classical age. In Florence a few illustrious Florentine families controlled the wealth and became the leading patrons of the Italian Renaissance.” The House of Medici were bankers to all of Europe, and “one of the most prominent patrons of the Roman Renaissance, Pope Leo X, benefactor of Raphael and Michelangelo, was himself a Medici, the son of Lorenzo the Magnificent. Never in history was a family so intimately associated with a great cultural revolution. We may safely say that the Medici subsidized and endowed the Renaissance.”
The book The Ancient Economy: Evidence and Models, edited by J.G. Manning and Ian Morris, is a collaborative effort of various scholars regarding the economy in ancient Egypt, the Near East and the Greco-Roman world. There is a consensus among scholars that the ancient world was not “capitalist” in the modern sense. Any economic growth cannot be compared to the examples of sustained economic growth we know from Western nations in modern times. However, there is much debate as to whether or not there was any growth at all. Archaeological evidence suggests that there was an improvement in the standard of living in Greece from 800 to 300 BC at the same time as there was a major increase in population.
Slavery in Greek and especially Roman society definitely lessened incentives to develop labor-saving technology, although slave labor wasn’t always plentiful and cheap. The ancient Greeks and Romans lacked a tradition of carrying on sustained effort to produce a technological solution to a felt need, and they often suffered from a prejudice against work of the hands. In the Greco-Roman world, wealth should preferably come from the land. Commerce was barely socially acceptable whereas industry was looked down upon. Watermills diffused slowly throughout the Empire and were not used to their fullest capacity. Sustained growth per capita requires sustained technological improvement. Roman economic growth was slow because technological progress was slow — not nonexistent, but slow.
The Scottish philosopher Adam Smith published The Wealth of Nations in 1776 where he argued in favor of freedom of enterprise. Government should interfere with commerce as little as possible and limit itself to three primary duties: Provide defense against foreign invasion, maintain civil order with courts and police protection, and sponsor certain indispensible public works and institutions that could not make adequate profit for private investors. Smith made the pursuit of self-interest in a competitive market the source of a natural equilibrium. The “invisible hand” of free competition would gradually lead to increased wealth for all.
According to scholar Richard Saller, there are several basic causes for growth: Trade, as emphasized by Adam Smith, which in turn allows for specialization; the intensification of capital investment and the investment in human capital and education and a better institutional framework for conducting economic activities. While trade certainly existed in Antiquity, there are few indications of what we might understand as a modern capitalist concept of calculated investments in better technology in order to improve future productivity:
“The elder Pliny (Natural History, 14.49-51) reports the exceptional example of Remmius Palaemon, who in the mid-first century AD bought a run-down vineyard outside Rome, invested in it heavily with traditional technology, and increased annual production so much that he sold one year’s crop for two-thirds the original cost of the land just a few years after purchase. One could stop at that point and take the story as an instance of a capitalist investment, but the end of the story also bears emphasis. Pliny does not say that Palaemon’s example inspired similar capital investment by other Romans, but rather that Seneca moved in to buy the vineyard at four times its original price because he was captivated by a desire (amore) to possess this model estate, not to make his own profit by similar investments elsewhere.”
Northern Italian merchants in the fourteenth century were “new capitalists” who created a commercial revolution. Italians during the Roman period showed no interest in capitalism or in theoretical science. Italians during the Renaissance period pioneered both. It is highly unlikely that changes in genes or IQ can explain this. It was caused by changes in attitudes.
There are those who see a link between the “mini-Industrial Revolution” of medieval Europe in applying windmills, watermills and other machines to do work instead of human or animal muscle power, and that which took place centuries later. It is true that medieval Europe had a leading role in developing labor-saving machinery. In this case we can see a continuation with later events, but the use of fossil fuels such as coal and oil to run machines and engines for cars, ships and airplanes after the nineteenth century changed the entire world. As Joel Mokyr says, “the Industrial Revolution represented a sea change unprecedented in human history.”
According to Avner Greif in The Ancient Economy, modern economic growth has roots in the Middle Ages and reflects an economic, social, legal and political process through which Western European nations created the first modern economies. Waterwheels were not used as extensively by the Romans as they were in medieval Europe, but the waterwheel nevertheless represented a major conceptual breakthrough as “the first machine to capture nonanimated energy for on-land productive use.” In addition to this, the Romans left Europeans with a unifying learned language across political borders, Latin, and with Roman law:
“Finally, the Roman heritage in the West includes the Roman legal tradition. Many economists would agree that in order to bring about and support modern economic growth it is necessary to have a particular legal tradition — a legal tradition in which rules can be changed to fit the evolving needs of the economy and that ensures that individuals have property rights and freedom. Such a tradition exists in the Western world, and it is a legacy of the Roman period. It was then that the European legal tradition was formulated, and despite various challenges, it has survived the test of time. One can only wonder if modern economic growth could have occurred in Europe if it had possessed one of the alternative legal traditions that emerged elsewhere, such as the divine law that dominates the Muslim world.”
Greif, who is an economics professor at Stanford University in the United States, elaborates his views in Institutions and the Path to the Modern Economy: Lessons from Medieval Trade:
“The sources of modern European economic growth differ from those of its medieval predecessor. Medieval economic expansion relied on Smithian growth, which takes advantage of specialization and trade. Growth in the modern era relies on science and technology to alter production functions and transform useless resources into endowments. Changes in cultural beliefs about the nature, role, and possibilities of useful knowledge — science and technology — in the hundred years before 1750 directly contributed to this transition (Mokyr 2002). Interestingly, however, individualistic pursuit and self-governed, non-kin-based corporations (similar to the medieval universities, such as the Lunar and the Royal Societies) were central to propagating these beliefs, mobilizing the resources to act on them, and rendering them effective in influencing outcomes. The objectives of these corporations were different from most of their medieval predecessors, but the institutional means were surprisingly similar.”
The scientific societies of the seventeenth century differed from medieval universities in their more practical emphasis on experimental science rather than Aristotelian philosophy. This was the true beginning of modern, organized science, but it built upon the foundation of the network of European universities. In the eyes of Avner Greif, the organization of society in the West was centered on intentionally created institutions and self-governed, non-kin-based organizations such as guilds and universities, not tribes or clans as in the Middle East:
“These organizations — mainly in the form of corporations — were vital to Europe’s political and economic institutions during the late medieval growth period as well as the modern growth period….Interest-based, self-governed, non-kin-based economic and political corporations were therefore established. Since then, this particular societal organization — centered on self-governed, non-kin-based organizations and individualism — has been behind the behavior and outcomes that led to European-specific economic and political developments. This societal organization is the common denominator behind such seemingly distinct historical phenomena as the late medieval economic expansion, the rise of European science and technology (Mokyr 2002), and the creation of the modern European state, the ultimate manifestation of a self-governed, non-kin-based corporation composed of individuals rather than larger social units (Greif 2004b). If institutions are central to economic, social, and political outcomes, and institutional development is a historical process, the roots of the eventual success of the West may very well lie in its past political and economic institutions.”
While he praises European individualism, he speculates whether excessive individualism and materialism has contributed to decline of the West in more recent generations.
In the post-Roman era, centuries of fragmentation had weakened European states. This provided an opportunity for economic agents to self-organize, but they could have chosen an alternative path to a tribal society or a theocratic state, as was the case in Islamic societies. The Church had weakened kin-based social structures and contributed to cultural beliefs associated with individualism, but it was not strong enough to establish political dominance over the European continent. Europeans also built on the beliefs and norms inherited from the Roman and Germanic legal traditions; the idea of corporations dates back to the Roman time.
The feudal view that political authority was contractual and nonterritorial further facilitated the creation of self-governed corporations. “The cultural beliefs and norms associated with individualism, corporatism, and the implied legitimacy of man-made law in which those who are governed by them have an influential voice became central to European societal organization.”
Is there a direct link between what happened in the Late Middle Ages and in modern Europe? There was a decline in medieval self-ruled political entities in many countries during the Age of Absolutism, but Greif wonders whether this should be considered an exception in the long run of European history for the past millennium. Medieval innovations are manifested in current practices such as trading in shares, limited liability, auditing, apprenticeships and double-entry bookkeeping. As stated in Institutions and the Path to the Modern Economy:
“European commercial law, insurance markets, patent systems, public debt, business associations, and central banks were developed in the context of medieval institutions. In the political sphere, the medieval rise of the corporative form of societal organization contributed to the development that led to the modern European states. Corporations contributed to diminishing the challenge that large-scale, kin-based social structures present to the state and to development central to the institutional foundations of the modern, effective European state, which is, after all, a corporation. Among these are the concept of corporations as legal personalities, the separation between personal and corporate property, the belief that corporations are to serve the interests of their members, and processes of collective decision making….Furthermore, states in Europe were established during the premodern period through a process of bottom-up, organic formation.”
In Understanding Early Civilizations, Bruce G. Trigger offers a comparative study of early civilizations from ancient Mesopotamia to Mesoamerica. In Shang and Zhou China of the pre-Imperial era, individuals were usually subject to the judgment and sentencing of their immediate superiors, with little effective right of appeal. In cases involving men of unequal status, the more powerful was invariably deemed to be in the right; therefore litigation could only occur between equals. There was no enforceable penalty for failure to carry out bargains:
“In most early civilizations law was described as a powerful force maintaining order in an equitable, if unequal, fashion in the social realm. Yet, because at all but the lowest levels of the legal system laws were made, cases were decided, and punishments were determined by the upper classes, the legal system was a potent instrument for intimidating individuals of lower status. Chinese law appears to have differed from that of other early civilizations only in that, in theory as well as in practice, litigation was possible only between equals. No efforts were made to idealize the legal system as a means by which justice was provided for all. Early Chinese realism with respect to law appears to have had long-term consequences for the development of Chinese civilization, which never evolved a strong sense of either private property or individual legal rights.”
There was a school of thought in ancient China which has been called Legalism, but this was, ironically, one of the most totalitarian ideologies ever produced there and did not lead to the rule of law in the Western sense. Although inspired by older ideas, a coherent theory of Legalism began to emerge from the fourth century BC with the Book of Lord Shang, which heaped scorn on respect for tradition. “Useless” activities which divert men from the primary tasks of agriculture and war, for instance commerce and the cultivation of learning which encourages people to rely on their private intellectual convictions, should be eliminated.
The Qin state adopted a Legalist program and organized families into mutual responsibility groups, making each person liable for any crime committed by any other member of their group. For its implementation, Legalism depended on an enlightened ruler who, just like Mencius’ truly virtuous ruler, was believed to be rare. The forceful Qin Shi Huang, who united the states of the Warring States Period and became the First Emperor of all of China in 221 BC, must have approximated this image of a Legalist enlightened ruler. Consequently, the many recorded brutalities of his regime “do not reflect the random acts of a capricious despot, but are very much related to Legalist ideas concerning the inflexibility of the penal law and the need to purge society of ‘dysfunctional’ attitudes and modes of behavior.”
Some Western observers have likened Legalism to the theories of the Italian Renaissance writer Niccolò Machiavelli. While Machiavelli’s ideas have been controversial ever since they were first published, it is a misunderstanding based on an excessively hostile reading of his works to believe that he specifically wanted to create a totalitarian system; Machiavelli matter-of-factly described the various sometimes brutal methods rulers use to gain and remain in power. As Benjamin I. Schwartz writes in The World of Thought in Ancient China:
“Legalism has often been compared to Machiavellianism, and it is true that both tend to separate the question of power from all considerations of personal morality. Yet a perusal of The Prince and The Discourses indicates that Machiavelli concerns himself not with universal abstract models and systems for controlling human behavior but with strategies of power applied to the infinitely varied circumstances of political history. As an heir of Aristotle, he is in fact prepared to accept the possibility of a variety of sociopolitical organizations and his ideal power-holder will use a variety of strategies which fully take into account differences of ‘political constitutions.’“
It is sad that people from other cultures have sometimes copied bad Western ideas such as Communism more readily than our good ones, of which we do have many. This does not mean that Europeans alone “invented” totalitarianism. The Incas practiced something resembling Communism in South America. Confucianism does have its potentially problematic aspects, but it cannot properly be called totalitarian. Totalitarianism in the true sense of the word has a native Chinese precedent in the ideology of Legalism. There is a reason why the Communist dictator Mao Zedong (1893-1976) personally identified with the First Emperor, not with Confucius. The author Zhengyuan Fu in Autocratic Tradition and Chinese Politics draws lines from the First Emperor to Mao and argues that the most enduring feature of the Chinese political tradition over the past two thousand years has been autocracy.
The Han Dynasty which took over after the brief, but brutal Qin Dynasty promoted Confucianism as their ruling ideology, something which all Chinese dynasties have done since. The Han rulers adopted but modified the centralized bureaucratic monarchy created by the First Emperor. Yet Confucianism did not do much to promote law as a major factor in society, either. Patricia Buckley Ebrey writes that “It is the universal king who embodies political order and possesses the power to transform the society below him for good or ill. Law, by contrast, was not granted comparable power by any Chinese thinker. Whether from a Confucian, a Legalist, or even a Daoist perspective, law was viewed as an expedient, not as something noble or inviolable, or something that exists above and beyond the ruler.”
Chinese officials were Confucians concerned with the rule of virtue, not the rule of law. Confucius had not reasoned from systematic principles, still less from any ideas about the rights of individuals. Confucian ethic stressed the need to maintain outward obedience and respect for all authorities. Challenging the word of authority figures was seen as an unforgivable sign of disrespect. Offences against the authorities and the social order attracted special severity. A child’s disobedience to the father was a dreadful crime whereas there was a light sentence for a father killing a son for disobedience. Author Harry G. Gelber elaborates:
“In China, justice rested not on codes of law but on social norms and universal principles of Confucian morality. These would be applied by a court to any particular case in a process which also invariably leaned towards state interests. The imperial code was strongly weighted towards social order, and law was — and in modern China largely remains — a tool of administration, without reference to any ‘higher’ notion of natural law or even any system akin either to Roman or to Anglo-Saxon common law. That naturally created much uncertainty not just for the accused, but for the judge himself. There was no commercial law in a modern Western sense, although written contracts, and even some oral agreements, could be enforced by magistrates….Nor…was there any sense of firms as legal individuals. There was no Chinese equivalent to Western notions of sanctity of a written and signed contract….Moreover, given China’s system of collective responsibility, someone who might be personally innocent could be executed simply as the representative of a group, or a scapegoat. Family solidarity being such a powerful element of Chinese society, guilt by association was often assumed and punishment of relatives was a regular practice.”
The German sociologist Max Weber (1864-1920) in his influential study The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism identified capitalism with the Protestant branch of Christianity. I do think it is accurate to say that Protestant nations proved especially dynamic in adopting science and capitalism; Protestantism encouraged ordinary people to read the Bible in the vernacular, which spurred the growth of literacy. Still, there is no doubt that the foundations of capitalism were created in Catholic Europe, in the medieval city-states of northern Italy.
Western wealth began with urban growth and commerce in the twelfth century and accelerated during the Renaissance into the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries with the development of a relatively autonomous class of professional merchants. Friedrich von Hayek (1899-1992), an Austrian and later British economist and philosopher, identified a new individualism provided by Christianity and the philosophy of Classical Antiquity which was developed during the Renaissance. He explains this in his classic The Road to Serfdom:
“From the commercial cities of Northern Italy the new view of life spread with commerce to the west and north, through France and the south-west of Germany to the Low Countries and the British Isles, taking firm root wherever there was no despotic political power to stifle it….During the whole of this modern period of European history the general direction of social development was one of freeing the individual from the ties which had bound him to the customary or prescribed ways in the pursuit of his ordinary activities….Perhaps the greatest result of the unchaining of individual energies was the marvellous growth of science which followed the march of individual liberty from Italy to England and beyond….Only since industrial freedom opened the path to the free use of new knowledge, only since everything could be tried — if somebody could be found to back it at his own risk — and, it should be added, as often as not from outside the authorities officially entrusted with the cultivation of learning, has science made the great strides which in the last hundred and fifty years have changed the face of the world.”
Western growth has roots in the medieval period. Nathan Rosenberg and L.E. Birdzell Jr. investigate this in How The West Grew Rich: The Economic Transformation Of The Industrial World:
“Initially, the West’s achievement of autonomy stemmed from a relaxation, or a weakening, of political and religious controls, giving other departments of social life the opportunity to experiment with change. Growth is, of course, a form of change, and growth is impossible when change is not permitted. Any successful change requires a large measure of freedom to experiment. A grant of that kind of freedom costs a society’s rulers their feeling of control, as if they were conceding to others the power to determine the society’s future. The great majority of societies, past and present, have not allowed it. Nor have they escaped from poverty.”
World trade grew modestly until about 1840 and then took off. In 1913 the value of world trade was about twenty-five times what it had been in 1800 even though prices of manufactured goods and raw materials were in many cases lower. A true world economy had been created for the first time, centered in Europe. Great Britain played a particularly prominent role in using trade to tie the world and the far-flung British Empire together economically. This was greatly facilitated by the development of new means of transportation and communications. Railroads spread throughout Europe and North America to South America, Asia and Africa and together with steamships drastically reduced transportation costs. Intercontinental trade was facilitated by the building of the Suez and Panama Canals. The Industrial Revolution represented a point of unprecedented European global power.
As late as in 1880, European nations controlled only 10 percent of the African continent. Then came the “scramble for Africa” in which having colonies became something of a status symbol. European imperialism reached its peak in Asia at this time as well when the Dutch extended their rule of Java to cover most of what is today Indonesia, the British deepened their control of possessions such as India, the French established their rule over much of Indochina as well as West Africa and the United States acquired the Philippines in 1898 after the Spanish-American War. Overall, the economic gains from these colonies were in many cases surprisingly limited. They were often acquired more for political than for economic reasons. Technological superiority made many Europeans sincerely convinced that they could “civilize” other peoples, an idea embodied in Rudyard Kipling‘s poem White Man’s Burden.
According to authors Rosenberg and Birdzell, “Colonialism planted the seeds for the early development of today’s North and South American economies — an awesome accomplishment. But the Spanish, Portuguese, English, French, and Dutch colonial experiences and their consequences were various, even in the Americas. Spain and Portugal became major colonial powers without ever becoming advanced capitalist economies….Their most valuable colonies were in Latin America, and the home countries lost these to independence movements while they themselves were in a precapitalist stage of development. By far the most striking accomplishment of British colonialism was that it seeded several advanced Western economies, to the substantial benefit of the colonies: the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, and Singapore. These colonies’ economic accomplishments also benefited Britain, for controlled and exploitive trade with an economically backward colony is much less beneficial to an advanced country than its trade with other advanced countries. France built and lost a large colonial empire, remembered for the violent collapse of its Indo-Chinese rule and the almost equally violent end of its rule over what was probably its most economically successful colony, Algeria. In retrospect, there is little reason to think that its colonial ventures contributed positively to France’s economic growth.”
There is no general correlation between the magnitude and timing of Western countries’ economic growth and their colonial empires. Germany in the late nineteenth century outperformed France and at times even Britain in industry yet held only few and marginal colonies compared to the latter. Spain in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries had the world’s largest empire, yet suffered from inflation and military overstretch. Italy during the same time period was politically fragmented and plagued by attacks from Muslim pirates, yet there was no Spanish equivalent to Galileo during the Scientific Revolution. Copernicus was born in Poland, which never had a colonial history; Tycho Brahe was from tiny Denmark and Kepler from disunited Germany. England at the time of Newton was not yet a major colonial power compared to the Turks and their Ottoman Empire. The greatest astronomical revolution in history simply cannot be attributed to “colonial plundering” no matter how hard you try.
Imperialist Spain and Portugal did not achieve long-term growth, in contrast to non-imperialist Switzerland or Sweden. Spain and Portugal used slavery widely in their colonies, but lagged behind in the development of modern growth economies. Of the estimated 10-12 million Africans who were forcibly transported across the Atlantic between 1450 and 1900, several million ended up in Portuguese-ruled Brazil. Michael Hart speculates whether interbreeding with low-IQ peoples (African slaves) slightly lowered the national Portuguese IQ during the colonial period.
Sponsored by Prince Henry the Navigator (1394-1460), the Portuguese in the mid-1400s engaged in systematic voyages of discovery along the western coast of Africa, culminating when navigator Bartolomeu Dias (ca. 1450-1500) sailed around the southernmost tip of the continent in 1488, thereby opening the sea route to Asia. Mariner Vasco da Gama (ca. 1460-1524) and his crew reached India by way of the Cape of Good Hope (1497-99) and returned successfully to Lisbon loaded with spices and samples of Indian cloth. This triggered several armed clashes with Muslims, who had traditionally controlled much of this lucrative trade.
Such voyages required a certain minimum IQ for planning and execution, which a European nation such as the Portuguese had but not sub-Saharan Africans. This is why Europeans explored Africa, not vice versa. However, as to which European nation did this first, geographical location played a significant part. Portugal in southwestern Europe was ideally situated, whereas landlocked Hungarians for obvious reasons couldn’t have done the same.
The Spanish in all likelihood had higher average IQ than the peoples they conquered, but Eurasian crowd diseases played a huge part in the European conquest of the Americas. Cortes and Pizarro had superior steel weapons and armor against clubs and slingshots, but before the conquests of the Aztec and Inca Empires, deadly Eurasian diseases such as smallpox, often arriving before the first Europeans got there, decimated much of the local population. Jared Diamond correctly states that people with horses enjoyed an enormous military advantage over those without them. Only with the introduction of trucks and tanks in World War I did horses become supplanted as the main assault vehicle and means of fast transport in war.
Technological developments facilitated this Age of Exploration. Europeans may have been the first to use gunpowder to build large cannon, and while other civilizations in Eurasia used this invention, too, Europeans were especially adept at combining cannon with ships. The Portuguese and others pioneered new types of highly maneuverable sailing ships such as the caravel, and exploration led to improved maps and navigational techniques. The desire to Christianize pagan peoples was still very fresh among leading individuals such as Queen Isabella of Spain after centuries of struggles against Muslims. Government sponsorship was important for the Spanish and the Portuguese and in the seventeenth century for the Dutch East India Company. There was also the basic European curiosity about the world, although Asian spices and the search for material wealth were usually the most direct causes of these voyages. Vasco da Gama famously stated that the Portuguese sought “Christians and spices.”
Lynn White, the eminent American professor of medieval history, states that “By the end of the 15th century the technological superiority of Europe was such that its small, mutually hostile nations could spill out over all the rest of the world, conquering, looting, and colonizing. The symbol of this technological superiority is the fact that Portugal, one of the weakest states of the Occident, was able to become, and to remain for a century, mistress of the East Indies.” This was a radical new development during the Middle Ages, because “before the 11th century, science scarcely existed in the Latin West, even in Roman times.”
According to scholar Lynda Shaffer, the Chinese with their large and sophisticated navy “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 in 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.”
There is some truth in this. The Age of Exploration with Portugal and Spain initially began with a desire to link the world’s second-most important trading region, Europe and the Mediterranean world, with the world’s most important trading region, the Indian Ocean, and in doing so bypass Muslim middlemen. This is why Christopher Columbus mistakenly believed he had arrived in India when he reached the Americas. Europeans were initially more interested in buying Asian goods than vice versa, but this still doesn’t explain why the Chinese and other Asians didn’t create the equivalent of the Scientific and Industrial Revolutions. Genghis Khan (ca. 1162-1227) and the Mongols are sometimes blamed for this.
The Mongol conquests certainly had a disruptive impact and left a trail of devastation behind which severely depopulated regions from China and Korea via Iran and Iraq to Eastern Europe. It ended the dynamic Song Dynasty, yet even before this there were few indications that a development towards modern engines or mathematical physics was about to take place in China. A series of typhoons, dubbed kamikaze or “divine wind,” saved the Japanese from the Mongol fleets in 1274 and 1281, but they, too, didn’t develop a fully fledged industry until they adopted a Western model in the late nineteenth century Moreover, even if Western Europe escaped the Mongols, we should remember that Europeans 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 more prolonged assault by Islam.
Some Muslims have claimed that scientific advances in the Islamic world were halted by the Mongol conquests. This is inaccurate for a number of reasons. First of all because the conquests didn’t affect Syria, Egypt, North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, yet these regions didn’t make any more progress than did the Islamic East. Second of all, science in the Islamic world had already stagnated in many fields prior to this. In astronomy, Muslim achievements peaked after the conquests, in Iran with Mongol encouragement. Hulegu Khan gave his blessing to build the Maragha observatory after his troops had sacked Baghdad and ended the Abbasid Caliphate. His brother Kublai Khan constructed an observatory in China.
In Europe after the invention of eyeglasses and mechanical clocks, new scientific instruments for studying and quantifying the world were introduced, from telescopes and microscopes to thermometers, and their precision was steadily increased. After 1600, John Napier’s logarithms became important and new mathematics such as calculus and analytic geometry contributed immensely to analysis. A fundamental institutional pillar of Western science was the routinization of discovery, or the invention of invention. David S. Landes explains:
“Here was a widely dispersed population of intellectuals, working in different lands, using different vernaculars — and yet a community. What happened in one place was quickly known everywhere else, partly thanks to a common language of learning, Latin; partly to a precocious development of courier and mail services; most of all because people were moving in all directions. In the seventeenth century, these links were institutionalized, first in the person of such self-appointed human switchboards as Marin Mersenne (1588-1648), then in the form of learned societies with their corresponding secretaries, frequent meetings, and periodical journals. The earliest societies appeared in Italy — the Accadémia dei Lincei (the Academy of Lynxes) in Rome in 1603, the short-lived Accadémia del Cimento in Florence in 1653. More important in the long run, however, were the northern academies: the Royal Society in London in 1660, the Academia Parisiensis in 1635, and the successor Académie des Sciences in 1666. Even before, informal but regular encounters in coffeehouses and salons brought people and questions together. As Mersenne put it in 1634, ‘the sciences have sworn inviolable friendship to one another.’ Cooperation, then, but enormously enhanced by fierce rivalry in the race for prestige and honor.”
>From the seventeenth century onward Europeans created many scientific societies and journals. No similar arrangements and facilities for the propagation of scholarly learning were to be found outside of Europe. China lacked institutional continuity for science. In India there was no organization for the propagation or dissemination of knowledge, and an unbridgeable social barrier existed between theorists and craftsmen. The Middle East did little better.
US President Barack Hussein Obama’s speech delivered at Cairo University in Egypt in 2009 contained a remarkably high number of half-truths, distortions or plain lies. Take this quote:
“As a student of history, I also know civilization’s debt to Islam. It was Islam — at places like Al-Azhar University — that carried the light of learning through so many centuries, paving the way for Europe’s Renaissance and Enlightenment. It was innovation in Muslim communities that developed the order of algebra; our magnetic compass and tools of navigation; our mastery of pens and printing; our understanding of how disease spreads and how it can be healed. Islamic culture has given us majestic arches and soaring spires; timeless poetry and cherished music; elegant calligraphy and places of peaceful contemplation. And throughout history, Islam has demonstrated through words and deeds the possibilities of religious tolerance and racial equality.”
Is there even a single truthful statement in this entire paragraph? Muslims did create some fine calligraphy, and a few of their scholars made contributions to algebra, but apart from that it’s almost total nonsense. The magnetic compass was invented by the Chinese and possibly by Europeans and others independently. Printing of books, too, was invented by the Chinese, and was stubbornly and persistently rejected by Muslims for a thousand years or more due to Islamic religious resistance. They liked the Chinese invention of gunpowder a lot more.
No direct link has ever been proven between Gutenberg’s printing press and printing in East Asia, although it is conceivable that the basic idea of printing had been imported to Europe. In contrast, we know with 100% certainty that Muslims were familiar with East Asian printing but aggressively rejected it. Scholar Thomas Allsen in his book Culture and Conquest in Mongol Eurasia has described how the authorities in Iran under Mongolian rule in 1294 attempted to introduce Chinese-style printed banknotes but failed due to 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.”
It is likely that due to trade, Middle Easterners were familiar with printing centuries before this incident, yet because of Islamic religious resistance they did not adopt this great invention until a thousand years or more after it had been invented in China. Minorities such as Jews or Greek and Armenian Christians were the first to use printing presses in the Ottoman realms. The first book printed in the Persian language was probably a Judaeo-Persian Pentateuch.
Muslims had access to Greek optical theory. Alhazen’s Book of Optics, one of the best scientific works ever written in the Arabic language, was largely ignored in the Arabic-speaking world yet was studied with interest in Europe. It was written in Cairo, Egypt, but was not studied at al-Azhar close to where Alhazen lived for years. This is because al-Azhar was a center of religious education and sharia law, not secular learning and science.
In contrast, Greek philosophy and secular learning was taught at medieval European universities in addition to theology, which is why optics was studied by European scholars. I have encountered few if any institutions outside of Europe that I would call “universities” in the Western sense before the colonial era. Among the better candidates would be the Great Monastery of Nalanda in India, which was a Buddhist institution. It was not built by Muslims; it was destroyed by them, as were so many cultural treasures in India and Central Asia.
The Chinese education system introduced some level of meritocracy by preventing the bureaucracy from becoming completely hereditary. However, it was rigidly controlled and focused overwhelmingly on literary and moral learning. Men wasted years of their lives on passing higher level exams, often failing again and again. Toby E. Huff has investigated this in The Rise of Early Modern Science: Islam, China and the West, second edition:
“From the point of view of this study, the modern scientific revolution was both an institutional revolution and an intellectual revolution that reorganized the scheme of natural knowledge and validated a new set of conceptions of man and his cognitive capacities. The forms of reason and rationality that had been fused out of the encounter between Greek philosophy, Roman law, and Christian theology laid a foundation for believing in the essential rationality of man and nature. More importantly, this new metaphysical synthesis found an institutional home in the cultural and legal structures of medieval society — that is, the universities. Together they laid the foundations validating the existence of neutral institutional spaces within which intellects could pursue their intellectual inspiration while asking probing questions. Having laid those foundations, large sections of the Western world in the years after the Renaissance were enabled to go forward with the scientific movement as well as economic and political development.”
The medieval European university represented a real innovation, and Huff places its development, and the decision to include also natural sciences, not just theology, in its regular curriculum at the center of the later scientific achievements of the West:
“We should also not underestimate the magnitude of the step taken when it was decided (in part, following ancient tradition) to make the study of philosophy and all aspects of the natural world an official and public enterprise. If this seems a mundane achievement, it is due to our Eurocentrism which forgets that the study of the natural sciences and philosophy was shunned in the Islamic colleges of the Middle East and that all such inquiries were undertaken in carefully guarded private settings. Likewise, in China, there were no autonomous institutions of learning independent of the official bureaucracy; the ones that existed were completely at the mercy of the centralized state. Nor were philosophers given the liberty to define for themselves the realms of learning as occurred in the West.”
The Chinese had a tradition for viewing non-Chinese as barbarians, but one of China’s main challenges was that scientists found little room for independent thinking in an autocratic system with a centralized bureaucracy focused on Confucian literary classics and calligraphy. “The pursuit of scientific subjects was thereby relegated to the margins of Chinese society.” This does not mean that you cannot find promising beginnings in pharmacology, alchemy or medicine, “But in the end, institutions matter, as many economists have reminded us. Without them, fertile seeds of intellectual brilliance fail to grow into hardy plants.”
In The Great Divergence: China, Europe, and the Making of the Modern World Economy, Kenneth Pomeranz claims that several Asian countries, especially China and Japan, were at least as advanced as Western Europe by the year 1800. Europe didn’t diverge critically from Asia until then, and the Industrial Revolution started in Britain in part due to a geographical accident because they had easy access to coal, and in part because of their overseas colonies and markets. In his view it had rather little to do with superior science or technology.
This claim is flat-out wrong. In the theoretical sciences, Europeans were ahead of East Asians throughout the late medieval and early modern periods, and the gap was rapidly increasing. These advances gradually affected applied technology as well. The Chinese had known about magnetism for centuries, yet they never discovered the connection between it and electricity, exemplified by telegraphy. Did Europeans have “easy access” to electromagnetism? Modern European studies of the speed and properties of light were far more advanced than Asian ones. Was this because Europeans had “easy access” to light? Didn’t they have light in Asia?
Medieval Europeans did well in mining technology, and this knowledge was carried to the New World. The Spanish Empire linked the Americas to the Philippines and Asia through regular convoys across the Pacific Ocean. The Spanish carried so much silver from Mexico to China that the Mexican dollar was a recognized currency in some Chinese coastal provinces. After 1400 China was remonetizing its economy, and silver was becoming the store of value.
Kenneth Pomeranz states that “The enormous demand for silver this created made it far more valuable in China (relative to gold and to most other goods) than anywhere else in the world: and China itself had few silver mines. Consequently, China was already importing huge amounts of silver (mostly from Japan, and to some extent from India and Southeast Asia) in the century before Western ships reached Asia. When Westerners did arrive, carrying silver from the richest mines ever discovered (Latin America produced roughly 85 percent of the world’s silver between 1500 and 1800) yielded large and very reliable arbitrage profits.”
In Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World, a largely — and in my view excessively — pro-Mongol book, author Jack Weatherford claims that the Mongol conquests triggered the Renaissance in Europe by opening up the continent to ideas from Asia:
“Because much of the Mongol Empire had been based on novel ideas and ways of organizing public life rather than on mere technology, these ideas provoked new thoughts and experiments in Europe. The common principles of the Mongol Empire — such as paper money, primacy of the state over the church, freedom of religion, diplomatic immunity, and international law — were ideas that gained new importance….Under the widespread influences from the paper and printing, gunpowder and firearms, and the spread of the navigational compass and other maritime equipment, Europeans experienced a Renaissance, literally a rebirth, but it was not the ancient world of Greece and Rome being reborn: It was the Mongol Empire, picked up, transferred, and adapted by the Europeans to their own needs and culture.”
There are frequent claims these days that Western science was facilitated by medieval translations from Arabic. So, we encounter claims that the Renaissance was what caused the great advances in Western science and that it was triggered by Muslims in the twelfth century or Mongols in the thirteenth century. Yet according to Pomeranz, there was nothing special about Europe until the nineteenth century. An intelligent reader will quickly see that all of these different claims cannot be true at the same time, yet they are all made at the same time.
The point here is not what is factually correct, the point is to put down any sense of pride people of European origins might have in their historical achievements. It is a bit ironic that European culture is constantly derided for being racist, oppressive and evil, yet everybody else seems very busy with claiming the honor for having created it. If we are racist oppressors who rape the Earth and create global warming, why are Muslims and others so eager to take credit for having created our culture? Shouldn’t they feel ashamed of themselves instead?
Western Multiculturalists claim that all cultures are equal, yet only one of them created modern organized science. This is the big elephant in the middle of the room. Multiculturalists try to explain this away by stating that: A.) Science was invented independently in many regions and “merged” into modern science. B.) All cultures and peoples are equal. If one of them appears to be more successful than others, this must be because it exploits and oppresses the others. Since European civilization has been uniquely influential this can only be because it is uniquely evil. Consequently, stamping it out is a good deed for the sake of Earth and for mankind. An alternative way to respond to this explanatory challenge of why modern science emerged in Europe is to ignore the problem all together and talk about zebras and Australian plants instead. This is Jared Diamond’s preferred solution.
The truth is that the Scientific Revolution was the greatest achievement of the human mind in all history, and it was done by Europeans, not by anybody else. We can debate why this was the case, which can make for a fascinating discussion, but the end result is not debatable.
Pomeranz admits that there were no true scientific societies in China, but states that “unlike in Europe, where these formal scientific societies were often essential to protecting science from a hostile established church, in China there was no such powerful and hostile body.”
This is misleading. If the Christian Church had always been anti-science, it is unlikely that the Scientific Revolution would have taken place in Christian Europe. If Mr. Pomeranz had studied Toby Huff’s excellent work he would know that the situation was far worse in China. The Hongwu Emperor, or Taizu, was the founder (rule 1368-98) of the Ming Dynasty. He came from a poor family and created a new dynasty in the world’s largest economy. He was obviously a forceful character, but his case does illustrate underlying problems in the Chinese model. The Emperor thought that the students at the Imperial Academy were too unruly and appointed his nephew as head of the institution. Later he issued a set of pronouncements:
“In the third of these proclamations (ca. 1386) there was a ‘list of ‘bad’ metropolitan degree holders,’ that is, chin-shih or ‘doctorates,’ along with the names of some students. ‘He prescribed the death penalty for sixty-eight metropolitan degree holders and two students; penal servitude for seventy degree holders and twelve students.’ The author of this account in the Cambridge History of China adds that these lists ‘must have discouraged men of learning.’ Appended to the edict was a further reprimand. The emperor ‘would put to death any man of talent who refused to serve the government when summoned. As he put it, ‘To the edges of the land, all are the king’s subjects….Literati in the realm who do not serve the ruler are estranged from teaching [of Confucius]. To execute them and confiscate the property of their families is not excessive.’ The trial and punishment of Galileo (confinement to his villa overlooking Florence) is nothing compared to this.”
Copernicus’s 1543 book about heliocentrism did not produce an immediate upheaval; not until 1616 during the Catholic Counter-Reformation was it officially declared erroneous. As James Evans says, “Owen Gingerich has examined nearly all the surviving copies of the 1543 and 1566 editions of De revolutionibus, which total more than 500 books. The majority of copies in Italy were censored in conformity with the decree. But the decree had almost no effect elsewhere. Not even in Catholic Spain or Portugal were copies censored. The condemnation of De revolutionibus had very little impact on the acceptance of the heliocentric hypothesis. Even the famous trial of Galileo for continuing to advocate heliocentrism after the condemnation only served to popularize the new cosmology.”
One of the reasons why the West has enjoyed exceptionally high levels of sustained innovation is because we have often enjoyed a greater degree of political liberty and free speech than many other cultures. At least, we used to do so. In some critical fields we no longer do. What we are witnessing now is an experiment of unprecedented magnitude in world history: Never before have a massive amount of low-IQ peoples been allowed to settle in lands where the native inhabitants have substantially higher average IQ than themselves.
The European Union is currently promoting mass immigration to Western European countries by peoples from other cultures. It also imposes a centralized, authoritarian structure which used to be alien to pre-Communist Europe, but in some ways resembles a bureaucratic empire such as Ming Dynasty China. During all of previous European history, no single authority has ever been able to successfully censor ideas throughout the entire Continent, which, frankly, has been one of Europe’s greatest strengths. The EU in collaboration with the national Multicultural elites is now purposefully destroying what have traditionally been Europe’s foremost comparative advantages: High average IQ combined with free inquiry.
Michael Hart in Understanding Human History deals with the issue of whether it is immoral to consider the possibility there could be differences in intelligence between various ethnic groups, and whether believing so makes you a “Nazi.” He suggests that the potential existence of such differences is not a moral question at all, but merely a factual one:
“Such differences (if they exist) are merely facts of nature; as such, they may be unfortunate, but cannot be immoral. Plainly, if such differences actually exist it is not immoral to believe that they exist, nor to honestly state one’s belief that they exist, nor to study the differences. And even if the differences do not exist, a belief that they do (if honestly held) is not immoral, nor is a serious inquiry into the question immoral. The attempt to turn factual questions into moral questions is the essence of dogmatism, and has long been a hindrance to scientific progress. A well-known example involves the conviction of Galileo by the Inquisition in 1633. The members of the court that condemned him were turning a factual question (‘Does the Earth revolve about the Sun?’) into a moral question (‘Is such a belief contrary to scripture, and therefore heretical?’)”
Throughout the Western world there is powerful censorship of anything related to Multiculturalism or mass immigration of non-European peoples. In Europe, EU authorities constitute one of the major forces behind this in collaboration with national authorities, the media and the academia in various countries. Together they promote mass immigration and ideological “anti-racism” through social and legal intimidation as well as propaganda campaigns designed to silence anybody who might conceivably object to the above mentioned policies. This is easily the most serious cases of censorship in this civilization’s history. Much of Europe has enjoyed a remarkable genetic continuity since the Old Stone Age. Native Europeans are now supposed to be displaced by peoples with a completely different genetic profile, but we’re not allowed to debate the long-term consequences of doing so.
Galileo vs. the Inquisition was a bad moment in European history, but the attempted censorship of the heliocentric cosmology of Copernicus had little long-term effect. Moreover, this censorship didn’t do anything to change physical reality. The Earth still orbits the Sun.
When scientists decoded a human genome after the year 2000 they were quick to portray it as proof of mankind’s remarkable similarity. The DNA of any two individuals, they emphasized, is at least 99 percent identical. But new research is exploring the remaining fraction to explain observed differences. After all, you who read these words may well be 99.5 % or more genetically identical to Newton and Einstein, but that last bit made a rather huge difference.
In 2007 The New York Times in the USA, a center-left newspaper very concerned about “racism,” real or imagined, asked in the article In DNA Era, New Worries About Prejudice “whether society is prepared to handle the consequences of science that may eventually reveal appreciable differences between races in the genes that influence socially important traits.” Multiculturalists have, reluctantly, admitted that race is not “socially constructed” when it comes to medicine; some ethnic groups are more susceptible to certain diseases than others.
It is likely that we in the twenty-first century will witness a genetic revolution that will change our view of biology as profoundly as the Copernican theory changed our view of astronomy. Maybe we will identify not only which genes are responsible for certain diseases, but also combinations of genes that contribute to unusually high intelligence. Perhaps a few generations from now, claiming that people are more or less genetically identical and that emphasizing differences in abilities between various ethnic groups is “racism” will appear just as quaint and irrational as it does for us to read older claims that the Sun orbits the Earth. The big difference is that once anti-Copernicanism had been discredited, the Western world was still much the same as before. If or when anti-racism has been scientifically discredited and it has been conclusively established that people really do have different levels of intelligence and capabilities, an entire civilization, the most creative and influential that has ever existed in human history, could in the meantime have been irreversibly destroyed in the process.
Research by Rice University professor John Alford in 2008 found that identical twins were more likely to agree on political issues than were fraternal twins. He thinks that political scientists are too quick to dismiss genetics, and believes that genetics should be studied along with social influences. Alford’s research — and there are others studies with similar results — indicates that people who have a similar genetic make-up think in similar ways as well.
Let us take this principle and apply it to entire societies: What if culture has a genetic component, perhaps even a powerful one? I am not a believer in genetic determinism as there are quite a few events in history that cannot be successfully explained by IQ or genes, but there are also many that can. Even if genes do not determine everything that does in no way imply that they don’t matter at all, yet the ruling ideology in the West today stipulates that everything is “socially constructed” and that all observed differences between groups of people are caused by prejudice and “racism,” by which is usually meant white racism only.
The case of the state of Israel is interesting. I have heard reports that it is difficult to integrate Ethiopian Jews in Israeli society. This could be because they have an African genetic profile which makes them too different from Middle Eastern or especially European Jews. If you postulate that any society cannot successfully absorb a substantial number of people with a radically different genetic profile, this will explain why Africans haven’t been integrated into the United States after living there for several centuries, longer than many European immigrants who were seamlessly assimilated. We could mention the case of the Gypsies, too, who come from India originally and have been living in Eastern and Central Europe for the better part of a thousand years (since the Late Middle Ages) but still aren’t integrated there.
One of our major problems is binary thinking. In the binary system there are only ones and zeros, on and off. You cannot be anything in between, just like you cannot be slightly pregnant. When it comes to matters related to IQ and genetic intelligence, the basic impulse among most Western academics is to make the subject taboo and denounce all those who touch it as “racists.” This is anti-scientific and should be rejected as such. On the other hand you find those who attribute almost everything to genetic intelligence, which is simplistic.
It wasn’t genetic changes that made medieval Italians create capitalism when Roman Italians had never done the same. It is unlikely that changes in IQ is why Scandinavians in the Viking Age were feared as warriors yet are now considered feminized sissies. European societies changed greatly when they adopted Christianity, as societies often do with a new religion. Western Europe by the early 1900s was the most powerful civilization on Earth and still ruled much of the planet. A century later the same region doesn’t even rule its own suburbs. I seriously doubt that the Western European IQ has drastically declined in the meantime. What happened is that the European spirit was broken, especially by two devastating wars and by the dysfunctional and dangerous Utopian ideologies that were unleashed in the process.
High IQ doesn’t automatically make you a more moral person. Joseph Goebbels, Minister of Propaganda in Nazi Germany, definitely had very high intelligence, yet this only enabled him to implement evil more effectively. The same can be said about Communist revolutionary leader Vladimir Lenin. I sometimes wonder whether Europeans have become addicted to implementing destructive ideologies. In that case, high IQ won’t always help us.
People with an IQ of 100 will always have a far greater potential for great achievements than people with an IQ of 80. To what extent that potential is realized or inhibited depends to a large extent on cultural factors. You can easily destroy the ability of high-IQ peoples to utilize their potential, but you cannot create additional potential for low-IQ peoples. North Korea can be made a poorer country than South Korea through Communism, but West Africans can never become pioneers in space exploration. France has produced some of the greatest mathematicians in recorded history. Algeria has produced virtually none. I seriously doubt whether France will continue to produce great mathematicians if it is populated by Algerians.
Yes, I know that there are many white Marxists and others who are hostile to Western civilization, and there are many non-whites who genuinely admire this civilization and want to preserve it. Culture does not always follow genes, but on the other hand it is questionable whether the two can be completely separated. What if culture is at least partly the product a specific group of people with a related genetic profile? What if cultural heritage cannot be totally separated from genetic heritage and that in order to preserve the former in any meaningful way you must also preserve the latter? If so, Western culture was historically the product of European peoples and can only be maintained by them. In that case, perhaps US President Barack Hussein Obama will be remembered as a transitional figure in the evolution of the USA from a Western to a non-Western country with a non-European majority.
While Jared Diamond’s book Guns, Germs, and Steel contains some worthwhile parts, the overall conclusion is almost certainly wrong. You can just look at the state of California to disprove it. California was by the 1960s and 70s the economic engine of the USA and by the extension the world. By 2009 it is close to bankruptcy. The reason for this is not that the geography of California changed, nor its plants or animals to any significant degree. What changed was the demographic make-up of California. As long as it was predominantly inhabited by whites it was a dynamic region. As soon as it become inhabited by Mexicans and other lower-IQ Third World peoples it came increasingly to resemble a Third World region. Diamond is currently a Professor at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), which means that he can see clearly that his theories are flawed just by looking out the window.
Jared Diamond is a poor and dishonest scientist for failing to seriously consider alternative hypotheses which sometimes explain observed reality better than his own. So why has he become so popular and influential? Because he gave the Western Multicultural elites exactly what they wanted to hear: People are equal, what matters is geography. This is an ideological green light for mass immigration of people from failed countries and cultures to the West. If you follow this logic to the extreme you should be able to swap the populations of, say, Japan and Kenya. Kenyans would then have access to all those magnificent Japanese plants and would therefore become much cleverer and would develop the next lines of high-tech cars for Toyota and Mitsubishi or sophisticated TVs for Sony. Personally, I don’t buy that idea. The experiences brought by non-Western immigration to Western cities so far indicate otherwise.