Sunday, January 26, 2003


Orrin Judd and many other American Christians think that Christianity is the main source of the high level of respect for individual liberties that prevails in English-speaking countries.

I respectfully disagree. I have argued that it is our pre-Christian Anglo-Saxon heritage (working largely via Protestantism in recent centuries) that is primarily responsible. The German-speaking, Anglo-Saxon �barbarians� who conquered Britannia and turned it into England 1500 years ago had a form of social organization that was tribal and decentralized rather than centralized and that was consultative rather than despotic -- and those values were never lost.

Razib leans my way in the matter by pointing out that there have been many Christian societies (such as Byzantium) that did not greatly respect individual liberties.

Tim Gillin has been doing some reading on the topic too:

This Christianity versus barbarianism as a source of liberty and prosperity argument is fascinating. My gut feeling is that the barbarians have the stronger case, but of course over hundreds of years these influences will echo off each other too.

Leonard Liggio has an interesting comment about the Christianity and liberty argument, what he doesn't mention here is that the "polycentric" power structure of western europe had German, celtic and "barbarian" roots. Christendom provided a common culture but local rulers competed for power and the loyalty of their subjects, both with each other and the Church.

R&L: What role did Christianity play in the emergence of the components of a free society: free markets, limited government, and the like?

Liggio: I think we have to look at comparative history. Of all the civilizations around the world, why did only the Christian West become both free and prosperous? We are talking about distinctions between civilizations. Asian civilization, for example, did not become free and prosperous, even though it had a lot of cultural creativity. But we must also look at other Christian civilizations, such as the Byzantine, Abyssinian, Georgian, and Armenian Christian empires, all of which lasted for many centuries but did not create the kind of free and prosperous society the Christian West did.

Many scholars have studied this and have come to the conclusion that this is due to the fact that the religious institutions were totally separate from, and often in conflict with, political institutions only in the Christian West. This created the space in which free institutions could emerge. The idea of independent religious institutions is absent even in Eastern Christianity; their religious institutions are part of the bureaucracy of the state. In Western Europe, though, the religious institutions were autonomous among themselves, and totally independent from and often in opposition to state power. The result was the creation of a polycentric system. And whenever this system was threatened by claims of total empire by the political rulers, Christian philosophy was utilized as part of its defense.

So within that space, the economic institutions-often modeled on the religious institutions as autonomous entities-could flourish and survive

Another historian Ralph Raico may be closer too it, and refers to a string of historians working in this field.

" In the past few decades, eminent historians, economic historians, economists, and sociologists have contributed to framing and buttressing this powerful paradigm, our paradigm. It has been presented in works with titles such as How the West Grew Rich and The European Miracle. (In this literature, "Europe" is often a shorthand term for Europe and its outposts, above all the United States.) Scholars of the rank of David Landes, Douglass North, and Jean Baechler have participated in this project.

Although there are, naturally, differences among these scholars, the gist of the view is that Europe developed economically and eventually outstripped the rest of the world largely because it was at once a common civilization - Latin Christendom - but also a radically decentralized mosaic of polities. This created multiple opportunities for economic and also political progress. There was competition among political entities, which came to see that a favorable treatment of property rights retained and attracted productive citizens. On the other hand, when a state behaved as states customarily did and do throughout history - as an "unconstrained predator" - it tended to lose ground to competing states, as Professor Bouckaert has indicated..."

Liggio and Raico, and presumably the other historians mentioned, see "freedom and prosperity" as a by-product of political decentalisation overlaying a wider common culture. The barbarians were generally freedom loving, for example, the Old Icelandic culture, almost 'pure barbarians', there was no pre-existing christian civilization to conquer. They were relatively free but never especially prosperous (although their literary output was remarkable). They developed a decentralised political system that maintained a high level of freedom from overlords for about 350 years.

So a good case can be made that the decentralisation was part of the barbarian heritage. Was this the key ingredient?

Of course Joseph Stromberg points out that the very word "freedom" has a Germanic/Anglo-Saxon origin (Freiheit in modern High German). This might just settle the debate in favour of the barbarians, but then again he points out that "liberty" has Latin roots too!!!! (Liber = �free� in Latin)



This finding will drive the Greenies crazy (Or it should if they are genuine): Fields of sugar beet full of weeds and insects have for the first time challenged the idea that crops genetically-modified to resist weedkillers are bad for wildlife. The experiments suggest that the careful use of GM technology can encourage back the wildlife lost in conventional crop fields - without sacrificing farmers' yields..

Spiked also points out the environmental benefits of GM crops. Saying: When it comes to GM crops, Europe could learn a lot from the developing world

Writing on his �other� blog, China hand joins the throng who cannot understand the Greenie opposition to standard bushfire prevention measures. Do they WANT their precious native species to be all killed in one huge conflagration? It seems so. And it is happening right now. Imbeciliic!

Michael Darby has had a few posts saying that too.


Comments? Email me. If there are no recent posts here, check my HomePage for a new blog address or visit my "First Draft" site here.


No comments: