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March 14, 2003

The Scots

This week I read the book How the Scots Invented the Modern World: The True Story of How Western Europe's Poorest Nation Created Our World and Everything in It. Well, the British title, The Scottish Enlightenment: The Scots' Invention of the Modern World, is more appropriate. A more accurate one might have been How Scots invented more about the modern world than you thought. But the book is only a little over 300 pages-so I would recommend it. The thing that I noted most is that it illustrates the Anglospheric tension between the axiomatic & organic-the Scottish espousal of universal values that seemed to have evolved out of historically conditioned particularisms. Though to give full disclosure, I am a big fan of David Hume-so no surprise that this book was a pleasure to read for me (though it gives more ink to Adam Smith).

Posted by razib at 11:53 PM




Below is what I blogged about that book on 11th Feb

In his book How the Scots Invented the Modern World, Arthur Herman points to the very substantial contribution made by Scots to the the development of modern Western thinking and the invention by Scots of much in modern Western technology. So how does that square with the contention that the modern world was essentially a Germanic invention? Surely the Scots are Celts rather than Germanic!

I doubt however that the Scottish case constitutes a crucial objection. Some reasons why:

* To my knowledge both the Chinese and the Russians make similar claims to have produced many great inventions. Most things seem to have had more than one "inventor"

* There is an awful lot that the Scots did NOT invent -- from the printing press onwards.

* The Scottish lowlands (where most Scots live) were thoroughly colonized by the Anglo-Saxons so most Scots have substantial Germanic ancestry.

* The Celtic Scots got at least Germanic culture via Protestantism and the English hegemony generally.

The reviews in the Amazon site linked above are well worth a read.

On the political front however, the Scots show very clearly the Germanic difference. Scotland has long been heavily socialist, returning very few Tory members to the Westminster parliament. When English voters swung very heavily towards Margaret Thatcher in 1979, Scotland actually swung away from the Tories! So the greater Celtic element in the Scots ancestry does seem to make a marked difference in politics. Where the Germanic English favour individualism and conservatism, the Celtic Scots favour collectivism and socialism.

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Posted by: John Ray at March 16, 2003 05:01 AM


the scots are derived from 5 nations-the picts (probably brythonic celtic), the strathclyde celts of argyll (brythonic celtic and related to the welsh), the anglo-saxons that pushed their way up from northumbria and the scotti-the gaels from ulster. the period bewtween the 8th and 11th century (and to a lesser extent earlier) was the time of celtic hegemony. with the norman intrusion the celtic domination of scottish life receded and broad scots (a form of english-though different enough to straddle the line between language and dialect) the norm. i think many people emphasize the celtic nature of the scottish because it makes them more exotic and interesting to the english, but lowland scots and the northern english shared a lot for nearly a thousand years in contrast to the southern english. note that labor (ergo socialism) ias powerful in the industrial cities of the north in addition to scotland.

finally, just as england has the danelaw, the scotland's northeast fringe has a substantial norse contribution....

(the assimilation of celt by non-celt and vice versa indicates to me the common affinity of northwest europeans-for instance, the old english (french & english) who came with the norman intrustion in the pale around dublin as well as the norse that settled around the irish littoral were absorbed and spoke gaelic [though not always exclusively in the case of the old english elite] by the time of the elizabethean conquest. later during the potato famine & after the irish as a whole gave up their gaelic for english)

Posted by: razib at March 16, 2003 01:44 PM