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December 31, 2002

Change is always in the air

Steve Sailer points me to this article by J.P. Zmirak titled Tolkien, Hitler, and Nordic Heroism. Interesting reading, but there is one thing that caught my eye:

Tolkien saw in this literature a great, unsung moment in the birth of the West. Like the Baron de Montesquieu, Tolkien saw as specifically "Nordic" the individualism and hatred for tyranny that pervades these sagas, which set medieval and modern man apart from the obedient subjects of Rome and Byzantium. (See David Gress’ From Plato to NATO for more on this fascinating connection.)

I've read Gress' book, it was very erudite. But I'm always perplexed by this idea that Germans barbarians introduced the idea of freedom to the west. What happened to those Greeks who resisted the Persians? The Roman Republic conquering decadent Oriental despotisms? Or the idea that National Socialism took root in Germany because of its authoritarian cultural orientation?

Both the Greeks and Romans did move toward authoritarian despotisms. And Scandinavia and Germany have moved toward "Social Democracy" and the "Social Market" polities. Is there much of a difference?

Posted by razib at 11:14 PM

"Social Democracy" is not much different from an oriental despotism? Oh hear the groans of the Europeans!

Posted by: Dick Thompson at January 1, 2003 08:23 AM

As for Anglo-Saxons in England having institutional contraints in their system of government on the exercise of monarchical power see web references to the "witenagemot" as at: http://www.slider.com/enc/57000/witenagemot.htm

While we are into Anglo-Saxon history, do have a look at what are rated as Britain's Top Ten national treasures on the British Museum website at:


The craftsmanship of the artefacts from the Sutton Hoo ship burial site from c. 620AD are worth a special look to see just how primitive the Anglo-Saxons really were. The intricacy of the handiwork on the jewellery of someone of high nobility is amazing by any standard. The jewels at least - mainly garnets - were almost certainly imported, it is thought probably from India. Remember we are talking about the 7th century AD.

Posted by: Bob Briant at January 1, 2003 05:09 PM

1) the germanic democratic consensus on social democracy is remiscient of the populace demanding that augustus stay on as princeps-he established peace and order, the liberty of a few aristocrats be damned

2) my general point-all cultures go through phases, and unfortunately liberty seems to give way to autocracy as time progresses.

Posted by: razib at January 1, 2003 10:07 PM

>2) my general point-all cultures go through phases, and unfortunately liberty seems to give way to autocracy as time progresses.

Evidently the very antithesis of the Whig interpretation of history but with the recent proliferation of laws curtailing civil rights and empowering governments to monitor all private communications, I can see what you mean.

Posted by: Bob at January 2, 2003 06:42 AM

i wish it weren't so. like differences in g between the races, i would like to be refuted. but the facts speak for themselves.

Posted by: razib at January 2, 2003 03:51 PM

It's a mixed picture, really.

Some indices of human welfare, at least for the affluent countries, show improvements: The scope for personal choice has increased; health and life expectancy are improving; more people are getting a better education; more can afford to travel further and more often; computer communications are a boon and costs are falling - something perhaps better appreciated by folks like me who can recall times when the only computers around were inaccessible mainframes and phone calls were really costly. :-)

OTOH I've long lost count of just how many civil wars are going on in places around the world. The gap between the living standards of affluent and developing countries appears to be widening. Whatever the tensions, the bipolar world of the Cold War era was a more more stable situation than the one we are moving towards. When I was a pre-teen in the early 1950s, a medical physicist once went out of his way to explain the technical feasibility of making a basic nuke via the plutonium route using equipment in most universities or large hospitals - it would take time but it could be done, was his assessment getting on for 50 years back. Within the next 30 years China will become the world's largest economy. At the very least that will increase the world demand for oil unless we adapt to using more fuel efficient road vehicles. Whatever the cause, global warming seems to be steadily increasing and climate change will bring changes in agriculture in world3 countries where many live by subsistence farming. In places - like the Sino-Soviet border - there are substantial differences now in population densities either side of the border.

I take heart from this: Britain's resident population increased three fold during the 19th century. Suppose someone had made the correct population projection c. 1800 and then asked: But where are all the extra jobs coming from? Who could have said when there were no railways or bulk steel production, no steam ships, no electricity or gas supply, no telecommunications etc? The Doomsday forecasts of the Club of Rome back in the early 1970s based on computer modelling haven't materialised - by the end of the century we were due to be running out of most raw materials, as I recall. Not so.

Posted by: Bob Briant at January 2, 2003 10:18 PM

Much to comment on there...

On Razib's original point, though, there was indeed some respect for the individual in parts of ancient Greece (Athens mainly) and among the patricians of Republican Rome (not so good if you were a Plebeian) but where WE got our respect for individual liberty does appear to be Germany.

And the idea that modern Germans are "Kadaver gehorsam" (obedient) is quite late -- a Prussian idea (much of Prussia was not German) imposed by Bismarck and used by Hitler. Up until Bismarck, Germany was very fractionated and fractious.

Posted by: John Ray at January 3, 2003 06:34 PM