June 19, 2017

History has a bad rap. Henry Ford said, “History is bunk.” The philosopher Hegel agreed, “The only thing we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history.” Huck Finn agreed, “by and by she let it out that Moses had been dead a considerable long time: so then I didn’t care no more about him, because I don’t take no stock in dead people.”

Many, if not most, people today would agree with Huck, Hegel, and Henry. Which is a shame. On the other hand, I claim we can learn a lot from the past. Not so much from the details that history buffs and professional historians are fond of but from the big ideas that have supported and dominated previous Ages. Specifically, the ideas we willy-nilly have inherited from past Ages—the 100,000-year-long Hunting/Gathering Age and the 10,000-year-long Agricultural Age that followed.

I summarized my speculations on a series if videos now available free on YouTube—Democray in World History and Democracy–the Basics.

Here are some highlights:

Part 1:  Democracy in the Ancient World.

Includes the nasty, brutish, short, and cannibal-filled lives of primitive tribal people on all continents in the Hunting/Gathering Age. This was the age when Homo sapiens evolved in competition with other omnivores, carnivores, and other members of the family Homo. The program also surveys the first attempts at democracy in the Agricultural Age of ancient Greece, Rome, and Medieval Europe, pointing out that they did have some features of democracy, but were forced to rely on serfs. peasants, or slaves to do the scut work.

Part 2: Renaissance, Reformation, and Enlightenment.

A critical time for Modern Age> Democracy. Islamic and Jewish cultures were actually superior through most of the Middle Ages. Islam faltered and left it to Jews and Christians to pioneer the first steps in the democracy direction. A popular video that explains why the Enlightenment is so important to the founding of the USA and the Modern Age.

Part 3: The Industrial Revolution, Capitalism, and the United States of America

Gives a good summary view of why I, and others, look on this country as exceptional. Not because our citizens are better than other countries but because we founded and led the way into the Modern Age. I also claim this Modern Age is uniquely founded on three factors—science and technology, free-market Capitalism, and Freedom of (and from) Religion.

It also highlights the most important by far of the memes (cultural ideas, traits, behaviors, and beliefs) inherited from both the 100,000-year-long Hunting/Gathering Age and the 10,000-year-long Agricultural Age. This meme is now a reactionary view of wealth and resources as land and resources. It was true in hunting/gathering times where it led to constant wars between tribes to get and hold the better hunting and gathering land. It was also true in agricultural days for the similar obvious reasons. It led to countless savage bloody imperialist wars to gain resources like oil, gold, other minerals, and living space for expanding populations It is a very reactionary view in the Modern Age where wealth depends not on land and resources but on efficiency and creativity.

Part 4: The Communist Challenge

In the 19th century, Karl Marx saw capitalism as uniquely progressive and uniquely evil. Capitalists brought progress and wealth but to the owner bourgeoisie, not to the worker proletariat. In fact, Marx saw all history as a fierce struggle between evil owners and slave workers, and the workers would inevitably win. Later socialists like Vladimir Lenin, Leon Trotsky, Fidel Castro, Mao Zedong, and Bernie Sanders emphasized the evil (capitalist corporations) and neglected the progressive (growth). The result was a disaster in socialist countries in the 20th and the 21st centuries.

Marx was right about capitalism being a growth force but he grossly underestimated workers. Under the freedom of capitalism, workers did not revolt but instead used unions to get better wages than they ever dreamed of in socialist countries where unions were usually banned.

Part 5: The Fascist Challenge

Fascism, like Socialism, was started in Italy and was basically a heresy of Christianity—with charity for some but no god. The Nazis were also socialists at heart (Nazi is short for National Socialist German Worker’s Party). The Nazis did lead Germany to new heights of power, wealth, and order, but at a fearful price paid by Jews, gypsies, communists, handicapped and gays in concentration camps and then in the final solution—the Holocaust.

Part 6: Democracy in the 21st Century

Brings it all up to date and has recommendations for today.

There is also a popular series of videos, Democracy—The Basics. Six complete videos, one on the past and one on the present and future. All deal with my claim that the necessary basic building stones of Modern Age are three—Capitalism. Science, and Freedom of and from Religion.

Capitalism and Democracy

Many intellectuals will gag at the title because many look on socialism as a more fitting partner with democracy. I don’t.

As evidence, I cite China’s experience with both. I could list many other countries as well like the India, Venezuela, the Koreas, Brazil, Germany, Cuba, Cambodia, Vietnam, Argentina, etc. All toyed with Marxist ideas. All failed with disastrous results for citizens—famines, massacres, and in general misery for all but the ruling class.

Mau Zedong, for instance, was an international hero, lived a rich life with great wealth, lavish protected villas, rich foods, and many concubines. The average Chinese paid dearly for this luxury with extreme poverty, famines, massacres, and bitter humiliations. It was much the same in Russia, Cambodia, India, Argentina, Venezuela, and Cuba. The intellectual rulers often did make a false show of fake frugal living for public consumption.

Since both China and India (and many smaller nations) have adopted free-market capitalism (in China’s case without changing the communist label) there indeed is more capitalist inequality but the increase in wealth actually does trickle down. All classes are getting richer. As Jane and I found on a recent visit. Peasants were not protesting but singing in the streets, “It’s great to be rich!”

Science and Democracy

One of democracy’s most important allies is science and technology. Learn how science and technology (like capitalism and freedom) is necessary for democracy but not sufficient. In Part One the early history of both science and democracy is traced on all continents. It stresses the importance of enduring ideas of the West that first arose in Greece, Rome, and Judeo-Christian memes. Part Two explains how these ideas were modified in the west’s Renaissance, Reformation, and Enlightenment when modern experimental science was born.

Religion and Democracy

A critical time for Modern Age Democracy. Islamic and Jewish cultures were actually superior through most of the Middle Ages. Islam faltered and left it to Jews and Christians to pioneer the first steps in the democracy direction. A popular video that explains why the Enlightenment is so important to the founding of the USA and the Modern Age.

Bill Stonebarger, Owner/President, Hawkhill

P.S. For more details curl up, buy, and read—Twilight or Dawn: a Traveler’s Guide to Free-Market Liberal Democracy, East Gilman Street, or Bill’s Blogs.”

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