The painting “Desembarco de los Puritanos en America,” or “The Arrival of the Pilgrims in America,” by Antonio Gisbert shows Puritans landing in America in 1620. By Antonio Gisbert (1834-1902) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
The first winter took many of the English at Plymouth. By fall 1621, only 53 remained of the 132 who had arrived on the Mayflower. But those who had survived brought in a harvest. And so, in keeping with tradition, the governor called the living 53 together for a three-day harvest feast, joined by more than 90 locals from the Wampanoag tribe. The meal was a moment to recognize the English plantation’s small step toward stability and, hopefully, profit. This was no small thing. A first, deadly year was common. Getting through it was an accomplishment. England’s successful colony of Virginia had had a massive death toll — of the 8,000 arrivals between 1607 and 1625, only 15 percent lived.
But still the English came to North America and still government and business leaders supported them. This was not without reason. In the 17th century, Europe was in upheaval and England’s place in it unsure. Moreover, England was going through a period of internal instability that would culminate in the unthinkable — civil war in 1642 and regicide in 1649. England’s colonies were born from this situation, and the colonies of Plymouth, Massachusetts Bay and the little-known colony of Providence Island in the Caribbean were part of a broader Puritan geopolitical strategy to solve England’s problems.
Throughout the first half of the 17th century, England was wracked by internal divisions that would lead to civil war in 1642. Religion was a huge part of this. The dispute was over the direction of the Church of England. Some factions favored “high” church practices that involved elaborate ritual. The Puritans, by contrast, wanted to clear the national religion of what they considered Catholic traces. This religious crisis compounded a political crisis at the highest levels of government, pitting Parliament against the monarchy.
By the beginning of the 17th century, England had undergone centralizing reforms that gave the king and his Parliament unrestricted power to make laws. Balance was needed. The king had the power to call Parliament into session and dismiss it. Parliament had the power to grant him vital funds needed for war or to pay down debt. However, Parliament had powerful Puritan factions that sought not only to advance their sectarian cause but also to advance the power of Parliament beyond its constraints. Kings James I and his son Charles I, for their part, sought to gain an unrestrained hold on power that would enable them to make decisive strategic choices abroad. They relied, internally and externally, on Catholics, crypto-Catholics and high church advocates — exacerbating the displeasure of Parliament.
Both kings continually fought with Parliament over funding for the monarchy’s debt and for new ventures. Both dissolved Parliament several times; Charles ultimately did so for a full 11 years beginning in 1629.
Europe in 1600
Spain was England’s major strategic problem on the Continent. Protestant England saw itself as under constant threat from the Catholic powers in Europe. This led to problems when the people came to see their leaders, James I and his son Charles, as insufficiently hostile to Spain and insufficiently committed to the Protestant cause on the Continent. In order to stop mounting debt, shortly after taking power James made the unpopular move of ending a war with Spain that England had been waging alongside the Netherlands since 1585. In 1618, the Thirty Years’ War broke out in the German states — a war that, in part, pitted Protestants against Catholics and spread throughout Central Europe. James did not wish to become involved in the war. In 1620, the Catholic Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand II, a relative of Spain’s King Philip III, pushed Frederick V, the Protestant son-in-law of England’s King James, out of his lands in Bohemia, and Spain attacked Frederick in his other lands in the Rhineland. The English monarchy called for a defense of Frederick but was unwilling to commit to significant military action to aid him.
Puritan factions in Parliament, however, wanted England to strike at Spain directly by attacking Spanish shipments from the Americas, which could have paid for itself in captured goods. To make matters worse, from 1614 to 1623, James I pursued an unpopular plan to marry his son Charles to the Catholic daughter of Philip III of Spain — a plan called the “Spanish Match.” Instead, Charles I ended up marrying the Catholic daughter of the king of France in 1625. This contributed to the impression that James and Charles were too friendly with Spain and Catholicism, or even were secret Catholics. Many Puritans and other zealous promoters of the Protestant cause began to feel that they had to look outside of the English government to further their cause.
Amid this complex constellation of Continental powers and England’s own internal incoherence, a group of Puritan leaders in Parliament, who would later play a pivotal role in the English Civil War, focused on the geopolitical factors that were troubling England. Issues of finance and Spanish power were at the core. A group of them struck on the idea of establishing a set of Puritan colonial ventures in the Americas that would simultaneously serve to unseat Spain from her colonial empire and enrich England, tipping the geopolitical balance. In this they were continuing Elizabeth I’s strategy of 1585, when she started a privateer war in the Atlantic and Caribbean to capture Spanish treasure ships bound from the Americas. Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay were part of this early vision, but they were both far too remote to challenge the Spanish, and the group believed that the area’s climate precluded it from being a source of vast wealth from cash crops. New England, however, was safe from Spanish aggression and could serve as a suitable starting point for a colonial push into the heart of Spanish territory.
The Effects of Spanish Colonization
Spain’s 1492 voyage to the Americas and subsequent colonization had changed Europe indelibly by the 17th century. It had complicated each nation’s efforts to achieve a favorable balance of power. As the vanguard of settlement in the New World, Spain and Portugal were the clear winners. From their mines, especially the Spanish silver mine in Potosi, American precious metals began to flow into their government coffers in significant amounts beginning in 1520, with a major uptick after 1550. Traditionally a resource-poor and fragmented nation, Spain now had a reliable revenue source to pursue its global ambitions.
This new economic power added to Spain’s already advantageous position. At a time when England, France and the Netherlands were internally divided between opposing sectarian groups, Spain was solidly Catholic. As a result of its unity, Spain’s elites generally pursued a more coherent foreign policy. Moreover, Spain had ties across the Continent. Charles V was both king of Spain and Holy Roman emperor, making him the most powerful man of his era. He abdicated in 1556, two years before his death, and divided his territories among his heirs. His son, Philip II of Spain, and Charles’ brother, Ferdinand I, inherited the divided dominions and retained their ties to each other, giving them power throughout the Continent and territory surrounding France.
Despite having no successful colonies until the beginning of the 17th century, England did see some major benefits from the discovery of the Americas. The addition of the Western Atlantic to Europe’s map and the influx of trade goods from that direction fundamentally altered trade routes in Europe, shifting them from their previous intense focus on the Baltic Sea and the Mediterranean to encompass an ocean on which England held a unique strategic position. The nearby Netherlands — recently free from Spain — enjoyed a similar position and, along with England, took a major new role in shipping. By the middle of the 17th century, the Dutch had a merchant fleet as large as all others combined in Europe and were competing for lands in the New World. Sweden, another major European naval power, also held a few possessions in North America and the Caribbean. (This led to curious events such as “New Sweden,” a colony located along the Delaware River, falling under Dutch control in the 1650s and becoming part of the “New Netherlands.”)
England’s Drive Into the New World
In spite of its gains in maritime commerce, England was still far behind Spain and Portugal in the Americas. The Iberian nations had established a strong hold on South America, Central America and the southern portions of North America, including the Caribbean. Much of North America, however, remained relatively untouched. It did not possess the proven mineral wealth of the south but it had a wealth of natural capital — fisheries, timber, furs and expanses of fertile soil.
However, much of the population of the Americas was in a band in central Mexico, meaning that the vast pools of labor available to the Spanish and Portuguese were not present elsewhere in North America. Instead, England and other colonial powers would need to bring their own labor. They were at a demographic advantage in this regard. Since the 16th century, the Continent’s population had exploded. The British Isles and Northwest Europe grew the most, with England expanding from 2.6 million in 1500 to around 5.6 million by 1650. By contrast, the eastern woodlands of North America in 1600 had around 200,000 inhabitants — the population of London. Recent catastrophic epidemics brought by seasonal European fishermen and traders further decimated the population, especially that of New England. The disaster directly benefited Plymouth, which was built on the site of the deserted town of Patuxet and used native cleared and cultivated land.
After its founding in 1620, Plymouth was alone in New England for a decade and struggled to become profitable. It was the first foothold, however, for a great Puritan push into the region. In time, this push would subsume the tiny separatist colony within the larger sphere of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. This new colony’s numbers were much higher: The first wave in 1630 brought 700 English settlers to Salem, and by 1640 there were 11,000 living in the region.
Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay were different from nearby Virginia. Virginia was initially solely a business venture, and its colonists provided the manpower. New England, by contrast, was a settler society of families from the start. Both Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay were started by English Puritans — Christian sectarians critical of the state-run Church of England. Plymouth’s settlers were Puritan separatists who wanted no connection to England. Massachusetts Bay’s colonists were non-separatist Puritans who believed in reforming the church. For both, creating polities in North America furthered their sectarian political goals. The pilgrims wanted to establish a separate godly society to escape persecution; the Puritans of Salem wanted to establish a beacon that would serve to change England by example. Less known, however, is that the financial backers of the New England colonies had a more ambitious goal of which New England was only the initial phase.
In this plan, Massachusetts was to provide profit to its investors, but it was also to serve as a way station from which they could then send settlers to a small colony they simultaneously founded on Providence Island off the Miskito Coast of modern Nicaragua. This island, now part of Colombia, was in the heart of the Spanish Caribbean and was meant to alter the geopolitics of Central America and bring it under English control. It was in this way that they hoped to solve England’s geostrategic problems on the Continent and advance their own political agenda.
Providence was an uninhabited island in an area where the Spanish had not established deep roots. The island was a natural fortress, with a coral reef that made approach difficult and high, craggy rocks that helped in defense. It also had sheltered harbors and pockets of fertile land that could be used for production of food and cash crops.
It would serve, in their mind, as the perfect first foothold for England in the lucrative tropical regions of the Americas, from which it could trade with nearby native polities. In the short run, Providence was a base of operations, but in the long run it was to be a launchpad for an ambitious project to unseat Spain in the Americas and take Central America for England. In keeping with Puritan ideals, Providence was to be the same sort of “godly” society as Massachusetts Bay and Plymouth, just a more profitable one. Providence Island would enable the English to harry Spanish ships, bring in profit to end disputes with the crown and bolster the Protestant position in the Thirty Years’ War.
But while Massachusetts Bay would succeed, Providence would fail utterly. Both Massachusetts Bay and Providence Island received their first shipment of Puritan settlers in 1630. Providence was expected to yield immense profits, while Massachusetts was expected to be a tougher venture. Both were difficult, but Providence’s constraints proved fatal. The island did not establish a cash crop economy and its attempts to trade with native groups on the mainland were not fruitful.
The island’s geopolitical position in Spanish military territory meant that it needed to obsessively focus on security. This proved its downfall. After numerous attacks and several successful raids on Spanish trade on the coast, the investors decided in 1641 to initiate plans to move colonists down from Massachusetts Bay to Providence. Spanish forces received intelligence of this plan and took the island with a massive force, ending England’s control.
The 1641 invasion ended English settlement on the island, which subsequently became a Spanish military depot. The Puritans left little legacy there. New England, however, flourished. It became, in time, the nearest replica of English political life outside of the British Isles and a key regional component of the Thirteen Colonies and, later, the United States. It was the center of an agricultural order based on individual farmers and families and later of the United States’ early manufacturing power. England sorted out its internal turmoil not by altering its geopolitical position externally — a project that faced serious resource and geographical constraints — but through massive internal upheaval during the English Civil War.
The celebration of the fruits of the Plymouth Colony’s brutal first year is the byproduct of England’s struggle against Spain on the Continent and in the New World. Thus, the most celebrated meal in America comes with a side of geopolitics.
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A little sermon from Jim Carrey:
We have our tasks. Find them and act upon them. Be not concerned.
Rebecca Bynum is the author of a slim volume called “Allah is Dead: Why Islam is not a religion.” Every person concerned with what this thing is, ought to read it. Bynum characterizes Islam as something which is not essentially a religion, though it talks a lot about God, but as a totalitarian and essentially immoral system of social organization which abolishes religion and morality, as we have understood those terms. The only thing left is material and outward obedience to a system, but which is deadly to all conceptions of an inner spiritual life.
Her point is that religion, properly conceived, is taking a bad rap because many people conflate Islam with all religions and fail to understand why all religion leaves doors open that Islam declares to be shut forever. She calls it a “duck-billed platypus” of a religion, one so different from all others that its true nature is confusing to those brought up in any other, including secular humanism
I have spoken about this before. Robert Reilly’s The Closing of the Muslim Mind demonstrates the baneful effects of Islam’s conjecture that God is holding together the entire universe at every instance and in every molecule. Everything, I mean everything, is God’s will. If I win the battle, if I lose the battle, if I torture you to death, or you torture me to death: it is all God’s will. Thus morality does not stand apart from history and judges it; morality is revealed in history, and whatever wins, is God’s will. Reilly demonstrates how Islam committed intellectual suicide a long time ago; Bynum shows how modern western society is so defenceless against Islam’s claims.
The most dangerous aspect of Islam is that it strikes western societies at the time when they have largely abandoned the Christianity that gave them the confidence to pursue science, and to assert human rights.
Our behaviour and our culture are shaped by our conception of the Deity. If God is in some sense knowable, and if he has established laws or regularities that govern the physical properties of the universe, then two things are open to us: theology and science. It is a fact that science as we understand it is the unique property of Christian civilization, precisely because priests and scientists alike believe in the rational intelligibility of nature. [Space does not permit arguing this truth at greater length. To those who do not believe it, I suggest they read more about the history of science]. To the extent that God is knowable, we can model ourselves on the loving, orderly, creative God who lets us find out for ourselves what the right path should be. Freedom to sin and freedom to find the truth are at the core of Christianity. We are not automatons.
These two doors onto the universe and what lies beyond it have been slammed shut by Islam. God is essentially unknowable in any sense, he does not love us, and his rule is caprice. As we form ourselves on the idea of the good, and hence of the ultimate good, God, so we form our behaviour and culture. If Islamic rule at the patriarchal familial and political level is capricious, immoral, violent, and frenzied, it is merely the reflection of their idea of God.
In Bynum’s opening chapter there is a line about the Western reaction to these unpleasant truths:
As the light of truth shines upon reality and defines the outlines of evil, it is inevitable that some should mistake the bearers of this truth as the source of their fear, the fear of the necessity for a decision, and lash out at those defining the conflict as evil dividers of humanity. For as secularists and Muslims themselves learn about the truth about Islam’s bloody doctrine and history, they must each individually make a moral decision and this they wish to avoid at all costs ….In the absence of truth, there is no necessity for division; therefore, truth itself becomes the enemy and secularists and some religionists unwittingly become emotional defenders of lies.
Allah is Dead is a far better book than I can tell you about here. I recommend it for its clear and deep analysis of how much trouble we are in. The fault, in short, lies not in the stars, but in ourselves, and Islam is merely the opportunistic pathogen striking the body of western civilization, weakened as it is by a failure of belief.
Your meme for today is the phrase Mark Steyn is touting as the catch-all explanation for Western cultural decline: the nationalization of the family.
My problem with Steyn is a complete inability to think of any better explanation when I read him.
The lure of cosmic cultural pessimism is strong, and the 20th and 21st centuries offer much confirmation that Western civilization is in the tank.
But for every Spengler, or David Bentley Hart, life offers rational optimists, like Matt Ridley. And to tell you the truth, I do not know where I sit between these uncomfortable prophets of doom and the dwellers in the sunny uplands of improvement.
The obvious point is that the physical circumstances of life are improving for all, and the cultural milieu in which we live is largely the wasteland of post-Christianity. And some react to the wasteland by going for the black and white certainties of Islam.
Multicultiuralism and anti-whitism have left us defenceless before the Ebola of religions.
An important funding source for neuro-imaging via MRIs will no longer fund studies concerned with showing which parts of the brain light up when certain activities are engaged. The funding source is the James S. McDonnell Foundation. The reason why it will not longer do so was given thus:
“Proposals proposing to use functional imaging to identify the ‘neural correlates’ of cognitive or behavioral tasks (for example, mapping the parts of the brain that ‘light up’ when different groups of subjects play chess, solve physics problems, or choose apples over oranges) are not funded through this program. In general, JSMF and its expert advisors have taken an unfavorable view of . . . functional imaging studies using poorly characterized tasks as proxies for complex behavioral issues involving empathy, moral judgments, or social decision-making.”
The heartland of neuroimaging has decided that areas of the brain lighting up tell us nothing about empathy, judgments, and decision-making. Bravo! Another blow against neurotwaddle.
The most significant critic of neurotwaddle, a man who is himself a physician and an atheist, is Raymond Tallis. Tallis has written several important critiques of materialist reductionism – the “we are nothing but a bunch of neurons” school, in which Dawkins, Dennett, Harris, Crick and their useful idiot Hitchens are to be found.
I found an article of Tallis’ on the same subject in the New Humanist magazine of January 2010. It is worth reading. Tallis finds all talk of neuroimaging techniques identifying “God-spots” in the brain as utter rubbish.
At first sight, it might seem that a humanist atheist like me should welcome the reduction of religious belief to tingles in parts of the brain. It will be evident now why I do not. The idea of God is the greatest, though possibly the most destructive, idea that mankind has ever entertained. The notion that all there is originated from and is controlled by a Maker is a profound and distinctively human response to the amazing fact that the world makes sense. This response is more, not less, extraordinary for the fact that it has no foundation in truth and, indeed, God is a logically impossible object.
How mighty are the works of man and how much more impressive when they are founded on an idea to which nothing corresponds! Cutting this idea down to size, by neurologising and Darwinising it, is to deal not only religion but also humanity a terrible blow. It undermines our uniqueness and denies our ability, shared by no other creature, to distance ourselves from nature. In defending religious belief against neuro-evolutionary reductionism, atheist humanists and theists have a common cause, and in reductive naturalism, a common adversary.
Readers will know I am not an atheist; I find greater truth in belief, and I find works like David Bentley Hart’s The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness Bliss more persuasive than Tallis’ non-materialist humanism. For me, Tallis is on a narrow ledge between materialist reductionsim, which he rightly rejects, and belief in a supernatural ordering Creator, in whom we move and have our being. But that is possibly a matter of taste, and is certainly not a matter for compulsion. His attacks on neurotwaddle are more welcome because he is an atheist.
Here is David Bentley Hart on the issue of reductionism – the school of thought that asserts “we are nothing but _________ neurons, genes, dancing atoms (pick one)”.
Once more, the physicalist reduction of any phenomenon to purely material forces explains nothing if one cannot then reconstruct the phenomenon from its material basis without invoking any higher causes; but this no computation picture of human thought can ever do. Symbols exist only from above, as it were, in the consciousness looking downward along that path of descent, acting always as a higher cause upon material reality. Looking up from the opposite direction, from below to above, one finds only an intraversible abyss, separating the intentional nullity of matter from the intentional plenitude of mind. It is an absolute error to imagine that the electrical activity in a computer is itself a computation….All computation is ontologically dependent on consciousness.” (p.223)
“Ontologically” means “having to do with being itself”, an idea more easily rendered in Greek than English.
A parting shot from Hart:
The mechanical picture of reality, which is the metaphysical frame within which we pursue or conquest of nature, is one that forecloses, arbitrarily and peremptorily , a great number of questions that a rational culture should leave open”.
There are vast questions that should be left open. Raise a ragged cheer for a rational culture!
Dear Jonathan Kay,
You wrote that an adult conversation about Islam is nearly impossible. You have my sympathy. You do a good job of trying to allow that conversation in your paper, but the reasons for the difficulty derive from the fact that a full discussion of Islam requires a discussion of what the religion prescribes that its followers should do. In the name of God they are compelled, if they wish to be orthodox, to wage war, enslave, distrust, and display contempt for all beings not Muslims, and express disgust for women. So it is difficult to have an adult conversation when you cannot say what Islamic doctrine is, in current liberal society.
An adult conversation about Islam is difficult because most people are finding a wide gap between what they perceive, and what they are allowed to say.
If I ran around in a black uniform with a Nazi armband shouting abuse at Jews, most observers would conclude there was an obvious link between my anti-Jewishness and my being a Nazi. (We fought and won a world war to say so).
But if I do the same as a Muslim, in the current environment, cursing the Jews and calling for their extermination as my holy duty, many people would feel cowed into not saying there was a link. The recent case of Ben Affleck going postal on television shows the depth and strength of the denial.
The same forces of anti-racism that we have been fostering since WW2 prevent accurate conclusions regarding the relationship of Islam and jihadist violence from being drawn, and if drawn, from being freely discussed.
For a Muslim, jihad is a sacrament. If Muslims behave reasonably and peacefully, as they do (thank God), it is not because they are orthodox but because they have fallen away from orthodoxy. Islam is a direct revelation from God, and it is immutable. So as the discussion of Islam’s doctrines is shoved underground, the public view of Islam gets darker and darker, while the chattering classes re-assure each other of their baseless confidence that Islam is not what they fear it is, a bananarama totalitarian ideology, whose idea of God is of an immeasurably distant, irrational force, where both theology and science is impossible.
Why impossible, you ask?
Because for there to be theology, God must be rationally knowable in some important senses, and for there to be science, there must be a belief that the universe is a rationally discoverable emanation of God’s laws.
Neither of these conditions is met in Islam.
In Islam the whole universe is sustained instant to instant by God’s will alone. Causal relationships between match and flame need not be looked into, because the match is only the occasion for the flame, not the cause. Looking into the operations of God’s will is haram. I recommend The Closing of the Muslim Mind for further information on the baneful effects of Islam’s greatest philosopher, Al-Ghazali.
All of these facts are available on reading about the issue. However, few do so, and those who do are silenced by the general prohibition on discussing Islam as if its doctrines were real and intended. Religion has been tamed in the post-Christian west. In Islam, it is everything, and its teachings are horrifying to those who contemplate them, and more so to those who suffer persecution and death because of its adherents.
We are not responsible for Islam’s doctrines. We are, however, responsible for the poor state of thought and speech in the West today. We have only ourselves (or the forces of political Leftism) to blame for this gap between what is being observed, and what can be discussed.
Few are more bigoted in European circles than the fashionably anti-Christian. How safe! How trendy! Gaia approves!. The Post reports the case of a Canadian Christian being rudely treated by a group of self-styled Norwegian pagans. Her internship with Norwegian wilderness outfitters who lead expeditions in the British Columbia.
“The Norse background of most of the guys at the management level means that we are not a Christian organization, and most of us see Christianity as having destroyed our culture, tradition, and way of life,” Amaruk’s hiring manager, Olaf Amundsen, wrote last month to Vancouver-area job applicant Bethany Paquette, the first in a series of bizarre, angry emails sent from company officials in Norway.
According to a complaint she has since filed with the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal (BCHRT), Ms. Paquette’s Christian education cost her an “assistant guide internship” position at Amaruk.
She received a snarky letter back from the head of the outfitting group, who explained that, since they “embraced diversity”, they could not hire someone who had been to Trinity Western University. The rest of the management of the Norwegian outfitters piled on with further emails of derision and contempt.
A lack of irony is a marked feature of bigotry. And the more unconscious the bigotry, the greater the self-righteousness.
The human resources director of the Norwegian firm, Amaruk, sent this beauty:
And an hour later, Ms. Paquette received yet another snide note, this one from Amaruk’s human resources boss. “You are free to your own opinions and to live your life as you see fit, but you have no right to force your opinions onto others and control their innate behaviour,” it read.
Uh, dudes, she merely sent an application for an unpaid position. Who is forcing opinions on others here? The macho fags of Amaruk or the Canadian applicant for an internship?
Anyone interested in how society actually operates would benefit from reading Gregory Clark’s The Son Also Rises: Surnames and the History of Social Mobility.
Clark examined surnames in several different societies and how they have persisted over time in elite occupations. He found that social mobility was real, persistent and slow: much slower than much modern theorizing about it. In short, families count. Coming from a good family is more than half the battle.
And that means that genetics count. Most of the status of your children will be determined by whom you mate with. Practically speaking, produce the kids from the right wife or husband and you can largely forget about sending them to $50,000 a year Manhattan day cares. They are going to succeed with quite ordinary levels of parental investment. No amount of private schooling will turn a dolt into a success, and conversely quite ordinary levels of parental investment (love, education, opportunities) will turn smart kids into successes.
As Clark writes:
By and large, social mobility has characteristics that do not rule out genetics as the dominant connection between generations. Ascribing an important role to genetics helps to explain one puzzle of social mobility, which is the inability of ruling classes in places like England, Sweden, and the United states to defend themselves forever against downward mobility. If the main determinants of economic and social success are wealth, education and connections, then there is no explanation for the consistent tendency f the rich to regress to society mean even at the slow rates we observe…..
Only of genetics is the main element in determining economic success, if nature trumps nurture, is there a built-in mechanism that explains the observed regression.
The implications of Clark’s findings are contrary to what most believe.
If nature does indeed dominate nurture, this has a number of implications. First, it means that the world is a much fairer place than we intuit. Innate talent, not inherited privilege, is the main source of economic success. Second, it suggests that the large investment made by the upper classes in the care and raising of their children is of no avail in preventing long-run downward mobility….Third, government interventions to increase social mobility are unlikely to have much impact unless they affect the rate of intermarriage between levels of the social hierarchy and between ethnic groups. Fourth, emphasis on racial, ethnic and religious differences allows persistent social stratification through the barriers they create to this intermarriage. In order for a society to increase social mobility over the long run, it must achieve the cultural homogeneity that maximizes intermarriage rates between social groups.
Of course, humans segregate themselves by religions and denominations within religions, and to a lesser degree by social classes, castes, and political tastes. “Not our kind” is the answer to many a proposal of marriage. Perhaps one of the main functions of denominations and religions is to prevent intermarriage. For example, an Anglican can marry a Catholic of the right sort, and a Presbyterian without thinking, but neither a Jehovah’s Witness or a Muslim without conversion being entailed, and conversion to either of the latter religions is to slide down the social scale to the bottom rung.
Which brings me to the end of Clark’s book, concerning his observations of the persistence of elite groups within Islamic societies of members of non-Islamic religions.
Elites and underclasses are formed by the selective affiliation to a religious identity of some upper and lower share of the distribution of abilities within the population. In Islamic societies, the practice of imposing taxes on religious minorities tended to recruit to Islam the lowest economic strata of the conquered societies. Elites and underclasses have maintained themselves over periods as long as 1,300 years because of very high rates of endogamy (marriage within the tribe) which preserves the initial advantages of elites from regression to the mean by preventing intermarriage with less advantaged populations.
Clark’s book is well-written, fact-based, and amusing. For those interested in how society actually works, rather than how it is supposed to work, his discussions of social mobility and the largely vain attempts to prevent it produce lively interest in the discerning reader, and not a few laughs-out-loud as some important truth clangs like a bell.
Are you bored with ISIS, climate catastrophism, Harper versus his enemies, environmentalists versus Alberta, Obama’s incompetence, decline of the West, Putin’s machinations, Ebola, and the stupidification of everyone? Me too.
For a plunge into cold water, there are a number of blogs you can read that are far removed from ordinary worldly concerns, and I recommend them.
You can waste time in the neo-reactionary canon. I do not recommend them for their suitability for work or improving your social standing.
Then there is the ferociously Catholic philosopher Edward Feser who is always ready to assert that science and Western thought went wrong by the abandonment of the idea of final causality (goal-directedness) through the influence of Rene Descartes. In this regard David Bentley Hart is in full agreement with Feser: we went off the rails when a limiting assumption which improved our scientific method (efficient causes only) morphed into a metaphysical assumption about the limitations of what was possibly true.
Here is classic Hart eviscerating an article in the New Yorker by Adam Gopnik:
Which brings me to Adam Gopnik, and specifically his New Yorker article of February 17, “Bigger Than Phil”—the immediate occasion of all the rude remarks that went coursing through my mind and spilling out onto the page overhead. Ostensibly a survey of recently published books on (vaguely speaking) theism and atheism, it is actually an almost perfect distillation of everything most depressingly vapid about the cogitatively indolent secularism of late modern society. This is no particular reflection on Gopnik’s intelligence—he is bright enough, surely—but only on that atmosphere of complacent ignorance that seems to be the native element of so many of today’s cultured unbelievers. The article is intellectually trivial, but perhaps culturally portentous.
And so forth.
I will summon the energy to care about worldly issues shortly. I hope your summer was beautiful.