Post a Blog in Response to Blog Foundational Readings for the Rise of Western Civilization

27 Sep 2018 at 14:38:37 user 'jcobban' wrote: Foundational Readings for the Rise of Western Civilization

Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon remains to this day the most comprehensive history of Europe. Contrary to most assumptions this work covers the history of Europe right up to 1776 and the "Roman Empire" which it describes includes not only the Western Roman Empire which "fell" in 476CE but also the Byzantine Empire which fell in 1453 and the Holy Roman Empire which was still a going business when Gibbon wrote, although in 1761 Voltaire had remarked "Ce corps qui s'appelait et qui s'appelle encore le saint empire romain n'était en aucune manière ni saint, ni romain, ni empire."

Leviathan  or The Matter, Forme and Power of a Common-Wealth Ecclesiasticall and Civil by Thomas Hobbes, published in 1651 is the book that kicked off the English Enlightenment.  It is most famous for the statement that in time of war the life of man is "solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short."  Note that in 17th century English the word Commonwealth was the most common translation of the Roman respublicae, literally the "things of the people".  Furthermore in 1651 the English Parliament had recently executed Charles I for treason and the name which Parliament substituted for Kingdom was Commonwealth.

A lot of the material in Leviathan will seem unexceptional because today we take the scientific and cultural assumptions introduced by the Enlightenment for granted.  For example Galilean Mechanics is an assumption of our high school physics education. But it was brand new when Hobbes wrote.  Galileo had only been dead for 9 years, and Isaac Newton, who would definitively prove Galileo's scientific claims in his Principia, was only 9 years old.  But the audience who read Hobbes for the first time had been educated entirely in Aristotelian mechanics and philosophy in a system which almost exclusively used classical Latin and Greek authors.  Even Shakespeare, who was ridiculed by most of his contemporaries because he lacked a university education, based many of his plays on Ovid and Plautus.  In order to justify his radical, that is derived directly from the roots, proposals for the reorganization of society Hobbes first has to explain that most of what previous generations had thought about how people perceive the world and react to it, based upon their Aristotelian education, was flawed.  Hobbes deliberately wrote in English, rather than Latin, in part because Latin was the language of the Roman Catholic Church, and the language used for education in Aristotelian philosophy. Note that even today in Canada the oaths taken by new citizens, elected politicians, and civil servants continue to use wording which perpetuates the medieval model of the source of authority.
"I swear (or affirm) that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada, Her Heirs and Successors,..." and our standard issue coins still retain the inscription "Elizabeth II D. G. Regina", "Queen by the grace of God", just as many of the coins in Hobbes' own purse in 1651 would have read "C. R. D. G.", "Charles, King by the grace of God.".  This is opposed to the Enlightenment's "Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed," as written by the Theist Thomas Jefferson in 1776.

Civilization and Capitalism, 15th to 18th Century by Fernand Braudel.  Actually anything by Braudel will help you understand how the West got where it is.

Strategy by Basil Liddell-Hart.  This is a brief survey of the military history of Europe from 490BCE to 1948CE intended primarily as a text-book for military colleges.  It also recommends strategy for the Atomic Age.

The Restoration of Rome by Peter Heather. This is the book to read in order to understand how the Papacy ended up controlling Western Europe in the Middle Ages.  I also recommend Heather's The Fall of the Roman Empire and Empires and Barbarians

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