Sunday, May 18, 2008

Objectivism & Religion, Part 8

Did Christianity cause the Dark Ages? Peikoff, in his essay “Religion Versus America,” more or less claims that Christianity was responsible for the Dark Ages.
What were the practical results of the medieval approach [i.e., of Christianity]? The Dark Ages were dark on principle. Augustine fought against secular philosophy, science, art; he regarded all of it as an abomination to be swept aside; he cursed science in particular as "the lust of the eyes." … [T]he medievals took religion seriously. They proceeded to create a society that was anti-materialistic and anti-intellectual.... The economic and social results of this kind of value code were inevitable; mass stagnation and abject poverty, ignorance and mass illiteracy, waves of insanity that swept whole towns, a life expectancy in the teens. "Woe unto ye who laugh now," the Sermon on the Mount had said. Well, they were pretty safe on this count. They had precious little to laugh about.

You have to be very ignorant not merely of human nature and sociology, but of history to buy into this explanation of the Dark Ages. Peikoff is basically asserting that the medieval Europe was little more than the practical application of Christian doctrine. The Christians, he claims, “proceeded to create a society that was anti-materialistic and anti-intellectual.” The Dark Ages, then, were an intentional creation: they were the product of the application of a system of ideas (that is, of Christian ideas) to society.

This view of the Dark Ages is hopelessly naive. The political and economic systems prevailing after the collapse of the Western half of the Roman Empire were not the consequences of anyone’s intention, as implied in Peikoff’s statement. They were brought about by causes that had nothing to do with Christian doctrine.

Rome had initially been a conquering peasant state. But after Hannibal decimated the Roman peasantry during the Second Punic War, slave labour became central to the economy of Rome and its expanding territories. But it was a particularly pernicious form of slavery that prevailed in the ancient world. Roman slaves live in collectivist barracks. They had no property, nor did they have families. Consequently, they failed to reproduce themselves. As sociologist Max Weber explained: “The ancient plantation consumed slaves the way a modern blast furnace consumes coal.”

When the Roman Empire ceased to expand in the second century, the supply of fresh slaves, so necessary to replenish the collectivized slave system of the plantations, ceased. This led to an acute shortage of slave labor and the eventual decline of the slave system. Now Rome did not have a terribly flexible or strong market economy. The decline of the slave system led to a corresponding economic decline. Interlocal commerce gradually disappeared; trade “relapsed to the level of peddling left to foreigners.” As a consequence of this, Rome could no longer raise taxes to pay for its mercenary armies. Barbarians from the north over-ran the Empire and assumed political supremacy of a completely demoralized civilization. The Muslims seized control of the Mediterranean, shutting off Western Europe from rest of the civilized world. Thus began the Dark Ages. But Christian doctrine had nothing to do with any of these developments. Rome’s collectivized slave system was the primary cause of the Empire’s fall. When the Empire ceased expanding and no more slaves were captured in war, the Empire went into decline. This decline greatly demoralized society. Intellectual life became vapid and inefficacious. The schools of Athens were hopelessly corrupt by the third century. Their teaching was confined mostly to rhetoric and neo-Platonism. Competition among various Athenian schools for students often lead to brawls and even murder.

Facing the huge challenges of waning economy and a demoralized populace, the Emperor Constantine decided to make Christianity the official religion of the Empire. He did so entirely for political reasons, as a desperate means to consolidate his power and save the Empire. He probably made the right choice. The Christian church was better organized, its members more disciplined, than any of the rival religions. Thes Christian church would help preserve some of the forms of the Roman Empire well into the Dark Ages, so that the re-civilization of Western Europe could begin as early as the Carolingian renaissance.

The Dark Ages were dark because of the complete absence of commercialized trade in Western Europe. Without commerce there can be no cities and without cities there can be no civilization. To again quote Max Weber: “It was only when the mediaeval city developed out of free division of labour and commercial exchange, when the transition to a natural economy made possible the development of burgher freedoms, and when the bonds imposed by outer and inner feudal authorities were cast off, that … the cultural heritage of Antiquity revived in the light of modern bourgeois civilization.”

27 comments:

Damien said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Damien said...

I find it interesting that Rand made both the Greeks and the Romans to be better than they actually were. Here she has a perfectly good example of collectivism leading to a disaster, (The Fall of Rome), but she can't admit it without taking at least some of the blame from Christianity which she abhors. This could by why I don't remember every hearing an objectivist mention Roman slave collectives as baring some of the fault for Romes downfall. Besides Rome abandoned its republic before Christianity even existed. The reasons had largely to do with chaos and multiple individuals with private armies duking it out.
Plus from what I have read, you could argue the concept of individual actually began to take shape during the middle ages. It was largely because the nobles didn't want to give up all of their power to the king. The Greeks or the Romans never developed a concept of individual rights.

Damien said...

I agree with you Greg I don't think we can reasonably say the Christianity caused the Dark Ages.

Kelly said...

This is one of the things that drove me away from Objectivism. History is so complicated and events have so many causes, but like everything in Objectivism there is a very simple answer, and you can come to that answer by just sitting around the living room and discussing ideas. It's almost like Objectivism will not permit anything complicated.

Anonymous said...

The objectivist outlook on capitalism is particularly disturbing. It often ignores the fact that when capitalism was at its most laissez-faire, it was bolstered by slavery. A lot of objectivists (including a colleague of mine) seem to be nothing more than lobbyists for the corporate world.

Damien said...

Anonymous,

It is true that when capitalism was at its most laissez-faire there was slavery. But I must ask this you an important question. Here in the United States, the North outlawed slavery long before the south. Up until the end of slavery, it was more prosperous than the south. If slavery was so important to a laissez-faire capitalist economy, why was the North so much wealthier than the south? It may not have been wealthy and prosperous by today's standards, but the economy of the North was better than the antebellum South. Plus one could argue that because the North outlawed slavery before the South, it had a more free market economy. The slaves couldn't voluntarily pick and choose their jobs, and live how they wanted to live like free men could. I am not saying there are no valid criticisms of laissez-faire capitalism at all, but the American slavery argument is not valid. There are even a few good criticisms of the capitalist system in general. None the less, it is superior to anything else out there.

Anonymous said...

Damien: It wasn't just slavery in America. The industrial revolution was propped up by wealth looted from the colonies (some of which had sophisticated economic systems which had evolved over centuries) and by the exploitation of young children and underpaid workers in mines.
Today, capitalism has led to a culture of mindless consumerism where the ultimate achievement is the accumulation of wealth and material goods. It has also succeeded in devaluing wealth where however much you make and save, it will never be enough because a group of plutocrats (read investment bankers, financiers, stockbrokers) are busy playing games with it.
I guess what both Adam Smith and Marx did was commodify culture and civilisation uprooting whole communities.
Personally I want a third alternative to the stagnation of socialism and the obsessive plutophilia of capitalism.
Life is a multifaceted thing and should not be dictated to by the laws of demand and supply.

Damien said...

Anonymous,

I never said it was just slavery. Also I didn't say there were no valid criticisms of capitalism. I just said of all the possible systems its the best there is. I don't think there really is much of an alternative between socialism and capitalism, unless you are thinking of something like feudalism. The best alternative would probably be a mixture of a primarily capitalist economy with moderate socialism, but that's still a primarily free market economy. So for the most part that would still be a capitalist society.

Anonymous said...

Damien: I suppose you're right in some ways. Although I don't hold that human beings should look at the accumulation of wealth as the highest ideal. Perhaps, a society that balances free market capitalism and socialism might be the best alternative: two-tier healthcare and state subsidies for high culture included.

Jay said...

It often ignores the fact that when capitalism was at its most laissez-faire, it was bolstered by slavery.

Slavery was not essential to a free, laissez-faire system. It just happened to be going on when the US economy was very new and the government bureaucracy had not yet become what it is today.

A lot of objectivists (including a colleague of mine) seem to be nothing more than lobbyists for the corporate world.

The Unlearned Lesson of Ken Lay and Enron.

Objectivists are not unconditional supporters of big business. Many have come out against corporate welfare and corruption. What Objectivists are supportive of is business and profit in general.

Jay said...

Damien,

Good remarks on the North/South economies in the US during slavery. In fact, until the South began using Northern inventions like the cotton gin, their economy was teetering on the brink of collapse. Apparently, enslaved and demoralized people don't produce innovative new inventions.

So much for slavery being a vital, defining trait of laissez-faire capitalism... ;)

Damien said...

Jay cross,

I agree slavery was not a vital component to capitalism.

Damien said...

Also in the south, they did a lot to keep blacks uneducated. For example laws against slaves learning to read.

gregnyquist said...

Anon: "The objectivist outlook on capitalism is particularly disturbing. It often ignores the fact that when capitalism was at its most laissez-faire, it was bolstered by slavery."

I'm not sure what is supposed to be meant by "bolstered." Are you suggesting that capitalism would not have been successful without the help of slavery? Such a view completely misunderstands how capitalism works. Just as capitalism requires free ownership of the means of production, it also requires free labor. You can't develop an efficent division of labor without that. Slavery was an encumbrance to the development of a capitalistic market system, as Weber brilliantly demonstrated.

Wells said...

Capitalism is about maximizing utility within certain rules and reinvesting profits in businesses. There are no moral choices being made by the capitalist system, morality has to come from somewhere else. Also laissez-faire is and has always been an empty slogan, If you want the kind of markets where people don't have to tote guns all the time, you need rules and enforcement of said rules.

I guess what this means is that if the rules allow slavery, there will be slavery, if they don't allow slavery, there will not be slavery. Individual people are benefited or harmed as some are forced to work for free, and others get the benefit of free labor. The capitalist system will simply take the rules and use them to make money, it can't tell you the morality of certain rules.

Red Grant said...

____________________________

Here in the United States, the North outlawed slavery long before the south. - Damien
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Didn't General Grant own slaves till the very end of the Civil War?



____________________________

Up until the end of slavery, it was more prosperous than the south. - Damien
____________________________




Are you sure about that?

Didn't the U.S. government before the Civil War derived as much as 75% of its revenue from the South(which had smaller population base than the North)?


____________________________

If slavery was more
important to a laissez-faire capitalist economy, why was the North so much wealthier than the south?- Damien
____________________________




Do laissez-faire capitalist economy practice protectionism?

Didn't the North practice and advocate protectionism?



____________________________

Plus one could argue that because the North outlawed the slavery before the South, it had a more free market economy. - Damien
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Do you think one could argue that because the North had advocated protectionism and the South advocate free treade, one could argue that the South had had more free market economy?

Damien said...

Red Grant,

Neither the North or the South had a completely free market economy. I just pointed out the fact that slavery makes an economy less free. Plus many of the Northern states did outlaw slavery long before the South.

Red Grant said...

----------------------------

I just pointed out the fact that slavery makes an economy less free. - Damien
____________________________





Didn't you also point out that the North was more prosperous than the South?




____________________________

Plus many of the Northern states did outlaw slavery long before the South. - Damien
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Why do you think they did so?

Damien said...

Red Grant,

I think that the North Outlawed slavery before the South, because I have read that in multiple history books. Remember the conflicts between free and slave states? Remember the Missouri_Compromise ?

For a while blacks would flee to the North to escape bondage. It was the Dred_Scott decision that put an end to that. After the supreme court ruled that slaves were property and you couldn't just take away someone's property, blacks had to flee to Canada instead. In Canada slavery was Illegal at the time.

I also I remember hearing that the South was poorer than the North. I think it was Walter E Williams that first pointed this out to me. If you can find a respectable source that contradicts him, I might change my mind on the matter.

Red Grant said...

____________________________

I also remember hearing that the South was poorer than the North. - Damien
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This needs qualification.

For some period before the wide adoption of cotton gin, the wealth in the South had been fleeing to the North due to the fact that the U.S. government was subsidizing the industrilaization of the North at the expense of the South through the Tariff acts.

Without those subsidies, the South would have been more prosperous.

Ironically, the South had been quietly freeing the slaves till the adoption of cotton gins.

With the adoption of cotton gins and the expansion of the use of slaves, the South became an economic powerhouse, easily dwarfing the North.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Economy_of_the_Confederate_States_of_America

Red Grant said...

If ranked as an independent nation, it[the South] would have been the fourth richest country of the world in 1860.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Economy_of_the_Confederate_States_of_America

____________________________

I think that the North Outlawed the slavery before the South,... - Damien
____________________________



Slaves still held in New Jersey, Delaware, West Virginia, Maryland and Missouri also became legally free on this date.[the date of final ratification of emancipation; December, 1865]

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_slavery_in_the_United_States#War_and_emancipation

Red Grant said...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_slavery_in_the_United_States#War_and_emancipation

Red Grant said...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_slavery_in_the_United_

States#War_and_emancipation

Red Grant said...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Economy_of_the_Confederate_States_of

_America

Damien said...

Red Grant,

You said,
"Slaves still held in New Jersey, Delaware, West Virginia, Maryland and Missouri also became legally free on this date.[the date of final ratification of emancipation; December, 1865]"

Yes, and the biggest reason people were holding slaves in the North at that time was the Dred Scott Decision. The Dred Scott Decision was mentioned in the article you sited, but you seem to have ignored it.

According to the article you sited,
"Dred Scott was a 62-year-old slave who sued for his freedom after the death of his owner on the grounds that he had lived in a territory where slavery was forbidden (the northern part of the Louisiana Purchase, from which slavery was excluded under the terms of the Missouri Compromise). Scott filed suit for freedom in 1847 and went through two state trials, the first denying and the second granting freedom. Ten years later the Supreme Court denied Scott his freedom in a sweeping decision that set the United States on course for Civil War. The court ruled that Dred Scott was not a citizen who had a right to sue in the Federal courts, and that Congress had no constitutional power to pass the Missouri Compromise."

It goes on,
"The 1857 Dred Scott decision, decided 7-2, held that a slave did not become free when taken into a free state; Congress could not bar slavery from a territory; and blacks could not be citizens. Furthermore, a state could not bar slaveowners from bringing slaves into that state. This decision, seen as unjust by many Republicans including Abraham Lincoln, was also seen as proof that the Slave Power had seized control of the Supreme Court. The decision, written by Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, barred slaves and their descendants from citizenship. The decision enraged abolitionists and encouraged slave owners, helping to push the country towards civil war."

Slavery_In_America

So tectonically the North Did outlaw slavery before the south, But the Dred Scott decision for all intense and purposes, put an end to that, until the civil war. Note that not all the slave holding southern states joined the confederacy. Plus if the North never outlawed slavery, why did Lincoln speak of slave and free states? Remember Lincoln saying a "house divided cannot stand?" He said that the nation couldn't exist forever half slave and half free. He meant to say, it would end up becoming all slave states or all free states.

Red Grant said...

____________________________

So tectonically the North Did outlaw slavery before the south. - Damien
____________________________


The Emancipation Proclamation consists of two executive orders issued by the United States President Abraham Lincoln during the American Civil War.

The first one, issued September 22, 1862 declared the freedom of all slaves in the Confederate States of America that did not return to Union control by January 1, 1863.

The second order, issued January 1, 1863, named the specific states where it applied.

Not included were the Union slave states of Maryland, Delaware, Missouri and Kentucky.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emancipation_Proclamation



____________________________

Note that not all the slave holding southern states joined the confederacy. - Damien
____________________________





So you think Maryland as a southern state?



____________________________

Plus if the North never outlawed slavery, why did Lincoln speak of slave and free states? Remember Lincoln saying a "house divided cannot stand?" He said that the nation couldn't exist forever half slave and half free.

He meant to say, it would end up becoming all slave states or all free states. - Damien
____________________________



First of all why were there still legally held slaves in New Jersey till the ratification of Emancipation if the North had already outlawed slavery?

Secondly, that "house divided cannot stand" speech was made June 16, 1858.

Lincoln himself contradicted this with his letter to Horace Greely, August 22, 1862.

An excerpt:

My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery.

If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it.

and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that.

Adriana I. Pena said...

The best theory of History is that of the Arrogant Worms

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AJsrcbVGsa4

And here are the lyrics

http://www.metrolyrics.com/history-is-made-by-stupid-people-lyrics-arrogant-worms.html