carts before horses

in a brief article on the church’s role in the development of things like political liberty (belated happy magna carta day, btw!) and prosperity in medieval england, ed west says:

“Last week I was writing about Magna Carta and how the Catholic Church’s role has been written out, in particular the part of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Stephen Langton.

“But the same could also be said about much of English history from 600AD to 1600; from the very first law code written in English, which begins with a clause protecting Church property, to the intellectual flourishing of the 13th century, led by churchmen such as Roger Bacon, the Franciscan friar who foresaw air travel.

“However, the whitewashing of English Catholic history is mainly seen in three areas: political liberty, economic prosperity and literacy, all of which are seen as being linked to Protestantism.

“Yet not only was Magna Carta overseen by churchmen, but Parliament was created by religious Catholics, including its de facto founder, Simon de Montfort….

“Likewise literacy, which hugely increased in the 16th century and is often attributed to the Protestant attachment to the word, was already increasing in the 15th and the rate of growth did not change after Henry VIII made the break with Rome….”

here’s the graph from max roser on literacy rates in western europe from the fifteenth century onwards [click on chart for LARGER view]:

Literacy-Rates-in-Western-Europe-from-the-15th-century-to-now_Max-Roser

and more from ed west:

“As for the economy and the ‘Protestant work ethic’, well the English economy was already ‘Protestant’ long before the Reformation.

As one study puts it:

“‘By 1200 Western Europe has a GDP per capita higher than most parts of the world, but (with two exceptions) by 1500 this number stops increasing. In both data sets the two exceptions are Netherlands and Great Britain. These North Sea economies experienced sustained GDP per capita growth for six straight centuries. The North Sea begins to diverge from the rest of Europe long before the “West” begins its more famous split from “the rest”. [W]e can pin point the beginning of this “little divergence” with greater detail. In 1348 Holland’s GDP per capita was $876. England’s was $777. In less than 60 years time Holland’s jumps to $1,245 and England’s to 1090. The North Sea’s revolutionary divergence started at this time.’

“In fact GDP per capita in England actually decreased under the Tudors, and would not match its pre-Reformation levels until the late 17th century.”

so there are three big things — political liberty, prosperity, and literacy — all of which improved significantly, or began on a trajectory to do so, already by the high middle ages in northwestern or “core” europe (england, netherlands, nw france, ne germany, scandinavia, etc.).

there are additionally some other large and profound societal changes that occurred in core europe which also started earlier than most people think:

– a marked reduction in homicide rates, which has been studied extensively by historians of crime like manuel eisner, was written about at great length by steven pinker in his Better Angels, and most recently was suggested by peter frost and henry harpending to be the result of genetic pacification via the execution of criminals in the middle ages (i think they’re partly/mostly right!).

here’s the example of england (from eisner 2001):

eisner - homicide rates in england

“In the thirteenth and fourteenth century, the mean of almost 40 different estimates lies around 24 homicides per 100,000. The average homicide rates are higher for the late fourteenth century than for the thirteenth century, but it seems impossible to say whether this is due to the difference of the sources used or reflects a real increase related to the social and economic crises in the late Middle Ages. When estimate start again after a gap of some 150 years, the average calculated homicide rates are considerably lower with typical values of between 3-9 per 100,000. From then onwards, the data for Kent line up with surprising precision along a straight line that implies a long-term declining trend for more than 350 years.” [pg. 622]

while it is likely that the state’s persistent execution of violent felons over the course of a couple of hundred years in the late medieval/early modern period resulted in the genetic pacification of the english (and other core europeans — this is the frost & harpending proposal), it is also apparent that the frequency of homicides began to drop before the time when the english state became consistent and efficient about its enforcement of the laws (basically the tudor period) — and even before there were many felony offences listed on the books at all. homicide rates went from something like 24 per 100,000 to 3-9 per 100,000 between the 1200s and 1500s, before the state was really effective at law enforcement [pg. 90]:

“As part of their nation-state building the Tudors increased the severity of the law. In the 150 years from the accession of Edward III to the death of Henry VII only six capital statutes were enacted whilst during the next century and a half a further 30 were passed.”

the marked decline in homicides beginning in the high middle ages — well before the early modern period — needs also to be explained. you know what i think: core europeans were at least partly pacified early on by the selection pressures created by two major social factors present in the medieval period — outbreeding and manorialism.

– the rise of the individual, which began in northwest europe at the earliest probably around 1050. yes, there was a rather strong sense of the individual in ancient greece (esp. athens), but that probably came and went along with the guilt culture (pretty sure these things are connected: individualism-guilt culture and collectivism-shame culture). and, yes, individualism was also strong in roman society, but it seems to have waned in modern italy (probably more in the south than in the north, and possibly after the italian renaissance in the north?). siendentorp rightly (imho) claims that it was the church that fostered the individualism we find in modern europe, but not, i think, in the way that he believes. individualism can come and go depending, again i think, on mating patterns, and the mating patterns in northwest europe did not shift in the right direction (toward outbreeding) until ca. the 700-800s (or thereabouts) thanks to the church, so individualism didn’t begin to appear in that part of the world until after a few hundred years (a dozen-ish generations?) or so of outbreeding.

in any case, the earliest appearances of individualistic thinking pop up in nw europe ca. 1050, which is quite a bit earlier than a lot of people imagine, i suspect.

– the disappearance of and dependence upon the extended family — the best evidence of this of which i am aware comes from medieval england. the early anglo-saxons (and, indeed, the britons) had a society based upon extended families — specifically kindreds. this shifted beginning in the early 900s and was pretty complete by the 1100s as evidenced by the fact that members of the kindred (i.e. relatives) were replaced by friends and colleagues (i.e. the gegilden) when it came to settling feuds. (see this previous post for details: the importance of the kindred in anglo-saxon society.)

the usual explanation offered up for why the societies in places like iraq or syria are based upon the extended family is that these places lack a strong state, and so the people “fall back” on their families. this is not what happened in core europe — at least not in england. the importance of the extended family began to fall away before the appearance of a strong, centralized state (in the 900s). in any case, the argument is nonsensical. the chinese have had strong, centralized states for millennia, and yet the extended family remains of paramount importance in that society.

even in the description of siedentorp’s Inventing the Individual we read: “Inventing the Individual tells how a new, equal social role, the individual, arose and gradually displaced the claims of family, tribe, and caste as the basis of social organization.” no! this is more upside-down-and-backwardness. it’s putting the cart before the horse. individualism didn’t arise and displace the extended family — the extended family receded (beginning in the 900s) and then the importance of the individual came to the fore (ca. 1050).

there are a lot of carts before horses out there, which makes it difficult to get anywhere: the protestant work ethic didn’t result in economic prosperity — a work ethic was selected for in the population first and, for various reasons, this population then moved toward even more protestant ideas and ways of thinking (and, voila! — the reformation. and the radical reformation as a reaction to that.) a strong state did not get the ball rolling in the reduction in violence in nw europe or lead to the abandonment of the extended family — levels of violence began to decline before the state got heavily involved in meting out justice AND the extended family disappeared (in northern europe) before the strong state was in place. and so on and so forth.

it’s very hard for people to truly understand one another. (this goes for me, too. i’m no exception in this case.) and, for some reason, it seems to be especially hard for people to understand how humans and their societies change. i suppose because most people don’t consider evolution or human biodiversity to be important, when in fact they are ALL important! in coming up with explanations for why such-and-such a change took place, the tendency is to look at the resultant situation in our own society — eg. now the state is important rather than the extended family, which is what used to be important — and to then assume that the thing characteristic of the present (the state in this example) must’ve been the cause of the change. i don’t know what sort of logical fallacy that is, but if it doesn’t have a name, i say we call it the cart-horse fallacy! (alternative proposal: the upside-down-and-backwards fallacy.) explaining how changes happened in the past based on the present state of affairs is just…wrong.

so, a lot of major changes happened in core european societies much earlier than most people suppose and in the opposite order (or for the opposite reason) that many presume.
_____

also, and these are just a couple of random thoughts, the protestant reformation happened in the “core” of core europe; the radical reformation (a set of reactionary movements to the main reformation) and the counter reformation (the more obvious reactionary movement to the reformation) happened in peripheral europe. the enlightenment happened in the “core” of core europe; the romantic movement, in reaction to the enlightenment, happened in peripheral europe (or peripheral areas of core countries, like the lake district in england, etc.). just some thoughts i’ve been mulling over in my sick bed. =/
_____

see also: The whitewashing of England’s Catholic history and The Church’s central role in Magna Carta has been airbrushed out of history from ed west. oh! and buy his latest kindle single: 1215 and All That: A very, very short history of Magna Carta and King John! (^_^)

previously: going dutch and outbreeding, self-control and lethal violence and medieval manorialism’s selection pressures and the importance of the kindred in anglo-saxon society and the radical reformation.

(note: comments do not require an email. back to my sickbed!)

26 Comments

  1. “it seems to be especially hard for people to understand how humans and their societies change. i suppose because most people don’t consider evolution or human biodiversity to be important, when in fact they are ALL important! in coming up with explanations for why such-and-such a change took place, the tendency is to look at the resultant situation in our own society”

    It does get old, I must say.

    Reply

  2. Listening to one of Alan Macfarlane’s video lectures yesterday I learned that at the time of the Doomsday Book (I mean Domesday, though it must have seemed like Doomsday to the ones being counted) there were over 5000 waterwheels in England or approximately one waterwheel for every fifty inhabitants. Macfarlane makes the point (I assume he knows what he is talking about) that the English were far ahead of the rest of Europe when it comes to replacing human muscle with non-human muscle, not just waterwheels, but windmills, and millions of horses.
    Even fossil fuels were already important long before the steam engine, providing 10% of England’s energy in the Middle Ages (presumably for heating mostly?)

    He argues — as does Ed West here — that the average standard of living in England was significantly higher than on the continent even in the time of Chaucer. Makes me wonder if “The Son Also Rises” thesis is even necessary to explain the Industrial Revolution — though of course British family structure, individualism, rule of law, property rights, etc.. were all crucial parts of the puzzle.

    Here is a link to the lectures, which I realize hbd chick has linked to before: https://goo.gl/bCZ7tF

    Reply

  3. Lots of important thoughts here. You seem to be the most important thinker on the actual origins of the modern West active today. I definitely think you’re on to something very important with the Christian-mandated outbreeding plus feudal manorialism thesis. I suspect that execution of felons, which generally only affected the far right of the violence bell curve was less important than manorialism’s prohibition on the ‘slightly wild’ or ‘moderately feckless’ from marrying. Under manorialism the feckless could still breed, but without resources but they couldn’t support offspring to reproductive age, so few such infants survived. “Dysgenics” starts when the post-Dickensian “orphanages” (and later the Welfare State) actually start keeping the children of the feckless alive long enough to reproduce in turn.

    Reply

  4. I don’t really follow West’s point that the keenness of the Roman Catholic church to protect its property was some sort of sign of its attachment to liberty. The rest of his spiel really just amounts to describing various church monopolies that were safeguarded by burning heretics, atheists and witches.

    (P.S. Why did Protestants carry on with the witch-burning habit, when they dropped so many other unpleasantnesses? Dunno.)

    The “Great Britain” line on the literacy graph is bogus, of course, if you’re looking at the effect of the Reformation – Great Britain then existed only in the geographical sense. I’ll bet my bottom dollar that literacy in Scotland leapt after her Reformation: by diluting her figures with English ones, the effect gets hidden. But why did rising literacy rates in England not accelerate after the Tudor reformation? This and some of the other Ed West points might instead be interpreted as saying that England had already been drifting away from the RC church for quite some time before the Tudors formalised the split. Wycliffe, Lollards, … leading on to Tyndale, etc., being other manifestations. And the changes that interest the Chick were also, in part, a drift away from RC habits, in the sense of the habits of Italian Late Antiquity as imposed and protected by Rome.

    Reply

  5. With regard to the cart-before-the-horse fallacy, it looks like you might be dealing with something called presentism. See also the historical fallacy.

    First-time commenter here – I’ve learned a lot from your blog. Keep up the excellent work.

    Reply

  6. @dearieme – “I’ll bet my bottom dollar that literacy in Scotland leapt after her Reformation: by diluting her figures with English ones, the effect gets hidden.”

    i was wondering if the flatlining of the literacy stats in “great britain” had something to do with some change in counting — the sudden inclusion of scotland (at a point in time where literacy rates there might’ve been a lot lower)? the inclusion of ireland?! no idea. kinda important to find out, though.

    Reply

  7. @m – “With regard to the cart-before-the-horse fallacy, it looks like you might be dealing with something called presentism. See also the historical fallacy.”

    ah ha! thanks! (^_^)

    Reply

  8. @simon – “You seem to be the most important thinker on the actual origins of the modern West active today. I definitely think you’re on to something very important with the Christian-mandated outbreeding plus feudal manorialism thesis.”

    awww, shucks! (*^_^*) thanks for saying so!

    to be fair, i have stolen almost entirely the outbreeding+manorialism thesis from michael mitterauer (Why Europe?), it’s just that i’m putting an evolutionary/biological twist to it, whereas mitterauer offers a straightforward (but misguided!) cultural explanation. that’s to be expected, of course, because he’s “just” an historian. he’s a great one though!! (done a lot on the history of the family and family types, that’s why he knows all about the outbreeding, etc.)

    Reply

  9. Something I’ve known for a long time but hadn’t considered in this context until recently is a large percentage of violence is connected to sexual jealousy and changing sexual partners so the more monogamous a society becomes the less violent it should become also.

    That might be an aspect of manorial people breeding also.

    Reply

  10. “the sudden inclusion of Scotland (at a point in time where literacy rates there might’ve been a lot lower)”: if the inclusion was dated to 1707, as makes sense, then Scottish literacy rates would have been higher than England’s. Whether they were higher as early as 1603 I don’t know.

    Reply

  11. WKPD to the rescue:

    In 1616 an act in Privy Council commanded every parish to establish a school “where convenient means may be had”, and when the Parliament of Scotland ratified this with the Education Act of 1633, a tax on local landowners was introduced to provide the necessary endowment. A loophole which allowed evasion of this tax was closed in the Education Act of 1646, which established a solid institutional foundation for schools on Covenanter principles. Although the Restoration brought a reversion to the 1633 position, in 1696 new legislation restored the provisions of 1646 together with means of enforcement “more suitable to the age”. Underlining the aim of having a school in every parish. In rural communities these obliged local landowners (heritors) to provide a schoolhouse and pay a schoolmaster, while ministers and local presbyteries oversaw the quality of the education. In many Scottish towns, burgh schools were operated by local councils. By the late seventeenth century there was a largely complete network of parish schools in the lowlands, but in the Highlands basic education was still lacking in many areas.

    Reply

  12. “a work ethic was selected for in the population first and, for various reasons, this population then moved toward even more protestant ideas and ways of thinking . . .”

    And yet you can’t deny that the Puritans (and Calvinists generally) were a new phenomenon, can you? Maybe the ground was ripe (ye who have ears to hear, etc..) The Catholic Church was much more given to charity towards the poor, to display, and hence to the consumption of wealth which, if saved the way the Puritans did, could be invested. Plain clothes, plain churches, plain living — were these as characteristic of the burger class before the Protestant Reformation?

    Reply

  13. “yes, there was a rather strong sense of the individual in ancient greece (esp. athens), but that probably came and went along with the guilt culture . . .

    A pretty good way to gauge how much individualism there was in a culture is by how many names of individuals are known — thus there are many individuals we “know” in classical Athens but far fewer later on.

    By this measure both the Old and the New Testaments are pretty individualistic. How important were clans in the land of Israel in those periods? Not sure.

    Reply

  14. (P.S. Why did Protestants carry on with the witch-burning habit, when they dropped so many other unpleasantnesses? Dunno.)

    All witches burned in Europe were carried out by Protestants.

    Reply

  15. “All witches burned in Europe were carried out by Protestants.” Really? Even though the development of witch hunts and witch trials was a Roman Catholic development, occurring well before the Reformation? Are you suggesting they executed them but not by burning?

    Reply

  16. “1265: Pope Clement IV reaffirms the use of torture.

    bullet 1326: The Church authorized the Inquisition to investigate Witchcraft and to develop “demonology.” This is the theory of the diabolic origin of Witchcraft. 1

    bullet 1330: The popular concept of Witches as evil sorcerers is expanded to include belief that they swore allegiance to Satan, had sexual relations with the Devil, kidnapped and ate children, etc. Some religious conservatives still believe this today.

    bullet 1347 to 1349: The Black Death epidemic killed a sizeable part of the European population. Conspiracy theories spread. Lepers, Jews, Muslims and Witches were accused of poisoning wells and spreading disease.

    bullet 1430’s: Christian theologians started to write articles and books which “proved” the existence of Witches. 2

    bullet 1436-7: Johannes (John) Nider wrote a book called Formicarius, which describe the prosecution of a man for Witchcraft. Copies of this book were often added to the Malleus Maleficarum in later years. Some sources say that the author Thomas of Brabant; this is apparently an error.

    bullet 1450: The first major witch hunts began in many western European countries. The Roman Catholic Church created an imaginary evil religion, using stereotypes that had circulated since pre-Christian times. They said that Pagans who worshiped Diana and other Gods and Goddesses were evil Witches who kidnapped babies, killed and ate their victims, sold their soul to Satan, were in league with demons, flew through the air, met in the middle of the night, caused male impotence and infertility, caused male genitals to disappear, etc. Historians have speculated that this religiously inspired genocide was motivated by a desire by the Church to attain a complete religious monopoly, or was “a tool of repression, a form of reining-in deviant behavior, a backlash against women, or a tool of the common people to name scapegoats for spoiled crops, dead livestock or the death of babies and children.” Walter Stephens, a professor of Italian studies at Johns Hopkins University, proposes a new theory: “I think Witches were a scapegoat for God.” 3 Religious leaders felt that they had to retain the concepts of both an omnipotent and an all-loving deity. Thus, they had to invent Witches and demons in order to explain the existence of evil in the world. This debate, about how an all-good and all-powerful God can coexist in the world with evil is now called Theodicy. Debate continues to the present day.

    bullet 1450: Johann Gutenberg invented moveable type which made mass printing possible. This enabled the wide distribution of Papal bulls and books on Witch persecution; the witch hunt was greatly facilitated.

    bullet 1484: Pope Innocent VIII issued a papal bull “Summis desiderantes” on DEC-5 which promoted the tracking down, torturing and executing of Satan worshipers.

    bullet 1486-1487: Institoris (Heinrich Kraemer) and Jacob Sprenger published the Malleus Maleficarum (The Witches’ Hammer). It is a fascinating study of the authors’ misogyny and sexual frustration. It describes the activities of Witches, the methods of extracting confessions. It was later abandoned by the Church, but became the “bible” of those secular courts which tried Witches.

    bullet 1500: During the 14th century, there had been known 38 trials against Witches and sorcerers in England, 95 in France and 80 in Germany. 4 The witch hunts accelerated. “By choosing to give their souls over to the devil witches had committed crimes against man and against God. The gravity of this double crime classified witchcraft as crimen exceptum, and allowed for the suspension of normal rules of evidence in order to punish the guilty.” 7 Children’s testimony was accepted. Essentially unlimited torture was applied to obtain confessions. The flimsiest circumstantial evidence was accepted as proof of guilt.

    bullet 1517: Martin Luther is commonly believed to have nailed his 95 theses on the cathedral door at Wittenburg, Germany. Apparently it never happened; he published his arguments in a less dramatic way. This triggered the Protestant Reformation. In Roman Catholic countries, the courts continue to burn witches. In Protestant lands, they were mainly hung. Some Protestant countries did not allow torture. In England, this lack of torture led to a low conviction rate of only 19%.”

    http://www.religioustolerance.org/wic_burn2.htm

    Reply

  17. The modern world arose in the Catholic/Protestant world. (Protestantism arose out of Catholicism so I include them together. ) Not in the Orthodox Christian world, not in the Muslim world, not in the Hindu world, etc.

    This is unlikely to be a coincidence.

    Reply

  18. OT: “The Albanian Mafia, in its entirety, constitutes one of the highest crime generating elements in the world, combining the “traditional” characteristics – plainly manifest in the rigid internal discipline, in the clan structure, in the “endogamic closure” which increases the impermeability, the reliability and the endogenous solidity . . .”
    https://goo.gl/8DWFAL

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s