A Brief History of Humankind

Dark Ages (A Brief History of Humankind)

This is the old story: whenever one sets out to discuss collapse, one ends up by talking about continuity. —G. W. Bowersock In the 1969 book Civilisation, companion to the BBC television series of the same name, Kenneth Clark had a topic called "By the Skin of Our Teeth." Its premise was that western civilization […]

The Inscrutable Orient (A Brief History of Humankind) Part 1

"A Chinese novel," I said. "That must be rather curious." "Not as curious as one might be tempted to think," replied Goethe. "These people think and feel much as we do, and one soon realizes that one is like them." —Goethe’s conversations with Eckermann, January 31, 1827 Western scholars have spent a lot of time […]

The Inscrutable Orient (A Brief History of Humankind) Part 2

WELCOME TO THE NEIGHBORHOOD! A number of scholars have acknowledged that Europe’s broken political landscape played a role in its rapid advance. For some of them, such as David Landes, this is among the reasons to doubt that China, left to its own devices, would ever have reached the industrial age. They are missing a […]

Modern Times (A Brief History of Humankind) Part 1

As if to offer proof that God has chosen us to accomplish a special mission, there was invented in our land a marvelous new and subtle art, the art of printing. —Johann Sleidan (1542) Religion in 1600 presents a grim face. . . . Prickly, defensive, gladiatorial debates were conducted endlessly between theologians who seldom […]

Modern Times (A Brief History of Humankind) Part 2

PRINTING AND PLURALISM The connection between freedom and the press is not trivially simple; it’s not that printing always gives the masses overwhelming firepower against tyranny. In the hands of government, the press is an instrument of propaganda. (Napoleon, never shy about sharing his views, seized the newspaper Journal des debats and renamed it Le […]

And Here We Are (A Brief History of Humankind)

Web to weave, and corn to grind; Things are in the saddle, And ride mankind. —Ralph Waldo Emerson The philosopher Karl Popper felt that "the belief in historical destiny is sheer superstition." Besides, he added, even if there were a destiny, it would be unknowable. "There can be no prediction of the course of human […]

New World Order (A Brief History of Humankind) Part 1

An Asean-10, as it is sometimes called, will be a dynamic, free-market area of 500 million people by early next century. Already, ASEAN wields enormous diplomatic clout, either driving or codriving APEC, ARF and ASEM. —Wall Street Journal In 1500 B.C., there were around 600,000 autonomous polities on the planet. Today, after many mergers and […]

New World Order (A Brief History of Humankind) Part 2

GOOD TRIBALISM Some chaos theorists also suffer from a skewed view of modern "tribalism." They fret about its disruptive effects without realizing that, for every newly empowered, destablizing "tribe," there are scores more "tribes" emerging that are harmless if not benign—tribes that will help bring order to the new world. The first step toward seeing […]

Degrees of Freedom (A Brief History of Humankind)

No one can be perfectly happy till all are happy. —Herbert Spencer In general, history has shown a healthy indifference to the strengths and weaknesses of particular political leaders. Blunders and oppressions in any one part of the world have tended not to be broadly ruinous; there have always been whole continents full of other […]