I am flabbergasted that a serious student of history would write such a grotesquely hypocritical essay. After explaining that we must recognize the truth that historical documents are written by human beings with their own social context and beliefs, the author proceeds to present a highly personal and idiosyncratic interpretation of history.

The most extreme personal bias in this essay is its childish notion of grand conspiracies controlling the flow of history. The author assures us that the course of Western history has been under the direction of a cabal of powerful people seeking to retain and advance their power. Were that truly the case, we could condense all those tedious history tomes into a short book explaining all of history in a few hundred pages. The complexities, the twists and turns, the ebb and flow of different factions and forces, all of this could be subsumed under a much simpler explanation: evil people with lots of power were responsible for everything that happened. That’s not only wrong, it’s puerile.

Throughout history, there have been multiple foci of power in every society, all in brutal competition with each other. Most of the energies of the powerful were directed against each other. Internecine warfare was always a greater threat to the powerful than popular uprising.

“The Europeans, influenced by their cultural belief in European dominance and religious belief in a divine right, created “race” to explain their (historically not-so-)unique superiority and justify their abhorrent treatment of other, non-white “races”.”

Actually, no. Yes, Europeans believed themselves superior to everybody else—that’s pretty much the standard position of all big societies. The Romans considered themselves to be profoundly superior to the barbarians whom they conquered. The Ottomans were so sure of their intrinsic superiority to the “Franks” (the Ottomans were so ignorant of Europe that they called all Christians ‘Franks’) that they seldom bothered to even send ambassadors to the west. They interpreted the presence of European ambassadors in Istanbul as an acknowledgement of their own superiority. The only thing the West had that they were interested in was weaponry. They didn’t have an Islamic printing press until 1727. The Chinese were even worse; they disdained most Western technology as mere toys. By the time they were being clobbered by British gunboats, China was in such disarray that it was unable to catch up; it wasn’t until the second half of the twentieth century that Chinese science and technology began catching up with its Western counterpart. Thus, there wasn’t anything remarkable about Europe’s belief in its intrinsic superiority—the Europeans’ beliefs were substantiated by the enormous lead they had over all other societies, in just about every dimension of social endeavor: science, technology, law, economics, and even much of art.

Your reference to “their (historically not-so-)unique superiority” is particularly embarrassing, because in fact the sudden burst of progress in Europe in the early modern era put it way, WAY ahead of everybody else, and permitted a small portion of humanity to dominate the entire planet. No other society in history has dominated even a tenth of the human population, but Europe pretty much took over almost everything save China, Japan, and a few remote Asian societies. Indeed, your phrase bespeaks ignorance of the extensive literature attempting to explain the Western triumph. My own explanation goes all the way back the Sea Peoples and the Bronze Age Collapse.

Moreover, your emphasis on race as the central concept is completely wrong. All societies are fundamentally xenophobic; outsiders of any kind are treated with suspicion at best and extermination at worst. Language was the first basis for xenophobia; our word “barbarian” comes from the ancient Greek word ‘barbaros’ which meant ‘babbler’ because the Greeks saw other languages as babble. Later, religion was a major source of xenophobic viciousness. Jews were persecuted by Christians throughout much of history not because they were a different race but because they had a different religion (with the exception of the Nazis, who attempted to justify their extermination on genetic grounds).

A small point: the eugenics movement was not a scientific movement; it was strictly a political movement. In the late nineteenth century, many scientists did indeed admit the theoretical possibility of useful eugenic procedures, but once the movement gelled in the early twentieth century, and its advocates began calling for forced sterilizations, most scientists backed away from the movement on ethical grounds. Although there were a few individual scientists who supported eugenics causes, the scientific community as a whole rejected the entire enterprise.

“As I’ve written elsewhere, migration is abysmally misunderstood for an activity that has been an integral part of the human condition for thousands of years.”

Actually, no. Mass migration is a modern phenomenon. Throughout most of history, people stuck close to home, seldom traveling more than 30 miles from their birthplace. Yes, merchants and soldiers were mobile, but the great majority of people remained at their ancestral homes. Even the Volkerwanderung entailed movements of only tens to hundreds of thousands of people among populations of millions; conquerers needed the peasants who worked the land just as much as they wanted the land itself. Despite the huge movements of Germanic peoples, the languages of France, Italy, and Spain remained Romance in structure, with an overlay of Germanic vocabulary.

But your most astounding statement is this:

“I offer this information not to make a case for slavery reparations, but rather to make a case against giving voters in the U.S. or Britain the chance to decide whether they would agree to reparations.”

Here you seriously suggest sidestepping democratic principles for your hobby horse agenda. Once you abandon democratic principles, you open the door to every other authoritarian to abandon democratic principles. If the government tells its citizens to go to hell and gives some billions of dollars in reparations, why can’t a future government give billions to, say, Baptist churches? Or people of Romanian descent? Model airplane enthusiasts?

I am horrified that an educated person, especially one educated in history, fails to grasp the historical lessons we have so painfully learned about authoritarian rule. Shame on you.

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Master of Science, Physics, 1975. Computer Game Designer. Interactive Storytelling. www.erasmatazz.com

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Chris Crawford

Chris Crawford

Master of Science, Physics, 1975. Computer Game Designer. Interactive Storytelling. www.erasmatazz.com

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