The Shock of History

The Shock of History

http://www.alternativeright.com/main/the-magazine/the-shock-of-history/

A propos:
Dominique Venner.
Le choc de l’Histoire. Religion, mémoire, identité.
Versailles: Via Romana, September 2011.

 

“The future belongs to those with the longest memory.” –Nietzsche

Conservative thinking, Karl Mannheim notes, is essentially historical thinking—in that it orients to the concrete, to ‘what is’ and ‘what has been’, instead of to ‘what ought to be’ or ‘what can be’. ‘Properly understood’, historical thinking (as créatrice de sens) reveals the ‘Providential’ design evident in the course and test of time.

Some anti-liberals are wont thus to situate their ‘conservative’ project within the frame of Europe’s historical destiny and the higher design informing it.

The most renowned of such historical thinkers (representing what Carolina Armenteros calls the ‘the French idea of history’) was the father of European anti-liberalism, Joseph de Maistre—though he is not our subject.  Rather, it is the foremost contemporary avatar of anti-liberal historical thought: Dominique Venner.

The 75-year-old, French-speaking European of Celt and German descent, father of five, Venner is a historical scholar, a writer of popular histories and of various works on firearms and hunting, as well as the editor of two successful, artfully illustrated historical journals.

But whatever his genre, Venner bears the knightly (or legionnaire) standard of Europe’s multi-millennial heritage—the heritage, he claims, that took form with the blind poet, who is the father of us all—the heritage whose Homeric spirit knows to honor the brave, bare-foot soldiers of the Confederacy and the social banditry of Jesse James—and, most insistently, the heritage that expects a future commensurate with Europe’s incomparable past.

Venner is not your average academic historians; indeed, he’s not an academic at all. His life has been lived out on the last of France’s imperial battlefields; in Parisian street politics, in the outlawed OAS, in prison, and in laying the conceptual foundations of the European New Right; and finally, since his early thirties, in the various libraries, archives, and communal memories he’s searched to produce the 50 books he’s written on the key historical upheavals of the last century or so.

Unsurprisingly, his historical sense is ‘over-determined’—not solely by an  intelligence steeped in the life of the mind, but also by disciplines acquired in those schools of initiands known only to the political soldier.

Venner_Dominique_-_Le_choc_de_lhistoireHis latest book—Le Choc de l’Histoire—is not a work of history per se, but a series of meditations, in the form of a book-long interview (conducted by the historian Pauline Lecomte) on the historical situation presently facing Europeans. These meditations approach their subject in parallel but opposite ways: 1) one approach surveys the contours of Europe’s longue durée—those centuries of growth that made the great oak so venerable—and, in the spirit of the Annales School, reveals her ‘secret permanences’, and, 2) a very different but complementary approach that silhouettes the heroic individuals and individual events (Achilles and the Iliad foremost) exemplifying the Homeric spirit of European man—disclosing his possibilities, and offering him thus an alternative to his programmed extinction.

Venner’s thesis is that: Europeans, after having been militarily, politically, and morally crushed by events largely of their own making, have been lost in sleep (‘in dormition’) for the last half-century and are now—however slowly—beginning to experience a ‘shock of history’ that promises to wake them, as they are forced to defend an identity of which they had previously been almost unconscious.

Like the effect of cascading catastrophes (the accelerating decomposition of America’s world empire, Europe’s Islamic colonization, the chaos-creating nihilism of global capitalism, etc.), the shock of history today is becoming more violent and destructive, making it harder for Europeans to stay lulled in the deep, oblivious sleep that follows a grievous wound to the soul itself—the deep curative sleep prescribed by their horrendous civil wars (1914-1918 and 1939-1945), by the ensuing impositions of the Soviet/American occupation and of the occupation’s collaborationist regimes, and, finally, today, by a demographic tsunami promising to sweep away their kind.

The Sleep

 

The Second European Civil War of 1939-1945, however it is interpreted, resulted in a cataclysmic defeat not just for Hitler’s Germany, but for Europe, much of which, quite literally, was reduced to mounds of smoldering rumble. Then, at Yalta, adding insult to injury, the two extra-European super-powers partitioned the Continent, deprived her states of sovereignty, and proceeded to Americanize or Sovietize the ‘systems’ organizing and managing the new postwar European order.

As Europe’s lands and institutions were assumed by alien interests, her ancient roots severed, and her destiny forgotten, Europeans fell into dormition, losing consciousness of who they were as a people and a civilization—believing, as they were encouraged, that they were simply one people, equal among the world’s many peoples.

Worse, for their unpardonable sins—for what Europeans did to Jews in the war, to Blacks in the slave trade, to non-White peoples in general over the course of the last 500 years—for all the terrible sins Europeans have committed, they are henceforth denied the ‘right’ to be a ‘people’. In the Messianic spirit of Communism and Americanism, the Orwellian occupiers and collaborators have since refused them a common origin (roots), a shared history, a tradition, a destiny. This reduces them to a faceless economic-administrative collectivity, which is expected, in the end, to negate the organic basis of its own existence.

The postwar assault on European identity entailed, however, more than a zombifying campaign of guilt-inducement—though this campaign was massive in scale. Europe after Jahre Null was re-organized according to extra-European models and then overwhelmed with imported forms of mass consumerism and entertainment. At the same time and with perhaps greater severity, she was subject to an unprecedented ‘brain-washing’ (in schools, media, the so-called arts, public institutions, and private corporations)—as all Europe’s family of nations, not just the defeated Germans, were collectively made to bear a crushing guilt—under the pretext of the Shoah or the legacy of colonialism/imperialism/slavery—for sins requiring the most extreme penance. Thus tainted, her memory and identity are now publicly stigmatized,

venner-dominique-2101Venner’s Europe is not, of course, the Soviet/New Class-inspired EU, just as she is not the geographical entity labeled ‘Europe’. Rather than a market, a political/administrative structure, a geographic category—rather even than a race (though in a certain sense it is all about race in the end)—Europe for him is a multi-millennial community of closely-related national families made up of Germans, Celts, Slavs, and others, having the same ancient (Indo-European, Borean, Cro-Magnon) roots of blood and spirit: that is, having the same Thirty-thousand Years of European History and Identity.

This makes his Europe a community with a common civilizational heritage that stretches back to the depths of prehistoric time. Historically, the tradition and identity of this heritage has informed Europe’s representations and values in ways distinguishing/identifying her and her peoples from other civilizations and peoples.

Tradition, though, is not  for Venner the metaphysical abstraction of the perennialists or the historical repository of the Burkeans: it is not something outside history nor is it something forged once and for all in the night of time.

Tradition for him is precisely that which does not pass.  It is the perpetual spirit that makes Europeans who they are and lends meaning to their existence, as they change and grow yet remain always the same. It is the source thus of the ‘secret permanences’ upon which their history is worked out.

Tradition may originate in Prehistory, but Venner claims it is preeminently contemporary—just as every origin represents a novel outburst of being. It serves thus as a people’s inner compass. It directs them to what and whom they are. It renders what was formed and inspired in the past into a continually informed present. It is always new and youthful, something very much before rather than behind them. It embodies the longest memory, integral to their identity, and it anticipates a future true to its origin. Life lived in reference to tradition, Venner insists, is life lived in accordance with the ideal it embodies—the ideal of ‘who we are’.

In one sense, Venner’s Europe is the opposite of the America that has distorted Europe’s fate for the last half-century. But he is no knee-jerk anti-American (though the French, in my view, have good cause to be anti-US). He’s also written several books on the US War of Secession, in which much of America’s Cavalier heritage is admired. Knowing something of the opposed tendencies shaping American ‘national’ life, he’s well aware of the moral abyss separating, say, Jesse James from Jay Gould—and what makes one an exemplar of the European spirit and the other its opposite.

Modeled on the Old Testament, not the Old World, Venner claims America’s New World (both as a prolongation and rejection of Europe) was born of New England Calvinism and secularized in John O’Sullivan’s ‘Manifest Destiny’.

Emboldened by the vast, virgin land of their wilderness enterprise and the absence of traditional authority, America’s Seventeenth-century Anglo-Puritan settlers set out, in the spirit of their radical-democratic Low Church crusade, to disown the colony’s Anglo-European parents—which meant disowning the idea (old as Herodotus) that Europe is ‘the home of liberty and true government’.

Believing herself God’s favorite, this New Zion aspired—as a Promised Land of liberty, equality, fraternity—to jettison Europe’s aesthetic and aristocratic standards for the sake of its religiously-inspired materialism. Hence, the bustling, wealth-accumulating, tradition-opposing character of the American project, which offends every former conception of the Cosmos.

New England, to be sure, is not the whole of America, for the South, among another sections, has a quite different narrative, but it was the Yankee version of the ‘American epic’ that became dominant, and it is thus the Yankee version that everywhere wars on Americans of European descent.

Citing Huntington’s Who Are We?, Venner says US elites (‘cosmocrats’, he calls them) pursue a transnational/universalist vision (privileging global markets and human rights) that opposes every ‘nativist’ sense of nation or culture—a transnational/universalist vision the cosmocrats hope to impose on the whole world. For like Russian Bolsheviks and ‘the Bolsheviks of the Seventeenth century’, these money-worshipping liberal elites hate the Old World and seek a new man, Homo Oeconomicus—unencumbered by roots, nature, or culture—and motivated solely by a quantitative sense of purpose.

As a union whose ‘connections’ are essentially horizontal, contractual, self-serving, and self-centered, America’s cosmocratic system comes, as such, to oppose all resistant forms of historic or organic identity—for the sake of a totalitarian agenda intent on running roughshod over everything that might obstruct the scorch-earth economic logic of its Protestant Ethic and Capitalist Spirit. (In this sense, Europe’s resurgence implies America’s demise).

The Shock

What will awaken Europeans from their sleep? Venner says it will be the shock of history—the shock re-awakening the tradition that made them (and makes them) who they are. Such shocks have, in fact, long shaped their history. Think of the Greeks in their Persian Wars; of Charles Martel’s outnumbered knights against the Caliphate’s vanguard; or of the Christian forces under Starhemberg and Sobieski before the gates of Vienna. Whenever Europe approaches Höderlin’s ‘midnight of the world’, such shocks, it seems, serve historically to mobilize the redeeming memory and will to power inscribed in her tradition.

More than a half-century after the trauma of 1945—and the ensuing Americanization, financialization, and third-worldization of continental life—Europeans are once again experiencing another great life-changing, history-altering shock promising to shake them from dormition.

The present economic crisis and its attending catastrophes (in discrediting the collaborators managing the EU, as well as de-legitimatizing the continent’s various national political systems), combined with the unrelenting, disconcerting Islamization of European life (integral to US strategic interests) are—together—forcing Europeans to re-evaluate a system that destroys the national economy, eliminates borders, ravages the culture, makes community impossible, and programs their extinction as a people. The illusions of prosperity and progress, along with the system’s fun, sex, and money (justifying the prevailing de-Europeanization) are becoming increasingly difficult to entertain. Glimmers of a changing consciousness have, indeed, already been glimpsed on the horizon.

The various nationalist-populist parties stirring everywhere in Europe—parties which are preparing the counter-hegemony that one day will replace Europe’s present American-centric leadership—represent one conspicuous sign of this awakening. A mounting number of identitarian, Christian, secular, and political forces resisting Islam’s, America’s, and the EU’s totalitarian impositions at the local level are another sign.

Europeans, as a consequence, are increasingly posing the question: ‘Who are we?’, as they become more and more conscious—especially in the face of the dietary, vestimentary, familial, sexual, religious, and other differences separating them from Muslims—of what is distinct to their civilization and their people, and why such distinctions are worth defending. Historical revivals, Venner notes, are slow in the making, but once awakened there is usually no going back. This is the point, Venner believes, that Europe is approaching today.

The Unexpected

History is the realm of the unexpected. Venner does not subscribe to notions of historical determinism or necessity. In contrast to Marxists and economic determinists, anti-Semites and Spenglerians, he believes there are no monocausal explanations of history, and unlike liberals such as Fukuyama, he believes there’s no escape from (no ‘end’ to) history.

In history, the future is always unknown. Who would have thought in 1980 that Soviet Russia, which seemed to be overtaking the United States in the ‘70s, would collapse within a decade? Historical fatalities are the fatalities of men’s minds, not those of history.

History, moreover, is the confluence of the given, the circumstantial, and the willful. This makes it always open and hence potentially always a realm of the unexpected. And the unexpected (that instance when great possibilities are momentarily posed) is mastered, Venner councils, only in terms of who we are, which means in terms of the tradition and identity defining our project and informing our encounter with the world.

Hence, the significance now of husbanding our roots, our memory, our tradition, for from them will come our will to power and any possibility of transcendence. It’s not for nothing, Dominique Venner concludes, that we are the sons and daughters of Homer, Ulysses, and Penelope.

What is Independence?

What is Independence?

Obviously, we think this is an important concept, so much so that it is the central theme of our site. But what does it mean? Let’s take a look at the dictionary first:

freedom from the control, influence, support, aid, or the like, of others.

It seems pretty simple, doesn’t it? Would anybody disagree with the notion that we should be free from the control of others? Of course not. To suggest otherwise would imply that we are the property of others, that we are subjects or slaves.

The other parts of the definition all rest on the freedom from control: influence of others isn’t always a bad thing. It is good to sometimes seek advice or guidance from someone else. However, you are still free to choose what to do with that advice, and so you are free to choose how you will let that influence affect you, so long as you are free from control. The same is true of support, aid, or the like. So a more simple definition of independence, cutting down to the root of the issue, would be:

freedom from the control of others.

But why does this simple idea go out the window when we start talking about government?

There are many potential answers to this question. Our society seems to have a general premise that the government is our safe keeper, and without it we would be animals in the wilderness, and utter chaos would rule. Some treat government as if it represents a balance of power against the “corporations” (themselves government enabled entities) who they say would take over and act as governments themselves if it weren’t for our elected representatives. The Founding Fathers treated government  as a necessary evil, that if properly limited could serve to protect our rights, but we all know that lasted about 5 minutes.

So why is it that we would all react with disgust if we saw a person leading around his slaves and making them do his bidding, but we react with joyful celebration when we see the government do the same thing? (Democrats celebrating the enslavement of doctors, for example, or Republicans celebrating the enslavement of the pot smoker.)

Well this is the question of our times and for people who have traveled the philosophical and political journey that leads to Independence it is extremely difficult to understand how anyone could believe that control is OK in the hands of the government, while not OK for anyone else. Hopefully our efforts on this site can expose people to the reality that government is coercion and control of others, and that as such it is evil. Hopefully we can inspire a renewed interest in Independence, so that as the current status quo collapses upon itself, a free society can emerge.

Men of the West aka white guys

Not many of you can be called men, so may be this post should be “boys of the west.” For a people who conquered the world, built mighty empires, fought bloody world wars, and landed on the moon, it seems we have lost our manhood. Is it true the liberal education system has emasculated white males to the point of no return? Where is the warrior spirit of our ancestors? What happened to the european survival instinct?

If I can say one thing, its stop being a bitch! Simple as that! Stand up to them, this includes our women! Be men damn you! Stop cowering like a small child and stand and fight like men, stand and die like men if need be, but don’t lay there and die like dogs! Embrace the inner warrior, if you can’t afford guns and ammo, can you afford a sledge hammer? An axe? I’d rather fight with an axe in combat then my bare hands! Let me tell you if you have not purchased your killing tools then your good as dead anyways, and if you have your stock pile, your probably going to die anyways, buts it better to die a warriors death, killing our racial enemies, then on your knees begging for mercy. I will warn you, they are not known for their mercy, they will torture you, and consume your flesh before all is said and done, take the bastards to hell with you if you must.

The worst thing I have seen in this world is the feminized white male. Let them boys between your legs drop for a change and allow your natural instincts to make some choices for you once in a while, you might be surprised.

This ongoing attack on manhood is what prevents white males from becoming white men, but its an attack we allow to occur. They can’t force you to be a bitch, your doing that all on your own. Next time an enemy challenges you, don’t back down, stand up for our people! Know this, they bleed just like the rest of us, its only a matter of making them bleed! They are not gods, do not fear the parasites, do not fear the tick, the flea, and the tape worm, without us they would soon meet their maker.

Don’t cling to your wives for protection, that’s your job. Show your sons (if you have any) what a real man is. When it comes to our enemies, drop the whole turn the other cheek bullshit, and knock them the f*** out!

Stand up and protect our women! Set an example of strength, god man lose some weight! Spend some time at the gym, eat less garbage, go hiking, eat some meat, weight training, and act like men.

When the times comes do not hesitate to put them down!

Is UN plotting to bring illegal aliens from Libya to Europe?

Is UN plotting to bring illegal aliens from Libya to Europe?

Thousands of sub-Saharan African illegal aliens are in detention centers in Libya. Gaddafi had been processing them for repatriation as part of a large agreement with Italy.

Since problems began in North Africa, illegal aliens have been flooding into Southern Europe creating a major crises. The launching of the Sarkozy/Obama war in Libya has made matters much worse.

Libya just made a deal with the UN to allow aid workers to Tripoli and Misurata. The UN has already commenced the evacuation of as many as 5,000 Philippine oil workers. However, the radical left-wing European media is calling for a “rescue” of detained illegal immigrants in Libya as well.

Italy, Malta, and Greece are at breaking points. Popular anger over EU immigration policies is boiling over.

Now France has openly violated EU immigration law to block the entry of illegal aliens “lawfully” crossing the Italian/French border. This has given the Italians ammunition to go against EU open borders policies as well. France had been blocking illegal aliens along their Mediterranean border and diverting them to Italian Islands. Italy retaliated by given some of them temporary visas so they could legally cross back into France. In return France called up riot police to block their entry.

Meanwhile German officials have already stated that they will not agree to take a share of the new illegal aliens.

One of more straw could break the camels back and lead to open defiance of the EU by Southern Europe over immigration laws.

Finnish right-wing surges in election.

Finnish right-wing surges in election.

Europe’s march to the right comes to Finland!

The True Finns party which opposes immigration, same-sex marriage, and EU bailouts gained 19% of the vote. This is up from the 4% they received last time. The Finnish National Coalition received 20.4%, and the Socialists received 19.1%.

This means that the True Finns were just 1.4 points away from the largest party. All together, right of center parties got 47.7% and left-wing parties got 34.4%, with the centrist party receiving 15.8%.

Every single party lost ground except for the True Finns.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G9gPsi4LU7s&feature=player_embedded

The Chinese and the Irrational

The Chinese and the Irrational

By Fjordman

James Evans in The History and Practice of Ancient Astronomy has written an extremely thorough account of astronomy during historical times in the Middle East and Europe, up to and including Kepler just prior to the telescope. In his view, “The remarkable accuracy of the Babylonian observers is a silly fiction that one still frequently encounters in popular writing about early astronomy.” The important thing is that there was a tradition of making observations, recording them carefully and a social mechanism for preserving the records.

The gods were believed to speak through objects and events in the natural world, including animal entrails, dreams and celestial phenomena. Omens were important for every level of Mesopotamian society, yet astronomical observations did not become the major focus of divination until after 1500 BC. Mesopotamian bureaucrats and astronomers/astrologers gradually amassed detailed information about the movement of the planets after 800 BC.

By the fifth century BC, Babylonian celestial divination had expanded to embrace horoscopic astrology, which used planetary positions at the moment of the date of birth to predict individual fortunes. As explained by science historian James Evans, “While horoscopic astrology was certainly of Babylonian origin (as, indeed, the Greek and Roman writers always claimed), it was elaborated into a complex system by the Greeks. Thus, the familiar and fantastically complicated system of horoscopic astrology with dozens of conflicting rules does not descend from remote antiquity. Rather it is a product of Hellenistic and Roman times.”

An Egyptian astronomical interest can be detected in the alignment of their temples and pyramids, but rarely on the level of sophistication seen in Mesopotamia. The ceilings of royal tombs from the Middle Kingdom on, for instance in the Valley of the Kings in Luxor, contain drawings that could be described as simple celestial maps, yet with the partial exception of their solar calendar it does not seem to have occurred to them to seek for any deeper explanation of what they observed. The Egyptians “seem to have produced no systematic records of planetary movements, eclipses, or other phenomena of a plainly irregular sort.”

To the ancient Greeks, the planets were “wandering stars.” Our word planet comes from a Greek verb meaning to wander. The modern names for the five naked-eye planets are the names of Roman divinities which were more or less equivalent to a number of Greek gods. Most people today probably know this. What many of them don’t know is that some of the Greek names themselves may have been derived from Babylonian divinities in Mesopotamia.

Mars was often associated with war because of its reddish color, which can be spotted through naked-eye observations; the ancient Egyptians called it the Red One. However, there are other parallels that are unlikely to be accidental. In ancient Mesopotamia, Ishtar was the Babylonian and Assyrian counterpart of Inanna, the moody Sumerian goddess of love and fertility, identified with the planet Venus. To the Romans, Venus was the goddess of love and fertility, their equivalent of the Greek goddess Aphrodite, who was also a symbol of love and fertility.

In the eyes of Walter Burkert, a few similarities between the Epic of Gilgamesh and Homeric poetry can no longer be ignored. He is nevertheless careful to point out that natural and political philosophy in the true sense was a Greek invention as much as was deductive proof in mathematics. As Ibn Warraq puts it, “what emerges is something entirely distinctive: what we call Greek civilization. The very strength of this civilization lay in its ability to learn from and improve upon the ideas, art, and literature of the Near East, Persia, India, and Egypt.”

The website of the American Institute of Physics states that despite their observations, the explanations that the Babylonian, Mayan and early Chinese sky-watchers devised for planetary movements “were no more than colorful myths. Scientific cosmology – the search for a picture of the universe that would make sense with no mention of divine beings – began with the Greeks. They sought to look beyond the patterns of numbers to something fundamental…. Aristotle taught that rotating spheres carried the Moon, Sun, planets, and stars around a stationary Earth. The Earth was unique because of its central position and its material composition. All generation and corruption occurred in the ‘sublunar’ region, below the Moon and above the Earth. This region was composed of the four elements: earth, water, air, and fire. Beyond the Moon was the unchanging and perfect celestial region. It was composed of a mysterious fifth element. Greek philosophers estimated the distance to the Moon, and even tried to calculate the size of the entire universe. They believed it was finite.”

The goals and methods of Babylonian astronomy were very different from those of the Greeks. In particular, the Babylonians seem to have had little interest in the actual motions of the celestial bodies as long as they could predict eclipses. Later Greek astronomers were well aware of these fundamental differences in the approach. “For example, Theon of Smyrna says that the Babylonian astronomers, using arithmetical methods, succeeded in confirming the observed facts and in predicting future phenomena, but that, nevertheless, their methods were imperfect, for they were not based on a sufficient understanding of nature, and one must also examine these matters physically.” They did not base their astronomy on an elaborate philosophy of nature. There was no Babylonian, Egyptian or Indian equivalent of Aristotle.

The Maya in Mesoamerica devoted much attention to divination and amassed detailed studies of the movements of the Sun, Moon and planets over long periods of time. The Inca elites in pre-Columbian South America, too, elaborated special forms of divination. The Chinese had their own ideas about the stars and divination from an early date, but may have absorbed additional ideas from Babylonian astrology by way of India during the Han Dynasty.

The Chinese lunisolar calendar with its twelve Zodiac signs (the rat, ox, tiger etc.) is used for marking holidays such as the Chinese New Year. The first known divinations there are found on inscribed oracle bones and turtle shells in the city of Anyang in northeastern China from 1200 BC or slightly before and “concern military expeditions, the construction of towns, illnesses, journeys, births – of significance to the King or (what comes to the same) the state.”

The cosmological outlook of the Chinese organically linked the Earth, and above all the royal family, to the Heavens and the spirit world. The misbehavior of officials, it was thought, and especially of the Emperor himself, might result in famines, earthquakes, droughts or other natural disasters because they had displeased the spirit world. Similarly, anomalies in the heavens were taken as portents of the future and might predict future events that should be known only to the Emperor. For this reason, there was a powerful inclination in Imperial China to keep sky watching confined to the official bureaucracy under a veil of secrecy.

Geoffrey Ernest Richard Lloyd, a prominent historian from the University of Cambridge, England, explores the origins of systematic inquiry in Greece, China and Mesopotamia with his book The Ambitions of Curiosity: Understanding the World in Ancient Greece and China:

“Both Chinese and Greeks shared the notion that the world as a whole – ‘heaven and earth’ in Chinese terms, the cosmos in Greek ones – is orderly, but the forms their notions of orderliness took differ, providing interesting insights also into their divergent notions of intelligibility. In China, the regular relations between heaven and earth are, in a sense, the responsibility of the Emperor who acts as a mediator between them. On him depend not just the welfare of ‘all under heaven’, but also the orderly relations between heaven and earth themselves. They are a matter of due processes of change: yet these could be disrupted. When irregularities occurred, that could be taken as a warning, a sign of danger or even that the Emperor’s mandate was coming to an end – though the non-occurrence of an eclipse could be taken as a sign of his virtue. Order in the heavens, in that sense, could not be taken for granted. In Greece, by contrast, cosmic regularities are unchanging.”

G.E.R Lloyd goes on to show that the most important aspects of the institutional framework in China were the existence of considerable numbers of official posts, the sense that it was the ruler or his ministers that were the prime audience and the acceptance of the authority of the canons. “In Greece, with far fewer established positions available, far more depended on the skill that individuals showed in the cut and thrust of open debate – whether within a school or group, or between them, or just among individuals. It was success in argument with rivals that secured a reputation, essential not least if you were to make a living as a teacher. In these respects, the tradition of debate itself stands out as the key institution (of a different kind from those of bureaux or courts) in the situation within which most Greek intellectuals operated.”

As the esteemed author Charles Murray asks, was axiomatic logic inevitable? That is far from certain. “It is easy to assume that someone like Aristotle was not so much brilliant as fortunate in being born when he was. A number of basic truths were going to be figured out early in mankind’s intellectual history, and Aristotle gave voice to some of them first. If he hadn’t, someone else soon would have. But is that really true? Take as an example the discovery of formal logic in which Aristotle played such a crucial role. Nobody had discovered logic (that we know of) in the civilizations of the preceding five millennia. Thinkers in the non-Western world had another two millennia after Aristotle to discover formal logic independently, but they didn’t. Were we in the West ‘bound’ to discover logic because of some underlying aspect of Western culture? Maybe, but what we know for certain is that the invention of logic occurred in only one time and one place, that it was done by a handful of individuals, and that it changed the history of the world. Saying that a few ancient Greeks merely got there first isn’t adequate acknowledgement of their leap of imagination and intellect.”

A small band of Greek thinkers, starting with Thales from about 600 BC, embarked on a serious, critical inquiry into the nature of the world around them. The Milesian philosophers disagreed and used logic and reason to criticize the ideas of others. They did not immediately leave all traces of supernatural intervention behind; a perspective of repeated divine intervention could be traced in some of the writings of Herodotus in the fifth century BC.

Anaximander judged eclipses to be the result of blockage of the apertures in rings of celestial fire. According to the philosopher Heraclitus, the heavenly bodies are bowls filled with fire, and an eclipse occurs when the open side of a bowl turns away from us. David C. Lindberg elaborates in his accessible book The Beginnings of Western Science: The European Scientific Tradition in Philosophical, Religious, and Institutional Context, Prehistory to A.D. 1450:

“These theories of Anaximander and Heraclitus do not seem particularly sophisticated (fifty years after Heraclitus the philosophers Empedocles and Anaxagoras understood that eclipses were simply a case of cosmic shadows), but what is of critical importance is that they exclude the gods. The explanations are entirely naturalistic; eclipses do not reflect personal whim or the arbitrary fancies of the gods, but simply the nature of fiery rings or of celestial bowls and their fiery contents. The world of the philosophers, in short, was an orderly, predictable world in which things behave according to their natures. The Greek term used to denote this ordered world was kosmos, from which we draw our word ‘cosmology.’ The capricious world of divine intervention was being pushed aside, making room for order and regularity; chaos was yielding to kosmos. A clear distinction between the natural and the supernatural was emerging; and there was wide agreement that causes (if they are to be dealt with philosophically) must be sought only in the natures of things. The philosophers who introduced these new ways of thinking were called by Aristotle physikoi or physiologoi, from their concern with physis or nature.”

The Classical scholar Eric Robertson Dodds in 1951 published The Greeks and the Irrational as a critique of the commonly held view that ancient Greek culture represented the triumph of “rationalism.” He demonstrated with examples how perceived spiritual influences or the notion of divine inspiration was common in Greece up to the time of Plato. While maybe true, this should not cause us to forget some of the unique contributions that the Greeks did make.

As we have seen, philosophers in Greece knew that moonlight is reflected sunlight. Plutarch even suggested that people live on the Moon.Around 300 BC, the geographer Pytheas of Massilia described the ocean tides and suggested a relationship to the Moon. Poseidonius(ca. 135-50 BC), a Greek Stoic philosopher and teacher of the Roman statesman Cicero, also correlated variations in the tides with phases of the Moon, and in the second century BC the Chinese had recognized a connection between tides and the lunar cycle. While correct, these insights did not progress further since nobody could explain why there was such a correlation.

Isaac Newton’s theory of gravitation enabled the first explanation. Most of the Earth’s tides are caused by the Moon, with the Sun contributing a smaller part and other planets like Jupiter have a negligible effect. When the Sun, Moon and Earth are aligned, the Sun’s and Moon’s gravity in combination create what we call spring tides, the highest high tides. This occurs at every new and full Moon. Neap tides are weak tides which occur during quarter Moons.

When the Moon passes through the shadow cast by the Earth we see a lunar eclipse. A solar eclipse occurs for a few minutes in the lunar shadow whenever the two celestial bodies line up vis-à-vis the Earth and the Moon is totally or partially obscuring the Earth’s view of the Sun. By pure chance, the Sun is 400 times larger than our Moon, but also 400 times farther from us, making the two bodies appear the same size relative to us. A similar coincidence does not happen anywhere else in our Solar System. Hundreds of millions of years from now, when the Moon has slowly moved further away from us, all solar eclipses on our planet will be partial.

Lunar eclipses can only occur at Full Moon when the Moon is directly opposite the Earth in relation to the Sun. The Chinese word for eclipseis chih, which means “to eat.” In ancient China, people beat drums and banged on pots to scare off the “heavenly dog” believed to be devouring the Sun. The bloody cast of the Moon in some eclipses only added to the fear of what was going on among many ancient peoples, quite possibly also in prehistoric Europe.

Even into the nineteenth century AD, the Chinese navy fired cannons to scare off the dragon or beast they imagined was eating the Moon. Christopher Columbus and his crew, stranded in Jamaica in 1503 on his fourth voyage, were wearing out their welcome with the natives who were feeding them. Columbus knew a lunar eclipse was coming and “predicted” the Moon’s disappearance. The natives begged him to bring it back which, of course, he did, in due time.

Unlike Mesoamericans, Andean peoples had not worked out the cycles of Earth, Sun and Moon that would allow them to predict eclipses, so these were frightening events. In South America, “when a solar eclipse occurred, the Incas would consult their diviners, who usually determined that a great prince was about to die and the Sun had thus gone into mourning. He continued that the Inca reaction was to sacrifice boys, girls, and livestock; the priestesses dedicated to the Sun went into mourning themselves, fasted, and made frequent sacrifices. Lunar eclipses were thought to occur because a puma or a snake was eating the moon. The corrective was to frighten the beast away by shouting, blowing trumpets, beating drums, hurling spears and other weapons toward the heavens, and whipping dogs until they howled.”

Toby E. Huff shows in The Rise of Early Modern Science that a very different metaphysical outlook prevailed in Chinese civilization compared to the worldview we find in Europe:

“In place of the Western atomism governed by laws of nature, or the Islamic occasionalism governed by God’s will, we find an organic world of primary forces (yang and yin) and the five phases (metal, wood, water, fire, and earth) constantly shifting in recurrent cycles. Within this cosmos there is no prime mover, no high God, no lawgiver. Of course, it is assumed that there is a pattern to existence and that there is a unique way (tao) for all things. But the explanation of the patterns of existence is not to be sought in a set of laws or mechanical processes, but in the structure of the organic unity of the whole. Moreover, Chinese cosmological thought came to stress the harmonious unity of natural and human patterns. That is, the patterns of the natural world were studied in order to find correlative correspondences between the patterns of heaven and those of human society below.”

The web of government and spiritual forces was so intimate that the traffic between the earthly and the spiritual worlds was constantly trod by officials speaking as gods and spirits speaking as officials. “In such a manner, the divine sanctioning of the authority of the emperor had its counterparts on the local level, and these served to reinforce the autocratic structure of government and local administration.” The prevailing Confucian ethic stressed the need to maintain outward obedience and respect for all authorities. To Chinese eyes, such public displays as challenging the word of authority figures constitute unforgivable signs of disrespect and dissension and the ultimate betrayal of filial piety. “In short, the Confucian stress on obedience stifled the development of all forms of contentiousness in public forums.”

He stresses that although medieval Europeans could debate the hierarchy of angles, the marriage between Greek philosophy and Biblical doctrines created a basis for viewing the world as orderly. The almighty God could make miracles if He wanted to, but such miracles were held to be rare events and the exceptions that proved the rule. This is in sharp contrast to the whimsical nature of Allah as portrayed in Islam, whose actions can never be predicted.

Huff in his writings emphasizes “the European medieval belief that man is a rational creature, one possessed of reason and conscience, and by virtue of these capacities is capable of understanding and deciphering the secrets of nature, with or without the aid of Scripture. Similarly, the medieval Europeans frequently deployed the metaphors of the ‘world machine’ (machina mundi) and the ‘Book of Nature,’ two devices giving pattern and intelligibility to the study of nature. Both ideas were integral to the teachings of the medievals (as in the writings of Grosseteste and Sacrobosco), and this shows again how deeply the metaphysical and religious roots of scientific culture are imbedded in the history of the West.”

By the seventeenth century, the European astronomical presence in China was significant. Western scholars had proved themselves superior to local astronomers when it came to making calendars and accurate predictions of eclipses. European Jesuit scholars used their undeniable edge in scientific and astronomical matters as a way of gaining entrance to the higher levels of Chinese society with the goal of promoting Christianity there, but the need for predicting lucky and unlucky days together with astrological divination for the Emperor and his court created tensions as to how far devout Christians could accommodate very different Asian beliefs, including what they viewed as superstition. Chinese divinatory emphasis on finding properly chosen sites and times of burial was powerful, and “the siting and burial of royal ancestors was a momentous event with serious consequences for all those involved.”

Adam Schall von Bell (1591-1666) was a Jesuit missionary from Cologne, Germany, who worked in China. During the final years of the Ming and the early years of the Qing Dynasty he gained the official title of mandarin and was heavily involved in reforming the Chinese calendar. This prominent position, however, might involve significant dangers in China. He was charged with being responsible, as head of the Bureau of Astronomy, for selecting an inauspicious date for the burial of a young prince who died prematurely. The fiercely anti-Christian scholar Yang Guangxian (1597-1669) led the assault on Schall and the Jesuits. Huff tells the tale again, this time in his book Intellectual Curiosity and the Scientific Revolution:

“Schall, the newly arrived Ferdinand Verbiest, and other Jesuits were rounded up, bound with ‘nine long and thick chains of iron, all with iron locks; three around the neck, three on the arms, and three on the feet,’ and carted off to jail. In the meantime, Yang Guangxian submitted still another memorial claiming that Schall, through his choice of an inauspicious date, was responsible not only for the premature death of the prince but also his mother and the emperor himself, who died of smallpox in 1661. Schall was partially paralyzed by a stroke precipitated by these events and had to rely on the Flemish Jesuit Ferdinand Verbiest for his defense. An investigation was undertaken and, on April 24, 1665, Schall and all the others were judged guilty: Schall was to be executed by dismemberment. Others involved were to be exiled after receiving forty blows with the bamboo. The next day, however, an earthquake rocked Beijing, leading all concerned to believe that perhaps an injustice had been done. The Princess Dowager intervened, absolving the Jesuits. The Jesuits, except for Schall, were released.”

Schall was placed under temporary house arrest and two non-Christian officials were pardoned, while several Chinese Christian converts, including Schall’s assistant Li Zubai, were beheaded for treason. Schall died the following year. The charges on which they were sentenced were those of sedition, although the judge admitted that he found it hard to determine which astronomical system was correct. Ironically, a few years later a test showed that Yang Guangxian as head of the Bureau of Astronomy could not produce a valid calendar in competition with Verbiest and the Europeans. He ended up being threatened with death himself for this failure and was eventually exiled to his home province, where he died.

A number of comments can be made about this episode. First of all is the fact that scholars often led a more dangerous and scientifically restricted life in China or in many other complex societies than they did in Europe, contrary to popular myth. Focusing only on the case of Galileo and ignoring this gives us a false picture of reality. First and foremost, however, it demonstrates that the leap to a (predominantly) non-magical worldview that had been achieved by certain Greek thinkers in Antiquity was far from self-evident. The Chinese, one of the most populous and prosperous nations in the world, as well as one of the cleverest according to themselves, still hadn’t made the same leap more than two thousand years later.

Some will probably claim that Europeans were just lucky and that other cultures were close to making a similar breakthrough. This view is highly questionable. The truth is that the most sophisticated Asian societies, or for that matter the complex urban cultures of Mesoamerica or the Andes region, were nowhere near making a similar breakthrough 500 years ago. Pre-colonial Australia and sub-Saharan Africa don’t even rank on the same scale in this regard.

The Chinese are practical people, which I for the most part mean as a compliment, and indeed often quite intelligent. One of the aspects of their culture that I find hard to relate to is their preoccupation with such things as “lucky and unlucky numbers.” Yes, you can encounter such notions in the West, too, but they are far more prominent in Oriental cultures. Many Chinese also seem to believe that luck is a character trait and that bad luck only happens to bad people.

From everything I have read, I have seen nothing to convince me that any other culture on Earth was moving in the same directions as Europeans did with the Scientific Revolution. Let us ask a provocative question: Would we have space travel today if we removed Europeans from the world? The answer is almost certainly no. China, the largest and richest country in Asia, was literally a couple of thousand years behind in certain crucial fields of astronomy, chemistry, mathematics and physics. Electricity was essentially unknown outside of Europe, as was calculus, the concept of gravity, modern material science and liquid hydrogen rocket fuel. My bet is that we would not have space travel, astrophysics or planetary science for a great many centuries to come without Europeans, as nobody else was independently close to making many of the crucial scientific and technological breakthroughs needed to achieve this.

Critics will no doubt point out that the ancient Greeks, despite their reputation for being rationalist and “non-magical,” could leave substantial room for superstition. This was true sometimes, just as it is true that a belief in occultism and horoscopes coexisted with the birth of modern science in Europe and is alive and well in parts of the Western world to this day.

Kepler was one of the greatest mathematical astronomers who ever lived, but there was also a mystical side to his cosmological ideas. As imperial mathematician in the 1600s he had to give astrological advice to the Holy Roman Emperor as a part of his duties, even though he himself was rather skeptical of horoscopes. Newton spent nearly as much time on alchemy or looking for hidden codes in the Bible as he did on mathematics. In the late 1800s the English chemist William Crookes, known for the Crookes tube, was a gifted scientist in addition to being passionately interested in spiritualism, including the possibility of talking to the dead. Science and non-science can and do coexist, occasionally even within the same individual.

And yet, there is something special about the European legacy of critical reason and the belief that reason, logic and public debate can be used to advance truth and insight into the natural world and the human world alike. After you subtract astrology and the notion that individual destinies are determined by spirits and stars, a belief that has been and partly still is very common around the world, a core of rationalism will emerge as one of the critical legacies of the ancient Greeks, running as a golden thread from them to modern Europe. It is easy to underestimate the importance of this, just as it is easy to take for granted many of the other unique advances made by Europeans, but we need to remember that there was never anything self-evident or inevitable about them. In the end, a (largely) rational understanding of the natural world was achieved in one civilization and in one civilization only: the European one.

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