Brief Histories of Four Key Institutions in Society


A brief history of government 

The first civilization began in the city states of Egypt, Mesopotamia, India, China, Mexico, and other places where small communities spawned kingdoms. We can trace the history of this culture in the wars fought between kingdoms and between nomadic barbarians and the settled communities.

China and India brought forth political dynasties that had little contact with the outside world except when nomadic groups threatened them from the Asian steppe (or when a “civilized” conqueror such as Alexander the Great invaded northern India). The empires formed in Mexico and Peru were also largely self-confined. The Middle East is another story. Here political dynasties arose in Mesopotamia, Turkey, Egypt, Persia, Greece, and Italy which fought other kingdoms for control of the civilized world. The story of this civilization is the story of the rise and fall of kingdoms striving to become an empire which controls a territory containing many different peoples.

Government is the institution which survives from this period. The history of government is largely one of warfare although certain other functions also emerged. The laws of Ur-Nammu and Hammurabi were noteworthy achievements. The extensive system of roads that connected distant parts of the Persian and Roman empires allowed a central government to control far-flung territories. The first Chinese emperor Shih Hwang-ti standardized the Chinese script, replaced the hereditary nobility with appointed officials, and began work on the Great Wall. But a recognized mark of achievement was how large a territory the empire might conquer and maintain. At its height in the 2nd century A.D., there were four political empires which controlled a broad swath of land from China’s Pacific coast to the Atlantic coast of Gaul and Spain. These were the Han Chinese, Kushan, Parthian, and Roman empires. Their societies were under totalitarian rule.

In China this pattern has continued into modern times. In recurring dynasties, the type of government created in the 3rd century B.C. lasted for two millennia. Even though the Ching dynasty ended in 1911, centralized government following the imperial model has been resurrected by the communists. In Europe, on the other hand, no one succeeded in reviving the Roman empire. This empire was split into two parts when Constantine I established a second capital at Constantinople to govern Rome’s eastern territories while the city of Rome remained the capital of territories in the west. Separate lineages of emperors ruled in each place. The last ruler of the west Roman empire, Romulus Augustulus, was deposed in 476 B.C., marking what we in the west call “the fall of the Roman empire”.

Many causes have been ascribed to this “fall”, including the corrosive influence of Christianity and the moral corruption of the Roman people. Considering that the western empire was overthrown by barbarian invaders, a more likely explanation is that the eastern border had become too porous. Germanic peoples had begun to migrate into Roman territories lured by the empire’s wealth and culture and even staff the imperial armies. After the Roman government fell, Gothic, Frankish, and other barbarian kings ruled the western part of Europe. Their domains became the territories of the European nation states. Several political leaders including Charlemagne, Emperor Frederick II, Philip II of Spain, Louis XIV of France, and, more lately, Napoleon and Hitler have tried to reunite the lands once ruled by ancient Rome, but none have succeeded for more than a short time.

In the eastern part of the empire, however, the Roman state continued for almost a thousand years beyond the demise of the western empire. This so-called “Byzantine” Roman empire, ruled from Constantinople, fought the Sasanian Persians, Islamic Arabs, Norman French, Saljuq Turks, and Ottoman Turks, among others, to maintain its sovereignty before Constantinople was besieged and taken by the Ottomans in 1454 A.D. Its cultural identity was related to orthodox Christianity as much as to the Roman state. The metropolitan of Constantinople was the spiritual leader of orthodox Christians. After that great city fell to the Moslems, ecclesiastical power shifted to Moscow.

Prince Vladimir of Kiev became a Christian in 989 A.D. Slavic peoples then converted en masse to the orthodox faith. The grand dukes of Moscow annexed the Ukraine and other lands to create the Russian empire. This Christian empire thereby became a continuation of the Byzantine empire and the Roman empire before that. Its model of empire involved a partnership between church and state, with the church in a subordinate position. The Russian czar (or “Caesar”) ruled a largely totalitarian state which, like that in China, was readily adapted to communist rule.

By this time world history had passed into the second epoch of civilization whose distinguishing institution was religion. We have seen that the Byzantine empire involved a partnership between church and state. In the west, the church continued to exist after the Roman state fell. The bishop of Rome, or Pope, became the spiritual leader of Christians living in the territories once ruled from that city. Barbarian kings converted to Christianity. The church gave its blessing to their rule. Charlemagne, who almost succeeded in reviving the political empire, had himself crowned “Holy Roman Emperor” by the Pope.

Medieval Christian society was ruled by a partnership between the temporal and ecclesiastical authorities. The Pope was the chief ecclesiastical official. The Holy Roman Emperor and lesser princes held temporal power. This was not an empire of the same kind as the pre-Christian Roman Empire. It was one where religion shared the governing power and, indeed, was considered to be a superior power to secular government.

The Islamic religion had also managed to bring a large territory under its control. The ruling caliphs, successors to Mohammed, combined religious and political authority. But, again, the religious was preferred to the secular. The purpose of empire was to convert persons to the Moslem faith and to govern society according to laws and regulations which Mohammed himself had prescribed. The caliphates in Damascus and Baghdad had authority over the entire realm of Islam.

A later Moorish regime was established in Spain. Turkish peoples and others from the Eurasian steppe later created Islamic empires. There were Buwayhid Iranians, Saljuq Turks in Anatolia, Aghlabid Arabs in Tunisia, and Fatimids and Mamluks in Egypt. In a later incarnation of Islamic empire, three great empires extended across from Turkey into south Asia: the Ottoman Turks, Persian Safavis, and Moguls of India. These were not revivals of the type of political empire found in those lands in the 2nd century A.D. but empires infused with religion.

As we enter the third epoch of world history, the institution of government experienced still more changes. In western Europe, the Protestant Reformation took place. Power shifted away from the papacy to the European princes who were able to choose the religion of their subjects. For instance, Henry VIII founded the church of England, a Protestant denomination, after the Pope refused permission to divorce his wife and remarry. Emperor Charles V (grandson of Ferdinand and Isabella) seemed to have most of Europe under his control but, caught in the conflict between Catholics and Protestants, he was unable to build a permanent empire. Pope Alexander VI’s division of American territories between Spain and Portugal proved ineffective in the face of Dutch, French, and English colonization.

How was government affected by these events? The Reformation taught that the Bible, not the Roman church, was the source of religious truth and authority. Every man was authorized to read the Bible and interpret it for himself. So the individual was religiously empowered; it was a step leading to democracy. Another important trend was the rise of Parliamentary government, especially in England. Parliaments, originally assembled to help the king collect taxes, took power away from kings. The idea that the people should pick their leaders replaced the principle that royal power was divinely sanctioned.

One 17th century revolution, the Puritan, and two 18th century revolutions, the American and French, were milestones toward the establishment of democratic government. The successful example of democracy in America helped to promote democratic governments in Europe and the rest of the world. In the aftermath of World War I, three major European dynasties fell and were replaced by democracies (if you count the Bolshevist government in Russia as a democracy.) The European “revolutions” gave a shock to government, two epochs after this institution had been created. The idea of beheading a divinely appointed monarch was especially shocking. One might look for a similar event affecting the other institutions somewhere down the line.

In the third epoch of history, we find the European nation state as the basic model of government. Democratic governments were replacing hereditary monarchies. Independent nations arose in South and Central America in the early 19th century. A multitude of new nations arose in Africa and Asia as the European nations divested themselves of their former colonies. An important element in the history of the first civilization came to an end when the military threat from nomadic barbarians was extinguished. Manchu China and Czarist Russia, equipped with firearms, had encircled their homeland by the mid 17th century.

Wars were now fought to advance economic objectives - gain new territories, access to markets, or control of natural resources - rather than to promote a religion. These wars tended to more disciplined and restrained than the religious ones had been. Communism, a new economic “religion” exhibiting certain features of Christianity, later took control of Russia, China, and other nations and, for a time, seemed poised for further conquest. But history took a different turn.

Industrialization now became the key to a nation’s military strength. As religion had been in the second epoch of history, so the influence of commerce was felt upon politics and government in the third epoch. Access to oil was critical. Education was also important as an educated citizenry was thought essential to a successful democracy.


A brief history of world religion

For much of the first epoch of history, religion had taken the form of civic religion following earlier cults of nature worship. The Mesopotamian city-states worshiped their local gods in the shape of a clay statue housed in the temple. The Greeks and Roman continued to observe rituals in honor of the gods. Pallas Athena, patroness of Athens, was worshiped in the Parthenon. The Roman emperor was Pontifex Maximus, leader of Rome’s civic religion. He himself was also worshipped as a god. It was the requirement of emperor worship which most bothered Christians living in Rome.

The second civilization was not based upon this kind of religion but upon another kind ultimately derived from philosophy. A wave of new thinking swept through civilizations of the Old World during the first millennium B.C. associated with such philosophers and spiritual leaders as Confucius, Buddha, Zoroaster, Jeremiah, and Pythagoras. From their teachings came new philosophies and religions. Some philosophers, such as Confucius, Zoroaster, and Plato, brought a moral critique to government. Their approach was to try to reform government as advisors to the king. Others challenged government as outsiders. Jeremiah, for instance, predicted that Jerusalem would fall to the Babylonians; he was jailed for expressing that belief. Socrates was convicted of impiety with respect to the civic religion of Athens and put to death. Jesus was crucified on order of Pontius Pilate, Roman proconsul in Judaea. Choosing between royal power and truth, Buddha renounced the throne of a Nepalese principality to pursue truth.

History records that, after their deaths, the followers of Jesus and Buddha formed ideological communities devoted to perpetuating and fulfilling the ideas of their departed leader. Buddhism inclined more toward monastic communities; Christianity, toward the ecclesiastical structure of the church. The core of these communities were persons who, like philosophers, had given up worldly occupations and married life to pursue a particular set of ideas. Buddha taught the path to Enlightenment. Jesus preached the coming Kingdom of God.

Both concepts are roughly related to what we would call “Heaven”, a spiritual realm for good persons after death. Followers of those religions were renouncing the evil world of physical pleasures and power politics. Yet they also had to operate in that world. Their institutional fortunes were made when powerful monarchs sponsored their religion. The Indian emperor Asoka sponsored Buddhism. The Roman emperor Constantine sponsored Christianity. The religious ideologies then became state religions, armed with resources of the state.

A third world religion, Islam, came about in the early 7th century A.D. when the archangel Gabriel dictated God’s words to the prophet Mohammed. Mohammed was a merchant who had been exposed to other Judaic religions when he led caravans to Syria. The message he brought was of a single God, Allah, who was the same God as that of the Christians and Jews. He was considered the latest in a series of prophets which also included Abraham, Moses, and Jesus, delivering God’s most complete message.

Mohammed spent years trying to convert citizens of Mecca to his religion. His fortune was made when he was invited to govern the city of Medina. He performed this task admirably and soon was at the head of an army which conquered Mecca and the rest of the Arabian peninsula. After Mohammed’s death in 632 A.D., his successors continued on the path of conquest. They took advantage of the fact that the East Roman empire and Sasanian Persian empire had exhausted each other in centuries-long warfare. The armies of Islam had conquered much of south-central Asia and north Africa by the end of the 7th century.

World religion provided a moral structure for society during the second epoch of world history. Although we place its beginning in the mid first millennium B.C. (when the great philosophers and prophets lived), its period of dominance began in the mid first millennium A.D. when the religions acquired worldly power. In the case of Christianity, it lasted until the Renaissance a thousand years later; in the case of Islam, perhaps a few hundred years after that. The pattern of organization varied.

In western Europe, the church became a freestanding institution after the Roman government fell. By its presumed power to bestow the blessings of God upon royal dynasties and individuals, it was able to develop a power-sharing arrangement with the barbarian kings who held worldly power. Christianity remained the state religion of the surviving Byzantine empire. In the Sasanian empire, Zoroastrianism was likewise the state religion. The royal family of Persia were hereditary priests of a pre-Zoroastrian cult that had been incorporated into the Zoroastrian religion. The caliphs who ruled Islamic countries combined religious and political authority as successors to Mohammed. In contrast, Buddhism was largely confined to monastic organization. Confucianism, a moral philosophy, played the part of a state religion in the imperial dynasties of China. Chinese Buddhism appealed to people in a less worldly way.

Government never disappeared in the second civilization. We say that this epoch is religious because religion assumed the dominant position in the partnership between religion and government. Political rulers could choose to put their subjects to the sword, but the church could grant or withhold eternal life. The latter power was the more awesome of the two. Pope Innocent III, who ruled at the apex of papal power, advanced the theory of the “two lights” arguing that as “the moon derives her light from the sun and is superior to the sun ... in the same way ... royal power derives its dignity from pontifical authority.”

A famous passage in Matthew quotes Jesus: “You are Peter, the Rock; and on this rock I will build my church ... I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven.” Accordingly, St. Peter was the first bishop of Rome. His successors in that office, the Popes, presumably inherited the power given to Peter. The Roman church exercised its power by administering the sacraments which were thought necessary to salvation. The church could withhold sacraments from persons, including kings, who had offended it. Martin Luther later denied that the church hierarchy had such power. He argued that a person could be saved by belief in Jesus as Lord and saviour. Orthodox Christianity had a different theology. Its leaders were also Christian bishops, peers of the Bishop of Rome but inferior to him with respect to the lineage from Peter.

Medieval Europe was ruled by a two power structure consisting of secular authorities and the church. Some coins had the picture of the Pope on one side; that of the Holy Roman Emperor, on the other. Justice was administered both by ecclesiastical and secular courts. Christianity dominated the society’s belief system. The Christian theology as developed by St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, and others mixed classical Greek philosophy (mainly, Aristotle and Plato) with the teachings of the Apostle Paul and the sayings of Jesus. Gothic cathedrals were built for Christian worship. The lives of Jesus and the saints were commemorated in public holidays. Music and the arts were adapted to religious ends.

In the 11th century A.D. two ominous events took place within Christendom. First, Pope Leo IX excommunicated Michael Cerularius, patriarch of the Orthodox church. Second, Urban II issued an appeal for European Christians to liberate Jerusalem from the Moslem authorities. The western church thus severed relations with the eastern church and waged war against Islam. Knights of the First Crusade did capture Jerusalem in 1099 A.D. after a battle killing 70,000 civilians. A Second Crusade, begun fifty years later after the fall of Edessa to the Turks, ended in dismal failure. There was a Third Crusade after Saladin recaptured Jerusalem which captured some territory but the Holy City remained in Moslem hands; and then a Fourth, which was diverted from its purpose; and then a Fifth, aimed at Egypt; and then a Sixth, in which the Pope excommunicated Emperor Frederick II because he did not attack the Moslems quickly enough; and so on, for a total of nine crusades, not counting the ill-fated “Children’s Crusade, which covered the better part of three centuries. At the end, the Holy Land remained in Moslem hands.

Such adventures undermined the moral credibility of the church. Frederick II openly mocked the Pope urging his fellow princes to seize church property. Another event which hurt the Papacy was the “Great Schism”, in which there were rival popes in Rome and Avignon, France. This was damaging to an institution whose legitimacy rested upon a clear line of descent from St. Peter. Then, too, the Roman church was forever borrowing money to finance wars and other projects.

The public was becoming disgusted with corrupt priests and the need to raise increasing sums of money. The Renaissance popes practiced nepotism and lived in palaces adorned with costly art. Pope Alexander VI had children. The last straw was a papal indulgence announced by Julius II to raise the money to rebuild St. Peter’s Church. When a Dominican friar came to Germany to announce a new papal dispensation, Martin Luther raised a protest. He posted his “95 Theses” on the door of the castle church at Wittenberg, and the Protestant Reformation began.

The Protestants were austere reformers who discouraged religious imagery. They focused instead on the words of the Bible. They placed emphasis upon translating the Bible from Latin and Greek into contemporary languages. if Christians could read the Bible themselves, they would not need priests to tell them what was required for salvation. “Scripture alone” was the Protestant source of religious authority and truth. “Justification by faith” was the sole means of salvation. But because each individual could interpret the Bible for himself, the Protestant movement spawned a variety of interpretations. Besides Lutherans, there were Calvinists, Methodists, Episcopalians, Baptists, and groups farther out such as Quakers, Mennonites, and Zwinglians.

The Saxon elector Frederick III gave Luther sanctuary in his castle at Wartburg. Protected by German princes, Luther burned a copy of a papal bull in a bonfire threatening to excommunicate him if he did not recant. European princes picked sides between supporting Luther’s cause and remaining loyal to the Roman church. This led to the Thirty Year”s War which pit Protestant against Catholic and much of Europe against the Hapsburg dynasty. Meanwhile, the two sides waged theological wars in books and pamphlets. Toynbee points out that European intellectuals became interested in the natural sciences about this time. Tired of theological disputes that led only to more strife, they wanted to address “questions concerning natural phenomena that could be discussed dispassionately and could be answered conclusively by observation or by experiment.” In 1660, the Royal Society was founded in England with those objectives in mind.

The Renaissance had anti-Christian overtones. Intellectuals were encountering the pagan classics and finding them superior to what Christianity had to offer. The term “dark ages” was first used then. Men were determined to see things as they were, not as church officials told them must be believed. The science of Aristotle began to be questioned. A new spirit of empiricism filled the culture. In the 17th century, men came to regard comets as a natural phenomenon rather than a warning from God of impending doom. Belief in witchcraft subsided. In the 18th century, French intellectuals became passionate about ridding the world of “authority, intolerance, and superstition.” The “Enlightenment” was a time of intense skepticism about religion. In the 19th Century, the theories of Charles Darwin posed a new challenge to explanations offered by the church. Was plant and animal life created as a result of evolution through natural selection or had God created the separate species? Was man indeed descended from apes?

While the conquering Spaniards converted the peoples of south and central America to Catholicism, European immigrants to North America brought with them a variety of religions. Many settled in America to escape religious persecution. Puritans, Quakers, and others found sanctuary there. And so the political culture of the United States has favored religious tolerance.

Jesuit missionaries also went to the Far East and initially had some success in making Christianity acceptable to the traditions of these people. However, the church hierarchy denounced their innovations. As a result, the Chinese imperial government suppressed the Christian religion. A Japanese shogun went so far as to require people to register with a Buddhist temple to prove they were not Christian. Asian peoples came to recognize the superiority of western technology, especially with respect to weaponry. They wanted some exposure to western culture to acquire the technology but were careful not to accept the whole package. To accept Christianity, these people felt, would mean the loss of their own cultural identity.

A brief history of business 

The commercial impetus behind the Renaissance, voyages of discovery to America and other far-flung places, mining of silver and gold in the New World, and the beginnings of American Indian and African slavery pushed human culture in a new direction. Ferdinand and Isabella were fanatical Christians who expelled the Moors from the Iberian peninsula in the same year that Columbus sailed to America. Christianity seemed poised for further conquests when St. Ignatius Loyola founded the Society of Jesus and Jesuit missionaries converted indigenous peoples of America to its faith.

But the Spanish and Portuguese lost out to the commercially minded Dutch who, in turn, lost out to the English. Colonization for commercial purposes seemed to interest these people more than religion. It turned out that owning silver mines in America did not guarantee Spanish prosperity but only produced currency inflation and operating costs that forced the state into bankruptcy. Neither did French mercantilism fare much better. It was not until 1776 that Adam Smith produced a suitable explanation for the wealth of nations.

At the time of Columbus’ voyages to America, European trade was focused on the Far East where spices and silks could be purchased. This changed in the early 18th century. A Scottish financier named John Law, who had convinced the French Duke of Orleans to support him in establishing a bank similar to the Bank of England, merged this bank with a stock company organized for the purpose of promoting land sales in Louisiana. The idea was to encourage Europeans to settle on those lands, acquire African slaves, and grow coffee, sugar, and tobacco on plantations, which could then be marketed in Europe. The price of stock in Law’s “Mississippi Company” rose to great heights and then collapsed in December 1720. Law fled the country.

However, the two years when his company operated had given Europeans a taste for the pleasurable commodities which might be grown in the American tropics. The bulk of trade shifted from the Pacific and Indian oceans to the Atlantic. Later in the century, a three-cornered trade took place between Europe, Africa, and the Americas. Europe sent manufactured goods to Africa in exchange for human slaves, who were then sent to the Americas to work on sugar plantations to produce the rum which Europeans so enjoyed.

The third epoch of history was a time when European nation-states fought each other for colonial possessions. Thanks to the voyages of discovery, Spain and Portugal held an early lead in the competition. Although their colonial possessions in South and Central America held firm, the Iberian powers were unable to keep the English and French out of American trade. Attempts to crack down on this gave rise to increased piracy. Enjoying naval superiority, the Dutch seized Portuguese possessions in Indonesia during the 17th century. As the English colonized the southeastern seaboard of North America, the French established control of Canada and the interior waterways of this continent, including the Great Lakes. These two nations fought for control of North America in what we Americans call “the French and Indian war”.

The English and French also fought for control of India. The Mogul dynasty had granted certain trade privileges to the English. The East India Company, chartered by England, became the de facto rulers of India when it took over the administration of certain provincial governments in north India on behalf of the Mogul empire and made its administrators rich. Actually, the East India Company made most of its money from tea acquired from China. It forced opium on the Chinese in exchange for the tea. England had to go to war with China in the 1830s to preserve trade access.

An important commercial event was James Watt’s invention of a steam engine which was installed in an English cotton mill in 1785. Besides furnishing factories with power, the steam engine led to the invention of the locomotive and steam boat. England meanwhile acquired a system of canals and iron bridges. The Industrial Revolution gave England a further advantage in trade. It was able to produce cheap cloth using the cotton acquired from America. Industrialization spread to Germany, France, and other European nations as well as to the United States. Agriculture was also being mechanized, putting cheap American grain on the market. During the 19th century, trade competition intensified. So did the competition for colonies in Africa. It was a prelude to war.

Agriculture remained the backbone of economies in the 19th century. In mid century, half of American workers remained on the farm. Railroads carried grain from the Midwest and western beef to eastern markets. Steel was used in the railroads and for bridges, building construction, and other purposes. Electricity sent through telegraph lines improved communication. The U.S. civil war destroyed the old plantation system in the south. Petroleum discoveries in western Pennsylvania, exploited by John D. Rockefeller, led to the creation of the Standard Oil Company whose product came to fuel automobiles, boats, and airplanes. Chemical manufacturers produced artificial dyes for clothing, aspirin, and plastics. The farm population dropped as the efficiency of agricultural production improved. There was an increase in the proportion of workers engaged in manufacturing. Henry Ford’s Model T made automobiles affordable to the average American family.

The exploitation of factory labor gave rise to labor unions which bargained collectively with the factory owners. An early object was to reduce working hours to eight hours a day. From this and related efforts came the international socialist movement, led by Karl Marx. The two leading industrial nations in the 19th century, England and Germany, became political adversaries. Their rivalry culminated in World War I, the most destructive war to date in human history. Ironically, the German Kaiser and the English monarch were grandson and son, respectively, of England’s Queen Victoria. The Russian czar had also married into her family. Yet, the outcome of the war was that three royal dynasties in Europe came to an end. Russia became under the control of Karl Marx’s ideological heirs.

The 20th century also saw a Second World War which again was fought between Germany and England. Germany found allies in Italy and Japan. England gained support from the United States and the Soviet Union. The Axis powers were defeated after inflicting much devastation on peoples in Europe and Asia. The Allied victory proved to importance of weapons technology and industrial capacity to winning a modern war. It took the dropping of two atomic bombs to produce Japan’s surrender. After this victory, the United States and Soviet Union engaged in a “Cold War” lasting more than forty years. This was also a contest between the economic ideologies of free-market capitalism and Marxist communism. The communist government of the Soviet Union ended in the early 1990s and the Soviet Union itself was dissolved into separate republics. Communist governments remain in China, Vietnam, and North Korea. Yet, the Chinese in particular have established close business relations with international capitalists.

A Brief History of Education 

The third epoch of world history has, however, a second key institution: secular education. This civilization began five or six hundred years ago in Europe during the Renaissance. There were then two centers of culture: northern Italy and Flanders (Belgium). Both were intensely commercial places which supported a thriving artistic culture. They were centers of maritime trade where notable scholars and painters lived. There was, in other words, a connection between commerce and culture.

The city-states of Florence and Venice were centers of the Renaissance culture in northern Italy. In 1082 A.D., Venice had received a charter from the Byzantine empire granting its merchants freedom of transit and exemption from taxes in territories west of the Bosporus. With such access, its merchants specialized in goods such as silk, spices, and Damascus blades imported from the east This city cut a deal with knights of the Third Crusade in which Venetian boats would ferry the knights across the sea to Egypt in exchange for temporary service. It used this resource to conquer the Dalmatian coast and sack Constantinople. Fra Luca Pacioli published a book in 1494 on the Venetian art of double-entry accounting. Marco Polo was a Venetian engaged in Asian trade.

Florence, in the interior, became a center of weaving and dyeing cloth when the Order of Humble Brethren relocated there from Tyre, bringing with them secrets of oriental cloth preparation. As Florentine cloth gained a reputation for high quality, it became a center of cloth manufacturing using wool from northern Europe. A system of international credit was required for this trade. Florentine bankers, who managed accounts of the Roman church, worked out a system for purchasing wool in England with monies collected there for the church. In addition to banking, Florentine merchants became experts in controlling costs in manufacturing.

Thus these two cities, controlled by commercial oligarchs, became known for their wealth. There was meanwhile a cultural awakening, or reawakening, as the works of classical Greek and Roman culture became known. Italy was, of course, the heartland of the Roman empire. Ancient Greek texts were reintroduced when Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Turks and Greek-speaking scholars fled to the west. After a millennium of Christian culture, western intellectuals could look at the rediscovered works of pagan antiquity and decide that they were culturally superior.

The Italian poet Petrarch was the archetype of a humanist scholar. To him and his comrades we owe the tradition of looking at ancient texts from the standpoint of their original spirit and intent. We owe to them the art of textual criticism. Petrarch regarded classical authors as if they were his personal acquaintances. He put himself in their shoes and carried on imaginary conversations with them. He became an expert in the works of classical antiquity thought to be superior to the contemporary culture. The rich merchants of Venice and Florence engaged humanist scholars to educate their children. They became patrons of the arts. They spent money to purchase and copy ancient manuscripts. A connection was established between wealth and cultural polish which has remained to this day.

The first European universities were aligned with the church. The University of Paris stressed theological training along with studies in medicine, law, and the liberal arts. The number of universities in western Europe doubled between 1350 and 1500. The Reformation stimulated both religious and secular education. The Protestants believed that each man should learn to read the Bible. That gave a boost both to literacy skills and translation of the Bible from Latin into popular tongues. Such translation required skill in analyzing texts. Dante’s writing of the Divine Comedy in his native Tuscan rather than Latin encouraged others likewise to write in their contemporary languages.

A tradition of national literatures was born. Printing fostered dissemination of this literature. Such developments undermined the solidarity of Christian culture in Europe. Toynbee writes: “The ecclesiastical Respublica Christiana was replaced to some extent by a literary and scientific ‘Republic of Letters.’ Its founding father had been Erasmus but Bayle endowed it, in 1684, with a periodical, Nouvelles de la Republique des Lettres.” This was the start of literary and scientific journals. Printed newspapers came later.

Both Protestants and Catholics saw education as an opportunity to mold young people in the faith. The Jesuits became known for their rigorous religious training. But the Protestants, too, paid special attention to schools. Indoctrination in religion was the spiritual equivalent of military training. European princes, mistrusting popular education, wanted schools to train clever young people to be of service to society. According to H.G. Wells: “Universities became “part of the recognized machinery of aristocracy ... A pompous and unintelligent classical pretentiousness dominated them ... The only knowledge recognized was an uncritical textual knowledge of a selection of Latin and Greek classics.”

After its defeat by Napoleon, Prussia reorganized its schools. The gymnasium became a center to educate elites. Applied science was added to the curriculum. Soon German training in science began to pay dividends in improved technology. Germany became a leader in chemicals. Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, after he married Queen Victoria, warned the British of their educational deficiencies. German competition was used to scare his adopted nation into improving education much as, in the 20th century, Sputnik was used to promote scientific education in the United States. The English did improve their system of public education. Even so, the English “public schools” and prestigious universities such as Oxford and Cambridge remained havens for the upper class. American colleges took their cues from Britain.

In that regard, an important step in the development of western education was the decision by William Farish, in 1791, to put grades on papers written by students at Cambridge University in England. Grading made it possible to evaluate students quantitatively and that, in turn, facilitated the hierarchical stratification of graduates from the schools. Educational stratification led to eligibility for particular careers; and placement in careers laid a foundation for socioeconomic rankings within the general society. And so, the testing process has become as significant a part of secular education as the processes of teaching and learning. It gives individuals a place in society. This is the modern measure of success.


Civilizations IV and V 

Civilization IV is based on popular entertainment. Civilization V is the emerging computer-based civilization. Their stories are not told here but in the website See the section labeled "about entertainment" for entertainment-related observations. This website as a whole belongs to the fifth civilization.


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