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Western Civilisation

Until the advent of materialism and 19th c. dogma, Western Civilisation was  superior to anything Islam had developed.  Islam has not aided in the development of the modern world; in fact civilisation has only been created in spite of Islam.  Proof of this resides in the 'modern' world and the unending political-economic and spiritual poverty of Muslim states and regions.  Squatting on richer civilisations is not 'progress'.  Islam is pagan, totalitarian, and irrational.   

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Friday, November 23, 2012

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The Gies': Cathedral, Forge and Waterwheel, Review.

One flaw, but in essence a very good debunking of the 'Dark Age' nonsense.

by Ferdinand III

Front Cover

The Gies' know their subject matter. They write extensively and in great detail in many works, about the technological and societal dynamism of the Middle Ages, or roughly 500-1500 AD. The Dark Ages as the Gies' argue never existed. There was a contraction when the Moslems invaded the Mediterranean littoral, annexing, killing, plundering, taking slaves and halting trade and commerce. Combined with the Viking and Magyar attacks of the 8th and 9th centuries, it is a wonder that Christian Europe survived at all. A 'Dark Age' would not have redounded, beaten back the Moslem Jihad and rolled back the 'barbarians' from the North and East. Neither would a 'Dark Age' have produced from 900-1300, the greatest increase in living standards, income and technological contribution in man's history.

The only issue with this impressive and well-sourced book, is that too many of the thematic structure is based on the discredited work of Joseph Needham, an Orientalist, who believes that every single invention and manufacture came from China. This is bunk. Trade between East and West had existed before Roman times, and it was certainly bi-directional, not uni-directional as Needham disingenuously tries to prove. The Chinese can be credited with paper manufacture and gunpowder, but that is likely about all. In neither case did the Chinese exploit the potential of these inventions in the manner that the Europeans did. Culture is king after all, and an ossified, tradition-bound, Confucian culture dedicated to heritage, memorization and centralized state control, is hardly accommodating to social, technological, military and financial change and challenge.

This weakness aside, the book does a very thorough job of proving just how thoroughly ingenious the Medieval European Christian and his society was. The so-called 'Enlightenment' during which witches were burnt, and abiogenesis [life from nothing] accepted as 'science', named the Medieval period the 'Dark Ages', apparently unimpressed with Romanesque and Gothic cathedrals, or the 1000 or so inventions in agriculture, technology, science, literature, accounting, painting, politics, trade, shipbuilding.....For these 'great minds' such as Voltaire [a rabid anti-Catholic bigot] or Gibbon [a puffed out super-sized ego]; the era between the ridiculously named 'Fall of Rome' and 1600, was one of unmitigated gloom and despair. Then presto!, European man awoke and all was reason and light [and in the modern retelling of this insanity, civilization was 'saved' by the Moslems...]. As the Gies' state:

    The Romans so congenial to Gibbon would have marveled at what the millennium following their own era had wrought. More perceptive than Gibbon was English scientist Joseph Glanvill, who wrote in 1661: “These last Ages have shewn us what Antiquity never saw; no, not in a dream.”  Technology—Aristotle’s “banausic arts”—embraces the whole range of human activities involving tools, machines, instrumentation, power, and organization of work.

After the end of the Republic, Rome staggered on as a stultified, corrupt and bureaucratic empire, devoid of real meaning and purpose, except to enrich the oligarchical elite that ruled. Endless civil wars, inflation, massive abortion, and a decadent culture, all conspired to thankfully end Roman rule and transmogrify Rome into Germanic Kingdoms.

    While the Imperial government grew to dimensions dwarfing anything seen previously, at least in the West, the Roman private economic sector remained stunted. The Mediterranean port cities sustained an active commercial life, but the scale was small and the business technology primitive, lacking credit instruments, negotiable paper, and long-term partnerships. The only capital resource available on a large scale belonged to the government, which spent generously on roads, public buildings, water supply, and other civic amenities but contributed little to industrial and agricultural production. Private wealth was either squandered on consumption or immobilized in land rather than invested in enterprise. The Roman economy, in short, was weak in the dynamics that make for the creation and diffusion of technological innovation. The succeeding age, developing different social and economic structures, created a new environment more congenial to technology.

Roman culture hated the merchant and the farmer. Without these 2 'functions' a modern society cannot possibly be created. The agricultural revolution, which took primitive Roman practices into a new era, is the foundation for later innovation and development. It would never have occurred under the Roman system.

    The revolution in agriculture that introduced new implements, new techniques, and a new organization of work was largely a revolution from below, not above. “The hero of the late Roman Empire and the early Middle Ages,” wrote Lynn White, “is the peasant, although this cannot be discovered from Gibbon.” Less conspicuous than the castle but more significant for the long future was the above-ground reduction furnace, feeding iron to local forges whose smiths shaped it into parts for plows, spades, pitchforks, and shoes for horses beginning to pull with the aid of the new horse collar. As the horse trod Europe’s fields to cultivate the crops, the waterwheel turned “at wondrous speed” to grind the grain, while the triangular lateen sail drove ships on the Mediterranean—three more symbols of progress in a not so Dark Age.

Slave societies – Moslem, Roman, Confucian, Hindu – do not produce the political-economic realities necessary for a pluralistic, innovative state. None of these produced the concepts listed above. No society before 900 AD in Western Europe produced a state of mind, being and physical reality, in which 'peasants' could have freedom, upward mobility and the opportunity for better living standards. Culture is king.

    In the “nonmaterial infrastructure” of medieval Europe was a spirit of progress whose ingredients included intellectual curiosity, a love of tinkering, an ambition “to serve God” and also “to grow rich as all men desire to do.” A sense of progress implies a sense of history, something missing among the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans. “Lacking any objective understanding of the past—that is, lacking history,” says Cardwell, “the hierarchical and slave-owning societies of classical antiquity failed to appreciate the great progress that had been achieved by and through technics.”On the contrary, the ancients were fond of looking back to what they conceived as a vanished “golden age,” a conception the reverse of progress. The Christian Church, whose pioneering monastic orders made many practical and material contributions to medieval technology, also supplied a noncyclical, straight-line view of history that allowed scope for the idea of progress.   Optimistic and utilitarian, fifteenth-century Europe’s craftsmen, smiths, engineers, and shipbuilders sought better ways to do things, make things, make things work.

When Rome 'fell', not a single water-wheel existed in Britain. By the time of the Domesday survey in 1086 some 10.000 had been built. Why is this important ? With water power, you can cut, smash, hammer, saw, pound and refine everything from grain to marble.

    ...most effective instrument in the vertical waterwheel, the world’s chief prime mover until the invention of the steam engine. Neither Rome nor China succeeded in harnessing its power to the extent that medieval Europe did.


    By the tenth century, the water mill had achieved a status and value far beyond what it had possessed under the Roman Empire. It made a significant contribution to the agricultural revolution wrought by the horse harness, the heavy plow, and the self-contained tenant-farmed estate. Cloth Making: Women’s Work Agriculture developed a new social and economic function in the early Middle Ages while improving its technical equipment; cloth making retained its equipment while undergoing modest alterations in function. As in Roman times, women dominated manufacture. Their tasks, as indicated by a statute of 789, included not only spinning and weaving but shearing sheep, crushing flax, combing wool, and cutting and sewing garments. Free women and serfs worked in their homes, slave women in the workshops (gynaecea) of the great estates. Almost every estate of any importance had a gynaeceum.

More technology, more food, and more population. The culture was bent not only on serving God, but also mankind's best interests.

    Along with the cities, the farming regions that fed them grew. A European population between the Baltic and Mediterranean estimated at 27 million in A.D. 700 had reached 60 or 70 million by 1200.10 In Carl Stephenson’s words, the creation of “a bourgeois class such as the Roman Empire had never seen” gradually brought with it “the emancipation of the rural masses that made possible our modern nations.”11 Behind this demographic and economic surge lay technical innovations: a radically new system of organizing agricultural work, newly expanded power sources, dramatic new techniques in building construction, and other novelties undreamed of by Greeks and Romans.

The list of agro-inventions is very long and quite astounding. These innovations produced wealth, which then could be deployed into urbanization, poor-aid, infrastructure and state governance. For most moderns these facts rankle. For the Christian-hater it is hard to imagine a bunch of toothless, 'Dark Age' Jesus-fanatics employing such rationality and talent in their development and implementation. But they did: 'Lefebvre des Noëttes, writing in the 1930s, saw the adoption of a new harness that transformed the horse into an important draft animal as the chief factor in the decline and near disappearance of slavery. In 1940 and subsequently Lynn White broadened Lefebvre’s thesis with the bold assertion that the dominant social and political systems of the Middle Ages owed their origins to technological innovations: feudalism to the stirrup, the manorial system to the heavy wheeled plow.'

Medieval Christian society was the only culture in the earth's history, up until that point in time, which took artefacts, influences, devices, and ideas from both east and west and turned them into beneficial assets and productivity enhancing equipment – all to the blessing of the now hated-human [see 'climate change' for instance]:

    Marc Bloch, Lynn White, Robert S. Lopez, Bertrand Gille, Georges Duby, and Jacques Le Goff. Most modern textbooks include in their history of invention the medieval discovery or adoption of the heavy plow, animal harness, open-field agriculture, the castle, water-powered machinery, the putting-out system, Gothic architecture, Hindu-Arabic numerals, double-entry bookkeeping, the blast furnace, the compass, eyeglasses, the lateen sail, clockwork, firearms, and movable type.

It is heartening to know that the Dark Ages are being debunked. In the history of man, there is no more dynamic environment than the period 900-1300, itself built on the wrenching changes of the 5th to 8th centuries. It is fair to ask with the advent of reality TV, climate-hooey, political-correctness, and the cult of the multi-cultural, if the modern era is not a Dark Age, and the Medieval one of clarity, reality and sweaty effort ?

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