Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Shallow Thinking from Simon Black

Sometimes shallow, sometimes callous (this one is still stunning to read).

This time the subject is the Middle Ages, and Mr. Black’s ignorance on the topic.  Yes, yes, I know – not such a big deal in the grand scheme of things.  But, as regular readers know, a rather important topic for me.

He dreams of time travel:

Time travel is an almost universal fantasy. And if I could snap my fingers and turn the pages of time, I’d be seriously curious to check out the thousand-year period between the decline of the Western Roman Empire and the rise of the Renaissance.

Absent certain modern inconveniences, it would be an interesting time to visit.

Now, for the first fallacy:

They used to refer to this period as ‘the Dark Ages’ (though historians have since given up that moniker), a time when the entire European continent was practically at an intellectual standstill.

It is true that historians have stopped using the term.  If he knows this much, one would hope he also knows the reason why.  Alas, it is not to be.

There is a reason for giving up this moniker – the age wasn’t “dark.”  Mr. Black’s characterization of an entire continent “practically at an intellectual standstill” for 1,000 years (can you imagine) is drastically incorrect.  Consider the significant advancements in industrialization: all forms of mechanization, mills, advances in mining, the mechanical clock, irrigation practices, the development of the codex…and technically, movable type. 

Now another fallacy:

The Church became THE authority on everything– Science. Technology. Medicine. Education. And they kept the most vital information out of the hands of the people… instead simply telling everyone what to believe.

Interpreting facts and observations for yourself was heresy, and anyone who formed original thought and challenged the authority of church and state was burned at the stake.

Villard de Honnecourt was in every way a da Vinci 250 years before the famous da Vinci.  For all of his work in science and related fields, he wasn’t burned at the stake.

And the world was round as early as the thirteenth century, according to Brunetto Latini.  Latini was afforded a burial in a most holy place in the church.  This in contrast to the treatment of Galileo during the enlightening period of the renaissance, where he was denounced a heretic and lived under house arrest until his death in 1642.

Witch burning was almost unknown during this thousand year period – it only gained prominence at the end of the period and the beginning of the Renaissance.  The church was rather tolerant of science; women owned businesses and held office; yes, there was serfdom, but slavery was almost eliminated (and a serf, whatever he was, was no slave – and he had many rights to which we, today, would be jealous); many other examples of a liberal society – far more liberal than the Rome that preceded it or the Renaissance that followed – are in evidence.

The change seems to have begun in the late 13th century and culminating in the mid- to-late- 14th century – driven by several events: the Condemnation of 1277 (yes, church driven); a devastating famine in 1315 – 1317; the Hundred Years’ War began in 1337 (a war between the by now centralized kingdoms of England and France – and not involving the still relatively decentralized central and eastern European lands); and the Black Death, from 1347 – 1350.

Of course, this corresponds with the beginning of the end of the decentralized society of the Middle Ages, and a return to the centralizing influences of Roman law.  A very unfortunate occurrence.

I have no grandiose summary – after what Mr. Black has written about the nuclear bombing of Japan, his failures such as this one regarding the Middle Ages are minor. 

Hopefully he researches his international and investment advice better than he did this topic.


  1. Hatred of the Middle Ages goes hand-in-hand with hatred of the Catholic Church. Among the cultural elites, the facts don't matter. Black legends rule the day.

    1. Tony, very good.

      There are many who complain about the brainwashing via religion. Often, they are equally brainwashed by the hatred of religion.

  2. in other words, if people tell you that the Church was intolerant and women were routinely tortured and executed as witches you tell them it never happened?

    1. In other words, if you went around claiming you've found a blue duck, but everyone told you that you just painted a seagull yellow, would you put your fingers in your ears and say, "LALALALALA!!!"?

  3. BM, I can't remember where, but I do recall someone making offhanded comments that even Galileo's "persecution" was less about his "heresy," but his overall attitude about his research. Seems he wasn't the most agreeable fellow.

    Again, read it in passing, maybe Tom Woods, so I can't be sure.

    1. Thanks, JFF. The nuances within the nuances....

    2. Gallileo's problem was that he was teaching that that planets went round the sun instead of vice versa as a fact when everybody suspected it was true but nobody could prove it.and so the Pope sent him to his room to think about things. It was on Tom Woods's show on Catholic tv.

  4. As with any large long lived organization, the Church has been both extremely lax and extremely harsh in punishing all sorts of transgressions. Allowing the sale of indulgences was wrong and everyone knew it. In the other direction, people should know that they nearly wiped out entire large groups that were considered heretical, like the Bogomils, and did wipe out others, like the Albigensians.

  5. Year 1959. Ist Semester College. Taking: Physics I, General Chemistry, Calculus I, English Composition, and an Humanities Course: Western Civilization. Still remember the Professor scoffing at the term Dark Ages. He said that the period insured Western Civilization would lead the world. He mentioned three signal developments that changed everything: adopting 1) Crop Rotation, 2) Horse Collar, and 3) Cost Accounting.

    Dan Kur