Tag Archives: History

Stability vs. Equality?

In The Great Leveler, Walter Scheidel argues that over thousands of years, only mass violence and catastrophes have triggered significant reductions in inequality.

From the book’s introduction:

For thousands of years, civilization did not lend itself to peaceful equalization. … stability favored economic inequality. This was as true of Pharaonic Egypt as it was of Victorian England, as true of the Roman Empire as of the United States. … Four different kinds of violent ruptures have flattened inequality: mass mobilization warfare, transformative revolution, state failure, and lethal pandemics.

… there is no compelling empirical evidence to support the view that modern economic development, as such, narrows inequalities. There is no repertoire of benign means of compression that has ever achieved results that are even remotely comparable to those produced by the Four Horsemen.

Terrorism in the Middle East

The Economist and Tom Segev in the New York Times reviewed “Anonymous Soldiers,” Bruce Hoffmann’s book on Israel’s origins.

The Economist largely accepts the notion that Irgun terrorism and America’s support for Zionism pushed Britain out of Palestine. It concludes:

On the Haganah’s broader influence, Mr Hoffman notes that al-Qaeda’s Afghan library had a copy of Begin’s “The Revolt”, but does not ask why so many Palestinian prisoners take Israeli university courses on how Jews established their state. Much of what they do, including building terror tunnels, bombing transport nodes, lobbing mortars at residential neighbourhoods and burying arms dumps in places of worship, has antecedents in Jewish militancy. Israel knows Palestinian methods and it has an array of anti-terror legislation which, had Britain responded similarly, might have aborted the future state.

According to Segev, in contrast, Hoffmann over estimates the impact of terrorist acts against colonial Britain committed by Menachem Begin’s Irgun. Statehood for Israel would have come anyway.


A few miles east of today’s Belgrade lies a Vinča settlement that dates back to 5000 BC. The Vinča civilization relied on fishing, farming and mining (copper); the Vinča people built houses along streets; and they exchanged goods. They also used an early form of proto-writing (sources: Belgrade tourism site, Wikipedia).

Alex Whitaker writes on his site Ancient Wisdom:

In 1908, the largest prehistoric Neolithic settlement in Europe was discovered in the village of Vinca, just a few miles from the Serbian capital Belgrade, on the shores of the Danube. Vinca was excavated between 1918 and 1934 and was revealed as a civilisation in its own right. Indeed, as early as the 6th millennium BC, three millennia before Dynastic Egypt, the Vinca culture was already a fully fledged civilisation. A typical town consisted of houses with complex architectural layouts and several rooms, built of wood that was covered in mud. The houses sat along streets, thus making Vinca the first urban settlement in Europe, but being far older than the cities of Mesopotamia and Egypt. And the town of Vinca itself was just one of several metropolises, with others at Divostin, Potporanj, Selevac, Plocnik and Predionica.

Polish History

Frequent territorial change characterizes the eventful and troublesome history of Poland (video). This history is evident all over the place when walking the streets of Warsaw, for example in the historic city that was destroyed in 1944 and rebuilt afterwards, the memorials in its vicinity, or Stalin’s unloved gift to the Polish nation. The Poles value their new found freedom and are acutely aware of threats to it.

“Bildung (Cultured Education)”

Dietrich Schwanitz’ book (Wikipedia) covers “Wissen” und “Können” against the background of the German “Bildungskanon”, the liberal education of a cultured, well-bred German-speaker. The very ambition of the endeavor is breath taking and provokes disagreement and objection. But Schwanitz delivers. A lengthy book of nearly 700 pages it is concise and dense and contains lots of food for thought.

Among hundreds of tidbits, here are some:

  • Footnote on the footnote (pp. 461–462).
  • On Switzerland (p. 596):

Was die Schweizer auf dem Hintergrund ihrer eigenen Geschichte bei den Deutschen am wenigsten begreifen, ist, daß sie mit der antiautoritären Kulturrevolution alle bürgerlichen Tugenden so restlos über Bord geworfen haben. Es sind die Tugenden, die ehemals als besonders deutsch galten und jetzt nur noch in der Schweiz eine Heimstatt haben: Solidität, eine gewisse Ordnungsliebe und Pedanterie, Zuverlässigkeit im Ausführen von Aufgaben und Präzision bei der Produktion von Apparaten, und ein Standard der Sauberkeit und Wohlanständigkeit weit über dem europäischen Durchschnitt sowie ein fest verankerter Glaube an Normen und Regeln.

  • In the section about intelligence, a ranking of what might have been the 10 most intelligent men ever (p. 604):

1. John Stuart Mill; 2. Goethe; 3. Leibniz; 4. Grotius; 5. Macaulay; 6. Bentham; 7. Pascal; 8. Schelling; 9. Haller; 10. Coleridge.

  • Short summaries of “books that changed the world” (pp. 635–654).