Sunday, February 18, 2007

The Victory of Reason

Rodney Stark's The Victory of Reason is subtitled: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success. Stark argues that, because Christianity embraced reason (unlike other religions), it enabled Europeans to establish, well, freedom, capitalism, and Western success.

The book shows that the supposed conflict between Christianity and capitalism (just like the mythical conflict between Christianity and science) is simply not true. Capitalism developed in medieval Catholic monasteries who sought economic security by enhancing productivity, managing their properties as enterprises, specializing in products such as wine or grain or cattle, and trading with others.

Capitalism grew in northern Italian cities with a fair degree of freedom. (However, it failed to appear in southern Italy, which had no freedom in the Norman kingdom.) Then it moved into the Low Countries and England. But it passed by Spain and France, which were ruled by tyrants that stifled innovation and overtaxed their people.

Especially interesting is Stark's description of technical innovations that occurred long before the First Industrial Revolution. For instance, water-powered mills in England, windmills to pump water out of land in the Netherlands, chimneys, eyeglasses, and clocks were invented after the fall of Rome, in what folks ignorantly call the "Dark Ages," a time when Europe's inventions were more advanced than any elsewhere in the world.