Historians complicate the pattern of history, being infatuated with explanation within local events. Below this there is a simpler pattern to history, which discloses much about how history really works.
If people recognised this pattern, they’d have a better understanding of where they’ve been, and be much better able to decide where they want to go.
PART ONE – Man In Infancy
ONE – STONE AGE
Modern man appeared with Cro-Magnon Man about 35,000 years ago. He was a hunter/gatherer, following the herds which sustained him, dressed in animal skins and using rudimentary stone tools. He had a spiritual life, evidenced by cave art and hints of ritual burial.
By 10,000 years ago, the last ice age was ending, and he began the Agricultural Revolution, domesticating animals, planting crops and leaving his nomadic life for static villages. Trade began to grow, and as engineering became predominant, societies formed into hierarchies centred on leader and priest.
TWO – PRE-CLASSICAL WORLD
Soon, city states began to appear by the great rivers such as the Tigris and Euphrates, Nile, Indus and Yellow. In the Fertile Crescent of the Eastern Mediterranean the pre-Classical civilization of Sumer grew, using huge irrigation engineering to increase wealth. They also gave us the earliest known mythology in the Epic of Gilgamesh.
Successive migrations occurred within the crescent as great armies fought for the growing affluence and empires came into being, the later Hittites being most notable. By 2350BC the Akkadians built a huge empire under their leader, Sargon, but by 1894BC, Babylon rose as the greatest empire, its ruler, Hammurabi, creating the first known organized administration and code of law.
Empires continued to rise and fall within the region, but to the east, the Persians were rising, Cyrus the Great taking the region in the 7th century BC.
Meanwhile, to the south west, nomads had settled the Nile about 6000BC, going on to create Upper and Lower Egypt. About 3100BC Menes combined the two, ruling from his capital at Memphis.
Metallurgy and hieroglyphics appeared during this period, as well as rich spirituality based around half man-half animal gods. The pyramids were to later appear, the Pharaohs portrayed as gods. However, ancient Egypt suffered many hostile migrations. Rameses II attempted a huge expansion, but came to stalemate against the Hittites at the Battle of Kadesh in 1279BC. Egypt eventually succumbed to the Greeks in 333BC.
THREE – ANCIENT GREECE
Ancient Greek culture arose in the mountains and valleys of Greece. Due to this, by the 8th century BC, they had formed into the Polis, or small, independent city states. Homer’s Iliad appeared around this time, and a rich pantheon of gods existed such as the Titans. Rivalry led to the Olympic Games, and Greek culture expanded through trade and colonization throughout the Mediterranean.
By the 4th century BC Greece had a great philosophical tradition, reaching its height with Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, building academies and even experimenting in democracy for a time, Athens reaching its Golden Age under Pericles. However, the Greeks came under increasing pressure from the Persians, and as dictatorial Sparta rose to prominence, they and the Athenians fought.
Throughout history weaponry had been vital to its progress. In the Fertile Crescent the iron sword was a technological masterpiece, easily beating the bronze. Chariots were also used during this period. By the time of the Greeks the heavy infantryman, or Hoplite, had appeared, fighting in an organized phalanx. Now, from the north of Greece, Philip of Macedon subjugated the region with his addition of light cavalry.
This was the birth of the Hellenic world, and his son, Alexander the Great, went on to create a huge empire, stretching south through the Middle East and Egypt, and east into India. Building the seat of learning of Alexandria, Alexander was cultured and determined to create a cosmopolitan culture. However, his early death led to the empire being split between his three main generals. One of them, Ptolomy, ruled Egypt, Cleopatra being the last of the Ptolomies. However, the Greeks were to be eclipsed by the Romans.
FOUR – ROMAN EMPIRE
The city of Rome first appeared in 753BC, legend saying it was built by the wolf-raised Romulus and Remus. It was the home of the Etruscans, initially ruled by the tyrant Tarquins. Deposed, a republic lasted 400 years, the Senate organized by the aristocratic Patricians. This was arguably the birth of the middleclass.
Early Rome was dogged by internal revolts, such as that of the slave, Spartacus, and growing conflict for dominance of the Mediterranean by the Carthaginians who had settled north Africa, the Punic Wars beginning in 264BC. At one point, Hannibal nearly beat Rome in a brilliant encirclement of Italy by crossing the Alps, but Rome prevailed and went on to expand east into Greece.
The success of the Roman Army was down to its professionalism and organization into legions, cohorts and centuries, as well as excellent engineering, allowing strategic centres connected by a network of roads, allowing speedy deployment. And also by its brilliant generals, one of whom, Julius Caesar, expanded the empire northwards – although Britain would not fall until much later.
In 63BC, the generals turned statesmen, bringing down the Republic and grasping power. Caesar was to eventually rule supreme until his assassination. From then on, emperors came and went, some excellent, others tyrants, but soon Rome’s expansion was in decline. Hadrian built a wall around it in the early 2nd century to keep barbarian hordes at bay, saying clearly, its time was up.
Roman religion was based upon household gods and pantheons borrowed mainly from the Greeks. This method of borrowing spirituality was to prove useful. By the 4th century Constantine the Great managed to temporarily stop the empire fragmenting by adopting Christianity. But a century later, the empire split, with the eastern empire rising upon Constantinople, later Byzantium and eventually Istanbul. The western empire finally collapsed as wave after wave of barbarian migrations plunged Europe into the Dark Ages.
PART TWO – The One God
FIVE – JUDAISM TO ISLAM
Europe was to be saved by monotheism, or the One God. Up until this point, religion had been pagan. The first spirituality had been animist and nature based, with the physical world having a spirit world in parallel. This led to animal spirits and intermediaries between the two with shamanic mystics, who went into trance. As the city formed, the religious ethic moved from nature to society, with priestly castes and eventually God-Kings.
Monotheism gained ground with the Hebrews, where, according to tradition, Abraham communed with God. Later, tradition states that Moses led his people out of enslavement in Egypt to Israel, God giving them the Ten Commandments. The Creation story had already gained ground, and here, for the first time, paganism was usurped by God being ABOVE nature, and man lord over it. Tradition again states that the Hebrews formed their own empire, eventually subjugated by the Babylonians and then the Romans.
In the early years AD Jesus Christ grew, went on his mission, and was crucified. His followers birthed Christianity, based on the idea that Jesus had been the Son of God, and eventually forming the office of the Pope in Rome. By the time of Constantine, Christianity was well established, causing him to Christianize the empire, formulating its Creed, including the Trinity, at the Council of Nicaea.
With the fall of Rome, Christianity was saved by Augustine of Hippo, who theorized that the ‘City of God’ was above any political authority. At the time, Europe was descending into the Dark Ages, with migrations such as the Goths, Vandals, Angles, Saxons and later Vikings, who would ravage Europe with their long ships. But clusters of Christianity remained, such as the Celtic Church in Ireland. Missionaries went out into the dark and eventually Christianized the continent.
Meanwhile, another branch of monotheism was about to rise in the Middle East. Muhammad was born about 570AD into an Arab world full of idolatry. About 610 he had a vision, had the Koran dictated to him, realized the inevitability of moral judgment, and dedicated himself to bringing Allah to the world.Setting up the first Islamic community in Mecca, they were attacked. Eventually victorious, Islam was to expand throughout the East and North Africa, going on to pioneer the sciences and learning, and reaching a Golden Age centred on Baghdad. The expansion was only stopped at Byzantium, and, in 732AD, at the Battle of Poitiers, between Spain and France, by the Frank, Charles Martel.
SIX – THE MIDDLE AGES
The Franks had been growing in power and soon their leader, Charlemange began an expansion throughout much of Europe. His success was due to the heavy cavalryman and his belief in God. By 800AD he had created the Holy Roman Empire, which became the basis of Christendom and the Medieval world.
Also of importance during the period was England. After the fall of Rome, it had been colonized by Germanic peoples, formulating into the Anglo Saxons. Later incursions by the Danes and Vikings determined King Alfred to formulate England as a nation. Giving it its identity, and based upon Christianity, England thrived, but eventually was invaded by the Normans under William the Conqueror in 1066, themselves descendants of Danes. William eventually created the Domesday Book, and for the first time a country and its people was really known by its authority, formulating bureaucracy.
The extreme Christianity of Europe’s rulers would inevitably lead to trouble, and through the Middle Ages Europe and Islam were to clash in the Crusades. After initial success, most Crusades failed, but several things came out of this clash. Knightly orders were created, such as the Templars, who went on to create the first banking system by taking care of the money of pilgrims to the Holy Land, and the Hospitallers, who created the first hospitals to look after pilgrims. But the biggest influence was the idea of expansion and colonization, which would later take the European around the globe.
But what of the Medieval world of Christendom?
Society was perfectly regulated. Economically everything was tied to the Feudal system, where the serf rented land from the Baron and the Baron owed allegiance to the King. The King himself was tied to the Pope through the latter’s power of excommunication – if the Kings didn’t obey they would not go to Heaven upon death.
Within the system was the heavy cavalryman, or Knight, bound by the moral code of chivalry, his art of warfare practiced through jousting. Also there were the monastic orders, providing learning and what welfare there was.
Such monks held allegiance, also, to the Pope, and could whittle away at any power local priests could hold. Indeed, the requirement for celibacy rose as priestly families gained wealth and power. Celibacy guaranteed their families would die out, with power transferred to Rome. Christian worship was carried out through the priest as intermediary, speaking in Latin, so as the people could not truly understand what it was all about.
SEVEN – FALL OF CHRISTENDOM
Christendom lasted for over 700 years but eventually cracks had to show. Intellectually, some monasteries eventually became the fledgling universities, bringing forward the philosophical Schoolmen, principle among them St Thomas Aquinas, who argued for natural and revealed theology. One was given by God, the other understood by man. It was the first move towards science proper.
This was furthered by the Spanish Reconquest of the 11th century. Islam had kept Classical knowledge alive, and it now fell into the hands of European intellectuals who learnt of Aristotle and the other philosophers – an intellectual system that pre-dated Christianity. In Italy, several states were united and became the vanguard of learning, with patrons such as the Medici encouraging the rediscovered knowledge.
The main reason was the growth of the merchant. Now they gathered in newly thriving cities, headed by Burghers, breaking the hold of Feudalism. The Venetian merchants began to trade with the wider world, increasing their wealth. In northern Europe further trade alliances grew such as the Hanseatic League. The Bill of Exchange came into being, leading to banks by the early 17th century.
Power was beginning to move away from Christendom, causing a new explosion of art, still entwined with Christianity, but based on the Classical period. This was the time of da Vinci and Michelangelo, and the great architects of Venice and Florence. The time was known as the Renaissance. A new spirit of Humanism was birthed, centred upon the person and not the religion, and the invention of the printing press meant this new knowledge was increasingly available.
Europe was also changing politically. Peasant Revolts had broken out. In England, the signing of the Magna Carta in 1215 first limited the power of Kings. The Hundred Years War between England and France, the high point being the Battle of Agincourt of 1415, and the French success under Joan of Arc, ended. In 1346 the bubonic plague, known as the Black Death, began to ravage Europe, leaving a weakened system and a people hungry for change.
The centre of the Holy Roman Empire transferred to the principalities that would become Germany in 939, the empire run by a number of Electors from 1257. From then on, the future Germany was on the rise, forever gnawing at the hold the Pope had on them. Things were now changing fast, and soon the rest of the world would know about the European. But what of that wider world?
PART THREE – The Wider World
EIGHT – MONGOLS AND CHINA
The Hellenic, Roman and future European expansions were not the only ones of history. The Mongols were a loosely connected group of tribes brought together in the late 12th century by Temujin, better known as Genghis Khan. He invaded northern China, headed west to the Black Sea and went into northern India. His grandson subjugated Russia and headed into Europe. Inflicting heavy defeats, if he had not turned away, Europe would have fallen.
Having a shamanic spirituality, the Mongols were nomads at heart, using light cavalry and fear to conquer. Once achieved, they employed Chinese bureaucrats to set up what proved to be a relatively fair administration. However, the empire eventually self-destructed in 1502, having lost direction and invincibility.
Prior to Mongol invasion, China had had a succession of dynastic rulers from the 3rd Millennium BC. Spiritually they adopted Taoism and Confucianism by about 600BC. Taoism is based on the Tao or Way, formed around a universal life force called Ch’i, which has the opposing forces of Yin and Yang, or creation and destruction. Meditation tries to form harmony and balance among them. Confucianism added a moral code and patriarchal leadership based on ancestor worship.
China had constantly gravitated between absolute rule and disintegration. In 221BC Shi Huangdi became emperor, forming a dictatorial bureaucracy and building the Great Wall. The empire collapsed shortly afterwards, China again descending into the to and fro of dynastic rule and disintegration, although by the 3rd century AD the Silk Road was established, trading with the wider world.
NINE – INDIA
In India, the Harappan culture had been established in the Indus Valley by the 3rd Millennium BC, however it could not survive past 1500BC as Aryan invasions occurred, bringing Sanskrit. The great epic Mahabharata appeared at this time. By 600BC an Indian culture had reemerged, based on the Hindu texts, the Vedas, using the caste system headed by the Brahmans.
Hinduism itself can be seen in many forms. Worshipped as a religion, it has some 40,000 gods, headed by Brahma. Yet intellectually, these gods are simply symbolic aspects of nature and behaviour. The Hindu lives in the material world, but realizes it is merely an illusion with a greater reality behind it. This reality imposes Karma, or moral behaviour, upon the person. He does good through Yoga, which can be practiced from good behaviour, to learning, to meditation. The Hindu world is cyclical, with everything going back to a beginning. This is best known through Samsara, or ‘wheel of rebirth’, where the person is reincarnated after death, his place dependent upon his behaviour.
From about 600BC there was a reaction against Hinduism. This came with Buddha, a rich prince who walked out on his riches upon understanding suffering. For years he wandered, finally gaining enlightenment. In his Four Noble Truths he disclosed the problem of the world being one of suffering because of our desires. And in his Eightfold Path, he offered a way of life to rise above this in order to become enlightened ourselves.
In some ways a restatement of some of the aspects of Hinduism, Buddha’s system was, however, free of the cultural ties imposed by the former religion. It became so popular, it spread throughout the east.
Various states arose in India but in the 4th century BC Chandragupta Maurya took much of the region. His grandson, Asoka, took all India and adopted Buddhism. By 185BC the empire was gone but the Guptas brought a stability that lasted until 647AD. From the 8th century Islam moved into India. By the 13th century they had formed the Delhi Sultanate which lasted to 1526 when descendants of the Mongols set up the Mughal Empire. Also of importance was Nanak, who formed the religion of Sikhism.
TEN – AFRICA
Similar stories of the rise and fall of dynasties affected the rest of the East and Pacific regions, whilst in Africa Bantu-speaking peoples moved from the Sudan in the 2nd Millennium BC, displacing endemic people due to their rudimentary iron-working and agriculture. With Egypt on the wane, Nubians also rose from Sudan with their capital at Khartoum. Eventually traders from Axum, in Ethiopia, displaced them. Christian and Islamic conversions eventually brought them down as Arabs moved into the area, becoming slavers.
The Muslim Berbers colonized west Africa whilst Zulus and others began moving down the continent, reaching South Africa, only the Pygmies and Bushmen surviving this move. One enigmatic state that arose was Great Zimbabwe, with excellent stonework buildings. The Zulus formed another great culture under Shaka, but under Cetawayo they were destroyed as a nation by the British.
ELEVEN – THE AMERICAS
The Americas were populated by Asian peoples about 30,000BC, developing varied cultures dependent upon geography. In the far north, Inuits remained hunters, as did those who settled the central American plains, following the buffalo herds, whilst the west coast provided mainly fishing communities. Their religion was again shamanic with the Medicine Men, using ecstatic ritual dance, and trance called the ‘vision quest’ to interact with spirits. The world was created by a Sun deity and a snake, with ritual placating the gods who took animal form.
Further south, Mezoamerican culture began with the Olmecs about 1500BC, building incredible cities with huge pyramids, finally formulating into the Aztecs of Mexico and Inca of Peru by the time of the European incursions.
Soon this wider world was to change forever.
PART FOUR – Rise of the European
TWELVE – REFORMATION AND EUROPE
By the early 16th century, Europe was in need of new direction. Christendom was corrupt and a new way of life was arising, based on cities and trade. Further, in Western Europe the idea of nationhood was being understood. Spiritual rule from Rome stood in the way. Hence, when Martin Luther nailed his protest against corruption to a church door in Wittenberg, there was a reaction.
Many of the German princes sided with him, whilst the Pope and Holy Roman Emperor had him excommunicated. The Reformation had begun, with Switzerland, the Netherlands, Sweden, France and England siding with the newly forming Protest-ant movement. The idea was simple. If Catholic power lay in the priest as liaison with God through ritual, then move emphasis away from ritual to the words of the Bible. In this way, Rome’s authority was taken away and churches could be national, thus giving local kings authority over their own churches, and thus their state.
Of course, the words of the Bible could be interpreted in many ways, resulting in the rise of many Protestant denominations, from strict Puritans, to the Church of England.
Catholicism hit back, first with the Council of Trent, where they redefined themselves and cut out the corruption. In political terms the Counter-Reformation went on to cause many wars. Spain took up the role of defender against the Protestantism of Elizabeth I of England. In 1588 the Spanish Armada sailed, ending in disaster for them. In Germany the various states on each side clashed, beginning the Thirty Years’ War, with Sweden and eventually France joining in on the side of Protestantism.
War ended with the Treaty of Westphalia of 1648, with France under Louis XIV rising as the main power in Europe, though with a population that liked to revolt. They went on to defeat Spain, and renewed antagonisms began with England. Elsewhere, constant war had weakened the Holy Roman Empire. Now, the largest of the German states, Prussia, decided to expand to fill it. In 1756 these antagonisms came to a head in the Seven Years’ War, which ended in confusion, and matters unresolved.
Russia had joined in this war. With the collapse of Mongol rule, Muscovy had risen as the main power in Russia. In 1547 Ivan the Terrible had declared himself Czar of All Russia. Eventually the Romanovs took power, creating a feudal system. In 1689 Peter the Great forced modernization on Russia. Following the Seven Years’ War Catherine the Great extended Russian influence further, taking Poland, the Baltic States and the Crimea. The rest of Europe was, however, looking overseas.
THIRTEEN – THE EMPIRE BUILDERS
In 1480 shipping had advanced to the point of allowing voyages of discovery. Spain and Portugal led the way, the most notable voyages being those of Vasco da Gama and Christopher Columbus. The initial reason was to find a sea route to trade with Asia. Later the English, French and Dutch joined in, discovering the American continent, with Drake circumnavigating the globe, and, in the late 18th century, Cook finding Australia.
The first European colonial empire was that of Spain, with the Conquistadores taking much of Central America and taking the Philippines, while the Portuguese established trading posts throughout the Indian Ocean, Malay Archipelago and Japan. It was all done to trade, and for spreading the message of God.
Soon the English and other European powers joined in, creating East India Companies to colonize for trade. This initially involved trading with China and taking parts of Africa. However, the English and French became rivals in this enterprise. The Dutch began an offensive against Spain in the Caribbean, with others joining in. This was the high point of the privateer, or pirate.
Meanwhile the English and Dutch began setting up colonies on the American eastern seaboard, the French headed for Canada and the American south east, whilst the Spanish moved into the future California and Texas. As the Thirteen Colonies under British rule grew in power, the time came for independence. Drafting the Declaration of Independence, war between Britain and the colonials began, with the United States of America coming into being following the Treaty of Paris in 1783 under their first President, George Washington.
Elsewhere the trading empires grew, the British and French competing for India. By 1784 the British had won. The Dutch remained powerful in the East, whilst France took parts of South East Asia, known as French Indo China. Britain went on to add the Cape and Australia to the empire, as well as dozens of other smaller countries. Africa was gobbled up by the European powers later, and shipping routes were eventually shortened with the Panama and Suez canals. The British Empire was costly in war, in particular the Boer Wars and Indian Mutiny.
FOURTEEN – INTELLECT AND POLITICS
Whilst Europe itself was being ravaged by war, and the world ravaged by European imperialism, it is maybe time to sit back and look at the European in terms of intellect. Aristotle had said that the Earth was centre of the universe. As Classical texts were rediscovered in Europe, Catholicism agreed with this, so Aristotle was good. In the 15th century the scholar Copernicus noted that this disagreed with the calendar and argued the Sun was centre, with Earth orbiting it. Later, Galileo proved it with his telescope and nearly paid with his life.
This was exploited by Protestants. In 1637 the philosopher Descartes advised that faith inhibited new knowledge. He became the father of western philosophy by placing man’s ability to think as primary in his dictum: I think, therefore I am. Soon Sir Isaac Newton was looking at the universe, beginning the science revolution with his theory of universal gravitation. The importance of this went further than science. Newton showed that the universe could be understood by man’s mind and man’s laws, with his contemporary, philosopher John Locke, devising Empiricism, and the importance of experience, observation and contemplation in knowledge. And it led philosophers to look at society itself, and see if it, too, could be better understood by man, rather than regulated by God.
England became vital to what happened next. For centuries kings had allowed Witans to exist – talking shops made up of notables to advise and collect taxes. In the 13th century the Normans instigated ‘talks’, or ‘parliaments’ made up of elected ‘commoners’ from the regions, who put forward a ‘speaker’. Soon, in order to collect taxes for the king, they would submit a ‘bill’, or demand for change, those changes becoming known as ‘statutes’.
The Tudor, Henry VIII, had been part of the Reformation, and by the time of Elizabeth I, England was Protestant. Leaving no heir, the Catholic Stuarts took over, trying to degrade this growing parliamentary revolution. The English Civil War broke out in 1642, to decide who ruled – the king and God, or Parliament. Oliver Cromwell’s Parliamentary forces won, but it was too early. Parliament became a dictatorship and by 1660 Monarchy was brought back.
This led Locke to look at politics. He realized that if the person who made the law administered the law, you had tyranny, so he devised the ‘separation of powers’ between legislature and executive. He also devised ‘Inalienable Rights’ to religion, association, free speech and to rebel against unjust law. It was the blueprint for American Independence.
FIFTEEN – NAPOLEON AND WAR
This was the time of the Age of Enlightenment. On continental Europe a variation came through the philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau. He believed that the people themselves could rule, and soon this idea took hold among the rebellious French population. Soon the cry of ‘liberty, equality, fraternity’, was heard and in 1789 the storming of the Bastille brought about the French Revolution.
Direct people power proved a tyranny. They turned against the aristocracy, the guillotine doing its bloody work, eventually taking the king Louis XVI and his wife Marie Antoinette. A middleclass Directory was formed to further the revolutionary zeal and the army joined. In this army was a brilliant officer called Napoleon Bonaparte who eventually overthrew the Directory and seized power.
He was instrumental in devising the modern army. Firearms and cannon had entered the arsenal and during the Thirty Years’ War the armies had reorganized into battalions with companies of musketeers for attack and pikemen for defence, supported by regiments of cannon and squadrons of cavalry, led by professional officers, but armies were restricted in terms of command by requiring a central leader to direct them. Napoleon introduced the independent corps, organized into divisions and brigades, under the command of a Marshal.
Furthering the revolutionary zeal, Napoleon’s corps attacked the rest of Europe, heading north and east towards Russia, and south into Spain. The Napoleonic Wars were on, and by 1812, Moscow itself was in danger. However, there was a fundamental flaw. In 1805 the British Admiral Nelson had defeated the French fleet at Trafalgar, guaranteeing that Britain ‘ruled the waves’, and restricting Napoleon to a land-locked strategy.
Slowly British forces drove the French out of Spain and the Russians turned them back from Moscow. Now the British, Prussians and others drove Napoleon back and forced his abdication. However, Napoleon returned. The British under Wellington inflicted a devastating defeat upon him at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 and he was exiled.
SIXTEEN – THE NEW EUROPE
Britain was now the undisputed superpower, and the primary reasons were a new revolutionary ethic and technology. In 1688 a group of parliamentarians had asked the Dutch leader, William of Orange, to seize the English throne. William was married to the staunchly Protestant Stuart, Mary. He bloodlessly did so, ending Catholic rule in England. It was the Glorious Revolution, and the following year a Bill of Rights guaranteed sovereignty in Parliament.
In effect, middleclass had taken over from royalty – a process that was at the heart of future American independence, and initially caused the French and Russian Revolutions. Now, in England, the middleclass had to usurp aristocracy to gain power. New Protestant denominations were thriving. They became known as Non-Conformist, and grabbed the spiritual heart of the nation. And then came a new breed of Non-Conformist entrepreneur and engineer, snatching wealth from the land owning aristocracy in the Industrial Revolution.
Trade had always been behind the need for expansion, and trade required things to be sold. Combined with the ongoing science revolution, this led to new technology. By 1770 Britain had spearheaded industry, with a national canal system for transport, factories turning raw materials from the empire into goods, and coal and steam powering it all. Soon the railway network would take over from the canals, and before long other countries were joining in, transforming the world.
As always, intellect also played its part. The economist Adam Smith gave a moral justification to market economics, arguing that as the rich got richer they would spend. Hence, a trickle-down effect would occur, raising the wealth of the poor. And in 1859 Charles Darwin revolutionized the world with his theory of evolution through natural selection. Species thrived or died out dependent on how they evolved to suit their environment. Soon commentators spoke of ‘survival of the fittest’. Together these two ideas gave a ruthlessness and justification to the growing capitalism.
Middleclass was rising supreme, but at a cost. Up to this point society had been agricultural. Now a workforce was needed to man the factories and the poor flocked to the cities. Despite the attempts of philanthropists, social care did not catch up with the demographic change and the lot of poor actually ended up pitiful. By the time of the affluent Victorian, poverty was becoming a major issue, which fitted into the growing pattern of history.
With the advent of the city, power resided in the God-king. With monotheism, God gave ‘divine right’ to a king to rule. Beginning with Magna Carta, aristocracy eroded the kings power. Then came middleclass, with power now residing in them. And with the lot of poor, influences were set in motion that would eventually attempt to take power down further to the working classes. However, the world was about to explode into war once more.
PART FIVE – Modern World
SEVENTEEN – WAR AND REVOLUTION
Politically, the end of the Napoleonic Wars and decline of the Holy Roman Empire had left a new spirit of nationhood throughout Europe, combined with hopes for power as a huge power vacuum opened up on the continent. In the Middle East, the Ottoman Empire had been the primary force, based in Turkey, and holding much of the Balkans in south east Europe. This was now in decline, fuelling a power struggle in the Balkans as nations grasped independence. Russia sought to monopolise this and began interfering in the region. The result was the Crimean War of 1853, with Britain, France and Turkey stopping Russian attempts.
In the future Germany, Prussia was fast rising in power, causing France to attempt to stop them. In 1870 they declared war. The Franco-Prussian War did not go their way, with Prussia victorious. William I was Kaiser, and with his minister, Bismarck, had set about uniting all Germany under Prussian leadership. In 1888 William II, known as Kaiser Bill, took power. And as anarchy reigned in Europe – in particular the Balkans – he dreamed of dominating Europe.
Germany began an arms race with Britain. France built up its defences. Russia and Austria-Hungary both still had sights on the Balkans. A Triple Entente formed between France, Russia and Britain, whilst Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy formed the Triple Alliance. Then, in 1914, World War One exploded following the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary.
Germany attempted to encircle France through Belgium. Joint British and French forces brought the advance to a halt in the stalemate of trench warfare. Whilst other theatres of battle existed – such as the Gallipoli Campaign and the guerrilla war against the Turks in the Middle East – this was the centre of the war, and a most bloody affair it was. Eventually the USA joined in, providing enough forces to break Germany, who sued for a humiliating peace that was to guarantee a further war.
Another theatre of the war had been the failed Russian invasion of East Prussia, fuelling anger in the Russian people. This came in line with continued revolts following the recent suspension on the modernizations begun with Peter the Great. In 1917 the Russian Revolution came, Czar Nicholas II allowing a middleclass Duma, or parliament, to form, but the people had organized into workers’ committees, or Soviets, which soon took over, turning Russia into the communist Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, or USSR, under Lenin, with Stalin taking over in 1924.
EIGHTEEN – PHILOSOPHY OF POWER
We must understand the philosophy of the times. Rousseau had begun a strain of thought which was the opposite of the growing capitalism and individuality of the English model. A specific German strain became based on collectivism, or importance of society. Nietzsche had declared ‘God is dead,’ and with it had gone moral certainty. Man would live by the morality of the most powerful. Man himself could become the Superman. Meanwhile, Hegel had looked to the dialectic.
This was an ancient form of debate with an initial statement forming a thesis. The opposite was placed in the antithesis. The two were debated to produce synthesis, which became the new thesis. What Hegel realized was that this same system accounted for history, with a civilization forming, a counter society rising, the two battling it out to produce a new society, which caused the formation of its opposite, etc. And in doing so, mankind advanced towards the perfect State. And in the new Germany, the perfect State had been achieved, and everything was to be subservient to that State.
It was a train of thought that fuelled Germany from the late 19th century, and its final expression would be a continental fascism that created new governments in Spain and Italy, and finally Hitler’s Nazism. However, the economist Karl Marx also realized value in the dialectic. Writing against Adam Smith’s morality of the market, he saw it in terms of the clash of the classes, perfection being when the worker revolted against the capitalist boss and created the perfect society of equality, or communism – and it was this idea that came to Russia through revolution – an idea that could not be realised as leaders will always arise.
Meanwhile, the ultimate opposite to the collectivism of fascism and communism was growing across the Atlantic. Amongst the early settlers of America were the Protestant Pilgrim Fathers, and the planters of the south, who brought with them black slaves from Africa. They formed two systems – the growing capitalism of the north, and the agricultural society of the south.
Following independence Americans expanded west, subjugating the Native American nations. The north was unhappy with slavery and eventually most southern states withdrew from the Union. The American Civil War began in 1861, deciding whether their society would be agricultural with slaves, or capitalist with workers, the North eventually victorious and America rushing down the road of capitalism and mass industrialization. In 1929, the Wall Street stock market crashed, plunging the world into Depression – a Depression that the new Nazi Party of Germany under Hitler capitalized upon.
NINETEEN – SECOND WORLD WAR
Before narrating World War Two, another point must be made. The American Civil War was different to any previous war. Such wars had always been decided on the battlefield, with one side beating the other. Industrialisation had brought about a new kind of war. Now, factories could pour out a constant stream of equipment and weapons, requiring an increasing number of men to take up arms as others fell in battle. Now, winning a battle was not enough. Rather, the entire country had to be brought to its economic knees, destroying its industrial capability. The war of attrition had been invented, as became painfully clear in the trenches of the First World War.
Capitalising on the Depression, Hitler rose to power in Germany by 1933 and immediately began building an industrial infrastructure and massive armed force to bring together the Germanic peoples under Nazism. He began expanding, leading to war in 1939 when he invaded Poland. Soon most of western Europe was invaded, Britain keeping him at bay in the Battle of Britain. Meanwhile he also turned against Russia.
Reversals came at the Battles of Stalingrad and El Alamein in 1942, the Americans entering the war in 1941. As the battle of attrition fought its way from Russia to Berlin, the west opened up a front in June 1944, the Germans encircled and beaten by 1945.
The war had also involved Japan, a country that had kept itself isolated in a feudal society until modernization and dreams of expansion by the early 20th century. Prior to the war they had invaded China and other areas, but in 1941 they expanded into south East Asia and the Pacific, a sneak attack on Pearl Harbor attempting to destroy US naval power in the region. British Commonwealth and US forces had pushed them back to Japan by 1945, surrender achieved when the newly developed atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
TWENTY – AFTERMATH
Following the war fascism survived in some South American countries for a while; countries that had been held by Spain (with Brazil by Portugal) until Simon Bolivar had brought them to independence in 1825. Worldwide there was an urge to peace. The League of Nations had been set up between the wars, and this now advanced to the United Nations, but it remained politically useless. However, three specific patterns of conflict arose.
First of all, the old empires were gone, with the colonies beginning to fight for independence, and then fight within their countries for who would dominate. This led to a profusion of wars and independence movements, most notably Indian independence and the splitting of the country into India and Pakistan, and the disintegration of French Indo China, eventually leading to the Vietnam War.
Second, ever since the 6th century BC Babylonian Exile of the Jews from Israel, they had been persecuted and had dreamt of returning to Israel. Banned from most professions many had gone into money lending and played a big part in setting up the modern banking system. The Nazis industrialized the persecution, leading to the killing of six million Jews in the death camps of the Holocaust. This fuelled them to fight for Israel, gaining success in 1948, displacing the Palestinians, and beginning a series of wars, all which Israel won. This in turn led to Arab international terrorism.
Third was the Cold War and spread of communism. In the east, China became communist in 1948 under Mao Zedong. In 1950, war broke out in Korea, with China intervening for communism, leading to stalemate as US and other forces fought back. Communism also led to the Vietnam War, with the US eventually being humiliated. Meanwhile, a military stand-off came to Europe, with eastern Europe becoming communist.
This period can best be seen as the final element of the battle of philosophies, with America and western Europe on the side of capitalism, and Russia and eastern Europe on the side of communism. Eventually Capitalism spent its way to victory, with communism falling in Russia. Capitalism was supreme, setting upon a course of Globalisation, bring all countries into the fold through Multi-National trading companies.
Essential to this process was the degrading of local identity and meaning in order to create a globalised sameness. Many movements also thrived – feminism, rights for ethnic minorities and gays, a new youth culture and human rights. In Europe, the European Union began to form. All these movements brought benefits and were essentially right, but why did they form? Because all whittled away at the old traditions, local cultures and the Nation State. We see it as freedom, but it is ideology, just the same.
This degrading of non-western culture eventually caused a radical new form of Islamic terrorism in Al-Qaeda, bringing down the Twin Towers on 9/11 2001. The result was war in Iraq and Afghanistan, with echoes of old-style imperialism as the conflicts turned to State building for capitalism. Is a new element of dialectic beginning to form, not so much of Globalization verses Islam, but Globalisation verses the Nation State? One thing is clear, life will go on and history will be made. But what of the future?
We have always been a curious species and gone wherever we have been technologically capable of going. So maybe we need to remember that day in 1969 when Neil Armstrong first walked on the Moon. Maybe space is our inevitable future.
PART SIX – Theories of History
The entire process of world history seems to fit into three specific cycles. Cycle One I would call Ideology and appears to give the illusion of the dialectic. Initially we had the nomad, countered by static agricultural communities. These eventually formed the migrations and societies that led to the pagan god-king societies, which were opposed by Monotheism. This formed into Christianity verses Islam. After that came Catholic verses Protestant; which itself formulated into Capitalism verses Fascism verses Communism. The next stage of the cycle was Capitalist verses Collectivism, leading to the present stage of Capitalism/Sameness verses Culture/Environment/ Diversity.
Within this cycle is Cycle Two, which can be called Class Power. Initially this would have involved power in the hands of the chief and shaman. They merged into the God-King. With Monotheism, it moved to a leader ruling by Divine Right. Power then trickled down to aristocracy, then the middleclass, and history is now trying to work out how to pass power down to the working class, which has so far always failed.
Maybe this is because there is a constant influence in society which constitutes Cycle Three. This is the need for power and Imperialism. At the dawn of history this manifested through annihilation of an enemy or enslavement. The next stage involved subjugation. Whilst today the power urge comes through trade and science. And a power urge always needs people at the bottom to subdue.
These, I would argue, are the three cycles into which all world history fits. However, this is the PROCESS of history. What about the engine?
In human terms advancement is an illusion. History may show a steady advance, but I suspect this is only culture deep. We simply make the same mistakes, only in new cultural or technological clothes.
This is due to our historic changes being too extreme. It becomes so because of frustration. An existent society causes general frustration in a population, eventually causing an outbreak, through philosophy, of a new idea.
The philosophers behind this worked out their new idea through being more frustrated than most, thus making the idea extreme. The warriors then grasp the idea and add a further level of fanaticism and the result is violent revolution or war.
Such cultural catalysts show the errors of the dialectical approach to understanding history. As we saw, this approach argues two opposing societies will inevitably rise and clash, and out of their clash, a new, more perfect society will evolve from their synthesis. This is rubbish. The clash and synthesis may well occur, but the result is never more perfect.
We appear stuck in a continual rut of repeating cycles, forever making the same mistakes. This is due to all ‘systems’ within a society having an urge to power. Even the present democratic systems have become power crazy – all systems do. But this is how history works and we survive – changing the system now and again before it gets too powerful. We used to do this through war. I wonder if we’ve advanced enough yet to try another way.
As to that way, history seems to show a law of opposites in that conflicting systems and societies seem to rise in fanaticism equal to the fanaticism of the other. Hence, maybe the way to break the cycle is for one side to realize that a reduction of fanaticism in theirs will inevitably lead to a reduction in the opposite. I seem to recall some fellow speaking about turning the other cheek. Maybe we’ve known the answer a long time.