December 09, 2003

Die Karajitische Ethik und der 'Geist' des Kapitalismus

Marcus Noland has a paper arguing that in the modern world Islam is not a barrier or a hindrance to economic growth. Tyler Cowen disagrees, arguing that:

To the extent that Islam has negative effects, it operates through indirect mechanisms. Islamic countries have a difficult time establishing democracy and rule of law and good economic policy. True, if you include enough proxy variables in the regression -- such as good policy -- the influence of Islam will wash out. Islam is an indirect cause of some problems, not the direct cause, and the direct causes may well have more statistical significance. But the point remains that Islam can influence the variables that matter. The study uses intra-national comparisons as well. Muslims in the United States have done quite well.... But again this is missing the point. The fact that Islamic individuals can do well, when embedded in some other economic and legal order, does not mean that Islamic countries can sustain such institutions. In fact I think that Islamic philosophy and theology make it harder to have a liberal legal order. I haven't covered all the relevant evidence, such as the greater wealth of Islam in medieval times...

And Kieran Healy intervenes, with a long (and famous) quote from Ernest Gellner:

I like to imagine what would have happened had the Arabs won at Potiers and gone on to conquer and Islamise Europe. No doubt we should all be admiring Ibn Weber's The Kharejite Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism which would conclusively demonstrate how the modern rational spirit and its expression in business and bureaucratic organization could only have arisen in consequence of the sixteenth-century neo-Kharejite puritanism in northern Europe. In particular, the work would demonstrate how modern economic and organizational rationality could never have arisen had Europe stayed Christian, given the inveterate proclivity of that faith to a baroque, manipulative, patronage-ridden, quasi-animistic and disorderly vision of the world. A faith so given to seeing the cosmic order as bribable by pious works and donations could never have taught its adherents to rely on faith alone and to produce and accumulate in an orderly, systematic and unwavering manner. Would they not always have blown their profits on purchasing tickets to eternal bliss, rather than going on to accumulate profits and more?... Altogether, from the viewpoint of an elegant philosophy of history, which sees the story of mankind as a sustained build-up to our condition, it would have been far more satisfactory if the Arabs had won. By various obvious criteria--universalism, scripturalism, spiritual egalitarianism, the extension of full participation in the sacred community not to one, or some, but to all, and the rational systematisation of social life--Islam is, of the three great Western Monotheisms, the one closest to modernity.

I've always found it hard to decide whether Gellner is really making an argument, or just eloquently expressing his annoyance at "western triumphalism." To the extent that it is an argument, it runs roughly as follows: every religion is a very complex system of ideas, some of which have an elective affinity with mercantile-manufacturing activity. Where there are many merchants, the threads of the religion that help rationalize and justify mercantile-manufacturing styles of life are picked out and emphasized. Where the threads of the religion that have this elective affinity with mercantile-manufacturing activity are strong, merchants and manufacturers will be encouraged and aided, and will flourish. The socio-economic base will shape the religion to its own uses. Whatever the prevailing religious climate and doctrine, the changes in the underlying socio-economic base would shape the religion into a set of ideas friendly to and supportive of "modernity."

This is, of course, both true and false. If you restrict yourself to western Europe, and ask back in 1500 which of the core areas--northern Italy, Valencia-Catalonia, northern France and the Low Countries, and England--is most likely to become the origin of the industrial revolution, England has to come last on your list. Yet a combination of (internal) state actions and religio-cultural attitudes "underdeveloped" the Mediterranean. And a century-long religious war devastated much of what is now Belgium. We are not Marxists: the economic base constrains but does not determine religious doctrine and practice, which in turn influences the evolution of the economic base. We have a powerful elective affinity between commerce and Islam back in the Middle Ages (Muhammed, after all, was a merchant). But we have no such affinity visible between Islamic doctrines and industrial technology, not since 1500.

It is worth stressing how recent the economic (and political) retardation of Islam is. There is no comparison at all between Charlemagne's Aachen and Harun Al-Rashid's Baghdad in 800, or between Hughes Capet's Paris and Al-Mansur's Cordova. Even as late as the fifteenth century... when Mehmet II of the House of Osman shows up before the walls of Constantinople in 1453, he does so with the best system of logistics, the largest army, the most disciplined army, and the biggest and most technologically advanced artillery park in the world. At the other end of the Islamic world, fifty years later Babar defeats Indian armies ten times the size of his own and establishes the Moghul Empire through superior firearms, superior discipline, and superior tactics. It wasn't until the sixteenth century that you could even argue that Venetian or Flemish textiles or metallurgy could match what was made in Damascus.

It is a great puzzle and a mystery. I'm inclined toward political and organizational explanations--that the key problem lies in the form taken by the Muslim state seen not as an (incredibly imperfect) system for the collective self-organization and regulation of society, but as an alien military-bureaucratic organization sitting on top of it: slaves on horses, in Patricia Crone's formulation, at the service of whatever dynasty of ghazis or nomads most recently conquered the settled lands.

Posted by DeLong at December 9, 2003 09:58 AM | TrackBack

Comments

From the IIIrd century on, the problem of extense states where that if they where soft, the slowness of communication did not allow for timely responses to politico-militat challenges to the state territorial integrity. That's why, I reckon, the Western Roman empire dissolved in a number of States roughly of the same order of size. On the other side to be hard, and suppress challenges, means that a very rigid chain of orders is preceptive, and local adaptation is discouraged, together with innovations. I think that for example the USA where only made durable as a rather democratic venture thanks to the invention of trains and telegraphy.

DSW

Posted by: Antoni Jaume on December 9, 2003 10:40 AM

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It is not religion, it is beer. Beer-drinking countries always do better than the rest.

Posted by: Leopold on December 9, 2003 10:41 AM

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I don't think so much that Islam slowed down as much as Europe really, really took off.

Come to think of it, according to Norman Davies' Europe, the printing press was banned in the Islamic world until the 19th c.! How much did they miss out? No Newton, no Locke. Of course, the same was more unless true for Japan until the late 1800s.

Posted by: c. on December 9, 2003 11:13 AM

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The industrial revolution required a source of power, first water power, then steam generated by coal. Doesn't resource availability have something to do with industrialization? In the US, the north had numerous sources of water power while the tidewater South did not. This had something to do with the location of early industrial revoultion manufacturing. It seems that the adoption of fossil fuel/ICE technology is a big divider between the early industrial revolution and today.

Posted by: bakho on December 9, 2003 11:43 AM

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Often, it those of us with the most prior success that have the most difficult time adapting to change.

The Ottoman Empire (and Islamic Empire/Umayyad Dynasty before it)'s very success, and subsequent slow death are what I would lay the blame on more than an intrinsic organizational or social structure. The problems may well have taken this form, however.

But when your empire is fading for 300 years and bounced back and forth during the time of the Eastern Question--when we would simply expect things to break down sooner and then begin the historic process of rival groups springing up and one rising to fill the vacuum of power--instead the European powers, along with Russia, played ping-pong with the empire, battling it, barriering it, and often coming to its military aid,all with each other in mind.

By the time that WWI was over there was little direct control the middle eastern countries could exert, after years of colonisation, and there was even less incentive for England, France, etc to allow them to industrialize fully, even if it was a century late. The Balkan countries are in a similar situation, with small, ethnically and religiously charged countries struggling and churning. Is this problem fundamentally Islamic? I'd argue no. It is, however, interesting from a social perspective why their strife is being voiced in a particularly Islamic way.

Posted by: C. B. Brown on December 9, 2003 11:57 AM

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I would love to see Gellner's definition of Christianity if he is putting "universalism, scripturalism, spiritual egalitarianism, the extension of full participation in the sacred community not to one, or some, but to all, and the rational systematisation of social life" closer to Islam. My guess is that Catholicism equals Christianity in Gellner's construct.

Posted by: Stan on December 9, 2003 12:00 PM

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A thought experiment along Gellner's lines was done by Kim Stanley Robinson in his recent novel "Years of Rice and Sand," an alternate history in which during the Middle Ages the Black Death wipes out 99% of the European population, allowing Islam to supplant Christianity in Europe. The author sees physics and engineering developing in Central Asia, but being adopted by a Buddhist Indian Subcontinent.

A thought-provoking book, that I'm re-reading for the second time.

Posted by: Art Nevsky on December 9, 2003 01:13 PM

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Gellner really, really needs to do some reading about Italy between, say, 1200 and 1500.

If you are interested in the history of the development of financial structures, I'd be having a careful look at either the history of insurance, or the monte di pieta.

The other point to remember is the divergence between theory and practice ; Newton and Locke werent as important for the industrial revolution as the canal system - the Duke of Buckingham was able to mobilise enough finance to build his canals, and once he proved they could make a great deal of money, then the framework was established for for-profit infrastructure development.

It's a more complicated story than it looks, and everything happens earlier than you think.

And be very aware of the parochialism of nineteenth century Protestant historians. Their errors are still infecting the minds of students.


Posted by: Ian Whitchurch on December 9, 2003 01:37 PM

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The industrial revolution occurred most forcefully in non-Catholic Christian dominated countries in the northern temperate zones. Yes, nowadays Italy and France are modern industrial powers, but the industrial revolution kicked off in England (really, Scotland) and Germany. Was there something different about Protestantism? Or did the fact of the schism in the religious world enable other power centers to grow? The Moslem world split very early into Sunni and Shia, but perhaps conditions were not ripe. But if it requires ripe conditions, then the schism is irrelevant.

The Jews were often a force for literacy and economic development, was there a difference in the way medieval and Renaissance Germany and England handled the Jews as compared to the rest of the world?

Alternatively, you can point out that the early developers of science are today's industrial leaders, with the exception of the US, which is a special case, as it necessarily came aboard late, originally as an extension of England.

Focusing on science helps explain the progress of Italy and France, as well as the rest of the Western development history. But, of course, we would now need to explain the development of science.

But early Greece and China, and the Arab world excelled at science and math before Europe, so that's not the essential ingredient.

It's reasonable to assign the causes to the structure of the economic system, supported by science and technology. The desert-based Islamic world was narrowly feudalistic, the combination of religion with State perhaps supporting a world-view that "All our greatness comes from the past". Such was the attitude of Christian Europe after the Romans — they looked back to the glory of Rome and when they got the translations, they looked back to the glory of Greek math and science. Greek science became embedded in the ideology of the Church, giving Galileo such a hard time. Until the Renaissance and Reformation changed Europe. But were these an expression of the same trends that caused the Industrial Revolution or themselves the causes of it?

There are arguments that it was the emerging system of free enterprise and the merchant class, taking power from mere feudal landowners, that pushed development. But why were European landowners weaker than the Arab landowners? Both regions having a merchant class. Did the separation of Church and State in Europe weaken the legitimacy of the rigid backward looking overclass, permitting the vitality of capitalism to emerge?

Was Protestantism more forward looking than Islam, Catholocism, or Judaism? I don't know. Perhaps the endless religious warfare of the medieval period engendered a materialistic philosophy as a reaction that helped push the scientific spirit forward.

There was no forest, few fish, and no coal in the Islamic lands, and the means to exploit the oil did not exist. That may be the whole explanation.

But, of course, you also have to ask why India and China failed to create the Industrial Revolution. The former was a colony and the latter had decreed a halt to progress.

I think I've proved I don't know the answer. But the question appears to involve an understanding of all of recorded history, so I'll give myself a break.

Posted by: Warren on December 9, 2003 02:23 PM

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Gellner was a deeply superficial commentator. Professor Delong is quite right to be suspicious as to what he was really trying to say. Gellner would have rather been clever and funny than right.

Posted by: ~o on December 9, 2003 02:29 PM

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Gellner was a deeply superficial commentator. Professor Delong is quite right to be suspicious as to what he was really trying to say. Gellner would have rather been clever and funny than right.

Posted by: ~o on December 9, 2003 02:30 PM

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errrmmmm...no mention of colonialism? that the majority of the islamic world --> please count india(pakistan + bangladesh + ROI), indonesia, malaysia, iran, middle east, etc were under European colonial masters? ...hmmm is there an elephant in the room nobody wants to disucss

Posted by: heretic on December 9, 2003 02:49 PM

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Im SORRY but the idea that "...a combination of internal) state actions and religio-cultural attitudes "underdeveloped" the Mediterranean." is just WRONG.

I lot of nasty wars are being overlooked here and these wars were fought for ECONOMIC dominance. the Ottoman and Hapsburg systems which (1) were at war here for most of the sixteenth century and (2) imposed the superstructural character of Meditteranean was an ECONOMIC system with merely enabling cultural dimensions. The Sultan's Wazirs changed the rules when they wanted how they wanted on who they wanted to keep the CASH coming in. And any Pope that wasn't part of the family was certainly on the payroll. Everything else was window dressing.

The economic stagnation of the mediterrean IS NOT the story of religiousity incompatible with modernity. It is the story of the fall of Empires. In particular two enormously successful Empires that outgrew their capacity for defense (much like 20th century Britannia).

This and an inevitable "if it aint broke don't fix it mentality" drags down many Fortune 500 companies today. It has nothing to do with how these peole prayed.

Like him or not but Immanuel Wallersteins explanation of the fall of the Italian city States and then the Hapasburgs and tehn the Dutch leading to the transfer of "the core" to England is unparalleled. If nothing else is gleaned from that it is clear asically the rise of Englandin the industrial revolution is way too far removed in time from the zenith of the mediterranean to meaningfully rebut the thesis that the economic influences on culture and religion are stronger than the reverse.

Posted by: Michael Carroll on December 9, 2003 03:06 PM

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heretic writes: errrmmmm...no mention of colonialism? that the majority of the islamic world --> please count india(pakistan + bangladesh + ROI), indonesia, malaysia, iran, middle east, etc were under European colonial masters? ...hmmm is there an elephant in the room nobody wants to disucss

The question is why did the Islamic world get conquered by Europe instead of vice versa. The situation you describe is the effect, not the cause.

Posted by: Steven Rogers on December 9, 2003 03:27 PM

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The rise of Protestantism in Northern Europe as well as the development of seapower by England and other European powers had an energizing effect on both science and technology and trade. These served to increase the wealth of European states leading to a upward spiral of reinvestment and further gains.

Posted by: Lawrence Karch on December 9, 2003 04:08 PM

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The real lesson here, and from the fall of the Roman Empires (east and west), Chinese empires, as well as those unmentioned is that civilization is not permanant and the barrier between civilization and barbarity is thin. Given the chance, by dint of internal or external pressures, and I think often, apathy; humanity will slouch right into decline. Once there the blame will be placed upon foreigners while the situation will seem implacable.
Thus, nothing is to be taken for advantage.

Posted by: Scott on December 9, 2003 04:23 PM

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"babar defeated...."

The incumbent king (ibrahim lodhi) was a muslim too. It was muslim vs. muslim.

Posted by: tsquared on December 9, 2003 04:28 PM

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I don't know the Moslem history, but regarding England as the center of the Industrial Revolution, I think the breakaway from the Catholic Church and the rise of Protestantism was a major evolution of thinking in people's minds.

If you are favored by God and believe in Catholicism you will be rewarded in heaven.

If you are favored by God and believe in certain kinds of Protestantism, you will be rewarded with wealth, and wealth is a very powerful symbol that God loves you and thinks you deserve it. There is a strong emphasis on individual achievement.

Another factor in England may have been that when the king defied the pope and broke off from the church, that set in motion thinking that the status quo could be changed.

So I think that this mental framework could have contributed in ways that were not present in other countries. The same factors, divine favor of wealth and glorification of individual achievement, also contributed to many social problems described by Marx.

However, looking at the long term it is not clear that these characteristics of focusing on individual achievement and rewards directed towards the top, which are charateristic of English and American industry, are going to lead to long term success in the manufacturing sector. It seems that countries with more of a collectivist mentality, such as Japan and China, are becoming more successful. I'm sure there are many exceptions to this, but I am thinking of our auto and steel industries, and is England a manufacturing powerhouse in any area anymore?

I don't think it's enough to say that the jobs moved overseas because labor is cheaper. Maybe there are other factors.

Posted by: northernLights on December 9, 2003 06:07 PM

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As a Christian, I like the conclusion. Two legs good, four legs bad. A cross beats a crescent, etc. As a Catholic, I know that protestants may protest the notion that indulgences are necessarily Christian. As the joke goes, the European advantage is not the Catholic work ethic.

That aside, my empirical self thinks we have one observation of how European history evolved after the defeat of Islam. Aside from the occasional genocidal phases of this evolution, the result looks attractive to Christians (or, as we say post-9/11, Judaeo-Christians) when compared with how things turned out in the desert to the south. But this one observation seems like a thin reed on which to base strong conclusions about which set of religious delusions are the more constructive to social development. A little more humility than is demonstrated by the intellectuals would be appropriate here.

The protestant way of avoiding contemplation of mortality may or may not be the best means of securing clean running water and a fast connection to the internet. Moreover, it is possible that water (or guns or germs or steel) created protestantism rather than vice versa.

Posted by: Gerard MacDonell on December 9, 2003 06:17 PM

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Anyone who thinks there is a causal link between Protestantism and capitalism needs to go read some of the diatribes of Luther and Calvin against monopolies, companies, shareholding and so on.

It is also notable that the more extreme Puritan sects werent that involved in eg the British East India Company.

More broadly, I can see a case for an independant Holland disrupting the Meditteranean system, and leading to the economic decline of Southern Europe ... but that trade had already been end-run by Spain and Portugal (eg the Spanish pepper contract, that bypassed the Islamic world).

The industrial revolution was a couple of hundred years after Martin Luther's Wars got ended at Westphalia, anyway.

Posted by: Ian Whitchurch on December 9, 2003 07:19 PM

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Those wanting to think about the Protestantism/capitalism issue further may wish to read the online Max Weber.

Posted by: Steve on December 9, 2003 07:31 PM

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Karajitische...

This wouldn't be the origin of Radovan Karadzic's name? I'm completely ignorant of Slavic languages, never mind onomastics, but if true the irony would be beyond cosmic.

Posted by: Davis X. Machina on December 9, 2003 08:33 PM

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Honestly I think it is partly religious, although not in the way most people think, and not exactly in the way of Weber's famous book. Albert Schweitzer's book "The Mysticism of Paul the Apostle" argues that Paul's main intellectual problem was explaining why the End of Time hadn't come even though the Messiah had come, since according to Jewish eschatology these should be coincident. His response of course was to posit a Second Coming, and he and the next generations indeed expected the whole final shebang in their own lifetimes. It should perhaps be made explicit that under the conditions of believing in an eschatology, a society would hardly give much impetus to great material improvements: after all, it is all about to End! Indeed the most Perfect times are in the past, not ahead in the future. But when the end of the world didn't come, after about fifty generations or so, the theology of Western Christendom (less mystical in practice than Eastern), its Savior in place, swung round the other way and found an intellectual impetus to start thinking about time, the world, and the future. The rudiments of rational investigation became slowly regularized within the "body of God". At first this came in the scholastics' long efforts clean the copyists' errors out of the great ancient texts.

Islam is no more antithetical to growth than other religions, and once had a High Civilization. But perhaps Christianity was propelled by the inversion of a theological expectation to become actively rational-materialist.

Posted by: Lee A. on December 9, 2003 11:03 PM

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One explanation not mentioned here is abstract speculation and pure science. Muslim science was very practical; the main area in which it advanced on the Greeks was medicine. Also mathematics, which has practical applications in architecture, business and warfare. Western (not Eastern) Christians caught the bug of pure theory transmitted, but not really caught, by the Arabs; they found it useful for their endless arguments about their fantastically complicated theology (nature of the Trinity, the Eucharist, intercession of the saints, etc), none of which is necessary in Islam. Alchemy was driven by superstition. Theology led to pure science – starting with astronomy.

The transition from long-distance trade based on craft manufacturing (eg in cloth) to industrialised manufacturing was specific to Western Europe: interchangeable parts, machines not repairable by workers, large and centralised power sources (steam), high-speed processes.. The Arab world still has little industry – non-Arab Muslim countries like Indonesia, Malaysia and Pakistan have more. It’s hard to make a connection between religion and industrialisation as aooposed to capitalism. The first true capitalist society, the Calvinist Netherlands of the Golden Age, was still based on trade and crafts (eg shipbuilding) not factory industrialisation.

The trading mentality is in some ways antithetical to industrialisation; transactions in the Fez souk (a living example of a mediaeval economy) are all based on face-to-face bargaining, not a waged proletariat and fixed prices.

Posted by: James on December 10, 2003 12:50 AM

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The Islamic people of the Middle East embraced the science of war and medicine, but rejected science in other areas, such as economics, as intellectual constructs with social and political implications that were in direct conflict with the teachings of the Islamic religion.

The failure of the Islamic religion to develop in parallel with secular institutions of governance is attributed, by some analysts, to the fact that the Islamic religion was never exposed to a prolonged competitive assault by secular institutions, unlike Christianity, which evolved under the yolk of state interests for 2,000 years. In fact, the Christian history of secular and religious conflict is recorded in the Bible: Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s and render unto God that which is God’s.

The singular issue that has scuttled many an insightful and knowledgeable scholar of the Middle East is the inexplicable resistance to change. This has no explanation in institutional barriers, because, resistant as barnacle-encrusted bureaucracies tend to be, change is the ultimate victor in history. No one yet has been able to provide a satisfactory explanation for the resistance to change that hangs over the Middle East like Faoud Ajami’s dark cloud of ‘maktoob’ or fate.

My final point is that the modern terrorists (fundamentalists, Baathists, Kurdish nationalists, etc) represent none of the old world. They are the epitome of modern opportunists who have deviously hitched their star to the authority of an ancient religion and civilization as a vehicle for achieving the oldest objective on earth.

As a post script, I would add that serious people have clearly defined principles and values to which they are willing to commit. The actions of the United States in the Middle East meet this criterion of serious behavior far more than any allegiance to some speciously superior intellectual argument that tolerance in sufficient quantity will free the people of the Middle East.

Posted by: Ann on December 10, 2003 02:35 AM

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The rise of the West to economic and political hegemony in the henceforth newly expanded world is largely contingent, not evidence of superior virtue, whether deriving from Christianity or Science or the steam engine, however much superior skills may have subsequently been acquired. The principle, under the aegis of the post hoc, prompter hoc fallacy, is not much different than that of tree-dwelling primates with prehensile digits for swinging from trees acquiring superior intelligence. Things could have occurred otherwise and may yet succumb to irremediable decline.

A. Lee has a good point in that the Western sense of historical time is peculiar compared to the backward-looking time-sense of other developed civilizations and this owes something to Christian eschatology- (there is a good little book about this by Karl Loewith)- and I would only add to his comment the correlated concept of the "fullness of time", which could be perverted into the acquisition of worldly surpluses. The point here is that this is actually an admixture of Greek substantialist metaphysics with Jewish eschatological thinking, itself a contingent conjuncture. But the transformation of such other-worldly conceptions into secular "progress" would require many further contingent steps, which were by no means vouchsafed by the original conception. In an earlier thread, I nominated feudalism, as a decentralized, centrifugal system, as the source of Western hegemony: ironically, as it was the source of Western weakness that would account for its subsequent hegemony.

Posted by: john c. halasz on December 10, 2003 03:52 AM

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What about Brad DeLong's earlier considerations regarding the absence of slavery in dark ages Europe as an impetus to more labor saving devices?

I think it's around here somewhere, but anyway, he claimed that Europe, in terms of practical technological applications like watermills, etc, was ahead of the Islamic world even in the dark ages, when the Islamic world was far ahead of Europe in theoretical science. He thought part of the explanation might be that labor costs in Europe were higher because outright slavery was abolished in favor of feudalism, and this made labor saving inventions profitable, where they generally weren't in the Caliphate.

Then again, that doesn't explain China, which, IIRC, abolished slavery around 4 B.C. or something.

Posted by: Julian Elson on December 10, 2003 06:26 AM

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Culture remains the black box it always has been. The presence is clearly evident in how one geographic part of the Italian state functions versus the other. Still describing a model that captures how culture will work in varying instances will always remain less than satisfying. Culture changes every day. How people will react to the exact same events changes with every birth, life, and death.

The answer to the question of why not Islam revolves around the same multiple state versus empire answer as the why Europe question. Competition between European states without one attaining total preeminence was ultimately the main difference between it and all others. In all cultures, when one group attains ascendency threats to that ascendency are cut off. With multiple states vying for power, the ascendent are much less able to cut off threats. The threats require adaptation.

Germs, culture, et.al., are all partially explantory. The technology and biological advantage that Europe gained from its position in Eurasia gave it strength over the Mesoamericans. Technology, geography, biology, etc. all add understanding to why something was effective at a given point, but the nature of state competition remains the answer to why Europe and why not China. Why Europe and why not the Ottomen.

Posted by: Stan on December 10, 2003 07:15 AM

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Next time anyone is in Cordoba visit the Grand Mosque.

http://www.travelinginspain.com/Mezquita.htm

Move from the Christian cathedral built into part of it, to the pillared and arched muslim worship area. You'll get a physical sensation that will explain the difference in attitudes toward life better than a thousand scholarly monographs.

That said, Europe has an economic advantage over the Islamic world. Natural harbors and navigable rivers. The irregular coastline of Europe is actually longer than the coastline of Africa, for instance. Through trade comes knowledge.

Posted by: Patrick R. Sullivan on December 10, 2003 08:54 AM

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One factor in the rise of England must be its court system. As far back as we have records, English courts were writing down their commercial and other decisions. Most of the principles of modern commercial law have their roots in the decisions of 13th and 14th century English courts.

One example of this is a decision about damages. A contracted with B to build a wagon to carry his produce to market. B failed to complete the wagon in time, and A lost the profit he would have made at the market, and was forced to sell at a lower price. The court determined that under the circumstances, B was liable for the lost profit, and the burden was on A to establish that loss. This principle is law today.

I see this as the development of the institutions necessary to support capitalism. I wonder how this compares with Islamic courts?

Posted by: Masaccio on December 10, 2003 08:55 AM

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I wish to second Patrick R. Sullivan and continue with ENERGY SOURCES: forests to burn, coal to mine (I am thinking of Saruman, here). The East had been desertified since long before Mohammed, and it sounds pretty sparse by the time of Jesus (who was a carpenter: was his clan chopping down the last trees?)

Posted by: Lee A. on December 10, 2003 10:13 AM

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If you look at the issue not historically but from the experience in modern Islamic countries/societies – and comparatively in non-Islamic countries -- I think like Noland you have to conclude that Islam is not the only nor principle factor of slow growth and development. From Indonesia and Malaysia (with very rich natural environments) to Iraq and Saudi Arabia, you have countries which have accepted and integrated well Western capitalist models and functions, even within stifling political regimes.

They have conducted very liberal trading and investment regimes (with deep roots in history) and which have adapted well to modern global finance, albeit mostly London-based. They have adapted as well, and helped create even, the modern contractual bases for oil and gas development, with the enduring standard production sharing contract having become the basis of commercial law itself in many countries.

Compare that record with the stifling communist regimes of the West and Asia in which trade, banking, private capital, private construction and services did not develop well until the last two decades. Or to the limited successes in several Latin American countries, and Sub-Saharan Africa.

On the other hand, it is true that some of the most successful Islamic societies, at least in our terms, are those – Suharto's Indonesia, Mahathir's Malaysia, and, yes, Saddam's Iraq – which were secularist officially or in practice (Malaysia). As with the Catholics and Protestants in history, then, in seems to be a matter of strictness and flexibility in the application of dogma.

paulo, http://whosecapitalism.typepad.com/

Posted by: paulo on December 10, 2003 11:11 AM

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http://www.theglobalist.com/DBWeb/StoryId.aspx?StoryId=3266

"The Arab world has a history rich in art, culture and society — and was a pioneer in science, math and language 400 years ago. But the past 50 years have brought mess to no progress. In this excerpt from his new book “The Future of Freedom,” Fareed Zakaria, Editor of Newsweek International, discusses reasons behind this unique downward spiral."

http://www.theglobalist.com/DBWeb/StoryId.aspx?StoryId=3261

"Many people believe that Islam is intrinsically authoritarian, anti-Western and anti-modern. But how different is it really from Judaism or Christianity? In this excerpt from his new book “The Future of Freedom,” Fareed Zakaria, Editor of Newsweek International, sorts through the facts and assumptions about Islamic governments and people —and offers surprising answers."

Posted by: drk on December 10, 2003 12:47 PM

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Here it is:

http://www.j-bradford-delong.net/TotW/Daily_Journal_2002_05.html

Look for the review of Bernard Lewis's book.

Posted by: Julian Elson on December 10, 2003 06:31 PM

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I think it is less the religion and more the way it is run at a given time--particularly the degree of tolerance or openmindedness that exists in the then religious leaders. As others have pointed out, at one time, Islamic countries preserved much of Greek literature, etc. (until the library in Alexandria burned down) and Arabic (or Hindu) mathematicians were likely responsible for developing the 0, there were substantial medical advances (some made by Jews). I think it is quite likely that, as a result of the increasing power of fundamentalist Christianity in the US, we will see a corresponding decrease in the quality of scientific research performed in the US (and some scientists will leave)--government funding for many types of research has already significantly decreased + the GOP and some fundies are pushing for a kind of PC check (their own brand of PC) on government funded research. Science educuations as well. After all, if the Bible tells you how it all happened, why would you want to study biology or chemistry? Certainly I agree with the prior comments that Gellner could also be talking about some Christian (actually Judeo-Christian)principles. An interesting question would be how it is possible for people to swear they follow the Bible's "teachings" yet believe that regressive taxation is ok and that the accumulation of almost unimaginable amounts of money/value by a very small number of people is ok--even that those people are more "virtuous".

Posted by: shogg on December 10, 2003 08:10 PM

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I think it is less the religion and more the way it is run at a given time--particularly the degree of tolerance or openmindedness that exists in the then religious leaders. As others have pointed out, at one time, Islamic countries preserved much of Greek literature, etc. (until the library in Alexandria burned down) and Arabic (or Hindu) mathematicians were likely responsible for developing the 0, there were substantial medical advances (some made by Jews). I think it is quite likely that, as a result of the increasing power of fundamentalist Christianity in the US, we will see a corresponding decrease in the quality of scientific research performed in the US (and some scientists will leave)--government funding for many types of research has already significantly decreased + the GOP and some fundies are pushing for a kind of PC check (their own brand of PC) on government funded research. Science educuations as well. After all, if the Bible tells you how it all happened, why would you want to study biology or chemistry? Certainly I agree with the prior comments that Gellner could also be talking about some Christian (actually Judeo-Christian)principles. An interesting question would be how it is possible for people to swear they follow the Bible's "teachings" yet believe that regressive taxation is ok and that the accumulation of almost unimaginable amounts of money/value by a very small number of people is ok--even that those people are more "virtuous".

Posted by: shogg on December 10, 2003 08:12 PM

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shogg, you've given me an easy way to illustrate my point. There are outlets if U.S. funding decisions constrain progress. Enough constraints and the U.S. is no longer a hegemon. In the U.S.'s case competitor states are actively trying to exploit U.S. mistakes. Under traditional empires, there is no outlet for progressive threats. Squelch enough progressive threats and internal dynamics become static. Do it long enough and you eventually end up with "the old man of Europe" syndrone. Striving for meritocracy is extremely important for national security.

Posted by: Stan on December 11, 2003 01:36 PM

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I hate to toot my own horn here, but I wrote a paper for my thesis class here at Cal on a similar subject. In my opinion, Islam is far too often put forward as the societal molasses that is slowing the Middle East down. I might remind you all that Islam stretches from Jakarta to Dakar, and takes on many forms -- not to mention its minority status in other parts of the world. The short of it is, the Mourides of Touba, Senegal are an example of how Islam can promote economic development. http://www.ocf.berkeley.edu/~cfarivar/classes/IAS_102/HuntingtonVsLandes.html

Posted by: Cyrus Farivar on December 11, 2003 04:27 PM

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I hate to toot my own horn here, but I wrote a paper for my thesis class here at Cal on a similar subject. In my opinion, Islam is far too often put forward as the societal molasses that is slowing the Middle East down. I might remind you all that Islam stretches from Jakarta to Dakar, and takes on many forms -- not to mention its minority status in other parts of the world. The short of it is, the Mourides of Touba, Senegal are an example of how Islam can promote economic development. http://www.ocf.berkeley.edu/~cfarivar/classes/IAS_102/HuntingtonVsLandes.html

Posted by: Cyrus Farivar on December 11, 2003 04:28 PM

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I hate to toot my own horn here, but I wrote a paper for my thesis class here at Cal on a similar subject. In my opinion, Islam is far too often put forward as the societal molasses that is slowing the Middle East down. I might remind you all that Islam stretches from Jakarta to Dakar, and takes on many forms -- not to mention its minority status in other parts of the world. The short of it is, the Mourides of Touba, Senegal are an example of how Islam can promote economic development. http://www.ocf.berkeley.edu/~cfarivar/classes/IAS_102/HuntingtonVsLandes.html

Posted by: Cyrus Farivar on December 11, 2003 04:30 PM

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I hate to toot my own horn here, but I wrote a paper for my thesis class here at Cal on a similar subject. In my opinion, Islam is far too often put forward as the societal molasses that is slowing the Middle East down. I might remind you all that Islam stretches from Jakarta to Dakar, and takes on many forms -- not to mention its minority status in other parts of the world. The short of it is, the Mourides of Touba, Senegal are an example of how Islam can promote economic development. http://www.ocf.berkeley.edu/~cfarivar/classes/IAS_102/HuntingtonVsLandes.html

Posted by: Cyrus Farivar on December 11, 2003 04:31 PM

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I hate to toot my own horn here, but I wrote a paper for my thesis class here at Cal on a similar subject. In my opinion, Islam is far too often put forward as the societal molasses that is slowing the Middle East down. I might remind you all that Islam stretches from Jakarta to Dakar, and takes on many forms -- not to mention its minority status in other parts of the world. The short of it is, the Mourides of Touba, Senegal are an example of how Islam can promote economic development. http://www.ocf.berkeley.edu/~cfarivar/classes/IAS_102/HuntingtonVsLandes.html

Posted by: Cyrus Farivar on December 11, 2003 04:33 PM

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I hate to toot my own horn here, but I wrote a paper for my thesis class here at Cal on a similar subject. In my opinion, Islam is far too often put forward as the societal molasses that is slowing the Middle East down. I might remind you all that Islam stretches from Jakarta to Dakar, and takes on many forms -- not to mention its minority status in other parts of the world. The short of it is, the Mourides of Touba, Senegal are an example of how Islam can promote economic development. http://www.ocf.berkeley.edu/~cfarivar/classes/IAS_102/HuntingtonVsLandes.html

Posted by: Cyrus Farivar on December 11, 2003 04:35 PM

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The period of time in which the West caught up to and then far exceeded the Islamic World in areas of science, technology, economy, and philosophy is almost precisely that period of time in which the Printing Press was illegal throughout the Ottoman Empire. (at least, they were illegal if they printed in Arabic or Turkish) Coincidence?

Posted by: Ben on December 16, 2003 12:02 PM

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