World History Lecture Eight
- 1 Test-taking tips
- 2 Introduction
- 3 The Age of Exploration
- 4 Growth of Nation-States and Monarchs
- 5 The Scientific Revolution
- 6 The Enlightenment
- 7 Capitalism
- 8 References
Understand: Understand the question before you try to answer it. Read the question twice if you have doubts. You want an answer that fits the question best, like a key fitting a lock.
Eliminate: Eliminate the wrong answers before picking the right one. This can bump your score up another point or two.
First Impression: Go with your first impression unless you have a good reason to change it. More often than not, your first impression will be your best guess.
Stay on Track: Stay on track during the test. Expect to miss a few, and do not waste too much time on a difficult question.
Try Different Approaches: Try different approaches to a difficult question until you figure out the right answer. There are many ways to find the correct answer for a question. Don't give up too easily on figuring out a question.
Avoid Broad Language in Answers: Broad or sweeping terms like "only", "never", "solely", "everyone", "always", "purely", "all" and "every" are often signs of incorrect answers because they are rarely true.
Try to Answer Every Question: You can't increase your score by refusing to answer, just as you can't score a basket in basketball without tossing the ball towards the net. Trying is better than not trying. Try hard on every question, and if no points are deducted for wrong answers, be sure to answer every question. Even if you don't know the answer, make your best guess.
Test-taking on multiple-choice exams is a skill that can be mastered with practice, determination and cleverness.
Three times during the 1500s and 1600s, Muslims attempted unsuccessfully to conquer Europe (recall that centuries earlier Charles the Hammer turned back their first attempt). Europeans defeated the Muslim Ottoman Turks at the Siege of Vienna in 1529. Then Europeans also prevailed against Muslim forces at the Battle of Lepanto in 1571.
On September 11, 1683, Muslims made another major attempt to conquer Europe, as a massive Islamic army arrived at the Gates of Vienna. An alliance of Christian armies, led by the Polish King Jan III Sobieski, defeated the Muslim force. Some have observed that the "9/11" massacre in New York City was on the anniversary of this day.
Two other momentous events happened in the 1600s which would also affect the world forever. In 1607, Englishmen established a permanent settlement at Jamestown, Virginia. In 1611, the King James Bible was published with this introduction:
- THE HOLY BIBLE, Conteyning the Old Testament, and the New: Newly Translated out of the Originall tongues: & with the former Translations diligently compared and revised, by his Majesties Special Commandment. Appointed to be read in Churches. Imprinted at London by Robert Barker, Printer to the Kings most Excellent Majestie. ANNO DOM. 1611.
Some might say that the publication of the King James Bible was even more significant than the settlement at Jamestown. This version of the Bible, which became known as the "Authorized Version," was a spectacular work that transformed and elevated the entire English language to new heights.
With the King James Bible as the "gold standard" for proper English, the language then grew upon this foundation at a rate of about 1000 new words per year. This enables English to constantly improve its ability to express concepts. English easily incorporates and adapts words from other languages, such as "detente" (French for a lessening in tensions between nations) and "tsunami" (Japanese for a massive tidal wave).
English has the smallest alphabet of widely used languages; this compact simplicity gives English an advantage, particularly in using computers. For example, modern English lacks accented letters (such as the dots over the "e" in "noël"), hybrid letters (such as the "æ" used in British spelling like "encyclopædia"), and pictograph characters.
English features easy interchangeability of nouns, verbs, and adjectives, without much variance in form for pronouns and verbs. That promotes communication through brief, cryptic messages if necessary, the style preferred by electronic media. English enjoys a powerful pipe-like quality, such that one phrase can be cut and pasted to another phrase with ease. Computer-based cutting and pasting text works more efficiently in English than in many other languages, such as those using pictorial characters. This gives English an advantage in the internet medium, and about 80% of the internet uses English. English is now the second most widely spoken language in the world, with only Chinese dialects spoken by more people. English is overwhelmingly the second language of choice for non-English-speaking people.
The Age of Exploration
The “Age of Exploration” consisted of Christians from Europe searching the rest of our globe to spread the faith and seek wealth, particularly between 1450 and 1650. This began the “Global Age” in world history, which continues to this day.
As Europe was emerging from the Middle Ages and experiencing the Renaissance, people had the curiosity and the courage to look beyond their own continent. Scientific discoveries and technological improvements made it easier to travel across the vast oceans. Christians sought to spread their faith far and wide, and merchants sought new goods and business opportunities in both the East and West. North and South America awaited visits by the Europeans.
The Portuguese were the first great explorers. They developed the “caravel”, a small, lightweight ship with three lateen-sailed masts that were faster and more maneuverable in shallow water than previous designs (see right). They could also hold a fair amount of spices, and the more cargo that a ship could hold, the greater its profitability would be. European demand for exotic Indian goods, especially spices, was strong, and this drove explorers to discover new routes to India different from the Eastern Mediterranean trade controlled by the Ottoman Muslims.
The discovery of new western routes accidentally led to the discovery of lands in the New World (Western Hemisphere). Portugal and Spain then emerged as the two major players in what was to become an intense European competition for exploration, conversion and colonization.
The Portuguese initiated the age of exploration in Europe as early as about 1419, when Prince Henry the Navigator established his School of Navigation and made it his life’s work to explore the West African coast and reach the Indian Ocean. His ships reached as far as Sierra Leone, but he failed to reach India. Another explorer named Bartholomew Diaz likewise failed to reach India, but he did manage to sail around the tip of Africa (the Cape of Good Hope) in 1487 and thereby establish the route to India.
In 1492, with funding from Spain (see below), Christopher Columbus embarked on his famous voyage with the dream of reaching India, and he failed in that goal also. It was Vasco da Gama who finally reached India by sailing eastward around Africa and up the East African coast between 1497 and 1499, with the help of the powerful monsoon winds. Shortly thereafter, regular trade was established with India under the Portuguese King Manuel, and conflict began with the Muslims over dominance of Indian Ocean trade.
Later, with funding and men from Spain (see below), the Portuguese navigator Ferdinand Magellan became the first to lead an expedition around the globe.
The Spanish entered the scene in the year 1492 — during the reign of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, who were working hard to eradicate Islam and establish Christianity as the only religion in Spain. Known as the “Reconquista” (or Reconquest) of Spain, it ultimately succeeded in the reconquest of Granada, the last Muslim city in Spain. As explained in the prior Lecture, Queen Isabella ordered all Muslims and Jewish residents to convert or leave Spain. Initially, this resulted in an economic and academic setback for Spain, as Jewish residents had comprised a large number of scholars and merchants.
It was during this time that a young Italian by the name of Christopher Columbus first approached the Portuguese King John II to ask him for financial support. Columbus, like others from the Italian city of Genoa, was an expert mariner, having started as early as the age of 14. He had studied the works of Ptolemy on his own; Columbus did not attend formal school, just as homeschoolers do not today. Columbus at all times was a devout Christian, writing frequently about his faith in his diary. His desire to sail to India was motivated in large part by his attempt to spread the Christian faith. He repeatedly cited a desire to convert pagans to Christianity when he sought support for his voyage. Late in life, even when treated as a prisoner, he sought to devote all his money and efforts towards winning back Jesus Christ’s Holy Sepulchre (burial cave) from Muslims in the Holy Land.
King John II of Portugal denied Columbus’s request to fund his voyage across the Atlantic. Indeed, Columbus was ridiculed for seeking to reach India by sailing west rather than east.
The funding for Columbus came from Spain instead. Though Columbus was Italian, it was Spain that financed his voyages as the strain of fighting the Muslims subsided. Isabella and Ferdinand felt secure in granting the Genoese upstart Christopher Columbus his long-awaited funds. Beginning on August 3, 1492, Columbus embarked on four voyages, becoming perhaps the first European to discover the New World, although at first he believed he had reached India (hence his name for the inhabitants of the New World: “Indians”). The discoveries by Columbus included the Bahamas, Cuba, Haiti, San Salvador, Puerto Rico, Jamaica, Trinidad and Honduras. Columbus, the master mariner that he was, subsequently sailed back to Europe and then again to the Caribbean, and was able to find the exact same locations on his return voyage. Columbus’ astounding success presented an increasing challenge to Spain’s Portuguese rivals.
The pope finally resolved this rivalry between Spain and Portugal in the Treaty of Tordesillas in 1494, which established an 1100-mile long “Line of Demarcation,” which was 50 degrees longitude (north-to-south) in the Western Hemisphere. This division of world territories gave Portugal trading rights in India, China, the East Indies, East Brazil and the Spanish Americas. Spain was given control of the remaining, vast majority of the Americas. Ferdinand Magellan then led the first successful voyage to circumnavigate the globe in 1519. Although Magellan was killed by Philippine natives before completing the last leg of the journey, he was the first to sail around the tip of South America to enter the Pacific Ocean. Only 18 of Magellan’s approximately 250 sailors made it back to Spain three years later, in 1522.
As a result of Magellan’s journey, Spain gained control of many South American territories, including Peru. Spain also obtained control over the Philippines in the Far East. Spanish warrior Hernando Cortes led the conquest of Mexico in 1519, with the initial help of the Aztecs, many of whom believed Cortes was their god Quetzalcoatl (who, conveniently for the Spanish, was expected to appear that very year). Cortes captured the Aztec ruler Moctezuma (popularly known as “Montezuma”) and conquered their empire. Cortes was also aided by an Aztec woman named Malinche, who served as a guide and translator. Cortes burned the Aztec capital Tenochtitlan and built Mexico City in its place.
Francisco Pizzaro led the conquest of Peru, eventually killing their emperor, Atahualpa. The ancient Peruvian city of Cuzco was completely destroyed and replaced with the city of Lima. While in Peru, Pizzaro also discovered the greatest silver mine in the Americas. The vast majority of silver obtained was traded with China, whose economy was based on silver. Both Cortes’ and Pizzaro’s conquests were facilitated by the use of horses and superior weapons, and the South Americans were also devastated by European diseases like smallpox. The native population had no immunity to such disease, and some historians claim that the Spanish intentionally spread the deadly disease by giving the natives blankets that carried the germ. There is one defect to that anti-Christian theory: the germ theory was not discovered until the 19th century! No one knew that diseases were spread by germs in the 1500s, so the story is pure fiction.
Using the Spanish system of “encomiendas”, many of the South American natives became slaves to their Spanish conquerors. A Dominican monk and missionary, Bartholomew de Las Casas, sent sensational descriptions to the Spanish government of the supposed atrocities committed against the “patient, meek and peaceful” natives by the Spanish conquistadors, whom he described as “cruel tigers, wolves and lions.” Although some of what Las Casas said was true, historical research has proved most of it to be false and exaggerated. However dishonest his methods may have been, Las Casas’ reports eventually led to the king of Spain issuing “New Laws,” by which exploitation of the natives was ended by the replacement of the old “encomiendas” with the new “repartimientos”. Both systems are now criticized as having been unfair. The system of “encomiendas” was based on royal grants of land, while the system of “repartimientos” was based on gifts of Indian labor. Either way, the Indians ended up working for the Spanish, but it was typical throughout history for conquerors to put the conquered people to work, as in "to the victors go the spoils."
Exploration by Other Nations, and the Seven Years War
Other European nations participated in exploration as well. King Henry VII of England sent John Cabot, a resident of London born in Genoa (like Columbus), to explore across the Northern Atlantic Ocean. Cabot discovered Newfoundland and the New England coast in 1497 and 1498, respectively, and the land became the property of England. From France, Jacques Cartier discovered Canada and the Mississippi Basin, including Louisiana in 1534 and 1541. These colonies were initially less significant than those in South America, and there was a lack of interest in North America because it did not have the gold and silver of South America. Whereas intermarriage and cultural blending occurred heavily among the Spanish and the Indians in South America, it barely existed between the English or French and the Indians in North America.
Of course, eventually the interest and development in North America increased and surpassed that of South America. Commercial competition between European nations culminated in the Seven Years’ War (1756-1763) — a conflict brought to America in the form of the French and Indian War. This War marked the end of French (and Spanish) influence in North America, and signaled the rise of Britain as the primary world superpower for the next 150 years.
The Seven Years War in Europe, of which the French and Indian War was a small part in North America, consisted of 20 major battles and ended up taking the lives of perhaps a million people. Britain and France fought in both Europe and North America; Spain and Portugal fought in South America. The war reached every inhabited continent except Australia, which had been discovered in only the 1600s and was not yet well-settled by Europeans. France, Russia, Sweden, Poland and Austria were allied against Britain and Prussia in the struggle for control of Silesia, a region of Eastern Europe that is mostly part of Poland today.
Britain won the war, partly due to the genius of William Pitt, after whom Pittsburgh is named. Britain gained both Canada and India as a result of the Seven Years War, but lost the American colonies two decades later in the Revolutionary War. Pitt himself had left power before the war concluded (though he returned to power later); he opposed the peace treaty for the Seven Years War on the grounds that it did not give enough to Britain. France was humiliated by this war, which may have contributed to the French Revolution a few decades later. By winning (along with Britain) against the other European powers, Prussia acquired new respect and stature.
The Slave Trade
In what is known as the “Columbian Exchange,” plants and animals were brought from America to Europe and vice-versa. Columbus brought from Europe to America wheat, melons, onions, grapes, sugar cane and horses. Horses proved to be influential not only in the European conquest of native peoples but also in the natives’ abilities to avoid white settlers, particularly among the Plains Indians in North America.
America had new fruits and vegetables that were then exported to Europe and Africa. America introduced the white potato to Europe and the manioc or cassava to Africa. Chili peppers, pumpkins, squash and peanuts were also brought back from America and became popular in countries such as India. These new foods helped increase population, and in Africa the population growth almost canceled out population losses caused by the slave trade.
Slavery, though not considered part of the Columbian Exchange, became a hurtful form of trade. In 1455, a “papal bull” (formal letter by the pope) justified a “right” of Christian nations to enslave any non-Christians in the name of exploration. The Spanish had already been enslaving South American natives on a limited basis, but with the rise of sugar plantations, the need for a larger slave force arose. Millions of African slaves were brought by the Spanish and Portuguese to Mexico, Peru, the Caribbean and especially Brazil. The growth of sugar — which had first been introduced to Europe when the Muslims ruled Spain — was exploding in popularity throughout the entire western world. Soon France, the Netherlands and Great Britain were also establishing profitable sugar plantations in the new world. The plantation system began in Brazil, where rich white plantation owners were the highest rung in the social hierarchy and the enslaved Africans were at the bottom. Obviously life on a sugar plantation was very hard work for a slave.
Slavery was widespread within Africa itself, and the richest in Africa were not those owning the most land, but those who owned the most slaves. In the Sahara Desert, slaves worked in caravans and were used in gold and salt mining. Slaves were usually prisoners of war from other areas of Africa, or debtors, or enemies of the king, but many women outside of those three categories were also enslaved in African societies. Polygamy — the practice of having more than one wife — was common in Africa, as was the existence of harems, from which African women were often sold to join Arabian or Middle Eastern harems.
The trading of slaves with other countries was encouraged in Africa, and was considered an important component of the African economy. Slave trade across the Atlantic (the Trans-Atlantic slave trade) became a booming business for Europeans and Africans alike, by which African rulers sold their people to Europeans for goods such as iron, alcohol, tobacco and guns. Trans-Atlantic trade led to the degrading use of “chattel” slaves, whereby the slaves were treated purely as property of the owner. The slaves served as sailors, skilled craftsmen or farmers. The journey across the Atlantic, known as the Middle Passage, led to the death of 10-20% of the African slaves. But an even higher percentage lost their lives in the journey from their homes in Africa to the African coast, where they were to board the slave ships.
The Trans-Atlantic slave trade was one component in a system of routes known as the “Triangular Trade” between the Caribbean islands or South America, and New England, and the West Coast of Africa. The three main items that were exchanged were sugar, rum and slaves. European goods, mainly guns, were used to buy slaves from Africa. The slaves were then shipped to the Americas. Then, from America, sugar, rum and tobacco were brought back to Europe, completing the “triangle” of trade. No specific “triangle” of trade has ever been identified and the term was not even used at the time to describe the trade routes; this concept may result from the imagination of modern historians.
The end of slavery in Europe did not come until the beginning of the 1800s, when Christian reformers such as William Wilberforce and John Wesley began speaking out against the evils of the system. Although the United States banned the slave trade in the early 1800s, slavery in the United States was not abolished until decades later in 1865 when the 13th Amendment was passed, and in South America it was finally ended in Brazil in 1888.
China’s Role in the Age of Exploration
In the East, under the Ming dynasty, Emperor Yongle sent a band of explorers led by “Zheng He” throughout parts of southern Asia, Persia, Arabia and Africa. The crew of over 28,000 men embarked on seven naval expeditions in the Indian Ocean from 1405 to 1423 and, as a result, trade with East Africa began. However, by the 1430s, Mongol raids caused the Chinese to withdraw from exploration for the time being, and instead spend their time and money on defenses such as repairing the Great Wall.
The Ming dynasty thereby retreated from the world stage, mostly in order to strengthen Chinese defenses against Mongol threats. Beijing became the capital of China, and eventually the Ming rulers began to retreat even more completely from the outside world, living in an elaborate Beijing palace known as the “Forbidden City.” When a devastating famine occurred in China, the rulers were living extravagantly in their secluded palace and cared little for the plight of the peasants. The people of China revolted, and in 1644, the Ming Dynasty was replaced with the Qing, made up of the Manchu peoples.
Under the Qing dynasty, marriage between members of the Chinese and Manchurians was forbidden, and the official spoken language remained Chinese. Female infanticide occurred, as well as the practice of binding the feet of rich girls and, increasingly, of middle class girls also. The primary philosophy was Neo-Confucianism, a mixture of Buddhism and traditional Confucianism. Jesuits attempted to evangelize China, but were not very successful. At this time all Catholic liturgical services were required to be in Latin, a language that did not fit well with the very different Chinese culture. Nevertheless, a Jesuit presence in China contributed to the exchange of ideas and technology between the East and the West.
China did not withdraw completely from world trade during the Ming and Qing dynasties. China continued to trade with the Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese and Dutch, mainly for silver, which had become the Chinese currency, and with the Russians for furs. Under the Ming dynasty, beautiful blue and white porcelain was produced and exported. The influence of the Ming vase spread throughout the Muslim and Christian worlds, as seen in Holland through the production of Delft pottery; in England, Wedgwood China became the finest producer of china. Other Chinese exports included silk and tea, and imports consisted of spices, textiles and animal skins from Europe. Maize, sweet potatoes and peanuts were brought over from the Americas and became popular crops in China.
Growth of Nation-States and Monarchs
The development of European nation-states continued throughout the Renaissance and Age of Exploration. In the 1400s and 1500s, the most powerful nation-states were England, France and Spain. The Holy Roman Empire, which consisted of parts of Italy and Germany, was a powerful but declining force. Enemies that weakened the Holy Roman Empire included the Ottoman Muslims and the French, who resisted an expansion by the Holy Roman Empire. The Reformation contributed to the downfall of the Holy Roman Empire, as did the fact that the cultures of Germany and Italy were too different to remain easily within the same empire.
The governments of the European nation-states grew in power by expanding their central authority. They increased bureaucracy, the size of their armies and the amounts of their taxation. The rise of absolutist rulers contributed to the centralization of France, Spain, Austria, Russia and Prussia. The nature of an absolute monarch was expressed well in this famous quote attributed to Louis XIV (1638-1715, King of France since 1643), “L’etat c’est moi!” (“I am the state”). Absolute monarchs controlled all aspects of government and society including the church, the bureaucracy and the military. Absolute monarchs claimed “divine right” to rule, stating that they had been appointed by God Himself and were therefore responsible to God alone. They enjoyed “sovereign immunity” under the view that “the king can do no wrong,” a principle that continues to exist in English and American law today (unless government “waives” its immunity with a law granting limited rights to sue it).
Religious conflict in England between Catholics and Anglicans caused absolutism to fail there. The “Glorious Revolution” (so named by supporters of the Church of England) brought down the Catholic King James II and the idea of divine right along with him, placing William and Mary on the throne in 1688. In France, however, absolutism triumphed until the French Revolution, especially with the reign of Louis XIV, the leading absolute monarch in Europe. The French court at Versailles during the reign of Louis XIV, who called himself the “Sun King,” was considered rich in culture and an example to other societies. Truth be told, it was also extravagant and immoral.
In Spain, Philip II (1527-1598, King of Spain since 1556), who was the great-grandson of Isabella and Ferdinand, worked to keep Spain Catholic, and viewed Elizabeth I of England as his main rival. But his mighty Spanish Armada was defeated by a quicker English fleet in 1588. In 1579, William of Orange led the Netherlands in a revolt against their Spanish masters. These two losses contributed to the weakening of Spanish power.
Meanwhile, artistic pursuits flourished during this period in Spain. El Greco (1541-1614), a painter, architect and sculptor best known for his paintings of saints and martyrs. as well as a stunning drawn image of a storm over a Spanish town (“A View of Toledo”). Diego Velázquez painted portraits of the royal family and scenes from daily life at court. In 1605 Miguel de Cervantes wrote the novel Don Quixote, probably the most influential piece of Spanish literature, and Lope de Vega wrote an estimated 2,000 plays.
In Russia, absolute emperors known as “czars” arose. The first czar of Russia was Ivan IV “the Terrible,” who executed many innocent people during his fearful reign from 1547 to 1584. Ivan was succeeded by his son Feodor, whose repeated failures led Russia into a “Time of Troubles.” In 1613, the first of a long line of Romanov czars, Mikhail Romanov, took the throne. Under Romanov rule, serfs lost almost all of their freedoms. Peter the Great, another Romanov who ruled Russia from 1682 to 1696, instituted sweeping reforms in Russian government and society. He built St. Petersburg and tried to make European traditions a part of Russia. In the Great Northern War against Sweden, new territories were gained. Other absolutist rulers arose, such as the Hapsburg Empress Maria Theresa in Austria, and the Hohenzollern Frederick the Great from Prussia. These two rulers clashed in the War of the Austrian Succession, during which Frederick won the territory of Silesia.
Europeans during this era desired a “balance of power” that would prevent any single nation from becoming most powerful. The expression of this idea was seen in the intense competition and warfare between the various European nations for control in Europe, especially with the Thirty Years’ War. The war initially began as a religious conflict in Germany between Bohemian Protestants and Hapsburg Catholics in 1618. Specifically, on May 23, 1618, two government officials were convicted of violating religious freedom, and were tossed out of a window of Prague Castle as their punishment. This "Defenestration of Prague" started the Bohemian (Protestant) resistance against Hapsburg (Catholic) rule, igniting the Thirty Years' War.
The Thirty Years' War soon became a political conflict for power that involved Spain, Holland, Denmark, France, Switzerland and The Holy Roman Empire. The Treaty of Westphalia finally marked the end of the Thirty Years’ War in 1648 (30 years after 1618). The war significantly weakened Germany and the Holy Roman Empire, as well as Austria and Spain. Although France was largely a Catholic country, it had chosen the side of the winning Protestants in order to oppose the Holy Roman Empire, and France emerged strengthened and more unified as a result.
The Scientific Revolution
A remarkable Polish scientist named Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543) made a stunning claim that rocked the religious and scientific world: he asserted that the earth revolved around the sun, not the sun around the earth. “Finally we shall place the Sun himself at the center of the Universe. All this is suggested by the systematic procession of events and the harmony of the whole Universe, if only we face the facts, as they say, ‘with both eyes open.’” With this bold declaration, Copernicus began the “Scientific Revolution,” which rejected geocentric (earth-centered) theory of the universe dating back over a thousand years to Ptolemy.
Copernicus worked for years on his book describing his theory, and did not publish it until near the very end of his life. He entitled it, “De revolutionibus orbium coelestium” (“On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres”), and published it in 1543. The work was far from perfect: Copernicus assumed that the planets moved in circular revolutions (they actually revolve in ellipses, though the orbit of the earth is nearly circular), and Copernicus also thought that the sun stood motionless as some kind of stationery fixture in the universe (the sun actually moves rapidly too). He mistakenly thought the sun was at the center of the universe. A diagram from his book displaying circular planetary orbits around the sun is to the right.
The reception to his work was initially positive within the Catholic Church, which Copernicus served, but to Protestants it conflicted with literal interpretations of the Bible, such as the account of how Joshua benefited from the sun standing still as it passed over the earth. “And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed, until the people had avenged themselves upon their enemies. Is not this written in the book of Jasher? So the sun stood still in the midst of heaven, and hasted not to go down about a whole day.” There were few Protestants in Poland then (and now), and thus Copernicus died without much controversy.
Johannes Kepler (1571-1630), a Protestant in Germany, built on Copernicus’s work and discovered that planets orbited the sun in ellipses rather than circular orbits. Kepler was a brilliant mathematician, astronomer and devout Christian who cited God many times in all of his writings. He felt it was his Christian duty to understand the creation by God of the universe. He also felt that man, being in the image of God, was fully capable of understanding the universe. Like Plato and Pythagoras, Kepler felt that God must have created the universe according to a mathematical plan.
Galileo (1564-1642) was a contemporary of Kepler who lived in Catholic Italy. Galileo was not as bright as Kepler or Copernicus, and was a bit of an entertaining showman who made a lively party guest. He taught geometry to medical students so that they could use astronomy and astrology in the practice of medicine! Galileo’s primary scientific contribution was his improvement on the telescope in order to view celestial bodies.
But by this time the Catholic Church was in a deadly struggle with Protestantism, which was critical of Copernicus’s theory of the earth revolving around the sun. Wars were being fought and soldiers were dying over religious differences. In 1616, the Catholic Church officially prohibited teaching Copernicus’s theory as fact, although there was no objection to learning it as a mathematical theory. Galileo, however, felt Copernicus was correct and wanted to teach his theory. He had met with Pope Urban VIII on numerous occasions and felt that the Church would not object to Galileo’s publishing the Copernican theory about the universe.
There was no right of free speech in Italy at that time, and in 1632 Galileo published a work called “Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief Systems of the World - Ptolemaic and Copernican” containing Galileo's claim that he had approval of the Catholic Church (an “imprimatur”). Buyers and readers of the book were led to believe that Galileo’s views reflected the official views of the Church, when they did not. Galileo had received permission from a local cleric in Florence, but not from Church authorities in Rome, which would have been required for a work of that significance. Moreover, the Church authorities in Rome felt that Galileo knew that he was prohibited from claiming that the Church supported the Copernican view. This would be like a government official releasing a key military secret with the approval of his boss, but without the higher-level approval that would obviously be required for something extremely significant.
Galileo also angered Church officials in the way that his book mocked opponents of the Copernican system. His “dialogue” was between a fictional Salviati, who supported the Copernican system, and an Aristotelian philosopher given the unflattering name “Simplicio”. The simpled-minded “Simplicio” was made to look like the pope himself, and was mocked in the book for his skepticism about the Copernican system.
In the book’s climax, Salviati supposedly proves the Copernican system by citing the movement of the tides. This theory of Galileo’s was completely false and had already been disproved by Kepler.
Catholic Church officials were furious about this book and the Inquisition banned its sale. Galileo was summoned to Rome. Unlike Luther, Galileo remained a Catholic and fully accepted whatever judgment the Church would render against him. His “trial” was a bit of a farce, probably put on for show more than anything, with Galileo living in plush quarters at all times. At the end of the trial Galileo was required to live in a house where the Church could keep an eye on him, much as the American government interned Japanese Americans during World War II to keep an eye on them. Galileo was not imprisoned. Galileo then continued his scientific work but was kept from embarrassing the Church further. Galileo never split from the Church and completely accepted his punishment.
There were other noteworthy scientists during this era. Vesalius advanced the understanding of anatomy for medical doctors. William Harvey explained the circulatory system in human anatomy. Rene Descartes was a French mathematician and philosopher who discovered analytical geometry and famously declared, “I think, therefore I am.” Francis Bacon promoted research based on experimentation.
In England there was Sir Isaac Newton (1643-1727), who after Jesus Christ was perhaps the most influential man who ever lived. If Newton were alive today, then he would be described as a Christian fundamentalist. Everything Newton did was inspired and motivated by his powerful faith in the Word of God in the Bible. Abandoned by his own mother, Newton had an inferiority complex that drove him to achieve more and more. In one summer he discovered the laws of gravity and also calculus, and the world has never been the same since.
Like most other men who made great advances in knowledge, Newton discovered and explained something that was unseen: the invisible force of gravity. Newton proposed action-at-a-distance, whereby one object attracts another through an invisible force of gravity. Newton was ridiculed for proposing that something unseen could act at a distance and influence something else millions of miles away from it. Yet Newton was right. Speaking of the world in which we live, Newton once said, “Why not try to understand it?” Newton understood it and explained it to the rest of us, and we are forever grateful.
A German contemporary of Newton, Gottfried Leibniz, deserves mention. Like Newton, Leibniz was a devout Christian. In fact, Leibniz was a Lutheran who dreamed of reuniting that denomination with the Catholic Church. Leibniz was also a brilliant mathematician who developed calculus independent of Newton. It was Leibniz, not Newton, who first published the notation for the integral: But an ugly dispute developed between Newton and Leibniz over who discovered calculus first. Most English-speaking historians give the credit to Newton, but bias may play a role in that. Regardless, the world benefited immensely from Leibniz as well as Newton.
The “Enlightenment” was a philosophical movement in the 1700s that emphasized an intellectual approach rejecting traditional social, political and (sometimes) religious views. Philosophers in the Enlightenment felt that breakthroughs in science, such as Isaac Newton’s discoveries, could be duplicated in other fields through a systematic and logical approach. However, Newton’s breakthroughs were inspired by his Christian faith, while some of the Enlightenment thinkers rejected and even criticized Christianity. There were Enlightenment philosophers in England, France and even the American colonies. There were stunning new works in classical music, and the arts flourished in what is known as the neo-classical period.
Notice a bias in the term “Enlightenment” itself. The term makes it appear that people, some who rejected religion, became enlightened compared to their ignorant ancestors. In fact, the achievements of the so-called “Enlightenment” movement were not any greater than other movements and periods in history, and there are valid criticisms of the Enlightenment.
Frenchman Voltaire (1694-1778) was a leading philosopher in the Enlightenment, advocating freedom everywhere and emphasizing his form of reason. He wrote The Candide, in which Voltaire described many bad things that happen to Candide, in order to make the point that the world could be a better place. Increased freedom was Voltaire’s way of improving things. His ideas later formed the basis of the French Revolution, when many innocent people (including the French royalty and much of the aristocracy) were murdered and churches were destroyed amid a reign of terror.
Englishman John Locke (1632-1704) was the leading political philosopher, whose ideas helped the American colonists form a new government. Locke described society as a contract between an individual and society. This was a radical concept at a time when monarchs and the divine right of kings was the controlling theory. Locke’s view helped lay the foundation for the constitutional government that we use in the United States. Locke built on the prior work of Englishmen Francis Bacon and Thomas Hobbes.
Sir William Blackstone (1723-1780) was the leading legal authority on English law, upon which much American law is based. Law students in America hear about him frequently in law school. In The Rights of Englishmen, Blackstone described the source of the rights of the people.
Frenchman Charles-Louis Baron de Montesquieu (1689-1755) proposed the concept of separation of powers, and checks and balances, in government. This inspired key parts of the United States Constitution. His book, The Spirit of the Laws, explained essential aspects of good government that became enormously influential.
Another Frenchman, Denis Diderot (1713-1784), contributed to literature, speculated on free will and attachment to material things, and edited an encyclopedia of scientific and social knowledge known simply as Encyclopedia (in French: Encyclopédie).
Swiss-born political philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) wrote several controversial works. He felt that politics and morality could not be separated, and that the will of the majority was not always correct. Many Americans today would agree with that view. However, Rousseau also criticized private property, and laid the groundwork for future communist writers such as Karl Marx. Rousseau declared that government’s goal should be to provide freedom, equality and justice. But in real life, freedom often results in inequality.
Irishman Edmund Burke (1729-1797) was in the British parliament when the conflict with the American colonies occurred, and he sided with the colonies, making him a hero to many in America. He is also considered to be the world’s first political conservative, and many conservatives today praise him for that reason. His works included Inquiries into the Sublime and Beautiful (defending the American colonies and examining how people interpret what they see) and Reflections on the Revolution in France (warning, even while everyone else praised the French Revolution, how they were all wrong and how bad the French Revolution was because a few would gain control and abuse their power). What was striking about Burke was that he was almost always right in his political assessments and predictions.
The Scotsman David Hume (1711-1776) was a philosopher and historian who promoted materialism and naturalism rather than spirituality. He was a “skeptic” (non-believer) towards religion, and he penned A Treatise on Human Nature. He quipped, “You can tell what is inside a person’s soul by what comes out if it.” Hume is considered the greatest philosopher to write in English, but that is only because there were so few good English philosophers. Hume has been criticized for his atheistic approach and his chief claim to fame is that Charles Darwin declared Hume to have been his central influence. “Darwin’s bulldog,” Thomas Henry Huxley, also relied on Hume’s philosophy. Hume believed in relativism rather than absolute truth, and that not even what God creates has absolute beauty: “Beauty in things exists merely in the mind which contemplates them,” Hume declared.
The German Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) was one of the most famous philosophers ever. In his “A Critique of Pure Reason,” Kant criticizes pure reason as a guide to life. Kant may not have been a Christian himself, but he considered Christian values to be the best values in the world. Kant also established a systematic basis for critical philosophy and suggested a material origin for the solar system. Kant’s own suggestion for a moral daily life was this: don’t do something which, if everyone did it, then the outcome would be bad. Expressed another way, an act is moral only if it works as a rule for everyone. For example, littering would be wrong because if everyone did it, then there would be an ugly mess. Kant is taught in all college philosophy departments to this day.
Finally, let’s recognize American contributions during the Enlightenment. The greatest works about government were created by the Founding Fathers. These works include the Declaration of Independence (1776) with its statement of inalienable rights and a right to break the social contract with a ruler when he (the king) violates natural rights. The United States Constitution (1787) gave the world a masterful design for government. The Federalist Papers (1788), and particularly articles by Alexander Hamilton and James Madison (most notably No. 10), were also significant.
Just as Isaac Newton’s discovery and explanation of the unseen force of gravity was a brilliant insight in science, Adam Smith of Scotland discovered a powerful unseen force in economics known as the “invisible hand.” If government allows free enterprise to flourish on its own, without interference by government, then an “invisible hand” harnesses the power of self-interest for the overall good of society. Companies are guided by this “invisible hand” to work in a way that is beneficial to others, and the overall wealth and progress of society will increase. This is what Adam Smith wrote in the influential The Wealth of Nations, published in the same year as the Declaration of Independence in America: 1776. Adam Smith’s book is still considered the world’s greatest economics masterpiece. He explained how the basis of wealth is found in a free economy with an unregulated exchange of goods, whereby the supply of goods and services responds in an efficient way to the demand of the public without government intervention. Smith advocated the concept of laissez faire, which means “allow to do” or, more simply, “hands off” by government. Ironically, homeschooling in New Jersey (and a few other states) is an activity that most resembles Adam Smith’s ideal of an unregulated market. Let’s defend this lack of regulation of homeschooling while we can!
“Capitalism” became the prevailing economic theory in Britain as a result of the insights of Adam Smith and others. The Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines capitalism as follows: “an economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods, by investments that are determined by private decision, and by prices, production, and the distribution of goods that are determined mainly by competition in a free market.” Britain quickly became the largest and greatest empire in the history of the world as a result of its adherence to this superior economic system. The British empire was larger than even the Mongol empire, except that the British empire was not "contiguous" on land, but included faraway places like Australia and India.
A related economic theory known as “mercantilism” also became popular. Mercantilism was a policy for a nation (such as Britain) to increase its own national wealth based on trade with other nations and territories. Under mercantilism, a nation should accumulate gold by exporting more goods than it imported, and by using colonies (such as the English colonies in America) to ship raw materials to the mother country that could be manufactured and exported to other peoples. Another key component of mercantilism was establishing foreign trading monopolies that would have unfair advantages over competitors in other countries. One such British monopoly was the East Indian Tea Company, and its unfair business advantage caused the colonists in Boston to revolt in the form of the Boston Tea Party.
While Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” was positive in almost every way, “mercantilism” did have a dark side: exploitation of colonies for the benefit of the mother country.
Adam Smith did not invent capitalism, but gave it a powerful intellectual justification. In 1607 -- over 150 years before Adam Smith -- capitalism had already played a prominent role in the first settlement of North America at Jamestown, which was funded by a joint-stock company (a privately owned company having a structure similar to the corporations of today). Joint-stock companies or corporations were (and are) a form of capitalism; decisions are made privately by those acting on behalf of the owners, without any direct control by government.
- See Essay:Best New Conservative Words.
- Some describe the Hebrew alphabet, without vowels, as having only 22 characters, but modern Hebrew (spoken by a few million people) has more characters than English. See http://www.omniglot.com/writing/hebrew.htm .
- See Barbara Wallraff, “What Global Language?” 286 Atlantic Monthly No. 5, at 52 (Nov. 2000) (noting that “English is the working language of the Asian trade group ASEAN” and is also “the official language of the European Central Bank”).
- Joshua 10:13.
- This internment during wartime was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in Korematsu v. United States, but is controversial today.
- David Hume’s Essays, Moral and Political (1742).