Sunday, September 13, 2009

Fjordman: Europe and Human Accomplishment

Fjordman’s latest essay, “Europe and Human Accomplishment”, has been published in the Brussels Journal. Some excerpts are below:

In the 2003 book Human Accomplishment: The Pursuit of Excellence in the Arts and Sciences, 800 B.C. to 1950, the American political scientist Charles Murray attempts to quantify the accomplishments of individuals worldwide in arts and sciences by calculating and ranking the space allocated to them in important reference works. He reserves a number of categories such as Arabic literature, Indian philosophy and Chinese art for non-Western peoples, with Du Fu’s (AD 712-770) and Li Bai’s (AD 701-762) poetry ranking highest in Chinese literature, Sesshu’s (AD 1420-1506) paintings or the haiku poetry of Matsuo Basho (1644-1694) topping the list in Japan, Kalidasa’s (fifth century AD?) plays and poetry in India and al-Mutanabbi’s (AD 915-965) Arabic poetry at the top of the list in the Arabic ranking.

Murray finds that almost all important scientific and technological advances in the modern world until the mid-twentieth century were made by Europeans or their descendants overseas. The most prominent city figuring in the lists of achievers is Paris. France is tied with Britain and Germany as the leading nations in producing major figures in the arts and sciences, with Italy fourth and other European nations such as Austria, Russia, the Netherlands, Belgium, the Scandinavian countries, Switzerland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Spain or Ireland trailing behind.

Murray’s work isn’t flawless. Nevertheless, while you can argue that a certain individual is ranked too high or too low or that a handful of people might be included here and there, this doesn’t do much to change the basic conclusion: The lists of human achievement, especially in the sciences, are heavily dominated by those widely denounced today as Dead White Males, for they are almost all men from Europe or Europe’s offspring overseas. For good or bad, people of European origins largely created the modern world. You can certainly find great achievements such as the spectacular mountainous Inca city of Machu Picchu in Peru, or the magnificent Angkor Wat temple complex in Cambodia in Southeast Asia, yet as Charles Murray writes:

“Evidence scattered from Angkor Wat to Machu Picchu attests to the ability of human beings throughout the globe, not confined to the leading civilizations, to achieve amazing technological feats. And yet, and yet….Modern Europe has overwhelmingly dominated accomplishment in both the arts and sciences. The estimates of the European contribution are robust. They cannot, in any way I have been able to devise, be attenuated more than fractionally. As I write, it appears that Europe’s run is over. In another few hundred years, books will probably be exploring the reasons why some completely different part of the world became the locus of great human accomplishment. Now is a good time to stand back in admiration. What the human species is today owes in astonishing degree to what was accomplished in just half a dozen centuries by the peoples of one small portion of the northwestern Eurasian land mass. Not only does Europe dominate the narrative of human accomplishment, so does the minority that has become known in recent years as dead white males.”

Murray is considered controversial by some people because he supports the thesis that intelligence, measured in IQ, is not equally distributed among all nations and peoples; it is higher among Europeans and East Asians than others, and highest among Ashkenazi Jews. During the past 200 years, Jews have left their mark vastly disproportionate to their numbers. It is difficult to estimate how much the state-sponsored extermination of most of European Jewry by the Nazis in the 1940s has hurt Europe, not just morally and culturally but probably economically as well. This does not mean that Mr. Murray believes that IQ is the only significant variable. Far from it.
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Christianity played an important part in this, too. As Murray writes, “It was a theology that empowered the individual acting as an individual as no other philosophy or religion had ever done before. The potentially revolutionary message was realized more completely in one part of Christendom, the Catholic West, than in the Orthodox East. The crucial difference was that Roman Catholicism developed a philosophical and artistic humanism typified, and to a great degree engendered, by Thomas Aquinas (1226-1274). Aquinas made the case, eventually adopted by the Church, that human intelligence is a gift from God, and that to apply human intelligence to understanding the world is not an affront to God but is pleasing to him.”

Charles Murray argues that Christianity was an important variable, not that it explains everything. He does not say that it is impossible to find purpose in a secular life and achieve great accomplishments, only that it is harder to do so. It is here that Christianity has its most potent advantage: devotion to God trumps devotion to most human causes. Even the greatest of talents have to spend a lot of time and work on practice and on absorbing external impulses. From Michelangelo to Beethoven, the willingness to engage in such monomaniacal levels of effort is related to a sense of vocation. Consequently, a person with a strong sense that “I was put here on Earth to do exactly this” is more likely to accomplish great things than someone who lacks such a sense of purpose. By this Murray means a transcendental element, something more important than the here and now. Those accomplishing great achievements are not necessarily indifferent to worldly motives like money, power, fame and glory, but the giants often had a strong feeling that their lives had a purpose, a feeling they had even before they had achieved anything substantial.

The Enlightenment’s passionate commitment to reason was close to religious, yet after Freud, Nietzsche and others with similar messages, the belief in man as a rational being took a body blow. It became fashionable in Europe at the turn of the twentieth century to see humans as unwittingly acting out neuroses and subconscious drives. God was mostly dead among the European creative elites at this time. Such beliefs undermined the belief of the creative elites that their lives had purpose or that their talents could be efficacious. Murray believes that the twentieth century witnessed a decline in per capita accomplishment, as intellectuals rejected religion. He expects that almost no art from the second half of this century will be remembered 200 years from now. It’s a challenge for democratic societies to keep up standards of excellence when there is an obsession with making everyone equal. He has noticed that young Europeans no longer take pride in their scientific and artistic legacy; attempts to point this out to them will typically be met with pessimism and a sense that European civilization is evil and cursed. The decline of accomplishment in Europe, once the homeland par excellence of geniuses, was in all likelihood initially caused by loss of self-confidence and a sense of purpose.

Maybe belief in a higher purpose is necessary for the creation of true greatness. Achievements that outlast the lifespan of a single human being are generated out of respect for something greater than the individual. Many Europeans no longer experience themselves as part of a wider community with a past worth preserving and a future worth fighting for, which is perhaps why they see no point in reproducing themselves. Europe in the past believed in itself, its culture, its nations and above all its religion and produced Michelangelo, Descartes and Newton. Europe at the turn of the twenty-first century believes in virtually nothing of lasting value and so produces virtually nothing of lasting value. It remains to be seen whether this trend can be reversed.

Read the rest at the Brussels Journal.


Fjordman said...

Thank you for posting. I am preparing a longer post within a week or so about why Europeans created the modern world where I will analyze in parallel the geography-focused book Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond and the IQ-and-evolution-focused book Understanding Human History by Michael Hart.

There are quite a few things that cannot be explained by IQ. For instance, it cannot explain the weakness and suicidal behavior of white Westerners these days. For having such a high average IQ we sure can act like idiots. If the Chinese and other East Asians replace the West as the leading global civilization, which is a real possibility, it will be to a significant extent because they have acted more rationally in accordance with their own interests in recent generations than we have.

What IQ also doesn't explain is why it was Europeans, not East Asians, who created modern science, despite the fact that the latter have at least as high average IQ. I see several possibilities. One is a genetic one where you state that progress is primarily driven by geniuses, not by the mean IQ, although this matters, too. If whites have a greater standard deviation than Asians we will have more geniuses than them but also more stupid people, which presents another set of challenges.

Another possible explanation is that once you have reached a certain threshold IQ, for instance 100 as many European peoples typically have, many other factors such as political system, tax rate, education system, religion, work ethic etc. come into play as well.

People with an IQ of 78 cannot create major scientific advances no matter what political system they live in. People with an IQ of 105 will always have a greater potential for making technological advances, but to what extent this potential is realized depends on political, cultural and economic factors. The stark difference between North and South Korea today is not caused by IQ.

According to this perspective, the reason why Europeans outperformed East Asians during the early modern period is that we did better than them in areas such as freethinking and political liberty. These two different explanations are not necessarily mutually exclusive.

Even if it is true that white Westerners created modern organized science, which we did, this does not give us any natural right to maintain a leading position in the future. Right now we're stupid and irrational. I don't see any reason why we should learn anything from Muslims, who only create backward and failed societies, anyway, but we may have a thing or two to learn from East Asians. They can create technologically sophisticated nations without committing cultural suicide, something which we currently seem incapable of doing. I don't see why we should export Western Feminism to other countries as Feminism has ruined Western families and marriages. And frankly, our political system isn't working too well these days, so what gives us the right to impose it on other countries?

In short, what did we do right before, and what are we doing wrong now? How did we go from being the planet's leading civilization to being the global laughing stock we are now? And how did we go from being a civilization committed to reason to having the most irrational culture on the planet? That's the big question of our time.

laine said...

At least in the case of China, there is a risk of overestimating their abilities with their particular combination of a slightly higher IQ plus more directive culture.

Frankly, they have stolen much of their technological know how from the West, not invented it in parallel with them. There are literally thousands of hostile agents in North America presently committing both political and industrial espionage. It was the same short cut with the Soviet Union.

There's also the additional factor in both cases of Westerners giving of their expertise whether legally, voluntarily, treasonously, for a legitimate salary etc. resulting in otherwise moribund communist economies getting a flying start to improvement.

Who helped the West in a comparable fashion by giving them hard won highly advanced technological secrets?

The fact remains, whites in smaller numbers and with their "inferior" IQ did better. In addition, at the West's zenith, they provided the most humane decent life to the greatest number of people. It remains to be seen whether Indo culture with its inhumane caste system and the Chinese with their love of totalitarianism can ever say the same. I very much doubt it.

My prediction is that many of America's worst critics will look back on the days of Pax American with wistful longing some day in the not too distant and foreboding future.

Monsieur Calguès said...

Another excellent piece, Fjordman! I don't know how you find the time to write all these columns. You must either be a polymath or a retired old geezer with lots of free time. :-) Thanks again for standing up for our magnificent race (excluding the evil white communists) and pointing out that no one but US could have done the things we did.

Dymphna said...

a reader sent this via email since he can't figure out how to use the comment section.

It is a good comment so I'm sharing it here:

(Long-time reader. I'd post this in the comments section, but I have yet to figure out how to register to comment on Blogspot.)

About Fjordman's latest essay: Murray notes "Modern Europe has overwhelmingly dominated accomplishment in both the arts and sciences." No surprise. Paul Kennedy points out why in the introduction to his Rise and Fall of the Great Powers. Of the Great Powers he examines starting around 1500 -- China, Russia, the Ottoman Empire, the Moghul Empire in India, japan, and Europe -- all but Europe developed an empire-spanning bureaucracy that above all treasured stability. In their quest for stability, bureaucracies smother innovation. Europe, however, remained a collection of independent nation-states, all throwing elbows and constantly seeking an edge over each other. In short, competition fueled the development of ideas. Harness that later with capitalism, and the scientific and technical innovation Murray mentions takes off, while the rest of the world, held back by societies that place no value on change, are left further and further behind.

"Young Europeans no longer take pride in their scientific and artistic legacy." What's happening in Europe today is the rise of a smothering bureaucracy in the form of the EU. I assert that the rise of trans-European bureacracy after WW2 is why Europe no longer leads the world in innovation. The European citizenry are being turned into quiet, malleable proles. Soon, they will be as innovative as Ming China or Tokugawa Japan.

And the same awaits the US if the American Left has its way

mace said...


I doubt if average IQ is at all relevant as an explanation of European accomplishments.
Classical European civilization produced some of the greatest intellects in history,however,neither the Greek or Roman civilizations industrialized. Why? Slavery,an intellectual bias against practical science and the lack of a capitalist economy have all been suggested as negative factors. If the Roman Empire had survived, there would have been no enlightenment or scientific revolution, Western civilization would have been no more advanced than Imperial China in the 19th century. In my opinion, Western civilization is superior to all others,however we need to consider the historical record. The rise of Christianity,the barbarian invasions,the threat of Islam and a thousand other factors played a part in the rise of Western power,it was all just plain, simple luck.If Charles Martel had lost the battle of Tours,European "intellectual" levels would have been similar to those of 18th century Egypt.


Monsieur Calguès!

"...and pointing out that no one but US could have done the things we did."

Is this a pompous and ambigous statement by a chauvinistic, selfimportent, christian(?) warrior dreaming about a Mushroom Cloud over Mecca?

Without European (German!) fission scientists no Manhattan projekt, without Werner von Braun et all no Man on the Moon. And before Edison and General Electric, which were your contributions? Culturally, however, you since the end of WW2 certaimly have enriched the world, with the help of pioneers like Hugh Hefner, Robert McGinley, Annabel Chong etc.
Grass, cash, ass and full swap -- Mahoundians, however, are denied to have four 'wifes' to coitate.
Are the US a nation inundated by sanctimonious hypocrites?
Although not money solely but orgasms seem to rule the modern world.

Zylark said...

I think the current paradigm is much a reaction to the atroceties of WW2. We've bounced from one extreme to another. A sort of collective feeling of guilt. Nazi and fascist movements was pretty strong in most european countries prior to WW2. These glorified their own culture, at the expense of other cultures.

From then on, having pride in European culture have been a big no-no.

But putting an equal sign between having pride in ones European heritage, and fascism/nazism is at best a gross simplification, at worst a vile lie.

Fascism and nazism, was cultural radicalism. It was about transforming national culture from liberal democracies to romantic ideals of a glorious past reintroduced as a project for a glorious future. As in Italian fascisms project of making the mediterannian into once again an Italian sea, and coastal land surrounding it to Italian colonies. As it was under the Roman empire.

Such radicalism is miles from the Islam-critical cultural conservatism. To preserve our culture in the face of another cultural radical movement, multiculturalism and relativism, have very little to do with fascist ideals. On the contrary. The western allied powers in WW2 were cultural conservatives. They wanted to protect our culture. Not change it.

Todays cultural radicals, are just as subversive and dangerous to European liberal culture, as the cultural relativist of the run up to WW2 was. If not more so. Todays radicals, have the cloak of decency. They speak of tolerance, not intolerance. Of inclusion and sharing, not exclusion and deprivation.

In practice though, the ideals they claim to hold, are belied by the results their policies produce.

We've gone from one extreme to the other. From trying to realize romantic myths of former greatness, to trying to realize romantic myths of all cultures living in peace, at the cost of our own.

But the times they are changing. We will find back to our roots. Europe is a lot of things, but self-annihilating we are not. Our elites currently are, but that is their problem.

Though I fear the backlash will not happen entirely by peacefull means, it will happen. Of that I am certain. The resistance is growing as the problems of the current culture-radicalism becomes more apparant. At some point, enough is enough.

The earlier it happens, the more peacefull it will be. Like in Denmark. The later it happens, the more oppressed the resistance is, the more violent it will be. Like in the UK and Sweden, two countries I fear will explode into massive violence as the resistance gain viable traction.

I think our multiculturalist politicians, and the islamic wingnuts that are protected by them, are somewhat premature in their dreams of staying in power until the end of time.

Already we see islamists distancing themselves from their enablers, thinking they got enough power to stand on their own two feet...

I think they lack the power of imagination, and not least insight into European history and psyche.

When the dam burst, not if, they will discover just how efficently ruthless we can be.

European history is a history of conflict, of bloodshed. An evolutionary process where only the most robust ideas have prevailed.

Islam, is not a robust idea. For that it lacks something very crucial, innovation.

Islam have pretty free reigns in europe today for one reason only, we allow it. More correct, our elites allow it.

It won't last much longer.

Zylark said...

Ooooops, an error in my previous post.

I wrote:

Todays cultural radicals, are just as subversive and dangerous to European liberal culture, as the cultural relativist of the run up to WW2 was.


That should read:

Todays cultural radicals, are just as subversive and dangerous to European liberal culture, as the cultural [B]radicals[/B] of the run up to WW2 was.


Sorry 'bout that. Gotta learn to read over posts at least three times before hitting the post button :)

In Hoc Signo Vinces† said...

The idea that the post war situation is the result of a "collective feeling of guilt" over The Shoah goes beyond reason. Would you expect one European to feel guilty for another European killing a man when they are separated by distance and time. It was an evil ideology and a political elite that murdered six million Jews to infer that as Europeans we all carry the guilt is just not rational.

I would say that the notion of a "collective feeling of guilt" has been used as a political tool, but guilt can only belong to the perpetrators and abhorrence to the witness, they are not the same.

Anonymous said...

Most Europeans and European-descended peoples fought against the Third Reich, and millions of us paid the ultimate price in blood for getting rid of it.

Why is it that we must assume the blame for the actions of a regime that most of us fought tooth and nail against? This is the height of PeeCee irrationality.

Old Atlantic Lighthouse said...

Laine is right on the Chinese spies. Joel Brenner head of counter intelligence has commented on their activity here. Thomas C. Reed has written on China's spying to get the bomb secrets from us.


One important “pupil” who paid Fuchs an early visit was Qian Sanqiang. In 1959 Qian was the designated mastermind of Mao’s A-bomb program. In July of that year, Qian made his way to East Germany, where he met with Fuchs at length. (H. Terry Hawkins, now a senior fellow at Los Alamos, told Stillman in 2006, “I read this report in an unclassified publication, that this meeting took place shortly after Fuchs returned to East Germany. Fuchs gave Qian information that greatly assisted the Chinese program.” Also see During those long summer days of 1959, Fuchs gave Qian a full tutorial on the design and operation of Fat Man. In all likelihood, he also added his thoughts on the role of radiation pressure in thermonuclear weapons.

==End quote

Monsieur Calguès said...


Get off your high horse! I said US, 1st person plural, not the U.S. I'm not even American!


I think we can agree that good genetics are a necessary but not sufficient condition for advanced civilizations (since high native intelligence is a necessary but not sufficient condition, and intelligence is %70-80 genetic). Do you believe genetics are at all determinative of political systems?

Lynn and Vanhanen in their book, IQ and the Wealth of Nations, pointed to communism or other forms of government as an explanation for the low living standards that prevailed in East Asia until recently, despite high average IQs. Do you think people of European descent have a unique genetic makeup predisposing them towards Western-style democracy? (I know Singapore and other nations are somewhat democratic, but they are also authoritarian.) Or does genetics have nothing to do with it?

Profitsbeard said...

Philosophy, systematized, and begun from the viewpoint of great individuals (Heraclitus, Pythagoras, Democritus, Socrates/Plato, Aristotle, Epictetus, etc.), gave the Western Mind the decisive edge.

More collectivistic, anti-individual societies tended to diffuse the impulse for ingenuity and creativity and discovery (in the sciences and arts and travel) since it was neither rewarded with fame ("immortality") or wealth (eventually becoming legalized via "patent" and "copyright" laws).

The Mediterranean Sea provided a unique cauldron, or alembic, within which humanity could develop "trade" and its means: seamanship, -and the attendent mechanical advances that promoted these two intertwined aspects of our history.

And this ferment spurred on a healthy tolerance for "other ideas" and other types of human societies.

The intermingling of different languages and values brought about a stronger alloy in the European -as utilizers of thought- than the more isolationist cultures (like walled China, etc.).

The current "failure of nerve" (will, survival instinct, native intelligence, et al) in the West is a RECENT failure to appreciate- and teach- the literal miraculous rise of our Civilization.

Up from a dark, long history of being prey to disease (before Pasteur and Lister, etc.) and ignorance and chaos and theocratic tyrannies (before universal education) which Europe and America have only recently achieved.

People became complacent with the post-WW II comforts and scientific and medical breakthroughs, and have gone into a somnambulistic dream, not grasping that: if you do not replenish the roots of your Culture (though what you convey to your children, almost through a form of Zeitgeist-osmosis, about the worth of that Culture) with heroic 'myths' (from Spartacus, El Cid, Columbus, Franklin, to The White Rose group under the Nazis, or to gain the perspective of an Arthur "The God Who Failed" Koestler or A. Solzhenitsyn's "Ivan Denisovich" under the Communists.), the children will swallow enticing, unchallenged propaganda 'myths' ...ladled out generously, and cunningly, by (the useful idiot enablers of and the openly-declared) enemies of their Culture and Civilization.

The Scientific Method is a staggeringly effective tool, but without the skeptical intellect to wield it, it can be wrenched from the weakening hands of its creators and used against them by those who could never have created these technological gains themselves. But who retain their animal/natural impetus to dominate.

Islam's acquisition (by espionage theft) to the Atomic Bomb is the most demonic example (literally Greek Mythic) of this horrific failure of the West to guard its sacred Promethean flames.

We risk being incinerated with our own Sun of Reason by allowing it to fall into the hands of mocking, nescient Barbarians.

Specifically, the Mohammedans, who scorn Civilization for Slavery and rehect Humanity for the lobotomized hive.

It appears that it will take the loss of at least one Western metropolis ~under a nuclear fireball~ before the sleepwaking West wakes.

That there is no need for it, except to placate the pantywaist multiculture idiotocracy in our midst, is the true Tragedy of our time.

Almost no world leaders (Geert Wilders excepted) have the balls or brains to say (to those who are inviting our Fission Scourging by backward, intolerant, terroristic, misogynistic theocratic crazies):

You are goddamned blind fools.... who will be responsible for millions of our fellow citizens dying needlessly because you fail to understand our self-declared existential enemy, Islam.

We have the skill, but not the Will.


Anonymous said...

The problem with Western Europe come from many causes.
One of these is the propaganda/intellectual war instigated by the Soviet Russia. They financed and directed many leftist to take over the citadels of the power: Universities, Schools, bureaucracy. For example, many leftist in Italy went to law school and then tried to become judges or public prosecutors. Many were able to become so and then manage to persecute their political rivals and leave in peace their political allies.
This is a large reason of "Mani Pulite" scandal in the 1992-93. They arrested and accused the governing coalition and destroyed the parties forming it, but didn't touched the former communists.

They, anyway, failed to completely wipe out the opposition because the people elected and voted, many times, for the Coalition of Mr. Berlusconi.

Sean O'Brian said...

Europe, however, remained a collection of independent nation-states, all throwing elbows and constantly seeking an edge over each other. In short, competition fueled the development of ideas.

This arrangement was largely the result of British attempts to prevent a single power dominating the continent, the principle of London's foreign policy since the days of the first Queen Elizabeth up to the signing of the Treaty of Rome in 1972.