Saturday, 14 September 2013
The Discovery Of The Past II
a Navajo herdsman;
an Australian bushman;
a Yankee capitalist;
a European socialist;
a Confucian scholar;
an Islamic warrior -
- and argues that we can learn about humanity from all of them, as indeed we can. Do all of these different characters even belong to the same species? (They display more diversity than many fictional aliens.) Yes, they do, but only because it is a dynamic and diverse species. On the one hand, a baby born in any one of these societies could have been abducted at birth and brought up in any of the others, learning the appropriate language, dialect, attitudes, values, beliefs and skills. On the other hand, it is human beings that have built the societies. So we are both plastic and creative.
Anderson writes that, instead of the Roman Empire merely expanding, stagnating or falling into ruin:
"A heretical offshoot of the religion of a subjugated people, afar in the corner of the Mediterranean ambit, took over Romans and barbarians alike, completely transforming them and breeding new, utterly different civilizations." (p. 190)
I would not put it like that. My account would be:
slave-owning society collapsed;
feudalism grew in its ruins;
trade and mercantile wealth grew within feudalism until they overthrew it, releasing previously unsuspected productive capacities that are still being developed.
Which religion from the Roman Empire managed to provide an ideology for these social changes was a secondary matter - although, as a matter of fact, it was Jewish monotheism freed from the Jewish Law, with a single perfect sacrifice replacing repeated animal sacrifices, that answered the need for a historically new revelation and universal faith far better than the men-only Mystery of Mithras, despite Roman soldiers bearing the latter to the farthest frontiers of the Empire.