Science and Technology in World History

Monday, July 5, 2010 \PM\.\Mon\.

Technological history is a unique point of view that always caught my eye.  David Deming of the American Thinker gives us a brief synopsis of his latest contribution in this genre.  Keep in mind how integral Christianity was to the recovery of Europe after the barbarian invasions and the safekeeping of knowledge by the monastic system that allowed Europe to recover and blossom into what we now call Western Civilization:

Both Greece and Rome made significant contributions to Western Civilization.  Greek knowledge was ascendant in philosophy, physics, chemistry, medicine, and mathematics for nearly two thousand years.  The Romans did not have the Greek temperament for philosophy and science, but they had a genius for law and civil administration.  The Romans were also great engineers and builders.  They invented concrete, perfected the arch, and constructed roads and bridges that remain in use today.  But neither the Greeks nor the Romans had much appreciation for technology.  As documented in my book, Science and Technology in World History, Vol. 2, the technological society that transformed the world was conceived by Europeans during the Middle Ages.

Greeks and Romans were notorious in their disdain for technology.  Aristotle noted that to be engaged in the mechanical arts was “illiberal and irksome.”  Seneca infamously characterized invention as something fit only for “the meanest slaves.”  The Roman Emperor Vespasian rejected technological innovation for fear it would lead to unemployment.

Greek and Roman economies were built on slavery.  Strabo described the slave market at Delos as capable of handling the sale of 10,000 slaves a day.  With an abundant supply of manual labor, the Romans had little incentive to develop artificial or mechanical power sources. Technical occupations such as blacksmithing came to be associated with the lower classes.

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A Thin Line We Must Walk

Monday, June 15, 2009 \AM\.\Mon\.

Some recent discussions have reinforced my natural disdain for many features of what is derisively called “The Nanny State”. The underlying philosophy of the nanny state, and of the modern liberals that run it, is that the people must be protected from themselves. Instead of viewing individuals as potentially responsible citizens, they seek to deprive them of their dignity as free and moral beings by imposing restrictions on personal behavior.

But there is such a thing as reasonable regulation for the common good. Catholic social teaching has never been libertarian at its core. It has condemned economic liberalism, the doctrine of the “invisible hand” – that the private pursuit of self-interest on the part of each leads necessarily to benefits and prosperity for all. Unlike the atheist Objectivists, we do not believe that selfishness and consumerism are virtues.

We are therefore, as Catholics and citizens, called upon to find a balance between respect for individual liberty and the common good. I am deeply dissatisfied with both lassiez-faire approaches to social problems (including and especially economic problems) and statist paternalism, because in a way they are two different versions of a bad parent.

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Political Philosophy or Ideology?

Saturday, February 14, 2009 \PM\.\Sat\.

While we’re discussing libertarianism and its derivations, Randy Barnett at The Volokh Conspiracy recently flagged a post by a libertarian that I found interesting:

I’ve always found libertarianism to be an attractive political philospohy. But…the libertarian perspective has a couple of traps. The trap Barnett describes is a particularly tough one to get out of: once seduced by a libertarian idea, like “goods and services are produced & distributed more effectively when markets are not interefered with by coercive agents like government”, its apparently obvious correctness turns it into a sort of semantic stop sign.

I went through a phase where if, say, education or healthcare policy came up in conversation, I’d say “Markets! Markets markets markets! MARKETS!” I found these conversations astonishingly unproductive, but I didn’t think to blame myself.

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