"Would it promote the peace of the community, or the stability of the government to have half a dozen men who had had credit enough to be raised to the seat of the supreme magistracy, wandering among the people like discontented ghosts, and sighing for a place which they were destined never more to possess?"

- Alexander Hamilton, speaking of ex-presidents
How the West Won, by Rodney Stark

Even some Catholic writers parrot the claim that it was not until modern times that the Roman Catholic Church repudiated slavery. Nonsense! As seen in chapter 6, the Church took the lead in outlawing slavery in Europe, and Thomas Aquinas formulated the definitive antislavery position in the thirteenth century. A series of popes upheld Aquinas' position. First, in 1435, Pope Eugene IV threatened excommunication for those who were attempting to enslave the indigenous population of the Canary Islands. Then, in 1537, Pope Paul III issued three major pronouncements against slavery, aimed at preventing enslavement of Indians and Africans in the New World....

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the rise of science is not that the early scientists searched for natural laws, confident that they existed, but that they found them. It thus could be said that the proposition that the universe had an Intelligent Designer is the most fundamental of all scientific theories and that it has been successfully put to empirical tests again and again. For, as Albert Einstein once remarked, the most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible: "A priori one should expect a chaotic world which cannot be grasped by the mind in any way.... That is the 'miracle' which is constantly being reinforced as our knowledge expands." And that is the "miracle" that testifies to a creation guided by intention and rationality."

Our friend Anthony Sacramone of Strange Herring was kind enough to send me a copy of Rodney Stark's How the West Won (published by his employer, the Intercollegiate Studies Institute) during my convalescence. Gradually I found bits of time in which to read it, and I'll review it briefly, though the excerpts above should give you a good idea of the whole thing. If you've read Stark's God's Battalions, you'll know what to expect -- a take-no-prisoners re-evaluation of conventional wisdom, with most of the things you've been told about history rejected.

Stark's premise is fairly simple -- progress comes, not from great empires, but from diversity of culture and maximum human freedom. One particular claim that will shock many is that the Roman Empire did almost nothing for human progress, except for the invention of concrete and the adoption of Christianity. Instead, Stark praises the Middle Ages, when invention and entrepreneurship were once again liberated to strive for new things.

I don't know if Stark is a Catholic, but he writes like a Catholic and doesn't have high praise for the Reformation. In spite of that, I liked this book very much. I suspect you will too, if you're a conservative and a Christian. If you're not, you'll probably want to throw it across the room.


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Comments on "How the West Won, by Rodney Stark":
1. Julie Davis - 03/12/2014 1:18 pm EDT

Rodney Stark isn't Catholic (or so I've been told by Mike Aquilina, who IS Catholic and loves Stark's books). Which makes his books all the more fascinating to me (it's always nice when someone from the other team is giving high praise to your side). :-)

2. Ori - 03/13/2014 10:09 am EDT

I liked this book very much. I suspect you will too, if you're a conservative and a Christian. If you're not, you'll probably want to throw it across the room.

Any idea what will happen if the reader is a conservative and not a Christian? I wouldn't want to throw my tablet on the wall ;-) .

3. Lars Walker - 03/13/2014 10:17 am EDT

I should have thought of that. But I have an excuse; I'm a graduate student.

You'll like it.

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