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It’s time for a new history of the world. Every age needs a new history, because every age has its new ideas and new philosophies of how to assemble our story of the past. It is time once again to ask some of the big questions about the story of civilisation. What do we mean by civilisation? And what do we mean by barbarism? I am setting out to take a new look at civilisation, and to re-assess the importance of the Greeks and Romans.
The Trobriand Islands. We begin with anthropology and with the Trobriand Islands in the Western Pacific where, during the First World War, a Polish anthropologist visited the islands and began finding out just how these primitive but successful people worked and functioned, and he began to uncover the mysteries of ‘gift exchange’.
Egypt. We then start off with ancient Egypt, one of the most successful and long lived societies the world has ever seen. Just how did they achieve this long-lived success? And we look at their use of a form of primitive money.The next chapter looks at the Minoans and the workings of a sophisticated “barbarian” society as revealed by Minoan linear B.
The Bible. At the fringes of the Mediterranean, – between the Desert and the sea, there arose the Jewish religion, the source of three of the world’s great religions. Here I sort them out and give the real story behind the evolution of the Jews and the origins of Christianity.
The Greeks. The big change comes with the Greeks: why are the Greeks so important and what is the secret of their innovation? The answer is money; they invented a new form of exchange based on money, and this enabled a huge leap forward in economic success and brought forth a new type of society, with the invention of democracy and history and the theatre. There was a one big exception, which was:
Sparta. Sparta was different. Sparta was the one Greek state that rejected money and produced an entirely different types of society, tough, militaristic, war-like. They won their battles, but produced no art: why?
The Romans. The Romans succeeded where the Greeks failed, and produced one of the world’s the most civilised civilisations. How do they do it? They were late in discovering how to use money properly, yet they fought Hannibal and won. The Romans have a bad press today, but why was it they were so successful?
Augustus. Augustus is a problem – a very big problem. Augustus was one of the greatest men the world has ever seen. He took the dying Roman Republic and turned it into the Roman Empire which provided one of the most prolonged periods of peace and prosperity that the world has ever seen. And he did it by destroying democracy, by turning himself into the supreme ruler of the Roman world. And yet he was extremely successful: what price democracy? Read all about it, and let your hackles rise.
The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. In the third century, inflation hit Rome, and inflation destroyed Rome. And yet at the end of the third century, Diocletian turned Rome from being a civilisation into being a barbarism, and that barbarism was a success – for a while. And then Rome fell, and the barbarians took over. Is our own civilisation going the way of Rome?
Rome’s Margaret Thatcher. In the middle of the fourth century, a Roman emperor looked at Rome, saw it was in decline and decided to do something about it. Like Margaret Thatcher he cut taxes. Like Margaret Thatcher cut back the civil service. And like Margaret Thatcher, he turned away from the ruling philosophy. Margaret Thatcher rejected socialism and the Roman emperor rejected Christianity. His name was Julian the Apostate.
And finally. Click here if you wish to end at the beginning and read my Preface, which will tell you something of the philosophy – the biases if you like, that underlies my history. I have been deeply influenced by the philosophies of Hayek and Milton Friedman: history has for too long been hijacked by the left wing, sub-Marxist leanings of academia. This will be a right-wing counterblast – an attempt to reclaim the centre ground of history.
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On to the Trobriand Islands
16th March 2014