I’m about halfway through this book. (It’s over 700 pages, not counting another about 150 of footnotes and bibliography, and info-dense enough it needs to be read in small doses.) But there’s a recurring pattern in the history here I thought people looking at current events might appreciate.
Never underestimate the ability of people in power to double down on stupid.
Granted, the book can’t claim to cover the whole word; there’s very little on Africa or the Americas. But for all of Eurasia in the 1600s? There’s a consistent pattern of those in power gripping harder and harder, demanding ever more power, control, and taxes even as the weather ruined harvests and slaughtered millions with cold, plague, and starvation. The ones that weren’t dying directly due to wars or being murdered by the soldiers billeted on them whether they liked it or not. Because, again, the universal monarch’s response to “other kingdoms around me are in difficulty” was to go to war with them, ignoring the little matter of their own people being broke and starving. Just raise the taxes, that’ll pay for it….
Over and over, we have historical accounts of the people actually on the ground governing, reporting that there was nothing left to pay taxes with. The well was dry. That’s it. And over and over, the monarchs would raise taxes, maybe back off a bit if there was a bloody rebellion, and raise taxes some more.
(I’m currently in the middle of the chapter on France. Impression: Cardinal Richelieu was a brilliant schemer who just hated the Huguenots, and thought a civil war in France to wipe them out was an excellent idea. And if people complained about the taxes that was the finance officers’ problem. You don’t want to know how many finance officers ended up murdered, especially over salt taxes.)
I’m not sure how much history of the 1600s our founding fathers had at their fingertips, but the century is an excellent argument for the Bill of Rights and the principle of solving problems at as low a level of government as humanly possible.
Especially the Second Amendment. Because the more power people at the top have, the less they want to hear the word “no”. Even when what they want is not humanly possible. Especially then, because too often the kind of people who gravitate to and concentrate power are charming, manipulative, socially skilled Cluster B personality disordered thugs, who like nothing better than other people being made to grovel and squirm at their command. And there’s nothing that gets through to them except immediate, inescapable, personal consequences. Such as, oh, being shot.
Mark Twain said history seldom repeats but often rhymes. I think I hear rhyming with the 1600s. This is not a good thing.
Let’s learn from history, and start dragging government problems back down to the local level. Who knows, we might just fix something!