How the scots invented the modern world | Arthur Herman

No Comments

Published in: 2002

Amazon Goodreads

Scottish names stand out on a list of books that dominated European thinking in the late 18th century: Adam Smith’s A Theory of Moral Sentiments and Wealth of Nations, David Hume’s Treatise of Human Nature and Essays Political, Literary and Moral. William Robertson’s History of Scotland and History of the Reign of Charles V. We also have Adam Ferguson’s Essay on the History of Civil Society, John Millar’s’ The Origin of the Distinction of Ranks, and Thomas Reid’s Inquiry into the Human Mind, Francis Hutcheson’s System of Moral Philosophy and Lord Kames’ Sketches of History of Man. The Scots are behind what we now call social sciences: anthropology, ethnography, sociology, psychology, history, and economics. At the end of the 18th century, Scotland had created the basic institutions and ideas that define the modern world.

IN THE GRIP OF THE CHURCH. In Scotland in the 17th century, witches were prosecuted and hanged. One movement, the Latitudinarians, believed that Christianity should be a religion of tolerance, and were open to the new scientific ideas that swept across Europe. They were admirers of England’s two most famous scientists, the chemist Robert Boyle and the mathematician Isaac Newton, and were allied with the Englishman John Locke, whose argument was the basis for the idea of separation of church and state (an influence to England – Act of Toleration from 1689). But Scotland, in the late 17th century, was a nation with hard repressive rules. The compensation for this authoritarian regime was powerful: direct access to God.

THE BACKWARD SIBLING. England and Scotland have been united by history and geography since the fall of the Roman Empire. They were twin kingdoms, born in the same era and from the same forces. Unlike its English counterpart, the Scottish Parliament did not have a long-standing reputation as a forum for public debate or as a defender of citizens’ rights. On the contrary, it had a long and shameful history of submission to royal authority. In 1695, the Scottish ruling class gathered in Edinburgh’s Parliament and decided to do something about it.

TRADE BEGINS WITH FAILURE. Scotland wanted to do as the English had done. Parliament authorized the Darien Company, inspired by the East India Company, to carry on a seaborne trade. In 1696, Parliament approved the use of the company to establish a colony in Panama, on the Isthmus of Darien. Fever broke out and killed settlers at a rate of twelve a day. Filling spread and discipline, divine or otherwise, collapsed. Spain then asserted its right to Darien as part of Panama. Two more failed expeditions were initiated. The Darien venture cost more than 2,000 lives and over 200,000 pounds. In December 1704, the Bank of Scotland ceased payments to creditors.

EDUCATION SAFER THAN THEOLOGY. In the early 18th century, theology was controversial and politically charged, and young intellectuals turned their energies to mathematics, medicine, law, and science. Scottish intellectuals believed that studies of science, medicine, mathematics, and technology were at least as important as literature, philosophy, history, and art.

A SUCESSFUL UNION. Following the Darien fiasco, the dissolution of a separate Scottish Parliament was demanded, which met with strong protests. But instead of becoming slaves to the English, as doomsday prophets predicted, freedom, mobility, and an economic boom followed. By 1755, Scottish exports had more than doubled. For a generation, Scotland was transformed into a modern society. The greatest thinkers of the Scottish Enlightenment, such as Adam Smith and David Hume, learned that change constantly involves trade-offs, and that short-term costs can be offset by long-term benefits. “Over time”, “in balance”, “in general” – became a favorite expression among the illuminated Scots of the 18th century.

HIGHEST LITERACY. In the Catholic Church, the Bible has been a closed book and Scotland entered the 18th century with little literacy. At the end of the 18th century, it was the highest in the world. Reduced censorship created a literary explosion. A national survey in 1795 showed that out of a total population of 1.5 million, almost 20,000 made a living from writing and 10,500 from teaching. In Glasgow, the tuition fee was one tenth of Cambridge or Oxford. More than half of the students at the University of Glasgow 1740–1830 came from middle-class backgrounds.

IRON SHARPENS IRON. Hutcheson believed that the goal of life was happiness, and the highest level of happiness is to make others happy. Self-interest and altruism are intertwined. The Hutchesons influenced students such as Adam Smith, who arrived in Glasgow in 1737. Hume and Kames belonged to the same ecosystem and further freed human nature from theological moorings by saying that morality (and society) comes from human ambitions. They saw people as products of their environment, both in terms of the individual (Hume) and the collective (Kames).

HISTORY AND HUMAN NATURE. The great discovery of the “Scottish school”, which was carried on in the world, is that we are beings of our nature. Even our moral character is constantly evolving, shaped by various forces over which we as individuals have little or no control. At the same time, they insisted that these changes are not arbitrary or chaotic. They are based on certain basic principles and clear patterns.


Tokyo Trial

No Comments

In the wake of World War II, 11 Allied judges are tasked with weighing the fates of Japanese war criminals in a tense international trial. Available on Netflix among other places.


The Unknown Known

No Comments

The Unknown Known (also known as The Unknown Known: The Life and Times of Donald Rumsfeld) is a 2013 American documentary film about the political career of former U.S. Secretary of Defense and congressman Donald Rumsfeld, directed by Academy Award winning documentarian and filmmaker Errol Morris. The film is a summary of 33 hours of interviews that Morris conducted with Rumsfeld over eleven separate sessions during visits to Newton, Massachusetts. Available on Youtube, among other places.



No Comments

In 1977, three years after the Watergate scandal that ended his presidency, Richard Nixon (Frank Langella) selects British TV personality David Frost (Michael Sheen) to conduct a one-on-one, exclusive interview. Though Nixon believes it will be easy to mislead Frost, and the latter’s own team doubts that he can stand up to the former president, what actually unfolds is an unexpectedly candid and revealing interview before the court of public opinion.


The Prince | Niccolò Machiavelli

No Comments

Published in: 1532

Amazon | Goodreads

Niccolò Machiavelli was an Italian political philosopher and historian that had a key figure in shaping the political life of the Renaissance. His book “The Prince”, written in the 16th Century, is an instruction manual for new princes. The book is based on a time when cities were constantly threatened by neighboring principalities and there were continuous power struggles and change of rulers. Machiavelli’s last name has become synonymous with terrible human behavior and if one looks up the word Machiavellian in a dictionary, the description is cunning, scheming, and unscrupulous.

RATHER FEARED THAN LOVED, BUT NOT HATED. A man who wants to show his goodness in all his actions, perishes among all those who are not good. A prince who wants to stay in power must learn not to be good, and to use this or not as circumstances require. It is not necessary for a prince to be loved to keep his reign. But if he is too loved, he can be perceived as weak, and aspiring leaders might try to take him down, and more easily get the people – who are not afraid – to join them. It is better to feared and not induce any uprisings from people that are somewhat dissatisfied. However, it is of vital importance not to be hated, because then he will be surrounded by enemies ready to strike when the inevitable weak moment arises – he needs the goodwill of the people during those hard times.

“It is much safer to be feared than loved because …love is preserved by the link of obligation which, owing to the baseness of men, is broken at every opportunity for their advantage; but fear preserves you by a dread of punishment which never fails.”

BE CONSISTENT. A prince should behave in such a way that he, whatever happens – good or bad – does not have to change his behavior towards the people. If you have to be cruel in adversity, you will not get gratitude and trust when you are friendly in good times.

IF YOU MUST DO HARM, CRUSH THEM. Men ought either to be indulged or totally destroyed, for if you merely offend them they take vengeance, but if you injure them greatly they are unable to retaliate – the injury done to a man ought to be such that vengeance cannot be feared.

HONE YOUR SKILLS IN PEACE TIME. If a prince, during peace time, thinks more of his pleasures than his army, he will lose his kingdom. War should be the only study. He should consider peace only as a breathing-time, giving him leisure to contrive, and hone his ability to execute military plans.

”The first way to lose a state is to neglect the art of war; the first way to gain a state is to be skilled in the art of war.”

BE PREPARED AND ACT PREVENTIVE. A prince must not only focus on the ongoing unrest but also on what the future holds. He must counteract them in every way, for if, as in a disease, one sees the danger far in advance, one can find a cure, but if one waits until the danger is near, medicine will not arrive in time and the disease becomes incurable.

THE DANGERS IN TOO MUCH CHANGE TOO QUICKLY. A new prince should be considerate in not initiating too much change too quickly. He will make enemies from those that took advantage of the old order, and only get lukewarm defenders in those that take advantage of the new order.

PUNISH ONCE AND STRONGLY. When a conqueror takes over a kingdom, he should carefully think through what acts of violence he is obliged to commit and then carry them all out at once, so that he does not have to start each new day with more violence. Then the people, after a while, will calm down, and get comfortable that a new peaceful order is in place. After some time they will also forgive the early acts of violence.

“Severities should be dealt out all at once, so that their suddenness may give less offense; benefits ought to be handed ought drop by drop, so that they may be relished the more.”

A LEADER NEEDS A BROAD SKILLSET. A leader must strive to be both military powerful and strategically skillful, but also develop the strength to do bold things – to dare to make mistakes of ambition rather than of sloth.

“The lion cannot protect himself from traps, and the fox cannot defend himself from wolves. One must therefore be a fox to recognize traps, and a lion to frighten wolves.”

YOU CANNOT BE NEUTRAL. A prince is respected if he is a true friend or a true enemy. He should never be neutral, for if two of your neighboring princes go to war, you either win together with your friend and get a strong and stable outcome, or you lose together. If you are neutral, the winner will likely come after you in the future since he perceives you both as weak and as someone who can’t be trusted. And the loser, if he comes back to power, will not trust you in the next battle since you were not around for the first one. The neutral ends up a loser no matter the outcome of the battle.

AIM FOR THE SKY. A man should always embark on the paths that great men have paved and follow the men who have been outstanding personalities, so that his ability, even if it is not on a par with theirs, still produces a good outcome.

“Without an opportunity, their abilities would have been wasted, and without their abilities, the opportunity would have arisen in vain.“

THE DANGERS IN GROWING TOO FAST. A kingdom that grows too fast, like everything else in nature that arises and grows fast, may not have deep enough roots and a strong enough foundation, that the first severe adversity will not bring it to fall. Those who have unexpectedly become princes should immediately understand to make sure of what fate has thrown at them, and afterwards lay the foundation that everyone else builds up before they come to power.


Red Penguins

No Comments

Red Penguins tells a story of capitalism and opportunism run amok – complete with gangsters, strippers and live bears serving beer on a hockey rink in Moscow. Shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Pittsburgh Penguins and the famed Red Army hockey team formed a joint-venture that showed anything was possible in the new Russia. Eccentric marketing whiz, Steve Warshaw, is sent to Russia and tasked to transform team into the greatest show in Moscow. He takes the viewer on a bizarre journey highlighting a pivotal moment in U.S. Russian relations in a lawless era when oligarchs made their fortunes and multiple murders went unsolved.


The Square

No Comments

The Square is a 2013 Egyptian-American documentary film by Jehane Noujaim, which depicts Egyptian Crisis until 2013, starting with the Egyptian Revolution of 2011 at Tahrir Square. Available on Netflix.



No Comments

Classic movie about Gandhi from 1982. Ben Kingsley stars as the diminutive attorney who stood up against British rule in India and became a global symbol of nonviolence and understanding. Available on Netflix, and many other places.


Warm Springs

No Comments

After polio threatens his political career in the early 1920s, Franklin Delano Roosevelt (Kenneth Branagh) desperately searches for a cure to his newly acquired disease, hoping to regain the use of his legs. He learns of a promising spa in Warm Springs, Ga., and travels there, only to find it dilapidated. Determined to overcome polio, Roosevelt invests in the spa’s revitalization and sets about recovering, aided by the support of his wife (Cynthia Nixon) and physical therapist (Kathy Bates). Available on HBO.


Margaret Thatcher | Gunnela Björk

No Comments

Margaret Roberts was born on 13 October 1925 and died at the age of 88 on 8 April 2013. She grew up in simple and conservative conditions but managed to get a scholarship to Oxford. There she devoted her time to studies and politics. In 1949, at the age of 24, she was the youngest woman ever to run for parliament (only 29 of the Conservatives’ 600 candidates were women). She ran for Dartford and lost. The outcome was the same in the 1951 election. Read full “Brief” here.