Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Fall of Babel, the Rise of Europe

In a land of 2 Jews 3 opinions, one would have thought that Babel would bring nostalgia – the yearning to create a society of one language and the same words.

In a place divided between right and left, religious and secular, rich and poor, maybe we should be sympathetic to the tower generation – an equal society with no disagreement.

In his book on the
Rise and Fall of the Great Powers, historian Paul Kennedy raises a simple question. How did Europe – with its scattered and relatively unsophisticated peoples compared to other global empires like China, Russia and Japan – manage to become a commercial and military leader in world affairs?

The answer is surprising, and it may hold the key to why God felt the need to divide the people of Babel.

Kennedy explains that while other empires such as the Ottomans or Chinese suffered from centralization, Europe was politically fragmented, making unified control difficult and de-facto encouraging commercial development and the growth of industries.

While some nations such as Russia and Japan possessed a government monopoly, Europe didn’t, which ultimately created competition and the impetus for constant improvements

In short, rather than being its weakness, Europe’s political fragmentation was it strength.

It was the only geographical area possessing the freedom to inquire, dispute and experiment.

And when push comes to shove, it is these things – despite the hurt and discomfort they often cause – that lead to personal, communal and national growth

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