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Aneesh Mulye
Aneesh Mulye
5 years ago

Hi Razib,

I’ve begun reading through your recommendations in your ‘Beyond Cultural Parochialism’ post’s suggested reading list for world history beyond the Indian subcontinent.

Currently, I’m on the first one – The Classical World, by Fox. (The man is definitely unabashedly opinionated, I’ll give you that. It makes for more enjoyable reading, though sometimes his pro-democracy/pro-Athens bias leaves me somewhat suspicious that his ability to give me a good picture of the time may be somewhat compromised.)

I have two question for you.

First, do you have any suggestions for books about the Greek city-states, if I want to dive deeper? I find this time pretty fascinating – the Greeks were perhaps the closest we’ve had to a ‘free market’ for governmental experimentation and entrepreneurship, and it shows. Their emergence, development, inner workings, and maybe failure modes (‘decline and fall’, as the oldsters would call it) are all of quite a bit of interest to me.

More generally, do you have recommended books for going deeper into the specific topics/regions/cultures covered in the more general surveys you mentioned? I’m not asking for them now, just asking if this was, for you, the tip of an iceberg you could later reveal if asked.

Secondly, I’m interested in Indian history, not having much of an idea of it beyond the broad historical strokes:

There was the (probably ‘Dravidian’) IVC,
Then the Aryans came,
Then there were the Janapadas,
Then Chanakya and the Maruyan empire happened, along with the Indo-Greek Kingdoms,
Then barbs took it down,
Then some other empires happened, maybe? this part is fuzzy,
Then there was the Gupta Empire, during which apparently both caste endogamy, as well as the broad contours of classical ‘Indian’ culture crystallised,
Then barbs took it down,
Then random smaller empires continued to happen,
Then there was the first colonial era (the Muslims), divided into the Sultanate and later Mughal phases, in which the north got almost completely ground down, while the south held out much longer but still fell,
Then the Marathas made the Mughals their bitch, and created a confederacy,
Then the second colonial era with the British EIC coming out on top happened,
Then the revolt of 1857 happened, in which the Crown assumed control,
Then the Indian arm of the civil service revolted, the massed got involved because Gandhi, and independence happened, and Pakistan got hived off,
Then Indira Gandhi went all yandere on the seat of power, and also Bangladesh happened,
Then the BJP under Modi happened and is still happening.

The problem is, whenever I try to find out anything more about the classical/pre-Muslim period, I run up against a tremendous paucity of sources. Today, if I want to know more about, say, some specific period of the Roman empire, there’s a *wealth* of information, along with a huge number of non-specialist books. If I want to learn about the Guptas, though, I’m absolutely SOL. I’m suspicious of the sources out there because I’m concerned about their ideological bias. Sure, I can read with discernment and try to separate the wheat from the chaff, everyone must always do that and read critically, yadda yadda yadda, yeah sure, whatever, but when you have exactly three books you can find on the topic of a major world empire, all three by Nehruvian socialists/Marxists, something’s gone terribly wrong.

To the question: do you have good sources for classical *Indian* history? Do they even exist? Or is this a problem you’ve run into as well? There are definitely a few books (the ‘three books by Nehruvian Marxists’ is an exaggeration, of course), but nothing at all like the wealth of detail and flood of books I can find about the Greeks or Romans, who play a similar role in the history and historical imagination of the West (broadly construed). If you have suggestions, whether for broad surveys or deep dives into a particular period, I’d really welcome them.

– Aneesh

5 years ago

Aneesh wrote:
“I find this time pretty fascinating – the Greeks were perhaps the closest we’ve had to a ‘free market’ for governmental experimentation and entrepreneurship, and it shows. Their emergence, development, inner workings, and maybe failure modes (‘decline and fall’, as the oldsters would call it) are all of quite a bit of interest to me.”

This interest we share in common. I would make the case that ancient civilizations from Greece (to maybe Serbia) to Sumeria to Arya Varsha (Iran, Turan and the east) shared an open architecture ecosystem of freedom of art and thought, property rights, small government, free markets, entrepreneurship, remarkable inquiry, science, globalization.

In the ancient world eminent domain had weak legal foundation, which greatly limited the power of the state.

When we read about Alexander’s travels one of the most striking aspects is how similar everyone is to each other.

Sadly because of the Church and then Islamism, an attempt was made to destroy any record of this pan global civilization, culture and system. The Church provided the intellectual case for big government, divine rule, large government regulation, high taxation, eminent domain, limitations on free art/thought, limitations on studying science and intellectual inquiry.

Have you studied ancient Sumerian tablet court cases on business law? We have millions of tablets providing records of business law court records from 4 K BC onwards. The tablets might be older than we think since our dating systems aren’t precise for continually inhabited places.

I would posit the hypothesis that the Church and Islamism Jihadism were large negative technological shocks that significantly reduced global total factor productivity. I think academics should test this hypothesis.

In the 1500s European Enlightenment [which I think highly of] drew inspiration from our ancient past and began to idealize ancient philosophies. I see European Enlightenment as an offshoot of Chaarvaaka Darshana. In some cases ancient texts from the east were translated in European languages. Some of these texts were eastern translations of ancient European texts. And some were eastern Arya texts.

Several old ideas came back into vogue. Including the following assumptions:
—most people were potentially powerful (matches eastern philosophy)
—most people were potentially wise (matches eastern philosophy)
—most people were sovereign (eastern philosophy is that people are divine)
—we have a right to free art, speech and thought (matches eastern philosophy)
——corollary that freedom is not an unjust means for the powerful to oppress the weak (matches eastern philosophy)
—the legal power of the state should be circumscribed (matches eastern philosophy)
——people have economic freedom (matches eastern philosophy)
—society should emphasize meritocracy, excellence, capacity and competence (matches eastern philosophy)
——meritocratic hierarchies were desirable (matches eastern philosophy)

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