In which ways is today’s world like the Reformation?

I can think of a few reasons:

1. Many of the structures in places are perceived as failing, even though in absolute terms they are not obviously doing worse than previous times.

2. There is a rise in nationalist sentiment and a semi-cosmopolitan ethic is starting to lose influence.

3. The chance of violent conflict is rising.

4. Dialogue is becoming more polarized and bigoted, and at some margins stupider.

5. Tales of gruesome torture are being spread by new publishing and communications media.

6. The world may nonetheless end up much better off, but the ride to get there will be rocky iindeed.

I have been reading Carlos M.N. Eire, Reformations: The Early Modern World, 1450-1650.  Yes I know it is 893 pp., but it is actually one of the most readable books I have had in my hands all year.


Why the reformation in particular?
Why not the period before WW1?
I will give pointer how it is the "same" - all the points above, plus:
7) A doomsday cult (anarchists and socialists before WW1, radical Islam today) are doing terror acts on a large scale.
8) Anti-semitism is on the rise. (closely linked to #2, I admit)
9) War can never happen - "The world is too connected now"
10) rising authoraterian forces in the east (Germany then, China now)

'Why not the period before WW1?'

Indeed - most European nations were preparing for a war decades before it occurred, along with rising nationalism, and a degree of globalization that we have only been able to almost a century after the end of that war.

And to define the Reformation as 1450-1650 seems a bit generous. After all, such famous Renaissance figures as Da Vinci or Michelango were both born after 1450. Though clearly, it is not a stretch to include the Counter-Reformation - - within that time period.

Too mean rather than too generous: what about Wycliff and Hus?

Are you or your significant other a Hussy? I like this proto-Reformation leader, who fashioned a kind of unbeatable proto-tank in the early 1400s: "Jan Žižka z Trocnova a Kalicha" aka John Zizka.

Sure, but the idea that the Renaissance and Reformation happened at the same time seems a bit dubious, to be honest. Many people tend to date the Reformation as starting after 1517, in a region where the Renaissance had not made a giant impact, which at least makes some sense in terms of actual changes, and not just stirrings of change.

Luther was definitely not a Renaissance man.

Germany was a constitutional state, as were the Hapsburg dominions, bar in the addled head of Woodrow Wilson.

Ralf Dahrehdorf promoted the notion that Germany was 'authoritarian' because German political culture and institutional practice differed in certain respects from British culture. He was contending as late as 1965 that German democracy was a facade. It wasn't a set of arguments which would have persuaded someone who wasn't an academic social climber.

Well, Germany certainly did differ in certain respects, as they showed in 1914 when they invaded neutral Belgium, shot numerous civilians and burned entire cities, including burning the medieval library of the University of Louvain after dousing it with gasoline.

Compared to what Germany did in WWII, this seems almost trivial.

They did that.

A military historian I once saw interviewed rank ordered the belligerents regarding how casualty-averse they were. Tops were the Germans, followed by the Americans, the French, then the British.

China's a very pleasant place to live compared to what it was in 1966.

About as low a bar as one could possibly imagine.

The men in China have small penises so there's less of a chance of me being cuckolded if I move my family there

Those men still aren't interested in me.

Yoav: This is what "Der taumelnde Kontinent. Europa 1900-1914" by Philipp Blom is about, the most brilliant book about history there is. (As far as I can see, there is no translation, which is a pity.)

And Tyler: Can you please remind us when we can read the book ourselves?

'For example, as we saw in 2015 with the Merkel Youth, the smartphone makes mass migrations highly feasible.'

How did those hundreds of thousands of former Yugoslav asylum seekers make it to Germany without smartphones back in the early 90s? And since several hundred thousand asylum seekers from the former Yugoslavia attempted the same thing in 2015, it seems as if this likely has some sort of racist, oops, racialist, oops HBD explanation, right? That is, people from the former Yugoslavia do not need technology to bring them to Germany and make an Asylantrag, compared to those poor civil war losers from Syria.

Well, talk about a displaced comment. Maybe it needs a smartphone to find the proper location.

"compared to those poor civil war losers from Syria": many of whom, it turns out, have nothing to do with Syria.

Much less any civil war, there or anywhere else.

Sure, all those people who have left Syria for Germany didn't have anything to do with a civil war. Why, even people from places like Homs, Damascus, or Aleppo are obviously just looking to run away to a brighter future, but not because of anything like a brutal war.

Anyone here actually know any Syrian refugees? I just know one myself, and yep, his interest in fighting for either Assad or Daesh was just about zero. And for those who wonder about such people, it is simple to ask what should have young men in the Ukraine done in 1941, if they did not have the option of running the hell away. Because really, the choice of fighting for Hitler or Stalin is not the sort of choice that we actually consider meaningful, considering how that pair pretty much tops the European mass murderer list.

Fifth century Visigoths must have had some awesome smartphones.

Actually, there is a translation: The Vertigo Years. (basic books)

The Reformation was an offshoot of the invention of the printing press in Germany in the 1450s.

The invention of the Internet and the smartphone are somewhat comparable. For example, as we saw in 2015 with the Merkel Youth, the smartphone makes mass migrations highly feasible. In turn, that must revolutionize ideologies.

The current reigning conventional wisdom is that we don't have to worry about the huddled masses of the Third World descending en masse upon the First World because, well, they'd get lost and never get here. Thus, we can congratulate each other about recognizing "the ultimate wisdom of a borderless world," as Bill Clinton told some rich guys in Melbourne on 9/10/2001, without worrying about borderlessness actually happening.

But it turns out that more and more billions of Third Worlders have smartphones, which makes getting to the First World much, much easier. So the reigning ideology of the recent past -- which could be called "Clintonism" -- is now obsolete.

And who invented the printing press? The Chinaman.

not the preferred nomenclature.

Mass migrations have been occurring for centuries without the assistance of smartphone technology (or anything even resembling telecommunications, for that matter).

The relevance modern telecoms to the analogy is still to the printing press, but insofar as the suddenly improved access to information exposed the gatekeeper classes as frauds, while simultaneously allowing heretofore heresies to gain wide traction before the authorities could react.

Which, simultaneously, forces believers into more aggressive and entrenched positions, choosing older ideologies over new heresies.

With little specialist knowledge, I could notionally consider the Reformation's nationalistic edges as a social movement enabled by the rise of literacy, printing and communication within national languages, increasing faster than communication between them. Parallel? (Has the net functionally increased dialogue within nations, and at the national scale beyond the local community, much more intensely than dialogue between them?).

It's the natural evolution of the Reformation, which began the break from a single (Western) Church and its hierarchy and orthodoxy and led to the creation of numerous branches (Protestant denominations and sects) each with its own hierarchy and orthodoxy and now to independent "community" churches (the fastest growing) each with its own hierarchy and orthodoxy. I've long predicted that the culmination of the Reformation will be the Church of I, with one member who chooses her own orthodoxy. When it comes to grace, each Christian prefers to choose the qualifications for the elect. Christianity is defined by its sectarianism. What's a libertarian not to like. As an Episcopalean, I've experienced the division triggered by modernity and amplified by the evangelical movement that emphasizes the personal over the communal and repudiates good works as the path to grace. The cheap grace reflected in the prosperity gospel and other contemporary evangelical movements has to be contrasted with the costly grace described by Dietrich Bonhoeffer in The Cost of Discipleship. From the Reformation led by Luther and Calvin to the Church of I led by the likes of Joel Osteen. Christianity has come a long way.

"As an Episcopalean..." - this is not the time nor place to reopen the wars of the Reformation. I personally like the Catholic / Orthodox / ancient Roman style of worship, as any fan of Italian mafia culture knows: as long as you do the holy cross the correct way, say the right words, and hold the holy relics with sincerity, all your sins are forgiven and you go to heaven. Thus a Doubting Thomas (pace a Calvinist, with predestination) who is a good person but kind of doesn't believe goes straight to hell at death, while a hitman, drug dealer, ruiner of lives and lifelong bad person, who on his deathbed does the right rituals and for a split second repents, goes straight to heaven through St. Peter's pearly gates... sweet!

But I have a baptismal certificate from the Church of England, signed by an authorised representative, which tells me I'm an Inheritor of the Kingdom of Heaven - are you telling me that unbelief voids the warranty?

No, don't listen to me, no opinion on that certificate, but, like a Bitcoin deterministic wallet certificate, I'd put that piece of paper in a safe place, like a safe, dude.

Must one have the certificate in possession upon death for it to be of value?

Today's world is like the Reformation if one believes in libertarianism - the Reformation was the first fruits of the divisions that culminate in the Church of I, the Church of I being the only true religion of the libertarian.

Yup. Protestantism = democracy, getting rid of hierarchy/intermediaries, personal relationship with Jesus, Bible.

Pope (Catholic)
Bishop (Episcopalian)
Priest (Presbyterian)
Laity (Congregationalist)

Electoral and deliberative institutions were not an innovation of the Reformation. They were quite prevalent during the medieval period on several scales. The Swiss Confederation was founded in 1291.

Yeah, no. It was Luther who propounded the doctrine of "justification by faith". Medieval Catholics were all about good deeds and racking up bonus points toward Heaven. Hence, "indulgences" and such corruptions Luther railed against.

Actually, St. Paul preached that we are justified by faith (in Jesus) alone and not by works. What he meant by "works" isn't entirely clear, but many scholars say Paul meant (works of) the Jewish Law as well as taking care of widows and orphans. Hierarchy breeds rules (like the Jewish Law or Church canons) that the hierarchy can enforce, the Reformation (and subsequent divisions within the Protestant faith) being breaks from the regime.

St. Paul, who took the faith to Gentiles, also taught Gentiles not to follow Jewish Law; indeed, he taught they would be denied grace if they did. Paul's antagonists in Jerusalem, Peter (by tradition, the first Pope) and James (the brother of Jesus), taught Gentile followers of Jesus that it was okay to follow the Law. While the Gospel of Matthew contains some of the most antisemitic verses, it is also the most Jewish, proclaiming that Jesus did not come to displace the Law but to fulfill it.

Sure. And John reportedly scribbled down this bon mot from Jesus Himself:

"Thomas saith unto him, Lord, we know not whither thou goest; and how can we know the way? Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me."

The joke about Catholics is that they don't read the Bible, they rely on a raft of intermediaries.. This is not a new joke.

Yes. I may paint your scenario as Peter the Provincial vs. Paul the Cosmopolitan. Peter and Co. in Jerusalem were most definitely hard-core commies, which is understandable based on Jesus' teachings.

Anyway, Paul won that one. Score one for the sophisticated cosmopolitans there.

Maybe that's a better analogy for our current situation.

Or maybe it's just a bunch of stuff that happens.

@Brian Donahue -Paul lost to Peter big time, read the book "Zealot" by Reza Aslan.

*looks down

Dammit, I AM circumcised!

Love me some pork, though.

Skeptical, but I'll give it a look.

Do you always spell my fucking name wrong on purpose?

Ray Lopez, Reza Aslan is a famous liar. He's touted nonexistent credentials and deliberately muddied the waters about religion with half-truths, deflections, and outright lies. I would take any book he's written with mountains of salt.

Here's a (long) clip of some criticism:

No matter Reza Aslan's credentials, there's little doubt that to the extent Paul and Peter competed in the early days of Christianity to shape the nascent religions, Paul was the big winner. See: for how a more Peterine Christianity likely would have looked.

"by tradition, the first Pope": in idiomatic English, "by tradition" means that there is no evidence, in much the same was as "it stands to reason" does.

“Zealot” by Reza Aslan" I've got a copy. It's a stinker.

Medieval Catholics were all about good deeds and racking up bonus points toward Heaven.

No, the purpose of confession and penances was to restore you to a state of grace. No bonus points involved. There's a distinction between justification and sanctification in the Catholic faith (and in Orthodoxy) that's lost in protestantism.

To be fair, Catholics also had to worry about Purgatory, and one reason for good works was to lessen the time they might spend under purgation in Purgatory. This is also the source of prayers for the dead and of indulgences, the crass selling of the latter being the inital causus belli for Luther's revolt.

There are indulgences and prayers for the dead. That's a component of sanctification. The holy souls are in the process of being purged. Purgatory, indulgences, and prayers for the dead work toward the same end. However, the end does not incorporate justification, nor restoration of the state of grace. One's presence in purgatory is indicative of a state of grace.

Things that are a bit different from Reformation time:

a) death is caused by virus/bacteria or gene issues, resignation to fate is not a popular life aspiration today.
b) Private armies (mercenaries) have not disappeared, but are less used today, controlled by laws, etc.,
c) Population pyramids: young people is need to fight wars.....but no idea where to look for a population pyramid data from the 1600s. I assume there was lots of young people.

Also, what could be considered as semi-cosmopolitan between 1500-1600s? If I remember well, the cosmopolitanism idea has roots in Greek cynics, then early Christians had the ideal of all humans had the same religion. The idea died until the Reinasance but for intellectuals. It did not permeated with laymen until people got fed up with WW1 and WW2. Perhaps Tyler means just economic cosmopolitanism (trade) that certainly increased during that time.

I assumed Cowen was referring to the proclaimed universality of the One True Church, which is a form of cosmopolitanism.

catholic: broad or wide-ranging in tastes, interests, or the like; having sympathies with all; broad-minded; liberal.

I thought around then there was an increase in the extent of exchanges between intellectuals and a rise in trade (perhaps related to the Hanseatic League and similar developments in Western Europe? - - , which likely went along with a general increase in the amount of exposure to other languages, culture, etc., which in some cases would result in higher cosmopolitanism in some cities or circles (I consider a decent degree of tolerance/approval of the presence of foreign people and concepts to be required for it to really be cosmopolitan, although certainly this would not imply society-wide agreement on all such matters).

@Brian: "my religion is the true religion and all people must believe this" is not way today is understood as cosmopolitanism. 2000 years ago, yes.

@ Mr. Troll: Yes, trade fluorished, Erasmus and colleagues are from that time, Amsterdam was the place to be for Jew refugees, the Huguenots fled to other Protestant countries.......but I don't know if these displays of cosmopolitanism were rare events or common events in several countries?

You have no context. The story of The Good Samaritan represents an ancient blow against entrenched, universal, unthinking tribalism.

This was revolutionary stuff. Good News For Humans!

I think the passing on of a story represents more a desire to pass on the ethic than suddenly being stunned by any particular instance of such a thing, and as a result of that making some 180 turn in related ethical perspectives.

Do you think it was the first story around those parts that anyone had ever heard about helping a stranger and speaking of it approvingly? Was there not some ethic of, say, at a bare minimum providing water for someone in need who might travel by? On the highway itself might be a different story though, since presumably when you have to carry everything most do not travel with much excess.

“my religion is the true religion and all people must believe this” is not way today is understood as cosmopolitanism

The "Universal Western Values" pablum touted by the multilateralist UN types suggests otherwise.

The ruling class was also quite cosmopolitan: they all learned the same languages (Latin, Greek, French, Italian) as well as their own local language; they married one another across international borders; they sought to accumulate territory under their rule without much concern over the nationality of the people they would rule.

The religious tenets of the Reformation have more or less disappeared (The descendants of the Puritans no longer hang suspected witches.) but the required virtues remain. Foremost among them is the idea of work as an index of worthiness. Of course, that's what has led to the material success of capitalism in the West, particularly in the US, where the living monument to Puritanism, Harvard University, directs the logic of capitalism, as it has since its inception in 1636. The Reformation quickly became about making money, not eternal life.

(The descendants of the Puritans no longer hang suspected witches.)

The witch craze in Massachusetts Bay was over in nine months and the perpetrators covered themselves with sack-cloth and ashes afterward.

Witch trials were unusual in most of Europe (hardly known in Spain and unknown in Orthodox Europe). They were a German phenomenon. There weren't many English puritans in Germany.

Witch trials and panics in the 16th and 17th century were common in areas where there was a great deal of religious division: England, Scotland, France, and the German states. In places where there wasn't (Spain, Portugal, Italy, Scandinavia, Russia) there were relatively few. The upsurge in witch panics however got going well before the Reformation, a legacy perhaps of the Black Death.

If you think that then I believe you've forgotten the old song

Sur le Pont d'Avignon
On y danse, On y danse
Sur le Pont d'Avignon
On y danse tous en rond

I actually cannot read French.

There was no reformation prior to the 16th century, bar in Bohemia. Spain had an architecture of ecclesiastical courts which acted to suppress popular vigilantism.

There was the Lollard movement in England, though it was suppressed, but not completely extinguished.

Why the assumption that this is an interlude between good times? There is change afoot, no question, but there is a desperate head long drive to dismantle and destroy. The elites openly yearn for the power to build cathedrals. The church with it's fingers in the sexuality and economy of every family has been replaced by an intrusive bureaucracy backed with a priest like media defining the morality and issuing condemnations or blessings.

I see no common desire for freedom. I would suggest that if there is a common desire it is for a bludgeon wielding authoritarianism. I listened to a writer quite vigorously say that social justice is far more important than freedom of expression. Those aren't the words of a reformation, but of a yearning for darkness and oppression.

Maybe the difference is explained by this: the Reformation was the beginning of what is now ending.

In which ways is it not like the reformation? 1. Mass literacy and information distribution. 2. Huge standing armies with a large firepower advantage. 3. Weak religious attachment in the West. 4. Democratic institutions in most of the West and much of the rest. 5. Very significant prosperity and wealth.

We don't have 'huge standing armies'. The largest militaries (proportionately) are had by the United States and Russia. Military expenditure in both countries (as a share of domestic product) is near the nadir of the last 75 years.

Compared to the royal armies of the 15th and 16th centuries, modern militaries strike me as quite large. Perhaps not as a comparative share of GDP or population (which is more a function of the denominator in any event), but certainly in terms of the ability to project power and occupy foreign lands.

The estimates you see floating about have it that in 1500, France had a population of about 15 million (like the Netherlands today) and Britain about 3 million (like Wallonia today).

Population grew fairly quickly in the 1500s, in part because of the Columbian Exchange, and in part because the climate behaved itself until the 1590s, when it started turning cold again.

I think Tyler is on to something, but it might be a bit too big to nail down in real time. We have on the one had reaction against orthodoxies, we have on the other fundamentalist movements toward orthodoxy.

I dropped a link yesterday to Felix Salmon talking about Chaos Monkeys in politics. That is a big part of it. The Chaos Monkeys thrive in a world of weak orthodoxy.

But they are also not (sadly not?) nailing ninety-five new Theses to the door. If this is a Reformation that is yet to come.

This list seems superficial. Would you find 2006 more is less similar to the reformation than 2016? What about 1966?

I'm also not sure why it matters whether some things now are similar to some things in the reformation. Would this post have been better suited for Buzzfeed?

6. - This kind of equivocation is so typical of those incapable of actual prediction. Well, maybe the X (insert metric of your choice: GDP, DJ Industrial Avg, Brent Crude, etc., etc.) will Y, but if it does it will be a rocky ride.
1. I can't argue over a (vacuous) claim about perception. People "perceive" all sorts of nonsense including conspiracies, alien abductions, and economists actually making sense. Perhaps said economist should study predicate logic and what the meaning of "A or not A" is.
2. There is? As defined how? As measured how? Over what period of time? And how much statistical significance and power does said quantification have?
3. See #2
4. See #2. News flash: most people are opinionated, bigoted, and perceptibly stupid - if they don't agree with me.
5. Is there a point here? Prostitution is endemic, as is corruption. Politicians and our leaders lie. Responsibility is avoided, blame misdirected. Did this just start happening recently? Oh, wait - does TC think terrorism is a new phenomenon? What many in the Liberal West now perceive as torture is business as usual for the majority of the human civilizations since their beginnings. There's *nothing* new about those in control preying on the weak, whether it's rape, torture, extortion or just slavery and press gangs.
TC's post seems more the complaints of an old guy than anything else.

Time to reread CV Wedgewood's great book "The Thirty Years War" and realize how bad it was way back then.

4) I had actually expected the internet to result in more people running into more different ideas and things maybe moderating, having more mutual understanding (if not agreement), etc. Somehow the idea that the ability of the internet to facilitate the coming together of diverse micro communities for hobbies and tech stuff, etc., would also facilitate the consolidation or even radicalization when the concept becomes applied to political, ideological, religious, etc., stuff, just never really crossed my mind until it happened.

I think there is a higher volume of quality information, but there its share of total content is decreasing, while efforts to intentionally disseminate low quality information or mis/disinformation to masquerade as good information have also increased in quality (presumably the shares of content and eyes/ears differ, but I'm not sure in which direction...)

In intersecting trivia, Denmark and the Reformation, the State Church of Denmark is a state supported Lutheran variety.

There are 2.2 billion Christians. That's a lot. What they believe and why they believe it might be important if it's important to know what motivates people to do the things they do. On the other hand, ignorance avoids the time and effort needed to find out.

The more rules you have, the more people revolt.

Reformation, indeed.

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