Shattering the Sacred Myths - Chapter 11

The Rise of Modern Democracy

 
Sections
 
Chapters

The modern history of democracy from the American revolution through the world wars to the current world crisis. Shows world politics to be little more than a greed-driven struggle for wealth and power.

Most of human history has been spoiled by stories of ambitious men who were driven by cravings for wealth and power. Tyrants who conspired and murdered their way into power, and then became drunk with power, leaving behind trails of death and destruction. Brutal dictators who enslaved entire populations and then watched them starve while they spent fortunes on personal luxuries and military adventures.

History has shown that even those who rose to power with good intentions soon became corrupt. They took advantage of their position to enrich themselves and their family and friends. Then in order to protect their wealth and power, they silenced those who threatened their authority. As one injustice led to another, and as their friends became fewer, they grew increasingly paranoid and oppressive. They desperately clung to power in fear that if they lost control then they might also lose their fortunes, their freedom, and possibly even their lives.

Many were driven by blind ambition to invade and plunder the wealth of neighboring lands. More land meant more resources to feed larger armies and pay for even more ambitious military campaigns. Defeated populations were often enslaved or exterminated. Conquered lands were divided and shared between the families of those who commanded the invasion. Power and wealth became entrenched in these families to be passed down from generation to generation. Their descendents became royalty, many of whom continued to abuse their power until they were defeated in battle or overthrown by the victims of their oppression.

Royal families claimed the right to rule because they had descended from kings and conquerors. But in truth, the rights of these rulers depended entirely on their ability to maintain power by using armed force to crush opposition. Authority is only meaningful as long as it can be enforced. Sentiment for tradition is only effective as long as it continues to persuade.

Kings were always tempted to try to squeeze more tax out of their subjects, either to pay for a greater degree of courtly splendor or for greater military spending on their latest war or conquest. The only thing preventing them from imposing heavier taxes or more intrusive laws was the fear that opposing power centers might gain popular support.

Ambitious army officers supported by wealthy land owners were sometimes able to seize control of the army and overthrow the king. But being soldiers rather than statesmen, they often brutalized the people in order to tighten their grip on power. Wealthy landowners were only interested in protecting their assets and enslaving the peasantry as cheap labor.

Peasant rebellions and slave revolts usually only resulted in anarchy, looting, and murder. Those who rose to power on a wave of popular support sometimes claimed to have special knowledge or abilities which qualified them to govern in the best interests of the people. But even when revolutions were inspired by noble ideals, it was never long before the old corrupt ruling class was simply replaced by a new one.

Feudal society

Before the rise of industry, the vast majority of people were peasant farmers who lived in villages scattered across the countryside. The land was dominated by warlords and each village shared its harvest with the local warlord, who in return protected the peasants from raids and invasions.

The church also took a share of the harvest. By enforcing strict religious morality and by keeping peace between the warlords, they helped to protect the peasants from unnecessary cruelties and abuses. The relationship between the warlords, priests, and peasants was held together by feelings of fear, loyalty, and mutual obligation.

Very little changed over the generations. People followed customs and traditions that had been passed down from a time that was long before anyone could remember. Many believed that they were born to follow in their parent’s footsteps. Choices were few and people rarely questioned their lot in life. Most people simply did whatever they were told to do by their elders, rulers, and priests.

The tools and techniques used by village craftsmen had long ago been perfected and very little improvement seemed possible. Nobody could produce anything more efficiently than anyone else. Transport was slow and difficult, so production was mostly local. Competitive prices in the marketplace only led to reduced incomes, resulting in lower quality goods and services, which benefited no one. So craftsmen formed unions to protect their trade by enforcing fixed prices.

Gunpowder

Saltpeter is a white powder that sometimes forms around decaying vegetation. People discovered thousands of years ago that it can be used to make wood burn more easily. Sulfur can be found in natural deposits around volcanoes and hot springs. This yellow substance sizzles and pops when it comes into contact with fire. Some time before the year 1000, Chinese chemists discovered that mixing saltpeter, sulfur, and charcoal together creates an explosive powder that became known as gunpowder.

The Europeans learned about gunpowder through the Mongol invasions of the 1200s. The ceaseless military competition between Europe’s warlords then led to continual improvements in the design of the cannon. By the 1500s, musketeers were beginning to replace swordsmen and archers on the battlefields of Europe. Gunpowder was the first in a series of major inventions that would overturn the traditional way of living and usher in the modern age.

English kings

After the fall of the Roman Empire, tribesmen from northern Europe invaded the island of Britain in continuous waves until the final invasion by the Normans in 1066. The Normans established a new kingdom and the land was divided among the chiefs of the conquering army, whose descendents ruled as warlords with the wealth to raise their own armies.

Whenever the king needed the support of the warlords on matters such as wars and taxes, he would call them together for a meeting. These meetings were called parliaments and they were mostly power struggles between the king and his warlords. Whenever kings were strong, they ignored the laws and increased taxes to pay for wars. Whenever kings were weak, the parliament restrained them and secured more power for themselves.

As cannons became essential weapons for smashing through castle walls, the warlords came to depend more on the king and the parliament to preserve their power. Parliament was divided into the House of Lords, which included the warlords and bishops, and the House of Commons, which included knights and representatives from the shires and towns.

Power struggles continued until the 1600s when a Catholic king, Charles I, ignored his Protestant parliament and declared that kings had a divine right to rule as they pleased. Hostilities between the king and the parliament continued to escalate until 1642, when all of England erupted into a long and bloody civil war.

Parliament raised a powerful army which eventually crushed the royalist forces and the king was later executed for treason. Under the command of a parliamentary leader named Cromwell, the army then seized control and England was ruled for a number of years by an oppressive military dictatorship.

After one final bloodless revolution, the throne was given to a Dutch prince, William of Orange, in return for his acceptance of a Bill of Rights. This was a declaration of laws that increased the power of parliament, limited the power of kings, and gave the common people certain rights and freedoms that could never be taken away by anything less than civil war or foreign invasion.

Being an island made Britain harder to invade, making it a more secure place in which freedom could grow. Relative freedom of speech and freedom of enterprise allowed the culture to flourish and the economy to surge ahead of the other authoritarian monarchies of mainland Europe.

Colonization

When the crusaders returned from the Middle East, they brought back Chinese silks, Persian carpets, sugar, spices, and other exotic goods which were previously unknown in Europe. The growing demand for these luxury imports led to the launching of a final crusade, to conquer Constantinople and the eastern half of the old empire. This gave Italian merchants control over the trade routes to Asia, and Italian cities soon grew famously wealthy.

As Turkish armies fought to establish a new Islamic empire, the Italian trade routes became increasingly difficult to protect. After the Turks captured Constantinople in 1453, all trade between Europe and Asia was taken over by Muslim merchants.

Improved shipbuilding techniques and new navigational instruments like the magnetic compass allowed Portuguese ships to begin exploring the Atlantic. By the 1500s, they had discovered how to sail around the coast of Africa to reach the trading cities of southern Asia, effectively cutting out the Muslim middleman. Although the Europeans had very little of any value to trade, they possessed vastly superior firepower which they used to plunder the riches of the Asian coast.

Spanish ships sailed west across the Atlantic hoping to find an easier way to reach Asia. But instead of bringing back spices from India, they returned with vast amounts of silver and gold plundered from native American cities. Spain was soon the wealthiest kingdom in Europe.

Lured by huge potential profits, Dutch shipbuilders began building bigger and faster ships with heavier firepower. After establishing their own trade links with Asia and America, Dutch ships soon dominated world trade, and Dutch cities became the financial and cultural capitals of Northern Europe.

As France and England joined in the rush to colonize new lands, the oceans erupted into open warfare. With so much new wealth to plunder, the old Christian loyalties were soon forgotten. Europe began to tear itself apart as the northern states battled to free themselves from Catholic control. War raged for centuries from one side of the Atlantic to the other as Europe’s kings and warlords led a slaughter for power and wealth.

Christian missionaries played a vital role in the conquest of America and other newly discovered lands. Natives who refused to convert were often killed, and for those who did convert, there were no guarantees of mercy. Many were enslaved and worked to death in the gold and silver mines.

The American Revolution

The English established colonies along the east coast of North America, but by the mid 1700s, the military and economic interests of the Americans were no longer compatible with those of the English. After the English king increased taxes in America to pay for his European wars, the resulting riots and rebellions throughout the American colonies forced the king to tighten his grip on power until the oppression became intolerable.

Thomas Paine was a bold political writer who arrived in America in 1775. Sensing that America’s loyalty to England had been stretched to breaking point, he wrote a radical pamphlet called “Common Sense” in which he explained that hereditary kings were greedy warmongers and that the English only cared about their own national interests. It was time for Americans to assert themselves in the world, to trade with whoever they wished, and not to allow England to drag them into any more senseless European wars.

Paine called for Americans to declare their independence and establish a democratic government based upon freedom and equality. His pamphlet immediately converted hundreds of thousands of Americans to the cause. With the outbreak of war, Paine joined the army and continued writing to bolster the national courage, even when the cause seemed lost ...

These are the times that try men’s souls. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered - yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. Whatever we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly. Heaven knows how to put a proper price on its goods, and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as freedom should not be highly rated.

During the war for independence, the American states began experimenting with democracy. There was an immediate concern among the wealthy that too much democracy would give the majority of people the power to vote away the wealth of the minority. Some states soon discovered that unrestrained democracy made it too easy for people to oppress themselves with an excess of unworkable laws.

Several years after winning the war for independence, a national convention was held to draft a constitution for the United States of America. Delegates to the convention wanted to permanently limit the power of the new federal government, knowing that politicians would be forever scheming to bypass the constitution to tighten their grip on power. The delegates wanted to create a political system that could only ever descend into corruption and oppression if the American people themselves became so corrupt that they needed an oppressive government to rule them.

Using the English system of government as a model, with a congress of regional representatives, a senate of state representatives, and an elected president instead of a king, they created a balanced democratic system in which each new law would need to pass through three levels of government before being interpreted by the courts. The idea was that by making it hard to pass new laws, they would also be making it harder to pass bad laws.

The United States of America was founded in 1787 when the new constitution became the supreme law of the land. But the new constitution favored wealthy landowners who had managed to secure most of the political power for themselves. Over the next decade there was an intense political struggle to reform the constitution.

Reformers led by Thomas Jefferson had learned their lessons on political and religious freedom from the wars, persecutions, and other oppressions which had ruined Europe for centuries. They eventually succeeded in amending the constitution to guarantee rights like freedom of speech and freedom of religion.

The establishment of a strong nation requires more than just a good constitution, a colorful flag, and an inspiring national anthem. It also requires the passing down of legends about the heroes who built the nation. Legends like the Boston tea party, Paul Revere’s ride, George Washington’s cherry tree, and Thomas Jefferson’s bible.

As the symbols, traditions, and myths build up over the centuries, they help to enflame the patriotic passions of the people, giving them a common sense of identity, uniting them behind a common purpose, and making them believe that their land is sacred and their constitution is worth more than just words on a piece of paper.

The French Revolution

By the 1700s, France had become the most powerful nation on the European mainland. French kings took advantage of their nation’s economic strength by imposing steep taxes and borrowing heavily in order to spend lavishly on extravagances and military adventures.

One king, Louis XIV, built a luxurious new palace while his armies battled for control of Europe and North America. His successor, Louis XV, plunged the monarchy even deeper into debt while scandalizing the nation with an endless series of tawdry love affairs.

Around the same time, French philosophers were writing that all men were equal and had a right to be free. They championed rights like freedom of speech, and they condemned the hereditary aristocracy and the oppressive behavior of the church. Revolutionary ideas were beginning to ferment in the minds of the French people.

By 1788, the next king, Louis XVI, was so burdened by debt that he needed to raise new taxes in order to avoid economic collapse. But the common people of France, the farmers, merchants, and laborers were already overtaxed and could afford no more. On the other hand, the aristocrats and church officials paid no tax. They maintained their power by controlling the law courts, and the king failed in every attempt to tax them.

The king summoned a meeting of the French parliament (then known as the Estates General) to discuss the problem. It was the first such meeting in more than 170 years. The meeting consisted of representatives from the church (the first estate), the aristocracy (the second estate), and the common people (the third estate).

The three groups argued about what to do. The third estate was excluded from much of the debate, and so instead of discussing taxes, they began to discuss how they might gain a greater share of power. After their demands were rejected, they declared themselves to be the National Assembly, the true representatives of the French people, and the population of Paris soon rose up in open rebellion. As the revolution gained momentum, the aristocracy was abolished and the king was forced to sign a new democratic constitution based on liberty and equality.

Many of the ancient customs were thrown out by the revolution. Archaic systems of measurement were replaced with a new metric system based on multiples of ten. A new French calendar was declared with ten months in a year and ten days in a week. Even the numbering of the years was changed so that 1792 became the year 1.

The new revolutionary government raised funds by confiscating church property. All priests became employees of the state. Several attempts were made over the following years to replace Christianity with a new state religion based on the principles of natural religion as taught by the enlightenment philosophers.

Fearing the spread of the revolution, the kings of Europe joined forces to invade France and restore the monarchy. Meanwhile, driven by their newfound passion for freedom, the French army marched into Europe to liberate the oppressed masses from the tyranny of kings and aristocrats. Every available man and horse was drafted into the war effort and France soon had the largest army in Europe.

Amid growing hostility at home and abroad, the king was executed for treason. Faced with increasing civil unrest, the assembly was overtaken by revolutionary extremists who imposed harsh laws and instigated a reign of terror. They executed aristocrats, opposition groups, atheists, the royal family, and anyone else they did not like. Thousands were publicly beheaded until eventually the extremists themselves were beheaded by the bloodthirsty mob.

A second democratic constitution was drafted in the hope of consolidating the achievements of the revolution while avoiding its excesses. But the old revolutionaries, who made up the bulk of the new government, overturned the results of elections, fearing what might happen to them if they lost power.

The government descended into the depths of corruption as politicians and army generals schemed to entrench their power and increase their wealth. Meanwhile, the war of liberation in Europe had degenerated into a rampage of looting. As the French economy disintegrated, the government came to depend more and more on the income from foreign plunder.

In 1799, after conquering Italy and invading Egypt, an ambitious army general named Napoleon Bonaparte returned to Paris to a hero’s welcome. He quickly seized control of the government and embarked on a campaign to conquer all of Europe, eventually forcing the pope to crown him emperor.

For the next ten years, Napoleon reigned supreme over the European mainland. But his attempt to conquer Russia was a disaster. After a series of defeats, France was forced into unconditional surrender and Napoleon was sent into exile.

The royalty and aristocracy soon came creeping back into power throughout Europe, but the expectations of the people had forever changed, and many nations now adopted constitutions limiting the power of aristocrats and guaranteeing some rights for the people.

Thomas Paine

Thomas Paine had been a popular hero of the American Revolution. He later returned to England and published a book called ‘The Rights of Man’ in which he preached the need for democratic reform in England and throughout Europe. His book sold more copies than any previous book in the English language. He wrote ...

If universal peace, civilization, and commerce are ever to be the happy lot of man, it cannot be accomplished but by a revolution in the system of governments.

Paine became the most influential political writer of his time. He was soon invited to join the National Assembly of the French Revolution where he participated in drafting the new French constitution. When the reign of terror began, he was thrown into prison. While waiting to be executed, he wrote a notorious book called ‘The Age of Reason’ in which he savagely attacked the Christian religion. He wrote ...

I believe in one God, I believe in the equality of man, and I believe that religious duties consist in doing justice, loving mercy, and endeavoring to make our fellow creatures happy. But I do not believe in the creed professed by any church that I know of. My own mind is my own church.

I have thought it exceedingly probable that a revolution in the system of government would be followed by a revolution in the system of religion. The connection between church and state has so effectively prohibited every discussion on the principles of religion, that until the system of government is changed, religious principles cannot be discussed openly before the world. But whenever change is done, then a revolution in the system of religion will follow.

Every national church or religion has established itself by pretending some special mission from God, which was communicated to certain individuals. And they each have certain books, which are supposed to reveal the word of God. And they each accuse the other of not believing the truth, and for my own part, I disbelieve them all. All national churches, whether Jewish, Christian, or Turkish, appear to me to be nothing more than human inventions, set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit.

Paine survived the reign of terror and eventually returned to America to find himself despised by the conservative ruling elite and condemned as a heretic by the Christian majority. The enormous influence that he once enjoyed had over-inflated his ego, which now seemed to self destruct as he turned to alcohol. He died with few friends, his grave was dug up, his bones were lost, and his name was removed from popular American history.

Slavery in America

The American war for independence had been inspired by the idealistic claim that every person has a God given right to freedom and equality, but in reality, any claims to freedom and equality in this world depend entirely on people’s ability to fight for these rights, and to defend them against powerful interest groups who would take them away if they could.

Only wealthy landowners were allowed to vote in early American elections, but within a few decades, public protests and the threat of rebellion by workers and small farmers gradually forced the government to lower voting restrictions until the right to vote was extended to include almost every white male.

For the next hundred years, only white men had the right to vote, and they jealously refused to share this privilege. No other group could elect representatives to pass laws to protect them from exploitation. Women were generally treated like childbearing domestic servants, native American Indians were massacred and displaced, and African Americans were enslaved and treated like farm animals.

American politics was soon divided between two rival political parties. One party represented wealthy northern businessmen who wanted to abolish slavery. The other represented a coalition of southern slave owning cotton growers and underpaid white northern factory workers who feared having to compete with free black workers for jobs.

Frederick Douglass was raised as a slave in the southern states of America. He eventually escaped from slavery and became a leading campaigner against the slave trade, giving lectures to white audiences, publishing antislavery newspapers, and writing books about his experiences as a slave.

While condemning the churches for being the most vocal supporters of slavery, Douglass wrote ...

Between the Christianity of America, and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible difference - so wide, that to receive the one as good, pure, and holy, is of necessity to reject the other as bad, corrupt, and wicked.

I love the pure, peaceful, and impartial Christianity of Christ. I therefore hate the corrupt, slaveholding, women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity of this land. Indeed, I can see no reason, but the most deceitful one, for calling the religion of this land Christianity.

We have men-stealers for ministers, women-whippers for missionaries, and cradle-plunderers for church members. The man who robs me of my earnings, at the end of each week meets me to show me the path to salvation. He who sells my sister for the purposes of prostitution stands forth as the pious advocate of purity. The slave dealer gives his blood-stained gold to support the pulpit, and the pulpit, in return, covers his infernal business with the garb of Christianity.

I would regard being the slave of a religious master as the worst calamity that could befall me. The reverends were merciless and far crueler in their slave beatings, justifying regular unprovoked beatings as necessary to “whip the devil” from the slaves’ souls.

Go where you may, search where you will, roam through all the monarchies and despotisms of the old world, travel through South America, search out every abuse, and when you have found the last, compare your facts with the everyday practices of this nation, and you will say with me, that for revolting barbarity and shameless hypocrisy, America reigns without a rival.

Public opinion slowly turned against slavery as books and newspapers continued to inspire political and social reform; and as new machines were invented for planting, cultivating, and harvesting cotton. When the northern states finally threatened to abolish slavery in the 1850s, the southern states broke away from the north and drew up their own constitution. Southern rebel leaders dreamed of conquering central America and establishing a new white empire powered by black slavery. In the long and bloody civil war that followed, white southerners fought to preserve a leisurely way of life that was only made possible through the use of slave labor.

By the time the southern states were brought back into the federation, more than a million lives had been lost in order to establish once and for all that slavery would never again be tolerated in civilized society. The American constitution was amended to uphold equal rights for all Americans, but these rights would not be properly enforced for another one hundred years.

Capitalism

By the mid 1700s, under the protection of the world’s most powerful navy, British ships came to dominate world trade. After building family fortunes through trade with the American colonies, wealthy merchants started to buy up British farmland from the aristocratic families who had managed the land for centuries.

New crops, new fertilizers, and the invention of new mechanical devices for planting and harvesting made the land much more productive. Traditional English farming villages were soon being replaced by large commercial farming operations. The peasant farmers who traditionally worked on the land were forced to leave their homes.

New machines had been invented for spinning and weaving cotton and wool, and many peasant farmers found employment in newly built factories in towns and cities. Originally powered by horses or running water, English factories were soon being powered by steam engines.

Manufacturing became the driving force behind the British economy. Britain became the largest exporter of manufactured goods and London became the financial capital of the world. But all this wealth was concentrated in the hands of a fortunate few at the expense of the vast majority.

A large percentage of the population were factory workers who were paid just enough to make working for a living preferable to dying of starvation. Women and children were often recruited to tend the machines because they could be paid even less.

Most people were forced to work up to sixteen hours a day, six days a week, under oppressive and often dangerous conditions. Attempts by some factory workers to unite in their demands for shorter hours, higher pay, and better working conditions were crushed by the armed forces of the conservative ruling elite.

Many peasants were unable to find work in the mines or factories. Poverty and hunger became so widespread that new laws were introduced to keep the starving multitudes from begging on the streets. Homeless and destitute families were thrown into prisons called workhouses where they were deprived of any rights and forced to work like slaves. Those who resisted were sent to convict settlements overseas. Children who survived the workhouses grew up so abused and undernourished that they rarely lived long.

The wealthy had little sympathy for the misery of the poor. Only members of the Church of England were allowed to hold positions of authority, and the church was directly controlled by merciless and self-indulgent kings who used it to ease the moral conscience of the wealthy by preaching that the poor were suffering as punishment for their sins.

Charity organizations like the Salvation Army had an entirely different understanding of Christianity. Its workers braved the squalid conditions in the overcrowded city slums, comforting the sick, helping troubled children, and promoting cleanliness and sobriety.

The appearance of steam powered printing presses and cheap daily newspapers led to a growing awareness of the scale of the injustice. By the 1830s, widespread rioting and fear of revolution forced the government to extend voting rights to include wealthy businessmen. As a result, parliamentary power shifted from country aristocrats to urban merchants.

Embarrassing reports of young girls being forced to work naked in coal mines, and widespread concern over a complete breakdown of family relationships among the working poor forced the government to introduce new laws to lessen the cruelty and suffering. Girls were banned from working in the mines and limits were placed on the number of hours that children could be forced to work each day.

After decades of intense political struggle, reforms were gradually introduced until by the 1870s, most working men were given the right to vote, child labor was outlawed, and compulsory education was introduced. Labor unions were legalized and workers gained the right to strike for shorter hours and better pay. Higher pay for workers led to a greater demand for consumer goods, and this led to higher business profits, more jobs, and a stronger economy.

By the end of the century, electric power was overtaking steam power and the industrialized world experienced a sustained period of strong economic growth. Along with improvements in city sewerage and health care, the standard of living for most British workers was becoming increasingly tolerable.

The world spirit

By the year 1800, people could see that the world was beginning to undergo a profound transformation. As the German philosopher George Hegel watched Napoleon ride through the streets of his city, he was struck by the impression that he was witnessing the inevitable march towards progress of a collective global consciousness that he called the ‘world spirit’.

Hegel wrote that each person contributes to the spirit of their culture and their times, but each person’s life is merely a moment in the life of the world spirit. Our entire history can be described as this world spirit progressively emerging into self awareness through the growth of knowledge and the struggle for freedom.

The events of world history are not just senseless acts of greed and violence, rather they are an interconnected series of actions and reactions through which conflicting ideas become resolved. History is progressing according to a determinable logic that leads to the ultimate end of absolute global self awareness, in other words, a world in which everything makes sense.

Hegel said that we are coming from a past full of mistaken ideas, and it is the purpose of science and philosophy to correct these mistaken ideas that prevent us from reaching a greater understanding. Sometimes we can do this best by examining history to show how the old misconceptions came into being.

Hegel tried to trace the path of the world spirit as it moved through history towards the realization of its freedom, but he was barely able to guess its general direction, much less its final resting place. He saw the awakening of the world consciousness as being the emergence into the material plane of existence of the mind of God. He also saw this consciousness being ultimately embodied in the institutions of the state.

Hegel’s ideas had a profound influence on modern philosophy. He inspired the German thinker Karl Marx, who also believed that history was progressing according to a determinable logic. But Marx rejected the spiritual aspects of Hegel’s philosophy, instead believing the universe to be thoughtless and materialistic.

Communism

The idea of communism had been popular among struggling peasants for centuries before the rise of industry. The thought of overthrowing the local warlord and sharing the land and its resources among the families who actually worked the land was an appealing dream. Only the threat of armed force and the fear of anarchy made such dreams impossible.

As the industrialization of Europe gained intensity, and as the powerless peasants were being crammed into factories, stripped of their dignity, and forced to work like slaves to an early death, many were dreaming again of revolution.

While working as a radical campaigner for the working poor, Karl Marx developed a convincing theory about politics, economics, and history. He wrote that the history of power and wealth was progressing through stages. Aristocratic power had been replaced by industrial power, and now the peasants were struggling against a new form of slavery. Marx predicted that the long history of social, political, and economic oppression would finally come to an end when the working class rose up and overthrew the ruling class.

Under a communist political system, everyone would be employed by the state and the wealth of the state would be distributed equally among the people. All men and women would have equal rights. The workers would be united and motivated by their belief in material progress. As long as each person contributed to the best of their ability and only asked for as much as they needed, then the continued development of science and technology would gradually lead to an ideal world.

Marx wrote that the ruling class used religion to reinforce its domination over the working class. He said that religion was the “opiate of the masses” used by the ruling class to suppress mass revolution by distracting the workers and molding them into servile conformists. Ironically, communism itself was destined to grow into a godless religion for the poor and oppressed, with Marx as their prophet.

Committed to overthrowing the capitalist system, a growing number of communist revolutionaries preached to the oppressed poor and recruited peasant armies by promising them a better life. Whenever unpopular governments were weakened by wars or other events, Marxist revolutionaries would be there to rally the peasants into overthrowing the ruling class to establish communist states.

The First World War

For centuries, Europe was divided between nations of comparable military strength, each scheming to gain an advantage over the others. Whenever one nation grew too powerful, the other nations would form alliances to balance the threat. Without any common loyalty to unite them, nations with the greatest military strength always tried to dominate and exploit the weaker states.

Germany emerged as the dominant European power after defeating France in 1870. For the next 44 years, Europe remained largely at peace while each nation took advantage of rapidly improving technology to build up its industry, transport, communications, and military forces.

In order for the Europeans to take advantage of their growing potential, they needed to think beyond their national borders and begin organizing their institutions at a more European level. Progressive political thinkers anticipated forming some kind of voluntary union. But democracy had progressed too slowly in Europe, and the egos of hereditary rulers made any steps towards such a union impossible.

Instead, desperately fearing each other’s growing power, the European nations armed themselves and made preparations for war. Their rivalry was intensified by the scramble to colonize any unclaimed land in Africa and Asia. The personal ambitions of a handful of predictable aristocrats had become a contest between empires for domination of the world.

A political assassination gave Austria an excuse to invade Serbia, Germany agreed to defend Austria, Russia mobilized to defend Serbia, France allied herself with Russia, and a host of other nations eagerly joined in the fray. Clueless old army generals then ordered millions of unknowing young patriots to be slaughtered by the deadliest array of weaponry that the world had ever seen.

The First World War was a frightful reminder of the darkness under which we had been living. World leaders had been too blinded by their own ambitions to even think about how civilization might safely progress through an age of devastating new technologies. The world was now beginning to learn the price of acting without thinking carefully in a potentially dangerous and unsympathetic universe.

After the war, the president of the United States, Woodrow Wilson, proposed forming a new international organization called the League of Nations, dedicated to promoting world peace. The people of Europe enthusiastically embraced the idea, but world leaders were not prepared to make any compromises in order to secure peace, and so the new organization was weak and ineffective.

The Russian Revolution

Due to the incompetence of the last Tsar of Russia, Nicholas II, and the inefficiency and corruption of his government, more than a million poorly equipped Russian troops were needlessly wasted in the first year of the war. Mutinies broke out in the army and peasants rebelled in the cities. By 1917, when the Tsar was finally removed from power, the people had lost any confidence in the old ruling class and the communists prepared to take over.

In the revolution that followed, the long oppressed Russian peasants were easily persuaded into handing power over to a handful of charismatic communist revolutionaries. But regardless of their original intentions, over the next few decades, the communist party descended into corruption and inhumanity. Their system of government was transformed into an instrument of terror. Farms and factories became forced labor camps, workers were herded like cattle, and even the borders were closed to prevent escape.

The communists knew that the success of forced equality depended on unquestioning faith in their ideology and absolute loyalty to the state. People were systematically brainwashed by radio and newspaper propaganda. Free thinkers were either ‘re-educated’ or killed. Some communist leaders developed an appetite for murder that made medieval popes look like saints.

Military dictatorships

At the conclusion of the First World War, Europe’s borders were redrawn and democratic governments were established across the continent. But in the economic chaos that followed the war, there was widespread hunger and unemployment.

People were dissatisfied with war, poverty, and the other failures and injustices of capitalism. Many were attracted instead to the communist experiment in Russia and its carefully orchestrated illusion of social justice. They were impressed by the rapid modernization of the Russian economy and they became convinced of the virtues of state owned enterprise under a centrally planned economy.

As support for communism continued to grow, wealthy landowners and businessmen across Europe began to fear losing everything in a Russian style revolution. Christianity was already seriously weakened by science and the churches felt desperately threatened by the rising tide of communism. They knew that a successful communist revolution could bring an end to Christianity in Europe.

Over the next twenty years, communist politicians were either elected or nearly elected throughout Europe. But each time the communists looked like gaining power, the democratic political systems were overthrown by conservative coalitions of wealthy landowners, industrialists, church leaders, and army officers. Right wing military dictatorships rose to power all over Europe, sometimes after long and bloody civil wars.

The Great Depression

While Europe was economically ruined by the First Word War, America had grown prosperous by lending money and selling weapons and other war supplies to its allies. Now the wealthiest nation in the world, the United States enjoyed rapid industrial growth through the 1920s, spurred on by the construction of city skyscrapers, and by the mass production of cars, trucks, radios, and other consumer goods.

Share prices soared as investors rushed to buy stocks in American companies. But as the number of factories grew and production levels increased, there was not enough demand from consumers to return a profit for investors. Factories were producing more than the market could absorb. The problem was that most Americans were still peasant farmers or underpaid factory workers who were just too poor to afford a house or a car.

In 1929, stock prices collapsed. The fear and uncertainty that followed led to a sharp decrease in spending. As businesses saw their profits falling, workers were dismissed or given pay cuts. With fewer workers and lower incomes, consumer spending continued to drop. The economy spiraled into a deep depression. Businesses closed and small farmers went bankrupt and lost their land. Growing numbers of unemployed became homeless beggars.

There had been no government regulation of the financial markets, and after the stock market crash, many investment schemes were found to be bogus, having been set up by corporate thieves to fleece unwary investors. Unfortunately, many banks had invested in these schemes, and this led to a collapse in the banking system.

The American government tried to protect its failing domestic industries from foreign competition by imposing heavy import duties on foreign goods. In retaliation, other countries raised their tariffs on imports of American goods. This led to a rapid decline in world trade and the depression continued to deepen around the globe.

In order to create new jobs and stimulate demand, the American government began to spend heavily on projects of national importance like roads, power stations, and communications. A welfare system was established to provide relief for the impoverished. Although these policies helped to reverse the damage and reinvigorate the economy, they were criticized by Wall Street bankers and conservative politicians as being the beginnings of American socialism.

The Nazi party

After losing the First World War, the old German aristocracy was replaced by an unstable democracy. Germany had been forced to pay dearly for its surrender. Severe limits were placed on the size of its army. As a way of getting around these limits, army commanders supported a number of nationalist political parties, each with its own private army that could be called upon as reserves. One of these parties was the Nazi party.

With mesmerizing speeches about building a powerful new Germany, and driven by a vision of his own destiny, Adolf Hitler rose quickly through the ranks of the Nazi party to become its new leader.

The German economy had collapsed after the war. Runaway inflation made the currency almost worthless. Before the economy was able to recover it was hit hard again by the Great Depression, causing the failure of many banks and industries, leaving half of the workforce unemployed, and fueling widespread disillusionment and anger.

German voters grew desperate. The communist party had been enjoying enormous electoral success since the war and was close to winning power. But with the backing of powerful anti-communist businessmen, the Nazi party was able to exploit widespread fear of communism to rise to power instead as the only strong alternative.

With the help of Catholic politicians, Hitler gained dictatorial powers. After destroying his political opponents, he led Germany towards economic recovery by building up its industrial strength through a massive investment in military hardware and advanced weapons technology.

Hitler’s racism

Given that Europeans and their overseas colonists were the most technologically advanced people, and European empires ruled over much of the world, many white people saw themselves as the winners of the evolutionary competition for the ‘survival of the fittest’, and new theories about white supremacy were becoming increasingly popular.

Hitler wrote a book in which his racist ideas reflected the views of many Europeans and Americans. According to Hitler, white Europeans were the creative force behind all civilized culture and technology. The best that other races could do was to copy white ideas. Hitler believed that early civilizations rose when Europeans conquered and enslaved other races, but then when they interbred with these races, civilizations lost their creative vigor and fell into decay.

Hitler understood that it was not enough to have superior technology to win the evolutionary competition, he wanted to use this technology to defeat and eliminate the other races. He planned to conquer the world and complete the process of evolution by selectively breeding his own population and exterminating whoever he considered to be of an inferior race.

For thousands of years, the Jewish people had been inspired by their scriptures to preserve their cultural identity. After being banished from their homeland by the Romans, they spread out and settled around the world, becoming a nation without borders whose interests were best served through peace and trade. But because of their refusal to accept Christianity or Islam, they remained easy targets for cultural and religious intolerance. Over the centuries, they suffered from regular oppressions, expulsions, and occasional exterminations.

Hitler claimed that the Jews were conspiring to take over the world through control of the international banking system. He portrayed them as leeches who fed upon other cultures, and he was committed to either expelling them from Europe or exterminating them. Millions of Jews tried to escape, but very few countries would accept them.

The Second World War

In Hitler’s mind, the First World War was unfinished business. He began the Second World War by using superior weapons and strategies to rapidly conquer all of Europe. For the next six years, Hitler reigned supreme over the European mainland. Millions were enslaved by the Nazis and millions more were murdered.

Hitler planned to conquer Russia to plunder its vast natural resources and clear a new living space for the German people. But his invasion was a disaster. The Nazis were eventually crushed, Hitler committed suicide, and a defeated Germany was divided between the communist east and the capitalist west.

Ironically, Hitler’s legacy was to help dispel the myths about racism and to discourage future wars of conquest. The war was so well documented that it will forever remain a lesson embedded in world culture. Any world leader who now demonstrates unhealthy ambitions will be compared to Adolf Hitler.

History and experience have proven that no individual can be considered inferior because of the color of their skin. The differing wealth of nations is due more to historical fortune, cultural baggage, and the quality of governance than anything else. And Hitler was wrong about interbreeding, which throughout evolutionary history has allowed the common strengths of each race to be combined for the benefit of future generations.

People who consider themselves to be superior should be able to prove it by successfully raising their families in a free and peaceful world full of equal opportunities, rather than for races to be exterminated or for nations to be destroyed by war. In any case, Hitler proved that civilizations fall into decay when they are dragged into senseless wars by insane dictators.

Japan had astonished the world by transforming from an agricultural economy into an industrial and military superpower within the space of a few decades. Convinced of their own superiority, the Japanese military dictatorship embarked upon an aggressive campaign of territorial expansion to build a new Asian empire.

After the Japanese invaded China, and after they signed a pact with the Nazis, America ceased all trade with Japan. The Japanese entered the war by launching a devastating surprise attack on the American naval fleet. The Americans ended the war by dropping two atomic bombs on Japan.

After the war, representatives from 50 nations held a conference to discuss the formation of a new international organization called the United Nations with the aim of promoting world peace and human rights.

The United Nations officially came into existence in 1945 after its charter had been agreed to and signed by the member states. In the preamble of the charter, it is written ...

We the peoples of the United Nations determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind, and to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small, and to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained, and to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom, and for these ends to practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbors, and to unite our strength to maintain international peace and security, and to ensure, by the acceptance of principles and the institution of methods, that armed force shall not be used, save in the common interest, and to employ international machinery for the promotion of the economic and social advancement of all peoples, have resolved to combine our efforts to accomplish these aims.

The Cold War

The enslavement and extermination of native people by European colonists continued until well into the 1900s. Some white leaders claimed to be conquering the ‘inferior breeds’ in the interests of higher civilization, meanwhile they plundered as much of the world’s resources as they could. Colored people everywhere were denied legal rights and were not even recognized as human beings on their own land.

After the Second World War, the European nations returned to reclaim their slave colonies in Africa and Asia. The French government for example, after having been liberated from German occupation, arrogantly returned to reoccupy Vietnam. But now the Europeans faced fierce resistance from Asian independence fighters armed with weapons left behind by the Japanese.

Although Europe had been liberated from the Germans, eastern Europe was now occupied by Russian forces who were busy establishing communist dictatorships loyal to Russia. The Russians claimed to be driven by ideology, but the Russian dictatorship was really only using communism as an excuse for its own territorial expansion. Popular uprisings against communist party dictatorships in Hungary and Czechoslovakia were crushed by Russian tanks. Half of Europe’s population became imprisoned behind an iron curtain of secrecy and fear.

Some of the scientists working on the atomic bomb projects in England and the United States were communist sympathizers who handed nuclear secrets over to the Russians. Now armed with nuclear weapons and committed to the aggressive expansion of communism, the Russians posed a menacing threat to democracy and freedom.

Revolutionaries backed by Russia fought to establish communist states throughout Asia. Meanwhile the Western democracies, fearing the rapid spread of communism and wishing to entrench their own influence in the region, supported rebels fighting to establish right wing military dictatorships loyal to the West. Many Asian states erupted into civil war.

A war that began with the Vietnamese fighting for freedom against the French slowly escalated into an international battleground as Western forces fought to resist the further expansion of communism. More bombs were dropped on Asian peasants during this war than were dropped on Europeans throughout the whole of the Second World War.

The communist threat to world democracy now seemed so serious that no price was too high to prevent it from spreading, short of global nuclear war. Western intelligence agencies conspired to overthrow emerging democracies throughout the developing world whenever they feared the election of communists. They assassinated elected politicians, supported right wing military coups, and supplied arms to ruthless military dictators employing death squads.

The civil rights movement

With the end of European colonization, the long oppressed colored people in the United States and other European colonies sensed a new climate of social change. When peaceful demonstrations failed to convince white voters of the unbearable conditions they were being forced to live under, some groups turned instead to violent protests. After centuries of struggle and despair, gaining the right to vote would be the turning point in their fight for equal rights and opportunities.

Martin Luther King was a Baptist church minister who led a peaceful campaign for black civil rights in America. He received the Nobel peace prize for his efforts, and he continued to organize peaceful protests and give memorable speeches until being assassinated in 1968. His speeches are still relevant today ...

In the human rights revolution, if something is not done, and in a hurry, to bring the colored peoples of the world out of their long years of poverty, their long years of hurt and neglect, then the whole world is doomed.

I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I refuse to accept the cynical notion that nation after nation must spiral down a militaristic stairway into the hell of nuclear destruction. I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality.

I have the audacity to believe that people everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds; and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits.

The collapse of communism

Communism offered little incentive to improve economic efficiency or develop new technology. Companies in capitalist countries competed to exploit every possible technological advantage, but state owned factories in communist countries could only try to copy capitalist innovations.

After capitalist countries developed advanced electronics and affordable desktop computers, the communist economies fell behind and collapsed. With inefficient factories producing nothing of any value on the world market, the people of Russia and Eastern Europe, whose hopes had been crushed for so long, were left poverty stricken and ideologically exhausted.

History had proven Marx to be wrong about many things, especially about economic progress and human nature. Communism was like a religion, imposing its moral order by preaching myths about history and dreams about some kind of slave utopia. The communist party turned out to be nothing more than another corrupt priesthood, forcing its failed theories upon others, dedicated only to the pursuit of its own power.

The Chinese adapted to the failure of communism by abandoning their socialist ideals and embracing capitalism instead. Without any legitimate reason to resist democratic reforms, the Chinese government now appears to be just another oppressive capitalist dictatorship, riddled with corruption and mismanagement, holding back the progress of its own people, and potentially threatening the safety of the world as its strives to fulfill some nostalgic dream of regaining its glorious past.

The Middle East

By the end of the 1800s, the British had defeated the Muslims in India, the French and British had invaded North Africa, and much of Central Asia was occupied by Russian troops. What remained of the Islamic Empire was on the verge of disintegration. However, the Europeans helped to prop it up as a defense against any further territorial expansion by Russia.

As Islamic civilization was being overtaken by its European rival, many Muslims began to suffer a profound religious crisis. Some intellectuals complained that the Islamic world needed to adapt to modern political ideas like nationalism, democracy, higher education, and even equality for women. They argued that it was possible to live in a modern society and still be a good Muslim as long as modern ideas were contemplated in the light of Islam.

Many Muslim clerics, however, were opposed to modernization. They believed that the only solution was to return to a strict interpretation of the Koran under strict Islamic law. Because of this, many intellectuals came to regard the religious establishment as the greatest obstacle to progress. It seemed like Islamic values would continue to stifle the kind of innovative thinking that was necessary for success in the modern world.

When the First World War broke out, the Turks allied themselves with the Germans. In response to this, the British convinced Arab leaders to rebel against the Turks by promising to help them establish a new Arab empire. Meanwhile, Britain conspired with France to divide the empire up into colonies. After the war, Syria and Lebanon became French dominions while Egypt, Palestine, Jordan, Iraq, and Iran came under British influence.

Shortly after the war, a Turkish military commander known as Ataturk expelled all foreign forces from Turkey and established an aggressively secular nationalist dictatorship. His government embarked on an ambitious plan to modernize Turkish society by removing Islamic influences from the law. Alcohol was legalized, women were no longer forced to wear veils, and religion became a private matter for each citizen.

Other governments in the region followed Turkey’s lead by implementing similar reforms. They wanted to liberalize their societies and modernize their economies by imitating the West.

As the old Islamic Empire came to an end, an Arab leader named Abdul Aziz Al-Saud led an army of religiously inspired warriors to conquer Mecca and establish a new Arab kingdom called Saudi Arabia. As the new ruler of the birthplace of Islam, Al-Saud’s power depended heavily on the support of the religious establishment, who felt comfortably reassured by his commitment to strict Islamic laws and values.

The rise of political Islam

After oil was discovered in the Middle East, Western oil companies became very influential in regional politics. When huge oil reserves were discovered in Saudi Arabia, the United States government formed an alliance with the Saudi royal family, agreeing to defend their kingdom against any threat in order to guarantee a reliable supply of cheap oil.

After the Second World War, with the end of European colonialism, most of the countries in the Middle East gained their independence. However, they still remained under the authoritarian rule of kings and dictators, most of whom had risen to power with the help of the Europeans.

As the Cold War intensified, while some regional dictators were able to hold on to power, others were toppled by popular uprisings or military coups, usually backed by either Russia or the United States, who were only concerned about their own strategic oil interests without much regard for the needs of the local people.

Throughout most of the twentieth century, the religious establishment played no significant role in Middle Eastern politics. Although many people still prayed in their local mosques, religion was considered to be a private matter. Even in Pakistan, which was established as a Muslim state after the partition of India in 1947, religion did not play a major role in politics.

Oil wealth is much easier to monopolize than industrial wealth, and while most oil rich kings and dictators and their friends and families acquired massive fortunes and lived in luxury, other sectors of their economies were left undeveloped. Economic mismanagement and a complete lack of financial accountability helped to condemn the growing population of the region to high unemployment and widespread poverty.

The regional media was heavily censored, and dissent was silenced with brutal repression. Mosques became one of the few remaining venues for political discussion. Although many clerics were arrested or killed, closing the mosques seemed too extreme for even the dictators to contemplate.

The Western political establishment was opposed to democracy in the region, fearing they might lose their strategic oil allies. For democracy activists who were struggling to establish political freedom in their countries, this was just another classic example of Western imperialist hypocrisy.

Over the decades, radical Islam came to be seen by many as the only viable political opposition force: devoted to God and claiming to be incorruptible, bitterly opposed to both communism and Western imperialism, well funded by the religious establishment, and actively concerned about the welfare of even the poorest sections of the community.

The Islamic Revolution

The Shah of Iran was a pro-western dictator installed by the British and propped up by the Americans. He was committed to modernizing Iranian society through education, industrialization, and equal rights for women. Under his rule, Iran became the richest, most developed, and most heavily armed state in the region, regarded by the United States as one of its closest allies, and seen by the West as a buffer against communism and a reliable source for cheap oil.

However, the shah treated his country’s wealth like it was his own personal fortune, enriching his friends and wasting billions on extravagances. As opposition to his rule grew more vocal over the decades, particularly from the religious establishment, the shah became increasingly brutal in his repression. His secret police imprisoned, tortured, and killed thousands of suspected political opponents, and many, like the Ayatollah Khomeini, were forced to flee the country.

Tensions rose steadily over the decades until in 1978, a series of events led to protests which rapidly escalated into mass demonstrations. Secular academics, Marxist revolutionaries, and Muslim clerics protested with one voice while wealthy merchants marched alongside the dispossessed poor. Although their aims and interests were different, they temporarily joined forces for the common cause of removing the hated shah.

Widespread strikes crippled the economy. Mass demonstrations were broken up by soldiers firing into crowds. Hundreds of protestors were killed every day. The violence continued to escalate until millions of people took to the streets, crippling the army’s ability to repress them. The army disintegrated as soldiers mutinied and joined the protestors. With the entire population now against him, the shah fled to America.

In the intense political upheaval that followed, while moderates were drafting a new democratic constitution, Muslim clerics took control of the law courts, religious fanatics attacked communists and academics, and the Ayatollah Khomeini returned from exile to declare himself the ‘supreme leader for life’ of an Islamic republic.

Strict Islamic law was introduced, women were forced to wear veils, and prostitutes and homosexuals were executed as the ayatollah began his own reign of terror. America was declared to be the enemy of Islam, the staff of the American embassy were taken hostage, and angry mobs of religious fanatics marched through the streets chanting “death to America”.

Other Islamic extremists looked to Iran as an example and an inspiration. The most powerful Western ally in the region had fallen and been replaced by an Islamic republic. Fearing that the revolution might spread, regional dictators began yielding to the demands of Muslim radicals by distancing themselves from the West and Islamizing many of their laws.

Regional hostility towards America was initially fuelled by anti-imperialist sentiment, religious intolerance, Cold War communist propaganda, America’s cosy relationships with corrupt dictators, its opposition to democracy in the region, its unconditional support for the restoration of biblical Israel, and Islamic fundamentalist revulsion towards many aspects of popular American culture. When you add to this a series of failed American military interventions and an ongoing military presence in the region, then it is not surprising that even the most hated dictators have been able to improve their popularity by deflecting public anger towards America and Israel.

Power always corrupts

After the Second World War, the United States government assumed the role of being a kind of ‘global policeman’, using its formidable military and economic power to oppose the enemies of democracy and capitalism. But just like every other nation in history, despite any claims to higher ideals, the American government acts primarily in its own national interest.

Opportunity leads to temptation, and unrestrained power sets its own agenda. Although most Americans would like to believe that their government always tries to do what is morally right, there have been plenty of occasions in recent history when the United States government has acted like a corrupt policeman, using the threat of military force to extort political and economic concessions from other nations.

Just like in England, France, Russia and every other powerful nation, there is an elite political establishment in America that will take advantage of any opportunity to increase its own global dominance by spoiling the possibility of political and economic progress in other less developed nations. They preach freedom and democracy while undermining elected governments and supporting brutal dictatorships whenever it serves their interests.

Although American politicians regularly condemn other nations for violating human rights, there are powerful forces in American politics who believe that the United States should use its overwhelming military power to impose ‘American rights’, such as the right to ignore international laws and conventions.

Some powerful political forces are even outspoken opponents of human rights. They are committed instead to pure capitalism, unburdened by concern for human values. They believe that economic progress is not compatible with social responsibility. They value American corporate and military interests over the lives of innocent civilians. They profit by elevating world conflict while plunging their nation deep into debt by pouring billions of dollars into weapons manufacturers and military contracting companies owned by family connections.

Democracy

Democratic politics is almost entirely driven by greed and self-interest. Each election is like a selfish grab for power. Political parties do whatever they can within the law and sometimes outside of the law to gain extra votes. People vote for the party that will tax them less, spend more on their personal interests, and bias the laws in their favor. Few politicians survive by championing higher ideals.

The reason why democracy has succeeded over every other form of government is because people have a peaceful way of removing leaders they no longer want. After being in government for too long, even honest politicians often become corrupted by power or stained by controversy.

Freedom of speech is the foundation of democracy. Governments are held accountable by free speech, every decision must have a reason, every cent must be accountable, bad decisions are punished at election time. The free flow of information allows both people and governments to make the best informed decisions.

Without freedom of speech, corrupt politicians, corporate monopolies, religious fanatics, military elites, and other powerful interest groups will do whatever they can to restrict the flow of information and distort the truth in order to manipulate the minds of the masses and increase their power and wealth.

Dictatorships have little incentive to reform ineffective laws. But under democracy, competing political parties need to be seen to be constantly acting in the best interests of voters. And so the laws are continually refined through a process of community consultation and public debate.

Public protest against oppression can sometimes be the only way to force political change. Without the democratic right to protest peacefully, people often have no other option than to act violently, which usually only brings greater oppression in its wake.

The United States government is not the best example of a fair democratic system. It is like a two party dictatorship in which minority views have no direct representation. Environmentalists are forced into partnership with radical socialists, and moral crusaders are forced to join forces with corporate polluters.

This problem could be solved by using proportional voting to allocate national senate seats, like in other countries, rather than the existing system, in which voters from smaller states have much more of a say in government than voters from larger states do. Proportional voting would allow smaller parties representing minority interests to be elected to the senate. Disgruntled voters might be more interested in voting if the choices they have are meaningful.

In any case, American government policy is largely directed by bribes from corporate lobbyists. Some say that it is in the nationís best economic interests to sell the decision-making process to the highest bidder, even when those who can buy the greatest influence are often those who profit most from military adventurism, and those who monopolize and overcharge for essential services.

However, democratic reforms must be undertaken very carefully. History has shown that any attempt to reform a working democracy invites the danger of being manipulated by powerful elites seeking more power for themselves. Democracies must always balance the need for reform against the risk of undertaking it.

Rising religious tensions

While the vast majority of Christians today are kind, generous, peace loving people who are committed to social justice, there are also a large number of Christians who have been brainwashed into believing that every word of the Bible is true, and so they reject scientific explanations, they oppose freedom of speech, and they want to outlaw divorce, abortion, and homosexuality, because that is what the Bible suggests.

If only these delusional fanatics could see that the original intention of the authors of their religion was to encourage people to abandon greed, hatred, and perversion, so that they might make their own enlightened moral judgments based upon honesty, equality, and compassion rather than following the often barbaric moral dictates of ancient religious scriptures.

The overwhelming majority of Muslims today ignore the violent teachings in the Koran by putting them into historical context, just like most Jews put the violent teachings of their holy scriptures into historical context. But there are also many Muslims who have been brainwashed into believing that the Koran is the final word of God, and so they oppose democracy and freedom of speech because they fear that modern democratic values will eventually replace conservative Islamic ones.

There was a time when religious extremism was tolerated because it did not pose too much of a danger to the continuation of civilization. But now the peace and prosperity of the world is being seriously threatened by extremists who believe in using violence to promote and defend Islam. Whenever Muslim lands are occupied by non-Muslims, or whenever there is a chance of gaining new lands for Islam, then the extremists will be there to take advantage of the situation by preaching holy war.

Some extremist leaders even dream of rebuilding the old Islamic empire. By launching successful terrorist attacks against the perceived enemies of Islam, they hope to rally enough believers to help them overthrow the unpopular dictatorships now governing many Muslim countries. Once they have taken possession of the region’s oil wealth, and once they are protected by an arsenal of nuclear weapons, they plan to use every resource at their disposal to continue the aggressive spread of Islam.

They dream of a world purified by Islam and dedicated entirely to the worship of God. For them, disbelief is the main cause of evil, and democracy breeds disbelief by encouraging people to satisfy their own interests instead of living to serve the will of God. They believe that secular forms of government are a violation of God’s sovereignty over the earth, therefore all nations must submit themselves to the rule of Islamic theocracy.

The communists in China and North Korea are now selling cheap long-range missiles, and Islamic dictatorships are sharing nuclear secrets. And the chances are very high that these weapons will eventually fall into the hands of Islamic extremists who will use them without any warning against whoever they consider to be the enemies of Islam. For these reasons, the United States has reaffirmed its intention to remain the unchallengeable global military superpower.

The United States military is now developing an advanced weapons system which uses satellites and other sources of information to generate a computerized map of the entire surface of the earth, which includes every house and building, and details about the people who live and work in each place. Using this system, they will be able to rapidly destroy any target in the world using pilotless aircraft carrying precision guided bombs and missiles.

In order to preserve their cherished way of life, the only solution that some American politicians can think of is to create a military monstrosity that is powerful enough to threaten the remaining dictatorships into submission, and if necessary, to introduce them to democracy through war. They hope that democracy will give the vast majority of moderate Muslims the power to restrain their extremist brothers.

However, the use of military force only seems to further radicalize some Muslims who have nothing left to lose and who have no fear of death. Their sense of outrage is further inflamed by what they perceive to be a continuation of Christian and Jewish imperialism, and by the transparent hypocrisy of Western rhetoric about freedom and human rights while much of the world’s population continues to suffer deprivation in the sight of unsympathetic Western eyes.

Frustrated by poverty and unemployment, and being otherwise powerless to improve their living conditions, they see this world as merely a place to prepare themselves for a better life in the world to come. They are attracted to Muslim extremists who preach that the most effective way for them to express their anger and preserve all that they know and love is through holy war against the infidels.

Education is the answer

There are now hundreds of millions of children living in poor countries, or in countries whose governments spend more money on weapons than on schools, and where most parents cannot afford to pay for a private education. The only hope these parents have, is for their children to attend free classes held in religious schools run by fundamentalist clerics, usually with funding from oil rich Islamic states, where the first thing they learn is to memorize the Koran in Arabic.

The most frustrating thing about this situation is that for only a fraction of the cost of developing superweapons, children around the world could all be given the kind of education that would lead to an understanding of science and evolution. Only an education in evolution can liberate and immunize a child’s mind from the dark delusions of religious extremism.

Without knowledge of evolution, people can only ever see themselves as players in some kind of imaginary drama. Barely able to keep a grip on reality, they will be confused by the events in their own lives and unable to comprehend the events that are shaping the world around them. Only an education in evolution can give people a proper understanding of who they are, where they come from, and where they are going.

Unfortunately, the teaching of evolution will continue to face resistance as long as atheist academics continue to argue that evolution is not compatible with a belief in God. The tiresome debate between Christian creationists and evolutionary atheists has continued to distort Western thinking now for more than a century. Until this issue has been resolved, the Western powers will be in no position to lecture other nations on matters of science, philosophy, or religion.

Perhaps the traditional religions ultimately need to be replaced rather than reformed. Religions like Christianity and Islam can never really be modernized, because the words of the Bible and Koran can never be changed. These books will forever remain an anchor for fundamentalism, and liberal interpretations will almost invariably drift towards relativism until they become ineffectual, leading to periodic resurgences of fundamentalism.

In any case, nuclear terrorism will continue to be a threat as long as there are oppressive dictatorships in the world. Democracy has long proven to be the only possible path to peace and prosperity. The popular will of millions of people has much more power to make wise decisions than the selfish ambitions of a handful of greedy politicians, priests, and generals.

Only with the further spread of democracy and freedom of speech will the despondent masses living in undeveloped countries be free to prosper and lead satisfying lives.

The United Nations

For almost 50 years, while democracy struggled against communism, the United Nations worked successfully as a forum for diplomacy, preventing global nuclear war by allowing each side to argue its case before the judgment of the international community.

However, the voting power of the communist dictatorships prevented the United Nations from making any real progress on human rights. And the decisions of the United Nations will continue to be questionable as long as the opinions of a handful of grotesque dictators carry more weight than the aspirations for freedom of the hundreds of millions of people they oppress.

Decisions made by the United Nations are not only distorted by dictators whose interests are the opposite of their people, but also by powerful nations scheming to increase their own global dominance. In the game of international diplomacy, the governments of some powerful nations seem to regard international law as an annoyance unless it can be used to advantage against an enemy.

The United Nations cannot become the leading force in world politics until the entire world has finally embraced democracy. Even then, its decisions will remain questionable as long as they only reflect the selfish interests of narrowly elected governments, and as long as the power of each person’s opinion is unevenly distributed across the globe.

Only by including an additional assembly of elected representatives will the United Nations ever gain unquestionable legitimacy. Such an assembly would need to be directly elected by the people using a global proportional voting system rather than for regional representatives to be elected by majority vote. A global proportional voting system would help to ease political divisions, by allowing minority groups to gain representation, and by encouraging people to vote for global rather than regional issues.

It would be a grave mistake for any nation to surrender sovereign power to an institution that is not democratic. It is not inconceivable that the governance of the United Nations or its subsidiary institutions like the World Trade Organization, the World Bank, or the World Court might one day be taken over by self-serving political elitists. Continued democratic reform of the United Nations is now essential to the progress of world peace.

Continue to chapter 12 ... Sexual Morality