Much history written about the famous Habsburg dynasty has been written from a nationalistic perspective and that has been consistently negative. Sure the dynasty had its weaknesses and failures, and fell mainly because of “overreach” and strategic mistakes, such as a misguided push into the Balkans, which sparked World War 1.
But the Habsburgs achieved much, showing the advantages of an overarching and cosmopolitan system. Hasn’t out of control nationalism been responsible for mind-blowing world disasters, wars and civil strife? An historian of the dynasty, Benjamin Curtis, speaks of “the small minds and restrictive confines of nationalism”. A loose and largely tolerant, ethnically diverse system gives us something to think about in today’s catastrophic world.
Alec Vidler thought so. This distinguished English church historian had respect for science, even though he accepted that it was seen by some as a dissolving agent upon religious belief. Vidler had respect for science. He argued that theology had itself to blame for not keeping up with the achievements of science (including evolutionary biology). Theologians (or many of them) had simply not done the same hard work and research as scientists had done.
Nevertheless science did not have all the answers: “…there still remain mysterious depths in the whole universe and in human existence which mortal man has not fathomed”. It was the function of religion to cast light on those mysterious depths.
In no point in his life did he undergo any dramatic change:
“I would say that for me at any rate, the process has been not a sudden Damascus road experience, but more like the journeying of Bunyan’s Pilgrim, who constantly lost his way, fell into sloughs, was locked up in Doubting Castle and terrified out of his wits in the Valley of the Shadow of Death, but still, through it all had a sense of moving towards light, moving out of time towards eternity “:
Malcolm Muggeridge Christ and the Media (1977)
America, he said, was not a country, merely, but a world unto itself:
“We take foreigners to be incomplete Americans – convinced that we must help and hasten their revolution”
It All Adds Up (1994)
Lionel Penrose was a brilliant medical geneticist whose definitive study the Colchester Report (1938) refuted the current view that high grade mental defect followed Mendelian laws of inheritance. As a Quaker, Penrose deeply sympathised with the mentally handicapped and opposed current campaigns in Britain for their sterilisation. He wrote in 1934:
“If, in each generation, it were possible tp prevent all the defectives from breeding, mental deficiency would not be exterminated. The incidence would only be reduced by one-eleventh every thirty years…Generally speaking, it is unwise to be unduly optimistic about the results of eugenic measures in medicine”:
The Influence of Heredity on Disease.
“It was the kind of morning that seems to go on forever. I was flat and tired and dull and the passing minutes seemed to fall into a void, with a soft whirring sound. Birds chirped in the shrubbery outside and the cars went up and down the Boulevard endlessly….”
The Long Good-Bye 1953
“…there is nothing like running out of time to make you realise you’re in the right skin, with the right person, and that the Apocalypse will happen with or without you”
Howard Jacobson, journalist and writer.
Here is what the distinguished historian, Geoffrey Elton, an expert on Tudor England, had to say about this:
“If knowledge of the past is to entitle the historian to speak to his own day, it must not be so organized as to satisfy that day’s whim; if it is to teach usefully about mankind and the human condition, it must be understood for itself and in all its variety, undetermined by the predilections of the present and unruled by it at a time when the present did not yet exist”
As early as the 1930s scientists were engaged in war industry research , well before they invented the atomic bomb. There were groups of ethical scientists who fought against this dangerous trend. They pointed out that the armaments industry was funding research in universities which would inevitably be used to disastrous effect in future wars. Chemists had already devised “mustard gas” used in trench warfare in World War I:
“At this point men of evil will stepped in, the military intelligence came into operation, and the forces of disunion, envy, hatred and malice” were unleashed. Like Pontius Pilate the scientists washed their hands of any guilt: “It is as if the house of the spirit, which was previously inhabited by the genius of religion, always preoccupied about God, Man, the Good, the Holy, the Right, were thoroughly spring-cleaned, swept and garnished, leaving nothing but the empty rooms and bare walls of scientific ethical neutrality, whereupon seven other demons, all worse than the first, including war and pestilence, enter in and take up permanent residence there”
In his book called The Great Leviathan (1931) Joseph Needham argued that history had been marked by great ideas systems struggling “like leviathans” against each other:
“No opposition has been more violent and long-continued in the past than that between the organised apprehension of the world’s ultimate mystery, which we call religion, and the organised investigation of the world’s apparent mechanism, which we call science”.
Much evil had been caused by this profoundly tragic strife. In the present age, one of obvious secularisation, the world was increasingly dominated by scientific thought.