Human history has a cyclical structure to it. Civilizations are born, grow, weaken and die. Each one is unique but they have similarities that cause their histories to resemble older ones. We are at the end of the European Renaissance Civilization and it’s been a humdinger. From its origins in the rise of a merchant class in 14th century Florence, Italy it has spawned the growth of human learning and the taming of the forces of nature to such an extant that the world we live in today would be completely unrecognizable to those scholars and even the forward-thinking politicians of the early days.
But without a doubt, the impulse that animated the birth and growth of that mighty endeavor is completely spent. The United States and the European Union are the main political centers that represent the descendants of the Renaissance civilization. These two entities are moribund. Senescence defines everything they do. Vigor and youthful enthusiasm are completely lacking. And the whole of their failing energy is directed toward protecting the status quo positions of the wealthy elites. And even in that sadly myopic endeavor they are losing ground rapidly to a more confident culture, the Chinese.
But very often the birth of the next civilization appears among the ashes of the previous one. And that brings me to the point of this essay. Where will the next Florence be found? Some might say that Silicon Valley is our Florence. Here the brightest minds are assembled building the trillion-dollar industry that increasingly runs every aspect of modern life. It sells us our clothes and tools and entertainment and provides our leaders with the information they need to control us.
But I think an organization like Silicon Valley that seeks to subordinate human happiness to an algorithm and openly espouses a worldview that disparages faith and family is hardly a new Florence. Jeff Bezos or Mark Zuckerberg is hardly the next Lorenzo de’ Medici. You could say that at least Elon Musk might have a chance at claiming to be a new Edison perhaps. And Peter Thiel does talk about the lack of innovation but that’s not the same as playing patron to Michelangelo or Galileo.
No, I think the next big explosion of heroic human creation will happen elsewhere. Where? No one can tell. Maybe it’ll be in Texas or Hungary or Russia. Maybe it’ll be in Japan. Or maybe it’ll be in some third world backwater. Somewhere people will figure out how to switch things up and get to keep the fruits of their labor without having to pay the Pope and the Emperor. Somewhere (probably a small place) will break away from the global hive and think and live for themselves. Will it take a thousand years as it did with post-Rome? For my grandchildren’s sake, I hope not. Could it happen today? I tend to doubt it. We haven’t successfully revolted against the king in 250 years and we’ve grown weak and fearful.
My guess is it’ll happen elsewhere. But that’s no excuse for not trying to make it happen here. As weak and fearful as we are, that doesn’t mean our opponents are brave or strong. They’re just positioned on the high ground and they’ve done a good job of gaslighting our kids. If we do a better job of organizing, we may be able to get them off our backs for good. But that’s a big if.