Government control of ideas

From before 1AD to around 1400AD (I believe there is no zero AD because we didn't have zero till much later - an Indian invention!) there were three main centers of civilization - Europe, China and India.  They were of similar population and developed culturally and technically quite similarly.  Then around 1400, Europe started an unprecedented scientific and technological development that continued until recently.  Even though China invented the basis of many of our modern technologies, it never developed them or put them together.  It is interesting to contemplate why this is so. 

My theory is that to really develop technically and scientifically we need two important things in our social environment.  The first is a reasonably stable society and the second is freedom of ideas from government intervention. 

The first part: stable society.  Now I've not read Indian history but I believe that India didn't really provide a stable social environment.  I'm happy to be corrected in this and one day I hope to get time to read Indian history.  China did  have a stable culture, although with interregnums where it dissolved into chaos, but for much of the time it had a stable society.  Europe had a stable society although it was fluid as wars and changes swept through it but overall there was stability.  Europe had geographic divisions which allowed it to maintain diverse political boundaries but with countries remaining connected in a way China and India didn't have.

The second part: freedom of ideas from government intervention shows Europe to be quite different to the others.  For most of history when China was stable, it was also monolithic and uniform with considerable government intervention in ideas and trade.  The monolithic nature of China meant government intervention in ideas was final, there was nowhere to go.

Europe on the other hand was politically and geographically very diverse.  While any one part may not have been stable there were always parts that were stable.  To some extent people could even move to stable parts.  Europe was always more diverse and divided than China. 

The critical point in Europe seems to have been around the time of the reformation.  In the first days of the printing press, the Catholic church had an early and very harsh copyright law.  Allegedly this was to save the "jobs" of monks copying books by hand in scriptoriums but mainly to control and censor books.  The penalty for breaking the copyright law was death.  The law applied more or less in catholic countries, which was to say, much of western Europe.  But from the time of the reformation it was possible for people to by-pass the copyright law by printing in a non-catholic country.  This was how Gallileo's books were published.  His books were banned by the church, and therefore in catholic countries, from around 1633 to 1835.  In fact from the time of the reformation Europe experienced a period of scientific development unprecedented in world history. 

It seems clear to me that the geographic and political diversity and contention in Europe provided a key ingredient here, a way of by-passing government intervention in ideas. 

As Europe consolidates and creates uniform intellectual property laws: ie government intervention in ideas, it will cut off the critical driver that has moved it into the forefront of scientific development.  The US is in the process of doing this. 

Some background:  China and Europe 1500 - 2000

Update: I was reading this article in wired:
Why Black Market Entrepreneurs Matter to the World Economy and it gives an idea of the size, scale, energy and innovation of unregulated economies.

There seems to be a very fine balance between the government control you need to get a stable society and the over-control that stifles and censors ideas.  It seems to me that no single government can get it right.

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