6 Myths You Probably Learned in School

A special look at Rodney Stark’s acclaimed book How the West Won, which is available as an e-book—today only—for just $1.99.

While writing How the West Won, I frequently found it necessary to challenge the received wisdom about the history of Western civilization. Here are six historical truths too often obscured:

    1. Rather than a great tragedy, the fall of Rome was the single most beneficial event in the rise of Western civilization. The many stultifying centuries of Roman rule saw only two significant instances of progress: the invention of concrete and the rise of Christianity, the latter taking place despite Roman attempts to prevent it.
    2. The “Dark Ages” never happened—that was an era of remarkable progress and innovation that included the invention of capitalism.
    3. The crusaders did not march east in pursuit of land and loot. Rather, they went deeply into debt to finance their participation in what they regarded as a religious mission. Most thought it unlikely that they would live to return (and most didn’t).
    4. There was no “Scientific Revolution” during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries—these brilliant achievements were the culmination of normal scientific progress stretching back to the founding of universities in the twelfth century by Scholastic natural philosophers.
    5. The Reformations did not result in religious freedom but merely replaced repressive Catholic monopoly churches with equally repressive Protestant monopoly churches (it became a serious criminal offense to celebrate the Mass in most of Protestant Europe).
    6. Europe did not grow rich by draining wealth from its worldwide colonies; in fact, the colonies drained wealth from Europe—and meanwhile gained the benefits of modernity.

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Rodney Stark, Distinguished Professor of the Social Sciences at Baylor University, is the author of How the West Won: The Neglected Story of the Triumph of Modernity. As part of the inaugural ISI E-Book Deal, you can purchase the e-book edition of How the West Won for just $1.99! Offer good only through the end of Thursday, August 21.

  • N.S. Palmer

    The fall of Rome was a mixed blessing, but it did have some good consequences. The other five points are entirely accurate.

  • JR

    Gary North has an excellent article in which he points out that the arrival of the barbarians was a hard welcome by those Romans who suffered under the oppressive and regressive tax system (where the poor paid more than the rich). Hard because initially the barbarians did indeed act barbarian in that in the initial encounters with Roman towns they would pillage and loot all they could. However afterwards those Romans would never hear from them again and the barbarians didnt impose a tax system on them. Such a tax free system led to the growth of Europe. Romans actually fled to the barbarians and as North points out the standard of living rose under the Goths.