Why I disagree with Alice Smith about “the BLM movement”

Alice Smith tweets:

“The BLM movement is totally different from the BLM organisation.”

Yes, just the same way that the Marxist movement is different from Marxist organisations.

And your point is?

Setting aside that bit of snark at the end, which I only include for completeness (that is the whole tweet), I think Alice Smith is wrong about this. I often do agree with her, which is why I follow her on Twitter, but on this, not.

I think that the “Marxist movement” is a lot more similar to “Marxist organisations” than the “BLM movement” is to BLM.

For instance, before they embark upon a test match, England’s cricketers and their test match opponents this summer have together been “taking the knee”. That makes them, in their way, part of the “Black Lives Matter movement”. I know why they’ve been doing this. They’re saying that back lives matter. They are saying that, what with cricket being very multi-racial and multi-cultural, everyone should be treated with respect, there should be no racial insults, etc. etc. And the world in general ought be like that too. It may be a bit virtue-signally, but they really are signalling actual virtues by doing this. Which is why I do not object.

If, on the other hand, I thought that by kneeling thus, these cricketers had been signalling their approval for the demolition of Western Civilisation and its replacement by tyrannical barbarism, which is what BLM, the organisation, believes in and is doing everything it can to bring about, I’d be angry. But if these cricketers thought that that was what taking the knee actually meant, or what the rest of us watching this on our televisions also thought it meant, they’d not be doing it.

Insofar as the BLM organisation actually succeeds in convincing us all that taking the knee does indeed mean favouring the destruction of Western Civilisation, then the practise will become confined to those groups of people who actually believe in the destruction of Western Civilisation. My understanding is that this is happening, somewhat, in America, which is why taking the knee is now losing some of its appeal. But it is not happening, or has not yet happened very much, in Britain.

On Ex-Muslims and on the lack of social media omnipotence

Over the course of the last few days, Facebook suppressed Ex-Muslim TV but has now allowed it back on air again.

Which provides me with a perfect excuse to write some topical commentary on the subject of Ex-Muslims, and on social media and the allegedly dictatorial powers of the social media. I have a hook. XMTV got suppressed, and then unsuppressed. By social media. Over the last few days. I can now have “Current events” in my category list for this posting.

My commentary on XMTV goes like this: Islam is an ideology of conquest, of the world, by Islam. Submit or die. Islamic terrorists interpret Islam correctly. “Moderate” Muslims either don’t read, or don’t listen to, what they nevertheless insist on going through the motions of saying they do believe. Or they’re just lying, to us and to themselves.

Those who react to the above truths with a shudder, often come back with the claim that, well, yes, that may be true, but this is not a nice thing to say. Yes, Islam does indeed need to “reform”, but if you describe Islam too accurately, that will only arouse opposition from angry Muslims, and they’ll dig in their heals and refuse to make Islam any nicer.

I, on the other hand, think that if any “reform” of this transformative sort ever materialises, it is now decades away from happening. In the meantime, if and when such “reform” (actually a radical rewrite) ever happens, the reason why it will happen will be that millions upon millions of Muslims are publicly abandoning Islam altogether, refusing to wait for it to stop being the nasty thing it has been since it was founded and as of now remains. Only when staring extinction in the face will Islam’s remaining adherents seriously set about remaking their beliefs to the point where they might become truly nice. Will it then be too late for Islam thus to save itself from oblivion? I don’t know and I don’t care.

So, in the meantime, I regard the transformation of Muslims into Ex-Muslims as by far the most important thing now happening to Islam, and also (because also) the best thing. Do you think of yourself as “moderate” and a Muslim. I say: Make up your mind which of these two things you want to be. Choose nicely and wisely. Choose to become an Ex-Muslim.

In the event that history carries on getting nicer, you Ex-Muslims are in the vanguard of it. Hurrah for you. That’s commentary part one of this posting.

As to the second part of the commentary I want to attach to this Facebook-versus-Ex-Muslims contretemps, well, Facebook surely could have kept the Ex-Muslims permanently off their platform, but only at the cost of a relentless drizzle of anti-Facebook anti-Islamic commentary, such as are to be read in this posting, in the paragraphs above this one and, to carefully moderated extent, in the paragraphs that follow. Worse, they might provoke a mass-migration to Parler or Gab or some such alternative. (Every time something like this Ex-Muslim thing happens, I get an email from Gab telling me all about it, and telling me to switch to Gab. One day, I just might.)

But, meanwhile, note that I found out about this news item via Twitter. Twitter, like Facebook, is anti-anti-Islamic, in the sense that this is surely the attitude of most of their two workforces. Yet, although presumably also constantly nagged by Non-Ex Muslims to scrub the Ex-Muslims from their site, Twitter did not do so, despite I am sure must have been a definite little spike of attention being paid by the world to the various Ex-Muslim tweets, denouncing Facebook, that they found themselves hosting.

The problem Twitter and Facebook both face is that they are juggling two contradictory agendas. There is the big money-spinning agenda, the one that says that people can say whatever they hell they like, much as I can say whatever I like on this blog, because it’s my blog. And then there’s the agenda that says that the social media should promote virtue and suppress vice, by allowing and drawing attention to virtuous messages and ignoring and scrubbing all the vicious ones, virtue and vice being defined in accordance with the wokist principles adhered to by, at the very least, an influential and noisy minority of their workforces. Because the wokists want wicked ideas suppressed, rather than merely argued into obscurity, these two agendas can’t both happen. And often the clash between the two generates fireworks, and more attention for particular agendas that the wokists dislike, as may have happened with this temporary interruption of Ex-Muslim TV service.

I don’t want to underplay the amount of grief that the wokists can do to any individual or organisation that they pick out from the herd and concentrate their attacks on. But killing an individual animal is not the same as wiping out the entire herd. If it were, there’d have been no Brexit, no Trump, no actually existing modern world. The Anglosphere is currently having an ideological civil war, and there’s nothing that social media can do to prevent this, not least because they themselves have constructed many of the battlefields and thus helped to make the war happen. They are now merely a part of this war, and a very ambiguous one at that. To switch metaphors from a herd to a conflagration, the social media often fan the very flames that the people who run them and who work for them are trying to extinguish.

Paul Graham on how and why universities are in decline

I like this, by Paul Graham, and I especially like, towards the end of this, this:

On the other hand, perhaps the decline in the spirit of free inquiry within universities is as much the symptom of the departure of the independent-minded as the cause. People who would have become professors 50 years ago have other options now. Now they can become quants or start startups. You have to be independent-minded to succeed at either of those. If these people had been professors, they’d have put up a stiffer resistance on behalf of academic freedom. So perhaps the picture of the independent-minded fleeing declining universities is too gloomy. Perhaps the universities are declining because so many have already left.

Got to this via this tweet. Would probably have found my way there anyway, soon enough, because I like Paul Graham’s stuff whenever I have read it. But, thank you to Claire Lehmann anyway.

In countries arriving at modernity, being a teacher is a very desirable job compared to the alternatives. In countries that have arrived at modernity, being a teacher is not so desirable. I believe this is not mentioned enough in modern arguments about education. The thing is, this change, from teaching being very high status, to teaching becoming not so high status, is nobody’s fault, which makes it an unappealing subject for political polemicists. Also, politicians are terrified of saying that teachers are rubbish.

So, as is so often the case, this is a problem that will be quietly solved, not by politicians changing anything, but by mere people, quietly making alternative arrangements.

James Lindsay talks to and with Joe Rogan

I’ve had my morning deranged by watching and listening to this video of … well, see above. Lots of wisdom in this. Lots.

James Lindsay is a new name to me, and towards the end of this he talked about another new name to me, someone called Derek Bell. I don’t know how to spell Derek, so let’s see if I got it right.

No. Derrick Bell.

I note that the wokists are now saying that nobody really ever really gets cancelled, and I sort of agree with this. I don’t see a world in which any chosen person can be completely silenced. I see a world of unprecedented freedom of expression, but also a huge number of people who really, really do not like this, and are trying to shout down the people they don’t like. But they are not succeeding, or rather, only succeeding somewhat. If the wokists could pick their biggest enemies out and silence the lot of them, this James Lindsay guy would be literally dead now and nobody would even remember him. As it is, he gets to talk to and with Joe Rogan for three hours on end, and I get to watch it, on the other side of a quite big ocean.

As for all those lower-down-the-pundit-pecking-order people who dare not say anything because they want to keep their jobs, well, yes there are still lots of people like that. All effective people have to specialise and there are indeed lots of jobs, and always have been, where you have to keep a lot of what you think to yourself. (My Dad had to keep shtum about being an atheist, because if he hadn’t his job as a big-cheese lawyer might have stalled very badly. Me and my siblings only learned about these heretical opinions of his after he retired. (He couldn’t afford to have us even saying things about what he thought (just like dissidents and their kids in the old USSR))). But, now, you can adopt a pseudonym and say whatever the hell you like on the old www, and there’s a pretty good chance you’ll keep your job.

As this James Lindsay video illustrates, anyone who wants to dissent in the privacy of their own home, from the (actually ex-) Mainstream Media, and then vote accordingly, can easily do that. And nothing the wokists are doing can change that.

LATER: On the other hand, while freedom of expression in total has, I think, and despite all efforts to suppress this freedom, greatly increased because of the internet, on the other hand, freedom of expression for academics has decreased and is decreasing. If you want more freedom of expression and to be, or to go on being, an academic, you picked a bad time. I believe that the doctrine of academic freedom was originally devised to carve out an enclave of freedom of expression for academics, in a world where freedom of expression of the necessary level for academia to do its job was not generally available. Now, academia needs to catch up with the wider world.

Big subject, obviously.

LATER STILL: Good luck cancelling this guy.

Rodney Stark defends God’s Battalions

Recently I quoted a chunk from Emmanuel Todd’s Lineages of Modernity, in the course of which chunk Todd praised the historian Rodney Stark. I looked up Stark on Amazon and encountered a familiar book cover. I realised that I already possessed Stark’s book defending the Crusades, entitled God’s Battalions: The Case For The Crusades.

Here is the Introduction of that book, entitled “Greedy barbarians in armor?”:

ON NOVEMBER 27, 1095, Pope Urban II mounted a platform set up in a meadow outside the French city of Clermont, surrounded in all directions by an immense crowd. A vigorous man of fifty-three, Urban was blessed with an unusually powerful and expressive voice that made it possible for him to be heard at a great distance. On this memorable occasion, addressing a multitude that included poor peasants as well as nobility and clergy, the pope gave a speech that changed history.

Urban had arranged the gathering in response to a letter from Alexius Comnenus, emperor of Byzantium, who had written from his embattled capital of Constantinople to the Count of Flanders requesting that he and his fellow Christians send forces to help the Byzantines repel the Seljuk Turks, recent converts to Islam who had invaded the Middle East, captured Jerusalem, and driven to within one hundred miles of Constantinople. In his letter, the emperor detailed gruesome tortures of Christian pilgrims to the Holy Land and vile desecrations of churches, altars, and baptismal fonts. Should Constantinople fall to the Turks, not only would thousands more Christians be murdered, tortured, and raped, but also “the most holy relics of the Saviour,” gathered over the centuries, would be lost. “Therefore in the name of God … we implore you to bring this city all the faithful soldiers of Christ … [I]n your coming you will find your reward in heaven, and if you do not come, God will condemn you.”

There were many reasons that Europeans might have ignored any plea for help from Byzantium. For one thing, their cultural heritage as well as their Christianity was Roman, while the Byzantines were Greeks, whose lifestyle seemed decadent to Europeans and whose “Orthodox” Christianity held Latin Catholicism in contempt-often persecuting its priests and practitioners. Nevertheless, when Pope Urban 11 read this letter he was determined that it be answered by worthy deeds, and he arranged for a church council at Clermont, which he followed with his famous speech.

Speaking in French, the pope began by graphically detailing the torture, rape, and murder of Christian pilgrims and the defilement of churches and holy places committed by the Turks (he called them Persians): “They destroy the altars, after having defiled them with their uncleanness. They circumcise the Christians, and the blood of the circumcision they either pour on the altars or pour into the vases of the baptismal font. When they wish to torture people by a base death, they perforate their navels, and dragging forth the extremity of the intestines, bind it to a stake; then with flogging they lead the victim around until the viscera having gushed forth the victim falls prostrate on the ground … What shall I say about the abominable rape of women? To speak of it is worse than to be silent. On whom therefore is the labor of avenging these wrongs and recovering this territory incumbent, if not upon you?”

At this point Pope Urban raised a second issue to which he and his illustrious predecessor Gregory VII had devoted years of effort – the chronic warfare of medieval times. The popes had been attempting to achieve a “truce of God” among the feudal nobility, many of whom seemed inclined to make war, even on their friends, just for the sake of a good fight. After all, it was what they had trained to do every day since early childhood. Here was their chance! “Christian warriors, who continually and vainly seek pretexts for war, rejoice, for you have today found a true pretext … If you are conquered, you will have the glory of dying in the very same place as Jesus Christ, and God will never forget that he found you in the holy battalions … Soldiers of Hell, become soldiers of the living God!”

Now, shouts of “Dieu li volt!” (God wills it!) began to spread through the crowd, and men began to cut up cloaks and other pieces of cloth to make crosses and sew them against their chests. Everyone agreed that the next year they would set out for the Holy Land. And they did.

That is the traditional explanation of how and why the First Crusade began. But in recent times a far more cynical and sinister explanation of the Crusades has gained popularity. Thus, in the immediate aftermath of the destruction of the World Trade Center by Muslim terrorists, frequent mention was made of the Crusades as a basis for Islamic fury. It was argued that Muslim bitterness over their mistreatment by the Christian West can be dated back to the First Crusade. Far from being motivated by piety or by concern for the safety of pilgrims and the holy places in Jerusalem, the Crusades were but the first extremely bloody chapter in a long history of brutal European colonialism.

More specifically, it is charged that the crusaders marched east not out of idealism, but in pursuit of lands and loot; that the Crusades were promoted by power-mad popes seeking to greatly expand Christianity through conversion of the Muslim masses; and that the knights of Europe were barbarians who brutalized everyone in their path, leaving “the enlightened Muslim culture … in ruins.” As Akbar Ahmed, chair of Islamic studies at American University in Washington, D.C., has suggested, “the Crusades created a historical memory which is with us today – the memory of a long European onslaught.”

Two months after the attack of September II, 2001, on New York City, former president Bill Clinton informed an audience at Georgetown University that “[tjhose of us who come from various European lineages are not blameless” vis-à-vis the Crusades as a crime against Islam, and then summarized a medieval account about all the blood that was shed when Godfrey of Bouillon and his forces conquered Jerusalem in 1099.

That the Crusades were a terrible crime in great need of atonement was a popular theme even before the Islamic terrorists crashed their hijacked airliners. In 1999, the New York Times had solemnly proposed that the Crusades were comparable to Hitler’s atrocities or to the ethnic cleansing in Kosovo. That same year, to mark the nine hundredth anniversary of the crusader conquest of Jerusalem, hundreds of devout Protestants took part in a “reconciliation walk” that began in Germany and ended in the Holy Land. Along the way the walkers wore T-shirts bearing the message “I apologize” in Arabic. Their official statement explained the need for a Christian apology:

Nine hundred years ago, our forefathers carried the name of Jesus Christ in battle across the Middle East. Fueled by fear, greed, and hatred … the Crusaders lifted the banner of the Cross above your people … On the anniversary of the First Crusade … we wish to retrace the footsteps of the Crusaders in apology for their deeds … We deeply regret the atrocities committed in the name of Christ by our predecessors. We renounce greed, hatred and fear, and condemn all violence done in the name of Jesus Christ.

Also in 1999, Karen Armstrong, a former nun and a popular writer on religious themes, proposed that “crusading answered a deep need in the Christians of Europe. Yet today most of us would unhesitantly condemn the Crusades as unchristian. After all, Jesus told his followers to love their enemies, not to exterminate them. He was a pacifist and had more in common with Gandhi, perhaps, than with Pope Urban.” Armstrong went on to propose that, in fact, “holy war is a deeply Christian act,” since Christianity has “an inherent leaning toward violence, despite the pacifism of Jesus.” And a prominent former priest, James Carroll, agreed, charging that the Crusades left a “trail of violence [that] scars the earth and human memory even to this day.”

These are not new charges. Western condemnations of the Crusades were widespread during the “Enlightenment,” that utterly misnamed era during which French and British intellectuals invented the “Dark Ages” in order to glorify themselves and vilify the Catholic Church (see chapter 3). Hence, Voltaire (1694-1778) called the Crusades an “epidemic of fury which lasted for two hundred years and which was always marked by every cruelty, every perfidy, every debauchery, and every folly of which human nature is capable.” According to David Hume (1711-1776), the Crusades were “the most signal and most durable monument to human folly that has yet appeared in any age or nation.” Denis Diderot (1713-1784) characterized the Crusades as “a time of the deepest darkness and of the greatest folly … to drag a significant part of the world into an unhappy little country in order to cut the inhabitants’ throats and seize a rocky peak which was not worth one drop of blood.” These attacks also reinforced the widespread “Protestant conviction that crusading was yet another expression of Catholic bigotry and cruelty?” Thus the English historian Thomas Fuller (1608-1661) claimed that the Crusades were all the pope’s doing and that this “war would be the sewer of Christendom” in that it attempted to deprive the Muslims of their lawful possession of Palestine.

However, the notion that the crusaders were early Western imperialists who used a religious excuse to seek land and loot probably was originated by the German Lutheran church historian Johann Lorenz von Mosheim (1693-1755), who wrote: “The Roman pontiffs and the European princes were engaged at first in these crusades by a principle of superstition only, but when in the process of time they learnt by experience that these holy wars contributed much to increase their opulence and to extend their authority … [then] ambition and avarice seconded and enforced the dictates of fanaticism and superstition.” Mosheim’s views were echoed by Edward Gibbon (1737-1794), who claimed that the crusaders really went in pursuit of “mines of treasures, of gold and diamonds, of palaces of marble and jasper, and of odoriferous groves of cinnamon and frankincense.”

During the twentieth century, this self-interest thesis was developed into an elaborate “materialist” account of why the Crusades took place.” The prolific Geoffrey Barraclough (1908-1984) wrote: “[O]ur verdict on the Crusades [is that it amounted to] colonial exploitation.” Or, as Karen Armstrong confided, these “were our first colonies.” A more extensive and sophisticated material explanation of why the knights went east was formulated by Hans Eberhard Mayer, who proposed that the Crusades alleviated a severe financial squeeze on Europe’s “knightly class.” According to Mayer and others who share his views, at this time there was a substantial and rapidly growing number of “surplus” sons, members of noble families who would not inherit and whom the heirs found it increasingly difficult to provide with even modest incomes. Hence, as Mayer put it, “the Crusade acted as a kind of safety valve for the knightly class … a class which looked upon the Crusade as a way of solving its material problems.” Indeed, a group of American economists recently proposed that the crusaders hoped to get rich from the flow of pilgrims (comparing the shrines in Jerusalem with modern amusement parks) and that the pope sent the crusaders east in pursuit of “new markets” for the church, presumably to be gained by converting people away from Islam.” It is thus no surprise that a leading college textbook on Western civilization informs students: “From the perspective of the pope and European monarchs, the crusades offered a way to rid Europe of contentious young nobles … [who] saw an opportunity to gain territory, riches, status, possibly a title, and even salvation.”

To sum up the prevailing wisdom: during the Crusades, an expansionist, imperialistic Christendom brutalized, looted, and colonized a tolerant and peaceful Islam.

Not so. As will be seen, the Crusades were precipitated by Islamic provocations: by centuries of bloody attempts to colonize the West and by sudden new attacks on Christian pilgrims and holy places. Although the Crusades were initiated by a plea from the pope, this had nothing to do with hopes of converting Islam. Nor were the Crusades organized and led by surplus sons, but by the heads of great families who were fully aware that the costs of crusading would far exceed the very modest material rewards that could be expected; most went at immense personal cost, some of them knowingly bankrupting themselves to go. Moreover, the crusader kingdoms that they established in the Holy Land, and that stood for nearly two centuries, were not colonies sustained by local exactions; rather, they required immense subsidies from Europe.

In addition, it is utterly unreasonable to impose modern notions about proper military conduct on medieval warfare; both Christians and Muslims observed quite different rules of war. Unfortunately, even many of the most sympathetic and otherwise sensible historians of the Crusades are unable to accept that fact and are given to agonizing over the very idea that war can ever be “just,” revealing the pacifism that has become so widespread among academics. Finally, claims that Muslims have been harboring bitter resentments about the Crusades for a millennium are nonsense: Muslim antagonism about the Crusades did not appear until about 1900, in reaction against the decline of the Ottoman Empire and the onset of actual European colonialism in the Middle East. And anti-crusader feelings did not become intense until after the founding of the state of Israel. These are principal themes of the chapters that follow.

Historians disagree about which events were Crusades and therefore about when they occurred. I exclude the “crusades” against heretics in Europe and accept the conventional definition: that the Crusades involved conflicts between Christendom and Islam for control of the Holy Land, campaigns that occurred between 1095 and 1291. However, unlike most conventional Crusade historians, I shall not begin with the pope’s appeal at Clermont, but with the rise of Islam and the onset of the Muslim invasions of Christendom. That’s when it all started-in the seventh century, when Islamic armies swept over the larger portion of what was then Christian territory: the Middle East, Egypt and all of North Africa, and then Spain and southern Italy, as well as many major Mediterranean islands including Sicily, Corsica, Cyprus, Rhodes, Crete, Malta, and Sardinia. It also is important to examine the Christian counterattacks that began in the eighth century and soon “liberated” many of the occupied areas, for these were previews of the military confrontations that eventually took place in the Holy Land. Nor shall I merely recount the crusader battles, for they are comprehensible only in light of the superior culture and technology that made it possible for European knights to march more than twenty-five hundred miles, to suffer great losses along the way, and then to rout far larger Muslim forces.

Many superb historians have devoted their careers to studying aspects of the Crusades.” I am not one of them. What I have done is synthesize the work of these specialists into a more comprehensive perspective, written in prose that is accessible to the general reader. However, I have been careful to fully acknowledge the contributions of the many experts on whom I have depended, some in the text and the rest in the endnotes.

Anton Howes on the Agglomerationists

I tried picking out bits of the recently penned essay by Anton Howes entitled The Agglomerationists, but it contains nothing I am willing to omit. Almost every sentence is something I find myself wanting to think about, out loud, here. Obliged quickly to name a single summary of what this blog of mine is all about, or is trying to be, I might very well just say: that.

Just as a for-instance what Howes says fits with what Stephen Davies has been saying on similar matters like two adjacent pieces of a puzzle.

So, here is “The Agglomerationists”, all of it. I’ll surely be referring back to this and quoting bits of it for quite some while:

The other day, economic historian Tim Leunig tagged me into a comment on twitter with the line “intellectually I think the biggest change since settled agriculture was the idea that most people could live in cities and not produce food”. What’s interesting about that, I think, is the idea that this was not just an economic change, but an intellectual one. In fact, I’ve been increasingly noticing a sort of ideology, if one can call it that, which seemingly took hold in Britain in the late sixteenth century and then became increasingly influential. It was not the sort of ideology that manifested itself in elections, or even in factions, but it was certainly there. It had both vocal adherents and strenuous opponents, the adherents pushing particular policies and justifying them with reference to a common intellectual tradition. Indeed, I can think of many political and economic commentators who are its adherents today, whether or not they explicitly identify as such.

Today, the people who hold this ideology will occasionally refer to themselves as “urbanists”. They are in favour of large cities, large populations, and especially density. They believe strongly in what economists like to call “agglomeration effects” — that is, if you concentrate people more closely together, particularly in cities, then you are likely to see all sorts of benefits from their interactions. More ideas, more trade, more innovation, more growth.

Yet urbanism as a word doesn’t quite capture the full scope of the ideology. The group also heavily overlaps with natalists — people who think we should all have more babies, regardless of whether they happen to live in cities — and a whole host of other groups, from pro-immigration campaigners, to people setting up charter cities, to advocates of cheaper housing, to enthusiasts for mass transit infrastructure like buses, trams, or trains. The overall ideology is thus not just about cities per se — it seems a bit broader than that. Given the assumptions and aims that these groups hold in common, perhaps a more accurate label for their constellation of opinions and interests would be agglomerationism.

So much for today. What is the agglomerationist intellectual tradition? In the sixteenth century, one of the mantras that keeps cropping up is the idea that “the honour and strength of a prince consists in the multitude of the people” — a sentiment attributed to king Solomon. It’s a phrase that keeps cropping up in some shape or form throughout the centuries, and used to justify a whole host of agglomerationist policies. And most interestingly, it’s a phrase that begins cropping up when England was not at all urban, in the mid-sixteenth century — only about 3.5% of the English population lived in cities in 1550, far lower than the rates in the Netherlands, Italy, or Spain, each of which had urbanisation rates of over 10%. Even England’s largest city by far, London, was by European standards quite small. Both Paris and Naples were at least three times as populous (don’t even mention the vast sixteenth-century metropolises of China, or Constantinople).

Given their lack of population or density, English agglomerationists had a number of role models. One was the city of Nuremburg — through manufactures alone, it seemed, a great urban centre had emerged in a barren land. Another was France, which in the early seventeenth century seemed to draw in the riches to support itself through sheer exports. One English ambassador to France in 1609 noted that its “corn and grain alone robs all Spain of their silver and gold”, and warned that it was trying to create still new export industries like silk-making and tapestry weaving. (The English rapidly tried to do the same, though with less success.) France may not have been especially urban either, but Paris was already huge and on the rise, and the country’s massive overall population made it “the greatest united and entire force of any realm or dominion” in Christendom. Today, the population of France and Britain are about the same, but in 1600 France’s was about four times as large. Some 20 millions compared to a paltry 5. If Solomon was right, then England had a lot of catching up to do to even approach France in honour.

Most important of all the role models, however, was the Dutch Republic. Here was a nation that could not possibly feed itself using its own land, but which nonetheless was extremely populous and wealthy. It made itself, as one English admirer put it, “powerful and rich in all kinds, by merchandise, manufactory, and fullness of trade, having no commodities in their own country growing”. With low tariffs and a vast merchant fleet, Amsterdam had become the global entrepôt, sucking in commodities from all across the world and then re-exporting them to the rest of Europe. And through high-value manufactures, it paid for whatever imports of raw materials it needed to support its population. It wove and dyed English wool into expensive fine cloth, then sold it back at a profit to the very English. It built its ships from Baltic timber, then used those ships to dominate the Baltic trade. Despite having “not a timber tree growing in their country”, they somehow still were able to build and maintain the largest merchant and fishing fleet in Europe. Observers even marvelled at how a country that produced hardly any grain of its own could relieve food shortages in England, which was usually a major grain exporter.

To emulate the Dutch, English agglomerationists recommended introducing high-value trades, not worrying too much about growing grain or timber at home, and boosting the size of the English merchant marine — all the better, too, to support the navy in times of war. The eating of fish, for example, was in 1563 made compulsory on Wednesdays. A straightforward way to support the English fishery as the “nursery” of its sailors. By the end of the seventeenth century, it was also considered ancient and prudent policy to ban any search for coal deposits near London, so that there would continue to be a reliable trade in coal from Newcastle-upon-Tyne by sea — this colliery trade was supposed to be a reliable economic backstop for all merchant mariners, to shield them from price fluctuations in whatever other trades they might ply.

Among the other Dutch characteristics to emulate was also a subjugation of nature to suit the needs of human commerce — draining marshes, making rivers navigable, and digging canals. A way to transform the inaccessible inland towns into centres of manufacture that could be supplied with grain from somewhere else. The Dutch had somehow reclaimed their land from the sea itself, so why not apply the same expertise to England, particularly by importing skilled Dutch engineers? Indeed, the English since at least the mid-sixteenth century had pursued a proactive policy of attracting talent from abroad. In doing so, they adopted yet another foreign agglomerationist policy — the patent monopoly, as practised in Venice — which was generally used to give skilled foreigners a temporary monopoly on high-value industries that they would introduce to the country. Venice, like Nuremberg, was yet another noted case of a city that had grown large despite lacking its own barren surroundings. As the statesman Thomas Smith put it in the late 1540s, the Venetians “if they may hear of any cunning craftsman in any faculty, they will find the means to allure him to dwell in their city”.

Then, as now, agglomerationists were generally in favour of immigration. They supported the invitation of religious refugees from the Netherlands and France throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, many of whom introduced luxury manufactures like silk-weaving. In less obvious cases, too, when the refugees were not as skilled, nor as Protestant, they made their case. Take 1709, when residents of the County Palatinate of the Rhine fled the onslaught of the invading French, with some 13-14,000 refugees making their way to London. Some people suggested moving them on, perhaps to Ireland or to the colonies in America. But Daniel Defoe — later famous as the author of Robinson Crusoe — had a much more ambitious, agglomerationist plan. He proposed that a city be created from scratch in the New Forest, near Southampton — an eighteenth-century charter city.

As far as Defoe was concerned, the forest was unoccupied wasteland, hardly touched by human hands. Yet it was in England, and in an area that could make the Palatinate refugees productive British citizens. His idea was to mark out 4,000 acres somewhere near the village of Lyndhurst, which would then be split among twenty Palatinate farmers and their families, who would then pay no rent or taxes for the first twenty years. The farmers would then be given some startup capital with which to build the city, employing and housing the other refugees as their workers. Defoe’s plan was extremely detailed, reading a bit like a blow-by-blow account of someone playing a city simulation video game: select so many workers and get them to cut some timber, then so many workers to build some houses, and so on. Unfortunately, however, it never happened. The anti-agglomerationist arguments on this occasion won out and the refugees were dispersed.

Nonetheless, in defending the plan, Defore has left us with one of the pithiest and clearest summaries of his ideology: “The more people, the more trade; the more trade, the more money; the more money, the more strength; and the more strength, the greater a nation.” It might as well have come from the pen of any number of urbanists, natalists, or other agglomerationists today.