From .............. THE TROUBLE WITH FRANCE
By - Alain Peyrefitte
CHAPTER 13 .............. The Soaring Protestant Societies
pages 106 - 110
The Protestant nations ran fast on this moving sidewalk. By the middle of the seventeenth century, more than one witness had already noticed the gap separating them from the Catholic countries. In the eighteenth century the breach was wide enough to bring cries of alarm from Fontenelle and Montesquieu, Voltaire and Diderot. Little England's victorious resistance to the great French Empire increased French Anglophilia.
"Brittany is as big as Holland,"
a Breton autonomist stubbornly insisted to me.
"When Brittany was annexed [by France], it was even more heavily populated. Now it has five times fewer people and it's ten times poorer. That's what France brought us."
His comparison was striking - and accurate. He forgot only one thing: that it could apply to any French province except the Ile-de-France. Save for the core surrounding Paris, the whole country that annexed Brittany fell victim to the same sickness as the provinces it took over.
How then can we avoid amazement at the paradoxical history of Holland, so poorly endowed by nature and yet so important in the past three hundred years to the world's economy?
Its climate is harsh: strong winds, hard winters, rain and fog. It is tiny, some 13,000 square miles - the size of four or five French departments. And a good half of that had to be wrested from the sea with great effort, or protected against flooding rivers. There was a time when its coasts offered no safe anchorage. It lacked both raw materials and power sources.
Yet, since the beginning of the seventeenth century, Holland has reinforced its identity as a victorious society, stubbornly intent on enriching itself.
As early as 1604, the British were taking Holland as a model;
"they are," one contemporary document noted, "the world's best businessmen."
Their financiers, traders, navigators took over from the Portuguese, establishing themselves in South Africa, in central India, in the Indian Ocean, the Malay Peninsula, the Spice Islands. They maintained a lively trade with China and Japan. Their hulking transports plied the Mediterranean and the Baltic.
The East India Company was founded in 1602, the West India Company in 1621, the year the Dutch founded their first colony in North America. Soon their trading posts and colonies - at the Cape of Good Hope, in Ceylon, Java, Sumatra, Formosa - formed a belt around the world.
Even before England, this small Calvinist nation was in the forefront of the merchant world. The Netherlands adopted a policy of tolerance, becoming a magnet to foreigners. The government it chose was elective and decentralized. By 1614, the United Provinces had more seamen than Spain, France, England and Scotland combined. In 1609, a stock exchange and a bank were opened in Amsterdam, soon to become the world's busiest port.
Stimulated by the country's trade, some industries prospered - shipbuilding, Delft pottery, cloth. A network of cities developed. Capital speculated in agriculture; it had to, to reclaim thousands of miles of land from the sea and to rationalize production. Holland achieved the West's first agricultural rationalization - to this day the most brilliant. In the seventeenth century it specialized in what it produced best: flowers, flax, hops, tobacco, artificial fodder, highly bred cattle that became the world's finest dairy animals. Everything else was imported.
True, it was eclipsed in the eighteenth century, when England and Hamburg forged ahead. But it later resumed its leadership. Today, it acts as a leaven in the Common Market, and Rotterdam is now the world's busiest port. Some of the world's biggest corporations are Dutch, achieving international standing, like the Netherlanders themselves, through a combination of innovation, energy and know-how.
A Nation of Shopkeepers
In the sixteenth century, few English were yet to be found on the world's highroads. The English merchant adventurers went no farther than the Baltic to sell their cloth; they scarcely ventured into the Mediterranean. Despite Shakespeare's genius and the pomp of Elizabeth I, England was still a very small country.
By the beginning of the twentieth century, the United Kingdom led the world. Its small rural population had become true agribusinessmen; the overall population, four fifths of it concentrated in the cities, continued to increase. London was the world's leading port, its principal market. Britain's merchant marine constituted 45 percent of the total world tonnage and, under the provisions of the two-powers standard, its war fleet was bigger than those of its two nearest rivals combined. It was the world's top financier, its biggest investor. The pound sterling was the world's currency of exchange. Britain was Europe's first industrial power. [Britain's share of world industrial output in 1850 was 60 percent, and it was still 35 percent in 1890. Then it was passed by the United States; German industry outstripped it just before 1914] Its empire embraced a fourth of the globe's population.
"A nation of shopkeepers," Napoleon had contemptuously called it. To which, two centuries in advance, Sir Walter Raleigh had replied: "He who commands trade commands the world's wealth and so the world itself."
It was through trade that the English made their entry on the world's stage. Sheep grazed their pastures. To sell their wool, markets were sought, a fleet built and protected. At the beginning of the seventeenth century, only a few years after the Dutch, Englishmen settled in India and started to colonize that part of the Americas ignored by the Spanish and the Portuguese.
Business transformed everything it touched more than a century before Pitt proclaimed that "Britain's policy is Britain's trade."
This first economic breakthrough signalled other changes. In the middle of the seventeenth century, England's rural world changed under the direction of an active and enlightened aristocracy symbolized by "Lord Turnip" (Lord Townsend), who won his nickname by campaigning for crop rotation based on turnips and clover. When rotation replaced the fallow system, it was as if the country's arable land had doubled in extent. On this followed the irresistible rise of what would henceforth be called industry. Innovations multiplied and cross-fertilized each other. By discovering how to wed coke to iron, by such inventions as John Kay's flying shuttle and Edmund Cartwright's power loom, by harnessing steam, Britain laid the foundations of unprecedented power.
Following in Holland's footsteps, the British - by their ability to trade, innovate, undertake and risk - triggered the process that was to lead them toward a new civilization, technical, industrial and urban.
Toward this world, newer than the one Columbus found, other nations, every nation, would try to follow them, more or less successfully.
The Swiss Miracle
Switzerland is so mountainous that half the country's land is useless for cultivation or even grazing. It has some water power, virtually no minerals.
Calvin roughly fashioned Geneva to serve as a Protestant Rome. Switzerland then became a refuge for Protestants driven out of France; they were followed by manufacturers, traders, makers of special steels and food products, pharmaceutical research laboratories. Now the country's banknotes are backed by more than their face value in gold; its banks and insurance companies are prosperous, its financiers operate on an international scale. Swiss industry uses a minimum of raw materials and a maximum of human ingenuity to produce high-quality, high-precision wares.
What is most striking, perhaps, is the harmony Switzerland has achieved between industry and agriculture, between rural and city life.
There is hardly any federal government; the country is still a collection of local administrations. Isn't this what gives it its flexibility in adapting to economic change, its enviable social consensus, so nicely balanced between equilibrium and movement?
In two hundred years, the United States has grown from a small rural society of 4 million people to a continental country of over 200 million, the world's most powerful nation. It would be wrong to think of this preeminence as recent; American industry topped Britain's in 1890, and has held the world's lead ever since. America's demographic thrust both revealed and spurred that economic growth. Between 1790 and 1860, the population doubled every twenty-three years, reaching 32 million in 1860. Its 50 million in 1880 made it the most populous nation in the West. The country is often represented as an empty bin filled up by Europe. In fact, it received only 25 million immigrants from 1820 to 1920; they and their descendants simply went there to share in its natural vitality. America chiefly owes its progress to itself.
To create, grow, believe in itself - such is this society's motto. Its first technical innovations came from Britain and Holland, but inventions were soon popping up every where in the new country. In 1814, Boston merchant Francis Cabot Lowell, helped by a workman named Paul Moody, built a spinning and weaving plant, the first to combine in a single plant the textile industry's two fundamental operations. Oliver Evans built a high-pressure steam engine. Robert Fulton, rebuffed by Napoleon, developed the work of John Fitch and James Rumsey in building the first steamboats. In 1846, Elias Howe manufactured a sewing machine; it had been invented by Barthelemy Thimonnier of Lyon in 1825, but his invention was ignored and he died in poverty. It was in 1846, too, that Morse developed the magnetic telegraph.
By 1851, when Geissenhainer invented a way of decarbonizing steel, people were already talking about the "American system of manufacturing": mass production of standardized, interchangeable parts.
A Complete Case of Civilization
Thus we find two Protestant countries, England and Holland, launching our mercantile and industrial civilization, and other Protestant countries as its leading examples. But let's by-pass the exemplary cases and compare average records. Here again, the contrast is curious.
On the one hand, take the twelve most developed countries among those of a predominantly Protestant culture: Switzerland, Sweden, the United States, Canada, Denmark, Norway, West Germany, the Netherlands, Australia, Finland, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.
On the other, the most developed of the predominantly Catholic countries: Belgium, France, Austria, Italy, Spain, Poland, Venezuela, Ireland, Portugal, Argentina, Uruguay and Chile.
In 1976, the average national per capita income in the first group exceeded $6,500; in the second, it was below $3,500. And the Protestant countries are far ahead in scientific research.
These countries' development was not only economic, technical and scientific. It also went hand in hand with their political and social progress.
It is in the countries marked by Protestantism that low income, inequalities, poor hygiene and censorship tend most strongly to disappear, that the level of democratic consensus is highest and democracy most deeply rooted. These are not merely industrialized nations; they are countries in which a number of constants - social, political, juridical, cultural - united by mysterious correlations, make up a complete case of civilization.
Humanity's Long Procession
Here then is one of history's greatest enigmas.
Why this irresistible wave of expansion that swept up only some countries beginning in the early seventeenth century?
These few locomotive-nations represent a very small fraction of humanity, and the past three hundred years is a tiny fraction of man's history since his appearance on the earth some 3 or 4 million years ago.
Yet this small group of Protestant countries shunted humanity off the track on which, through the ages, it had been alternately pushed forward by its fecundity and dragged backward by the periodic misery to which its very advances condemned it.
This handful of countries enabled humanity to escape the tragic equilibrium by which epidemics, famine and war redressed an excessive birth rate.
"The country with the most advanced industry only shows those that follow it the image of their own future,"
wrote Karl Marx in his preface to 'Capital'.
This is exactly what the Protestant countries did. They broke away from humanity's long procession to show the others the image of development.
-END QUOTE- END CHAPTER 13
From .............. THE TROUBLE WITH FRANCE
By - Alain Peyrefitte
Translator- William R.Byron
USA Publisher - Alfred A.Knopf, Inc., NYC 1981
Canadian Publisher - Random House 1981
French Publisher - Librairie Plon 1976