An Interview with
the Author -- Q & A -- On Theories of History
Q - You have stated that Common Genius reveals
how, when and where human progress occurred during the past three
thousand years. What got you to undertake such a huge task ?
BG- Curiosity, originally. You hear different
theories, and they get you to wonder. After all, if I had been born
almost anywhere on the planet other than in America or a handful of
small European countries my life would have been radically harsher and
poorer. There has to be an explanation.
Q- But your theory has never before been
made--that just ordinary people created the mechanics of freedom and
prosperity. What about Einstein and Plato and all the Great Names every
BG- There’s an important distinction among such
people that was made by Thomas Sowell: The Newtons and Galileo’s--the
“hard-scientists” who explored the natural world--have made tremendous
contributions in medicine and technology that have helped mankind live
more comfortable lives. The “soft-scientists” like Plato, Hegel and
Rousseau, have generally only critiqued the doings of ordinary people
and led societies astray with a false vision of impractical or
Q- Well, the big name hard-scientists were not
ordinary mortals. Weren’t the great individuals like Newton and Galileo
essential to progress ?
BG- Those scientists helped, but they weren’t the
root source of progress. Remember a couple facts: a scientist needs an
ordered society in which to pursue research. There were no Madame Curies
or Jonas Salks operating out of jungles, tents or mud huts. Without the
merchant, soldier and politicians to create safe and affluent societies,
there would have been very few hard-scientists.
Q- So, you’re saying the hard-scientists played a
supporting role, aiding and abetting the accomplishments of ordinary
BG- That’s right. After all, ordinary people made
huge moves forward advancing from the stone age up to the early
Egyptians, and they did all that without intellectuals. Another point--
It’s the ordinary people who literally produce the great
hard-scientists. Most of history’s great discoverers came from humble
backgrounds. Have you actually seen many scientists among the children
of intellectuals? Rousseau actually abandoned his new-born offspring on
the foundling home doorstep claiming Plato thought children should be
raised by the State.
Q- You have said that Common Genius is directed
toward young people. Is there one single point that you want them to get
from this book ?
BG- There are a number of points but a big one is
that you should look around at all the conveniences and luxuries of
modern life, if you are lucky enough to have been born into one of the
affluent societies, and recognize “this didn’t just happen.” Everything
around you is a gift from those who went before. Without the
infrastructure they built you would be living like a primitive
aborigine. Before you disparage Western nations, go live in Peru or
Uganda or Malaysia for a while then you may have some rational basis for
Q- That is a very humbling thought. But couldn’t
it lead to stagnation--that the current generation shouldn’t or couldn’t
change or improve anything?
BG- That depends upon where you’re starting point
is. If you are in one of the most successful and affluent nations, it
would pay to go slow--don’t call for radical changes. Remember that
historical advances have come gradually by tinkering and small steps. On
the other hand, if you reside in a strife-ridden and impoverished
nation, radical changes are in order. However, even there, care must be
taken to adopt and adapt the successful strategies that underlie all
Q- In your book you imply that many of today’s
youth are spoiled.
BG- Not so much spoiled as simply uninformed. Many
resemble a “trust-fund-kid” who has inherited a fortune with a large
income for life. They have no understanding of the real world, how this
society was built, and what is required to preserve it. The role of good
history is to explain not Who am I, but How did I get here and Where am
I going ?
Q- You have obviously tried to go back to the
original enabling acts that created progress--the first ordered
society. But there were a lot of those--all around the globe! Why did
the West become supreme ?
BG- That is the key to it. Only in a few isolated
pockets in the West did the common people get a chance to use their
native genius, initiative and inventiveness to create progress.
Everywhere else they were stifled by oppressive governments, religions
and philosophies that denied them de-facto freedom.
Q- So freedom is the key?
BG- Of course. Without physical and mental freedom
men and women cannot act as complete human beings. Common Genius traces
the occasional locales where such freedom of action was available and
that trail demonstrates how a rare blend of security and a lack of
oppression produced economic freedom and that in turn created prosperity
and that led to political freedom.
Q- Recently, the most distinguished awards for
history books have gone to those theorizing that it was climate and
geography that determined national outcomes. That the West “won” due to
good luck or simply because they had the most natural resources.
BG- That sad fact illustrates my point--how it is
the intellectuals who destroy successful societies. Remember that the NY
Times star reporter in Moscow won the Pulitzer Prize for reporting how
wonderful Stalin’s rule over the Ukrainian peasants was and that
communism was creating universal happiness. And that went on for years
in the face of overwhelming evidence of its falseness. This “bad
reporting” by the NYT and its recognition by the Pulitzer Board
continued because those elites wanted to believe in and promote
Communism as superior to Western capitalism. Undermining a great nation
from within is a form of treason.
Q- But, that was way back in the 1930’s.
BG- Yes, and nothing has changed. Jay Leno joked
in 2005 how the English bomb suspects were caught by one of the few
remaining surveillance methods that had not yet been revealed by the NY
Times. The bias is so blatant that even the mass culture understands the
harm done by bad reporting.
Q- In your book you suggest that many of the big
awards given for books should be seen more as a badge of dishonor than
one of distinction?
BG- There are many awards that seem to go to the
least deserving works. The individuals making the awards seem to
represent a coterie of politically correct intellectuals with an agenda.
How else can one explain books claiming that climate determined success
or a text arguing that the “lucky” find of coal in England allowed the
West to become supreme? They ignore the culture, the religions, and the
social institutions that played a more vital role.
Q- But didn’t geography and climate have an
impact on societies?
BG- During the Ice-Age, yes. But 3,000 years ago
there were at least ten civilizations that had favorable geographical
and social conditions--large organized societies with equal
potential--but only one of those civilizations won; and they won by a
huge margin. The reason for that win is detailed in Common Genius.
Q- The West may have won, but doesn’t your book
tell us that that is in the past--that Western civilization is now in
its declining phase?
BG- Yes. Most European nations began their slide
somewhere between 1750 and 1850. That was when an intelligentsia grew in
influence and gradually infected the region with harmful theories and
destructive ideologies that undermined their original cultural sources
of strength. The same tipping point was reached in the United States for
the same reasons somewhere between the Korean and Vietnam Wars.
Q- But how can we be in decline when we as
consumers have every new convenience-- cell phones, satellite TV, and
shopping malls brimming with goodies.
BG- The physical scientists and the people that
work in both the major corporations and small businesses are still on an
upward trajectory. They constantly use their imagination and hard work
to make things better. There is still forward momentum in those hard and
practical sciences, but the governing institutions, the cultural
foundation based on religious and secular customs and beliefs is
regressing. It is the same type of destructive influence that brought
the Islamic civilization to its knees a thousand years ago. It has
commenced here, and if unchecked, will have the same results.
Q- So you are pessimistic about our future ?BG- It is very hard to reverse the downward spiral once it has started.
A failing of democracies is that they are so tolerant and compassionate
that their people resist the tough choices--especially if most of them
are affluent and comfortable, and made to feel guilty about that. But,
I’m an optimist by nature--the reason I wrote Common Genius is to
spell out what made us succeed more than any other nation in the world.
The lessons of that history, if applied, could reverse current trends
and save our children and grandchildren from the privations of a tired
and worn out nation.