Some time last week my husband came home from work with a gleeful grin, and with a flourish he whipped out Neal Stephenson’s new book Quicksilver. I had known it was out for a week or so before (because I read Intapundit), and figured I’d get it for him for his birthday. Oh well … I am also looking forward to reading the whole trilogy, because while I am not particularly a sci fi fan, I am a fan of historical fiction, and this sort of genre-bending endeavor intrigues me greatly. Plus at some point a friend of mine and I want to do a small conference centered on reading In the Beginning Was the Command Line in conjunction with related economic history and new institutional economics literature.
Glenn Reynolds’ interview with Neal Stephenson in Tech Central Station today increased my intrigue, particularly this comment:
It started with the personal stories of Newton and Leibniz. Then I started to learn about Hooke, and the other members of the Royal Society, and it kind of snowballed. There were so many things going on back then with ramifications and consequences that we feel today that I just got sucked in.
What I found interesting on a political level was that the Cromwell types were pushing a bunch of ideas that struck people as nuts at the time, but that are bedrock principles of modern society — things like free enterprise and separation of church and state and limited government that took years to actually achieve.
Many of the people called Puritans were small businessmen and independent traders. They had a real bent toward free enterprise, and they developed a real resentment of government and taxes — as a result, they were free traders. It’s like what we see with a lot of pro-business people today.
For further discussion, I recommend Glenn’s TCS column last week about how many modern ideas have origins in the 17th century, and the parallels between then and now. In fact, in my Western economic history class next week (or the week after) we will discuss the ramifications of the Glorious Revolution of 1688 for dynamism and innovation. Hint: transparency and controls on the fiscal power of the monarch.