Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The French Revolution, Calvinist Rabbis, and the Little Ice Age

In my Further Explorations of History, I was recently reading about the teachings of some Eastern European Rabbis from the 1700s (a dismal time for Jews due to persecution,) and the fire-and-brimstone approach of "You slackers need to fast and pray more!" reminded me rather strongly of similar attitudes among Calvinist and other protestant preachers. (For the record, this line of thinking appears to have been later rejected in Judaism, by teachers like the Baal Shem Tov, so it should not be taken as indicating anything about modern Jewish thought.)

Then I recalled that this was also about the time of the French Revolution (late 1700s), which I ascribe largely to the effects of a particular nadir in the Little Ice Age. (I had a post about that a while back with graphs.) A bad hail storm also happened to wipe out a large % of France's crops right before the French Revolution kicked off--when a few years of bad harvests have completely depleted your savings, and then a hail storm destroys the harvest, your attitude towards paying taxes will turn distinctly sour. You might even behead a monarch or two and try to redistribute all of the land in a desperate attempt to not starve.

I wouldn't be surprised if similarly bad weather over in Eastern Europe prompted both increased antisemitism and gloominess--I know I'd feel pretty depressed if my crops failed and then someone burned down my house.

Another nadir in the Little Ice Age occurred in the 1600s. I don't know the history of the 1600s well enough to speak intelligently about it, but I speculate that this nadir was responsible for the English Civil War and the triumph of ultra-depressing Puritanism in England during that period.

I further speculate that multi-year crop failures (or single-year mega-calamities) ought to be strongly tied to religious pessimism and political revolutions/rebellions in a way that historians could probably even quantify and make predictions with. An end to the lean times ought to promote the emergence of more cheerful philosophies, politics, or religious teachings.

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