Romantic musicians, like romantic poets, sought out the popular ballads and tales of the national past; they also sought to free their compositions from classical rules. Composers of opera and song turned to literature: Shakespeare’s plays, Scott’s novels, Byron’s poetry, and the poems and tales of Goethe and Pushkin.
Germans were shocked by their defeat in 1918. The military authorities who ran the German Empire during the last years of the war had not revealed to the public the extent of German reverses on the battlefield, and no fighting had taken place on German soil.
The Church of Hagia Sophia (Holy Wisdom) in Constantinople, built in the sixth century, was designed to be “a church the like of which has never been seen since Adam nor ever will be.” The dome, says a contemporary, “seems rather to hang by a golden chain from heaven than to be supported by solid masonry.”
The most important invention of the Renaissance—the technology for printing books—furnishes a case history of how many individual advances contribute to an end result. The revolution in book production began in the twelfth century, when Muslims in Spain introduced a technique first developed by the Chinese in the second century and began to make paper by shredding old rags, processing them with water, and then pressing the liquid out of the finished sheets.
Defeat by the Germans, brutal German occupation and economic exploitation, the spectacle of French collaboration with the enemy—all this was followed by a liberation that, despite the part played in it by the Fighting French and the French Resistance movement, was clearly the work of American, British, and Soviet arms.
The great Arab philosopher of history Ibn Khaldun (1332-1406) was the first to work out a substantial methodology for historical knowledge. In the Prolegomena to his work he analyzed the “sources of error in historical writing”:
By far the commonest way out of the dilemma facing the Social Darwinists lay in the notion that the struggle for existence really goes on among human beings organized in groups—as tribes, races, or national states.
This regime was well designed to carry on the chief preoccupation of the emerging Roman state war. The Roman army at first had as its basic unit the phalanx- about 8,000 foot soldiers armed with helmet, shield, lance, and sword. But experience led to the substitution of the far more maneuverable legion, consisting of 5,000 men in groups of 60 or 120, called maniples, armed with an iron-tipped javelin, which could be hurled at the enemy from a distance. Almost all citizens of Rome had to serve.
In philosophy, the Muslims eagerly studied Plato, Aristotle, and the Neoplatonists. Like the Byzantines and the western Europeans, they used what they learned to enable them to solve theological problems.
Reason, Natural Law, Progress – these are the words by the eighteenth century.
It was the Age of Enlightenment, when it was widely assumed that human reason could cure past ills and help achieve utopian government, perpetual peace, and a perfect society. Reason would enable humanity to discover the natural laws regulating existence and thereby assure progress.