How Common Men and Women Created Civilization

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“Our cornucopia is the human mind and heart, and not a Santa Claus natural environment”
             (Julian L. Simon)

On Common People: "If they are wise, surely the rest of us are fools.
             (George Kennan)

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                 Common Genius represents a new theory of economic world history that suggests that all progress toward greater freedom and prosperity was accomplished, not by Great Men, not by climate or natural resources, not by luck or chance, and not by superior genetics, but by the combined efforts of many common men and women. Now, you might argue, there have been a lot of common people in the world, so there should have been a lot of progress and it should have occurred everywhere  However, consistent progress in freedom and prosperity appeared most remarkably only in one small corner of the world. In the remainder, the innate common genius of most humans was thwarted by oppressive leaders, demagogues, clergy, and philosophers who imposed stultifying forms of physical and mental oppression that prevented the common people from acting.  Only in a few isolated enclaves were circumstances such that the common people escaped such oppression. And the one common denominator in each such successful enclave was that the citizens had more freedom to work and build their fortunes than did the citizens anywhere else.


                This book elaborates on how, when and where the people of these outposts carved out all the mechanics for progressive governments and prosperous communities--The key was that their society empowered the people and freed them to act. A related finding is that such empowering societies were all distinguished by an absence of intellectuals or aristocracies--groups that we suggest have always retarded progress. In fact, the Radzewicz Theory here outlined shows that intellectuals were never present when vital new societies were built--Instead such elites arose only in comfortable societies already built, and then, their influence gradually led to the demise of the society. That reversal of a well-functioning society’s progress has usually been  due to the substitution of leadership from those who knew how to build to those who did not.


                Another conclusion is that the Great Philosophers never contributed to progress other than by reporting what had already been accomplished by ordinary people. Throughout the book comparison is made of the dates when common people initiated certain favorable governing mechanisms to the invariably subsequent date when intellectuals wrote about such practices. It becomes evident the philosophers were always playing catch-up and rarely gave credit to the originators--indeed, they generally have passed off their theories as original work! Worse, they often garbled the actual innovation or altered it to meet their own fantasies or ideologies--distortions that have led otherwise successful people down many disastrous paths.


                Most of the breakthroughs in history came from people trying to solve problems--in hundreds of different ways over thousands of years. The common genius was frequently simple trial and error, learning from mistakes, and copying successful approaches. This case by case approach was the product of deliberate and sensible ordinary people. Most of the brilliant thinkers outside of the physical sciences did not use that approach--they theorized and conceptualized what solutions and outcomes they thought would be best and pursued those ideologies to the end, frequently never willing or able to admit error. This difference in approach explains why ordinary workers produced results and intellectuals produced disasters


                The search for the real causative factor in mankind’s progression over the past 3,000 years is presented here in simple form readily accessible to all. This answer to how we progressed from privation to affluence has great significance in addressing today‘s problems--It is only by knowing the techniques and governing institutions that created modern freedom and affluence that we can maintain that forward progress and spread it to the most depressed areas of the world  that still suffer hunger and privation. Identifying such clear lessons from the past and applying them to the present is the noblest purpose in the study of history. If economics and political science are to serve any useful purpose it will be by objectively examining what has worked and what hasn’t . It will do great harm if we continue any belief that geography, climate, pollution, luck, ethnicity, or race played any significant role in producing the Industrial Revolution or the Internet Age. Those are dead-end theories that are not only unfounded, but provide no guidance for the future. On the other hand, Common Genius lays out the fundamental source of progress--the vital lesson from the laboratory of history-- and thereby presents a roadmap for the future.


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2008 William C. Greene
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Last updated: 12/26/08.