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The Saving Grace of Empire -- When Salvation Waxes and Chaos Wanes

New America Media, Commentary, Franz Schurmann Posted: Oct 13, 2006

Editor's Note: Many dark minded men throughout history have yearned for world conquest even while that other human instinct to quarrel has fueled endless civil and religious strife. When does chaos wane and salvation wax? Franz Schurmann, professor emeritus of history and sociology at the University of California-Berkeley, looks at lessons gleaned from two world leadersHenry IV and Ghenghis Khan.

History is replete with civil wars, none more ferocious than those involving religious beliefs. Paradoxically, it has often been the case that those leaders who achieved unity of their known world through whatever means even terror subdued the demons of religious conflict, sometimes for centuries at a time.

genghis khanGenghis Khan is widely heralded as the greatest conqueror in history. He and his successors created one-man rule in Asia, from the 12th century right down to the 15th century when Barbur buried in Kabul conquered India under the title Mogul (Mongol). Yet the reasons for Ghenghis Khans success remain mysterious even unto death no one knows where he is buried.

In Europe, no such consolidation of power was ever achieved, though many dark minded men yearned for it. In the 16th century, the shrewd compromiser Henry of Navarre came close when he attained his brothers throne by converting to Catholicism, uttering the famous phrase Paris is worth a Mass. Soon after, as Henry IV, he ended the bloody Wars of Religion and guaranteed religious and political rights through the Edict of Nantes. His efforts to consolidate power over southern France and northern Spain won him the reputation of the first ultra-conservative king: When it is not necessary to change, it is necessary not to change.

But after his death, his achievements unraveled. Islamic Spain disintegrated and Europe once again turned inward against itself. Civil wars have bedeviled Europe down through the First and Second World Wars of the 20th century.

Ghenghis Khan put religious differences aside to achieve his real goal which was revenge. Kidnapped as a boy by a hostile clan, the Ta-Ta (Tartars), he learned by age 12 that his captors had poisoned his beloved father. While he grew an army and conquered them, he also took from them both their Turkic language (a Lingua Franca understood all over Asia ) and their beliefs in Buddha as well as Christ. Genghis Khans mother was Christian, and he later devised a script for the Mongolian language based on the Syriac Christian scripts she used.

Ghenghis Khan used the Uighers to gain the most advanced weapons of his day. After his successors subdued the Song Dynasty in China, they added gunpower to their arsenal first described in awesome terms by Marco Polo. These weapons wrecked a path of terror and destruction for which Ghenghis Khan has been reviled throughout the Muslim world.

Yet Ghenghis Khan had another face. Having consolidated his power, he reveled in discussions about religions. He said no religion is the best because the palms control the fingers, and not vice versa. He advised his successors not to adhere strictly to the Yasa (religious code), because that would then shatter the power of the state and no matter how men would seek to regain that power, they would fail. (Per Inge Moestmoen)

Japan practiced similar imperial rule through its kings and emperors for 2000 years. The downfall of the Imperial throne came -- after the deaths of 55 million people in World War II and Germanys capitulation at Postdam --when the U.S. turned the most lethal weapon of mass destruction against Japan. (Until then, the Emperor and his aides had feared the Russians more than the Americans).

Mesmerized by guns and cannons and the physics and mathematics that produced them, the Western world has yet to reach that tipping point where chaos wanes and salvation begins to wax. But one can discern in the progress of Ghenghis Khan, two factors that are critical before this can occur: preeminence in advanced military weaponry and the gradual minimizing of those borders across which entire populations seem determined to obliterate each other.


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