“[T]here is an infinitude of possible worlds among which God must needs have chosen the best, since he does nothing without acting in accordance with supreme reason. …” Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz from Theodicy (1709)
Most of us have at times wondered what life was like in places and ages past. Can we imagine ourselves in Pharaonic Egypt, on the banks of the Nile, or wandering the halls of Greenwich Palace trailing King Henry, or perhaps, more heroically, defending the Alamo?
In this seminar we will ask the question: In some given time period, where in the world would be the best place to live? If you were transported willy-nilly to the seventh century, where would you choose to land? (WARNING: you cannot choose your social status!)
Through most of history, life for the majority of people was never far from mere subsistence, and the daily chores of survival left little means or energy to ponder or pursue great ambitions. There were places, however, that offered a better quality of life and opportunities to at least entertain the idea of achieving something better than starvation ─ better in the sense of political and social ethos, and better in the hard-to-define category of general outlook.
Starting in the Bronze Age, working our way forward and comparing the societies we encounter, we will look for signs of these better qualities. We will judge them not by the standards of our time, but rather by how they rank in relation to their contemporaries in material and social welfare for as wide a swath of their population as possible, also noting any drawbacks to living in that place and time.