The golden age of Greece depended upon trade between far-flung colonies around the Mediterranean.
The golden age of Islam relied upon wealth from trade among regions of conquest, and a hub-like cross-trade and knowledge cross-fertilisation between lands in the east and the west. This wealth allowed funding for universities, hospitals, and court scholars of lasting renown. This wealth from trade along with a relatively free atmosphere of thought and scholarship, allowed the golden age of Islam to blossom for a time. How unfortunate that today, “Islam” is just another word for genocide.
Golden ages of creativity and discovery do not happen every day. One can look back to the earth-shaking ages of European renaissance, discovery, and enlightenment. One can also look back on the golden ages of ancient Greece and Rome for other examples.
These golden ages were financed by trade, for the most part. Trade was often facilitated by a hegemonic control of the lands and seas across which the trade took place. According to the Hegemonic Stability Theory, prosperity and order are aided by the presence of a single dominant power that is capable of setting international rules of cooperation.
When no clear dominant power exists, it may take time for such a dominant hegemon to emerge. The maps of Europe below show an evolution of nations as the struggle for hegemonic dominance takes place.
A dynamic map of global changes in national boundaries would be even more instructive. Wars often break out before and after empires and nations split up into smaller nations. Such wars are not conducive to trade, prosperity, or creative pursuits. A golden age is far more likely to emerge during a period of stability and prosperity.
When empires are closed and paranoid — as in the Soviet era and during some Chinese dynasties — one might find stability and a very uneven type of prosperity. But the cross-pollination of ideas is often missing in such paranoid empires, aborting a potential golden age before it can begin.
The contrast between the long-term fates of England’s overseas colonies — funded by trade — and the colonies of Spain — funded by plunder — helps to highlight the supremacy of trade over plunder.
The contrast in outcome between trade and plunder/theft is also highlighted by the different financial evolutions of East and West Germany, and North and South Korea.
It comes down to free trade and the free flow of ideas. Whether such freedom is possible in a world dominated by Fascist Russia or “Communist” China, is debatable. Paranoid, authoritarian regimes tend to be less open to the cross-pollination of ideas and enterprises. They tend to concentrate wealth and control in the hands of an insular elite to a much greater degree than even the most capitalist of nations.
A tangential comparison of China and the west, suggesting that it may be possible for China to make itself more “antifragile” than the west. Anti-fragility can be thought of as “a proactive form of resilience.” An interesting argument, but given China’s eternal tendency over the ages to revert to a fractured battleground of warring fiefdoms, not as realistic as could be.