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War, Peace and Prosperity in the Name of God: The Ottoman Role in Europe’s Socioeconomic Evolution

Author(s):Iyigun, Murat
Reviewer(s):Rubin, Jared

Published by EH.Net (August 2015)

Murat Iyigun, War, Peace and Prosperity in the Name of God: The Ottoman Role in Europe’s Socioeconomic Evolution. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015. xix + 195 pp. $55 (hardcover), ISBN: 978-0-226-38843-4.

Reviewed for EH.Net by Jared Rubin, Department of Economics, Chapman University.

In War, Peace and Prosperity in the Name of God, Murat Iyigun of the University of Colorado presents a fascinating theory of the political and socio-economic consequences of monotheism on world economic history. Iyigun’s basic argument is the following: monotheism is good for social stability because it permits an ecclesiastical monopoly that can legitimize and constrain rule; monotheistic societies therefore last longer and expand more rapidly; but, they must eventually come into contact with each other, and the importance of the “one true God” dogma in monotheistic faith — the very element that makes monotheistic polities so successful in the first place — means that they are more likely to come into conflict once in contact. The upshot is that monotheistic polities are strong, but conflict over religion is frequent — trumping other types of disagreements amongst co-religionists. Iyigun presents compelling empirical analyses to suggest that he is correct.

Iyigun introduces the basic thesis in Chapter 1, citing an impressive array of relevant works from economics and sociology. Chapters 2 and 3 present some of the data used to support the argument and provide the historical background of the three primary monotheistic faiths (Islam, Christianity, and Judaism). Iyigun shows that since the founding of Judaism, monotheistic polities have lasted longer and were larger on average than non-monotheistic polities. For the remainder of the book, Iyigun focuses on the two most successful monotheisms, Islam and Christianity.

Chapter 4 proposes a model of production and conflict where — given the assumptions that monotheism enables stability and is complementary to national defense — conflict is more likely to arise between polities of different religions, while conflict is reduced between co-religionists (who are more likely to enter coalitions with each other to battle outside threats). Chapter 5 places this theory in the specific context of Ottoman history, where the rest of the book remains. Ottoman history is an ideal testing grounds for the theory, as the Ottomans had frequent contact and conflict with Christian Europe, and their gaza (holy war) ideology — associated with a belief in the “one true God” dogma at the center of Iyigun’s theory — was largely responsible for their incursions into Europe. Chapter 6, which summarizes Iyigun’s excellent Quarterly Journal of Economics paper “Luther and Suleyman,” focuses on the role that Ottoman incursions into Europe played in the success of the Reformation and, more generally, intra-European conflict. He argues that the intra-faith conflicts between the Ottomans and Europeans posed an existential threat to the latter, and thus European resources were geared towards preventing further Ottoman incursions in the sixteenth century. This was precisely what was needed for the Reformation to take off; unlike previous heresies, secular rulers did not have the resources to suppress the Protestant movement because their resources were employed to fend off the existential threat imposed by the Turks. Iyigun goes on to note that the counter-Reformation really only began after the Battle of Lepanto (1571) decimated the Turkish army. These insights are very much aligned with the theory: when inter-faith conflicts became pressing, intra-faith conflicts subsided in order to battle the common enemy (of a different faith). Chapter 7 adds more support for the theory, making clever use of data on Ottoman queen mothers. Iyigun exploits the fact that many, but not all, queen mothers were of European origin. He argues that if culture did indeed matter, then European queen mothers should be associated with fewer Ottoman intrusions into Europe but unrelated to Ottoman conflict in the East. This is precisely what he finds: Western expansion was mitigated by 70 percent in the presence of a European queen mother, and the geographic origin of the queen mother can explain 40 percent of the variation in Ottoman conflicts.

The final four chapters attempt to connect the historical argument to modern-day outcomes. Chapter 8 presents data which suggest that more Muslim-Christian conflict in the past means less religious diversity today. Chapter 9 provides a silver-lining to this finding, indicating that past Muslim-Christian conflict is positively correlated with the quality of present-day polities (using polity score data). Chapter 10 discusses the many avenues through which social scientists have suggested that the Reformation has affected modern-day outcomes. This is a necessary discussion, because Iyigun presents powerful evidence confirming a role for the Ottomans in the success of the Reformation; any connection between Protestantism and subsequent economic growth may have therefore been an unintended consequence of Ottoman expansion. The concluding chapter summarizes why focusing on the Ottoman Empire is fruitful for understanding why the Middle East ultimately fell behind Europe.

I learned a lot from reading this book. Beyond being very readable, it provides a fantastic example of how to summarize large quantities of data in an immediately understandable and compelling manner. I have two minor quibbles with the book, and I stress that they are both minor. The first is that Judaism plays a key role in the theory of the first three chapters but is hardly mentioned after that. This is very much a book on Islamic-Christian conflict (and intra-religion conflict in Islam and Christianity); it is not clear that Judaism is relevant to its primary arguments. The other minor quibble is that I would have loved to have seen Iyigun take the argument further. This is very much a “big think” book, but it does not truly address the primary “big think” questions that economic historians of this region and period care most about: “Why did Europe modernize first?” and “Why did the Ottoman Empire fail to modernize?” Iyigun does speculate in the concluding chapter on reasons for the calcification of the Ottoman Empire. But he could have gone further. He is clearly onto an important mechanism connecting religion, conflict, and (ultimately) economic growth, and I want to see more about the last part of this connection. But maybe this is just me being selfish — what I am asking for may very well be another book. In any case, Iyigun has done more than enough to convince the reader of the important and subtle connections between monotheistic faith, conflict, and long-run outcomes.

Jared Rubin is an Associate Professor of Economics at Chapman University. His forthcoming book, Rulers, Religion, and Riches: Why the West Got Rich and the Middle East Did Not (2016, Cambridge University Press), explores the role that religious legitimacy of political rule played in determining the long-run economic trajectories of Western Europe and the Middle East.

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Subject(s):Economic Development, Growth, and Aggregate Productivity
Economywide Country Studies and Comparative History
Military and War
Geographic Area(s):Europe
Middle East
Time Period(s):General or Comparative