In early December of 1241, the great Mongol army was camped on the Hungarian plain, poised to invade Europe “all the way to the Great Sea.” In the spring, they had defeated the Hungarian army at the battle of Mohi and spent the summer and fall ravaging eastern Europe. By autumn, all of the lands east of what is now modern Germany had been subdued by the Mongols. There was no army between the Mongols and the Atlantic Ocean capable of stopping them from ravaging the rest of the continent.
Then, in the middle of December, Ogedei Khan, the Great Khan, died on a hunting trip, most likely drunk. He was well known as a drunkard and the legend is he fell of his horse while drunk. Regardless of the reason, his death required all of the Mongol leaders to return home and select a new Great Khan. That meant the Mongol Army, instead of sacking Europe, returned home. It was one of the strange, fortunate events that probably made it possible for Europe to be Europe. The Mongols were not known for their mercy.
To put this into some perspective, the Mongols invaded what is now Iraq, known in the 13th century as the Abbasid Caliphate. This was the third caliphate, whose rulers were descended from Abbas, the uncle of Muhammad. Baghdad was the capital and at the time, one of the most advanced cities in the world. The Mongols sacked the city in 1258, putting anywhere from 200,000 to one million people to the sword. They destroyed the city, filled the canals and stole or burned everything of value. It was an annihilation.
At the time, Baghdad was the center of the Islamic world.The Grand Library of Baghdad may have been the most important center of knowledge on earth at the time. It had books ranging from medicine to astronomy. The 36 public libraries in the city were also burned. Of course, the scholars and learned people who used those books and libraries were murdered. What was once the center of Islamic learning was destroyed. The population of the city and surrounding areas did not recover until the 19th century.
The point of this is that serendipity often plays a definitive role in humans affairs. At the dawn of the 13th century, there was no reason to think Europe was about to rocket ahead of the rest of the world. Through the Middle Ages, Europe slowly began to develop more advanced societies and develop a high culture, but they were still playing catch-up with Asia and the Middle East. Yet, the totally unexpected and unpredictable events of the Mongol invasions, radically changed the trajectory of Europe and the Middle East.
In retrospect, it is easy to look at a singular event like the Great Khan dropping dead just when his armies are about to sack Europe and see the significance. Once you read the story of the Mongol invasions, you know the West dodged something close to a meteor strike. The Siege of Baghdad, and its subsequent obliteration, is probably the great inflection point in the history of Islam. There’s no doubt that Islamic intellectual curve bent sharply downward because of the Mongol invasions and destruction of Baghdad.
The thing is, serendipity can also be the result of great stupidity. The Mongols initially tried to establish trade relations with the Khwarezmid Shah, who ruled the lands between the Mongols and the Abbasid Caliphate. The trouble was the caliph and shah hated one another and conspired to keep each other from making a deal with the Mongols. It’s a matter of dispute, but some historians argue that the Mongols never would have invaded if they could have struck a deal. They took the rejection as an insult and invaded.
This brings us to some rather interesting serendipity of our own age. In 2015, there was no reason to think the 2016 election was going to be anything but more of the same. The smart money said it would be Bush versus Clinton to decide the title. If not Bush, then one of the Bush family flunkies. Then like the meteor that wiped out the dinosaurs, Trump entered the race and altered the political trajectory of the empire. Not only has this event extinguished the Bush wing of the GOP, it is threatening the neo-liberal world order.
How did this happen? Mostly it is due to Trump getting angry about how the political class has treated him. Like all rich guys, he had spread his money around to buy friends in the political class. He never had any respect for them, but if you want to do business in the world you have to do business with the people who run it. According to people who know him, what got Trump interested in running is being disrespected by the people in the chattering classes. The political class simply ticked off the wrong guy.
How this improbable event happened is going to be debated for a long time, but there is no debate about the consequences. Imagine if Clinton were president. The CIA meddling in our politics would only have accelerated. The corruption of the FBI would never have been revealed. In fact, it would have metastasized. People like to focus on the policy issues that would have been different with Clinton in power, but without the miracle of Trump, Washington would be ruled today by a dumpy old Caligula in a muumuu.
Here’s another bit of serendipity. Even if Trump won, much of this would never have come to light if not for two wholly unnecessary actions taken by the Democrats. One is the nonsense about Russian hacking. For no other reason than spite, the Left embraced this ridiculous narrative. The demands for an IG investigation of the FBI’s handling of the Clinton e-mail stuff came from liberal Democrats. They were the ones who demanded it, after blaming Comey for the election loss. Two dumb decisions have changed the world.