Was There a Global Crisis in the 17th Century?

(the following refers to David Parrott’s LRB review of “Global Crisis: War, Climate Change and Catastrophe in the 17th Century” by Geoffrey Parker)

This reader has been left quite perplexed.

Was there a global crisis in the 17th century? Mr Parker’s basis for a book is left mostly unchallenged. If there has been one, for example, how was such a “fact” overlooked as recently as “over the last two decades“, when, in the words of Mr Parrott,

“the issue has vanished so completely…that today otherwise well-read students are baffled by any reference to it”?

The fact that many places suffered from wars and famines, or that Voltaire said so, is no answer.

Was it a time of crisis? Was it global? One would have to show the 17th century as truly special compared to the centuries before and since. The Sack of Rome, however, happened in the 16th century. The American and French Revolutions changed the course of Western politics in the 18th century. China and India succumbed to the Europeans only in the 19th century, when also the Irish perished in the millions because of the potato famine. Even the Wikipedia contributors failed to find more wars in the 17th century than in the 16th or 18th.

Furthermore, Mr Parrott’s focus continually oscillates between local and global causes and consequences of the “global crisis” of the XVII century. We are told that

“there are no general, let alone monocausal, answers to explain the diversity of outcomes”

– and yet –

“it’s..unsatisfactory to deny long-term and structural factors”

Or is it? I am under the impression that Mr Parker’s book should demonstrate the existence and importance of those factors, so his readers should not be expected to take those for granted.

Again: contrarily to Mr Parrott’s assertion, in the states of Northern Italy “warfare and its burdens were” not “kept in check“. The War of the Mantuan Succession (1628-1631) brought several local and foreign armies into open warfare with each other in the Po valley, including the infamous Landsknecht. Famine and a devastating plague brought Lombardy to its knees, in a mass tragedy that inspired Manzoni’s Promessi Sposi two hundred years later.

Finally (in order to leave this comment short), Mr Parrott’s finds
more convincing” the idea that

“in many areas the Global Crisis eliminated surplus population”.

Or did it? Where are the scholarly works showing a dip in the number of people alive on any given year between 1650 and, say, 1750? European population for one did increase almost continuously during those hundred years – or so we have been told until now.

Maybe Mr Parrott and Mr Parker are aware of new data showing otherwise – in that case, we should be shown those. It’s the same point as before: a new and remarkable thesis is presented as an established fact not needing a proper demonstration.

One is left wondering if Mr Parrott is just too partial to the ideas put forward by Mr Parker.