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81 MIN READ TIME

Ruins of Empires

BY THOMAS CHRISTIAN WILLIAMS

METEMPSYCHOSIS. FEW PEOPLE ARE FAMILIAR WITH the word. But everyone knows what it means. It’s the theory of the transmigration of the soul. When you die, your spirit, your soul continues to live. You pass on to another body, another world, another life. That’s the theory, anyway.

In 1791, however, a French philosopher and politician, Constantin-Francois Volney, made a daring claim: Metempsychosis is a myth born in the infancy of our species, a form of mind control used by governments and religions to make people believe there’s an invisible being watching their every move, judging them when they die.

Volney published his heretical theory in a book titled The Ruins, or Mediations on the Revolutions of Empires, a kind of post-Enlightenment review of human history. In the first part of the book, Volney lays out a single general principle that predicts whether a nation will rise or fall. In the second part, Volney investigates the origin of world religions and concludes that humanity will achieve lasting peace only by adopting a complete separation of church and state.

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