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And although governments rushed to police the printing presses, it was already too late.

As Luther's religious ideas spread, so Europe's political culture spiralled towards extremism.

By the 1520s, the states of modern-day Germany were convulsed by religious and social turmoil, with 100,000 people slaughtered in the so-called Peasants' War. In France, at least 3 million people were killed in religious civil wars between the 1560s and the 1590s.

In England, religious tensions escalated into the civil wars of the 1640s, when hardline Puritan Protestants, denouncing Charles I as a crypto-Catholic, executed the king and instituted a military regime under Oliver Cromwell.

And like the fanatical sects of the 16th and 17th centuries, they are suffused with messianic utopianism.

Ferguson quotes examples of Silicon Valley hubris, such as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg's sanctimonious pieties about the conflict between 'freedom, openness and global community'.

In our anti-elitist age, many self-consciously metropolitan, cosmopolitan people automatically distrust the idea of hierarchy.

And according to one of the world's most prominent historians, Niall Ferguson, we could be heading for a future that would make the Thirty Years' War look like a sideshow.Of course, Silicon Valley's cheerleaders insist the internet is a force for good, with Facebook-crazed youngsters leading the world into a new age of 'computer-aided peace'.But you don't need me to tell you what rubbish this is.If they have an allegiance at all, it is to social networks such as Facebook, which has two billion worldwide users and an annual revenue of £21 billion, or Twitter, with 320 million users and a revenue of £2.3 billion.Unregulated by nation states, unanswerable to governments (and, indeed, the taxman), these are the modern equivalent of the Protestant networks that drove the Reformation.

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