Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Back to the Middle Ages

The radicals who want to repeal the Industrial Revolution are out in force telling us that the sky is falling and that the forests are burning. They want to return to a more pristine day, a day when Mother Nature was totally contented, when we all live in harmony with the planet.

As it happens, for those who have half a functioning brain, fires are a part of nature. Leaving forests untouched facilitates tinder formation. And this facilitates fires. Of course, viruses and bacteria are also part of nature. As is filth. Before the Industrial Revolution life expectancy in the civilized world was around 50, or less.

Similar reasoning applies to the adolescent hunger for a brave new world where no one will not need to compete in the marketplace. In the socialist utopia their needs will be provided for, just as they were when these same overgrown children were really children. They are waging war against capitalism and against patriarchy-- or, should that be, the religion of the patriarchs.

They have no idea where it all leads, but they know that capitalism and patriarchy are unjust. Therefore they need to be destroyed.

Of course, the gauzy wet dreams of the adolescent set are not policy. Many people believe them, as articles of secular faith. Yet, we ought to ask where these policies and this mania is leading us. Writing in The Economist magazine, Adrian Wooldridge follows an idea developed by Joel Kotkin and declares that they are leading us back in time, to a revival of the MIddle Ages. 

Just when you thought that we were on the road toward civilizational progress, it turns out that we took a wrong turn and are heading straight back to the past. At a time when certain nations around the world are working to replace their medieval ways with more modern societies, we, in the person of our very own radical left, have decided to move in just the opposite direction. And we imagine that our new medieval culture is going to compete against China in the clash of civilizations-- or even in high tech innovation.

Wooldridge describes the current cultural moment:

Now we are witnessing the return of many medieval pathologies. Millenarianism is on the march again. Extinction Rebellion activists close down cities and daub town squares with fake blood in protests that usually involve wild dancing and drumming along with predictions of the end of the world. The new high-tech Middle Ages is even seeing the return of medieval political nomenclature. Kings were once called the Bald (Charles) or the Cruel (Peter of Castile). Donald Trump now dubs his opponents Sleepy Joe or Crooked Hillary.

We are also seeing the decline of a social phenomenon that defines capitalistic political economy. That would be, the decline of the middle class, that is, the dread bourgeoisie. Do you recall the contempt that leftists have visited on the bourgeoisie, as though the worst thing you could be was middle class? 

There are structural similarities too – similarities that began long before covid-19 took hold and raise worrying questions about our post-covid future. The middle class that was the bulwark of the post-war world is on the retreat across the West. The new tech oligarchy resembles the medieval aristocracy, “the chivalrous class without the chivalry”, as Joel Kotkin wrote in a recent book, “The Coming of Neo-Feudalism”.

Its members live in gated communities or isolated enclaves protected from the rest of society. They socialise with each other at global festivals but seldom have any contact with those who inhabit unfashionable areas such as flyover country in America (the parts of the country most Americans only ever see from the air), or the north of England. Large armies of “retainers” wear their livery, in the form of T-shirts or baseball hats emblazoned with logos, and do their bidding.

And then there is the decline and fall of the American university system.

The academic elite looks more like the medieval clergy by the day. Universities and university towns are latter-day monasteries that protect their members from contamination by hoi polloi. Academics engage in the modern equivalent of scholastic debates: rather than discussing how many angels can dance on the head of a pin they discuss whether sex is a social construct (the answer: of course).

Rather than contain a multitude of thought, these latter-day clerics are obsessed with sin in the form of racism and sexism and dole out fearsome punishments to sinners. Those who venture outside a narrow range of permissible opinion are excommunicated from society, publicly flayed on Twitter and forced to live in the intellectual equivalent of medieval forests.

For those who care about trivia, medieval scholastics did not debate how many angels could dance on the head of a pin. The image was conjured during the Renaissance in order to disparage scholasticism.

To be even more clear, and at the risk of correcting Wooldridge, medieval scholasticism brought Aristotle into mainstream European culture. And their thought laid the foundations for the advent of science.

Dare we mention, at a time when meritocracy is increasingly under attack in America, medieval studies and the public debates that they fostered were strictly meritocratic. There were no diversity quotas at that time.

Somewhat fancifully, Wooldridge explains that today’s police officers look like knights:

Police officers look increasingly like Don Quixote’s knights. This is particularly so in America, the country that is leading the charge back to the Middle Ages despite having never experienced the Middle Ages itself. People there wear helmets to protect themselves from rocks, special vests to ward off bullets, and pads on their elbows and knees. They are weighed down by all sorts of heavy equipment – radios, flashlights and, of course, guns. They sometimes ride on horses, like knights of old, but are more likely to choose armoured Humvees, or even tanks.

More ominously, feudal gangs are taking over the great cities of the West. 

Despite all this heavy armour, the police are losing control of the streets. One of the signature achievements of modernity was the creation of the nation state which could claim a monopoly of violence within its borders. The state is once again losing the battle against feudal gangs of various sorts. In London, knife-crime is becoming so common that it can’t be long before people wear swords and scabbards. In many of America’s great cities the police have left inner-city areas to look after themselves. Downtown Portland is ruled by gangs of activists who wear medieval armour of their own and engage in regular – and highly ritualised – jousts with police.

He concludes:

The most striking similarity, though, is the distance between image and reality. The people of the Middle Ages talked about chivalry and the Glory of God but lived in a brutal world in which gangs mugged each other and monks engaged enthusiastically in all the sins of the flesh. Today’s elite talk constantly about “inclusion” and “win-win” situations but have created a world in which the spoils go to a tiny minority, and more and more people are cast into the wilderness. The inferno beckons.


whitney said...

"Before the Industrial Revolution life expectancy in the civilized world was around 50, or less."

This average includes childhood mortality. For people that made it through puberty they life expectancy was the same as it is now 70 to 80 years. Socrates killed himself when he was in his seventies and nobody thought he was fantastically old because he was surrounded by equally old men. This is one of my pet peeves. Blithely stating that people didn't used to live past 50 before our miraculous discoveries foster's ignorance

David Foster said...

Claire Berlinski suggested that modern European obsessions with the purity of food and crops (she references a French activist named Jose Bove) follows a pattern going back more than 1000 years. They range from a man of unknown name born in Bourges circa AD 560, to Talchem of Antwerp in 1112, through Hans the Piper of Niklashausen in the late 1400s, and on to the “dreamy, gentle, and lunatic Cathars” of Languedoc and finally to Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Berlinski sees all these people as being basically Christian heretics, with multiple factors in common. They tend appeal to those whose status or economic position is threatened, and to link the economic anxieties of their followers with spiritual ones. Quite a few of them have been hermits at some stage in their lives.

Most of them have been strongly anti-Semitic. And many of the “Boves” have been concerned deeply with purity…Bove coined the neologism malbouffe, which according to Google Translate means “junk food,” but Berlinski says that translation “does not capture the full horror of bad bouffe, with its intimation of contamination, pollution, poison.” She observes that “the passionate terror of malbouffe–well founded or not–is also no accident; it recalls the fanatic religious and ritualistic search for purity of the Middle Ages, ethnic purity included. The fear of poisoning was widespread among the millenarians…”

In her book 'Menace in Europe,' which I reviewed here:

The book was published in 2006, and many of the trends Claire saw in Europe seem to have spread to the US as well.

David Foster said...

Also, Green ritualism as a response to the fear of disorder:

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Thanks for the elaboration, DF.

Sam L. said...

The Stupid is STRONG in far too many people.

Giordano Bruno said...

How come all these mooncows talk about medievalism but none of them actually go somewhere and enact it? I hear Ted Kaczynski's plot is for sale. There is plenty of cheap land everywhere, and anyone is certainly welcome to carve out their rustic fantasies in our great wilderness someplace. But they never do. Never. The stupid hippies got a noseful of the hard soil and quickly retreated from that vision of sustenance farming. But at least they tried it--and many learned a great deal about themselves and nature and how hard it really is to claim a stake. I know a few; good men, still farming.

But this bunch of bullshitters is another thing entirely. They are coffeehouse tramps, living on the edge of society, digging in the garbage. They are violent American Dalits. They will never actually leave racist America and they never do off the grid and show us how it's done. They just bitch and set shit on fire. They deserve to be savagely beaten with sticks and then serve long prison sentences.

Anonymous said...

Surprise! For that silly comment about areas "that most Americans only see from above" or however it was phrased -- millions of us we are living here! What I mean is, to imply that the majority of Americans--- not even a majority, but "most," (that implies "almost everybody") is a pretty ignorant thing to say about Americans.