Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The (Not So) Dark Ages

It has been some time since my last post.  I am not yet finished with my comments regarding the German expulsions after WWII, and will return to these in time.  In the meantime, I have been reading a book entitled “Kingship and Law.”  It is a fascinating book – covering the developing of kingship from the early Middle Ages until the late Middle Ages; more or less from the fall of Rome to the founding of modern nation-states.  From Amazon:

First published in 1914, this is one of the most important studies of early constitutional law. [Fritz] Kern [1884-1950] observes that discussions of the state in the ninth, eleventh and thirteenth centuries invariably asked whose rights were paramount Were they those of the ruler or the people? Kern locates the origins of this debate, which has continued to the twentieth century, in church doctrine and the history of the early German states. He demonstrates that the interaction of "these two sets of influences in conflict and alliance prepared the ground for a new outlook in the relations between the ruler and the ruled, and laid the foundations both of absolutist and of constitutional theory"

I have long-wondered about this period and this place – the European Middle Ages, at times referred to as “The Dark Ages.”  It is difficult to find good material in English that covers this subject in appropriate detail and in appropriate context – at least this is my experience so far.  However, I am curious about this time and space for several reasons: how did people live absent a strong central power (Rome)?  What does that lifestyle – economic, social, and political – suggest about what might lie ahead as today’s nation-state loses authority through broken promises and further decentralization?  In what manners was governance achieved?  How did this evolve over the centuries into the nation-states of Europe?  Why little written record?  From whose perspective were these ages “dark”?  What of the role of the growing Church?  What interaction was there between and among the church, the king, and the people?

In this blog I explore many areas – economic, political, and historical.  Mostly I am writing as I am learning, or writing in an effort to force myself to better develop my thoughts and opinions.  There are many who will say that I write about things I know only a little about.  If this is ever true, it is true here.  This period is “dark” to me, and this book is heavy – not in weight (Herbert Hoover and Gar Alperovitz have Kern whipped), but in depth.  If you want to walk along with my baby steps, this subject will certainly provide an appropriate pathway.

At this time, I will offer a few thoughts, and I will be necessarily vague due to my child-like understanding:

The early Middle Ages did not hold any concept of the Divine Right of Kings, nor did the earlier period hold to the idea of kingship by birthright.  These ideas developed over the centuries and only took shape in the late Middle Ages.

…an act of popular will was an essential element in the foundation of government….

The king did not hold absolute power:

…even the rudiments of an absolutist doctrine had scarcely appeared.

Both the king and the people were subservient to the law – and not an arbitrary law, but a law based on custom, “the laws of one’s fathers.”

All well-founded private rights were protected from arbitrary change….

Germanic and ecclesiastical opinion were firmly agreed on the principle, which met with no opposition until the age of Machiavelli, that the State exists for the realization of the Law; the power of the State is the means, the Law is the end-in-itself; the monarch is dependent on the Law, which is superior to him, and upon which his own existence is based.

The king and the people were not bound to each other, but each bound to the Law, giving all parties responsibility to see the integrity of the Law is maintained.  A breech by one party does not relieve the other of further obligation – the breech does not change the authority of the Law, and the relationship of each party is to the Law, not to the other party.

Much of this could be (superficially) said about governance today; however there is a key distinction: whereas today it is an illegal act for the people to resist the government authority, during this period after the fall of Rome the people had a duty to resist the king who overstepped his authority.  This is not to say that such challenges by the people went unopposed by the king – certainly, fighting of some sort was occasionally required – however, the act of resistance in and of itself was not considered illegal.  It was a duty respected by king and people alike.

Even after writing a few short words, I am feeling the weight of this book.  It is rather intense and eye-opening.  I will come back to it several times over the course of the coming weeks.

For whom was this period “dark”?  Why is it not further exposed?  The history of life without a state, or with a voluntary governance, or where the people had equal standing is rarely exposed in depth.

Perhaps this is one reason why the gatekeepers preferred to refer to this time as “the Dark Ages” (although I believe this terminology is in less use today in academic circles).  Not to be seen, not to be exposed, not to be instructive. 

Examples of governance in forms other than the modern nation-state are to remain unknown, barbarian, anarchic (in the worst definition of the term).  Rome serves as the model, not the dark age that followed. 

As today’s Rome (global government) is also in danger due to the attempt to carry too much weight, perhaps it can be instructive to examine what came next the last time such western power was brought back down to earth.


  1. I would like to mention the works of Rodney Stark to you. He is a sociologist who writes about the history of Europe and disproves the "dark ages", as well as the wonders of Islam, and other politically correct dogmas that just aren't so.

  2. Very good essay. It just goes to show us how little we have been taught. As the Roman Empire fell, I'm told the rise of the Turkish Empire fueled by Islam expanded, especially in the middle east. It obviously did not spread much into Europe of Asia. The financial elements are also intriguing as we uncover the agreements on the Jewish lenders in the Magna Carta. My understanding that it was the British Crown who conquered the Celts. Following the big money is very difficult as such records are almost always kept secret. There are historical notations of instances of loans to the Royals by the Jewish money lenders and we know they were influential within the various royal families. Some people believe money itself to be the root of all evil, I believe it to be the legalization of theft, what governments call taxation.

    1. H. Skip Robinson

      After a rough start, you and I might find a way to learn something from each other.

      Thank you.

  3. Hi HSR,

    "I'm told the rise of the Turkish Empire fueled by Islam expanded, especially in the middle east. It obviously did not spread much into Europe."

    Could you expand a little on the part where you say that the Ottomans didn't spread much into Europe?

    Cheers from Amsterdam,