Monday, September 24, 2018

Oppressive Western Civilization

With this post, I will complete my review of Collins’ book. 

The Nuns

Technically a secular canoness, not a cloistered nun; bound to celibacy and obedience, but not to poverty.

Probably the best known of this era is Hrosvitha of Gandersheim, the first woman dramatist in Europe.

Hrosvitha was part of the intellectual renaissance of the tenth century (wait a minute; there was a renaissance before The Renaissance?), to include the males Liutprand of Cremona and “the greatest scholar and polymath of the age,” Gerbert of Aurillac (Pope Sylvester II).  Hrosvitha studied Virgil, Terence, Ovid and the Latin classics.

…Otto I granted the abbess complete freedom with the right to hold her own court, to have troops to protect the abbey, to mint her own money, and to sit in the imperial diet.

The white, male patriarchy: keeping women in their place.

The Peasants

About 85 percent of lower-class people were free – that is, they were not slaves or serfs.

Woops.  There goes that stereotype.  What about “feudalism”?

This word was invented by seventeenth-century French lawyers and antiquarians to describe the tangle of legal and customary relationships that they discovered in medieval documents in local French repositories.

Wait a minute!  The sophisticated and enlightened man of the seventeenth century was such the simpleton that he could not understand life in the decentralized Middle Ages?  So he just stuck a label on the time – a label with derogatory implications – and called it a day?

With that label, radicals of the Enlightenment and French Revolution, along with Karl Marx, used this term to cast the aristocracy as exploitive of the lower orders.

The white, male patriarchy: keeping peasants in their place.

Science and Reason

His vision of Christian faith in tandem with science and reason was to find fulfillment only later in the genius of Thomas Aquinas….

Whose “vision”?  The aforementioned Gerbert / Pope Sylvester II.  According to Collins, Gerbert was “undoubtedly the greatest genius ever made pope.”

Not only science and reason: Gerbert also extended Catholicism from Iceland and Greenland all the way to the Byzantine frontier.

The medieval Catholic Church: blocking science and reason for one-thousand years.

The Individual

Modern individualism is usually said to have begun during the Renaissance.  But more recent research has pushed “the discovery of the individual,” as Colin Morris calls it, back to the mid-eleventh century.


Individuality here refers to a sense of self-awareness, personal identity…

So far, so good.

…and moral responsibility.

Wait a minute!  Who snuck that one in there?  Good thing the Enlightenment gave us the moral cover to dump this idea.

It also involves spirituality.

That’s it.  Bring on the guillotine!


[Western] culture was born in the tenth century.  The driving force from birth was Western Christianity, more specifically Catholicism.  The church was the cohesive driver that bound together the disparate elements that make up our cultural inheritance and was the energy that drove the process forward.

Science, reason, liberal society, the individual…liberty.  The Church – and, I must add, the Germanic tradition – gave us all of these.  No wonder Christianity must be destroyed.

Western Civilization: the oppressor of man (and woman) kind.


I think libertarians – at least those who actually have liberty as their objective – might want to consider the necessary cultural soil on which liberty can be achieved and maintained.


  1. I've been looking into some of the conservative icons of the last two hundred years, most of whom I learned of through EvKL. I have to say I'm disappointed. Here's two for example. This relates to your post I promise!

    Irving Babbit (early 20th century America) was infatuated by Eastern forms of spirituality and Buddhism in particular. Also he was not a Christian, but some sort of Humanist who glorified the contributions to society of the Ancient Romans.

    Jacob Burckhardt (19th century Switzerland) was also not a Christian and also glorifies the re-emergence of the Roman pagan thought into Western society.

    Where are the Christian conservatives who championed the decentralized stateless liberty of the Middle Ages? Acton, Chesterton, and Tolkien are the few that I can think of off the top of my head.

    "This word was invented by seventeenth-century French lawyers and antiquarians to describe the tangle of legal and customary relationships that they discovered in medieval documents in local French repositories."

    That would make a lot of sense. Funny that this coincides with the same time period as the birth of the state.

    I'll definitely look into Pope Sylvester II. Sounds like my kinda guy!

  2. I have very much enjoyed your reading through this book. I had only heard the mainstream teaching about the Dark Ages and feudalism. It all seemed dismal and dry before. But now it seems like such an exciting time. I would like to read more about that ear now.

    I had previously read much about the Viking Age. It is from 800-1000 roughly. Do you have any thoughts on the relationship between the Viking Age and the development of Medieval liberty? Europe during that time is portrayed as an area that was susceptible to attack and raids. Maybe that was a result of being decentralized, maybe not.

    1. What I have read of the time of the Viking invasions was written through the lens of those who seemed favorable to centralization. I do believe it is fair to say that the tribes of Europe found reasons to fight each other or fight Vikings - I can't really say that they should have found the Vikings as anything other than another tribe.

      But I really can't say much with any authority.

      I have written much else about medieval law and custom in general, if you are interested. Take a look at the bibliography tab at the top of the page. Scroll through it; you will find many books & posts on this topic.

    2. I was thinking about that too even while I was typing out my question. Most of the authors describe the Vikings as an influence to centralize.

      The reason I asked the original question is because of how the end of the Viking Age ca. 1000 coincides with what you describe as the high point of liberty in Medieval Europe, ca. 1000-1150.

      The Vikings might have had no effect. Europe may have been the influencers the other way. Because at the end, Vikings set up colonies which turned into commercial cities all over Europe where trade was at the forefront. Maybe they saw the "light" after all those years of and wanted to participate in the liberty and trade of Europe? Not sure it was that clean or simple. I know it wasn't because some old Viking groups like the Normans were centralizing forces themselves. The Normans conquered and attempted to centralize power in the British Isles over the next couple hundred years.

      Just thinking through 2 fascinating parts of history, at least to me, and how they interacted with one another.

    3. Well, the Norwegian vikings populated Iceland, and they had a decentralized stateless society for a few hundred years.

      See Jesse Byock for more on Iceland.

      I think the Vikes had a decently libertarian outlook (towards their own anyway), somewhat tainted by democracy (as all early conceptions of liberty were), but their influence on Medieval Christendom must have been to promote more centralization. Their unprovoked attacks must have given a stimulus to the ambitions of kings looking to assuage the fears of the common folk.

      War is the health of the state, and the many wars of Medieval Christendom built the state brick by brick.

    4. >Europe during that time is portrayed as an area that was susceptible to attack and raids.

      I'd like to point out that the post-medieval states of Europe, despite being much more centralised and being able to marshall more resources, were generally unable to prevent raids by Muslim pirates on their shores right up until the early 19th century, leading to most of the coasts along the Mediterrean Sea being depopulated.
      It was a combination of Barbary War waged by the young United States and colonialism that put an end to that. And even than that was a temporary stop, as open trade of White slaves in e.g. Morroco continued up until the early 00s.

    5. I will add that during this times, the Vikings (or at least many of the tribes) also were "Christianized." Perhaps this also played a role in reduced conflict.