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The History of the Noblesse Oblige, or, Does the National Post know what Left and Right actually mean?

A recent National Post article by George F. Will critical of the television programme Downton Abbey (a show I admit I have never seen) for its perceived bias in favour of a welfare state was chock full of several glaring historical errors and astonishingly simple minded judgements based upon them. The article was littered with contemporary literary references, such as one to Dickens’ Hard Times, while conceding his literary mastery, Mr. Will apparently regards the work of Dickens as largely “saccharine”. In an earlier post I discussed how Dickens’ work may be perceived as such without appropriate knowledge of the context from which he was writing, one of rampant poverty, urban squalor, and ferocious disease epidemics, therefore this topic shall not be covered herein. Rather, I shall discuss a brief history of the concept of the noblesse oblige, which Mr. Will uses to present the notion of a welfare state as elitist, based on a sense of aristocratic duty. However, the notion of the noblesse oblige has historically been a right-wing concept, and in addition, is still a driving force behind much of right-wing ideology regarding social spending and welfare policies as well. What is the noblesse oblige? Well essentially, it’s the notion the wealthy ought to help the impoverished and with wealth there are responsibilities one must adhere to in order to be virtuous.

Though in a particular way, largely as described in that rabble rousing Bolshevik anthem Good King Wenceslas.

Though in a particular way, largely as described in that rabble rousing Bolshevik anthem, Good King Wenceslas.

George F. Will, from the same article: "[When] fortunes are ill-gotten, subsequent generations often soon fritter them away. Call this Darwinian redistribution." Somewhat Eugenicist isn't it?

George F. Will, looking all too unhappy to be with such wretched plebeians, from the same article: “[When] fortunes are ill-gotten, subsequent generations often soon fritter them away. Call this Darwinian redistribution.” Somewhat Eugenicist isn’t it?

John F. Kennedy, the sire of rum runners, disproves this.

John F. Kennedy, the sire of rum runners, disproves this.

The idea of the noblesse oblige emerged during the Middle Ages as a byproduct of the feudal system. Most peasants were vassals of a certain “lord”, which could be a titled landholder, an individual knight, a town assembly, or a religious order depending on the circumstances. The lord would finance a company of soldiers and a mill, which would be paid for in fees, taxes, and labour duties on public works. Monasteries and churches would handle the welfare of the most direly impoverished, the elderly and sick in particular. Their wealth gave them a duty to uphold a general standard of living among the peasantry, as their well-being meant better crops and healthier livestock, and thus more taxable wealth for the lord. There were many issues with this system as many lords did not adhere to their specific duties, and the Church was prone to making moral judgements upon the poor. However, there was at least an ideal of service towards those whom they defended from foreign kingdoms and earlier, the Vikings. These standards gradually changed over the course of the 18th and early 19th centuries, in differing modes given the time and place largely following the Industrial Revolution.

Seriously though? Flesh, wine, and pine logs? From the government? DEPENDENCY. In his marks in the snow, too? Why didn't he tell the page to pull himself up by his own bootstraps? Hippie fuck.

Seriously though? Flesh, wine, and pine logs? From the government? DEPENDENCY. In his foot marks in the snow, too? Why didn’t he just tell the page to pull himself up by his own bootstraps? What a hippie fuck.

But making us have workplace standards means we can't hire as many children!

But making us have workplace standards means we can’t hire as many children!

From a different article, George F. Will on disability and mental health: "Nearly half ... were “disabled” because of “mood disorders” or ailments of the “musculoskeletal system and the connective tissue.” It is, says Eberstadt, essentially impossible to disprove a person’s claim to be suffering from sad feelings or back pain."

From a different article, George F. Will on disability and mental health: “Nearly half … were “disabled” because of “mood disorders” or ailments of the “musculoskeletal system and the connective tissue.” It is, says Eberstadt, essentially impossible to disprove a person’s claim to be suffering from sad feelings or back pain.”

The term noblesse oblige itself may be traced to the early 19th century. The concept began as a reaction to the changes to the economy and social structure following the Industrial Revolution. It was especially used as a defense by the Old Right, populated largely by the old feudal aristocracy, who perceived the erosion of their legal privileges following the decline of agriculture as a primary source of wealth. The new Classical Liberals, the contemporary “Left” at the time, albeit closer ideologically to the modern political right, contended it was not the role of the state to interfere with economic affairs; however, it is worthy of note this was a reaction to the contemporary feudal legal privileges held by some. Once the Dickensian squalor of the Industrial Revolution became apparent to many in the political and intellectual class, there was a split among the Classical Liberals. Some favoured direct attempts by government to improve workplace standards and improve the health of cities, these were the Reform Liberals. Their achievements included widespread improvements in infrastructure and public services, as well as the gradual introduction of Universal Suffrage, which at the beginning of the nineteenth century was limited to males who owned a certain amount of property. The other branch gradually became aligned with the Political Right, and became the modern “Free Market” liberals, who constitute a prominent section of the contemporary right. This is why “liberal” is used in so many seemingly contradictory contexts.

The Chartists were one movement who pushed the Reform Liberals to act, a fascinating working class movement. Here is there meeting at Kennington Common where the presented the British Parliament with a petition with over a million signatures.

The Chartists were one movement who pushed the Reform Liberals to act, a fascinating working class movement. Here is there meeting at Kennington Common where the presented the British Parliament with a petition with over a million signatures.

It was some reeeeeal radical stuff.

It was some reeeeeal radical stuff.

A variation on the noblesse oblige is still used by the political right today. By the twentieth century the concept of noblesse oblige was used by the political right to oppose government poverty reduction programmes, as the Classical Liberal Whigs had split into Reforming and Tory over the course of the preceding century, with the factions supporting sections of the government throughout the English-speaking world and Western Europe. This intellectual tradition is echoed by modern political commentators on the political right for their emphasis on private charity rather than government programmes. Such as here where George F. Will uses the notion as a joke for raising the mandatory “charity donation” to the homeless as analogous to raising the minimum wage. Noblesse oblige has a role to play in both Left and Right political narratives; their conclusions regarding it nevertheless differ, but to consider noblesse oblige a left-wing concept is utterly nonsensical and ahistorical. The notion has been used by both sides of the political spectrum, as it’s a pretty good idea at the end of the day. Furthermore, since notions of duty to one’s nation are so highly praised in right-wing circles, are the less fortunate a part of a nation as well?

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There’s no such Thing as a Dumb Question pt. II: Why did WWI start because some duke was killed?

The First World War was a defining moment of the Twentieth Century, and of our times. While assassinations are by no means trivial in world diplomacy, what was precisely important about Archduke Franz Ferdinand, why did Serbia support the Black Hand organization, and furthermore, why were Germany and Russia so angry about it? The usual explanation is a combination of three factors: Imperialism, Alliances, and the Arms Race. However, while an adequate general explanation of the period hitherto, this ignores the complex underlying reasons for the crises in the Balkan region which initially brought the various nations of Europe into such a brutal conflict and century defining event. The First World War is still one of the most destructive in terms of human loss, cultural artifacts, and last, but certainly least, financially. Why did World War One start because some duke was killed?

Ferdinand isn't his last name, which would technically be von Hapsburg.

This guy.

and why was this guy so pissed off?

and why was this guy so pissed off?

The Balkans occupy a strategic region between Europe and the Middle East. Prior to Treaty of Berlin in 1878, this region had been under the legal control of the Turkish Empire, however, the region had been experiencing continual upheaval since the Napoleonic Wars. Between 1880 and 1910, Serbia, Montenegro, Romania, and Bulgaria declared themselves independent kingdoms. Bosnia would be controlled by Austria-Hungary, except for a region in the South which would be administered by the Ottoman Empire. In 1908 Austria-Hungary annexed Bosnia in its entirety. While Turkey was unconcerned, given the Black Sea connected Bulgaria had recently declared independence. Russia on the other hand, was concerned. There are significant cultural links between Russia and Serbia, shared Orthodox Christianity in particular. In addition, there were many ethnic Serbs living in Bosnia, many Serbian Nationalists hoped Bosnia would eventually join Serbia; this Russia tacitly supported. Austria-Hungary’s annexation of Bosnia sparked a brief European crisis, Serbia and Russia both demanded territorial compensation for Austria’s annexation. However, Serbia and Russia would quickly forgo their demands and the Bosnian Crisis went relatively unsolved. This was the political climate in the Balkans when the First World War began.

Europe in 1908, Bosnia with borders in orange, Serbia in light purple.

Europe in 1908, Serbia is grey-ish purple, Bosnia bordered in Orange.

Peter I, King of Serbia

Peter I, King of Serbia

Ethnicities map of Austria-Hungary, much more than Austrians and Hungarians.

Ethnicities map of Austria-Hungary, much more than Austrians and Hungarians.

Austria-Hungary was a unique state. The Empire was under the personal dominion of the Hapsburg Emperor in Vienna. There was an independent kingdom within the Empire, under the Hapsburg King in Budapest. This was the same person, Franz Joseph I, Emperor of Austria-Hungary. His grandson, Franz, Archduke of Austria-Est, was heir to the throne; Austria-Hungary at the time was largely a subservient ally of the German Empire, albeit in the Bosnian annexation crisis Austria acted unilaterally. Germany nevertheless supported her ally in the crisis, largely contributing to the reverse in Russian and Serbian demands. The Black Hand, of which Gavrilo Princip was technically not a member, was a secret society largely comprised of Serbian military officers who sought the Serbian annexation of Bosnia, as well as other territories inhabited by Serbs. Princip was a member of the Black Hand youth wing, Young Bosnia.The parade of the Archduke through the Bosnian capitol Sarajevo in 1914 was meant as a gesture of the stability and the light-handedness of Austrian occupied Bosnia. In the perception of Serbian extreme nationalists at the time, this was a provocative and bellicose move. Princip’s assassination of the Archduke sparked the mobilizations in Germany and Russia, which lead to France supporting her ally Russia and the declarations of war amongst the various nations. To invade France, Germany marched through Belgium, which sparked Britain and the Commonwealth’s declaration of war. The Hapsburg Empire would prove a largely unhelpful ally of Germany’s, as while the Western European nations were presenting their dreadnoughts, Austria-Hungary was parading its hussars. A visiting German dignitary is noted to have commented before the war: “We are allied to a corpse”. He was remarking on the Empire, as well as its emperor, Franz Joseph himself.

Dreadnought.

Dreadnought.

Hungarian hussars, to the right, Uhlan (lancer) to the right.

Hungarian hussars, to the right, Uhlan (lancer) to the right.

Map of Austria-Hungary in flags.

Map of Austria-Hungary in flags.

Franz Joseph I in 1898.

Franz Joseph I in 1898.

The history of the Balkans preceding the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand is important for understanding the First World War. As different nations attempted to expand their sphere of influence they inevitably came into conflict. Kaiser Wilhelm II almost started the First World War early with the Moroccan Crisis in the late 19th century. The states which began the War, Austria-Hungary, the Russian Empire, and the Kingdom of Serbia ceased to exist by the end of the conflict. The Hapsburg dominions were partitioned, the Tsarist regime fell to the Bolsheviks, and Serbia was absorbed into a greater Kingdom of Yugoslavia, which was however largely Serbian dominated. Yugoslavia benefited from unification following World War Two however as Tito Broz was able to resist Stalinist domination of his state, which did relatively better than most other Communist nations. Subsequent ethnic conflicts in the region began with the power vacuum left by the death of Tito in 1980. The collapse of the Tsars to the Provisional Government and then to the Bolsheviks lead to the creation of the Soviet Union. The birth of many contemporary political questions in Eastern Europe and Russia begin with the 1914 Bosnian assassination.

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Concocting Alba: The Jacobite Uprising of 1745, Victorian Fashion Trends, and the Invention of Scottish Nationalism, Or, Mel Gibson isn’t a reliable historical source

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Not pictured: a reliable historical source.

Scottish culture is replicated and reenacted throughout the Commonwealth and the English speaking world. Highland games, family tartans, Robbie Burns recitals, screenings of the film Braveheart, and the necessary eating of haggis may be found throughout the United States, Canada, Australia, and wherever Scots settled. However, many of these cultural festivities are an invention of the late Georgian and early Victorian eras; created by cultural producers reacting to the changes in Scotland following the 1745 Jacobite Uprising. These included the aforementioned Burns, but also Sir Walter Scott and the songwriter, Carolina, the Lady Nairne; who wrote much of the music associated with Charles Edward Stuart, “Bonnie Prince Charlie”, the leader of the 1745 Rebellion. Much of this cultural invention was deliberate, for them it was a means to express Scottish individuality while maintaining a cordial relationship with the Crown and Parliament, institutions which actively participated in this process. Using imagery from Scottish history, particularly military history, these cultural producers created works and organized events which intended to create a sanitized, and concocted, version of Highland Scottish culture; which was subsequently applied to the whole of Scotland. This included the Lowlands, a region with a local culture that more closely mirrored England’s than the North of Scotland. Noted actor, director, anti-Semite, and drunk Mel Gibson’s 1995 film, Braveheart, is a modern rendition of this romanticized Scottish narrative. This narrative could be described as the “Walker’s Shortbread Tin” narrative of Scottish history.

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Clockwise from upper left: Charles meeting Flora MacDonald, Robbie Burns quote, Robbie Burns, and Charles raising his standard at Glenfinnan

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Shortbread tins also aren’t a reliable historical source.

Here is the romantic account of the 1745 Jacobite Uprising: Charles’ father, James, was the rightful heir to the throne of Britain, James had attempted rebellion thirty years before. On the behalf of his father, Bonnie Prince Charlie arrived in Scotland, and raised his banner at the village of Glenfinnan. Within a few weeks thousands of Highland Scots rallied around the banner of their rightful Prince. After a few victories, such as the Battle of Prestonpans, and at Falkirk, which redeemed the defeat of Wallace’s Army there in 1298, the Jacobites marched into England and threatened London. However, due to low supplies they were forced to turn back, and eventually defeated at the Battle of Culloden Moor in 1746. Wearing a dress made for him by the seamstress Flora MacDonald, Bonnie Prince Charlie fled to the European continent, ne’er tae be seen again. While this account contains a degree of truth, essentially the timeline, and that Flora MacDonald was an actual historical figure: she eventually immigrated to the American colonies, and died in Canada following the Loyalist Migration. This account ignores the (numerous) character flaws of Charles Edward Stuart, the brutality of the Highland Clan System, and the support for the Government among the Lowland Scots, the majority of the population at the time. However, the use and creation of this narrative by Anglo-Scottish cultural producers was intrinsic to the creation of the Scottish self; given the lack of general awareness of Charles Edward Stuart, Mel Gibson had to use William Wallace in his narrative concoction.

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Raising the Jacobite standard at Glenfinnan, image also used on Walker’s Shortbread tins.

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1898 Romantic painting of Bonnie Prince Charle by John Petie

The issues with this narrative begin even before Glenfinnan. The Stuarts were acknowledged by the French Monarchy, who were eager to cause civil strife within Britain; Charles Stuart arrived in Scotland with a regiment of French troops. Furthermore, the Highlanders who joined his army did not do so voluntarily, as the Lowlanders in the Government army and militia had done, but rather as “blood rent”. Most Highlanders lived on lands owned by their clan chieftains, and were required to fight with him as a form of rent. This did much to keep the Highlands poor, as cattle raids on rival clans were an important source of income for the Highland Chiefs. Failure to pay the blood rent could mean one’s roof burned, cattle stolen, and possibly one’s wife and daughters raped by the Chief’s men. The Jacobite Army joined out of fear, rather than loyalty or belief in the Jacobite Cause. The Highland Chiefs who joined the Prince’s army did so to maintain their clan privileges. The Lowlanders who fought with the Government did so to destroy said privileges, and were fighting for a relatively more democratic system. An analogous situation to the creation of the Walker’s Shortbread Tin narrative of Scottish History is the treatment of U.S. Civil War history in the early twentieth century; intended to meld North & South together following the conflict, such as in Gone with the Wind. Sure, their cause was somewhat backwards and misguided, but oh! Wasn’t it romantic

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Interestingly, Southern author Mark Twain blamed Sir Walter Scott for the character of Southerners prior to the Civil War. There may be some truth to this, the Confederate Battle Flag is based on St. Andrew’s Cross, the flag of Scotland.

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These Romantic depictions of Highland Clansmen become popular in the Victorian era. Painted by Ronald Robert McIan

ImageImageThis brings us to the reign of King George IV, particularly his visit to Scotland in 1822. The repression of “Scottish Culture”, really Highland culture, during the immediate aftermath of the Jacobite Uprisings was an attempt to clamp down on the brutal Highland Clan System. However, as the actual Rebellion itself faded into historical memory, there were a group of Scottish cultural intelligentsia who sought to maintain a unique Scottish people under the Crown & Parliament in London. A British Monarch had not visited Scotland since 1650, as such this was to be a spectacular occasion, organized by Sir Walter Scott. All the major Highland and Lowland towns and cities were draped in a sea of plaid, and given his family connections to the Stuart line, King George IV was paraded throughout Scotland as a new Jacobite King. There were scripted controversies, such as that of Alexander Ranaldson MacDonnell, Chief of Glengarry, demanding to ride at the front of the procession, being the King’s Champion in Scotland. This caused amusement to the King, who allowed him to do so; it was all utter hogwash, but it was romantic hogwash. Alexander, Chief of Glengarry, illustrates the brutal irony of the situation.

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George IV in Scottish costume

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Alexander Ranaldson, Chief of Glengarry

The British Government has often taken unjustified blame for the period known as the Highland Clearances, a series of economic changes following the Jacobite Uprisings; whereby Highland families were dispossessed of their traditional lands for the sake of the more profitable sheep. This was a phenomenon occurring throughout all of Europe at the time, English, French, German, and Italian peasants found themselves in the same situation. Furthermore, it was the Highland Chiefs themselves who conducted the Clearances. Alexander, Chief of Glengarry was among the most notorious for pushing his tenants off their lands, all the while prancing around in a kilt and plaid. It was the connection to the British Empire which saved much of Highland culture in North America, as the dispossessed Scots were able to settle in British colonies elsewhere. In addition, the Royal Visit to Scotland of George IV launched a trend of romantic hogwash throughout Britain, which lasted well into the reign of his niece, Victoria, who was fond of plaid and built a Scottish residence at Balmoral. Queen Victoria’s penchant for plaid spread across Great Britain, the Empire, and the world at large. Plaid is still a ubiquitous pattern worn by people of all cultures, largely thanks to Queen Victoria’s personal fashion sense. Furthermore, this period gave rise to the notion of “family tartan”. Prior, a tartan was simply the pattern one was taught to sew, and any association of colours with a region were simply the dyes that were available. Kilts were invented as an adaptation of the “Great Plaid”, a sort of wrapped cloth used as clothing, made to be worn in factories. Much of what is associated with “Scottish culture” dates to this period.

Queen Victoria with Balmoral in the background. Scotch also became a prestigious drink during this period.

Queen Victoria with Balmoral in the background. Scotch also became a prestigious drink during this period.

Highlander officer at the Battle of Balklava, Crimean War

Highlander officer at the Battle of Balklava, Crimean War

The literary output of the trend lies most notably in the works of Robert Burns and Lady Carolina Nairne. While Nairne herself is little known, her songs are nearly always performed at Scottish cultural festivals, such as Will ye Nae Come Back Again and Wha’ll be King but Charlie. Burn’s songs were less inclined to extoll the Jacobite cause, but rather accuse it of fault, such as Ye Jacobites by Name, or The Highland Widow’s Lament; or, were pleas for reconciliation, such as Auld Lang Syne; “the auld acquaintance” (meaning disagreement) to be forgotten was the 1745 Uprising, and the friends that “hae run about the braes” were England and Scotland. Highland Games as large scale events with performances of different athletic and cultural activities associated with Scotland were invented during this period. These combined events from different parts of Scotland which had never been grouped together before, and had practical purposes hitherto: such as the caber toss for logging. These cultural activities created a new sense of Scottish cultural nationalism within Great Britain.

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Lady Carolina Nairne

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Robbie Burns

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Sir Walter Scott

This brings us to Mel Gibson and Braveheart, the most notable modern incarnation of this trend. The film neglects to mention that Wallace served as a mercenary for the English while a young man, and furthermore, Prima Nocte never really existed. The term is mentioned during the Middle Ages, but only in reference to somewhere else: the Scots said it about the English, the English about the French, the French about the Germans, the Germans about the Danes, and so forth. Essentially, Prima Nocte was a Medieval form of ethnic prejudice, no one practiced Prima Nocte themselves, only those people over there. No Medieval Law Book includes this “right”, it is only mentioned by people speaking about another country during the actual Middle Ages. Furthermore, “nations” in a philosophical sense did not exist, but rather, the “nation” (natio in Latin) referred simply to the nobility, the peasantry were merely subject to their lord, and the lord’s loyalty to a specific king was the closest notion of “nation” at the time. Wallace was not fighting for “Scotland”, but rather, was opposed to the Anglophillic Balliol Clan which ruled the region, and was a supporter of Robert the Bruce and his Clan. Mel Gibson’s Braveheart falls squarely into this tradition of romantic hogwash, and the Walker’s Shortbread Tin narrative of Scottish history.

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Who would think Mel Gibson of all people be touting some weird Medieval prejudices? Oh yeah! Because he’s Mel Gibson.

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Seriously, just stop listening to this guy.

In all fairness, many of these criticisms of Scottish culture may be levied against most nationalist narratives of history and culture. Obviously, not everyone in Austria appreciates Mozart, Haydn, and the Strausses: that was the culture of the aristocracy superimposed on the country following the dissolution of the Hapsburg dominions, or the aforementioned U.S. Civil War narrative at the turn of the century used to reconcile the former Union and Confederacy. However, Scottish culture can be pointed to as it was the progenitor of cultural nationalism, and prototypical deliberate nature of its concoction, coupled with its ubiquity across the anglosphere. Furthermore, the recent addition of Braveheart to this canon and the surge in Scottish national sentiment following the release of the film, is a testament to the potent nature of nationalism. However, all nationalist narratives of history are often encumbered by myth and deliberate fiction. Furthermore, they ignore contradictions, such as the invention of Scottish cultural festivities, and, more importantly, ignore darker aspects of the history, such as the savage nature of the Highland Clan System. After the failure of the Jacobite Rebellion, Charles Edward Stuart stole the remainder of the Jacobite treasury with him to Rome, where he began to drink heavily. He died drunk in a gutter there in 1788. This history really shows why Scottish culture is so colourful, exciting, and warlike: it was intended to be so.

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The Post-Industrial Revolution and the Alleged Crisis in Youth Masculinity

vicecover_cloth_issueVice Magazine, British edition, recently ran an article discussing the use of creatine, a muscle enhancer, and the subculture surrounding it among young men in United Kingdom. Other news outlets, as well as Psychology Today have used the same phrase of a “Crisis in Masculinity”. While the article contains a handful of historical references, based somewhat obviously on a knowledge of history derived from cinema, much of it is devoted to discussing the muscle enhancing product, and the remainder seems somewhat personal. The Vice article itself states: “Now, though, those old ideals of male attractiveness—”the charmer,” “the bit of rough,” “the sullen thinker”—are almost dead.” The author, himself, despite referring to a diverse array of male archetypes, which are often seen in many contemporary films, is still reflecting a conscious mental and generational crisis; arguably endemic among young people in Western societies today. However, this article will contend that all contemporary youth subcultures and their habits reflect this crisis. Furthermore, certain organizations have taken to blaming social advances made by women in the previous century. This is certainly not the case. More female business owners, engineers, and scientists means more economic expansion and opportunities for all, as the belief that women entering the workforce on a grand scale being unique is somewhat of a myth. This article will posit that the contemporary crisis of self allegedly just young men, but among young people in general today is a product of the decline of the family farm and the collapse of the Western industrial economy.

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Spoiler alert: in then goes on to discuss how our notions of childhood have changed!

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Spoiler alert pt. II: the crisis is that children in the Victorian era were manlier than we are.

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This Hogarth will serve for a picture of “Hipsters”, they change what they wear too much.

What is this crisis I am referring to? While the term crisis is somewhat hyperbolic, it’s also used to refer to the Middle East, the use of the word has become common in this context, so it would seem appropriate to use it. The notion the term refers to is a sense of ennui, uselessness, and a general sense of disconnect among young men today. The author of the Vice article would fail to see the ironic parallels between his own readership, and the people he discusses in the article. Those who attend a different venue to consume watery, expensive, alcoholic beverages, listen to loud music they’ve already heard before, and defining themselves in material terms, are not extremely distinct. Hipster beards, fascination for 20’s-80’s vintage clothing and objects, and even the Hipster reclamation of the classic barber shop, by adding a tattoo parlour, reflect this seeming loss of a particular aspect of their masculine self; just as their creatine-enchanced brethren a little down the street are purported to behave. Furthermore, in regards to business attire, many offices have seen the decline of Casual Fridays since the Recession; when contracts are scarce you need to look like the person for the job. However, before I digress further, we must not Romanticize masculinity hitherto this crisis, in any direction.

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Spinning cloth in a Medieval illustration

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Milking cows in Medieval illustration

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Depiction of ale wife in 1790 English painting

Earlier, I referred to the entry of women into the workforce on a grand scale being recent as a myth. The primary distinction was it was only upper and middle class women, a small minority, entering the workforce which was unique. Furthermore, the concept of a “Middle Class” is a somewhat recent one as well. Hitherto, there were rural people, town dwellers, the clergy, and the aristocracy. Prior to the Industrial Revolution at the end of the 18th century, notions of “work” were strikingly different from the modern conception. From the rise of agriculture, around 9,000 B.C., until the Industrial Revolution, facilitated by the Enclosure Movement in the 1700s A.D., a large scale land privatization throughout Europe, family farms were relatively self-sustaining economic units. Much of the work done by women “inside the home” were tasks many people are employed in today, such as making clothes, shoes, and brewing beer. Not to mention keeping a fire going safely in a time centuries before gas or electric heating. Men were tasked with tending to fields and flocks, gathering firewood, threshing wheat, and grinding flour, which were quite literally “outside the home”. Not to mention there were often Labour Taxes demanded to work on infrastructure and the Lord’s fields, flocks, firewood, and flour. Notions of “inside the home” and “outside the home” had strikingly different connotations before the Industrial Revolution.

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Women coal miners in Britain

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Woman textile workers in Britain

From the onset of the growth of the manufacturing centers in the 1790’s-1820’s, the new industrial working class women often worked in the same Dickensian squalor which their husbands and sons worked; children as young as 7-8 worked in factories and mines as well. Child labour was abolished by profession, such as chimney sweeps in the 1840’s. Certain industries, such as cigarette manufacturing, had a workforce largely comprised of women. Middle and upper class ladies did not work, but women did not take positions of authority in the new industrialized world, as they had as aristocrats and abbesses in convents before. However, we certainly must not idealize some romantic lost era of pure manliness. Spousal and child abuse were endemic until the middle of the twentieth century, and not mere spanking or hitting, either. Whipping children with canes among the working and middle class, riding crops by the aristocracy, was common until shortly after the turn of the twentieth century. Furthermore, conditions for children in schools was often fraught with physical and emotional violence. Suspending small children in baskets far above the floor for hours at a time was a common form of punishment. However, as working conditions improved thanks to regulations and unions, and the introduction of child and spousal welfare laws, these things changed, and by the 1960’s and 70’s most of these cultural norms had shifted.

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Children, having nimbler fingers, and little boys, being adventurous, were purported to make the best chimney sweeps, it was eventually banned because they kept dying

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Young girls worked in factories, too.

Given the more gradual changes in gender norms that has often been described, and often been pointed to as the source of the (I’m sorry) existential angst experienced by young men in contemporary, what is? Family farms continued for a long time following the Industrial Revolution, half of the World’s ~7 billion people live in rural areas today. However, family farms have declined in the case of much of the Western world. While ready to wear clothing, farming implements, and more efficient methods had greatly reduced the amount of labourers required, much of the West’s population still lived in rural areas as farmers  until the 1950’s and 60’s. For much of the male population, masculinity was measured in the bushels of wheat you gathered, the number and size of trees you cut down, the animals you hunted, and so forth. These traits, while an expression of physical strength and fortitude, had a direct connection to their and their family’s immediate well-being. Furthermore, they were skills taught to them by older male members of their family and close friends. There were direct personal connections to what their labour as a means to survive. This latter personal connection with labour was lost subsequent to the Industrial Revolution, and an analogous sense of ennui perpetuated, this lead to the initial rise of leisure culture, hobbies, and habits such as drinking, smoking, and gambling as a definition of masculinity in the late Nineteenth Century. However, with the regulations on industrial working conditions, workman’s compensation, and trade unions there was maintained a sense of dignity and purpose given the ability to provide for oneself and a family. However, one receives even less emotional satisfaction from retail work, and is even less able to provide for a family in this new post-Industrialized world.

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Vacant lots in Detriot

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The kinder face of post-Industrialism

Subcultures may be analyzed as a social phenomenon unique to the latter half of the twentieth century, but there are deep historical analogies. Modern subcultures began to take hold with the concept of the “teenager” in the 1950’s, such as Greasers in America or the Mods and Rockers in Britain. Earlier possible antecedents could be found in the Theosophy movement in late Victorian and Edwardian Britain, or the so-called Bohemians in the 19th century, however, these were not broad as modern subcultures, nor were they youth-based. With child welfare acts, childhood came to be defined as a unique introductory period. Following secularization, increased consumerism, and the new marketing concept of the “teenager”, young people began to define themselves by material, rather than ethnic, religious or political terms. These concepts can take deep hold on a person’s sense of self and their relationship with the world around them, including defining how their notions, and awareness, of the various social and political forces by which the world operates. Adherence to subculture has become a powerful marketing tool to harness particular grievances leading to emotional disconnect among young people have lost with mainstream society, all the while maintaining it. I doubt the creatine or the hipster glasses are manufactured in North America or Europe.

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Classical Analogy in summation:

During the Decline of the Roman Empire there existed a phenomenon known as “Mystery Religions”.  These included the cult of Mithras, the pseudo-Egyptian cult of Isis, and the Dionysian Mysteries. These became popular throughout the Roman world, and their membership could be sometimes identified by their outward appearance or behaviors, other times it was secretive and esoteric, among a small, knowing few. While obviously not the catalyst for the Decline of the Roman Empire, these mystery religions marked a period of decadence, decline, and disunity amongst the populace of the Empire; different mystery religions would be popular among different classes and sections of the population. Rather than grander notions, such as the general welfare of the Empire, declined among all sections of the Empire. Those at the top and bottom who came to believe the notions, and those at the top and bottom, particularly at the top, who cared for none but their own ambitions. The collapse of the Western industrial economy and the decline of the family farm has created a sense of ennui, existential angst, and emotional disconnect does exist among both most people, but it has become facilitated by manipulation from above in the creation of a self based on shared symbols and behaviours within the select group. Undoubtedly, such internal culture disintegration is a sign of excess and social decay, and arguably, the Mystery Religions of Capitalism.

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There’s no such a Thing as a Dumb Question, Part I: “When was the Middle Ages?”

ImageEveryone remembers the line the teachers feed us in elementary school: “There’s no such a thing as a dumb question, so don’t be afraid to ask!” This line usually backfires and makes the whole class think they may have thought of the first “dumb question” in history, or the class feigns laughter upon hearing an inquiry; acting as if they would never be so curious to ask about something, are proud to be so, and scornful of those who aren’t. As such, I’ve decided to introduce a new category to my blog attempting to prove this line is actually true. The theme will cover questions which may be perceived as “dumb”, however, the series will serve to illustrate the difference between ignorance and stupidity: a stupid person may be ignorant, but is either unaware or proud to be so, but rather, an ignorant person is simply unaware of information, we’re all ignorant about something. I will then use these “dumb questions” and demonstrate how many are actually important historical questions, the answers to which cause considerable disagreement among scholars. The first installment of this category will answer the question “When was the Middle Ages?”

ImageThe term “Middle Ages” itself implies that it is in the past, presumably between two definitive points, it’s in the “Middle”. No one during the period was walking around saying they were in “The Middle Ages”. This term was retroactively applied by intellectual figures subsequent to the period which they were discussing. This has lead to considerable confusion and misconceptions among most people as to when the Middle Ages actually were within the historical timeline. Often, many people seem to consider much of history as the “Middle Ages”, and then lumping it all into one horrible, wretched, mud covered, plague strewn, violent, dreadful, blight on the otherwise fantastic history of humanity. In this essay I will highlight different viewpoints as to when the Middle Ages were, and in process dispel some common misconceptions about the Middle Ages, both the filthy and and the knightly.

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Western and Eastern Roman Empires, 4th c. A.D.

Most scholars agree to the first “point” the Middle Ages is the collapse of the Western Roman Empire. The Roman Empire had ruled much of Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa. Stretching from Britain in the North West, Morocco in the South, Iraq in the East, and with a Northern borders at the Rhine and the Danube rivers, in modern southern Germany and through Hungary. The Empire collapsed during a period known, paradoxically, as both the Barbarian Migrations and the Barbarian Invasions, depending on the context. Rome had come to rely upon mercenaries recruited from the non-Roman tribes to police their vast borders, and many of these, mostly Germanic tribesmen, quickly advanced through the Roman military, became Roman citizens, and sometimes entered into prominent positions within the Roman government. However, changes in the Northern European and West and Central Asian climates brought hitherto unknown tribes into the Roman World: among numerous others, these included the Angles, the Teutons, the Franks, the Arabs, the Vandals, and the Huns; many of the nationalist historical accounts of various nations trace themselves back to this period.

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These are those mercenaries, called “foederati”, from a a Latin term meaning Federation, as in the Germanic tribal federation

Pope Leo the Great and Attila the Hun

Pope Leo the Great and Attila the Hun

The “Fall of the Roman Empire” is not a single point, and different historians emphasize different dates and events. Rome was sacked in 410 A.D. and 455 A.D., by the Vandals and the Ostrogoths, respectively. This is why “Vandal”, someone who destroys public property, and “Gothic”, something dark and foreboding (“Gothic” architecture was applied as an epithet as people thought it was “barbaric”) have their negative connotations. The last great Roman General, Flavius Aetius, who had defeated Attila the Hun, was assassinated by his fellow Romans in 454 A.D., fearing him as a political opponent: careerism had become more important than the good of the Empire; Edward Gibbon, the famous 18th century historian, emphasized the death of Aetius. The last Roman Emperor, Romulus Augustulus, was deposed in 476 by the Romano-German Odoacer, who became King of Italy. Many modern historians have taken this more gradual approach to the decline and fall, pointing to the maintenance of Roman Law in much of the former Empire, and the bureaucratic parallels between the Emperor and the Senate to the Papacy and the College of Cardinals. Furthermore, for much of the Empire unaffected by the Barbarian Invasions, little changed for a long time culturally or materially. In fact, many of the “Barbarians” (this is a Roman term, they thought foreign speech sounded like “Bar bar bar bar”) were mainly Romanized, and maintained much of the former economic structure, merely with themselves as the main authorities. However, while many appreciated the trappings of Roman life, they did little to maintain the bureaucracy necessary to maintain said trappings.

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Huns weren’t about all that red tape and stuff.

Roman strength was its bureaucracy. A network of governors, who were rotated so as to not form local power bastions, allowed the Emperor and the Senate to construct interconnected road networks, aqueducts, and had systems of poverty alleviation, the “dole” as it was called, originally a Roman term for a bread ration received by the poor, elderly, and sick. These systems could be found throughout Europe and the Middle East for over a thousand years. They gradually collapsed following the Barbarian Invasions and Migrations. Barbarian chieftains installed themselves in positions of authority in different parts of the former Roman Empire: the Angles in England, the Franks in France, and the Teutons in Germany. Importantly, there were also the Arabs in Arabia and the Berbers in North Africa, who conquered these territories from the Visigoths, and then together eventually crossed into Visigothic Spain in 711 A.D., territories which the Visigoths had previously conquered from the Vandals. This was a period of flux, migration, and change. Once these events had settled in the 700-800’s A.D., the Vikings from the North came and began their raids and conquests, plundering as far south as Moorish Spain, and settling as far east as Kiev. This period is known either the “Dark Ages” or more academically, the “Early Middle Ages”. The Fall of the Western Roman Empire and the Barbarian Invasions and Migrations is the first “point” the Middle Ages is between.

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Map of Barbarian Invasions/Migrations

Emperor Justinian, r. 527-565 A.D. and Patriarch Maximianus

Emperor Justinian, r. 527-565 A.D. and Patriarch Maximanius

Note, the “Western” Roman Empire, which comprised of modern Britain, France, Italy, part of Germany, Spain, Tunisia, northern Algeria, and Morocco; the Eastern Roman Empire, with its capital in Byzantium, survived. The term “Byzantine Empire” was created by historians to differentiate it from the Eastern Roman Empire, which had a separate Emperor and bureaucracy during the twilight of the Western Empire. The Arabs were able to dislodge the Byzantines from the Arabian peninsula, Sicily, Southern Italy, Sardinia, North Africa, and Egypt, they were never able to push them from Anatolia, Greece, Much of the Middle East and the Caucasus.The Arabs however maintained much of the older Roman infrastructure in certain regions, most notably North Africa and Spain, largely until the time of the Caliphate of Cordoba, which collapsed in 1031. In addition, the Muslims were not a substantial military threat to the Byzantine Empire until the Battle of Manzikert in 1071. Furthermore, there was significant infighting amongst various Islamic sects and political organizations. Meanwhile, in Northern Europe, the Vikings had pillaged much of the European coastal regions, and among the Christian kingdoms and Pagan tribes they raided, a mounted warrior class began to emerge to defend villages from these Viking invaders.

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Charlemagne, in a Renaissance painting by Albrecht Durer.

Tariq (Tarik), Conqueror of Iberia

Tariq (Tarik), conqueror of Iberia.

Two major social changes predominated the “Dark Ages”/”Early Middle Ages”, namely, the rise of Christianity and Islam. While Christianity was the official religion of the Western & Eastern Roman Empires, the new migrants were entirely Pagan. Islam was traditionally founded in 622 A.D. (year 0 in the Islamic dating system), and Christianity gradually rose again throughout Europe at around the same period. Poland for instance, was not Christianized until 966 A.D., Lithuania until the 1200’s. On Christmas Day, 800 A.D., Charles, King of the Franks, was crowned “Holy Roman Emperor”, an attempt by the Papacy to revive the Empire in the West. Charles is better known as Charlemagne, or Carolus Magnus, Latin for Charles the Great. Charlemagne is credited for holding Western European culture together during the period of the Vikings, creating a new form of regulating government and the relationships and responsibilities between various classes; it was much more effective than simply hiring bodyguards. This process was known as Feudalism. Charles the Great ruled over an Empire covering France, Eastern Germany, Northern Spain, and much of Italy, converting them, at least officially, to Christianity. His rule marks an important turning point in the history of Europe. However, under the terms of the 843 Treaty of Aachen, Charlemagne’s Empire was divided amongst his three sons: Charles, who received France, Louis, who received Germany, and Lothar, who received a squiggly bit in the middle from the Netherlands through to Italy called Lotharingia.

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Western Europe under the Treaty of Aaachen, 843 A.D.

However, the threat of the Pagan Scandinavian tribes remained a problem in Northern Europe. To fend off the Vikings, the grandson of Charles the Great, Charles the Straightforward, granted a Duchy to Rollo, a Viking warlord. The region came to be known as Normandy, the land of the Northmen. Rollo received Normandy in exchange for conversion to Christianity, becoming Robert I, Duke of Normandy, and a vassal of the King of France. Rollo and his followers came to be known as the Normans, who conquered a large swathe of territory, including Sicily (from the Arabs), most of the French coastline, and most importantly, England in 1066, under William the Conqueror following the Battle of Hastings. The coronation of Charlemagne, 800, the Fall of the Caliphate of Cordoba, 1031, the Battle of Hastings, 1066,The Battle of Manzikert, 1071, and various Christianizations and Islamifications, which was largely only among the educated and nobility, are all considered the end of the “Early Middle Ages” and the “Dark Ages”. Terms such as “Dark Ages”, or the “Jahiliyyah” in reference to the Middle East, have extreme religious connotations which are demeaning to the artistic, literary, economic, and military achievements of the periods they refer. What begins subsequent to the Early Middle Ages is the High Middle Ages.

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Baptism of Rollo of Normandy

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Map of Europe ca. 1000

The map and cultures of the former Roman Empires had changed dramatically over two to three centuries. Now, numerous Kingdoms, Empires, Caliphates, Republics and Emirates doted the former duopoly of the Roman Empires. The Byzantine Empire, who continued to consider themselves the Roman Empire, was but one of many states, and gradually declining in importance. Two new ethnic groups emerged from the East, the Mongols, and a Central Asian and increasingly Slavicized group known as the Turks, who were recent converts to Islam emerged in Europe and the Middle East. The Mongols conquered Russia, the Middle East, and much of Asia from the 1200s onwards. The Turks were able to dislodge the Eastern Roman Empire from Anatolia (modern day Turkey) and modern Greece over the course of the 1200’s-1300’s, except the Morea Peninsula and Thrace, the territory surrounding Constantinople itself. Now a withered city having been sacked by Turks, Mongols, Crusaders, and others during the preceding centuries. Furthermore, much of Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East had been decimated by the Bubonic Plague in the 1380’s, killing ~25 million people. The High Middle Ages were characterized by the rise of Feudal states, the decline of the Eastern Roman Empire, and the legal authority of Christianity and Islam throughout the former Roman Empire. The period following the Mongol Invasion, the Rise of the Turks, and the Bubonic Plague is considered the Late Middle Ages.

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How many boards could the Mongols hoard if the Mongol Hordes got Bored?

“Dance of Death” from the Nuremberg Chronicle

While the time of Bubonic Plague itself was a wretched period to be alive, the period subsequent saw a marked improvement in everyday people’s lives. The decline in population saw increases in wages which lasted several centuries, and new forms of commerce and trade emerged. Commerce was dominated the Hanseatic League in Northern Europe, a German merchant community who dominated European trade and originated during the High Middle Ages, but reached its zenith in the Late Middle Ages, in 1387. The Hanseatic Merchants united much of Northern Europe in a network of commerce providing much of the food for urban centres from the rural regions; as most urban centre’s immediate hinterlands could often only provide food for ~2 months out of the year, this was a marked improvement in the lives of urban people, and was of great profit for rural farmers, who were the majority of the population at the time. Modern banking emerged in Italy, creating paper bills of exchange to avoid the rigours and dangers of transporting gold over long distances. This was the precursor to modern paper money. In the 1400’s the printing press was invented, leading to substantial increases in literacy across Europe and the Middle East. However, the formerly powerful and advanced Muslim Spain had substantially declined over the previous centuries. The minor Christian states of Northern Spain had united into Portugal, Castile, and Aragon, three powerful kingdoms, while the Muslim territories, which had formerly covered much of the Iberian peninsula, were reduced to the small state of Granada in the South. The late Middle Ages was characterized by the emergence of modern economic techniques, the rise of literacy, and the decline of Moorish Spain. But when did the Late Middle Ages end?

Turkish Warriors

Turkish Warriors

Three years and several events can be contended as the “End of the Middle Ages”, and the beginning of the “Renaissance” or the “Early Modern Period”. 1453, 1492, and 1517 are the major dates pointed to as the final bookend of the Middle Ages. In 1453, Constantinople had fallen to the Turks. These people, who were late converts and rather Europeanized Muslims, had become the most powerful state in the Islamic World and Eastern Europe. In 1492, Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand, whose marriage had united Aragon and Castile into the Kingdom of Spain, conquered the last Muslim foothold in Iberia. Furthermore, a Genoese navigator in Royal Spanish employ, Christopher Columbus, landed in the Caribbean. This lead to a rapid change in European commerce, as well as diet and cultural habits. Furthermore, this began the great European diaspora to the Western Hemisphere, facilitated by the displacement of the indigenous population. In Europe during this period, the Catholic Church enjoyed uncontested, but not unquestioned, dominance of European Christianity. In 1517, a little known German monk named Martin Luther, using the late Medieval internet, the printing press, published his 95 Theses, creating Protestantism. A theological and printing revolution spread across Europe, which lead to the rise of modern states, as Church authorities lost their monopoly on theology, and literacy. However, thanks to the printing revolution, Europe and the Middle East became more standardly Christian or Islamic, as earlier Pagan traditions had survived throughout much of the Middle Ages among much of the populace due to lack of communications technology. In addition, a new technology had arrived in Europe, and was developed over this period: gunpowder. The development of firearms in Europe lead to the decline of the necessity of the knightly class, as there was no more need for a specific warrior caste. This lead to the development of modern professional armies. With the Fall of the Eastern Roman Empire, the Birth of Spain coupled with the arrival of Columbus in the New World, the development of gunpowder, and the emergence of Protestantism, the Early Modern Era had begun.

Isabella and Ferdinand

Isabella and Ferdinand

Martin Luther

Martin Luther

Early cannon.

Early cannon.

Woodcut depicting London Plague outbreak, 1600's

Woodcut depicting London Plague outbreak, 1600’s

The “Middle Ages” refers to an extremely long period, ~450 A.D.-~1500 A.D., over a thousand years. The notion of a “Middle Ages” was created by people in the Early Modern Period who dubbed themselves “Humanists”. They considered themselves enlightened and reborn, hence the term “Renaissance”. However, during a period known as the Enlightenment, ~1650-1789, many social phenomena common during the “Renaissance”, such as witch hunts, were considered part of the “Middle Ages”. During the Industrial Revolution, much of history from the Fall of Rome to (their) present was considered Medieval due to economic changes and relative democratization since the Revolutions of 1688 in Britain, 1776 in America, and 1789 in France. The phrase “Nasty, Brutish, and Short” in reference to life was coined by early Enlightenment philosopher Thomas Hobbes, who was referring to his own period; the turmoil brought forth by the English Civil War had unleashed what Hobbes termed the “State of Nature”, whereby when man is unrestrained by laws he acts as he so chooses, rather than for the common good of society. The period from the 1789 French Revolution to the fall of Napoleon in 1815 saw more battles than the previous 500 years combined in European history. The notion of “Middle Ages” essentially means “brutish time we don’t live in anymore and that we’re much better than.” Though it has since come of utility to historians for the sake of periodization.

And that is why “When was the Middle Ages?” is not a dumb question in the slightest.

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The Christianization of Poland

The nation states of East Central Europe have historically found themselves within a crossroads of different civilizations, religions, and feuding Great Powers. Poland in particular has occupied a heavily contested piece of Europe for its entire history. Different political arrangements that arose in Poland and East Central Europe would exist within perpetually contested space. Different nations from Western and Eastern Europe would influence Polish affairs for much of its history. Given the period prior to the expansion of Latin Christendom in Europe was one of migration and flux it is difficult to speak of specific states and national interests, rather, migratory tribes and survival necessities. In the period following Christianization, embryonic versions of states and nationalities began to emerge. However, one cannot speak of these entities in national terms as local cultures were still extremely distinct, but rather, simply as political entities. Following the marriage of Miezko I to Dobrawa of Bohemia, the embryonic version of the Polish state emerged, but there was by no means any significant degree of political or cultural change at the onset of the Baptism, however, certain themes in Polish history can be traced back to this pivotal event and the processes it began. The Christianization of Poland itself was not the important pivotal moment in Polish history, but rather, the processes which it began fundamentally shaped the Polish state and facilitated changes of great historical import.

Mieszko of Poland, here in a Romanticized 19th c. painting, looks somewhat like Jesus with a sword.

Mieszko of Poland, here in a Romanticized 19th c. painting, looks somewhat like Jesus with a sword.

19th c. sketch of Dobrawa by the same artist, Jan Matejko.

19th c. sketch of Dobrawa by the same artist, Jan Matejko.

The acceptance of Latin Christianity was not a forgone conclusion in Poland: there were numerous forms of Christianity practiced throughout Europe, even within Latin Christendom religious matters were far from standardized during this period. However, political developments in East Central Europe displayed the necessity of Christianizing Poland in the view of Mieszko. As part of the marriage agreement with Dobrawa of Bohemia, Mieszko I accepted Christianity, as did the territories under his dominion in 966 A.D. However, Poland has long been perceived as a prisoner of her own geography.[1] Mieszko’s marriage to Dobrawa reflects an interesting metaphor used to describe Polish history as a whole, the choice to accept Latin Christianity being a controversial one. Norman Davies cites the metaphor of the “disputed bride”[2] which has often been used to describe Poland and her geography, situated between the German and Russian lands. Much of Poland’s culture, historical political arrangements, and foreign policy reflected this struggle with geography, and an East-West dichotomy. The Christianization of Poland reflects this greater theme of Polish history, and ushered in a Westernizing period in the Piast Kingdom.

Patriarch Niketas, basically Jesus with a sword.

Patriarch Niketas, here in an early medieval icon, also made to look like Jesus with a sword.

Nothing in history is inevitable, prior to the Baptism of Poland it may have seemed likely that Poland would have become an Orthodox state. While Byzantine influence had been declining in the region for some time, there was still a considerable gravitational pull towards Constantinople in much of East Central Europe.  The arrival of the Avars and other barbarian tribes in Eastern Europe and the Balkans weakened Byzantine influence in the region during the centuries before the marriage of Mieszko and Dobrawa.[3] Furthermore, Persian and Turkish encroachment on the Eastern frontier further contributed to the declining influence of the Eastern Roman Empire, the Arabs attempted a blockade of Constantinople in 674-78.[4] The Slavs however were not completely free from the yoke of the Byzantine Church; the Patriarch Niketas who was a Slav was a prominent figure in the Greek Church.[5] There was no guarantee that the Slavs would have joined Western Christendom, and much of Greece and the Balkans were under Hellenized Slavic influence. Furthermore, the Kingdom of Moravia, situated in a nebulous, and contested, region comprising parts of modern day Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Poland, was Christianized thanks to the efforts Byzantine missionaries, and used the liturgy of Cyril and Methodius.[6]

Russian icon of Saints Cyril and Methodius.

Russian icon of Saints Cyril and Methodius.

The state of Great Moravia was one of the most powerful nations in Central Europe in its day. There was a flourishing of literature written in Church Slavonic in the region.[7] Furthermore, a ruler of Moravia, Ratislav, created a political and cultural alliance with the Byzantine Empire, and conducted trade with the Empire along the Danube.[8] This alliance was concluded for practical political reasons; both stated a fear of growing Frankish influence and strength in Europe.[9] However, Moravia proved to be a short lived state, around 907 Great Moravia fell to another nomadic tribe from the East, the Magyars.[10] The Magyars created their own state, which eventually converted to Christianity and became the Kingdom of Hungary. The collapse of Orthodox Moravia reflects a profound Westward shift in Central European history, blocking access to Poland and elsewhere to Byzantine missionaries, and created the powerful and important Kingdom of Hungary in the process. This lead to a profound change of course in Polish history. The arrival of the Magyars prevented a degree of unity between the Northern and Southern Slavs, thus facilitating a Westward facing Poland.[11] A Catholic Hungary served to buffer Byzantine pretensions in East Central Europe, and later dynastic marriages between Poland and Hungary continued this Westernizing process.

The Wenceslas who last looked out on the feast of Stephen

The Wenceslas who last looked out on the feast of Stephen, yes, that Wenceslas

Once again, this did not completely eradicate Easternizing influences within Poland and East Central Europe. While the Eastern Roman Empire proved unsuccessful in extending her cultural and religious influence in Central and East Central Europe, she was successful elsewhere. An Orthodox civilization flourished around the city of Kiev; Russian nationalists often point to the Kievan Rus as the origin of the Russian state.[12] This Orthodox culture would exert a degree of influence over the Orthodox populations in regions which would eventually become part of Poland-Lithuania,[13] and created a flourishing trading empire for a time, built upon the roving and dynamic spirit of the Norsemen, who founded the city of Kiev. However, this was temporary, and later on following the Mongol Invasion of the 1200’s, this state would completely disappear from European political discourse.[14] The “Mongol Yoke”, as it was known, would further facilitate the Westernizing processes of Poland and Lithuania in the wake of Christianization.

Depiction of Orthodox Kievan Rus.

Depiction of Orthodox Kievan Rus.

Thus during this period Bohemia and the Slavs of the North loosened their ties with the Byzantine Empire. Over the course of the succeeding decades, East Central Europe gradually fell under the influence of the Pope in Rome.[15] Estimates as to when the conversion of Bohemia took place vary, however the general agreement among scholars is sometime around 896.[16] The Bohemians, fearing Magyar influence, formed an alliance with the Bavarians.[17] This alliance cemented connections between Bohemia and Western Christendom. By 925-929, Wenceslas of Bohemia constructed a chapel in Prague dedicated to St. Vitus based on Charlemagne’s chapel of Aix-la-Chappelle, which was in turn inspired by a chapel to St. Vitale situated in Ravenna, quite literally setting these cultural ties in stone.[18] However, the process of Christianization in Bohemia was by no means a smooth one. For his Christianizing efforts, Wenceslas was martyred, eventually becoming a popular saint in Bohemia.[19][20] In 956, Adalbert of Prague was born, Adalbert would eventually be credited for the Conversion of Poland.[21] However, there were still two Churches in Bohemia, one Latin and one Slavic.[22] Given the eventually royal marriage between Bohemia and Poland during this time, this too reflects an East-West dichotomy in Polish history.

San Vitale in Ravenna.

San Vitale in Ravenna.

Saint Vitus in Prague, a Gothic homage to the Ravenna Cathedral.

Saint Vitus in Prague, a Gothic homage to the Ravenna Cathedral.

However, despite Eastern influences, the overwhelming process in the wake of Christianization was one of growing Western European influence. Acceptance of Latin Christianity in East Central Europe was by no means an organic process. Foreign, and particularly German, influence was strongly behind the Latinization of Bohemia and Poland. The Germans were intent to maintain the Bohemian Church under Imperial influence; upon the consecration of the Bishopric of Prague they insisted it be subordinate to the Archbishopric of Mainz, largely at the behest of Holy Roman Emperor Otto I.[23] Conversely, the Bavarians had hoped it would be under the protection of the Archbishop of Regensburg.[24] This had important political ramifications. By 1002, Bohemia was formally recognized as part of the Holy Roman Empire, while Boleslaw Chobry was Duke of Bohemia, continuing the Polish-Western ties.[25] Through both voluntary and forced means, the struggle between Eastern and Western cultural and political influences in Poland has been an ongoing facet of Polish history, and was imperative in shaping the Polish national character. However, there is considerable historical debate as to the motivations of Mieszko in converting to Christianity.

HREHENRYI

He was also known as Henry the Fowler since he liked to farm chickens, and monks thought that was silly.

            Political events in East Central Europe may have contributed to Mieszko’s decision to Christianize his dominions.Imperial campaigns against the Obotrites and the Wends had precipitated Mieszko’s marriage to Dobrawa of Bohemia.[26] The decades before 966 were violent ones in the Slavic Lands. Beginning in 929, Henry I of Germany launched a series of campaigns into the Slavic lands, around the Elbe and OderRivers.[27] Upon subduing the Slavs around Brandenburg and the Sorbs, Henry marched into Bohemia, forcing Duke Wenceslas to capitulate.[28] These policies of aggression were continued under Henry’s son, Otto I.[29] Henry and Otto would construct great fortifications across their new dominions, which now bordered Mieszko’s lands.[30]  Given acceptance of Christianity by Mieszko would offer him and his people a degree of protection from a common religion, fear of Germanic military expansion must have played a significant role in Mieszko’s political, religious, and cultural strategy. Rather than military confrontation, a largely peaceful population and cultural exchange occurred between Poland and Germany, this was a process known as the Ostsiedlung. This process of Ostsiedlung contributed to greater political, social, and economic changes in Poland more so than Christianization itself.

Romantic depiction of the Crusade against the Pagan Wendish tribes.

Romantic depiction of the Crusade against the Pagan Wendish tribes.

The Christianization of Poland is not quite the pivotal moment that Polish nationalists often contend. Rather, while the Kingdom of Poland under Mieszko was recognized by the Latin Church, large political changes did not yet occur in Poland.[31] The political order in Poland was still gradually emerging from a tribal system to a medieval feudal monarchy.  Under the legal system hitherto and immediately subsequent to the Baptism of Poland, the Ius Ducale, Polish kings would appoint specific peasants for distinct duties: certain guilds, specific agriculture, and the like.[32] This system hampered the development of labour division and did little to develop Poland’s economy.[33] However, this changed during this period of westernization. Cultural Westernization however only began to occur with the German migration eastwards during the Ostsiedlung.[34] At times, particularly following World War Two, this movement was portrayed as proto-German expansionism; however, it appears the process was significantly more peaceful than is often perceived. Rather, the Ostsiedlung was an integral facet of the cultural, political, and social exchanges between East and West which occurred in what is now Poland and East Central Europe.

Painting by Jan Matejko of the Baptism of Poland

Painting by Jan Matejko of the Baptism of Poland

The movement of large numbers of Germans into Polish lands had a significant demographic as well as cultural impact on Poland. Current estimates of the number of migrants who crossed the Elbe from Germany into Poland during the 12th-13th centuries was substantial, estimates are often around 2,000 migrants a year during this process.[35] However it is worthy to note many of these Germans also settled in Livonia and Prussia. These settlers were granted special privileges under Polish law, and brought with them new agricultural, architectural, and craft-making techniques.[36] This wave of German migration contributed to the development of Western-style feudalism in Poland and had an important role in the development of the Polish state.[37] In 1364, the University of Cracow opened, completely brining Poland into the current of Western European culture.[38] The movement of German settlers was arguably a more paradigm shifting event than Christianization. Furthermore, the degree to which the peasantry of Europe was “Christian” during the Middle Ages is also a matter of significant debate among medieval scholars. However, it is of general agreement that the German Ostsiedlung which followed Christianization was a defining moment in the Westernizing of Polish culture. These large numbers of settlers were invited by Polish clerics and nobles, and settlement was an organized system.

Ostdeutsche Kolonisation = East German Colonisation

Ostdeutsche Kolonisation = East German Colonization

The Ostsiedlung was not an ad hoc free for all land grab, but rather, a regulated and structured process which benefited Poles and Germans alike, as well as other Western European nationalities. This process was facilitated by a local lord or cleric, and would hire an agent called a locatore.[39] These locatores would be given a section of land, oversee the construction of a market square, and facilitate the transportation of settlers to the new town, this process was considered beneficial for both Germans as well as the local Slavs, who benefited from the trades and knowledge the Germans brought with them. Furthermore, German legal codes, Magdeburg and Lübeck Law in particular, were introduced to these new towns, deepening the connections between Poland and the West.[40] Many of these areas were underdeveloped and under populated, such as the 1237 grant of Bishop Thomas of Wroclaw, apparently where “black oak wood” once was, there were four new villages, populated largely by people from Flanders.[41] These grants were divided into lots termed mansi.[42] These grants varied in size, such as the grant of Wladislaw Odonicz to the Teutonic Order in 1224 of 500 mansi, to the lands Cisterians, which amounted to approximately 2,000 mansi.[43] This process opened up Poland to Europe at large. Adam of Bremen notes the presence of Greek merchants along the VistulaRiver.[44] However, the Ostsiedlung, initiated by the somewhat German character of Polish Christianization, would have a profound impact on Polish and European history as a whole; such is the nature of unintended consequences.

Medieval depiction of a Locatore

Medieval depiction of a Locatore, man with the hat, with a signed agreement with the king/nobleman (far left).

It is of the utmost import to note this process was not entirely peaceful by any means. Decisions made by the Polish kings regarding their Pagan neighbors in Lithuania would have a profound impact upon Polish and European history as a whole, and was a violent and coercive episode in the East-West operatic tug-of-war in Polish history. The Teutonic Order founded the city of Thorn in 1231,[45] having been invited to the region by Konrad of Masovia in 1226.[46] Confrontations between the PolishState and the Teutonic Order began with the seizure of Gdansk in 1308, the Teutonic Knights seizing the initiative upon the request of a Polish magistrate to subdue a rebellion in Pomerania.[47]  This ushered a period of fragmentation in Poland which was characterized by regular warfare between the Holy Roman Empire, the Teutonic Knights, and the individual Polish princes. To eventually subdue this threat, a second wave of Christianization began in the region, however with Poland as the primary Westernizing force, this time in Lithuania.

And you can't really blame them for being afraid of the Teutonic Knights

And you can’t really blame them for being afraid of the Teutonic Knights

Christianization was often an uneven process in Europe, especially prior to the printing and communication revolution that precipitated the Reformation. Poland was by no means the last region of Europe to accept Christianity, but due to increasing fears of the Teutonic Knights, Poland played a pivotal role in the closing of the Pagan Chapter of European history. The Polish state proved to be an integral component of the Christianization of Lithuania. Lithuania accepted Christianity with the marriage of Wladislav Jagiello of Lithuania to Jadwiga of Poland, creating a Personal Union of Poland and Lithuania.  Significant infighting occurred between Polish and Lithuanian nobles at the beginning of the Personal Union between the states. At times, the Lithuanian nobles would play to Muscovy against the Polish Kingdom[48]. However, following the reign of Ivan IV the Terrible, this changed substantially, and lead to a stronger and more unified Poland-Lithuanian State.[49] However, interesting dichotomies between the more Latinized Polish lands and the more Eastern-influenced Lithuanian lands, being recently Christianized, perpetuated this East-West theme, and created a Christian state which straddled the line between East and West European influences.

Wladyslaw Jageillo

Wladyslaw Jageillo

The transition from independent Grand Duchy to component of a greater state was not a smooth transition in Lithuania; many leading figures within Lithuania were hesitant to give up their former autonomy. The Union of Poland-Lithuania was a unique state. While much of Polish law was derived from the German settlers, aspects of Lithuanian legal codes display influence from Kievan legal codes, and were distinct from Polish legal codes in several respects.[50] The states under the King of Poland were straddling a great crossroads of East and West. Jaigello and the Lithuanian princes attempting to restore their autonomy extended official toleration towards their Orthodox subjects, Vitovt, Grand Prince of Lithuania, did so at Belsk in 1430.[51] While officially accepting the authority of the Pope of Rome, the Orthodox Church was not only accepted but their numbers increased considerably throughout the history of the Union.[52] Furthermore, cultural divides existed between the peasantry and the nobility, as well as numerous ethnic and non-Christian minorities, existed within the Polish-Lithuanian state. The process beginning with the marriage of Mieszko and Dobrawa in 966 can be directly connected to the beginning of Poland-Lithuania through the Ostsiedlung and the emergence of the Teutonic Order in the Baltic region, leading to the necessity of political unity between Poland and Lithuania.

Polish-Lithuanian Nobles ca. 1600

Polish-Lithuanian Nobles ca. 1600

Christianization began and important process which strongly influenced Polish culture, and was observed by many at the time. This sense of an East-West dichotomy within Polish culture is not simply commented upon by historians, but rather, was an aspect of the Polish nobility’s sense of self, the Polish nobility being the Polish nation, the natio. The Polish nobles saw themselves as a Bulwark of Christianity and a product of both Eastern and Western cultural influences, this view of the Self was sometimes referred to as Sarmatism, a belief that the Polish nobility were descendants of a warrior tribe from the East, called the Sarmatians.[53] This was reflective in the dress and attitudes of the Polish-Lithuanian nobility. Furthermore, rather than seeing themselves as backwards due to never being a province of Rome, the Polish nobles took it as a mark of pride that they had never been subdued by an outside force, contributing to the completely peaceful narrative of Polish Christianization. The Polish nobles they had a special purpose to defend Western Europe and Christendom from the onslaught of Russians, Turks, Tatars, and other roving bands of Easterners who threatened Europe.[54] This fostered a love of their “Golden Liberty”, as the nobles called it, and a strong martial attitude. This sense of being both Eastern and Western was a direct result of the processes that began with Dobrawa and Mieszko.

Romantic depiction of the Union of Lublin, 1569.

Romantic depiction of the Union of Lublin, 1569.

            The Piasts certainly understood the important political ramifications of their actions; while historians may likely never know what Mieszko’s precise motivations, whether political or through the influence of Dobrawa herself, it was likely a combination of the two. However, the fear of Holy Roman Imperial expansion to the east was undoubtedly a facet of Mieszko’s reasoning. The Ostsiedlung introduced new legal systems and economic modernization within Poland. Furthermore, the Christianization of Lithuania and the creation of the Polish-Lithuanian state can be traced to this process, largely due to the actions of the Teutonic Order in Poland and Livonia. Regardless of whether this process was peaceful or otherwise, being a mixture of the two, the Baptism of Poland in 966 introduced an important Westernizing period in Polish history, which was followed by an Easternizing period in Polish history, and a Westernizing period in Lithuanian history, eventually uniting into a unique Polish-Lithuanian culture, if only among the nobility. The state of Poland-Lithuania marked a high water period of Polish history, and created one of the most powerful states in Europe at the time, which can directly be traced to the events in the region which resulted from Christianization. However, it was these subsequent social changes within Poland which made a profound impact, rather than the arrival of the new religion itself. The cultural, political, and economic changes which occurred during the Ostsiedlung had a profound impact on Poland and East Central Europe as a whole. Rather than the coming of Christianity, it was the coming of Western European Christians which had the greatest impact upon Polish society, culture, and history.

           

 


[1] Davies, Norman God’s Playground: A History of Poland, Volume I The Origins to 1795 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005) 5.

[2] Davies, Norman God’s Playground: A History of Poland 23.

[3] Vlastko, P The Entry of the Slavs into Christendom (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970) 5.

[4] Vlastko, P The Entry of the Slavs into Christendom 6.

[5] Vlastko, P. The Entry of the Slavs into Christendom (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970) 9.

[6] Dvornik, Francis The Slavs in European History and Civilization (New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1962) 3.

[7] Dvornik, Francis The Slavs in European History and Civilization 3.

[8] Ibid 3.

[9] Ibid 4.

[10] Ibid 4.

[11] Vlastko, P The Entry of the Slavs into Christendom (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970) 309.

[12] Dvornik, Francis The Slavs in European History and Civilization (New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1962) 5.

[13] Dvornik, Francis The Slavs in European History and Civilization 6.

[14] Ibid 6.

[15] Vlastko, P. The Entry of the Slavs into Christendom (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970) 86.

[16] Vlastko, P. The Entry of the Slavs into Christendom 86.

[17] Ibid 89.

[18] Ibid 94.

[19] Ibid 96.

[20] In England as well, where the snow lay ‘round about, deep and crisp and even.

[21] Ibid 97.

[22] Ibid 98.

[23] Vlastko, P. The Entry of the Slavs into Christendom (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970) 99.

[24] Vlastko, P. The Entry of the Slavs into Christendom 99.

[25] Ibid 100.

[26] Davies, Norman God’s Playground: A History of Poland Volume I: The Origins to 1795 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005) 53.

[27] Bachrach, David S. “Henry I of Germany’s Military Campaigns in Archeological Perspective” Early Medieval Europe 21, 3 (2013) 307.

[28] Bachrach, David S. “Henry I of Germany’s Campaigns in Archeological Perspective” 308.

[29] Ibid 308.

[30] Ibid 309.

[31] Zientara, Benedyckt. “Melioratio Terrae: The Thirteenth Century Breakthrough in Polish History” in A Republic of Nobles: Studies in Polish History to 1864, eds. J.K. Fedorowicz et al. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982) 34.

[32] Zientara, Benedyckt “Melioratio Terrae: The Thirteenth Century Breakthrough in Polish History” in A Republic of Nobles: Studies in Polish History to 1864, eds. J.K. Fedorowicz et al. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982) 34.

[33] Zientara, Benedyct “Melioratio Terrae: The Thirteenth Century Breakthrough in Polish History” 35.

[34] Ibid 31.

[35] Ibid 39.

[36] Ibid 33.

[37] [37] Zientara, Benedyckt “Melioratio Terrae: The Thirteenth Century Breakthrough in Polish History” in A Republic of Nobles: Studies in Polish History to 1864, eds. J.K. Fedorowicz et al. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982) 35.

[38] Zientara, Benedyckt “Melioratio Terrae: The Thirteenth Century Breakthrough in Polish History” 37.

[39] Dollinger, Phillippe The German Hansa (London: Macmillan, 1970) 31.

[40] Dollinger, Phillippe The German Hansa (London: Macmillan) 31.

[41] Bartlett, Robert The Making of Europe: Conquest, Colonization, and Cultural Change, 950-1350 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993) 135.

[42] Bartlett, Robert The Making of Europe 139.

[43] Ibid 139.

[44] Dollinger, Phillip The German Hansa 7.

[45] Davies, Norman God’s Playground: The History of Poland Volume I The Origins to 1795 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005) 65.

[46] Davies, Norman God’s Playground: A History of Poland 62.

[47]  Davies, Norman God’s Playground: The History of Poland Volume I The Origins to 1795 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005) 74.

[48] Oswald III, P. Backus. “The Problem of Unity in the Polish-Lithuanian State” Slavic Review 22, 3, 1963. 416

[49] Oswald III, P. Backus “The Problem of Unity in the Polish Lithuanian State” 416.

[50]Oswald III, P. Backus. “The Problem of Unity in the Polish-Lithuanian State” Slavic Review 22, 3, 1963.  420.

[51] Oswald III, P. Backus. “The Problem of Unity in the Polish-Lithuanian State” 421.

[52] Ibid 421.

[53] Koehler, Kryzystof “The Heritage of Polish Republicanism” Sarmatian Review 32, 3, 2013 1663.

[54] Koehler, Kryzystof “The Heritage of Polish Republicanism” 1662.

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Fascists, Neo-Pagans, and Monied Interests: The Olympics are More Interesting than you Think

While the contemporary Olympics are loosely based on an Ancient Greek celebration, they are a modern invention. The International Olympic Committee was founded by Pierre de Frédy, Baron de Courbetin in Paris. The IOC was founded in the wake of French military defeat during the Franco-Prussian War at the hands of the German Empire. Courbetin, having read  Thomas Hughes’ Tom Brown’s Schooldays, the author’s description of his time at Rugby School, believed that physical health and physical education in schools was the source of Britain’s imperial majesty, and thus a means to secure national interests, as stronger citizens meant stronger soldiers. Furthermore, Baron de Courbetin was looking for a means to secure national unity and pride in a newly industrial and secularizing world. To accomplish these goals, de Courbetin created an “amateur” (Courbetin’s definition of “amateur” is somewhat distinct from today’s) romanticized and modernized adaptation of an Ancient Greek festival to Zeus, known as the Olympian Games. This article will discuss how the Olympics began as a salute to class hierarchy and an attempt to forge powerful narratives for a society which had killed God.

Baron de Courbetin

Baron de Courbetin

A modern criticism of the Olympic Games is the perception of excessive corporate influence; the irony of McDonald’s sponsoring an athletic event is obvious. However, Classical scholars disagree as to the degree of “amateurism” which was practiced in the original Greek Olympic Games. De Courbetin believed that athletes should be “amateur”, that is to say not paid for their performances. Baron de Courbetin’s definition of amateur carried an implicit connotation of inherited wealth, as their ability to sustain themselves through their training and daily life required some other means of support. De Courbetin contended this meant that the athletes would perform for love of the activity rather than for financial incentives, but this is likely due to his romanticized notions of Ancient Greece. A controversial episode known as the Dreyfuss Affair had altered what it meant to be a considered a Frenchman, Jews were now considered an aspect of the national body; in addition, philosophers such as Nietzsche and Marx were undermining the role religion had played in European society, though, they were a part of a trend stretching back to the French Revolution. As such, Courbetin and those like him, as discussed in John J. McAloon’s The Great Symbol: Pierre de Courbetin and the Origins of the Modern Olympics, from the Routledge Publishing’s series “Sport in Global Society”, Baron de Courbetin’s fascination with Greek Paganism was not merely Academic, he believed a modernized form of Greek Paganism would invigorate the West spiritually and physically in the new secular world.

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Snowshoeing was “Canada’s Sport” in the 19th c, snowshoeing at The Great Exhibition

Chariot racing depicted on pottery.

Chariot racing depicted on pottery.

Pierre de Courbetin’s efforts were not unique for his time. This is connected with several contemporary attempts to use sport to create narratives, Australia and Canada are primary examples of this, multi-ethnic immigrant based colonial-constructed states with extreme temperatures, for those nations, sport represents a common victory over nature. Furthermore, in the case of Canada, winter sports were emphasized as they united French and English Canadians. Ironically however, hitherto, many of these events, such as tobogganing, snowshoeing, or lacrosse, were rarely codified, were invented by natives, and had practical or ceremonial purposes in their societies. In addition, due to endemic malnutrition observed in industrialized societies, particularly following the poor health results of the British public from the initial wave of recruitment for the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1901), many nations in Europe believed that sports should be encouraged to ensure quality soldiers. These factors coalesced in a period of growing secularization: Charles Darwin had published On the Origin of Species, the creation of Italy had removed much of the temporal authority of the Papacy, as Vatican City was not established as a legal entity until later during the twentieth century.  International Olympic Events, de Courbetin believed, would help re-forge the bonds of community and ritual which were lost in the Industrial Revolution and the gradual advance of secularism.

First modern Olympics, 1896, Athens Greece.

First modern Olympics, 1896, Athens Greece.

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1896 Athens Olympics planning committee, Courbetin seated, left.

Baron de Courbetin had noticed the popularity of sport among the youth. While allowing for a stronger citizenry and thus stronger soldiers, athletes would become a “priesthood”, in de Courbetin’s terminology, to whom all could aspire to and admire. With physical prowess, man could be exalted to godhood. However, the “priesthood” of athletes would be drawn from those who could pursue sport for its own benefit, and would be thus primarily drawn from the already wealthy, thus maintaining, if not saluting, the rigidity of class hierarchy. For all the high flung rhetoric regarding human rights, the Olympics is by no means an organization concerned with the practice of human rights, as their defense for their Olympics in The Soviet Union, China, Russia, and Nazi Germany goes, essentially they do not practice human rights, but rather facilitate the discussion of them. The disturbing views and connections of members of the International Olympic Committee to this day are suspect. One such figure was Don Juan Antonio Samaranch y Torelló, 1st Marquis di Samaranch, President of the International Olympic Committee from 1980-2001, who was responsible for much of the increase in corporate sponsorship and the ubiquity of the Olympics on television. Keep this fellow’s past in mind when watching the Olympics and the superior people they display.

The Olympic Games are totally good for diplomacy, kinda, sorta, not really.

The Olympic Games are totally good for diplomacy, kinda, sorta, not really.

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Here’s him making an oath to alliterative Fascist dictator, Francisco Franco.

Corporate sponsorship was not the only criticism levied against the Samaranch presidency of the International Olympic Committee, his actions within the bureaucracy and his political past were also considered suspect by many. Samaranch’s presidency was considered especially corrupt. Samaranch was extremely prone to nepotism, appointing his son to the IOC Board. In addition, Samaranch served in the Fascist government of Francisco Franco, and was a member of the highly extremist Falangist movement during the Spanish Civil War. The Falangists were often criticized for being the primary force in shifting opposition to the Republican movement from a general, conservative and centrist reaction into an openly fascist movement. They felt considering the advance of industrialization and secularism in Spain they needed to develop strong narratives to maintain a sense of community. It was this faction within Spain which was backed by the Nazi Party in Germany, and gave them a staging ground for the subsequent German campaigns in France and Eastern Europe. The small mountain village of Guernica was almost entirely destroyed by German bombing, the raids which were immortalized in the Picasso painting, Guernica. Interestingly, the Marquis di Samaranch was Franco’s sports minister. The Olympic Committee has maintained questionable company into the twenty-first century, and considering the initial goals of the organization, this should be of no surprise.

Picasso's Guernica, the Bull represents Franco.

Picasso’s Guernica, the Bull represents Franco.

ImageThe Olympics have been referred to as “wars in leotards”, and there is some degree of truth to this. Nations compete to perform elaborate opening ceremonies to showcase an official view of their nation to themselves and the world. Flags, marching, Faster, Higher, Stronger. Providing a sense of ceremony, permanence, and identity in a post-modern world, the Olympics have largely been successful in their goal of creating a morality and sense of ceremony for an industrialized and post-religious world. However, stadiums constructed over low-income area houses bulldozed in the name of “urban renewal” is not a part of the modern world. Neither is prejudice against ethnic or sexual minorities, or fascism. However, the International Olympic Committee seems more than willing to accept these notions, all in the name of Human Rights, brought to you by McDonald’s.