Saturday, February 2, 2013

Examining the "Middle Ages"

“Humanists, Roman Catholics, and Protestants commonly err in their accounts of ‘medieval’ civilization in that they ascribe to it a modern perspective with regard to the papacy and then either condemn or approve the ‘Middle Ages’ in terms of their attitudes towards the claims of the papacy. Their historical perspective is thus conditioned by their reactions to an ecclesiastical dogma rather than an examination of a culture...

"...The Roman Catholic approaches the so-called 'medieval" era believing that it possessed a modern papal unity and authority which did not then exist. It was, indeed, the very struggle for that unity which destroyed the culture and led to the chronic conflicts of succeeding eras. The earlier unity of Christendom had been a religious unity, a Christian unity which was a reality in a decentralized civilization. The basic localism of feudal culture governed both church and state. The struggle of both the papacy and the empire was directed against one another, but it was also directed against feudalism, and both papacy and empire worked to subjugate church and state to their own authority. They used feudalism to destroy feudalism."

-R.J. Rushdoony, The One and the Many, p. 202


Unknown said...

Just recently, I've come across a few positive, but brief, mentions of feudalism, praising it for it's decentralization and for it's model of proper authority in government; though, most modern accounts have it as a system of oppression and slavery. Would you consider writing about the feudal system sometime?

Peter Bringe said...

I'd love to dig into the matter in more depth if I had the time. I will be posting a paper I wrote recently which discusses feudalism somewhat. Part of the problem is that feudalism was a mix, it had its strengths and weaknesses, its glories and faults. Also, feudalism was not a homogenous system but varied throughout Europe. I think most people today are filled with post-Enlightenment assumptions and unfairly criticize it (and the rest of the Middle Ages). I am basically favorable to it because of its decentralization, hierarchy, and covenantal basis (even the peasants had rights granted to them by covenant/contract). It kept the power of the kings in check for a long time in England, France, Scotland, Germany, etc... It was the feudal lords who drew up the Magna Carta and the Declaration of Arbroath. It was often the feudal lords (especially in Germany), as well as the middle class, who protected the Reformers against the emperor and pope. It made the household a strong social unit. It was still, though, perhaps too centralized. As Rushdoony points out (in chapter 2 of this book, which you can read online:, early American society was an attempt to develop an improved feudal society, especially in Puritan New England and in the South. As several men have pointed out, in the late 18th and early 19th centuries much of the North lost its old Christian order and became hostile to the old Christian feudal order. This is what caused the War. The South had still a form of feudalism in many ways, to which I am favorable to in a basic sense, even though it had its faults. Much more could be said. R.J. Rushdoony, Joe Morecraft, Richard Weaver, Douglas Wilson, and George Grant have been influential in my thinking on the subject. Hope that helps a little.

-Peter B.