Justice to the Middle Ages

George Handlery about the week that was. Cultural success and the dynamism of the West. Free ideas against stolid dogmatism. The dogmas of security and the uncertainties of freedom. The nature of the challenge determines the proper response to it. The worth of the dollar. Obama’s dilemma: How much surrender is volatile support worth? Welfare competes with earned salaries.

1. Not infrequently, one encounters observations whose essence is that, if subjected to Islam’s rule here, we would be returning to the Middle Ages. With respect to the average person’s knowledge, the argument might be effective. Nevertheless, even if it is good PR, crucial errors are embedded in the concept. These errors denigrate the middle ages while understating the consequences of Muslim conquest.

Granted, during medieval times Europe’s center and west was lagging if compared to other great civilizations. This is true for the quality of government, economic development and secular knowledge. On the other hand, regardless of the depressed standards and its inequities, Church and State remained separate. Thus, a gap existed between these poles of authority. In it the future’s seed of freedom could survive, hibernate and then grow. Feudalism was a bad system. Nevertheless, it had a virtue. It emphasized individuality and a concept of freedom – if only for a minority. At its worst, the “Middle Ages” expressed a reverse imposed upon Europe by its earlier disability to defend its order. If Medieval Europe was “primitive”, it was not by choice but by necessity: it had to rebuild from the ruins of a wrecked civilization. Therefore, the era should be viewed as a period of self-made consolidation and reconstruction in the political, social, knowledge and economic realms. Nevertheless, but for the transmission of some knowledge by Constantinople and the contribution of Iberian Jewish and Arab sages, the re-birth of Europe came about by utilizing the culture’s innate force rather than needing to swim against its tide.

At its beginnings, Medieval Europe is an early example of an underdeveloped world neighborhood as we have them today. By the end of the era, growth set in that propelled the Continent beyond the level of the then existing or vanished civilizations. The catching up was followed by the achievement of a globally leading position. That surpassed the level of the static great civilizations and came about without external security help, foreign credits or development aid. Therefore, the middle Ages can be seen as a slow forward movement determined by the low base of the start that shifted into accelerated growth ending in pre-eminence. If the period had a “will” it was not to end and block development corresponding to a retrograde concept of a cleric-run society proclaimed to be unalterable.


2. Our civilization’s advantage over the others it has outperformed might issue to from the consequence of the free competition of ideas. This is not meant to imply that every new idea proposed made sense or that no good ideas were rejected. Nor does it mean that sound new ideas did not encounter undeserved opposition and on occasion resentment. It is inevitable that ideas have to assert themselves against an opposition -which is the struggle that is supposed to unfold on that free market place of ideas. What modern civilization has accomplished is that ideas, including the losing ones, could not be consistently repressed by the state. Without its muscle, the physical elimination of the proponents of innovations was, if not prevented, at least hindered.

Currently we encounter an entirely new constellation. Once again, an idea beyond reason appears that unabashedly expresses itself with the sword. Such teachings claim to embody the only, complete, and therefore unchallengeable Truth. In this case, we are dealing with a force that desires to abolish the free market of ideas, repress its doubts and supersede the open society connected to it. The one-sided right to convert those condemned to silence, knowingly subverts not only the exchange of thoughts and doubts but also the right to think. Once this happens, the elementary principle of the freedom to challenge and to argue concepts is imperiled. The effective defense of liberty demands in such a case more than verbal references to principles, such as the moral virtue and the material advantage of tolerance. What is called for is a defense that does not obfuscate the nature of the confrontation just because it does not fit the otherwise well-serving procedures regulating exchanges. Any effective defense must consider the terms of the challenge and the methods with which it is forced upon us. Ergo, coercion applied to restrain violence becomes morally justified.


3. Much talk is heard about replacing the US Dollar as the world’s reserve currency and as the yardstick in international transactions. Whether the realization of the plan would be of an unqualified advantage to the global community or only a defeat of the US is unclear. In the face of this advocacy and some of the expectations, it is surprising that the world is still eager to purchase US Treasuries. The popularity of US-Government backed loans might have to do with optimism regarding the policies of America’s government. However, what the case might really demonstrate is that abroad there is a large volume of transactions that is backed by capital that believes that the USA will be able to put its economic household in order. Alternatively, could it be that the sanity of known, close-to-home government programs are trusted even less than Washington’s?


4. The triumphal and prize-winning entry of the Obama administration on the world scene is not entirely of the new President’s making. Much of the reception is an echo created without an original sound track. It is akin to finding an image in a mirror of a person who is not there. In this case, the instant enthusiasm and approval is not a reflection of Obama but of self-inflicted assumptions regarding him.

The hearty reception represents a political opportunity to forward causes and interests with the consent of cheering masses that believe they hold a promissory note. The downside is to deem -as once President Wilson did- that the support represents stable and not volatile political capital. A further pit to stumble into grows out of the fact that Obama likes to be liked. Not a few of his fans abroad like Obama but dislike “Amerika”. Obama is persona grata because he is viewed as a President that surrenders the “American model”. To continue to be liked by them will demand concessions beyond Bush-bashing. Therefore, the concern is that he will be tempted to make policy disregarding American interests or steer a course that is not in the best interests of the US and her allies. In the light of these possibilities, the administration might be confronted with a question arising from the choice to be made. It is “how much sacrifice in the area of hard core interests is volatile support worth?”


5. The support extended to those who are, preferably through no fault of their own, without a livelihood is one of the policies that grew up in the course of modernization as industrial civilization emerged. Just like old age pensions and elementary health care as well as free-of-charge education, the fundamentals of such measures are not seriously questioned. The controversy begins when the liberal granting of support be right extended by politicians chasing votes and executed by bureaucrats that feel unaffected, leads to abuses. In part, these abuses have a not accidental connection to the idea that support upon demand and without scrutiny is an elementary human right. One of the consequences of this unwarranted generosity is that in societies that are rich enough to be generous, welfare benefit are in an unwholesome competition with salaried employment. A part of the hard-core unemployment we have is an outgrowth of this competition.


Lagging behind..

Europe’s center and west was lagging if compared to other great civilizations

Really? Like which?
What great civilizations existed that were not feudal, for instance?
And in which respect did f.i. Byzantium compare poorly with 'the greatness' elsewhere?  

RE: Justice to the Middle Ages



1–2.  That “wrecked civilization” succumbed to internal corruption long before the foederati and other opportunists tore the edifice apart.  The Imperium grew too unwieldy for central government, although its gradual division permitted the eastern half to survive for over one thousand years.  Medieval Europe was unique in that no one elite could achieve supremacy.  Europe was mired in endless competition from the level of the individual to that of states and churches.  No elite chose to suffer defeat or stalemate at the hands of another, however, central government of Europe proved impossible in both the spiritual and temporal senses.   This competition spurred advances in every area of human endeavor as even the meanest hamlet worked to outdo its rival.  Indeed, Europe did not conquer most the rest of the world.  Rather, certain European states acquired new dominions to fuel ongoing struggles with one another.  Furthermore, the great civilizations in Anatolia, China and India were not so much victims of European advancement as internal stagnation and decline, rendering each as vulnerable as Rome had been in the 5th Century. 


The term “medieval” is pejorative mainly due to the poor living standards, class stratification, wars, disease, famine, rampant crime, and cruel and unusual punishment it evokes. 


3.  David P. Goldman has predicted that the US Dollar and gold will increase in tandem, despite the conventional wisdom.  Whatever the disorder in the US economy, China cannot afford to see its Treasuries lose value.  Both Beijing and Washington have vested interests in a strong dollar.  American economic growth is on the decline, however, and investors are looking to emerging markets beyond just China e.g. Brazil, India, etc.  The US economy has paid dearly for years of “fake” growth concentrated in the financial industry.  Examining the gold reserves of non–Western economies, one can deduce that gold’s rise is far from over, but whether or not it will hit $2K will not be left for market forces to decide.