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Western Civilisation

Until the advent of materialism and 19th c. dogma, Western Civilisation was  superior to anything Islam had developed.  Islam has not aided in the development of the modern world; in fact civilisation has only been created in spite of Islam.  Proof of this resides in the 'modern' world and the unending political-economic and spiritual poverty of Muslim states and regions.  Squatting on richer civilisations is not 'progress'.  Islam is pagan, totalitarian, and irrational.   

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Monday, April 19, 2010

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Book Review; Regine Pernoud, 'Those terrible Middle Ages'

A brilliant rebuttal to the dark ignorance around the not-so-dark, dark-ages.

by Ferdinand III

It was the Enlightenment era which pronounced, in irrational exuberant form, that the epoch from 500 AD to 1500 AD was a 'dark and middle age' in history. Pace Pernoud, a French historian of decidedly un-Neo-Marxian persuasion [which makes her so brilliant], the middle-ages were poorly named, badly researched and irrationally criticized – all by supposed 'rationalists' such as Diderot, Gibbon, or Voltaire. In fact the ignorance around this long 1000 year period is simply astounding.

As Pernoud relates, little of any intelligence is taught in schools or universities about this period. What is declaimed is fantasy; nothing but plagues, dirt, backwardness, half naked people in thatch huts; some knights; fairy tale stories; and a level of stupidity and poverty without equal in history. The reality is much richer, more innovative and much more significant. The poorly named middle-ages were remarkably advanced, literate, sophisticated and individualistic. Without any question, they created the basis for the modern world, creating an innumerable list of inventions across the width and breadth of social and military society whilst defeating the barbaric plunder of the Vikings, the Avars and the Muslims. There is nothing middling or middle about this age.

As Pernoud relates throughout her work the list of creations over this 1000 year period is remarkable, and without equal in the history of man. These include:

the abolition of slavery; the legal and moral liberation of women; the creation of strong local governance and institutions; case based and reality based law which was decentralized; artistic achievements in all varieties; the construction of the largest buildings on earth at that time – the Gothic cathedrals; construction cranes; the book or codex; the musical scale; the mechanical clock; the high backed saddle; the stirrup; horse and ox collars; the horseshoe; crop rotations; agricultural crop creation through genetic combination's; glass windows; stained glass art; carts with brakes and axles; practical wind mills; dikes; new forms of steel; the iron foundry; enormous mechanized water mills; banking; international certificate of deposits; vernacular language; advanced and mechanized wool manufacturing [which created the capitalist system]; accounting; natural law rights; and female and child rights.

Show me a list of any other era in history, excepting our own, which can boast the above. Even our modern age is entirely dependent on these inventions. Without them, the modern world would not exist. It is as simple as that. As Pernoud relates, the ending of the despotic and Oriental Roman state was a blessing, “In letters as in arts, it seems that the populations, liberated from the Roman yoke, spontaneously found once again the originality they had in reality never lost.” [p. 51] Once free of Roman, everything from literacy, to road building, to public bathing [outlawed by the 16th century church one should add]; to agricultural output increased. European society started to recover after Rome slowly withered away into a much needed death. There was no 'crash' after 476 AD.

The ignorance around the middle ages is attributed by Pernoud to the classical period of the 16th century when the calumnies against the era abounded. The lack of serious study by the new 'classicists' and their rejection of the medieval era was not based on any real inquiry or rational logic. It was premised on lazy thinking; illiteracy; and arrogant supremacism, the so-called 'Enlightenment' era was the apotheosis of man's secular development, and one which hearkened back to some misty, surreal ideal of the classical Roman or Greek world, where civilization reached a supposed 'zenith' and had to be imitated.

Such a view – that ancient Greece or Rome was the end point of true civilization is of course a nonsense. In many aspects these ancient states were pre-modern; barbaric; superstitious; anti-humanist; and poor. The Roman empire for example did not create anything of value in the last 300 years of its existence, mired in civil wars; inflation; corruption; and oppressive Oriental governance on an over-taxed and quite subjugated population. Ancient Greece was free only for the privileged land-owner and a system in which slavery and mysticism, as well as the denial of natural law and human rights, abounded. Hardly eras of jubilee.

Even so, the ancient world was well known in the medieval. The middle ages were quite literate with all the forms of ancient thought. Vast libraries existed across the entire European continent, filled with the volumes of the ancient thinkers. From 500 to 1500 AD, the ancient world was no more forgotten, than the era of the Renaissance is today;

“that, in fact, Latin and even Greek authors were already well known in the Middle Ages... Acquaintance with it was considered an essential element of knowledge. It is enough to recall that a mystical author like Bernard of Clairvaux himself skillfully wrote prose that was thoroughly nourished on ancient quotations...” [p. 23]

The secular rational revolution of thought and deed could never have occurred if the medieval world had 'lost' touch with ancient wisdom and example. It is simply impossible to go from a supposed 'dark age' in which all people are dirty and stupid to Da Vinci:

“Mere good sense is enough to make us understand that the Renaissance could not have occurred if the ancient texts had not been preserved in manuscripts recopied during the medieval centuries....To take one example, the library of Mont-Saint-Michel in the twelfth century contained the texts of Cato, Plato's Timaeus (in Latin translation), various works by Aristotle and Cicero, extracts from Virgil and Horace....” [p. 24]

As Pernoud relates the classical era's obsession with the Greek and Roman and its total ignorance of the glories of the near past is quite surprising. It demonstrates a rather narrow minded and constrained view of life and an almost savage conservatism which militates against new thinking and innovation:

“Without taking anything away from the admiration aroused by the Parthenon and the Venus de Milo, what is surprising today is that a narrowness of view could have been the law for some four centuries.” [p. 27]

Copying the 'ancients' might seem sophisticated and educated. But it is of course more laziness than anything else. The middle ages produced the glories of the Gothic cathedral – built en masse in France, the Low Countries and England – which were the largest construction projects on earth. They initiated a huge variety of innovation from the production of the stone, to cranes and automated pulleys and levers, to the use of stained glass, and arch creation. Yet the supposed 'geniuses' of the Renaissance completely missed the unmatched power and creativity of this period and regarded the Gothic style as utterly worthless.

Pernoud also disavows the claim by the 'very smart people', that the wonderful Arabs and Muslims were the gatekeepers of knowledge and enlightenment. Nothing further from the truth could be true of course.

“Arab knowledge [in Spain] and thought could only draw from preexisting sources, from manuscripts that made this knowledge of Aristotle and of other ancient writers possible....Jacques Fontaine has even remarked how, in architecture, the horseshoe arch, generally attributed to the Arabs, existed more than a century before their invasion....” [p. 53]

The Arabs and Muslims tried to destroy civilization, not save it. Over ten million Europeans were taken by the Muslims over 1000 years into the Arab slave trade. Nothing of any note, was every created by Islam, nor by the Arabs in Spain.

Another misconception is that the medieval serf was akin to a Roman slave. The opposite is true. There are many manuscripts which exist from the middle-ages which prove that the serf was free, and many in fact owned property:

“The fact is, there is no comparison between the ancient servus, the slave, and the medieval servus, the serf....The substitution of serfdom for slavery is without a doubt the social fact that best emphasizes the disappearance of the influence of Roman law, of Roman mentality, in Western societies from the fifth and sixth centuries on.” [p. 87]

Over time from 500 AD to 1500 AD the middle age system of social development liberated the man and woman. The contract between 'serf' and Lord was one of protection and social stability. It worked very well. In exchange for protection, the serf agreed to give his Lord some part of his land's production. The serf had a legal title to own, to use, and to farm his land. This was something denied to almost all of the ancients, except the small ruling elite. Women as well enjoyed legal, property and social rights. Women could farm, own land, employ their labors freely, and even preach. What ended this period of female liberation was the imposition in the 16th century of centralized Roman law.

“Now Roman law is no more favorable to the woman than it is to the child. It is a monarchical law, which allows only one single end. It is the law of the pater familias, father, proprietor, and in his own home, high priest, the head of the family with sacred, in any case unlimited, power in what concerns his children; ....” [p. 101]

By the 16th century, the centralized, despotic state – in the form of ancient Rome – was taking shape. A key part of this development was the institution of centralized bureaucratic law. Roman law denied the local, case and reality-based law of the middle ages. It created instead a despotic, man-based law, designed to subordinate the various actors in the political economy to the state and to one-man or ruler.

As Pernoud explains the restitution of Roman law led directly to modern slavery; the subjection of women; the exploitation of workers and the rise of divine right[s] of Kings. Gone was the decentralized, contract based world of the middle ages. In its place was created a system of mysticism, church power, and centralized bureaucratic despotism which existed from 1500 AD until the advent of the industrial revolution. During this period not only did women lose their rights but so did children, with, “...children, considered as minors until twenty five years old, remained under paternal power...” [p. 102]

Pernoud's work is excellent in that she dispels the notion that the period from 500 AD to 1500 AD was one of darkness and uncivilized existence. It was a period – never monolithic and always changing – from the world of Orientalist Rome to the modern period. The middle ages were rife with problems, wars, superstition, irrationality and corruption. But so is our own modern period [witness Islam, Globaloney Warming, the rise of the huge state etc]. No epoch is perfect. But one thing is certain – without the middle ages we would not exist in our current, prosperous and somewhat rational form.








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