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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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Friday, May 6, 2011

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Teutonic Knights: Desmond Seward's 'The Monks of War', 1972, Penguin books.

The eastern European Crusade.

by Ferdinand III

Formed in 1198 the Teutonic Knightly Order was a prime force in the civilising of large swathes of land in what is now Poland, the Baltics and the northern Ukraine. There is little doubt that without the ruthless mission of the Teutonic Knights, these parts of Eastern Europe would have remained pagan, backwards, uncivilised and completely outside the realm of European development. In a short 200 years these Knights of Christ dragged an illiterate, impoverished and pre-medieval world into the orbit of European civilisation.

For cultural Marxists the Teutonic Knights were just another band of savage Christians, axing, stabbing, and stampeding their way into infamy. The black crossed, white robbed monkish soldier is usually portrayed as a dour, celibate German Teuton, large in size, saddled onto an even larger framed horse, singing hymns to Jesus, while fighting and killing the enemies of the church. Eisenstein's great film 'Alexander Nevsky', shot during the 1930s and which depicts Nevsky's great slaughter of the Teutonic Order at the battle of Lake Pepsius in 1243 as the Teutons attempted to invade Russia and seize the rich trading city of Novgorod or New City, is probably the best and most extreme caricature of the order. While somewhat entertaining the popular view of the order is of course wrong.

Mr. Seward's excellent compendium of the Orders 'The Monks at War', gives some rather outstanding examples of the civilising attitude and objectives, that animated all of the major Catholic military orders [the Crusades were entirely a Catholic enterprise of course]; including the Teutonic order in the marches and marshes of north central and eastern Europe.

The settlement of Prussia was the outstanding colonial achievement of the Middle Ages, the most successful economically. Nearly a hundred towns and a thousand villages were established under the brethren's auspices. Cultivation spread inland from the Baltic and up the lower Vistula until the southern south-eastern borderlands came under the plough...Marketplaces were set up. There were no labour dues, and peasants were not tied to the soil....Customs duty was levied, but there were no inland tolls on the well-kept roads or the rivers which were patrolled by the brethren. Understandably, there was little brigandage. By the fourteenth century, Prussia had the most contented peasant free-holders in Europe.”

This is a remarkable portrait indeed. Mr. Seward is perfectly correct in his depiction. The Teutonic Order did engage in the most enterprising, dangerous and far-reaching system of colonization in medieval European history. It was necessary. Eastern Germany and northern Poland was 'Prussia'. It was and still is of course a huge amount of territory. Pre-1200 it was savagely barbaric. The Prussian tribes including the ferocious Wends controlled the area. They still lived in the copper age. Dominated by polytheism, and the cults of many gods, the tribes of Prussia were utterly uncivilized. There was no true political-economy in our sense of the phrase. Society was pre-Roman in its construction, simplicity and coarseness. No roads, crude boats and wagons, little in the way of technology or advanced engineering could be found. Child and human sacrifice was common. Slaving, raiding, brigandage a matter of normal activity. This area of the world was a barbaric relic, juxtaposed against almost 700 years of cultural, social, technological and military revolutions which had transformed Western Europe into the world's most dynamic and rich region. Was it any wonder that a military order of Catholic monks was necessary to civilise such an inhospitable region?

The Teutonic Order, not only brought 'order' to the region, but also prosperity. Even accounting for the various wars of subjugation, the area of medieval Prussia became one of the most vibrant, and even safest, in medieval Europe. The illimitable poverty and stupidity of pre-modern Prussia was transformed by the Order into an area whose political-economy was firmly anchored to that of the advanced civilisations of medieval Europe:

The Knights had learnt the value of commerce in the Levant and kept a fleet of merchantmen. They copied Templar banking methods, bills of exchange being accepted at larger commanderies. They enforced a uniform system of weights and measures, and minted their own coinage. In 1263, at the height of the Prussian rebellion, they obtained papal permission to trade, exporting grain in vast quantities from their estates....In addition the Ordensland exported silver, timber, salt, cloth, wax, furs, horses, and falcons. It imported iron, copper and wine from western Germany, wool, and later, cloth from England. As a member of the Hanseatic League, the Hochmeister was well able to sympathize with the ambitions of the merchants..”

The imposition of modernity onto this area took just over one century. This is an incredibly fast development in time and space; transforming an area of pagan worship, still wedded to human sacrifice, into a modern political-economy. There is maybe no other example like it, save the Roman pacification of Gaul under Caesar [which really started with Marius circa 100 BC]; or the Roman annihilation of the savage Druids in England and the creation of a more intelligent Romano-British civilisation on its ruins. Certainly in the long duree of history, one may view the Teutonic conquest of Prussia as an extension of ancient Rome's civilising mission in the West of Europe, even though those conquests pre-dated the adoption of Christianity by the Roman state by some 400 years. The intent of both missions was the same. Bring a cult of life, reason, stability and modernity to regions that were for all intents and purposes mired in an endless bloody stone or at best copper-age.

The Teutonic power in eastern Europe was erased by at the battle of Tannenberg in 1410 by the combined Christian forces of the Poles and Lithuanians. But by then the mission was for all intents and purposes completed. The entire region of modern Eastern Europe was Christianized, in no small part due to the efforts of the military order. Not all aspects of the Teutonic order were either moral, or even Christian. The Order made alliances and fought with the Mongols and Muslims against the Russians in some wars for example. The endless wars to spread Teutonic power took on political and egotistical aspects as do all campaigns of expansion and imperialism. The greed to control the rich trading center of Novgorod is one example of rather 'un-Christian' imperialism. But nevertheless, we can say that on balance it is certainly true that the world was fundamentally changed for the better by the Knights of Teuton. They brought Catholic Western Europe to the east of the Continent and were instrumental in creating Christian kingdoms, wealth and prosperity.

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