Saturday, March 14, 2009

Modern parallels

Reading R. I. Moore’s very informative description of how medieval clerks operated as they rose in social importance, it all sounded hugely familiar: the limitation of acceptable debate (which was real within the bounds), the denunciation and persecution of serious dissent as malignant and evil, seeking to have the role of gatekeepers for ideas, the use and abandonment of popular power, the generation and identification of sins and social evils to be eliminated. We live in a society surrounded by similar patterns, though without the same brutal consequences.
The modern intelligentsia used to extol popular power, it now seeks to frustrate it – through judicial activism, ideas-gatekeeping, internationalisation and so forth. The much-hailed 'proletariat' have become the much derided racist and xenophobic 'rednecks'. Thus it would be a disaster for contemporary Labor apparatchiks if the actual preferences of workers were expressed in public policy. Pauline Hanson is the modern version of the popular medieval heretic denounced with a viciousness that seems hysterical to those who don’t share the premises of the denouncers – along with said-premises importance in the denouncers’ sense of their own social status and role.

The medieval clerks allied themselves to rising royal power, their contemporary equivalents to the ever-expanding welfare state: one that is always finding new social sins and evils to combat. There is even environmentalism to give everything the necessary religious edge.

Medieval clerks denounced knightly predation and differentiated themselves from them while relying on the knights' coercive power. Their contemporary equivalents denounce corporate power and differentiate themselves from such while relying on the same to generate the wealth that keeps the show on the road.

Where the clerks of Latin Christendom used anti-Semitism to bind and differentiate, and also proclaimed their superiority over the Greek Orthodox, their contemporary equivalents use anti-Americanism (and anti-Zionism) and proclaim their superiority over conservatives and economic liberals. (The neo-cons get particularly denounced – Jewish, American, Zionist, pro-Western power. It hardly gets more evil than that.)

Yes, indeed, one has to keep one’s eye on the selection pressures of history. Who knows what might get another go around.

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