coromandal


Comradeship and justice
April 18, 2020, 7:49 am
Filed under: brave new world, chronotopes | Tags: , , , , , , ,

Saving Hieronymus Bosch from the devil

Hieronymus Bosch, The Garden of Earthly Delights

Our understanding of the medieval world is on the whole negative: long centuries marked by superstition, plagues, illiteracy, feudal bondage, and wars. We see it as a dark age bracketed by the relative brilliance of antiquity before and enlightenment after. The victors write history and much of what we believe about the medieval world was written in the 19th century to propagate this carefully crafted historical narrative.

The collapse of empire, the crusades, feudalism, and plagues are indeed dark, but there is a lot about the medieval world that is attractive: its mysticism, social life, art and architecture, and stories. Similarly, if we’re honest, there’s an awful lot to not recommend in the Western canon world we live in: its alienation, rationalism, instrumentalism, blind faith in humanism, reason and capital.

As an example, in the realm of work G. K. Chesterton noted that the medieval view was human and redeeming and our modern system decidedly debased:

The principal of medieval trade was admittedly comradeship and justice, while the principle of modern trade is avowedly competition and greed.

G.K. Chesterton, William Cobbett, 1926

Strange how the highly religious medieval world comes up with such modern concepts to organize the world of work: comradeship and justice; yet we, drawing on the grand rational traditions of ancient Rome and Athens, the Renaissance, Enlightenment, and Industrial Revolution, evolved a system of backwardness and superstition: competition and greed. We have high priests – robed flunkies – to flog this ignorant ideology; its influence is airtight, profound, omniscient, omnipresent. They use propagandas which are part of the air we breathe: Survival of the Fittest! Healthy Competition!

Tom Hodgkinson describes the outcome of our ‘enlightened’ dark age:

The theory is that competition leads to good quality and reasonable prices in goods. But the reality is the opposite: unfettered competition, that is, commercial war, and the endless expansion that necessarily goes with it, inevitably results in monopolies, as one giant company swallows up its failed competitors.

Tim Hodgkinson, The Freedom Manifesto, p84

That’s not enlightened. We’ve no doubt entered one of Dante’s circles, or the hellscapes of Hieronymus Bosch.

It would be unfair to not at least ruminate on the effects on life built on a commitment to comradeship and justice. As we’ve seen, there is a lot of poor scholarship that pushes a view of the desperate nature of the life of the Medieval peasant; no life at any time has been a bed of roses. But we know they held to these commitments and thereby built for themselves meaningful, faithful, and social lives. And we can too.