Psychobabble often operates using the premise that, under a thin veneer of civilization, we humans are all savage brutes: We are nothing but easily enraged gorillas controlled by animal appetites. This low opinion of humanity is quite contrary to the concept that God is in everyone. It also runs counter to the observation that small, cheerful children, while selfish, and while at times devious and dishonest when asked simple questions, are very honest about their frustration when desires are thwarted. Yet children are also quick to accept limits when such limits are presented as inflexible, and, after the initial tantrum, quite cheerfully adapt to such limits. Small children swear to hate you forever at nine o’clock, yet walk holding your hand five minutes later. It takes persistent lack of love, either blunt trauma or else cold neglect of some sort (including sparing the “rod”), to truly spoil a child. Even then God still lies within them, albeit God buried very deeply, in some cases.
Which returns me to the subject of Stalin, who, after coming to power, is purported to have asked his elderly mother, “Why did you beat me so hard?” to which she supposedly responded, “That is why you turned out so well.” His lack of compassion is legendary, and is often taken as a proof God does not exist in everyone, and even that God does not exist at all. To Stalin are attributed some amazingly chilling statements, including, “The death of one is a tragedy; the death of a million is a statistic” (called by Wikipedia a misattribution, but reported by both Churchill’s aid and Churchill’s daughter, albeit placed on differing occasions.) Most chilling of all (to me) is a statement of Stalin’s cold scorn of thanksgiving, “Gratitude is a sickness suffered by dogs.”
The very existence of such a hard-bitten and cruel man is a standing challenge to everything I have been claiming about the power of Truth. Stalin would likely deem me a naive chump, and he did wonder about the sanity of the English political system. In fact Churchill reported that Stalin inquired, during a moment of blunt honesty, why on earth the English put up with a troublemaker like Gandhi in their colony of India; why didn’t they just have Gandhi “liquidated?” Churchill states that he replied to Stalin in some lordly manner, such as, “That is not how the English conduct business”, but Churchill didn’t seem to properly pursue the matter, and explain to Stalin why bumping people off when they disagree with you is a bad idea. I feel this is a great pity, for Churchill seemed to glimpse what made the British Empire last so much longer than Hitler’s Third Reich or the Soviet Union. (It involves respecting those you oppose, and the wealthy respecting their servants, and basically attempts to enact the mystical, spiritual premise that you are expanding your consciousness when you love your enemies.) (Where in other lands an Untouchable could never aspire to be a Brahman, England somehow allowed a boatswain like Francis Drake to become an admiral and National Hero.) However when I have asked Englishmen what gave them their power, rather than speaking of meritocracy they seem to have little idea, and simply sing “The English Are Best.”
In some ways I think the only reason the English Empire lost its grip on power was because they forgot what made them great. While I have remarked earlier that the English king Edward VIII favored fascism, it should be noted that his grandfather, Edward VII, while touring India, stated, “Because a man has a black face and a different religion from our own, there is no reason why he should be treated as a brute,” and that his criticism actually resulted in a high ranking official in India being replaced. Mind you, the official was not “purged”. He was merely subjected to critical analysis, and then a decision was made. Such genteel politics was something Stalin could not comprehend.
If I had lived in Russia during Stalin’s time, I do not doubt my life expectancy would have been very limited. But, because I truly believe that one should love their enemy, I have felt compelled to lovingly inquire of communists, (who are so obviously deeply dedicated to their ideas), what exactly they see as beautiful and poetic about their dogma. After all, when one states “The ends justify the means,” and “the means” involve some drastic, ugly and basically inhumane deeds, the “ends” must be some wonderful thing. So I asked a simple question, to understand my enemy. What exactly were the “ends”? What was the heaven-on-earth communism strove to make real?
Allow me to attempt explain the mad faith of communism, as I understand it. It revolves around the concept that, if you can destroy a certain sort of “capital”, you will see the dawn of a newer and better way. Unlike ordinary revolution, which involves the oppressed “Have-nots” becoming furious at the “Haves”, (when the “Haves” become especially ungrateful and oppressive to their own employees), communism seeks to solve all problems (and end all revolutions), by removing all “Haves” forever. “Haves” are theoretically to be removed irregardless of whether they are ungrateful or are grateful, and irregardless of whether they oppressively exploit or kindly assist their employees. The communist concept seems to be that, if nobody is a “Have”, everyone will be happy. If no one is a “Have”, the ugliness of greed will vanish from the human experience.
Elementary spirituality tends to agree generosity is superior to greed, and generosity leads to a more loving society. But what “means” shall reform society? I feel that the conversion to a “better way” involves persuasion rather than coercion; one is moved because one is touched; a poem works better than a club; you cannot legislate spirituality. Communists beg to differ. They feel we are midst a sort of social evolution, moving from serfdom through capitalism to communism, and that by forcibly removing vestiges of the “old” we will arrive at the “new”. Society as a whole must undergo a sort of boot camp, wherein a sort of drill sergeant kicks everyone into shape.
I feel I need to look at two major concepts when I hear this idea. The first is the concept of “social evolution” and the second is the concept of “boot camp.”
The concept of “social evolution” is debatable, as I personally like the old-fashioned farms more than modern agribusiness. I see much good in the past, and glimpse beautiful things in the rear-view-mirror which it seems sad that we left behind. But there also has been progress, and much good exists in the present. Rather than calling society “evolving” I think it is likely better to call it “ongoing”. Society shifts its position like a sleeping person in a bed, seeking comfort first one way and then another way. No particular position is more “evolved” than another.
To fully discuss “social evolution” would involve discussing each step: The good and bad of the medieval manors with serfs; the good and bad of capitalistic factories with sweating workers; and the good and bad of communism’s attempts to create so-called “collectives”. For the time being I’ll put those discussions aside, and focus on the concept of a “boot camp”, that will jerk society up by its bootstraps to achieve a better way.
I see two immediate problems with this boot-camp concept. The first is that, as every soldier knows, boot camp’s discipline may whip one into shape, but it tends to be followed by a “leave” wherein one cuts loose, and is far less disciplined, and may to a degree “backslide” and do the exact sort of things that gets one “out-of-shape”. (In fact some addicts go through “detox” and “rehab” merely to get back-in-shape, so they can better enjoy the next binge.) But when a person truly changes, it involves a change of heart, more than being a matter of will.
The second problem is that (I believe) people do not excel because of greed. People excel because they are gifted. This is a huge distinction. Why? Because, if it is true a person does well because they are gifted, then when they succeed they are being generous and sharing their gift. Their success is not being greedy at all. Often, when sharing their gift, they are happily expressing themselves, and become absorbed and engrossed in the process of giving, and are quite self-forgetful, which is very different from being selfish.
When one fails to credit humanity with having this good side, one becomes too focused on what is low; it is like stating lust and only lust is the reason men and women marry. To say greed and only greed is the reason some are successful and become “Haves” is a denial of the Truth of gifted people, which is a denial of That which is lovely. And to then say that the byproduct of giving your gift, (which sometimes [but not always] includes wealth), is a byproduct that automatically make you a bad person, is unequivocally nuts.
But some ( perhaps enviously) say being gifted is evil. Why? Because, if your gift is song, and you sing well, you gain some form of applause, and some call this applause a form of “capital”, or “means of production”, which is a bad thing, in their eyes. If you sing well and people applaud you have gained “capital” and are a capitalist, and to be a capitalist is a step backwards in social evolution. Or so I understand one of the foundational premises of communism to be.
In a sense communism shames people for excelling. Doing so is as silly as scolding Mozart for making music, only the absurdity is less obvious when, rather than a non-physical thing like music, it involves the production of physical grain. (This involves me, as a small farmer of sorts.) Farming is hard work. To me, scolding a successful producer seems more like envy on the part of the critic, than greed on the part of the criticized producer.
I consider myself a successful farmer, for I figured out a way how to wrestle a living from hardscrabble dirt that hadn’t produced a profit since the 1950’s. Not that I made much money raising food; rather I turned the farm into a farm-Childcare, and raised children, while also raising crops and livestock, using my unprofitable farm to show children how things grow. However, because my farm, (without the Childcare), was not profitable, even when I worked my butt off to make it succeed and produce a profit, I demonstrated I do know a thing or two about how very hard it is to produce a bumper crop. (At best I’ve paid for the seeds and tools, and fed the labor, but lacked the money for property taxes.) I’ve been made painfully aware how often things go wrong, and that farming doesn’t involve much greed, (unless one includes being a glutton for punishment.)
Instead of greed it seems (to me) that farming involves a love of the land; not land in general, but a love of a particular plot of land one is in a sense married to. In my case it is a hardscrabble plot, but I wouldn’t trade it for better land. It is more than mere land. It is my homeland, just as my wife is “my” wife. It might make a sort of sense to the heartless, if I traded my wife in, for some ignorant, young and physically gorgeous floozy, and it might make sense to the hardhearted to call my love of a plot of hardscrabble dirt, and my refusal to abandon it, an example of my “greed” and “possessiveness.” To me this simply demonstrates that the hardhearted do not understand love.
The Bible is quite clear about greed being a bad thing and generosity being better, and some even state the first Christians were the first communists, for the Book of Acts describes how the first Christians shared every iota of their personal property to help the community as a whole. Some go so far as to state that the first “purge” involved Ananias and Sapphira, who only pretended to share their all, but kept a little “capital” back for themselves, and were instantly shocked dead for lying to God. However communists don’t believe in God, and can’t fully understand the electric “Spirit” that joined the early believers and made them “one in heart and mind” and able to perform some amazing (and, to communists, unbelievable) deeds.
Nor did the first Christians seem to lose ownership of their possessions; they simply did not call things “their own” selfishly, and freely shared what they “owned”. The concept of “ownership”, and of rewards for hard work, was never disparaged to the degree communism disparages. Saint Paul stated, “If you don’t work you don’t eat”, which seems very greedy and unfair to some young socialists, as it allows the unemployed to go hungry, (yet ambiguously Christianity feeds the hungry, but only after they “reap” the hunger they “sow”). Jesus himself seems to suggest “ownership” has value, when he states the hired man will run away when a wolf threatens the sheep, but the shepherd will lay his life down for his sheep. Why? It involves the mystery of love. When one truly loves another, one “owns” them in a way that greed cannot comprehend.
This somewhat simple reality concerning the power of love is never more obvious than among small farmers. Back when farming was more common (before farming became agribusiness) it was quite clear that hard work pays off, whereas laziness gets you in trouble. If two farmers lived side by side, on equally rich land, the hard-working farmer would wind up with more cows than the lazy farmer. However having six fat cows when your neighbor has only two skinny cows is a very evil thing, according to communist dogma, because the six cows are “capital”. “Capital” is a bad word, among communists. The six cows are “accumulated wealth”, and “means of production” and divorce you from the ordinary “proletariat”, and make you a member of the “petite bourgeois”. You need to be “reeducated” so that you can confess your success has nothing to do with really caring. The six cows should be forcibly taken from you and “shared”. Wealth should be “collective.” Once society removes rich and selfish farmers (like you) from the equation, the Age Of Greedy Capitalism will end, and a glorious new age will dawn.
I explain this to show you I have listened, while loving my enemy, and do comprehend the heaven-on-earth communists envision. It is poppycock, but I understand it. However I know why it will never work, because I have been a lazy farmer, in my time. Such things happen, when you don’t weed because you want to write a poem. Poets face a choice: If they weed they may be a good farmer but their poetry suffers, but if they write poetry they earn a crop of weeds. (It is no coincidence that good poets often go hungry.)
I liked the example of Robert Frost, who was a poet and also a farmer (for a while), and seems proof one can do both things. One thing I have attempted to do in my life is to show that a poet doesn’t need to be a hapless and useless drone, incapable of raising crops or children. This involves a precarious balance between weeding and writing. It involves spending a lot of time being very defensive about how weedy your garden is, while at the same time having to defend yourself from other poets, who ask you why the heck you even bother with a garden (or family). Looking back, the struggle has been great fun; life would have been a drag if I hadn’t made it so difficult. Also it had an unexpected benefit: I know communism preaches poppycock, because I have made a scientific study of the absolute minimum of hard work you can get away with, and still grow broccoli.
It seems fairly obvious that if you punish society’s hard workers you will wind up with lazy workers, and fewer fat cows, and perhaps only skinny cows. If society punishes more successful farmers then society will end up promoting less successful farmers, and might even experience a scarcity of food. Yet, when communism was first being tried out, as an experiment, people who believed it would have glorious results had a mad faith that all that was needed, to end poverty, was to punish the successful. This faith seems to have been just as unshakable as the faith of Christians facing lions, but makes even the most irrational Christian seem sane. Where Saint Paul stated, “If you don’t work, you don’t eat”, communism stated that if you became an “activist”, busily dispossessing the hard-working farmers who succeeded, (never farming yourself because you were too busy with your “activism” to actually act), the poor would not go hungry.
How this played out under Stalin was a nightmare that in some ways makes Hitler look tame. It was the Russian equivalent of Mao’s “Great Leap Forward”, and equally disastrous, and was a slight degree worse than Hitler because it didn’t hate a “differing” religion or nationality, but fostered hate and division between farmers of the “same” religion and nationality, in the same town, driving a wedge between farmers who were poor and farmers who were slightly better off, (but by no means rich). Where Hitler promoted hating “foreigners”, Stalin promoted hating neighbors, and even brothers.
The result was that the hard-working and successful farmers, (called “Kulaks”), were “liquidated”, and, rather than prosperity, famine was the consequence, (perhaps predictably.)
Before I go into the details of this horrific fiasco, I need to describe the situations it intended to “improve upon”. This will involve several long sidetracks into anecdotes of history, with a focus on the more interesting times, which catch my eye because they stand out either by being particularly hellish or particularly heavenly. Hopefully I will be forgiven if I dwell a lot on small farmers. This involve something a surprising number of modern youth don’t know: Without farmers we all starve. It also involves something all too many leaders forget: People will put up with a lot of excess and extravagance in their leaders, until they get hungry. Then, watch out.
The American “populist” Bryan stated, in a famous speech in 1896, “Burn down your cities and leave our farms, and your cities will spring up again as if by magic; but destroy our farms, and the grass will grow in the streets of every city in the country.”
In a sense this is a warning to the “elite” which occurs again and again, across the expanses of time. It basically warns the elite, “do not bite the hand that feeds you”. The average man is willing to put up with surprising disparities in wealth, as long as his own lot in life is happy, but once suffering enters his picture the foundations of wealth and privilege quake. The poor riot and the authorities react by oppressing, and the rot sets in.
There are all sorts of intellectual explanations for why disparities in wealth exist, and when I look through them all, I am reminded of children at my Childcare all whining, “He got more than me! It’s not fair!” The standard answer is, “Life isn’t fair.”
The spiritual answer is that everyone is blessed with gifts, some which are very obvious and some which are blessings in disguise. (Some who have employed me have suggested my blessings are very, very disguised.) (It can be dangerous to have a dreamy young poet operate a forklift in a warehouse containing great numbers of glass bottles.) Individuality involves gifts as varied as people’s fingerprints, and one gift is to be a motivator and leader of others. When one gazes back through the rises and falls of peoples, across the expanses of time called “history”, it is like looking across mountain ranges of many hues at sunset. Some mountains are ugly, blackened by the vomit of volcanic turmoil, while others are sweet like sunny uplands with patches of pines. A trait of the better societies is a respect people have for each other; a king or boss may be stern and demand respect, but he does not lord it over others in a haughty manner, and is actually respectful and always on the lookout for talent. Far, far back in history, even before the first farm, the massive, muscular chief of meat-eating Neanderthals might spot, in a skinny, nearsighted fellow who was useless on a hunt, a latent skill at making flint spear-points. Bingo! Useless hunter becomes a man whom hunters value.
The difference in how individuals are gifted leads quite naturally to what economists call the “division of labor”, and this process occurs because when you are good at something you tend to succeed at it. The cream rises to the top. This brings me back to the difference between the hard working farmer and the lazy farmer. The hard working farmer will tend to have wealth and acquire more land, as the lazy farmer loses his land and becomes a worker, or else loses ownership of his land and works the same farm as a tenant. Or I should say this process would occur in a time of peace. In a time of war even a hard working farmer can lose ownership of his land because his society loses a war. The Babylonians march into Jerusalem, or the Manchu into China, or the Rus into Russia, and, because the ability to conquer is also a “gift”, the conqueror gets all the stress, and all the care, and all the bother, of having to run all the farms of the all farmers they have conquered. (Yikes! As if running a single farm isn’t trouble enough! Conquest seems a fate worse than Solomon having 600 wives!)
Conquest was never as easy as it might seem. It might seem an invader only needs to yell, “Grow food and make it snappy, or I’ll lop off your head”, but that has been tried and it never works. Dispirited workers produce poorly. Terror is indeed a form of motivation, but fails to bring out the latent gifts people inwardly own, in the manner love does, and merciless conquerors soon discover the land isn’t producing the wealth they expected. Therefore, like it or not, they are faced with finding a better form of motivation.
It is actually quite fascinating to look back across time and see how some conquest resulted in kingdoms that endured, and some conquest (like Hitler’s) resulted in complete flops. There are plenty of examples to study, as our planet has not been known for its lack of wars.
To return to the example of Genghis Khan, we are faced with a paradox, for he was undoubtedly brutal, but created an empire that endured. The explanation is that he used brutality as one of several forms of motivation. If you resisted him, and you killed his beloved soldiers, he would show you little mercy. He slaughtered not just every soldier, but every person in entire cities, and tore those cities down, even to the degree some cities ceased to be, and are only heaps of rubble in the steppes to this day. While it is to a degree unwise to put too much stock in quotes that are 700 years old, when leading the population of one of the first cities he vanquished outside the gates to all be beheaded, he is purported to have informed them, “I am the flail of God. Had you not created great sins, God would not have sent a punishment like me upon you.”
If this quote is true, it would indicate Genghis had some sense that he was an “ax” of God. If you wonder what joy could be found in such a gift, so do I. However he did experience pleasure, if the the following statement, that he is said to have made, is also true: “The greatest happiness is to vanquish your enemies, to chase them before you, to rob them of their wealth, to see those dear to them bathed in tears, to clasp to your bosom their wives and daughters.”
It does make a sort of sense to utterly exterminate a foe who has had the courage to stand up to you, because otherwise you are in the shoes of a hunter who has not shot to kill, and has a wounded beast on his hands. (Jefferson described slavery as “having the wolf by the ear”.) The lick-spittle of vengeance has an amazingly long memory; and history shows many conquered people who arose from ashes to burn the capitals of their conquerors, as the Babylonians did to the Assyrians. The Mongols themselves were a people who arose from ashes all their own.
(Before Christians get too haughty about such behavior being ungodly, they should look at the Book of Joshua, and read how it was not merely the soldiers of Jericho who were slaughtered, but also the women and children and even the livestock, Christians should read how anything that could be burned was burned. Only metal was allowed to be saved from Jericho, and not as loot, but to be put in the temple treasury, for God. Any infractions to this decree were severely punished, yet, of course, people did covet certain objects, and did show mercy to particularly beautiful women, and trouble always came of it. One example was: Mercy was shown to the Agagites. Then these people, rather than gratitude, bore a lick-spittle grudge across centuries. Eventually, when the Jews were captives in Babylonia, an Agagite named Haman came up with the solution many have come up with over the millennium: The total extermination of the Jews. Read The Book of Esther for the exciting climax. [Spoiler alert: The Jews weren’t exterminated.])
In conclusion, mercy has not been a strong suit among conquerors. In the case of Genghis Khan his reputation for being merciless did motivate some strongholds to open their gates and offer no resistance, and such cities tended to fare better, receiving what could be called “mercy”, considering the alternative. They then had a chance of witnessing Genghis’s ability to see talent. For example, Mongols, as a people on horseback, had no idea how to conduct a siege and storm a castle’s walls. Genghis learned such things from Chinese, and later Persian, captives. Even in cases where populations were slaughtered he made exceptions for people who had gifts, men who made actual things that could be used, blacksmiths and potters and other artisans, who tended to be shipped home as useful slaves. He seemingly governed by principles of meritocracy, and appreciated people who were not cowed by his power and answered him honestly. He lacked much of the megalomania often seen in tyrants: While he might confidently call himself the “flail” of God, he didn’t allow statues and portraits of himself to be made. In fact the more I study the man, the more I realize there were reasons his influence endured.
Not that he doesn’t qualify as a mass murderer. When he invaded northern China the local northern population plunged from something like 40 million to 5 million, (from the last Chinese census to the first Mongol census). (There may have been a mass exodus of refugees, as well as slaughter.) (Also the Medieval Warm Period crashed into the Little Ice Age.) But, to get back to my original point, it was not an easy thing to be a small farmer, minding your own business, in those times.
Looking back, it seems that because even peace-loving farmers were subject to invaders, (outlaws, if not armies) they came to desire protection (sheriffs, if not dictators with armies). Society became divided between protectors and the protected. Some worked as farmers as some worked as soldier-protectors. Farmers tended to be smaller men and soldiers be bigger men. In societies where this division became hereditary, the size-difference could be surprising. Why? Because the same child, fed only grain, may grow to be a foot shorter than the same child would be, if fed beef. (This is trivia, but when the meat-eating Americans occupied rice-eating Japan after World War Two, the children of Japan became significantly taller than their parents.) The divisions in ancient societies trended towards big knights and small serfs. But this was a division all agreed upon, and, in societies where people cared for each other, it worked surprisingly well. (Of course, because this system involved soldiers, it also tended to perpetuate war).
In the Bible there is an interesting story regarding farmers needing a defender, (found in the eighth chapter of the first Book of Samuel.) Basically the farmers want a defender, and God tells them He is their defender, but they insist God isn’t good enough; they want a big, strong, human king. Then God (through Samuel) tells them what to expect, if they have a human king. It makes good reading, three millennium later:
This will be the manner of the king that shall reign over you: He will take your sons, and appoint them for himself, for his chariots, and to be his horsemen; and some shall run before his chariots.12 And he will appoint him captains over thousands, and captains over fifties; and will set them to plow his ground, and to reap his harvest, and to make his instruments of war, and instruments of his chariots.13 And he will take your daughters to be confectionaries, and to be cooks, and to be bakers.14 And he will take your fields, and your vineyards, and your oliveyards, even the best of them, and give them to his servants.15 And he will take the tenth of your seed, and of your vineyards, and give to his officers, and to his servants16 And he will take your menservants, and your maidservants, and your goodliest young men, and your asses, and put them to his work.17 He will take the tenth of your sheep: and ye shall be his servants.18 And ye shall cry out in that day because of your king which ye shall have chosen you; and the Lord will not hear you in that day.
19 Nevertheless the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel; and they said, “Nay; but we will have a king over us;20 That we also may be like all the nations; and that our king may judge us, and go out before us, and fight our battles”.
In other words, the Jews of that time could have stood for Truth and seen that Truth stood by them, but would rather be slaves to big government. They should have known better, because they were “God’s Chosen” and got good advice most of us never get, (such as the prophet Samuel’s), but perhaps there is a bit of the lazy farmer in all of us, that wants to shrug responsibility off to someone else. We desire to sit at home and write lovely poems, as someone else bleeds and dies fighting the enemy. According to the ancient prophet Samuel, this choice will not give us the freedom to write poems, but rather will make us slaves.
I have seen this true in my own life, (where I have been the slave of many bosses who couldn’t care less for my poetry), (or anyone else’s), but in terms of World History some bosses redeemed the tyranny of power, likely because they felt the influence of love, as displayed by the Christ. In the social structure called the “medieval manor system”, the primitive society could be hell, but could also sometimes be very loving and wonderful. On such rare occasions the “Medieval Manor System” was heavenly Christianity in a worldly form, for it was a “body” with all the “parts” working in harmony, and an individual’s “gifts” were allowed free expression.
Many of the Medieval Manor System’s concepts seem loathsome to us, and we are repelled from the very idea of their servitude, which approached slavery’s. But apparently the master of the manor could sometimes prefer to oversee happy serfs. (Such oddness even occurred in America, midst the undeniable horrors of American slavery: Rare, scattered plantations allowed slaves to plant their own gardens and even own rifles to hunt with, to create their own churches and schools, with some slave-owners even granting their best slaves their freedom, as a reward.)
Not that I would ever want to be a slave, or a serf. Serfs were not allowed to marry without their lord’s permission, and were bound to the soil they worked. Rather than own their land, their land owned them. They had to stay in town, and were denied freedom of movement, but the benefit to this limitation was that they also could not be thrown off their land. If their lord went bankrupt and lost his land, they went along with the land to the new owner. Also, though they didn’t own their land, they were allowed to keep some of what it produced. (In some ways that is not all that different from my own government, which allows me to keep some of my paycheck.) Serfs were slaves, in that they had to work for the lord, in “his” fields and fixing “his” roads, but, though I smugly think I own “my” land, I do pay property taxes, which in a sense means I am renting my farm from the government. When I struggle to make the money to pay those taxes I am in a sense a serf, (though my taxes pay others to fix the roads, and I don’t have to [thank God] fix them myself).
In some places the lord of the manor found the serfs were quite productive during their free time, both as farmers and as artisans, and that the wealth of the manor as a whole increased the more free time serfs got. If you consider the time serfs had to work for the manor was a sort of “tax”, the tax was reduced, but rather than less income, the lord of the manor strangely got richer, for the consequence of asking serfs for less was that they became more productive. In some way I don’t understand, [when Satan wasn’t looking], a sort of golden age occurred in Central Europe.
I long to know more. How the exposure to an apparent mass murderer like Genghis Khan, and the nightmarish pandemic called The Black Death, could have had such unexpected positive consequences makes me wonder. But the history startles, and states this: In parts of Poland around the year 1370, some serfs were only required to work for their lord two days a year. That is a very small tax. When I total up all my taxes, I see I spend half my time working for the government, or 130 days a year (subtracting weekends.) So who is the slave? Me, or those long-ago Polish serfs, who only worked for their government 2 days a year?
One effect of the plague called the “Black Death” may have been to make a serf more valuable. There was just as much land, but in places only half as many people. Unless depopulated fields were abandoned (which did happen), you, as a surviving lord, had to make the best use of your remaining servants and, unless you could afford seeing your income cut in half, you had to ask them to work twice as hard. Meanwhile, in the next manor over, your neighbor was facing the same problem, and might be tempted to lure some of your more footloose serfs to break their bond with your soil and come to his land (offering higher pay, or perhaps lower “taxes”). Your serfs gained power. But this is just a guess on my part, with me plopping modern concepts of “supply and demand” onto a situation I only dimly glimpse through mists of time.
One problem with trying to see into the mists of medieval Central Europe is that the landscape was constantly overrun by invaders. Genghis Khan was proceeded by Attila the Hun, and by Rus and Visgoths and Magyars and Saxons and others, and followed by further churnings of the landscape, culminating in the mind-boggling tank-battles between Hitler and Stalin. Not only did these invasions tend to burn down existing libraries, but each conqueror tended to rewrite history, with the revisionist-version portraying the new conqueror as the hero, and his foes as barely human.
A brutal way to erase the past was to simply burn parchments, but parchment (basically carefully-prepared animal hides) was valuable and scarce, so another approach was to scrape the ink off the parchment and start over. A recent development has been for historians to radiocarbon-date parchments and also their ink, and if the parchment is significantly older than the ink, to scrutinize the parchment for traces of what was written before, (able to be brought-out by modern science using x-rays or ultraviolet light or some such magic). This has brought back writings that were thought destroyed. However, to the north, parchment is more likely to rot. Much we have to go on is legend and lore, handed down largely by word of mouth, and only written down centuries later. For example, it is possible to get a glimpse of where Genghis Khan was most brutal by where he is, (to this day), most hated, (parts of China, and Persia [modern Iran]), whereas he appears surprisingly beneficent in the lore of other lands, and is a hero in Mongolia. We also have bits of history in libraries far from the steppes, (often not original documents but handwritten copies, or copies of copies), which have escaped such ravages. However much of my sense of there being a golden period in Central Europe I glean through inference, which arises from incidental behavior which seems out-of-character for the time, in comparison to the brutality elsewhere.
For example, I recall reading of a princess of Central Europe whose father was king of one land and whose uncle was king of another land, who, because her uncle died childless the same year as her father died, became queen of both lands. This created an immediate crisis, as the the two nationalities did not get along. (Hungarians and Poles?) Anywhere else there would have inevitably been a war, but the queen did the sane and smart thing, which was to give up her claim to one of the lands, and simply hand the bother of ruling that land off to some relative.
The fact there may have been a golden age and renaissance in Central Europe is inconvenient to those who prefer to rewrite history to show a “societal evolution”. The concept of “evolution” tends to be linear, and tends to succumb to the temptation to make oneself the pinnacle and to reduce those who came before oneself to the status of less-evolved Neanderthals. Even when a golden past is honored, one sees oneself as that golden past’s progressive heir. (Hence some Romanians see themselves as improved Romans.)
The communist version of “societal evolution” tends to focus on material byproducts of Truth, such as power (“Church versus State”) and money (“Guns versus Butter”) and is blind to factors outside the box it creates for itself; a cramping crate it disciplines itself to adhere to being boxed-in by. This blindness fails to see what moves humanity is often a politically-incorrect discipline that comes from outside-the-box. Communism itself was originally outside-the-box, in its dismissal of religion as an “opiate”, yet communism fails to see that Christianity also was originally outside-the-box, and not at all associated with the rich, powerful, and politically-correct people of its time.
From the moment the Roman Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity and became a “defender of the faith”, political power threatened to turn spirituality into a box, limiting the human spirit. With power comes the temptation to abuse it. Not that reform cannot originate from the throne, but (turning to Tolkien’s fantasy) often only a humble hobbit like Bilbo or Frodo can resist the evil of the “Ring of Power”. Power tends to increasingly be something clung to, rather than a thing used wisely, and then it ceases to be something that comes from Truth outside-the-box, and exists in growing mustiness, in which case the fresh, outside-the-box breezes tend to take the form of invaders. Once Christianity began to stultify, challenges shocked it from its torpor, pagan Visgoths sacking Rome and pagan Huns flooding Europe, Vikings from the north and Islam from the south and Genghis Khan from the east.
People have an unease regarding bright times of good fortune, and tend to worry the light will be taken away. Even a most glorious party must come to an end. A sunny dawn gives way to evening’s long shadows. Life leads to death. Perhaps this vague sense of shadow, lurking in even the best and happiest life, sometimes creates a defensiveness, even a paranoia, and people build structures hoping to wall out shade, but the walls become prisons in and of themselves. One cannot defeat a shadow with a wall; it takes a light.
There is much talk about how, to be free, one must stay on their toes and must not slack off. “The condition upon which God has given liberty to man is eternal vigilance”, (John Philpot Curran; 1790); “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty; power is ever stealing from the many to the few,” (Wendell Phillips; 1854); [perhaps even, “Rust never sleeps”, (Neil Young; 1979)]). However one of the most fascinating qualities of liberty is that it cannot be grasped. Attempt to grab it, and it slips away. Try to pen it with laws and rules, and it immediately manifests as “the exception to the rule.” Perhaps this is what Saint Paul was attempting to describe in Galatians, 2000 years ago, when he stated, “You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.“
In terms of simplistic “societal evolution” the “medieval manor system” atrophied into a stratified society, partly because the cream rises to the top, and partly because the conquerors ruled the conquered (for example, in Russia a Rus nobility ruled Slav serfs.) In this system the serfs grew the food, protected by the lord of the manor, and groups of manors were protected by a duke, and groups of dukes were protected by the king, and kings were under the jurisdiction of the Pope. When serfs had squabbles they brought them to the lord; when lords had squabbles they brought them to the duke; when dukes had squabbles they brought them to the king, and when kings had squabbles they brought them to the Pope, and because everyone was a good Christian, meek and mild, everything worked out. This occurred during the mild winter of the year 926, in the dead of night, between the hours of 2:52 and 3:09 AM. The rest of the time things weren’t quite so peaceful. Even in the Vatican problems occurred, involving a schism that resulted in there being three Popes at the same time.
I would not like to be in the shoes of any Pope dealing with all the quarrelsome kings of Christendom. (Not that the College of Cardinals is considering me. “If elected I will not serve.”) However I do have many of the skills required of a Pope. After all, I run a Childcare. And I have some powers Popes never dreamed of having, for I’m more than twice as tall and weigh more than four times as much as my subjects. One quarrel I always find myself dealing with is expressed by the words, “He started it!”
The “start of war” is an interesting thing to study, for it seems to me that, without a “start” there would be no need for soldier-protectors, and farmers could farm in peace. Soldier-protectors would be out of a job, and would have to go back to farming. Looking back in time, few seemed to really desire that. The problem seemed to be that hoeing corn got a bit boring, after the first decade or two.
It is all well and good to adopt some hippy slogan such as, “Wars will cease when men refuse to fight,” but that simply doesn’t deal with the fact that, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” Life simply gets boring without something to battle. Therefore it seems to me that the problem a Pope is faced with is: Getting people to realize the fiercest and most interesting battle there is to fight is not with people over the border, but within one’s self. That would mean Popes would have to first look hard in the mirror, and, as Pope of a Childcare, I understand that is the last thing one is prone to do, when things are getting out of hand and spiraling out of control.
One thing I’ve noticed at my Childcare is that children seem to spend half of every ballgame arguing. I often don’t step in and interfere, (unless things get drastic), for I understand this is how we mortals learn the art of diplomacy.
One mistake students of “societal evolution” tend to make is to over-emphasis the domineering, and ignore the quieter peacemakers. An interesting example of this involves the etymology of the word “slave”. It comes from the word “Slav”, who were a people constantly overrun by outsiders, farmers who fed their masters and often only earned scorn for it. But what does the word “Slav” actually mean? Apparently it is an ancient word with deep Indo-European roots, and has a somewhat ambiguous meaning, as it seems to mean both “listen” and “speak the truth.” Perhaps the best translation is “heed.” (Definitely not a blabbermouth, especially when the lord has a sharp sword, but “silent waters run deep.”) And one thing about the Slavs is that they have endured where their masters have not. Who speaks of the Scythians in a modern context? Not that the Slavs didn’t learn a great deal from their masters, but in the end their masters were the ones who converted.
Gazing back into the mists of time I am always interested in seeing how missionaries converted fierce, pagan warriors to Christianity. They often couldn’t convert with the sword, for often the pagans were better warriors, and had superior weapons. When the English had a huge advantage in Western Europe because their longbows could shoot farthest, in Eastern Europe the Mongol bows of horn and wood could shoot even further, and pierce armor even better than English arrows. And long before the Mongols, the Scythians in a sense had the first RVs, and it was difficult to counterattack their villages, as they were basically covered wagons on wheels, and hard to locate. Nor were such nomadic people stupid and without skill. Here is a Scythian necklace from 400 BC:
In a sense it seems crazy to leave a secure castle and head out as a missionary into dangerous steppes, yet people did it. I wish I could wiretap time and listen-in on the conversations between Christians and Pagans. They did not always end well.
People are not always welcoming when you arrive at their front door like a salesman and tell them you have a deal they can’t refuse. One of my favorite stories about such a “deal” involves the English arriving in Bombay harbor in the early 1600’s, and telling the Indian king they could supply really wonderful goods, if he allowed them to build a trading post in his harbor, protected by cannons. The king asked the English if he also would be allowed to build a trading post, on the river Thames in London, protected by his cannons. The English left and didn’t return for 200 years.
While peering about in the mists of the past, looking for sunny uplands, I chanced upon some dark deeds. Apparently the East Saxons (who “evolved” into the Prussians) didn’t like the deal missionaries were offering. A pagan priest had the missionary bishop Alderbert of Prague murdered on the Baltic coast of Poland in 997, and the missionary archbishop Bruno of Querfurt was beheaded by Saxons (and most of his 18 followers hung) in 1006. Yet midst these black shadows are strange ghosts of gray; the martyred missionaries were so venerated that their corpses were bought: Bruno’s by a Duke of Poland, Boleslaw the Great, and Alderbert’s, (for its weight in gold), by the king of Poland, Boleslaus I. And then, as I poke through the strange, dark fog further, some of the ghosts resolve into beams of light.
Some of this history is found in a copy of a history written in the early 1000’s called the “Annals of Quedlinburg”, which quirked my eyebrow as it was likely written by a woman, at a sort of college for women within the abbey of St. Servatius Church. This immediately piqued my interest, as it suggested women had a status I didn’t imagine existed in medieval times. Poking further, I discovered this school was founded by Matilda of Ringelheim in 932.
Matlda is a person who strikes me as a crossroads of many forks, or perhaps a star of many rays, for whichever which way one turns one sees a fascinating avenue one can wander down and become lost upon. For example, (don’t get lost), her great-great-great-great-great-grandfather was Widukind, a fierce, pagan Saxon king at the time the Frankish Charlemagne was attempting to convert Saxons to Christianity with his sword. Around the year 772 Charlemagne cut down a sacred-to-pagans grove of trees, which did not bring about peace, but rather nearly two decades of warfare. Around 785 Widukind converted, not due to losing a battle, but rather due to a vision. It was a rather interesting vision, but if I go any farther down this avenue we’ll get lost. So let’s back up to Matilda.
All five of her children gained great power. Her eldest daughter was married to the count of Paris and became the mother of Hugh Capet, first king of the West Franks. Her oldest son became Holy Roman Emperor in 962. Her second daughter eventually became the queen of King Louis IV of France. Her second son became Duke of Bavaria. And her third son became both an Archbishop and a Duke, and his court was the intellectual center of Germany.
I suppose communists would suggest this shows how the bourgeois intrigue and plot to hog all the power to themselves, but this fails to consider what is done with such power. Matilda was the sort of person who would slip from her husband’s bed in the dead of night to go to the castle chapel and pray. She apparently dismayed the court accountants by spending far too much of her husband’s money on charity. These are not the deeds of a hog. The simple act of starting a school to educate women is more of an act that spreads the wealth of knowledge, even if the women who attended the school were all upper class. Women in other lands were not writing histories, which brings me back to the “Annals of Quedinburg.”
In this history we find the first mention of a Baltic tribe called the “Lithuanians”, (midst describing when the martyred Bruno was beheaded in 1009). There was little indication at the time that these pagan people would someday challenge communist dogma, concerning “societal evolution”.
Lithuania was luckily located, just northeast of the maximum Mongol expansion, (but close enough for contact), and just east of the worst Saxon warfare and west of the various Viking wars that led to the beginnings of Russia. It’s lowlands were a bit swampy and highlands a bit sandy, so the land wasn’t coveted by outsiders, but it was fertile enough, especially in the warmth of the Medieval Warm Period. It was one of those places out on the fringe of civilization which happily escapes notice. It gradually prospered, and after a couple centuries became the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, an entity that persisted five hundred more years, and at one point reached from the Black Sea to the Baltic and was the largest nation in Europe. But what is most upsetting to the communist dogma about “societal evolution” was that Lithuania didn’t concentrate wealth and “the means of production” in the hands of a king, but rather developed democracy.
In all its long history, Lithuania only had a single “king”. Back in its beginnings, it was basically a conglomeration of tribal chieftains, (although they are called “dukes” in the old histories). Rome saw them as “pagans”, as did Constantinople, and Orthodox missionaries from the east and Catholic missionaries from the west aimed to convert them. The missionaries from Rome reached the levels of a crusade, involving armed knights and groups such as the Teutonic Knights, (centered in Jerusalem but with a branch in the Baltic), converting with such zeal that they threatened to erase the cultures they converted. It was at this point one chieftain, named Mindaugas, grins out from the mists of history as a particularly crafty guy. Despite the fact the chiefs of his own land, often his own relatives, restlessly kept his land in a state of civil war, he manipulated circumstances to an advantage where Lithuania not only wasn’t erased, but expanded. At one point he converted to Christianity, and there was joy in Rome, and Lithuania was marked down as a victory for Christ, but apparently Mindaugus only did this to get the Teutonic Knights working for him. Later, when circumstances changed, he caused frowning in Rome, as it looked to them like he went back to his pagan ways, though he may have renounced Rome more than he renounced Christ. But most interesting to me is something which appears, in the written history of the steppes, not in Lithuania but in what became Belarus, during the time Mindaugus ruled. This fragment states Belarus became part of Lithuania, but not, according to the Belorussians, because Lithuanians marched in and sacked their small cities; but rather because the Lithuanians were “invited” in. Details are lacking, but the very idea of Lithuania expanding, not due to invasion, but through invitation, hints at a reality not much discussed, in tomes about “societal evolution.”
Initially Lithuanians formed more than 80% of the population of their homeland on the coast of the Baltic, but as they expanded over the steppes to the Black Sea, including Poland, Belarus and the Ukraine, they became a minority of the duchy, only 12% of the total population. The simple fact a people can be so outnumbered and yet never be slaughtered, not for only a few decades but for five hundred years, suggests a level of civilization rarely seen in Europe. However what is most fascinating to me is the democracy they developed. After Mindaugas they had no “king”, but rather had a sort of gathering of chieftains, which became a parliament which decided policy through discussions and by vote. They did not seem to feel the slightest bit compelled, as the rest of Europe did, to concentrate the “means of production” in the personage of a single, absolute monarch, but rather went merrily on their way, defying “societal evolution”, (which likely would have annoyed the heck out Marxists, had any existed). Instead they delighted in freedom. Apparently they could do this without asking outsiders for permission. Of course their democracy’s “voters” were only the “royalty”, but membership in the “royalty” expanded until it involved more than 10% of the population.
When I gaze across the landscape of history, seeking a cause for such a growth of liberty, I think to myself one factor might have been the sheer enormity of the steppes. The steppes have a vastness approaching the ocean’s, which may have been what attracted the Vikings, however the freedom which the steppes encourage is very different from what the fenceless sea encourages.
The sea knows no walls, but sailors are confined within the gunnels of a ship, which tends to develop character-traits that keep men from going for each other’s throats, (which is what you feel like doing, when you are confined with someone aboard a ship for a long period of time.) Not that mutiny never happened on ships, but among sailors it was seen as the worsts of sins. Out of this came loyalty seldom seen in other cultures. While a Viking could be heartless and deadly if you didn’t know him, if he gave you “his word” and you clasped hands, you could be sure he felt “honor bound” to “keep his word”. Meanwhile in Constantinople the measure of manhood was not loyalty, but rather Byzantine slyness. Therefore the Byzantine emperor did not trust his palace guard to Byzantines, but instead chose Vikings from Russia, called Varangians.
The steppes, however, knew no gunnels, and, where a mortal cannot walk on water, the steppes were dry land, and if a man truly couldn’t stand his master he could just take a hike towards the endless horizons. This vastness even imprinted steppe laws: While Slavs were tied to their Manor and not suppose to leave town, the law stated that, if a runaway remained free for more than a year, the lord had to give up and stop trying to recapture him. Therefore at the edge of the civilized parts of the steppes there tended to be a fringe of free Slavs, in some senses like American pioneers at the edge of the wilderness. Rather than Indians they faced Tartars.
The “Tartar” were what the Mongols became after they intermarried with the local Turkic populations. Initially tolerant of all religions, they eventually became Muslim. Their primary weakness was fighting among themselves, and divided they fell, but only after a long and illustrious time controlling the steppes all the way to China. Among the Tartar slavery was legal, but one Tartar leader was disgusted when he saw his poor paying bills by selling their children, so he made slavery illegal among his own people, which was very bad news for the Slavs. The Tartar developed the bad habit of paying their bills by raiding westward into Slav villages, killing the elders and scooping up the young and strong, herding them south, and selling them to Arabs and the Ottoman Empire. It is estimated that an average raid captured between one and two thousand Slavs, but one raid apparently herded 20,000 Slavs south. It was at this time the word “Slav” became synonymous with “slave”.
It was nearly impossible to stop these raids, for the Tartar could ride faster than word-of-mouth could spread (and the internet hadn’t been invented). Some raids didn’t merely cross borders, but crossed entire nations into adjoining nations. Also the raiding parties succeeded because they were much larger than the meager militia of Slav villages. Lastly the Tartar would raid new areas each time, allowing enough time between raids for the local population to recover, (which was also just enough time [one generation] for the local population to become careless). However the success of such slave-raids weakened Tartar society, I think, because it was easier to make money raiding, than by developing Tartar farms or Tartar industry, and slowly the Russians came to have more advanced weapons.
These Tartar raids went on not for a short time, but for centuries, and I’ve seen the total given, for the number of Slavs captured, enslaved, and shipped south by the Tartar, as being between a half million and three million. And looking south, to where the slaves wound up, one sees that at one point there were over a million white slaves in predominately Muslim lands in Europe. (It would be interesting to do genetic studies of Arab lands now; they may have more Slav blood than they care to admit, [added to Visgoth blood in North Africa.]) (Also, if America must pay reparations for once having black slaves as employees, must oil-rich Islam pay reparations to Belarus, Poland, and the Ukraine ?)
In any case, it can be seen why Slavs preferred Lithuanians to the Tartar. It also can be seen it took a lot of guts to be a free Slav, at the edge of the wilderness. Lastly, it can be seen why the steppes remained so depopulated.
Because it was dangerous, due to the Tartar, to settle and farm on the steppes, some of the free Slavs lived elusive, nomadic lives hunting and fishing. They also studied their oppressors, and learned to form their own bands of fierce men on horseback. These became the Cossack, who enacted a sort of Karmic revenge on the Tartar lands as Russia expanded east as the United States expanded west, in an uncanny way preforming the role the US cavalry played against the American Indians. (The Cossack also happened to be a people who practiced a basically democratic form of government).
When I gaze out over the steppes in my mind’s eye I am in awe of the enormity, both in terms of time and of space. It seems a landscape where our Creator used his broadest brush. Yet it barely seems noticed, in discussions of human liberty and “societal evolution”, beyond a paragraph or two written in fine-point. In fact the Slavs were considered “backwards”, at an early stage of “societal evolution”, by the early thinkers of the Enlightenment. Yet Slavs had a fascinating government that worked quietly out on the farms, (without the Lord of the manor needing to pay it much mind), called the “commune”. For centuries, perhaps even millenniums, they did very successfully what American hippies attempted very poorly, and what Marx and Engels felt was a new idea, and what Stalin and Mao utterly botched.