Nationalism and Culture : Part 1, Chapter 3 : The Middle Ages: Church and State
(1873 - 1958) ~ German Father of Anarcho-Syndicalism : Rocker was born in Mainz, Germany, son of a workingman who died when the boy was five years of age. It was an uncle who introduced him to the German SociaI Democratic movement, but he was soon disappointed by the rigidities of German socialism. (From : Irving Horowitz Bio.)
• "The urge for social justice can only develop properly and be effective when it grows out of man's sense of freedom and responsibility, and is based upon it." (From : "Anarchism and Anarcho-Syndicalism," by Rudolph Ro....)
• "In place of the capitalist economic order, Anarchists would have a free association of all productive forces based upon cooperative labor, which would have for its sole purpose the satisfying of the necessary requirements of every member of society." (From : "Anarchism and Anarcho-Syndicalism," by Rudolph Ro....)
• "Every type of political power presupposes some particular form of human slavery, for the maintenance of which it is called into being." (From : "Anarchism and Anarcho-Syndicalism," by Rudolph Ro....)
Part 1, Chapter 3
3. The Middle Ages: Church and State
THE FUNDAMENTAL PRINCIPLE OF POWER. CHRISTIANITY AND THE STATE. PAPISM. AUGUSTINE'S CITY OF GOD. THE HOLY CHURCH. THE STRUGGLE FOR WORLD DOMINION. GREGORY VII, INNOCENT III. THE EFFECT OF POWER ON ITS POSSESSORS. ROME AND THE GERMANS. GERMANIC CAESARISM. THE STRUGGLE FOR ROME. THE FOREIGN DOMINION. THE SUBMERSION OF OLD SOCIAL INSTITUTIONS. ARISTOCRACY AND ROYALTY. FEUDALISM AND SERFDOM. THE FRANKISH EMPIRE. CHARLEMAGNE AND THE PAPACY. STRUGGLE BETWEEN EMPEROR AND POPE.
EVERY power is animated by the wish to be the only power, because in the nature of its being it deems itself absolute and consequently opposes any bar which reminds it of the limits of its influence. Power is active consciousness of authority. Like God, it cannot endure any other God beside it. This is the reason why a struggle for hegemony immediately breaks out as soon as different power groups appear together or have to keep inside of territories adjacent to one another. Once a state has attained the strength which permits it to make decisive use of its power it will not rest satisfied until it has achieved dominance over all neighboring states and has subjected them to its will. While not yet strong enough for this it is willing to compromise, but as soon as it feels itself powerful it will not hesitate to use any means to extend its rule, for the will to power follows its own laws, which it may mask but can never deny.
The desire to bring everything under one rule, to unite mechanically and to subject to its will every social activity, is fundamental in every power. It does not matter whether we are dealing with the person of the absolute monarch of former times, the national unity of a constitutionally elected representative government, or the centralistic aims of a party which has made the conquest of power its slogan. The fundamental principle of basing every social activity upon a definite norm which is not subject to change is the indispensable preliminary assumption of every will to power. Hence the urge for outward symbols presenting the illusion of a palpable unity in the expression of power in whose mystical greatness the silent reverence of the faithful subject can take root. This was clearly recognized by de Maistre when he said: "Without the Pope, no sovereignty; without sovereignty, no unity; without unity, no authority; without authority, no faith."
Yes, without authority, no faith, no feeling in man of dependence on a higher power; in short, no religion. And faith grows in proportion to the extent of its sphere of influence, to the scope of its authority. The possessors of power are always animated by the desire to extend their influence and, if they are not in a position to do so, to give their faithful subjects at least the illusion of the boundlessness of this influence, and thus to strengthen their faith. The fantastic titles of oriental despots serve as examples.
Where the opportunity offers, the possessors of power are not content with vainglorious titles; they seek rather by every device of diplomatic cunning and brute force to extend their sphere of power at the cost of other power groups. Even in the smallest power units there slumbers like a hidden spark the will to world dominion; even though it can awaken to a devouring flame only under specially favorable circumstances, it always remains alive, if only as a secret wish concept. There is deep meaning in the description which Rabelais gives us in his "Gargantua" of the petty king, Picrochole, whom the mild, yielding disposition of his neighbor, Grandgousier, made so cocky, that, deluded by the crazy advice of his counselors, he already imagined himself a new Alexander. While the possessor of power sees a territory not yet subject to his will, he will never rest content, for the will to power is an insatiable desire which grows and gains strength with every success. The story of the mourning Alexander, who burst into tears because there were no longer any worlds for him to conquer, has a symbolic meaning. It shows us most clearly the real essence of all struggles for power.
The dream of the erection of a world empire is not solely a phenomenon of ancient history. It is the logical result of all power activity and not confined to any definite period. Since Caesarism penetrated into Europe the vision of world dominion has never disappeared from the political horizon, although it has undergone many changes through the appearance of new social conditions. All the great attempts to achieve universal dominion, like the gradual evolution of the Papacy, the formation of the empire of Charlemagne, the two aims which furnished the basis of the contest between the imperial and papal powers, the creation of the great European dynasties and the contest which later nationalist states waged for the hegemony in the world, have always taken place according to the Roman model. And everywhere the unification of political and social power factors occurred according to the same scheme, characteristic of the manner of genesis of all power.
Christianity had begun as a revolutionary mass movement, and with its doctrine of the equality of men before the sight of God it had undermined the foundation of the Roman state. Hence, the cruel persecution of its followers. It was the opposition to the state which resulted from Christian doctrines that the state strove to suppress. Even after Constantine had elevated Christianity to a state religion, its original aims persisted for a long time among the Chiliasts and Manicheans, though these were unable to exert a determining influence on the further development of Christianity.
Even as early as the third century Christianity had fully adapted itself to existing conditions. The spirit of theology had been victorious over the vital aspirations of the masses. The movement had come into closer touch with the state which it had once denounced as the "realm of Satan," and under its influence had acquired an ambition for political power. Thus, from the Christian congregation there evolved a church which faithfully guarded the power ideas of the Caesars when the Roman Empire fell to ruin in the storms of the great migration of peoples.
The seat of the Bishop of Rome in the very heart of the world empire gave him from the very beginning a position of dominant power over all other Christian congregations. For Rome remained, even after the decline of the empire, the heart of the world, its center, in which the legacy of ten to fifteen cultures remained alive and held the world under its spell. From here, too, reins were put upon the young, still unused powers of the northern barbarians under whose impetuous assaults the empire of the Caesars had broken down. The teachings of Christianity, even though already degenerated, tamed their savage mood, put fetters on their will and revealed to their leaders new methods, which opened unexpected vistas to their ambitions. With clever calculation the developing Papacy harnessed the still unused energies of the "barbarian" and made them serve its ends. With their help it laid the foundation of a new world power, which was for many centuries to give to the lives of the peoples of Europe a definite direction.
When Augustine was getting ready to set forth his ideas in his City of God, Christianity had already undergone a complete inner transformation. From an anti-state movement it had become a state-affirming religion which had absorbed a number of alien elements. But the young church was still decked out in many colors; it lacked the systematic drive toward a great political unity which consciously and with full conviction steers toward the clearly defined goal of a new world dominion. Augustine gave it this goal. He felt the frightful disintegration of his time, saw how thousands of forces strove toward a thousand different goals, how in crazy chaos they whirled about each other and, scarcely born, were scattered by the winds or died fruitless, because they lacked aim and direction. After manifold struggles he came to the conclusion that men lacked a unified power which should put an end to discord and collect the scattered forces for the service of a higher purpose.
Augustine's City of God has nothing in common with the original teachings of Christianity. Precisely for this reason his work could become the theoretical foundation of an allembracing Catholic world concept which made the redemption of humanity dependent upon the aims of a church. Augustine knew that the overlordship of the church had to be deeply rooted in the faith of men if it was to have permanence. He strove to give this faith a basis which could not be shaken by any acuteness of intellect. Hence, he became the real founder of that theological theory of history which attributes every event among the peoples of the earth to the will of God, on which man can have no influence.
During the first century Christianity had declared war against the fundamental ideas of the Roman state and all its institutions, and had consequently brought upon itself all the persecutions of that state. But Augustine maintained that it was not bound to oppose the evils of the world, since "all earthly things are transitory," and "true peace has its abode only in heaven." Consequently, "The true believer must not condemn war but must look upon it as a necessary evil, as a punishment which God has imposed upon men. For war is, like pestilence and famine and all other evils, only a visitation of God for the chastisement of men for their betterment, and to prepare them for salvation."
But to make the divine government comprehensible to men there is needed a visible power, through which God may manifest his holy will and guide sinners on the right road. No temporal power is fitted for this task, for the kingdom of the world is the kingdom of Satan, which must be overcome in order that men may achieve redemption. Only to the una sancta ecclesia, "the One Holy Church" is this task reserved and assigned by God himself. The church is the only true representative of the Divine Will on earth, the guiding hand of Providence, which alone does what is right, because illumined by the divine spirit.
According to Augustine all human events take place in six great epochs, the last of which began with the birth of Christ. Consequently, men must recognize that the end of the world is immediately at hand Hence, the establishment of God's kingdom on earth is most imperatively demanded in order to save souls from damnation and prepare men for the heavenly Jerusalem. But since the church is the sole proclaimer of God's will, her character must needs be intolerant, for man himself cannot know what is good and what is evil. She cannot make the slightest concession to the mind's logic, for all knowledge is vanity and the wisdom of man cannot prevail before God. Thus, faith is not a means to an end, but an end in itself. One must believe for the sake of belief and must not permit oneself to be diverted from the right path by the illusions of reason, for the saying attributed to Tertullian, "Credo quia absurdum est ("I believe it because it is absurd"), is correct, and it alone can free man from the talons of Satan.
Augustine's views concerning the world dominated Christianity for centuries. Through the whole of the Middle Ages only Aristotle enjoyed a comparable authority. Augustine bestowed on men the belief in an inevitable fate and welded this belief to the struggle for political unification of the church, which felt itself called upon to restore the lost world dominion of Roman Caesarism and to make it subservient to a far higher purpose.
The bishops of Rome now had a goal which gave their ambition wide scope. But before this goal could be attained and the church converted into a powerful tool for a political purpose, the leaders of the other Christian congregations had to be made amenable to this purpose. Until this could be accomplished the world dominion of the Papacy remained a dream. The church had first to be internally united before she could think to impose her will on the holders of temporal power.
This was no easy task, for the Christian congregations remained for a long time merely loose groups which elected their own priests and leaders and could at any time depose them if they did not prove fit for their office. Furthermore, every congregation had the same right as all the others. It managed its own affairs and was undisputed master in its own house. Questions which transcended the authority of the local groups were adjusted by district synods or church conventions freely elected by the congregations. In matters of faith, however, only the ecumenical council, the general church convention, could make decisions.
The original church organization was therefore fairly democratic, and in this form was much too loose to serve the Papacy as a foundation for its political purposes. The bishops of the larger congregations did, however, gradually achieve greater dignity because of their wider circles of influence. Thus the convention of Nicea granted them a certain monitorship over the smaller congregations by making them metropolitans and archbishops. But the rights of the Metropolitan of Rome extended no further than that of any of his brothers. He had no opportunity to mix in their affairs, and his dignity was sometimes overshadowed by the influence of the Metropolitan of Constantinople.
The tasks of the bishops of Rome were therefore beset with great difficulties, to which not all of them were equal; and centuries had to pass before they could establish their influence over the majority of the clergy. This was all the more difficult as the bishops of the various countries were frequently wholly dependent on the holders of temporal power for their authority and right of maintenance. However, the bishops of Rome pursued their aim with clever calculation and persistent effort; nor were they at all fastidious in their choice of means as long as these promised results.
How unconcernedly the occupants of the Roman chair steered toward their goal is proved by the clever use they knew how to make of the notorious "Isidorian Decretals" which the well known historian, Ranke, has described as "a quite conscious, very well conceived, but patent forgery"; a judgment which is hardly disputed anywhere today. However, before the possibility of the forgery of these documents was admitted they had already achieved their purpose. On their authority the pope was confirmed as the viceroy of God on earth, to whom Peter had entrusted the keys of heaven. The whole of the clergy was subjected to his will. He was conceded the right to call general councils whose conclusions he could accept or reject according to his own judgment. Most important of all, these forged "Isidorian Decretals" declared that in all disputes between the temporal states and the clergy the decision was to lie in the last instance with the pope. Thereby the cleric was to be withdrawn entirely from the jurisdiction of the temporal power, so that he might be bound more firmly to the papal chair. Attempts of this kind had already been made. Thus, the Roman bishop, Symachus (498-514), had declared that the bishop of Rome was not responsible to any judge but God; and twenty years before the appearance of the "Isidorian Decretals" the Council of Paris (829) declared that the king was subject to the church and the power of the priest stood above every worldly power. These forged decretals could, therefore, only have the purpose of giving to the claims of the church the stamp of legality.
With Gregory VII (1073-85) begins the real hegemony of the Papacy, the era of the "church triumphant." He was the first who quite publicly and without any limitations asserted the prerogative of the church over every worldly power, and even before his ascent of the papal throne he had worked with iron persistency toward this goal. Above all, he introduced fundamental changes into the church itself to make it a more serviceable tool for his purposes. His implacable severity brought it about that priestly celibacy, which had often been proposed but never carried out, was now imposed effectively. In this manner he created for himself an international army which was not bound by any intimate worldly ties and whose least member felt himself a representative of the papal will. His well-known saying that "the church could never free itself from the servitude to temporal power until the priest was freed from woman" clearly indicates the goal he sought by this reform.
Gregory was a cunning and most astute politician, fully convinced of the Justice of his claims. In his letters to Bishop Hermann of Metz he develops his concept with complete clarity, supporting it principally by the City of God of Augustine. Starting with the assumption that the church as instituted by God himself, he concludes that in every one of his decisions the will of God is revealed and that the pope, as God's viceroy n earth, is the proclaimer of this divine will. Consequently any disobedience of him is disobedience to God. Every temporal power is but the weak work of men, as is at once apparent from the fact that the state has abolished equality among men and that its origin can be traced only to brutal force and injustice. Any king who does not unconditionally submit himself to the commands of the church is a slave of the devil and an enemy of Christianity. It is the church's task to unite humanity in a great community ruled only by God's laws, revealed to them by the mouth of the pope.
Gregory fought with all the intolerance of his forceful character for a realization of these aims, and although he finally fell a victim to his own policy, he nevertheless succeeded in establishing the hegemony of the church and in making it for centuries the most powerful factor in European history. His immediate successors, however, possessed neither the monkish earnestness nor the boundless energy characteristic of Gregory and therefor suffered many a setback in their contests with temporal power. But with Innocent III (1198-1216) the papal scepter fell to a man who had not only Gregory's clearness of aim and unbendable will but far excelled him in natural ability.
Innocent III achieved for the church her highest aim and raised her power to a degree it had never before attained. He ruled his cardinals with the despotic will of an autocrat not responsible to anyone and treated the possessors of temporal power with an arrogance no one of his predecessors had dared to assume. To the Patriarch of Constantinople he wrote these proud words: "God did not only lay the dominion of the church in Peter's hands, he also appointed him to be the ruler of the whole world." To the envoy of the French king, Philippe Augustus, he said: "To princes is given power only over earth, but the priest rules also over heaven. The prince has power only over the bodies of his subjects, the priest has power also over the souls of men. Therefore the priesthood is as high above every temporal power as is the soul above the body in which it dwells."
Innocent forced the whole temporal power of Europe under his will. He not only interfered in all dynastic affairs, he even arranged the marriages of the temporal rulers and compelled them to obtain a divorce in case the union did not suit him. Over Sicily, Naples and Sardinia he ruled as actual monarch; Castile, Leon, Navarre, Portugal, and Aragon were tributary to him. His will was obeyed in Hungary, Bosnia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Poland, Bohemia, and in the Scandinavian countries. He interfered in the contest between Philip of Swabia and Otto IV for the German imperial crown and gave it to Otto, only to take it away from him again later and confer it on Frederick II. In his quarrel with the English king, John Lackland, he proclaimed an interdict over his realm, and not only forced the king to complete submission but even compelled him to accept his own country as a fief from the pope and to pay a tribute for this clemency.
Innocent thought of himself as pope and Cesar in one person and saw in the temporal rulers only vassals of his power, tributary to him. In this sense he wrote to the King of England: "God has founded kingship and priesthood on the church so that the priesthood is thus kingly and kingship priestly; as is apparent from the Epistles of Peter and the laws of Moses. Therefore did the King of Kings set one above all, whom he appointed his Viceroy on earth."
By the establishment of oral confession and the organization of mendicant monks, Innocent created for himself a power of tremendous scope. Furthermore, he made free use of his strongest weapon, the ban of the church, which with unyielding resolution he imposed upon whole countries in order to make the temporal rulers submissive to him. In a land hit by the ban all churches remained closed. No bells called the faithful to prayer. There were neither baptisms nor weddings, no confessions were received, no dying were given extreme unction and no dead buried in sanctified ground. One can imagine the terrible effects of such a status on the spirit of men at a time when faith was regarded as supreme.
Just as Innocent tolerated no equal power, he likewise permitted no doctrine which departed in the least from the usage of the church, even though entirely imbued with the spirit of true Christianity. The terrible crusade against heresy in the south of France, which changed one of the most flourishing lands in Europe into a desert, bears bloody witness to this. The dominant ambitious spirit of this fearful man balked at no means to guard the unlimited authority of the church. However, he also was but the slave of a fixed idea which kept his spirit prisoner and estranged it from all human consideration. His power obsession made him lonely and miserable. It became his personal evil genius, as it does with most of those who pursue the same end. Thus he spoke once concerning himself: "I have no leisure to pursue other worldly things; I can scarcely find time to breathe. Truly, so completely must I live for others that I have become a stranger to myself."
It is the secret curse of every power that it becomes fatal, not only to its victims but to its possessors. The bare thought that one must live for the achievement of an end which is opposed to all sound human feeling and is incomprehensible in itself, gradually makes the possessor of power himself into a dead machine, after he has forced all coming under the dominance of his power to a mechanical obedience to his will. There is something puppetlike in the nature of every power, arising from its own illusions, which coerces everything coming into contact with it into fixed form. And all these forms continue to live in tradition even after the last spark of life has died in them, and lie like an incubus on the spirit which submits to their influence.
This, to their sorrow, the Germanic and after them the Slavic tribes the people who had remained longest immune to the pernicious influence of Roman Caesarism had to learn. Even after the Romans had subjugated the German lands from the Rhine to the Elbe their influence was confined almost entirely to the western territory. The inhospitality of the country, covered with enormous forests and swamps, never gave them an opportunity to confirm their dominion. When by a confederation of German tribes the Roman army was almost completely annihilated in the Teutoburger Forest and most of the strongholds of the foreign invaders were destroyed, Roman rule over Germany was as good as broken. Even the three campaigns Germanicus waged against the rebellious tribes could not change the situation.
But there had arisen for the Germans, through Roman influence, a much more dangerous enemy in their own camp, to which their leaders especially soon surrendered. The German tribes whose habitat for a long time extended from the Danube to the Baltic and from the Rhine to the Elbe enjoyed a rather farreaching independence. Most of the tribes were already permanently settled when they came in contact with the Romans; only the eastern part of the country was still semi-nomadic. From Roman records and later sources it is apparent that the social organization of the Germans was still very primitive. The various tribes were formed by families connected with each other by blood relationships; as a rule a hundred of these lived in scattered settlements on the same piece of land, hence the designation "hundred." Ten to twenty such hundreds formed a tribe, whose territory was designated as a county (Gau). By the union of related tribes arose a people. The hundreds divided the land among themselves, and in such a manner that periodic repartitions were necessary. From this it is apparent that for a long time private ownership of land did not exist among them, and that private property was limited to weapons and homemade tools and other objects of daily use. The tilling of the soil was done mainly by women and slaves. A part of the men frequently went on warand-booty raids while the other part took its turn at staying home and maintained justice and right dealing.
All important questions were considered at general assemblies, or Folk-Things, and there decided. At these assemblies all freemen fit to bear arms participated. As a rule they occurred at the time of the new moon and were for a long time the supreme institution of the German people. At the Thing all differences were adjusted. The director of public administration was elected, as well as the commander during war. At these elections the personal character and the experience of the individual were at first the determining factors. Later on, however, especially when the relations with the Romans became more frequent and more intimate, the socalled "foremost ones" or Fursten ("princes") were elected almost exclusively from the ranks of prominent families, which, by reason of real or imagined services to the community, had been the recipients of larger shares of booty, tribute and presents, and thus achieved a state of wealth which permitted them to keep a retinue of tried warriors and thus, quite naturally, to achieve certain prerogatives.
The oftener the Germans came in contact with the Romans the more amenable they became to foreign influence, which could not very well be otherwise, since Roman culture and technique was in all respects superior to the German. Even before the conquest of Germany by the Romans certain tribes had begun to move, had been assigned by the Roman rulers certain districts, and had in return obligated themselves to serve in the Roman army. In fact, German soldiers had already played an important part in the conquest of Gaul by the Romans. Julius Cesar enlisted many German soldiers in his armies and was himself always surrounded by a mounted bodyguard of four hundred Teuton warriors.
Many descendants of Germans who had been in Roman service later returned to their homes and used the booty they had won and the experience they had gained from the Romans to press their own countrymen into their service. Thus one of them, Marbod, succeeded in time in extending his dominion over quite a number of German tribes and subjecting all the land between the Oder and Elbe from Bohemia to the Baltic to his influence. And even Herman, "The Liberator," succumbed to the influence of the Roman will to power, which after his return he tried to impose upon his own people. Not in vain had Herman and Marbod lived in Rome and learned there what enormous attraction power has for the ambitions of man.
Herman's ambitions for political power, which became constantly more apparent after the destruction of the Roman host had led to the liberation of Germany from Roman rule, appear in a somewhat peculiar light. It soon became clear not only that the noble Cheruscan had learned in Rome the art of superior warfare, but also that the statecraft of the Roman Caesars had given his ambitions a mighty impulse which soon developed into a dangerous will to power. Absorbed by his plans he endeavored by every means to make the federation of the Cheruski, Chatti, Marsi, Brukteri and others permanent after they had achieved the destruction of the Roman legions in the Teutoburger Forest. After the final retreat of the Romans he soon engaged in a bloody war with Marbod, the issue of which was solely the rulership in Germany. When Herman's aim to raise himself from the elected leadership of the Cheruski to kingship over this and other tribes became still more clearly apparent, he was treacherously murdered by his own relatives.
But the Germans were by no means united in their struggle against the Romans. There were among them noble families who were quite definitely Roman partizans. Quite a number of them had received Roman honors and distinctions, accepted Roman citizenship, and even after the so-called "Hermannsschlacht" ("Herman's battle") still firmly adhered to Rome. Herman's own brother, Flavus, was among these and so was his fatherinlaw, Segest, who had delivered his own daughter, Herman's wife, Thusnelda, to the Romans. From this side the Roman viceroy, Varus, had been warned of the conspiracy hatched against him, but his confidence in Herman, who because of his reliability had been made a Roman knight, was so unbounded that he spurned all warnings and blindly went into the trap which Herman had set for him. Without this cunning hypocritical breach of faith on Herman's part the celebrated "Battle of Liberation" in the Teutoburger Forest would never have happened. Even a historian so favorable to Germany as Felix Dahn described this event as "one of the most treacherous breaches of the law of nations."
The Germanic tribes who participated in this conspiracy to free themselves from the hated Roman rulership can hardly be reproached for their action. But on Herman personally this despicable breach of faith rests with double weight, for the destruction of the Roman army was to be only a means for the furthering of his political plans, which were to culminate in imposing a new yoke on the liberated peoples.
It is in the nature of all ambitions to political power that those animated by them hesitate at no means which promise successeven though such success must be purchased by treason, lies, mean cunning, and hypocritical intrigue. The maxim that the end justifies the means has always been the first article of faith of all power politics. No Jesuits were needed to invent it. Every powerlustful conqueror, every politician, subscribes to it, Semite and German, Roman and Mongol, for the baseness of method is as closely related to power as decay is to death.
When, later on, the Huns penetrated into Europe, compelling a new migration of the peoples theyencountered, ever denser hordes of Germanic tribes moved toward the south and southwest of the continent, always coming into contact with the Romans and enlisting en masse in the Roman legions. The Roman armies were thoroughly permeated by Germans, so it was inevitable that finally one of them, the German chieftain, Odoacer, in the year 476 pushed the last Rosnan emperor from his throne and had himself proclaimed emperor by his soldiers. But he also was, after years of bloody struggle, overcome by Theodoric, the king of the Ostrogoths, who murdered him with his own hands at the feast which was, with all solemnity, to celebrate a treaty of peace.
All state organizations which were in that period created by the power of the swordthe kingdoms of the Vandals, the Ostrogoths and Visigoths, the Lombards, the Hunswere imbued with the idea of Caesarism, and their creators felt themselves to be heirs of Rome. But in the struggle for Rome and Roman possessions the old institutions and tribal habits of the Germans fell into disuse as of no importance in the new conditions. True, some isolated tribes carried their old customs into the Roman world, but they decayed and perished there; for they had left behind the social soil in which alone they could flourish.
This transition took place all the faster, since already a considerable time before the great migrations some rather fundamental changes had occurred in the social life of the Germanic tribes. Thus, Tacitus speaks of a new way of partitioning the land according to the prominence of the various families, a practice of which Cesar makes no mention. And likewise the administration of public affairs presents a different picture. The influence of the socalled "nobles" and army leaders had everywhere increased. All questions of social importance were first discussed at separate sessions of the nobles and then submitted to the FolkThings, with which, however, the last decision lay. But the followers whom these nobles collected, who frequently lived with them and ate at their tables, must naturally have given them a greater influence at the popular assemblies. How this worked out is clearly apparent from the following words of Tacitus: "He earns lifelong disgrace and shame who in battle does not follow his lord to the death. To defend him, to protect him, even to credit him with his own heroic deeds, is the warrior's supreme duty. The prince fights for victory; the vassals fight for their lord."
The constant contact with the Roman world naturally could but react on the social forms of the Germanic peoples. Especially among the "nobles" it awakened a lust for power which gradually led to readjustments of the conditions of social life. When, later on, the great migration occurred, a considerable part of the German population was already permeated by Roman ideas and institutions. The new state organizations resulting from the great migrations of the tribes and peoples necessarily hastened the internal decay of the old institutions.
All over Europe arose new dominions within which the victors formed a privileged class which imposed their will on the working population and led a parasitic life at their expense. The victorious intruders partitioned large sections of the conquered territory among themselves and made the inhabitants pay tribute, and in this it was inevitable that the chieftains should favor their own followers. Since the relatively small number of the conquerors did not permit them to live together in large families according to custom, but compelled them to spread themselves over the land to maintain their power, the old ties of consanguinity, based on the close association of the families, were loosened more and more. The old customs gradually went out of use to make way for new forms of social life.
The popular assembly, the most important institution of the Germanic tribes, where all public affairs were discussed and decided, gradually lost its old character, a change necessitated by the extent of the occupied territory Meanwhile the chiefs and army leaders claimed ever greater prerogatives which logically grew to royal powers. The kings, moreover, intoxicated by Roman influence, were not slow to abolish the last remnants of democratic institutions, which, of course, could only prove a hindrance to the enlargement of their own power.
The aristocracy, likewise, whose first beginnings are early discernible among the Germans, had by the rich booty in lands which fell to them in the newly conquered territory acquired a quite new social importance. Together with the nobles of the subjected peoples, whom the foreign rulers, for weighty reasons, took into their service (their cultural superiority was useful to them), these members of the new aristocracy were at first only vassals of the king, to whom they had to render service in war. For this they were rewarded by rich fiefs at the cost of the conquered.
But the feudal system, which at first bound the nobility to the royal power, already contained the germs which must in time endanger it. The economic power which the feudal system gradually put into the hands of the nobles aroused in them new desires and ambitions, forcing their possessors into a unique position which was not favorable to the centralization of kingly power. It was contrary to the ambition of the nobles to be merely members of the king's retinue. The part of the Grand Seigneur who ruled unhindered on his own possessions without having to obey mandates of a higher power, suited them much better and, most important, it opened for them wider fields for the extension of their own power. For in them also the will to power was active, urging them to throw their economic strength into the balance to check the increasing power of the kings.
As a matter of fact the feudal lords, who in time grew into lesser or greater princes, succeeded for a long time in keeping the king compliant to their will. Thus arose in Europe a new order of parasites who no longer had any close relationship with the people, the foreign intruders being not even connected with the subject peoples by ties of blood. From war and conquest arose a new system of human slavery which for centuries left its imprint on the agrarian sections of the country. By the insatiable greed of the noble landlords the peasants were plunged ever deeper into misery and were robbed of the last liberties they had retained from former times. They were hardly regarded any longer as human beings.
But the dominion over foreign people worked destructively not only on the subject part of the population; it undermined the internal relationship among the conquerors themselves and destroyed their old traditions. The force which had at first only been exerted against the subjugated peoples was gradually extended to the poorer sections of their own tribes until these, too, sank into the quagmire of serfdom. Thus the will to power smothered with implacable consistency the will to freedom and independence which was once so deeply rooted among the German tribes. By the spread of Christianity and the closer connection between the conquerors and the church this baneful development was still further extended; the new religion smothered the last rebellious sparks in men and habituated them to come to terms with the imposed conditions. Just as the will to power under the Roman Caesars had robbed a whole world of its humanity and had plunged it into the hell of slavery, so it later destroyed the free social institutions of the barbarians and thrust them into the misery of serfdom.
Among the newly founded realms which arose in various parts of Europe, that of the Franks achieved the greatest importance. After the Merovingian Clovis, King of the Salic Franks, in the year 486 had inflicted on the Roman viceroy, Sygarius, a decisive defeat, he seized the whole of Gaul without encountering any opposition worth mentioning. As with all others obsessed by the desire for power, Clovis' appetite grew by what it fed on. Not only did he endeavor to secure his internal power, he also embraced every opportunity to extend his frontiers. Ten years after his victory over the Romans he defeated the army of the Allemanni at Zulpich and united their lands with his realm. At that time he also accepted Christianity, not from any inner conviction but simply from political consideration.
In this manner arose in Europe a temporal power of a new kind. The church, which not without reason believed the Frankish ruler could prove serviceable against her many enemies, was soon ready to ally itself with Clovis, all the more as her position was weakened by the defection of the Arians and, even in Rome itself, was threatened by dangerous opponents. Clovis, one of the cruelest and most faithless fellows who ever sat upon a throne, soon realized that such an alliance could not help but further the plan he was ambitiously pursuing with all the guile of his treacherous character. So he had himself baptized at Rheims and was designated by the local bishop as "the most Christian of kings"which however, did not prevent him from pursuing his ends by most unChristian means. The church, moreover, countenanced his bloody crimes, for it could not object to them if it wished to make Clovis useful to its power.
Later however, when the successors of Clovis led in reality but a shadow existence and the rulership of the state was almost completely in the hands of the socalled "Mayors of the Palace" whose tenure became hereditary under Pepin of Herestal, the pope conspired with Pepin's grandson, Pepin the Short, and advised him to make himself king. Pepin then put the last of the Merovingian kings into a cloister and thus became the founder of a new dynasty of the Frankish kingdom. Under his son, Charlemagne, the alliance between the pope and the Frankish royal house reached its highest effectiveness and secured to the Frankish rule the hegemony of Europe. Thereupon the idea of a universal European monarchy, the achievement of which had been the main object of Charlemagne's life, again assumed definite shape. The church, moreover, which pursued a similar end, could only welcome such an ally. Each had need of the other to complete its plans for political power.
The church needed the sword of the temporal ruler to guard it against its enemies; hence it became the church's highest aim to direct the sword according to its will and by the help of the sword to extend its dominion Charlemagne, moreover could not dispense with the church, since it gave his rule the needed inner religious cohesion; being the only power which had preserved the spiritual and cultural heritage of the Roman world In the church was embodied the whole culture of the age. It had in its ranks scholars, philosophers, historians and politicians, and its monasteries were for a long time the only spots where art and industry could flourish and where human wisdom could find an abiding place. Hence the church was a most valuable ally for Charlemagne, creating for him the spiritual atmosphere necessary for the maintenance of his enormous realm. For this reason he tried to bind the clergy to him by economic meanscompelling the subjugated people to pay tithes to the church and thus securing to its agents an abundant income. An ally like the pope was all the more welcome to Charlemagne since the prerogative of power still remained firmly in his hands, and the pope was wise enough to play for a time the part of a vassal to the Frankish ruler.
When the pope was hard beset by the Lombard king, Desiderius, Charlemagne hastened to his aid with an army and put an end to the dominion of the Lombards in Northern Italy. For this the Church displayed her gratitude when on Christmas day of the year 800 in St. Peter's Cathedral Leo III placed the imperial crown on the head of the kneeling Charlemagne and proclaimed him "Roman Emperor of the Frankish Nation." This act was meant to demonstrate to humanity that from now on the Christian world of the Occident was to be under the direction of a temporal and a spiritual ruler, designated by God to guard the physical and spiritual welfare of the Christian people. Thus pope and Emperor, with separate roles, became symbols of a new concept of world power, which in its practical effects was to prevent peace in Europe for centuries.
While it is readily understandable that the same will, fed by Roman traditions, had to bring the church and monarchy together, it was likewise inevitable that an honorable separation of the parts played by each could not endure. It lies in the nature of every willtopower that it will tolerate an equally privileged power only so long as it can use it for its purposes, or does not yet feel itself strong enough to engage in a fight for dominance. While church and empire had to establish their power together, and were consequently largely dependent on each other, their union would remain intact, at least outwardly. But it was inevitable that as soon as one or the other of these powers was strong enough to stand on its own feet the struggle for predominance would break out between them and be carried implacably to the end. That the church finally proved victor in this fight was only to be expected in view of the circumstances. Its spiritual superiority, resting on an older and, above all, a much higher culture, to which the barbarians had to be painfully habituated, assured it a mighty advantage. Furthermore, the church was the only power which could unite Christian Europe to resist the onslaught of the Mongolian and oriental hordes. The empire was not equal to this task, for it was bound by a mass of separate political interests and consequently could not give Europe the needed protection by its own power.
While Charlemagne lived, the Papacy, with prudent calculation, was content to play the second part, being almost entirely dependent on the protection of the Frankish ruler. His successor, however, Louis the Pious, a limited and superstitious man, became merely a tool in the hands of the priests. Possessing neither the mental ability nor the reckless activity of his predecessor, he could not maintain the empire which Charlemagne had cemented together with streams of blood and with unscrupulous force. So it soon fell apart, making room for a new partition of Europe.
The Papacy was triumphant over the whole array of temporal power and remained for hundreds of years the dominant institution of the Christian world. But when this world finally became disjointed and everywhere in Europe the national state came more and more into the foreground, then vanished also the dream of a universal world dominion under the scepter of the pope, such as Thomas Aquinas had visioned. Although the church opposed the new development of things with all her power, she could not in the long run prevent the transformation of Europe, and had to be content to make the best possible adjustment with the political ambitions of the arising nationalist states.
From : Anarchy Archives
No comments so far. You can be the first!
<< Last Work in Nationalism and Culture
Current Work in Nationalism and Culture
Part 1, Chapter 3
Next Work in Nationalism and Culture >>
All Nearby Works in Nationalism and Culture