Le Christ est ressuscité!
On the Orthosphere, Thomas Bertonneau has shared his response to some essays that a colleague sent him in the post, “Cycles of History, Hiatuses of Civilization, and the Western Prospect.” It is somewhat lengthy for a blog entry, but I found it fascinating. Of particular interest to me is the comparison of the ancient dark age that witnessed upheavals around the Near East with the European dark age after the fall of the empire in the West. Bertonneau and the sources that he musters claim that the most accepted narrative of the latter is faulty. According to this view, the fall of western imperial administration and the rise of Germanic kingdoms are not responsible for the dark age that followed antiquity. Rather, the dark age resulted from the Mohammedan conquest, which destroyed the civilization of the Near East, consequently disrupted trade, and therefore wrecked a complex economy that had developed since Hellenistic times from the British isles to India. Bertonneau analyzes the forces of civilizational destruction:
We know about the Late Bronze Age societies that they were prosperous and functional right up to the moment of their sudden violent dissolution. If Pirenne and Scott were right (and their evidence is massively convincing), we would know the same facts about the Late Classical societies of the early Seventh Century. They too were prosperous and functional right up to the moment of their sudden violent dissolution. Indeed, in North Africa, Spain, Italy, and Gaul, population and wealth appears to have been increasing in the two centuries between 400 and 600, reversing a trend of falling population and declining affluence that characterizes the Roman Empire during its final pagan phase. Justinian’s plague of 560s cut into populations all around the Mediterranean, but the recovery from it happened in short order. By 600, agriculture had become increasingly productive; the introduction of the moldboard plow brought new formerly hardscrabble regions into arability.
Thus the historical record offers two occasions – in the Eastern Mediterranean at the end of the Bronze Age and in the Mediterranean world as a whole around 700 AD – when a network of kingdoms forming a single large mercantile economy collapsed precipitously under attack, with the immediate prolonged sequel of depopulation, de-coinage, illiteracy, and the return of primitive barter before the belated arising of a new civilization, in the form either of the Polis-civilization or the Frankish Kingdom.
On both occasions, the agency of destruction was a large-scale commotion of savage peoples whose interest in plunder cannot be separated from their nihilistic ire against the communities that they sacked. Whether it is the “Peoples of the Sea,” as indicated by Egyptian records, or “Arab Raiders,” as indicated by Byzantine and Spanish chroniclers, we confront a mobilized mass that forgoes the prospect of regular tribute or “protection money” for the sake of satisfying its urge for total punitive annihilation of the civilized “other.” Even the Assyrians, who were the scourge of their day, attacked to acquire, not to destroy. It is, to borrow Nietzsche’s word for it, ressentiment in action on a continental scale and in a holocaustic style. The remains of the burnt-out cities are filled with the arrowheads of the attackers, a sign that those attackers slaughtered the people. In Girardian terms, again whether it is the “Peoples of the Sea” or the Seventh-Century Muslims, the mentality of the destroyers can only be that the very existence of organization and wealth constitutes an affront to those who feel and believe their comparative inferiority to it. The invidious mass, in a spasm of covetousness, wants the things that the urbanites possess (the urbanites having very likely committed the folly of flaunting their chattels), but it plans to seize them only once, while simultaneously obliterating the means of producing them in all its tangible and intangible aspects, along with the producers themselves.
Now the Late Bronze Age “Catastrophe” has been known for a long time and the hiatus of civilization commencing in the Seventh Century AD has gradually been coming to light via its glaring archeological deficit for fifty years, but little cognizance of either event has entered into the journalistic discussion of history. Popular humanities discourse remains dominated by the liberal ideas of continuous “progress,” of an equation between early Christian Europe and cultural benightedness, and, as the Strauss essay puts it, of a vapid and yet fiercely dogmatic non-anthropology, deriving from the Enlightenment, that selectively refuses to locate an innate propensity for perverse or evil activities in human nature. The adjective “selective” is necessary because the ideologues of political correctness are quick to see evil in Christianity and the West, just as they are quick to treat Islam like a pet, whitewashing its intolerance and brutality. Reviews of Scott’s book – and the attitude of humanities faculties to Girard – show indeed a high level of emotional hostility against notions that violate the existing intellectual consensus, which in many instances is nothing less than a case of epistemological nihilism.
I do not know what to make of Bertonneau’s theory. At least in Britain, the dark ages appear to have begun before Mohammed was ever born due to the Romans’ abandonment of the island and the subsequent Germanic invasions. Perhaps, we Anglophones, as intellectual descendants of Gibbon, have inappropriately taken the history of Britannia as the general model for our understanding the West at the end of antiquity.
Bertonneau additionally wonders if the contemporary world might be on the brink of another epoch ending collapse induced by unappeasable destroyers—The Camp of the Saints meets the eternal return of the same.