Wednesday, July 24, 2013

More Chesterton

G. K. Chesterton is a big fan of the medieval period and of the Catholic Church. He may not be an entirely reliable reporter, but has some interesting ideas. One of them is the notion that medieval times were an age of great human progress, perhaps especially in England. He credits the Church with the major influence in transforming a world of landholders and agricultural slaves into first serfs and later peasant proprietors. He also sees nascent democracy and egalitarianism in medieval institutions of guilds and charters.

At the beginning of the Dark Ages the great pagan cosmopolitan society now grown Christian was as much a slave state as old South Carolina. By the fourteenth century it was almost as much a state of peasant proprietors as modern France. No laws had been passed against slavery; no dogmas even had condemned it by definition; no war had been waged against it, no new race or ruling caste had repudiated it; but it was gone. This startling and silent transformation is perhaps the best measure of the pressure of popular life in the Middle Ages, of how fast it was making new things in its spiritual factory.

Chesterton, G. K. (Gilbert Keith) (2012-05-12). A Short History of England (p. 44). . Kindle Edition.

He is less impressed with more recent times, where he sees a warrior guild transformed into an aristocracy and now to what he calls a mere plutocracy.

His contempt for the plutocrats was conceived nearly a century ago, as he wrote in 1927, but his notions resonate again today as the plutocrats once again have seized more and more power.