Monday, October 18, 2010

Great Chain Of Being

Perhaps it is because I am medievally-minded at the moment because of reading Planet Narnia. Perhaps it is because the accusation of feudalism keeps coming up WRT liberals these days, but it occurred to me recently that the repeated focus on Tea Partiers being the wrong sort of people to govern compared to experienced career politicians seems a descendant of the medieval Great Chain Of Being.

If the King is in his place overall, the nobles are in their place ruling, the professions next, the merchants below that, and the peasants keeping their place, all will be well. The Church runs, not in a separate place but parallel.

If we define the term merchant a bit narrowly, excluding those in the large corporations which have become so intertwined with government as to be part of it, the present political conflict is between the merchants and the nobles. The professions are divided but tend toward the nobility; the peasants are divided but tend toward the merchants. The intertwined business are divided, wanting both to be spared competition from the merchants, but have freedom of action for themselves.

Except there aren't supposed to be any nobles in American society. Any natural nobility based on merit, is within the American approach to things, but must be held in check, lest it take over institutions and perpetuate itself along non-meritocratic lines. Schools, the military, the church, the press, the courts - all of these are vulnerable to such.

Disclaimer: Let me again note, as I fail to do often enough, that there are differences among liberals - or perhaps, a continuum with legacy journalists at one end and folks who usually vote for Democrats on the other. Among the latter, often good and earnest people who I think have absorbed a few bad ideas and get their news from the former, any idea of aristocracy that is not merit-based would be in theory abhorrent. Most of the Democrats you meet day-to-day would fall into that category. But they elect or empower the former, believing more than they should that the self-styled aristocracy is generally meritocratic. Not following the new media, they are only exposed to the worst stupidity and worst chicanery of the left - and thus believe that this is all there is and it's not so much. That government corruption, vote fraud, and stunning misunderstandings of history and science might actually be 90-10 against Democrats seems frankly incredible to them.

But they aren't feudalists. They don't approve of corruption, they don't support privilege, and they readily abandon proven crooks and liars - if they can only be convinced that the accusations against same are true, and not merely mud thrown by nonliberals.

The op-ed pages of the major dailies, and a healthy percentage of humanities professors (for openers), are another matter. They really do veer close to feudalism.


Ymar said...

"if they can only be convinced that the accusations against same are true, and not merely mud thrown by nonliberals."

It's like a cult. Most of them simply want security and a life of happiness. But how are you going to convince them that Jim Jones isn't going to give that to them?

How are you going to convince them that they can return to America and the CIA won't have them all killed?

Eh? How.

Convincing is best left for later. After you raid the cult camp, kill the leader, and forcibly bring back the members.

Brent said...

Feudalism .. if only. The New Class is not characterized by love of the ancient customs & laws, or risk-taking, or physical courage, or making and keeping oaths, or anything good from feudal Europe.

Dubbahdee said...

Brent raises a very important element in this conversation -- why is "medieval" conflated with "primitive" and "evil?"

Assistant Village Idiot said...

The thinkers of the Enlightenment spun this elaborated narrative about the Dark Ages, Middle Ages, and Renaissance, culminating in their wonderful selves, that showed that the superstition-ridden church kept everyone in ignorance, the medieval church continued this with the addition of stricter hierarchy, and everything started to become good once the Renaissance thinkers discovered Romans and especially Greeks, invented Science, shook off the Church, and became sensible humanists. All this in preparation for the even smarter, more humanistic, more scientific, anti-church, and generally spiffier Enlightenment guys.

This is, unfortunately, still a dominant narrative in textbooks and popular imagination today, despite it's silliness and lack of accord with history.