Paradise Lost, Paradise Regained

The True Meaning of Democracy

Reading Room: Chapter 17 Summary

Power Concealed

“… and was the first
That practiced falsehood under saintly show,
Deep malice to conceal, couch’d with revenge …”

As a means of controlling the knights, expanding the power of the Roman church and ultimately bring the Eastern Church in Constantinople to heel, in 1095, Pope Urban II addressed the Council of Clermont, calling upon the knights of Europe to stop fighting one another and to band together against the heathens in the East. Thus was the first of nine crusades initiated.

The crusades are one of the earliest examples of corporate violence in which we see the separation between the organizers of the violence and those who execute it. The Pope did not ride out on his steed, leading his men into battle. He had others do that for him. In a literal sense, there is no blood on his hands. He remains above the fray, though in essence, he is at the center of it. This style of conquest is characteristic of the modern era. Examples abound.

The crusades brought the Catholic Church an enormous increase in power, prestige and wealth. Feudalism was undermined in favor of a strong central power. It is often vaunted that doing away with feudalism was a desirable outcome. Yet feudalism was a form of government, a form of government in which power was widely dispersed and fragmented. Society was composed of small, cohesive communities in which members counted on the support of fellow community members. This is what democracy is about.

The feudal community was an agrarian society built around sustenance farming in which the common good prevailed over private interests. Each peasant had a share of the land in his village and access to commons for pasture and woodcutting. There was a sharing of plows and draft animals, a pooling of labor. Government, as such, was reduced to the barest minimum operating in response to the interests of the governed. It is worth speculating how the western world might have evolved had this kind of society with this form of government been allowed to evolve to its natural limits.