Mounted Knights, Chivalry, Vassalage, Feudalism and Monarchy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - January 5th, 2012

Politics 101

Vassalage bonded the Knight and the Lord together in Mutual Obligations

After the collapse of the Roman Empire land was everything.  You either held land.  Or took land.  Both of which you did with military might.  And during Medieval Europe you did that with cavalry.  Heavy cavalry.  In particular, the mounted knight.  The king of battle.  For few could stand their ground with one to two tons of armored man and horse charging at them.  Where the choices were to be skewered by lance, slashed by sword, trampled by hoof or run away.

This was the age of chivalry.  Of glorious combat.  Where nothing was more gentlemanly than riding bravely into battle.   Suited up in gleaming, and very expensive, armor.  Which made the knight an expensive combat weapon.  Not just anyone could do this.  For you needed wealth.  And the only way to get wealth was by owning land.  Which few owned.

One way to become a landowner was to become a knight.  If you were a gentlemanly warrior who loved to fight you could offer your services to a lord who did own land.  Become his vassal.  In the system of vassalage.  Which bonded the two together in mutual obligations.  The knight agrees to fit horses and men for very expensive mounted warfare.  And the lord provides land for the knight’s use for raw material and wealth to fit his men and horses for battle.

When Knights were not at War they Built their Castles and Managed their Lands

We generally call this arrangement feudalism.  Though definitions vary.  But it’s the vassal relation that’s key.  The knight is bound to the lord and agrees to provide military service.  In exchange the lord provides land for the knight’s use and offers other protections within his powers.  Feudalism is similar to Manorialism.  Where a manor is basically a large farm owned by the Lord of the Manor.  Peasants (i.e., serfs) attached to the land (meaning they are not free to leave) work the land.  The lord provides for them.  And this serfdom provides for their lord.

A lord may own more than one manor.  And have his vassals run these manors.  Or a lord may split up larger landholding to accommodate a new vassal.  Or he could use his military might of mounted knights to conquer neighboring lands and give knights who showed exemplary valor in battle a portion of the newly conquered land.  When knights were not at war they built their castles.  And managed their lands.

Similar systems operated like this in different regions.  A particular region may have a ‘lord’ with large landholdings and military might.  To protect their land from others.  Or to expand their landholdings at the expense of their neighbors.  This was a time before nations.  Even before kings.  Power resided with the landed aristocracy.  Those who owned great tracts of land.  The source of food.  Raw materials.  And wealth.  Land managed by their vassals.  Who answered their call when it was time to strap on the armor and flex some military muscle.

The Many, the Few and the One

Feudalism gave way to monarchy.  Which was similar to feudalism.  Only the lords entered into a vassal relationship with their king.  Who often rose to power to unite and lead his lords to defend against a common enemy.  An enemy that was too great for one lord to fight alone.  Such as the marauding Vikings that the English king Alfred the Great subdued.  Or the spread of Muslim Arabs into southern Gaul (modern day France) that the Carolingian king Charles Martel repulsed.

Kings arose to consolidate power.  Lords continued to own land.  Passing it, and their title, on to their heirs.  Setting the next stage of political governance.  The relationship between the king and the aristocracy.  And their relationship with the people.  The many, the few and the one.

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Manorialism and Serfdom

Posted by PITHOCRATES - December 29th, 2011

Politics 101

High Taxes and a Declining Birthrate marked the Beginning of the End of the Roman Empire

Serfdom dates back to European Manorialism.  But it was born in the decline of the Roman Empire.  When the Romans stopped pushing their borders out they lost a key source of revenue for their empire.  The spoils of war.  This coincided with the rise of their welfare state.  An ever larger bureaucracy to manage the breadth of empire.  And a loss of Roman identity and pride.  Taxes were rising.  And they were debasing their coin.  To monetize their debt.  People tried their best to evade taxes.  And had no desire to serve in the mighty Roman Legions securing the empire’s borders.  Which turned out to be quite the problem for the Romans.

The Romans had to hire soldiers to defend their borders.  A very costly endeavor.  Which added greatly to the cost of empire.  Hence the high taxes.  And debasing of their silver coins with lead.  But only the silver coins.  Not their gold.  Because they needed those to have value.  As they used them to pay for their hired soldiers.  And that’s one thing you don’t want to do to a hired army.  Anger them by paying them with worthless lead.  Because they could attack you as easily as protect you.

Soon being a Roman wasn’t fun anymore.  Taxes were so high people were working more for the Roman government than their families.  And inflation was making daily life difficult.  The people’s money was becoming worthless.  Which raised prices.  Soon the Romans were taking tax payments in kind.  Instead of money they took wheat, wine, clothing, etc.  Whatever a person made a large portion of what they made went to the Roman government.  It became so bad people were quitting to do something else.  A lot of them.  So many that it was cutting into what the Romans were collecting.  That and a declining birthrate marked the beginning of the end of the Roman Empire.  Large armies.  A growing bureaucracy.  And a declining tax base.  Not a formula for fiscal stability.  So they said enough.  No more quitting and moving on.  Whatever your father was you’ll be.  You have no choice.  You’ll do as he did until the day you die.

The Lord of the Manor owned Great Tracts of Land that Needed Laborers, Peasants had Labor to Offer but no Land

It was the rural part of this Roman directive that shaped future history.  Especially in Europe.  When the Roman Empire collapsed civilization went backwards.  To a rural, agrarian way of life.  A rural self-sufficiency.  Where people either owned land.  Or worked on land owned by others.  And that Roman idea to prevent people from quitting and moving on?  That became serfdom.  Where people who worked the land were bound to the land.  And not allowed to leave or look for a new job.  And if the lord sold the land the people bound to the land went with the land.  Not the lord.

This is Manorialism.  As the Roman Empire disintegrated power shifted from a central government to manors.  The Lord of the Manor owned great tracts of land that needed laborers.  Peasants had labor to offer but no land.  So they made an agreement.  The Lord of the Manor would permit the peasant to live and work a small piece of his land.  In return the peasant would join other peasants and work the large landholdings of their lord.

A serf was little more than a slave.  But with a home and land to work to provide for his family.  Which was a lot in Medieval Europe and often meant the difference between life and death.  And he had something more.  Protection.  A set of laws to live by among his fellow serfs administrated by his lord and the manorial court.  And protection from outside threats.  Which was also part of the agreement.  The serfs agreed to fight alongside their fellow serfs in defense of their lord’s land.  Which was also their home.  And the source of all provision for their family.  So it was a very beneficial agreement for both lord and serf.

Serfdom was a Life of Subsistence and Prayer

The Lord of the Manor lived in a mansion.  The peasants lived in a little village.  Between the two was often a church.  Also in or near the village was the lord’s mill.  Operated by the serfs for both the lord’s harvest and their own.  Maybe even a bakery.  Surrounding these were the great tracts of land the serfs worked.  And forests where wild game was available to hunt.  And wood to burn.  But the forests were typically for the lord’s sole use.

So after the glory that was Greece and the grandeur that was Rome this was what civilization came to.  A life of subsistence.  Back-breaking work in the fields.  Eat what you grow.  Pray.  And try not to starve or freeze to death during the winter.  Not a life we would dream about today.  But one that worked for centuries.  And held Europe together during the Middle Ages.

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Happy Birthday, Jesus. And Merry Christmas to Everyone Else.

Posted by PITHOCRATES - December 24th, 2010

Jesus, Mary and Joseph away in a Manger a Long Time Ago

‘Tis the season.  People have their holiday trees up.  They’re wishing their friends and neighbors Season’s Greetings.  Yule tidings.  Or Noel.  Racing all over town for last minute gift buying.  Our halls decked in boughs of holly.  And other things.  Santa Claus.  Rudolph and his red nose.  Snowmen.  All kinds of decorations.  But you won’t see many crèches.  Especially in front of public buildings.  Because Mary, Joseph and Jesus depicted in a manger to commemorate the night Mary gave birth to Jesus in a manger with Joseph at her side is not suitable for Christmas.  That time of year when we commemorate the birth of Jesus.  In a manger.  With Joseph at Mary’s side.  Funny.

Some will fight for the right of Muslims to build a Muslim community center near Ground Zero.  With a mosque inside it to boot.  But they tell us not to say ‘Merry Christmas’ or show images of the nativity because it might offend some people.  Unlike the Muslim tradition of building mosques on conquered territory (as those who attacked us see Ground Zero as.  Conquered).  No, these same people don’t find that offensive.  But saying Merry Christmas is.  Funny.

Sure, it’s a double standard.  It always seems to be with Christianity.  And that’s sad.  For this is a Christian nation.  Based on Judeo-Christian values.  The original colonies had established Christian religions.  And some Jews were instrumental in our founding, too (Haym Salomon perhaps being the greatest American no one knows today).  So we should be able to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.  For the words of Christ greatly influenced our Founding Fathers.  You might even say Jesus was present at our Founding.  If in spirit only.

Jesus Christ Could Even Charm an Atheist

Jesus was born a mortal.  And some of His greatest works were done as a man.  The words of Christ that influence millions all over the world today were spoken by a young man of thirty something.  But they were remarkable words.  For they impressed theist and atheist alike.  And greatly impressed the Founding Fathers.  Especially Thomas Jefferson.

Jefferson was probably an atheist.  He hated anything that infringed upon a man’s liberty.  Be it government.  Royalty.  Or religion.  Especially religion.  For he saw religion as another way to oppress and exploit the masses.  Being of English stock and not that distant from the English Civil War (where Protestant fought Catholic), it is easy to understand why Jefferson thought like he did.  Many did.  That said, Jefferson was a big Jesus Christ fan.

He thought Christ was the greatest philosopher of all time.  That His message was the best message ever to mankind.  The Sermon on the Mount said it all.  For the atheist to reconcile his aversion to all things religious and his love of Christ, he made his own Bible.  It was basically the New Testament with all the God stuff edited out.  Jefferson would die still opposed to organized religion, but felt that the world would be a better place if it was a Christian world.  And that’s something coming from an atheist.

Jesus Christ is American as Apple Pie

Jesus Christ wasn’t an American.  But America wouldn’t be the same without Him.  He instilled in us a moral compass.  Which made America special.  And we rejoice in our faith.  So celebrate Christmas.  Wish friends and families a Merry Christmas.  And ask the good Lord to look over our service people serving in harm’s way away from home.  May God bless them and help them get home safe.

And now, how about a little birthday music?

Hark the herald angels sing
“Glory to the new born King
Peace on earth and mercy mild ,
God and sinners reconciled”
Joyful all ye nations rise.
Join the triumph of the skies
With th’angelic host proclaim
“Christ is born in Bethlehem”

From Hark, The Herald Angels Sing sung by Nat King Cole.

Said the king to the people everywhere
Listen to what I say
Pray for peace people everywhere
Listen to what I say
The child, the child
Sleeping in the night
He will bring us goodness and light
He will bring us goodness and light

From Do You Hear What I Hear sung by Johnny Mathis

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-6llIRhq74w

Here comes Santa Claus
Here comes Santa Claus
Right down
Santa Claus Lane

He’ll come around
When the chimes rings out
That it’s Christmas morn again
Peace on Earth
Will come to all
If we just follow the light
So let’s give thanks
To the Lord above
‘Cause Santa Claus comes tonight

From Here Comes Santa Claus sung by Gene Autry

So let God and sinners be reconciled.  Let’s pray for peace everywhere.  It shouldn’t be too hard to achieve.  If we all just follow the light.

Merry Christmas.

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FUNDAMENTAL TRUTH #18: “Man-given rights are only privileges allowed by the privileged elite.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 15th, 2010

JESUS CHRIST!  You’ll hear that in a foxhole.  When hunkered down as bullets and shrapnel fly thick overhead.  By theist and atheist alike.  Of course, one is most probably in prayer while the other in vain.  Considering the circumstances, though, the Lord would probably forgive the latter. As long as you’re fighting on the side of good, that is.

When emotions are running high, people tend to say things.  Sometimes bad things.  Sometimes, even philosophically inconsistent things.  What’s that joke?  At the height of confusion someone shouts out, “Thank God I’m an atheist!”

People tend to get more intimate with God when they are about to personally find out the answer to that age-old question – is there an afterlife?  Can’t blame them.  Your own mortality can be a scary thing.  And no one wants to rush that.  That’s why, in the age of the Enlightenment, people thought of government not as a force of coercion, but as protection from coercion.  People wanted to live as long as they could.  And as free as they could.  So people made governments that would function within the Rule of Law.  To better their lives.

England made great strides in protecting its citizens from the arbitrary use of force.  After some un-English-like treatment in the New World, the British America colonies broke from the mother country.  But they would build on the English ideals.  The Declaration of Independence stated:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed….

The key here is that rights are God-given.  That meant kings could be wrong.  As well as Parliament.  Even the Church.  Kings, aristocracies, bishops, etc., are positions created and held by men.  Nature/God did not grant them this power.  They granted it to themselves.  And once some have power, it’s not long before some use it to oppress those who don’t.

So when it comes to determining the origin of rights, the atheists should thank God he or she is an atheist.  For if God gives them that right (to be an atheist), no man can take it away.  But if rights are not God-given, then they must be man-given.  And whatever man giveth, he can taketh away.  Especially if you piss off the powers that be.

DRUNKEN FARMER JONES was oppressing the animals on Manor Farm.  Having had enough, the animals rose up and seized power.  They renamed the farm Animal Farm.  The pigs Snowball and Napoleon were the leaders of the revolution.  They created a new political doctrine called Animalism.  It rested on the following 7 commandments painted on the side of the barn:

  1. Whatever goes upon two legs is an enemy.
  2. Whatever goes upon four legs, or has wings, is a friend.
  3. No animal shall wear clothes.
  4. No animal shall sleep in a bed.
  5. No animal shall drink alcohol.
  6. No animal shall kill any other animal.
  7. All animals are equal.

Snowball wanted to do good.  The new farm started out as an anarcho-syndicalist commune.  Sort of.  Then Napoleon seized power.  He and his pigs became the ruling elite for the benefit of animal kind on Animal Farm.  And life was good.  For the pigs.

Napoleon fabricated lies about Snowball.  With the animals turned against him as planned, Napoleon had his dogs chase him off of Animal Farm. 

The animals worked harder.  But there were setbacks.  And at every setback, Boxer, the old workhorse, lamented that he would have to work harder.  And he did.  Until his strength failed him and he collapsed while working.   The pigs then sent him to the vet.  Only the side of the vet’s wagon said ‘Horse Slaughterer and Glue Boiler’.  Most of the animals couldn’t read.  Benjamin could.  He told them what the van said.  But it was too late. 

Benjamin, Boxer’s friend, was an old donkey.  And wise.  He saw a lot in his long life.  Little good, though.  Life was no different under the pigs than it was under the humans.  But he wasn’t surprised.  For that was life.  “Life will go on as it has always gone on—that is, badly.”

The pigs started to act more humanlike.  They started to walk on two legs so they could carry riding crops.  They began wearing clothes.  Slept in beds.  Drank alcohol.  And sent off Boxer to his death for some whiskey money.  The pigs slowly revised the 7 Commandments to agree with their new behavior.  Until, one day, there was but a single commandment remaining.  “All animals are equal.  But some animals are more equal than others.”  And life was good.  For the pigs.

GEORGE ORWELL WAS a socialist who volunteered to fight for the Loyalists in the Spanish Civil War.  He got shot in the throat and was declared medically unfit for further duty.  While healing, the political climate was deteriorating.  His socialist group, the Workers’ Party of Marxists Unification (or, in Spanish, Partido Obrero de Unificación Marxista (POUM)) fell out of favor with the pro-Soviet Communists.  They accused the POUM of being affiliated with Joseph Stalin’s archenemy, Leon Trotsky.  So the Communists outlawed the POUM.  It’s complicated.  Suffice it to say that Orwell made it back to England.  And had no love for Stalin or Soviet Communism.

Then, of course, came World War II.  And the Hitler-Stalin Pact of Nonaggression, further increasing the love between Orwell and Stalin.  And by love I mean hate.  For Orwell hated totalitarianism.  And for all the Utopian talk, Communism had devolved into nothing more than an oppressive totalitarian regime. 

This is the story of Animal Farm.  Napoleon is Joseph Stalin.  Animal Farm becomes the police state of Soviet Communism.  At about a hundred pages, it’s the biggest little book you will ever read.  If you haven’t yet, do so.  And then pick up Orwell’s 1984.  It’s a little longer and a little darker but, wow, what a story.

SO THERE’RE TWO revolutions.  The American and the Russian.  Both ended up on ‘top ten’ lists.  One for liberty.  The other for genocide.  Can you guess which? 

As an ideology, Communism has killed more people than any other in history.  It killed more than the Nazis.  More than the Christian Crusades.  More than the Black Death even.  No other ideology (or plague) comes close. 

So why was one revolution so much bloodier than the other?  Well, the Americans were Christian.  The Russians were Orthodox Christians.  But the Soviets were atheists.  There were no God-given rights in the Soviet Union.  Only privileges allowed by the privileged elite.  And fear.  For people could disappear at someone’s slightest whim. 

That’s the down side of atheism.  And secularism.  It removes the fear of God from a people’s rulers.  And if they aren’t worrying about the afterlife, there’s not a whole lot to dissuade them from doing unspeakable things in the here and now.

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