The Middle Ages Sucked!

I’ll admit, when I created my list of people I thought I would pick fights with in 2021, apologists for the Middle Ages were not who I had in mind. In large part because, although I knew they existed, I never once thought they would have arguments nearly a fraction as bad as they do. One of these people, a Twitter user named @TheAristoteIian, got onto my radar for this bad argument he posted on 1/27/2021:

People did not actually think the Earth was flat in the Middle Ages. This is an Enlightenment-era lie. At least this is what Prof. Finnis explained to me in class. How many other Enlightenment-era lies — revisions of history — are we saturated in?

One common theme among these people is that anything that casts the Middle Ages in a negative light, or anything that could be considered a myth of pop culture about it, is considered an “Enlightenment lie” above all else. However, the idea that people thought the world was flat during the Middle Ages didn’t come from the Enlightenment, it came from Italian-Americans exaggerating the legacy of Columbus in the early 20th century after facing massive discrimination. The Italian Columbus, they argued, not only discovered the United States after his voyage in 1492 and therefore was the first American (who was there when he got to his location was left unsaid), but also proved the world was round.

Of course, this is incorrect. The reason why nobody in Europe had sailed to America was not because they feared they’d fall off the edge of the Earth, but because they had no idea anything was out their and never felt a need to explore, Columbus himself could only get the backing of the king once competition in the spice trade heated up. Columbus himself had no idea he discovered a new land mass, instead believing until the day he died that he had been in India — the nation which he wanted to find a quicker route to. Either way, calling this an “Enlightenment-era myth” is just as much of a myth as the myth being condemned.

(Of course, those who saw the film 1992 animated film The Magic Voyage know that Columbus did not even believe the world was round at first, but thought it was a cube. It was not until a talking worm named Pico ate some of his model of the planet that he realized the truth. But that’s the story about Columbus Michael Knowles will never tell you.)

It seemed to just be the day for weird Middle Ages apologist, as another person named Albert Bikaj tweeted the following on the same day as the person above:

I’m a graduate in Medieval Studies, and when I try to explain some myths about it, people look at me as if I was insane. The Enlightenment propaganda is so strong, that telling the truth about Medieval era sounds like a crazy right-wing conspiracy theory.

Throughout this thread, Bikaj fails to list a single “truth” that “sounds like a crazy right-wing conspiracy theory.” He does, however, tell us that while bad things happened in the Middle Ages, bad things have happened at other points throughout history so why does it really matter?

This genius propaganda has affected and influenced most of us, therefore it’s not surprising how our imagination has been constructed. For example, when we think or talk about [the] historical horrors, the vast majority will think of the those ‘dark’ Middle Ages.

Ironically, we rarely realize that the most morbid and inhumane crimes were committed during the Enlightenment and Modern era. Concentration camps, gulag, genocides, eugenics, racism, reign of terror, totalitarianism, etc.

The aforementioned catastrophes are a result of the ideology which promoted the cult of progress, reason and science, which ended becoming the cult of irrationality, regress and crimes.

But of course, rarely will we hear that being denounced, because we still live in that era, where one of the most criminal and bloody act of history [the French Revolution] is presented as ‘glorious’ and ‘good’.

First off, “the most morbid and inhumane crimes” were not committed “during the Enlightenment and Modern era,” but the examples which stick out the most were. Drawing and quartering as a punishment is much more cruel than the vast majority of actions done by even the worst modern regimes. The reason why inhumane treatment in our current era sticks out so much is not because it’s more common, but because it’s more rare. If Hitler were to have come along in the 18th century and not the 20th, his antisemitism would have been common place all throughout Europe and his imperialism would cause him to be seen as a great general.

That’s the odd thing, many of the examples he gave of crimes of the modern era are results of a backlash against the Enlightenment. Tell me, how does “all men are created equal” lead to racism and eugenics? How does John Locke’s belief that government exists to secure the rights of man lead to authoritarianism?

Fascism, or worship of state, is if anything the greatest example of an anti-Enlightenment ideology. The entire point of much of the Enlightenment was trying to figure out when government is legitimate and when it becomes an overreach in the lives of the population. Fascism, however, believes that the state should be the end goal of society and therefore it by definition can not engage in overreach. As Benito Mussolini himself said:

Fascism conceives of the State as an absolute, in comparison with which all individuals or groups are relative, only to be conceived in their relation to the State.

And that’s just one of many differences between the goal of the Enlightenment and fascism. Another main one would be that the Enlightenment believed that, much like the Scientific Revolution was able to find laws in its world, humans would be able to find laws in the philosophical world. Fascists also reject the Scientific Revolution in a number of ways, hence why the Nazis banned the works of Charles Darwin (as they warned it would damage their philosophical narrative) and had entire fields of science they considered to dominated by the Jews to be worth studying.

Although, much like the man I’m responding to, I am simplifying the Enlightenment rather heavily in the above. Yeah, this is a conversation for another time, but one of the biggest mistakes people make when talking about “the enlightenment” is assuming you can turn a broad philosophical movement into one or two ideologies. To some, John Locke is Voltaire and Voltaire is Marquis de Sade, On Liberty is the same as 120 Days Of Sodom — everyone is the same and they all fit neatly into this two century era.

I should also ask about the comment attacking “progress, reason and science.” Of course, the greatest monsters in history thought they were acting in the name of reason, so did some of the greatest men throughout history, so did literally every human being throughout history. During the Middle Ages, the Catholic Church promoted “reason” as they believed it would lead people to God. (This was actually one of the major disagreements between the Church and Martin Luther, who called reason “a whore” and “the greatest enemy that faith has.”) Might I ask, who considers themselves to be “unreasonable”? Who wakes up in the morning and says “I’m going to not act in the name of science today”?

The Middle Age apologists have little to go on besides just pointing out that people believe in incorrect things. Now that’s true, many people believe in myths, but just because others are wrong doesn’t mean you’re right. Although, if I were to sum up the thinking of these people, it would be the final two tweets of the thread I’m responding to:

The Enlightenment way of thinking may have ‘freed’ people of believing in God, but at the very moment when this philosophy rose, ideologies were born.

So, today, many don’t believe in religion because they consider it dogmatic, but unconsciously and dogmatically believe in this ideology: Enlightenment.

On the first comment, that’s another odd thing these people believe: That the Enlightenment somehow created atheism. In truth, there have been atheists going back to the fifth century B.C., with the first atheist recorded by history being Diagoras of Melos. The people of Athens actually banished him from their city do to his lack of belief. Around the same time, we have evidence of various atheist tribes existing in Africa. Tribes which did not have any Gods, nor any superstitions even.

And while the idea was brought back in the 19th century, it was be a stretch to call this part of the Enlightenment. Karl Marx is easily the most famous atheist of this time period, and his atheism was seen as something that discredited him in much of the western world.

As for his claim about dogma, all I’m going to say is you are right self-identified Catholic, dogma is just the worst.

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