Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Henri Pirenne, Enlightening the Dark Ages

I've read 40 books so far this year. One of the most memorable is Henri Pirenne, Medieval Cities: Their Origins and the Revival of Trade. I read it in college lo these many decades ago, and I sought it out for my own enlightenment again, having remembered it from so long ago, finding it only yesterday. If you have an interest in the dire results of Islamic imperialism on Europe, which is in progress again, and if you have an interest in the povertarianism of Left dhimmi fascism, i.e. the Obama Programme, then you'll find the review below interesting and illuminating. I'll leave a brief comment below. First, here is a good review to sum it up:

Amazon book Review by Greg Nyquist

This is a groundbreaking work in the study of the so-called "Dark Ages." Pirenne, one of the great scholars and historians of the 20th century, discovered that the economic destitution of Western Europe during the 8th, 9th, and 10th centuries was a consequence, not of the barbarian invasions, as is commonly supposed, but of the Islamic presence in the Mediterranean. The astonishing advance of Islam into Northern Africa, Spain, and Syria during the 7th and 8th centuries meant that Western Europe lost control of the Mediterranean. It became, as Pirenne puts it, a "Moslem lake," and because of this, Western Europe found itself in what amounted to a state of virtual blockade. All the trading routes to the East were cut off and Gaul and other Western European countries were thrown back on their own resources. Bereft of the economic lifeblood of trade, cities shrunk into insignificance. Marseilles, once a thriving seaport, became a ghost town. The Middle Class ceased to exist. Complete autarky reigned in the West. The economic devastation was so bad that Charlemagne's government could not collect any taxes. All of Charlemagne's revenues came from his own estates.

In "Medieval Cities," Pirenne not only sketches the economic disintegration of Western Europe, he also details the revival of trade and the emergence of a flourishing medieval civilization in the 10th, 11th, and 12th centuries. How did Western Europe pull itself out of the dark ages? Pirenne's brief answer is simple: by reclaiming control of the Mediterranean and thereby opening up sea routes to the East. With the formation of a new merchant class there arose cities and a new social class of great significance: the Middle Class, destined in the centuries to follow to lead Europe into the age of industrialism, democracy, and world supremacy.

Pirenne's work represents a milestone in historiography. Its central thesis about the main causes of the dark ages, which is accepted by European historians like Braudel, is greatly underappreciated here in America, where we find secularists and anti-religious zealots still spreading the lie that Christianity caused the Dark Ages. Pirenne, with his profound research and impeccable scholarship, tells us what really happened. An extremely important work--highly recommended.


This book came to my mind a few years after 9-11, at a point where I was beginning to realize our nation wouldn't actually get organized to fight back against Islam because our nation and its people and leaders just don't know what's going on regarding Islam. All the smart ones in government kept trotting out the party line that Islam is a religion of peace, that we are not at war with Islam, that we are at war with a tiny minority of extremists who have hijacked the peaceful religion of Islam, Islam meaning "peace." Our intelligentsia lied. I began to understand that the people wouldn't get the truth about Islam from government, the media, or from the academy. I started reading and writing again to show what I can that Islam is an enemy of the world and its people. Islam is an enemy of Muslims, as well as everyone else. I know this because I've lived with Islam in Muslim nations. But to convince other of what I know, I turned to books and journals for objective evidence to prove my point. In that effort I realized soon after that the Left is not interested in objective evidence, that the Left is in fact determined to use Islam to destroy our Modernity for its own purposes, and that they are succeeding fairly well at it. But most people aren't Leftists. Most people, if they can see the realities behind the assumptions we all hold as true, will change their minds and therefore their energies. One book I set out to reread was Pirenne's Medieval Cities. It came to me when reading and Baruma and Margolit, Occidentalism. They write of the Leftist and the fascist hatred of cities. Pirenne's book on cities is a great work of exposition for this task of finding objective evidence in support of my thesis that Left dhimmi fascism is a more fundamental enemy than Islam itself.

Pirenne wrote this work in 1925, long before the revival of militant Islam. Today's readers might well dismiss him as an "Orientalist." One cannot debate rationally with those who reject Reason. For others who live in a world of practicalities and possibilities, this book is a clear window through which to see history as it most likely was from the fall of the Roman Empire to the beginnings of the Renaissance in Western Europe. Why did Western Europe decline after the Roman fall? Why did Islam prevail? Why did Western Europe rise again to prominence in the world? In part, writes Pirenne, Western Europe fell into the Dark Ages due to Viking incursions into Europe where they sacked cities and made trade impossible with the outer world; but mostly due to Muslims cutting off trade between Western Europe and the Roman Empire of Byzantium. With the loss of trade, Western Europe fell into localism, autarky, and nothing much moved because it couldn't move without harm from Muslims. Like a neighbourhood over-run by drug-gangs, no one ventured outside from fear of violence and destruction. Cities shrank to hovels, and people lived hunkered down and dirty till they finally emerged again through small time trade which gradually expanded across Western, i.e. non-Muslim, Europe. The rise of trade lead to the reforming of cities, of incipient capitalism, of the end of Muslim domination of the world in the West. In this "narrative" there is little for the Left dhimmi fascist to like.

In this work, Pirenne addresses the what historian Paul Johnson terms, in A History of the American People, the Marxist "physical fallacy" of the worth of production and the so-called parasitism of cities. Leftist, Muslims, and other vicious Romantic collectivists won't find much in this work to like. Cities are the creative brains of the body of Human freedom and individuality. No cities, no freedom. The perfect vision of the Utopian collectivist fascist, Muslim or Leftist.

It's taken me years to stumble across this book. I've suffered through Jane Jacobs and Lewis Mumford, and others less well-known, in my search for the secrets of cities in the minds of the people. They lie to me. Pirenne tells me more than all the others to date. Still, it's not a psychological study of hatred of the city. That must come from another source. Adolph Hitler is one. Rachel Carson is another. If you have endless access to truckloads of books from Amazon, you might well wish to include Pirenne in your next delivery. He's easy to read, taking me a sunny afternoon to go through, slow reader that I am. If it interests you to know why Western Europe lived in the Dark Ages, how Europe emerged from that darkness, and why we risk a return to the darkness, then you might well consider this a book worth looking for. Reading a book like this is like having a magician show you how he does his tricks. Such things I find so delightful that I laugh out loud. Both links above will take you to Amazon's review page.

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