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Is Medievalism the Enemy?
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Just as I was beginning to despair that Goucher College’s most famous graduate among contemporary historians Jonah Goldberg had lost his talent for offering revelations about the past, Jonah surprised me yesterday with a learned discourse on the Middle Ages as a prolonged period of primitive barbarism. For those who may have forgotten this nugget of wisdom, Jonah informed us in 2001 that Palestine “was largely empty” when settlers arrived there from Eastern Europe to create a Jewish state. In fact unlike the Americans who killed numerous Indians, Jewish settlers in Palestine did not have to engage in atrocities when they occupied a demographic vacuum. I also learned from Jonah that the French counterrevolutionary Catholic Joseph de Maistre was not a conservative but a raving leftist because he did not believe in universal human rights. Goldberg even compares the supposedly leftist Maistre to today’s liberals who want to assign jobs and admit applicants to elite universities on the basis of quotas. Like these liberals, Maistre stressed the distinctness of peoples and the value of different national traditions, which, we are told, proves his leftist credentials. I also took away from Goldberg’s best-selling study Liberal Fascism that architects of the present Democratic Party (but of course never Republican advocates of the welfare state) affirmed the same ideology as did European fascists, and even German Nazis. Although I did research on fascism for decades, I never suspected its incestuous connection to the Democratic Party until Goldberg, a Republican publicist, pointed this out.

But now Goldberg has furnished new historical insight in a hymn to Premier Netanyahu, on the occasion of the Israeli premier receiving the Irving Kristol Prize from AEI. Apropos of Netanyahu’s observation that “the core of the conflict in the Middle East is the battle between modernity and early primitive medievalism,” Goldberg reveals to us the true character of the medieval world. It seems that the Middle Ages represented the polar opposite of everything that Goldberg believes we should prize: “modernity, pluralism, secularism, democracy and, in many cases, even science.” So abhorrent does Goldberg find the Middle Ages that he believes that “medievalism,” more than “terrorism” or even “Islamism” describes the enemy we now face. In his considered judgment, ”primitive medievalism highlights the real divide not just between modern Westerners and the barbarians but between modern Muslims and the barbarians.”


Given Goldberg’s exalted position as a Fox-news Allstar and a bestselling author on fascism, it may be necessary to defer to him in his recognition that the Middle Ages was the enemy of civilization and science. Perhaps I should throw away the misleading history books that I read as a graduate student, say Herbert Butterfield’s study of the medieval and early modern origins of science, or J.R. Strayer’s study of the medieval creation of the modern state, not to mention all the silly texts I once pored over about medieval universities, philosophy, theology, economics, poetry, architecture and music. Nor should I believe what I was told about the Gothic cathedrals and inner cities in Europe being constructed during the Middle Ages, which I now know was a period of unmitigated barbarism. My entire view of European civilization must be changed in order to be in line with Goldberg’s pronouncements about the intellectual vacuousness and savagery of the Middle Ages.

As evidence of his subtle, dexterous mind, Goldberg qualifies two of his judgments in what starts out as a tribute to Netanyahu and as a critical assault on the medieval foundations of our civilization. Goldberg notes that “I would rather live under medieval Christians than under the Islamic State, but that’s beside the point.” Although Goldberg does not give any reasons for this preference, it should be taken seriously because of the authority of the one expressing it. After all, not everyone has been given the honor of appearing regularly on Fox-news as an expert on everything. Goldberg also stresses that while he agrees with “the progressive ideology that modernity is preferable to the customs of the past,” “as a conservative” he thinks “progressives often go too far,” but are undoubtedly right on the “big picture.” Since Goldberg is listed on Wikipedia as “a conservative syndicated columnist,” it may be unfair on my part to question his ascribed world-view. Still I’ve never found anything Goldberg says that would qualify as notably “conservative, save for his ritualistic defenses of the GOP and his opposition to increases in the national debt, especially when the Democrats are in charge.

Sarcasm aside, I’m not sure that Goldberg understands the “Whiggish idea that modernity is preferable to what people believed in the bad old days, although he signs on to this notion. Whigs, by which is meant nineteenth-century liberals, would not have believed what Goldberg, as I would gather from his columns, associates with “modernity,” e.g., gay marriage, feminism, and the march toward social equality. As Hebert Butterfield stresses in his famous critique of the “Whig interpretation of history,” Whig historian and politicians praised the establishment of “religious tolerance.” But they were not interested in establishing a secular mass democracy founded on “human rights.” Nineteenth-century Whigs had no problem with restricting the suffrage to tax-paying male property owners and held decidedly traditional views on marriage. What they opposed were the remnants of serfdom and royal monopolies, not those inequalities resulting from acquired or inherited wealth or higher and lower social positions. What is wrong with Goldberg’s terminology is its ridiculous anachronism. It is hard to see how the current Cultural Marxist agenda, much of which Goldberg and other authorized “conservatives” accept, has anything to do with what Whigs in the mid-nineteenth century wanted to advance. (The intermittent feminist and quasi-social democrat J.S. Mill was not a Whig but a radical democrat. The opponent of universal suffrage, Walter Bagehot, was indeed a self-described liberal or Whig.) Although this may be too much to request of a leading “conservative” intellectual, perhaps one day Goldberg may be persuaded to learn some history. But I wouldn’t hold my breath until that happens.

(Republished from LewRockwell by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Conservative Movement 
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  1. Tom_R says:


    Thanks for the great article, Sir. As was apparent from the article and a fact that I confirmed from wikipedia, Jonah Goldberg (who looks white) identifies himself as Jewish.

    So why is he is promoting lib-barbarianism and then lying about it? Lying, scamming, alienism, and other low moral behavior are highly prevalent among the Judaists. This is because many Judaists believes they are a “special race” called “Jews” (in reliance on the Torah, (Old Testament, OT 1-5) and derivative works), though they are mostly whites whose ancestors converted to Judaism in the Middle Ages. (See the book: “Invention of the Jewish People” by Sholomo Sand). They worship a black mass murderer Moshe (who was so black, the black Pharaoh assumed he was his grandson) as a prophet.

    Judaists want us to tolerate left wing depravity, because they want us to tolerate THEIR depravity (such as rampant incest (see, rape of boys* and girls, barbaric rituals such as b’peh, pornography, crime, corruption, frauds, terrorism, etc. all of which can be verified from Jewish sources online) which depravity follows from the depravity in their Torah and Talmud.

    *50% of the Jewish boys are sexually assaulted by the Rabbis in the ritual baths:

  2. Kamran says:

    ISIS goes zips back, right by the medieval period, by the antique period, straight into the old testament days.

    So no, this isn’t medieval violence.

  3. Joseph de Maistre is a “leftist”. Jonah Goldberg is a “conservative”.

    War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.

    It’s quite easy to mock Jonah Goldberg and his preposterous ideas. He called John Dewey “an intellectual con man”. Well, the term fits Goldberg himself, as well as “intellectual thimblerigger” or some other semantically related terms.

    I can imagine a witty cartoonist depicting Jonah Goldberg as the dealer in a Three-card Monte game.

  4. Jeff77450 says:

    I like Jonah Goldberg and agree with him most of the time; almost always, in fact. I gather that I’m in the minority here.

  5. The above text is overly verbose and needs some editing. I believe it could be reduced to a much shorter text, i.e. “Jonah Goldberg is a complete asshole.”

    Granted, there is a tradeoff, as the above reduced version is a bit less informative than the full text above, but it has the advantage of saving the reader a lot of time. And it provides, as far as I can see, the only real information that one needs to know about the subject.

    • Replies: @another fred
  6. I also learned from Jonah that the French counterrevolutionary Catholic Joseph de Maistre…

    Goldberg may have been snide, but on one minor detail he is right and Prof Gottfried wrong. Marie as a Frenchman’s middle name actually does mean Mary, not Marius. (It’s a Catholic thing; you wouldn’t understand.) You see Maria used the same way in Latin countries and in German countries as well (Eg, Rainer Maria Rilke) in days past you might even see Mary in Ireland.

  7. It is amazing that Mr. Gottfried has to write the entire article to prove something that should be known to any educated (and not very educated) person. It is rather trivial that hospitals and universities (trivium and quadrivium) had been established by the Catholic Church in the “medieval” period (among other things like modern bookbinding). Also, the mythic Middle Ages covered Islamic golden age, from 8th C to Mongol invasion in the 13th C. One should add that “barbarous” Mongol Turks had been civilized in this period, and we had been using astronomic tables from no one else than the redoubtable Timur Lenk’s grandson:

    Orwell was right: words have become meaningless. Adult persons should avoid terms like “fascist”, “medieval”, “Nazi”, “Marxist”, … except in semantically relevant circumstances.

  8. Svigor says:

    Medieval Europe was, in many ways, more advanced than many current cultures. You can find much to admire in medieval society that is absent in much of the world today. Even in simple economic terms, e.g., medieval England was far wealthier than many parts of the world today:

    Medieval England twice as well off as today’s poorest nations

    In a paper entitled British Economic Growth 1270-1870 published by the University of Warwick’s Centre on Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy (CAGE) the researchers find that living standards in medieval England were far above the “bare bones subsistence” experience of people in many of today’s poor countries.

    The figure of $400 annually (as expressed in 1990 international dollars) is commonly is used as a measure of “bare bones subsistence” and was previously believed to be the average income in England in the middle ages.

    However the University of Warwick led researchers found that English per capita incomes in the late Middle Ages were actually of the order of $1,000 (again as expressed in 1990 dollars). Even on the eve of the Black Death, which first struck in 1348/49, the researchers found per capita incomes in England of more than $800 using the same 1990 dollar measure. Their estimates for other European countries also suggest late medieval living standards well above $400.

    This new figure of $1,000 is not only significantly higher than previous estimates for that period in England — it also indicates that on average medieval England was better off than some of the world’s poorest nations today including the following (again average annual income as expressed in 1990 dollars).

    Zaire $249

    Burundi $479

    Niger $514

    Central African Republic $536

    Comoro Islands $549

    Togo $606

    Guinea Bissau $617

    Guinea $628

    Sierra Leone $686

    Haiti at $686

    Chad $706

    Zimbabwe $779

    Afghanistan $869

    Obviously that was only possible because English YT was exploiting black people, but still.

    There are many countries in the world today who can’t rival the architecture of medieval Europe. ‘Course, we don’t see much being built in first world countries to rival medieval cathedrals, either.

    “I would rather live under medieval Christians than under the Islamic State, but that’s beside the point.”

    It’s sort of an article of faith among the Jewish left that life was far better for Jews under Islam than under Christianity. Reading between the lines suggests that this is nonsense. I suspect that conflict with and violence against Jews in Christendom was more frequent precisely because Jews had it better under Christendom; Christian societies didn’t oppress and marginalize Jews to the extent Muslim societies did, which allowed Jews to seriously compete with their hosts for resources, which is the quintessential driver of ethnic conflict. The fact that Europe seems a far more common historical destination for Jews than the Islamic world would seem to bear this out. As do the few articles I’ve skimmed about Jewish life in modern Iran, which paint a picture of a thoroughly ghetto-ized Jewish population that has no illusions about its ability to gain collective power over its hosts, or its members’ ability to rise within the host society. In short, I suspect that in the Muslim world, tall fences made good neighbors and the Jews were seldom allowed the opportunity to pose a threat to the natives.

    My point in all this is to ask if this subject has ever been explored in any depth. It seems obvious to me, but as far as I can tell there’s a giant blank spot where this history should be.

    • Replies: @Wade
  9. The remarkable Hugh of St. Victor pretty much anticipated the entirety of Western science as early as the 11th century, and everybody has heard of Robert Grosseteste and Albertus Magnus (well, almost everybody; Jonah Goldberg seems not to have).

  10. Curle says:

    Goucher College. Never heard of the place until now. I see why: ACT Composite 25th-75th percentile (enrolled students) 24 – 29.
    Please keep writing and posting videos (or having people post videos) on youtube.

    • Replies: @nickels
  11. nickels says:

    “Please keep writing and posting videos (or having people post videos) on youtube.”

    This ^^^^

  12. Wade says:

    I suspect you’re right. In general, when an enemy ratchet’s up their vituperation against you, it is as likely to be the case they are doing so because you are acquiescing to their advance and that they are succeeding in the conflict. They are pressing the advantage. When they aren’t doing it, it is likely because they know it’s not a winning strategy and they’ll get sacked by you for it.

    I think this is why polls show Jews in America loathe Christianity more than Islam: Loathing Christians is a winning strategy socially speaking in America and non-Jews don’t have any power as Christians to successfully walk that back. If we did, they’d stop it and show a little more respect for all things Christian. Maybe write some more hit Christmas songs or something.

  13. @Jonathan Revusky

    I believe it could be reduced to a much shorter text, i.e. “Jonah Goldberg is a complete asshole.”

    Not being too familiar with Goldberg or Gottfried, I prefer, “Paul Gottfried thinks Jonah Goldberg is a complete asshole.”

    • Replies: @nickels
  14. nickels says:
    @another fred

    If you aren’t familiar with Gottfried you need to read his book on Multiculturalism pronto. It is beyond brilliant.

  15. It is my firm conviction that Goldberg got his thesis about the link between Fascism and Liberalism from the late Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn. I don’t mean to say that he actually read or observed his work. I do think it is probable that someone on the National Review staff told Goldberg that a crusty old Austrian nobleman used to write for NR. The old fellow saw some connection between early German national socialists and early Czechs of the same vein. And so Goldberg was off and running.

    For a mind of Goldberg’s shallowness and opportunism that was all that was necessary. Goldberg pick pockets Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn’s analysis without understanding it and without citation. It’s not hard to imagine why. E vK-L was still alive though very old and would have declined the connection.

    At the risk of exposing my own lack of insight, I think the pseudo-link between modern Liberals and Fascists from E vK-L’s perspective is as follows. Von Kuehnelt-Leddihn’s saw that contrary to the view of the Nazis as elitist dictatorial conservatives in the traditional sense, that is, as an arm of the ancient regime, both Fascists and Nazis were movements from below. I believe his term was “Plebiscitary mass movements.” In this limited sense, they had a common link with left revolutionary movements. They saw themselves as movements of the people. That’s it.

    I wish Professor Gottfried would address this. If nothing else it’s a fine opportunity to unmask Goldberg as stealing ideas from a true scholar and self proclaimed monarchist (within a mixed system.) Not a popular theme on the upper west side I think.

  16. I stand to be corrected, never yet having read Goldberg’s book although I believe I have a copy in the pile somewhere, but wasn’t he advancing a version of the thesis [not original to him] that contemporary American liberals are less liberals [in the older sense] than Progressives [which they have again begun to call themselves] in the early 20c tradition. That would mean:

    – self-justification through populism, with reference to the need to included formerly excluded groups or groups marginalized from power which, depending on historical circumstances, may include the bulk of the national population [the masses] or subsets thereof [workers, farmers/peasants, or specific ethnic groups whether majority or minority
    – attempts to mobilize that support through controlled political channels [mass party and/or ideologically controlled civil society organizations], and command of information
    – effort to direct that populism against more established elites
    -effort to direct that populism under the control of a new or emergent elite
    – whose leadership is justified by possession of special qualities [often technocratic but usually not to the exclusion of other considerations that also make them special]
    – who will then establish political, economic and social/moral dominance
    – not least by maintaining a usually exaggerated if not bogus perception of conflict with the previous elites who may or may not still exist within or without the society
    – and usually by maintaining the [possibly indefinitely deferred] promise of a new and better society to come [the more extreme versions even promising that this will include a fundamentally better kind of human]
    – all implemented through an at least authoritarian if not totalitarian idea of the state

    By that standard, American progressives in the early days hit many of the buttons as they do today, though not all.

    European ‘fascisms’ in some cases hit fewer, others more [many tended to be less populist in their justifications and less ambitious in their social goals, or in some cases perhaps even conservative or reactionary if these terms are to have any meaning].

    The pace-setting Italian fascism arguably hit many and aspired to more, but ultimately defaulted to a more conservative version of itself.

    Probably only Nazism and Communism really hit all of those markers, plus ramping up the more violent connotations to 100 [I give the Nazis 110 % for having made their version of it so much more melodramatic and colourful, but otherwise not worse than Communism].

    Give American progressives some credit- they are not trying to actually impose an overt authoritarian state, or necessarily need to, and neither are they aiming to massacre millions for its own sake [again, here, really only citing the NS and Communist cases]. But they have transformative goals.

    Actually, the main thing that differentiates the original progressives from the modern ones is their change of mind on how race figures into their thinking. That was quite a switch.

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