The first thing I'll say about capitalism is that it cannot be grasped within a single category like economics. I don't know exactly when political economy was chiseled in half into political science (the world's greatest oxymoron) and economics, but that was a mistake. These two are inseparable, especially in the case of capitalism; but I would add to the lists of disciplines that need to be merged across permeable boundaries here, history, sociology, psychology, anthropology, military science (another oxymoron), semiotics, and ecology. If I thought about it longer, that list would probably lengthen.
Hyperspecialization emerged in the Academy alongside the development of capitalism, and has contributed substantially to its mystification - what I call the Taylorization of knowledge, or the increasing intellectual division of labor that atomizes knowledge.
Capitalism has an unexpected genealogy. It was midwifed by Christianity, though not by the faith itself, but through faith in political power (Christendom) and its adoption of the practice of war. Some people have called Christianity in power a heresy, others a temptation, i.e., the "constantinian" heresy or temptation. What that means is not directly related to Constantine, the murderous Roman Emperor who famously converted, though his name serves as a kind of historical and semiotic marker. What it marks is the temptation of the church to impose Christianity, punish heresies, and criminalize sin, using the force of arms, i.e., the state. This temptation is still around, as we all know. Once we started killing, the next step into war was difficult to avoid. We had already substituted killing for love as our modus operandi.
Many Christians accepted the Roman Empire, frightened as they were of some of the people outside of the Roman Empire. Then Christians began cooperating with the Empire. Then they found themselves accidentally holding political power. Then they began using it. As I said, first just to enforce doctrines and so forth. Before long, Christians came to apologize for, define the parameters of, and participate in organized warfare, though on a small scale. So the door to war was opened, and it just took a martial leadership and the right circumstances for the church to go to war on its own. Which is exactly what the Western Church did during the Crusades. Here is a succinct section from Christopher Tyerman's matchless history of the Crusades, God's War. The section is entitled "The Origins of Christian Holy War."
On 12 April 1096, a young castellan, Achard of Monmerle, pledged property to the great Burgundian monastery of Cluny in return for 2,000 Lyons shillings and four mules so that he could accomplish his intention to join 'the journey to Jerusalem to fight for God against pagans and Saracens'. In a similar deal with the abbey of St. Victor at Marseilles four months later the brothers Geoffrey and Guy were reported as wishing to seek Jerusalem 'both for the grace of pilgrimage and under the protection of God, to exterminate the wickedness and unrestrained rage of the pagans by which innumerable Christians have already been oppressed, made captive and killed'. The experience of that campaign, which cost Achard his life near Jaffa in 1099, convinced his companions that they were the army of God "fighting for Christ," their casualties martyrs, their cause supported in battle by he saints of heaven themselves, George, Demetrius and Blaise, 'knights of Christ', their success assured because "God fights for us'. They were no more than pursuing the task given them by [Pope] Urban II on his preaching tour of 1095-6, who, in his own words to the Flemish in December 1095, hearing that the Turks had ' in their frenzy invaded and ravaged the churches of God in the east' and 'seized the Holy City', had at Cleremont 'imposed on them the obligation to undertake such a military enterprise for the remission of all their sins'.
That's right. The vicar of Christ told members of the Roman Catholic church that if they fought, they would receive a free pass to heaven.
Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.-G. K. Chesterton
Church historian Diarmaid MacCulloch called the Crusades “the bizarre centuries-long episode in which Western Christianity willfully ignored its Master’s principles of love and forgiveness.”
They were that, but they were also the church being swallowed whole by the politics of secular power, and by the logic of power being seen through the lens of war. In this logic, the enemy is not loved, but destroyed.
Moral degradation is inherent in the practice of war. Once the determination is made that some will have to be killed, those targeted have had the value of their existence erased in the minds of soldiers. This objectification of the enemy is not the end of it. Soldiers learn how to demonstrate their solidarity with one another through acts of escalating cruelty to “the enemy.” Nothing in “just war” theory or doctrine accounts for this inevitability – this transformation of the person who is a soldier, or the transformation of a society that has accepted the logics of war.
The nearer a society is drawn into totalizing power, the greater the potential for totalizing degradation. The more totalizing the military is in any society, the more likely that society will manifest the kinds of degradation associated with war.
In 1098, Christian soldiers en route to Jerusalem forced the capitulation of the Muslim town of Ma’arra. When the residents surrendered, the Christians massacred all 8,000 or so of them. It was getting cold, and food was in short supply. Christian soldiers began eating the massacre victims. Journals describe men carving hams from the buttocks of murdered adults and cooking murdered infants on spits.
This was made possible by Pope Urban II, a brilliant politician who designed the First Crusade, and who finalized a corresponding church doctrine to facilitate actions like Ma’arra. He accomplished the latter by taking the church’s apology for war embodied in “just war” doctrine, and reinterpreted that doctrine into one of “holy war.”
We invented it, not the Muslims.
Where the story begins always changes the character of any historical account. The problem is, in the actual historical process, absolutely nothing holds still; and there is no definitive beginning.
We will begin this story of holy war with a church crisis.
“The oldest institution in western Europe in the eleventh century, self-consciously tracing an uninterrupted history back a thousand years, was the papacy,” writes Christopher Tyerman. The reason, of course, is that political institutions were emerging and disappearing throughout most of Europe, which was in a state of near-constant, low-level warfare. A cauldron of ethnic mobility driven by these wars had destabilized one local regime after another, and the church – given its Constantinian charter to play at power – was caught in the middle, so to speak. This was sometimes advantageous, other times not.
Prior to the Reformation, there was only one church in western Europe, and that was the Roman church. This had often left the church in a position of power by default, even as instability continued to be the norm.
All was not well, however, within the institutional church. A series of 41 “antipopes” had been seated against the will of the church, since 235 CE, by factions of political leaders and bishops. Some controversies were doctrinal; and some were plain political calculation. The church had managed to hang onto its primacy, but at the cost of its autonomy.
In 800 CE, Pope Leo III crowned Charlemagne, King of the Franks. This created the Holy Roman Empire (which would last until 1806!). The power to determine popes drifted from the bishops to the Emperors, who selected several outrageously inappropriate people for the job. In 955, Otto I was crowned in Rome by 25-year-old Pope John XII, a mediocre intellect and a completely debauched lifestyle led John XII to his death at age 27, apparently from a seizure or stroke while rutting with a married man’s wife.
A powerful reform movement developed in the church, which advocated for papal autonomy (and clerical celibacy). The straw that broke the camel’s back was Germany’s King Henry IV. Kings had appropriated the power to appoint popes, and Henry IV was crowed at the ripe old age of fifteen. The very idea that an adolescent might appoint the Vicar of Christ was anathema. And so the Investiture Controversy was on.
Henry grew up. He learned the art of warfare and used it liberally during his reign.
At the age of 26, King Henry IV was told, and none too gently, by Pope Gregory VII, that the Pope’s has the God-given authority to appoint or depose kings. This went over badly, and a fight broke out between young King Henry IV and Pope Gregory VII. The king began appointing sycophant bishops and publicly contesting church decrees; and in 1075, Gregory VII began excommunicating bishops, letting Henry know he was on the short list himself.
In 1075, Gregory was kidnapped in Rome, whereupon Gregory was freed by Roman supporters and made the claim (quite possibly true) that Henry was behind it.
In 1076, the Pope made good on his threat, and Henry was excommunicated. Henry’s response was to convene a synod of Bishops that would declare at the Synod of Worms that Pope Gregory VII was thereby deposed from the papacy. Without the capacity to enforce this decree, however, Pope Gregory VII remained in Rome and at the head of the church. In 1080, Henry launched an expedition to invade Rome. It then took Henry four years to break through into Rome, where his installed antipope, Guibert of Ravenna, crowned Henry as the Emperor.
Antipope Guibert (Clement III) remained in place for a decade, supported by German military power. The reform movement had facilitated its opposite. The church was in exile.
Desiderius succeeded Gregory VII in 1080. Renamed Pope Victor III, this reformer died in 1087, and the Cardinal Bishop of Ostia, Oto de Lagery, became Pope Urban II. When he inherited the throne of Peter, Urban II inherited a western Europe in a near state of political collapse due to constant warring between unstable principalities.
Feudalism was a system fundamentally predicated on war. Lords were military men who served in exchange for land. The leader of any fiefdom was above all a soldier. More precisely, at this point soldier meant heavy cavalry - a man on a horse, who could stick sword-bearing opponents with a long lance (extending well past the head of his mount) that kept him out of harm's way.
By the time Pope Urban II took his office, Europe was crawling with landed cavalrymen, many of whom were constantly seeking war as economic opportunity, and many of whom exercised the most unspeakable cruelty to enforce their wills.
It is important for modern readers to resist the impulse to project our own ideas back on European society in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. These soldier-lords were by and large Christian, as Christians had come to understand themselves within the constantinian church.
Their predominant interpretation of their own faith was that once having become a member of the church, they could sin rather boldly so long as they did adequate penance to ensure admission into Heaven. So while they did engage in terrible cruelty, it would be inaccurate to suggest they did so with the kind of impunity of conscience we see portrayed in modern entertainment culture with cold-blooded villains – Hannibal Lecter, say.
Once they accepted the existence of Heaven and Hell, these roughe believers – living in a time when death was more ubiquitously in evidence – were constantly looking over their spiritual shoulders at eternity. There are accounts of men who had killed in war in a near state of panic until they could find absolution – a process they firmly believed to be efficacious.
Urban II looked at Europe in this situation – saturated with competing military powers, the church bent before the state – and seven years into his tenure, he struck out on a course to consolidate the power of the church in Europe, via Jerusalem.
Beseeched by Christian Byzantine Emperor Alexios I Komnenos for assistance against invading Turks in what is now Istanbul, Urban II devised a plan to create an Army of the Church. That army would transcend European polities, would be the army of Christendom, and would be directed by the Pope himself. Augustine’s careful proscriptions on war in his “just war” explications were replaced by something that – at the time – sounded to the medieval ear like a prelude to the eschaton, the apocalyptic fulfillment of the Scriptures. Holy war!
Pope Urban II
Holy war was not merely an accelerant for the fires of war that burn up men’s hearts. Holy war was something qualitatively different from anything in history.
Urban was a brilliant administrator, a charismatic communicator, and a skilled public relations strategist. He launched a campaign in support of a Christian army that would march on the Holy Lands and assist Christian brothers and sisters in peril at Constantinople. The Byzantine Emperor who had requested assistance had no idea how enormous and enormously unpredictable this force would eventually be. Urban himself was shocked at the success of his mobilizations for war.
But he had cynically deployed an idea that – for the medieval European noble and his retinue – was simply irresistible.
Holy War for Urban was not merely war for one’s unknown Christian comrades far away; it was a war where the head of the church promised every Christian combatant that in his participation in war is a powerful form of penance, which came with a guarantee that even the utmost cruelty might be rewarded with salvation. The Crusades were advertized as penitential war.
Urban made war commensurate with religious devotion – with prayer; and he guaranteed absolution in advance for anything any Crusader did while on mission. Urban explicitly promised the “pilgrims in arms” they would die shriven of all sin from now until death.
This turned out to be the historical equivalent of lighting a match in a mine full of coal gas.
Even before Urban’s main force had been assembled from all across Europe, a chiliastic preacher called Peter the Hermit, took up the call and assembled a rabble-army that beat the main forces to the gates of Constantinople, where Byzantine Emperor Alexios locked them out of the city with a very justifiable anxiety.
En route, Peter the Hermit took up another call. Antisemitism. His forces conducted pogroms and massacres against Jewish villages all along their route of march, plundering as they went. The tone was set for a series of wars - Crusades and Reformation wars - that would span nearly 500 years.
Crusaders Massacring Jews
Crusades historian Steven Runciman concluded, “Holy War itself was nothing more than a long act of intolerance in the name of God, which is the sin against the Holy Ghost.”
Christopher Tyerman said:
The Beatitudes had to be reconciled with human civilization, specifically the Graeco-Roman world, or to put it crudely, ways found around the Sermon on the Mount. Being extravagantly well versed in the highest traditions of classical learning, the Church Fathers did this rather well. (emphasis added)
During this “holy war,” of course, chains of command broke down, objectives were changed, opportunities exploited, alliances shifted, and atrocities happened. Constant, savage atrocities, that were gratuitous in their cruelty.
During the campaign to recruit and mobilize Crusaders, Urban’s PR machine worked overtime to sell the war. The PR message was propaganda describing Turkish and Muslim atrocities against fellow Christians from Constantinople to Jerusalem. Most of these stories were complete fabrications, that prefigured modern war propaganda (like the false stories of Iraqi soldiers dumping Kuwaiti babies out of incubators to die).
Phony testimony given before Congress by a PR actress
In the conduct of the war, there were many massacres by Christians against communities that were predominantly Muslim. But the propaganda was largely lies; and most of the Muslim communities had Christians living peacefully among them. Threats were directed at Christian rulers in the region.
In 1209, when Crusaders appealed to their chaplain, an abbot of the church, for guidance on distinguishing Christian from Cathars at Beziers, the abbot is reported to have told them to kill the entire population. He himself was afraid some would claim to be Christian to escape the sword.
“Kill them all,” he said. “God will know his own.”
During the siege of Antioch, when things were looking their grimmest for the Pope’s army, the leaders at one point decided to make some gesture to seek the assistance of God in their hour of doubt. That gesture was to gather all the females who had followed the Crusader camps – everyone from wives, to washerwomen, to servants – and expel them to a distant bivouac. The perception was that women were somehow an impurity in the camps.
The story after this First Crusade only got seamier as subsequent Crusades broke out over the next two centuries, but my main point here is that Europe, the Church, and the headmen of the period were formed by and perpetuated a constant state of warfare.
In 1095, Pope Urban II posted his summons to Jerusalem. By the beginning of the 14th Century, Crusades were taken up routinely against Christian neighbors in Europe. It had become a way of life, as well as a vehicle for social mobility. Commoners who distinguished themselves in combat were able to gain recognition and status; and in some cases, troops turned on nobles, prefiguring the Peasant War that would be coincident with Luther's famous breakaway.
The great Wars of Religion from 1524 to 1697 that plagued Europe were but a continuation of Crusading, which had begun and ended with political maps that changed like undershirts. But war itself - the developmental dynamic of war - had led to a uniquely war-based form of new polity, namely the nation-state. Wars needed recruitment propaganda, administration, funding and logistics. As certain emerging states proved, centralization of power grew alongside the ability conflate secular adventures with holy war.
The French were following Maccabees in seeking God's assistance, confident that those who died 'for the justice of king and realm will receive the crown of martyrdom from God.' The argument embraced central elements of repeated attempts in the later middle ages to elevate national secular conflicts into holy wars, analogous or, occasionally, synonymous with crusading: monarchical holiness; the identification of king and nation; the providential destiny of a specially favored patria; the consequent perfidy and evil of that nation's enemies; the translation of crusade and holy war privileges to lay warfare; the promise of salvation; and the testing of unrelated political contests against the requirements of the recovery of the Holy Land. The success of such efforts profoundly affected western political culture and marked one of the most significant of the crusade's legacies to succeeding generations. (Tyerman, p. 906)
Sound familiar? The increasing cost of warfare required increasing centralization of taxation, which gave the winnowed remainder of previously local rulers increased authority within every more geographically specific and stable boundaries. The church, now having gone through dozens of Popes and dozens more political alliances and break-ups, was left on the sidelines. The church had pioneered the processes of mustering for perpetual war; but lay rulers were in a position to take best advantage of these methods.
The fusion of the ruler and the ruled became crucial to developments in political identity, the lay power personifying or representing the people or nation. Two associated phenomena supported this creation of self-sufficient and self-regarding states: the perception of a people as Elect, whose public business was therefore meritorious on a transcendent not just temporal plane; and the assumption by rulers of what has been called a religion of monarchy, which both copied and usurped traditional ecclesiastical presentations of authority.The scope for crusading to assume a national guise was thus greatly increased. The process could operate in three ways: formal crusades fought for national interests; and the elevation of the patria iself into a Holy Land, its defence being sanctioned by God and the Scriptures. Underpinning such a transformation lay the sacralization of war, its destinations and its participants inherent in crusading ideas and practices. Objects of crusading aggression were consistently couched in spiritual terms of the recovery of the lands of Christ... By extension, the lands whence crusaders came assumed something of the numinous quality of the holy enterprise. As the universal homeland of these New Israelites or Maccabees, Christendom became fragmented into distinct kingdoms, principalities or cities, patriae, these appropriated to themselves the concept of a Holy Land and the Old Testament images of the Chosen People. The consequent habit of equating national ambition with universal good formed a prominent part of the emergence of the nation-state. (Tyerman, p. 907)
We had acquired a centuries-long habit of war, an easy norm of war, a ready resort to war; and that was shaped principally and directly by Crusading.