By Robert A. Vella

Before the Age of Enlightenment which brought modern science and democracy to the world, civilization was a dismal existence.  The rich and powerful hid behind castle walls while controlling the land and people through the coercion of henchmen who did their bidding (see:  Feudalism).  In Europe, the collapse of the Roman Empire led to a thousand-year long span known as the Medieval Period the first half of which was so gloomy it is still referred to as the “Dark Ages“.

Life was brutal and short for most people back then, and such misery wasn’t confined to Europe.  Except for a few enclaves of isolated groups which had the resources and desire to do better, the world was neither a healthy nor happy environment for its human denizens.  Now, the successes of modern civilization are inadvertently and neglectfully threatening a return to darker times.  Catastrophic climate change appears to be an inescapable reality at this point, and there is a movement afoot which welcomes the demise of enlightenment while sardonically denying the factual basis for global warming.  More on that later, but first here’s today’s climate news:

From:  Civilization Is Accelerating Extinction and Altering the Natural World at a Pace ‘Unprecedented in Human History’

WASHINGTON — Humans are transforming Earth’s natural landscapes so dramatically that as many as one million plant and animal species are now at risk of extinction, posing a dire threat to ecosystems that people all over the world depend on for their survival, a sweeping new United Nations assessment has concluded.

The 1,500-page report, compiled by hundreds of international experts and based on thousands of scientific studies, is the most exhaustive look yet at the decline in biodiversity across the globe and the dangers that creates for human civilization. A summary of its findings, which was approved by representatives from the United States and 131 other countries, was released Monday in Paris. The full report is set to be published this year.

Its conclusions are stark. In most major land habitats, from the savannas of Africa to the rain forests of South America, the average abundance of native plant and animal life has fallen by 20 percent or more, mainly over the past century. With the human population passing 7 billion, activities like farming, logging, poaching, fishing and mining are altering the natural world at a rate “unprecedented in human history.”

At the same time, a new threat has emerged: Global warming has become a major driver of wildlife decline, the assessment found, by shifting or shrinking the local climates that many mammals, birds, insects, fish and plants evolved to survive in.

It doesn’t take a genius or a scientist to understand that as the number and diversity of organisms decreases, Earth’s ability to sustain humans also decreases.  Currently, there are 7.6 billion people on this planet and it is on pace to reach 9+ billion by 2050 and 11+ billion by 2100.  These two opposing trajectories are incongruent with each other.  Something has got to give.  Best estimates place the maximum sustainable human population far below any of these figures.

If we are unwilling or otherwise incapable of mitigating climate change, as is evidenced by our lack of action, then what should we do?

Enter the Medievalist.

I suspect few readers have heard of the term “medievalist,” but it is a growing movement which is infiltrating the hallowed halls of academia.  Educators have become alarmed at the rise of activist ideologues within their ranks who are championing a return to Medieval times when the hereditary privilege of wealth ruled supreme and when racial and religious sectarianism dominated an oppressed society.  Their plan is to move forward by going backward.  That means no democracy, no rule of law, no egalitarianism, no objective science, no individual freedom, and no compassion whatsoever for those who resist.  Here’s the story:

From:  Medieval Scholars Joust With White Nationalists. And One Another.

Since the 2016 presidential election, scholars have hotly debated the best way to counter the “weaponization” of the Middle Ages by a rising tide of far-right extremists, whether it’s white nationalist marchers in Charlottesville, Va., displaying medieval symbols or the white terrorist who murdered 50 people at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, using weapons inscribed with references to the Crusades.

And hanging over it all is an even more fraught question: Does medieval studies have a white supremacy problem of its own?


The term “medieval” came into use in the 19th century, to refer to Europe from roughly 500 to 1500, between the end of the Roman Empire and the rise of modernity. But while the field may seem divorced from the contemporary world, its own origins were hardly apolitical.

In Europe, academic study of the Middle Ages developed in tandem with a romantic nationalism that rooted the nation-state in an idealized past populated by Anglo-Saxons and other supposedly distinct “races.”

In the United States, universities, cultural institutions and wealthy elites drew on Gothic architecture, heraldry and other medieval trappings to ground American identity in a noble (and implicitly white) European history. So did Southern slaveholders and the Ku Klux Klan.


If withdrawal from the world was ever possible, it has become harder lately. During the 2016 election, memes like Donald Trump in armor on a horse and the Crusader slogan “Deus vult” (God wills it) began proliferating on social media. White nationalists stepped up recruiting on college campuses, sometimes co-opting the language of identity politics with calls for students to explore their “white heritage.”

Then came Charlottesville, where the sight of marchers carrying shields evoking the Knights Templar or holding banners with Anglo-Saxon runes came as a shock to many scholars.

From:  ‘Senseless hate’: the far right’s deep roots in southern California

Beirich also attributes a significant role to organizing by the John Birch Society (JBS) in the 60s, 70s and 80s. The conspiracy-minded anticommunist group was, for many, “a gateway drug into other forms of extremism”, she noted.

By the 1960s, Orange county had become a popular recruiting ground for the JBS, whose founder, Robert Welch, infamously identified former president Dwight Eisenhower as an agent of Communist Russia, and was eventually excluded from mainstream conservative circles. Some of the most prominent far-right organizers in the 80s and 90s, including Tom Metzger, the founder of the White Aryan Resistance, had been JBS members or had contact with the group, Beirich noted.


From the 1960s onwards, “Orange countians swelled the ranks of the John Birch Society, opened numerous rightwing bookstores and worked within their churches, schools and communities to roll back liberal gains that, in their eyes, threatened the nation”, according to Lisa McGirr’s classic account of the birth of the New Right in southern California, Suburban Warriors.


Today, the region is home to prolific and influential white nationalist “intellectuals” such as Kevin McDonald, the editor of the Occidental Observer. During his career as a professor at CSU Long Beach, McDonald published a trilogy of antisemitic books that allege Jewish dominance of finance and the media as a group evolutionary strategy.

For decades, McDonald was dismissed by many as an isolated crank. But with the rise of the “alt right”, he has appeared on podcasts and conference stages alongside the movement’s younger influencers. His blend of racial pseudoscience and far-right activism was not enough to deter the Donald Trump Jr from retweeting him in the lead-up to the 2016 election.

The Trump era has coincided with violent attacks and political campaigning from a new crop of far-right groups in the area. In 2018 a member of Atomwaffen Division, a militant neo-Nazi group, murdered his 19-year-old Jewish classmate, Blaze Bernstein, in Orange county. According to ProPublica, the killer, Samuel Woodward, may have joined Atomwaffen Division as early as 2016, and was a key organizer of its California cell.

Several California-based groups were present for the now infamous Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, which resulted in the death of Heather Heyer.

28 thoughts on “A Climate of Medievalism

  1. I would point out that, with the collapse of the Roman Empire, the health improved and lifespan increased for the population that were former Roman subjects and slaves, according to study of skeletons. The early Medieval period was in many ways better than what came before. It was a decentralization of power that did equalize society to a far greater extent than under the Roman sociopolitical order.

    Barbara Ehrenreich gives a good sense of the difference in her book, Dancing in the Streets. During that time, the aristocracy lived and socialized within close proximity of the commoners, often showing up at the local church, carnival, etc. It was only later on that the aristocracy came to spend most of their time in the king’s court.

    It’s good to keep this in mind. For all that life can seem pretty decent for some of us under the American Empire, there are large swaths of the global population that have suffered horrifically for generations under American geopolitical rule and for centuries before that under Western colonialism. If all the present geopolitical powers collapsed, there are some populations that might experience an improvement in quality of life, even as others would suffer horribly.

    Large-scale changes never hit everyone in every society in the same way. During the Little Ice Age, there was much chaos and strife, more than a few wars and coups, but the Dutch for example thrived and prospered amidst it all. And no doubt ecosystems would quickly begin to recuperate with the ending and annihilation of neoliberalism and neoconservatism.

    And such things are never predictable. The greater fear is that authoritarianism would simply take new and greater forms, possibly lasting generations or centuries longer before final and total collapse. It’s a crap shoot. Any way it goes, it is hard to see it as ending well for most people. It will likely be a long time for collective sanity to be re-established, if it ever is.

    Civilization as we know it might be coming to a conclusion, having been pushed to its furthest extreme, a collapse in the way that happened with the Late Bronze Age civilizations that fell like dominoes. Nonetheless, with out the Bronze Age collapse, there wouldn’t have followed the Axial Age that presaged the Enlightenment and modernity.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I might point to one way that life improved after the Roman Empire was gone. It didn’t only decentralize the sociopolitical system but also the economic and food system. Most people returned to small-scale subsistence gardening and grazing, but many came to rely upon hunting and gathering in the commons. That changed later on as the laws controlling the commons became more restrictive.

      Still, early on, this meant a lot of high quality food for the lower classes, something that was rare during the Roman era. A higher percentage of wild hunted and gathered foods would mean higher amounts of omega-3s and fat-soluble vitamins. To understand the significance of that, read the classic work by Weston A. Price who studied remaining traditional societies in the early 20th century, including the last of the isolated rural villages in Europe.

      A similar thing happened for many during the Great Depression. About half of the population, maybe more, was in or near rural areas. My mother’s family lived in a fairly large factory and railroad town and yet still managed to hunt, fish, and gather in nearby woods, fields, and a river within a short distance of their home. They also had large enough properties in the city to maintain gardens along with chickens and rabbits. Many people were eating healthier during the Great Depression than afterwards when they had the money to buy unhealthy processed foods.

      Hard times in one way don’t always mean unhealthier or worse quality of life in other ways. The problem now is this is the first time in human existence where the majority of the population is in urban areas. We no longer have a traditional lifestyle and food system to fall back on. And we in the West are worst off in this regard, as we are far more dependent on complex systems and infrastructure that requires large centralized governments, corporations, and trade routes. Some less developed countries might not notice much change if global civilization collapsed. In fact, without foreign exploitation, interventionism, and war-mongering, these populations might suddenly find themselves in much more stable and peaceful societies.

      It will be interesting to see how this plays out. A lot of it depends on how far along each given society is in its modernization. To the degree there is living memory of old ways of doing things there will be less shock if and when newer systems fail.

      Liked by 2 people

    • Very thoughtful comment, thanks. Yes, social change is always asymmetric. I’m sure there were many subjugated peoples who were relieved at the collapse of Rome and some probably did benefit. For the entire region previously under Roman rule, however, the net effect appears to be negative in the historical record.

      What would be unique about a possible collapse of today’s modern civilization is more problematic than any since the Toba super-eruption of 75,000 years ago which nearly wiped out our species (according to the theory). Although Homo sapiens might well survive anthropogenic global warming, our socioeconomic structure might not and the technology which we are so dependent upon probably won’t survive. In other words, the stakes are higher now than in the Bronze Age because we have much further to fall.

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  2. This medievalism means a complete eurocentric and reactionary thinking ignoring for example the big progress in the Oriental world those days where old Greek philosophy and knowledge have been rescued in Arabic translations for us today.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think that conflates cultural development with the quality of life experienced by the masses. Being a slave, laborer, or otherwise disadvantaged person wouldn’t be much different in China, Greece or anywhere else. Life expectancy during that time didn’t vary much from region to region, but it did vary quite a bit between social classes.

      Liked by 1 person

      • What I wanted to indicate is that the world looks completely different in case you regard it from an Oriental perspective. The Dark Age in Europe was a Golden Age in the Orient also with big progress in medicine. A good book in this regard is “Silkroad” by Peter Frankopan, a New history of the world. Cheers!

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      • Parallel cycles; Development leading to “better” conditions and access to products, but which in turn can have dire consequences. The article describes the model which was in essence the basis for the modern food industry, and this is the model that has transformed the planet in the past 100 years.

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        • I’m struggling to see the relevance to political authoritarianism – in this case, the desire by so-called “medievalists” to restore white Christian dominance over society. Such political movements can rise more quickly by exploiting dire economic conditions (e.g. Hitler), but they are always present in our culture.

          Liked by 1 person

        • If we take French, Spanish or English history, what we see are Animal Farm sorts of cycles. No pun or reference to my previous comment intended. The US meat producers described by Upton condemned the “agitators” as did the French industrialists of 1919. One hundred years before the Royalists were fighting the people they called agitators. Two hundred years before that Kings were trying to centralise government to decrease power in the provinces. A hundred years before that they were trying to consolidate power by unifying kingdoms through various means.
          We give the climate different names, but the processes we see are all the same.

          Liked by 1 person

        • If we stop to think about it, there’s nothing Trump does today that Machiavelli didn’t already describe in the 16th century (or really Plato in his own version long before). So Medievalism is a method of establishing and maintaining hierarchy. Religion or the markets being methods rather than end in themselves.

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        • Absolutely, but the stakes are unprecedentedly higher now. Our civilization has reached a developmental pinnacle, especially in technology, far exceeding the times of Machiavelli and Plato. We have much further to fall as a society now. And, here’s the kicker:

          Not only are we facing an existential environmental crisis humans haven’t experienced since the Toba super-eruption of 75,000 years ago (which nearly wiped-out our species), we are also threatened with a far-right extremist movement that actually welcomes the societal collapse which might well result from it! Think about that. Never before in our history have we ever faced such a precarious situation. It looks very problematic at this point whether or not we can meet this challenge. If we can’t, then the terrible consequences are going to shock a great many people who didn’t see it coming.

          Liked by 2 people

  3. White supremacist intellectual – what an interesting oxymoronic term.

    This is an excellent post, as disturbing as it is. I sometimes feel as if I’ve just awakened from a nightmare – and the nightmare has become “reality.”

    (I had no access to my blog for a few months and kept links to some of the more intriguing posts I read while unable to “like” and comment. This is one.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • I was wondering what happened to you, Roy. I thought maybe you had moved to South America or something. Glad you’re back.

      Yes, this is an intriguing story. White supremacist intellectuals… good grief!

      Liked by 1 person

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