Three books added to my reading list



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It is only occasionally that The Anglophilic Anglican writes book reviews, and to post on books I have not yet read is unprecedented. But these are three that not only pique my interest, but which I feel may turn out to be important reads. If I am right, I shall review them after I’ve read them! But for now, I’m simply sharing my interest, with the thought that they may prove of interest to my readers, too. As usual, the italicized, indented sections of text are quotes, in this case from the relevant Amazon listings:

Andrew Willard Jones: Before Church and State: A Study of Social Order in the Sacramental Kingdom of St. Louis IX (2017).

Before Church and State: A Study of Social Order in the Sacramental Kingdom of St. Louis IX by Andrew Willard Jones explores in great detail the “problem of Church and State” in thirteenth-century France. It argues that while the spiritual and temporal powers existed, they were not parallel structures attempting to govern the same social space in a contest over sovereignty. Rather, the spiritual and the temporal powers were wrapped up together in a differentiated and sacramental world, and both included the other as aspects of their very identity. The realm was governed not by proto-absolutist institutions, but rather by networks of friends that cut across lay/clerical lines. Ultimately, the king’s “fullness of power” and the papacy’s “fullness of power” came together to govern a single social order.

Before Church and State reconstructs this social order through a detailed examination of the documentary evidence, arguing that the order was fundamentally sacramental and that it was ultimately congruent with contemporary incarnational and trinitarian theologies and the notions of proper order that they supported. Because of this, modern categories of secular politics cannot be made to capture its essence but rather paint always a distorted portrait in modernity’s image.

In both my B.A. studies – in which I pursued a self-designed major in medieval studies, including history, literature, and philosophy – and my Masters work in early and medieval Christianity, one thing that was a given was the perennial tension, sometimes struggle, and sometimes conflict, between Church and State. It wasn’t something that was defended; it didn’t need to be. It was simply a foundational, underlying assumption.

But even then, I caught glimpses hinting that there might be more to the story; and in my studies as well as my independent reading – from scholarly works to historically-informed fiction (such as Ellis Peters’ superlatively researched and written Brother Cadfael chronicles, in which Abbot Radulfus and Sheriff Hugh Beringar worked cooperatively to ensure the peace and stability of Shrewsbury in the midst of civil war)  – I have come to entertain the strong suspicion that our conventional view of the Middle Ages, and their ostensible “conflict” between Church and State, might be filtered rather heavily through the categories and concerns of the 18th century “Enlightenment,” and its secular assault on religious and other traditions, in the quest for secular modernity.

So I am looking forward rather eagerly to perusing Jones’ documentary evidence, and following his line of argumentation! It may shed light not only on the medieval period, but likely (as the study of history so often does), on our own as well.

Ryszard Legutko: The Demon in Democracy: Totalitarian Temptations in Free Societies (2016).

“Ryszard Legutko lived and suffered under communism for decades – and he fought with the Polish anti-communist movement to abolish it. Having lived for two decades under a liberal democracy, however, he has discovered that these two political systems have a lot more in common than one might think. They both stem from the same historical roots in early modernity, and accept similar presuppositions about history, society, religion, politics, culture, and human nature.

“In The Demon in Democracy, Legutko explores the shared objectives between these two political systems, and explains how liberal democracy has over time lurched towards the same goals as communism, albeit without Soviet style brutalality.

“Both systems, says Legutko, reduce human nature to that of the common man, who is led to believe himself liberated from the obligations of the past. Both the communist man and the liberal democratic man refuse to admit that there exists anything of value outside the political systems to which they pledged their loyalty. And both systems refuse to undertake any critical examination of their ideological prejudices.”

Interesting! Both totalitarianism and liberal democracy “reduce human nature to that of the common man, who is led to believe himself liberated from the obligations of the past,” and “refuse to admit that there exists anything of value outside the political systems to which they pledged their loyalty.” Yes, that has the ring of truth. And the potential to serve as an interesting and possibly enlightening complement to Before Church and State!

Milo Yiannopoulos: Middle Rages: Why the Battle for Medieval Studies Matters to America (2019).

There are a number of reasons why Milo Yiannopoulos is not an entirely savoury character, for someone like myself, who is both a Christian and a traditionalist. But I am a medievalist, both by avocation and by the bulk of my academic training (both undergrad and graduate), and I have seen the problems he highlights increase and worsen dramatically over the thirty years since I began my B.A. in medieval studies:

“Medieval Studies is the critical study of Europe’s self-identity. No understanding of Western civilization is possible without it. Inevitably, Left-wing academics want to introduce gender studies and race theory to the field–and punish those who refuse to conform. When one University of Chicago professor dared to publicly celebrate the Christian identity of the Middle Ages, she was branded a ‘violent fascist’ and ‘white supremacist’ by her colleagues.

“Now Medieval Studies scholars are tearing their own discipline apart with witch-hunts, name-calling, boycotts and intimidation. The damage done to academia could be incalculable. In this influential essay, originally published to widespread acclaim online, New York Times-bestselling author and award-winning journalist Milo Yiannopoulos explains why all Americans should care about the newest front in the cultural war, the academic battle for the Middle Ages.”

The damage would be not only to academia, but to our already-battered understanding of history and, as Yiannopoulos points out, not just European but Western self-identity, self-understanding. The assault on medieval studies by the Left is not really “the newest front in the culture war.” It has been going on for decades: maybe centuries, if one believes it actually began with the Enlightenment, but certainly since the 1960s and ’70s, and increasingly aggressively since the 1990s.

What makes it seem “new” is that it is becoming (like the rest of the culture war) more violent, visceral, and also more visible/audible to those in what have historically been relatively safe “rear areas,” behind the front lines. But I’m glad that it is, at least, beginning to garner some attention – that can only be to the good – and I am interested in what Yiannopoulos has to say about it.

So, as I say, some interesting books – and ones that seem to fit together well – to add to my reading list! Which is already, truth be told, far too long. But these, I think, are worth placing near the top. It will be interesting to see whether or not I agree with myself, once I’ve read them!

Author: The Anglophilic Anglican

I am an ordained Anglican clergyman, published writer, former op-ed columnist, and experienced outdoor and informal educator. I am also a traditionalist: religiously, philosophically, politically, and socially. I seek to do my bit to promote and restore the Good, the True, and the Beautiful, in a world which has too-often lost touch with all three, and to help re-weave the connections between God, Nature, and humankind which our techno-industrial civilization has strained and broken.

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