Last time, I wrote about the era of Equality and how the unrestrained struggle for power leads to the destruction of society. This time, I’m writing about the era of Security, when people try to pick up the pieces of what the egalitarians have smashed.
At first glance, the era of Security might seem like what neoreaction wants to bring about; after all, we advocate institutions of authority precisely because they contribute to security. This appearance is misleading. We do want there to be an era of Security, but only because it is the crucible for the era of Liberty.
Contrary to its name, the era of Security is anything but secure. Authority has broken down, wealth is hard to create and maintain, and life itself is in constant danger. This is not when you want to live; this is when you want to set your Dungeons and Dragons campaign. It is a time when men of boldness, ruthlessness, cunning, and skill can carve out a piece of the world for themselves.
The important challenge of the era of Security is not acquiring power but holding on to it, and especially passing it on to future generations. Accomplishing this feat requires a combination of conservatism and inventiveness. Conservatism is required to restore group solidarity, what Ibn Khaldun called asabiya. Relatively coherent groups will tend to overcome incoherent ones. Inventiveness is required to address the problems presented by new circumstances. Many of the old ways are from the era of Equality and so lend themselves to social destruction. Also, new threats from outside the society have emerged, and so new ways of fighting back must be devised. People in the era of Security have to square the circle of establishing authority and fostering innovation.
In order to survive the era of Security, people start to adopt practices and learn lessons that will put them in good stead later. They learn to make do with little, live on hope, and persevere against seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Communities become stronger as people are forced to look after each other in order to survive. People come to appreciate the value of patriarchy. Women leave politics and devote themselves to more maternal activities. Men go out and die by the bucketload. Those tribes that find ways to increase population growth will outcompete those that do not. Division of labor has diminished on account of economic disintegration, and property rights are no longer secure. However, people start to appreciate differences of talent and the value of letting people keep and profit from what is theirs. Religion is also likely to make a comeback during the era of Security, both as a means of strengthening group ties and for providing solace amidst a chaotic world.
Monarchy is the form of political organization most likely to emerge from the era of Security. The process of rebuilding authority begins with respect for individual leaders. By the end of the era, it has developed into respect for institutions, but this takes time. Monarchy provides the necessary combination of stability and ability to address individual circumstances. The key requirement for the emerging monarchies is to establish a rule of legitimate succession. Transitions of power are occasions for violence—legitimate succession minimizes that violence.
The era of Security begins with an orgy of looting and killing, but it ends placidly. Institutions rather than people hold power, and people generally respect those institutions. Communities and civil society are strong; economic development restarts. The stage is set for expansion and development of resources. However, as people become more secure, they stop valuing security as highly and turn their attention to a different ideal: liberty.
Now for a historical example. I have to confess that my areas of expertise are Classical Greece and Late Republican Rome, and while those are two fascinating periods, it would be better if my theory could be applied to other times and places. Fortunately, it can, and the Early Middle Ages are an era of Security par excellence.
Late Antiquity is a clear example of an era of Equality. Roman political institutions were failing, barbarians were at the gates demanding a bigger piece of the Roman pie, and Roman leaders were primarily fighting amongst themselves. Christianity, which began as an egalitarian faith, achieved ascendancy in the empire; though it would eventually help provide the basis for European civilization, in the 4th century it intensified internal conflict by pitting Christians and pagans against each other and Catholics against Arians and other heretics. St. Ambrose’s challenges to Roman emperors, while courageous and heroic, did nothing to shore up the political situation. Things were especially bad in the West. A few heroic figures held the empire together for a time, but the hopes of the empire died at the hands of the emperor himself with the murder of Flavius Aetius. Odoacer’s deposition of the last Roman emperor in 476 was largely a formality.
Wars among the Germanic barbarians continued for many years, but eventually small-scale warlordships coalesced. The Byzantines under Justinian attempted the reconquest of the West, but the barbarian realms were strong enough to resist. What they could not withstand as easily was the Arab onslaught of the 7th century under the banner of Islam. The Arabs were experiencing an era of Liberty in their own fashion and conquered many lands, including North Africa and much of Spain and the Byzantine Empire.
There are several prerequisites to forging a large empire. The first is asabiya in order to enact a single policy. Another is military technology with which to defeat the peoples to be conquered. Population growth is also critically important. Transportation technology is vital to deploy large numbers of troops over large distances. And finally, the ability to overcome fortifications allows for the conquest of materially more advanced cultures. It was this last that the Arabs lacked. They were a nation of desert horsemen united by their Islamic faith. They could drive off armies and sack cities, but the high walls of Constantinople stopped them in their tracks. Emperor Leo III burned the Muslims’ ships with Greek fire and drove their army from his walls in 718. This victory protected Europe and allowed European civilization to develop on its own terms.
The Muslims were not done, though. In 732 a powerful Muslim force burst out of Spain, overran Aquitaine, and penetrated into central France. There a Christian army under Charles Martel met the Muslims in a multi-day battle and crushed them. Christian sources claim this was a great victory over a great Muslim invasion; Muslim sources say that it was a minor defeat of a small raiding party. In fact, it was neither of these things, but the Christians are more right as to the consequences. Never again would the Muslims launch an incursion into France on such a scale.
Charles Martel was able to defeat the Muslims because he was the head of the powerful Merovingian state. According to legend, Merovech had been the leader of the Franks at the battle of Chalons in 451, when Aetius defeated Attila the Hun. Clovis, Merovech’s grandson, established his kingdom by defeating the Visigoths in battle and converting to Catholicism. By the time of Charles Martel, the Merovingian kingdom was large and prosperous, but it was effectively ruled not by the Merovingian king, but by the Caroligian major domo. Charles’s son Pepin the Short had himself declared king of the Franks by the pope in 751. Pepin’s son Charles the Great, or Charlemagne, expanded the kingdom further and became the first Holy Roman Emperor.
The Carolingian empire was doomed, however, because of the inheritance laws of the Franks. They practiced partible inheritance, splitting up the kingdom among the old king’s children upon his death. This inevitably led to conflict among the king’s children as each tried to reclaim their father’s whole domain. The Carolingians managed to succeed in spite of this practice by a stroke of dynastic luck. From Charles Martel to Charles the Great, no Caroligian ruler had more than one son survive him. This luck ran out under Louis the Pious, who had four sons, three of whom survived him. He exacerbated the problem by establishing his will fairly early in his reign so that inheritance politics dominated his later years. Louis’s sons broke up the empire that their forefathers had built.
At the same time, the Vikings and the Magyars began attacking Europe, and the Arabs started raiding again. A united Frankish kingdom could have held them off, but there was no Frankish kingdom, and the remaining Carolingians were not very impressive. Count Odo’s heroic defense of Paris in 885-86 contrasted sharply with Charles the Fat’s pathetic bribery of the Vikings. After Charles’s death, Odo was elected king of the Franks, and his descendants, the Capetians, would later wear the crown of France as a dynasty. In Germany, Henry the Fowler and Otto I subdued the Magyars. Matters were similar in England, where Alfred the Great beat the Vikings back for a while, though they kept returning periodically until 1066. All of these rulers fended off the barbarian invaders by building fortresses across their domains. Central authority was still weak, however, especially in France and Germany. No empire emerged to replace that of the Carolingians.
While all of this was going on, Christianity was expanding and entrenching itself throughout Europe. The Catholic Church was an international institution and helped to provide a measure of unity among the European states, as well as holding local communities together. One result of the defeat of the Vikings and Magyars was their conversion to Christianity and incorporation into the larger European community. The Church also encouraged rulers to end partible inheritance and establish a much more stable form of inheritance, primogeniture. In France, the Capetians still had to transform their rule from elective to hereditary, but they did so without much difficulty.
By the 11th century, the stage was set for expansion and consolidation of states. There still remained wars to be fought as kings tried to expand their authority and military adventurers like Robert Guiscard and William the Bastard tried to take whatever they could get. But they had the tools needed to accomplish these goals. In time, Europe would even go on the offensive, launching the Crusades and conquering the Holy Land. The era of Security was over, and the era of Liberty just beginning.