Posted by: ken98 | May 20, 2011

Why Choas Is Good or The Franks Demolish France

Day 616 – Ken here (F)(5-20-2011)
(DEF II, v.3, ch.38 pp.480-490)(pages read: 1540)

A bright, sunny, windy, and somewhat wet day. I’m feeling a little groggy and foggy like the day, but ploughing on through our next 10 pages. We’re 20 pages away from getting back to Roman history rather than following the breakup of Roman provincial civilization in Gaul under the mis-direction of the Franks.

I have to say, though, that this period, the 5th century (the 400’s) seems to me to be one of the most important in molding the future Europe we have today in the 21st. The edges of a thing are always the most prolific, varied, and interesting – that is: the littoral. And Clovis’s Gaul is nothing but the littoral – the boundary or beach between the land of late Roman Gaul and the surging ocean of early medieval Frankish France.

The intricate system of cities that was Gaulish provincial Rome was admittedly already in drastic need of repair, but the addition of a Germanic people with an attention span that lasted only for a summer at a time was like adding acid to car wash – it indiscriminately dissolved both car and car washer and plopped odd miscellaneous leavings of institutions and clumps of persons scattered across a wild landscape (France and Germany) returned mostly to nature – a landscape once criss-crossed with the well-organized societies and works of man.

This strange between-time is a beginning. A beginning of something new, which will much later turn into us.

portrait of Edward Gibbon by none other than Sir Joshua Reynolds - I never look at his portrait even tho Im writing about him all the time- what a character!  what a face! I wouldnt want to get on his bad side

Portrait of Edward Gibbon by none other than Sir Joshua Reynolds (from Wiki) - I never look at his portrait even tho Im writing about him all the time- what a character! what a face! I wouldnt want to get on his bad side though...


 

Gibbon tries to approach this concept, but in his time the overwhelming passion in history was to determine the historical record and BEND it to the political agendas of the day: absolute monarchy, the supremacy of the nation-state, civil and not religious underpinnings of society, well, mostly praising to the skies your own homeland and denigrating those around you – praising your own times (the Enlightenment, late 1700’s) and denigrating your immediate predecessors (the Middle Ages, “Byzantine” history, etc).

There is a certain value in learning and loving your own identity and praising your own history, but it is only a stepping stone to trying to clamber up onto the next level of understanding: viewing many various societies in a positive light simultaneously. Gibbon is at the beginning of this process, we are at the end and I suppose beginning a new one (this is in fact a singular time to be working in history – more historical work has been done in the last 40 years than has been done in the previous 6000 – a great time to be alive – if you like history).

But, enough wool-gathering, on to the topics of the reading today –

Today, Gibbon describes the decline of freedom: in holding land, in becoming slaves, in Romans becoming Frankish citizens, and in the extirpation of ancient Frankish democratic institutions. Gibbons is very British and surprisingly pro-French-monarchy in all this (although it IS 8 years before the French Revolution (1781 – publ. of volume 3), and Gibbons WAS very partial to Switzerland, esp. French-speaking Switzerland (Lausanne).

The Story
 
The Decline of the Merovingian Monarchy (Clovis’ sons)
 
  • Granting of benefices (land) as gifts to followers, which cease being at the pleasure of the king and start being permanent (loss of kingly, central power)
  • Sons of Clovis divide the vast, huge Frankish kingdom into sub-kingdoms – the central state is diluted more and more along with central authority – chaos reigns (Charlemagne had the same problem)
  • However, (Ken speaking here) since the most creative part of any system is its edges, usually chaotic and in small pieces, this is the fertile, febrid breeding ground of a new culture – medieval europe, and eventually the world of the 21st century
  •  

    How People Became Slaves, or How the Middle Class Disappears
     
  • The “Middle Class” disappears when people value their SAFETY over their FREEDOM
  • Against Roman law to sell oneself into slavery for debt or food
  • Franks have no such compunctions – gradually, for protection, food during famine, etc, people sell themselves to lords, to monasteries (the Church!) etc to protect themselves – BUT they end up slaves – the end of the “Middle Class”
  • Rich become richer, the poor become powerless, and no middle exists anymore – this is also a very quick way to DESTROY on economy – no matter how pleasant it is for the rich to gain such power and how pleasant it is for the poor to gain security (Ken here)
  •  

    Example of Auvergne
     
  • City and diocese of Auvergne – rich and fertile during Roman provincial times (
  • As the kings’ power declined, minor lords (Austrasians) thought of SHORT TERM GAINS, and pillaged king Theodoric’s Auvergne
  • the result: the pillagers got rich immediately, Auveurgne was depopulated, goods siezed, people enslaved, and turned back into forest – LONG TERM – entropy reigns supreme and Auvergne is comparatively a POOR PLACE to live
  •  

    Example of the Adventure of the Young Man Attalus (from Gregory of Tours)
     
  • Attalus was a noble youth left for a hostage with the Austrasians from amongst the nobles of Auvergne when they reatreated after their rampage
  • When Austrasians sensed the people of Auvergne were preparing for vengeance , Attalus was one of many made a slave in retribution, tending cattle
  • He lives as a slave, not able to be ransomed, then thru an elaborate plot, manages a tricky escape, only through the help of his grandfather, the bishop of Langres and the bishop’s chief cook, gets back to his father’s lands and freedom – from Gregory of Tours – probably a very common story
  •  

    Romans under Barbarian Rule
     
  • At first, no barbarian is allowed (for several generations) to be bishops or higher clergy in the Church
  • Romans live under Roman Law (Theodosian Code) – normal practice as a “people” in early Europe “lived” under their own laws no matter what land they lived upon/in
  • Romans were eventually very high up also in military organization of Franks, and some were very rich
  •  

    End of Constitutional Freedom of the Franks
     
  • As they conquered Western Europe and became Over-lords and settled, the custom of yearly “congresses” in March fell off
  • Franks lost their “democratic” character and became (like the other German Tribes) pure Might Makes Right societies – something closely akin to Beirut, the drug cartel-harassed areas of Mexico, and chaos in general
  • Eventually, power devolved to the lowest common denominator – the local lord – and people had to sell themselves in some way to him to have any protection at all in the growing chaos
  •  

     

     
     
     

    Image of a Menger Sponge - a 3 dimensional depiction of a mathematically CHAOTIC object - I dont use chaos in the strictest terms where elements of structure are repeated at different levels of magnification - but more in its much-less-precise literary sense

    Image of a Menger Sponge - a 3 dimensional depiction of a mathematically FRACTAL object - fractals being a part of CHOATIC systems - I dont use fractals/chaos in the strictest terms where elements of structure are repeated at different levels of magnification - or chaotic systems in general. I mean it in much more the literary sense - if Im using it with any precision at all. Which Im probably not. Maybe we should just forget the whole topic for now...


     

    Last Word…
    The Descent into Chaos, Sometimes It’s an ASCENT
     

    Just some thoughts about chaos and how order and system become randomness and Brownian Motion and why that is (as is usually the case with life) BOTH A GOOD AND A BAD THING.

    Brownian Motion plot (from Wiki - Brownian Motion)  taken from a book of Jean Baptiste Perrin, Les Atomes - this is the path of someone trying to DO something in a state of chaos - something like the opposite of a straight line - it makes the simplest things in life VERY DIFFICULT TO ACCOMPLISH and generally means YOU STOP TRYING TO DO THEM and just TRY AND SURVIVE

    Brownian Motion plot (from Wiki - Brownian Motion) taken from a book of Jean Baptiste Perrin, Les Atomes - this is the path of someone trying to DO something in a state of chaos - something like the opposite of a straight line - it makes the simplest things in life VERY DIFFICULT TO ACCOMPLISH and generally means YOU STOP TRYING TO DO THEM and just TRY AND SURVIVE


     

    Imagine a society stumbling under a large tax burden, with a top-heavy government, and huge, unrealizable military obligations being overcome by bands of loot-hungry nomads bent on living for today and living fast and dying young.

    NO, this isn’t a description of the United States being overwhelmed by nebulous 3rd world (or 2nd world) hordes of hungry illegal immigrants – unlike what many ultra-(or not so ultra)-conservative commentators may preach. Take a look at Late Roman Gaul and the the history of the early Franks in France (in Gibbon) if you want to truly see an example of crushing taxation and subsequent takeover and economic collapse.

    When people whose immediate concern is money, money, money and of course food inherit an elaborate economic system (which was already in a fair state of decline) the result is SHORT TERM FABULOUS WEALTH quickly (in a generation or so) followed by COMPLETE ECONOMIC COLLAPSE. That is a description of the Roman West in the 400’s and 500’s – and NOT a description of the Roman East. Whatever bad you may say about Eastern Roman Tax Machinery, at least the trains ran on time there under staggering despotic rule of the upper class, in the “frontiers” of Gaul you got staggering despotic rule and no trains.

    But… like an Obsessive/Compulsive who does the same things over and over again helplessly, Romans sensed that somehow the empire was winding down but didn’t know how to stop doing what they had been doing for the last thousand years and try and fix it. Again. It had been “fixed” recently – but the huge imperial machinery grown and perfected under Diocletian just 200 years ago to get the empire and its military back on its feet just wasn’t working anymore. It was a new world of mixed Roman/barbarian peoples and cultures/sentiments, a Mediterranean basin depopulated by PLAGUE, and a society now thoroughly destitute of a Middle Class. It seemed a world of extremes of wealth and power, incapable of absorbing economic dislocations without enduring province-wide collapses every time it was invaded or infected.

    Everything had to get smaller and smarter and the Romans just didn’t know how to do that. Not anymore. But someone else was willing to help.

    So, maybe the enforced wiping-of-the-slate-clean that pretty much described the Frankish/German takeover/rape of Gaul was necessary. Things got smaller – very small in fact – and started growing again from there.

    And so here we are today, the inheritors of ancient structures – the roots of an upheaval that started in Western Europe 1600 years ago.

    And… grand, broad sweeping statements like the ABOVE are the reason why I LOVE HISTORY – BECAUSE THEY MAKE YOU THINK and MAKE YOU DREAM – at least they do for me – see you tomorrow – KEN

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