Idealism and Practice


I have smart friends. It is a nice thing every now and then but often it is a pain. The reason it is a pain is because they get me to read things that I wouldn’t read on my own. One of those friends who is a pain is my friend Clint. Presently I am reading "A Distant Mirror" by Barbara Tuchman because of Clint suggesting it. The problem with the book is two fold. 1) It is a long book that covers a lot of detailed events and people, and 2) it is really good and therefore I can’t just dismiss it as boring and stop reading it.

Darn you Clint.

Any how "A Distant Mirror" is basically about 14th century France in the midst of the Black Plague. It is fascinating. I have studied more about ancient societies than I have medieval Europe so this is a relatively new subject for me. One of the things that is intriguing me the most the author’s description of how idealism and practice pertained to the three estates of medieval European society. Apparently European society of the middle ages was amazingly idealistic. It makes sense considering the fact that we still understand the concept of chivalry (a distinct form of medieval thought). Society was separated into three estates that were supposed to b mutually supportive.

  • The Clergy
  • The Nobility
  • The Commoners

Each estate had a roll. The clergy and nobility were supposedly focsed on the potection of society. The nobility protected society through the use of arms while the clergy potected society through a focus on faith, thought, and government. The commoners focused on the production of society. In theory each estate supported each other and helped society through that support.

Of course, the theory wasn’t usually lived out. Each estate often, at best, forgot to support one another. Instead of protecting the commoners the nobility, the estate that was supposed to be the millitary protection of society, actually became the biggest threat that the commoners faced during their daily lives. Interesting side note – Tuchman discussed that since the destruction of the means of production has been a pretty common form of warfare throughout history it was often common for knights to fight against unarmed commoners. Thus hurting their enemy’s economy by hurting the society’s ability to produce. Armored knights fighting unarmed civilians, not really what you think of when you think of chivalry is it?

Anyhow the idealism of the time was talked and written about a lot. It was common knowledge in European society. It was the source of souch of their literature and entertainment. I mean their idealism has surived 600 years which is why you and I still know what it means to b chivalrous. Yet their ideals often didn’t translate into their actions. The potectors became the persecutors. Of course, it wasn’t just the nobility who did this. The clergy and the commoners did it too. The nobility are just the easiest to point out. Instead of functioning according to their ideals they did the exact opposite.

Sound familair? Yeah they are so different from us.

Now I have to go back to reading this long book. Thanks Clint.

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