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Traditionalism and the Ancestral Cult in Ancient Rome

January 29th, 2011 No comments

Traditionalism is a quality that can be found within every culture and civilization. Humankind’s obsession with historical convention spans beyond the limits of recorded history, but takes root at a time that has arguably been called the beginning of civilization. The people of Ancient Rome emphasized the importance of traditionalism to the extent of extreme fanaticism, which ultimately became the Roman Ancestral Cult. The Ancestral Cult is significant because it laid the foundation for Roman religion, which made vital use of ritualism, folklore, and ancestral praise. I contend that tradition and ritualism were two defining qualities of Roman culture, which thrived for thousands of years afterward.

Much of what we know about early Roman life comes from the Greek writer Polybius, who published the earliest preserved historical narrative about Roman life . Ploybius writes about Roman burial practices, which involved the practice of ancestor worship at the funeral and afterward at ritual sacrifices and holiday observances. It was customary for the eldest son to speak first at the funeral. He would begin by praising the virtues of the deceased, as if he were sizing up the shoes that he was expected (or perhaps destined) to fulfill. The Romans honored their dead with tenacity, casting masks of the deceased into household shrines along with other family heirlooms and paraphernalia . The masks would be carefully adorned only during special religious services. Men of the same physical likeness as the deceased would don themselves in clothing that was symbolic of the forebear’s rank, and arrive to the ritual in ceremonious chariots so that all would be reminded of their glorious deeds. This practice of reenactment helped to solidify feelings of pride and ambition in the younger generation, who also sought to bring honor and glory to their family.

Many Ancient Romans preserved a family member’s legacy just as we do, in the epitaph on a tombstone. A noteworthy difference is evident in the dialogue, which would often display an intense amount of grief for whomever was buried below. Basic knowledge regarding Roman history tells us that the Romans were lovers of drama, and this assertion is supported by the poetic nature of their epitaphs. An excellent example of this artistic grieving practice is evident on the gravestone of a Roman woman named Turia, who had been outlived by her dear husband . The kind words of her widower transcend the barrier of linguistic translation, which often taints the poetic nature of the original message. In the closing lines he writes: “Your last wishes I have regarded as law; what-ever it will be in my power to do in addition, I shall do.” Although such passionate words require a great amount of skill, as well as emotion to write, similar messages can be found on many other tombs .

These grieving practices can all be looped into the phenomenon of the Roman Ancestral Cult. This institution provided Romans with religious framework that lasted until the Emperor Constantine converted the empire to Christianity. Many of the customs that were established as a part of the cult survived the Christian conversion, and evolved into practices that can still be observed in Western civilization today. They evolved as parts of a greater phenomenon, which dictated many of the rules and customs in Ancient Roman Culture. Social conventions such as patriarchy and death rituals have roots deep within Roman history, and we continue to exercise them today.

Muslim and Christian Interaction During the Crusades and its Lasting Effects

January 15th, 2011 Comments off

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The early 11th century was a time of tumult, growth and expansion in medieval Europe. The Christian church had become the most powerful influence in the lives of the people. It defined law, social expectation and intellectual pursuit and created perceptions about the meaning of life and death in the minds of nearly every person on the continent. The Church was intertwined with the legal and governing systems, and at the very least influenced, but normally had direct authority over who would be a lord, who would be nobility and who would be king. At the time of the first crusade in 1096, the only non-Christian religious sect which was tolerated in Europe was Judaism, but even they were daily being persecuted by the ruling Christian government. The first crusade took European knights (mainly French) all the way to Jerusalem, slaying anyone and everyone, including innocent women and children and capturing the Holy Land for The Christian Church. This set the tone for what would ultimately become 200 years of war and terror, mainly in the Middle East but technically all over the western region of the world. Fighting wars for the Christian God became a lifestyle and a mentality. It was around the end of the 13th century that the desire and vision of the crusades had finally played itself out. The ultimate goal of the crusades, to secure and maintain influence and control for the Christian Church in the Holy Land was a dismal failure and, in fact, the last four Crusades were fought without Papal support. While the Christian presence in the Holy Land did not hold for long, the crusades certainly had an effect on the perceptions of the people involved. These wars, while mainly destructive and ultimately non-productive, fostered an exchange between the west and east that clearly molded the world views and intellectual pursuits of the people of the east and west. The mixture of the Muslim and Christian cultures caused people of these backgrounds to investigate their counterpart ways of living and observing life. Language, foods, clothing and lifestyle were altered through this extended contact with the other.

The first crusade was instigated by Pope Urban II at the council in Clermont. He was addressing the nobility present, but expected that his message would be spread far and wide. He was calling to arms all of those devout in the Christian faith, decrying the Muslim expansion by the Turks, warning that if these good Christians did not fight they too would be condemned and promising the reward of forgiveness and eternal life to all of those who would obey. “Remission of sins will be granted for those going thither, if they end a shackled life either on land or in crossing the sea, or in struggling against the heathen. I, being vested with that gift from God, grant this to those who go.” While the pope’s speech eloquently outlined the pious reasons to fight this crusade, the realistic reasons for inciting and following such a movement were quite different. The crusades were mainly fought by medieval knights who for some time had been flooding the population of Europe and causing an undue amount of contention within society. The Church saw the crusade as a way to get these young nobles out of Europe and stop the infighting at once. From the soldier’s points of view, traveling to a far off land in the name of God was an amusing way to gain status, build their monetary worth or possibly be granted title- all with the promise of being forgiven any sin that they may be forced to commit in serving their God.

The

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Muslim and Christian Interaction During the Crusades and its Lasting Effects (Part 2)

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Capture of Jerusalem by the Franks went on for five weeks and resulted in the deaths of more than 70,000 of the inhabitants of the city, including innocent women and children. While the Frankish telling of this siege is one of glamour and glory, the Muslim and Byzantine perspectives of the Franks were not quite as complimentary. Fulcher of Chartres, who was present at the address by Pope Urban II in Clermont, followed the crusade to Jerusalem to document his people’s activities. His description of the Frankish soldiers was plainly sympathetic- as one would expect, while his opinion of the people of Jerusalem, the Saracens, was that they were the heathen, godless creatures whose final end was deserved, and even willed, by God himself. “Then the Franks entered the city magnificently at the noon-day hour on Friday, the day of the week when Christ redeemed the whole world on the cross. With trumpets sounding and with everything in an uproar, exclaiming: ‘Help, God!’ they vigorously pushed into the city and straight-way raised the banner on the top of the wall. All the heathen, completely terrified, changed their boldness to swift flight through the narrow streets of the quarters.”

Anna Comnena, the daughter of emperor Alexius, had an alternate opinion of the Frankish crusaders. When they arrived at Constantinople on their way to the Holy Land to be received as friends by the emperor, she had grave doubts as to whether they should be trusted. She understood them as uncivilized barbarians who had neither honor nor integrity. That only one year before the very same people had made war with her people, and won, certainly didn’t help matters. In this instance, the Byzantine Empire had been under the threat and attack of the Turks, and had asked the western nations to send mercenaries to aid in their fight. They sent the Frankish crusaders instead. In addition to the aforementioned, she describes them as cowardly: “Propontis put off the decision day to day; the crossing was deferred with a series of excuses. In fact, of course, he was waiting for Bohemond and the rest of the counts to arrive.” Later in the text she describes them as conceited and foolish: “Although for the day’s sake, he refrained from shooting straight at the Latins, yet whenever one of them in his foolhardiness and arrogance not only fired at the defenders … poured forth a volley of insults in his own language as well, the Caesar did bend his bow.” Comnena’s impression of these brutish crusaders is obviously not parallel to Chartres’ brave, noble knights who so deservingly took Jerusalem.

Ousama Ibn Mounkidh, an Arab author during the 12th century, had yet another opinion on the crusader’s demeanors and abilities. Even more importantly, however, he showed in his writings the contrasting religious and social views of the Muslim and Christian people. In one of his writings he sums up his overall feelings about the new Frankish transplants in Jerusalem: “It is always those who have recently come to live in Frankish territory who show themselves more inhuman than their predecessors who have been established among us and become familiarized with the Mohammedans” He goes on to describe an incident which occurred while he was praying in the mosque, which the Franks had converted into a church. A Christian Frank who had not yet been exposed to Muslim custom grabbed him by the face and turned him east, yelling at him to pray in the proper direction. He says “I went out and was astounded to see how put out this demon was, how he trembled and how deeply he had been affected by seeing anyone pray in the direction of the Kibla.”

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Muslim and Christian Interaction During the Crusades and its Lasting Effects (Part 3)

January 15th, 2011 Comments off

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He makes many observations of the customs of the Christian people, but above all, regardless of his judgments, he seems confused by them. In his view, honor and courage are the building blocks of a virtuous and godly man. He believes that without honor one cannot be brave and without bravery one cannot be honorable. In the Christians, however, he observes brave and courageous men, capable and successful in battle, but seemingly without honor. His solution is to conclude that they are mere brutes, not even men, and therefore cannot be held to the same standards: “Anyone who is acquainted with what concerns the Franks can only glorify and sanctify Allah the All-Powerful; for he has seen in them animals who are superior in courage and in zeal for fighting but in nothing else, just as beasts are superior in strength and aggressiveness.” It is evident that the mixing of these two cultures had a lasting effect on the views and judgments of all peoples involved.

By 1291, Christian control over the Holy Land had disintegrated, and was back in the hands of the Muslims. After nine crusades, the last of which were not supported by the Christian Church, the people of Europe had grown less interested in flying off to a far away land to risk their lives in the name of Christ. There were more pertinent issues to deal with at home, a massive population of people to support and waning resources. Pope Innocent III had stopped supporting the crusades to the east as they began to fail to secure The Holy Land. With popular support and Papal support gone, there was very little reason for the men to soldier on. The original intention had become a faded memory.

The overall impacts of these 200 years of war can still be seen to the present day. The most evident of the lasting effects are actually only the very worst. There remain Christian inhabitants in the Middle East, and of course the Christian and Muslim peoples of the world are aware of the history between them, as animosities between Christian and Muslim peoples in the world today remain. The persecution of the Jews which began in excess during the crusades in Europe set a standard for their treatment by Muslims and Christians alike as we have seen in the horrific attack of the Judaic faith over the last several hundred years. It isn’t shocking that religious wars only create more hostility between cultures of people. A religious war isn’t like a war over territory or property or even people- it is any attack on the very identity of the man himself. In this way, the most devout soldiers will always be those who go into battle for God and the most tragic and profitless wars will always be the ones that are fought over religion.

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Anti-Semitism and Hypocrisy in Chaucer’s Prioress’s Tale

January 13th, 2011 Comments off

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Through her words and actions, the prioress of Chaucer’s Prioress’s Tale makes it plainly evident that she is a hypocrite who does not understand her own religion. The prioress’s misconceptions about her own religion lead to an illogical condemnation of Jews, a people who could scarcely be found in England in Chaucer’s period. Her insecurities regarding her sex and confidence in the validity of her faith and also her close-mindedness prevent her from gaining any sort of meaningful knowledge of other religions and peoples. Instead, she tries to spread her bigotry and willful ignorance with an inflammatory version of a tale common in the 14th century. Her tale seeks to elevate Christian women, such as herself, by constant invocations to Mary and the denigration of Jews. Tearing down another group makes hers seem, by comparison, better. To that end, she spews vitriolic anti-Semitism in her ridiculously macabre tale.

To ensure outrage at the murder to come, and to set up her tale, the prioress first must establish the victim as a wholly sympathetic character. While no one doubts the boy’s innocence, the prioress goes to almost comic (and satirical? lengths to also establish his near inhuman virtue. After learning that the Alma Redemptorisis about Mary, whom the boy and prioress both venerate with obsession, he declares:

“Now certes, I wol do my diligence

To conne it al, er Cristemasse be went.

Though that I for my prymer shal be shent,

And shal be beten thryes in an houre,

I wol it conne, oure Lady for to honoure. ” (105–109)

This sort of dedication may be expected from a member of a religious order, such as the prioress, who clearly approves of such a sacrifice. Indeed, the boy’s willingness to suffer multiple beatings for failure to study his primer could even be described as self-flagellation. The problem is that this boy is only seven years old. No amount of indoctrination is going to make a child that young eagerly accept physical abuse in exchange for the opportunity to memorize “by rote” (88) a song. He is not even going to truly study the song and its depths. How could he? He learned of the song by hearing other boys singing it. His peers, even the older ones, have only a superficial understanding of the prayers. So, too, does the prioress. Later on, the boy survives, temporarily at least, a vicious attack. The boy explains to an abbot that “for the worship of his moder dere Yet may I singe O Alma laude and clere” (220–221). Does it matter that he lacks all meaningful comprehension of the prayer? Not according to the prioress. He can mimic the sounds of the prayer and he worships Mary. That is more than sufficient for her. She doesn’t understand the prayer much better than he does; by her standard, he has done all that he needs to. After all, “in Chaucer’s day you were ignorant, or mad, or demonic to think that God did not exist, or could be anything other than the ultimate reality” (Besserman, 60). The laity did not need to spend much time contemplating metaphysics and ethics. However, a religion that lasts requires a careful and thorough examination of its fundamentals. Incoherent mysticism can gain an ephemeral following, but for a religion to survive a millennium, smart people must dedicate time and energy to the development of cohesive, internally consistent theological concepts and tenets. The prioress fails to comprehend the complexities of Catholicism. She reduces Christian virtue to rote memory of prayers. While such memory work is at least valuable in a Christian context, it is not fundamental to the religion.

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Anti-Semitism and Hypocrisy in Chaucer’s Prioress’s Tale (Part 2)

January 13th, 2011 Comments off

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But, the prioress is not concerned so much with the adherence to legitimate Christian principles but rather to the institution of the Catholic Church, of which she is a part. Her insecurities about her beliefs, a result of not thinking them over, result in her desperate need to cling to the institution. This explains her position as a prioress. She lives in her own cloistered world, leading a group of nuns who do not bother her with provocative or critical questions about the nature their religion. She is a shepherd so engrossed with the affairs of her own flock that she is incapable of understanding outsiders of any sort. Thus, the attack against the boy receives a sudden, too-broad and ultimately unthinking reaction in the tale.

The prioress goes further than mere childhood innocence; she makes the boy Christ-like. She calls the Jews the “cursed folk of Herodes” (140). This not-so-subtle epithet invokes the Biblical account of Christ’s birth and his escape from the infamous order by Herod to slay all the baby boys. The boy in this tale also suffers an untimely death for his Christianity, but at a much earlier age than Jesus. Nevertheless, the parallel between the two is still clearly present, fixed in the minds of the audience. The song itself also conjures associations between the boy and Christ. It was commonly sung during the Boy Bishop rituals, popular in England at the time, which coincided with the Mass of Holy Innocents. “In the Middle Ages, the Holy Innocents were traditionally understood as types of Christ, who was himself in turn often represented in late medieval religious writing and drama as a sacrificial child” (Patterson, 510). Thus, the boy’s Christian goodness is magnified to that of the ultimate exemplar, Christ Himself.

Having elevated the sacrificial victim to a quasi-divine status, the prioress continues her over-the-top tale by vilifying the Jews. She gives the setting as Asia Minor, a Muslim area. In the Middle Ages, Judaism and Islam were often conflated by the Christians of Western Europe. Both groups have darker skin and write using alphabets different from the Roman alphabet. To many of the less than well-traveled people of medieval England, the differences between Judaism and Islam were minor and, more importantly, irrelevant. After all, if Christianity is true, then other religions are necessarily false—at least in the popular view. The special status of the Jews, God’s “chosen people,” within a Christian culture was largely overlooked in the Middle Ages. The particular region she describes is ruled by a Christian, but with a Jewish quarter, sustained by the lord of that country “For foule usure and lucre of vileynye, Hateful to Crist and to his compaignye” (57–58). Medieval Catholic teachings forbade Christians from usury, but that did not mean the practice disappeared. Economic enterprise requires the lending of money—and people tend to be unwilling to lend money without any sort of benefit. In short, usury is a vital component of a healthy economy. The Church condemned a requirement of the society that sustained it. To have it both ways, they simply let Jews become the bankers. According to the prioress, this makes the Jews “hateful to Crist. ” This is blatant hypocrisy. The Christians condemned Jews for taking up a profession that they were simply unwilling to do themselves. This snap-judgment further reveals the Prioress’s own simplistic world-view. She uses inappropriate absolutes to describe religiosity: Christians are good; Jews are evil. What is not evident here is any attempt to understand Judaism or even Christ’s own comments regarding the Jews. She shuts out the Jews, immediately dismissing them as evil.

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Anti-Semitism and Hypocrisy in Chaucer’s Prioress’s Tale (Part 3)

January 13th, 2011 Comments off

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In so doing, she destroys any possibility of gaining new insight into the religion from which hers derived.

The prioress seeks to further validate her anti-Semitic views by associating Jews with Satan. As the boy sings Alma Redemptoris through the Jewish quarter, Satan whispers into the Jew’s ears. Evidently, Jews are close friends, or at least loyal subjects, of Satan. Indeed, the dark lord “hath in Jewes herte his wasps nest” (125). This is demeaning on several levels. Not only is there the obvious association with Satan himself, but apparently the very hearts of Jews are empty, sub-human shells. Love may dwell in Christian hearts, but Jews have only a wasp’s nest. Satan goes on to admonish the Jews for allowing the boy to sing his prayer against “oure lawes” (130). This is an inflammatory creation on the part of the prioress. The “oure” is slightly problematic; some lesser manuscripts read “youre. ” Either Satan is the lord of the Jews or he at least functions as a protector of their laws. In either case, the implications are the same. Jewish law, as conceived of by the prioress, is violently anti-Christian. By created this falsehood of mutual antipathy, she can better justify her own rabid anti-Semitism.

All of the evils in this tale stem from a lack of knowledge, or misinformation. Bad information ultimately stems from bad epistemology. Neither the prioress, nor any character in her stories, exhibits an understanding as to how to obtain legitimate, truthful knowledge—the kind from which progress flows. As a substitute for real knowledge, rationally ascertained and disseminated, the prioress relies on the emotional response of the audience to physical gore. Acting on direct orders from none other than Satan, the Jews conspired to kill the boy. They hired a murderer who grabs the boy on his way home from school and “kitte his throte, and in a pit him caste” (137). This highly sensational murder is told to incite a purely emotional reaction. There is nothing wrong with emotions, per se. Emotions serve as an automatic manifestation of our most sincere and innate values. However, they are not infallible. A misidentification of how a specific action applies to our values, or even of the values themselves, can result in the wrong emotional response. Emotions wield a strong power over us, but we are still fundamentally rational beings and we need not act on our emotions when reason tells us otherwise.

After the throat slitting, the tale quickly turns even more macabre and disturbing. The boy’s mother finds him and he sings the prayer loudly. Through divine intervention, he is able to overcome physical limitations. He tells the people, “Me thoghte she leyde a greyn upon my tonge” (228). The act of Mary extending the life of a fatally injured boy is theologically complex. How can someone live with a slit throat? How can that person sing? The “greyn” has no direct, logical connection to its effect. It is not a bandage or ointment. The “greyn” is not even placed that close to the wound. So what is the “greyn”? Communion wafers are placed on top of the tongue by the clergy in the Catholic Church. This “greyn” could be a literal grain or seed, or it could be a metonymy for a communion wafer. The prioress, despite her position of religious authority, operates on a very simplistic level regarding religion, just like the boy. She needs a concrete object present. The same principle applies to the sale of absolutions by a pardoner. It is too abstract to just say that by God’s grace the boy was allowed to stay alive a little longer.

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Anti-Semitism and Hypocrisy in Chaucer’s Prioress’s Tale (Part 4)

January 13th, 2011 Comments off

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There are actually several layers, each progressively more concrete. God is highly abstract, Jesus less so. Mary, who is just a human being, is even more concrete. But even that is not enough. The prioress needs something she can touch. It is highly unlikely that the prioress fully grasps the concept of transubstantiation, but she clearly appreciates religious rituals. She advocates going through with the rituals, such as prayer, even if the person performing the ritual has absolutely no idea what it all really means. Her need for visuals to convey knowledge carries over into the discomforting violence of the final dozen stanzas. Not only is there the violent crime against the boy, and his supernatural singing, but also the retributive justice and dirge by the public and the boy’s mother over his death.

This odious murder of the little boy incites barbarous violence against the Jews. The prioress attempts to justify the wholesale execution of a large number of people though their often tenuous complicity in the heinous crime. The local magistrate gathers up the Jews, declaring:

“Yvel shal have that yvel wol deserve:”

Therfore with wilde hors he dide hem drawe,

And after that he heng hem by the lawe. (198–200)

The offending Jews are not only drawn by horses, but also hanged. More importantly, all of this is done in accordance with the law. The prioress already established that this region had a Christian ruler. It follows that the laws and punishments should reflect this Christian background. Christian theology is ostensibly based on love, which when consistently applied should not promote murder. Christ taught his subjects to “turn the other cheek” and love their “brothers. ” The prioress, in being both a woman and more specifically a nun, might reasonably be expected to be a pacifist. She is not; the outraged populace in her tale wants vengeance and they get it. A calm, reasoned approach to the murder (if such a thing is possible), would be to methodically determine whom to blame. With guilt established, perhaps even a Christian argument could be made to justify execution of those involved. Instead, the entire group is mercilessly slaughtered. What follows is treacle displays of mourning for the murdered boy, then a stanza of pure hypocrisy. The prioress offers a final prayer emphasizing, of all things, mercy: “That, of his mercy, God so merciable On us his grete mercy multiplye” (254–255). In only two lines, “mercy” appears three times. In one respect, the prioress is finally getting something right: Christianity does indeed teach mercy. However, they just had an opportunity to show mercy to the Jews, or at least humanity. Instead, they brutally murdered them. Once again, she is able to express the Christian ideas without even beginning to grasp what they mean. A request for mercy is not a meaningless string of words offered because social institutions say it’s the right time. It is a profound statement of humility before a person whose powers exceed your own or, in this case, before God Himself.

The Prioress’s Tale is one of brazen self-righteousness, gross ignorance of other cultures and religions. The title character is hopelessly solipsistic with no ability to look beyond her own carefully constructed fantasy world. As a result, she ends up blindly advocating a host of evils and lesser wrongs.

Bibliography

Besserman, Lawrence. “Ideology, Antisemitism, and Chaucer’s Prioress’s Tale. ”The Chaucer Review 36. 1 (2001) 48-72

Patterson, Lee. “‘The Living Witnesses of Our Redemption’: Martyrdom and Imitation in Chaucer’s Prioress’s Tale. ” Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 31. 3 (2001) 507-560.

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A Comparison of Socioeconomic and Institutional Methods of Explaining the Rise of Capitalist Democracy in England (Moore vs. North & Weingast)

July 18th, 2010 Comments off

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The arguments of Barrington Moore’s Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy and of North and Weingast’s Constitutions and Commitment: The Evolution of Institutions Governing Public Choice in Seventeenth-Century England on the genesis of capitalist democracy in England mostly supplement each other by examining different variables and processes that relate to England’s evolution. Both works stipulate that England’s capitalist democracy entailed social elements that sought a free economy and did so by political means. Calling said elements the “commercial class,” Moore explains how this class emerged, came to power, and saw its policies implemented. North and Weingast, however, explain how political institutions evolved to allow a free market economy and how the commercial class’ interests translated into a fair, balanced, and checked English government. In a sense, Moore explains how initial conditions established the commercial impulse that would eventually drive free market democracy and how the impulse came to manifest itself politically and legally. North and Weingast, arguing on the precondition of the existence of the commercial class, explain how the evolution of political institutions, driven by economic motives, created a balanced, accountable government that led to a politically and economically free society. Thus the two arguments overlap in how the commercial impulse arrived at the doors of government, but supplement each other as one explains the cause chiefly using socioeconomic variables as the other explains the effects chiefly using institutional variables.

In attempts to explain the rise of capitalism in England, Moore uses socioeconomic conditions, the rise of the commercial impulse and availability of resources, whereas North and Weingast use institutional changes in government, the regularization of public finance. Thus the two arguments don’t necessarily contradict each other; rather, they examine different possible causes of the same phenomenon. Moore argues that market influences, the possibility of enclosing land, difficulty in finding cheap commodities, and the devolution of the connection between landownership and legal power all led to the emergence of the commercial impulse. The booming land, wool, and grain markets along with high food prices and a labor shortage, Moore argues, developed a need to make profit in English agrarian society. Moreover, the high price of resources and widespread availability markets inspired a once agrarian class of people to produce for economic gains rather than for sustenance. In addition, because “the land and tenurial relations based on it had largely ceased to be the cement binding together lord and man,” (Moore, 5) land thereafter came to be viewed as a source of revenue rather than one of political or legal power. Moore points to the burgeoning land market and rise of enclosures as evidence reaffirming his claim that public perception concerning land ownership shifted to one of capitalism. Furthermore, he asserts that the commercial impulse along with the aforementioned variables of resources were the chief causes behind the growth of a capitalist economy. Thus, Moore examines resource endowments and evolution of agricultural profitability to explain the growth and success of capitalist commercialism. On this point he and North and Weingast disagree.

To North and Weingast, the success of commercial capitalism was a result of government’s establishment of a “relevant set of rights…[and] a credible commitment to them,”(North and Weingast, 803) derived from their assertion that “the development of free markets must be accompanied by some credible restrictions on the state’s ability to manipulate economic rules to the advantage of itself and its constituents”(North and Weingast, 808). They argue that with restrictions on the Crown’s ability to practice arbitrary power in the pursuit of public finance and renege on loans, English government earned financial credibility and was therefore able to finance expenditures. This shift to free flowing credit to government trickled down to the public economy beginning when “the Bank of England began private operations…[along with] numerous other banks”(North and Weingast, 825). Thus North and Weingast argue that government credibility led to free flowing credit in the public economy. As a result of this influx of available credit, they argue, private enterprises were able to create new and grow existing businesses. Although the two arguments diverge when explaining the general reasons for capitalism’s success, Moore’s argument is mainly aimed at explaining why capitalism emerged in the first place whereas that of North and Weingast explains why capitalism boomed once it became embedded in the water supply. The two arguments have a more supplementary and overlapping relation when explaining why capitalist interests percolated government and succeeding in translating their philosophy into law.

While explaining how capitalist democracy came about in England, Moore examines how social changes affected policy and the composition of Parliament while North and Weingast examine how changes in financial policy and the new composition of Parliament affected English government. Thus, North and Weingast begin where Moore ends: at changes in financial and monetary policy and a new composition of Parliament. In Moore and North and Weingast’s arguments, these changes in government are viewed as an effect and cause, respectively. Moore argues that the disenfranchisement and resulting dissolution of the peasantry, royal infringement upon free market, and the transformation of Parliament from an exclusive body of hereditary nobles to a “committee of landlords” (Moore, 21) led to a Parliamentary opposition to the Crown that resulted in a government that promoted capitalist democracy. As land became increasingly necessary for successful agrarian capitalism, the practice of enclosing peasant-owned or common land became regular. This practice not only allowed resourceful peasants, or yeomen, to participate in commercial capitalism, but also led to rapidly decreasing peasant population that would have opposed modernization. Moore argues that the Crown strove to protect the peasantry from enclosures to ameliorate public discord by using prerogative mandates to reallocate the jurisdiction of property rights disputes from common law courts to the Star Chamber.

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A Comparison of Socioeconomic and Institutional Methods of Explaining the Rise of Capitalist Democracy in England (Moore vs. North & Weingast) (Part 2)

July 18th, 2010 Comments off

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However, Moore argues, because of the economic implications of enclosures and apparently self-serving practices of the Crown, commercial interests developed in opposition to the Crown. Moore further argues that “the wealthier townsmen turned against royal monopolies…as barriers to their own interests”(Moore, 13). As such, Moore asserts that the unilateral and regulatory nature of the Crown came to represent the final frontier before free market capitalism to an increasingly cohesive commercial class. This opposition came to the forefront of politics as Parliament came to represent the interests of the commercial class. In sum, Moore argues that economic motives drove Parliament to go against the Crown and was able to see its interests come to fruition due to the gradual disappearance of the peasantry and a lack of effective military, bureaucratic, and administrative bodies. Moreover, as Parliament began passing its reforms measures to ensure a free market, the Crown was now subject to a primitive form of impeachment, namely, beheading. On this point the two arguments agree completely. Moore argues that “the Star Chamber…[was] the general symbol of arbitrary royal power”(Moore, 17). Moreover, Moore argues that beside the Star Chamber, there was no major institutional reform because “a flexible institution which constituted both an arena into which new social elements could be drawn as their demands arose and an institutional mechanism for settling peacefully conflicts of interest among these groups”(Moore, 21) already existed. North and Weingast, however, assert that the evolution of English Parliament, monarchy, and court system comprised a near revolution.

The same changes in political institutions are described in both arguments, but North and Weingast treat these changes as much more significant to the development of free market democracy. Identifying that the “execution of public laws and expenditures was not subject to a public budgetary process,” (North and Weingast, 809) North and Weingast why they believe institutional change was sought after. Moreover, the fiscal irresponsibility of the Crown led to a coalition of the commercial class “seeking to preserve personal liberties, rights, and wealth”(North and Weingast). Thus the major impetus to reform was a budgetary one, but the nature of the reforms led to a system of government based upon checks and balances. North and Weingast identify several parliamentary measures taken to reform the budgetary process but in turn created a stable balance between Parliament and the Crown: the passage of the Statute of Monopolies and Triennial Acts, the abolishment of the Star Chamber, the reduction of legal legitimacy of royal prerogatives, and the modifications to land tenure laws. As a result of these changes in infrastructure, North and Weingast argue, the Crown’s ability to practice arbitrary was stripped. An important form of royal arbitrary power, they argue, was the disenfranchisement of political opposition in the form of gerrymandering, calling for detainment of political opponents and excessive bail thereof, and suspension of the writ of habeas corpus. Without such practices, one would face little to no threat of disenfranchisement and thus would be able to exercise political freedom. Thus North and Weingast argue that economically driven reforms to the budgetary process allowed for a balance of government and legitimacy of exercising political freedom. The two arguments overlap in explaining how parliament came to represent commercial interests. Moore, however, explains how the dissolution of the peasant class and rise of the commercial class established a strong, cohesive coalition that politically opposed the monarchy without going into detail as to how the commercial class went about accomplishing its goals. North and Weingast, on the other hand, focus on how the commercial class reformed English political institutions to establish separation of powers, a system of checks and balances, and a relatively laissez-faire government. In sum, Moore explains how socioeconomic trends translated into political trends as North and Weingast explain how political trends translated into legal and institutional trends.

Both arguments attempt to explain how capitalism and democracy emerged in England, and why they arose simultaneously. They both explain why the commercial class succeeded in bringing about a burgeoning capitalist economy, though they do so using distinct variables: Moore looks at socioeconomic trends, specifically the fall of the peasantry and the profitability of agriculture in England to explain the economic victory of capitalist forces, while only briefly examining institutional variables, the changing composition of Parliament, and the abolition of the Star Chamber to supplement his argument.

North and Weingast almost strictly use institutional variables in their assertion, namely the reform of the budgetary process to ensure the regularization of public finance which eventually trickled down into the public economy. Further, both arguments set out to explain how the commercial class arrived at the door of government and allowed for a democracy. Both make points backing up the assertion that commercial interests came to oppose the monarchy, though for different reasons. Moore depicts the opposition to an antidemocratic more as an apolitical opposition that gradually percolated Parliament and thus became political. North and Weingast lack any significant social commentary on this matter, instead relying on how Parliament’s desire to reform the budgetary process developed a balanced and democratic government to prove their point. In explaining both the rise of capitalism and that of democracy, Moore focuses on the cause and the phenomenon using socioeconomic variables whereas North and Weingast focus on the phenomenon and its effects by examining the evolution of English political institutions.

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