NO PROGRESS MEANS REGRESSION, & REGRESSION MEANS COLLAPSE
The magnificent Haut Koenigsbourg, Alsace is a testimony of what a European Middle Age castle could be (the work on it started in the Twelfth Century). A real Neuschwanstein. Much of that monument is made of pink sandstone. Giant towers, on the very top of a mountain dominating the Alsatian plain.
Koenigsbourg enjoys more than half a million visitors a year, it is one the ten most visited monuments in France. Koenigsbourg was captured by the Swedish army during the Thirty Years war, and abandoned thereafter, until it became a tourist site in Nineteenth century France. The word “Koenigsbourg” sounds German, but it’s part Frankish (“bourc” is Frankish, Koenig ubiquitous).
It is often said that Alsace is shared between two countries, France and Germany. However, it’s significantly more complex than that. Both countries recognize that Charlemagne was their common emperor by 800 CE.
And Charlemagne was more than that.
Charlemagne was not just any emperor: Carlus Magnus was emperor of the “renovated” Roman empire. And “renovated” does not mean just refurbished, but modernized, made again-new. The big difference between the empire of the Franks and Greco-Roman antiquity is that the socio-economy was NOT organized around slavery, but around owner-farmers (to be replaced by communal serfdom, something with little in common with plutocratic slavery!) This had profound consequences. Greco-Roman Antiquity, because of slavery, was un-human, hence, pathological.
Yes, some civilizations are pathological, and they do not just cause pain to themselves, but to others, and even to the planet.
Charlemagne represented the crown of the (re-)creation of Rome according to the Franks (~ civilized Germans). The Franks had been hard at work on this project for five centuries. They represented the renovation of the Greco-Roman empire according to a philosophy that made more human sense than the enslaving Greco-Roman civilization.
The Franks were a confederation of Germans, the closest to the Romans who had succeeded to not been mauled and swallowed by Rome. Instead, after two centuries of passionate, not to say bellicose, alliance with Roman governments, starting with Clovis’ father, a purple clad imperator, they are the ones who did the swallowing.
Moreover, part of Germany and Gallia had been allied to, or more or less occupied by, the late Roman republic, for a full nine centuries prior to Charlemagne (if not more).
Thus Alsace has a fascinating history. The Rhine was the natural border of Celtic lands, and that is the way Celts, Germans, and Romans looked at it. The Caesar Julian with his Gallo-Romans and Franks would win a tremendous victory at Strassbourg against invading rabid German hordes determined to overwhelm the empire.
(That would happen a generation later, after the Roman army had been removed, for budgetary reasons, and the leading edge of these Germans, the Vandals, 50,000 frantic warriors would reach all the way to “Africa“, present day Tunisia, and cut-off Rome’s wheat supply, shrinking dramatically the city for the next millennium).
However, when Julius Caesar became involved in peace mongering in the Celtic world of Gallia, he was confronted to Germans crossing over, either to help the rebellious Celts against Rome, or simply to raid whatever could be raided, such as their Celtic allies, although they were not afraid to sneak onto Roman legions either, in the hope of stealing their treasury.
After particular egregious invasions, and also because some allied German tribes called for his help, Caesar crossed into Germania several times, building even a permanent fiercely guarded bridge over (most of) the Rhine to do so repeatedly.
Caesar’s adversaries fled into the deep German forest. After becoming “dictator for life” (instead of 6 months or a year, as the oral Roman Constitution had it), and having reorganized Rome somewhat, Caesar decided upon a great, totally grandiose plan.
Leading the best army Rome ever had, Caesar decided that he would go east, destroy the Parthian empire, and then go up north through the Caucasus, before veering west into Germania, stabbing it in the back. (The Mongol army would follow that route 12 centuries later; after wasting Iran, it veered north, crushed the Georgians, obliterated the Russians and the Ukrainians, before smashing the Germano-Polish forces, before winning, with important losses, over European forces in the invasion of Hungary.)
This, most probably, explains why Caesar was oblivious to warnings about an assassination plot that day of the Ides of March: he was to leave for the Orient the next day with his legions, and it looked unlikely somebody would bother assassinating just then, when he was embarking on this most haphazard adventure. So he was not even accompanied by his aide Marc-Anthony, an extremely well trained special forces sort of soldier, as most Roman generals were.
Caesar assassinated, the Parthians conquered all of the Orient, but for the city of Tyr, an island. Marcus Antoninus counter-attacked, all the way to Mesopotamia, starting centuries of Roman-Parthian wars (and then Roman-Persian wars, resulting in the victory of… the Arabs!) What we are seeing right now in Syria, to a great extent, is more of the same.
Augustus was good at domesticating Romans, but less so at domesticating foreign enemies, such as the Germans. He let one of his generals, Varrus, conduct war in North Germany, with the resulting loss of an elite army centered around three elite legions. Augustus admonished his successors to never try to conquer Germany again. They obeyed.
In the end, the Romans were half installed in Germany, behind, the Rhine the whole way, behind the Danube, and, awkwardly, behind the gap between Rhine and Danube. That arrangement caused four centuries of debilitating war, as German tribes could attack whenever they wanted, close to the core of the empire. the situation was so critical, as early as Marcus Aurelius, that the emperor spent most of his reign on the front, around the Danube. The non payment of taxes by the plutocracy went a long way to explain the defense problem. Marcus Aurelius was reduced to sell the palace’s cutlery, to finance the legions.
The Treaty of Verdun separated the (Occidental) Roman empire in three parts, with the acknowledgement that the king of the Western part was “emperor in his own kingdom“, and that the western Franks were supposed to present a candidate to the imperial position for Eastern Francia. But the Parisians could not care less, they were more preoccupied by cutting deals with the savage Vikings, who were beating the Franks at the game they used to play so well, six centuries before (raiding from ships up rivers).
So the two thirds not nominally controlled by Paris went their own way. Even in the West, in theory, accentuated by the Renovatio Imperium Francorum, more or less of the Roman republic was pursuing a subterranean existence: kings of the Franks were supposed to be elected, and were often the richest plutocrats around. But the Salic law forced equidistribution of inheritance, and the Franks were prolific, as they were excellent farmers, now fed on bioengineered foods such as beans. Thus inherited wealth easily dissolved.
The Feudal System installed under Charles Martel to fight the Muslim Arabo-Berber invasions made the situation even stranger. To support a vast, and best army, expenses were not spared. The Catholic Church was nationalized to pay the army. And resources were put at the disposal of knights to create a heavy cavalry. In counterpart, said knights assumed other functions such as law enforcement and justice. The villages, the communes, were communally organized, under the watchful eyes of the knights.
(The arrangement with a class of knights up high in society already existed in the Roman Republic. The Macedonian conquest of the world had been pretty much propelled by the lover-of-horses, such as philo-hippo, Philip, as the rulers of Macedonia were cavalrymen.)
Soon the entire Imperium Francorum was subdivided into several hundreds of local power centers, many of them derived in part from the 300 counties into which the Imperium Romanum of Charlemagne had been divided.
The feudal system was neither aristocratic nor communist, but in between. The arrangement with the knights overlording was informal to a great extent, and the cities were not part of it. The picture one is left with is that of an extremely varied society, without really a dictatorship at the center.
(So Marx’s linear evolution from feudalism to capitalism needs to be re-evaluated; certainly fabulous castles such as Koenigsbourg represented enormous capital, and certainly the attribution of parcels around villages according to family size was a form of communism!)
Ultimately the division into East, Central and West Francia proved completely unstable. So did the conquest of England by the Western Franks and Normans (1066).
The Franco-French war between Paris and London went on, on and off, from the Thirteenth to the Nineteenth Centuries, from Eleanor d’Aquitaine to Waterloo (when the English king renounced the claim to France inherited from Isabelle de France, absolute monarch of England, as her name indicates).
The Roman emperor of the non Parisian part became “Holly” centuries later. Meanwhile today’s France was divided in enormous pieces: Armorica (“Brittany”, where the British army had fled in the 6C), Aquitania, the entire South-West (already one chunk before Caesar showed up), and now brought to London by Eleanor, London which already owned Normandy and surrounding counties. Of course a little bit east of Paris, Flanders, Belgium, Bourgogne and east of the Rhone it were all part of the “Roman empire”, not Francia Occidentalis. In the south the giant county of Toulouse was busy reconstituting the Roman Republic, while turning Christianity upside down, by making official that the world was controlled by an evil deity rather than a good lord.
It became the war of all against all. However, the land around Paris was, and is immensely rich (Under the Antonine emperors, Lutetia reached 80,000 citizens). Paris had accessed notoriety by nominating the anti-Christian Caesar Julian “Augustus” in 358 CE. Throughout the European Middle Ages, Paris was the largest city in Christian Europe, with a population of the order of 200,000 by 1300 CE.
So a sort of reconquista was launched by Paris. First Toulouse was massacred by a crusade. Then, Paris recovered from London the west (traditional chronology of the “100 year war”), and then, from the Roman empire, the east, a lot of it under the crafty Louis XI (that’s when the Roman empire decided it was “Holly” and “Germanic“).
Louis XIV pursued the job by recovering Alsace. But he could not get Flanders (the ancestral land of the Franks!) and keep the Rhineland and the Palatinate (traditional Roman stomping grounds). Lou
All this was immensely complex: Louis XIV made a huge crime and profound error by revoking the Edict of Nantes (throwing the Protestants out of France, a policy that Louis XI or Henri III or IV would have found abominable, and certainly worthy of the death penalty).
Thanks to its Catholic fanaticism, Louis XIV made ferocious enemies, such as the Dutch republic, and deservedly so. In their rage, the Dutch took over England to wage war against the erratic enabler of their independence, France.
Things went from and to worse when the long suffering king of Spain, dying without an heir, gave his crown to his “heir general“, who happened to be no less than the son of his half sister, Maria Teresa, and of… Louis XIV . This (World) War of the Succession of Spain lasted 13 years, and prevented the unification of the giant French and Spanish empires in one enormous empire covering the Americas, the Philippines (trade with China), and most of Europe.
Let’s notice in passing that the semantics implied by the words “World War One” and “World War Two” are therefore not correct. There were several world wars before that! Certainly the war started by Genghis Khan was a world war, as it went from Japan to Indonesia, all the way to Egypt, Poland and Croatia. More disturbingly, Europe produced several World Wars before 1914.
Even more disturbing is the origin of these world wars. The perpetrators did not just know each other, they were often family! When a barren Eleanor of Aquitania divorced the king of France (1152 CE, after been queen of France for 15 years!), and went on to marry the king of England, and have eight children with him (three of them would become kings), carrying along her giant province, it was certainly very personal.
Two centuries later the “100 year war” (which lasted in truth until 1815!) started when because all too many people in Paris knew Isabelle de France, queen of England, daughter and legitimate heir of Philippe Le Bel, all too well!
The same holds in modern times. Who was Wilhem II, Kaiser of the ill fated “Second Reich“? (The official name was Deutsches Reich, the German Realm.)
The “First Reich” had been the one started by Otto I, if not Charlemagne, or more exactly the Roman Consul Clovis, king of the Franks, who reconquered a vast swath of Germania, a territory expanded further by his ferocious successors. That was a deliberate mistranslation, as the original state was an “Imperium“, not a kingdom. In an Imperium, the People was implicitly in charge.
Wilhem II was the grandson of queen Victoria, and considered himself to be the preferred one. That may have made him overconfident.
Elected queen Merkel I should remember this. It can start innocuously, among friends. But then enmity can grow. As the ancient Greeks pointed out, violence most often grows from hubris. During its 47 years of existence, the Deutsches Reich became an industrial, technological and scientific giant (with the caveat that the Swedes, and many Anglo-Saxons were notoriously pro-German, the Reich enjoyed more Nobel Prizes than Britain, France, Russia and the United States combined).
There is little doubt that, by 1914, all too many Germans viewed themselves as the most civilized, most meritorious, and it was not the already amputated French Republic that was going to stand in their way. Still the four Prussian generals who plotted World War One were not too sure about the Kaiser, so they sent them to his vacation home during the crucial month of July, when their plot entered its terminal phase. The generals obviously feared that the Kaiser, realizing that he, the grandson of queen Victoria, may find himself at war with Britain if his realm invaded France and Belgium, may stop the march to war.
So was Wilhem II all bad? No. He ordered the restitution of Koenigsbourg to its original state. Alsace has many castles, including 60 reduced to ruins: Louis XIV, after (re) conquering Alsace, ordered their destruction: the frontier was going to be back on the Rhine river, not the Vosges dominating it.
1) Alsace is naturally part of Gallia (Gaul); it was indeed solidly Celtic. So was Belgium, under that name, too! And Flanders got converted to Christianism under (“Le Bon Roi”) Dagobert I by his financed minister, later canonized Saint Eligius (= Eloy, Éloi) The old germanoid argument that Alsace is naturally German in some sense is false, on an historico-geographic basis.
2) Who the Celts were is more obscure: they had three languages. Their difference with the Germans was grounded in culture, not ethnicity. Although there were various Celto-German tribes they were all taller than the Romans, and, the more savage their got, the more gigantic their bodies, at least so the Roman sources seem to have it.
What was the cultural difference between Celts and German? Well, the Celtic oligarchies used a written language, and the Roman sources say it was… Greek(!). That makes sense as the Greeks arrived on the south coast of France while the Romans were still herding cows. Southern France was an important place, because it commands three trade routes: towards the Atlantic (Aquitania), towards the North Sea, along the Rhone and then Saone valleys. The latter route bifurcates to the North East towards Germany, between the mountains.
The Germans got militarized, archeology shows, as they got in contact with the Roman Republic, but then they got the idea they could conquer Italy, as the Celts had conquered Rome in the Fourth century BCE (the Romans bough it back).
3) The West is really a symbiosis between Greco-Roman democracy, resting on slavery, and Germanic equalitarianism. German equalitarianism had risen how it had risen initially in Rome, or elsewhere; from small owner-farmers. What had degraded the Greco-Roman world was not just cliodynamics (~ the cycling of plutocracy), but the facts that the leading example of direct democracy, Athens, rested greatly on silver mines (and thus abject slavery), and that, after the Hannibalic war, a super charged Rome, intellectually decapitated, in fascism and empire mostly trusted.
The confederation of the Franks was able to exploit new crops and new steel (the heavy plough) to augment considerably the yields of Northern Europe, its own population, and impose a symbiosis of German and Roman ways on the North West part of the Roman empire (only now is it being imposed on the South East part of the empire!).
4) Pretty much the entire present European Union is a direct descendant of the Imperium Francorum-Renovatio Imperium Romanum. So far, so good. However, history shows that ALIENATION IMPLIES AGGRESSION. The extreme bellicose mood between Germania and Francia took a full millennium to rise after the initial alienation that one can date to the election of Otto I. And the opposition became so great that it became quasi metaphysical, the Western Franks (French) opting for the Republic, and the Eastern ones (“Germans”) for a sort of fascist Satrapy.
Although I hyperlinked to Wikipedia here it is in error, as it calls the Roman empire “Holly” (Sacrum). Sacrum was added only after 1254. The word “German”, as in Imperium Romanum Sacrum Nationis Germanicæ was added only in 1474 CE, for the reasons quoted above, namely the gnawing back by the Parisian king of the old Parisian dominions (Otto I had celebrated his coronation in Aachen, which was a West Francia domain… as befits what is on the west side of the Rhine, an old Celtic area.
So Alsace reminds us of this: beware of history and its meandering paths. A breadth of fancy can soon turn into the dangerous insanity of destiny on a rampage.
Merkel I and the likes of Jean Claude Junker (head of Eurogroup, Prime Minister of the banana duchy of Luxembourg) should remember that their pseudo rescue of Greece (and real rescue of private banksters who helped corrupt Greece) should keep in mind that the oppression they let be visited on common people is real pain, integrated over hundreds of millions of individuals, a heavy initial condition for futre history.
The subprime system still exist. “Structured financial products” nobody know what they are, still dominate the world economy. Whereas France (say) has cracked down on derivatives, a lot of the trading conducted there has fled to London or New York. Of course, in this, it’s beyond Europe, but not beyond the lessons Alsace brought.
The Middle East did not yet recover from the collapse of Republican Roman law, when it was replaced by the Sharia, and when the Phoenician-Greco-Latin alphabet was replaced by the alphabet used in the Qur’an.
Only now is Germany recovering from the crusading spirit of the Teutonic knights (who reigned centuries, whereas their colleagues in the West got chopped off), conquerors and colonizers of Prussia. Anti-Judaism, initially launched by the abject Saint Augustine, 16 centuries ago, has only now become a bad word.
Yes, it is Saint Augustine who Obama claims to muster for inspiration when he makes sacred war against those geographically associated to al Qaeda. No wonder he is so wrong. It’s a small world, but often the same mental patterns. Until more advanced civilization comes to erase them.