Those of us on the right are frequently criticized for yearning for the Good Old Days, an imagined golden age where everything seemed right with the world. Progressives point out that the good old days weren't so good for their pet minorities, as if this would shock or scandalize us. There's no such thing as a perfect world, and if anyone promises you one you should reach for your gun. What makes previous ages superior to ours, and the Middle Ages the greatest of all, is that they were more in accord with reality. The Medievals, as Boniface says, recognized faith and reason, Church and State, Spirit and Flesh. They understood that each has its place and that the one survives and thrives with the influence of the other. Whether you were a king or a little street sweeper (sooner or later you danced with the reaper), you were part of a coherent universe governed by the laws of God and nature.If there was one ideal that characterizes the Middle Ages and sums up the entire character of that long epoch in a single word, it would be harmony. Not harmony in the sense of temporal peace, for the Middle Ages were as tumultuous and violent as any age of the sons of Adam. No, we do not mean harmony in the sense of peace, but harmony in the sense of the belief that everything can and should work together.No human era tried so hard to find a place for everything within a single system as did the Middle Ages. It was an age of synthesis, when the most contradictions were only apparent, when it was believed that centrifugal forces in society could be held together, when it was assumed that the world was a single, gigantic system in which everything from the highest angel to the most fragmentary piece of prime matter had its place in God's great cosmos. No culture ever worked as diligently to reconcile the One and Many as the medievals.And what sort of divergent forces did the medievals manage to reconcile? In my opinion, I believe the medieval synthesis consisted in three fundamental harmonies: Faith and Reason, Church and State, Spirit and Flesh. The medieval synthesis consisted in being able to maintain a harmonious balance between these three sets of contraries, reconciling them all in God's goodness. So long as this great balance was maintained, medieval life flourished.
Progressives who subscribe to the Whig theory of history tend to think that the present is the culmination of human achievement. Today, April 27, 2015, is the freest we've ever been. For them, history is the long march aimed at overthrowing the oppressive superstitions, customs, and systems that kept our ancestors fettered. Their goal is to eradicate the last remaining vestiges of tradition, to overcome the untermenschen still chained by the arbitrary rules of bygone days who oppress women and minorities out of spite and lust for power.
That's an enervating way to live one's life. For the liberal, there's always someone to fight, some new oppressor to be conquered. As The Rock might say, the Medievals knew their roles and shut their mouths. We think this must have been an intolerable tyranny. Moderns think of Medieval kings as being omnipotent dictators who told everyone what to think and how to live. In reality, kings were simply the most powerful nobles who were not more powerful than any two or three nobles who might align against them. In his own humble way, the Medieval peasant was much freer than we are today with all of our toys.
The synthesis between the competing spheres of life is difficult. It requires effort and discipline. But without it, life becomes unbalanced and life descends into chaos and personal turmoil. Progressives see history as an ascending slope, culminating in our wonderful, wonderful selves. In reality, history is cyclical and we're living through one of its many downsides. Let me offer a deal to any liberals who may read this: I'm willing and able to admit that the Good Old Days weren't perfect if you're willing to concede that the present isn't the best of all worlds.