WOID #XIV-16. TimesWatch: Der Bannertraeger

[Monsieur Defarge has joined Wölfflin Jack, James Jackson Jiveass, Hoipolloi Cassidy and all the others on the editorial board at WOID. He will cover cultural reporting at the New York Times.]

The only Judith Miller not writing for the Times these days is the one named Judith Miller. In today's Op-Ed David Brooks lays out that mixture of arrogance and gullibility that seems to come out of the airducts on 43rd Street.

Like Miller, it's all recycled, and then misread. Brooks has discovered that the Middle Ages can provide a political inspiration in the present, duh. Ever since the French Revolution abolished feudalism there's been attempts among conservative thinkers to revive the culture of the Middle Ages in the forlorn hope of abolishing the French Revolution.

Not a problem. There are points when the Conservative critique of nineteenth-century alienation joins with progressive thought to find present meanings and uses for the Middle Ages, notably with the poet/designer/artist/activist William Morris, who at the end of his life alternated between founding English Socialism and designing medieval art-objects. A page of notes survives on which Morris,apparently bored during a discussion of the Irish Question, starts to doodle manuscript illuminations.

Where the Tories and the radicals joined forces, though, was to find in the Middle Ages a critique of capitalism, and of the alienation brought forth by capitalism. Brooks (si licet in parva) decides to find in the Middle Ages an endorsement of capitalism, scilicet his own ill-defined idea of free-market capitalism.

Yawn. Been done. British Tories were always uncomfortable that the values of those golden times were the values of Papists, and in the first part of the twentieth century you find a series of critics and historians (Roger Fry and G. G. Coulton, for instance) trying to prove that those values that made the Middle Ages great were in fact the values of the Protestant Reformation. Now, a century later, Brooks discovers that "Catholic monasteries emerged as capitalist enterprises," and it's a stretch, but there's room for debate and if he wants to discuss the meaning of certain passages about the compensation of scribes in the thirteenth-century rule of the Abbey of Saint-Victor, I'm willing. It's not as if capitalism didn't exist in the Middle Ages, and some of the most influential, long-lasting critiques of capitalism originate in the Middle Ages. You can't buy a slice of salami in a small town in Italy without engaging in an implicit response to the thirteenth-century critique of capital by Saint Thomas Aquinas, and that relationship has become a lot more explicit of late, as left-wing Catholics attempt to rethink the critique of capitalism in terms of Church Doctrine.

This is different. You see, says Brooks (and here he's recycling some neo-con wanker), what made the Middle Ages great is the values of capitalism, AND there are the values: Obedience to Authority. Faith. Having certain Beliefs Instilled. Let's leave aside his obscene suggestion that those are the values of Catholicism itself.

Let's not end here, though: what makes Free Enterprise, Each Man for Himself, the Invisible Hand of the Market is: Burning Heretics. Intolerance. Religious Bigotry. Enforced Ideologies. A Rigid Social Hierachy. I guess everyone's entitled to their own Middle Ages, and we're entitled to our own views of capitalism, but I haven't heard the two joined this way since 1937.

So there, from those who know, is the meaning of Free Enterprise. As Degas said of Seurat's little dots, "I would have noticed if it wasn't so obvious."

- Monsieur Defarge
WOID: a journal of visual language