In the article Race, racism and the middle ages, Amy Kaufman focuses on white supremacy, hate crimes and violent acts in the Middle Ages. Amy compares modern ‘alt right’ movements with the grand titles and aggressive military regimes to that of medieval times. She also argues how modern notions about medievalism are shaped through the contemporary ideas about the Middle Ages which have been shaped over time through public perception and depicted through film and other media. She states that the popular sentiment for many of those who discuss the middle ages is based around myths which feed their imagination, and based less around factual history. Amy argues that there are many white men who fantasize about medievalism in order to cope with their changing status in society, from dominant and powerful to a more equal position with women and people of all races. She then argues how these kinds of sentiments contributed to the creation of violent and hateful organizations such as the KKK. The KKK, which was formed after the Civil War in the US, was a cult which worked to re-establish and maintain the supremacy of the white male in society. One of my concerns with this article is the way the author sometimes uses the term ‘alt right’ very generally, or in direct connection or relation to violent organization such as the KKK. Amy does not exactly define what she means by ‘alt right’ and although the organizations she talks about could be considered ‘alt right’, when she uses the term on its own it blurs the lines between ‘alt right’ movements which are socially acceptable and those which are hateful and violent.
Marc Saurette’s lecture helped to draw critical links between the Middle Ages and contemporary ideas. One example in was Francis Bernard Dicksee’s 1885 painting, Chivalry. Chivalry, which itself was not painted in the Middle Ages, invokes a sense of nostalgia about the period. Chivalry is seen, both rightly and wrongly, as a medieval value. Therefore, in later periods, such as the 19th century, many people invoke chivalry as a medieval value. Dicksee’s painting does this in more than just title. His painting paints a very clear picture of a chivalrous medieval knight coming to the rescue to protect the virtue and purity of the white damsel in distress. This painting, while today historical itself, is hundreds of years from removed from the Middle Ages. However, it, like many other works, reinforces this cultural idea of a chivalrous medieval period that valued and protected white female purity.
In her article, The Birth of a National Disgrace: Medievalism and the KKK, Amy Kaufman speaks to the resurrection of this value. She writes that the Klan harnessed and reinforced an anxious white male chivalry that demanded the protected of frail, virtuous white women. This was a value that had been reinforced and painted as medieval for centuries.
The Klan used this fetishization of Medieval values to advance their racist agenda. As seen over centuries in Europe, nation states based on ethnicity tend to ultimately result in failure (Geary). Therefore if they would like to truly invoke and learn from history, these failures, should logically trump their nostalgia for the Middle Ages.
In today’s session we talked about our perception of the Middle Ages and its place in history. We recognised, through the help of guest speaker Marc Saurette, that the Middle Ages is either romanticised in literature and art, or it is referred to as a Dark Age, during which nothing good managed to occurr. Marc drew up a number of interesting comparative propaganda posters from different totalitarian regimes of the 20th century, each of which used the crusades or medieval times as a beacon of inspiration. This is something that I had not come across previously, so I found it particularly interesting.
In our group discussion, we started by discussing the clear continuity that exists between the Middle Ages and the modern era. This is rarely drawn upon but clearly evident. There existed equal problems of inequality and religious persecution that occur today, which is often overlooked when historians reflect on this period as a whole. However, white supremacy did not mean harmony; there were numerous other problems that destabilised society, unbalancing this idealised perception of the period. From here, we discussed the role of nostalgia in creating this skewed interpretation of the Middle Ages. We concluded that countries try to selectively forget history that portrays them in a negative light in order to see themselves as superior to other troubled countries.
At this point we turned to look at the impact of nationhood and tradition on our society. People forget that tradition and Nation-hood was created only in the 19th century, at a time when most countries consisted a numerous different cultures and even languages. Today, those rejecting immigrants argue that they are disrupting there traditions and culture. However, it is a modern idea to believe that traditions stay the same and one nation should speak the same language. This was not the case in medieval times nor in the early modern period. This highlights how people idealise the past to legitimise the past, often incorrectly.
Lastly, what I found most interesting was our discussion on Federico Finchelstein’s idea, that Populism and Fascism should not be defined or confined to any parameters in the modern age. Parties or people often use both words as a weapon to denounce the opposition, rather to portray any substantiative meaning. One should be more hesitant when using such divisive words, as through such blasphemy we lose the meaning and relevance of phrases that have had a place in history.
The introduction from the textbook From Populism to fascism in History provides an insight into the history of populism and fascism and where the terms come from. One of the arguments that intrigued me most was how people from the media to pundits and to politicians misuse the terms when labeling politicians, they do not agree with. The reading proposes that they do not know the historical context of these words which provides a danger in throwing them around when describing a right-wing politician whose ideological stripe does not align with them. One can find many blogs and articles that describe former Prime Minister Stephen Harper as a fascist. This hyperbole used to describe a democratically elected politician is damaging because it likens him to real fascists such as Mussolini and Hitler. When describing moderate politicians as fascist one downplays the actual atrocities that are committed under ultraviolent regimes. Do pundits really believe far-right politicians are fascists or do they use the terminology for shock and awe to improve their audience base?
The reading from Amy Kaufman titled The Birth of a National Disgrace: Medievalism and the KKK discusses how the myth of medieval times that was constructed of a white male patriarchy affirms the roots of the ideology of the KKK and other white nationalist movements. The myth of medieval chivalry is nothing but a form of blinders similar to those used by race forces to enforce the ideas of weak minded individuals to justify their actions. If the white-nationalists would take a step back from their narrative of protecting white virtue they would realize how far behind their rationales are. These people are trying to turn their America into a utopian Camelot by closing their minds to what is going on around them and not realizing that they are on the wrong side of the coin. The movement of white nationalism reared its head during the Trump campaign but does it have the strength to continue on to 2020?
At issue this week, is the discussion of how ideas about the medieval period have been incorporated into popular discourse. There are two main ideas that are relevant from this week’s readings. The first is the borrowing of chivalric values from the middle ages and the problems that lie with this. The second is the idea of the constructed nation, and how the use of texts and ideas from the middle ages help in the construction of these groups.
It is important to consider how ideas of chivalry affected the actions and ideas of groups, such as the KKK, as mentioned in Amy Kaufman’s article. She discusses the idea that these ideas are appropriated in order to make the members of these organizations feel more secure because they are looking back and dreaming of the patriarchal society of the Middle Ages. However, it is important to look at how these ideas have been taken out of context, warped and applied in ways that are not in keeping with historical fact.
This leads to one of the other main themes that I saw in these readings – the construction of groups (as nations, or social groups) based on “facts.” It is clear from what Patrick Geary says in both his article and podcast that these ideas are constructed to suit certain groups, and by extension disadvantage others. If we understand these histories as being constructed we must ask ourselves: who is telling this story, and to what end? It seems to me that the ultimate goal of these narratives is control and to assert that control by creating an identity.