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What is the central relation of a religion to the culture that develops it? This paper (based on the work by Marvin Perry, The Humanities in the Western Tradition) explores the relation of a religion to the culture that develops it and analyzes the psychological dimension of popular culture in early modern and Medieval Europe. Based on detailed historical case studies, and using a combination of history, humanities and psychological analysis, the book explores historical attitudes, masculinity and femininity, magic, concepts of excess, and influence of culture on the religion in Europe. Considerations about the distinctively collective nature of medieval culture and the foreignness to it of our notion of the person go some way towards explaining the particular reluctance early modern historians have expressed towards using historical analysis in exploring humanities more directly.
Historical analysis in humanities, it is often argued, is a product of the nineteenth century (Perry 45-49). It touches the constitution of humanities field itself. It concerns the extent of historical change, the concept of the subject, the role of religion and ritual; in short, the justification for our rejection of terms such as 'family' and 'individual' to apply to the early modern world. In the work by Perry, by contrast, these are precisely the terms many have found themselves drawn to use in order to approach an understanding of medieval people, which does more than treat them as colorful primitives from a carnival world; which takes individual subjectivity seriously enough to be able to pose the difficult question of what, precisely, is historical in subjectivity. Which has been more important in the development of the West, violence or love?
This paper argues that violence has been much more important and played a more crucial role than love in the development of the West. Phillip C. Boardman in his book titled Enduring Legacies: Ancient and Medieval Cultures explains that early state-builders' use of violence was not viewed as legitimate by the majority of the people who for centuries resisted their drive for control. And the exercise of coercion in the vast majority of European states during the medieval times has certainly not been viewed as legitimate by much of their own and other populations (Boardman 38-40). Phillip argues that legitimacy is the probability that other authorities will act to confirm the decisions of a given authority (56-59). It is not clear whether Boardman’s other authorities are domestic actors or other states.
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However, if we take medieval European states themselves as the assessors of legitimacy, it is clear that the state is the legitimate deploying source of compulsion. Rebel groups, separatist movements, and transnational groups are not viewed as legitimate enforcing factors of coercion by the states or statesmen as a group. The next three questions concern how much control the state exerts over what aspects of violence. The confusion over whether the state controls the use or the means of violence stems from a blurring of three analytically distinct dimensions of control: decision-making authority, allocation, and ownership (Phillip 78-81). State control over the use of violence implies decision-making authority over the deployment of violence—the authority to decide the ends to which violence is deployed. The alternative to state authority is non-state authority.
However, whether the decision-making authority chooses to allocate its coercive capabilities authoritatively or through the market is a separate issue. In short, although Renaissance and the period of Romanticism (characterized by love) played a major role in the development of the West as we see it today, medieval times (that were central to the formation of the European states) were distinguished by violence (excessive at times) and complete lack of true and giving love as outlined and defined by early philosophers such as Descartes and Dante or Sophocles and Plato.
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