2002-06-09: From Dawn to Decadence (part 2)

From Dawn to Decadence

1500 to the Present (2000)

by Jacques Barzun (1907-2012)

Wow, it’s been more than a year since I finished the report on Part I. I recently finished reading Part II, but have been slow to resume this report. A glance at the book shows an intimidating number of flags.

Part II opens with The Monarchs’ Revolution, a reference to the revolutionary (and revolution-begetting) notion invented by monarchs: the nation.

239:  Nation implies the nation-state, the one source of authority, just as monarch when compared to king means undisputed rule by one alone. This double development – king into monarch, realm into nation – is the mark of the revolution, in keeping with the definition given earlier (<3): a violent transfer of power and property in the name of an idea.

241: A king is a monarch when he holds the monopoly of war, and this means money for a standing army.

243: The name bourgeoisie has been put to so many uses since the vogue of Marxism and sociology, that it needs a moment’s attention. One of the dullest clichés one encounters in books is: “the rising bourgeoisie.” Most often it is represented as emerging in 19C England as a class made up of manufacturers. The phrase also serves to explain various reform movements in England and revolutions abroad; it is made to account for improved police organization and the popularity of the novel. The rising bourgeoisie resembles a perpetual soufflé. For Karl Marx, the bourgeois were the masters of a stage in history, as if aristocrats and peasants no longer exerted any power. After him novelists and critics used the name as a term of abuse denoting stuffy moralism and philistine tastes.

To begin with, the chronology is wrong. The time of the rising bourgeoisie is not the 19C but the 12th. It was then that after much travail the towns of Europe began to revive, roads improved, and trade flourished again beyond the town walls. By the beginning of the Modern Era, this trade was inter-European and soon global. The people who carried it on got the name of bourgeois from being inhabitants of the burg or town; they were burghers or, in the early American assemblies, burgesses. They were well-to-do; as early as the 14C they were lending money to kings and replacing the clergy as government officials, for they knew how to read and write and especially to count. By the time of Louis XIV they occupied the most important posts and were being ennobled right and left for their services. So the bourgeoisie was not rising 200 years later in the days of Queen Victoria. It was fully risen.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email