Sympathy for the European Devil


I have more sympathy for the European devil than for our own modern Antipaters. Established religion has been a curse in Europe; more to the point, the concept of Chosenness, central to Judaism, came to the Europeans in a perverse form that caused immeasurable grief over the centuries. As I argue in my book How Civilizations DieEurope was constructed from a twisted concept of national election:

The notion of eternal life beyond this world remained beyond the ken of the lightly-baptized European tribes. They did not want to be adopted as individuals into a new “tribe of Christians”--that is, into Israel, as the Church promised. Instead, they want to replace Israel and become the uniquely chosen nation. That is, they wanted to be eternal in their own skins—to be the Chosen Nation among nations that, like ancient Israel, would enjoy eternity in its own flesh. From the beginning of the seventh century onward, jealousy over Israel’s election inspired hatred of the Jews. Christianity made a fatal compromise with national idolatry, and the lightly-baptized peoples who coveted the Election of Israel proceeded to  persecute the original chosen people of God.

Genocidal nationalism was not a twentieth- or even a nineteenth-century invention. The unquiet urge of each nation to be chosen in own skin began with the first conversion of Europe’s pagans; it was embedded in European Christendom at its founding. Christian chroniclers cast the newly-baptized European monarchs in the role of biblical kings, and their nations in the role of the biblical Israel. The first claims to national election came at the crest of the early Dark Ages, from the sixth-century chronicler St. Gregory of Tours (538-594), and the seventh-century Iberian churchman St. Isidore of Seville.

St. Gregory's History of the Franks conflates the deeds of the Merovingian dynasty in Gaul with biblical events, in a salvation history intended to persuade the Frankish kings of their divine calling as leaders of Christendom. "One can see the historico-theological drama in Book II of the Histories Gregory's conception of Gaul as a holy land, a New Israel," writes Notre Dame University historian Phillip Wynn. "Here the author comes to grips with events central to his contemporary society, the establishment by Clovis of a Frankish kingdom in Gaul ruled by the Merovingian dynasty. How this happened within the framework of a divinely-actuated history and what lessons this past had for Gregory's present explain many of the peculiar aspects of his narrative in Book II, including its disordered chronology and historical errors.'"[i]

And the historian Réne Rémond  notes, “It was perhaps in France that the identification of religion with national destiny was oldest, because it was one of the oldest nations. At a very early date, a tradition accredited by the abbey of St. Denis presented the kingdom of France as the chosen nation, called upon, after Christ’s coming, to be the one to carry on the Israel of the Old Testament; hence the adage Gesta Dei per Francos—the deeds of God through the Franks.”[ii] The election of the Frankish king Charlemagne as Holy Roman Emperor in 800 C.E. provided a foundation for the French claim to chosenness.

If the Franks were the first European nation to discover their own national election in the manner of biblical Israel, the Spanish were not far behind. Seventh-century Spain was ruled by the Visigoths, “who considered themselves to be a chosen people with all the associated privileges and obligations. And in support of this proposition, the great Visigothic chroniclers such as St. Isidore, St. Julian, and Juan Biclarense argued that the Visigothic people was God’s instrument on earth,” literary critic Jack Weiner writes in his study of the theme of the “chosen people” in medieval Spanish poetry.[iii]... The contending French and Spanish claims to national election...were fought out at catastrophic cost much later, during the Thirty Years' War of the seventeenth century.

It was not Voltaire or Rousseau or Nietzche who ruined Europe, but rather St. Gregory of Tours and St. Isidore of Seville who built the flaw into Europe's foundation in the Dark Ages. I know that conservatives are supposed to hold high the banner of Western civilization, but I have an arm cramp at the moment. Just as Hanns Johst's character in "Schlageter" could not hear the word "Kultur" (the banner under which Wilhelmine Germany fought and lost World War I) without releasing the safety catch on his Browning, today's Europeans cannot hear the word "Chosenness" without flashbacks of all of Europe's awful wars.

My European friends are too scarred by their own sorry history to regard any form of ethnic self-assertion with anything but revulsion. The Jewish notion of divine election, brought to America by the Pilgrim Fathers, reminds them of the horrors of their own history. It is pointless to explain to them that they got it wrong starting in the 7th century C.E. The Europeans are what their history has made of them, and there's no replaying the tape. The Germans are ambivalent about being German. That I can understand. I have less sympathy for Jews who don't want to be Jews.

[i] Phillip Wynn, "Wars and Warriors of Gregory of Tours' Histories," in Francia Forschungen zur westeuropäischen Geschichte Vol. 28, 2001 (Ostfildern 2001).

[ii]              Religion and Society in Modern Europe, by Réne Rémond (Wiley-Blackwell 1999), p. 110-111.

[iii] Jack Weiner, El Poema de mio Cid (Edition Reichenberger 2001), p. 6.

Read more:

images courtesy shutterstock /  anyamuse / Perig