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Author Topic: Merovingian Anarchy versus Carolingian Centralization  (Read 1393 times)

rbjmartin

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http://bionicmosquito.blogspot.com/2013/05/merovingian-anarchy.html

This is a fascinating comparison between the relative anarchy of the Merovingian era (and its merits) and the centralization efforts of the Carolingian era (and its demerits). This analysis contains some fascinating implications for political philosophy, such as the relevance of concern for individual rights in heavily decentralized societies versus in centralized states:
 
Quote
Again, from North:
 Then what of individual rights? This was not a major concern in the medieval era. Why not? Because the individual's rights were defended by institutions other than the civil government.
 
Then, quoting Nisbet:
 In the medieval world there was relatively little concern with positive, discrete rights of individuals, largely because of the differences of political power and the reality of innumerable group authorities. But when the consolidation of national political power brought with it a destruction of many of the social bodies within which individuals had immemorially lived in taken refuge, when, in sum, law became a more centralized and impersonal structure, with the individual as its unit, the concern for positive, constitutionally guaranteed rights of individuals became urgent. European governments may have sought often, and successfully prolonged periods, to resist claims of individual right, but it is hard to miss the fact that states (England, for example) which became the most successful, economically as well as politically, had the earliest constitutional recognition of individual rights, especially property. In retrospect, however, we see that it was the sheer impact of the State upon medieval custom and tradition, with the consequent atomizing and liberating effects, that, more than anything else, precipitated the modern concern with positive individual rights.

This is just one interesting point in the article. The whole thing is very fascinating.
Nolite confidere in principibus. - Psalm 145

WhollyRoaminCatholic

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That is interesting.
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cgraye

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Interesting.  I'll read it more carefully later.
« Last Edit: May 08, 2013, 03:25:pm by cgraye »
Chris

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Very interesting indeed.

I will say though that I imagine that even the most centralized state in the early Medieval period would seem Libertarian in many ways by the standards of Today

Fans of guys like Rothbard, von Mises, and Rockwell see stuff like this and jump up and down saying "Look! Look!  A society without the evil state!" Of course reality is much more complicated than that. I will give a more intelligent reply when I get home and have time to look at it more in depth.
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DrBombay

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Interesting.


DoktorDespot

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So, after reading the whole article I am pretty unconvinced by the Author - nor do I really understand his point beyond "Charlemagne hated the free market  :'("

First off there doesn't seem to be any evidence presented that the Merovingians deliberately adopted a decentralized economy. Historically the Merovingian kings were known for seizing land and redistributing it to their followers and supporters.

Second, I do not buy his bit about the market wise Merovingians and their bi-metallic standard. Anyway, the reason that silver played an increasingly large role was simply because it was much more available. With the collapse of the Roman empire and the subsequent decline of trade between Th Eastern Europe and the rest of the world, the supply of Gold also decreased. Since the economy ran primarily on the barter system at the time (and most estates were self-sufficient to begin with and conducted little trade,) there would have been no need for government regulation of the economy. Of course, by the time of Charlemagne, trade had increased, and there was a need to ensure that the currency was not devalued by debasing (which had been fatal to the late Roman Empire.)

In addition, the author says that the free market would have been perfectly capable of resolving issues in the currency supply in time (he appears to be of the school that the free market is "always" more efficient than the state.) This is evidently untrue though, because otherwise there would have been no need for the Carolingian monarchs to pass regulations.

Furthermore, the author takes issue with Charlemagne's ban on usury and prohibitions on working on Sunday. I do not have much to say about this other than it was obviously his attempt to conform the Kingdom to Christian morality. The description of bans on usury as a "monetary crank theory" is quite ironic.

It seems to me that the quote regarding individual rights is meant to be taken as relevant to both the decentralized Merovingian state and the centralized Carolingian one. The point seems to be that regardless of the who was in charge and what their economic/military policies were, individual rights remained the same because they were seen as the domain of God and his Church. so even the greatest statist of the time would not have infringed upon them.
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rbjmartin

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So, after reading the whole article I am pretty unconvinced by the Author - nor do I really understand his point beyond "Charlemagne hated the free market  :'("

Generally speaking, I think his point is to explain how the centralizing efforts of Charlemagne did not have the economic benefits he envisioned. This is Henry Hazlitt economics 101. Well-motivated economic policies of the state almost always carry with them unforeseen side effects that typically affect the economy in adverse ways. So while Carolingian policies didn't achieve hoped-for economic goals, they did allow the perpetuation of large scale military operations on a regular basis, which are not a possibility in a decentralized society with a largely unregulated economy (i.e. not significantly taxed and no central monetary authority). Hence, his supposition that attempts at  building up of state authority and centralization are almost universally related to an ongoing desire to make war.

First off there doesn't seem to be any evidence presented that the Merovingians deliberately adopted a decentralized economy. Historically the Merovingian kings were known for seizing land and redistributing it to their followers and supporters.

I don't think that was his claim. He observed that prior to the Carolingian era, the Merovingian lands were largely de-centralized, and in the post-Carolingian era, they returned to decentralization because most people found the Carolingian reforms counter-productive.

Second, I do not buy his bit about the market wise Merovingians and their bi-metallic standard. Anyway, the reason that silver played an increasingly large role was simply because it was much more available. With the collapse of the Roman empire and the subsequent decline of trade between Th Eastern Europe and the rest of the world, the supply of Gold also decreased. Since the economy ran primarily on the barter system at the time (and most estates were self-sufficient to begin with and conducted little trade,) there would have been no need for government regulation of the economy. Of course, by the time of Charlemagne, trade had increased, and there was a need to ensure that the currency was not devalued by debasing (which had been fatal to the late Roman Empire.)

I think you're missing his point (or maybe you're making it for him). Silver was already coming into greater use due to market forces. Charlemagne was just building on this by creating an official legal tender. But the author claims that the market rejected Charlemagne's coinage, for whatever reason. The author doesn't claim to know what the reason was. There are several possibilities. Perhaps the purity of his coins was not up to the standards of what could be obtained in the open market among other sources of coinage. The author's theory is that the market feared the possibility of a state monopoly on currency (precisely because the state would then be free to devalue it as occurred in the late Roman period via decreasing gold/silver content). I think it's probably a combination of both.

In addition, the author says that the free market would have been perfectly capable of resolving issues in the currency supply in time (he appears to be of the school that the free market is "always" more efficient than the state.) This is evidently untrue though, because otherwise there would have been no need for the Carolingian monarchs to pass regulations.

Again, I think you're missing the point. The Carolingians didn't NEED to pass regulation. The Carolingian reforms were elective. Private coinage was working efficiently, because the market could select the purest coinage rather than be forced to use the coinage of a particular monarch. This naturally prevents the devaluation of currency via inflation. There was no currency crisis in the Merovingian era. Currency crises UNIVERSALLY occur due to monopolistic monetary policies of centralized authorities. Charlemagne wanted to coin currency and regulate it so he could more efficiently tax and rule over a geographically and culturally diverse empire. His monetary policy did nothing to serve the needs of the market. So it was his political and military goals that informed his monetary policy, not a desire to meet the economic needs of his people.

Furthermore, the author takes issue with Charlemagne's ban on usury and prohibitions on working on Sunday. I do not have much to say about this other than it was obviously his attempt to conform the Kingdom to Christian morality. The description of bans on usury as a "monetary crank theory" is quite ironic.

What do you make of the bishop of Verdun's position on usury, then? Also, I thought the author did a fine job addressing this when he explained that borrowing money in the early middle ages typically wouldn't have been for capital investments but for life or death necessities, thus accounting for why charging interest to a borrower would be seen as immoral. In the case of capital loans, it would certainly be moral. So a distinction must be made.

It seems to me that the quote regarding individual rights is meant to be taken as relevant to both the decentralized Merovingian state and the centralized Carolingian one. The point seems to be that regardless of the who was in charge and what their economic/military policies were, individual rights remained the same because they were seen as the domain of God and his Church. so even the greatest statist of the time would not have infringed upon them.

I don't think that is the point of the statement. The author points to various sources that one could depend on for securing one's rights in the Merovingian era (one's family, one's community, one's local lord of chieftain, the Church, etc.). But as efforts to centralize political authority naturally lead to the dimunition of influence for lower level social entities, the need arises to codify individual rights in constitutional form to protect individuals in the larger state, because the individual has less influence in such a large realm and is easily overlooked (whereas he might have previously  gone to his local lord or ecclesial authority to seek advocacy, for example). Thus, declarations of rights (which became so fashionable in the Enlightenment era) were not necessary in the Merovingian era in order to achieve the same level of rights, due to the natural localization of influences capable of protecting an individual's rights.
Nolite confidere in principibus. - Psalm 145

cgraye

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To this day, whenever I see the word "Merovingian", I hear it in my 11th grade history teacher's voice.
Chris

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Generally speaking, I think his point is to explain how the centralizing efforts of Charlemagne did not have the economic benefits he envisioned. This is Henry Hazlitt economics 101. Well-motivated economic policies of the state almost always carry with them unforeseen side effects that typically affect the economy in adverse ways. So while Carolingian policies didn't achieve hoped-for economic goals, they did allow the perpetuation of large scale military operations on a regular basis, which are not a possibility in a decentralized society with a largely unregulated economy (i.e. not significantly taxed and no central monetary authority). Hence, his supposition that attempts at  building up of state authority and centralization are almost universally related to an ongoing desire to make war.


Quote
Well, we are not provided in the article with what Charlamange's intent was regarding economic benefits to his policies. We can probably assume that he was trying to increase state revenue and promote trade across the empire (and externally.) This would be a compelling reason for standardizing coinage and weights and measures. There is no quantifiable data presented regarding what effect these policies had on trade or other economic activity, so it is difficult to pass judgement on them there. I do not agree that the building up of state authority is always linked to the desire to make war (although obviously there are many historical examples, particularly in the United States were this is true.) If we take the case of these two Frankish dynasties, then we seee that the Merovingian period was by no means peaceful. The hundreds of small domains were constantly fighting petty wars at behest of the local rulers who sought pillage and privelage.

At the same time, it is important to remember that the Carolingians rose to power in the first place because the neccesity of waging external wars put Charles Martel in a position of power from which his successors took the title King of the Franks. Charlamange later continued these wars out of neccesity. These wars were fought against the Moors (who at that time controlled Spain and threatened the rest of Christian Europe,) and the Pagan Saxons who were threatening Frankish lands.

I don't think that was his claim. He observed that prior to the Carolingian era, the Merovingian lands were largely de-centralized, and in the post-Carolingian era, they returned to decentralization because most people found the Carolingian reforms counter-productive.

Quote
I think that his point here, while technically true, does not reflect historical reality. The decentralization that occured after the Caorlingian era was due to inheritance laws and customs that saw the succesors of Charlemange possesing smaller and smaller areas as their domains. Perhaps you could tell me why you think that the standardization of weights and measures would have been counter-productive to economic activity.


I think you're missing his point (or maybe you're making it for him). Silver was already coming into greater use due to market forces. Charlemagne was just building on this by creating an official legal tender. But the author claims that the market rejected Charlemagne's coinage, for whatever reason. The author doesn't claim to know what the reason was. There are several possibilities. Perhaps the purity of his coins was not up to the standards of what could be obtained in the open market among other sources of coinage. The author's theory is that the market feared the possibility of a state monopoly on currency (precisely because the state would then be free to devalue it as occurred in the late Roman period via decreasing gold/silver content). I think it's probably a combination of both.

Quote
It is important to note here that under the Merovingians there was an official Gold standard - the impractibility of which required Charlemange to abrogate it and replace it with a silver one. This certainly streamlined economic activity, by brining market forces and government policy into harmony. The maket was slow to correct the situation of the many different currencies made to different standards, and while it may have achieved standardization at some point, it was expedient for the state to become involved. I would also like to see more evidence to support the claim that the market rejected Charlemange's currency reform. As far as I know the Livre that he introduced remained the currency in France until the French revolution. I do know that many duchies minted their own currency under the Capetians that succeeded the Carolingians. This once again complicated trade and diplomacy, because it meant that trade deals or other treaties had to specify which region or mint's money was being used.


Again, I think you're missing the point. The Carolingians didn't NEED to pass regulation. The Carolingian reforms were elective. Private coinage was working efficiently, because the market could select the purest coinage rather than be forced to use the coinage of a particular monarch. This naturally prevents the devaluation of currency via inflation. There was no currency crisis in the Merovingian era. Currency crises UNIVERSALLY occur due to monopolistic monetary policies of centralized authorities. Charlemagne wanted to coin currency and regulate it so he could more efficiently tax and rule over a geographically and culturally diverse empire. His monetary policy did nothing to serve the needs of the market. So it was his political and military goals that informed his monetary policy, not a desire to meet the economic needs of his people.

Quote
I think monatery policy of the time was still very related to external relations in the form of either trade or diplomacy. Local trade took place primarily on the barter system anyway. There was no currency crisis during the Merovingian era because there was a steady supply of Gold from the East, at least initially. During the Carolingian era, the peace with Byzantium and ceding of Venice and Sicily to the East saw the loss of the trade routes to Africa. We can point to this event as neccesitating a rapid switch to the silver standard. This was important because the gold sou that was used before was minted by the Byzantines, and was itself variable in quality (which would have been the reason for the markets actions under the Merovingians.) Charlamange simply abandoned official use of this bad system.

What do you make of the bishop of Verdun's position on usury, then? Also, I thought the author did a fine job addressing this when he explained that borrowing money in the early middle ages typically wouldn't have been for capital investments but for life or death necessities, thus accounting for why charging interest to a borrower would be seen as immoral. In the case of capital loans, it would certainly be moral. So a distinction must be made.

Quote
I wonder at what point this statement was made by the Bishop of Verdun. Initially Christendom regarded usury and interest as simply a lack of charity. Towards the end of the first millenium though, there was a shift in thought to regard it as actual theft. This was probably influenced by the rediscovery of Aristotle who regarded usury as unnatural. St. Thomas regards usury as "double charging for a good." There is also no evidence that the prohibition of usury discouraged investment - it only meant that for investors to share some part of the profit they share part of the burden of the risk. This was regarded as more equitable than expecting to lend money and expect only profitable returns through the charging of interest regardless of the success of the venture.

I don't think that is the point of the statement. The author points to various sources that one could depend on for securing one's rights in the Merovingian era (one's family, one's community, one's local lord of chieftain, the Church, etc.). But as efforts to centralize political authority naturally lead to the dimunition of influence for lower level social entities, the need arises to codify individual rights in constitutional form to protect individuals in the larger state, because the individual has less influence in such a large realm and is easily overlooked (whereas he might have previously  gone to his local lord or ecclesial authority to seek advocacy, for example). Thus, declarations of rights (which became so fashionable in the Enlightenment era) were not necessary in the Merovingian era in order to achieve the same level of rights, due to the natural localization of influences capable of protecting an individual's rights.

Quote
I need to read more of the actual sources being quoted to make a judgement on this. It seems to me that North and Nisbet reference only "Medieval period" which I take to include the Carolingian and other more centalized dynasties. Nisbet says that it was the formal declaration of these rights that actually preserved them in the long term and contributed to economic and social success (citing England as an example.)
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DoktorDespot

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To this day, whenever I see the word "Merovingian", I hear it in my 11th grade history teacher's voice.

I think of the Matrix
" Facts are meaningless. You could use facts to prove anything that's even remotely true! "