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← Lawrence Krauss at the Reason Rally Wash. DC 3/24/2012

Cartomancer's Avatar Jump to comment 11 by Cartomancer

It is suggested here that the dark ages are not a product of the period before it. It is easy to have opposing views of a period of time and there can exist validity in both views but I tend to look at the playing field at large generally.

I'm not entirely sure what you mean with the phrase "it is suggested here". Is that supposed to be a recapitulation of my point, above, or simply a very formal, essayistic way of saying "I beg to differ"?

Whichever it is, "the dark ages" is not synonymous with "the middle ages" in historical parlance. "The dark ages" was once used pejoratively (from Petrarch onward) to refer to everything between the end of antiquity and the quattrocento renaissance, the implication being that it was a benighted period of ignorance and decidedly non-classical cultural forms. These days, however, it is a neutral term used to refer to the very earliest years of the Medieval period (c.450-600AD, though varying in different regions) during which institutional collapse, migrations and conflict resulted in little documentation surviving for our perusal (i.e. "dark" in that we can't see it very well, not that everything was crap, though in all honesty it generally was). Generally we use "early medieval", "high medieval" "central medieval" and "late medieval" for the periods after that, which were very different.

Clearly the open minded speculation and fragments of the greek intellect and other contributors survived going forward but the bulk of progress was certainly hamstrung and crippled in the dark ages. The feudal system reared it's ugly head and the "infection of religion" on the masses was most certainly a major factor in thwarting our ability to think and act unhampered. Unfortunately those medieval fragments are still with today.

In many ways we have strong feudal monarchies to thank for the revival of learning in high, central and later medieval Europe, given that the societal stability they created allowed increased prosperity, the growth of towns and cities and the formation of an urban intellectual elite that gave rise to the beginnings of the academic framework we still recognise today. The appropriate comparison is not with the high culture of Classical Greece and Rome, or even late antiquity, but with dark-age and archaic Greece and Rome in the 12th-6th centuries BC. Very few people seem to see it this way, but the parallels are clear - in both cultures and periods we see people essentially starting from scratch in building up the kind of civilization that can support higher learning. The kinds of weirdly religious beliefs held among presocratic and even classical philosophers are no less weird or irrational than those of medieval philosophers. Ancient societies were no less religious than medieval ones, albeit religious in a different way. It could, in fact, be argued that the intellectual achievements of the Middle Ages are superior to those of classical antiquity, because they were more durable and permanent. So far the line of scientific progress from the twelfth century to the twenty-first has not been broken, while the science of antiquity is largely gone for good.

One should not overlook the reason for the general decline that brought on the dark ages and that condition was largely economic and that threat is also with us today, as many can see for themselves.

What caused the collapse of classical civilization in Western Europe in the 4th-6th centuries AD is a very vexed question. There is still no firm consensus among historians as to what exactly caused it, when the decline began to set in and whether it could have been averted. People spend entire academic careers working on the subject. Many think the comparative economic weakness of post-Roman societies in Europe was a result, rather than the cause, of the gradual collapse of the classical model of the city-state.

Sun, 01 Apr 2012 19:16:04 UTC | #931708