The Crusades


Everyone thinks of the Crusades as the archetype of European ideological and military aggression, but it is really only possible to think of it in this cartoonish way if you are totally ignorant of the Dark Ages — which is our name for the period during which Europe spent the better part of 500 years struggling to beat back everyone from the Seljuks to the Mongols to the Vikings. Five centuries in which the military necessities of defence were all determinative, where arts and letters would have been the sheerest luxury, and where what little civic stability there was to be attained was nothing short of a miracle. Charlemagne spent the better part of his life on horseback, not merely because he loved it but because he had to — that was what you did if you were a king in the Dark Ages, you beat back the invading Norse, Asian and Turkic invasions. To think of the Crusades as unprovoked aggression is about the equivalent of thinking of modern Jews as unjustifiably paranoid.