* Critical perspective

Some skeptics as to the idea of New Middle Ages (neomedievalism) may argue that neomedievalists are trying to actually do too much: i.e. to squeeze an extensive integral theory of civilizational change into a limited frame of neomedieval analogies.

There are, of course, many potential ways to challenge the theory of neomedievalism. The critics may use at least four major arguments to do so. You will find these arguments below, together with their refutation.

1:  “Come on, Middle Ages differed too much from present times, to make any comparisons possible”

In the first argument the critics completely deny the reason for making comparisons between modern times and the Middle Ages, because the two periods allegedly differ too much in terms of their social and political systems. This line of criticism assumes that the Middle Ages, with their entirely different social and economic system et cetera, is a period that – in principle – cannot be at all compared to modern times (“there are too many differences to compare anything”). This argument was used, for example, by critics disapproving of Europe as Empire, a book by Jan Zielonka, who used neomedievalism in international relations as an analytical framework for the evolution of the European Union. Such objection can, however, be dismissed by one argument proposed by Umberto Eco about the impossibility of drawing fully adequate historical analogies. Having said that, drawing less adequate analogies should not be treated as something a priori flawed.

2:  “But the processes you label as neomedieval appeared in different eras es well”

The second argument given by critics concerns the choice of the Middle Ages as a reference period. In other words, neomedievalism is criticised for its very low specificity. In this spirit, the soundness of comparison between modern times and the Middle Ages is questioned by indicating that many allegedly neomedieval problems occurred in other epochs as well, e.g. in ancient times, and therefore it is pointless to treat them as a hallmark of neomedievalism. Critics argue, for example, that “people also migrated in other historical periods”, or “universal states were established not only in the Middle Ages”. This argument can be repudiated in at least two ways: by defending the analogy by, for example, making it more detailed (e.g. “but people have not seen migrations on such a large scale as today since the Middle Ages”), or emphasizing that the power of medievalism does not stem just from pointing at single processes, but rather from connecting the coexisting factors, thus offering a conjunction. A persuasive counter-argument in the defence of neomedievalism would take the form: “maybe migrations alone are not specific just for the Middle Ages, but the coexistence of migrations and factors X, Y and Z altogether give a good foundation for drawing neomedieval analogy”. In other words, it is a bundle of co-existing and mutaully related phenomena similar to the ones from medieval period that define neomedievalism. Whereas some single processes typical for neomedievalism did appear in the past, the coherent bundle of phenomena did not.

3: “How can you define neomedieval point of reference as “transition of Antiquity to Middle Ages” while also allowing for analogies to other medieval periods?”

Good point. The critics that adhere to the third argument complain in turn about conceptual imprecision. They sceptically ask neomedievalists which period they specifically refer to: the early, middle or late Middle Ages, and what neomedievalism actually means. This particular argument is relatively easy to repel by giving a clear and accurate definition of the concept and emphasizing that neomedieval analysis does not necessarily, in every single case, have to concern exactly the same phase of the Middle Ages due to general problems with direct, holistic historical analogies and the uniqueness of each subsequent stage in the progress of civilization. Expecting all medieval phenomena from the past to reappear in a neomedieval epoch would necessitate a strictly cyclical and counterintuitive theory of history, with no place for progress, whereas in fact history may be better conceptualized as a spiral – with the cycles reappearing, but each time in a partially different setting. History understood in this way is both cyclical and linear at the same time.

4: “But one dimesion of neomedievalism you speak of is based on wrong assumptions”

The fourth argument shows criticism towards particular assumptions of neomedievalism in specific disciplines. Any type of this criticism should be adressed individually. For example, with respect the dimension of neomedievalism in political science, critics may argue that it is wrong to assume the decline in the importance of the nation state, because the future may be quite the opposite, and nationalism will return as a historical driving force. This argument may be invalidated by indicating that “the decline” in question does not concern a total decline of importance of states in general, but rather the decline of traditionally conceptualized nation states and their subsequent transformation into network states (which will possess a different set of tools than the classic nation states).

Summing up. Integral neomedievalism stands

Certainly, the above overview of critical opinions does not exhaust the subject. Its aim is only to demonstrate that the existing critical reservations towards integral neomedievalism are often inappropriate. Apparently, despite the variety of potential objections, neomedievalism in political science and its most important assumptions still have a large group of enthusiasts (see: bibliography), some of which can even be unaware of their contribution to integral neomedievalism as presented on this site. Other types of medievalism can also be successfully defended against opponents of integral theories in the humanities.

One should remember that analogies with the Middle Ages are used here not to stimulate a general, philosophical-historical discussion on the cyclical nature of history, but for pragmatic and cognitive reasons, and for easier mapping of trends for prognostic purposes. By creating analogies we obtain analytical material and information about the past evolutionary pathways of entire groups of co-existing processes which – in terms of quality – are comparable to those taking place in modern times.

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