I believe cultural neomedievalism should be first attributed to Umberto Eco and his essay “The Return of the Middle Ages”. Eco attempted to compare the Middle Ages with modern times, searching for analogies and generalizations. He believed that many of the problems typical of the Middle Ages have returned in modern times, and termed them collectively: “neomedievalism”.
An excerpt from our upcoming book “Cities in the neomedieval era”:
According to Eco, if we want to create decent, neomedieval analogies to the past, we must remember that we cannot look for explicit analogies. Eco is more focused on trends, processual similarities and generalizations of particular problems. He proposes to search in modern times for social and political processes such as a breaking down of universal power expected to ensure the Great Peace, or mass migrations, which change identity and culture on a large scale.
It is rather clear that the problems mentioned by Umberto Eco are generalizations inspired by the transition from Antiquity to Middle Ages: the prototype of the great universal power was the Pax Romana, transforming later into Christianitas, while the prototype of the great migration was Völkerwanderung – the migration of peoples which changed the face of the Roman Empire and prepared the advent of the Middle Ages. Eco spots signs of neomedievalism in further processes such as the alienation and structural decentralization of metropolises, which – like in the Middle Ages – become enclosed boroughs with minorities who reject integration; the lack of and trivialisation of information (that does not result from shortage, as before, but from the excess of information); the sense of all-embracing existential uncertainty and risk; the tendency for continuous updates, adaptation, overwriting and extension in culture without concern for primary sources, as well as other problems.
Of course, Eco presents these neomedieval references as loose, essayistic ideas, but – as a rule – thanks to him we know at least what a neomedievalist-prognostic should be inspired by: the search for contemporary trends that are characteristic of medieval times, or trends that in sum characterise the Middle Ages better than any other historical period.