Saturday, 27 December 2014

Summary of Marxism

1.     History advances in a series of dialectical stages, each one being an advance on the previous one, like a staircase leading upwards.
2.     Economic forces determine all other changes. The ownership of economic power determines the shape of society. Thus, mediaeval society was determined by the fact that the economy was dominated by agriculture, and so the dominant class was the feudal nobility, who owned agricultural production. The growth of trade and manufacturing then put increasing economic power into the hands of the rising class; the bourgeoisie: the people who own the factories, mines and banks.
3.     All history is the history of class struggles. This is because in all societies up to the present there has always been a possessing class, who control the means of production, and the rest, who are exploited. The interests of the two are fundamentally irreconcilable. Thus in the mediaeval period the interests of the nobility and the peasantry were directly opposite to each other; and the same applies nowadays to the interests of the bourgeoisie and the workers, because the capitalist system by its very nature involves exploitation of the workers, and cannot be otherwise. Anyone who argues otherwise is either stupid or deliberately dishonest.
4.     The state is not, and cannot be, neutral in the class struggle, but exists to serve the interests of the dominant class: the ruling class. In the past this was the feudal nobility, now it is the industrial and commercial bourgeoisie. In the future, after the revolution, it will be the working class: the proletariat.
5.     Revolutions and major political changes occur because the structure of the state has been left behind by economic and social developments. Thus at the end of the mediaeval period the growth of trade and industry put wealth into the hands of a new middle class, who increasingly found that the feudal state, run in the interests of the landowning nobility, no longer served their interests, but tended to hinder further economic growth. It was therefore overthrown and replaced by a government structure more suited to bourgeois needs. This is what lay behind the French Revolutions of 1789-93, 1830 and 1848. In England the “Glorious Revolution” of 1688 and the Great Reform Act of 1832 left a fa├žade of political power in the hands of the aristocracy, though in fact the government was now run in the interests of the bourgeoisie.
6.     Human consciousness and thinking are determined by the nature of society and the individual’s role in it. Thus, the notion that man is by nature a competitive and possessive individualist (which John Stuart Mill believed was the case) is incorrect. If man behaves like that now, it is because competitive individualism is the way to succeed in capitalist society, and people who behave otherwise are treated with scorn. In the Middle Ages consciousness was different: people were concerned about the salvation of their souls, and possessive individualism was regarded as sinful. After the communist revolution, human consciousness will change again, and possessive individualism will no longer be appropriate. Already concepts like nationalism and religious faith are becoming irrelevant. (Marx also appeared to believe that the working classes had a different consciousness to the bourgeoisie: less individualistic, more tending towards class solidarity)
7.     Although capitalism is vastly superior to what went before, it contains within it contradictions which are seeds of its own destruction. Unprecedented wealth is produced, but virtually none of this comes into the hands of the working classes, the proletarians, who constitute the great majority of the population. They are thus alienated from capitalist society, gaining little from it.
8.     As time goes on, the situation can only get worse. Cut-throat competition between capitalists will compel them to reduce costs by cutting wages, but this will mean that the ability of the proletariat to buy the goods produced will be reduced even further. Alienation will increase and slumps and bankruptcies caused by overproduction of unsaleable goods will become more frequent. It will become increasingly apparent that the capitalist system is a bar to further economic progress. Eventually a flash-point will be reached: the revolution.
9.     The Communist Party is the vanguard of the proletariat: its most class-conscious section; that is, the most aware of the inevitability of class-conflict and of the historical role of the proletariat. The Party leads the proletariat towards the coming revolution, and guards against erroneous ideas and tactics.
10.        When the proletariat seizes power in the revolution the property of the bourgeoisie will be expropriated. Henceforth all economic power will be held in common rather than being privately owned. There will henceforth be no competing classes, but only one class. This means that the state, which is only an instrument of class oppression, will “wither away”. Human consciousness will change, since competitive possessive individualism will no longer be appropriate. The classless, non-competitive society which will ensue is “communist society”.
11.        The abolition of competing classes means that this revolution will be the final one. Without any more class struggles, human history will stop – or, in a sense, this is where human history will start, because man will at last be in control of his own destiny instead of being pushed around by blind socio-economic forces.

12.    Footnotes      Marxism is an ideology that in some ways resembles a religion, because in the eyes of its believers it explains everything that happens in human history and society, and provides a vision of the future. The USSR and Maoist China never claimed to be fully communist societies as described by Marx: instead they claimed to be moving towards communism. In the end the project was simply abandoned.

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Monday, 15 December 2014

Marx & Engels: Basic Dates and Early Careers

1818    Karl Marx born
1820    Friedrich Engels born
1836+  Marx at university in Bonn, then Berlin
1842+  Marx’s early journalism
1843    Marx marries Jenny von Westphalen: works in Paris & Brussels
1844-5    Engels writes “Condition of the Working Classes in England”.
             Marx & Engels first meet
1847    Formation of Communist League
1848    Year of Revolutions. “Communist Manifesto” written.
             Communist League dissolved
             Marx in Cologne: edits “Neue Rheinische Zeitung”: soon suppressed
1849    Marx moves to London. For the next few years he lives in poverty,          researching and writing
1864    “First International” founded; soon dominated by Marx
1867    First volume of “Das Kapital” published
1869    Engels retires from business to devote himself to politics and writing
1871    Paris Commune
1877    Engels writes “Anti-Duhring”, later reprinted as “Socialism: Utopian and Scientific”. Marx’s active career now over
1883   Death of Marx, leaving “Das Kapital” incomplete
1893    Rise of European socialist parties brings a reprint of “Socialism: Utopian and Scientific”
1895    Death of Engels

Marx in his prime

Karl Marx was born in 1818, to a Jewish family at Trier in the German Rhineland. His father, Herschel, came from a long line of rabbis, and his mother, about whom little is known, was descended from Hungarian Jews who had emigrated to Holland.
     For many centuries Trier was ruled by a Prince-Bishop. It was a more-or-less independent state which was one of the 300-odd states which constituted the Holy Roman Empire, under the largely theoretical authority of the Habsburg Emperors of Austria. But in 1806 Napoleon, having smashed the Austrians and Prussians in whirlwind campaigns, redrew the map of Germany an abolished the Holy Roman Empire, replacing it with a body called the Confederation of the Rhine. After Napoleon’s defeat in 1815 the map was redrawn again. The Rhineland, including Trier, was awarded to Prussia. Germany now consisted of about 30 states, joined together in the German Confederation; an invertebrate body dominated by the monarchs of Austria and Prussia, whose main aim was to eliminate any trace of liberal or revolutionary ideas.  The Prince-Bishopric of Trier, like most of the small German states, was not resurrected: instead the Rhineland was given to Prussia. Since Prussia was a Protestant state, this cannot have pleased the people of Trier, who were overwhelmingly Catholic.
    Wherever the French Revolutionary armies had gone, they had abolished laws discriminating against Jews, but in 1816 new anti-Semitic laws were enacted. Herschel Marx found that, in order to work as a lawyer, he would have to renounce his Jewish religion. Since he was a lifelong devotee of the Enlightenment, with no strong religious feelings, he promptly joined the Lutheran church and changed his name to Heinrich. He does not appear to have been a particularly courageous man: in the 1830s he delivered an after-dinner speech suggesting some moderate reform, but then swiftly recanted it under police pressure.     
 This background helps us to understand why Marx consistently underestimated two important human motivations: religion and nationalism. Religious belief was clearly of little importance in the Marx household. His father had worn his Judaism lightly, and had converted to Christianity purely for career reasons. And how could the young Marx feel any sense of nationality? There was as yet no German state for him to identify with, and in any case, as a Jew he would have been an outsider in one. The romantic nationalism of the nineteenth century, as exemplified by such leaders as Garibaldi, Mazzini and Kossuth, was always wholly incomprehensible to Marx.

The Marxes were friends with a neighbour, Ludwig von Westphalen, an enlightened government official who came from the minor nobility (there were many thousands of minor nobles in Germany). Ludwig had a daughter, Jenny. Karl Marx became engaged to her in 1837 and married her in 1843.

Karl Marx’s studies began in 1835 at the University of Bonn, then after a year he transferred to Berlin. For much of the time he lived a life typical of any German student, in rowdy drinking clubs. He changed his field of study from law to philosophy, to the disappointment of his father, who (correctly, as it turned out) did not see how philosophy could bring him a decent standard of living. 
   The dominating influence in German universities at the time was the philosophy of Hegel. Hegel remains the most obscure of the great philosophers, and his thought is impossible to summarize in a few sentences, but basically he taught that history is the story of progress. History goes through a series of stages, like steps on an upward staircase, with each step being an advance on the previous one. (The notion of “history as progress” is obvious to us, but the idea was unknown before the end of the eighteenth century: a great historian like Edward Gibbon saw history as a tale of degeneration). Hegel named this mechanism “the dialectic”. It is largely due to Hegel that we still use such terms as “the middle ages” and “the Elizabethan age”, with the implication that they were quite different in character, and crucially, that people thought differently from one age to another. We do not think like people did in the Middle Ages, and they too thought differently from people in the ancient world. (Equally, such key concepts as “the industrial revolution” did not emerge till the mid-nineteenth century, when people looked backwards and realized that society and the economy had changed radically). Hegel ascribed the driving mechanism of this theory of history to a somewhat mystical entity called “spirit”. What he appeared to mean was that men’s thinking changed first, and caused the structure of society to change and adapt to it.
      Marx’s contemporaries, the “Young Hegelians”, applied Hegel’s ideas to radical politics, seeing the Prussian state as reactionary. From Hegel, Marx took the notion that history had laws which could be understood, giving change a measure of inevitability; and that to try to stop this change was not only futile, but also in a sense wrong. As with Hegel, he never doubted that change was progress to a better form of society. But to Marx, the motive force of change was not “spirit”, but economics. He was well aware that the developing industrial revolution was changing the world in an unprecedented way. Economic change caused changes in the class structure of society, and ultimately to changes in mental outlook, in culture, in consciousness; in ways of looking at the world. This interpretation came to be known as “Dialectical Materialism”. As was once said, “Marx stood Hegel on his head”; to which was sarcastically added, “and all the brains fell out”.

Marx obtained his Doctorate in 1841. Under other circumstances he might have pursued an academic career, but the new King of Prussia, Frederick William IV, decided to purge the “Young Hegelians” from the universities. Despite the fact that Marx was shortly to become a married man, and that his father died, leaving him short of money (a situation which remained the case for almost all the rest of his life), he instead became involved in the precarious world of radical journalism. He began to write for the “Rheinische Zeitung”, denouncing Prussian absolutism, and when that paper was duly suppressed in 1843 he left for the centre of radical class-struggle politics: Paris. Here he wrote his earliest books, coining the memorable phrase, “Religion is the opium of the people” in 1844. (Writing nowadays, he would probably have named football rather than religion)

Engels as a young man

Friedrich Engels was also born in the Rhineland, two years after Marx, but his family background was commercial rather than academic. His father, also Friedrich, was a partner in the firm of Ermen & Engels, which owned cotton factories both locally and in Manchester, in England. They were a happy, strongly Protestant family, influenced by German romanticism and nationalism, hostile to Prussia and Austria.
    Young Friedrich was taken from school in 1837 and trained for the family business, being sent to Bremen to learn about exporting.  In 1841 he volunteered for a year of military training. But he always had literary leanings, wrote poetry, and via Hegel and Feuerbach came to socialism. This led to his first meeting with Marx, at the “Rheinische Zeitung”. His father, however, did not approve, and sent him to Manchester as the family representative at the Ermen & Engels factory.
    Manchester in 1842 was the first-ever factory city in the world, generating enormous wealth from its cotton mills, but at the same time filthy and grossly overcrowded, and seething with radical activity. This was the year of the Chartist “Plug Plot” to disrupt industrial production, and the Owenite socialists were also active. Engels met Julian Harney, the militant Chartist leader, and he also met an illiterate Irish mill-girl, Mary Burns, who became his long-term mistress and provided him with a link to the slums. In 1845 he wrote his first book, “The Condition of the Working Classes in England”; a young man’s scream of rage against the appalling conditions he found in Manchester. It was written in German, and was not translated into English for forty years, but has remained in print ever since. Engels therefore knew factory conditions at first hand, whereas Marx did not.

Engels’s work as a businessman in Manchester, which was to bring him a very comfortable and prosperous lifestyle (though little personal enjoyment) left him enough time to visit Marx.  Paris in the early 1840s had many schools of socialist thought, mixed in with the revolutionary Jacobin tradition of the French Revolution. Such figures as Saint-Simon, Fourier, Blanqui, Louis Blanc and Proudhon offered different nostrums, alongside the revolutionary schemes of Weitling and the anarchism preached by the exiled Russian Bakunin. Marx disagreed profoundly with all these people, and as Bakunin observed, he was brutally vindictive in the character-assassination of any rival socialist philosopher. But Engels came to Marx as a disciple, not a rival, and was always happy to minimize his own undoubted contribution to Marxist thought.

   Marx was expelled from Paris in 1845 (“We must purge Paris of German philosophers”, said King Louis-Philippe) and went to Brussels, where he began to organize the Communist League: an international revolutionary movement consisting largely of German-speaking artisans. Engels meanwhile was composing a “Revolutionary Catechism” for communists, and in 1847 brought Marx to London. There they were commissioned to write a definitive statement of the beliefs and aims of the Communist League. The result was one of the most famous and influential short books of all time: the “Manifesto of the Communist Party”, just 40 pages long in a modern edition.

It was published in early 1848: just in time for the revolution in Paris which overthrew the monarchy and ushered in the “year of revolutions” throughout Europe – which however is another story.


(The best biography of Marx is still that written by Isaiah Berlin in 1939. Tristram Hunt's life of Engels: "The Frock-Coated Communist" is very good)

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Eighteenth Century Political Abuse

I recently came across a magnificently scurrilous piece of political abuse from the 1720s, printed in an anti-government publication called the "True Briton".  This extract describes an alleged piece of unsuccessful lechery by the Prime Minister of the day: Sir Robert Walpole:- 

"..... But Walpole, long by vice decayed,
Unable was to please the maid:
By none his fury can describe
To find one member scorn a bribe,
Unlike his wretched voting tribe,
And happy were it for the land
If corrupt members ne'er could stand".

How splendid! The play on the words "member" and "stand" (for election to Parliament) is especially inspired. And how feeble by comparison is our modern standard of political abuse! 
(This is an anti-Walpole cartoon from the 1730s, depicting "how to get on in politics" - by kissing the Prime Minister's bottom. Despite all the abuse, Walpole stayed in power for 21 years) 

Sunday, 30 November 2014

Ethical Dilemmas

My college tutor once confronted us with the following ethical dilemma:-

     A fire is raging in an art gallery. You rush in, knowing you have only a few minutes to save a unique and very valuable painting. But in the hall you find a drunken and smelly old tramp, who has sneaked in to doss down for the night. You do not have time to save both the tramp and the painting. What should you do?

This rather improbable scenario was intended to make us think about utilitarian ethics. Which should be considered more valuable: the life of a socially worthless individual, or an irreplaceable  artistic masterpiece - a Rembrandt, let us say? (You can, if you wish, substitute "dog", or indeed any other word, for "painting")

I always think it is useful, in dealing with such questions, to ask what that rather underrated political philosopher Adolf Hitler might have said. Hitler, I'm sure, would argue that it depended upon the tramp's race: if he was a negro or a Jew we should certainly not bother to save him. If he was an Aryan, it might depend on his background: if he was a war veteran who had fallen on hard times, he deserved to be saved out of gratitude; but if he was simply a life-long derelict, then not. Stalin or Mao would surely have abandoned the tramp to his fate as being economically worthless.

I would deduce from this a utilitarian argument: I would not wish to live in a society in which someone in a position of power could decide that my life was less valuable than a painting (or a dog), perhaps on grounds similar to those cited above, or on others equally reprehensible to me. I do not see how this could ever be in my interest. I am, of course, always free to decide for myself that my life isn't particularly valuable ("Don't worry about me: save the Rembrandt!" - or, alternatively, "save my dog!"); but I don't want someone else unilaterally to make this decision for me. That is how dictators and conquerors have always treated the mass of the people - even their own subjects.

In principle, then, we must always treat the preservation of human life, any human life, as being of supreme importance.  

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

In a Strange Land

Cerdic and Zar walked on through the jungle, marveling at the peculiar vegetation. The gravity was much the same as on Earth, but the space-suits, which regulations obliged them always to wear on unexplored planets, were cumbersome and hampered their movements. There were paths leading in various directions, and they wondered who, or what, had made them. But that could come later. Their task for now concerned Vallon, who had disappeared the day before, leaving nothing except his helmet. They had been sent out to find him, or, failing that, to discover what misfortune had befallen him.

Zar paused to look at a huge, brilliant red, trumpet-shaped flower on a bush alongside the path. An insect-like creature the size of a humming-bird flew in, searching for nectar. It feasted for a brief moment, but then the trumpet closed in on it and trapped it. The bush also folded in on itself, the better to enjoy its meal undisturbed.
   "Ugh!" said Cerdic, "Like a Venus fly-trap, but much bigger! This planet is a dangerous place!"
   "I wonder what attracted it?" said Zar. "Was it the colour, or the scent, or what?"
   "No way of telling, as far as the scent's concerned," said Cerdic, "We can't take our helmets off to investigate."
   "Why not? All the instruments say the air here's quite clean: plenty of oxygen. I'd love to breathe proper air again, after all those months on the ship!"
   "Vallon must have taken his helmet off, and look what happened to him!"
   "We don't know that anything happened to him! He just hasn't come back; that's all. He may be walking around here somewhere, enjoying the flowers!"
   "Then why's his radio not working? Why hasn't he been in contact, if only to reassure us that he's all right?"
   "Has it occurred to you that perhaps he doesn't want to come back? Now that after all that time cooped up on the ship, he was free again? He wanted to enjoy it as long as he could. Now maybe he'll turn up again, safe and sound!"

They came to the place where Vallon's helmet had been found. "No sign of any violence anywhere here", said Cerdic, "And no damage to the helmet. It looks like he just took it off, dropped it and walked on"
   "It's like I said, then", replied Zar. "I'm willing to bet he's still alive and unharmed, looking at the scenery, probably not far from here. Let's keep walking, but keep our eyes open. By the way, I wonder who made these paths?"
   "That's what I'm wondering too", said Cerdic.

After a while they came across a space-suit lying on the track. It could only have belonged to Vallon. But of the man himself there was no sign.
   "He obviously found it an encumbrance", said Zar, "So he dropped it and went on without it. I can see his point: these things are really awkward in full gravity".
  "I don't like it at all!" protested Cerdic. "Haven't you noticed something really strange? To get out of your space-suit, you have to take it to pieces, but this one's fully assembled. Now, why would he take it apart, get out of it, and then go to all the trouble of putting it back together again? It's almost as if he'd been sucked out of it somehow. We'd better scout around a bit more, and then take it back to the ship for proper analysis if we still don't find him".

Before they had gone much further, Cerdic stopped and muttered, "Now isn't that odd!" Zar, when he looked, was just as surprised, for what stood before them was a large apple tree, complete with very appetising-looking fruit.
   "What on earth is that doing here?" exclaimed Zar.
   "It's not on earth, that's the problem! So far we haven't seen a single plant that looks anything like our vegetation, and now we find this! Can you explain it?"
   "There's only one possibility I can think of, and it's very worrying. It's as if something here has been observing us, penetrating into our minds, discovering what we want, and then creating this tree just for us ..... Hey, what are you doing? Stop it!"
   He shouted this because Zar had started to remove his helmet.
   "It's forbidden!" Cerdic shouted.
   "I don't care!" Zar replied. He took a deep breath. "Ah, the air's beautiful! So good to breathe properly again! Now let's have a look at those apples. I haven't tasted fresh fruit since we set out!"
   "It's a trap!"
   "Why are you so suspicious? Look; quite possibly something here is reading our minds, but why shouldn't it be friendly? I'm prepared to trust it, anyway. Now, let's try these apples ..... hmm, they smell all right ..... taste all right too! Delicious, in fact! Why don't you try one?"
   "I'm reporting you when we get back! You're disobeying the most basic instructions! You shouldn't be let out at all!"
   "I've had enough of you! Look, man; don't you realize? We've found a Garden of Eden here! Vallon saw that. Perhaps he won't come back at all now. I can see his point. I'm off! You might see me again; or then again, you might not. Goodbye!"
   Zar ran away through the bushes. Cerdic tried to follow, but, handicapped by his cumbersome helmet, soon lost sight of him.

Zar trotted on, headed for he knew not where, breathing in the pure, clean air, rejoicing in the vegetation and insects around him. Already he had almost forgotten about Vallon, and Cerdic and the ship. There were no more of the fly-trap plants to be seen. Although he was on an alien planet, the plants and flowers seemed in an odd way familiar, reminding him of the countryside of his childhood on Earth. The buzzing insects were brilliantly coloured. He was certain the planet was happy, and friendly. But then it came into his mind; if this was indeed Eden, and maybe he was Adam, then there was something missing. Where was his Eve? If the planet could indeed read his mind, it would sense what he needed. She must surely be here somewhere! Then he saw her.

She was reclining amidst the vegetation, in what resembled a deck-chair, though it was probably a gigantic flower. She was very beautiful: the first beautiful woman he had seen since he boarded the ship all those months ago. She belonged to him.
   Zar dropped his helmet and climbed up onto the chair-like flower, and laid down beside her. He kissed her. Her arms wrapped round him in tight embrace and her mouth clamped immovably onto his. And then the flower folded around them and the enzymes from her mouth entered his body, dissolving the tissues until every bone had been liquefied, and sucking them all out until the empty spacesuit could be discarded, as Vallon's had been.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Shrewsbury Black and White Buildings

The centre of Shrewsbury contains more black-and-white buildings from the sixteenth and early seventeenth century than any comparable town in England. This is a selection of them

This is Rowley's Mansion, now surrounded by car parks on Barker Street

This building, on the corner of Butcher Row, is misleadingly known as the Abbot's House.

At the northern end of the High Street we find Owen's Mansion, dating from 1592, above the shop fronts

Opposite this we find Ireland's Mansion, about 1575, which Pevsner considered the finest Tudor building in the town:-

A few yards along the same street we have the entrance to the oddly-named Grope Lane (perhaps indicating a place of ill repute: a haunt of prostitutes)

At the top of Grope Lane is Bear Steps

Castle Gates House, on Castle Street, was originally on the Dogpole (another odd Shrewsbury street name!), but was re-erected here by the Earl of Bradford in 1702.

This is possibly the oldest of all: the King's Head pub on the Mardol. The king depicted is Henry VII: not a common choice for pubs.

There are many other examples in the town, which I shall include on a later entry.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

A Student-Teacher

When I was 14, our biology teacher informed us that we would be having a student teacher in charge of us for several weeks, as part of his Diploma of Education. He was a young Australian: I don't remember his name. We weren't the best-behaved of classes, and he didn't keep much control: people used to flick gravel from the fish tanks about the room when his back was turned. His main claim to our attention was that he was a top-class athlete: a long-distance runner. In retrospect it's plain that he was only doing a postgraduate Dip. Ed. at Cambridge in order to get his "blue".
      But he was a good sort of bloke, and we liked him; so when we were warned that he was going to be inspected teaching us, we took pity on him. We told him that we'd read up the lesson beforehand in our text-books, and when he asked questions we'd all put our hands up - those with the rights hands up knew then answer; those with the left hands up didn't know the answer, but were just wanting to look keen. It all went well, and we heard that the inspector had complimented him on the enthusiasm he had managed to instill in the class.
     He continued with us for the rest of term, but he knew it was no use trying to teach us anything, and we just chatted about rugby for the remaining lessons. And he did all right by us, because on sports day he brought along his mate Herb Elliott, the great Australian Olympic champion, to present the trophies. So we may not have learnt much biology from him, but I still remember him with affection.

Friday, 31 October 2014

The Alternative to Democracy: Plato's Guardians

In Plato’s book “The Republic”, written about 380 BC, he gives us, using his mentor Socrates as his mouthpiece, a proposed system of government which has been debated ever since.

Plato criticizes democracy by means of a metaphor comparing a state to a ship in mid-ocean. Should we navigate by having a vote amongst the passengers? No, of course not. What we need instead is an expert; someone who is trained in the art of navigation. The rest of the book is concerned with the choosing and training of these experts, who will govern Plato’s ideal state.

Plato divides the inhabitants of his state into three classes: the Guardians (sometimes called “philosopher-kings”), who will govern, the Auxiliaries, who will assist them, and everyone else, who will undertake all the fundamental economic tasks of farming, manufacturing and so forth. He describes the education and life of the Guardians in great detail, ignoring the other classes (He even suggests putting forward an artificial myth; that the gods created man out of three metals; gold, silver and base metal, to correspond with the three classes)
       The potential Guardians should be chosen when still children, and given a lengthy education, both physical and moral (which he calls the “dialectic”), to equip them to rule. It includes the suggestion, revolting to our minds, that they should be taken whilst still young to witness battles, to accustom them to the sight of bloodshed. It seems that only when they are at least fifty will their education have been completed, and many will have fallen by the wayside in the process. He includes women Guardians as well as men, apparently following the same syllabus. This is unexpected, because women in contemporary Athens had no public role, and he justifies it by the curious analogy that pedigree stallions and mares are looked after in an identical way!
     Plato was well aware that even the best political system can be corrupted by personal greed, or ambition for one’s children, and therefore he lays down some extraordinary details of the Guardians’ lives. They will all live communally, in messes, without private property of any kind, and will be forbidden even to touch gold and silver. (Here Plato was influenced by how the warriors of Sparta lived). The Guardians must never marry or raise families: any children they have will be taken from them and raised communally by nurses, so that no-one shall know who their parents or their children are. Children who do not have the necessary qualities to become Guardians will be discarded; but there will be the possibility of recruiting talented children from the lower classes of society. The Guardians will thus always be a non-hereditary elite.
     Plato includes a long discussion on culture and censorship. It is clear to him that most of the literature of his day won’t do: it gives out the wrong messages.  The Greek gods are frequently portrayed as immoral or vindictive in their behaviour, the poets and playwrights too often show wickedness triumphing and good men suffering unjustly. This will all have to change. In his Republic there will be rigid censorship: all literature must point to an improving moral, with virtue always rewarded and wickedness punished, and craftsmen and artists must show only beauty, not ugliness. By this means, the future generations of Guardians will be protected against erroneous thoughts.     

It might be worthwhile putting Plato’s contempt for democracy into context. He was in his early twenties when democratic Athens was disastrously defeated by Sparta, whose social system bore a strong resemblance to Plato’s ideal republic. There followed the short-lived government of the “Thirty Tyrants”, [many of whom were personal friends of Socrates], who conducted a bloody purge of their opponents. After the overthrow of the Thirty Tyrants, it was a jury of citizens in a restored democracy which condemned Socrates to death – it has never been clear why: no other philosopher ever suffered such a fate.
      To return to Plato's analogy of a ship without an experienced navigator; he suggests that this will lead to the appearance of several alleged experts, offering radically different advice of what to do. Now the whole principle of democracy, as advocated by such writers as Rousseau and Mill, is that the public are intelligent enough to distinguish between good advice and bad advice, between the honest men and the charlatans. Plato, having observed the Athenian assembly of his day, is not convinced: he thinks the citizens are fickle and ill-informed, liable to fall prey to demagogues who make wild and irresponsible promises which then cannot be fulfilled. The notion that the people cannot be relied on to make sensible judgments has been the grounds ever since for attacking democracy and defending dictatorship and censorship. It is usually heard on the political Right. 

Plato’s system remains the only valid alternative to democratic government; namely, rule by experts, carefully selected and trained to be people not only of the highest ability, but also of the highest integrity, motivated purely by desire to serve the public good, without personal greed or ambition.  Could such a system ever be implemented? And if so, what would life under it be like?

        In Plato’s day, it was not impossible that a group of philosophers might have run a city-state on these lines. It would probably need to be small, and isolated from the outside world. (Plato had in mind the city-states of contemporary Greece, with only a few thousand citizens, and he never discusses international trade at all). Between 388 and 361 BC Plato made three visits to the court of Dionysus, tyrant of Syracuse in Sicily, attempting to educate his heir, Dionysus II, but completely failed to turn the young man into a Guardian. The Spartan system, which had attracted Plato, went into irreversible decline not long after its victory over Athens. Within a century, the coming of the empire of Alexander the Great, and later that of Rome, made all city-states obsolete.  In the nineteenth century various attempts were made to set up communities in the wilds of America, whose people would be motivated by brotherly love rather than individual gain, but few lasted any length of time; usually foundering on the rock of competing egos.  
      On the other hand, some religious-based communities have proved more durable. Consider, for instance, the Roman Catholic church: the most durable structure the world has ever seen. All authority is vested in a hierarchy of priests, who are believed to have a direct access to God, and who are commanded to be celibate, without personal property, and absolutely obedient to their superiors; all of which would seem to fit Plato’s criteria. It is surely no coincidence that almost all the early Christian theologians were Greeks who were very familiar with Platonic ideas.
      The late Richard Crossman, who served as a cabinet minister under Harold Wilson in the 1960s, once wrote a book called “Plato Today”, in which he suggested other institutions working on the same lines. He cited the Communist Party in the Soviet Union and Hitler’s SS as examples. Both were elite organizations with high entry requirements, both were rigidly disciplined and both attempted to inspire their members with ideological fervor to take the place of individual ambition. As a less pernicious example, Crossman cited the British independent boarding school, where young men lived communally, in conditions far more Spartan than they would have enjoyed at home, and where they were trained to run the Empire: their education being overwhelmingly moral and “character-building” rather than technical.

The best attempt to portray life in a Platonic state can be found in the final section of Jonathon Swift’s “Gulliver’s Travels”, where he visits the land of the Houyhnhnms. They are intelligent horses, whose society is entirely Platonic. They have no contact with the outside world, no science, industry or even agriculture, nor do they have any spirit of curiosity, or wish to expand their knowledge. They keep their population numbers stable by voluntarily abstaining from sex, and have no personal affection for their foals. Lesser horses, who are of a different colour and of inferior mental capacity, are servants to the elite, accepting their lower status without complaint. The Houyhnhnms have remained the same for countless generations, and in consequence conformity has become so total that there is no longer any need for a police force. We are told that they compose poetry, though Swift wisely refrains from giving us examples (it presumably consists of portentous general statements in heroic couplets!), but have no other arts. Even conversation is devoid of discussion, since they all think in exactly the same way.
        Gulliver professes to find Houyhnhnm society immensely preferable to his own. This no doubt reflects Swift’s hatred of England in his day, and increasingly of the human race in general; but at the same time Swift has infallibly brought into focus the great weakness of the Platonic society, which has been shared by all its imitators down to the present day. It would be entirely stationary; not to say stagnant. It would never produce anything new in culture, technology or ideas. It is very doubtful if it would be flexible enough to cope with some major natural disaster, like a famine, an epidemic or an earthquake (and the Greek world was extremely susceptible to devastating earthquakes). It could never fully be isolated from outside pressures and influences. These weaknesses are obvious in all Plato’s imitators: the Catholic church, the Nazis and Communists, the British public-school system.
    Plato had no notion of progress. This is not surprising, since the concept was unknown before the end of the eighteenth century, when the French Revolution and the industrial revolution changed the world for ever. To Plato, society and politics were seen as moving in endless repetitive and meaningless circles, and any change was likely to be deterioration rather than improvement. The best he could imagine, therefore, was a form of society structures to guard against any change at all. We can only be glad that we do not live in such a society. As Churchill once put it: democracy is a very bad form of government,but all the others are even worse. 

Thursday, 23 October 2014


People persist in saying "disinterested" when what they mean is "uninterested". These words are actually quite different.
     In the first word, having an "interest" in something has the eighteenth-century meaning of having a "stake" in it. Thus, if I am watching a game of football, if I have no commitment to either side (such as a bet on the result, or support for my local team), I am disinterested in the result; but if I hate football and couldn't care less who wins, then I am merely uninterested. The referee must be disinterested (that is, unbiased), but if he was uninterested he would be no use at all.
    The principle of British justice is that the judge and jury must be disinterested: without prior commitment or bias to either side; and juries are carefully selected to this end. This has not always been the case: in previous centuries, judges were seen as "lions under the throne", whose job was to help secure the conviction of the King's enemies, and made little pretense of being disinterested; Judge Jeffreys in the later seventeenth century being a notorious example. Judicial disinterest seldom applies under dictatorships; one need only cite the "revolutionary justice" of Soviet Russia, particularly under Lenin and Stalin, and of the tribunals in the "Terror" of 1793-4 of the French Revolution. But,once again, a judge at any time and in any type of court who was uninterested in the case before him would be useless.
    It was a classic Marxist argument that the promise of "disinterested justice" would always be a sham: class interest is all-pervasive. I wonder if the recent demand in Britain for more judges from the racial minorities, and fewer from the elite independent schools and universities, is based upon the notion that judges from privileged and rich backgrounds are unlikely to be truly disinterested? Or, more likely, that they may not be perceived as being disinterested?  

Thursday, 16 October 2014

The church of King Charles the Martyr, Falmouth

Falmouth church in Cornwall is dedicated to "King Charles the Martyr"; which is highly unusual. The church possesses a portrait of King Charles, attributed to Sir Peter Lely (see below), and the east window shows Christ in majesty, looking remarkably like Charles, with Archbishop Laud in attendance alongside the archangels. How had this come about?

Today Falmouth is an important deep-water harbour ont the estuary of the Fal river, but it is actually quite a recent settlement, and the original town was at Penryn, a short distance upstream. The only significant building in Falmouth was the castle at Pendennis, built by Henry VIII.
     Cornwall was strongly royalist in the civil wars in the 1640s. Charles I's queen, Henrietta Maria, fled to France from Pendennis, and so did her son, the future Charles II. When he left, he vowed that if he returned he would build "a chapel for public worship" there, since there was then no church. A prominent local landowner, Sir Peter Killigrew, a staunch royalist, had similar ideas, and after the restoration of the monarchy for a charter for the town, promising to provide land of his own for a church and parsonage.
   He won support. The foundations of the church were laid in 1662, and the building was consecrated three years later. The church was thus built in the classical style fashionable at the time. Since then it has been extensively modified.

   King Charles I was condemned to death and beheaded in 1649, and was soon proclaimed a martyr by his supporters. Although he undoubtedly conducted himself with dignity and courage at the end, it is difficult today to what precise cause he was a martyr, except that of the principle of divine right monarchy. Really, like his equally unfortunate fellow-monarchs, Louis XVI of France and Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, he was a well-meaning, rather weak-willed man of limited talents, caught up in a situation which it was beyond his abilities to control - in fact, an argument against hereditary monarchy with real political power.

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

The last of the Hohenstaufen and the end of the Sicilian kingdom

Frederick II, of the Hohenstaufen family, was simultaneously Holy Roman Emperor (meaning that he ruled Germany and much of northern Italy) and King of Sicily and southern Italy. He spent much of his reign in bitter struggles with the Pope and with the independent-minded Italian cities. 

When he died in 1250 he left his kingdom of Sicily to his son, Conrad, who had already been elected "King of the Romans" by the German princes, but not crowned Emperor by the Pope. Frederick also left vast territories in southern Italy to his illegitimate son, Manfred, with the title of Prince of Taranto. The two were inevitably suspicious of each other, and Pope Innocent IV was hostile. Conrad was soon strong enough to advance from Germany into Italy, to re-establish Imperial control over the north. In January 1254 he accused the Pope of usurpation and heresy, and Innocent responded by excommunicating him. War seemed inevitable; but that April Conrad died of fever, aged just 26, leaving only a 2-year-old son, known as Conradin.

Manfred now moved quickly to take control of southern Italy and Sicily, initially claiming to be regent for Conradin, but having achieved this, he had himself crowned King of Sicily in 1258. The Popes were determined to get rid of him, Richard, Earl of Cornwall, the younger brother of Henry III of England, initially turned down the Pope's offer of the crown of Sicily, but then, aided by massive bribery, was elected "King of the Romans" (that is, prospective Emperor) and crowned at Aachen. He never got to Rome to be crowned Emperor by the Pope: in the face of growing opposition in Germany and hostility from France, he hurriedly retreated to England. 
        In Italy, Manfred reigned supreme. The cities of the north were deeply divided between "Guelfs" (who supported the Pope) and "Ghibbelines" (who had supported Frederick, and now supported his son). Manfred destroyed a vast army financed by the Pope at Montaperti in 1260, (many of Manfred's soldiers being Sicilian Moslems), occupied Sardinia the next year, and also took Corfu and bases in Albania. A sign that he was a significant figure on the European stage came when he married his daughter Constance to Peter, son and heir of King James of Aragon in Spain. How was the Pope to get rid of Manfred? The crown of Sicily was offered to Edmund, younger son of Henry III, who promised vast sums to help achieve this, but then the English barons revolted at tax increases and the scheme was abandoned. Everyone ignored the claims of young Conradin back in Germany!

  The new pope, Urban IV, a Frenchman, then offered Sicily to Charles of Anjou, the younger brother Louis XI, the King of France. Charles had already turned down a previous offer, because Louis (soon to be canonized as Saint Louis) was devoting all his resources to crusading and did not want to be distracted by any fighting in Europe. But eventually Papal advocates won Louis over to support his brother's cause. Charles promised to pay the Pope vast sums if the plan succeeded.
      In 1265, Charles eluded Manfred's fleet to land in Rome, where he was crowned King of Sicily, and assembled a massive force to march southwards. Manfred tried to buy time by retreating, until finally in February 1266 the two armies met at Benevento in southern Italy. After a hotly contested battle, Manfred was killed and his army slaughtered or driven away. As an excommunicate, Manfred was denied burial in consecrated ground, though it is said that Charles had a cairn erected over his body in tribute to his fighting qualities. This courtesy was not, however, extended to Manfred's wife and children, who were carted off to prison, where they soon perished.
    Charles now ruled all Italy south of papal territory, and promptly forgot most of the promises he had made to the Pope. He was an efficient ruler, not unduly cruel by the standards of the time, but his taxes were high and his rule was not popular in Sicily. He soon faced revolts there, and also in southern Italy and in the Ghibbeline cities further north.
        In Germany Conradin, now aged 15, handsome and attractive, decided to claim his rightful kingdom.. He gathered forces and crossed the Alps in autumn 1267, against the advice of wiser relatives. Moved through the Ghibbeline cities; Verona, Pavia and Siena; and arrived in Rome amidst wild rejoicing in July; the Pope having retreated to Viterbo. In August he met Charles’s forces at Tagliacozzo. Conradin’s army was on verge of winning the battle when Charles spotted him, isolated with few supporters, many of his undisciplined troops having dispersed to seek plunder. Charles and his knights charged at him, smashed his bodyguard and drove him in flight from field. The rest of Conradin's army, disorganized and now leaderless, was heavily defeated with great slaughter.
      Conradin and other leaders were captured soon after. Charles set up a puppet court to try them for treason, and in October 1267 Conradin, the last of the Hohenstaufen, aged just 16, and his equally young friend Frederick of Baden, were publicly beheaded in Naples. This violent breach of the normal rules of chivalry shocked most contemporaries. Even the Pope said to be uneasy; and Dante, writing fifty years later, was still upset by it (Dante, who had strong Imperialist views, places Manfred in Purgatory, not Hell, in his "Divine Comedy").

            Charles was a man of limitless ambition. He now obtained for himself the meaningless title of “King of Jerusalem”, and planned an attack on Constantinople, to make himself Emperor of the west. But his grandiose schemes overthrown in Sicily! The last surviving descendant of the Hohenstaufen, and of the old Norman Kings of Sicily, was now Constance. When her husband Peter became king of Aragon in1276, he began to think of taking Sicily for himself, and by 1280 had put together an invasion-force (under pretense of launching crusade against Tunis) But then, a sudden crisis was precipitated! 

At Easter 1282 French official in Palermo pestered a Sicilian lady, and her husband stabbed him to death. This developed into a massacre: within the day, two thousand French had been murdered in Palermo. The massacre, to be known as “the Sicilian vespers”, soon spread throughout whole island. (One of the many explanations of the mysterious word "Mafia" is that it is code for "Death to the French!" All one can say is that it is no more improbable than other explanations) The rebels quickly organised themselves and called upon Peter of Aragon to help: he landed forces that summer, soon controlled the whole island, and then moved to invade the mainland. Charles in Naples was slow to respond, and the Ghibbelines in northern Italy again began to cause trouble. 
       Pope Martin IV did his best to help Charles by excommunicating the Sicilians and anyone who tried to help them. In 1283 he proclaimed the war against Aragon to have the status of a Crusade, and tried to get Philip III of France to invade the country. Charles of Anjou in no way moderated his ambitions: he now initiated a scheme, to  become king of Hungary, where the ruling dynasty was about to die out. He eventually succeeded in this, but died in 1285; his grandiose plans for world domination ruined by events in Sicily.
     Desultory warfare continued in the island for twenty years, without clear results. Even the Aragonese were ready to give up on Sicily: but in the end the island did survive as more or less self-governing, under the overlordship of Aragon. Eventually Sicily, along with Naples and southern Italy, became part of the kingdom of Spain.. But the whole character of the island had changed. The ancient multiracial culture of Arabs, Greeks and Jews had vanished under successive waves of invaders; Normans, Germans, French and Spaniards; who transformed it into a land dominated by immensely rich and powerful feudal nobles, barely controlled by any central government, ruling vast estates of poverty-stricken oppressed peasants, against a background of endemic banditry. Although Naples and Palermo were still very large cities, the region had been left behind by events, and from being the richest and most culturally vibrant part of Italy was now the poorest and most backward. The would be little reason for historians to concern themselves with Sicily again before Garibaldi’s expedition there in 1860.

       The struggles in Italy left the country so hopelessly fragmented that the unity so desired by Dante was impossible to achieve until the nineteenth century, and even then had to be brought about by force. For this the Papacy must be given much of the blame. ("The Papacy, with its creatures and allies, was strong enough to hinder national unity in the future; not strong enough itself to bring about that unity". - Jacob Burckhardt: "The Civilization of the Renaissance"). At an international level, the extreme partisanship of various Popes for Charles of Anjou (especially Martin IV, a fellow Frenchman), and their readiness to use spiritual weapons, such as excommunication and crusading, for purely political disputes with other Christian rulers, and furthermore to use them ineffectively; served to discredit the Papacy. It was said of Pope Innocent  IV, who first began the campaign to destroy the Hohenstaufen in Italy; “He took the church at her highest and best, and in eleven years destroyed half her power for good, and launched her irretrievably upon a downward course“. Within 25 years of the Sicilian Vespers, the Popes were no longer in Rome, but at Avignon, mere puppets of the kings of France. It could be held to serve them right.  

The Sicilian Vespers lived on in the popular memory.  When in the early 17th century Henry IV of France contemplated invading Italy and boasted, "I shall breakfast in Milan and I shall dine in Rome", he was told, "In that case your majesty will doubtless be in Sicily in time for the Vespers". Perhaps responding to this hint, Henry did not pursue his invasion plan.  The purge of the older generation of American Mafiosi by Lucky Luciano in 1931 was also nicknamed "the Sicilian vespers" by journalists. 

1250   Death of Frederick
1254   Death of Conrad
1258   Manfred crowns himelf
1266   Battle of Benevento;  death of Manfred
1267   Defeat and execution of Conradin
1282   “Sicilian Vespers”
1285   Charles of Anjou dies


Innocent IV   1243-54
Alexander IV   1254-61
Urban IV   1261-64
Clement IV   1265-68
Gregory X   1271-76
Martin IV   1281-85
Honorius IV   1285-87

Friday, 3 October 2014

How to shut someone up

This is actually a highly sensible comment, heard some years ago.

John was pontificating loudly, as usual, when Wilf, an aged colleague, intervened.
   "You know, John; you should be on television", he said, "Then I could switch you off".
      The timing was absolutely perfect.

I would recommend this wording for anyone confronted with some tedious know-all.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

The Emperor Frederick II and his Crusade

The first half of the thirteenth century witnessed a titanic struggle for supremacy between two of the most spectacular personalities of the Middle Ages: one a Pope, the other an Emperor. 
    The Pope in question was Innocent III, one of the greatest Popes of all time. He came from a noble Roman background, was born in 1161, studied in Paris and Bologna, and made a pilgrimage to the tomb of Thomas a Becket in Canterbury in 1187. He became a cardinal in 1189, and was elected Pope in 1198 at the astonishingly young age of 37. He called the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215, attended by over 400 bishops from all over Europe, where the Pope was proclaimed “Vicar of Christ” on earth, with supervision over all archbishops, bishops and monasteries. Detailed plans for church reform were issued. All secular rulers were also to be guided by the church, with papal supremacy over kings being stressed. Innocent III exercised this authority by excommunicating at different times the Emperor Otto and King Philip Augustus of France, and placing England under King John under an Interdict following a dispute about appointment of the Archbishop of Canterbury. (John submitted and did homage to the Pope in 1208, meaning that the Pope was now technically the feudal overlord of England! The Pope duly helped his new vassal by excommunicating the barons who forced John to sign Magna Carta in 1215) 

          Innocent’s great ambition was to recover Jerusalem. In 1202 he proclaimed the Fourth Crusade, intended to strengthen the weak Christian position in Palestine by an attack on Egypt. But the result was a disaster of epic proportions. The crusaders who assembled were largely French, and their leaders, William of Montferrat and Baldwin of Flanders, negotiated with Venice to ship their army out. The Venetians then hijacked the campaign into staging an attack on Constantinople, resulting in enormous destruction in the city, immense plunder for the Venetians, and a permanent weakening of the Christian position in the eastern Mediterranean. For half a millenium Constantinople had held at bay the Moslem threat, but could never do so again.

Despite this, Innocent never lost hope, but unfortunately he had other, more overtly political concerns. The temporal power in central Italy had long been threatened from two fronts: the Holy Roman Empire, based in Germany, to the north, and the Norman kingdom of Sicily to the south. Now these twin threats were to be united in one man.  

The future Emperor Frederick II was born in 1194. His two grandfathers were the greatest European monarchs of their day.

His paternal grandfather was the Emperor Frederick Barbarossa, the legendary German warrior-king who had died on his way to join the Third Crusade; and his maternal grandfather was Roger II, King of Sicily, ruler of the most glittering and sophisticated court of the century. But by the age of four young Frederick had lost both his parents, and was now heir to both Sicily (where he was proclaimed King at the age of three) and the Holy Roman Empire. The Pope was appointed guardian to the little orphan.
     In fact Innocent III did not even see him until he was 17. He was bought up in Palermo, and despite the German inheritance on his father's side, was always really a Norman-Sicilian, with the Greek and Saracen traditions of the island, and its cultivated and intellectually vibrant court life. 
He was the best-educated prince of his time, speaking Greek and Arabic as well as French, German, Latin and Italian. Frederick had a lifelong interest in philosophy, science, literature and all the arts. He founded in Naples in 1224 the first entirely secular European university, together with a great medical school at Salerno, and forbade his subjects to study anywhere else. He wrote poetry and a book on falconry, opened his court to minstrels and troubadours, and conducted curious scientific experiments of his own devising. Everywhere he went he was accompanied by his private zoo, which included leopards, ostriches,  and even an elephant and a giraffe.It is little wonder that he became known as "Stupor mundi": the wonder of the world.
    Sicily may be considered the first modern state in mediaeval Europe. It had a proper written code of laws, together with a bureaucracy and professional judges. Frederick extended this by issuing the Constitutions of Melfi, 1233, with full details of how the kingdom was to be governed. Income came from customs duties, with central control of the ports. There were state monopolies on certain goods such as silk, iron manufacture, salt and pitch. The army included Moslem mercenary troops as well as Norman knights. Court etiquette based on that of Constantinople: the King was treated as a semi-divine being, rarely seen in public, and only to be approached with prostrations. He lived in a guarded palace, with beautiful gardens, complete with a harem and eunuchs. Northern Europe would have seemed very uncivilized by comparison.
     Frederick was notoriously irreligious and blasphemous in his speech. He was also a cruel man, with no personal friends; never very popular with his subjects, and ruled largely by fear: always travelling with a substantial bodyguard and a team of executioners, mostly Moslems. When he faced a Moslem revolt in Sicily in 1221-2, he deported many of his Moslem subjects to a special colony at Lucera in mainland Italy; local population being cleared out to make room for them. The new settlers were provided with a mosque, and Christian missionaries were forbidden to try to convert them!

Innocent III was determined to ease pressure on central Italy by preventing any unification of the Holy Roman Empire with the Kingdom of Sicily, and to this end was prepared to use young Frederick to stir up trouble in Germany. Early in the 13th century the Bavarian, Otto IV, was Emperor, and Frederick’s claims were ignored by the German princes; but in 1212 Pope Innocent III excommunicated Otto and sent Frederick to Germany to overthrow him. Frederick allied with King Philip of France to defeat Otto at the battle of Bouvines in 1214, and gained the support of the German princes by recognizing their privileges in the “Golden Bull”. He was crowned "King of the Romans" at Aachen in 1215, then crowned Emperor by the new Pope, Honorius III, in 1220. But Frederick had no desire to stay in Germany. He left his son Henry, aged 9, as titular ruler there and returned to Sicily and the splendours of Palermo. This support of Frederick was a major misjudgment by Innocent III and his successor, for Frederick was to prove the greatest threat yet to the temporal power of the papacy. The rest of his reign was to be marked by increasingly bitter hostility.

There were other causes for dispute. Frederick twice promised to lead a crusade, but always found excuses for not setting out. In  1227 he faced a new and aggressive opponent in the shape of Cardinal Ugolino, who had sponsored St. Francis and was now at the age of 86 elected Pope as Gregory IX; remaining in office till he was 100! At once he decided to show Frederick who was boss, and so when Frederick once again found excuses for not crusading, Gregory excommunicated him.

But Frederick did go on a sort of crusade. In 1225 he married, as his second wife, Yolande, the daughter of John of Brienne, the titular king of Jerusalem. (The city had been in Moslem hands for almost 40 years, and only the coastal areas of Palestine were still controlled by the crusaders). She gave birth to a son, Conrad, but died soon afterwards. In 1228, Frederick set out for the east, to claim his rights in name of his infant son. The Pope not impressed, renewed the sentence of excommunication. 
    He landed first in Cyprus, where the crusader lords who ruled the island were forced to acknowledge him as their overlord, and then proceeded to Acre, but found most of the crusaders there refused to work with him. So instead he opened negotiations with the Sultan of Egypt, and in early 1229, signed a treaty with him!
     Under this agreement, Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Nazareth were to be restored to the Christian kingdom, though Moslems could keep a few holy places (such as the al-Aqsa mosque),and would be allowed allowed freedom of worship. All prisoners to be exchanged. In March 1229 Frederick entered Jerusalem, was given the keys of the city, attended mass in the church of the Holy Sepulchre. He found the place almost deserted: local clergy and crusaders boycotted the ceremony. Undeterred, Frederick crowned himself King of Jerusalem. He then went on sightseeing tour of mosques before returning to Acre. As he passed through the streets, people pelted him with filth. He landed back in Italy that summer. Despite the common sense and usefulness to Christian pilgrims of Frederick's arrangements, the Pope was absolutely livid. This wasn’t proper crusading! Frederick had made a mockery of whole idea! (which he had, of course!)

In 1237, Frederick decided to suppress the free cities of northern Italy, who were being encouraged by pope to fight against him. This initiated a division which was to dominate Italian politics for many generations, between "Guelfs" (who supported the Pope) and "Ghibbelines" (who supported the Emperor); though soon these labels took on other implications as well, as can be seen in the writings of Dante. Frederick defeated the Milanese, and was excommunicated again. He then marched on Rome intending to overthrow the Pope, but Gregory IX died in 1241. Frederick hoped the new Pope, Innocent IV, would be more amenable, but instead he fled to Lyons, where he summoned a Church Council that in 1245 declared Frederick to be deposed. In 1248 Frederick was decisively defeated by an alliance of the Guelf cities in a battle near Parma, and his power was broken. He died two years later and was buried in Palermo cathedral. But the struggle of his family, the Hohenstaufen, with the papacy continued. 

         Frederick II, 1194-1250

1197   King of Sicily
1215   King of  the Romans
1220   Crowned Emperor
1221   Moslem revolt in Sicily
1225   Revolt in Italian cities
1228   Excommunicated
1229   Crowned king of Jerusalem
1231   Constitutions of Melfi
1233-4   Revolt in Germany
1238   Italian revolt suppressed
1245   Proclaimed to be deposed
1247   Defeated near Parma
1250   Death of Frederick


Innocent III   1198-1216
Honorius III   1216-27
Gregory IX   1227-41
Innocent IV   1243-54