14 April 2015

Germans and War

From Radix:
But when Christian missionaries tried to appeal to the Germanic invaders by invoking the universalism, pacifism, and egalitarianism that had attracted the alienated inhabitants of the empire, they failed. That was because the Germans practiced a folk religion that reflected ethnic homogeneity, social hierarchy, military glory and heroism, and “standards of ethical conduct ... derived from a sociobiological drive for group survival through ingroup altruism.” Germanic religion and society were “world-accepting,” while Hellenic Christianity was “world-rejecting,” reflecting the influence of Oriental religions and ethics. By “Germans,” it should be noted, Mr. Russell does not mean modern residents of Germany but rather “the Gothic, Frankish, Saxon, Burgundian, Alamannic, Suevic, and Vandal peoples, but also... the Viking peoples of Scandinavia and the Anglo-Saxon peoples of Britain.” With the exception of the Celts and the Slavs, “Germans” thus means almost the same thing as “European” itself. 
Given the contradictions between the Christian ethics and world-view and those of the Indo-European culture of the Germanic peoples, the only tactic Christians could use was one of appearing to adopt Germanic values and claiming that Christian values were really compatible with them. The bulk of Mr. Russell’s scholarship shows how this process of accommodation took place in the course of about four centuries. The saints and Christ Himself were depicted as Germanic warrior heroes; both festivals and locations sacred in ancient Germanic cults were quietly taken over by the Christians as their own; and words and concepts with religious meanings and connotations were subtly redefined in terms of the new religion. Yet the final result was not that the Germans were converted to the Christianity they had originally encountered, but rather that that form of Christianity was “Germanized,” coming to adopt many of the same Indo-European folk values that the old pagan religion had celebrated.
I’m fairly ignorant on the history of Germanic peoples and how their culture has descended through time.  Nonetheless, I think it would be quite interesting to see just how much influence those of Germanic descent have on this modern world. 

I say this because I’ve been repeatedly struck by how martial those of Germanic descent have tended to be in the last, say one thousand years.  For example, I found it interesting when reading a fairly comprehensive history of the crusades how Just War theology began to become popularized in the Roman Catholic Church soon after the Church began to bring Germanic tribes under its authority.  Moreover, as I’ve been reading van Creveld’s history of military theory, it’s also striking how large a number of military theorists in the last couple hundred years have likewise been of Germanic descent.


Perhaps there is something to the notion that our genes play a non-negligible role in making us who we are.  Perhaps there is eve something to be said for racial and ethnic stereotypes too.  Perhaps I’m just completely ignorant, and there is absolutely nothing to the notion that those of Germanic descent might be a wee bit martial and bloodthirsty.

1 comment:

  1. This tests my graduate work from years past, but I did some reading on the development of the Christian liturgy and canon law within Charlemagne's empire. The thrust of Christian spirituality toward heroic self-sacrifice had great purchase on the Frankish culture. Christ as a warrior taking on Satan through the crucifixion, and even more particularly, in his "harrowing of hell" connected with the martial mentality of these Germanics, and helped refocus their aggression toward nobler aims than bloody conquest in search of plunder for their respective tribes. There is an argument that this attempt at channeling these tendencies elsewhere was a mixed success. It gave birth to one of the earliest "peace" movements in history (essentially, the Franks came to view internecine conflict as gravely sinful, that is, one always had to be able to find a legal/moral basis for going to war with your cousins), but eventually the pent up energy sought release, and the Crusades served the venting purpose. I give little truck to those who argue the Crusades were a European land grab by all the frustrated "second sons" of the aristocracy. Rather, a strong warrior tradition was wed to deep religious conviction and the result was the Crusader.

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