We have always been proud of not emulating Europe’s or any other society’s aristocratic culture or aspects of medievalism such as serfdom or fortified towns.
Yet, our historical record is sprinkled with aristocratic or medieval patterns which we don’t admit. The Constitution prohibits the awarding of titles of nobility. In spite of this, many Americans, even Reagan, Bush, Sr. on down to Caspar Weinberger et al., eagerly travel to Britain to be knighted by Queen Elizabeth. Sir Ronald and Sir Caspar, among many Americans, are proud having their achievements recognized by British royalty.
Besides this, our reverence of royalty is echoed throughout our society far more than in foreign countries. We have homecoming kings and queens in high schools and colleges. We have beauty queens and a TV program called “Queen for a Day.” We even assign quasi noble titles to entrepreneurs such as titans or moguls of industry or VIP and celebrity status to famous entertainers.
Our federal capitol buildings and many state capitols are direct duplicates of Europe’s royal palaces. Indeed a palace is suited for a king to live in as it is for our lawmakers to do their business. George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate proves that he, like other Founding Fathers, was emulating intensely British aristocracy. Even his carriage is adorned with an imposing aristocratic coat-of-arms.
Our growing gated and securitized communities echo Europe’s medieval fortified towns as does our massive indebtedness. Those who move into securitized communities express no confidence in our society as did the nobles retreating to fortified castles.
Medieval serfdom arose largely due to heavy debts. If the peasants were unable to pay them off, they wound up working for their creditors and thus became gradually enserfed.
Our debt is often called “debt slavery” and it, too, echoes its medieval antecedent. One of the most shocking echoes of our medievalism was, of course, slavery which sort of ended in Europe during medieval times but was expanded across the U.S. until 1862.
Some of us even view the Constitution to be a divinely revealed document, something echoing the Divine Right Theory of Kings.
Though we tend to avoid facing it, in part due to its subtle nature and evolution, we must admit that we are elevating military heroes in many ways to prominent top political positions in ways as it was done in medieval times. Many nobles who acquired political power and started to rule over local and regional areas attained their position as a result of local and regional defense.
George Washington did the same and the process continued down to the fact that almost no member of Congress got elected after the Civil War unless he was a veteran. Military service enabled many to switch from a military career to a top political one and it wasn’t just Grant and Eisenhower.
It’s painful to admit that for all practical purposes our military has acquired lots of symptoms of being a modern aristocratic class with associated privileges and accolades, earned and deserved, to be sure. It may be the top feature of emulating medievalism. In sharp contrast to foreign advanced societies, most of our towns have a VFW and an American Legion Club supported with Ladies Auxiliaries, something not duplicated to any degree in other societies. Ironically, this evolved in spite of having the most favorable geo-political equation with two protective oceans and militarily non-threatening neighbors.
Finally, we probably have the largest numbers of inherited club or organizational memberships just like medieval aristocrats inherited their positions. These were started right from the beginning by George Washington and increased after most wars.
Of course, medievalism has its costs and it goes beyond having military retiree villages which are only matched in Russia. It detracts in subtle ways from focusing on solving serious domestic problem by being entertained too much by those whom we enthrone and revere and to whom we become fans, groupies or “court attendants.”
In a larger context, the current events in the Middle East, if not around the globe, are reflecting what is implied in the title of Eisenhower’s memoirs “Crusade in Europe.” They are resurrecting in modern form medieval crusades of the 12th century. If not stopped they will harm all sides as they did in the Middle Ages.