Political Theory (Loosely Interpreted): September 2010 Archives

Crusade Colonies?

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When European Crusaders retook Jerusalem and some of its surrounding cities during the First Crusade, they had intended to restore it to Byzantine hands, but the Byzantine emperor had betrayed them at the last minute, and that led to the Europeans setting up their own states in these cities. Rodney Stark calls these the Crusader kingdoms in God's Battalions, and on one use of the term "colony" it does seem appropriate to call these European colonies. But he points out that there are two different ways people use the terms "colony" or "colonial":

a. There's what academics often mean, which involves the colonizer economically taking advantage of the colonized or forcing them to convert to their religion
b. Then there's what most people mean, including some historians who regularly refer to the Crusade kingdoms (the political structures set up in Jerusalem and nearby by the crusaders when they overthrew the Muslim colonizers), which is simply one group of people setting up camp in another location, without thereby implying anything like definition a.

The Crusade kingdoms in fact couldn't fit definition b, according to Stark, because (1) the flow of money and resources went there other way (the Crusades were expensive, and all the money to operate the Crusader kingdoms came from taxes paid by Europeans to maintain the European presence in that religion and (2) they didn't force conversions or even treat non-Christians as second-class citizens the way their Muslim predecessor colonists had. If you do want to count them as colonists in the bad sense, then they're just the successor colonists to the Turkish colonists. Those who criticize the Crusades as part of European colonialism rarely apply the same reasoning to the Muslim conquerings that the European Crusades were a response to.

Stark is right so far as all that goes, I think, but he leaves out one crucial sense in which most academics will use the term "colonialism" that may well apply, and that's cultural or social colonizing. One culture is ruling over another and dominates. You might call it cultural imperialism. That certainly was true of the Crusader kingdoms. They allowed Jews, Muslims, and others to remain and practice their religions freely, for the most part anyway, but they ran things in a European feudal way, and the socio-cultural, including religious, perspective of the Europeans certainly dominated.

I think Stark misses that when arguing against the two components of colonialism that he says aren't present. But I'm also not convinced of the view of many academics that such cultural dominance and control is in principle bad. Isn't it what we do whenever we pass a law by majority consent that a minority might disapprove of (or in the case of Obamacare a majority doesn't even consent to). I don't see why that's in principle evil. Leaders should do what they thinks is best, and sometimes they may get it right when the people they're leading don't agree. That shouldn't necessarily stop them. If the different viewpoints happen to coincide with different cultural perspectives or tendencies, it still doesn't seem to me to make it wrong to enforce it. Other factors might make it wrong, e.g. if it's not good policy to begin with. But I've never been convinced that the consent of the governed or the cultural similarity or connection between governing and governed should be in-principle required for a government to be moral and just.

[Technically, "consent of the governed" is multiply ambiguous. It could be a requirement that the governed is required for every little thing, or it could mean they just have to approve of the representatives making the decisions, who are held accountable every so often. The U.S. only has the latter kind of consent of the governed, and it would be crazy to do much more, although there are ways that there could be more consent. It could mean consent of all the governed, a general consensus of the governed, a majority of the governed, etc (and any actual government usually requires a much more complex procedure for calculating it). I mean to say that I don't think any of these things is required for a just and morally good government, which I understand is a pretty radical view nowadays, but I think it's true.]

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