Streetwise Professor

March 4, 2024

“White Rural Rage”–Modern Catharism and the Crusade Against It

Filed under: History,Politics — cpirrong @ 12:00 pm

The “Cathars”–the target of (a) the first intra-Europe crusade (and arguably the first crusade period*) that resulted in the deaths of 10s of thousands (often by fire) and the desolation of vast swathes of southern France, and (b) an inquisition that killed more–are a source of fascination and mystery. They left little of a written record, and most of that which is “known” about them was written by a Catholic Church that ruthlessly persecuted them as “heretics.” Thus, what their “heresies” actually were is unknown.

In his fascinating The Rest is History Podcast, historian Tom Holland conjectures that their heresies had nothing to do with dualism or celibacy or any of the other theological sins with which they were charged. Instead, the Cathars’ (not something they called themselves, by the way) crime was essentially that they were rustics who were not willing to conform with aggressive reforms adopted by the Catholic Church in the early-13th century. In particular, they were in a way proto-Protestants who believed that salvation was not dependent on the intermediation of priests, bishops, archbishops, and Popes. One could become a “bon homme” destined for heaven by one’s own conduct and faith without priestly intermediation. This clashed with Pope Innocent III’s aggressive centralizing efforts to enforce the primacy of the priesthood and the formal church.

Put simply, this was a clash between self-governing rural traditionalists and an extremely assertive–and in fact murderous–bureaucratic government with universalists pretensions insistent on controlling the private and public lives of everyone.

Voltaire said that history does not repeat, but humans do. Viewing the current political landscape in the United States and Europe speaks to Voltaire’s veracity.

Case in point, the currently raging hysteria regarding “white rural rage” and “Christian nationalism” in the United States. Though the United States government has not–at least not yet–channeled its inner Innocent III and launched a murderous crusade against American rustics, the aforesaid hysteria echoes the Albigensian Crusade. (“Albegensian” was another epithet applied to the Cathars, and was a reference to Albi, Italy, which was a Cathar stronghold.)

Specifically, the heresy of non-urban Americans is that they fail to–refuse to–subordinate themselves to a zealous and distant bureaucracy, and who adhere instead to traditional beliefs about freedom, local control, and religious observance. Since those beliefs are inimical to a clerical class which arrogates to itself authority on all matters of belief, they are a threat to the establishment “elite” and must be crushed.

Hence the hysteria.

Although the Cathars resided in what is now France (though a “French” identity is an anachronism would have been alien to them), their experience rhymes with various events in American and British history in which rural peoples resisted centralizing government authority.

Case in point. The Hatfield-McCoy Feud of the 1880s-1890s was made into urbanist pornography–it was the subject of rapt and lurid coverage in big city dailies–in large part because it was a narrative that “othered” mountain people who resisted “progress” and attempted to maintain their autonomy. A major driver behind the legal consequences of the feud was that the Hatfields owned large tracts of timber and coal land coveted by large coal producers in particular. (Timber–used in mine construction–was a vital resource. One of my Hatfield ancestors was a timber cutter for coal mines.). (The Coal Wars of the 1920s was an aftershock of the victory of the large mining companies.)

Also in the late-19th century, the propaganda war against moonshiners was also directed at people who insisted on traditional practices that clashed with the interests of a distant government. But it goes back further than that. The Whiskey Rebellion and the subsequent military campaign against it (led by George Washington and importantly Alexander Hamilton) similarly involved a conflict between rustics (for whom alcohol was an essential staple of commerce) and a central government grasping for revenues.

But it goes even further back, and farther ashore. The actions of the British government (and the more settled and urbanized Lowland Scots) against the Highland Scots in the 18th century were driven by similar forces and accompanied by similar pejorative narratives. (Cf. Rob Roy.). Ditto the centuries-long depredations of England (and then Great Britain) in Ireland.

In brief, the current moral panic in “elite” circles about rural (really non-urban) whites is yet another example of an ages-old struggle between an arrogant, centralizing “elite” power structure and those who would quite prefer to live outside it, thank you very much. Heresy now and then is non-conformity and refusal to take the knee before central authority.

That is, it is about control, control, control. Period. The current chapter in this very long-running saga is particularly Orwellian because the war against the rural Other is waged in the name of “democracy”–i.e., self-government–when in fact what the “elite” desires is antithetical to true self-government. (It is also particularly disgusting because of its overt racism.)

Perhaps it is not coincidental that I am a (maternal) descendent of Hatfields, moonshiners, and Whiskey Rebels. For it is abundantly clear where my sympathies lie.

*The word “crusade” was not used in the 11th-12th centuries to describe the Christian campaigns in the Holy Land. Its first recorded usage was to describe the war waged on the Cathars.

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  1. Our school history lessons didn’t tell us much about the Cathars except that it was believed that their doctrines were similar to those of the Bogomils of the Balkans.

    “Bogomil” was said to be the origin of the English word “bugger”, allowing us to infer one of the accusations brought by the Roman Catholics against the Cathars.

    Comment by dearieme — March 4, 2024 @ 12:27 pm

  2. @dearieme. Yes, the linking of Cathars and Bogomils goes back a long time, and relates to the alleged dualism/Manicheanism of both. It has proved devilish hard to identify their true beliefs since virtually all we have is written by their enemies.

    In all honesty, it’s doubtful that they had any fixed, formal theology at all. It appears to be more of a folk religion.

    Good to hear from you BTW. I learned via Tim Worstall that you’re dealing with some health issues. I hope things are improving.

    Comment by cpirrong — March 4, 2024 @ 12:32 pm

  3. @cp: thank you.

    Comment by dearieme — March 4, 2024 @ 12:42 pm

  4. The Rest Is History podcast is great stuff. No doubt, those of opposed would be treated like our ancestors at Bezier, if only they could make it happen.

    Comment by The Pilot — March 4, 2024 @ 4:39 pm

  5. Yes, the efforts of the elite to control the thoughts of the masses are nothing new. See Catherine Nixey’s account of the iconoclasm of the early Christian church, The Darkening World, which put to shame the efforts of the Taliban.

    The humiliation at Canossa, the Albigensian crusade… medieval Christianity was as much focused on theocratic government as any Iranian mullah of today.

    At the moment ChatGBT and Google AI images are simply laughable. But what happens when this stuff actually begins to be sort of believable? There is, after all, a residual majority that believes that covid was an existential threat and that the vaccines are safe and effective.

    Comment by philip — March 4, 2024 @ 5:32 pm

  6. Eastern Thoughts & Orthodox prayers for U dearieme. Sincerely. And thx as well to Tim Worstall for the h/u.

    VP just back from MDA w a report of ‘stable,’ which, @ this point in life is a gr8 omen.

    VP VP

    Comment by VP Vlad P — March 4, 2024 @ 10:57 pm

  7. Prof, Albi is not in Italy as you write, it is in France, Dep. Tarn…

    …the part on the Cathars may be the weaker one of the article.

    The crusade against what is now the South of France, made it part of the country, the crusade was organized by the king (together with the church), and it was not just against the cathars.

    The culture there, also of the catholics there, allowed for religious freedom.

    Yes, it was about control. I sympathize with your analogy, I’m not sure whether ‘rustics’ describes the cathars well however.

    Personally, I doubt that the cathars were, like later the protestans, just a group that split from the catholic church in protest. I suppose they had roots that were independent of the catholic church. The catholic church is not ‘the original christianity’ (or ‘did not have a monopoly’).

    Also, I don’t believe it was a completely homogenic group, and in the south of France, which was not France back then, they were closely related to the nobility that wasn’t part of the Francs (Germanic tribe), but of the Goths and in succession of the Reich of Tolosa. The Goths had their christian faith independent of the catholic church and did not believe in god as a trinity. Remember, the Francs were the first Germanic tribe to become catholic and successor of the Roman imperium together with the church.

    The core of what is said to be the Cathars may not be open to be understood by historians of the western standard mind set. Somebody with connections to the catholic church told me, inofficially people in the know in the vatican say, they believed that the cathars could transport souls between dimensions that are referred to as heaven, hell, limbo. That is not necessarily christian in itself and is not about dogma or beliefs. So, here we have a theme of transdimensional beings, but this won’t ring the bell here and for most people.

    So, the broader chathar movement may have been more rustic people that looked for an alternative that looked more christian and honest, and depending on and protesting on the church.

    Comment by Mikey — March 4, 2024 @ 11:43 pm

  8. So, was updating my view of cathars a bit in the meantime, you know how it is when you read some books over a span of centuries…

    …but what I’ve written holds, just the gothic nobility or francs theme is more complicated, but also valid. Just to say, the majority of the people in Okzitania were romanized gauls and other tribes, neither goths nor francs.

    Apart from the Arian christian lineage of the goths there was a gnostic christian lineage via Bishop Priscillian (that was said to be manichean already hundrets of years earlier, though it’s believed to originate with John of Patmos and in Memphis in Egypt, plus a fusion with druidic practices: ).

    They practiced initiation and introspection, experience based approaches and not word-based dogmatism.

    Now, if you could accept at least the hyptheses that they could see visions, access ‘the akashic record’, access spirit (‘maneism’, not manecheism), do ‘channeling’ etc, you could see that there could have been circles of people within the broader movement that were not dependend of a physical lineage or tradition and that could not stick to written fixed beliefs.

    If you’d now something about the modern history of that type of ‘perennial philosophy’, e.g. what had happened in Ascona in Switzerland from roughly 1900-1960 or Esalen in California from roughly 1960-1985, you’d see how things repeat, and how this involves stories about Stanford university, Apple computers and Star Wars movies…

    …and if you’d know how this was taken over, also being about control, in the meantime, you’d see something like a lineage through the centuries and different places, abd a pattern of forces of control trying to take over…

    Comment by Mikey — March 5, 2024 @ 12:45 pm

  9. My last comment ever here on this blog and I won’t ever check back: in Europe, where people still know geography roughly well, taking Albi as in Albigensians (not Albegensians) as Italian instead of French, is the closest thing to loosing once credibility…

    …now, talking about this website attracting trolls, Prof, I was supposing you were talking about the city of Trollhättan…was a Saab Fan myself and was driving Saab convertibles…

    …gone now…and you can like that…but I’ll be proven right on other topics the same as on the location of Albi. Cheers…

    Comment by Mikey — March 5, 2024 @ 3:30 pm

  10. “…Thus, what their “heresies” actually were is unknown…”

    are you serious? Boy, Americans shouldn’t do European history…:-)

    The Cathars hat a dualist worldview, presumably taken from the Balkan Bogumils (Cathar is not how they called themselves. they called themselves “good Christians” from the Slav Bogu-mil), some of them even accepted female priests, etc. In other words: although the there was no unified theology/worldview (Cathars was a catch-all for various heretical groups) there were fundamental theological differences. Eventually, it is said, most of them fled to mountainous Bosnia where King Kotromanic was a Bogumil. Moonshining is still pretty big in Bosnia btw. :-).

    The nascent market economy of Europe in the 11th century resulted in taxation and centralization efforts supported by the Catholic Church which, correctly, surmised that more powerful states are needed against the islamic threat (Then muslim Spain is pretty close to the south of France). As always, not everybody liked the idea and some (opportunists?) ran over to the heretics -that’s how they became popular. Not sure how having more Hattfields and McKoys would have helped Europe in that situation.

    Ofc, comparing the current establishment with its questionable taste adn mores (“modern art”, insect food etc.) with the Catholic Church which gave us the greatest pieces of art in human history is especially besides the point…

    Comment by Viennacapitalist — March 6, 2024 @ 10:36 am

  11. “the Catholic Church which gave us the greatest pieces of art in human history”: no, the greatest work of art is Venice.

    If you want individual paintings then it’s the Dutch masters, many of whom were Protestants. Or, at least, I assume they were. It strikes me that I don’t think I’ve ever seen a discussion of which were Protestant, which Roman Catholic; rather refreshing, that.

    It reminds me of Elizabeth I: “there is only one Jesus Christ and one faith, and all the rest is a dispute over trifles”.

    Comment by dearieme — March 7, 2024 @ 4:28 am

  12. @ diarieme
    “…no, the greatest work of art is Venice…”
    Your example doesn’t contradict my statement at all
    Venice is a catholic city. Their faith even went so far as to, some say forcfully, take the remains of Saint Marc from Alexandria just to be eligible as a diocoese by – you guessed it – the pope. The original dominant clergy in the region was the bishop of Aquilea whom the Venetians were eager to displace They even have their developed a distinct church architecture (seperate standing bell towers) which you can observe all over Istria and the Dalmatian coasts.

    Dutch masters are extraordinary. De gustibus non est disputandum.
    I was talking about art and culture in general (this includes things like food, etc.) – the majority of European masterpieces were either comissioned by the church or one of its followers to win favor with the church..

    Comment by viennacapitalist — March 7, 2024 @ 8:38 am

  13. There’s a difference between “The Catholic church gave us” and the fact that a bunch of Catholics built Venice. Moreover the early building was done by chaps who really were Catholics before the Roman church flounced out from the rest of Catholic Christendom whereafter they really should be referred to as Roman Catholics.

    Nobody says that the Protestant churches gave us science just because Newton and Darwin were Protestants.

    Comment by dearieme — March 7, 2024 @ 12:03 pm

  14. @dearirme,
    I do mean Roman Catholic.
    when I say „gave“, I mean comissioned, curated inspired. the Roman Catholic church acted as kind of crnter of gravity in Venice and beyond. think of today‘s NGOs, think tanks and hollywood whose center of gravity (cathedral) is the US Government.
    Newton and Darwin did not create science because there had been plenty of scientists before them

    Comment by viennacapitalist — March 8, 2024 @ 12:30 am

  15. I wonder whether the No votes in the Irish referendums were essentially “Feck you!” to the governing classes. That was surely part of the British Brexit vote.

    We Are All Cathars Now.

    Comment by dearieme — March 10, 2024 @ 1:29 pm

  16. Prof

    Have you come across the work of Dr Richard Carrier, a Columbia PhD who argues Christ probably did not exist?

    It sounds a bit batshit at first blush, but he makes a surprisingly good case. Basically, early 1st century Judaea was obsessed with imminent Messiahs; Josephus for example notes at least four – “the Samaritan”, “the Egyptian”, and so on. No non-NT sources attest any physical existence of Jesus, while the earliest documents, the epistles of Paul, are unaware of any ministry or that there were disciples. They make no mention of any of it and instead claim to know what Jesus said through scripture and revelation, i.e. visions. There were lots of such visions, many – such as the Book of Enoch – so patently batshit crazy that they were excised from the canon as being too discreditable. But at the time, something had to be done to corral all these various barmy sects into line. So at about the time when actual eyewitnesses would mostly be dead, the Gospel of John appears, claiming to be an eyewitness account and inserting an actual Jesus into history like the Egyptians had done with Osiris. The trouble is that other gospels appeared at the same, setting Jesus’ supposed ministry about 100 years earlier.

    Other supposed corroborations of his existence aren’t. Josephus wasn’t an independent witness and his references to Jesus may be later forgeries; Tacitus refers to “Chrestus” but that needn’t mean Jesus because it’s a title not a name, and he isn’t independent either, having probably just read about him.

    A number of the NT’s supposed words of Christ were written after the destruction of the temple, because after that event the Jews had to figure out where God resided if it wasn’t there. So the stuff about your body is a temple was written to think through that event; which was 40 years after Jesus died.

    You can find his lectures on YouTube. He doesn’t flat out say that Jesus never existed; he thinks there’s about a 30% chance he did, but that if he did, he was probably a guy who was made out to be a prophet and miracle worker after his death, much like Haile Selassie. If all we knew about Haile Selassie was what Rastafarians say about him we’d have an account much like those we have of Jesus.

    Part of why it is entirely plausible that he did not exist is that a lot of people once thought to have been real are no longer thought such; Abraham, Noah, Moses, and so on. More recently, Ned Ludd of the Luddites didn’t exist, and neither did the John Frum or Tom Navy believed in by South Sea island cults.

    Christianity survived Copernicus exploding its cosmology and Darwin exploding its creation myth, so I imagine it will also survive any emerging consensus that Christ never happened. It is interesting though and more convincing than you’d think.

    Comment by Green As Grass — March 11, 2024 @ 10:46 am

  17. There are people who have argued that Mahomet didn’t exist as a single person – the name is really a title, they say. But a Christian bishop did write about a general of a Saracen army who had been a merchant by occupation. That sounds like him. Where he came from, where the Holy City was situated – those are more contentious. I dare say more scholars would write critically about such things if they weren’t frightened of assassination.

    After decades of being a sceptic I now think that on balance Jesus probably did exist. But what do we know about him? Precious little. If you take the Gospel of Mark and cut off the forged bits at the end and the beginning, you probably have a guide to the most we can possibly know about him. But within that we have no way of distinguishing truth and falsehood unless something is said that is inauthentic about the Jewish or Roman milieu of the time. At least Mark is written for sensible people: the story starts when Jesus becomes a public figure i.e. is baptised by John, and ends when the absence of his body is discovered.

    As for the other gospels; well! It’s Zeus not Jehovah who shags women and makes them pregnant. The two nativity stories contradict each other. And so on.

    Comment by dearieme — March 11, 2024 @ 2:05 pm

  18. @ dearieme

    Mohammed’s authority for his information is the same as Paukl’s is the same as Joseph Smith’s: divine revelation.

    Here’s quite an interesting Carrier interview

    and here’s one of his lectures. I’m not sold, but it is thought-provoking.

    Comment by Green As Grass — March 11, 2024 @ 3:26 pm

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