Saturday, May 22, 2004


In these politically correct times we hear much of racism, sexism, ageism, speciesism, and even heterosexism. Why not then epochism, the arbitrary denigration of entire historical epochs? The other night, a television commentator referred to the beheading of Nicholas Berg as “medieval.” As I remarked to my wife, “That fellow is slamming an entire historical epoch.” The names of the other epochs are free of pejorative connotation even though horrors occurred in these epochs the equal of any in the medieval period. Why then are the Middle Ages singled out for special treatment? This is no mean chunk of time. It stretches from, say, the birth of Augustine in 354 A.D. , or perhaps from the closing of the Platonic Academy in 529 A. D., to the birth of Descartes in 1596, albeit with plenty of bleed-through on either end: Greek notions reach deep into the Middle Ages, while medieval notions live on in Descartes and beyond.

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831) counts as an epochist. When he comes to the medieval period in his Lectures on the History of Philosophy, he puts on his “seven-league boots” the better to pass over this thousand year period without sullying his fine trousers. (Vol. III, 1) Summing up the “General Standpoint of the Scholastics,” he has this to say: “...this Scholasticism on the whole is a barbarous philosophy of the finite understanding, without real
content, which awakens no true interest in us, and to which we cannot return.” “Barren,” and “rubbishy” are other terms with which he describes it. (Vol. III, 94-95)

The politically correct may wish to consider whether the descendants of Hegel should pay reparations to the descendants of Thomas Aquinas, et al.