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The Formation of a Persecuting Society: Authority and Deviance in Western Europe 950-1250 [Paperback]

R. I. Moore

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Book Description

22 Dec 2006
The tenth to the thirteenth centuries in Europe saw the appearance of popular heresy and the establishment of the Inquisition, the expropriation and mass murder of Jews, and the propagation of elaborate measures to segregate lepers from the healthy and curtail their civil rights. These were traditionally seen as distinct and separate developments, and explained in terms of the problems which their victims presented to medieval society. In this stimulating book, first published in 1987 and now widely regarded as a a classic in medieval history, R. I. Moore argues that the coincidences in the treatment of these and other minority groups cannot be explained independently, and that all are part of a pattern of persecution which now appeared for the first time to make Europe become, as it has remained, a persecuting society. In this new edition, R. I. Moore updates and extends his original argument with a new, final chapter, "A Persecuting Society". Here and in a new preface and critical bibliography, he considers the impact of a generation′s research and refines his conception of the "persecuting society" accordingly, addressing criticisms of the first edition.

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"One of the most influential and controversial books of medieval history of the last 20 years ... The relevance of its argument today is uncanny." The Guardian Praise for the first edition: "A brilliant account of medieval is a pleasure to read an account that is so obviously of importance for our own societies, yet is conceived in a full international context." Times Higher Education Supplement "A fundamental work of historical sociology, as important in its way as the works of Georges Duby and Mark Bloch...a courageous and wide–ranging thesis." M. T. Clanchy, Times Literary Supplement

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The tenth to the thirteenth centuries in Europe saw the appearance of popular heresy and the establishment of the Inquisition, the expropriation and mass murder of Jews, and the propagation of elaborate measures to segregate lepers from the healthy and curtail their civil rights. These were traditionally seen as distinct and separate developments, and explained in terms of the problems which their victims presented to medieval society. In this stimulating book, first published in 1987 and now widely regarded as a a classic in medieval history, R. I. Moore argues that the coincidences in the treatment of these and other minority groups cannot be explained independently, and that all are part of a pattern of persecution which now appeared for the first time to make Europe become, as it has remained, a persecuting society. In this new edition, R. I. Moore updates and extends his original argument with a new, final chapter, “A Persecuting Society”. Here and in a new preface and critical bibliography, he considers the impact of a generation’s research and refines his conception of the “persecuting society” accordingly, addressing criticisms of the first edition.

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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Origins of Persecution 13 Jan 2013
By Amrit - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is landmark study of how Western Europe became a "persecuting society" - when after centuries of relative tolerance, European societies began to turn on minorities. Moore studies this change primarily having regard to the position of heretics, Jews and lepers, when at about the same time, namely during the eleventh century, all became targets of persecution - and persecution of minorities thought to be threatening has been a theme of European history until the mid-twentieth century.

The period sees the beginnings of persecution of religious dissidents identified as heretics - and for the first time since the fifth and sixth centuries ACE, major efforts were made to attack those seen as heretics. Dissidents put down strong roots in parts of Europe notably Languedoc and Northern Italy and could gain rapid popularity by preaching against the wealth and excess of clerical elites. They were met with violent opposition to end their influence.

At about the same time, Jewish people also became a target of persecution after centuries of relatively cordial relations with Christians when they had become well integrated into society. Increasingly subject to restrictions on what work they could do and where they could live and the clothes they could wear, Jewish people were confined to occupations such as money lending - while Christians reduced their role in that sector of economic life. Used by the rulers to manage financial affairs and collect taxes, they became a target for exploitation by lords and kings (who could randomly seize their assets), massacre and expulsion.

Lepers also become stigmatised and isolated in leper colonies - with some evidence of an increase in the prevalence of Hansen's disease during the High Middle Ages and a subsequent decline in infections when populations acquired greater resistance to the disease.

Other groups subject to increasing persecutions included prostitutes and gay men.

Moore sets out to answer the question as to why persecution of these different groups establishes itself in European society about the same time. Moore challenges the previously accepted paradigm of heresy studies that heresy involved the collective response of society to a threat to the accepted order. Deliberate socially sanctioned violence began to be directed during the era not by society at large and popular action but through established governmental, judicial and social institutions against the targeted groups. In other words, this was not a matter of general popular prejudice but violence and persecution directed by the leaders of society. Moore finds little evidence of popular roots to these changes (although other scholars challenge the notion that anti-semitism engaged only some classes - and hold all classes partook in the phenomenon) The case studies Moore presents supports the view that "heretics and Jews owed persecution in the first place not to the hatred of the people, but to the decisions of princes and prelates. In neither case have we found grounds to justify a description of the persecutors merely as agents of society at large, at least if our conception of society is one which includes the great majority of its members". While poorer people may have used opportunities that arose during disturbances to loot the property of a target group, this did not necessarily mean that they were motivated by a visceral hatred of the group. A" persecuting society" came into being to give effect to the interests of the leaders of society, both lay and clerical, and has remained in place into modern times.

As to why these changes occurred during the eleventh century and not before, Moore turns to the broader social changes at the time. Around 1100, the economy was becoming increasingly monetised with rising prosperity. Groups outside the traditional power structure such as merchants could become very rich and powerful based on their wealth - and sometimes the towns in which they lived could become strongholds of heresy. Jews too forced into money lending found that they too could benefit from these changes. Money could fall into the hands of "men of no family or background". Money in the "wrong" hands could produce social dislocation through challenges to and sometimes the outright dissolution of traditional feudal bonds that tied the common people to lords and prelates who react ferociously to hold onto control and leadership of society.

The construction of heretical dissent was also less straightforward than simply identifying a person holding the illicit dogma in question and "correcting" that person. Clerics had to identify heretici within known categories of "comprehensive and sinister threats to the faith". Of one interrogation, the cleric in charge said that "they gave most Christian answers ... But since people like these always deny charges against them, and at the same time try to seduce the hearts of the foolish in secret, they were assigned to judgment ...". The Clericus also feared the "illiteratus, idiota, rusticus", ie common people who were commonly the accused in heresy trials - and tried to pigeon hole them into known categories of heresy, dating back sometimes to Augustine in the fifth century - even if perhaps the rustic accused had no theological understanding of the intellectual constructs assigned to him or her. This "served to stimulate and assist the development of claims and techniques of government and church and state, as well as the cohesiveness and confidence of those who operated it. It was the dark underside of the revival of the twelfth century".

Accusations of witchcraft, sorcery and sex with another man became increasingly used in the climate of rising persecution to attack political rivals.

Jews before the era could and did hold prominent positions in Courts. El Cid employed a Jewish Treasurer. Count Raymond VI of Toulouse employed Jewish officials and this was one of the accusations against him used to launch the Albigensian Crusade against him. The Papal Court itself used Jewish advisors and well into the twelfth century, the Pope used them to run his household. It appears that Jewish emphasis on eduction produced highly skilled men (and women) - whereas the Christians lagged. Christian and Jewish cultures were also well integrated and a French bishop noted that "Jews won more converts than Christians because the rabbis preached so much better than Catholic priests". The Jewish community "offered a real alternative, and therefore a real challenge". By the end of the era, few Jews were found in government employment - driven out of office by Christian rivals.

Moore specifically addresses the specific question of the role of the Church in these developments. He concludes that the growth of secular power, and the pursuit of secular interests, constituted the essential context of the developments in question. He refers to specific examples of the Church intervening to protect persecuted groups such as the well known mission of St Bernard of Clairvaux to Germany, to prevent a massacre of Jewish people. It could be noted that the modern period when the influence of the Church began to decline did not see any reduction in the persecution of Jews, gay people and other minorities and in some respects, their position worsened, culminating in the Shoah during the Twentieth century. While Jewish people lived in their own quarters during the Middle Ages, the ghetto is largely thought to be something that became well established during the Renaissance. Michel Foucalt's classic Madness and Civilisation studies the worsening position of the "Mad" as modernity set in. The criminalisation of homosexual acts also dates to the ninetheenth century, arguably a product of the Enlightenment project of classification and setting the bounds of what lay within "nature" and what lay outside it. However, the Church did not stand outside the antecedent developments of the High Middle Ages and in the author's judgment, played a role, albeit a secondary one, in the creation of a "persecuting society". The role of the literati however in bringing about these changes was crucial and could often come down to self interested protection of their interests as holders of "true" knowledge on which their status depended, against holders of rival knowledge, namely Jews and heretics. In this respect, the role of the literati in these changes is a salutary example of the dangers in assuming that intellectuals in any society will always provide leadership that is enlightened and humane. While leadership of this kind could at times come from clerics such as St Bernard of Clarivaux, the literati as a whole took a leading role in persection of target groups. The role of universities and of intellectuals in Nazi Germany in this regard may be an apt comparison.

When first published in 1987, Moore's work was well received and now comes to represent a dominant paradigm - with his concept of a "persecuting society" widely accepted.

The study raises wider questions of how relevant his analysis is beyond Western Europe. Moore believes that most complex traditional societies employed persecution of people thought to be threats - even if Europe may have practiced persecution more severely than other societies, for example compared with the milder version found in Byzantium. He makes the observation that persecution of heretics was enjoined on imperial authorities as a duty in China. A persecuting state perhaps ushered in the ascendancy of Neo-Confucianism about the same time and the gradual erosion of the previously prominent place of Buddhism and Taoism amongst elites. Indeed, developed concepts of Orthodoxy and heresy are found in imperial China (Shek, H. R. (2004), Heterodoxy in Late Imperial China). In Islam as well, Moore notes the discriminatory treatment accorded to Christians and Jews and the episodes of persecution that occurred from time to time. However, he notes that within Islam itself a wide range of observances were tolerated. He does not address the later period when greater conformity was required. The end of the medieval period and the early modern era sees the dominance of state supported Orthodox Sunni Islam throughout most of the Muslim world and Shia Islam in Iran and greater pressure on other forms of Islam.

India (which Moore does not discuss) proves a more difficult subject - traditionally viewed as more open and tolerant than other major societies in the Eurasian area. Yet, one can observe over the first millennium a transformation of India from a place where a vibrant Buddhist tradition existed alongside at least six schools of Hindu thought to a society where all of these traditions had been superseded by a dominant Vedanta Hinduism. Even as early as Maurya times, Indian rulers distinguished between the Orthodox (brahmanas) and the heterodox (sramanas) with recorded episodes of persecution of Buddhism and Jainism along the way.

Through Eurasia, Medieval and Early Modern states make increasing efforts to achieve cultural and relgious homogenisation, arguably culminating in nineteenth and twentieth century nation building projects. The extent to which persecution in the sense studied by Moore drives these processes, remains an area that requires further exploration including areas of difference and similarity between the various regions of Eurasia. Moore considers that persecution in other societies though at times savage was generally episodic in contrast to more deeply entrenched and uniquely European set of mentalites that have continued through centuries. To come to a view on whether other Eurasian societies were that markedly different to Western Europe will perhaps require more intensive study of how Islamic, Chinese and Indian societies dealt with dissent and difference. There is perhaps evidence of long standing prejudice in all these societies towards various target groups - although the extent to which that prejudice led to sustained action against targeted groups is not well studied. This may be a task for the next generation of scholars.

Indeed, if homogenisation is believed by States and their leaders to be necessity to underpin their rule, the question also arises whether persecution is necessary to achieve that outcome. Comparative study of the major societies of Eurasia may supply a tentative answer. And if the homogenising ideology is based around civic values (such as those that underpin the US, India, Indonesia and the EU) rather than ideologies based on religion and ethnicity, achieving the desired end by means other than persecution may be easier - perhaps.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very Important Book 28 July 2013
By Chris P. - Published on
It is rare these days for a book to go through more than one edition...let alone get a second printing along with a new preface, an entirely new chapter (chap 5), and a Bibliographical Excursus evaluating the book in light of the torrent of criticism over the last 25 or so years. R.I Moore's The Formation of a Persecuting Society was first published in 1987 to great fanfare. "This is an important work," began one review, if I remember correctly, in the leading medieval journal Speculum. Moore's thesis centers on "the formation of a persecuting society" in the 11-13th centuries. It is during these centuries that Europe BECAME a persecuting society--not simply a society with persecution (156). This is an important distinction. Moore illustrates the historical processes whereby persecution becomes medieval society's essential feature.

Moore draws on theories of Michele Foucault and the work of anthropologists Mary Douglass, Johnathan Leach, and Edward Evans Prichard to underpin his contention that the catalyst for the persecuting society came from a new class of educated bureaucrats who fundamentally reshaped society through a "single and far reaching process of social reclassification" (92). This new class of bureaucrat developed at a time when the traditional structures of society were coming apart. The agricultural revolution around the year 1000 resulted in "a social revolution": population explosion, new towns and villages, increased wealth, a cash economy, and a new class of "masterless men" (94-100). These economic structural changes resulted in great fears of social change and its attendant anxiety over the social order among the secular and religious governing classes. These anxieties resulted in a redefinition (building on earlier stereotypes) of outsiders and deviancy, namely Jews, lepers, heretics, and male homosexuals. Once these outsiders were classified as deviant, it became the government's job to eradicate them. This is the framework for the development of the persecuting society, a society that Moore argues exists even to this day.

The social and economic changes outlined above would not be all that important if it were not for another development discussed in the last few chapters by Moore: the rise of the centralized secular state. The rise of the clerical elite and the classification of deviancy coincided with the development of the centralized government--thus persecution and the state are inextricable from one another. This is a major component of Moore's thesis and by far (IMHO) the most interesting. He implicates the development of the persecuting society with the rise of centralized power and the necessity for the state to legitimize itself through the enforcement of moral codes. Again, the rising clerical elites play a pivotal role. They used their specialized knowledge--"the new technologies of government, the counting of money, the sealed writ, the legal tag"--to consolidate their power not simply at court, but over all of society (130). Once done, the classification of difference and the systematization of violence became legitimate and the norm--internalized by society.

I really can't say enough good things about this book. It's the sort of book that brilliantly ties together philosophy and history and illuminates the origins of some of our basic assumptions about power/knowledge/government/society. I can't recommend it highly enough.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars institutionalization of the state came about through group-based persecution of inferior peoples 7 Aug 2013
By Rick Maloney - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Between the eleventh and thirteenth centuries, medieval Europe experienced the beginnings of new political stability. As feudal institutions manipulated and increased their power over the people, land, and territories, private warfare and civil disorder decreased. I am not inferring that violence diminished between feudal lords and their underlings, rather a gradual shift of power as medieval rulers formed centralized states. Bureaucracy increased as power shifted from individual lords to an elaborate hierarchical feudal system of lords, castilians, knights, and peasants. The centralization of power pushed medieval society towards the institutionalization of the state. R.I. Moore and Thomas A. Bisson argue that the modern state has its origins in medieval society. Moore and Bisson approach the institutionalization of the state from different angles; however, they both agree on the process through which this change took place. How did medieval Europe progress from a decentralized political state towards an institutionalized society?

R.I. Moore's, The Formation of a Persecuting Society, examines an increase in persecution in medieval European society between 950 and 1250. Moore argues the institutionalization of the state came about through group-based persecution of inferior peoples. Persecution is not new. Groups have been selectively persecuted prior to the eleventh century, however the level of persecution that Moore examines and the affects of eleventh century persecution in Europe is new. Moore concludes that persecution was necessary and needed for the expansion of the state (Moore, 148).

After centuries of tolerance, Western Europe began persecuting minorities in the eleventh century. The development of a persecuting society was an institutional movement from a decentralized state of governing towards a more centralized state. Moore argues the upper end of society initiated the persecution that trickled down to ordinary people who continued the persecution that originated with the lords. Moore says, "[that] it seems necessary to conclude that heretics and Jews owed their persecution in the first place not to the hatred of the people, but to the decisions of princes and prelates" (Moore, 116). In other words, growing threats to the general population from heretics and Jews did not lead to their mass persecution. Persecution in medieval society started with those in superior positions taking aim at segments of the population they believed to be inferior.

To understand how persecution led to a centralized state, Moore examines the groups persecuted as an attempt to remove pollutants from medieval society leading to a stabilized state institution. Moore focuses on three groups of people: Jews, heretics, and lepers. "The main argument of The Formation of a Persecuting Society was, and is, that the persecutions of heretics, Jews, lepers, sodomites, and others in the twelfth- and thirteenth-century Europe cannot be considered independently of one another, as they almost always had been hitherto" (Moore, 144). This is the central theme of Moore's book as he argues European society evolved from individualized persecution to group-based persecution.

Although the three groups are different, Moore has grouped Jews, heretics, and lepers in the same category. Moore argues that persecution is best understood by those doing the persecuting, not the persecuted. To better understand persecution, we must look all the different groups persecuted and find out what they have in common. Understanding the common denominator between those persecuted will lead to an understanding of why certain groups are persecuted and others were not.

Jews, heretics, and lepers are not new categories of people. They have a history; a history prior to persecution in the eleventh and thirteenth centuries. Examining heresy, we see the concern about the spread of heresy first appearing in secular political societies. If an individual is identified as a heretic, it did not matter what they said or did; what mattered was how society perceived them. This is different from the feudal world since what an individual did matter in eleventh century feudal society. The Jews, heretics, and lepers were categorized into one cohesive identity. An identity imposed on them by the state. "In the early middle ages as in the later, persecution began as a weapon in the competition for political influence, and was turned by the victors into an instrument for consolidating their power over society at large" (Moore, 138). Directed by the leaders of the state, Moore argues the persecution of various groups through the control and leadership of society led to the institutionalization of the state. Moore's persecuting society emerged benefitting those at the top. This is in direct correlation to the idea that persecution occurs from the top down, and not from the bottom up. The people who gained the most were those at the top while those at the bottom gained very little.

The poor also fall under suspicion of society. An increase in the poor allowed the elite of society to persecute the poor as a collective group similar to heretics, Jews, and lepers. Trial by ordeal was an accepted way of proving guilt or innocence. As the state emerges and crystalizes, the state takes over and, guilt or innocence is based on statutory law. The rule of law replaces the ordeal. Moore argues that the institutionalization of the state worked its way down to the lowest level of society, penetrating into peasant life. Every aspect of medieval society was connected to multiple levels of institutions. It was through the persecution of society by which the state was able to remove the pollution of society. Medieval society was rapidly expanding to the point of expansionism attempting to stabilize society and reduce feudal excesses. At this point, the institutionalization of medieval society is at its highest level of success.

Why does Moore argue that persecution was a catalyst pushing society towards the institutionalization of the state? Moore argues that medieval society exercised the persecution of groups of people thought to be threats. Persecution also led to the homogenization of medieval society. Society emulsified into a uniform and cohesive group, and those doing the persecuting underpinned the authority of the emerging state.

Thomas A. Bisson's, Tormented Voices, is a record of peasant abuses while in service to their lord. Similar to Moore, Bisson argues the abuse of peasants by their lords established the institutionalization of the state in rural Catalonia. The memorials, or records, chronicled by scribes available to Bisson highlighted how the social and cultural experiences of peasants figured into a broad crisis of power between those at the top of society and those at the bottom. Bisson's tormented voices are the shocking and unsettled voices of the peasantry that were chronicled at a specific point in medieval society. Medieval society gradually built institutional power through violence, while simultaneously expanding the centralization power of the lords over their subordinates. Although Moore and Bisson approach the institutionalization of the state from two very different perspectives, it is interesting they both agree centralization of feudal power infused through society from the top down.

Bisson's objective in Tormented Voices is to give the peasants a history. He examines the types of power peasants encountered, who exercised power over the peasants, and the character of society in which power was wielded over peasants. Bisson argues, "the evidence of such [violent] behavior is original in that it represents not merely event and consequence but also the process: the process of social ascent...of the ways in which new lordship was created" (Bisson, 94). In rural Catalonia, the king centralized society through violence on peasants through an elaborate feudal system of knights and castilians. This is consistent with Bisson's argument that the institutional power structure was the result of increased power from the top down and the effects of power over the people. Where Moore argued that persecution led to a centralized medieval society, Bisson argues that an increase of feudal power led to an increase of violence that led to the institutionalization of the state.

Bisson's examination of the memorials, "are consistent enough in their implied norms to invite reflection on two problems more deeply engaged with the historical meaning of the crisis: namely, violence and suffering. Both problems have been broached above in their contexts of people and power" (Bisson, 143). The lords influenced numerous jurisdictional rights over the peasants under them through the use of knights and castilians. The influence inflicted on peasants was violent and demanding. Often large and arbitrary dues were levied against the peasants solidifying the role of knights and castilians acting on behalf of the lord. Lords enforced their increased centralized power over peasants by collecting arbitrary fines. Bisson's research documented that the rights of the lords weighed heavily against the peasants.

Why now in the mid-eleventh century was there a shift to a centralized society? And why was there an increase in violence related to lordship? Bisson argues that an increase in the general population led to an increase in the number of lords. As the number of lords increased, so too did the level of violence from the lords towards the peasants. Lords were either maintaining or establishing their power over their peasants through and increase in knights and castilians. A new layer of bureaucracy was created that did not exist prior to the eleventh century. An enlarged bureaucracy required an increase in officials working on behalf of the lord increasing the power over the peasants. The increase of lordly power led to an increase of violence on the peasants as knights and castilians enforced their lord's power.

Bisson argues that an increase of lordship and an increase of the power of lords over the peasants led to a moral and cultural "crisis". Bisson documents the "crisis" through complaints from the peasantry and the reaction from the lords. Often the reaction of the lords far exceeded what was appropriate. "In one respect, however; the memorials of complaint stand distinct from other accounts: they are accounts of violence. More exactly, they are accounts of arbitrary behavior that typically lapsed into violence" (Bisson, 79). Bisson's views this as a change in politics and the governing of peasants from a moral and cultural perspective. Bisson debates where peasants "would have drawn the line between `just' and `unjust'" and has no conclusion to answer the debate (Bisson, 80). Bisson argues that a change in the governing of lords occurred and violence was sanctioned by the lords through their knights and castilians, enforcing the law as directed by the lord.

Moore and Bisson agree that during the eleventh and thirteenth centuries vast political expansion began and new lordships were popping up everywhere. The new lordships built a complicated hierarchical feudal system that was virtually unbreachable. The new lords sought to increase their power over the people preying on heretics, Jews, and lepers as Moore examines in a persecuted society. Bisson takes a different approach examining how lords used their power to increase violence over peasants through a structured system of knights and castilians. Moore and Bisson take different approaches to the institutionalization of the state, but untimely come to the same conclusion that the state centralized and strengthened between the eleventh and thirteenth centuries. Over time, a structure developed that bound new nobles into networks of obligation controlling their behavior. Fealty to lords increased as the state institutionalized in medieval society. The result of this organization was the formation of a civic society. The institutionalization of the state led to a stabilization of society creating peace and moderate protection of the law.
4.0 out of 5 stars Humans seldom change 19 Sep 2013
By Avis - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Helps you understand that medieval and other times resembled ours up to the Reformation. Where's our Reformattion? Tell me. Avis
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