domingo, 12 de marzo de 2017


In a previous post, published in July a few years ago, I wrote on how firearms (especially cannons) used by the Crown of European realms in the late Middle Ages brought on an epic wave of hinterland expansion and the early modern rebirth of the Flächenstaat (hinterland state/territorial state), with all the complex organization and military hierarchy that it needs to thrive:

"One (state) that is too large is capable of self-defence in what is necessary; but then it is a nation: for it will be very difficult to accommodate a form of government to it: for who would choose to be the general of such an unwieldy multitude, or who could be their herald but a stentor?"
Aristotle, unwisely objecting against the idea of Flächenstaat. Note the use of "nation": is he referring to a territorial state, to a large people bound by blood (instead of by a government) (id est, the concept of ethnos or ethnic group often translated as "nation", for instance in the KJV), or both? He is actually referring to a large people bound by blood, but not by government (the concept of ethnos), moreover, prone to anarchy due to lack of government. Just like the vernacular usage of "nation" as synonymous with hinterland state (territorial state) or Flächenstaat.

In the Middle Ages, Saint Thomas Aquinas weighed the pros and cons of the Flächenstaat, which he called "province" ("provincia"). He said that, on one hand, (agreeing with Aristotle), such a vast expanse of land would be very hard to rule. And that, on the flip side, a "province," the larger it was, the more difficult to be invaded by enemy armies (consider, for instance, the case of Russia, the largest state on Earth, 80% or 90% hinterland, which has successfully withstood Swedish, French, Japanese, and German invasions thanks to its redoubtable size among other factors). Long story short, he said the same things as Aristotle, but putting more emphasis on the military potential of the "nation"/"province" (difficulty to invade and capability of self-defense) than on the difficulties of ruling a large country with a numerous population. Was he being prophetic, even a little?

Still in the Middle Ages, later on...
When a certain alchemist friar brought about a sudden, devastating explosion in his lab, little did he know about the revolution he had unleashed. Many decades later, Renaissance rulers, to reaffirm their power against defiant feudal lords, brought cannons against the walls of their insufficiently guarded castles, fortresses, and holdfasts. The triumph of the Crown in all those lands was both total and quite obvious, expanding the hinterland of the kingdoms to heights not seen since the Age of Empires, centuries ago (The same happened in Westeros, although, instead of cannons, for rule of cool, there were dragons... Well, actually, the first cannons in the West were dragon-shaped, both to scare the enemy and for rule of cool!).
In other words, cannons brought about the expansion of the state hinterland and the establishment of the Flächenstaat. As a result, confident royals could move their courts to the outskirts of their capitals, with larger palaces and elegant gardens; while the ends of the realm were secured by militarized and fortified (with star-shaped fortresses and lots of cannons) outpost communities: these were the world's Küstrins, the Saint-Jean-de-Luzes, the "frontier towns" so often heard of in fairytales. The establishment of a professional officer class (instead of mercenaries), with the rank system so familiar to us nowadays (ensign, lieutenant, captain, and so on), was as much in consonance with the spirit of warfare that pervaded the West as the rise of firearms, of the territorial state, and of outpost communities (the latter two, like the professional hierarchized officer class, had already existed in the empires of yore), as well as the rise of diplomacy and inter-realm alliances. Like the one who has seen the storm clouds from afar and puts on a raincoat and umbrella, every realm was all geared up for both offensive and defensive warfare. This panorama of militarism echoes the similar "armed calm before the storm" that preceded the World Wars during the Belle Époque. The realms of the West were, then, also preparing up to the teeth for the upcoming and all-pervading storm of war. For an all-pervading storm of war that would last Thirty Years, and that would shape the human geography of the world we now know.

For more information, I advise you to consult:

The Shield of Achilles: War, Peace, and the Course of History, by Philip Bobbitt.

Recommended because of its exploration of developments in warfare and the early modern rebirth of the territorial state/nation/Flächenstaat as concepts that go hand in hand. 

This post will continue to deal with firearms and how they changed the face of the world during the Early Modern period. In this case, we will also cover hand-held guns, whether pistols, arquebuses, or flintlocks, as well as cannons. For we will see how gunshots opened windows into a realm which the Church had cursed and barred, and ultimately establish connections between these gunshots and the current Western rise of feminism, free love, and alternative lifestyles... (self-expression values already known and accepted in the first empires, but lost to the advent of monotheistic religions)...

HERE BE DRAGONS, it is written among writhing marine monsters, most of them reptilian, in the Atlantic Ocean of the maps of yore. These words and pictures are pretty much a testament of the medieval West's conservatism. The Mediterranean is secure (storms and pirates aside) and the hub of the former Roman Empire, mare nostrum. The Baltic fills the same slot of secure trade and travel waters up north. But the vast, endless ocean without any more land in sight for leagues is scary and uncanny, mysterious, dangerous. No surprise that Classical lore had Hercules chisel the following words on both sides of the Straits of Gibraltar: NON PLUS ULTRA, Not Beyond. An expression of preferring security to risk-taking comparable to the dragons on the maps.
Metaphorically, we could also say that the view of every person was as determined by constraints and fear of the unknown, the potentially dangerous, as the view of Earth itself: the words NON PLUS ULTRA branded with fire on our skin, and beyond, far deeper, HERE BE DRAGONS. Ever since the twilight of empires, the fanatical powerhouses of monotheistic religion, whether Seljuks or bishops (a zealot by any other name remains a zealot), condemned the flesh and the physical body, in all of its senses (sensualism, indulgence, erotism, beauty, and the existence of the organism), as sinful and cursed. And thus, countless interdictions arose and self-expression values were lost: this was the dawn of dark ages of patriarchy, machismo, heterosexism, fear of research, and... sexuality for pleasure and dissection for anatomical research were considered both crimes by the Crown and sins by the Church. There were dragons within us, like there were dragons in the vast ocean, did the authorities want us to believe. Stay within the limits and you will be safe; venture outside, beyond those limits, and you will never return alive...

It took firearms to banish all of those fears and take the NON out of NON PLUS ULTRA.
Nowadays (and slightly ironically), the motto of Spain is still PLUS ULTRA, "Beyond." It was the first reigning Habsburg, Charles V, who set this updated retelling of the Gibraltar inscription in stone. As a young archduke, he was advised by the court physician, Luigi Marliano, as soon as Charles had come of age, to pick such an encouraging and then subversive motto. PLUS ULTRA referred at first to Charles V's endeavour to expand the Habsburg reach both through New World colonialism and struggle against other European powers (France being the foremost). The realm's hinterland had to expand beyond its established limits, PLUS ULTRA, a call of conquest for vital space, of defiance and subversion, of daring to confront the establishment.
These were days when not only the Habsburgs were defying the establishment, but also many others: Francis I Valois with his excessive bon vivant mentality and reluctance to deny himself every pleasure, Henry VIII Tudor with his defiance of the Church's views on divorce and breakup with Catholicism, Martin Luther in his crusade against indulgences and pardons whose actual purpose was to sponsor the orgies of the Curia... Even the then-active generation of writers like Rabelais, Cervantes, and Shakespeare, whose characters (unlike the "children" of their predecessors) are the first ones (since the twilight of empires) in Western literature to be so life-like that every reader across the centuries, me included, falls head over heels for the illusion that they're real people, who have lived and planned and thought and felt and fought and loved and suffered and been pleased in real life (by the way, these authors also break the fourth wall). Or the Mannerist artists who were first in centuries to paint Venus in the nude, without hiding her sensual curves in her hair or in her limbs: leaving the formal, emotionless, ice-cold, beautiful yet uncannily non-human rationality of the Renaissance... for a more organic, emotional, appealing, throbbing streak of art, one that feels, breathes, twinkles, writhes, throbs, is ecstatic, reaches out across the fourth wall. PLUS ULTRA.

In terms of sacred plastic art, which then also spread to the profane (and of literature, at least in the Catholic South), the Council of Trent (held in Trento, conveniently at an equal distance between Austria and the Papal States!), the starting gun of the Counter-Reformation, marks the watershed of the transition from uncannily beautiful characters to lifelike ones. One of the decisions reached at Trento was the use of sacred art as propaganda, and it was for this reason the characters pictured and described in words (first sacred, then profane as well) grew so true to life that sculptures from this era appear to be real people and paintings appear to be photos: even this era's depictions of supernatural characters like angels, demons, merfolk, centaurs, and reptilian humanoids appear to exist in real life. The same can be said about the written-word supernatural characters in the works of, for instance, Shakespeare.

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