‘Warrior Races’ in Medieval Europe

Len Scales considers the complex role of martial skill in the development of national identity in the Middle Ages.

Americans are from Mars and Europeans are from Venus’, proclaims Robert Kagan in Paradise and Power, his provocative dissection of ‘America and Europe in the New World Order’, published in 2003 at the time of the US-led invasion of Iraq. Though steering clear of crude national stereotypes, Kagan seeks to show how events in the twentieth century conspired to lend American and European (by which he means primarily French and German) foreign policy fundamentally different, indeed incompatible, qualities. While Europeans bargain and prevaricate, Americans reach for their guns, he says. His book does not settle merely for describing; it ascribes and prescribes too, moving from observations about the present to predictions and proposals for the future.

What could be more strikingly of its time? But Kagan’s style of argument, and aspects of the world vision and assumptions on which it draws, have some surprisingly remote precursors – in the European Middle Ages. Medieval people were similarly inclined to think in terms of a political order that was both global and constituted by distinct peoples, which were also units of politics. And they, too, believed that some of those peoples were fundamentally more disposed and qualified than others to bear the sword.

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