By Theodore Shoebat
A man in Brooklyn attacked an Asian man and screamed: “You f–king Chinese spreading the coronavirus!”. This is yet another story of racism that has been sparked by fear of the coronavirus which has been being used to stoke up stigma against other people. As we read in a report from the New York Post:
A brute spat on an Asian man in a Brooklyn subway station in the latest coronavirus-inspired hate crime, police sources said Wednesday.
The 26-year-old victim was on the Atlantic Avenue 2/3 platform in Downtown Brooklyn at 10:40 a.m. Tuesday when Nicholas Theodore, 19, allegedly spat in his face, police and sources said.
When the victim asked Theodore why he spat on him, he yelled, “You f–king Chinese spreading the coronavirus!,” according to sources.
Theodore then unzipped his jacket and motioned that he had a weapon, saying, “You wanna do this?,” police said.
The victim fled and flagged down two cops, who were able to arrest Theodore, police said.
This is the latest in a wave of suspected hate crimes amid the spread of the coronavirus.
There have been numerous examples of racial violence being done out of fear for coronavirus. There was another recent story like this in which a woman verbally accosted a Korean American man, as we read in a report from KUT 90.5:
As 34-year-old Lang Nguyen stood in line to vote in Irving last week, he took a sip of water and began to choke.
“The woman [in front of me] happened to turn around and say if you’re going to be sick you might want to stay home,” he said.
Nguyen said he was shocked, but assured her he wasn’t sick and explained the situation.
“She said some racial slur to me like, ‘All you Asian people are spreading that coronavirus’ and so forth,” he said.
Anti-foreigner violence in Italy has already been reported. According to Bologna Today a 15 year old Chinese boy was attacked by four boys who “insulted him, then surrounded him and attacked him with kicks and punches in the face, causing him to end up in the hospital with a 15-day prognosis. “What are you doing in Italy? Do you bring us diseases? You must go, you and your virus”, they shouted, before throwing him on the ground and starting to beat him up. The youths continued to beat the boy up until a 40 year old Moroccan man rescued him. The boy went to the hospital, face blooded, where he was given stitches to his face.
650 acts of racism against Asians got reported over last week, according to NBC:
Seattle resident Kari was at her local grocery store in mid-March when another shopper told her own child she couldn’t be in the same line as the Korean American. She would get them sick, the shopper said. A week later at the same store, a cashier refused to check her out, saying she was going on break.
The encounter is one of hundreds of racist and xenophobic incidents that have been reported over the past week, new data reveals. The online reporting forum Stop AAPI Hate shared exclusively with NBC Asian America that since its inception March 18, it has received more than 650 direct reports of discrimination against primarily Asian Americans.
“We live in a scary world, but it’s unbelievable that this is happening,” said Kari, who didn’t want to use her last name to protect her identity as well as that of her children.
People have reported being coughed at or spit on and being told to leave stores, Uber and Lyft drivers refusing to pick them up, verbal and online harassment and physical assault, according to the site, which was launched by the Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council (A3PCON) and Chinese for Affirmative Action.
The coronavirus is getting governments to alter their societies to the point where general comforts that we have become so accustomed to for decades are no longer allowed to be enjoyed. Such a dramatic shift away from conventional liberties, and the massive amounts of unemployment, will change the world as we know it. I would like to post an article that we recently wrote that is relevant to the subject of how pandemics alter the political order…
“Every city is abandoned to chaos, and citizens search hopelessly for food in the countryside.” (Isaiah 24:10)
While a pandemic virus is most certainly horrifying, what is even more terrifying is the human response to it. Pandemics will bring out the best of people, and also the worst. And it is this worst of people that will shift the world into a more radical political order. A pandemic that is very contagious and deadly requires a strong governmental response, which means the restricting of freedoms, which means the population — conditioned by particular comforts — go through shock. This shock dramatically alters the perspective of the general populace when it comes to not only basic survival (storing food, gardening, etc.) but politics as well. People will look back to the death count and in turn see with contempt and disdain the established political order and thus seek something more novel, something new; thus, the transition into a new zeitgeist. In our case, the established order is a certain form of globalization that champions immigration and in some cases (as in the European Union) free travel. Because pandemic viruses spread around the world through excessive traveling, certain stigmas will be made against immigration, importing foreign work and the nonchalant favor that governments have for a more connected world. This stigma is already being expressed to a certain extent on account of the coronavirus (COVID-19) crises.
What we are arguing is that serious pandemics, having both psychological and economic damage, bring about radical political change. If the Great Depression, poverty in Germany, Germany and Japan leaving the gold standard, and intense class tensions in Russia and Italy cultivated the atmosphere for the rise of National Socialism, Fascism and Communism; if the 2008 Great Recession sparked anti-elitism, and if the 2010 crash ignited nationalism and separatism (the popularity of Catalan separatism in this year was a symptom of this), and if the 2015 migrant crises brought about immense popularity for ethnocentric nationalism, then we can imagine what insidious effects will manifest as a result of the psychological and economic damage of coronavirus.
The Trump administration’s stimulus plan wants to give middle income Americans, financially hurting because of the enforced shutdown of businesses, a check of $1200 which, put together, would be hundreds of billions of dollars. While Democrats are criticizing the idea — saying it won’t do enough for people who are out of work for months — the very idea of the government handing out $1200 checks could cause a shift in the dialogue on things like social safety nets and the taboo S word (socialism). People can make arguments that a Republican administration had to resort to socialism to help people, and that we should continue such a policy because, even without a virus problem, there are economic inequalities (in which a fraction of the population owns most of the wealth) that causes numerous sufferings and woes for the working class. Arguments like this can and will be made by Left-wingers, and they will reference what happened in the coronavirus crises as an example as to why we need a greater social benefits system to help the working man.
There is another shift in the political dialogue that will result from a pandemic crises, one regarding globalization and immigration. The Right-wing faction of this radical element will argue that a pandemic should be a reminder to us on the dangers of globalization, since the disease came from a foreign nation, and that the immigration policy that we are so used to must be put to an end so as to prevent diseases from infecting the native population. The idea of a borderless bloc (like the European Union), will be heavily criticized and scoffed at, since without strong barriers at borders infected people can travel and spread it. The Schengen, the aspect of the EU that Europeans have prized for decades, is currently being hindered due to the coronavirus.
Non-EU nationals within the bloc can no longer have free travel. As a report from the Washington Post says: “the leaders of the 26 European countries in the Schengen zone, which enables borderless, free movement within much of the European Union, agreed to temporarily close their borders to non-E.U. nationals as the bloc’s governments struggled to handle the outbreak in their midst.” The report points out how European governments “have set up barriers where there were none, halting travelers and blocking medical supplies from going to other countries.”
The policies against the coronavirus have never been seen nor experienced within the EU. Macron described the state of France as a war. “It is of course a sanitary war,” Macron said. “We are not fighting against an army, or another nation. But the enemy is here. It is invisible, elusive and it is progressing. And this requires our general mobilization.”
Germany has turned to extreme measures to prevent the spread of the virus, the biggest one being that any assembly where there are more than two people is prohibited (unless in a family home). Chancellor Angela Merkel announced a domestic and international travel ban, and also the closing down of bars, theaters, museums and other nonessential shops. Merkel described the phenomena: “These are measures that have never been seen before in our country … we haven’t seen a similar situation in the 70 years existence of the Federal Republic of Germany.”
Such extreme measures will bring about a change in the political dialogue of Europe. This new discourse will act as a step — albeit a very big step — towards a transition to a radical form of government, in which fascism, tribalism, vicious nationalism and militarism will trump the old order. The threat of being infected by a deadly virus coming in from foreign lands will make people take refuge within their own nations and seek protection from their own governments, not an integrated bloc. In the words of Stephen M. Walt: “We will see a further retreat from hyperglobalization, as citizens look to national governments to protect them and as states and firms seek to reduce future vulnerabilities.” Pawel Zerka of the European Council on Foreign Relations, made this warning on March 5th of 2020:
“The coronavirus could … become a tool in Europe’s wider, and gloomier, political battle over migration … The epidemic has bolstered the cause of those who have long opposed refugees — most of them the same parties and politicians who advocate for strict border controls. But if the public debate plays up the perceived link between the virus, borders, and migrants, this will come dangerously close to arguments about national purity and racial superiority.”
He also warned:
“if there is a significant rise in new cases of Covid-19 across Europe (as looks highly probable), governments will face growing calls to do more. And there is a real danger that some politicians will exploit the crisis by spreading misinformation and scapegoating specific groups or individuals.”
Right-wing politicians in France, Germany, Italy, and Spain have already pounced on the opportunity to use the COVID-19 crises as a means to promote their ideology against immigration. Marine Le Pen, leader of the National Rally party (previously known as Front National) bashed the“religion of the borderlessness of the leaders of the European Union”, and argued that “a border protects populations, whatever the situation”. The Alternative for Germany’s leader in the Bundestag, Alice Weidel, attributed the spread of coronavirus on “the dogma of open borders”. Right-wing politicians will remind people that they have been warning about the biological threats of immigration for years, and the “I told you so” hero complex will seep its way into political discourse.
In 2015, during the migrant crises, the leader of Poland’s Law and Justice party (PiS), Jaroslaw Kaczynski, argued that Poland should not accept refugees from the Middle East because they could bring “various types of parasites and protozoa”. As we warned back in February of 2020, the Italian Right is using the coronavirus crises to bolster their view against immigration. Matteo Salvini exhorted that Italy “make our borders armor-plated” in response to the coronavirus. Italian conservative professor, Roberto de Mattei, has affirmed that coronavirus could mean the death of globalization:
“what emerges defeated from this crisis is the utopia of globalization, presented as the great road destined to lead to the unification of the human race … Globalization actually destroys space and pulverizes distances: today the key to escaping the epidemic is social distance, the isolation of the individual. The quarantine is diametrically opposed to the “open society” hoped for by George Soros. The conception of man as a relationship, typical of a certain school of philosophical personalism, declines.”
There is a growing discontent for the European Union already and it has been exasperated by incompetence coming from the EU itself. A big example of this is the fact that the Italians had to use Chinese medical supplies because they couldn’t get supplies from the European Union.
“We asked for supplies of medical equipment, and the European Commission forwarded the appeal to the member states,” Maurizio Massari, Italy’s permanent representative to the European Union, told Foreign Policy. “But it didn’t work.” Another example is the EU closing down borders and preventing the transfer of much needed medical supplies.
Michael Birnbaum describes how Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic “reacted bitterly to news that the E.U. this weekend imposed a bloc-wide export ban on equipment such as masks and gowns to protect medical workers … The restriction is intended to help jump-start countries inside the E.U. to come to one another’s assistance, but it left neighbors in the lurch.” “International solidarity does not exist. European solidarity does not exist,” Vucic said. “The only country that can help us is China.” What type of narrative could come of this? ‘The EU opened its borders for violent migrants, but shut its borders to block much needed medical supplies for European people.’
The economic impacts of the coronavirus crises have been projected as bad or worse, or in the words of Larry Elliot, “they range from very bad to catastrophic.” Just as the 2008 crash in the US sparked a populace movement against financial elites (reflected in the Occupy Wall Street movement and the popularization of websites like Wikileaks), so will the economic damages of the coronavirus crises spark radical discourse on nationalism, anti-elite rhetoric, socialism and immigration.
The reinvigoration of nationalism and regionalism as opposed to globalization, and the creation of governmental measures that will hinder commonly accepted freedoms, will leave such an impact on modern societies that, for one, they won’t be rescinded and, secondly, they could be used for something evil. As Stephen M. Walt recently warned in an article for Foreign Policy:
“The pandemic will strengthen the state and reinforce nationalism. Governments of all types will adopt emergency measures to manage the crisis, and many will be loath to relinquish these new powers when the crisis is over.”
The restriction of assemblies to a certain number (in Germany’s case, no more than two people); checkpoints on the road, the order to show ID by authorities, the closing down of churches (which one can see clearly in Greece), all of these measures are being done by governments throughout the world, and while they are being enforced for a legitimate reason, they can one day serve as a reference for insidious policies.
Now, to make an historical parallel we would like to present some facts about how the Black Plague brought about radical ideological change, one of the biggest political revolutions in world history: the Protestant Reformation.
HOW THE BLACK DEATH TRANSFORMED THE POLITICAL ORDER OF EUROPE
“The Black Death of 1348-49 was the greatest biomedical
disaster in European and possibly world history” — Norman Cantor
“The Black Death had not only shaken the physical and political structure of European society. It had begun to affect the Faith itself. Horror had bred too much despair.”
— Hilaire Belloc
Before the Protestant revolt, the German people were under the Universal Catholic Church, in which lied many nations, peoples and languages, like the European Union today. There was a unified body called Christendom, under the Church, wherein Christian spirituality was the center of everything, culturally and politically. When the Pope declared a Crusade in the 11th century, French, Italians, Irish, Germans, and others, all gathered together to join the holy cause. There was spiritual unity, guided by the Church and not divided by the concept of nations. What hindered the cause of Christendom was nationalism.
There was actually a natural factor behind the development of nationalism: the Black Death of the mid 14th century. Estimates put the death toll, for the era of 1346 to 1353, from 75 to 200 million deaths. But even after this, the Plague continued all the way on to the year 1671, and even continuing in other parts like Russia, to the late 18th century. Before the outbreak of the horrors of the Black Plague, the unity of Christendom, for the most part, was maintained by a common religion and Catholic civilization, and a large body of governors.
There was immense intermarriage between the people, there was free travel from kingdom to kingdom, people from different regions met one another through common zeal for holy causes — the Crusades and pilgrimages —, councils massed people from various areas of the continent together, and wars as well gathered them. People throughout England could speak French, with a man of Northumberland speaking not too differently from a man of Bordeaux. And even in other areas where they spoke different languages, like Spain and Italy, there was still a great amount of traveling and journeying being done by government officials, the upperclass, soldiers, clerics and scholars.
From the Black Death came the loss of tens of millions of people throughout Europe. The fear of infection kept people from traveling, and confided them to remain within their own lands. This serious decline of traveling naturally helped lead to the creation of national identities. Nationalism was something that was going to happen no matter what, but the Black Plague accelerated the process like yeast in water. Because of the Black Plague, within one lifetime the majority of people in England no longer spoke French, but English. In every place where the Black Plague had its effect, there was developed what has been called “particularism,” a rooting of the divisions between Christian peoples. By the year 1400, there were established differences developed between nations that greatly penetrated and altered the soul of Europe.
The Black Death wiped out one third of the population of the continent. Something so horrific could not happen without a fanatical shift away from the established political order. In the words of McLaurine H. Zentner, the Black Death “radically changed the medieval world by challenging the institutions that provided its people with stability and guidance.” If the 2008 Great Recession could spark a new wave of anti-elitism, if the 2010 crash in Europe could substantially spark nationalism and separatism, and if the 2015 migrant crises could bring about an immense nationalist phenomena, then imagine what the Black Plague, with tens of millions of deaths, was to bring about.
The Black Death brought people right up to death’s face; the short duration of life was brought forth to people’s eyes. While many people turned closer to faith and a focus on the afterlife, many others turned to a sensual life, thinking to themselves that since life is so short you might as well enjoy its pleasures before it all disappears. The pessimism and nihilism became entrenched in the soul of European society. The French poet Eustace Deschamps reflects this:
“Happy is he who has no children, for babies mean nothing but crying and stench; they give only trouble and anxiety; they have to be clothed, shod and fed; they are always in danger of falling and hurting themselves; they contract some illness and die. When they grow up, they may go bad and be put in prison. Nothing but cares and sorrows; no happiness compensates us for our anxiety, for the trouble and expense of their education.”
The plague created the conditions for the rise of cults in Europe, since it wiped out 40% of the clergy and greatly diminished the manpower of the clergy, thus preventing the Church’s inquisition from precluding the rise of anti-Catholic sects. The massive death rate of the priests — due to their helping of the sick — is reflected in a letter from Pope Clement VI to the Archbishop of York after he requested for more priests: “Because of the mortality from plague which overshadows your province at this time, not enough priests can be found for the cure and rule of souls or to administer the sacraments. We want to find an appropriate solution to the problem, because we fervently desire an increase of worship and the health of souls, and have therefore inclined favourably to your request.”
Many of the laity were dying without the sacrament of penance, and this was such a problem that Bishop Ralph Shrewsbury of Bath and Wells stated in 1349 that “priests cannot be found to take on the cares of these places, neither out of devotional zeal nor for payment, or to visit the sick and administer the Church sacraments to them, perhaps because they are infected or have a fear of being infected.” A witness at Avignon echoed this moribund situation: “No priest came to hear the confession of the dying, or to administer the sacraments to them. People cared only for their own health [and that of their families].”
Bishop Ralph decreed that since there was such a limited number of priests that lay people could confess their sins to other laity. The number of monks and nuns also greatly declined during the plague. In fact, in just the first two years of the plague more than half of the friars and almost half of the monks and nuns were wiped out.
So much death came about from the plague, that people became cold to it. Boccaccio recounts how “Nor were these dead honored with tears, candles or mourners. It had come to such a pass that men who died were shown no more concern than dead goats today.”
As so many priests were dying of the plague, the ecclesiastical authority had tremendous difficulty stopping the rise of religious movements that would protest and combat the Catholic Church. In the words of Philip Ziegler, “The abrupt disappearance of nearly half the clergy, including a disproportionately great number of the brave and diligent, inevitably put a heavy strain on the machinery of the church and reduced its capacity to deal effectively with movements of protest or revolt.” The loss of so many priests meant the weakening of social structures that kept society in check. With the absence of clerical presence, heresy and laxness increased.
The Renaissance writer Giovanni Boccaccio described this when he stated, “In this great affliction and misery of our city, the revered authority of both divine and human laws was left to fall and decay by those who administered them. They too, just as other men, were all either dead or sick or so destitute of their families, that they were unable to fulfill any office. As a result, everyone could do just as he pleased.”
A Franciscan writer by the name of Wadding recounted how the plague devastated clerical order: “This evil wrought great destruction to the holy houses of religion, carrying off the masters of regular discipline and the seniors of experience. From this time the monastic Orders, and in particular the mendicants, began to grow tepid and negligent, both in that piety and that learning in which they had up to this time flourished.”
The political effects of the plague would help lead to the pre-Reformation movements that foreshadowed the Protestant revolt of the 16th century. This could be seen in England where the deaths of laborers due to the plague meant more reliance on peasants working the farms. The peasants began to demand for more rights since they were so relied upon. “The peasants were trying to improve their position in a labor market favorable to themselves”, writes Norman Cantor.
As a response to the protests of the peasants, the English Parliament created the Statute of Labourers in 1351. The statute attempted to set controls on wage and to force able bodied laborers to work the fields. The edicts was to the ire of the peasant class who felt that they had more control due to how needed they were. This escalated to tensions between the peasant and ruling classes. There was an ideology that was cultivated amongst peasants, one that could be compared to the fixation on equality that emanated out of the Enlightenment of the 18th century.
It was a belief in complete equality between men, except for the king who would be viewed as an enemy of the workers. The Anonimalle Chronicle recounts how the peasants demanded “…that there should be equality among all people save only the King…”
As Cantor tells us: “Class polarization, capital accumulation, social mobility into the yeoman class: These were the tangible outcomes of the Black Death”. Class war was amongst the ripples of the plague. As Belloc writes: “There were risings and revolutionary movements. Prices were disturbed, there was a snapping of continuity in a host of institutions. The names of the old institutions were kept, but the spirit changed.” This polarization eventually imploded into the Peasant Revolt of 1381, led by Wat Tyler and influenced by the radical ideology of John Wycliff, one of the main predecessors of the Protestant revolt.
Wycliff propagated several heretical beliefs such that “God must obey the Devil”. He also wrote, in the university of Oxford, a thousand page treatise calling for the confiscation of church property. He believed in state persecution against Catholic parishes, in that the government should have the power to, at will, confiscate the property of the Church. His beliefs were thus:
“Temporal rulers can at their will take away temporal goods from the Church, when those who have possessions habitually offend, that is, offend by habit, not only by an act.” (The Council of Constance, in Edward Peters, Heresy and Authority in Medieval Europe, ch. x, pp. 275)
He also believed that the people should have the right to steal money from a parish if their priest ever sinned:
“The tithes are pure alms and parishioners can take these away at will because of the sins of their prelates.”
In 1381 a mob, influenced by Wycliff and led by Wat Tyler, marched to London where they seized Simon of Sudbury, archbishop of Canterbury, dragged him out of his chapel and decapitated him. King Richard II with two hundred guards confronted Tyler. The criminal spat at the king’s feet, and in accordance with Wycliff’s teachings, demanded that the state confiscate all church lands and proscribe all dioceses but one. He resisted arrest, one of the king’s men slew him with a sword and that ended the revolt.
In 1382, Nicholas Herder, a disciple of Wycliff and a partner in the Wycliff Bible, preached a sermon in 1382 at St. Fridewide’s Church in Oxford declaring that Simon of Sudbury was “justly slain” by the mob. *Carroll, A History of Christendom, vol. iii, ch. xi, pp. 440-441* The goal of Wat Tyler’s movement was to sever England from the Universal Church and create an English Wycliffite church.
Wycliff’s work would be the main influence for Jan Huss, a heretic and revolutionary whose Hussite movement would become a political separatist movement that wanted to sever Bohemia from the Holy Roman Empire. Huss’s movement would be a huge influence on Martin Luther.
It is no wonder, then, that the father of German nationalism, Martin Luther, was inspired by the Hussite revolt, fervently writing: “my soul burns to see Bohemia and the religion so odious to the papal monster,” and “I do not fear the shame of the name ‘Bohemian,’ which is glorious in the sight of God.”
During the time of the plague there was extremely deep divisions within Christendom. This breaking down of the cohesiveness of the Christian body was seen in the fact that from 1305 to 1377, the Church was no longer in Rome but in France (the Avignon Papacy), controlled by the interests of the French crown. In the midst of all this, the Plague struck Europe in 1347, thus intensifying the doubt about the Church’s authority. Even when the Black Plague ended, the clergy gained a reputation for being greedy. Since there were so few priests, members of the clergy that did survive demanded higher prices for their services. One monk who lived in that time observed: “In this plague many chaplains and hired parish priests would not serve without excessive pay.”
This monetary abuse got so bad that King Edward III decreed that bishops saw to it that the priests were paid their usual salaries, and nothing higher, and did not leave their posts for ones that offered higher wages. Simon Sudbury, the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1378, wrote in a letter to the Bishop of London of how these priests “gorge their bellies and afterwards work themselves up into a lather of lechery over various fleshly delights, until at last they are dragged down into the very vortex of the whirlpool of evil – a detestable scandal to the clergy and the worst possible example to the laity.”
Simon Islip, the Archbishop of Canterbury, protested about how priests “demand for their services excessive wages, and thus they win more profit for themselves than curates do, in exchange only for their status and little work.” Henry Knighton, an Augustinian canon who served in Leicester, England, described the excessive greed amongst the clergy: “A man could scarcely get a chaplain to undertake any church for less than 10 pounds or ten marks. And while there had been plenty of priests before the plague and a man might have had a chaplain for five or six marks or for two marks and his daily bread, at this time there was scarce anyone who would accept a vicarage at 20 pounds or twenty marks.”
A very corrupt clergy became the contempt of the masses. The famous Renaissance writer Petrarch wrote: “Instead of holy solitude we find a criminal host and crowds of the most infamous satellites; instead of soberness, licentious banquets; instead of pious pilgrimages, preternatural and foul sloth…”
It would be this type of rhetoric that would lead to animosity for the Church establishment.
Even after the Avignon Papacy ended and the Church returned to Rome, different people were claiming to be the pope and this split Christendom apart. This is known as the Western Schism which lasted from 1378 to 1417. A disunited Church led to a disunited Europe. Avarice in the Church involved the sin of simony, or the selling of ecclesiastical privileges, such as the forgiveness of sins.
Heinrich von Herford, a Dominican friar in Westphalia, accused the clergy of these evils in his chronicle: “The heresy of simony also grew so strong among the clergy, and overwhelmed them so completely, that everyone, of whatever degree (great, middling or humble) and of whatever status (secular or regular) in some fashion openly bought and sold spiritual ties of all sorts.”
Simony was the sin that Jan Huss, the founder of the anti-Catholic Hussite movement, attacked most of all when he was garnering his own following. Behind the theological remonstrances of the Hussites was a separatist, regionalist and tribalistic fanaticism. The Hussites wanted to sever their Slavic country, Bohemia (present day Czech Republic) from the German dominated Holy Roman Empire. The separatist nature of the Hussite movement was described by the historian Hilaire Belloc:
“National and racial feeling took advantage of the confusion in movements like that of the Hussites in Bohemia. Their pretext against the clergy was a demand for the restoration of the cup at Communion to the laity. They were really inspired by the hatred of the Slav against the German. Huss is a hero in Bohemia to this day. During the Great Papal Schism efforts had been made to restore a central authority on a firm basis by the calling of great councils. They called on the Popes to resign. They confirmed new appointments in the Papacy. But in the long run, by shaking the authority of the Holy See, they weakened the idea of authority in general.”
With the rise of regionalism, the view of the Vatican changed from being the head of the Universal Church to merely an Italian government. In the words of Belloc, “opponents of central authority could point to the Papacy as a mere local thing, an Italian, southern thing.” The Church tried to hold together universality in Europe, but the religious rebels wanted regionalism. “I thank God,” Luther would say, “that I can hear God now in my German tongue. Neither in Latin, nor Greek, nor Hebrew language would He be the same.” For Luther the battle was between his “fellow Germans” and “the Romanists”: “let us rouse ourselves, fellow-Germans, and fear God more than man, that we be not answerable for all the poor souls that are so miserably lost through the wicked, devilish government of the Romanists, and that the dominion of the devil should not grow day by day, if indeed this hellish government can grow any worse, which, for my part, I can neither conceive nor believe.” Luther marked a line between the Italians and the Germans: the Roman Church, in Luther’s eyes, had destroyed Italy and now wanted to come for Germany:
“Now that Italy is sucked dry, they come to Germany and begin very quietly; but if we look on quietly Germany will soon be brought into the same state as Italy.”
The sentiments of the Reformation, as well as the tension between Catholics and Protestants, became more tribal and nationalistic. A theological debate escalated into violence that would last for centuries to come. Symptomatic of the growing nationalism that led up to Luther’s revolt is a book that popped up in 1439 called The Reformation of Sigismund, over eight decades before the Protestant Reformation. This was not an obscure text, but one of the most popular books against Rome, being printed nine times before 1522. Drafted in Basel, it spoke about a coming messiah, a priest-king named Frederick who would lead the plain-speaking German folk to vanquish the “Latins”. (See Greengrass, Christendom Destroyed, ch. 10, p. 314)
This envisage of a Germanic messiah who will appear to lead the German people to victory has been in the Germanic ethos from (as far as we know) the beginning of the Roman-German wars, to the religious conflicts between Germans and Romans, to the Two World Wars, and even to now. It was just in 2017 that the Right-wing, anti-immigrant German politician, Bjorn Hocke, declared in messianic fervor:
“An emperor is sleeping in the cave of Kyffhäuserberg. And when the need is greatest, he will awaken and restore glory to the reich.”
“What had been a united Christendom of the West broke into two fragments: the one to be henceforward the Protestant Culture,” writes Belloc, “the other the Catholic Culture. Each henceforward was to know itself and its own spirit as a thing separate from and hostile to the other. Each also grew to associate the new spirit with its own region, or nationality, of City-State: England, Scotland, Hamburg, Zurich and what not.” Luther made an appeal to a “nation” to liberate Germany from Roman despotism. In 1521, in the words of a papal envoy, “All Germany is in open revolt. Nine-tenths cry out ‘Luther!’ And the remaining tenth … cry ‘Death to the Roman Curia!’” (See Greengrass, Christendom Destroyed, ch. 10, pp. 331, 332)
If the plague helped lead to class warfare (the movement of Wycliff), and this would inspire the separatist movement of the Hussites which would directly inspire Luther, and the Germans, at one point being Catholic, would call for the deaths of the Romans, then we can see the ripple effects of a pandemic and how serious it can be. If the 2008 Great Recession brought about an intense sentiment of anti-elitism; if the 2010 crash sparked nationalism and separatism, then we cannot simply think to ourselves that the economic effects of the coronavirus will be harmless. And imagine what will happen if a pandemic that kills millions comes upon us again. The city is tired, and the countryside will flourish.
Their cities are destroyed; There is no one, no inhabitant. (Zephaniah 3:6)