Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States

Edited by: Lalor, John J.
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New York: Maynard, Merrill, and Co.
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Includes articles by Frédéric Bastiat, Gustave de Molinari, Henry George, J. B. Say, Francis A. Walker, and more.
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CRUSADES. This name is generally used to designate the wars undertaken for the deliverance of the tomb of Christ, and the extirpation of the infidels. From the first days of Christianity Jerusalem was looked upon as a holy city by the Christians. Several localities, Bethlehem, Tabor, etc., made celebrated by episodes in the life of Christ, became equally the object of a species of worship, and were reputed holy places. At all times, therefore, the piety of Christians impelled them to journey to Palestine. Their zeal increased and pilgrims crowded in greater numbers, when the pope granted to those who made this pilgrimage a plenary indulgence. When Islamism invaded western Asia, when the caliph Omar took possession of Jerusalem, the Christians continued none the less to visit the holy land in all security. The fanaticism of the Mussulmans was kept down by the caliphs of Bagdad, and later, by those of Cairo, till Hakem's time. This caliph (toward 1100), far from imitating the toleration of his predecessors, inaugurated a sort of persecution against the Christians of Syria, and in this way gave occasion to the first crusade. The entire west was roused at once by the injuries inflicted on the pilgrims in the holy land, and the cruelties committed against them by the Mussulmans. All Europe was shaken by the voice of a simple hermit, who told, in his eloquent sermons, of the exactions and the outrages which the fanaticism of the followers of Mohammed inflicted on the faithful. At the recital of these wrongs the nations of Europe rose up in a body, and armed themselves for the deliverance of the holy sepulchre. Pope Urban II. warmly approved the project, conceived by Peter the Hermit, of organizing a European coalition against Islamism. The holy war proposed by him in the council of Plasencia was accepted with enthusiasm in that of Clermont, in Auvergne (1095) The cry: "God wills it! God wills it!" escaped from the multitude collected in the city and around the ramparts. All Europe answered it with the same enthusiasm. The soldiers of this war were the very soldiers of Christ; a cross shone upon their breasts; they were called crusaders; and their enterprise received the name of crusade.


—Much has been written on the causes of the crusades and on their results. It has been sought to explain the enthusiasm of the first crusaders. To our thinking the causes of their success arose from the state of Europe at the end of the eleventh century. The continent of Europe at that epoch had the appearance of a vast arena, in which every kind of ambition was in action, and frequently did not recoil before the most atrocious crimes. The gospel, preached to the flood of barbarians which in the fifth century inundated the Roman world, accomplished its work of civilization but slowly and painfully, among nations to whom might was right, vengeance a tradition, and who retained the most absurd superstitions. Society was divided into two parts, the oppressors and the oppressed. Under these circumstances, the crusades succeeded in a certain way in changing the social state of Europe. The privileges granted the soldiers of the holy war were inestimable. The crusader found himself sheltered from all prosecution for debt; he was exempted from paying interest on the money he had borrowed, was free from taxation, and was allowed to alienate his land without the consent of his lord. The church covered with its special protection his person and his property, and hurled its anathemas against his enemies. All the privileges accorded to ecclesiastics were accorded him; he was granted a plenary indulgence, and was subject to spiritual jurisdiction alone. Here is the true cause of the enthusiasm with which the first crusade was received. Afterward political interests were mixed up with these private interests. Certain sovereigns, desirous of centralizing power, were delighted to see their vassals enrolling themselves under the sacred banner, and leaving the field open to their ambition. On the other hand, the popes made the crusades a powerful means of universal domination. Thus, the interest of the sovereign pontiffs; that of princes; the ignorance of the laity; the authority of ecclesiastics, who found their advantage in the departure of the nobility, and in the sale of their lands at a very low price; an immoderate passion for war; above all the necessity which was generally felt of doing something to put an end to domestic trouble, extinguish hatred, wipe out the memory of crime, transfer the scene of continued and sanguinary struggles from Europe: such were the causes of the crusades. As to their results, it is impossible to mistake them. By drawing Europe nearer to Asia, and by bringing in contact the civilization of the Arabs with the barbarism of Christian nations, they hastened Europe's moral and intellectual advancement. Our progress would have been much slower but for these gigantic struggles which transported into Palestine upward of two millions of Europeans Commerce was developed, the taste for traveling spread; and communication became more frequent with India, China and the countries of the extreme east. We owe these unquestionable advantages to the crusades. The invention of printing, that of the compass, and of gunpowder, are considered importations from China. Printing was known in that country as early as 952. In the tenth century the Chinese made use of artillery; and they began to use paper money in 1154. The crusades hastened the hour of Europe's participation in these precious discoveries, which the stationary spirit of the people of the extreme east knew not how to render fruitful. Through them, nations, separated by great distances or by the sea, formed diplomatic and commercial relations. Mongolians were to be seen at Rome, in Spain, in France and in England; while intrepid travelers ventured into distant lands, from which they brought back precious, though for the most part vague ideas. It was while in search of the Zipangu of Marco Polo that Christopher Columbus discovered America. From the point of view of literature and arts, the crusades showed equally remarkable results. These great events stirred the national spirit in certain chosen minds. The chroniclers appeared; and their simple narrative of facts of which they were contemporaries, and sometimes even eye-witnesses, influenced the French language, and had the most happy effect on French literature. Many acquisitions of European art were the fruit of these wars. The style of architecture, improperly called Gothic, is nothing but Arabic architecture modified by Christian genius. Did not the crusaders allow the people of the west to be come familiar with the masterpieces of sculpture, painting and architecture of Greece and Byzantium? and are we not justified in thinking that this acquaintance with the remains of antiquity paved the way for the glorious epoch of the renaissance? But the most remarkable advance consequent on this prolonged struggle between the west and the east was the development of liberal principles. By removing the nobility from Europe the crusades allowed sovereigns to accomplish the unification of the state more easily. Such was the case in France. We see that, under Philip III., the domain of the crown was doubled. At the same time the population gradually freed themselves from the bonds of feudalism. This was the time when the third estate, or commune, originated.


—Thus the progress of science, of letters and art; the progress of commerce and of industry; the progress of liberalism; the formation of nations; in a word, the general advancement of the peoples of Europe: such seem to us to be the results of the crusades. But in this, as in all the grand crises through which humanity has passed, the evil is found side by side with the good; and it is impossible for us to shut our eyes to the lamentable consequences of these wars. They gave rise to the inquisition, and accustomed Christians to see in unbelievers, whoever they might be, enemies to be rooted out, and not beings like themselves. Directed at first against the Mussulmans, the crusades armed, at a later time, men of the same country against each other. The wars against the Vaudois and the Albigenses, and the fury of the Teutonic knights in the north of Germany, are the result of the crusades. Was not the massacre of St. Bartholomew provoked by the same spirit of fanaticism, coupled with ambition? The fourth crusade, which ended with the burning of Constantinople, cost literature the loss of precious and unique works which were consumed by the flames. We do not, therefore, like Robertson, extol without qualification the happy influence of the crusades; nor do we consider them scourges, as Mosheim and Gibbon have done. We may sum up our thought in these words of Condorcet: "The crusades, undertaken by superstition, served to destroy it."


—BIBLIOGRAPHY. Gesta Dei per Francos, etc.; L'Esprit des Croisades, by Mailly; Charles Mills' History of the Crusades; Heeran, Essai sur l'influence des Croisades.


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