Recently, there was a thread criticizing modernity. I will post this excerpt from The Open Society and Its Enemies by Karl Popper in order to disillusion those who romanticize about the Medieval period because it was the high water mark of scholasticism. It talks about how the horrors of the black death and scientific ignorance of that era drove many frantically insane, and how daily life was not very comfortable.
**It is one of the characteristic reactions to the strain of civilization in our own time that the allegedly ‘Christian’ authoritarianism of the Middle Ages has, in certain intellectualist circles, become one of the latest fashions of the day61. This, no doubt, is due not only to the idealization of an indeed more ‘organic’ and ‘integrated’ past, but also to an understandable revulsion against modern agnosticism which has increased this strain beyond measure. **Men believed God to rule the world. This belief limited their responsibility. The new belief that they had to rule it themselves created for many a well nigh intolerable burden of responsibility. All this has to be admitted. But I do not doubt that the Middle Ages were, even from the point of view of Christianity, not better ruled than our Western democracies. For we can read in the Gospels that the founder of Christianity was questioned by a certain ‘doctor of the law’ about a criterion by which to distinguish between a true and a false interpretation of His words. To this He replied by telling the parable of the priest and the Levite who both, seeing a wounded man in great distress,’ passed by on the other side’, while the Samaritan bound up his wounds, and looked after his material needs. **This parable, I think, should be remembered by those ‘Christians’ who long not only for a time when the Church suppressed freedom and conscience, but also for a time in which, under the eye and with the authority of the Church, untold oppression drove the people to despair. **As a moving comment upon the suffering of the people in those days and, at the same time, upon the ‘Christianity’ of the now so fashionable romantic medievalism which wants to bring these days back, a passage may be quoted here from H. Zinsser’s book, Rats, Lice, and History, 62 **in which he speaks about epidemics of dancing mania in the Middle Ages, known as ‘St. John’s dance’, ‘St. Vitus’ dance’, etc. **(I do not wish to invoke Zinsser as an authority on the Middle Ages—there is no need to do so since the facts at issue are hardly controversial. But his comments have the rare and peculiar touch of the practical Samaritan—of a great and humane physician.) ‘These strange seizures, though not unheard of in earlier times, became common during and immediately after the dreadful miseries of the Black Death. For the most part, the dancing manias present none of the characteristics which we associate with epidemic infectious diseases of the nervous system. They seem, rather, like mass hysterias, brought on by terror and despair, in populations oppressed, famished, wretched to a degree almost unimaginable to-day. To the miseries of constant war, political and social disintegration, there was added the dreadful affliction of inescapable, mysterious, and deadly disease. Mankind stood helpless as though trapped in a world of terror and peril against which there was no defence. God and the devil were living conceptions to the men of those days who cowered under the afflictions which they believed imposed by supernatural forces. For those who broke down under the strain there was no road of escape except to the inward refuge of mental derangement which, under the circumstances of the times, took the direction of religious fanaticism.’ Zinsser then goes on to draw some parallels between these events and certain reactions of our time in which, he says, ‘economic and political hysterias are substituted for the religious ones of the earlier times’; and after this, he sums up his characterization of the people who lived in those days of authoritarianism as ‘a terror-stricken and wretched population, which had broken down under the stress of almost incredible hardship and danger’. **Is it necessary to ask which attitude is more Christian, one that longs to return to the ‘unbroken harmony and unity’ of the Middle Ages, or one that wishes to use reason in order to free mankind from pestilence and oppression?