Dr. Larry Arnn and Dr. Ken Calvert On Charlemagne And William The Conqueror
HH: It is the last hour of the radio week, the Friday third hour, which is of course the Hillsdale Dialogue, a conversation I conduct almost every week with Dr. Larry Arnn either solo or in pair with one of the members of his wonderful faculty at Hillsdale College. This week, we welcome back with Dr. Larry Arann, Dr. Kenneth Calvert, who is the headmaster of the Hillsdale Academy as well as a member of the faculty who has been helping us through our history which began last week with the collapse of Rome that we know from the glories of Rome. And where we had left off with basic chaos everywhere, but traditions of learning, scholarship and culture enmeshed in the Church and growing behind the fortress walls of monasteries, and Dr. Calvert, when we set this up, I think you were a little bit concerned we didn’t have enough material for two radio hours. And you know, I’m moving at the speed of sound here. We could do this for days.
KC: It’s a great subject.
HH: Tell us about Charlemagne, because I only mentioned him in passing at the end of last week. And everybody kind of knows the name, but they don’t quite know why the fame.
KC: Well, it’s very important to study Charlemagne. Focus on December 25th, Christmas Day, 800AD. He is crowned by the Pope as the Holy Roman Emperor. And what you see in this crowning is a bringing together of holy Christian, Roman, the classical world, and now a renewal of the Roman Empire in the West. And Charlemagne really marks the moment at which you see all of the chaos coming to an end, and looking ahead to the boundaries and the foundations of modern Europe.
HH: But of course, there’s two hundred more years of chaos in England, correct?
KC: That’s correct.
HH: Now the second map, last week, we put up a map of the Germanic invasions of the Roman Empire. This week at www.hughforhillsdale.com, we put up a map of the wonderful England, Medieval England. And Dr. Larry Arnn, as Churchill writes in the History of the English-Speaking Peoples, and I said it last week, I’ll repeat it for the benefit of the audience who didn’t hear it, I make all of my first-year law students read the first volume of the four volumes, because it takes them from Caesar’s invasion up through Alfred the Great. And they need to know how that happened, and how it came to be. But it’s a magnificent story, magnificently told by Churchill, but it was chaos for a long period of time.
LA: That’s right. And you know, when you don’t have law, then you have arms. Those are the two alternatives. And so, you know, by the way, it’s also the reason why colleges, medieval colleges, look like forts, because they’re forts. That’s what they’re for.
HH: I had no idea. They were…
LA: Oh, yeah.
LA: And at Oxford, for example, where I happened to have studied, the university was founded first in around 1250, and then violence broke out between the townspeople and the students. The students were often people who came from afar and had different dress and different ways of talking. And there wasn’t a stable law system to defend them, and so they started building the colleges second, and the colleges are for the protection of the body.
HH: Oh, how interesting. I didn’t know that. I also didn’t know how it came to be that the university got started in Bologna. I might have to back up here, or jump out of order for a second, because we mentioned scholarship last week, Dr. Calvert.
HH: There were these institutions, medieval institutions. We’re heading towards Aquinas, reluctantly, against the current. But that’s when it gets started, in the Dark Ages.
KC: Well, that’s correct. The universities began to take shape based, again, first in monasteries and as Church institutions founded by the Church, and then also began to be funded by kings. But these institutions were for the study of theology, for the study of medicine, philosophy, and then ultimately, fed into trade and into craftsmanship, that kind of thing. But these universities were founded in the medieval period, and are great examples of this movement consistently toward recovery and renaissance all through that period.
HH: Now let’s dial into England, and when we left off with Charlemagne, it’s 800. A lot is going on that is primarily the invasion by the Norsemen of England. Now they left the Scots alone, Larry Arnn, and I’m Scots, and so I like to point out, they were never conquered by the Danes, and ornery, still, and independent nevertheless, and took over England through a silent coup. Why not? Why didn’t they go that far north?
KC: Who would ever want to go up there?
HH: Oh, are you in trouble now. There goes all of your St. Andrews exchange students right there. And in fact, Hillsdale’s not unlike St. Andrews, is it, in terms of temperature?
LA: That’s right, frozen north.
HH: Frozen north.
LA: No, the Scottish ground is difficult, and especially in the highlands. And it’s richer and more temperate, and easier to grow farther south. And so Scotland had some of the aspects of Switzerland, right? It’s the devil to get up there, and when you do get up there, the people are meaner than heck.
HH: So the Vikings head south.
LA: That’s what they did, yeah.
HH: The soft underbelly of London. And before Churchill ever launched the great invasion of Europe, they invaded him. And Ken Calvert, they were pretty ruthless people until they ran up against Alfred the Great.
KC: Well, that’s right. I also want to get back to the point that the Romans never conquered Scotland.
KC: So that’s important to remember. They never got that far north, either. But the Danes, the Norsemen on the French side, the Normans, were moving quite a great deal throughout this era. And it was the old Angle and Saxon Germans in the west and in the south of the island that were able to stop the Danes, particularly under the leadership of Alfred the Great. And he’s the only English king who has been given the name, the great. But he was able to stop the Danes, to reverse some of that process, and reestablish some of the old rule in Wessex and in the west of England.
HH: You know, last week, I mentioned to you guys Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia, and he and I are both lovers of the Bernard Cornwell books that are set, historical fiction, in this period of Alfred the Great and Ethelred the Unready, and all the other people. It’s remarkable complex. And Alfred the Great, I don’t know if he would be a star of stage and screen today, or anything in our imagination, but awfully shrewd, Ken Calvert.
KC: Definitely. Neither Alfred nor Charlemagne across in France would be considered any kind of a movie star. These guys were warriors. Charlemagne could barely hold a pencil. And Alfred the Great, similar, but both of them had this ideal. They had this dream of reestablishing order, reestablishing culture, strengthening the Church. Alfred the Great was all of these things in England. And when you want to look at the recovery of England and the recovery of all that is good in that land, it really begins with Alfred.
HH: Now Larry Arnn, you are the historian of Churchill, the biographer of Churchill and a keeper of the papers of his official biographer, Martin Gilbert, at Hillsdale. So I’ve got to ask you about his treatment of Arthur in the History of the English-Speaking People, and I’m sure there are some people wondering how did we skip over Arthur? Where was that? When was that? How does Churchill deal with that? And what place does that legend have in the making of a people?
LA: So, the way Churchill deals with it, first of all, it’s beautiful. You know, I didn’t really realize that you focus with your law students on the first volume.
LA: But good for you. So Churchill presents Alfred. Remember, by the way, that a lot of this history that we’re talking about right now, we don’t know as much about it as we know about anything that happened after 1700, right? The papers don’t exist, it’s a very different kind of history. So one of the questions is did Arthur ever exist? And the answer is we don’t know. And what Churchill does is admit that, and then prove that it doesn’t matter, he was incredibly important anyway.
HH: Well, he says something similar about Joan of Arc. If she hadn’t existed, we would have had to make her up.
LA: That’s right.
HH: …because she’s so wonderful a story. But why does that matter so much?
LA: Because Arthur is an expression of the civilization organized – kingship, law, the virtues, especially gallantry, and a sense, a plan of union for the island, because here’s the way Churchill presents all that, right? The British Isles are, they have two strategic facts. One is they’re separated from the Continent, and the other is they’re near the Continent. And both matter. And so if they are to be, and so Churchill does not want people on the Continent ruling in England, and he does not want England ruling France as it did for a long time. He wants them to be proximate and separate. And so England had to recover an identity to become the blessing that it became. And here’s its blessing, and it’s born in this time of Arthur, because it is separate from the Continent, it can develop a political system that is not ruled by armed men, because they don’t have an immediate fear of invasion. They need a big navy, and navies are not very good for oppressing people at home.
HH: Wow, that is a big fact. We’re going to come right back to that big fact. Think about that through the break, what that means, America, and why we are itself a naval nation, and how we inherited that blessing.
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HH: But I wish to go back to something you said, I thought about during the break, Dr. Arnn. You mentioned how the Arthurian legend, you needed a man of enormous rectitude and great courage and a rallying point. The United States was lucky. We got that in Washington, and he was real.
LA: Yeah, that’s right. And see, you know, we’re dealing with this emergence of modern civilization out of the Middle Ages after the collapse of Rome. And remember, the collapse of Rome is about co-terminance with the introduction of Christianity as the official religion of Rome. And Christianity makes demands. It means that politics has to be organized differently. And so a lot what goes on in the Middle Ages is working all that out. Now Churchill thought this thing. He thought that the emergence of an independent and unified Britain was a decisive thing in the history of Europe, because it became available as an influence toward freedom. It could have freedom at home, because it doesn’t have huge armies on its border waiting to come in. It protects with a navy, and that can’t be used to tyrannize at home. And it, having freedom, and having a big navy, it can intervene to keep despotism from dominating the Continent. And in the History of the English-Speaking Peoples, that Churchill includes us in the United States, which has its own extraordinary, unprecedented and unrepeatable story that I’ll say some time what that is. And so Churchill believes that in the modern times, the people who speak English carry a providential mission, he doesn’t mean God appeared to them and said you get to do these things the way He did with Abraham. He just means that these circumstances in which they live, and from which they emerge from the Middle Ages, make an opportunity for freedom and civilization for mankind that is fundamentally important.
HH: I’m curious if we pause, since it is the, when we first broadcast this Hillsdale Dialogue, it is the week of Washington’s birthday. And I am curious if you think we could have made a run of it without Washington.
LA: Well, you can actually, there’s proof about that. Hamilton and Madison did not believe that they could call the Constitutional Convention unless Washington agreed to go. And there was a crisis over that, and little James Madison got on his horse and rode to Mount Vernon to persuade him. And Madison and Hamilton believed, and Madison wrote, that the country is going to collapse if we do not get a better Constitution.
HH: Oh, there is proof. Now there is another great general involved in the English story, Ken Calvert, in 1066 and all that, to quote the famous name.
HH: And the Conqueror arrives, and so England is first conquered and invaded, maybe making it more inclined to be a naval power over the years. Tell us about him, and tell us about his Domesday book.
KC: Right, well, William of Normandy, the Duke of Normandy, invaded in 1066.
HH: Normandy, that little peninsula where we went back in 1944.
KC: Right, exactly. And Normandy had been settled by Vikings, had been settled by Norsemen, and therefore, it was called the land of the Normans, Normandy. And so he invaded at a moment when there was a great deal, again, of chaos within England. Harold Godwinson, who had been a Saxon leader, had been fighting with Harold Hardrada, who was another Norseman from Norway. And the Duke of Normandy, William, really took advantage of a very important moment. He took with him young men, young men who had no land, and promised them the opportunity to have land in this conquered territory, and they won. They suppressed a lot of the Saxon past, but they also intermingled with it. And they brought with them into England actually a new sense of ordering, and a new sense of organization, which is actually reflected in the Domesday book. The Domesday book is a record of all the land and of all the property in England. It’s quite an amazing accounting of what existed there. And the reason why William had that done was to bring order and stability to this new land. And it was a way of really laying the foundations for the modern English or British state.
HH: I think I have been telling my students for 20 years that it’s pronounced Doomsday, so now I’m going to have to go back and re-correct all of that.
HH: I’ve been saying Doomsday book forever. It’s a property record. It’s just a title record, right?
KC: It is. It is. And it’s interesting that it has lists of families, it has lists of properties. I lived in England for a while back in the 1980s in a little village in Southern England, and three of the families in that village were listed in the Domesday book of 1086. You know, it’s an interesting survey of all these territory and all these families. There have been a number of studies done to show how it laid the foundations for what we see in England today.
HH: But of course, it’s not native English. The Conqueror is his name. He came over and he took over. And that’s a violent act, Larry Arnn. Does that impact the way that England will develop with regards to future vulnerability?
LA: Well, first of all, we have to clear him of any stain, because one of his generals was General de Hoghton, who’s a grandfather of my wife.
HH: Uh oh, I thought that was coming.
LA: And they were wonderful people. And so yeah, but William was, you know, first of all, this guy coming from Normandy sets up a long period of time in which parts of France near England are ruled, first they rule England, and then William really sets up in England, and he does this Domesday book, and remember about that thing. There’s the great economist, Hernando De Soto. And he says that one of the things that’s wrong with Latin American countries, the ones where he comes from, is that they don’t have property records.
LA: And so people don’t know what they own, and they can’t sell it readily, and they can’t borrow against it and capitalize it, right? Well, in the 11th Century, William sets out to fix that in England. And that’s a generous and fine and lawful thing to do. And it changed things a lot that he did that. And of course, it meant that his base of operations moved to England. And then the next thing you know, the powers that rule Normandy are living in England, not the powers that rule England living in Normandy.
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HH: I hope I’m not mispronouncing Runnymede. Whenever I do the Hillsdale Dialogue, there’s always, I’m one second away from being gently corrected, but it’s always wonderful that way. Dr. Larry Arnn, president of Hillsdale College, Dr. Ken Calvert, the headmaster of Hillsdale Academy. And we are covering the evolution of law in England. Would you tell us about Runnymede and the great charter, Dr. Calvert, and why, how did this happen in 150 years to go from absolute kingship to shared authority?
KC: Right, well, the Norman tradition in England had really settled in, and it is important that though there was, there were powerful kings, William being one of them, the barons and the lords of the Norman territories in England also understood that they had certain rights and privileges over and against the king. There was, at Runnymede, and Runnymede is essentially another name for a place where you hold regular meetings between the king and his lords. It’s the foundation of parliament, really. This would happen on a regular basis. Well, King John was a lousy king. He fought a lot of bad wars on the Continent trying to hold onto Normandy and onto Aquitaine, and became oppressive in his taxation, because oppressive in his abuse of his people in England. And so the barons forced him to come together with them, and to work out this great charter, this Magna Carta, which reasserted their rights.
HH: Larry Arnn, when the framers get together, how much are they looking back to 1215?
LA: Well, first of all, they’re, you know, in one way, they’re way beyond that, because the Magna Carta is not a doctrine that proclaims the consent of all the governed. In another way, they very much looked to that, and here’s why. Law is an alternative to force, because when force reigns, then whoever shows up and is the strongest is going to get his way. But the claim of the barons is King John, you’re a very important, powerful guy, and the principle and story that gives you power gives us power, too. And so we share power. You have your prerogatives, and we have our prerogatives. And we must respect each other’s prerogatives. This is what we call the rule of law.
HH: Which brings me not to the events of this week, but the events of last week, the most recent iteration of the Affordable Care Act, Obamacare, completely arbitrary, and Dr. Calvert pointed out that the 1215 charter, the Magna Carta, required King John to proclaim certain liberties and accept that his will was not arbitrary. That non-arbitrariness is the essence of law, and it’s a very interesting comparison to what we had last week, which was simple arbitrariness.
LA: Well, the President has understated his competence. He said two weeks ago or three weeks ago that he has a phone and he has a pen. Also, he seems to have an eraser.
HH: (laughing) But it is remarkable that it goes unremarked upon that we’re…
LA: Yeah, that’s right, and see, that’s, you know, we were talking two weeks ago or a week ago about the parallels with Rome. The breakdown of the law and the absence of people to defend it was a feature of the decline of Rome.
HH: Oh, very well put. Now Dr. Calvert, next week, we go to Aquinas. And of course, that is not an Englishman. Why does he develop, why is the greatest scholar of the Medieval era in Paris and not in England?
KC: Well, you have scholars all throughout Europe. It’s very important to understand that. There’s Anselm and Abelard and a variety of scholars both in England and France and elsewhere. And Thomas Aquinas is a product of the age. He is coming into an age where all of the foundations in those monasteries, the education, the theological, the scientific thought, all of this is coming to a certain level of maturity, if you can call it that, within the Medieval age. And so he is benefiting from all of that, and actually, he attempts to bring together, to coalesce, all kinds of bodies of knowledge to lay a foundation for a Christian worldview, a Christian perspective.
HH: But in 45 seconds to the break, Dr. Arnn, is there something unique about the Continent that allows them to do that as opposed to England?
LA: Well, it’s more of a mess. But no, you know, remember, it’s partly a product of his remarkable nature, too, right?
HH: Yeah, genius.
LA: It might have happened wherever he was.
HH: Yeah, genius.
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HH: And next week, we will be lurching into Thomas Aquinas, colliding with the great ox, the dumb ox. And Dr. Arnn, how do you recommend to people that they prepare for that?
LA: Well, you should learn who he was. Go look him up on the internet and find out who he was and when he lived. It’s a great idea if you want to read forty pages to read Chesterton’s Thomas Aquinas, the Dumb Ox.
HH: I owe you for that recommendation. I didn’t know it existed until you told me about that. It’s marvelous.
LA: Yeah, Hugh was trembling and weak with the thought of Thomas Aquinas.
HH: I still am.
LA: But then the second thing is brace yourself and just start reading it, and remember that it’s like ancient philosophy. It starts out really simple, and the complexities grow. But there’s very little technical jargon. And so it is a great and masterful achievement, the work of Thomas Aquinas, and it’s very worthy to think about it. And his definitions of things like the moral law, and the natural law, those are really beautiful, and they’re tremendous to know.
HH: And how do they, Dr. Calvert, impact, then, the subsequent evolution of European history both in his hometown and across the water in England?
KC: Well, it’s quite significant. Actually, Aquinas is one of those scholars who lives in an age in which Aristotle is reintroduced to the West. You find this with a Jewish philosopher, Maimonides. So Aquinas has rediscovered one of the most, or has been one of those people, and living in an age in which Aristotle is rediscovered. And that helps to transform European thought and the European perspective on, again, theology, science, on so many things. You merge that with the rising universities, and the concern of reestablishing, the reestablishment of learning throughout Europe, Aquinas is at a very important moment. And all of this will affect the English universities, particularly Oxford and Cambridge. Those two universities are the foundations from the 12th Century on in England of the reestablishment of learning, and then the foundations for science.
HH: And Dr. Arnn, there was a period of time when people had to know the kings of England and the queens of England, and it was thought important to do that. And that’s fallen on hard times in American education. Ought it to have? Was it too much emphasis on dead, white males and females from long ago?
LA: I’ll answer that with a reference to Thomas Aquinas. What we think right now is that we live at some kind of a peak that makes everything previous obsolete. What Thomas Aquinas thought was that a great work of recovery needed to do, needed to be done, to bring the wisdom of the ancient times into the Christian and Medieval era. And he thought that the ancient world displayed aspects of human nature and potentialities of human beings of immense value, and they ought not to be lost. That’s why we don’t memorize kings and presidents anymore.
HH: Dr. Calvert, one of the most widely read books, I had Ken Follett in here a couple of years ago. He spent three hours, and we spent a lot of that time talking about Pillars Of The Earth, and the construction of cathedrals, and the rise of the architecture of the Church.
HH: And it really is quite remarkable that out of the chaos and the misery, and you know, there’s a black death thrown in there as well, that that sort of lasting, enduring stonework could even be conceived of, much less executed.
KC: Cathedrals are marvelous expressions of the age, of the economy that’s reemerging and growing. These things cost incredible amounts of money. And by the way, they were not paid for by the Church forcing people to build them. They were paid for by the cities and regions that built them in great pride and faith. They were also great billboards of look at how wonderful our city is. So these things were immense and wonderful projects, and they were designed, you begin with the cathedral in Chartres, and you look at the cathedral in Paris, and the cathedrals that are built, I spent a lot of time in the cathedral in Wells in England. They are magnificent expressions of faith.
HH: I don’t know where that is. Obviously, in Wells.
KC: Wells in Southwestern England, and the cathedral at Wells is a beautiful place. It’s one of the oldest cathedrals in England. And the cathedrals are built to represent God’s creation, God’s cosmos, and the faithful passage from the door in the West towards the East, and the rising Son and the rising Christ, and towards the Heavenly Kingdom. They’re wonderful and magnificent theological statements as well as just incredible mathematical and physical constructions.
HH: Now I simply don’t know the answer to this, but I don’t know that there’s a great cathedral in Oxford or Cambridge. Is there, Dr. Arnn?
HH: Is that because of the university’s almost intuitive opposition to hierarchy?
LA: No, no. The cathedral in Oxford is Christ Church Cathedral at the top of which sits Tom Tower. And it is a, and it’s in, what’s the name of the college? Christ Church College.
HH: (laughing) Christ Church College.
LA: And it’s a, thank God Ken’s here, and it’s a magnificent building, but it’s not a gothic cathedral on the style of Wells or Salisbury or one of those.
HH: And why don’t they have one?
LA: Well, because the town was not that big, and because the colleges have their own worship places, so the only bishop seat in Oxford of which I know is in Christ Church. And it is a very beautiful church, and one of the oldest. But it’s not like these great ones.
HH: And a last, since you have spent so much time in England, if Professor Calvert’s favorite is Wells, what is yours?
LA: Oh, that’s a very good question. And Salisbury, probably.
HH: I thought you were going to say Durham because of the RAF window, but…
LA: Yeah, well, and you know, I love chapels, and you know, there may be news shortly about a Hillsdale College Chapel.
LA: If you haven’t been in the Merton College Chapel in Oxford, for example, if you haven’t been to Choral Evensong in the new college.
HH: You sent me there yourself. You and Penny had dinner with the Fetching Mrs. Hewitt, and I have since taken my sons there. It is a magnificent place.
LA: Yeah, and you know, you may visit such a place and such a service in Hillsdale, Michigan before you know it.
HH: That is great and good news. I wish to be part of the subscription for the paving stones at Hillsdale for the church, the chapel there. Dr. Ken Calvert, Dr. Larry Arnn, thank you for a wonderful romp. We collide with the Dumb Ox next week on the Hillsdale Dialogue. Don’t miss it.
End of interview.