Saturday, January 12, 2013
Aesthetic Irresponsibility in a Broad and Mellow Land (Part II)
...the difficulties which impeded the consolidation of a strong Caucasian State were no greater than those which had stood in the way of the rising Houses of France and Castile in the West. Set against Persian influence in the eastern Caucasus the predominance of the English in Anjou, Gascony and Guienne or of the Muslims in Andalusia; set against the dinintegrant local lordships in Imereti and Samtzkhe the dukedoms of Brittany and Burgundy or the powerful independencies of Aragon and Navarre; you have the same picture. And the problem presented to the Bagratids by the mountaineers of Circassia, Osseti and Daghestan was no greater than to the Plantagenets and Tudors was the problem of "the Celtic fringe" in Ireland, Wales and Scotland. For the Georgian Kingdom of the Bagratids, the possibilities of power, of nascent nationhood, the chances of history, were much the same as those of Aragon and Castle, little less than those of Valois France and of Plantagenet England. And therefore we may inquire why at the of the eighteenth century, when France and Spain and England had grown to be the proud world-empires of the West, Georgia was no more than a string of paltry principalities ready to the may of the Russian Emperors. In history we speak much of economic forces, of geographical conditions, of universal political tendencies. Yet so much of it is man-made and chance-made. Character and luck are the fundaments of Empire. The characters of individual men and the luck of not infrequently a loaded dice it was that gave England power in the five continents, and left German emerging tardily from mediaeval divisions to impotent resentful unity; that made the Castilians rise to Empire, while ancient cultured Italy remained a congeries of senile principalities; that thrust down Sweden with the feckless Vasas and reared up the Dutch, so careful, obstinate and grasping; that sank derelict the jabbering liberties of Poland, and founded the sombre rigidity of the Muscovian Monarchy.
In Georgia history went askew....the Georgians had ample time, one hundred years, in which to consolidate a stable kingdom based on a common nationhood, which no less than sprawling, disjointed Poland might have resisted the onset of the Turks....Yet in that century the political battle of the Georgian people was lost, and the nation passed to a perpetual minimality....In Georgia, the shattered and dissected monarchy forgot even its vain pretension to rule "from Nikopsia to Derbend"; "the Mussulman third" of the Caucasus which in the twelfth and even in the fourteenth century had been partly won and might have been consolidated, was lost for ever.
The Georgian rivals fought like chivalrous boys; they did not kill like kings. The House of Bagrationi spawned far and wide its handsome knightly claimants, but not one of them grew cunning, mean and watchful-to scotch the rest. Here were no cold, wary Tudors whetting the axe for their distant cousins, but a pack of Christian gentlemen wasting the land in chivalrous fracas. (emphasis mine) In this period the gallantry of one claimant towards another is as amazing as the futility of their plots and combinations. From which let us remember that is is not Black Princes that have built the nations, but black livers [and]...that nations, like tunnels, roads and bridges, are not built by gentle men.
One of my core beliefs about history is the fact that it can turn on a dime. Character, circumstances and chance--what some would characterize as luck--are often more important to the direction of history than any socio-economic factors, or God forbid, ideologies. I think Allen would certainly agree with all that. In short, he finds that the Georgian Kingdom failed because its people were too foolish, too gallant, too romantic, too gentle, and dare I say it it--too Christian. As my son put it, they were not serious enough about killing to become a "great" nation.
When the two of us traveled to Svaneti in 2006, our guide hired three armed guards to follow our rattle-trap old Lada up into the Caucasus. I thought it was overkill at the time, as I have never concerned myself much about personal safety. She explained that solitary vehicles on these mountain passes made easy targets for local bandits. These brigands would rob travelers, but they never committed murder. She went on to explain that if you had wine in the vehicle, they would probably uncork it and pass the bottle around with you before fading back into the forest.