The Pillars of the Earth

The Pillars of the Earth, Ken Follett’s 1989 novel, is an epic, soap operatic, Oprah book club selection of an extravaganza that is really all about building beautiful cathedrals, in 12th century England. No really it is all about blood, sex, rape and murder, or what passed for political discourse back then. Last year it was made into an eight-part, TV miniseries. Anne and I watched this series, via Netflix, and liked it. Anne had plowed through the book, years ago, so that was not too surprising for her, plus it had enough mayhem in it to appeal to me.

In this story all politics is personal. The state is the king, the king is the state and the king is just a man, but not a just man. The story unfolds during a period of English civil war known as the Anarchy. As in the American Civil War, English society is quickly divided into two warring camps, with a schism that flows from royal society down to lowly commoners. This division created in the show’s first episode, takes the remaining seven to eventually reconcile.

These days, America is politically divided, like it was in our own Civil War and like England was during the Anarchy. Whether you call this political divide, Republican versus Democrat or liberal versus conservative, it is there, in the news, everyday. In the Anarchy, you were either a follower of King Stephen or Empress Maude. Your allegiance then was governed by kinship, money or more likely, the allegiance of your immediate superior. Politicking was frequently done, sword in hand, and it was a bloody, personal affair.

The passage of time has built up a veneer that both softens and diffuses the hard, sharp edges of our current political divide. We call this veneer civilization. In civilized society, we no longer murder our political adversaries, at least not with dagger or poison. No, these traditional methods are now considered trés gauche. It is much more acceptable to kill a political opponent by wielding the press, rather than a sword. Just ask Anthony Weiner about that.

I’ve returned back home to Saint Louis, after my week-long trip with the Perma-Bear. I think that he would agree with me that we are at near opposite ends of the political spectrum, even if we can’t agree on much else politically. This was made abundantly clear when we listened to NPR together on the drive home. Still, we managed to get along all week and remain friends. Maybe this civilization thing is really working after all, at least among us civilized people.

3 thoughts on “The Pillars of the Earth

  1. Your interesting post brought out many memories. I read the book many years ago and loved everything about the cathedral building and all else of course. 😉 Then I saw the TV series and it wasn’t bad either. I like Ken Follett’s books.

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