Some knowledge of the history of Western Europe in the Middle Ages is necessary to understand our own civilization and the problems which it faces. Unfortunately, most people — even most students of history — never have the time to study the Middle Ages in detail. This book is an attempt to give, in the briefest space possible, an interpretation of the rise and fall, the nature and contributions, of medieval civilization.
No two scholars would agree on the contents of such an essay, and much has been omitted which would seem essential to other historians. The material which has been selected is meant to illustrate two topics which I believe are basic in the study of any civilization. First, civilization is organization and specialization. The ability of people to co-operate and the way in which they co-operate, the division of labor and the means by which this division is arranged, determine the primary characteristics of a civilization. Second, large-scale and long-continued co-operation is possible only if a people possess a common set of ideals and beliefs. For these reasons I have devoted most of my space to a discussion of medieval institutions and medieval religion. Art and literature, theology and philosophy have been mentioned only in passing, as examples of the vigor of medieval civilization, and in the hope that the reader might become sufficiently interested to look up special studies of these subjects. My own deficiencies make it impossible for me to understand much about music; it seemed better to omit this topic rather than to write about it at second hand.
This book was written during a very busy period, part of which was spent in government service in Washington. My thanks are