Page:Western Europe in the Middle Ages.djvu/22

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6
WESTERN EUROPE IN THE MIDDLE AGES

of declining economic activity, whereas the twelfth century was a period of economic expansion. The Romans of the Late Empire would have been satisfied if they could have kept production and commerce at their old level; the men of the twelfth century were making a great effort to increase production and commerce. They were clearing forests, draining swamps, building new towns, establishing new trading stations in the East, concentrating certain industries in the towns, and even experimenting with new sources of mechanical power, such as the windmill. This rapid expansion makes the twelfth century, in some of its aspects, resemble our own boom periods. For example, emigration agents in the Rhineland told German peasants the familiar story of fertile land on the eastern frontier which could be had for a song. But the controlling ideas of the twelfth century were so different from ours that the resemblances between the two economic systems are less striking than the differences. Strong community feeling and the influence of the Church made group enterprise more important than individual effort. Settlers on the frontier grouped themselves in villages for mutual protection and assistance; they did not set up individual homesteads. The small business men of the towns formed strong associations, not only to guard their political rights but also to suppress economic competition. Even the most individualistic enterprisers of the period, the great merchants who traded across the length and breadth of Europe, found that they had to be backed up by associations of their fellow merchants to enjoy any security. At the same time the Church and the governing classes were very suspicious of profit-seeking individuals. The Church feared, quite rightly, that such men would become too interested in this world to remember the next Kings and nobles feared that the unrestrained drive for profits would undermine the social organization which gave them power. There was general agreement that economic activity should be regulated and controlled in the interests of society and that individual profits were less important than social stability. This is not to say that the profit mo-