I. THE COLLAPSE OF THE CAROLINGIAN EMPIRE—FEUDALISM
The Carolingian Empire was a political miracle, and like all miracles it could be but a temporary interruption in the natural course of events. Christianity had given Western Europe common ideals, but the ties of material interests, which are also necessary to bind men together, were lacking. There was little trade between different parts of the Empire; each region was largely self-sufficient. Communications were slow and difficult; even an intelligent and energetic ruler like Charlemagne found it hard to secure information or to enforce his orders. Local government was the only government which concerned most inhabitants of the Empire, and local government was in the hands of the counts, wealthy and powerful men who were very independent of central authority. It is not surprising that the Carolingian Empire began to break up within a generation of the great emperor's death; it is surprising that it had held together long enough to produce permanent results.
The strong tendency toward political and economic localism was the basic weakness of the Empire; other factors only hastened its decline. The successors of Charlemagne did not inherit his ability; the traditional epithets attached to their names emphasize defects, not abilities. Louis the Pious, Louis the Stammerer, Louis the Child, Charles the Bald, Charles the Fat, Charles the Simple—these are not the names of powerful and respected rulers. Most of the later Carolingians strove earnestly to preserve the Empire and its institutions; none of them possessed the incredible energy, the political insight, the art of commanding men which had made Charles great.