Ghosts of universal states

May 30 2013

The ʿAbbasid Caliphate of Baghdad was [...] resuscitated in the shape of the ʿAbbasid Caliphate of Cairo, the Roman Empire in the two rival shapes of the Holy Roman Empire of the West and the East Roman Empire of Orthodox Christendom; the Empire of the Ts’in and Han Dynasties in the shape of the Sui and T’ang Empire of the Far Eastern Society in China. Such ghosts of universal states are conspicuous products of the historical phenomenon of “renaissance” or contact in the Time-dimension between a civilization of the “affiliated” class and the extinct civilization that is related to it by “apparentation”, and, in that aspect, they are dealt with in a later part of this Study.

The four representatives of this spectral species of polity that are here in question display wide differences from one another both in the timing of their evocation and in their subsequent fortunes. Whereas the Sui and T’ang Empire in the Far East and the Holy Roman Empire in the West were not evoked till after an interval of more than four hundred years since the de facto break-up of the universal state of which each of them was respectively a revival, [footnote: The Empire of the Posterior Han became impotent de facto circa A.D. 175; the Far Eastern Society in China was united politically under the Sui Dynasty in A.D. 581. The Roman Empire in the West became impotent de facto after the Clades Gothica of A.D. 378 or, at latest, after the death of the Emperor Theodosius I in A.D. 395; Charlemagne was crowned Emperor in St. Peter’s at Rome on Christmas Day, A. D. 800.] and the East Roman Empire not till after an interval of some hundred and fifty years, [footnote: The Roman Empire in the East ran out between the death of Justinian in A.D. 565 and the overthrow of Maurice in A.D. 602; the East Roman Empire was constructed by Leo Syrus (imperabat A.D. 717-40).] the ʿAbbasid Caliphate was resuscitated at Cairo less than three and a half years after its extinction at Baghdad. [Footnote: See Arnold, op. cit , p. 82, following Suyūtī: Husn-al-Muhddārah, vol. ii, pp. 53 seqq. and 57. The Caliph Mustaʿsim was put to death at Baghdad in February 1258; his uncle was installed at Cairo as the Caliph Mustansir in June 1261.] [The reference is to Arnold, Sir T. W.: The Caliphate (Oxford 1924, Clarendon Press) [...].] From the date of their prompt installation in A.D. 1261 by the strong hand of the Mamlūk Sultan Baybars to the date of their almost unnoticed cessation as a result of the conquest and annexation of Egypt by Sultan Selīm I ʿOsmanli in A.D. 1517, the Cairene ʿAbbasid Caliphs were never anything more than the puppets that they were intended to be. [Footnote: When the first of them, Mustansir, showed signs of taking his office seriously, his Mamlūk patron Baybars packed him off to his death, on the forlorn hope of reconquering Baghdad from the Mongols, and installed another member of the ʿAbbasid House in his stead. This lesson was not forgotten by Caliph Hākim and his successors (see Arnold, op. cit., pp. 94-95).] The Holy Roman Empire, after starting as a mighty power in virtue of being imposed upon the Austrasian Frankish state at the culminating moment of its history, shared in the collapse which Charlemagne brought upon his ambitious political structure by recklessly overstraining its resources, and was never more than partially rehabilitated by the successive efforts and sacrifices of Saxon, Franconian, and Swabian heirs of this fatal incubus; yet it survived, at least as a name – the ghost of a ghost – for nearly a thousand years after Charlemagne’s death. [Footnote: Charlemagne died in A.D. 814; the Emperor Francis II Hapsburg renounced the title of Roman Emperor in A.D. 1806 [...].] On the other hand the East Roman Empire in the main body of Orthodox Christendom and the Sui and T’ang Empire in the Chinese portion of the Far Eastern World fulfilled the intentions of their respective founders by becoming and remaining solid political realities – the East Roman Empire for more than 250 years [footnote: From the raising of the second Arab siege of Constantinople in A.D. 717 to the outbreak of the Great Romano-Bulgarian War in A.D. 977.] and the Sui and T’ang Empire for not much less than 300 [footnote: From the foundation of the Sui Empire in A.D. 581 to A.D. 878, when the T’ang regime became impotent de facto [...].] – but this at the cost, on which their founders certainly never reckoned, of exhausting the strength of the still immature societies on whose life-blood these two lusty vampire-states waxed fat for a season. The common feature, conspicuous above these differences, that concerns us here is the status which these ghosts, like their originals, acquired and retained as founts of legitimacy.

A Study of History, Vol VII, OUP, 1954

One Response to “Ghosts of universal states”

  1. davidderrick Says:

    The idea of the Tang as a “spectral species of polity” – and his periodisation of China in general – would be regarded as odd by any sinologist who bothered to read Toynbee.


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