When AIDS came into the world, disease researchers reconsidered, loudly warning of new pandemics. Journalists wrote books with titles such as The Coming Plague and Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic. But not many nonscientists took these warnings to heart. The American public has not enjoyed its surprise reentry into the world of contagion and quarantine—and this unhappiness seems likely to have consequences.
Scholars have long posited that the shattering of norms by the Black Death was the first step on the path that led to the Renaissance and the Reformation. Neither government nor Church could explain the plague or provide a cure, the theory goes, leading to a crisis in belief. Secular and religious leaders died just like common people—the Black Death killed the archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Bradwardine, a mere 40 days after he assumed office. People sought new sources of authority, finding them through direct personal experience with the world and with God.
Worth reading the whole article.
I’d always wondered about what caused the specific intellectual scaffolding of the Peasant’s Revolt and its children, the Levellers and the Diggers. (Interestingly, the Levellers and Diggers were part of the English Civil War. Roger Williams, the founder of Rhode Island was a contemporary of Oliver Cromwell, and it’s said that Harvard University almost closed because so many of the students returned to England to fight for the Round-Heads.) It’s striking how much of our own intellectual scaffolding in the early United States was laid as a consequence of the plague and its impact in Europe.
Preachers, writers, public voices will all do well to be thinking about what will be coming in the next decades following the present pandemic. Look at how the 1920’s in the US and Europe shaped the 1930’s and the rise of fascism. Hear the voices of the Diggers and their complaints about the taking of the birthright of the Saxon people by foreigns and strangers during the Norman Conquest, and you can start to make sense of much of the identity populism and the return of “crusader” language to the public sphere.