Charlemagne and Meritocracy

CharlemagneOn this day in 742 (or 747 or 748) Charlemagne was born. He was also called Charles the Great. Of course, his wife called him Chuck the Not as Great as You’d Imagine. I’m just saying.

He’s notable for more or less putting the old Roman Empire back together. Initially, he was King of Franks with his brother, Carloman. But they didn’t get along and were basically at war with each other. And then Carloman just up and died very conveniently of a nose bleed. “Nose bleed” is a common Germanic euphemism for fratricide. Given that Charlemagne is generally thought well of, most people don’t blame him for killing his brother. But come on!

What I think is interesting about Charlemagne is how entirely typical he is. If you look at “great” rulers like Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan, they all start out as royalty. I think we in the United States especially tend to think of such men as having clawed their way to the top. But that’s rarely the case. Instead, they are men born on home plate who take over other rich guy’s ball fields.

Conservatives, I’m afraid, are especially prone to this kind of thinking. That’s why everywhere you turn in conservative media these days, pundits can hardly contain their love of Putin. And if they were honest, they’d admit that they actually have a great deal of respect for Stalin and Hitler. I’m not saying they respect the genocides that both men led, but just that they love the idea of the “tough” leader. But it is mostly a myth. Anyway, Putin didn’t take power; he was given it.

Now I can’t say whether conservatives would like Charlemagne. True, he was an authoritarian. But he was also a capable administrator. Being competent is so girly. Plus, Charlemagne clearly thought that government had a purpose more than simply the enrichment of your already rich friends. In fact, by the standards of his time, he was a liberal. So I think on balance, conservatives would be against him. They’d be out with their signs, “Government Hands Off the Emperor’s Coronation!” Anyway, this song has nothing to do with him:

Happy birthday Charlemagne!

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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