A Typical Medieval Empire
One of Henry the Second’s biographers referred to that monarch’s ramshackle collection of kingdoms and duchies as a “typical medieval empire.” For me, the phrase perfectly captures a certain characteristic kind of political ambition. Henry—Peter O’Toole in the movie versions—used all his considerable talents and energy to create and maintain an utterly artificial state that could not survive his departure from the scene. Indeed, the empire began to come apart even before he died, as his sullen and treacherous son, Anthony Hopkins—Richard the Lionhearted in the reality version—revolted against his helpless, senescent father. The current American Imperium certainly has a better foundation than Henry’s operation, rooted as it is in fundamental, if temporary, technological and economic advantages rather than the contrivances of a single ruthless Norman. But ours is a typical medieval empire in one important way. No Secret Name enlivens this particular Golem: it runs on batteries that cannot be recharged. The ambitions of its proconsuls and propagandists are as mediocre as the High Civilization of franchised burger joints and nail care salons to whose greater glory these thugs and pundits have, for the time being, dedicated themselves. Empire building is a failure of imagination.