Saint Fionán is claimed to have founded the Skellig Michael monastery in the 6th century. There’s some dispute about when the monastery was founded, but it is largely considered one of the first Catholic centers of learning outside of Rome. There, the monks copied old texts, taught novices to read and write and proselytized to the Irish heathens. Slowly, monasteries were founded around Europe, doing the same work, often on behalf of the ruling families.
If you’re an ancient history buff, one of the things you probably understand is just how important the Catholic Church was in preserving and maintaining the knowledge of the ancients. Throughout the Middle Ages, tucked away in monasteries, monks spent their days copying and preserving texts from antiquity. It was a slow and tedious process, but it was the only way to preserve and proliferate knowledge.
That last bit is important. Storing up knowledge in books at a monastery is fine, but passing them around so others can learn and expand upon what’s in those books is how civilization flourishes. Those monks copying old texts were increasing the mass of human understanding. Copying Aristotle meant that the copy could be sent to another monastery to be read and copied again. It also meant more men exposed to Aristotle, and not just in the monasteries. The nobility were able to build libraries too.
The thing about the medieval system was that it was tightly bound by Catholicism on one end and the state on the other. Intellectual life had to appeal to the king and the Church. In this regard, the Church served another key role. They vetted and filtered the books that were produced, thus they controlled the knowledge of the society. The crown may have had a monopoly of force, but the Church gave it legitimacy and an intellectual structure through which to rule.
We like to think that the modern age is a time when information flows freely around society, unencumbered by the state or powerful interests. Colleges and universities are endlessly going on about having free speech and open debate. Journalists insist their job is to speak truth to power, which means saying things that are outside the approved list of truths. Even so-called conservatives bang on about the glories of free and open dialogue, usually while they denounce Donald Trump.
The truth is, the monastery system is still with us. Instead of the crown financing the learning centers, it is billionaires, corporations, non-governmental organizations and international bodies. Instead of monasteries, we have think tanks, research centers and foundations. All of which are “not for profit” which means contributions are tax deductible. The rich pay themselves for supporting the organizations that exist to promote the interests of the rich and powerful.
All around Washington DC, there are organizations, like American Enterprise Institute, that are financed by rich people to pump out papers, books, commentary and experts to populate TV and radio. If you look at their 990 filing, you see that the guy in charge made $700K in compensation. Board members made six figures, with most in the mid-200’s. Charles Murray made $270K just from this one job. His books, speaking fees and so forth probably double that number. Being a “thinker” pays well.
AEI is a big foot operation, but there many smaller ones too. The Fund for American Studies funds journalists and reporters with grants. The list of programs on their 990 is mostly benign stuff that sounds nice. Then you see the long list of trustees. The one name that jumps out is Fred Barnes who took $25K for his troubles. One of the benefits of being a journalist, who plays ball, is you get to sit on boards at these non-profits. Some pay more than others, but it is easy to see how it can add up.
Then there is the magazine rackets. National Review has a thing called the National Review Institute. Notice how they always call their people “fellow” to give it that academic feel. Their 990 is not very interesting, but NRI is mostly a clearing house. The director makes $200K a year, in case you’re curious. That’s small potatoes compared to John Podhoretz, who takes over $400K in salary from Commentary Magazine, another non-profit operation.
Of course, it’s not just indigenous billionaires paying these people to promote them in the press. Foreign governments get in on the act too. The government of Malaysia famously bought favorable coverage from conservative media a few years ago. You may recognize the name Ben Domenech from that article. He writes for the Federalist and was in on the anti-Trump crusade. He also got jammed up in a plagiarism scandal, yet he somehow remains in good standing with conservative media.
My favorite, I think, is Brent Bozell, who Mike Cernovich has been going after on Twitter. Bozell runs a racket called the Media research Center. It’s supposed to police the media for bias. Brent makes $400K for his trouble, that’s when he is not penning anti-Trump pieces for Breitbart. No one should begrudge Bozell his money, but when the media watchdog is paid by the same people funding the media, it’s hard to take him seriously.
The reality is our opinion makers are all kept men. They are the monks and clergy of our age, shaping intellectual life and setting the limits of what is and what is not permitted in the public sphere. This is done mostly to promote their own position, but financed by the donor class, on whose behalf the monks and priests of the commentariat work. When you are living the 1% lifestyle, your not about to rock the boat by speaking truth to power.
The reason they are fainting over Trump and the rise of the Alt-Right is the same reason the Church panicked over Martin Luther. The difference is Jan Hus is an army of bloggers and writers on-line using the megaphones of social media. Trump, like Frederick III, is legitimizing much of it by speaking candidly on the issues of the day. Just as Trump supporters have no illusions about what Trump is as a politician, the commentariat is fully aware of what he represents, which is why he must be destroyed.