Front Page Titles (by Subject) 25.: Charlemagne - Judgments on History and Historians
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25.: Charlemagne - Jacob Burckhardt, Judgments on History and Historians 
Judgments on History and Historians, ed. Alberto R. Coll (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1999).
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Our present view of the world empire and its desirability is determined by whether the viri eruditi [savants] of the individual peoples who once belonged to it regard the development of their nations since then as a good or a bad job; in this, the desirability of power is, as a rule, a principle taken for granted.
Any empire, i.e., any dominion over a whole circle of peoples, will, through inevitable leveling, curtail or destroy many individual national features that the individuals have hitherto cared much about (cf. especially Sybel, Die deutsche Nation und das Kaiserreich, p. 13).
Also, it will in general move as far away as possible from popular rule and incline toward a bureaucracy in which all energies of the masses are available for the aims of the government. In proportion to the size of such a state, its purposes appear the more tyrannical the more incomprehensible they become to the individual countries within the empire. In the case under discussion the Roman Empire was the best-known prototype. Even the ruling people which supplies the dynasty will hardly be in a better position.
But on this large scale, as on smaller ones, the real political purposes are traditionally replaced, in a greater or lesser degree, by dynastic, personal momentary interests.
Such empires cannot be imagined as really politically alive, with independent participation of the federated peoples in the general volition and action; a centralistic empire is more suitable for aged peoples that have passed their prime. As soon as political and individual-national life of any kind asserts itself again, no matter under what name, the empire goes to pieces. And whatever remnants of the empire do survive are then permanently inconvenienced by having to drag along the former obligations.
In recent times people have tried to tell Charlemagne that he had a legitimate and adequate task in the incorporation of the Saxons, the expansion of Germanic civilization plus classical culture, the spread of Christianity to the slave countries, and defense against the Normans, and that instead of these things he wrongfully strove for world dominion and waged world wars as a conqueror. This entire censure is actually directed only at his conquest of Italy and his relationship to the papacy.
However, by the thoroughgoing subjection of the Saxons he made a Germany possible for the first time. He annihilated the Avars; the Normans he knew only in their primary stage, but he was quite worried about them; no one will demand that he should have sought them out in their homeland in order to nip the danger in the bud. We simply must accept as a psychological phenomenon of the first order that one and the same individual force subdued the Saxons and at the same time renewed the Roman Empire. He who was able to do the one thing merely desired the other too.
But finally, the main complaint is Charlemagne’s use of the aid of the Roman church to realize God’s kingdom on earth and the consequent authorization to rule over all Christian countries and to conquer all non-Christian ones; a divine mission entitles the conqueror to employ any means. However, the papacy, which was invited by Charlemagne to co-rulership of the world, remained whole, whereas his empire went to pieces.
(And this might perhaps have been the dark supreme will of world history.)
For the time being, there remain certain the value of the memory of a great man, and, as the value of the Carolingian period, these facts: The peoples in question were powerful for about a hundred years; they were equipped for the future with a great common premise and memory, with their culture infinitely more homogeneous than it had previously been. After further intervals of barbarism, the peoples approached and understood one another again and again; a Western community feeling had come into being.