This book by the legendary Situationist activist and author of The Revolution of Everyday Life is a fiercely partisan historical reflection on the ways religious and economic forces have shaped Western culture. Within this broad frame, Raoul Vaneigem examines the heretical and millenarian movements that challenged social and ecclesiastical authority in Europe from the thirteenth to the sixteenth century.
Although he discusses a number of different groups, such as the Cathars and the Joachimite millenarians, his main emphasis is on the various manifestations of the movement of the Free Spirit in northern Europe. At the core of these heresies, Vaneigem sees not only resistance to the power of state and church but also the immensely creative invention of new forms of love, sexuality, community, and exchange.
Vaneigem vividly portrays the radical opposition presented by these movements to the imperatives of an emerging market-based economy, and he evokes crucial historical parallels with other anti-systemic rebellions throughout the history of the West. The book is especially valuable for its translations of original texts and source materials.
“The most striking aspect of Vaneigem’s compendium of Free Spirit lore is his ability to release the material into the present, to allow it to communicate on the same level of extremism and disruption as it did in the Middle Ages. Again and again, confronted with the likes of Margaret Porete’s ecstatic revisioning of being or John Hartmann’s coolly absolutist gnosis, you can almost feel the whole great edifice of social order — their church, our capitalist democracy — gather itself up, take a deep breath, and run.” — Greil Marcus, author of Lipstick Traces