Know your Rudis

Erudition is, etymologically, the state of having the rudis taken out of you (ex or e). So what’s a rudis? Large parts of it are constant: being young, inexperienced, unpolished, etc. But a crucial element in the idea exhibits significant shifts – a rudis is someone whom it is okay to see as less than yourself. Their ignorance has a whiff of moral inferiority, or it at least justifies our condescension (think of our use of the word hillbilly or bumpkin or rube). For the Church fathers, the pagans were all rudes as believers in fantastic and obviously ridiculous superstitions who are rightly condemned, at best, to a higher place in Hell (Paganos is a synonym for rudes). In our own time civic education is close to turning this around: the Christians are enemies of science who preach hatred of the oppressed and whose priests can’t be trusted with young boys. Orthogonal to this is the depiction of the American Southern man as a rudis, like in the hilariously over-earnest ham-fistedness of, say, Mississippi Burning or Neil Young’s Southern Man. Our program of erudition was more successful negatively: the minstrel show has been wiped out, as was all public use of words or jokes about blacks that describe them as rudes. The Right has made its own attempts to define rudes too, with welfare queens or egghead professors or limousine Liberals. A transition state to this contemporary one was the Enlightenment attempt to depict everyone between Marcus Aurelius and Galileo as a rudis, which is probably the best short description one can give of Gibbon’s Decline and Fall, which set the tone for much of the history between the French revolution till about 50 years ago.



%d bloggers like this: