Neither the internal development of the medieval state nor the international politics of medieval Europe can be explained without constant reference to class distinctions. First, there is a sharp line dividing each state horizontally and marking off the privileged few from the unprivileged many, the rulers from the ruled. Below the line are the traders, artisans, and cultivators of the soil; above it the landlords, the officeholders, and the clergy. If an industrial community, here and there a Milan or a Ghent, succeeds in asserting political independence, the phenomenon is regarded as anomalous and revolutionary; still graver is the head-shaking when mere peasants, like the Swiss, throw off what is called their natural allegiance. And such cases of successful rebellion are rare. It is true that in England, in France, and in the Spanish kingdoms there are privileged towns which receive the right of representation in national assemblies; but this concession to the power of the purse is strictly limited; the spokesmen of the burgesses are not invited to express opinions until asked for subsidies or military aid. Government is the affair of the King and the privileged classes. But again there is a division within the privileged classes, a vertical line of cleavage between the various grades of the lay and clerical aristocracies. The prelate and the baron, the knight and the priest, harmonious enough when it is a question of teaching the unprivileged their place, are rivals for social influence and political power, are committed to conflicting theories of life. The ecclesiastic, enrolled in an order which is recruited from every social grade, makes light of secular rank and titles; he claims precedence over every layman; he holds that it is the business of the Church to command, of princes to obey. The lay feudatory, born into a hereditary caste of soldiers, regards war as the highest vocation for a man of honour, is impatient of priestly arrogance, and believes in his heart that the Church ought not to meddle with politics. It would be a mistake to think of the two privileged classes as always at strife with one another and their social inferiors. But the great wars of Pope and Emperor, the fourteenth-century revolts of French and English peasants, are not events which come suddenly and unexpectedly; each such outbreak is like the eruption of a volcano, a symptom of subterranean forces continually in conflict. The state of peace in medieval society was a state of tension; equilibrium meant the unstable balance of centralising and centrifugal forces. And this was one reason why wars, condemned in the abstract by the Church, were frequently regarded with favour by sober statesmen and by idealists. In more ways than one a successful war might serve to heal or salve the feuds of rival classes. It offered an outlet for the restless and anarchic energies of feudalism; sometimes it ended in conquests with which the landless could be permanently endowed. It might offer new markets to the merchant, a field of emigration to the peasant, a new sphere of influence to the national clergy. Better still, it might evoke common sentiments of patriotism or religion, and create in all classes the consciousness of obligations superior to merely selfish interests.

Such statecraft may perhaps seem rude and barbarous to us. The idea of a nation as a system of classes, and of national unity as a condition only to be realised when all classes combine for some purpose extraneous to the everyday life of the nation, is foreign to our thought. We believe that by making war upon class privileges we have given to the State a less divided and more organic character. We maintain that the State exists to realise an immanent ideal, which we express by some such formula as "the greatest good of the greatest number." But we are still so far from a reconciliation of facts with theories that we must hesitate before utterly condemning the medieval attitude towards war. In place of classes we have interests, which are hard to unite and often at open variance. Our statesmen balance one interest against another, and consider war legitimate when it offers great advantages to the interests most worth conciliating. Nor have we yet succeeded in giving to the average citizen so elevated a conception of the purpose for which the State exists that he can think of national policy as something different from national selfishness. It is easier to criticise the enthusiasts who urged medieval nations to undertake "some work of noble note," remote from daily routine, than it is to discover and to preach a nobler enterprise on behalf of a less visionary ideal. It helps us to understand, though it does not compel us to accept, the medieval theory, when we find modern poets and preachers glorifying war as a school of patriotism or of national character.