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Neo-medievalism (or neomedievalism) is a neologism that was first popularized by Italian medievalist Umberto Eco in his 1986 essay "Dreaming in the Middle Ages".[1] Prior to this the term was used in Isaiah Berlin's "The Hedgehog and the Fox" [2] to refer to a nostalgic romanticism for the simplicity and order of the medieval period.

In its modern use, it has been used by various writers such as medieval historians who see it as the intersection between popular fantasy and medieval history;[3] as a term describing the post-modern study of medieval history;[4] and as political theory about modern international relations.[5]


The widespread interest in medieval themes in popular culture, especially computer games such as MMORPGs, films and television, neo-medieval music, and popular literature, has been called neomedieval. Critics have discussed why medieval themes continue to fascinate audiences in a modern, heavily technological world. A possible explanation is the need for a romanticized historical narrative to clarify the confusing panorama of current political and cultural events.[6]

Political theory[edit]

The idea of neomedievalism in political theory was first discussed in 1977 by theorist Hedley Bull in The Anarchical Society: A Study of Order in World Politics (pg. 254-55). Bull suggested society was moving towards a form of "neomedievalism" in which individual notions of rights and a growing sense of a "world common good" were undermining national sovereignty. He saw a complex layering of international, national and subnational organizations which might help "avoid the classic dangers of the system of sovereign states by a structure of overlapping structures and cross-cutting loyalties that hold all peoples together in a universal society while at the same time avoiding the concentration inherent in a world government."

Stephen J. Kobrin in 1998 added the forces of the digital world economy to the picture of neomedievalism. In an article entitled "Back to the Future: Neomedievalism and the Postmodern Digital World Economy" published in 1998 in the Journal of International Affairs,[5] argues that the sovereign state as we know it – defined within certain territorial borders – is about to change profoundly, if not to wither away, due in part to the digital world economy created by the Internet, suggesting that cyberspace is a trans-territorial domain operating outside of the jurisdiction of national law.

Although Bull originally envisioned neomedievalism as a positive trend, it has its critics. Bruce Holsinger in Neomedievalism, Neoconservatism, and the War on Terror (2007) argues that neoconservatives have exploited neomedievalism's conceptual slipperiness for their own tactical ends.[7]


  1. ^ Umberto Eco, "Dreaming the Middle Ages," in Travels in Hyperreality, transl. by W. Weaver, NY: Harcourt Brace, 1986, 61-72. Umberto Eco said "..we are at present witnessing, both in Europe and America, a period of renewed interest in the Middle Ages, with a curious oscillation between fantastic neomedievalism and responsible philological examination.."
  2. ^ Isaiah Berlin, "The Hedgehog and the Fox: An Essay on Tolstoy’s View of History, London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1953; New York, p.76; "those who really did believe in the possibility of some kind of return- neo-medievalists from Wackenroder and Gorres and Cobbett tp G.K. Chesterton..."
  3. ^ David Ketterer (2004). "Chapter 18: Fantasic Neomedievalism" by Kim Selling, in Flashes of the Fantastic.
  4. ^ Cary John Lenehan. "Postmodern Medievalism", University of Tasmania, November 1994.
  5. ^ a b Stephen J. Kobrin. "Back to the Future: Neomedievalism and the Postmodern Digital World Economy".
  6. ^ Eddo Stern. "A Touch of Medieval: Narrative, Magic and Computer Technology in Massively Multiplayer Computer Role-Playing Games". Tampre University Press 2002. Retrieved 2006-12-17. 
  7. ^ Melissa Maki. "Professor's Work Spans Disciplines". University of Virginia. Retrieved 2006-12-17. 

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