Erasmus's War against the Turks

A Warning from the Past

Painting by Hans Holbein

Image: Painting by Hans Holbein

To enslave a people, one must first erase the memory it has of its own history. That’s how European colonials had succeeded in converting entire African peoples to Christianity. In doing so, the subjugated had not only lost their older pagan faith, but had in many cases even forgotten their mother tongue. Even now, for example, hundreds of millions of Africans speak French, English, Dutch, a blend or a derivative of a European language. As a result, many have lost their oral traditions as well as the memory of their collective pre-colonial identity.

‘Identity Laundering’

From this practice of identity laundering perhaps flows the progressive belief in socially engineered man: the person programmed by his conquerors with new language and culture in order to be someone who he really is not. With one difference: today’s social activists are applying these tactics on their own people. Europe and the United States are to be ‘multicultural’—in order to make room for tens of millions of non-Western foreigners that reject our way of life. Westerners must learn to be more ‘tolerant’—in order to submit to the intolerant ideologies that will forever change who we are, but without our consent.

For that matter, the islamization of the West did not start with the erection of mosques, nor with public acceptance of veiled women in the streets. The islamization that intends to erase the memory of our identity already began in the late sixties, early seventies of the last century. It began with historical revisionism, with reinterpretations of our greatest writers and thinkers. For example, new readings of the works of famed Dutch philosophers Desiderius Erasmus, Baruch Spinoza and poet laureate Joost van den Vondel have changed them into so-called early supporters of multiculturalism, into global citizens that naturally rejected nationalism even before it become popular.

Multiculturalist Propaganda

Today, many high schools in the Netherlands willingly teach students the aforementioned in their multiculturalist propaganda. The originally Flemish-Belgian Van den Vondel had fled to the Republic of the Netherlands to find “a better life”, as it is called. In the Amsterdam Vondelpark named after him, occasionally groups of asylum seekers, mostly from majority Moslem nations, leave behind flowers or wreaths at the base of his statue, as if it were a homage to a man who surely would have personally welcomed millions of Moslem immigrants.

Children gobble it up, but who will dare tell these Moslems that the very same Van den Vondel had had in mind a strong, masculine Christendom to violently defend Europe against Islam? Even our Spinoza was never tolerant at all. He called Islam the most deceitful religion on Earth. In turn, Erasmus outright supported new crusades against the Turks, who in his time were knocking on Vienna’s gates. He edited his long letter to Johann Rinck on this subject into a whole book, De Belli Turcico, or On the War against the Turks (1530).

Does the World Belong to Everyone?

“The world is your fatherland,” it is written, dedicated to Erasmus, in neon letters on the side of the Central Library of Rotterdam, his birthplace. Desiderius Erasmus, writer, philosopher, humanist and above all, Christian, had himself written ‘my fatherland’, but the man of a thousand letters had borrowed the phrase in his turn from a Greek saying, “The whole earth is the fatherland.”1 When offered to become citizen of Zurich, Switzerland, he did write in an irritated manner, “I want to be a citizen of the world, not of one city.”2

The city of Rotterdam, just as the left-leaning Dutch intellectual circuit, enjoys flaunting Erasmus as a sort of early anti-nationalist idol, a multicultural global citizen who supposedly had advocated open borders, e.g. a pacifist who had opposed war, and a tolerant human being who would have warmly welcome visitors from afar and all their many cultures and beliefs. He had to have been someone who, if we suppose he were a US citizen today, would have voted for the Democratic Party, or even the Green Party. Oh, that cheeky little Erasmus! What a decent man he was.

Cosmopolitan, or Not?

That image of him is, put straightforwardly, a load of bullshit. According to Jan Papy, a researcher who has actually read Erasmus’s works, “[his] worldview never reaches beyond that of Christendom; an interest in or appreciation for foreign cultures and religions is alien to him.” At all times, Erasmus had been a part of the Christian world of medieval Western Europe. If he had ever called himself a global citizen, a cosmopolitan, it would only have served to emphasize his intellectual independence.3

But nowhere in his writings has Erasmus argued that Europe ought to open wide its borders in order to let in masses of foreign immigrants. While Erasmus supported the free movement of studied individuals, he definitely did not support endless migration of entire peoples. Nowhere in his writings does Erasmus set forth his views on nationalism or world citizenship. The subject didn’t occur to him.4 And as a pacifist, it is true that he vigorously argued for Christian Europeans to cease waging wars among themselves, but he was “no naive advocate of surrendering Europe to the Turks.”5

On the War against the Turks

In a time when Europeans understood the word ‘Turks’ to mean all Moslems, Erasmus had been worried about the danger they posed. In the letter to Johann Rinck dated May 30, 1530, i.e. written in the year after the Siege of Vienna, he first elaborated on the objections to wage war, but then continued:

“Someone will perhaps deduce from all this that I have undertaken the task of arguing against a Turkish war. Not at all; on the contrary, my purpose is to ensure that we make war against them successfully and win truly splendid victories for Christ. … I have more than once been astonished by the nonchalance of other Christian lands, and especially of Germany herself, as if these things in no way affected the rest of us. We become tight-fisted, and spend on pleasures and trivialities what we do not wish to spend on rescuing Christians.”6

According to Erasmus, Europeans first had to become better Christians before they could defeat the Turks, “a race softened by debauchery”.7 Holding a low opinion of the opponent, he resorts to hate speech:

“It is easy to see how profitable their false religion has been to [Moslems], as long as we have neglected the duties of true piety. While we have been endlessly fighting among ourselves over some useless plot of ground in what are worse than civil wars, the Turks have vastly extended their empire or, rather, their reign of terror.”8

Erasmus goes one step further and compares the Turks to the ten plagues God had sent the Egyptians:

“How many defeats have the Christian peoples suffered at the hands of this race of barbarians, whose very origin is obscure? What atrocities have they not committed against us? … [There] can be no doubt that the Turks have won an immense empire less by their own merits than because of our sins … We have frequently taken the field against the Turks, but so far with little success; either because we have still clung to all the things which have angered God and caused him to send the Turks against us, just as he sent frogs, lice, and locusts upon the Egyptians long ago … [We] conducted ourselves like Turks against the Turks.”9

Admittedly, Erasmus wanted nothing to do with violence-loving warmongers. He would remind his addressees of their duty to commit themselves to introspection. But despite the acts of horror that Christians had done onto other Christians, this had not given him reason to support dogmatic pacifism, “for there are those who claim that the right to make war is totally denied Christians. I find this idea too absurd to need refutation, … My message is that war must never be undertaken unless, as a last resort, it cannot be avoided…”10

Regarding the Turks, Erasmus had been more worried about the corruption that drove destitute Christian soldiers to looting than about Moslems’ feelings, “What is there to say about people who prefer the damnable and criminal man Mohammad before Christ?”

For a Christian World

Thus. we have to establish as fact that Erasmus had neither been a multiculturalist nor tolerant of foreign faiths. Those are the pleasant labels social justice warriors have given him only since the late 20th century. In reality, Erasmus had limited his tolerance to differences between European peoples. He had wished for peace for all Christians in Europe, but had seen no problem with warring against the Turks. He had been a global citizen of the Christian world, not of the world beyond it.

At the start of our present century, we may have arrived at the point that we, as a last resort to save the free West, will have to engage in war. Erasmus would not have disapproved of a war against the Islamic occupier of his lands. In fact, in his book on marriage he advised what to do against the Turks:

“The same individuals who are so pleased with virginity are not displeased with warring against the Turks, who outnumber us by so many; if their judgment is correct, it will follow that it should be considered especially right and honorable to strive with all one’s might to produce children, and thus provide enough young men to serve in war. Unless perhaps they think artillery, missiles, and ships should be provided for this war, but that men are not needed.”11

For such hate speech against the Turks and Moslems, today we would be convicted of racism and islamophobia. Luckily, Erasmus had lived in freer times when European economies operated independently from Arab oil. Despite his nuance and self-critique, Erasmus had warned his audience for the threat of an enemy occupation. It is time to once again hear his unfiltered warnings.

1 Jan Van Herwaarden, “Erasmus En Zijn Vaderland: Variaties Op Een Rotterdams-Gouds Thema.,” Tidinge van Die Goude, 2006, 139–60.
2 Jan Papy, Erasmus: Een Portret in Brieven, trans. Marc Van der Poel and Dirk Sacré, 1st ed. (Utrecht: Boom, 2001), 37.
3 Ibid., 38.
4 Ibid., 30.
5 Ibid., 39.
6 Erika Rummel, ed., The Erasmus Reader (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2013), 325.
7 Ibid., 317.
8 Ibid., 316.
9 Ibid., 315–16.
10 Ibid., 318.
11 Erika Rummel, ed., Erasmus on Women, 1st ed. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1996), 68.


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Erasmus's War against the Turks by Mathijs Koenraadt is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.