It may be, if you shared Benjamin Welton’s view on Eric Vuillard’s last book, The Order of the Day (“bad history imbued with pop psychology and adorned with purple prose riddled with unnecessary diversions”), you may not entirely get along with his latest, The War of the Poor (although the fact that the latter is about one and a half times shorter than the previous book, which was short to begin with, may encourage you to be more lenient). What we have here is what you might call opinionated nonfiction. Ah, you might say, isn’t all nonfiction opinionated – isn’t all nonfiction the result of at least one person feeling strongly enough about something to put the metaphorical pen to paper? Yes. True. We’ll give you that. I suppose the point we are making is that Vuillard’s opinions feel invigorated, as much a part of the story as the story itself.
Thankfully, I don’t mind Vuillard’s invigorating opinions because, as far as The War of the Poor is concerned, I think he’s on the right side of history and what he’s looking to do here (in probably as subtle a way as he could manage) is point out that rampant inequality eventually leads to trouble for those people on the better end of the inequality. What we have here is the story of Thomas Muntzer who, in the sixteenth century, led a violent revolt after encouraging the poor to question why god apparently loved the poor but seemed to be on the side of the rich.
Muntzer “believed in a pure, authentic Christianity. He believed it was all set down in black and white in St Paul, that all the essentials could be found in the Gospels.” So when he preached this to the miners and the weavers who had “long felt troubled and afflicted” – well, all manner of trouble ensued. Vuillard provides context (Muntzer wasn’t the first to take on the powers that be), and, reading between the lines, it seems pretty clear where his sympathies lie. He is also quite dismissive of the official record (we get the sense that anything Muntzer said after he was apprehended might not be altogether trustworthy, what with the old torture being applied etc).
Given how short the book is, and the unflinching way in which it tells its story, you might want to pick up a copy for the wealthiest person you know and, the next time they mention that they have “complicated” tax arrangements (the byword for “I don’t pay what I should”), maybe slip a copy of this into their hands.
Any Cop?: Both an edifying and an entertaining read.