Thoughts on the “Quixote phenomena” – ongoing effects of the Crusades

There is something which I have been calling the “Quixote phenomena”.   Sometimes I call it the “Quixote effect”.  It is a strange and interesting phenomena that began with the Crusades and has had great impact on Western society.  The name is based on the lead character in “The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha” by Miquel de Cervantes.   It was published in two parts, in 1605 and 1615.  It describes a man called Don Quixote who has been fascinated by books of Knightly adventures and wants to go out into the world and recreate these adventures.  As he does this he keeps misinterpreting things to fit the image of the Knightly adventures.  Probably his most famous act is mistaking windmills for giants which he then jousts.

So we see that Don Quixote did a number of things:

  • The use of the image of the Knight.
  • Reenactment of the Knights.
  • Misinterpretation.

These traits play a significant role in the “Quixote phenomena” and, in some respects, defines it.  Amazingly, the behavior of Don Quixote (that is, the displaying of these traits) would be very similar to what followed in Western Europe, particularly in England and France and the U.S.   Its almost as if Cervantes foresaw a movement in society that was taking place.  Perhaps it is what motivated the idea of Don Quixote?


This movement, in many ways, has been a significant factor in Western society for centuries (particularly the past 200-400 years).  Because of this, we could very well speak of a “Quixote movement” in Western European history.  It seems to have definite phases:

  1. 1100’s-1400’s – Crusades inspires stories of “Knightly glory”.
  2. 1500’s – Protestantism appears – a lull in “Knightly glory”.
  3. 1600’s – A revival of “Knightly glory” appears, generally without religious references.
  4. 1700’s – “Knightly glory” grows, spreading to the common people who take on the image.
  5. 1800’s – “Knightly glory” flourishes in society as a whole, creating the pseudo-nobility and Victorianism.
  6. 1900’s-2000’s – The attitudes and images of the “Knightly glory” continues but becomes disassociated with its historical origins.

We can see that the movement is about 900 years old and is still going on.  During the years it has had definite changes and alterations but its basic idea remains.

Many people are still playing the part of Don Quixote.  For some people its become a way of life.  The more I look the more evident is the power of this movement.  What is amazing, to me, is that it has origin in the Crusades, almost 1,000 years ago . . .


The Crusades have created a dramatic change in Europe.  Its this change that, in a way, is the basis of the power and appeal of “Knightly glory”.  It is through the Crusades that the “Knightly glory” got established, defined, and glorified.  Many of the stories, romances, and such, that appeared during this time, have also given it an image that is appealing and accessible to many people.

Some of the qualities the Crusades created include:

  • A sense of a unified Europe, a sense that we are all a part of something bigger.
  • A justification from God giving a person “high cause” and definite purpose.
  • Glorification of achievement and success, as an individual person and socially.
  • The idea that a common man can become something great.  This, of course, is the Knight.  His success often allowed him to climb the difficult wall of social status, prestige, and power.  In this way, the Knight often become more than a warrior, even becoming a Nobleman.
  • The appeal of adventure and going “out in the world”.
  • A sense of comradery.
  • The importance of doing things for the right reasons, coming from Christian morality.

These all figure prominently in “Knightly glory”, though in different proportions.  Usually, only a small number, or even one, may be emphasized.  Different people, era’s, and societies, often created their unique combination and “flair” to fit their purposes.  In this way, the “Knightly glory” was varied and changing and did not follow a single pattern.

In many cases, particularly in more recent years, there is no obvious connection with the Knight or Crusades . . . one knows it by the attitudes and themes. Interestingly, one element that has become particularly silent through the years is the idea of a justification from God.  This silence appears to begin as a result of the Protestant Movement which frowned on references to the Catholic Church and the Pope.  Overall, the religious disputes caused a general tendency to avoid making references to religion and God in regard to the Knight.  Despite this, the “authority of God” still figures prominently in “Knightly glory” to this day primarily as an attitude of “righteous cause”.  Its this that often gives “Knightly glory” a great sense of authority and power.  Its this authority, perhaps, which keeps the “Quixote phenomena” alive today.  Its what gives the “Knightly glory” such a “hidden power”.

The image of the Knight

The Crusading Knight is one of the most powerful images in Western Europe.  In fact, one could say that the image of the Crusading Knight defines Western Europe, its image of itself, and its behavior in the world.  In actuality, the power of this image is the source of the “Quixote movement”.  It “set the standard” for much of Western Europe since.

The success of the Knight, during the Crusades, would establish the image of the Knight as the “great example” of success.  This success appeared in different ways as there were different types of Knights really:

  • A Nobleman.
  • A Monk of an order of Chivalry (such as the Templars).
  • A standard soldier . . . a common man.

More specifically, I speak of the common man here in this article for Don Quixote reflects a tendency of the common man. 

We must remember that, prior to the Crusades, the common man primarily remained a farmer or tradesman, often following in his fathers footsteps.  In this way, he was actually “locked” into a specific life.  When the Crusades happened many of these men were able to get out of this pattern of life, and a new door was opened to them.  In this way, the Knight became the first great means of “opportunity” for the common man in Western Europe.  By being a Knight he could do a number of things:

  • Have opportunity.
  • See new places.
  • Have adventure.
  • Test himself.
  • Increase his social status and income.  For example, many Knights were often awarded land for their services and this could lead to a Noble title!

The growth of the middle class (that is, the common man gaining wealth) would help only further the appeal of “Knightly glory” as the image of the Knight would be a basis for many images of the “successful man”.  This would grow particularly in the 1600’s-2000’s.  Because of this, the  qualities of the Knight actually set the standard for the image of success.  Some of these qualities include:

  • A person who is able to get out of social position he was born in.
  • The glorification of achievement and success.
  • A person who is “out in the world”.
  • The importance of social status or social prestige.
  • The questing after wealth.
  • The practice of sportsThis seems to have origin in the Knights practice of arms.  Have you ever noticed how people who go to the University (seeking success, of course) tend to have to be in some form of a sport (such as bike riding, mountain climbing, and such)?  A descendent, no doubt, of the Knight.
  • A competitive nature.  This probably originates in the fact that the Knights were competing with one another for prestige.  In addition, the tournaments probably helped foster this.
  • Being authoritative. 
  • Being social minded (including things like etiquette and manners).
  • An almost “monastic” sense, of being part of a unique group in society, that is set apart from everyone else This may have origin in the monastic orders (such as the Templars or Teutonic Knights).  Its for this reason that there seems to be an all male orientation with “Knightly glory”.
  • A sense of doing things a certain “right” way.  This is reflective of Christian values as the Knights, remember, were fighting for the Christian cause.  After the Protestant Reformation the Christian and religious references of the Knight seemed to dwindle (see below).  It continued as a sense of a “right” way of doing things.  This way varied with the times, conditions, the country, and even the person.  Despite this variation, there is still a focus on the “right” way, as they perceive it at the time.

Many of these qualities would later become associated with the University (where people sought success, of course).  It seems, though, that these qualities were not associated with the University until after the Napoleonic wars when the industrial revolution began to establish itself as a power.  Because the industrial revolution required people with a University degree (scientists, engineers, doctors, etc.) they began to adopt the image and qualities of the Knight as a basis for “University success” even so far as to imitate some of their qualities.  This seemed to only intensify as time went on and continues down to today.

The effect of the Protestant Reformation

It seems that the Protestant Reformation caused a general lull in the idea of a crusading Knight.  This, no doubt, is because it was associated with Catholicism and the Pope and it was a time of religious strife.  In addition, any military action was now carried out by armies giving little opportunity for Knightly endeavors.

After the commotion of the Protestant Reformation the new Protestant world did not seem to offer anything to compare with the crusading Knight.  This left something like a vacuum.  As a result, there became a revival in the image of the Knight by the Nobility.  Because of the religious conflict, though, it tended to become divorced from the Catholic Church and Pope and religion in general.  This absence of religion has not been that much associated with the popular image of the Knight since.  In other words, the post-Protestant Reformation Knight tended to be an image of the Knight without the religion . . . an adventurer.  Some of the religious associations, though, continued but in a modified form.  A significant element of this is this idea ofhigh cause”.  In short, the Catholic Crusading Spirit would be replaced by this idea that a person was doing things for a “high cause”. This post Protestant Reformation image of the Knight, it seems, is the image of Don Quixote created by Cervantes.  Its not all that surprising as he created the character about the time this was all happening, the 1600’s.

The effect of the middle classes

The rise of the middle classes seems to of greatly influenced the image of the post Protestant Reformation Knight.  In fact, the Knight appears to of become the model of a “man of success”, as described above.  As a result of this, many people were trying to imitate the Knight as a symbol of success.  Because of this, the “Knightly glory” would become more associated with the common people and the common man. Since the middle class was a rising class, and having more wealth and importance, they adopted many Knight-like qualities in their makeup.  In addition, because a successful Knight could become a member of the Nobility, it created a tendency of imitating the Nobility by the middle classes.  I call this the Pseudo-Nobility and would play a big role later . . .

The Victorian world

One could very well say that “Victorianism” is nothing but a chivalric revival of the Knight, the Pseudo-Nobility.  It is the “Quixote phenomena” on a grand scale.  In fact, one could say that the Pseudo-Nobility defines the Victorian world.  One could very well speak of Victorian culture as a “Pseudo-Noble culture”. The growth of the chivalric revival, or Pseudo-Nobility, was greatly influenced by things like:

  • National pride.  This grew in England after the Napoleonic Wars.
  • The image of a young Queen Victoria.  She would become the “great lady” which would help foster the chivalric revival and Knightly ideals.
  • Increased income after the Napoleonic Wars.  This allowed people to afford to imitate the Nobility.
  • Consumerism.  The proliferation of consumer products offered many items that people could afford.  In some cases, it offered the common man things only available to the Nobility before.
  • The media.  This exposed people to the “styles” and ways of the “Pseudo-Noble culture”.  In this way, they could imitate it and try to emulate it.  In addition, it fostered “fads”, “crazes”, and other things giving the “Pseudo-Nobility culture” a mania at times.

Things, such as these, would cause a great growth of the “Pseudo-Noble culture” in England.  The effect of this growth would include:

  • It made it infiltrate into everyday life.
  • It affected a large part of the population.
  • It affected popular culture.
  • It created a male and female version (see below).

In this way, the “pseudo-Nobility culture” of the Victorian era became a great medium for the development and growth of the “Quixote phenomena”. 

The post WWII world

The post WWII world tended to see the fall of the image of Nobility as a symbol and influence in life.  In some respects, it replicated what happened during the Protestant Reformation.  Instead of the Knight being divorced from religion the Knight became divorced from the Nobility.  In this way, many traits of the Knight would persist in a modified way.  This is because the general attitude of the “Pseudo-Noble culture” still continued, even though the image of Nobility was no longer there.

Because of the rise of the economy, following WWII, the qualities derived from the image of the Knight would be the basis for success.  It seems to of been somewhat similar to the earlier rise of middle classes, emphasizing the common man in particular.  If anything, its a more extreme version. The mass media and popular culture produced many forms of the post-WWII Knight, such as:

  • There have been many characters, such as James Bond, which reflect “Knightly glory”.
  • Many movies, particularly in the U.S., are actually modern versions of stories of Knighthood, but with an American flair.  In many ways, the “action movie” is really an American version of a “Knightly romance”.

The guys shown in the media and popular culture often have these qualities:

  • They are often individual guys who “take on the world”.  This is the Knight going out “into the world”.
  • The tend to “fight evil”.  This is Christianity’s fight against Satan and the infidel.
  • They often struggle with some “pain”, failure, or bad quality.  This is a remnant of Christian “sin”.  It includes things such as having no parents, the death of ones wife, having a drinking problem, etc.  Its not uncommon that this is used to give the character a “darker” quality, even to the point that he becomes a “bad guy”.

There are definite Christian Crusading connections but they have been divorced from the original Christian meaning.  Regardless of this, one can still see the Christian elements in them.

An early version of the American Knight even appeared before WWII.  It is the superhero.  The superhero seems like the image of the Knight coupled with the impossible capabilities that science fiction created, but without the science fiction.  In other words, the superhero is like a “science fiction Knight without religion and without science”.  Its not mistake that many of the early superhero’s have qualities described above, a predecessor to the “action hero”.

The American version of the “Quixote phenomena”

Oddly enough, it seems that the U.S. has developed the most extensive manifestations of the “Quixote phenomena”.  This, it seems, is because there wasn’t the social structure to suppress it in much of the population, as was the case in England.  Because of the lack of this suppression it was more able to grow and flourish.  In so doing, it had a far greater impact than anywhere else it seems.

The males manifestations of “Knightly glory”

The manifestations of “Knightly glory” has a basis, of course, in the behavior and image the new “Don Quixote”.  In this way, it would take on the quality of something like a model for the male to pattern himself after and reflect.  Some of the qualities that appeared in the male include:

  • Successful.  They take success seriously and will go through great efforts to achieve it.
  • Confronts world.  They want to “take on the world” of, often, do things out in the world.
  • Without fear.  They must not be frightened of things.
  • Christian principles.  They often emulate Christian ideals and beliefs, such as being fair, respect, and such.
  • Camradery.  They have a sense of being part of a team or a group.  This often conflicts with the individualism that is very prominent here in the U.S.
  • An exclusive all male orientation.  This seems to have origin in the monastic orders of Chivalry.  Interestingly, during the Victorian era, with its “pseudo-Noble culture”, there became a strong tendency to develop “exclusive all male” clubs and so forth, no doubt descending from the Knight.
  • High ideals.  They have, or believe they have, these great ideals that dictates what they do.
  • Putting the female on a pedestal.  The Knight honoring his lady would be demonstrated in the glorification of the female.  This was particularly helped as a result of Queen Victoria who represented the “Great Lady”.
  • A desire for adventure.  This desire would become almost religious for some guys.  This seemed to grow during the Victorian era, with its “pseudo-Noble culture”.  It would be very instrumental in many males ideas of war, especially, and make them want to join eagerly and with “high ideas”.  This was seen during the American Civil War, the beginning of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, WWI, and such.  Their attitudes changed, of course, once they saw what war was.  Once they saw the nature of war many were devastated by it and being unprepared for it probably had a lot to do with battle trauma (see my many articles in the Battle Trauma category in this blog).  Even the lure of the French Foreign Legion is based in the Knightly ideal of adventure (I, myself, considered joining it for that reason at one time!).

This, it seems, became the basis of the image of a “man” in English and, especially, American society.  This image became so big and influential that it created problems for the American male (for example, see my article “Thoughts on being a ‘real man’ – America’s exaggerated view of masculinity” and “Thoughts on the “myth of the tough guy” – an attempt at manifesting American ideals???“).  Many males, frankly, could not meet this image.  Because of this, it has actually eroded the male over the years.

The females manifestations of “Knightly glory”

During the Victorian era, as stated above, there developed a female manifestation of “Knightly glory”.  As a general rule, the female manifestation of “Knightly glory” appeared in the manifestations of qualities found in the Noble Lady.  These qualities include:

  • Reflect Christian virtues.  Of special emphasis is peace, love, and charity.
  • Very socially oriented.
  • A cheerful, happy, and optimistic disposition.  This, of course, is a reference to the Noble Lady as representative of Christian values.  The idea being that, believing in Christ, one has faith and so is happy with no worries.
  • An “air” of authority.  This could be described as a “dignity” in imitation of the Nobility.
  • High ideals.  These could be Christian-derived but were also often social ideals and principles.
  • Emphasis on maintaining a household.  This is because a significant occupation of many Noble Ladies was to maintain the household and estate.  Remember that this meant maintaining a household of many servants, cooks, etc., often with horses and other things.  In actuality, this could be quite an accomplishment.  Later this would turn into a great glorifying of the housewife for the common people (who did not have a great country estate).  This seemed to appear strongly in the mid-late 1800’s.

The effect of these are to reflect the behavior (or, rather, the assumed behavior) of the Noble Lady.  We must remember that a Noble Lady had to reflect Christian virtues and values.  The portrayal of the qualities of the Noble Lady seem to of been somewhat accurate but they tend to be somewhat exaggerated in the “Quixote phenomena”. One of the effects of this is that many females tend to think that they are the emblems of love.  This has even gone so far that some females think that if they were to rule the world the world become a place of “peace and love” . . . Christian virtues.

The males tendency to “put the female on a pedestal” has caused a lot of problems as it tends to make girls develop a “spoiled” quality (almost like children).  Many females of Western society have this quality since the Victorian era, often expecting special treatment and such.


The dilemma created by the “Quixote phenomena” is based in the fact that it is primarily a re-enactment of an established image of something glorified.  In other words, it consists in a continual attempt at trying to fit an image which is assumed to be great.  Because of this, it has created a number of tendencies:

  • A tendency to imitation or a want-to-be mentality
  • A tendency to over glorification.
  • A tendency to artificiality, superficiality, and a lack of being genuine.
  • A tendency to trying to recreate things.
  • A tendency to try to be someone else.

Overall, it has created a tendency where people try to be something that they are not.  Just like Don Quixote, people see themselves in a different light than they really are.  In addition, they interpret the world differently.  In this way, it has created a tendency to see themselves and the world in a somewhat “tweeked” or “warped” way.  This is usually mild, having minimal impact, but it can be bad in some people.

Because it is based in using an image, which they try to re-enact, there is a tendency of what I call “forcing the interpretation”.  This is similar to Don Quixote interpreting everything in the context of the Knightly adventures and of seeing things that aren’t there (such as windmills as giants).  This is common for the U.S. and one of the reasons why the U.S. tends to misinterpret the rest of the world.

The prevalence of the “Pseudo-Nobility culture” has created what can be described as a “false social structure”.  That is to say, because it is based on a pre-fabricated image, it tries to make things fit that image (“forcing the interpretation”).  In so doing, it tends to create a Noble-based social structure that may not exist.  For example, it may artificially create an upper and lower class in a classless social situation.  I have seen this many times.  It creates a tendency for them to think that they are “one up” over others, for example, when this has no meaning.  Its commonly seen in “yuppie’s” and people with a lot of money in America.

The male and female reactions

The power of the “Pseudo-Nobility culture” in the Victorian world was such that it created a male and female version (as I described above) which I jokingly call “Don Quixote” and “Donna Quixote”.

THE “DON QUIXOTE” – the male reaction

The male primarily created a false persona as a result of the “Quixote phenomena”.  It really becomes “a false image that they are portraying and which they end up believing”.  It often appears, to me, as a self-deception.  It also makes guys overvalue themselves and think they are these great people that they are not. This false persona also creates social demands on the male, as everyone expects him to emulate it.  For example, there often appears the idea that a male is “supposed” to be tough and such.  This then requires the male to have to try to live up to this ideal.  Most of the time he can’t.  In this way, it has created a dilemma for males.

THE “DONNA QUIZOTE” – the female reaction

The female reaction created something like a rot in the female that slowly ate the female identity, worth, and value up.  In fact, it appears to have completely undermined the female identity in Western society (see my article “Thoughts on the ‘failed sex’ – how many female traits have failed – a hidden crisis of the American female“). It seems that, since the Victorian world, there have been two main manifestations of “Donna Quixote”:

  1. The British version:  they try to be like a Noble Lady
  2. The American version:  the “Donna Quixote’s” try to be “Don Quixote’s

Interestingly, the British version led up to the American version.  The British, appearing first (1800’s), was very much based in the Noble Lady.  This caused a failing in the female identity which caused many problems for females.  The American version appeared at a later date, at a time that the female identity was failing or failed (late 1900’s, in particular).  As stated above, the image of Nobility was gone by this time.  As a result, the American “Donna Quixote’s” didn’t have a Noble Lady image to base themselves on, though they are still living in a “Pseudo-Noble culture” oriented society and, as a result, continued to have the attitude of a want-to-be or imitator.  As a result, they ended up trying to be like the men and become “Don Quixote imitators”.  In this way, the American female have developed a more intensified “Quixote phenomena” than the males.  Because of this, they are suffering from its effects more.  I fear that is going to have drastic effects on them in the future.


The technological world seems to of thrown a unique quality in the “Quixote phenomena”.  This seems to be a result of an incompatibility between the “Quixote phenomena” and technology.  This seems to be due to the fact that the technological world has a more “unhuman” quality to it.  The “Quixote phenomena” is rooted in human qualities and a human social situation.  Both of these seem undermined in the technological world and, as a result, have an opposing quality toward the “Quixote phenomena”.  This has, to some extent, undermined or lessoned the power of the “Quixote phenomena”.

The modern worlds undermining of the “Quixote phenomena” seems to of caused a dilemma for Western society.  The Western male, in particular, seems to of found himself at the end of his rope and not knowing what to do.  If this is true, it would mean that the qualities that make up Western society is rooted in the “Quixote phenomena” and since the modern world is undermining it, Western society is finding itself unable to cope.

Despite this, there have been other things that have also kept it going, and quite strongly:

  • The emphasis on education and success that is being drilled into the kids nowadays.  As part of this, is often included the emphasis on sports and “outdoor activities” and such.
  • The fact that the U.S. is stuck in the 1970’s.  The Vietnam War protests, in particular, have brought out many Christian-based themes and issues (such as the importance of “peace and love”).  Since these 70’s attitudes are continuing to be enforced it still promotes a very Christian orientation which is helping to keep the “Quixote phenomena” alive (see my article, “Thoughts on the post cold war generations – some observations . . .“).

The result of this, it seems, is a much more altered form than previously seen.  To me, it seems more “one sided” and is becoming more divorced from its origins, though I think its too early to say how it will appear exactly.  To me, it seems that it is most prevalent with ideas of success.  Its very possible that, as the technological world progresses, it will slowly fade, though I’m sure its remnants will be seen for some time.

Copyright by Mike Michelsen

This entry was posted in Britain and British things, Christianity, Christian conversion, Post-Christianity, and Christian influence, Historical stuff, Society, The male and female, The U.S. and American society and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s