The War of the Poor

Written by Eric Vuillard
Review by Mary Lawrence

It is fair to say that in Germany, Thomas Müntzer is a hero of sorts. The 16th-century reformist has been the subject of nearly two thousand essays, plays, books, poems, articles, and films. How much influence he had on fomenting the masses into an uprising known as the Peasants’ War is controversial; however, he did help the rebel masses voice their grievances. He supported a social and religious revolution that would grant legal and social rights to the suppressed lower class. And toward the end of the conflict, he did take up a leadership role as “God’s Servant” leading what he believed must be an apocalyptic revolt against the “Godless” clergy and aristocracy. Unfortunately, the Peasants’ War ended badly with the slaughter of nearly 100,000 peasants and farmers.

The War of the Poor by Vuillard is a breezy, interpretive essay of Thomas Müntzer’s life and influence on the Peasants’ War in Germany. Vuillard romanticizes the Protestant reformist’s influence while ignoring details that would substantiate his interpretation. There is no bibliography, and one example that would have benefited from scholastic evidence is Vuillard’s insinuation that Müntzer’s father was hanged by feudal authorities. Friedrich Engels’ research in The Peasant War in Germany (1850) runs counter to this claim.

However, these quibbles detract from the intended purpose of this slim volume—which can only be surmised, since there is no introduction or author statement. Perhaps Vuillard hopes to draw a parallel to our present-day circumstances where democracies and governments have digressed into oligarchies that no longer serve the masses. There is no discussion or drawn conclusion in Vuillard’s work linking the comparison. Unfortunately, The War of the Poor does little to incite change—even on a cerebral plane.