Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Ezra Pound on the antithesis of good and evil as the driver of history

Ezra Pound by Gaudier-Brzeska 
In a Visiting Card (1942), Pound describes historical events and conditions as products generated through the interaction of two antithetical forces:
  • We find two forces in history: one that divides, shatters, and kills, and one that contemplates the unity of the mystery....
  • There is the force that falsifies, the force that destroys every delineated symbol, dragging man into a maze of abstract arguments, destroying not one but every religion.
  • But the images of the gods, or Byzantine mosaics, move the soul to contemplation and preserve the tradition of the undivided light.
The rhetoric of antithesis is used here to build a polarised structure of values contrasting the sterile, labyrinthine, blurring, destructive, dark, hylic force, which Pound usually identifies with usury and personifies as “Usura” or “Geryon”, with the sacred, fecund, clear, dynamic force identified with the “unity of the mystery,” and symbolised by the “tradition of the undivided light”

(From Ezra Pound and the Occult by Demetres P. Tryphonopoulos)

Monday, January 28, 2013

Usury - then and now

The Usurer from Basel's dance of death by Jacques-Antony Chovin.
As the individual sovereignty of European states crumble to nothing before the power of the banks, it is salutary to think that the lending of money for interest - usury - was once outlawed in Christian Europe.

The prohibition is now confined to the Muslim world, a last enclave of opposition to what was once universally held to be an immoral act, likely to damn the perpetrator to Hell. Yet often here the opposition is often only nominal and is likely to be wiped away completely before long by the economic and military power of global capitalist interests.

It seems now that the victory of the usurer is complete. How very different in former times of religious piety, before the guiding hand of morality withdrew before the ‘invisible hand’ of economic expediency.

Imran Hosein, who lectures amongst other things on how the current world financial crisis is at heart one of usury, asks us to consider the world-changing enormity of the moral shift from one in which money-lending was loathed as evil, to a situation in which bankers just about rule the planet. He recommends reading Religion and the Rise of Capitalism by R. H. Tawney, for a brilliant summary of the retreat of religion.

Tawney explains that in medieval Europe there were degrees of acceptably in economic activity. Labour - the common lot of mankind - was deemed to be necessary and honourable. Trade was thought necessary, but perilous to the soul. Finance, if not immoral, was considered to be, at best sordid and, at worst, disreputable.

The loathing of the sin of avarice associated with finance found practical expression in the church’s prohibition of usury. On this matter, as the practice of borough and manor, as well as of national governments, showed, the church was preaching to the converted.

Florence was the financial capital of medieval Europe; but even at Florence the secular authorities fined bankers right and left for usury in the middle of the fourteenth century, and fifty years later, first prohibited credit transactions altogether, and then imported Jews to conduct a business forbidden to Christians.

The Court Leet of medieval Coventry put usury on a par with adultery and fornication, and decreed that no usurer could become mayor, councillor, or master of the gild.

Tawney explains that the economic background of it all was very simple. The medieval consumer usually lived in a tied house and was at the mercy of the local baker and brewer. Monopoly was inevitable. Indeed a great part of medieval industry was a series of organised monopolies, which had to be watched with jealous eyes to see that they did not abuse their powers. Loans by usurers were made largely for consumption, not for production. The farmers whose harvest failed or whose beasts died, or the artisan who lost money, had to have credit, seed corn, cattle, raw materials, and his distress was the money-lender’s opportunity. Naturally there was a passionate popular sentiment against an engrosser who held a town to ransom, the monopolist who brought the livings of many into the hands of one, the money-lender who took advantage of his neighbours’ necessities to get a lien on their land and foreclose. FORECLOSE, a word that still strikes terror into the hearts of mortgaged nominal home owners to this day.

The essence of usury that men hated was that it was certain, and that, whether the borrower gained or lost, the usurer took his pound of flesh. Medieval opinion, which had no objection to rent or profits, provided that they were reasonable, had no mercy for the money-lender. His crime was that he took a payment for money which was fixed and certain, and such a payment was sinful.

To take usury was and remains contrary to scripture. There were the texts in Exodus and Leviticus and Luke vi. 35. But practical considerations contributed to the doctrine more than is sometimes supposed. Because of the certainty of return on usury, it was argued that the rich, for the sake of safety and security, would put their money into usury rather than into smaller, more risky investments, such as the cultivation of land and the production of food. How the lessons in this observation ring out loud to this very day.

The high watermark of the ecclesiastical attacks on usury were probably reached in legislation of the Councils of Lyons (1274) and of Vienne (1312). These made the money lender an outlaw. How the world has turned on its head, when it is now the money-lenders who make the laws in the Councils of the G8!

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Ezra Pound: financiers thriving on ignorance

Ezra Pound by Gaudier-Brzeska
I came across these wonderful paragraphs whilst reading Ezra Pound’s Guide to Kulchur. Still as relevant today, if not more so, in a desacralised money-based society.

John Dunn.

Usury is contra naturam. It is not merely in opposition to nature’s increase, it is antithetic to discrimination by the senses. Discrimination by the senses is dangerous to avarice. It is dangerous because any perception or any high development of the perceptive facilities may lead to knowledge. The money-changer only thrives on ignorance.

He thrives on all sorts of insensitivity and non-perception. An instant sense of proportion imperils financiers.

You can, by contrast, always get financial backing for debauchery. Any form of “entertainment” that debases perception, anything that profanes the mysteries or tends to obscure discrimination, goes hand in hand with drives towards money profit.

It might not be too much to say that the whole of protestant morals, intertwined with usury tolerance, has for centuries tended to obscure perception of degrees, to debase the word moral to a single groove, to degrade all moral perceptions outside the relation of the sexes, and to vulgarise the sex relation itself.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Ezra Pound on Brooks Adams

Ezra Pound

Written in Italian by Ezra Pound (left), Carta da Visita was published in Rome in 1942. Like Pound's Culture, published two years earlier (republished as Guide to Kulchur in 1952), Carte da Vista reads as a rambling set of disjointed essays - to the uninitiated. However, once the underlying themes are understood, namely the progress of usury and its impact upon nations and individuals, then the essays can be enjoyed for the enlightenment they offer.

That Brooks Adams was a great influence on Pound can clearly be seen in this short essay from
Carta da Visita, which includes references to the writer and critic of capitalism - a Spenglerian before Spengler.

Pound on Brooks Adams*

This member of the Adams family, son of C. F. Adams, grandson of J. Q. Adams, and great-grandson of J. Adams, Father of the Nation, was, as far as I know, the first to formulate the idea of Kulturmorphologie in America. His cyclic vision of the West shows us a consecutive struggle against four great rackets, namely the exploitation of the fear of the unknown (black magic, etc.), the exploitation of violence, the exploitation or monopolization of cultivable land, and the exploitation of money.

But not even Adams himself seems to have realized that he fell for the nineteenth-century metaphysic with regard to this last. He distinguishes between the swindle of the usurers and that of the monopolists, but he slides into the concept, shared by Mill and Marx, of money as an accumulator of energy.

Mill defined capital “as the accumulated stock of human labour.”

And Marx, or his Italian translator: “commodities, in so far as they are values, are materialized labour,” so denying both God and nature. With the falsification of the word everything else is betrayed.

Commodities (considered as values, surplus values, food, clothes, or whatever) are manufactured raw materials.

Only spoken poetry and unwritten music are composed without any material basis, nor do they become “materialized.”

The usurers, in their obscene and pitch-dark century, created this satanic transubstantiation, their Black Mass of money, and in so doing deceived Brooks Adams himself, who was fighting for the peasant and humanity against the monopolists.

“ ... money alone is capable of being transmuted immediately into any form of activity.” -- This is the idiom of the black myth!

One sees well enough what he was trying to say, as one understands what Mill and Marx were trying to say. But the betrayal of the word begins with the use of words that do not fit the truth, that do not say what the author wants them to say.

Money does not contain energy. The half-lira piece cannot create the platform ticket, the cigarettes, or piece of chocolate that issues from the slot-machine.

But it is by this piece of legerdemain that humanity has been thoroughly trussed up, and it has not yet got free.

Without history one is lost in the dark, and the essential data of modern history cannot enlighten us unless they are traced back at least to the foundation of the Sienese bank, the Monte dei Paschi; in other words to the perception of the true basis of credit, viz., “the abundance of nature and the responsibility of the whole people.”

The difference between money and credit is one of time.

Credit is the future tense of money. Without the definition of words knowledge cannot be transmitted from one man to another. One can base one’s discourse on definitions, or on the recounting of historical events (the philosophical method, or the literary or historical method, respectively).

Without a narrative prelude, perhaps, no one would have the patience to consider so called “dry” definitions.

The war in which brave men are being killed and wounded, our own war here and now, began - or rather the phase we are now fighting began - in 1694, with the foundation of the Bank of England.

Said Paterson in his manifesto addressed to prospective shareholders, “the bank hath benefit of the interest of an moneys which it creates out of nothing.”

This swindle, calculated to yield interest at the usurious rate of sixty percent, was impartial. It hit friends and enemies alike.

In the past the quantity of money in circulation was regulated, as Lord Overstone (Samuel Lloyd) has said, “to meet the real wants of commerce, and to discount all commercial bills arising out of legitimate transactions.”

But after Waterloo Brooks Adams saw that “nature herself was favouring the usurers.”

For more than a century after Waterloo, no force stood up to the monopoly of money. The relevant passage from Brooks Adams is as follows:

“Perhaps no financier has ever lived abler than Samuel Lloyd. Certainly he understood as few men, even of later generations, have understood, the mighty engine of the single standard. He comprehended that, with expanding trade, an inelastic currency must rise in value; he saw that, with sufficient resources at command, his class might be able to establish such a rise, almost at pleasure; certainly that they could manipulate it when it came, by taking advantage of foreign exchange. He perceived moreover that, once established, a contraction of the currency might be forced to an extreme, and that when money rose beyond price, as in 1825, debtors would have to surrender their property on such terms as creditors might dictate.” **

I’m sorry if this passage should seem obscure to the average man of letters, but one cannot understand history in twenty minutes. Our culture lies shattered in fragments, and with the monetology of the usurocracy our economic culture has become a closed book to the aesthetes.

The peasant feeds us and the gombeen-man strangles us - if he cannot suck our blood by degrees.

History is written with a knowledge of the despatches of the ambassador Barbon Morosini (particularly one dated from Paris, 28 January, 1723 (Venetian style), describing the Law affair), together with a knowledge of the documents leading up to the foundation of the Monte dei Paschi, and the scandalous pages of Antonio Lobero, archivist of the Banco di San Giorgio of Genoa.

We are still in the same darkness which John Adams, Father of the Nation, described as “downright ignorance of the nature of coin, credit, and circulation.”

*translation published in Impact (1960), pages 44–74
** The Law of Civilization and Decay 1895.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

It all began with money

Langland's Dreamer:
from an illuminated initial in a Piers Plowman manuscript held at Corpus Christi College, Oxford
The decline of Christendom

As Roger Garaudy wrote in The Alternative Future, ‘it all began with money’, with the forces of usury circumventing, and later breaking, the religious prohibition of interest-taking. Then came commercial transactions in land, which struck a mortal blow against feudalism. Finally it was the turn of human labour, with man himself turned into a commodity by the slave trade and with the establishment of the wages system. The labour force was transformed into a commodity, subject, like all others, to the laws of the market.

The common acceptance of the need to combat the relentless encroachments of usury upon the social organism, as demonstrated especially in the excommunicative strictures of Council of Lyons (1274), marked the epitome of the medieval synthesis, a time when Europe was as close to being unified as it would ever be. And it was the papal role in calling the Council and others like it that demonstrated the role of the Christian Church in holding together a diverse, scattered, heterogeneous collection of people in a common citizenship, as a spiritual confraternity. The Church became responsible for education, art, literature, the care of the poor and the comfort of the dying.

Immediately after the Council of Lyons, however, Christian unity was irredeemably shattered by political rivalries in which the papacy itself was often a participant.

William Langland’s poem “Piers the Ploughman” (written ca. 1360–87) is the perfect expression of this decline with its sense of ruin, yet hope for rebirth should the right choices be made. The anguished protests of the poem ring out against the defeat of true Christianity by the spirit of hardened selfishness.

The dream landscape into which we are drawn furthers this idea of choice through symbolic imagery. The wilderness is the earth and the unknown dangers it entails. The tower on a “toft” in the east is heaven; the deep dale and its dungeon are hell. These two put the poem in a cosmic perspective. What lies between the two extremes of heaven and hell is Langland’s major concern: namely, the Field Full of Folk which represents the Christian community. The presence of heaven and hell reminds the reader that choices made during the transitory life on earth have eternal consequences. One is, in effect, challenged to choose between heaven and hell.

The complete social spectrum is portrayed in the Field Full of Folk: the three estates, the rich and the poor, men and women. At once the element of choice appears. The people are “werking and wandering as the world asketh.” Clearly the world’s demand is interpreted in two different ways: there are those who work hard and obey the strictest dictates of their social position and estate, and there are those who selfishly accumulate material goods. Yet Langland is not being morally ambiguous, for the distinction between the right choice and the wrong choice is clear-cut. Hardworking plowmen, anchorites and hermits who keep to their cells, and guiltless minstrels are the sort who are bound for heaven. The rest—gluttons, hermits in a heap, and friars, just to name a few—are the sort who are bound for hell. They have made the world and its pursuits their all. Notably, of those who have chosen worldliness, half are from the clerical estate. This spiritual rot undermines the Christian community throughout Piers Plowman and causes its final collapse.

A believer in the papacy, Langland deplored the failure of papal leadership and the pope’s growing encroachment on secular matters. Dante, too, was a devout Catholic who was a critic of the political ambitions of the papacy, his great poem the culminating achievement of the medieval synthesis.

The popes of Langland’s century had not been noted religious reformers but, rather, preoccupied with the secular concerns of law, statesmanship and questions of empire; activities which eventually cost the papacy religious credibility. As a result, Dante supported the emperor against the pope, with the vision of the radical Spiritual Franciscans and the apocalyptic followers of Joachim of Flora influencing his political writings, rather than the balanced theories of Thomas Aquinas. A defeated Pope Boniface acquiesced in the victory of Philip IV of France, which marked the triumph of the temporal over the spiritual power.

The Avignon papacy itself grew in efficiency and political skill, but as it did, lost still more spiritual prestige, and religious reformers looked increasingly to the state for an implementation of their ideas. William of Ockham, for example, the most important thinker of the age, allied himself with the emperor against pope. State-papacy conflicts, as exemplified by Philip and Boniface,would not be reconciled. Fifteenth-century Conciliarism, founded on the principle that the universal church was a congregation of the faithful, not the Roman Church, was the last great struggle to preserve medieval unity on some basis other than the papacy.

William Langland wrote, “He called that house Unity — which is Holy Church in English.” Yet no one was more aware than Langland of the crumbling Christian edifice — the whole of Piers Plowman is an impassioned plea for social and religious reform, so much so that he has sometimes been regarded as a harbinger of the Protestant Reformation. But his emphasis was always on a forlorn call to unity: “Call we to all the Commons that they come into Unity” “and there stand and do battle against Belial’s children.”

Until Langland’s time, markets had played only a subordinate, local role hemmed in by the limited economic boundaries of the feudal world. Human beings, land and money were not subject to the laws of the market. Non-economic norms set by the political and religious hierarchies regulated human labour and the ownership of land, neither of which were commercially transferable. “Belial’s children” however, would not be held at bay. Though trafficking in money was notionally blocked by the religious prohibition of usury, it continued to be carried out in increasing volumes by those excluded from feudal society, forced to live on its margins or in its pores. The money germ would not be dislodged. Eventually it would fracture Christendom.