The crusades also give rise to commercial capitalism which consisted exclusively in the trade of luxury goods at the attention of the European nobility and the new rich merchants. The financial success of long distance merchants unleashed a boom in construction of mansions and palaces that was accompanied by a strengthening of the new values of individualism and private property and the new rich merchants started to commission Artists to realize works illustrating those new values. So was born the bourgeois rule of the '3 obliged subjects' (portraits, landscapes and stills revolving around the mansion). The economic, cultural and intellectual paradigm was slowly moving away from a traditionally closed Augustinian view of Christianity toward a more open form of belief that gradually freed space for reason and science.
1.1. The Christian path to Modernity.
A particular set of historical circumstances convinced the pope to order a holy war:
Driven by the politically minded interests of his centralized papacy Pope Urban II preached to launch the First Crusade at the Council of Clermont in 1095. Priests and monks relayed the pope's preaching and an epidemic of religious excitement soon swamped western Europe. Volunteers came from France more than from any other country which is why those crusaders were called "Franks" by the Muslim. The first crusade lasted from 1096-1099 and established the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem.
Traveling East the crusaders discovered rich and educated societies which was something unheard of in poor and barbarian Europe. They plundered all they could and this plundering planted the seeds that later would sprout into trade simply because the plundered goods were luxuries back home that no one could replicate. Because of this a more permanent solution had to be found to supply such luxuries to the nobility and the new rich burghers. Long distance commerce by merchants would fill that need.
Muslim universities or Arab higher learning centers attracted the curiosity of the monks and priests among the crusaders. There they discovered well stoked libraries containing copies of the Greek classics that had been lost in Western Europe during the dark ages and the works of Arab philosophers and scientists. Europe during the dark ages was completely illiterate albeit for the monks and priests who communicated in Latin. So it should not come as a surprise that the content of the libraries of Muslim universities had a decisive impact primarily on the clergy. After digesting the content of those books priests and monks relayed their conclusions to society at large and so cultural and intellectual life in Europe got like electroshocked. But new ideas matured slowly in medieval minds so that electroshock was kind of in slow motion; its effects spreading over centuries. The first European universities opened in the middle of the 12th century and by 1500 more than eighty had been established. Monks and priests officiated as professors. Soon the arts, medicine, mathematics, physics, chemistry,... were spreading the knowledge of Greece and the Muslims that would be branded as the Renaissance.
1.2. A rapid overview of Modernity
A. Early Modernity and commercial capitalism
From the onset the story of modernity is mired in ruthlessness, in violence, in plunder and in self-aggrandizement under the coat of Europe's axioms of civilization that state 'we are the good that fights evil'. What jumps to mind is the sheer totalitarian and absolutist character of the whole enterprise (1).
It started with the plunder, rape and butchery of the Middle East during the crusades from the end of the 11th till the end of the 14th century. Not only 'Muslim infidels' were slaughtered 'en masse' but also 'Eastern Orthodox Christians' from Greece to Turkey and Turks.
Attracted now by the proceeds of plunder some initiated the path to new discoveries. The 'discovery' of the Americas concluded in the genocide of the populations of an entire continent that were ten times the size of the European population at the time. To manpower the economic extraction of their newly conquered territories the Europeans then decimated the population of Africa through slave trade. Africa never really recovered from that shock that tore apart its indigenous societies and raped its economies and cultures. After the Americas and Africa came the destruction of much of Asia.
The whole adventure of discovery was packaged in the colors of 'we the good' delivering primitives from their barbarity and entering them in the advanced and enlightened European age of Christianity, reason, and capital. Soldiers were followed by merchants who in turn were followed by priests and monks.
What is striking, in all of this, was the total absence of questioning of those premises; even from such a critic as Marx. Westerners' subconscious had largely internalized the tenets of their own moral superiority and even nowadays they can’t start to fathom the possibility of a righteous critique coming out of the South. What is even more striking is the difference of attitude between the European discoverers and the Chinese discoverers who nearly a century earlier had undertaken 7 very large voyages of discovery to South Asia and Africa under the leadership of an eunuch called Zheng He:
B. High Modernity and industrial capitalism
The British discovered that India had built a strong cottage industry in growing, spinning and weaving cotton. They collapsed it by fiat order so that Indian raw cotton could become the preserve of the British who transformed it in finished products at home to be sold to the whole world and back to India. Note that it was this barbaric action that granted Britain the conditions wherein technological change would find a reason to pop up (spinning, weaving, steel, steam). India was also imposed to grow poppies to be transformed into opium that was then sold by the Brits to the Chinese against their consent which led to wars and 'unequal treaties'. Ah the beautiful history of Western colonialism!
The Western 'discoveries' and the ensuing plunder undoubtedly allowed the west to accumulate in a relatively easy way its initial capital base which financed its economic growth. This helped the West to surpass all other nations in economic and military strength. It is from that position of strength that in only a few centuries the West imposed modernity onto the whole world. Presently emerging economies don’t have that luxury. They have to extract surpluses from the real production activities of their people! This alone illustrates the unequal development that the West benefited from. That inequality of chances the West wants now to preserve as its sole advantage. The discussions about how to remedy climate change are a good contemporary example of this. Western nations want an equal effort by all nations. Southern countries reply that the industrialization of the West has resulted in the bulk of already emitted carbon dioxide and that they need some preferential policies to let them have a chance to industrialize in their own right. All this shows why the industrialization of the South is fraught with such immense difficulties.
C. Late Modernity and globalization + technology
By the nineteen seventies Western big capital holders started to become restless. The West was largely industrialized already, its farmers had been transferred, from the countryside to the cities, in production or service jobs made captives of the market for their needs of food and commodities to survive. So the potential of ever expanding profits within the West was naturally coming to an end.
These were times of maintenance of modernity no longer of its build-up. Inspired by how the State Department and the CIA financialized the arts the biggest capital holders planned on expanding the geographic realm of their activities to the whole world. This was done under the guise of 'economic development policies' at the instigation of the various International economic and political bodies controlled by their Western client-governments. What followed were three decades of 'opening the borders' to the flow of capital under the aegis of the WTO while state institutions were quietly but surely dismantled under the guise of austerity policies(2). This move, undertaken in a totally undemocratic fashion and in secrecy, has been wrapped in the ideological trappings of satisfying both Western opinion leaders and Southern opinion leaders. Broadly sketched Western opinion leaders were sold the ideation of technological prowess that would ensure that the West keeps a perpetual economic edge while Southern opinion leaders were sold the idea of delocalization of basic production activities from the West to the South financed by Western big capital holders. The WTO eventually resulted in a legal body containing tens of thousands of pages of code that have been written in total secrecy by well paid agents of big capital and their client Western governments.
This assuredly did not take the form of a democratic operation! Western countries achieved their aim by stealth and cunning in the same vain as during the 'Walking Purchase' (3).
Ideologically converted to the mantra of big capital holders and trapped in the entropy of their memory of the past some in the West harbored the illusion that the intrinsic limitation of economic maintenance could be circumvented by fostering new engines of growth. The Information technology boom lasted a little longer than a decade to fizzle in the melting of its assets in the year 2000. Not deterred the FED and other Western central banks shrank interest rates to nearly zero to encourage borrowing and so ensued the big real estate boom and the indebtedness of private citizens. Within less than a decade, under the Republican Administration of G. W. Bush total debt held within the US doubled to levels never attained historically and it doubled again under the Democrat administration of Oboma. The US and the other industrialized nations have accumulated total national debt levels representing 3.5 to 5 times their annual GDP and national budgets start to look like Ponzy schemes. Old debts are paid with new ones and borrowers give not the slightest thought any longer to repayment. This has been going on for a long time by now. But this does even not integrate shadow finance and its 600 Trillion bets... It was only with the eruption of the financial crisis of 2007-2008 and the outrageously expensive bailouts of the financial sector with public money that people finally came to realized that the entire world is living on credit (4).
So times look different today. The West has no other avenue left but to deleverage and whatever technique it uses, through repayment, through destruction via inflation, through debt forgiveness via default or other, the deleveraging process is going to take time; a decade at least but it could well take longer. It is also going to be painful for the citizens who will end up showing their unappreciation at the ballot box and in the street.
While the West was indebting itself, like an unconscious drunk, it delocalized most of its production activities. In a first step most of the textile industries were delocalized from Europe, the US and Japan to places as diverse as North Africa, the Middle East, India, Pakistan, China and South America. By the end of the seventies beginning of the eighties came the delocalization of the more polluting heavy industries.
Ideologically converted to the mantra of big capital holders the power elite of the 'emerging economies' has been swimming in seas of easy money filling with rivers of corruption. Its relentless defense of the strategies of Western big capital holders is thus understandable.
But something new that had not been planned by Western big capital holders was starting to take shape in China that would shake their entire edifice. The 'cultural revolution' had ended and the new leadership, armed with the knowledge of “Das Kapital” (5), felt that their nation was threatened in its survival by the rapid economic expansion and the renewed aggression of the West. The Chinese decision makers were conscious that they needed to strengthen their country economically and in the fastest possible way. Going back to their traditional political culture they decided to follow Confucius' advice and to render China seductive in the eyes of Western capital holders. To achieve this they borrowed, for free for it goes without saying that ideas are free to be adopted, Western market and capital investment knowledge and techniques and their economy started growing in double digit figures. That's when Western capital holders could not refrain any longer to take the plunge and their capital and technology landed in China.
The first stage of reform, in the agricultural sector, had been a success beyond anyone’s expectations and the surpluses from agriculture in the form of extremely cheap food and manpower could thus be sized in a national drive towards industrialization (6).
A strong technocratic central government churning out pragmatic development policies started to lure Western capital holders to the potential of high profits on the back of an extremely cheap and controlled labor force in a non-regulated environment. The potential financial returns were so huge that they soon started to concentrate most of their investments in that country. Westerners capital holders apparently did not catch the fact that the Chinese are no ordinary bunch (7).
This is the only country on earth that over the millena accumulated, and transmitted from generation to generation, an expertise in the management of a huge bureaucracy (8) and not only simple management but management amidst chaos. Deng Xiao Ping's vision was that capitalism had to be practiced first so that socialism could possibly emerge later on. Those who have read 'Das Kapital' will not fail to observe that this is Marx' thesis and that what had been attempted earlier under Mao was characterized by Marx as an 'Asian mode of development'; he meant that stages of development could not be passed over. In his view socialism grows by necessity out of capitalism and communism grows by necessity out of socialism.
The Chinese put to good use their unique field of expertise in the management of huge bureaucracies defining and applying a national strategy of economic development that would leave China in control. Their experience at the contact of the West during the last 2-3 centuries had not been a pleasant one to say the least and their priority was thus to keep a firm control over the reins of their development.
In a masterly played monopoly game they built up the different sectors of their economy and swamped the world with their cheap productions. Initially those were low quality basic commodities but in parallel they had the prescience to grow excellence enterprises in all fields of activity including in the most advanced technologies. China has already taken over the world’s production of electronics, from computers to cell phones, but today China is on the verge of throwing Western economies in the doldrums under an avalanche of cheap electric cars, extreme high speed trains, cheap wind turbines and most advanced solar panels. Its economy is already the second biggest on earth and, and if no accident happens along the way, within the next years it is going to surpass the size of US nominal GDP with the potential to continue to grow it a few times that size only by increasing its internal consumption.
The need to deleverage in the West while rebuilding the industrial base coupled with China’s emergence at the center of the newly emerging 'economy world' is plunging Western opinion leaders in total disarray that contrasts with the sheer optimism and dynamism of Chinese opinion leaders as well as its general population. The conclusion to be drawn is that the Western totalitarian and absolutist push of the rest of the world into modernity is bouncing back like a boomerang now that China is beating the West at its own game.
Modernity defines itself as rationalism at work. But the more I come to think about it the more evident it becomes to me that modernity is a worldview in which the reasoning of men has abdicated to the reason at work within capital. The reason of capital (rationality) has succeeded to impose itself on the reason of men! In other words men have abdicated their own thinking and are now slaves of the mechanics of the reason of capital.
When money transformed into capital, from the early 12th century on to the end of the 18th century during early modernity in its phase of commercialism or the long distance trade in luxuries, its morphing into capital succeeded to impose the reason of capital to its owners. Fear of being sanctioned by a loss of his capital base instilled in the capital holder the belief in the absolute truth residing in the mechanics of the reason of capital. The success of the merchants then attracted the envy of others and this allowed for the expansion of the mechanics of the reason of capital to overwhelm the entirety of society.
Practiced over the haul of a full 5 centuries of expanding exchanges the reason of capital spread indeed to the smallest interstices of European reasoning. Fear of loss brought capital holders to believe in the ultimate truth of the reason of capital and greed liberated from its religious shackles converted everybody in the belief of capital holders. By the 18th century, in Western Europe and its geographic extensions, the reason of men had been totally overtaken by the reason of capital and by the end of the 20th century the whole world was converted.
Everyone is now thinking that human rationality has bestowed on men the miraculously exceptional tool-set to conquer nature. Sapience in Homo-Sapiens got to a good start under animism but the religions that replaced animism as the shared worldview, in the end, were no match for greed. This is how we were put on the slippery path of over consumption and this is when nature returns and eventually forces us into decline. Nature is indeed coming back with a vengeance destroying the myth of the rationality of capital. It also shows us the illusion at work in philosophic rationalism. We are now awakening to the hard facts of reality that had been hidden under the magic wand of the reason of capital and each one of those facts is like a slap in the face of our unconscious selves.
In my next posts I'll follow up this general and schematic overview of Modernity by presenting a more elaborate analysis about each of its 3 phases of development:
- Early-Modernity: approximately 12th to 17th century
- High-Modernity: approximately end of 18th to end of 20th century
- Late-Modernity: starting approximately around 1980-2000 ...
1. European chroniclers of the first crusade gave crude accounts of the outrageous behavior of their people in the city of Maara in northwestern Syria:
- Raoul de Caen: "In Maarra our troops boiled pagan adults in cooking-pots; they impaled children on spits and devoured them grilled." in "Faits et gestes du Prince Tancrède pendant l'expédition de Jérusalem" by Raoul de Caen.
- Albert d'Aix: "Our people did not recoil to eat, not only the Turks and the Saracins, but also the dogs".
- Fulcher of Chartres: "I shudder to tell that many of our people, harassed by the madness of excessive hunger, cut pieces from the buttocks of the Saracens already dead there, which they cooked, but when it was not yet roasted enough by the fire, they devoured it with savage mouth." cited in Edward Peters, The First Crusade: The Chronicle of Fulcher of Chartres and Other Source Materials (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1998), page 84.
1. In the eyes of Mideasterners, Africans, Russians, Asians, Southern and Northern Native Americans the contact with Western powers has been a tragedy that has resulted in economic, cultural, and societal regression. In his 1952 Reith Lectures Arnold Toynbee courageously stated the following: “A Westerner who wants to grapple with this subject , must try, for a few minutes, to slip out of his native Western skin and look at the encounter between the world and the West through the eyes of the great non-Western majority of mankind. Different though the non-Western people of the world may be from one another... The West, they will tell, has been the arch-aggressor of modern times, and each will have their own experience of Western aggression to bring up against him”
Reith Lectures 1952 - Arnold Toynbee:
The World and the West
See also the transcripts:
1.1. The World and the West: Russia
1.2. The World and the West: Islam
1.3. The World and the West: India
1.4. The World and the West: The Far East
1.5. The Psychology of Encounters
2. WTO: World Trade Organization. Founded in January 1995. It is the successor of GATT or the General Agreement on Tariffs. This was a Western attempt to open the borders of all countries to Western capital and to free it of the protections against free trade. The WTO is part of a panoply of International organizations, all created at the initiative of the West, to open the whole world to the activities of their capital holders. The World Bank and the Int'l Monetary Fund are then used to impose the 'Washington Consensus'; a set of neo-liberal policies that advantages the activities of Western Multinational Corporations.
3. The 'Walking Purchase'.
"William Penn's heirs, John Penn and Thomas Penn, claimed a deed from the 1680s by which the Lenape promised to sell a tract beginning at the junction of the Delaware River and Lehigh River (modern Easton, Pennsylvania) and extending as far west as a man could walk in a day and a half.
... Lenape leaders assumed that about 40 miles (60 km) was the longest distance that could be covered under these conditions. Provincial Secretary James Logan, the legend continues, hired the three fastest runners in the colony, Edward Marshall, Solomon Jennings and James Yeates, to run on a prepared trail.
... This resulted in an area of 1,200,000 acres (4,860 km²), roughly equivalent to the size of Rhode Island, located in the modern counties of: Pike, Monroe, Carbon, Schuylkill, Northampton, Lehigh and Bucks."
And so the Lenape tribe lost its territory and the tribesmen had to relocate...
4. Total debt levels.
The Economist's interactive overview of debt in the world's biggest economies.
In 2012, global GDP amounted to about 72.6 trillion U.S. dollars.
"$223.3 trillion: The total indebtedness of the world, including all parts of the public and private sectors, amounting to 313% of global gross domestic product." in "Number of the Week: Total World Debt Load at 313% of GDP" Wall Street Journal.
5. From Marx’s analysis the communist leaders drew the necessity of playing the economic game according to the rationality of the reason of capital. Marx explained in “Das Kapital” that countries with an “Asian mode of development” (primitive) were in no way able to access to socialism.
6. Successful agricultural reforms pave the way for industrialization.
In “How the farmers changed China”, published by Westview in 1996, Kate
Xiao Zhou goes so far as to write that Chinese farmers rather than the communist party have been the driving force behind their country’s phenomenal success. But in fact the communist party has been the initiator of each step of the reforms and in 2010, seen the gravitation of the country toward advanced technologies, we can conclude with certainty that the political center is really in control of what is going on in the country. Farmers’ “Township enterprises” remain indeed mired in low grade commodities... It is thus well the work factor advantage that has been determinant in China’s industrialization success but it is governmental input that drove the country on the path of steady development.
7. Chinese political culture and bureaucratic management.
- In book 13 of the Analects. Chapter 16.
"Duke Shezi asked about government. Confucius said: 'If people under your reign are happy, people will be attracted to come from afar and willing to join.”
In other words what is implied here is that it is not necessary to go to foreign lands to buy or otherwise attract their science, technology, and capital. Those will be brought to you by foreigners if you succeed to show them that your own people are enthusiastic about the prospects of their country.
- In book 12 of the Analects. Chapter 7
"Ran you asked: 'When the population has grown large enough, what should be done next?” Confucius replied: “Enrich them”.
Ran You asked again: “When the people have been enriched what should be done next?” Confucius said: “Educate them” ".
- In book 13, Chapter 9.
"Duke Ai of Lu asked You Ruo: “What should be done when there is a poor harvest and the state has a strained budget?”
You Ruo replied: “Why not reduce taxes to one in ten?” Duke Ai said: “Even taxing people at two in ten falls far short of expenditures. There is no question in reducing taxes to one in ten."
You Ruo replied “ How can you fail to get enough when the people have enough? How can you get enough when the people don’t get enough themselves?”
8. For over 2000 years Chinese mandarins (intellectuals) have studied the Confucian classics and passed examinations. When successful they were offered to work in the state bureaucracy. Those classics include such books as The Great Learning, The Doctrine of the mean, The Analects, The book of History, The Book of Documents, The book of Rites, The Book of songs, The Book of Changes, and so many more. This rich literature teaches intellectuals how to manage society. The emperor has the obligation to guarantee the protection of his citizens from outside attacks and has to ensure stable and favorable internal conditions so that his people can feed their families and live in happiness. When the emperor fails to satisfy one of those 2 conditions the people have the moral right to demote him of his functions which leads to a change of dynasty.
Video of the week.
One of the great videos I watched this last weeOne of the great videos I watched this last week
Article of the week
"50 Numbers From 2014 That Sound Fake But That Are Actually Real" by Tyler Durden on ZeroEdge
Visual artist of the week.
One of the great contemporary visual artist I discovered this last week
Hyper-Abstract #1 July 18 2011 (by Titus Hora)
Check also Titus’ account on behance.
Click on images to get original size