Never has money been so important in human relations. Never has it so much affected the destiny of so many Americans and Europeans. Today money has become a civil religion that makes it the centerpiece of discourse in all cultures and subcultures. At European and American cafes, on the Champs Élysées, or on Sunset Boulevard, at concert halls, and even in parliaments, one hears and smells its verbal derivatives such as “moulah,” “dough,” “fric,” “Kohle,” “pognon.” It is a language understood by all. In all segments of their lives Western citizens invariably talk about money and what money can buy. The great respite may come with the current financial crisis, which is finally undoing the liberal system with all its conventional wisdoms and lies. The ongoing economic depression may be the sign that the reign of money and the dictatorship of well-being are coming to an end.
Sounds familiar? No, it does not. In ancient European traditions money and commerce were looked down upon and at times these two activities were in principle forbidden to Europeans. Merchants were often foreigners and considered second class citizens.
The famous English poet and novelist D. H. Lawrence — a “revolutionary nationalist” — talks about “money madness” in his collection of poems Pansies. His poem “Kill money” summarizes best this facet of 20th-century mores: Kill money/put money out of existence/It is a perverted instinct/A hidden thought /which rots the brain, the blood, the bones, the stones, the soul.
Similar views were held by the long forgotten American Southern agrarians in the 30’s, who viciously attacked American money madness and the belief in progress. They had dark premonitions about the future of America. As noted by John Crowe Ransom, “Along with the gospel of progress goes the gospel of service. Americans are still dreaming the materialistic dreams of their youth.” And further he writes: “The concept of Progress is the concept of man’s increasing command, and eventually a perfect command over the forces of nature: a concept which enhances too readily our conceit and brutalizes our life.”
Thousands of book titles and thousands of poems from antiquity all the way to early modernity bear witness to a tradition of deep revulsion Europeans had for money and merchants. Charles Dickens’ description of the character Fagin the Jew in his novel Oliver Twist may be soon cut out from the mandatory school curriculum. Fagin’s physical repulsiveness, his strange name, and most of all his Jewish identity do not square with modern ukases on ethnic and diversity training in American schools. The crook Fagin illustrates boundless human greed when he sings to himself and his young captive boys: “In this life, one thing counts / In the bank, large amounts / I’m afraid these don’t grow on trees, / You’ve got to pick-a-pocket or two / You’ve got to pick-a-pocket or two, boys, / You’ve got to pick-a-pocket or two.”
Already Ezra Pound, a connoisseur of the English language and a visionary on the methods of usury, and his contemporary, Norwegian Nobel prize winnerKnut Hamsun, have disappeared from library shelves. Their fault? They critically examined the crisis of financial capitalism, or what we call more euphemistically today “global recession” and the main movers and shakers behind it.
In medieval times, money and the merchant class were social outcasts solely needed to run the economy of a country. Yet today they have morphed into role models of the West represented by a slick and successful banker dressed in an Armani suit and sporting a broad smile on his face. What a change from traditional Europe in which an intelligent man was destined for priesthood, sainthood, or a military career!
It is with the rising tide of modernity that the value system began to change. Even nowadays the word ‘merchant’ in the French and the German languages (marchand, Händler) has a slightly pejorative meaning, associated with a foreigner, prototypically a Jew. The early Catholic Church had an ambiguous attitude toward money — and toward Jews. Well known are St. Luke’s parables (16:19–31) that it “is easier for a camel to go thru the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.”
But the Church chose a less pious way to power. In 1179, the Third Lateran Council forbade Jews from living in Christian communities and exiled them to ghettos — with full rights to practice usury and tax collecting. To a large extent the Church, while providing the best shelter for Jews against frequent bouts of popular anti-Jewish anger, also greatly amassed wealth — courtesy of Jewish tax collectors.
The father of the Enlightenment, the 18th-century French philosopher Voltaire, is often quoted as a first spokesman of tolerance and human rights in Western civilization. But it is often forgotten that Voltaire was also an unabashed anti-Semite. Voltaire’s critical remarks about Jews and their love for money were recently expunged from his books, or simply not translated. But some still thrive such as “always superstitious and greedy for the good of others, always barbarous, crawling when in misfortune and insolent in prosperity, that is what the Jews were in the eyes of the Greeks and Romans..” (Essais sur les mœurs)
The ancient European ruling class certainly had its share of corruption and greed. But in principle, until the Enlightenment, the social roles of money and merchants were subjugated to the role of the prince and power politics. Until then, the entire value system had been based on spiritual transcendence and not on economic growth — at least in its appearance. In ancient Greece, King Midas who was a kind man, could not resist the temptation of turning everything into gold with his magic fingers, until he ruined his family, turned water into undrinkable metal, and his face assumed the shape of a donkey. King Croesus went berserk after amassing so much wealth that he could not devote his time and his thoughts to the impending war with the Persians.
In the ancient European tradition, revulsion against money pervades the sagas and the old popular legends, teaching everybody that piety prospers over prosperity. Material wealth brings disaster.
Today, by contrast, official advocacy of frugality and modesty is perceived as a sign of the early stage of lunacy. If a well-educated and well-cultivated man comes along and starts preaching modesty or rejects honoraria for his work, he is considered a failure, a person who does not respect his own worth. How on earth can some well-read and well-bred person offer his services for free? How on earth can a well-educated man refuse using his mental resources to generate the almighty dollar? The answer is not difficult to discover. In capitalism everything has its price, but nothing has value.
The modern liberal capitalist system is a deeply inhuman system, based on fraudulent teaching that everybody is equal in economic competition. In reality though, it rewards only those whose skills and talents happen to be marketable. Those rare Whites who decide to retain some vestiges of old European traditions are squarely pronounced incompetent. Liberal capitalism both in America and in Europe has turned all humans into perishable commodities.
Nobody summarized this better than the Italian philosopher Julius Evola,another revolutionary nationalist who wrote: “Facing the classical dilemma ‘your money or your life,’ the bourgeois will answer: ‘Take my life but leave me my money.’”
Greed, passionate greed eclipses all elements of human decency. Until relatively recently avarice was laughed at and its chief protagonists were considered immoral people, so well represented in Molière’s comedy L’Avare. Today the greedier the better: The money maker is the ultimate role model.
Both East and West participate in this ethic of greed. The richest people in post-communist Eastern Europe are former communist hacks who converted themselves in a twinkle of an eye from disciples of Marx into acolytes of Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek. Finance capitalism provides the perception of limitless possibility of how to get rich out of the blue. This is a typical Bernie Madoff syndrome, namely that affluence can be created by sheer speculation. The entire banking system in Eastern Europe has been sold to foreigners over the last 10 years.
Modern capitalism and a penchant for finance owe much to Judaism. Werner Sombart, a German disciple of Max Weber, who can in no way be called an anti-Semite wrote in The Jews and Modern Capitalism that “money was their sole companion when they were thrust naked into the street, and their sole protector when the hand of the oppressor was heavy upon them. So they learned to love it, seeing that by its aid alone they could subdue the mighty ones of the earth. Money became the means whereby they — and through them all mankind — might wield power without themselves being strong.”
Money changes social mores too. Young White couples put off having children until they achieve their economic dreams, while Mexicans and Blacks begin having children as impoverished teenagers, and Muslims place a high value on fertility. This is one of the main causes of our malaise, as White societies with declining fertility are inundated by highly fertile non-White populations with value systems that prize fertility over the accumulation of the accouterments of economic success.
And in this economic recession these Whites are not interested in a pay raise but rather in how to keep their job — security at all cost, even if it means working for lower wages. Neither are young job market entrants interested in saving money. Instead they live on credit in their petty little niche with their petty little pleasures and without incurring any risks.
What a difference from early American pioneers described by Jack London, who braved the vagaries of weather and who totally ignored the meaning of “hedge funds”! The attractions of money and the necessity of making money mean that everybody in our postmodern world becomes prey to the system.
It is a fundamental mistake among many so called right wingers and racialists to assume that capitalism is the only answer to communism. Both systems are in fact similar because they preach the same religion of progress and the unfolding of earthly paradise — albeit in different gears. But this time liberal capitalism has nobody to hide behind in order to conceal its vulgar depravity. The likely hypothesis is that the crumbling capitalist system will fall apart as a result of its own victory. One dies always from those who give him birth.
Tom Sunic (http://www.tomsunic.info/; http://doctorsunic.netfirms.com/) is an author, former political science professor in the USA, translator and former Croat diplomat. He is the author of Homo americanus: Child of the Postmodern Age ( 2007).