The Acid Eating at Tradition is Not Capitalism, But Cheap Information

Reactionaries often blame capitalism for eviscerating tradition and reducing everything to the lowest common denominator. But capitalism – i.e., free exchange – is not a recent phenomenon. It was not invented by the Franciscans, forsooth, but rather discovered by them as a subject amenable to moral, theological and philosophical analysis, and so to discourse, development and elaboration. Capitalism has been around since the beginning of human society. It is no more than a fancy word for exchange that develops surplus, after all; for mere trade, and commerce. For almost all of human history, capitalism supported and indeed mediated local tradition – or, at least, did not vitiate it.

The Reformation, and the Protestant emphasis on sola scriptura, and thus the last devolution of the High Medieval Synthesis, were creatures not of commerce per se, but of the printing press. Bibles in the vernacular could be counted upon to sell enough to make their production (very expensive, even in the days of movable type) economical. Few other books could. So it was mostly Bibles (and novels, the basic subject of which is illicit sex, which always sells) that were produced for the popular market, and read. These vernacular Bibles were read in isolation, rather than at Church and under the interpretive supervision of a trained cleric. The works of the Church Fathers and Doctors, the ecclesiastical histories and records of Ecumenical Councils, and so forth – which, had they too been available in the vernacular, could have provided readers of the vernacular Bible some context for the development of doctrine, of the ecclesiastical institutions, and of the Magisterium – were not nearly so widely disseminated (this is still the case). So lay readers only of the Bible were at a loss to understand the whole edifice of traditional orthodoxy, which while it was implicit in the NT, was nowhere in it explicitly spelled out.

So bit by bit, and with the noblest intentions, those lay readers deleted a thousand years of Church Tradition – and, with it, of cultural tradition; for, culture derives from cult.

For four centuries every man has been not only his own priest but his own professor of ethics, and the consequence is an anarchy which threatens even that minimum consensus of value necessary to the political state.

Richard Weaver, Ideas Have Consequences

The internet is engendering a similar revolution in the affairs of men. It is eating away at all the narratives that had bound us together as a people. Many of those narratives were false, and so their evisceration is not an altogether bad thing. In particular, the narrative of the marketplace of ideas, of every man a priest, of free speech and individual liberty, and of the deletion of natural authority – religious and cultural – and, in short, the Narrative of Modernity, of progress and the Whig take on history, are all narratives arising from the age of rebellion engendered by Gutenberg.

The internet is turning and rending the Reformation and the Enlightenment. The internet is rediscovering Tradition. It is rediscovering five millennia of history, and finding out why this and that hoary cultural custom make sense after all. It is figuring out why there are all these Chestertonian gates all over the landscape. So is it changing perspectives upon human life, and thus values. When you see things differently, under a different more expansive and accurate vision of history, why then you evaluate them differently. And when values change, so do utility functions. Then, the free exchange of goods and services ensures that the newly rediscovered traditional and truer values are served, the reformed and corrected utility functions those values engender meetly met.

The panicked effort by the mainstream media and the tech giants to control speech and so to protect the Narrative of Modernity are the death throes of that narrative. But the internet is such that their clumsy controls of speech are detected and bruited abroad and debunked almost the instant they are launched. Their last bastion is constituted of holes, by its very nature.

It cannot therefore long withstand the onslaught of the multitude of autists madly digging away at the entirety of the historical record now available online 24/7, and shouting to one another about what they have dug up. The cat is out of the bag. More and more people, who have found out about the ages that preceded it, are realizing that Modernity has failed, was doomed to fail from the get go, and that the only way to have a healthy, prosperous society over the long run is to return to the ancient traditions that made us in the first place who we are, and that furnished for the West the social and economic room which eventually enabled the promulgation of the liberal nominalist meme.

The new reactionary paradigm has not yet matured, has not yet crystallized. But it will. It cannot but do so. There will come a sea change, when all of a sudden it will explode into a preference cascade, and a new paradigm shall of a sudden become altogether more credible. Scales shall then fall from millions of eyes, almost overnight. This phase change seems perhaps to have begun already.

Then, as the acolytes of the old paradigm of the Narrative of Modernity see it slipping away into historical oblivion, then will there be war. It will be soft at first, and cold; already we may discern its early lineaments. But later, and maybe quite soon, it shall wax hard and hot. For, the clampdown on reactionary ideas of recent months on the internet is by no means the last most lethal arrow in the quiver of the priesthood of the Narrative of Modernity.

War – a war of personal and corporeal destruction, which is to say, of killing and demolition – is their last resort. And they have, really, no more than two resorts to begin with: propaganda and character assassination; or, failing that, murder. The moment they see that they have definitively lost the propaganda war, and that the narrative is slipping away from their control, they will move instantly to war hot and bloody: to mass arrests, gulags, and torture.

We are heading for a religious war. As with our last go round, we will conquer the Muslims as a sideshow to our own internecine squabble. Not that they will not resist. But as always since their civilization attained with the Ottomans the fulfillment of its febrile and intentionally ignorant telos, the Muslims will fold like a cheap tent, when push comes to shove.

As with our last go round, most of the casualties will be intramural.

But there is not much doubt who will win in the end. It is the side with more guns, more muscles, and more guts. It is the side with less fear, and greater capacity for lethal violence.

… the disappearance of the heroic ideal is always accompanied by the growth of commercialism. There is a cause-and-effect relationship here, for the man of commerce is by the nature of things a relativist; his mind is constantly on the fluctuating values of the marketplace …

Richard Weaver, Ideas Have Consequences

This unfairly – inaccurately, ergo unjustly – impugns commerce. Somebody had better be constantly engaged in attending to the changes in outward reality, by God, and mediating the adaptation of social action thereto. Such is the engagement of enterprise, per se.

And everyone does this, anyway, willy nilly, whether well or not. Everyone constantly attends to the fluctuating values of the marketplace, for these are nothing other than the fluctuating values of our social fellows. And everyone who engages in exchange engages in commerce.

Does his constant attention to the flux of things make the man of business a relativist? It’s an idiotic question. Of course it doesn’t. You can’t take stock of fluctuating values in the first place – can’t evaluate them, to see what to make of them – except by reference to some stock of values that do not change.

There is no such thing as a frameless reference.

Commerce seeks only to meet the demands arising from the values of the people whom it serves, as they express their relative evaluations of things in market prices.

It is when the heroic ideal is no longer valued that commerce no longer tries to sell to that value, and so ceases to serve it. Commerce is not to blame for the loss of that ideal, or for the loss of religion, or for the loss of tradition, any more than metabolism is to blame for the food it processes. The metabolism processes whatever we throw down our gullet. Likewise, commerce will sell us whatever it is we indicate that we want – this is why the merchants will indeed sell to Bolsheviks the rope that they need in order to hang all the merchants (funny how the Bolsheviks never twitted that once they had killed all the merchants (including the petty landholders), and ended all commerce, there’d be nothing for the Bolsheviks themselves to buy … no rope, and no bread). Commerce is not able or therefore responsible to teach us what we ought to want, any more than metabolism is responsible to tell us what we ought not to eat.

To learn what we ought to want and ought not, we must look away from the vaisya to the kshatriya and the brahmana. If we no longer rightly know what we ought or ought not to want, the fault must lie with them.

The loss of the heroic ideal is not accompanied by a growth of commerce, but by the rise of other less heroic ideals, which commerce then serves as it had served their predecessors. Commerce has indeed grown since the end of the High Middle Ages, but this is due rather to technological progress than to a loss of heroic ideals. Technology – the compass, the gin mill, the internal combustion engine, the light bulb, the computer, the internet – has made commerce much less expensive and risky, so there is more of it.

The problem then is not commerce, but the loss of heroic ideals.

And the loss of heroic ideals is due not to commerce, but to liberalism, which abhors authority per se – particularly the authority of God and his Church – and which therefore abhors true heroism, which in the nature of things confers authority. Liberalism hates true heroism – i.e., hates heroism in service of the Good (it loves the other kind).

Liberalism profanes culture, and so – culture being a derivative function of cult – decoheres it. It has infected and decohered commerce, just as it has done for religion and politics. And liberalism is due at bottom to nominalism, which is an erroneous, incoherent product of the brahmana, who by it effected their eventual defection from their proper cultural office. That’s the root of the problem: the apostasy and then the treason of the clerics.

Nominalism made every man a priest, and a moral philosopher. So every man defends his priesthood on nominalist grounds. Nominalism then makes every man a *nominalist* moral philosopher; with the result that social morality withers, and heroic ideals are replaced with base, profane, ignoble ideals, that then infect and weaken all men: military men, churchmen, and businessmen, alike.

It should be noted also by the way that, in its good health, commerce too is adorned with heroic ideals: of customer service, honesty, fair dealing, the fiduciary standard, and so forth. It is not uncommon in private enterprise for men to labor heroically so as to achieve some objective for the company, or for her customers – to take terrible risks, to labor around the clock, to work their asses off, and yes to sacrifice money and security for the sake of their commercial interlocutors, and, more abstractly, for their industry as a whole, and for their people.

Liberalism abhors these heroic ideals of commerce, too, and wants to tear down the prestige and authority of the business leader every bit as much as it wants to destroy military and ecclesial authority and prestige.

Weaver’s prejudice against commerce is not new. The kshatriya and brahmana have often looked down upon the vaisya with contempt. The vaisya have in such times returned the favor. And likewise the kshatriya and the brahmana have often deplored each other.

But this sort of mutual contempt among castes is a defect of proper society. Mutual resentment is not inherent in hierarchy of classes per se; so that the abolition of hierarchy is not a forecondition of social peace.

On the contrary. Resentment characterizes social disease. In a healthy hierarchy – i.e., in a healthy society – the castes regard each other with affection and respect. In a healthy society, no one resents anyone else on account of his station; for, in a healthy society, everyone understands the reasons for stations and vocations, and the consequent dignity thereof; so that respect for every station and vocation, and indeed admiration, is widespread, is normal. In a healthy hierarchy, castes *enjoy* one another, and are happy.

It is deeply odd to me, that this is not more widely understood. I don’t get it. How was this understanding lost?

48 thoughts on “The Acid Eating at Tradition is Not Capitalism, But Cheap Information

  1. Pingback: The Acid Eating at Tradition is Not Capitalism, But Cheap Information | @the_arv

    • Cheap information undermines indiscriminately. The cheaper it gets, the more immediate and pervasive and comprehensive – and noisier, less ordered (think “fake news”) – is its assault. Truth holds up better in such an environment than falsehood.

      At the latter stage of the High Medieval Synthesis, there were no significant alternative narratives for cheap information to undermine. So it mostly undermined that Synthesis. Not so these days. These days, the regnant narrative of Modernism is the fattest target. So it will likely bear the brunt.

      But, yeah: no Whiggism over here. It is for sure a cycle of elucidation; not a progress, but a cycle. Nevertheless the cycle of history more and more attests to and manifests the truths that subvene it – at least, for those who have eyes to see. How could it be otherwise?

      This latest turn of the gyre is really just nominalism’s omphaloskepsis.

  2. Castes don’t enjoy each other today, but it’s worse than that. Unlike my childhood of the 80s, people don’t even like each other. There is an undercurrent of mean attached to everything. The misery is palpable, at least to me. I just long for the catharsis.

  3. As used by Catholic writers (from Popes downwards) and also by people that introduced the very term Capitalism, the thing capitalism is specifically NOT “free exchange”. It is a system where masses of people work for a few owners of enterprises. That is, the ownership is not widespread and most people are not owners but employees.

    However, typically right-liberals ignore the historic reality of the term “capitalism” and define away the key characteristic and thus the entire meaning of the word along with the context that generated it.

    • Free exchange does not occur in the first place, unless it can be reasonably expected to generate economic surplus. Free exchange then tends eo ipso and as a matter of mathematics to the generation of economic surplus. In the jargon of economics, the term for that surplus is “capital.” “Capitalism” is the state of possessing capital.

      It is an ineluctable fact of nature that some men are better at generating surplus without coercion than others. Some are better traders, or investors, or speculators, or arbitrageurs, or entrepreneurs, or merchants. Such men tend to accumulate and control the surplus they generate. So the capitalists are always with us, in one form or another.

      Surplus must be traded or invested to do any good at all to anyone. So it is generally either traded or invested. One of the things that can be traded for surplus is labor. So it is that those who have more surplus often trade it for labor. Such trade results in economic specialization, with concomitant increases in efficiency – in the generation of surplus.

      These are all good things.

      Sometimes the ratio of capitalist to laborer is low (as in the 19th century factories), sometimes it is high (as in most small businesses, farms and households). Neither sort of ratio is either good or bad inherently.

      Any sort of enterprise may of course be corrupted – not just commercial enterprises, but *any sort of enterprise whatsoever.* It is not then the size of a corrupt enterprise that is to be deplored, but rather its corruption.

      The only way to get rid of capital is to get rid of surplus. That’s what the Venezuelans have been doing for the last few years. It doesn’t work. Reality GNON – seems to hate socialism.

      • Free exchange does not occur in the first place, unless it can be reasonably expected to generate economic surplus. — Kristor

        Which is to say that one’s willingness to teach/preach is fueled by his gains in credibility.

  4. Pingback: The Acid Eating at Tradition is Not Capitalism, But Cheap Information | Reaction Times

  5. I think Weaver’s point in the second quote is that commercial exchange becomes an end rather than a means. One doesn’t denigrate a hammer by saying that hammering nails is not the summum bonum of life, and one does not denigrate commercial exchange (capitalism) by saying that it can assume inordinate importance. There is a delicate balance between the pursuit of wealth and the development of civilization, and I don’t think it is a stretch to say that we’re a little lopsided here in the U. S. of A.

    • Yes… But the masses’ understanding of “wealth” is “filthy rich” and not “of information.” Carlos Slim and Bill Gates are “filthy rich.” The Perfect Man is a wealth of information. Free exchange is the transmitting of information with gains in credibility. The strict materialism of the masses forbades them from partaking in free exchange. And amongst this mass are the devilish ones who go on to “sell” anti-Capitalism… In pursuit of greater personal credibility and filthy rich status.

    • JM: That may have been Weaver’s point. To that point, I concur: idolatry, or even errant emphases, in any department of life are in general deeply problematic, and evil in their effects. And it is certainly true – any reactionary, indeed any citizen of whatever convictions, would certainly agree – that things are got quite lopsided in America.

      But that’s not what Weaver wrote.

      When wealth is properly construed – when, that is to say, men have not fallen into grievous error about the proper emphases of the various departments of life – the production of wealth *just is* the production of civilization.

  6. Capitalism has been around since the beginning of human society. It is no more than a fancy word for exchange that develops surplus, after all; for mere trade, and commerce.

    This is untrue. Capitalism is not synonymous with market exchange; rather, capitalism is a technical word for a technical organization of a sovereign marketplace to encourage the accumulation of so-called ‘capital’ (much, but not all of it, actually licit capital) in private hands, driven by a philosophy of radical economic reduction of the commonweal, usually (perhaps always) by means of usury enslavement.

    It is true that in modern terms sovereign market organizations whose salient features are that they do not allow private exchange while still granting capitalism’s philosophical bases have been contrasted with capitalism; e.g. communism, socialism. However, other systems of economic organization are also contrasting; e.g. syndicalism, guilds, feudalism, and these do all allow private market exchange of goods they recognize as licit for exchange.

    In short, capitalism is the economic system of encouraging Esau to sell his birthright for a bowl of soup because it increases The Economy.

    • Capitalism is not synonymous with market exchange; rather, capitalism is a technical word for a technical organization of a sovereign marketplace to encourage the accumulation of so-called ‘capital’ (much, but not all of it, actually licit capital) in private hands, driven by a philosophy of radical economic reduction of the commonweal, usually (perhaps always) by means of usury enslavement.

      To the extent that the moral – ergo, the economic – calculi of social agents (whether sovereigns or subjects) are driven by a philosophy of radical economic reduction of the commonweal by means of usury enslavement, they are deformed, at odds with moral – ergo, economic – reality, and so, due to compounding error and noise engendered by whacked economic policy, doomed to failure with the despoliation and, in extremis, the death of their proponents and of the society they comprise. This is so no matter what form the economic policy of the sovereign might take.

      It is not true that *every* technical organization of a sovereign marketplace to encourage the accumulation of capital in private hands must be thus driven. That accumulation is, after all, nothing more than the increase of the wealth of the private subjects of the sovereign. It is the increase of their welfare. To suggest that sovereign encouragement of the increase of the welfare of his subjects *just is* and *must by definition be* driven by a nisus to impoverish and enslave them is silly. Because why? Because it expresses a contradiction in terms: ‘the welfare of the subject population is their impoverishment.’

      On the contrary: any sane sovereign will do all that is within his rightful power to encourage the welfare of his subjects. A sovereign who does otherwise is insane, and evil, no matter what he calls his economic ideology, and no matter what his policies might be. And, that such an insane evil sovereign calls his economic ideology capitalist, or twists capitalism to his evil ends, does not suffice to impugn capitalism (properly so called) per se.

      The definition of capitalism you have suggested to us then is wrong. Don’t misunderstand me; I quite agree with your critique of any economic policy that seeks the economic reduction of the commonweal, not just by usury, but by any means whatever. It’s just that it is obvious to me that it is eminently possible to establish a technical organization of a sovereign marketplace to encourage the accumulation of capital in private hands that is *not* driven by a philosophy of radical economic reduction of the commonweal.

      • I’m a bit out of my wheelhouse here, but I’ll charge ahead anyway…

        …the accumulation of capital in private hands must be thus driven. That accumulation is, after all, nothing more than the increase of the wealth of the private subjects of the sovereign. It is the increase of their welfare.

        Isn’t part of the critique of capitalism precisely with “accumulation of capital in private hands”? Both with the “accumulation of capital” part and with the “private hands” part. Regarding the latter, capital ideally should serve the family, not private individuals. I would have to think that the ratio of capitalist to laborer being low (as you mention in another comment) is not generally a healthy thing for society, as it takes men (and women) away from their families, destroys the cooperative economic unity of the household economy, and divorces man from ownership for his work (and thus from a sense of responsibility for it). Industrialization, moreover, has a tendency to cause man to attribute economic ills to the fault of society rather than to recognize them as an act of God (as a farmer who suffers a drought is more likely to recognize).

        Regarding the “accumulation of capital” part, is the increase of wealth really equivalent to an increase in welfare? Increase of wealth is material increase. Welfare is something broader. Material accumulation can certainly be detrimental to spiritual welfare, as it would appear our Lord teaches.

        To suggest that sovereign encouragement of the increase of the welfare of his subjects *just is* and *must by definition be* driven by a nisus to impoverish and enslave them is silly. Because why? Because it expresses a contradiction in terms: ‘the welfare of the subject population is their impoverishment.’

        Again, this seems to be an equivocation to me: a modern man might be materially richer than his ancestors, but there’s a certain sense in which as a corporate drone he might be significantly impoverished compared to his ancestors.

      • Assets that don’t truly promote true human welfare are not true wealth. They are specious wealth. Economic agents seek them only insofar as they misconstrue or wrongly emphasize them.

        The accumulation of specious wealth is then indeed pernicious, and vicious. But not so the accumulation of true wealth.

        True wealth in the hands of private citizens cannot but redound to the benefit of their families. There is no reason that a capitalist economy cannot serve families; capitalism is not doomed to work the detriment of families, or even to ignore them. Men love their families; that love is borne out in their commercial acts. Benefit a man who is not a moral monster, and you benefit his family in the bargain.

        I would have to think that the ratio of capitalist to laborer being low (as you mention in another comment) is not generally a healthy thing for society, as it takes men (and women) away from their families, destroys the cooperative economic unity of the household economy, and divorces man from ownership for his work (and thus from a sense of responsibility for it).

        Agreed. I expect therefore that the current system of mass employment is untenable over the long run. I expect that a few hundred years from now, people will look back on the mass societies of the last 150 years as an historical aberration.

        Industrialization, moreover, has a tendency to cause man to attribute economic ills to the fault of society rather than to recognize them as an act of God.

        Again, agreed. But mass industrialization is not essential to capitalism, any more than water mills are essential to capitalism. Capitalist economies – like any others – can and do pass through periods of tremendous change and instability, and of suffering. But they are homeostatic systems that seek stable health. The Industrial Revolution that began in the late 18th Century (we are still in it) is a period of terrific change and instability. We’ll come out of it, eventually. When we do, the depravations of normal family life that it engendered will pass away. Because why? Because they are not sustainable; the family cannot be sustained under those depravations. And, no family, no humanity.

      • Deranged policies lead to deranged results
        (I take this as a paraphrase of your first paragraph. If unfair, please advise.)

        Yes, of course. Though I would mention that the market can remain irrational much longer than any given member can remain solvent; we’re going on about five or six hundred years here so far.

        The definition of capitalism you have suggested to us then is wrong (based on other arguments in your reply).

        The problem you are having is one of nominalism. I don’t blame you, as your cultural enemies have foisted a wrong definition upon you as a weapon of propaganda to enable the easy execution of motte-and-bailey arguments.

        Capitalism just means an arrangement of the rules of the sovereign marketplace according to the philosophy of Locke. This is how its original proponents and its original detractors used and intended the word, and it’s what it still means today. It has been intentionally confused by those who would destroy us with simple market exchange because Locke is the bailey and market exchange is the motte (which everyone sensible agrees with, thereby allowing the argument to stand).

        As I don’t count you among my cultural enemies, I consider you to have been duped by this shell game.

        Again, capitalism is the radical reduction of the commonwealth to the economic and the radical reduction of society to the ‘private individual’ going hand-in-hand together. This is what Adam Smith meant, and this is what Marx meant in his critique, just as examples.

        As for market exchange, well, everyone agrees it is not so much a good as a simple brute fact of human organization, just as central body gravitation is a brute fact about mechanics. The arguments about market exchange, then, are always arguments about what should be available to the market, or put another way, what we should consider economic goods (as opposed to, oh, I don’t know, ancestral rights and privileges, or necessary parts of the commonweal protected by the sovereign, or public institutions). For example, many ‘free market economists’ in the contemporary noise consider that cultural heritage should be for sale, but specific people should not.

        These arguments are almost always disguised as questions of whether we should have market exchange at all, as for example Soviet communism claims to claim we should not, but actually merely intends to restrict the market goods and market actors both to a realm the Party finds unobjectionable.


      • Deranged policies lead to deranged results. [I take this as a paraphrase of your first paragraph. If unfair, please advise.]

        It’s fair, but not quite specific enough, or complete. The derangement it adduces is specifically the derangement that you characterize as unique and essential to capitalism: namely, the derangement driven by a philosophy of radical economic reduction of the commonweal. And the final sentence of the paragraph points out that any sort of political order can fall into that specific derangement. That derangement is not unique to political orders that organize a sovereign marketplace to encourage the accumulation of capital in private hands.

        … the market can remain irrational much longer than any given member can remain solvent …

        Too true. And markets of ordered poleis are creatures of sovereigns. So what you are saying is that sovereigns can remain irrational much longer than any of their subjects. This is why the depravation of sovereignty – of monarchy into tyranny, of aristocracy into oligarchy, of democracy into ochlocracy – is problematic.

        [“Capitalism”] has been intentionally confused by those who would destroy us with simple market exchange because Locke is the bailey and market exchange is the motte (which everyone sensible agrees with, thereby allowing the argument to stand).

        I never argue from the bailey. I always argue from the motte. It’s just that I have a *really big motte.*

        I use “capitalism” to denote the notion of a system of economic order – any such order, mind, being the creature of the sovereign thereof – that allows for private ownership and control of capital. This we find is the definition of capitalism in common usage:

        Capitalism is an economic system based on the freedom of private ownership of the means of production and their operation for profit. Characteristics central to capitalism include private property, capital accumulation, wage labor, voluntary exchange, a price system, and competitive markets.

        Again:

        Capitalism: an economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods, by investments that are determined by private decision, and by prices, production, and the distribution of goods that are determined mainly by competition in a free market.

        Again:

        Capitalism is an economic system in which capital goods are owned by private individuals or businesses. The production of goods and services is based on supply and demand in the general market … rather than through central planning.

        Where private ownership of capital is *completely* proscribed by the sovereign, there can be no such thing as market exchange (for it would result in a monopsony of all goods whatever: a complete market failure). But since, as you say, market exchange is a brute fact of human society, it is, as again you say, simply never the case that any sovereign *completely* proscribes private ownership of capital. Nor, as I have already said, is it ever the case that any sovereign *completely* abjures from constraints of private economic acts; for, that would be to fail to order any market in the first place, engendering social chaos; and would constitute a complete abdication of sovereignty.

        Thus in practice, as again you say, *all* discussions of economic regulation among policy makers concern what sorts of transactions ought or ought not to be regulated by the sovereign, and how. No sovereign has ever decreed either that all sorts of private transactions are proscribed, or that no sorts of private transactions are proscribed. Likewise, no sovereign has ever proscribed either all private ownership of capital, or none. Nor could any sovereign ever do any such things and long retain his sovereignty. Both sorts of absolutism are simply ruled out by human nature – not to mention ecology and the conservation laws.

        Now this is all just to say that, in effect, *all societies whatever* have organized themselves so as to allow for some degree of private ownership and control of capital and freedom of exchange. I.e., *all societies whatever* – regardless of what they might have thought or said about themselves – have been more or less capitalist.

        It would seem from what you have written that you don’t believe it is possible to obtain a social order that allocates ownership and control of capital to private parties that does not drive toward the economic reduction of the commonweal. If that is true, then – since we find that all societies whatever allocate some degree of ownership and control of capital to private parties – we should find that all societies drive toward the economic reduction of their commonweal. We find on the contrary that they do not. We must then conclude that it is possible to obtain a society that allocates ownership and control of capital to private parties in a way that, in respect to that particular error, is proper and good. Then the task of policy makers is to discover and adhere to that way.

        And this is what policy makers do when they wonder which sorts of transactions ought to be regulated, and how.

        Summing up, it seems to me that you have erred in treating one of the depravations of capitalist social order as capitalism itself. You have confused the disease with the patient. So doing, you have overlooked the possibility of a social order that allocates ownership and control of capital to private parties and that does not drive toward the economic reduction of its own commonweal. It seems obvious to me that such a social order is possible, and that we would do well to aim for it. Indeed, it seems to me obvious that this is what all sane sovereigns are trying (among other things) to do.

  7. Also, since Zippy’s not here to say it: the term ‘free exchange’ treats the question of which goods should be amenable to market exchange as a question of whether goods should be amenable to market exchange, and thereby smuggles in a bunch of evil through rational incoherence.

    • As Marcel Mauss pointed out in The Gift, “free exchange” is not free, that is to say, elective; it is obligatory. The market — a term that I, too, prefer to “capitalism” — obliges one to participate if one wants to be a member in full of the society.

      • Tom: Yes. And there is always a market of some sort. Participation is obligatory even for those who recuse from trade. Not to trade is to affect the market, and so is to participate in it.

        Society per se is exchange, or it is nothing.

    • Rhetocrates: Thanks for this comment.

      Perhaps I should not in the OP have taken it as obvious that free exchange cannot occur except under conditions of sovereign constraint of trade that always somehow or other rules authoritatively on the question of which goods are to be taken as amenable to market exchange, and which are not.

      There is always a sovereign. And the authority of a sovereign within and over his domain largely consists in his power to constrain trade in this way or that – and, NB, to harvest fees, taxes, tonlieux, tariffs, and so forth, on its conduct, *in exchange* for his services in providing to traders his security of their persons, goods, and contracts, and his enforcement of his trade laws. So is it that sovereigns always promulgate rules about the conduct of trade within their domains, that (among other things) rule out certain goods from market exchange. E.g., the proscription by virtually all sovereigns of the trade in murder, in stolen goods, in contraband, and so forth.

      Free exchange then is in the real world *never* the untrammeled exchange of anything whatsoever. So, ‘free exchange’ *cannot* mean ‘the untrammeled exchange of anything whatsoever.’

      Likewise, exchange is always with us. There’s no way to obtain society without it. So always and everywhere, some goods and services are ruled as amenable to exchange – and, except for exchanges mediated by barter or gift, such exchanges are going to be mediated by markets. Thus there just isn’t any such thing as the question *whether* goods per se ought to be amenable to market exchange. In the real world, it is *always the case* that some goods are ruled amenable to market exchange, and some are not.

      So the mere term ‘free exchange’ cannot logically imply that every good or service whatever ought to be amenable to market exchange.

      So, it is simply not true that ‘free exchange’ eo ipso treats the question of *which* goods should be amenable to exchange as a question of *whether* goods should be amenable to exchange. On the contrary: the economic policy of the sovereign (whatever it might be) *just is* the determination and promulgation of rules about what goods and services are amenable to market exchange within his domain, and under what conditions and protocols such trade is to transpire.

      • Hi Kristor,

        How would you define the term ‘free exchange’ then? Or more precisely, what is the ‘free’ part referring to?

      • Free exchange is not coerced by any of the parties thereto. Exchange is if course always much constrained by exogenous factors, such as (of particular pertinence to this discussion) the sovereign. But the endogenous factors of a free exchange are constrained only autologously.

      • But there certainly might be times when the sovereign ought to compel someone to sell, or to compel someone to buy, or to restrict to whom one can sell, or to limit prices charged; there might also be times when trade guilds ought to restrict free exchange by limiting who can enter the market, by not allowing one guild member severely to undercut the prices of another member, etc.

        All of which is to say, that free exchange is always the best option, except when it isn’t.

      • Ian: To be sure. The sovereign can declare martial law and void contracts, confiscate property, appropriate it via eminent domain, expropriate it, condemn it, seize it, commandeer it, destroy it (as, e.g., the EPA does when it forbids a farmer from using a field because there is a puddle in it now and then), and so forth. As setting the conditions of the market within his domains, the sovereign has implicit peremptory ownership of all assets within them; private ownership of assets is then granted to his subjects by him (this is why the sovereign keeps the dispositive registry of who owns what; this is why the sovereign dispositively adjudicates property disputes as an aspect of his enforcement of his own contract law). He has “sovereign” rights to their property; i.e., his property rights in their assets subvene and so trump theirs. Their private ownership of assets is in virtue of his license. Thus he is within his legitimate rights when he seizes their property for state purposes. This is why all unclaimed private property escheats to the state.

        Guilds too can constrain markets, but only insofar as they have been licensed to do so by the sovereign, and so act as his effectual agents. FINRA, e.g., is just such a guild, with statelike enforcement, licensing and adjudicatory powers, and the legal power to levy substantial fines, and to collect fees tantamount to taxes. It is not an organ of the state, but its regulatory powers are licensed by the state.

        It is never the case that all exchanges whatsoever are free. It is furthermore never the case that all exchanges whatsoever *ought* to be free. The moral law constrains the sovereign in his development and promulgation of policy. He *ought* to outlaw certain sorts of exchanges. But by the same token, he ought not to constrain sorts of exchanges that ought not to be constrained. The issue ever presenting itself to sovereign authority, then, is: at the margins of our present regulation of trade, what sorts of trade ought we to regulate, or not – and, how?

      • Free exchange is not coerced by any of the parties thereto.

        But of course there is coercion in all so-called ‘free’ exchanges. The sovereign decides which goods can and cannot be exchanged in his market, and if you don’t believe he’s willing to use coercion to secure his definitions go and try to sell cocaine.

        Again, calling the exchange ‘free’ vs. ‘not free’ merely disguises the question of which exchanges can take place as a question of whether exchanges can take place.

      • Rhetocrates: The sovereign is party only to those exchanges wherein he himself is buying or selling something, as when the BLM buys a pickup truck. If Ian buys a truck from the Ford dealer, the parties to the exchange are Ian and the Ford dealer. Neither Ian nor the dealer – the endogenous factors of the exchange – are coercing their counterparty. The sovereign certainly constrains the character and matter of their deal, and does so coercively. But he is not a party thereto.


      • So you don’t pay taxes?

        The payment of taxes on an exchange is not endogenous thereto. The tax is a forecondition of the exchange; is, as it were, a fee paid to the sovereign in exchange for access to the sovereign’s market. The tax is a fee for liceity. It is exogenous to the exchange, an environing factor like the weather and the local geography. It constrains the deal, but does not force it.

        If the tax were endogenous to the exchange, it would arise from one of the parties thereto. Ian would in such a case say to the Ford dealer, “Listen, it’s a deal, but only if you also pay a supererogatory sum to the City.”

        Such endogenous conditions do sometimes arise in private transactions. I might for example agree to a deal only if my counterparty donated 1% of his revenues on it to charity.

      • Ford. Although my father did own a couple Chryslers when I was a kid, and when I was really little, my father had an old, used Cadillac.

      • Free exchange is when I say something to Ian with the expectation of gains in credibility and he does likewise. This is free exchange. I inform you to gain credibility and you inform me to gain credibility. This is Capitalism such that the man with most Capital is the man with the most credibility and vice versa. Even the devil cannot opt out of this economic order. So he seeks its inversion and a world where man does not desire greater credibility.

    • That is certainly what we have experienced in the modern West. And, what is more, economic activity influences culture, if only by feeding back to people the cultural values implemented among them by means of market transactions.

      The market is a mirror.

      But, again: capitalism understood as a mere marketplace of uncoerced exchanges resulting in the development of economic surplus makes for a culture of antisocial individualists only in virtue of the fact that it mediates and thus enables that culture – as it could any other. Markets don’t promote antisocial individualism. People do – evil people, i.e. And we could not prevent antisocial individualism by eliminating markets (which, of course, we could not possibly do). On the contrary: because markets cannot function except by means of a social agreement between counterparties, the mere fact of trade, of exchange, tends to adhere people to each other in projects that transcend and subsume their individual interests. Markets left to their own devices tend inexorably to the creation of communities of interest – which is to say, of communities, period full stop.

  8. Class resentment: it reminds me of the studies showing how important gratitude is for all kinds of mental and physical health. Resentment sounds like the complete opposite of it. Tocqueville wrote that when poor people receive voluntarily given alms, they feel gratitude, if they receive it as their right from the government, they don’t.

    Sounds like we got ourselves into a situation where everybody is competing for resources, through politics, and that pretty much kills gratitude. The worker and the business owner, while getting well along the job, their relationship is still poisoned by a suspicion that the other one is supporting politics that would take away from me and give to him. And the more polarized politics gets, the worse it gets. From the perspective of the leftist, everybody could be a secret “trumpnazi”, from the perspective of the rightist, everybody could be a secret supporter of white genocide.

    Unlike modern politics, I can see capitalism being easily compatible with an attitude of gratitude. Per definition the basic idea is to make exchanges that make both of us better off. Only a petty mind resents that perhaps the other party made off better from the exchange than himself. A healthy mind is grateful that he is better off and that’s it. Business competition does not require resentment and suspicion – for the customer, it is just at some point some other business offers an even better exchange which he can take with even more gratitude.

    • I can see capitalism being easily compatible with an attitude of gratitude.

      Almost all uncoerced exchanges end with expressions of honest thanksgiving by both counterparties. Think of all the economic exchanges you partake each day. How many of them fill you with resentment, rather than contentment? Very, very few, I’ll wager. Almost all economic exchanges are happy. The economy could not otherwise much proceed.

  9. Commerce is not able or therefore responsible to teach us what we ought to want, any more than metabolism is responsible to tell us what we ought not to eat.

    I think this is problematic given the context of the OP. The OP begins with a discussion of capitalism particularly and ends with a discussion of commerce more generally, as if when folks read “commerce” it’s entirely appropriate to think “capitalism.” That smuggles quite a big of baggage in the backdoor for capitalism. For one thing, it is not clear to me that commerce – however it is defined – is some value neutral tool or process such as bodily metabolism (and even metabolism itself doesn’t seem as successful a comparison as is attempted. My metabolism is certainly able to tell me what I ought not eat. If I eat a bucket of sand, my metabolism will tell me I made a mistake.). And, as Rhetocrates pointed out, capitalism is certainly not a metaphysically neutral process. “Free exchange” is only free if we don’t ask too many questions. Anyway, “capitalism,” “free exchange,” etc are mischief makers on the order of free speech and free press, it seems to me.

    • Wood

      Desire for credibility is down to the devil.

      And your entire response is of the teach/preach genre of internet information. So your gains in credibility are to be assumed. In other words, by freely exchanging, you imagined gaining credibility, ie., intangible capital.

      This is (C)apitalism… Free exchange for potential gains in credibility.

      By participating here in this discussion, you are a voluntary (C)apitalist.

    • Wood: Perhaps the analogy with metabolism wasn’t quite good enough. Perhaps this would be better:

      Commerce is not able or therefore responsible to teach us what we ought to want, any more than our muscles are responsible to tell us where and how we ought to walk.

      Commerce – a system of formalized exchange – is neutral with respect to the values that it mediates, but not with respect to the values that inform its local character. E.g., the market values honesty and fair dealing in all its participants, because it cannot operate in their absence, but doesn’t care about whether you value eggs more than bacon. In the latter case, it is value neutral; in the former, it is not.

      … “capitalism,” “free exchange,” etc., are mischief makers on the order of free speech and free press …

      Yeah. But this is so of all these terms only on account of the fact that they are – by their enemies, whether or not witly – so often improperly deployed. Lots of terms suffer from that vulnerability – so many, indeed, that we might almost say that *language itself* is a mischief maker. Or rather, that it is a fertile niche for the makers of mischief. For, language per se opens the opportunity of lying (they don’t call Satan the Father of Lies for nothing; he sets himself at essential odds with the Logos who is all Truth, and upon whom all understanding and agreement supervene) and of the confusion of tongues (as at Babel). Viz., ‘gender’ versus ‘sex.’ This is why the rectification of names is so important.

      The discussion in this comment thread has been an exercise in the rectification of names.

      The rectification of names involves the discovery and recognition of the Limit in every aspect of reality, ergo of the proper limits on our acts. It is the discovery and recognition of the moral constraints that do actually bind us, willy nilly – and that shall redound to our detriment should we transgress them. Within those limits, acts of all sorts – of commerce, of speech, of the press, aye and of religion – are free. Without them, there is no such thing as coherent action (howsoever much the appearances may otherwise convince us).

  10. The new reactionary paradigm has not yet matured, has not yet crystallized. But it will. It cannot but do so. There will come a sea change, when all of a sudden it will explode into a preference cascade, and a new paradigm shall of a sudden become altogether more credible. Scales shall then fall from millions of eyes, almost overnight. This phase change seems perhaps to have begun already.

    Do you think this new reactionary paradigm will be the true paradigm?

    I can believe that a new paradigm will become more credible than liberalism and supplant it, but I am less sanguine that it will be the true paradigm. There are many ways to be in error… But there is only one way to be correct. That is why error is easy and correctness is difficult.

    • The incipient reactionary paradigm won’t be the true paradigm. The true paradigm of the true polis is not of this world, and it is a category error to think it might here be found.

      The true paradigm of the true polis to which we are all originally fitted is that of the New Jerusalem.

      • Let me rephrase the question: do you think the incipient reactionary paradigm will recognize God’s Son as society’s king and the true religion as the foundation of society? Or will it regard some contingent, lower-order good as its ersatz religion and as society’s foundation and ultimate standard?

      • Odds favor the latter, unfortunately. This, at least, as things now stand vis-à-vis the preponderantly dire strait of popular catechesis. People don’t know how to think about religion *at all.* And most integralists, who for the most part do know how to think about religion, don’t know how to think about politics or economics.

  11. Pingback: Why is Citizenship Unquestionable? | Σ Frame

  12. Who is the man with the most (C)apital?

    If you are a Christian, The Perfect Man is your answer,

    If you are a strict materialist, Bezos probably tops your list.

    So there is the “filthy rich.” And there is a “wealth of information.”

    Who is the greatest Capitalist is determined entirely by one’s metaphysics. And because this is the case, Christians arguing about “(c)apitalism” have abandoned their frame

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