“All divines grant that the power of the Church is more noble than any power of princes or emperors.”
Matthew Kellison, The Right and Jurisdiction of the Prelate and the Prince (1621)
“There has been great controversy concerning the power of bishops, in which some have awkwardly confounded the power of the Church and the power of the Sword.”
Augsburg Confession (1530)
“The Government has been legislated into the hands of bankers and brokers, and reduced to a dependence on corporations.”
Lewis Steenrod, Speech in the House of Representatives (April 17, 1840)
The first step in political understanding is to see that every society has a ruling class, and that the myth of popular government is an opiate of the masses. If you need help taking this step, I suggest you consult Main’s Popular Government (1886) or Burnham’s Machiavellians (1943).
The second step is to see that the ruling class has three departments, one controlling the spiritual power of the church, one controlling the military power of the state, and one controlling the productive power of the economy. In India, these were historically called the Brahmans, the Kshatriyas, and the Vaisyas. In the West, they were called the nobles, the clergy, and the bourgeoise.
The masses ruled by these three classes were in India called the Sudras, and were in the West called peasants, peons, or the working class. These are the people the Brahman’s teach, the Kshatriyas command, and the Vaisyas employ, and who from time to time get it into their heads to try teaching, commanding, and employing themselves. When this happens, they mount a slave revolt or peasants’ rebellion under the banner of some sort of communism. This leads to anarchy and famine, and this to a reconstituted ruling class.
Or ruling classes, since the princes of church, state and commerce may act in combination, but they are never altogether consolidated or unified. Each class is always struggling for supremacy (if we give that word its true meaning). When the nobles enjoy supremacy, we call the polity an aristocracy. When the clergy enjoys supremacy, we call it a theocracy. When the bourgeoisie enjoy supremacy, we call it a plutocracy.
In the West, these three powers were often described as the Power of the Sword, the Power of the Keys, and the Power of the Purse.
You may picture this political arrangement if you imagine a set of chessmen. In the first row stand the pawns, numerous but negligible, representing the peasant masses. Behind them stand the powers. At the outer edge stands the rook, which I take the liberty to interpret, not as a nobleman’s castle, but as the fortified town of the merchant princes or bourgeoisie. Next in from the rook is the knight, obviously representing the military power. Next in from the knight is the bishop, just as obviously representing the ecclesiastical power. And at the center are the king and his consort, his power limited to authorizing the actions of the other powers on which his own survival depends. He cannot stand without the others, but when he falls, the others fall with him. (The curious and deadly power of the queen deserves its own post.)
The regnant ruling classes often fortify their power by spreading fear of their predecessors in power. This is obvious today in the fear-mongering of our regnant clergy, who routinely scare the peasants by raising an alarm that the relic clergy of the deposed church is plotting a renewed “theocracy.” There are few things more mordantly funny than reading some high-class academic, journalist, or judge, warning against the “theocratic” ambitions of the nominal “bishops,” “priests” and “preachers” who staff the toothless hierarchies of our quondam churches.
Like their predecessors, today’s ruling classes are hierarchical, and their lower ranks merge without strong division with the peasants or working class. Just as a lowly curate was closer to the peasants than to the cardinals of the Church, so today’s lowly academic, journalist or judge is closer to the working class than to the Brahmans of the regnant priestly order. The owner of a small business is, likewise, closer to the workers than to the true merchant princes, and the same goes for petty officers at the base of the state apparatus.
As I said a moment ago, these three classes are rivals for supremacy, and when one usurps the supreme power and exercises control over the other two, we call it a revolution. At the turn of the eighteenth century, for instance, bourgeois revolutions established what we call “industrial society.” It is a mistake to see industrial society and the industrial revolution as simply a matter of vast machines and smoky factory-towns, since these were mere symptoms of a society in which bourgeois values (i.e. productive values) were dominant or supreme.
A society is “industrial” when the officers of the state and church feel obliged to do what is “good for the economy.” It is “militaristic” when moneymen and priests answer to the man who holds the sword. It is religious when, at the behest of the priests, the knights who hold the sword ride away on crusades, and the burgers who hold the purse build great cathedrals to the sky.
We all know that kings were traditionally crowned by the head of the church. Charlemagne was, for instance, crowned by the Pope, and British monarchs have long been crowned by the Archbishop of Canterbury. In the modern United States, we call the coronation an inauguration, and the “crown” is bestowed by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. From this we may draw the inference that he is roughly equivalent to our archbishop or pope. This we may also infer from his strangely sacerdotal garb, and from his prerogative to interpret our sacred text, the Constitution, in ways few Sudras can comprehend.
Just as Popes never had the autocratic power of Protestant nightmares, so the Chief Justice is constrained by the tradition and hierarchy of his church. In recent years, it has become common to call this church “the Cathedral,” and to see that it takes in the judiciary, the academy, and most of the media complex. This Cathedral now holds the Power of the Keys, which are no longer the Keys to Heaven, but are the Keys to social respectability and self-respect. It does not use the word excommunication, but it has fearsome powers of ostracism, public-shaming and harassment that amount to much the same thing.
As a geographer, I am naturally interested in the capitals, or head cities, in which these ruling classes work and reside. Many countries have a single metropolis in which the heads of all three powers are collected. London and Paris are, for instance, the unified political, cultural and economic capitals of the British and the French. Separate capitals are not uncommon, however. A thousand years ago, the economic capital of England was in London, but the political capital was in Winchester and the cultural capital was at Canterbury.
In the United States, the political capitals of the states are very often separated from the economic capitals, and this separation was reproduced when the federal government became a real force after adoption of the Constitution. Since 1800, Washington has been the seat of military and political power, while New York has controlled the ultimate Power of the Purse. The economic primacy of New York has many sources, some of which are profoundly geographical, but much can be made of the fact that its first name was New Amsterdam and the Dutch Republic was very close to a pure plutocracy (1).
As there was no established church hierarchy, there was no obvious seat of ecclesiastical power, and, in the early years of the Republic, almost all secular culture was imported from London, Paris, and the German universities. By the 1840s, however, Boston had clearly emerged as the center of American literary culture, and as the capital of the American civic religion. The Power of the Keys to social respectability lay largely in the hands of a class known even then as the “Boston Brahmins.” Yankee schoolmasters, preachers and college presidents spread out from Boston to every corner of the land, bringing with them such Yankee notions as transcendentalism, feminism, spiritualism, abolitionism, and even, in some cases, vegetarianism. Ichabod Crane was a well-recognized type, and he was not in real life chased back to New England by a terrifying headless horseman.
By the turn of the nineteenth century, the money power of New York had begun to draw in some of the cultural power of Boston, although Washington remained (as it largely remains) the primate city of philistines. Railroads and the telegraph had also shrunk the distance between Washington and New York, so the three cities functioned as the principal nodes in the metropolitan district of the American empire (2). The size and complexity of the country required satraps in the provinces, but the Powers of the Sword, the Keys, and the Purse remained fixed on the Atlantic seaboard.
California has been the only serious challenger to this metropolitan dominance, with a large colony of Brahmins clustering around the entertainment industries of the Los Angles’ basin, and a very fair showing of moneymen in the Bay area. The migration of power to the west coast is also encouraged by the declining importance of Europe and the rise of Asia, since a country’s seats of power normally locate directly behind its frontier with its most powerful neighbor. This may be to facilitate military operations, economic trade, or cultural exchange, so all three powers are attracted to this type of “forward capital” (3). The powers in California are today sufficient to defy the powers on the Atlantic seaboard, but they do not appear capable of asserting supremacy over them.
The universities are the natural home of the clergy, and anyone not stupefied by propaganda can see that they are our established church. Moneymen still exercise influence over some parts of the curriculum, but universities are staffed by Brahmins and their principal power is the Power of the Keys. Not the Keys to Heaven, as I said earlier, but the Keys to respectability and polite society. In the last analysis, a politically correct university is a convent finishing school for genteel girls of both sexes. Because Harvard is the most prestigious of these convent finishing schools, Boston remains the cultural capital of the United States.
Which of the three powers is now supreme? Is it the power of the Sword, the power of the Keys, or the power of the Purse? It seems to me obvious that the Sword is weakest since the Commander in Chief (and not just the present one) takes orders from the moneymen and is threatened with impeachment when he doesn’t take orders from the Brahmins. As to the relative strength of the Keys and the Purse, this can be judged from the fact that much of the university curriculum is anti-capitalist, but capitalists still give money to the universities. Thus, we must concede supremacy to the power of the Keys and say we inhabit a theocracy.
(1) “From the beginning [the Dutch] have been ruled by merchants and business men, rather than by kings and princes . . .” (William Yoast Morgan, A Jayhawker in Europe ).
(2) Vaughan Cornish, The Great Capitals: An Historical Geography (1923).