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Thought for the Month:
The Evolution of the Corporate World Economy: Glyn Davies' fascinating account, A History of `Money documents the use of money from ancient times to the closing years of the twentieth century,' revealing the interplay between actors in the political and economic spheres and the financiers upon whom they relied for the necessary funding for their military or economic operations. According to conventional texts, however, bankers are rarely mentioned in connection with the development of political and economic affairs, whilst the unprecedented institutional changes which accompanied industrialisation are rarely analysed. According to most histories, life was nasty, brutish and short until technological change gave rise to the development of production and trade, leading to material progress and pros- perity. Since progress was inevitable, there was little point in questioning the morality or sustainabiity of big business. However, histories of money and banking reveal a very different story.
Debt and usury
The moral association between financial debt-creation and corruption of social values was less obscure in the early days of the development of banking. Like Judaism and Islam, the Christian Church banned usury because the necessity to go into debt was a sign of misfortune. An individual normally fell into debt only when they hit hard times, through sickness, crop failure or some other disaster. It was considered moral to lend, but immoral to benefit from another's misfortune by requiring the loan to be repaid with interest. The Medici and other bankers of the Italian Renaissance City States found various ways around the Church's ban on usury such as disguising transactions as 'international' currency exchanges between independent states. Banking practices were further developed by the Lombards, who argued that a money-lender who financed a profitable trading venture had a moral right to a share of the profit.
The practice of taking a money reward for merely lending money is so central to the market economy of the present age that its justification needs to be closely examined. The Lombard bankers financed the merchant ships of Venice, Genoa and other Mediterranean ports, the key centres of world trade at that time. A merchant sending a ship out to India might make a profit equal to thirty times the money spent on the outlay. The Lombard bankers argued that if they financed a merchant they were putting their money at risk if the ship did not return. Furthermore, the money-lenders also argued that they could alternatively fund a profitable venture of their own with any potential loan.
This raises the question, how did the Lombard bankers acquire the finance capital to invest in risky but potentially highly profitable ventures? They were private individuals, not kings, emperors or other heads of state with the legal right to levy taxes. The question is key to an understanding of the corporate world order. The early Lombard money-lenders were originally craftsmen and traders who employed other people to work in the weaving industry to produce goods for sale. The employment system came about from the desire of some private individuals to acquire material riches so that they could achieve worldly power over resources. Other people took the timber from the land and built the ships, farmed the land to produce food and raw materials, manned the ships which took the gold, spices and silks from the Indian countryside to sell in the growing luxury markets of Europe and fought in foreign wars. From the outset, the growth of the money economy had virtually nothing to do with producing the necessities of life or conserving essential knowledge and resources.
The development of banking
The maritime centres of the Atlantic coast saw Antwerp, and subsequently the British seaports, become the new centres of trade on a worldwide scale in early modern times. The early bankers, the goldsmiths, invested in productive and trading ventures with the objective of building up their personal stores of wealth. They also invested in the State. Kings needed armies to enforce their claims to the throne. They were, however, notoriously unreliable in settling debts incurred in the process of deploying armies. Hence in 1694 a group of London merchant bankers secured their position by agreeing a loan to William III for the purpose of war, on the security of Parliament's legal right to impose taxes. The Bank of England was not, however, owned or controlled by the King or by Parliament, but by a group of six private individuals who stood to gain substantially from the National Debt so created.
Governments have been in debt to the bankers ever since. The Bank of England was from the outset a joint stock company, meaning that it had a legal identity in its own right. When the Government needed to raise new loans from the public the Bank acted as its agent. Hence the loans required to fund the costly wars of the 18th century were in effect underwritten by the citizen taxpayer.....
Taken from: "Understanding the Financial System: Social Credit Rediscovered" by Frances Hutchinson 2010
Shakespeare's "The Merchant of Venice"
Taken from: The Zionist Factor
by Ivor Benson
... the need for an impartial, truthful treatment of Jewish history has recently become greater than it has ever been before. Twentieth century political developments have driven the Jewish people into the storm centre of events ... the Jewish question and antisemitism . . . became the catalytic agent first for the rise of the Nazi movement and the establishment of the organisational structure of the Third Reich. . . then for a world war of unparalleled ferocity ...
Developments in the Middle East which threaten to draw all mankind into the catastrophe of another world war, the "great historical cataclysm" of which Alexander Solzhenitsyn warns, make it more urgently necessary than ever to explore Zionism as one of the major forces shaping the history of our century.
In the handling of a subject so complex and multi-faceted, the method used in this book is to present a series of separate studies, each of which it is hoped will contribute something to a deep and comprehensive understanding of the long troubled relationship of Jew and gentile.
The word "Zionist" is preferred in the book's title as representing a much altered 20th century Jewish presence in which the appetites of global power-politics have almost entirely superseded religion as the main source for the motivation of Jewish unity and exclusiveness. The clearest distinction must be drawn between Judaism as a personal monotheistic religion - by none more clearly expounded than the Jewish savant Moses Maimonides, and in our time men like Moshe Menuhin - and Judaism as a rampant modern nationalism, the political and military executive arm of great financial power. It is also necessary to distinguish between a monotheistic personal faith capable of making converts, as Judaism once did, and an exclusivist group spirit that prescribes a dual code of moral conduct - the cause of so much hostility encountered by the Jewish people down the ages.
Unlike so many others on the same subject, it is not the purpose of this book merely to describe the symptoms of a Jewish presence in the West, but rather to explain what has happened and is happening and to establish a basis for debate in which Jew and gentile can be invited to participate.
So far from being hostile to persons of Jewish descent on the grounds of such descent, we have tried to give the clearest possible expression to an attitude that has always prevailed in the West, one of total non-discrimination in terms of acceptance and assimilation. In other words, we say that assimilation has never been a problem for the West or for any Jew wishing to be assimilated and totally accepted - the Jew being, as Professor Sir Arthur Keith has pointed out, racially indistinguishable from other Caucasians who form the mainstream of the Western peoples.
It would, therefore, require a twisted logic to describe as "antisemitic" a book which advocates total and unconditional mutual acceptance, finding fault only with a Jewish attitude which complains of discrimination while continuing to spurn a standing offer of acceptance and assimilation.
Armed with such an insight, the Westerner finds himself in a morally invulnerable position in all his dealings with persons of Jewish descent. On the other hand, Jewish leaders, especially Zionist, when they decline an invitation to submit to full and frank discussion the whole question of Jewish separatism, confess the vulnerability of their position.
The twin sources of the sharp emotional responses which
tend to discourage discussion of the Jewish question can be easily
traced and identified:
A situation is thus created in which hackles are liable to rise on both sides when any attempt is made to discuss the Jewish presence in the West - or, as one Jewish scholar, Professor Henry L. Feingold, has put it, the Jewish presence in history "resists the tools and thwarts the assumptions of modem scholarship".
If this book has another important message, it is this: The entire burden of responsibility for what Spengler calls "the decline of the West" must rest squarely on the shoulders of the peoples of the West and not, on the Jews, for the peoples of the West have themselves created the morally unhygienic social and political conditions which render them susceptible to debilitating influences which hitherto they were able to resist quite easily. In other words, modern Jewish predominance is not the cause of Western decadence but only one of its more conspicuous symptoms...
SHAKESPEARE AND THE LAW OF EQUITY
To offend and judge are distinct offices,
... William Shakespeare
In undertaking to handle a subject to which there has been attached in our time a taboo as potent as any ever experienced in a primitive society, we find our position much strengthened by William Shakespeare's treatment of the same subject in his great play The Merchant of Venice.
Shakespeare does not analyse, rationalise and try to explain the relations of Jew and gentile, but gives us instead, as a form of instruction in depth, a brilliantly complete and accurate dramatic representation of what was then and remains to this day, for most people, a baffling portion of reality.
The difference between what happens in real life and what happens on the Shakespearean stage can be quite easily explained. In real life the subject of the relations of Jew and gentile is extremely complex, thrown out of intellectual focus by innumerable contradictions and ambiguities. In the play the antagonism of Jew and gentile is dearly discernible and intelligible; in real life the picture is very much harder to read as Jews and gentiles seek their mutual advantage in relationships of varying depth and durability, all this in circumstances and conditions infinite in their variability.
Shakespeare's play is an abstract of the enduring attitudes, motives and influences at work in the troubled relations of Jew and gentile, presented in the form of a simple narrative that leaves nothing of any consequence unsaid and is as true to life today as when it was written.
As W. Moelwyn Merchant remarks in the first paragraph of his scholarly introduction to the New Penguin edition,' any suggestion that The Merchant of Venice was meant only as entertainment "flatly contradicts our deepest intuitions concerning this strange and complex play". He adds: "It is clear that The Merchant of Venice is much preoccupied with two matters of Elizabethan concern: Jewry and usury".
It is, therefore, hardly surprising that Jewish influence has been heavily exerted in our century to prevent this play from being presented on the stage or on the cinema screen; it bears too close a relevance to the situation that prevails today. There is still widespread tension in the relations of Jew and gentile, no matter how strong the bonds that unite the two in the realm of mercantilism, and there is more anxiety than ever over the implications of a monetary system in which money is regarded more as a commodity and an instrument of policy than as a medium of exchange.
There can be no doubt that Shakespeare had read and thought deeply about the troubled relations of Jew and gentile, and that long before his play was entered in the Stationer's Register in 1598 there had long been in progress a ferment of debate on this subject all over the Western world.
Raphael Holinshed's History of England, a source from which
Shakespeare drew copiously in the writing of his major English
historical plays, provides some factual evidence concerning the
power of the Jews and their activities in Britain. We read, for
example, in Holinshed's description of the scenes attending the
coronation of Richard I:
The attitude of a king who "abhorred" the Jewish nation was expressed more robustly by the London populace at the time of Richard's coronation, the result being a series of riots which Holinshed describes as follows:
The king being advertised of this riotous attempt of the outrageous people.. . the rude sort of those that were about to spoil, rob and sack the houses and shops of the Jews... this wode rage of the furious and disordered people continued from the middle of the one day till two of the clock on the other, the commons all that while never ceasing their fury against that nation, but still killing them as they met with any of them, in most horrible, rash and unreasonable manner.
Holinshed says that the King put a quick stop to the rioting but made no attempt to round up and punish the offenders, since Richard's subjects hated the Jews for their "obstinate forwardness" and "so they were restored to peace after they had sustained infinite damage".
Shakespeare would also, almost certainly, have read Sir Thomas Wilson's Discourse Upon Usury, a work which remained for centuries a copious source of scornful invective on the subject of Jews and usury; he would also have read Francis Bacon's deeper and more restrained comments on the same subject.
Shakespeare, unlike Bacon and others, does not draw us into a deeply involved consideration of the problem of the Jews and their mercantile practices, but offers us instead a literary masterpiece in which the relations of Jew and gentile are represented as a living model of reality: instead of attempting the impossible task of fully explaining that relationship, he provides us with a word picture conducive to insight and understanding, an aid to those already equipped with a penetrating intelligence and the will to discover the truth. The picture is presented from the point of view of his own community, with the interests of his own community at heart, hence the jubilation of a gentile audience when in the trial scene, just as Shylock is advancing towards Antonio with a sharpened knife in one hand and a pair of scales in the other, the tables are suddenly turned.,
Portia: Tarry a little, there is something else.
Although it is a picture in which it is the interests of a gentile community that prevail in the end, Shakespeare lives up to the motto he puts in the mouth of Portia: "To offend and judge are distinct offices and of opposed natures". There is offence given and taken in the play, but it is never Shakespeare who offends. On the contrary, by transposing himself imaginatively and sympathetically into Shylock's situation, he is able to echo with marvellous precision the sincerity of the Jew's statement of his own case:
Shylock: In the Rialto you have rated me
Antonio is clearly aware of an unbridgable moral gulf separating him from the Jew, for he replies as follows to Shylock's eloquent speech:
Antonio: I am as like to call thee so again,
Antonio would thus also have been under no illusions about the intentions behind the pound-of-flesh bond subsequently offered by Shylock "in merry sport" and as a kindness.
Shakespeare has permitted Shylock to express himself in language which for centuries gave the English theatre moments of unforgettable grandeur and eloquence, as, when asked by Salerio how it would profit him to insist on having a pound of the flesh of the merchant he now has in his power, the Jew answers with deadly earnestness:
Shylock: To bait fish withal. If it will feed nothing else, it will
Shakespeare could write such a speech because, as an artist of exceptional power and sensibility, he was able to transpose himself imaginatively into the Jew's situation and invoke the feelings which he would himself experience in such a situation. In other words, he had a complete sympathetic understanding of the Jew's situation. Shylock is no common criminal who "by direct or indirect attempts (seeks)... the life of a citizen". On the contrary, the attempt on Antonio's life is felt by Shylock to be just as free from any guilt as violence done by a soldier against his nation's enemy. Shylock gives expression to this attitude with this command to a fellow Jew when first informed that Antonio's ships have been wrecked:
Shylock: Go, Tubal, fee me an officer; bespeak him a
Victor Hugo makes this comment on Skylock's motivation: "In entering his synagogue, Shylock entrusts his hatred to the safeguard of his faith. Henceforward his vengeance asumes a consecrated character. His bloodthirstiness against the Christian becomes sacerdotal."
Shakespeare is scrupulously obedient to the highest canons 10 The Zionist Factor of poetic and dramatic art in The Merchant of Venice. The quarrel as represented in the play is not personal and private but national and elemental, a clash between two separate self-contained moral systems, each with its own sense of right and wrong and its own keenly felt sense of personal honour.
When the spendthrift Bassanio, already in debt to Antonio, asks for a further loan with which to finance himself as a suitor for the hand of fair Portia, there is no mention of any bond to be signed before a notary:
Bassanio: 'Tis not unknown to you, Antonio,
Antonio: I pray you good Bassanio, let me know it,
Between Shylock and his "countrymen" likewise there is complete mutual trust. The Jew does not have the required three thousand ducats instantly available, but-
Shylock: ... What of that?
This situation among the Jews persists to this day to a degree unequalled among other communities. Jews in all the countries of the West, although conspicuous as lawyers and sometimes even as judges, seldom avail themselves of the gentiles' courts in resolving their own disputes; what generally happens is that a dispute is dealt with by arbitration without any publicity whatever; and it is almost unthinkable for one Jew to appear as complainant against another in a criminal court.
One of the play's important lessons can be quickly and easily
disposed of before we get to grips with Shakespeare's handling
of the major theme of the exact relations of Jew and gentile:
It is nowhere recorded that the "groundlings" in the pit of the London theatre, "the sort of those" who might even have helped to despoil the city's Jews, ever reacted with hoots of disapproval to this speech; on the contrary, Jessica has always been received by audiences as one of the play's loved characters. Later in the play, with her husband Lorenzo, the Jew's daughter is entrusted by Portia with the "husbandry and management" of her palatial home at Belmont:
Portia (to Lorenzo): My people do already know my mind
The enforced conversion of Shylock to Christianity as a condition of the mitigation of sentence passed on him by the duke sounds harsh, yet clearly signifies the willingness of Venice's Christian community to receive a repentant Shylock as one of its own.
Shakespeare's penetrating study of the relations of Jew and gentile is at the same time essentially a study of the sources, operations and influences of law in general and, in particular, the relations of common law and equity. The poet is not known to have had more than a layman's book learning and experience of the jurisprudence of his day, but successive generations of scholars have expressed astonishment at the depth of his understanding of the operations of law, arising, we may be sure, from a marvellous understanding of human nature.
The legal structure of The Merchant of Venice is fallacious, as Moelwyn Merchant points out, since no system of law would permit a man to put his own life in jeopardy as one of the conditions of a contract; in other words, the legal framework of the drama is no more real than so much stage furniture and painted scenery. What is profoundly real is "Shakespeare's most elaborate statement of the relation of positive law to equity in the dealings of man and man".
Writes Moelwyn Merchant, an authority on the subject of
law in literature:
It is the relation of common law to equity which, more than any other aspect of law, comes into question in the quarrel between the moneylender and the merchant of Venice.
"'Equity' is a highly ambiguous term", writes Moelwyn Merchant in a footnote to his Introduction: "At its most general it is the quality of 'equitable dealing' between men or nations, governed by the principles of natural law 'written in the hearts of men"'.
In England it was early realised that under common law
grave injury could go unredressed, to the detriment of civil order
and national unity. We read in Chambers' Encyclopaedia:
Out of this original procedure there evolved "equity jurisdiction" in the Chancery Court, hardening with the passage of time into a form of jurisprudence that relies less and less on metaphysical influences like "the conscient of the king" and increasingly on precedent, as in the common law courts.
Shakespeare handles this theme in a minor key in Act I where borrower and lender exchange a few words on the subject of usury, a theme to be played on a major key in the trial scene in Act 4:
Shylock: ... And let me see; but hear you,
There we have a classic example of common law unsupported with equity, a hostile exercise of craftiness by Jacob against his uncle Laban, an injury inflicted in violation of moral law but not of common law. It is precisely the possibility of the frequent occurrence of this form of evil that explains the evolution of equity law as a concept and juridical practice in all civilised nations.
Legality without equity is thus clearly identifiable as an ingenious form of warfare in which moral violence is cunningly substituted for physical violence without incurring any risk of retribution under common law.
The main theme of evil perpetrated or purposed under the protection of common law while in contravention of equity law is played out in a major key in the famous trial scene in Act 4, Scene 1, with Shylock's plea for "justice" to the Duke:
Shylock: I have possessed your grace of what I purpose,
This is only a small sample of Shylock's eloquence from one of the longest and most powerful speeches in the play. The Jew is offered twice the amount borrowed by Antonio, but he will not yield:
Shylock: If every ducat in six thousand ducats
Portia, having been invited by the Duke to examine Shylock's suit and pass judgment according to the law, makes a plea for equity in one of the most moving speeches in English drama:
Portia: The quality of mercy is not strained,
And earthly power doth then show likest God's
It should be remembered, however, that "mercy", which is the essence of Portia's plea, is only one aspect of equity, both in its broadest sense as "law written in the hearts of men" and in its narrowest sense as "equity jurisdiction" in the chancery courts, other aspects of equity being imperfectly contained in concepts like "fair dealing", "truthfulness", "honesty", "trust", "loyalty", "honour", etc.
While in Shylock's speech the main emphasis is on the danger that must always attend any suspension of statutory law - "Let the danger light upon your charter and your city's freedom!" - in Portia's speech the argument is that there can be no true justice where the exercise of power is not "seasoned" with mercy. Mercy in this sense is not a softening and undermining of the law, but an exercise of sympathetic understanding which enhances the power of the law by freeing it of defects which must attend a written law that cannot take into account an infinite variety of circumstances.
Portia's speech makes no impression whatever on Shylock. His conscience is safe, his vengeance "consecrated" on behalf of his own community, his hardness "sacerdotal", all obedient to a law of enmity in which it is equity that calls for suspension - "Hates any man the thing he would not kill?", and again, "What, wouldst thou have a serpent sting thee twice?".
What we are shown in The Merchant of Venice is an enmity in nature, involving two nations, each with its own legal and moral code, which cannot be resolved by any mutually acceptable law; the only question to be determined is which side must win and which lose.
The effect of Shakespeare's play, whatever his intentions may have been, is to draw attention to the vulnerability of the people of the West, far more pronounced today than when he wrote, to an infinite variety of Jewish practices which correspond in moral terms with the device used by Jacob to acquire for himself more than his fair share of the increase of Laban's flock.
The story about Jacob and Laban drawn from Genesis, Chapter 30 et seq, could have been supplemented with references to usury in Deuteronomy, Chapter 15 - thou shalt lend unto many nations but thou shalt not borrow, and thou shalt reign over many nations and they shall not reign over thee. Shakespeare would have been familiar with this and other references to usury in Deuteronomy but could not have introduced them without disturbing the structure and continuity of the drama. It is also perhaps significant that Jessica's theft of the property of her father in The Merchant of Venice has a parallel in Rachel's theft of her father's sacred images before she, her sister Leah and Jacob departed secretly from Laban's house.
In the Genesis story, too, evil perpetrated against a supposed
enemy acquires a consecrated character:
It remains, for the purposes of this introductory chapter, to
enquire briefly into the psychology of the concept of equity and
the innumerable other concepts with which it can be assimilated.
The root feeling of care or concern is exercised powerfully between man and his mate, by parents towards their children; thereafter with diminishing force within ever widening social circles of family, friends and community. Within still wider circles of felt and perceived common interest, as between nations, the influence of care or concern is ephemeral and entirely at the mercy of circumstances. On the other hand, even in war, where the parties are divided only by a temporary opposition of interests, an exercise of the care feeling takes the form of chivalry, where the victor stops short of destroying his opponent, Shakespeare and the Law of Equity influenced often quite unconsciously by awareness of a kinship that transcends present differences.
The root feeling of care depends for its meaning and significance on the existence of another root feeling, its polar opposite, which likewise gives rise to a range of seemingly dissimilar concepts, like "hate", "enmity", "danger", "antipathy", "jealousy", "suspicion", "distrust", etc. The two are, in fact, inseparable, like the positive and negative poles in an electric circuit, the force of the one nearly always directly proportional to the force of the other - as in war or some other situation of peril, it is the danger which excites the maximum exercise of the root feeling of care in the form of self- sacrificing herosim, a pattern of behaviour that is duplicated throughout the animal kingdom. This root feeling of care or concern is associated throughout nature with an awareness of varying degree of kinship, in man also with an awareness of common interest in innumerable other forms, such awareness always accentuated by an apprehension of shared danger.
It is against this background of ideas that we can discern
more clearly a vital difference of phase which characterises the
relations of Jew and gentile in the West.
Western societies have provided the Jews with an ideal environment for an exploitation of the secret advantages to be derived from a dual-code relationship, advantages heavily compounded in our century by a prodigious increase in quantity and complexity of mercantile transactions, a form of "thrift" in which the Jews specialised. This preference for "transactions" rather than production is not fortuitous or one forced on the Jews; it was ever one of the necessary conditions for separation, since an undifferentiated sharing of all economic activity would make it impossible for the Jews to resist assimilation.
In this free-for-all economic environment, in which Westerners are naturally inclined to exercise their competitive energies against each other, the Jews found added stimulus and advantage in exercising their powers collectively against the rest of the population.
Another important factor favouring the Jews was a system of values which has always distinguished the Western nations from the rest of the world and was, in fact, the secret of what could be called "the might of the West". Interacting both as cause and effect in the West was a liberal tradition (liberal in the true and original meaning of that word) in which the maximisation of the freedom of the individual was found to be rewarded with a corresponding release of energy, inventiveness and enterprise and in which some injustice as a by-product of competitiveness was not considered too high a price to have to pay for benefits shared by all.
Professor Norman Cohn states correctly that anti-semitism is almost exclusively a Western phenomenon; he writes: "For some 2000 years Jewish settlements existed in India and China without attracting any particular attention; to this day the Jewish artisans and peasants of India are regarded simply as one of the innumerable religious communities of the sub-continent, with nothing in the least odd about them." The only explanation Professor Cohn can find is that the people of the West have been afflicted down the centuries with a form of insanity he calls "a paranoiac schizophrenia", from which other peoples are, presumably, immune.
There is a far simpler explanation: These other peoples did
not have an open competitive environment nor did they have an
exuberant economic environment in which the poison vine of
usury could take root and extend its tentacles without restraint.
The vicissitudes of Israel throughout the Dispersion, but particularly during these latter days of ours, make it plain that we Jews cannot hope to lead the life of a separate nation among strange peoples, and yet be as one of them, taking part in all the activities about us as though we were full-blooded natives of the lands of our sojourn, and at the same time remain a nation peculiar in views and distinct in character.. . Misfortunes maim our manhood, favourable circumstances our national spirit. The former make of us men despicable in the eyes of our fellows, the latter a nation despicable in our own sight...
Asher Ginsburg (Ahad ha-Am) could see no future for the Jews as a nation except as "exemplars of righteousness", a role only possible in "a house for themselves only", where they could "develop along their own lines as one of the social units of mankind". He could see only one place where this might be possible, "the land of our forefathers" - that land in which the Jews have exhibited themselves since the end of World War II, more so perhaps than anywhere else in the world, as exemplars of cruelty and iniquity rather than of righteousness, as many Jews today frankly admit.
1. William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice with an Introduction by W.
Moelwyn Merchant (Penguin, 1977).
"The Zionist Factor" by Ivor Benson is available from
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Heritage Book Shop, Box 1052 GPO Melbourne, Australia 3001.
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