Sunday 27 January 2008

A New Type of Empire

This is the fifth post in the series on human history, seen in terms of human systematics.
We have now come to a very difficult period to study. Difficult, because we are still in the cycle. We are looking at the last three hundred years, at the close of the cycle, watching as the seams of the society it created start to burst.

It has been an extraordinary cycle, it was the cycle in which the successful system triumphed over and eliminated all it's rivals, and even in it's death throes, it still marches roughshod over alternative viewpoints.
This system, is the strongest yet, even in its decay, it is almost invincible.

And we find it hard to stand back from. We find hard it to assess which really are progressive values, values which will usefully serve humanity, and which were necessary for THIS system.
We understand, for example, that certain moral codes made sense in the middle ages, but didn't once the Renaissance is reached.
So it is too, with many of our totems.

The system we live under, caused a revolution in people's morals when it came to power, it caused a sea change in the way people thought, as have all the systems before it.

So what is this system?
It usually called the Capitalist system by its critics and Western Liberal Democracy by its recent apologists, but the term democracy is misleading, as it is only a recent development of the system, and in any case, as I shall latter assert, isn't actually a democracy at all and never was (This will be explained in a subsequent post). Liberalism is slightly better, when given it's wider possible meaning, but neither Capitalism nor Liberalism fully explain the system.

To do so in one post, would be futile, so this post is really just going to look at the origins of the system.
Because our position in time, at the tale end of the system, often blinds us to the historically obvious fact, that the history of the Capitalist cycle, is the history of the British Empire. It is the history of globalisation, which to a large degree, has been anglicisation.

The Capitalist cycle starts in a little island that sits where the world was once thought to end.

It has often been said that only two Empires changed the face of the Earth. The statue of Boudicca on the Thames Embankment carries the inscription 'Regions Caesar never knew, thy posterity shall sway'

Both empires achieved something similar, they spread a culture and unified geographic regions under the strongest system of the day. But the British Empire did more. The system it spread was its own creation.

It was a bizarre phenomenon really, completely unlike any Empire that had happened before. It was not created by the power lusts of tyrants. It was created by practical people aiming to get rich.

How on earth did it happen?

Well, it started I guess, when the King of England found himself actually at war with his own legislature.
This is a pretty unusual thing, really.
I'm not one of those who blames Charles I for being a tyrant, I don't think he was. I think the reverse was a true, he was an indecisive ditherer who wasn't up to the job of being a divinely appointed King.

But eleven years without a King, made people a little tired of the alternatives. So we brought the King back.
It only took us thirty years to realise why it was we got rid of Kings before.

And so, with the glorious revolution in 1688, we invent a new system. It looks like a monarchy on the face of it, but it isn't really.

It's a republic with a hereditary president. The term we use for this, is constitutional monarchy. It satisfies everything. The King is still there for those who believe God wants us to have kings, but in practice, the country can be governed by Parliament.

Yes, Kings can sack governments. But so can the people, or the fraction of them represented in parliament. And it is a fraction. This isn't a democratic system. parliament represents interests, not people. There no MPs for Birmingham, or Manchester. But you can buy a rotten borough in Wiltshire and appoint two MPs.

However, there is some good in this. During the eighteenth century, parliament starts doing things that PEOPLE ask it do. It doesn't just pass legislation that kings want.

And it starts at Dudley Castle in 1709, with the first blast furnace.

The country has become a very practical one. The new rule is, do what works. The country isn't governed by divine laws, it is governed by practical ones. That is the name of the game.
And by the standard of the times, it is very liberal indeed. Religion isn't free, but at least pretty much everybody (except Catholics) is tolerated.
And for Jews, it's a very good country to come to.
As an aside, one of the reasons England lacks a large Jewish community, is due to a law passed by Edward I banishing all Jews and Gypsies from the country. Jews were allowed in by Cromwell, but the law on gypsies technically still stands, which is why genuine Romanies were always a rarity here.

The Jews were allowed to carry out their traditional trade of usury here, without prosecution. We needed their money. We needed it for our new ventures.

In the old systems, usury had been clamped down on as a social menace. If we think about it, in those earlier systems, it was.

If we all live in a village in Oxfordshire, and no one much comes and goes, then there is a finite amount of coins knocking round. All that happens, is they change hands, day in, day out.
If I borrow ten coins, and promise to repay twelve, I have to get the extra two somewhere.
So someone, somewhere, is going to lose out.

However, in this brave new world, the someone losing out is going to be some villagers in India.

If I can borrow fifty thousand gold coins and return from India with two hundred thousand, usury isn't such a bad thing.
Society can cope with interest, because it is continually increasing the amount of wealth in its possession.
And it continually incentivises the acquisition of fresh wealth.

And the best way to do that, is not to pillage, because that soon runs out.
The best way, is set up a lasting trade network, that continually expands.

It is about increasing the coinage free to invest in expanding your trade network.

A major start on this front, is to rationalise production. For most ordinary people, life is hard. It is about making ends meet. So a deal is offered to the poor. They are offered security. Instead of selling the cotton they have woven, they can sell their labour for the same price. They will now all work together weaving cotton. It is the economy of scale that makes the difference. More cotton is produced than would be produced by each worker working on his own.

Of course, the worker doesn't benefit from this, because he is now no longer selling his cotton, he is selling his labour. His labour now generates considerably more cotton, but he is paid at the same value as before. Labour has been given a price, and the price is cheap. The reason is simple. If labour is simply treated as just another commodity, then it is a cheap one, by the laws of supply and demand. The labourer at least has security now. He has a job for life. There will be no hard times for his family. Everybody is a little better off, or at least not much worse off, but some are now considerably better off.

It has become a thinking country. With no paper tax, the middle classes read. Not only the new form of literature, the novel, but also knowledge for its own sake. We now have the Encyclopedia Britannica.

People are continually busy finding better ways to do things. If a better way can be found, lives can be made better, people will have more coins to spend.
Coins breed coins.

And finding better ways to do things, means finding out how things work.
Things burn because they have a burning principle, is no longer a good enough explanation.

And there is a new way of seeing their eminently practical government. It isn't there to protect royal monopolies, it is there to provide a framework for people to live comfortable lives and not be harassed.

It isn't there to tell people how to worship God, it is there to grant permission to build canals, to enclose land, to find markets for cotton, for chains, for nails, for the huge volume of produce the industrious people of this little island are generating.

And Colonialism develops a fresh edge. It is driven now by the need to gain fresh markets. If our traders in India fall foul of the local Nawabs of the decaying Mogul Empire, they need troops to protect them.

The British Empire and the Capitalist system are truly ushered in, with that forgotten but crucial war, the seven years war.

The seven years war of 1756 to 1763, is really the first global conflict.

It is the war between systems. In retrospect, the outcome was inevitable.

It was the war that decided what language became the global language. It was the war that saw the world turn red, not blue.

It took place between the country that saw itself as the most civilised in the globe, whose ruler lived in the biggest palace in the world, and the country that saw itself as the happiest, whose middle classes were living in the cosiest houses in the world.
It was fought between troops who fought for their King, and troops who fought for their country- or in North America, to preserve an English way of life in their colonies. The French didn't have that to the same level. The English colonies already had between them half the population of the mother country. The French depended largely on alliances with the natives.

The difference was everything.

And none of it was fought in Europe.

It was fought in Canada and in India.

And the victors took everything.

North America and India became the British sphere.

Of course, one could say that in North America, it was a pyrrhic victory. Without the French to worry about, the colonies had no one to fear and began to feel that they could quite happily preserve their English way of life now, without standing armies of redcoats.

Did the Americans fight a war of independence?
Maybe, but only a political sense. They fought against Kings and Tyranny, against commercial exploitation. They were demanding the rights of Englishman, the right to be consulted about how they were governed.
The term American Revolution is probably more apt, but it is a very English revolution. It is founded on pragmatism, not slogans.

Is there not something very ENGLISH about the patriot who signed his name and said 'I hope that is large enough for King George to see it?

The American Constitution is a very English document. It is practical, it is sensible, it is workable. And look how it has worked. America is a success story, because it began with solid values. America didn't have to execute it's entire ruling class to become a beacon of hope for liberty.

The American Dream, is the dream of John Locke. It is the American Ideal that 'Each man knows best the route to his own happiness.'
Only a country born with such solid values, could have marched across a wilderness and turned deserts into flourishing states in the space of a century, in spite of a bloody civil war that threatened to tear it apart.

We look at British and American history as having diverged, but did they really?
Have our histories not always marched side by side?
Have our cultures really not stayed mysteriously linked?

Throughout the nineteenth century some kind of re-union between these two proud brothers remained an ideal on both sides of the Atlantic to many.

It's always been a special relationship. It's the same values that were being propagated.

We'd found a better way to live. Freer, richer, happier. Our system worked. Our system could change the world.

God Save the Queen, God Bless America.

We only had to look over at Europe to see people fighting for liberty, and not knowing what to do with it when they had it.

And it was all about trade. We were bringing progress to the world at the end of bayonets.
If local rulers got in our way, we just got rid of them and took over the government ourselves. Most of the time, we didn't want to. The history of the Empire is full of annexations made on the ground, that were repudiated by the Government in London.

Generally, most colonies were acquired because the government had no choice. The lives and investments of too many of it's citizens were enmeshed in these places, railroads were being built with British Money, resources were needed to be shipped home.
It really is true, we acquired most of that vast Empire by accident. It was a byproduct of rampant Capitalism.

And in 1851, we showcased that to the world in the Crystal Palace.
Britain, the workshop of the world.
Britain the force of enlightenment.

And the rest of the world had already decided, if you can't beat them, join them.

But the thing was, in this new practical world, people had really had become a lot more philosophical. People now had a sense of history. The pace of change had forced people to look at change, to look at history as a dynamic process.

And in the next twenty years, the process was finally understood.

And that certainly caused some consternation amongst the thinking elites.

For here is a genuine thought revolution taking place AT THE HEIGHT OF THE SYSTEM.
Here is when man finally figures out how everything works.

And the problem becomes, what to do with that knowledge.

And now we come to the history of mass confidence tricks, to the era of mass manipulation, where black is deliberately disguised as white, and blatant falsehoods are repeated so many times, that even intelligent people miss the flaws.

Welcome to the era of 'democracy'.
Welcome to rise of INGSOC


Anonymous said...

When I said I admire your ambition I meant your ambition for your blog. You are trying to make a difference in the world while all I do is go for cheap laughs...

Anonymous said...

Have this post bound and submit it as PhD research somewhere...
We know that capitalism is not just the most sensible way to organize an economy but is now the only possible way to organize an economy.
It’s not capitalism per se,’ which is the problem, but every form of collectivism, including both the Nazi & Communist versions.

All such isms fail because they cannot calculate. It is not possible to allocate resources efficiently, let alone democratically, via ANY form of central planning.

NONE of the “isms” really work, and serve merely to elevate and install an self-serving and overbearing ruling class. Social-”ism,” while posturing as an ideological mechanism for the teaching and advancement of social justice, is more often than not, a pretext for plunder and an authoritarian dictatorship....

Anonymous said...

I agree with Stan ultimately, but you've left out critical players. You've set up the King, his consort, the bishops, the pawns, but now address the knights and the rooks.

For the record, Stan and Crushed, read (in its entirety not just a review) Alan Trachtenberg's work The Incorporation of America.