It is only from a notion of the human, common to all men, that the concept of person can be dissolved into the idea of individual.
The relevance of the concept of person lies in its ability to describe functional relationships with its environment: sui juris or alieni juris, noble, patrician, commoner, serf or lord, father, minor, capable, incapable, etc. In pre-modern times, according to each function, a normative system exclusive to caste, position or estate, known as “privilege”, corresponded.
Rather, Modernity dissolves fixed personal relationships into an undifferentiated diagram of spheres of individual autonomy. Each human being ceases to be a person attached to a certain fixed function in the social fabric and, by the mere fact of being human, is the holder of his sphere of individual autonomy, equal to that of any other human being.
The legal system ceases to govern particular relationships between people to become a structure empty of intentions and purposes, which only determines procedures and delimits equal and predictable fields of interaction and clear methods for the resolution of disputes among the holders of the different spheres of individual autonomy.
The principle ceases to be that of difference to become that of equality. The difference becomes the exception, to be justified on a functional basis that results in a public benefit.
However, in the non-political sphere, that of civil society, the difference does not disappear, but is expressed in each of the individual exceptionalities, within each respective sphere of individual autonomy, while it is accidental and irrelevant to the legal-political system.
There are certain special situations framed within specific legal regimes, such as minority and intra-family relations, which enshrine assistance obligations, usufruct rights and a system of representation and guardianship.
Consequently, the role of the public sphere within civil society is defined by the procedure to be followed to settle the conflicts that could arise from the collision of the different spheres of individual autonomy.
From the moment in which each human being is an autonomous individual, the legitimate exercise of power in relation to the population does not consist in giving specific orders to subjects but in administering a set of procedures whose specific purpose is to serve as a means for different individuals settle their disputes peacefully.
Of course, in Modernity and in liberal democracies relations of command and political obedience subsist, but within the governmental structures themselves, which in turn incorporated procedural rules that limit discretion in the exercise of power and establish functions and hierarchies that define competencies and delimit individual responsibilities.
However, both modern government structures and the legal consecration of a social structure composed of equal individuals in dignity and respect are not the result of an invention but the consequence of a historical evolution whose becoming does not cease and whose hindrances persist in the field of the aforementioned civil society.
That the differences between people are exclusively functional and that such functions report a benefit to all the individuals involved, in such a way that none of them is used exclusively as a means, but is seen as an end in itself, is an imperative for the public sphere, but only a programmatic aspiration in the field of civil society.
In turn, that each person deserves equal consideration and respect is a discovery in the true sense of the word. Quentin Skinner in “The Foundations of Modern Political Thought” recounts the role played in the Late Middle Ages by the discussion that every person was endowed with an immortal soul, deserving of salvation, for the subsequent conceptualization that every human being is worthy also of legal protection regarding their fundamental interests, such as their life, their personal freedom, or their possessions.
Regarding the natural law doctrine of human rights, which states that human beings enjoy a certain set of guarantees and rights against the state and against other people, it is usually dismissed as metaphysical.
However, such statement can be understood more clearly if it is related to its historical evolution: the different freedoms already existed but assigned to different people according to their caste or status, who had an immediate and specific interest in their protection.
To cite an example, in the Partidas of Alfonso X of Castille, we find every detail of social life regulated: some had the right to bear arms but not to work, since they had to be available to the king in his court to eventually go to war; others had the right to exercise a certain trade or profession, excluding those who did not belong to their corporation, but they were not free to change their activity, neither in terms of their subject matter nor their geography. In the pre-modern world, the holders of freedoms had a specific interest in defending them, but their ownership depended on circumstances that, in the vast majority of cases, were out of their control and, in others, obsolete in terms of their functionality.
Given that this legal-political system had very little plasticity to adapt to changes in the surrounding circumstances, it was generally inefficient, stagnant, and unstable and, therefore, conflicts manifested themselves in recurrent revolts.
Modernity consisted in the universalization of liberties. This means that freedoms – or immunities against power – that already existed and whose entitlement was limited to reasons of belonging to certain castes or estates, to the exclusion in many cases of one another, began to be extended to all human beings by the mere fact of being such.
That is to say, there is nothing metaphysical in the natural law doctrine of human rights. It actually consists of the universalization of rights that already existed and were recognized.
The novelty that this brought is that each human being ceased to be considered as a person in relation to his family, his social status or his caste, to be considered as an autonomous individual and equal in rights to any other, holder of rights that he was actively interested in exercising as well as others whose content he hardly had any news or specific interest.
In turn, men exchanged differentiated rights that protected certain personal interests in exchange for new abstract freedoms, the same for each of the remaining individuals. As a result, each person gained potential spheres of action and saw specific regions of power restricted.
The nobleman gained a freedom to work and trade that he may or may not have an interest in exercising, but he lost the power he had over his serfs or was displaced by commoner bureaucrats in government functions. The shoemaker gained the freedom to emigrate to other cities or to change his trade to that of a blacksmith, in which he may or may not be interested, but he also received competition in his own town from other new shoemakers who emigrated from other latitudes, who effectively exercised such rights.
Such transformations and their discontents can be verified in the conservative authors of the beginnings of the Contemporary age, as is the case of Charles Dickens, among others.
That is why the universalization of fundamental rights -for the English tradition- or natural rights -for the American conception- constitutes both a discovery of intellectual research on historical evolution and a political program.
Whether such an extension is desirable and to what extent it should be continued or reversed largely defines political positioning from right to left. For this reason, historical evolution is not a legitimizing device in itself, but a process of discovery of various forms of social and political organization that is subject to a critical evaluation regarding which institutions and practices to incorporate, preserve, resist or modify.
Nevertheless, the said irony might lead us to a different kind of reflection on the political right to speak and the rights of due process, such as public hearings, an impartial tribunal, and an opportunity to be heard. Public hearings and impartiality are interrelated since it would be much harder for a tribunal to deliver an arbitrary adjudication if it is overseen by the society. But the public watch of the trials and the right to be heard are even more interrelated. Through these devices, the whole civil society wields the power to take notice of both the claims of the prosecution and of the ones of the prosecuted individuals, and, thus, form its judgment about the impartiality of the tribunal.
Moreover, public hearings endow the prosecuted individuals with the opportunity to exert their political right to speak without any restraint. In a political context of heavy or increasing authoritarianism, any procedures -even the one of a morality council- could resound with the voice of the contrarian. Thus, the right of due process could have -although unintended- political consequences.
Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson relate a poor justice system with the causes of why nations fail, exemplified by government exerting their interference over the judiciary power. Thus, extractive political institutions encroach upon the economic institutions, turning them extractive as well. Nevertheless, defending the procedural rights of the due process could work as a way to contribute to restore both inclusive political and economic institutions.
Of course, a tight authoritarian regime, such as China’s, is aware of the political consequences of free speech, even in the realm of a judiciary process. However, this insight could be profited by the countries where democracies are feeble but still exist. Promoting oral and public judiciary procedures, even for the most insignificant matters, and the right of the prosecuted individual to be heard is not just an issue of lawyers, but acquire a political dimension. The rights of due process endow the civil society with powerful tools to get familiar with main strands of the Rule of Law and the dissidents with the opportunity to exercise their own right to speak.
The immunities of the due process have a long history of discovery and extension to all human beings, beginning with the Magna Carta Libertarum of 1215, that is not fulfilled to this day. It should be something to be pondered that they are historically previous to Modern democracy. Surely, they are a logical condition as well.
The sight of the U.S.-trained and equipped Afghan army literally melting away over a matter of hours in the face of the Taliban assault would be bad enough; the scenes of Afghans falling hundreds of feet to their deaths as they tried to escape in the wheel wells of U.S. transport planes will endure for decades as a reminder of America’s shame.
[…] In the Israeli-Palestinian context, a number of unsurprising lines of argument have emerged. The most prevalent from the right is that this is the latest demonstration of the folly of withdrawing from territory, as it only leads to a security nightmare that will be exploited by fundamentalist terrorist groups. Afghanistan is seen as an incarnation of Israel’s experience in Gaza, where Israel withdrew and left the territory in the hands of the Palestinian Authority, only to have Hamas take over within two years and remain stubbornly resistant to being dislodged nearly fifteen years later. The Taliban’s success on the literal heels of departing American soldiers is viewed as a preview of coming attractions for Hamas’s allegedly inevitable takeover of the West Bank should Israel ever leave the territory.
There is much more from Michael Koplow at Ottomans & Zionists. Is the Israeli Right correct? The same type of disasters happened when the French and the British (and the Dutch) were forced out of their imperial possessions after World War II. The Americans, and their European predecessors, built “states: out of their colonies. These states helped locals who wanted to be helped, but these states were always weak and wholly dependent on the imperial capital for everything. Once imperial powers leave, the weaknesses of these “states” become apparent quickly. Thus, communists, Islamists, and other despotisms quickly arise in the wake of imperial exit. To make matters worse, these despotisms employ the weak “states” the imperial powers leave behind.
This is a pattern that has happened now for two centuries. This is a problem of modernity, of industrial humanity.
Here’s the thing. Here’s the libertarian alternative. It’s time to recognize that Western governance is pretty good, comparatively speaking, and helps people get out of poverty (intellectual as well as financial) if they want to. The “states” Western powers create are weak. I think the libertarian alternative should be to stop trying to make these “states” stronger, or give them more capacity as sovereigns, and instead incorporate these states into their own body politics via federation. This would address the areas where Western-created “states” are weak, such as in security/defense of sovereignty, or corruption, while also leaving open the effects that Western governance has had on these societies that have been experimented upon. All those Afghans wanting to flee has made an impression on me. I think federation is a good compromise between state sovereignty and individual freedom.
The most important historical question to help understand our rise from the muck to modern civilization is: how did we go from linear to exponential productivity growth? Let’s call that question “who started modernity?” People often look to the industrial revolution, which is certainly an acceleration of growth…but it is hard to say it caused the growth because it came centuries after the initial uptick. Historians also bring up the Renaissance, but this is also a mislead due to the ‘written bias’ of focusing on books, not actions; the Renaissance was more like the window dressing of the Venetian commercial revolution of the 11th and 12th centuries, which is in my opinion the answer to “who started modernity.” However, despite being the progenitors of modern capitalism (which is worth a blog in and of itself), Venice’s growth was localized and did not spread immediately across Europe; instead, Venice was the regional powerhouse who served as the example to copy. The Venetian model was also still proto-banking and proto-capitalism, with no centralized balance sheets, no widespread retail deposits, and a focus on Silk Road trade. Perhaps the next question is, “who spread modernity across Europe?” The answer to this question is far easier, and in fact can be centered to a huge degree around a single man, who was possibly the richest man of all time: Jakob Fugger.
Jakob Fugger was born to a family of textile traders in Augsburg in the 15th century, and after training in Venice, revolutionized banking and trading–the foundations on which investment, comparative advantage, and growth were built–as well as relationships between commoners and aristocrats, the church’s view of usury, and even funded the exploration of the New World. He was the only banker alive who could call in a debt on the powerful Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, mostly because Charles owed his power entirely to Fugger. Strangely, he is perhaps best known for his philanthropic innovations (founding the Fuggerei, which were some of the earliest recorded philanthropic housing projects and which are still in operation today); this should be easily outcompeted by:
His introduction of double entry bookkeeping to the continent
His invention of the consolidated balance sheet (bringing together the accounts of all branches of a family business)
His invention of the newspaper as an investment-information tool
His key role in the pope allowing usury (mostly because he was the pope’s banker)
His transformation of Maximilian from a paper emperor with no funding, little land, and no power to a competitor for European domination
His funding of early expeditions to bring spices back from Indonesia around the Cape of Good Hope
His trusted position as the only banker who the Electors of the Holy Roman Empire would trust to fund the election of Charles V
His complicated, mostly adversarial relationship with Martin Luther that shaped the Reformation and culminated in the German Peasant’s War, when Luther dropped his anti-capitalist rhetoric and Fugger-hating to join Fugger’s side in crushing a modern-era messianic figure
His involvement in one of the earliest recorded anti-trust lawsuits (where the central argument was around the etymology of the word “monopoly”)
His dissemination, for the first time, of trustworthy bank deposit services to the upper middle class
His funding of the military revolution that rendered knights unnecessary and bankers and engineers essential
His invention of the international joint venture in his Hungarian copper-mining dual-family investment, where marriages served in the place of stockholder agreements
His 12% annualized return on investment over his entire life (beating index funds for almost 5 decades without the benefit of a public stock market), dying the richest man in history.
The story of Fugger’s family–the story, perhaps, of the rise of modernity–begins with a tax record of his family moving to Augsburg, with an interesting spelling of his name: “Fucker advenit” (Fugger has arrived). His family established a local textile-trading family business, and even managed to get a coat of arms (despite their peasant origins) by making clothes for a nobleman and forgiving his debt.
As the 7th of 7 sons, Jakob Fugger was given the least important trading post in the area by his older brothers; Salzburg, a tiny mountain town that was about to have a change in fortune when miners hit the most productive vein of silver ever found by Europeans until the Spanish found Potosi (the Silver Mountain) in Peru. He then began his commercial empire by taking a risk that no one else would.
Sigismund, the lord of Salzburg, was sitting on top of a silver mine, but still could not run a profit because he was trying to compete with the decadence of his neighbors. He took out loans to fund huge parties, and then to expand his power, made the strategic error of attacking Venice–the most powerful trading power of the era. This was in the era when sovereigns could void debts, or any contracts, within their realm without major consequences, so lending to nobles was a risky endeavor, especially without backing of a powerful noble to force repayment or address contract breach.
Because of this concern, no other merchant or banker would lend to Sigismund for this venture because sovereigns could so easily default on debts, but where others saw only risk, Fugger saw opportunity. He saw that Sigismund was short-sighted and would constantly need funds; he also saw that Sigismund would sign any contract to get the funds to attack Venice. Fugger fronted the money, collateralized by near-total control of Sigismund’s mines–if only he could enforce the contract.
Thus, the Fugger empire’s first major investment was in securing (1) a long-term, iterated credit arrangement with a sovereign who (2) had access to a rapidly-growing industry and was willing to trade its profits for access to credit (to fund cannons and parties, in his case).
What is notable about Fugger’s supposedly crazy risk is that, while it depended on enforcing a contract against a sovereign who could nullify it with a word, he still set himself up for a consistent, long-term benefit that could be squeezed from Sigismund so long as he continued to offer credit. This way, Sigismund could not nullify earlier contracts but instead recognized them in return for ongoing loan services; thus, Fugger solved this urge toward betrayal by iterating the prisoner’s dilemma of defaulting. He did not demand immediate repayment, but rather set up a consistent revenue stream and establishing Fugger as Sigismund’s crucial creditor. Sigismund kept wanting finer things–and kept borrowing from Fugger to get them, meaning he could not default on the original loan that gave Fugger control of the mines’ income. Fugger countered asymmetrical social relationships with asymmetric terms of the contract, and countered the desire for default with becoming essential.
Eventually, Fugger met Maximilian, a disheveled, religion-and-crown-obsessed nobleman who had been elected Holy Roman Emperor specifically because of his lack of power. The Electors wanted a paper emperor to keep freedom for their principalities; Maximilian was so weak that a small town once arrested and beat him for trying to impose a modest tax. Fugger, unlike others, saw opportunity because he recognized when aligning paper trails (contracts or election outcomes) with power relationships could align interests and set him up as the banker to emperors. When Maximilian came into conflict with Sigismund, Fugger refused any further loans to Sigismund, and Maximilian forced Sigismund to step down. Part of Sigismund’s surrender and Maximilian’s new treaty included recognizing Fugger’s ongoing rights over the Salzburg mines, a sure sign that Fugger had found a better patron and solidified his rights over the mine through his political maneuvering–by denying a loan to Sigismund and offering money instead to Maximilian. Once he had secured this cash cow, Fugger was certainly put in risky scenarios, but didn’t seek out risk, and saw consistent yearly returns of 8% for several decades followed by 16% in the last 15 years of his life.
From this point forward, Fugger was effectively the creditor to the Emperor throughout Maximilian’s life, and built a similar relationship: Maximilian paid for parties, military campaigns, and bought off Electors with Fugger funds. As more of Maximilian’s assets were collateralized, Fugger’s commercial empire grew; he gained not only access to silver but also property ownership. He was granted a range of fiefs, including Arnoldstein, a critical trade juncture where Austria, Italy, and Slovenia border each other; his manufacturing and trade led the town to be renamed, for generations, Fuggerau, or Place of Fugger.
These activities that depended on lending to sovereigns brings up a major question: How did Fugger get the money he lent to the Emperor? Early in his career, he noted that bank deposit services where branches were present in different cities was a huge boon to the rising middle-upper class; property owners and merchants did not have access to reliable deposit services, so Fugger created a network of small branches all offering deposits with low interest rates, but where he could grow his services based on the dependability of moving money and holding money for those near, but not among, society’s elites. This gave him a deep well of dispersed depositors, providing him stable and dependable capital for his lending to sovereigns and funding his expanding mining empire.
Unlike modern financial engineers, who seem to focus on creative ways to go deeper in debt, Fugger’s creativity was mostly in ways that he could offer credit; he was most powerful when he was the only reliable source of credit to a political actor. So long as the relationship was ongoing, default risk was mitigated, and through this Fugger could control the purse strings on a wide range of endeavors. For instance, early in their relationship (after Maximilian deposed Sigismund and as part of the arrangement made Fugger’s interest in the Salzburg mines more permanent), Maximilian wanted to march on Rome as Charlemagne reborn and demand that the pope personally crown him; he was rebuffed dozens of times not by his advisors, but by Fugger’s denial of credit to hire the requisite soldiers.
Fugger also innovated in information exchange. Because he had a broad trading and banking business, he stood to lose a great deal if a region had a sudden shock (like a run on his banks) or gain if new opportunities arose (like a shift in silver prices). He took advantage of the printing press–less than 40 years after Gutenberg, and in a period when most writing was religious–to create the first proto-newspaper, which he used to gather and disseminate investment-relevant news. Thus, while he operated a network of small branches, he vastly improved information flow among these nodes and also standardized and centralized their accounting (including making the first centralized/combined balance sheet).
With this broad base of depositors and a network of informants, Fugger proceeded to change how war was fought and redraw the maps of Europe. Military historians have discussed when the “military revolution” that shifted the weapons, organization, and scale of war for decades, often centering in on Swedish armies in the 1550s as the beginning of the revolution. I would counter-argue that the Swedes simply continued a trend that the continent had begun in the late 1400’s, where:
Knights’ training became irrelevant, gunpowder took over
Logistics and resource planning were professionalized
Early mechanization of ship building and arms manufacturing, as well as mining, shifted war from labor-centric to a mix of labor and capital
Multi-year campaigns were possible due to better information flow, funding, professional organization
Armies, especially mercenary groups, ballooned in size
Continental diplomacy became more centralized and legalistic
Wars were fought by access to creditors more than access to trained men, because credit could multiply the recruitment/production for war far beyond tax receipts
Money mattered in war long before Fugger: Roman usurpers always took over the mints first and army Alexander showed how logistics and supply were more important than pure numbers. However, the 15th century saw a change where armies were about guns, mercenaries, technological development, and investment, and above all credit, and Fugger was the single most influential creditor of European wars. After a trade dispute with the aging Hanseatic League over their monopoly of key trading ports, Fugger manipulated the cities into betraying each other–culminating in a war where those funded by Fugger broke the monopolistic power of the League. Later, because he had a joint venture with a Hungarian copper miner, he pushed Charles V into an invasion of Hungary that resulted in the creation of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. These are but two of the examples of Fugger destroying political entities; every Habsburg war fought from the rise of Maximilian through Fugger’s death in 1527 was funded in part by Fugger, giving him the power of the purse over such seminal conflicts as the Italian Wars, where Charles V fought on the side of the Pope and Henry VIII against Francis I of France and Venice, culminating in a Habsburg victory.
Like the Rothschilds after him, Fugger gained hugely through a reputation for being ‘good for the money’; while other bankers did their best to take advantage of clients, he provided consistency and dependability. Like the Iron Bank of Braavos in Game of Thrones, Fugger was the dependable source for ambitious rulers–but with the constant threat of denying credit or even war against any defaulter. His central role in manipulating political affairs via his banking is well testified during the election of Charles V in 1519. The powerful kings of Europe– Francis I of France, Henry VIII of England, and Frederick III of Saxony all offered huge bribes to the Electors. Because these sums crossed half a million florins, the competition rapidly became one not for the interest of the Electors–but for the access to capital. The Electors actually stipulated that they would not take payment based on a loan from anyone except Fugger; since Fugger chose Charles, so did they.
Fugger also inspired great hatred by populists and religious activists; Martin Luther was a contemporary who called Fugger out by name as part of the problem with the papacy. The reason? Fugger was the personal banker to the Pope, who was pressured into rescinding the church’s previously negative view of usury. He also helped arrange the scheme to fund the construction of the new St. Peter’s basilica; in fact, half of the indulgence money that was putatively for the basilica was in fact to pay off the Pope’s huge existing debts to Fugger. Thus, to Luther, Fugger was greed incarnate, and Fugger’s name became best known to the common man not for his innovations but his connection to papal extravagance and greed. This culminated in the 1525 German Peasant’s War, which saw an even more radical Reformer and modern-day messianic figure lead hordes of hundreds of thousands to Fuggerau and many other fortified towns. Luther himself inveighed against these mobs for their radical demands, and Fugger’s funding brought swift military action that put an end to the war–but not the Reformation or the hatred of bankers, which would explode violently throughout the next 100 years in Germany.
This brings me to my comparison: Fugger against all of the great wealth creators in history. What makes him stand head and shoulders above the rest, to me, is that his contributions cross so many major facets of society: Like Rockefeller, he used accounting and technological innovations to expand the distribution of a commodity (silver or oil), and he was also one of the OG philanthropists. Like the Rothschilds’ development of the government bond market and reputation-driven trust, Fugger’s balance-sheet inventions and trusted name provided infrastructural improvement to the flow of capital, trust in banks, and the literal tracking of transactions. However, no other capitalist had as central of a role in religious change–both as the driving force behind allowing usury and as an anti-Reformation leader. Similarly, few other people had as great a role in the Age of Discovery: Fugger funded Portuguese spice traders in Indonesia, possibly bankrolled Magellan, and funded the expedition that founded Venezuela (named in honor of Venice, where he trained). Lastly, no other banker had as influential of a role in political affairs; from dismantling the Hanseatic League to deciding the election of 1519 to building the Habsburgs from paper emperors to the most powerful monarchs in Europe in two generations, Fugger was the puppeteer of Europe–and such an effective one that you have barely heard of him. Hence, Fugger was not only the greatest wealth creator in history but among the most influential people in the rise of modernity.
Fugger’s legacy can be seen in his balance sheet of 1527; he basically developed the method of using it for central management, its only liabilities were widespread deposits from the upper-middle class (and his asset-to-debt ratio was in the range of 7-to-1, leaving an astonishingly large amount of equity for his family), and every important leader on the continent was literally in his debt. It also showed him to have over 1 million florins in personal wealth, making him one of the world’s first recorded millionaires. The title of this post was adapted from a self-description written by Jakob himself as his epitaph. As my title shows, I think it is fairer to credit his wealth creation than his wealth accumulation, since he revolutionized multiple industries and changed the history of capitalism, trade, European politics, and Christianity, mostly in his contribution to the credit revolution. However, the man himself worked until the day he died and took great pride in being the richest man in history.
Jack Curtis is back with another excellent guest post, this time on Catholicism and it’s place within the modern world. An excerpt:
The Church is losing ground among the powerful while it is gaining among lesser folk; how will the Church’s captain plot its course among such shoals?
Its Cardinals are obviously concerned; they have violated a heretofore unbroken rule by electing the Church’s first Jesuit pope. Jorge Mario Bergoglio is also the first Pope from the Americas, the first from the southern hemisphere and the first from outside Europe since the 8th century.
And, a little further down:
To date, he seems to have succeeded in scandalizing the conservatives and progressives equally without actually altering his Church very much, which must be doubly frustrating for an intended savior.