Full retro

My readings in mediaeval economic history peaked when I was given an assignment, a few years ago, by some newspaper chain that happened to be employing me. They were planning a celebration of Capitalism to delight their pro-business readers, and wanted to regurgitate the cliché iteration of a much-disproved thesis about the “Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism” that Max Weber (1864–1920) never held. I, on the contrary, wanted to resist it. I sent in a draught manuscript on the development of trade finance, double-entry bookkeeping, brand management, and industrial production in mediaeval Florence and across pre-modern Europe, to make clear that this thesis, associating the birth of “capitalism” with the Protestant Reformation, was fanciful diddly-squat. My manuscript was neither returned, nor published. It was off-message.

A ludicrous belief in “modern progress” is shared by ideologues both Left and Right, and has been since the European Enlightenment. Both assume that “business,” and “science,” were inventions of modern people — freethinking, self-starting, emancipated — casting off the shackles of religious tyranny and dark superstition that had constrained all generations before. People much like themselves. By simply ignoring the evidence of history — rather as modern media simply ignore news unless it fits their agenda — an alternative world can be constructed. This is a world in which the heroes are all “liberators” of one kind or another, setting their necks against the ignorant, malevolent, self-serving villains, trying to sustain feudalism, slavery, tradition.

The end justifies the means, in progressive pedagogy, and so the endless repetition of bald yet mediocre lies can be justified. The progressive is by definition “on the side of history,” a cause so irreproachably good that pious fraud may be used to advance it. Naturally, the spokesman for progress accuses his opponents of doing exactly what he would do. Over time, realities are forgotten, progress triumphs over its foes, and a brave new world prevails until the catastrophe in which it collapses.

We are governed by superstition today. I realize this at each appearance of a new diet fad, each vomit of statistics, each announcement of the latest findings of one branch of scientism or another — that another progressive embolism has ensconced itself in a vein of the human body politic. A new witch-hunt is about to launch, against a new villain who deserves “zero tolerance.”

Our safety depends on the immediate rejection of anything that is presented as progressive. Suppress the contagion of Progress, before it kills us all.