Guide to investing in gold & silver, 2

by Mike Maloney


Chapter Two:
The wealth of nations

In studying monetary history to identify cycles, it is necessary to examine both sides of the coin so to speak. The temptation is for people to blame all their woes on their government. Certainly governments are often at fault when it comes to inflation through fiat monetary policy, but one must never forget that in the end we are ultimately the ones who consent to our government’s rule. History is full of examples of greed leading a populace to do incredibly stupid things. Indeed, we don’t need government to ruin our economy. We can get by just fine by ourselves, thank you.

The best example I can think of is the tulip mania of 1637.

A tulip is still a tulip…

In order to understand the absurdity of this moment in history I’m about to share with you, you simply have to ask yourself: Would I pay $1.8 million for a tulip bulb? If the answer to that question is yes, then please put this book down and get some professional help. Otherwise, read on and see just how crazy the public can become.

Everyone thinks of tulips when they think of Holland. Then they think of beer. What many people don’t know is that tulips are not indigenous to Holland. They were imported. In 1593 the first tulip bulbs were brought from Turkey to Holland. They quickly became a status symbol for royalty and the wealthy. This developed into a mania, and soon a tulip exchange was established in Amsterdam.

Very quickly this mania turned into an economic bubble. You may find this comical; in 1636 a single tulip bulb of the Viceroy variety was traded for the following: 2 lasts (a last is 4,000 pounds) of wheat, 4 lasts of rye, 4 fat oxen, 8 fat swine, 12 fat sheep, 2 hogsheads (140 gallon wooden barrel) of wine, 4 tons of beer, 2 tons of butter, 1,000 pounds of cheese, 1 bed, 1 suit of clothes, and 1 silver goblet.

At its very peak in 1637 a single bulb of the Semper Augustus variety was sold for 6,000 florins. The average yearly wage in Holland at the time was 150 florins. That means that tulip bulbs were selling for 40 times the average Hollander’s annual income. To put that into perspective, let’s assume the average U.S. salary is $45,000. That means that a tulip bulb in today’s terms would cost you $1.8 million.

Soon people began to realize how absolutely crazy the situation had become, and the smart money (if you can call anyone involved in this mania smart) began to sell. Within weeks tulip bulb prices fell to their real value, which was several tulip bulbs for just one florin.

The financial devastation that swept across northern Europe as a result of this market crash lasted for decades.

John Law and central banking

Another great example of a society replacing its money with an ever inflating currency supply is the story of John Law. John Law’s life was a true roller-coaster ride of epic proportions.

Born the son of a Scottish goldsmith and banker, John Law was a bright boy with high mathematical aptitude. He grew up to be quite a gambler and ladies’ man, and lost most of his family fortune in the course of his exploits. At one point, he got into a fight over a woman and his opponent challenged him to a duel. He shot his opponent dead, was arrested, tried, and sentenced to hang. Being the knave that he was, Law escaped from prison and fled to France.

Meanwhile, Louis XIV was running France deeply into debt due to war mongering and his lavish lifestyle. John Law, who was now living in Paris, became a gambling buddy with the Duke d’Orleans, and it was at about this time that Law published an economic paper promoting the benefits of paper currency.

When Louis XIV died, his successor, Louis XV was only eleven years old. The Duke d’Orleans was placed as regent (temporary king), and to his horror he found out that France was so deep in debt that taxes didn’t even cover the interest payments on that debt. Law, sensing opportunity, showed up at the royal court with two papers for his friend blaming the problems of France on insufficient currency and expounding the virtues of paper currency. On May 15, 1716, John Law was given a bank (Banque Générale) and the right to issue paper currency, and there began Europe’s foray into paper currency.

The slightly increased currency supply brought a new vitality to the economy, and John Law was hailed as a financial genius. As a reward the Duke d’Orleans granted Law the rights to all trade from France’s Louisiana Territory in America. The Louisiana Territory was a huge area comprising about 30 percent of what is now the United States, stretching from Canada to the mouth of the Mississippi River.

At that time, it was believed that Louisiana was rich in gold, and John Law’s new Mississippi Company, with the exclusive rights to trade from this territory, quickly became the richest company in France. John Law wasted no time capitalizing on the public’s confidence in his company’s prospects and issued 200,000 company shares. Shortly after that the share price exploded, rising by more than 30 times in a period of months. Just imagine, in a few short years, Law went from a gambling addict and penniless murderer to one of the most powerful financial figures in Europe.

Again, Law was rewarded. This time the Duke bestowed upon him and his companies a monopoly on the sale of tobacco, the sole right to refine and coin silver and gold, and he made Law’s bank the Banque Royale. Law was now at the helm of France’s central bank.

Now that his bank was the royal bank of France it meant that the government backed his new paper notes, just as our government backs the Federal Reserve’s paper notes. And since everything was going so well, the Duke asked John Law to issue even more notes, and Law, agreeing that there is no such thing as too much of a good thing, obliged. The government spent foolishly and recklessly while Law was pacified with gifts, honors, and titles.

Yes, things were going quite well. So well, in fact, that the Duke thought that if this much currency brought so much prosperity, then twice as much would be even better. Just a couple of years earlier the government couldn’t even pay the interest on its debt, and now, not only had it paid off its debt, but it could also spend as much currency as it wanted. All it had to do was print it.

As a reward for Law’s service to France, the Duke passed an edict granting the Mississippi Company the exclusive right to trade in the East Indies, China, and the South Seas. Upon hearing this news, Law decided to issue 50,000 new shares of the Mississippi Company. When he made the new stock offer, more than 300,000 applications were made for the new shares. Among them were dukes, marquises, counts, and duchesses, all waiting to get their shares. Law’s solution to the problem was to issue 300,000 shares instead of the 50,000 he was originally planning, a 500 percent increase in the total number of shares.

Paris was booming due to the rampant stock speculation and the increased currency supply. All the shops were full, there was an abundance of new luxury goods, and the streets were bustling. As Charles Mackay puts it in his book Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, “New houses were built in every direction, and an illusory prosperity shone over the land, and so dazzled the eyes of the whole nation, that none could see the dark cloud on the horizon announcing the storm that was too rapidly approaching.”

Soon, however, problems started to crop up. Due to the inflation of the currency supply, prices started to skyrocket. Real estate values and rents, for instance, increased 20-fold.

Law also began to feel the effects of the rampant inflation he had helped create. With the next stock issue of the Mississippi Company, Law offended the Prince de Conti when he refused to issue him shares at the price the royal wanted. Furious, the Prince sent three wagons to the bank to cash in all of his paper currency and Mississippi stock. He was paid with three wagonloads-ful of gold and silver coin. The Duke d’Orleans, however, was incensed and demanded the Prince return the coin to the bank. Fearing that he’d never be able to set foot in Paris again, the Prince returned two of the three wagonloads.

This was a wake-up call to the public, and the “smart money” began to exit fast. People started converting their notes to coin, and bought anything of transportable value. Jewelry, silverware, gemstones, and coin were bought and sent abroad or hoarded.

In order to stop the bleeding, in February of 1720 the banks discontinued note redemption for gold and silver, and it was declared illegal to use gold or silver coin in payment. Buying jewelry, precious stones, or silverware was also outlawed. Rewards were offered of 50 percent of any gold or silver confiscated from those found in possession of such goods (payable in banknotes of course). The borders were closed and carriages searched. The prisons filled and heads rolled, literally.

Finally, the financial crisis came to a head. On May 27, the banks were closed and Law was dismissed from the ministry. Banknotes were devalued by 50 percent, and on June 10 the banks reopened and resumed redemption of the notes for gold at the new value. When the gold ran out, people were paid in silver. When the silver ran out, people were paid in copper. As you can imagine, the frenzy to convert paper back to coin was so intense that near riot conditions ensued. Gold and silver had delivered a knockout blow.

By then John Law was now the most reviled man in France. In a matter of months he went from arguably the most powerful and influential force in society back to the nobody he was before. Law fled to Venice where he resumed his life as a gambler, lamenting, “Last year I was the richest individual who ever lived. Today I have nothing, not even enough to keep alive.” He died broke, in Venice, in 1729.

The collapse of the Mississippi Company and Law’s fiat currency system plunged France and most of Europe into a horrible depression, which lasted for decades. But what astounds me most is that this all transpired in just four short years.

The Weimar Republic—a painful lesson learned

By now you’ve learned the kind of damage fiat currency can cause. Now let’s look at another example and identify the silver lining (no pun intended), and how such extreme situations can actually present opportunities to acquire vast wealth.

At the beginning of World War I, Germany went off the gold standard and suspended the right of its citizens to redeem their currency (the mark) for gold and silver. Like all wars, World War I was a war of and by the printing press. The number of marks in circulation in Germany quadrupled during the war. Prices, however, had not kept up with the inflation of the currency supply. So the effects of this inflation were not felt.

The reason for this peculiar phenomenon was because in times of uncertainty people tend to save every penny. World War I was definitely a time of uncertainty. So even though the German government was pumping tons of currency into the system, no one was spending it—yet. But by war’s end, confidence flooded back along with the currency that had been on the sidelines, and the ravaging effects worked their way through the country as prices rose to catch up with the previous monetary inflation.

Just before the end of the war, the exchange rate between gold and the mark was about 100 marks per ounce. But by 1920 it was fluctuating between 1,000 and 2,000 marks per ounce. Retail prices shortly followed suit, rising by 10 to 20 times. Anyone who still had the savings they had accumulated during the war was bewildered when they found it could only buy 10 percent or less of what it could just a year or two earlier.

Then, all through the rest of 1920 and the first half of 1921, inflation slowed, and on the surface the future was beginning to look a little brighter. The economy was recovering, business and industrial production was up. But now there were war reparations to pay, so the government never stopped printing currency. In the summer of 1921 prices started rising again and by July of 1922 prices had risen another 700 percent.

This was the breaking point. And what broke was people’s confidence in their economy and their currency. Having watched the purchasing power of their savings fall by 90 percent in 1919, they knew better this time around. They were smarter; they had been here before.

All at once, the entire country’s attitude toward currency changed. People knew that if they held on to their currency for any period of time they’d get burned… the rising prices would wipe out their purchasing power. Suddenly everybody started to spend their currency as soon as they got it. The currency became a hot potato, and no one wanted to hang on to it for a second.

After the war, Germany made the first reparations payment to France with most of its gold and made up the balance with iron, coal, wood, and other materials, but it simply didn’t have the resources to meet its second payment. France thought Germany was just trying to weasel its way out of paying. So, in January of 1923, France and Belgium invaded and occupied the Ruhr (the industrial heartland of Germany). The invading troops took over the iron and steel factories, coal mines and railways.

In response, the German Weimar government adopted a policy of passive resistance and noncooperation, paying the factories’ workers, all 2 million of them, not to work. This was the last nail in the German mark’s coffin.

Meanwhile, the government put its printing presses into overdrive. According to the front page of the New York Times, February 9, 1923, Germany had thirty-three printing plants that were belching out 45 billion marks every day! By November it was 500 quadrillion a day (yes, that’s a real number).

The German public’s confidence, however, was falling faster than the government could print the new currency. The government was caught in a downward economic spiral. A point of no return had been passed. No matter how many marks the government printed, the value fell quicker than the new currency could enter into circulation. So the government had no choice but to keep printing more and more and more.

By late October and early November 1923, the German financial system was breaking down. A pair of shoes that cost 12 marks before the war now cost 30 trillion marks. A loaf of bread went from half a mark to 200 billion marks. A single egg went from 0.08 mark to 80 billion marks.

The German stock market went from 88 points at the end of the war to 26,890,000,000, but its purchasing value had fallen by more than 97 percent.

Only gold and silver outpaced inflation. The price of gold had gone from around 100 marks to 87 trillion marks per ounce, an 87 trillion percent increase in price. But it is not price, but value, that matters, and the purchasing power of gold and silver had gone up exponentially.

When Germany’s hyperinflation finally came to an end on November 15, 1923, the currency supply had grown from 29.2 billion marks at the beginning of 1919 to 497 quintillion marks, an increase of the currency supply of more than 17 billion times. The total value of the currency supply, however, had dropped 97.7 percent against gold.

[Note of the Ed.: In his books and audiovisual materials, Maloney loves charts. In “Chart 1. Price of 1 Ounce of Gold in German Marks from 1914-1923” he depicts the Weimar Republic hyperinflation from one to a trillion paper marks per gold mark. We won’t be reproducing his charts in this site, but the curious reader can see them: here.]

The poor were already poor before the crisis, so they were affected the least. The rich, at least the smart ones, got a whole lot richer. But it was the middle class that was hurt the most. In fact, it was all but obliterated.

But there were a few exceptions. There were a few who had the right qualities and cunning to take advantage of the economic environment. They were shrewd, adept, and nimble, but most of all, adaptable. Those who could quickly adapt to a world they had never seen before, a world turned upside down, prospered. It didn’t matter what class they came from, poor or middle class, if they could adapt, and adapt well, they could become wealthy in a matter of months.

At this time, an entire city block of commercial real estate in downtown Berlin could be purchased for just 25 ounces of gold ($500). The reason for this is that those who held their wealth in the form of currency became poorer and poorer as they watched their purchasing power destroyed by the government. On the flip side, those who held their wealth in the form of gold watched their purchasing power increase exponentially as they became wealthy by comparison.

Here is the important lesson: During financial upheaval, a bubble popping, a market crash, a depression, or a currency crisis such as this one, wealth is not destroyed. It is merely transferred. During the Weimar hyperinflation, gold and silver didn’t just win, but smashed their opponent into the ground, by delivering yet another devastating knockout blow to fiat currency. Thus, those who held on to real money, instead of currency, reaped the rewards many times over.

Published in: on June 30, 2017 at 11:17 am  Comments Off on Guide to investing in gold & silver, 2  

Uncle Adolf’s table talk, 110

5th April 1942, evening

Shall we try to Germanise the French?—Example of Austria—Germanisation of Holland—Fusion of all Germanic races—But no excess Germanisation—Distrust of the Poles.

During dinner, the Reichsfuehrer SS declared that, in his view, the best way of settling the French problem would be to carry off every year a certain number of racially healthy children, chosen amongst France’s Germanic population. It would be necessary to try to settle these children, while still very young, in German boarding-schools, to train them away from their French nationality, which was due to chance, to make them aware of their Germanic blood and thus inculcate into them the notion of their membership of the great group of Germanic peoples. The Fuehrer replied:

“Sinister theory!” For my part, all these attempts at Germanisation don’t mean much to me—in so far, at least, as no successful attempt is made to found them on an appropriate conception of the world. As regards France, one must not forget that the military reputation of that country is not due to the people’s moral worth, but essentially to the fact that, on the Continent, the French were able to exploit certain military combinations of circumstance that were favourable to them (during the Thirty Years’ War, for example). Every time they were confronted by a Germany that was aware of herself, they got a thrashing—under Frederick the Great, for example, in 1940, etc. The fact that they won victories of universal significance under the leadership of that unique military genius, the Corsican Napoleon, makes no difference at all. The mass of the French people has petit bourgeois spiritual inclinations, so much so that it would be a triumph to succeed in removing the elements of Germanic origin from the grasp of the country’s ruling class.

Austria, too, her own history—secular five times over—a history that truly is not devoid of highlights? Obviously, in discussing these problems one must remain very careful, when confronted by Dutch and Norwegians. One must never forget that in 1871 Bavaria would never have agreed to become part of Prussia. Bismarck persuaded her only to agree to become part of a great association linked by kinship—that is to say, Germany. Nor did I, in 1938, tell the Austrians that I wanted to incorporate them in Germany, but I insisted on the fact that Germany and Austria ought to unite to form the Greater German Reich. Similarly, when speaking to the Germanics of the North-west and North, one must always make it plain that what we’re building is the Germanic Reich, or simply the Reich, with Germany constituting merely her most powerful source of strength, as much from the ideological as from the military point of view.

The Reichsfuehrer SS then spoke of the creation in Holland of boarding-schools for the political education of the young, two for boys and one for girls, to be called “Reich Schools”a title approved by the Fuehrer. A third of the pupils would be Dutch and two-thirds German. After a certain period, the Dutch pupils would have to visit in turn a similar school in Germany. The Reichsfuehrer SS explained that, to guarantee that instruction would be given in accordance with the purposes of the Germanic Reich, he had refused a financial contribution from Holland and had asked Schwarz to set aside a specific sum exclusively for the financing of these schools. There was a project for the creation of similar schools in Norway. They, too, would be financed solely by the Reich Party treasurer. “If we want to prevent Germanic blood from penetrating into the ruling class of the peoples whom we dominate, and subsequently turning against us, we shall have gradually to subject all the precious Germanic elements to the influence of this instruction.” The Fuehrer approved of this point of view.

One mustn’t forget that, unless he is convinced of his racial membership of the Germanic Reich, the foreign legionary is bound to feel that he’s betraying his country. The fall of the Habsburg monarch clearly shows the full size of this danger.

It’s not possible to unite the Germanic peoples under the folds of the black-white-and-red flag of the old German Empire—for the same reason as prevented the Bavarians from entering the German Reich, in 1871, under the flag of Prussia. It’s the reason why I began by giving the National Socialist Party, as a symbol of the union of all Germanics, a new rallying-sign which was valid also inside our own national community—the swastika flag.

Let’s avoid attempting the Germanisation of our vital space on too great a scale. Let’s be cautious, especially with the Czechs and the Poles. According to Himmler, history proves that the Poles have their nationality tattooed oh their bodies.

It’s very important for the future that the Germans don’t mingle with the Poles, so that the new Germanic blood may not be transmitted to the Polish ruling class. Himmler is right when he says that the Polish generals who genuinely put up a serious resistance in 1939 were, so to speak, exclusively of German descent. It’s an accepted fact that it’s precisely the best elements of our race who, as they lose awareness of their origin, add themselves to the ruling class of the country that has welcomed them. As for the elements of less value, they retain the characteristics of their ethnic group and remain faithful to their Germanic origin. The same caution is necessary towards the Czechs. They’re skilled at not awakening the distrust of their occupiers, and are wonderful at playing the rôle of subjects.

We shall not win the peace, on the racial level, unless the Reich knows how to maintain a certain stature. Confronted with the United States, whose population is scarcely greater than ours, our strength lies in the fact that four-fifths of our people are of Germanic race.

Published in: on August 16, 2015 at 7:41 pm  Comments Off on Uncle Adolf’s table talk, 110  

Main cause of white decline

Zionist Occupied Government? Pffft!
Zionist Occupied Culture? Closer.
Zionist Occupied Soul? Bingo! The Inner Jew.

—Sebastian Ronin

In my recent visit to the UK, actually in my way to Arthur Kemp’s town, I read a most insightful chapter about “The Mercantile System” in The Story of Mankind (1921) by Hendrik van Loon. Italics means my orange text-marks over my old copy’s yellowed pages while traveling in the UK train:

The mercantile system. How the newly founded national
or dynastic states of Europe tried to make themselves rich and what was meant by the mercantile system

We have seen how, during the sixteenth and the seventeenth centuries, the states of our modern world began to take shape. Their origins were different in almost every case. Some had been the result of the deliberate effort of a single king. Others had happened by chance. Still others had been the result of favourable natural geographic boundaries. But once they had been founded, they had all of them tried to strengthen their internal administration and to exert the greatest possible influence upon foreign affairs. All this of course had cost a great deal of money. The mediaeval state with its lack of centralized power did not depend upon a rich treasury. The king got his revenues from the crown domains and his civil service paid for itself. The modern centralised state was a more complicated affair. The old knights disappeared and hired government officials or bureaucrats took their place. Army, navy, and internal administration demanded millions. The question then became where was this money to be found?

Gold and silver had been a rare commodity in the middle ages. The average man, as I have told you, never saw a gold piece as long as he lived. Only the inhabitants of the large cities were familiar with silver coin. The discovery of America and the exploitation of the Peruvian mines changed all this. The centre of trade was transferred from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic seaboard. The old “commercial cities” of Italy lost their financial importance. New “commercial nations” took their place and gold and silver were no longer a curiosity. Through Spain and Portugal and Holland and England, precious metals began to find their way to Europe The sixteenth century had its own writers on the subject of political economy and they evolved a theory of national wealth which seemed to them entirely sound and of the greatest possible benefit to their respective countries. They reasoned that both gold and silver were actual wealth. Therefore they believed that the country with the largest supply of actual cash in the vaults of its treasury and its banks was at the same time the richest country. And since money meant armies, it followed that the richest country was also the most powerful and could rule the rest of the world.

We call this system the “mercantile system,” and it was accepted with the same unquestioning faith with which the early Christians believed in Miracles and many of the present-day American businessmen believe in the Tariff. In practice, the Mercantile system worked out as follows: To get the largest surplus of precious metals a country must have a favourable balance of export trade. If you can export more to your neighbour than he exports to your own country, he will owe you money and will be obliged to send you some of his gold. Hence you gain and he loses. As a result of this creed, the economic program of almost every seventeenth century state was as follows:

1.- Try to get possession of as many precious metals as you can.

2.- Encourage foreign trade in preference to domestic trade.

3.- Encourage those industries which change raw materials into exportable finished products.

4.- Encourage a large population [My interpolated note: This is especially important since it means that such western System was hard-wired to become New Zion], for you will need workmen for your factories and an agricultural community does not raise enough workmen.

5.- Let the State watch this process and interfere whenever it is necessary to do so.

Instead of regarding International Trade as something akin to a force of nature which would always obey certain natural laws regardless of man’s interference, the people of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries tried to regulate their commerce by the help of official decrees and royal laws and financial help on the part of the government.

In the sixteenth century Charles V adopted this Mercantile System (which was then something entirely new) and introduced it into his many possessions. Elizabeth of England flattered him by her imitation. The Bourbons, especially King Louis XIV, were fanatical adherents of this doctrine and Colbert, his great minister of finance, became the prophet of Mercantilism to whom all Europe looked for guidance.

The entire foreign policy of Cromwell was a practical application of the Mercantile System. [Interpolated note: which means that Whites were wielding the “One Ring” of corruption first and the Jews wrought by Cromwell were a secondary infection] It was invariably directed against the rich rival Republic of Holland. For the Dutch shippers, as the common carriers of the merchandise of Europe, had certain leanings towards free-trade and therefore had to be destroyed at all cost.

It will be easily understood how such a system must affect the colonies. A colony under the Mercantile System became merely a reservoir of gold and silver and spices, which was to be tapped for the benefit of the home country. The Asiatic, American and African supply of precious metals and the raw materials of these tropical countries became a monopoly of the state which happened to own that particular colony. No outsider was ever allowed within the precincts and no native was permitted to trade with a merchant whose ship flew a foreign flag. Undoubtedly the Mercantile System encouraged the development of young industries in certain countries where there never had been any manufacturing before. It built roads and dug canals and made for better means of transportation. It demanded greater skill among the workmen and gave the merchant a better social position, while it weakened the power of the landed aristocracy.

On the other hand, it caused very great misery. It made the natives in the colonies the victims of a most shameless exploitation. It exposed the citizens of the home country to an even more terrible fate. It helped in a great measure to turn every land into an armed camp and divided the world into little bits of territory, each working for its own direct benefit, while striving at all times to destroy the power of its neighbours and get hold of their treasures. It laid so much stress upon the importance of owning wealth that “being rich” came to be regarded as the sole virtue of the average citizen. Economic systems come and go like the fashions in surgery and in the clothes of women, and during the nineteenth century the Mercantile System was discarded in favour of a system of free and open competition. At least, so I have been told.

(Pages 256-259 of my 1945, Pocket Books edition.)

On Kenneth Clark’s “Civilisation”

Kenneth Clark may have been clueless about the fact that race matters. Yet, that our rot goes much deeper than what white nationalists realize is all too obvious once we leave, for a while, the ghetto of nationalism and take a look at the classics, just as Clark showed us through his 1969 TV series Civilisation.

Compared to the other famous series, Clark’s was unsurpassed in the sense that, as I have implied elsewhere, only genuine art—not science—has a chance to fulfill David Lane’s fourteen words.

By “art” I mean an evolved sense of beauty which is almost completely absent in today’s nationalists. Most of them are quite a product of Jewish modernity whether with their music, lifestyles or Hollywood tastes, to a much greater degree than what they think. For nationalism to succeed an evolved sense of female beauty has to be the starting point to see the divine nature of the white race. In Clark’s own words, “For all these reasons I think it is permissible to associate the cult of ideal love with the ravishing beauty and delicacy that one finds in the madonnas of the thirteenth century. Were there ever more delicate creatures than the ladies on Gothic ivories? How gross, compared to them, are the great beauties of other woman-worshiping epochs.”

Below, links to excerpts of most of the chapters of the 1969 series, where Clark followed the ups and downs of our civilisation historically:

“The Skin of our Teeth”

“The Great Thaw”

“Romance and Reality”

“Man—the Measure of all Things”

“The Hero as Artist”

“Protest and Communication”

“Grandeur and Obedience”

“The Light of Experience”

“Heroic Materialism”

Civilisation’s “The Light of Experience”

For an introduction to these series, see here.

Below, some excerpts of “The Light of Experience,” the eight chapter of Civilisation by Kenneth Clark.

Ellipsis omitted between unquoted passages:

I am in Holland not only because Dutch painting is a visible expression of this change of mind [the revolution that replaced divine authority by experience, experiment and observation], but because Holland—economically and intellectually—was the first country to profit from the change. When one begins to ask the question, ‘does it work?’ instead of ‘is it God’s will?’ one gets a new set of answers, and one of the first of them is this: that to try to suppress opinions which one doesn’t share is much less profitable than to tolerate them.

Nearly all the great books which revolutionised thought were first printed in Holland. What sort of society was it that allowed these intellectual time-bombs to be set off in its midst? Inside the old almshouse of Haarlem, which is now a picture gallery, there is plenty of evidence. We know more about what the seventeenth-century Dutch looked like than we do about any other society, except perhaps the first-century Romans. Each individual wanted posterity to know exactly what he was like.

One can’t imagine groups like this [Rembrandt’s Syndics] being produced in Spain or seventeenth-century Italy, even in Venice. They are the first visual evidence of bourgeois democracy. Dreadful words—so debased by propaganda that I hesitate to use them. Yet in the context of civilisation they really have a meaning. They mean that a group of individuals can come together and take corporate responsibility; that they can afford to do so because they have some leisure; and that they have some leisure because they have money in the bank.

Amsterdam was the first centre of bourgeois capitalism, the chief banking centre of Europe. I don’t say much about economics in this book chiefly because I don’t understand them—and perhaps for that reason believe that their importance has been overrated by post-Marxist historians. But, of course, there is no doubt that at a certain stage in social development fluid capital is one of the chief causes of civilisation because it ensures three essential ingredients: leisure, movement and independence.

In studying the history of civilisation one must try to keep a balance between individual genius and the moral or spiritual condition of a society. However irrational it may seem, I believe in genius. I believe that almost everything of value which has happened in the world has been due to individuals.

Nevertheless, one can’t help feeling that the supremely great figures in history—Dante, Michelangelo, Shakespeare, Newton, Goethe—must be to some extent a kind of summation of their times. They are too large, too all-embracing, to have developed in isolation.

Rembrandt is a crucial instance of this conundrum. It is very easy—indeed rather more convenient for the historian—to imagine Dutch art without him; and there was no one else in Holland remotely comparable to him—nothing like the group of poets and dramatists who preceded and accompanied Shakespeare. Yet the very fact that Rembrandt was so immediately and overwhelmingly successful, and went on being successful—his etchings and drawings never went out of fashion—and that for twenty years almost every Dutch painter was his pupil, shows that the spiritual life of Holland needed him and so had, to some extent, created him.

However, any attempt to relate art to society gets one into a false position. The greatest of all pictures based on the facts of vision wasn’t painted in the scientific atmosphere of Holland, but in the superstitious, convention-ridden court of Philip IV of Spain: Las Meninas, ‘The Ladies in Waiting’, which was painted by Velasquez about five years before Vermeer’s finest interiors.

The enlightened tidiness of Hooch and Vermeer and the rich imaginative experience of Rembrandt reached their zenith about 1660. During that decade the leadership of intellectual life passed from Holland to England. Towering above all these remarkable scientists [Boyle, Hooke, Halley, Wren] was Newton, one of the three or four Englishmen whose fame has transcended all national boundaries. I can’t pretend that I have read the Principia, and if I did I wouldn’t understand it any more that Samuel Pepys did when, as President of The Royal Society, it was handed to him for his approval. One must take on trust that it gave a mathematical account of the structure of the universe which for three hundred years seemed irrefutable. It was both the climax of the age of observation and the sacred book of the next century.

What is civilisation? A state of mind where it is thought desirable for a naval hospital to look like this and for the inmates to dine in a splendid decorated hall.

Painted Hall
Royal Hospital
Greenwich, London

The strange thing is that none of the nineteenth-century writers (except Carlyle and Ruskin) seemed to notice that the triumph of rational philosophy had resulted in a new form of barbarism. If, from the balcony of the Greenwich Observatory, I look beyond the order of Wren’s hospital I see, stretching as far as the eye can reach, the squalid disorder of industrial society. It has grown up as a result of the same conditions that allowed the Dutch to build their beautiful towns and support their painters and print their works of philosophers: fluid capital, a free economy, a flow of exports and imports, a dislike of interference.

Every civilisation seems to have its nemesis, not only because the first bright impulses become tarnished by greed and laziness, but because of unpredictables—and in this case the unpredictable was the growth of population.

Published in: on April 24, 2012 at 4:51 pm  Comments Off on Civilisation’s “The Light of Experience”  
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