First posted Friday, 4 May 2012 at 20:25
Ezra Pound: the last word on usury
The political right has been hijacked. Even the extreme right as it is popularly understood is an expression of the neo-liberal consensus. Often couched in terms of ‘resistance’ to incursions by Muslim migrants, the right has ended up defending a world of western ‘values’ created by its real enemies.
What is the right defending? The so-called right would benefit from asking not what western values it is defending, but what is the west despoiling?
It is often said that Islam would have benefited from a reformation, or an enlightenment. Well did the west benefit?
We lost a world in which economic interests were subordinated to the real business of life, which was universally understood to be death, or rather salvation.
The assumption held today that a life can be led in the pursuit of worldly happiness and economic gain would have been utterly unthinkable to the medieval mind. At every turn there were warnings from the church, limits and restrictions against allowing economic interests to interfere with serious affairs.
One of the most practical expressions of the subordination of the material to the divine was the prohibition of usury, the lending of money for interest.
There was a universal loathing of usury, which was considered to be on a par with adultery and fornication on the scale of sinfulness. Usury was contradictory to scripture, Aristotle and nature.
Why this loathing for usury? Because the needs and distress of others was seen as an opportunity by the money-lender. By lending money, the rich were seen as having a fixed and certain return from those to whom they lent, because other people bore risks on the money-lender’s behalf. There wasa fear that if economic life cut free from the church, the rich would put their money into usury, because of its sure and certain return, rather than into the production of food and other necessities for the general well-being. For if the rich were to lend with a sure and certain return, and the poor were to borrow out of distress - the rich would surely get richer and the poor poorer. The situation would be unsustainable.
What did the reformation and enlightenment bring to the west? They promoted science and intellectual interchange and opposed superstition, intolerance and what were thought of as abuses by the church.
Great enlightenment thinkers emerged like Spinoza, Locke, Voltaire, Rousseau and Paine amongst many others. Their ideas ledto the French and American revolutions, influencing Franklin and Jefferson along the way.
But they also ushered in the precept that in life that man’s material interests were no longer subordinate to the divine. Political decision making, even political theory became dictated by economic contingency and not morality.
At an individual level, life became compartmentalised. One could go to church one day and work in a bank the next.
Asa result of secular freedoms, usury was let loose upon the world, riding a wave of Liberté, égalité, fraternité and the rights of man. It continues to swallow up the last enclaves of resistance to this day, always in the name of freedom and democracy, often at the point of a gun.
Hardly anybody understands how our central banking system really works today, except that it is based on debt. With little or nothing of intrinsic value to back it up, wealth is created out of thin air in tandem with usury. If every debt were paid off today, our entire money supply would cease to exist. And the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer.
So where does the political right stand in relation to this? Still defending western values? Still championing liberty and democracy against so-called unenlightened peoples?
Let us leave Ezra Pound to have the last word on usury, for little more need or could be said.
With usura hath no man a house of good stone
each block cut smooth and well fitting
that design might cover their face,
hath no man a painted paradise on his church wall
harpes et luthes
or where virgin receiveth message
and halo projects from incision,
seeth no man Gonzaga his heirs and his concubines
no picture is made to endure nor to live with
but it is made to sell and sell quickly
with usura sin against nature,
is thy bread ever more of stale rags
is thy bread dry as paper,
with no mountain wheat, no strong flour
with usura the line grows thick
with usura is no clear demarcation
and no man can find site for his dwelling.
Stone cutter is kept from his stone
weaver is kept from his loom
wool comes not to market
sheep bringeth no gain with usura
Usura is a murrain, usura
blunteth the needle in the maid's hand
and stoppeth the spinner's cunning.
came not by usura
Duccio came not by usura
nor Pier della Francesca; Zuan Bellin' not by usura
nor was "La Calunnia" painted.
Came not by usura Angelico; came not Ambrogio Praedis,
Came no church of cut stone signed: Adamo me fecit.
Not by usura St Trophime
Not by usura Saint Hilaire,
Usura rusteth the chisel
It rusteth the craft and the craftsman
It gnaweth the thread in the loom
None learneth to weave gold in her pattern;
Azure hath a canker by usura; cramoisi is unbroiled
Emerald findeth no Memling
Usura slayeth the child in the womb
It stayeth the young man's courting
It hath brought palsey to bed, lyeth
between the young bride and her bridegroom
They have brought whores for Eleusis
Corpses are set to banquet
at behest of usura.
(Canto XLV - by Ezra Loomis Pound)
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