“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

virtuous gamblers, virtuous atheists

The case is plain, you must put on a Sword, Kill a Beau or two, get into Newgate, be condemned to be hanged, break Prison, IF YOU CAN – remember that by the way – get over to some Strange Country, turn Stock-Jobber, set up a Mississippi Stock, bubble a Nation, and you may soon be a great man; if you would have but great good luck, according to an old English Maxim:

Dare once to be a Rogue upon record
And you may quickly hope to be a Lord.
[Defoe 1869,

189 in: Daniel Defoe his Life and recently discovered writings, I]

“...as that may be, I have not read anywhere, since the fable of King Midas, still less seen, that anyone has the talent for converting to gold all that he touches; I don’t believe, as well, that M. Law is endowed with this virtue, but I think all his knowledge is but a shrewd game, a new and skillful move in the shell game, which puts the goods of Pierr in the pocket of Jean, and only enriches the one from despoiling the other; that sooner or later this will stop, the game will be seen through, an infinite number of gentlemen will be ruined, and I foresee all the difficulty, even the impossibility, of restitutions of that gain, and even more, who to restore gains of that sort; that I abhorred the goods of others, and I wouldn’t charge myself with it, even equivocally.” – Saint-Simon, Journal xvii

When Montesquieu came to Venice in the summer of 1728, he was on a long fact finding tour through Europe. He was 38. He was a celebrity for the Persian Letters, which he’d written at thirty; one of those letters, 142, http://www.wm.edu/history/rbsche/plp/letter142.htm had attacked John Law’s “system,” pretty much following the same line of thought as Saint Simon. It must have been written at some point close to February 1720, when Law made one of the boldest move in European economic history by having a decree published which practically prohibited specie currency – that is, gold coins. About which, we will write in another post. Montesquieu was a virtuoso – a dabbler in natural history – as well as a philosopher. As he toured Europe, he kept notes not only on the people and the gossip he heard, but on the mines he toured, the factories he was ushered into. Coming into Venice, for instance, he noted the number of estimated whores, 10,000, as a pertinent economic fact, as much as he later noted famous mirror works. Whores and disgraced men who had fled their native lands were, in Montesquieu’s opinion, the key symbols of the Venice of his time: not the doge, not the lions of St. Mark. In Montesquieu’s account, Venice was definitely going through dog years. No one came to the carnivals anymore, or attended the opera, which once drew foreigners to the city – at least, according to Montesquieu. He paints a picture of a city in full decay – a place in which the cathedrals smelled of the fats of the corrupting corpses in the catafalques.

Of the disgraced men that Montesquieu came to see, one of them was John Law, born of “Aeolus, the god of the winds”, and a “Caledonian nymph”, and come to the gambler’s paradise to die, the only person he loved, his wife/mistress, left behind in France and making due as the mistress of a nobleman. Montesquieu notes that he interviewed Law on the 29 August, 1728, but he doesn’t say where. One thinks of a palazzo, rented of course, moldy, cluttered with old bric a brac, the household overseen by a sinister looking valet wearing a shabby fez. Obviously, Montesquieu was looking for the inside story to the mystery of how, exactly, the “system” had been put into operation. Montesquieu’s interview has been used ever since as a crib to the scandals surrounding the Bubble but, as Law’s biographer, Antoin E. Murphy, notes, Montesquieu didn’t seem to understand what Law was trying to tell him about the system. Instead, he noted a lot of figures – and Law’s figures were amazing, a million here, a billion there, which were almost demonic numbers in the Europe of the time – while Law’s deeper explanation of what he was trying to do seemed to go over our philosophe’s head. I was thinking that this meeting would make a nice contrast with Sganarelle and Dom Juan’s talk in the forest, but that’s a prettier idea than the historic reality it is built on.

So: what is the convergence here between Law’s system and Bayle’s society of atheists? It has to do with the difference between general belief and particular belief. The belief about the meaning of the cosmos – a belief that gives us a variety of Gods – was, you remember, discounted by Bayle as a factor in particular human behaviors. At the same time, Bayle was bothered by, and wrote against, superstition. Tolerance and the war against superstition go hand in hand – not only in Bayle, but in Locke, and in the Enlightenment tradition. Similarly, Law tried to institute a sort of economic atheism. This creed disbelieved in gold and silver. That is, disbelieved that gold was special. Briefly, Law got the unbelievable chance to enforce his beliefs on the primary nation in Europe. There are those who think France actually recovered from the lugubrious Louis XIV and his endless, bankrupting wars because of Law. But in the popular culture, Law’s system became a byword for a mass delusion.

Well, I’ll go from there when I have time.

"I drive a Rolls Royce
Cause it's good for my voice..."

11 comments:

northanger said...

In a curious historical coincidence, we find that there was a personification of this difference nearly three hundred years ago, right at the point where the modern age of finance began. For, in the Paris of the 1720s, there took place a duel – a contest of both wills and intellects - between a man who represented the destructive influences of an inflationism wedded to government intervention, and his antagonist, who exemplified the constructive energies of individual acumen and worthy self-reliance.

northanger said...

AO 232 = THE MAGUS IS [IH] PROVIDING THE ENERGY & THE SUBSTANCE OF THE PANTACLE (The Magical Diaries of Aleister Crowley: Tunisia 1923)

AO 420 = THE VIRGIN IS [HV] RECEIVING & INTERPRETING & ALSO EXPRESSING IT INTELLECTUALLY & IMPRESSING THAT IDEA UPON THE COIN = MARXISM 'CARRIES WITH IT, AND MUST CARRY WITH IT, NECESSARILY, DESPITE SO MANY MODERN OR POST-MODERN DENIALS, A MESSIANIC ESCHATOLOGY = WRESTLING WAS TO WIN THE BRIDE: PEITHO CLAD HER DELICATE BODY IN A SILVERY ROBE, FORETELLING VICTORY FOR LYAIOS'S WOOING.

AO 329 = AIWASS IS OF COURSE [SH] HARMONIZING ALL FOUR, & INSPIRING THE WHOLE CONCEPTION & EXECUTION = IT TAKES THE WHOLE SOCIAL ORDER, FOUNDED ON THE ANCIENT PEDIGREE OF BLOOD, AND TURNS IT UPSIDE DOWN = JUST LIKE ITS GLITTERING GOLDEN COUSIN, THE PLEBEIAN PLASTIC NUMBER GENERATES RICH SPIRALS OF IDEAS = STATISTICAL AVERAGES "STANDARDIZED BY REPETITION" (ACCORDING TO THE CONCLUSIVE JUDGMENT OF BOLTZMANN) = STIRNER ANALYSES THE MODERN WORLD IN TERMS OF A DEMONOLOGY OF THE SPIRITS TO WHICH WE ARE ENSLAVED = THE SEED IS MOST THOROUGHLY CAPTURED BY RED TARTAR ON THE FIRST REDUCTION THROUGH THE SCORIA PRODUCED.

northanger said...

AO 232 = TETH-BETH-AYIN {טבע}, BY WHICH ALL THE ORDERS OF THE HEAVEN OF ‘ARABOT {ערבות} WERE SEALED.

roger said...

North, Mises? Now, I don't hate Mises to pieces, but I have to say those guys are... a bit maniacal. Moreso even than me!

northanger said...

AO 62 = ROGER IS A BIT MANIACAL = BIT MORE THAN MISES.

Roger, i didn't bring up mania, so please stop feeding the monkey. but, i did see mises.org & go, hmm for 3 secs.

roger said...

Hey, why did you reverse the order and make me more maniacal than they?

Besides, as you know, my real manias are for: Britney, Santogold, and Ysa Ferrer. And not for the gold standard! I am not a bitter miser hiding out in a cave made of limberger cheese, much as I might seem like one.

Anonymous said...

LI, while reading this post a couple of things just leap out at me. This subject just begs - crawls on its knees and cries out to heaven - for a rendering in film. And LI is the man to write the scenario for the film.
Just think of it. The meeting between these two, the one rising the other falling, and their long discussion of The System. Just think of the setting, the place. Venice with its decadence and decay, intrigues and masked balls, gambling and prostitutes in throngs. And yeah, its architecture.
Who could resist such a film! And this side of László Krasznahorkai, who better than LI to write the film script and capture the witty yet profound and a little perplexing discussion of The System, as well as the flavor and smell of Venice. And of course the "contemporary interest" re our very own Bubble.
I'm not sure if this would be essential but you could include a musical number or two for Britney or Santogold or Ysa Ferrer.
Anyway, far be it for me to give advice on how to write the script. I would however recommend including something Diderot mentions about the meeting between John Law and Montesquieu. It's in a letter to Sophie Volland. Per Diderot, John Law told Montesquieu that the Ten were after Montes. Which was apparently a complete fabrication on the part of John Law. As a result, in mortal fear, Montesquieu burns the notes he has taken in Venice and hastily departs for Holland.
Burns his notes, his writing. They can be burnt. As can John Law's paper money.
Ashes remain.

Amie

roger said...

Diderot repeated that rumor? Ah well, Montesquieu is so pompous sometimes that he deserved it. His great great grandnephew, who edited the Voyages, is at pains to refute another version of the rumor, which attributes the malicious warning to Lord Chesterfield, who supposedly was trying to show that the English were superior, being phlegmatic, to the fickle French, and so made up the story of the Ten.

Now you've piqued my curiosity about this affair! Rumors are actually Law's natural element. Why did he fight the duel he fought, who helped him to escape from Newgate, where did he get his money, was he married to the woman he travelled with, etc., etc.
Actually, you are right about the movie like aspects of the whole visit. There's a death in Venice fog that hangs over everything Montesquieu writes about Venice. However, as per my most recent post, the movie, if one is to be made, would be a mixture of Don Giovanni and the rise and fall of John Law. With choreography by, hmm, Pina Bausch?

northanger said...

Roger, AO 62 = WHAT'S IN A NAME? [PART 2].

northanger said...

HEB 232 {AO-220 SUM OF THE FOUR WAYS OF SPELLING TETRAGRAMMATON IN THE FOUR WORLDS} = אראל (AO-42 RULER OF FIRE) = אמניציאל (AO-129 GEOMANTIC INTELLIGENCE OF PISCES) = יהי אור (AO-329 LET THERE BE LIGHT! MYSTIC NAME OF ALLAN BENNETT, A BROTHER OF THE CROSS AND ROSE, WHO BEGAN THIS DICTIONARY).

northanger said...

AO 232 = THE JOKER PLAYED REPORTEDLY BY MENACING PERFECTION BY HEATH LEDGER (AO-51 THE DARK KNIGHT).

AO 633 = THESE ARE 'STRUCK OUT' (טבע = 'TO MINT COINS') BY HIS FINGER, BY WHICH ALL THE ORDERS OF THE HEAVEN OF 'ARABOT WERE SEALED, PRINCES OF KINGDOMS, THE ANGEL OF DEATH, AND THE DESTINIES OF EVERY KINGDOM WERE SEALED' (p69, The 'Finger of God' and Pneumatology in Luke-Acts, Edward J. Woods) = SENSITIVITY TO INITIAL CONDITIONS MEANS THAT EACH POINT IN SUCH A SYSTEM IS ARBITRARILY CLOSELY APPROXIMATED BY OTHER POINTS WITH SIGNIFICANTLY DIFFERENT FUTURE TRAJECTORIES (AO-60 CHAOTIC DYNAMICS).

AO 100 = A VERY PRESENT HELP IN TROUBLE (AO-34 PSALMS 46:1) = THE ONE OVER DEATH LOVES YOU (AO-62 SONG OF SOLOMON).

AO 420 = 1+2+3+4+5 +6+7+8+9+10 +11+12+13+14+15 +16+17+18+19+20 +21+22+23+24+25 +26+27+28+29+30 +31+32+33+34+35 +36+37+38+39+40+41=861 (AO-12 861, AO-861 MEDITATION AND KABBALAH. CONTAINING RELEVANT TEXTS FROM THE GREATER HEKHALOT, TEXTBOOK OF THE MERKAVA SCHOOL, THE WORKS OF ABRAHAM ABULAFIA, JOSEPH GIKATALIA'S GATES OF LIGHT, THE GATES OF HOLINESS, GATE OF THE HOLY SPIRIT, TEXTBOOK OF THE LURIANIC SCHOOL, HASSIDIC CLASSICS) = BY CHOOSING THIS SPECIFIC ORGAN TO BEAR THE SIGN OF THE COVENANT, GOD INDICATED THE TREMENDOUS POWER OF THE SEXUAL ORGAN (AO-47 TIKKUN HAKLALI).

AO 26 = (2ˆ2)×3×5×7 (AO-21 420) = APRYVN (HEB-347 אפריונ / HEB-997 אפריון ~ AO-321 PALANQUIN (CANT. III. 9); BRIDAL BED; NUPTIAL CHARIOT, ["THALAMUS SEU COELUM FABRILE SUB QUO COPULANTUR NUBENTES"]).

AO 166 = MAGICAL DIARIES OF ALEISTER CROWLEY: TUNISIA 1923 = THALAMUS SEU COELUM FABRILE SUB QUO COPULANTUR NUBENTES.

AO 1027 = NOTES ON XI. THE MAGUS IS [IH] PROVIDING THE ENERGY & THE SUBSTANCE OF THE PANTACLE. THE VIRGIN IS [HV] RECEIVING & INTERPRETING & ALSO EXPRESSING IT INTELLECTUALLY & IMPRESSING THAT IDEA UPON THE COIN. AIWASS IS OF COURSE [SH] HARMONIZING ALL FOUR, & INSPIRING THE WHOLE CONCEPTION & EXECUTION = IN MULTITUDE AND EVIL VIRNO QUESTIONS AND CHALLENGES THE IDEA THAT A SOCIETY'S RADICAL OPPOSITION TO THE STATE IS DIRECTLY PROPORTIONAL TO ITS FAITH IN THE BENEVOLENCE OF HUMAN NATURE AND ARGUES FOR A POLITICAL INSTITUTION THAT RESEMBLES LANGUAGE, ITS NEGATIVITY AND ABILITY TO BE NATURE AND HISTORY AT ONCE (AO-23 AB'S NOTES).

AO 321 = THE FORMS OF VERBAL THOUGHT THAT ALLOW FOR CHANGE IN ONE'S BEHAVIOUR IN AN EMERGENCY SITUATION (AO-76 WIT AND INNOVATION) = THIS IS THE GENERAL REMEDY. THERE IS A SPECIFIC REMEDY FOR EACH SIN, BUT THIS IS THE GENERAL REMEDY (AO-47 TIKKUN HAKLALI).