Written by Vladimir Moss



     In order to understand the modern West, it is necessary to understand, first of all, how two nations – Holland and England – joined forces in order to create, in effect, the financial system that now dominates the world, with the help of a third nation – the Jews.

     On rebelling against the Spanish “Holy Roman Empire”, the Dutch immediately proclaimed religious liberty – the first State to do so. Not only all Protestant sects, but also Jews and Roman Catholics were given freedom to practise their beliefs. All strictly religious faiths were given liberty alongside the newest and most important faith, Capitalism.

     The English Catholic poet Andrew Marvell described the “universal church” of Capitalism in his poem, “The Character of Holland” (1653):

Hence Amsterdam, Turk-Christian-Pagan-Jew,

Staple of Sects and Mint of Schism grew;

That Bank of Conscience, where not one so strange

Opinion but finds Credit, and Exchange.

In vain for Catholicks our selves we bear;

The universal church is onely there.

     The Dutch Republic was the first political creation of Calvinism. Its main weakness was that its root was “the root of all evil” – money. Already in 1599, writes James Shapiro, eight Amsterdam ships had returned from Java with a huge cargo of spices and luxury goods, and had made a 400% profit, stimulating the English to found the East India Company[1]  – probably the most powerful private corporation in world history, since at one time it controlled most of India and had a private army of up to 350,000 men. From now on, commercial profit became a driving force in Dutch society. “Holland is a country,” wrote Claude de Saumaise, “where the demon gold is seated on a throne of cheese, and crowned with tobacco”.[2] This commercial character of the new Dutch state was caused, writes Pieter Geyl, by the fact that it was “the urban lower middle classes” who were mainly inspired to act against the Spaniards, while the town oligarchies “felt themselves… the guardians of the privileges and welfare of town and country, rather than the champions of a particularly new religious faith. In other words, they regarded matters from a secular standpoint, and, while the new Church had in their scheme of things its indispensable place, they felt it incumbent on them carefully to circumscribe this place. From one point of view… the great European movement of the Reformation was a revolt of the lay community under the leadership of their rulers – a revolt, that is to say, of the State against priestly influence.” And so the purpose of the Dutch Republic was not so much to protect or spread Calvinism as to protect and increase the material prosperity of its citizens. Their attitude to the state, therefore, was, as Ian McClelland puts it, that it “had better stop trying to interfere with the serious business of making money.”[3] Although the Calvinist-Puritans did not make money their goal, and profit-making was encouraged only in order to be more effective in doing good, the decay of Puritan religion tended to leave mammon in its place. As Cotton Mather said: “Religion begat prosperity and the daughter devoured the mother.”

     According to Niall Ferguson, Holland’s war of liberation against Spain “was a watershed in financial as well as political history. With their republican institutions, the United Provinces combined the advantages of the city-state with the scale of a nation-state. They were able to finance their wars by developing Amsterdam as the market for a whole range of new securities: not only life and perpetual annuities, but also lottery loans (whereby investors bought a small probability of a large return). By 1650 there were more than 65,000 Dutch rentiers, men who had invested their capital in one or other of these debt instruments and thereby helped finance the long Dutch struggle to preserve their independence. As the Dutch progressed from self-defence to imperial expansion, their debt mountain grew high indeed, from 50 million guilders in 1632 to 250 million in 1752. Yet the yield on Dutch bonds declined steadily, to a low of just 2.5 per cent in 1747 – a sign not only that capital was abundant in the United Provinces, but also that investors had little fear of an outright Dutch default.

     “With the Glorious Revolution of 1688, which ousted the Catholic James II from the English throne in favour of the Dutch Protestant Prince of Orange, these and other innovations crossed the English Channel from Amsterdam to London…”[4] 

     “The secret of Dutch success,” writes Yuval Noah Harari, “was credit. The Dutch burghers, who has little taste for combat on land, hired mercenary armies to fight the Spanish for them. The Dutch themselves meanwhile took to the sea in ever-larger fleets. Mercenary armies and cannon-brandishing fleets cost a fortune, but the Dutch were able to finance their military expeditions more easily than the mighty Spanish Empire because they secured the trust of the burgeoning European financial system at a time when the Spanish king was carelessly eroding its trust in him. Financiers extended the Dutch enough credit to set up armies and fleets, and these armies and fleets gave the Dutch control of world trade routes, which in turn yielded handsome profits. The profits allowed the Dutch to repay the loans, which strengthened the trust of the financiers. Amsterdam was fast becoming not only one of the most important ports of Europe, but also the continent’s financial Mecca.

     “How exactly did the Dutch win the trust of the financial system? Firstly, they were sticklers about repaying their loans on time and in full, making the extension of credit less risky for lenders. Secondly, their country’s judicial system enjoyed independence and protected private rights – in particular private property rights. Capital trickles away from dictatorial states that fail to defend private individuals and their property. Instead, it flows into states upholding the rule of law and private property…

     “It was the Dutch merchants – not the Dutch state – who built the Dutch Empire. The king of Spain kept on trying to finance and maintain his conquests by raising unpopular taxes from a disgruntled populace. The Dutch merchants financed conquest by getting loans, and increasing also by selling shares in their companies that entitled their holders to receive a portion of the company’s profits. Cautious investors who would never have thought twice before extending credit to the Dutch government, happily invested fortunes in the Dutch joint-stock companies that were the mainstay of the new empire.

     “If you thought a company was going to make a big profit but it had already sold all its shares, you could buy some from people who owned them, probably for a higher price than they originally paid. If you bought shares and later discovered that the company was in dire straits, you could try to unload your stock for a lower price. The resulting trade in company shares led to the establishment in most major European cities of stock exchanges, places where the shares of companies were traded.

    “The most famous Dutch joint-stock company, the Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie, or VOC for short, was chartered in 1602, just as the Dutch were throwing off Spanish rule and the boom of Spanish artillery could still be heard not far from Amsterdam’s ramparts. VOC used the money it raised from selling shares to build ships, send them to Asia, and bring back Chinese, Indian and Indonesian goods. It also financed military actions taken by company ships against competitors and pirates. Eventually VOC money financed the conquest of Indonesia.

     “Indonesia is the world’s biggest archipelago. Its thousands upon thousands of islands were ruled in the early seventeenth century by hundreds of kingdoms, principalities, sultanate and tribes. When VOC merchants first arrived in Indonesia in 1603, their aims were strictly commercial. However, in order to secure their commercial interests and maximise the profits of the shareholders, VOC merchants began to fight against local potentates who charged inflated tariffs, as well as against European competitors. VOC armed its merchant ships with cannons; it recruited European, Japanese, Indian and Indonesian mercenaries; and it built forts and conducted full-scale battles and sieges. This enterprise may sound a little strange to us, but in the early modern age it was common for private companies to hire not only soldiers, but also generals and admirals, cannons and ships, and even entire off-the-shelf armies. The international community took this for granted and didn’t raise an eyebrow when a private company established an empire 

     “Island after island fell to VOC mercenaries and a large part of Indonesia became VOC colony. VOC ruled Indonesia for close to 200 years. Only in 1800 did the Dutch state assume control of Indonesia, making a Dutch national colony for the following 150 years. Today some people warn that twenty-first-century corporations are accumulating too much power. Early modern history shows just how far that can go if businesses are allowed to pursue their self-interest unchecked 

     “While VOC operated in the Indian Ocean, the Dutch West Indies Company, or WIC, plied the Atlantic. In order to control trade on the important Hudson River, WIC built a settlement called New Amsterdam on an island at the river’s mouth. The colony was threatened by Indians and repeatedly attacked by the British, who eventually captured it in 1664. The British changed its name to New York. The remains of the wall built by WIC to defend its colony against Indians and British are today paved over by the world’s most famous street – Wall Street…”[5]


     Was there a link between republicanism and Calvinism, on the one hand, and financial innovation and wealth-creation, on the other? Now an absolutist government - whether Divine Right monarchy or Cromwellian-style dictatorship – is not necessarily opposed to the interests of capital; it may allow the capitalists to enrich themselves, while retaining political power for itself. However, it does have the power to deprive landowners and landowners of their complete control of their property.So it would clearly be safer, from the landowners’ point of view, to install from the beginning a constitutional monarchy in which the real sovereign now would be, not the monarch, but a capitalist landowning oligarchy meeting in parliament. Indeed, we see the beginning of the ascendancy of the landowners over the king already in the reign of the English King Charles II…

     And so, as Ian Buruma writes, “there is a link between business interests – or at least the freedom to trade – and liberal, even democratic, politics. Money tends to even things out, is egalitarian and blind to race or creed. As Voltaire said about the London stock exchange: Muslims, Christians and Jews trade as equals, and bankrupts are the only infidels. Trade can flourish if property is protected by laws. That means protection from the state, as well as from other individuals.”[6]

     Another important factor is that the Christian prohibition on usury was more strictly observed in Catholic absolutist states than in Protestant democratic ones… As for the Jews, they were not allowed to lend at interest to their fellow Jews, but were allowed, even encouraged to do so to Gentiles…

     A direct link between Capitalism and Calvinism was posited by the Catholic writer Hilaire Belloc: “If we ask what it was in Calvin’s doctrine, apart from the opportunities of its moment and its effect against the clergy, which gave it so much power, the answer is, I think, that it provided an awful object of worship and that it appealed at the same time to a powerful human appetite which Catholicism opposes. The novel object of worship was an Implacable God: the appetite was the love of money…

     “A Philosophy which denied good works and derided abnegation let it loose in all its violence.”[7]

     This thesis was developed by the sociologist Max Weber; he saw a direct link between Protestantism and those habits that are conducive to capitalism. Weber’s theory, writes Landes, postulates “that Protestantism – more specifically, its Calvinist branches – promoted the rise of modern capitalism… not by easing or abolishing those aspects of the Roman faith that had deterred or hindered free economic activity (the prohibition of usury, for example); nor by encouraging, let alone inventing, the pursuit of wealth; but by defining and sanctioning an ethic of everyday behavior that conduced to business success. 

     “Calvinistic Protestantism, said Weber, did this initially by affirming the doctrine of predestination. This held that one could not gain salvation by faith or deeds; that question had been decided for everyone from the beginning of time, and nothing could alter one’s fate.

     “Such a belief could easily have encouraged a fatalistic attitude. If behavior and faith make no difference, why not live it up? Why be good? Because, according to Calvinism, goodness was a plausible sign of election. Anyone could be chosen, but it was only reasonable to suppose that most of those chosen would show by their character and ways the quality of their souls and the nature of their destiny. This implicit reassurance was a powerful incentive to proper thoughts and behavior. As the Englishwoman Elizabeth Walker wrote her grandson in 1689, alluding to one of the less important but more important signs of grace, ‘All cleanly people are not good, but there are few good people but are cleanly.’ And while hard belief in predestination did not last more than a generation or two (it is not the kind of dogma that has lasting appeal), it was eventually converted into a secular code of behavior: hard work, honesty, seriousness, the thrifty use of money and time (both lent us by God). ‘Time is short,’ admonished the Puritan divine Richard Baxter (1615-1691), ‘and work is long’.

     “All of these values help business and capital accumulation, but Weber stressed that the good Calvinist did not aim at riches. (He might easily believe, however, that honest riches are a sign of divine favor.) Europe did not have to wait for the Protestant Reformation to find people who wanted to be rich. Weber’s point is that Protestantism produced a new kind of businessman, a different kind of person, one who aimed to live and work a certain way. It was the way that mattered, and riches were at best a by-product.

     “A good Calvinist would say, that was what was wrong with Spain: easy riches, unearned wealth. Compare the Protestant and Catholic attitudes towards gambling in the early modern period. Both condemned it, but Catholics condemned it because one might (would) lose, and no responsible person would jeopardize his well-being and that of others in that manner. The Protestants, on the other hand, condemned it because one might win, and that would be bad for character. It was only much later that the Protestant ethic degenerated into a set of maxims for material success and smug, smarmy sermons on the virtues of wealth…”[8]

     Now there are important links not only between Capitalism and Calvinism, but also between Capitalism, Calvinism and Judaism. The Jews expelled by the Spanish in 1492 had found a safe refuge in Calvinist Amsterdam, and from there they were invited to Calvinist London by Cromwell in 1656. And this was no accident. For, as Norman Cantor notes, “the Calvinists were close readers of the Old Testament and taught a bleak image of a wrathful, judging, and omniscient and omnipotent God that accorded well with Jewish tradition. Calvinist societies were sympathetic to market capitalism as a sign of God’s grace working in the world.

     “There was a millenial fervor among the latter-day Calvinists, a sense of the coming end of time. These qualities did not necessarily lead to a more favorable attitude toward the Jews; theoretically it could have gone the other way. But shaped by a Calvinist elite that favored an ethic of hard work, rational application of communal standards to individual behavior, and postponed gratification, a comity of attitude emerged in the early seventeenth century between the ruling capitalist oligarchy in Amsterdam and the rabbinical-capitalist oligarchy that controlled power in the Jewish community. Not only did the Jews of Amsterdam prosper, but Calvinist England readmitted them in 1653, for the first time officially since the 1290s…

     “Everywhere that Calvinism spread after 1600 – Holland, England, Scotland, and overseas to the United States (New York was first a Dutch colony, then a British one), English-speaking parts of Canada, and South Africa (a Dutch colony until 1815, and British thereafter) – the Jews prospered in business. In the nineteenth century they were given the opportunity to enter the learned professions. The Calvinists were too Christian to regard the Jews as fully their equals. But they showed the Jews more than tolerance; they accorded them dignified respect. This was because of Calvinist inclination to the Old Testament literary text in its covenant theology; because the Calvinists and the Jews agreed that business success was a blessing from God and a sign of the worth of the entrepreneur in God’s eyes; and because both religious groups admired the patriarchal family, hard work, social intelligence, rational calculations, and puritanical postponed gratification.”[9 


     When the Jews began to move from Antwerp to London, whence they had been banished in 1290, the economic leadership of the world moved – not immediately, but within a generation of two - to England… Indeed, we may assert that the period from the 1650s to the 1690s was decisive in creating the modern world… 

     The story is as follows. In September, 1653 Menasseh Ben Israel came to London from Amsterdam to plead the case for Jewish readmission to England. At that time, writes Rabbi Jeremy Gordon, “England was in the grip of Messianic excitement. Cromwell had opened Parliament that July with the announcement that ‘this may be the door to usher in the things that God has promised… You are at the edge of the promises and prophecies.’

     “Ben Israel lost no time stoking the messianic fervour for his own purposes. In ‘A Humble Addresse to the Lord Protector’ he notes: ‘The opinion of many Christians and mine doe concurre herin, in that we both believe the restoring time of our Nation into their Native Country is very near at hand; I believing that this restauration cannot be before the words of Daniel be first accomplished, And when the dispersion of the Holy people shall be completed in all places, then shall all these things be completed. Signifying therewith, that all be fulfilled, the People of God must be first dispersed into all places of the World. Now we know how our Nation is spread all about, and hath its seat and dwellings in the most flourishing Kingdomes of the World except only this considerable and mighty Island [Britain]. And therefore this remains onely in my judgements before the MESSIA come.’

     “It is fascinating to observe Ben Israel’s theological partnering with the Puritans. He is tempting Christians to let Jews into Britain in order to bring the second coming of Jesus! The ‘Addresse’ is a masterful work of flattery, requestiong a ‘free and publick Synagogue’ in order that Jews may, ‘sue also for a blessing upon this [British] Nation and People of England for receiving us into their bosoms and comforting Sion in her distresse.’ But it also reminded Cromwell that no ruler, ‘hath ever afflicted [the Jews] who hath not been, by some ominous Exit, most heavily punished of God Almighty; as is manifest from the Histories of the Kings; Pharaoh, Nebuchadnezer & others.’


     “Ben Israel also marshals less spiritual arguments, devoting several pages to a survey of the profitability of ‘The Nation of Jewes’ in a range of states that have seen fit to let in Jews. This might have been particularly interesting to Cromwell, seeking to find ways to keep Britain ahead of the Dutch economy.

     “Suitably inspired, Cromwell called a conference of merchants and clergymen but didn’t get the support he was looking for. Admitting the Jews would be a blasphemy, some claimed. Others spread rumours of child murder… There were also fears, if re-admission were formalised, that ‘every Vagabond Jew may purchase the Liberties and Immunities of free-born Englishmen’. 

     “Not everyone, and least of all the guilds, were anxious to see the Jews’ economic nous and power in competition with the existing British mercantile classes. Perhaps in the face of such opposition, Cromwell disbanded the conference before it could report.”[10]

     The Venetian ambassador to England, Giovanni Sagredo describes these events as follows: “A Jew came from Antwerp and… when introduced to his highness [Oliver Cromwell] he began not only to kiss but to press his hands and touch… his whole body with the most exact care. When asked why he behaved so, he replied that he had come from Antwerp solely to see if his highness was of flesh and blood, since his superhuman deeds indicated that he was more than a man… The Protector ordered [i.e. set up] a congregation of divines, who discussed in the presence of himself and his council whether a Christian country could receive the Jews. Opinions were very divided. Some thought they might be received under various restrictions and very strict obligations. Others, including some of the leading ministers of the laws, maintained that under no circumstances and in no manner could they receive the Jewish sect in a Christian kingdom without very grave sin. After long disputes and late at night the meeting dissolved without any conclusion…”[11]

     Eventually, in 1656, the Jews got their way. Their success, continues Gordon, “owes its origin to the imprisonment of a converso merchant, Antonio Rodrigues Robles, on the charge of being a papist. Robles was threatened with sequestration of his assets and escaped punishment only when he claimed that, rather than being a papist, he was Jewish. Cromwell intervened, Robles escaped punishment and, as the historian Heinrich Graetz remarked, Jews ‘made no mistake over the significance of this ruling, [and threw] off the mask of Christianity.’

     “It was, in Cromwell’s England, far safer to be an avowed Jew than a closeted pseudo-Puritan who might harbour papist tendencies.[12] Devoid of constitutional upheaval, legislation or fanfare, the Jews got on with the day-to-day business of establishing a community on this ‘considerable and mighty Island’.”[13] They prospered, and “by the end of the eighteenth century,” writes David Vital, “the Jews of England had little to complain of…”[14]


     “In the seventeenth century,” writes Dan Cohn-Sherbok, “the court Jew came to play a crucial role in state affairs. Each royal or princely court had its own Jewish auxiliary. Throughout the country court Jews administered finances, provisioned armies, raised money, provided textiles and precious stones to the court… Such court Jews stood at the pinnacle of the social scale, forming an elite class.”[15]

     Thus the Jews became influential in Germany, in spite of Luther’s strong opposition to Judaism. And banking at the Viennese court was dominated by Jews - during the Austrian wars against France and then Turkey, Samuel Oppenheimer became the Imperial War Purveyor to the Austrians… Thus, as David Vital writes, “by 1694 the Austrian state debt to Oppenheimer alone amounted to no less than 3 million florins. At his death, by Emmanuel’s estimate, it had reached double that figure.”[16]In France, meanwhile, under Louis XIV and XV the leading position in the financial world was occupied by the Jewish banker Samuel Bernard, about whose help to France contemporaries said that ‘his whole merit consisted in the fact that he supported the State, as a string supports that which hangs on it.’”[17]

     In fact, the Jews served all sides in the Gentile wars…

     But there was a price to be paid… In the 18th century the Jewish banker Jean Lo (Levi) founded a huge “Mississippi company” in Paris, which gave him monopoly rights to trade with China, India, the islands of the southern seas, Canada and all the colonies of France in America, and which “guaranteed” dividends of 120% a year to investors. However, the paper he issued was founded on nothing, the company collapsed, “millions of Frenchmen were ruined and for many years the finances of the country were hopelessly disordered. At the same time many representatives of the Jewish community of Paris amassed huge fortunes on this misery.”[18]

     However, the really significant developments took place in England, where the need to finance wars became particularly pressing 

     Robert Tombs writes: “William had invaded England to bring it into the alliance fighting against Louis XIV’s France, thought to be aiming at ‘universal monarchy’. Louis retaliated by giving troops to aid James to recover his throne. Thus began a ‘Second Hundred Years’ War’, a titanic struggle to break French power that ended only in 1815 at Waterloo… During those 127 years, England fought in five of the eight bloodiest wars in world history: the Nine Years War (1688-97), the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-13), the Seven Years’ War (1755-63), and finally the French Revolutionary (1792-1802) and Napoleonic Wars (1803-15). And in addition to these was the American War of Independence (1775-83), less lethal, but extremely expensive. War created new institutions, new relationships, new demands, new powers, new ambitions, new dangers and new priorities, which crowded out the concerns with religious ritual and royal prerogative that had dominated previous decades. Thus war transformed England and Britain... 

     “Whatever the political alliances or concessions required to maximise the unity and commitment of England in that struggle, they would be made. Hence, religious toleration was necessary to maintain a broad anti-French coalition, and William insisted on it. He accepted a Bill of Rights (1689), which enshrined right of petition, free debate in Parliament, freedom of election, trial by jury, the right to bear arms and frequency of Parliament, and it forbade extra-legal royal action. A Mutiny Act (1689) made the existence of the army dependent on parliamentary consent. A Triennial Act (1694) required general elections every three years. In short, once again, but now more explicitly than ever, the Crown was made subject to law, and its powers, still extensive, were defined by agreement with the nation. This time, there was no going back on the deal, which sketched out a constitution for England. Parliament had placed itself at the centre of the state. But what made these changes effective was Parliament’s ancient control of taxation. The pressing need created by war to have a parliament that would sanction ever-increasing taxation and debt changed it from a periodic event, called when the king needed it, to a permanent institution, which has met year since 1689…

     “War required a bigger and more professional army, the origins of which went back to the New Model Army of the Civil War. Would it be maintained in peacetime or disbanded? This was a matter of great political and ideological significance. Politically, because with memories of civil war still fresh the control of military force seemed crucial. Ideologically, because the right and duty to bear arms was a defining part of free citizenship  - as well as being cheaper. But the length and intensity of war after 1689 means that the old idea that English freedom meant a society defended by its armed citizens and a monarch with no significant armed force became both unpopular and impractical. Hence, one of the characteristic vulnerabilities of the English state, its military weakness, disappeared. However, army service was widely shunned, and so England early became a country that relied on professional soldiers for serious fighting.

     “Lack of money had been England’s other great weakness since the reign of Elizabeth, and it had caused recurring crises for the Stuarts. After the Glorious Revolution taxes spiralled, with parliamentary approval. By the end of the War of the Spanish Succession in 1713, tax as a proportion of national income had nearly tripled since 1688…

     “Taxation, however, was not enough to meet wartime spending: governments had to borrow more than ever before. Public debt went from £31m in the 1680s to £100m in 1760, paying not only for Britain’s navy and army, but contributing to those of its allies too. This required a sophisticated financial system, by which short-term liabilities – in effect, IOUs from government departments – could be replaced by long-term, low-interest bonds. During the 1690s, ministers, MPs and businessmen studied the methods of the Dutch and the Venetians, Europe’s most sophisticated financiers. Experiments and mistakes were made with lotteries and life annuities. In 1694, William Paterson, a Scot, and Michael Godfrey, an Englishman, won approval from Parliament for a Bank of England modelled on the Bank of Amsterdam, an event of truly historic importance… Immediately, in 1695, the Bank proved its worth by saving the government’s credit from collapsing, and kept it afloat until peace came two years later…”[19]

     The foundation of the Bank of England was indeed of historic importance; for it both underwrote Britain’s rise to the position of most powerful country in the world, and put the finances of England back into the hands of the Jews for the first time since King Edward I had expelled them in 1290. N. Bogoliubov writes: “With the help of the agent William Paterson [the king] succeeded in persuading the British Treasury to borrow 1.25 million British pounds from Jewish bankers. This strengthened his position. Insofar as the state debt had already, even without this, attained improbable heights, the government could do nothing but agree to the conditions presented:

     “1. The name of the creditor will remain in secret: he is allowed to found ‘The Bank of England’ (a Central Bank).

     “2. The directors of the above-mentioned bank are given the right to establish the gold support of paper money.

     “3. They are given the right to give credits to the extent of ten pounds in paper money to every pound kept in gold.

     “4. They are given the right to accumulate a national debt and collect the necessary sum by means of direct taxation of the people.

     “Thus there appeared the first private central bank – ‘the Bank of England’. By means of these operations banking procedures were able to produce a 50% profit on the Bank’s capital deposits at 5%. It was the English people who had to pay for this. The creditors were not concerned that the debt should be paid, since in conditions of indebtedness they were able to exert influence also on the political processes in the country. The national debt of England rose from £1,250,000 in 1694 to £16,000,000 in 1698…”[20]

     Tombs continues: “Parliament underpinned credit. In contrast with absolutist states, its guarantee made defaults unlikely (many MPs were bondholders), and the Commons publicly voted taxation earmarked for interest payments. By 1715 fully half of the revenue went to servicing what became a permanent National Debt. There were crises and panics about unsustainable debt levels. But ‘as long as land lasts and beer is drunk’, declared the long-serving the Duke of Newcastle, England would never default. Realizing this, domestic and foreign savers became eager to lend, keeping interest rates law. As confidence grew, the rate of interest fell from 14 percent in 1693 to 3 percent in 1731, meaning, of course, that Britain could borrow nearly five times as much money for the same outlay of interest, and so outspend its bigger and richer enemy France. The combination of the House of Commons and the City of London funded Britain’s rise to world power.

     “But war brought new political controversies too. The rapid wartime growth of what has been termed the ‘fiscal-military state’ altered the relationship of citizens and government. The state became increasingly intrusive and expensive. It also employed more people and created a larger number of beneficiaries, including ‘new men’ such as bankers, lenders, contractors and bureaucrats, usually Whigs, who were both serving and profiting from its activities. Parliament, by placing itself at the centre of decision, was less clearly the defender of the citizen against the demands of the state: it was itself the demander, with many of its members benefiting personally from salaries, jobs, pensions and contracts.

     “There emerged new political alignments. In the 1690s a loose ‘Country Party’ was set up by Whigs led by the 3rd Earl of Shaftesbury (the theorist of politeness). Its ideas attracted many Tories. They claimed to be ‘Patriots’, standing for the interests of the ‘country’ against the selfishness of the ‘court’ and the political and financial oligarchy. It found a fashionable ideology ready made, and which remained potent throughout the century – ‘Roman’ or ‘civic human’ ideas, derived from the prestigious writings of ancient patriots. Civic humanists thought politics should be the disinterested activity of a virtuous elite upholding the public good and combating corruption – for it was corruption, not the royal prerogative, that they now saw as threatening freedom: ‘What the French government does by despotism, the English government does by corruption’. This was not a democratic creed: indeed, they feared democracy would facilitate corruption. The Country Party also appealed potentially to all who simply resented every-higher taxes. War on the Continent seemed to many a cynical way of keeping the money flowing. Thus emerged a powerful but eclectic Patriot rhetoric, willing to lump together Roman republicanism, Magna Carta and Locke’s contract theory. It came to permeate English political debate and was exported to American and France. Whenever we call for honest politics or high-minded leadership to combat self-interest, corruption and the self-absorption of ‘Westminster’ or ‘Washington’, we are echoing these ideas…”[21]


     It was not only in the Christian West that Jewish money ruled. In the sixteenth century, a French diplomat who lived in Constantinople under Suleyman the Magnificent, Nicolas de Nicolay, wrote: “They now have in their hands the most and greatest traffic of merchandise and ready money that is conducted in all the Levant. The shops and stalls best stocked with all the varieties of goods which can be found in Constantinople are those of the Jews. They also have among them very excellent practitioners of all the arts and manufactures, especially the Marranos not long since banished and expelled from Spain and Portugal who to the great detriment and injury of Christianity have taught the Turks several inventions, artifices and machines of war such as how to make artillery, arquebuses, gunpower, cannon-balls and other arms.”[22]

     Protected by the Ottoman Turks from the attacks of the Christians, the Constantinopolitan Jews intrigued against the West European States. Thus Joseph Nasi, a banker and entrepreneur, through contacts in Western Europe was able, according to Philip Mansel, “to maintain an international network which helped him obtain revenge on Spain and France. It is possible that, from the banks of the Bosphorus, he encouraged the revolt of the Netherlands against Philip II of Spain. An envoy from the rebel leader, the Prince of Orange, came to see him in 1569. The historian Famianus Strada wrote: ‘As regards the Flemings, Miches’s [i.e. Nasi’s] letters and persuasions had no little influence on them.’ However no letters have come to light.”[23]

     A more sympathetic interpretation of Jewish economic success, and a correction of the view that the Jewish-Calvinist link was all-important, is provided by the expert in Jewish history Paul Johnson, who writes: “The dynamic impulse to national economies, especially in England and the Netherlands, and later in North America and Germany, was provided not only by Calvinists, but by Lutherans, Catholics from north Italy and, not least, by Jews.

     “What these moving communities shared was not theology but an unwillingness to live under the state regimentation of religious and moral ideas at the behest of the clerical establishments. All of them repudiated clerical hierarchies, favouring religious government by the congregation and the private conscience. In all these respects the Jews were the most characteristic of the various denominations of emigrants…

     “Capitalism, at all its stages of development, has advanced by rationalizing and so improving the chaos of existing methods. The Jews could do this because, while intensely conservative (as a rule) within their own narrow and isolated world, they had no share in or emotional commitment to society as a whole and so could watch its old traditions, methods and institutions being demolished without a pang – could, indeed, play a leading role in the process of destruction. They were thus natural capitalist entrepreneurs…

     “It was the unconscious collective instinct of the Jews both to depersonalize finance and to rationalize the general economic process. Any property known to be Jewish, or clearly identifiable as such, was always at risk in medieval and early modern times, especially in the Mediterranean, which was then the chief international trading area. As the Spanish navy and the Knights of Malta treated Jewish-chartered ships and goods as legitimate booty, fictitious Christian names were used in the paperwork of international transactions, including marine insurance. These developed into impersonal formulae. As well as developing letters of credit, the Jews invented bearer-bonds, another impersonal way of moving money. For an underprivileged community whose property was always under threat, and who might be forced to move at short notice, the emergence of reliable, impersonal paper money, whether bills of exchange or, above all, valid banknotes, was an enormous blessing.

     “Hence the whole thrust of Jewish activity in the early modern period was to refine these devices and bring them into universal use. They strongly supported the emergence of the institutions which promoted paper values: the central banks, led by the Bank of England (1694) with its statutory right to issue notes, and the stock exchanges…

     “In general, financial innovations which Jews pioneered in the eighteenth century, and which aroused much criticism then, became acceptable in the nineteenth. 

     “…Jews were in the vanguard in stressing the importance of the selling function… [and] were among the leaders in display, advertising and promotion… 

     “They aimed for the widest possible market. They appreciated the importance of economies of scale…

     “Above all, Jews were more inclined than others in commerce to accept that businesses flourished by serving consumer interests rather than guild interests. The customer was always right. The market was the final judge. These axioms were not necessarily coined by Jews or exclusively observed by Jews, but Jews were quicker than most to apply them.

     “Finally, Jews were exceptionally adept at gathering and making use of commercial intelligence. As the market became the dominant factor in all kinds of trading, and as it expanded into a series of global systems, news became of prime importance. This was perhaps the biggest single factor in Jewish trading and financial success…”[24]

     Thus, as Hannah Arendt writes, with the rise of capitalism, “Jewish banking capital became international. It was united by means of cross-marriages, and a truly international caste arose,” the consciousness of which engendered “a feeling of power and pride”.[25] After centuries of exile, the Jews were back at the heart of the Gentile world – and well on the way to ruling it…


June 3/16, 2018.

[1]Shapiro, 1599. A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare, London: Faber and Faber, 2005, p. 304.

[2]De Saumaise, in Simon Schama, The Embarrassment of Riches, 1987, p. 188.

[3]McClelland, A History of Western Political Thought, London and New York: Routledge, 1996,p. 287.

[4] Ferguson, The Ascent of Money, New York: Penguin Press, 2008, pp. 74-75.

[5]Harari, Homo Sapiens. A Brief History of Humankind, London: Vintage, 2011, pp. 355-356, 358-360.

[6]Buruma, “China and Liberty”, Prospect, May, 2000, p. 37.

[7]Belloc, How the Reformation Happened, pp. 126, 127.

[8]Landes, The Wealth and Poverty of Nations, London: Abacus, 1999, pp. 174-176.

[9] Cantor, The Sacred Chain, London: Fontana, 1996, pp. 198-199.

[10] Gordon, “Flaw of Return”, The Jewish Chronicle, March 31, 2006, Weekly Review, p. 38; Christopher Hale, “Oliver Cromwell and the Readmission of the Jews”, BBC History Magazine, vol. 7, no. 11, pp. 44-47.

[11] Sagredo, in M.J. Cohen and John Major, History in Quotations, London: Cassell, 2004, p. 184.

[12]Another reason for this, as R.A. York points out, is that “quite a strong philo-semitic tendency was developing in English Puritanism at this time. Puritanism encouraged the return to the text of the Bible, in particular to the Old Testament. This in turn encouraged greater interest in the study of Hebrew and the Jews themselves.

     “Part of the reason for this interest was proselytising. The Jews had long been resistant to Christianity, but they might be more attracted to a purer, more Judaic form…” (Letters, History Today, vol. 50 (12), December, 2000, p. 61) (V.M.)

[13] Gordon, op. cit., p. 38.

[14] Vital, op. cit.,  p. 39.

[15] Cohn-Sherbok, Atlas of Jewish History, London & New York: Routledge, 1996, p. 115.

[16] Vital, A People Apart: The Jews in Europe, 1789-1939, Oxford University Press, 1999, p. 14.

[17] Platonov, Ternovij Venets Rossii (Russia’s Crown of Thorns), Moscow, 1998, p. 155.

[18] Platonov, op. cit., p. 153.

[19]Tombs, The English and their History, New York, 2014, pp. 306-307, 308-309, 309-310.

[20] Bogoliubov, in Begunov, Yu.K. Stepanov, A.D, Dushenov, K.Yu., Taina Bezzakonia (The Mystery of Iniquity), St. Petersburg, 2002, pp. 381-382

[21]Tombs, op. cit., pp. 310-311.

[22] De Nikolay, in Philip Mansel, Constantinople, London: Penguin Books, 1997, p. 124.

[23] Mansel, op. cit., p. 126.

[24] Johnson, History of the Jews, London: Pimlico, pp. 245-246, 247, 283, 285, 286.

[25] Arendt, “On Totalitarianism”, in Mikhail Nazarov, Tajna Rossii (The Mystery of Russia), Moscow: “Russkaia idea”, 1999, p. 394

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