Merchant, Soldier, Sage: A New History of Power
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A bold new interpretation of modern history as a struggle between three economic groups
We are now living in an age of merchants, but it was not always so. The history of civilization, in large part, is a story of a battle between agrarian aristocracy, the military, and a class of learned experts, or priests. Yet in seventeenth-century England and in the Netherlands, another group entered the mêlée for power: the merchants. For the last four decades, the merchant's power has been unfettered. In Merchant, Soldier, Sage, acclaimed Oxford scholar David Priestland proposes a radical new approach to understanding today’s balance of power, and analyzes the societal and economic historical conditions required for one of these three value systems to dominate. Priestland asserts that, in the wake of the Great Recession, the weakened and discredited merchant still clings to power—but the world is again in the midst of a period of upheaval.
Islamists – are actually a mixed collection of populist, pro-poor radicals, and the pro-merchant Muslim Brotherhood – the largest and best organized party. Its arguably most influential leader, Khairat al-Shater, is a multi-millionaire who owns a famous furniture business, and its programme is a resolutely free-market one.119 The Muslim Brotherhood’s leaders and supporters are the equivalent of the pious, nonconformist businessmen of nineteenth-century England, not bin Laden-type warriors; and
1–2. B. Baloch, A Government Out of Sight. The Mystery of National Authority in Nineteenth Century America (Cambridge, 2009), ch. 2, pp. 277–84, also sees a tension between republican and Lockean market liberal ideals, stresses the unpopularity of the central state and the dominance of merchant ideals by the 1830s. For criticisms of the Sellers thesis, see M. Stokes and S. Conway (eds.), The Market Revolution in America: Social, Political, and Religious Expressions, 1800–1880 (Charlottesville,
customer could not endure the tension and the Christian merchant did not understand the psychology of the customers, whom one had to let bargain and bring down the price. In the Jewish store the Christian felt free to select the merchandise, test it, haggle and bargain down the price, get credit, and in general have a talk with the Jewish merchant, who was not pompous like the Christian storeowner.97 However, it is no surprise that merchants were often condemned by the agrarian castes.
desire for new identities and experiences. While some saw this negatively, as passive manipulation by advertisers, to many more it presented a genuine opportunity for individual creativity and aesthetic self-expression. The soft merchant had successfully re-tailored capitalism to suit a democratization of the Romantic spirit that particularly appealed to a confident, university-educated middle class.13 This reached its peak in the 1950s and 1960s, but it was in the 1920s that we can see a
recommend a package of economic policies that would attract foreign investors. His subsequent boosterish speech, which carefully obscured the shaky condition of the Polish economy, received such headlines as ‘PRINCETON MAN, MONEY DOCTOR TO NATIONS, OPTIMISTIC OVER POLAND’. It had the desired effect: American bankers bought heavily into Polish bonds.36 By 1926, as more countries joined the Gold Standard and American money flooded into Europe, it seemed as if the new soft merchant order, centred