He who places his hope on thee, O Virgin all-glorious, will prosper in all he does.

Inscription on Byzantine coin during reign of Romanus III



Thursday, February 18, 2010

"You're An Historicist" AKA "Your Momma"

In philosophical circles, calling someone an historicist is like talking trash about someone's mother. It doesn't accomplish much, but it could rock a pretty lazy day.

Unless, of course, one's actually talking about a priori truth, which in this day and age is pretty rare.

Have you met an extreme apriorist lately? You have now, but I'll save the Austrian Methodenstreit topic for another time.

I visited Och's tea party after a six-month absence when friend Sophocles asked me to sound off on something. Unfortunately, Och's daily topic didn't permit my periodic anti-ecumenist diatribe, but it was almost as interesting:

USURY

I'm still trying to figure out what Och means by usury, because he describes all sorts of things as usurious, but I know it means something BAD.

To me, usury means:

ZIP. ZERO. NOTHING. NADA.

The East and West diverged in their treatment of interest on loans.

We all know how things went in the West: (1) Interest was outlawed, thanks to Aristotle and his episcopal cheerleaders and (2) Cardinal Cajetan saved Westerners from Aristotle's error. Deo Gratias.

How did things go in the East? Byzantium and Russia didn't outlaw interest. Their cultures were commercial. The West's was agrarian. The Fathers--the Real Ones--concerned themselves with loans and interest being charged to the destitute. Plainly put, it's uncharitable for someone to charge interest to a distressed borrower. Unpaid interest compounds over time and magnifies the distress of the already-distressed borrower. It's simple decency not to charge interest, and it's meritorious to forgive the principal as well.

Let's add another dimension--the penalty for nonpayment of debt. Back in the Fathers' time, failing to pays debts could land one and one's family and heirs in prison or slavery. When the Fathers talk about interest and enslavement, they mean it. It's not metaphorical.

Charging compounding interest to a distressed borrower heightens the probability that the borrower won't die as a free man.

You can call it usury. I call it evil.

In our casually-clothed age, however, debt enslavement is metaphorical. The borrower's downside is truncated by bankruptcy. Unpleasant, but one remains free. One can even pick a preferred chapter of the Bankruptcy Code.

When the Fathers talk about usury, it's good for us to know what they mean. All ya'll gotta look at the words, but what do the words mean?.

Sometimes meaning can be gleaned by the cultural and historical context that shaped their concepts and language. Sometimes context is an excuse for historicism.

By the way, Mom's fine. Thanks for asking.

3 comments:

orrologion said...

Having only a BFA, this historicist (the one in Och's verbal crosshairs) didn't take the comment in any way other than part of his overall rebuttal of my comment. I took the points seriously, but do still tend to disagree. However, I am thankful for his forceful disagreement. In fact, we have continued some of it offline.

Visibilium said...

Thanks for your comment. I'm aware that Och directed the historicist remark at you, but owing to the nature of my thesis, I felt obliged to defend a similar position. I had additional points to make as well.

Frankly, I'm sorta amused at folks' missing the importance of the bankruptcy code as embedding the Christian principle of truncating the lender's recovery of principal from a distressed borrower.

In any event, I'm delighted that you're taking advantage of Och's generosity with his offline time to further discuss these important matters.

Good luck with your career decision. You know, Och's preference for cooperative financial institutions is perfectly fine. The only disadvantage to those types of enterprises is that it's more difficult to raise capital than with a joint-stock company. On the other hand, because coops and mutuals don't have to satisfy hungry owners every quarter with an increasing stock price, they can take a longer view, promote collegial atmospheres, and engage in cross-training to increase employee retention. It's a different feeling for employees when the customers whom they service actually own the business. It's possible that such institutions pay smaller salaries, but their total compensation packages are probably competitive. Let me know what you decide.

Sophocles said...

Atta boy, Vis!!