I must give thanks to Cologero at Gornahoor for bringing to my attention the name of Austrian economist Othmar Spann in his article on the German Conservative Revolution, a somewhat Reactionary intellectual renaissance that blossomed during the Interwar Period. Spann was an interesting man, a lecturer on the higher education circuit who held a professorship at the University of Vienna. Unfortunately, being a staunch Catholic authoritarian and an early advocate of a spiritual concept of race (Evola’s trademark), Spann fell afoul of the Nazi authorities after Anschluss. Although he had supported the party’s rise against a backdrop of failing democracy, they came to view him as an internal threat. He was imprisoned and subsequently stripped of his professorship.
Much of Spann remains inaccessible due to a lack of translation-interest in right wing thought. Hopefully this is eventually remedied.
What I want to talk about is Spann’s exposition of pre-mercantile economics, an area of study which has interested me since I declare myself to be neither a capitalist nor a communist/socialist. I believe Evola was right when he said that both systems make the same fundamental error as when applied as practical theory they reduce a society to mere capital and then fight over what is to be done with this resource. When a society has as its guide, raw capital, it will invariably gravitate towards either the insurgency of individual power (through greed) or the insurgency of state power (through ideology). The power of blood ties and male headship, as well as the power of spiritual authority is shunted aside as autonomy and heteronomy lock horns in a degenerate battle of freedom vs. fairness. Which of these wins out essentially decides which economic system a country will live under. At times, there is a mutual understanding between the two, as we can see in the Social Democracy of the Nordic countries. At other times they are bitterly at odds creating either mass plunder as in Yeltsin’s Russia, or mass death as in Mao’s China.
It is therefore important that we ask what economics meant in the World of Tradition. Spann tackled the subject in his informative book, ‘Types of Economic Theory’:
“Neither in classical antiquity nor yet in the Middle Ages did there arise any finished systems of politico-economic thought. In those epochs, when the mind was directed towards the heroic and the suprasensual, the economic sphere of activity was regarded with little esteem – as always in periods with an organized economy. Only when, as today, the individual is left so exclusively to his own devices, and only when the forces of free competition are stimulated to an extreme, is civilized life crudely dominated by economic considerations to an extent which seems self-evident to us today.”
The first thing we must acknowledge when talking about economic theory and the World of Tradition is its absence. It is a field which has emerged in parallel to the Modern World because there is now demand for such study, for now the forces influencing economic realities within a nation and beyond are so incalculable, so disorderly and difficult to predict, states and private interests are in need of a ‘science of economy’, a way to quantify the new world in material terms for the purposes of maximum profit and efficiency. As Spann points out, in ages past, not only was a citizen’s economic activity less independent (note: this is not necessarily independence from government) and thus it seems less complex, but other concerns forced economics to take a back seat, these being the pursuits of male virility in heroism and asceticism. Priests and soldiers were needed. Economists were not.
“It would be erroneous to picture the course of economic development as though mankind had passed on simply from a self-sufficient natural economy (the self-contained domestic economy) to the feudal economy and the medieval urban economy, and has at length “advanced” to a nation-wide capitalist economy. At all times there have been lesser economic corporations, such as peasant economies, that formed integral parts of larger, nation-wide or world-wide complexes.”
Spann points out the illusion of ‘progress’ in economics. Forms and particulars have changed over time according to supply and demand as well as other influencing factors, but even what were very much small-scale, local economies have always been tied in to other, in many cases larger transactions. He follows this by giving an example of the trade in bronze during the Bronze Age which displays a neat network of foreign commerce to acquire constituent elements of the metal, and move it to a desired locale. Furthermore, the prime signatures of both capitalism and socialism have existed throughout history, from systems of credit and bill-brokering to general strikes, but these were never developed into cohesive economic ideologies until the Modern World. Spann declares that in past ages, economies were more ‘puposively’ organized and this is the heart of the difference.
“Aristotle sees the essential nature of money in this, that it intermediates in the exchange of utilities, thus functioning as medium of exchange. He regards it, however, as sterile; it brings forth no children […]; it cannot of itself produce any goods. Consequently, interest is reprehensible. This dictum exercised a powerful influence throughout the Middle Ages.”
Slowly but surely, I am being convinced of the grand flaw of interest, beyond its mere immorality. It is surely interesting that this goes all the way back to Aristotle. Spann continues by looking at Thomas Aquinas’ view of compensatory justice:
“In the matter of price, justice is to be found in the equality of reciprocal compensation in an exchange. What determines income is not the supply and demand of labour (as the subsequent mechanist economics teaches), but a normative outlook, the customary and average mutual adjustments between all the individuals that exercise economic functions, objective purposiveness. “Wherever a good is to be found, its essence consists in its due measure.” Thus we get the idea of the income that is “suitable” or “proper” to a man’s station.”
This is a radically anti-Modern view, that income is or should be based on an inherent value of that which is produced, analogous here to one’s station in life since inter-class occupational movement was rare during this era. In other words, a brick maker would not see his wages drop because there were more people making bricks in the economy. The increase in the supply of this labor would not affect one’s income. Though it might be hard for someone educated in economics to grasp how this is possible, they must understand that while a nation may have something loosely termed a ‘brick making industry’, this is not a governmental department nor a corporate monopoly. Bricks are needed for a certain purpose. Certain people geographically close to this purpose, or a transit point, hold a certain station in life which allows them to create bricks, and a certain wage is to be paid for this kind of work. Nobody is calculating the nation’s brick supply. It may even be the case that nobody is counting the local brick supply, and they certainly are not concerned about exactly how many people have the skills to make bricks in the first place. It might seem a recipe for chaos, but its record is long and functioning, even if it is difficult to understand. You don’t need economists to fill in all the blanks.
“The prohibition of interest or usury is fundamentally a measure falling within the domain of applied economics, being designed to hinder the development of capitalist forms of economy.”
Whether this was known at the time is uncertain, but it is likely the negative. The illegality of banking practices common today prevented the rise of gluttonous lending institutions which would inevitably damage society particularly through their intervention in the political world for their own ends. Of the Middle Ages and what followed, Spann says the following:
“[…] its ideas were grounded upon the purposively organized economy of the period and upon the ethico-religious conception of life then dominant. Hence the ensuing developments of economic science aimed either, as in the case of the mercantile system, at the suppression of the old urban-economic ties, or else, as in the case of liberalism from the time of Quesnay onwards, at the inauguration of a perfectly unhampered individualist trading economy. In doctrinal matters, earlier writers were ignored; innovation was the order of the day.”
From the abandonment of a local and yet not necessarily isolated system of trade girded by systems of loyalty, purpose, blood ties, etc. the movement has been towards two extreme poles, either one indicative of radical autonomy or of centralization of economic power and organization. These two trends which lean to disordered focuses and structures have buried a Traditional economic order in a race that revolves entirely around material concerns and the occult motivation of progress. The first breakdown of the old order was towards centralization in the service of international competition . It is unclear if this is in fact the beginning or ‘root’ of caste regression manifest in the physical world, or instead part of an elaborate knock-on effect. Regardless, Spann correctly links it to the decline of nobility.
“Mercantilism, therefore, was not deliberately thought out and artifically created by any individual; it was a creation of the time spirit, or a spontaneous growth of that time. Oncken aptly termed it “a system of sovereign welfare policy”; it was a system of political absolutism and centralization in favor of the burgherdom of mobile capital, to the detriment of the nobility and the lords of the soil.”
You can be certain that this is just a small taste of Spann’s work, and in my study of economics, I’m going to try to use him as much as possible. The main thrust of this article is to show that the dichotomy between capitalism and communism is a false one, just like the dichotomy of big government or small government. The question in both instances should always be directed at purpose. What is the purpose of the government? What is the purpose of an economic transaction in question? Applying blind theories is something our ancestors didn’t engage in much because it seemed self-evidently totalistic, inflexible, and unsuited to human nature and understandings of both morality and legitimate authority. Spann wished for an organic economic order that would have looked something like the stratified guild system of antiquity, which while recognizing the value of open trade, would direct labor towards the good of the state through a loosely connected system of personal economic arrangement. Such a system is the perfect fit for the hierarchical state that Reactionaries advocate, and thus fuels at least my interest in what economists like Spann have to teach us..