Usury

« Any one setting out to dispute anything ought always to begin by saying what he does not dispute. Beyond stating what he proposes to prove he should always state what he does not propose to prove. »

The quote above is from Orthodoxy, by G. K. Chesterton. A book that I’ve read before but thought it too flippant. Yet now I can appreciate it more.

But today I’m not here to talk about anything particulalry Chestertonian. I quote this passage because the other day I was thinking: when someone talks about something he must say what he means and what he doesn’t mean and what he is not saying but what he really means.

And I thought this while I was thinking about capitalism as it relates to usury. For instance, consider the following from St. Basil of Caesarea

« tell me, do you really seek riches and financial gain from the destitute? If this person had the resources to make you even wealthier, why did he come begging to your door? He came seeking an ally but found an enemy. He came seeking medicine, and stumbled onto poison. Though you have an obligation to remedy the poverty of someone like this, instead you increase the need, seeking a harvest from the desert. »

In here, St. Basil was able to condense in a powerful image the evil of usury and why its a sin (not only in Catholicism but in Judaism and Islamism). Everyone with a bit of empathy at least pauses for a moment when he reads this, even if he continues to lend at abusive interests (after all, his paycheck depends on it, and this can justify many a thing).

But, as far as I can see, this is very, very different from lending at some rate with compound interest to a government (a court, a king, a nation-state and so on), so that it can wage wars and/or live in a luxury it does not own.

And this is the kind of usury that is thrown together, with a gross contempt to subtlety, with the former kind — the one St. Basil explicitly talks about and, to be honest, still wreck lives today — by some traditionalists. And then they lament the end of the Hapsburgs and the supposed corruption of the European royalty (really, a kind of departament-store-royalty). And of course, there is one particular ethnic/religious group that they blame for all of this.

So, when you read between the lines — when you see the implications and what they mean without saying and what they don’t mean, you see it is the instrumentalization of morals to attack one group and explain how they’re failures in life.