Having read E. Michael Jones’ work Libido Dominandi, where he exposes how global elites have used sexual “liberation” as a tool for political enslavement, a brilliant book, I was looking forward to reading Barren Metal which is a history of usury. Sadly I was disappointed. This work is inferior to Libido Dominandi. I will first discuss the positive elements I found in the book and conclude with where I thought it failed.
The basic premise of the Barren Metal is that usury is the extraction of surplus value from the laborer and that capitalism is state sponsored usury. Jones here is a bit confusing as he distinguishes between two kinds of capitalism (1) free-enterprise and entrepreneurship and (2) state sponsored usury. When most people of think of capitalism, at least on the political right, they think of definition one. What he calls state sponsored usury I really don’t think is capitalism. Obviously we have state sponsored usury in the ancient world under Greece and Rome and yet nothing like the dynamic markets of modern capitalism was seen.
This over simplification mars the book. Jones has a penchant for reductionist thinking; capitalism is usury, Protestantism is a looting operation of the Catholic Church, etc.
Jones begins his work by challenging the Weberian thesis that capitalism arose not out of Protestantism, but out of Catholic Renaissance Italy. He then spends the better part of 1000 pages blaming Protestantism for capitalism and only at the end of the book does he return to his original position. This kind of confusing and contradictory view is a major weakness of the book.
Prior to the Reformation/Renassiance, the Catholic church in the Benedictine Order valued labor over alchemy/usury in producing wealth. Together with the civil arm of the Holy Roman Empire, the German-Catholic order of anti-usury pro-labor was maintained. From here on out the basic narrative of the book is that the rise of pagan thought in the renaissance in Catholic Italy coupled with the great Schism brought on by Protestantism destroyed the Church’s ‘policy power’ to enforce laws against usury. For Jones the Protestant looting of Church property in England, in order to get the initial startup capital for economic development, was the original sin of capitalism. He argues that the rise of liberalism and its grounding of morals in human sentiments was the perfect justification for the exploitation of the working class by the capitalist elite. This breach made by English capitalism and the Reformation was compounded by Napoleon and his emancipation of the Jews. The German rationalists were the one bright spot in this period. From Kant to Hegel the Germans developed a new economic outlook based on the national economy rather than pure individual interest. This view of economics he sees carried into the Catholic social teaching of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This German-Catholic fusion is his alternative to Jewish capitalism. The Jews and the English Protestants conspired to spread capitalism, ergo usury, throughout the world. He ends his work by discussing the implications of usury in the great 2008 economic crisis.
Jone’s critique of Empiricism is decidedly excellent. His account of the Jews bears repeating. He argues that the Jews, a diasporic people, treated gentiles as aliens and that is why they extracted usury from them. When capitalism internalized this Jewish practice it made each individual an alien to the other, destroying social cohesion. He argues that capitalism and communism are two sides of the same Jewish coin. He argues that Marx rendered the working class as a rootless cosmopolitan force, just like the Jews. The Marxist solution of abolishing property was worse than the problem of usury.
Jones’ argument is hampered by his clear ignorance of the Reformation. He argues that the Anabaptists were Lutherans, and even states later in the work that they invaded churches and smashed images. With the noticeable exception of Munster the Anabaptists were pacifists and such a bizarre falsehood seriously damages Jones’ credibility on this issue. His monomania with Protestantism is also flawed since Protestant Scandinavia and Germany did not develop the radical individualistic capitalism he condemns, ergo something other than Protestantism was the driving cause, thereby discrediting his narrative.
Jones acts as if the Catholic church would have had an alternative to Capitalism; he is quite favorable of the Jesuit Experiment in Quebec and Paraguay. Yet he never demonstrates that there was a viable Catholic alternative. The Catholic kingdoms of Portugal, Spain, France, and Austria were all as debt and usury ridden as the England he so condemns. The fact is that usury ran apace in Catholic as well as Protestant nations.
His anti-Protestant monomania is further compound by his monomaniacal fixation on Henry VIII’s nationalization of the monasteries. This, for Jones, is the original sin of capitalism; the confiscation of a thousand years of accumulated value and his justification for reducing the Reformation to merely a looting scheme. This of course is absurd. I could just as easily say the Reformation was the Roman Catholic chickens coming home to roost. During the 4th century the Catholics running the Roman Empire destroyed Pagan images and confiscated pagan temples, not unlike what Henry VIII would do 1100 years later. Given that the Catholic church was built on the accumulation of a 1000 years of classical labor it was nothing more than a looting operation. This double standard is further highlighted when he complains that English pirates, such as Sir Francis Drake, were raiding Spanish galleons, without even so much as a mention of the massive looting of Mexico and Peru, probably one of the greatest looting operations in history and far grander than Henry VIII’s. We see that in the 4th and 16th centuries the Catholic church was built on loot and plunder of an unimaginable scale, but it would be absurd to conclude from that the Catholic Church was merely a looting operation of pagan goods, as Jones implies with the Reformation.
In short Barren Metal is a deeply flawed though expansive work that leaves much to be desired.