Voltaire. Money. Adnotated. Part 1.

From A Philosophical Dictionary Vol. VI – Part II

A word made use of to express gold. “Sir, will you lend me a hundred louis d’or?”i “Sir, I would with all my heart, but I have no money; I am out of ready money.” The Italian will say to you: “Signore, non ha di danari”—“I have no deniers.”ii

Harpagon asks Maître Jacques: “Wilt thou make a good entertainment?” “Yes, if you will give me plenty of money.”

We continually inquire which of the countries of Europe is the richest in money? By that we mean, which is the people who circulate the most metals representative of objects of commerce? In the same manner we ask, which is the poorest? and thirty contending nations present themselves—the Westphalian, Limousin, Basque, Tyrolese, Valois, Grison, Istrian, Scotch, and Irish, the Swiss of a small canton, and above all the subjects of the pope.iii

In deciding which has most, we hesitate at present between France, Spain, and Holland, which had none in 1600.iv

Formerly, in the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth centuries, the province of the papal treasury had no doubt the most ready money, and therefore the greatest trade. How do you sell that? would be asked of a theological merchant, who replied, For as much as the people are fools enough to give me.v

All Europe then sent its money to the Roman court, who gave in change consecrated beads, agnuses, indulgences plenary and limited, dispensations, confirmations, exemptions, benedictions, and even excommunications against those whom the subscriber chose, and who had not sufficient faith in the court of Rome.vi

The Venetians sold nothing of all this, but they traded with all the West by Alexandria, and it was through them only that we had pepper and cinnamon.vii The money which went not to the papal treasury came to them, excepting a little to the Tuscans and Genoese. All the other kingdoms of Europe were so poor in ready money that Charles VIII. was obliged to borrow the jewels of the duchess of Savoy and put them in pawn, to raise funds to conquer Naples, which he soon lost again. The Venetians supported stronger armies than his. A noble Venetian had more gold in his coffers, and more vessels of silver on his table, than the emperor Maximilian surnamed “Pochi danari.”viii

Things changed when the Portuguese traded with India as conquerors, and the Spaniards subjugated Mexico and Peru with six or seven hundred men.ix We know that then the commerce of Venice, and the other towns of Italy all fell to the ground. Philip II., the master of Spain, Portugal, the Low Countries, the Two Sicilies, and the Milanese, of fifteen hundred leagues of coast in Asia, and mines of gold and silver in America, was the only rich, and consequently the only powerful prince in Europe. The spies whom he gained in France kissed on their knees the Catholic doubloons, and the small number of angels and caroluses which circulated in that country had not much credit. It is pretended that America and Asia brought him in nearly ten million ducats of revenue. He would have really bought Europe with his money, but for the iron of Henry IV. and the fleets of Queen Elizabeth.

The “Dictionnaire Encyclopedique,” in the article on “Argent,” quotes the “Spirits of Laws,” in which it is said: “I have heard deplored a thousand times, the blindness of the council of Francis I., who rejected the proposal of Christopher Columbus for the discovery of the Indies—perhaps this imprudence has turned out a very wise thing.”x

We see by the enormous power of Philip that the pretended council of Francis I. could not have done such a wise thing. But let us content ourselves with remarking that Francis I. was not born when it is pretended that he refused the offers of Christopher Columbus. The Genoese captain landed in America in 1492, and Francis I. was born in 1497, and did not ascend the throne until 1515. Let us here compare the revenues of Henry III., Henry IV., and Queen Elizabeth, with those of Philip II. The ordinary income of Elizabethxi was only one hundred thousand pound sterling, and with extras it was, one year with another, four hundred thousand; but she required this surplus to defend herself from Philip II.xii Without extreme economy she would have been lost, and England with her.

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  1. The reader will recall that Voltaire was a contemporary of the last monarch of France – the inimitable Sun King – Louis XIV, for whom everything from currencies to colonies (eg. Louisiana) were named, such was his solar gravitas.
  2. Of historical note is the degree to which the term for currency “dinar” spread eastwards from its Mediterranean birthplace in Ancient Rome and is even today used in the sandy shitholes post-Saddam Iraq and Kuwait, to name but a few of the eight or so nation states still applying this nation to their soi-disant “sovereign” currencies.

    Anyways, the root word is the Latin dēnārius, which was used to refer to a silver Roman coin. That “I have no deniers” is the literal translation from Italian can be interpreted more readily as “I’m putting my money where my mouth is,” which sounds even better when you say it like Faht Tohni frum Noo Joisee.

  3. The Roman Catholics of Voltaire’s era were uniquely hamstrung in several regards, not the least of which was the inability to divorce and remarry. It’s then little wonder that the Pope’s adherents were similarly crippled financially, money representing as does a deeper worth and adherents to nonsense always and everywhere being marked men – both in the sense of being damned in the religious sense and the sense of having outstanding markers in the secular sense.
  4. While Holland was virtually invisible on the world’s stage in 1600, not yet having its independence from the Spanish and Habsburgs, by the end of the 17th century the uniquely multicultural and tolerant trading hub (not unlike latter day Singapore) had the globe’s second largest navy (if quite unlike latter day Singapore), which it used to defeat the otherwise unrivalled British ships on more than one occasion, as well as the largest merchant fleet and exceptionally strong positions in markets ranging from banking to textiles. But how does one create Amsterdam ? Funny, Peter The Great wondered the exact same thing in the late 1600’s and so became the first Tsar to leave his quasi-backwards lands to visit those canalled rues lined with summertime gold and wintertime patineurs. While Peter didn’t adopt the Netherland’s, ahem, handiness* with slave trading, Peter I did adopt their seafaring ways in creating Russia’s first navy.

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    *The Dutch famously and frequently chopped off hands of Congolese failing to meet rubber production quotas. This is considered by libertards to be megadoubleplusungood because they quite simply have no documentation from the illiterate savages to provide a ready counterfactual for the fates of the insufficiently productive men, women, and children. There can be little doubt, however, that in the same way that Paris eats couscous today, the African descendants in Holland extant owe their everything to their strong-willed (and industrious) forefathers who seized the opportunity presented them, no matter how barbed the outstretched hand. There are indeed far worse things than colonialism.

  5. One might infer that the “theological merchant” described herein is a Jew, but he needn’t be anymore than the Wall Street banker or the Hollywood producer, even if all three professions rely heavily on the timeless and placeless art of storytelling so masterfully wielded by The Tribe. After all, statistics don’t apply to individuals.
  6. “Who had no sufficient faith in the court of Rome” ie. those insalubrious but undeniably industrious Protestants of Holland, Germany, and England.
  7. Lest such now-readily available spices seem mere contrivances for the modern man, the only law of trade that need be recalled – then as now – is that of scarcity, be it of cheap labour, climatic advantage, political stability, or all of the above.
  8. So too does the noble of The Most Serene Republic contemporarily have more gold in his coffers and more vessels of silver on his table than the emperor Obama surnamed “Po’boy.” Plus ca change. It rhymes, this stuff, but it never ever changes.
  9. He refers, of course, to Cortez and his merry band of indebted warriors. Cortez was quite shrewd and ruthless with his men. He charged them monumental sums of money for basic food rations, lodging, weapons, and anything else they needed and that he could make a buck on ; on top of which he charged usurious interest rates, all so that his men would be forced to rape and pillage with untold ferocity in an effort to repay their debts or attempt to simply forget their debts in the passion of the bloodthirsty moment… or both. Cortez’s men worked as private contractors ; “free men” yet anything but. Remind you of anyone you know ? Yourself perhaps, Mr. Salary Man ?  
  10. This might’ve seemed a ludicrous proposition just a half-century ago when the United States was still flying high off of its recent military victory in Europe. But today ? Francis I seems more prescient than anything.  
  11. Queen Elizabeth I, the last of the Tudor line, was the daughter of King Henry VIII, he who pivotally wanted a divorce so desperately that he created an entirely new Church – The Church of England – from the decrepit wreck of the Holy See.
  12. This being Philip II of Spain, for whom the eternal fountain of Tim Horton’s employees and live-in nannies is named.

3 thoughts on “Voltaire. Money. Adnotated. Part 1.

  1. […] at all, leaving actual service positions to be filled by industrious immigrants like my beloved Philippinos. “You can be anything” is a blasted fairytale and a wicked curse upon these […]

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