Although the topics of the Cashless Society and the Gold Monetary Standard have been discussed previously on this and other sites, we feel that further discussion on these pressing issues is warranted.
The Cashless Society
Earlier we speculated that there might be a glorious return to sound money, such as a precious metal standard. But you can forget about gold as a real standard to moderate the issue of money. Not because it’s not a good idea. A gold standard is a fantastic idea, but it will not come about, because the finance industry has something else in mind. We all know it’s coming, but it has been somewhat forgotten as a discussion point. Yes, we mean the Cashless Society. Every monetary transaction is moving to electronic form.
Back in 2007, credit card Visa chief Peter Ayliffe predicted that a cashless society (in the UK) would come into being by 2012. It may not seem like a sure thing, but the timing of such a prediction is worth making a note of. The problems of electronic transactions at the moment are that financial institutions are making too much money from surcharges and fees, keeping cash as a more attractive way to buy small to medium priced products than plastic. During the current artificially created economic crisis, there has been a contraction of credit, but the idea of eliminating cash is still high on the agenda, even at the UN. The impediments to a universal cashless system can be removed overnight: remove fees on electronic transactions, and impose unreasonable fees on obtaining or depositing cash. Within a couple of years the system will be locked in, and nobody will take cash any more.
Introduced as part of the national e-Governance initiative, the e-Purse, embedded on national ID and resident cards, is the first of its kind in the region. Implemented by the Royal Oman Police (ROP), in association with the Information Technology Authority (ITA) and BankMuscat, the national e-Purse project will revolutionise cash transactions.
“Being an identity card, the e-Purse always remains with citizens and residents. Whenever e-Purse is used, the identity of the user is verified and the government can track each transaction. The support from ITA to the e-Purse project is in line with the directive of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said to enhance e-government services in Oman,” [Dr Salim Al Ruzaiqi, chief executive officer, ITA] added.
The cashless society is a government’s dream. Tax evasion becomes practically impossible, resulting in substantial gains in tax revenue. In theory, the purchase of dangerous substances and weapons becomes more easily traceable to individuals, making criminal activity increasingly difficult. Except for bartering, which is difficult to conduct on a large scale, the economy becomes completely accountable. Not a cent is lost, and society becomes unable to avoid policy changes. No more armoured cars, bank robberies, muggings, bribes, illegal drugs, and so on. All of this has been claimed by proponents of the cashless society. They tend not to mention certain other obvious points which might coincide with this phenomenon, such as the storage of personal information together with the electronic money devices (be they cards or some other form of identification), such as medial information, license details and biometric data. They are already being introduced.
The cashless society would likely accompany the introduction of a single world currency. Without the need to exchange physical coins or notes, all money becomes completely arbitrary. All money would reside on computer accounts, can be given any unit value, and can be created or destroyed at will (unlimited credit). Potentially, all money could reside on a single supercomputer, to save energy.
Banks are especially poised to benefit:
“Banks are very excited about replacing cash. Smart Cards give them the opportunity to make some big bucks off interest-free loans from their customers. Once a customer transfers credit to a cash card, the bank can stop paying interest but gets to hold on to the cash until it’s billed by a merchant. If 100 million people used a card with an average of only 10 unspent dollars on it, the banks would reap $1 billion a day of interest-free money to invest.” (Forbes Magazine, 1998)
Then of course is the argument for the implantation of microchips, or some other physical and permanent means of identification. The technology is indeed ready and has reached a mature status. It is only society that is not yet ready.
The truth of the matter is, of course, different. Many of the arguments in favour of the cashless society are false, where the truth in many cases is diametrically opposed to what is claimed. So what problems might exist with the Utopian dream of universal electronic funds transfer?
Most of the logistic problems are covered elsewhere, and can be easily thought about. Aside from the fact that private transfer of money becomes impossible without the involvement of the universal infrastructure, the other problems are identical to those that plague electronic money transfers already. Identity theft is the biggest problem, and it continues to occur as computing systems become ever complex and bug-ridden.
From our point of view there are three major threats to ordinary people arising from a cashless monetary system. Some of these can already be appreciated, if you just imagine your life suddenly without any access to your credit or bank cards.
(Out of) Control
Could it be said that the quality of governance is directly proportional to the likelihood that the governor is deposed should he or she fail to perform? The easier it is to block the government, the better.
The motivations for a cashless society are really those of making the government of the population easier (for government) and not to ‘enable’ or ’empower’ ordinary people. Supposedly, it would cost less to collect taxes, to police fraud, to run after escapees, because all you need to do is look up the individual’s number and instantly you can see practically every interaction the person has had, each hour of each day. Tracking the movements of people becomes a trivial matter. It’s no secret that even the rudimentary magnetic strips on credit cards can be read from a distance, particularly at doorways if the appropriate magnetic coils are installed (which, in most first world retail stores, they are).
Any electronic device designed to act as a portable electronic wallet will also serve as an access key and unique identifier. It is merely natural progression to bundle passport, wallet, driver’s license, medical alerts and personal details into one key, which is synchronized both locally (on the person) and centrally (on the supercomputer). The same can be rigged to allow key-less entry to house, car, workplace, and airport departure gate. The benefits are a seamless, keyless, paperless, and no-touch life from the apartment door, to the secure car-park, into the car, into work, through the shops, to one’s overseas holiday, and all the purchases and movements there, and back. All of this can be achieved with a single microchip, either as a card, embedded in a wristwatch, or implanted under the skin.
The great weakness of a centralized, integrated and unified key system is that people can be ‘unplugged’ instantaneously and effortlessly, even arbitrarily. Physical papers, a wad of cash and a set of metal keys is a robust, low-tech and redundant way of doing things, yet the tiny gains in convenience of electronic keys (and money) come at great personal risk, because the power is completely out of the hands of the individual. Any failure of the supporting infrastructure is a total failure. It can happen at the hands of a disgruntled or corrupt employee, a hacker or an out-of-control government. The temptation to abuse such a system is immeasurable. If it can happen, it will happen.
In essence, by “holding” all of an individual’s money for him, the electronic monetary system robs the individual of all of his power. This is the ultimate form of population control. In particular, since populations now live in cities and are totally dependent on common infrastructure for their survival, the cashless society permits any kind of political and social change to be effected with no way for people to resist effectively, nor to organize against the system without being found out at a very early stage. The cashless society has the potential to transform what today appears to be a free society into a prison that is tighter and more oppressive than has existed in any totalitarian system in the past, including the Soviet Union under Stalin.
Black Box Economy
It is already problematic that the vast majority of money that is “out there” exists in the form of electrons on magnetic and solid state devices, and not as tangible wealth. We read in the news about billions of dollars being “wiped off” stock markets, and trillions of dollars sitting “on the sidelines”. All of it is meaningless sensationalism, and only illustrates the absurdity of fiat money. The fact that central banks can magic trillions of dollars of new funds into the economy in the space of a few seconds, and that the supply of credit is limited only by people’s willingness to borrow, means that the number that represents your life savings can be wiped out in seconds, by the sudden dilution of the global money supply (to name but one example). The fact that company shares are mostly traded by computers, with the value of shares fluctuating every millisecond as a result of computer algorithms and not human decision making, makes the whole business of market investment a farce.
There is no way of being certain, in an electronic economy, that anything is real. There is not necessarily any paper trail to account for the volume of transactions that exists, and a corrupt elite (which, conveniently enough, already exists) can line its pockets with limitless money, with no way of detecting or proving the crime. Forensic information can be planted or removed all too easily. Without cash, there is no way for an individual to opt out of the system by holding his money in physical form. In a cashless society, there remains only one certainty: hard assets. Everything else will have made the full transition to becoming make-believe.
In many ways, the electronic economy reflects the modern approach to morals. There is great emphasis on civics, and on the conduct of individuals in public (looking good in public), but there is no emphasis on personal moral integrity and the proper conduct of thoughts and deeds in one’s private realm. Modern society encourages personal moral depravity, and teaches a perfect hypocrisy, whereby people in public behave impeccably, yet frequently their private lives are as corrupt and vile as can be imagined. An electronic economy looks squeaky clean on the outside, but there is no telling what manipulation, corruption and wholesale theft is going on beneath. There is also no way to trust the individuals maintaining and governing the monetary infrastructure, since they are as likely to be soulless, amoral and opportunistic as society itself has become.
The Apocalyptic Vision
It is easy to laugh at religious zealots when they harp on about St. John’s Apocalypse, on things such as the Mark of the Beast, and so on. In their rush to sell a message they don’t understand, they undermine the value of the Sacred Texts, leading others to miss out on the wisdom contained therein. We quote the passage that appears to be relevant to the idea of the cashless society:
And he shall make all, both little and great, rich and poor, freemen and bondmen, to have a character in their right hand, or on their foreheads. 17 And that no man might buy or sell, but he that hath the character, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name. Here is wisdom. He that hath understanding, let him count the number of the beast. For it is the number of a man: and the number of him is six hundred sixty-six.
These dramatic passages are full of symbolism and, to some extent, allegory. Throughout the last two millennia, people have tried to torture the words to fit the situation of the day. The lesson we draw from the passage is that the restriction to trade, imposed on individuals because of a religious or political attribute, is always a bad thing. The point to be taken from the Apocalypse, however, is that the predictions apply to the entire world, not just the situation in one or another country at a given time. The point of our article, in part, is that the cashless society is a phenomenon which is capable of being imposed globally, perhaps over the space of a decade or so.
If the G20, for example, met for another “crisis meeting”, and decided, once and for all, to coalesce their currencies, they may simultaneously claim that it is cheaper not to issue any notes or coins, but to issue electronic keys, as described above. Once some heavyweight economies adopt the idea, all else will follow, or face the sword. The scenario is plausible, even though in 2009 it still seems like a pipe dream.
It ought to be noted that think tanks that guide global policy have attitudes which resemble those described by St. John.
In the closing plenary session of the [San Francisco, 1996] forum, philosopher/author Sam Keen provided a summary and conclusive remarks on the conference. Among the conference participants, said Keen, “there was very strong agreement that religious institutions have to take primary responsibility for the population explosion. We must speak far more clearly about sexuality, about contraception, about abortion, about the values that control the population, because the ecological crisis, in short, is the population crisis.
Cut the population by 90 percent and there aren’t enough people left to do a great deal of ecological damage.”
It’s had to imagine just how so many people could be killed without leaving the planet itself uninhabitable, but there is no limit to human ingenuity. There is also, clearly, an insanity at work that makes Nero look like a dull boy.
Gold Has No Place
To go back to material matters, we think once again of gold. Even if a single world currency is purportedly based on a precious metal, because this currency is likely to be cashless, the metallic standard is nothing more than an empty promise. You are trusting the same men in the same suits who are this very day swindling the planet without rest. Just as there is no living soul within the body of the modern man (in a suit), there can be no golden heart to an electronic currency.
We conclude that whatever actions can be taken to limit the progression towards the elimination of cash, should be taken. More importantly, however, it behoves every person to consider the implications of such a system coming about, and to have contingencies in place (a topic in its own right).
The problems of the modern world do not merely revolve around whether money is based on faith, or gold, or seashells, nor whether the US has the weapons, or Russia, or China. All the problems persist, while wrong ideas persist. So it is our pleasure to add a link to our site in promotion of Chesterton.org. As the name suggests, it contains the collected works of what was arguably the greatest author of the 20th century. To that end, we quote from the website, with our emphasis in bold:
Chesterton is the most unjustly neglected writer of our time. Perhaps it is proof that education is too important to be left to educators and that publishing is too important to be left to publishers, but there is no excuse why Chesterton is no longer taught in our schools and why his writing is not more widely reprinted and especially included in college anthologies. Well, there is an excuse. It seems that Chesterton is tough to pigeonhole, and if a writer cannot be quickly consigned to a category, or to one-word description, he risks falling through the cracks. Even if he weighs three hundred pounds.
But there is another problem. Modern thinkers and commentators and critics have found it much more convenient to ignore Chesterton rather than to engage him in an argument, because to argue with Chesterton is to lose.
Chesterton argued eloquently against all the trends that eventually took over the 20th century: materialism, scientific determinism, moral relativism, and spineless agnosticism. He also argued against both socialism and capitalism and showed why they have both been the enemies of freedom and justice in modern society.
And what did he argue for? What was it he defended? He defended “the common man” and common sense. He defended the poor. He defended the family. He defended beauty. And he defended Christianity and the Catholic Faith. These don’t play well in the classroom, in the media, or in the public arena. And that is probably why he is neglected. The modern world prefers writers who are snobs, who have exotic and bizarre ideas, who glorify decadence, who scoff at Christianity, who deny the dignity of the poor, and who think freedom means no responsibility.
We think it ought to be part of every educated person’s task to be familiar with Gilbert Keith Chesterton, his writings, his thinking and his witty humour. It is becoming ever more important to promote clear, critical thinking in the face of our increasingly murky world of vague ideas adrift in a sea of insanity.
… and neither of those shoes is Catholicism.
Pope Benedict XVI has not failed to disappoint traditional Catholicism by placing issues such as inter-religious “dialogue”, diplomacy, doublespeak and suckering up to everybody he meets over and above the simple, honest Truth. Instead of doing as the great Apostles, the great Popes did, by being frank, clear, even blunt about the problems of the world, Pope Benedict XVI said vague things like:
I come, like so many others before me, to pray at the holy places, to pray especially for peace — peace in the Holy Land and peace throughout the world. Mr President, the Holy See and the State of Israel have many shared values… [etc]
What he means by holy places is mosques and synagogues. As for Churches, he prefers open air masses in un-sanctified places, such as stadiums and race courses. And as always it’s very important to remember past crimes, for which everybody today is some how retrospectively responsible and can never be forgiven, no matter how sorry they are:
Tragically, the Jewish people have experienced the terrible consequences of ideologies that deny the fundamental dignity of every human person.
It is right and fitting that, during my stay in Israel, I will have the opportunity to honour the memory of the six million Jewish victims of the Shoah, and to pray that humanity will never again witness a crime of such magnitude.
While it is reasonable, even necessary, to show compassion to the suffering endured by others, there is never such direct reference to the dead in Gaza, only the mention that “it is all too evident that, for decades, peace has tragically eluded the inhabitants of this holy land”. What a boring thing to say! It is plainly obvious that in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict there is no simple answer – nobody is without blame, nobody is entirely righteous. No event in history, outside of Jesus’ Crucifixion, has ever been one sided. That includes World War II. Yet it is also plainly obvious that the Palestinians are starved, weak, desperately poor and desperately alone in their plight. Will Benedict XVI lay a wreath in honour of the thousands of dead Palestinian women and children? Or in honour of the Christian martyrs which have lost their lives in that land during his own lifetime?
And so, the Papal visit is proving to be no different from a visit by any other secular head of state. It might have just as well been Ms. Rice, or Ms. Clinton making this speech (except for the Christian references). No efforts are made to convert the unbelievers (one of Christ’s most direct commands) , or to directly defend the plight of Christians in Israel. There are only painstaking efforts to avoid offending anybody, except for one’s own religion which. This is, perhaps, because the visit is largely about money:
…the Vatican only officially recognised Israel in 1993; an agreement between the two sides on property rights and hugely valuable tax exemptions has still not been implemented.
In the end, of course, Pope Benedict XVI pleases nobody, least of all those whom he tries to please. Perhaps he should try something new. Perhaps he should just stick to Catholicism.
Cantate Domino canticum novum, alleluia: quia mirabilia fecit Dominus, alleluia: ante conspectum gentium relevavit justiam suam, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia. Salvabit sibi dextera ejus: et brachium sanctum ejus. Gloria Patri.
Sing ye to the Lord a new canticle, alleluia, for the Lord hath done wonderful things, alleluia; He hath revealed His justice in the sight of the Gentiles, allelulia, allelulia, alleluia. His right hand, and His holy arm, hath gotten Him the victory. Glory be to the Father.
The Pope will be arriving in Israel soon. In so doing, it’s worth remembering Christ’s words in reference to the Paraclete:
…when He is come, He will convince the world of sin and of justice and of judgement. Of sin, because they believed not in Me: and of justice, because I go to the Father, and you shall see me no longer: and of judgement, because the prince of this world is already judged.
Let’s pray that Benedict XVI doesn’t get his priorities mixed up this week.
There is very little room for error for the Pope when it comes to public life.
As the Pope nears his visit to Israel, scheduled Monday, he is making a few quick visits to other significant sites in the Middle East. The coming days pose perhaps the greatest risk taken during Benedict XVI’s Pontificate so far, diplomatically, theologically and physically.
Today he was in Jordan, where he paid his respects at Bethany, the site of Jesus’ baptism. The visit was used by Muslims as an opportunity to remind themselves how offended they still are that Benedict insulted their faith back in 2006 when he made a speech, quoting Manuel II Palaiologos, Byzantine Emperor during the 14th and 15th centuries:
Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.
Not only did the words of the speech cause offense, but the giving of credence to Palaiologos himself, since he was a strong supporter of the Crusades against the Ottoman empire. Pope Benedict XVI apologized profusely, but of course, apologies and forgiveness do not stand out as the most notable aspects of modern-day monotheism outside of Christianity. Indeed, the Pope’s words condemning violence as “incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul” were met with none other than violence against churches in Muslim countries. It’s a sad fact that people are not taught the ability to recognize that the criticism of an idea does not equate to a personal affront.
But in fairness to Muslims around the world, it has to be emphasized that most people, everywhere, are not interested in violence. It is almost universal that people prefer simply to be let alone, as long as they are given basic freedoms and fair treatment. Yet there are groups, ideologies and nations which, in the pursuit of power, will try to undermine the enemy by fomenting extremism in its camp, since extremism, being irrational and emotional, tends to weaken society by preventing reasoned and logical decision making. This needs to be kept in mind when the voice of extremist groups is portrayed in the media, be it on Muslim matters or any other matters. Those who benefit are rarely the ones purportedly represented by the extremist groups. In these cases, it’s fair to ask: Who do the groups really serve? Who really controls those groups?
The Pope’s visit to Jordan is like a walk in the city park in broad daylight when compared with what could happen when he arrives in the Holy Land, where the plight of the native Palestinians, especially those in Gaza, is desperate as never before, and the rise of nationalistic and religious pride is at historic highs amongst Israelis.
Criticism of a Papal visit to Israel during this time has come from all sides. Muslims are against it for a number of reasons, particularly from the point of view that such a visit gives the State of Israel the appearance of legitimacy. Palestinians are against it, because they can see that the Pope is very unlikely to say anything in their defense during his visit (probably out of fear). He is not touring Gaza, for example, where supplies for rebuilding remain so inadequate that the starving population is resorting to building houses out of mud. Christians in Israel are against it, because the Pope’s visit may well make life for them even worse, particularly if the Pope makes any diplomatic “blunders”, such as criticizing the ill-treatment of his flock or complaining about the damage done to historic sites in recent times, such as occurred during the siege at the Church of the Nativity. Jews are also against it, accusing the Pope of being an anti-semite:
Knesset Member Michael Ben-Ari of the National Union party said the parliament should state its position on the Catholic spiritual leader, who he claimed “is an anti-Semite, was a member of the Hitler youth and returned a Holocaust-denying bishop to the church.” He also said the pontiff continues to blame the Jewish people for the killing of Jesus.
Indeed the Pope has not been very compliant in appeasing his elder brothers, failing to boycott the recent UN Racism Conference, and removing the excommunication on the current bishops of the Society of Saint Pius X. Affection for the Pope in Israel could not be said to be at an all time high, that is for sure. His visit must pose a logistic nightmare to the Israeli Government, which is imposing the equivalent of martial law on the streets. It will not make it at all easy for him to stray down an incorrect street or alleyway. Not only might it be a bit embarrassing, but it’s also rather unsafe.
So when Pope Benedict XVI visits Israel next week, what will he achieve? What can he achieve?
The media talks about things like engendering dialogue, healing rifts, building bridges and so forth. The Pope wants to promote religious “freedom”, a concept which, while obviously aimed towards reducing the persecution of Christians, has the downfall of not having a valid theological basis (especially in the broad and incorrect way it is described in Gaudium et spes). It would appear that, given the failure of anyone else to improve things in Israel, the Pope has even less hope of doing so. The whole visit will have been very carefully planned and highly scripted. Jerusalem will be teeming with Israeli security officers, and it’s unlikely the Pope will get to see anything but that which it was intended for him to see. In many respects, the entire visit will have been a charade and entirely meaningless.
But the Pope’s physical presence there may, in the end, have a great impact. He is only a human being, and an elderly, frail one at that, but he is an intellectual, a man whose opinion is recognized as considered and deliberate. Despite the rehearsed nature of his visit, he himself may learn a great deal about his enemies, many of whom he possibly mistakes as friends. While the vast majority of Israelis and Muslims recognize a message of peace when they hear one, there are many who do not. They are the greatest threat, and the ones whom the Pope ought to keep at the forefront of his thinking when he speaks.
Benedict is a brave man, since he is, no doubt, aware of the risks he is taking. He also comes accross as a holy man; prayerful and well versed in scripture and theology. Yet there is still an element of mystery about his thinking, since many of his statements and actions regarding relations with Judaism and Islam have seemed contradictory and confused. At one moment he may come across as direct and blunt, yet at another he manages to speak and say nothing, like the most skilful of politicians.
During the visit, it will be interesting to dissect Benedict’s words and tease out the nuances. Most of it will be dull, like the visit of a monarch to a colony – full of diplomatic statements. The trip might turn out to have been a waste of time, even a mistake. But there is always the hope that he manages to do the improbable; to offend everyone at the same time, by speaking the simple, direct, and unashamed truth.
Catholicism, contrary to the libraries of explanations and discussions that exist, is, by and large, a simple religion. It’s not an easy religion, but fulfilling its various requirements is quite straightforward. There is a single God, ten Commandments, the need for prayer, and seven Sacraments which cover all the essential parts of religious life. That’s about it. You can be born, live and die by these basics and go directly to Heaven. Dogma surrounding things including the Trinity, the Immaculate Conception, and others, while important to accept in faith, is totally unnecessary to understand. Whether these ideas are true or not ought to make no difference to one’s actions. If life is conducted in accordance to the above principles, earthly life becomes much more manageable and pleasant than it otherwise would be.
God’s ideas are simple and elegant. It’s people who make things complicated and ugly. It’s people who manage to twist and mangle what was once simple, in order to make it fit whatever perversion they seek to justify. A good example of this is the current Pope, who continues to show his lack of (or incorrect) understanding of Catholic dogma and basic theology, this time in the area of human rights.
Zenit news reports that Pope Benedict XVI espouses and wishes the world to promote the concept of Universal Human Rights:
Benedict XVI is urging members of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences to defend and promote those “non-negotiable human rights” that are based in God’s law.
He goes on to say:
“The modern period helped shape the idea that the message of Christ — because it proclaims that God loves every man and woman and that every human being is called to love God freely — demonstrates that everyone, independently of his or her social and cultural condition, by nature deserves freedom.” … The Pope stated that the Church’s action in promoting human rights is “supported by rational reflection, in such a way that these rights can be presented to all people of good will.”
One has to wonder why there cannot be a simpler way to say “I’m making this into Church teaching, even though it’s new teaching. It seems to make sense to me except I can’t claim that it’s supported by Scripture or Tradition.” This is, after all, what the Pope is doing. He is not merely saying that people have a right to be Catholics (which is arguably the only ‘human right’ that Catholicism espouses), but that they have rights to believe whatever god they choose, rights to have property, rights to this, rights to that. While they sound nice, these ideas are not part of Catholic religion.
While mankind is important, and human beings are important, even sacred, insofar as they are temples of God and part of his plan, they are still capable of being trust into Hell at the end. As such, a human soul (and body) has no right to anything. Everything given to it by God is a thing undeserved. This is fundamental to understanding the theology of grace. Therefore, to suggest that a human being has a right, before God, not to die, or not to suffer, is incorrect. It is simply not a Christian idea, as it places man at the center and not God. Yet from the other end, we have an obligation towards one another to show respect, give dignity, relieve suffering and ease the burden of life. That, however, is not what Human Rights are about.
What the Pope is proclaiming is something which is a man made invention and not part of authentic Catholic teaching. Human beings have no rights whatsoever, no freedom rightly exercised except that which is in accordance to God’s will. Nobody has an inalienable right to live, or to die, or to walk, or to talk or to do anything. Everybody has a right to worship God and to obey his Commandments, and so forth. That’s the correct Catholic view, notwithstanding the teaching on natural moral law.
The concept of Human Rights, though useful, is not a religious one. It can be used as a legal tool, or used to measure the usefulness of a social intervention, but it can never become a part of orthodox Catholic teaching. Whatever his motives, Pope Benedict XVI shows (and sows) confusion on many areas of Catholic teaching. His lack of orthodoxy impedes the recovery of Catholicism in modern times, which would otherwise have occurred, had he simply stayed with sacred Tradition.
Nero, to win credit for himself of enjoying nothing so much as the capital, prepared banquets in the public places, and used the whole city, so to say, as his private house. Of these entertainments the most famous for their notorious profligacy were those furnished by Tigellinus, which I will describe as an illustration, that I may not have again and again to narrate similar extravagance. He had a raft constructed on Agrippa’s lake, put the guests on board and set it in motion by other vessels towing it. These vessels glittered with gold and ivory; the crews were arranged according to age and experience in vice. Birds and beasts had been procured from remote countries, and sea monsters from the ocean. On the margin of the lake were set up brothels crowded with noble ladies, and on the opposite bank were seen naked prostitutes with obscene gestures and movements. As darkness approached, all the adjacent grove and surrounding buildings resounded with song, and shone brilliantly with lights. Nero, who polluted himself by every lawful or lawless indulgence, had not omitted a single abomination which could heighten his depravity, till a few days afterwards he stooped to marry himself to one of that filthy herd, by name Pythagoras, with all the forms of regular wedlock. The bridal veil was put over the emperor; people saw the witnesses of the ceremony, the wedding dower, the couch and the nuptial torches; everything in a word was plainly visible, which, even when a woman weds darkness hides. – Tacitus (Annals, 15.37)
Nero was populist and hedonist. He was also probably insane and it is postulated that he, and most other aristocratic Romans suffered from lead poisoning. The above account by Tacitus (having occurred during his childhood) occurs shortly before the great fire of Rome which, burning for a whole week, destroyed much of the City including Nero’s palace and the Temple of Jupiter, a building which had spanned eight centuries of history. It would have left around a million inhabitants homeless. The fire also completely destroyed the homes of the members of the Roman Senate. The entire system of legislative government, the decision making core of the Roman Empire, was left in disarray.
There is no answer to the question of who caused the great fire, but rumors abounded. It’s as likely that the fire was accidental as is the possibility of arson. Nero was suspected to have organized the fire by many, for reasons of reshaping the City against the wishes of the Senate. Fearing the loss of authority, he blamed the Christians, whom he persecuted with ever greater brutality thereafter. The Christians believed a prophecy which predicted Rome’s destruction by flame. The date of 19th July, on the night of which the star Sirius rose above the Roman horizon, was given much astrological significance. They were also probably saying “I told you so”, which would have invited the finger of blame. Refusing to ‘worship’ the Caesar and the Roman gods, Christians had already been identified as a potentially subversive group. The thing going against the theory that they conspired to burn down Rome is that such a crime would certainly not have been condoned by the followers of Jesus whose doctrine was generally pacifist, whose beliefs included a rejection of the brutality and moral depravity which abounded at the time.
Regarding statecraft, Nero’s populism (and popularity) was as important as his brutal oppression of perceived enemies. He lowered taxes (down to 2.5%), cut the wages of lawyers and cracked down on various forms of government corruption. He made imports cheaper by removing tariffs. These interventions were not ‘reforms’ as much as they were attempts to promote himself at any cost. The city of Rome, in many respects, had outgrown itself. The streets were a shambles and the quality of buildings poor. It didn’t seem to matter, because the people were distracted and they loved their Caesar. Yet Nero’s populism and extravagance threatened to bankrupt the government. In response, he kicked off Rome’s economic decline by debasing the dinarius, reducing its gold content by 5%.
The events in Rome around this period are significant, not merely because of the magnitude of the fire. Rome was rebuilt and the growth of the Empire continued, although the administrative problems compounded over time. Nero’s Rome stands out as being the time and place where Christianity began the war of ideas, the battle for Rome’s heart and mind, in earnest. That Nero chose Christians as the scapegoats for the Great Fire shows their significance. The number of followers of Jesus in Rome by 60 AD must already have numbered in the tens of thousands (or more) for Nero to have been so worried about them.
People occasionally compare the Western world with aspects of Roman history. There are some extremely important differences which nullify many of these comparisons. Nero was truly powerful as an individual. His personal opinion counted. Today, the personal opinion of almost every head of state in a Western democracy counts for almost nothing. Nero had significant control of the Empire’s finances. Today, no Western government has any realistic control of its finances; the issuance of money is practically in the hands of private individuals.
However, other similarities are striking, such as the emphasis on public entertainment as a means of distraction, while extreme brutality and torture is sanctioned by governments. The loss of grip on real power by politicians and their increasing populism have similarities with Nero’s approach. The debasement of the currency by Nero and the same today is also a telling sign of the times. History teaches that such moves tend to precede an unremitting economic decline that eventually threatens civilizations. Today, the flood of US dollars threatens to have the same effect, except that it is occurring so rapidly that the three hundred or so years it took for Rome to ruin itself might be curtailed to a mere 18 or so months for America and its closest allies.
History doesn’t repeat itself, but the lessons that can be gleaned from history are eternal. The Neroes of our time are not poisoned by lead exposure, but the philosophies that guide their decision making are no less poisonous and insidious. Nero’s era marked the beginning of centuries of Christian persecution, and the oppression of good ideas. Stupid decision making on a massive scale lead to Rome’s decline and fall. The suppression of ideas and the blindness (and corruption) of Western leadership threatens to have the same effect on our civilization. Yet the time of Nero and the centuries that followed are a source of great hope for our own future, because despite all efforts to the contrary, the principles of peaceful resistance, and the power of truth succeeded in overcoming even the most rigorous opposition. The Romans thought the world would be theirs, but they were wrong.
The fall of the Roman Empire, as gradual as it was, resulted in the end of slavery in Europe and the rise of Christianity. In our time, the pace of change is an order of magnitude greater, due in part to the speed at which ideas are propagated. As the economic crisis plays out, today’s oligarchy believes it is on the verge of world domination, of finally tying things up for good, but it cannot escape the fact that its position and influence are jeopardized by this very belief. The fact that the ‘global elite’ is not a meritocracy, that its money is meaningless, that its people are corrupt and its philosophies are not based on truth, makes it fallible and weak. By relying on false principles, it lays the seeds of its own destruction.
Roman civilization was not built on false economy, hedonism and laziness, or the Circus Maximus. Modern civilization will fall for the same reasons.