Essay 57: The Issue of Deep Rhythms in History: Second Look

We have already seen, in the previous essay, that world violence against the vulnerable is a deep and constant theme or rhythm in world history, one that is “dutifully” avoided. (This avoidance may be called another rhythm all its own.)

In the realm of finance (Kenneth Rogoff’s book This Time is Different is about financial rhythms and cycles), we also sense deep echoes and rhythms:

Consider this entry on the medieval Florentine banking houses the Bardi and Peruzzi:  “These Florentine families gave their names to two great banking houses of the 14th century, commanding assets far greater than those of the later and more famous Medici bank.  They advanced loans to European monarchs, most notably Edward I, who used the money to finance his campaigns in the Hundred Years’ War.  He and his successors reneged on his debts in 1345, which led to bankruptcy for the Bardi and Peruzzi forms and sent shock waves through the European economy.

The Medici rules Florence from 1434-1494, long after these Europe-wide shocks.  Bond finance (governments borrowing from their own people as well as outsiders) to finance wars emerged out of insecurity on all sides of war finance and culminated in the brilliance of the Rothschilds (as Prof. Niall Ferguson’s contemporary two-volume history of this family shows).

Thus, wars and war finance have many centuries of gestation and provenance and defaults and shock waves were well known in the European economy of the fourteenth century long before the Medici and their famous patronage of the arts and their prominence in Papal politics.

One might argue that these are rhythms and echoes that have to do with deep structures like militarily organized violence (wars) and political organizations from kingdoms through states.

If you combine these two essays (56/57) you get a money-and-violence super-rhythm which goes on today.

Consider the Larousse entry on the Frescobaldi family:

“One of several banking families in 14th-15th century Florence with European-wide interests. 

“Their clients included Edward II of England, whose wars with Scotland they financed in exchange for customs revenues.

“The royal default on debts led to a crisis for the Frescobaldi bank in 1311.”

(Larousse Dictionary of World History, ed. Bruce Lenman, Houghton Mifflin, 1995, page 343)

This also shows you war-and-finance had a major destabilizing role in Europe long before our modern period and constitutes a potential rhythm or proto-rhythm.