The World Turned Upside Down
Thomas was quite a fortunate man. At a time when the vast majority of people worldwide were born into precarious poverty or ascribed servitude, he found himself a member of his society’s nobility, privileged with property, wealth, and high status. And in an era when most ‘noble’ families across Europe were in fact little more than illiterate local warlords living in crude stone strongholds, Thomas lived in the richest, most ancient and culturally vibrant city of its age- Constantinople.
Growing up as a member of the Byzantine nobility, Thomas was accorded a fine, well-rounded education. He was no doubt aware that his was a society with a rich intellectual heritage stretching back directly to Socrates and Plato. He knew the grand history of his home city, the center of a society that had been thriving and successful for a thousand years- an almost unimaginable length of time for an advanced civilization to exist intact. One imagines that as Thomas dined at the fine hereditary estates of his fellow noblemen on the outskirts of the city (some of them passed down through the same lineage for 30 generations), or when he walked ancient streets paved seven or eight centuries earlier, he must have acquired a sense of the longevity and permanence obtaining to his world.
As he attended events at the legendary Hagia Sofia - not only the greatest and most elegant architectural masterpiece in existence in the world at the time, but one of the most exceptional buildings ever built by human hands in any age – Thomas must surely have had every reason to believe this greatness, into which he had so fortuitously been born, would always be the way of things, continuing during his life as it had for century after century before him.
How extraordinary, then, that Thomas was there to witness his world turned upside down. His account of the destruction of his city and civilization is one of the few surviving firsthand descriptions of the Fall of Constantinople, recording the moment when a thousand years of continuity suddenly and violently ceased to be continuous. Here, in part, is what our friend ‘Thomas the Eparch’ recorded:
“The Turkish emperor Mahmet encamped in front of the Gate called St Romanus before which he placed his cannons: the projectile of the first cannon had a circumference of twelve spans and those of the other cannons a circumference not much smaller; he deployed them at a distance from the gate. After they had come close to the city, during the night they brought up a war machine with ten thousand men and the cannons behind it.
…At dawn on Monday, 29 May, they began an attack that lasted all night until Tuesday evening and they conquered the city. The commander of the Genoese, who was leading the defense of the breach, pretended to be wounded and abandoned his battle station, taking with him all his people. When the Turks realized this, they slipped in through the breach. When the emperor of the Greeks saw this, he exclaimed in a loud voice: My God, I have been betrayed! and he suddenly appeared with his people, exhorting the others to stand firm and defend themselves. But then the gate was opened and the crush of people became such that the emperor himself and his ninety one thousand men were killed by the Turks and the traitors. Afterwards, the Turks ran to the Hagia Sophia, and all those whom they had imprisoned there, they killed in the first heat of rage. Those whom they found later, they bound with a cord around their neck and their hands tied behind their backs and led them out of the city.
…Then they destroyed all the sacred objects and the bodies of the saints and burned everything they found, save for the cross, the nail, and the clothing of Christ: no one knows where these relics ended up, no one has found them. They also wanted to desecrate the image of the Virgin of St Luke by stabbing six hundred people in front of it, one after another, like madmen. Then they took prisoner those who fell into their hands, tied them with a rope around the neck and calculated the value of each one. Women had to redeem themselves with their own bodies, men by fornicating with their hands or some other means. Whoever was able to pay the assessed amount could remain in his faith and whoever refused had to die. The Turk who had become governor of Constantinople, named Suleiman, occupied the temple of Hagia Sophia to practice his faith there. For three days the Turks sacked and pillaged the city, and each kept whatever he found, people and goods, and did with them whatever he wished.
The world turned upside down, indeed.
I believe that you and I, here in the present reading this essay over the internet through our wifi connections on our phones or Macbooks, may well have more in common with Thomas than we might comfortably admit. Like him, we in the Western world were fortunate enough to be born into a civilization that was wealthy and prosperous (or at least appeared so). Like him, the governance of our lands has increasingly been co-opted by a massive, unwieldy, and self-serving bureaucracy that somehow manages to accomplish less the larger and more expensive it becomes (the origin of the phrase Byzantine bureaucracy, after all). Like Thomas, our education and literacy has allowed us to know and understand our place in time and our civilization’s largely illustrious (and occasionally barbarous) history to the degree that we can picture ourselves in the present as connected to the continuum of the past. Being aware of this history, and being blessed to have lived most of our lives in nations or world regions that were at the top of the economic and political heap, like Thomas we have every reason to believe that the world we have known during our lives will continue into the future. It is possible, however, that the end of the great Keynsian experiment means that like Thomas we may well be witnesses to our “World Turned Upside Down”. That is the subject of this blog. So let’s define a few terms, stake out some intellectual territory, and get cracking!
What is this part of TFRM about?
Given this background, the core animating ideas of my area here are that:
- Over the last 40+ years, a Keynsian easy money policy throughout the western world has resulted in mal-investment on a gigantic scale that has yet to be fully recognized for its depth and breadth.
- The intense, almost frantic acquisition of gold by China, Russia, and other producer-nations recently, signals the rise of a new monetary regime and world power structure that rejects the paradigm that has allowed Western Central Banks to create value for themselves for free at the expense of producer-nations.
- When this new economic structure comes to fruition, a ‘Great Unwinding’ of those 40 years of debt, deficit, and civilizational mal-investment will have to take place, and this end of the Keynsian experiment will be an unsettled and difficult time.
- Ultimately, our goal is to get ourselves and our loved ones through this looming period of systemic instability as best we can.
I envision this area of TFMR as ‘An extended commentary on the end of the Keynsian experiment’, but make no mistake; if this place is to be a success, that commentary will be far more from you than from me! My goal is to provide posts that stimulate discussion, foment good-willed and good-natured argumentation, and occasionally make people see things in a new light. In other words, I would like this to be a place where you can expect to read interesting things and perhaps to learn something. I’ll admit, this may prove extremely difficult given the intelligent awareness and knowledge-base of the people who frequent this blog, but I am going to try. I hope you will help me.
So what is “on-topic” here? I welcome any and all commentary on current events and discussions of the intersection between economics and politics (and I plan on examining numerous subjects from an explicitly Austrian economics perspective). I hope we can discuss how is / will the end of the Keynsian experiment play out and what can we do to prepare for the great unwinding of western debt, from precious metals to investing strategies. I also think it is important to explore how increasingly desperate statist apparatchiks will react to this unwind, and how we might prepare our strategies for avoiding and surviving their perfidy. I plan on writing occasionally on my efforts at self-sufficiency and small farming, and welcome any related discussions or articles. Basically, anything that helps us mentally explore how to prepare to survive the greatest unwind in the history of mankind is welcome here. Finally, those of you who have followed my posts and photoshops here at TFMR will not be surprised to learn that I plan to seek out the humor in the utter absurdity of our predicament, and to occasionally raise a big bold middle finger of defiance to those who got us into this mess yet still insist we follow their prescriptions like good little serfs. To hell with them. It is my sincere hope that you will find this place worthwhile, and that you will be encouraged to hang out and contribute your 2-cents to the free-ranging discussion.
To finish this up, you may wonder what happened to our friend Thomas? It seems that he somehow managed to survive the fall and destruction of Constantinople, and eventually escaped the city with his friend Joshua. A small note at the end of his account states “All this was made known by Thomas the Eparch, a count of Constantinople, and Joshua Diplovatatzes.” Aside from the account itself which suggests that he was able to escape to the west to record it, this cryptic note at the end is all we have. Nothing else is known of the ultimate fate of ‘Thomas the Eparch’, survivor of the Fall of the Byzantine Empire and the sack of Constantinople. Did he see the fall coming and “Prepare Accordingly” and was this the reason he was alive to record this account? Or was he merely one of many thousands of destitute refugees who fled during the shattered aftermath, but whose literacy and former social status lent his account sufficient authority for it to be deemed worthy of recording? We will never know.
What we do know, however, is that the events Thomas witnessed contributed to the rise of our own world in a surprisingly direct way. After the fall of Constantinople, a flood of literate refugees and highly educated Byzantine scholars made their way west and many of them wound up in Italy. Their knowledge of the classical Greek world, their books, sources, and familiarity with the intellectual titans of the ancient Greek and Byzantine world, directly fuelled the Italian Renaissance. This flowering of scholarship and knowledge, in turn, led to the growth of humanism, science, and individualism in the western world- and these ultimately gave rise to the very western prosperity that ‘the end of the Keynsian experiment’ now threatens. In a very real sense, the end of Thomas’ world was a starting point for the rise of ours. Will we bear witness as the world turns upside down once again for us, as it did for him? I guess we’ll see.