Trenchant Lemmings
"Arrive in a clown car, bursting with anger."
YOUR HOST
Robert Weaver
PRESENT LOCATION
Sydney, Australia
OTHER STUFF
Old Weblog
LibraryThing
23hq Photos
ARCHIVES
NAVIGATION
Older Posts | Newer Posts
PREVIOUSLY
Failure to Communicate
Objectivity
Zonage à l’Américaine
Pete Postlethwaite 1946-2010
Memes
Wake the @$!%# Up
Fahrenheit 451
Claus? Is that German?
Cause
Reconstruction
FEED
blogurl/feeds/posts/full
blogurl/atom.xml
ELSEWHERE
3 Quarks Daily
A Tiny Revolution
Alicublog
Bad Astronomy
Blogarach
Boing Boing
Caustic Cover Critic
Chase Me Ladies, I'm in the Cavalry
Counterpunch
The Early Days of a Better Nation
Ecstatic Days
Empire Burlesque
Exiled Online
The Failed Estate
FAIR Blog
Neil Gaiman
M. John Harrison
The Inferior 4 + 1
Inside Story
Jews Sans Frontieres
Laughing Squid
Lenin's Tomb
Limited Inc.
Antony Loewenstein
The Loom
LRB Blog
Nick Mamatas
Mind Hacks
Neurocritic
Neuroskeptic
Overland
Greg Palast
Riddled
Savage Minds
Mark Steel
Strange Maps
Michael Swanwick
Things Magazine
TomDispatch
Ben Tripp
Verso Blog
Peter Watts
Whatever It Is, I'm Against It
ELSEWHERE ARCHIVE
Bats Left, Throws Right
Deltoid
Drawn!
Eyeteeth
Fafblog!
Larvatus Prodeo
Lawrence of Cyberia
China Miéville
News from the Zona
Dennis Perrin
Pink Tentacle
Adam Roberts
Quotidian Hell
Matt Taibbi
Unspeak
 
The weblog description is a misquotation from Steve Aylett's Indicted to a Party: What to Do, Who to Blame.
 
The weblog title links to the "No Country Redirect" version, for whatever that might be worth.
January 14, 2011
Primordial Debt

An alternative explanation is primordial-debt theory, a school of thought developed largely in France by economists, anthropologists, historians, and classicists; its foundational text is Michel Aglietta and André Orléan’s La Violence de la Monnaie (1992). Adherents insist that monetary policy cannot be separated from social policy, that the two have always been intertwined. Governments use taxes to create money, which they are able to do because they have become the guardians of the debt that all citizens have to one another. This debt is the essence of society itself.

At first, the argument goes, this sense of debt was expressed not through the state, but through religion. The hymns, prayers, and poetry collected in the Vedas and the Brahmanas, the foundations of Hindu thought, constitute the earliest-known reflections on the nature of debt, which they treat as synonymous with guilt and sin. According to the commentators of the Brahmanas, human existence is itself a form of debt: A man, being born, is a debt; he is born to death, and only by way of sacrifice does he redeem himself from death. Two famous passages in the Brahmanas insist that we are born as a debt not just to the gods (to be repaid in sacrifice) but also to the sages who created the Vedic learning (to be repaid through study), to our ancestors (to be repaid by having children), and, finally, to the whole of humanity (to be repaid with hospitality to strangers).

The first explicit theory of the debt owed by each living person to the society that makes his or her existence possible was formulated by Auguste Comte in his last work, The Catechism of Positive Religion (1852)...

Comte doesn’t use the word debt, but it is clear what he means: We have already accumulated endless debts before we get to the age at which we can even think of paying them. And by that time there’s no way even to calculate to whom we owe them. The only way to redeem ourselves is to be dedicated to the service of humanity.

Comte’s notion of an unlimited obligation to society crystallized in the notion of social debt, which was taken up among social reformers and, eventually, socialist politicians in many parts of Europe and abroad. In France the notion of a social debt soon became something of a catchphrase, a slogan — and, eventually, a cliché: “We are all born as debtors to society.” The state, according to this view, was merely the administrator of the existential debt that everyone owes to everyone.

Theories of existential debt always end up justifying — or laying claim to — structures of authority. What we really have in the idea of primordial debt is the ultimate nationalist myth. Once we owed our lives to the gods who created us, paid them interest in the form of animal sacrifice, and, ultimately, paid back the principal with our lives. Now we owe our lives to the nation that formed us, pay interest in the form of taxes, and, when it comes time to defend the nation against its enemies, pay back the principal with our lives. This is a great trap of the twentieth century: On the one side is the logic of the market, which insists that we don’t owe one another anything. On the other is the logic of the state, which insists that we are born with a debt we can never truly pay. In fact, the dichotomy is false. States created markets, markets require states, and neither could continue without the other.
From "To Have Is To Owe" by David Graeber at Triple Canopy.


Older Posts | Newer Posts