By: David A. Smith
[Continued from yesterday’s Part 1.]
Yesterday’s Part 1 of the two-month retrospective covered my ruminations about walled cities, some of which, like Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, eventually no longer needed their walls and burst their boundaries; some of the others built around medieval castles retreated into ever-smaller grounds, by the late Middle Ages becoming little more than fortified houses. But even in medieval times, most days were not sieges, so the municipal form centered on the castle needed more than just defense, and for that grew up churches.
Yet they were costly expenditures of capital (for materials and labor), so their establishment, raising (of both stones and funds), and upkeep occasioned the invention of the third form, profiled in Part 3a, The abbey and its revenue model, Part 3b, the abbey and its physical form:
The abbeys’ campus model
1. Abbeys were designed to be self-sufficient. Like Roman forts (and unlike medieval castles), abbeys were designed for establishment in an empty or hostile territory, which meant that not only were they new construction developments, they also could count on no in-place infrastructure. Thus the abbey was designed to develop its own complete environment with site infrastructure: work, sleep, cooking, and water/ sanitation all had to be site-based and reliably at hand because any service interruption spelled trouble.
Rievaulx (Rivers) Abbey in its dell, looking west in mid-morning
With this the monks could set up a primitive agricultural model, but of course agriculture has always been rural; it required little more than a village for basic trading, and many a family built their own self-sufficient woodland homestead.
2. Abbeys were designed as mixed-use campuses. Even with the natural advantage of water, an abbey could not function by bread alone, it needed ongoing cash flow. For that, it would need the revenue model described in Part 3a – subscription-based salvation, the post-life insurance policy – and for that, the abbey need to be a mixed-use campus. The layouts were masterpieces of efficient use mixing, as illustrated by this plan of Beaulieu Abbey, a Cistercian abbey founded in 1203:
To my surprise, the more I wrote on abbeys the more it turned out I had to say/ speculate, so I kept going with Part 3c, The abbeys’ capitalization model, Part 3d, The abbey’s development/construction model:
1. Lacking long-term finance, abbeys were financed on major gifts
So used are we to the availability of long-term debt for capital improvements – home purchase, home upgrading, or the expansion of a theological campus by selling air rights – that we forget that this is a very new invention dating (as far as I know) from the early nineteenth century, when (for example) New York City invented municipal finance to pay for the expanded water system in Manhattan.
Debt instruments, after all, depend not only on a stable currency but even more fundamentally on the ability directly to enforce the contracts and indirectly to bind the sovereign (since they were among the first large-scale borrowers, with Felipe II twice going bankrupt, in 1557 and 1596) so it’s little wonder that long-term financial banking could not exist in the medieval period, where only the clergy (souls and excommunication) and the nobility (castles and weapons) had any ability to enforce payment of debts and only came into being in the Italian Renaissance (and that as a recapitalization, so the world’s first bank was a ‘bad bank’).
Without long-term debt, large-scale capital investment could be made only in three ways: plunder (always a popular short-term strategy, including among the Scottish), extortion (protection money presented as ‘taxes’), and major philanthropy. Of these, for moral and practical reasons, the abbey monks could choose only the third – which made them history’s first capital campaigners, as illustrated by the (excerpted, Wikipedia) story of Fountains Abbey in Yorkshire:
By now you can find the lay brothers’ dormitory (bottom), reredorter and infirmary (downstream)
In laboring so to create an understanding of the abbeys’ history, I came to realize that the capitalization model – absence of debt compelling continuous grant-raising – was both a curse and a blessing. Though cathedral construction took decades or more, once it was built, it was all paid for, and the cash flow annuities were huge.
That combination – no debt, annuity cash flow – is dangerous. ‘Debt tightens a company,” Henry Kravis is quoted as saying in Barbarians at the Gate, and our tour of the abbeys showed that the absence of debt makes an enterprise flabby, especially when coupled with an intellectual product whose price one can continually raise and whose quality one can continually dilute. (Are you listening, universities?) These ideas found their expression in Part 3e, The abbeys’ symbiotic aggrandizement, Part 3f, The abbeys’ overreach and their destruction:
Founded as the isolated outposts of civilization amid the painted heathens, they became of commercial and intellectual activity, usually surrounded by towns that had grown up around or alongside their campus, spinning off secular business from the innovations the abbeys created, imported, or scaled.
As they did, the abbeys also shifted from being predominantly spiritual entities selling salvation as a byproduct of faith to diversified secular operating businesses providing products and services throughout the community.
Fountains Abbey, with its extension economic additions:
The Abbot’s House, its Great Hall, and support buildings
Meanwhile, with the dominant monopoly came the short-cut knockoff products. Why have monks praying hour after hour, when it can be much more economical (and therefore more profitable) to offer not salvation itself but reduction of penance requirements via indulgences:
indulgence is “a way to reduce the amount of punishment one has to undergo for sins“ which may reduce either or both of (1) the penance required after a sin has been forgiven, or (2) the temporal punishment after death (called Purgatory).
Perhaps unsurprisingly, given that the monasteries and church could raise only so much from appeals to faith, indulgences became the spiritual equivalent of paper money: they could be mass produced, sold in whatever denominations the market would bear, and even in some cases wholesaled.
(On our vacation, I recall seeing, possibly in Mary Queen of Scots’ house in Jedburgh, an indulgence made out in favor of the local laird, for him to fill in the names of up to thirty people at his discretion. Shades of the Letters of Transit!)
Our journey through pre-municipal urban living, begun on a rainy weekday morning with the Boss’s and my contemplation of the now-buried Roman fort Trimontium, has traveled through the twin medieval forms – the fortified castle and the sanctified monastic abbey – to the Enlightenment’s moral men, the communitarian philosophers including Robert Owen, who not only started a town to accommodate the workers in the enlightened factory mills he and his social-investor partners built, but also decided that creating a factory community was thinking in too small a scale:
A lifetime of visioning gives you a sharp gaze
Yet with the emergence of national government came compensatory benefits – representative democracy, the Enlightenment, and the Industrial Revolution. These gave rise to a new form of urbanist, the Utopian entrepreneur, such as Robert Owen (via Wikipedia):
A Welsh social reformer and one of the founders of utopian socialism and the cooperative movement. He worked in the cotton industry in Manchester before setting up a large mill at New Lanark in Scotland.
Owen made no bones about his thesis, announcing in in the first paragraph:
Any general character, from the best to the worst, from the most ignorant to the most enlightened, may be given to any community, even to the world at large, by the application of proper means; which means are to a great extent at the command and under the control of those who have influence in the affairs of men.
To put this into practice – doing well by doing good – Owen invested his and his wife’s fortune:
After falling in love with Caroline Dale, the daughter of the New Lanark mill’s proprietor David Dale, in 1799 Owen married Caroline and convinced his partners to buy New Lanark, founded in 1785 by Dale and Richard Arkwright and powered by the falls of the River Clyde.
No, George, you can’t have your own town any more
Today New Lanark is a historical open-air museum, its economic proposition gradually dissipated as industrialization and automation moved the jobs from Europe to America, from America to the emerging world, but the idea of the planned community of live-work-play-socialize continued onward. George Pullman of railroad fame, another progressive who hired blacks when it was unusual to do so, built a benevolent company town, Pullman, Illinois, but “In 1898 the Supreme Court of Illinois ordered the Pullman Company to divest itself of the town, which was annexed and absorbed by Chicago.”
During July I took time to summarize my posting in halcyon May, and used that as the occasion to explore what I think has come to define twenty-first century American politics, Month in review: May, 2016: Part 1, The world of kayfabe and Part 2, Breaking the blogger’s fourth wall:
With the rise of social media, kayfabe has become the dominant mode of fame creation and maintenance, where the life soap opera makes the tweets that boost the clicks that sell the ads that pay for the fame merry-go-round:
I knew something was up when she said, “Oh, I’ve got a professional photographer coming”
Politicians are naturally angry about kayfabe’s breakout into the mainstream, because for so many years and decades they’ve had the kayfabe arena all to themselves, whether in creating a persona that they think will garner votes, or alternatively in creating factoids that support whatever narrative is being flogged on the public, as explored in Always look on the bright side … or else (dee doo): Part 1, Gloomy views and positive energy:
I finished up the two months of intermittent but introspective posts with a we-bid-you-goodnight ode to one of my favorite kayfabe subjects, Bitch, we’re the co-op boar:
I always thought I should be treated like a star.
Blogs must be entertaining or they are nothing, and few things can be more entertaining than mocking a self-important bloviator playing the do-you-know-who-i-am card, and who better to play the card than the original, the ur-copycat from whom all other copycats copy, Ms. Louise Ciccone:
I’m so original …
… I copy only originals
For all that she poses as a rebel, Madonna is merely a hugely successful kayfabe character created by Ms. Ciccone for the single purpose of creating a monetizable brand, which she has done to the tune of a speculated net worth of $560 million. Some modest portion of this she splashes about via multiple houses in convenient trendy venues about the world, in one of which she’s run into an immovable object, as reported as juicily as possible by the ur-copycat Daily Mail July 23, 2016; brown font)
Board members of Madonna’s swanky Upper West Side co-op are appealing to a judge to make the superstar play by the rules after she filed a suit against the building back in April.
3. Who wins the legal dispute?
That’s easy: the co-op does. Even in a condominium, the trust deed will specify some behaviors that are out of bounds, but in a co-op, whatever the co-op board votes, goes.
I like to think I’m a role model for women. But I also don’t like to just limit it to women. I like to think I’m a role model for human beings in general.
It’s instructive that Ms. Ciccone’s previous confrontations show a clear pattern: direct flouting of the rules, followed by legal bullying, then followed by abrupt concession when challenged.
Two days before the [parking space] deadline, she removed all the signage and her driveway was given a fresh lick of gray paint.
Am I fantasizing too much to hope that when the judge dismisses Ms. Ciccone’s suit, the decision is only five words long?
Bitch, they’re the co-op board.