Beyond the Book: Background information when reading God and Gold

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God and Gold

Britain, America, and the Making of the Modern World

by Walter R. Mead

God and Gold by Walter R. Mead
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  • First Published:
    Oct 2007, 464 pages
    Paperback:
    Oct 2008, 464 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Paul Hughes

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The Linking Threads of God and Gold

As you might expect with a book about history, there's plenty of interesting points to highlight and even more for readers to birddog; but Mead is so polyhistoric in his knowledge and so profligate with his references, moving easily from Matthew Arnold to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, it's hard to choose where to begin. Do we send you to Captain Bligh or William F. Buckley, Jr.? Macaulay or Thoreau? Rumsfeld or Thackeray? Shall we offer more on Calvinists or communists?

Mead starts with Cromwell, and that's good enough for us ...

Oliver Cromwell's side in the English Civil War was not fond of kings but, on winning the battle, they were unable to escape their desire to be ruled so offered Cromwell the crown, which he refused, instead taking the title Lord Protector of England.

Cromwell is a political father of the religious group known as Puritans, a.k.a the Pilgrims. Those opposed to the Puritans were the Anglicans — the official English Church from the time of Henry VIII, now known worldwide under the banner 'Anglican Communion'. The AC is currently embroiled in an internal struggle of (to simplify) conservatives and liberals. In an interesting twist, the conservatives are largely in developing world countries; the liberal camp being largely found in the industrialized north. The Anglican Communion Network is a group of 'dissenting' American Episcopal churches - an ironic situation, since Cromwell himself was a dissenter, way back when.

Meanwhile, the British East India Company was a big reason the sun never set on the British Empire. Great Britain's subduing of about a quarter of the world's land surface was based on rolling out the successful monopolistic and stock trading model established by the British East India Company.

The "Gold" in the book's title refers to money, and alludes to the problematic relationship of mammon and faith as summarized in Matthew 6:24: "No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money."

In the last couple years gold, the metal, has been much in the news, because of the meteoric rise in the price of gold versus the dollar (or, perhaps more accurately, the meteoric collapse of the dollar against virtually every other significant currency including gold).

A quirky one: Jonathan Swift's Tale of a Tub: Mead calls Swift "the greatest satirist in the English language." We were probably supposed to read Tale of a Tub in college, and now here's our chance. It concerns three brothers (Peter, Jack, and Martin) and what they stand for (hint: it's God or gold or both).

Though Mead weaves through centuries like a drunken loom operator fleeing dark satanic mills, we can easily follow; and the resulting tapestry is both beautiful and functional - Mead even writes about that: "Wool cloth was one of the few things Medieval Europe produced which the rest of the world was eager to buy ... provid[ing] the Low Countries with centuries of prosperity ... "

Which leads us on to the idiom "warp and woof", meaning the essential foundation or structure of an organization. The expression comes from the world of textiles; the "warp" are the threads that run lengthwise down the frame, the "woof" are the threads that are woven across - the two together form a textile, which has the same Latin root as "text". In this way, the warp and woof of western civilization are God and gold, woven into Mead's text: God and Gold!

More Interesting Links:

  • A November 2007 essay by Walter Mead relating to the topics explored in God and Gold.
  • A video of Walter Mead discussing God and Gold at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Article by Paul Hughes

This article was originally published in November 2007, and has been updated for the October 2008 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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