TCS Daily

The Genie's Curse

By Lee Harris - February 14, 2003 12:00 AM

In the first third of the eighteenth century the Portuguese economy was revolutionized by the discovery of gold in its colony, Brazil, with the result that by 1720 Portugal had to pass laws to discourage the spate of emigration that had occurred in the wake of the first genuine Gold Rushes.

The discovery of gold was a dream come true for the kings and queens of Portugal, who had long been in search of a plentiful source of "free money." For autocracy requires rule by an iron fist. And there had to be some way of paying for the hand that made the fist, for a ready and reliable access to large and flexible source of force - sheer physical brutal force - is an indispensable condition of ruling other people if you are not particularly desirous of consulting their will about how they are to be ruled.

Now of course you can always try to tax them, but the problem here, as European history demonstrated time and again, is that people whose money you must procure voluntarily will insist on having a say so in how much of it you get, and how you spend it. They may not want you building lavish palaces for your own personal use, nor construct and man enormous fleets for the purpose of obtaining an empire across the seas; and this was the very problem that King Charles the First of England ran into, and over which he lost both his throne and his head. A salubrious lesson, if one could possibly be needed, that free money was much better than money that you had to beg for.

But where do you find free money? A genie in the bottle would be perfect, but where do you find the bottle?

The monarchs of Portugal found their bottle in Brazil. But upon opening this bottle, it was discovered that with the treasure came a curse - and this curse was the curse that invariably comes whenever human beings suffer the misfortune of being able to fulfill their heart's desire free from the interference of vulgar reality.

The kings of Portugal, like those of Spain, had discovered a seemingly endless source of free money, and they immediately set to work funding the worst forms of obscurantism and superstitious intolerance. The free money was lavished on monasteries and auto-de-fes, with the aim of bringing the Inquisition to a state of totalitarian perfection that was beyond the wildest dreams of the most ambitious Torquemada.

For that is the genie's curse - those who live by free money are permitted to seal themselves off from the normal pressure of the real world, permitting a collective retreat into a kind of Michael Jackson fantasy land in which the ordinary order of things can be turned upside down or pulled inside in.

History Repeats Itself

And here we have a clear case of history repeating itself, for the exact situation has arisen as a result of the free money that is found in the enormous oil deposits of the Arab nations. In Saudi Arabia, it has gone to underwrite the fantasies of a return to the splendor and bigotry of medieval Islam, while in Iraq it has been instrumental in fueling Saddam Hussein's fantasies of conquest and domination; in the one case promoting the values of the Inquisition, in the other that of Tyranny.

Which puts the contemporary Western multi-culturalist into a terrible dilemma.

The Enlightenment, from which the multi-culturalist draws his inspiration, defined itself as the inveterate enemy of the twin evils of Inquisition and Tyranny. And yet today many of these very same mutli-culturalists are defending these very same evils under a different, though no less, brutal guise.

The irony of this position can be underscored by asking a single question, "Why is it that the Inquisition no longer exists today?"

The answer is simple: It no longer exists because it was not tolerated. Those who spoke for the Enlightenment fought it tooth and nail, and they have the glory of eliminating this kind of mentality from the attitude of even the most benighted of modern Christian sects. But can anyone seriously doubt that the Inquisition would still exist today, if no one had ever had the guts to say that it was absolutely and unconditionally wrong?

Yet our contemporary exponents of the Enlightenment, the multi-culturalists, do not see it this way. They are intent on arguing that the modern form of the Inquisition should be looked upon as just another cultural value, which, quite obviously, it is - a fact that in itself should make us wary of the whole notion of cultural relativism.

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