Philosophers of Capitalism: How Hume Civilized Money

David Hume by Allan Ramsay, 1766 – Public Domain

This essay is taken from the foreword of George Caffentzis’s Civilizing Money: Hume, his Monetary Project and the Scottish Enlightenment.


George Caffentzis writes that his project of the philosophy of money began in August 1971 when President Nixon severed the link between the dollar and gold.  He further developed the project through SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) and URPE (Union of Radical Political Economics).  It began to take form in his writing with Zerowork (when our paths crossed).  Did the end of gold mean the end of work and did the end of work mean the end of capitalism?  It achieved a major breakthrough with the Wages for Housework campaign. Owing to the crisis of the oil market and then the dangers of nuclear energy he formulated an approach to the philosophy of money in which class analysis was combined with philosophical epistemology and the specifics of historical conjuncture.  The first volume of what was to become a trilogy was completed in Calabar, Nigeria, at the time of structural adjustment under the IMF (International Monetary Fund).[1]   Political presentism and autobiographical reflection enliven the philosophic pages.  He has venerable examples of such combination from Clarendon’s The History of the Rebellion and Civil Wars in England (1702-1704) to Gibbon’s The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776-1789).

The approach in all three studies – Locke, Berkeley, and Hume–could not be more different than what we were taught in school.  Traditional teaching had it that these three formed in the 18th century a coherence of empiricism which could take its prideful place alongside Newton’s Principia or Bacon’s Essays of the 17th century.  Known as British empiricism in contrast to the rationalist philosophers of the continent (Leibniz, Spinoza), it found its place in the Anglo-American curriculum, and became one of the means through which new members of the ruling class were introduced to their philosophical heritage.  The method of study was to go from one philosopher to another without any difference in time between them, except the meanest chronology.   The nationalism was implied rather than proclaimed.  So, for instance, the fact that one was Irish, and another Scottish, and only Locke English was not of significance to an understanding of their philosophical ideas.   Instead we were to infer from their dates (Locke 1632-1704, Berkeley 1685-1753, Hume 1711-1776) that there was a steady progression to ever greater and greater truth.

Caffentzis puts history back into chronology.  The British empiricists – Locke, Berekeley, and Hume – appeared at the consolidation of finance capitalism stretching from the foundation of the Bank of England and the re-coinage of 1695-6 to the American War of Independence and the consolidation of the settler-colonial project.  Caffentzis understands these philosophers as human beings living at a time when particular monetary issues arose within specific historical setting.  Yet, this is not cultural history which relates philosophical ideas to other cultural expressions such as music, art, architecture, or literature.  Nor is it quite economic history as one might find, for example, in Schumpeter which discerns phases in the economic isms (mercantilism, capitalism).

Caffentzis abruptly breaks with these expectations.  Class struggle is first.  Thus Locke is seen in relationship to crimes of coining, clipping, and counterfeiting.  Berkeley is studied in relationship to the tarantella and monetary hysteria, in relationship to the experience of slavery from Rhode Island, and to the Irish controversies over Wood’s half-pence and over agistments. Hume is studied in his relationship to a Bristol accounting house of sugar and slaving to his arguments about the Annexing Act following the defeat of the Scottish Forty-five.  These might appear to be singular episodes until they are brought up against the thinking of the philosophers.


David Hume (1711-1776) was a Scottish philosopher, moralist, and historian, occasional diplomat, and long-time librarian in Edinburgh.  In the immediate aftermath of the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745 he was secretary to General James St. Clair.  In 1763-5 he served as secretary to the British embassy in Paris (“le bon David”).  He was the central figure of the Scottish Enlightenment, whose students included Adam Ferguson and John Millar.  He was a close friend to Adam Smith.  His major works include two philosophical books, A Treatise of Human Nature (1738) and An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (1748); a collection of essays on moral and political subjects; and a six volume History of England (1754-1762).  Caffentzis provides a methodology which helps us see these diverse literary genres of thought –philosophy, morals, and history – as a whole.  His methodology is ampliative:  he amplifies the philosopher’s themes of semantics and language to the socio-historical fears and possibilities of their time.

Has philosophy ceased to love wisdom?  Has it abandoned its namesake, the goddess Sophia?  Has it sold itself to that craven, greedy demon, the wretched Mammon?  Caffentzis leaves us with no doubt.  He does not elevate philosophy to a perch above the fray.  Locke, Berkeley, and Hume were in service of capitalism, yes; Locke, Berkeley, and Hume were in service to imperialism, yes.  They were instructors to the ruling class, and often directly to their persons.  Theirs was the philosophy of the Anglo Atlantic capitalist class.   Caffentzis reminds us that philosophy acted like Perseus’ mirror. Perseus was able to slay Medusa whose gaze would turn you to stone by reflecting her in a mirror. The philosophers did not “reflect” those class interests as if on a superstructure high above the materialist base directing advanced tools of surveillance or composing elaborate models of futurity.  (Of course capitalism requires its visionaries and futurologists, its statisticians and gatherers of data.)

They were thinkers and apart from their epistemology and their experimental method which gives them the name empiricist they were thinking about the most mystified of capitalist ideas, money.  It was the concentrated abstract of the commodity form with all its “metaphysical subtleties and theological niceties.”  Money is their god; it is money that they worship – coins, bullion, specie, notes.  Thanks to Hume’s philosophy Caffentzis is able to show that the niceties and subtleties of the money form imbue self, causality, and society.

Hume detested “enthusiasm,” a term which at the time had not lost that meaning found today only in its etymology, possessed by theos or a godThere were two kinds of false religion according to Hume, namely, superstition and enthusiasm.  Weakness and fear are the sources of superstition; the sources of enthusiasm are a “warm imagination” and pride.  Enthusiasm led to “the menace of egalitarian republicanism.”  He wrote that in the English Civil War “the levelers insisted on an equal distribution of power and property, and disclaimed all dependence and subordination.”[2] “Enthusiasm” as well as this “menace” was still felt more than a century later as the hymns of Charles Wesley rang in the vales of the Calder Valley among other places in the Methodist revival.  The evangelical emotionalism of these preachers contrasted with the latitudinarianism of the Church of England which was the structurally sadistic partner to the hangman, which was dogmatically opposed to the commons (“the riches and Goods of Christians are not common, as touching the right, title, and possession of the same,” article 38 of its 39 Articles), and the Church of England was serviceable to the whips and chains of the global slavocracy. The C of E was the exclusive and established religion of state.

Both the “secular outlook” with science and the “economy” with money become achievements of the Enlightenment which will become essential to future statecraft. The construction of “economics” as well as of the “economy” have their beginnings here.  This philosophy must be treated as ideology because that is a way that it can be contrasted with what Tacky thought in Jamaica, or the Whiteboys thought in Ireland, or what Neolin and Pontiac thought amid the Great Lakes.  These were three powerful rebellions of the 1760s. A moment which considers the fetish of West Africa or notions of the soul, a moment which finds among the fairies of the Irish rath a philosophy with guerrilla powers, a moment which appreciates the abundance of Turtle Island as expressed in the gratitude of the Haudenosaunee.  These alternative world-views allow us to see the ideological particularity of the “nation of shop-keepers” (Adam Smith).


The Highlanders twice invaded England, once in 1715 and again in 1745.  Their defeat at the Battle of Culloden in 1746 was the last pitched battle on British soil.[3]  Thousands of near-naked, shouting Highlanders were slaughtered by disciplined ranks and files of English soldiery, by their relentless musket fusillade, and the blast and roar of cannon.  The Duke of Cumberland, the King’s brother, led the slaughter and was known ever after as ‘Butcher Cumberland.’  Two modes of war, two cultures, two forms of rule, in short two modes of production, faced off with hideous and grievous result.  The way was paved for the clearances.

History ceased to be an unfolding of providence or divine will.  Neither was it that cynical tale told by an idiot, nor was it Voltaire’s pack of tricks the dead play on the living.  The human story was in four acts or modes of production as Marx said or “modes of subsistence” as Hume’s friend, the royal historiographer, William Robertson put it.  Foraging, herding, farming, and trading were the characteristic activities of the four stages of mankind in the inevitable progression from the rude to the refined:  savage, barbarian, feudal, and commercial.  It was a magnificent formula both for capitalism and the history of property and for imperialism and the history of war.  The violence done upon the rest of the world was tragic rather than cruel. In this perspective history is the result of inevitable social determinations rather than the result of the deliberate volition of individuals.  In this perspective the violence done upon human activity (work) was necessary rather than mean or murderous.  All this because, like it or not, so claims the theory, technological imperatives propelled human history through these inevitable stages.  This was economic determinism or “vulgar” (i.e. bourgeois) determinism. This theory of history proved a great excuse for conquest abroad or exploitation at home.

Civilization required a) rationalization of intra-capitalist relations, b) disenfranchisement of the English working class notion of its ‘rights,’ and c) the destruction of the communal relations of the Scottish Highlands.  Civilization was not a timeless ideal but a specific historical process.  The Highlanders of Scotland had refused English rule; the English monarchy was illegitimate (Hanoverian rather than Stuart).  More was at stake than royal dynasty.  All the king Georges (George I, George II, George III, George IV) represented a regime dedicated to real estate, world conquest, strict hierarchy, and money.  The Highlanders represented autonomy, common land, and a personal economy of gift and tribute.  The law of the commons had to be assimilated to civil law:  hence, civilization.[4]

The path forward was not automatic.  The transition from rude to refined requires roads, bridges, inns.  It requires the plough; it requires the commodity.  But how to excite a desire for gold if not through the instillation of widespread pleasure and vanity?  The transition from the clan to the city requires money.  It becomes “the language of strangers.” Money must be diffused, laws of property instituted, and the arts and manners refined.  Money is a means of social engineering as well as of estrangement.

As a money theorist what was important to David Hume was convention; he was relatively indifferent whether money was fictional, fake, or fallacious.   Money made history possible, and hence a path out of the impoverished conditions of the Highlands by commercial development.

A theory of the wage becomes necessary.  The wage links money and labor power.  Labor power, or the capacity to labor, is an abstraction, a potentiality and immaterial.  The covariance of self and money necessitated the autonomy of the ego.  Bourgeois individualism and the modern self have their necessary connection to the money form.  Here is Hume’s “pathos of identity,” his “mechanics of the soul,” his “melancholy and delirium”. The self, like money, is a fiction.  Hume has a philosophy of the self (“human nature”); he has a philosophy of ‘natural religion;’ he has a philosophy of causality; he has a philosophy of civilization.  These are linked through the philosophy of money.  Caffentzis considers them systematically, i.e., historically, semantically, ontologically, practically, and epistemologically.  All this against a background of aggressive world conquest in which London replaced Amsterdam as the center of world finance.  To service the formation of the home market private banks increase in number and issue paper money.

Throughout the period good coinage was scarce.  In 1727 Defoe wrote The Complete English Tradesman in which he observed that in former days “fellows went about the streets crying ‘Brass money, broken or whole.’” Counterfeiting copper was not criminalized until 1771 (11 George III c. 40).  The problem of counterfeiting and “uttering” (putting base coin into circulation) is the subject of the first chapter in Patrick Colquhoun’s Treatise on Police of the Metropolis (1795).

Locke argued that silver was best suited as the universal measure of value.  The face value of silver was less than its international value as bullion.  Hence, tons of it was exported.  British silver currency deteriorated dramatically in Hume’s life-time.  Silver lost 48% of its face value in 1777. Owing to the flight of silver gold became the national standard.  The gold guinea (21s. nominal value) and half guinea lost 4% over a hundred years of normal wear.  The shortage of gold coins was mitigated by an imported Portuguese coin known in England as the “moidore” (corruption from the Portuguese moeda ouro or “gold money”) whose value fluctuated between 27s. and 29s.

Between 1760 an 1765 an Irishman, Charles Johnston, published Chrysal; Or, the Adventures of a Guinea.  In it, money talks.  This coin was composed of “the universal monarch gold.”   Chrysal (from the Greek word for gold) was “the general minister of the divine commands.”  It was the first person narrator of the novel.  Its spirit was the spirit of self and consciousness.  It began in Peru as an object of theft 200 fathoms underground, and then became the voice of adventure (and venture capital) revealing one vice after another world-wide.


Hume wrote a six volume history of England which was immensely successful and made him rich.  The first volume he published was about the reigns of the first Stuart monarchs, James I and Charles I.  The sixth chapter of the first volume made “a pause; and departing a little from the historical style [about public men and public events], to take a survey of the state of the kingdom, with regard to government, manners, finances, arms, trade, learning.”  This was the defining ‘philosophic history’ of the Enlightenment.  This was the beginning of social history, the basis of Macaulay’s famous third chapter in his History of England.[5]  Hume continued, “Where a just notion is not formed of these particulars [government, manners, finances, arms, trade, learning], history can be very little instructive, and often will not be intelligible.”

It gave him a mirror to see the manners of his own time:  “industry and debauchery, frugality and profusion, civility and rusticity, fanaticism and skepticism.”[6]  Two things need to be said about these characteristic “manners” of the time.  First, these were not manners as we understand the term but social forces whose causes likewise were social.  Second, they were contradictory, and as such arose from the dynamics of class conflicts.  Great riches confounded the ranks of men “and render money the chief foundation of distinction.”  He describes prices of corn, the growth of cities, the expansion of empire, the export of woolens, &c., topics now familiar to economic and social history.  “The chief difference in expense between that age and the present consists in the imaginary wants of men, which have since extremely multiplied,” or what we call “consumer society.”  He noted that the disappearance of small proprietors had begun to be replaced by the expansion of the gentry (a condition in which human nature at long last attained, he wrote, happiness!).

The phrase, “mode of production,” may have two meanings.  One meaning refers to the entire social formation, the whole country or society.  This is what Hume described in his ‘philosophic history.’  The other, second, meaning refers to the characteristic business model, such as the workshop, the cottage, the factory, the mine, the foundry, the office, the quarry, the fishing ground, the plantation, or the field.  What Adam Smith accomplished with David Hume’s help was to show how these two meanings were tied to each other and reflected changes that were taking place around him.  Karl Marx produced an extended, researched analysis of this second meaning of mode of production in his chapters on cooperation, manufactures, and machinery (chapters 13-15) in volume one of Capital.  This second meaning opens us up to the labor process and from thence to the working-class.  Class is no longer posed as Haves versus Have-Nots (distribution) but as the creators of what’s worth having (production).  That process of creation becomes exploitation under a specific organization of work and technological application.  Marx adopted this stadial theory, or these four stages of history, by positing a fifth, communism, which was to supersede the commercial or capitalist mode of production.[7]


Now back to money.  If money was to be a lever in the transition from  “barbarism” or the defeated clan society of the Highlands to the “commercial civilization” of England as the victory at Culloden required, how was it to work in the new “stage,” capitalism, which required a proletariat or working-class?  If there was not yet a working-class philosophy of money, there was a practice.  To understand that practice, we need first outline the change mode of production which in Britain occurred first in textiles.

The gradual collapse of cottage industry and the accompanying immiseration of the putting-out system led to the condition of manufacture which itself was the antecedent to the factory.   The woollen and worsted industries – the traditional source of English exports and wealth – were centered in the West Riding of Yorkshire.  The handloom weavers were controlled by the merchants who put out to them credit for loom rental and supply of wool. “By the turn of the nineteenth century the transfer of woolen and worsted production from workers’ homes to central shops enabled clothiers to impose direct supervision and discipline over the workplace.”  Productivity increased from perhaps two pieces a week to “six, eight, or ten.” This included controlling the work process, and eliminating local, informal, and low-priced markets for semi-finished goods.  It also heightened the importance of cash.

The form of production mixed agriculture and handicraft. The process of enclosing domestic looms into the workshop was directly parallel to the enclosure of common fields.  The handloom weavers were poor but proud people.  By occupation they were charcoal burners, draw boys, shuttlemakers, stuff makers, cow keepers, shalloon weavers. They lived at home, in hillside or terraced cottages, with big windows for the weaving room.  They had many forms of commoning.  A weaver’s family might keep a cow; a son might burn charcoal in the woods; yet criminal law will deem them “loose and disorderly persons.”

Families combined handloom weaving with agricultural pursuits.  In particular kersey, a coarse cloth used for army uniforms and for the poor, was produced among these hills and dales.  Their work depended on the export market, especially to north America.  Many accepted the King’s shilling and went to war, only to return to the valleys when peace and unemployment came, as happened in 1763.  Peace brought slump.  Slump brought illegalities.

Slingeing was the practice of taking yarn or waste. End-gatherers were persons who collected wefts, fents, and thrums from the sorters, carders, kembers, spinsters, and weavers.  Thrums were an example of such waste.  They were the nine-inch endings of the weaver’s warp after the woven piece was cut from the loom.  As far away as London the newly created police blamed “rag and thrum shops” for supporting workers’ takings.[8]  Production was taken out of workers’ homes “principally to prevent embezzlement,” said a witness Huddersfield to an 1803 Parliamentary committee investigating conditions in the woolen industry.[9] Becker says “… labor’s takings were transformed from a customary right into a public wrong….” He reminds us that “Notions of property and ownership were re-conceptualized during this era, conforming to altered imperatives of capital.” It was known as “a woman’s offence,” because women were at the center of the household of the domestic economy.

The criminalization was achieved by worsted clothiers who initiated a system of inspection as part of the new economic morality, an industrial police. No clear distinction between waste or surplusage and finished piece.[10] Outworkers who embezzled materials were detected by an industrial police recruited and paid by large merchants. This police provided the backbone against the Yorkshire coiners.  They operated by secrecy, bribery, and provocation.[11]


Once again we return to money.  The Prime Minister, Lord North, opened Parliament in May 1774 saying “that nothing can better deserve the attention of Parliament than the state of the Gold Coin.”  Ten years earlier what was called ‘the yellow trade’ had begun in earnest.  It combined clipping and coining.  Guineas were clipped and moidores were coined. A half crown (or two and a half shillings) could be clipped from each guinea.  All that was needed was a strong pair of shears, what every wool comber would have in any case (in London it was thought that “almost every wool-comber in the North kept a file for that purpose”). A hammer was needed to flatten the melted buttons which were then inserted between a pair of dies to make an impression of the moidore.  Clippings from twelve guineas were required to produce one moidore at a time when a weaver made 7s. a week.  The ‘philosopher’s stone’ of the alchemist was replaced by the craft knowledge of skilled engravers and metal workers.[12]

The debasement of the national coinage began in Yorkshire; the coining heartland lay between Halifax and Rochdale.   At the other end of the country in Norfolk the byword for a “broken” coin was a “Yorkshire guinea.” “Massive public support” for the clipping and coining of Yorkshire.[13]  Juries acquitted against the evidence.  The supervisor of the excise in Halifax, William Deighton,built an intricate web of bribery and betrayal to penetrate the nearly opaque weaving communities in the narrow valleys of Yorkshire’s West Riding. In November 1769 he was murdered.

Marquess of Rockingham was prime minister in 1765-6 when he distinguished himself by the suppression of food riots in Sheffield, and he became prime minister again in 1782.  In between he led a concerted attack on the ‘yellow trade’ in 1769.  Broken coin might be accepted in the local exchanges around Halifax but not in London, in national, and international markets. By Christmas thirty suspects had been arrested. One hundred fifty-six people were accused between 1765 and 1773.

In the coming year three coiners will be executed in Yorkshire, including David Hartley, “well-known by the Name of King David, or Chief of the Coiners.”  He was known and admired for his skill even among those who disapproved of the end to which it was put. A people’s remembrancer writes “that David Hartley was so nimble with his tools he could drill a hole edgeway through a sixpence.” Making money to these people was not only a family affair, it also bespoke another concept of loyalty and sovereignty. King David’s title signified another notion of monarchy obvious to all.  A letter to The Leeds Intelligencer, 29 August 1769, explained that the title was “an honorary reward for saving his country from the formidable enemy – Poverty.”

James Oldfield was also hanged in April 1770 for coining.  He had founded an Independent church. The parish of Halifax was a stronghold of methodist “enthusiasm.” Linked by kinship, neighborhood, employment, and shared struggle they became a law unto themselves, and that – law – was how they came to my attention.  David Hume’s list of subjects of social history did not include law or crime.  These were the subjects of the social history I practiced in a collective organized by E.P. Thompson.

I had accepted from Marx that the working-class was the historical agent of communism (the fifth “stage” of history) and I had accepted from Engels that crime was a characteristic form of resistance before the working-class “made itself” as a conscious historical agent.

But not before they had an important hand in ‘the making of the English working class,’ meaning an autonomous class of proletarians in England, no longer subsisting by means of the commons and crafts, but at the mercy of an array of powers church and state, capital and money.  Indeed, E.P. Thompson emphasized them in his 1963 book of that title, The Making of the English Working Class.  The years of that making were from 1792 to 1832.  We came to know that the story began earlier in the brutalizing violence of the 18th century when governance was by starvation (political economy) and hanging (law).

At the time Thompson resided in midland comfort in Leamington Spa and still missing the accent and politics of Halifax where he had written The Making of the English Working Class.Among the first things he wanted to tell me was the following story which would help our common research agenda about crime and class.  Whether elders had told the story to him (members of the Communist Party had access to a rich but internal oral history) or he learned it from the researches of the curator of the Bankfield Museum, Halifax, H. Ling Roth, who published the documentary evidence in 1906, I cannot tell.[14]

Thomas Spencer, brother-in-law to King David and prime mover to the murder of Deighton, was hanged in 1783.[15] He led the rioters in Halifax in June 1783 in seizing large quantities of grain and forcing its sale at traditional prices.  He was hanged for theft in August 1783.  A “mass of people thronged the narrow road that led from Halifax to the village of Mytholmroyde.  Old people stood at their doors with uplifted hands, and children looked eagerly with the impatience of youth at the approaching crowd, expecting their parents to be amongst them.  But anxiety mingled with awe marked the features of all.”

Mrs. Walton was an aged witness, 81 years old, by the time F.A. Leyland, the noted antiquary had a conversation with her in 1856.  Ten years later he will lecture on the coiners at the Halifax Literary and Philosophical Society.  She remembered Isaac Hartley, brother to King David, “as a ‘likely’ tall and gaunt man, although he was old when she was a girl.”  Another ancient witness was Mr. Howarth who at the age of eighty spoke to Leyland (whose son passed his father’s papers to H. Ling Roth). As a boy Howarth had struggled through the crowd up the steep hill outside Halifax where the hangings of Spencer and Saltonstall took place.  “Spencer, without a sign of emotion, looked from the elevation where he stood, over the distant hills and valleys he had known from his childhood, and where in his advanced years he had passed a life notorious for its iniquity.”  He made a short speech declaring his innocence as a dying man.  There was much that Howarth did not say, because he still lived in the region and there were family reputations to protect.  But he did say this about the body of the other victim of the gallows.

“The people of Heptonstall, and the inhabitants of the farm steads that were scattered over the surrounding heights, seated on the slopes, and crowding the tortuous and narrow way which led to the church of St. Thomas the Martyr, waited in pitying sadness, the arrival of Saltonstall’s body.  With difficulty, the cart was drawn and pushed up the long and steep ascent to Heptonstall; and, as it neared the place, the crowd thronged the road, many following the corpse from the valleys, raising their hands with loud murmurings and lamentations that were carried afar by the winds which rarely cease in these northern heights.”

Those winds continued to blow, and the story flew with them, so Thompson could convey how a community grieves.

Glimpses of human exchanges which are not monetary can be seen in incidental comments in the judicial record of the coiners.  A woman will ask for the piece in the loom to pay the debt incurred earlier from the milk and butter she had supplied.   She had a cow; he had a weaving.  The cow had grass, the grass grew on common land (common of herbage).  They bicker and talk in the cottage, standing on flag stones (commons in the quarry), sitting on chairs made from timber from the woods (common of estovers),

in the frost-blue flames
Of the handloom weaver’s rushlight the heroic shadows leap

to quote E.P. Thompson writing in Halifax in 1950.  He refers to commons of rushes.[16]  The poem is called “A Place Called Choice” – against the Bomb, the grime, the poverty, the violence of post-war England with the sordid victory of “the man of business.” It is a profound recollection of earlier times brought into the present of the poet’s mind by the wind which blows “heroic,” presenting England with a choice if only it will recognize its past.  Already in 1950 Thompson expresses a choice, not the inevitability of the fifth “stage.”


As for that fifth stage I returned to the USA in 1972 to join the struggle for it not knowing whether it was true communism or actual commoning.  That is when my path and that of George Caffentzis crossed.  We were in dire need of his “enthusiasm” and philosophy and at last, here it is!

Writing forty years after Caffentzis conceived his project in 1971, David Graeber concluded his study of the first 5,000 years of debt with the year 1971, “The Beginning of Something Yet to Be Determined.”[17]  Neither Graeber’s epic nor Caffentzis’ philosophical critique reveals that “something.”  A clue however is suggested by the fact that following Nixon’s uncoupling of gold and dollar in August 1971 the prisoners of the maximum security prison in Attica, New York, went on strike and were slaughtered in the blood bath ordered by Rockefeller.  He too is remembered as ‘the Butcher.’  The coincidence (butcher Cumberland = butcher Rockefeller) is not causal; however, it is suggestive of things to come within a regime which treats people as meat.

Caffentzis concludes with a note of radical doubt.  None of his philosophers opposed slavery, none opposed the unpaid labor of women.  What will a philosophy of struggle look like?  Are there any tools from the master’s house we may use to demolish it?  It seems unlikely.  He concludes with a coda on Marx’s eleventh thesis on Feuerbach, “the philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways, the point is to change it.”  Caffentzis found the contrary to be true, namely, that in point of fact the philosophers actually did try to change the world in various ways, their theories of money being one of them.  They guided the capitalist class, the bourgeoisie, to whom their philosophies were directed and to whom their philosophy belongs.  We might alter the eleventh thesis:  social historians have only described various actions from below when the point is to avenge them as the means to nourish seeds of change?


[1] Constantine George Caffentzis, Clipped Coins, Abused Words & Civil Government:  John Locke’s Philosophy of Money (New York: Autonomedia, 1989) was the first volume of the trilogy.  The second was Exciting the Industry of Mankind:  George Berkeley’s Philosophy of Money (Dordrecht: Kluwer, 2000).

[2] David Hume, History of England, vol. vi, chapter 60.

[3] The Irish Fenians crossed Niagara Falls into Canada in 1866 and with further raids in 1870 and 1871, thus invading the royal realm.

[4] George C. Caffentzis, “On the Scottish Origin of ‘Civilization,’” in Silvia Federici (ed.), Enduring Western Civilization: The Construction of the Concept of Western Civilization and Its ‘Others’ (Westport, Connecticut: Praeger, 1995), pp. 13-36

[5] John Burrow, A History of Histories: Epics, Chronicles, Romances and Inquiries from Herodotus and Thucydides to the Twentieth Century (New York: Knopf, 2008), p. 313.

[6] David Hume, The History of Great Britain under the House of Stuart, volume I, second edition (1759), pp. 106, 112.

[7] Marx refers to Hume in contexts concerning the mutual variation among the factors the quantity of money, the value of the commodities in circulation, and the velocity of their exchange, in volume one of Capital in one of the long footnotes in chapter three on money, and again in Theories of Surplus Value (volume one, p. 538) where he studies the relationship between the rate of interest and the rate of profit.

[8] Patrick Colquhoun, The Police of the Metropolis (1796), p. viii.

[9] Quoted in H. Heaton, The Yorkshire Woollen and Worsted Industries, 2nd edition (1965), p. 351.

[10] Possession and custody must be distinguished.  The popular adage that ‘possession is nine-tenths of the law’ refers to the number of royal writs defining private property.

[11] Craig Becker, “Property in the Workplace: Labor, Capital, and Crime in the Eighteenth Century British Woollen and Worsted Industry,” Virginia Law Review, Nov. 1983, vol. 69, no. 8.

[12] Such a one was Thomas Lightoweller who during the 1760s taught coiners in the English Midlands as well as in Lancashire and Yorkshire.

[13] John Styles, “’Our Traitorous Money Makers’:  The Yorkshire Coiners and the Law, 1760-83,” in John Styles and John Brewer (eds.), An Ungovernable People: The English and their Law in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries(London: Hutchinson, 1980), p. 180.

[14] H. Ling Roth, The Yorkshire Coiners, 1767-1783 (Halifax: King & Sons, 1906)

[15] Not to be confused with Thomas Spence who struck and uttered coin of his own.  See “Thomas Spence’s Freedom Coins” in Camille Barbagallo et al (eds.), Commoning: With George Caffentzis and Silvia Federici (London: Pluto Press, 2019)

[16] Fred Inglis (ed.), E.P. Thompson: Collected Poems (Newcastle: Bloodaxe Books, 1999), p. 67, and J.M. Neeson, Commoners: Common right, Enclosure and Social Change in England, 1700-1820 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), pp. 167-168 explains how rushes when soaked in fat provided a cheap substitute for candles.

[17] David Graeber, Debt: The First 5,000 Years (Brooklyn: Melvillehouse, 2011), p. 361

Peter Linebaugh is the author of The London HangedThe Many-Headed Hydra: the Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic (with Marcus Rediker) and Magna Carta Manifesto. Linebaugh’s latest book is Red Round Globe Hot Burning. He can be reached at: