Matt Kadane’s forthcoming book Watchful Clothier is a true story based upon the diaries of 18th century British capitalist Joseph Ryder. This is a Protestant entrepreneur, who is working hard to produce wool cloth in Leeds, England in the 18th century, a man who is a dissenter Protestant and at the same time a member of the emerging class—the bourgeoisie. Joseph Ryder is a symbol of a new life coming to Britain—an upper middle class man, who is working hard for his survival and keeping a diary for last 35 years of his life. It is a very interesting work of a historian as well as a philosopher, since it does not only tell a story of a very interesting life, but it offers fundamental questions for our time. It is not difficult to find out how many similarities there still are between 18th century Leeds and a big part of the world today. For instance, the former Soviet Union or the Middle East, or still other parts of the world are very close today to the world described in Matt Kadane’s book. Religious feelings today are amongst the leading reasons for the rejection of contemporary capitalist world order. As a matter of fact, since the fall of Soviet Union and the decline in Communist ideology, the religious fundamentalist movements around the world have captured the momentum and they are the main obstacles for the liberal democracies. This struggle looks like less ideological and more spiritual. It is internal as well as external.
Joseph Ryder is being tormented by the sense of guilt over money making. He experiences melancholy and a constant feeling of mourning and is constantly getting ready to die. Meanwhile he continues his entrepreneurial work and describes most of it in his diaries. So he goes forward, creating a better future for his family, but nevertheless worrying about the moral implications of his actions. He discusses his own flows constantly and anticipates catastrophe and a the result of this anticipation he reaches catharsis in his writings. He understands that exploiting people for the private gain is a sinful activity, but at the same time he realizes that it is still better than serfdom and slavery. So he is working for progress, meanwhile regretting his personal failures and constantly mourning the loss of innocence. His melancholy is a wildly interesting phenomenon, in which would find many commonalities today. It is regret for lost innocence, while thinking about the inevitable.
Capitalism was an inevitable progress in Joseph Ryder’s England. Melancholy is an amazing liberation from debilitating bourgeois self-confidence. But at the same time it is evident that entrepreneurship is the way of progress and that his work is also liberating. And it is how those two elements co-exist—this is most fascinating aspect of this story and catharsis. How can it be that melancholy and capitalism can co-exist? Is this really possible in a world filled with all kinds of books suggesting self confidence and complete lack of self-irony or criticism?
Matt Kadane gives a new view into the question of melancholy—in the age of whole drug industry created to boost artificial self-confidence of the work force he gives us a very interesting picture of a Protestant entrepreneur, who is also a deep believer. It is indeed possible to live like Joseph Ryder, even today. Kadane avoids giving easy answers to fundamental questions of our time. Is Liberal Capitalism immoral as lots of critics on both left and right suggest? Or is it the only just and proper thing for our progress as humanity? There is no easy answer to this question. The truth might be somewhere in between—and again this story gives a fascinating example—in fact progress is both economy and consciousness. The classic dividing line between idealists and materialists about what is preceding the other seems to primitive for this. In fact, the story of Joseph Ryder suggests that both could go hand in hand—consciousness and spirituality are no less important than material well being, since they can stimulate the latter. This has happened many times and more recently we have observed the massive fall of social and social democratic systems to the abyss of poverty. Underestimating the role of consciousness proved to be a fundamental mistake of many progressive humanists, including different types of Marxist dogmatists. Indeed social solidarity is a highly spiritual act. This might be caused by the Hegelian dialectic process, but there is no precise prediction of the event—indeed it is a combination and fusion of spiritual and material realities.
Hegemonic liberal discourse today is still tilting towards material explanations of the world. It should be admitted that this is largely justified by scientific evidences—but at the same time Kadane’s work shows that we cannot exclude the possibility of melancholy and depression, even during the best material times. Human beings are more complex than simple ideological constructs—they can be very unpredictable. And so Joseph Ruder is this unpredictable dichotomy between the social progress and spiritual doubts that has always existed in humans. It was manifested differently through the ages—bus as we can see it also has universal features.
There is much discussion about universality and particularity in today’s philosophical circles. Here is one more example that particularity does not necessarily go against universality and it certainly does not erase all universal. The protagonist believes in God that is universal, but at the same time he is in the human form. It is going even further from the Arian position—it is more than just a simple paradox. Here with all his personal failures and stories, there is something universal about one human being, who wants to build a better life for himself and his loved ones. There is nothing to be ashamed of in this.
Is there anything to be ashamed in relationship with money and capital?
This is still a fundamental question. Joseph Ryder was not embracing of zero-sum game—he represented the part of capitalism that was working for creating an abundant world. Manufacturing and producing had different goals than many other businesses, it wanted to have more empowered customers and so it was for an expansion of social pie. The Capitalism represented by Joseph Ryder was good news for humanity. But did he know about it? One can doubt that after reading his own accounts—although he was aware of the whole complexity that surrounded this question. He knew that there was no simple and deterministic response—and he felt tormented. This feeling is so close to today’s reality, when we see the new entrepreneurial class in Eastern Europe, Asia, and other parts of the world trying to make this very difficult transformation.
Doubt and reflection are as healthy as self-confidence is—melancholy is a no less beautiful part of human being than sincere happiness. There will be no happiness without melancholy. There is a very legitimate question that one has after reading the work of Kadane: Is life without melancholy worthy? And this question is no less legitimate than whether we could live without the pursuit of happiness. Kadane gives a courageous question to what Michel Faucault called a ‘Blackmail of Reason” of late enlightenment age: emotion and healthy self-reflective emotion is not less important than ‘pure rationality’, since there is hardly anything that could be pure. The diary of Joseph Ryder illustrates it, just as much as Matt Kadane’s poetic works do. And it is also very interesting to hear the challenge to total relativism—there is God in every Human Being and there is a Human in every God. Much the later has been a controversy since the time of Arius and other so called heretics within different Churches. But today, in the age of globalization we can see that Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Confucians, Atheists and Zoroastrians can pretty much stand together for a same compassion or passion for liberty, not just “Civil Society” as Marcuse says “Burgerliche Gezelschaft”—but for a humane society—as we can see now in Egypt or Tunisia and as we saw 20 years earlier in the former Soviet Union.
Self-reflection and melancholy are still beautiful parts of human life—they are as beautiful as the Dionysian spirit of creative madness or Apollonian rational reason. Holistic picture of humans is much more complicated than a simple ideological construct. Doubt is a friend of Joseph Ryder. And Joseph Ryder is a friend of civilization, since he is undoubtedly on progress’s side.
Here is a question of the century—can humans find their humanity back after an obsession with fake rationalistic and spiritualistic rituals? There is no obvious answer to this question. I guess the art of transformation and revolution are deeply humane and spiritual experiences. They are not simple material undertakings. But art, creative madness, self-reflection, doubt, melancholy and hypochondria are as much spiritual as any fundamental religious teaching. This is why great Georgian Artists Merab Ninidze in his well known Ananuri speech noted that what we need in 21st century, is a “Born Again Humanism” that would have a new form.
Kadane’s philosophic rebellion against the established dogma of neoliberal resignation within his historical work gives a new question to the understanding of humanism. And if that question holds true, than perhaps “The End is Not Near.” Hopefully so.