Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Mercantilism, Conquest, and Euvoluntary Exchange: Kissing Your Shackles

An old friend of mine had a birthday recently and I took the opportunity to see what wonderful world events coincided with the date. Turns out, one of the truly amazing battles of Continental Europe happened on the 15th of July in jolly old 1410.

The Battle of Grunwald was a here-and-no-further victory for the Polish-Lithuanian Alliance. After a century of raiding, Vytautas channeled Samuel L Jackson and said "enough is enough; I have had it with these monkey-fighting knights on these Monday-to-Friday plains." He then kicked their armored backsides out of the Baltics, handily revoking German stewardship of fortresses from Gdansk to Elbing.

Curiously, the Poles and Lithuanians didn't seem particularly interested in following up with conquests of their own. They secured a few fortifications into Teutonic lands, but made no real effort to hold them. In 1410, this behavior was unorthodox. I asked my lovely wife about it, being that she grew up crossing the cusp of Soviet dissolution in the very heartland of Lithuania. Here's what she said [paraphrasing].

Lithuanians have an enduring identity. You are never truly a slave until you learn to kiss your shackles. We can be bent to our knees, but we choose to be broken or not. Lithuanians have never chosen to be broken, not when we faced down The Golden Horde, not when we turned the spear of the Teutonic Knights, and not when we were ground under the heel of Communism. We chose to endure. The flip side of that is that we never sought dominion. All were welcome to join, to come to ply trade, to truck, to barter, to exchange, but forcing others to bend to our will pollutes our national character. It is not the act of a Lithuanian.

It seems there's something in them bones that eschews dominion, elevates exchange between peers. It might be that I'm biased, but I find that kind of simple, common dignity and decency considerably more laudable than political economy that arrogates to elites the role of faux-benevolent paternalist.

But that's just, like, my opinion or whatever, man.

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Do you have suggestions on where we could find more examples of this phenomenon?