Merchant, Soldier, Sage
A History of the World in Three Castes
A bold new interpretation of modern history as a struggle between three economic groups
We are now living in an age of merchants, but it was not always so. The history of civilization, in large part, is a story of a battle between agrarian aristocracy, the military, and a class of learned experts, or priests. Yet in seventeenth-century England and in the Netherlands, another group entered the mêlée for power: the merchants. For the last four decades, the merchant's power has been unfettered. In Merchant, Soldier, Sage, acclaimed Oxford scholar David Priestland proposes a radical new approach to understanding today’s balance of power, and analyzes the societal and economic historical conditions required for one of these three value systems to dominate. Priestland asserts that, in the wake of the Great Recession, the weakened and discredited merchant still clings to power—but the world is again in the midst of a period of upheaval.
1. Caste Struggles
2. Iron Fist, Velvet Glove
3. Hubris and Catastrophe: The First Merchant Age
4. The Age of Whiz
5. Davos Man
Appendix | Caste and Power: The Academic Foundations
"The story of man, Oxford academic David Priestland writes in his new big-idea history entitled, can be told through the will to power of three castes of civilization… The book covers almost the entirety of human history, but really serves as an extremely long-tailed investigation into the financial crisis of 2008 and how civilization’s failure to properly rein in the merchant in its wake might negatively affect the future… Priestland keeps things moving at a lively and readable pace."
—The Daily Beast
"Priestland is consistently engaging, whether in his discussion of the marshaling of Confucius’s teachings for political ends, or in pegging former President George W. Bush as a warrior… ambitious, well organized, and insightful, and will appeal to scholarly and popular audiences."
“Priestland marches us through history, showing us how his model applies to and illuminates everything from the Reformation to Robinson Crusoe, Adam to Adam Smith, Andrew Carnegie to Ayn Rand, Hitler to Putin, and Richard Wagner to Sinclair Lewis… He notes—no real surprise—that the world tends to get in trouble when it permits one caste to dominate… Useful, often-clarifying trifocals through which to view the world.
“Stimulating… In illustrating these larger processes of caste conflict and caste collaboration, [Priestland] offers crisp portraits of entrepreneurs, economists and warriors… Priestland has a wonderfully arch description of Davos, the Swiss mountain village where the world’s leading businessmen and pro-market politicians meet every January… [with] sparkling prose and often arresting comparisons”
—Ramachandra Guha, Financial Times
“[A] concise but extremely ambitious book… a schema well worth pondering and reflecting on. And among the many contributions to the dissection of our current predicament, this is surely one of the most thought-provoking.”
—Sir Richard J. Evans, Guardian (UK)
“Lively, opinionated… The aim of this book is to use the lessons of history to understand the current financial crisis… Priestland has some interesting things to say about why power relationships shift and what happens when they do…”
“We have here a gripping, argument-led history, efforlessly moving between New York, Tokyo and Berlin, from the Reformation to the 2008 economic crisis ... dazzling ... here, at last, is a work that places the current crisis in a longer history of seismic shifts in the balance of social power”
—BBC History Magazine
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