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We live in an age ruled by merchants. Competition, flexibility and profit are still the common currency, even at a time when Western countries have been driven off a cliff by these very values. But will it always be this way?
Merchant, Soldier, Sage, the remarkable new book by St Edmund Hall Fellow David Priestland, proposes a radical new approach to how we see our world, and who runs it. Priestland argues for the predominance in any society of one of three broad value systems - that of the merchant (commercial and competitive); the soldier (aristocratic and militaristic); and the sage (bureaucratic or creative). These 'castes' struggle alongside the worker (egalitarian and artisanal) for power, and when they achieve supremacy, they can have such a strong hold over us that it is almost impossible to imagine life outside their grip. And yet there does come a point of drastic change, usually because one caste becomes too dominant. The result is economic crisis, war or revolution, and eventually a new caste takes over.
In an absorbing book described as 'lively and opinionated' by the Economist, Priestland argues that we are now in the midst of a period with all the classic signs of imminent change. As the history of the last century shows, there is good reason to be fearful of the forces that this failure may unleash. Merchant, Soldier, Sage is both a masterful dissection of our current predicament and a brilliant piece of history. The world will not look the same again.
Merchant, Soldier, Sage, published by Allen Lane, is available from bookshops and amazon.co.uk