Ethnographic exercise

mrbThe Brotherhood of Trustees owes its present influence to an archaic custom barring the aristocracy from direct involvement in commerce. The custom holds that commerce can never furnish the form of unassailable security it sees as the precondition for noble disinterestedness. Moreover, by their nature, commercial transactions would often compel the nobleman to deal with commoners as equals. The noble must regard such concourse as demeaning, both to himself in person and to the institution of nobility as a whole[1].

Since it draws its legislators from the noble class, the state expects its nobles, even when they operate through agents, to remain free from any economic attachments that could affect their judgment as lawmakers. Instead, tradition requires the aristocrat to base his wealth upon a secure foundation unlikely to feel the effect of changes in the nation’s laws or shifts in her citizens’ activities. He must feel as secure in his wealth as he does in his social superiority. Only then, says the tradition, will he have complete freedom to act in defence of the public’s honour.

In earlier ages, the nobility derived their income from large country estates, often leasing portions of them to commoners. As the nobility moved to the city and the importance of the traditional estate receded, it needed a way to invest its wealth in business concerns without compromising its aloofness from direct commerce or exposing itself to too much risk. The doctrine arose that the nobleman should remain blind to the nature of his investments and concern himself instead only with selecting an agent of the best possible character.

The Brotherhood of Trustees began as a simple trade guild for such agents. Its code of professional ethics, though strict, ensued from the simple practical need to win the nobility’s confidence. But as the brotherhood grew rich, it became presumptive. By stages, that code transformed from a series of practical injunctions into a baroque and often unintelligible system of religion worshiping the notion of contract through the person of the sovereign.

Although audited at intervals by the Crown, it operates from day-to-day without oversight.




[1] Worse, depending on his commercial fortunes, he may even need to abase himself before commoners, laying his own dignity to waste and thus marring the dignity of the state.

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