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Why Was Coffee Drinking Once Scandalous? – Article by Jeffrey A. Tucker

Why Was Coffee Drinking Once Scandalous? – Article by Jeffrey A. Tucker

The New Renaissance Hat
Jeffrey Tucker
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In 18th-century Europe, many products and services reached a newly emergent middle class for the first time in human history. The capitalist age was maturing, and that meant that average people had money for the first time and lots of choices on how to spend it. One of the new products they could buy was coffee. With that came a great deal of social suspicion and even dread.

None other than Johann Sebastian Bach satirized the puritanical fear of coffee in his delightful and witty “Coffee Cantata.” It was one of the few times he ever tried his hand at pure pop entertainment. Of course he succeeded brilliantly; he was Bach after all!

The “Coffee Cantata” tells the story of a daughter who scandalized her father due to her devotion to coffee. She couldn’t stop singing about how wonderful it is, while her father corrected her constantly.

“You naughty child, you wild girl, ah!” the father yells at his daughter. “When will I achieve my goal: get rid of the coffee for my sake!”

“Father sir, but do not be so harsh!” she responds. “If I couldn’t, three times a day, be allowed to drink my little cup of coffee, in my anguish I will turn into a shriveled-up roast goat.”

She happily agrees to do everything he says in every area of life except one: she will not give up coffee.

And then follows a beautiful tribute to coffee: “How sweet coffee tastes, more delicious than a thousand kisses, milder than muscatel wine. Coffee, I have to have coffee, and, if someone wants to pamper me, ah, then bring me coffee as a gift!”

The father threatens her: “If you don’t give up coffee for me, you won’t go to any wedding parties, or even go out for walks.”

She still refuses.

Then the daughter plays a little game. She has a husband in mind and extracts from him a promise that if she marries him, he must allow her to drink coffee. He agrees. Then she goes to her father, who opposes the marriage, and makes a deal: if she is permitted to marry him, she will give up coffee. The father is delighted, and agrees.

Thus does the daughter gain a new husband, and, much more importantly, a permanent right to drink coffee whenever she wants!

What was this fear of coffee? Why was this such a big deal? It does have some narcotic properties to it, as we all know so well. It can give you a delightful lift.

But that alone does not account for the early opprobrium with which coffee-drinking, particularly for young girls, was greeted. For a fuller account, we need to understand something larger and more socially transformative: the advent of the coffee house itself.

The coffee house was one of the earliest public institutions, operating on a purely commercial basis, that brought a wide variety of social classes, not to mention a mixture between men and women, in a market-based social setting. In the 18th century, coffee houses spread all over Europe and the UK, attracting young people who would sit and drink together and discuss politics, religion, and business, and exchange any manner of ideas.

What the father in the Cantata is actually objecting to is not coffee as such but unapproved, unchaperoned social wanderings.

The Loss of Control

This was a huge departure from the tradition that entitled parents and other social authorities, including governments, to determine what kind of associations their children would have. Coffee houses introduced a kind of anarchy to the social structure, and introduced new risks of randomized contact with ideas and people that parents could no longer control. Coffee represented freedom itself – the freedom to mix, mingle, and consume what one wanted.

Indeed, coffee houses became a great source of public controversy. In England, in the 17th Century, Charles II tried to ban them all on grounds that they were “places where the disaffected met, and spread scandalous reports concerning the conduct of His Majesty and his Ministers.” Even a century later, women were banned from attending them, and this was true in France as well. Germany had more liberal laws concerning women and coffee but public suspicion was still high, as the “Coffee Cantata” suggests.

houghton_ec65a100674w_-_womens_petition_against_coffee

Women who were banned from coffee houses developed a very clever response. In the famous “Women’s Petition Against Coffee” of 1674, women said that coffee was responsible for the “enfeeblement” of men. Historians say the campaign contributed to the gender integration of coffee houses.

We see, then, that the commercial availability of coffee actually contributed to the advance of women’s rights!

Looking back at the astonishing success of Starbucks in our own time, it doesn’t seem surprising. They too serve as gathering spots, social mixers, places of business, and centers of conversation and ideas. We are more accustomed to it now than centuries ago, and yet even today, how much political controversy is engendered by access to products and services of which social authorities disapprove?

War on pot anyone?

As the “Coffee Cantata” concludes:

Cats do not give up mousing,
girls remain coffee-sisters.
The mother adores her coffee-habit,
and grandma also drank it,
so who can blame the daughters!

 

Jeffrey Tucker


Jeffrey Tucker

Jeffrey Tucker is Director of Content for the Foundation for Economic Education and CLO of the startup Liberty.me. Author of five books, and many thousands of articles, he speaks at FEE summer seminars and other events. His latest book is Bit by Bit: How P2P Is Freeing the World.  Follow on Twitter and Like on Facebook. Email

This article was originally published on FEE.org. Read the original article.

Mass Production and the Emerging Cultural Differentiation – Article by G. Stolyarov II

Mass Production and the Emerging Cultural Differentiation – Article by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
August 5, 2012
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I was recently asked: “But doesn’t mass society make even the atypical dress of [previous eras] unavailable to anyone?  Haven’t we had a kind of widespread proletarianization?“

The question presupposed a particular phase of mass production – one that has largely elapsed. When an extreme scarcity of resources still exists, as it did during the early Industrial era, only a few very basic products can be created, and the incentive for businesses is to make them in as high of a volume as possible, to market to as many people as possible without much concern for product differentiation, or esthetic considerations. (Think of the output of the early cotton mills, or the Ford Model T as examples of this.) The early industrial stage massively raises the living standards of most, simply because they can now have goods such as durable clothing, furniture, and (eventually) transportation and appliances – which were simply not available in any form to the majority of people previously. The same can be said of mass culture during the early days of recorded media. The complaint regarding the crudity and proletarization of mass media is not new. In fact, even Ludwig von Mises brought it up in 1954.

People of erudition and exquisite taste were the minority in every age – but what was new in the early 20th century was that, once the basic material sustenance of most in the Western world was achieved, the early mass-production stage became focused on culture (or “culture” – as you will) instead. At the same time, there came about a massively greater differentiation of physical products in the late 20th century, so that people can much more readily customize their living spaces, for instance. With the advent of electronic media, the prospects for cultural differentiation at relatively low cost have also become much more realistic. Consider that, back when I was a poor college student, the Internet enabled me to locate and afford numerous aspects of my quite extensive and unconventional attire.

We are just now coming into a new era of decentralized production of culture, aided by new electronic technologies that make creation much more convenient, as well as funding platforms (e.g., Kickstarter) that enable new forms of distributed patronage. As an example, I recently conducted a successful experiment where I was able to create a new musical composition and obtain some modest funding via Kickstarter, while releasing the work to my audience for free under a Creative Commons License. I am also technically able to create more such works for no compensation, so it is just a matter of having enough leisure time and inclination (of which I have more than a person in my economic situation would have had in earlier eras). I think many other people will increasingly come to be a in a similar position, triggering a new Renaissance of high culture.

The questioner also asked: “This [ability to use technology to compose more easily] is all true, of course, but do we have any Bachs or Mozarts? Is there anything even approaching late nineteenth-century Vienna, where there were multiple great composers within miles of each other?”

Perhaps such an era is soon to come – except the proximity of the composers will not need to be physical. The Internet and electronic composition programs will enable composers throughout the world to become aware of one another and to communicate and collaborate. The biggest barrier to such collaborations in recent years has been the copyright system and its draconian enforcement by American media/entertainment-industry interests. The advent of the Creative Commons License and similar alternatives to traditional copyright can largely solve this problem and create a far more refined culture that does not rely on the mass-distribution system of the large recording and film studios.

I hesitate to make any comparisons to Bach or Mozart – but there are certainly some promising composers out there. For just two examples, I refer you to the work of Maxwell Janis and Simone Stella. (Look for his original compositions, such as this one.)