The Italian City-State of Milan was predominantly ruled by the Visconti family. Similar to the de Medici’s of Florence, the Visconti’s rarely if ever held high office within the oligarchical representative system of Milan, which they ironically called “communes”. The Visconti family maintained enormous power in Milan from the early 14th until the mid 15th century when the last surviving male heir of the family Philippe Visconti died in 1437. The eldest daughter Valentina Visconti served as the head of the family but never managed the amount of control or leadership of previous generations.
The reason I demonstrated the background is to note the circumstances in the city-State of Milan, northern Italy in the middle of the 15th century. They were easing out of totalitarian rule beginning at the time of Philippe Visconti’s death. There was no revolution, but the power of the State receded entirely for almost two years. This is worthy of note in and of itself.
Meanwhile, the wealthier citizens of Milan decided that the city would be better off with a return to a (relatively) more representative and effectual communal rule. Under the rule of the Visconti family the reality of the commune was similar to that of the Roman Senate under Julius Caesar.
Unfortunately these fine Renaissance Capitalists were not libertarian anarchists. The communal system quickly escalated tensions between the cloth industry’s working class (not represented politically) and the investing industrialists (represented politically). In spite of the inevitable disputes that would arise from these tensions, there is something interesting in how they solved these disputes.
“Condottiere” were mercenary captains that were hired primarily by Italian city-States in their respective battles in the 15th century. It was critical to the success of a Condottiere that he not gain a reputation for getting in brutal, bloody, drawn-out battles. With a reputation like that he would never be able to hire replacements. Recruiting would become so difficult that you would have to increase your soldier’s wages. The Condottiere had a Capital incentive in keeping their soldiers safe because they were also the inventory.
The rival factions in Milan, from 1437 to 1439, each hired Condottieres to fight for them respectively. As per the usual, opposing Condottiere marched their troops, and counter-marched their troops, and marched, and counter-marched etc… Eventually the troops that were cornered in an unmistakably unfavorable situation, such as trapped against a river or mountain, would surrender. Not a single shot was fired and not a single soldier was harmed.
Francesco Sforza was the victorious Condottiere in the “battle” for Milan, he never relinquished power to the faction that had hired him. The Sforza family controls Milan for another century.
Why is this important? It is important because it shines a light on the beauty of Capitalism and peace. Capitalism promotes peace and the demonstration of that in history is always important. Even in a market not even remotely free, the peaceful settlement of disputes between Condottiere show the power of market forces for peace. Would we ever go to war if each household in America got an itemized bill of expenditures? Even in the face of tyrants, and even at the disposal of tyrants, free market forces are a force for good.
Ironically it was Keynes who said “Capitalism is the extraordinary belief that he nastiest of men, for the nastiest of reasons, will somehow work for the benefit of us all.” Francesco Sforza was a nasty man, and his only motivations were wealth and power. Were they not market forces that kept each and every soldier on both sides of that battlefield alive?
- the Humane Condition