[OPE-L] Henri Pirenne on the stages of capitalist development (1914)

From: Jurriaan Bendien (adsl675281@TISCALI.NL)
Date: Mon Jul 23 2007 - 18:56:39 EDT

"I have observed, in surveying this history [of the nature of capitalists
and their origins] from the beginning of the Middle Ages to our own times, a
very interesting phenomenon to which, it seems to me, attention has not just
been sufficiently called. I believe that, for each period into which our
economic history may be divided, there is a distinct and separate class of
capitalists. In other words, the group of capitalists of a given epoch does
not spring from the capitalist group of the preceding epoch. At every change
in economic organisation we find a breach in continuity... there are as many
classes of capitalists as there are epochs in economic history" (from Henri
Pirenne, "The stages in the social history of capitalism", The American
Historical Review, Vol. XIX, No. 3, April 1914, pp. 494-515, cited by
Bairoch 1973).

For example,

"...however varied their origins, the capitalists of the fourteenth and
fifteenth centuries were all obliged to enter into relations with princes
and a complete solidarity of interests was established between the two. On
the one side the princes could not meet either their public or their private
expenses without recourse to the financiers, but on the other the great
merchants, bankers and shipowners looked to the princes to protect them
against excessive municipal particularism, to put down urban revolts, and to
secure the circulation of their money and merchandise. The more "those who
had something to lose" were alarmed by social upheavals or communistic
movements, the further they were driven into the arms of the royal power as
their sole refuge. Even the artisans, when it came to their turn to be
threatened by the journeymen, turned to it for protection, because it was
the protector of order" (Henri Pirenne, Economic and social history of
medieval Europe. London: RKP, 1936, p. 218).

It makes me keen to read Peter Spufford's "Power and Profit: The Merchant in
Medieval Europe" (2003) who presents some recent research on the era. Of
course, according to Prof. Tom Sekine, this kind of history is strictly
impossible. Why?

Because, Sekine argues, the conditions for capitalism evolved "first in
seventeenth century England, and not before". Tough luck for Monsieur
Pirenne, mowed down by the Marxist dialectic, as it were...


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