Monday, September 21, 2009

Pre-Smith Arguments for Capitalism

Interesting blog post in the form of a book review at Sociological Imagination. A nugget:
Social thinkers in the 16th and 17th century were anxious to come up ways to tame the “passions” of kings and aristocrats that had wrecked havoc over Europe during the middle ages. Writers such as Bacon (1561-1626) and Spinoza (1632-1677) speculated that that the expansion of commerce might just do the trick. Commerce, they observed, tends to pit people’s greed (or “interests”) against their “passions” (such as lust, jeaously, pride, religiosity, bravado). A social order that gave maximum scope for people to pursue their interests would also subdue their destructive passions. Doux-Commerce (”Commerce Sweetens”) as the French writer Montesquieu (1689-1755) put it. The hope was held out for a more peaceful world.
It is ironical, Hirschman notes, that the current social critics denigrate capitalism for promoting people’s money-making proclivities at the cost of other impulses such as loyalty, religiosity, love, or in other words–their “passions.” It was exactly this aspect of capitalism that held attraction for the social thinkers three centuries ago.

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