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The Spirit of Capitalism answers a fundamental question of economics, a question neither economists nor economic historians have been able to answer: what are the reasons (rather than just the conditions) for sustained economic growth? Taking her title from Max Weber's famous study on the same subject, Liah Greenfeld focuses on the problem of motivation behind the epochal The Spirit of Capitalism answers a fundamental question of economics, a question neither economists nor economic historians have been able to answer: what are the reasons (rather than just the conditions) for sustained economic growth? Taking her title from Max Weber's famous study on the same subject, Liah Greenfeld focuses on the problem of motivation behind the epochal change in behaviour, which from the 16th century on has reoriented one economy after another from subsistence to profit, transforming the nature of economic activity. A detailed analysis of the development of economic consciousness in England, the Netherlands, France, Germany, Japan, and the United States allows her to argue that the motivation, or spirit, behind the modern, growth-oriented economy was not the liberation of the rational economic actor, but rather nationalism. Nationalism committed masses of people to an endless race for national prestige and thus brought into being the phenomenon of economic competitiveness.


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The Spirit of Capitalism answers a fundamental question of economics, a question neither economists nor economic historians have been able to answer: what are the reasons (rather than just the conditions) for sustained economic growth? Taking her title from Max Weber's famous study on the same subject, Liah Greenfeld focuses on the problem of motivation behind the epochal The Spirit of Capitalism answers a fundamental question of economics, a question neither economists nor economic historians have been able to answer: what are the reasons (rather than just the conditions) for sustained economic growth? Taking her title from Max Weber's famous study on the same subject, Liah Greenfeld focuses on the problem of motivation behind the epochal change in behaviour, which from the 16th century on has reoriented one economy after another from subsistence to profit, transforming the nature of economic activity. A detailed analysis of the development of economic consciousness in England, the Netherlands, France, Germany, Japan, and the United States allows her to argue that the motivation, or spirit, behind the modern, growth-oriented economy was not the liberation of the rational economic actor, but rather nationalism. Nationalism committed masses of people to an endless race for national prestige and thus brought into being the phenomenon of economic competitiveness.

33 review for The Spirit of Capitalism: Nationalism and Economic Growth

  1. 5 out of 5

    Steve

    I have three general prerequisites that a non-fiction book has to fulfill in order to be worth reading. 1) It must possess a compelling argument and/or perspective This is a necessary but not sufficient condition. That is to say, a work must have it, but it is not enough on its own. I do not necessarily have to agree with the contention, argument, or perspective, but it must excite my intellect in some way. I have learned a great deal even from arguments I regard as incorrect. 2) It must possess a I have three general prerequisites that a non-fiction book has to fulfill in order to be worth reading. 1) It must possess a compelling argument and/or perspective This is a necessary but not sufficient condition. That is to say, a work must have it, but it is not enough on its own. I do not necessarily have to agree with the contention, argument, or perspective, but it must excite my intellect in some way. I have learned a great deal even from arguments I regard as incorrect. 2) It must possess a well crafted and solid analysis. This refers to the analytic "engine" of the work. Since the majority of the non-fiction books that I read are not only highly academic but also social scientific, this is an important qualification. The book should possess an introduction that in some way sets out the argument in a schematic form and also it must show how it engages with existing literatures. Again, I don't necessarily have to agree with the argument to benefit from it, and a good critique of the literature, even of my own preferences, can be intellectually stimulating. 3) It must possess good evidence, well cited and supported. Many regard evidence as boring, but it is essential to the argument. It should be well crafted and supported, and the argument and the evidence should work together to make a point. Now, I have often found works where (2) is compelling but (3) is not and vice versa. I am often willing to salvage the work for that reason. The lack of (1) is not worth considering, I will put those aside. Here we come to Greenfeld's book. It asks a great question: "Is nationalism in some way responsible for the rise of capitalism?" This is a zinger, and a question that is all too often ignored in the social science literature (however, there are good reasons for this, as I will discuss below.) So, this book satisfies my first condition - partially. But she operationalizes (that is to say, converts a basic question into a research topic) in a way I find highly problematic. Furthermore, in my opinion, she does not meet even a minimal execution of (2) [analysis] and thus her evidence, which is not that great, does not support her argument. The problem begins when she moves from "Did nationalism have something to do with the rise of capitalism" to "Nationalism *caused* capitalism." In the social science business, we are sticklers for causal inference, and it is much harder to say that one thing CAUSED another than to say that one thing is ASSOCIATED with another. It is a much, much higher burden of proof and requires much more care in crafting and supporting arguments. I have no doubt that had she stuck at the level of trying to explain the linkages between nationalism and capitalism and left causation to speculation in the closing chapter, I would be much happier with the work. In order to make her case, she needs first of all to establish the parameters of the debate, which she singularly fails to do. There is essentially no literature review and there is no analytical set up. That is to say, she does not evaluate the nationalism literature for what it has to say and use that to put forward an analytical model. Furthermore, her choice of topic also means that she really should engage with both political sociology and with economic sociology at the very least. There is a case for bringing cultural analysis to bear too. She does not do this. Surprisingly, she has only the briefest of things to say about nationalism - this from a nationalism scholar! (see pp. 2-3 and pp. 94-95 for what I can find that is straightforwardly an examination of nationalism.) First of all, having read a certain amount in the nationalism literature for a doctoral exam in comparative/historical sociology, I know there is a substantial amount of literature out there on nationalism - and it is one of the more contentious fields in social science. The primary split is between those who have an ethno-nationalist focus who see nationalism as emerging from premodern social forms and nation-state nationalists who think that no matter how nationality was seen before 1600, nationalism in its modern form is a distinctively new thing. I am not going to take a side here, but I find it incomprehensible that a noted nationalism scholar could even attempt an analysis of such a potentially controversial issue of whether or not nationalism caused capitalism without even a cursory evaluation of the literature. But worse is yet to come. The second, and for me even greater problem is that she entirely ignores the field of economic sociology - one of my home fields. On page 92, she makes the astonishing claim that "social structure", a key concept in sociology, is "embedded in philosophical materialism which finds its quintessential expression in Marxist economic determinism." To translate for the non-academic, I read her as saying that all social scientific conceptions of structure are basically materialist (located in the world of things rather than ideas) and as such, are all basically captured in Marxist economic analysis. I STRONGLY beg to differ. I simply CANNOT agree with her characterization of structure as inherently Marxist. She is ignoring an entire doctrine of sociology which is focused not on rigid Marxist class analysis but on how institutions help structure economic life. For instance, Bruce Carruthers, William Roy, Frank Dobbin, Monica Prasad, and many others look at how structures constrain but also change. They cannot be considered Marxists. She thus both ignores two very substantial literatures and manages to tar them with the brush of Marxism. Greenfeld was born in Soviet Russia and so her hostility to Marx is understandable, but not her calumny towards all types of social structural arguments. Moreover, she does a poor job of articulating her own model, which is both ideal (based in the world of ideas) and what we call methodologically individualist - that is, she sees social life is the aggregate of individual decisions. I personally am much further along the road to being a structuralist (the whole is greater than the sum of the parts) but I am willing to consider a well crafted individualist argument, which this is not. As I read it, and again, keep in mind that because she did not take the time to craft an introduction that would lay this out, I have to trawl her empirical chapters for this - her model supposes that nationalism is a mental social construction. That is, it is a change of mentalities away from a model where say family or organized religion were the dominant modes of collective understanding. That being said, her model does explain her choice of evidence. Her evidence, such as it is, consists primarily of textual analysis of the work of what came in the 19th Century to be called "political economists". Adam Smith is the most famous example, but others such as Daniel Defoe were also noted commentators on the economy and were the first to try and put together a story about how the disparate elements of the economy and society worked together. Greenfeld argues, and I am speaking broadly here, that because these commentators identified national issues (competition with foreign merchants, desire to consume national products, national competitiveness), this means that nationalism was in the popular imagination with regards to the economy, and thus that nationalism was responsible for capitalism. This is what I can glean from the book of her causal argument. There are just too many problems with this to deal with in a short space. First, as every statistics course makes clear, correlation does not mean causation. Second, as I mentioned above, there is a huge split within the nationalism literature itself over what people in early modern times even meant by the word "nation", so Daniel Defoe mentioning nationalist aspects of the economy is not prima facie evidence. Third, where is the state in all this? Based on her remarks in the epilogue, her experiences in the Soviet Union may have jaundiced her towards the state, but to ignore the work of Charles Tilly, John Brewer and many others on the role of the state is inexcusable. Economic sociology has a strong case for the modern state and modern capitalism "growing up together". This is not intended as a political statement nor even approval. ALL of the major combatants in WWII had during the conflict highly planned economies, even the USA. Fifth, for me the issue is one of institutionalization. I agree with Greenfeld on one point, I do think that nationalism had something to do with capitalism, but I don't think she has explored the full range of possibility. What if all three, capitalism, nationalism, and the nation-state are themselves driven by a deeper, more fundamental process? My hunch is that the three interact very strongly both cooperatively AND antagonistically, depending on economic and political cycles. Sixth, a vast hole in her argument comes from her lack of attention to mercantilism. All the material I have read have characterized it as being MUCH MORE nationalistic than the doctrine of free markets which replaced it. Seventh, and finally, how are we to square nationalism with globalization? Even Marx thought that capitalism was inherently a globalizing, not a nationalizing force. This is not to say that she is wrong, just that she does not supply an alternative. What I want to leave you with is not the sense that I think Greenfeld is necessarily wrong in anything but her horrible composition for this book. Had she followed the quite well established conventions for making an academic argument, which exist for good reasons, I would certainly be willing to consider her case. Even if I ended up disagreeing with Greenfeld in the end, which is likely, I would have come away the richer for having my own judgements challenged. Otherwise, academe would be too boring.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Sara Laor

  3. 4 out of 5

    Greg

  4. 4 out of 5

    Natan

  5. 4 out of 5

    Milton Achelpohl

  6. 4 out of 5

    Manny

  7. 5 out of 5

    Ekaterina

  8. 5 out of 5

    Eric Tsui

  9. 4 out of 5

    Yu Liu

  10. 4 out of 5

    Kevin

  11. 5 out of 5

    Sandy

  12. 5 out of 5

    Artem Severskij

  13. 5 out of 5

    Carl

  14. 5 out of 5

    Michael Paone

  15. 5 out of 5

    Jan-Frederik

  16. 4 out of 5

    Dustin

  17. 5 out of 5

    Mathew Mcconnell

  18. 4 out of 5

    BookDB

  19. 5 out of 5

    Mark J Sobanski

  20. 4 out of 5

    Rkq

  21. 5 out of 5

    Subhadip

  22. 4 out of 5

    Euan

  23. 5 out of 5

    Dmitry

  24. 5 out of 5

    Robert Gulbahce

  25. 5 out of 5

    Mike

  26. 4 out of 5

    Timur

  27. 5 out of 5

    Nicoricel

  28. 5 out of 5

    Homura

  29. 5 out of 5

    Jon

  30. 5 out of 5

    Evan

  31. 4 out of 5

    Laniaho Huang

  32. 4 out of 5

    issam elshafei

  33. 4 out of 5

    Bence

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