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Sulla genesi del capitalismo

Anno XXII, n. 98, luglio-settembre 1987
Centro Einaudi


On the Genesis of Capitalism

The essay deals with one of literature's classic problems, the birth of capitalism. The author makes a detailed analysis of both the Marxian and Weberian interpretations but finds them both unsatisfactory. The first is unacceptable because it fails to explain the original accumulation of capital. By resorting to state intervention – which by means of the expropriation of rural producers creates the accumulation of capital necessary to start off the capitalist process – Marx explains the economic with extra-economic categories, hence contradicting his own materialist interpretation of history. Moreover, even if we accept this contradiction we still have no explanation of why analogous state intervention did not lead to capitalism in oriental societies. The Weberian interpretation, on the other hand, is unsatisfactory because it is historically false that Calvinist culture was allied to the spirit of capitalism right from its origin. On the contrary, it was openly hostile to the 'perverse' pursuit of profit. The alliance between Calvinism and capitalism came later when the latter had already widely established itself. Nonetheless, the author feels that both Marx and Weber provide suitable suggestions for the resolution of this historical problem. Dealing with it from the point of view of historical comparison, they both observed that the solution lays in the particular structure of public power in the West. Whereas 'bureaucratic despotism' prevailed in the East, in the West the birth of the market town helped to break up the political and economic structures of feudalism. It may thus be concluded that political, and not religious or economic, structures were of central importance to the birth of capitalism.