The Spirit of Capitalism

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Harvard University Press, Jun 30, 2009 - Social Science - 557 pages
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 behavior, which from the sixteenth 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. Nowhere has economic activity been further removed from the rational calculation of costs than in the United States, where the economy has come to be perceived as the end-all of political life and the determinant of all social progress. American economic civilization spurs the nation on to ever-greater economic achievement. But it turns Americans into workaholics, unsure of the purpose of their pursuits, and leads American statesmen to exaggerate the weight of economic concerns in foreign policy, often to the detriment of American political influence and the confusion of the rest of the world.

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The spirit of capitalism: nationalism and economic growth

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Greenfeld (political science, Boston Univ.) offers a riveting follow-up to Nationalism: Five Roads to Modernity (Harvard Univ., 1992). Here she seeks to answer three questions: what caused the ... Read full review


Another Take on How It All Began
The Capitalist Spirit and the British Economic Miracle
The Great SeventeenthCentury Exception
The Spread of the New Economic Consciousness on the European Continent
The First Convert France
The Power of Concerted Action Putting the Spirit of Capitalism to Work in Germany
The Asian Challenge The Way of Japan
Racing and Fighting
The Economic Civilization The Spirit of Capitalism in the New World
Searching for the American System
The Thrust
Looking Backward from Year 2000

Japanese Nationalism

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Page 399 - Those who labor in the earth are the chosen people of God, if ever He had a chosen people, whose breasts He has made His peculiar deposit for substantial and genuine virtue.
Page 109 - The attention of government was turned away from guarding against the exportation of gold and silver, to watch over the balance of trade, as the only cause which could occasion any augmentation or diminution of those metals. From one fruitless care it was turned away to another care much more intricate, much more embarrassing, and just equally fruitless.
Page 407 - She is a flirting, flippant, noisy jade, and if we are governed by her fantasies, we shall never put off the muslins of India and the cloths of Europe.
Page 417 - Is there no remedy within the reach of the government ? Are we doomed to behold our industry languish and decay, yet more and more ? But there is a remedy, and that remedy consists in modifying our foreign policy, and in adopting a genuine American system.
Page 30 - I should in another discourse endeavour to give an account of the general principles of law and government, and of the different revolutions which they have undergone in the different ages and periods of society; not only in what concerns justice, but in what concerns police, revenue, and arms, and whatever else is the object of law.
Page 402 - You tell me I am quoted by those who wish to continue our dependence on England for manufactures. There was a time when I might have been so quoted with more candor, but within the thirty years which have since elapsed, how are circumstances changed ! We were then in peace.
Page 418 - It seems to have been regarded as a sort of monster, huge and deformed; a wild beast, endowed with tremendous powers of destruction, about to be let loose among our people, if not to devour them, at least to consume their substance.
Page 12 - Unlimited greed for gain is not in the least identical with capitalism, and is still less its spirit. Capitalism may even be identical with the restraint, or at least a rational tempering, of this irrational impulse. But capitalism is identical with the pursuit of profit, and forever renewed profit, by means of continuous, rational, capitalistic enterprise.
Page 19 - In fact, the summum bonum of this ethic, the earning of more and more money, combined with the strict avoidance of all spontaneous enjoyment of life, is above all completely devoid of any eudaemonistic, not to say hedonistic, admixture. It is thought of so purely as an end in itself, that from the point of view of the happiness of, or utility to, the single individual, it appears entirely transcendental and absolutely irrational.

About the author (2009)

Liah Greenfeld is University Professor and Professor of Political Science and Sociology, Boston University.

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