The Pristine Culture of Capitalism: A Historical Essay on Old Regimes and Modern States
Capitalism was born in England, yet the dominant Western conceptions of modernity have come from elsewhere, notably from France, the historical model of “bourgeois” society. In this lively and wide-ranging book, Ellen Meiksins Wood argues that what is supposed to have epitomized bourgeois modernity, especially the emergence of a “modern” state and political culture in Continental Europe, signalled the persistence of precapitalist social property relations. Conversely, the absence of a “modern” state and political discourse in England testified to the presence of a well-developed capitalism. The fundamental flaws in the British economy are not just the symptoms of arrested development but the contradictions of the capitalist system itself. Britain today, Wood maintains, is the most thoroughly capitalist culture in Europe.
Weaving together economic and political history with the history of ideas, Wood ranges across a broad spectrum of current debates, from the “Nairn–Anderson theses” to the contribution of J.C.D. Clark and Alan Macfarlane, and over a wide variety of topics: the development of British capitalism and French absolutism; the state, the nation and their symbolic representations; revolution and tradition; the cultural patterns of English speech, urbanism, ruralism and the landscape garden; ideas of sovereignty, democracy, property and progress.
This book will be as interesting and provocative to observers of contemporary capitalism as to historians of early modern Europe or Western political thought.
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