The Promise and Peril of Credit: What a Forgotten Legend about Jews and Finance Tells Us about the Making of European Commercial Society

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Princeton University Press, 2019 - Business & Economics - 405 pages

How an antisemitic legend gave voice to widespread fears surrounding the expansion of private credit in Western capitalism

The Promise and Peril of Credit takes an incisive look at pivotal episodes in the West’s centuries-long struggle to define the place of private finance in the social and political order. It does so through the lens of a persistent legend about Jews and money that reflected the anxieties surrounding the rise of impersonal credit markets.

By the close of the Middle Ages, new and sophisticated credit instruments made it easier for European merchants to move funds across the globe. Bills of exchange were by far the most arcane of these financial innovations. Intangible and written in a cryptic language, they fueled world trade but also lured naive investors into risky businesses. Francesca Trivellato recounts how the invention of these abstruse credit contracts was falsely attributed to Jews, and how this story gave voice to deep-seated fears about the unseen perils of the new paper economy. She locates the legend’s earliest version in a seventeenth-century handbook on maritime law and traces its legacy all the way to the work of the founders of modern social theory—from Marx to Weber and Sombart.

Deftly weaving together economic, legal, social, cultural, and intellectual history, Trivellato vividly describes how Christian writers drew on the story to define and redefine what constituted the proper boundaries of credit in a modern world increasingly dominated by finance.

 

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Contents

Introduction
1
Marine Insurance and Bills of Exchange
19
The Making of a Legend
36
The Riddle of Usury
49
Bordeaux the Specter of CryptoJudaism and the Changing
66
One Family Two Bestsellers and the Legends Canonization
99
Between Usury and the Spirit of Commerce
128
Distant Echoes
162
Early Modern European Commercial Literature
227
Étienne Cleiracs Works Titles Editions and Issues
239
The Legend in the Works of Jacques Savary and His Sons
243
Printed Books in French that Mention the Legend 16471800
249
Printed Books in Languages Other than French that Mention the Legend 16761800
253
Bibliographical References in Werner Sombarts Die Juden und das Wirtschaftsleben 1911
259
Notes
295
Index
395

A Legacy that Runs Deep
197
Coda
216

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About the author (2019)

Francesca Trivellato is professor in the School of Historical Studies at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. She is the author of The Familiarity of Strangers: The Sephardic Diaspora, Livorno, and Cross-Cultural Trade in the Early Modern Period.

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