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The Beginnings of Capitalism in Central Europe

Edited By Cyril Levitt

This book focuses on the beginnings of capitalism in Central Europe with emphasis on the German-speaking areas from the 14th to the 17th century. It also reviews and assesses the writings on the topic by the most important thinkers of the twentieth century. At the center of the presentation are the developments in mining, metallurgy, smelting, book publishing, clock making, ship building and advances in trade, commerce and finance. This book will be of interest to students of medieval and early modern European history, the so-called transition debate of feudalism to capitalism, social scientists and historians who are interested in the various transitions in human history, and philosophers who follow developments in the changing issues regarding freedom and bondage over the course of human development. Anthropologists who are familiar with Krader’s writings on the development of the Asiatic mode of production will be interested to see how Krader treats this transition from feudalism to capitalism by way of comparison and contrast.

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This is the third posthumously published work by Lawrence Krader. The first such volume appeared in 2003 bearing the title: Labor and Value; it was edited and introduced by me and my late friend and colleague, the economic historian, Rod Hay. It treated the forms and substance of both labour and value and their interrelations. As a focus in this work, Krader attempted to bring the development of objective value theory into line with subjective value theory.

The second such publication was Noetics: The Science of Thinking and Knowing which appeared in 2010. When I met with Krader last in August 1998, he referred to the manuscript of Noetics as his magnum opus, a work which he had been writing on and off since his days as a student at CCNY in the late 1930s. This ambitious book represented nothing less than a reconsideration of the human order within the manifold of nature. Krader had reconceptualised our understanding of nature. There is, indeed, a material order of nature, but it is not congruent with nature as a whole, for the quantum order is different from the material order existing as it does in a different configuration of space-time. The human order represents yet again a different order of nature, for only in the human order do we find the objective and subjective as opposed to the ‘thingly’ in the material universe. Pace Marx, there is teleology in nature, but only in the human order of the manifold. The link between Labor and Value and Noetics lies in the attention to the dimensions of objectivity and subjectivity in both labour and value theory.

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This current work represents another formidable contribution by Krader to the problem of periodization of human history. With the central importance Krader gives to the form and substance of the freedom of human labour in the beginnings of capitalism in Central Europe, he argues against an evolutionary understanding of this phenomenon of history and instead looks at the far more complicated development of the societies in which this mode of production prevails.

Unlike evolution in the material-biotic order of nature, human development is in part teleological, in part serendipitous, in part accidental, in part interactive with the material order and to a lesser degree with the quantum order, in part beneficial, in part malicious, etc. It is both subjective and objective, abstract and concrete, scientific and ideological. Machiavelli’s bipartite categories of fortuna and virtù are too simple. It is with this understanding of development in the human order that Krader approaches the beginnings of capitalism in Central Europe and this links the book to the two earlier publications.

I want to acknowledge the earlier work with Rod Hay, whose counsel would have been warmly welcome on this project. The late Dr. Barbara Krader (1922–2006), Lawrence’s widow, herself an internationally renowned scholar of ethnomusicology and folklore, was most supportive of my work in establishing the Lawrence Krader Research Project.

With regard to the present work I want to acknowledge the important help of Dr. Sabine Sander, adjunct assistant professor at the Krader Project, McMaster University. Elsewhere in this volume I have thanked her for her help with the translations of obscure German words and phrases. But her involvement in the project went beyond matters of translation. She read the book in German and made many valuable suggestions with regard to substantial matters beyond the technical issues of rendering a thought from one language to another. I would also like to acknowledge the contributions of Michelle Goldenberg, a research assistant at the Krader Project for the last two years and a senior doctoral candidate in the department of sociology at McMaster University. She read an earlier draft of the translation and commented on several passages which needed to be reworked in English for clarity. She also located the illustration appended to this book and prepared them and their texts for publication.

I would also like to thank my colleagues and former fellow students of Lawrence Krader, Drs. Brígida von Mentz and Rainer Winkelmann who worked with Prof. Krader on the original German text and whose advice and support with regard to this English translation has been invaluable.

I want to acknowledge as well the work of Janell Harris who served as copyeditor for (Levitt & Sander, eds. 2017) Beyond the Juxtaposition of Nature and Culture, the manuscript of our collection of papers from a conference on Krader’s work at ←xxxviii | xxxix→McMaster University and at the Workers’ Heritage Centre in Hamilton, Ontario on May 5th and 6th of 2016. She did a brilliant job. I thank her again for preparing the final manuscript of this book for submission to Peter Lang. I also want to take this opportunity to thank Meagan Simpson, editor at Peter Lang publishers, New York, for her ongoing support in helping bring Krader’s works to the interested public.

Finally, I thank my family, Corinne, our children and grandchildren, for the time the preparation of this translation took away from them.

Cyril Levitt

Toronto, Canada

March 2020

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