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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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From the Social Contract to the Concept of Society

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From the Social Contract to the Concept of Society in the Capitalist Period

Society—Latin societas—can also be considered as a cooperative [Genossenschaft]. Among other things, society had functioned as an association of merchants. These men of commerce were in part travelling comrades on commercial journeys, yet their undertakings were in no way in common: the number of enterprises corresponded to the number of merchants—from Roman times to the beginnings of the capitalist period. The associated persons thus formed a corporation neither in the classical nor in the modern sense of the word; they had no common liability, and after the commercial journey, the company was normally dissolved without remainder. Profit and loss were to the account of the individual merchant, for the group had no common capital. Property was present; however, it was only maintained and imputed to the singular individual. The travelling companions shared danger and bread hence they were cum pane—compagnons, company, compañeros, Kumpel; they reciprocally protected one another on the journey, and they established rules against internal and external thievery. The society of the Social Contract (in the 17th and 18th century till Rousseau and Kant) had little in common with the society or company as a commercial enterprise or commercial company. Yet, the society or company was conceived of in the sense of an association for the distribution of bread and for the sociality of the fellow travellers, for the defense of the group as well as for the maintenance of internal peace; they offered themselves as a model of social life in the capitalist period. This society was conceived ←277 | 278→of as an association of individualities, hence as a minimum of social life. Society in this historical process manifests two developmental lines: the one, which leads to the company with limited liability (GmbH, Ltd.), the other, as the by-product of societas in the sense of a commercial or trading company, to the general concept of society. The social contract has fallen away.