The Cultural Wealth of Nations

By Nina Bandelj; Frederick F. Wherry | Go to book overview

1
The Political Economy
of Cultural Wealth

Miguel A. Centeno Nina Bandelj Frederick F. Wherry

Men of all the quarters of the globe, who have perished over the
Ages, you have not lived solely to manure the earth with your
ashes, so that at the end of time your posterity should be made
happy by European culture. The very thought of a superior
European culture is a blatant insult on the majesty of Nature
.

—J. G. Herder

THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN CULTURE AND THE ECONOMY—including its effects on economic development—has a long academic history and has been the subject of considerable study and debate in the past few years. We are still asking which shapes which. Is it, to use Marx’s words, “the consciousness of men [sic] that determines their being” or, on the contrary, “their social being [involved in relations of production] that determines their consciousness” (Marx [1859] 1978: 4)? Does cultural wealth make economic capital accumulation more likely, or does economic accumulation provide the means for making the wealthy appear more attractive than the working classes?

We can conventionally date the start of such discussions to Weber’s thesis in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (Weber [1905] 2002). Weber downplays the relations of production and the conflict between the propertied and the propertyless classes when he explains the rise of modern capitalism. Instead, Weber emphasizes the Calvinist ethic and worldview that led people to become dedicated to work and to engage in trade and investment. Although he is not the first to do so, Weber is credited with linking how people think about the world to how they act on its economies. Later analyses of the same ilk include the work of modernization theorists in the 1950s and 1960s (Apter 1967; Bellah 1958; Levy 1962) and arguments about how a civilization’s culture accounts, or not, for its industriousness and potentially leads to the conflicts between nations (Huntington 1996). For instance, David Landes has argued that the “rise of the West” was intimately linked to the particular cultural characteristics (attitudes toward science, thrift, and

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