A History of the Economic Institutions of Modern Europe: An Introduction of der Moderne Kapitalismus of Werner Sombart

By Frederick L. Nussbaum | Go to book overview

CHAPTER I
THE RELEASE OF ECONOMIC ENERGY

WE now approach the period in which the capitalistic forms of economic activity attained their maturity and full development. This was, roughly speaking, the nineteenth century. Certainly we cannot with exactness use the year 1800 as a starting point nor 1900 as a terminus. Indeed, it would be misleading to emphasize any two dates as definition for our period. In different parts of the European world, the characteristic features of "high capitalism" appear at various dates from 1750 to 1850. In general, the student of historical processes will do well to make his concept of the beginning or end of a period very flexible. A garden affords a fair analogy: who can say when the growing period begins? Is it when the first shoot pushes above the ground, or when a majority of the plants have appeared, or when they have all emerged? None of these points is exactly satisfactory, and yet "growing season" is a useful concept to any one who thinks about a garden.

The terminus of this period of high capitalism is more definite, 1914. The catastrophe of war affected the economic fabric of Europe so radically that no observer of the current economic life can feel that it is not something different, a new phase as compared with prewar life. But what? It is still too early to judge the direction which the latest developments are taking. Hence this book contains no attempt to answer that question. Reference is occasionally made to matters later than 1914 to illustrate the institutions of earlier development.

What are the characteristics of fully developed capitalism? It may be useful to attempt a summary answer before the more

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