Some Origins of the Modern Economic World

By E. A. J. Johnson; Ernest Teilhac | Go to book overview

CHAPTER III THE EMERGENCE OF CAPITALISM

I

The institutions which directed economic life in fourteenth- century England have either disappeared or have been so materially changed that modern survivals bear little resemblance to their originals. Rural life is no longer organized on a manorial basis although only in the past generation have Russian and Hungarian manors been superseded wholly by new types of agrarian organization. The craft gild survives only in modified form, and its modern counterpart is perhaps best illustrated in the American Medical Association. The fair, in the process of history, has been largely secularized; although not wholly deprived of its importance as an agency for the purchase and sale of merchandise, it has to a large extent continued as a familiar institution by emphasizing amusement and magic, two elements of medieval origin. Weekly markets still exist in Europe and in some American cities, although the growth of retail stores has progressively diminished their importance.

Vestiges of medieval economic institutions may thus be found, but the modern way of economic life has changed so completely from that of medieval times that the surviving institutions are incongruous. Serfdom, which was the political counterpart of the manor, has slowly melted away under the warmth of political democracy; local exclusiveness, which formed the political atmosphere in which the craft gild flourished, was broken down by nationalism in the early modern period, which in turn weakened under a nineteenth-century trend toward internationalism. Apprenticeship, which played such an important part in craft-gild operation, has been swept aside as a general scheme of

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