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June 16, 2008 6:35 AM   Subscribe

A close reading of the text of Volume One of Marx's Capital in 13 two-hour video lectures by David Harvey. (Two online so far) David Harvey is a Distinguished Professor of Anthropology at the City University of New York. He has been teaching Karl Marx's Capital, Volume I for nearly 40 years. Marx biographer Francis Wheen speaks on NPR as to why the book remains required reading.
posted by Abiezer (46 comments total) 54 users marked this as a favorite

 
It would be traditional to begin the course enthusiastically, then give up about half an hour in.
posted by Abiezer at 6:35 AM on June 16, 2008 [7 favorites]


No, the trick is to read the last page of each chapter, where Marx does a great summary of all the stuff he lost you with in the preceeding pages.

OK, yeah yeah, now I'm off to RTFA.
posted by pompomtom at 6:38 AM on June 16, 2008


Wow, this is great! (I guess I'm in phase one right now because I think this is very interesting but I'm still less than half an hour in.) Thanks, Abiezer!
posted by sveskemus at 6:55 AM on June 16, 2008


It would be traditional to begin the course enthusiastically, then give up about half an hour in.

Not when I was a student. In the early 80's, most people would *still* be in there at the bitter end, arguing doggedly for their particular tendency's reading of Trotsky's interpretation of the text, as opposed to an opposing tendency's reading of Trotsky's interpretation of the text.

Does anyone remember that group that thought Enver Hoxha's Albania was the only true socialist state? I'm pretty sure they were called the Revolutionary Communist Party, but then they were *all* called the Revolutionary Communist Party back in those days.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 6:55 AM on June 16, 2008


It was Yugoslavia I recall the RCP having an obsession with, Peter; certainly some seller of The Next Step bent my ear on the subject until I escaped. Their leading lights moved on to neo-liberal cheer-leading and climate change denial in various thinktanks and a bit of entryism at the BBC now, it seems. Rumour had it they also used to use the prospect of sex with a cute comrade as a lure but sadly I must have been deemed too lumpen.
posted by Abiezer at 7:08 AM on June 16, 2008


Nifty. I've gotten well over 400 pages into the beast in the past, but had such a long delay that I've pretty much determined I need to go back to the start when I next try to get through it. This promises to be of assistance. It's very important to remember that Marx was making a dialectical argument, and the premises he lays out at the start are built upon and change considerably throughout the course of the work. It's also probably important to at least read the Contribution to a Critique of Political Economy first, because the beginning of Capital more or less summarizes that work, but in a way that is not easy to penetrate for the beginner.

On the one hand, Capital was meant to be read by ordinary workers, but on the other hand you didn't have TV or the Internet at the time, and it does require a pretty significant time component to get through. Still deeply rewarding.
posted by graymouser at 7:30 AM on June 16, 2008


Awesome. David Harvey is a great mind, super excited to see this.

To add to graymouser, I would suggest "Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844" and "Wage Labour and Capital" as useful introductions to the beast.
posted by Saxon Kane at 7:33 AM on June 16, 2008


He has been teaching Karl Marx's Capital, Volume I for nearly 40 years.

He is aware that there is more than one volume... isn't he?
posted by three blind mice at 7:49 AM on June 16, 2008


He is aware that there is more than one volume... isn't he?

This is discussed 36 minutes into the first video.
posted by anomie at 8:08 AM on June 16, 2008


Its become all the rage now over at FreeRepublic and several other righty blogs to go on saying that Hillary and Obama are "Marxists".

I think its funny how, in modern America, a "Marxist" is someone who may or may not hold some vaguely left-of-center views, and has nothing at all to do with the actual teachings of Marx.
posted by Avenger at 8:15 AM on June 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


I think its funny how, in modern America, a "Marxist" is someone who may or may not hold some vaguely left-of-center views, and has nothing at all to do with the actual teachings of Marx.

That's pretty much SOP for America in all such things. And anyone arguing from an actual educated point-of-view is quickly dismissed as an elitist trying to tell "regular folks" how to think. The anti-education mindset in the US today is simply stupefying.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:40 AM on June 16, 2008 [5 favorites]


I learned about Marxism from Kiki and Bubu.
posted by homunculus at 9:25 AM on June 16, 2008 [5 favorites]


The anti-education mindset in the US today is simply stupefying.

I see what you did there.
posted by mhoye at 10:20 AM on June 16, 2008 [2 favorites]


I think its funny how, in modern America, a "Marxist" is someone who may or may not hold some vaguely left-of-center views, and has nothing at all to do with the actual teachings of Marx.

Marx was so left of center he might reasonably be confused with a Freeper. At the extremes, left and right join in a nice tight, choking, little circle of totalitarianism. When to comes to consolidating all power under one man, Bush is more of a Marxist than Marx ever was.
posted by three blind mice at 10:47 AM on June 16, 2008


Marx was so left of center he might reasonably be confused with a Freeper. At the extremes, left and right join in a nice tight, choking, little circle of totalitarianism. When to comes to consolidating all power under one man, Bush is more of a Marxist than Marx ever was.

???

Lenin, maybe--but Marx? Find me a passage in Marx that even hints at totalitarianism--and no, "the dictatorship of the proletariat" doesn't count. Engels, at least, said that the (militantly anarchist) Paris Commune was what Communism would look like.
posted by nasreddin at 11:02 AM on June 16, 2008


At the extremes, left and right join in a nice tight, choking, little circle of totalitarianism.
What a trite canard. if you know nothing about Marx but are vaguely uncomfortable about a post about his work, why not just say so? Better still, watch the lectures and learn something for a change.
posted by Abiezer at 11:04 AM on June 16, 2008 [5 favorites]


Also not yet RTFA (or WTFV as it may be), but I'm still going to recommend Harvey's Condition of Postmodernity. I enjoyed it so much at university that I bought it again recently. And will read it again for pleasure.

[but am not Marx-ist]
posted by imperium at 11:13 AM on June 16, 2008


Would you suggest we read the relevant chapters before viewing the lectures, or after?
posted by jb at 11:30 AM on June 16, 2008


Marx was so left of center he might reasonably be confused with a Freeper. At the extremes, left and right join in a nice tight, choking, little circle of totalitarianism. When to comes to consolidating all power under one man, Bush is more of a Marxist than Marx ever was.

Raw, unmitigated bullshit. "Freepers" are the cheerleaders of imperialism. Marx was a passionate and tireless advocate of people fighting for democracy and freedom — and, when the fight finally moved in that direction, socialism. (He did write a lot besides Capital, y'know.) And if the Russian Revolution produced Stalin — well, that happens when a revolution is strangled in its crib. The French Revolution also produced its Napoleon, yet no one repudiates democracy on that basis.
posted by graymouser at 11:32 AM on June 16, 2008 [7 favorites]


The French Revolution also produced its Napoleon, yet no one repudiates democracy on that basis.

Actually some people do repudiate the French Revolution for that reason (which conveniently leaves the USA and American Revolution as the model of success and home of Democracy). Scholars have "revised" French Revolution history so often it's hard to know what the accepted view is (not that there ever has been one). Lately the Terror has been the main point of contention.
posted by stbalbach at 11:56 AM on June 16, 2008


Marx was so left of center he might reasonably be confused with a Freeper. At the extremes, left and right join in a nice tight, choking, little circle of totalitarianism. When to comes to consolidating all power under one man, Bush is more of a Marxist than Marx ever was.

You have in two sentences posted the most concise summary of South Parkian "the truth is in the middle" bullshittery that I have seen in my life. Bravo, sir.
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:03 PM on June 16, 2008 [4 favorites]


Would you suggest we read the relevant chapters before viewing the lectures, or after?
The idea is you read the chapters first, jb; I think it's going to be two per lecture.
posted by Abiezer at 12:14 PM on June 16, 2008


It was Yugoslavia I recall the RCP having an obsession with, Peter

OK, apparently they were called The Communist Party of Britain - Marxist/Leninist, but they were actually a Trotskyite/Maoist groupuscule. I believe Alexei Sayle was an ex-member, hence his continual references to Albania in his material. Their other ideal workers state was North Korea.

Apparently, they still exist, and even have a website but I suspect that their webmaster must live in constant fear of the possibility that one day, they're going to stamp on his glasses, march him out to the muddy cabbage fields of Ormskirk, and after a period of rigorous self-criticism, set him to work planting beetroot and harvesting turnips.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 1:11 PM on June 16, 2008


Marx was a passionate and tireless advocate of people fighting for democracy and freedom

As if they were one and the same...
posted by Kwantsar at 1:22 PM on June 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


Thanks for this. Harvey's The Condition of Postmodernity is unbelievably excellent, and before this I didn't know of his other work. Exciting stuff.
posted by farishta at 1:23 PM on June 16, 2008


David Harvey is brilliant and also a very entertaining lecturer. This is a treat!
posted by Shakeer at 1:45 PM on June 16, 2008


I highly recommend Marx's Das Kapital: A Biography.
posted by acro at 1:49 PM on June 16, 2008


BTW, while looking up the details on the Communist Party of Great Britain, I came across this comment elsewhere:

The Communist Party of Britain is the people who produce the Morning Star newspaper. They are 'orthodox' communists associated with the 1951 Manifesto "British Road to Socialism".

The Communist Party of Great Britain (newspaper: Weekly Worker) is the former Leninist wing of the old CPGB.

The Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist) - i.e. the people behind the article debated here - produce a monthly magazine called Workers and developed a type of Maoism based on Enver Hoxha's regime in Albania.

The Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist-Leninist) (newspaper: Proletarian) is a purist Stalinist outfit formed by Harpal Brar and others expelled from Arthur Scargill's SLP in 2003. It is known for its uncritical support of 'socialist' Zimbabwe.

The Revolutionary Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist) is different from the old RCP - I'm not sure what the heck their ideology is.

The New Communist Party (newspaper: The New Worker) split from the old CPGB in 1977 over 'revisionism'. Editorially, it supports North Korea.

And, just to confuse matters, the Revolutionary Communist Group (newspaper: Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism!) are pro-Cuba but not linked with the 'official' communist party.

Unfortunately, I've now lost the link. Apologies to the original author.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 3:57 PM on June 16, 2008 [2 favorites]


The French Revolution also produced its Napoleon, yet no one repudiates democracy on that basis

If you really want to point fingers, blame the Enlightenment. But hey, at least we got a Reformation out of it. Islam never had a Reformation, that's why Islam never had an Industrial Revolution. Of course, that all depends on your opinion of the Industrial Revolution.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:06 PM on June 16, 2008


BTW, while looking up the details on the Communist Party of Great Britain, I came across this comment elsewhere:

Wow, turns out Judea's got nothing on Britain.

If you really want to point fingers, blame the Enlightenment. But hey, at least we got a Reformation out of it.

I think your chronology is a little messed up...
posted by nasreddin at 4:09 PM on June 16, 2008 [2 favorites]


My college Marxism professor used to cancel class nearly every Friday.

When somebody complained he told us (calling us "whiny little bourgeois weasels") he would hold class on Fridays. But ONLY as a lab. Not in the lecture hall.

So we met. At the "lab." The lab being either the horse track or a bar downtown.

He would often use his gambling addiction and alcoholism to illustrate points about capitalism.

So. Yeah. I never finished Das Capital, either.
posted by tkchrist at 4:20 PM on June 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


Wow, turns out Judea's got nothing on Britain.

And that's not all of the British Marxist Groups by any stretch of the imagination. That's just the groups who have some combination of Communist Party of Britain in their title.

A more extensive list of groups currently with a membership as of 2005 can be found here.

The really weird thing is that I've never met a member of any of these groups who wasn't thoroughly familiar with Lenin's article, 'Left-Wing Communism: An Infantile Disorder'.

The problem is that every single one of them believes that the ideas expressed within apply to the members of all of the other groups, but doesn't describe their particular group or its members in any way, shape or form.

Also: count yourself lucky, tkchrist. Every single one of my professors believed that The History Man was a biographical portrait of them. What's worse is that every single one of them could have been absolutely correct.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 4:55 PM on June 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


thank you for this post. I'm sitting here with my first volume and the determination to actually finish it (this would be my 4th try).

Last time I read it in a seminar where Michael Heinrich, a marxist scholar much like Harvey, summarized the first volume. He congratulated us with the encuraging words that reading the first part really means nothing, we have to read all three, and when we're finished with them read them all again at least once.
And even then you probably can't grasp the whole dialectical thought when you're not familiar with The German Ideology and so on...

I really crave a low-threshold kind of approach to marxist theory.
posted by kolophon at 5:39 PM on June 16, 2008


and you can find the lectures 1-6 already online on google video (by clicking on "more from this user").
posted by kolophon at 5:59 PM on June 16, 2008


Oh dear lord. I was sitting in on the first half of these classes before my schedule changed. They are ungodly excellent, and I cannot recommend them highly enough. Hopefully they edited out my occasional bursts of annoying laughter. Harvey can be quite amusing when he wants to be.
posted by Football Bat at 9:56 PM on June 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


Some people, answering the sophomore bullsession question about what they'd do with a time machine, answer that they'd go back and kill Hitler.

Me, I'd go back and beat the living shit out of Karl Marx using the infant Sigmund Freud as a bludgeon. The whole of human civilization has been spiraling into the toilet for more than a century in no small part thanks to the brain viruses those fuckers unleashed.

Still, this post is timely for me in the course of my continued berserk autodidactic peregrinations, so thanks!
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 12:59 AM on June 17, 2008


Harvey is a genius, and his "The Condition of Postmodernity* is among the most influential works of social theory on globalization of the last twenty years.

Thanks much for this link -- I have 26 hours of listening to do.
posted by fourcheesemac at 5:06 AM on June 17, 2008


[what the hell was that? pls take fighty talk to memail or meta and leave the thread for people who want to talk about stuff. thanks.]
posted by jessamyn at 10:38 AM on June 17, 2008


which conveniently leaves the USA and American Revolution as the model of success and home of Democracy

Yeah, except for Iceland (world's oldest democracy) and Britain (which had representational government which it exported to the 13 colonies).

Islam never had a Reformation, that's why Islam never had an Industrial Revolution.

This is where I call historian's perogative and say, hands down, the Reformation had nothing to do with the Industrial Revolution. That was all about coal. And proto-industrialisation and the development of an advanced organic economy, of course, but that happened in China, Italy and the Netherlands (among other places), without them ever going onto a full fledged Industrial Revolution because they lacked a cheap and easily accessible energy source to replace organic energy.

It's all about Northumberland and Durham in the end. Steam pumps were invented to pump the coal mines and used there for over 100 years before being used anywhere else; carts on rails was developed there, to send coal down to the river.
posted by jb at 1:49 PM on June 17, 2008


(I'm sure carts on rails were used elsewhere too -- my point was just that trains were based directly on those coal carts)
posted by jb at 2:45 PM on June 17, 2008


It's all about Northumberland and Durham in the end.
Hadaway and shite! :D
Intrigued as to what the deleted comment was too
Apparently autonomist Harry Cleaver's Reading Capital Politically is also worth a look, and is free at the link.
posted by Abiezer at 11:10 PM on June 17, 2008


I think your chronology is a little messed up...

Aw, man... I totally meant to say the Renaissance. Renaissance -> Protestant Reformation -> Enlightenment -> Industrial Revolution.

the Reformation had nothing to do with the Industrial Revolution. That was all about coal.

Saying the Industrial Revolution was about coal is like saying the Kentucky Derby is about hay. The core principals (mass production, division of labor into smaller, less-skilled sections, building better machines and using them in smarter ways, etc.) had been in effect since the start of the 1800s in textile factories decades before the railroads came to town.

And the Protestant Reformation had everything to do with the Industrial Revolution. The Reformation caused a huge cultural schism in Europe. Combined with the strengthened position of the poor (soon-to-be Merchant class) following the Black Death (lower population count = greater demand for workers = greater bargaining position for the previously unemployed), add a dash of secular Humanism and all of a sudden people aren't spending their whole lives toiling quietly--no, they're concerned with the here and now. Art flourishes, fortunes grow; politically the Church starts to feel pressure from the solidifying states of Europe... it's a powder keg. Islam never had that powder keg. So, no Enlightenment for Islam = no Industrial Revolution for Islam = no Modernity for Islam.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:17 PM on June 20, 2008


Civil -

I don't know about art, but I do know about the development of manufactures and economic history in Europe between the Protestant Reformation and the Industrial Revolution. Most of what you are saying doesn't actually make any sense with the actual history.

the Black Death did lead to the demise of serfdom because of the greater demand for labour and thus the greater bargaining position of serfs. But that's 400 years before the 19th century, and a hell of a lot of stuff happens inbetween, including rapid population growth in the 16th century (after the Reformation, but disconnected from the Reformation - it happened in Catholic and Protestant Europe). That rapid population growth led to wide-scale unemployment and crises in the late 16th century, as the population regained 12th century levels.

There were some significant changes: serf labour had been important to landlords, so they had an incentive to keep many small tenants on their land rather than a few big ones, but after the end of serf labour obligations there is no incentive not to rent your land to just one big farmer. Some have suggested this is a reason that you see a growing landlessness among the poor of England, and thus you have a mobile wage labour force. I have read that cheap labour was probably part of the reason the Netherlands got a big push in its manufactures development. In other words, the worse the bargaining position for workers, the more likely there is to be manufactures development - because if they had better options, like access to their own land (which might not pay better, but gives more autonomy and higher status), they would take them.

(This was an issue in colonial Africa - many employers complained that they couldn't get enough labour because the availability of a "peasant option" meant that people would prefer to farm for themselves than to labour for wages. Taxes or forced labour was used by colonial governments to force people to labour.)

Land engrossment (the accumulation of land) likely also led to capital engrossment, which meant more money to invest in new techniques to improve profits. Also capitalist farmers have very different ways of relating to production than subsistence farmers - subsistence farmers, for example, will do things to try to keep stable production, rather than committ themselves to risky but high return techniques.

The core principals (mass production, division of labor into smaller, less-skilled sections, building better machines and using them in smarter ways, etc.) had been in effect since the start of the 1800s in textile factories decades before the railroads came to town.

First -
specialization and the division of labour - which was nowhere near as divided as assembly lines would make it until the end of the 19th century - has happened in many places throughout premodern history. It happened anywhere that manufactures got important, because it is more efficient to have a potter throwing pots while lesser paid workers (like women and children) fetch clay, water, take away finished pots, etc.

Many places had developed along basically the same lines as Britain to about 1800, with high levels of manufactures, and specialization in both manufacturing and agriculture. This is what has been called an "advanced organic economy". Ancient Rome, later China, the Netherlands, northern Italy, Northern France, many places in the Middle East - they also developed better techniques, better machines and became as productive in their manufactures and agriculture (or very highly specialised in manufactures, and importing food). Many new techniques passed around Eurasia - British farmers, for example, were usually copying Dutch or French farmers in the 1600s, 1700s. New industries - such as silk production - were imported from China and the Middle East.

Now, one could say that the Reformation affected this as many of the immigrants who brought new techniques to Britain were Protestants fleeing persecution. But since Protestant countries were often equally bigotted, many immigrants went the other way as well - it had nothing to do with the inherant nature of the church. Some have also argued that science could more easily develop in Protestant Europe, away from the Catholic Church - but that ignores the very important place of Catholic scholars, such as from France, in the Enlightment and in the world of natural philosophy. (France was less under the authority of the Pope than Italy, but that was a situation dating back to the power of the medieval French Kings, not a result of the Reformation. The French embraced the counter-Reformation, of course, and the Church in France was very powerful, albeit more subject to the Crown than the Pope.)

I have heard arguments that one of the reasons for the lack of development in Chinese weaponry in the 18th century was that the Qing were just too good at keeping peace; European military technology was constantly developing because of the constant war. I could see a good argument that since the Prot Ref led to lots of division and wars in Europe, including the Thirty Years War, this contributed to technological development.

-----------------

England in 1800 was basically in the same place economically and technically as the Netherlands in 1700, parts of Italy in 1600 or China in 1800. (See Pomeranz. The Great Divergence.) But what made the difference, what allowed the continued increases in production over the 19th cent which made the earlier increases look insignificant?

China and the Netherlands both went through fuel crises, both to heat homes and cook as well to run industries - which took a lot of fuel even before mechanical energy - they needed heat for brewing, tanning, dyeing, etc. In China, this led to problems with deforestation, burning of crop stubble for fuel (instead of using as fertilizer).

In England, there wasn't a fuel crisis. Coal was being used to heat homes and fufil fuel needs all over the country from at least the 1600s on. Long before it was turned to mechanical power, it was used to free land from the production of fuel, and lowered the costs of fuel for all forms of production - domestic and industrial. And eventually, after 1800, it would greatly increase the efficiency of labour in production, through mechanical energy.

(I did not know this, but the steam pump apparently has a much longer history than I ever imagined, including a designs by Taqi al-Din in 1551 in the Muslim Ottoman Empire.)

It may sound like a tautology, but it is this switch from organic to mineral energy which really makes the difference between the pre-modern and modern industrial society. Other places (including Catholic and non-Christian countries) had come to the same level of economic development as Britain, but then beginning in Britain (and very quickly spreading elsewhere) there was a far more essential change to the nature of production. For the first time in history, energy was not limited to the organic energy of humans, animals and plants. And even when they were using organic energy, they began importing it - such as bringing in guano from overseas as fertilizer.

Now, I'm not saying it's all about coal, but that is the key factor (along with other forms of imported energy) on what sets a truly industrial society apart from a premodern advanced organic economy. There is much to be said about the huge influx of capital from the colonial project. The government didn't make any money, but individuals made fortunes off of both trade and slave labour, and a lot of these fortunes were reinvested in Britain. New crops from the New World made a great difference in production - as they did in many parts of Asia as well. The taxation system in Britain also favoured manufactures, because the main taxes were on land. The markets in Britain were very integrated, as it was small and (after 1707) politically unified, and the government both centralised and pro-development. But this has been true of other places at other times, and those places have developed to a very high level, but always seemed to hit a limit. And Britain would have hit that limit as well, if it had not had an easily accessible form of additional energy, in the form of coal.

Okay, I realise this all sounds very confused, because I'm trying to sum up some very complex interactions.

But the basic problems with your thesis (as summed up in your last paragraph) is that
- the Rennaisance started in Italy before the Reformation
- the Enlightenment was as significant in counter-Reformation France as it was in Protestant England
- manufactures development was as advanced in non-Christian China, undemocratic as they were in c1800s England, and agriculture was more productive

I'm no expert on economic development in the Middle East, though I would like to learn more about it. But I am an expert (or learning to be) on economic development in Europe, specifically England. Economic change in Britain was driven by a variety of factors, of which culture and religion may be one, but not the most significant by a long way (or else why was there no industrial revolution in Sweden?). Improvement in industrial organisation was significant - but no amount of improvement in organisation could have allowed Britain to make the increases in production that they did in the 19th century without the massive influx of energy as represented primarily by coal.

As for Middle Eastern development, like I said, I'm just a lay person. But I was talking to someone who is an expert in Iranian economic history, and he was telling me that they had a healthy manufactures sector which helped Iran keep a good trade balance until it was undercut in the mid/late nineteenth century by British imports. It was at this time that the Iranian merchant classes moved towards more primary resource based production - especially cash crops produced by sharecroppers - to make money again.

Basically, Asia, including the Islamic world, had a very similar economic and technological development to Europe in the premodern period, and was often considered much more advanced than Europe before 1800 (300 years after the Prot Ref). In fact, because Asian agriculture and climate were better, there was actually much more wealth in Asia (esp India and China) because they had much denser populations, but the wealth per person wasn't that different. Nor was it in the Middle East.

The divergence between the Middle East and Europe (as between China and Europe) came in the post 1800 period - and had a lot to do with European production in the new age of mechanical energy, and in some places with colonial policy.

The Prot Ref was significant - I would never argue otherwise. But all of the arguments I have heard to connect it to economic development in Europe fall apart on the connections. Other than some unconvincing handwavyness about "culture", I have never heard a convincing argument to directly connect the essentials of the Reformation - the ending of the united Church in Europe or the doctrines of the Protestant Churches (many of which were very anti-intellectual) - to economic changes, and any influence the Reformation did have is far, far outweighed by the demographic, economic and environmental factors which do have clearly drawn connections to the changes of the Industrial Revolution.



As for "modernity" -- I think this is so confused a concept as to be useless. People talk about "modernity" but no one can define it.


democracy? Iceland is the worlds oldest democracy, from the middle ages, though early modern Britain had a strong representational government for the interests of elites

bureaucracy? The Chinese had one of the world's most impressive systems under the Qing, including a meritocratic selection system and attempts to reduce corruption, at a time when Britain's bureaucracy was constructed almost entirely of cronyism and corruption.

religious toleration? Locke argued well for toleration, but few people listened to him; they were still rioting against Catholics in England in the 1780s, and non-Protestants faced legal discrimination into the 19th century (and social discrimination to today)

basic liberalism and free speech and free trade? who is to say that totalitarianism is not as modern as liberal democracies? It is a creation of the modern world - premodern societies were undemocractic, but it takes modern technology and very modern ways of organising our societies to implement totalitarianism. Liberal democracies are kind of old fashioned places compared to the strong states which have existed.


I do use "modern" to describe an industrialised society based on specialised and extremely efficient production dependant on mineral energy and freeing a very large proportion of our labour force from not only agriculture (which is what the agricultural revolution did) but also secondary (manufactures) and the other primary sectors - the growth of the tertiary sectors is the story of the Industrial revolution. Probably, I should "industrial" and "pre-industrial" or "developing [to industrial]".

But as for the development of that industrial society in the Middle East - well, in Iran, it was competition from the increasingly efficient and cheap mineral energy dependent British industries that hurt their own manufactures, and their economy went to producing more primary resources. Who knows what would have happened in Iran without competition from Britain? Already they had a lot of manufactures. Maybe that switch from the manufacturing society to industrial may not have happened -- but it was certainly not because they didn't have an Islamic Reformation.
posted by jb at 1:45 PM on June 21, 2008 [2 favorites]


Okay, since that is a ridiculously long comment - I will just put forth my short thesis:

I believe that the Industrial reformation would have happened in any other place, regardless of religious organisation or experience of the Prot Ref, if they had the same (or similar) other demographic, economic and environmental factors as Britain did.

and I don't believe the Industrial Revolution would have happened in Britain without a cheap and easily accessible source of mineral energy.

So I supose I do think that while it is not solely about coal, it's a hell of a lot about coal, along with some other significant demographic and economic factors (large landless labour force due to improvements in agriculture, capital to invest, integrated market to produce for) - but again, those factors have been present at other places and at other times, including in Protestant countries like the Netherlands, but didn't lead to an Industrial Rev because no coal.
posted by jb at 1:55 PM on June 21, 2008


My college Marxism professor used to cancel class nearly every Friday

Mine came in once and delivered an entire lecture on Clark Gable. Not even Clark Gable from a marxist perspective, just Clark Gable. It was a solid lecture - if he was improvising, he knew a hell of a lot about films - but I've blamed him ever since for my defective understanding of the dialectical process.

Maybe this is my chance to catch up.
posted by Phanx at 6:42 AM on June 25, 2008


Kiki and Bubu are back!
posted by homunculus at 9:38 AM on July 10, 2008


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