Civilizations and capitalisms



The political and ideological assumptions of twentieth-century historiography

The “historiographical revolution” of the XNUMXth century came from other fields of knowledge, mainly within the human sciences, but not only them: climatology and biology, for example, also had a strong influence. The previous century, which received the nickname of “Century of History”, had prepared, even in a negative way, its premises.

The decisive aspect was that, in the second half of the XNUMXth century, French sociology, German historicism, the English utilitarianism of Jeremy Bentham and the logical empiricism of John Stuart Mill in England, ended up in the foundation of the “social” or “human” sciences. , absorbing in them economics, philosophy, history and even geography: “At the turn of the XNUMXth century to the XNUMXth century, the order of thought, knowledge and representations was shaken by nascent sociology. The image of 'man', of human existence, was profoundly transformed. This revolution without dead or barricades nevertheless claimed many victims, starting with philosophy. Faced with the idea of ​​autonomy and the irreducible uniqueness of social facts, concluding the development of objectivist approaches to the human spirit, philosophy was cornered and forced to redefine itself, abandoning to sociology, at least temporarily, the terrain of morality and that of conditions and knowledge possibilities.[I]

Max Weber, Georg Simmel, Ferdinand Tönnies in Germany, Émile Durkheim and Gabriel Tarde in France were the best known exponents of this “sociological revolution”. Auguste Comte's positivism, the theory and movement that coined the term “sociology”, was, however, its initial formulation. The general method proposed by Comte consisted of observing phenomena, equally opposing hegemonic rationalism and idealism – through the promotion of the primacy of sensitive experience –, the only one capable of producing from concrete data (positives) true science, without any theological or metaphysical attribute, subordinating imagination to observation, and based only on the physical or material world. Before and during this “revolution”, and outside the institutional space in which it took place, Karl Marx (who showed, only in the past, a careless contempt for Comtian sociology) adopted a different and original angle.

The age of capital, for him, provided the key to a complete reformulation of known history: “Bourgeois society is the most developed, most differentiated historical organization of production. The categories that express their relationships, the understanding of their own articulation, make it possible to penetrate into the articulation and production relations of all the disappeared forms of society, on whose ruins and elements they are built, and whose traces that are not surpassed carry away, developing everything which was previously only sketched, which thus takes on all its significance. The anatomy of man is the key to the anatomy of the ape.” Contemporaneity, the “new”, held, for Marx, the key to clarifying the “old”, of past history, which made it natural to consider that “history marches backwards, but man – whether he likes it or not – interprets it in reverse, the present towards the past, by virtue of its concrete historical situation”.[ii]

This meant projecting onto the past criteria of interpretation that this same past needed to interpret itself, although the idea of ​​a “correspondence” (objective articulation) between economic, social, political and cultural developments was quite old: “The law of correspondence was discovered in antiquity, in a partial way, and is found in many of the most important works of the social sciences produced afterwards. In general terms, it postulates that the various levels of human social activity form a totality, in which the transformations operated at one level, economic, political, ideological, have repercussions on other levels, generating corresponding changes, which tend to maintain the coherence of the whole .

Thucydides explained, in a manner analogous to that of many authors of our day, historical processes as a function of economic forces, and stated that the rise of political caudillos called tyrants, who replaced hereditary monarchs in the mature stage of the Greek polis, was the result of economic development . Greek historiography of the XNUMXth century BC. C. already showed awareness of the relationship between economic and political processes”.[iii] Bourgeois society replaced, in new terms, the correlation between economy, society, civilization and culture. The resolutions of this equation were varied and changed over time.

The first “social scientists” of the modern era realized that social life constituted the possible resolution of the ethos Greek or Montesquieu's "spirit of laws" ("Various things govern men; the climate, religion, laws, maxims of government, past examples, customs, manners; and thus a spirit is formed general, as a result of all this"),[iv] as did William Robertson,[v] contemporary and countryman of Adam Smith, in 1790: “In all inquiry into the action of men while together in society, the first object of attention must be their mode of subsistence. According to the variations of this, its laws and policies will be different”. The passage from the notion of “method of subsistence” to that of mode of production was marked by the exposition carried out by Antoine Barnave based on the analysis of the conflict between agriculture and commerce in modern times,[vi] paving the way for a new intelligibility of history, a rupture with previous visions and, also, the expression of a crisis of historical knowledge.

Karl Marx's work was not, therefore, a bolt from the blue, but the executor of the critical conclusion of a vast previous development. Synthesizing the Marxian conception, Emmanuel Terray defined: (1) The mode of production, as the combination of an economic base and the corresponding political and ideological superstructures; (2) The economic basis of the mode of production as a determined relationship between the different factors of the work process: labor power, object of work, means of work – a relationship that should be considered under a double relationship: that of the transformation of nature by man – and from this point of view it appears as a system of productive forces – and the control of the factors of production – and from this angle, it appears as a set of relations of production; (3) The legal-political superstructure as the set of political and ideological conditions for the reproduction of this relationship.[vii]

For Pierre Vilar, “a mode of production is a structure that expresses a type of total social reality, which encompasses elements, in quantitative and qualitative relationships, which are governed by a continuous interaction: (1) The rules that govern the attainment by man of of products of nature, and the social distribution of these products; (2) The rules that govern the relationships between men, through spontaneous or institutionalized groupings; (3) The intellectual or mythical justifications that [men] give these relationships, with varying degrees of awareness and systematization, the groups that organize them and take advantage of them, and that they impose on subordinate groups”.[viii]

These ideas constituted a break with the prevailing conception of the period in which they were formulated. The hegemonic historiographical method of the XNUMXth century, influenced both by the old historiographical tradition and by positivism, focused on seeking a history “true to the facts”. Marx, criticizing him, proposed that the way in which man produced his material life conditioned all dimensions of his life, without, however, proposing a valid reductionist scheme for all human societies, “adorned with this or that specific trait. Marx renounced defining a model of this type; instead of approaching society as a given object and in the form in which it presents itself, he analyzed the processes of production and reproduction of social life, thus creating the necessary ground to scientifically approach 'the special logic of the special object', the concrete logic contradictions and the development of a given social formation”.[ix]

In contrast, in the XNUMXth century, historiography remained a discipline whose object was an undifferentiated past, based more on erudition than theory. In university textbooks,[X] in the synoptic table that covered the set of historical studies, the following were listed as “auxiliary sciences of history”: geography, chronology, archeology, epigraphy, numismatics, diplomacy, paleography, genealogy, heraldry. Not a word about economics or sociology.

The missiles fired against “factual” or positivist history came from other areas of knowledge. At the end of the XNUMXth century, the English philosopher Herbert Spencer sought to generalize the Darwinian laws of evolution to all aspects of human activity, which earned him the nickname "father of social Darwinism" (although he never postulated anything like the elimination of the "most weak”), being, certainly, a liberal until the last consequences.[xi] He was the first philosopher to sell over a million copies of his works during his lifetime, which gives an idea of ​​his vast influence.

The individualization of society was the basis of liberal thought. Political liberalism, which emerged in the previous century, was based on the need to balance human feelings guided by irrationality: overcoming feudalism and jusnaturalism helped the first declarations of individual rights; the “liberal passion” focused on the formulation of the fundamental rights of the individual. The emergence of a capitalist bourgeoisie, and the claim of its political rights against the Old Regime, accompanied the genesis of individual rights, formulating a philosophical and political credo in which distrust of power stemmed from the realization that its exercise was necessarily corrupting. and abuser.

The reaction against liberal individualism, from the last quarter of the XNUMXth century, took the form of the defense of the “national community” as the supposed bearer of interests superior to those of the individual (“citizen”) considered in isolation, and was openly manifested in France , in the clash between liberal republicans versus nationalists (monarchists or republicans) during the “Dreyfus Case”, in the last decade of that century. Based on this idea, the main ideologues of Gallic nationalism – Maurice Barrès, Charles Maurras – defended the culpability of the Jewish-French officer, even if he was innocent, in defense of the French army as a guarantor of unity and national defense, of the Fatherland understood as O loci nature of man, of “social preservation” and “national security” (sic: the concept would have a long history), concepts superior to the rejected liberal rationalist abstractions of “truth” and “justice”: ideas, while they are reasoning; they need to be multiplied by their sentimental strength. At the root of everything there is a state of sensitivity”; this is how Barrès, a writer recognized as a talented writer, was “philosophically based” even by his political enemies, the nationalist-communitarian opposition (secular or religious) to republican liberalism. Seeking to provide communitarian nationalism with a popular political base, in 1898 Barrès declared himself a “national socialist”, a combination of terms that would make history and tragedy, in the following decades, in other European latitudes, not sparing France.

Confronting Max Weber in advance and unconsciously, Charles Maurras even wrote: “Impregnated with Judaism, the true Protestant is born an enemy of the State and a supporter of individual revolt”. Maurras' Catholicism was false: personally, he was agnostic and philosophically formed in the positivist school of Comte (he was even condemned by the Pope). Vulgar anti-Semitism was far from the exclusive prerogative of nationalists or anti-liberal Catholics. The English liberal economist John A. Hobson, a critic of imperialism in his own country, and not at all Catholic, stated, at the same time, in the progressive newspaper Manchester guardian, that the concentration camps set up by England in South Africa, in the Anglo-Boer War, which he repudiated, were the product of “Jewish capitalism”. Anatole France (called by Charles Maurras, revenge of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, by “Anatole Prussia”), at the same time, wrote in the Figaro: “Anti-Semitism is a barbaric prejudice. I do not believe it will last in France, in a tolerant and civilized society, governed by Reason. This angry passion, this barbaric mania, has already agitated spirits too much.”[xii]

Against the justification of conscious and deliberate lying, injustice and racial prejudice, in the name of the “defense of the Nation”, the father of French sociology, Émile Durkheim, “in his own way, also an anti-individualist, concerned with the processes of integration into society (whose concepts) reveal holistic or organicist inclinations, from which many nationalists, such as Barrès, will take advantage... [Durkheim] warns that there is another individualism, that of Rousseau, that of Kant, which seeks to translate the Declaration of Human Rights: 'There is no State reason that can justify an attack against the person, since the rights of the person are above those of the State'. To renounce this intangible principle is to question 'our whole moral organization'”.[xiii]

If, in Durkheim, a man of the XNUMXth century, individualism and “communitarianism” (in the form of “social integration”) could still coexist, both poles would become incompatible in the following decades and century, in which “national communitarianism” ( and, finally, racial) would be completely superimposed on individual rights and, in the light of the Soviet revolution, on the idea of ​​social classes, class struggle and internationalism (proletarian or Jewish, or a combination of both). The impact of these clashes on the theory of history and historiography was decisive.

It was within this framework that, taking “organicism” to its extremes, the German Oswald Spengler, under the effect of the catastrophe provoked by the first world war outbreak, which seemed to him to announce the imminent civilizational decay of the “West”, considered the history of civilizations through a parallel with natural history, considering them as living beings that are born, flourish and die. According to Spengler, a civilization developed when its constituent elements evolved at the same pace and increasingly agreed; it reached its peak when it presented a concerted unity of its elements, declining and dying when they became disordered, some of them taking too much importance to the detriment of others (religion became oppressive, or thirst or material ambition prevailed over other concerns). In these schemes there was not exactly history, but the reproduction of civilizational cycles based on the basic schemes of natural cycles.[xiv] Political/social pessimism was transformed into “philosophy of history”.

In the post-war period, the English scholar Arnold Toynbee (who even showed sympathy for Adolf Hitler and Nazism in the 1930s) subjected universal history to an analysis that was not only comprehensive, but totalizing, based on a similar approach, although considerably enlarged. In an investigation of the birth, development, and fall of historical civilizations, Toynbee proposed a common pattern applicable to all of them. According to Toynbee, cultural groups or “civilizations” (in his comprehensive analysis, he listed a total of 26) overlapped with nationalities or other contemporary divisions, with the most successful civilizations being able to respond more efficiently to challenges of various natures. (“challenge and response” scheme).

Regarding the decline and end of certain civilizations, he stated that their primary causes were always intrinsic, even if their immediate cause was external, such as a foreign invasion or a natural disaster (“civilizations die from suicide, not murder” – the author called this process of “palingenesia”, Greek term meaning return to life, living again or reincarnation, an idea with which Stoicism adapted the old Eastern idea of ​​eternal return, palingenesis):[xv] “The forces at work [in history] are not national [the term is equivalent to sectoral or localized], they proceed from wider causes, acting on each of the parts. If their action as a whole is disregarded, their intervention is not intelligible. Diverse elements are variously affected by an identical general cause, by virtue of their respective reactions. Each one contributes in its own way to the action of forces that the same cause raises. A society confronts in the course of its existence a succession of problems that each of its members must solve in the best way...

“The statement of each problem takes the form of a challenge, suffered as a test. Through these tests, the members of society gradually differentiate themselves from one another. Going all the way to the end, it is impossible to understand the meaning of an individual's conduct in a given situation without taking into account the attitude, similar or opposite, of another individual in the same situation, without considering these successive trials as a series of events in the life of society. .[xvi] In this formulation, society would be an aggregate of individuals (a perfectly liberal principle) with the common reference of a “civilization”. For the cited authors, the character of social production, or any notion that relevantly introduced the question of classes and social groups, their mutual confrontation, and the social transformations within each “civilizational unit”, would not be relevant when defining “civilizations” and their dynamics. The idea of ​​a single world civilization, with a common economic and social foundation, was also foreign to them. The historical specificity of capitalism was diluted in cultural or civilizational determinants.

Lucien Febvre called Spengler's and Toynbee's “philosophies of history” “opportunistic” (because they were linked to political – reactionary – options on the rise at the time of their conception), without hiding that Toynbee's work “inspires in us a horror that we do not try to dissimulate, although, once all the factors are weighed, a methodical and reasoned distance should finally inspire us”. Spengler, in the 1920s, his prophecies based on a pessimism of retroactive effects, “and his readers, the future Nazis of strict obedience, had enemies in common: democracy, bourgeois liberalism and Marxism. Spengler marketed the most coveted items: a pathetic air, an anti-intellectualism to the last consequences, a heroic notion of destiny, anti-aestheticism, the human creature's shudder before the majestic, the ample majesty of history (and) prophecy of ruin, so dear to the Nazi petty bourgeoisie, so in line with their dreams of autarky”. Spengler concluded estranged from the Nazis, who rejected his historical pessimism, while he explicitly rejected the eugenic proposals of Hitler's party and government.

The quoted text by Febvre is from 1934, that is, a year after Hitler's rise to power, when Spengler had already developed some distance with his Nazi allies, although he remained racist, as the extreme ideas of Nazism had undergone some "realistic" changes. ” after his coming to power.

As for Toynbee, “what praiseworthy brings us A Study of History not a big new thing for us. And what brings us back, doesn't suit us. After reading your book, we walked a little with a hesitant step, nothing fell to the ground, nothing was shaken... We did not discover in our pocket any key, no master key capable of opening, indistinctly, the twenty-one doors of the twenty-one civilizations. But we never intended to have them! (...) We know perfectly well why history is still, among the human sciences, a Cinderella sitting under the table. There is nothing in this that astonishes us, nothing that could incite us, giving up our patient and difficult work, to throw ourselves into the arms of miracle workers, of candid and astute thaumaturges, of manufacturers of cheap philosophies of history. But in twenty volumes…”.[xvii]

Although the cyclical theories of history did not disappear in the second post-war period, including in the versions of the two authors criticized by Febvre, starting from the evidence of the irremediable economic unification of the world, contemporary historians and sociologists (especially after the second world war) were logically obliged to consider the origin of capitalism, as an economic/social system, as a central issue. Thus, Fernand Braudel identified as capitalist the expansion of the medieval commercial and monetary economy, plus the economic “change of mentality”, an idea that had been argued at the beginning of the XNUMXth century by representatives of German sociology (Tönnies and, above all, Troeltsch),[xviii] by Werner Sombart and finally by Max Weber.

For Sombart, the bourgeois, the modern economic man, combined the condition of citizen (burger, inhabitant of the city) to that of a businessman, the “sacred economy”, which it would be possible to identify in the masserizia from Florence in the XNUMXth century, but which already existed before that: “By the middle of the XNUMXth century, eighty companies dedicated to banking already existed in Florence… , wheat for oil, cloth for wool, and make up with money the difference resulting from the current price between the two commodities. It was a kind of stock market game.”[xx]

The morality of business (predictability, respect for the given word) and the calculating mentality, which everything tends to quantify, originated, for Sombart, the “spirit of enterprise”: military campaigns and maritime privateering activities gave rise to the “capitalist spirit ”. In this would coexist the desire for enrichment, the passion for money (replacing the mercantile greed for gold), the inventive, innovative, conquering and organizing spirit, the sense of opportunity, ingenuity, inspiration. The “bourgeois”, a new historical type, had created an age in its own image and likeness.[xx]

According to Max Weber, modern capitalism was born in the XNUMXth century in Western Europe, in the wake of the Protestant Reformation era, when the hoarding of money was displaced by its reinvestment, by the use of money as capital; what defined modern capitalism was not the pursuit of profit in general, but the accumulation of capital. The French historian Henri Hauser, in a similar vein, also placed the birth of capitalism in the sixteenth century, albeit without its Weberian “civilizational” basis,[xxx] that situates the specificity of the West in its Judeo-Christian heritage and in the form it acquired from the Protestant Reformation in the XNUMXth century, creating the basis of a differentiated ideology and morality, decisive in the formation of modern capitalism, based on an ascetic rational conduct derived from the idea of ​​“vocation”. On this basis, Weber analyzed social inequalities from three dimensions: wealth, prestige and power: class was a category related to the first of these, defining a set of individuals who shared the same situation in relation to the market.

For Max Weber, the quid of the capitalist system was a spiritual or religious element capable of creating convincing, operative and universal norms of conduct: capitalism was an undesired consequence, a “collateral” effect of the new Protestant ethic, which opened the doors of convents, letting out of them a religiosity exalted and ascetic, which infected social existence, in critical opposition to the preceding Catholic morality. The conception of a “dissolving” (or “liberating”) Protestantism, opposed to a Catholicism that preserves social hierarchies and tradition, was already common in conservative and reactionary thought, an idea summarized by Michel Winock: “Catholicism is Latin, hierarchical and dogmatic: it is the order in society as in the minds. Christianity, particularly in its Protestant form, is Swiss, individualistic and anarchistic: it authorizes everyone to seek his own religion, to be his own priest and to read the holy books directly, without filter, without commentary, without background”.[xxiii]

In the context of the clash raised by these ideas, which took on acute political forms, Max Weber characterized capitalism “based on calculation” as the involuntary offspring of Protestant “worldly asceticism”, transformed into a “secular religion”. Rational accounting methods were “associated with the social phenomenon of 'store discipline' and the appropriation of the means of production, which means: with the existence of a 'system of domination' [Herrschaft verhaeltniss] ”[xxiii]The European bourgeoisie, according to Weber, differed from other ruling classes by considering that their activity was not only profitable, but also imperative from a religious and moral point of view: “The capitalist was characterized by a unique combination of dedicating himself to making money , by rationalizing economic activity, and avoiding the use of income for personal enjoyment. Rational means were linked to an apparently irrational end. Weber attributed this distinctive spirit of Western capitalism to the ethics of ascetic Protestant sects… It was the notion that efficient performance demonstrated a vocation or calling that gave rise to the rationalized behavior peculiar to the modern capitalist. He illustrated this thesis by comparing the moral attitudes of the English Puritan Richard Baxter with the capitalist creed expressed in the writings of Benjamin Franklin.[xxv]

It was not only the origin of this rational/irrational behavior that was obscured by Weber, but the very origin of capital as a dominant social relation: Marx had already criticized, four decades before, those who considered this origin with the creationist criteria of the Holy Scriptures. Criticizing Weber, Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie pointed out that the German sociologist “emphasized the central role played by the austere personality in the religious sociology of the Old Regime (but) this personality is not essentially a premise of capitalism. At most it can be said that the propensity for saving, which encourages our chaste peasants to amass a trousseau before getting married at a considerable age, constitutes one of the classic components of the petty-bourgeois spirit. If we are interested in capitalism on a larger scale, we have to recognize that Max Weber was wrong: pioneers of big business, the tenant farmers were not great examples of asceticism; Benjamin Franklin, from whose writings Max Weber drew so many quotations concerning austerity, was indeed well supplied with lovers.”[xxiv]

For Werner Sombart, the Puritanism and Calvinism invoked by Weber had a prior influence on the practice of the Jewish people; the formation of the “capitalist spirit” was constituted from ideas of the Jewish religion and the historical practice of the Jews: “Already during the Middle Ages we find Jews everywhere as tenants of taxes, salt flats and domains, as treasurers and financiers… Very significant for the behavior of the Jews is, first and foremost, their dispersion throughout all the countries of the inhabited earth, which had in fact existed since the first exile, but which was consummated again in a particularly effective way after their expulsion from Spain. and Portugal and after large contingents left Poland (when) they took up new residence in Germany and France, Italy and England, the East and America, Holland and Austria, South Africa and East Asia… … What Weber attributes to Puritanism would perhaps not have been realized much earlier, and also later, to an even higher degree by Judaism; And wouldn't even what we call Puritanism be more properly, in its essential traits, Judaism?[xxv] We have already seen how Charles Maurras, considered the French precursor of Nazism, advocated a similar idea at the end of the XNUMXth century.

Sombart's thesis has been criticized for its questionable methodology, its superficiality and formal analogies, its vagueness and one-sidedness, its conclusions à la va vite, and several other aspects.[xxviii] The most controversial point was, as can be imagined, its relationship with the ideology of Nazism, which perpetrated the greatest and most concentrated extermination in history (directed, in the first place, against the Jews) ideologically and historically assimilating capitalism, Judaism and Bolshevism ( the latter not quoted by Sombart, his text was from 1911). The indisputable fact is that, already during the Weimar Republic, in the 1920s, Sombart evolved towards nationalism and, after the rise of Nazism, wrote "German Socialism", where he stated that a "new spirit" was beginning to "govern the humanity”: the era of capitalism and “proletarian socialism” had ended with “German socialism”, which placed the “well-being of the whole above the well-being of the individual”, directing its action towards a “total order of life".

Yuri Slezkine criticized the Sombartian thesis that nomadism (an exceptional condition in an era that was already sedentary in the main peoples of its geographic surroundings), first pastoral and then commercial, of the Jews, would be the original and distant matrix of capitalist behavior, having its origin in the “ethical domestication of man” produced by the first religion conceived as Law (the Mosaic), born of the specific living conditions of this people, imposing, therefore (because it is Law and not simple idolatry), an “ethics”, of length and obligatory study permanent for its professors. Slezkine saw in this a re-edition of “the old opposition between legalism, discipline and self-control, of Hebraism; and the freedom, spontaneity and harmony of Hellenism”,[xxviii] a (supposed) millennial opposition, which certainly does not take us far in the study and analysis of the emergence of a relatively recent economic system.

According to other authors, capitalism or “bourgeois society” would have a more recent origin and not linked to a specific religious, ethical or behavioral variant. In The Strength of Tradition, Arno J. Mayer insisted on the various forms of “survival of the Old Regime”,[xxix] criticizing received ideas about post-revolution European society (economic and political, industrial and French), proposing new interpretations of the links between the new bourgeois world and the economic, social, political, artistic, cultural and ideological forms of the Old Regime, forms that survived for a long time after these revolutions. For Jacques Le Goff, the European Middle Ages would have lasted until the XNUMXth century, because before that time the “economic system” was not recognized as such. Between these centuries, the Christian theology's conceptions of time and work were adapted by the Catholic Church to new economic realities, changing the meaning of time in the medieval rural world, which was beginning to become urbanized.

In the XNUMXth century, conceptualizations and methods originating in sociology or economics penetrated historiography (which also subjected them to criticism), partially changing its focus. The main methodological questioning of history “based on proven facts” (evenements) and its “trustworthy reconstruction”, the critique of histoire evenementielle in defense of a “synthetic history”, was advanced in a systematic way well into the XNUMXth century. Henri Berr, French historian, inspired a synthesis, from the beginning of the century, in the Revue de Synthese Historique: “The scholar carries out an indispensable task, preparing the materials that science needs to constitute itself, without which the synthesis would be nothing else than metaphysics or literature. Erudition cannot be opposed to historical synthesis, just as, in the natural sciences, observation is not opposed to generalization. For 'historicizing' history, things are different. It is a form of history which, while sufficient in itself, also claims to be sufficient for historical knowledge. Searching for particular causes of particular facts is not a scientific task, it is only descriptive (but) to search for the role of certain causes that, intervening in a general way in the course of human facts, could not fail to have acted, this truly scientific work must rest on a previous study of causality, on knowledge of the different orders of cause, on a conscious method, that is, on the theory or logic of history”.[xxx] Looking for general causes for particular facts, history was the “science of the particular”.

A new generation of historians was delimiting itself in refusal of the opposition between “specialist” history and “synthetic” history. One of the founders of Annals replied to Berr: “Historizing history demands little. Very little. Too little for me and many others. That's our complaint, but it's solid. The complaint of those for whom ideas are a necessity”.[xxxii] Magazine founded in 1929, in the Annals the innovations of sociology and the theoretical contribution of Marx “infected” historiography. Capitalism, however, appeared in the main representatives of this school devoid of the ruptures that gave rise to it. Fernand Braudel, one of its most representative authors, privileged, in his inquiry into the relationship between material civilization, economy and capitalism (in a work in which he cited Karl Marx more than any other author),[xxxi] “repeated uses, empirical procedures, old recipes, solutions from the dark of times, such as money or the city-country division”. Capitalism would not be, for this author, a “sufficient” historical concept, since the plans of “material life”, “economic life” and, finally, the “capitalist game” should be related: “It is impossible to reach a good understanding of economic life if the foundations of the building are not analyzed first”.[xxxii]

Capitalism would thus be “overdetermined” by the process of “material life” (constituted by secular habits, including the exchange of goods, and located in the “long term” of history)[xxxv] where immutability and atavism would be so decisive that there could not be, properly speaking, “laws of movement”: “Unconscious history is precisely that which is situated in the long term, behind the crust of all-too-legible events and which it is licit to organize into successive structures, in which the complementary elements of a system correspond. Socioeconomic history, however, more than that of movements and ruptures hitherto privileged, history of 'economic civilizations' in their constancy, 'layers of slow history' moving in the 'semi-immobility' of a 'slowed down time'. In addition, also cultural history or mentalities, defined as the privileged field of these studies in the long term, because conceived as the history of 'inertia' and 'long-term prisons'”.[xxxiv] Capitalism would be a particular case within a general historical structure, not a rupture with previous societies, nor the expanded and universal reformulation, on new historical bases, of its contradictions. Debates about the historical nature of capitalism, as well as about the link between this notion and that of “civilization”, or “civilizations”, are far from over; they constantly reappear in the field of theory and politics.

*Osvaldo Coggiola He is a professor at the Department of History at USP. Author, among other books, of Marxist economic theory: an introduction (Boitempo).



[I] Marc Joly. La Révolution Sociologique. From lanaîssance d'un regime de pensée scientifique à la crisis de laphilosophie (XIXè-XXè siècle). Paris, La Découverte, 2017. See also: Owen Chadwick. The Secularization of the European Mind in the 19th Century. New York, Cambridge University Press, 1993.

[ii] Roger Bartra. The Asian mode of production in the framework of pre-capitalist societies. In: Jean Chesnaux. op cit.

[iii] Manuel Cazadero. Development, Crisis and Ideology in the Formation of Capitalism. Mexico, Fund for Economic Culture, 1986.

[iv] Charles de Montesquieu. The Spirit of Laws. Sao Paulo, Martins Fontes, 2000.

[v] William Robertson (1721-1793), Scottish historian, was a minister of the Church of Scotland. His best-known work was his History of Scotland 1542-1603, published in 1759. He was a leading figure in the Scottish Enlightenment and the Moderate Party of the Church of Scotland.

[vi] Antoine Barnave. Introduction à la Révolution Française.Paris, Association Marc Bloch, 1977 [1793].

[vii] Emmanuel Terray. Marxism in the Face of Primitive Societies. Rio de Janeiro, Grail, 1979.

[viii] Pierre Vilar. Introduction to the Vocabulary of Historical Analysis. Barcelona, ​​Criticism, 1982.

[ix] Antoine Pelletier and Jean-Jacques Goblot. Historical Materialism and History of Civilizations. Lisbon, Print, 1970.

[X] Jean Möller. Traité des Études Historiques. Louvain, Librairie de Ch. Peters, 1887.

[xi] Herbert Spencer. The Man Versus the State. Indianapolis, Liberty Classics, 2012 [1884].

[xii] To France's disgrace and chagrin, he continued to agitate, mainly in intellectual circles: "If Fascist France is not all that great - politically speaking - anti-Semitic France is an indisputable reality, and to it, some of our greatest writers - in addition to several other minor ones – lent their literary talents” (Michel Winock. The Century of Intellectuals. Rio de Janeiro, Bertrand Brazil, 2000).

[xiii] Idem.

[xiv] Oswald Spengler. The Decline of the West. Rio de Janeiro, Zahar, 1973 [1918].

[xv] Arnold Toynbee. A Study of History. São Paulo, Martins Fontes, 1986 [1934].

[xvi] Arnold Toynbee. L'Histoire. Un essei d'interpretation. Paris, Gallimard, 1951.

[xvii] LucienFebvre. From Spengler to Toynbee: from the opportunistic philosophies of La historia. Fights for History. Barcelona, ​​Ariel, 1971 [1953].

[xviii] Ernst Troeltsch. Protestantism and Modernity. Paris, Gallimard, 1991 [1906]. The author, a contemporary and friend of Max Weber, criticized his “Protestant Ethic” insisting on the differences between Lutheranism and Calvinism.

[xx] George Renard. History of Work in Florence. Buenos Aires, Heliasta, 1980 [1913].

[xx] Werner Sombart. El Bourgeois. Contribution to the spiritual history of the modern economic man. Madrid, Alianza, 1993 [1913].

[xxx] Henri Hauser. Les Debuts du Capitalisme. Paris, Felix Alcan, 1931.

[xxiii] Michael Winock. Op. cit.

[xxiii] Max Weber. The Protestant Ethic and the “Spirit” of Capitalism. São Paulo, Companhia das Letras, 2004 [1905].

[xxv] Richard Bellamy. Liberalism and Modern Society. Publisher of Unesp, 1994.

[xxiv] Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie. History of the French Peasants. From the Black Death to the Revolution. Rio de Janeiro, Brazilian Civilization, 2007.

[xxv] Werner Sombart. The Jews and Economic Life, São Paulo, Editora Unesp, 2014 [1911]. Initially, Sombart was a Marxist – Friedrich Engels said he was the only German professor who understood Das Kapital; he later wrote that “it had to be admitted that Marx had made mistakes on many important points”. He later became, according to Hugo Reinert, “probably the economist most influenced by Nietzsche”.

[xxviii] The Marxist (Trotskyist) Abraham Leon, killed in the Auschwitz death camp in 1944, in full resistance to Nazism, wrote a famous and controversial text, in which he maintained that the historical role of the Jews, the product of a long development, had them configured as a “people-class”, confined by capital to the function of promoting and favoring the international circulation of money, which had made them especially apt to manage finances. Leon, however, did not attribute any paternal relationship to Jews in relation to capitalism (La Conception Materialiste de la Question Juive. Paris, Editions Documentation Internationale, 1968 [1942]).

[xxviii] Yuri Slezkine. Le Siècle Juif. Paris, La Découverte, 2009.

[xxix] Arno J. Mayer. The Strength of Tradition. The persistence of the Old Regime 1848-1918. São Paulo, Companhia das Letras, 1987.

[xxx] Henri Berr. L'Histoire Traditionnelle et La Synthese Historique. Paris, Librairie Félix Alcan, 1921.

[xxxii]Lucien Febvre. On a way of making history that is not La nuestra: La historia historizante. Op. cit.

[xxxi] Fernand Braudel. Material Civilization and Capitalism. Barcelona, ​​Labor, 1974.

[xxxii] Fernand Braudel. La Dynamique du Capitalisme. Paris, Artaud, 1985.

[xxxv] On the difference that Braudel established between capitalism and economic life, and his differences with Marx, see: Bolivar Echeverria. The concept of capitalism in Marx and Braudel; Immanuel Wallerstein. Braudel on capitalism or all the way upside down. In: Carlos A. Aguirre. First Braudelian Journeys. Buenos Aires, Instituto Mora, sdp.

[xxxiv] Michel Vovelle. The history and the long term. In: Jacques LeGoff. The New Story. Sao Paulo, Martins Fontes, 1995.

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