Tuesday, December 09, 2008

In many cases the State paved the way for capitalism

Inspired by the Anarchist FAQ coming out in book form.

There were several kinds of early capitalist models in Western Europe at the period of the end of the Middle Ages. One was a city state model pioneered by Venice and by the Netherlands, the other turned out to be absolutist State based.

The reason why the State in the form of absolutism could be seen as paving the way for capitalism is because the State in this sense came out of the decomposition of feudalism and actually helped the process of decomposition along once it assumed power. Power came to shift away from lords and towards kings, queens, and their courts. The very gradated social structure, where everyone had their place appointed by God, started to lose its power as this shift occurred, because instead of only having to be loyal to the person one step up in the hierarchy they now had to be loyal to the King himself, who they had no direct contact with. This undermined the power of the lords and with it much of the internal feudal distinctions between groups. Instead of being people who lived in a area owned by a lord people were now also "French", for example.

As they gained more power the monarchs took advantage of the shifting social structure to directly sponsor economic development, often connected with world trade and then empire. The taking away of power from the lords left a vacuum open that allowed pro-capitalist proto-middle class traders, merchants, and manufacturing sponsorers to step in and gain power. This power was subordinate to the State but could be seen as not being a threat because the capitalists had no permanent status and could rise and fall, whereas lords and princes could theoretically challenge the King for power.

This is only one view of it, there are of course other ways to present it, but the French Revolution, for instance, could be seen as the outcome of the bourgeois challenging the State structure for power and winning. Equal rights could be seen to have developed in the atmosphere of capitalism as it existed post the decline of the traditional feudal power. So to could anti-State measures and thought, because if the rest of society is part of proto-capitalism, why should there be a top level of State control on all of society?

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