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The time before Capitalism…

Written by geoff holsclaw : December 18, 2007

There once was a time before factories and sweat-shops, offices and cubicles, before Wal-Mart and the Gap. There was a time before urbanization and grid-lock, housing developments and gentrification, the commercial and advertising. There was once a time before private property and surplus-value, wage-labor and the means of production. In short, there once was a time before the Industrial-Capitalist Revolution.

That is what I’ve been remembering while reading The Worldly Philosophers (i.e., economists). Between the 13th-17th centuries there is a long, hard, and violent transition from feudal life to the market system. Open commons had to be converted to private property; serfs converted into laborers; self-provisioning converted into productive enterprises; the nobility into landowners; merchants into capitalists; the hand mill into the steam mill, etc., etc. This new ‘wonderful world’ of Adam Smith, the first worldly philosopher to conceptualize the economy as its own abstract entity, fitfully emerged from within the old. Out of the carcass of the old system emerged the new.

Reading and remembering this gives me a sense of Hope. Things will not inevitably remain the same. Our global economic situation can change and transform. Something new is possible.

But of course this is old news. For in the dead life of humanity comes the new life of the divine. In the womb of a virgin comes the life of all. The new comes forth in the backwater, 1st century town of Bethlehem. And kings tremble, empires quake, and rules are struck dumb:

“Let all mortal flesh keep silence,
and with fear and trembling stand…

King of kings, yet born of Mary,
as of old on earth he stood,
Lord of lords, in human vesture,
in the body and the blood;
he will give to all the faithful
his own self for heavenly food.”

The hope that something new is possible looks not only to the future consummation, but back to the initial fulfillment. The daily newspaper need not overwhelm me (or rather the daily netvibes global news digest), nor the endless suburban sprawl. In the midst of the old system something new is emerging, even if we yet notice its effects.

for further reading . . .

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