Cover image for The spirit of capitalism : nationalism and economic growth
The spirit of capitalism : nationalism and economic growth
Greenfeld, Liah.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Cambridge, Mass. : Harvard University Press, [2001]

Physical Description:
xi, 541 pages ; 25 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Central Library HD82 .G655 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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The Spirit of Capitalism answers a fundamental question of economics, a question neither economists nor economic historians have been able to answer: what are the reasons (rather than just the conditions) for sustained economic growth? Taking her title from Max Weber's famous study on the same subject, Liah Greenfeld focuses on the problem of motivation behind the epochal change in behaviour, which from the 16th century on has reoriented one economy after another from subsistence to profit, transforming the nature of economic activity. A detailed analysis of the development of economic consciousness in England, the Netherlands, France, Germany, Japan, and the United States allows her to argue that the motivation, or spirit, behind the modern, growth-oriented economy was not the liberation of the rational economic actor, but rather nationalism. Nationalism committed masses of people to an endless race for national prestige and thus brought into being the phenomenon of economic competitiveness.

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

Beginning in 15th-century northern Europe, unprecedented economic growth spread throughout the world, bringing with it nationalism, technological progress and rationalism in government, religion and justice, as well as eradication of traditional cultures, environmental damage, imperialism and wars of unparalleled destructiveness. Ever since, people have sought to explain these circumstances. Greenfeld (Nationalism: Five Roads to Modernity) joins them here: her thesis is that unrelated historical accidents engendered nationalism in England, France, Germany, Japan and the United States (and almost in Holland), and that competitive nationalism caused sustained economic growth. To defend her proposal, she eschews both the historian's careful study of primary sources and the economist's insistence on rigorously testable models, claiming that both of these paths have led to error. Instead, she relies upon extended excerpts from secondary sources. Since her examples (the five modernizations and one failed modernization) are unrelated, the book consists of straightforward descriptions of each one rather than abstraction or parallels. This method produces a reader in early modernization with just enough theory to segue between the chapters. The obvious use for this book is for a freshman sociology course on the origins of the modern economy; those looking for groundbreaking analysis will be disappointed. Greenfeld's criticism of all aspects of the modern world, from diet to work habits to culture, will engage only readers who are already disgruntled. (Nov.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Greenfeld (political science, Boston Univ.) offers a riveting follow-up to Nationalism: Five Roads to Modernity (Harvard Univ., 1992). Here she seeks to answer three questions: what caused the emergence of the modern economy, what made the economic sphere so dominant; and what are the reasons for sustained economic growth? Her fundamental proposition is that nationalism is responsible for the reorientation of economic activity toward growth. She strengthens her argument by focusing on the periods of emergence of the modern economy in England, France, Germany, Japan, and the United States. In addition, she adeptly addresses the concerns of critics of her previous work by including an in-depth look at Japanese nationalism and the roles that economics and diplomacy have played in fostering nationalism in her five primary subjects plus the Netherlands and Russia. Although her approach is unorthodox, the quality of her research and the richness of her arguments should be challenging to the various economists, historians, philosophers, and other social scientists who often need to be stimulated by the writing of those outside their disciplines. Highly recommended for both academic and public libraries. Norm Hutcherson, California State Univ., Bakersfield (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Greenfeld (political scientist/sociologist, and author of Nationalism: Five Roads to Modernity, CH, Jun'93) clearly believes economic growth is a subject too important to leave to economists, and many economists would agree that they should look to help from outside their own discipline. The Spirit of Capitalism purports to do more. It means, in Greenfeld's lexicon, to present an economic growth ethic. Such an ethic, she holds, only can arise from a sense of international competition--which she terms nationalism. She devotes 443 pages to establishing this proposition by reviewing the economic, social, and the intellectual histories of Japan, the US, and several European countries. She weaves a rich tapestry, which reads well, and her survey of nonmainstream economic thought is encompassing and well done. Nonetheless, she fails to establish nationalism as more than a sometime proximate factor in the stimulation of sustained economic growth. Establishing causality in economic transformation, a terribly difficult task, is not securely achieved. In a single paragraph (p. 474-5) she reasserts her thesis, only then to identify a fundamental historical counterexample. Others spring to mind. Finally, an unfortunate decision to group multiple, long quotations from many pages into a single citation makes it difficult to track down her sources. Lower-division undergraduate through faculty collections. J. Murdock emeritus, University of Missouri--Columbia

Table of Contents

Part I Another Take on How It All Began
1 The Capitalist Spirit and the British Economic Miracle
2 ""The Great Seventeenth-Century Exception""
Part II The Spread of the New Economic Consciousness on the European Continent
3 The First Convert: France
4 The Power of Concerted Action: Putting the Spirit of Capitalism to Work in Germany
Part III The Asian Challenge: The Way of Japan
5 Japanese Nationalism
6 Racing and Fighting
Part IV The Economic Civilization: The Sp

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