THE PERSPECTIVE OF THE WORLD: Civilization and Capitalism, 15th-18th Century, vol. III by Fernand Braudel

THE PERSPECTIVE OF THE WORLD: Civilization and Capitalism, 15th-18th Century, vol. III

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With this work (published in France in 1979), the magnum opus of French historian Braudel's distinguished career comes to a conclusion. The subject is the establishment of a capitalist world economy--meaning, to Braudel, the movement of goods and money over long distances in an integrated system. (He sets great store by the global fluctuation of prices.) After the two previous volumes, with their focus on daily subsistence and local markets, this one is a letdown. The main actors, and their roles, are relatively well-known: the world economy requires central cities, so we look to the Italian city-states (Venice foremost), to Bruges, Antwerp, and, in greatest detail, Amsterdam; a national market is needed to propel accumulation and growth, so London displaces Amsterdam; the world economy requires a hierarchy of regional economic development, so attention shifts to the Russian and Ottoman Empires and European colonial expansion; and, in this scheme, development means specialization, leading to the rapid division of labor and accelerated growth of the industrial revolution. Braudel's concern, however, is as much with other interpretations as with his story, since he knows he is dating the rise of capitalism unfashionably early (in the 13th century, where an earlier generation of historians had placed it) and that his world-system approach blurs the usual distinction between commercial and industrial capitalism. This has the reverse effect of making Braudel a commentator on Immanuel Wallerstein's The Modern World System (1974), which was itself inspired by Braudel's earlier work. Braudel's usual wealth of detail--on the Paris-Lyon rivalry, on Siberian fairs, the rise and fall of Malacca--is overborne by the logic he grants to the system as a whole. At that level, only those well versed in social and economic history will be able to judge Braudel's questionable grand scheme and its effect on individual episodes, making this the least accessible, and probably least enjoyable, of the three volumes.

Pub Date: Sept. 26th, 1984
Publisher: Harper & Row