A thoughtful study of European responses, pro and con, to the steady ascent of capital, and of an intellectual preoccupation with the capitalist economy that has endured for centuries.
For many European intellectuals, whether of the right or left or somewhere in between, the rise of capitalism meant the death of traditional values, the disappearance of civic virtue, and the extinction of the willingness to defer gratification. “The question of the market—of its moral significance, of its social, political, cultural, and economic ramifications” has been at the center of European thought for generations, outweighing older concerns over the great chain of being and the proper relation of men and the gods; so, too, has the complex of issues that now fall under the general rubric of “globalization,” which has troubled European philosophers and reformers since at least the time of Hegel, never mind Marx and his followers. So Muller (History/Catholic Univ.) shows in this sturdy work of intellectual history, which nicely balances the thought of anti-capitalist writers (Marx, Lukács, Marcuse, Proudhon, Bourdieu) with that of those who found good things to say about “an economy in which production for trade became more significant than production for subsistence” (Voltaire, Smith, Burke, Hayek, Schumpeter). Their interest, for or against, was well placed, Muller writes, for the quest for wealth and creature comforts has undoubtedly grown to fill every niche of modern life, illustrating “the ability of the capitalist market to co-opt and incorporate a remarkable range of preferences, trends, tastes, and identities”—so that, for instance, a product such as Coca-Cola can be sold to Hitler youth or the children of May ’68 with only a little tweaking of slogans, and so that the very process of capitalism can increasingly lure the “able and energetic toward business” and keep just about everyone’s mind, Sorbonne-trained or not, focused on economic activity.
Readable and near-comprehensive. Those inclined to anticapitalist views may take issue with Muller’s assurances that things seem to go better with free markets, but his far-reaching survey provides grist for many mills.