Activities per year
Democratic or liberal capitalism has been the most globally successful civilisational form of the past two hundred years. Historical scholarship for most of the twentieth century interrogated the dual revolutions that created that form, industrial and democratic, through a debate between a variety of stadial theories. Marxists and modernisation theorists may have disagreed about everything else but all parties agreed that some pattern of development had universal applicability. That easy universalism has been completely undermined in recent years and we have a much sharper understanding of the contingent and historically specific nature of modern economic structures. The global significance of economic innovation in eighteenth century Europe has been creatively explored in economic history. We also have a good understanding of how the practices of merchants, forms of labour discipline and credit institutions developed in the Atlantic economy in the eighteenth century were projected into the world, largely through the agency of European empires, in the nineteenth. However the divorce of this literature from the work on the period of the French Revolution has left us with a lopsided understanding of these processes. We understand the power of liberal capitalism, but not its normative attractions. We may, and have, approach the French Revolution without attending to the history of capitalism, but we cannot understand modern capitalism without a view to the French Revolution.