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ECONOMIC NATIONALISM AND THE 'SPIRIT OF CAPITALISM': CIVIC COLLECTIVISM AND NATIONAL WEALTH IN THE THOUGHT OF JOHN FORTESCUE

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In her 2002 book The Spirit of Capitalism, Liah Greenfeld argues that the emergence of nationalistic economic doctrines in Europe, and especially in Britain, after about 1600 constitutes the salient explanation for the capitalist 'take-off' in the modern West. This paper re-examines a central feature of Greenfeld's analytical apparatus, namely her strict distinction between 'collectivist' and 'individualistic' approaches to nationalism that she believes holds so much of the key to persistent differences in levels of political and economic development among nations even today. According to Greenfeld, only the individualistic version of nationalism is capable of promoting the convergence of personal and public economic interest and the competitive spirit of economic internationalism. The paper investigates a nationalistic theory, spun out of a series of tracts written in the second half of the fifteenth century by the English lawyer John Fortescue, that is clearly rooted in a medieval, collectivistic outlook but which promotes economic values (economic achievement, competitiveness and prosperity) that comprise Greenfeld's 'spirit of capitalism'. I argue that Fortescue offers a powerful counterexample to Greenfeld's central explanatory framework.
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Keywords: England; France; Nationalism; capitalism; collectivism; government; individualism; law; middle ages; modernity; political economy

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2005-01-01

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