Author(s): Steve Pincus
Source: The William and Mary Quarterly, Vol. 69, No. 1 (January 2012), pp. 3-34
Published by: Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5309/willmaryquar.69.1.0003 .
Accessed: 06/09/2012 12:18
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From the 1880s through the 1930s, advocates of state intervention and defenders of what Frank Trentmann has called the “free trade nation” agreed that early modern Europeans were devoted to mercantilism. 2
Supporters of state intervention described mercantilism as constitutive of modernity, whereas liberals saw it as a necessary transitional phase on the path to modernity. Gustav Schmoller, one of the leading members of the widely influential German Historical School of economic thinking,
2 Frank Trentmann, Free Trade Nation: Commerce, Consumption, and Civil Society in Modern Britain (New York, 2008).
believed that from the fifteenth century through the seventeenth most
Europeans experienced “a great historical process, by which local sentiment and tradition were strengthened, the social and economic forces of the whole territory consolidated, important legal and economic institutions created.” This transition from particularist to national economies, societies, and political structures, according to Schmoller, was of epochal importance. “The seventeenth and eighteenth centuries,” he maintained, were together “the birth hour of modern states and modern national economies” and were therefore “necessarily characterized by a selfish national commercial policy of a harsh and rude kind.” Though some states, such as
Britain, “could begin to think and act in the spirit of free trade”