Keynes, Weber, & antiquity

Rakesh Bhandari bhandari at phoenix.Princeton.EDU
Wed Feb 10 21:35:05 PST 1999

Lawrence Krader reads Max Weber's Agrarian Sociology of Ancient Civilizations as something more than an anticipation of Keynes' ideas about effective demand! After a careful historical survey he concludes:

"The question of agrarian communism, is to be sure, a matter of empirical evidence, in part. But it is not only an empirical question; Contemporary research supports the tenet of landholding by a collectivity in ancient Pylos and Rome, and among the early Slavic and German peoples. There is some question whether these collectivities were kin groups, as sibs, clans, gentles, tribes, or whether territorial groups, as villages. Whether collective tenure was the exclusive mode of landholding; whether there was both property and possession, is still unclear in the early history of a number of European peoples. Yet Fustel de Coulanges, Weber, et al were wrong in their contentions; agrarian communism was practiced in ancient Europe. The implications which they drew from their positions are no less wrong.

"IF we examine the social life of the ancient Germans or Slavs we are by no means close to an 'original' human nature. The concealed premiss in this ques is that of Rousseau, Freud,, the ancient primitivists, the modern Romantics: civilized man is damaged, the primitive state pure, the examination of the primitive state will tell us what is that the human being is individualist by nature, a premiss which goes right back to the early centuries of capitalism, to the shcool of natural right. The notion of an original human nature, and of an individualism, as the orginal, are equally untenable, being onesided. The human being is at once product and producer of the social conditions, forming them, bieng formed by them. The premiss of the doctrines of natural right and of social contract is that the human individual exists prior to the formation of society and enters it by a voluntary compact. The early capitalist ideology sought to make this individualism into an eternal law, just as the early capitalist economists sought to make the laws of the market place into eternal laws. Mercantalists, physiocrats, utilitarians, classicla political economists, the cultists of the 'great man', of freedom, have allied themselves with these doctrines. Their spokesmen are Carlyle, Spencer, Weber and Maine. "The socialist doctine is not proved by proving of agrarian communism, the capitalist doctrine is not proved by disproving it...Social scientists, we have seen, naively sought to eliminate the ideological side of these problem, and to resolve them into empirical formulations alone, whereby they would be solved by bringing historical, ethnological, sociological facts to bear upon them. They evade the debate over the political ideological issues, retreating into empiricism, separating what is not be separated. The academic discussion of the ancient agrarian communes has been bound by rules of a positivist provenience, maintaining a pose of being above the battle. As a result, even the best of the participants have been constrained to know nothing of the issues outsdie their immediate scholarly competence, whereby they have reduced and simplified the matters without warrant, being either less candid, or unable to probe deeply or extensively the issues raised. The initiative in the debate has been left in the hands of conservatives of a bygone era, the socialists having been trapped by the same separation of the political from the scientific issues, ceding points they ought not to have ceded; that separation is untenable for political and scientific reasons.

"The debate over the ancient mark and mir has had an indecisive outcome; yet the question of ancient or original land ownership in common is not an outmoded one. For the central issue in this connection is not the conception of this given feature of human history or evolution. On the contrary, the central issue is the struggle over the future of the human kind. It is in the light of this struggle that the attempt at a coherent interpretation of the world is then made. the debate over the reports of Caesar and Tacitus then takes it place in the latter, which is the lesser issue." p. 157-59 of Dialectic of Civil Society.


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