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Kocka’s Insightful Analysis Offers Insight to the Roots of Society Capitalism

Updated August 8, 2022

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Kocka’s Insightful Analysis Offers Insight to the Roots of Society Capitalism essay

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As Jürgen Kocka initially asserts, the title of his work can be interpreted into two distinct meanings. The first being a description of the history and significance of the economic system itself, while the second focuses upon accounts of the ways capitalism, in whichever form discussed, came to fruition as it is known in society today. Written from the perspective of a non-Marxist, Kocka’s work provides a fair amount of analysis into each specific interpretation of the text, especially considering the relatively brief length of his masterpiece. Throughout the five chapters, Kocka covers a variety of concepts ranging from the formation and development of capitalism, while alluding to its key characteristics, to the benefits and inherent downfalls that have been encountered in multiple societies worldwide.

The first of five chapters first introduces three monumental figures who continue to shape modern literature and philosophy on the topic of global economic systems: Karl Marx, Max Weber, and Joseph A. Schumpeter. Kocka bluntly states that Marx “rarely used the term capitalism”[footnoteRef:1] most likely to differentiate that Marx’s work referred to the “capitalist mode of production” as opposed to modern capitalist practices, since a bulk of Marx’s work took place before the phenomena of the financialization of capitalism. By making this important distinction, Kocka asserts that the ideologies of Marx are still relevant in many ways and can be interpreted and applied in modern contexts. Throughout his work, it is made clear that Kocka is not willing to discount the practicality of these figures’ argumentation even if society has drastically changed.

Through the lens of Marx, Weber and Schumpeter; Kocka continues to introduce the ideas of accumulation, production, and the capital-wage labor relationship, among other terms, in order to establish a framework to understand the innerworkings and characteristics of capitalism. I believe that this approach is effective since it offers both a broad level and microscopic examination at the origins of contemporary thought towards the subject. It is demonstrated that Kocka is effective at introducing these broad and multi-faceted terms in order to establish a clear space for the rest of his work to operate within. The explanation is concise enough to inform while simultaneously creating a basic understanding of the topic. After examining other inherent characteristics of the system, such as innovation, economy, and enterprise; Kocka effectively establishes a basis to begin to introduce the history and inner-workings of capitalism on a more in-depth level. [1: Kocka, Jürgen, and Jeremiah Riemer. Capitalism: A Short History. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2018.]

The synthesis of the first chapter constructs, and leads towards, a working definition of capitalism in itself. Kocka states a working definition of capitalism that in essence encompasses the necessity to promote and protect individual [property] rights while promoting markets as the primary source of economic coordination. Along with these two imperative statements, Kocka also discusses the need for commodification, accumulation and decentralization as “basic characteristics” in order to promote the most efficient form of capitalism. Through this culmination of the first chapter, Kocka establishes an effective foundation for next introducing and discussing the historical context(s) and the “birth” of capitalism as it is known today.

One of the largest problems that I found in Kocka’s work is the rather unorganized structure of the second chapter. The contents of the second chapter attempt to cover a very large basis ranging from fragments of societies dating back to Mesopotamia all the way to the medieval times. It is discussed throughout the beginnings of the second chapter that there where rudimentary forms of capitalism apparent during the first developed, modern societies. To support this notion, Kocka introduces various examples, such as long-distance trade, the establishment of markets and the process of commercialization, (all of which meet the preceding “working definition” from the first chapter) but then offers the ponderance that some scholars believe that “the economy of Greco-Roman antiquity” may not even be capitalist. This proved to be very confusing and in turn it made this portion of his work very tedious to understand. Challenges aside, this chapter does succeed in establishing a linear chain to piece together the history of the establishment and growth of capitalism.

Throughout the second and third chapters, Kocka introduces various early societies and their aspects and contributions to the modern definition of capitalism. He begins with China and Arabia (and later introduces Europe) by labeling these three regions as possessing the “relevant developments” during the pre-1500’s. The first critical development discussed is the dawn of the merchant. It is subsequently discussed that as the spread and viability of the merchant system began to spread, the support of government in trade exploded as well. It is stated on page 28 that “with the support of the government and its gigantic new fleet, the merchants expanded maritime trade, especially with Southwest Asia, India, the Arab World, East Africa, and even with Egypt.” It is then discussed that international markets, demand and trade routes began to be established in the known world.

Moving from this critical development, Kocka wisely injects China’s scenario under the Ming dynasty during this point in the text. It is derived that early China practiced pseudo-merchant capitalism. While this later turned out poorly, as China’s economic hegemony decreased significantly, Kocka alludes to the fact that political stability is essential for market function and capitalism as a whole to be effective. This idea later becomes a major theme throughout the rest of his work. As Kocka continues on, it is worth mentioning that on page 45 the concept of specialization begins to surface. He states “most of the merchants in wholesale and long-distance trade were among the educated of their time, since they could read, write, and count. Their superregional orientation, which came out of their experience in long-distance trade, lent many of them a certain cosmopolitanism.” This subtle hint towards future developments and characteristics of modern capitalism is one of the many factors in which make Kocka’s work so effective and masterful. By indirectly introducing the concept of specialization, Kocka begins to establish a connection between the past and present of capitalism, which in turn makes his style so effective.

As Kocka further explains the need for improvement between governments and the market, the third chapter discusses the expansion and manifestation of capitalism to the “New World.” Kocka effectively begins the chapter by giving an overview to the power and influence that expansion had on society by frankly stating on page 54 that “it [capitalism] expanded spatially into the newly established world trading system, crossed new frontiers into the space of production, and became important for society as a whole.” This is just another aspect of what makes his work so meaningful, by explaining the scenario in a clear and concise manner, Kocka is able to embed his overall message to the discussion in the following chapter to establish his purpose. Kocka is clear to establish that the means to accomplish this manifestation, though, where not necessarily the most ethical or sustainable. He is clear to state the strong relation to colonization that capitalism embodied during the 1700’s — 1800’s. Kocka’s strong style of writing adds support to this evidence by stating that “around 1500, European powers controlled about 7 percent of the world’s territory, but by 1775 this was 35 percent.” With this staggering fact apparent within the text, Kocka then makes an effective transition to a discussion about land acquisitions, financing and those who used the system as a means to gain some sort of ends from (usually money, land, and power.)

Kocka then summarizes the advent of the institution of slavery within the United States by stating on page 58 that it was “a crucial motor driving the export-orientated plantation economy…” Although slavery may have been effective economically for a relatively short period of time, Kocka is sure to state that the industrialization that is apparent today “would [not] have been possible in the long run” if slavery where to continue to exist domestically. Kocka provides a very in-depth and important discussion into the ineffectiveness of slavery and how abusive labor ‘agreements’ decrease efficiency and practicality. This is another strong aspect of Kocka’s writing. By transcending the morality argument behind slavery, Kocka is further able to provide facts that demonstrate that in all aspects, slavery was never the long-term solution. His work is very insightful and thorough, which offers an independent reason to appreciate this masterpiece.

As Kocka begins to conclude, he is sure to point out the outcomes and inherent aspects of capitalism as it is known today. Through modern industrialization, advancement, centralization, financialization and specialization seen in factories, workplaces and society in general following slavery and expansion; Kocka asserts that the system is beginning to function more and more effectively. Through the various examples offered regarding the banking systems and financial instructions that define the world today, Kocka is able to provide very insightful evidence on the expansion of an ever-growing and controlling financial sector apparent within all major economic regions. Even though Kocka mentions recent economic recessions, uncertainty and criticism for capitalism, he states that the alternatives to capitalism fail. It can be inferred that essentially the message of his work is to promote the fact that a revolution against capitalism tries to strike at the source of evil but misses it in its entirety. These social ills discussed repeatedly and criticized by many cannot be overcome or eliminated by revolution or dramatic change. Through his ever-effective style, Kocka condenses his message into the following statement on page 99:

“At a core socioeconomic transformation, industrialization has nonetheless worked its way into almost all areas of life and dramatically changed the world in a short amount of time, so that some authors have referred to industrialization as ‘the most fundamental transformation of human life in the history of the world recorded in documents.”

The progress in industrialization and capitalism go dovetail, and without one, the other may cease to exist. As globalization continues to dominate financial markets at an exponential level as of recent times, Kocka is sure to state that capitalism is “one of the most important forces driving globalism,” thus, stating that capitalism promotes innovation and change within societies, effectively combatting the opposition. Through his positive outlook on the system, Kocka’s final chapter briefly explains that although not every aspect or influence that capitalism has had on society is beneficial, it is the best system to be applied on such a large, global scale in which can be witnessed today.

To conclude, Kocka’s masterpiece offers highly insightful and useful information to one who is well-versed in this type of literature or even the casual reader. It is overall a great piece of introductory literature to begin to grasp the concepts and factors in which have shaped the system as we know it today. Kocka is able to effectively balance data, examples, opinion and fact in a very impressive means which makes this literature gripping from cover to cover. By discussing the history and significance of capitalism while simultaneously focusing upon the stepping-stones to modern interpretations of capitalism, Kocka offers a truly remarkable essay in which cannot be passed up.

Kocka’s Insightful Analysis Offers Insight to the Roots of Society Capitalism essay

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Kocka’s Insightful Analysis Offers Insight to the Roots of Society Capitalism. (2022, Aug 08). Retrieved from