Saturday, January 02, 2010

Curiosity Corner 1

I have had occasion to correct in moderate terms the not immoderate misuse of the word ‘capitalism’ in its non-existent association with Adam Smith and have often stated that Smith neither used the word nor knew of the phenomenon of capitalism.

Nor, interestingly, did Ricardo, Mill, or Karl Marx know or use the word capitalism.

In Marx’s case he referred to the "capitalist form of production" ("kapitalistische Produktionsform") and in Das Kapital to "Kapitalist", or "capitalist".

It’s amazing how a vocabulary changes wholesale the cultural meanings given to modern words when placed in a earlier context when they were not known.

Many leftish commentators ascribe to Smith the dubious, and wholly inaccurate, status of an advocated of capitalism, as if Wealth Of Nations (1776) was some sort of “bible” of the subject; many Rightish commentators describe Smith as the “inventor” of capitalism, wholly ignorant of the foregoing facts.

For the record, the word capitalism was first used in English in 1854 by William Makepeace Thackeray (1811-1863) in his novel, “The Newcomes: Memoirs of a Most Respectable Family, Edited by Arthur Pendennis, Esq” (chapter XLVI, The Hotel De Florac - my edition is published by Thomas Nelson and Sons, London 1900:

The sense of capitalism sobered and dignified Paul de Florac: at the age of five-and-forty he was actually giving up being a young man, and was not ill-pleased at having to enlarge his waistcoats, and to show a little grey in his moustache” (page 558).

The Oxford English Dictionary(OED) cites the use of the term "private capitalism" by Karl Daniel Adolf Douai, German-American socialist and abolitionist in the late 19th century, in an 1877 work entitled "Better Times", and a citation by an unknown author in 1884 in the pages of Pall Mall magazine. (HERE)

Like the genesis of that other famous metaphor, “an invisible hand”, not rarely discussed on Lost Legacy, the use of the word capitalism began to become popularized in the 20th century, with its appearance in Max Weber's, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism in 1904, ("Die protestantische Ethik und der Geist des Kapitalismus", and in Werner Sombart's, "Der Moderne Kapitalismus" (Modern Capitalism) 1902, and later, "Der Bourgeois", 1913). (HERE)



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