When did capitalism start?


Well. Is this a timeline of the rise of capitalism, or a timeline of the rise of Western European hegemony? Even Karl Marx wrote of “capital” (or capitalist mode of production) and not capitalism, so what is “capitalism” in the first place? Wasn’t it a term constructed somewhere in the second half of the nineteenth century in Western Europe, canonized by mostly German authors? (Was this a mere coincidence?) Wasn’t it a term fixed as the successive stage after so-called feudalism (another relatively Eurocentric term), in the transition from feudalism to capitalism debate? Wasn’t it seen as the highest form of modern European development (even if in negative light, such as imperialism) to be overthrown by European modernization ideals, such as communism? Wasn’t it in the same way during the Cold War seen as the essential idea behind liberal democracy, civil society, etc., as the anti-thesis of so-called socialist countries? Wasn’t it seen as neoliberal agendas in the so-called Second and Third Worlds from the 1970s and after 1989/91? So which one was capitalism? Are they the same thing?

Furthermore, what does “capitalism” consist of in the first place? This latter one is an intriguing question, since capital, capitalists and capital development existed since ages. Even Max Weber notes that you could find it in Babylonia, Ancient Greece, Rome, medieval China or Japan. Democracy was “said” to have existed in Ancient Greece. Modernism was “said” to have begun in the Renaissance. Rationalism was “said” to have kicked off with the Enlightenment. And capitalism? 1492? 1571? (see G. O. Flynn and A. Giráldez) The industrial revolution (and which one)? The 19th century? We all know, that these are highly debated. However, the worst you could do is draw a timeline of the spontaneous emergence of “capitalism”, referring to “something” that popped out in universal space and exists until today.

I could equally say, that “capitalism” was a concept deriving from Confucianist ideas in the 18th century by French physiocrats, who translated “wu-wei” into “laissez-faire”. Why not say this?

Of course I get the provocative idea of the timeline, but this binary logic of whether or not capitalism existed is dumbly posed in the first place. Or there are like ecological critiques that would suggest that exploitation and developmentalism per se existed since “modern man”, and capitalism is just an acceleration of these processes. 😀 In all, I wonder what that 1600-1700 AD suggests…