Front Page Titles (by Subject) Braudel\'s Ideological Theory of Capitalism - Literature of Liberty, Winter 1981, vol. 4, No. 4
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Braudel's Ideological Theory of Capitalism - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, Winter 1981, vol. 4, No. 4 
Literature of Liberty: A Review of Contemporary Liberal Thought was published first by the Cato Institute (1978-1979) and later by the Institute for Humane Studies (1980-1982) under the editorial direction of Leonard P. Liggio.
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Braudel's Ideological Theory of Capitalism
“Capitalism Enshrined: Braudel's Triptych of Modern Economic History.” The Journal of Modern History 53(December 1981):673–682.
Fernand Braudel's three monumental volumes covering European economic history and the rise of capitalism between 1400 and 1800 are impressive for their historical detail and grand sweep, but they raise serious misgivings because of Braudel's ideological assumptions and procrustean classifications and definitions.
After some 1500 pages, sparkling with rich nuggets of previously neglected information, Braudel leaves unanswered the key questions concerning the genesis of capitalism's rise and dominance in Europe. He fails to integrate the interworkings of the productive, consumptive, distributive, and circulatory systems of the world-wide economy whose growth and history he has minutely traced. His value-laden definition of “capitalism” as the stage of economic growth characterized by large profits through world-wide or inter-regional trade and arbitrage is too restrictive. By concentrating on trade and circulation of goods for profit, Braudel's understanding of capitalism neglects why production and technology surged forward during these 400 years. The multiplication of markets (the orthodox exchangist view of the rise of capitalism) may not have been the cause so much as the effect of the transformation in technology and labor productivity.
Braudel's three tomes of Civilisation matérielle, économie et capitalisme, XVe–XVIIIe siecle—Volume I: Les Structures du quotidien: le possible et l'impossible; Volume II: Les Jeux de l'échange; Volume III: Le Temps du monde (Paris: 1979)—challenge the view that modern European economic life was a unified development towards the Industrial Revolution. By contrast he maintains that economic activity between 1400 and 1800 moved along three nearly independent lines: (1) “material life” or the “infra-economic” level of local self-sufficiency, (2) “economy” proper marked by true market exchange, and (3) a higher level and upper limit of the market economy, namely the domain of “capitalism,” distinguished by far-flung and eventually world-wide trade and profitable arbitrage. In a parallel fashion this trinitarian scheme is reflected in the subject matter of the three volumes: volume one describes the “primitive” economic routines of isolated backward economies, volume two the accelerators of change (the creation of middle-sized markets which trade the production surpluses of previously isolated towns and provinces, and volume three the march of the European economy toward progress, freedom, and a world-wide global market order familiar from Wallerstein's work.
Although he claims his interpretation is the result of neutral, empirical observation, Braudel's theory is “doubly filtered”, first by his reliance on other historians and second by his debatable and overly restricted notion of capitalism. In addition, Braudel's methodology professes deeply value-laden “historical faiths”: the conviction that somewhat reified long-term economic forces always win out over short-term ones, and that human activities form a scientifically analyzable totality—a rather nebulous and mystical assumption which seeks to overcome the plurality and diversity of economic activity in an elegant but arbitrary “coercive codification” of trinitarian patterns and tendencies.