The New Age After The 1500S Essay — страница 2

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another form of negotiable security, their own shares. Quotation of these in London coffee-houses in the seventeenth century was overtaken by the foundation of the London Stock Exchange. By 1800 similar institutions existed in many other countries. It was also the time of some spectacular disastrous investment projects, one of which was the great English South Sea Bubble. But all the time the world was growing more commercial, more used to the idea of employing money to make money, and was supplying itself with the apparatus of modern capitalism. One effect quickly appeared in the much greater attention paid to commercial questions in diplomatic negotiation from the later seventeenth century and in the fact that countries were prepared to fight over them. The English and Dutch

went to war over trade in 1652. This opened a long era during which they, the French and Spanish, fought again and again over quarrels in which questions of trade were important. Governments not only looked after their merchants by going to war to uphold their interests, but also intervened in other ways in the working of the commercial economy. One advantage they could offer were monopoly privileges to a company under a charter; this made the raising of capital easier by offering some security for a return. Such activities closely involved government and therefore the concerns of businessmen shaped both, policy and law. The most impressive structural development in European commerce was the sudden new importance to it of overseas trade from the second half of the seventeenth

century onwards. This was part of the shift of economic activity from Mediterranean to northern Europe. By the late seventeenth century. Rising populations and some assurance of adequate transport (water was always cheaper than land carriage) slowly built up an international trade in cereals. Shipbuilding itself promoted the movement of such commodities as pitch, flax or timber. More than European consumption was involved; all this took place in a setting of growing colonial empires. By the eighteenth century there were already present an oceanic economy and an international trading community which does business — and fights and intrigues for it — around the globe. In this economy an important and growing part was played by slaves, most of them black Africans. In Europe

itself, slavery had by then all but withered away. Now it was to undergo a vast extension in other continents. Soon a permanent slaving station was set up in West Africa. This shows the rapid discovery of the profitability of the new traffic. It was already clear that it was a business of brutality. As the search for slaves went further inland, it became simpler to rely on local potentates who would round up captives and barter them wholesale. Early industrial centers grew by accretion, often around the centers of established European industries closely related to agriculture. This long continued to be true. These old trades had created concentrations of supporting industry. Antwerp had been the great port of entry to Europe for English cloth; as a result, finishing and dyeing

establishments appeared there to work up further commodities flowing through the port. The twentieth century needs no reminders that social change can quickly follow economic change. We have little belief in the immutability of social forms and institutions. Three hundred years ago, many men and women believed them to be virtually God-given and the result was that although social changes took place in the aftermath of inflation, they were muffled by the persistence of old forms. Superficially much of European society remained unchanged between 1500 and 1800. Yet the economic realities underlying changed a great deal. Rural life had already begun to show this in some countries before 1500. As agriculture became more and more a matter of business, traditional rural society had to

change. Forms were usually preserved. Although feudal lordship still existed in France in the 1780s, it was by then less a social reality than an economic device. Europe was divided roughly along the Elbe. To the west lay countries evolving slowly by 1800 towards more open social forms. To the east lay authoritarian governments presiding over agrarian societies where a minority of landholders enjoyed great powers over a largely tied peasantry. In this area towns did not often prosper as they had done for centuries in the West. They tended to be overtaxed islands in a rural sea, unable to attract from the countryside the labor they needed because of the extent of serfdom. Over great tracts of Poland and Russia even a money economy barely existed. Much of later European history was