“A long thread of tragedy is woven through the story of the puffy white substance that clothes us all.” That’s the closing line of the New York Times’ book review of historian Sven Beckert’s new book Empire of Cotton. I heard Beckert talk about his book here in Memphis last week, and he emphasized that, historically speaking, discussing cotton in … Read more by historian Jessica Bratt at The Twelve: Cotton – THE TWELVE
Harvard University historian Sven Beckert has a thought-provoking summary of current historical research about the relationship of slavery and capitalism. Here is a taste of his essay:
When we marshal big arguments about the West’s superior economic performance, and build these arguments upon an account of the West’s allegedly superior institutions like private-property rights, lean government, and the rule of law, we need to remember that the world Westerners forged was equally characterized by exactly the opposite: vast confiscation of land and labor, huge state intervention in the form of colonialism, and the rule of violence and coercion. And we also need to qualify the fairy tale we like to tell about capitalism and free labor. Global capitalism is characterized by a whole variety of labor regimes, one of which, a crucial one, was slavery.
You can find his entire piece at the Chronicle of Higher Education here: Slavery and Capitalism – The Chronicle Review – The Chronicle of Higher Education.