There is little doubt that the political revolutions of the eighteenth century changed the course of Western history. But why did the idea of civic equality find such fertile ground in France? What is the relationship between political ideas and economic realities? William H. Sewell Jr. turns to the experience of commercial capitalism to show how the commodity form abstracted social relations. The increased independence, flexibility, and anonymity of market relations made equality between citizens not only conceivable but attractive. Commercial capitalism found its way into the interstices of this otherwise rigidly hierarchical society, coloring social relations and paving the way for the establishment of civic equality. Sewell ties together masterful analyses of a multitude of interrelated topics: the rise of commerce, the emergence of urban publics, the careers of the philosophes, commercial publishing, patronage, political economy, trade, and state finance. Capitalism and the Emergence of Civic Equality in Eighteenth-Century France offers an original interpretation of one of history’s pivotal moments.
About the Author
William H. Sewell Jr. is the Frank P. Hixon Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus in Political Science and History at the University of Chicago. He is the author of several books, including, most recently, Logics of History: Social Theory and Social Transformation, published by the University of Chicago Press.