Capitalism and Information Freedom


With the press we begin to have much better records and therefore we can “zoom in” on how information worked after the introduction of the press. We will see:

  • How the attitudes and actions of the leaders of Roman Catholic Church and the Protestant Reformation set the stage for how the press was received in various countries.
  • That there are two phases to the economic impact of the press,
    • The First Phase, where the elites, who have increased information access innovate making existing organization more efficient and what the impact was on the super system level – the international level – the system level – the emerging national level – and the individual level
    • The Second Phase, where common people, who have increased information access innovate creating new forms of organization
  • That the reception of the printing press changed second phase economic development in various countries
  • How the lack of a competitive context makes the reception of the printing press in East less significant reception in the West
  • How the changes in production changed the social relations between men, women and children and thereby changed the perception of gender roles.

This chapter will allow us to observe an information revolution with greater resolution and begin to understand the dynamics that govern economic change in response to differential information access. We will also see the first impact of addictive loops both negative and positive.

Setting the Stage – Capitalism and the Church

Before the invention of the press the Church was, effectively, able to control information. And, as was mentioned in chapter six (The Middle Ages – The Church and Information), it was in the Church’s interest to encourage learning, innovation, technological and economic development because it had a monopoly on “civilized” (non-pagan) religion and the right to tax individuals through the tithe. Unlike priesthoods in other times and cultures the Church was not dependent on the political powers. In addition the growth of a strong merchant class in the cities was to the Church’s advantage since it checked the growing power of political leaders.

The model we created in chapter eight suggests that where there was the greatest information access there should be the greatest innovation.

The Church was the seat of learning, therefore the initial advances in science, exploration and trading were where the Church was the strongest because there were more churchmen to teach the wealthy laity – the Italian city-states, Spain, and Portugal. In the first 50 years of printing the Church saw the press as a beneficial innovation. There were educated and liberal Catholics, and the Church was a supporter of education and innovation. The press was commended for its role in defeating the Turks. [1]

In Spain and Portugal, advances were made in mathematics, science, and Christian mysticism. Spain had printers who specialized in Arabic and Hebrew as well as printers who published in Greek, Latin and Spanish.

Reformation – The First Media Evangelists

However, this happy relationship between the Church and the press was not to last. In 1517 Martin Luther posted his 95 theses on the door of the Church at Wittenburg. If he had limited himself to posting his work on the Church door history might have taken another course. Luther would have been considered just another heretic. He was not the first to criticize the Church but he was the first to have “mass media” at his disposal. His work was immediately taken up and published.

    Between 1517 and 1520, Luther’s thirty publications probably sold well over 300,000 copies… Lutheranism was from the first the child of the printed book, and through this vehicle Luther was able to make exact, standardized and ineradicable impressions on the mind of Europe. For the first time in history a great reading public judged the validity of revolutionary ideas through a mass- medium which used the vernacular languages…t[2]

Luther wasn’t the only one. John Calvin was aware of the power of the press. He was the first of a new kind of theologian, one who could gain a hearing and a following because of the existence of the press. The first version of his Institutes of the Christian Religion published in 1535 made him a widely read theologian.[3]

The Reformation spread rapidly because of the press. And the press benefited from the teachings of the reformers. Cromwell, Calvin, and Luther all taught that it was the duty of every head of household to teach his dependents to read the Bible. The identification of reading with Protestantism was so great that Protestants became perceived as the “people of the book”. [4]

Counter Reformation and the Press

If the spread of Protestantism was swift, the reaction was also swift. A Bull of Pope Leo X was published in 1520. It excommunicated Martin Luther, condemned his works individually and collectively, ordered existing works burnt and prohibited printing, sale, distribution and possession of any of his writings.[5]

This established the initial distinction of the Protestants as supporters of a free press and the Catholic Church as an institution that ruled on what books could be read and published. At first the controversy was good for the printing business. Printers published tracts, posters, and books written by both sides of the argument. The hotter the controversies raged the more there was to print. The Index of prohibited books also served as an advertising medium. As soon as a book or an author was on the Index the demand for his books increased. In time, however, the policies of both the Church and the reformers became more restrictive as both sides banned the works of the other.[6]

The arguments of the Reformation brought Bible reading to the common folk. Protestants, anxious to make their difference from Catholics clear, held that everyone should be taught to read so they could read their Bible. Catholics, on the other hand, stressed obedience to authority. Both groups made it seem as though reading the Bible and obedience to authority were mutually exclusive activities.

The positions of both sides crystallized and hardened. The Catholic Church swiftly punished what it saw as the heresy of Protestantism. As the Inquisition progressed it seemed to the inquisitors that just as Protestants should be forced back into the fold for their own good so too should Jews and Muslims be brought into the Church. So Protestants Jews and Muslims were all persecuted and killed for their religious beliefs and their presses shut down or destroyed. It became more and more difficult for printers to continue their business in the Catholic countries – Spain, Portugal, Italy and France.

Protestant clerics were not more tolerant, but they were less powerful. This resulted in a migration of printers to the relatively more liberal Protestant lands of the north.

From 1517 on, major Catholic printing centers at Lyons and Paris in France, Venice, Rome, Milan in Italy and Seville and Alcala in Spain, lost ground. Only the most powerful printers, who enjoyed the patronage of the Church and the royal houses, remained openly operating. Finally, even Robert Estienne, of the powerful French printing dynasty, moved from Paris to Geneva and the once thriving printing houses of Lyons became little more than a repackaging industry.

First Phase Growth – 16th Century to Early 17th Century

The model developed in chapter eight suggests that the initial impact of and information technology should benefit the people who are already have the position and ability to make use of it. Because the upper classes of all the countries of Europe were already literate we would expect them to benefit first. The press allowed the emergence of the Renaissance state by making management, administration, finance, and expansion easier for more centralized governments.

Super-system level

We will start at super-system level – relations between states and what is common to them all. Then we will look at how this worked at a smaller system level and finally at the individual level.

Hugh Trevor-Roper notes that although the Renaissance started as city phenomena it grew to be federal phenomena during the economic expansion of the 16th century.[7] He credits the expansion on colonialism. But colonialism alone is not a sufficient explanation. Conquered of territory is not profitable unless it can be administered, and managed. The independent cities, that were such a feature of the Late Middle Ages and Early Renaissance, did not have either the organizational structure or the military to manage colonial expansion. Colonialism was made possible for the royal courts because they had access to capital that made a military possible, and ministers to invest that capital in exploration and exploitation. Trevor-Roper writes:

    ..all through the century the number of officers was growing. Princes needed them, more and more, to staff their councils and courts, their new special or permanent tribunals, which were the means of governing new territories and centralizing the government of the old. It was for this reason that the Renaissance Princes and their great ministers founded all those schools and colleges… The function of the new foundations was to satisfy the royal demand for officers – officers to man the new royal bureaucracies.[8]

The Renaissance state that emerged was an organizational shift from a loose network of cities based on alliances for mutual defense, to a formalized bureaucratic state – an increase in unit size. Ivo Schoffer writes of the growth of state centralization in the 16th century:

    The intensifying of traffic and trade, the new technical possibilities of administration and planning, the national disruption of the Church, the economic interweaving of towns and areas within the boundaries of the State are part of the picture of systematization of authority and the growth of larger political units. [9]

The press made theories of administration, management and statesmanship based on the classics – Plato, Aristotle – and by contemporaries – Machiavelli’s Prince, Moore’s Utopia – readily accessible. State administration became alienated as members of the elite discovered that statesmanship could be written about, taught and learned.

    …increasingly as the seventeenth century succeeded to the sixteenth, this multiplication of ever more costly offices outran the needs of State. Originally the need had created the officers; now the officers created the need…So ‘the Renaissance State’ consisted, at bottom, of an ever expanding bureaucracy which, though at first a working bureaucracy, had by the end of the sixteenth century become a parasitic bureaucracy…[10]

In all countries, Protestant and Catholic, the elites used the increase in information access to create effective bureaucracies – synchronous growth. But because success is conservative (people continue doing the thing that seems to work) – over time those same bureaucracies reached their effective limit and became parasitic. Trevor-Roper writes of Spain:

    Already, by 1590, the cracks are beginning to appear. The strains of the last years of Philip II’s wars release everywhere a growing volume of complaint… for of course, although war has not created the problem, war aggravates it…but if the strains are already obvious… they are, as yet, not fatal: for peace comes first…And then, with peace, what relief! The overstrained system is suddenly relaxed, and an era of pleasure and renewed extravagance follows… How, we may ask, could it go on? Even a far less expensive, more efficient bureaucracy had only been saved by peace: how could this much more outrageous system survive if the long prosperity of the sixteenth century or the saving peace of the seventeenth should fail. In fact, in the 1620’s they both failed at once…by 1621 the wars of Philip II had been resumed, bringing in their train new taxes, new offices, new exactions. Meanwhile the European economy…was suddenly struck by a great depression, the universal ‘decay of trade’ of 1620. [11]

This general crisis of the seventeenth century marks the end of the first phase of growth. As predicted by our model, the pattern of runaway growth, overshoot, downturn and depression is essentially the same regardless of the individual context or setting.

System Level

At the system level too, economic growth is essentially the same in all settings. It is based on innovation and elaboration of existing organizational structures: innovation in war – colonialism and innovation in administration – bureaucratization of government. The innovators were members of the existing military and political elites and they gave the centralized government better connections with the rest of the state that had been administered locally. The press also created better administration and connection with the rest of the world through both trade and colonial conquest.

Individual Level

At the individual level the officers of the Renaissance State were specialists and professionals educated in the new Universities. The old Universities had just prepared people for the Church – now however they prepared people for secular life. During the medieval period the qualities of service were thought to be part and parcel of the person and were inseparable from the perception of that person as a social being. In the Renaissance state, offices were still bought and sold but, as the press made universities possible, officers and ministers were taught their professions – their activities were no longer simply a natural part of their social role.

The formal act of teaching created two important changes in perception first that administration was not “natural” it had been alienated from the background of upper class life and second that the learner was an individual who learned well or poorly, he was not considered able simply because of his social class.


This changes in the administration of states validates the model developed above – a long period of growth where there is increased information access followed by a marked downturn or depression when the limit of that growth has been reached – the crisis of the 17th century.

Second Phase Growth – mid 16th Century to Late 17th Century

Historical Background

Starting in the middle of the 16th century the people of the Spanish Netherlands rebelled against their Spanish rulers. King Philip II wanted to break the autonomy of the Low Countries and impose a more centralized system of government. He was a staunch Catholic who did not speak Dutch and an absolutist. From the Dutch point of view Philip was a foreigner and a despot. Administration of the Netherlands was based on Spain’s military power rather than on Dutch laws and tradition.

This had a profound impact on printers. For example when Antwerp fell to the Catholics in 1585 the once powerful printing firm of Plantain-Moretus found their opportunities contracting. One of the Plantain sons-in-law, Frans Raphelengius, went to Leiden as a Calvinist convert where there was a wealth of opportunity.[12]

Throughout Catholic Europe the Inquisition decided what would be printed and what wouldn’t. It made it dangerous for a printer to print anything that wasn’t approved by the inquisition. (France remained largely Catholic though not with the kind of fervor of Spain, Portugal, and Italy.)

When the Calvinists were victorious in Holland, printers flocked there to be free from the Inquisition resulting in more printers per capita. This set up a competitive printing industry. Holland became a print intensive culture. It resulted in what is now known as the Golden Age of Dutch printing.

England got off to a slower start than Holland bet it was as print intensive.

Thus, the Reformation and Inquisition had a profound impact on where printers set up shop and which people had access to books and information. This in turn, meant greater educational opportunities for people in Protestant countries than in Catholic countries.

This gives us several contexts, each with different religious policies that result in more or less freedom of the press – and hence information freedom. Spain was the most restrictive, Holland and England were the least restrictive (though with different timing) and France was intermediately restrictive. By comparing and contrasting these different countries we can see how information freedom worked in each.

While the elites of various countries of Europe were experiencing the benefits of first phase growth the common people were having different experiences depending on how information and information technology was treated in their country. The second phase of information revolution growth occurs as the impact of information control began to take effect. The responses were different in the various countries of Europe depending upon the degree of information freedom.

The model developed above suggests that we should see economic development where there is high information access and little economic development where there is low information access, resulting in a pattern of economic growth based on innovation. Where groups are in economic competition the group with the least information access will be poorest and the group with the most information access will experience the most growth.

Spain – Control of Information Access

Spain had the least information access of any country in Europe. On the plus side Spain had able ministers and capital in the form of New World gold and silver. But because of low information access we would predict that there would be no innovations by members of the lower orders and little or no sustained internal economic growth.

Despite the advice of the arbitristas (economic philosophers) Spain had not implemented court reform or mercantilist policies. Spain knew it was in financial trouble and, since success is conservative, did what it had done in the past, it started a war that increased the burdens of state. In addition as Trevor-Roper writes of that burden:

    Nor had the Spanish economy been enabled to bear it. For meanwhile the national wealth of Spain had not increased: it had diminished. The voices of the mercantilist were stifled. The trade of Spain was taken over almost entirely by foreigners [13]

Many of those foreigners were from the print intensive Netherlands and England.

The picture of Spain painted by Gonzalez de Cellorigo in 1600 and quoted by Elliott (1967) fits the prediction of our model made above:

    Our republic has come to be an extreme contrast of rich and poor and there is no means of adjusting them one to another. Our condition is one in which there are rich who loll at ease or poor who beg, and we lack people of the middle sort, whom neither wealth nor poverty prevents from pursuing the rightful kind of business enjoined by Natural Law.[14]

This decline was not due to any intrinsic flaw in the Spanish character as there had been no shortage of “people of the middle sort” in 1500 but they had bought themselves into the peerage and were not replaced.

Spain’s persecution of the press meant only the elite had access to information. The Protestant countries of Europe had literate craftspeople who were the “people of the middle sort” so lamented by Gonzalez de Cellorigo. Spain controlled information and so could not compete. Elliott supports this. He says:

    Why was it that science and technology failed to take root in Spain at a time when they were beginning to arouse considerable interest elsewhere in Europe? …The conscious transformation of Spain into the redoubt of the true faith … served to cut Spain off from that powerful intellectual current which was leading elsewhere to scientific inquiry and technical experiment. [15]

In short, the craftspeople and small merchants were not literate and had not benefited from the print revolution. They could not compete with the inexpensive goods coming in from Holland and then from England.


The Spanish Empire in the 17th century is similar to what we saw above in the Roman Empire. People who had made money bought themselves into the upper class rather than investing that money in production and since Holland and England had invented new, better and cheaper ways to produce goods the lower classes were not able to compete.

As the model predicted Spain’s lack of information access determined her lack of economic development.

Holland – The Prototype of a ‘Free Press’ Context

The Dutch had more printers per capita, earlier than any other country. During the Inquisition, printers ‘voted with their feet’ leaving the Catholic countries (especially Spain) to make their living in Holland.

The merchants of Holland had easy and early access to books and learning. They learned business methods from the books and pamphlets published by printers, and as they became more educated generally they saw their business as separate from other activities. They were able to track what was profitable and what was not better, by using double entry book keeping.

Because they saw business as separate – as alienated from the activities of daily life– they applied, innovated, adapted, and enlarged the business methods pioneered by the great merchants of the Italian City states.

Of course, as fortunes were made the thrust to innovate weakened, why interfere with success. Soon, like the great merchants themselves, they became wealthy and complacent.

Trevor-Roper explains:

    Dutch industry was relatively insignificant. But the new rulers of Holland, seeking the means of guarding their hard-won freedom, set out to imitate the fortune and the methods of those older mercantile communities, which preserved their independence by rationally combining commercial wealth and maritime power. [16]

Eric Hobsbawm concurs that Holland was not a leader in capitalist manufacture writes:

    But the greatest beneficiary of seventeenth-century concentration, the Netherlands, was in many respects a ‘feudal business’ economy; a Florence, Antwerp or Augsburg – on a semi-national scale. It survived and flourished by cornering the world’s supply of certain scarce goods and much of the world’s business as a commercial and financial intermediary. Dutch profits did not depend greatly on capitalist manufacture. Hence the Dutch economy to some extent did a disservice to industrialization in the short run: to their own, by sacrificing Dutch manufactures (until 1816) to the huge vested interests of trading and finance. [17]


The alienation of banking and business methods brought by the press helped make Holland rich as was predicted. The model also predicts that success is conservative – the Dutch continued to innovate but the financiers saw no need to support it. The old ‘out group’, the financiers, became the new conservative ‘in group’.

England – No Control of Information Access

England, for the most part, did not control access to information. There was persecution and information control by Queen Mary as she tried to return England to Catholicism. But the only effect was getting England off to a slower start. In the long run, this slower start was beneficial. The mercantilists of Holland had already cornered the banking market, and Italy, Flanders, and the Low Countries were doing a brisk trade in luxury fabrics so England had to ‘leap frog’ to prosperity.

England’s economic growth was based on lowered production costs and production of ‘new draperies’ – lighter cloth that increasingly replaced expensive high-quality woolen cloth[18]. They were less expensive to produce and found a market amongst the growing merchant class who had more money than they had previously. The ‘out group’ had pioneered a revolution in production.

This revolution in production was a ‘bottoms up’ revolution. Dobb writes that though there was elite investment in production. The most effective development was amongst well to do craftsmen, who began to innovate in the organization of the manufacturing process.

    The opening of the seventeenth century witnessed the beginning of an important shift in the centre of gravity: the rising predominance of a class of merchant-employers from the ranks of the craftsmen themselves[19].

These craftsmen-employers were the sons of craftsmen who learned their father’s trade from the cradle and were taught to read and to do double entry bookkeeping. They were literate and numerate. They could keep track of work done by many apprentices and journeymen so they no longer had to live in common with their work force to know that work was being done. In their bookkeeping methods they had a model of the financial side of production that had been alienated from the actual process of production. These craftsmen were members of the ‘out group’ innovating on the basis of information access. They were not even the elite of their guilds.

The guilds were not happy with these new men. Quoting a manifesto written by the middle and small craftsmen of the felt-makers guild, who were protesting the practices of the wealthier members of their guild, Dobb writes:

    …many of the trade employ ten, twenty or thirty persons, and upwards in picking and carding wool and preparing it for use, besides journeymen and apprentices[20].

These crafts people were becoming industrial capitalists.

    The best known of these manufactory-capitalists is John Winchcomb, popularly known as Jack of Newbury, who, being the son of a draper and apprenticed to a rich clothier, was farsighted enough to marry his master’s widow. If the descriptions of him are true, he employed several hundred weavers, and owned a dye-house and fulling-mill as well[21].

So though Jack of Newbury’s wealth was a consequence of social relations (marrying his master’s widow) he did not consider himself bound to continue in their footsteps. He realized that he didn’t need to live with his workers to track their work. He was only able do this because he could keep books and read.

Production had been considered part and parcel of the activities of a family. Master-craftspeople saw production as part of their identity and purpose. But, in one generation, production became separate from an activity of a family to distinct money making activities done by replaceable laborers. It was alienated from the social world and a new business world was created.


This last example of high information access late in the game also supports the model. England was able to ‘leap frog’ the Netherlands and innovate from the bottom – the crafts people who are newly literate and so are able to organize production in a new way leading to capitalism.

France – Intermediate Control of Information Access

France remained Catholic but had a more open attitude than Spain. Its press and its Protestants were less controlled. In addition, as Trevor-Roper writes the French monarchy was not like Spain’s:

    …It was not economically parasitic. Industry, commerce, science flourished and grew in France … To all appearances, in 1670, in the age of Colbert, absolutism and the ancien regime were perfectly compatible with commercial and industrial growth and power.[22]

France fostered industry, but it was investment of and for the ‘in group’ as Maurice Dobb writes:

    But in general the system of industrial monopolies was cramping and restrictive, both by reason of the exclusiveness of the patent rights that were granted and by reason of the narrow circle to which the grant of such rights was generally confined. [23]

In addition, though France was Catholic and controlled the press members of the elite were generally able to get books on the black market. Unfortunately this did nothing for the literacy of the crafts producing classes.


As predicted France is in an intermediate position economically but it is government sponsorship of the elite, who have information access, rather than to innovation by the ‘out group’.

Note on Islam, China, Korea, Spain and the Press


The Islamic Empire was far ahead of Europe in science, technology and the arts before the introduction of the press. There are several contributing factors to Islam’s failure to capitalize on their intellectual lead.

First, in Islamic contexts the tripartite elite continued to hold power. As we have seen before the elite had a vested interest in controlling information. For example, though the Quran encourages all, including women become literate and to study, over time religious leaders restricted learning and so maintained their control over information.

Second, the educated class of Muslim legal scholars ruled against having the Quran printed, or establishing presses of any kind. Their reasoning was that the creation of text, particularly religious text, was something numinous and holy, to be created slowly and lovingly through the traditional calligraphic and bookbinding crafts. They also felt that students wouldn’t commit verses to memory if books were made readily available.

Third, factionalism was rife in the places dominated by Islam. It made information freedom very threatening. It was to the best interests of those who held power – secular or religious – to keep learning amongst a small handful of elite scholars who were dependent on the elite and so had an interest in maintaining the status quo.

All these factors slowed the adoption of printing and it wasn’t until 1720 that the first press was allowed to function. Even then it was only permitted to print secular and scientific books approved by the elite[24].

China and Korea

China and Korea both had the press before Europe. In both countries the press was given to and used by the ruling class.

In Korea the Emperor used it to further his own social reforms. In China the civil service used the press. In neither country did the press result in wide spread learning or innovation in the economic or social life of the country. [25]

The Importance of Context

The strategy of Islamic and Asian countries toward the press – government control – is the same strategy pursued by Spain. However, Spain was in a competitive context whereas the Asian countries were not economically, this is an important distinction. The Asian economies continued along the same track as they had before the invention of the press. In contrast, Spain’s wealth from her New World colonies went to enrich merchants, craftspeople, and manufacturers in Holland, England and other Protestant countries.

Putting it Together – First and Second Phase Behavior

All the countries of Western Europe experienced benefits of the press during its first phase. First phase development is important to the success of second phase development although it does not “cause” it.

The centralizing tendency and bureaucratization of the royal court creates infrastructure in the form of roads, standardized laws, regulations and courts. This helps the ‘out group’ by facilitating connections throughout the country.

During first phase development there is an increased demand for luxury goods because the elite have more money. This creates a class of wealthy producers and traders of luxury goods. Wealthy merchants, in turn, want better goods creating a demand for middle quality goods. Finally employees of craftspeople have more money and require low cost goods. This is the 16th century version of “trickle down”. The demand moves economic growth around geographically as each country finds its niche and becomes conservative.

Italy was the seat of the Church so it had the best information access stimulating innovation in navigation and learning. It started the age of exploration and the Renaissance. Spain had ties with Italy and once the press brought improved maps it colonized the New World bringing in great wealth. Holland sold luxury goods to Spain and benefited from its relationship with Spain by taking in the printers that left to find better markets. England finding the markets for high quality goods already saturated, sold quality cheap goods to Holland. This accounts for the eventual dominance of England. England entered the “innovation race” late and because of innovations in the organization of production and innovations in low cost high quality products, benefited from a healthy lower class market in Holland.

The two phases of development, which are apparent from the super-system level, are not distinct in the experience of the individuals at the system level. During the explorations of the 15th century and expansion of the sixteenth, people in the Protestant countries were experimenting with all kinds of innovations and organizational forms and writing and publishing their successes. Fernand Braudel makes the point that there were many attempts to rationalize production and to organize workers in a single building but that many of these failed[26]. This was partially due to infrastructure problems and partially the nature of learning – trial and error.

The phases of development are partially real and partially an artifact of historical observation. Real in that, there certainly was a phase of elite centralization, bureaucratization and absolutism, which led to explosive growth, which terminated in a downturn. And an artifact of observation in that activities that we see as relating to second phase growth develop throughout the first phase period but only become visible to history after the flash and glitter of the activities, of the royal courts, have subsided, and the impact of increased information access for the common people becomes evident.

The failed experiments of literate merchants, manufacturers, peasants and craftsmen are invisible to history. It is not until their innovations are successful and have made them wealthy that history can see them. By then they do not seem to be part of the newly literate ‘out group’ they seem like a new elite.

This is why there is a tendency to discount the impact of information technologies. For example, it makes sense that perhaps 1% or 2% of a literate population will be innovative, and that 0.10% of those innovations will be successful, and that therefore the larger the number of literate people the larger number of innovations there will be. But the feedback loops are so long and the connection so tenuous that the relationship is not obvious.

Downturns and Depressions

At the end of the 16th century there was an economic collapse that engendered instability in all spheres of life. Historians call it the crisis of the 17th century.

Peace however didn’t bring prosperity as the government continued to spend even more extravagantly And all of Europe was struck by a deep depression[27] .

Steensgaard notes in his writing about the state of the various economies of Europe that though there was a general depression, those countries where the press was most welcome were exceptions to the rule.

    The decades in the middle of the century, when the greatest economic difficulties were to be found in Spain, Germany, France and England were at the same time the golden age of the Netherlands. When the Dutch trade began in the last years of the century to show signs of weakness… there were others [England] prepared to step in…[28].

So, the pattern we see is a general expansion followed by depression – a boom followed by a bust. As we have seen before, all growth has its limits and with the crisis of the 17th century the limit of press fueled growth comes to a halt – the winners and the losers have achieved their places remaking the economic map of Europe.

Capitalism, the Press and Social Relations

Marshall McLuan noted that while men were profoundly affected by the press – it was the beginning of what he called the ‘typographic man’ meaning that men’s thoughts became more standardized and more readily accessible to each other – women were not so affected by media until the 20th century and the coming of the radio and photo-engraving.

Yet nothing could be further from the truth. The press had a profound effect on the lives and perceptions of women as well as men.

Before the press, husbands and wives were more equally matched economically and educationally than after. It became less socially acceptable for women to hire and fire or to continue to work in the family business after her husband’s demise, and it became less and less likely that women were sufficiently educated to run their own businesses, farms, manors, or to follow professions.

As capitalism developed business moved out of the common room, first to a room of its own, then to a floor of its own, and finally out of the home all together. This excluded women from the public, exterior, professional world of business. Women became specialists in the tasks relating to reproduction and men became specialists in tasks relating to production.

These are complimentary developments dependent upon each other. The first craftsman to hire many journeymen to do piece work within the new paradigm of hired labor power was able to do so because his wife took over his responsibilities at home. But this is a cultural and economic distinction not a biological distinction.

These economic and educational changes increased the perception that men are individuals able to learn and to act freely. Their lives are determined economics, education, and choice. This supports Marx’s notion that economic relations that govern the production of goods come to determine social relations.

He says:

    … the economic structure of society, is the real basis on which the juridical and political superstructure is raised and to which definite social forms of thought correspond; that the mode of production determines the character of the social, political, and intellectual life generally…[29]

These social relations change as a society moves to production based on labor that is sold as a commodity. The selling of labor alienates labor from the laborer. The laborer sees the labor he or she is selling as separate from his or her social person. As we saw in the Chapter on Rome this is distinctly different from labor that is part of social relations – slave or villienage labor.

As people began to sell their labor, specifically, rather than as simply living with a master as a quasi-family member, they became aware of themselves as separate from their employers as social beings.

Further, an actual or implied contract for labor suggests negotiations, and negotiations suggest social equality between the two parties. Therefore, men, as workers, began to see themselves as socially equal to their employers.

Men began to see that labor is separate from their social identities. This, in turn, allowed them to think about their labor as separate from their identities. They began to see themselves as individuals. They might be members of a social group, but they are individual members, with choices, rather than as organic parts of the whole.

Discussion Conclusion

The model we developed in Chapter nine is supported by what we observe of the information revolution following the introduction of the press.

Initially there was innovation amongst the upper classes of all countries. Universities that had previously just educated men for the church now educated ministers to run the centralized kingly-state.

However, as a result of the Reformation the Church went from supporting innovation and information freedom amongst the common people to control and suppression of information during the Inquisition.

It essentially returned to the tri-partite elite position traditionally held by priesthoods supporting Catholic kings and their militaries suppressing the people.

Therefore in the Catholic countries where the press was controlled did not have “people of the middle sort” the people who generated the wealth of the country.

In the countries with information freedom the press made literacy available to men in the crafts producing class. Capitalism arose from these newly literate men. They were able to innovate because they knew their craft from the cradle and they had the new habit of mind fostered by literacy and numeracy.

Craftsmen were able to change their business practices because their wives ceased to be part of business and took over their husbands’ responsibilities for their home and children. This changed the way women were and to some extent still are perceived.

As labor became a commodity became alienated from the social realm and people began to develop a sense of themselves as individuals acting in society with purpose and choice rather than defining themselves only on the basis of their social position.

This dynamic was the beginning of the incredible wealth of The West.

[1] Steinberg,


Berry & Poole,

[2] Dickens, in Eisenstein,
1979, p.303

[3] Eisenstein, E.
1979 p. 401-402

[4] Eisenstein, E.
1979 p.358

[5] (Berry & Poole, 1966).

[6] Eisenstein, E.
1979 p.419

[7] Trevor-Roper,

[8] (Trevor-Roper,
1963, p.78

[9] Schoffer, I.
1979, Did Holland’s Golden Age Coincide with a Period of Crisis? in The General Crisis of the Seventeenth Century. G. Parker and L.M. Smith (eds) Routledge Kegan and Paul, London p.102

[10] Trevor-Roper, 1963, p.82

[11] Trevor-Roper, 1963, p.84

[12] Eisenstein, E.
1979 p. 408-409.

[13] Trevor- Roper, 1963, p.93

[14] Elliott, 1967, p.196

[15] Elliott, 1967, p.198

[16] Trevor-Roper, 1963, p.95

[17] Hobsbawm, 1967, p.45

[18] Steensgaard,
1978, p.33

[19] Dobb,
1963, p.134

[20] Dobb, p.137

[21] Dobb, p.138

[22] Trevor-Roper, 1963, p.95

[23] Dobb, M.
1963, Studies in the Development of Capitalism, International Publishers, NY p.165

[24] Aslan, R.
2006 No God But God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam, Random House, NY

Murad, A.H.
1997 Islam and the New Millennium, essay is based on a lecture given at the Belfast Central Mosque.

[25] Needham, 1956

[26] Braudel, F.

[27] Trevor-Roper, 1963, p.84

[28] Steensgaard, 1978, p.36

[29] Marx, K.
1970. Das Kapital, Moore, Samuel and Aveling, Edward (trans.). London, Vol. 1:302. footnote #34