Review Essay

We Didn't Start the Fire: Capitalism and Its Critics, Then and Now

In This Review

The Mind and the Market: Capitalism in Western Thought
The Mind and the Market: Capitalism in Western Thought
By Jerry Z. Muller
Anchor, 2003, 512 pp. $17.95 Purchase

Thanks to globalization, it is often said, the world is at the dawn of a new era. The spread of markets across the globe and the deepening and quickening of economic interconnections have narrowed the choices open to leaders and publics. You can either opt out of the system and languish or put on what Thomas Friedman calls neoliberalism's "golden straitjacket" -- after which "your economy grows and your politics shrinks." The new order's boosters tout its productivity and efficiency, but critics bemoan its hollowing out of democracy and communal solidarity. From blue-collar autoworkers and turtle-suited environmentalists in the United States to angry farmers in France and frustrated strongmen in Malaysia, calls ring out to reclaim some areas of life from the ever-tightening grip of the market.

The controversy has emerged so quickly that it seems new and strange -- although in fact it is anything but, as Jerry Z. Muller demonstrates in his wonderful new book The Mind and the Market. A historian at Catholic University, Muller has written a lively and accessible survey of what dozens of major European thinkers have thought about capitalism. The value of the book lies less in its contribution to the literature on any particular individual than in its gathering together in one place of a wealth of information on figures from Burke, Smith, and Voltaire to Schumpeter, Keynes, and Hayek. Muller's masterful sketches of intellectuals from across the political spectrum help put today's battles over globalization in proper historical perspective. He reminds us just how venerable many of the current antiglobalization movement's concerns actually are, and thus how they need to be understood and addressed not as the consequences of recent policies or conditions but rather as inherent in the dynamics of capitalism itself. What becomes painfully clear in the process is how far the level of debate has fallen in recent decades and how impoverished and narrow contemporary thought about the market has become.


Because Americans take capitalism for

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