A selection of books relating to this blog post can currently be found on our Curator’s Choice page.
Peter Harrington is proud to be associated with an exhibition currently running in Rome, at the Palazzo Madama, the home of the Italian Senate. The exhibition, which was earlier displayed at the Biblioteca Wittockiana in Brussels, runs until June 20 2017 and is highly recommended.
Books That Made Europe is a timely exhibition. Scheduled to coincide with the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Rome (1957) which facilitated the creation of the European Economic Community, the exhibition celebrates the printed works which underpin the culture and values of the modern-day European Union.
This exhibition roots the EU’s foundation ideals of freedom, human rights and integration in Europe’s intellectual and cultural heritage, beginning with Johann Gutenberg, whose invention in c. 1440 of movable type enabled the mass circulation of ideas through the printed word. The exhibition features 140 books, spanning six centuries. Recalling that European federalism was sought in the aftermath of the Second World War, as a direct attempt to curb future abuses of power by Nation States and to guard against the rise of extreme nationalism, the books featured have been selected for their capacity to challenge assumptions and broaden minds. The most influential scientific and cultural works are represented in the collection, to which Peter Harrington has supplied and lent a number of items and has facilitated the loan of several others through its connections to private collectors and institutions.
Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, or the Matter, Forme, & Power of a Common-wealth Ecclesiastical and Civil. 1651.
One of the most important books in the history of political philosophy, Thomas Hobbes’ treatise on the structure of society and legitimate government is the first attempt to set out a cohesive political system in the English language. The work was conceived in one of the most tumultuous periods in English history; the conflict between Charles I and parliament and the resultant civil war, which culminated in the execution of the king and installation of Oliver Cromwell as Lord Protector.
Leviathan presents Hobbes’ theory of the reciprocal relationship between political obedience and peace and argues for a social contract between the state and the individual to guard against political disintegration. The famous frontispiece to the work – the titular leviathan – was designed by Hobbes in collaboration with the French artist Abraham Bosse, and is a perfect illustration of his ideas. A giant crowned figure, his body composed of numerous other tiny figures, towers above a well-ordered landscape. As Hobbes wrote
the multitude so united in one person is called a COMMONWEALTH; in Latin, CIVITAS. This is the generation of that great LEVIATHAN, or rather, to speak more reverently, of that mortal god to which we owe, under the immortal God, our peace and defence. For by this authority, given him by every particular man in the Commonwealth, he hath the use of so much power and strength conferred on him that, by terror thereof, he is enabled to form the wills of them all, to peace at home, and mutual aid against their enemies abroad. And in him consisteth the essence of the Commonwealth; which, to define it, is: one person, of whose acts a great multitude, by mutual covenants one with another, have made themselves every one the author, to the end he may use the strength and means of them all as he shall think expedient for their peace and common defence.
Hobbes’ work generated a storm of controversy, particularly after the restoration of the Stuarts in 1660. Parliament tried to ban Leviathan and Hobbes was forced to defend himself against charges of atheism, scepticism and materialism.
Samuel Pufendorf, De officio hominis et civis juxta legem naturalem libri duo. 1673
First edition, one of two printings of 1673, this one with 32 unnumbered preliminary and 243 numbered pages (pp. 129-130 and 179 omitted in pagination), the other with 240 numbered pages. This is a short summary of a part of Pufendorf’s masterwork De jure naturae et gentium. The legal theorist, historian and theologian Samuel von Pufendorf (1632-94) was the first professor of the Law of Nature and of Nations in a German university, at Heidelberg. In his works on political science “he attempted to strike a middle path between the rationalism of Grotius and the voluntarism of Hobbes. He envisaged the state of nature as a war of all against all, from which men would wish to save themselves by joining in a society whose laws were imposed by the ruler’s will. But he also argued that such laws must conform to natural law, whose duties he maintained, unlike Grotius, were imposed on man by God’s will. For it must have been God’s will to give man such a nature that he can only live and prosper in society and therefore an inclination to observe the rules that make social life possible. In preference to Grotius a posteriori method, he adopted a sociological form of inquiry into man’s condition in society” (The New Palgrave III, p. 1074).
John Locke, Some Considerations of the Consequences of the Lowering of Interest and Raising the Value of Money. 1692.
Locke’s first book on economics, this is an influential contribution to monetary theory which offers a sophisticated defense of mercantilism. After the Revolution Settlement, the question of lowering the rate of interest in England was topical: many London merchants wanted cheap money and Locke was thus prompted to look out his “old essay” and prepare it for publication in which he was encouraged by his friend John Somers – the unnamed MP to whom it was dedicated.
“In his tract of 1692, (Some Considerations, written 1672) Locke controverts the view of Sir Josiah Child that the rate of interest could be fixed at a low rate, say 4 per cent, by law. Locke, though ready to approve of a legal rate of 6 per cent, argues that ‘generally speaking’ the price of the hire of money cannot be fixed by law; and that any attempt to fix the rate of interest below ‘the true and natural value’ can only harass trade and is sure to be defeated by the devices of expert traders” (Palgrave II, 632–633).
“Locke’s writings on money and his arguments against devaluation have almost been regarded as gospels for ‘sound money’ men. The influence of his thought was most noticeable in the early nineteenth century, as shown in the speeches of Canning and Peel when parliament debated the monetary standard in 1811, 1819 and 1844. But strange to say, Locke himself was not happy about his own work on money. In a letter to William Molyneux (30th March 1696), he stated his feelings as follows: ‘The business of our money has so near brought us to ruin, that, till the Plot broke out, it was every body’s talk, every body’s uneasiness. And because I had played the fool to print about it, there was scarce a post wherein somebody or other did not give me fresh trouble about it … I must own to you, this, and the like subject, are not those which I now relish, or that do, with most pleasure, employ my thought’” (see Ming-Hsun Li, The Great Recoinage of 1696–9, pp. 104–105).
Karl Marx, Das Kapital. Kritik der politischen Oekonomie. 1867
Rare first edition of the first volume of Das Kapital, the only one to appear in Marx’s lifetime; one of 1,000 copies printed. Two further volumes were published from his manuscripts by Engels, in 1885 and 1894 respectively.
The first volume of Das Kapital was published on 14 September 1867 in Hamburg, issued in printed wrappers.
“Marx himself modestly described Das Kapital as a continuation of his Zur Kritik de politischen Oekonomie, 1859. It was in fact the summation of his quarter of a century’s economic studies, mostly in the Reading Room of the British Museum. The Athenaeum reviewer of the first English translation (1887) later wrote: ‘Under the guise of a critical analysis of capital, Karl Marx’s work is principally a polemic against capitalists and the capitalist mode of production, and it is this polemical tone which is its chief charm’. The historical-polemical passages, with their formidable documentation from British official sources, have remained memorable; and, as Marx (a chronic furunculosis victim) wrote to Engels while the volume was still in the press, ‘I hope the bourgeoisie will remember my carbuncles all the rest of their lives’ …”
“By an odd quirk of history the first foreign translation of Das Kapital to appear was the Russian, which Petersburgers found in their bookshops early in April 1872. Giving his imprimatur, the censor, one Skuratov, had written ‘few people in Russia will read it, and still fewer will understand it’. He was wrong: the edition sold out quickly; and in 1880 Marx was writing to his friend F. A. Sorge that ‘our success is still greater in Russia, where Kapital is read and appreciated more than anywhere else’” (PMM).
“The history of the twentieth century is Marx’s legacy. Stalin, Mao, Che, Castro—the icons and monsters of the modern age have all presented themselves as his heirs. Whether he would recognise them as such is quite another matter … Nevertheless, within one hundred years of his death half the world’s population was ruled by governments that professed Marxism to be their guiding faith. His ideas have transformed the study of economics, history, geography, sociology and literature. Not since Jesus Christ has an obscure pauper inspired such global devotion—or been so calamitously misinterpreted” (Francis Wheen, in his introduction to Karl Marx, 1999).
Adolf Wagner, Karl Heinrich Rau’s Lehrbuch der Finanzwissenschaft. Sechste Ausgabe, vielfach verändert und theilweise völlig neu bearbeitet. Erste Abtheilung. Einleitung. Ausgaben. Privaterwerth des Staats. 1872.
First edition of Wagner’s reworking of volume three of Rau’s Lehrbuch der politischen Oekonomie.
Wagner was a prominent economist of the Bismark era, a Kathedersozialist or academic socialist. As a social philosopher, he criticised emergent industrial –commercial capitalist ideals, whilst maintaining an essentially conservative stance, advocating a State capable of reconciling individualistic and socialistic principles.
Undoubtedly Wagner’s most important and enduring work, the Lehrbuch der Finanzwissenschaft was his revision of the third part of Karl Heinrich Rau’s four-volume compendium Lehrbuch der politischen Ökonomie. His presentation of the material was ground-breaking, dismissing the traditional German ‘cameralistic’ management of state finances, instead envisioning a modern theory of public finance, centred on a more active role of the State and a tax system that aimed at promoting greater equality. He also believed an active role of the State in a developing industrial society, and thus advocated the nationalisation of certain key sectors, such as railways, insurance and banking. Most importantly, Wagner categorically rejected the system of laissez-faire liberalism epitomised by the British economy.
Knut Wicksell, Geldzins und Güterpreise. 1898
In Geldzins und Güterpreise, believed by many to be Wicksell’s most original and enduring contribution to economics, ‘he more or less founded modern macroeconomics by going back to Tooke’s contra-quantity theory of money, according to which the price level is determined not by the quantity of money but by the national income in the form of the total flow of expenditures on goods and services. While rejecting Tooke’s argument, he restated the old quantity of money so as to emphasise expenditure flows, carefully distinguishing the direct effect of an increase in the quantity of money on prices via the cash balances individuals are willing to hold and the indirect effect on prices that operate through variations in the rate of interest’ (Great Economists Before Keynes, p. 274).
C.G. Uhr, writing in The New Palgrave, describes this work as ‘the home of the Wicksellian “cumulative price level fluctuations or processes”, allegedly generated by a divergence between the rate of return on newly created real capital and the bank-dominated market rate of interest’ (IV, 904).
John Maynard Keynes, The Economic Consequences of The Peace. 1919.
Keynes’ second, and sometimes called his best, book, The Economic Consequences of The Peace, is a critical account of the Treaty of Versailles based on Keynes’ experience as a delegate of the British Treasury at the Paris Peace Conference of 1919. Keynes had argued for a more generous deal for Germany in the wake of the First World War, and perceived that the reparations imposed would ruin Europe. For this reason, the book is heralded by some as an early anticipation of the World War II. Keynes resigned from his advisory role with the Treasury just three weeks before the signing of the Treaty, amid growing frustration with the negotiations and concerns over his health. He returned to Cambridge where he spent the summer of 1919 writing this meditation on the progress of the Conference and his predictions of its consequences.
Two profound criticisms of the Treaty underpin Keynes’ book. His first is that the economic terms of the treaty rendered prosperity in Europe through an equitable, effective and integrated economic system impossible. Secondly, he argued that the Allies had violated their commitment to a policy of even handedness by the severe terms of the Treaty.
The book became an almost immediate success on both sides of the Atlantic, solidifying Keynes’ reputation as one of the leading economists and public intellectuals of his day.
You can find the exhibition catalogue, which includes in-depth information on each item and its importance, as well as several essays about the history of the printed word in Europe, here. A supplementary catalogue is also available and can be found here.
Special thanks to Dario Lasagni, Eugenio Sidoli and Ian Smith in helping with the production of this blog.