the corporate nature of european societies and liberal democracy

after describing how the catholic church put an end (for the most part) to clans and tribes in western europe via its regulations on marriage, a topic which has been discussed at length here on the ol’ blog (see the Inbreeding in Europe series down below in the left-hand column), economist avner greif explains in “Family Structure, Institutions, and Growth: The Origins and Implications of Western Corporations” how the new, individualistic europeans developed a corporate society, one which eventually lead to democratic nations in europe [pgs. 309-10]:

“The decline of large kinship groups in Europe transpired during a period in which the state was also disintegrating and the church’s secular authority was diminishing…. A new solution was needed to solve problems of conflict and cooperation, and people got together to form corporations.

“These corporations were voluntary, interest-based based, self-governed, and intentionally created permanent associations. In many cases, they were self-organized and not established by the state. Participation was voluntary in the sense that one had to be attracted to be a member and, therefore, corporations had to cater to their members’ interests….

“By the late medieval period, economic and political corporations dominated Europe….

“Monasteries, fraternities, and mutual-insurance guilds provided social safety nets against famine, unemployment, and disability. The majority of the population belonged to such fraternities and guilds, at least in England. Because corporations provided social safety nets that were alternatives to those provided by kinship groups, they enabled individuals to take risks and make other economic decisions without interference by members of such groups. Relative to a society dominated by kinship groups, the nuclear family structure increased capital per worker by encouraging later marriages and fewer children, and it led to a more efficient distribution of labor and knowledge by facilitating migration.

“Craft guilds regulated production, training, and the protection of brand names. Universities, monastic orders, and guilds developed and distributed scientific and technological knowledge. Merchant guilds and communes protected property rights at home and abroad, secured brand names, and provided contract enforcement in exchange. Corporations, such as the Italian citystates and military orders, mustered armies to expand the European resource base.

“Many late medieval corporations were political; they had their own legal systems, administrations, and military forces. The Italian city-republics were literally independent, but most European cities west of the Baltic Sea in the north and the Adriatic Sea in the south were also political corporations (communes). Political corporations also prevailed among Western European peasants. Because such corporations preceded the pre-modern European states, they often provided these states with indispensable services, such as tax collection, law and order, and an army. Self-interested rulers were constrained in adopting policies that hindered these corporations’ economic interests or abusing their property rights (Greif, 2005). Indeed, by the thirteenth century, most European principalities had representative bodies to approve taxation and communes were represented in all of them. Economic corporations, therefore, had the ability to impact policies and, in the long run, they were influential in transforming the European state into a corporation in the form of a democracy.

that is all. (^_^)

previously: whatever happened to european tribes? and “hard-won democracy” and democracy and endogamous mating practices

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  1. I’ve been reading about post-Reformation England and some about Charles I’s difficulties when he shut down Parliament and then had trouble raising revenue by means of his prerogative taxes, if I’ve got that right. I round it interesting that such a powerful king even then was constrained by Parliament on matters of taxation. Guilds and fraternities there may have been but I’m curious if the gentry took note of the independence it gave commoners. Of course, there were independent reasons to want Parliament to be a counterbalance to the king but how did the gentry manage to get their hands on the purse strings, I wonder? 100 years earlier Henry VIII would have been aghast at the idea that Parliament could be an obstruction, I assume.

    I probably don’t realize to what extent corporate concepts influenced thinking. I’ve been trying mostly to get a handle on the Puritans which is a challenge in itself.


  2. Treveylan’s “England in the Age of Wycliff” throws some interesting side-lights on the phenomena. Local barons, especially in the couple of centuries following the Normon Conquest, were in the not-infrequent habit of sallying forth from their fortified estates, retainers in hand, and pillage the farms and fields and burgs in their neighborhoods, belonging to their next-door non-kin. To stop this form of internal brigandage was one of the principle motives behind royal consolidation of the realm. A favorite strategy — I hope I remember this right — was to summons all the barons together for an even bigger romp across the channel.


    1. >> for an even bigger romp <<


      Boys will be boys.

      Henry II worked hard at creating royal courts that were superior to the manorial courts. I think the judges of the Kings Bench rode the circuit so that England had better law and law that was common to all parts. Plucknett had it that this is why it was called common law IIRC from my long-ago reading of his wonderful "Concise History of the Common Law."


  3. For Italy, Robert Putnam’s Making Democracy Work: Civic Traditions in Modern Italy gives lots of historical info. on how north and south Italy’s civic functioning has long been very different, going back to the Middle Ages. (Chap. 5 lays it all out.)

    You’ve talked here before about differences in north and south Italy–consanguinity levels, IQ scores. I just put up a series of maps by different authors (here) comparing different variables throughout time in Italy at the regional level. (Including one I made from your averages of Cafalli-Sforza’s inbreeding coefficients.) It’s an interesting puzzle to try to see which could be related to family structure–I think it’s a lot more than many researchers today seem to believe.


  4. @m.g. – awesome! thnx for the putnam reference! i will definitely check that out.

    i’ll also come over and have a good look at your post. sounds right up my alley! (^_^) might not get a chance to have a good look at it until tomorrow, tho. got places to go and people to see this evening here. (^_^)


  5. @ Richard Ong – May I recommend Trevellyan’s books on the Stuarts, this one especially, in addition to the one I mentioned above. He covers the rise of Parliament in relation to king, gentry, clergy, and higher nobility and tells the story with unsurpassed narrative art without sacrificing the complexity.

    And while we are at it let’s thank Google for making all this available for us hick scholars oout in the sticks.


  6. Thank you very much, Mr. Lea.

    For an interesting article on internet research (and a Google connection) see here.


  7. Catholic and corporate panmixia likely ultimately eroded the altruism preserved and transmitted by the barbarian tribes and clans.

    “The incursions of barbaric pastoralists seem to do civilizations less harm in the long run than one might expect. Indeed, two dark ages and renaissances in Europe suggest a recurring pattern in which a renaissance follows an incursion by about 800 years. It may even be suggested that certain genes or traditions of pastoralists revitalize the conquered people with an ingredient of progress which tends to die out in a large panmictic population for the reasons already discussed. I have in mind altruism itself, or the part of the altruism which is perhaps better described as self-sacrificial daring. By the time of the renaissance it may be that the mixing of genes and cultures (or of cultures alone if these are the only vehicles, which I doubt) has continued long enough to bring the old mercantile thoughtfulness and the infused daring into conjunction in a few individuals who then find courage for all kinds of inventive innovation against the resistance of established thought and practice. Often, however, the cost in fitness of such altruism and sublimated pugnacity to the individuals concerned is by no means metaphorical, and the benefits to fitness, such as they are, go to a mass of individuals whose genetic correlation with the innovator must be slight indeed. Thus civilization probably slowly reduces its altruism of all kinds, including the kinds needed for cultural creativity (see also Eshel 1972).”

    Hamilton, W.D. (1975), Innate social aptitudes of man: an approach from evolutionary genetics, in R. Fox (ed.), Biosocial Anthropology, Malaby Press, London, 133-53.


  8. @john – “It may even be suggested that certain genes or traditions of pastoralists revitalize the conquered people with an ingredient of progress which tends to die out in a large panmictic population for the reasons already discussed. I have in mind altruism itself….”

    maybe. but altruistic genes seem to be so fundamental — they seem to be present in the most basic forms of life — that i think it’s the degree of relatedness that matters more here — i.e. inbreeding/outbreeding levels — something i don’t think that hamilton considered much, afaik.


  9. Hamilton is clearly considering inbreeding/outbreeding here. That is the point of the passage.

    And “altruism” connotes more than the ordinary, everyday usage of the term.


  10. @john – “Hamilton is clearly considering inbreeding/outbreeding here. That is the point of the passage.”

    er, yes … and no. the way i read it (and perhaps i’m reading it wrong), he’s talking about population movements — “barbarians” coming into a more settled, civilized population and bringing with them lots of altruism genes — introducing those genes into the civilized population. in that sense, yes, the two populations outbreed since they inter-breed with one another.

    what i’m talking about is strictly endogamous or exogamous mating practices within any given population. i don’t think that’s what hamilton considers here.

    @john – “And ‘altruism’ connotes more than the ordinary, everyday usage of the term.”

    of course. i understand the biology definition of altruism.


  11. what i’m talking about is strictly endogamous or exogamous mating practices within any given population. i don’t think that’s what hamilton considers here.

    He does consider it here. “Large panmictic population” is pretty clear.


  12. @john – “He does consider it here. ‘Large panmictic population’ is pretty clear.”

    yes. but hamilton was saying — and he may very well have been correct — that in order to get such a “large panmictic population” to have higher levels of altruism once again, you’d need an influx of genes from another population that had higher levels of altruism (i.e. the highly altruistic barbarians).

    i’m suggesting that altruism genes never really go away (they’re even there in amoebas, for instance), so all you need is for the “large panmictic population” to start inbreeding again. that’s the bit about inbreeding/outbreeding that i don’t think he discussed — at least not in what i’ve read by him (and i haven’t read all he wrote).


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