If Capitalism is ‘Natural,’ Why Was so Much Force Used to Build it?

Image by Etienne Girardet.

If capitalism is such a natural outcome of human nature, why were systematic violence and draconian laws necessary to establish it? And if greed is the primary motivation for human beings, how could the vast majority of human existence have been in hunter-gatherer societies in which cooperation was the most valuable behavior?

Cheerleaders for capitalism — who generate endless arguments that greed is not only good but the dominant human motivation — tend to not dwell on the origination of the system, either implying it has always been with us or that it is the “natural” result of development. Critics of capitalism, interestingly, seem much more interested in the system’s origins than are its boosters. Perhaps the bloody history of how capitalism slowly supplanted feudalism in northwest Europe, and then spread through slavery, conquest, colonialism and routine inflictions of brute force makes for a less than appealing picture. It is not for nothing that Marx wrote, “If money … ‘comes into the world with a congenital blood-stain on one cheek,’ capital comes dripping from head to foot, from every pore, with blood and dirt.”

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Pete Dolack writes the Systemic Disorder blog and has been an activist with several groups. His first book, It’s Not Over: Learning From the Socialist Experiment, is available from Zero Books and his second book, What Do We Need Bosses For?, is forthcoming from Autonomedia.

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