Journal of World History 24.2 (2003) 256-258
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A History of the European Economy, 1000-2000. By François Crouzet. Charlottesville, Va.: University of Virginia Press, 2001. 329 pp. $26.50 (paper).
The project of world history requires great feats of imagination. In terms of economic history, one of its challenges is to explore and conceptualize new ligatures and connections between traditionally understood economic entities and economies and to imagine altogether new frameworks. A History of the European Economy, 1000-2000 is both a product of and a contribution to this imaginative process. François Crouzet is moving beyond a traditional "economic history of Europe" to a "history of the European economy," which he argues is "somewhat different." And it is. Crouzet has in mind an organic concept, Europe as a "living entity" (p. xiii), whose economy is not bound by fixed geographic borders but rather grows and contracts—in spatial, geographic terms as well as in traditional economic terms. This economy lives on, he implies, largely as the European Union. Questions today about the Euro focus primarily on whether Euro-zone countries have sufficient integration to be well served by one currency and one monetary policy. Crouzet is not a Euroskeptic. To him, a European economy and a European culture, closely linked, have "lived" since around 1000 C.E.
This book, written by a distinguished senior historian, is in many ways a masterful treatment of the European economy. Current in its scholarship and exhaustive in its detail, it testifies to Crouzet's many [End Page 256] years of secure, confident reflection on countless microstudies and magisterial theses of European economic history. His long experience allows him to argue comfortably that Europe's great riches and economic vitality sprung from "liberty and creativity" (p. 258), yet still to give a Marxist perspective its due when appropriate (p. 109). At important turns, he emphasizes demography, though this is hardly a piece of demographic determinism. He divides the history of the European economy into four periods: its emergence in the tenth through thirteenth centuries, a long period of "change and continuity" from the fourteenth through the eighteenth centuries, the age of industrialization from the 1760s to 1914, and a period that he calls "Disasters, Renaissance, Decline, 1914-2000." Any disagreements one may have with Crouzet's periodization will soften in the face of his skillful treatment of the material: he knows the counterarguments, recognizes their strengths, and pushes ahead with his own convincing synthesis. This is an exhaustive, thorough, and well-argued history of the European economy.
The work suffers when one shifts to the perspective of world history. Crouzet does not take fully to heart the implications of his organic model: living things can have arms that reach or tentacles that extend. Such is the case with the European economy. Extensions have long served to expand markets, procure new goods for resale, extract raw materials, and establish places in which lower-complexity economic activities in support of Europe can go on. They have also served, according to Robert P. Clark (The Global Imperative, An Interpretive History of the Spread of Mankind), as dissipative structures for the economic and social entropy generated in the economically complex society that Europe was and is. Pushed away from Europe (and eventually away from economically complex European derivatives like the United States), this entropy continues to take its toll on much of the world. While Crouzet stresses that "the significance [for Europe] of empire for economic growth was not large" (p. 54), was it not significant to the economic and social lives of those people and places made part of European empires? The pathways along which the European (and American) economy has pushed many of the costs of its complex social and economic organization should probably be included within the mutable boundary of the European economy. Without these pathways, the costs would have to be absorbed at the center (rather than pushed to the periphery), which certainly would have caused a far greater—and negative—economic impact. Yet, in his treatment of the...