Abstract

Abstract:

Although Marx and Weber are traditionally read as offering opposing narratives of the transition to capitalism, Weber's notion of the Protestant ethic can clarify the subjective dimensions of the process Marx calls primitive accumulation, which set the capital-relation in motion. By rooting these cultural values in northern Europe, however, Weber cannot account for the foundational role of the Iberian empire in this process. Rather than the Protestant ethic, this essay takes up the concept of possessive individualism to consider the spirit of capitalism that emerged in the context of the initial, Iberian-led phase of the transatlantic slave trade. Iberian scholastics, especially Jesuits, used the concept of dominium, or property rights, to develop a theory of the individual as the owner of the self and of freedom as a possession that could be freely sold on the market. Voluntary enslavement and freedom of exchange were thus mobilized to justify a relatively autonomous sphere of economic activity in which the transatlantic slave trade could develop. In formulating these arguments, Jesuit authors drew on interviews with slave merchants that reflect a subjective orientation toward profit over morality. The Jesuits' ambivalent response both highlights and attempts to rationalize the contradictions of an emerging economic order based on the global circulation of commodities and racialized bodies.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1553-3786
Print ISSN
1531-0485
Pages
pp. 101-129
Launched on MUSE
2020-03-10
Open Access
No
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