By Karl Polanyi
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Extra resources for The Livelihood of Man (Studies in social discontinuity)
By the middle of the 17th century, changes were taking place in Europe at a rapid rate and on a massive scale, and the problem of sorting out the internal and external causes and effects for this period is a very complex matter.
The working hypothesis of cultural uniformitarianism (Blaut, 1987a) here confronts the diffusionist tendency to dismiss the peoples of America as primitive and in any case irrelevant. There were several immediate reasons why American civilizations succumbed, but one of these reasons is of paramount importance and may perhaps be a sufficient cause in and of itself. This is the massive depopulation caused by the pandemics of Eastern Hemisphere disease introduced to the Americas by Europeans (Crosby, 1972; Denevan, 1976).
There is no reason to believe that ancient European cultures had any qualities uniquely favouring historical change: this is merely one of the classic European prejudices. Jones then proceeds to explain the rise of capitalism. This reflected environmental factors, ancient cultural factors, and also particular medieval outcomes. Jones repeats White's arguments about technological inventiveness. Europe was a uniquely 'inventive society' (p. 227 ). Et 20 1492 cetera. He constructs a theory to the effect that Europe's environmental diversity produced a pattern of separate small states, the embryos of the modern nation-states, whereas Asia's supposedly uniform landscapes favoured (along with irrigation) the imperial form of government.