The Intellectual History of Property Rights

The classical economists strongly supported the idea of private property. The idea was less well received in the nineteenth century: John Stuart Mill and Alfred Marshall were skeptical of it, and Karl Marx rejected it entirely. The twentieth century saw another reversal of opinion…

Feudalism

Feudalism was the economic and political system of Europe during the Middle Ages. One might be tempted to dismiss it as a primitive system, discarded when something better came along, but to do so would be to misunderstand human institutions…

The End of Feudalism

Custom played such a large role in governing feudal institutions that they were resistant to change. Feudalism could only be shaken by substantial changes to the external environment, and those changes finally came…

The Emergence of European States

From the fall of the Roman Empire until at least 1100 AD, there was nothing in Europe that could be called a state. States emerged in England and France over the period 1100-1300, and later in other parts of Europe. They showed early signs of constitutional government, but some countries veered towards authoritarianism under the financial stress of the fifteenth-century military revolution…

The Institutionalization of Science in Europe

In the time between the Scientific Revolution and World War II, almost every major advance in modern science was made by scientists who were culturally European…

Science and Society in China and the Islamic World

Science must be integrated into the fabric of society — institutionalized — if it is to succeed over the longer term. Science was successfully institutionalized in Europe during the twelfth century. China and the Islamic world were at different times the world leader in science, but neither society institutionalized it, and science eventually faltered in both societies…

Why Were the Americas So Underdeveloped when Europeans Reached Them?

Mesopotamia at 1500 BC looks much like Mesoamerica at 1000 AD. The Eurasians had three thousand years to build upon their Mesopotamian foundations before the coming together of the New and Old Worlds. The Americans, by contrast, had only five hundred years…