by Jerry O’Driscoll
Randall Collins is a distinguished sociologist and Weber scholar. In Weberian Sociological Theory (Cambridge University Press, 1986), Collins re-examines Weber’s contributions. It is a book favorable to Weber. In chapter 3, “The Weberian revolution of the High Middle Ages,” he employs Weber’s analysis to demonstrate that it was in medieval Europe that capitalism and modernity developed. “…The Middle Ages experienced the key institutional revolution, … the basis of capitalism was laid then rather than later, and that at its heart was the organization of the Catholic Church itself” (45).
Consider my post inspired by Gene Callahan’s earlier one. My interest is not in interpreting Weber, but understanding the history of the market economy. But much of the discussion in the prior post centered on interpreting Weber. Collins is relevant because he establishes the position I argued from a Weberian perspective.
Collins is not an historian, but he cites numerous, familiar historical texts in support of the view that medieval Europe saw the rise of the modern market economy. He cites Lynn White for detailing how the period was one of “the major periods of technological innovation in the history of the world” (47). Collins notes that the 1200s were a period in which mass production evolved. It was certainly a period of self-government in autonomous cities.
On the critical Weberian theme of bureaucracy, he contends that “the first bureaucratic state in modern times was not a secular state at all but the Papacy” (49). He goes into considerable detail to show how the Papacy and the Church conformed to a Weberian bureaucratic state. One tidbit is that the Curia evolved to settle economic disputes within the Church.
Much of Collins’ focus is in establishing whether medieval Europe was capitalist in Weberian terms. His answer is a resounding yes. “One could say that they [the Cistercian monks] represented Weber’s ‘inner-worldly asceticism’ in the most literal form. They had the Protestant ethic without Protestantism.