Hirschman argued that the rise of capitalism could not have occurred simply as a result of changes in underlying material conditions, as both Marxists and contemporary neo-classical economists believe. The very idea that it was morally legitimate to rationally maximize one’s income, far from being a universal postulate of human behavior, was something that took hold only during the 17th and 18th centuries. Earlier aristocratic societies had moral systems grounded in honor rather than gain, that were contemptuous of money-making and the calculating bourgeois way of life. Virtue lay rather in risk and glory in battle. The theorists that Hirschman covered, like Montesquieu, James Steuart, John Millar, and Adam Smith made political rather than economic arguments in favor of capitalism. They maintained that a commercial society would soften manners and morals, and in contrast to warrior societies would lead to greater international peace. Hirschman pointed out that these arguments have triumphed so completely in the modern world that we do not even perceive their historical contingency.
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