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The period of European history encompassing the sixteenth, seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, which includes the Reformation and the Enlightenment, marked the end of the medieval period in Europe and signaled the emergence of the "modern" Europe of today. Scotland embraced the new ideas of the era around the mid-sixteenth century, shortly after the Reformation in England. Several reasons have been cited as to the cause of Scotland's "rebirth," including the political and economic climate of the country. Toward the end of the period, the Treaty of Union of 1707 brought Scotland under English rule and provided stability in the political system and the nation (Camic 1983, p. 94). During the era, the switch from a feudal/agricultural to a capitalistic/ manufacturing system gave rise to remarkable advances in the economy (Camic 1983, p. 95). Furthermore, as Charles Camic has noted, the origin of many of the new ideas and attitudes during the Enlightenment was thought to be traditional Calvinism (1983, p. 99). Although no one particular event was the sole cause of the Enlightenment, Calvinism did indeed play a major role. It not only changed Scottish culture, but also provided the initial foundation for the rise of capitalism.

The purpose of this essay is to evaluate the extent to which the Calvinistic doctrines influenced the rise of capitalism. This is not an easy task; numerous factors have been said to contribute to the establishment of capitalism. According to Campbell R. McConnell, "Because capitalism is an individualistic system, it is not surprising to find that the primary driving force of such an economy is the promotion of one's self-interest; each economic unit attempts to do what is best for itself" (1987, p. 38). This essay attempts to show two things: first, that Calvinist asceticism gave rise to individual self-interest, which eventually evolved into capitalism, and second, that capitalism did actually occur in Scotland. To accomplish this, the doctrines of Calvinism will be examined, differing theories will be presented, and reasons for Scotland's slow, yet noteworthy, economic progress will be analyzed.

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This issue is also considered v.8 of the initial publication series of Major Themes in Economics.

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©1992 by the Board of Student Publications, University of Northern Iowa



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