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Genres of Capitalism, Part I


The first thing I did was make a mistake. I thought I had understood capitalism, but what I had done was assume an attitude—melancholy sadness—toward it. This attitude is not correct. Fortunately your letter came, at that instant. “Dear Rupert, I love you every day. You are the world, which is life. I love you I adore you I am crazy about you. Love, Marta.” Reading between the lines, I understood your critique of my attitude toward capitalism.

—Donald Barthelme, “The Rise of Capitalism”

Today, the concept of “capitalism” enjoys a hegemony rarely achieved in the history of ideas. On the intellectual Left, it has remained the preferred partner of new formulations for more than a century: finance capitalism, monopoly capitalism, state capitalism, bureaucratic capitalism, organized capitalism, spectacular capitalism, late capitalism, cognitive capitalism, democratic capitalism. On the Right, after decades of rhetorical ambivalence, capitalism has at last secured a position as the public face of reaction: something belonging simultaneously to the past and to the future, it is to be both protected and pursued. Each of these visions has its own history.

Recently, the meaning of the term has been revisited by two of our best political economists: Fred Block, in his article “Varieties of What? Should We Still Be Using the Concept of Capitalism?”; and Wolfgang Streeck, in his book Re-Forming Capitalism.

Read the full article here.