Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Future of Industrial Man, 3: Mercantile Society of the 19th Century

This chapter contains the foundation of the book. Drucker argues that by the start of the early modern era, social status and function were determined by two things: property and the market. One gained social status and function through the possession of property and exercises that status and function through the market. In this world, the socialially decisive power is that which controls the market.

The argument centers on England, though he does give examples from other European countries: The Junkers of Germany and the French bourgeois proprietor. Like the landed gentry of England, these classes apparently had enormous control of the society of their time. Drucker arges that the English gentry retained leadership status well into the 19th Century and that their influence still remains on Western society. We value land ownership. We view country estates as a buffer from political rule. We view industrial work as second-class or as somehow demeaning.

In this chapter, Jane Austen becomes a central figure, England’s “greatest social analyst” in Drucker’s words. She clearly saw the role of the market in her society. She was the daughter of a clergyman but she never endowed any of that class with social power in her novels. Mr. Collins in Pride and Prejudice is a simpering fool. Mr. Elton in Emma is a selfish egotist. Neither commands anything in the market nor has any profit by which they may participate in the market.

Indeed, Austen’s most famous novel begins with a frequently quoted reference to the market “It is a truth universally acknowledged,” she notes, “that a single man in possession of a large fortune must be in want of a wife.” This begins a novel of young women and young men participating in the marriage market, bringing to that market the property, great or small, that they possess: land, cash, family connections, physical appearance and prospects for the future.

No comments:

Post a Comment