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Servitude and Work at the Dawn of the Early Modern Era The Devaluation of Salaried Workers and the “Undeserving Poor”

  • Giacomo Todeschini (a1)
Abstract

Thomas Piketty’s analysis of the way that neoliberal economists use false meritocracy to justify growing economic inequality invites historians to reconsider the representation of workers in the economic thought and administrative politics of preindustrial Western Europe. This renewed focus on those termed mercenarii in theological, economic, and legal texts, namely salaried workers, shows that since the thirteenth century the literate elites of Christian Europe have interpreted manual labor as the sign of a competence that was useful but also socially and politically devalorizing. The ancient Roman conception of wages as auctoramentum servitutis, or evidence of servitude, reemerges at the end of Middle Ages in the guise of a complex theological, legal, and governmental discourse about the intellectual incompetence and necessary political marginality of salaried workers as manual laborers. At the dawn of the early modern era, the representation of salaried labor as a social condition corresponding to a state of servitude and lack of intellect characterizes both literary works and the economic rationality embodied by the first “scientific” economists.

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References
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1. Lakhani, Sadaf, Sacks, Audrey, and Heltberg, Rasmus, “‘They Are Not Like Us’: Understanding Social Exclusion,” Policy Research Working Paper 6784 (2014): http://elibrary.worldbank.org/doi/pdf/10.1596/1813-9450-6784.

2. de La Boétie, Étienne, Discourse on Voluntary Servitude, trans. Atkinson, James B. and Sices, David (Indianapolis: Hackett, 2012), 17 and 23. Among the recent works illustrating the historiographical impact of the Discourse as an example of libertarian proto-humanism, see: Bleiker, Roland, Popular Dissent, Human Agency and Global Politics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000); and “La pensée libertaire. De La Boétie à Guy Debord, en passant par Proudhon,” special issue, Les dossiers du Magazine littéraire ([2004] 2013). For a critical analysis of the text, see Jean Terrel, “Républicanisme et droit naturel dans le Discours de la servitude volontaire: une rencontre aporétique,” Erytheis 4 (2009): http://idt.uab.es/erytheis/numero4/terrel.html.

3. Piketty, Thomas, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, trans. Goldhammer, Arthur (Cambridge/London: Harvard University Press, 2014), with the online technical appendix available at http://piketty.pse.ens.fr/en/capital21c2.

4. de La Roncière, Charles-Marie, Prix et salaires à Florence au XIVe siècle, 1280-1380 (Rome: École française de Rome, 1982); Artigiani e salariati. Il mondo del lavoro nell’Italia dei secoli XII-XV (Pistoia: Centro italiano di studi di storia e d’arte, 1984); Dolan, Claire, ed., Travail et travailleurs en Europe au Moyen Âge et au début des Temps modernes (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1991); Epstein, Steven A., Wage Labor and Guilds in Medieval Europe (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1995); Boglioni, Pietro, Delort, Robert, and Gauvard, Claude, eds., Le petit peuple dans l’Occident médiéval. Terminologies, perceptions, réalités (Paris: Publications de la Sorbonne, 2002); Pinto, Giuliano, Il lavoro, la povertà, l’assistenza. Ricerche sulla società medievale (Rome: Viella, 2008); Bougard, François, Iogna-Prat, Dominique, and Jan, Régine Le, eds., Hiérarchie et stratification sociale dans l’Occident médiéval (400-1100) (Turnhout: Brepols, 2008).

5. Grenier, Jean-Yves, “‘Faut-il rétablir l’esclavage en France ?’ Droit naturel, économie politique et esclavage au XVIIIe siècle,” Revue d’histoire moderne et contemporaine 57, no. 2 (2010): 7–49 ; Pesante, Maria Luisa, Come servi. Figure del lavoro salariato dal diritto naturale all’economia politica, (Milan: Franco Angeli, 2013).

6. Todeschini, Giacomo, Come Giuda. La gente comune e i giochi dell’economia all’inizio dell’epoca moderna (Bologna: Il Mulino, 2011).

7. Fransen, Gérard, “La notion d’œuvre servile dans le droit canonique,” in Le travail au Moyen Âge. Une approche interdisciplinaire, ed. Hamesse, Jacqueline and Muraille-Samaran, Colette (Louvain-la-Neuve: Institut d’études médiévales, 1990), 177–84 .

8. Lecuppre-Desjardin, Élodie and Van Bruaene, Anne-Laure, eds., Communi, De Bono: The Discourse and Practice of the Common Good in the European City (13th–16th century) (Turnhout: Brepols, 2010).

9. Engels, Johannes, “Merces auctoramentum servitutis. Die Wertschätzung bestimmter Arbeiten und Tätigkeiten durch antike heidnische Philosophen,” in Arbeit im Mittelalter. Vorstellungen und Wirklichkeiten, ed. Postel, Verena (Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 2006), 57–77 ; Beck, Patrice, Bernardi, Philippe, and Feller, Laurent, eds., Rémunérer le travail au Moyen Âge. Pour une histoire sociale du salariat (Paris: Picard, 2014), part 1 “Historiographie,” 19–148 (working versions: http://lamop.univ-paris1.fr/IMG/pdf/Salaire_salariat__1.pdf), part 4 “Les formes du paiement: évaluation des rémunérations,” 301–485 (http://lamop.univ-paris1.fr/IMG/pdf/Salaire__salariat__4.pdf), and the bibliography, 502–21; Giacomo Todeschini, “Wealth, Value of Work and Civic Identity in the Medieval Theological Discourse (XII–XIV c.),” in Petra Schulte and Peter Hesse, eds., Reichtum im späteren Mittelalter. Politische Theorie, ethische Handlungsnormen und soziale Akzeptanz (forthcoming).

10. Langholm, Odd, Economics in the Medieval Schools: Wealth, Exchange, Value, Money and Usury according to the Paris Theological Tradition, 1200–1350 (Leiden: Brill, 1992); Todeschini, Giacomo, I mercanti e il tempio. La società cristiana e il circolo virtuoso della ricchezza fra Medioevo ed Età Moderna (Bologna: Il Mulino, 2002); Todeschini, , “Usury in Christian Middle Ages: A Reconsideration of the Historiographical Tradition (1949–2010),” in Religione e istituzioni religiose nell’economia europea, 1000-1800, ed. Ammannati, Francesco (Florence: Firenze University Press, 2012), 119–30 .

11. Kaye, Joel, A History of Balance, 1250–1375: The Emergence of a New Model of Equilibrium and its Impact on Thought (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014).

12. See for example Cicero, De officiis 1.150. On this question, see Engels, , “Merces aucto-ramentum servitutis.” For a more general perspective, see: Lambrechts, Pascale and Sosson, JeanPierre, eds., Les métiers au Moyen Âge. Aspects économiques et sociaux (Louvain-la-Neuve: Université catholique de Louvain, 1994); Goff, Jacques Le, “Licit and Illicit Trades in the Medieval West” [1963], in Goff, Le, Time, Work, and Culture in the Middle Ages (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980), 58–70 .

13. Arnoux, Mathieu, Le temps des laboureurs. Travail, ordre social et croissance en Europe, XIe-XIVe siècle (Paris: Albin Michel, 2012); Anheim, Étienne, “The History and Historiography of Guild Hierarchies in the Middle Ages,” Annales HSS (English Edition) 68, no. 4 (2013): 1027–38 .

14. Beck, Bernardi, and Feller, Rémunérer le travail, especially part 2, “Salarium, stipendium, dieta . Approche terminologique de la rémunération du travail,” 149–241 (working versions: http://lamop.univ-paris1.fr/IMG/pdf/Salaire_salariat__2.pdf), and part 3, “Les modes de rémunération du travail: formes de l’embauche et rémunération du paiement,” 243–300 (http://lamop.univ-paris1.fr/IMG/pdf/Salaire_salariat__3.pdf), in particular Philippe Bernardi, “Quelques éléments sur le choix de la forme de l’embauche dans la Provence des XIVe et XVe siècles,” 38–52.

15. Todeschini, Giacomo, Visibilmente crudeli. Malviventi, persone sospette e gente qualunque dal Medioevo all’Età Moderna (Bologna: Il Mulino, 2007). Available in French as Au pays des sans-nom. Gens de mauvaise vie, personnes suspectes ou ordinaires du Moyen Âge à l’époque moderne, trans. Nathalie Gailius (Lagrasse: Verdier, 2015).

16. François Menant, “Approches du peuple médiéval,” text of the paper presented at the seminar “Les sociétés européennes au Moyen Âge: modèles d’interprétation, pratiques, langages, 2011-2012. Comment étudier les milieux populaires urbains de la fin du Moyen Âge?” by Menant and Diane Chamboduc de Saint-Pulgent, p. 27: http://www.histoire.ens.fr/IMG/file/Menant/Introductionséminaire2011-2012, ApprochesdupeupleauMoyenÂge.pdf.

17. Scherman, Matthieu, Familles et travail à Trévise à la fin du Moyen Âge, vers 1434-vers 1509 (Rome: École française de Rome, 2013).

18. von Pufendorf, Samuel, Of the Law of Nature and Nations [1672], trans. Kennett, Basil (London: J. Walthoe et al., 1729 ; facsimilie ed. Clark, NJ: Lawbook Exchange, 2005), bk. 3, chap. 2.8, pp. 230–32; Grotius, Hugo, Of the Rights of War and Peace [1625] (London: D. Brown, T. Ward, W. Meares, 1715), 2:134 . For an analysis of these texts see respectively Grenier, “‘Faut-il rétablir l’esclavage,’” and Pesante, Come servi .

19. A well-known example is Cotrugli, Benedetto, Il libro dell’arte di mercatura [1458], ed. Tucci, Ugo (Venice: Arsenale, 1990), 139 and 145. See Todeschini, Giacomo, “Theological Roots of the Medieval/Modern Merchants’ Self-Representation,” in The Self-Perception of Early Modern Capitalists, ed. Jacob, Margaret C. and Secretan, Catherine (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008), 17–46 ; Todeschini, , Franciscan Wealth: From Voluntary Poverty to Market Society, trans. Melucci, Donatella (New York: St. Bonaventure University, 2009).

20. Piketty, Capital, 416.

21. Piketty, conference on “Inequality & Capitalism in the Long-Run,” http://piketty.pse.ens.fr/en/lectures.

22. Piketty, Capital, 423–24.

23. Todeschini, I mercanti; Ceccarelli, Giovanni, Il gioco e il peccato. Economia e rischio nel tardo Medioevo (Bologna: Il Mulino, 2003); Ceccarelli, , “Risky Business: Theological and Canonical Thought on Insurance from the Thirteenth to the Seventeenth Century,” Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 31, no. 3 (2001): 607–58 ; Alfani, Guido and Frigeni, Roberta, “Inequality (Un)Perceived: The Emergence of a Discourse on Economic Inequality from the Middle Ages to the Age ofRevolutions,” Dondena Working Paper 58 (2013): http://www.dondena.unibocconi.it/wps/wcm/connect/cdr/centro_dondena/home/working+papers/working+paper+58.

24. Grenier, Jean-Yves, L’économie d’Ancien Régime. Un monde de l’échange et de l’incertitude (Paris: Albin Michel, 1996); Rothschild, Emma, Economic Sentiments: Adam Smith, Condorcet, and the Enlightenment (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001).

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