Crisis of the 17th Century

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The 17th century oversaw a revolutionary period in Europe. Echoing contemporary historians, chroniclers and diarists have had an almost similar view that the 17th century was particularly troubled. A number of Historians have brought forward their reasoning in an attempt to explain the 17th century crisis. This paper will serve to compare and contrast two lines of reasoning behind the crisis – one by Eric J.

Hobsbawm, and the other by Hugh Trevor-Roper. Even though these two historians based their reasoning on differing premises and distinct interpretations, both depicted a general crisis portrayed political unrest and economic distress, and producing various outcomes.

Through his essay, “The Seventeenth Century Crisis”, Eric J. Hobsbawm addressed the debate on capitalism transition. Where many participants maintained that the collapse of the feudal economy occurred at the period of Black Death, Hobsbawm had a different view.

He argued that most of the socioeconomic order occurred in the course of the booming sixteenth century. However, the end of this period oversaw the fatal obstruction of growth by feudal elements[1]. The ensuing deep and broad retrogression led to the creation of structural change opportunities where political revolution fostered economic transformation by removing obstacles. On the other hand, Hugh Trevor-Roper shifted his focus to pitting confrontations that affected the Renaissance’s intellectual, political, moral and fiscal system against opponents with reform ambitions. This reasoning ultimately spawned a range of enlightening, stabilizing, indecisive and radical initiatives in politics.

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Both lines of reasoning imminently gave an inspiration to critiques and gained widespread approval. However, early modernists were skeptical about the severity, duration and generality of the hypothesis proposed in each of the two arguments. Eric J. Hobsbawm maintained that the heterogeneity associated with trends across Europe and the economic structures precluded the general crisis and its appearance. Like Hugh Trevor-Roper, whose argument linked mid seventeenth century revolts with chronology, Hobsbawm posited discrete movement clusters supported by specific conflicts. Instead of presenting a general 17th century crisis drawn on similar patterns, both Hobsbawm and Roper suggest a crisis multiplicity that took place in numerous places simultaneously.

According to Roper, not all social groups, however, experienced the crisis. For example, the living standards of wage earners consequently improved[2]. The validity of this statement was, however, questioned by the findings of Hobsbawm. Hobsbawm established that the downturn of the economic state was represented by only a consolidation and contraction phase within a capitalistic world system that came into existence in the 16th century. Hobsbawm minimized the intensity of distress encountered by the Netherland republic in the course of its “Golden age”, and the problems England encountered were presented as short-lived and mild[3].

A period characterized by difficulty and extends across a century struck both Hobsbawm and Roper as too protracted to be classified as a significant crisis (usually perceived as a dramatic and abrupt turning point) particularly when instability and stagnation than depression and revolt are grouped in several decades. Roper claims in his reasoning that the 16th century experienced more rebellion compared to the 17th century, and that those that took place in the mid 15th century were more severe than any other subsequent period. Taking a longer view convinced Hobsbawm that the crisis was endemic to the entire modern period rather than singly defining any century.

More prevalent are the refinements and amplifications of the idea behind the 17th century crisis[4]. In terms of Roper’s description of the crisis in the 17th century, it can be outlined that uncertainty and insecurity that extended from the 16th century were what propelled the crisis. Hobsbawm endeavored to reassess the Thirty Years War that was previously considered as the aggravating factor of the crisis rather than its cause. He asserted that conflagration posed as a principal agent that propelled the crisis in Europe due to the large tax growth it provoked on all the involved states.

Hobsbawm and Roper, through their crisis theories, helped illuminate the critical aspects surrounding the history of the 17th century slighted in other accounts. Some of these have included peripheries from Europe, such as Muscovy and Scotland, while other areas such as Iberia and Italy have been regarded as the hardest hit areas but suffered little alteration from the crisis. It is prudent to understand that other areas are outside Europe. Hobsbawm made the proposal that colonies in the overseas had played a significant role in the crisis centered in Europe, and he put into consideration the creation of settlements and fresh plantations as one of the major effects[5]. However, he discussed this as a form of colonialism in terms of new markets for manufacturers that offered a dynamic structure for economic growth in Metropolitan Europe.

Nevertheless, Roper implemented his idea of the crisis to highlight the history of Latin America. He holds that elite discontent, popular rebellions, and government bankruptcies against the long-term demographic pressure as well as price inflation are what led to the “State breakdown”[6]. These include states across Eurasia such as China the Ottoman Empire, and France. In contrast, while putting into consideration the subsistence crisis in the Atlantic through the Pacific in the 16th century, Hobsbawm maintained that the consequences, cause, and location of the longer and larger crisis signaled a “new departure” in Europe.

Numerous theoretical and empirical aspects of the crisis in the 17th century only amount to subjects of debate. Ultimately, neither Hobsbawm’s theory on economic development nor Roper’s view warrant much assent in current day. Nevertheless, even though these two historians based their reasoning on differing premises and distinct interpretations, both depicted a general crisis portrayed political unrest and economic distress, and producing various outcomes. However, the concept behind these two arguments has been widely appropriated if not selectively. Similar to intellectually fecund theories, these arguments continue to stimulate further research and explanations behind the 17th century crisis and its cause.

Consequently, new interpretation outlines are continually making their way into the field. This finding implies continuity- for instance, the acceleration of agrarian specialization, initiated regional differentiation ruralization, and commercialization of the industry[7]. The major finding of this research includes colonies in the overseas having a role to play in causing the 17th century crisis. This and elite discontent, popular rebellions, and government bankruptcies against the long-term demographic pressure as well as price inflation are what led to the “State breakdown”. In conclusion, Hobsbawm and Roper had rather distinct views in their reasoning line on the crisis. The methodology used in attaining the results by the two historians was distinct. Consequently, their findings were also different, but they attempted to give a detailed and well-informed reason behind the crisis.

Bibliography:

  1. Hobsbawm, Eric. 2000. “The General Crisis of the European Economy in the Seventeenth Century”. Peasants in History: Essays in Honor of Daniel Thorner. 3-29.
  2. Goldstone, Jack A. 2008. “East and West in seventeenth century: political crises in Stuart England, Ottoman Turkey, and Ming China”. Comparative Studies in Society and History.
  3. Parker, Geoffrey. n.d. “Crisis and catastrophe: The global crisis of the seventeenth century reconsidered”. The American Historical Review (Trykt Utg.). 113.
  4. Trevor-Roper, Hugh. 2001. “The General Crisis of the Seventeenth Century: An overview”. The Spectator. 36.
  5. [1] Hobsbawm, Eric. 2000. ” The General Crisis of the European Economy in the Seventeenth Century”. Peasants in History: Essays in Honour of Daniel Thorner. 3-29.

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Crisis of the 17th Century. (2019, Feb 09). Retrieved from https://paperap.com/paper-on-crisis-of-the-17th-century/

Crisis of the 17th Century
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