Kingdoms and Communities in Western Europe

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  • Book: Susan Reynolds, Kingdoms and Communities in Western Europe, 900–1300 (Oxford, 1997).


" The only historian so far who has in fact associated the development of different types of cooperative institutions, and who has done so for both rural and urban settings, is Susan Reynolds for the period 900–1300.

According to Reynolds, lay society and government depended in that period ‘‘in a mass of different ways on the collective activities of a wide range of people [y] as a matter of course in support of government, as well as in opposition to it’’.5 She stresses that the homogeneity of the set of values that combined inequality and subordination with a high degree of voluntary cooperation laid the foundation of the new raft of institutions that could be detected in the late Middle Ages, and which is the central point of this article.

At the same time, we can detect a parallel but opposite demise at the end of the eighteenth century when both types of institution had gone through a long period of criticism fuelled by very similar arguments, the bottom line of which was the belief that these institutions were the enemies of innovation and economic progress. Did these remnants of a feudal, medieval, and backward past not limit the development of a nation’s economy and its population’s growth? Did they not restrict the implementation of the free market and the ambition of the individual mind? The kind of rhetoric that attacked those organizations during the eighteenth century (including the physiocratic movement) is to a large degree applicable to both types." (