Gene Bechler died a few days ago. I wrote a short obituary for the Wall Street Journal. I have tried to highlight key insights from his short but great 1971 book, The origins of capitalism:

Economic growth, Bechler maintained, is the result of millions of “experiments” by people who act and think differently from the mainstream. For growth to occur, such acts of subversive innovation must be permitted, if not expressly permitted. Bechler saw capitalism as a child of Europe’s peculiar political conditions. Despite the efforts of Charlemagne, Charles V, Napoleon and Hitler, Europe never became an empire. A great cultural unity, mainly provided by Christianity, failed to create a continent-wide political system.

Bechler believed that political anarchy was the key to the development of Europe’s market economy. His book was not so much a work in economic history as in the history of political thought, addressing Karl Marx and Max Weber, critical of the origins of capitalism.

A few years ago I invited Bechler to give a lecture at the Istituto Bruno Leoni in Turin. You can listen to it (in French) here. He was an eclectic scholar who, after his earlier books, dealt mostly with various topics in sociology, although he regularly surveyed the state of historical debates on the same subject. From the time we spent together, I could tell he was a rather reserved man, with a dry sense of humor and a remarkable memory. RIP

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