Friday, February 8, 2008

The invention of capitalism and the game laws

My thanks to Meredith for those links below. More on Blackstone on Monday.

Here is link to a book review of the book by Michael Perelman I cited in lecture about the "invention of capitalism." More on Perelman perhaps on Monday as well, but here is an excerpt from that review that illustrates further the significance of the game laws as discussed in class.

The enforcement of the game laws, feudal in origin, peaked during the industrial revolution, separating ruralists from their source of sustenance and pressuring them to accept wage labor. Ultimately, writes Perelman, the game laws actually resulted in undermining the feudal aristocracy's hegemony in British society. But at first incredibly harsh applications prevailed; indeed, even foraging for berries was made a crime in Germany. Hunting was crucial for supplementing sustenance for the families of the rural poor. From early in the nineteenth century, poachers were severely punished, "some actually executed." Some 30 to 40 percent of all male criminal convictions were for infraction of the game laws, and a "substantial number of poachers who resisted arrest were transported to Australia." The feudal game laws became much harder under early emerging capitalism because "the interests of capital and the gentry coincided."

"The gentry could enjoy the pleasures and prestige of hunting, while the capitalists could enjoy the labor of the many people who were forced to hunt as a means of subsistence," Perelman writes. He quotes William Cobbett, who noted in 1823 how a young countryman, questioned how he lived on a half-crown per week, replied, "I don't live upon it--I poach; it is better to be hanged than to be starved to death."

What's more, a further factor in the game laws' pressuring the peasant labor into factory work was allowing the ravaging of the farmers' crops by protected (for the gentry) game like deer, hares, and birds. "In the 1840s an estimated quarter of the crops of Buckinghamshire were destroyed by game," writes Perelman. Yet Parliament did not grant farmers the right to kill hares on their land without permission of their landlords until 1880. And in the first decades of the nineteenth century, 1,300 persons were imprisoned under the game laws in Weltshire alone. Compounding the destruction by game, the gentry's foxhunting allowed riders to traverse scores of miles, beating down unharvested grain and corn, trampling turnips, injuring pregnant sheep, breaking fences. The gentry hunters claimed right of access to every man's land.

Perelman's book is really quite interesting--great topic for further reading!

Have a great weekend everyone.

No comments: