Advertisement

The Rise and Fall of the Luxury Debates

  • Maxine Berg
  • Elizabeth Eger

Abstract

Luxury is no novelty of our own times. The shifting divide between need and desire, necessities and luxuries, was a guiding preoccupation of statesmen and intellectuals at the birth of consumer society in the later seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Luxury was the defining issue of the early modern period. A newly experienced and perceived world economy brought greater access to Asian consumer societies and to the exotic foods and raw materials of the New World. This new trade in luxuries was to stimulate innovation in technologies, products, marketing strategies and commercial and financial institutions. Asian consumer goods — cottons, especially muslins and printed calicoes, silk, porcelain, ornamental brass and ironware, lacquer and paper goods — became imported luxuries in Europe, and were later to become indigenous European consumer goods. The widespread trade in these goods coincided with a new civility in middling and upper-class society, which was conveyed in new ways of eating and socialising. Domestic dining and tea-drinking complemented public leisure in coffee houses, shops, pleasure gardens, assemblies and the theatre.

Keywords

Eighteenth Century Moral Sentiment Luxury Good Universal Opulence Early Modern Period 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

Preview

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Notes

  1. 1.
    On the luxury debates in China and Japan, see Craig Clunas, ‘Anxieties about Things’, in Craig Clunas, Superfluous Things. Material Culture and Social Status in Early Modern China (Cambridge, 1991), pp. 141–65;Google Scholar
  2. Peter Burke, ‘Res et verba: Conspicuous Consumption in the Early Modern World’, in John Brewer and Roy Porter, eds, Consumption and the World of Goods (London, 1993), pp. 148–62;Google Scholar
  3. Kenneth Pomeranz, The Great Divergence. China, Europe and the Making of the Modern World Economy (Princeton, 2000), pp. 127–51.Google Scholar
  4. 2.
    For a fine discussion of the development of these concepts, see Guido Guerzoni, ‘Liberalitas, Magnificentia, Splendor: the Classic Origins of Italian Renaissance Lifestyles’, in Neil De Marchi and Craufurd D.W. Goodwin, eds, Economic Engagements with Art (Durham, NC and London, 1999), pp. 332–78.Google Scholar
  5. 3.
    Andrew Sherratt, ‘Reviving the Grand Narrative: Archaeology and Long-term Change’, Journal of European Archaeology, vol. 3 (1995), pp. 1–32, pp. 12–14.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. 5.
    C.J. Berry, The Idea of Luxury (Cambridge, 1994), pp. 74–84.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 6.
    On sumptuary law, see Alan Hunt, Governance of the Consuming Passions: a History of Sumptuary Law (London, 1996);CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Negley Harte, ‘State Control of Dress and Social Change in Pre-industrial England’, in D.C. Coleman and A.H. John, eds, Trade, Government and Economy in Pre-industrial England (London, 1976), pp. 132–65.Google Scholar
  9. 8.
    See A Berry, The Idea of Luxury, John Sekora, Luxury: the Concept in Western Thought, Eden to Smollett (Baltimore, 1977).Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Cited in A.O. Hirschman, The Passions and the Interests, Political Arguments for Capitalism before Its Triumph (Princeton NJ, 1977), p. 60.Google Scholar
  11. 12.
    Edward Hundert, The Enlightenment’s Fable. Bernard Mandeville and the Discovery of Society (Cambridge, 1994), p. 181.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. 17.
    James Steuart, An Inquiry into the Principles of Political Oeconomy [1767], ed. Andrew S. Skinner (Edinburgh and London, 1966), I, p. 266.Google Scholar
  13. 21.
    David Hume, ‘Of Commerce’, in Hume, Essays, Moral Political and Literary (1752) (Oxford, 1963), pp. 259–75, p. 270.Google Scholar
  14. 22.
    Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations (1776), ed. R.H. Campbell and A.S. Skinner (Oxford, 1976), Book I, ch. 1, p. 22.Google Scholar
  15. 25.
    Smith discusses this shift in elite consumption and in urban production as a part of the ‘natural progress of opulence’ in Book III. For discussion of this, see Maxine Berg, ‘Political Economy and the Principles of Manufacture’, in M. Berg, P. Hudson and M. Sonenscher, eds, Manufacture in Town and Country before the Factory (Cambridge, 1983), pp. 33–58, at 45–50; andCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Neil De Marchi, ‘Adam Smith’s Accommodation of “altogether endless” Desires’, in Maxine Berg and Helen Clifford, eds, Consumers and Luxury (Manchester, 1999), pp. 18–36, at 23–5.Google Scholar
  17. 35.
    See Sarah Maza, ‘Luxury, Morality and Social Change: Why there was no Middle-Class Consciousness in Pre-revolutionary France’, Journal of Modern History 69 (June 1997), p. 217.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. 36.
    See Kathleen Wilson, The Sense of the People. Politics, Culture and Imperialism in England, 1715–1785 (Cambridge, 1998), pp. 191–2.Google Scholar
  19. 37.
    See James Raven, ‘Defending Conduct and Property. The London Press and the Luxury Debate’, in John Brewer and Susan Staves, ed., Early Modern Conceptions of Property (London, 1995), pp. 301–19, p. 304.Google Scholar
  20. 38.
    Vincent Quinn and Mary Peace, eds, Luxurious Sexualities, Textual Practice 11 (3), 1997, 405–16.Google Scholar
  21. 43.
    See Barbara Hardy, The Exposure of Luxury: Radical Themes in Thackeray (London, 1972), pp. 20–1.Google Scholar
  22. 45.
    See introduction to Vincent Quinn and Mary Peace, eds, Luxurious Sexualities, Textual Practice 11 (3), 1997.Google Scholar
  23. 46.
    Edward Hundert, The Enlightenment’s Fable: Bernard Mandeville and the Discovery of Society (Cambridge, 1994), p. 13.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. 47.
    See Bernard Mandeville, By a Society of Ladies: Essays in The Female Tatler, ed. M.M. Goldsmith (Bristol, 1999).Google Scholar
  25. 48.
    See J. Martin Stafford, ed., Private Vices, Publick Benefits? The Contemporary Reception of Bernard Mandeville (Hull, 1997), p. xii.Google Scholar
  26. 49.
    See David Nokes, John Gay. A Profession of Friendship (Oxford, 1995).Google Scholar
  27. 50.
    See Stephen Copley and Ian Haywood, ‘Luxury, Refuse and Poetry: John Gay’s Trivia’, in Peter Lewis and Nigel Wood, eds, John Gay and the Scriblerians (London, 1988), pp. 62–83.Google Scholar
  28. 51.
    Raymond Williams, Keywords. A Vocabulary of Culture and Society (London: Fontana/Croom Helm, 1976; revised edition 1984).Google Scholar
  29. 54.
    Werner Sombart, Luxury and Capitalism (1913), p. 105;Google Scholar
  30. David Frisby and Mike Featherstone, eds, Simmel on Culture (London, 1997), pp. 187–90.Google Scholar
  31. 58.
    Robert Jones, Gender and the Formation of Taste in Eighteenth-Century Britain: The Analysis of Beauty (Cambridge, 1998).Google Scholar
  32. 60.
    Katie Scott, The Rococo Interior (Yale, 1995), p. 216.Google Scholar
  33. 64.
    See Berry, The Idea of Luxury, pp. 162–77; Istvan Hont, ‘Luxury’, forthcoming in The Cambridge History of Political Thought; also see Istvan Hont and Michael Ignatieff, ‘Needs and Justice in the Wealth of Nations: an Introductory Essay’ in Wealth and Virtue (Cambridge, 1993).Google Scholar
  34. 65.
    Donald Winch, Riches and Poverty. An Intellectual History of Political Economy in Britain 1750–1834 (Cambridge, 1996), pp. 76–80, 106–9.Google Scholar
  35. 70.
    Gregory Claeys, ‘The Origins of the Rights of Labor: Republicanism, Commerce and the Construction of Modern Social Theory in Britain, 1796–1805’, Journal of Modern History, 66 (1994), pp. 249–90;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Noel Thompson, ‘Social Opulence, Private Asceticism: Ideas of Consumption in Early Socialist Thought’, in Martin Daunton and Matthew Hilton, eds, The Politics of Consumption. Material Culture and Citizenship in Europe and America (Oxford, 2001), pp. 51–68.Google Scholar
  37. 72.
    See David Frisby and Mike Featherstone, eds, Simmel on Culture; Thorstein Veblen, The Theory of the Leisure Class (New York, 1899).Google Scholar
  38. 73.
    See Daniel Miller, ed., Acknowledging Consumption (London, 1995).Google Scholar
  39. 74.
    Colin Campbell, The Romantic Ethic and the Spirit of Modern Consumerism (London, 1987);Google Scholar
  40. also see Jean-Christophe Agnew, ‘Coming up for Air: Consumer Culture in Historical Perspective’, in John Brewer and Roy Porter, eds, Consumption and the World of Goods (London, 1993), pp. 19–39, pp. 25–6.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  • Maxine Berg
  • Elizabeth Eger

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations