Quakers & Capitalism – Persecution & Gospel Order (1661-1695)

January 4, 2011 § 2 Comments

I have published the next segment of my work on the history of Quakers and capitalism, available as a pdf file through a link on the page to the left: Quakers & Capitalism–The Book. The title is “Transition (1661-1695): Persecution & Gospel Order.” I’ll be loading it soon on the wiki QuakerCapitalism, as well.

The last posting in this series described how early Friends anticipated the radical transformation of the social order as a natural outcome of the Lamb’s War. This was a war of words and signs, rather than of outward weapons. The call to arms was a vivid experience of Christ’s presence and teaching, rather than a revolutionary ideology of social change. Although they challenged the social and economic status quo with their practices of hat honor and plain speech, they did not seek to remake the social order per se, but sought rather to be faithful to the Seed within them, to the Word who led them forth. In fact, they failed to develop a coherent testimony on social and economic institutions even as they absorbed the period’s most radical movements for economic reform, the Levellers and the Diggers.

This first brief burst of apocalyptic fervor faltered for a moment in 1656, when James Naylor reenacted Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem in the streets of Bristol and was tried and convicted of blasphemy. Then came the Restoration of Charles II to the throne in 1660, the return of the monarchy, and the collapse of the Puritan experiment in a haltingly theocratic republicanism. This begins a period of transition in which the external forces of persecution combined with forces of moderation within Quakerism, embodied in what George Fox called “gospel order,” to significantly transform Quaker culture and, especially, Quaker engagement with the outside world. Friends emerged from this crucible completely changed. The heat of persecution and the pressure of internal discipline had made of them a new and more durable alloy—albeit at a cost. At the same time, they played a key role in remaking Britain’s political economic culture, opening the way for the emergence of capitalism. Thus began an intimate relationship of mutual influence between Quakers and capitalism that would totally remake the social order after all.

By the way I can’t recommend Doug Gwyn’s book The Covenant Crucified enough. He brilliantly describes the forces at work in this period and their consequences and I’ve borrowed much of what I’ve written from his landmark contribution to Quaker history.

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