Werner Sombart 101: A Pioneering German Economist
Zatrun Published at October 16, 2023

Werner Sombart was a German economist and sociologist who lived from 1863 to 1941. He was the leader of the “Youngest Historical School” and one of the most influential social scientists in Europe in the early 20th century. He coined the term “late capitalism” and the concept of “creative destruction” associated with capitalism. If you are interested in learning more about Sombart, keep reading this article.

Who is Werner Sombart?

Werner Sombart was born in Ermsleben, Germany, to a wealthy liberal politician and industrialist father. He studied law and economics at various universities, including Pisa, Berlin, and Rome. He received his Ph.D. from Berlin in 1888 under the supervision of Gustav von Schmoller and Adolph Wagner, two prominent German economists of the historical school.

He became a professor of economics at Breslau University in 1890, but was denied appointments at more prestigious universities due to his radical left-wing views. He was an avid reader and interpreter of Karl Marx, and even received praise from Friedrich Engels for his understanding of Das Kapital. He was also a member of the Social Policy Association, a group of German economists who advocated for social reform and empirical research.

Sombart’s main work was “The Modern Capitalism”, which was published in three volumes from 1902 to 1927. In this work, he traced the historical development of capitalism from its origins in feudalism to its contemporary form in the post-World War I period. He divided capitalism into four stages: proto-capitalism, early capitalism, high capitalism, and late capitalism. He argued that each stage had its own distinctive features, such as technology, institutions, and culture.

Werner Sombart also authored several other books on various aspects of economic and social life, such as socialism, luxury, war, trade, and heroes. He was especially interested in the relationship between economy and culture, and how different civilizations shaped and were shaped by their economic systems. He compared different economic cultures. He also explored the role of religion, especially Protestantism and Judaism, in fostering or hindering economic development.

His Impact to the Europe and WW2

Werner Sombart’s legacy is complex and controversial. On one hand, he was a pioneer in applying historical and sociological methods to economic analysis. He influenced many other scholars, such as Karl Polanyi, Joseph Schumpeter, Oswald Spengler, Max Weber, and Georg Simmel. His concepts of late capitalism and creative destruction are still widely used today. His works also provide valuable insights into the history and culture of different economic systems.

On the other hand, Werner Sombart was also criticized for his methodological flaws, ideological biases, and political shifts. He was accused of being too speculative, descriptive, subjective, and deterministic in his approach. He was also criticized for his changing views on socialism and capitalism.

He started as a Marxist sympathizer who advocated for social revolution but later became a nationalist conservative who supported Nazi Germany. He also expressed anti-Semitic views in some of his writings, such as The Jews and Modern Capitalism (1911), where he claimed that Jews were responsible for the rise and decline of capitalism.

Despite his controversies, Werner Sombart remains an important figure in the history of economic thought and sociology. His works offer a rich and diverse perspective on the complex phenomena of economic life.

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