The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics

2018 Edition
| Editors: Macmillan Publishers Ltd

Economic Interpretation of History

  • Ernest Gellner
Reference work entry


Marxism does not possess a monopoly of the economic interpretation of history. Other theories of this kind can be formulated – for instance that which can be found in the very distinguished work of Karl Polanyi, dividing the history of mankind into three stages, each defined by a different type of economy. If Polanyi is right in suggesting that reciprocity, redistribution and the market each defined a different kind of society, this is, in a way, tantamount to saying that the economy is primary, and thus his work constitutes a species of the economic interpretation of history. Nevertheless, despite the importance of Polanyi’s work and the possibility of other rival economic interpretations, Marxism remains the most influential, the most important, and perhaps the best elaborated of all theories, and we shall concentrate on it.

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© Macmillan Publishers Ltd. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ernest Gellner
    • 1
  1. 1.