Page:Cambridge Modern History Volume 1.djvu/567

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years to sweep away the system which had been previously left untouched by economic progress.

These were the general conditions that determined the ultimate distribution of the treasure which was brought from the New World. Transferred in the sixteenth century, partly in response to military requirements, partly by successful depredation, and partly by mere smuggling, this treasure sooner or later found its way into the hands of agents of commerce, who desired to use it as capital and who employed it in the places and avocations where they had most reason to expect a large profit. The actual return depended partly on social, partly on physical conditions; but the results that followed were curious and unequal, for while some of the more backward countries moved rapidly forward, making huge strides in wealth and material prosperity, whole classes in every community and large districts of continental Europe remained almost stationary, untouched and unaffected by the march of progress.

Nevertheless, though these great economic movements were retarded, they could not be wholly arrested. Capitalism has gradually overcome the medieval obstacles; it has swept away local exclusiveness, and has been the means of developing large economic areas. A revolution has taken place in business practice, and the breaking down of commercial restrictions is a change which has affected the traders in all lands. Industry has become capitalistic, and the whole foundation of trading relations and commercial morality has been altered so as to open indefinite possibilities to every merchant. Civic has given place to national economic life. At the commencement of the seventeenth century neither Germany nor Italy had become true nations, but in the course of time the European peoples have come to conform more and more to the larger type of organisation that had already arisen in England and in France.