The Brenner Debate

Agrarian Class Structure and Economic Development in Pre-industrial Europe

The Brenner Debate

Few historical issues have occasioned such discussion since at least the time of Marx as the transition from feudalism to capitalism in Western Europe. The Brenner Debate, which reprints from Past and Present various article in 1976, is a scholarly presentation of a variety of points of view, covering a very wide range in time, place and type of approach. Weighty theoretical responses to Brenner's first formulation followed from the late Sir Michael Postan, John Hatcher, Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie and Guy Bois; more particular contributions came from Patricia Croot, David Parker, Arnost Klìma and Heide Wunder on England, France, Bohemia and Germany; and reflective pieces from R. H. Hilton and the late J. P. Cooper. Completing the volume, and giving it an overall coherence, are Brenner's own comprehensive response to those who had taken part in the debate, and also R. H. Hilton's introduction that aims to bring together the major themes in the collection of essays. The debate has already aroused widespread interest among historians and scholars in allied fields as well as among ordinary readers, and may reasonably be regarded as one of the most important historical debates of prevailing years.


'In their brief editorial introduction to this volume, Aston and Philpin remark: 'The Brenner Debate … may justifiably lay claim to being one of the most important historical debates of topical years, and goes back, in one form or another, to at least the time of Marx'. The republication of the debate, as it appeared in the journal Past and Present from 1976 to 1982, together with a fresh, short introduction by Rodney Hilton, is therefore to be welcomed. For a debate as important and wide-ranging as this is, publication in one volume is vital.' Journal of Historical Geography