The Bücher-Meyer controversy : the nature of the ancient economy in modern ideology
The Bucher-Meyer Controversy is a famous debate about the fundamental character of the ancient economy. The disagreement arose with Karl Bucher's thesis that the ancient economy apparently never overcome the economic stage of the 'closed household economy', which the author formulated in his 1893 publication 'The Formation of the National Economy'. Bucher's stance stimulated immediately rigorous rejections from the elite scholars of ancient history. Eduard Meyer and Karl Julius Beloch both dismissed Bucher's claim being an unscientific and ill-founded description of the ancient economy. Both assumed instead that some periods in ancient history are economically comparable with early modern capitalism. Part I investigates the arguments on both sides and aims to highlight some initial understandings and methodological divergences between the opposed positions, which would have negative consequences for the future course of the debate. What initially may appear a highly subject specific debate with no wider academic relevance turned quickly into a bitter feud between the established historicist historiography, which dominated ancient history and the increasingly popular empiricist conceptual approaches in political economy, sociology and psychology. The swift rejection of Bucher's stances also highlighted the serious difficult for social and cultural history to win scientific credibility against the long-established and predominant political historiography. However, the debate abut the proper scientific historiographical method, which accompanied the Bucher-Meyer Controversy, brought to light a variety of additional, often deep rooted ideological disagreements within the German academic community, which were fuelled by the highly sensitive 'national' and 'social question' in Germany at the turn of the 19th century. The turbulent political and social climate frequently called the purpose of classical and historical scholarship into question and by doing so elevated the Bucher-Meyer Controversy beyond being merely an intellectual debate about the nature of the ancient economy. These issues are discussed in Part II.