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Distortions of History, Accounting and the Paradox of Werner Sombart

By Warwick N. Funnell


Sombart's belief that double-entry bookkeeping was essential to the development of capitalism has been criticized by both accounting and economic historians. His substantive conclusions concerning double-entry bookkeeping have been rejected mainly because they result from his selective and self-serving rendition of history. Accounting historians have been preoccupied especially with denouncing his exaggerated appreciation of double-entry bookkeeping. They argue that he attributes far too much importance to its potentialities in preference to the more sober reality found in the historical record. This paper shows that in their denunciation of Sombart's conclusions and his faulty history, accounting history researchers have been seemingly oblivious to the way in which Sombart's anti-Semitism shaped his appreciation of double-entry bookkeeping. He accuses Jews, as exceptional exponents of rational profit calculation, of perpetrating the evils of capitalism. His views of double-entry bookkeeping and the history of economic systems betrayed a strong attachment to a romantic conception of German history which supported German anti-Semitism of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Sombart's denunciation of Jewish influences extended from their business practices to observations of Jews that were consistently anti-Semitic and sympathetic to those of the Nazis

Topics: H
Year: 2001
DOI identifier: 10.1111/1467-6281.00074
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