The Mind-Based Etymology of ‘Capitalism’

Political-economic systems are identified by broad abstractions such as “capitalism,” “socialism,” “communism,” “fascism.” Philosophy and history enable us to identify, in broad abstractions, the essence of political economic systems. But the meanings of these abstractions can sometimes be difficult to retain. Etymology, the study of the origin and development of words, can help us to concretize and retain the essence of these systems by exposing their roots. In the case of “socialism,” “communism,” and “fascism,” the words relate clearly and directly to their respective systems. Etymologically, socialism derives from the same root as “social” and “society”; communism derives from the same root as “commune” and “community”; fascism derives from the Italian word fascismo, which derives from fascio, which means a bundle of rods tightly bound together (from fasces, Latin for “bundle” or “group”).1

But what about capitalism? Is it just about capital, wealth, economics, money? Or is there a deeper meaning in the etymological roots of this term—a meaning that ties into and supports a broader meaning of the system?

Origins of ‘Capital,’ ‘Capitalist,’ and ‘Capitalistic’

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1. The etymological roots of socialism, communism, and fascism are clearly collectivist; in such systems the individual is subordinated to the group, however the latter is defined.

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