The Review of Austrian Economics, 16:2/3, 169–181, 2003.
2003 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Manufactured in The Netherlands.
From the Tribal to the Open Society:
The Role of Medieval Craft Guilds in the Emergence
of a Market Order
e Nancy 2—CREDES
Abstract. The emergence of a legally constituted State in 16th century western societies represents the ﬁnal lap
of a process extending the sphere of the indivudal freedoms necessary for the emergence of the market order. A
peculiar stage of this process came in the form of guilds. They materialised into a need for emancipation from
the values of the archaic society and became the keepers of a peace and a justice on the market by ensuring the
respect of new rules of conduct (1). This analysis of the behaviour of craft guilds will illustrate the question of the
possibility of rational economic activity in medieval society (2).
Key Words: guild, feudal economy, economic calculation
JEL classiﬁcation: N63, N83.
The question of the birth of the Open Society has never been tackled head on by Hayek.
At best, he considers that it belongs to an evolutionistic process when he claims that “the
transition from the small band to the settled community and ﬁnally to the open society and
with it to civilization was due to men learning to obey the same abstract rules instead of
being guided by innate instincts to pursue common perceived goals”.
For Hayek, the question of the emergence of the market is linked to the appearance
of conditions allowing man to gain individual freedom. If it is generally accepted that it
was only the emergence of a legally constituted State in 16th century western societies
that enabled individuals to acquire the freedom necessary for such a learning process,
this emergence, in our view, represents the ﬁnal lap of a process extending the sphere of
individual freedoms. This grew rapidly from the 11th century onwards thanks to the pressure
operated by the merchants and craftsmen. A peculiar stage of this process came in the form
of guild organization which marked the beginning of increasing attempts to pass from an
economy of subsistence to an economy of proﬁt. Up until the 12th century craftsmanship
had been nothing more than an occasional occupation of manorial agents employed on
large estates whose existence was taken care of by the great landowners of the time. In
fact, the novelty which evolved with the craft industry in medieval towns during this period
was that these people, who had organised themselves into craft guilds,
professionals who depended upon the market for their survival.
The aim of this article is to highlight the role of craft guilds in the emergence and
extension of this budding market order. In the ﬁrst section, we will endeavour to show that
in a hierarchical medieval society subject to laws and morals lingering on from the previous