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It domesticated the primitive gild oath, making it a sanction of civic obedience. It turned gild officers into quasi-public officials and used gilds in the assignment of military and night-policing duties. Finally, it fostered political consciousness. In the matter of social controls over economic conduct, the role of the gilds was mainly to introduce collective decisions about how to meet new and difficult situations.

The move toward formal organization among artisans did not spread until the late thirteenth century, when, after two centuries of expanding trade, the towns were beginning to face more competitive conditions. The basic values of an ambitious but hard-pressed working population had long been rooted in the master artisan families. The need for hard work, frugality, and calculation had been beaten into many generations of sons and apprentices.

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Market officials had set checks on dishonesty in selling, and in the export industries merchants and their agents had done the same for manufacturing practices. Neigh borhood opinion condemned open quarreling. Above all, Christian doctrine had set a moral and religious value on work and approved of honest gain. In all such matters both mercan tile and artisan gilds acted to some extent as secret societies. Although gilds had to submit a code of rules to the city authorities in order to be recognized as legitimate, there was no regular check on the interpretation of the rules or their amendment.

Disagreement over competitive practices was some times so bitter as to lead to the realignment of dissident groups into new gilds. As is well known, the fund-raising power of the gilds was drawn on to support not only the cult of patron saints but also the major festivals through which the spiritual values of the entire community were reaffirmed.

The persistence with which gilds cultivated pleasant manners within their own circles is less well appreciated; at a gild meeting, all overt aggression, whether by word or deed, was relentlessly penalized. This is worth remark in an age when, despite centuries of Christian teaching, overt aggression was still common among the aristocracy, the peasantry, and the floating lower level of the urban population.

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The gilds may further be credited with inventing the bourgeois pattern of periodic, respectable festivity among married couples. In illicit, sworn forms it persisted among Frisian pirates, in French resistance to English occupation, and among unfree peasants raising funds to sue for or buy freedom. Heretic groups, on the other hand, preferred hierarchic forms of organization under charismatic leadership.

Phase 4. The fourth phase, especially in provincial towns in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, saw the social and economic activity of industrial gilds at its height, but political and economic circumstances were changing. State power standing above town administrations was readier than ever to grant enlarged powers to harass local competitors, gild offices fell more than ever into the hands of mercantile entrepreneurs, and subordinate fraternities of wage workers were suppressed.

Phase 5. The fifth phase, during which gild organization of trade and industry died out, dragged on from the seventeenth into the nineteenth century, according as new industrial development and reaction against the old system of privilege were precocious or late.

The Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences in Review

There had always been skepticism as to whether gilds stood, as they claimed, for the public interest. North of the Alps the spectacle of rural industry, based either on handicrafts or on new mechanization, progressing without benefit of gilds, fanned this skepticism long before it found theoretical exposition in new economic thought and propaganda. True, the question of continuity between the old forms and the new craft unions, burial clubs, etc.

Comparisons with developmental models that might be constructed for other civilizations, including the rapidly moving kaleidoscope of present-day Africa, would rest, in the first instance, on the place of universalist principles in the legitimation of association. In all their phases European gilds were in part particularistic in spirit, but it was their contributions to order and religion that, from the first, were the basis of their legitimation.

In Europe it was through the medieval gilds that universalist principles of policy protecting the consumer against fraud and dangers to health e. After the demise of the gilds, such functions had ultimately to be taken over by the state, and they have been the essential justification for the revival of professional and trade associations. Comparative study on this point has to be quantitative and has to take account of general demographic trends and the channeling of migration to towns.

Far from being a worked-out field, the study of voluntary associations can still illuminate many aspects of society.

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