During the course of my research concerning the conditions of freedom, I keep reverting to the question why liberty emerged uniquely in Europe. I have recently chanced upon two fascinating accounts that go a long way towards explaining the special European path.
One account is contained in Jack Goody's path-breaking The Development of the Family and Marriage in Europe, and the other is Harold Berman's equally seminal Law and Revolution.
Both deal with "papal revolutions" that have changed the course of history. Both provide evidence that the Roman Church acted as the perhaps most decisive pioneer of liberty and capitalism, by effecting the breakthrough of individualism in Europe and introducing the foundational institutions of a market-based society.
Around 300 A.D. European patterns of marriage and kinship were turned on their head. What had previously been the norm - marriage to close kin - became the new taboo. The same applied to adoption, the obligation of a man to marry his brother's widow and a number of other central practices. With these changes Christian Europe broke radically from its own past and established practices which diverged markedly from those of the Middle East, North Africa and Asia. In this highly original and far-reaching work Jack Goody argues that from the fourth century there developed in the northern Mediterranean a distinctive but not undifferentiated kinship system, whose growth can be attributed to the role of the Church in acquiring property formerly held by domestic groups. He suggests that the early Church, faced with the need to provide for people who had left their kin to devote themselves to the life of the Church, regulated the rules of marriage so that wealth could be channelled away from the family and into the Church. Thus the Church became an 'interitor', acquiring vast tracts of property through the alienation of familial rights. At the same time, the structure of domestic life was changed dramatically, the Church placing more emphasis on individual wishes, on conjugality, and on spiritual rather than natural kinship.
(Source: book description at Amazon, Germany)
On page 7 of his Reviving the Invisible Hand, Deepak Lal concludes:
Most Eurasian civilizations ... had similar family values, for agrarian civilizations required stable settled families to operate their settled agriculture. To maintain this stability all these cultures sought to limit the common human but ephemeral passion of love as the basis of marriage. Their values were communalist. It was the first papal revolution of Gregory the Great in the sixth century which changed these hitherto communalist values to the individualist ones which have come to characterize and distinguish the West from the Rest. This papal revolution, by promoting love as the basis of marriage and advocating the independence of the young, led to the rise of individualism in the West.
The first papal revolution made the Church rich and powerful to such an extent that it dared to challenge the secular powers-that-be in a second papal revolution instigated in 1075 by Pope Gregory VII, when he proclaimed: "Let the terrestrial kingdom serve - or be the slave of -the celestial," which inaugurated the church-state.
Deepak Lal summarises on page 6 of his Reviving the Invisible Hand:
Berman has shown how the whole Western legal tradition derives from the development of both canon and secular law during the eleventh to thirteenth centuries under the aegis of the Roman church. For the rise of the market economy the most important was the development of the "law of the merchant" - the lex mercatoria. "The church state set an example for the city-state, and church law set an example for city law and for commercial law."