Why did Eastern and Western Europe follow different paths of economic and political development during the 17th century?
Were these differences inevitable and how do the differencs effect the modern world?
The primary reason that East and West followed different paths is that they had different histories, which influenced their development. An important factor was religion. Western Europe had followed Roman Catholicism which, after some notable discord, had drawn clear lines of distinction between Church and State. This was not the case in Eastern Europe. The old Byzantine Emperor had been head of both church and state. This situation continued after the fall of Constantinople when Moscow called itself the "third Rome." The Russian Czar was head of both church and state. Also, Western Europe benefited greatly from expansion into the Americas, primarily from the importation of gold and silver. Eastern Europe did not participate in this expansion and therefore did not profit from it. It should be noted that absolutism existed in both Eastern and Western Europe; however England is the notable exception. That nation never developed an absolute monarchy. The English people were proud of their "Rights as Englishmen" and ultimately executed their monarch when he attempted to rule absolutely. This was not the case in the East, where Czars and Emperors ruled without interference from Parliaments.
Economically, serfdom had long disappeared in Western Europe, but was reinstituted in the East. Western Europe had discovered new found wealth in gold, silver, and other products imported from the New World. Ironically, this caused inflation which forced up the prices of agricultural goods in the East, and in turn gave landlords incentives to demand more of their estates. Soon serfs were tied to the land and inherited with it. The rise in wealth led to the rise of the middle class in Western Europe, known in France as the Bourgeoisie. This was not the case in the East, where there was no middle class, only landlords and peasants (serfs) who were under his absolute control. In Poland, landlords could impose the death penalty on a serf if they so decided. In Prussia, a serf was assumed to be under "hereditary subjugation" unless he could prove otherwise in a court controlled by the landlord. Also, in Russia, a nine year statute of limitations on the right to have runaway serfs returned was abolished, meaning serfs were never safe from their landlords.
Ultimately Western Europe's independence from religious control and expansion into the New World allowed it to develop politically and economically more quickly and efficiently than in the East.