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Open Access

Moral, Kapitalismus und soziale Bewegungen. Kulturhistorische Annäherungen an einen ‚alten‘ Gegenstand

Published Online


The article is presenting an argument to look at the history of capitalism through the lens of moral ideas and moral movements. The authors argue that capitalism cannot be understood as an economic system alone but as a cultural system that relied on morality as justification whilst, at the same time, its critics also used moral arguments to attack the alleged immorality of capitalism. Making use of E. P. Thompson’s concept of the ‘moral economy’, the article first explores cultural perspectives on the history of capitalism after which it discusses both winners and losers with a view of how they conceptualised economics in moral terms. One of the central moral debates on capitalism was the one around ‘free’ and ‘unfree’ labour which are briefly reviewed here before the article concludes with an analysis of the moral debates surrounding capitalism and slavery. Overall the article is a plea to combine cultural and social history and to open up a new research field that focuses on social practices which put the morality of capitalism centre-stage.