Historical Social Research

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Sascha Münnich: Outside Powers: The Moral Economy of Anti-Financial Movements 1870-1930 and Today [Abstract]

This article discusses if European societies witness a “new Polanyian moment,“ in which a period of austerity and currency turmoil will be answered by conservative or authoritarian counter-movements, as happened in the first half of the 20th century. In order to analyze when and how critique that aims at social change is rooted in anti-liberal ideology, we analyze the moral economy of the 2011 Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement and compare it to anti-financial protest in the late 19th and early 20th century in Germany and the UK. We argue that public statements by OWS groups and their supporters reproduce two major elements of 19th century moral economy of financial protest: First, a description of finance as something external and hostile to the traditional socio-cultural community of production. Second, the image that financial interests are likely to capture political power. Beyond these continuities, we argue that today the dichotomy between “cosmopolitan finance” and the “productive national community” is much less clearly connected to sectoral, socio-economic, or ethnic cleavages. Instead, financial outsiders are perceived as having removed themselves voluntarily from the community in order to gain profits. Still, we conclude that because of the semantic similarities between past and recent anti-finance protest, right-wing populism in Europe may not necessarily be weakened by popular anti-austerity protests.

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