Chapter 14: The reproduction of moral economies in capitalism: Reading Thompson structurally
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The Marxist historian EP Thompson argued that under eighteenth-century English capitalism ordinary people understood themselves as having rights to basic subsistence, and the right to take action to enforce those rights. He termed this condition a ‘moral economy’. This chapter draws upon Thompson to offer an account of a pattern in the history of capitalism, one in which ideologies (including legal ideologies) that promote social order under one set of institutional arrangements become a source of civil unrest when capitalism washes away that set of institutional arrangements. Capitalist society is thus prone to recurring conflict, in which people seek to preserve earlier and vanishing forms of capitalism. These processes are legally constituted, at least in part, and they generate problems to which law under capitalism must respond.

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