Social Justice within a Market Society: The Debate in Western Europe from the End of the Nineteenth Century

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Shifting conceptions of social justice were intricately entangled with changing conceptions of the market in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Understanding this interwoven history requires an analysis of the anthropological, moral, social, and political implications of constructions of a market order. This observation is the starting point for a sketch of three distinctive periods in Western European history of entanglements between conceptions of social justice and understandings of the market. In the first period, defined by the social question, a notion of property as entitlements to social security created the social basis for the recognition of political agency and the empowerment of precarious workers. In a second period, notions of social justice centred on the creation and maintenance of a productive workforce, with sufficient spending power to contribute to the efficiency of markets and the growth of national wealth. The third period was characterised by an understanding of social justice as a disturbance of the price mechanism resulting from the capture of the state by self-interested professionals and interest groups. Social justice is not an alternative to a market morality; they together contribute to shifting entanglements of ‘socially’ informed markets and ‘market’ informed constellations of social justice.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationSocial Justice in Twentieth-Century Europe
EditorsMartin Conway, Camilo Erlichman
Place of PublicationCambridge
PublisherCambridge: Cambridge University Press
Number of pages23
ISBN (Print)978-1-00-937085-1
Publication statusPublished - 29 Feb 2024


  • market economy
  • capitalism
  • social question
  • welfare state
  • social democracy
  • Christian democracy
  • neoliberalism
  • the Netherlands
  • United Kingdom
  • Germany


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