The Fruits of Civilization – Justus Möser

Justus Möser

I have also seen the world, and after long experience have discovered that ennui is our greatest enemy, and remunerative labor our most lasting friend. ~ Justus Möser

German social theorist Justus Möser (1720–1794) spent his career in his native town of Osnabrück as a lawyer and jurist.

Though not in an entirely benevolent light, Möser anticipated concepts behind a social market economy, which combines private enterprise with government regulation to ensure low unemployment, decent working conditions, social welfare, and public services. Such a coordinated market economy puts social policy on par with economic policy.

Möser’s concern was the well-being of the people in his town: at least the ones well-off. He feared that globalization would destroy local cultures.

Osnabrück in Möser’s time was home to 125,000 inhabitants; a town covering less than 80 km2 in western Germany. Its economic and political institutions were medieval in origin, and manorialism its modus operandi. Osnabrück’s institutions were being destabilized by an unfettered market economy.

A uniform, standardized law was central to an economic regime that engendered free enterprise. Möser argued that such would:

depart from the true plan of Nature, which reveals its wealth through its multiplicity, and would clear the path to despotism, which seeks to coerce all according to a few rules and so loses the richness that comes with variety.

Möser was a staunch conservative, as are all who fear a future in flux, and so seek to preserve the present, regardless of social inequities. Möser argued that unfettered commerce was not the formula for happiness among citizens, nor social harmony.

Möser’s shortsighted sense of social justice was both corporatist and inegalitarian. In strong support of feudalism, he saw virtue in knowing one’s place.

Möser favored some economic development, as long as it was controlled by the government. The market became more appealing to Möser as it became less free.

There was a strong mercantile streak in Möser. He applauded merchants who exported local goods and thereby enriched his region.

Möser also saw that an economy which was not self-sufficient could ill afford to have the government fix prices on essential goods, such as grain, which could result in shortages.

In this instance, one can rely completely on the appetite for gain, which is placed in all men, and not without purpose. ~ Justus Möser