The Trump protest, EP Thompson’s moral economy & Matthew d’Ancona

In Uncategorized on July 15, 2018 by kmflett

The Trump protest, EP Thompson’s moral economy & Matthew d’Ancona

Sometimes life passes you by and I missed a reference in the Guardian to EP Thompson’s moral economy in the Guardian on 8th July:

It was from Matthew d’Ancona a liberal-ish Tory who writes for the Guardian and the London Evening Standard. He is a Corbynphobe and spends much of his time criticising the left, while very occasionally aiming a broadside at the right of the Tory Party.

His piece on 8th July was about the anti-Trump protest on 13th July in London which he thought should be peaceful and witty. Indeed it was, with around 250,000 people. My thoughts on this are here:

Somewhere in his argument with himself about the nature of the protest he decided to reference EP Thompson’s moral economy. The relevant passage is here:

There has long been a tendency on the far left to romanticise what EP Thompson called “the moral economy of the English crowd” and to see this as a blank cheque for disorder. More recently, a new and pernicious doctrine has taken hold – that unacceptable or “problematic” speech is a form of violence and a justification for the pre-emptive use of force. I can imagine this axiom being used by British Antifa protesters as an excuse for pointless exhibitions of force this week.

D’Ancona has a first in Modern History from Oxford which however probably did not include E.P Thompson’s work on eighteenth century England and the moral economy.

There is no evidence provided for his statement that the ‘far left’ like to use the concept of a moral economy as a ‘blank cheque for disorder’. Possibly because he has little or none but this is journalism not an academic article so he is not really expected to produce any.

However let us consider the realities of how Thompson viewed the moral economy:

1 It was a concept he used to describe how relations between the poor and the ruling class went on in a patrician society, before the working-class was formed.

2 A moral economy meant one where there was general agreement on, particularly, the quality and price of bread (beer was also sometimes involved). Assizes sat to lay down rules on this. If they were not kept the poor could appeal to the law. If that didn’t work they might protest. The protest was the key point. It was often designed to address issues of overpriced or poor-quality bread. Very occasionally it led to a riot but that was generally seen as a failure of the process.

3 Thompson was very clear that the concept of a moral economy applied to only the eighteenth century and should not be applied elsewhere. In a subsequent update he conceded that the concept was now in such widespread usage that he could no longer lay down a framework for its use. Indeed he occasionally applied it to the present day himself- see the essays in his collection Writing By Candlelight.

As we know the huge London protest against Trump was entirely peaceful and perhaps did echo Thompson’s moral economy in suggesting that there is a certain basic understanding between the rich and poor about how a market society works or should work that Trump persists in trampling on.

On Saturday however the supporters of jailed fascist Yaxley Lennon again attacked police and opponents in central London. One wonders if Mr d’Ancona will manage a column




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