This article examines conceptions of the family, and the relationships within it, as checks to individual self-interest in German economic thought over the nineteenth century. Across various discourses, marriage and the family emerged as symbols of commitment to the common good and set important terms for a simultaneous criticism and valorization of Smithian economic ideas by the historical economists after 1848. Hildebrand, Schmoller, and others drew on understandings of sex and gender roles shaped by moral and legal philosophy, biology, and anthropology, as well within an expansive, liberal public sphere, in order to argue for the central role of the family in containing the “egoism” of individual male economic actors and to link its moral status with the protection of private property. Rather than the reorganization of society proposed by their socialist competitors, the historical economists urged a revived attention to the common good through social policy sponsored by the state and reform activities taken up in gender-appropriate ways by civil-societal actors.

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