Essay on the importance of money

Summary of Philosophy of money

The pulsating metropolis of Berlin around 1900

The establishment of the German Empire in the last third of the 19th century was accompanied not only by a boom in industry, but also in banking. As early as 1870, the Deutsche Bank was founded in Berlin to expand export relations. In addition to granting trade credits, it soon turned to domestic business and thus initiated a rapid upswing. In the same year Commerzbank was established in Hamburg, followed by the establishment of Dresdner Bank in 1872. Overall, a large number of new banks emerged between 1870 and 1873, most of which, however, did not survive the start-up crash of 1873 triggered by a wave of speculation. Many smaller private and regional banks were taken over by the three major German banks, so that in the following period there was a concentration in the banking business.

Before the turn of the century, the major banks Commerzbank and Dresdner Bank followed Deutsche Bank to Berlin. The capital of the German Empire, founded in 1871, was the largest industrial center and the most important stock exchange in Germany at the turn of the century. In just three decades, the old, tranquil residential and garrison town had grown into the most modern European metropolis. New immigrants poured into Berlin from the eastern regions of the state, from Brandenburg, Silesia and East Prussia.

Foreign visitors were amazed at the rapid pace and the noisy hustle and bustle in the capital of the Reich. Buses, automobiles and cabs were jammed at the intersections. On the sidewalks, passers-by crowded in front of the luxurious displays of the department stores; Street lights and neon signs turned night into day. In contrast, the poverty of many inhabitants of the working-class quarters, who lived in dreary tenement blocks in a confined space and in appalling hygienic conditions, was all the more blatant. The large number of homeless people and prostitutes was a visible sign of the social division in the city, where rich and poor lived in close proximity.


The tense life of the big cities, which were also centers of the financial world, aroused Georg Simmel's interest in the money economy early on. As early as 1889, the Berlin merchant's son wrote an essay with the title ToPsychology of money. In the 1890s he kept coming back to the topic in many articles and newspaper articles. As an author and publicist, Simmel was very productive. In his well-attended lectures at Berlin University, the private lecturer devoted himself to questions of philosophy, sociology and modern culture beyond the scientific mainstream - and thus aroused the resentment of some colleagues who thwarted his application for a Heidelberg professorship, e. Partly for anti-Semitic motives. In 1900 he did get another - albeit unpaid - position as associate professor at the Humboldt University. His main work was published in the same year The philosophy of money, after individual sections had previously been published in various preprints and newspaper articles and even as translations into Russian. The book on which he had been writing for years had, according to Simmel's own admission, been created with great effort. In letters to his friends from that period, he complained that work was going neither forwards nor backwards, and the simplest things in particular gave him insurmountable difficulties.

Impact history

The Philosophy of money could "only be written during this time and only in Berlin", judged a critic in a review of the work. Indeed, it hit the nerve of a nervous time filled with an indefinite longing. Nevertheless, it initially sold rather slowly. Due to the unsystematic, essayistic character, there was also no scientific debate. Still, the book influenced many contemporary thinkers, from Georg Lukács above Theodor W. Adorno up to Walter benjamin and later Niklas Luhmann. Left-wing critics in particular accused Simmel of “money apologetics” and described his theory as a “philosophy of the capitalist spirit”, which provides arguments for the money economy without asking about the conditions of its origins or even about alternatives. Simmel's work enjoys the status of a classic in cultural studies to this day. Against the background of the financial crisis since 2007, the book is gaining new relevance and has recently been rediscovered by economists.