Alfred Marshall versus the Historical School
A false account of Marshall’s engagements with the historical school is found among modern commentators. This false account involves the central proposition that Marshall was an opponent of the historical school. This false account has survived and prospered because it has fitted into more general conceptions of intellectual history, held by both orthodox and heterodox economists. To many orthodox economists, Marshall was a hero who greatly contributed to the development of neoclassical economic theory, and fought valiantly against the ‘atheoretical’ historicists. Likewise, to many heterodox economists, Marshall was a villain who greatly contributed to the development of neoclassical economic theory, and machinated against the ‘more realistic’ historicists. Such statements are difficult to reconcile with the fact that Marshall repeatedly referred positively to the ideas of the German historical school. It is argued in this paper that Marshall’s opposition to the historical school was confined to its anti-theoretical wing, principally William Cunningham. In other important respects Marshall’s position was compatible with German and British historicism.