Grey Room

The Values of Insurance

François Ewald


The history of insurance tells the story of modern morality, more precisely of modern struggles within the sphere of morality.

Thus it would be incorrect to assume that insurance was borne of only a hypothetical need for security. The writings of Jean Halpérin have clearly shown that, for insurance to exist, a new need for security had to appear. Insurance is the offspring of capital. This new form of security was not needed in a feudal economy, in which property was tied to the land, and the individual was enclosed within the bonds of family and religion, or within corporate solidarity. Security becomes necessary, however, as soon as financial assets begin to circulate, become tradable, and capital finds itself exposed to the dangers engendered by this circulation. It is no coincidence that the first kind of insurance was maritime: “The sea alone was able to elude rigid feudal armature. The cornerstone of the feudal world was essentially the land; the sea escapes social and political hierarchies; it is not subject to any governmental authority whatsoever. Nothing is less feudal than the sea.”