The advent of quantitative easing by the world's major central banks invites renewed questions about the meaning and role of central bank independence in an age of economic crisis. This article draws together insights from economic sociology, history and democratic theory to engage in further discussion about the proper role of central banks in democratic society. We stress some related themes. Our brief history of central banks aims to show how these banks have always been embedded in economic and political coalitions and conflicts, therefore qualifying the term independence; our study also aims to show that in satisficing between conflicting tasks, central banks need to maintain a balance between cognitive competences and normative expectations. Independence is better understood as a form of dependence on the coalition of interests that supported the financial climate prevailing before the global crisis of 2008, one of low wage-price inflation, high borrowing and debt, and loss of prudential control. We argue that independence amounts to a form of re-privatisation of central banks, and that they are increasingly suborned to the pressures of financial markets. At the same time, asset price inflation has sacrificed growth and employment and therefore prolongs the crisis. The economic measures now demanded by the financial crisis prompt new doubts about the independent central bank experiment, potentially in favour of the ex ante model of governmental oversight of central banks.