Sunday, December 31, 2017

Adam Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments

Via L

This series, in its unrevised form, was posted in Summer  2005.  I thought it was lost forever, but Allen Wilson has been kind enough to send me dozens of old pieces that have disappeared from the old website.

Part One:  Capitalism

1776, the year of the Declaration of Independence, was marked also by the publication of Adam Smith’s path-breaking book on economics, The Wealth of Nations. This is no accident, according to a familiar myth put out by American classical liberals who call themselves conservatives, because America is a land of individualists who came to a New World seeking freedom from monarchy, aristocracy, the patriarchal family, religion, and tradition, and our way of life is based on the principles of John Locke and the Scottish Enlightenment: human equality, natural rights, the consent of the governed. These principles are the basis of the democratic capitalism revealed to the world by Adam Smith. Since Adam Smith was also a great moral philosopher and even a moral theologian, modern capitalism is essentially a moral proposition.

This thumbnail sketch of American exceptionalism and the significance of Adam Smith is, like most of what we have been taught to believe, ahistorical buncombe.

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