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Economic Sentiments: Adam Smith, Condorcet, and the Enlightenment

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In a brilliant recreation of the epoch between the 1770s and the 1820s, Emma Rothschild reinterprets the ideas of the great revolutionary political economists to show us the true landscape of economic and political thought in their day, with important consequences for our own. Her work alters the readings of Adam Smith and Condorcet--and of ideas of Enlightenment--that und In a brilliant recreation of the epoch between the 1770s and the 1820s, Emma Rothschild reinterprets the ideas of the great revolutionary political economists to show us the true landscape of economic and political thought in their day, with important consequences for our own. Her work alters the readings of Adam Smith and Condorcet--and of ideas of Enlightenment--that underlie much contemporary political thought. Economic Sentiments takes up late-eighteenth-century disputes over the political economy of an enlightened, commercial society to show us how the "political" and the "economic" were intricately related to each other and to philosophical reflection. Rothschild examines theories of economic and political sentiments, and the reflection of these theories in the politics of enlightenment. A landmark in the history of economics and of political ideas, her book shows us the origins of laissez-faire economic thought and its relation to political conservatism in an unquiet world. In doing so, it casts a new light on our own times.


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In a brilliant recreation of the epoch between the 1770s and the 1820s, Emma Rothschild reinterprets the ideas of the great revolutionary political economists to show us the true landscape of economic and political thought in their day, with important consequences for our own. Her work alters the readings of Adam Smith and Condorcet--and of ideas of Enlightenment--that und In a brilliant recreation of the epoch between the 1770s and the 1820s, Emma Rothschild reinterprets the ideas of the great revolutionary political economists to show us the true landscape of economic and political thought in their day, with important consequences for our own. Her work alters the readings of Adam Smith and Condorcet--and of ideas of Enlightenment--that underlie much contemporary political thought. Economic Sentiments takes up late-eighteenth-century disputes over the political economy of an enlightened, commercial society to show us how the "political" and the "economic" were intricately related to each other and to philosophical reflection. Rothschild examines theories of economic and political sentiments, and the reflection of these theories in the politics of enlightenment. A landmark in the history of economics and of political ideas, her book shows us the origins of laissez-faire economic thought and its relation to political conservatism in an unquiet world. In doing so, it casts a new light on our own times.

30 review for Economic Sentiments: Adam Smith, Condorcet, and the Enlightenment

  1. 4 out of 5

    Frank Stein

    In this book, Emma Rothschild argues that while many Enlightenment thinkers, especially Adam Smith and the Marquis de Condorcet, were obsessed with freedom of commerce, commerce to them was mainly a means to advance cultural and personal liberty. To prove it, she plunges deep into their writings and into the general milieu of the Enlightenment. She comes up with some precious insights and quotes, even if they are not always apropos, and even if the conclusions she draws from them are not always In this book, Emma Rothschild argues that while many Enlightenment thinkers, especially Adam Smith and the Marquis de Condorcet, were obsessed with freedom of commerce, commerce to them was mainly a means to advance cultural and personal liberty. To prove it, she plunges deep into their writings and into the general milieu of the Enlightenment. She comes up with some precious insights and quotes, even if they are not always apropos, and even if the conclusions she draws from them are not always warranted. Rothschild (apparently, yes, she is related to THOSE Rothschilds) does prove, however, that Adam Smith was an undisputed radical. In the 1790s he was quoted favorably by the semi-atheist Thomas Paine, the early anarchist William Godwin, and the proto-feminist Mary Wollenscraft. Rothschild then blames Dugald Stewart, Smith's friend and posthumous scribe, for overplaying his conservative side in the "Account of the Life and Writings of Adam Smith," supposedly in fear of the sedition and conspiracy trials in Scotland after 1793. In this, as in much else, Rothschild overplays her hand. She takes a few well-played quotes from Smith (defending wage regulations for the poor, arguing for progressive taxation on carriages), and makes as if he was a secret New Dealer, basically by claiming that if cultural freedom was his end, these would have been good means. She ignores both those early conservative/liberal defenders of Smith, such as Prime Minister William Pitt, and Smith's overwhelming concern with breaking down government regulations. It is true that the latter made him at this time a radical, for workers at the time bore the brunt of the apprenticeship, settlement and other regulatory statutes (Smith famously said that government may be considered "In every case as a combination of the rich to oppress the poor"), but that does not make him the kind of radical Rothschild wants him to be. In a similar vein, her most surprising argument, that the three brief mentions of the "invisible hand" in Smith were really no more than a private joke, while recognizing the modern over-emphasis on the phrase, does not in reality disprove that it represented the general tenor of Smiths' thought. Condorcet is the less familiar of the two main characters here, but in a way he comes across as the deeper, if even more mercurial, thinker. He was first a friend of Turgot when that young Economiste helped Louis XVI break down many of the feudalistic appendages of the French government (at least before he was replaced by the cameralist minister Necker). Condorcet then wrote the widely admired "Vie de Turgot," which inspired liberals across the continent. In his writings, Condorcet was most of all concerned with the psychological dangers of power (which Smith often noted but didn't emphasize). He critiqued the "universal passion for positions," and the "vexations" inevitable when petty magistrates oppress people to showcase their power. Perhaps, however, Condorcet's admirable love of universal education, which mirrored Smith's, was colored somewhat by his belief that it was a government's job to "institute a people" and reshape them, while Smith recognized that changing a people's dispositions was difficult if not impossible. So Rothschild shows that both men, and others around them, were worried about the vexations and temptations of power, and that economic freedom was just one of the freedoms they championed (the "incorporation" that Smith attacked perhaps more than any other was after all that holy monopoly, the Anglican church). Freedom was a virtue whatever its outcomes they said. Rothschild could have shown as much too without so much hyperbole and confusion.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Luke

    In Economic Sentiments: Adam Smith, Condorcet, and the Enlightenment, Emma Rothschild argues that eighteenth-century political and economic thought is deeply concerned with individual diversity, oppression, conflicts of interest, and general uncertainty towards the future. In large part, Rothschild argues against the popular perception that the Enlightenment fostered a cold, mechanical worldview that culminated in the scientific determinism of states like the Soviet Union. Instead, Rothschild ar In Economic Sentiments: Adam Smith, Condorcet, and the Enlightenment, Emma Rothschild argues that eighteenth-century political and economic thought is deeply concerned with individual diversity, oppression, conflicts of interest, and general uncertainty towards the future. In large part, Rothschild argues against the popular perception that the Enlightenment fostered a cold, mechanical worldview that culminated in the scientific determinism of states like the Soviet Union. Instead, Rothschild argues, relying heavily on the economic works of Adam Smith, Condorcet, and Turgot, that political writing often came in the form of advocacy for a pluralistic, diverse world that aimed to fight oppression in all of its forms. Indeed, the Enlightenment had a great number of similarities with European romanticism, which was favored irrationality and exuberance over restrained reason. Moreover, Rothschild correctly argues that that eighteenth-century economics was not a discipline that restricted itself to the world of finance and efficiency, but it helped to develop values of tolerance, diversity, and personal rights. For Smith, Condorcet, and Turgot, economics (or “political economy”) was deeply political and moral, aiming to liberate the poor and safeguard individual rights. Although dense at times, this work is well worth reading for those interested in the history of liberalism, intellectual histories of economics, and the Enlightenment more broadly.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Phil

    An excellent re-interpretation of the role of Adam Smith in the creation of a new way of thinking about economics. Instead of the slave to libertarians, Rothschild shows how Smith actually fits more in with Thomas Paine and the French Revolution than he does with the likes of Edmund Burke.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Ed Terrell

    "Our sense of familiarity of 18th century thought is an illusion, above all,because of our unequal knowledge” Economic Sentiments is a history of economics and political thought, a history of science and ideas, a history of Smith, Condorcet, Hume, and Kant. “Sentiments” is not light reading but packed with the analysis of the ideas of an earlier world. It is a philosophical book with roots in the Enlightenment, before the Jacobin Terror took hold. Adam Smith stated that events have both internal "Our sense of familiarity of 18th century thought is an illusion, above all,because of our unequal knowledge” Economic Sentiments is a history of economics and political thought, a history of science and ideas, a history of Smith, Condorcet, Hume, and Kant. “Sentiments” is not light reading but packed with the analysis of the ideas of an earlier world. It is a philosophical book with roots in the Enlightenment, before the Jacobin Terror took hold. Adam Smith stated that events have both internal and external causes. It is the more interesting internal causes that “lead us into…the knowledge of motives by which men act.” These men (and others) brought the world as we know it into being. Voltaire's invisible hand in Oedipal and Ovid's gloved hand stabbing a soldier between the shoulder blades in Metamorphosis morph into the Adam Smiths “Invisble hand”. Rothchild cites this as being ironic when written but now taken to be nothing short of gospel. Hayek’s "...the order which formed itself spontaneously was also the best order possible” seems to ring too closely to Voltaires highly satiric Candide “all is the best in the best of all possible worlds”. “Sentiments” shines a light on the major works and holds them up for analysis and critique. Even if we do not agree with her analysis, the more important point is that we ponder the questions.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Diego

    Emma Rothschild recrea gran parte del pensamiento de la Ilustración particularmente el de Adamn Smith y el Marques de Condorcet, rescata las ideas de estos pensadores y del pensamiento Fisiocrata de los llamados Economisté mostrando no la ilustración conservadora que se enseña hoy en día si no su real espíritu liberal, un liberalismo bien entendido no un odio al estado solo al estado absolutista no una adoración dogmática del mercado solo la necesaria, al nacer estos conceptos estado y mercado n Emma Rothschild recrea gran parte del pensamiento de la Ilustración particularmente el de Adamn Smith y el Marques de Condorcet, rescata las ideas de estos pensadores y del pensamiento Fisiocrata de los llamados Economisté mostrando no la ilustración conservadora que se enseña hoy en día si no su real espíritu liberal, un liberalismo bien entendido no un odio al estado solo al estado absolutista no una adoración dogmática del mercado solo la necesaria, al nacer estos conceptos estado y mercado nacen juntos y son inseparables. Sentimientos Económicos le da un lado humano pensadores siempre vistos como seres fríos y calculadores, los muestra como seres emocionales y siempre en constante duda incluso sobre sus propios principios filosóficos. El liberalismo nació del pensamiento progresista de una "izquierda" en sus inicios y fue perdiendo su fuerza con la separación del liberalismo político y del económico, este libre nos muestra como no pueden ser separados y rescata toda una era para un mundo que la necesita.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Willem

    It's even more fascinating than when I first read it in 2001. Very sophisticated book, high brow historical essays (I don't know a better word for the chapters. They're not essays in the sense that Rothschild is simply improvising or adlibbing: she's very much on top of the subjects she writes about). I'n rereading it because at the time I considered it of enormous importance for anybody interested in current affairs, although that's not what the book is about. I was in the process of reconstruc It's even more fascinating than when I first read it in 2001. Very sophisticated book, high brow historical essays (I don't know a better word for the chapters. They're not essays in the sense that Rothschild is simply improvising or adlibbing: she's very much on top of the subjects she writes about). I'n rereading it because at the time I considered it of enormous importance for anybody interested in current affairs, although that's not what the book is about. I was in the process of reconstructing my view of history, stretching a lot further back than the period I had been almost exclusively interested in before 2002. This is an intellectual work that's still in progress. I wonder if I'll ever finish it. This is very good stuff. I'm going to insert a short abstract of the salient parts in a text I'n finishing now, about September 2002.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Craig Bolton

    "Economic Sentiments: Adam Smith, Condorcet, and the Enlightenment by Emma Rothschild (2002)"

  8. 4 out of 5

    Tina

    Emma Rothschild je odlicna znanstvenica. I'm in awe. Z njenim mozem, Amartya Senom, sta pravi intelektualni power couple.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Joshua

    Read it!

  10. 5 out of 5

    Anthony Scioli

  11. 4 out of 5

    Douglas

  12. 5 out of 5

    John

  13. 5 out of 5

    Myrivername

  14. 4 out of 5

    Szuzhong

  15. 5 out of 5

    Sonicsputnick

  16. 5 out of 5

    Marc

  17. 4 out of 5

    Alex Prather

  18. 5 out of 5

    Britt Brown

  19. 4 out of 5

    Aayush N

  20. 5 out of 5

    Sashank Kapilavai

  21. 5 out of 5

    Erin

  22. 4 out of 5

    Mark Koyama

  23. 5 out of 5

    Filip Lubinski

  24. 5 out of 5

    Daniel

  25. 4 out of 5

    JP Douglas

  26. 4 out of 5

    Mauricio Santoro

  27. 5 out of 5

    Narti

  28. 4 out of 5

    Laura Du

  29. 5 out of 5

    Cristian Valenzuela

  30. 5 out of 5

    Gil Li-Ran

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