Adam Smith in His Time and Ours: Designing the Decent Society

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Overview

Now that the Marxist project of human transformation through the elimination of self-interest and markets stands thoroughly discredited, it is time to acknowledge Adam Smith as one of the most important social thinkers of modern times. Smith's Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, published in 1776, argued that a market economy was not only best able to meet the material needs of the people; it also provided a moral system which relied on human nature to create order and fairness. But Smith's intentions and conclusions, much maligned by his opponents on the left, have just as often been misunderstood by his conservative defenders. Counter to the popular impression that Smith was a champion of selfishness and greed, Jerry Z. Muller shows in this powerful and provocative work of historical reconstruction that Smith hoped to promote the welfare of society as a whole, and that he wrote The Wealth of Nations to warn of the dangers to the common good posed by organized mercantile interests. And contrary to those who believe that the naked pursuit of self-interest always leads to socially beneficial results, Smith maintained that government must intervene to counteract its negative effects. Smith's analysis went beyond economics to embrace a larger "civilizing project" designed to create a more decent society. The freedom made possible by a commercial society, Smith thought, would only be desirable when coupled with supporting institutions - including the law, family, and religion - which fostered the virtues of self-control and altruism that people need to manage their new liberty. He also explained how human passions could be harnessed to that goal. In doing so, he laid the ground for much of modern social science, as he explored the unanticipated consequences of social action, the social formation of conscience, and the linkages between social, political, and economic institutions. By balancing a healthy respect for self-interest with awarene

Adam Smith's Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations laid the foundation for capitalism that continues to thrive today. But rath er than the laissez faire leave it alone doctrine usually attributed to Smith, the author explores Smith's intent, revealing Smith's conviction that modern market society does not regulate itself, but requires intervention.

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Editorial Reviews

National Review - John Gray
A profoundly erudite and timely study.
The Review of Politics - Peter McNamara
Muller's great accomplishment in this book is to present a clear, thoughtful, and engaging overview of Adam Smith's thought. He reveals Smith to be a wide-ranging and innovative thinker who formulated a comprehensive social science.
From the Publisher
"A profoundly erudite and timely study."—John Gray, National Review

"Muller's great accomplishment in this book is to present a clear, thoughtful, and engaging overview of Adam Smith's thought. He reveals Smith to be a wide-ranging and innovative thinker who formulated a comprehensive social science."—Peter McNamara, The Review of Politics

National Review
A profoundly erudite and timely study.
— John Gray
The Review of Politics
Muller's great accomplishment in this book is to present a clear, thoughtful, and engaging overview of Adam Smith's thought. He reveals Smith to be a wide-ranging and innovative thinker who formulated a comprehensive social science.
— Peter McNamara
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780029222348
  • Publisher: Free Press
  • Publication date: 6/15/1992
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 272
  • Product dimensions: 6.47 (w) x 9.60 (h) x 1.03 (d)

Table of Contents

Introduction: Back to Adam? 1
Pt. I Adam Smith in His Time
1 Cosmopolitan Provincial: Smith's Life and Social Milieu 15
2 Gentlemen, Consumers, and the Fiscal-Military State 28
3 Self-Love and Self-Command: The Intellectual Origins of Smith's Civilizing Project 39
Pt. II Designing the Decent Society
4 The Market: From Self-Love to Universal Opulence 63
5 The Legislator and the Merchant 77
6 Social Science as the Anticipation of the Unanticipated 84
7 Commercial Humanism: Smith's Civilizing Project 93
8 "The Impartial Spectator" 100
9 The Historical and Institutional Foundations of Commercial Society 113
10 The Moral Balance Sheet of Commercial Society 131
11 The Visible Hand of the State 140
12 Applied Policy Analysis: Smith's Sociology of Religion 154
13 "A Small Party": Moral and Political Leadership in Commercial Society 164
Pt. III From Smith's Time to Ours
14 Critics, Friendly and Unfriendly 177
15 Some Unanticipated Consequences of Smith's Rhetoric 185
16 The Timeless and the Timely 194
Notes 206
Guide to Further Reading 240
Acknowledgments 262
Index 265
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