Adam Smith, Radical and EgalitarianAn Interpretation for the 21st Century

Adam Smith, Radical and EgalitarianAn Interpretation for the 21st Century

Iain McLean

Print publication date: 2012

ISBN: 9780748623525

Publisher: Edinburgh University Press


This book aims to show that Adam Smith (1723–90), the author of Inquiry into…the Wealth of Nations, was not the promoter of ruthless laissez-faire capitalism that is still frequently depicted. His ‘right-wing’ reputation was sealed after his death, when it was not safe to claim that an author may have influenced the French revolutionaries. But as the author also of The Theory of Moral Sentiments, which he probably regarded as his more important book, Smith sought a non-religious grounding for morals, and found it in the principle of sympathy, which should lead an impartial spectator to understand others' problems. The book locates Smith in the Scottish Enlightenment; shows how the two books are perfectly consistent with one another; traces Smith's influence in France and the United States; and draws out the lessons that Smith can teach policy makers in the twenty-first century. Although Smith was not a religious man, he was a very acute sociologist of religion. The book accordingly explains the Scottish religious context of Smith's time, which was, as it remains, very different to the English religious context. The whole book is shot through with an affection for Edinburgh, and for the Scottish Enlightenment. It begins and ends with poems by Smith's great admirer, Robert Burns.