Free Trade and Moral Philosophy: Rethinking the Sources of Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations

Free Trade and Moral Philosophy: Rethinking the Sources of Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations

Free Trade and Moral Philosophy: Rethinking the Sources of Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations

Free Trade and Moral Philosophy: Rethinking the Sources of Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations

Excerpt

On March 9, 1776, one of the most remarkable books in the history of thought appeared in London. The book was An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, a massive and forceful argument calling for an end to political supervision of economic activity. The author of the book, Adam Smith, Formerly Professor of Moral Philosophy in the University of Glasgow as he described himself on the title page of the first edition, was to have an enormous impact on subsequent European and American history. Only six weeks after the Wealth of Nations was published, a contemporary wrote to Smith, "You are surely to reign alone on these subjects, to form the opinions, and I hope to govern at least the coming generations."SUPSUP SUPSUP By the end of the eighteenth century, six editions of his economic treatise had been printed in England; by 1786, four editions of two different translations had been published in Germany; by 1801, six editions of three separate translations had appeared in France. The exact circulation of the Wealth of Nations is not known. From the year of its publication to the present day, however, it has been taken as one of the most important books ever written. The Wealth of Nations both systematized ideas that had been widely circulated in Western societies during the eighteenth century and provided economic doctrines considered indispensable in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Yet, while almost universal agreement exists about the importance of the Wealth of Nations, it remains a puzzling work that has affected its readers in different ways. Some have been struck by the enormous scale and complexity of the book. A text of almost half a million words composed over the course of twenty-five years, the Wealth of Nations treated issues that ranged from the . . .

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