A History of Economic Thought: The LSE Lectures

A History of Economic Thought: The LSE Lectures

A History of Economic Thought: The LSE Lectures

A History of Economic Thought: The LSE Lectures


Lionel Robbins's now famous lectures on the history of economic thought comprise one of the greatest accounts since World War II of the evolution of economic ideas. This volume represents the first time those lectures have been published.

Lord Robbins (1898-1984) was a remarkably accomplished thinker, writer, and public figure. He made important contributions to economic theory, methodology, and policy analysis, directed the economic section of Winston Churchill's War Cabinet, and served as chairman of the "Financial Times. As a historian of economic ideas, he ranks with Joseph Schumpeter and Jacob Viner as one of the foremost scholars of the century. These lectures, delivered at the London School of Economics between 1979 and 1981 and tape-recorded by Robbins's grandson, display his mastery of the intellectual history of economics, his infectious enthusiasm for the subject, and his eloquence and incisive wit. They cover a broad chronological range, beginning with Plato, Aristotle, and Aquinas, focusing extensively on Adam Smith, Thomas Malthus and the classicals, and finishing with a discussion of moderns and marginalists from Marx


These eloquent lectures speak for themselves, and so does the careful and scholarly accomplishment of the editors. What, then, can I hope to add in a foreword? the answer is that I was there. I, like so many before and after me, had the unduplicable experience of hearing these illuminating lectures delivered by this remarkable man, my teacher, who became my close friend. Anyone reading these lectures can, and surely will, admire their style, the range of material they cover, the dazzling intellectual brilliance, and the stimulation they provide. I can only attempt to convey, although inadequately, the flavor of the unforgettable experience.

Central to that experience was the man himself. Tall, massive, stately, with a sonorous voice and a leonine mane that made all his students marvel at his parents' perspicacity in providing such felicitous genes. It is sheer understatement to describe him as a man with a powerful personality. His students would find themselves unconsciously mimicking his style, the personal attributes and speech patterns which recalled an earlier, less mechanized age. Yet one soon learned that his was not a domineering personality. His sense of humor was profound, and his anecdotes riveting. He was invariably considerate and kind, particularly to younger people and particularly when few others were present to observe his acts. But even more striking were his command of the language, his clarity of mind, and his incredible erudition assisted by an incredible memory.

An anecdote will illustrate two of these attributes, though I can tell many more. As sometimes happened, I found myself at lunch with Lionel, this time joined by Harold Laski. I was then an assistant lecturer, a rank so low that it has no U.S. equivalent. Soon the conversation became a heated discussion of some obscure eighteenth-century authors and their even more obscure nineteenth-century critics, none of whom I had heard of before. Still, I was not condemned to be left out of the conversation. From time to time as it progressed, after some thought had been expressed, Lionel would turn to me: “Don't you agree, my dear William?” with a pause long enough for me to add a comment if I wished, but not so long as to embarrass me if I had nothing to say.

He knew incredible amounts about the visual arts, opera, literature and history besides economics, but it was the magnitude of the information he had about economics that was really overwhelming, and much of that came out in the lectures. They were delivered in the large auditorium called “the . . .

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