The Rise of Political Economy in the Scottish Enlightenment

By Tatsuya Sakamoto; Hideo Tanaka | Go to book overview

11

Liberty and Equality: Liberal Democratic Ideas in John Millar

Hideo Tanaka

John Millar (1736-1801) is known as the most outstanding disciple of Adam Smith, and as the author of two interesting and important works, The Origin of the Distinction of Ranks (1771; 3rd ed. 1781, Ranks hereafter) and An Historical View of the English Government (1787; 4th ed. 1803, HV hereafter). Millar was famous for his radical ideas about the political issues of his days, and his lectures concerning law and government were fascinating to his young students, many of whom came to Glasgow not only from Scotland, but from Ireland and England. Both works of Millar were widely read in the last two or three decades of the eighteenth century, but in the nineteenth century they almost entirely slipped from the view. In the second half of the twentieth century, however, Ranks became highly valued, especially by Marxian political economists and intellectual historians such as R. Pascal, L. Meek, A. Macfie, D. Forbes, A. Skinner and P. Stein. 1HV, since having been praised by Caroline Robbins as an excellent book on the constitutional history of Britain, has by degrees caught the eye of many scholars. Thus, Millar is now recognized as a great figure in the Scottish Enlightenment and in the modern history of ideas. However, a full-scale study of his thought has not yet been fully undertaken. While there have been some important articles on Millar, but until fairly recently there had been only one substantial monograph, W.C. Lehmann's John Millar of Glasgow (1960). It is, however, rather a small book, considering that the second part is simply the full text of Ranks with notes by the editor, a number of short extracts from HV, and some letters of Millar.

Though the scarcity of original sources (apart from many lecture notes by his students) continues to be the fatal restriction to an understanding of Millar's thought, a number of important articles have been written since then by H. Medick, D. Forbes, M. Ignatieff, K. Haakonssen, J. Cairns and others. It is equally true that Millar scholarship has greatly progressed and that a number of important and profound aspects of his thought have been considerably elucidated. Under such circumstances, though Forbes's thesis of Millar as the sceptical Whig still has a great significance, Ignatieff's sharp analysis of the individualism of Millar in relation to civic humanism, drawing on John Pocock, is one of the most valuable contributions, and has greatly raised the level of Millar studies, as has the research by Haakonssen and Cairns on Millar's jurisprudence.

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