Economic Sentiments: Adam Smith, Condorcet, and the Enlightenment

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9780674008373: Economic Sentiments: Adam Smith, Condorcet, and the Enlightenment

In a brilliant recreation of the epoch between the 1770s and the 1820s, Emma Rothschild reinterprets the ideas of the great revolutionary political economists to show us the true landscape of economic and political thought in their day, with important consequences for our own. Her work alters the readings of Adam Smith and Condorcet--and of ideas of Enlightenment--that underlie much contemporary political thought.

Economic Sentiments takes up late-eighteenth-century disputes over the political economy of an enlightened, commercial society to show us how the "political" and the "economic" were intricately related to each other and to philosophical reflection. Rothschild examines theories of economic and political sentiments, and the reflection of these theories in the politics of enlightenment. A landmark in the history of economics and of political ideas, her book shows us the origins of laissez-faire economic thought and its relation to political conservatism in an unquiet world. In doing so, it casts a new light on our own times.

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About the Author:

Emma Rothschild is a Fellow of King's College, Cambridge, and Director of the Center for History and Economics, King's College.

Review:

A powerful and original reconsideration of the thinking of Smith and Condorcet. Delightfully fresh, sensitive, sensible and wide-ranging. A wonderfully evocative, even lyrical book. This is a scholarly achievement of a very high order. It will be of substantial interest to specialists in a range of fields within the humanities and social sciences, who will be obliged in reading it to think again about many conventional views within their disciplines. But it should also reach a broader audience among all those concerned with how we should think about economics and politics in a new century full of uncertainties and insecurities. (Keith Baker, Stanford University)

We have all read Adam Smith and we all think we know him well. But this text, in its emphasis on the period after 1776 and its coverage of related works from other nations, is full of revelations and delicious quotes from unstudied sources. (David S. Landes, author of The Wealth and Poverty of Nations)

Rothschild's richly complex and deeply informed account of the writings of Adam Smith and of the Marquis du Condorcet locates them more closely in their own time and, by so doing, changes their significance for us today. The monolithic view of the cold, inhuman Enlightenment, propagated by the early nineteenth-century Romantics, is undercut by close analysis and understanding of the political and social contexts. The book is a triumph of scholarship and reinterpretation, as well as a model of expository prose. (Kenneth J. Arrow, Stanford University)

An elegant, sympathetic and original re-envisioning of the Enlightenment's two greatest economic theorists with significant implications for our own economic politics today. (Linda Colley, London School of Economics)

In her readable as well as scholarly book, Economic Sentiments, [Rothschild] links [Adam] Smith with the French philosopher the Marquis de Condorcet, another thinker seen today as an emblem of "cold hard and rational enlightenment" but in reality interested, like Smith, "in economic life as a process of discussion, and as a process of emancipation," in which "one's freedom to buy or sell or lend or travel or work is difficult to distinguish from the rest of one's freedom." This larger picture, Rothschild thinks, is what was lost as economics developed along with the society it analyzed, and what she hopes to restore. (Paul Mattick New York Times Book Review 2001-07-08)

This landmark work revisits the intellectual ferment of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries...[Rothschild] dismantles, with quiet authority, the stereotype of the Enlightenment as a period dominated by chilly rationalists. (New Yorker 2001-06-04)

One of the many virtues of Economic Sentiments is that it provides exactly what its subtitle says: an investigation of 'Adam Smith, Condorcet, and the Enlightenment.' Another, even more attractive than an unusual degree of truth in advertising, is that it casts an extraordinarily revealing light on many other writers and many other moments in history. It is a book that does with great success two things that are usually thought to be wholly antithetical; certainly they are rarely attempted by the same writer. On the one hand, it takes us back into the last third of the eighteenth century, and shows us what economic thinking was like before it became modern economic theory, on the other, it complicates the image of the Enlightenment in ways that are intended to make the political discussions of the twenty-first century more sophisticated, nuanced, and self-conscious than they often are. (Alan Ryan New York Review of Books 2001-07-05)

Economic historians often discuss the half century after 1770 with barely a nod (or none at all) to the political revolutions. Emma Rothschild, however, turns that convention on its head. Her book examines the period from the vantage point of two of the most influential economic writers of the time--Adam Smith and the Marquis de Condorcet--and their followers...The book's distinctive approach brings real and unexpected insights. (William Kennedy Times Higher Education Supplement 2001-06-22)

In her brilliantly illuminating and compelling reinterpretation of Adam Smith and Condorcet, Emma Rothschild presents a view of late 18th century ideas through which we can ourselves re-envision the human realities of life in the market. In so doing, she has produced a masterpiece of the historical imagination. First and foremost, Economic Sentiments is a rich, profound and at times revelatory essay in the history of ideas which will undoubtedly become part of the academic canon. But it is also an inspiring commentary on our own times, which can be read with profit by many outside the academy. (John Gray Los Angeles Times 2001-12-02)

One must look hard to find a work so adept at doing the vigorous hermeneutics required to truly understand what drove the 18th-century Enlightenment and how that era impacts our thinking today. Rothschild roams across the landscape of thinkers and historical events focusing on Condorcet as an example of the 'cold, universalistic enlightenment of the French Revolution' and on Smith, who appears as the more conservative proponent of the 'reductionist enlightenment of laissez-faire economics.' Along the way the reader is challenged to rethink the positive-normative dichotomy commonly taught in economics, the meaning and role of Smith's 'invisible hand' and the self-serving manner in which 19th-century interpreters framed Smith's ideas...There is exceptional depth to this book...[It] has interdisciplinary appeal, systematically relying on literary, philosophical, political, economic, natural science, and sometimes theological disciplines to build arguments. Highly recommended. (J. Halteman Choice 2001-11-01)

A lucid and historical account of one of the finest achievements of the European Enlightenment, the application of the new science of political economy to the solving of real problems. Emma Rothschild shows that modern free-marketeers who neglect the political and moral aspects of Adam Smith's writings are unfair to the man whose name they have hijacked. (The Economist 2001-12-20)

One of the most original and mind-altering academic works of the past decade. (Adam Gopnik New Yorker 2010-10-18)

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