Friday, March 09, 2018

Good Essay but Flawed

Eva Schlunke posts (9 March) on PCES a ‘Guest Post’: ‘Dr Smith’s Prophylactic

This readable essay is typical of its type, where its author summarises what she believes is an honest presentation of Adam Smith’s life and contributions to 18th-century social and intellectual life and its eventual absorption into the history of ideas.
From his townhouse window in Glasgow, overlooking a crowded marketplace, he watched people and pondered their motivations. He was curious, and he was there, a spectator at the delivery of the birth of the industrial revolution.”
Eva starts of her account revealing her imagination, not historical facts. Smith did not live in a Glasgow town house. As a student he lived on campus or in rented accommodation, which was an impressive set of buildings besides Glasgow’s Cathedral. As a Professor he also lived on campus in Professor’s Close with his mother and aunt. Neither accommodation overlooked a ‘crowded market’ though they were sited not far away. 
Smith’s road from his Glasgow professorship was certainly direct but lasted 10 years in all. I discuss the circumstances in my new book, ’An Authentic Account of Adam Smith’, Palgrave Macmillan, 2018 (blatent plug!).
Eva is an honest summariser but crams vast sweeps of history into short events. The ‘Industrial Revolution’ long postdated Adam Smith, who died in 1790. ‘Capitalism’ was unknown while Smith was alive - the word itself was first used in 1833 in an obscure English newspaper and much later in Thackery’s novel, The Newcomes.

Modern authors should be careful when back-projecting modern ideas onto much earlier events. Apart from these quibbles, Eva Schlunke’s article is timely datewise and appropriately welcome as a memorial to a major intellectual event in the history of poltical economy.


Post a Comment

<< Home