Monday, September 26, 2005

An Excellent and Imaginative Suggestion

Paul Hutcheon in today’s Sunday Herald, 25 September, (Glasgow) writes an article, “Tourism bosses told: market the Enlightenment”, making an excellent and imaginative suggestion from David Speedie, special adviser to the president of the Carnegie Corporation in New York: “the Scottish Enlightenment is a unique selling point that could bring thousands of overseas visitors to the country.”

“The Scottish Enlightenment, which stretched roughly from 1740 to the early 1800s, is widely regarded as a period when Scots led the world in philosophy, political economy, history, architecture and geology”, writes Paul Hutcheon. “Kirkcaldy-born Adam Smith is one of the most revered figures of the age. His tract, The Wealth Of Nations, has inspired free marketeers and economists all over the world.”


I certainly welcome such a suggestion, more for the outcome – a wider appreciation of what the Enlightenment was about – than for the likely means – a state-financed quango to oversee it, which, if not careful, would bureaucratise it and donate along with its (our!) money the usual dead hand of expensive lack of imagination. Of course, an Enlightenment Promotion Office ran from within the civil service would be much worse!

The Adam Statue, to be erected in Edinburgh’s High Street by private donations and outside the suffocating hug of government, is an excellent start to such a campaign, followed by the renovation of Adam Smith’s grave a short walk down the same High Street (though, true to form the offer of private funds for the expense, about £10,000, is snarled up in the Council’s Planning Department). Recently, I commented here on the Enlightenment links in the recently announced Edinburgh Literary Trail.

With Speedie’s suggestion it seems there might be momentum growing to do something worthwhile with it. Other key figures from the period were Frances Hutcheson, whose philosophical formula, “the greatest happiness for the greatest numbers”, anticipated utilitarianism, and, of course, the towering figure of David Hume, born at Ninewells, near Edinburgh, who contended that moral values and judgements were social constructs. As were Lord Kames, John Dalrymple, Adam Ferguson, Professors Black and Hutton, Professors Stewart (father and son), William Robertson, Andrew Carlyle, and the Adam family of architects.


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