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The eighteenth is a remarkable century insofar as the emergence of modern Western thought is concerned. It was a century of revolution in politics, of change from the traditional centralized form of political organization, the monarchy, to experiments in more decentralized polities. It was a century of dramatic change in science. It was the century of the Enlightenment, the Age of Reason.1 And since reason was widely viewed in intellectual circles as a vehicle that would insure progress, improve the human condition, it was a century of widespread optimism.2 It can also be seen as a century of a "natural order" of a sort, a century in which intellectual attention was focused, to a greater extent than before, on the natural world, that is, the observed world, the experimental world, the empirical world. It is in the soil of this natural order that we find the development of many of the sciences of the modern world, including physics, chemistry, biology, and botany. It is also the soil in which we find the germination of political economy as a defined discipline, a unique field of study.

This paper is an occasion to formulate a comment on the economic doctrine of this natural order. The paper has four parts. First, I want to consider the natural order itself. Here my concern is to bring to the surface the main intellectual currents of the day, currents that figure centrally in the emergence of political economy. Second, it will be in our interest to visit for a bit with Adam Smith, the eighteenth century Scottish moral philosopher. This brief look at Smith's life will afford an increment of insight into the man whose work was instrumental in founding the discipline of political economy. Third, I want to summarize the political economy of Smith. Here I intend to examine the main features of his economy and his analysis of economic activity. Finally, I will bring this piece to a close with a concluding comment on the place of Smith's political economy in the subsequent development of economic doctrine.


Economic History | Economics | Political Economy