Friday, February 14, 2014

Atlantic: "The Origin of 'Liberalism'"

Check it out here. A taste:
My research with Will Fleming finds that the Scottish historian William Robertson appears to be the most significant innovator, repeatedly using “liberal” in a political way, notably in a book published in 1769. (I presented more details in a lecture at the Ratio Institute, viewable here.) Of the Hanseatic League, for example, Robertson spoke of “the spirit and zeal with which they contended for those liberties and rights,” and how a society of merchants, “attentive only to commercial objects, could not fail of diffusing over Europe new and more liberal ideas concerning justice and order.” 
Robertson’s friend and fellow Scot Adam Smith used “liberal” in a similar sense in The Wealth of Nations, published in 1776. If all nations, Smith says, were to follow “the liberal system of free exportation and free importation,” then they would be like one great cosmopolitan empire, and famines would be prevented. Then he repeats the phrase: “But very few countries have entirely adopted this liberal system.”


lee said...

Interesting lecture, Jon. It ties in nicely with another aspect of liberalism covered in the first chapter of Kramnick's Republicanism and Bourgeois Liberalism that I just started. Kramnick observes that classical republicanism (or at least some versions of it) it an ideology of leisure--only aristocrats possess the leisure to devote time to public affairs. Liberalism, in contrast, makes virtues of hard work, thrift, diligence, etc. Kramnick starts with Locke's writings on the labor and the origin of property. He then moves on with several quotes from Adam Smith's two major works exalting work and condemning "corporate spirit" of those who seek special privileges that prevent others from profiting from their own labors.

Samnites said...

My error! It was not Mr. Laise who made the serious error, but one Ray Soller.

Incidentally, Washington rarely attended English Lodges because all the lodges of Virginia (and Massachusetts) became independent of English Freemasonry by 1777. Just thought I'd mention it.