The Problems and Promise of Commercial Society: Adam Smiths Response to Rousseau

Paperback | March 10, 2009

byDennis C. Rasmussen

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Adam Smith is popularly regarded as the ideological forefather of laissez-faire capitalism, while Rousseau is seen as the passionate advocate of the life of virtue in small, harmonious communities and as a sharp critic of the ills of commercial society. But, in fact, Smith had many of the same worries about commercial society that Rousseau did and was strongly influenced by his critique.

In this first book-length comparative study of these leading eighteenth-century thinkers, Dennis Rasmussen highlights Smith’s sympathy with Rousseau’s concerns and analyzes in depth the ways in which Smith crafted his arguments to defend commercial society against these charges. These arguments, Rasmussen emphasizes, were pragmatic in nature, not ideological: it was Smith’s view that, all things considered, commercial society offered more benefits than the alternatives.

Just because of this pragmatic orientation, Smith’s approach can be useful to us in assessing the pros and cons of commercial society today and thus contributes to a debate that is too much dominated by both dogmatic critics and doctrinaire champions of our modern commercial society.

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Adam Smith is popularly regarded as the ideological forefather of laissez-faire capitalism, while Rousseau is seen as the passionate advocate of the life of virtue in small, harmonious communities and as a sharp critic of the ills of commercial society. But, in fact, Smith had many of the same worries about commercial society that Rous...

Dennis C. Rasmussen is Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Houston.

other books by Dennis C. Rasmussen

The Pragmatic Enlightenment: Recovering the Liberalism of Hume, Smith, Montesquieu, and Voltaire
The Pragmatic Enlightenment: Recovering the Liberalism ...

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Format:PaperbackDimensions:208 pages, 9.04 × 5.96 × 0.52 inPublished:March 10, 2009Publisher:Penn State University PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0271033495

ISBN - 13:9780271033495

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Table of Contents

Contents

Acknowledgments

Abbreviations

Introduction

1. Rousseau’s Unhappy Vision of Commercial Society

2. Smith’s Sympathy with Rousseau’s Critique

3. The European Peasant and the Prudent Man

4. Progress and Happiness

Conclusion

References

Index

Editorial Reviews

“Rasmussen’s short but elegant book is about the relationship between Adam Smith and Rousseau, a relationship about which, Rasmussen notes, only a ‘handful’ of articles and book chapters have been written. Rasmussen’s book will surely go a long way towards filling this scholarly gap, although it certainly will not (and probably should not) be the last word on the subject.”—Chad Flanders, Erasmus Journal for Philosophy and Economics