Understanding Adam Smith’s 'General Principles of Law and Politics': A Linear Reconstruction of Istvan Hont's Contribution
42 Pages Posted: 24 Oct 2017 Last revised: 24 Sep 2018
Date Written: September 6, 2018
Adam Smith scholars have debated the nature and contents of his missing second book on jurisprudence or politics. Istvan Hont, a long-time participant in this literature, has proposed a construction of Smith’s politics based on two principles introduced in the Lectures on Jurisprudence that Smith deemed “necessary for understanding of government" and citizen allegiance. These principles are: authority, as in tradition, but also power and coercion; and utility, as in valued services provided. Smith asked, how must authority and utility be structured so to sustain a regime of liberty and commerce? How do we account for the long-term shift from authority to utility, and in particular, the rise of liberty in Smith's time?
In this essay, I attempt to reconstruct the main thread of Hont’s account of Smith’s approach to authority and utility. I organize Hont’s scattered arguments to show that Smith studied the deep puzzle of European development. This reconstruction reveals Smith's answer to the above questions, including his argument for the rise of liberty in Europe out of the long-term stable, no-growth feudal society. Throughout, the reconstruction shows that Smith related law and government to economic development.
Keywords: Adam Smith, political philosophy, structure of government
JEL Classification: H11, K11, K12, K42, N01, N13, N53, O43, P14, P16, P51
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation