What's Liberal About Adam Smith's Liberal Plan?

23 Pages Posted: 25 May 2021

See all articles by Erik W. Matson

Erik W. Matson

Mercatus Center at George Mason University

Date Written: May 24, 2021


By middle of the eighteenth century the word “liberal” had had multiple non-political meanings. In Scotland, David Hume, William Robertson, and Adam Smith began using “liberal” to describe their perspectives in politics. Smith’s perspectives culminate in his “liberal plan” of political economy. The liberal plan in politics orients around liberty and commutative justice. But it evinces pre-politically “liberal” attributes that contribute to its moral authority. The liberal plan on Smith’s estimation liberally provides for the needs of the poor. The liberal plan, in allowing each person to pursue his or her interest in his or her own way, entails a liberal view of the person that dignifies the mundane and conceives of the self as a locus of moral responsibility. Considering the liberality of Smith’s liberal plan shines light on the nature of Smithian classical liberalism.

Keywords: Adam Smith, liberalism, distributive justice, liberty

JEL Classification: B12, B31, P16

Suggested Citation

Matson, Erik W., What's Liberal About Adam Smith's Liberal Plan? (May 24, 2021). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3852198 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3852198

Erik W. Matson (Contact Author)

Mercatus Center at George Mason University ( email )

3434 Washington Blvd., 4th Floor
Arlington, VA 22201
United States

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