Presentation is loading. Please wait.

Presentation is loading. Please wait.

The Origins of the Use of ‘Liberal’ in a Political Sense of the Term: William Robertson and Adam Smith Daniel B. Klein & Will Fleming.

Similar presentations

Presentation on theme: "The Origins of the Use of ‘Liberal’ in a Political Sense of the Term: William Robertson and Adam Smith Daniel B. Klein & Will Fleming."— Presentation transcript:

1 The Origins of the Use of ‘Liberal’ in a Political Sense of the Term: William Robertson and Adam Smith Daniel B. Klein & Will Fleming

2 Some people today call themselves “liberal”

3 They are called “liberal” by some others, as well

4 Legend: “liberal” = Democrat “conservative” = Republican

5 “liberal” from 1600 - 1769

6 Top 20 Collocate nouns (within ≤ 3 words), 1740-1769

7 Until 1770 or so, “liberal” was only very scarcely ever used as a political signifier

8 When does a political meaning begin? Answer: Around 1770 liberal system, liberal principles, liberal plan, liberal views, liberal ideas, liberal policy

9 The adjective “liberal” gave rise to the noun “liberalism” “Liberalism” is rising in dark blue

10 What was the political meaning?

11 What was liberalism? The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, italics added: “For classical liberals—sometimes called the ‘old’ liberalism—liberty and private property are intimately related. From the eighteenth century right up to today, classical liberals have insisted that an economic system based on private property is uniquely consistent with individual liberty, allowing each to live her life —including employing her labor and her capital—as she sees fit. Indeed, classical liberals and libertarians have often asserted that in some way liberty and property are really the same thing; it has been argued, for example, that all rights, including liberty rights, are forms of property; others have maintained that property is itself a form of freedom. A market order based on private property is thus seen as an embodiment of freedom. Unless people are free to make contracts and to sell their labour, or unless they are free to save their incomes and then invest them as they see fit, or unless they are free to run enterprises when they have obtained the capital, they are not really free.”

12 What was liberalism? The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. “Classical liberalism stressed not only human rationality but the importance of individual property rights, natural rights, the need for constitutional limitations on government, and, especially, freedom of the individual from any kind of external restraint. Classical liberalism drew upon the ideals of the Enlightenment and the doctrines of liberty supported in the American and French revolutions. … The writings of such men as Adam Smith, David Ricardo, Jeremy Bentham, and John Stuart Mill mark the height of such thinking.”


14 “New Liberalism”

15 Carlton Hayes, 1922: “The new Liberalism therefore starts with the assumption that it is the duty of the state to secure for all its citizens such conditions of life as will make real liberty possible. Intellectually Mr. Muir is the heir of Sismondi and Michael Sadler, the foes of historic Liberalism; and the Liberalism which he proclaims is indebted less to the precepts of Smith and Ricardo than to the theories of Guild Socialists and even State Socialists.”

16 “New Liberalism” L. Atherley-Jones, 1889: “…[T]he exclusion of the Liberal Party from power seems likely to be indefinitely prolonged—unless, indeed, the leaders adequately recognize the transformation of the old into the new Liberalism, and adopt their policy to the requirements of the people.”

17 “New Liberalism”

18 Terms that changed after 1880 ●liberal ●liberty ●freedom ●rights ●justice ●property ●equality, equity ●law, rule of law

19 Reforms of the Liberal Party The Liberal welfare reforms (1906–1914) were passed by the British Liberal Party after the 1906 General Election. This legislation shows the emergence of the modern welfare state in the UK. They shifted their outlook from a laissez-faire system to a more collectivist approach. The reforms demonstrate the split that had emerged within liberalism, between modern liberalism and classical liberalism, and a change in direction for the Liberal Party from liberalism, in general, to a party of modern liberalism and larger, more active government.

20 In the United States, “liberal” is adopted by the collectivists and progressives, and then gets associated with the Democrats.

21 ...leading to today Sigh.

22 “libertarian”

23 “classical liberal”

24 Now, let’s go back to the beginning So, why did the classical liberal philosophy adopt the term “liberal” in the first place? Who originated it?

25 The political meaning began around 1770 liberal system, liberal principles, liberal plan, liberal views, liberal ideas, liberal policy

26 The chief originators William RobertsonAdam Smith (1721-1793)(1723-1790)

27 William Robertson The Scottish historian and Principal of the University of Edinburgh also used this term in a way similar to Smith. Some examples: 1769, The history of the reign of the Emperor Charles V: with a view of..., Volume 1: “The revival of the knowledge and study of the Roman law, co-operated with the causes which I have mentioned, in introducing more just and liberal ideas concerning the nature of government, and the administration of justice.” “Every little community subsisting on its own domestick stock, and satisfied with it, is either unacquainted with the states around it, or at variance with them. Society and manners must be considerably improved, and many provisions must be made for public order and personal security, before a liberal intercourse can take place between different nations.”

28 William Robertson “When the manners of the European nations became more gentle, and their ideas more liberal, slaves who married without their master's consent, were subjected only to a fine.” “...but the ideas are singular, and much more liberal and enlarged than one could expect in that age. A popular monarch of Great Britain could hardly address himself to parliament, in terms more favourable to publick liberty. There occurs in the History of France a striking instance of the progress which the principles of liberty had made in that kingdom, and of the influence which the deputies of towns had acquired in the States General.” “That may have been the case, but these men possessed the confidence of the people ; and the measures which they proposed as the most popular and acceptable, plainly prove that the spirit of liberty had spread wonderfully, and that the ideas which then prevailed in France concerning government were extremely liberal.”

29 William Robertson “...the spirit and zeal with which they contended for those liberties and rights without which it is impossible to carry on commerce to advantage. The vigorous efforts of a society attentive only to commercial objects, could not fail of diffusing over Europe new and more liberal ideas concerning justice and order whereever they settled.” “The Aragonese were no less solicitous to secure the personal rights of individuals, than to maintain the freedom of the constitution ; and the spirit of their statutes with respect to both was equally liberal.” From a 1776 letter to Smith: “You have formed into a regular and consistent system one of the most intricate and important parts of political science, and if the English be capable of extending their ideas beyond the narrow and illiberal arrangements introduced by the mercantile supporters of Revolution principles, and countenanced by Locke and some of their favourite writers, I should think your Book will occasion a total change in several important articles both in police and finance....many of your observations concerning the Colonies are of capital importance to me. I shall often follow you as my Guide and instructor.”

30 William Robertson A year later in 1777, Robertson published his History of the Discovery and Settlement of America, in which he wrote: "What may be the effects of opening this communication between countries destined by their situation for reciprocal intercourse cannot yet be determined by experience. They can hardly fail of being beneficial and extensive. The motives for granting this permission are manifestly no less laudable than the principle on which it is founded is liberal; and both discover the progress of a spirit in Spain, far elevated above the narrow prejudices and maxims on which her system for regulating the trade and conducting the government of her colonies was originally founded....The nation has adopted more liberal ideas, not only with respect to commerce, but domestic policy."

31 Did Robertson “borrow” from Smith’s jurisprudence lectures? There is evidence that Smith thought that Robertson had “borrowed” from Smith’s lectures on jurisprudence. But “liberal” is not used in the political sense in the surviving texts of Smith’s lectures in jurisprudence.

32 Smith’s most important passages “The industry and commerce of a great country he [Mr. Colbert, the famous minister of Louis XIV] endeavoured to regulate upon the same model as the departments of a publick office; and instead of allowing every man to pursue his own interest his own way, upon the liberal plan of equality, liberty and justice, he bestowed upon certain branches of industry extraordinary privileges, while he laid others under as extraordinary restraints.” On the system of the Physiocrats: “According to this liberal and generous system, therefore, the most advantageous method in which a landed nation can raise up artificers, manufacturers and merchants of its own, is to grant the most perfect freedom of trade to the artificers, manufacturers and merchants of all other nations.”

33 Smith’s most important passages “ representing the wealth of nations as consisting, not in the unconsumable riches of money, but in the consumable goods annually reproduced by the labour of the society; and in representing perfect liberty as the only effectual expedient for rendering this annual reproduction the greatest possible, its doctrine seems to be in every respect as just as it is generous and liberal.” “That in every profession the fortune of every individual should depend as much as possible upon his merit, and as little as possible upon his privilege, is certainly for the interest of the public. It is even for the interest of every particular profession, which can never so effectually support the general merit and real honour of the greater part of those who exercise it, as by resting on such liberal principles.”

34 Notable early promulgator Dugald Stewart (1753-1828) “At Edinburgh he lectured on the principles of government and political economy in 1800–8 to an influential group of students who were to do much to form Whig and Tory opinion in the early 19th century.” (Phillipson in New Palgrave)

35 Dugald Stewart “In 1785 he succeeded Ferguson in the chair of moral philosophy, which he filled for a quarter of a century and made a centre of intellectual and moral influence. Young men were attracted by his reputation from England, and even from the Continent and America. Among his pupils were Sir Walter Scott, Jeffrey, Cockburn, Francis Horner, Sydney Smith, Lord Brougham, Dr Thomas Brown, James Mill, Sir James Mackintosh and Sir Archibald Alison.” (1911 Ency Brit.)1911 Ency Brit.

36 In Stewarts “Account” of Smith “those liberal views of commercial policy” “the liberal policy of modern times” “Such are the liberal principles” “his liberal system” “Some of these liberal principles found their way into France”

37 Liberal, adjective: Relative frequencies of top 20 Collocating nouns (within ≤ 3 words), during three 30 year periods. Top 20 collocates for the period 1770-1799

38 Liberal, adjective: Relative frequencies of top 20 Collocating nouns (within ≤ 3 words), during three 30 year periods. Top 20 collocates for the period 1800-1829

39 Some still use “liberal” in the old sense

40 Economists like Adam Smith


42 Liberals like Adam Smith If we can agree that liberalism is the philosophy of Adam Smith, then we just have to come to agreement about what Adam Smith’s philosophy was!

Download ppt "The Origins of the Use of ‘Liberal’ in a Political Sense of the Term: William Robertson and Adam Smith Daniel B. Klein & Will Fleming."

Similar presentations

Ads by Google