16 February 2011

Otteson on Adam Smith

I have just received my copy of my brand new book, Adam Smith. It is published by Continuum Press, and it is volume sixteen of a twenty-volume series entitled "Major Conservative and Libertarian Thinkers" edited by John Meadowcroft of King's College London. (Other volumes in the series can be viewed here.)

To whet your appetite, I paste below the book's brief Preface:

This book is a part of a series entitled “Major Conservative and Libertarian Thinkers.” The series aims to introduce these thinkers to a wider audience, providing an overview of their lives and works, as well as expert commentary on their enduring significance. Thus Adam Smith begins with a short biography of Smith; it then gives an overview and discussion of his extant works, focusing on his two major publications, the 1759 Theory of Moral Sentiments and the 1776 Wealth of Nations; and it concludes by discussing what Smith got right, what he got wrong, and why he is still worth reading—which he most definitely is. Also included is a bibliography of primary and secondary sources.
A slim volume like this can address only a fraction of the richness of Smith’s work, so it can be only a primer. One principle that has helped guide my selection of topics has been the aim of the book’s series.[1] Thus I have given added weight, where appropriate, to aspects of Smith’s thought that justify, or at least explain, his inclusion in a series about major conservative and libertarian thinkers. Depending on how one defines those terms, there are aspects of Smith’s thought that are conservative and aspects that are libertarian; and there are aspects that are neither.
I also try to make sense of Smith’s writing not only in the small but in the large as well—that is, not only in the details of this or that argument in this or that work, but in the larger aims of Smith’s scholarly corpus. I believe there is a coherence to Smith’s work, and, though I realize a book like this places limits on an attempt to demonstrate a claim like that, I do my best to make it plausible if not ultimately convincing.
In writing the book I have been conscious that for some readers it might serve as their first introduction to Smith, and for others it might serve as their only introduction to him. For a thinker as important as Smith, that makes the stakes for a book like this one high indeed. I have striven to present Smith in a way I believe he himself would have approved: charitably but objectively. No author, however brilliant, got everything right, so the reader will also find in these pages periodic discussion of problems or objections, as well as indications of ongoing scholarly criticism or debate. But I believe that some important aspects of Smith’s contributions endure, and I hope that by the end of this book you are convinced of that as well.
The best way to understand Smith remains, and will always remain, reading his works for oneself. If this book gives you reason to think that you should read Smith, it will have served its primary purpose.


[1]This is especially important given that some scholars—for example Brubaker (2006)—argue that Smith is “neither a conservative nor a libertarian,” while others—McLean (2006), for example—claim that Smith is a “radical egalitarian.”

07 February 2011

Invisible Hand Seminar

George Mason University economist and Adam Smith expert Dan Klein is running a seminar related to Adam Smith's writings, called the "Invisible Hand Seminar." Click on the link to see the upcoming events, all held on GMU's campus.

02 February 2011

Looking for Summer Fun?

If you are a college or graduate student who is looking for something to do this summer that involves thinking, reading, and discussing politics, economics, political economy, economic history, or political philosophy, here are some programs I recommend considering:

1. The Institute for Humane Studies offers numerous summer programs. Their motto: "Sleep less. Think more." I have worked with IHS in many of their programs, and I recommend them highly. 

2. The Foundation for Economic Education also offers numerous summer programs, for both high school and college students. I have also worked with FEE, and I have written a bit for FEE's journal, The Freeman. Also highly recommended.

3. The Fund for American Studies offers a combined summer school program accredited by Georgetown University and a simultaneous internship in Washington, DC. The program's motto: "Live. Learn. Intern." Get more information about its programs here. I am the Charles G. Koch Senior Fellow at TFAS, and I will be teaching one of their courses at Georgetown this summer. It is an intense summer, but I promise it is one you will never forget. 

4. The Tikvah Fund is sponsoring several summer institutes for exceptional undergraduate students. I am one of the principal faculty members for its program "Economics and the Human Good," which will be held at Columbia University in August. 

If there are others I should list or mention, let me know. And if you apply for, or inquire into, any of these programs, feel free to mention that you heard about the program from me. 

Good luck!

01 February 2011

Otteson on Cullity

My review of Garrett Cullity's The Moral Demands of Affluencehas appeared in the online version of the Journal of Value Inquiry, and is available here.

He Said It: Burke

"Always acting as if in the presence of canonized forefathers, the spirit of freedom, leading in itself to misrule and excess, is tempered with an awful gravity. This idea of a liberal descent inspires us with a sense of habitual native dignity, which prevents that upstart insolence almost inevitably adhering to and disgracing those who are the first acquirers of any distinction. By this means our liberty becomes a noble freedom. It carries an imposing and majestic aspect. It has a pedigree and illustrating ancestors. It has its bearings and its ensigns armorial. It has its gallery of portraits; its monumental inscriptions; its records, evidences, and titles."