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Adam Smith: An Enlightened Life by Nicholas Phillipson Yale

by Ziks511 / March 21, 2011 3:32 AM PDT

Adam Smith is a difficult subject for a biographer, and intensely private man with a relatively small circle of friend from whose accounts one may research.

Most biographers have "fallen into one of two traps-the purely intellectual biography, in which the man is merely the vehicle for his ideas, and the purely contextual biography in which the man is just a representative of his time and place."

"With this superb new book, Nicholas Phillipson has answered that yearning at last. He has done it by leaning toward both traps at different times, but never quite falling into either. There is, as Phillipson acknowledges at the outset, no getting around the fact that Smith's ideas are almost all we have of him. But through meticulous research, a masterful command of the philosophical debates of the age, and a fine grasp of the particulars of Scottish life in Smith's era, he manages to shadow out the man himself-decisively demolishing some longstanding myths popular on both the left and the right, and, without straining to be relevant, nonetheless showing us a thinker with a great deal to offer our own troubled time."


Since I have myself argued here at SE about interpretations particularly of 18th Century modes of thought and how it differs from 20th Century (21st Century) modes of thought and political expression, and the too facile adoption of a straight forward no holds barred capitalist interpretation of Smith as the Saintly God of Oppression, Profit Gouging and Insider Trading, it is nice to come across this terrific review of a new biography of Smith, which may go a long way to contextualizing what has been, at least on the right treated as Holy Writ and Inerrancy.

The 18th Century mind, given enough reading of the writings it produced is far more complex than any political demagogue would wish. That's why Jefferson can be such a perplexing character for both liberals and conservatives, both of whom want to enlist him as their patron saint. It's also why I keep arguing about the ever expanding definition of the Second Amendment from the era of the musket with its slow loading, and inaccuracy being expanded to involve automatic or even semi-automatic weapons of far greater lethality, accuracy and rate of fire.

At anyrate, this is a review to read, and a book apparently to treasure. I'm on a fixed income so I'll wait for the Trade Paperback.


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