For most of the two hundred years or so that have passed since the publication of the Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith's writings on political and economic questions have been viewed within a liberal capitalist perspective of nineteenth- and twentieth- century provenance. This essay in interpretation seeks to provide a more historical reading of certain political themes which recur in Smith's writings by bringing eighteenth-century perspectives to bear on the problem. Contrary to the view that sees Smith's work as marking the point at which 'politics' was being eclipsed by 'economics', it claims that Smith has a 'politics' which goes beyond certain political attitudes connected with the role of the state in economic affairs. It argues that he employs a consistent mode of political analysis which cannot be encompassed within the standard liberal capitalist categories, but can be understood by reference to the language and qualities of contemporary political debate, and of the eighteenth-century science of politics cultivated by Montesquieu and, above all, Hume, particularly as revealed by recent scholarship. A concluding chapter draws the various strands of the interpretation together to form a portrait of what Smith might legitimately be said to have been doing when he wrote on these matters.
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