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New Left Review 23, September-October 2003


Jacob Stevens on Emma Rothschild, Economic Sentiments. Smith and Condorcet compacted into icons for the social market.

JACOB STEVENS

ARTIFICIAL TWINS?

Have Condorcet’s impassioned calls for equal rights and social peace, written shortly before his death in a prison cell, and Adam Smith’s vigorous denunciations of feudal oppression, been unjustly neglected by modern readers? Arguing that recent generations have overlooked key aspects of the Scottish and French Enlightenment, Emma Rothschild’s Economic Sentiments aims to restore the foundational roles of sentiments and politics in the two men’s systems of thought. Smith’s Invisible Hand can be reunited with the human face, and heart, of free market liberalism; and Condorcet’s march of enlightenment complicated by an unexpected emotional subtlety and philosophical uncertainty. Rothschild blends the history of economic thought with its social and political background, and sheds the light of contemporary ideas on both. The avowed purpose of her book is to realign Smith and Condorcet ideologically: rescuing Smith from conservative interpretations, and Condorcet from imputations of a ‘cold, universal rationalism’. The tacit effect is to bring them politically closer to each other than one might naturally place them. Both can enter the ark of subsequent left-liberal thought: champions of economic liberty, but advocates too of political freedom, equity and justice. Rothschild’s conclusion expresses nostalgia for a time before the long alliance of conservatism and economic laissez-faire, and quiet excitement at the prospect of a 21st-century political constellation breaking this mould. Each in their way, the rehabilitations of Smith and Condorcet seem designed to give a gentle nudge—deliberately short of clumsy programmatic recommendations—to insiders and statesmen of the new millennium.

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