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Economic Sentiments: Adam Smith, Condorcet, and the Enlightenment Hardcover – May 16, 2001

3.9 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From The New Yorker

This landmark work revisits the intellectual ferment of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries—a time when the brightest minds all talked like econ majors. Rothschild has delved through the pamphlets and tracts of the era—on everything from voting procedures to the suet trade—but the book is organized around the two greatest economic thinkers of the Enlightenment: Adam Smith and the Marquis de Condorcet. She dismantles, with quiet authority, the stereotype of the Enlightenment as a period dominated by chilly rationalists. In emphasizing the role of emotion in human life, the founders of modern economics were actually in advance of their successors.
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker


In her readable as well as scholarly book, Economic Sentiments, [Rothschild] links [Adam] Smith with the French philosopher the Marquis de Condorcet, another thinker seen today as an emblem of "cold hard and rational enlightenment" but in reality interested, like Smith, "in economic life as a process of discussion, and as a process of emancipation," in which "one's freedom to buy or sell or lend or travel or work is difficult to distinguish from the rest of one's freedom." This larger picture, Rothschild thinks, is what was lost as economics developed along with the society it analyzed, and what she hopes to restore. (Paul Mattick New York Times Book Review 2001-07-08)

This landmark work revisits the intellectual ferment of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries...[Rothschild] dismantles, with quiet authority, the stereotype of the Enlightenment as a period dominated by chilly rationalists. (New Yorker 2001-06-04)

One of the many virtues of Economic Sentiments is that it provides exactly what its subtitle says: an investigation of 'Adam Smith, Condorcet, and the Enlightenment.' Another, even more attractive than an unusual degree of truth in advertising, is that it casts an extraordinarily revealing light on many other writers and many other moments in history. It is a book that does with great success two things that are usually thought to be wholly antithetical; certainly they are rarely attempted by the same writer. On the one hand, it takes us back into the last third of the eighteenth century, and shows us what economic thinking was like before it became modern economic theory, on the other, it complicates the image of the Enlightenment in ways that are intended to make the political discussions of the twenty-first century more sophisticated, nuanced, and self-conscious than they often are. (Alan Ryan New York Review of Books 2001-07-05)

Economic historians often discuss the half century after 1770 with barely a nod (or none at all) to the political revolutions. Emma Rothschild, however, turns that convention on its head. Her book examines the period from the vantage point of two of the most influential economic writers of the time--Adam Smith and the Marquis de Condorcet--and their followers...The book's distinctive approach brings real and unexpected insights. (William Kennedy Times Higher Education Supplement 2001-06-22)

In her brilliantly illuminating and compelling reinterpretation of Adam Smith and Condorcet, Emma Rothschild presents a view of late 18th century ideas through which we can ourselves re-envision the human realities of life in the market. In so doing, she has produced a masterpiece of the historical imagination. First and foremost, Economic Sentiments is a rich, profound and at times revelatory essay in the history of ideas which will undoubtedly become part of the academic canon. But it is also an inspiring commentary on our own times, which can be read with profit by many outside the academy. (John Gray Los Angeles Times 2001-12-02)

One must look hard to find a work so adept at doing the vigorous hermeneutics required to truly understand what drove the 18th-century Enlightenment and how that era impacts our thinking today. Rothschild roams across the landscape of thinkers and historical events focusing on Condorcet as an example of the 'cold, universalistic enlightenment of the French Revolution' and on Smith, who appears as the more conservative proponent of the 'reductionist enlightenment of laissez-faire economics.' Along the way the reader is challenged to rethink the positive-normative dichotomy commonly taught in economics, the meaning and role of Smith's 'invisible hand' and the self-serving manner in which 19th-century interpreters framed Smith's ideas...There is exceptional depth to this book...[It] has interdisciplinary appeal, systematically relying on literary, philosophical, political, economic, natural science, and sometimes theological disciplines to build arguments. Highly recommended. (J. Halteman Choice 2001-11-01)

A lucid and historical account of one of the finest achievements of the European Enlightenment, the application of the new science of political economy to the solving of real problems. Emma Rothschild shows that modern free-marketeers who neglect the political and moral aspects of Adam Smith's writings are unfair to the man whose name they have hijacked. (The Economist 2001-12-20)

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press; 1st edition, edition (May 16, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674004892
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674004894
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 6.5 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,468,869 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
First, a romantic note - Rothschild dedicates this book to her husband Amartya Sen, and Sen dedicated his last book ('Development as Freedom') to her. So these books will lie side by side on my shelf. Both are well worth reading.
There is more than just a familial connection. Sen clearly used his wife's research on Smith and Condorcet in the writing of 'Development as Freedom' since the Adam Smith that appears in his book is not the cold and callous economist of myth. One suspects that Rothschild's perception of Smith and Condorcet had been coloured by Sen as she presents them as more than just economists as we understand the term, but concerned with a far wider range of phenomena in politics and sociology. In fact they were exactly as much an 'economist' as Sen himself is. As any reader of Sen knows, he covers an extremely broad range of factors in his work, not just GDP and income.
Rothschild argues that Smith's example of the 'invisible hand' that regulates free markets would have as easily been meant as a malign as a benign regulator. Traders who influence markets by bribery or trickery are as much an 'invisible hand' as an imagined self-regulating mechanism. In fact, the beneficient invisible hand was very much a product of later economists. Smith was not as negative on government regulation as he was made out to be by later writers, though strongly against price-fixing by government fiat, guilds which prevented fair competition, and over-zealous regulation of trade and commerce by insiders, profiteers and parasites.
Condorcet comes across as a very attractive human being, passionate and commited to his beliefs. Accused of Utopianism, he struggled with his conviction that he had no right to dictate opinion to others. Yet he believed that his liberal philosophy was best.
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Format: Hardcover
To their enemies the Marquis de Condorcet was the epitome of the worst elements of the French Enlightenment, fatuously optimistic, subtly intolerant and dangerous utopian with his emphasis on the "perfectability" of man, while the notoriously absent-minded Adam Smith was the architect of a notoriously callous and philistine economic theory. Aside from that, the enthusiastic and idealistic Condorcet does not appear to have much in common with the quiet and discreet Smith. Emma Rothschild is the husband of the nobel prize winning economist A. Sen, whose most famous work shows the devastating effect dogmatically applied free market rules can have on worsening famines. Yet this book is a defense of the two from the critics of the Enlightenment.
To a surprising extent she succeeds. Conservatives will be unpleasantly surprised to read that in the decade after his death, mentioning your support of Smith did not prevent Scottish democrats from being transported to Australia by reactionary Scottish judges. For many years Tories did not view Smith as the great economist or philosopher. Instead Smith was the man whose account of his friend, the atheist philosopher David Hume on his deathbed, enraged the pious for showing Hume's complete calm, class and lack of fear of eternal damnation. Rothschild notes how the great economist Carl Menger noted how prominent socialists quoted Smith against their enemies. (Oddly enough she does not quote the passage in CAPITAL where Marx cites an enraged prelate angry at Smith for classifying priests as "unproductive labor.) Smith was an opponent of militarism, a supporter of high wages, and a supporter of French philosophy (and not unsympathetic to the French Revolution,either).
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By A Customer on June 12, 2001
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is an admirably lucid exposition of the beginnings (at the end of the 18th century) of thinking about economics and globalization. It offers a revision of received ideas about Adam Smith and, for me (not an economist, nor a student of same) it's an introduction to a fascinating figure, the Marquis de Condorcet. Some of it is a real revelation.
The biggest revelation is that the non-specialist can really follow it!
It's an important book.
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Format: Paperback
This is a careful and very thoughtful effort to present an non-anachronistic analysis of Adam Smith's and Condorcet's economic thought. Rothschild is particularly concerned with discrediting the modern, polemical misuse of Smith as talismanic advocate of economic libertarianism. Similarly, she is concerned with rescuing Condorcet from the general impression of his thought as an excessively rationalistic, "cold" form of utopianism. Rothschild reminds us that around the time of his death, Smith's work was regarded warily by many because his advocacy of free trade and Enlightenment reformism were associated with the French Revolution. It was only much later that he became depicted as a free market libertarian. With a careful analysis of Smith's work and intellectual environment, Rothschild explicates Smith's humane but highly critical vision. Smith certainly advocated freedom of trade, but primarily in the context of a larger program of individual freedom that includes, among other things, considerable criticism of religion and other traditional institutions. Smith's writings are informed by a very Humean view of people conversing and interacting as approximate equals, propelled by intrinsic moral sympathy to treat each other with dignity, and with commercial relations based on mutual advantage. Rothschild devotes an entire chapter to Smith's famous metaphor of the "invisible hand" which she argues well was meant largely as a piece of irony. Rothschild's Smith is very different from the Smith prized by 20th century economists as a predecessor and a considerably more interesting and humane, though arguably naive, figure.Read more ›
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