CL Press
A Fraser Institute Project

Central Notions of Smithian Liberalism

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Central Notions of Smithian Liberalism explores notions jural, political, and economic. The author does intellectual history as a way of theorizing—that is, to advance political theory, jural theory, moral theory, social theory, economic theory. The author treats Adam Smith and the liberalism he shared with David Hume and Edmund Burke. They represent classical liberalism at its best. Their classical liberalism is today aptly called conservative liberalism. The chapters derive mostly from substantial articles previously published in scholarly journals. Chapters expound Smith’s tri-layered justice, liberty, jural dualism, Humean conventionalist political theory, and Smithian liberalism. A chapter written with Erik Matson, “Convention without Convening,” explains natural convention, transcending “nature” and “convention” and attesting the place of Hume and Smith in natural law traditions and enlarging our understanding of those traditions. A chapter asks and answers, “Is It Just to Pursue Honest Income?”.  Another chapter identifies four sets of nonconflicting rules, namely (1) government law, (2) commutative justice, (3) ethics writ large, and (4) just government law. Other chapters relate Smithian liberalism to various topics, including Iain McGilchrist’s divided brain, being grateful for without being grateful to, and the Export-Import Bank. The final chapter considers the fortunes of liberalism in relation to prevailing attitudes toward allegory and God.

Endorsements of Central Notions of Smithian Liberalism

“In 2023 Adam Smith will be 300 years old. There will be a very large number of ill-informed books about him being published in this special year. Smith—now that we are recovering the actual historical Smith—still has a great deal to say to us. Dan Klein knows this, understands Smith as well as any scholar and has a gift for communicating (understatement). Everything he publishes is accessible and significant.”

—Richard Whatmore, University of St. Andrews

“Klein is the rare economist who listens to what others say.  In this he follows Smith, and with this volume and its companion volumes emerges as the sage's leading listener.  He writes beautifully and with purpose, to bring us away from the Smith of left or right coercion and towards the Smith of what he calls "spiral," a vein of the Scottish enlightenment, and still therapeutic for our own troubled times.”

—Deirdre Nansen McCloskey, University of Illinois at Chicago

“Dan Klein’s collection of papers represents an imposing body of work on Smith as an historical figure and as thinker of lasting relevance. The papers have an impressive range, which is what Smith’s many-sided work requires. At the same time, there is a keen engagement with the scholarly and critical literature. Klein’s writing is clear and direct. It is a pleasure to recommend the collection.”

—Knud Haakonssen, University of Erfurt, University of St. Andrews

Three centuries after his birth, Adam Smith was never more relevant and inspiring. Dan Klein's essays convey that inspiration in an accessible style reinforcing the relevance of this greatest of 18th century scholars.”

—Vernon Smith, Chapman University

“Dan Klein has long been constructing a portrait of Adam Smith in his complexity—moving back and forth in a deepening spiral between Smith’s policy recommendations, his rich phenomenology of ethical life, and even his reflections on our place in the cosmos. With this collection we can now see the richness of Klein’s reading of Smith in synoptic view, both in the specificity of its parts and in the vision that animates the whole. Klein is a spirited and skilled advocate for liberalism in its original political sense. He sheds light on the presumption of liberty, the structure of justice, the spiraling complexity of ethical life, the subtlety of Smith’s rhetoric, and Smith’s religion. This work will be helpful to readers just coming to know Smith for the first time, and it certainly deserves the attention of scholars of Smith and of the history of liberalism. It enriches our sense of Smith even as we argue with it. It is an achievement worth celebrating.”

—Thomas W. Merrill, American University

“Dan Klein is one of the most distinctive and thorough interpreters of Adam Smith working today. His insights into Smith are both instructive and compelling. It is of immense value to have many of these insights collected together, especially because so many of them are accessible to the scholar and general intelligent reader alike.”

—Douglas Den Uyl, Liberty Fund

“An economist with abiding interests in public policy, Klein has developed an acute appreciation of how carefully Adam Smith wrote—and of how comprehensively he thought. Klein manifests a rare combination of virtues, and they are especially valuable in our world, which struggles to balance economic and non-economic goods. The precision and efficiency of Klein's prose, furthermore, provide a fitting tribute to Smith. More importantly, they should inspire—--and even equip—us to counteract the literary degradations associated with tweeting and partisan hyperbole.”

—Peter Minowitz, Santa Clara University

“Adam Smith is one of the most widely cited and least read great figures in the West. He is often pressed into the service of contemporary authors' ends without sufficient regard for the breadth, depth, subtlety, and sophistication of his work. Daniel Klein's essays provide an important corrective. Klein combines close reading of Smith with a critical yet charitable eye, helping us understand both the details in Smith's work and its larger aims, and, in the process, showing why Smith deserves a place in the pantheon of great philosophers. Those new to Smith may be astonished at the range and penetration of Smith's insights revealed by Klein’s essays. Even Smith scholars will find much that is new, enlightening, and challenging. This collection provides a rich resource for philosophers, economists, historians, and anyone else interested in one of the great observers of human behavior.”

—James Otteson, Professor of Business Ethics, University of Notre Dame