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Adam Smith and RousseauEthics, Politics, Economics$
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Maria Pia Paganelli, Dennis C. Rasmussen, and Craig Smith

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9781474422857

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: September 2018

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9781474422857.001.0001

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Smith, Rousseau and the True Spirit of a Republican

Smith, Rousseau and the True Spirit of a Republican

(p.241) 12 Smith, Rousseau and the True Spirit of a Republican
Adam Smith and Rousseau

Dennis C. Rasmussen

Edinburgh University Press

This chapter explores the meaning of Adam Smith’s claim that Jean-Jacques Rousseau embodied ‘the true spirit of a republican carried a little too far’, ultimately concluding that Smith was not referring to Rousseau’s ‘republican’ or ‘positive’ conception of liberty but rather to his claim that commerce is invariably corrupt and corrupting. It also explores these thinkers’ conceptions of liberty, arguing that their views are nearly diametrically opposed, but not (only) in the way that is generally assumed. On the level of politics, as is well known, Smith advocated negative liberty while Rousseau advocated positive liberty. Yet on the level of the individual Smith regarded a kind of positive liberty—namely, self-command—as a necessary component of a moral life, while Rousseau regarded negative liberty as a supreme good for those who are sufficiently free of destructive passions that they will refrain from abusing it.

Keywords:   Adam Smith, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, republicanism, liberty, commercial society

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