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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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Left to Their Own Devices: Smith and Rousseau on Public Opinion and the Role of the State

Left to Their Own Devices: Smith and Rousseau on Public Opinion and the Role of the State

(p.260) 13 Left to Their Own Devices: Smith and Rousseau on Public Opinion and the Role of the State
Adam Smith and Rousseau

Jason Neidleman

Edinburgh University Press

This chapter explores the role of the state in the formation of public opinion. Both Smith and Rousseau recognized the urgency of this endeavor; both likewise recognized the threat that such a project could pose to personal liberty and popular sovereignty. However, while they framed the problem similarly, their responses to it differed in two ways. First, the stakes were greater for Rousseau: Without civic virtue, there could be no political freedom. For Smith, by contrast, moral turpitude did not automatically undermine the social fabric. The second difference—related to the first—lies in the extent to which the magistrate must be concerned with public opinion. While Smith’s magistrate needed only to direct and constrain it, Rousseau’s was tasked with transforming human nature. The explanation for these differences, the chapter argues, lies in the disparity between the thinkers’ views on the role played by citizens in the formulation of legislation.

Keywords:   Adam Smith, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, public opinion, popular sovereignty, civic virtue

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