Walter Bagehot and Adam Smith, part 1

As I mentioned in a previous post, I recently discovered (via the late David Winch) Walter Bagehot’s 1876 essay “Adam Smith as a Person”. Today, I will review the first three paragraphs of this beautiful essay, where Bagehot makes the following three points (in bold below) right off the bat about Adam Smith and his ideas:

  1. First and foremost, Bagehot begins his essay by noting how little we know about Adam Smith the man, about Smith’s own life and life experiences. The larger point that Bagehot is trying to make here is that Smith’s most influential work, The Wealth of Nations, was a one-of-a-kind intellectual achievement, a book that only Adam Smith himself could have written. No other author could have produced such an original treatise at this stage in history; no other thinker could have produced Smith’s “enduring particular result” (to quote Bagehot’s haunting phrase): the relationship between markets and progress.
  2. Next, Bagehot identifies a great irony in paragraph two of his essay: how could such an absent-minded bookworm like Adam Smith have written such a practical and world-changing work like The Wealth of Nations?
  3. Lastly (for now), Bagehot makes an important observation in paragraph three of his essay: The Wealth of Nations represents just one small corner of a much more ambitious project that Adam Smith was working on his entire life. Following Bagehot’s lead, I shall discuss Smith’s larger intellectual project in my next post …
Posthumous illustration of Walter Bagehot
Posthumous illustration of Walter Bagehot (image credit: W.W. Norton)

About F. E. Guerra-Pujol

When I’m not blogging, I am a business law professor at the University of Central Florida.
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5 Responses to Walter Bagehot and Adam Smith, part 1

  1. Pingback: Adam Smith’s dream | prior probability

  2. I first heard about Bagehot from economist George Selgin (Cato). I believe Bagehot is also well known for his theories focusing on monetary policy; particularly on the topic of central banking.

    • same here (I first heard about Walter Bagehot from the “Bagehot” column in The Economist many years ago, which led me Google “Bagehot” back then. I did not know about Bagehot’s Adam Smith essay, however, until just a few days ago!)

  3. Pingback: Balliol College and the road to Adam Smith’s Damascus | prior probability

  4. Pingback: Recap of Walter Bagehot’s View of Adam Smith | prior probability

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