Page:The Economic Journal Volume 1.djvu/93

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been validated.


THE PROGRESS OF ECONOMIC DOCTRINE IN ENGLAND IN THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY


By universal consent Adam Smith stands out as the founder of modern political economy. He so entirely recast it that the ordinary student of economic doctrine is satisfied to trace the progress from his time, just as the astronomer marks a new departure in the system of Copernicus, and modern philosophy took a new shape at the hands of Kant. In each of those cases, however, it is possible to note anticipations and suggestions in the thoughts of previous writers; and those, whose curiosity tempts them to go behind The Wealth of Nations on some tentative exploration, are not unlikely to be surprised to find that so many men of wide knowledge and accurate habits of thought had already devoted themselves to the study of economic phenomena. It is a literary problem of no little interest to discover how far these various writers led up to The Wealth of Nations, and to discriminate precisely wherein the secret of Adam Smith's marked superiority really lay. The impression he made upon his contemporaries, and the unique position which his book maintains at the present day, prove beyond dispute that he was incomparably superior to all his predecessors; but it is not easy to account for the difference. We cannot detect the characteristic feature in his work by comparing him, not always to his advantage, with some previous writer who wrote brilliantly upon a special point; and we can only hope to discover it by reviewing the progress of economic doctrine for many years before he wrote, and thus attempting to mark the precise nature of the new contribution which enabled him to transform the study so completely.

It is of course clear, that circumstances favoured a great advance in economic doctrine during the eighteenth century, since there was so much progress in industrial, commercial, and agricultural afairs. The phenomena connected with the increase of