Adam Smith As Advocate of Empire, C. 1870-1932

Marc-William Palen, "Adam Smith as Advocate of Empire, c. 1870-1932," Historical Journal 57:1 (March 2014): 179-198; doi: 10.1017/S0018246X13000101

Posted: 6 Oct 2017 Last revised: 2 Nov 2017

Date Written: March 1, 2014

Abstract

This article examines how The wealth of nations (1776) was transformed into an amorphous text regarding the imperial question throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Adam Smith had left behind an ambiguous legacy on the subject of empire: a legacy that left long-term effects upon subsequent British imperial debates. In his chapter on colonies, Smith had proposed both a scheme for the gradual devolution of the British empire and a theoretical scheme for imperial federation. In response to the growing global popularity of protectionism and imperial expansionism, the rapid development of new tools of globalization, and the frequent onset of economic downturns throughout the late Victorian and Edwardian eras, turn-of-the-century proponents of British imperial federation formed into a formidable opposition to England's prevailing free trade orthodoxy – Cobdenism – a free trade ideology which famously expanded upon the anti-imperial dimensions of The wealth of nations. Ironically, at the turn of the century many advocates for imperial federation also turned to Smith for their intellectual inspiration. Adam Smith thus became an advocate of empire, and his advocacy left an indelible intellectual mark upon the burgeoning British imperial crisis.

Note: Copyright: © Cambridge University Press 2014

Keywords: Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations, History of Economic Thought, British Empire, Free Trade, Protectionism

JEL Classification: B12, B15, B31, F52, F54, F63, F68, N13, 025

Suggested Citation

Palen, Marc-William, Adam Smith As Advocate of Empire, C. 1870-1932 (March 1, 2014). Marc-William Palen, "Adam Smith as Advocate of Empire, c. 1870-1932," Historical Journal 57:1 (March 2014): 179-198; doi: 10.1017/S0018246X13000101 , Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3048455

Marc-William Palen (Contact Author)

University of Exeter ( email )

Amory Building
Rennes Drive
Exeter, Devon EX4 4RJ
United Kingdom

HOME PAGE: http://humanities.exeter.ac.uk/history/staff/palen/

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