Recommend to your Librarian

Adam Smith, Radical and Egalitarian

An Interpretation for the 21st Century

Iain McLean

eBook (PDF) i

Foreword by the Rt. Hon. Gordon Brown, Chancellor of the Exchequer

This book aims to show that Adam Smith (1723-90), the author of The Wealth of Nations, was not the promoter of ruthless laissez-faire capitalism that is still frequently depicted. Smith's "right-wing" reputation was sealed after his death when it was not safe to claim that an author may have influenced the French revolutionaries. But as the author, also, of The Theory of Moral Sentiments, which he probably regarded as his more important book, Smith sought a non-religious grounding for morals, and found it in the principle of sympathy, which should lead an impartial spectator to understand others' problems. This book locates Smith in the Scottish Enlightenment; shows how the two books are perfectly consistent with one another; traces Smith's influence in France and the United States; and draws out the lessons that Adam Smith can teach policy makers in the 21st Century.

Although Smith was not a religious man, he was a very acute sociologist of religion. The book accordingly explains the Scottish religious context of Smith's time, which was, as it remains, very different to the English religious context.

The whole book is shot through with Iain McLean's love for the Edinburgh of his birth, and for the Scottish Enlightenment. It begins and ends with poems by Smith's great admirer Robert Burns.


Preface: A Scotsman looks at the world
The life of an absent-minded professor
A weak state and a weak church
A non-religious grounding of morals: Smith and the Scottish Enlightenment
Merriment and diversion: Smith on public finance and public choice
The invisible hand and the helping hand
The French and American Smiths
Adam Smith today.

About the Author

Iain McLean is Official Fellow in Politics, Nuffield College, Oxford, and Professor of Politics, University of Oxford. He is the author of more than 100 papers and 15 books. Iain was born in Edinburgh and educated at the Royal High School and Oxford University. He has worked in Newcastle, (where he was also a county councillor), Warwick, and Oxford and held various visiting professorships overseas. He has been studying devolution and Scottish independence since his postgraduate dissertation on the SNP. He is a Fellow of both the British Academy and the Royal Society of Edinburgh. Unlike the other little boys who watched the trains go under Blackford Road bridge, he became an engine-driver (on a narrow-gauge steam railway in Wales). He has co-authored two policy explainer books for Edinburgh University Press: Scotland's Choices: The Referendum and What Happens Afterwards and Legally Married: Love and Law in the UK and the US.


a welcome addition to the ever growing literature on Smith's thought.
- Dennis C. Rasmussen, Bowdoin College, History of Political Thought
Throughout his book, the author is concerned with the Scottish context. And he knows it well, achieving an interesting and accessible narrative. All in all, this book is very good reading… it is a book to recommend for general readers and Smith scholars.
- Leonidas Montes, Universidad Adolfo Ibañez, Santiago, Adam Smith Review
McLean is, unusually, both an accomplished political scientist and a witty writer and he sets himself the task of rescuing Smith for the centre-left.
- Public magazine, The Guardian
An excellent new work.
- William Keegan