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Hume’s History and the Parameters of Economic Development

  • John W. Danford
Part of the Archives Internationales D’histoire des Idées/International Archives of the History of Ideas book series (ARCH, volume 130)

Abstract

Western observers reacted with enthusiasm to the Chinese announcement that Peking would loosen the grip of Marxist orthodoxy on its economy. The Chinese are said to have decided that principles discovered in nineteenth century Victorian England cannot be expected to work in the economy of China in the last quarter of the twentieth century, and so their attachment to Marx’s political economy will be qualified. This has been applauded as a triumph of common sense, and interpreted as evidence the Chinese are facing up to the obvious. But whatever one believes about Chinese intentions to “abandon” Marx, it is important to quarrel with the reason they offered for doing so.

Keywords

Human Nature Commercial Society Gradual Progress Common Life Personal Liberty 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 1a.
    The History of England went through editions numbering well into the hundreds; there is no standard edition. Even the placement of appendices can vary from edition to edition. References in this paper are to the Liberty Classics edition, which follows the 1777 edition and incorporates Hume’s last changes. For an account of the changes, see Duncan Forbes, Hume’s Philosophical Politics (Cambridge, 1975), esp. 233–324Google Scholar
  2. 1b.
    for some of the vicissitudes of publication, see Ernest Cambell Mossner, The Life of David Hume (2nd edition, Oxford, 1980), 301–318. Mossner is the standard biographical source on Hume, and a rich mine of detail. As for the ubiquity of Hume’s History, even well into the nineteenth century, I should mention anecdotal evidence. While touring the home of famous children’s authoress Beatrix Potter in Sawrey, in England’s lake district, I stopped to look at her “library,” or what was on display. It consisted of one bookcase, and in it was a nineteenth century edition of Hume’s History. Other works by Hume will be cited according to the following convention:Google Scholar
  3. 1c.
    Essays, Moral, Political, and Literary (Liberty Classics edition, ed. Eugene Miller, 1984), cited as E followed by page number, as: (E 211).Google Scholar
  4. 1d.
    Enquiry concerning Human Understanding, from Hume’s Enquiries, edited by L.A.Selby-Bigge, 3rd edition revised by P.H. Nidditch (Oxford 1975), cited as EHU followed by page number.Google Scholar
  5. 1e.
    Enquiry concerning the Principles of Morals, in Hume’s Enquiries, edited by L.A.Selby-Bigge, 3rd edition revised by P.H. Nidditch (Oxford 1975), cited as ECPM followed by page number.Google Scholar
  6. 2a.
    See, for example, Sheldon Wolin, “Hume and Conservatism,” in Donald K. Livingston and James T. King, HUME: A Re-evaluation (New York, 1976), 239–256Google Scholar
  7. 2b.
    Craig Walton, “Hume and Jefferson on the Uses of History,” in Donald K. Livingston and James T. King, HUME: A Re-evaluation (New York, 1976), 389–403.Google Scholar
  8. 4.
    Sheldon Wolin, “Hume and Conservatism,” in Donald K. Livingston and James T. King, HUME: A Re-evaluation (New York, 1976), p. 239.Google Scholar
  9. 5a.
    See, for example, D.F. Norton, David Hume, (Princeton, 1982), passim.Google Scholar
  10. 5b.
    Sheldon Wolin, “Hume and Conservatism,” in Donald K. Livingston and James T. King, HUME: A Re-evaluation (New York, 1976), p.239Google Scholar
  11. 5c.
    Duncan Forbes, Hume’s Philosophical Politics (Cambridge, 1975), esp. 233–324Google Scholar
  12. 6.
    An especially clear case of this reasoning is found in Ernest Cambell Mossner, The Life of David Hume (2nd edition, Oxford, 1980), p. 318: “Although Hume’s History is not for our times, it is proper to turn to it for either of two reasons: to enjoy it as literature, or to learn from it how the greatest mind of the Enlightenment interpreted the past for his age.” It should go without saying that the approach taken here is quite different.Google Scholar
  13. 7.
    An excellent discussion of the issue between ancients and moderns, and Hume’s position in that controversy, is E.C. Mossner, “Hume and the Ancient-Modern Controversy, 1725–1752: A Study in Creative Skepticism,” (University of Texas, Studies in English, XXVIII (1949), 139–53.Google Scholar
  14. 8.
    See The Letters of David Hume, ed. J. Y. T. Grieg (Oxford, 1932; 2 volumes), Vol. I, 249: Hume writes to publisher Andrew Millar that he is writing the history beginning with the reign of Henry VII, and adds “It is properly at that Period modern History commences. America was discovered: Commerce extended: The Arts cultivated: Printing invented: Religion reform’d: And all the Governments of Europe almost chang’d.” See also Letters I, 251.Google Scholar
  15. 11.
    “Of Refinement in the Arts” (E 268–280). This essay comprises the second of the set of essays generally read today as political economy (see Mossner, E.C. Mossner, “Hume and the Ancient-Modern Controversy, 1725–1752: A Study in Creative Skepticism,” (University of Texas, Studies in English, XXVIII (1949), 269–71). It was originally entitled “Of Luxury” in the first edition of “Political Essays.” The essay will be used to extend the argument of this essay (below).Google Scholar
  16. 12.
    It is instructive to compare Hume’s estimation of the importance of this change with the account offered by Tocqueville of the centrality of inheritance laws: “I am surprised that ancient and modern writers have not attributed greater importance to the laws of inheritance (fn.) and their effect on the progress of human affairs... they should head the list of all political institutions, for they have an unbelievable influence on the social state of peoples...” (Tocqueville, Democracy in America (New York: Anchor, 1969), 51–52).Google Scholar
  17. 13a.
    P. T. Bauer, “The Spurious Consensus and its Background,” chapter 9 of Dissent on Development (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1972).Google Scholar
  18. 13b.
    See also Bauer’s Reality and Rhetoric: Studies in the Economics of Development (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1984).Google Scholar
  19. 13c.
    For a brief introduction to other economists whose work Bauer criticizes, see Pioneers in Development, ed. Gerald Meier and Dudley Seers (New York: Oxford University Press, 1984). This study itself contains an article by Bauer.Google Scholar
  20. 14.
    Bauer, Reality and Rhetoric, 19. Cf. Bauer, Dissent on Development, 31–49; 69–82.Google Scholar
  21. 15.
    Bauer, Reality and Rhetoric, 4–5.Google Scholar
  22. 16.
    Bauer, Dissent on Development, 324, 325.Google Scholar
  23. 17a.
    I cite here from an article on the man and his work: “Why the Less-Developed Nations May Go on Laying Eggs,” by Lindley H. Clark, Jr., Wall Street Journal (March 12, 1985), 31.Google Scholar
  24. 17b.
    See also Gottfried Haberler, Selected Essays of Gottfried Haber1er, edited by Anthony Y.C. Koo, (Cambridge, Mass.: M.I.T. Press, 1985), especially 495–527.Google Scholar
  25. 18.
    Bauer, Reality and Rhetoric, 30.Google Scholar
  26. 19.
    Mr. de Soto’s book, El Otro Sendero, (The Other Path — a reference to the Peruvian Maoist group “Shining Path”), has not yet been translated or released in the U.S.. See “A New Latin Hero Has a Message for Capitalists,” by George Melloan, Wall Street Journal (March 17, 1987), 35.Google Scholar
  27. 20.
    Paul Johnson, Modern Times: The World from the Twenties to the Eighties (New York: Harper & Row, 1983), 729. The discussion in the Chapter “The Bandung Generation” bears in many respects on the argument here.Google Scholar
  28. 21.
    Bauer, Dissent on Development, 322–23.Google Scholar
  29. 22a.
    Views similar to Hume’s (in favoring commercial republics over ancient martial republics) are found in John Adam’s A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America (New York: Da Capo Press, 1971), esp. vol. I., pp.113–114Google Scholar
  30. 22b.
    John Adam’s A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America (New York: Da Capo Press, 1971), esp. vol. I., 212Google Scholar
  31. 22c.
    John Adam’s A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America (New York: Da Capo Press, 1971), esp. vol. I., 256–57. A careful reading of Montesquieu’s Spirit of the Laws will find powerful coincident arguments.Google Scholar
  32. 22d.
    See Pangle, Montesquieu’s Philosophy of Liberalism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1973).Google Scholar
  33. 23.
    For Solzhenitzyn’s views see his celebrated Harvard commencement address in 1978, “A World Split Apart,” published in National Review, (July 7, 1978, 836–55). But the view that commerce or capitalist society is hopelessly decadent is very widespread today among political commentators. See Henry Fairlie’s lament for the disappearance of public spirit (civic virtue) under Reagan, in “Citizen Kennedy” (The New Republic, February 3, 1986, pp. 14–17). Fairlie complains that “With the idea of citizenship all but submerged in appeals to private pursuits, private satisfactions, the private sector, the most Reagan could hope to lead against a real enemy would be a herd of the Gadarene swine.”Google Scholar

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© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1990

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  • John W. Danford

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