Adam Smith & Edmund Burke – a meeting of minds

Who better to write an introduction to the writings, thoughts and significance of Adam Smith, than Eamonn Butler – the Director of the Adam Smith Institute (ASI).

The ASI is one of the most important Think Tanks in the UK, and through the work of Adam Smith himself, in Europe more broadly. For 30 years they have been leading the field in “injecting choice and competition into public services, extending personal freedom, reducing taxes, pruning back regulation, and cutting government waste.” Yet reading Adam Smith can be daunting – his language, though beautiful and precise, can easily be offputting to those unaccustomed to reading late eighteenth century economics…. And so we have “Adam Smith – A Primer” (feel free to download it, free of charge, from

This is not an idiot’s guide, for Mr Butler has both more respect for his author and his reader, than to presume such a thing; but what it is, is a bite sized, excellently edited and incisive insight into Smith’s more considered subject areas.

On “Self-interest and virtue”, Butler quotes Smith, writing:”some people today wonder how the self-interest that drives Smith’s economic system can be reconciled with the ‘sympathy’ that drives his ethics. Here is his answer: ‘How selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature, which interest him in the fortune of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing from it except the pleasure of seeing it.’ In other words, human nature is complex. The baker does not supply us with bread out of benevolence; but nor is it selfinterest which prompts someone to dive into a river to save a drowning stranger. Smith’s books are complementary attempts to identify how self-interested human beings can – and do – live together peacefully (in the moral sphere) and productively (in the economic).”

We heartedly recommend this timely and accessible synthesis of Smith’s most significant contributions to the key field that evolved into Economics.

As an addendum, we urge you to attend the dinner held in part to promote this book, and discuss the link between Smith and Edmund Burke – the practical and learned politician, to Smith’s moral  philosopher. From the Burke Society:

“Yet the economist and the politician found synthesis in a common philosophy based on natural law, limited Government and a distrust of ‘men of systems’ because ‘commerce flourishes most when it is left to itself’.  Such was their mutual admiration that Smith would say of Burke that he ‘agreed with everything he said’ whilst Burke said of the Wealth of Nations that it was the most important book ever written.”

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