Adam Smith’s Republican Moment: Lessons for Today’s Emancipatory Thought

David Cassass


This paper places Adam Smith within the long republican tradition, and offers an emancipatory reflection on the possible space of republican freedom within societies that harbour certain degrees of market activity. In doing so, it seeks to offer some criteria on the kind of political-institutional action that can be taken in modern societies in order to constitute markets that respect, and even promote, republican freedom. The paper is divided into four sections. Section 1 shows why Adam Smith’s ethical-political analysis, which was very influential in the shaping of classical political economy, can be presented as part of the broad republican tradition. Section 2 reflects on the possibilities for a realisation of republican freedom within markets. What I call ‘commercial republicanism’ is here analysed as a project for modern societies. Section 3 assesses the difficulties for commercial republicanism to unfold within capitalist societies, the structural features of which prevent individuals and groups from enjoying the kind of undominated social relations the republican tradition has always pleaded for. Finally, section 4 draws some conclusions on the epistemic and political meanings of commercial republicanism as an emancipatory project for contemporary societies.

Published on 26th October, 2013, in Economic Thought Vol 2, No 2, 2013