The emergence of “liberal” as a political term
”How Adam Smith and other Scots Originated a Political Meaning for the Term ”Liberal” and Launched ”Liberalism”, with Dan Klein, professor of Economics at George Mason University.
Seminar at Ratio, January 8th, 18.00-19.30. Treats are served from 17.30. Address: Sveavägen 59, Stockholm.
Google’s massive digitization of texts has opened up research possibilities formerly undreamt of. Using tools such as n-grams, Daniel Klein reveals the first political usages of the term ”liberal”.
The results show that ”liberal” in a political sense originates in Scotland, notably with the Edinburgh University history William Robertson in 1769 and Adam Smith in 1776. Adam Smith’s signal use of ”liberal”, and promulgation by Scots such as Dugald Stewart, is what really launched the take-off of ”liberal” to describe what indeed became liberalism.
Swedes such as George Adlersparre were picking up on Adam Smith’s usage of ”liberal”. This study shows that the original political use of ”liberal” had at the core of its meaning, not democracy, not political participation, not state redistribution, but rather Smith’s natural liberty.
Daniel Klein is a professor of economics at George Mason University, where he leads a program in Adam Smith. He is chief editor of Econ Journal Watch, and an associate fellow of the Ratio Institute.
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