Adam Smith's Inquiry Into the Nature and Causes of the Death of Nations
1776 witnessed the publication of two of the great texts of the Enlightenment: Edward Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, and Adam Smith’s Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. Scholars have often noted how Gibbon adopted economic concepts taken from Smith. My talk reverses the causal arrow to bring to the fore Smith's extensive and underappreciated engagement with Gibbon’s main political concern: the causes of the decline and fall of once-great nations. In reconstructing Smith's theory of national decline and fall, it especially focuses on Smith's seemingly paradoxical insistence on the ways in which the growth of national opulence weakens national power in ways that render a nation susceptible to both external and internal threats.
Ryan Hanley is Professor of Political Science at Boston College and a noted scholar of the political philosophy of the Enlightenment period. Among his books are Adam Smith and the Character of Virtue (Cambridge: 2009), Love’s Enlightenment: Rethinking Charity in Modernity (Cambridge, 2017) and Our Great Purpose: Adam Smith on Living a Better Life (Princeton, 2019). You can view his Hayek Lecture here