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  • RYAN WALTER (a1)


Britons viewed speculative thinking as a primary cause of the French Revolution and the disorders that followed. In this context, Edmund Burke and others identified a form of enthusiasm that was theoretical, not religious, in nature, but which also corrupted reasoning to disastrous effect. This article investigates how this accusation was made against David Ricardo and his political economy, and the variable defences that he deployed. The result is to uncover the language that was used to appraise political economy in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, along with the intellectual disciplines that were prescribed to protect economic reasoning from falling into fantasy.



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1 Schumpeter, Joseph A., History of Economic Analysis (Oxford, 1994; first published 1954), 472–3, 494, 540–41, 668.

2 Ibid., 472, 494, 569–70.

3 Pocock, J. G. A., “Political Thought in the English-Speaking Atlantic, 1760–1790. Part 2: Empire, Revolution and the End of Early Modernity,” in Pocock, J. G. A., Schochet, Gordon J., and Schwoerer, Lois G., eds., The Varieties of British Political Thought, 1500–1800 (Cambridge, 1993), 283318, at 302.

4 Klein, Lawrence and La Vopa, Anthony J., eds., Enthusiasm and Enlightenment in Europe, 1650–1850 (San Marino, 1998).

5 Burke, Edmund, Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790), in Burke, Revolutionary Writings:Reflections on the Revolution in France and the First Letter on a Regicide Peace, ed. Hampsher-Monk, Iain (Cambridge, 2014), 1250.

6 Pocock, J. G. A., “Perceptions of Modernity in Early Modern Historical Thinking,” Intellectual History Review, 17/1 (2007), 7992, at 59.

7 For a synthesis of this research see Heyd, Michael, Be Sober and Reasonable”: The Critique of Enthusiasm in the Seventeenth and Early Eighteenth Centuries (Leiden, 1995).

8 John Mee, “Anxieties of Enthusiasm: Coleridge, Prophecy, and Popular Politics in the 1790s,” in Klein and La Vopa, Enthusiasm and Enlightenment in Europe, 179–203; J. G. A. Pocock, “Enthusiasm: The Antiself of Enlightenment,” in Klein and La Vopa, Enthusiasm and Enlightenment in Europe, 1650–1850, 7–28.

9 Stewart, Dugald, Elements of the Philosophy of the Human Mind (1792), in The Collected Works of Dugald Stewart, ed. Hamilton, W., vol. 2 (Edinburgh, 1854), p. 220.

10 Stewart, Elements of the Philosophy of the Human Mind, 220.

11 Ibid.

12 Pocock, J. G. A., Virtue, Commerce, and History: Essays on Political Thought and History, Chiefly in the Eighteenth Century (Cambridge, 1985), 14. I am also indebted to Quentin Skinner's notion of an appraisive vocabulary; see his “The Idea of a Cultural Lexicon,” in Skinner, Visions of Politics, vol. 1 (Cambridge, 2002), 158–74.

13 See Guttridge, G. H., “Thomas Pownall's The Administration of the Colonies: The Six Editions,” William and Mary Quarterly, 26/1 (1969), 3146.

14 Pownall, Thomas, “A Letter from Governor Pownall to Adam Smith,” in Glasgow Edition of the Works and Correspondence of Adam Smith, 6 vols. (Oxford, 1976–87), 6: 337–76, at 337.

15 Ibid., 337, original emphasis.

16 Ibid., 340, original emphasis.

17 Ibid., 347, original emphasis.

18 Ibid., 348, original emphasis.

19 Ibid., 339–40.

20 Ibid., 349.

21 Both suggestions are made in the editorial footnote to Smith, Adam, “The Theory of Moral Sentiments,” in Glasgow Edition of the Works and Correspondence of Adam Smith, 1: 231 n. 6.

22 Ibid., 227–8.

23 Ibid., 231.

24 Ibid., 232.

25 Ibid., 232–3.

26 Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France, 187.

27 Ibid., 188.

28 Ibid., 59.

29 Malthus, Thomas Robert, An Essay on the Principle of Population (1798), in The Works of Thomas Robert Malthus, ed. Wrigley, E. A. and Souden, D., 8 vols. (London, 1986), 1: 6.

30 Ibid., 6.

31 Ibid., 6–7.

32 Ibid., 8.

33 Stewart, Elements of the Philosophy of the Human Mind, 208–9. This discussion is influenced by the treatment of Stewart's Elements and his lectures on political economy in Collini, Stefan, Winch, Donald and Burrow, John, That Noble Science of Politics: A Study in Nineteenth-century Intellectual History (Cambridge, 1983), 2361.

34 Stewart, Elements of the Philosophy of the Human Mind, 209.

35 Ibid., 178–9.

36 Ibid., 214.

37 Ibid., 214.

38 Ibid., 222.

39 Ibid., 224.

40 Ibid., 227.

41 Ibid., 229–30.

42 Epstein, James, Radical Expression: Political Language, Ritual, and Symbol in England, 1790–1850 (Oxford, 1994), 23–6.

43 Rothschild, Emma, Economic Sentiments: Adam Smith, Condorcet, and the Enlightenment (Cambridge, MA, 2002), 55. For the legal and social persecutions brought to bear on radicals and reformers see Johnston, Kenneth R., Unusual Suspects: Pitt's Reign of Alarm and the Lost Generation of the 1790s (Oxford, 2013).

44 Fetter, Frank Whitson, “The Politics of the Bullion Report,” Economica, 26/102 (1959), 99–120, at 102.

45 Ibid., 104.

46 Fetter, Frank W., Development of British Monetary Orthodoxy, 1797–1875 (Cambridge, MA, 1965), 2663; Fontana, Biancamaria, Rethinking the Politics of Commercial Society: The Edinburgh Review 1802–1832 (Cambridge, 1985), 118–21.

47 Malthus surveyed the debate in 1811 in his “Depreciation of Paper Currency,” published in the Edinburgh Review. He correctly identified Ricardo as coinciding with the report's views regarding the monetary analysis of the issue but then diverging from them by excluding the demand for Britain's goods and services as a factor affecting the exchange. Malthus, Thomas Robert, “Depreciation of Paper Currency,” in The Works of Thomas Malthus, vol. 7, ed. Wrigely, E. A. and Souden, D. (London, 1986), 21–56, at 24–5.

48 Fetter, The Politics of the Bullion Report of 1810, 104–6.

49 Ibid., 108–11, 118.

50 Jackson, Randle, The Speech of Randle Jackson, Esq: Delivered at the General Court of the Bank of England, Held on the 20th of September, 1810, Respecting the Report of the Bullion Committee of the House of Commons: with Notes on the Subject of that Report (London, 1810), 5 at *. Ricardo does seem to have treated the bank as a constant political target; see Milgate, Murray and Stimson, Shannon C.’s Ricardian Politics (Princeton, 1991), 67.

51 Bosanquet, Charles, Practical Observations on the Report of the Bullion Committee (London, 1810). Sraffa nominated Bosanquet as a serious opponent (Sraffa, Piero, “Note on the Bullion Essays,” in The Works and Correspondence of David Ricardo, ed. Sraffa, Piero, 11 vols. (Indianapolis, 2004; first published 1951–77), 3: 312, at 10. Ricardo made the same point (David Ricardo, “Reply to Bosanquet,” in ibid., 3: 159–256, at 159).

52 O'Shaughnessy, Andrew J., “Bosanquet, Charles (1769–1850),” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford, 2004); Lee, Grace Lawless, The Story of the Bosanquets (Canterbury, 1966), 8081.

53 Bosanquet, Practical Observations, 3–48.

54 Ibid., 38, 45, 68.

55 Ibid., 92–100, 108.

56 Bosanquet, Practical Observations, 1; Mushet, Robert, An Enquiry into the Effect produced on the National Currency and Rates of Exchange by the Bank Restriction Bill (London, 1810).

57 Bosanquet, Practical Observations, 1–2. In saying so Bosanquet seems to have inaugurated the tradition of erroneously tracing paternity of the inquiry to Ricardo. On this fallacious tradition see Fetter, Frank W., “The Bullion Report Reexamined,” Quarterly Journal of Economics, 56/4 (1942), 655–65.

58 Bosanquet, Practical Observations, 1–2.

59 Ibid., 3.

60 Ibid., 4.

61 For a discussion of these theoretical issues in historical context see chap. 2 of Frank W. Fetter's Development of British Monetary Orthodoxy.

62 Bosanquet, Practical Observations, 10.

63 Ibid., 16.

64 Ibid., 17.

65 Ibid., 25.

66 Ibid., 23.

67 See Laslett, Peter, “John Locke, the Great Recoinage, and the Origins of the Board of Trade: 1695–1698,” in Yolton, J., ed., John Locke: Problems and Perspectives, a Collection of New Essays (Cambridge, 1969), 137–64.

68 Bosanquet, Practical Observations, 37.

69 Ibid., 36.

70 Ibid., 47.

71 Ibid., 48.

72 Ibid., 108.

73 Ibid.

74 House of Commons Select Committee on the High Price of Gold Bullion, Report of the Select Committee on the High Price of Gold Bullion (London, 1810), 2.

75 Bosanquet, Practical Observations, 108–9.

76 Ricardo, “Reply to Bosanquet,” 160.

77 Ibid.

78 Ibid., 165.

79 Ibid., 172.

80 Ibid., 190.

81 Ibid., 218.

82 Ibid., 165.

83 That is, as if gold (the standard in England) and silver (the standard in Hamburg) held a constant exchange ratio with one another as bullion.

84 Ricardo, “Reply to Bosanquet,” 169–70.

85 Ibid., 170–72.

86 Ibid., 173–4.

87 It was used by Dugald Stewart, and likely disseminated through his students. See Collini, Winch and Burrow, That Noble Science, 33. To take Francis Horner as an example, Depoortère, Christophe, “On Ricardo's Method: The Scottish Connection Considered,” History of Political Economy, 40/1, (2008), 73110, finds a link between Stewart and Ricardo via Horner.

88 Ricardo, “Reply to Bosanquet,” 181.

89 Ibid., 182.

90 Ibid., 252.

91 Ibid., 202–3.

92 Smith, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, in Glasgow Edition of the Works and Correspondence of Adam Smith, 1–2: 328–9.

93 Bosanquet, Practical Observations, 86–91.

94 Smith's point was that the price of money is determined by its supply and demand; taxes were simply one factor influencing demand.

95 Ricardo, “Reply to Bosanquet,” 238.

96 Ricardo further claimed that the committee was perfectly amenable to the idea that taxation accounted for part of the rising prices; only 18 per cent was to be attributed to the depreciation of the circulating medium because that was the extent of the divergence between the markets in the mint price of gold. Ibid., 239.

97 Ibid., 239.

98 Ibid., 195.

99 See Tribe, Keith, Land, Labour and Economic Discourse (London, 1978), chap. 6, for a discussion of pamphlets from the same year by Malthus, Torrens and West. I am indebted to Tribe's text and Peach, Terry’s detailed study of Ricardo, Interpreting Ricardo (Cambridge, 1993).

100 David Ricardo, An Essay on the Influence of a Low Price of Corn on the Profits of Stock (1815), in Works, 4: 1–42, at 21.

101 David Ricardo, On the Principles of Political Economy, and Taxation (1817), in Works, 1: 1–443, at 5. All references are to the first (1817) edition of Ricardo's Principles, since this was the edition reviewed in the British Review article discussed at length below. Sraffa collated all editions, taking the third edition (1821) as the base text.

102 Ricardo, On the Principles of Political Economy, and Taxation, 13.

103 Peach, Interpreting Ricardo, 150.

104 For which see ibid., 161–4.

105 He also homogenized different types of labour for the purposes of analysis—acknowledging the differences in skill and reward but then setting aside this complication. Ricardo, On the Principles of Political Economy, and Taxation, 20–22.

106 Ricardo, On the Principles of Political Economy, and Taxation, 26–9.

107 A key mechanism in the Essay carried into the Principles, which allowed Ricardo to generalize effects in agriculture to the entire economy. Ricardo, An Essay on the Influence of a Low Price of Corn on the Profits of Stock 13, 23–6.

108 Ricardo, On the Principles of Political Economy, and Taxation, 59–60. See Peach's discussion of this in Peach, Interpreting Ricardo, 162–3.

109 Ricardo, On the Principles of Political Economy, and Taxation, 61, 63.

110 Ibid., 17.

111 Pinsent, Joseph, Letters to the Chairman of the Committee of the Hon. the House of Commons on the Agricultural Distresses, Stating the Causes of Those Distresses and Pointing out the Remedies for Them: and to David Ricardo . . . in Answer to his Speech of the 7th of March, 1821, Designed to Demonstrate the Errors of the Theory Which that Gentleman Advocates (London, 1821), repr. in Peach, Terry, ed., David Ricardo: Critical Responses, vol. 1 (London, 2003), 229–38, at 232.

112 Anonymous, “Causes and Remedies of Agricultural Distress,” Farmer's Magazine, May 1822, 200–22, repr. in Peach, David Ricardo: Critical Responses, 290–311, at 291.

113 Anonymous, “Review of On Protection to Agriculture,” British Critic, May 1822, 449–68, repr. in Peach, David Ricardo: Critical Responses, 312–28, at 322–3.

114 Ibid., 323.

115 Anonymous, “Review of Des Principes de l'Economie Politique et de L'Impót,” British Critic, Dec. 1819, 561–78, repr. in Peach, David Ricardo: Critical Responses, 130–44, at 136.

116 Ibid., 138–9.

117 Anonymous, “Review of Principles of Political Economy, Part II,” British Critic, Sept. 1820, 275–93, repr. in Peach, David Ricardo: Critical Responses, 193–208, at 198.

118 Ibid., 208.

119 Anonymous, “Review of Principles of Political Economy, Part I,” British Critic, Aug. 1820, 117–38. repr. in Peach, David Ricardo: Critical Responses, 173–92, at 180.

120 Ibid. 175–6.

121 Anonymous, “Article XV. Political Economy and Taxation,” British Review, Nov. 1817, 309–33, at 309.

122 Ibid., 309.

123 Ibid., 310.

124 Ibid., 318.

125 Ibid., 312, 314.

126 Ibid., 319.

127 Ibid., 310.

128 Ibid., 320.

129 Ibid, 311–12.

130 Ricardo, Works, 7: 219.

131 Ibid., 222.

132 Anonymous, “Article XV. Political Economy and Taxation,” 313–16.

133 Ibid., 315.

134 Ricardo, Works, 7: 256.

135 Thomas Robert Malthus, Principles of Political Economy (1820), in Works, 5–6: 5.

136 Ibid., 7.

137 Ibid.

138 Ibid., 8.

139 Ricardo, David, “Notes on Malthus's Principles of Political Economy,” in Works, 2: 1452, at 6–7.

140 David Ricardo, in Works, 8: 184.

141 Anonymous, “Review of On Protection to Agriculture,” 323.

142 Winch, Donald, “Introduction,” in James Mill: Selected Economic Writings, ed. Winch, Donald (London, 1966), 197–8. Note also Clark's suggestion that by attacking the Corn Laws Ricardo was attacking the existing social order. Clark, J. C. D., English Society 1660–1832: Religion, Ideology and Politics during the Ancien Regime, 2nd edn (Cambridge, 2000), 188–9.

143 J. G. A. Pocock, “Political Thought in the English-Speaking Atlantic,” 308.

144 Tribe, Land, Labour and Economic Discourse, 120, 127, 145.

145 Pocock, Virtue, Commerce and History, 201–3.

146 A similar point has been made by Depoortère, “On Ricardo's Method: The Scottish Connection Considered,” 106, who also disputed the justness of characterizing Ricardo as an a priori thinker.

147 Pownall, “A Letter from Governor Pownall to Adam Smith,” 340.

148 Stewart, Elements of the Philosophy of the Human Mind, 222.

149 Torrens, Robert, Essay on the Production of Wealth (London, 1821), iv.

150 See de Marchi, N. B. and Sturges, R. P., “Malthus and Ricardo's Inductivist Critics: Four Letters to William Whewell,” Economica, 40/160 (1973), 379–93; Hollander, Samuel, “William Whewell and John Stuart Mill on the Methodology of Political Economy,” Studies in History and Philosophy of Science, 14/2 (1983), 127–8. Both Whewell and Jones made the allegation of enthusiasm: Jones, Richard, An Essay on the Distribution of Wealth, and on the Sources of Taxation (London, 1831), xiiixiv; Whewell, William, Mathematical Exposition of Some of the Leading Doctrines in Mr Ricardo's “Principles of Political Economy and Taxation” (London, 1831), 7.

151 See the essays collected in Lively, Jack and Rees, John, eds., Utilitarian Logic and Politics: James Mill's “Essay on Government,” Macaulay's Critique and the Ensuing Debate (Oxford, 1978).

152 Susie I. Tucker, Enthusiasm: A Study in Semantic Change (Cambridge, 1972), 163.

* I am grateful to Conal Condren, Martyn Lloyd, Terry Peach, Mark Philp, Anna Plassart, Donald Winch and the anonymous referees for helpful comments on earlier versions of this paper. I also benefited from feedback given by colleagues at the Centre for the History of European Discourses, University of Queensland. Special thanks are due to Ian Hunter for help in thinking through the premises of the argument. This research was supported by the Australian Research Council (DE130101505).


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