'Spurs to industry' in Bernard Mandeville’s fable of the bees

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Abstract

Discussion of the political economy of Bernard Mandeville has largely centred around an attempt to locate his thinking within the development of ‘Classical Economics’. Within such accounts he is labelled either as a precursor of Smith and a herald of the dawning era of capitalism and laissez-faire individualism, or a remnant of seventeenth-century mercantilism, following on the tradition laid down by writers such as Thomas Mun, and William Petty. While applying late eighteenth- and nineteenth-century ‘-isms’ to Augustan writing may seem somewhat anachronistic, the lengthy debate on this issue does reveal two very different accounts of the role of labour. The central contention of this article is that confusion over this issue emerges from an alteration in Mandeville’s thinking after 1720, when his confidence in the ability of ‘the passions’ to create a self-regulating and prosperous social order began to wane. My aim is to examine the nature of this change, and provide the historical context to explain its origin.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)151-165
Number of pages15
JournalJournal for Eighteenth-Century Studies
Volume28
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2005

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