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Was Adam Smith a liberal?

I like to call myself a classical liberal, someone who is in favor of personal responsibility, limited government and voluntary collective action. (I add the last bit because some people seem to think that being a classical liberal means you're in favor of selfishness or survival-of-the-fittest individualism).

Alan Wolfe in his book The Future of Liberalism rejects the idea of classical liberals vs. modern liberals. He argues that liberalism means being in favor of letting as many people as possible being in control of their own lives. He argues that Adam Smith is a liberal, period, without qualification. He argues that Hayek is not a liberal under that definition. He blogs on this point, here.

It is a very interesting book, tracing the roots of liberalism back to the debate between Rousseau and Kant. I don't agree with his view of Hayek but I learned a lot from the book.

In the latest episode of EconTalk, Wolfe defends his view of Hayek and Smith, condemns evolutionary biology, and generally makes the case for liberalism.


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