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date: 19 March 2019

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter provides an overview of attitudes to political economy and the contentious debate about luxury in eighteenth-century Britain. The central idea of political economy at this time was that the wealth and interconnectedness generated by commerce was the key to human progress and at a more mundane level both societal survival and national security. This generated debates about the role of inequality in commercial society, the role of agriculture and different forms of private property in the genesis of trade, the extent of necessary reliance upon luxury goods and international markets, the moral content of the fully commercial society, and the likely role of religion within it. Such were the issues that obsessed the generations of British writers interested in political economy, from William Temple (1623–87) to Adam Smith (1723–90) and Jeremy Bentham (1748–1832), and that shaped diverse reform projects from physiocracy and utilitarianism to physiology and social science into the new century.

Keywords: political economy, commerce, luxury, politics, government, commercial society, international relations, enlightenment

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