Sir James Steuart (1713–1780)

  • J. E. King


It was with reference to Sir James Steuart that T. W. Hutchison wrote: ‘In no branch of the subject is the dictum about history being the reward of the victors more valid than in the history of economics.’1 Steuart’s Inquiry into the Principles of Political Oeconomy was the first systematic economic treatise to be published in Britain, and introduced the very term ‘political economy’ into the English language.2 But he was eclipsed by his compatriot Adam Smith, if not within his own lifetime then most definitely in the eyes of subsequent generations. In recent decades there has been something of a Steuart revival, accompanied, however, by fundamental differences in the interpretation of his ideas. For some commentators Steuart was a moderate liberal, a pioneer proponent of the mixed economy, and an important predecessor of Keynes on both theoretical matters and issues of economic policy.3 Others see him as the ‘apotheosis of mercantilism’, an enemy of the free market who urged the establishment of a corporate state.4 A third view, influenced by Steuart’s own ideological background as well as by the assessment of Karl Marx, is that he was essentially an early historical materialist whose prime concern was the interrelationship between economic development and sociopolitical change.5


Political Economy Foreign Trade Economic Thought Monthly Review Original Stress 
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  1. 1.
    T. W. Hutchison, review of Sir James Steuart, An Inquiry into the Principles of Political Oeconomy, ed. A. S. Skinner (Edinburgh: Oliver & Boyd, 1966), hereafter cited as Principles, Economic Journal 77, 1967, p. 645.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
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  4. 3.
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Copyright information

© J. E. King 1988

Authors and Affiliations

  • J. E. King
    • 1
  1. 1.University of LancasterUK

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