“Conservatives who believe that free markets are the most optimal of imperfect economic systems thus need to rethink about how to integrate their case for markets into the broader conservative agenda,” says Samuel Gregg in this week’s Acton Commentary. “And here, I’d argue, the man whose thought gave birth to modern conservatism has much to teach us.”
Though widely considered modern conservatism’s intellectual progenitor, Edmund Burke’s economic views generally receive sparse attention. Burke’s conservatism is mainly linked to his religious orthodoxy, his defense of what he called “ancient liberties,” and his relentless criticism of the French Revolution’s destruction of many of the institutions that protected freedom and social order.
Rather fewer people know that Burke was a committed free trader, a strong defender of private property, and a skeptic of government economic intervention. He once described Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations as being “in its ultimate results,” “perhaps the most important book ever written.” Burke’s literary executors, French Laurence and Walker King, even claimed that Burke “was also consulted, and the greatest deference was paid to his opinions by Dr. Adam Smith, in the progress of the celebrated work on the Wealth of Nations.” When Smith’s magnum opus appeared in 1776, Burke reviewed it for the widely-read Annual Registrar. He sang the book’s praises as a text which managed to achieve that most difficult of goals: to “teach things that are by no means obvious.”