From Locke versus Rousseau to the Present
New Thinking in Political Economy series
Scholars have long noted the differences between the American Founding and the outcome of the French Revolution. Those differences reflect the evolving tension between the two narratives. The French Revolution was the decisive event for the next stage in the development of the Equality Narrative just as the American Revolution provided the next step in the Liberty Narrative. Compared with the American scene, which emerged in a fairly smooth fashion from the Declaration of Independence through the Constitution and beyond, the French situation went far less smoothly. While Locke, Smith, and the American Revolution brought the economic question out of the household and made it a political question – and thus gave birth to political economy – Rousseau, the French Revolution, and European authors of the early nineteenth century brought the economic question out of the polity and made it a social question. They gave birth to the Equality Narrative of socialism that understands itself in opposition to the Liberty Narrative of political economy. The Equality Narrative challenges political economy on behalf of “social economy.” Poverty replaces profit as the central category of the scope and method of economic inquiry. What do “we” do with the poor? What do “we” do with the marginalized? Where is “our” social conscience? What is the cause of the poverty of a nation rather than what is the cause of the wealth of a nation becomes the focus of attention.
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