John Millar, The Origin of the Distinction of Ranks; or,
An Inquiry into the Circumstances which give rise to Influence and
Authority in the Different Members of Society, edited and with an Introduction by Aaron Garrett (Indianapolis: Libety Fund, 2006).
The Origin of the Distinction of Ranks is one of the major
products of the Scottish Enlightenment and a masterpiece of
jurisprudence and social theory. Building on David Hume, Adam Smith,
and their respective natural histories of man, John Millar developed a
progressive account of the nature of authority in society by analyzing
changes in subsistence, agriculture, arts, and manufacture. The Origin of the Distinction of Ranks
is perhaps the most precise and compact development of the abiding
themes of the liberal wing of the Scottish Enlightenment. Drawing on
Smith’s four-stages theory of history and the natural law’s traditional
division of domestic duties into those toward servants, children, and
women, Millar provides a rich historical analysis of the ways in which
progressive economic change transforms the nature of authority. In
particular, he argues that, with the progress of arts and manufacture,
authority tends to become less violent and concentrated, and ranks tend
to diversify. Millar’s analysis of this historical progress is nuanced
and sophisticated; for example, his discussion of servants is perhaps
the best developed of the “economic” arguments against slavery.
This book is part of the Liberty Fund collection Natural Law and Enlightment Series. A copy of the book can be ordered from Liberty Fund's online catalog. Other Liberty Fund books are also available online at this site.