Adam Smith on the Dangers of sacrificing one’s Liberty for the supposed benefits of the “lordly servitude of a court” (1759)

Adam Smith

Found in Theory of Moral Sentiments and Essays on Philosophical Subjects (1869)

This passage comes from a chapter entitled “Of the Origin of Ambition and of the Distinction of Ranks” in Adam Smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759):

Are you in earnest resolved never to barter your liberty for the lordly servitude of a court, but to live free, fearless, and independent? (Then…) (n)ever enter the place from whence so few have been able to return; never come within the circle of ambition; nor ever bring yourself into comparison with those masters of the earth who have already engrossed the attention of half mankind before you.

2009 was the 250th anniversary of the publication of Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments. It is a landmark work for several reasons. Firstly, it reveals that Smith was not just one of the founding fathers of modern political economy but a moral philosopher of the first order. One of his strengths is that he melds the two disciplines into a coherent theory of human interaction. Another fact to note is that this volume is the best seller among all the books published by Liberty Fund.