Development and Underdevelopment in the History of Economic Thought

The Nurse of Fanaticism: Adam Smith on the Origin of Anti-Establishment Movements

Bee Michele, University of Lausanne

The rise of anti-establishment movements in contemporary societies has prompted political and economic studies on the causes of their resurgence. This article explores Adam Smith’s views on the origin of these movements, analysing his treatment of fanaticism, which is usually seen only as a problem of religious zealotry. His analysis finds echoes in recent literature on populism, in particular with regard to the moral dichotomy between the people and the elite, the role played by the rhetoric of the leaders and economic crisis. The aim of this article is to point up the causal connection highlighted by Smith between frustration in bettering one’s condition, as experienced by most people, and the rise of anti-establishment movements.

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Keywords: Adam Smith, anti-establishment movements, populism, economic insecurity