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Adam Smith on feudalism, commerce and slavery

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I will argue in what follows that the reading of Smith which attributes to him a theory of the transition from feudalism to capitalism, and the implications which follow from it, are unfounded. There are three key aspects of the interpretation which I will challenge. First, that Smith's account of the destruction of feudal power by the progress of commerce is related to an explanation of the transition to the commercial stage; second, that the decline in baronial power incorporates Smith's account of the ending of serfdom and a change in relations of production in the Marxian sense; and third, that the rise of international commerce -- the ‘prime-mover’ in the whole process, is a force which is external to European feudalism.

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Mancheste.

Publication date: February 1, 1992


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