You are not currently logged in. Please create an account or log in to view the full course.


4. Classical Liberalism: Adam Smith and Herbert Spencer

This is the course trailer. Please create an account or log in to view this lecture.

  • Description
  • Cite

About this Lecture


In this module, we think about the application of liberal thought to economics, focusing in particular on: (i) the concept of laissez-faire economics; (ii) Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations (1776), the benefits of specialization by the division of labour, the importance of the freedom of movement of labour, goods and capital, and the concept of the ‘invisible hand’; (iii) David Ricardo (1772-1823) and the theory of comparative advantage; (iv) Jean-Baptiste Say (1767-1823) and the law of markets (= Say’s law), which states “supply constitutes its own demand”; (v) the views of figures such as Richard Cobden (1804-65) and John Bright (1811-89), who promoted free trade and the abolition of tariffs and trade restrictions such as the Corn Laws; (vi) the moral dimension of laissez-faire, encapsulated in the first line of Samuel Smile’s Self-Help (“Heaven helps those who help themselves”); (vii) Herbert Spencer (1820-1903) and the (controversial) concept of Social Darwinism.


In this course, Professor Jeremy Jennings (King’s College, London) provides an overview of Liberalism from its origins to the present day. In the first module, we provide a broad introduction to liberalism as a political philosophy, focusing in particular on its origins in the sixteenth century and its evolution between the seventeenth and twenty-first centuries. In the second module, we look more closely at the development of liberalism in the 17th and 18th centuries, focusing in particular on the works of Thomas Hobbes, John Locke and Mary Wollstonecraft. In the third module, we think about the contribution to liberalism of John Stuart Mill, before turning in the fourth module to the application of liberalism to the economic sphere. In the fifth module, we think about the emergence of new liberalism at the beginning of the twentieth century, focusing especially on the work of John Maynard Keynes, J. A. Hobson, and Leonard Hobhouse, before turning in the sixth module to consider the development of liberalism in the post-war period and the works of Raymond Aron, Karl Popper, Isaiah Berlin and (especially) Friedrich Hayek. Finally, in the seventh module, we focus on one of the most important work of political philosophy in the last fifty years – John Rawls’ Theory of Justice.


Jeremy Jennings is Professor of Political Theory at King's College, London. His research focuses upon the history of political thought in France. He is presently finishing a book provisionally entitled Travels with Tocqueville and is acting as co-editor of the Cambridge Encyclopedia of French Thought. A larger, long-term project is to write a history of the concept of liberty.

Cite this Lecture

APA style

Jennings, J. (2020, February 11). Liberalism - Classical Liberalism: Adam Smith and Herbert Spencer [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Jennings, J. "Liberalism – Classical Liberalism: Adam Smith and Herbert Spencer." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 11 Feb 2020,