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Adam Smith

Adam Smith

Philosophers worldwide have contributed to wide-ranging economic, social, cultural, and political concepts and ideas that dominate present-day thinking. One of these philosophers is Adam Smith, a scholarly Scottish bachelor whose development theory based on the Laissez-Faire principle has defined and shaped capitalism (Heilbroner, 1999). Like most philosophers and scholars, Smith was not as famous during his time as he does today. This means that his works were either opposed or had an insignificant impact on society. Over time, Smith’s philosophical writings, such as the “Wealth of Nations,” have become inextricably linked to the major declarations of human rights (Heilbroner, 1999). In particular, there are many similarities between Smith’s proposals during the Age of Enlightenment and the following declarations: Declaration of Independence, Declaration of the Rights of Man, and Declaration of the Rights of Woman. Given their writings’ cruel and harsh context, Smith and the authors’ philosophical insights of the identified declarations were influenced by ideas of eradicating tyranny, tolerance, equality, just government, and individual freedom.

Overview of Declarations

Declaration of the Rights of Man. This Declaration traces back to the French Revolution when the French National Assembly convened to legislate what would constitute the proposed utopian republic’s concrete details and structure (National Assembly, 1789). The document’s key components comprise its recognition of the importance of the separation of powers, prohibition of arbitrary arrests and undue duress to any arrested persons, presumption of innocence, and assertion of property rights. Additionally, the French Declaration provides different forms of freedom: religion, speech, and the press (National Assembly, 1789). Ultimately, the document seeks to protect diversity regarding expression, religious opinions, and coverage of sociopolitical and economic issues affecting the country.

Declaration of the Rights of Woman. Olympe de Gouges, a French actress, Girondist sympathizer, and fervent Revolution participant, wrote this Declaration in 1971, identifying rights that every woman and female citizen should enjoy like any other citizen and resident. According to de Gouges, social distinctions between women and men should be based on the common good because both are born free and remain equal (de Gouges, 2016). The Declaration challenges all forms of political associations to preserve both sexes’ imprescriptible and natural rights. De Gouges identified these rights as resistance to oppression, freedom, security, and property.

The Declaration advocates a need for society, especially political societies, to incorporate the laws governing nature and reason to reform “the endless tyranny of man,” which is central in limiting women (de Gouges, 2016, p. 51). de Gouges emphasizes the equality of man and woman before the law, insisting on equal opportunities in all public employment, dignities, and positions. Most importantly, she stressed that access to opportunities should be based on individual abilities, virtues, and talents, not any other gender-based distinctions (de Gouges, 2016). Concisely, de Gouges’ Declaration of the Rights of Women seeks to ensure women’s inclusion in drafting and implementing the Constitution because they are both born free and constitute the majority of the Nation.

Declaration of Independence. While this Declaration was drafted and signed by several deluges from 13 different states in 1776, the final document has been attributed to several revisions made by Thomas Jefferson. In particular, Jefferson made critical changes to the form, such as removing a long paragraph about the active role played by King George III in the widely opposed slave trade (Jefferson, 1776). The Declaration of Independence drew on various documents, including the Virginia Declaration of Rights, to communicate the 13-states’ call for independence from the British government. The statement affirmed through justifications the colonists’ decision and right to rebel against the tyrant British authorities. Most importantly, the document was founded on the premise that “all men are created equal” (Jefferson, 1776). Equality is a unique characteristic that gives man the inalienable and inviolable rights to pursue happiness, life, and freedom or liberty.

Declarations v. Adam Smith: Similarities and Differences

From the summaries, it is evident that approximately all aspects of the three declarations are similar. First, the phrase and principle “Men are born equal and free” has cut across the three declarations. For instance, the statement serves as the first article of Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence, with de Gouges using it as the first right of woman and man (Jefferson, 1776; de Gouges, 2016). Given these declarations’ importance to rights, both agree that civil distinctions can only be based on the common good, utility. Second, the three representations’ authors demonstrated their fundamental concern with initiatives or programs that would achieve political, spiritual, economic, social, and intellectual emancipation. While some declarations covered rights in detail, they all advance toleration through reason and associated rational principles as a prerequisite for reforming government, social behavior, religious practices, and society.

Besides the similarities that feature across the three declarations, the contents of these documents support and draw on Smith’s proposals about a capitalist society. According to Heilbroner (1999), Smith firmly believed that a community is least likely to flourish if the larger portion of its population is wretched and miserable. Smith emerged as a strong opponent to mercantilism by advocating the abolition of stringent and retrogressive economic restraints and any forms of monopolies. In other words, he proposed free trade that would balance self-interest or selfish motives and competition in the market system (Heilbroner, 1999). The three declarations recognise healthy competition as a critical component of a free society. Men and women are given equal opportunities based on their abilities and not any other discriminative distinctions (Jefferson, 1776; de Gouges, 2016; National Assembly, 1789). Both Smith and the authors of the declarations railed against extreme control, which they sought to be replaced by a rational assessment of oppressive sociopolitical systems.

Smith insisted on significant government reforms to eliminate any elements of political tyranny. In supporting the idea of inclusivity or diversity regarding religious freedom and other forms of liberty, de Gouges (2016) and the French National Assembly (1789) emphasize toleration as a source of legitimate authority. The legitimate authority would resonate with Smith’s first law of economics: profit motive, which provides that an unregulated or free-market system motivates people, men, and women, to engage in activities for which individual society members are willing to pay (Heilbroner, 1999). ¬†Additionally, the Declaration of Independence states that all men must not be deprived of their rights through oppression because freedom is sacred, inalienable, and inviolable.

Smith argues that a free environment creates social harmony by preventing ruthless exploitation by the government and profiteers. In other words, through interaction, the pursuit of personal interests allows the profiteer to unintentionally contribute to their societies because they have to offer products and jobs at reasonable prices and wages, respectively (Heilbroner, 1999). Smith’s economic distribution concept confirms the thinkers’ view about citizens’ rights and women: equality, liberty, control of property, and resistance to tyranny or oppression and any forms of injustice. Consequently, the economic proposals by Smith and the various statements and rights captured in the three declarations all commingle to define what constitutes an ideal world. The declarations provide natural laws that shape human relationships in different social settings: workplace, religious places, schools, and government, and the role of people and institutions tasked with implementing the Constitution, political leaders.


de Gouges, O. (2016). “Olympe de Gouges (1748-17830, Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Female Citizen, 1791.” In: Caroline Warman Tolerance: The Beacon of Enlightenment (pp. 49-51). Open Book Publishers.

Heilbroner, R. (1999). “The wonderful world of Adam Smith.” In: The worldly philosophers: The lives, times, and ideas of the great economic thinkers. Simon & Schuster.

Jefferson, T. (1776). Declaration of Independence: Right to institute new government.

National Assembly. (1789). Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen.

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