The Influence of Thomas Carlyle among Economists in Britain, c. 1880–1920

in Historical Reflections/Réflexions Historiques
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  • 1 University of Göttingen, Germany
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Thomas Carlyle (1795–1881) is commonly remembered as the archnemesis of economics, which he notoriously dubbed “the dismal science.” This article, however, suggests that Carlyle’s ideas in fact had a considerable influence among economists during the decades following his death. Indeed, an array of economists cited Carlyle in criticizing self-interest, laissez-faire, and materialism, in suggesting that economic science ought to accord greater importance to moral and ethical factors, and in urging the “Captains of Industry” and the state to exercise paternal guidance over the working classes. In short, Carlyle’s writings shaped these economists’ understanding, portrayal, and critique of the previous generation of so-called “old” economists, as well as their self-understanding as self-professed “new” economists.

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