Divine Oeconomy


The Role of Providence in Early-Modern

Economic Thought before Adam Smith

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The rise of early-modern economics is commonly linked to a secularization of economic thought. Mercantilism, the first of its currents, largely developed outside the sphere of influence of Church and theology and unlike scholastic economics analyzed economic problems from a non-religious point of view. However, unlike what the intensive controversy on the Weber-thesis suggested, the relationship between early-modern economics and theology should not be reduced to ethical questions. Of course, that economic thought secularized in terms of a disappearance of religiously-inspired ethical considerations is not to say that it did so in every respect. Traditionally, another possible connection between theology and the economy was the doctrine of divine providence. This dissertation provides a more or less representative overview of ‘economic providentialism’ in the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The central questions are what the content of these economic-theological ideas was, in what language they were voiced and what function they had. The central chapters discuss five different ways in God and the economy were being associated. The areas of international trade, division of labour, value and price, self-interest, and poverty and inequality all showed traces of divine influence. Instead of desecrating the economic domain, early-modern writers on economics more than ever before granted God a role in it. Nevertheless, the way in which this was done testifies to a process of transformation. The traditional idea of a caring and governing God was gradually emptied of content and was mainly employed for explanatory and strategic reasons. In the early-modern period, the doctrine of providence not so much disappeared as was transformed.

Divine Oeconomy - cover

Table of Contents

1. Introduction 1
1.1 Economic revolutions 1
—-The rise of a new ‘science’ 3
1.2 Political economy and religion 6
—-The question of divine providence 9
1.3 Aim, scope and outline 11
2. Divine providence, natural theology and the economy 15
2.1 Introduction 15
2.2 Divine providence: intellectual origins 17
Classical philosophy 18
The Bible 21
Christian theology 23
A traditional view 25
2.3 Towards Enlightenment: providence contested 28
The early-modern transformation 30
The rise of deism 35
2.4 Divine enlightenment: providence as ‘popular’ belief 38
Visible sermons: providence observed 40
Historical evidence: providence collected 42
Natural theology: providence proved 45
2.5 Preliminary conclusions 49
2.6 Prelude: divine oeconomy 50
Economy in natural theology 52
Natural theology in economics 55
3. International trade: God’s universal economy 59
3.1 Introduction 59
3.2 A sound and right philosophy: pagan and Christian origins 63
Four building blocks 64
The other side of trade 69
3.3 God Himself speaks this in nature: the rise of economic universalism 71
Political philosophy 72
Natural-law philosophy 76
Mercantilism 80
3.4 Dazzles of the devil: new economic interpretations 82
Some higher thoughts 85
3.5 The great designe of God Almighty: towards freedom of trade 88
The Enlightenment contribution 92
The Physiocrats 95
3.6 The book of nature: theological reflections 97
3.7 Concluding remarks 100
4. Division of labour: the divine ordering of society 103
4.1 Introduction 103
4.2 From Prometheus to Providence: theological background 106
A cosmos of callings 109
4.3 A sort of oeconomy in Providence: economic interpretations 112
Climatic influences 116
Ernst Ludwig Carl 118
4.4 Concluding remarks 119
5. Value and price: a providential abundance of necessities 123
5.1 Introduction 123
5.2 As Pindar said: ancient and medieval origins 125
Christian interpretations 128
5.3 As Vitruvius justly philosophizes: natural-law philosophy 131
5.4 Sand from the shores of Japan: economic interpretations 135
Precious metals revaluated 140
5.5 The mighty hand of the Great Preserver: natural theology 142
5.6 Concluding remarks 144
6. Self-interest: the invisible hand of God 147
6.1 Introduction 147
6.2 From war to market-friendship: the Hobbes-Mandeville challenge 150
Thomas Hobbes 151
Bernard Mandeville 153
6.3 Enlightened self-love: theological and philosophical counterattacks 156
French Jansenism 157
British sentimentalism 162
Self-love and social the same 167
6.4 The laws of commerce: solutions from political economy 168
Pierre Boisguilbert 169
The Physiocrats 172
Ferdinando Galiani 176
Josiah Tucker 178
6.5 Concluding remarks 182
7. Poverty and inequality: rich and poor God-willed 187
7.1 Introduction 187
7.2 God wills it: justifications from theology and philosophy 191
The problem of theodicy 192
Traditional arguments 194
Whatever is, is right 198
7.3 For the happiness of men: economic writers about the poor 199
The utility of poverty 201
Prodigious inequalities 202
7.4 Monstrous differences: enlightenment, progress and inequality 205
7.5 Invincible bars: the wealth and poverty of nations 211
7.6 Concluding remarks 216
8. Conclusions 219
8.1 God and the economy 219
8.2 The role of divine providence 221
8.3 Suggestions for further research 225
Appendix A. Defoe on ‘divinity in the original of trade’ 227

Index of Names
Acosta, Joseph (José) de
Addison, Joseph
Agricola, Georgius
Albertus the Great
Alembert, Jean le Rond d’
Alexander of Hales
Allen, John
Althusius, Johannes
Andrews, Thomas
Anthony of Florence
Argenson, Antoine-René de Voyer d’
Armstrong, Clement
Arrérac, Jean d’
Ascham, Anthony
Augustine of Hippo
Bacon, Francis
Barbon, Nicholas
Barlaeus, Caspar
Basil the Great
Baxter, Richard
Bayle, Pierre
Beard, Thomas
Beccaria, Cesare
Bekker, Balthasar
Belesbat, seigneur de (Charles Paul Hurault de l’Hôpital)
Bell, Theodorus van der
Bentham, Jeremy
Bentley, Richard
Bernard of Sienna
Blanch, John
Blount, Charles
Boaistuau, Pierre
Bodin, Jean
Boecler, Johann Heinrich
Boëtie, Étienne de la
Bogan, Zachary
Bohun, Edmund
Boisguilbert, Pierre
Bolingbroke, Henry St. John
Bornitz, Jakob
Botero, Giovanni
Bres, Guido de
Brooke, Henry
Bruni, Leonardo
Bruyère, Jean De la
Burke, Edmund
Burlamaqui, Jean Jacques
Burnet, Gilbert
Burnet, Thomas
Bury, J.B.
Butler, Joseph
Caesarius of Arles
Calvin, John
Campanella, Tommaso
Campbell, Robert
Cantillon, Richard
Carl, Ernst Ludwig
Carmichael, Gershom
Cary, John
Cherbury, Herbert of
Child, Josiah
Cholmely, William
Chrysostom, John
Chubb, Thomas
Clarke, Samuel
Clarke, Samuel (minister)
Clement of Alexandria
Clement, Simon
Cocceji, Heinricus
Cockburn, John
Coke, Roger
Colbert, Jean Baptiste
Collins, Anthony
Columbus, Christopher
Condillac, Étienne Bonnot, Abbé de
Coornhert, Dirck Volkertsz.
Crucé, Émeric
Cumberland, Richard
Davanzati, Bernardo
Davenant, Charles
Decker, Matthew
Defoe, Daniel
Derham, William
Descartes, René
Dickson, Adam
Diderot, Denis
Diogenes the Cynic
Domat, Jean
Duclos, Charles Pinot
Duns Scotus, John
Dupont de Nemours, Pierre Samuel
Dupré de Saint-Maur, Nicolas-François
Durkheim, Émile
Eligius of Noyon
Engelman, Christian Friedrich
Éon, Jean (Mathias de Saint-Jean)
Erasmus, Desiderius
Estienne, Henri
Expilly, Claude
Fénelon, François
Ferguson, Adam
Forbonnais, François Véron Duverger de
Fordyce, David
Formey, Samuel
Franck, Paul
Franklin, Benjamin
Froger, Eléonor
Fruytier, Jacobus
Galiani, Celestino
Galiani, Ferdinando
Gassendi, Pierre
Genovesi, Antonio
Gentili, Alberico
Gentleman, Tobias
Gervaise, Isaac
Gomberdiere, M. de la
Gower, John
Graswinckel, Dirck
Gregoras, Nikephoros
Gregory of Nazianzus
Gregory the Great
Grimm, Friedrich Melchior
Grotius, Hugo
Grove, Henry
Harris, James
Harris, Joseph
Hartlib, Samuel
Heilbroner, Robert
Heineccius, Johann Gottlieb
Henry of Langenstein
Hermes Trismegistus
Hobbes, Thomas
Holbach, Paul-Henri Thiry d’
Holberg, Ludvig
Hoornbeek, Johannes
Hörnigk, Philipp von
Huet, Pierre-Daniel
Humbert of Romans
Hume, David
Hutcheson, Francis
Iselin, Isaak
Jacquelot, Isaac
Jansenius (Jansen), Cornelius
Jaucourt, Louis de
Jenyns, Soame
Johnson, Samuel
Johnson, Thomas
Justi, Johann Heinrich Gottlob von
Kames, Lord (Henry Home)
King, Gregory
King, William
Laffemas, Barthélemy de
Laffemas, Isaac de
Leibniz, Gottfried Wilhelm
Leland, John
Libanius of Antioch
Liceti, Fortunio
Lindsay, Patrick
Lipsius, Justus
Locke, John
Loën, Johann Michael von
Luther, Martin
Lycosthenes, Conrad
Mably, Gabriel Bonnot de
Machiavelli, Niccolò
Madden, Samuel
Mair, John
Malebranche, Nicolas
Malestroit, Jean
Malynes, Gerard
Mandeville, Bernard
Marcus Aurelius
Mariana, Juan de
Marperger, Paul Jacob
Martyn, Henry
Marx, Karl
Massie, Joseph
Mather, Cotton
Mather, Increase
Maxwell, Henry
Melon, Jean-François
Mendelssohn, Moses
Mercier de La Rivière, Paul-Pierre Le
Metre, Alexander Christian de
Mirabeau, Victor Riqueti
Misselden, Edward
Molloy, Charles
Montaigne, Michel de
Montchrétien, Antoyne de
Montesquieu, Charles de
Monzambano, Severinus de
More, Henry
More, Thomas
Morellet, André
Morelly, Étienne-Gabriel
Morgan, Thomas
Mortimer, Thomas
Moss, Robert
Mun, Thomas
Münster, Sebastian
Murray, Alexander
Nash, Thomas
Newton, Isaac
Nicole, Pierre
Nieuwentyt, Bernard
North, Dudley
Olivi, Peter
Pain, Lewis
Palingenius Stellatus, Marcellus
Pascal, Blaise
Paul the Apostle
Peacham, Henry
Perrière, Guillaume de la
Peter the Apostle
Petty, William
Philo of Alexandria
Pico della Mirandola, Giovanni
Pinto, Isaac de
Plattes, Gabriel
Ploos van Amstel, Albertus
Pluche, Noël-Antoine
Pollexfen, John
Pomponazzi, Pietro
Poole, Matthew
Pope, Alexander
Postel, Guillaume
Postlethwayt, Malachy
Pufendorf, Samuel
Pulteney, William
Quesnay, François
Ray, John
Reimarus, Hermann Samuel
Rende, Johann Christian
Reynolds, John
Richard of Middleton
Richardson, J.
Robertson, William
Rochefoucauld, François de la
Rollin, Charles
Rolt, Richard
Rosières, François de
Rousseau, Jean-Jacques
Sachs, Hans
Saint-Péravy, Guérineau de
Savary, Jacques
Sextus Empiricus
Shaftesbury, Lord (Anthony Ashley Cooper)
Sherlock, William
Simancas, Diego (Jacobo) de
Smith, Adam
Smith, William
Sonnenfels, Joseph von
Spinoza, Benedictus de
Stanhope, Philip
Steele, Richard
Steele, Richard (minister)
Steuart, James
Sturm, Christoph Christian
Suarez, Francisco
Süßmilch, Johann Peter
Swammerdam, Jan
Tawney, Richard
Taylor, Charles
Theodoret of Cyrus
Thomas, John
Thomas Aquinas
Timaeus of Locri
Tindal, Matthew
Toland, John
Torrens, Robert
Trosne, Guillaume François Le
Tryon, Thomas
Tucker, Josiah
Turgot, Anne-Robert-Jacques
Turnbull, George
Turner, William
Udemans, Godefridus
Uffelmann, Heinrich
Ursinus, Zacharias
Valla, Lorenzo
Vanderlint, Jacob
Vattel, Emmerich de
Vauban, Sébastien Le Prestre de
Veblen, Thorstein
Velde, Abraham van de
Vespucci, Amerigo
Vico, Giambattista
Viner, Jacob
Vitoria, Francisco de
Vives, Juan Luis
Voltaire (François-Marie Arouet)
Vos, Willem de,
Vossius, Gerardus
Wallace, Robert
Watts, Isaac
Weber, Max
Wesley, John
Whatley, George
Wheeler, John
Wilkins, John
Wolff, Christian
Woolston, Thomas
Wycliffe, John


p. 172 – note 88: ‘Le main invisible’ > ‘La main invisible’

p. 255 – reference Horne: 1979 > 1978


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