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The Scottish path to capitalist agriculture 3: the enlightenment as the theory and practice of improvement

Davidson, Neil (2005) The Scottish path to capitalist agriculture 3: the enlightenment as the theory and practice of improvement. Journal of Agrarian Change, 5 (1). pp. 1-72. ISSN 1471-0358

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Abstract

The second in this series of articles traced the transformation of Scottish agriculture during the period between 1747 and 1815. The Scottish Enlightenment is usually seen either as a passive expression of these and related economic changes, or as a local variant on European-wide intellectual trends with little direct connection to economy or society. In fact, it was directly involved in the transformation in three ways: as a theory of socio-economic development ('political economy'), a programme for agrarian change and the movement for its implementation ('Improvement'). The Scottish Enlightenment theorists were always conscious of the oppressive aspects of the division of labour which were inevitable under their own model of 'commercial society'. Towards the end of the eighteenth century, however, they became increasingly aware of how 'actually existing capitalism' concentrated power in ways that the model had not predicted. Faced with the counter-revolutionary onslaught on British radicalism which occurred in response to the French Revolution, the Scottish Enlightenment shattered under the weight of these contradictions into its component academic disciplines. The economic aspects of the Scottish Revolution accomplished, political economy increasingly shed all elements of critique and became reduced to an intellectually rigorous justification for the now capitalist landowning classes and the emergent industrial bourgeoisie.