Throughout his academic life Alan has been asking questions about the nature and origins of our individualistic, capitalist, industrial world. In the 1990's he started to examine a number of great thinkers who had devoted their whole lives to trying to answer these questions, from Montesquieu onwards. Alan published studies of five of them in two long and detailed books, The Riddle of the Modern World (2000) and The Making of the Modern World (2001). Because of their length and the dense information, they reached a very small audience. So he decided to split the studies up into separate thinkers. To these five he then added two more volumes, one on Thomas Malthus and the second on four important thinkers, starting with David Hume.
In each book Alan explores the ways a thinker or thinkers try to understand the birth and growth of the modern world. They have each looked outside their own time and culture to try to find the deeper laws and tendencies, the accidents and patterns, which have governed the development of societies and civilizations. In particular he has been interested to explore the relationship between the life and the work of each thinker, how their experiences and work methods shaped their theoretical contributions.
All the studies will be published in Chinese as well as English.
A lecture given by Alan on the ‘Making of the Modern World’ at the Grimsby Historical Association can be found here.
Adam Smith and the Making of the Modern World
Adam Smith was one of the three founders of modern classical economics, along with Malthus and Ricardo. Yet he was much more than an economist. He was a true polymath with a vast width of knowledge and a close friend of the philosopher David Hume. to understand him we have to look not just at his famous Wealth of Nations (1776) but also his Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759), Lectures on Jurisprudence (1982)and his Essays on Philosophical Subjects (1982). Bringing his life and work together we see a man who decisively shaped our modern world and laid out the blue-print for modern affluence.
Alexis De Tocqueville and the Making of the Modern World
Alexis de Tocqueville was one of the greatest political scientists of all time. His Democracy in America (1835, 1840) and Ancien Regime (1856 ) are classics. Yet his work is not always easy to understand since it needs to be seen as a work which combines his essays, letters, travels and other materials. Through an examination of all of these we can see that Tocqueville, more than any other thinker, understood the deep roots of individualism, equality and fraternity and in doing so the origins of the modern world. His three-way comparison of France, England and America is unique and deeply illuminating.
F.W. Maitland and the Making of the Modern World
F.W. Maitland is sometimes thought of as merely a great legal historian of England. Yet in over three thousand published pages, including his History of English Law (1895) with F. Pollock (of which Maitland wrote all but one chapter), his Collected Papers in three volumes (1911), The Constitutional History of England (1919) and many other works he reveals himself to be one of the profoundest thinkers on how our modern world emerged, on a level with Montesquieu and Tocqueville. Maitland's works on Trusts, on Equity, on Government and on the great tradition of English Common Law explain, in brilliant and simple prose, how the quintessential institutions of successful democracy.
A lecture given in Downing College Cambridge, to celebrate the work of F. W. Maitland, can be found here.
Four Approaches to the Making of the Modern World
Out of the dozens of western thinkers from the eighteenth century onwards who have influenced his work, Alan Macfarlane has chosen four representatives. For the eighteenth-century Enlightenment, there is the philosopher and historian David Hume. For the nineteenth-century there is the lawyer and comparative anthropologist Sir Henry Maine. For the years between 1920 and the 1950's there is the Weberian sociologist Norman Jacobs with his comparison of Japan, China and the West. For the second half of the twentieth century there is the philosopher, sociologist and anthropologist Ernest Gellner.
Montesquieu and the Making of The Modern World
Montesquieu is widely regarded as one of the founders of many of the social sciences. His broad erudition and deep concentration led to his great work The Spirit of the Laws, published in 1748. Before that he had written other notable works including the Persian Letters, published in 1721. By considering his life and his work in relation to each other, and all his works alongside each other, we can see inside the mind of one of the greatest of modern thinkers. He was the first great global thinker who could base his work on sources from around the world.
Thomas Malthus and the Making of the Modern World
Thomas Malthus was one of the three founders of modern economics, alongside Adam Smith and David Ricardo. He was also the founder of modern demography (population studies). In his Essay on the Principle of Population (1798), turned into a greatly expanded and in many ways different book in the second edition of 1803, Malthus laid out his famous laws of population, later amended to tendencies. The influence of this book has been immense, not merely on theoretical discussions in economics and the social sciences, but also in the practical legislation of the early nineteenth century and the policies of those who ruled the British Empire. His theories also provided the key to the idea of natural for both Alfred Russell Wallace and Charles Darwin.
Yukichi Fukuzawa and the Making of the Modern World
Yukichi Fukuzawa is arguably the greatest Japanese social thinker of the last three centuries. In numerous books, in particular An Outline of a Theory of Civilization (1973) and Autobiography (1972) he outlined his many ideas, not least on the raised status of women.
By setting up bookshops, universities, schools, modern accounting, and modern manufacture he became one of the principal architects of modern Japan, where his image is still on the highest-denomination Japanese banknote. Through his travels to the West and reading of western philosophy he discovered the secret essence of civilization and modernity and explained this to his countrymen and women.
Alan has given two lectures featuring Fukuzawa at Berkeley University, California. The first of which, titled ‘How to Understand Japan’, can be found here. The second lecture explores ‘Two visions of Japan’ is linked here. Draft of the first lecture can be found here and a similar piece for the second lecture here.