"CIVIL LIBERTY WAS THE GREAT OBJECT OF FERGUSON'S ENTERPRISE": FIRST EDITION OF ADAM FERGUSON'S MAGNUM OPUS, ESSAY ON THE HISTORY OF CIVIL SOCIETY, 1767, A SEMINAL WORK OF THE SCOTTISH ENLIGHTENMENT PUBLISHED BEFORE ADAM SMITH'S WEALTH OF NATIONS AND "A PRECURSOR OF TOCQUEVILLE'S DEMOCRACY"
FERGUSON, Adam. An Essay on the History of Civil Society. Edinburgh: A. Millar & T. Caddel in the Strand, London, and A. Kincaid & J. Bell, Edinburgh, 1767. Quarto, contemporary full mottled calf, raised bands, red morocco spine label; pp. (i-iii), iv-vii, (viii), (1), 2-430. $14,000.
First edition of Ferguson's authoritative work, drawing on a Machiavellian "understanding of virtue" and positioned "between Montesquieu and Tocqueville" in its profound influence, with Jefferson owning a personal copy and Madison, who purchased his own copy in 1775, naming the Essay, with Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations, as essential "for the use of the U.S. in Congress assembled." Handsome in contemporary calf.
Ferguson and his colleague Adam Smith, known as the "two Adams," were born the same year and stand at the center of the Scottish Enlightenment with David Hume and Francis Hutcheson. This first edition of Ferguson's Essay on the History of Civil Society, considered his magnum opus, "appeared between the publication of Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments (1757) and Wealth of Nations in 1776" (Weinstein, Two Adams). Ferguson is also positioned by scholars—and history—"between Montesquieu and Tocqueville; his Essay stands between Spirit of the Laws and Democracy in America… [yet] it was more than an artful transcription of Spirit. For Ferguson had a science of politics which… went deeper. In particular, he formulated a theory of civil society which focused exclusively on the intrinsic and potentially fatal flaw of modern commercial society: corruption. Ferguson's theory of politics and society was the precursor of Tocqueville's Democracy. Like Tocqueville, Ferguson saw the potential hazards of… commerce: a new and terrible slavery was in the offing where a single tyrant would be replaced by a whole society" (McDowell, Commerce, 537-8). "Admired by Samuel Johnson and Holbach, complimented by Gibbon and Voltaire, and esteemed by Hume and Smith" (ODNB), Ferguson was also credited by Marx "for the theory of alienation… and the young Hegel had read and reread the Essay as he was formulating his own theory of civil society" (McDowell, 539).
"Civil liberty was the great object of Ferguson's enterprise. And his design was to protect the people and their liberty from themselves" (McDowell, 548). In this and other essential respects Ferguson "differed from Hobbes and Hume, who founded morals in utility, from Adam Smith's Theory of Sympathy, and from the moral sense of Shaftesbury and Hutcheson" (Encyclopedia of Philosophy III, 187). "Ferguson's understanding of virtue was Machiavellian… the virtuous man was not the man of quiet contemplation, but the man of high-minded-civic concern… A constitution, Ferguson argues, was not merely a body of isolated laws… [but] a national schoolmaster from whom citizens take their lessons in civility" (McDowell, 545). Both Ferguson and Founding Father James Madison "realized that beneficial conflict must take place among groups that share some things in common" (Branson, James Madison and the Scottish Enlightenment, 249). In his Essay Ferguson observes: "the wisest laws are… opposed or amended, by different hands; and come at last to express that medium of composition which contending parties have forced one another to adopt." Jefferson owned a later edition of the Essay: it was "at the core of his studies of government," along with Locke's Two Treatises, Montesquieu's Spirit and other key writings (Randall, 206). Madison, who purchased his own copy in 1775, entered it, along with Hume's "political essay" and Smith's Wealth of Nations on a 1783 list the Federal Congress requested for "books to be imported for the use of the U.S. in Congress assembled" (Branson, 236-7). "Ferguson's thought was original and distinctive" (Hill, Passionate Society, 1, 21), and in present disputes, where "the concept of 'civil society' figures, Ferguson is often invoked as authority" (Kettler, Civil Society and Politics, 2). "His multi-layered intellectual persona, and his particular blend of Scottish, British and European concerns were thus freshly relevant to political sensibilities on the threshold of the 21st century" and remain even more so today (ODNB). ESTC T76205. Goldsmiths I:10264. Sowerby 2348. Lownees II, 791. CBEL II:955. Palgrave II:53. From the library of the Ducs de Luynes at the Château de Dampierre (bookplate and shelf label).
Two leaves (3A3-4) with upper corners turned down (printer's error), not affecting text. Only very mild occasional foxing. Expert repairs to joints and extremities of attractive contemporary calf binding. An excellent copy.