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A 'Foundation in Nature': New Economic Criticism and the Problem of Money in 1690s England
Eighteenth Century: Theory and Interpretation (2012)
  • Courtney Weiss Smith, Wesleyan University

This essay reconsiders new economic criticism’s assumptions about the role of nature in late seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century economic thought. I take the debates surrounding the English recoinage crisis as a test case. As I read economic tracts by John Locke, William Lowndes, Nicholas Barbon, and James Hodges alongside an array of anonymous polemical policy pamphlets, I demonstrate that many writers addressed the recoinage problem by turning with urgency to the created natural world. They believed that close attention to the material properties of silver bullion, for example, could access encoded clues about God’s will for human economic institutions. I argue that advocates of all three of the most important positions on the recoinage—the conservative position privileging bullion as well as the more innovative suggestions that are often read as proto-capitalist—scrutinized nature and articulated their policy proposals as the best available approximations of a supra-human order. I thus insist that it is time to rethink the critical assumptions that relegate all engagements with the natural world to a hostile conservative reaction against new money culture, as well as to complicate influential teleologies that imagine modernization as a dematerializing process. Indeed, I suggest that even more forward-looking, dematerialized notions of monetary value were worked out, in this moment, by writers who believed that nature contained clues about how their economies ought to work.

  • Recoinage debates,
  • John Locke,
  • William Lowndes,
  • bullion,
  • nature,
  • providence,
  • new economic criticism
Publication Date
Summer 2012
Publisher Statement
All rights reserved. Except for brief quotations used for purposes of scholarly citation, none of this work may be reproduced in any form by any means without written permission from the publisher. For information address the University of Pennsylvania Press, 3905 Spruce Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19104-4112.
Citation Information
Courtney Weiss Smith. "A 'Foundation in Nature': New Economic Criticism and the Problem of Money in 1690s England" Eighteenth Century: Theory and Interpretation Vol. 53 Iss. 2 (2012)
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