chapter  4
25 Pages

Economic thought in Arthur O Connor’s The State of Ireland: reducing politics to science


Introduction Published on 1 February 1798, The State of Ireland was one of the last pamphlets to go into circulation before the United Irishman rebellion of that summer. Its author Arthur O’Connor (1763-1852) was a prominent member of the United Irishmen. He was also a follower of the work of Adam Smith having read The Wealth of Nations in his teenage years.2 Despite being a pamphlet, The State of Ireland contains enough economic thought to be of interest to scholars of the subject. Although the work draws heavily on the Wealth of Nations it is worth examining as an application of the principles in that tome. In particular, O’Connor’s attempt to use the principle of self-interest to explain the governance of Ireland and the implications for the economic conditions of its people is worthy of greater attention. The purpose of this paper is to present the economic thought in O’Connor’s pamphlet. The authors believe that there is enough of the economic method in the work for it to be considered a forerunner of public choice and institutional economics. The next section provides a biographical sketch of Arthur O’Connor. The third section gives a brief overview of the intellectual environment of the time by presenting Irish political thought in the late eighteenth century. The fourth section presents the economic thought in The State of Ireland and highlights the similarities with various aspects of the Wealth of Nations. O’Connor’s work is then located by reference to Adam Smith and Edmund Burke. The sixth section explains how O’Connor’s legacy was more biological and spiritual than intellectual as illustrated by the life and works of his illegitimate son William Conner and his nephew Feargus O’Connor. The relevance of O’Connor’s work for twenty-­first­century­economics­is­introduced­in­the­concluding­section.