The article investigates the concept of natural order as it is used by
François Quesnay and Adam Smith in their respective economic writings.
While Smith used the concept only after having visited Quesnay
and the Physiocrats in France in the 1760s, in The Wealth of Nations he sought to
negotiate the meaning of what was “natural” about economic life. The Physiocrats
believed it possible to identify a model or a perfect regime of natural
order—an order that they in fact thought to exist and function in China due
to a rigorous system of economic laws. Smith sided with contemporary critics
of this metaphysical vision of economic perfection (and of Chinese governance),
but he suggested that the economic mechanisms of the physiocratic
theories would remain intact even with a minimum of control by state laws.
However, Smith’s balancing act on these questions remained disputed even
by his Scottish successors in political economy, and the problem of ordering
the society from the vantage point of an economic science was rephrased as a
problem of combining the physiocratic metaphysics of natural order with the
“business of the world” as expounded by Smith.