The Soul's Economy

Market Society and Selfhood in American Thought, 1820-1920

By Jeffrey Sklansky

336 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, notes, index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-8078-5398-6
    Published: September 2002
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-0-8078-6143-1
    Published: October 2003
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-6984-5
    Published: October 2003

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Awards & distinctions

2004 Cheiron Book Prize, Cheiron, the International Society for the History of Behavioral and Social Sciences

Tracing a seismic shift in American social thought, Jeffrey Sklansky offers a new synthesis of the intellectual transformation entailed in the rise of industrial capitalism.

For a century after Independence, the dominant American understanding of selfhood and society came from the tradition of political economy, which defined freedom and equality in terms of ownership of the means of self-employment. However, the gradual demise of the household economy rendered proprietary independence an increasingly embattled ideal. Large landowners and industrialists claimed the right to rule as a privilege of their growing monopoly over productive resources, while dispossessed farmers and workers charged that a propertyless populace was incompatible with true liberty and democracy.

Amid the widening class divide, nineteenth-century social theorists devised a new science of American society that came to be called "social psychology." The change Sklansky charts begins among Romantic writers such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Margaret Fuller, continues through the polemics of political economists such as Henry George and William Graham Sumner, and culminates with the pioneers of modern American psychology and sociology such as William James and Charles Horton Cooley. Together, these writers reconceived freedom in terms of psychic self-expression instead of economic self-interest, and they redefined democracy in terms of cultural kinship rather than social compact.

About the Author

Jeffrey Sklansky is associate professor of history at Oregon State University in Corvallis.
For more information about Jeffrey Sklansky, visit the Author Page.


"[This] inspired and inspiring book sheds light both on the transformation of nineteenth-century thought and on the political limitations of social theory after the cultural turn."--Journal of American Studies

"Displays the importance of the human sciences for showing the culturally oriented roots that run deep in American society. . . . Rich scholarship. . . . Offers a resource for understanding or even healing some of our deepest polarizations."--Journal of the History of Behavioral Sciences

"A satisfying book; Sklansky tackles a big subject, asks big questions, and offers provocative answers."--Historian

"An ambitious, tightly argued, sometimes dense, but finally rich and rewarding book."--Business History Review

"Jeffrey Sklansky has produced a learned and carefully crafted work that, as has been seen, carries a sting in its elegant tail."--American Journal of Sociology

"The Soul's Economy is a well-researched and copiously documented book. . . . Sklansky's cross-disciplinary approach to the evolution of thinking on selfhood is interesting and enlightening."--Journal of the History of Economic Thought