The Invisible Hand and the Cunning of Reason

Edna Ullmann-Margalit

This paper traces the ideological career of the notion of the invisible hand, from the 18th century to the 20th. Two main models of invisible-hand explanations are distinguished: the aggregative and the evolutionary. The argument is made that the contemporary use of the idea of the invisible hand by conservatives as against liberals and social planners springs from not distinguishing between these two models. The latter part of the paper draws a comparison between the idea of the invisaible hand and Hegel's historically-related idea of the cunning of reason.

May, 1997
Published in: 
Social Research 64 (1997), 181-198