Insurance and the Language of Risk in Early Modern Political Thought

Authored by: Emily C. Nacol

The Routledge Companion to Media and Risk

Print publication date:  March  2020
Online publication date:  February  2020

Print ISBN: 9781138638938
eBook ISBN: 9781315637501
Adobe ISBN:

10.4324/9781315637501-4

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Abstract

This chapter explores eighteenth-century British practices of insurance and their place in political thinking and writing about risk. It begins with an account of the emergence and formation of an insurance industry in modern Britain, beginning with its early modern roots in marine ventures and insurance and acknowledging Britain’s unusual willingness to tolerate the practices of life insurance. The chapter then turns to two common models of insurance in Britain in this period: corporate marine insurance, and local friendly societies. By reading Adam Smith and Daniel Defoe on these respective models, the chapter discuses three features of insurance: its hybrid status as a public and private good, its cultivation of prudent and risk-averse behaviors in consumers, and its tight relationship to already-existing gambling practices and further encouragement of risky speculative habits. The chapter concludes with a brief discussion of one of the troubling legacies of insurance: its solidification of the idea of property in human life, which itself posed a risk to human freedom and agency.

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