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The Fable of the Bees

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Bernard Mandeville's scandalous and influential work on private vices and public benefits, published first as The Grumbling Hive, a poem, in 1705.

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Bernard Mandeville (1670-1733) and his critique of the economy as he found it in London, where private vices were condemned without acknowledging their public benefit. In his poem The Grumbling Hive (1705), he presented an allegory in which the economy collapsed once knavish bees turned honest. When republished with a commentary, The Fable of the Bees was seen as a scandalous attack on Christian values and Mandeville was recommended for prosecution for his tendency to corrupt all morals. He kept writing, and his ideas went on to influence David Hume and Adam Smith, as well as Keynes and Hayek.


David Wootton
Anniversary Professor of History at the University of York

Helen Paul
Lecturer in Economics and Economic History at the University of Southampton


John Callanan
Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at King’s College London

Producer: Simon Tillotson

Available now

42 minutes

Last on

Thu 25 Oct 2018 21:30


David Wootton at the University of York

Helen Paul at the University of Southampton

John Callanan at King's College London

The Fable of the Bees or Private Vices, Publick Benefits by Bernard Mandeville and edited by F. B. Kaye - The Online Library of Liberty

The Fable of the Bees - Wikipedia



John Kenneth Galbraith, A History of Economics: The Past as the Present (Penguin, 1991) 

M. M. Goldsmith, Private Vices, Public Benefits: Bernard Mandeville’s Social and Political Thought (Cambridge University Press, 1985)

Thomas A. Horne, The Social Thought of Bernard Mandeville: Virtue and Commerce in Eighteenth Century England (Columbia University Press, 1978)

Albert O. Hirschman, The Passions and the Interests: Political Arguments for Capitalism before Its Triumph (Princeton University Press, 2013)

E. J. Hundert, The Enlightenment’s Fable: Bernard Mandeville and the Discovery of Society (first published 1994; Cambridge University Press, 2008)

Joel Mokyr, The Enlightened Economy: An Economic History of Britain, 1700-1850 (Yale University Press, 2012)

Irwin Primer (ed.), Bernard Mandeville’s “A Modest Defence of Publick Stews”: Prostitution and Its Discontents in Early Georgian England (Palgrave Macmillan, 2006)

David Wootton, Power, Pleasure, and Profit: Insatiable Appetites from Machiavelli to Madison (Harvard University Press, 2018)



  • Thu 25 Oct 2018 09:00
  • Thu 25 Oct 2018 21:30

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