"A truly benevolent legislator always endeavours to make it the interest of each individual to be virtuous; and thus private virtue becoming the cement of public happiness, an orderly whole is consolidated by the tendency of all the parts towards a common centre."--Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, Chapter 9.
The main point of Wollstonecraft's Vindication is, of course, to argue that "to render [women's] private virtue a public benefit," women must be granted (equal) civil rights. But she does so with a vocabulary that is clearly meant to echo and rebuke Mandeville's 'private vices, public benefits.' Wollstonecraft insists that a wise legislator can create the proper institutional framework in which all of humankind can sensibly and successfully pursue their interests in virtue and consequently serve the greater (and orderly not to say happy) good. Here I leave aside how much ongoing calibration ("always"?) a Wollstonecraftian legislative craftswoman must be asked to perform, and do some history of ideas on the sources of these ideas in Adam Smith.
In fact, in the passage above Wollstonecraft follows Smith's in two ways. First, she implicitly links Rousseau to Mandeville (see Smith here and here). Second, in the passage above she echoes an unjustly ignored, but absolutely central, paragraph in The Theory of Moral Sentiments (TMS):
"It is thus that man, who can subsist only in society, was fitted by nature to that situation for which he was made. All the members of human society stand in need of each others assistance, and are likewise exposed to mutual injuries. Where the necessary assistance is reciprocally afforded from love, from gratitude, from friendship, and esteem, the society flourishes and is happy. All the different members of it are bound together by the agreeable bands of love and affection, and are, as it were, drawn to one common centre of mutual good offices."--Adam Smith (in recent scholarship only Ryan Hanley has given this passage its due; this week's post is dedicated to him in admiration!)
Wollstonecraft and Smith agree that within the context of division of labor, we can create institutions that facilitate what we may call a noble commerce of mutual friendship such that a society is flourishing and happy.
Now, the very next paragraph in TMS is often taken as Smith's considered statement of rejecting a society of generosity. For Smith writes, "Society may subsist among different men, as among different merchants, from a sense of its utility, without any mutual love or affection; and though no man in it should owe any obligation, or be bound in gratitude to any other, it may still be upheld by a mercenary exchange of good offices according to an agreed valuation." This utilitarian society of negative freedom is often associated with Smith's Wealth of Nations. Let's leave aside here the vexed question how utilitarian Wealth of Nations really is. There are at least two very good reasons to resist this more minimal interpretation and accept the Wollstonecraftian, nobler reading of Smith.
First, just before these two paragraphs in TMS, Smith had claimed that "the magistrate...may prescribe rules, therefore, which not only prohibit mutual injuries among fellow-citizens, but command mutual good offices to a certain degree." (Here) So, in TMS, Smith cautiously embraces the nobler road. But one might be inclined to think that in Wealth of Nations (WN) Smith does embrace the more minimal position: "it is by treaty, by barter, and by purchase, that we obtain from one another the greater part of those mutual good offices which we stand in need of." But, second, this is compatible both with us (a) dealing with each other in the spirit of friendship as well as (b) with the magistrate enforcing some mutual good offices. Even so, it might seem that (a) goes against the spirit of WN, where Smith writes that "In civilized society" we stand "at all times in need of the cooperation and assistance of great multitudes," while one's "whole life is scarce sufficient to gain the friendship of a few persons." So, one might claim that according to Smith (a) is simply impractical. But in WN Smith also claims that "Commerce...ought naturally to be, among nations, as among individuals, a bond of union and friendship." So, in some contexts commerce can itself become a source of friendship. In particular, throughout Smith's writings we are offered two interpretations of commercial society: (i) the sophistry-ridden, jealous one animated by "the mean rapacity" merchants ; (ii) and the one that has space for "generous, noble, or tender sentiment." (Importantly, (ii) is offered in context of fears about the damage done to the worker by division of labor.) Much bad Smith scholarship misses Smith's critical stance toward (i) and wishes away (ii).
Now, this is not the place to offer a detailed account of what a commercial society that animates friendship looks like. Echoing my recent two posts about Elinor Ostrom, I will just claim that a legislator of such a society should promote voluntary exchange of the right sort. As Wollstonecraft and Smith, understood, this should not be code for absolute property-rights. In particular, they both advocated the abolishment of inherited property, and any system that consists "in multiplying dependents and contriving taxes which grind the poor to pamper the rich;" they agree that "Taxes on the very necessaries of life," which fall disproportionally on the poor, isn't merely unjust and absurd, but these also have a worse moral-pyschological cost, in that they "enable an endless tribe of idle [rich] to pass with stupid pomp before a gaping crowd, who almost worship the very parade which costs them so dear." (cf. Smith)