Put somewhat crudely, we would have to speak here of the emergence of a liberal despotism. […] This momentous moral-philosophical shift was probably first made explicit by the physiocrats […] The market guarantees that natural laws can pertain equally to moral life; and the forces of the market make it possible for economic law, in particular, to represent natural rights in general. […] One inevitable consequence of this overall accommodation to the market is that the distinction, stemming from the modern theory of the state, between civil society and the state of nature no longer makes sense. The market cancels or elides this distinction and eliminates the associated aporias of natural law. It circumvents the social contract and presents itself as a kind of état de nature. [p.30] What later goes by the name of “liberalism” thus first took the form of naturalism, which defined so-called market freedoms primarily in terms of a duty and an obligation: the duty to relinquish control of economic subjects and a corresponding obligation to subordinate governments and their agents to primordial market laws.
Joseph Vogl, The Specter of Capitalism (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2015), p.29.
Since the seventeenth century — to put it briefly — the discourses of natural rights and moral philosophy have provided some of the building blocks for an all-purpose definition of homo economicus. These discourses connect assumptions about the state of the world with presuppositions about human nature, and they have led to a long-lasting, radical change in the moral household and in the economy of human interrelations. This means, first, that modern homo economicus appears on the scene not merely as a rational subject but also as a passionate one, whereby these passions are regulated via a mechanism of interests. Second, he acts as a blind subject with limited knowledge. It is precisely through this blindness that he produces — unintentionally and unconsciously — harmonious social relations. For this reason, he follows a specific path in life. Homo economicus acquires wisdom through his ignorance and gets ahead in life thanks to his limited awareness and narrow horizons. Incidentally, a similar contradiction can be found in the plot structure of the German Bildungsroman: Wilhelm Meister, too, arrives at his rightful place in life precisely through his limited knowledge and the unintended consequences of his actions, as if steered there by an invisible, “higher hand” […] Third, homo economicus is an enemy of the state in a special sense. As far as he is concerned, the implementation of a good system — involving laws, institutions, administration, and so on — conflicts with the good implementation of systematicity itself. […] And fourth, this hostility to government interference does not detract, as might be expected, from homo economicus developing into an eminently governable character type.
Joseph Vogl, The Specter of Capitalism (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2015), p. 27.