Sunday, August 14, 2005

Idiocy of the Month?

Bringing Adam Smith into the Battle of Trafalgar (1805) is the latest idiocy to be published this month. I quote from Matthew Price’s review of the book by Adam Nicholson (Matthew Price is a writer in Brooklyn). The idea that Nelson’s officers and the seamen had read, even heard of, Adam Smith, or any of his ideas, is almost too ridiculous for words, or for that matter that his ideas were ‘surging through Britain’.

Smith’s reputation at the time was in a bit of trouble. The Establishment were on the offensive over the French and their ‘Emperor’ Napoleon. Smith’s friends had been investigated for signs of sedition, in case some of the passages in “Wealth of Nations” could incite the ordinary men and women into rebellion. They were hardly cheering below decks or on the quarter decks for freer trade and competitive markets!

Newsday.com
Nelson's victory at sea
(August 14, 2005)

"Nicolson throws every adjective in the dictionary at us to make a simple point: Nelson was a great leader of his men, who inspired them with confidence and daring. His great achievement was "the liberation of individual energies to ensure victory." Though Nicolson's descriptions of the battle itself are vivid, he is often distracted by the ambitions of his thesis. Trafalgar represents an eruption of the Romantic life force; Nelson's battle plans were a rebuke to the 18th century cult of gentility and restraint, while he and his officers "might be seen as a set of sanctioned villains, living lives that oscillated between intense risk and predatory gain." What's more, the British navy was an extension of the commercial spirit of Adam Smith surging through Great Britain - "Nelson's fleet carried a capitalist charge," Nicolson writes. This is provocative, though at times I wasn't sure if I was reading about a vice admiral or a CEO who had gorged himself on Tom Peters and Tony Robbins."

SEIZE THE FIRE: Heroism, Duty and the Battle of Trafalgar, by Adam Nicolson. HarperCollins, 341 pp., $26.95.

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