Monday, October 01, 2007

Adam Smith's Central Role for Justice

In The Kenyon Review (1 Oct) by Tyler Meier (here) there is an article, ‘On Intellectual Property and Copyright, Pt. II’, reporting ‘an exchange between Meg Galipault and Stuart Bernstein on intellectual property and copyright issues’, conducted during the summer months of 2007.

It includes this statement by Stuart Bernstein, a New York-based agent representing over 20 working artists. He began representing writers in 1995:

Market forces is another matter. Even Adam Smith believed in a vigorous justice system and reasonable regulation.”

The bald statement, ‘Even Adam Smith’, stands out as a misleading understatement of Adam Smith’s views on the role of justice. Stuart Bernstein must have assumed that his listeners knew nothing of Adam Smith that would connect him to be in favour of ‘a vigorous justice system and reasonable regulation’.

This is clear evidence that knowledge of the real Adam Smith (the one born in Kirkcaldy, Scotland in 1723) is extremely limited among listeners to a discussion hosted by Kenyon Review and its readers.

If there is one founding principle of Adam Smith’s analysis of human society that pervades all of his Works, including his two books, Moral Sentiments (1759) and Wealth Of Nations (1776), and his students’ notes of his Lectures on Jurisprudence (1762-3), it is the central role of justice.

Without justice society ‘would crumble into atoms’, and a ‘man would enter an assembly of men as he enters a den of lions’ (Moral Sentiments, II.ii.3.4: p 86). Justice is the ‘pillar’ of society and is the second duty of civil government (WN Book V.i.b.1: p 708): ‘that of protecting, as far as possible, every member of it’.

So, to suggest that ‘even’ Adam Smith believed in ‘a vigorous justice system and reasonable regulation’ must be confusing the Kirkcaldy Adam Smith with the ‘Adam Smith’ hologram created by 20th-century Chicago neoclassical economists.


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