Saturday, August 16, 2008

On Short Posts and Being Authoritative

A reader asks why I have posted long extracts from Adam Smith’s Wealth Of Nations and Moral Sentiments recently. She suggests that long posts are difficult to read and put her off.

Let’s remind ourselves that the purpose of Lost Legacy is to counter the apparent consensus about Adam Smith that:

a) he supported laissez-faire;
b) he was in favour of small government on principle;
c) he had a ‘theory’ of ‘an invisible hand’ guiding individuals to benefit society whatever their intentions;
d) he had written two different accounts of human society in Moral Sentiments (sympathy) and in Wealth Of Nations (self-interest, eliding into 'selfishness' and 'greed');
e) and he had another belief, not so important as the previous four, namely that he held religious or Deist beliefs underlining all his works.

These requires rebuttals based on his actual writings, and not just summaries of them, or page references, and undocumented assertions that the epigones are wrong.

I can shorten the post simply by referencing details of where he wrote this or that in refutation of the above five-main themes and the many sub-themes that mislead some readers. If I was assured that people will look up the references, assuming that they had a set of his books to hand, I could adopt such a policy.

But, in my view, not everybody would take the trouble and, in so far as I can easily extract the appropriate reference, it seems a better policy to cite the references on the page. Many of these may be familiar to the better informed regular reader, but Lost Legacy receives a lot of hits by visiting readers who might see the references but be unimpressed at their first visit by the absence of direct evidence. If nothing else, I want Lost Legacy to have a solid reputation for being authoritative and not just opinionated.

Also, many proselytisers of the Chicago-created myths and their derivatives in the media, may not be aware of the biographical contexts in which Adam Smith wrote his ideas. As this Blog is written by an educator of long standing – 35 years in university teaching and tutoring students – I do what I have always done, and take the trouble to demonstrate, I hope in an interesting, not to say inspiring, manner a command of the relevant sources.

If all this makes for rather long posts, backed by the relevant sources and not just assertions (‘Oh, no he didn’t, Oh, yes he did!’) I am prepared to risk irritating occasional readers (not that 'Cynthia' gives me any guidance on exactly what it is she wants me to do otherwise, except to write short posts).

I would like to think that regular readers, who find a post of relevance and of interest, save it to a word file and build up a regular source of specific arguments about Adam Smith for later reference when they address any of the main subjects subsequently. If any other readers have views on this subject I would be delighted to read them.


Blogger Gregor said...

I find the longer quotes useful because it means that I don't have to search the books to find the relevant parts. They can be easily skipped by those who don't want to read them.

I do have one suggestion though. Would it be possible for you to tag your posts with some general labels like "invisible hand", "mercantilism", "capitalism" etc. It would make searching your past posts on specific subjects much easier.

Keep up the good work

6:41 pm  
Blogger Gavin Kennedy said...

Thank you for the suggestion. I shall ask my daughter who is incomparably more IT minded than I am how to 'tag'.

Please give me a couple of days.

7:09 pm  

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