Wednesday, December 08, 2010

An Australian Accurate on Adam Smith

Lost Legacy regularly receives communications every month, a few of them attaching an essay on matters related to Adam Smith. Most of them I file (having thanked their authors). One such struck me this month as particularly good at presenting the authentic Adam Smith, albeit on a ‘risky’ theme (i.e., anything political – I prefer to discuss contemporary politics only in the country – Scotland - in which I vote, where I ‘know’ what I am talking about) in this case on the causes of war – but one I think worth the risk in asking scholars to read it.

The Author, Ian Buckley, an Australian reader, of whom I know nothing, writes by way of introduction:

Having grown up through WW2 and ever since been concerned about the origins of wars (with a view to their prevention) I've more and more become convinced as to the relevance of Adam Smith's down to earth wisdom. For not only does he indicate wars' root causes in unjust trading practices (via monopolies, colonial exploitation, etc, etc.) but by clear implication he points to the obvious routes to prevention. Yet, as you are well aware, Smith's potentially valuable message to the world continues to be distorted, often into its very opposite.

To encourage students and others to go to the source, I've written an essay focusing on Smith's Wealth of Nations in such a way as to convey his views on a range of topics, - by including quoted sections of it. To make it easy to validate each, as well as to encourage further reading of the original text, quotes are taken from (”

I can vouch for the selection of quotations from Wealth Of Nations for their veracity and accuracy. I am not sure whether everybody will agree with his application to the events preceding World War I, but they do echo Adam Smith’s concerns about the events and inter-state political forces leading to the ill-fated attempts to prevent the British colonies in North America from resisting British taxation to pay towards the mother-country’s expenses in wars with European rivals, some parts, but not all, of which arose in the interests of the defence of the same colonies.

Smith lamented on the waste from war expenditures in the 18th century and he pointedly lamented in the very last paragraph of Wealth Of Nations the lost opportunities presented by the American defeat, which in retrospect, if he had been heeded, could have staved off what became the 19th-century continuation of imperial expansion.

I sent to Ian Buckley these comments:

“I have two suggestions, both highly relevant to your theme and both relatively unknown (or not noticed) even by Smithian scholars.

The first notes the unequal struggle of the indigenous peoples when at
the mercy of European adventurers and, later, those immigrants following behind them. [This charge applies to all European contacts - including, I should note to some degree to those from Britain, including Ireland, who arrived in Australia from 1788 onwards.]

In WN IV.vii.c. 80: 626, Smith writes:

"At the particular time when these discoveries were made, the superiority of force happened to be so great on the side of the
Europeans that they were enabled to commit with impunity every sort of injustice in these remote countries. Hereafter, perhaps, the natives of those countries may grow stronger, or those of Europe may grow weaker, and the inhabitants of all the different quarters of the world may arrive at that equality of courage and force, which by inspiring mutual fear, can alone overawe the injustice of independent nations into some sort of respect for the rights of one another

A prescient warning in 1776. All nations may take note, including former colonies and their treatment of minorities, as well as the usual suspects, Europeans in the Americas, Africa, Asia; Russia in Siberia; China in Tibet and its north-eastern neighbours; Japan in China, Manchuria, Korea, and Pacific South-Asia. This read as apposite in view of the colonial wars from India onwards.

Smith had something worthwhile to say in last paragraph of WN V.viii.92: 947 about Britain "accommodating her future views and designs to 'the real mediocrity of her circumstances'.

If only Britain had followed this advice and, having lost its 'empire' in North America, had not continued to found its new one in Africa, India and Australia ...

You can find Ian Buckley’s paper HERE: and I commend it to you.

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