Sunday, October 28, 2012

Chomsky on Smith's "Vile Rulers of Mankind"


Mike Norman writes ‘Mike Norman Economics”, October 26, HERE 
“Noam Chomsky does Adam Smith”  "Who Owns the World?"
Actually, a good answer to this was given years ago by Adam Smith, someone we’re supposed to worship but not read. He was—a little subversive when you read him sometimes. He was referring to the most powerful country in the world in his day and, of course, the country that interested him, namely, England. And he pointed out that in England the principal architects of policy are those who own the country: the merchants and manufacturers in his day. And he said they make sure to design policy so that their own interests are most peculiarly attended to. Their interests are served by policy, however grievous the impact on others, including the people of England.
But he was an old-fashioned conservative with moral principles, so he added the victims of England, the victims of the—what he called the "savage injustice of the Europeans," particularly in India. Well, he had no illusions about the owners, so, to quote him again, "All for ourselves and nothing for other people, seems, in every age of the world, to have been the vile maxim of the masters of mankind." It was true then; it’s true now.”
Comment
I have commented on Noam Chomsky’s loose language before on Lost Legacy.
Chomsky writes: “in England the principal architects of policy are those who own the country: the merchants and manufacturers in his day.”    This would have been news to the landlords who owned the land of England in Adam Smith’s day in the 18th century and until well into the 19th century.  They formed the largest proportion of the legislature in London, and effectively run civil government in the large countryside, and they formed the officer class in the army and the upper ranks in the Royal Navy.  Many of the families and members of the upper classes who decided most things were intermingled with landed interests and many of the returning new rich (often from India or the North American British colonies) aspired mostly to retire wealthy to estates in the countryside, not to become “merchants and manufacturers”, still the subject of ruling class snobbery.
The industrial Revolution, so called, was a drawn out affair, more like a hundred years transformation than a short event, Smith never commented on it.  Smith’s politics are unknown, despite years of effort to unravel them, but he leaned more to the Whig side of the political divide rather than the Tory side.  His family were firmly moderate as Calvinists rather than hard-line zealots, and there is evidence that he became less religious, even skeptical about “revealed religion”, as he grew older, as seen in his revisions to later editions of his Moral Sentiments after his religious mother died in 1784, and in his Wealth Of Nations  in his strong critique of the established churches of the State in Book V.
Smith’s numerous and strong criticism of “merchants and manufacturers” in Wealth Of Nations and his even stronger criticism of European behaviours towards indigenous peoples found the America, India and through the slave traders in Africa, does not testify to his being a “an old-fashioned conservative with moral principles”, so much as to his being a moderate Whig with moral principles.  Smith’s reference to “the vile maxim of the masters of mankind” is from a longer paragraph, from which I quote, because Chomsky’s quotation is cut to force his wrong conclusion about which social class Smith refers. Chomsky’s truncated version obscures Smith’s politics to give credence to Chomsky’s politics and his assertions:
The capricious ambition of kings and ministers has not, during the present and the preceding century, been more fatal to the repose of Europe, than the impertinent jealousy of merchants and manufacturers. The violence and injustice of the rulers of mankind is an ancient evil, for which, I am afraid, the nature of human affairs can scarce admit of a remedy. But the mean rapacity, the monopolizing spirit of merchants and manufacturers, who neither are, nor ought to be the rulers of mankind, though it cannot perhaps be corrected, may very easily be prevented from disturbing the tranquillity of any body but themselves” (WN IV.iii.c: 493).
It can be seen that while Chomsky gives the impression that Smith is talking about the “owners”, who were, he claims, the  “merchants and manufacturers.  In fact, Smith refers to the “ancient evil” of “kings and their ministers”, and the rulers of the landed interests who owned most of the wealth of the countries that made up Europe since the 4th century by their “violence and injustice”, as borders changed and rulers’ dynasties passed changed.  The correct reference to who Smith meant in this passage is revealed when all of the passage is included and not just the truncation tried by Chomsky. 
To be an “ancient evil”, Smith must have referred to the long history of Europe over millennia and not just to the 17th and 18th centuries.  Also he denied that “merchants and manufacturers” should be the “rulers of mankind”, so for him to assert they were “the rulers of mankind” would be to assert a counter-factual.  Hence Smith didn’t. 
He suggested that the power and influence of "merchants and manufacturers" may "very easily be "prevented", which does not suggest that he considered them to be an entrenched ruling class in his life time.  What thyey became was beyond Smith's knowledge - he died in 1790.
As far as Adam Smith in the 18th century was concerned, the “merchants and manufacturers” were not the answer to the question of “Who Owns the World”.
[Also, Mike Norman may care to note that in Smith’s lifetime, there was a United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, consisting of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland; England was a part of that new country (since 1707), not a separate entity. Smith was interested in the welfare of Scotland, where he lived most of his life, England and the rest of Great Britain, He was not only interested in “England”, which he occasionally visited.]

6 Comments:

Blogger chiro said...

Hello, thank you for your extense and specialised blog for Adam Smith, and excuse me for my mistakes since English is not my language.

You wote:

"Smith’s reference to “the vile maxim of the masters of mankind” is from a longer paragraph, from which I quote,..."

Well, the paragraph Chomsky refers it seems to be another one; book III, chapter 4:

"All for ourselves and nothing for other people, seems, in every age of the world, to have been the vile maxim of the masters of mankind."

I think you mix "the ruler of mankind" (from the quote you mentioned) with "the masters of mankind". Chomsky refered to the second, and in that context they were the "great propietors" which are more similar to "merchants and manufacturers" than to "kings and ministers", at least in the context of this paragraph.

The distinction may be relevant because, if I am right, Chomsky still may be right at identifying his "owners of the world" with "the masters of mankind" of Smith. I mean, if we acceppt the current "great propietors" follow the "vile maxim" of "all for ourselves and nothing for other people", then we should be able to find who are their equivalent in Adam Smith´s wording.

The choice given by Chomsky seems quite appropiate then. "Merchants and manufacturers" may be not only the masters of mankind of nowdays, but also the ones at Adam Smith time. Chomsky had no need to hide the real subjet of the sentence as you say, (“kings and their ministers”) because he was refering to another quote.

Notice this does not mean that merchants and manufacturers are doing wrong in the ideal world of Adam Smith, but in the actual world he lived (mercantilism)as well in our current world (neoliberalism). Chomsky is aware of the two contexts.

We may disscuss if the principal architects of policy of the mercantile system were the owners of the world, as Chomsky says, but surely we will agree that in any case, is clear from Adam Smith texts that the architects of that policy were "merchants and manufacturers". I can accept with no problem, that nowdays the architects of neoliberalism are the "merchants and manufacturers" of the present, namely big industries and corporations.

In footnote 1 of chapter five of his book "Understanding power" he wrote:

"Adam Smith used the phrase “principal architects” in decrying the mercantile system, which he argued benefited those who designed it at the expense of the vast majority."

7:05 pm  
Blogger Gavin Kennedy said...

Thank you “chiro” for your perceptive letter commenting on my remarks “Chomsky on Smith's "Vile Rulers of Mankind”.
There is nothing at all wrong with your excellent English – apologies for my total lack of Spanish! The essence of your post of which Chomsky post refers to was quite right.
The two quotations:
1. "All for ourselves and nothing for other people, seems, in every age of the world, to have been the vile maxim of the masters of mankind" (WN III.iv.10: 419).
2 “The capricious ambition of kings and ministers has not, during the present and the preceding century, been more fatal to the repose of Europe, than the impertinent jealousy of merchants and manufacturers. The violence and injustice of the rulers of mankind is an ancient evil, for which, I am afraid, the nature of human affairs can scarce admit of a remedy. But the mean rapacity, the monopolizing spirit of merchants and manufacturers, who neither are, nor ought to be the rulers of mankind, though it cannot perhaps be corrected, may very easily be prevented from disturbing the tranquillity of any body but themselves” (WN IV.iii.c.9: 493).
Now my dispute with Chomsky is over which class “owned the country” (UK) in Smith’s, not Chomsky’s, day. Chomsky asserted that in Smith’s time the country was owned by “merchants and manufacturers”, whereas I said that would have been “news” to those who owned the landed estates upon which most of the wealth of the country came from and for several decades more after 1790.
Moreover the ancient families of the landed aristocracy across Europe had the largest families, from which by male primogeniture laws, formed the bulk of the governing class, and from their younger sons serving in the Church, the army or navy, and staffing the administrative offices of the state, plus from their daughters “marrying well”, who together had for generations constituted the actual “rulers of mankind” in “every age”. These rulers by their “violence and injustice” were an “ancient evil” that “scarce[ly] had a “remedy”. In time the remedy of liberty under law (beginning with King John and Magna Carta in 1215) and the process eventually leading to the rise of the “bourgeois” market economy and parliamentary democracy. (Of course, this brought with it its own new problems, but that is humanity).
Smith was quite clear: the bourgeoisie were not yet a class anywhere near as powerful anywhere as the older landed aristocracy.
You write: “we should be able to find who are their equivalent in Adam Smith´s wording”. But the above quotes are Smith’s wording. Indeed, he makes the status of the merchants and manufacturers in his day very explicit:
“the monopolizing spirit of merchants and manufacturers, who neither are, nor ought to be the rulers of mankind.”
Chomsky’s wording is erroneous. Ownership now goes well beyond the individual founders who owned them before the modern 20th century corporations Today, it includes the individual shareholders and modern sources of finance (private institutions, pension funds, and public bodies), but do not concern Lost Legacy.
I am solely interested in Smith’s moral philosophy and political economy, not today’s politics. I criticise both Right and Left views that misrepresent Adam Smith’s writings.
Also, I avoid commenting on the politics of other countries except Scotland where I vote. In this regard, Chomsky refers to “England”, which since 1707 has been the “United Kingdom of Great Britain” (UK), as if Scotland does not exist. I do not make the mistake of calling the citizens of USA simply as “Americans”, which may annoy the good people of the many countries of Central and South America, including Chile, perhaps as much as it annoys we Scots when we are subsumed under the catch-all name of “England”.
I am glad that you commented on Lost Legacy and hope you do so again. All contributions, no matter how critical, are posted without alteration – the Moderator only deletes commercial sex adverts or outrageously libelous posts.
Gavin

2:51 pm  
Blogger chiro said...

Thanks for your answer and for your time Gavin.

The complete quote that Chomsky referred is this one:

But what all the violence of the feudal institutions could never have effected, the silent and insensible operation of foreign commerce and manufactures gradually brought about. These gradually furnished the great proprietors with something for which they could exchange the whole surplus produce of their lands, and which they could consume themselves without sharing it either with tenants or retainers. All for ourselves and nothing for other people, seems, in every age of the world, to have been the vile maxim of the masters of mankind .

You wrote:

Now my dispute with Chomsky is over which class “owned the country” (UK) in Smith’s, not Chomsky’s, day. Chomsky asserted that in Smith’s time the country was owned by “merchants and manufacturers”,

In my view Chomsky is not that much interested in deem who "owned" the country in Smith days, but slightly different, what was the opinion of Adam Smith about the issue. Can we infer any conclusion from Smith words?

Certainly we can, or at least, we can try if we think it worths the effort of find the better candidate for "owners of the world". Chomsky has an opinion and you has a different one. But let me make 3 clarifications before going deeper.

Firstly, we should accept Adam Smith did not wrote this exact sentence nor he wrote who owns the country, not literally as far as I know. Secondly, we could stablish any posible difference from a "ruler" and a "master", but to make things eassier and more accurate I will stick to the words of Adam Smith. And thirdly we could also go in depth in what sense is Chomsky talking when he says that somebody “owns” the world, in order to see if his comparison with the age of Adam Smith is adequate or inappropriate. I don´t think he is necessarily referring to those who owns more acres, but to those who has more power and influence with authorities, even if they are not official rulers of the world (nowdays big corporations or whoever Chomsky thinks; irrelevant for us). But I think we can skip this one as well because you understood it in the same sense, since you wrote:

“the bourgeoisie were not yet a class anywhere near as powerful anywhere as the older landed aristocracy.”


---- I continue with a second comment since the system does not allow me to publish more than 4096 characters---

1:03 am  
Blogger chiro said...

Obviously you have a very good case with the older landed aristocracy. I cannot compete with such an enormeous knowledge you have about the topic (nor Chomsky in my opinion), but again, the relevant thing is what Adam Smith wrote, and ultimatly, if Chomsky force or misrepresent the writings of Adam Smith.

From the first quote it is clear that from the two in bolt ( "foreign commerce and manufactures" and/or "great propietors") Adam Smith thought that they were a sort of the "masters of mankind".

Now the conflict arises when Chomsky identify these "masters of mankind" (not "rulers of mankind", who belong to another quote; the one you originally commented: WN IV.iii.c.9: 493) with "Merchants and manufacturers".

Of course, as you say, Adam Smith was very explicit about the role "Merchants and manufacturers" do not play as RULERS of mankind, but Chomsky is talking about their rule as MASTERS of mankind, which involves the other quote (WN III.iv.10: 419). So Chomsky is not erroneous in that wording.

Once at this point, we may discuss if you or Chomsky are right or wrong at trying to underline which groups were owning the world at those days: your bet is aristocracy and Chomsky´s is
merchants and manufacturers.

In my opinion, not from my knowledge which is almost cero, but from my capacity of reading, and based soly on the quote Chomsky is talking about (WN III.iv.10: 419), I think it looks like more probable that "merchants and manufacturers" are better candidates that "aristocracy or ancient families".

Why? Because if we look to a new quote of Adam Smith which Chomsky uses, it´s more clear who may be "the masters of mankind", if we understand master and own, in terms of power and influence to make the rulers ruling for the interests of the masters(Book IV, Chapter 8):

"It cannot be very difficult to determine who have been the contrivers of this whole mercantile system; not the consumers, we may believe, whose interest has been entirely neglected; but the producers, whose interest has been so carefully attended to; and among this latter class our merchants and manufacturers have been by far the principal architects. In the mercantile regulations, which have been taken notice of in this chapter, the interest of our manufacturers has been most peculiarly attended to; and the interest, not so much of the consumers, as that of some other sets of producers, has been sacrificed to it."

Notice that all this is just to connect the concept "owner of the world" with a social group. This is so subjective or objective as we decide it could be. But Chomsky was not mixing or truncating the quotes of Adam Smith as you said in your original post.

1:06 am  
Blogger Gavin Kennedy said...

chiro
Your responses are elegant and clear. Your make your case well.
However, I suggest your consider what was happening in the emergence of markets, followed by production for markets (rather than just gathering nature's produce, for example, in the rich spice trade from the East Indies and minerals from South America, in Smith's day.
The landed aristocracy owned the source of wealth in Britain (what was produced annually) from millennia before Smith's time. After the 1400s in North-West Europe, merchants gradually became important in new products (some imported and some local). Some of these merchants became manufacturers with technological progress.
In Smith's day they contributed a small minority proportion of annual output, the rest remained agricultural and from mining, and in population, it covered the vast majority of people in Britain (the 'masters of mankind').
All that changed from the 1800s - it is called the 'industrial revolution', though it remained a process, not an event. In the 1700s, the 'masters of mankind' were the aristocracy in Britain and Europe. By the 1850s, the bourgeoisie owned about half the wealth generating capacity of Britain; mid-20th century, they owned most of it. Agriculture dropped to less than 15% of annual production of wealth.
The electoral proportions of both House of Parliament (the rulers) slowly reflected those changes.
Chomsky is wrong about Adam Smith on this issue.
The meaning of words is important.
Gavin

9:23 am  
Blogger chiro said...

Thank you for your kind words and extense explanation. Although I disagree with your conclusion about Chomsky(original, and the new one you have just explained in detail), I recognise reading both leads me to Adam Smith book, which I never read before and now I can see this classic more rich and interesting than I thought it could be.

Before intervening in your blog I wrote a post of mine, commenting very briefly your essay about "Adam Smith and the invisible hand: from metaphore to myth". Then I reached your original post we have been commenting.

My post, now published is about Matt Ridley book, "The rational optimist". You can read it here in Spanish:
http://lecturasporcinas.blogspot.com.es/2013/05/el-optimista-racional-2010-de-matt.html

If you don´t mine, I will translate my mention on your essay, and then you could tell if I´m right or not, since I´m not quite sure because the language you use in the essay and the depth of your arguments, are a bit difficult to me. So I tried to make a very basic conclusion of your essay. Here is the translation:

"Gavin Kennedy, who has a specialised and very detailed blog about the lost legacy of Adam Smith, published an articule titled "Adam Smith and the invisble hand: from metaphor to myth" in which he dissects the three mentions in three books of the expression "invisible hand", being the one that is on "The wealth of Nations", the only one with links to economy. According to Kennedy, Smith could have said "in this case, as in all other cases", but he didn´t because he didn´t believe economy could work always like this. What it was born as a metaphor whith no theorical development became a myth used by neoliberalism a globalization to hide behind a classic."

I´m not trying to discuss other posts of you related as well to Chomsky, but only if my mention of your work could be wrong in same way (appart from being too short).

Thanks,
Pepe.

12:36 pm  

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