Adam Smith: a Bourgeois Revolutionary in the Style of Danton and Robespierre?
Spencer A. Leonard, Writer, critic, translator, writes in The Charnel House HERE
“Smith’s Enlightenment demands to be advanced. His 1776 treatise, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, is not a product of the Scottish Enlightenment but of the cosmopolitan radical Enlightenment, stretching from the coffeehouses of Rotterdam to the meeting rooms of Calcutta.”
“Smith, as much as Georges Danton or Maximilien de Robespierre, was a leading bourgeois revolutionary”.…
”In order to fully grasp the radical specification of Rousseau’s call for the conscious advance of human freedom contained in Smith’s work — that is, in order to grasp the work’s bourgeois-revolutionary implications — readers and interpreters must get beyond the outward sobriety of the Wealth of Nations to the “very violent attack…upon the whole commercial system” that lies at its core. [Adam Smith to Andreas Holt 10/26/1780, in Correspondence, 251]
…”Though his work is chiefly associated with the demand for free markets and the “invisible hand,” none of this is in fact peculiar to Smith.” …
… “Is improvement in the circumstance of the lower ranks of the people to be regarded as an advantage or as an inconvenience to society. The answer seems abundantly plain. …The liberal reward of labor, as it is the effect of increasing wealth, so it is the cause of increasing population. To complain of it is to lament over the necessary effect and cause of the greatest public prosperity. [85, 93, 96, 99]
Outwardly, Spencer Leonard, writes with a deceptive authority, until his piece is read closely. He runs different historical periods together with a writer’s skill that on simple reflection could not have possibly influenced Smith writing decades, even centuries earlier.
Spencer Leonard also quotes out of the original context and misleadingly adds his own conclusions about what Adam Smith actually meant at the time he wrote to Andreas Holt for example. He also writes with that Salon-based loaded quip, which only acolytes in awe of his genius, will lap up. Those readers more familiar with both Smith’s Works and times are likely to cast a more critical eye over his pronouncements of the “bourgeois-revolutionary implications” of “Wealth Of Nations” and its supposed critique that “articulates unmistakably that century’s critique of our own interminable twentieth century”.
That is mumbo-jumbo.
So is this: “The masses of humanity, including in Europe and America, have not ceased to demand a world in which they do not require the benevolence or indulgence of the baker, the butcher, the brewer, or anyone else in order to live their lives as they choose under the law.”
Where does Smith advise that consumers depend on the “benevolence” of the “Butcher, Brewer, and Baker”? He specifically denies that people can rely on “benevolence” for their dinners, or whatever else they need. He advises those seeking their dinners to address the interests of potential seller, just as those sellers seeking customers for their wares should to address the interests of potential buyers. In short, negotiate.
Smith never said anything about a “cosmopolitan radical Enlightenment, stretching from the coffeehouses of Rotterdam to the meeting rooms of Calcutta”. Note the lyrical journalese for which no sources for these claims are given, probably explaining why I do not recognise Spencer Leonard’s allusions to them.
Spencer Leonard quotes from one of Smith’s letters in 1780: “readers and interpreters must get beyond the outward sobriety of the Wealth of Nations to the “very violent attack…upon the whole commercial system” that lies at its core." [Adam Smith to Andreas Holt 10/26/1780, in Correspondence, 251.] Whereas Smith was comparing his critique of “the Principle of the commercial, or Mercantile System” (WN IV.i.139) with his short, one-page “harmless” eulogy to David Hume in 1776.
Smith’s subject in Book IV of Wealth Of Nations was the commercial system enunciated in the dominant orthodoxy of mercantile political economy of his day and which was followed by successive British governments (tariffs, protectionism, and all) and not the commercial market system he outlined in Books I and II (WN), which he praised as the successor alternative to an economy based solely on agriculture. This blatant misrepresentation is supposed to support by Spencer’s imagined Smith, the ‘bourgeois revolutionary”, in the traditions of “Danton and Robespierre”(!!).
The sentence and its ideas: ”Though his work is chiefly associated with the demand for free markets and the “invisible hand,” none of this is in fact peculiar to Smith” is just ridiculous factually, for the many reasons readers of Lost Legacy will be familiar (see yesterdays post).
I do not know of the Charnel House’s readership or what they believe, but if Spenser Leonard’s ideas are representative then they have some ways to go yet to acquire genuine knowledge of Adam Smith’s ideas.