DAVID BRATT AND LISA HILL ON ADAM SMITH'S RELIGIOSITY AND MY REBUTTALS
Scot Galupo (18 June) in “The American Conservative” HERE lamblasts “David Brat’s Half-Cocked Theological-Economic Fusionism”.
I agree with Scot Galupo on this occasion.
“Sparked by outrage over the Wall Street bailouts, the original Tea Party was motivated by an opposition to Big Government. The motto of the Tea Party Patriots, one of the largest and most influential groups, was “fiscal responsibility, limited government, and free markets.” The Tea Party’s core issues were the skyrocketing national debt and opposition to Obamacare. …
… Along comes David Brat, professor of economics and slayer of the dragon Rep. Eric Cantor, to bring the argument into sharp relief. The parsing of Brat’s academic writings and theological-economic beliefs has become a cottage industry. The Washington Post called Brat’s primary election an indication of a “rise in the crossroads of religion and economics.” …
… Brat teases out a biblical influence on secular economic writing. As Kevin Roose writes:
In one unpublished paper from 2005, “Adam Smith’s God: The End of Economics,” [accessed through a Google Scholar search] Brat makes the case that even though Adam Smith (the father of modern economics and author of The Wealth of Nations) is thought of as one of the great figures of the Enlightenment, his “invisible hand” theory should properly be seen in the context of Christian moral philosophy.
“In fact, [Smith’s] system really retains most of the fundamental features of the Judeo-Christian system,” Brat writes. “On paper he places Stoic reason above Christian revelation. But on the other hand, he chooses the Christian God over the Stoic God. And in the end, his choice of virtues and ends take a decidedly Christian turn.”
In a sense, Brat’s brand of Protestant-ethic revivalism completes a circle: now, not only can Christians find Adam Smith in the Bible, they can find the Bible in Adam Smith too!”
The question of Adam Smith’s philosophical views on Christianity and religion geneally has been raised among historians of economic thought since before Lisa Hill’s article, “The hidden theology of Adam Smith” in ‘The European Journal of the History of Economic Thought’ (EJHET,vol. 8. (1). pp. 1-29. Here is Lisa's Abstract:
“This paper contests late readings of Adam Smith's ‘invisible hand’ as an essentially secular device. It is argued that Smith's social and economic philosophy is inherently theological and that his entire model of social order is logically dependent on the notion of God's action in nature. It will be shown that far from being a purely secular, materialist or evolutionist approach Smith works from the argument from design to construct a model that is teleological and securely located in the chain of being tradition. His focus upon happiness as the Final Cause of nature renders improbable any claims for proto-evolutionism in his work while his arguments about the deliberate endowment of defects in the human frame make no sense without the supposition of design and purpose in nature.”
Here are my considered views on the subject:
“Adam Smith on Religion” by Gavin Kennedy (2013) in ‘The Oxford Handbook of Adam Smith’, Editors: Christopher Berry, Maria Pia Paganelli and Craig Smith (Oxford University Press). Here is my Abstract
“This chapter discusses the relevance of Smith’s biography and his published writings, in Moral Sentiments, The Wealth Of Nations, and his posthumous History of Astronomy (1795), and discerns a hidden Adam Smith, contrary to his public religiosity. His early biographical details suggest that his theological ideas were moulded by his life-long strong relationship with his religious mother and with his moderate Calvinist upbringing, but these early views changed during his absences from his home at Glasgow (1737–40) and Oxford (1740–46). In the 6th edition (1789) of his The Theory of Moral Sentiments, he made considerable excisions and modifications of the outright religious statements in the first five editions (his mother died in 1784).”
Earlier, a much shorter article by me appeared in The Journal of the History of Economic Thought, vol. 33 (8), 2011. pp 385-40: “The Hidden Adsam Smith in his Alledged Theology”
An original version of the JHET paper was presented as “The Hidden Adam Smith in his Alleged Religiosity” to the “Summer Institute, Richmond University”, Virginia, 2009. This original Richmond paper was a more direct response to Lisa Hill’s views, but without the usual polemical styles common in scholarly rebuttals.
From the scanty material in today’s “American Conservative” I feel sure that I am unlikely to agree with David Bratt’s interpretation of Adam Smith’s views on theology, Christian or otherwise, nor of course of stoicism.