ADAM SMITH ON RELIGIOUS HEGEMONY
Emre Deliveli posts in the Hurriyet Daily News (Turkey) HERE
“The economics of radical religious terrorism”
“The provision of basic social services would make Adam Smith’s invisible hand slap terrorists. Berman [author of “Radical, Religious and Violent: The New Economics of Terrorism” 2009] notes that in his “Wealth of Nations,” the Scottish economist suggested religious pluralism and tolerance, as well as strongly non-discriminatory government, to counter violence based on religion. I hope France and the rest of the West can continue on that route.”
Emre Delivelli taps into Adam Smith’s long exposition on the role of state- sponsored religious conformity, of which Smith had considerable experience, living in Kirkcaldy, Scotland as a child in the (Calvinist) Church of Scotland and later as a student in Glasgow, followed by six years at Oxford (Calvinist) under the Established State, Church of England. Religious strife between Protestant and Catholic adherents had been bitter and violent in the 16-17th centuries, with numerous massacres and martyrs within and between both sides, in bloody incidents of assassinations, extra-judical executions, full-scale wars, tortures, and such-like passions, similar to those Emre Deliveli discusses in the 20th and 21st centuries.
In short, Islamist terrorism is not unique historically (follow the link to see his perspective). Mass, instant electroninc media today shows terrorist incidents within minutes of them happening anywhere in the world, conveying an immediacy of the extremeist threat right into our homes. No doubt some viewers look nervously at their neighours.
In Wealth Of Nations (WN V.i.g: 778-816: ‘Of the Expence of the Instituions for the Instruction of People of All Ages’) Smith writes at length on the then current state of affairs in regard to religious organisation in the UK and its influences, which the main were not conducive to a free society.
Unfortunately, like much else in Smith’s Works, this (long) chapter is not widely read today (I am not sure it was widely taken notice of when he was alive). I wrote about it briefly in my paper: “The Hidden Adam Smith in his Alleged Theology”, Journal of the History of Economic Theory, 2011, vol. 33.no 3, pp. 383-422) and in my chapter 22, ‘Adam Smith On Religion’, in Oxford Handbook of Adam Smith, pp.465-484), edited by C.Berry, M. Paganelli, and Craig Smith. For a somewhat harrowing account of the conduct of the Church of Scotland in Smith’s life-time, see H. G. Graham (1899) 1937. The Social Life of Scotland in the Eighteenth Century, London, A & C Black.
As regular readers would expect, my quotation from Emre’s short article refers to “Adam Smith’s invisible hand slap[ing] terrorists”, an over-used, and in this case, an over-stretched, somewhat “violent” (in Smith’s words), metaphoric expression. Just as Christianity multi-divided into scores of factions and degrees of fervour, so has Islam. Smith’s cure for zealotry was education for the poor as well as the provision of productive employment, and crucially, freedom of religious practice without state-protected favour of one religion, or variation of one particular faith, over all others.
It was almost Mao-like, in one of his quickly forgotten episodes when Smith suggested that in place of one officially approved religion in preference to all others, he favoured a ‘hundred sects’ of equal standing, much like Mao announced letting a “thousand flowers bloom and thoughts contend”, without, of course, Mao’s immediate and violent suppression of all visible contenders other than the Maoist Communists!