Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A Distributist Makes it Up

Richard Aleman is the president of The Society for Distributism, a contributing editor for Gilbert Magazine, and he blogs at St. Austin Review‘s Ink Desk. A native Spaniard, Richard resides in New York where he is currently working on a Distributist anthology of G.K. Chesterton’s newspaper, G.K.’s Weekly. He has posted this in the Distributist Review:
“The Case of Adam SmithHere:

… does anybody realise what a queer and fantastic faith is covered by the very name of Adam Smith? He is considered a dull and stolid person who invented Free Trade; but he invented much more marvellous things. He had a philosophy and even a religion; and a very rum religion it was. Its theological thesis was this: that God had so made the world that He could achieve the good, if men were sufficiently greedy for the goods. If everybody worked meanly and sordidly for money, the result would be a prosperity that would prove the benevolence of Providence. Adam Smith’s idea of justifying the ways of God to men, was to tell the men to do unjustifiable things which God would justify. Adam Smith was a mystic. He was a sort of Quietist, except that he certainly did not tell people to keep quiet. His creed was that if business men would bustle about from purely business motives, the bringing of good out of evil was the business of God. But he believed that God was good; indeed God was apparently the only person required to be good.

Now, of course, most Englishmen [sic] do not take a creed in this clear-cut way; and even when they swallowed the Smith philosophy pretty completely for generations, it was mixed up with other things. But when all such allowance is made, what an extraordinary creed it was to swallow! What a weird cosmos it was to inhabit; in which everything was good because everybody was bad. A world in which the financial speculator grew thistles to attract donkeys; and the thistles grew figs to be the food of all the good and wise; in which your neighbour gathered grapes of the thorns you had planted in order to scratch him. The whole thing was much more rationally stated than are most modern expositions; it was also rank raving nonsense, as anyone would have seen in an age of creeds and common sense. Sanity sees at a glance that society finds it hard enough to hang together, with everybody taught to be unselfish; and that it would simply smash if everybody were taught to be selfish. Incidentally, I may add, it has already smashed. We have seen with our own eyes the Wealth of Nations wither into the Poverty of Nations.”

The kindest thing I can say about Richard Aleman’s words above is that they are eccentric, even remarkably so.

The sentence: “if men were sufficiently greedy for the goods. If everybody worked meanly and sordidly for money, the result would be a prosperity that would prove the benevolence of Providence”, to say the least, is twaddle. Whoever actually said it, it was not Adam Smith. At best it is an invented script made up for some unknown purpose. It was, in fact, almost the exact opposite of Smith’s oeuvre, as found in Moral Sentiments and Wealth Of Nations (plus, of course, his Lectures On Jurisprudence.

I have no idea what ‘distributist’ stands for, though I once exchanged correspondence some years ago with a very personable someone whom I had met at a history of economics conference in Virginia, who revealed, eventually, that he was a 'distributist'. The correspondence petered out to my relief, as I could not understand of what he talked about. Against obscurantism, even the most tolerant patience eventually expires.



Blogger Z. Vaughn said...

I posted a comment on that topic, but I guess they moderated it into oblivion. They made Adam Smith seem like Gordon Gecko.

9:00 pm  
Blogger Gavin Kennedy said...

I am not surprised that your comment did not appear on the Distributist Blog. They seem to be arrogant in their certainties - as do most zealots.. But they might relent yet.

They confuse Adam Smith with Bernard Mandeville, author of the "Fable of the Bees, or Private Vices, Public Benefits", 2 vols. 1724, ed. F. B. Kaye, 1924, Oxford University Press.

Smith described Mandeville's work as "licentious", in Moral Sentiments (1759). Surely a sufficient answer to the twaddle from the Distributist?


4:37 pm  

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