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views his extensive fields, and, without a thought for the wants of his brethren, in imagination consumes, himself, the whole harvest that grows upon them. The homely and vulgar proverb that the eye is larger than the belly, never was more fully verified than with regard to him. The capacity of his stomach bears no proportion to the immensity of his desires, and will receive no more than that of the meanest peasant. The rest he is
The rest he is obliged to distribute among those who prepare, in the nicest manner, that little which he himself makes use of, among those who fit up the palace in which this little is to be consumed, among those who provide and keep in order all the different baubles and trinkets which are employed in the economy of greatness, -all of whom thus derive, from his luxuries and caprice, that share of the necessaries of life which they would in vain have expected from his humanity or his justice. The produce of the soil maintains at all times nearly that number of inhabitants which it is capable of maintaining. The rich only select from the heap what is most precious and agreeable.
They are led by an invisible hand to make nearly the same distribution of the necessaries of life which would have been made had the earth been divided into equal portions among all its inhabitants, and thus, without intending it, without knowing it, advance the interest of the society, and afford means to the multiplication of the species.
In what constitutes the real happiness of human life, they (the poor] are in no respect inferior to those who would seem so much above them.” 2
Adam Smith, therefore, is not found guilty of the fault he blames in Epicurus, -attempting to explain all phenomena by a few simple principles. Commercial ambition is not by any means the only or the chief subject of his admiration. If he had really taken the exaggerated view of its importance which is sometimes attributed to him, he would have been tempted to rank it in the
rank it in the category of intellectual virtues, a category which otherwise (unlike
1 See Swift, Gulliver (Brobdingnag, ch. viii.).
* Moral Sent., ist ed., pp. 348–351 ("The Effect of Utility "). Compare Dr. Johnson (Life of Drake, in Dodsley's Fugitive Pieces, Í. 211):
Happiness and misery are equally diffused through all states of human life.”
3 Moral Sent., ist ed., pp. 452, 453.
Hume') he does not acknowledge. The claims of morality are never lowered by him. What he really does is to treat commercial ambition as (in later language) a principle of development. On the principles of evolution by natural selection, the individuals and the species, whose development results in a higher order of species and individuals than themselves, could have no credit for the result, and yet the result might be pronounced good. To Adam Smith the same seemed true of industrial progress. It was “Nature's" doing, not man's. It was according to law, but not a law of man's making; indeed, man could not try deliberately to make it without spoiling the work of Nature. Throughout, Nature is used in contrast to human art and artifice, especially the art and artifice of societies of men, small and great. Thus it is that Trade combinations, whether of masters or men, commercial companies, with or without the aid of the State, are.equally disliked by him.
If the objection be made that society in the larger sense is allowed by him to be “natural” and its collective acts cannot logically be refused the name, and that the interference of collective humanity has seemed in history (in regard to industry for example) to grow up as “naturally” as society itself, he would possibly have answered that by a “natural order” he does not mean one which is first in time. Historically the development of the towns has led to that of the country, but by nature the development of the country should come first.3 America, following the natural order, has grown faster than Europe, where the order is disturbed.* The order is called “natural” simply because it is the better means to a given end. In all such cases (he seems to think) we discover the best means (and therein the natural order) by leaving the commercial ambition of men free to act in the way each individual prefers. Thus left free, if the individuals are really pursuing wealth and not one of the other objects of human aspiration, they will light
1 See above (Hume, p. 124).
°°+ Ib., III. 1. 169, IV, 185. 5 Cf. Moral Sent., ist ed., pp. 290-292.
upon the fittest means, and the fittest means involve e.g. that the progress of agriculture should come before and not after progress of manufactures. To say that the disturbance of this order is not natural is therefore only to say that it prevents the use of the best means to the given end. This is the meaning of the apparent selfishness of the Wealth of Nations; there are many ends of life besides wealth, but, given this end, Adam Smith points out what he considers to be the best means of securing it. He believes that he can discover, even in things as they are, clear proofs that, on the whole, men have had an inkling of these proper means and have laid hold on them in spite of all deterrents. Intense individual interest and assiduity are indispensable for the making of wealth. It is not and it cannot be a fit work for societies and States. The presumption is thus always against the interference of the State and in favour of "natural liberty” and the spontaneous unrestricted action of individuals.
Though (to Adam Smith) the progress of wealth is thus not due to collective action, it is in a very real sense not possible without it, for it is not possible without security and justice, which it is one of the main objects of the State to guarantee. The “natural liberty" of men would be a mockery without the limitations of it which are enforced on all for the benefit of all. “Laissezfaire” beyond these limits is not the doctrine of our author, but of William Godwin and modern Anarchists, who think that public spirit may be one day the universal substitute for the fear of the magistrate and the constable. Adam Smith could not have entertained such a view. What we call public spirit, he says, is frequently found in men without any humanity or humaneness of feeling; it is frequently a desire to improve a political system because of the mere love of order and method for their own sakes, as men remedy faults in a machine from a purely intellectual pleasure in beholding a perfect mechanism. On the other hand, men may be full of good nature (like James I. of England) without any public spirit. That
1 Inter alia, IV. of N., II. 111. 154; cf. 199, 1, etc., etc. 2 Moral Sent., ist ed., 350-353.
all men should be always alike imbued with all the virtues seems the only contingency that would make an enforced justice unnecessary.' But ideal virtue is very distantly approached, even by the chosen few; and ordinary virtue is far below such requirements. Gradual progress, whether in politics, ethics, or economics, seems to Adam Smith the natural and safe progress. He never speaks as if it could ever go so far as to make the State superfluous.
Human affections seemed to him to extend from narrower circles to wider by a natural order of precedence and succession. One of the larger circles was a man's own country; and the love of country involves two different and not always harmonious principles, regard for the good of society and regard for the stability of political institutions. When there is conflict between them, as in times of Revolution, the former should prevail." Reconstruction of political institutions may be indispensable; the "greatest and noblest of all characters" is that of the reformer and legislator of a great State, though, in general, stability and order should be sedulously maintained. For himself, our author is more cosmopolitan than patriotic. He speaks severely of the idea that nations can be natural enemies.? Both nations gain by a trade between them, just as both parties to every
fair bargain between individuals gain by it; and, if trade were only free, the different countries of the earth would (in matters of trade) resemble the different provinces of a single empire. The progress of cultivation, invention, art and science of every kind, and everywhere, means a “real improvement of the world we live in. Mankind are benefited; hụman nature is ennobled by them
” (Moral Sent., II. 98).
To our author, therefore, economical truths are like the matters of science generally : they have no nationality; the facts are true for all the world, not for one nation only, but for all societies of men everywhere. But the
1 Moral Sent., ist ed. 357.
3 See the passage apparently aimed at the Revolutionary parties of France, 6th ed., 106-108.
4 See above, p. 162. 5 Moral Sent., 6th, II. 104.
6 lb., 106; cf. II. 94 seq. 7 Ib., II. 100.
8 W. of N., IV. V. 240.
State is treated as something mechanical. We hear of "the political machine,"1 and of “that insidious and crafty animal vulgarly called the statesman or politician.' There is a natural jurisprudence, certain principles on which every legislator should proceed; but they are the “natural rules of justice, independent of all positive institutions."3 The State is profitable for defence, justice, and for public works ; in other words, for such works as are every one's business and no one's business. Beyond these limits our author has little regard for the State; he respects society so long as it is not acting collectively. He regards the personal head of the State as ordinary flesh and blood : “All the innocent blood she in the civil wars provoked less indignation than the death of Charles I.,” and yet the agony of dissolution is the same to those of low degree as to those of high rank."
“ Nature" here at least is (he admits) not identical with Reason. Reason teaches us that kings are the servants of the people; nature teaches us rather that they are superior beings who may exact abject obedience.
This last admission points us to a weakness in Adam Smith's whole argument. He cannot in the case of man avoid sliding from the notion of Nature, as the divine reason working in him without his will, into the notion of Nature as mere instinct and custom, rational or irrational.
“ Natural liberty,” like Christian liberty, might easily become a cloak of maliciousness without ceasing to be “natural” in the latter sense. Our author was influenced by Hume, whose Treatise of Human Nature he had read as early as his college days. There are "a natural price,” “natural wages," a "natural order, which human nature, as distinguished from human institutions, will discover for itself; and men's “natural liberty" will be simply the absence of any hindrance to this spontaneous action of human nature. Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations is in fact, so far as it has one single purpose, a vindication of the unconscious law present in the sepa
1 Moral Sent., ist ed., 352.
2 W. of N., IV. 11. 201. Moral Sent., 6th ed., II., 397–398. 4 W. of N., Bk. V. 5 Moral Sent., ist ed., 114.
6 Ibid., ist ed., 115. ? It was probably a copy sent by the author. See Burton's Life of Hume (1846), I. 116.