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2022 | OriginalPaper | Chapter

2. The Rhetorical Structure of Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations (and What Caused It)

Authors : Andreas Ortmann, Benoît Walraevens

Published in: Adam Smith’s System

Publisher: Springer International Publishing

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Abstract

We first review Smith’s understanding and use of rhetoric. We stress that Smith was very much aware of the strategic nature of the interaction between speaker or writer and listener(s) or reader(s) and that in situations of divergent interests, different strategies might have to be applied, compared to situations where the only purpose was to impart/instill knowledge. We argue that the strategic nature of interaction motivated the very specific sequencing of books in Smith’s second major published work, An Inquiry into The Nature and Causes of The Wealth of Nations. Analyzing furthermore the political context of its publication, we make the case for the central importance of its Book V, “Of the Revenue of the Sovereign or Commonwealth,” which tends to be neglected in most accounts of Smith’s oeuvre.

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Footnotes
1
For general introductions to Smith’s analysis of rhetoric and language, see Swearingen (2013) and McKenna (2016).
 
2
TMS.
 
3
WN.
 
4
See also Kellow (2011).
 
5
LRBL.
 
6
See also Hill (2021). Of course, Smith was not alone in being interested in “the American question” (Phillipson 2010, chapter 12). Simiqueli claims that “the independence of the American colonies figures as one of the main topics of discussion among the enlightened Scots” (2017, p. 19).
 
7
See recently Diatkine (2019) and Hill (2021).
 
8
See also Bryce (1983, p. 7 and p. 13). Rae reported that Smith had divulged to a third party that sometimes he would select one of his students as an unsuspecting gauge of the extent to which he managed to captivate the class: “I had him constantly under my eye. If he leant forward to listen all was right, and I knew that I had the ear of my class; but if he leant back in an attitude of listlessness I felt at once that all was wrong, and that I must change either the subject or the style of my address” (Rae 1895, p. 57). The attention that Smith paid to others’ perception of his performance—an attention very much reflected in the spectator construction of TMS (Meardon & Ortmann 1996a, 1996b)–clearly paid off as by all accounts Smith was considered a good teacher (Stewart 1795 in Smith 1982; Ortmann 1997, 1999).
 
9
As Skinner (1996, p. 227) succinctly puts it: “America, in short, had acquired the status of an experiment which ‘confirmed’ Smith’s theses, one that could be allowed to remain in the Wealth of Nations as a kind of permanent exhibit”.
 
10
Van de Haar (2013)’s chapter on empire and international relations in Smith is more focused on the latter than on the former and misses the link between the colonial wars, the mercantile system, the importance for Smith of the American question, and his views for the future of the British Empire, which are all related, as we show here.
 
11
For more details on the political consequences of the mercantile system for Smith, see Diatkine (2019, chapter 5).
 
12
“Kirkcaldy. It was there that he went to school, there he returned for the long vacations that he enjoyed as a student and professor at Glasgow, and there that he wrote much of the Wealth of Nations between 1767 and 1773” (Phillipson 2010, p. 10).
 
13
“ … Edinburgh was to remain close to the centre of his field of vision for the rest of his life as a city he valued for its intellectual life and its cultural politics” (Phillipson 2010, p. 72).
 
14
“And although Smith always preferred Glasgow’s collegiate culture and the peace and quiet of Kirkcaldy to the more mouvemente life of the capital, …” (Phillipson 2010, p. 72).
 
15
“(Smith’s) involvement with colonial affairs as an advisor was more personal and prolonged. We do not know if [Smith] recommended the Townshend duties that were later to play a major part in the Boston tea party in 1773, but we can be fairly certain from the treatment given to public debt and taxation in Book V of the Wealth of Nations, and his speculative plan for a ‘states-general of the British Empire’ in Book IV, that Smith supported Townshend’s resolve to make the American colonies contribute a larger share of their revenues to cover debts incurred in their governance and defence” (Winch 2013, p. 4).
 
16
“By a union with Great Britain, Ireland would gain, besides the freedom of trade, other advantages much more important, and which would much more than compensate any increase of taxes that might accompany that union. By the union with England, the middling and inferior ranks of people in Scotland gained a compleat deliverance from the power of an aristocracy which had always before oppressed them. By a union with Great Britain the greater part of the people of all ranks in Ireland would gain an equally compleat deliverance from a much more oppressive aristocracy” (WN, V.iii.89, p. 944). See also (Corr., Appendix B).
 
17
“The American Campaign has begun awkwardly. I hope, I cannot say that I expect, it will end better. England, tho’ in the present times it breeds men of great professional abilities in all different ways, great Lawyers, great watch makers and Clockmakers, etc. etc., seems to breed neither Statesmen nor Generals” (Corr. 158, Smith to Strahan, June 3, 1776).
 
18
“I have a strong persuasion that in spite of all our wretched Conduct, the mere force of government clumsily and unsteadily applied will beat down the more unsteady and unmanageable Force of a democratical Rebellion” (Corr. 159, Wedderburn to Smith, June 6, 1776).
 
19
In a letter to Smith dated 8 February 1776, Hume writes: “The Duke of Bucleugh tells me, that you are very zealous in American Affairs. My notion is, that the matter is not so important as is commonly imagind” (Corr. 149, p. 185).
 
20
See for example the already mentioned (fn 11) 1778 memorandum for Alexander Wedderburn.
 
21
“To expect, indeed, that the freedom of trade should ever be entirely restored in Great Britain, it is absurd as to expect that an Oceania or Utopia should ever be established in it. Not only the prejudices of the publick, but what is much more unconquerable, the private interests of many individuals, irresistible oppose it …” (WN, IV.ii.43, p. 471).
 
22
For a similar idea, see Evensky (2016, p. 80).
 
23
“In the spring of 1773 Smith decided to end his Kirkcaldy retreat and to finish The Wealth of Nations in the capital. He needed company and American news” (Phillipson 2010, p. 209). “In I773–1776 Smith was in London revising The Wealth of Nations - somewhat unexpectedly, too, since he came down from Kirkcaldy with the intention of publishing at once” (Eliot 1924, p. 70).
 
24
In a letter dated September 3, 1772 to William Pulteney, Smith wrote: “My Dearest Pulteney I received your most friendly letter in due course, and I have delayed a great deal too long to answer it. Tho I have had no concern myself in the Public calamities, some of the friends for whom I interest myself the most have been deeply concerned in them; and my attention has been a good deal occupied about the most proper method of extricating them. In the Books which I am now preparing for the Press …” (Corr. 132, p. 163).
Letter from Hume to Smith, dated November 23, 1772: “Come hither for some weeks about Christmas; dissipate yourself a little; return to Kirkcaldy; finish your work before Autumn; go to London; print it; return and settle in this town, which suits your studious, independent turn even better than London: …” (Corr. 134, p. 166).
 
25
See Corr. 149, p. 185.
 
26
For a similar idea, see Ross (2010, chapter 16). Evensky claims, without textual support or further investigation, that Smith’s three-years delay in the publication of the WN was intended by him “primarily to further develop Book IV…” (2016, p. 79).
 
27
We owe this alternative explanation to Margaret Schabas. On Hume’s authority, there is some validity to her suggestion but we believe that the balance of the evidence suggests strongly that Smith really felt apprehensive about his own knowledge which of course might have fed some angst.
 
28
Chaplin (2006), Flavell (2010) and Morrison (2012, p. 416) are other references of relevance here. Flavell musters considerable evidence that London was before, and even after the Declaration of Independence, qua its cultural amenities and thousands of Americans those brought to Europe, Franklin being one of them, “an American City in Europe” (so the title of the prelude). Drawing apparently on Chaplin’s book, she argues that Franklin “in his travels through both Scotland and England met other well-known philosophers, intellectuals and entrepreneurs – David Hume, Adam Smith, James Watt, Matthew Boulton – all eager to meet ‘the best philosopher of America’” (p. 207) but there are no specifics about what Smith might have learned from Franklin and when.
 
29
See also Ross (2010, chapter 16). Eliot points out that the key facets of Smith’s thinking, especially his claim that it was ultimately labor that created value, were to be found years before the publication of WN in Franklin’s publications. But it is possible that Franklin had just plagiarized Petty on that topic. We thank Tony Aspromourgos for pointing this out to us.
 
30
“I owe to a journey I made with Mr. Smith from Edinburgh to London the difference between light and darkness… The novelty of his principles made me unable to comprehend them at the time, but he urged them with so much eloquence, that they took a certain hold which, though it did not arrive at full conviction for some few years after, I can truly say has constituted ever since the happiness of my life” (Morrison 2012, p. 395, our italics).
 
31
For another point of view on this issue, see Morrison (2012).
 
32
In Morrison’s view, “Smith delayed publishing his treatise to make explicit connections between the predictions of his theory and the colonists’ violent rejection of mercantilist imperialism” (2012, p. 407).
 
33
LJ.
 
34
As Phillipson writes, “it seems fairly certain that Smith’s principal task was to reflect on the principles of political economy he had developed at Glasgow in the light of those of Quesnay and his disciples, and to develop and refine the vast stock of historical illustrations on which the effectiveness of his advocacy would depend. He had already established the principle that the opulence of a nation was to be measured in terms of the flow of consumable goods and not its reserves of gold and silver. …
Moreover, he had outlined a theory of natural liberty, which argued that a system of free markets and free exchange would optimize a nation’s wealth, and he had raised the provocative and question-begging issue of why the progress of opulence had been so slow in Europe. But while he had offered an account of many of the economic, political and moral factors on which the progress of opulence depended, he had not yet worked these factors into a system which explained precisely how they interacted” (2010, p. 205).
 
35
In Phillipson’s words: “what his theory and his attack on the commercial system had lacked was any strong example of a nation whose economic progress had actually followed the route laid out in an essentially conjectural analysis. He had naturally called attention to Scotland’s remarkable economic and political progress since the creation of its free-trade union with England to illustrate his Glasgow lectures, and he made copious use of Scottish examples to illustrate various themes of the Wealth of Nations. But Scotland, still encumbered by the constraints of feudal system, was not the perfect example of the sort of natural progress Smith had envisaged. His masterstroke was to introduce the experience of colonial America as the classic, and indeed the only possible, example of a society whose progress had been rapid and natural by comparison with that of Europe” (2010, p. 228).
 
36
On Hume’s analysis of public debt, see Paganelli (2010).
 
37
The issue of the “jealousy of trade” was also investigated by Hume in his eponymous essay and in Of the Balance of Trade. On jealousy of trade in Hume and Smith, see Hont (2005, 2015) and Walraevens (2017).
 
38
This metaphor was used by Melon in his Political Essay on Commerce and was already denounced by Hume (1986, p. 356).
 
39
“Great Britain is, perhaps, since the world began, the only state which, as it has extended its empire, has only increased its expence without once augmenting its resources” (WN, IV.vii.c.73, p. 621).
 
40
“That publick debt has been contracted in defence, not of Great Britain alone, but of all the different provinces of the Empire; the immense debt contracted in the late war in particular, and a great part of that contracted in the war before, were both properly contracted in defence of America” (WN, V.iii.88, p. 944).
 
41
Simiqueli (2017) convincingly shows that Smith’s project of Empire is informed by the distinction he made between two types of ancient colonies: the Greek apoikia and the Roman colonia.
 
42
Smith underlines the economic benefits for Great Britain and the colonies of a free trade between them in (WN, IV.vii.c.48, p. 608). The American colonies could also reap political benefits from the union with Great Britain, Smith argues. In particular, due to the distance with the mother country, the spirit of faction (a great source of corruption of moral sentiments and political instability) would be undermined (WN, V.iii.90, p. 945).
 
43
Note, though, that for Simiqueli, “we can say that Smith foresees the foreseeable, or imagines the imaginable – his reflection on the colonies belongs to the context in which he writes, and it attempts to address the specific problems within this scenario…More than formulating ‘principles of imperial government regarded as applicable in all circumstances’ (Benians 1925 268), what we have here is a pragmatic response to an objective demand…” (2017, p. 34).
 
44
“To promote the little interest of one little order of men in one country, it hurts the interest of all other orders of men in that country, and of all men in all other countries” (WN, IV.vii.c.60, p. 612). See also (WN, IV.vii.c.67, p. 618).
 
45
Hill (2021) (convincingly) argues that the project of union (or imperial parliament) with the American colonies exposed and supported by Smith in WN might not have been the solution he personally favored above all other options (which would be a complete separation with complete freedom of trade), but rather a second-best solution knowing the interests, pride, and prejudices of people and politicians on both sides of the Atlantic. Smith’s stance on this issue thus exhibits his gradualist and pragmatist approach of politics, and—we stress—it also illustrates Smith’s savvy use of rhetorical strategies.
 
46
See John Roebuck quoted above (Corr. 147, p. 184) and William Robertson, writing to Smith on April 8, 1776: “Many of your observations concerning the Colonies are of capital importance to me. I shall often follow you as my Guide and Instructor” (Corr. 153, p. 192).
 
47
Smith, according to Millar (as reported in Stewart), believed: “The best method of explaining and illustrating the various powers of the human mind, the most useful part of metaphysics, arises from an examination of the several ways of communicating our thoughts by speech, and from an attention to the principles of those literary compositions which contribute to persuasion or entertainment” (Stewart 1795 in Smith 1982, p. 274).
 
48
For example, Ferguson (Corr. 154, p. 193) attested: “You have provoked, it is true, the church, the universities, and the merchants …”.
 
49
According to Stewart, Smith’s “remarks with respect to the jealousy of commerce are expressed in a tone of indignation, which he seldom assumes in his political writings” (Stewart 1795 in Smith 1982, p. 216).
 
50
For a different point of view, see Brown (1994, pp. 15–18). For a discussion of her work, see Collings & Ortmann (1997).
 
51
“We have shewn how fare they have acted agreably to that Rule, which is equally applicable to conversation and behaviour as writing. For what is that makes a man agreable company, is it not, when his sentiments appear to be naturally expressed, when the passion or affection is properly conveyed and when their thoughts are so agreable and naturall that we find ourselves inclined to give our assent to them. A wise man too in conversation and behaviour will not affect a character that is unnaturall to him; if he is grave he will not affect to be gay, nor if he be gay will he affect to be grave. He will only regulate his naturall temper, restrain within just bounds and lop all exhuberances and bring it to that pitch which will be agreable to those about him. But he will not affect such conduct as is unnaturall to his temper tho perhaps in the abstract they may be more to be wished” (LRBL, p. 133).
 
52
“As there are two methods of proceeding in didacticall discourses, so there are two in Deliberative eloquence which are no less different, and are adapted to very conterary circumstances. The 1st may be called the Socratick method, as it was that which, if we may trust the dialogues of Xenophon and Plato, that Philosopher generally made use. In this method we keep as far from the main point to be proved as possible, bringing on the audience by slow and imperceptible degrees to the thing to be proved, and by gaining their consent to some things whose tendency they can’t discover, we force them at last either to deny what they had before agreed to, or to grant the Validity of the Conclusion. This is the smoothest and most engaging manner. The other is a harsh and unmannerly one where we affirm the thing we are to prove, boldly at the Beginning, and when any point is controverted beginn by proving that very thing and so on, this we may call the Aristotelian method as we know it was that which he used” (LRBL, pp. 146–147).
 
53
Fleischacker (2004; see in particular pp. 10–11) is remarkable; in that he stresses the “same roundabout, qualified way of making points” runs from sentences over passages all the way to “the structure of the WN as a whole”.
 
54
“These 2 methods are adapted to the two conterary cases in which an orator may be circumstanced with regard to his audience, they may either have a favourable or unfavourable opinion of that which he is to prove. That is they may be prejudiced for or they may be prejudiced against. In the 2nd Case we are to use the Socratic method, in the 1st the Aristotelian. I do not mean by this that we are to suppose that in any case the Orator and his audience are to hold a dialogue with each other, or that they are to go on by granting small demand < s > or by boldly denying what the other affirms; but only that when the audience is favourable we are to begin with the proposition and set it out Roundly before them as it must be most for our advantage in this case to shew at the first we are of their opinion, the arguments we advance gain strength by this precaution. On the other hand if they are prejudiced against the Opinion to be advanced; we are not to shock them by rudely affirming what we are satisfied is dissagreable, but are to conceal our design and beginning at a distance bring them slowly on to the main point and having gained the more remote ones we get the nearer ones of consequence” (LRBL, p. 147).
 
55
Dellemotte (2002) has shown how the natural propensity to trade, barter, and exchange and the desire to better our condition, are derived from the universal desire of mutual sympathy.
 
56
“We rarely hear, it has been said, of the combinations of masters; though frequently of those of workmen. But whoever imagines, upon this account, that masters rarely combine, is as ignorant of the world as of the subject. Masters are always and every where in a sort of tacit, but constant and uniform combination, not to raise the wages of labour above their actual rate. To violate this combination is every where a most unpopular action, and a sort of reproach to a master among his neighbours and equals. We seldom, indeed, hear of this combination, because it is the usual, and one may say, the natural state of things which nobody ever hears of…The masters upon these occasions are just as clamorous upon the other side, and never cease to call aloud for the assistance of the civil magistrate, and the rigorous execution of those laws which have been enacted with so much severity against the combinations of servants, labourers, and journeymen” (WN, I.viii.13, p. 84).
 
57
“The proposal of any new law or regulation of commerce which comes from this order, ought always to be listened to with great precaution, and ought never to be adopted till after having been long and carefully examined, not only with the most scrupulous, but with the most suspicious attention. It comes from an order of men, whose interest is never exactly the same with that of the publick, who have generally an interest to deceive and even to oppress the publick, and who accordingly have, upon many occasions, both deceived and oppressed it” (WN, I.xi.p. 10, p. 267).
 
58
Smith’s criticism of Mercantilism in Book IV grew sharper with time. In the third edition of WN appears a new chapter (“Conclusion of the Mercantile System”, WN, IV.viii, pp. 642–662) and a number of new passages relating the legislative influence of mercantile interests to “extortion,” (WN, IV.viii.3-4, pp. 643–644) and explaining how such influence functions at the expense of the poor. For example: “It is the industry which is carried on for the benefit of the rich and powerful, that is principally encouraged by our mercantile system. That which is carried on for the benefit of the poor and the indigent, is too often, either neglected, or oppressed” (WN, IV.viii.4, p. 644).
 
59
Smith devotes only one chapter to the agricultural system because it is less pernicious for economic growth than the mercantile system and it has never been implemented.
 
60
“In representing the wealth of nations as consisting, not in the unconsumable riches of money, but in the consumable goods annually reproduced by the labour of the society; and in representing perfect liberty as the only effectual expedient for rendering this annual reproduction the greatest possible, its doctrine seems to be in every respect as just as it is generous and liberal” (WN, IV.ix.38, p. 678).
 
61
For more details on sophistry in the WN, see Gore (2011).
 
62
We follow in our reference to Smith’s work what has emerged as standard convention (abbreviations such as CL, Corr., EPS, HA, and so on). We refer to the Liberty version of the Glasgow edition of Smith’s oeuvre. Typically the Liberty version were available a few years later, so we also indicated the original publication date of the corresponding Glasgow edition.
 
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Metadata
Title
The Rhetorical Structure of Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations (and What Caused It)
Authors
Andreas Ortmann
Benoît Walraevens
Copyright Year
2022
DOI
https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-99704-5_2