Hidden Controversies: Smith and Rousseau Encounter

  Adam Smith wrote a brief introduction to “The Wealth of Nations” (also translated as “A Study of the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations”), and named it “Introduction and Plan of the work). This introduction is quite special. His other book “The Theory of Moral Sentiments” does not have such a “preface”. In contrast, this introduction seems a bit solemn. Smith seems to be telling the reader that the introduction highlights themes and clues that are hidden in the main text but are difficult to find without effort. Or, the introduction provides readers with a key: With this key, we can enter Smith’s theoretical context through the dark tunnel of thought, and understand the philosophical care behind the “wealth”. Furthermore, Smith also hinted in the title that he would present his writing “plan” in this introduction: in addition to explaining the layout of the main text, he would also explain the intention and reason for writing “The Wealth of Nations”.
  Broadly speaking, this introduction can be divided into two parts. The introduction consists of nine paragraphs, the first four paragraphs are the first part, and the last five paragraphs are the second part. The last five paragraphs correspond to the five main texts (books), introducing each topic separately. Smith told us: the five main texts follow the logic of “nature-history-state”. The first two articles introduced two factors that affect the development of national wealth: the reasons for the increase in national labor skills and productivity; and the capital structure that affects the labor structure (that is, the ratio of the number of people engaged in useful labor to the number of people who are not engaged in useful labor). The third and fourth chapters turn from nature to history, from thinking about principles to analyzing policies, discussing the social changes that Europe has experienced since the fall of the Roman Empire. Smith told us that due to the influence of customs and class interests, political and economic policies in history often ran counter to the natural order of wealth, and the social changes in European countries followed a certain “anti-natural and regressive order.” That is to say, although the natural law of wealth cannot be violated, it will not be self-evident in the world. It needs the maintenance of the state and some kind of “national wisdom”. Therefore, in the fifth chapter, Smith focused on expounding his state theory, trying to enlighten legislators and teach them a kind of practical wisdom about negative justice. Therefore, the text of “The Wealth of Nations” also follows the logic of “positive-negative-combination”, and its historical analysis and state theory are rooted in the “natural order” of national wealth expounded in the first two articles.
  In the first part of the introduction, Smith focused on the theoretical basis of the above-mentioned “natural order”. Smith’s analysis presents a rigorous geometric logic. He attributed the source of national wealth over the years to “the annual labor of a country’s citizens.” The wealth of the nation depends on the ratio between the articles of consumption and the number of consumers, and is therefore governed by two circumstances: “First, how skilfully, how skillfully, how well the people of this country employ their labour; Second, what is the ratio between the number of people engaged in useful labor and the number of people who are not engaged in useful labor.” (“A Study on the Nature and Causes of National Wealth”, Commercial Press, 1972) These two factors are directly related to issues of civilization and equality. The higher the level of labor skills, the higher the degree of social civilization and the deeper the division of labor. The deeper the division of labor, the greater the proportion of people who “do not engage in useful labor” (that is, unproductive labor that cannot create wealth) in the national population, and the more unequal the society. Therefore, the more civilized a society is, the more unequal it is.
  Rousseau published “On the Origin and Foundation of Inequality among Men” (hereinafter referred to as “On Inequality”) in 1755. In this work, he emphasized that liberty and equality are closely related. For each is free only if he is not subject to any other. Thus, he launched a fierce critique of civilization, arguing that civilization caused and increasingly consolidated inequality, gave birth to corruption and slavery, deceit and war. In his genealogical discussion on how human beings entered civilized society from a state of nature, civilization was stamped with the mark of degeneration. He uses genealogy to make moral evaluations, and civilization and inequality are classified as moral opposites.
  When Smith revisited the issue of civilization and equality in the introduction to The Wealth of Nations, he probably thought of Rousseau’s criticism of inequality and civilization, and readers would naturally think of Rousseau’s criticism. Between civilization and equality, Smith chose civilization over equality. In the fourth paragraph of the introduction, he compared the significant differences between barbaric tribes and civilized societies, and tried to prove that the wealth of a country depends more on labor skills than on the proportion of producers in the total population of the society. It is worth noting that this statement of his has a strong moral overtone. He tries to guide readers to make a moral evaluation of barbarism and civilization. He seems to be reminding readers that he is having a dialogue and debate with Rousseau on the issue of civilization and equality; moreover, compared with Rousseau, his answer is based on historical facts rather than speculation, and is more well-founded and convincing.
  Among uncivilized fishing and hunting peoples, all those who can work engage in useful labor to a greater or lesser extent, supplying themselves and those in the family who are unable to fish and hunt due to old, young, sick and weak with various necessities and conveniences of life. They are, however, so poor that often, because of their poverty alone, they are compelled, or at least feel compelled, to kill their relatives, old, young, and chronically ill; or to abandon them to starve or be eaten by wild animals. On the other hand, among civilized and flourishing nations there are many who do not work at all, and who often consume ten or a hundred times more of the produce of that labor than the majority of the laborers. But as the total labor of the society produces so many things, there is often sufficient supply for all, and even the lowest and poorest laborers, as long as they are diligent and thrifty, enjoy more necessities and conveniences than savages. (“An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations”)
  In the above introduction, Smith drew two pictures of barbarism and civilization. “Uncivilized fishing and hunting peoples” were backward in production and lived in poverty, and thus developed cruel and cruel customs; while “civilized and prosperous peoples” had sufficient supplies, people’s lives were generally affluent, and the cruel customs of abandoning the old, young, sick and weak followed. disappear. Behind the distinction between literary and wild is the confrontation between inequality and equality. In the “uncivilized peoples of hunting and fishing”, the division of labor is simple. It seems that this is an egalitarian society. And “among civilized and prosperous nations”, the division of labor becomes complicated, and the social structure and wealth distribution become unequal. Does the unequal division of labor and distribution have sufficient moral critical power to negate a civilized and prosperous life? At the end of the first chapter of the first part of “The Wealth of Nations”, after explaining the significance of the division of labor to modern society, he brought up the opposition between civilization and barbarism again, and tried to answer this question.
  In a civilized country the dwellings of the poor “look undeniably crude and crude “by comparison with the luxury of the great.” Yet the palace of a European monarch is not so much superior to the dwelling of a thrifty farmer as the latter is superior to The extent of the dwelling place of many African kings. An African king is the absolute master of life and liberty to thousands of naked primitives.” (Adam Smith, An Inquiry into The Nature and Causes of The Wealth of Nations, Liberty Fund, 1981)
  Here, Smith mentions three types of inequality: the inequality between the great and the humble in a civilized country, the inequality between a thrifty farmer in a civilized country and the king in a barbaric society, the inequality between an African king and a primitive man. inequality. He puts the three kinds of inequality into a continuous pedigree, compares and evaluates them. Smith revised Rousseau’s description of barbaric society and also made important additions to the discussion in the introduction. He clearly tells readers that freedom and equality in barbaric society is just a fiction and myth. The inequality between African kings and primitive men far exceeds the inequality between European monarchs and peasants. As far as the appearance is concerned, barbarians have an equal division of labor structure, and most people have to participate in useful labor equally. However, the crude division of labor of the barbarians concealed the power relations and dominance relations within the society. They are just in a dependent position equally, and their life and freedom are equally controlled by the “absolute master”. They were not only poor, but also suffered the most severe slavery. In civilized countries, on the other hand, the humbler men have their own property, though they have only a humble abode. They are far richer than the “Kings of Africa”. In civilized countries, the division of labor becomes complicated, and both the monarch and the farmer are absorbed into the system of division of labor, although their labor is “useless” and “useful”. Therefore, their inequality is not the difference between masters and slaves, but the difference created by the division of labor. Civilized countries encourage industry, and the humble are freed from their dependent status, and can strive to improve their situation and earn a decent life. Citizens of civilized countries enjoy legal equality and even political liberty compared with barbarous societies. In Book Three of The Wealth of Nations, Smith tells the story of the growth of a civilization. He described the historical changes in Europe: from the poverty and slavery of the Middle Ages, Europe gradually became prosperous, gained “order and good government”, and “individual security and liberty”. (Ibid.) During this period of history, order, equality, and freedom also grew along with wealth and civilization. Smith wanted to tell the readers: Civilization is not opposed to legal equality and political freedom; civilization can correct customs because civilization is based on morality. When Smith showed readers the above-mentioned genealogy of “inequality”, he also put barbarism and civilization into a continuous historical process: barbarism and civilization are just different stages of social development, and they follow the common law of morality and justice. Rousseau praised noble savages and criticized civilized society, believing that there was an irreconcilable gap and irreconcilable opposition between barbarism and civilization. Smith developed a new theory of civilization based on his historical thinking and with the help of credible empirical observations, and launched a hidden debate with Rousseau.

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