08 April 2014

Adam Smith, 'Marxist' (or Karl Marx, 'Smithist')

I was reading an article from The Atlantic that used some of the splendid tools that Google has made available to researchers to trace the beginnings of the word 'liberal', as a word conveying a political philosophy.

In it, I came across the following:

If all nations, Smith says, were to follow “the liberal system of free exportation and free importation,” then they would be like one great cosmopolitan empire, and famines would be prevented.
The Smith referred to is one of the founding figures of what might be called 'Anglosphere Ideology', Adam Smith.

What struck me, though, was the idea of internationalism expressed here. Marx argued that the working class must think globally if it was to carry out its inevitable task of supplanting the capitalism. Smith seems to be arguing the same for the capitalist class to accomplish his liberal agenda.

Think about this for a moment. In 1774, 'nations' and their borders were still somewhat protean concepts compared to what they would become in short order. Most people in Europe (and the Americas), in fact, were loyal to a structure under which nationality was represented by a specific individual. Borders simply marked the limits of this individual's authority, and the point where the authority of another individual reigned. Smith is envisioning a world where the ability of that individual (and the associated administrative structure) to reward and deny on the basis of preference will be severely restricted. 'All that is solid melts into air' indeed.

The capitalists in fact succeeded in subverting their contemporary structures of authority to establish their 'dictatorship' over the way societies are organised. I imagine Marx looking on the world today from the Valhalla of Political Economists rather grimly while at the other end of the banqueting table Adam Smith has a broad smirk of self-satisfaction.

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