Category Archives: Bourgeois Towns

A 2007 draft of various parts of volume 2 of the Bourgeois Era.

Chapter 12
Smith Was Last Great Virtue Ethicist

Smith was mainly an ethical philosopher. The recent literature from Knud Haakonssen (1981) through Charles Griswold (1999) and Samuel Fleischacker (2004, pp. xv, 48-54) says so, against the claim by the economists, believed for a long time, that he was mainly an economist in the modern, anti-ethical sense. The taking of ethics out of Smith began immediately after Smith’s death, in the reactionary era of the French Revolution. To assure the British authorities and British public opinion that political economy was not subversive, ethics was omitted. The Cold War inspired similar omissions, and it may be that during the American conquest of economics a fear of radicalism supported the anti-ethical reading of Smith.

But another reason the economists’ claim was accepted for so long, against the textual and biographical evidence, is that Smith practiced what for a long time after Smith was considered an obsolete sort of ethical philosophy, known as “virtue ethics.” Virtue ethics somewhat mysteriously disappeared from academic circles after the 6th and final and substantially revised edition of Smith’s own favorite of his two published books, The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759, 1790). Since 1790 most ethical theory as practiced in departments of philosophy has derived instead from two other books published about the same time as Smith’s, one by Immanuel Kant (1785, for example Frankfurt 2004) and the other by Jeremy Bentham (1789, for example Singer 1993). A third and older tradition of natural rights, which influenced Smith, too, by way of Locke and Pufendorf, finds favor nowadays among conservative and Catholic intellectuals (Leo Strauss 1953, John Finnis 1980; cf. Hont and Ignatieff 1983; but then see Fleischacker 2004, pp. 221-226). And the new contractarian theories of Rousseau, Locke, and Hobbes, to which Smith paid no attention, has provided in our time a fourth, related, stream of narrow ethics paired with grand political theory (Buchanan and Tullock 1962, Rawls 1971, Nussbaum 2006).

But the fifth and by far the oldest and broadest stream is the virtue-ethical one. It flowed from Plato and especially from Aristotle in his Nichomachean Ethics (c. 330 BC), meandering through the Stoics, mapped by Cicero (44 BC), and channeled into Christianity by Aquinas (c. 1269-72). As I say, in the late 18th century this ethics of the virtues, viewed until then by most Europeans as the only sensible way to think about good and bad character, was pushed underground, at least in the academic theories of philosophers, re-emerging only in 1958 (Anscombe 1958, MacIntyre 1981, Nussbaum herself again 1986, Hursthouse 1999).

The 170 year reign of ethical theories new in the Enlightenment lasted until the frailties of logic without context became clear, in the later Wittgenstein, for example, and in numerous other post-positivist thinkers. Before then “the notion that the mathematical method could be applied to ethics, rendering it a demonstrative science,” writes Father Copleston of the proliferation of new ethical theories c. 1710, following the examples of Hobbes and Spinoza, “was . . . common, . . partly because of the prestige won by mathematics through its successful application in physical science and partly because it was widely thought that ethics had formerly depended on authority and needed a new rational basis” (Copleston 1959, p. 251). By 1950 the Enlightenment program was in this respect looking frayed, though quite a few decades passed before the news began to reach fields like economics or evolutionary biology. As Isaiah Berlin noted in his very last paper on analytic philosophy, “no abstract or analytic rigor exists out of all connection with historical, personal thought . . . Every thought belongs, not just somewhere, but to someone and is at home in a context . . . which is not purely formally described” (Berlin 1950 quoted in Ignatieff 1998, p. 88).

Though Immanuel Kant knew and appreciated the 1759 edition of TMS in its German translation, Smith even in 1790 knew nothing of Kant’s ruminations in far Köningsberg about the duty to follow generalizable ethical maxims. D. D. Raphael and A. L. Mackie note that “the extent to which Smith was influenced by other moral philosophers of his time” was “remarkably small” (TMS Introduction, p. 10). But he did know, and sharply opposed, the reduction of what is good to what causes pleasure, that is, utilitarianism, if not in the form of the “chaos of precise ideas” in Bentham’s A Fragment on Government, with an Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation, published in the year before Smith’s death. The utilitarian stream began earlier than Bentham — for example in the writings of Smith’s great friend David Hume, though it also has ancient predecessors in the Epicureans, and it had modern ones in figures like Bernard Mandeville (1714), in the extreme form of “license,” or for that matter Nicolò Machiavelli, in the extreme form of the virtú of the prince. Smith opposed these. “In the opinion of [Epicurus, Hume, and the like],” Smith noted, “virtue consists in prudence” (TMS, p. 267). “That system . . . which makes virtue consist in prudence only, while it gives the highest encouragement to the habits of caution, vigilance, sobriety, and judicious moderation, seems to degrade equally both the amiable [Hutchesonian] and respectable [Stoic and virtue-ethical] virtues, and to strip the former of all their beauty, and the latter of all their grandeur” (TMS, p. 307).

Since Bentham, however, and especially since the anti-ethical turn in 20th century economics associated with Pigou, Robbins, Samuelson, and Friedman, the economists have interpreted Smith’s praise of the virtue of prudence to mean what the economists meant by virtue, that is: you do uncontroversial good only by doing well. As the economist Frank Knight wrote in 1923, “the nineteenth-century utilitarianism was in essence merely the ethics of power, ‘glorified economics’. . . . Its outcome was to reduce virtue to prudence”(Knight, 1923, p. 62). The turn towards prudence-only was renamed in the 1930s the “new” welfare economics, attempting to build judgments about the economy on the supposition that virtue consists in prudence, with justice taken as sheer taste. If all are benefited, or could be benefited, the proposed policy is good. That is all ye know of ethics, and all ye need to know (see Brown 1994, pp. 165-166 and footnotes for a discussion of such an “overly economistic” readings of The Wealth of Nations; and Evensky 2005, Chp. 10, on the “Chicago Smith” vs. the “Kirkaldy Smith”).

Smith did praise prudence as a virtue, especially in his book on prudence. For example: “what is prudence in the conduct of every private family can scarce be folly in that of a great kingdom” (WN, IV.ii, p. 457). But in his other published book one can find hundreds of pages in praise also of other virtues, especially temperance, or of justice in the unpublished lecture notes taken by his students in 1762-63 and 1766. And even in WN, unless one is pre-committed to seeing its implied hero as merely a confused precursor to Karl Marx’s Mister Money Bags or Paul Samuelson’s Max U, one can find a good deal of ethical judgment more grown-up than “prudence suffices” or “greed is good.” The economists on the contrary have usually believed, as the great economist — and much less great student of the history of economics — George Stigler, once put it, that “the Wealth of Nations is a stupendous palace erected upon the granite of self-interest” (Stigler 1975, p. 237).

The actual, Kirkaldy Smith, by contrast, assumed a person with all the needful virtues, in his accounting love, courage, temperance, justice, and self-interested prudence, too. From about 400 BC to about 1790 AD the moral universe was described in Europe as composed of the Seven Principal Virtues, resulting by recombination in hundreds of minor and particular virtues. The Seven are a jury-rigged combination of the four “pagan” or “cardinal” virtues (courage, temperance, justice, and prudence) and the three “Christian” or “theological” virtues (faith, hope, and love, these three abide).

Jury-rigged or not, they are a pretty good philosophical psychology. The tensions among the seven, and their complementarities, too, can be expressed in a diagram:

Minor though admirable virtues such as thrift or honesty can be described as combinations of the principal seven. A vice is a notable lack of one or more of them. The seven are in this sense primary colors. They cannot be derived from each other. Blue cannot be derived from red. Contrary to various attempts since Hobbes to do so, for example, justice cannot be derived from prudence only. And the other, minor colors can be derived from the primaries. You can’t derive red from maroon and purple. But blue plus red does make purple, blue plus yellow make green. The Romantic virtue of honesty, for example, is justice plus temperance in matters of speech, with a dash of courage and a teaspoon of faithfulness. Aquinas was the master of such analyses of virtues and vices. He provides scores of examples in showing that the seven are principal. “The cardinal virtues,” he declares, “are called more principal, not because they are more perfect than all the other virtues, but because human life more principally turns on them and the other virtues are based on them” (Disputed Questions [1267-72], Art. 1, p. 112). Courage plus prudence yields enterprise, a virtue not much admired by Adam Smith, who recommended instead safe investments in agriculture (Brown 1994, pp. 7, 53, 177). Temperance plus justice yields humility, prominent in Smith’s theorizing and in Smith’s own character, Fleischacker argues, accounting for his principled modesty in social engineering (2004, pp. 34-35, 97, 99). Temperance plus prudence yields thrift, which Smith came to believe, erroneously, was the spring of economic growth.

You can persuade yourself in various ways that the Aquinian Seven are a pretty good philosophical psychology (McCloskey 2006). For example, you can examine each in turn, noting its importance in human flourishing. Prudence is the executive function, and especially when pursued alone can be thought of as self interest or rationality in attaining ends. Justice is the social balance that answers to the personal balance of temperance. Courage is the characteristically male interest; love the female. Hope and faith are at first puzzling, but less so when understood as the forward-looking virtue of imagination and the backward-looking virtue of imagination. In other words, hope is the virtue of having a human project. Faith is the virtue of having a human identity. They do not have to be theological. But they do constitute, along with the higher form of love, what the Greeks calledagape, the “transcendent.”

Or you can imagine the miseries of a human life without one of the seven, a life without courage, cowering in the corner; or a life without faith, without identity; or a life without hope, left abruptly this afternoon with a bullet to your head.

Or you can ask people how they feel about the virtues. Alan Wolfe found in his surveys and interviews about American ethical views in the 1990s that “virtue,” singular, means little to ordinary Americans, except to arouse irritation at the conservative churches and their recent obsession with sex, sex, sex. But to Wolfe’s Americans the particular named virtues, plural, mean a great deal, provoking calm yet committed discussion. Americans admire, for example, loyalty, that blend of the theological and pagan virtues. And especially they admire honesty-justice and temperance with that dash of courage and teaspoon of faith. In a broader sense “honesty” is used to mean a bourgeois blend of all the virtues (Wolfe 2002, p. 23ff).

Or you can note that the seven virtues figure in the stories of our culture. Robert Hariman argues that in answering the question what is to be done you can stand with some of the philosophers such as Kant or Bentham, “Look for rules.” Smith didn’t like such rule books. Or you can stand with Sophocles, Thucydides, Adam Smith, and the sophists up to Jane Austen and Iris Murdoch, “Look for exemplars,” that is, human models of Prudence or Justice or Love (Hariman 2003, p. 7). Smith favored the humanistic teaching of ethics. Plutarch, for example, most of whose ample surviving work is ethical theorizing, was in his Lives steadily ethical, inspiring medieval saints’ lives and modern mythologies of national heroes, William Tell to the Blessed JFK. We are still writing the particular virtues, filming them, singing them, retelling the stories in the women’s gossip or the men’s instant replays. It is not merely the abstract, Aquinian analysis of, say, courage that forms an ethical tradition of resistance to fear. It is the stories of particular courages, in our particular faiths.

Or again you can compare the seven with virtues in other traditions, such as the Confucian. The characterization by Bryan Van Norden of the ethical theory of “the Second Sage” in the Confucian tradition, Mencius (372-289 BC), is startlingly similar to the Smith of TMS. Mencius’ grounds for opposing utilitarianism, for example, were identical to Smith’s: “Suppose someone suddenly saw a child about to fall into a well: everyone in such a situation would have a feeling of alarm and compassion — not because one sought to get in good with the child’s parents, not because one wanted fame among their neighbors and friends, and not because one would dislike the sound of the child’s cries” (2A6 in Mencius, quoted in Van Norden 2004, p. 159). The “sprout” of such feeling, to use Mencius’ vocabulary, would be the “moral sentiment” posited by Smith. Moral sentiments in Smith, like Mencius’ sprouts, are few but powerfully generative of the mature Impartial Spectator. Van Norden calls the growth of a mature ethical character the “affective extension” (p. 150) of the Confucian sprout. The sprout of benevolence, then, is the beginning of a moral sentiment of benevolence à la Smith. “Affective” extension is to be contrasted with what Van Norden calls the “cognitive extension,” seen in Kant and Bentham and the like. The focus on affect rather than cognition, I am saying, is very Scottish of Mencius. Again, “righteousness” ( yi) in Mencius is “what is appropriate,” strikingly similar to the notion of neo-Stoic and Ciceronian “propriety” elaborated in Smith (Van Norden 2004, p. 150). Indeed “propriety” is often paired with “righteousness” in the translations from the Chinese. And so forth. We are in a different ethical universe from a Kantian or utilitarian one, but not all that different from virtue ethics in the West.

Or yet again you can predict that if Aquinas’s Seven are good places to start a philosophical psychology, then they should show up in the works of psychologists. They do. A recent book published under the auspices of the American Psychological Association, edited by Christopher Peterson and Martin E. P. Seligman, Character Strengths and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification (2004), lends empirical support to the Seven, at any rate within the European tradition in which they were theorized. It seeks, as the philosopher Peter Danielson says in another connection, the “ethical genome.” In 644 big-format text pages, using 2300 citations to the technical literature in clinical and social psychology and related fields, the 40 drafters of the chapters (which Peterson and Seligman then rewrote) present a “manual of the sanities,” that is, the “positive psychology” of healthy people. These are not mere assertions but findings, summarizing a gigantic scientific literature, though a literature dealing chiefly with modern Europeans and Americans. What is most relevant here is that the 24 species of strengths they detect are clustered into the encompassing genuses of courage, humanity, justice, and so forth-that is to say precisely the “virtues [,] . . . the core characteristics valued by [Western] philosophers and religious thinkers” (Peterson and Seligman 2004, p. 13). The authors number them as six rather than seven, but this is mainly because they lump hope and faith together in one virtue named transcendence, that is, “strengths that forge connections to the larger universe and provide meaning” (p. 30). Five of their “High Six” virtues lay down with ease on the classical Seven-transcendence (that is, faith and hope), courage, humanity (that is, love, which appears in their classification as a “character strength” within what they view as the wider virtue), justice, and temperance. Smith it appears was on to something.

From the Seven Principal Virtues, I say, Adam Smith chose five to admire especially. He chose the four pagan and Stoic virtues of courage, temperance, justice, and prudence. To these he added, as virtue number five, a part of the Christian virtue of love, the part which his tradition — such as that of his teacher at Edinburgh, Francis Hutcheson (1725, 1747) — called benevolence. In expositing Plato’s system, for example, Smith enumerates the Pagan Four, “the essential virtue of prudence,” the “noble” virtue of courage (TMS, p. 268), “a word [sophrosune] which we commonly translate temperance,” and “justice, the last and greatest of the four cardinal virtues” (p. 269). In expositing Stoicism he repeats the four, also with approval, speaking of virtue as “wise [that is, practically prudent: Greek phonesis], just, firm [that is, courageous], and temperate conduct” (p. 282). And then benevolence: “Concern for our own happiness recommends us to the virtue of prudence; concern for that of other people, the virtues of justice and beneficence,” “the first . . . originally recommended by our selfish, the other two by our benevolent affections” (p. 262). An Impartial Spectator develops in the breast which “in the evening . . . often makes us blush inwardly both for our . . . inattention to our own happiness, and for our still greater indifference and inattention, perhaps, to that of other people” (p. 262).

Smith’s particular admiration for what Hume had called the “artificial” virtues, the three on which any society must rest, namely, temperance, prudence, and justice, shows in Smith’s life plan to write a great, thick book about each: temperance is the master virtue of TMS, prudence of WN, and justice (though “not only”: TMS, p. 342) was to be that of a treatise on jurisprudence never completed. The other two virtues of the Smithian five were courage in, say, entrepreneurship and love in, say, family arrangements. These stood apart from Smith’s central concerns for temperance, prudence, and justice. Contrary to what the men in Adam Smith ties believe, Smith detested buccaneer capitalism, with its emphasis on manly but imprudent courage. And as feminist students of the matter have noted, Smith did not much emphasize family love. Although he expected his dinner from the regard to their self interest of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, Smith neglected to observe that he expected it, too, from the love of Mrs. Smith the elder in arranging to cook it.

Smith made his virtue-ethical approach clear enough in his works generally and in TMS even in its 1759 edition. But he made it most clear at the end of his life, in a Part VI added 31 years after the first publication of TMS. Section I of the new Part is an encomium to The Prudent Man — thus prudence. Section II is an analysis of benevolence in an expanding circle outward from self to country, taken of course, as was natural at the time, from the male point of view — thus love.

And then Smith embarks on a concluding, climactic Section III, “Of Self-Command,” the master virtue in his book. “The man who acts according to the rules of perfect prudence, of strict justice, and of proper benevolence [love, that is] may be said to be perfectly virtuous” (p. 237). That accounts so far for three of the seven principal virtues — prudence, justice, and love. But suppose the man in question knows that he should act with prudence, justice, and love, but can’t bring himself to do it? “The most perfect knowledge, if it is not supported by the most perfect self-command, will not always enable him to do his duty.” “Extravagant fear and furious anger,” to take one sort of passion, “[are] often difficult to restrain even for a single moment” (p. 238). The “command” of fear and anger was called by the ancients “fortitude, manhood, and strength of mind,” which is to say the cardinal pagan virtue of courage. “The love of ease, of pleasure, of applause, and other selfish gratifications . . . often mislead us.” The ancients called the command of these “temperance, decency, modesty, and moderation,” that is to say, the single cardinal virtue of temperance, so very much admired by the Stoics (pp. 338-339; compare pp. 268f, 271).

Smith then elaborates on the virtues of courage (pp. 238-240), temperance (pp. 240), a combined courage and temperance (self-command again, pp. 241-243), love briefly (p. 243), cowardice and courage again (pp. 243-246), and then discusses at length mere vanity as against proper self-esteem, figured repeatedly as temperance in judging oneself (pp. 246-262). He asserts at the beginning of the section that “the principle of self-estimation may be too high, and it may likewise be too low” (p. 246) and ends the section by praising “the man who esteems himself as he ought, and no more than he ought” (p. 261).

Such an analysis of temperance is no great advance on Aristotle’s golden mean. But Smith did not seek striking originality in his ethical theory. He was building an ethic for a commercial society, but on the foundation of ethical thought in the West, not on some novelty c. 1710 or 1785 or 1789. Smith’s main contribution to ethical theory in his own estimation was the notion of the Impartial Spectator -”reason, principle, conscience, the inhabitant of the breast, the man within, the great judge and arbiter of our conduct” (TMS, pp. 294, 137). (Smith’s use of dynamic theatrical metaphors such as the “Spectator,” by the way, has been emphasized by David Marshall [1986] and especially by Charles Griswold [1999]). The argument shows in the book’s outline. Smith begins with his own theory in Part I, “Of the Propriety of Action,” to which merit (Part II), duty (III), utility (IV), and custom (V) are subordinated. The Spectator is formed at first by upbringing and social pressure but at last evolves into a conscience, what was much later to be called “inner direction.”

Though well expressed, it was a routine piece of virtue ethics. But the alternative and novel systems of prudence-only, or of love-only, or of anything-only, as Smith noted, did not work very well. Specializing a theory of ethics down to merely one of the seven virtues — the economist specializing in prudence only, for example, the theologian in love only — does not do the ethical job. Smith declares himself on the issue early, indeed in the first clause of his book. “How selfish soever man may be supposed” — then proceeds to show in the next 330 pages that a specialized selfish account, like the one nowadays so popular with modern economists and evolutionary psychologists, does not suffice. On the fifth page he attacks prudence-only again: “Those who are fond of deducing all our sentiments from certain refinements of self-love think themselves at no loss to account” for sympathy. The supposed egoist rejoices in expressions of approval of his projects, and is downcast by expressions of disapproval, “But both the pleasure and the pain are always felt so instantaneously, and often upon such frivolous occasions [for example in a theatre for the characters portrayed, as he later notes; or in an account from a remote history], that it seems evident that neither of them can be derived from any such self-interested consideration” (TMS, pp. 13-14). And so repeatedly throughout.

Smith is sometimes viewed as a Stoic in the mold of Epictetus (FitzGibbons 1995; Raphael and Mackie 1976, p. 5-10). But such a view can specialize him down to temperance-only. As Raphael and Mackie themselves put it, “Smith’s ethical doctrines are . . . a combination of Stoic and Christian virtues — or, in philosophical terms, acombination of Stoicism and Hutcheson . . . who resolved all virtue into . . . a philosophical version of the Christian ethic of love” (TMS, “Introduction,” p. 6, italics supplied). Smith certainly admired the “manly” character of Stoicism, and he remarked in a letter that the atheist Hume faced death “with more real resignation . . . than any whining Christian ever died with pretended resignation to the will of God” (Letter 163, 14 August 1776). And I have said that Smith spent a third of his life’s creative effort on the master virtue of TMS, that self-command or temperance-plus-courage so characteristic of a successful Stoic. In the Part VII of TMS dating from his lectures in the 1750s and included in the first edition, in which he surveys the ancient and a very few of the modern systems of ethics, he spends a mere 4 ½ pages on Plato and Aristotle together, 5 on Hutcheson recommending benevolence only, 5 ½ on Epicurus (really on Hume) and 8 on Mandeville recommending prudence only, but fully 21 pages on Stoicism according to Zeno, Epictetus, Cicero, Seneca, and Marcus Aurelius , 9 ½ of which are a disquisition on the Stoic attitude towards suicide added to the 6th edition, apparently in reply to a notorious essay by Hume.

What Smith mainly took from his readings in Stoicism, however, was the system of the virtues. That is, Smith was a virtue ethicist who learned his trade in a Stoic school (from which, Fleischacker argues [2004, p. 112], in 1759 he graduated; contrast Raphael and Mackie, p. 18, “Smith had [by 1790] acquired an even warmer regard for Stoicism”). His admiring pages on Stoicism are gathered in the 6th edition into the chapter of section VII entitled “Of those Systems which make Virtue consist in Propriety,” that is, those attending like his own system to a set of virtues instead of merely to one. In the section VI added in 1790 he argues against the specialized excesses of Stoic insensibility, or what we would now call Buddhist disengagement from the world, and recommends instead an active virtue, “that keen and earnest attention to the propriety of our own conduct, which constitutes the real essence of virtue” (p. 244).

A man following propriety shows in a temperate way all the principal virtues. That is to say, he shows a balance of all them, or selects the sub-set appropriate to the occasion. The virtues are not cloistered, but take place in the practice of the vita activa. Sunday mornings in church the virtuous person exercises chiefly the virtue of spiritual love, Saturday nights on the dance floor the virtue of self-asserting courage, Mondays through Fridays at her job in the bank the virtue of careful prudence.

Such was the ethically plural theme of Smith’s very last published writing. His very first, “To the Memory of Mr. William Crauford, Merchant of Glasgow,” praised “that exact frugality, that downright probity and plainness of manners so suitable to his profession, [which] joined a love of learning, . . an openness of hand and a generosity of heart, . .. and a magnanimity that could support . . . the most torturing pains of body with an unalterable cheerfulness of temper, and without once interrupting, even to his last hour, the most manly and the most vigorous activity in a vast variety of business. . . . candid and penetrating, circumspect and sincere” (Essays on Philosophical Subjects, p. 262). This is Stoicism in a virtue-ethical key, admiring frugality, probity, plainness of manners, love of learning, generosity of heart, great-heartedness, enduring courage, cheerfulness, candor, penetration, circumspection, and sincerity: admiring in short the bourgeois virtues, all of them, together in a system, as virtue ethicists bourgeois or aristocratic recommend.

Vivienne Brown, who supports the notion that Smith in TMS thinks in terms of the virtues, argues that by contrast WN cannot be seen as ethical at all, and declares especially that it “cannot be read as an endorsement of ‘liberal capitalism’”(1994, p. 53). She argues that the highly “dialogic” character of TMS makes it an ethical work (pp. 188, 195). The two texts are seen as emphasizing two different sets of so-called virtues, in a hierarchy denying in fact the lower set ethical any true ethical standing. “The truly moral virtues of beneficence and self-command in TMS,” she writes, “are those that define the moral agent as engaged in a dialogic encounter with the self, a moral process of internal debate that is represented by the metaphor of the impartial spectator.” In her reading “the other virtues of justice and prudence” — the main subjects of WN as against TMS — “are therefore denominated as second-order, . . . [eliciting] a certain esteem, . . . [but not] truly moral virtues” (p. 208).

It is Brown, not Smith, I would say, who thus “denominates” prudence and justice as second-order, in aid of downplaying Smith’s evident approval of the economic parts of “the liberal plan of equality, liberty, and justice” (WN, p. 664). Brown’s ingenious application of Bakhtin’s notion of dialogic as against monologic discourse certainly does illuminate the rhetoric of the two books. But speaking of rhetoric, WN was written to influence policy under the control of men who fancied themselves as prudent above all. To be effective rhetorically the book had to follow Smith’s own advice about anger and indignation in TMS — “before resentment . . . can become graceful and agreeable it must be . . . brought down below that pitch to which it would naturally rise than almost every other passion” (TMS, p. 34). Nonetheless, Smith’s indignation regularly broke out in WN, as Brown admits (Brown 1994, p. 190). WN, as Griswold (p. 260-261) and Fleischacker (throughout) argue, is an ethical book. One can agree with Brown that ethics depends on “a moral process of internal debate.” But justice and prudence in Smith are not treated so non-dialogically as Brown argues. In both books Smith gives hundreds of instances of the Impartial Spectator staging an internal debate about even these “second-order” virtues.

I noted the revival of virtue ethics after Elizabeth Anscombe’s essay in 1958 “Modern Moral Philosophy” (the revival, by the way, has been led notably by women; ethics is the only part of academic philosophy with a substantially feminine voice, heard since the 1950s). The revival directed attention to the desirability of talking about a set of virtues directly, rather than talking in Enlightenment style only of allegedly universal principles. “It would be a great improvement,” wrote Anscombe, “if, instead of ‘morally wrong,’ one always named a genus such as ‘untruthful,’ ‘unchaste,’ ‘unjust’” (Anscombe 1958 [1997), p. 34).

But where does one stop in listing the virtues of, say, truthfulness, chastity, justice, and the like? A list of 170 virtues would be so broad as to be useless. The point is worth stressing here because Smith’s definite five virtues, and his emphasis on the joint cultivation of the five by the Impartial Spectator, puts him solidly in the older tradition of virtue ethics. Some virtue ethicists after 1958 have no definite list in mind, or a very long one, a fault which the classical virtue ethics of Smith avoided.

Modern ethical philosophy has indeed two opposite faults of quantity. The one is to let virtues proliferate, leaving us to struggle with the 170 words for “virtues” in the main headings of “Class Eight: Affections” of Roget’s Thesaurus (edition of 1962). That would be like the 613 commandments of orthodox Judaism, Hillel’s count. The study of Kant and Bentham (or indeed of the Torah) imposes a healthy discipline on such proliferation.

But the study of Kant or Bentham leads, alas, to the other fault of quantity, acknowledging too few virtues to fit the stories of our lives — for example, one virtue only, The Good, the categorical imperative, the greatest happiness. Or else it chooses one of the seven, such as prudence or love or justice, to stand for all. Smith’s better plan is to stop as Epictetus or Aquinas did with a definite yet pretty-well comprehensive list of a moderate number of the principal virtues. That way you know better what you are talking about. Five or seven is a mean, if not a particularly golden one, between N= 1 and N = 170 or 613.

The clerisy nowadays views Aquinas as Catholic dogma, and therefore as something unnecessary for us Protestant or anti-clerical intellectuals to read. And so the Divine Doctor’s seven do not get much of a hearing in secular discussions. Philippa Foot on the contrary argued in 1978 that “Summa Theologica is one of the best sources we have for moral philosophy, and moreover . . . St. Thomas’ ethical writings are as useful to the atheist as to the . . . Christian believer” (1978, p. 2). But she and Alasdair MacIntyre are among the handful of ethical philosophers to realize it, and to take Aquinas’ numbering seriously. Foot for instance wrote that “nobody can get on well if he lacks courage, and does not have some measure of temperance and wisdom [her word for what Smith and I call prudence], while communities where justice and charity [her word — referring to the King James Bible — for what I call secular love and Smith calls benevolence] are lacking are apt to be wretched places to live, as Russia was under the Stalinist terror, or Sicily under the Mafia” (1978, pp. 2-3). That is five out of the seven virtues, counting from the bottom of the diagram, just the five that Smith selected.

FitzGibbons regards Smith as an enemy of Aristotelianism and of fundamentalist religion (which two FitzGibbons tends to merge), and claims with considerable justice, I have noted, that Smith was a “Ciceronian Stoic.” My claim is that Smith, if a Stoic, was willy-nilly therefore the last of a tradition of virtue ethics dating from Aristotle and perfected by Aquinas and practiced by the casuists whom Pascal and other one-virtue theorists began to assault in the 17th century (Toulmin and Jonsen 1987). The one characterization of Smith emphasizes his Stoicism; the other emphasizes the wider technique of ethical pluralism of which Stoicism is one example and of which St. Thomas Aquinas is another and more sophisticated version. Both characterizations can be true.

This is not to say that Smith was a close student of Aquinas or of other Christian thinkers. He was not. About Jesuit casuistry he was scathing, in a passage added in 1790: “Books of casuistry . . . are generally as useless as they are commonly tiresome,” because they do not change people’s dispositions. “With regard to one who is negligent in his [duty], the style of those writings is not such as is likely to awaken him to more attention” (TMS, p. 339). In the 18th century St. Thomas had nothing like the prestige he has acquired from the neo-Thomism initiated in the late 19th century by Pope Leo XIII. In 1759 in a Protestant country even a scholar of Smith’s quality was liable to suppose that little could be learned from the Goths and Vandals of the Middle Ages — thus “gothic” in this sense, which was before the Romantics a term of contempt. He scorns “a scholastic or technical system of artificial definitions, divisions, and sub-divisions; one of the most effective expedients . . . for extinguishing whatever degree of good sense there may be in any moral or metaphysical doctrine” (TMS, p. 291). In the one place where he might have noted, if he had known it, that Aquinas unlike the lesser theorists of “the benevolent system” gives full weight also to the secular and pagan virtues, he does not (TMS, p. 301). He leaps from “many ancient fathers of the Christian church” — which pointedly leaves out Aquinas, who was medieval, born eight centuries after the death of the last of the “ancient fathers,” the last at any rate in Western Christendom, St. Augustine — right to the Reformation, in which the benevolent system “was adopted by several [Protestant] divines of the most eminent piety and learning,” and then by Hutcheson, “the most philosophical, . . the soberest and most judicious.”

Smith appears to have had read mere summaries of “the schoolmen,” as he called them impatiently, using in discussing courage and temperance for example the Aquinian distinction between the “irascible” emotions (that is, hot, angry emotions; TMS, 268) and the “concupiscible” (that is, appetitive; recent English translations of Aquinas’ Latin prefer instead “concupiscent”). Smith never quotes or refers to Aquinas or any other schoolman directly by name, and a doctrinal influence is untraceable. The power of such evidence, admittedly, is low, since Smith does not quote anyone much at all. Even David Hume, whose doctrinal influence is palpable in Smith, is not actually quoted, though often answered. But anyway Smith, in common with some recent writers who at this date should perhaps know better, skips over the Aquinian and later Christian syntheses of Stoic and theological virtues, courage-temperance-justice-prudence plus faith-hope-love, adding up to seven. Nor was Smith even, to speak of the acknowledged root of Aquinas’ tradition, a self-conscious Aristotelian. As Fleischacker observes, Smith’s egalitarianism implies a virtue of humility, for example, that Aristotle would have found very strange indeed (Fleischacker 2004, p. 74). In Smith’s summary history of ethics in TMS the Philosopher gets only two pages, and those focused not on Aristotle’s somewhat rambling listing of the virtues but on the doctrine of the Golden Mean, so suitable to an Impartial Spectator.

I am merely arguing that Smith, in sharp contrast to his great contemporaries in ethical theorizing, was a virtues man, a follower of Aristotle and therefore of Aquinas and also of the Stoics in emphasizing a system of multiple virtues — and indeed precisely five of the seven Aquinian virtues. That is to say, until its revival in the 1970s he was indeed the last great virtue ethicist. Smith puts Plato (in parts), Aristotle, the Stoics, and in shadowy form the schoolmen into the tradition of “propriety” as against prudence-for-self or love-of-others. “If virtue . . . does not consist of propriety [which is to say the balance in the soul recommended by Aristotle, the Stoics, Aquinas, and Smith himself], it must consist either in prudence [thus Smith's friend Hume] or in benevolence [thus Hutcheson]. Besides these three, it is scarce possible to imagine any other account can be given of the nature of virtue” (TMS, p. 267). All ethics in Smith was divided into these three: propriety, prudence, and benevolence/love. In choosing the first, the multiple virtues of propriety, he chose to stand with the tradition of Aristotle and Epictetus and Aquinas against the monism of Plato (reducing justice and prudence and courage and temperance to The Good) or of Hobbes and early Hume (reducing The Good to prudence only) or of Hutcheson in a late and literally sentimental version of Christianity (reducing all the virtues to love alone).

As a virtue ethicist Smith disliked all such reductions. “By running up all the different virtues . . . to this one species of propriety [namely, 'the most real prudence'], Epicurus indulged a propensity,” Smith noted, “which philosophers . . . are apt to cultivate with a peculiar fondness, as the great means of displaying their ingenuity . . . to account for all appearances from as few principles as possible” (TMS, p. 299). It is Ockham’s Razor, with which so many philosophers have cut themselves shaving. Parsimony, after all, is not the only intellectual virtue. In his very method Smith recommends a balance of the virtues, historical relevance balanced with parsimony, justice in summarizing other philosophers balanced with hope in going beyond them. And therefore in substance he avoided the utilitarian pitfall, into which Hume gazed fondly and into which Bentham enthusiastically leapt, of reducing all other virtues to prudence alone.

Love was one of the Smithian virtues, but balanced with pluralism. In TMS the “amiable” Christianity of Hutcheson came in for criticism chiefly because it tended to suppose that “the mixture of any selfish motive, like that of a baser alloy, . . . took away altogether the merit that would otherwise have belonged to any action” (TMS, p. 302). According to the system of love-only “self-love was a principle which could never be virtuous in any degree or in any direction” (TMS, p. 303). Such a specialized version of Christian love violated the propriety of a balanced set of virtues. And indeed, as Smith would have discovered had he looked into Aquinas, it violated Christian orthodoxy. Hutcheson’s False Lemma, Smith noted, implies that “virtue must consist in pure and disinterested benevolence alone” (TMS, p. 302). The same fault infects Kant, with justice put in the place of love. Smith was a virtue ethicist, not an ethical reductionist.

Smith’s confining of attention to five virtues avoided the errors of quantity in modern ethical thinking — too many virtues or too few. The other two errors are of quality and of object. Smith’s obsolete virtue-ethical system avoided them as well.

The most prevalent error is that of quality, the reduction of ethics to taste, or rather to “mere” taste, viewed as analogous to a taste for chocolate ice cream. It was articulated philosophically by the logical positivists and their descendents. The theory is called officially “emotivism,” “the doctrine that all evaluative judgments and more specifically all moral judgments are nothing but expressions of preference” (MacIntyre 1981, p. 11, his italics). Or as Hobbes wrote in 1651, “Good and evil are names that signify our appetites and aversions” (1651, I, Chp. 15, p. 82; and I, Chp. 6, p. 24). Most academics and other intellectuals nowadays, without giving it much thought, adhere to the emotivist, chocolate-ice-cream theory. They view the ethical person as maximizing her utility function with respect to the doing of good deeds, just as she does in the eating of ice cream. No duty, love, faith, or persuasion matters, The sort of amiable, casuistic reasoning together that the virtue-ethical and rhetorical tradition recommends, the trading of “more or less good reasons,” as the literary critic Wayne Booth put it, such as the stories of good or bad lives ranging from the Hebrew Bible and Plutarch to the latest movie, is spurned. No persuasion, please: we’re positivists.

Economists in the centuries after Smith and especially in the 20th century led the attack by the secular clerisy against preaching the virtues. The economist Marc Blaug, for example, in many other respects a surprisingly sensible member of his profession, asserted in 1980 that “There are no . . . methods for reconciling different normative value judgments-other than political elections and shooting it out at the barricades” (1980, pp. 132-33). By “methods for reconciling” he appears to mean air-tight proofs such as the Pythagorean Theorem, not the reasonable discourse of impartial spectators, what Smith called the “faculty of speech” by which “every one . . . is practicing oratory on others thro the whole of his life” (WN, p. 25; Lectures on Jurisprudence (1762-63), p. 352; cf. TMS, p. 336). The economist J. A. Schumpeter of Vienna and Harvard had earlier expressed an ethical philosophy and a trivialization of language similar to Blaug’s: “We may, indeed, prefer the world of modern dictatorial socialism to the world of Adam Smith, or vice versa, but any such preference comes within the same category of subjective evaluation as does, to plagiarize Sombart, a man’s preference for blondes over brunettes.” Thus also Lionel Robbins of the London School of Economics: “If we disagree about ends it is a case of thy blood against mine–or live and let live, according to the importance of the difference, or the relative strength of our opponents. . . . If we disagree about the morality of the taking of interest . . , then there is no room for argument” (Robbins 1932, p. 134).

The central dogma of modernism, Wayne Booth noted, is “the belief that you cannot and indeed should not allow your values to intrude upon your cognitive life-that thought and knowledge and fact are on one side and affirmations of value on the other” (1974, p. 13). Booth instances Bertrand Russell as one in whom “passionate commitment has lost its connection with the provision of good reasons” (p. xi; and Chapter 2). (Note by the way the self-refutation embodied in such a rule of method, that one should not say “should.” As Russell himself found in another connection, self-reference leads to cycling self-contradiction. “All Cretans are liars,” quoth the Cretan.)

Russell claimed to not allow values to intrude upon his cognitive life, which meant that he indulged his values without the check of good reasons. And so the mathematical philosopher applied low and sometimes no standards to his opinions about ethics and politics and economics. His friend Santayana describes Russell during the Great War exploiting his retentive memory without ethical reasoning: “This information, though accurate, was necessarily partial, and brought forward in a partisan argument; he couldn’t know, he refused to know everything; so that his judgments, nominally based on that partial information, were really inspired by passionate prejudice and were always unfair and sometimes mad. He would say, for instance, that the bishops supported the war because they had money invested in munitions works” (Santayana 1943-53, p. 441).

We can’t have reasonable ethical lives, the virtue ethicists like Smith claim, if we depend only on a narrow definition of reason. “But though reason is undoubtedly the source of the general rules of morality,” Smith noted, without much optimism that “general rules” are much help, “it is altogether absurd and unintelligible to suppose that the first perceptions of right and wrong can be derived from reason” (TMS, p. 320). But such taste is not “mere” in Smith, to be determined without education or reflection. It is rather the providing of good reasons, yielding “reason, principle, conscience, the inhabitant of the breast, the man within, the great judge and arbiter of our conduct” (TMS, p. 137).

The other characteristically modern error in thinking about ethics is an error of object. The error is more technical than the chocolate ice cream theory, and is committed especially by analytic philosophers venturing into ethics. It reduces ethics to matters of how you treat other people. That might seem to be no error: surely ethics is about altruism? No, it is not, not only. Look back at the diagram, and note the ethical objects of self, of others, and of the transcendent. The good life will involve all three. Triple.

For example, the philosopher Susan Wolf in a well-known essay, “Moral Saints,” adopts an exclusively public, social, altruistic definition of “virtue” (1982 [1997], p. 80, line 7, “improving the welfare of others or of society as a whole,” among many other places–four times on p. 80, for example; on p. 81; p. 85, middle; taken back on p. 93, top, but then, “This approach seems unlikely to succeed”). In the style of many Anglophone philosophers she leaves out privately self-interested prudence as a virtue, and so lets her moral saints behave badly towards themselves. Showing its badness is Wolf’s point, by a reduction to absurdity: moral saints are objectionable precisely because they care nothing for themselves. “If the moral saint is devoting all his time to feeding the hungry,” Wolf observes, “then necessarily he is not reading Victorian novels, playing the oboe, or improving his backhand. . . . A life in which none of these possible aspects of character is developed may seem a life strangely barren” (Wolf 1982 [1997], p. 81).

It’s the Jewish-mother version of goodness: “Oh, don’t bother to replace the bulb. I’ll just sit here in the dark.” But the mother, after all, is God’s creature, too, and benevolence therefore should include a just benevolence towards herself. Being wholly altruistic, and disregarding the claims of that person also in the room called Self, about whose needs the very Self is ordinarily best informed, is making the same mistake as being wholly selfish, disregarding the claims of that person called Other. Smith of course agreed. It is the characteristically anti-paternalistic feature of his thought to assert that Self is best informed about Self’s needs. Fleischacker observes: “That ordinary people could be trusted with their own decisions about what . . . to consume was one of the least acceptable propositions of WN, to the intellectuals and politicians of its day, and at the same time one of its most important, . . .insofar as it robbed merchants of a prime argument for government control” (2004, p. 89)

The ethical error is to ignore someone. Oddly, selflessness-note the word-is unjust, inegalitarian. “There is a manifest negligence in men of their real happiness or interest in the present world,” said Bishop Joseph Butler in 1725. People are “as often unjust to themselves as to others” (Butler, 1725, Sermon I, p. 371). The more optimistic Earl of Shaftesbury took in 1713 an evolutionary line to arrive at praise for such prudence:

the affection toward private or self-good, however selfish it may be esteemed, is in reality not only consistent with public good but in some measure contributing to it . . . [It is] for the good of the species in general. . . . So far as being blamable in any sense, . . it must be acknowledged absolutely necessary to constitute a creature good. . . . No one would doubt to pronounce so if he saw a man who minded not any precipices which lay in his way, nor made any distinction of food, diet, clothing or whatever else related to his health and being.
Shaftesbury, Characteristics 1713 (1732), Vol. II, p. 13f; compare Vol. II, p. 18, “if the affection be . . . .”

Prudence within a set of cultivated virtues is not self-centeredness.

Even very sensible philosophers want nowadays to deny such an obvious truth by reducing every virtue to improving the welfare of others or of society as a whole. In his last book Robert Nozick, who was most famous for his attempt to bring libertarian ideas traceable in part to Smith into political philosophy, tried to argue that “ethics exists because at least sometimes it is possible to coordinate actions to mutual benefit” (2001, p. 244; the next two quotations are from pp. 246 and 256). This is the economist’s all-ye-need-to-know, the new welfare economics of the 1930s. Or: “Ethics arises when frequently or importantly there are situations offering opportunities for mutual benefit from coordinated activity.” And a utilitarian, which Nozick tried not to be, would say that “since cooperation to mutual benefit is the function of ethics, the only thing that matters is . . . the size of the social pie.”

But after 64 closely reasoned pages Nozick is left worrying that ethics must have something more. The reason he gets into trouble is that he makes that characteristically modern philosophical error of simply defining ethics as “concerning interpersonal relations” (2001, p. 248). In other words, his main argument has no place for the virtues of self-improvement or of devotion to a transcendent. It is a middle-level ethics, neither at the hope-faith-transcendent-love top or the temperance-self-interested-courage bottom, but aimed at a shallow conception of justice-only implemented with prudence. It is entirely about economics; that is to say, about “Pareto optimality,” about mutually beneficial deals in the middle range. The ethical objects are the other people in the deal, not ever oneself or God.

But I said Nozick was sensible. And it is hard to imagine a more intellectually honest person. So occasionally he breaks into praise for the alternative ethical objects, as though realizing uneasily that his reduction to prudent-but-procedurally-just deals has not sufficed. He distinguishes four “levels or layers of ethics,” referring to a treatment in his semi-popular book of 1989, The Examined Life (2001, p. 280; 1989, pp. 212-215). The first, or lowest, is the mutual benefit on which Nozick spends most of his analytic effort in the 2001 book, Pareto optimality, the ethic of respect. The next is an ethic of responsibility, discussed also in his 1981 book, Philosophical Explanations (pp. 499-570). The next is an ethic of caring, Nozick’s version of love, though again “caring” only about other people, not oneself or God. And the fourth and highest is an ethic of Light, “truth, goodness, beauty, holiness,” or in other words the ethics of faith, hope, and transcendent love (1989, p. 214f; his capitalization).

Nozick admits that he has no account of how the levels relate, or why he should always call to the ethic of respect “basic”-except on the not unreasonable political grounds that it is the least controversial. He does not know the virtue ethicists. They are never mentioned by this most ethically obsessed of the analytic philosophers. The two references to Bernard Williams in Invariances (2001) are on matters of metaphysics, not ethics. Aristotle as an ethical theorist is discussed only briefly; Aquinas is not mentioned in any work of Nozick; nor are any other virtue ethicists (1981, pp. 515ff). Though he thinks his social ideas originate in Smith, he appears not to have read TMS with care. His 2001 book speaks of Smith’s book on one occasion, as holding a theory of the “ideal observer,” a misquotation placed in quotation marks-the phrase, dear Robert, is the “impartial spectator.” Note the shift registered in the error, by the way, between a humanistic metaphor of theatre to an anti-humanistic metaphor of observational science. And the passage construes the notion in Smith as being about “moral” matters having to do with other people, not the self-shaping temperance that is the chief theme of TMS (2001, p. 288).

James Otteson has tried to place Smith in an evolutionary frame, a version of prudence-only along Nozickian lines, in which “over time, people find that they can better satisfy their interests if they cooperate in certain ways” (2002, p. 295). “Rules about propriety and contracts are those that have proved to satisfy human interests most efficiently” (p. 296). “The goal whose attainment these exercises make more likely is mutual sympathy of sentiments” (p. 294). This seems to come at it the wrong way. Moral sympathy in Smith is the input, not the output, as can be judged from the organization of TMS: it starts with sympathy, sharply distinguishing it from selfishness. The output is the ethical person, for her own sweet sake, not for the sake of “better satisfying interests.” Interests are good, says Smith, since poverty is bad, and it was surely part of Smith’s project to “detoxify the pursuit of wealth,” as Griswold puts it (1999, p. 265). But in both TMS and (even) WN Smith roundly attacks better-satisfying-interests as a final end of living. Smith is also very fierce against rules and maxims, even “rules about propriety and contracts,” unless the strict rules of procedural justice, as though he did know about Professor Kant’s theories and had a low opinion of them. I have noted his attacks on casuistry, which he understood as the giving of rules (Toulmin and Jonsen 1987 give it a more sympathetic reading). He says elsewhere that “the general rules of almost all the virtues . . . are in many respects loose and inaccurate . . . and require so many modifications that it is scarcely possible to regulate our conduct entirely by regard to them” (TMS, p. 174).

One is reminded (and so is Otteson: p. 268n20) of the most extreme of the evolutionary psychologists nowadays, such as Steven Pinker. Listen to Pinker in 1997 on the rationality of friendship: “now that you value the person, they should value you even more . . . because of your stake in rescuing him or her from hard times . . . This runaway process is what we call friendship”(Pinker, 1997, quoted in Fodor, 1998).

No, Steven, it is what we call self-absorption. The cognitive philosopher Jerry Fodor remarks of Pinker’s one-factor theory:

A concern to propagate one’s genes would rationalize one’s acting to promote one’s children’s welfare; but so too would an interest in one’s children’s welfare. Not all of one’s motives could be instrumental, after all; there must be some things that one cares for just for their own sakes. Why, indeed, mightn’t there be quite a few such things? Why shouldn’t one’s children be among them?

Fodor 1998

He quotes Pinker on the evolutionary explanation for why we humans like stories, namely, that they provide useful tips for life, as for example to someone in Hamlet’s fix: “What are the options if I were to suspect that my uncle killed my father, took his position, and married my mother? Good question.” Startlingly, Pinker does not appear to be joking here. It’s funny, this “scientific” attempt to get along without sheer love, or sheer courage, or to get along without the aesthetic pleasure of stories reflecting faith and hope. The output, I say, is the ethical hero, the human with a conscience, the Human Within, not pleasures or interests that would satisfy a cat.

All right. Smith analyzes good and bad not as a specialized prudence or justice or temperance but as a proper balance among five of the seven Aquinian virtues. We will not grasp his argument if we insist on making it lie down on a Kantian or a utilitarian bed, as analytic philosophers amateur and professional have tried to do.

But something is missing. In choosing his five virtues Smith drops the two transcendent virtues of hope and faith, with the transcendent version of love going beyond love for people, agape as against the philia or eros in the precise Greek. There is no question that Smith realized what he was doing. He knew perfectly well that hope and faith and agape were principle virtues in Christian thought — this would have been clear even in the secondary descriptions of Scholastic thought — though he may have lacked a direct understanding of Aquinas’ role in the construct. But if someone lacks “strengths that forge connections to the larger universe and provide meaning,” in Peterson and Seligman’s words, she does not have a fully human life. Or as the Anglican theologian Richard Hooker put it in 1593, “Man doth seek a triple perfection: first a sensual . . . . then an intellectual. . . . Man doth not seem to rest satisfied . . . . For although the beauties, riches, honors, sciences, virtues [which means 'power' here], and perfections of all men living, were in the present possession of one; yet somewhat beyond and above all this there would still be sought and earnestly thirsted for” (First Book, IX, 4, pp. 205-206).

The reason Smith neglected hope and faith and agape is not obscure. He shared with Enlightenment figures such as Hume and Voltaire an aversion to any alleged “virtue” that could be seen as conventionally religious. Hope and faith looked to advanced thinkers in the 18th century horribly conventionally religious, and anyway dispensable. Let us build a new world free from religious superstition, free from the wars of sects, free from the meddling of priests and dominies, they cried. Let us dispense with “hope” and “faith,” and establish a new . . . uh . . . faith on the . . . uh . . . hopes for reason and propriety.

The Christianity that Smith opposed was the rigid Calvinism still influential in Scotland at the time, no longer ascendant but able (with some help from the benevolent Francis Hutcheson) to keep atheists like Hume out of the universities; and the Catholicism that could in France still warrant the conviction of a Protestant, Jean Calas, alleged on slender evidence in 1762 to have murdered his suicidal son to prevent the son’s conversion to Catholicism. The religious fanatics with which Scotland had recently had so much experience impute “even to the great Judge of the universe . . . all their own prejudices. . . . Of all of the corrupters of moral sentiments . . . faction and fanaticism have always been by far the greatest” (TMS, p. 156). Smith wanted, as did Hume and Kant and Bentham for that matter, to bring ethics down to earth: “The most sublime speculation of the contemplative philosopher can scarce compensate the neglect of the smallest active duty”( TMS, p. 237). One can hear him including the theologian and other advocates for the transcendent in that phrase “contemplative philosopher.” Compare Hume’s sneering at “divinity or school metaphysics” and the “monkish virtues.” Thus Hobbes without God, Vico without God, Hume without God, Kant without God. No monkish virtues of hope and faith, please: we’re Enlightened.

In their official Christian vestments, that is, hope and faith were often unwelcome in the clubs and salons of the philosophes and, later, especially after 1848, in the ateliers and universities of the European and especially the Continental intelligentsia. So still. Even the excellent Rosalind Hursthouse seems embarrassed by the Transcendent Two. Her lucid exposition of virtue ethics in 1999 mentions in its index the virtue of love 90 times under various headings: benevolence, charity, compassion, generosity, kindness, loyalty, friendship (Hursthouse, Virtue Ethics, 1999, index; I am counting multiple pages at their total: thus “benevolence, Humean, 99-102″ counts as four pages in the sum). Loyalty and friendship have perhaps an element of faith in them, though note the absence of the transcendent part of love itself, agape. The virtue of justice, the male philosophical obsession, she mentions 28 times. Temperance (and self-control) 18. Courage 24. Moral wisdom, that is, phron?sis, that is, prudence, which in Aquinas’ analysis underlies all the virtues, 26 times. The typically modern and bourgeois philosopher’s virtue of honesty (out of justice, temperance, courage, and faith) 22 times. That covers the Smithian pentad.

But where are the other two, sacred hope and sacred faith, and the transcendent part of love? Hursthouse ends her book with an appeal to “Keep hope alive.” Her only other mention of hope and faith is a page attacking the so-called virtue of piety, which combines them, as irrational, not characteristically human, “based on a complete illusion” from an atheist’s point of view (Hursthouse 1999, p. 232f; compare 218: “But what could this fifth end be?”). One wonders: is the physicist’s pious but entirely atheistic faith in the orderliness of nature, which Smith and Hume and Kant buried in their magic adjective “natural,” and which Hursthouse elsewhere notes is essential for a scientific world view, therefore also irrational? Is science, then, as religious faith is in her account, “based on a complete illusion”? Hursthouse’s own project-based on the pious hope of justifying the virtues piecemeal from within a cultural set of them-is likewise undercut.

We humans cannot get along without transcendence, which is faith in a past, hope for a future, love for an ideal, justified by Larger Considerations. If we don’t have faith, hope, and love for God, we’ll substitute Art or Science or National Learning. If we don’t have Art or Science or National Learning or Anglicanism we’ll substitute fundamentalism or the Rapture. If we don’t have fundamentalism or the Rapture or the local St. Wenceslaus parish we’ll substitute our family or the rebuilt antique car. Faith, hope, and transcendent love are a consequence of the human ability to symbolize, a fixture of our philosophical psychology.

We might as well acknowledge transcendence in the way we talk and think about ethics, if only to keep watch on it and prevent it from doing mischief, as did once a Russian hope for the socialist Revolution and as does now a Saudi Arabian faith in an Islamic past. In the century after Smith and during Romance hope, faith, and transcendent came back into the Western discussion with a vengeance, in the form of a forward-looking hope for socialism and in the form of a backward-looking faith in nationalism, justified by a self- and other-sacrificing Love for the transcendent. Whence 1914 and 1917 and national socialism and all our woe. The Bulgarian-French critic, Tzvetan Todorov warns that “democracies put their own existence in jeopardy if they neglect the human need for transcendence” (2000, p. 32). Michael Ignatieff put it well: “The question of whether . . . the needs we once called religious can perish without consequence . . . remains central to understanding the quality of modern man’s happiness”( 1984, p. 21). Evidently the answer is no. There are consequences and there will be more. That is not a reason to return to the older sureties. But it is a reason to take seriously the transcendent in our imagined lives. Adam Smith’s error was the error and the glory of the Enlightenment, trying to liberate us from transcendence.

But anyway the hope and faith and transcendent love slip back into Smith, as into Kant and the rest, although by the back door unobserved. The Impartial Spectator, or the Kantian or even the Benthamite equivalent, are not merely behavioral observations about how people develop ethically. They are recommendations. Recommendations depend on faith and hope and transcendent love, articulated from the identity of an urbane resident of Edinburgh, for example, hopeful for a rather better society, loving sweetly the imagined result. As Fleischacker notes, “When we ask after the ‘nature’ of human beings we are looking for what human beings ‘really’ want, beneath the surface trappings. . . . Human nature always includes what people aspire to, for Smith; it is never reduced [as in the economist's version of utilitarianism] to the desires they merely happen to have” (2004, pp. 61, 63).

And how was this faithful and loving hope, this aspiration to full humanity, to be achieved? Through cultivating the seven virtues — or Smith’s Five, with hope and faith and transcendent love knocking at the back door.

[mere proposal for] Chapter 11
Adam Smith Shows Bourgeois Theory at Its Best

Smith serves as an emblem of a peculiarly 18th-century project, the making of an ethic for a commercial society. The seen-to-be protected actual bourgeois behavior from the usual attacks from govt and aristocracy and populism, at least until socialism regnant in 29th century.

In an early essay, which he did not carry into editions of his Essays beyond 1741-42, David Hume proposed a project for the age:

I shall take occasion . . . to compare the different stations in life, and to persuade such of my readers as are placed in the middle station to be satisfied with it, as the most eligible of all others. These form the most numerous rank of men that can be supposed susceptible of philosophy; and therefore all discourses of morality ought principally to be addressed to them.

Hume does not in fact go on to make such an address. After observing that the virtue of friendship is natural for the bourgeoisie, which is true enough, he turns to praising artists and scholars, losing sight of his numerous audience of the middle station. His aporia (as the professors of rhetoric would say) anticipates the divide that opened in Europe a century later between the bourgeoisie and their children of la vie bohéme, and especially their sons. What is mainly striking in the essay is the unfulfilled proposal to fashion a discourse of morality for the bourgeoisie.

Adam Smith fulfilled what his friend Hume proposed. No aporia there. It was Smith’s intention in all his writings published and unpublished to develop an ethic for a commercial society, a society of the middle station. Authorial intention, true, is not the same thing as authorial accomplishment. You can intend with all energy and earnestness to write The Great American novel but the intention may, alas, be irrelevant to reading it as it actually, sadly is. Yet Smith did accomplish his intention, though the accomplishment has often been misunderstood by his children and grandchildren among economists, sociologists, and ethical philosophers. His bourgeois rhetoric — too bourgeois when playing against the hot rhetoric of clerks like Rousseau or Marx — did not make his intention or accomplishment unmistakably clear.

Saying that Smith intended an ethic for a commercial age is not the same thing as saying that he was an enthusiast for every ethical or political excess of the bourgeoisie. Economists have often Thatcherized Smith in this way, reading into the throw-away line about the invisible hand an entire economistic, Benthamite philosophy: “Markets are always efficient,” say the economists, “so they provide a model for all of social life.” Always.

Against such vulgarity Smith wrote The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759). He published merely two books in his lifetime: Smith would not have faired well before a modern Promotion and Tenure Committee. In TMS (as The Theory of Moral Sentiments is affectionately known) Smith rebuked Hobbes and Bernard Mandeville explicitly and at length for their dependence on Prudence Only. Still, prudential arguments were much in favor in mid-eighteenth-century Europe. Therefore in The Wealth of Nations seventeen years later Smith made the argument against the excess of bourgeois self-interest as much as he could manage in cool, self-interested instruction, as matters of “police,” that is, policy, that is, Prudence. He warned for example that the interests of merchants and manufacturers are “always in some respects different from, and even opposite to, that of the public.” He therefore did not recommend an unfettered rule of the bourgeoisie, and in fact supported the traditional politics of the landed classes. The Wealth of Nations was read at the time as an attack more on bourgeois monopoly than on an intrusive government, as in Hugh Blair’s letter to Smith 3 April 1776: “You have done great service to the world by overturning all the interested sophistry of merchants, with which they have confounded the whole subject of commerce” The “clamour and sophistry of merchants and manufacturers,” declared Smith, “easily persuaded [the rest of society] that the private interest of a part, and a subordinate part of the society, is the greatest interest of the whole.” People in pre-Benthamite Britain saw the State as merely an instrument of the Interests, nothing like a disinterested body, and so the more modern notion of monopoly versus the state (a notion devised in the late 19th century by what Herbert Hovencamp has called the first law-and-economics movement) was in 1776 a distinction without a difference. The idea that the Hanoverian state could be a “countervailing force” to monopoly would have struck an eighteenth-century Scot as hilarious. After all, as Smith emphasized in his book repeatedly, the very state had created the monopolies in the first place. The bourgeois mercantilism of which Smith complained lives still in appeals to Buy American or to protect gigantic farms in North Dakota raising beet sugar. Wise up, said Smith in The Wealth of Nations: Get Prudent.

By the late eighteenth century the rhetorical ground in Europe had recently shifted. Two centuries before the first publication of The Wealth of Nations, and still less two centuries before The Theory of Moral Sentiments, no one in England, and still less in the very unbourgeois Scotland of Mary Stuart or James VI, would have thought to write two long books treating a nation as though it were a prudent project for the self-improvement of a bourgeois society. And yet even the more prudence-oriented of Smith’s books is not a book only about prudence. The Wealth of Nations waxes sympathetic for the natural right to dispose of ones labor, for example, regardless of the prudence of such a policy, and waxes wroth against the corruptions of the commercial system. Prudence and justice, policy and indignation, together, fuel Smith’s attack on prohibiting manufacturers from selling at retail and farmers from selling to remote middlemen in the grain trade. “Both laws were evident violations of natural liberty, and therefore unjust; and they were both, too, as impolitic as they were unjust.”

Smith was particularly indignant about restrictions on the workers’ right to use their labor as they saw fit. The Settlement Laws, which attempted to prevent poor people from overwhelming local relief systems, forced the poor back to the parishes of their birth — literally, resettling them, a sort of ethnic cleansing. “To remove a man who has committed no misdemeanor from the parish where he chooses to reside is an evident violation of natural liberty and justice. . . . There is scarce a poor man in England of forty years of age, I will venture to say, who has not in some part of his life felt himself most cruelly oppressed by this ill-contrived law.” Or again: “The property which every man has in his own labor, as it is the original foundation of all other property, so it is the most sacred and inviolable. The patrimony of a poor man lies in the strength and dexterity of his hands; and to hinder him from employing this strength and dexterity in what manner he thinks proper without injury to his neighbor, is a plain violation of this most sacred property.” In view of such egalitarianism Smith has been claimed often by the left. No wonder, in view of such passages as this:

The property which every man has in his own labor, as it is the original foundation of all other property, so it is the most sacred and inviolable. The patrimony of a poor man lies in the strength and dexterity of his hands; and to hinder him from employing this strength and dexterity in what manner he thinks proper without injury to his neighbor, is a plain violation of this most sacred property.

Even his book on prudence, in other words, as Samuel Fleischacker has recently argued, exhibits ethical engagement in a commercial society beyond Prudence Only. Justice and temperance, with a bit of love and courage, must figure, too.

Of the seven virtues of classical and Christian theory, Adam Smith paid particular attention to three. His three books — well, two published and one intended — match the three: prudence is the chief if nothing like the only virtue considered in The Wealth of Nations; temperance is the chief if again certainly not the only virtue considered in The Theory of Moral Sentiments; and justice was to be considered in a projected Treatise on Jurisprudence, which we can read from elaborate notes by Smith’s students in a course given from his chair of Moral Philosophy in 1762-63 and 1766. Smith was using a compendious model of social behavior something like this:

It is distinguished from the early-Hume /late-Bentham/modern-economist model by the presence, as in Aristotle and Kant, of a second motivating force, beyond animal passions. As within a single person, so within a polis, as Plato had argued at length. There are no other ways than the three, it is claimed, that passions may be translated satisfactorily into behavior.

Albert Hirschman has famously characterized a similar choice as “exit, voice, and loyalty.” If you dislike the latest proposal for an optional war you can take three routes. You can exit the political community, washing your hands of the matter, moving to Canada. Or you can exercise your voice before the courthouse and in the newspaper and at the polls to change the policy. Or you can retreat to the quietism of personal virtue, tempering your dislike, seeing the point in the policy, staying loyal to the polis. The fit with Hirschman’s categories is not exact, but the Platonic-Smithian model here is of the same genre at least, and makes the same point. It is: that exit, or prudence, is not the only option that social science should consider in controlling passions.

And indeed, passions are not the only motivators of humans — unlike dogs, humans are open to reason and rhetoric. If not it would have been pointless for Smith to write at length about the idiocies of mercantilism or empire, or Hirschman in his youth to write on policy for Latin America. The balance of power is not the only constraint on human passions. “Realism” in foreign policy asks that we think only of passions and only in prudential terms. Be tough, it recommends, and “realistic.” But it ignores the habits and laws of nations, a civic republicanism which can justify good behavior. And it treats with contempt the ethical channel, and, worse, the rhetorical channel, calling it “preaching.” Thus George Stigler, the Chicago economist, an enthusiastic advocate of so-called “rational” models of politics, opposed always the premise of his friend and colleague Milton Friedman, that people are open to reason, and that reasons therefore are worth giving.

Vivienne Brown notes in her book of 1994, Adam Smith’s Discourse, that the talk of ethics in The Wealth of Nations is directed at the butcher and the baker and the politician in the ordinary business of their lives. Smith’s talk there is of a “lower-order” ethics, she says, a matter of prudence rather than of great-souled practice of balanced virtues recommended in The Theory of Moral Sentiments.

But is Smith’s discourse of morality ever really lower order, Prudence Only? His standard for the middle station is better shown than told, as in his first appearance in print, an unsigned memorial to a bourgeois friend, in 1758, while (age 35) he was completing The Theory of Moral Sentiments:

To the Memory of Mr. William Crauford,
Merchant of Glasgow

Who to that exact frugality, that downright probity and plainness of manners so suitable to his profession, joined a love of learning, . . an openness of hand and a generosity of heart, . .. and a magnanimity that could support . . . the most torturing pains of body with an unalterable cheerfulness of temper, and without once interrupting, even to his last hour, the most manly and the most vigorous activity in a vast variety of business. . . . candid and penetrating, circumspect and sincere.

This is not an encomium to Profit Regardless, or I’ve Got Mine, Jack. It praises the bourgeois virtues. And “bourgeois virtues,” it suggests, is no oxymoron.

Smith recognized the prudent and just desirability of developing an ethic for a commercial age beyond the Me-First ethic of mercantilism or of the country club; and beyond traditional Christianity (though Smith, as a virtue ethicist, has a lot of Aquinas in him); and beyond classical stoicism. His writings are hard to imagine outside of the eighteenth century in the commercial quarter of Northwestern Europe (though there are eerie parallels in Japanese thought at the time). Smith shared with Kant a deism that raised the question of how to live a good life without God actively present. Both men answered, By Reason. But Kant’s reason was a Platonic, absolute one, a closed aristocracy of proof. Vivienne Brown has noted that Smith’s reasoning about ethics was on the contrary dialogic and open. And I would add that his ethics were empirical, depending on a philosophical anthropology or psychology that Kant scorned. Smith’s you could say was Aristotelian and Aquinian rather than Platonic, interested in how sacred and profane interact among actual denizens of this world as against Ideal Rational beings.

Smith for example was obsessed as Kant was not with how language and its limits fits a society of merchants as against the older absolutes of saint or hero. Smith was a rhetorical theorist, explicitly and self-consciously. The notion that ethical behavior should come out of an internal dialogue with a better self, named by Smith the Impartial Spectator, is natural to someone who believed that language was foundational. Smith’s first job was teaching rhetoric to Scottish boys. He was we would say a high-school teacher of English. By contrast Kant (though like Smith a famously good university lecturer) believed that a priestly and individual Reason was foundational. Manfred Kuehn’s recent biography argues that Kant modeled himself on an English merchant very like the Scottish one Smith memorialized. But Immanuel was no theorist of the chattering bourgeoisie. Adam was. Walk with me, talk with me; what news on the Rialto?

For a century and a half before 1848, between the decline of sacred holiness called religion and the rise of profane holiness called socialism, even advanced thinkers were well-disposed towards merchants and manufactures. Voltaire wrote in 1733, “I don’t know which is the more useful to the state, a well-powdered lord who knows precisely when the king gets up in the morning . . . or a great merchant who enriches his country, sends orders from his office to Surat or to Cairo, and contributes to the well-being of the world.” And later Dr. Johnson: “There are few ways in which a man can be more innocently employed than in getting money.” And later still, in 1844, on the eve of the Great Conversion against capitalism among American and other scholars, Emerson: “There are geniuses in trade, as well as in war. . . . Nature seems to authorize trade, as soon as you see the natural merchant. . . . The habit of his mind is a reference to standards of natural equity and public advantage; and he inspires respect, and the wish to deal with him, both for the quiet spirit of honor which attends him, and for the intellectual pastime which the spectacle of so much ability affords.”

Smith and the rest of the economists and calculators 1700 to 1848 were of course busy providing a theory of innocent contributions to the well-being of the world arising from the genius of the natural merchant. They explained how the cooperation and competition of people getting money leads to the division of labor and the wealth of nations. Smith was not appalled that in places like Holland or Scotland or England or Pennsylvania people got money. A quarter century before Napoleon’s sneer at the nation of shopkeepers Smith noted that “England, though 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.” Smith was not criticizing the bourgeoisie in saying so (though hewas criticizing Lord North and his American policy), any more than Hume was when he wrote that “There are more natural parts, and a stronger genius requisite to make a good lawyer or physician, than to make a great monarch.”

Yet Smith is concerned to avoid an ethics of what the market can bear, the worst of bourgeois other-directedness. Smith encompasses the paradox that a conscience, his Impartial Spectator, has a social origin yet can stand against society. “When we first come into the world,” he writes, “we are accustomed to consider what behavior is likely to be agreeable to every person we converse with, to our parents, to our masters, to our companions.” So an adolescent. Yet a mature person abandons “the impossible and absurd project of rendering ourselves universally agreeable.” “The weak, the vain and the frivolous, indeed, may be mortified by the most groundless censure or elated by the most absurd applause. Such persons are not accustomed to consult the judge within.” The man o’ independent mind,/ He looks and laughs at a’ that.

Likewise St. Thomas spoke of a faculty of “synteresis” (Greek “watching closely”; the scholastics for some reason spelled it “synderesis”), the conscience, a third thing beyond nurture or nature, beyond upbringing or original sin — we call original sin nowadays “genes,” and congratulate ourselves for our lack of theology. Synteresis or the germ of an Impartial Spectator resolves the nature/nurture paradox with free will. An ignorant woman can by her good will be more virtuous than many a proud doctor. A virtuous pagan, in some theologies emphasizing free will, can enter Paradise. It is similar to the way the brain is supposed to work in modern theories, begun by biology but then self-healing, self-directing, self-educating. Thus blind people train their visual cortexes for substitute uses. Smith and St. Thomas take the sunny view that we can bend our will to virtue and can self-heal — this in contrast to the pessimistic line of St. Paul, St. Augustine, and John Calvin, in which lacking grace we are sinners in the hands of an angry God. “Grace,” says Aquinas to the contrary, “does not dispense with nature; it perfects it.”

Smith, then, is less a neo-stoic, as he has often been called, than he is a secular Aquinian. For stoicism is above all anti-bourgeois. Its founder Zeno is an early example of a character in bourgeois culture, the anti-bourgeois son — Zeno’s father appears to have been a Cypriot merchant. Zeno’s follower Epictetus advised: “Wish [events] to happen as they do happen; and you will go on well.” It is the opposite of bourgeois’ busyness. “Whoever then would be free, let him wish nothing,” Epictetus declares. “For this is your business, to act well the character assigned to you; to choose it, is another’s.” The Enchiridion begins, “Of things, some are in our power, and some are not. In our power are opinion, pursuit, desire, aversion, and in one word, whatever are our own actions. Not in our power, are body, property, reputation, command, and, in one word, whatever are not our own actions.” Epictetus recommends that we deal only with those things “in our power,” as he claims them to be. But his list of things not in our power is precisely the list of things the bourgeois reckons are in his power: body, property, reputation, command. Epictetus articulates the ethic of an emperor or a slave, aristocrat or Christian. You have a heroic character or an immortal soul, given to you by the grace of the gods, or of God. Do well with your gift, but don’t expect much. In aristocratic and peasant theory you do not make yourself and cannot advance in condition. Thus the so-called Law of Jante in Denmark, a peasant sensibility (it comes from a comic novel of the 1930s): do not think you are better than other people. No free will; grace alone (these were Lutheran bachelor farmers, after all). What matters is your moral luck, your genes, your original sin, your fate, fatõ profugus.

Smith’s ethical theory, furthermore, is social. It does not recommend bowling alone. Again Vivienne Brown has it right. She discusses in detail the influence of an aristocratic-pagan or peasant-Christian stoicism in Smith’s thought but sees clearly that he is proposing something beyond stoicism. Stoicism is solipsistic. Smith’s dilemma was how to be inner-directed yet properly social, a good person though living in a town. Metaphors of accounting were part of bourgeois education and had long been the metaphor of Protestant self-education, as in Robinson Crusoe’s thoughts on the island. Smith wrote in his letter to Gilbert Elliot some months after the first publication of The Theory of Moral Sentiments, “Man is considered as a moral, because he is regarded as an accountable being. But an accountable being, as the word expresses, is a being that must give an account of its actions to some other, and that, consequently, must regulate them according to the good liking of this other.” Though the accountable being “is, no doubt, principally accountable to God [says Smith with his mild faith so far from the quarrelsome Calvinism of Scotland a century before], in the order of time, he must necessarily conceive of himself as accountable to his fellow creatures.” The Impartial Spectator of the good person’s imagination is a “Substitute for the Deity.”

And then he makes a sweet argument why “the author of nature has made man the immediate judge of mankind”: “If those infinite rewards and punishments . . . were perceived as distinctly as we foresee the frivolous and temporary retaliations which we may expect from one another, the weakness of human nature, astonished at the immensity of objects too little fitted to its comprehension, could no longer attend to the little affairs of this world; and it is absolutely impossible that the business of society could have been carried on.” It is a deistic and bourgeois thought: that business should take precedence over salvation, lest we starve praying on a pillar in the desert, and that therefore God in His wisdom has arranged moral sentiments to make the little affairs of the world more convenient.

I have referred to Vivienne Brown’s book as though she would approve my theme here. She would not. She and I agree that Smith is first and last an ethical philosopher, a view which is becoming stronger as philosophers like Samuel Fleischacker pick up Smith. We agree that within bourgeois economics Smith has been read erroneously, as a confused precursor of later economic theorists of the self-governing character of markets, such as Émil Walras and F. Y. Edgeworth and Kenneth Arrow. We also agree that reading Smith is a rhetorical task not to be reduced solely to his intentions or his logic. Brown perhaps relies too exclusively on her claims about the monologic character of The Wealth of Nations as against the supposed dialogism à la Bakhtin of The Theory of Moral Sentiments (which therefore, she says, “bears the signs of the moral fragmentation of humanity”). But considering the over-free use of Smith’s Intentions in the existing literature on Smith, one can understand why she appeals to a New-Critical horror of the Intentional Fallacy as something like a shibboleth: all intentionally is to be banished, and The Text is to stand alone.

And yet Smith’s life was a text, to be interpreted, and a life as methodical as Smith’s often has illuminating intentions.

Brown has persuaded me that Smith’s affection for agriculture, though an analytic error, is not something that can be ignored in reading his ethics. Smith and his followers up to John Stuart Mill did not grasp the scale of modern economic growth, the factor of 20 or so by which our material lives exceed that of our eighteenth-century ancestors. That Smith could view manufacturing as something of a luxury is part of the misapprehension. And yet in praising agriculture he is praising what he regarded as prudent investment, not the traditional social relations of the countryside. His agriculture was Lowland commerce in grain, not Highland cattle herding. He is again busy in a bourgeois project.

Where Brown and I most sharply disagree is precisely in my claim that Smith made a commercial morality. On the contrary, she writes, “the texts of TMS and WN contain instances . . . where concern is expressed over the impoverishing effects of commercial society in eroding standards of public decency as well as private morality.” True. But I would claim that such concern is what one would expect in a serious project of bourgeois ethics. Smith after all devotes more space to the enriching effects of commercial society-and not in bread alone, but in converse and address, the doux commerce of French pro-bourgeois theorists at the time. As Tom Paine wrote, commerce operates to “cordialize mankind.” Brown says flatly that The Wealth of Nations “cannot be read as an endorsement of ‘liberal capitalism’.” I believe it can, at least when read against the illiberal texts in opposition — the pamphlets and begging letters of the mercantilists, for example.

True, true: Smith is not simply Milton Friedman in knee britches or Margaret Thatcher in drag. But as Brown herself puts it, Smith and other Scots were showing how “a society may cohere and its people may live decently, in spite of the moral failure [by the highest, and utterly asocial, stoic standards] of mankind at large.” The idea was characteristic of the Scottish Enlightenment — not utopian, those mad attempts to refashion human nature, but a program of living decently together within the constraints of anthropological and psychological facts. Brown does not acknowledge how very bourgeois such an ethical project was. She concludes, “It is a mistake, therefore, to think that in commending prudence as a lower-order virtue [I would again dispute the `lower order'], is praising either economic activity in general or the economic activities associated with what later became known as the middle class.” Scrutiny of the argument surrounding her assertion does not justify her word “therefore.” She does not tell why the inventor of economics cannot be read in all his works as praising economic activity-with reservations, as a moralist for the age, but nonetheless praising in a way that would have been possible at only a few other times and places outside Scotland in its Enlightenment.

For various reasons, anyway, such an ethic was a natural project in the 18th century for a Scottish Enlightenment, or indeed for an even more marginal American Enlightenment, as can be seen in a figure like Benjamin Franklin. Both locales, like Holland earlier, were laird-light, and were commercial without being wholly ignorant of philosophy. The theory of the bourgeoisie came from the margins, away from courts and princes. It is emblematic of the mechanism involved that Voltaire, that friend of kings and their mistresses, was driven in 1726 to reflect on British commercial virtue precisely by his banishment from Paris and its courtly environs, a banishment occasioned by an insult to a well-connected aristocrat. His estate in far Verney, nearly in Switzerland, purchased with his profits as a grasping speculator early and late, not the central places of Versailles or Paris, would be where he preached the bourgeois virtue of cultivating ones own garden.

Additional notes on Smith:

Smith’s life was nearly as quiet as Kant’s, though he traveled much more: Dugald Stewart is hard pressed to give much beyond an account of the works themselves (though because he was writing in the politically troubled 1790s in Britain he had to trim his sails). Smith was never married. Smith’s father died a few months before Smith was born, June 5, 1723 (the same date of birth of: check Stigler). He was an only son, and much devoted to his mother, with whom he lived frequently (aet. 24-26; and aet. 43-52 [1766-75, writing WN] at Kirkaldy; and 1778-1784 with her at Edinburgh). Stewart notes that Smith “enjoyed the rare satisfaction of being able to repay her affection, by every attention that filial gratitude could dictate, during the long period of sixty years” (Stewart, “Account,” p. 269, sec. I, 2).


Glasgow in the 1750s and 1760s was a suitable place to launch a free-trade theory, says Stewart (Stewart, “Account,” p. 300), and Smith was much acquainted with businessmen there.


Smith and his friends exhibited a bourgeois character in the plain style of calling each other Mr. rather than Dr. Smith (Stewart, “Account,” p. 266). (Smith’s LL.D. was honorary, conferred by Glasgow during his professorship there). Smith was inclined to “offices of secret charity” (Stewart, “Account,” p. 326), a most bourgeois inclination. The Duke of Buccleuch, in whose entourage Smith traveled the Continent 1764-66, admired him for “every private virtue,” the sort of virtue that an aristocrat would think suited to a bourgeois. On the 18th-century supposition, the public-that is, political-men were aristocrats (Stewart, “Account,” p. 307, sec. III. 16). Buccleuch was responsible for getting Smith a sinecure as Commissioner of HM Customs in Scotland in 1778 (with his mother, in Edinburgh, where he moved from two years in London), a paradoxical position for a man opposed to protection. And yet Stewart is emphatic that Smith “was certainly not fitted to the general commerce of the world, or for the business of life” (Stewart, “Account,” p. 329, sec. V. 12). He was not bourgeois is that sense. Smith was a bookish man, and absent-minded in company.


The charm of Smith’s conversation was similar to that of the economist Armen Alchian: “the fanciful theories which, without the least affectation of ingenuity, he was continually starting upon all the common topics of discourse” (Stewart, “Account,” p. 295). People are always remarking on the “modesty and simplicity” of his bearing (Stewart, “Account,” p. 304).


In other words, Smith was a member, of course, of the Bildungsbürgertum. He was a professor, a writer, an official of the state, the son of an official of the state. He was no working bourgeois. His suspicions of businessmen have been made much of. But he in the end he admired them more than the alternatives. Smith was a student at Glasgow 13-17 — note the early Scottish age for university, nothing unusual. A Scottish university professor was a prep school. He studied mathematics and philosophy until age 24 at Balioll, Oxford. Smith contributed to the tradition of Hobbes in mimicking mathematics. Steward: “His early taste for the Greek geometry may be remarked in the elementary clearness and fulness, bordering sometimes upon prolixity, with which he frequently states his political reasonings” (Stewart, “Account,” p. 271, sec. I, 8). Smith 1748, aet. 25, delivers lectures on rhetoric, his patron Lord Kames paying for him to give them. About this time he met David Hume, and was by 1752 his friend.

Smith was briefly professor of logic (1751) and for a long time (13 years) of moral philosophy (1752-1765) at Glasgow. Smith believed in the usefulness of rhetoric more than of strict logic. Smith’s lectures as Professor of Moral Philospphy covered four subjects: theology, ethics [thus Theory of Moral Sentiments], justice, and expediency [Wealth of Nations]. (Stewart, “Account,” pp. 274-75, sec. I. 18-20). “Expediency” is “calculated to increase the riches, the power, and the prosperity of a State” (Stewart, “Account,” p. 275, sec. I.20).


Notice the approach to explicitness in dividing virtues into feminine and masculine: “The man who, to all the soft, the amiable, and the gentle virtues, joins all the great, the awful, and the respectable, must surely be the natural and proper object of our highest love and admiration” (TMS III.3.35, p. 152). Christian/Stoic, Peasant/Aristocrat/ masculine/feminine, private/public.

Smith attempts to combine the two. In TMS he asserts, “Our sensibility to the feelings of others, so far from being inconsistent with the manhood of self-command, is the very principle upon which that manhood is founded” (p. 152). The combination is not altogether convincing: but you could take a feminist view, that Smith recommending


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What is special about the German Ocean is the development there of bourgeois ideology. Places that traded for their grain instead of growing it, like Venice, which for centuries had the cheapest bread in Europe, developed distinctively bourgeois way of thinking. Venice was ruled by a quasi-aristocracy out of a total population of 100,000, the 500 men of the leading families who were permitted political careers. But they did without kings. The Florentine republic, by contrast, ended with a prince. In the Dutch Republic before 1795, similarly, a tiny oligarchy — some 2000 men, perhaps a smaller group than the 1 ¼ percent of the Venetian adult men — ran the country. But again without a monarch, absolute or constitutional. By a powerful analogy after the principle had been articulated, in the 19th century and 20th the shopkeepers and then the working men and then even women and blacks became generals and politicians.

The theorizing is crucial. Markets and capitalism could flourish without any resulting change in the governing theory. A privileged Communist Party still runs China. That businesspeople are making cloth and profits does not automatically lead to an honoring of their lives, or a shift of political power. You can watch a long, long lag of honor behind accomplishment in Europe, as in the very the gradual shift of the word “gentleman” in English from “a properly idle landowner entitled to carry and use a sword” to “a polite and sweet-tempered fellow, probably a businessman.” The OED does not even in the Supplement of 1933 admit the democratic use except as “contemptuous or humorous.” The difference between England and America then is seen in sense 2 in the second Merriam-Webster’s unabridged (1934), “a man of refined manners” or at the limit, sense 4, “a man, irrespective of condition; — used esp. in pl. , in addressing men in popular assemblies.” Robert Bellah notes that the lag was especially long in Japan, which in the 18th century had an economy as developed as England’s in most respects:

Late Tokogawa Japan was already capitalist in the sense that it had a well-developed market economy. . . . Merchants and later large-scale capitalists wielded significant influence in both Tokugawa and Meiji Japan, yet I would argue that the dominant value system gave them little legitimacy as independent claimants to power. . . . [During the 1880s] if one manufactured toothpicks it was “for the sake of the emperor,” hardly the basis of a self-respecting claim to independence on the part of the capitalist class.

&[the symbol “&” will signify in what follows

“probably more, or entirely contradictory, evidence to follow here,

and certainly a transition.”

[The items are often little more than suggested topic sentences.

I give them in this version so that you can see and judge

the "continuity" of the larger argument,

and so that I have a place to start working on the subjects.]

The notable development in the 18th century was a theorizing of the bourgeois virtues. Again it began as all this does in the Netherlands. The Dutch Republic developed a theory of bourgeois rule decades before it had occurred to, say, English people that they could behead an anointed king.


The history of Dutch painting is once more the most accessible evidence. The arts as the arts always do contained a social philosophy, implied if not ponderously preached. The Dutch case falls towards the ponderous end. The numerous portraits of shooters and civic guards and boards of alms-houses (though only P percent of a late 17th-century collection: most Golden-Age paintings were landscapes and still-lives to decorate the walls in a gray climate) celebrate The Rulers, and the rulers were bourgeois.


Dutch writers were thinking of these matters early, too.


The virtues were to be balanced, not one taken for all. Virtues were seen as necessary for a commercial society. Alessandro Manzoni was a late example of a pro-bourgeois novelist {examples from I Promessi Sposi in detail}. The heroic role was taken by prudence; the ideal was, to use Austen’s favorite word, an “amiable” society.


And the philosophers. Albert Hirschman’s Passions and the Interests inaugurated the study of bourgeois theorizing c. 1700-1776. Quoting one Ricard: “Commerce attaches [men] one to another through mutual utility. Through commerce the moral and physical passions are superseded by interest. . . . Commerce has a special character which distinguishes it from all other professions. It affects the feelings of men so strongly that it makes him who was proud and haughty suddenly turn supple, bending and serviceable. Through commerce, man learns to deliberate, to be honest, to acquire manners, to be prudent and reserved in both talk and action. Sensing the necessity to be wise and honest in order to succeed, he flees vice, or at least his demeanor exhibits decency and seriousness so as not to arouse any adverse judgement [sic] on the part of present and future acquaintances; he would not dare make a spectacle of himself for fear of damaging his credit standing and thus society may well avoid a scandal which it might otherwise have to deplore” (Hirschman, 1982, p. 1465).

English freedom and commerce were seen by Frenchmen such as Montesquieu and Voltaire as ideal.


“Individual” and “society” arise as words c. 1700.



Willey notes, “The distaste of the eighteenth century for all violent forms of religious emotion was profound and lasting. The lesson of the seventeenth century has burnt deeply into its soul. ‘There is not,’ says Addison, ‘a more melancholy object than a man who has his head turned with religious enthusiasm’.”



The coffee houses and theatres of the cities were where bourgeois virtues were theorized. Reactionaries like the Scotsman Andrew Fletcher in 1703 or the Englishman Robert Southey in 1830 railed against the cities, crammed with the bourgeoisie and their workers. Anti-capitalist proto-romantics around mid-century like Rousseau and Goldsmith praised the countryside, in ways conventional in philosophy and poetry since the Greeks. Fletcher asked, “Can their be a greater disorder in human affairs” than “the exercise [in cities] of a sedentary and unmanly trade?” (quoted in Herman p. 42; Fletcher had a few years before helped bankrupt the middle class of Scotland in the Darien Scheme, to start a Scottish empire in, of all places, Panama).

This was always so, the quarrel between urban wealth and rural sufficiency (“enough blessed with my country seat,” sang Horace in 23 B.C.E.). As Pocock argues, “We can no longer hold that the beginnings of a modern political theory of property are to be found . . . in any simple transition from feudal to bourgeois values. We must think instead of an enduring conflict between two explicitly post-feudal ideals, one agrarian [Jeffersonian, e.g.] and the other commercial, one ancient and the other modern” (p. 109). A jurisprudential notion of citizenship, he claims, undermines the ancient notions: Europeans start to speak of people having “rights” to such things as life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Instead of property merely assuring one a place in the polis it becomes something to be traded on for private, not public, purposes, a counter in an urban game.



James Q. Wilson is right to stress that the universalization of obligation-or at any rate its notable broadening-is astonishing. Once we cared only about our family or clan. Once “the Apache [or Scottish clansman] would kill without remorse a warrior from another tribe, [but now] the philosopher would feel obliged . . . to spare the life of a sociologist. “The aspiration toward the universal,” he declares, “is the chief feature of the moral history of mankind.” We care about people far away. The stoics were, in Wilson’s phrase, “the first cosmopolitans” in ethics. One would add Christian neo-stoics. It was not membership in a polis or a religion that conferred respect, but mere universal humanness. So the philosophers of the 18th century and the spreading democratic idea. If white male property owners, argues Wilson, felt an obligation to treat The Other well, it became more difficult in consistency to defend slavery or male hegemony or electoral discrimination. So passed the “claim that one was entitled to reserve one’s compassion and sense of fairness for one’s own kind exclusively.”

Wilson argues that the cause was above all the character of the family in Northern Europe, the “European marriage pattern,” as the demographers call it. European marriages from as early as Augustine stressed the joining of two souls voluntarily, not from the clan’s political needs. Late marriage, for example-necessary when the clan was not to support the couple-meant that the bride was an adult woman rather than a girl. Feminism, the bumper sticker has it, is the radical notion that women are people. Autonomy for women (and slaves and infidels and children and so forth in the pattern of modern freedom) could not flourish if the women were girlish counters in a dynastic struggle.


The oldest argument in favor of bourgeois virtues is that they are good for business. A roofer in a town of 50,000 who installs a bad roof will not be in business long. The pressures of entry and exit force the bourgeoisie to exhibit virtue. The trouble with such an argument is that pressure is the absence of ethics. A businessperson induced by prospective profits or forced by potential loss to speak honestly to her customers is not behaving out of ethical motives. The reply would be that it does not matter why she is virtuous: anyway, she is. And the rejoinder would be that as soon as the balance of advantage turns to lying, she will.

A deeper argument is that bourgeois life is good for ethics.

The economist Albert Hirschman (who himself speaks of “bourgeois virtue,” p. 12) has recounted the career from Montesquieu to Marx of the phrase “doux commerce. ” The image of mutual polishing like grains of sand was conventional: the Earl of Shaftesbury had written famously in 1713:

All politeness [his master word] is owing to liberty. We polish one another, and rub off our corners and rough sides by a sort of amicable collision. To restrain this is inevitably to bring a rust upon men’s understanding. ‘Tis a destroying of civility, good breeding, and even charity itself.

Shaftesbury was here speaking merely of the polishing of wit, but was aware of the wider significance of an open market in ideas and in commodities. In the paragraph preceding, he wrote:

By freedom of conversation this illiberal kind of wit [the gross sort of raillery] will lose its credit. For wit is its own remedy. Liberty and commerce bring it to its true standard. The only danger is the laying of an embargo. The same thing happens here, as in the case of trade. Impositions and restrictions reduce it to a low ebb: nothing is so advantageous to it as a free port

Such arguments became 18th-century commonplaces. William Robertson sixty years after Shaftesbury: “Commerce tends to wear off those prejudices which maintain distinctions and animosity between nations. It softens and polishes the manners of men.” George Lillo, in his play at the dawn of bourgeois power, has his ideal of the London merchant, Thorowgood, assert that “as the name of merchant never degrades the gentleman, so by no means does it exclude him.” Lillo lays it on thick. In the same scene Thorowgood on exiting instructs his assistant to “look carefully over the files to see whether there are any tradesmen’s bills unpaid.” One can smile from an aristocratic height at the goody-goody tendencies of bourgeois virtues. But after all, in seriousness, is it not a matter of virtue to pay one’s tailor? What kind of person accepts the wares of tradesmen and then refuses to give something in return? No merchant he.


Christopher Berry argues in the style of Hirschman that

Whereas the premodern view sees a threat to virtue and liberty in the boundless uncontrollability of human bodily desires, modern, Smithian liberalism accommodates those desires. Virtue is largely domesticated or privatized. . . . Understood in this manner neither virtue nor liberty calls for superhuman qualities but are tasks which every human partakes and for which every human is qualified. . . . [T]hey are less exclusive than the classical versions, which are, in comparison, elitist and sexist.

Berry 1992, p. 84.

This is how social teleology is brought into the virtues. The virtues are those of Hume’s middling sort, not titanic heroisms. An economy and polity of middling people with middling virtues will suffice.

[mere beginning of] Chapter 8
The Literary Impulse: Defoe, Addison, Gay

Defoe and The Spectator and The London Merchant; the novel as bourgeois. English novels.

But the holy ground for the bourgeoisie became, of course, 18th-century Britain. No one in the 16th century would have thought of England (and less so Scotland) as a bourgeois nation. Look at the portrayal of businesspeople in Shakespeare: mainly absent, in favor of aristocratic gestures for Harry, England, and St. George. The Merchant of Venice is the one exception, but proves the rule, since it was not English businessmen who were being praised [check Merry Wives]. The English were notorious in the age of Sir Francis Drake and Elizabeth herself for a proud, decidedly unbourgeois behavior. A Dutch businessman in 16.. declared that “the people are bold, courageous, ardent and cruel in war, but very inconstant, rash, vainglorious, light and deceiving, and very suspicious, especially of foreigners, whom they despise.”

Of these qualities only courage and the suspicion of foreigners survived the embourgeoisfication of England, 1689 to the present. Jeremy Paxman, who is among the numerous tellers of the tale to use the Dutchman’s quotation, remarks that in the late 19th century the English came to be viewed, as having on the contrary “honesty, prudence, patriotism, self-control, fair play and courage.” Evidently something had changed. In his recent survey of its history 1727 to 1783 Paul Langford characterizes England as by then thoroughly bourgeois, “a polite and commercial people” (in the phrase from Blackstone that Langford uses as his title). He quarrels repeatedly with the more usual notion that aristocratic values ruled in the age of the Whig grandees. The

seeming passion for aristocratic values,” for example, evinced in the vogue for spas (such as Bath) and seaside reports (such as Brighton), this is his prose!!!! Do not quote directly!!! Acknowledge!!! depended on a middle class clientele, the upper middling sorts described in Jane Austen’s novels. Britain in the eighteenth century was a plutocracy if anything, and even as a plutocracy one in which power was widely diffused, constantly contested, and ever adjusting to new incursions of wealth, often modest wealth.

As early as 1733, Langford claims, “the shopkeepers and tradesmen of England were immensely powerful as a class.” “Bath owed its name to the great but its fortune to the mass of middling.”

Something evidently happened in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. The first voice of theorizing in English is Addison: “With The Spectator the voice of the bourgeois,’ Willey declares, “is first heard in polite letters, and makes his first decisive contribution to the English moral tradition.” Addison was “the first lay preacher to reach the ear of the middle-classes,” though it would seem that for the less high-brow middling sort Defoe scoops him by a decade or so. “The hour was ripe for a rehabilitation of the virtues [against Restoration cynicism], and [Addison and Steele] were the very men for the task.” Decades later the Dutch return the favor of the Addisonian project, under the heading of “Spectatorial Papers” in explicit imitation and against a perceived corruption of the bourgeois virtues-French manners, effeminate men, nepotism, and sleeping late.

LOFTIS ARGUMENT. While commending Loftis for his energy in research the economist Jacob Viner offered “the simpler hypothesis . . . that as soon as merchants came to the theatre in sufficient numbers the dramatists would provide fare which would retain them as customers.” Viner thus appeals to the Rise of the Bourgeoisie in its simplest economistic form — not as a rise in prestige originating in the superstructure but a rise in sheer numbers originating in the base. Viner may be right about the 18th century. [countervgidence in Loftis/] But in general the relation between actual and implied audience is not so simple. [look into Wayne's thinking on just this point.] Shakespeare flattered his aristocratic and especially his royal audiences, but his actual audience contained numerous merchants of London [check in Shake. literature; also % of population that was merchant; ask John Huntington]. mmmm [auteur] in Wall Street assaulted financial capitalism, but many a financial capitalist liked the movie [check in Wall Street Journal; Financial Times]

In France a little earlier Molière was likewise bourgeois himself and focused his plays on le bourgeois gentilhomme. WORK ON FRENCH 18TH CENTURY PLAYS The English version appears in Lillo’s embarrassing encomiums to the life of commerce.

The voice of the novelists, beginning with Defoe, who virtually invented the genre in English, is clearly bourgeois. The 18th and especially the 19th-century roman eventually comes to be focused indeed on the bourgeois home, in sharp contrast to adventure yarns, long called “romances,” whence the French word. It is an old point in literary criticism, made most enthusiastically by left-wing critics from the 1930s on, that the genre itself is bourgeois, and had anyway an overwhelmingly bourgeois (and female) readership.

[mere beginning of] Chapter 7
How the British Got That Way

Josiah Child arguing against guild regulation of cloth (quoted in Lipson, Hist., p., 118, q.v.): “if we intend to have the trade of the world we must imitate the Dutch.” And so they did, in many things: naval, financial, etc.

British imitation of Dutch in late 17th C. Defeat in the Solent? Other reasons? Puritans. Cf. New England: internal colonization by non-conformists. Much larger than New England. But small.

England was just acquiring an admiration for a bourgeois version of the virtues as Holland came to its height. … Sprat writes of how commendable it is that “The merchants of England live honorably in foreign parts” (my italics), while “those of Holland meanly, minding their gain alone.” Shameful. “Ours [have] in their behavior very much the gentility of the families from which so many of them are descended. The others when they are abroad show that they are only a race of plain citizens.” Appallingly plain bourgeois, those Dutch. Perhaps, Sprat notes, that is “one of the reasons they can so easily undersell us.” It may be.

[fragmentary] Chapter 6
Precursors Were Ancient, But Impermanent

Bourgeois republics have usually been undermined by resurgent aristocracy or oligarchy: Dutch, Venetian stories, leaving Britain as unique by 1750. Britain was a freshly bourgeois society.

But of course bourgeois life is ancient, and so the liberalism and other virtues that go along with it have traces earlier even than the Dutch Republic in its Golden Age. Florence and Genoa had liberal hours. Venice was liberal in all matters except politics, being for centuries a European and indeed Greek center for publishing, by no means all of it approved by the Roman censors — the Serene Republic was famous for pornography. The economist and intellectual historian Jacob Viner noted that “the Renaissance, especially in its Italian manifestations, brought new attitudes with respect to the dignity of the merchant, his usefulness to society, and the general legitimacy of the moderate pursuit of wealth through commerce, provided the merchant who thus attained riches used it with taste, with liberality, and with concern for the welfare and the magnificence of his city.” The attitude in bourgeois towns has not in truth changed much since then. Outside of the corrupting theories of the economists or the prejudices of the aristocratic rump, it is still judged blameworthy in a merchant to pursue wealth immoderately, tastelessly, illiberally, and without concern for the welfare and magnificence of the city.

Barcelona was from medieval times an exception to the anti-bourgeois character of the rest of Spain, as in the 19th century Basque Bilbao became. The making of the German Ocean into a bourgeois lake c. 1453-1700, to be followed by the making of the North Atlantic into a larger one in the 18th century, and the world’s seas into the largest one of all in the 19th century, constitutes only the most recent and decisive case. It is mistaken to think of the last few centuries’ “rise” of the bourgeoisie as utterly sociologically unique, at least in micro versions.

Bourgeois values, and therefore virtues, flourish by definition in cities, and so one could expect to hear of them in places of trade from the present back to the earliest strata at Jericho (8000 B.C.). But I do not want to turn the proposition into a tautology. One can imagine city life without virtues. Even within Europe there is material for a test. Cities in which kings and priests are firmly in charge, for example, would find their bourgeois virtues questioned. A study of world bourgeoisies would be a good idea, to understand why the ultimately successful one has a genealogy something like this:

The humanist lawyer, Konrad Peutinger (1465-1547), son of a distinguished family of Augsburg merchants, defended in 1530 the family of Fuggers (one was known simply as “Jacob the Rich”) against the regulatory fervor of the Nurenberg town council. In Viner’s paraphrase of his long brief Peutinger argued that:

Every man, be he priest or laic, prince, gentleman, or burgher, wholesale or retail merchant, peasant or whatever else, has the right to seek his enrichment in an honorable way, to manage his estate so to make it yield income, and in general to pursue his own self-interest, especially as it serves also the common good that a land should have rich inhabitants.

But this was a legal brief, an argument for the time and place, not a declaration of laissez faire on a philosophical level. “The common good” turned out to be the good of the Holy Roman Emperor in Vienna, to whom the brief was addressed. As Mary Catherine Welborn noted in 1939, “In his appeal to the emperor on behalf of these merchants, Peutinger cleverly pointed out how generous those capitalists could and would be to the ruler who protected them.” It was precisely the mobility of the Fuggers within a Middle Europe fragmented into hundreds of political pieces that protected them. Less so their descendants in 1939, after Peutinger’s steady advocacy of the large nation state in Germany and Italy had succeeded. Many historians have argued that the fragmentation of early modern Europe made for liberty — as against the medieval notion of a “freedom” consisting of special rights for special people, e.g. the guilds and town council of Nurenberg.

It is very much a question, for example, why China did not originate modern economic growth. It had enormous cities and millions of merchants when the bourgeois of Europeans were still hiding out in clusters of a very few thousand behind their city walls.

A “memorandum culture,” such as Confucian China (or the modern university) has no chance of rational discussion: the monarch does not need to pay attention. “Rational discussion is likely to flourish most where it is least needed: where political [and religious] passions are minimal” (which would not describe the modern university). Thus the stable polities of Holland and Britain; even Scotland after the upheavals of The Forty-Five; and France before the Revolution; and America.

Japan presents a similar, perhaps even sharper question, for in the 18th century it looked similar to England in literacy, city life, bourgeois traditions, lively internal trade. True, it had isolated itself from foreigners, and was hostile to innovation — guns, for example, which were successfully controlled after an initial adoption, resulting in the persistence of sword-fighting display into the 19th century, providing later opportunities for movies and militaristic propaganda.

Donald Keene: “Saikaku ( 1642-93), Treasury of Japan, a collection of stories on the theme of how to make (or lose) a fortune. The heroes of these stories are men who permit themselves no extravagance, realizing that the way to Wealth lies in meticulous care of the smallest details.” His heroes are all merchants.

Early Islam was by no means hostile to innovation or trade, though it appears to have settled early on a mixed religious-commercial law which made the taking of interest difficult (a difficulty shared of course with Europe) and which made the corporation inconceivable. One would like to know about South Asian cities — again, like China, they were large and busy when Europe was somnolent. Perhaps caste mattered. In South Asia it usually does. In the ancient Mediterranean, I have noted, ideology was notably hostile to commerce even though the place was soaked in it. The ancient Near East, with ample commercial records written on clay, would be a place to start testing whether bourgeois values such as we now understand them had precedents even four or five millennia ago.

But in any event by 1648 the bourgeois die was cast in Europe. By 1764, when the English satirist Charles Churchill wrote a long blast against everything he didn’t like — against “catamites,” for example, and French luxury and Spanish dogmatism and Italian “souls without vigour, bodies without force” — he pauses to accord rare praise:

To Holland, where Politeness ever reigns,

Where primitive Sincerity remains,

And makes a stand, where Freedom in her course

Hath left her name, though she hath lost her force

In that, as other lands, where simple trade

Was never in the garb of fraud arrayed

Where Avarice never dared to show his head,

Where, like a smiling cherub, Mercy, led

By Reason, blesses the sweet-blooded race,

And Cruelty could never find a place,

To Holland for that Charity we roam,

Which happily begins, and ends at home.

Charles Churchill, “The Times,” 1764
ll. 185-196.

In this period there is a de-bourgeoisment that takes place, too. McNeill (1974, p. 147) observes that “by 1600, if not before, the [Venetian] republic came to be governed by a small clique of rentiers, who drew their income mainly from land, and to a lesser degree from office-holding itself. Active management of industry and commerce passed into the hands of domiciled foreigners. . . . The kind of commercial calculations that had governed Venetian state policy for centuries tended to lose persuasiveness. . . . The men who ruled Venice were no longer active in business, but devoted a large part of their official attention to regulating business behavior.” This happened in the Netherlands in the 18th century, maybe. It certainly happened in Florence in the 16th century. It is claimed [by whom?] on no good evidence that it happened in Britain in the 19th century.

Chapter 5
The Dutch Were Bourgeois

Profit More in Request than Honor

A chapter under the heading:
Part II. How It Happened in Venice, Amsterdam, Glasgow, London, and Philadelphia

What made such talk conceivable was the “rise” of the bourgeoisie in northwestern Europe. The rise was more than numbers: it was a rise in prestige. The rise happened, in the Netherlands especially, and the Netherlands was the model for the rest.

We [Dutch] are essentially unheroic. Our character lacks the wildness and fierceness that we usually associate with Spain from Cervantes to Calderòn, with the France of the Three Musketeers and the England of Cavaliers and Roundheads. . . . A state formed by prosperous burgers living in fairly large cities and by fairly satisfied farmers and peasants is not the soil in which flourishes what goes by the name of heroism. . . . Whether we fly high or low, we Dutchmen are all bourgeois — lawyer and poet, baron and laborer alike.

Johan Huizinga

“The Spirit of the Netherlands” 1935, , pp. 110-112.

Franklin the American is the leading instance of the new European bourgeois of the 18th century, and Smith the Scot is the leading theorist of his virtues and vices. But it is not entirely true, as I just claimed, that the bourgeoisie is innocent of utopianism. There is a bourgeois utopianism of Liberty, too. The utopianism of Reason is the other, non-libertarian half of the Enlightenment project, and certainly has a lot to answer for. But the American bourgeoisie — the phrase is redundant — believes in a utopia of free individual effort. The land of opportunity. Sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. “The rise of the Dutch Republic,” declared a great American historian of it in 1856, John Lothrop Motley, “must ever be regarded as one of the leading events of modern times.” It seems a strange assertion now, but was once a standby of whig history. It viewed the Dutch Revolt, the Glorious Revolution, and the American War of Independence as one story of liberty emergent. And it viewed the French Revolution with alarm, as Going Too Far.

“The maintenance of the right by the little provinces of Holland and Zealand in the sixteenth, by Holland and English united in [1689] in the seventeenth, and by the United States of America in the eighteenth, forms but a single chapter in the great volume of human fate.” Motley’s is an improving not a totalizing vision, commending a conservative and bourgeois set of revolutions, at any rate viewed by an American patriot in 1856: “`To maintain,’ not to overthrow,” Motley declared, in distinguishing his Dutch and American revolutionaries from the wild French, “was the device of the Washington of the sixteenth century,” William of Orange. The national model for bourgeois Europe was cast long before Smith and Franklin, in the Netherlands. Motley’s whiggism has been out of fashion for a long time. But he was not mistaken to see a modern dream of liberty in Holland, and to recommend it warmly to “lovers of human progress, the believers in the capacity of nations for self-government and self-improvement, and the admirers of disinterested human genius and virtue.”

It is more in the Golden Age of the seventeenth century, though, than in Motley’s heroic age leading to it that Holland showed the bourgeois virtues. “Holland is a country where . . . profit [is] more in request than honor” was how in 1673 Sir William Temple concluded Chapter Five of his Observations upon the United Provinces of the Netherlands. The Scots and the Americans by 1776 had become bourgeois, all right, but they were not the first among the northwestern Europeans and their spawn. The Dutch gave up aristocratic or peasant self-images a century before the English and Scots did, and two centuries before the French. What made the Smith/Franklin project of ethics in commerce conceivable was the rise of the middle class around the North Sea, merchant communities hurrying about their busy-ness with ships packed with herring, lumber, wheat. The league of Hansa towns from Bergen to Novgorod never took national form. The English learned the sailor trade from the Dutch, as in avast, skipper, schooner, lighter, yacht, yawl, sloop, tackle, hoy, cruise, boom, jib, bow, bowsprit, luff, reef, belay, hoist, gangway, pump, buoy, dock, freight, smuggle, and keelhaul. The “German Ocean” became a new Mediterranean, a watery forum of the Germanic speakers — of the English, Scots, Norse, Danish, Low German, Frisian, Flemish, and above all the Dutch — who in the end showed the world how to be bourgeois.

The Northern, literate Protestant nations on the North Sea were cradles of democracy, too, at least of a highly limited “democracy” among the full citizens of the towns, and here too Holland led. The Dutch Republic was an insult to the monarchies surrounding it, more so even than the older and inimitable islands of non-monarchy in Switzerland, Venice, and Genoa. The Republic’s federal form (in which each province had a veto in the generality and each city in the seven provinces) was an inspiration later to the Americans. Though it was nothing like a full-franchise democracy of the modern type — the big property owners, as in the early American republic, were firmly in charge — it was always a contrast in theory to the divine right of kings being articulated just then by Philip and Charles and Louis.

And, yes, Protestant. The priesthood of all believers (and behind it the individualism of the Abrahamic religions generally) was central to the growth of the bizarre notion that a plowman has in right as much to say on public matters as a prince. At the Putney debates of the New Model Army in 1647 Colonel Rainsborough declared, “I do think that the poorest man in England is not at all bound in a strict sense to that government that he has not had a voice to put himself under.” He was a Puritan colonel [check DNB]. Such shocking, leveling views did not prevail against the position more usual until the 19th century — that. as General Ireton replied to Rainsborough, “no person has a right to this [voice] that has not a permanent fixed interest [namely, land] in this kingdom.” But the position was taken, a specter haunting European politics for two centuries and more. Charles I, two years after Putney, asserted the counter-position succinctly, before the headman’s block: “A subject and a sovereign are clean different things.” [CHECK SOURCE]

The Protestants, imagining early Church history as their model, had already challenged the monarchy of popes and bishops. When priests were literally rulers, when cardinals marshaled armies and abbots and bishops collected a fifth of the rents in England, religion was politics. It was a small step in logic, if not in practice, to the citizenship of all believers. Arthur Herman notes that the Presbyterian Kirk in Scotland was from the time of John Knox “the single most democratic system of church government in Europe.” Herman may not be remembering that in the same 1560s and 1570s the Dutch were creating the same sort of church government, by contrast to the less radical Lutherans and Anglicans elsewhere around the German Ocean: no bishops; pastors chosen by the lay elders, viz., from the Greek, “presbyters.” The northern Dutch like the northern Britons cast off their bishops in the 16th century, but then took the further step of casting off their monarch too. “Religion, in fact,,” observed Hugh Trevor-Roper in 1940, “was also an aspect of politics — the outward symbol, the shibboleth, by which parties were known . . . Religion was not merely a set of personal beliefs about the economy of Heaven, but the outward sign of a social and political theory.” What seems to us absurd excess in Archbishop Laud or Oliver Cromwell, he argues, is no more or less absurd than would be invading Poland in the name of Lebensraum or defending South Vietnam in the name of anti-Communism or invading Iraq in the name of suppressing world terrorism.

The shores of the German Ocean seemed in, say, 98 C.E. an unlikely place for town life and the bourgeois virtues to flourish. Tacitus at least thought so. The storms through which a skipper sailed were rougher and were rough more of the year than the Mediterranean of a navicularius. Tacitus claimed that the Germani used cattle rather than gold and silver as money, “whether as a sign of divine favor or of divine wrath, I cannot say”(he was criticizing civilized greed). “The peoples of Germany never live in cities and will not even have their houses adjoin one another.” And he claimed it was precisely those whom Dutch people later looked on as their ancestors, the Batavians, who were the first among the Germani in martial virtue (virtute praecipui). The modern Dutch therefore dote on Tacitus.

The modern master of Dutch history, Johan Huizinga, believed that Holland’s prosperity came not from this warlike spirit of the Batavians of old, or in early modern times from the Protestant ethic or the spirit of capitalism, but from medieval liberties — an accidental free trade consequent on the worthless character of its mud flats (before the techniques of water management were invented), and the resulting competition among free cities. In the late 16th century the course of the Dutch Revolt stripped away the nobility and clergy; many aristocratic families simply died out, and without a king could not be refreshed. What was left to rule was the haute bourgeoisie, very grand in such a compacted, urbanized place at the mouth of two of Europe’s larger rivers, but not aristocrats literally or in the public eye. It is another instance of the importance of marginality in theorizing the liberal evolutions of the 17th and 18th century. North Holland was far from the courts of Burgundy or even of Brussels that attempted to rule it (and very far indeed in miles and in spirit from its nominal ruler from 1555 to 1648, Madrid), and city-by-city was quite able to govern itself. It lay behind, or rather above, the Great Rivers, as the Dutch call them, protected the same way the German army of occupation was protected in 1944 by a bridge too far. The mud flats became rich cities without, so to speak, anybody noticing, and by the time Philip II and the Duke of Alva and others sprang to attention it was too late.

The South, however, was still the place of great cities. In 1500 three out of the (merely) four cities in Europe larger than present-day Cedar Rapids, Iowa (viz., 100,000) were Mediterranean ports, two of them Italian: Venice and Naples, with Istanbul. Of the twelve in 1600 half were still Italian (Palermo and Messina, for instance, had become giants of honorable city life). Yet it is indicative of stirrings in the North that Antwerp in the mid 16th century temporarily and London by 1600 and Amsterdam by 1650 permanently broke into the over-100,000 ranks.

Which makes one contrast between the cultures of the Mediterranean and of the German Ocean look strange. Germanic law codes of early times allow cash compensation for dishonor. (At least for free men. The national laws we have are about free men, using the words “free” and “man” exactly, and therefore were about aristocrats and other high-status men relative to a dishonor-able if majority class of slaves and women.) An eye for eye is always possible and honorable in the German laws, but so is thus-and-such quantity of silver for the eye. Tacitus says that minor crimes are punished by a fine in cattle or horses (in keeping with his claim that they knew not the use of money); the major and capital crimes he instances are not mere assault (on that eye, for example) but cowardice or treason: “even homicide can be atoned for by a fixed number of cattle or sheep,” and therefore “feuds do no continue for ever unreconciled.” Notice that Tacitus (probably himself of Gaulish origin) is startled by this. The prudent answer to a crime, you see, is to demand wergelt, dissolving blood feuds in the solvent of cash. The hero Gunnar in Njal’s Saga does so, as did every honorable Icelander in those days.

By contrast in the South from Homer to El Cid to The Godfather honor is absolute. What is strange is that the implacable Southerners had long lived by a monetized and commercial Mediterranean, heirs to a classical civilization based since the early first millennium on seagoing trade. The savages of the Northern forests were making delicate calculations of monetary equivalences in a less commercial society. True, the honorable-that is, the aristocratic-part of the civilization of the classical Mediterranean had always been suspicious of getting money. By contrast the Icelandic sagas (written well after their events, I’ve noted, and admittedly therefore anachronistic) are about men unashamedly at the margin between commerce and piracy. Arriving at a new coast they had to decide whether to steal what they wanted or to trade for it. Great hoards of Byzantine coins are found in Norse settlements on the North Sea, evidence that the piratical and commercial ventures of the Vikings were not narrow in scope [Sawyer]. But all this merely enlarges the paradox, that the apparently advanced part of the Western world had from the beginning to the present a more primitive code of honor-or at any rate a less bourgeois one.

* * * * *

The tiny United Provinces of the Lowlands contained in the early 17th century one-and-a-half million people, as against about six million in Britain and over eighteen million in France: there were more people in Paris and London, each {what am I saying here? Contradicts}, than in the whole of the Dutch Republic. Yet more Dutch people (360,000 or so) lived in towns of over 10,000 than did English people, in a much larger population. Was such a town-ridden place as the Netherlands less ethical?

Not in its declarations: remember the Stadhuis of Amsterdam and its moralizing ornaments. R. H. Fuchs notes that Golden Age painting was infused with ethics. During the 16th century (the first age of printing) and later the Calvinist and bourgeois Netherlanders eagerly bought “emblems” — paintings and especially etchings illustrating ethical proverbs. Fuchs shows an example from 1624 of a mother wiping her baby’s bottom: Dit lijf, wat ist, als stanck en mist? “This life, what is it, but stench and shit?” “Mist” for modern “mest,” i.e. manure. Such stuff is especially prevalent early in the 17th century, it would seem, when Dutch painting had not yet (as Svtelana Alpers has argued vigorously, against such “iconological” readings) separated itself from written texts.

A painting such as Bosschaert’s Vase of Flowers looks to a modern eye merely a bouquet that an Impressionist, say, might paint from life-until under instruction one notices (as the bourgeois buyer in 1620 would have noticed without instruction, since behind his canal house he cultivated his own garden) that the various flowers bloom at different times of year, and therefore are collectively impossible. For every thing there is a season, a time to be born and a time to die, saith the Preacher. “That in principle,” writes Fuchs, “is the meaning of every [Dutch] still-life painted in the seventeenth or the first part of the eighteenth century.” Fuchs’ view (and the view of many other students of the matter, such as E. de Jongh, whose work is seminal) is not uncontested. Eric Sluijter, for example, joins Alpers in skepticism. He notes a 1637 poem by the Dutch politician and popular poet Jacob Cats (1577-1660) which portrays painters as profit-making and practical; and analyzes in detail one of the few contemporary reflections on the matter, in 1642 by one Philips Angel lecturing to the painters of Leiden. The conclusion Sluijter draws is that “it is difficult to find anything in texts on the art of painting from this period that would indicate that didacticism was an important aim.” The argument of the skeptics is that secret meanings, if no contemporary saw them, might in fact not be there. The purpose of paintings would not be, as the iconological critics think, tot lering en vermaak, “to teach and delight,” reflected in museum guidebooks nowadays — this from the humanism tracing to classical rhetoric and Cicero, two of the offices of rhetoric being docere et delectare; and the other movere, to move to political or ethical action. At least it would not be ethical teaching, delighting, moving: perhaps, as Alpers argues, it was essentially scientific, showing people how to see.

But even Alpers and Sluijter would not deny that a still-life of a loaded table with the conch, book, half-peeled lemon, half-used candle, vase lying on its side, and (in the more explicit versions) a skull signifying all the works that are done under the sun, such as Steenwijck’s painting of c. 1640, entitled simply Vanitas, was a known genre, to be read like a proverb. Pieter Clauszoon’s [?]still life of 1625/30 in the Art Institute of Chicago is filled with symbols of Holland’s overseas trade — olives, linens, sugar, lemons — to the same end. All is vanity and vexation of spirit.

We ignoramuses in art history are liable to view “realism” as a simple matter of whether the people in the picture appear to have “real” bodies (though rendered on a flat canvas with paint: hmm), or instead have half-bodies of fishes or horses, or wings attached for flying about (‘fantasy”); or whether you can make out actual objects (again admittedly on that flatness) apparently from this world, or not (“abstraction”). Fuchs observes on the contrary that what he calls “metaphorical realism” was the usual mode of early Golden Age painting-showing (barely) possible figures or scenery which nonetheless insist on referring to another realm, especially a proverbial realm, always with ethical purpose. (The same is true of much of French and British realism of the early-to-mid 19th century, such as Ford Maddox Brown’s “Work” [1852-63; in two versions] or in France what Gustave Courbet called “real allegories,” which Richard Brettell notes put aside the Academic conventions of mythology in favor of apparently contemporary scenes but are nonetheless “ripe with pictorial, moral, religious, and political significance.” ) The Dutch pioneers of metaphorical realism, or “real” allegories, would depict merry scenes of disordered home life, such as Steen’s painting of c. 1663 “In Luxury Beware” (itself a proverbial expression: In weelde siet toe), with ethical purpose. Such a scene became proverbial in Dutch, a “Jan-Steen household” now meaning a household out of control. “In Luxury Beware” is littered with realistic metaphors. Even an untrained eye can spot them: while the mother-in-charge sleeps, a monkey stops the clock, a child smokes a pipe, a dog is feasting on a pie, a half-peeled lemon and a pot on its side signal thevanitas of human life, a woman in the middle of the picture looking brazenly out at us holds her full wine glass at the crotch of a man being scolded by a Quaker and a nun, and a pig has stolen the spigot of a wine barrel (another literal proverb, Fuchs explains, for letting a household get out of control).

The Golden Age of Holland, in other words, if thoroughly bourgeois, was ethically haunted. (Similar art is produced under similar social conditions, I just noted, during the much later triumph of the bourgeoisie in England and especially in France.) Even in Holland the age was still one of faith (after all, in the rest of Europe, and recently in the Netherlands itself, the varied Christians carried out crusades against one another). The transcendent therefore keeps bursting into Dutch art. One thinks of parallels in 17th-century English poetry, especially from priests like John Donne and George Herbert or Puritans like John Milton. And again it seems to come to a climax of earnestness around the middle of the 17th century, with a urbane reaction to follow, in Dryden, for example, and in late Golden Age Dutch painters. Poetry and painting in the age of faith was not just entertainment (delectare); it had work to do (docere et movere), justifying God’s ways to man, to be sure, but also as Trevor-Roper observed Doing Politics (regere). A. T. van Deursen instances Cats, who began as a poet of emblem engravings and who “wanted to instruct his readers through moral lessons. . . . Those who desired something more erotically tinted would have to learn Italian” — or buy a painting. Nothing means in the early-17th century notion merely what it seems; every thing in the poem or painting points a moral.

A century later the keys to this system of early-17th-century moralizing symbols in both poetry and painting had been mislaid. Romantic critics had no idea what Milton was on about, since they had set aside the religious attitudes that animate his poetry. The two pillars that van Deursen spoke about, Christianity and pagan literature, had been pushed apart by early Enlightened and then Romantic Samsons, and the ethical building had collapsed. Even so spiritual a reader as Blake gets Milton wrong. And in looking at painting even the Dutch critics of the late 18th century had misplaced the emblematic keys to their own national art (admitting that Alpers and Sluijter think there was no key to be lost in the first place). Foreigners had no chance at all. Gerard Terborch had painted around 1654-55 a scene in a brothel in which a young man bids with a coin for a woman (whose back is to the viewer) dressed in lovingly rendered satin. The procuress goes about her business; and the table shows a vanitas arrangement. The scene was conventional — Vermeer did one, for example; two if you include Officer and Laughing Girl around 1657 in a different arrangement, similar to a painting of 1625 by van Honthorst named explicitly The Procuress (in which a lute is offered: luit in Dutch, Fuchs explains, can mean either the musical instrument or a vagina). Yet by 1809 [Elective Affinity] Goethe was interpreting the Terborch painting as a scene of a father [i.e. the john] admonishing his daughter [i.e. the whore] while the mother [i.e. the procuress] averts her eyes modestly. Goethe is not to be blamed: an 18th-century engraver had retitled the work “Paternal Admonition, ” and appears to have deleted the coin from the client’s hand.

{On the other hand, Goethe is something of a mine of Romantic misreadings. He misunderstood Milton’s Satan as a Romantic hero, and Hamlet as one, too.}

The painters as much as the critics forgot, too. Fuchs shows the metaphoric realism of the Golden Age giving way in the mid-19th century to a pictorial realism, that is, a realism not of the soul but of the eye or of the mechanized eye, the camera, prefigured in the camera obscura that we have now discovering played a role in painting from the Renaissance on. The subjects just happen to be in the frame of the picture, as in Gustave Caillebotte’s masterpiece in the Art Institute of Chicago (1877): the bourgeois walkers at a rainy Paris intersection in the newly built quarters are glimpsed just that moment, which will in an instant dissolve meaninglessly into another moment. A different level of reality is not breaking in from above — though one might argue that impressions such as this carried their own vanitas message. Ethical transcendent is rejected at last in the Industrial Age, as it was embraced in the early Golden Age.

* * * * *

Yes, but surely the Dutch of the Golden Age did not actually carry out their painted and poemed project of the Virtues? Surely the bourgeoisie then as now were mere hypocrites, the villains of a Molière play; or, worse, of a late-Dickens novel; or, still worse, of an e. e. cummings poem, n’est ce pas?

No, it appears not.

“Charity,” for example, “seems to be very national among them,” as Temple wrote at the time. The historian Charles Wilson claimed that “it is doubtful if England or any other country [at least until the late 18th century] could rival the scores of almshouses for old men and women, the orphanages, hospitals and schools maintained by private endowments from the pockets of the Dutch regents class.” The fact is indisputable. But its interpretation has made recent historians uneasy. Their problem is that like everyone else nowadays the historians are not comfortable with a rhetoric of virtues. An act of love or justice is every time to be reinterpreted as, somehow, prudence. Anne McCants, for example, begins her fine book on Civic Charity in a Golden Age: Orphan Care in Early Modern Amsterdam (1997) with a discussion of how hard it is to believe in altruistic motives from these hard bourgeois and bourgeoises. A compassionate motivation for transfers from the wealthy to the poor is said to be “unlikely” and “can be neither modeled nor rationally explained.” Altruistic explanations are “not to be lightly dismissed as implausible.” But then she in fact dismissed them, on the light grounds of a scientific method misapprehended — altruism, she says, holds “little predictive power.” “After a long tradition of seeing European charity largely as a manifestation of Christian values,” McCants is relieved to report, “scholars have begun to assert the importance of self-interest.” Her own interpretation of the Amsterdam Municipal Orphanage is that it was “charity for the middling,” a species of insurance against the risks of capitalism. The bourgeois said to themselves: There but for the grace of God go our own orphaned bourgeois children; let us therefore create an institution against that eventuality. As Hobbes put it in reducing all motives to self-interest, “Pity is imagination of fiction of future calamity to ourselves, proceeding from the sense of another man’s calamity.” {search and cite: is it in an essay, “On Human Nature”?] McCants makes a case for her Hobbesian interpretation. But the point is that the case does not have to crowd out Christian and civic humanist virtues, not 100 percent.

The unease of modern historians in the presence of virtues shows in six of the pages the leading historian of the Dutch Republic writing in English, Jonathan Israel, devotes in his massive book, The Dutch Republic (1995), to the Golden-Age poor law, “the elaborate system of civic poor relief and charitable institutions [s]o exceptional in European terms.” The assignment of its own poor to each confession, including the Jews (and even eventually in the 18th century the Catholics), foreshadows the so-called “pillarization” (verzuiling) of Dutch politics, sovereignty in ones own domain, reinvented by Abraham Kuyper in the late 19th century. “But,” Israel claims, “charity and compassion . . . were not the sole motives.” And then he lists all the prudential reasons for taking care of the poor. His first seems the least plausible — that “the work potential of orphans” was worth marshalling. Oakum picking could scarcely pay for even the first bowl of porridge, even in Dickens. He turns to civic pride among towns and social prestige inside a town to be got from running a “caring, responsible, and well-ordered” set of institutions. Certainly the innumerable commissioned paintings of this or that charitable board argue that the pride and prestige was worth getting. But it is hard to see how such rewards to vanity can be distinguished from the virtue of charity itself, at any rate if we are to confine our historical science to “predictive power.” If caring is not highly valued by the society then doing it in well-ordered institutions will not earn social prestige. “At bottom,” though — and now we approach the prudential bottom line — the alleged act of charity were “rather effective instruments of social control,” to support the deserving poor (that is, our own Dutch Reform in Rotterdam, say). It amounted to paying off the poor to behave. Paul Langford makes a similar assertion about the later flowering of charity in England: the hospitals and foundling homes of the 18th century were “built on a foundation of bourgeois sentiment mixed with solid self-interest. ” Ah-hah. Caught again being Prudent. The Dutch and English bourgeoisie were not really charitable at all, you see. They were simply canny. The rascals.

Such arguments would not persuade, I think, unless one were determined to find anyway a profane rather than a sacred cause for every, single act of charity. 100 percent. When the argument is made, it is it usually unsupported by reasoning and evidence. McCants does offer reasoning and evidence for her cynical view, but that is what makes her book unusual. The lack of argument in even such excellent scholarship indicates that the cynicism is being brought into the history from the outside. No one, even such gifted historians as Israel and Langford and McCants, explains exactly how “social control” or “self-interest” was supposed to result from giving large sums of money to the poor. A hermeneutics of suspicion is made to suffice. But it doesn’t compute. The question arises why other nations did not have the same generous system of charity — that is, if it was such an effective instrument of social control, or was so very self-interested.

The acts of love, justice, and, yes, prudence were in any case astonishingly widespread in the Netherlands, and became so a century later in England and Scotland. Israel ends his discussion by implying that in 1616 fullytwenty percent of the population of Amsterdam was “in receipt of charity,” either from the town itself or from religion- or guild-based foundations. The figure does not mean that the poor got all their income from charity, of course, merely that one fifth of the people in the city received something, perhaps a supplement. Jan de Vries and Ad van der Woude, who are better at dealing with statistics than Israel, put the figure lower, but still high: “In Amsterdam as many as 10 to 12 percent of all households received at least temporary support during the winter months.” It is high by any standard short of thoroughgoing modern socialism. “It is the steadiness of charitable expenditure . . . that distinguishes Dutch practice from other countries, where most financing . . . was triggered by emergency conditions.” It was by then an old habit in the little cities of the Low Countries. Geoffrey Parker notes that by the 1540s in Flanders one seventh of the population of Ghent was in receipt of poor relief, one fifth at Ypres, one quarter at Bruges. Prudential explanations of such loving justice seem tough-minded only if one thinks of prudence as tough, always, and love as soft, always, and one for some reason wants always to be seen as tough. But the charity was evidently no small matter. It was bizarre in the European context, hard to see as prudence.

Nor was the exceptional Dutch virtue of tolerance, dating from the late 16th century and full-blown in the theories of Grotius, Uyttenbogaert, Fijne, and especially Episcopius in the 1610s and 1620s a matter entirely of prudence. As I said the Dutch stopped in the 1590s actually burning heretics and witches. The last burning of a Dutch witch was 1595, in Utrecht, an amusement that much of the rest of Europe — and Massachusetts, where Quakers, too, where burned on Boston Common — would not abandon for another century. In the fevered 1620s hundreds of German witches were burnt every year [GET PRIMARY SOURCE FOR THIS]. In Scotland one Thomas Aikenhead, an Edinburgh student, was tried and hanged for blasphemy on January 8, 1697, aged 19, for denying the divinity of Christ — alleged by one witness, and part of a youthful pattern of bold talk. The event was the last hurrah of what Arthur Herman calls the ayatollahs of the Scottish Kirk. After that they were on the defensive, though able to block university appointments, say, and keep skeptics like David Hume quiet.

By contrast the 13th article of the Treaty of Utrecht had stipulated 120 years before Aikenhead’s execution that “Everyone must remain free in his religion,” though of course observing suitable privacy, since religion was till a matter of state, “and no one should be molested or questioned on the subject of divine worship.” In 1579 it was a startling assertion, and could not be expected to be literally followed — and was not. But by international standards the Dutch were astonishingly tolerant. The obvious test case was Judaism — though Catholicism, as the religion of the Spanish or the sometimes-enemy French, was often treated with even more hostility in Holland. That same Grotius, who was no 21st-century liberal, advised against liberal treatment of the Jews across the Dutch Republic. But the States General in 1619 decided against his advice that each Dutch town individually should decide for itself how to treat them, and forbad Jews to be forced to wear special clothing. True, it was not until 1657 that the Dutch Jews became subjects of the Republic. But by comparison with their liabilities in Germany or England, not to speak of Spain and Portugal, the Dutch Jews were exceptionally free: no locking up in ghettos at night, for example; no expulsions and appropriations. In 1616 Rabbi Uziel (late of Fez in Morocco) remarked that the Jews “live peaceably in Amsterdam,” and “each may follow his own belief, but may not openly show that he is of a different faith from the inhabitants of the city.” It is the melting-pot formula of not being allowed to wear special clothing, of the sort that in 2003 secular France affirmed in respect of shawls for Moslem women.

Since the 1960s, and after a long period of conformity to the Dutch Reformed Church, tolerance is witnessing a second golden age in the Netherlands. Outside the train station in Hilversum, the center for Dutch radio and TV, stands a square block of stone representing praying hands, with the word carved on its sides in Dutch, Russian, Spanish, and English. Tolerance, verdraagzaamheid (from dragen, “bear,” in the way that “toleration” is from Latin tollere). It is the central word in the civic religion of modern Holland in the way that “equality” is in the civic religion of the United States or “liberty” in the civic religion of the United Kingdom. That is, it does not always happen, but is much admired and much talked of.

Dutch people react uncomfortably to praise for their tolerance — especially for the new sort growing among Catholics after Vatican II and among Protestants after the decline of the Dutch Reformed church. A society heavily influenced by Dutch Reform dominies, as the Netherlands was not long ago, would not be particularly tolerant of gays or marihuana, for example. This the anti-homosexual hysteria in the Netherlands in 1740-42. Michael Zeeman notes that the anti-bourgeois, anti-clerical movement of the 1960s was more successful in the Netherlands than anywhere else. The transformation from a church-going, respectable society, divided into “pillars” by religious group and stratified by class, into the present-day free-wheeling Holland is astonishing. The Dutch reply nowadays with an uncomfortable, “You don’t know how intolerant we really are.” Progressive Dutch people nowadays move directly to embarrassments — for riches, for slavery, for imperialism, for the handing over of the Dutch Jews, for capitalism, for Srebencia, for their countrymen’s embarrassing reaction to immigrants. “We’re not really so tolerant,” they repeat. To which foreigners now and in the 17th century reply that the Dutch do not know how really intolerant the competition is. In the 17th century most visitors were appalled, not delighted, by religious toleration in the United Provinces. The notion one king/one religion was still lively, and still seemed worth a few dead heretics — one third of the population of Germany, 1618-1648, for example. Israel notes that foreigners then as now tended to judge the Dutch character by the metropolises of Amsterdam and Rotterdam rather than by the lesser and less liberal places. But even with that bias the Dutch were exceptionally tolerant by 17th-century European standards, as they were exceptionally charitable.

Again one can try to give a wholly prudential explanation: let us say, of the events immediately following August 23, 1632, when Frederik Hendrik, Prince of Orange, took the southern and Catholic city of Maastricht from the Spaniards, and yet permitted there for a time the continued free exercise of the Catholic religion. The poet Vondel of Amsterdam, the Dutch Shakespeare, his family expelled when he was a child from Antwerp for being Anabaptists, was by 1632 not yet a Catholic convert but very active in support of Grotius and other forward thinkers in favor of toleration. He wrote a poem for the occasion praising the Prince’s triumph and tolerance-in contrast to the dagger of the Italian Duke of Parma in Philip II’s service a half century before drinking the “tasty burgers’ blood” of the same city.

One can argue in the easy and cynical way that some of the tolerance came from mere prudence in political games, especially those played by the House of Orange. It is a cliché of 16th and 17th century European history that religion was used by state-building monarchs, as when Cardinal Richelieu arranged on behalf of a Catholic French monarchy for secret and then public subsidies to the Swedish Lutheran armies fighting the Catholic Habsburgs in the Thirty Years War. Dutch politics was dominated for a century by the question whether or not the Netherlands should become a Christian city on a hill as the Calvinists wished and as they had achieved in Geneva, in early Massachusetts, and under kings in Scotland. The Dutch stadhouders, in effect the elected presidents of particular provinces, drawn usually and then exclusively from the House of Orange, sometimes joined with the upper bourgeoisie, the “regents,” to counterbalance orthodox opinion railing against tolerating the “libertines [as the orthodox called liberals], Arminians, atheists, and concealed Jesuits.” Yet at other times the Orange stadhouders supported Calvinist orthodoxy. It depended on political convenience, one could say. Religion was politics. Soon after the triumph at Maastricht, for example, Frederik Hendrik found it convenient to abandon his liberal friends and take up again with Calvinists. Prudence. Maastricht was worth a mass. And Amsterdam was worth suppressing a mass.

And you could say that businesspeople need in prudence to be tolerant, at least superficially, if they earn their living from dealing with foreigners. William of Orange had noted in 1578 that it was desirable to go easy on Calvinists “because we [Dutch] are necessarily hosts to merchants . . . of neighboring realms who adhere to this religion.” By the 17th century the city of Amsterdam alone had many more ships than Venice did; by 1670 about 40 percentage of the tonnage of European ships was Dutch; and even nowadays a third of the long-distance trucking in Europe is in Dutch hands. The liberal pamphleteer Pieter de la Court (of the illiberal town of Leiden), Israel recounts, urged in 1669 “the need to tolerate Catholicism and attract more immigrants of diverse religions . . . to nourish trade and industry.” Similar appeals to prudence had been made by the pioneering liberal pamphleteers of the 1620s.

But rationalize as you will, the Dutch liberal regents and the Dutch owners of ships had of course S-variable reasons, too, for persisting, as likewise their more strictly Calvinist enemies the so-called Counter-Remonstrants had. Both sides were in part spiritually motivated. That people sometimes lie about their motives, or also have prudent reasons for their acts, or are misled, does not mean that all protestations of the sacred are so much hypocrisy. “Religion is a complex thing,” wrote Trevor-Roper, “in which many human instincts are sublimated and harmonized” [thus the secularism of the age of anthropology], “and political ambition is only one among these.” When the advanced liberal (“libertine”) theorist Simon Episcopius wrote in 1627 that only “free minds and hearts . . . are willing to support the common interest,” perhaps — startling thought — that is what he actually believed, and for which against his prudential interests he was willing to pledge his life, his fortune, and his sacred honor. In other words, perhaps it is not only his pocketbook but his spirit that was motivating him. Not 100 percent.

This is of course obvious: it would be strange indeed to explain the more than century-long madness of religious politics in the Low Countries after the Beggars’ Compromise of the Nobility of 1566 in terms of material interest, certainly not alone, or even predominantly.

But the rhetoric of progressive history writing in the early and mid-20th century always wished to remake S into P, every time, and to see motives of class and economics behind every professed sentiment. It was a reaction to the nationalist tradition of Romantic history writing. Thus Charles Beard’s An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution (1913) or Georges Lefebvre’s Quatre-vingt neuf (1939: The Coming of the French Revolution) or Christopher Hill’s The English Revolution 1640 (1940). In those times even non-Marxists such as Trevor-Roper wished to slip in right at the outset a quantitative estimate of 100 percent for P. He added to the concession to S just quoted (“political ambition is only one among” the instincts sublimated in religion) an estimate that “in politics it is naturally by far the most potent.” Well, sometimes it is and sometimes it isn’t. You just don’t know on page 3.

When the wish to see every behavior as P-motivated makes little scientific sense, as often in the Dutch case, it should not be indulged. The battle over toleration in the Netherlands continued. Israel observes that it was finally resolved in favor of tolerance only around 1700, as it was then too in England, Scotland, France, and Germany. The hypothesis that European religious toleration was merely a reaction to the excesses of the 17th century was expressed explicitly by Herbert Butterfield, for example in his posthumous book, Toleration in Religion and Politics (1980): toleration “came in the end through exhaustion, spiritual as well as material.” But as Peter Zagorin points out, “unaccompanied by a genuine belief,” which was the product of two centuries of intellectual labor by his heroes Erasmus, More, Sebastian Castellio, Dirck Coornhert, Arminius, Grotius, Escopius, Spinoza, Roger Williams, John Goodwin, Milton, William Walwyn, Locke, and Pierre Bayle, exhaustion would not have mattered. It didn’t in France, in which the Edict of Nantes, after all, was revoked.

Zagorin’s list of honor is in aid of showing that ideas mattered as much as prudent reaction to disorder. They are the 14 names of the 17th- and 18th-century men to whom he accords chapter sections in his book, How the Idea of Religious Toleration Came to the West (2003). Six of the 14 were Dutch, and the Frenchman Bayle spent most of his adult life as a professor in Rotterdam. The Netherlands was the European frontier of liberalism. Locke, finally publishing in the late 1680s, was in many respects a culmination of Dutch thinking. He spent five years in exile there, before returning to England with the Dutch stadholder now also the English King William, having absorbed in Amsterdam, Utrecht, and Rotterdam the results of the country’s liberal thought from Erasmus through Episcopius to Bayle. He stayed two years in Rotterdam with the English Quaker merchant, Benjamin Furly and was friendly with the Arminian theologian Philip van Limborch, both of whom typified the liberal side of opinion in Holland in the 1680s. His very first published writings saw light in the Netherlands in the 1680s; and his famous first essay on toleration (1689), as his pen started to flow in earnest, was first published for van Limborch at Gouda.

Likewise in the United Provinces a wider and older Erasmian Humanism was real, and persistent, and virtuous, to the present day. It was certainly not crudely self-interested in the way that the historical materialists would wish. Charles Wilson praises “the Erasmian strain, the belief in reason and rational argument as a means of moral improvement and a way of life,” and quotes Huizinga on those qualities as “truly Dutch.” The broad-church attitudes of Erasmus had became a permanent if not always dominant feature of Dutch intellectual life before Protestantism, and survived its excesses. In uncouth Scotland by contrast, Huizinga notes, Calvinism descended in the mid-16th century as a 150-year night of orthodoxy, before the dawn in the early 18th century. In the Dutch controversies of the 17th century “Scottish” was a by-word for unethical and self-destructive intolerance. In its Dutch version Calvinism “was held in check,” wrote Wilson, “by the cautious Erasmian obstinacy of the ruling merchant class. Freedom of thought, in a remarkable degree, was preserved. Europe . . . was to owe an incalculable debt to the Erasmian tradition and to the dominant class in the Dutch Republic by whose efforts it was protected.” Cynicism about such noble themes in history is not always, not every time, in order. The regents, stadhouders, poets, and intellectuals acted and wrote for self-interested reasons, sometimes, Lord knows. But they acted and wrote for faith, hope, love, temperance, justice, and courage, too. The Lord knows that as well.

[extremely fragmentary] Chapter 4
The New Values Were Triumphant…

…by 1848, or 1790, or 1710

Not the mechanical “class position determined ideas” of the “rise of the bourgeoisie” notion. Acknowledge its force, for what it’s worth. But rising in numbers or not, bourgeois values “rose.” The rhetoric change.

Davidoff and Hall here.

A chapter or two showing the B character even of aristocratic talk in Britain in the age of the man’s modern suit (use Hollander). A good case, if not the hardest, would be the Navy. Then a parallel to the Shakespeare chapter, using a literary source intensively, e.g., bourgeois novels, as characteristic literary production of early 19th century as drama was of late 16th. Macaulay would be of course exactly right. Daniel Deronda? Probably too late. Certainly Austen, as hard case that nonetheless makes it. Contrast with Spain—or even France (Balzac)—at the time. (Hold the anti-bourgeois themes of Disraeli, Dickens, Flaubert, et alii until Vol 3.)

Arjo Klamer’s way of looking, independently discovered by Fiske [and people he and Arjo cite]:

Logic of Exchange             Logic of the state

“Not” chps. on S and D           Nationalism, planning

Logic of the social: this is it,

not the others.

Logic of Connection

The family, religion

Each sphere has its institutions. The market has the floor of the Chicago Board of Trade, with its hand-signals and commotion. Joke: . . . . The state has its bureaucracies in serried rows. Joke: Dept of Agric. The family has its traditions of the two-week camping trip to the north woods, or Sinterklas. Joke: An Australian child goes to court for relief from his parents, who always beat him. The judge assigns the child to the English cricket team, “Because they can’t beat anyone.” The social has its institutionalized rules of easy conversing among strangers. Joke. . . .

Each sphere has, in other words, as the rhetoricians put it, “special topics,” that is, certain ways of talking, certain scripts that would sound strange if applied to another sphere. If a family follows strictly the rules of easy conversing among strangers, and never gets down to cases, we worry, seeing it as a tragedy or a joke. If a bureaucracy uses the language of the market, we are startled–NNN as telephone operator in the days of AT&T’s monopoly saying to an angry customer, “If you don’t like our service, go to our competitor.” If a club member in the realm of the social demand a special quid pro quo for taking his painful turn on the governing board, we are annoyed.

But the places in common–literally, the commonplaces, the loci communes, the koinoi topoi—are linguistic. The lone institution that all four spheres share is language. All we have in common is language, not our separate tongues after Babel but the faculty of speech. Language as institution. In fact, all other institutions are analogies to language, when they are not violent.

Sharing language means sharing metaphors and stories. The effective constraint on human behavior is not grammatical. [Prove this.] It is “pragmatic,” in the technical sense used in linguistics.

So, the metaphor of GOVERNMENT IS A FAMILY brings notions of caring into politics. The “family” of the United States of America, admittedly, contains 300 millions souls instead of two or six or a dozen. But nonetheless (the metaphor asserts) we should treat other Americans as family: being family means you have to take him in. You can celebrate or criticize the metaphor, but the point here is that family-talk spills over into government-talk. In a rhetoric common in 1593 in England, THE KING IS A FATHER dominated political discourse. Thus the Anglican divine Richard Hooker wrote, “To fathers within their private families Nature hath given a supreme power.” But then he sharply criticizes the metaphor, on ground similar to the criticism of a 300-million person family.

Over a whole grand multitude [such as 300 million souls] having no such dependency upon any one [in as much as it does not have a single natural father]. . . impossible is it that any should have complete lawful power, but by consent of men, or immediate appointment of God; because not having the natural superiority of fathers, their power must needs be either usurped . . . or, if lawful, then either . . . consented unto by them. . . or else given extraordinarily from God.

Hooker 1593, p. 191, italics supplied.

The phrase “by consent of men, or immediate appointment of God” states the gist of the political struggle to come in 17th-century England, and later elsewhere. Are kings by God anointed, or do they derive their just powers from the consent of the governed?

So likewise the story of expertise in government . . . . spills into the market. Obsession with Bernanke and Omaha guy. “Someone must be an expert,” which the economist denies. Jerry Nordquist story.

The spillage of special topics into the common places has consequences. If you really do think and speak of the Pope as “the Holy Father,” you are less likely to protest at innovations sponsored by him such as clerical celibacy [DATE] or papal infallibility [DATE]. Father knows best. To be sure, your position as a nun may lead you to use the father metaphor. The position, not the language, may be the common cause of the figure of speech and of attitudes towards action. A federal judge is required by her position to speak to the court in a certain way, regardless of her interior convictions about the law. But metaphors constrain thought, too, independent of your pleasure in the matter. If every other nun around you uses the Holy Father talk, you will come to see him that way. If you think and speak of the Pope instead as merely a highly successful clerical politician, then all your disdain or admiration for politicians spills into your actions in ecclesiastical polity. Like some nuns of my acquaintance, you will for example work against church policy in the position of women, the political rights of the poor, the . . . .

[example of story spilling badly from one to another.]

Chapter 3
The Bourgeoisie Measures

One countable piece of evidence that bourgeois values were becoming dominate in England in the 17th and 18th centuries is the new, dominate role of counting in giving evidence. It is assuredly modern. The pre-modern attitude—which survives of course in many a non-quantitative modern—shows in a little business between Prince Hal and Sir John Falstaff. The scene is fictional early 15th century, and 1 Henry IV was written in London in 1597. Hal disguised in stiffened cloth had been last night one of the merely two assailants of Falstaff and his little gang of three other thieves. The bold knight had in fact after token resistance fled in terror like his confederates. One of them, Gadshill, and poor old Jack Falstaff re-count the episode to Prince Hal:

FALSTAFF: A hundred upon poor four of us.

PRINCE: What, a hundred, man?

FALSTAFF: I am a rogue if I were not at half-sword with a dozen of them, two hours together.

GADSHILL: We four set upon some dozen—

FALSTAFF [to the PRINCE] Sixteen at least, my lord.

GADSHILL: As we were sharing [the loot], some six or seven fresh men set upon us.

FALSTAFF: If I fought not with fifty of them, I am a bunch of radish. If there were not two- and three-and-fifty upon poor old Jack, then I am no two-legged creature. I have peppered two of them. Two I am sure I have paid [i.e., killed]—two rogues in buckram suits. Four rogues in buckram let drive at me—

PRINCE: What, four? Thou saidst but two even now.

FALSTAFF: Four, Hal, I told thee four. I took all their seven points in my target, thus.

PRINCE: Seven? Why, there were but four even now.

FALSTAFF: In buckram. These nine in buckram that I told thee of—-

PRINCE: So, two more already

FALSTAFF: [As swift as] a thought, seven of the eleven I paid.

PRINCE: O monstrous! Eleven buckram men grown out of two!

1 Henry IV, 2.5, lines 160-199, condensed.

Yet less than two centuries after Shakespeare’s England Boswell says to Johnson: “Sir Alexander Dick tells me, that he remembers having a thousand people in a year to dine at his house; that is, reckoning each person as one, each time he dined there.”

JOHNSON: That, Sir, is about three a day.

BOSWELL: How your statement lessens the idea.

JOHNSON: That, Sir, is the good of counting. It brings every thing to a certainty, which before floated in the mind indefinitely.

BOSWELL: But . . . . one is sorry to have this diminished.

JOHNSON: Sir, you should not allow yourself to be delighted with error.

Life, Vol, II, 1783, aetat. NN
Everyman ed., p. 456.

Something has changed. As Johnson wrote elsewhere, “To count is a modern practice, the ancient method was to guess; and when numbers are guessed they are always magnified,” in the style of true Jack Falstaff, plump Jack Falstaff. Johnson laid it down that “no man should travel unprovided with instruments for taking heights and distances,” and himself used his walking stick. Boswell reports a conversation in 1783 in which Johnson argues against a walled garden on calculating grounds, as not productive enough to bear the expense of the wall—the same calculation at the same time, by the way, was surprisingly important for the enclosure movement in British agriculture. “I record the minute detail,” writes Boswell, “in order to show clearly how this great man. . . was yet well-informed in the common affairs of life, and loved to illustrate them.” Because of his friendship with Mr. and Mrs. Thrale, who ran a large London brewery, he turned his quantitative mind to their hopes. In 1778 he writes, “we are not far from the great year of 100,000 barrels [of porter brewed at the Anchor's brewery], which, if three shillings be gained from each barrel will bring us fifteen thousand pounds a year. Whitbread [a competing brewery] never pretended to more than thirty pounds a day, which is not eleven thousand a year.”

“By the early nineteenth century,” Leonore Davidoff and Catherine Hall note,
“foreign visitors [to England} were struck by this spirit: the prevalence of measuring instruments, the clocks on every church steeple, the ‘watch in everyone’s pocket,’ the fetish of using scales for weighing everything including ones own body and of ascertaining a person’s exact chronological age.”

Such an idea of counting and accounting is obvious to us, in our bourgeois towns. It is part of our private and public rhetorics. But it had to be invented, both as attitude and as technique. What we now consider very ordinary arithmetic entered late into the educations of the aristocracy and the clergy and the non-merchant professions. In 1803 Harvard College required Latin and Greek of all the boys proposing to attend, of course. Yet only in that year did it also make the ability to figure a requirement. Johnson advised a rich woman, “Let your boy learn arithmetic”—note the supposition that the heir to a great fortune would usually fail to—”He will not then be a prey to every rascal which this town swarms with: teach him the value of money and how to reckon with it.”

Consider such a modern commonplace as the graph for showing, say, how the Dow-Jones average has recently moved (cartoon: man sitting in front of a wall chart on which an utterly flat line is graphed declares to another, “Sometimes I think it will drive me mad.”) Aside from the “mysterious and isolated wonder” of a 10th-century plotting of planetary inclinations, Edward Tufte observes, the graph appeared surprisingly late in the history of counting. Cartesian coordinates were of course invented by Descartes himself in 1637, unifying geometry and algebra, perhaps from the analogy with maps and their latitudes and longitudes. But graphical devices for factual observations, as against the plotting of algebraic equations on Cartesian coordinates, were first invented by the Swiss scientist J. H. Lambert in 1765 and, more influentially, by the early economist William Playfair in two books at the end of the 18th century, The Commercial and Political Atlas, 1786 (the time series plot and the bar chart) and The Statistical Breviary Shewing on a Principle Entirely New the Resources of Every State and Kingdom of Europe, 1801 (the pie chart; areas showing quantities; exhibiting many variables at one location), “applying,” as Playfair put it, “lines to matters of commerce and finance.”

Obsession with accurate counting in Europe dates from the 17th century. Pencil and paper calculation by algorithm, named after the district of a 9th-century Arabic mathematician, and its generalization in algebra (al-jabr, the reuniting of broken parts) depended on Arabic numerals, that is, on Indian numerals, with place value and a zero (Arabic sifr: emptiness). The abacus makes rapid calculation possible even without notation, and mastery of it slowed the adoption of Arabic numerals in Europe and in China. Compare the state of mental computing skills among our children nowadays, equipped with electronic calculators.

You cannot easily multiply or divide with Roman numerals. Only in the 16th and 17th centuries did Arabic numerals spread widely to Northern Europe. Admittedly the first European document to use Arabic numerals was as early as 976. The soon-to-be Pope Sylvester II (ca 940 – 1003) —or rather “the 2nd”—tried to teach them, having learned them in Moorish Spain. His lessons didn’t take. The merchant and mathematician Leonardo Fibonacci re-explained them in a book of 1202. The commercial Italians were using them freely by the 15th century, though often mixed with Roman. But before Shakespeare’s time 0, 1, 2, 3, . . . 10, . . . 100 as against i, ii, iii, . . . x, . . . c had not spread much beyond the Italian bourgeoisie. The Byzantines used the Greek equivalent of Roman numerals right up to the fall of Byzantium in 1453. And still in the early 18th century Peter the Great was passing laws to compel Russians to give up their Greek numerals and adopt the Arabic.

The bourgeois boy in Northern Italy from earliest times and later elsewhere in Europe did of course learn to multiply and divide, somehow. He had to, and as I noted used an abacus. Presumably the same was true earlier at Constantinople and Baghdad and Delhi. By the 18th century the height of ordinary mathematical ability was the Rule of Three, which is to say the solving of proportions: “Six is to two as N is to three.” In Europe centuries earlier one could hardly deal profitably as a merchant with the scores of currencies and systems of measurement without getting the Rule of Three down pat. Interest, eventually compounded, was calculated by table. We can watch Columella in 65 AD. making mistakes with the compounding. The logarithms that permit direct calculations of compounding were not invented until 1614 by the Scotsman Napier, who by the way also popularized the decimal point, recently invented by the Dutchman Stevin—3.5, 8.25, etc. rather than 3 ½ , 8¼ , etc.

In England before its bourgeois time the Roman numerals prevailed. Shakespeare’s opening chorus in Henry V, two years after 1 Henry IV, apologizes for showing battles without Cecil-B.-de Millean numbers of extras. Yet “a crooked figure may /Attest in little place a million; / And let us, ciphers to this great accompt [account], / On your imaginary forces work.” The “crooked figure” he has in mind is not Arabic “1,000,000,” but merely a scrawled Roman M with a bar over it to signify “multiplied by 1000″: 1000 times 1000 is a million.

Peter Wardley has pioneered for the study of numeracy in England the use of probate inventories, statements of property at death available in practically limitless quantities from the 15th century onward. He has discovered that as late as 1610 even in commercial Bristol the share of probates using Arabic as against Roman numerals was essential zero. By 1670, however, it was nearly 100%, a startlingly fast change. Robert Loder’s farm accounts, in Berkshire 1610-1620, uses Roman numerals almost exclusively before 1616, even for dates of the month. In 1616 he starts to mix in Arabic, as though he had just learned to reckon in them —he continued to use Arabic for year numbers, probably because years, like regnal orders, Elizabeth II and James I, or Superbowl XVI, are not subjects of calculation.

Luca Pacioli of Venice popularized double-entry book-keeping at the end of the 15th century, and such sophistications in accounting rapidly spread in bourgeois circles. The metaphor of a set of accounts was nothing new, of course, as in God’s accounting of our sins; or the three servants in Jesus’ parable (Matt. 25: 14-30) rendering their account [logon, the Greek for “word” being the usual term for commercial accounts] of their uses of the talents, “my soul more bent / To serve therewith my Maker, and present / My true account, lest he returning chide.” Bourgeois and especially bourgeois Protestant boys actually carried it out, as in Franklin’s score-keeping of his sins.

We must not be misled by the absence in Olden Tymes of modern arithmetical skills into thinking that our ancestors were merely stupid. Shepherds had every incentive to develop tricks in reckoning, as in the Welsh system of counting, perhaps from how many sheep the eye can grasp at a glance. The myth is that primitive folk count “one, two, many.” Well, not when it matters. Carpenters must of course have systems of reckoning to build a set of stairs. The habit of counting and figuring is reflected in handbooks for craftsmen from the late Middle Ages on, the ancestors of the present-day ready reckoners for sale at the checkout counter at your Ace Hardware store. And you cannot build a great pyramid, or even probably a relatively little stone henge, without some way of multiplying and dividing, at least in effect, multiplying the materials and dividing up the work. The first writing of any sort is counting, such as storage accounts in Mesopotamia or Crete and calendar dates in Meso-America and reckoning knots in Peru. In Greek and Latin the magicians of the East were called mathematici because calculation—as against the much more elegant method of proof invented by the Greeks—was characteristic of the Mesopotamian astrologers.

Large organizations counted perforce. Sheer counts had often a purpose of taxation—St. Luke’s story about a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed, for example; and in 1086 the better attested case of William the Conqueror’s Domesday Book. We owe our knowledge of medieval agriculture in Europe to the necessity in large estates to count, in order to discourage cheating by subordinates. We can see in such records the scribes making mistakes of calculation with their clumsy Roman numerals. We know less about later agriculture because the size of estates went down after the Black Death and such accounting was therefore less worthwhile.

Sophisticated counting in modern times cuts through the Falstaffian fog of imprecision which most people start with. Nearly universal outside specialized merchants or shepherds before the common school, the fog, I repeat, persists now in the non-numerate. Here is a strange example. The standard estimate for the prevalence of male to female gender crossers in the United States is one in 30,000 born males. This is the figure in The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th edition, 1994. Let us put aside the issue of whether it is a “mental disorder,” or what purpose of gender policing would be served by claiming that the disorder is so very rare. An emerita professor of electrical engineering at the University of Michigan, Lynn Conway, a member of the National Academy of Engineering and one of the inventors of modern computer design (after IBM fired her for transitioning in 1968 from male to female), notes that the figure is impossibly low. It would imply by now in the United States a mere 800 completed gender crossers, such as Conway and me—when in fact all sorts of evidence suggests that there are at least 40,000.

The showing of such a contradiction, like Prince Hal comments on Falstaff’s boasting exaggeration, is the kind of point a numerate person makes. The sex doctors seem not to be modern in their quantitative habits of thought. A figure of 800, Conway observes, would be accounted for (note the verb) by the flow of a mere two year’s worth of operations by one doctor. Conway reckons the incidence of the condition is in fact about one in every 300 born males—not one in 30,000. It is two orders of magnitude more common than believed by the psychiatrists and psychologists who in their innumeracy write the Manual. Conway suspects that among other sources of numerical fog the doctors are mixing up prevalence with incidence—stock with flow, as accountants and economists would put it. That is, they are mixing up the total number existing as a snapshot at a certain date with the number born per year.

Calculation is the skeleton of prudence. But precisely because it embodies ignoble prudence the aristocrat scorns calculation. Courage, his defining virtue, is non-calculating, or else it is not courage. Henry V prays to the god of battles: “steel my soldiers’ hearts;/ Possess them not with fear; take from them now the sense of reckoning, if the opposed numbers/ Pluck their hearts from them.” And indeed his “ruined band” before Agincourt, as he had noted to the French messenger, was “with sickness much enfeebled, / My numbers lessened, and those few I have / Almost no better than so many French.” Yet his numbers of five or six thousand did not prudently flee from an enemy of 25,000 on the Feast Day of Crispian.

One reason, Shakespeare avers, was faith, as Henry says to Gloucester: “We are in God’s hand, brother, not in theirs.” The other was courage: “’tis true that we are in great danger; / The greater therefore should our courage be.” Shakespeare of course emphasizes in 1599 these two Christian/aristocratic virtues, those of the Christian knight, and not for example the prudence of the warhorse-impaling stakes that on Henry’s orders the archers had been lugging through the French countryside for a week. Prudence is a calculative virtue, as are, note, justice and temperance. They are cool. The warm virtues, love and courage, faith and hope, the virtues praised most often by Shakespeare, and praised little by bourgeois Adam Smith two centuries on, are specifically and essentially non-calculative.

The play does not tell what the real King Henry V was doing in the weeks leading up to Sunday, October 25, 1415, of course. It tells what was expected to be mouthed by noblemen in the last years of Elizabeth’s England, a place in which only rank ennobled, and honor to the low-born came only through loyalty to the nobles. Before the taking of Harfleur (“Once more unto the breach, dear friends”), Henry declares “there’s none of you so mean and base, / That hath not noble luster in your eyes”; and before Agincourt: “For he today that sheds his blood with me / Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile, / This day shall gentle his condition.”

Out of earshot of Henry, the king’s uncle grimly notes the disadvantage in numbers: “There’s five to one; besides they all are fresh”; at which the Earl of Salisbury exclaims, “God’s arm strike with us! ’tis a fearful odds.” The King comes onto the scene, and the Earl of Westmoreland continues the calculative talk: “O that we now had here / But one ten thousand of those men in England / That do no work today!” To which Henry now replies, scorning such bourgeois considerations, “If we are marked to die, we are enow [enough] / To do our country loss; and if to live, / The fewer men, the greater share of honor.”

And gentlemen in England now a-bed

Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,

And hold their manhoods cheap whiles whiles? any speaks

That fought with us upon St. Crispin’s Day.

This is not bourgeois, prudential rhetoric, and counts not the cost.

Public calculation is highly characteristic of the bourgeois world, such as the political arithmeticians of the 17th century, first in Holland and then in England and then in France. The first person in Europe to suggest that accounting could be applied to the affairs of an entire nation, as though the nation were a business firm, appears to be the inventor of the decimal point, the Dutch mathematician and statesman Simon Stevin(us) (1548-1620), who persuaded the City of Amsterdam and the King of Sweden to adopt double-entry bookkeeping. As late as 1673 Sir William Temple was observing, astonished, of the Dutch that “the order in casting up [i.e. accounting for] their expenses, is so great and general, that no man offers at [i.e. attempts] any undertaking which he is not prepared for, and [is not] master of his design before he begins; so as I have neither observed nor heard of any building public or private that has not been finished in the time designed for it.” The English were not slow to adopt such rationality, or at least to claim it. Sir William Petty announced in 1690

The method I take to do this is not yet very usual. For instead of using only comparative and superlative words, and intellectual arguments I have taken the course (as a specimen of the political arithmetic I have long aimed at) to express myself in terms of number, weight, or measure; to use only arguments of sense.

It is the manifesto of a bourgeois age.

In an economics course recently I assigned my undergraduate students, whom I try to teach to think prudently like the Dutch of the Golden Age, the task of calculating the costs and benefits of the automobiles that three-quarters of them operated. I suspected that American college students work many hours in non-studying jobs, skimping their learning, to pay for cars and pizzas—though come to think of it, so do their parents. My suspicion was confirmed. Shame on them.

But it seemed only fair for the professor herself to take the test. It turned out that the indignant professor was the most irrational owner of an automobile in the class. My beloved seven-year old Toyota Avalon was costing me $4000 a year more than the same services would cost to get in other ways where I live in downtown Chicago. Taxis stream by my front door on South Dearborn day and night. On the other side of the accounts a parking place off-street is $160 a month and the city’s meter maids on-street are cruelly efficient. So I sold the car. And likewise, probably, should you. I suggest you do the calculation, and certainly for that third car that sits outside your house used once a week.

But a rhetoric of calculation since the 17th century does not mean that Europeans actually were rational. Many social scientists following Max Weber have mistakenly supposed they were, that a new skill with numbers and with accounts meant that Europeans had discovered rationality. The numbers and calculation and accounts appeal to a rhetoric of rationality—terms of number, weight, or measure; only arguments of sense. But they do not guarantee its substance.

The numbers, for one thing, have to be correct. So does the accounting framework in which they are calculated. So does the evaluative job they are supposed to do. These are heavy, heavy requirements, and any quantitative scientist knows that most people, even other scientists, get them wrong..

For example, the technique of “statistical significance” used in certain quantitative fields such as medicine and economics—though not in physics, say—turns out to be on inspection comically mistaken. Many thousands of earnest researchers into medicines and minimum wages persuade themselves that they are doing a properly bourgeois calculation when in fact the calculation is very largely irrelevant to what they want to know. Like businesspeople priding themselves on economically erroneous allocating of fixed costs to various branches of their business, the medical and social scientists who use so-called t or p or R tests are doing more than fooling themselves. They are killing people and ruining economies. The suspicion that “you can prove anything with statistics” is primitive. But in field after field of the intellect, from politicized census-taking up to double blind experiments sponsored by Merck it seems approximately true, at the 5% level of significance.

In 1713, John Nye explains in his recent history of British-French commercial relations, the British makers of drink had long benefited from the prohibition of imports of French wine into Britain. Britain and France had just concluded their long and bloody quarrel over the Spanish succession, and a bill in Parliament proposed therefore to drop the wartime preferences for Spanish and Portuguese wines, to which unsurprisingly the existing importers of Spanish and Portuguese wines—there were of course no legal importers of French ones to speak up for that trade—objected strenuously. A frantic river of pamphlets spilled out a rhetoric of accounting and quantities. It was the first time, Nye notes, following G. N. Clark, “that the newly collected statistics on British trade entered the political debate in a substantial way,” serving “as a basis for the mercantilists’ published statements of economic doctrine.”

The wine trades with Portugal, wrote one defender of the status quo, “have as constantly increased every year as we have increased the demand for their wines, by which means the navigation and seamen of this kingdom have been greatly encouraged.” If French wines are allowed back into Britain the navigation and seamen will be ruined, because “small ships and an easy charge of men can fetch wines from France.” And so “the greatest part of those ships must lie and rot, or come home dead freighted,” resulting in a rise in freight rates on British exports, to the detriment of the country’s treasure by foreign trade. Another British pamphleteer reckoned that “the advantage to the French nation by having such a vent for their wines” was very great. “The French king . . . would give a million of money to procure” it. Another that

formerly the king of Portugal prohibited the importation of cloth into his kingdom. . . . [The] prohibition was taken off on consideration that Portugal wine should pay [in Britain] one third less duty than French. . . . Should the duty on French wines be lowered . . . . we very much fear that the French king will take the opportunity of introducing his subjects’ cloth into Portugal, which being of a thinner manufacture than the cloth of this nation, may be fitter for that country and their Brazils. . . . We may forever lose the cloth trade in that kingdom

In June of 1713 the bill to relax the duties on French wine was rejected, though he quantitative arguments were all specious. The social accounting was mistaken, sometimes positively wacko. But a rhetoric of quantitative prudence ruled. Such bourgeois, quantitative reasoning was in Britain rare a century before, though among the Dutch it was already commonplace in 1613. “Constantly increased.” “The greatest part of those ships.” “A million of money.” “One third less duty.”

But I said there can be a sort of madness in the counting, and counting is no guarantee of actual rationality. As a calculating modern person, even an economist, before I sold my car I first went on a big shopping expedition, as my mother prudently advised, and stocked up with $1500-worth of Barilla Thin Spaghetti and Manischewitz Thin Tea Matzos. As an aid to such prudence I worked out little tables of equivalences, like the builder’s ready reference book: If you use ½ a package of Quaker Instant Oats a week, and want two-years’ worth, that’s . . . let’s see, ½ x 52 x 2 = 52 boxes. Calculation embodies a modern sort of prudence, even when it is slightly mad. I still have by actual count, three years now after the shopping spree, 11 cans of Pillar Rock Pink Salmon, but can’t find the sell-by date on them. Auden writes in 1940: “The measurable taking charge/ Of him who measures, set at large/ By his own actions, useful facts/ Become the user of his acts.

What the modern fascination with charts, graphs, figures, and calculations shows is that moderns admire prudence. It does not show that they practice it. What changed from Shakespeare’s time to Dickens’ time was the rhetoric, and the social prestige of people like merchants and engineers and economists who specialized in it.……

Spoof by Dickens: