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The Intellectual Development of Scotland
Chapter VIII - The Economic Movement


In studying the intellectual development of Scotland, it is necessary to remember that the revolt against Rome as the embodiment of the principle of authority had two aspects— the religious and the intellectual. In Scotland, in the name of religious liberty, Protestantism won the battle. The battle for intellectual liberty is usually associated with the Renaissance, though Protestantism in the conflict lent its powerful aid. It was inevitable that the liberating process once begun should extend to other sections of national life, and thus it came about that the revolt against authority spread by and by to the spheres of politics and industry. In its long despotic reign the Roman Catholic Church had a powerful ally in Feudalism. The very desire for liberty was treated as a crime. The religious man who claimed the right to dissent from the Church was a heretic; the political man who rose against consecrated despotism was a traitor; and the labourer who claimed the right to work for himself was a rebel serf. With the overthrow of Romanism and Feudalism as the dominant factors in civilization, and the breakdown of the old theocratic conception of social and national life, there naturally grew up a demand for a new theory of civilization. In Scotland this desire found expression in the writings of Hutcheson, the founder of Moderatism. Moderatism, as has been seen, made its influence felt in all departments of the national life; it aspired to be something more than the opponent of Calvinism. In opposition to the old theocratic regime with its divine-right theory that Church and State were entitled to absolute sway over the individual, Hutcheson formulated another divine-right theory—that of the individual to control himself under the guidance of enlightened self-interest. Hutche-son's contention was that the aims of Nature —which is the expression of the Divine will — were best realized, and harmony of interests secured by freeing the individual from despotisms which claimed to have theocratic sanction. Adam Smith always acknowledged his indebtedness to Hutcheson, an indebtedness which is perfectly obvious when regard is had to the fundamental ideas of the Wealth of Nations. It is necessary to make the relations between the two thinkers quite clear, as there is a current opinion that in regard to economic science Smith's ideas were imported from France. Even Carlyle falls into this mistake when, in his essay on Burns, he says " it was Quesnay's lamp that kindled the lamp in Adam Smith." That Adam Smith when in France conversed with Turgot and Quesnay on economic subjects is well known, but that he was indebted to them for the fundamental ideas of his Wealth of Nations is quite erroneous. When he was in the Chair of Moral Philosophy in Glasgow, Adam Smith, as early as 1752, embodied in the form of lectures the ideas of the Wealth of Nations, The year before Quesnay published his system Smith had expounded his theory of natural liberty. French and English writers have claimed Quesnay as the spiritual father of Adam Smith, whereas Smith himself always considered Hutcheson as his great teacher. In a word, Smith's economic theories in their main outline were fully laid before his visit to France.

There is no such thing as absolute originality, and Adam Smith would have repudiated the notion that he spun his economic philosophy entirely out of his own brain. In addition to Hutcheson he owed much to Hume, who was a master of the whole subject. Adam Smith's position in economics resembles Darwin's in biology. Thinkers before Darwin had speculated about species on the lines of evolution, just as thinkers before Smith had been groping for a key to economic problems. As I have said elsewhere: "Smith's work was epoch-making for the reasons that made Darwin's epoch-making; Smith laid bare the secret mechanism by which Nature, when duly obeyed, makes the industrial world an harmonious and organic whole. The secret mechanism which is disclosed in the Wealth of Nations is the power of self-interest when duly safeguarded by liberty and justice to produce industrial harmony in the sphere of wealth production and exchanges. Just as Darwin contends that the best biological results in Nature are obtained when the great competitive forces among organisms are allowed liberty to operate, so Smith contends that the best industrial results are secured when, under the necessary conditions of liberty and justice, the competitive self-interests of free men are allowed sway."

At this stage we detect the influence of Moderatism, which as a reaction against the theological doctrine of human depravity, had much to say of the natural goodness of man, a conception which underlies Adam Smith's book the Theory of Moral Sentiments. In making sympathy the basis of morality, Smith clearly assumes that men in the pursuit of their own self-interest have a natural sympathy with one another and out of the feelings of dependence and mutual helpfulness there result social harmony. As he puts it, in civilized society man stands at all times in need of the co-operation of his fellows and the assistance of great multitudes, and in these circumstances man can only satisfactorily connect himself with his fellows through the medium of reciprocity of services—a process which optimists of the time believed invested self-interest with ethical and social qualities. Now we come to an all-important aspect of Adam Smith's economic philosophy. If freedom of trade is essential to home industry, it is also, he declared, essential to foreign trade. For centuries trade and commerce were carried on under the prevalence of the notion that in these matters the interests of the several nations were inherently antagonistic. Under the influence of the old mercantile theory what one nation gained another was supposed to lose. In the words of Adam Smith, each nation has been made to look with an invidious eye upon the prosperity of all the nations with which it trades and to consider their trade as its own loss. "As a rich man is likely to be a better customer to the industrious people in a neighbourhood than a poor, so is likewise a rich nation. . . . Private people who want to make a fortune never think of retiring to the remote and poor provinces of the country, but resort either to the capital or to some of the great commercial towns. They know that where little wealth circulates there is little to be got; but where a great deal is in motion some share of it may fall to them. The same maxim which would in this matter direct the common sense of one, or ten, or twenty individuals, should regulate the judgment of one, ten, or twenty millions, and should make a whole nation regard the riches of its neighbours as a probable cause and occasion for itself to acquire riches. A nation that would enrich itself by foreign trade is certainly most likely to do so when its neighbours are all rich, industrious and commercial nations."

The Wealth of Nations was published in 1776, and immediately arrested attention, though its political influence was checked by the reaction caused by the French Revolution, which also, as we noticed, checked the influence of Moderatism in the sphere of religion. In both the religious and the political, the principle of natural liberty which inspired Smith's great work was, as the result of the Revolution, identified with anarchy. Still the Wealth of Nations found a friendly reception in high quarters. In the House of Commons Pitt sympathetically referred to the book, whose influence made itself felt in the purification of the tariff in later years. Inspired by Adam Smith's ideas Gladstone and Cobden still further popularized Free Trade, with results familiar to every student of British history. Under the guidance of the idea of natural liberty which was the ruling thought in the minds of Hutcheson and the Moderates, and which is the basal conception of the Wealth of Nations, the work of emancipation has gone forward in all directions. A commercial policy resting on Free Trade, a foreign policy based on the idea of national liberty and independence, a legal code making for equality before the law and freedom from the fetters of feudalism, ecclesiastical freedom from Eras-tianian interference—these and numerous other emancipatory movements drew their inspiration from the idea of natural liberty which on the economic side received such powerful exposition and advocacy from Adam Smith. A thinker of the first rank is known by the amount of controversial literature which his writings call forth. Judged by that standard Adam Smith's position in the intellectual realm is beyond dispute. As in the cases of Newton and Darwin, Smith reduced to order a whole set of phenomena which, up till he wrote, was in a condition of chaos. No man is infallible, and since Smith's day Political Economy as a science has undergone considerable modifications, but the fundamental ideas remain untouched. Even those who have a leaning to Protection admit that complete Free Trade is the true economic ideal, and their differences of opinion with their opponents revolve round the question whether in the present condition of Continental nations, bristling as they are with hostile tariffs and armed to the teeth, a medium policy of a retaliatory nature might not be beneficial. These differences, however, do not affect the fact of Adam Smith's world-wide influence. At his feet the modern students of the science still sit. It is related that on one occasion Pitt met Smith at the London house of Dundas. Smith was late in arriving, and immediately the whole company rose to receive him. "Be seated, gentlemen," said Smith. "No," replied Pitt, "we will stand till you are the first seated, for we are all your scholars." These words of Pitt find an echo in the modern mind—we are all his scholars.

Since the time of Adam Smith economic science has undergone marked changes. Resting on an optimistic theory of life, the Smithian system in the hands of the Ricardo school tended to pessimism. A firm believer in the beneficence of Nature, Adam Smith would have welcomed the vast powers which science has given mankind over material forces; were he alive to-day he certainly would be disappointed with the comparatively small contribution which science has made to social well-being. In this regard the high hopes of thinkers of the past have not been realized. Bacon, for instance, looked upon science, with the great command which it gave man over the forces of Nature, as the pioneer of a kind of millennial bliss for the human race. As he put it: "The real and true goal of the sciences is nothing else than the enrichment of human life by the introduction of new inventions and resources." Knowledge of Nature meant power over Nature, and once this was gained there was expected as a natural consequence a widespread diffusion of leisure and comfort. Science, in the form of mechanical inventions, was expected to so lighten the labour of humanity that the individual, freed from degrading toil, would develop rapidly along the lines of physical, intellectual, and moral improvement. The extent to which science has contributed to the labour power of the world was strikingly shown by Sir William Ramsay in his recent presidential address to the British Association. No civilization worthy of the name can be built up without leisure. Greece was able to shine with an intellectual splendour which is the admiration of the world, and that simply because the necessary leisure was procured by what was practically slave labour. In the words of Sir William Ramsay:

"A large proportion of the people had had ample leisure. They had time to think and to discuss what they thought. How was this achieved? The answer was simple; each Greek freeman had on an average at least five helots who did his bidding, who worked his mines, looked after his farm, and, in short, saved him from manual labour. Now we in Britain were much better off; the population of the British Isles was in round numbers 45,000,000; there were consumed in our factories at least 50,000,000 tons of coal annually, and it is generally agreed that the consumption of coal per indicated horse-power per hour is on an average about 5lb. This gave 7,000,000 horse-power per year. Seven million horsepower were about 175,000,000 man-power. Taking a family as consisting on the average of five persons, our 45,000,000 would represent 9,000,000 families; and dividing the total man-power by the number of families, we must conclude that each British family had, on the average, nearly twenty 'helots' doing his bidding, instead of the five of the Athenian family."

One would be entitled to expect from this greatly-increased mechanical power a corresponding increase of leisure. How far we are from this is seen when we contrast the high hopes of Bacon and the philosophers of the enlightenment in France and England with the sombre statement of John Stuart Mill as follows: "Hitherto it is questionable if all the mechanical inventions yet made have lightened the day's toil of any human being. They have enabled a greater population to live the same life of drudgery and imprisonment, and an increased number of manufacturers and others to make fortunes. They have increased the comforts of the middle classes. But they have not yet begun to effect those great changes in human destiny which it is in their nature and futurity to accomplish." So that the upshot is that science, with its mechanical inventions, has done little or nothing to secure the needful distribution of wealth which makes leisure and a command of the comforts of life universal possessions. Further, science, from the side of economics and biology, has done much to justify the existing unsatisfactory state of affairs. In the hands of Ricardo, political economy helped on the movement towards wealth monopoly by teaching that high profits could only be possible through low wages, and as high profits were said to be the motive powers of national prosperity, increased leisure and increased wages were out of the question. Next came Malthus, who, from the population side, showed that there were no covers laid at Nature's table for the poor man. Following upon this came Darwin, who showed that progress was achieved through a struggle for existence, in which the weakest must go to the wall, and of course, in the industrial struggle, the weakest was the worker. Improvement in his position was not encouraged by Nature.

In the hands of some of Darwin's followers the theory assumed most forbidding forms. Huxley, for example, conceived life as a huge Donnybrook, in which head-splitting and general turmoil were reduced to a science. Those who succeeded in the struggle were the elect, the favoured ones. Science, in a word, became Calvinistic. Quite on the lines of the old theological doctrine of election, Haeckel, quoting Scripture, declared that "many were called, but few were chosen."

In the ranks of science within recent years there has grown up a reaction against the gladiator theory of existence. Prince Kropot-kin did good service, not only to the science of biology, but also to the science of Society, when in his book, Mutual Aid, he showed that the struggle for existence had been grossly exaggerated, if not caricatured, by the early Darwinians. More influential in primitive times than ruthless competition is a sense of human solidarity. Then came the late Professor Drummond, with his illuminating view that along with the struggle for self there has gone on all through history a struggle for others. Out of this has grown family life and the opportunities for self-sacrifice and all the higher virtues which have given a halo of the divine to human life. Among the rising biologists, Darwinism is now interpreted on democratic rather than on aristocratic lines, as may be seen from the writings of two Scottish scientists, Professor Arthur Thomson and Professor Patrick Geddes. Hitherto science has been too much left in the hands of specialists, who have pursued their studies in a mechanical way, utterly regardless of its bearing upon the great surging life of humanity.

Messrs. Thomson and Geddes are idealists. Both writers in criticism of the Huxley school have emphasized the social side of evolution— the side which takes account of the part which co-operation, as opposed to competition, has played in civilization. In their view "it is possible to interpret the ideals of ethical progress through love and sociality, co-operation and sacrifice, not as mere Utopias contradicted by experience, but as the highest expressions of the central evolutionary process of the natural world." Such a view of life has important practical consequences. In dealing with man as a social being we must substitute co-operation for competition, brotherly help for friendless rivalry.

Science, in the early Darwinian days, was decidedly materialistic. In the hands of the new school it is pre-eminently idealistic. It aims at beautifying as well as interpreting life, and as evidence of this may be noted the great success of the attempt of Professor Geddes from the standpoint of science, to give a more humane touch to political economy and to the beautifying of civic life. Democracy has never taken kindly to science, simply because of its aristocratic tendencies, but with the advent of the new spirit we may expect the beginning of a new era in which knowledge will indeed be power; not a power to be wielded in the interests of the few, but a power to be employed for the elevation of the many in all that makes life worth living.

Thinkers to-day are learning the truth which previous thinkers failed quite to appreciate, that environment is more potent as a factor in social evolution than has been hitherto supposed. Heredity lay for a time with fatalistic weight on humanity, and had much to do with the pessimism of Darwinism. Thanks to the new school, we are learning to put heredity in its proper place, and to recognize the vast influence which environment plays in the moulding of the race. No progress could be made in social reform, for instance, so long as it was believed that the children of the slums were doomed to evil, and could not be changed, no matter how you changed their surroundings. The new school of Darwinians recognize the great influence of environment, and, while not ignoring heredity, have given a biological interpretation of Society which gives room for the larger hope. They have facts to justify their hopeful creed. The Poor Law Inspector of Glasgow has given it as his opinion that, provided you take the children of dissolute parents early enough away from their slum surroundings, they cannot be said to suffer at all from their birth environment. He supports his view by figures which go to show that out of some 630 children sent by him to the country and kept under close observation for years, only twenty-three turned out bad. The old Darwinians would not have troubled about these children. They were doomed at their birth, and it was going against Nature to strive against the curse of heredity. Democracy can now hail as a friend the new spirit which has sprung up in science within recent years. The old gladiator school is dead. The alliance between Science and Democracy is hopeful for the future. Democracy needs guidance; and economic science with something of the optimism of Adam Smith, incorporated as it now is with Sociology, can supply the guidance of which Democracy, in a complex civilization, stands in special need.


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