Dugald Stewart's Assessment of Adam Smith Term Paper

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Dugald Stewart's Assessment Of Adam Smith

Even if the work done by Smith and his Scottish contemporaries finds parallels and precedents, it nevertheless appears to have been remarkable for the weight of emphasis that was placed on economic factors. There were really two applications of the general thesis. First, there is the argument that the development of productive forces ultimately depended on the 'natural wants' of man; the point being that man is first subject to certain basic needs which, once satisfied, allow him to pursue more complex goals (Stewart, 1793). The same point was made by Adam Ferguson when he remarked that 'refinement and plenty foster new desires, while they furnish the means, or practice the methods, to gratify them' (Arrow, 1951). John Millar also linked these natural and insatiable desires to the development of productive forces, and even went so far as to argue that the latter would emerge in a sequence that corresponded to the four socioeconomic stages. (Lehmann, 1960).

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The second application of the thesis is to be found in the link that Smith established between economic organization and the social structure, particularly with regard to the classes involved and the relations of power and dependence likely to exist between them. As we have seen, the fink that was established between the form of economy and the social and political structure was remarkably explicit, so much so indeed as to permit William Robertson to state the main propositions with economy and accuracy. First, he noted that 'In every enquiry about the operations of men when combined together in society, the first object of notice should be their form of subsistence. According as that changes, their laws and policy must be diverse. Secondly, Robertson drew attention to the relationship between property and power, noting for example so as to, 'Upon realizing in what state belongings was at any exacting period, we may decide with precision what was the amount of power possessed by the king or by the dignity at that juncture' (Mill, 1994). While such statements apply equally to Smith's approach to the history of society, they should not be taken to imply that Smith was an economic determinist. Three points may be noted by way of illustration.

TOPIC: Term Paper on Dugald Stewart's Assessment of Adam Smith Assignment

First, while Smith did argue that the 'commercial' stage of socioeconomic growth would have certain recognizable features, he did not suggest that it was incompatible with 'absolutist' government. For example, both France and Spain could be regarded as 'developed' economies from a historical point-of-view, yet both were associated with monarchical systems which pretended to be absolutist (Mill, 1994). Smith also made this point with respect to England, in arguing that the first effect of a developing manufacturing sector had been to increase the power of her kings (for example the Tudors) at the expense of the lords; the point being that the decline in the power of the lords had taken place before the same underlying causes raised the House of Commons to a higher degree of power. Secondly, Smith argued that England was really a special case, and that she alone had escaped from absolutism (Arrow, 1951). To a great extent this was the reflection of her own natural economic advantages (Stewart, 1793), but Smith also emphasized other factors, many of which were of an extra-economic type. For example, he argued that Great Britain's situation as an island had obviated the need for a standing army, (Skinner, 1979) and thus denied her kings an important instrument of oppression. He added that Elizabeth I had also helped to weaken the position of her successors by selling off Crown lands, a policy that was not unconnected with the fact that she had no direct heirs. As Smith presents the case, it was the growing weakness of the Stuart kings (reflecting in part their own peculiarities of character), and the growing significance of the Commons, that had ultimately combined to produce that particular system of liberty that was now found in England. In England alone, he emphasized, liberty is secured by 'an assembly of the representatives of the people, who claim the sole right of imposing taxes' (Stewart, 1793). Smith was to deploy the principles involved in his treatment of the American question. But if Smith preferred the English model, he was very far from suggesting that this model represented the best of all possible worlds. In his 'Early Draft' especially, Smith adverted to the 'oppressive inequality' of the modern economy, (Arrow, 1983) and elsewhere he drew attention to the fact that the House of Commons, whose power provided the foundation and protection of the liberty of the subject, could easily become a clearing-house for those sectional interests on which that power was collectively based (Stewart, 1793). Smith was also well aware of corruption in politics and of the fact that the institutions of British government were markedly unrepresentative. 'It is in Britain only that any permission of the people is necessary, and God knows it is but a very symbolic metaphorical consent which is given here. And in Scotland still more than in England, as but very few have a vote for a member of Parliament who give this metaphorical consent' (Stewart, 1854).

Stewart introduces at the next stage of his survey 'another idea of Natural Jurisprudence, essentially distinct from those hitherto mentioned'. Its object is 'to ascertain the general principles of justice which ought to be recognized in every municipal code; and to which it ought to be the aim of every legislator to accommodate his institutions'. It is to this idea of a third kind of Jurisprudence, according to Stewart, that Adam Smith has given his sanction in the conclusion of his Theory of Moral Sentiments (Stewart, 1854). As to Smith's identification of this idea of Jurisprudence with that of Grotius (Smith, 1759), Stewart throws doubt on this by claiming that Grotius had often been led to overlook the 'immense difference between the state of society in ancient and modern Europe' (Stewart, 1854). Stewart's comment on these systems of Natural Jurisprudence considered as 'models of universal legislation' is that 'their authors reason concerning laws too abstractedly, without specifying the particular circumstances of the society to which they mean that their conclusions should be applied' (Stewart, 1854). It was Montesquieu, according to Stewart, who, under the 'grand idea of connecting Jurisprudence with History and Philosophy', gave 'the first fatal blow to the study of Natural Jurisprudence' by affording the proofs of the 'absurdity of all schemes of Universal Legislation' (Stewart, 1854); and it was Adam Smith who, despite his sanction of the idea of Natural Jurisprudence as a model of Universal Legislation, in fact took his cue from Montesquieu. Stewart, therefore, concludes his survey with Montesquieu's views which, together with those of his followers, might be called the fourth, or rather the new, view of Jurisprudence.

Montesquieu, according to Stewart, combined the science of law with the history of political society, 'employing the latter to account for the varying aims of legislator; and the former, in its turn, to explain the nature of government, and the manners of the people' (Mill, 1994). Convinced that the general principles of human nature are everywhere the same, he searched for 'new lights' among 'the subjects of every government, and the inhabitants of every climate' and, while thus opening 'inexhaustible and unthought-of resources' to the student of Jurisprudence, he indirectly marked out to the legislator 'the extent and the limits of his power', and recalled the attention of the philosopher from 'abstract and useless theories', to the 'only authentic monuments of the history of mankind'. This view of law which unites history and philosophy with jurisprudence, after the publication of the Spirit of Laws (1748), became 'so fashionable', particularly in Scotland, that many seem to have considered it 'not as a step towards a farther end, but as exhausting the whole science of Jurisprudence' (Stewart, 1854). Montesquieu's own aim in his historical discourses was, however, 'much more deep and refined'. His speculations were directed to the same practical conclusion as that pointed out by Bacon, which essentially coincides with 'the very shrewd aphorism of Lord Coke', that 'to trace an error to its fountainhead, is to refute it' (Arrow, 1983). In this respect, in order to have a just conception of the comparatively limited views of Grotius, it was necessary, according to Stewart, to attend to 'what was planned by his immediate predecessor [Bacon], and first executed (or rather first begun to be executed) by one of his remote successors [Montesquieu]' (Stewart, 1854). As the last result, the plans of Bacon and Montesquieu have been since combined 'with extraordinary sagacity', by some of the later writers on Political Economy, and above all by Adam Smith, 'who, in his Wealth of Nations, has judiciously and skillfully combined with the investigation of general principles, the most luminous sketches of Theoretical History relative to that form of political society, which has given birth to so many of the institutions and customs peculiar to modern Europe'… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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