February 29, 2008

Prior uses of the ‘invisible hand’ in literature, known to Adam Smith

'Providence' Was Not Necessary for Adam Smith's Argument But Allowed Him to Make His Argument from Adam Smith's Lost Legacy by Gavin Kennedy

Roman law over the centuries created a massive litigation library of cases of arguments, some bloody, over inheritance disputes – historically quite advanced in scope and subtlety). So, ‘nearly the same distribution’ when tried, failed in the Roman Empire. But the vast estates within the Roman empire and after it required labour to produce the sustenance and subsistence for most and its luxurious version for a few, without which it could not be sustained. Rome expanded militarily; barbarian lords and their subordinates depopulated the commercial networks of cities, the countryside was ravaged by warring Lords and ‘banditii’, and it took centuries to return to local peace.

The lords learned that feeding their employees was a necessity for their security to continue. They did not need the illusion of Providence to nudge them in this manner; self survival was sufficient. Indeed, ‘Providence did not divide the earth’; violent men did that on their own account. In 18th century British society, Smith had no choice (self-preservation) but to accord ‘sage’ religious sanction to what violent usurpers (of each other) did on their own, though it was not ‘safe ‘to say so. His readers included many of the descendants of lords, who held sway politically in the king’s parliament, and his overarching aim was to persuade those who had influence, and those who influenced them, to adopt policies that would aid ‘progress towards opulence’, which would necessarily ‘spread to the inferior orders’ (the poor).

Picking St Augustine out from among 11 other authors for making a case for the invisible hand is disingenuous, if it is to be into a meaningful case that Adam Smith meant his use to be taken this way. The point is that the metaphor was well known to educated readers and Smith drew on it for his purpose, not to introduce metaphyiscal influences into his arguments. His case was perfectly explained on the two occasions he used in his books and the metaphor added nothing that was not perfectly understood from his two examples before he introduced it.Here is a list of prior uses of the ‘invisible hand’ in literature, known to Adam Smith:

● Homer (Iliad, 720 BC); ‘And from behind Zeus thrust him onwith exceeding mighty hand’; ● Horace (65-8 BC), Ovid (Metamorphoses, 8 AD): ‘twisted and plied his invisible hand, inflicting wound within wound’;● Lactantius (De divinio praemio, c.250-325): ‘invisibilis’; ● Augustine, 354-430, “God’s ‘hand’ is his power, which movesvisible things by invisible means’ (Concerning the City of God, xii, 24);● Shakespeare, ‘Thy Bloody and Invisible Hand’, (Macbeth, 2.3; 1605);● Daniel Defoe, ‘A sudden Blow from an almost invisible Hand,blasted all my Happiness’, in Moll Flanders (1722); ‘it has all been broughtto pass by an invisible hand’ (Colonel Jack, 1723); ● Nicolas Lenglet Dufesnoy said that an “invisible hand” haspower over “what happens under our eyes”; ● Charles Rollin (1661-1741), described as ‘very well knownin English and Scottish Universities’, said of the military successes of Israeli Kings “the rapidity of their consequences ought to have enabled them to discern the invisible hand which conducted them”; ● Charles Bonnet (whom Smith befriended in Geneva in 1765)wrote of the economy of the animal: “It is led towards its end by aninvisible hand”; ● Jean-Baptiste Robinet (a translator of Hume) refers tofresh water as “those basins of mineral water, prepared by an invisiblehand”. ● Voltaire (1694-1178) in Oedipe (1718) writes: “Tremble,unfortunate King, an invisible hand suspends above your head’; and ‘aninvisible hand pushed away my presents’;● Professor W. Leechman (1706-1785) (1755): ‘the silent andunseen hand of an all-wise Providence.'● Kant E.(1784) ‘Universal History’: ‘leads on to infer the design of a wise creator and not [the hand of a malicious spirit]’.

1 comment:

  1. A list of prior uses of invisible hand is useful to the reader.The issue is that the reader is able to identify what the metaphor is.You can analyse the whole list.