6. Transition and Modernity

 
 
Theory and Ideology: 
Das Adam Smith Problem

  

Section 6.2.2




 
World History 
And The Eonic Effect

Civilization, Darwinism, And Theories of Evolution
4th Edition
The Book
By  John Landon

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 CHAPTERS:
 

 

 
 

 
6. Transition and Modernity 
     6.1 A New Age Begins  
        6.1.1 From Reformation to Revolution  
     6.2 An Age of Enlightenment  
        6.2.1 The Crisis of The Enlightenment  
        6.2.2 Theory and Ideology: Das Adam Smith Problem
        6.2.3 Toward a New Enlightenment 
     6.3 The Great Divide 
        6.3.1 Revolutions Per Second: The Rebirth of Democracy 
        6.3.2 Econostream != Eonic Sequence          
    6.4 System Shutdown: Between System Action and Free Action  
       6.4.1 The Curse of Mideonic Empire?      
NOTES  
     6.5 1848: End of Eonic Sequence?  
          6.5.1 Last and First Men
          6.5.2 Theory and Ideology: Out of Revolution
     6.6 New Ages
          6.6.1 The (Eonic) Evolution of Religion  
          6.6.2 The 'Axial' New Age
          6.6.3 The Great Freedom Sutra 
          6.6.4 Schopenhauer and The Caveman Buddhas
          6.6.5 Coda: Amlothi's Mill

Next: 
 7. Conclusion

 
  
  
        

    World History And The Eonic Effect: Fourth Edition

     6.2.2 Theory and Ideology: Das Adam Smith Problem

 

Many Darwinists seem convinced Darwinian theory is connected to their economic viewpoints. Survival of the fittest and economic competition seem to collate in a unified theory of how things happen. But this nexus of belief is misleading, a prime case, ironically, of Burke’s injunction against theories, for which he so cantankerously berated Rousseau, the bugaboo of the modern sociobiologist. These theories arise and combine incestuously because of the absence of correctly formulated historical or evolutionary theories. In the case of Adam Smith we should note the ambiguity of his moral thinking in relation to economics. We should be careful with his economic reasoning since it does not suffer the same kind of reductionist fallacy we have seen in Darwinism.

Das Adam Smith Problem This was the phrase of nineteenth century German scholars puzzling over Adam Smith, moralist and economist. Any study of evolution is well accompanied by the study of the moralist Adam Smith, and not his phantom double in the history of economic theory.[i]

Although Adam Smith deserves the critique of someone like Marx, he is in class by himself, and we can somberly reflect that if his thinking were ever actually used, some of the worst aspects of liberalism derailing into economic domination might have been obviated. He was not the first (cf. Mandeville and the parable of the bees) to sense that moral behavior in a larger system can become paradoxical around the dynamics of self-interest. OK, but so what? after the extraordinary amount of sophistical anti-moralizing and ideological manipulation that has overtaken horse-trading in a market. If we consider that extremity of reaction to these simple issues visible at the stage of Leninism it would seem appropriate to be cautious here. We cannot really hope to justify greed to make economies function. This Faustian gambit, already the case despite any idealist protests, carries, pace Marx, a steep price in the end: the revolutionary endgame. Whatever the case, Adam Smith was an economist, not an evolutionary biologist. The unconscious transfer of his reasoning to evolutionary explanation, faute de mieux, is a fallacy.

It is thus true that Smith’s thinking seems to suffer core incoherence, witness this ‘Adam Smith Problem’ (in this and the various other forms in arises in the enigmatic Adam). In the final analysis, this is the wisdom of a customs inspector tired of chasing smugglers. The point for us is that while his thinking might explain economies it cannot explain social evolution. The dynamics of markets is the great temptation of the lotus eaters of modernity, the main event of the drama, but, it would seem, not the drama to come. We should enter the mood of this emergentism of markets, and yet not confuse it with the dynamics of history. The influence of his thinking on modern ideology seems to begin even with Kant, confuse Hegel and then Darwin. Marx’s thinking has been so subject to its own ideological contortions that we forget the brilliant, almost instinctive, sense that something alarming was underway: the foundations of modern thought were laced with an economic myth.

Darwin is often defended from Social Darwinism. It is hard to grasp how one can get away with this. We fail to see the way the very foundation of theory is off the mark, appearing in the context of Smith, Malthus, and Spencer. A recent biography of Darwin, Darwin, Life of a Tormented Evolutionist gives a closer picture of the man behind the theory.

Social Darwinism is often taken to be something extraneous, an ugly concretion to the pure Darwinian corpus after the event, tarnishing Darwin’s image. But his notebooks make plain that competition, free trade, imperialism, racial extermination, and sexual inequality, were written into the equation from the start—‘Darwinism’ was always intended to explain human society.[ii]

This work also depicts the background to the Darwin revolution in the generation of Malthus, the Reform Bill, and the conservative reaction to the French Revolution when the idea of evolution was tainted with radicalism. In fact, the Whiggish Darwin is both open to criticism on ideological grounds, and some wonder at the deftness whereby he managed a ‘conservative’ revolution, establishing a new view of man’s emergence from deep time. One of the confusions of Darwin’s theoretical strategy was the effort to de-emphasize the discontinuous as grounds for the supernatural, with a possible ambiguity in relation to purely political or ideological preference or bias. This issue is altogether ironic, as we will see, in relation to the ‘discontinuity’ of our historic eras, and the correlation of these to social change, revolution, and, indeed, ideas of revelation as they emerge historically.[iii]

It is simply not true that the man’s overall evolution occurs in the same fashion as the evolution of economies. Darwin was a scion of the generation of the Industrial Revolution, witness the progressive innovators in his immediate ancestors, such as the Wedgewoods. This was the great generation of the Scottish Enlightenment  and the appearance of a new economic historicism. Adam Smith, much misunderstood, becomes an icon of biological theorists, and his form of thinking starts to pervade social thought very early, often in concealed form, as in Hegel’s ‘cunning of reason’. These seminal thinkers were not doing biology.

Darwinian theory is an addlepated hybrid of economic sociology and a shotgun marriage of the views of Adam Smith, to the point where the credibility of the subject has been lost, or should have been. It is impossible to grasp this point if you think Darwin produced a complete theory of evolution. And since defenders of capitalist systems think there is a connection, debating Darwin’s theory becomes an exercise in near sedition or toeing the party line. In the famous words of Karl Marx, the ruling ideas are the ideas of the Bourgeoisie. The game is an old one. Start with Malthus and the point is clear, a science of population is founded by a rank reactionary impulse, “let them starve”, and the debate over this, amidst the Richardian extension of Adam Smith, takes up a whole generation, as the birth of social theory is stirred with an almost laughable and primitive mixture of conservative ideology and radical objections, as the very idea of evolution, with its leftist cast, is conservatized and housetrained for economic purposes. The Malthus debate shows a cousin resemblance to the Darwin  debate, and endured for an entire generation.

Smith is not telling us how economies evolve, in the sense of universal history, as much as how they should be arranged in his view, in the context of mercantilism and the collision throughout history of the state and its regulation of markets. He addresses the boundary conditions for a type of economy, and we are free to change them. Once we set the conditions they evolve one way, as opposed to another. The myth that markets are some omniscient helmsman of social evolution is false by any standard of evidence. The views of the Hayeks on ‘spontaneous order’ completely fail to distinguish cultural and economic factors. It took a generation of heroic state regulators and factory inspectors to stamp out child labor of the worst sort, in England .[iv]

There is no esoteric mystery here. The selectionist theory, muddled with economics, sounds plausible if you have no real concept of evolution. And it plays at once into the hands of conservatives of class. Thus the theory was a gesture of class struggle from the start. The same is not true of the idea of evolution itself. Evolution was a radical idea associated with revolution in the generation of Lamarck.

Rightly understood, the issue of equality is one of evolution. Once we study history carefully in light of the eonic effect we realize that the ‘theory’ of natural selection is a clever way to hide the ideology of inequality. And we see that macrohistory in the context of the ‘eonic sequence’ injects equalization processes as a counter-trend into the historical trends toward disequalization. So much for the Darwinian sleight of hand, that trump of the grubby Whigs of capitalism.

The trend toward equality is more than momentary idealism. It shows a macro component. Is this not one of the factors in the Judaic transition? Of the age of Solon ? Buddhist Mahayana? And then finally of modern times? Historical ‘evolution’, we should note, shows this alternation of equalization and reaction. Is it chance that Solon appears dead center in our eonic pattern at an exact point of its action? Equalization has been banished from this science, as the sociobiologists take aim so obsessively at Rousseau, but history shows another story. In modern times it shows a Rousseau, again in dead center correlation. A close look shows that there must obviously be, in practice, a counterweight to purely selectionist development. And history shows it. The irony is that the rise of the modern shows it at close range. Rousseau is transparent as our third transition moves to shake off the legacies of slavery, inequality, and political domination that he rightly sees as a pathology of civilization. Note that part of the problem is the confusion of continuity. The sudden swing in a new modern direction complete with seminal founders like Rousseau is a world historical spectacle understood only by the student of eonic periodization.

 

    Notes

   Web:  chap6_2_2.htm

 

[i] R. F. Teichgraeber Free Trade and Moral Philosophy (Durham: Duke University, 1986), p.xiii, Athol Fitzgibbons, Adam Smith’s System of Liberty Wealth and Virtue (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995), A. Arblaster, The Rise and Decline of Western Liberalism (New York: Basil Blackwell, 1984). The world of Adam Smith soon yields to neo-classical and marginalist economics. The claims for macroeconomic models, in general, or such by those with the nerve to cite the work of Arrow and Debreu, that capitalism is the best allocator of economic resources are propaganda at its best. So what? The most efficient system would be that of slavery. Cf. E. Screpanti & S. Zamagni , An Outline of the History of Economic Thought (Oxford: Clarendon, 1993), p. 341. For a critique of the application of the physics metaphor to economics, cf. Philip Mirowski, Against Mechanism (Totowa: Rowman & Littlefield, 1988). Daniel Fusfeld, The Age of the Economist (New York: William Morrow, 1968), Chapter 7, “Neo-Classical Economics”. Mathematical models based the differential equation all fail the test of the Oedipus Paradox, and of the historical inevitability argument with which we began. Empirical maps of economic cycles with agent interaction in his present, as we have shown, conform to the right correction of deterministic thinking. The fatal conceit (cf. Hayek, The Fatal Conceit, The Road to Serfdom) is as much that of the unthinking market order libertarian ideologist as that of Hayek’s villain socialist. Cf. Ben Seligman, Main Currents in Modern Economics (1963), Robert Kuttner, Everything for Sale (New York: Knopf, 1997). Karl Polanyi in his The Great Transformation, is pointing to the social construction of the market order, taken as the mystification of social laws. J. R. Stanfield, The Economic Thought of Karl Polanyi (New York: St. Martin’s, 1986).

For Social Darwinism, cf. Richard Hofstadter, Social Darwinism in American Thought (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 1945), Robert Bannister, Social Darwinism: Science and Myth in Anglo-American Thought (Philadelphia: Temple, 1979), Edward Caudill, Darwinian Myths: The Legends and Misuses of a Theory (Knoxville: University of Tennessee, 1997), John Greene, Science, Ideology, and World View, (Berkeley: University of California, 1981. Marx on Darwin is the source of a number of myths. Terence Ball in Reappraising Political Theory, Chapter 10, "Reappraising Marx and Darwin".

[ii] Adrian Desmond & James Moore, Darwin , Darwin , Life of a Tormented Evolutionist (New York: Warner, 1991) (with a companion volume by the co-author Adrian Desmond, Huxley, From Devil's Disciple to Evolution’s High Priest), p. xxi.

[iii] Cf. Gertrude Himmelfarb’s discussion of a ‘conservative revolution’, in the development of Darwinian theory, in Darwin and the Darwinian Revolution (New York: Norton, 1959), and Michael Denton, in Evolution: A Theory in Crisis (New York: Adler & Adler, 1985) on Darwin’s insistence that an evolutionary process be infinitely gradual, p. 60. Denton discusses Howard Gruber’s Darwin on Man (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1981) where Darwin ’s early education led him to the assumption that to show something was of natural origin required showing it to have evolved gradually from its precursors, pp. 125-26. Cf. Jacques Barzun, Darwin, Marx, Wagner (Boston: Little, Brown, 1941), p. 40.

[iv] There are any number of good books on Malthus, as the founder of demography, but most are sanitized, try an old-fashioned leftist salvo and history of the part left out of most accounts, Harold Boner, Hungry Generations, The Nineteenth-Century Case Against Malthusianism, (King’s Crown Press, New York, 1955). 

 

 
 


 

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Last modified: 09/28/2010