Adam Smith’s Rhetorical Strategy in The Wealth of Nations against the Commercial System of Great Britain
26 Pages Posted: 28 Dec 2018
Date Written: January 15, 2018
Analysing the rhetorical structure of (An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of) The Wealth of Nations (Smith WN) and the political context of its publication, we make the case for the central importance of its Book V, “Of the Revenue of the Sovereign or Commonwealth”, which tends to be neglected in accounts of Smith’s oeuvre (and is occasionally not even included in printed versions of WN) but which, in our reading, is more than just a general treatise on optimal taxation and spending. Book V, notwithstanding its presumptive focus on the nature and causes of the wealth of nations everywhere, is foremost a tract focused on the viability of a British Empire under the thumb of a Mercantilist system. Aware that those he targeted, merchants, manufacturers, and their political supporters, would not take kindly to what he himself considered a very violent attack on the system, Smith made his case against the Mercantilist system, and the colonial policy which it pushed, by marshalling his earlier insights into rhetorical theory and practice. Indeed, step by step he slowly unfolded his critique of that system and then — as a well-informed, impartial spectator — presented, in the very last pages of the book, his own view of “the American question” (Phillipson 2010).
Keywords: Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations, rhetoric, rhetorical structure of The Wealth of Nations, the American question
JEL Classification: B10, B12, C70, C72
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation