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  • The Other Adam Smith by Mike Hill and Warren Montag
  • Steve Newman
Mike Hill and Warren Montag, The Other Adam Smith (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2014). Pp. 416. $29.95.

The Other Adam Smith is a wide-ranging, subtle, and daring book. Authors Mike Hill and Warren Montag have set themselves an ambitious goal: to engage with Smith's multifarious oeuvre in a way that acknowledges both its pursuit of [End Page 132] unifying propositions and the elements stubbornly refusing unity, showing how these conflicts emerge out of Smith's own historical moment and how they continue to trouble the various Smiths conjured since his death. Pursuing this "problem of parts rendered whole" within various modern discourses, many of which Smith helps to found—"epistemology, ethics, nationalism, [and] political economy" (6)—the authors repeatedly show how Smith's work is haunted by "the problem of the popular" (8).

In chapter 1, Montag and Hill begin with the "pleasing wonder of ignorance" that Smith identifies in his under-studied "Of the Imitative Arts." The repeated movement from surprise to wonder to admiration is identified with a knowing "we" consisting of those engaged in mental rather than physical work. The labor of that "we" is divided further into various disciplines, with belles lettres emerging as the discipline associated with imaginative thinking. And the factitious whole of the intellectual world is itself shadowed by the figure of an undiscriminating, novel-buying public, which depends upon the same tide of print that makes possible Smith's own (di)vision of intellectual labor.

Chapter 2 takes up Smith's spectatorial and sociable ethics. Although Smith would seem to be committed to a communal form of sympathy in contrast to the more selfish approaches of Hobbes and Mandeville, a closer look reveals that the scope of this sympathy is severely circumscribed. Its boundaries are marked by the beggar, with his gross embodiment, repulsive poverty, and un-Stoic whinging for sympathy. The excluded beggar is himself a figure for the "tumultuous combinations" that Smith places beyond the pale, the poor multitude within the United Kingdom or the immiserated masses pressed into the service of a rising British empire. The paradoxical individualism of Smith's sympathy is brought into sharper focus by Spinoza, whose truly transindividual ethics allows the subject to feel, and then work to alleviate, the pain and anger of a multitude whose desires are thwarted by an inequitable society (135–38).

Historiography is the discursive focus of chapter 3 as Hill and Montag explain how "popular Jacobitism" challenges "stadial historical progress" and represents a wider challenge to the idea of "martial virtue" that Scottish historians hoped would be "a way of canalizing insurgency on behalf of the state monopoly of violence that was also supposed to stem the deleterious effects of capitalist luxury" (25). Along the way, the authors offer a nuanced account of "Jacobite memory work" described by Murray Pittock and others that runs parallel to the questions at the heart of Hume's skeptical epistemology: "the displacement of individual reason by a network of things, the related emphasis of means over ends, and the troubling abundance of chance" (162). Chance is embodied in the unruly multitude, and, again, the novel proves to be its favored genre. But its demotic energy is tamed by the invention of the historical novel, which banishes romance and bloody politics to a past outstripped by the implacable progress of stadial history (209–10).

Finally, in chapter 4, the authors brilliantly home in on and then unpack a key element in Smith's political economy—the debate over whether the state should intervene in controlling the price of grain—in order to pose an urgent question: Do Smith and those who seek to take up his mantle believe that people have a right to subsistence, a right to life? The answer turns out to be "no." Smith sees the question as unnecessary, since a properly (un)regulated market will make it impossible for the wages of the multitude ever to fall below what they need in order to buy grain. Smith's would-be heirs, including Malthus and then von Mises and Hayek, purport to "demonstrate...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-315X
Print ISSN
0013-2586
Pages
pp. 132-135
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-19
Open Access
No
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