by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
The political left often invokes “race” to intimidate its opponents when arguing against them. That impetus may not be conscious, but the effect can be real.
A case in point concerns the legacy of Adam Smith, the great Scottish moral philosopher and economist. His grave and statue in Edinburgh, Scotland, are going to be considered for “reconfiguring” by the “Slavery and Colonialism Legacy Review Group,” a body appointed by the left-leaning Edinburgh City Council, according to an article in The Telegraph.
The article speaks of a dossier in which Smith has been “linked” to “slavery and colonialism.” Smith can be linked to slavery and colonialism only in the same way that Martin Luther, the great religious reformer, can be linked to indulgences and Martin Luther King Jr., the great civil-rights leader, can be linked to Jim Crow.
Adam Smith fulminated against the injustice of slavery in his first book, The Theory of Moral Sentiments, speaking of slave traders as the brutal and baseless refuse of the jails of Europe.
“There is not a negro from the coast of Africa who does not, in this respect, possess a degree of magnanimity which the soul of his sordid master is too often scarce capable of conceiving,” Smith wrote. “Fortune never exerted more cruelly her empire over mankind than when she subjected those nations of heroes to the refuse of the jails of Europe, to wretches who possess the virtues neither of the countries which they come from, nor of those which they go to, and whose levity, brutality, and baseness, so justly expose them to the contempt of the vanquished.”
Smith endorsed the contempt that victims of slavery felt for their oppressors, and led his readers to feel that contempt as well.