The Rhetorical Structure of Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations (and the Importance of Acknowledging It)

45 Pages Posted: 25 Feb 2014 Last revised: 30 Apr 2018

Andreas Ortmann

UNSW Australia Business School, School of Economics

Benoit Walraevens

Université de Caen Basse Normandie

Date Written: January 10, 2015

Abstract

Analyzing the rhetorical structure of The Wealth of Nations (Smith WN) and its context, 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 most accounts of Smith’s oeuvre (even, most recently, in the outstanding Phillipson 2010) but which in our reading is, rather than a general treatise on optimal taxation and spending, a book focused on the future of an empire being threatened by a Mercantilist system. The Empire in question was, of course, the British one. Book V follows Book IV, in which Smith -- after having documented the slow and unnatural progress of opulence in, among others, England and Scotland in Book III – had undertaken a “very violent attack” (Smith EPS p. 208; Smith Corr. p. 251) on those responsible for the low growth rates (“opulence”) in Scotland and, even more, England: manufacturers and merchants and those politicians who propagated Mercantilist philosophies and practices of the commercial class. Aware that those he targeted would not take kindly to the attack, Smith made his case against the Mercantilist system as well as its colonial policy by marshaling his earlier insights into rhetorical theory and practice. We explain why and how he organized his attack.

Keywords: Adam Smith, The 'Wealth of Nations', rhetoric, rhetorical structure of The 'Wealth of Nations'

JEL Classification: B10, B12, C70, C72

Suggested Citation

Ortmann, Andreas and Walraevens, Benoit, The Rhetorical Structure of Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations (and the Importance of Acknowledging It) (January 10, 2015). UNSW Business School Research Paper No. 2014-11A. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2400770 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2400770

Andreas Ortmann (Contact Author)

UNSW Australia Business School, School of Economics ( email )

High Street
Sydney, NSW 2052
Australia

Benoit Walraevens

Université de Caen Basse Normandie ( email )

Esplanade de la Paix
Caen, 14000
France

Register to save articles to
your library

Register

Paper statistics

Downloads
171
rank
156,639
Abstract Views
968
PlumX