Adam Smith vs. the Federalists

So I recently had occasion to compare the writings of Adam Smith with those of some of the authors of the Federalist papers.

Smith wins on readability, oh how he wins.

I wonder if it was because Smith taught and so had to clarify his ideas and present them in a comparatively straight manner. “My thesis is thus. Here are examples. Here are supporting arguments. These lead to Point B. Here are examples and some background on why things developed in that fashion. Here is an argument against, but here is a counter argument. Which leads to…”

Then I moved to Federalist 10, 51, and 70 (based on material covered, which is why they are out of order and jump around so much, I’ll go back to others). My first thought was “This was written by a lawyer.” Federalist 10, the one that argues about factions, begins by seeming to wander into the weeds, then comes back to the point, then circles around in some flights of phrase before proposing that since factions will probably happen, and trying to prevent them is worse than the disease, the best thing is to limit their effects on society by balancing the majority and the minority.

Not all the Federalist papers are as round about, but you do get a bit of a sense that sometimes, the writers were showing off. Not that those opposed to the constitution as originally written were exactly terse. There are some flights of reasoning that make me feel for Theseus in the original labyrinth [no offense, Orvan].

These days, we forget that erudition was often a sign of authority, within limits, and that the writers needed to prove their credentials through language. Also, these are lawyers in some cases, writing for lawyers and those who had read some law.

Not that modern politicians and political thinkers are always models of concision and clarity…

3 thoughts on “Adam Smith vs. the Federalists

  1. Ambrose Bierce defined “erudition” in his Devil’s Dictionary:

    ERUDITION, n. Dust shaken out of a book into an empty skull.

    So wide his erudition’s mighty span,
    He knew Creation’s origin and plan
    And only came by accident to grief—
    He thought, poor man, ’twas right to be a thief.
    —Romach Pute

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