Nancy Seminar – Laurie Bréban (Paris 1)
From 11:00am to 12:30pm
Event details :
Title: “Remote Encounters of a Distant Kind: Natives and Westerners in Adam Smith’s International Thought“, co-written with Jean Dellemotte
Abstract: Our paper focuses on Adam Smith’s treatment of the relationship between colonists and the colonized. Smith’s discourse on this topic has mainly been considered through the question of whether he was, or was not, an avant-garde anti-colonial thinker. This is both an important and fascinating question, but we believe that it does not exhaust all discussion on the subject. The encounter between colonists and colonized in the eighteenth century is also the scene of a culture shock and of an analysis of the general relationships and comparisons likely to be established between what was customarily referred to in the Age of Enlightenment as “civilization,” “savagery” and “barbarism”. Here we distinguish two dimensions of this encounter: on the one hand, we find the actual encounter between European settlers and Natives, marked by the violence and dispossession suffered by the latter; on the other hand, we find the remote encounter – largely inspired by the travel accounts of missionaries, explorers, adventurers, etc. – between the European scholar and civilizations of which he could, actually, only be in physical contact with a handful of “specimens” imported into Europe by the explorers as travel booty in the same way as exotic animals. In what follows, we begin by examining what we call the remote encounter between the philosopher and overseas populations, that is, the various comparisons Smith made between Natives and Westerners in the Wealth of Nation, the Theory of Moral Sentiments and his Lectures on Jurisprudence. We observe that, while considering European nations as much more economically advanced than “savage” and “barbarous” nations, Smith contrasts the superior self-command of the Native with the greater tendency to humanity and compassion of the “civilized” man. We then turn to the actual encounter between Natives and Westerners and show that Smith was unequivocally critical of European colonialism, which he saw as essentially motivated by greed and dooming the conquered populations to “dreadful misfortunes”. Lastly, we explain why, for Smith, Europeans lost their virtues of humanity through contact with the overseas populations, in other words, how their love of domination overrode sympathy, and how he envisions to overcome this issue.