… is from page 222 of University of Arizona philosopher David Schmidtz’s superb essay “Adam Smith on Freedom,” which is chapter 13 in Ryan Patrick Hanley, ed., Adam Smith: His Life, Thought, and Legacy (2016):
True benevolence does not embrace an ideal of suppressing self-love; it instead embraces an ideal of guiding self-love to constructive rather than destructive ends.
Private-property markets – in which each individual adult is free to contract or not as he or she judges best, but with only his or her own money, time, and reputation at stake – channel self-interested actions toward the genuine assistance of others. (I say “genuine assistance of others” to make clear that, in private-property markets, officious do-gooders are not allowed to inflict their notions of what is good upon unwilling others.) In contrast, the political arena is nothing if not one in which self-interest is pursued, at best, without regard for others and, much more commonly, at the expense of others.
Even a ten-year-old child understands that an armed robber makes himself better off through his robbery only by making his victims worse off, while a merchant makes herself better off only by making her customers and suppliers (including her employees) better off. Yet many adults continue to fancy that the state – which gets what it wants by threatening violence on others – is somehow a uniquely enlightened agency for mutual betterment. A great fiction at work here is that, if enough people cast ballots every few years, then allowing those individuals who win the elections to use force to order other individuals about somehow makes this collective use of force fundamentally different from the armed-robbers’ use of force. But this belief is indeed without justification.
True benevolence, therefore, embraces efforts to constrain the state as much as possible so that the space and scope for private, voluntary actions expands as much as possible.