… is from pages 188-189 of Deirdre McCloskey’s and Art Carden’s superb new (2020) book, Leave Me Alone and I’ll Make You Rich: How the Bourgeois Deal Enriched the World:
Adam Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments, like many modern novels, is about growing up, ethically speaking. In fact, liberalism is the political and economic and social theory of adulthood. The adult individual lives in a city, with his family, and respects his community, but exercises Kant’s “autonomy,” Greek for self-rule.
The other two of the great theories of society since 1776 are nationalism and socialism. If liberalism is the theory of being an adult, nationalism and socialism are nostalgic longings for the comforts of childhood. As Sigmund Freud noted, we long to return to the security of our father and mother. Nationalism reproduces our father, the king and country, for which we are willing to die. Socialism reproduces our mother, who will protect and nourish us.
DBx: So true. Yet of course – and as Deirdre and Art imply – father and mother here are imposters. Unlike genuine, loving parents, government is operated by people who are strangers to you. And they are much more interested, as JFK famously confessed in his inaugural address, in what you can do for them than in what they can do for you.
Just as actual children sometimes put their trust in dangerous strangers who offer candy, actual adults often childishly put their trust in dangerous strangers who offer glory, prosperity, security, safety – always some illusory state of fulfillment the pursuit of which will be deeply regretted.