“Since therefore the knowledge and survey of vice is in this world so necessary to the constituting of human virtue, and the scanning of error to the confirmation of truth, how can we more safely, and with less danger, scout into the regions of sin and falsity than by reading all manner of tractates and hearing all manner of reason? And this is the benefit which may be had of books promiscuously read.” -- John Milton, Areopagitica (1644)

Adam Smith Across Nations: Translations and Receptions of the Wealth of Nations

Adam Smith Across Nations: Translations and Receptions of the Wealth of Nations - Cheng-chung Lai Adam Smith

This fine collection of scholarly essays examines the translations and receptions of Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations (WN) in 10 non-English-speaking countries -- China, Japan, Denmark, Sweden, France, Germany, Italy, Portugal, Spain, and Russia -- and the applications of Smith's economic ideas of across nations, cultures and ideological boundaries.

Translation Speed
The speed with which WN was translated into major European languages may have owed much to Smith's previous book, The Theory of Moral Sentiments (TMS). TMS was published in 1759, and the first translation of TMS was published in French in 1764. The first translation of WN came out in German in 1776, in the same year as WN was published.

Number of Translations
Japan has the most (14) translations of WN, whereas Czechoslovakia, Egypt, Finland, Holland, and Turkey each has only one version.
Sweden bestows Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, but it doesn't yet have a complete translation of WN (because most Swedish intellectuals can read English-language works?).
Germany, Japan and Spain all show a continuous interest in WN.
In countries where there is only one translation, it's generally a selective or abridged one.

Motives for Translation
1) The desire to learn from England's experience as a powerful empire (China, Russia, Spain);
2) a strong inclination towards free trade (Portugal, Brazil);
3) intellectual rather than practical interest (Denmark, Norway, France, Germany).
The case of Japan combines all three motives.

Methods of Transmission
1) direct translation (by those who knew Smith personally);
2) conveyance of Smith's ideas into another country (two Russian students studied with Smith at Glasgow University and brought his ideas back to Russia);
3) assimilation of WN into one's own system of economic discourse (France).

Problems of Translation
1) false editions (based on non-English text);
2) unidentified translations;
3) censorship (Spain);
4) traduttore, traditore (rewriting rather than faithful translation in China).

Cross-country comparative study of the receptions of, and objections to, WN is fragmentary and superficial
1) It's difficult to say exactly how much of Smith's apparent influence on the European continental free trade movement was in reality due to other liberal thinkers;
2) it's equally difficult to separate the practical influences from the scientific ones, since economic thought affects both science and practice;
3) it's even more difficult to distinguish in what proportion Smith's influence on the European continent was due to his ideas, and to what degree it was due to his style, and the charming personality it expressed.

5 topics are selected to illustrate the complicated issue of receptions
1) difficulties of receptions [the general intellectual and economic environment was not yet mature enough to receive Smith's theories; resistance to Smithianism by the dominant current of economic thought → Cameralism in Germany];
2) WN's impact on decision-makers...turned out to be fairly limited;
3) the free trade and laissez-faire doctrine as the most received message...not evenly spread across countries
> Italy → liberalism & free trade;
> Portugal → division of labor and freedom in production & trade;
> Russia → natural freedom of industry & refrainment of government intervention;
> Spain → greater freedom in colonies;
4) the lack of interest in Smith's theoretical investigation [most of the countries except France gave little attention to other important issues raised in WN besides free trade -> education, public debt, capital accumulation, division of labor, etc.];
5) receptions of WN by Marxist readers [left-wing economists in China, Japan, and Russia dismissed WN as bourgeois and outdated → heavily influenced by Marxist tradition of economics].

Objections to WN
Harsh objections to Smith's free trade and laissez-faire principle were voiced in Russia, Germany, China, Spain, and Sweden.

Smith had great scientific success and little direct influence on economic policies of these 10 countries during the past two centuries; his contribution was more at the level of ideas than of real policy.
France, Italy, and Spain developed their first ideas of free trade ahead of Adam Smith.
The idea of free trade spread across the European continent through the works of the physiocrats rather than WN.
In non-European countries such as China and Japan, it was certainly through WN that the ideas of free trade and laissez-faire were transmitted.

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