This of the Wealth of Nations, Smith

This passage appears in the final chapter
of Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments.
The emphasis on the “faculty of speech” follows from his Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres which were first delivered
in Edinburgh in the years 1748-1750. Seemingly, Smith ascribed an importance to
it that extended to both moral sentiment and the economy, for in the opening
chapter of the Wealth of Nations, Smith alludes to a “propensity to truck,
barter, and exchange” which acts almost as a follow-on from the passage which
features in the conclusion of TMS, seventeen years earlier.

Indeed, the “principle to persuade” is at
the centre of Smith’s works. He opens TMS with a chapter, On Sympathy, alluding in the first sentence to how man is
interested “in the fortune of others, and renders their happiness necessary to
him.” Whilst, in WN, Smith opens with the division of labour, “the greatest
improvement in the productive powers of labour.” Persuasion then is pivotal,
for without it humans are merely unremarkable animals.

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Smith attributes much importance to the
“faculty of speech”; it is an “appetite … endowed” by the “Author of nature” to
achieve nature’s “favourite ends”: “self-preservation, and the propagation of
the species.” Indeed, these “natural desires” almost reveal a Darwinian outlook
on nature, and Smith’s tendency to substitute ‘God’ for “Author of nature” and
other like identifiers implies his reluctance to attribute this phenomena to
God.

Perhaps Smith’s deviation from divinity is
best represented by his hesitation, as in the aforementioned passage where he
begins by stating, “If I may say so” and “if such an expression is allowable.”
This forewarns his intention to make a contentious opinion, or rather one that
has not commonly been made before. Certainly, it seems Smith could identify an
accord in human nature, as is evident when he describes how “in the eye of
nature … a child is a more important object than an old man, and excites … much
more … universal sympathy.”

            Arguably,
however, his understandings were not such that could transcend the
well-entrenched understanding of an ominous, deistic figure as an embodiment of
those “invisible chains which bind together all these disjointed objects.”
Indeed, it was not until the likes of Darwin one hundred years later, when
developed theories of natural selection were presented in On the Origin of Species, 1859.

This notion that it was a propensity, a natural tendency, to trade
underlies Smith’s delineation of “savage.” In fact, in some cruel way it
reinforces that prevalent view that slavery, for instance, was justified; if that
which distinguishes us from animals, the “faculty of speech”, is founded upon
the “desire of persuading” – itself resonant with the ability to “truck and
barter” – then failing to act on those instincts is necessarily animalistic. For
many of Smith’s contemporaries, such institutions as slavery were propagated
through custom; it is fathomable Smith’s denunciation of the savage, made evident
even from the outset of the Wealth of Nations – the introduction – was enough
to perpetuate the legitimacy of slavery in the minds of his readers, those
influential legislators.