The Simplified Wealth of Nations of Adam Smith, Book 5, Chapter 1u: Austere vs Liberal Morals
Chapter 1u: Austere vs Liberal Morals
In every civilized society which has the distinction of ranks, there were always two systems of morality.
- The strict or austere
- This is generally admired and revered by the common people.
- The liberal or loose system
- The loose is commonly more esteemed and adopted by people of fashion.
- The vices of levity is apt to arise from great prosperity.
- It leads to the excess of gaiety and good humour.
- Our disapproval of levity is the principal distinction between those two opposite systems.
- In the loose system, the following are generally treated with much indulgence and are easily excused or pardoned:
- wanton and even disorderly amusement
- the less-restrained pursuit of pleasure
- the breach of chastity which do not lead to gross indecency, falsehood or injustice
- In the strict system, those excesses are extremely abhorred and detested.
- The vices of levity are always ruinous to common people
- A single week's thoughtlessness and dissipation is often sufficient to:
- undo a poor workman forever, and
- drive him to commit enormous crimes.
- Wise common people always abhor and detest such excesses.
- Their experience reminds them of its immediate fatality to people of their condition.
- On the contrary, the disorder and extravagance of several years will not always ruin a man of fashion.
- Those people consider excess as their advantage and looseness as one of the privileges of their fortune.
- They regard such excesses with a slight disapproval.
Almost all religious sects began among the common people from whom they drew their earliest and most numerous proselytes.
- The austere system of morality was adopted by those sects.
- It best recommend their reformation plan to those common people.
- Most of them gained credit by refining this austere system to the point of folly.
- This excessive rigour gave them more of the respect and veneration of the common people.
A man of rank and fortune is a distinguished member of a great society.
- Society attends to every part of his conduct.
- It obliges him to attend to his own conduct himself.
- His authority and consideration depend very much on the respect of his society.
- He dares not do anything which would disgrace or discredit him.
- He is obliged to strictly observe the moral system approved by his society for persons of his rank and fortune.
- On the contrary, a man of low condition is not distinguished in any great society.
- While he remains in a country village, his conduct may be attended to.
- He may be obliged to attend to it himself.
- Only in this situation does he have a character to lose.
- But as soon as he comes into a great city he is sunk in obscurity and darkness.
- No one observes or attends to his conduct.
- He will very likely neglect it himself and abandon himself to vice.
- He never emerges from this obscurity until he becomes a member of a small religious sect.
- He then acquires some consideration he never had before.
- All his fellow sect members are interested to observe his conduct.
- He is liable to be punished or expelled from the sect if he enters any scandal.
- In little religious sects, the common people's morals were always remarkably regular and orderly.
- The morals of those little sects were generally more regular than in the established church but were frequently disagreeably rigorous and unsocial.
Next: Chapter 1w: How to solve moral conflicts