The Jural Relationships and a Case For Esotericism: Three Essays on Adam Smith

Jonathon Henry Diesel

Advisor: Daniel B Klein, PhD, Department of Economics

Committee Members: Donald J. Boudreaux, Garett Jones

Buchanan Hall, #D100
April 18, 2017, 10:30 AM to 07:30 AM


The dissertation offers deeper understanding of Adam Smith.  The first two chapters relate to Smith’s political theory.  I explore in greater detail Smith’s view on authority, both of government and of leaders within non-governmental social affairs.  In the first paper, “Two Superiors, Two Jural Relationships in Adam Smith,” I begin with Smith’s use of the noun superior.  In The Theory of Moral Sentiments Smith uses it in multiple ways. A comparative superior is one, like Sir Isaac Newton, who is superior in a specific quality or characteristic; the rules of (commutative) justice apply equally to the comparative superior and the comparative inferior. But, Smith identifies another kind of superior, the jural superior, which he associates with “the laws of all civilized nations”, “the civil magistrate”, “the sovereign”, and “a law-giver”. Smith’s “superior” talk reveals two jural relationships within his work. In addition to the equal-equal jural relationship, there is the superior-inferior jural relationship. I provide Smith’s taxonomy of “superior” within The Theory of Moral Sentiments.   

In the second paper, “A Call to Embrace Jural Dualism,” I continue exploring the jural relationships by highlighting the importance of embracing two jural relationships, which I call jural dualism.  I first establish that Smith is part of a larger tradition of embracing jural dualism.  I then discuss how humankind’s evolution has made us predisposed to revert from jural dualism to jural monism.  I suggest a deep-seated human unease with the superior-inferior relationship, and a corresponding urge to return to the one jural relationship, the equal-equal.  I then walk through how two modern ideologies strive to dispense with the superior-inferior jural relationship and to imagine jural monism. Anarchistic libertarianism construes the government as essentially a criminal jural equal, and points us to a world without a jural superior. Democratic socialism or social democracy embraces government but effectively construes it as a voluntary institution, a formation existing within the realm of equal-equal jural relationships.  I close by suggesting that we embrace jural dualism.  Doing so puts the coercive nature of the superior-inferior jural relationship out in the open, and enhances our aptitude to assess and argue for less bad forms of it. Reconciling ourselves to jural dualism, we practice more useful political discourse across.   

The third chapter, “Adam Smith on Usury: An Esoteric Reading,” approaches one of Smith’s most discussed exceptions to the liberty principle, and most apparent inconsistencies.  Numerous authors have noted, or attempted to reconcile, Smith’s endorsement of usury policy (ceilings on interest rates) with his system of natural liberty.  Almost all authors take Smith at face value.  Further, many of them read Smith from a modern perspective. To make sense of Smith’s words, I argue, Smith must be placed within the context of his political and religious landscape.  Given the religious underpinnings of usury policy, and its firm standing in the status quo, Smith wrote esoterically to protect his position as cultural royalty, and to ensure that his works remain viable in the public sphere.