The Malevolent Invisible Hand
By Bryan Caplan
Lately my colleague Dan Klein has presented new evidence that the “invisible hand” was more central to Adam Smith’s thought that most scholars now believe. Perhaps that’s why this passage from Will and Ariel Durant jumped out at me. It’s a discussion of the ultramontanist philosopher de Maistre:
“War is divine, since it is a law of the world” – permitted by God through all history. Wild animals obey this rule. “Periodically an exterminating angels comes and clears away thousands of them.” “Humanity can be considered as a tree that an invisible hand is continually pruning, often to its benefit… A great deal of bloodshed is often connected with high population.” [emphasis mine]
I was curious about what the Durants left out in the ellipses. It makes de Maistre sound worse! “In truth the tree may perish if the trunk is cut or if the tree is overpruned; but who knows the limits of the human tree?” [emphasis original] I can almost hear him cackling with maniacal glee. Who knew the invisible hand metaphor would have such broad appeal?