“There is a great deal of suicide in a nation,” said Adam Smith of General Burgoyne’s defeat at Saratoga. I paraphrase. In fact, the ur-economist had just been told that the United Kingdom was ruined, not that it had committed suicide; for there had been no intention to beget the United States. There was “a great deal of ruin” in the homeland, Smith said, at which he then sniffed. After all, the British hadn’t finished acquiring India, yet. But the Whigs — and I hate them yesterday as today — had generally settled on a policy of self-destruction, varied with romantic, Imperial arrogance. They might be compared to an over-dramatic teenager, who attempts suicide a few times before she finally gets it right. It took Britain until the XXth century to elect socialists, and finally do herself in.

Adam Smith was, intellectually, a “liberal”; but a fiery Scotch moralist under the skin. Nothing wrong with that; liberals (unlike Whigs, the prototype Leftists) tend to be thoughtful, convivial people, who avoid making scenes. But no empire is won or lost because of their advice. The perfect liberal is a benevolent cricket umpire, I once thought, while he ignored my l.b.w.

“Play up! play up! and play the game!” is the contrary advice of the “Vitai Lampada.” To take one’s knocks, and one’s outs, and even the existential defeats with tranquil serenity, is not even slightly in conflict with this. In Mr. Smith’s drollness I detect the glimmer of the true Tory lightening rod. That’s why I still condescend to read him.