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Ben Wattenberg: Hello, I’m Ben Wattenberg. Only three centuries ago, Scotland was a primitive country still home to savages living in huts, barbaric wars, and witch trials. But not long after, Scottish philosophers created a common sense approach to the study of political economy, one whose reverberations are still being felt around the globe, now more powerfully than ever. Just what did the Scottish enlightenment contribute to America and to the world? To find out more, Think Tank is joined by Arthur Herman, Historian, coordinator of the Smithsonian’s Western Heritage Program, and author of How the Scots Invented the Modern World: The True Story of How Western Europe’s Poorest Nation Created Our World and Everything In It; and Robert Galvin, Retired Chairman of the Board of Motorola and author of America’s Founding Secret: What the Scottish Enlightenment Taught Our Founding Fathers. The topic before the house: Great Scots! This week on Think Tank. Gentlemen, thank you for joining us. As you could gather from the introductory piece, we’re gonna talk about the Scottish Enlightenment. Arthur, why don’t you start us off and tell us what we’re talking about when we say the Scottish Enlightenment.
Arthur Herman: Well, what we’re really talking about is a period of time and a group of men, largely…
Ben Wattenberg: What’s the timeframe?
Arthur Herman: Dates vary, but we’ll say from about Fif…Seventeen Twenty right down to about Seventeen Ninety five is usually when the Scottish Enlightenment comes to an end with…when you have the…by then the key figures of it, David Hume, Adam Smith, William Robertson are dead. But within that, say seventy five year period, you have a group of men, writers, theologians, but also historians, scholars, philosophers and so on who really create what I argue in my book are the basic categories and assumptions that still govern the way in which we think about modern society and modern civilization right down to today.
Ben Wattenberg: And Bob, not by accident, during that time window a little country called the United States of America is founded, and is there a relationship between the two?
Robert Galvin: There’s a distinctive relationship and very little understood by our typical citizen. Robert Galvin: It’s an untold story except scholars like Doctor Herman are telling it beautifully now, but what happened was that the wisdom that was being generated by these enlightened who had been brewing for some three hundred years, obviously the last generation came what he spoke of it that wisdom came across the sea and caused…our founding fathers incrementally were taught things that caused…that we had the finest constitutionally founding a country ever in the history of man.
Ben Wattenberg: That’s pretty good, bravo. Let’s go into reverse for a minute and spend just a couple of minutes on describing what Scotland was before the Enlightenment. We’ve talked there about barbarism and witch trials and mercenaries. Just either of you, could give me a little flavor?
Arthur Herman: Scotland up until the key break…
Ben Wattenberg: I mean, it’s a northern cold almost barren area. I have not been there, but…
Arthur Herman: Yeah. Absolutely, absolutely, and it is one which draws tourists today ‘cause it’s so beautiful, you know, sort of this rugged landscape of the highlands which…
Ben Wattenberg: And there are a lot of good golf courses.
Arthur Herman: …covers even the golf courses, which covers a lot of…almost half of the entire landmass of Scotland. But the point is that that’s also land, which was very unproductive. You have a population, which is very, very small even relative to other poor countries of Western Europe.
Ben Wattenberg: What about two million at the time of the Enlightenment?
Arthur Herman: Even less than that. I mean to really break the two million mark in the Eighteenth for a long time they couldn’t.
Ben Wattenberg: I see.
Arthur Herman: And you have in the low…you have in the highlands, you have a society which is dominated by warring clans who are engaged in constant internecine warfare and who live in a kind of systematic poverty of basically of a pastoral hunter/gatherer societies.
Ben Wattenberg: These huts we’re talking about didn’t have floors. They were just…
Arthur Herman: They didn’t have floors. They were made out of dirt…
Ben Wattenberg: …made out of dirt.
Arthur Herman: …basically the bothy, the classic bothy. It’s a very, very primitive…
Ben Wattenberg: And the animal came into the huts?
Robert Galvin: Yeah, absolutely.
Arthur Herman: It’s very primitive existence even by pre industrial pre modern European standards or any kind of standard. It makes the clan in Afghanistan, for example, look positively affluent by comparison. Then in the southern half, in the lowlands where you have Edinburgh, the capitol and Glasgow, and you do have productive agricultural areas. There you had a culture in society firmly in the grip of a Scottish Presbyterian kirk which was deeply intolerant of any degree of dissent of any sort of stepping out of line with a very strict Calvinist, an austere Calvinist discipline the church imposed.
Ben Wattenberg: Except they themselves were an offshoot of Catholicism, part of the Reformation. They broke away themselves. Is that right?
Arthur Herman: That’s right. Through John Knox.
Ben Wattenberg: Through John Knox?
Arthur Herman: Through John Knox to Calvinism.
Ben Wattenberg: And then they were intolerant of everyone else?
Arthur Herman: Yeah. They are in a sense sort of…
Ben Wattenberg: They hung that young eighteen-year-old guy. What was his name?
Arthur Herman: Thomas Aikenhead.
Ben Wattenberg: Thomas Aikenhead
Arthur Herman: …for blasphemy. Blasphemy brought a death sentence. I mean there is a kind of Scottish Taliban regime that it’s in place.
Ben Wattenberg: Yeah. And the thing he said, I was just…
Arthur Herman: But as I pointed out in the book, it was really the last hurrah of these Calvinist Ayatollahs because the change was already under way. Cultural change was already coming to Scotland through the universities primarily, and it’s the union with England in 1707, the formation of a United Kingdom. We still call it the United Kingdom, Great Britain, that really breaks down the last barriers, intellectual, social, economic barriers that really brings now Scotland into the modern world for the first time.
Ben Wattenberg: Okay. Now let’s move the clock forward a little bit. These ideas both through the written word and in growing numbers through immigration hit the thirteen
Arthur Herman: Then that’s the key.
Ben Wattenberg: …and hit the thirteen colonies. What happens?
Robert Galvin: Doctor Herman speaks of the great reformation effect, the effects in the kirk. Well, because there was this tremendous rivalry among the churches, they were seeking in effect market share, and they saw the possibility that because the colonies had some of the same problems that they were having with people in London, maybe they could bring an improved accessibility and success of their church in the colonies, so they sent a raft of ministers, parsons, etc., to come and in effect engage in an evangelical effort, but there wasn’t much money in that, so they became tutors, and they took the wisdom of the Scottish Enlightened thinkers, and extolled to Jefferson, to Hamilton, to Madison, etc., who are all being trained…they were teaching our young people the things that were the wisdom of this marvelous group of intellectuals.
Ben Wattenberg: In a nutshell, what were they saying? What was Adam Smith saying? What was David Hume saying? What’s the idea that’s driving it?
Robert Galvin: The biggest thing that came out of the Scottish Enlightenment as it impacted our country was an understanding of the principles of property. Property is resource. Resource is the basis of having an affordable society. Business is the wealth creator of our society, and these scholars were the first to in effect package an intelligent commonsense understanding of the importance of property and its civil management by a civil government.
Arthur Herman: The key for Hume and Smith though is that it, in fact, modern democrats say is itself a function of that improvement, of that human progress that arrive at that the process of the unleashing of self interest through economic processes that we call capitalism, which they called commercial society, that commercial society breeds in human beings a independence of mind and ability to make and to judge the world, judge what’s right and what’s wrong, to make decisions for themselves and that’s the fundamental thing that you need if you’re gonna have a working democracy. And you have to have people…but they called…it’s a term that they called was “modern liberty”. That the ancient Greeks and Romans had lived under a system of ancient liberty which did involve in a sense a system of self governance, but it was one that was in the end restricted to a small elite within the society in the midst of great poverty and a great lack of opportunity for others. Modern liberty, modern democracy is itself a function of the growth of modern society through its capitalist commercial processes and enterprises.
Ben Wattenberg: Moving through that whole era of the Nineteenth Century or early Twentieth Century, who are the great Scots? I saw that, in something I was reading that Jessie Chisholm of the Chisholm Trail was Scotch. Who else are we talking about?
Robert Galvin: Pittcaren, for an example. Pittsburgh’s plate glass, big philanthropist also, but there are just oodles of them that are active today, generations of Scots.
Arthur Herman: How about Sam Houston, the founder of the Texas Republic.
Ben Wattenberg: Davey Crockett…Davey Crockett.
Arthur Herman: David Crockett. George Dallas also. Dallas, Texas named after him. A lot of the key figures…
Ben Wattenberg: Kit Carson.
Arthur Herman: Kit Carson as well. You mentioned Jessie Chisholm. Scots also play a key role in the early Nineteenth Century Industrial Revolution too in this country, and they can…one scholar has described them as the shock troops of modernization in America.
Ben Wattenberg: Well, I mean, you go back into Scottish history and the person who gave us the steam engine is James Watt and so… I mean it’s that kind of thing. Now…
Arthur Herman: But it’s also his workers too, because what they bring even the poorest Scots who come to America what they bring is first of all a high rate of literacy, certainly by comparison to say, Irish immigrants, a much higher rate of literacy. And then too also, a high degree of kind of cultural adaptability. This seems to be one of the gifts that the Scots have gotten is many complicated reasons what we could analyze to arrive at it, but the Scots always prove themselves able to serve as the middlemen between different cultures and different diverse ethnic groups in a society here to fit in and to find a role for themselves and become productive in it, and very often in the early Nineteenth Century, industrial managers in this country would turn to their Scottish workers first and show them…
Ben Wattenberg: Who showed …discipline. I mean, that was then.
Arthur Herman: …and use them to train the others. And the next thing you know they become the foreman on the shop floor, and the next thing you know, they’re able to save enough money to start their own enterprise as Carnegie did.
Ben Wattenberg: And the next thing you know in the Nineteen Twenties, Bob Galvin’s father starts Motorola. But, let me ask you a question. It’s let’s say the 1950s or the 1960s or the 1970s. Motorola’s headquarters in the Chicago area.
Robert Galvin: It is.
Ben Wattenberg: And the stock keeps going up and up and up. What would be the example of things that you as a CEO with this understanding and it’s an understanding that’s in the bones of, as you point out, many American business innovators. What do they know that the other guy doesn’t know?
Robert Galvin: Well, this is very basic, sir, and that is that the Scots gave us the recipe to initiate activities in what they call the useful life, the useful activities. They didn’t have the word business in those times, and when we practiced the principles that gave us the right to manage our own properties honorably at a profit then we could build societies around the world. In my case without realizing I was ever gonna write a book about the Scottish Enlightenment, one of the places that we were attracted to reinvest and to, therefore, build the country of Scotland in the Sixties, Seventies, and Eighties was to invest in high technology businesses in Scotland. Why? The people there, the remainder people there were outstanding technical people, outstanding workers and great associates, so kind of those things integrate.
Arthur Herman: The key break with the Scottish Enlightenment really brings to bear, and this focuses exactly on this point is the issue of self interest. Classical moral philosophy we talked about at the beginning. Classical moral philosophy begins with the assumption that the pursuit of self interest is fundamentally a bad thing. That what we need to dedicate ourselves to as individuals in order to be moral, in order to be useful citizens is to the pursuit of the…
Ben Wattenberg: Yeah, they’re called the merchants, parasites, and profiteers.
Arthur Herman: That’s right. Parasites and profiteers, but any pursuit of any kind of selfish interests that our main focus must be instead on the public good. It must be to living up to a moral code which involves a suppression of our own self interest in relationship to others. What David Hume does is he shows that far from being this great sort of dangerous weapon, although it can be, that self interest is, in fact, the driving engine of change and progress. The free market is more than just a place where goods are exchanged, that the free market is really the clearing house of civilization because civilization is about exchanged, self interested exchange between customer and business person, between consumer and producers but also the exchange of ideas among scientists, among intellectuals within the larger culture as a whole. That’s the focus that the Scottish Enlightenment gives us, the role of self interest as this driving creative productive force in society.
Ben Wattenberg: Why is it that these Scottish ideas of markets and capitalism found such a fertile field in the United States and our only grudgingly given in Europe?
Arthur Herman: You know, the Scots included France very much as part of the modern commercial societies, as is their neighbor to the south England was, but the French Enlightenment and, of course, the enlightenment, we think about enlightenment, you usually think of the French Enlightenment, takes a slightly different turn because that is one which, and it was one that, I think, saddened the later figures of the Scottish Enlightenment to see it under way, because it was one that tended to also recognize the need for, you know, the fact that human improvement was possible, that modern society did represent a major advance over the types of economic and political systems that existed before. But the French Enlightenment tends to put its faith not in individuals or entrepreneurs but at those who hold power at the top whether they were a monarchical government, as someone like Voltaire did or a revolutionary as happens later as the French Enlightenment morphs into the French Revolution. And it’s two fundamental different points of view, two different views of the future that emerge out of the French Enlightenment, which is one in which a large centralized state is able to bring about and transform society by dictating by enlightened and legislation and guidance versus a Scottish Enlightenment view which says this is ultimately about advocates of individuals pursuing their own self interest and that those two distinct visions have shaped our future in the history of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Century ways in a really extraordinary degree. And you could argue that the Cold War was in many ways a confrontation of the principles of the Scottish Enlightenment embedded in American values and in institutions of America and its allies versus the French Enlightenment with its inheritance uh, that it passed on to Karl Marx and to the utopian socialists in the Nineteenth Century and then on to the vision of the Soviet Union and that Communism brought as to what human improvement was about.
Ben Wattenberg: Let me just ask you something as a closing aspect of this. These ideas that we have been talking about uh, the value of markets and commerce, horizontally across the human experience, the idea of leadership but of and elected by people through democratic means became flaming hot in the 80s and 90s, and now in 2003, although we’re in sort of a bubble breaking period, and these as we would have it here today these Scottish ideas have not only influenced America but when we talk about globalization, they are spreading around the world. Now my final question, let’s go to you first Bob, and then to you Arthur. Is this gonna continue?
Robert Galvin: I advocate in my book that if we see how well these simple people starting in Fifteen Hundred achieved their intent of improving leadership that had all the functions and values that Doctor Herman has just recited, why can’t we take this same thesis to some twenty or twenty five other countries that have to be upgradable, and could learn from principles, such as we learned from our Founding Fathers. Let me just give you one last such principle. You speak of the need for a civil society. Well, who has the right to determine if a law is constitutional or not. The Scots taught us that the courts should have that right. And the Scottish courts had that right until Seventeen Hundred and Seven. The Brits in effect a law stays on the book until they decided they will in their Parliament do away with the law. There is no basis for the courts to have the senior impact of determining constitutionality.
Ben Wattenberg: And when companies like Motorola or IBM or Texas Instruments or whoever goes to a new country, they want to see a legal system in place, they want to see regulations and transparency that lets them know what’s going on behind the books. So these are the same principles so that if those twenty or thirty companies want to join the parade they got to stick with the principles.
Robert Galvin: They should stick with the principles, and I think that as a country, we can have an intent and have a process that would help to inculcate that into more and more countries. Individually, people like myself have had such anecdotal influence in a variety of countries in our roles in international trade, because we can help make those countries more competitive if they follow some of the principles that you’ve just alluded to.
Arthur Herman: I can answer that question in…
Ben Wattenberg: How is the future gonna go?
Arthur Herman: I can answer it in a slightly different way, and I would say that what the Scottish Enlightenment…I would agree with what the Scots say themselves in the Eighteenth Century and that is is that it will go on this way because we have no choice. The genie is out of the bottle. That once people around the world, outside of the western industrialized societies. It’s already taking place around us. Once they get a taste of what it is that commercial society, the forces, the energies, the productive capacities of capitalism and the satisfactions that it brings of wants and needs satisfied in ways that have never been made possible before, you won’t be able to stop it. The genie is out of the bottle.
Ben Wattenberg: Notwithstanding its downside that…
Arthur Herman: It’s downsides. The Scots all recognize that no one understood the weaknesses of capitalism better than Adam Smith. No one understood the dangers of unleashed…
Ben Wattenberg: But I mean, we are called in some places the great Satan. I mean, you know…
Arthur Herman: That’s right. Exactly. And…
Ben Wattenberg: …because of the coarseness, the inquisitiveness…
Arthur Herman: …and so on. But just as at the beginning of the Eighteenth Century, you had the sort of Scottish Taliban fighting against the forward progress of their own society trying to shore up the wall of a rigid religious view of life and control over their culture, so also too you see, this is of struggle, shore up the wall against this inevitable sort of flood which this new kind of society, the society that had taken hold of Scotland in the Eighteenth Century. Hume and Smith saw it take place. They watched the changes in their own Scotland and believing as they did that human nature is the same at all times in all places, they knew it would happen in other societies too and we’re living through it now.
Ben Wattenberg: Okay. Avanti! Thank you very much, Arthur Herman, Robert Galvin, and thank you for joining us. Please remember to send us your comments via e mail. They help us make our program better. For Think Tank, I’m Ben Wattenberg.
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