The Strength of Nations

Saturday, February 20th, 2010

The Wealth of Nations is not necessarily The Strength of Nations:

Since the publication, in 1776, of Adam Smith’s immortal work on the “Wealth of Nations,” the wealth of nations has, in this country at least, engaged so much attention, that but little has been left for another quality of nations — their Strength; without which their wealth, with all its advantages, may be of little use, since it may be destroyed at any time with fearful rapidity. There appears to be a time in the history of all powerful nations at which, while their wealth goes on increasing, their strength begins to decline, till — to use the words of Bacon — it comes to “that, that not the hundredth poll will be fit for a helmet; and so there will be great population and little strength.”

And it is also well to bear in mind another remark of Bacon in the same Essay: “Neither is money the sinews of war (as it is trivially said) where the sinews of men’s arms in base and effeminate people are failing; for Solon said well to Croesus (when in ostentation he showed him his gold): ‘Sir, if any other comes that hath better iron than you, he will be master of all this gold.’” As soon as this current has fairly set in, unless its course can be arrested — which is a difficult if not an impossible operation — the decay of that nation has commenced, and will continue, till the time arrives when its strength is inadequate for its defence, and its wealth becomes the prey of an invader.

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