An Error of Civility

A letter to the editors of The American Conservative


August 17, 2020
To the editors: 

Julius Krein’s recent article, “Conservatism Is A Collection Of Losers. It Doesn’t Have To Be” contains several errors that we feel are in serious need of correction.

The first of these is an error of civility. While Mr. Krein is clearly familiar with our website--he refers slightingly to our virtual pin factory in his article--he does not provide readers with either a link or URL. We remedy that omission by mentioning here that readers can find our virtual pin factory at this link or by navigating to it from our site’s homepage, AdamSmithWorks.org.

Similarly, while we suspect that Mr. Krein may have had our documentary “An Animal That Trades”  as well as Johann Norberg’s “The Real Adam Smith,” and the Fraser Institute’s video series “The Essential Adam Smith” in mind when he criticized expensive and “mind numbing” Adam Smith documentaries, he mentions none of our sites or films by name. Again, we remedy that here by providing both links and titles. We share Mr. Krein’s distaste for “treacly articles on civility,” but we confess to being quite fond of the real thing, particularly when it involves sharing our work and the work of others whom we like and respect.

Next, we are content to attribute Mr. Krein’s dislike of our virtual pin factory and of our, and others’, documentaries about Adam Smith to what Smith would have called a difference in tastes arising from “the different degrees of attention which our different habits of life allow us to give.” That said, it is worth noting that “An Animal that Trades” has been viewed many thousands of times, so there seem to be some whose tastes are more aligned with ours than with Mr. Krein’s.

Mr Krein’s assertion that a devotion to ideas is merely the result of “irrelevance with respect to matters of practical importance” might be improved by a consideration of the enormous practical utility of much of the material at AdamSmithWorks. We provide lesson plans on economic and philosophic aspects of Smith’s work for students from the elementary years through college. When COVID-19 shutdowns hit, we were early and active providers of even more lesson plans for online teaching, as well as a series of articles of advice for teachers who suddenly needed to move all their lessons online. We are devoted to ideas, but we are also devoted to seeing those ideas in action in classrooms.

Most gravely in need of correction, however, is Mr. Krein’s assumption that the work that we are doing at AdamSmithWorks is “conservative,” and that it fails as a project insofar as it does not help conservatives achieve their political goals. Mr Krein clearly has a political stance. We do not. Our goal is to encourage the study and discussion of Adam Smith and his works at all ages and across all lines of party or faction. If we do that we are fulfilling our goals, regardless of how, or if, our readers vote. If we were to label our site as “conservative” or “progressive” or with any other descriptor of political party or preference, we would decrease the number of people who visit and the number of people who know about Adam Smith and engage with his work and ideas.

Amy Willis
Director of AdamSmithWorks.org

Sarah Skwire
Senior Web Editor, AdamSmithWorks.org


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