Adam Smith Would Not Approve of Logan Roy

family rich and great power

Garret Edwards for AdamSmithWorks

During Succession’s first season, Adam Smith is explicitly referenced when in a social gathering some guests are discussing the ideas of Smith and Karl Marx. Scotland itself was bound to appear in a later episode when the Roy clan visits Dundee for a triumphal celebration of Logan Roy’s life achievements...It is also a commentary on power and corruption...
Logan Roy is a complex and enigmatic figure, a powerful businessman and the patriarch of a wealthy and influential family. He is the CEO and founder of Waystar Royco, a media conglomerate that he built from the ground up and which has made him one of the richest and most powerful men in the world. He is also one of the main characters, if not the main character, portrayed by Brian Cox on HBO’s Succession, a hit TV show which has recently entered its final season and that has proven that some conversations can be even more tense than explosions and fireworks.
Roy is a man of immense charisma and charm, able to command the attention of those around him with his quick wit and imposing presence. He can also be ruthless and calculating, willing to do whatever it takes to maintain his grip on power and control of his company. Throughout the show, and this is not a spoiler, Roy struggles to uphold his position of authority within his family and company, as his children—Kendall, Roman, Shiv, and Connor—and colleagues jockey for power and seek to undermine his. A deeply flawed and morally compromised figure, Roy is willing to sacrifice anything and anyone to preserve his hold on power.
While Logan Roy’s birthplace is never specified on the show, it is established that he is Scottish, having grown up with his brother Ewan and his late sister Rose in Dundee before moving to North America. We know very little of Logan Roy’s own father, who is scarcely mentioned and unexplored, and whose fate is never explicitly stated. It is implied that Logan’s father was also a businessman who founded the enterprise that now his son leads, having started the company from nothing and passed it on to Logan to continue his legacy. What would another famous Scottish fellow think of Logan Roy? Adam Smith’s father passed away shortly before Adam’s birth and due to his father’s death, he was raised by his mother, Margaret Douglas, and his maternal uncles. Many a thing has been written about how his father’s death affected young Adam, and how that may have had a profound impact on his intellectual and philosophical development. In particular, when it comes to Smith’s writings on the importance of empathy and sympathy in human behavior, which could be interpreted as having been influenced by his own experiences of loss and grief. But would Adam Smith approve of Logan Roy’s actions?
In his book The Theory of Moral Sentiments, Smith explores the nature of human emotions and how they relate to moral behavior. While some might think that emotions are weaknesses, Smith argues that they are actually essential to our humanity. Smith suggests that even when we recognize that someone’s affection or kindness is excessive, we do not view it with aversion. 
Those amiable passions, even when they are acknowledged to be excessive, are never regarded with aversion. There is something agreeable in the weakness of friendship and humanity.
There seems to be something inherently attractive about these emotions. We may look upon a too-tender mother or a too-generous friend with a mixture of love and pity, but never with hatred or contempt. This is because extreme humanity is something that we cannot help but find endearing, even if we recognize that it may not be practical in the world around us.
On the other hand, Smith notes that emotions like hatred and resentment are universally detestable. A person who is prone to these negative emotions is often viewed as a wild beast, someone who should be banished from civil society. In contrast, the natural sympathy that we feel for others is a positive emotion that is universally admired. When someone defends themselves or seeks punishment for wrongs done to them, we applaud their actions and often want to help them.
Smith also explains that our sympathy and affection are strongest for our children. This is because, in the natural order of things, the child is entirely dependent on the parent for survival. This creates a bond that is difficult to break, even as the child grows into adulthood. While we may feel respect and gratitude towards our own parents, our tenderness and concern are usually directed more towards our own children. He goes on to suggest that what we call affection is really just habitual sympathy: we care about the happiness and well-being of those who are close to us because we are used to feeling this way. This is why we expect—and are expected—to feel a certain degree of affection for our family members, but we do not necessarily feel—or are expected to fee—the same way about strangers.
During Succession’s first season, Adam Smith is explicitly referenced when in a social gathering some guests are discussing the ideas of Smith and Karl Marx. Scotland itself was bound to appear in a later episode when the Roy clan visits Dundee for a triumphal celebration of Logan Roy’s life achievements. At its core, Succession is a show with richly drawn and complex characters, with each member of the Roy family grappling with their own demons and ambitions. It is also a commentary on power and corruption, and a riveting and addictive drama that draws viewers every Sunday night in order to find out what is next for each of the characters. While I will refrain from spoiling what is undoubtedly the most important moment so far in its fourth season, Smith would certainly have something to say if we follow this quotation: 
“The man who should feel no more for the death or distress of his own father or son than those of any other man’s father or son, would appear neither a good son nor a good father. Such unnatural indifference, far from exciting our applause, would incur our highest disapprobation.”
Does Logan Roy love his children? Do they love him back? Even if Logan Roy told us himself that he loves Kendall, Roman, Shiv and Connor, or one of them, or some of them, we could never be sure. Smith already told us that we can know what someone expresses, but what is in their minds is inscrutable and ineffable to us. What we can see and analyze are someone’s actions, besides their sayings. Logan Roy has kept showing us each passing episode his complete disregard for his children, and his decidedness to do whatever it takes to achieve his goals. However, there also moments when one could argue that he displays a genuine concern for his family and those around him, even if those moments are scarce and far between. Adam Smith would not approve of Logan Roy, but he might have enjoyed it as much as he enjoyed Shakespeare’s plays.

Want more?
Sarah Skwire's Adam Smith’s Slips and the End of Othello
Sarah Skwire and Aeon Skoble's Adam Smith Goes to the Movies: The Avengers
Joy Buchanan's Freedom and Work in Severance

Want to discuss William Shakespeare's work? We have a WHOLE reading group just for that led by Sarah Skwire at the Online Library of Liberty.
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