The Moon Phase Watch and Adam Smith’s Philosophy of History

adam smith "speaking of smith"

Graham McAleer for AdamSmithWorks
Does Smith's philosophy of history give in to the apocalyptic temptation to "immanentize the eschaton"? A clue it does not is the moon phase watch. 
A challenge to every philosophy of history is Eric Voegelin. He coined the phrase immanentizing the eschaton
In his 1952 classic, The New Science of Politics, Voegelin observed that modern politics keeps falling prey to utopian myth. He noted an eerie similarity between modern political ideals, like the classless society and laissez-faire, and the medieval apocalyptic theology of Joachim de Fiore (d. 1202). Joachim argued that history is a copy of the Trinity. The age of the Father was an age of law. The age of the Son the sacraments of the Church. However, both law and sacraments are terminated in the age of the Holy Spirit. In this age, state and church administration is supplanted, a spirit of play and child-like freedom prevailing. This is the end of history. Joachim prophesied that a spiritual leader would usher in the age of the Spirit. 
Voegelin contends that political ideals which purport to remove all tension from history repeat Joachim. Such politics immanentize the eschaton: they try to make the end of history real in the here and now. However, it is the human condition to live in the tension between order (cosmos and myth) and liberty (differentiation). To end history, is to end being human. 
This apocalyptic temptation is found not only in some political programs but in pop songs (John Lennon’s Imagine) and superhero movies (Black Panther). Does Smith’s philosophy of history give in to the temptation? 
A clue it does not is the moon phase watch. The watch has a little aperture on the dial inside of which is a moon--often playfully figuring a little face. Contemplating your watch, you observe how much of the moon shows in the window, then look at the night sky, and the waxing and waning ought to match. An ingenious mechanical system enclosed in a small space on your wrist is keyed to the heavens. Watch enthusiasts call it romantic. It illustrates Smith’s enchantment theory of history (WN III.i.3, p. 378).
The Wealth of Nations argues that the division of labor makes possible commercial civilizations: varied work specializations generate complex objects, like iPhones or high-end audio, like McIntosh. These refinements of the arts and sciences embellish human life and encourage hobbies and fascinations (differentiation). 
Marx contends that specialization leads to routinization. Tasks endlessly repeated deaden the human experience of work, resulting in alienation. It also creates conflicting interests, since the specializations divide persons per their economic standing. This conflict horribly mangles sociability. The source must be removed: the variety of property relations embedded in the division of labor. This requires the state to have ownership of production, and especially the land. Reconciled in the state, class divisions vanish, peace prevails. Marx’s messianic philosophy of history triggers the immanentizing of the eschaton. 
Hegel believed reason is always seeking to embody itself in history. Marx replaces reason with vitalism: a material or biological determinism sponsors a progressive history culminating in the moral datum, "From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.” Unlike Hegel and Marx, Smith does not propose to explain the sweep of history. He had absorbed from Hume ideas of human variability and inventiveness, but commercial civilizations are better than the other varieties (hunting, shepherding, and agricultural) at satisfying our natural moral sentiments. The history of law shows both how commercial civilizations developed, and that human nature is fixed, having a desire for ornamentation. If there is a driver in history, it is vanity. 
Smith’s philosophy of history is elucidated in the tightly woven concepts of vanity, the invisible hand, and the division of labor. The invisible hand is an accomplishment of vanity. Discussing the transition from feudalism to capitalism, Smith argues that to afford “expensive vanity,” landowners needed to increase the productivity of their lands. The sure way to do this: leasing land to tenant farmers. Rule of law assuring tenants a continuity in their holding, they improve the land: their innovations paying the “tax” of the lease but also supplying a profit, so the farmers, too, might participate in “expensive vanity” (WN III.iv.11-15, pp. 419-421). The invisible hand is a distribution of resources made at the behest of beauty. 
Commercial societies deliver vanity because they intensify the division of labor. Cultures of enchantment, on the other hand, are ever renewed by fantasy. The history of opulence is a function of the relationship between countryside and town, or food and fancies, we might say. The countryside provides utilities necessary to survival, but, in addition, materials for the craft of towns. The desire for food is limited, the appetite of the imagination, unbounded:
“The desire of the stomach is limited in every man by the narrow capacity of the human stomach; but the desire of the conveniencies and ornaments of building, dress, equipage, and household furniture, seems to have no limit or certain boundary… What is over and above satisfying the limited desire, is given for the amusement of those desires which cannot be satisfied, but seem to be altogether endless” (WN I.xi.c, p. 181).
With food on the table, all seek the “elegancies of life,” an example of which is a moon phase watch. How do we know it is a product of the division of labor? Here, the Paleolithic version.
The moon-phase watch is an accomplishment of the specialization that prompts increases in dexterity, time-saving, and the invention of a great number of machines (WN I.i.5, p. 17). Another example, not a watch, offers a fine illustration of how luxury is made today.
In Voegelin’s terms, the watch with a moon phase complication is a symbol of cosmos and differentiation. It prompts a playful look to the heavens but is a symbol of the enchantment underwritten by the differentiation of the division of labor. A symbol forestalling the consummation of history. Smith’s philosophy of history resists the temptation to immanentize the eschaton: if there is to be an end times, it will be orthodox, coming as “a flash of lightning” (Matthew 24: 25-28).

Related Links:

Paul Mueller, The Scottish Intellectual Tradition Before the Enlightenment
Jordan Ballor, Adam Smith in Theological Perspective