How Should Europe Respond To Islamism?

In this era of mass and uncontrolled migrant flows, Adam Smith’s 1776 classic on The Wealth of Nations offers insight into the nature of the challenge posed by Islamism. Far from being a mere manual of economics, Smith’s work reveals how competition promotes progress across society and government, and how it created the modern state and the modern international state system.

In the second volume of Wealth of Nations, Smith examines the expense of defense, the first charge on the state. Eying the rise of the professional army, he points out that “such an army, as it can best be maintained by an opulent and civilized nation . . . can alone defend such a nation against the invasion of a poor and barbarous neighbor.” Professionals are superior to roving bands; the arrival, as the result of the competitive pressures within the system, of Western military professionalism put an end to the terror of invasion from the East. Or so Smith argued.

Smith’s treatise is, in part, an extended commentary on the rise, through competition, of the modern state as a defense against disorder. It is precisely because Europe’s nations are no longer modern states that they find responding to Islamism such an intractable problem.