Fable of the Beavers

There just had to be something on beavers in Mandeville. I knew it. And as one of those academics who goes around telling as many people as will listen that the key to understanding the history of political philosophy is to understand the ways in which it used to be a discourse about anger-management, but then became a series of arguments about pride, I’m very pleased to see that this latter is the context in which Mandeville introduces this particular mammal du jour:

And as in these, Pride is overlook’d, because industriously conceal’d, so in others again it is denied that they have any, when they shew (or at least seem to shew) it in the most Publick manner. The wealthy Parson being, as well as the rest of his Profession, debarr�d from the Gaiety of Laymen, makes it his Business to look out for an admirable Black and the finest Cloth that Money can purchase, and distinguishes himself by the fulness of his noble and spotless Garment; his Wigs are as fashionable as that Form he is forced to comply with will admit of; but as he is only stinted in their Shape, so he takes care that for goodness of Hair, and Colour, few Noblemen shall be able to match ’em; his Body is ever clean, as well as his Clothes, his sleek Face is kept constantly shav’d, and his handsome Nails are diligently pared; his smooth white Hand and a Brilliant of the first Water, mutually becoming, honour each other with double Graces; what Linen he discovers is transparently curious, and he scorns ever to be seen abroad with a worse Beaver than what a rich Banker would be proud of on his Wedding-Day; to all these Niceties in Dress he adds a Majestick Gate, and expresses a commanding Loftiness in his Carriage; yet common Civility, notwithstanding the evidence of so many concurring Symptoms, won�t allow us to suspect any of his Actions to be the Result of Pride; considering the Dignity of his Office, it is only Decency in him what would be Vanity in others; and in good Manners to his Calling we ought to believe, that the worthy Gentleman, without any regard to his reverend Person, puts himself to all this Trouble and Expence merely out of a Respect which is due to the Divine Order he belongs to, and a Religious Zeal to preserve his Holy Function from the Contempt of Scoffers. With all my Heart; nothing of all this shall be call�d Pride, let me only be allow�d to say, that to our Human Capacities it looks very like it…

This would be a nice segue to Adam Smith, had he talked about beavers in the passage on licentious systems in the Theory of Moral Sentiments — but he didn’t, and beavers only make an appearance in The Wealth of Nations as an illustration of the labour theory of value, and as one in a long list of commodities.

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