Adam Smith in Arabic
by Virginia Postrel • Mar 10, 2006 at 8:45 am
Given recent distractions, I'm a little late on this, but if you haven't read Jonathan Rauch's latest column, on translating classical-liberal works into Arabic, by all means do so now. With the help of a brave Iraqi translator, Cato's Tom Palmer is spearheading this inspirational effort. Here's the connclusion of Jonathan's piece:
The Internet, in contrast, makes possible worldwide, instant distribution, at a nearly negligible cost. MisbahAlHurriyya.org relies heavily on volunteers and donated Web services; its budget, says Palmer, is in the five figures. Thanks to e-mail, conferring and passing manuscripts between Washington, Baghdad, and Amman -- a logistical nightmare in the days of mail and fax -- is a cinch. The site, entirely in Arabic, advertises on the popular Arabic Web sites Albawaba.com and Aljazeera.net. The whole enterprise was impossible a decade ago.
Firmly establishing liberal ideas took centuries in the West, and may yet take decades in the Arab world. Authoritarian and sectarian and tribalist notions are easier to explain than liberal ones, and it is inherently harder to build trust in mercurial markets and flowing democratic coalitions than in charismatic leaders, visionary clerics, and esteemed elders. The liberal world's intellectual underpinnings are as difficult to grasp as its cultural reach is difficult to escape. Thus the disjunction within which Baathism, Islamism, and Arab tribalism have festered.
Yet few who are genuinely intellectually curious can read J.S. Mill or Adam Smith and come away entirely unchanged. The suffocating Arab duopoly of state-controlled media and Islamist pulpits is cracking -- only a little bit so far, but keep watching. In the Arab world, the Enlightenment is going online.
While we're on the subject, let me once again plug Liberty Fund's Library of Economics and Liberty, which offers searchable, full-text editions of classic works in English. The online versions mirror Liberty Fund's authoritative printed texts.