This article analyzes the rhetoric of the famous opening sections of Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations, drawing on his understanding of sympathy as developed in The Theory of Moral Sentiments and the theory of rhetoric developed in the Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres. It shows how Smith uses rhetorical means for sketching a vision of an egalitarian society, united by sympathetic ties, that includes not only author and reader but also the characters that appear in the first scenes of the Wealth of Nations. Yet Smith's vision is deceptively one-sided and “rhetorical” in a problematic sense, departing from the impartiality Smith usually recommends. This one-sidedness points to a systematic problem of commercial society in Smith's time as well as today: the unequal ability of its members to use rhetoric and thereby to attract sympathy from others.

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