To Adrian Vermeule, the theory at the core of liberalism is Adam Smith’s “invisible hand,” the name Smith gave to the process through which participants in the market indirectly benefit from the collective actions of self-interested individuals. Likewise, Vermeule argues, “Liberalism as a concrete sociopolitical order rests upon a series of invisible hand systems: free competition in explicit economic markets, free competition in the marketplace of ideas, institutional competition among branches of government, and so on.” But using the invisible hand to define liberalism, argues Samuel Gregg, is not only a generalization of the ideas of liberal thinkers but also a mischaracterization of Adam Smith’s understanding of markets.
“In Vermeule’s view, liberalism’s consistent failure to achieve its promise facilitates “liberal fideism”: an insistence that theological, political, and economic invisible hands will yield aggregates of such goods if we just let them,” writes Gregg at The American Mind. “No doubt, some liberals think this way. Vermeule, however, dramatically overestimates the invisible hand’s significance in the thought of key minds conventionally regarded as major progenitors of liberalism.”