The Earl of Shaftesbury relates the story of an unscrupulous glazier who gives the rowdy town youths a football so they will smash windows in the street and thus drum up business (1737)

Anthony Ashley Cooper, Earl of Shaftesbury

The English philosopher Shaftesbury (1671-1713) likens the efforts of book publishers to make use of bitter intellectual disputes in order to sell more books, to that of unscrupulous glaziers who encourage town youths to break windows by giving them a football to play with in the street:

So have I known a crafty Glazier, in time of Frost, procure a Football, to draw into the Street the emulous Chiefs of the robust Youth. The tumid Bladder bounds at every Kick, bursts the withstanding Casements, the Chassys, Lanterns, and all the brittle vitrious Ware. The Noise of Blows and Out-cries fills the whole Neighbourhood; and Ruins of Glass cover the stony Pavements; till the bloated battering Engine, subdu’d by force of Foot and Fist, and yielding up its Breath at many a fatal Cranny, becomes lank and harmless, sinks in its Flight, and can no longer uphold the Spirit of the contending Partys.

Shaftesbury’s story reminds me a another story about glaziers given by the 19th century French political economist Frédéric Bastiat. In a chapter entitled “The Broken Window” in What is Seen and What is not Seen (1848) Bastiat makes the point that creating business for the glazier by deliberately breaking windows only makes the glazier better off. The people whose windows were broken take money they would have saved or spent on other things in order to repair their windows. They lose out and so do the businesses they would have spent their money on if the windows had not been broken. Shaftesbury is not making this economic point. Rather, he is making fun of publishers who try to whip up authors to reply in print to any criticism or slight their previous published work might have stimulated, in what he called “learned scuffles” and a “war of letters”. What is interesting in this Super Bowl week is his comic story about an early form of football hooliganism, how quickly the “bladder” is deflated, and his sly digs at his publisher for behaving in a similar way.