Sunday, June 25, 2006

'Commerce' or 'Trade'?

‘Montesquieu on Commerce’ by Tim Hilton (Globalisation Institute blog) produces an interesting quote:

“The natural effect of commerce is to lead to peace” (Baron de Montesquieu, 1748, The Spirit of the Laws, Book 20, Chapter 2: ‘Of the Spirit of Commerce’).

This is a claim made since at least the 18th century. It should make sense, logically, but I am not sure expressed this way it is as convincing as Thomas Nugent’s translation of Montesquieu:

‘Peace is the natural effect of trade.’

Baron de Montesquieu, 1748, The Spirit of the Laws, Book 20, Chapter 2: ‘Of the Spirit of Commerce’, translated by Thomas Nugent, with an introduction by Franz Neumann, two volumes in one, Hafner Library of Classics, Hafner Publishing, New York, 1949, p 316.

As I do not have a French copy of Montesquieu’s wonderful title I cannot check which version is more accurate (and the translator quoted by Tim Wilson is not given, or from which English edition he is sourcing his quotation).

Why the quibble? Because the next sentence of Montesquieu’s paragraph, as translated by Thomas Nugent, is more helpful of elucidating his meaning:

Two nations who traffic with each other become reciprocally dependent; for if one has an interest in buying, the other has an interest in selling; and their union thus is founded on their mutual necessities.”

It is trade – the action of two-way exchange – that solidifies relationships between nations. I am not sure about ‘commerce’, a very broad activity well beyond the act of trade, leading to peace; war ‘leads’ to peace, but that is not so good. Trade, on the other hand has a natural affect in that peace is a possibility from the mutual dependence of each country on the other in a reciprocal relationship for each other’s benefit.


Hence, my comment is more than a ‘quibble’.

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