From Locke versus Rousseau to the Present
New Thinking in Political Economy series
What joins commerce or trade with republic and law is the centrality of consent and contracts as normal parts of living in society. People have been exchanging goods and services for centuries, but it is only when money replaced barter and money-making became defensible that commerce emerges as a way of life. Similarly, the word ‘republic’ has been used by philosophers and the statesmen of Rome for centuries, but it is only when we grasp what a republic is not that the word becomes clearer. The attachment to public things inherent in the word republic is best understood in terms of its opposite, namely an attachment to private things. By the seventeenth century, republicanism was seen as an improvement over monarchy or absolute rule by one person for his or her own private interest. The rallying cry for republics was that the rule of law should replace the rule of man. But it is not obvious that commerce and republic should be joined together. After all, the People’s Republic, Socialist Republic, Islamic Republic, and Protestant Republic have all existed and they are all suspicious of the commercial way of life. And one can at least imagine widespread commercial activity taking place in nineteenth century Victorian England and twenty-first century Communist China.
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