Handbook of the International Political Economy of Trade
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Handbook of the International Political Economy of Trade

Edited by David Deese

David A. Deese brings together leading researchers and writers from different countries and disciplines in a coherent framework to highlight the most important and promising research and policy questions regarding international trade. The content includes fundamental theory about trade as international communication and its effects on growth and inequality; the domestic politics of trade and trends in government trade policies; the implications of bilateral and regional trade (and investment) agreements; key issues of how trade is governed globally; and how trade continues to define and advance globalization from immigration to the internet.
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Chapter 2: Commerce as communication: Montesquieu’s view

Randal R. Hendrickson


The history of commerce is that of the communication of peoples. (Charles-Louis de Secondat, Baron de La Brède et de Montesquieu, 1689–1755) Here is Montesquieu, defining commerce not first as trade, but as communication. Others’ manners and morals are communicated in the act of trade, and Montesquieu means to proclaim the good results. He means, along the way, to excuse and encourage the acquisitive drive natural to individuals, a drive traditionally repressed by the forces of politics, religion, and morality. And so it is against these forces that Montesquieu makes the case that commerce tends to improve morals and incline to peace. It morally shrinks the world, so to speak, averaging behavior across the globe and rendering nations not enemies but reciprocally dependent. Commerce is humanity’s best hope for a “cure” of its “destructive prejudices.” So much and more is for Montesquieu the work of commercial communication. The Spirit of Laws (1748), Montesquieu’s labor of 20 years, appears at a moment when commerce is hardly considered a theme of political science. It comes as something of a surprise, then, that a political philosopher should be so concerned with the subject. It is remarkable, indeed, to find just how many matters reduce for Montesquieu to the commercial.

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