Sunday, November 4, 2012

peace and trade

Last week in the Foucault seminar, I was reminded of a bit of Montesquieu from my undergraduate days--before all my big plans fell apart and I graduated in seven semesters with the only degree I could hustle up under such hurried constraints (an English major).

Anyway, the reading for this coming week, the first three lectures in Foucault's The Birth of Biopolitics include his summation of Kant's Perpetual Peace (1795), a short accessible text I read in the first few years after I graduated. Foucault writes: "The guarantee of perpetual peace is therefore actually commercial globalization" (58).

That was enough to get me scurrying around the web for the bit of Montesquieu I had only imperfectly remembered, and I found it at this University of Chicago joint: "Peace is the natural effect of trade. 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 thus their union is founded on their mutual necessities."

Writing in 1748, Montesquieu goes on to note we can't expect the same peace from competing individuals within these trade-minded economies: "But if the spirit of commerce unites nations, it does not in the same manner unite individuals. We see that in countries [Holland] where the people move only by the spirit of commerce, they make a traffic of all the humane, all the moral virtues; the most trifling things, those which humanity would demand, are there done, or there given, only for money."

He wrote that last bit 100 years before Karl Marx's Communist Manifesto, and both Montesquieu paragraphs seem so relevant to today's world.

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