From Reason of State to Coordination by Trade: Hume’s Commercial Society as a Means of Arranging National and Global Political Order
Abstract: This paper takes on board the relationship of political and economic ideas in Hume’s essays. It wants to show that although Hume played a major role in preparing the ground for the would-be discipline of political economy, his interest in economics is linked to politics. He wants to make sense of the challenges posed and opportunities opened up by the recent global spread of long-distance trade. The thesis of this paper is that although Hume is aware of the risks of the jealousy or collaboration of commercial societies on a worldwide scale, he does not see any other alternatives (beside warfare), and in fact he is convinced, that it has positive effects on domestic and international levels as well. The first part of the paper offers an overview of the relevant ideas of two key players in recent Hume-literature. First, it shows that István Hont in his volume Jealousy of Trade could convincingly show that some of Hume’s ideas are relevant if we want to make sense of international politics today. Then it presents two basic concepts of Andrew Sabl’s recent interpretation of Hume’s politics: coordination and convention, arguing that mechanisms of international trade can be analysed with the help of these categories. In the second half of the paper the reader will find analyses of key concepts of Hume’s historically informed introduction to commercial societies and their interplay, including prudence, balance of power, balance and jealousy of trade, and refinement.
Keywords: Hume, Hont, Sable, convention, prudence, balance of power, jealousy of trade, refinement