Doux Commerce, Jew Commerce: Intolerance And Tolerance In Voltaire And Montesquieu

R. GOODMAN
HISTORY OF POLITICAL THOUGHT 37.3 (2016): 530-555

Abstract: Voltaire and Montesquieu both defended eighteenth-century commerce against its critics–but Voltaire did so as a vehement anti-Semite, while the comparatively tolerant Montesquieu internalized the most prevalent criticisms of commercial society. Voltaire’s strategic anti-Semitism projected the market’s unsavoury qualities onto an already despised minority, creating, in effect, two varieties of commerce: ‘our’ progressive mode and ‘their’ debased one. Montesquieu, by contrast, painted a more ambiguous picture, celebrating the market’s growth while often conceding the superiority of the pre-commercial world, a position of rhetorical self-doubt that minimized the need to manufacture scapegoats. Their clash stands as an object lesson in argumentative ethics: while Voltaire’s purism led to disturbing conclusions, Montesquieu’s self-critical approach endures as a compelling model.