Sir James Steuart on the Origins of Commercial Nations

JOSÉ M. MENUDO

JOURNAL OF THE HISTORY OF ECONOMIC THOUGHT, Volume 40, Issue 4

Abstract: This paper examines James Steuart’s explanation of the emergence of commercial nations. Unlike other Scottish thinkers of the time, Steuart argues that artifice is necessary for the rise of commercial societies. He uses the term “artificial” to refer to a devised process, one that is an alternative to the supposedly natural process arising from innate propensities. The system of trade and commerce is an “artifice” created by merchants to obtain benefits, and established by the sovereign for his ostentation and personal prestige, until it became generalized as a commercial nation. Steuart’s explanation of the emergence of commercial nations accounts for how individuals become dependent on and subordinate to the public market. This paper concludes that Steuart’s Political Œconomy promotes a science of the artificial that seeks to understand the functioning of non-natural mechanisms and to create instruments that the statesman adapts to the needs and objectives of individuals.

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