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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
On the Spirit of Trade
By Montesquieu (1689–1755)
 
From ‘The Spirit of Laws’: Translation of Thomas Nugent

COMMERCE is a cure for the most destructive prejudices: for it is almost a general rule, that wherever we find agreeable manners, there commerce flourishes; and that wherever there is commerce, there we meet with agreeable manners.  1
  Let us not be astonished, then, if our manners are now less savage than formerly. Commerce has everywhere diffused a knowledge of the manners of all nations; these are compared one with another; and from this comparison arise the greatest advantages.  2
  Commercial laws, it may be said, improve manners for the same reason as they destroy them. They corrupt the purest morals; this was the subject of Plato’s complaints; and we every day see that they polish and refine the most barbarous.  3
  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.  4
  But if the spirit of commerce unites nations, it does not in the same manner unite individuals. We see that in countries where the people are moved 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 itself demands—are there done or there given only for money.  5
  The spirit of trade produces in the mind of man a certain sense of exact justice; opposite on the one hand to robbery, and on the other to those moral virtues which forbid our always adhering rigidly to the rules of private interest, and suffer us to neglect this for the advantage of others.  6
  The total privation of trade, on the contrary, produces robbery; which Aristotle ranks in the number of means of acquiring, yet it is not at all inconsistent with certain moral virtues. Hospitality, for instance, is most rare in trading countries, while it is found in the most admirable perfection among nations of vagabonds.  7
  It is a sacrilege, says Tacitus, for a German to shut his door against any man whomsoever, whether known or unknown. He who has behaved with hospitality to a stranger goes to show him another house where this hospitality is also practiced; and he is there received with the same humanity. But when the Germans had founded kingdoms, hospitality was become burthensome. This appears by two laws of the code of the Burgundians: one of which inflicted a penalty on every barbarian who presumed to show a stranger the house of a Roman; and the other decreed that whoever received a stranger should be indemnified by the inhabitants, every one being obliged to pay his proper proportion.  8
 
 
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