The Rise of Political Economy in the Scottish Enlightenment

By Tatsuya Sakamoto; Hideo Tanaka | Go to book overview

1

Andrew Fletcher's criticism of commercial civilization and his plan for European federal union

Shigemi Muramatsu

Andrew Fletcher (1653-1716) published several discourses over a period of seven years from 1697 to 1704. Those discourses whose authorship is securely attributed to him at present are A Discourse of Government with Relation to Militias (1697, the revised edition in 1698a Militias hereafter), Two Discourses Concerning the Affairs of Scotland (1698b Two Discourses), A Discourse Concerning the Affairs of Spain (1698c Spain), and An Account of a Conversation for the Common Good of Mankind (1704; Account), excepting his several speeches and letters (Robertson 1997: xxxv). John Robertson suggests that all of Fletcher's writings had 'a definite intellectual identity' on civic principles. But, even so, it seems that a comparison of his writings in the 1690s and the Account shows some development in his understanding of commercial civilization and trade. Certainly, in the Militias, Fletcher argued about the negative effects of commercial civilization such as the replacement of the frugal and military way of living with a luxurious one and the introduction of a standing army and tyranny. Despite this, all he proposed was the establishment of a new militia system in Scotland and England. The aims of the Two Discourses were to seek government support for Scotland's Darien scheme, and to propose some social reforms in Scotland. His proposals were, however, based on his understanding of Scotland's 'backwardness' in trade and agriculture, not on his understanding of the nature of commercial civilization based on trade. The intention of the Spain was to warn his readers against the threat of universal monarchy through showing them some measures or actions which 'pretenders to the crown of Spain' could take, namely through showing, as it were, 'the State's first Law of Motion' (Meinecke 1998:1). Trade was just treated as a basis of universal monarchy without arguing about any of the possible evils it may cause by itself. We may say that his treatment of trade in the works of the 1690s was decided by the differences in their themes. Even taking this into account, we must say that we can find the first argument about the nature of commercial civilization in the Account, not in these others. According to the Account, the gravest evil of commercial civilization was that it caused a concentration of wealth and population, leading to the 'corruption of manners' and conflict among nations. In other words, the content of the Account shows us that he was finally able to grasp the structural problems in the formation of a national economy based on trade.

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