The Closed Commercial State: Perpetual Peace and Commercial Society from Rousseau to Fichte

The Closed Commercial State: Perpetual Peace and Commercial Society from Rousseau to Fichte

The Closed Commercial State: Perpetual Peace and Commercial Society from Rousseau to Fichte

The Closed Commercial State: Perpetual Peace and Commercial Society from Rousseau to Fichte


This book presents an important new account of Johann Gottlieb Fichte's Closed Commercial State, a major early nineteenth-century development of Rousseau and Kant's political thought. Isaac Nakhimovsky shows how Fichte reformulated Rousseau's constitutional politics and radicalized the economic implications of Kant's social contract theory with his defense of the right to work. Nakhimovsky argues that Fichte's sequel to Rousseau and Kant's writings on perpetual peace represents a pivotal moment in the intellectual history of the pacification of the West. Fichte claimed that Europe could not transform itself into a peaceful federation of constitutional republics unless economic life could be disentangled from the competitive dynamics of relations between states, and he asserted that this disentanglement required transitioning to a planned and largely self-sufficient national economy, made possible by a radical monetary policy. Fichte's ideas have resurfaced with nearly every crisis of globalization from the Napoleonic wars to the present, and his book remains a uniquely systematic and complete discussion of what John Maynard Keynes later termed "national self-sufficiency." Fichte's provocative contribution to the social contract tradition reminds us, Nakhimovsky concludes, that the combination of a liberal theory of the state with an open economy and international system is a much more contingent and precarious outcome than many recent theorists have tended to assume.


The idea of a peaceful community of nations, sustained by democratic institutions and joined by trade, occupies a prominent place in our political imagination. This vision is generally traced back to a celebrated essay on “perpetual peace,” Zum ewigen Frieden, written in 1795 by the philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724–1804). in the twentieth century, Kant’s essay became an important reference point for discussions of how to apply liberal ideals to international relations. This book returns to the late-eighteenth-century instance of these debates, to which Kant’s essay was seen as a contentious contribution. the focus of this book is on the most sympathetic, insightful, and farsighted contemporary reader of Kant’s essay, Johann Gottlieb Fichte (1762–1814), whose own investigation of the idea of perpetual peace culminated in his Der geschlossene Handelsstaat, or The Closed Commercial State (1800). Fichte was a sometime disciple and self-appointed successor of Kant, and is widely regarded as a major philosopher in his own right, but much of his political thought has yet to receive the sustained attention it deserves. Fichte’s Closed Commercial State was a

I have generally cited the translation by H. B. Nisbet, Perpetual Peace: a Philosophical Sketch, in Immanuel Kant, Political Writings, ed. Hans Reiss, 2nd ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 93–130. “Perpetual peace” became an important part of the eighteenth-century political lexicon following the War of the Spanish Succession, the publication of the abbé de SaintPierre’s Projet pour rendre la paix perpétuelle en Europe (1713–17), its many subsequent restatements, and their influential reworking during the Seven Years’ War by Jean-Jacques Rousseau in his Extrait du projet de paix perpétuelle de Monsieur l’abbé de Saint-Pierre (1761).

For a partial survey of the text’s reception in the Anglophone world, see Eric, S. Easley The War over Perpetual Peace: An Exploration into the History of a Foundational International Relations Text (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004).

Johann Gottlieb Fichte, Der geschlossene Handelsstaat: Ein philosophischer Entwurf als Anhang zur Rechtslehre und Probe einer künftig zu liefernden Politik (Tübingen: Cotta, 1800). I have cited the critical edition in Fichte, Gesamtausgabe der Bayerischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, part 1, vol. 7, ed. R. Lauth and H. Gliwitzky (Stuttgart–Bad Cannstatt: Frommann, 1988). All translations are my own. Some excerpts are available in English in Hans Reiss, ed., The Political Thought of the German Romantics, 1793–1815 (Oxford: Blackwell, 1955). a full English translation by Anthony Adler is currently under preparation. There are two French translations: L’état commercial fermé, ed. J. Gibelin (Paris: Librairie generale de droit et de jurisprudence, 1940); and L’état commercial fermé, ed. Daniel Schulthess (Lausanne: L’Age d’homme, 1980).

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