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The Closed Commercial State

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

Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 216
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  • Book Info
    The Closed Commercial State
    Book Description:

    This book presents an important new account of Johann Gottlieb Fichte'sClosed 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.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3875-2
    Subjects: Political Science, Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-14)

    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).¹ In the twentieth century, Kant’s essay became an important reference point for discussions of how to apply liberal ideals to international relations.² 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...

  5. Chapter 1 Perpetual Peace and Fichte’s Theory of the State
    (pp. 15-62)

    In the summer of 1792, the German writer Johann Gottfried Herder (1744–1803) traveled to Aachen on the French border and began what became hisLetters for the Advancement of Humanity, a work that appeared serially through 1797. The original draft of his eighteenth letter asked a series of penetrating questions about the political implications of the revolution unfolding in France.¹ We shall have to see, Herder began, whether France will manage to create a republic, as it should. If France were to demonstrate that a republic could successfully be established in such a large country, this would truly represent...

  6. Chapter 2 Commerce and the European Commonwealth in 1800
    (pp. 63-102)

    Fichte’sClosed Commercial Statewas a prominent target in the lengthy article on perpetual peace that Friedrich von Gentz published in the December 1800 issue of hisHistorical Journal.¹ Gentz (1764–1832) was a Prussian official who had studied under Kant in Königsberg and became famous for his 1794 translation of Edmund Burke’sReflections on the Revolution in France. He later moved to Austria, where he served as an important advisor to Klemens von Metternich and acted as secretary for the Congress of Vienna. In 1800, however, Gentz’s patron was the British government, which had begun paying him to deploy his...

  7. Chapter 3 Republicanization in Theory and Practice
    (pp. 103-129)

    On 16 August 1800, just over a year after his arrival in Berlin, Fichte wrote to his publisher, Johann Friedrich Cotta, to inform him that he had delivered a fresh manuscript to the printer in Leipzig. Fichte described the manuscript as the outcome of an idea that he had been contemplating since working on his treatise on natural right several years earlier: namely, “to draw up the necessary commercial constitution of a thoroughly rightful and rational state” and “to show how existing states can raise themselves to this constitution.” Fichte cited the policy debates he had encountered upon arriving in...

  8. Chapter 4 Fichte’s Political Economy of the General Will
    (pp. 130-165)

    Ludwig Hestermann’sOpen Commercial State, a book-length rebuttal of Fichte’s work, was published in Stuttgart in 1802.¹ It was a serious and considered reply toThe Closed Commercial State, yet it appears to be neglected by modern scholars. According to Hestermann, Fichte’s book was a powerful moral challenge aimed at the discipline of political economy.The Closed Commercial Statedisputed the claim that the inequality of market society could be justified by appeal to the principle of natural liberty—a claim that Hestermann (like many others) identified closely with Adam Smith (1723–90). In Hestermann’s assessment, what madeThe Closed...

  9. Conclusion
    (pp. 166-176)

    Eighteenth-century discussions of perpetual peace examined the possibility of a social world no longer dominated by the imperatives of survival: a world in which those imperatives had been disentangled from the dynamics of interstate rivalry. In Fichte’s eyes, Rousseau and Kant were powerfully critical proponents of this ideal: critics whose skepticism had ultimately prevented them from providing meaningful strategic guidance to those who sought to bring this vision of the future closer to reality. Fichte claimed he had found the way through this impasse by developing a more thoroughly constructivist theory of society than his predecessors had possessed.The Closed...

  10. Bibliography
    (pp. 177-194)
  11. Index
    (pp. 195-203)