“Markets, Morals, Politics” (Kapossy et al., eds.)

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Last year, while working on a review essay, Markets and Morals: The Limits of Doux Commerce, I was introduced to the work of the late intellectual historian, Istvan Hont. Hont’s work focused, among other things, on the role of commerce in Enlightement thought. For Enlightenment figures like Adam Smith, commerce promised to promote a culture of religious tolerance and political pluralism. The doux commerce thesis they advocated has been important in liberal thought ever since.

Hont’s work was helpful in explaining Enlightenment thought to me, as I’m sure this new collection of essays on his scholarship would have been, had it been out in time! The book, from Harvard University Press, is Markets, Morals, Politics: Jealousy of Trade and the History of Political Thought. The editors are Béla Kapossy (University of Lausanne) and others. Here’s the description from the Harvard website:

When Istvan Hont died in 2013, the world lost a giant of intellectual history. A leader of the Cambridge School of Political Thought, Hont argued passionately for a global-historical approach to political ideas. To better understand the development of liberalism, he looked not only to the works of great thinkers but also to their reception and use amid revolution and interstate competition. His innovative program of study culminated in the landmark 2005 book Jealousy of Trade, which explores the birth of economic nationalism and other social effects of expanding eighteenth-century markets. Markets, Morals, Politics brings together a celebrated cast of Hont’s contemporaries to assess his influence, ideas, and methods.

Richard Tuck, John Pocock, John Dunn, Raymond Geuss, Gareth Stedman Jones, Michael Sonenscher, John Robertson, Keith Tribe, Pasquale Pasquino, and Peter N. Miller contribute original essays on themes Hont treated with penetrating insight: the politics of commerce, debt, and luxury; the morality of markets; and economic limits on state power. The authors delve into questions about the relationship between states and markets, politics and economics, through examinations of key Enlightenment and pre-Enlightenment figures in context—Hobbes, Rousseau, Spinoza, and many others. The contributors also add depth to Hont’s lifelong, if sometimes veiled, engagement with Marx.

The result is a work of interpretation that does justice to Hont’s influence while developing its own provocative and illuminating arguments. Markets, Morals, Politics will be a valuable companion to readers of Hont and anyone concerned with political economy and the history of ideas.

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