Strength and riches
Nicholas Barbon's new politics of commerce
Keywords:Nicholas Barbon, Machiavelli, balance of trade, commercial empire
Nicholas Barbon’s A discourse of trade presents, in its construction, substance, and rhetoric, an early outline of a new science of the legislator for the new politics of commerce. Barbon drew together economic and political arguments, applying insights from the latter to a new understanding of the political potential of the former. His accounts of the aspect of infinity in economic growth, his attack on analogical theorizing, and his endorsement of prodigality all served a larger political purpose. While he is primarily remembered for these individual economic contributions, it is the larger project, the envisioning of a new politics of commerce and commercial empires that marks out his A discourse of trade as groundbreaking. Almost a century before Adam Smith’s famous definition of economics as a branch in the larger science of the legislator, Barbon offered an early account of the vital connection between economic thought, political philosophy, and statecraft.