In This Review

Trading With the Enemy: Britain, France, and the 18th-Century Quest for a Peaceful World Order
Trading With the Enemy: Britain, France, and the 18th-Century Quest for a Peaceful World Order
By John Shovlin
Yale University Press, 2021, 416 pp.

For generations, scholars have portrayed seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Europe as dominated by protectionism and warfare driven by the mercantilist policies of avaricious monarchs competing for global hegemony. Shovlin, a historian, seeks to turn this conventional wisdom on its head—at least as regards France and Great Britain. He acknowledges the carnage of the War of the Spanish Succession, the War of the Polish Succession, the Seven Years’ War, the American Revolution, the Napoleonic Wars, and other conflicts. Yet he sees this period as also giving rise to global capitalism and the first flush of an alternative school of thought about global economic competition. He looks to figures such as the Scottish philosopher David Hume, the French philosophes and physiocrats, officials working for the British and French East India Companies, political economists such as Adam Smith, and some farsighted merchants and diplomats. Underlying their thinking lay trends that would eventually become irresistible, including the reform of domestic public finance, the growth of global capital markets, and the Industrial Revolution. The British and French states began to adopt free trade and capital movements for self-interested reasons—setting the stage for the well-known transformations of the nineteenth century.