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Review: Virtue and Commerce in the Eighteenth Century Author(s): J. G. A. Pocock Source: Journal

Review: Virtue and Commerce in the Eighteenth Century Author(s): J. G. A. Pocock Source: Journal of Interdisciplinary History, Vol. 3, No. 1 (Summer, 1972), pp. 119-134 Published by: The MIT Press

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J. G. A. Pocock

Virtue

and

Commerce

in the Eighteenth

Century

TheCreation of theAmerican Republic,1776-1787.By Gordon S. Wood

(Chapel Hill, University of North Carolina Press, I969) 653 pp. $I5.00

AlexanderHamiltonandthe Idea of Republican Government. By Gerald

Stourzh (Stanford, Stanford University Press, I970) 278 pp. $8.50

Thesetwo booksform thelateststatementsin a

the characterand role of ideology in the American Revolution.

Rossiter's Seedtime of the Republic may be said to have initiated it

his attackon the belief that eighteenth-centurypolitical thought con-

sistedof Lockeet praeterea nihil.Robbins"The Eighteenth-Century Com- monwealthmanrevolutionized acceptedconcepts of oppositionaltheory relevant between i688 and I776. But the central occurrencein this process remainsthe seriesof works publishedby Bailyn, in particular

process of re-evaluating

by

The IdeologicalOriginsof

with the

attempting

theAmerican Revolution.' We are now living

consequences of a major upheaval in historiography and to assessa

in some

changedlandscape.

It is now apparent that the Revolution employed-and

measurewas occasioned by-an nurturedin British politics for

CharlesII the idea developed that

libertylay in the crown'seffective employment of an enlargedpatron-

age power. During the reigns of William IIIand Anne, England-Great Britain had emerged as a majorEuropean and Atlantic war-making power, fortified by an expanding professionalarmy and a system of

oppositionalideology

nearly a century.2

that had been

Latein the reign of

parliamentary

the main threat to

J. G. A. Pocock is Professor of History and Political Science at Washington

St. Louis. He is the author of The Ancient Constitutionand the FeudalLaw (New

York, I97I). He is working on a study of

Florentine, English, and American republican thought (1494-1789) and preparing an

edition of the works of James Harrington (I611-76).

I Clinton

Seedtime of the Republic: The Origin of the American Tradition of

The Eighteenth-Century Common-

Liberal

Thoughtfrom the Restoration of CharlesII until the War with the ThirteenColonies (Cam-

bridge,

(Cambridge,

(Cambridge, Mass., 1967); idem., The Origins of AmericanPolitics (New

2 See J. G. A. Pocock, Politics, Language and Time (New York, 1971), Chs. 3 and 4.

University,

York,

1967) and Politics, Language and Time (New

Rossiter,

Political Liberty(New York, 1953); Caroline Robbins,

wealthman: Studies in the Transmission,Developmient and Circumstances of English

Mass.,

1959); Bernard Bailyn,

Political Pamphlets of the American Revolution

Mass., 1965), I; idemii.,The IdeologicalOrigins of the American Revolution

York, 1968).

120

J.

G.

A.

POCOCK

public creditandnationaldebt.Bothof

theiradversariesasnot

but also multiplying the incidencein society

modesof socialand political existenceentaileda

government thatmadethema menaceto

Consequently, an ideology opposing all

these phenomena wereseen by

onlyincreasing thecrown's patronagepowers,

of individualswhose

dependenceupon

their neighbors.

of these

things arose,

"Commonwealth," or

variously known to historiansas "Old Whig,"

termto be used

(the the organs of mixed

tive, judiciary, and legislature) from one another, as against the sup-

the secondand

thirdbranchesinto

the

werenot

and (lowest of allin

in public funds. In this interweaving of the themesof mixed

government and

itsvocab-

ulary

classical republicanism

Renaissance,Anglicizedby JamesHarrington,AlgernonSidney, and Henry St. John, Viscount Bolingbroke, but lookingunmistakably back

to antiquity andto Aristotle, Polybius, andCicero.Itswidedissemina-

tionand acceptance accountformuchof theclassicismof the

century, whosecharacteris civicand patriotic ratherthanleisuredor

Arcadian. An effectof therecentresearchhasbeento display theAmerican

Revolutionlessasthefirst political actof

thanasthelast great actof theRenaissance.4In a variety of ways, we

arenow to seethe Founding Fathersasthe

civichumanistsandclassical republicans;

andStourzhto display their thought bothin thehourof victory and,

here)"Country." It stressedthe independence of government(King, Lords, and Commons; execu-

andit stressedtheroleof

posedattempts of patronagemanipulators to bring

dependence on the

first;

independentproprietor(ideally the landowner, although merchants

excluded) as against the rentier,officer, placeman,pensioner,

thescaleof humanity)stock-jobber or speculator

a study of

to a traditionof

personalindependence, the Countryideology-as

andits

transmission clearlyshows-belonged

andcivic humanism,3

anchoredintheFlorentine

eighteenth

revolutionaryenlightenment

culminatinggeneration of

butitistheintentionof Wood

3 The former term is especially associated with Zera S. Fink, The Classical Republicans:

An Essay in the Recoveryof a Pattern of Thought in

I945), the latter with Hans Baron, The Crisis of the Early Italian Renaissance (Princeton,

Seventeenth-CenturyEngland(Evanston,

1966; rev. ed.).

4 Howard Mumford Jones, O Strange New World (New York, 1964); H. Trevor Col-

bourn,

Revolution (Chapel Hill, I965); Richard M. Gummere,

the Classical Tradition: Essays in Comparative Culture (Cambridge, Mass., 1963).

The Lamp of Experience: Whig History and the Intellectual Origins of the American

The AmericanColonial Mind and

VIRTUE

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21

simultaneously, in the agony of crisis and transformation-a theme

anticipated by Bailyn and now being further exploited.5

Among

the classicist characteristics which the Country ideology

carried into the eighteenth century was a Renaissance pessimism con- cerning the direction and reversibility of social and historical change. The health of the balanced constitution lay in the independence of its parts; should a change or disturbance bring one of these into dependence upon another, a degenerative trend would commence which would

soon become almost impossible to remedy. Similarly-or

ably-the

ence from governmental or social superiors, the precondition of his ability to concern himself with the public good, respublica, or common- weal. Should he lose the economic foundations of this ability (i.e.,

independent property), or be demoralized by an exclusive concern with private or group satisfactions, a comparable imbalance or disturbance in the civic and social foundations of moral personality would set in which would also prove irreversible. The name most tellingly used for balance, health, and civic personality was "virtue"; the name of its loss was "corruption." Since the former was essentially a static ideal, any change was likely to threaten corruption, and degeneration was likely to prove uncheckable. Men could not be born in new natures; the

concept was at once post-Christian and pre-historicist. The classical view of politics was consequently a closed ideology. Bailyn-now followed by Wood-argued that its grip on the colonial mind was so absolute that the Americans of the I76os and I770s were

compelled, first, to identify as "corruption" what seemed to be threats to their polities and, second, to conclude that the degeneration not merely of their liberties but also of their moral personalities would soon

pass beyond redemption unless they reaffirmed the first uncorrupt principles of civic virtue. Their revolution was thus primarily a rivolu-

zione, ricorso, or ridurreai principi-the terminology is appropriately

Machiavellian-rather

did it become the latter.6 But this argument has resurrected the old problem of ideological

causation. Bailyn argued that the omnipresence of Old Whig or Country

ideology-the

indistinguish-

moral health of the civic individual consisted in his independ-

than a transformation; only in its consequences

conditioning

and imprisoning effects of its conceptual

5 Bailyn,

used in the introduction to Political Pamphletsof the AmericanRevolution.

6 There are many stimulating remarks on this theme in Hannah Arendt, On Revolution

(London, 1963).

"The Transforming

Radicalism

of the American

Revolution"-the

title

122

J.

G.

A.

POCOCK

system-offered a self-sustaining explanation of why Americans re-

sorted to revolutionary action. Their vocabulary, conceptual frame- work, and entire mental set offered them no alternative.

at that historians'

orthodoxy

epiphenomenal to other social phenomena-that they are always effect and never cause. But, looked at more narrowly, the argument of the Bailyn school appears farlesscausal than structural. A reevaluation of the

historiography of political thought has been going on for a long time, and it seems less useful to consider conceptual systems as theories (which

here includes "ideologies") and to mediate them back to "practice" than to treat them as elaborations, explorations, and unpackings of the conceptual languages used within society.7 If language is not epiphe- nomenal but part of the structure of both personality and world, it is legitimate once more to study the languages men have used and to ask how far they could have done other, or been other, than their lan- guages indicate. The Country ideology did not cause the Revolution; it characterized it. Men cannot do what they have no means of saying they have done; and what they do must in part be what they can say and conceive that it is. But a sophisticated, institutionalized, and highly factional "lan-

guage," such as the Country ideology,

guage in use within a given society, and here we are on the way back

to treating "language" as a dependent variable. It is not enough to show that the ideology was in itself a closed system; we also need to know whether and why no other ideology was available. More work

might be done, for example, with the thesis that eighteenth-century England, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Virginia were subcultures within a single Anglophone world whose disruption is a main theme

of Revolutionary

The Americans were using, or were enclosed by, an ideology that had originated in England and was still very much in use there. In the

minds of James Burgh, John Cartwright, or Richard Price, it was as obsessive and terrifying as in any American mind. It formed the con-

ceptual framework of all early- and middle-Georgian demands for parliamentary and franchise reform. Butterfield, describing it as part

Bailyn

flung

which

a

refreshing insists that

most

challenge

ideologies

and concepts are purely

is unlikely to be the only lan-

history.8

7 For this, see "Language andtheir Implications: The Transformationof the Study of

Political

8 But see J. R.

Thought,"

in Pocock, Politics,Language and Time,3-4I.

Pole, Political Representation in

England andthe Originsof theAmerican

Republic (New

York, I966).

VIRTUE

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1I23

of his study of the Yorkshireassociationsof I780, was right at leastto ask why a movement having suchan ideology did not takeon revolu-

tionary characteristics.9Part of the answer, it seems, may be found in

reflecting that in England the word "Country" possessed an opposite, namely "Court," and that "Court" and "Country" were highly inter-

dependent terms. In both England and America there existed an ideology

presented governmental "corruption" as a nearly total threat to society and personality. It was sparked into life in America by the first apparent encroachments.10 In England, the threat was mitigated by long

familiarity with the Court and means of countering its machinations, and the Court had its own ideology for which men had long been arguing in intimate dialogue with their adversaries." The Country ideology ran riot in America, but in England its referents were better known and a more complex intellectual scheme existed for dealing with them. The scene grows more involved, however, when we dis- cover the presence of alternative ideologies, already established in the

eighteenth-century tradition, as part of the process of the post-Revolu-

tionary transformation which both Wood

Wood restates Bailyn's thesis of "the transforming radicalism of the American Revolution" in a way that may be summarized as follows: The Revolution originated as a response to executive and

parliamentary encroachment; Americans found at hand, and their thinking was dominated by, an ideology which developed the concept of "corruption" as both the cause and the effect of such encroachment,

to the point where it could be asserted that the people's representatives, whether in the colonial assemblies or at Westminster, were themselves

corrupt. At this point, the only way for the people to avoid becoming corrupt themselves was to asserttheir "virtue" in autonomous, popular, civic action, which at this stage of the ideology's articulation should ideally take the form of a reaffirmation of the basic "principles" of

which

and Stourzh study.

9

o0

Herbert Butterfield, George III, Lord North and the People, 1779-80 (London, I949). Burke may have had this in mind when he remarked during the Second Speech on

Conciliation:

5).

iI The best study of this is Isaac F. Kramnick, Bolingbroke and His Circle: The Politics

of Nostalgia in

a valuable and suggestive comment has appeared on the interdependence of Court and

Country attitudes in England as opposed to the colonies: Paul Lucas, "A Note

Comparative Study of the Structure of Politics in Mid-Eighteenth-Century

Britain and

on the

"

they snuff the approach of tyranny in every tainted breeze" (Wood,

the Age of Walpole(Cambridge, Mass., I968). Since this article was written,

its American Colonies," William and Mary Quarterly, XXVIII (I97I), 301-309.

124 J.

G.

A.

POCOCK

constitutional and social life, in which virtue itself was defined. The

idea of appeal from a corrupt representative to a virtuous "country"

or "people" can be found in English oppositional ideology at intervals

during the preceding century;

a variety of revolutionary forms during the middle I770s,

England it was talked about by a few, repressed by the authorities, and

seriously attempted by no one. The idea of power reverting to the people can, of course, be stated in the language of Locke's Second Treatise, but it is overwhelmingly

important to realize that the predominant language in which it was

expressed by eighteenth-century radicals was one of virtue, corruption, and reform, which is Machiavellian, classical, and Aristotelian, and in

which Locke himself did not figure. But-to

of Wood-the "people" conceived as so acting were defined, in John Adams' terms, as a "trinity in unity" (577), divisible into a one, few,

and many, constituted as modes of action called monarchy,

aristocracy,

and democracy, and, in a special sense, distinguishable into a "natural aristocracy" or elite capable of political initiative, and a "many" or "democracy" capable of judgment but not of initiative, who might be said (but the word should be used with caution) to have "deferred" to

the former category. And in a doctrine of "balanced government" as

old as Polybius,

"virtues" no less than between classes or powers, so that "virtue" consisted not merely in the exercise of one's own virtue-the mode of

intelligence and action proper to membership in the one, the few, or

also in respect for the virtues of the two categories to

which one did not belong, and in maintenance of the constitutional structure in which the balance of virtues was institutionalized. "Defer- ence," therefore, was part of the "virtue" of the many, often inaccu- rately termed the "people"; but it was far from being the whole of it.

the many-but

2 but in America the thing actually took

whereas in

resume the summarization

the balance was defined as a relationship between

It is Wood's thesis (and has been that of others) that this aristo-

democratic differentiation of the people broke down under the stresses of revolution, and with it the whole classical conception of politics.

Not

maintain its social ascendancy; it was discovered that a "constituent

people" (to borrow the phrase of Robert R. Palmer), under the condi- tions which Locke had defined as "dissolution of government," simply

merely was the American patriciate insufficiently entrenched to

12 Suchas the demandfor

frequently-electedparliaments asa remedyagainstcorrup-

dangerous idea of a conventionor anti-parliament-

tion-from

hardly before George III's reign.

1675; or the far more

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125

did not differentiateitself along trinitarianlines.The one, few, and

many, asAristotlehimselfhad emphasized,might be distinguishedby

the

wealth, education,leisure,talent, and

employed in many

relatively aristocraticto relatively democratic.But theself-constituent

Americansdiscovered,in a seriesof constitutional experiments de-

scribed by Wood (those in Massachusettsand

most interesting), thatno

thelinesof distinctionderivedfromAristotle produced viable results,

while the bold

legislature and leaving an aristocracy of talentto more

application of many

criteriabesidesthatof

number, suchas birth,

be

from

Pennsylvaniabeing

peoplealongany

the

of

intelligence; these might

results might vary

combinations, and the

attempt torestructurethe

Pennsylvaniaexperiment of assembling a unicameral

assertitself proved no

antique and

people

they?

Here the

Renaissance ideology, within

satisfactory.

It

might

be thattheundifferentiated people werenot the "mob"

or "great beast"of classical fears; but what were

conceptual frameworkof

whoseconfinestheAmericanshad begun theirrevolution, imposed a

could not be differentiatedinto

separately-characterizedgroups, therecouldbe no ascribing to them

that higher virtueof

of otherswho in theirturn defer, which is at the root of both the

Polybianconcept of

citizenship. The entireclassicaltraditionof man the

seemedat the

breaking down. An

couldnot be a virtuous people-and so, not a politicalpeople.

The mastersof Federalist theoryproposed an escape from this

undifferentiated people

frightening dilemma.If the

respecting(or, if you like, deferringto) thevirtues

mixed government andtheAristotelian concept of

of

political animal

point

dilemma, whichinvolved ceasing to regard the "people" astrinitarian

and regarding theminsteadasanundifferentiated unity whichelectedto

be

represented in manyways,by

a complex of assemblies, legislative,

diversity of

people as sovereign rather

transformingoriginality

separate"repre-

judicial, andexecutive bodies, entrusted by themwith a

To a doctrinewhichdefinedthe

simply constituent, they

powers.

thanas

proposition that

eachmodeof

represented in a diversity of diversity of powers, andthat

the classical"checksandbalances"continuedto existbetweenthese

ways, andto

powers whentheclassicalmodeof

away.

the

emergence and deployment of this new vocabulary, and that

Thehardcoreof Wood'sbookliesin those chapters thattrace

addedtheone

of theircontributionto politicalthought. Thisis the

constituteda

exercisingpoliticalpower

sentation"of the people, who choseto be

entrustdiverse organs witha

conceiving "the people" had passed

I26

i

J.

G.

A.

POCOCK

indicatethe

ways to dealwith the

the long-termconsequences of the valuesarticulatedand

Federalist theory thatthis

falloncertain ambiguities whichWooddetectsintheFederalistattitude to the concept of virtue, whichisbasicto thewhole ideology andto the

whole

argument. Inthefirst place, he contends, it wasa Federalist purpose to restore

inwhichit seemedbetter adapted thanits

politicalexperience of the

I780s.

predecessor

It is, however, with

implied in

emphasis must

essay is concerned; andhere

a patrician "natural aristocracy" to their proper

Thiswasin thesenseof

restoring the

role in

politics,

and in

so doing torestorethreatenedelementsof theclassical concept ofvirtue.

leadership of a leisuredelitethat

was supposed to lookfurtherandattendmore

good

of

politicalcapacity betweenwhose poles-symbolized as "few"and

effectively to the public

thanwerelesser men, andin thesenseof restoring thatdualism

mutualdeference

merely

"many"-there could be that mutual respect and

the

in

supposing a people

haddeniedthatit couldbe differentiatedinto

in which"virtue"so largely consisted.But at a deeper levelthis pur-

pose mustbe frustrated, for

representedby

bodiedin them-one isalmostdrivento the

they andso thattheindividualsand

display virtuein theclassicalsenseatall.It

Federalist politics thattheorists appeared who deniedthatthe

he shows, an output of

couldexerciseor

parts anda whole,

whichwas

differingpoliticalcapacities insteadof being em-

language of Christology-

groupscomposing it

was,

health

of the

republic depended

on the virtue of its members

(6Io-612).I3

Interest groups andinterested individuals, who neednotbe thought of the realizationof their

interests, couldbe

as

inducedto relatethemselvesto a

posed interestswere satisfiedand

interested party needno longer besoconstitutedasto possess abuilt-in

looking beyond

separate(or "selfish")

government com- that

way

private

of checked-and-balanced

powers in such a

public

authority maintained.Since the

regard for the good of others ("virtue"), it was now possible to replace

a classicaland organic with a romanticand kinetic theory

of politics;

the interest groups could change rapidly as the society grew, yet the

structureof government could persistunchanged(612-614).

Wood's interpretation thus falls into line with-although it is not its main intention to assert-the view that the Revolution and the

13 SeealsoMelvin Richter, "TheUsesof Theory:Tocqueville'sAdaptation of Montes-

quieu," in idem. (ed.), Essays in Theory and History: An Approach to the Social Sciences (Cambridge, Mass., 1970), 74-I02.

VIRTUE

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127

Constitution marked the establishmentof American politics on the

basisof an interest-grouptheory of politics,

and consensuswhich has characterizedthe nationallife ever

pluralism

since.

intellectualdissentersof the

the vigor of their critique tends to reinforcethe view, originally put

forward by those more favorablydisposed to a pluralistideology, that it has dominatedthe national history since the latter's beginnings. It is still the conventional wisdom to term American pluralistideology

a

theory and practice of

Such a conception

of politics is under strong attackfrom the

present moment, and-as often happens-

"the Lockean-liberalconsensus." Wood, more cautiously,

"that encompassing liberal tradition which has mitigated and often

of

speaks

obscured the real social antagonisms of American politics" (562),

and

either phrase is liableto recallthe doctrine,put forward by Hartz, that

American thinking was, for good historical reasons, dominated from its outset by Lockean ideas to the point where no other theory of

politics ever became viable.I4 But the time has perhaps arrivedfor a

reevaluation of this orthodoxy. Locke is a visible but hardly a dominat-

ing figure in Wood's enormously detailed survey of Revolutionary, Federalist, and Anti-Federalist thinking. Dunn has boldly argued that it is a myth that Locke was an especially authoritative political thinker-

as philosopher it is another matter-in

England. The time for a reassessment of Locke's reputation and authority in the age between the Revolutions may be at hand, for at any rate it

is clear that the image of a monolithically Lockean eighteenth century has gone forever. The rejection of virtue as (in Montesquieu's phrase)

the principle of republics emerged slowly and painfully from an intel- lectual scene dominated to the point of obsessiveness by concepts of virtue, patriotism, and corruption, in whose making and transmission Locke played little part. Aristotle, Polybius, Machiavelli, Harrington, Sidney, John Trenchard, Thomas Gordon, Bolingbroke, and Burgh were its lineage; and the extent to which our thought is dominated by

a fiction of Locke is shown by our uncertainty whether the later figures in this tradition were Lockeans under the skin or that they found in Locke their chief dialectical adversary. Was even the emergent interest-

group theory of the Federalists significantly Lockean? We need to

eighteenth-century America or

5

14 Louis B. Hartz, The Liberal Traditionin America (New

"The Politics of Locke in England and America in the Eighteenth

Century," in John W. Yolton (ed.), John Locke: Problemsand Perspectives(Cambridge,

I969), 45-80.

York, I955).

I5

John Dunn,

128

I J.

G.

A.

POCOCK

know; and one line of investigation is to return to the circumstance, mentioned earlier, that in England the Country ideology had long had its adversaries, and that alternatives to virtue were known. It is here that Stourzh's study of Alexander Hamilton is of value.

What we callthe Countryideology was a reaction-performed by men

in opposition, though its strength was that it seemed to express and explain so many things that it dug itself into the fabric of social thinking

at large-against

of banks and paper credit, professional

armies and bureaucrats, and patronage and political machines. In oppo- sition to these developing phenomena it stated the images of a return to an older, purer time, of society as founded on principles from which any departure must be decay, and of the individual whose virtue was

rooted in an independence of governmental and social processes so complete that no form of property less autonomous than an inheritable freehold could truly guarantee it. The reply of the Court writers-

which was at a peak about I730, in the controversy between Boling- broke and Sir Robert Walpole-denied both the historical and the social foundations of Country thought.16 It asserted that commerce

and professionalization had come to stay; that the older agrarian world of Country nostalgia had gone forever, and had, in any case, rested on feudal ties of dependence between man and man which were now

being replaced by the new dependences created by patronage and credit. It denied that society was or ever had been founded upon a set

the growth

of original principles-if earlier than 1689-and

presented instead an image of the historical

existence of individuals and societies which consisted of incessant prag-

matic adjustments to changing emergencies and social conditions. This adjustment had to be carried out under the protection supplied by a

government exercising sovereign authority, and it was the ideologues of the Court and the ruling Whigs who built up the doctrine of a sovereign and illimitable parliament for whose sake Englishmen went

to war with Americans in the I770s. The pluralist consensus, now sub-

name of "liberalism,"

was, in its origins as a doctrine, English rather than American, Court rather than Country. There is not, at present, sufficient evidence that it was significantly Lockean. Locke was simply not a central figure in the Court-Country

such existed, they had been found

out no

ject to criticism under the none-too-appropriate

16 Kramnick, Bolingbroke and His Circle, Ch. 5; Pocock,

141-I44.

Politics, Language and Time,

VIRTUE

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debates, though an ingeniousanalyst wouldno doubthavelittlediffi-

culty in

the farmore copious anddiverse genius of DavidHumethat emerged

fromthis

interplay between agrarian and

ments,although theconnectionbetweenHume's history andhis

cal philosophy is stilla matterof controversy.'7 Thefactisthatthe

problems of Anglo-Scottish-Americanpoliticalthought in the eight-

eenth century wereof

key

a nascent historicism, of a

perception of general

historical changetakingplace

thought is notoriously not organized aroundhistorical concepts at all.

Forthe first time,

tionsof politics inacontextof historical change, thetransitionfromthe

agrarian worldof the Middle Ages to the mercantileand

worldof theirown

the Courtwelcomed it; the

interpreting himsothathewouldrankontheCourtside.Itwas

controversy with an interpretation of Englishhistory as

the

mercantile, Country and Courtele-

politi-

in the

contemporary world. Locke's

eighteenth-century menwere setting their concep-

specialized

generations. The

Country resistedthis change and

growth of public creditand professional

thatwent with these

armies, andthe novelty of a conception of politics