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Between Power and Market: a History of Dutch Commercial Republicanism, 1600-1800

Project description

This book project studies the impact of commerce and politics on the development of economic concepts and a mercantile identity in the Dutch Republic. Contextualization of political economy by using a variety of historical sources such as pamphlets, periodicals, treatises, financial proposals, and merchant’s manuals, is central to the project’s research. These sources show how the young Republic’s politics interacted with economic ideas emerging both in and about the Netherlands between ca. 1600 and ca. 1800. This time period is the era in which the Dutch Republic rose and fell as a political and commercial power. As a result, the project will largely deal with political economy before it became a separate discipline at universities all over the world. Its purpose is a revision of the long-lasting notion that with respect to economic thought the Dutch Republic was an inward-looking, practice-ridden and theory-lacking nation. Fortunately, recent publications have already made a number of adjustments to the misrepresentation of Dutch 18th-century political economy. It is clear now that various Dutch authors participated in the contemporary transnational debates on the connection between states, international relations, and economy. The intellectual connections between these Dutch political economists and their colleagues abroad were instrumental to the institutionalization of political economy in academic departments during the nineteenth century.

Agriculture, Navigation and Industry in the presence of merchants trading goods in the bottom corner. From the air Mercury hands a letter to two merchants.
Title page of the Europische Mercurius, Thiende Stuk, Eerste Deel: Behelzende de ses Eerste Maenden van het Jaer 1699. Print by Jan Luyken. (Rijksmuseum)


One of several remaining puzzles, though, is how their 17th-century precursors analysed the link between wealth and power. The traditional histories of Dutch economics by Etienne Laspeyres (1863), Otto van Rees (1865-68) and Irene Hasenberg Butter (1969), for instance, were prone to concentrate on ‘Dogmengeschichte’, the development of pure economic analysis, and tended to neglect the role of ‘the political’ in political economy. In their retrospective studies, Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations often served as the benchmark for these views. Though not completely extinct, this approach has lost its appeal and nowadays more attention is directed towards the historical context in which economic texts evolved. Simply the fact that 17th-century economia politica or political economy was taught in the Faculty of Law, subsumed in courses on political science, already has led to new perspectives.

Allegory on the power of the Dutch Republic as a maritime power.
Title page of F.M. Janiçon, État présent de la république des Provinces-Unies, 1729-1730. Print by Bernard Picart. (Rijksmuseum)

Recent research on the De la Court-brothers, for example, explains how these early modern authors succeeded in matching their expert knowledge of commercial practice with their views on the ideal republican form of government. Their radical version of commercial republicanism was on the one hand the result of an education in humanist rhetoric and politics at Leiden University, and on the other hand the product of their training and experiences as cloth entrepreneurs in that same city. Many precursors, contemporaries and successors of the De la Courts, however, have not been studied yet in this unified way, thus precluding a consistent and comprehensive interpretation of Dutch political economy. Between Power and Market endeavours to fill this gap as well as to examine the ambiguous part the Dutch Republic has played in several transnational debates on political economy.