The natu­ral effect of com­merce is to dis­pose us to peace. Two nations that trade toge­ther become depen­dant on each other ; if one has an inte­rest in buying, the other has an inte­rest in sel­ling, and all unions are based on reci­pro­cal needs.

But if the spi­rit of com­merce uni­tes nations, it does not at the same time unite indi­vi­duals. We see that in coun­tries1 that pride them­sel­ves solely on the spi­rit of com­merce : they traf­fic in all sorts of human actions and all moral vir­tues ; for them the smal­lest things, those which huma­nity requi­res, are done or given for money.

The spi­rit of com­merce pro­du­ces in men a cer­tain sen­ti­ment of exact jus­tice, oppo­sed on the one hand to ban­di­try, and on the other to those moral vir­tues because of which we do not always exa­mine our inte­rests clo­sely, and can neglect them for those of others.

The total pri­va­tion of com­merce on the contrary pro­du­ces ban­di­try, which Aristotle num­bers among the means of acqui­si­tion. Its spi­rit is not oppo­sed to cer­tain moral vir­tues : for exam­ple, hos­pi­ta­lity, very rare in tra­ding coun­tries, is right at home among peo­ples of ban­dits.

Among the Germans, says Tacitus, it is a sacri­lege to refuse your home to any man at all, known or unk­nown. He who has prac­ti­ced hos­pi­ta­lity2 toward a stran­ger is going to point him to ano­ther house where it is still prac­ti­ced, and he is wel­co­med there with the same huma­nity. But once the Germans had foun­ded king­doms, hos­pi­ta­lity became a bur­den to them. This appears from two laws in the code of the Burgundians, one of which inflicts a penalty on any bar­ba­rian who would point out a Roman’s house to a stran­ger, and the other pres­cri­bes that he who recei­ves a stran­ger shall be com­pen­sa­ted by the inha­bi­tants, each one for his pro­per share.3


[Q]ui modo hospes fuerat monstrator hospitii (De moribus Germanorum [ch. xxi]). See also Cæsar, Gallic Wars, book VI.

Title 38.