Fair, Forum, Market

I have been thinking about Turgot’s entry on the Foire in the Encyclopedie ever since I read Rosanvallon’s analysis of it in his book on the idea of the market, The Capitalist Utopia.

The Turgot text is treated under the heading of the new geography envisioned by the classic economists – a geography defined by prices. This geography does not lend itself to a map listing nation states – with their different colors – but rather to a map of interconnected hubs, which Adam Smith called the ‘extension of the market.”

Rosanvallon locates this historic moment otherwise than, say, Harold Innis, who was similarly fascinated by the penetration of the price system.

“With the great discoveries, the occidental world is exteriorized. The establishment of colonies was one of the principle forms taken by this exteriorization. In the 18th century, liberalism was translated principally, in contrast, by a sort of return to the interior. Stewart is the economist who best understood how to philosophically express this.” And Rosanvallon lists the three stage theory of Stewart: 1., the birth of commerce, in response to local needs – such as food; 2., foreign commerce, in which the nation is exteriorized, which is characteristic of the occident from the 13th to 18th centuries; and finally 3, domestic commerce. “The nation pulls itself together from the point of its exteriorization in the world in order to return into itself. This return can’t be effected except at the cost of a internal differentiation; thus, there is a parallel operation of differentiation and cohesion that comes about. The nation has to discover an organic form in the bodies of the state and the professions.” (95)

It is within this framework that Rosanvallon wants to put the essay by Turgot on fairs. Myself, I translate what Rosanvallon is driving at here into an old thematic in LI and in the Human Limit – that what happened, so to speak, on the frontier of the Occident – in the colonies, particularly in the Trans-Atlantic world – mirrored processes happening in the internal culture of the Occident. The equivalent of the savage and the peasant allowed for this mirroring – although one should, perhaps, remember that mirrors do not always aim at exact representation – they deform, and one mirror, in telescopy, must correct the other. While the priests in small towns in the Pyrenees region where Lahontan came from were persecuting booksellers who sold forbidden science books, Jesuits on the other side of the world, in Quebec, were impressing the Hurons with the science of Christendom – notably, Galileo.