Doux Commerce and Jazz

One of Montesquieu’s most important contributions is the doux commerce thesis, which is French for “sweet commerce” or “gentle commerce.” In short, trade is peaceful and pleasant. It is based on persuasion and consent, and rejects force. It rewards honesty, politeness, and caring for the wants of others. Trade is both a cause of, and an effect of, civilization and peace. Countries that trade with each other are less likely to go to war.

The music historian Ted Gioia unintentionally makes a similar argument for music as a promoter of peace and exchange on page 215 of his excellent 2016 book How to Listen to Jazz:

“Perhaps we have failed to bridge the sociopolitical gulfs that separate all the peoples of the world, but at least on the bandstand we have shown both the possibility and the glorious upside from mutual respect, duty-free transactions, and non-coercive cooperation.”

I don’t know if Montesquieu, who died in 1755, would have liked jazz. But he almost certainly would have approved of its role in bringing different people from different backgrounds together in mutual respect and, often literally, in harmony.


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