Front Page Titles (by Subject) Commerce, Utility, Character, and Republicanism - Literature of Liberty, July/September 1979, vol. 2, No. 3
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Commerce, Utility, Character, and Republicanism - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, July/September 1979, vol. 2, No. 3 
Literature of Liberty: A Review of Contemporary Liberal Thought was published first by the Cato Institute (1978-1979) and later by the Institute for Humane Studies (1980-1982) under the editorial direction of Leonard P. Liggio.
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Commerce, Utility, Character, and Republicanism
“Commerce and Character: The Anglo-American as New-Model Man.” The William and Mary Quarterly 36 (January 1979): 3–25.
The political theory which lies at the basis of the American Revolution rests upon a view of human nature which challenges the assumptions of classical political philosophy. The supporters of “commercial republicanism” such as Montesquieu, Hume, and Tocqueville elaborated a new model of political virtue.
The commercial republicans challenged the pursuit of glory praised by classical political theory. While not denying the achievements of Sparta, for example, writers such as Hume claimed that the attempt to achieve heroic virtue contradicted the requirements of human nature. Montesquieu pointed out also that the other worldly values taught by Christianity went counter to the imperatives of the human condition. Classical political philosophy assumed that truth and virtue were ideals attainable only by an elite. In contrast, the commercial republicans believed that one ought to accept human nature as it actually is in practice.
This more realistic policy led to an emphasis on utility. If society were founded upon each person's pursuit of his own interests, no unrealistically high standard of behavior would be needed for a society's continued existence.
Furthermore, the commercial republicans argued that emphasis on utility would tend to civilize men and, by downplaying glory, de-emphasize militarism and encourage peace. Writers in this tradition such as John Adams assumed that the actual business of government would be the task of a small group. The rest of society would be confined to commercial occupation; but, since utility was the paramount virtue, the majority's sense of self-esteem would be strengthened.
Some of the commercial republicans recognized that the form of society they favored had weaknesses. Adam Smith thought that preoccupation with economic matters might tend to narrow human nature, and Tocqueville feared that the dissolution of social ties not founded upon self-interest might result in collectivism and dictatorship. In spite of these dangers, the commercial republicans believed that the benefits of the new type of society out-weighed its costs. “And oddly enough, a system that frees men to try to satisfy their physical wants is more apt than any likely alternative to lead them to see their need for liberty.”