The Imperial Machine: Assembling the Spanish Commercial Empire in the Age of Enlightenment
Under Contract with Oxford University Press
In the eighteenth century, a host of Spanish statesmen compared well-ordered empires to harmonious machines and devised a comprehensive plan to liberalize and integrate the imperial economy. The main initiative to emerge from this economic plan was a commercial policy that contemporaries called comercio libre, which entailed replacing the traditional fleets and galleons with a new system of free trade within the empire. Combining intellectual history, Atlantic history, and the history of the Bourbon reforms, The Imperial Machine provides an innovative interpretation of this momentous period in the history of the Hispanic world.
Fidel J. Tavárez’s account focuses on Spanish political economists and statesmen, who like most European political and economic thinkers of the time, had become convinced that the pursuit of markets, rather than military power alone, was the key to succeeding in a modern commercial society. But where their British and French counterparts remained committed to international trade, Spanish ministers focused almost exclusively on synergizing Spain’s metropolitan and colonial territories. In fact, Spanish statesmen reasoned that the vast territories of the Hispanic world were a microcosm of the global economy that could become both self-sufficient and impervious to international commercial pressures.
Moving seamlessly between developments in Spain and Spanish America, Tavárez demonstrates that Spanish statesmen sought to create a closed commercial empire—an imperial machine—in order to avoid the perils of modern commercial society, namely commercial warfare, while reaping its benefits, economic growth. By bringing this effort to light, The Imperial Machine shows that, rather than a mercantilist atavism, the Hispanic world’s commercial reforms represented a genuine attempt to solve the dilemmas of early modern globalization, an effort which, in turn, inaugurated the enduring fascination with erecting a free trade bloc in Latin America.