Review of The Temptations of Trade. Britain, Spain, and the Struggle for Empire

Gert Oostindie
2017 European Review of Latin American and Caribbean Studies  
The early eighteenth-century asiento trade is primarily known for the impetus it gave to the British trans-Atlantic slave trade, but it entailed much more. In The Temptations of Trade, Adrian Finucane focuses on the broader picture. Under this treaty which was part of the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht, British 'factors' serving the South Sea Company were allowed to settle in various places of Spanish America in order to foster legitimate inter-imperial trade and to counter smuggling. Living in cities
more » ... . Living in cities from Havana in the North all the way down to Buenos Aires in the South, these factors had unique opportunities not only to facilitate trade, but equally to observe the workings of Spanish American trade, governance, military defence, and also the cultural dynamics of local societies at large. With ups and downs -several short wars -the basics of the treaty endured until the mid-eighteenth century, when the system collapsed. All of this history is about globalization, and the complex interplay between commercial and geopolitical interests -under what conditions do states prefer international cooperation to further their commercial objectives, or conversely, do they decide to go to war to the same ends? Finucace provides detailed information on recurring debates about such issues in both states and their colonies. This book rightly underlines that it is incorrect to think of states as monoliths. Many of the factors representing Great Britain were just as much working for their individual gain rather than in the interest of their faraway metropolis, and so did the wide array of buccaneers and smugglers active in Atlantic waters at the time. Operating in these complex worlds of inter-imperial rivalries, individuals pursuing their own economic interest constantly undermined the delicate balance struck by their metropolitan states in Europe. As Finucace rightly observes in the Prologue to her book, 'Empire was not only a project of European nations, but a kind of strategy for some groups of subjects who could take advantage of the places that governments could and could not assert power over land and trade, making their own fortunes by valuing pragmatism over ideology' (p. 1). But even if this is a relatively short text -barely over 150 pages, excluding references -and even if the book is well-written, the overall argument is rather
doi:10.18352/erlacs.10246 fatcat:v7tbfd3nujenne6p3ezd67tb4m