Extracts from Some Key Works in the French Classical Liberal Tradition (en français)

[Created: 2 December, 2012]
[Updated: 28 July, 2013]


This is a collection of extracts from ket texts in the French classical liberal tradition which I have come across in my researches and would like to share with others. They are in French.

See also the following:

  • An English language anthology of French Liberal texts here.
  • A larger French language only collection here.
  • A more comprehensive listing of French classical liberal authors and their works here.



PART I. The Empire (up to 1815)

Jean-Baptite Say's utopian vision of the future "Olbie" (1799)



PART II. The Restoration (1815–30)

Pierre-Jean de Béranger’s “Conversation with the Censor” (1815)

Source: Béranger lyrique. Oeuvres complètes de P.J. de Béranger. Nouvelle édition revue par l'auteur avec tous les airs notés. Cette édition est augmentée de dix chansons nouvelles et d'une lettre de Béranger (Bruxelles: Librairie encyclopédique de Perichon, 1850). "Préface. Novembre 1815," pp. i-v.

Introduction: In addition to having a political and economic dimension 19th century French liberalism had a strong cultural dimension which is well illustrated by the work of the poet and song writer Pierre Béranger. Since political parties and clubs were banned, members of the working and middle classes who were interested in politics gathered in private clubs (“goguettes”) to drink, talk, and sing political songs. One of the best selling authors of this genre was Béranger whose worked spanned one Napoleonic Empire to the next. He had numerous confrontations with the censors and spent two periods in prison for mocking the authorities. In this fictional conversation he confronts the censors face to face with amusing results.


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Pierre-Jean de Béranger’s Songs about “Liberty and Politics” I (1813-1830)

Source: Oeuvres complètes de P.-J. de Béranger. Nouvelle édition revue par l’auteur. Illustrée de cinquante-deux belles gravures sur acier entièrement in édites, d’après les dessins de MM. Charlet, A. de Lemud, Johannot, Daubigny, Pauquet, Jacques, J. Lange, Pinguilly, de Rudder, Raffet (Paris: Perrotin, 1847). 2 volumes. Selected poems.

Introduction: The liberal political poet and song writer Pierre Béranger was a thorn in the side of political authorities for 3 decades. In this selection of his work we see a range of his criticism of the regimes, many of which were intended to be sung with a glass of wine or beer in one’s hand in the goguettes which were popular at the time. He mocks upstart provincial authorities who pretend to be the local Napoleon, he laments the loss of the Republic and the new form of slavery the French people now have to endure, he remembers with fondness the contribution of General Lafayette to the liberal cause, and he expresses disdain for his captors while serving a brief prison sentence. 


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Augustin Thierry on "Factions and Class" (1817)

"T.", "Des Factions" Le Censeur européen, Tome 3 (1817), pp. 1-8. [HTML] or [Facsimile PDF 282 KB]

Source: "T(hierry)", "Des Factions" Le Censeur européen, Tome 3 (1817), pp. 1-8. Full title: Le Censeur européen, ou examen de diverses questions de droit public, et des divers ouvrages littéraires et scientifiques, considérés dans leurs rapports avec le progrès de la civilisation (Paris: bureau de l'administration, 1817-1819). The journal had the motto of "Paix et liberté." Le Censeur européen appeared in 12 volumes from February 1817 until April 17, 1819. Location: Au bureau du Censeur européen, rue Git-le-Coeur, no. 10.

Introduction: It is not clear who the author "T" might be (Harpaz says categorically it is Thierry). Pseudonymns and initials were commonly used to avoid identification and hence punishment by the censors. Authors whose names began with "T" and whose work was published in Le Censeur européen included Augusting Thierry (who was an editorial assistant to Comte and Dunoyer and who later became an historian) and General Tarayre (who wrote on military matters). Since they were prepared to use their own names it is therefore not likely that they would baulk at putting their name to this article. Hence, it is most likely to have been some other person whose identity we cannot determine.

This article is interesting because it was published at a time when Comte and Dunoyer had recently discovered the writings of Jean-Baptiste Say (in particular the expanded and revised 2nd and 3rd editions of the Traité d'économie politique) and were incorporating economic and sociological ideas into their theory of liberalism. Out of this combination of ideas was to come a new classical liberal theory of class analysis which predated the better known Marxist version by some 20 years. "T" writes an article where he is exploring the notion of class in interesting new ways. He uses the term "faction" which might be translated either as "class" or as "political party", but it should be noted that organised poltiical parties in the modern sense had not yet emerged in Europe at this time. There were only loosely organized groups whcih gathered around powerful individuals or aristocratic families and sat in the very narrowly representaive bodies such as the Chamber of Deputies or the Parliament. "T" begins by discussing the class structure of the ancient world which was divided into "maîtres" (masters or slave owners) and "slaves". What distinguished them in his view was the fact that the slaves produced the wealth with their labour and industry while the masters were idle economically but active in warlike pursuits. The slaves were not permitted to become property owners who could enjoy the fruit of their own labours. Like Benjamin Constant, "T" notes that what distinguished the moderns from the ancients was their attitude to productive labour: the former held it in high regard and so sought peace, freedom of communication, and free exchange in order to maximise the gains offree labour, whilst the ancients disdained labour and sought wealth by means of war and force.

In the modern world the nature of class had expanded to include other groups beyond the slave owning class. "T" argues in general that in the modern world "(l)es factions sont composées d'hommes parasites qui veulent vivre sans travail aux dépens de ceux qui travaillent." It now included those who sought jobs in government administration and the bureaucracies, the judiciary, and in the Army and Navy. They all shared a common feature in that that they lived off the productive work of the industrious class but they were rivalrous because they competed for control of the state. The parasitic class thus broke into at least two competing "parties" (the other meaning of "faction"), "les gens de cette espèce sont rangés sous deux bannières différentes," which competed to see who would control and exploit "la partie saine et laborieuse qui doit payer ces compositions." This three way struggle was the explanation he believed of the revolutions which had stricken France over the past 30 years.

"T" concludes his short essay with an attemnpt to form a political strategy which the industrious class could use to defend itself from these two predatory classes. The industrious class far outnumbered the parasitic classes but they are confused and mistaken in thinking that by preferring one of the factions over the other they might be able to lessen the burdens which are placed upon them. But what happens is that as soon as they feel oppressed by one faction they turn to the other, which oppresses them in turn. As "T' gloomily but presciently puts it: "Aussitôt qu'ils se sentent opprimés par une faction, ils ne voient rien de mieux à faire que d'appeler à leur aide la faction ennemie; et lorsque celle-ci a triomphé, ils se voient dans la nécessité de recourir à la première pour s'en débarrasser. Ils se constituent ainsi l'instrument de leurs ennemis, pour en être ensuite les victimes." He thus pithily sums up the nature of the modern democratic party state which oppresses us today. His only solution was to make the majority of government office holders ("la plupart des fonctionnaires") subject to election by the taxpaying industrious class which is the part of the nation which is most opposed to "faction" (either meant as ruling class or party) ("la partie de la nation qui est la plus opposée aux factieux").


Charles Dunoyer on "The Politics which comes from Political Economy" (1818)

Source: Charles Dunoyer, Oeuvres de Dunoyer, revues sur les manuscrits de l'auteur, 3 vols., ed. Anatole Dunoyer (Paris: Guillaumin, 1870, 1885, 1886). Vol. 3, "Politique tirée des doctrines économiques," pp. 84-104. Review of Say’s Petit volume (1818) in Le Censeur européen, Tome VII, 1818, pp. 80-126.
Jean Baptiste Say, Petit volume contenant quelques apperçus des hommes et de la société, 2e édition, corrigée et augmenté (Paris: Deterville, 1818).

Introduction: Charles Dunoyer and his colleague Charles Comte discovered classical liberal political economy when their journal Le Censeur was forced to close in 1815 by the censors. During this period of “enforced leisure” they discovered the writings of Jean-Baptiste Say, in particular a new and expanded edition of his Traité d’économie politique (2nd ed. 1814). This work had a transformative impact on their thinking. From a classical liberalism which had been rooted in predominantly political and legal theory they, especially Dunoyer, saw that political economy provided a deeper and more satisfying account of why nations achieved peace and prosperity when property rights and free trade were respected, and when these things were not respected, why nations declined into war, conflict, and impoverishment. It was the attempt to meld these two disparate threads, the legal-political and the economic, which was to occupy Dunoyer for the rest of his life and  thus lead him to forge a new and more robust liberal theory which had a profound impact on liberals who were to come after him.




PART III. The July Monarchy (1830–48)

Pierre-Jean de Béranger’s Songs about “Liberty and Politics” II (1830-1833)

Source: Oeuvres complètes de P.-J. de Béranger. Nouvelle édition revue par l’auteur. Illustrée de cinquante-deux belles gravures sur acier entièrement in édites, d’après les dessins de MM. Charlet, A. de Lemud, Johannot, Daubigny, Pauquet, Jacques, J. Lange, Pinguilly, de Rudder, Raffet (Paris: Perrotin, 1847). 2 volumes. Selections.

Introduction: The radical poet Béranger didn’t find a government or a political leader he didn’t want to mock. During the Napoleonic period he began writing poems and songs with political content and became quite notorious for his sharp tongue and witty lines. He began as a supporter of the Napoleonic cause but came to see that all leaders eventually became corrupt and oppressive. His poem “The King of Yvetot” was a thinly disguised attack on provincial leaders who saw themselves as so many upstart Napoleons in their own districts. During the 1820s he served time in prison for offending the censors but this only increased his fame and his vitriol. By the 1840s he was mixing in the circles of the liberal political economists (even joining Bastiat’s Free Trade Association) and winning election to the Constituent Assembly in the 1848 Revolution. In this selection we see him supporting smugglers in their efforts to overcome the restrictions placed on their traditional trading activities by the protectionist regime, and mocking his contemporaries for seeking and getting government jobs and subsidies after the July Revolution of 1830.


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Pierre-Jean de Béranger on “The Role of Political Songs” (1833)

Source: Chansons nouvelles et dernières de P. J. de Béranger: dédiées a M. Lucien Bonaparte. Tome troisième. (Paris: Perrotin, 1833). “Préface,” pp. 9-44. 

Introduction: In his 50s Béranger thought he might be able to slow down the pace of his writing and publishing but his public refused to let him do so. They kept demanding new editions of his works and new content and so Béranger kept providing them with this, although he also kept telling them that “this volume would be the last.” But it never was the last. In this collection of “new and last songs” from 1833 Béranger provides a witty statement of his purpose in writing political songs which could and were sung in the bars and goguettes across France by people who were otherwise prevented from participating in politics, either because they did not pay enough in direct taxes to qualify as voters, or because of the ban on political clubs and organised parties. Since the ordinary people couldn’t vote their political views they, with the help of Béranger, would sing them with full voice, in spite of the consequences.


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PART IV. The Second Republic (1848–52)

Ambroise Clément on "Legal Plunder” (1848)

Source: Ambroise Clément, "De la spoliation légale," Journal des économistes, 1e juillet 1848, Tome 20, no. 83, pp. 363-74.

Introduction: In this article Clément takes up the challenge posed by Bastiat in his chapter “The Physiology of Plunder” in the Second Series of the Economic Sophisms (January, 1848) to develop a classical liberal theory of class analysis based up the idea of plunder. Bastiat had planned to write an entire book on this but died before he could go beyond more than a handful of sketches. Charles Comte and Charles Dunoyer had laid the foundations for such a work in their books on property and labour written in the 1830s and early 1840s. Molinari was to take up the challenge in earnest during the 1880s with a series of books on the political and economic evolution of society. This essay is interesting because of the inspiration it drew from Bastiat in the immediate aftermath of the February Revolution. Clément takes Bastiat’s idea of “legal plunder” and explores the various forms it has taken historically beginning with “vols aristocratiques” and then moving through various stages such as “vols monarchiques,” “vols réglementaires” and “vols adminstratifs” (theft and plunder under the modern regulatory and bureaucratic state), “vols industriels” (theft and plunder for the benefit of modern industrial elites), and culminating in the contemporary proto-socialist state of the Second Republic with what he called “vols à prétentions philanthropiques” or organized theft under the pretense of providing state funded charity by means of coercion.


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Bastiat's and Molinari's Statement of Principles in La République française (February 1848)

Bastiat's and Molinari's Statement of Principles in La République française (February 1848) [PDF 263 KB] and HTML


Guillaumin and Ambroise Clément on “The State of Political Economy in France” (1852-3)

The Introduction by Guillaumin and Clément to the Dictionnaire de l'Économie Politique (1853) where they reflect on "The Current State of Political Economy in France" - [PDF 1.5 MB] and HTML.

Source: Préface (Guillaumin) et Introduction (Clément), Dictionnaire de l'Économie Politique (1853): Dictionnaire de l'Économie Politique, ed. Charles Coquelin and Charles Guillaumin (Paris: Guillaumin, 1852), vol. 1, pp. Préface by Guillaumin (editor), pp. v-viii. Introduction by Ambroise Clément, pp. ix-xxvii (Août 1853).

Introduction: The crowning achievement of the mid-nineteenth century French political economy movement was the publication by the Guillaumin firm of the 2 volume Dictionnaire de l'Économie Politique edited by Charles Coquelin (1802-1852) and Gilbert Guillaumin (1801-1864) in 1852-53, both of whom were close contemporaries of Bastiat. Guillaumin was the organiser of the project and Coquelin was the brilliant editor who had a photographic memory and a radical view of what political economy could achieve. The 2 volumes comprised over 1,800 pages of 2 columns of closely printed text written by scores of contributors. As Clément noted in the introduction, this was an opportunity for political economy to define itself as a fully fledged member of the social sciences on a par with the older and more established sciences of moral and political philosophy. The  dictionary included extensive articles on theoretical topics such as exchange, price, rent, and value; biographical articles on all the major as well as minor figures in political economy such as Smith, Say, Malthus, and Ricardo; and scores of shorter articles on key journals, magazines, movements, and organizations. All included extensive bibliographies and summaries of the key theoretical works. It should be kept in mind that the Dictionary was being prepared and appeared during a period of extreme turmoil in France which included the February Revolution, the rise of socialism, the creation of the Second Republic, and the coming to power of Louis Napoleon. The publication also coincided with the premature deaths of several key figures in the political economy movement, such as Bastiat and Coquelin who died from debilitating diseases and others who died in the cholera epidemic of 1849, which severely reduced the number of the rising generation of political economists.


Horace Say on “The Division of Labour” (1852)

Source: Horace Say, "Division du travail" in the Dictionnaire de l'Économie Politique, ed. Charles Coquelin and Charles Guillaumin (Paris: Guillaumin, 1852), 2 vols. Vol. I, pp. 567-569. 

Introduction: Horace Say was the son of the famous economist Jean-Baptiste Say, and an active member of the Political Economy Society, and a successful and influential businessman in Paris. He was thus well placed to write one of the key articles on classical liberal economic theory which was central to understanding the enormous increase in productivity made possible by the division of labour. As Say notes, there is the technical or engineering aspect which allows industrial workers within a factory to  specialize in a small number of tasks, achieve mastery of these techniques, and to thereby expand production to levels never before seen in human economic development. However, he also notes an aspect of the division of labour which is not as well appreciated, namely that it also operates outside of the factory, allowing the creation of thousands of small businesses and workshops each of which specializes in the production of one good or service which in turn supply other business or industrial organizations with the materials they need for the production of even more complex goods and services. As Say notes, this is a marvel of social cooperation on a grand scale which has profound implications for social theorists outside of the domain of economics. Therefore, all “les connaissances humaines” need to take this important phenomenon into account.



PART V. The Second Empire (1852–70)

Gustave de Molinari's "Credo of Liberty and Peace" (1861)

Source: Gustave Molinari, Questions d'économie politique et de droit public, Volume 1 (Paris: Guillaumin et cie, 1861), Introduction, pp. v-xxxi.

Introduction: The following extract is the introduction to Molinari's 2 volume collection of essays and articles which he had written over the previous 15 years, Questions d'économie politique et de droit public (1861). They cover topics such as the freedom of speech (in particular theatres), free trade, the private provision of security, the law of war, and intellectual property. In the introduction Molinari provides a very useful summary of his liberal ideas which had been evolving from the time he first came to Paris in 1840, his activity as an economic journalist, his voluntary exile in Belgium after the coup d'état of Louis Napoleon, and his work as an academic economist in Brussels during the 1850s. As he concludes, throughout this entire period his "Credo" had remained the same, namely a firm belief in "la Liberté et la Paix." Especially noteworthy is the second part of the introduction where Molinari discusses the two possible strategies which defenders of freedom could adopt in their struggle. In his mind, there were two schools of thought on this matter, there was "l'école de la force" and "l'école de la persuasion", and he strongly comes down in favour of the former. The previous 70 years of war and revolution had shown that, even though those seeking an end to their oppression by the state and who definitely had "des griefs légitimes", the costs in destroyed property and lives outweighed the benefits they had gained by using violence. Molinari's conclusion was that "Nous repoussons de toute notre énergie l'intervention de la force pour imposer les idées; nous nous en tenons à l'emploi exclusif de la persuasion pour les faire accepter."


Gustave de Molianri on "Ulcerous Government" (1863)

Source: Molinari, Cours d'économie politique, deuxième édition revue et augmentée, Tome II. La circulation et la consommation des richesses, (Paris: Guillaumin, 1863), pp. 528-34. Douzième leçon. "Les consommations publiques" (Pubic Consumption).

Introduction: These are the concluding pages of Molinari’s 2 volume treatise on political economy which he published in 1855 and revised in a second edition in 1863 while he was teaching and working in Belgium. He continued to develop and expand the ideas he first presented on this topic on “the production of security” and the “liberty of government” in the mid and late 1840s. As he says in a footnote, he is willing to claim priority in formulating these “fanciful” ideas. The passage which caught my eye is this one:

Thus, by the very fact of their anti-economic constitution, governments have become the ulcers of societies (“les ulcères des sociétés”), to use the strong expression coined by J.B. Say. As population and wealth increase, thanks to the progressive development [531] of competitive industries, a growing mass of vital energy is sucked out of society by the suction pump which are taxes and debts, in order to subsidise the costs of production of public services, or to put it in a better way, to subsidise the support and easy enrichment of the particular class which controls the monopoly of the production of these services.

Following Molinari's reference to Say I tried to find the source of Molinari's idea that the state is an ulcer on the body politic of society (or rather, body economic) but the passage from Say he cites has no reference to ulcers or any any disease. So it appears Molinari might the originator of this expression, although I recall that a similar use of the expression can be found in an article in the Dictionnaire de l'économie politique (1852) (I need to track this down!).


Gustave de Molinari on "The Different Kinds of Property and Liberty" (1863)

Source: Gustave de Molinari, Cours d'Économie politique. 1st edition 1855. 2nd revised and enlarged edition (Bruxelles et Leipzig: A Lacroix, Ver Broeckoven; Paris: Guillaumin, 1863).Tome I: La production et la distribution des richesses, Quatrième leçon: “La Valeur et la Propriété.” pp. 107-31.

Introduction: Whereas Baudrillart wanted to establish political economy as an empirical science concerned with the production, distribution , and consumption of wealth by individuals who were naturally sociable, Molinari wanted to show that political economy was governed by the operation of scientifically identifiable natural laws in a moral and legal framework of private property. In this chapter on “Value and Property” Molinari argues that property is not some artificial construct but arises out of the very process of production of things of value, or in his terminology “le phénomène de la valeur engendre celui de la propriété.” Economists would not normally be interested in the justice of claims to property, which should be the preserve of “la science de droit,” were it not for the fact that governments and politically privileged groups used violence to disrupt this natural distribution of property, thus creating “une nuisance économique” which distorted the operation of market forces by creating impediments to economic activity and raising costs. Thus, economists had to take these disruptions into account when analysing economic phenomena. As part of his project Molinari developed a detailed list of specific “liberties” which corresponded to the different categories of property and the various ways in which this property could be used, exchanged, and disposed of. Molinari’s reformulation of political economy is hinting at the intimate connection between law and economics which was to be the focus of much attention by economists in the late 20th century.


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PART VI. The Third Republic (1871 onwards)

"T.S." on the "Emancipation of Women under Socialism and Liberalism" (1873)

"T.S." on the "Emancipation of Women under Socialism and Liberalism"[L'Emancipation de la femme considérée dans ses rapports avec le socialisme et l'économie politique] (1873)

Source: Mme "T.S.", "L'Emancipation de la femme considérée dans ses rapports avec le socialisme et l'économie politique," Journal des Économistes, Octobre 1873, T. 32, pp. 5-29.

Introduction: “T.S.” is an anonymous author who wrote a review of several works in German and French on the emancipation of women for the Journal des Économistes in 1873. It is possible that the author was a Russian-born woman who was living and working in France and was fluent in several languages. She was an advocate of the legal and economic emancipation of women but wanted to separate her liberal feminism from the better known socialist feminism of her day. Many classical liberals rejected the idea of the emancipation of women because they thought it was an integral part of the socialist rejection of property and marriage and the forced levelling of all individuals. “T.S.” cleverly turns the anti-feminist version of classical liberalism on its head by using the same arguments liberals had traditionally used against government protected monopolies, barriers to entry to trade, labour regulations concerning working hours and conditions in the factories, and so on, against similar regulations concerning the right of women to engage in trade and business activities. She asks in conclusion, if these regulations are wrong in the one case then why aren’t they are also wrong in the other? If the liberal political economists want to be consistent then they should also be in favour of complete free trade for women.



Gustave de Molinari on “Why Politicians will not support Free Trade Ideas in the Chamber” (1886)

Molinari's growing Pessimism in the mid-1880s - Molinari, Conversations sur le commerce des grains et la protection de l'agriculture (Nouvelle édition) (Paris: Guillaumin, 1886). Conclusion, pp. 302-310. [HTML] or [facsimile PDF 360KB]

Source: Gustave de Molinari, Conversations sur le commerce des grains et la protection de l'agriculture (Nouvelle édition) (Paris: Guillaumin, 1886). Seconde Partie: Temps d'abondance. Troisième conversation. La protection du travail. Conclusion, pp. 274-310.

Introduction: Molinari wrote three collections of "conversations" or "soirées" in which he constructed dialogues between ideological adversaries in order to show the errors of the conservatives, protectionists, and socialists of his day. The first was Les Soirées de la rue Saint-Lazare; entretiens sur les lois économiques et défense de la propriété (1849) between a Conservative, a Socialist, and an Economist; the second was Conservations familières sur le commerce des grains (1855) in a "time of shortage" between a Rioter, a Prohibitionist, and an Economist; and the third was Conversations sur le commerce des grains et la protection de l'agriculture. Nouvelle édition (1886) which was a reprint of the 1855 conversation along with an third updated collection suitable for 1886, "the time of abundance", between an Economist, a Protectionist, and a Collectivist. What is interesting about this extract is that Molinari shows his increasing frustration with his ideological opponents for two reasons. Firstly, because they opposed free trade no matter what the prevailing economic conditions might be: they opposed free trade in grain in 1855, a "time of shortage," because they thought it would exacerbate the problem and result in even higher prices as "French" grain was exported elsewhere; and they opposed it again in 1886, "a time of abundance," because they thought that an influx of cheap "foreign" grain would so lower prices that it would put French farmers out of business. Molinari naturally became exasperated as he realised that nothing he said would change their minds. Secondly, because they openly admitted that as elected politicians it would be electoral and political suicide to admit the error of their views and embrace free trade even if it were true. The protectionist politician tells Molinari that if he became a free trader he could not be re-elected, he would be ostracised by his party thus ending his career, he would not be able to get his relatives jobs in the government bureaucracy, and so on. Molinari subjects himself to some harsh criticism by putting in his opponents' mouths accusations that his life has been wasted writing books no one read and whose ideas no one believed. This probably reflected the doubts and fears he was experiencing in the mid-1880s as tariffs were being reintroduced into France after a period of relative free trade following the Cobden-Chevalier trade treaty of 1860. He concludes this rather sad section by doggedly insisting that he persist in his struggle for economic liberty in spite of the set backs.


Gustave de Molinari on “The Prospects for Liberty in the 20th Century” (1902)

Source: Gustave de Molinari, "Le XXe siècle", Journal des Économistes, Janvier 1902, pp. 5-14.

Introduction: In this the second of the two articles he wrote at the turn of the millenium Molinari provides a darker and more pessimistic picture of Europe’s future. The return of tariffs under the Méline tariff of 1892, the rise of organised socialist parties, the increase in military expenditures through both taxes and state debt meant that politics would increasingly become a battle by vested interests, or what he called “cette classe budgétivore”, to control the State and its finances. The main parties which had emerged during the 19th century were “le parti conservateur,” “le parti libéral”, and “la classe ouvrière.” In the new conditions of the early 20th century Molinari feared the demise and eventual disappearance of “le parti libéral” completely, leaving the political battles of the 20th century to be waged between “le parti conservateur et le parti socialiste”. Only after they came to the eventual realisation that their plans for government reorganisation of society were doomed to failure would there emerge “un parti anti-socialiste aussi bien qu'anti-protectionniste” which would become the true and only “parti du moindre gouvernement.”


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Vilfredo Pareto on "The Circulation of Elites and Socialism" (1902)

Source: Vilfredo Pareto, Les Systèmes socialistes (Paris: V. Giard & E. Brière, 1902). 2 vols. Vol. 1, Selections from "Introduction," pp. 1-73.

Introduction: The sociologist Vilfredo Pareto was much influenced by Bastiat and Molinari and he adapted their ideas on elites to the circumstances of early 20th century Europe. His innovation was to see history as a slow “circulation of elites” as new groups thrust themselves to the top as a result of their energy, innovations, and wealth, thus replacing older elites who gradually sank from sight and disappeared. Unlike the Marxist view which saw classes as “economic” in origin, Pareto like other classical liberals, saw class in terms of whoever had the political power to favour themselves and their friends. Thus, the new elites did not have to be “economic” in the Marxist sense, but could also be “political” in that elected politicians, trade union officials, and senior government bureaucrats should also be regarded as forming part of the “elites” who controlled and ruled a given country. In the new European states of the 20th century there would probably be “socialist ruling elites” as well as “capitalist ruling elites” who joined with traditional “bureaucratic ruling elites” to live off the proceeds of government regulation and taxation of the productive classes.


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Last Words: Pessimism about the Future of Peace and Liberty (1911)

Gustave de Molinari’s “Last Words” (1911)

Gustave de Molinari’s “Last Words” [Ultima verba] (1911)

Source: Gustave de Molinari, Ultima verba: mon dernier ouvrage (Paris: V. Giard & E. Brière, 1911). "Préface," pp. i-xvii.

Introduction: We have chosen two extracts to frame the beginning and end of our anthology of classical liberal writings from the long 19th century between the Napoleonic Empire and the outbreak of the First World War. These 2 extracts show the optimism liberals had at the start of the century and their ultimate realization that the intellectual and economic tide had turned against them by the end. 

We began with Benjamin Constant’s optimistic hopes for a liberal century of ever growing liberty and prosperity in which the full potential of human perfectibility would begin to reveal itself. We end with a much more pessimistic and realistic account from Gustave de Molinari (1819-1912), one of the longest surviving classical liberals of the 19th century whose life spanned the Restoration of the Bourbon Monarchy and the arms race and tariff wars which preceded the outbreak of the First World War. We can see that he went from the extreme optimism of 1849 when he wrote “The Production of Security” in which he argued that the free market could supply all services including that of police and national defense, to the pessimistic and deeply realistic book which he wrote the year before he died, Ultima verba: mon dernier ouvrage (1911). Here he expresses his undying hope for an eventual liberal future but it is tinged with the grim realization that the forces of socialism, protectionism, militarism, and statism are resurgent and are in the ascendant and that before liberty can and will eventually be realised, the 20th century will see mass destruction caused by world war and economic collapse. Only after these catastrophes have rune their course will the liberal agenda which was articulated during the “Golden Age” be able to be realised in full.