Gustave de Molinari (1819-1912)
Founding Father of the Anarcho-Capitalist Tradition
[Commemorating the Centennial of his death at 92 years of age on 28
January, 1912 in Adinkerke, Belgium]
An Anthology of his Writings on The State (1846-1912)
Gustave de Molinari and the Emergence of the Theory of Anarcho-Capitalism
There was something special about the revolutionary years of 1848-1850 within
the French classical liberal movement. The outbreak of revolution in February
1848 led to a group of liberal radicals around Frédéric Bastiat (including
the 29 year old Molinari) taking to the streets of Paris to distribute their
pamphlets, wall posters, and magazine urging the citizens not to support
socialists and to support their radical free trade and free market ideas. Bastiat
went on to take up a position within the Constituent Assembly and National
Assembly of the new Second Republic. From his pen poured dozens of articles
and pamphlets including his influential essays on "The State" (1848)
Law" (1850) until an early death from throat cancer struck him down on
Christmas Eve 1850 in Rome. "The State" began as a one page article
in his second revolutionary magazine Jacques Bonhomme in June 1848
and then as a revolutionary street poster. He left half-finished his magnum
a book never really started on A History of Plunder in which he planned
to outline the historical emergence of the modern state over the previous 3
or 4 centuries and the liberal economic theory which explained it. Bastiat's
ideas on "spoliation" (plunder) were taken up in more detail by Ambroise Clément
in "De la spoliation légale' [Legal Plunder] in the JDE (July,
Meanwhile, the radical Belgian-French political economist Gustave de Molinari
also turned to a new analysis of the state prompted no doubt by the extraordinary
events of 1848. In the second half of 1848 Molinari began a revolutionary
re-examination of the nature of the state and what might replace it in a fully
free society. Given the recent history of the free trade movement in England
and France (Richard Cobden's Anti-Corn Law League achieving its goal of eliminating
protection in England in 1846; while Bastiat's Free Trade Association lost
the crucial vote in France in 1847 to achieve the same thing) Molinari began
to think that the same arguments which led the liberal political economists
("les économistes" in French) to argue for "free trade" led
logically to the notion that they should also advocate "free government",
i.e. a system in which the provision of security would not be monopolized by
any body (whether it called itself "the state" or any other group)
and where free competition
would enable competing suppliers to enter the market to serve the needs of
There were two separate but related key insights in the evolution
of Molinari's theory: firstly, that the first use of violence or coercion
(or the threat of its use) were morally wrong under all circumstances (in other
words the prohibition of violence was universal), and secondly that government's
actions could only be described as a form of "legal" plunder and
hence proscribed under any liberal moral or legal system. These were ideas
developed by Bastiat in several of his writings but the full implications of
them had not been drawn out fully until Molinari began his work in late 1848.
The result was an essay called "De la production de la sécurité" [The
Production of Security] which appeared in the Économistes' journal the Journal
des Économistes in February 1849. His concluding sentences sums up his
(A)t the risk of being considered utopian, we affirm that this is
not disputable, that a careful examination of the facts will decide the problem
of government more and more in favor of liberty, just as it does all other
economic problems. We are convinced, so far as we are concerned, that one
day groups will be established to agitate for free government, as
they have already been established on behalf of free trade.
Soon after the appearance of this article Molinari produced a book later in
1849, Les Soirées de la rue Saint-Lazare; entretiens sur les lois économiques
et défense de la propriété, in which he developed
his ideas further. It caused a sensation at one of the monthly meetings of
the Société d'économie politique when Molinari's ideas where discussed.
Equally upsetting to the other members of the Society apparently were Molinari's
arguments against eminent domain, such was the rigour of his belief in individual
property rights. After the coming to power of Louis Napléon and his coup d'état
in December 1851 (he annointed himself emperor Napoléon III the following year),
Molinari left Paris in disgust (and perhaps also as a precaution) and took
up a position in Brussells teaching political economy. In 1855 he published
his textbook based upon those lectures, Cours d'économie politique,
professé au Musée royal de l'industrie belge, 2 vols. (Bruxelles: Librairie
polytechnique d'Aug. Ecq, 1855), in which he elaborated further on his ideas
liberté de gouvernement"
(free government), or in other words, his theory of anarcho-capitalism.
The late 1840s produced other very important books and articles which dramatically
pushed the classical liberal movement in a more radical direction. Pocock once
spoke of the "Machiavellian Moment" in the late renaissance period.
I think we can confidently speak here of an "Anti-Statist Moment" in
Paris between 1846 and 1855 which produced Charles Coquelin's book advocating
free banking (1846), Molinari's essay on "The Production of Security"
(1849), Bastiat's essay on "The State" (1848) and his book on Economic
Harmonies (1850), Ambroise Clément's essay on "Legal Plunder" in the JDE (1848), and Molinari's treatise on political economy (1855) in which he further
developed his ideas on the private provision of security services.
We have these seminal articles and chapters in the emergence of the theory
of anarcho-capitalism here at this website.
Further Reading on this Site:
- Biography of Molinari
- Bibliography of the Works of Molinari
- My thesis on Molinari's anti-statist thought
- Some of texts mentioned above:
- Charles Coquelin, free banking (1846)
- Bastiat, "The State"[1st draft]
in his revolutionary magazine Jacques Bonhomme in June
- Bastiat "The State" [2nd version] article in the Journal
des débats (1848)
- Bastiat "The State" [3rd version] stand alone pamphlet published
- Bastiat, "The Law" (1850)
- Ambroise Clément, "De la spoliation légale' [Legal Plunder], JDE (July, 1848)
- Molinari, "De la production de la sécurité" [The Production
of Security], Journal
des Économistes February 1849
Anthology on Molinari's Theory of the State:
from "The Production of Security" to Rule by the "Budget-eating
Entire Anthology in one file [PDF
The First Formulation of the
Theory of Anarcho-Capitalism
- "Le droit électoral" (July 1846)
- Originally published in the Courrier français, 23 juillet
1846; reprinted in Questions d'économie politique et de droit public (Paris:
Guillaumin; Brussels: Lacroix, 1861), 2 vols. Vol. 2, pp. 271-275 in
a section entitled "La
liberté de government" (along with a reprint of "De la production
de la sécurité" and the SEP debate in the JDE). Molinari argues
that tax payers are like "shareholders" (actionnaires) and
that society is like "one big insurance company" ("cette
grande compagnie d'assurance").
This is Molinari's first effort at seeing taxpayers as owners of a security
producing firm or company. Note the very hesitant "editor's
note" which Joseph Garnier felt obliged to insert at the beginning
of Molinari's article. He must have felt some awkwardness in publishing
this article by one of the young rising stars of the politiical economy
group in Paris (Molinari was 30). The chairman of the SEC discussion
of Molinari's book (Joseph Garnier) described it as "un sujet très-délicat" [a
very delicate or sensitive subject]. Charles Dunoyer suggested that Molinari
had been "sept away by the the illusions of logic".
- "The Production of Security" (1849)
- original: Gustave de Molinari, "De la production de la sécurité," in
Journal des Economistes, Vol. XXII, no. 95, 15 February, 1849,
- First Translation: Gustave de Molinari, The Production of Security,
trans. J. Huston McCulloch, Occasional Papers Series #2 (Richard M. Ebeling,
Editor), New York: The Center for Libertarian Studies, May 1977.
- I have re-edited it in parts to make it more faithful to the original
article. I have removed the named headings which the translator inserted
into the text and replaced them with the original numbered headings;
I have added a few italicized words which Molinari used to give special
emphasis to certain words and phrases which were overlooked; and changed
the wording here and there where I thought the translation was poor.
My corrected and revised translation here.
- "The 11th Soirée: On Government and its Function" (1849)
- Original: Chapter 11 of Molinari, Gustave de, Les Soirées de la
rue Saint-Lazare; entretiens sur les lois économiques et défense de
(Paris: Guillaumin, 1849), The 11th Soirée, pp. 303-337. Here he presents
in a more popular dialog format (between a Socialist, a Conservative,
and an Economist (i.e. him)) the same arguments he provided for a more
sophisticated and economically informed audience in "The Production
of Security" in the JDE.
The First Reaction by his Peers
- Discussion of Les Soirées by the Société d'économie politique (October
- At one of their regular monthly meetings the members of the Société
d'économie politique debated Molinari's ideas about competitive governments
as he had set forth in Les Soirées de la rue Sainte-Lazare (1849).
Present at the discussion were Horace Say (chairman), Gustave de Molinari,
Charles Coquelin, Frédéric Bastiat, M. de Parieu, Louis Wolowski, Charles
Dunoyer, M. Sainte-Beuve (MP for L'Oise), M. Lopès-Dubec (MP for La Gironde),
M. Rodet, and M. Raudot (MP for Saône-et-Loire). See Journal des
Vol. XXIV, no. 103, 15 October, 1849, pp. 314-16. Also reprinted in Questions
d'économie politique et de droit public. [PDF
- Charles Coquelin's hostile book review of Les Soirées (October 1849)
- Book review of Les Soirées by Charles Coquelin in JDE,
Vol. XXIV, no. 103, 15 October, 1849, pp. 364-372. [PDF
The Further Development of Molinari's Theory of Pure Anarcho-capitalism
- "Les consommations publiques" (1855, 1863)
- Molinari, Cours d'économie politique, professé au Musée royal de
l'industrie belge, 2 vols. (Bruxelles: Librairie polytechnique d'Aug.
Ecq, 1855). 2nd revised and enlarged edition (Bruxelles et Leipzig: A
Lacroix, Verbroeckoven; Paris: Guillaumin, 1863). Vol. 2 deals with " La
circulation et la consommations des richesses," Part 4 with "De
la consommation publique," and
the final 12th lesson covers "Public consumption" in which
Molinari continues his discussion of what he calls "political competition". "Douzième
leçon. Les consommations publiques", pp. 480-534. These were lectures
given at the Musée royale de l'industrie belie where Molinari moved after
the coup d'état of Emperor Napoleon III. They first appeared in 1855
and a revised edition appeared in 1863. [PDF
- "De l'administration de la Justice" (June 1855)
- A short article which appeared in L'économiste belge, No.
11, 5 Juin 1855, pp. 1-3, in which Molinari talks about the high cost
and inefficiently provided law and security services in Belgium. [Facsimile
PDF 593 KB]
Molinari's Gradual Retreat from Strict Anarcho-Capitalism: from "la liberté
de gouvernement" to tutelage, natural monopolies, and the evolution of "self-government".
- "État actuel de l'industrie et du gouvernement des sociétés: Le présent"
- From L'Évolution économique du dix-neuvième siècle. Théorie du
progrès (Paris: C. Reinwald 1880). Part II “Développement historique
de l’évolution”: Chap. VIII “Le présent,” pp. 253-308. [PDF
- “Les gouvernements de l’avenir et la tutelle” (1884)
- Chap. X “Les gouvernements de l’avenir” from L'Évolution politique
et la Révolution (Paris: C. Reinwald, 1884), pp. 351-423 [I have
translated pp. 351-399]. Chap. XI "Tutelle et liberté",
pp. 424-506. [PDF
- "La liberté de gouvernement" (1887)
- Book 4 “La servitude politique”, chap. XIII "L'abolition de la servitude
politique," pp. 238-244; chap. XIV "La constitution naturelle des
gouvernements" pp. 245-259; chap. XV "La liberté de gouvernment" pp.
260-268. from Les Lois naturelles de l'économie politique (Paris: Guillaumin,
1887). As late as 1887 Molinari is still defending his idea of "la liberté
de government". He draws a parallel between "la liberté du commerce" [free
trade] which had a vigorous organization lobbying for its introduction, especially
in England with Richard Cobden's Anti-Corn Law League, and "la liberté
de gouvernement" [free government] which did not.
- The complete book [PDF
- Chap. XIII "L'abolition de la servitude politique," pp.
- chap. XIV "La constitution naturelle des gouvernements" pp.
- chap. XV "La liberté de gouvernment" pp. 260-268 [PDF
- "Les droits politiques" (1893)
- Précis d'économie politique et de morale (Paris: Guillaumin
et cie, 1893), Chap. VI "Les droits politiques," pp. 203-208.
[PDF 1 MB].
- "La constitution libre" (1899)
- Molinari's retreat from strict anarcho-capitalism in 1899 in Gustave
The Society of Tomorrow: A Forecast of its Political and Economic
ed. Hodgson Pratt and Frederic Passy, trans. P.H. Lee Warner (New York:
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1904). Although GdM continues to quote passages from
the "Production of Security" (and the quote from Smith on courts
charging fees for service) he now thinks security is a "naturally
He does think however, that states should outsource the provision of
security to keep costs down. He stops using the expression "la liberté
English version available at the OLL <http://oll.libertyfund.org/title/228>.
- French version: Esquisse de l'organisation politique et économique
de la société future (Paris: Guillaumin, 1899). Chaps. III, IV,
V. "La constitution
libre," pp.69-93. [PDF
- "Decadence and Progress" (1908)
- "Chap. XII "La crise" and Chap. XIII "Risques
de décadence et chances de progrès" in
Économie de l'histoire. Théorie de l'évolution (Paris: Félix
Alcan, 1908), pp. 219-257. [PDF
Last Words on the Matter
- Summing up the Liberal successes and failures of the 19thC and Predicting
the Catastrophes of the 20thC (1901-1911)
- "Le XIXe siècle", Journal des Èconomistes, Janvier
1901, pp. 5-19. [PDF
- "Le XXe siècle", Journal des Èconomistes, Janvier
1902, pp. 5-14. [PDF
- Molinari's "Last Words" (1911)
- Molinari's last published work (the year before he died) was appropriately
called Ultima Verba: Mon dernier ouvrage [Last Words: My last
work] (Paris: V. Giard et E. Brière, 1911). The following chapters show
how radical GdM still is on may topics: "I. Le vol et l'échange" pp.
que l'impôt" pp.
35-46; and in the "Préface" pp. i-xvii he still talks about
the superiority of a political system based upon private companies controlled
by shareholders who decide decisions about the firm (p.xv). [PDF
- Yves Guyot's obituary in the JDE, T. XXXIII, Février 1912, pp.
177-196. [PDF 855