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 the 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) and "The 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 opus Economic Harmonies and 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, 1848)

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 consumers.

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 arguments nicely:

(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 on "la 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:


Anthology on Molinari's Theory of the State: from "The Production of Security" to Rule by the "Budget-eating Class".

Entire Anthology in one file [PDF 26 MB].

The First Formulation of the Theory of Anarcho-Capitalism

The First Reaction by his Peers

The Further Development of Molinari's Theory of Pure Anarcho-capitalism

Molinari's Gradual Retreat from Strict Anarcho-Capitalism: from "la liberté de gouvernement" to tutelage, natural monopolies, and the evolution of "self-government".

Last Words on the Matter