[Created: Niovember 15, 2011]
[Updated: April 22, 2012 ]
Images above (left to right, top to bottom):
The 19thC French classical liberals (CL) have been overshadowed by their better known (but not better) 19thC English cousins. Problem compounded by fact that leading Austrian theorists like Hayek completely misunderstand the French classical liberal tradition [See his essay “Individualism: True and False” (1945)]. Under the influence of Leonard Liggio and Murray Rothbard there has been some recognition of the important contributions made by the French classical liberal tradition, but unfortunately still not a full recognition. Problem further compounded by the fact that American scholars give far too much attention to the thought of the conservative (liberal?) writer Alexis de Tocqueville at the expence of his much more radically liberal and consistent contemporaries such as Bastiat. [Example of contrasting views: (1) Tocqueville in favour of French colonization of Algeria (civilizing mission) vs. Bastiat’s total condemnation; (2) AdT’s reaction to June Days uprising in Paris. He supported the use of troops in shooting the protesters - FB was out in the streets trying to rescue and aid the injured and persuading the troops to stop firing].
We have a “chicken and the egg” problem here. I might just as properly have asked the question “How French are the Austrians?” instead of asking “How Austrian were the French?”
[On how an Australian Student was Introduced to Austrian Economics and the
French Radical Liberal School of Political Economy.]
I have spent most of my academic life reading about the the French school of CL writing an honours thesis on Gustave de Molinari, a PhD on Charles Comte and Charles Dunoyer, editing the collected works of Frédéric Bastiat for Liberty Fund, and editing an anthology of 19th French CL for Routledge.
I was first made aware of the French CL by Leonard Liggio whom I met at a Cato Summer Seminar at Stanford University in August 1978 (lectures by Rothbard, Roy Childs, Leonard Liggio, Ralph Raico). LL had written but never submitted a PhD on Comte and Dunoyer and had introduced them to Rothbard who thought very highly of them as his remarks in his history of economic thought indicate. LL acted as a mentor to me when I expressed interest in doing research on the French CL school.
I decided to write my honours thesis on Molinari’s anarcho-capitalist thought in 1979, having been an intern at Cato (then in San Francisco) December-February 1978-79 working with LL when I photocopied nearly all of Molinari’s works held at the UC Berkeley Library.
Upon my return to Sydney (I was at Macquarie) I found there was an impressive collection of French free market material held by the Mitchell Library [Journal des Économistes, books published by the Guillaumin firm, Dictionnaire d’économie politique]. My theory is that before Federation NSW was a free trade state and that the librarians at the state library had it fully stocked with free market literature as that was state policy. Of course the free traders lost out to the protectionist Victorians when the Commonwealth of Australia was formed in January 1901, but I enjoyed the benefit of the free trade heritage of NSW when I came to write my thesis.
Greg Lindsay’s Centre for Independent Studies also played a role in furthering my research into the radical French CL. He allowed me to photocopy on his office machines the entire, very large, 2 volume Dictionnaire d’économie politique which was the summation of the radical French CL body of knowledge in the mid-19thC. I subsequently had them bound in an expensive thesis binding and have them with me to this day.
I would describe myself as an Australian Franco-Austro-anarcho-capitalist.
Who were the main members of the radical French CL school?
The Radical French Classical Liberals (2nd Generation) (key period 1846-1856)
Napoleonic & Restoration Periods (1800-1830)
The July Monarchy (1830-1848)
The Second Republic (1848-1852)
The Third Empire (1852-1870)
The Founders, or the First Generation, took political economy into new directions just after the turn of the century (Say); had a strong legal and historical perspective (CC and CD trained as lawyers, discovered Say’s economic thought in 1817; developed theory of history based upon class analysis and “industrialism”); Thierry history of rise of Third Estate and conquest theory.
Second Generation emerged in 1840s around Bastiat and Molinari. Radicalised by growth of socialism and outbreak of 1848 Revolution. Developed new ideas about interpersonal exchange of services, rent (Bastiat), production of security as just another economic activity governed by economic laws (Molinari), free banking (Coquelin, Courcelle-Senueil), social theory based upon idea of legal plunder (Bastiat); theory of human action (Courcelle-Seneuil, Études sur la science sociale (1862)).
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 [Evenings on the Rue Saint-Lazare: Dicussions on Economic Laws and the Defence of Property], 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.
What made them so “radical” (and in my view better than the English CL school)?
Thus, the radical French CL school are libertarian, but are they “Austrian”?
I believe that the “Austrian School” can be characterized as both an “economic” theory as well as a “social” theory which has important things to say about history and political/social structures (class).
Useful summary and definition of Austrian school understood strictly as an “economic theory” is provided by Pete Boettke. [Peter J. Boettke, "Austrian School of Economics" in the Concise Encyclopedia of Economics, Econlib <http://www.econlib.org/library/Enc/AustrianSchoolofEconomics.html>.]
The Science of Economics
The modern Austrian School has been developed by the writings of Friedrich Hayek (1899-1992), Ludwig von Mises (1881-1973), and Murray Rothbard (1926-1995). Each of these thinkers developed alongside their economic theory a broader social theory which included history of ideas, economic history, political theory, and social analysis (including notions of class and exploitation). The latter was explicitly part of Mises’ social theory (“The Clash of Group Interests”) and most especially in the work of Rothbard. The “weak link” here is the political theory of Hayek who admitted many exceptions to the policy of laissez-faire that one might better classify him as a liberal-minded social democrat rather than as a hard-core laissez-faire classical liberal like Mises let alone an explicit anarcho-capitalist like Rothbard (see especially The Constitution of Liberty (1960)).
Here is my list of ideas and theories which constitute the Austrian School of Social Theory:
Returning to Boettke’s definition of Austrian school understood strictly as an “economic theory” (I have put in bold those aspects of Boettke’s list which members of the radical French school (RFS) also believed to a large extent; in italic those aspects which the French partly believed.)
The Science of Economics
Area of agreement or shared ideas: 4/10 largely agreed/shared; 4/10 partly agreed/shared. Thus I would grade them about 6/10 or “half an Austrian” (if “an Austrian” was our unit of measurement - compare “utils” as unit of measurement for utility).
Since we have three important founders of the modern Austrian School (Hayek, Mises, Rothbard) another way we might ask this question is how Hayekian, how Misesian, or how Rothbardian, was the radical French CL school? My quick answer would be not very Hayekian, fairly Misesian, and very Rothbardian. To return to list above: