The Institut Coppet’s Collected Works of Molinari

Institut Coppet, Oeuvres complètes

The Institut Coppet is a fabulous resource for material on the very rich and fascinating French classical liberal tradition. It was founded in 2010 by Damien Theillier, a philosophy teacher in Paris, its current president is Mathieu Laine, and its very active publishing program is headed by the indefatigable Benoît Malbranque. The Institute is named after the Chateau in Switzerland owned by Madame de Staël (Germaine Necker) which served as a place of refuge for French liberals fleeing the oppression of Napoleon. Thus today, the Institut Coppet serves as an intellectual refuge for those French liberals who wish to escape the oppression of the modern Gallic interventionist state, which is just as “Napoleonic” as anything created by either Napoleon I or Napoleon III.


Picture from the Canton of Vaud, Switzerland, website

As part of the celebrations in 2019 of the 200th anniversary of the birth of Gustave de Molinari (1819-1912), the most radical of the French classical liberals, the Institut Coppet has launched a massive publishing program to publish the complete works of Molinari. To date they have published 4 volumes which takes us up to the year 1847.

I say “massive” because by my reckoning Molinari, since he lived to be 92, wrote an awful lot. In my revised bibliography of his works (2018) I counted 44 stand alone books, 9 books for which he wrote a preface or an introduction, and 18 pamphlets or reprints of articles he had written. Then there is his enormous output of articles he wrote, primarily for the Journal des Économistes and for his magazine L’Économiste belge in the 1850s and 1860s. What is harder to discover are the articles he wrote very early in his career for journals such as la Revue générale biographique, La Nation, and Le Courrier français, and also the material he wrote over many decades for the Journal des Débats. I stopped counting at 240 but Benoît Malbranque has uncovered another 400 just for the period of the 1840s.

I discovered the work of Molinari as an undergraduate at Macquarie University in Sydney in the 1970s, wrote my Honours History thesis on him in 1979 ( “Gustave de Molinari and the Anti-statist Liberal Tradition”, and have been working on him ever since. For the centennial of his death in 2012 I assembled an anthology of his writings on the state, “Molinari’s Theory of the State: from “The Production of Security” to Rule by the “Budget-eating Class”” (in French and PDF only unfortunately).

For the bicentennial of his birth in 2019 I did the following:

  1. updated my earlier anthology (now in French in HTML),
  2. wrote a new, long introduction to his thought , “Gustave de Molinari (1819–1912): A Survey of the Life and Work of an “Économiste Dure” (A Hard-Core Economist)” and introductions to each of the texts (in English)
  3. assembled “The Collected Articles by Gustave de Molinari from the Dictionnaire de l’économie politique (1852-53)” which would have constituted another book in their own right, with an introduction by me in English; the articles are in French.
  4. assembled another anthology of Molinari’s “Collected Writings on the Production of Security (1846-1901)” for which I wrote an introduction “Was Molinari a true Anarcho-Capitalist?: An Intellectual History of the Private and Competitive Production of Security” (Sept,. 2019).

The pinnacle of my celebrations of his life and thought was to have the publication by Liberty Fund (I had hoped in 2019) of the translation I had edited of his great work from 1849, Les Soirées de la rue Saint-Lazare; entretiens sur les lois économiques et défense de la propriété (Evenings on Saint Lazarus Street: Discussions on Economic Laws and the Defence of Property), for which I had written a long introduction. I posted the 2016 draft of the translation on the OLL website, and my introduction; and an updated draft in 2019. Unfortunately as a result of all the turmoil at Liberty Fund it is not clear when, or even if, this work will be published. This is a very great pity as a publication date of 2019 would have been the 200th anniversary of his birth and, for me at least, the 40th anniversary of my undergraduate honours thesis on him.

But the Institut Coppet were able to get their act together and 4 volumes of Molinari’s earliest work (1842-1847) has appeared in print and in PDF. Regrettably it is not all available in HTML (only the pieces from 1842) so it can be searched by scholars interested in Molinari’s life and thought.

The table of contents of the first 4 volumes is available in HTML and can be found here, as well as the introduction by the editor Benoît Malbranque, La jeunesse belge de Gustave de Molinari .

Molinari’s articles in the Dictionnaire de l’économie politique (1852-53)


A Selection of his Articles from the DEP (1852-53)
While he was writing his book Les Soirées de la rue Saint-Lazare over the summer of 1849 Molinari was also working on 30 articles which would appear in the most important publication the Guillaumin publishing firm had undertaken up to that time, namely the Dictionnaire de l’Économie Politique (Dictionary of Political Economy). It was a key part of the Guillaumin firm’s strategy to counter the growing support for socialist ideas revealed by the success of socialist groups like the Montagnards during the 1848 Revolution, and the continuing support for interventionist and protectionist policies by Napoleon’s government during the Second Republic.

To counter these ideas among the general public Guillaumin published works like Bastiat’s Economic Sophisms (1846, 1848) and turned into cheap pamphlets several of his articles written for journals like Le Journal des débats (“The State”) and the Journal des Économistes (“Plunder and Law”) or which they commissioned as stand alone pamphlets like The Law (July 1850). Guillaumin also commissioned younger economists like Molinari to turn their hand to writing for a popular audience like his book Les Soirées.

To counter the false ideas held by the political and intellectual elites which governed France the Guillaumin undertook the massive DEP project in which Molinari played an important role, being a kid of de facto co-editor of the project under Charles Coquelin (who died before the project was completed). The purpose was to assemble a compendium of the state of knowledge of liberal political economy with hundreds of articles written by leading economists on key topics, biographies of important historical figures, annotated bibliographies of the most important books in the field, and tables of economic and political statistics.

The DEP project was most likely conceived in late 1848 or early 1849, was announced in the Guillaumin catalog of May 1849 as being “in preparation,” was made available in subscription form in August 1849, and the first volume of which was printed in book form in early to mid-1852. The end result was a two volume, nearly 2,000 page, double-columned, nearly 2 million word encyclopedia of political economy which appeared in 1852-53.

Molinari was a major contributor to the Project, writing 25 principle articles and five biographical articles. In the acknowledgements he was mentioned as one of the five key collaborators on the project. Other economists who made significant contributors to the project were the main editor Coquelin, who died suddenly in August 1852 before he could start work on volume 2 and who wrote 70 principle articles, Horace Say (29), Joseph Garnier (28), Ambroise Clément (22), and Courcelle-Seneuil (21). Maurice Block wrote most of the biographical entries and Bastiat contributed three which appeared posthumously. Molinari’s articles were the following (those in bold have been translated into English):

Biographical Articles (5):

  1. “Necker,” T. 2, pp. 272-74.
  2. “Peel (Robert),” T. 2, pp. 351-54.
  3. “Saint-Pierre (abbé de),” T. 2, pp. 565-66.
  4. “Sully (duc de),” T. 2, pp. 684-85.

Principle Articles (24):

  1. “Beaux-arts” (Fine Arts) , T. 1, pp. 149-57.
  2. “Céréales” (Grain), T. 1, pp. 301-26.
  3. “Civilisation” (Civilization) , T. 1, pp. 370-77.
  4. “Colonies,” T. 1, pp. 393-403.
  5. “Colonies agricoles” (Agricultural Colonies), T. 1, pp. 403-5.
  6. “Colonies militaires” (Military Colonies), T. 1, p. 405.
  7. “Émigration” (Emigration), T. 1, pp. 675-83.
  8. “Esclavage” (Slavery), T. 1, pp. 712-31.
  9. “Liberté des échanges (Associations pour la)” (Free Trade Associations), T. 2, p. 45-49.
  10. “Liberté du commerce, liberté des échanges” (Freedom of Commerce. Free Trade) , T. 2, pp. 49-63.
  11. “Mode” (Fashion) , T. 2, pp. 193-96.
  12. “Monuments publics” (Public Monuments), T. 2, pp. 237-8.
  13. “Nations” (Nations) , T. 2, pp. 259-62.
  14. “Noblesse” (The Nobility) , T2, pp. 275-81
  15. “Paix, Guerre” (Peace. War), T. 2, pp. 307-14.
  16. “Paix (Société et Congrès de la Paix)” (The Society and Congress for Peace), T. 2, pp. 314-15.
  17. “Propriété littéraire et artistique” (Literary and Artistic Property), T. 2, pp. 473-78
  18. “Servage” (Serfdom), T. 2, pp. 610-13
  19. “Tarifs de douane” (Customs Tariffs), T. 2, pp. 712-16.
  20. “Théâtres” (Theaters), T. 2, pp. 731-33.
  21. “Travail” (Labor), vol. 2, pp. 761-64.
  22. “Union douanière” (Customs Union), vol. 2, p. 788-89.
  23. “Usure” (Usury), vol. 2, pp. 790-95.
  24. “Villes” (Towns) , T. 2, pp. 833-38.
  25. “Voyages” (Travel), T. 2, pp. 858-60.

The seven articles in bold were translated into English for Lalor’s Cyclopaedia of Political Science, Political Economy (1881) (see below for details), and are available online here. All thirty in French are available here with an introduction in English.

The topics he focused on were two that were dear to his heart and on which he had already written, namely free trade and slavery. Concerning free trade, he wrote the articles on Grain, Free Trade Associations, Freedom of Commerce. Free Trade, Customs Tariffs, and Customs Union. Concerning slavery, he wrote the articles on Slavery and Serfdom. On more specialised topics on which he would also write in Les Soirées , we should note those on Fine Arts, Literary and Artistic Property, Theaters, Labor, and Usury. Another group of topics that deserve special mention are those to which one normally would not expect to see economic analysis applied, such as Emigration, Fashion, Fine Arts, Public Monuments, and Travel. The latter suggest that Molinari had an innovative way of thinking about all manner of social and cultural problems and using economic analysis to deepen our understanding of them in new and interesting ways. Among these one would include the formation of cities and towns and his growing interest in class analysis

Thirty years after the appearance of the DEP the American political scientist and economist John Joseph Lalor (1840-1899) attempted to do something similar for the English-speaking world with his Cyclopaedia of Political Science, Political Economy, and of the Political History of the United States (first ed. 1881-84, second edition 1899). In addition to his own formidable list of American authors he included translations of one hundred articles from the DEP including many by Bastiat, Henri Baudrillart, Michel Chevalier, Cherbuliez, Ambroise Clément, Charles Coquelin, Léon Faucher, Joseph Garnier, J.E. Horn, Louis Leclerc, H. Passy, members of the Say family, Courcelle-Seneuil, and of course Molinari. This constituted a veritable “who’s who” of the economists in the Guillaumin network. Just as America was moving further into the protectionist camp, Lalor and his colleagues were translating some of the hardest of hard-core French free trade advocates, such as Molinari’s “Freedom of Commerce. Free Trade,” and offering it to American readers. The impact of this infusion of French political economy into America seems to have been minimal if anything, but it was a remarkably undertaking.

See the list of all the articles from the DEP which were translated and published in Lalor’s Cyclopedia.

Gustave de Molinari and the Story of the Monopolist Grocer

Let us follow our hypothesis to the end. To the extent that the progress of competitive industries makes the lack of improvement of monopolized commerce more noticeable and more damaging, consumers will complain more about this monopoly. However, if it is protected by some ancient superstition, if everybody is convinced that it is the nature of the grocery business that it be exercised as a monopoly, then the complaints will be limited …

As part of my ongoing celebration of the 200th anniversary of the birth of Gustave die Molinari (1819-1912) I have written another short essay on his radical proposal to open up all public goods, including the provision of police and defense services, or what he called “la production de la sécurité” (the production of security), to competition on the free market. It also contains a new translation of one of the stories he liked to tell about “the monopolist grocery” who, for rhetorical purposes, was Molinari’s stand-in for the state monopoly security service, or “dis-service” as he would have called it.

His idea was that, if he could get people to agree that having a grocer with a monopoly provide an essential service like food which inevitably resulted in high prices, poor service, lack of choice, and high profits for the monopolist on the grounds of sound economic thinking then, by a matter of logic, these same people should be in favour of the competitive, private provision of security, for exactly the same reasons.

He made these arguments in a journal article in an academic journal in February 1849, in a book aimed at a popular audience in September 1849, and then in his economic treatise published in 1855. The latter had a 50 page chapter which dealt with the economics of public goods and his arguments for why governments inevitably failed to provide them satisfactorily and indeed could never do so for good economic reasons. Needless to say, he was not successful in persuading his colleagues in the Political Economy Society or anyone else for that matter. They all continued steadfastly to believe in what Molinari called “this ancient superstition” that the government monopoly of the use of violence in a given geographical area was both necessary and sanctioned by God.

In spite of this setback in convincing the economic fraternity of the soundness of his ideas, Molinari continued to apply economic ideas in a most original way to the study of the state, its administrative organisation, and its historical evolution for the next 40 years in what ended up being a formidable body of work. By the time he died in 1912 at the age of 92 he had written 44 books and more than 240 articles that we now about.

Not deterred by the failure of his story about the monopolist grocer to persuade anybody (until the 1970s when he was rediscovered in America by Rothbard and his Circle Bastiat in NYC) he changed tack and now referred in his work to “our hypothesis” which was his rather coy way to make the same argument sound a bit less threatening.

I have a sizable and growing collection of Molinari’s books and articles on my website, and the Institut Coppet in Paris is republishing his collected works as we speak. Good luck to them! He wrote a lot.

See the following for further reading:

The draft translation of his 1849 book Evenings on Saint Lazarus Street and the important Soirée no. 11

My translation of his pathbreaking essay from February 1849 on “The Production of Security”

A paper I wrote on the history of the evolution of his thinking on this subject: ”Was Molinari a true Anarcho-Capitalist?: An Intellectual History of the Private and Competitive Production of Security,” a paper at the Libertarian Scholars Conference, NYC (Sept. 2019).

My most recent paper: “Gustave de Molinari and the Story of the Monopolist Grocer”.

The Institut Coppet’s announcement of their Oeuvres complètes de Molinari (Complete Works of Molinari).

Papers given at the Libertarian Scholars Conference, NYC, 21 Sept. 2019.

Was Molinari a true Anarcho-Capitalist?

(1.) “Was Molinari a true Anarcho-Capitalist?: An Intellectual History of the Private and Competitive Production of Security”. A paper given at the Libertarian Scholars Conference, NYC, 21 Sept. 2019 [Full paper HTML and PDFSlidesHandout ]. See the abstract of the paper below.

Some Thoughts on an ‘Austrian Theory of Film’: Ideas and Human Action in a Film about Frédéric Bastiat

(2.) “Some Thoughts on an ‘Austrian Theory of Film’: Ideas and Human Action in a Film about Frédéric Bastiat”. A paper given at the Libertarian Scholars Conference, NYC, 21 Sept. 2019. [Full paper in HTML and PDFSlides ] [ ScreenplayIllustrations ].

Abstract: When thinking about the problems a filmmaker faces when trying to make a “movie of ideas” I was struck by the relevance of the works of two economists, that of Ludwig von Mises’ theory of “human action” and Frédéric Bastiat’s theory of “the seen and the unseen,” in helping the filmmaker think about the problems of depicting economic ideas and economic actions in a visual medium like film. It made me think that perhaps we should develop an “Austrian theory of Film” to help us do this. If there can be a feminist theory of film and a Marxist theory of film, why not an Austrian theory of film?

Mises is relevant because according to his theory of human action people act upon the ideas they have about what their interests are (in many cases these are economic interests), what their alternatives might be, and how best they can attempt to satisfy those interests given their scarce resources and other options. In essence then, human action is based upon the ideas people hold. Bastiat is relevant because the ideas people hold in their heads are a textbook example of what is invisible to outsiders, in other words they are “the unseen” perhaps even the unseeable, yet the actions which people take based upon the ideas they have about themselves, their interests, and the world around them can be “seen” in the actions they take.

A few questions I pose and attempt to answer are: can the filmmaker use these theories about economic behavior to make an interesting film with economic themes? can the ordinary film viewer correctly infer the ideas which lie behind a person’s choices and actions as depicted in a film? and how subtle should a screenplay writer or director be in giving the viewer hints (or what I cake visual “nudging”)? I use the screenplay I have have written about Bastiat’s activities during the revolution of 1848 and the Second Republic, called “Broken Windows”, to discuss these and other matters. See the screenplay, “Broken Windows” and the accompanying “illustrated essay” of the life and times of Bastiat.

Was Molinari a true Anarcho-Capitalist?

As part of the bicentennial celebrations of the birth of Gustave de Molinari, the world’s first true anarcho-capitalist, I wrote the following paper: “Was Molinari a true Anarcho-Capitalist?: An Intellectual History of the Private and Competitive Production of Security” a paper given at the Libertarian Scholars Conference, New York City, 28 Sept. 2019. http://davidmhart.com/liberty/Papers/Molinari/ProductionSecurity/index.html>]

The paper explores two topics relating to Gustave de Molinari’s pathbreaking article “De la production de la sécurité” (On the Production of Security) (JDE, Feb. 1849). The first is an exploration of the intellectual history leading up to this theoretical breakthrough, that private insurance companies in a competitive free market, or “les producteurs de la sécurité” (producers of security) or “entrepreneurs in the security industry,” can and would be able to supply protection of life, liberty, and property, in other words police and national defense services, to private individuals, or “les consommateurs de la sécurité” (consumers of security), by voluntarily charging premiums for their services in a competitive market. The deeper roots of Molinari’s idea lay in the work of Destutt de Tracy and J.B. Say in the 1810s on the question of whether or not government activity was “productive” and if so, in what way. Closer to his own time, the conservative politician Adolphe Theirs and the socialist publisher Émile de Girardin in the late 1840s both likened the state metaphorically speaking to an “insurance company” which provided services to taxpayers/shareholders who paid taxes/premiums to that company.

Molinari’s contribution to the debate was to see how the metaphor could be turned into reality, where actual private property insurance companies (“les compagnies d’assurances sur la propriété” (property insurance companies) ) would contractually and voluntarily provide protection services to their policy holders. Molinari first developed his ideas in a series of articles and books written between 1846 and 1855 (the article “Le droit électorale” Courrier français (July, 1846); the article ” in JDE, Feb. 1849; Soirée 11 inLes Soirées de la rue Saint-Lazare(1849); scattered references in several articles he wrote for the Dictionnaire de l’économie politique (1852-53); the chapter on “Public Consumption” (Douzième leçon, “Les consommations publiques,” in his treatise Cours d’économie politique (1855)), and then returned to the topic again later in the 1880s and 1890s (the chapter Chap. X “Les Gouvernements de l’avenir,” in L’Évolution politique et la Révolution (1884); his book on Esquisse de l’organisation politique et économique de la société future (Sketch of the political and economic organisation of the future society (society in the future)) (1899); and the late article “Où est l’utopie?” (Where is Utopia?) (JDE, 1904).

The second topic to be explored is the question of how much of an “anarcho-capitalist” Molinari really was and whether or not he remained one over the course of his long life. The term itself is anachronistic to use about Molinari as it was coined by Rothbard to describe his own views which were emerging in the 1950s and 1960s under the influence of Molinari’s original 1849 article, along with the writings of other members of the Paris School of economists, such as Charles Dunoyer, Charles Comte, and Frédéric Bastiat. Molinari himself referred to his views as “la liberté de gouvernement” (the liberty of government, or free government) or “la concurrence politique” (political competition, or competing governments). I will argue that Molinari was a “true” or “hard” anarcho-capitalist when it came to the question of the private production and provision of police and defense services (“la sécurité) – for which he used the very “capitalist” expressions such as “producers of security,” “consumers of security,” the “security industry,” “entrepreneurs in the security industry,” etc – until he reached his seventies when he “backtracked” slightly during the 1890s. He was also a “true” or “hard” anarcho-capitalist when it came to the question of the private production and provision of justice by means of competing law courts which charged “fees for service” and remained one for his entire life. He had several insights about how law might evolve privately but he did not develop it as far as he did with the private production of security. My conclusion is that he came came very close to being an early (perhaps the first) “Rothbardian anarcho-capitalist” but did not go all the way there. This fact in itself was quite extraordinary for his day and age and his achievements should be duly recognized by historians and economists.