Abstract: The topic of this paper is the class theory of Jean-Baptiste Say (1767–1832). Charles Comte (1782–1838) and Charles Dunoyer (1786–1862). However, in order to be fully accurate, this title should be qualified in several respects. First, the thinking of these men cannot be examined in complete isolation, divorced from traditional liberal ideas, the works of their contemporaries and the intellectual currents of the day. Secondly, their class theories strictly speaking cannot be separated from what we might now consider the separate specializations of economics, history and political theory. This is the nature of the times as well as in the nature of the subject.
Mark Weinburg, Department of History, University of Chicago
The topic of this paper is the class theory of Jean-Baptiste Say (1767–1832). Charles Comte (1782-1838) and Charles Dunoyer (1786–1862). However, in order to be fully accurate, this title should be qualified in several respects. First, the thinking of these men cannot be examined in complete isolation, divorced from traditional liberal ideas, the works of their contemporaries and the intellectual currents of the day. Secondly, their class theories strictly speaking cannot be separated from what we might now consider the separate specializations of economics, history and political theory. This is the nature of the times as well as in the nature of the subject. In the early 19th century, the social sciences had not developed in the sense which we know them today. With the exceptions of history and political economy, real specializations had not yet become established among the “political and moral sciences”, as they were then known. In this group, Say is the exception, a true specialist, perhaps the first professional economist of the 19th century. Comte is closest to Say in this regard, a professor of law and a publicist. He wished to apply in his own field the scientific methods of J.B. Say. His Traité de legislation involved a meticulous examination of the history and social organizations of the human race based upon the principles of utility and political economy. Dunoyer, who is remembered primarily as a political economist, was somewhat more ambitious in his endeavors. Trained as a lawyer, he was a publicist, a professor of political economy, and he wrote his chief work, La Liberté du travail as a history of the growth of liberty in civilization, which to Dunoyer meant the history of civilization itself. It was a vast social-historical treatise shaped and informed by the principles of political economy. It would be impossible to discuss the class theories of these men without examining their view of history, their political ideas and most importantly their economic thought. In fact, the main thesis of this paper is that a cogent, cohesive and vastly powerful social analysis was created with the fusion of liberal historical and political thought with the economic orthodoxy of Jean-Baptiste Say.
An examination of any group of critical radicals, such as the French liberals of the Restoration and July Monarchy periods, necessarily must address itself to three basic questions. First, what was the primary liberal view of the origins and history of the class structure of their society? Secondly, how did they envision the structure of a truly just society? And finally, by what means was the just society to be attained? From this derives the basic organization of the paper. In the first section, I will present a brief and by no means exhaustive examination of some aspects of the revolutionary liberal tradition in which these men shared and some of the contemporaneous intellectual climates which influenced their work. The second section will deal with the development of the doctrines of industrielisme which was the synthesis of traditional liberal views on history and politics and the new science of economics. The final section of the paper will examine the vitally important concepts of anarchy and social evolution as they were developed in the later writings of Say, Comte and Dunoyer.
One of the most important themes in the historical thought of the late 18th and early 19th centuries was the concept of the evolution of civilization through various stages. Perhaps the first among the French to develop this was Bossuet in his Discours sur I’histoire universelle (1681). In 1750, Turgot set out in his Plan de deux discours sur I’histoire universelle the division of civilization into the stages of hunting, pastoral and agricultural societies which was to be so influential among later liberal theorists. It was within this evolutionary framework that the liberals of the Restoration period developed their ideas concerning the structure of modern society.
The fundamental liberal notion of the origin of the pre-revolutionary and restoration class structure of France was based upon what we might most simply call the Conquest Theory. This concept was hardly a novelty in the post-Napoleonic era. It was, rather, a common- place of 18th century liberal radicalism. Thomas Paine employed it to attack the legitimacy of the British monarch in his Common Sense of 1776. Paine’s wry comments about French bastards and armed banditti may have lacked scholarly restraint, but they were an effective piece of propaganda in the American Revolutionary struggle.
Briefly, the conquest theory traced the origin of contemporary European class structure to the barbarian invasions which swept over the Roman Empire and imposed upon the indigenous peoples of Western Europe and the Mediterranean world a barbarian military hierarchy from whence there developed the royal and noble classes of medieval and modern Europe. Coincidental with this was the rise of Christianity and the consequent elaboration of a religious hierarchy, the higher orders of which were rapidly co-opted by the secular aristocracy. For centuries, the servile masses groaned under the tyranny of the feudal system; however, the various rivalries of kings and lords and religious and secular factions allowed opportunities for the growth and reassertion of the productive classes. In France, the growing importance of these classes received legal sanction in the recognition of the Third Estate as one of the three great orders of the realm. It was in a critical examination of these origins of the structure of their society that the radicals of the 18th century found the ideological grounds for revolution.
In his revolutionary tract, Paine distinguished radically between society and government, one, always a blessing arising from our wants, the other, a necessary evil, arising from our wickedness. Paine realized, of course, that in a developed and civilized society brute force alone would not suffice to support a political order. A successful revolutionary must first break the bonds of conviction and emotion which attach men even to bad governments. This was the role of natural law and social contract theories, to sap the legalist and theological foundations of monarchical government. Thus, rather than the anointed of God, the king became merely the descendant of the “principal ruffian of some restless gang” who at one time managed to usurp the natural rights of men.
Similar notions were developed just prior to the outbreak of the French Revolution by Abbe Sieyês in his tract, What is the Third Estate? Amid the breakdown of the late medieval and absolutist order in France, Sieyês appealed to the growing sense of nationhood within French society. Sieyês defined the essence of this nationhood as the existence of a community living in a common order under a common law. This emphasis upon a common order and a common law was in stark contradiction to the political theory and practices of absolutism. In the theory of the absolutist state, society consisted of innumerable legally autonomous groups variously called estates, corps, orders or classes. Society was divided vertically and horizontally into these particular groups, each having its own functional monopoly, its own status, and its own privileges (privatae leges or private laws); hence the opposition between “particular orders” and “common order”, “private laws” and “common law”. Over all the king enjoyed absolute power, at least in theory. Each particular corps or group had the right to counsel the king in matters which were germane to its interests. In turn the king dispensed justice.
It was the obvious breakdown of this particularist and feudal view of society towards which Sieyês aimed his arguments. He noted that it was the Third Estate which performed all the essential functions of society, meaning here production and commerce. The feudal view perhaps fit the time when the Third Estate was merely the servile horde which existed only to provide the sustenance of the warrior and clerical classes. However, with the growth of arts, of industry and of commerce, the Third Estate had grown to become the largest, the strongest, and most vital portion of society. French society was no longer the medieval commonwealth of knights and priests and serfs, but a modern nation based upon industry and commerce, and the Third Estate was that nation; nothing outside the Third Estate could share in that nationhood. “The Third Estate which had been reduced to nothing, has reacquired, through its industry, a part of what the injustice of the stronger had taken from it.” The nobility was no longer the “monstrous feudal reality” of the dark ages; it was quite simply a malignancy living parasitically within the body of the nation.
During the course of the French Revolution the concept of the progressive development of humanity and of the establishment and evolution of classes within society was given a more precise formulation by the Marquis de Condorcet in his Esquisse d’une tableau historique des progèts de l’esprit humaine. Development in Condorcet’s theory meant intellectual development. It was, however, intimately tied to the material circumstances of a society. Human effort created products, property, which gave rise to exchanges, the division of labor and ultimately to the development of surplus. The accumulation of a surplus allowed time for leisure and the opportunity for observation and reflection. Observation and reflection led to discovery and intellectual improvement which, when applied to man’s necessary activities, increased productivity and created further advancement.
In the foundation of his study, Condorcet embraced completely the method of the natural sciences. Since the laws of the physical universe, whether known or unknown, were necessary and constant, he assumed that this was no less true for the laws regulating the development of man’s moral faculties. An examination of the development of those faculties across the course of human history would reveal those laws and make it possible to trace the probable future course of the race. Both Condorcet’s emphasis on the scientific method and his general scheme for the development of civilization were to have great influence among the liberals of the post-Napoleonic era.
In the period stretching from the American Revolution to the restoration of the Bourbons in France, there was general recognition, throughout the Western world, of the great progress which had been attained through the development of the physical sciences and technology. There was also, after the style of Condorcet, a growing confidence that those same methods when applied to the phenomena of society and government would bring about a great flowering of the social sciences and a consequent rationalization of society. Montesquieu, in his De I’esprit des lois (1748), proclaimed that he had drawn his principles not from opinion, but “from the nature of things”, a phrase that was to recur throughout the treatises of the early 19th century. Say used it in describing the method of his political economy. Charles Comte seconded this in the opening pages of his Traité de legislation as did Dunoyer in his course at the Athenée.
Undoubtedly, the success of Adam Smith and J.B. Say in delineating a science of political economy encouraged efforts in the other social sciences. There was the belief that history might be made scientific, an idea that the liberals of Restoration France may have drawn from Turgot. There was hope, further, that the confluence of these new social sciences would produce the definitive science of society. There were some such as Saint Simon who thought that they had it within their grasp.
The situation which faced the liberals with the re-establishment of the Bourbon dynasty was comparable to the one facing their philosophe forebears in the pre-revolutionary era. Like the philosophes, they wished to expose the foibles and injustices of their society to the light of reason. Their work, however, was profoundly influenced by revolutionary and imperial experiences as well as by the newer intellectual currents of their times.
For one thing, the liberals were obviously affected by attacks upon the rationalist criticism of the 18th century. Defenders of the old orders and many newer liberals complained that the philosophes destroyed, but they could not build; and, where they attempted to replace the structure of the society they had so effectively undermined, their schemes were nothing but pure speculations, vain and artificial constructions bearing no relations to the real needs of society. In the elucidation of their concept of the scientific method as applied to the phenomena of society, both Say and Comte were careful to avoid the policy science pitfalls of the revolutionary theorists, a common enlightenment view that political and moral sciences were meant to translate fact into values. Say and Comte explicitly disavowed this purpose. Their sole task, they claimed, was to unearth facts and the chains of cause and effect which held them together. The true scientist might advise as to the consequences of a particular act, but never as to the duties of the enactor. Where the liberals saw the outline of a better society, they were at pains to demonstrate how it would emerge naturally through the mechanisms of society itself, rather than being forged in the political machinations of a revolutionary convention.
Another attitude which the restoration liberals picked up from the historians of the late 18th century and the writings of the dynastic apologists was a strong sense of the historical relativity of social institutions. This attitude was not necessarily foreign to the liberal tradition. Peter Gay noted that there was a strong underlying strain of historical relativism in the writings of enlightenment historians, though it was often ignored by the historians themselves. Even though the liberals found unconvincing the arguments of Chateaubriand and later those of de Bonald and de Maistre for the re-establishment of the medieval commonwealth, they were nevertheless impressed by the historical vision that social institutions must reflect the true nature of society.
One of the first of the restoration liberals to consciously employ this notion in an attack upon contemporary society was Benjamin Constant in his lecture, later published, De l’esprit deconquête (l813). Constant noted that the ancient world was organized upon the basis of warfare. Military virtues were necessary to the survival of the ancient state and, hence, were laudable. The modern world, however, was organized upon a different basis. “We have arrived at the epoch of commerce, the epoch which must necessarily replace that of warfare, as that of warfare must necessarily precede it.”
To attempt to impose upon a society a form that did not fit its nature would be to destroy it. In the ancient world independence and security were bought only at the price of constant warfare. Not to fight was inevitably to be conquered and enslaved. To turn a modern man into a warrior would make him ferocious, but it would not remove from him the habit of commercial calculation. Unrestrained by the public-spirited virtues of the ancient republic, he would be at once calculating and egotistical, and society would dissolve into brigandage and chaos. Dunoyer in particular was impressed by this argument, and he later admitted the importance of Constant’s lecture in the development of his own thought.
Although Constant certainly felt that man had some role in the shaping of his social institutions, he realized that the effect was reciprocal. ” … Man conforms to the institutions which he finds established as he conforms to the laws of the physical universe. He is influenced by even the worst aspects of these institutions in the arrangement of his interests, his speculations, the entire plan of his life.” Reflecting some disillusionment with the revolutionary experience, Constant notes: “To change all this, even for the better, would do him harm.”
The sentiment that power was ultimately ineffectual in propelling rapid social change had an obviously optimistic side. Dunoyer expressed it clearly in his early work and it remained a constant liberal motif. The idea was simple to the point of banality: a prince or despot could not long act against the opinion of the vast majority of his subjects. To do so was to destabilize his regime and invite revolution. If nothing else this should have been the lesson that the Bourbons drew from the Great Revolution. That they, or at least their partisans, had not done so was an obvious source of irritation to the liberal faction.
This principle, however, cut two ways. On the pessimistic side, it set a limit to the possibilities of reform. The political and social amelioration of society could only move so fast, the pace being set by the degree of civilization and enlightenment which society already enjoyed. The influence of Condorcet’s developmental theory is clear, though there was less emphasis upon progress as axiomatic in the thinking of Comte and Say. Necessity remained an important aspect of Dunoyer’s developmental theory; and, interestingly, this was accompanied by a more pronounced strain of pessimism in his later writings.
There developed among the Restoration liberals a real anti-revolutionary stance. Education became for them the prime engine of reform. This anti-revolutionary stance became particularly forceful with the ultimate realization by the liberals that power and industry were antithetical. Comte noted in his Traité de legislation that a state which, for better or for worse, wished to create new laws which did not correspond to the wants or the needs of society must ” … apply the power which it possessed to give reality to its statutes, and reform (modifier) by violence the population which is subject to it. … It must make itself the master of the people by conquest, enslave the generations already formed, and seize those newly born to fashion them to its will.” The basic theme of the Traité is that such a use of force is absolutely contrary to the existence of modern society.
Thus, from various intellectual sources the liberals of the Restoration absorbed both an abiding faith in the progress of civilization and a growing consciousness of the constraints which physical and social realities impose upon human action. Though Comte and Dunoyer were essentially Restoration figures, their intimate association with men such as Say and Destutt de Tracy, intellectuals of the late revolutionary and Empire periods, places them clearly within the liberal, idéologue traditions of that era. The imprint of revolutionary and imperial experiences left them with a strong sense of the inefficacy of power and, in the end, inspired within them an abhorrence of power as a principle of evil.
Another intellectual current which was of paramount importance was utilitarianism. Say, Comte and Dunoyer were all familiar with the works of Bentham as well as with pre-Benthamite French utilitarians, and the principle of utility played an important part in their own thinking.
Utility was, of course, the basis of Say’s political economy, the source of value. Say, unlike many utilitarians, shied away from the concept of an individually measurable utility. For him the utility of an objector service was rigorously measurable only within a social context. Say eschewed individual evaluation since it was subject to the caprices of single person, and was therefore arbitrary. The only concept of value which economics could embrace as rigorously scientific was that which was generated in the social market process of supply and demand.
Comte applied a similar concept to his study of law. From the beginning he embraced the principal of utility as the motive for human action. Although Comte rejected the notion of innate ideas, he did believe that the basic stimuli of pleasure and pain had been placed within man by nature to propel him towards the preservation of the individual and the conservation of the species. Man’s capacity to reason and learn from experience had been the source of his immense progress. Outside the context of subjugation through conquest, men associated to further their interests. Any such association entailed setting limits upon the actions of the individuals involved, essentially proscriptions of those actions which were judged to impede the success of the association. In an organized society, these limits emerge as laws; the will to obey them is the virtue of justice. Thus, utility was anterior to law and justice, which become realized through a process of social consensus, a social evaluation of certain patterns of behavior.
Insofar as Dunoyer was an adherent of the doctrines of political economy, he treated the concept of utility in a manner identical to that of Say and Comte. However, his emphasis upon historical development tended to treat utility, like liberty, as emerging from a determined historical, rather than timeless or time-independent, social process. The actual differences here, however, were more apparent than real.
Utility theory also supplied the liberals with a position from which to attack the natural law and contract theories of society which were the basic tools of 18th century radicalism. By the early 19th century, systems of natural law had fallen into great disfavor among the liberals, who viewed them generally as embodying the worst aspects of metaphysical speculation. Comte condemned the elaborations of the natural law theorists as vague and arbitrary, new revelations inviting new theologies. Likewise, contract theories were thrown onto the same scrap heap as the natural law. They were historical roadblocks to critical inquiry and the progress of the social sciences.
Having completed this all too brief discussion of some of the important intellectual notions which were influential among the liberals of early 19th century France, I will now examine how these various ideas flowed together in the development of the doctrines of industrielisme. I will discuss the industriel critique of contemporary society, its view of government and its perception of the evolution of society towards a more just future.
In the early issues of their first journal, Le Censeur (1814–1815), we see Comte and Dunoyer generally moving in the common stream of turn of the century liberalism. Their first articles expressed a frank admiration for the virtues of ancient society, especially by comparison to the vices of modern society. Dunoyer, in an argument reminiscent of Constant, contrasted the patriotism and public spirit of the ancient republics with the caste spirit and egotism of modern society. He compared the modern situation to the darkest period of medieval history, a period marked by chaotic despotism having no concept of national spirit or public good. Comte likewise praised the ancients; they were better policed than the citizens of modern societies, certainly better than the inhabitants of medieval society who existed in a state in many ways little better than savagery.
Comte extolled the great legislators of the ancient world who were able to give unity and direction to the legal, moral and religious codes of their republics, harnessing them to the service of the warrior state.
Needless to say, Comte and Dunoyer were not calling for a return to the forms and spirit of the ancient republics nor appealing to the concept of organic unity for its own sake, as in the style of the later Saint Simon. Rather, what they desired was that the institutions of modern France be rebuilt in the image of society as it existed. The nature of that society was clear; it was the Third Estate of Abbé Sieyès, a society of peace and prosperity wherein the actions of production and exchange augmented enjoyments and established relationships of harmony and attachment.
At this time, the emphasis was upon legalistic, constitutional solutions. Though Comte did not go so far in his admiration of the organic unity of the ancient world as to recommend the establishment of a state religion, he did recommend the promulgation of a code of law and morality ” . . . in which would be entered all the dispositions which might have some influence upon the public and private conduct of the citizens”. The purpose of this code would be to form the conduct of the citizen upon the basis of the common interest, ” . . . to convince men that their individual interest can be found only in the general interest”. Dunoyer echoed this sentiment in his belief ” . . . that a religious observation of the law [the Charte] is the only regime which can give us a truly national character, and allow us, finally, a real and durable happiness” Such statements must be understood within the context of the times. Comte and Dunoyer were not calling for the subordination of the individual to the state. On the contrary, they were calling for the subordination of the predatory class interests of the newly re-established privileged orders to the general interests of a society based upon industry and commerce. Dunoyer’s use of the phrase “national character” reflects the revolutionary meaning of the concept of nation as the “common order”, the vital element of modern society which had developed out of the subject classes of the feudal system. This was a common element in the idéologue tradition. The old idéologue, Destutt de Tracy, in his Commentaire sur I’esprit des lois de Montesquieu, condemned Montesquieu’s classification of constitutional forms and opposed to it his own division of regimes into the two categories of national- and private right.
De Tracy’s ideas on government, it should be noted, were more than just echoes of the slogans of 1789. His critique of Montesquieu’s political theory evinces a deeper concern with more fundamental principles of government and a growing skepticism concerning the importance of constitutional forms. This was part of the heritage of disappointed revolutionary liberalism which the men of Say and De Tracy’s generation carried with them and imparted to the young men of the Restoration period. It was more than just feigned scientific restraint that caused Say to assert that the form of a government had no effect upon the prosperity of a society, that any well administered state could prosper. There was, here, the desire to sweep away all pedantic arguments concerning superficial form and get right to basic fact. When Comte and Say discussed government it was to elucidate upon the consequences of given acts. Insofar as any government was assumed to be capable of any given act, the form of that government was a matter of indifference.
As the reader may rightly suspect, neither Say, Comte nor Dunoyer were as agnostic concerning constitutional forms as I have painted them here. Say admitted to a belief in the importance of the form of government on several occasions, despite repeated assertions concerning the well administered state in his treatises. Certainly, Comte and Dunoyer’s main emphasis during the period of Le Censeur was upon reform within the legal, constitutional framework of the Charte. What I wish to emphasize is the concern for principle versus form which was a vital component of the liberal, id6ologue tradition and which achieved its greatest triumphs in the development of the doctrines of industrielisme during the period of Le Censeur européen (1816–1819). It was during this period that the political and historic visions of revolutionary liberalism were pulled together into a cohesive and forceful whole based upon the solid foundations of the political economy of Jean-Baptiste Say. Prior to this, the liberals’ aloof assertions of a scientific indifference to governmental forms were contradicted by their obvious anxieties concerning political and social reform. Later, in the industrielisme of Say, Comte and Dunoyer, the concept of governmental forms was integrated into a larger vision of the evolution of society.
The third edition of Say’s Traité d’economie politique (l817) was the subject of a long review by Charles Comte in the first two volumes of Le Censeur européen. The sense of the review was an unqualified endorsement of the method and content of Say’s thought. Indeed, Comte made Say’s method the basis of his own later study of law. With Say, Comte viewed the delineation of the chains of cause and effect which link phenomena as the fundamental aspect of the modern scientific method. Comte, like Say and like Condorcet before him, held that the laws discovered in the observation of social phenomena were as necessary and inflexible as the laws of physics. This belief instilled in him a firm faith in the onward march of truth, since a false system would always destroy those who clung to it too persistently, ” . . . because nature, acting through constant and invariable laws, ends inevitably by conquering the obstacles one opposes to it.” Later Comte would qualify this notion of the irresistible progress of truth in one respect. He would note that ignorance must always resort to force to sustain it.
The most important consequences resulting from the marriage of political economy and liberal social and political thought stemmed directly from J.B. Say’s conception of value. Say, like most classical economists, believed that exchange resulted in the transfer of two equal quantities of value. As I have noted .above, this stemmed from Say’s concept of value as a social phenomenon. Unlike other classical theorists who based the equivalence of exchange values upon absolutist natural justice notions such as the labor theory, Say realized that any concept of value must base itself upon the actions of individuals. He merely wished to steer clear of complexities resulting from the vagaries of human passion and caprice. Hence his emphasis on value as arising from a large-scale social process. In his desire to achieve scientific purity, what Say was interested in was the value which society set upon an objector a service. Say may be faulted here for more than bad psychology. It was this fundamentally flawed notion of value which barred him from formulation of a concept of marginal utility. However, he must be credited with a clear recognition of the fact that social processor value formation was ultimately based upon the movements of individual actors within the marketplace. Moreover, Say held that in order to reveal a scientifically meaningful social value, the movements of these individual actors had to be voluntary.
The truly revolutionary aspect of Say’s thought derived from this vision of an economic system which resulted from the concurrence of voluntary actions of individuals in the market- place. In Comte’s words: ” . . . if each rational man were able to employ his talents and his capital in the manner which he judged to be most conducive to his own interests, at the same time respecting the rights of his fellows to do likewise, the public wealth would increase continually. . . . Each man is the best judge of his own interests.” Comte emphasized Say’s assertion that acting in one’s own interests meant acting in the interests of society as a whole.
From this developed a happy (but by no means unique) union of economic theory and a radical social-political vision. The notion of the fundamental, peaceful harmony of interests among the productive classes of society was no longer merely a polemical assertion of the liberals hurled against the power and position of the privileged classes, but a fully scientific notion of the nature of things. Added to this was the already clear notion that the position of privilege derived necessarily from the authority, that is the force, of government. If the actions of government could be subjected to the rigors of economic analysis, it could be demonstrated that government action must seek justification only by proving that the utility produced exceeded the utility taken from society. Hence, the continued existence of a class structure which did not correspond to the voluntarily expressed needs of a society, one which could only continue its existence through the exercise of force, must necessarily result in a net decrease in social utility and, hence, be fundamentally unjust.
Economic analysis gave a force and universality to liberal social theory which it might otherwise have lacked. This historic vision that the privileged orders were anachronistic vestiges living parasitically within the body of the emerging commercial, industrial society was, perhaps, an effective enough attack against the position enjoyed by these remnants of the great feudal orders. But, since it contained in and of itself no clear notion of the fundamental mechanism of society, it was lacking in at least two respects. First, it put forth no picture of a truly just society which was not vulnerable to the assertion that it was simply the artificial and speculative product of the would-be reformer’s imagination. Second, it could not formulate any program by which the just society was to be attained which was not reminiscent of the historically suspect methods of political revolution.
Nevertheless, the basic class concept apparent in the early issues of the Censeur européen was the one which had appeared repeatedly in the liberal tradition from before the Revolution, that of the fundamental opposition of two basic groups, the warrior and the industrial classes. We see again a reassertion of the same revolutionary concept of nationhood and the proclamation that it was upon the basis of industry that the modern nations would stand. In one article, Augustin Thierry repeated virtually point for point the exposition of Abbé Sieyès. However, we see increasingly the development of an analysis directed less against the historically derived concept of a ruling warrior class and more towards the notion of a generalized governing class. This development was the result of the injection of economic analysis into the elaboration of social theory.
Since “all society rests upon industry. . . ,” it followed that the conditions most favorable to the development of industry were most favorable to the development of society. Hence, the direct applicability of political economy to a scientific examination of society. The political economy of J.B. Say demanded that, for the maximum production of utility, market relationships must be established by the voluntary actions of individuals. Thus, the old dichotomy of society could be reformulated in the following manner: ” . . . there are but two nations . . . [,] the men of liberty and the men of power . . . those who produce [must] be organized to resist those who administer.”
Ultimately, what the liberals were working towards was a radical identification of society with the market system. Society did not simply rest upon industry; industry was society itself. Destutt de Tracy developed this principle in his Commentaire sur l’esprit des lois de Montesquieu (1817):
. . . since labor is everything for us, our sole means of action, I will have deceived myself if this truth were not the basis of all social science, and if it did not decide all the questions of this nature.
. . . since exchange is society itself, it is the unique tie between men, the source of all our moral sentiments and the first and most powerful course of the development of their mutual sensibility and reciprocal good will.
After 1817, this idea was repeated continually in the writings of Say, Comte and Dunoyer.
There springs from this the development of two related ideas. The first and least radical conclusion, though even some liberals balked at its full implications, was that the operations of government were subject to the compass of economic calculation. Thus any regime which did not provide the best product at the best price automatically opened itself to criticism for having forced a decrease in social utility and hence of having committed a fundamental injustice. This is the notion most commonly associated with classical 19th century laissez-faire. It was the ideological base of the night watchman state. The second, more radical conclusion stemmed from the identification of force as the antithesis of industry. Industry derived from labor and the peaceful, voluntary cooperation of individuals. Those who wished to survive without labor had to resort to force. Ideally, in the liberal tradition, good government protected persons and property against the pretensions of force; however, historically, force had been the very principle of government, and governors had been the greatest exploiters.
In the seventh and eleventh volumes of Le Censeur européen, Comte and Dunoyer produced three articles devoted to an analysis of those classes which depended upon the government for their existence. Comte began with his article, whose title sounds quaintly humorous to modern ears, “On the Multiplication of Paupers, Officeholds and Pensioners.” He opened this essay with a reassertion of the basic notion of two classes of men, the producers and the privileged idle who live off them. His intention was to analyze the laws that regulated the growth of these classes. His principal tool was that common instrument of classical demographic analysis, the Malthusian Law of Population.
Since population was regulated by the availability of the means of subsistence, it followed that, if one nation was conquered and consequently exploited by another, then the population of the conquered nation would decrease in direct proportion to the degree to which it was exploited by the conqueror. The same conclusion would hold if the two nations occupied the same geographic area. Therefore, extending the analogy, tribute taken to support unproductive functionaries and pensioners had to be seized from producers, thereby acting to reduce the productive segment of society and encouraging the increase of idlers. What had been created was an army of parasites ever willing to back up the demands of the state for more tribute. Dunoyer followed an exactly similar line of thought in his “The Influence of Public Salaries on the Functions of Government” and in his article on the public debt. The man favored by the largesse of the state was ” . . . the natural ally of power.” Comte went on in his analysis to note the effects of this form of exploitation upon society as a whole. As the productive classes are extinguished, the standard of living is diminished, the search for booty becomes more frantic. The favored classes are taught to look upon work with distaste, they are made ” . . . to consider all the goods of society as a property to which they have an incontestable right . . .” There results ” . . . a growth of this spirit of pretended equality which forms one of the most active elements of demagoguery and which ends inevitably in the birth of military despotism.”
This brings us back to the historic view developed by Constant in his De l’esprit de conquête. The thrust of Constant’s argument was that military institutions were alien to the needs and mentality of the modern world. To impose such institutions upon a commercial nation would be to pervert and ultimately to disintegrate its civilization. Comte, rather, ascribed specific patterns of thought and behavior not to whole civilizations but to classes within society whose relative positions reflect the level of that society’s civilization. Modern society was characterized by the dominance of the producer class, but, Comte warned, the principle of force if left unchecked would tend necessarily towards the growth of an idle exploiter class uniquely congenial to the establishment of an aggressive, military despot ism, which is to say, to the regression of society towards the barbarism and servitude of the ancient world.
This identification of force as the antithesis of industry and, what is more, as fundamentally destructive of the modern social order was the second and most radical idea to be evolved in the development of the industrielisme movement. In 1818, Augustin Thierry produced for Le Censeur européen an article which was perhaps the most concise and most radical summing up of the doctrines of the Industriels. The article was a review of Destutt de Tracy’s Commentaire sur l’esprit des lois de Montesquieu. Theirry began by asserting with De Tracy the identity of society and the market system and incorporating this concept into the liberal vision of history. He noted that civilization and servitude in history were separable phenomena; they were the product of two distinct classes. With the development of European history, “it was in losing their powers that the actions of governments [have] ameliorate[d].”
Unlike many liberals who were willing to concede that some government activities outside of the production of pure security (especially in the areas of education and public works) could be productive of utility and hence justifiable, Thierry felt such thoughts to be chimerical. Individual efforts ” . . . would almost always achieve the same ends at less cost.” Therefore, government efforts would almost always be less productive than individual enterprise; more often than not, government efforts would be entirely “sterile and unproductive.” Most taxes were a pure loss to society as soon as they entered the treasury.
On examining the production of security, Thierry was led to question the very existence of state power. He believed firmly that absolute power created ineffaceable evils inimical to the development of civilization. Since good civil order depended upon the degree of individual independence, could there be any question that an ideal civil order was one from which power had been eliminated? The power and potential evil of a state official was incalculably greater than that of a single individual however criminally intentioned. Thierry questioned whether such men should be allowed to exist; after all, ” . . . the excesses of the police are far more fatal than the absence of the police.”
We see here in outline the basic evolutionary schema of social development of the radical liberals of Restoration France its fundamentally anarchistic implications. Civilization developed with the gradual disintegration of power and its replacement by the peaceful, voluntary relationships of the marketplace. Though some liberals put a term to this development, finding a necessity for maintaining some political relationships within society, the logical end of the notion that ” . . . the more the spirit of commerce increases, the more the spirit of spoliation is diminished . . . ,” was a society in which everyone worked and no one governed and in which the social structure was determined by the voluntary arrangements of free individuals.
The basic question which follows from this is what did the liberals envision as the class structure of this most just of all societies? Predictably, ideas followed closely the line of their thinking on the natural evolution of society. Comte discussed this in his article, “On the Organization of Society Considered in its Relationships with the Means of Subsistence of Peoples.” Comte noted that a society will always tend to put into roles of leadership those men who are perceived as having contributed most towards the general utility. As the warrior states of antiquity chose the best military types as leaders, modern industrial society should choose its leadership from among the best of its industrial classes.
This concept was, of course, closely related to the notion of nationalism in the revolutionary and idéologue traditions. In Comte’s article, it was also a limited endorsement of the restricted franchise of the monarchie censitaire, a franchise based upon the payment of taxes on property. This reflects the general liberal distaste for the results of revolutionary experiments with universal suffrage and their complete rejection of the absolute power attached to it by doctrines of popular sovereignty.
Comte’s discussion, however, went further than an examination of constitutional reform. Drawing on his original analogy with ancient societies, Comte asserted that modern society should be ” . . . organized in such a manner that each has an influence and a rank in the state proportional to his utility, to his absolute value . . . ” Knowing how closely Comte’s ideas followed those of J.B. Say, we realize that this concept of “absolute value” can have but one derivation, that is from the natural, voluntary processes of the marketplace. These processes can be viewed as evolving a natural hierarchy within society, a natural aristocracy. Comte believed firmly in the necessity of such an aristocracy, if ” . . . by the word aristocracy we mean merely the subordination established among men by their mutual needs; this aristocracy is natural, since it derives from the nature of men.”
The liberals felt that the hierarchy of a natural society would, among other things, reflect itself in inequalities of wealth, albeit moderate ones. Say felt that the happiest society was that which had the fewest extremes of wealth, with a large middle class and small numbers of very rich and very poor. Say felt that such a society would be the inevitable development of industrialism.
De Tracy and Dunoyer seemed to have been far more impressed with the dangers of inequality, due in large part to their more pessimistic views on the inevitability of poverty. With De Tracy this can be traced directly to faulty economic thinking. De Tracy saw, with the gradual elimination of domination, the vast expansion of industrial enterprise bringing in its wake growing inequalities of wealth. He saw these inequalities as the sovereign vice of modern civilization, since they led back directly to a growth of inequalities of power, and hence a reversal of the basis of modern society.
Dunoyer, for his part, was ever conscious of the limitations of progress inherent within society itself. One of the most important of these limitations was the Malthusian Law of Population. In Dunoyer’s thinking the major limiting factor in the development of civilization was the ignorance and vice of the masses. Political liberation alone could not create real liberty, since alone it could not free men from the bonds of poverty and passion. The “inseparable miseries” of the lower classes stemmed at least in part from their lack of restraint in marriage. Even given an equal division of wealth to begin with, Dunoyer felt that there would soon develop a small rich class, a larger middle class and an even larger lower class, some living in real misery.
It must be realized, however, that Dunoyer saw these evils as arising from a given state of society rather than being the inevitable result of the market system. Some light may be shed on this by examining a dispute which broke out between Say and Dunoyer in 1827. Dunoyer was obviously concerned with the recurrence of industrial crises, and equally concerned with the ability of Say’s economic analysis to explain them. He was impressed with certain aspects of Sismondi’s work on crises. Though he rejected Sismondi’s analysis and conclusions, he did accept Sismondi’s fundamental observation, that these crises were examples of the general glut, the phenomenon of general overproduction which Say so fervently denied could exist. That Dunoyer could accept the existence of the general glut, all the while maintaining the truth of Say’s Law of Markets, is testimony not so much to sloppy economic thinking, but to a desperate desire to come to grips with a very troublesome economic phenomenon while maintaining the framework and conclusions of orthodox economic thought.
Dunoyer saw two basic causes for the glut. One was the ignorance and improper calculations of entrepreneurs. The second was the unequal distribution of wealth in society. The first cause Dunoyer saw as the natural consequence of the novelty of industrial society. Its effects would tend to diminish naturally with the progress of the entrepreneurial art and the development of better means of communication. The second cause Dunoyer traced to the historically ordained division of wealth which the industrial era had inherited from its predecessors. This inequality derived from ” . . . the primitive expropriation of the most numerous class of society, [and] from the state of servitude in which they have been held through the centuries . . . ” Reversing Sismondi’s conclusions, Dunoyer denied the government any role in meeting the problem. In fact, Dunoyer saw government, through oppressive taxation, restrictions and protectionist measures, as a continuing source of the inequities which contributed to the formation of industrial crises. Only the growth of industry could bring about a more equitable division of wealth. He warned, however, that an equitable division of wealth would be an unequal division. Each would be rewarded in proportion to his productive services; ” . . .this partition is . . . in the nature of things.”
This dispute between Say and Dunoyer suggests the absolutely vital role which a clear understanding of economic phenomena plays in the elaboration of a viable social theory. This can be seen clearly in the development of various rival social theories which took place in France in the period between 1820 and 1845.
In 1817, Henri de Saint Simon, then enjoying the most liberal phase of his erratic career, developed in his Industrie ideas similar to those of Say, Comte and Dunoyer, concluding one article with a turn of phrase which, with the benefit of foresight, could be viewed as portentous for the development of economic thought. In Letter eight of his “Lettres à un american”, Saint Simon set out on his recurrent and habitual search for a “general principle of politics”. He noted: “Of all those who have tried their hand at this task, the savants who have written on political economy seem to me to have done the most useful work.” He commended in particular the work of J.B. Say. One aspect of Say’s writing, however, struck him as incongruous. Say specifically denied that political economy was a science of administration, arguing in fact that, from a strictly scientific point of view, the form of a particular government was a matter of little consequence. This struck Saint Simon as a contradiction, since ” . . . political economy is the true and unique foundation of politics . . . ” Indeed, ” . . . each man, in his social relationships, ought to consider himself as exclusively engaged in a company of workers. . . . Politics, therefore, is . . . the science of Production.” Not only did Saint Simon here miss Say’s point entirely, but he fell back into the pattern of 18th century policy science which Say and other liberals were trying so assiduously to avoid. We should note the interesting ambiguity of the statement, “politics is the science of production”. Not only does it suggest the question of which is to be subordinated to the other, but it denies the fundamental liberal notion that the actions of production would replace the activities of politics. Where liberals such as Say, Comte and Dunoyer saw the natural evolution of society bringing about the gradual replacement of political by market relationships, the later doctrines of Saint Simonian socialism discarded the market system and replaced it with the essentially political relationships of a highly articulated, hierarchical and authoritarian social system.
Social theorists who rejected the political economy of Say were forced to base their social and political visions upon rival economic systems, such as those of Sismondi or Ricardo, generally suffering thereby from the weaknesses inherent in those systems. Those who rejected economics altogether were forced to ground their systems upon the speculative doctrines of vague social-historical sciences which offered little firm support for their demands for the “organization of labor based upon the principle of association” and for the “reconstitution of property” other than in strident assertions of social and economic egalitarianism.
I have emphasized the basic anarchism in the thought of Comte, Dunoyer and Say, and it cannot be stressed too much that this anarchistic vision was firmly rooted in an evolutionary concept of social development. These men were not anarchists of the smash-the-state type. Politically, they fit quite well into the liberal republican and constitutional monarchist circles of the July Monarchy. (It should be noted that both Comte and Dunoyer entered government service after 1830.) For them the abrogation of the government and the establishment of the state of pure liberty was not the single ultimate reform, but rather a result to be achieved through a series of partial reforms of the more basic conditions of human existence and a gradual uplifting of the population through education. That their ultimate vision of society was anarchistic cannot be denied. I will attempt to support this important assertion through an examination of some of their later writings.
Of the three, Say and Comte were the most explicit in their endorsement of a society without government. In his theory of law, Comte observed that, ” . . . the principal elements of force in social laws existed in the very heart of society (la population); they existed in their needs, in their affections, in their judgments and in their idea.” Civil law was merely the description of a natural order of things anterior to it. At most, an act of legislative or executive fiat could only make mandatory for all what had first been the consensus of the vast majority.
Both Say and Comte agreed that law contrary to the social consensus could be imposed and maintained only by means of force. “An artificial order sustains itself only through compulsion and cannot ever re-establish itself without violence and injustice.” Force, for Comte, was the principle of slavery and the antithesis of liberty. The exercise of domination necessarily would lead to the immiseration of society and its reversion into barbarism. Exploitation would destroy industry and create the privileged idle classes which are the support of despotism and aggression.
Although Comte’s Traité de legislation concentrated on an examination of the effects of institutions of pure chattel slavery, he hastened to point out that, ” . . . there exists the greatest analogy between peoples subjected to the regime of slavery, peoples still existing in barbarism and peoples subjected to the most despotic of governments . . .” Moreover, since the principles of slavery and liberty were opposed antithetically, there could be no compromising one with the other; ” . . . it is impossible to pass from one regime to the other if one does not abandon completely the principle of the first to adopt the principle of the second.”
Here entered the inevitable dynamic of force, which, if allowed to operate, must necessarily work towards the degradation of society. Noting this, Comte observed that ” . . . the government, so feeble when it attempts to do good, often possesses an immense influence for evil. From this, we could conclude that the less it makes itself felt, the more the people prosper.” The obvious consequence of this line of thought was ” . . . that a people already civilized had no need, in order to be happy, other than not to be despoiled and to be left to itself. It would do better by the sole force of its customs and the instinct which directs it towards its conservation and prosperity than could all our clever politicians with their systems supported by their armies and their innumerable agents.” Clearly, here the qualifying phase is a “people already civilized“. This underlines the basic evolutionary notion of the interconnectedness of liberty and the level of civilization in the thinking of these men.
Comte’s theories of law were accompanied by a fairly well developed historical theory based primarily upon the works of contemporaneous historians and observers of primitive societies. Dunoyer criticized what he viewed as the excessive environmental determinism of Comte’s system. In truth, this criticism was unjust. All Comte had asserted was the purely common sense notion, dating from Condorcet at least, that civilization would develop first and fastest in those areas which were naturally most congenial to human life and productivity, a notion which Dunoyer himself developed in his Liberté du Travail.” Comte’s critique of Montesquieu should have dispelled any suspicion that he wished to fix the determinants of human progress strictly within man’s physical environment.
Oddly enough, Dunoyer’s historical vision as elaborated in the various editions of his major treatise, had, at least outwardly, a much heavier flavor of economic determinism. There were, however, two threads in Dunoyer’s scheme of history. One emphasized the necessary course which a progressive development of civilization must take. The other emphasized the responsibility of the individual actors within society to seek their liberation not simply in demands for political reform, but in individual efforts which would enlarge their knowledge, expand their productivity and increase their morality.
From his study of history, Dunoyer concluded: ” . . . that in the course of these diverse states of civilization which I have described, and in its progressive movement towards the present, the species was little determined by ideas of reason or justice; it did nothing more than cede to necessity. . . . ” Each stage of civilization created within itself the conditions which would direct men towards the next stage in a necessary and determined succession.
This deterministic outlook derived from Dunoyer’s firm belief in the doctrines of political economy and the faith that political economy elaborated a series of laws which were constant throughout time. On the gross scale, away from the random whims of individual actors, the broad sweeps of human history could be made intelligible and could be shown to follow a basic pattern explicable within the framework of economic doctrines.
On the individual scale, Dunoyer wished to point out to each member of society his own personal responsibility for the advancement of civilization. His rigorous insistence that peoples were at bottom responsible for their own despotic governments brought down on him the attacks of Charles Comte and Benjamin Constant who felt that the oppressor must assume the greatest blame for the degradation of the people.
Nevertheless, there was not much distance here separating the thought of Say, Comte and Dunoyer. Say was suspicious of historical theorizing; he felt that one’s main concern should be with the present. He disliked the deterministic view of history developed by the Saint-Simonians, and like Dunoyer, emphasized the responsibility of the individual for progress. “Undoubtedly,” he admitted, “a part of our troubles derives from our condition and from the nature of things, but most of them are of human making. On the whole, man makes his own destiny. . . ” Say would at least agree that the present condition of man represented an intermediate stage lying somewhere between barbarism and true civilization.
Say and Comte saw society as naturally progressive and wished to emphasize the autonomous effects of power which, if allowed to operate unchecked, would plunge society back into the depths of tyranny and barbarism. Dunoyer agreed in principle, but he wished to establish a more intimate causal connection between a given state of society and the amount of power which could be exercised in social relationships. Dunoyer emphasized that, with the development of liberty, which was the ability to exercise one’s faculties more fully, there devolved upon the individual a greater responsibility for his own self-improvement. We can discern in Dunoyer’s development of this notion a polemical purpose, one that becomes clearer when viewed against the background of the radical and revolutionary political movements which surfaced in France during the later years of the July Monarchy.
Necessarily, the primary means of reform endorsed by the liberals was education. Education was the natural complement of their evolutionary, anti-power thinking. Moreover, an examination of the thinking of Say, Comte and Dunoyer on education reveals the role which they saw government playing in the final development of modern civilization.
From Say and Destutt de Tracy, Comte and Dunoyer had inherited a deep distrust of revolution and the faith in education which was an important element in the idéologue tradition. Revolution historically had led only to the consolidation and concentration of power.” Likewise, constitutionalism was viewed as merely another form of power brokering. ” . . . To correct power the reformers seek only to act upon power; each acts in his own manner, but they all direct their action from the same point.” The best way to put a tyrant out of office is by educating his dupes, the victims of oppression. Comte elaborated on what he saw as the major obstacles to the development of a liberal society. First were the habits bred of domination, the intellectual and psychological dependence upon authority. Secondly, there were the natural inclinations of humane motion, the passion to dominate and the craving for security. Finally, there were the purely venal calculations of the profits of power. These were the ultimate supports of power in society. Dunoyer held that one of the greatest errors of past reformers had been that ” . . . they thought if possible to supply by organizational artifacts what the people lacked in enlightenment and experience.” Liberal institutions could not create liberal habits and patterns of thought. Only a long and difficult evolution through education could succeed.
The field of education seems to have been one area where the liberals were the weakest in their resolve to exclude the action of government. Although they unanimously attacked the government’s monopoly of education, they admitted that the government should provide at least some form of basic education. This was not a matter of permanent public charity, but a temporary measure aimed at the better policing of society by defusing demagoguery and inculcating restraint in the lower classes whom ignorance might otherwise render “turbulent and ferocious.”
This conclusion is a reflection of the role which the liberals saw government playing in the development of society. Dunoyer observed that, “The essential object of government is to cooperate . . . in a development of our faculties, applying itself to check disorderly and evil tendencies.” Say concurred in this notion of government as a necessary, but temporary, defensive measure meant to preserve the social body. The weakening of the power of government followed in step with the growth of the market system. Hence, the recent emergence of representative government was not an arbitrary or accidental thing, but ” . . . the necessary fruit of the economic progress of modern societies.” In Say’s final analysis, the mechanisms of the market system were the vital organs of society; government was merely one of the accidental organs ” . . . whose existence or non-existence does not rigorously affect the existence of the social body.”
Dunoyer’s view was similar, although his constant and inflexible emphasis upon the inherent limitations of social progress lent a pervasive air of pessimism to his later writings which tended to obscure his vision of the emerging society. It must be remembered in this regard that Dunoyer lived much longer than Say or Comte. He witnessed during the 1840s the growth to strength of various egalitarian republican and socialist movements. For him, the state at least was one final bulwark against the rising tides of social insurrection.
Nevertheless, the final goal was as clear to Dunoyer as it was to Say and Comte, though perhaps he looked to a far more distant future than they. For him, “The individual . . . is the ultimate object of society. Society’s only object is the growth, the elevation and the betterment of the existence of the individual. Far from demanding the sacrifice of individuals to these great abstractions we call societies the object assigned to all collective entities is the well-being of individuals.”
Despite the minor differences which may have separated them, Charles Comte, Charles Dunoyer, and Jean-Baptiste Say all shared the same burning faith in the final triumph of progress in the emergence of a truly libertarian society. In the end, they would have all agreed with Say’s conclusion: “Although the ameliorations which are possible are immense, those which do occur are slow and limited. Nevertheless, the future is ours.”