Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States

Edited by: Lalor, John J.
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PHYSIOCRATES. 1. Physiocrates and Economists. Those French economists who rallied to the defense and advocacy of the doctrine of Quesnay, and who constituted one of the most brilliant groups of thinkers in the eighteenth century, are now called physiocrates, a word derived from physiocratie, the general title given, in 1768, to the first volume of Quesnay's collected works, published by his disciple, Dupont de Nemours. Quesnay and his friends understood by physiocracy (from nature, and , to rule), the natural constitution, the natural order, of human society.


—Dupont thought (correctly in some respects) that Quesnay had pointed out this nature of things, and he called the aggregate of his views physiocracy. The expression, however, was not generally adopted. The term physiocrates, derived from it, is of comparatively recent use. J. B. Say first employed it in his Cours Complet, published in 1829, and it appears to have been popularized by the illustrious Rossi, and the editors of the Collection des Principaux Economistes, who have grouped together the most remarkable writings published by this celebrated school in the second volume of their collection, under the title "Physiocrates." In 1847, one year later, the French "Academy of Moral Sciences" used the term in the programme for a prize essay, formulated as follows, in accordance with Rossi's proposition, "to investigate what the influence of the school of physiocrates has been on the advance and development of economic science, as well as on the administration of states in the matter of finance, manufactures and commerce."


—Until the expression physiocrates was adopted, the disciples of Quesnay were designated by periphrases, or by the term economists, which was always underlined in manuscript, or printed in italics, so as not to confound the economists, disciples of the doctor, with other writers or publicists occupied with economic questions; and we can not do better here than to reproduce a few lines from a production which we published in vol. xxxiii. of the Journal des Economistes: "Smith said (in speaking of the disciples of Quesnay, book iv., chap. ix.), 'A few years ago they formed [Smith published his book in 1776] a considerable sect, distinguished in the republic of letters in France by the name economists.' J. B. Say continued to designate them 'the sect of economists' in the second edition of his Traité, published in 1814, which greatly displeased Dupont de Nemours, who, in a letter dated April 22, 1815, wrote him as follows: 'You do not speak of the economists without applying to them the odious name of sect, which supposes a mixture of stupidity, folly and stubbornness. This insult from a Grimm would not be offensive; but the expressions of a Say have a different weight.' In a preceding letter, full of animation and good nature, the aged disciple of Quesnay said to the continuer and future emulator of Adam Smith, 'You are an economist, my dear Say; I shall take good care not to excommunicate you. On your part,' etc."


—J. B. Say, we thus see, although the author of a treatise on political economy, still at that period qualified the physiocrates as economists. The same observation may be made in reading the first work of Sismondi, who, in entitling his book, De la richesse commerciale, ou Noureaux principes d'économie politique, underlined the word economists, and applied it only to the disciples of Quesnay. He said (vol. i., p. 5), "Dr. Quesnay and Turgot founded the sect of economists about 1760." (This is not altogether accurate, as we shall see.) This repulsion for the name, which Sismondi and J. B. Say exhibited in their first writings, was, till a comparatively recent date, the feeling of those who concerned themselves with political economy, for they called themselves political economists (see Say's Cours Complet), or they even avoided giving themselves a name, since, on the one hand, the qualification political annoyed them, by causing mistakes and inspiring distrust, and because they feared that the name economists alone would cause them to be confounded with the adherents of Quesnay. Nevertheless, the disciples of Fourier and Saint Simon popularized this expression by using it to designate the partisans of economic or liberal ideas, and Fourier had even invented the word economism, the better to express his contempt for this science of the civilized (civilisés)! On the other hand, the publication in France of the Journal des Economistes, and of the Collection des Principaux Economistes, and in England of the weekly journal "The Economist," have made the expression familiar, which is no longer the special designation of the adherents of the sect of Quesnay or the partisans of an exclusive system, but the general designation of all who concern themselves scientifically with economic questions. The fifth edition of the dictionary of the French academy, 1814, does not contain the word économiste. It is only the sixth edition, published in 1835, which gave it final sanction with its true meaning, saying: "Economist, one specially occupied with political economy."


—It is a remarkable fact that economists received this appellation before their science was named, and that this word was taken, not from political economy, but from the adjective economic, itself derived from economy, which often dropped from the pens of writers during the middle of the last century, in consequence of an intellectual movement which led men to philosophic questions of this order—a movement that called forth a large number of writings, and caused the establishment, in 1754, of a chair of mechanics and commerce at the university of Naples, for the celebrated abbé Genovesi, who was professor in that institution of what he soon called civil economy and a chair of cameralistic sciences at the Palatine school of Milan, where the no less illustrious Beccaria was professor of public economy. As early as the second quarter of the same century, from 1729 to 1747, Hutcheson, the father of Scotch philosophy, inserted in his course of moral philosophy some lectures on economics. "These lectures," as Cousin observes, in his Cours de l'histoire de la philosophie moderne, "were of no great value in themselves; but it is to this part of Hutcheson's course, perhaps, that Europe is indebted for Adam Smith, the greatest economist of the eighteenth century."


—II. Composition of the School. Dupont de Nemours speaks as follows of the origin of this school, in a note to his edition of the works of Turgot. "The French economists, who founded the modern science of political economy, had as forerunners the duke of Sully, who said, 'Tillage and pasturage are the breasts of the state'; the marquis d'Argenson, author of the excellent maxim, 'Do not govern too much'; and the elder Trudaine, who in practice opposed courageously the prejudices of ministers and the preconceived opinions of his colleagues, the other counselors of state, with that useful maxim. The English and the Dutch had a glimpse of a few truths, which were only faint glimmerings in a night of gloom. The spirit of monopoly arrested the advance of their enlightenment. In other countries, if we except the three notable men whom we have just named, no one had even imagined that governments should pay attention to agriculture in any way, or to commerce except to impose on it arbitrary regulations suggested by the moment, or to subject its operations to taxes, duties and tolls. The science of public administration, pertaining to these interesting labors, did not yet exist. It was not even suspected that they could be the object of a science. The great Montesquieu had looked at them so superficially that in his immortal work there is a chapter entitled: 'To what nations it is disadvantageous to engage in commerce.'


—Toward 1750 two men of genius, profound and acute observers, led on by the force of a long sustained attention and severe logic, animated by a noble love of country and humanity, Quesnay and de Gournay, labored persistently to ascertain whether the nature of things did not point to a science of political economy, and what were the principles of this science; they approached it from different sides, arrived at the same results, and, meeting, congratulated each other, applauded each other, when they saw with what exactness their different but equally true principles led to consequences absolutely similar; a phenomenon always repeated when men are not in error; for there is but one nature which embraces all things, and no one truth can contradict another. While they lived they continued to be, and their disciples have never ceased to be, entirely at one as to the means of advancing agriculture, commerce and finances, of increasing the happiness, the population, the wealth, and the political importance of nations."


—De Gournay, son of a merchant, many years a merchant himself, had recognized that manufactures and commerce can only flourish through freedom and competition, which destroy the taste for haphazard undertakings, and lead to reasonable speculation; which prevent monopolies, and limit the private gains of merchants to the good of commerce; which quicken industry, simplify machinery, decrease oppressive rates for transportation and storage and which lower the rate of interest. From this he concludes that commerce should never be taxed or regulated. From this he drew the following axiom: Laissez faire, laissez passer. Quesnay, born on a farm, the son of a landowner who was a skillful agriculturist, and of a mother whose great intellectual powers aided her husband's administration to perfection, turned his attention more especially to agriculture; and seeking to find the source of the wealth of nations, he discovered that wealth is the offspring of those labors in which nature and the divine power second the efforts of man to bring forth or collect new products; so that we can expect the increase of this wealth only from agriculture, fisheries (he held the chase of small account in civilized societies), and the working of mines and quarries.


—"The two aspects under which Quesnay and de Gournay had considered the principles of public administration, and from which they inferred precisely the same theory, formed, if we may say so, two schools, fraternal none the less, which have had for each other no feeling of jealousy, and which have reciprocally enlightened each other. From the school of de Gournay came de Malesherbes, the abbé Morellet, Herbert, Trudaine de Montigny, d'Invan, Cardinal de Boisgelin, de Cicé, archbishop of Aix, d'Angeul, Dr. Price, Dean Tucker, and some others. The principal members of the school of Quesnay were Mirabeau, author of l' Ami des hommes, Abeille, de Fourqueux, Bertin, Dupont de Nemours, Count Chreptowicz, chancellor of Lithuania, the abbé Roubaud, Le Trosne, Saint-Péravy, de Vauvilliers; and, of a higher rank, the margrave, afterward grand duke of Baden, and the archduke Leopold, since emperor, who governed Tuscany so long and so successfully, le Mercier de La Rivière, and the abbé Baudeau. The two latter constituted a separate branch of de Quesnay's school. Thinking that it would be easier to persuade a prince than a nation, that freedom of trade and labor as well as the true principles of taxation would be introduced sooner by the authority of sovereigns than by the progress of reason, they perhaps favored absolute power too much. They thought that this power would be sufficiently regulated and counterbalanced by general enlightenment. To this branch belonged the emperor Joseph II. Between both of these schools, profiting from both, but avoiding carefully the appearance of adhering to either of them, there appeared certain eclectic philosophers, at the head of whom we must place Turgot and the celebrated Adam Smith, and among whom are deserving of very honorable mention the French translator of Adam Smith, Germain Garnier; and in England, Lord Lansdowne; in Paris, Say; at Geneva, Simonde."


—This extract from Dupont de Nemours makes some observations necessary. To begin with, as Dupont wrote in 1808, in commencing the publication of the works of Turgot, it is plain that the other celebrated economists of that century are not mentioned. J. B. Say was not yet a professor; he had only published the first edition of his Traité (1803), and his fame was not then great. Sismondi, also, was only at the beginning of his career and reputation; Malthus, Ricardo, Mill, etc., had not written, and the men who were to bear the greatest names in contemporary political economy were still either in their childhood or youth. It is also to be remarked that Dupont does not assign his real place to Adam Smith, who, whatever be the idea formed of the aid which he may have received from the school of the physiocrates, is assuredly something very different from an eclectic writer utilizing the ideas of de Gournay and Quesnay.


—As to the two schools founded by these two eminent men, we must not take literally what Dupont de Nemours writes. Vincent de Gournay died early, about the middle of 1759, at the age of 47, when Quesnay had scarcely (about the end of 1758) published his doctrines in a precise manner, in the celebrated Tableau Economique, printed in the castle of Versailles under the very eyes of the king. Except the translation, with the assistance of Butel Dumont (1754) of the treatise of Josiah Child on commerce and the interest on money, he had written nothing but memoirs addressed to ministers, and which remained unpublished. It is only from a notice drawn up shortly after his death, by Turgot, for Marmontel, with notes by Dupont, that we know the ideas of de Gournay, and if what Turgot has said of them makes us think that there might have been disagreements between the two philosophers, still we are not authorized to declare, since the proofs are wanting, that de Gournay had a system of doctrines, that is to say, the elements, the raw material, for a school. Still, Turgot, in delineating with some detail de Gournay's opinions relative to the nature and production of value, says, "de Gournay thought that a workman who had manufactured a piece of cloth had added real wealth to the aggregate wealth of the state." Dupont adds, in a note: "This is one of the points in which the doctrine of de Gournay differed from that of Quesnay," and he gives the reasons for this statement.


—Although Dupont does not specify the other points in which de Gournay differed from Quesnay, it follows from this passage that the two philosophers did not always agree. Another important remark is, that the analyses of modern economists have shown that de Gournay was right as to the phenomenon of production. De Gournay had a clearer insight of the truth, and if he had demonstrated it and deduced the consequences which flow from it, he would, on certain fundamental points, have surely held a different doctrine from that of Quesnay, and carried off the honor which later came to Adam Smith, of rectifying the school of physiocrates; but we all know that in a question of scientific ideas there is a great difference between the correct feeling of the truth and the introduction of this truth into the domain of a science or simply a philosophic system. To judge from our personal impressions, it appears to us doubtful whether de Gournay followed the celebrated doctor in his exclusive theory of agriculture. But it is evident that these two illustrious men met on the fundamental question of the freedom of labor, and it is probable that they had the same philosophic point of departure. Be this as it may, Dupont is not altogether exact or correctly informed when he seems to say that de Gournay was the first to recognize the legitimateness and fruitfulness of the principle of competition and of the liberty of commerce. Vauban and Boisguillebert, whose writings were published even before de Gournay was born, give proof of their remarkable efforts in favor of this principle. It was from the pen of Boisguillebert, as Eugene Daire rightly says, that the first pleas appeared in France for the free circulation of corn, and he even pointed out scientifically, previous to the physiocrates, the excellence of agriculture, which is the pivot on which Quesnay's ideas turn. He also wrote on the nature, production and distribution of wealth, as well as upon the function of money, pages which permit us to think that the school of Quesnay has made great use of his labors.


—Dupont de Nemours is too exclusive in not having mentioned other writers on economy, as having made contributions to the edifice of the science, such as Josiah Child, who in 1668 published his "Brief Observations concerning Trade and the Interest of Money"; Locke, who in 1691 wrote some curious "Considerations on Money"; Dudley North, who proclaimed that same year the principle of free trade; Forbonnais, whose Eléments de Commerce dates as far back as 1734; Melon, whose Essai politique sur le commerce belongs to the same year; Dutot, whose Réflexions politiques sur le commerce et les finances was published in 1738, etc.; and other writers who labored to elucidate economic doctrines contemporaneously with physiocrates such as Hume, whose "Essays" on various economic subjects appeared in 1752, earlier than the writings of Quesnay, and who knew how to free himself from the prejudices of the balance of trade; men like the no less celebrated Genovesi, who, beginning with 1754, delivered a scientific course on questions relative to wealth; Verri, who wrote on these matters in 1763; James Stewart, who published at London, in 1767, four volumes, with the remarkable title "An Inquiry into the Principles of Political Economy"; Beccaria, who began at Milan, in 1769, lectures on the same subject, entitled Course of Commercial Sciences"; and other writers, Italian and German, whom it would be too tedious to mention; finally, Adam Smith, who before publishing his book in 1776, had come to Paris in 1764 to have a discussion with philosophic economists, after he had lectured on moral philosophy for fourteen years in the university of Glasgow, part of his labors being devoted to the subjects developed in his "Essay on the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations." On the other hand, we must say that not all the persons whom Dupont de Nemours enrolls under the banner of Quesnay followed the doctrine of the master in every point; some held themselves somewhat aloof from the school. Among these was Morellet. On this point we believe it useful to reproduce certain passages concerning the quarrel of the latter with Linguet, so noted for his literary eccentricities, and his declamations against bread, which he treated as poison. Linguet having advanced several monstrosities, such as the following: that despotic governments are the only ones which render nations happy; that society lives by the destruction of its liberties, as carnivorous animals live on the timid ones, etc.


—Morellet answered him sharply, in a pamphlet, entitled Théorie du paradoxe. Linguet replied by Théorie du libelle, where we read the following details, connected with our subject: "This illustrious pander of science, this invincible champion of the net product, this venerable archimandrite of the order of brothers of the economic doctrine, has risen above all eulogy by forcing his heart to outrage a prostrate man, and raising his foot to give him the last kick. If it be asked what the order in question is, we may answer, in order to spare commentators in ages to come a disagreeable task, that it is a new order, founded about 1760, under the name of the Economists Brothers, by Father Ques..., who had a spiritual son, brother Mirab..., who begat brother Baud..., who begat the A. M., which brought forth the Théorie des Paradoxes. The name Economists was given to them about the year 1770; they took the place of the Encyclopœdists, who had succeeded the * * *, who had ousted the * * *, who had come after the Calvinists, and so on, going back farther and farther. * * * This order, beginning with 1775, had already produced many great men, such as brother Dup..., brother Baud..., brother Roub..., brother Mor..., etc., all mighty in works and words. Hence, they have filled the universe with the noise of their names and their pamphlets or libels, which are synonymous in their language * * *." Morellet answered: "The author of the Théorie des Paradoxes is not an economist. Surely, if the A. M. had been begotten to political economy by the late M. Q., or by some one of the disciples of this estimable man, he would not have denied his origin. The economists are honorable citizens, whose intentions were always upright and their zeal as pure as it was active; men who were the first to teach or render popular many useful truths. They have been reproached with a zeal which has sometimes carried them beyond their object; but it is much better, doubtless, to yield to this impulse, which, after all, can arise in them only from a love of the public good, than to continue in the cowardly indifference to the happiness of their fellow-men which is exhibited by so many persons, or to decry those who are interested in it; but be this as it may with the economists, the A. M. is obliged to confess that he never received any lessons from Dr. Q., nor from M. de M.; and that he busied himself with political economy before Dr. Q. had begotten anybody; that he was never present at any assembly of the disciples; and lastly, since it must be told, that he never understood the economic tableau, nor pretended to make anybody else understand it; a clear profession of faith, and one which puts the author of the Théorie des Paradoxes beyond the reach of all blows which L. aims at the economists, blows from which they can defend themselves, if they think it worth the while."


—Later, the first consul, in conversation with Morellet, said to him: "You are an economist, are you not? You are in favor of the impôt unique, are you not? You are also in favor of the freedom of the corn trade, are you not?" "I answered him," says Morellet (in his Mémoires, chap. xxvii.), "that I was not among the purest of them; and that I added certain modifications to their doctrines." Morellet had, indeed, early fought for freedom of labor, and freedom of commerce; but he does not seem to have shared the enthusiasm of some authors for the agricultural theory of their master.


—III. Economic Philosophy of the Physiocrates. The doctrine of the physiocrates may be considered in relation to philosophy, political economy and politics. The philosophic ideas of the school are scattered through the different works of the chief and his principal disciples; but they are to be found especially in the short treatise of Quesnay on natural law, and summed up in his fragments published under the title of Maximes. In endeavoring to condense them into a few words, we may imagine Quesnay as saying: The world is governed by immutable physical and moral laws. It is for man, an intelligent and free being, to discover them, and to obey them or to violate them, for his own good or evil. The end assigned to the exercise of his intellectual and physical powers, is the appropriation of matter for the satisfaction of his wants, and the improvement of his condition. But he should accomplish this task conformably to the idea of the just, which is the correlative of the idea of the useful. Man forms an idea of justice and utility, both individual and social, through the notions of duty and right which his nature reveals to him, and which teach him that it is contrary to his good and the general welfare to seek his own advantage in the damage done to others. These ideas enter the minds of individuals and peoples in proportion to the increase of enlightenment, and the advance of civilization: they naturally produce feelings of fraternity among men, and peace among peoples.


—The chief manifestations of justice are liberty and property, that is to say, the right of each one to do that which in no way hurts the general interest, and to use at his pleasure the goods which he possesses, the acquirement of which is conformable to the nature of things and to the general utility, since, without liberty and property, there would have been no civilization, and a very much smaller amount of goods at the disposition of men. Liberty and property spring, then, from the nature of man, and are rights so essential that laws or agreements among men should be limited to recognizing them, to formulating them, to sanctioning them. Governments have no mission but to guard these two rights, which, with a correct understanding of things, embrace all the material and moral wants of society. To say that liberty and property are essential rights, is to say that they are in harmony with the general interest of the species; it is to say that with them the land is more fertile, the industry of man in all its manifestations more productive, and the development of all his moral, intellectual, scientific and artistic aptitudes swifter and surer, in the path of the good, the beautiful, the just and the useful; it is to say, further, that man best gathers the fruit of his own efforts, and that he is not at least a victim of the arbitrary laws of his fellow-men.


—"Before Quesnay," says Eugene Daire, "nothing was vaguer than the idea of the just and the unjust; and the determination of the natural and indefeasible rights of man had not been touched by any philosopher. It was tacitly agreed that the ideas of justice, applicable only to individual relations, should remain foreign to civil, public, and especially to international law. Morality, since the principles from which it must be deduced were only dimly perceived, seemed fit only to govern private relations, but not those of the state to its members, or those of one people to another, which, it was supposed, should be necessarily subjected solely to the law of force and cunning. Religion did not understand the economy of society, because it concerned itself only with the future life; and politics did not understand it any better, because it did not suspect the intimate connection of the moral with the physical order of the world. Setting out to govern men from the principle of the incompatibility of the useful with the just, it was impossible for the ministers of the one or the other to avoid the most disastrous results even if they had never been guided by any but the purest intentions. Struck with this fact, Quesnay became persuaded that the truth lay in the opposite principle, and interrogating the nature of man and the nature of things, he discovered in them the proof that the three great classes of every civilized society, that is to say, landed proprietors, capitalists and workmen, as well as the various nations into which the human race is divided, have only to lose by violating justice, mutually oppressing and annoying one another. This was to establish social morality, the absence of which produces a false notion of right and wrong in every mind, even in things touching individual relations. It was to free from the clouds of mysticism the great principle of peace and fraternity among men, and set it on the bases most fitted to insure its triumph."


—As Passy remarks in his report on the memoir which we have just cited, these maxims were not all equally new; and the most general of them were to be met with already in the works of certain writers; the Gospel itself contained many of them. But up to that time they had never been presented in the form of a broad system, never had there been deduced from them so clearly consequences of social application; which warrants us in saying, with Eugene Daire, that Quesnay was really the first thinker of the eighteenth century who made the organization of society the subject of his meditations; the man who gave to the world the newest doctrine, and at the same time the fittest to exercise a happy influence on the welfare of nations. Montesquieu, Voltaire and Rousseau were great minds, beyond a doubt; but Quesnay served the human race most, in having shown that the happiness of the majority depends much less on the mechanism of governmental forms than on the development of human industry, and that it is impossible to discuss politics rationally without having previously acquired a knowledge of the economy of society. "Of course wealth had not altogether escaped the attention of thinkers and governments previous to this philosophy," remarks Eugene Daire again, "but there is this difference, that, while among the first some only saw, so to speak, a necessary evil, it suggested to others nothing beyond systems of artificial distribution, and to governments merely fiscal inventions to plunder their subjects. Quesnay understood that the whole science of social organization may be summed up in that of the regular production and distribution of the goods of this world, that is to say, production and distribution effected according to the unchangeable laws established for the preservation, the indefinite increase, the happiness and the improvement of our species. To investigate these laws, by questioning our own nature and its necessary relations with the external world, such is the work which the chief of the school of physiocrates undertakes to accomplish. Instead of following the example of most philosophers, by declaiming against wealth, on which all the affairs of this world turn, he fathomed the laws of wealth, as well as those of human labor. To sum up, Quesnay and the school of physiocrates made a scientific study of the useful, considered men living in society as producers and consumers first of all, and drew the conclusion that the ideas of right, of peace and fraternity among men, do not rest exclusively on the mysterious dogma of a future life, but on the observance of natural laws, which may be obeyed with profit, and are not violated with impunity in this world."


—IV. Political Economy of the Physiocrates. The philosophy of the physiocrates is, therefore, an economic philosophy; and while endeavoring to sum it up here we have given in part the general data of their political economy. It only remains for us to add a few technical indications of those of their ideas which belong more especially to the economic order. In doing this we shall limit ourselves to setting forth these ideas, because it would be impossible, in the limits granted us, to explain with even partial completeness, in what these ideas may appear to us correct or incorrect, and in what points it has been possible for them to be accepted or opposed by the chief economists. The history of the filiation of economic doctrines, moreover, has not yet been written.


—The physiocrates set out with the principle that materiality is the fundamental character of wealth, and from this concluded to measure the value and utility of labor by the quantity alone of the raw material which it was able to produce. The first effect of this theory was to exclude from the domain of political economy an innumerable multitude of services which men render each other. They formed, therefore, an incomplete idea of the value of things, which prevented them from seeing into the phenomenon of production clearly, estimating correctly the position of land, labor and capital, and rendering an exact account of the relative and absolute utility of all the branches of human industry; agricultural industry manufacturing industry, transportation, commercial industry, and the numerous professions in which men furnish or exchange physical or intellectual labor, that is to say, services. In this way they were led to accord the character of productiveness to agricultural industry only, and to treat as sterile the other industries, while they, at the same time, asserted that manufacturing industry, commerce and the liberal professions are essentially useful. Their theory, by being squint-eyed at the first, if we may so express ourselves, led them to consequences which they found it difficult to admit in the discussion of questions and application of principles, according as they started from the point of view of the sterility of industries other than agriculture, to which they were obliged to give, both in theory and practice, an exceptional and false position. By virtue of their system, the economists really admitted, as a natural and social necessity, the pre-eminence of landed proprietors over all other classes of citizens. Now, this idea of pre-eminence, agreeing with the prejudices of the nobles, has left more than one trace in economic and political laws.


—Their error is explicable at the beginning of the science. It was not given to the physiocrates alone to make all analyses, and to grasp with precision all the differences and resemblances of the various modes of production. On the other hand, it must not be forgotten that they combated the mercantile theory, which made wealth to consist only in the precious metals, and which exaggerated the advantages of foreign commerce; that they combated also the infatuation for the manufacturing system; that they allowed themselves to react too forcibly against these exclusive prejudices, and in turn to become exclusive by their favor for an industry too much ignored, whose excellence they were deeply desirous of demonstrating.


—Of Quesnay's works the Tableau Economique attracted most attention. Quesnay's object was to describe synoptically the facts relative to the production, distribution, consumption and transformation of values. It is difficult to explain the success of this publication, which is itself not very intelligible. Made up of figures strangely disposed, this tableau contributed to throw discredit rather than light on the theory. The explanations of the Marquis Mirabeau rendered it still more cabalistic and mysterious; those of the abbé Baudeau and of Le Trosne, though much clearer, were still not clear enough. We have just read the declaration of Morellet on the subject. In reality, the chiefs of the school wished to prove that society had no other revenue than the net product of the soil, all expenses deducted, including the maintenance of its cultivators; that consequently it had no greater interests than the increase of this revenue; that the power of the state and the progress of civilization depended on it; that this revenue alone should be taxed; that we must not see in the capital in agriculture, industry and commerce, anything but the sacred endowment of labor, without which there would be neither wealth nor landed proprietors; that the expenses of industry and commerce are merely an outlay which should be reduced to the lowest figure by free competition.


—On the subject of territorial revenue and net product, the question arises: what did the school mean exactly by these expressions? and in what were their ideas on these these subjects like or unlike those on rent held by Adam Smith, J. B. Say, Ricardo, Malthus, Rossi, M'Culloch, etc.? This is still a question which does not appear to us to have been clearly settled by those who occupied themselves with the subject. We shall state merely that it was through the impossibility of analyzing the economic phenomena connected with the subject, that Necker and many others cast ridicule on the ideas which the physiocrates advanced. For our own part, we can not give an opinion on the subject without entering into a long discussion, and we therefore refer to the writings of the authors whom we have just cited, and to the explanations given by Eugene Daire in his memoir, and by Passy in his report on this memoir. (See RENT.)


—Although the physiocrates did not form an exact idea of the phenomena of production, and consequently of the real nature of value and of exchange of wealth, they had correct notions on the subject of money: to them is due the beginning of the ruin of the mercantile system, and, after Boisguillebert and before Adam Smith, they contributed much to elucidate the principle of the freedom of exchanges. First, they demonstrated that every obstacle to this freedom is a violation of the fundamental rights of labor and of property, and, secondly, that every hindrance to exportation and importation causes an artificial change in the value of products, and the revenue of lands, sometimes at the expense of producers, sometimes at the expense of consumers, by reducing finally public wealth and taxable property. In the question of finances they deduced from the productiveness of agricultural industry (which they considered the only productive one), and the hypothesis admitted by themselves, that taxation always falls on the landed proprietors, whatever be the mode of its collection, the rule directly to tax land rents or net product, that is to say, to establish a single land tax to the exclusion of all personal contributions and all taxes on consumption, which they called, and which we still call, indirect taxes.


—These are the principal points of the physiocratic theory. Modern science has rectified the idea of wealth and of the productiveness of the different branches of industry; it has accepted the explanation of money and the demonstration of the principle of commercial freedom in opposition to the doctrine of the balance of trade, definitively overthrown. It has not yet pronounced clearly on the theory of net product, although it pays little attention to the famous economic tableau. It hesitates also on the important question of taxation.


—But it is just to recognize, in entering into the details of the economic investigations to which the disciples of Quesnay devoted themselves, that we see that they threw a clear light on all parts of the science, even if they started from a false principle or got lost in a false theory; that, for example, of the materiality of wealth, and that of the productiveness of agriculture alone, which did not hinder them from finding, or which perhaps caused them to find, luminous views on different points. It is, however, a common fact in the history of science, that a false theory, elaborated by superior minds, advances them in the path of truth, which it is afterward easier for their successors to follow, and to whom is reserved the honor of finding a sounder and more unimpeachable theory.


—If we wish to understand the ideas of the physiocrates, we must begin with the writings of their master, and then take up in succession the works of his principal disciples: Mirabeau, Mercier, Baudeau, Le Trosne and Turgot. To the elder Mirabeau, belongs the honor of having been the first who was aroused to enthusiasm by the lofty reason of Quesnay, of having written, developed and commentated on his principles, and of having introduced them into practical politics and administration. The first exposition of the economic system is found in his Philosophie Rurale, published in 1763. It is one of the least unintelligible books of the marquis. Its perusal is of little value except to those who wish to know how the school began; but it must be acknowledged that, in spite of his eccentricities of style and mistiness of thought, this economist philosopher had the talent of causing himself to be read, and of calling public attention to the study of questions which others knew how to explain better than he. Each man has his mission in this world. After the Philosophie Rurale, appeared the book of Mercier-La Rivière, who had met Quesnay, at the same time as Gournay and the Marquis de Mirabeau; and who afterward left France to take the place of intendant at Martinique for a time; on returning, he renewed his former intimacy with Quesnay, and labored to disseminate his doctrine. Mercier-La Rivière's book is entitled l'Ordre naturel et essentiel des sociétés politiques; it appeared in 1767, four years after Mirabeau's work. The title of this book promises a methodical treatise on social economy, a promise it does not fulfill. The first part is a series of rather confused dissertations on the moral order, the politics and the material interests of society. But the author becomes more positive and more interesting in the second part, where he makes a close analysis, according to Quesnay's system, of all the questions of the material economy of society, referring to the peculiar or distinct effects of agriculture, industry and commerce, to the reciprocal relations of different nations, and to the nature and object of public revenue. This work, in spite of its imperfections and an obscure and sometimes ridiculous form, had much success with the philosophic part of the public, whose attention had been attracted to these matters by the sententious and abstract writings of Quesnay and by the dissertations of l'Ami des hommes, which were at once tedious and obscure. It was the first time, too, that the doctrine assumed a form intelligible to the common mind; Dupont de Nemours made an analysis of it, a year later, under the title, Origine et progrès d'une science nouvelle (1768). By publishing it, Mercier-La Rivière helped spread the ideas of his master; but at the same time he added to it a dangerous theory which was afterward very injurious to the popularity of the economists. We mean his theory of despotism, to which we shall return a little further on.


—Five years after Mercier's book, there appeared another important work, so far as it was a general exposition of physiocratic ideas, that of the abbé Baudeau, a celebrated publicist of the time, who was converted to the doctrine of Quesnay while trying to refute, in his Ephémérides, the letters of Le Trosne, barrister of the king in the bailiwick of Orleans, and who wielded at an early day a vigorous pen in the phalanx of the economists. Baudeau published in 1771, l'Introduction à la Philosophie économique. It is not only one of the most remarkable of his writings; but in it he surpassed Mercier, and a fortiori Mirabeau, in his method, clearness and style. The year before he had published in the Ephémérides, and printed separately (but only a small number of copies of it) his l'Explication du tableau économique. About the same time there appeared in the Ephémérides, whose management Baudeau had intrusted to Dupont de Nemours, two short catechisms of the doctrine, one by Turgot, without his signature, and the other under the name of the margrave of Baden. Turgot's short Traité on the formation and distribution of wealth, is remarkable in every way. It is a résumé of the ideas of Quesnay and Gournay, as explained by their most eminent disciple. It would be approximately a résumé of the general principles of the science laid down by Smith, if Turgot had not stopped at the physiocratic theory, on a fundamental point, that of the productiveness of the different kinds of labor, in consequence of which he was led to make the agricultural class the productive class par excellence, and the rest of mankind the salaried class, excepting, however, landowners, whom he calls the disposable class, disposable for the general wants of society, such as war, the administration of justice, etc. Turgot's book, written in 1766, appeared for the first time in vols. 11 and 12 of the Ephémérides, toward the end of 1769 and the commencement of 1770.*29 The brief compendium of the margrave of Baden, published in 1772, in the Ephémérides du citoyen, which has also been attributed to Dupont de Nemours, and is perhaps the work of the two disciples, is not of equal importance, but is remarkable in many regards. It contains the principles of the physiocratic school, more abridged than in Turgot's work, condensed into formulæ synoptically arranged, and, as Dupont de Nemours says, in the form of a genealogical tree. The title is a very curious one for the time, and leads us to suppose that the school and its master, who was still living, had abandoned the word physiocracy for the title political economy, not in the sense of administration as a synonym of public economy, the oiconomia of Aristotle, which is to society what domestic economy is to the family (in which sense it was employed by Rousseau in 1755, in the article Economie Politique of the Encyclopédie), but in a scientific sense, to designate the science of the phenomena relating to wealth and human labor; a sense in which it had been used by James Stewart after 1767, who entitled his treatise on these subjects "An Inquiry into the Principles of Political Economy," and, some years before, by Count Verri, in a work published in 1763, and entitled, Memorie storiche sulla Economia publica dello state di Milano (Historical memoirs relative to the political economy of the state of Milan). Verri and Stewart seem to have been the first to adopt the name most generally given to the science in our time, a name which Turgot did not employ, which was scarcely ever used by Adam Smith, and which appeared only in the dictionary of the French academy in 1814, although it appeared in a book at the commencement of the sixteenth century, which, however, does not answer to its title, the Traité de l'Œconomie politique, by Antoyne de Montchrétien.


—After these various authoritative publications of the physiocratic school we cite, in conclusion, the principal work of Le Trosne; which appeared in 1777, under the title, De l'ordre social, followed by an elementary treatise on value, circulation, industry, and home and foreign commerce. This work contains two very distinct parts: the first, consisting of a series of lectures, is a dogmatic exposition of the principles of the school. In the second part, which bears the special title De l'Intérêt social, Le Trosne treats of value, circulation, industry, home and foreign commerce, with a remarkable understanding of these different subjects.


—This was the last general manifesto of the pure physiocratic school, properly so called. When it appeared, Quesnay was dead; Turgot was a minister, and had anticipated great reforms in the constitution of labor, which were to be effected by the constituent assembly, and Adam Smith had published his book after ten years of retirement, and of meditation on this great work.


—V. Political Ideas of the Physiocrates. Having reached this point in our historical deduction concerning the physiocrates, we must direct the attention of the reader for an instant to the political ideas held by this phalanx of philosophers, or which were attributed to them. Mercier-La Rivière, discussing the purely political question of the form of government, decided in favor of the power of one man. Dupont explains to us the principal motive which, according to him, Mercier-La Rivière and the abbé Baudeau had in accepting such a doctrine, "thinking," he says, "that it would be easier to persuade a prince than a nation," and that one man would be quicker to put in practice the teachings of science. We do not wish to stop and ask ourselves whether Mercier and Baudeau were right or wrong, or what are the dangers of despotism and the drawbacks of mixed or representative governments. We wish to say simply that Mercier-La Rivière was careful to distinguish between arbitrary despotism, or despotism proper, which he rejects, and legal despotism, which he favors, and a counterpoise for which he finds in the authority of the magistracy; the form and invariable proportion of the taxes, "the evidence" of the truths of natural law made familiar to the mass of citizens by national education, and the interest of sovereigns, to be just in a system such as he conceived it. It is not difficult to see, in reading this philosopher, that he was of a liberal mind. It must also be remembered that he wrote a hundred years ago, when the theory and practice of free government were still in their infancy. However this may be, it is to be regretted that he was led to construct a political theory not necessarily connected with his subject, which was an explanation of the general principles of law and justice, common to all societies, independent of the form and mechanism of their governments; it is especially to be regretted that to designate the power of a single man, he used a word to which usage has given a bad meaning, which does not express his thought, and which has served as a pretext to many of his adversaries, who, in order to divert attention from his economic ideas and the reforms which they demanded, accused those ideas of being and professing to be the upholders of despotism.


—The question has been raised whether Mercier-La Rivière was under the influence of Quesnay, or whether he expresses his personal ideas and those of Baudeau. It is difficult to say what was precisely the idea of the master on this subject; but it is certainly true that if Quesnay and the marquis de Mirabeau inclined to the executive and legislative power of one man, all their writings show that in their minds and hearts there never could be a question of sacrificing to a family or to an aristocracy the interests of the masses, who were the object which preoccupied their noble thoughts. We can not appeal, on this point, to the practice of their lives. Quesnay died in 1774; the marquis de Mirabeau, on the eve of the revolution, in 1788; Baudeau and Mercier-La Rivière lived on, the one till 1792, the other till 1794, it is said; but they were not of the age to mix in the questions of the time. Moreover, if we admit, which is far from being proved, that any physiocrates went astray, on this point, in theory—the political life of Malesherbes and Turgot; the administrative acts of the latter, of the Gonrnays and Trudaines; the parliamentary career of Dupont de Nemours; the manly and impartial writings against feudal abuses; monopoly of the finances and other monopolies, as well as the biographical details which have been preserved concerning the public conduct of all those who have been put on the witness stand, prove that true political progress would have had warm friends in each one of these zealous promoters of economic progress (whatever might have been the party with which they were connected), the more useful to the cause of humanity for being better informed on the real wants of men living in society, and imbued with the principles of a sounder philosophy based on the better natural foundation of human affairs. Just here we would make a general observation, to wit: that one of the results of economic studies is to lessen the importance of one form of government or another in the minds of men devoted to these studies. But is not this a benefit? The day when the governing and the governed shall understand better what they owe each other; the day when governments shall know how to restrict their action to their natural sphere, the maintenance of security and the guarantee of justice, property and liberty; the day when the governed will no longer believe in fantastic promises, and no longer demand the fulfillment of impracticable programmes; on that day civilization will have made a great step in the way of progress.


—VI. The Physiocrates as the Founders of Economic Science, and their Influence on the Economic Progress attained. It is always difficult to tell precisely how far the influence of a philosophic and scientific school reaches, because in such a subject causes and effects often escape the mind of the observer. After what we have said, however, a sufficient estimate can be made of the importance of the labors of the physiocratic school in philosophy and in morals, and of the services which it rendered in the ranks of the philosophic school, by its studies and its knowledge of society. As to political economy proper, the details into which we have entered show that if the physiocrates were not the first and only founders of the science, as has been frequently asserted, they deserve to figure in the front rank of its founders, and here we recoil from a task which remains yet to be accomplished, and which consists in investigating and describing the reciprocal influence which Adam Smith may have had upon the physiocrates during his visit to Paris, and which the physiocrates may have had upon him by their conversation and writings. We are unable here to settle the question of priority between the Scotch philosopher and the French philosophers; but we may state, with Cousin, that it is difficult to answer it in favor of them rather than of him while we believe it our duty to acknowledge that the physiocrates and Adam Smith are under great obligations to certain writers who preceded them in their career, Boisguillebert, David Hume, etc., whom we have cited above. Be this as it may, account must be taken of this important fact, that while writing his book, Smith was able to take advantage of the principal works of the school, especially those of Quesnay, and that its most important utterances were published earlier than the appearance of the "Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations."


—The question raised as to the sequence of facts, that is to say, the legislative traces which the physiocratic school has left after it, its action and its propagandism, might also be made the subject of very interesting research which has not, we think, been made. We can, however, give a satisfactory account, in résumé, of this influence. In a general way the physiocratic school contributed greatly to overthrow the spirit of administrative routine which progress always encounters in its path; to overthrow the spirit of regulation and prohibition which had thrown a deadening net of hindrances over every branch of human activity; it contributed greatly to effect the suppression of provincial customs duties, and to help the freedom of internal commerce; it aided the fall of the system of corporations, and the freedom of labor; it abolished the corvée; and finally, it contributed to all the liberal and progressive measures of the constituent assembly. The majority of that assembly voted under the influence of the economic ideas which several members had gained by meeting and reading the works of the physiocratic philosophers, while they incriminated, and allowed others to incriminate, the economists, as Dupont de Nemours says, just as has often happened since in other assemblies. During the twenty years which preceded the revolution, it was in their writings and their ideas that many influential men, princes, ministers, governors, intendants of provinces, inspectors of manufactures, etc., found inspiration, both to establish the financial system and to improve the internal administration and the management of foreign affairs; it was they who won the freedom of the corn trade, on which the school published a score of books. It was not, therefore, their fault (Droz has shown this well in his Histoire de Louis XVI.) that the economic, financial, and even political reforms were not accomplished in season, in peace and without revolution. Every one has read of the brilliant efforts of Turgot.


—The physiocratic school has exercised its influence not in France alone, but in all Europe. This influence may be traced in Italy, and especially in Tuscany, which owes its prosperity to the principles of industrial and commercial freedom, put in practice by the grand duke Leopold, assisted by intelligent ministers, such as Gianni and Fabroni; in several states of the north and Germany, particularly in Austria, where the administration of the emperor Joseph II., as well as that of this same Leopold, have left such regrettable souvenirs. Gustavus III., king of Sweden, Stanislaus Augustus, king of Poland, the margrave of Baden, and the dauphin son of Louis XV., were inclined to the ideas of the economists. We know that Catherine of Russia desired to consult Mercier-La Rivière, and although the meeting of the philosopher and the empress came to a rather grotesque conclusion, she testified to the credit of the school. This influence was also felt in international relations and treaties. After the conclusion of the treaty of 1786 between France and England, on liberal and rational bases, whatever may have been systematically said of it in a private and ill-advised interest, Lord Lansdowne, prime minister of Great Britain, who, up to that time, was opposed to the peace, declared that he had been converted to better political and economic opinions by the reasoning and influence of the abbé Morellet, whom he had known at Paris, and whose principles, as we have said, were no other than those of Gournay and Quesnay.


—The labors of the physiocratic school have also given indirectly a vigorous impulse to statistics. It was in answer to l'Ami des hommes that La Michodière and Messence undertook the investigations which are among the first monuments of modern statistics.


—VII. Adversaries and Partisans of the Physiocrates. The economists, with their enthusiasm for their master, and intolerance, born of the spirit of sect and the inflexibility of principles, so naturally consequent on a fixed conviction and conscientious studies, drew on themselves many attacks, either from the circle of philosophers of which they themselves formed a part, from men of letters, or from all those whose ideas, prejudices or interests they opposed. Specimens of the polemics of the time are found in the writings of Grimm, Mallet-Dupan, Linguet and others, an example of which we produced above. Voltaire directed against them the satire of l'Homme aux quarante écus, more witty than solid; the aged philosopher, however, felt dominated by the genius of Turgot and we know that he took up his pen to aid him against the numerous and unjust attacks of which he was the object on account of his measures to secure the free circulation of corn.


—Among the most prominent we must cite les Doutes proposés aux philosophes économistes, by Mably, 1768; a book by Graslin, in 1767; the famous "Dialogues" of the abbé Galiani concerning legislation on corn (1770), and a work on the same subject, by Necker, 1770. The first two, though more serious, have no great value. Necker's work, which Turgot's enemies praised to the skies, was a political maneuvre which does no honor to the celebrated minister, for it is full of communistic sophisms. Galiani's book, much lauded for its style and wit, has no scientific value, and does not even reach a conclusion on the special point of the exportation of corn, a crime of the economists, which he did not entirely disapprove.


—Some modern economists have taken sides with the physiocrates in their theory of the nature of wealth and agriculture: we mention Dutens, in France, who published a new explanation of the doctrines of Quesnay, under the title of Philosophie d'Economie politique, 1835; and Schmalz in Germany, who undertook the same task, ten years earlier.


—Malthus, in his "Principles of Political Economy," started out with the materiality of value, and dwelt much on rent; and Eugene Daire, who has left remarkable notices and notes on the physiocrates, Turgot and Adam Smith, in the Collection des Principaux Economistes, also maintains the materiality of value, and undertakes to show not only the truth of these principles, but also that of the agricultural theory of Quesnay, as well as the analogy between Smith's ideas and those of Turgot and Quesnay. We shall not enter into this long and delicate discussion: we shall only say that Smith has not pronounced very positively in favor of the materiality of value, although there is on this point a want of clearness as to his opinion; that he has only tried to show the productiveness of all industries, and has devoted several chapters to opposing the physiocratic doctrine of land. Whether he has succeeded, as the majority of economists pretend, or nearly failed, as others pretend, is a question which can be answered only in a course on political economy, and for that there is no place here.


—The reader will find the subject which we have just treated further developed in the lives of the men we have named. We can refer also to a chapter, too brief, unfortunately, in Blanqui's "History of Political Economy" [translated by Miss Emily J. Leonard]; to the lectures in which Rossi treats of land; to the notices by Eugene Daire, in the Collection des Principaux Economistes; to his memoir in answer to the questions offered for competition, crowned in 1847 by the academy of moral and political science, a statement from which, inserted in the Journal des Economistes, we have reproduced above; to the report of Passy on this memoir, published in the same collection; and to a paper on the philosophy of the physiocrates, published in the same collection, by H. Baudrillart.


Notes for this chapter

The date of this publication is important in the history of the science. We have remarked, in an essay relating to the origin and filiation of the term political economy (Journal des Economistes, vol. xxili., pp. 11, 217): "Engene Daire, after stating (xiv. of his Introduction to the 'Works of Turgot,' in the Collection des principaux Economistes) that this work was printed about 1766, inclines us to believe in the notice of Mercier de la Rivière (same vol., p. 430), that this date is not exact, and that Turgot's treatise appeared later. Engene Daire was mistaken a second time; we have before us a copy of the edition of 1766 in 12mo." If Eugene Daire was mistaken, it was only in part, and we ourselves are also mistaken. The volume of which we speak, bore the last date which we mention; but this date points to the time when Turgot was writing, during his intendancy. The first edition seems to have been the separate one formed of the article in the Ephémérides, part of which appeared in the 11th vol., at the end of 1769, and a part in the 12th vol., at the commencement of 1770.

Footnotes for PIRACY

End of Notes

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