Gustave de Molinari (1819–1912) is one of the most important representatives of the French liberal school in the 19th century. Although a Belgian by birth, he is, without contest, a member of the French tradition in the same way as Jean-Baptiste Say or Frédéric Bastiat. Yet, his work is little-known, or only limited to the knowledge of his most controversial theories, which are set out in his most famous publications, “De la Production de la Sécurité.
On the evening of November 5, 1831, a young Frenchman by the name of Alexis de Tocqueville met the last surviving signer of the Declaration of Independence, Charles Carroll of Carrollton. Just a little over a year after their meeting, Carroll, age 95, would pass away to much acclaim from the young republic. He would be memorialized as a great man in Israel and as the last of the Romans. That he would be remembered as both a Hebrew prophet and (...) a Republican demigod would not shock the young Frenchman. Indeed, Carroll impressed Tocqueville so much that he lamented that “this race of men is disappearing now after having provided America with her greatest spirits.” With the passing of the revolutionary generation, Tocqueville continued, “the tradition of cultivated manners is lost; the people is becoming enlightened, attainments spread, and a middling ability becomes common. The striking talents, the great characters, are rare. Society,” he thought, “is less brilliant and more prosperous.” Whereas Europe had theorized about such great men in the eighteenth-century Enlightenment, America had actually produced a genius generation. Carroll was the last remnant. Carroll reminisced proudly about his days in the American Revolution, his own thoughts on independence, and his respect for the English. Tocqueville, it seems, listened with rapt attention. (shrink)
Benjamin Constant (1767–1830) is the most important French liberal that most casual liberals have never heard of. Everyone knows something about Montesquieu because checks and balances and the separation of powers are household terms. Tocqueville’s Democracy in America and The Old Regime and the Revolution are both established classics. But Constant is largely terra incognita even for those with a university degree—to their loss.
Jean-Baptiste Say is largely forgotten in modern economics; if he is remembered and studied, it is for Say’s Law, which was misinterpreted by John Maynard Keynes, and ended up providing the basis for the General Theory. In this chapter, we review Say’s Law and a more correct interpretation. We then use this to highlight the contributions of Say to modern macroeconomics, the microfoundations of macroeconomics, and entrepreneurship theory. Say was an influential French thinker – modern classical liberalism owes much to (...) him, and would be enriched by a rediscovery of his writings. (shrink)
Jacques Rueff was a leading twentieth-century French classical liberal. Actively involved in academic life, a prominent monetary theorist, and one of the first international critics of John Maynard Keynes, Rueff played a central role in French public life and economic policy as a civil servant before World War II. A prolific author, most notably of his influential L’Ordre social (1945), Rueff was a major contributor to postwar conservative liberalism, the architect of Charles de Gaulle's economic stablization program of 1958, and (...) the world’s foremost defender of the classic gold standard. (shrink)
The eighteenth-century Physiocrats are widely considered to be precursors to classical economics, the French ninteenth-century Economistes, and contemporary free-market economics. They advocated free trade against mercantilism, and natural law against despotism. Although the Physiocrats also contributed to Walras and modern economic engineering, they fit squarely within the French (and world) liberal tradition.
I examine Bertrand de Jouvenel’s understanding of individual liberty as it develops in his three postwar works of political philosophy: On Power, Sovereignty, and The Pure Theory of Politics. In doing so, I shed new light on his place in the French tradition of liberty.
Michel de Montaigne (1533–1592), author of the Essays (published in successive, revised and expanded editions from 1580 until after his death), deserves to be recognized as the first) philosophic architect of modern liberalism, that is, a doctrine that advocates the advancement of individual liberty (under law), and consequently a reduction in the scope and purpose of government to securing what are represented by Montaigne’s successors (Hobbes, Locke, Montesquieu, and the American Founders) as people’s inherent rights to their life, liberty, property, (...) and the “pursuit of happiness” as they conceive it. His outward, periodic professions of extreme conservatism and of homage to the Catholic Church are merely a rhetorical cover designed to protect the author from being persecuted (and his book from being banned). As a practitioner of what he describes as esoteric rhetoric (attributing it to the ancient political philosophers), Montaigne invites careful readers to see through his rhetorical concealment by noting how his conservative professions are undermined by the overall train of his reasoning and argument. Although Montaigne’s argument for liberal individualism may have gone too far in its influence over the long run (that is, the 21st century), we citizens of modern liberal regimes owe him a debt of gratitude for helping to liberate us from the reign of arbitrary monarchs, oppressive aristocrats, and clerical oppressors. (shrink)
While Montesquieu’s The Spirit of Laws is recognized as one of the foundational philosophical works on the subject of liberty, much work still needs to be done to ferret out exactly what Montesquieu’s teaching is on the subject. This essay attempts to contribute to this endeavor by clarifying certain key elements of Books 11 and 12 of that book.
This article sets forth Voltaire’s philosophy of liberty. Contrary to generally accepted readings, which take Voltaire at face value rather than considering the environment in which he wrote, Voltaire had a clear normative political thought. He was an early proponent of rule of law, ordered liberty, freedom of conscience and expression, and the right to prudent rebellion against tyranny. At the root of his political theory lay a rejection of slavery, and hence of all forms of subjugation.