David Hart on the 19th century French battle against socialism

If you’re in Sydney early next week, mark this event in your calendar for Tuesday evening 8 July at the CIS office in St. Leonards:

The 1840s Battle against Socialism by les Économistes TUESDAY 8 JULY 6:00PM – 7:30PM

The 1848 Revolution in France saw the first attempt by socialists to create a government which would introduce some key aspects of the modern welfare state as we know it today, namely government guaranteed (taxpayer funded) unemployment relief, make work schemes, and the right to a job for all workers. This was vigorously opposed by a group of free market political economists (known as “les Économistes”) who became organised during the 1840s in Paris and played an active and important role during the Revolution in opposing socialism in the press, on the streets, and in the Chamber of Deputies. This talk will examine how les Économistes organised themselves to fight socialism, some of the key ideas in their ideological battles, the strategies they adopted, and the lessons present day liberals can draw from their struggle.

David M. Hart was born and raised in Sydney and has degrees from Macquarie University, Stanford University, and King’s College, Cambridge. He taught in the history department at the University of Adelaide for 15 years before moving to the U.S. to work for Liberty Fund, a non-profit educational foundation based in Indianapolis. For the past 13 years he has been the Director of the Online Library of Liberty Project and is the academic editor of a large translation project for LF of the works of two of the leading members of the French Economists, Frédéric Bastiat and Gustave de Molinari. David has also co-edited two anthologies of French Classical Liberal thought, one in French and one in English.

David Hart is a great Australian liberal, presiding over very important work undertaken by the Liberty Fund (including maintenance of this wonderful resource). His expertise is in the history of classical liberal thought, with a particular emphasis on nineteenth-century French liberalism.

Next week’s event is a great opportunity to hear one of Australia’s most outstanding liberal minds speak about the struggles waged by the likes of Bastiat and Molinari against the socialist onslaught during the nineteenth century, and lessons from that intellectual battle for today’s contest of ideas.

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18 Responses to David Hart on the 19th century French battle against socialism

  1. Infidel Tiger

    Looks like they comprehensively lost that battle.

  2. Looks like they comprehensively lost that battle.

    Whaddya expect from a bunch of cheese eating surrender monkeys?

  3. So cool to actually go back to what laissez faire was really intended to convey. Let us do it, not central planners.

    Next to capitalism, laissez faire has to be the other most calculatingly misportrayed concept.

  4. Driftforge

    Be fascinating to be there. The French spent 70 years battling against democracy.

  5. areff

    You can still see the counter-argument to socialism — bullet holes — in the wall of Père Lachaise cemetery, where scores of communards got what their foes thought was good for them in the 1870s. A bit excessive, to be sure, but we must always respect other cultures and communities’ values.

    Coming soon to the Festival of Dangerous Ideas: Why shooting socialists is morally justified.

  6. Boyfromtottenham

    Can’t be there. I hope you can publish the transcript here!


  7. struth

    “I spit on your socialism”.
    “I fart in your general direction”.

  8. papachango

    French Classical Liberal thought.

    LOL – this was big in the eighteenth and niteenth centuries, with Voltaire, Bastiat, et al. but has completely disappeared off the face of the Earth now.
    Any remaining libérales classiques got the hell out a lomg time ago, and there is now not a single party that comes close to any sort of free market or libertarian philosophy. There are, howveer at least four Trotskyist parties, in addition to the Greens and the Socialist Party.
    They clearly didn’t do a very good job…

  9. struth

    We now have an Australia where the roads are getting lots of money spent on them but no decent road work being undertaken.
    Many witches hats, and traffic controllers who will put up a stop and go because someone is operating an excavator 500 metres into the scrub, but nothing actually going on with the roads.
    The transport industry’s trip times and costs are esculating due to this corruption of government contracts.
    This will be passed on.
    Strangely enough, many new cameras and big yellow power guzzling illuminated sign boards (especially NSW and closely followed by QLD) hanging over the road threatening you with fines and licence loss, asking whether your regos due or if you’ve checked your tyres.
    I even took my eyes off the road to read a big illuminated sign that told me……..”distracted drivers die”
    Queensland has trivia questions such as “what is Fraser Island famous for” then the answer given a few k’s down the road.
    Government will not leave you alone to have a nice drive in the country. You cannot get away from them.
    It’s insane. It’s socialism.
    The government constantly in your face while you struggle to stay alive on the goat tracks they won’t fix.

  10. They are not all “cheese eating surrender monkeys”. There are a couple of groups doing very good work to revive classical liberalism in France such as the Coppet Institute in Paris (institutcoppet dot org) which has rediscovered the great French liberal heritage in a big way and is republishing it as fast as they can. One of their best strategic arguing points is the following: most French intellectuals think that free market economics is an Anglo-Saxon plot to destroy France, but the fact is that the native French liberal tradition is older and more radical than the Anglo-Scottish tradition of Smith and JS Mill. In fact both Smith and Mill learned much of their ideas by visiting France and talking to French economists. One should also keep in mind the important part played by translations of Bastiat’s works in the 1960s by FEE in re-invigorating free market ideas within the American conservative movement. When the French left learn this they are gob-smacked and reduced to gibbering idiots (more so than usual). To misquote ex-President George W. Bush on this, “the French don’t have a word for laissez-faire.”

  11. Tel

    To misquote ex-President George W. Bush on this, “the French don’t have a word for laissez-faire.”

    You really captured that famous Bush truthiness.

    Bush did the dumb guy schtick better than Obama does the wise guy.

  12. David-I actually explained that the full phrase was “Laissez Faire, Laissez Passer”–Let Us Do It, Let Us Make It–in contrast to the more common and wasteful and corrupt-Dirigisme. http://www.invisibleserfscollar.com/why-the-world-makes-far-more-sense-if-you-add-dirigisiste-to-the-things-you-understand/

    The Qualifications Frameworks that Australia has adopted are an unfortunate example of Dirigisme. They also give revenue to groups offering credentialing and create barriers to those jobs.

    I spent part of yesterday reading the 800 plus page Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act that sailed through the US Senate last week. It calls for required Local Workforce Development Boards and regional planning and State Unified Plans to be certified by the US Secretaries of Labor and Education. It’s a fascist vision, in the traditional government/Big Business/Interest Group sense, of an economy that burdens the actual nonconnected with lobbyists on the payroll private sector.

    Dirigisme on Steroids, but savvy enough to offer a carrot to the severely disabled of a chance at Independent Living to secure the support of those frustrated groups.

  13. Papachango

    the Coppet Institute in Paris

    wow – un ‘think tank’ libre marché français!. I’m impressed. Good pitch about the French liberal thought originating in natural rights; that’s where writers like Voltaire, and to some extent Victor Hugo were coming from.

    These guys have their work cut out for them though – I don’t think many French would have even heard of them. Good luck getting Hollande, le Pen, or even Sarkozy/Coppé to listen to anything they say

  14. Tom

    Where you bin, Papa? Where you wheelie bin?

  15. Julie Novak

    I second David’s remark. Institut Coppet do some fantastic work (including their publication “Laissons Faire,” one of my favourites!), and they’re only one part of the classical liberal community within France actively promulgating freedom’s message. Also consider the French scholars and activists living outside of France doing the same thing – Veronique de Rugy is one name that readily springs to my mind.

    I find some of the statements implying that the Anglosphere cannot learn anything useful from the French experience because, well, the first “golden era” of French liberalism passed after Yves Guyot’s passing in 1928 (if not earlier) plainly ridiculous. As David rightly said, the French were hugely influential in the development of modern American libertarianism and, indeed, had a profound influence upon the thinking of some of America’s founders. The legacies of those insights remain felt to this very day. In addition, if many of the French liberal insights have been forgotten, if not even appreciated, by many of our contemporaries, then, surely, we can learn a thing or two from rediscovering their thought!

    Besides, the first golden era of liberalism in the Anglosphere also passed well and truly by the eve of World War I, but most of us seem to have no trouble drawing upon the insights of Smith/(early) Mill/Cobden, and so on, to this day.

    An open mind, rather than reflexive dismissal, is in order!

  16. It is interesting to list how deeply French classical liberal thought influenced the Anglophone world:

    1. Adam Smith’s visit to France in 1764-65: he thought of dedicating Wealth of Nations to the French Physiocrat Quesnay so impressed was he with his ideas on economics

    2. JS Mill’s visit to France in 1820: he later planned to write a history of the French Revolution but gave all his notes to a friend as he didn’t have the time. One volume of his Collected Works is devoted to French matters.

    3. Thomas Jefferson personally translated Destutt de Tracy’s book on economics (1817) because he thought it was so important.

    4. JB Say’s Treatise on Political Economy was translated by Prinsep in 1821 and had a profound impact in America where it was used as a the economic textbook in colleges for decades

    5. Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America (1835, 1840) has had a huge impact on American conservative thought in particular and American political and social thought in general. Although not really a classical liberal, he was a conservative with strong classical liberal sympathies.

    6. Bastiat’s Economic Sophisms were translated into English and published in both English and American editions almost as soon as they appeared. Editions were still being published by free market groups in Chicago in the 1870s and 1880s. Leonard Read of the Foundation for Economic Eduction discovered Bastiat after WW2 and had his major works translated in the 1960s. This has had a profound impact on the American conservative and libertarian movements which persists even to this day.

    7. Rothbard discovered the work of Charles Dunoyer (De la Liberté du Travail (On the Freedom of Working) (1845)) during the 1950s when he was researching Man Economy and State and Power and Market, and through this, the work of Charles Comte, Bastiat, and Gustave de Molinari. Molinari’s impact on Rothbard of the private production of security is massive. The influence of the French classical liberals on Rothbard’s theory of class is also extremely important.

    Although the influence of French classical liberalism died during the First World War and remained dead and buried for most of the 20thC in France it had and continues to have a profound impact on the development of American conservative and libertarian thought. What is interesting is that the French are being re-introduced to their own liberal heritage through the modern American libertarian movement. They find it particularly puzzling and a bit amusing that an Australian living in Indiana is helping to re-acquaint them with their own long forgotten heritage.

    When I was in Paris in late 2012 I was surprised to see an entire shelf of books devoted to libertarian titles in a bookshop. Works in translation by Rand, Nozick, Mises, Rothbard as well as republished editions of Bastiat, Say (both the elder and the younger), Constant, and so on. I have never seen this before. This suggests that even left-leaning bookshop owners feel obliged to at least stock these titles. This suggests that the tide might be beginning to turn, even in statist France. How big are the shelves of libertarian books in Australian bookshops?

  17. Gab

    Thanks for all that information, David Hart.
    This has been one of the better posts and threads.

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