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French Enlightenment

  • Université Panthéon-Assas, Paris, France
French Enlightenment
Thierry Demals &Gilbert Faccarello
Setting the Stage
The age of Enlightenment is certainly one of the most exciting periods in
the history of sciences and philosophy (see, for example, the classic studies
of Hazard 1935, 1946 ; Gay 1966, 1969). This is especially true in France
where the number of first-rank philosophers and scientists, the so-called “philo-
sophes”, is astonishing from Pierre Bayle (1647–1706) to Marie Jean Antoine
Nicolas Caritat de Condorcet (1743–1794), including Bernard Le Bovier de
Fontenelle (1657–1757), Charles-Louis de Montesquieu (1689–1755), François-
Marie Arouet (Voltaire) (1694–1778), Pierre Louis Moreau de Maupertuis
(1698–1759), Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778), Denis Diderot (1713–1784),
Claude-Adrien Helvétius (1715–1771), Étienne Bonnot de Condillac (1715–
1780), Jean Le Rond d’Alembert (1717–1783), Paul Henri Thiry d’Holbach
(1723–1789) or Antoine Laurent Lavoisier (1743–1794), to mention only some
of the most celebrated among them. The age extends from the second half of
the seventeenth century right up to the French Revolution, which epitomises
its climax. Building on the development of modern sciences started in the early
Published in Gilbert Faccarello and Heinz D. Kurz (eds), Handbook on the History of
Economic Analysis, vol. 2, Schools of Thought in Economics, Cheltenham: Edward Elgar,
2016, pp. 75–91. A few changes are purely formal.
French Enlightenment 2
seventeenth century, it brought progressively a radical change in all the fields
of knowledge and thought. Not surprisingly, this intellectual groundswell also
provoked numerous reactions, both during and after the period, which for-
med the various Anti- or Counter-Enlightenment traditions still active today
(see, for example, Monod 1916, Masseau 2000, McMahon 2001 ; Sternhell 2006
A European movement of ideas, the Enlightenment naturally presented a
great diversity of writings and opinions, accentuated by the different
national contexts, and gave rise to sometimes diverging interpretations the
more recent debates dealing with the distinction between a “radical” and a
“moderate” Enlightenment (see Jacob 1981 [2006]; Israel 2001, 2006, 2010,
and some related discussion for example, Fœssel 2009 ; Bove et al. 2007;
Lilti 2009 ; Miklaszewska and Tomaszewska 2014). In spite of this, during this
period, authors broadly shared some fundamental values of autonomy and
freedom, universality and toleration, experimentation and the “reign of reason”,
perfectibility all that is supposed to aim at the happiness of humankind and
to found modernity. The Encyclopédie, ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences,
des arts et des métiers, edited by Diderot and d’Alembert from 1751 to 1772,
is considered the flagship of this period, the best testimony of a revolution in
thought and attitudes. There, in the entry “Philosophe”, the “philosophe” is
depicted as firmly having his feet on the ground, acting for the benefit of all
human beings :
Our philosophe does not believe . . . to be in exile in this world ; . . . he
wishes to enjoy as a wise œconome the gifts that nature offers him . . .
For him, civil society is like an earthy divinity : he praises it, honours
it with integrity, with exact attention to his duties and with a sincere
desire to be a member neither worthless nor a cause of embarrassment.
Towards the end of the period, the spirit of Enlightenment was well
defined by Immanuel Kant in his celebrated answer to a question asked by
the Berlinische Monatsschrift : “Was ist Aufklärung ?” what is Enlighten-
ment ?
Enlightenment is man’s release from his self-incurred tutelage. Tutelage
is man’s inability to make use of his understanding without direction
from another. Self-incurred is this tutelage when its cause lies not in lack
of reason but in lack of resolution and courage to use it without direction
from another. Sapere aude ! “Have courage to use your own reason!”
that is the motto of enlightenment. (Kant 1784 [1963] : 3)
French Enlightenment 3
The economic field was not left aside, from the second half of the reign of
Louis XIV to the Revolution. It even progressively became a central topic in
politics, with unwavering fight in favour of laissez-faire first at the end of
the seventeenth century, with Pierre Le Pesant de Boisguilbert (1646–1714),
and then in the second half of the eighteenth, with the main figures of François
Quesnay (1694–1774), Anne-Robert-Jacques Turgot (1727–1781) and
Condorcet. It entailed also many lively controversies over taxes, public ex-
penditure, foreign trade, or over money and banking from the collapse of John
Law’s (1671–1729) system to Richard Cantillon (c.1680–1734) and the circle
of J.C.M. Vincent de Gournay (1712–1759). The number of publications of
books and pamphlets on economic matters increased dramatically during the
second half of the eighteenth century (Théré 1998) the Encyclopédie also
included contributions in the field by Quesnay, Turgot, François Véron de
Forbonnais (1722–1800), and so on and authors became aware to deal with
a new field of knowledge. In 1755, for example, on the occasion of the death of
Montesquieu who had devoted some books of his celebrated treatise De l’esprit
des lois (1748) to economic subjects, the mathematician, physicist and philoso-
pher Maupertuis made his eulogy at the Royal Academy of Sciences in Berlin.
Stressing Montesquieu’s interest in the “principles of the system of wealth”,
he remarked that this system lacked an appropriate name : “this science is so
novel among us . . . that it still has no name” (Moreau de Maupertuis 1755
[1768] : 416). In 1763, Quesnay and Victor Riqueti de Mirabeau (1715–1789)
in France, and Pietro Verri (1728–1797) in Italy, spoke of “economic science”,
in the modern meaning of the phrase, to designate the new field. In 1767,
Jean-Joseph-Louis Graslin (1728–1790) an enemy of the Physiocrats quo-
ted Maupertuis’s remark and declared that “the science of political economy
. . . has just been born among us” (Graslin 1767 [1911] : 1). One year
later, Pierre-Samuel Dupont (later known as Dupont de Nemours) (1739–1817)
published De l’origine et des progrès d’une science nouvelle (Dupont 1768).
This is not to say that the developments in economic thought were
homogenous. Among the wealth of the literature of the time, it is however
possible to distinguish two main currents of thought : “commerce politique”
and “philosophie économique”. (For more precise developments, see the other
entries of this handbook, mentioned in the ‘See also’ section at the end of the
present text.)
The first consists in a French adaptation of the English “science of trade” and
is illustrated by such different authors as Jean-François Melon (1675–1738),
French Enlightenment 4
Nicolas Dutot (also spelled Du Tot, 1684–1741), Montesquieu, or the members
of the circle of Vincent de Gournay (see, for example, Murphy 1986, 1998 ;
Skornicki 2006; Charles et al. 2011), the main figure of which was Véron de
Forbonnais. The second (see, for example, Faccarello 1986 [1999], 1998, 2006,
2009 ; Steiner 1998 ; Charles and Théré 2008, 2011 ; Faccarello and Steiner,
2008a, 2012) includes those who fought in favour of the “liberté du commerce”,
from Boisguilbert and the foundation of “laissez-faire” at the end of the se-
venteenth century, to the developments of Quesnay, Turgot and Condorcet
to whom some independent authors such as Graslin can be added. Both cur-
rents of thought aimed at a deep change in French politics and proposed new
political philosophies centred on economic policies for a prosperous economy,
mainly in the context, first of the great economic difficulties during the reign
of Louis XIV and the Régence, and then of a mounting rivalry with Great
Britain, the Seven Years War (1756–63) and the loss by France of some parts
of its overseas empire with, permanently, the structural question of the fi-
nancing of the state and the huge public debt.
From the Science of Trade to “Commerce Politique”
“Commerce politique” is a French phrase that was widespread in diplomacy.
Towards the end of the seventeenth century, it referred to the code of conduct
which applied to public discussion, more particularly when negotiating treaties
and alliances between nations. The expression thereafter acquired a broader
meaning of political sociability or court ceremonial. Véron de Forbonnais intro-
duced the expression into economic language by giving it most of the attributes
of the science of trade. He made systematic use of it in the 1750s, contrasting
the “practical merchant [who] sees in trade nothing but his fortune” with the
“political merchant [who] considers the wealth of all, that is, the wealth of
the State” (Véron de Forbonnais 1753 : 114). This distinction also appears in
Dutot (1738 [1739] : 257), who uses it as a way of asserting the primacy of
“general trade” over “particular trade”. “Commerce politique” is therefore trade
observed and analysed from the viewpoint of the political body, that is, the
national interest. It is an adaptation to the French intellectual context of the
British “science of trade”. A sign of the greater sophistication of the analyses
of British writers, the references, the borrowings of ideas and the translations
increased in the middle of the eighteenth century. The climax of this British
vogue is Vincent de Gournay’s intendance (1751–58). It is under the latter’s
French Enlightenment 5
administration that works of John Cary, The British Merchant (edited by C.
King), Charles Davenant, David Hume, Josiah Child, Thomas Culpepper, Lord
Bolingbroke, Josiah Tucker and Matthew Decker were translated.
However, a feature of the British literature was the contrast between, on
the one hand, Britain and the free States of Holland, and, on the other hand,
the absolute monarchies of France and Spain. Moreover William Petyt,
Nicholas Barbon and Davenant described France as an absolute monarchy
with pretentions to be a universal monarchy. What concerned therefore the
French writers was to prove that France, even with an agricultural territory
and neither a mixed constitution nor a Republican government, could be a
trading nation just as Britain and Holland and even commercially dominate
the other nations in Europe. Three main attempts were made in this direction :
Melon’s parable of the islands, the “doux commerce” thesis and the develop-
ments proposed by the Vincent de Gournay circle.
The islands parable
In his Essai politique sur le commerce, Melon imagines a system of nations
formed of three or four islands of the same area and identical population, and
confronted successively with three different situations. In the first situation,
each island produces, with the same number of workers, a single kind of com-
modity adapted to its territory corn in the first, wool in the second, and so
on in sufficient quantities to meet its own needs and the needs of the other
islands. With each one trading its surplus for the other goods, an equal balance
of trade emerges between the islands (Melon 1734a [1735] : 2).
In the second situation, the island that produces corn is assumed to be
more fertile than the others and can exist without any kind of specialisa-
tion. This island produces not only its own commodity in abundance, but also
the commodities produced by the other islands in quantities sufficient for its
consumption. The other islands’ soil, poorly fertile, does not allow their in-
habitants to produce the amount of corn necessary for their subsistence. The
latter are therefore dependent on the corn island for their subsistence and find
it impossible to sell their surplus for the corn they need. As their commodity is
no longer an object of trade, they are confronted with the alternative, either to
leave their island and to be employed on the corn island in order to obtain this
basic commodity, or to force the corn island, through a “just war”, to produce
French Enlightenment 6
corn for them and to sell it to them. The second alternative implies that the
other islands unite and invoke the “law of nations” to force the corn island to
cultivate for them again and to prohibit it from producing what they produce
themselves (Melon 1734a [1735] : 3). In this second situation the law of nations
is a “balance of power” that the corn island can influence in its favour, since it
has the monopoly of a commodity that is absolutely necessary.
In the third situation, all the islands are equally fertile and self-sufficient in
corn or in necessary goods, so that none of them can now either dominate the
others because of the fertility of its soil, nor claim a “just war”. The islands
then enter into more intense, but also more uncertain, trading relations, as it
becomes difficult to “know which of the islands becomes the most powerful”
(Melon 1734a [1735] : 6). Melon draws several consequences from this situation.
First, the more islands there are which produce a diversity of manufactured
goods, the more the needs of all will be varied, the more trade there will be
between them and, consequently, the less an island will dominate by trading
corn alone. Second, this extensive trade only works if the islands adopt the
principle of competition, that is, if they seek a hegemonic position without
resorting to monopoly. Third, the more the circulation of goods increases, the
more money and instruments of credit are needed. Three principles therefore
emerge to increase the power of an island : to possess a fertile territory that
permits an increase in the production of corn, to develop a manufacturing
policy suitable to employ a growing population, and to proportion monetary
instruments to the circulation of goods. “With these advantages, an island
will soon end the balance of equality, achieve superiority of power, and give
its laws to the other islands” (Melon 1734a [1735] : 10) : trade appears to
be a more confrontational than harmonious relation. Essentially reciprocal, it
rapidly becomes a way of tilting the balance of power in its favour.
Of these three situations, the first recalls the old doctrine of the “universal
economy” that the modern era has made obsolete. The second, assuming a
decline in international trade, concludes that war is the primary means of
wealth and power : it is a possible expression of the doctrine of the “universal
monarchy”. The third, separating trade from war and replacing the latter with
competition in times of peace, makes trade the main cause of wealth and
power : it expresses a doctrine, not of harmony, but of the balance of trading
French Enlightenment 7
The doctrine appears as a derivation of the English doctrine of favourable
balance of trade. Melon (1734b [1736] : 283–4) faithfully repeats the four ways
of making a positive balance that Child (1693 [1698] : 168–9) had listed :
“encrease the hands in trade”, “encrease the stock in trade”, “make trade easie
and necessary”, “make it the interest of other nations to trade with us”. He
also takes from Child the plea for a low rate of interest. Finally, as in the
British science of trade, he associates this doctrine with a policy combining
freedom and protection (Melon 1734a [1735] : 29–30). The demand for freedom
is the assertion of the principle of competition and free access, against that
of monopoly and privilege. However, two situations justify the concession of
privileges : in a newly established trade when a privilege is granted “either
to reward the discovery, or to encourage entrepreneurs”, and in the case of a
strong commercial rivalry when international competition harms the interests
of the nation (Melon 1734a [1735] : 69–70).
This theme of the compatibility of freedom of trade and protection can also
be found in Henri de Boulainvilliers (1727 : 219–20) and Montesquieu (1748,
bk XX. : ch. 12). Melon, for example, writes that freedom is measured by its
contribution to the common good. This primacy of the common good over
the individual good is a central topic of “commerce politique” and the British
science of trade : the interest of the merchant is not necessarily the same as the
interest of trade in general. Freedom of trade is not the right to trade without
rules and limits, but to “negotiate under . . . established laws” (Melon 1734b
[1736] : 165). A policy of freedom and protection thus aims at guaranteeing a
nation a dominant position in international trade, but certainly not a monopoly
position. Yet, Melon writes, it is towards such a position that Petty inclines
when he writes that the English are the only ones to have enough funds and
ability to “drive the trade of the whole commercial world” (ibid. : 354). Melon
interprets this quest for a single emporium, or “universal trade” (Petty 1690
[1899] : 312), as symmetrically the same flaw as the quest for a universal
monarchy, and emphasises the doctrine of preservation, competition and the
balance of nations : that is, the doctrine of the preservation of the territories
and wealth already acquired, as opposed to the doctrine of expansion to new
territories and appropriation of their wealth (Melon 1734a [1735] : 102).
French Enlightenment 8
The “doux commerce” approach
While Melon stressed the English inclination in favour of “universal trade” and
the empire of the sea, English writers of a republican culture, such as Charles
Davenant, John Trenchard and Thomas Gordon, emphasised the tendency of
the French monarchy towards universal domination, leading to the successive
restriction of all kinds of freedoms. They set against this the multiplicity of
free and trading nations. Montesquieu also maintained that the hegemony of a
superpower threatens the balance of European nations. He therefore assumed
that these nations, considered as “members of a great republic” and “underta-
king all the trade and navigation in the universe” (Montesquieu 1727 [1964] :
192–3), should mediate their conflicts through the mechanism of the balance
of powers and not by relying on a single sovereign. He also knows, like the
English republicans, that trade is at the same time a restraint on the excesses
of power what is called “doux commerce” or civilising trade and an agent
for the corruption of values.
The notion of “doux commerce” has been commented on (see Hirschman
1977). It generally means a certain number of effects caused by the expansion of
trade, such as gentle manners, religious tolerance, freedom of opinion, security
of property, a trade policy that is not arbitrary, and so on, but also an interest-
oriented behaviour, particularly that of the trader, which should be assumed
here neither reducible to the love of gain, nor identical to the public interest.
The effects of trade are, first, moral and political. They make themselves
felt in different ways, depending on the kind of government and territories.
Montesquieu distinguishes two cases. On the one hand, the “commerce du
luxe”, typical of the spending of the higher ranks, is appropriate to a vast and
fertile territory ruled by a monarchical government; on the other hand, the
“commerce d’œconomie” (carriage and re-export) is fitted to a small and poor
territory ruled by a republican government. In the light of this distinction,
trade certainly refines the manners of monarchical governments, but corrupts
those of military republics, which are grounded in freedom that of the an-
cients. As for trading republics, these are only based on (modern) freedom
because it is necessary for trade and the establishment of trust between tra-
ders. Freedom is therefore defined as “this tranquillity of mind arising from
the opinion that everyone has of his security” (Montesquieu 1748, bk XI :
ch. 6), which implies, by extension, the compliance with legal rules (exchange
contracts, commitments, and so on) that guarantee the security of people and
French Enlightenment 9
goods. These rules have the same effects in a monarchy that is open to luxury
goods trade : they put people and goods beyond the reach of government.
However, trade produces a second kind of effect on the functioning of the
economy. The more it expands and the international circulation of goods is free,
the less the initiative of government is arbitrary commerce is incompatible
with despotism. This does not mean however a reduction in the legal and
political activity of the government. On the one hand, Montesquieu (1748, bk
XX : ch. 9, bk XXII : chs 10, 14) maintains that international competition in
the sense of free access sets a just price for things and that foreign exchange
sets a just price for money. He thus suggests that on the international markets
there is an adjustment mechanism for quantities and prices which ultimately
escapes the arbitrariness of territorial governments and prevents despotism.
This is the same idea that explains his support for the quantity theory of
money. Montesquieu’s position therefore leans towards cosmopolitanism, the
criticism of privileges, monopolies and customs restrictions. On the other hand,
like Melon, Montesquieu (ibid., bk XX : ch. 12) states that traders’ interest
is not the national interest in trade, in the same way as the national interest
in trade is not that of competing nations. The result is the necessity to limit
trade or to control its expansion. He (ibid., bk VII : ch. 5) thus justifies the
prohibition of foreign goods, which would be exchanged, because their high
price, against a too important quantity of domestic goods. He emphasises also
that some nations do not have an interest in trade, for example, those who,
lacking any kind of goods, become poorer by obtaining these, and those who,
having everything, are self-sufficient and expect nothing from it (ibid., bk X :
ch. 13). Finally, he affirms that the expansion of the carrying and re-exporting
trade in a monarchy constitutes a threat of corruption of the monarchy and of
this kind of trade itself (ibid., bk V : ch. 8).
Moreover, practising trade is for noblemen the equivalent to abandoning
their military function and losing their rank, and leads to unfair competi-
tion with the lower rank of traders. Hence, commerce would no longer be the
“profession of equals”. This position of hostility to the “noblesse commerçante”
is, in a way, running counter to the trend. A few years earlier, Dutot (1738
[1739] : 263–4) defended a contrary position. Vincent de Gournay (1993 : 11)
considers the emergence of such a nobility as one of the reasons for England’s
economic success, and Forbonnais (Véron de Forbonnais 1753 : 117), without
denying that the function of the nobility is firstly military, sees no dispara-
gement in the fact this nobility could maintain its rank thanks to income
French Enlightenment 10
from commercial activity. This debate on the trading nobility (“noblesse com-
merçante”) is an element in a wider debate on whether France is a monarchy
sufficiently free to promote commerce with as much success as in the trading re-
publics, namely whether this nation has broken with the politics of the empire
on land and committed itself to the politics of freedom and protection. There
are therefore two questions raised by Melon and Montesquieu : that of the
compatibility of commerce and monarchy, and that of freedom and protection,
namely the substitution, as much as possible, of competition for war.
The circle of Vincent de Gournay
Vincent de Gournay and his circle make no mystery of their aim : to propel
France to the rank of a major trading nation, equal or superior to Britain,
and to direct its policy towards establishing an empire, not on land, but on
sea. Forbonnais (Véron de Forbonnais 1755b : 67) similarly says that one of
the purposes of commerce politique is not only to seek a maritime empire,
that is, to control navigation and some trade flows from the colonies, but also
a “balance of power on sea” not subject to any despotism. Montesquieu had
explained England’s success with the fact that this nation is engaged in both
luxury trade and carrying trade, while France is engaged only in the former
and Holland only in the latter. He had made commerce as a whole a matter of
constitution, linking carrying trade to republics, luxury trade to monarchies,
and the two forms to the countries with mixed constitutions based on the
separation of powers. The members of Vincent de Gournay’s circle, on the
contrary, sought to demonstrate that, while commerce retains its relationship
with politics, it has no constitutional dimension.
The question of the compatibility of commerce and the monarchy is not
new. Law (1715 [1934] : 18, 48) clearly supported this in relation to credit
and banking, and Melon (1734a [1735] : 75) responded to this positively by
trying to show that there was no close link between exclusive commerce and
monarchical government, because the former was to be found just as much in
republican governments. Vincent de Gournay thinks in the same way. Child
had asserted that the French colonies of the Indies had not progressed as
quickly as their English counterparts because they had been established by
a government that was purely monarchical and originally not well versed in
commerce and navigation. Vincent de Gournay conceded that the monarchs
were certainly less susceptible to the spirit of commerce. However, he replied,
French Enlightenment 11
“when the principles of commerce have once broken through to the counsel of
Monarchs, and it is seen . . . as a major affair, as the real source of wealth and
power, these Princes will find it even easier than the Republics to expand and
support their commerce” (Vincent de Gournay c.1752 [1983] : 352–3).
Véron de Forbonnais’s identical position is aimed more directly at
Montesquieu. It is the circumstances, he writes (1753 : 21), and not the consti-
tutions of Holland and France themselves which make a success of such a
branch of commerce in the first country and its failure in the second. A mo-
narchy certainly inclines naturally towards luxury, but this commerce, limited
by the size of its market, only employs a small part of the population. The
supernumerary part turns necessarily towards the carrying and re-exporting
trade, which it expects to be as profitable as the luxury goods trade (Vé-
ron de Forbonnais 1753 : 111). Véron de Forbonnais interprets Montesquieu’s
restrictive conception not only as a belittling of the monarchy which was sup-
posed to tolerate only one form of commerce, but also a heightening of the
English mixed constitution which tolerates both of them. Within Vincent de
Gournay’s circle, Louis-Joseph Plumard de Dangeul (1722–1777) appears to
be the strongest defender of the mixed constitution. Indeed, he devotes a
whole chapter in his Remarques sur les avantages et les désavantages de la
France et de l’Angleterre par rapport au commerce et aux autres sources de la
puissance des États to show that the constitution of Great Britain is one
of the reasons which explain the commercial advantage this nation has over
France. Rather than entrusting the laws and administration of commerce to the
“individual legislators”, he stresses, this nation has set up a legislative assembly
which contributes to the public interest, and has thus managed private actions
“through the principles of the common good” : “The nation . . . governs itself”,
instead of the monarch dealing with everything (Plumard de Dangeul 1754 :
150–1, 170).
The second above-mentioned question concerns the politics of freedom and
protection. To Vincent de Gournay, this politics comes directly from Child :
freedom applies to the nation’s subjects in relation to domestic trade, protec-
tion to the nation’s subjects in relation to foreign trade. As regards protection,
Vincent de Gournay initially supported the policy of the Navigation Act, consi-
dered to be the most efficient way of promoting shipments, but he replaced it
later by a policy of encouragement and direction of exports, more pragmatic
and more compatible with the idea of freedom of trade. The opinions of the
members of the circle on this Act are mixed.
French Enlightenment 12
Like the British writers, the members of the circle thought in terms of
balance (see, for example, Demals and Hyard 2015) and used expressions that
are similar to the doctrine of foreign-paid incomes or the export of wrought
products. For example, Forbonnais (Véron de Forbonnais 1754, 1 : 51–2)
summarises in the following way the principles established by the English
science of commerce : export the surplus ; export raw materials once they have
been wrought ; import raw materials with a view to reworking them rather
than wrought products ; exchange goods for goods ; avoid imports of foreign
goods that can be substituted for domestic goods ; avoid imports of “pure
luxury foreign goods” ; avoid as far as possible imports of goods of absolute
necessity; encourage the commerce of storage and re-export ; carry goods for
other nations. The policy of tariffs and restrictions must be moderate to avoid
retaliations, and take account of the quantity of goods, as well as the quantity
of labour (Véron de Forbonnais 1755a : 112–13). A reader of Tucker, Plumard
de Dangeul takes up the “balance of labour” doctrine perhaps even more than
Forbonnais, aiming at an increase in employment and national manufacturing.
Vincent de Gournay concludes his memorandum on smuggling with a well-
known phrase : “These two expressions, laisser faire and laisser passer, being
two continuous sources of action, would therefore be for us two continuous
sources of wealth” (1993 : 34). But the phrase “laissez-faire” is nothing else
than the equivalent of “liberty and protection” and had not yet acquired the
meaning which can be found in Boisguilbert and inspired Quesnay and Turgot,
that is, in “philosophie économique”.
“Philosophie économique”
and the Foundations of Laissez-faire
From the 1760s onwards, the Physiocrats and their friends were known as the
“économistes”, the “écrivains économistes” or the “philosophes économistes”.
The current of thought they represent came thus to be naturally called
“philosophie économique”. This phrase was in particular used by Condillac’s
brother, Gabriel Bonnot de Mably (1709–1785) in his 1768 Doutes proposés
aux philosophes économistes sur l’ordre naturel et essentiel des sociétés po-
litiques a book criticising the political opus magnum of the physiocratic
school, Pierre-Paul Le Mercier de la Rivière’s L’ordre naturel et essentiel des
sociétés politiques (1767 [2001]). It was accepted by his adversaries : one of the
French Enlightenment 13
foremost member of the school, Nicolas Baudeau (1730–1792), used it in the
title of his 1771 theoretical synthesis, Première introduction à la philosophie
économique, ou analyse des États policés. The appellation however fits all the
authors of the laissez-faire approach, from Boisguilbert to Jean-Bastiste Say
(1767–1832) : they all proposed a new political philosophy centred on the wor-
king of markets in competitive conditions, developed around three main axes :
a theory of knowledge based on sensationism, a theory of self-interested action
in society, and a peculiar conception of the efficient action of the legislator
(Faccarello and Steiner 2008a, 2012). The point is well perceived by Mably,
who blamed Quesnay of having begun “his political studies with agriculture,
the nature of tax and commerce, and consequently considered these quite se-
condary objects of administration to be the fundamental principles for society”
(Bonnot de Mably 1768 [1795] : 144) Rousseau’s opinion was not different.
Knowledge and action : the role of sensationist philosophy
The reference to sensationism is an important element of “philosophie
économique” Boisguilbert had of course no contact with this philosophy
but his theological point of departure leads to the same conclusions as regards
individuals’ behaviour and political economy. It represented an important line
of development for the old discourse on the passions, interest and self-love.
On the one hand, sensationism allowed them to be harmonised. One passion
might create good or evil, pleasure or pain : passions can therefore be dealt
with in terms of their positive or negative consequences, both individually and
collectively. On the other hand, the power of human reason, while praised, was
also recognised to be imperfect if only, as Boisguilbert insisted in a traditio-
nal way, because original sin enfeebled its powers and enslaved people to their
self-love. Knowledge consequently became problematic : it was impossible to
know the essential nature of things. To escape this situation, however, it was
possible to be guided by clear rules which were supposed to prevent reason
from being led astray the philosophy of Descartes and the Port-Royal La
logique, ou l’art de penser (Arnauld and Nicole 1662), for example, provided
such rules. However, it was also possible to resort to experience and experimen-
tation, and limit oneself to the knowledge of more or less regular phenomena
and their relationships, in the traditional sciences such as physics and astro-
nomy, for example, as well as in the novel “moral and political sciences” : “we
only know relationships. Wishing to say more is to confuse the limits of our
French Enlightenment 14
spirit with that of nature” (Turgot 1750 [1913] : 168). In this perspective,
the development of probability theory (to which the Port Royal Logique also
contributed) and a probabilistic vision of science from Christiaan Huygens
(1629–1695) and Blaise Pascal (1623–1662) to Condorcet and Pierre-Simon de
Laplace (1749–1827) marked the eighteenth century. So did sensationism :
based on John Locke’s Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690), which
was translated into French language by Pierre Coste and saw many editions
throughout the century, sensationist philosophy was developed by Condillac
in Essai sur l’origine des connaissances humaines (Bonnot de Condillac 1746)
and Traité des sensations (1754). This approach generated the sensationist
political economy of Quesnay, Turgot and Condorcet, and the so-called French
materialistic thought of Helvétius and d’Holbach.
Quesnay’s article “Evidence” in the Encyclopédie showed that sensationism
served as the foundation for an empirical theory of knowledge unencumbered
by the mind/body dualism of the Cartesians. This new sensationism led to
the idea that it is the utility of an action (the agreeable or disagreeable sen-
sations) which determined behaviour (Quesnay 1756 : para. 24); nevertheless,
for Quesnay and the Physiocrats this approach was associated with the idea of
a natural order. This meant that seeking the useful is not the criterion for the
discovery of the good, but only the means of reaching it. In the socio-political
construction of “legal despotism”, the norm of economic government is fixed in
the natural order, but it is the harmony of interests between different classes
that permitted its realisation.
Turgot and Condorcet’s approach is different : they rejected the idea of
legal despotism. In their view, sensationism establishes fundamental natural
human rights liberty, security and property. It also serves to found a theory of
subjective value based on utility and explain the determination of equilibrium
prices in free markets. Upon the same foundation there also rested notions of
justice and morality which, with the effective realisation of free trade, must
guide the political and administrative organisation of the country.
The position of Helvétius and of d’Holbach is also different. They did not
develop a theory of self-interested behaviour in markets under competitive
conditions, but traced all behaviour to a calculation of pleasures and pains.
In a society where economic activity played a significant part, this calculation
involved a love of money which, since it permitted the reduction of pain and the
increase of pleasure, became the most common passion of all. Deprivation of
French Enlightenment 15
such a passion in such a society would remove any principle of action (Helvétius
1773, II : 580).
A theory of self-interested action and the “liberté du commerce”
For our authors, a natural and optimal political order must rest upon the
harmony that economic activities spontaneously create in a regime of “liberté
du commerce”. Boisguilbert was the first to mark out this position at the end of
the seventeenth century. He argued that if one was to uncover an order within
economic activity it was enough to consider the motivations of agents, which
are nothing but the translation into economic life of the selfish conduct of men,
a form of conduct generated by original sin and the fall of man : “each thinks of
attaining his own personal interest to the highest degree and with the greatest
possible ease”, he writes in 1705 in his first Factum de la France (Le Pesant
de Boisguilbert 1695–1707 [1966] : 749). This order is characterised by what
Boisguilbert calls “equilibrium” or “harmony”, that is, a situation in which a
specific system of relative prices prevails : the “prix de proportion”. Also if, in
Le Détail de la France (1695), he can emphasise “the harmony of the Republic,
invisibly ruled by a superior power” (Le Pesant de Boisguilbert 1695–1707
[1966] : 621), this is because, in his opinion, this “superior power” consists of
nothing other than free trade which forces people to be reasonable in markets
and secure the realisation of these “prix de proportion”. The basic passion of
cupidity is thus neutralised. By confronting each individual’s cupidity with the
cupidity of all other people, competition eliminates socially harmful effects and
enables one to obtain an orderly society, a harmony, as if each individual were
motivated by charity.
Boisguilbert’s ideas were of particular importance in the development of
“philosophie économique” during the eighteenth century : Quesnay and
Turgot developed them in various complementary ways. For example, the idea
of a “maximising” behaviour based on interest was adopted and considered as
natural. In Boisguilbert this attitude was connected with the fall of man and
embedded in his Augustinian Jansenist approach. After him, the religious point
of departure faded away and was substituted : it was replaced by the sensatio-
nist explanation of the behaviour of individuals, with the same consequences
however in favour of “liberté du commerce” as it is obvious for example from
Turgot’s writings. During the eighteenth century, the maximising behaviour
of men was also metaphorically linked to the mathematical theory of “maxi-
French Enlightenment 16
mis et minimis” first developed by Pascal’s friend Pierre de Fermat (who died
in 1665) and then by Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646–1716), and the image
was so pervasive that even critiques of “philosophie économique” Ferdinando
Galiani (1728–1787) for example referred to it. All these developments,
together with some ideas taken from the theologian Nicolas Malebranche (1638–
1715) and Leibniz (Steiner 2005 [2010] : ch. 8), led to the progressive emer-
gence of a new kind of rationality, and cost–benefit calculations, even at the
practical level of engineers who, during the eighteenth century, built roads,
canals and bridges.
The efficiency of competition in markets is also forcefully asserted. Competi-
tion, it is stressed, allows the realisation of a system of equilibrium
relative prices Quesnay’s “bon prix”, Turgot’s “valeurs appréciatives”, or even
Graslin’s labour values. The social link between individuals and the equilibrium
structure of the economy is fundamentally grasped in real terms, leading, at
the end of the period, to Turgot and Graslin’s respective theories of values.
Money is however not unimportant. Prices are money prices : exchanges in
markets are monetary and the flows of money between classes have to respect
certain proportions to generate a state of “harmony”. Even for Turgot, who
grasps value in terms of utility, value cannot be expressed as such : only the
“valeur appréciative” (equilibrium relative price) can be known. It is expres-
sed, in an isolated transaction, by the quantity of the good against which a
commodity is exchanged; or in general by each of the quantities of every other
commodity against which it can be exchanged. Thanks to its intrinsic qualities,
related to the requirements of the functions of measure of values and medium
of exchange, one commodity detaches itself from the rest, and all the other
commodities, by convention, express their value in terms of it, which therefore
becomes the unique form of expression of value : money. What is basically
unimportant are the quantity of (metallic) circulating money and absolute
prices. For Boisguilbert and Turgot, for example but the idea is also to be
found in Quesnay and later in Say the economy automatically generates the
quantity of money it needs for transactions, by means of the circulation of bills
of exchange or credit money.
It is very certain . . . that the quantity [of money] does nothing for the
opulence of a country in general . . . : [money] does not prevent those
countries in possession of mines from being very impoverished. One man
in that kind of country can spend two écus a day and pass his life in
greater difficulty than someone who, in Languedoc, has no more than six
sols to support himself. One can indeed say that the richer a country
French Enlightenment 17
is, the more it is capable of doing without specie, for there are then
more people prepared to accept instead a piece of paper, called a bill of
exchange.” (Le Pesant de Boisguilbert, (1695–1707 [1966] : 617)
The quantity of circulating money is never the cause of an economic
depression : that an economy “lacks money” is only an erroneous impression,
the effect and not the cause of a crisis. Moreover, the interest rate is never
considered as a monetary variable : it is a price, determined between lenders
and borrowers in the loanable funds market. These points run counter to the
balance of trade doctrine. It is useless and absurd, for the countries that do not
possess mines, to import precious metals through a surplus in foreign trade,
because the quantity of money is irrelevant and does not impact on the interest
A last important point must be stressed. While laissez-faire is an essential
feature of “philosophie économique”, authors also insist in linking free trade at
home to free foreign trade : “liberté du commerce” at home, they argue, can
only stabilise the price of corn and generate a harmonious system of relative
prices if it is supported by freedom in foreign exchanges. The importance of
free foreign trade is first qualitative through its action on the expectations
of economic agents : the size of the flows of imports or exports, and their
possible balance or imbalance, are of almost no significance in this regard.
This new view of foreign trade, initiated by Boisguilbert, naturally conflicts
with the balance of trade doctrine. However, it also provided a solution to the
problem caused by the material interests of different countries, contesting the
political solutions traditionally advanced in the field. The material interests
of nations, the authors stressed, can be peacefully harmonised provided the
merchants are able to trade freely in international markets, pursuing their own
private interests, thus establishing the conditions for economic prosperity and
stability. This policy of external free trade was presented by Le Mercier de la
Rivière or Guillaume-François Le Trosne (1728–1780) as a political alternative
to the policy of the “balance of powers in Europe” considered as a source
of disagreement and warfare between nations whatever the attitude of the
other countries.
The principle of fraternity of nations is not . . . only dictated by justice,
but it is also in agreement with the interest of each nation, independently
from the behaviour of the others. It should not simply be regarded as a
beautiful moral idea, a worthy conception to be taught in schools of
philosophy, but also as a practical maxim of government from which
French Enlightenment 18
we can only detach ourselves to our own detriment. (Le Trosne 1777 :
Shaping economic policy : the role of the legislator
How can the new policy be implemented ? How can the legislator be influenced
if, unlike Turgot in 1774–76, the “philosophes économistes” are not themselves
in power? Starting our period with Boisguilbert, the “philosophe économiste”
had to act by gaining access to the king or his ministers. Boisguilbert had the
traditional role that the monarchy offered the king’s advisers : informing the
king, and proposing solutions. By the middle of the eighteenth century this
changed, especially in the case of the Physiocrats and Turgot, with the idea of
reforming the monarchy. Here there was a clear movement towards the “public
sphere” and an appeal to “public opinion” or “the tribunal of opinion”. Instead
of papers and memoranda addressed to the royal authority, authors turned
to printed works and even articles in journals intended for the public and
for debate. As an ideal it functioned as a new way of thinking about politics
and the legitimising of political action, seeking to convince the “reading and
thinking public” a good example of this can be found in the preliminary
declarations of Turgot’s edicts. Additionally, Turgot and Baudeau began to
define the social category that formed the basis of this new public opinion :
the middle class. This can also be found in the writings of d’Holbach and
Pierre-Louis Rœderer.
“Philosophie économique” also treated politics as a pedagogic practice : clear
explanations must be given so that the opinions of the reasonable members of
the public might be guided Turgot’s edicts are preceded with developed
pedagogical preliminary declarations thus defining the conditions of accepta-
bility and legitimacy for the measures taken by the legislator. This pedagogi-
cal dimension is associated with various institutional structures. In some cases
(Quesnay and Le Mercier de la Rivière for example) the importance assigned to
public opinion, strongly associated with public education, went hand in hand
with the role of the “philosophe économiste” as an expert. In other cases (for
example, Dupont, Turgot and Condorcet), projects for the representation of
interests through a system of assemblies were developed so that the interests
of the landowners might be discovered and channelled these interests being
considered identical to the interests of the nation. In all cases, the importance
of education and teaching was recognised.
French Enlightenment 19
However, what is the specific task of the legislator as regards markets and
the economy? A first task concerns the functioning of markets in free com-
petition. In this case the harmonisation of the self-interested behaviours of
individuals was supposed to occur without any specific regulation whether
it be political like the regulation of the grain trade, or religious like the ban
on the lending at interest. In some cases however, the legislator and the po-
litical power had to intervene, when the conditions for a smooth working of
competition were not fulfilled. For example, according to Boisguilbert, when
free foreign trade could not take place because of a war, the government was
supposed to intervene in markets, and, through announcements of some sale
or purchase of grain, according to the circumstances, influence agents’ expec-
tations in order to stabilise them and, via them, prices.
In some cases also, in the opinions of the authors, the mechanism of
competition can never work and the legislator must intervene accordingly. This
is the domain of market failures and of the so-called artificial harmonisation
of interests, the main example of which is the problem of the financing of
public goods (justice, police, defence, and so on), and taxation. Turgot,
Graslin, Condorcet, Rœderer, were perfectly aware of this. Facing the
central question of free riding, they developed theories of state intervention
and, in the quid pro quo perspective, mainly considered taxes as the (compul-
sory) prices of the services provided by the State. In addition, the legislator has
also to decide on merit goods, such as instruction and education, and questions
related to externalities.
One aspect of the public service of protection is worth mentioning because
it is particularly symptomatic of the mentalities of the time. A traditional and
widespread idea was that the merchant was dangerous because motivated by
greed, and that the population therefore needed protection, especially during
periods of grain shortage (requisitioning of grains, regulated price of bread,
and so on). “Philosophie économique” saw instead the merchant in competitive
markets as equal to Providence in regard to food distribution : it was therefore
the merchant who needed protection from the irrational passions and ignorance
of the people. Turgot ordered such a protection.
French Enlightenment 20
French Enlightenment saw an incredible amount of publications in each field
of political economy and authors almost always stressed the links with and
implications on political and moral philosophy. They almost all were aware
that the age was aiming at deep reforms of structures, behaviours and minds,
both in private and social life. This chapter has depicted the main currents
of thought that in a sense monopolised attention at the time. These did not,
of course, coexist peacefully. Lively polemics took place between them, for
example, between Forbonnais and the Physiocrats. One of the most famous
was launched by Galiani’s attack, on the part of “commerce politique”, against
“philosophie économique”, with the publication of his 1770 Dialogues sur le
commerce des blés and the reaction of Turgot (Faccarello 1998). However, many
attacks on the laissez-faire approach came also from other corners, for example,
from Mably or Simon-Nicolas-Henri Linguet (1736–1794) (see, for example,
Orain 2015). Individual positions sometimes evolved. Diderot, for example,
praised the Physiocrats before supporting Galiani, and Turgot, one of the most
important theoretician of laissez-faire, was a former member of the Vincent de
Gournay circle his 1759 “Eulogy of Vincent de Gournay” powerfully
contributed to create the erroneous picture of Vincent de Gournay as an adept
of laissez-faire. And while “philosophie économique” can be considered as the
origin of the subjective theory of value, which developed later in France with
Dupuit and Walras, an author such as Graslin (Graslin 1767 [1911], 1768
[2008]) also proposed a Rousseauist approach involving a labour theory of
normal prices and distribution and the idea of a gravitation of market prices
around natural prices that, a decade before Smith, led the foundations of (Bri-
tish) classical political economy (Faccarello 2009).
The period of the Revolution was also not sterile, especially on the insti-
tutional ground. The need of textbooks was felt, in parallel to the reorgani-
sation of the national school system Say published his Traité d’économie
politique in 1803. An attempt to establish political economy as an academic
discipline was also made in the ephemeral 1795 École Normale the mathe-
matician Alexandre Vandermonde (1735–1796) being in charge of the course
(Faccarello 1989). Vandermonde’s lectures were rather confused, but he stres-
sed utility and the fact that labour is productive whenever it produces utility,
an idea developed a few years later by Say and Antoine-Louis-Claude Destutt
de Tracy (1754–1836). Two other mathematicians were of particular interest
French Enlightenment 21
during the period : Nicolas-François Canard (1750–1833) and Charles François
de Bicquilley (1738–1814). In 1799, each of them submitted independently a
manuscript to the recently established Institut Canard to the second section
(moral and political sciences) and Bicquilley to the first (mathematics and
physics). Both texts were published later, respectively as Principes d’écono-
mie politique (Canard 1801) and Théorie élémentaire du commerce (Bicquilley
1804), and both are outstanding attempts to formalise economic theory (Crépel
1998), Turgot’s theory of prices in particular.
The French Revolution, however, marked in many fields the end of the
period of the Enlightenment in France, with, in particular, Concorcet’s
emblematic philosophical testament, Tableau historique des progrès de l’esprit
humain (Caritat de Condorcet 1794 [2004]). Since then the debates never cea-
sed over the causes of the Revolution and the role that the politico-economic
writings of the time played in it (the literature on the subject is abundant :
for some recent views, see, for example, Charles and Steiner 2000; Shovlin
2006 ; or Sonenscher 2007). The two main currents of thought outlined in this
entry faded away with the end of the century, even if “philosophie économique”
survived during some decades with J.-B. Say (Faccarello and Steiner 2008a,
See also :
Daniel Bernoulli ; Pierre Le Pesant de Boisguilbert ; Richard Cantillon ;
Marie-Jean-Antoine-Nicolas Caritat de Condorcet; Achilles Nicolas Isnard ;
John Law; Mercantilism and the science of trade ; Charles-Louis de Secondat
de Montesquieu; François Quesnay and Physiocracy ; Anne-Robert-Jacques
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French Enlightenment 22
Bonnot de Mably, G. (1768), Doutes proposés aux philosophes économistes sur
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French Enlightenment 25
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... This conception of self-interest, essential to understand exchange and value, evolved from Pierre Le Pesant de Boisguilbert's religious individualistic definition to utilitarianism in the works of François Quesnay and the physiocrats, and others such as Turgot, Jean-Joseph-Louis Graslin, Condillac, Nicolas de Condorcet and the Idéologues, and Say. Conversely, the "commerce politique" was the French adaptation of the British "science of trade," established from William Petty's political arithmetic and adopted by Jean-François Melon, Nicolas Dutot, Montesquieu, Ferdinando Galiani, and especially the circle of Vincent de Gournay-François Véron Duverger de Forbonnais, Claude-Jacques Herbert, Louis-Joseph Plumart d'Angeul, among others (Demals and Faccarello 2016). We argue that Achille-Nicolas Isnard should be added to this list. ...
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Historians of economic thought have carried out detailed studies of classical and marginalist approaches to value based on production cost and utility, respectively, not to mention about the fusion of both interpretations by the neoclassical school. This is not the case with rareness value, a theory commonly attributed to Léon Walras, although Aristotle surely had rareness in mind when he first attempted to explain chrematistics. This article focuses on how our understanding of rareness has evolved from the earliest economic formulations to those of Auguste and Léon Walras, contesting Murray Rothbard’s thesis that there is only one way in which the transmission of the utility theory of value can be tracked from scholasticism to the Austrian school. On the contrary, the concept of rareness continued to figure in some theories of value of the French Enlightenment, especially those that emerged within Calvinist circles, and was recovered in times of reaction against the dominant classicism.
Having defined transparency in the previous chapter, the aim of this present chapter is to clarify the most important terms involved in the main argument of the book—ideology, hegemony, neoliberalism, and critique. This is a crucial and necessary step, not simply because these are highly contested terms with a long history and a wide variety of interpretations, but also because they are, as I show, deeply related to transparency. Conquering our desire for authenticity through the ideological performance of neutrality has become one of the most crucial operations of present-day ideology. By appropriating the semantic fields associated with transparency, and modulating the conceptual distance between surplus and lack, a new stage in the evolution of ideology has commenced. What we are witnessing today are the maturing stages of a globally hegemonic neoliberal mindscape, one in which ideology ceases to focus on rational arguments, opinions, and demands, and begins to operate on a metaphorical dimension that both structures and supersedes the level of semantic content. By discussing ideas by Marx, Gramsci, Simmel, and Foucault—among other notable thinkers—I lay out the theoretical bases needed to critique and re-conceptualise ideology from the perspective of transparency. This move gives us a different perspective from where to look at the critique of sociohistorical forms of control, power, and centralisation—instead of truth, the production of belief; along with meaning, sociocultural valence; in the place of rationality, a reconsideration of the role of affect.
Political economy, John Shovlin asserts, can illuminate the social and economic contexts out of which a revolutionary impulse developed in France. Beyond the role of political economy in political life, massive public engagement with problems of economic order mediated an enduring cultural transformation. Economic activity was reimagined as a patriotic pursuit, and economic agents-farmers, merchants, and manufacturers-came to be viewed as potential citizens. Drawing on hundreds of political economic tracts published in France between the 1740s and the early nineteenth century, Shovlin shows how mid-level French elites (magistrates, clerics, lawyers, soldiers, landed gentlemen) sought to balance their interests and values with the need to regenerate a nation that had seemingly entered a period of decline. In their view, France's moral, political, and economic power depended not simply on expanding the national wealth but also on reviving civic spirit. The "political economy of virtue" held that luxury was the cause of the nation's economic and moral degeneration. When the monarchy failed to reform its political economic structures in the 1760s and 1770s, mid-level elites sought to eliminate the stranglehold of the plutocracy. Shovlin argues that the Revolution grew out of a debate on how to establish a commercial society capable of fostering both wealth and virtue, and the revolutionaries sought to create such a society by destroying the institutions that channeled modern wealth into the hands of courtiers and financiers.
Ever since the French Revolution, Madame de Pompadour's comment, "Aprés moi, le déluge" (after me, the deluge), has looked like a callous if accurate prophecy of the political cataclysms that began in 1789. But decades before the Bastille fell, French writers had used the phrase to describe a different kind of selfish recklessness--not toward the flood of revolution but, rather, toward the flood of public debt. In Before the Deluge, Michael Sonenscher examines these fears and the responses to them, and the result is nothing less than a new way of thinking about the intellectual origins of the French Revolution. In this nightmare vision of the future, many prerevolutionary observers predicted that the pressures generated by modern war finance would set off a chain of debt defaults that would either destroy established political orders or cause a sudden lurch into despotic rule. Nor was it clear that constitutional government could keep this possibility at bay. Constitutional government might make public credit more secure, but public credit might undermine constitutional government itself. Before the Deluge examines how this predicament gave rise to a widespread eighteenth-century interest in figuring out how to establish and maintain representative governments able to realize the promise of public credit while avoiding its peril. By doing so, the book throws new light on a neglected aspect of modern political thought and on the French Revolution.
The author presents the first major reassessment of the Western Enlightenment for a generation. Continuing the story he began in Radical Enlightenment, and now focusing his attention on the first half of the 18th century, he returns to the original sources to offer a new perspective on the nature and development of the most important currents in modern thought. The author traces many of the core principles of Western modernity to their roots in the social, political, and philosophical ferment of this period: the primacy of reason, democracy, racial equality, feminism, religious toleration, sexual emancipation, and freedom of expression. He emphasizes the dual character of the Enlightenment and the bitter struggle between, on the one hand, a generally dominant, anti-democratic mainstream, supporting the monarchy, aristocracy, and ecclesiastical authority, and on the other a largely repressed democratic, republican, and 'materialist' radical fringe. He also contends that the supposedly separate French, British, German, Dutch, and Italian enlightenments interacted to such a degree that their study in isolation gives a hopelessly distorted picture.