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Sæculum. Introduction to ‘Political Economy & Religion’

  • Université Panthéon-Assas, Paris, France


Introduction to the special issue of EJHET on 'Religion and political economy'.
Introduction to ‘Political Economy and Religion’
Gilbert Faccarello
The war against religious beliefs, in the last century was carried
on principally on the ground of common sense or of logic; in the
present age, on the ground of science . . . Religions tend to be
discussed . . . less as intrinsically true or false than as products
thrown up by certain states of civilization, and which, like the
animal and vegetable productions of a geological period perish in
those which succeed it from the cessation of the conditions neces-
sary to their continued existence. (Mill [1874] 1969, pp. 429-430)
The development of political economy has long been depicted as the pro-
gressive emergence of a new science which, during the Enlightenment,
and especially with Quesnay, Turgot and Smith, broke loose from reli-
gion, morals and politics — all fields in which its roots and first blos-
soms had until then been embedded. Reaching a state of autonomy as
a new discipline, the story goes, it was able to develop quickly during
the nineteenth century and acquire an indisputable status of rigour and
scientificity, increasingly supported by the use of mathematics. A cel-
ebrated restatement of this old thesis was made some decades ago by
Louis Dumont in his Homo Æqualis (Dumont 1977), and the idea still
survives today as an obvious fact in the mind of most economists. But
is this story so simple and straightforward? There is obviously room for
doubt. From its inception, the connections that economic thought has
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Sæculum 2
established with religion, morals and politics are complex, changeable,
and often contentious. Despite affirmations of the rigour and indepen-
dence of its scientific approach, the development of economic concepts
and theories was — and still is — often dependent on these connec-
tions and conflicts, and sometimes in a rather surprising way. During
the last few decades many studies in the history of economic thought
eloquently illustrated this point. The research programme directed to
“The conflict-ridden development of modernity: theology and political
economy”1sought to go further and contribute to this reappraisal, focus-
ing on the links between political economy and religion from a historical
This field of research is related to the old and still lively debate over “sec-
ularisation”,2which raises important questions. These questions permit
a better understanding of what is here at stake. The chief problem is
to state the characteristics presented by modern Western societies with
respect to their previous historical situation — in which religion per-
vaded individual, social and political life, including the organisation of
knowledge — and to explain the transition. The main features defining
modernity are the following: (a) a marked differentiation, within soci-
eties, between secular and religious spheres of action: religion has lost its
1This programme is part of a wider project entitled “Constitution de la modernité:
raison, politique, religion” — The constitution of modernity: reason, politics, religion
— launched a few years ago by the LabEx COMOD (University of Lyon, France).
A series of workshops on the theme of “Political economy and religion” have been
organised since 2013, of which this special issue of EJHET is the outcome.
2The literature is vast and reaches back over two centuries, even if the term “secu-
larisation” is quite recent. It includes most of the great names in sociology — Auguste
Comte, Ferdinand Tönnies, Herbert Spencer, Ernst Troeltsch, Max Weber, to men-
tion only a few — and also philosophy: from G.F.W. Hegel to Carl Schmitt, Karl
Löwith, Hans Blumenberg and Charles Taylor. For an initial survey of the use of the
term, see Marramao (1994), and also Hunter (2015). For a detailed history of the so-
ciological paradigm of secularisation, see Tschannen (1992) and, for the philosophical
debates, Monod ([2002] 2012).
Sæculum 3
power over secular activities and is now only one limited sphere among
others; (b) with this withdrawal from its former eminent place in the
public sphere, hitherto dominant religious belief becomes a matter of
private individual choice and, no longer able to impose its rules, must
face the competition of other forms of belief and non-belief: a situation
susceptible to induce changes in religion itself; (c) within the secular
sphere of society, collective action is supposed to be rational, indepen-
dent of religious considerations: a process of “scientification” occurs, in
which “science”,3the new Weltanschauung, replaces religion and provides
new and rational ways of organising society. There are of course many
complementary ways of explaining the passage to modernity: it can sim-
ply be noted that the process of secularisation can originate in theology
itself — for example with the sharp Augustinian distinction between the
Earthly City and the City of God advanced by many authors, or the role
of the Gnosis or of Nominalism and its theology of “potentia absoluta”,
both stressed by Blumenberg.4The questions raised are obviously not
specific to the social sciences or political economy, but also of great rel-
evance to the history of science. Discussion over the so-called “Merton
thesis”, for example, is well known (Merton [1938] 1970; Cohen ed. 1990),
as are the recent writings of Peter Harrison, especially on the role of the
Augustinian doctrine of Original Sin in the scientific revolution (1998,
2007, 2015).5
3Among scientists, and also in books for a wider public, and in the press, the
word “science” replaces “the sciences” during the nineteenth century. The idea became
widespread that “science” provides an answer to everything.
4“Secularisation” must not be confused with Weber’s use of “disenchantement”
(“Entzauberung”) — he very seldom uses the term “Säkularisation”. According to
Weber, the process of disenchantment started very early in Judaism, and reached a
climax with the Reformation. A better translation of the word “Entzauberung” would
be “demagification”.
5See also Harrison (2010). A striking example of religious motivation in scientific
research is that of Louis Pasteur, one of the foremost scientists in the nineteenth
century. One of the stakes of his research against the theory of the “spontaneous
generation” is the fight between materialism and spiritualism. “What a victory .. .
for materialism if it could rely on the proved fact of a self-organising matter, coming
to life by itself . . . What good having recourse to the idea of a primordial creation
. . . ? Why then the idea of a Creator God?” (Pasteur 1864, p. 259).
Sæculum 4
The place of religion in modern western societies is thus redefined
and marginalised. But this does not mean that religion is doomed to a
relentless decline. More modernity does not mean less religion. The old
view, reflected by John Stuart Mill in the epigraph to this introduction,
predicting that rationality and science necessarily lead to the retreat, or
even the demise, of religion is now widely recognised as over-simplistic
and contradicted by the facts — there are simply new conditions of beliefs
and faith in a secular age, and this aspect of the secularisation process lies
precisely at the core of Charles Taylor’s reflection (Taylor 2007). More-
over, some basic religious attitudes can also be found transplanted into
secular fields, into politics for instance (see for example Voegelin ([1938]
2000) or Gentile ([2001] 2007) and their analyses of “political religions”).
Finally, and this is an important aspect of the secularisation approach,
many symbols, values or concepts that originated in religious thought
tend to play a role in the secular sphere, either with new secularised
names, or as an incentive for the production of new concepts.
Hence, a fundamental question: if religion itself played a role in the
process of secularisation, are the main concepts of modernity no more
than theological notions with new names; or are they radically different
in nature, in spite of their possible theological origin? The first option
is, for example, that of Carl Schmitt who claimed in his first Political
Theology that “All significant concepts of the modern theory of the state
are secularised theological concepts” — sovereign and sovereignty for ex-
ample, the “omnipotent god” becoming the omnipotent legislator — “not
only because of their historical development .. . but also because of
their systematic structure” (Schmitt [1922] 1985, p. 36). Karl Löwith’s
approach is similar when analysing philosophies of history and the idea
of progress as secularised forms of the Christian theology of history —
Marx’s approach, in this perspective, being only Messianism in the lan-
guage of political economy: the proletariat is the new Chosen People
and The Communist Manifesto is “eschatological in its framework, and
prophetic in its attitude” (Löwith 1949, p. 36; see also pp. 44-45).
The second option is best exemplified in terms of Hans Blumenberg’s
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Die Legitimität der Neuzeit (Blumenberg [1966] 1988). Schmitt’s ex-
treme statement — ironically called by Blumenberg “the secularisation
theorem”, meaning that “Y is nothing else than a secularised X” — is
subjected to heavy criticism because it conveys the idea that history is
only the deployment of a single “substance”, and that the modern age is
“illegitimate”: if, in this age, institutions and leading concepts are still
substantively theological despite their new appellation, this means that
religion is still active in a concealed way and the novelty of modernity can
be questioned. Blumenberg argues that the possibly theological origin of
ideas and concepts is only part of the story — moreover, many Christian
concepts have themselves been adopted from other systems of belief or
civilisations. There is no inherent content that is necessarily transmit-
ted from one age to another: functions change with contexts, and the
new meanings of concepts and terminology are irreducible to and dis-
continuous with previous meanings. We might note that Marx, in his
critique of Hegel’s philosophy and also in his mature writings, already
and repeatedly warned his readers not to make the mistake of believ-
ing in the persistence of hypothetical “natures” of things because of the
existence of superficial similarities: what is important is not what they
apparently share in common, but the “differentia specifica” they present.
“The materials and means of labour . . . play their part in every labour
process in every age . . . If, therefore, I label them ‘capital’ .. . then I
have proved that the existence of capital is an eternal law of nature of
human production . . . I could prove with equal facility that the Greeks
and Romans celebrated Communion because they drank wine and ate
bread, or that the Turks sprinkle themselves daily with holy water like
Catholics because they wash themselves daily” (Marx [1863–66] 1976, p.
999, italics in the original).
Political Economy and Religion
How does this perspective bear upon the history of political economy,
and, in particular, what do the essays included here offer? According
Sæculum 6
to the above-mentioned criteria, (liberal) political economy is certainly
considered to be a kind of flagship for modernity. Is not William Petty’s
celebrated statement, in the preface of his Political Arithmetick, that he
sought to express himself solely in terms of “number, weight and mea-
sure”,6usually seen as one of the very first symbols of the “scientific”
foundation of economic thought? Similarly, William Culpeper wrote in
his Tract against the high rate of usury that the problem of the legiti-
macy of lending at interest was something to be left to theologians, and
that the only question he wanted to address was the magnitude of the
rate of interest and its principal consequences for the economy.7
Thus, having no apparent or relevant reference to religion, political
economy subsequently developed its own doctrines on the basis of the
rational behaviour of agents in a competitive environment. Its role is
twofold, positive and normative: it claims to explain the condition of so-
cieties, their levels of wealth and prosperity, the origin of dysfunctionality
and crises; but it also imposes on agents a strict model of behaviour, a
new personal and public form of “life conduct” (to borrow Weber’s con-
cept of “Lebensführung”). In this context, the anonymous working of
economic forces in markets supposedly leads to an equilibrium and re-
alises a kind of secular justice. It is in itself a new political philosophy
(Faccarello and Steiner 2008a), and it can sometimes also generate a re-
ligious attitude: worshippers of a free market ideology exist everywhere
— it can be a variety of “political religions”, just like its opposite, the
blind faith in the communist idea.8However, setting to one side these
6Petty’s phrase comes from the Bible (Wisdom of Solomon (Apocrypha) XI, 20),
but at that time it was used by scientists to characterise the new scientific ethos.
7This does not prevent Culpeper writing that a high rate of interest, which harms
the economy, is a sin.
8Keynes analysed Leninism in terms of a new religion. “Leninism is a combination
of two things which Europeans have kept for some centuries in different compartments
of the soul — religion and business. We are shocked because the religion is new, and
contemptuous because the business, being subordinated to the religion instead the
other way round, is highly inefficient” (Keynes 1925, p. 256). “But to say that
Leninism is the faith of a persecuting and propagating minority of fanatics led by
hypocrites is, after all, to say no more no less than that it is a religion and not merely
Sæculum 7
aspects, more interesting observations can be made if we turn to the core
of economic theories. Let us take some examples.
A first observation is that, as in other fields of knowledge, some re-
ligious beliefs played a decisive part in the development of basic eco-
nomic doctrines. The very emergence of liberal political economy with
Pierre de Boisguilbert stemmed directly from the Jansenist controversies
of seventeenth-century France, involving questions of religious, moral,
and political philosophy (Faccarello [1986] 1999). On the one hand, the
strong Augustinian theological hypothesis of the Fall of Man, of Original
Sin, was supposed to explain the systematically selfish and maximising
behaviour of agents in every aspect of life. But, on the other hand,
despite the war of all against all that was likely to result, Providence
was supposed to provide for general equilibrium in markets — and Bois-
guilbert gave a name to this Providence: it was free competition, the
coercive force that constrains people to be reasonable and generates a
system of relative prices that could satisfy each agent. A further step
was later taken by Turgot when, to explain the selfish and maximising
attitude of agents, he no longer referred to Original Sin but instead to
sensationist philosophy. The process of secularisation was completed at
this point. The theological foundation was removed and replaced with a
more neutral explanation. But the edifice remained intact, and could be
developed on this new basis.
Other examples of the creations of new concepts, on similar bases, can
be given. In nineteenth century, for example, Hermann Heinrich Gossen
proposed what are now known as Gossen’s laws in consumer theory, with
the conviction that in this way people realise the plan that God designed
for the benefit of all (Steiner 2011). “Mankind, once you have recognised
completely and entirely the beauty of this plan of the Creation, steep
yourself in adoration of the Being, which in its incomprehensible wis-
dom . . . has been able, by means apparently so insignificant, to bring
about on your behalf something so enormously and incalculably benefi-
a party, and Lenin a Mahomet, not a Bismarck” (1925, p. 257, italics in the original).
Sæculum 8
cial” (Gossen [1854] 1995, p. 299). In the same way, it was also an explicit
theological motivation and reference to Pope Leo XIII’s 1891 encyclical
Rerum Novarum that in the early twentieth century drove the Jesuit and
mathematician Maurice Potron to develop a linear system of production
and to identify, inter alia, long before later controversies, the conditions
of existence of an equilibrium system of production prices (Bidard, Er-
reygers and Parys 2009). Finally, a recently-published youthful work by
John Rawls, A Brief Inquiry into the Meaning of Sin and Faith (Rawls
2009), shows how his former religious convictions were later translated
into his mature developments, especially concerning the theory of justice
(Cohen and Nagel 2009) — we have here another clear example of the
secularisation of ideas and concepts.
But prior to the emergence of political economy proper, religious
thought also paved the way, directly or indirectly, for the specification of
some central economic concepts or ways or reasoning. Recent research
by historians brought to light the discursive affinities between Medieval
moral theology and the language of merchants, between the ethics of
charity and the logic of commercial exchanges, or the role of a religious
order like the Franciscans in the justification and development of eco-
nomic activities and the idea of a virtuous circle of wealth (Todeschini
2002, 2004). Other research, by political philosophers, stressed that the
word “interest”, for example, in its modern sense of self-interest, while
admittedly appearing in political writings in sixteenth-century Italy and
seventeenth-century France, with Francesco Guicciardini and Henri de
Rohan, also originate in sixteenth-century Spain in the writings of the
Spanish mystics Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross (Taranto 1992,
chap. 6).
There is an immense literature on Scholastic controversy over usury,
money, and the just price. But we are rightly and repeatedly reminded
to be cautious in the interpretation of writings that were embedded in
pre-secularised societies governed by religion and its related ethics and
morals. Even if the problems addressed by the schoolmen could seem fa-
miliar to modern readers, retrospective illusory interpretations must be
Sæculum 9
avoided if we are to understand properly the meaning of the texts: here
also the “differentia specifica” is fundamental. This is not to say that,
much later, some writers could not draw inspiration from Scholastic dis-
cussion, nor that concepts and problems dealt with in these debates could
not reappear in economic thought in new guises and with changed mean-
ings: but all this must be carefully distinguished. From this perspective,
and confronted with a multitude of interpretations of the schoolmen’s
opinions on the just price, Richard Sturn, in “Agency, exchange and
power in Scholastic thought”, carefully classifies these different interpre-
tations using two criteria: agency, which brings into the picture the role
of knowledge, information and ethics, and indeterminacy: when several
solutions exist in exchange, morals and fairness come to the fore. Despite
the modern vocabulary, this approach allows a critical evaluation of the
interpretations along more accurate historical lines.
The same cautious perspective is of course appropriate for the prob-
lem of the legitimacy of usury. Long debated among Christian school-
men, it was also addressed in Muslim thought. Ragip Ege, in his paper on
“The concept of ‘lawfulness’ in economic matters” carefully presents Ibn
Rushd’s arguments on this topic,9and shows the structural similarities
in the mode of reasoning of Christians and Muslims — the question of
usury was a problem of “lawfulness” and justice. As centuries went by, of
course, the perspective changed progressively and, in the eighteenth cen-
tury, in a more secularised society where market activities were beginning
to be recognised as a basic structural element in the social and political
order, there was finally a convergence between the analyses of members
of the clergy and economists — and here we once more discover the pres-
ence of Jansenism. Maxime Menuet and Arnaud Orain’s paper on “Lib-
eral Jansenism and interest-bearing loans in eighteenth-century France”
shows how the debate on the prohibition of usury could evolve during
the French Enlightenment, thanks in particular to the liberal strand of
9Ibn Rushd, that is, Averroes, a prominent figure of the so-called Medieval En-
lightenment and a major champion of the “freedom to philosophise”.
Sæculum 10
Jansenism,10 and lead, against traditional Catholic thought, to the recog-
nition of the legitimacy of interest-bearing loans — thus opening the way
to the first economic theory of the rate of interest presented by Turgot
at the end of the 1760s.
Finally, any inquiry into the relation between religion and the econ-
omy cannot avoid the fundamental theme of the Reformation, which
played an important role in the demagification and secularisation pro-
cesses, and on which so much has been written since the celebrated pub-
lications of Ernst Troeltsch and Max Weber — and even before: the con-
trast between Protestant and Catholic nations had long been a theme in
French political and social thought. But there have been some misunder-
standings, especially regarding Jean Calvin’s views. Weber in particular
emphasised that he was studying Protestant, mainly Calvinist, sects, and
not the writings of Calvin himself, even if he sometimes alluded to them.
Caroline Bauer, in her study of “The necessity to work, according to Jean
Calvin’s duty of stewardship”, questions the commonly accepted inter-
pretations of Calvin and shows that his conception of the economy, based
on the “duty of stewardship” for all human beings, and the subsequent
necessity of work, is more positive and optimistic than the later view of
Calvinists who laid emphasis upon an earthly engagement in economic
activities as an anxious or desperate quest for a sign of salvation.
From the end of the eighteenth century onwards, when the legiti-
macy of political economy became largely undisputed, religious themes
appeared to fade from economic thought. But this might be an illu-
sion, as more recent research has shown. There are now several works
that draw attention to the role of religion, morality and ethics in Adam
Smith (see, inter alia, Griswold 1999, Hill 2001, Oslington 2011, or, for a
critical view, Cremaschi 2017), Malthus (Winch 1996, Cremaschi 2014),
John Stuart Mill (Lipkes 1999), or in nineteenth-century political econ-
omy in general (Hilton 1988, Waterman 1991).11 In the present issue,
10 See also Orain (2014) for a broad description of the context.
11 For a broader coverage, see Waterman (1987, 2004) and Bateman and Banzhaf
Sæculum 11
the opinions of Dugald Stewart and David Ricardo are more specifically
addressed: they are two examples of the changing place of religious con-
cerns in the works of economists at the turn of the nineteenth century.
Thomas Ruellou, in “Defending free trade after Physiocracy” deals with
Stewart’s “architectonic of passions, reason and Providence” and shows
how his acceptance of free trade is justified by reasons different from those
advanced by Adam Smith and, in a different way, by François Quesnay,
and how the resulting “natural identity of interests” involves the refer-
ence to a theodicy. The acquisition of abstract reasoning, thanks to which
agents overcome their passions, their prejudices, and, ultimately, know
their enlightened interest, is inseparable from religious education. Such
a perfectibility of the human mind enables to reach an individual and
social state of happiness, according to the plan of Providence. Stewart
would thus be one of the “Christian moralists” of the first half of the
century. Likewise, Ricardo is depicted by Sergio Cremaschi, in his paper
on “Theological themes in Ricardo’s papers and correspondence”, as a
“rational Christian”. From a very detailed scrutiny of his writing, and
especially the hitherto mostly neglected Commonplace Book, it is shown
that, while Ricardo rejected any theodicy and considered theology to be
a vain pursuit because it reaches beyond human knowledge, there is evi-
dence that he was neither an atheist nor an agnostic. Contrary to James
Mill, whose opinions have often been (wrongly) attributed to him, he did
not dismiss faith, nor his Unitarian convictions: morality is the essence
of religion, not speculative truth — and his attitude is reflected in his
conception of political economy.
To many economists later in the nineteenth century and at the be-
ginning of the twentieth concerns with morals and ethics were important
issues, as was the part played by religion in connection with these topics
and with science. Unfortunately, as regards Henry Sidgwick and Alfred
Marshall — that is, an important turning point in the history of eco-
nomic thought — commentary has been somewhat superficial and often
Sæculum 12
mistaken, neglecting the religious, institutional and philosophical debates
of the time. In the case of Sidgwick, this is particularly striking, with
the often quoted sentence, taken from a letter — in which Donald Mog-
gridge sees the influence of Lytton Strachey — of John Maynard Keynes
to Bernard Winthrop Swithinbank: “He [Sidgwick] never did anything
but wonder whether Christianity was true and prove it wasn’t and hope
that it was” (Keynes, 27 March 1906, in Moggridge 1992, p. 102). In
“Henry Sidgwick, moral order and utilitarianism”, Keith Tribe points out
the misunderstandings of Sidgwick’s works and shows that his case was
not a struggle between faith and science, that a critique of Anglicanism
is not a critique of religion as such but of just one form of it, and that
Sidgwick’s religious and ethical convictions, and not only his critical re-
lation to utilitarianism, inform his writings, The Principles of Economics
as well as The Methods of Ethics — with a more or less silent influence
until the 1930s.
In this context, the two other papers dealing with this period are par-
ticularly welcome. Daniela Donnini Macciò, in “Pigou on philosophy and
religion”, studies Pigou’s youthful writings on philosophy, morals, and
religion published prior to the First World War, which are, she states, as
much inspired by G.E. Moore as by Sidgwick.12 She shows that Pigou
was in search of a moral philosophy, which, discarding religion as logi-
cally and philosophically untenable, would nevertheless keep its ethical
plea and commitment to good, and that there is a correspondence be-
tween his developments in ethics and the main concepts of his welfare
economics. For its part, “Keynes and Christian socialism. Religion and
the economic problem”, by David Andrews, states that, while Keynes
rejected established confessions like Anglicanism, he was not hostile to
some other forms of religious attitude. Andrews examines the two broad
definitions of religion that Keynes outlined in short essays like “A short
view of Russia”, “The economic possibilities for our grandchildren” or “My
early beliefs”, and shows how and why Keynes, drawing on the ideas of
12 For a useful complement to the ethical and social concerns of the members of
the Cambridge Apostles, see Donnini Macciò (2015, 2016).
Sæculum 13
the early generation of the Apostles13 — Frederick Denison Maurice in
particular — successively adopted these two views, with obvious conse-
quences for his fight against Benthamism and in favour of social change
and progress.
So far we have referred, broadly speaking, to what is usually but
loosely termed liberal political economy. But there are also other con-
ceptions of modernity and rationality in economics than the market-based
model. Some other modern approaches have emerged, contesting and en-
tering into debates with the dominant view. In this perspective, religious
elements have in many cases been one of the driving forces behind a so-
cial critique, either progressive or conservative; they have also enriched
reflection on social and economic progress. More generally, religion has
been one of the weapons that can be used to maintain economics as a
moral and political science and not simply as a technology in the hands
of experts — it has supplied arms to opponents of the positivist and
naturalist tendencies of the discipline.
First of all, liberal economic theory, in part born, ironically, out of
religious controversies, found itself challenged from the beginning of the
nineteenth century by religion itself. This opposition involved the re-
jection of sensationism and utilitarianism as the be-all and end-all for
explaining human behaviour, and was also motivated by the damage
wrought by the industrial revolution, by economic crises, and their con-
sequence: pauperism. Various denominations and confessions criticised
liberal political economy and often proposed alternative theories, devel-
oping different models of social organisation. The irruption of religion
into debates over political economy and economic policy has been well
documented, in the case of Great Britain for example (see, e.g., Hilton
1988, Waterman 1991). In France, the Protestant critique was formu-
lated very early in the century, in the writings of Germaine de Staël and
Benjamin Constant, and then taken up by Catholic writers such as Jean-
Paul Alban de Villeneuve-Bargemont, leading however to two alternative
13 On this point, see also Andrews (2010).
Sæculum 14
models of society: Social Catholicism and Social Christianity (Faccarello
and Steiner 2008b, Faccarello 2014). In this issue, Gilbert Faccarello, in
“A dance teacher for paralysed people? Charles de Coux and the dream
of a Christian political economy”, shows how, in this case, at the begin-
ning of the nineteenth century, Catholic reaction against the negative
social and economic consequences of liberal political economy was both
relevant in its critique of the functioning of a free market economy, but
theoretically ambiguous and unable to propose an alternative theoretical
framework for political economy.14
A last, important point is worth noting. In the face of the dominant
model, established religions can also be deemed inadequate or outmoded
— as, again, John Stuart Mill reports in the epigraph to this introduc-
tion. A modern society could in this case be based on new religions, cor-
responding to the needs of a modernity that would not be that of the free
market. The “New Christianity” of Saint-Simon, the “Saint-Simonian re-
ligion” that followed, Auguste Comte’s “Religion of Humanity”, or even
the communist society that constitutes the utopia of Constantin Pecqueur
are all illustrations of this perspective with its multiple ramifications. In
“Religion and political economy in Saint-Simon”, Pierre Musso, on the
basis of the new outstanding (and finally complete) edition of the works
of Claude Henri de Saint-Simon15 (of which he is one of the editors),
presents us with a detailed restatement of how the new industrial society
should be organised, why it needs a New Christianity and what precisely
14 Note that this critical use of religion or religious concepts also concerned crit-
icism of liberal political economy by associationist, socialist, or communist authors
who recycled old religious arguments to underpin their new points of view, and pro-
posed alternative views of modernity and of the rational organisation of societies. One
illustrative example concerns the controversy over usury: at a time when the Catholic
Church was de facto relaxing its position, some traditional arguments against usury
were borrowed and transformed in a socialist direction by Constantin Pecqueur. An-
other example is provided by the writings of Marx in which, independently of his cri-
tique of religion, the author makes religious references while discussing value, money
and capital — references that are far from accidental and which allow him to consider
the logic of capitalism.
15 Or Henri Saint-Simon, as he called himself at the end of his life.
Sæculum 15
the “Industrial religion” is.16 Finally, the links between religion and (the
critique of) political economy are also a central aspect of the movement
which led to the emergence of sociology. Criticism of the dominant model
of rationality and modernity, a plea for another modernity, approaches
in which economics, religion, and politics are very present, are also im-
portant themes in Auguste Comte — a former secretary of Saint-Simon
— and Émile Durkheim, not to speak of the Durkheim school (Steiner
[2005] 2010). In this issue, Philippe Steiner, in “Religion and the so-
ciological critique of political economy: altruism and gift”, shows how
political economy, with its stress on the selfish behaviour of agents, was
considered by Comte as a danger for the coherence of an industrial soci-
ety, and how Comte’s critique led, by contrast, to the concept of altruism
and his Religion of Humanity. Reacting to Herbert Spencer’s interpreta-
tion, Durkheim and his nephew, Marcel Mauss, subsequently developed
Comte’s approach, its religious dimension included, which culminated in
Mauss’s theory of gift-giving — also used to criticise political economy
in the 1920s.
As can be seen from the papers presented in this issue, from a histor-
ical perspective the relationships between political economy and religion
are multifaceted and show how the process of secularisation, in which the
emergence and development of economic thought is a prominent aspect,
is much more complex than often thought. Of course, religion lost its
dominant role in society, but this does not mean that it disappeared, or
became strictly confined to the private sphere of individuals. In many
respects, whether redefined or not, it played a role in the shaping of key
economic concepts or approaches, either directly as in the case of Bois-
guilbert, or indirectly through the close relationship it maintained with
morals and ethics — thus contributing to the development of political
economy, or alternatively to its critique.
16 See also Musso (2006, 2010).
Sæculum 16
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economics: Ralph Hawtrey on ethics and methodology. The European Journal
of the History of Economic Thought,22 (2), pp. 163-197.
—— (2016). The Apostles’ justice: Cambridge reflections on economic in-
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Sæculum 17
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—— (2008b). Political economy and religion in early nineteenth century
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Sæculum 18
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This paper reassesses the links between the Christian theology and political economy during the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries by focusing on the beginnings of the Jansenist movement—a powerful and intellectually rich Christian movement of the time in France, Austria, and Holland. This paper examines through three study cases–the vision on labour and poverty, the issue of socially acceptable outcome, and the interest-bearing loans—how the main features of the Jansenism theology helped the emergence of new political economy ideas that will be carried over into the 18th century by some philosophers, lawyers, or economic theorists.
Full-text available
Les pages qui suivent constituent la version remaniée de l’ouvrage du même titre publié en 1986 – Paris : Anthropos. ISBN : 2-7157-1135-2. Cette nouvelle version a fait l’objet d’une publication en langue anglaise sous le titre : The Foundations of Laissez-faire. The Economics of Pierre de Boisguilbert – Londres : Routledge, 1999. ISBN : 0-415-20799-1. Le présent texte était donc inédit en français jusqu’à présent, et les personnes intéressées pourront y trouver les citations originales des auteurs français. Les illustrations ont été ajoutées pour cette édition.