THE GUILLAUMIN LIBRARY OF CLASSICAL LIBERAL
AND RADICAL THOUGHT

French Classical Liberalism

 

Adolphe Thiers, The Rights of Property; A Refutation of Communism and Socialism (1848).

[Created: 9 August, 2014]
[Revised: 14 January, 2021]

[The English trans. which appeared a few months after Thiers' book was published in France in Sept. 1848]
Adolphe Thiers (1797-1877)

Introduction

After the overthrow of King Louis Philippe in late February 1848 and his replacement by a dozen socialists and socialist-sympathizers who established themselves as the Provisional Government a fierce political and intellectual broke out over the merits of socialism and the socialists' plan to establish "right to work" schemes such as the National Workshops. After the elections of April the new Constituent Assembly set up a committee to draw up a new constitution for the Second Republic. Its hearings and debates took place between June and November when the Assembly accepted its final draft. The liberal conservative Adolphe Thiers gave a major speech in September on the right to property and his arguments against socialism in all its forms and it was quickly published as a lengthy book De la propriété (On Property) (1848). His was one of several works by liberals and the economists during this period which defended property rights and the free market - Gustave de Molinari and Frédéric Bastiat also made significant contributions, with Bastiat writing a dozen anti-socialist pamphlets between 1848 and mid-1850, and Molinari also writing an entire book devoted to property, Les Soirées de la rue Saint-Lazare: entretiens sur les lois économiques et défense de la propriété (Evenings on Saint Lazarus Street: Discussions on Economic Laws and the Defence of Property) (1849) in which he had an Economist debate a Socialist and a Conservative. Thiers book was immediately translated into English under the title The Rights of Property; A Refutation of Communism and Socialism by an unknown English translator. Molinari's book was unfortunately ignored until the present day.

Note especially the early sections in which Thiers explains his reason for believing in private property which are an excellent defence of self-ownersip in the Lockian sense from which all other property rights flow:

This way of looking at property seems to come from the work by Pierre-Louis Roederer early in the 19th century and was adopted by the philosopher Victor Cousin and by the economist Louis Leclerc whose article in the Journal des Économistes in October 1848 had a profound impact on Molinari's thinking about property. See:

  • Pierre-Louis Roederer, Discours sur le droit de propriété, lus aux Lycée, les 9 décembre 1800 et 18 janvier 1801, (Paris, Didot, 1839). “Premiere discours sur let droit du propriété, lu au Lycée, le 9 décembre 1800,” pp. 7-24. [Facs. PDF 2.1 MB]
  • Victor Cousin, Justice et charité (Paris: F. Didot, 1848) [Facs. PDF1.2 MB], which was translated as Justice and Charity, tr. by W. Hazlitt (London: Sampson Low, 1848). [Facs. PDF 858 KB]
  • Louis Leclerc, “Simple observation sur le droit de propriété,” (A Simple Observation on the Right to Property) Journal des Économistes, T. 21, no. 90, 15 October 1848, pp. 304-305. [Facs. PDF 478 KB]

Here is a passage from Leclerc (the whole essay needs translating but I haven't done it yet):

"This “thing” which is my life and my power is lost without recovery (as I work and age). I will never be able to recover it. There it lies, the result of all my efforts. It alone therefore represents what I had legitimately possessed and what I (will) no longer have. I did not only use up my natural right(s) in maintaining what has been lost, I was obeying the instinct of self-preservation, I submitted to the most imperious of necessities: my right to property is right here! Labour is therefore the certain foundation, the pure source, the holy origin of the right to property. Otherwise I (le moi) am not the primordial and original property, otherwise my ability to extend myself, and the organs which I have at my disposal, do not belong to me, which would be indefensible. … Therefore I am perfectly within my rights to use my own powers foolishly or wisely, productively or unproductively, and, because I also know that this power belongs to me, because I retain without any penalty the exclusive and virtual/potential right to the useful results of this inevitable loss, when it has been laboriously and fruitfully been accomplished."

The theory of property rights which was being developed by classical liberals and economists in the first half of the 19th century needs to be explored much more by historians because it is so rich and interesting.

 

Biography of Adolphe Thiers (1797–1877)

Thiers was a lawyer, historian, politician, and journalist. While he was a lawyer he contributed articles to the liberal journal Le Constitutionel and published one of his most famous works, the ten-volume Histoire de la Révolution française (1823–27). He was instrumental in supporting Louis-Philippe in July 1830 and was the main opponent of Guizot. Thiers defended the idea of a constitutional monarchy in such journals as Le National. After 1813 he became successively a deputy, undersecretary of state, minister of agriculture, and minister of the interior. He was briefly prime minister and minster of foreign affairs in 1836 and 1840, when he resisted democratization and promoted some restrictions on the freedom of the press. During the 1840s he worked on the twenty-volume Histoire du consulat et de l’empire, which appeared between 1845 and 1862. After the 1848 revolution and the creation of the Second Empire he was elected a deputy representing Rouen in the Constituent Assembly. Thiers was a strong opponent of Napoléon III’s foreign policies. After Napoléon’s defeat Thiers was appointed head of the provisional government by the National Assembly and then became president of the Third Republic until 1873. Thiers wrote some essays on economic matters for Le Journal des économistes, but his protectionist sympathies did not endear him to the economists. He also wrote a book on property, Adolphe Theirs, De la propriété (Paris: Paulin, Lheureux, 1848).

 

Source

Adolphe Thiers, The Rights of Property; A Refutation of Communism and Socialism [no name given for the translator] (London: R. Groombridge & Sons, 1848). [Facs. PDF 8.4 MB]

See also the French original: Adolphe Thiers, De la propriétés (Paris: Paulin, Lheureux et Cie, 1848). [Facs. PDF 11.7 MB].

 

Table of Contents

ADVERTISEMENT. [Author unknown]

PREFACE.

ON PROPERTY.

BOOK I. ON THE RIGHT OF PROPERTY.

  • CHAPTER I. ORIGIN OF THE PRESENT CONTROVERSY. - Showing how it has come to pass that property is called in question in our times.
  • CHAPTER II. OF THE METHOD TO BE FOLLOWED. - Showing that the observation of human nature is the true method to be followed in demonstrating the rights of man in society.
  • CHAPTER III. ON THE UNIVERSALITY OF PROPERTY. - Showing that property is a permanent fact, universal in all times and in all countries.
  • CHAPTER IV. ON THE FACULTIES OF MAN. - Showing that man possesses in his personal faculties a primary incontestible property, the origin of all others.
  • CHAPTER V. ON THE EMPLOYMENT OP MAN'S FACULTIES ON LABOUR. - Showing,— That by the exercise of man's faculties there is produced a second property, which has labour for its origin, and which society protects for the benefit of all.
  • CHAPTER VI. ON INEQUALITY OF GOODS. - Showing, that the inequality of man's faculties necessarily leads to an inequality of goods.
  • CHAPTER VII. ON THE TRANSMISSION OF PROPERTY. - Showing that property is not property unless it be transmissible by gift or by inheritance.
  • CHAPTER VIII. ON GIFT. - Showing that gift is one of the necessary manners of using property.
  • CHAPTER IX. ON INHERITANCE. - Showing that from gift the parent derives the right of endowing his children during his life or at his death.
  • CHAPTER X. ON THE INFLUENCE OF INHERITANCE ON LABOUR. - Showing that the facility of transmitting property from parent to child adds zeal to labour, and completes the system of property.
  • CHAPTER XI. ON THE RICH MAN. - Showing that the accumulations resulting from property both personal and hereditary, compose what are called riches, which discharge many indispensable functions in society.
  • CHAPTER XII. ON THE TRUE FOUNDATION OF THE RIGHT OF PROPERTY. - Showing from all that has preceded, that labour is the true foundation of Property.
  • CHAPTER XIII. ON PRESCRIPTION. - Showing that if fraud and violence are sometimes the origin of property, its transmission for a certain number of years, under regular laws, gives it the respectable and sacred character of property founded on labour.
  • CHAPTER XIV. ON THE INVASION OF THINGS BY THE EXTENSION OF PROPERTY. - Showing that the universe, far from being invaded by the increasing extension of property, is, on the contrary, every day more appropriated to the wants of man, more accessible to his labour, and that property civilizes the world instead of usurping it.

BOOK II. ON COMMUNISM.

  • CHAPTER I. ON THE GENERAL PRINCIPLES OF COMMUNISM. - Showing that the discussion of Communism is, with regard to property, what mathematicians call the reductio ad absurdum.
  • CHAPTER II. ON THE CONDITIONS INEVITABLE TO COMMUNISM. - Showing that Communism inevitably, and, in every point of view, leads to living in common.
  • CHAPTER III. ON COMMUNISM WITH REGARD TO LABOUR. - Showing that Communism destroys all energy for labour.
  • CHAPTER IV. ON COMMUNISM WITH REGARD TO HUMAN LIBERTY. That Communism is the absolute negation of human liberty.
  • CHAPTER V. ON COMMUNISM WITH REGARD TO THE FAMILY. - Shewing that property and the family are indissolubly united; that by destroying the one, Communism destroys the other, and effaces the noblest sentiments of the human soul.
  • CHAPTER VI. ON THE CLOISTER, OR LIFE IN COMMON AMONG CHRISTIANS. - Shewing that Communism is an erroneous imitation of the monastic life, implying contradictions which render it impossible.

BOOK III. ON SOCIALISM.

  • CHAPTER I. ON SOCIALISM. - Showing that the adversaries of property, not daring to deny it positively, have invented, in order to correct its effects, the different systems known as Association, Reciprocity, And The Right To Labour.
  • CHAPTER II. ON SOCIAL SUFFERINGS. - Showing what are the real social sufferings it would be desirable to provide against.
  • CHAPTER III. ON ASSOCIATION, AND ITS APPLICABILITY TO THE VARIOUS CLASSES OF WORKMEN. - Showing that Association is applicable only to a few assembled populations, and that it has been invented for them alone, and under their influence.
  • CHAPTER IV. OF CAPITAL IN THE SYSTEM OF ASSOCIATION. - Showing that the capital of the Association, if it is furnished by the State, is unjustly taken from the mass of tax-payers; and, if it is stopped from the wages of the workmen, is an imprudent employment of their savings.
  • CHAPTER V. ON THE ADMINISTRATION OF ENTERPRISES IN THE SYSTEM OF ASSOCIATION. - Showing that the administration of enterprises, in the system of Association, is impossible, and tends to substitute for the principle of personal interest, which alone is fitted for private industry, the principle of general interest, which is applicable only to the administration of States.
  • CHAPTER VI. ON PIECE-WORK. - Showing that by the. abolition of piece-work, the workman's only means of sharing in the profits of capital hare been taken away.
  • CHAPTER VII. ON THE SUPPRESSION OF COMPETITION. - Showing that Competition is the source of every amelioration in the condition of the poorer classes; and that, were Competition withdrawn, there would only remain a monopoly for the benefit of associated workmen, to the detriment of those not associated.
  • CHAPTER VIII. ON RECIPROCITY. - Showing that cheapness could not be produced by law, and that money could only safely be replaced by paper, as difficult to obtain as money itself.
  • CHAPTER IX. ON THE RIGHT TO LABOUR. - Showing that the obligation imposed on Society to find work for those who ask it, cannot constitute a right.
  • CHAPTER X. ON THE GENERAL CHARACTER OF THE SOCIALISTS. - Showing that the Socialists in reality attack property as much as the Communists, and only concern themselves about that small section of the people which is collected in towns.

BOOK IV. ON TAXATION.

  • CHAPTER I. ON THE MANNER OP REACHING PROPERTY BY TAXATION. - Showing that it is untrue that the main object of Governments, in every age, was to relieve one class at the expense of another, and that their chief end was to take money where it could be found easiest.
  • CHAPTER II. ON THE PRINCIPLE OF TAXATION. - Showing that Taxation should reach every kind of revenue, whether arising from property or labour.
  • CHAPTER III. ON THE ASSESSMENT OF TAXATION. - Showing that Taxation should be proportional, not progressive.
  • CHAPTER IV. ON THE DIFFERENT FORMS OF TAXATION. - Showing that taxation, in course of time, becomes infinitely diversified.
  • CHAPTER V. ON THE DIFFUSION OF TAXATION. - Showing that it is infinitely divided, and tends to become confounded with the price of things, so that each man supports his share, not in the ratio of what he pays the State, but of what he consumes.
  • CHAPTER VI. ON THE GOOD AND EVIL DERIVABLE FROM TAXATION. - Showing that the most desirable modifications in the system of taxation for the interest of the working classes, are not those the most generally proposed.
  • CHAPTER VII. CONCLUSION. ON THE EVIL IN THE WORLD. - Showing that there is in society a portion of evil, which Governments should endeavour to remove, and that there is another portion inherent to human nature, from which no imaginable degree of perfection in Governments could extricate mankind.

NOTES.

 


 

ADVERTISEMENT.

[Author unknown]

The following treatise, intended to refute the dangerous doctrines entertained by a large class of Frenchmen, has recently appeared in the columns of the Constitutionnel; and as such doctrines are not without their advocates and supporters in our country, it is hoped that this endeavour to present M. Thiers' able work in an English dress, will not be unacceptable to those who may be desirous of gaining information relative to the new movement against Society. Much has been heard of Communism, Socialism, and the Right to Labour, but few, perhaps, are familiar with the meaning of the words. Happily for us their advocates are ignorant and obscure; yet, as suffering is credulous, they find listeners, whose numbers. according to the testimony of all parties, are rapidly increasing. Such will ever be the case in times of distress: the drowning man catches at a straw; the starving mechanic is ready for any scheme that promises not only to alleviate but to remove his evils for ever. Fourier, George Sand (Madame Dudevant), Louis Blanc, Cabet, Proudhon, and Considerant are the chief apostles of the new movement: their theories may differ, but their object is the same,—" to suppress the miseries of the people." A most desirable object, and one which should be uppermost in the mind of every statesman and philanthropist; but the following pages will show to what the schemes of the new school, if carried out, would inevitably lead. When the poor actually lack their daily bread, is it unnatural that they should listen to the recital of some golden dream, some tale of the Barmecide, if merely to divert their minds from brooding too intensely on their misfortunes? And although each of the multifarious schemes proposed for the re-organization of labour, and the removal of pauperism, contains some weighty points, claiming reflection and consideration, to each is attached such a mass of impracticable phantasies, that common sense rejects them in toto.

M. Thiers' treatise is full of hope; and while he opposes those who-would cut up society, and throw its mangled limbs into the renovating cauldrons of our political Medeas, he deduces the most cheering conclusions from the history of the past. All social improvements must be slow and progressive:—as in the physical, so in the political world, violence and destruction go hand in hand. Much of the suffering endured by the working classes may be easily diminished, as it arises from ignorance and bad habits. They are ignorant and do wrong because they know not how to do better; or because they have neither the inclination nor the resolution to do right. In periods of distress, the ignorant labourer thinks to raise his wages by burning his master's ricks, or breaking his machines. Ignorance, during the last visitation of the cholera (and recently at St. Petersburgh) raised the mob against the lives of the physicians, who were endeavouring to stay the progress of the pestilence. Ignorance is the cause of intemperance, and intemperance ruins its thousands yearly; the money spent in the gin-shop or the tap-room would provide a fund for many a "wet day." Remove the ignorance of the people, and you make them provident. Then they will begin to respect themselves, and all virtues follow in the train of self-respect. But the workman cannot do this of himself; it must be done for him by the whole nation embodied in, and represented by, the government. As a good parent trains up his child to honesty, and virtue, and selfreliance, so should the government, which stands in loco parentis to the State, lead its children in the paths that conduct to happiness and honour.

The chief strength and greatest interest of the treatise we now proceed to lay before the English reader, lie in the rapid and irresistible series of deductions,—a close-linked and brilliant chain of observations and reasoning, which leave no issue for sophistry. The style of the original, which it is almost impossible to transfer to another language, is simple and nervous, lit up now and then by a vivid and touching eloquence, inspired by a profound sentiment of the dignity of human nature, and by a high intelligence of the works of the Creator.

The enemies of the existing state of society have been most active in multiplying the number of their books, and by this means have perverted many minds and deceived many souls. Accordingly it is but right that the defenders of society, in the foremost rank of whom stands M. Thiers, should imitate the zeal of the false philosophers whose doctrines have been so effectually propagated as to procure no less than 66,960 votes in the department of the Seine, for the Communist Raspail, the leader of the tumult of the 15th of May, and a prisoner in Vincennes. The main work, the true policy of the present day, is to strengthen the social principles, and to this M. Thiers has devoted his admirable talents, not only in the tribune by his speech on the Organisation of Labour, but by the present bolder and most original treatise.

In explanation of the concluding words of the author's preface, it may be necessary to observe that General Cavaignac, struck with the ruin caused by false doctrines, requested the Academy of Moral and Political Sciences "to concur in the defence of Social principles, attacked by publications of all sorts, feeling persuaded that it was not enough to re-establish material order by means of force, if moral order were not established by means of sound opinons, and that it was necessary to pacify the minds of the people by enlightening them." The Academy accepted the task with alacrity, and on the 12th of August resolved to publish a series of periodical treatises, illustrative of the principles on which are fiounded the rights of property, th well-being of domestic life, the liberty of nations, and the progress of the world. M. Victor Cousin inaugurated the series by an Essay on Truth and Justice.

 

PREFACE.

As society in France has reached that state of moral perturbation, in which ideas the most natural, the most evident, and the most generally recognised, are either doubted or most impudently denied, we may be permitted to demonstrate them as if they required proof. It is a wearisome and difficult task; for there is nothing more wearisome, nothing more difficult, than the desire of demonstrating evidence. It is put forth, and is not proved. In geometry, for instance, there exist what are called axioms, at which the teacher pauses as he comes to them, and their evidence is allowed to declare itself. Thus the student is told,—two parallel lines will never meet each other; and again,—the straight line is the shortest line from one point to another. Having arrived at these truths, we reason no longer, we cease all discussion, we allow the clearness of the fact to operate upon the mind, and we spare ourselves the trouble of adding, that if these two lines ever meet, it is because they dre not at a constant equal distance from one another; that is, they are not parallel. In like manner we do not care to add, that if the line traced between two points is not the shortest, it is because it is not straight. In a word, we stop at evidence,—we do not go beyond it.

We had attained that point also with regard to certain moral truths, which we considered to be axioms, in consequence of their very clearness. A man labours and receives the reward of his labour; this reward is money; this money he changes into food and clothing; in short, he consumes it, or, if he has too much, he lends it, and interest is paid for it, upon which he lives; or else, he gives it to whom he pleases, to his wife, children, or friends. We had considered these facts as the simplest, the most legitimate, the most inevitable, the least susceptible of dispute or demonstration. It was not so, however. These facts, we are now told, were acts of usurpation and tyranny. Of the truth of this, a few writers are endeavouring to persuade an excited and suffering multitude; and while we, relying upon the evidence of certain propositions, allowed the world to go on its way, as it went in the time when a great politician remarked, // mondo va da se,—we found it undermined by a false science; and if we wish to prevent society from perishing, we must prove what, out of respect for the human understanding, we should at one time have never thought of demonstrating. Be it so : we must defend society against dangerous sectarians; —we must defend it by force against the armed attempts of their disciples,—by reason against their sophisms; and to that end we must condemn our own mind as well as that of our contemporaries, to a long and methodical demonstration of truths, hitherto the most generally accredited. Yes! let us confirm those convictions which have been shaken, by endeavouring to give an account of the most elementary principles.- Let us imitate the Dutch, who, when they learn that a devouring insect has began to penetrate their dykes, rush to those dykes to destroy the vermin that is preying on them. Yes! let us run to the dykes! Just now it is no question of decorating the homes of our families, but of preventing them from falling into the gulf; and to do that, we must set our hands to the very foundations by which they are supported. I shall proceed then to set my hand to the foundations on which society is based. I beg my contemporaries to aid me by their patience, to support me by their attention in the tedious argumentation upon which I shall enter, for their welfare more than for my own; for having already attained that ripe period, which will in a few years become old age,—having been a witness of several revolutions,—having seen the failure of institutions and characters,—expecting nothing and desiring nothing of any power on earth,—asking Providence only that I may die with honour, if die I must, or live attended by esteem, if my life is spared, I labour not for myself, but for society in peril; and if, in all that I say, or do, or write, I indulge in a personal feeling, it is, I must confess, owing to the deep indignation inspired by those doctrines, the offspring of the ignorance, pride, and wicked ambition of that faction which aims at rising by destroying, instead of rising by building up. I appeal, therefore, to the patience of my contemporaries. I will endeavour to be clear, brief, and off-hand in proving what they never thought it would be necessary to prove,—viz., that what they earned yesterday is theirs, fairly theirs, and that they are at liberty to support themselves and their children by it. This is the point we have attained, and whither we have been led by false philsophers in coalition with a misguided multitude.

The substance of this work was conceived and drawn up in my mind some three years ago. I repent not having published it then, before the evil had spread its destructive ravages so widely. The pre-occupations of a life, divided between the laborious researches of history and the agitations of politics, alone prevented me. Having retired to the country some three months back, to enjoy the repose which the electors of my native place had procured for me, I drew up this essay, which had only been projected in my mind. The appeal made by the Institute to all its members, determined me to publish it. I declare, however, that I have not submitted this sketch to the Class of Political and Moral Sciences, to which I belong. I show my obedience to it by this publication; but I by no means render it responsible; and if I execute its order, it is my own ideas only to which I give utterance, and in my own language —free, earnest, and sincere,—as it has always been, and always shall be.

Paris, Sept., 1848. A. THIERS.

 

ON PROPERTY.

Association, which consists in gathering together certain classes of workmen to speculate with a capital furnished by the State, or formed by their savings, in order to preserve the profits of the master, and of keeping up the prices which competition tends continually to lower;

CHAPTER I. ON THE MANNER OP REACHING PROPERTY BY TAXATION.