FRENCH CLASSICAL LIBERAL POLITICAL ECONOMY (1841-1864): A QUARTER CENTURY OF INNOVATION IN A TIME OF REVOLUTION AND REACTION.

Compiled by Dr. David M. Hart
May 2010

Journal des Économistes - Société d'Économie Politique - Frédéric Bastiat - Dictionnaire de l'Économie Politique

Introduction

The quarter century which separates the first appearance of the Journal des Économistes in December 1841 and the final volume of the second edition of the Oeuvres Complètes of Frédéric Bastiat (1864) is a milestone in the development of 19th century classical liberal political economy. It marks a clear departure from the ideas and practices of the older school of French political economy which was comprised of two major stages: that of the Physiocrats in the second half of the 18th century under François Quesnay (1694-1774) and Turgot (1727-1781), which laid the foundations of laissez-faire political economy; and that of Jean-Baptoste Say (1767-1832) and his followers (most notably Charles Comte (1782-1837) and Charles Dunoyer (1786-1862)) in the first third of the 19th century, which extended the theory beyond that of Turgot and Adam Smith (1723-1790) (under Say) and introduced a liberal social theory of politics, law, and history (under Comte and Dunoyer). These two stages laid the foundations for the political economy which emerged in Paris in the 1840s and 1850s.

It began with the confluence of two independent but intellectually linked movements: the first was the emergence of a group of political economists in Paris who clustered around the publishing firm founded by Gilbert-Urbain Guillaumin (1801-1864); and the second was the group of businessmen and journalists who clustered around Frédéric Bastiat (1801-1850) in the southwest of France to form the Société de la liberté d'échange (the Free Trade Society). The two literally came together when Bastiat moved to Paris in the mid-1840s and became active in the Société d'économie politique (SEP) (founded in 1842) and the Journal des Économistes (JDE). Bastiat wanted to get the Parisian political economists and their contacts in the business world on baord to support the French free trade movement (modelled on Richard Cobden's Anti-Corn Law League in Britain); and the Parisian political economists were keen to get Bastiat's pen and oratorical skills involved in fending off the growing socialist movement and in reaching a broader audience for liberal economic ideas.

The Guillaumin publishing firm was a central institution in French classical liberal economic circles in the 1840s and 1850s. It published the JDE, organized the meetings of the Société d'Économie Politique, published the works of its members, and compiled and published the encyclopedic Dictionnaire d'économie politique (1852) (DEP).

The Société d'Économie Politique was founded in 1842 soon after the launch of the Journal des Économistes in Decmber 1841. Reports of its monthly dinner meetings can be found in each issue of the JDE. Somewhat more detailed minutes of the meetings were published in 1889 by the perpetual secretary Alphonse Courtois. The volume dealing with the meetings held between 1846 and 1853 is included below.

The first issue of the JDE appeared in December 1841 and then roughly every month until it was forced to close following the occupation of Paris by the Nazis in 1940. The pattern the editors settled upon was to publish a numberd monthly issue of about 120 pages and then bind the issues into a quarterly volume or tome which was consecutively numbered with about 500 pages. Every so often a volume would inlclude an anlaytical index of the previous years issues, the most useful being the analytical index for the first two series (1841-1853, and 1854-1865) which was pubished separately in 1883 and which is included below. Another useful index was published in 1891 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the JDE, which is also included below. It is a summary listing of the major authors, articles by topic, topics discussed at the monthly meeting sof the Société d'économie politique, and key obituaries.

One of the stars of the French classical liberal political economy group was Frédéric Bastiat who died on Christmas Eve 1850 from a severe throat condition (perhaps pneumonia, tuberculosis, or even throat cancer). He joined the Société d'Économie Politique early on, wrote many artciles for the Journal des Économistes, a number of key articles for the Dictionnaire d'économie politique, founded and ran the Société de la libre échange, and was an elected member of the Constituent and then the Legislative Assembly during the 1848 Revolution. We include his collected works which were published by the Guillaumin publishing firm in the mid 1850s.

Institutions, People, and Movements

At this website (also data DVD) I want to make available to a broader audience the key texts in this intellectual development. I will begin with the following:

  1. The Guillaumin publishing firm
  2. The Journal des Économistes (founded in December 1841 and its First Series which lasted from 1841-1853)
  3. The Société d'économie politique - minutes of the monthly meetings held between 1846 and 1853 [PDF external file]
  4. The Dictionnaire de l'économie politique (1852-53)
  5. the Oeuvres Complètes of Frédéric Bastiat (1st ed. 1854-55; 2nd ed. 1862-64)

In the future will will also include works of the following groups which were precursors to the classical liberals of the 1840s and 1850s:

  1. The Physiocrats
  2. Jean-Baptiste Say (1767-1732)
  3. Charles Comte (1782-1837) and Charles Dunoyer (1786-1862)

And then there are the individuals and groups who came after and built upon their foundation:

  1. Gustave de Molinari (1819-1912)
  2. the Journal des Économistes which survived until the Nazi occupation of Paris in 1940 (just falling short of celebrating its 100th anniversary in December 1941).
  3. Yves Guyot (1843-1928)