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Simon-Nicolas-Henri Linguet’s Eighteenth-Century Perspectives on the Intimate Relationship between a Free Market Economy, the Rise of the “Big Government,” and the Creation of a Police State
1) University of Toronto, Canada
Date of publication: February 23
, 2015 Edition period: Edition period: February 2015-June2015
To cite this article: Platon, M. (2015). Simon-Nicolas-Henri Linguet’s Eighteenth-Century Perspectives on the Intimate Relationship between a Free Market Economy, the Rise of the “Big Government,” and the Creation of a Police State. Social and Education History, 4(1), 49-84. doi:10.4471/hse.2015.03
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HSE – Social and Education History Vol. 4 No. 1 Febraury 2015 pp. 49-84 Simon-Nicolas-Henri Eighteenth-Century Perspectives Relationship Market the Creation “Big Economy, Government,” of a on between Police the the Intimate
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Mircea Platon University of Toronto Abstract As a lawyer, economist and journalist of European stature, Linguet argued that the political and economic ideas advocated by the “economic philosophes” or the physiocrats, were bound to lead to a dangerous revolution undertaken without a clear idea of the true principles of a new and better society. Linguet's opposition to the physiocrats and his support for the guilds stemmed from a radical populism that prompted him to accuse the philosophes and the physiocrats of talking about humanity while neglecting the sufferings of real human beings. Linguet warned during the 1770s and 1780s that the systematic laissez-faire theories of the philosophes and Turgot's suppression of the guilds would dissolve the traditional ties of society and lead to a conflict between a mass of unemployed people and an oppressive police state. Linguet argued that only a politics of subsistence, welfare, and preventative nurture would prevent the coming revolution. Linguet's clashes with the physiocrats would prompt him to develop a theory of underconsumption as well as a historicist understanding of political economy and of the legal system that would have a deep influence upon the history of humanist economy. Keywords: economic liberalism, enlightenment, physiocrats, authoritarianism
2015 Hipatia Press ISSN: 2014-3567 DOI: 10.4471/hse.2015.03
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Mircea Platon University of Toronto Abstract Como abogado, economista y periodista de talla europea, Linguet argumentó que las ideas políticas y económicas defendidas por los "filosofos economistas", o los fisiócratas, conducían a una revolución peligrosa emprendida sin una idea clara de los verdaderos principios de una nueva y mejor sociedad. La oposición de Linguet a los fisiócratas y su apoyo a los gremios, derivaron a un populismo radical que lo llevó a acusar a los filósofos y los fisiócratas de hablar de la humanidad, descuidando los sufrimientos reales de los seres humanos. Linguet advirtió, durante la década de 1770-1780 que las teorías sistemáticas del laissez-faire de los philosophes y la supresión por Turgot de los gremios disolverían los tradicionales lazos de la sociedad y daría lugar a un conflicto entre una masa de desempleados y un estado policial opresivo. Linguet argumentó que sólo una política de la subsistencia, bienestar y crianza preventiva impedirían la próxima revolución. Los enfrentamientos de Linguet con los fisiócratas le incitarán a desarrollar una teoría de subconsumo, así como una comprensión historicista de la economía política y del sistema legal que tendría una profunda influencia en la historia de la economía humanista. Keywords: liberalism económico, ilustración, fisócratas, autoritasrismo
2015 Hipatia Press ISSN: 2014-3567 DOI: 10.4471/hse.2015.03
HSE – Social and Education History, 4(1) 51 O
ne by if only of both the left historians ideas to itself, embraced, of the political “free especially economy market” after would and the political be end able of pundits the to provide Cold is War, that, us with both a “small government” and a cornucopia of high quality goods. In this narrative, regulation breeds “big government,” and vice versa, and results in the manufacturing of low quality goods. The smaller the government, the greater the freedom of the market, and therefore the higher the quantity and quality of the goods on the shelves of the supermarkets. The supporters of free market economy have never been able to offer a convincing explanation of the fact that their very enthusiastic “cheers” for global capitalism have always been accompanied by sobs for the growth of the “welfare/nanny state,” or “big government.” Neither could neoliberals offer convincing explanations of the fact that eugenic ideas, aiming to lighten the “burden” of the state by diminishing the number of those deemed socially, racially, intellectually or physically inferior or unfit, internal migration control, and racial segregation have always pleasingly haunted the liberal imagination, from La Beaumelle (Platon, 2011) in the eighteenth century, to certain neoconservatives who translated the plain, old-fashioned racism into fiscal conservatism during the Cold War (Glaser & Possony, 1979). Beginning with the last decades of the eighteenth-century, the supporters of the free market economy have treated political economy as ontologically sealed against any historical contamination, as an ecosystem functioning according to its own laws. Today, neoliberals discuss the growth of the state with the moral outrage reserved to an ecological catastrophe, as the result of a greasy political spill into the pure ocean of economics. The resulting story is one of heroic “neoliberal” divers struggling and failing, for conjunctural reasons (the Cold War, the “liberal media/academia,” Greenpeace), to stop this spilling caused for contingent, self-serving reasons, by “liberal” (that is, “leftist” in American parlance) politicians who trade freedom for votes. Neoliberals do not seem to take into account any possible structural connection between the rise of the free market and the rise of “big government,” and therefore interpret the growth of the welfare state simply as an indication of the economic and political malaise fostered by a political
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class kowtowing to the masses. The discourse of “free market” is also a rhetorical tool used by “big business” to bully the state and convince the public that what is good for the big corporations is good for the people, and that no amount of regulation, planning or protectionism could do the amount of public good that corporate self-interest given free rein in an open market can do.
But beside theories that treat the rise of the welfare state as a result of “liberal” wrongdoings, that is as a political catastrophe that could have been avoided by not leaving the straight path of pure economics, a handful of historians have also highlighted the largely neglected possibility that capitalist economy is bound - for a variety of reasons, among which the collusion between the big corporations and the state - to lead to a bigger, more complex, and even more repressive, government, not to a smaller one (Beard, 1931; Higgs, 1987). Indeed, these arguments have found their first very cogent proponent in Simon-Nicolas-Henri Linguet (1736-1794), whose writings against Turgot’s attempt to suppress the guilds in 1776 explored this structural connection between market deregulation, the low quality of goods, and the oppressive size of the state, and pointed out to a different understanding of the nature and relationship between economic and political values than the neoliberal one.
Linguet and the Philosophe Culture
Edward Gibbon, visiting France in 1763, noted that the pro-philosophe salons were disparaging Linguet’s (1762) then recent book on Alexander the Great. Gibbon (1796) suspected that Linguet was probably a writer of more genius than he was credited for. Edmund Burke (1778) translated and published Linguet’s letters to Voltaire on the question of Grotius and natural law theory, which Linguet thought at best useless and usually harmful and which he criticized in the name of a juridical realism akin to Burke’s own historicism. Tocqueville, reading through the vast literature generated by the French Revolution, found that Linguet’s pamphlet La France plus qu’angloise (1788) was “written with very remarkable style, great talent, and some profound and prophetic views” (2001, 2:407). These were mostly in petto endorsements, circulating in private letters (Gibbon’s) or confined to
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private notebooks (Tocqueville’s). If distinguished by its quality, the historiography dedicated to Linguet (Cruppi, 1895; Vyverberg, 1970; Levy, 1980; Minerbi, 1981; Baruch, 1991; Garoux, 2002; Yardeni, 2005) is also small in comparison with his output, his eighteenth-century impact and his all-around relevance for the history of humanist alternatives to free market economics, many of which were centered on the guilds (Clément, 1854; Sewell Jr., 1980; Coleman, 1995; Potter, 2000; Kaplan, 2001; Clark, 2007; Epstein, & Prak, 2008; Fitzsimmons, 2010).
Simon-Nicolas-Henri Linguet was born on 14 July 1736, as the second child of Marie and Jean Linguet, a professor dismissed from the University of Paris in 1731 for Jansenist leanings. A gifted pupil, Linguet went through schools on scholarships, winning prizes in classical languages and history. Early in the 1750s, Linguet tried, like Rousseau, to make a career in diplomacy, but by 1754 he returned to Paris, where he sought an entrance into the literary world, befriending the poet Claude-Joseph Dorat, and frequenting the circle of Elie-Catherine Fréron, the editor of the L’Année littéraire and Voltaire’s archenemy. Leaving for Reims in 1760, Linguet hatched all sorts of economic and diplomatic schemes during the next two years, trying to break into the manufacturing and wine trade with the help of his own family as well as with the support of his former patron, the duke de Deux-Ponts. When these ventures petered out, Linguet again left Reims for Paris, where he published his Histoire du siècle d’Alexandre (1762) as well as a pamphlet supporting the recently suppressed Jesuits. Linguet’s support of the Jesuits sealed the failure of his book on Alexander the Great, badly received both by the philosophes and the Jansenists, the enemies of the Jesuits (Guerci, 1981).
In the summer of 1762, Linguet enlisted in the army as an “aide de camp” in the engineering division of Charles Juste, duke of Beauvau’s army, and participated in the Spanish-Portuguese War (1761-1763), which was part of the Seven Years War between France and England. After the signing of the peace in 1763, Linguet left Madrid and returned to France, settling himself in Picardy, in the city of Abbéville, where he gained the patronage of Jean- Nicolas Douville, a former mayor and a counselor in Abbéville’s presidial court. While in Abbéville, and partially with the financial support of Douville, Linguet anonymously published some of his most interesting
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works, such as Le Fanatisme des philosophes (1764a) and Nécessité d’une réforme dans l’administration de la justice et dans les lois civiles en France (1764b), a book, banned by the government, that opened Linguet’s attack on Montesquieu and on the thèse nobiliaire and advanced the idea of an alliance between the kings and the Third Estate. In October 1764, Linguet had himself inscribed as a stagiaire on the rolls of the Parlement de Paris. But instead of obscurity, Linguet gained European notoriety the very next year, in 1765, when he became the defender of the chevalier François-Jean de la Barre, accused of destroying a wooden crucifix venerated by the pious citizens of Abbéville. Since one of the young men accused of taking part in the blasphemy perpetrated on the night of 8 to 9 August 1765 was none other than Pierre-Jean-Francois-Douville de Maillefeu, the son of Linguet’s protector, Linguet was summoned by Douville to defend the accused. Linguet’s judicial mémoire, published in June 1766, did not manage to save La Barre, executed on 1 July 1766, but attracted the attention of public opinion to the political machinations behind the scenes of the trial by revealing that the initial investigations regarding this case were conducted by Duval de Soicourt, a local political enemy of Douville (Maza, 1993, pp. 46- 47). As a result, Duval de Soicourt was forced by Guillaume-François-Louis Joly de Fleury, the procurator general of the Parlement de Paris, to step down, and in September 1766 the charges against the three remaining defendants were dropped (Levy, 1980, pp. 35-36). In 1767 Linguet published his most important work, Théorie des loix civiles, which criticized Montesquieu's Esprit des lois and proposed an alternative to Montesquieu's sociology of law and to liberal natural law theories. Badly received by both the philosophes (Grimm, 1829-1831, 7: 509, 8: 197; La Harpe, 1820-1821, 15: 86-106) and the physiocrats (Baudeau, 1767, pp. 203-204; Mirabeau, 1762), the work nevertheless assured Linguet's reputation as not only a man of letters and a hot-headed lawyer, but an insightful social critic and political thinker in the vein of Rousseau.
The beginning of the 1770s found Linguet endorsing the chancellor Maupeou and his reform of the parlements, and finally supporting Terray and his anti-physiocratic policies. The polemics against the physiocrats made Linguet the target of André Morellet's Théorie du paradoxe (1775), to which Linguet answered with a cutting Théorie de la libelle, ou L'Art de calomnier
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avec fruit, dialogue philosophique pour servir de supplement a la "Théorie du paradoxe" (1775) (Morellet, 1821, 1: 226-230). As a result of his attacks on the Parlement, Linguet was disbarred on 1 February 1774, and the numerous appeals filed until the fall of 1775 failed to restore his livelihood. In 1774, Linguet launched his journalistic career as editor of Jean-Joseph Pancoucke’s Journal de politique et de littérature. Despite transforming it into a successful venture, Linguet lost his editorship in July 1776, after criticizing the French Academy and its secretary, d’Alembert, for receiving in its ranks the mediocre La Harpe. Following Linguet’s article, “outraged” academicians complained to the government, and, as a result of ministerial pressure, Panckoucke fired Linguet immediately and appointed La Harpe and Suard in his place. By the end of August 1776, Linguet was therefore out of journalism as well.
Towards the end of 1776, Linguet left France for England, where he launched his Annales politiques et littéraires and published an open Lettre de M. Linguet à M. le Comte de Vergennes, ministre des affaires étrangères en France (London, 1777) that read like a proclamation of independence and a declaration of war on all the beneficiaries and tools of “despotism” in France. Facing this new torrent of vitriolic political journalism, the Keeper of the Seals, Armand Thomas Hue de Miromesnil, asserted that the only way to silence Linguet would be to have him “thrown into a cell for life” (Levy, 1980, p. 213; Burrows, 2004). Indeed, by 1780, Linguet was tricked into coming to Paris, where he hoped to reconcile himself with the authorities, but where he was apprehended and thrown in the Bastille. In 1782 Linguet was freed and he started wandering through Europe, from England to Austria. Linguet’s Mémoires sur la Bastille (1783) was a pan-European best- seller extremely influential in shaping the revolutionary discourse about the oppressive nature of the Old Regime (Charpentier, 1789; Evans, 1793; Cottret, 1986, pp. 105-130). Joseph II ennobled and pensioned Linguet, but afterwards dismissed him for publishing in Annales some Considérations sur l'ouverture de l'Escaut (1784) supporting the Brabant rebellion against Austria.
In 1789, Linguet returned to France where he allied himself with Danton and Camille Desmoulins, supported the Saint-Domingue revolution, and was praised by French revolutionary newspapers as a forerunner in the fight
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against Old Regime despotism. The papers announced that during that during his social calls in Paris Linguet used a calling card depicting a lion keeping in his claws a pike with a Phrygian bonnet on top of it (Le Martirologe national, 1790, pp. 110-111, 219-222, 262). Indeed, even German revolutionary publications compared him with an untamable lion (von Clauer, 1791, p. 32). However, by June 1791, Linguet retired to the countryside, near Ville d’Avray, to Marnes, where he dedicated himself to agriculture, to local politics, and to his Annales. In June 1793 he was arrested by Order of the Committee of General Security under the accusation of conspiring with the king against the nation (Le courier de l'égalité, 5 October, 1793, p. 22). He was executed on 27 June 1794 as a “partisan and apostle of despotism.” French revolutionary publications would start lambasting him as an opportunist, as a pen for hire, as a hubristic mercenary interested only in inflating his ego as well as his pockets (Rive, 1793, pp. 194-95; Delacroix, 1794, pp. 315-16).
Despite these post-mortem attacks, Linguet appears in retrospect a thinker whose ideological fecundity served to buttress a remarkably stable social, political, cultural and economic framework. Disbarred, twice thrown in prison under the Old Regime, a defender of chevalier de La Barre, an enemy of the philosophes and of the physiocrats, and, as it turned out, not quite a friend of Robespierre either, a defender of the poor and of the much maligned “Asian despotism,” Linguet cast, in the century of Lights, a long and troublesome shadow. Considered a “brutal realist,” Linguet was definitely an anti-nominalist, refusing to get caught in any ideological cobwebs. Linguet’s involvement in some of the most resounding “human rights” trials of the eighteenth century France, such as the trials of La Barre and of the duke d’Aiguillon, the publication of his trial briefs, and his political journalism - a Journal de politique et de littérature (21 issues printed in Bruxelles [Paris] between 25 October 1774 and 25 July 1776), and the Annales politiques, civiques, et littéraires (19 volumes published in London, Bruxelles and Paris between 1777 and 1792) - marked him as one of the most thorough critics of the Old Regime. As one of the first political journalists, ready to make appeals to the “public opinion,” Linguet crafted elements of the future revolutionary discourse, and criticized the “feudalism” of the Old Regime while proposing various fiscal, legal, economic, and
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social reforms (Censer, 1994, pp. 179-181; Popkin, 1987). His embrace of empiricism, his defense of revolutionary causes such as that of the Belgians revolting against Austrian rule in 1789 or of the Haitians rising against their French colonial masters in 1791, his preoccupation with political economy and the situation of the poor and the oppressed, situated him firmly in the Enlightenment camp. But if he was no defender of the status quo, Linguet was no member of a “party of Enlightenment” either. Linguet questioned the juridical philosophy of the Enlightenment, the political institutions built upon that legal philosophy, the political economy corresponding to these legal precepts and political institutions, and finally the proponents of the new theologico-political consensus. As such, he argued against natural law philosophy, against a political regime based upon the multiplication, separation, and balance of powers such as that advocated by Montesquieu and by his followers, against the economic liberalism of the physiocrats, and finally against the philosophes.
The physiocrats and the philosophes, such as Diderot, were not always on the same page, some philosophes having little taste for the benevolent despotism advocated by the physiocrats, others being more supportive of industry than the physiocrats, others being too bourgeois to dream of a rural kingdom, too civic republican to engage in apologies of luxury, or too opposed to the esprit de système to enjoy the physiocrats’ Malebranchian- Confucian esoteric system, which Galiani ridiculed as “economystification” (Weulersse, 1910a, 2: 626-682; 1950, pp. 138-247; 1959, pp. 206-230; Fox Genovese, 1976, pp. 59-62; Eltis, 1995; Riskin, 2003, pp. 42-73). Despite these fault lines, and despite protestations to the contrary on the part of the physiocrats, Linguet labeled the physiocrats as the “philosophes économistes,” tying them firmly to the philosophes. According to Linguet, both groups had the characteristics of a “sect” (a term later used by Adam Smith also), or a “cabal.” Linguet felt that the philosophes received his deeply probing writings with a mild, involuntary “sneeze” and a temporary “agitation” that would become, in time, “a long-lasting delirium” (“un délire durable”) (Linguet, 1771, 1:2). This was, Linguet argued, the fanatical reaction of a sect trying to control and shape the public discourse in order to impose its own orthodoxy instead of merely taking part in a public debate. Linguet pointed out that he was not dispassionately contradicted, but literally