Archive | September 28, 2006

Join the Industrial Revolution!

By the early 19th century it had become common among French social theorists, thanks in part to the work of classical liberals like Jean-Baptiste Say and Benjamin Constant, to view history as a struggle between the “industrious” classes, who made their living by production and trade, and the parasitic and plundering classes, who constituted the ruling classes and made their living by exploiting the industrious producers.

Image from Fritz Lang's METROPOLIS One group of French radicals started a movement called “industrialism,” and advocated an “industrial” society in which this state of affairs would be overturned, and the “government of men” would be replaced by the “administration of things.”. (Herbert Spencer later picked up, though probably indirectly, some of the terminology of this movement in his contrast of industrial with militant societies.)

But the industrial movement soon split into a libertarian, individualist wing (e.g., Charles Comte, Charles Dunoyer, and Augustin Thierry) and an authoritarian, collectivist wing (e.g., Henri de Saint-Simon, Auguste Comte). The two groups did not recognise a mutual antagonism immediately; on the contrary, they wrote for each other’s journals and regarded one another as comrades in a common struggle. Dunoyer and the “bad” Comte were close friends, while Thierry signed himself “Saint-Simon’s adopted son.” In time, however, it became clear that the authoritarian wing saw the triumph of industrial society as a matter of replacing the existing idle ruling class with a new ruling class composed of producers – capitalists, bankers, and workers – who would plan and organise society according to a rational plan. The libertarian wing, by contrast, wished to replace all class oppression (not just a particular class’s oppression) by a system of voluntary relationships. In short, the libertarian industrials sought to do away with coercive hierarchy, while the authoritarian industrials merely sought to change the personnel. (Thus only the libertarian wing of the industrial movement was truly “radical.” And yes, this has something to do with the title of the Molinari Institute’s forthcoming magazine.)

So the two wings broke with one another and went their separate ways, the libertarian wing producing Bastiat and Molinari while the authoritarian wing gave rise to various forms of fascism, syndicalism, and state socialism – depending on whether preeminence in the proposed ruling elite was assigned to capitalists or to workers. (In The Counter-Revolution of Science Hayek documents the merging of Saint-Simonian and Hegelian ideas in Germany.) Marx, Mill, and Proudhon were among the thinkers to be influenced by both wings of the industrial movement (Proudhon’s Bank of the People is what you get when you combine Dunoyer’s radical decentralisation with Saint-Simon’s scheme for having the entire society run by, or as, a central bank), though I would say that the authoritarian strand came to dominate in Marx’s thought while the libertarian strand dominated in Mill’s and Proudhon’s. (Unfortunately, in later years Dunoyer and Thierry grew less radically libertarian; Charles Comte died young and so escaped this fate.)

All this is by way of introduction to three recent items of interest: Libertarian Class Analysis by Sheldon Richman; Saint Simon and the Liberal Origins of the Socialist Critique of Political Economy by Gareth Stedman-Jones; and Agorist Class Theory by Wally Conger. See also Ralph Raico’s Classical Liberal Roots of the Marxist Theory of Classes, to which I’ve previously linked, plus various sources here.


The Revolution Will Be Digitised

Pierre-Joseph Proudhon A couple of months ago, I was grumping that Proudhon’s General Idea of the Revolution in the 19th Century wasn’t available online. I see that now it is; thanks, Charles! And check out the rest of Charles’ Fair Use Repository.

In Proudhon-related news, I’ll soon be posting (in the Molinari Institute’s online library) Benjamin Tucker’s translation of Proudhon’s debate with Bastiat on interest and credit, as well as my own comments on the debate (here). (Regular readers of this blog will not be surprised to learn that I think Proudhon and Bastiat are each partly right and partly wrong.) Also coming soon: Tucker’s Instead of A Book!

Addendum: Would a quote from Proudhon ever appear on the Cato Institute’s website? Check it out.

Powered by WordPress. Designed by WooThemes