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.


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9 Responses to Join the Industrial Revolution!

  1. b-psycho September 29, 2006 at 3:55 pm #

    Are the two Comtes related, or is the name a coincidence?

  2. Administrator September 29, 2006 at 4:03 pm #

    They’re not related as far as I know; at least nothing I’ve read suggests so. J. S. Mill in a letter to Auguste Comte refers to Charles Comte as “your homonym” — rather than “your cousin” or anything of that sort.

  3. Tim October 3, 2006 at 6:22 am #

    A worthy addition to your great list of class conflict articles (the Cambridge University one is a beaut) was the Hagel and Grinder paper on ‘ultimate decision making’ under ‘state capitalism’. It would seem to me that this paper’s value is in it’s bridging of classical liberal class conflict theory with the (mostly late 19th Century / early 20th Century) works of the modern non-marxist class theorists that James Burnham labelled as, and wrote about, in his best book. “The Machiavellians”.

  4. Tim October 4, 2006 at 12:34 am #

    I came across a paper attempting to apply libertarian class conflict theory to US labour history, notably the Pullman / Haymarket strikes of the late 19th century. See here for the paper by Dr Chris Matthew Sciabarra. There are certainly some holes in the reasoning that Sciabarra himself notes but his analysis seems at least as good (or as bad) as any of the classical Marxist/marxoid class interpretations of major labour disputes that are discussed in academic courses on industrial relations, economic history etc.

  5. Administrator October 5, 2006 at 11:04 am #

    Yes, that’s a good piece. You know, I need to create a page with nothing but links to sources on libertarian class analysis. Well, I’ll add it to my list of nine million things to do ….

  6. Tim October 11, 2006 at 12:50 am #

    I found the Cambridge piece especially interesting too. It wrapped up an answered thread I had in my mental attic for a couple of decades.

    I remember reading some throwaway line from Murray Rothbard in ‘Liberty vs Power’ (was that it’s name?) about twenty odd years ago, and he mentioned socialism as a mixed up middle of the road movement that wanted to achieve libertarian ends via conservative (a.k.a. statist) means. He hinted marxist class analysis was originally liberal but botched up by the Saint Simonians. He sort of jumped the whole Saint Simonian mud puddle here and I always wondered what he was on about. This paper clears it up.

    There is also some great material on the Saint Simonians in ‘Fire in the Minds of Men’ , a classic study by James Billington. The S-Simonians were all over the place, intellectually they had “a kangaroo loose in the top paddock” as an older generation of Australians used to say.

  7. Tim October 11, 2006 at 12:52 am #

    I meant to say “unanswered thread”. grrrr!


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