Taoists! Thomists! Turgot!

Or, if you prefer: Daoists! Dominicans! Donisthorpe!

Rothbard’s fascinating Austrian Perspective on the History of Economic Thought, which weighs in at over a thousand pages and still, ironically, never gets as far as the Austrians themselves (Rothbard died before completing it), is now available online from Mises.org in two honkin’ enormous PDF files: Volume One and Volume Two. (In addition, the hard copy, which I bought back when it cost a million dollars or thereabouts, is currently available for $47.)

Murray RothbardOne of the highlights of Rothbard’s history is his resurrection of numerous important thinkers who have unjustly been relegated to the footnotes as “minor figures.” Most histories of economics start with Adam Smith (perhaps with a brief nod to the mercantilists and physiocrats) and run quickly through Ricardo and a few other Classicals to Marx and then the marginalist revolution. Rothbard, by contrast, takes 400 pages to get to Smith, exploring in particular the contributions of the Scholastics (who, contrary to prevailing myths, Rothbard shows to be insightful pioneers of subjectivist methodology and free-market thought). He also rescues the French liberal tradition from its traditional mere-popularisers-of-Adam-Smith ghetto – thus resuscitating the entire neglected tradition of Continental liberalism that runs from Salamanca through Paris to Vienna.

Austrian Perspective on the History of Economic ThoughtThere’s stuff to disagree with, of course: for example, Rothbard wrongly dismisses the Confucians as mere statists, and oddly claims that the “Hellenistic and Roman epochs were virtually devoid of economic thought” (despite the Stoics’ important work on commerce and property rights, the Epicureans’ theories of spontaneous social order, and nearly all the Greco-Roman thinkers’ exploration of praxeology as the base of their ethical systems); he entirely misinterprets Montaigne’s claim that one person’s gain is another’s loss, and arguably misses the nuances of Montaigne’s attitude toward royal authority; he’s weirdly unfair to Adam Smith (e.g., characterising Smith’s philosophy as a “dour Calvinism” that “scorns man’s consumption and pleasure” – when in fact Smith was a deist and anti-Christian who condemned ambition for making us substitute “toil” and “anxiety” for “leisure” and “ease”! – and attributing to Smith the belief that the “propensity to truck, barter and exchange” is “irrational and innate,” despite Smith’s explicit statement to the contrary); and his account of Plotinus and the Gnostics is wrong from start to finish (you’d never guess from reading Rothbard that Plotinus was an opponent of the Gnostics). There are also some puzzling omissions: no mention, e.g., of Godwin and almost none of Proudhon – and the section on the Greeks says nothing about the Platonic (or possibly pseudo-Platonic) dialogues Hipparchus and Eryxias, two of the earliest and most insightful discussions of the nature of profit and wealth. So, gripe gripe gripe.

But the book’s virtues far outweigh its defects (and understating Smith’s originality and devotion to laissez-faire is at least a useful corrective to the more frequent tendency to overstate these).

Check out the table of contents:

An Austrian Perspective on the History of Economic Thought

Volume I: Economic Thought Before Adam Smith

Chapter 1. The first philosopher-economists: the Greeks

1.1 The natural law
1.2 The politics of the polis
1.3 The first ‘economist’: Hesiod and the problem of scarcity
1.4 The pre-Socratics
1.5 Plato’s right-wing collectivist utopia
1.6 Xenophon on household management
1.7 Aristotle: private property and money
1.8 Aristotle: exchange and value
1.9 The collapse after Aristotle
1.10 Taoism in ancient China

Chapter 2. The Christian Middle Ages

2.1 The Roman law: property rights and laissez faire
2.2 Early Christian attitudes toward merchants
2.3 The Carolingians and canon law
2.4 Canonists and Romanists at the University of Bologna
2.5 The canonist prohibition of usury
2.6 Theologians at the University of Paris
2.7 The philosopher-theologian: St. Thomas Aquinas
2.8 Late thirteenth century scholastics: Franciscans and utility theory

Chapter 3. From Middle Ages to Renaissance

3.1 The great depression of the fourteenth century
3.2 Absolutism and nominalism: the break-up of Thomism
3.3 Utility and money: Buridan and Oresme
3.4 The odd man out: Heinrich von Langenstein
3.5 Usury and foreign exchange in the fourteenth century
3.6 The worldly ascetic: San Bernardino of Siena
3.7 The disciple: Sant’ Antonino of Florence
3.8 The Swabian liberals and the assault on the prohibition of usury
3.9 Nominalists and active natural rights

Chapter 4. The late Spanish scholastics

4.1 The commercial expansion of the sixteenth century
4.2 Cardinal Cajetan: liberal Thomist
4.3 The School of Salamanca: the first generation
4.4 The School of Salamanca: Azpilcueta and Medina
4.5 The School of Salamanca: the middle years
4.6 The late Salamancans
4.7 The learned extremist: Juan de Mariana
4.8 The last Salamancans: Lessius and de Lugo
4.9 The decline of scholasticism
4.10 Parting shots: the storm over the Jesuits

Chapter 5. Protestants and Catholics

5.1 Luther, Calvin, and state absolutism
5.2 Luther’s economics
5.3 The economics of Calvin and Calvinism
5.4 Calvinists on usury
5.5 Communist zealots: the Anabaptists
5.6 Totalitarian communism in Münster
5.7 the roots of messianic communism
5.8 Non-scholastic Catholics
5.9 Radical Huguenots
5.10 George Buchanan: radical Calvinist
5.11 Leaguers and politiques

Chapter 6. Absolutist thought in Italy and France

6.1 The emergence of absolutist thought in Italy
6.2 Italian humanism: the republicans
6.3 Italian humanism: the monarchists
6.4 ‘Old Nick’: preacher of evil or first value-free political scientist?
6.5 The spread of humanism in Europe
6.6 Botero and the spread of Machiavellianism
6.7 Humanism and absolutism in France
6.8 The sceptic as absolutist
6.9 Jean Bodin: apex of absolutist thought in France
6.10 After Bodin

Chapter 7. Mercantilism: serving the absolute state

7.1 Mercantilism as the economic aspect of absolutism
7.2 Mercantilism in Spain
7.3 Mercantilism and Colbertism in France
7.4 Mercantilism in England: textiles and monopolies
7.5 Enserfdom in eastern Europe
7.6 Mercantilism and inflation

Chapter 8. French mercantilist thought in the seventeenth century

8.1 Building the ruling elite
8.2 The first major French mercantilist: Barthélemy de Laffemas
8.3 The first ‘Colbert’: the duc de Sully
8.4 The eccentric poet: Antoine de Montchr&eacute:tien
8.5 The grandiose failure of François du Noyer
8.6 Under the rule of the cardinals, 1624-61
8.7 Colbert and Louis XIV
8.8 Louis XIV: apogee of absolutism (1638-1714)

Chapter 9. The liberal reaction against mercantilism in seventeenth century France

9.1 The croquants’ rebellion
9.2 Claude Joly and the fronde
9.3 A single tax
9.4 Rising opposition to collectivism by merchants and nobles
9.5 The merchants and the council of commerce
9.6 Marshal Vauban: royal engineer and single taxer
9.7 Fleury, Fénélon, and the Burgundy circle
9.8 The laissez-faire utilitarian: the Seigneur de Belesbat
9.9 Boisguilbert and laissez-faire
9.10 Optimistic handbook at the turn of the century

Chapter 10. Mercantilism in freedom in England from the Tudors to the Civil War

10.1 Tudor and Stuart absolutism
10.2 Sir Thomas Smith: mercantilist for sound money
10.3 The ‘economic liberalism’ of Sir Edward Coke
10.4 The ‘bullionist’ attack on foreign exchange, and on the East India trade
10.5 The East India apologists strike back
10.6 Prophet of ‘empiricism’: Sir Francis Bacon
10.7 The Baconians: Sir William Petty and ‘political arithmetic’

Chapter 11. Mercantilism in freedom in England from the Civil War to 1750

11.1 The Perryites: Davenant, King, and ‘the law of demand’
11.2 Liberty and property: the Levellers and Locke
11.3 Child, Locke, the rate of interest, and the coinage
11.4 The North brothers, deductions from axioms, and Tory laissez-faire
11.5 The inflationists
11.6 The hard-money response
11.7 Laissez-faire by mid-century: Tucker and Townshend

Chapter 12. The founding father of modern economics: Richard Cantillon

12.1 Cantillon the man
12.2 Methodology
12.3 Value and price
12.4 Uncertainty and the entrepreneur
12.5 Population theory
12.6 Spatial economics
12.7 Money and process analysis
12.8 International monetary relations
12.9 The self-regulation of the market
12.10 Influence

Chapter 13. Physiocracy in mid-eighteenth century France

13.1 The sect
13.2 Laissez-faire and free trade
13.3 Laissez-faire forerunner: the marquis d’Argenson
13.4 Natural law and property rights
13.5 The single tax on land
13.6 ‘Objective’ value and cost of production
13.7 The Tableau économique
13.8 Strategy and influence
13.9 Daniel Bernoulli and the founding of mathematical economics

Chapter 14. The brilliance of Turgot

14.1 The man
14.2 Laissez-faire and free trade
14.3 Value, exchange and price
14.4 The theory of production and distribution
14.5 The theory of capital, entrepreneurship, savings and interest
14.6 Theory of money
14.7 Influence
14.8 Other French and Italian utility theorists of the eighteenth century

Chapter 15. The Scottish Enlightenment

15.1 The founder: Gershom Carmichael
15.2 Francis Hutcheson: teacher of Adam Smith
15.3 The Scottish Enlightenment and Presbyterianism
15.4 David Hume and the theory of money

Chapter 16. The celebrated Adam Smith

16.1 The mystery of Adam Smith
16.2 The life of Smith
16.3 The division of labour
16.4 Productive vs. unproductive labour
16.5 The theory of value
16.6 The theory of distribution
16.7 The theory of money
16.8 The myth of laissez-faire
16.9 On taxation

Chapter 17. The spread of the Smithian movement

17.1 The Wealth of Nations and Jeremy Bentham
17.2 The influence of Dugald Stewart
17.3 Malthus and the assault on population
17.4 Resistance and triumph in Germany
17.5 Smithianism in Russia
17.6 The Smithian conquest of economic thought

Volume II: Classical Economics

Chapter 1. J. B. Say: the French tradition in Smithian clothing

1.1 The Smithian conquest of France
1.2 Say, de Tracy and Jefferson
1.3 The influence of Say’s Traiteé
1.4 The method of praxeology
1.5 Utility, productivity and distribution
1.6 The entrepreneur
1.7 Say’s laws of markets
1.8 Recession and the storm over Say’s law
1.9 The theory of money
1.10 The state and taxation

Chapter 2. Jeremy Bentham: the utilitarian as big brother

2.1 From laissez-faire to statism
2.2 Personal utilitarianism
2.3 Social utilitarianism
2.4 Big brother: the panopticon

Chapter 3. James Mill, Ricardo, and the Ricardian system

3.1 James Mill, the radicals’ Lenin
3.2 Mill and libertarian class analysis
3.3 Mill and the Ricardian system
3.4 Ricardo and the Ricardian system, I: macro-income distribution
3.5 Ricardo and the Ricardian system, II: the theory of value
3.6 The law of comparative advantage

Chapter 4. The decline of the Ricardian system, 1820-48

4.1 The conundrum of Ricardo’s popularity
4.2 The rapid decline of Ricardian economics
4.3 The theory of rent
4.4 Colonel Perronet Thompson: anti-Ricardian Benthamite
4.5 Samuel Bailey and the subjective utility theory of value
4.6 Nassau Senior, the Whately connection, and utility theory
4.7 William Forster Lloyd and utility theory in England
4.8 A utility theorist in Kentucky
4.9 Wages and profits
4.10 Abstinence and time in the theory of profits
4.11 John Rae and the ‘Austrian’ theory of capital and interest
4.12 Nassau Senior, praxeology, and John Stuart Mill

Chapter 5. Monetary and banking thought, I: the early bullionist controversy

5.1 The restriction and the emergence of the bullionist controversy
5.2 The bullionist controversy continues
5.3 Boyd’s Letter to Pitt
5.4 The storm over Boyd: the anti-bullionist response
5.5 Henry Thornton: anti-bullionist in sheep’s clothing
5.6 Lord King: the culmination of bullionism
5.7 The Irish currency question
5.8 The emergence of mechanistic bullionism: John Wheatley

Chapter 6. Monetary and banking thought, II: the bullion Report and the return to gold

6.1 Ricardo enters the fray
6.2 The storm over the bullion Report
6.3 Deflation and the return to gold
6.4 Questioning fractional-reserve banking: Britain and the US
6.5 Monetary and banking thought on the Continent

Chapter 7. Monetary and banking thought, III: the struggle over the currency school

7.1 The trauma of 1825
7.2 The emergence of the currency principle
7.3 Rechartering the Bank of England
7.4 The crisis of 1837 and the currency school controversy
7.5 The crisis of 1839 and the escalation of the currency school controversy
7.6 The renewed threat to the gold standard
7.7 Triumph of the currency school: Peel’s act of 1844
7.8 Tragedy in triumph for the currency school: the aftermath
7.9 De facto victory for the banking school
7.10 Currency and banking school thought on the Continent

Chapter 8. John Stuart Mill and the reimposition of Ricardian economics

8.1 Mill’s importance
8.2 Mill’s strategy and the success of the Principles
8.3 The theory of value and distribution
8.4 The shift to imperialism
8.5 The Millians
8.6 Cairnes and the gold discoveries
8.7 The Millian supremacy

Chapter 9. Roots of Marxism: messianic communism

9.1 Early communism
9.2 Secularized millennial communism: Mably and Morelly
9.3 The conspiracy of the Equals
9.4 The burgeoning of communism

Chapter 10. Marx’s vision of communism

10.1 Millennial communism
10.2 Raw communism
10.3 Higher communism and the eradication of the division of labour
10.4 Arriving at communism
10.5 Marx’s character and his path to communism

Chapter 11. Alienation, unity, and the dialectic

11.1 Origins of the dialectic: creatology
11.2 Hegel and the man-God
11.3 Hegel and politics
11.4 Hegel and the Romantic Age
11.5 Marx and Left revolutionary Hegelianism
11.6 Marx as utopian

Chapter 12. The Marxian system, I: historical materialism and the class struggle

12.1 The Marxian strategy
12.2 Historical materialism
12.3 The class struggle
12.4 The Marxian doctrine of ‘ideology’
12.5 The inner contradiction in the concept of ‘class’
12.6 The origin of the concept of class
12.7 The legacy of Ricardo
12.8 Ricardian socialism

Chapter 13. The Marxian system, II: the economics of capitalism and its inevitable demise

13.1 The labour theory of value
13.2 Profit rates and ‘surplus value’
13.3 The ‘laws of motion’, I: the accumulation and centralization of capital
13.4 The ‘laws of motion’, II: the impoverishment of the working class
13.5 The ‘laws of motion’, III: business cycle crises

13.5.1 Underconsumptionism
13.5.2 The falling rate of profit
13.5.3 Disproportionality

13.6 Conclusion: the Marxian system

Chapter 14. After Mill: Bastiat and the French laissez-faire tradition

14.1 The French laissez-faire school
14.2 Frederic Bastiat: the central figure
14.3 The influence of Bastiat in Europe
14.4 Gustave de Molinari, first anarcho-capitalist
14.5 Vilfredo Pareto, pessimistic follower of Molinari
14.6 Academic convert in Germany: Karl Heinrich Rau
14.7 The Scottish maverick: Henry Dunning Macleod
14.8 Plutology: Hearn and Donisthorpe
14.9 Bastiat and laissez-faire in America
14.10 Decline of laissez-faire thought

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9 Responses to Taoists! Thomists! Turgot!

  1. Roderick March 16, 2009 at 2:45 am #

    I added IP as a tag because the provision of this material online is also another glorious example of the open source cornucopia.

  2. Roderick March 16, 2009 at 2:52 am #

    OK, I thought of another gripe — the chapter on Adam Smith really shouldn’t appear in the volume titled Economic Thought Before Adam Smith, should it?

  3. Sheldon Richman March 16, 2009 at 9:03 am #

    He talks about Godwin in connection with Malthus and the population “problem.”

    Re the placement of the Smith chapter: I wondered the same thing.

  4. Geoffrey S. March 16, 2009 at 9:25 am #

    I have these two volumes at my house. I’ve only read a few chapters out of each, but I have found them to be among Rothbard’s most readable work. I fall asleep reading Power & Market, whereas these volumes I lose sleep reading.

    Why is Adam Smith covered in the first volume?

  5. Black Bloke March 16, 2009 at 4:03 pm #

    I think the title was already established but the book ended up being expanded in scope.

  6. Fred March 16, 2009 at 4:14 pm #

    A small nit, lest anyone be confused and potentially disappointed: the hard bound volumes shown are actually the Mises Institute *leather bound* volumes, which retail for about twice the price as the hard cover books found at the link.

    In a moment of weakness [madness?] I ordered the leather bound set, and it is a delight. Would that all books of substance were made so … substantially.

    • Roderick March 16, 2009 at 5:23 pm #

      True dat. I used the pic because I couldn’t find a pic of both of the regular editions together (as opposed to separate cover shots for each one).

  7. Anon73 March 17, 2009 at 2:34 am #

    Rothbard repeatedly castigates Adam Smith for plagiarism and then says he has a “Columbus complex”, tending to accuse others of plagiarizing him. What’s the origin of that phrase?

    • Roderick March 17, 2009 at 1:27 pm #

      In Ethics of Liberty Rothbard uses the phrase “Columbus complex” differently, to mean the view that you can acquire ownership to territory just by claiming it. And there he says “what we might call the Columbus complex,” suggesting that perhaps it’s his own coinage.

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