The Enlightenment in France

By Frederick B. Artz | Go to book overview
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1. The Physiocrats

The Physiocrat School of French Economists have substantial claims to be regarded as the real founders of economics in the modern sense. They were called the Physiocrats because they held that the basis of national wealth was in agriculture. They believed that the problem of wealth, the conditions of production, and the laws of distribution are matters to which scientific and precise reasoning may be applied with the object of arriving at universal truths. Like the other Philosophes, they held that there were natural laws which govern human actions, and the problem was to find the economic structure of society that would accord with these natural economic laws. These natural laws were held to be superior to the laws of man's making.

There is fundamentally a right of everyone to that portion of things a man can obtain by his own labor. So private property is consecrated on the basis of labor, and the state should guarantee liberty of contract. The primary function of positive laws is the enforcement of natural laws which are imprinted on the hearts of men. Thus, the less economic legislation the better. So they arrived at the idea of non-interference of the


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The Enlightenment in France


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