Eighteenth Century Economics: Turgot, Beccaria and Smith and Their Contemporaries

By Peter Groenewegen | Go to book overview

14

Du Pont de Nemours on theorigins and progress of a new science

Du Pont de Nemours’ De l’origine et des progrès d’une science nouvelle, recently published for the first time in English translation, 1 is an important text of physiocracy, produced, as it were, at its very zenith and not long before its demise in intellectual acceptance induced by the stunning attacks of Voltaire in 1768 and Galiani two years later. 2 Published as a little eighty-four-page book in 1768, its aim was essentially twofold: to explain the history and intellectual development of physiocracy and its association with other thought; and to summarise the more fundamental aspects of physiocratic doctrine as a system of natural and social order essential to the good government of society, in the manner in which it had been codified by Mercier de la Rivière in his monumental l’Ordre naturel et essential des sociétés politiques, which had appeared the year before in 1767.

This dual purpose of Du Pont’s text gives it the character of an important classic in physiocracy, and justifies making it more readily available to those interested in the development of classical political economy. The first quarter of its contents, as discussed more fully later in this introduction, is an attempt at the history of the new science, thereby constituting an early history of economics itself. More importantly, the fact that it attempted to summarise the most systematic (and most long-winded) exposition of physiocracy, generally also regarded as the most authoritative one, 3 makes it a very useful text for students interested in a more complete picture of physiocracy as a political and economic system. Such a picture is difficult to obtain at present because there is no English translation of the physiocratic work contemporary to Du Pont’s book, the treatise by Mercier de la Rivière on which it was based.

The French text itself is not rare. Published in 1768 in Paris, it went through a number of editions over the next few months. 4 An edited version appeared among the collection of the writings of major physiocrats (Quesnay, Du Pont de Nemours, Mercier de la Rivière, Baudeau, Le Trosne) edited by Eugene Daire in his Physiocrates for the Guillaumin collection des économistes; 5 a reprint was issued in 1909 as number one in a series of reprints of texts by physiocrats and social reformers in eighteenth-century France under the editorship of A. Dubois; 6 while a facsimile reprinted from the 1768 text was published in 1992 by the Cooperativa Universitaria Editrice Catanese di Magistero, with an

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