Studies in the History of French Political Economy: From Bodin to Walras

By Gilbert Faccarello | Go to book overview

1

ECONOMIC PUBLISHING AND AUTHORS, 1566-1789

Christine Théré

The development of economic publishing in the French language, which flourished during the Enlightenment, is all too often still regarded as a simple epiphenomenon which can safely be ignored when considering the history of economic thought. However, the inventory of this ancient library in political economy is rich in information concerning the various forms adopted in the practice of an emerging discipline. Such a project requires both a quantitative approach, rather unusual in the history of thought, and the rejection of the various hierarchies that were subsequently instituted with regard to these works of the past.

Like every growing science, early political economy gropingly delimited its territory and equipped itself with specific concepts. The difficulties it then had to deal with can be measured by the scholar who undertakes to unearth those publications which illustrate them. Alternatively put, how to collect those printed works which constituted early economic publishing, as perceived by contemporaries, is not immediately obvious. What determined whether or not a work could be regarded as ‘economic’, the attention it gave to a selection of clearly defined phenomena, the approach taken in describing and explaining them, or the relative stress put on them compared to others?

The compilation of an inventory of publications is not the main task of this chapter. Above all, it is an opportunity to highlight a collection of writers, nascent economists, of whom quite a few are completely unknown. These authors do not constitute a true academic community, and much less a scientific one, because there existed, at the time, no opportunity for endorsing the validity, or even the specificity, of their ideas. They form a sort of ‘enlightened elite’ whose characteristics remain to be defined. Given that holding forth on the pains suffered by the economy was neither a métier nor an ‘état’ (station), as a philosopher was to become in eighteenth-century society, the need emerges for a historical-sociological analysis of those who actually devoted themselves to this kind of activity. Such an undertaking clearly has its limits: the number of individuals taken into account requires abandoning, among other things, any

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