Bastiat put forth one of the most ambitious interpretations of the liberalism of his time, one that entailed both a critique of primitive socialism and a concern to provide political economy with a theoretical foundation. His thinking is far more sophisticated than would appear at first glance. Nor can it be confined, as so many commentators would have us believe, to its strictly economic dimension. The themes that Bastiat addressed – free trade, competition, labour, among others – certainly helped to reduce it to this dimension. Yet he did not limit himself to these issues, even if he dealt with them at length. He also paid close attention to the political, moral, social and religious dimensions.
Coming, as Bastiat’s writing did, at a decisive moment in the history of French liberalism, the very existence of his work explodes the long-standing received idea to the effect that liberalism, and in particular economic liberalism, is the exclusive domain of Anglo-Saxon countries. Bastiat’s work thus offers a solid rebuttal to Hayek, who proclaimed "the total absence of a liberal tradition in France." This book should be of interest to students and researchers of many strands of economics, as well as those looking at French liberalism and the history of social science more generally.
Robert Leroux is Professor of Sociology at the University of Ottawa, Canada.
Although sociology was from its origins in competition with the discipline of history, from the outset, it too was interested in history as a form of objective knowledge. Many of sociology's founders believed that by retracing historical processes, they could make a clean break with abstraction and metaphysics. For their part, historians generally remained hostile to any kind of systematization. And yet, at the end of the 19th century, the science of history would draw some valuable lessons from the emerging methodology of sociology. It was in large part under the impetus of the issues and problems raised by the philosopher Henri Berr and by the Durkheimian School, with the economist François Simiand as its lead protagonist, that the community of historians, increasingly aware of the limits of narrative history, turned so enthusiastically to social and economic history – just as Durkheim and his disciples consulted history in order to avoid the twin pitfalls of the philosophy of history and of introspective psychology. History and Sociology in France focuses on this dialogue of the two neighboring sciences.
Including several works that have never before been published in English, this anthology begins with a full introduction that provides an overview of liberal thought in the nineteenth century, and each text is preceded by a biographical note on the author, and an explanation of the wider significance of the text. This anthology, by bringing to the fore a number of writers and doctrinal positions, seeks to give a coherence, an overall cast to French liberalism without exaggerating its unity. It will be of interest to economists, political scientists, historians, philosophers and sociologists alike.