Political Economy and Liberalism in France: The Contributions of Frédéric Bastiat


The purpose of this book is to provide a comprehensive analysis of the work of Frédéric Bastiat (1801-1850), one of the towering intellectual figures of nineteenth century France. More than anyone else of his time, Bastiat personified the struggle of liberalism and science against socialism and utopia. Between 1844 in 1850, his campaign for the idea of liberty and his commitment to the discipline of political economy made him one of the most vigorous champions of economic liberalism in France.

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.

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About the author

Robert Leroux is Professor of Sociology at the University of Ottawa, Canada.

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Published on
Mar 22, 2011
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Business & Economics / Economics / General
Business & Economics / Economics / Theory
Business & Economics / General
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"Et puis tout à coup, le drame. Le geste inévitable, la bavure...! Un des policiers venus en renfort est soudain pris d'une frénétique envie de dégainer. Dans un hommage ultime à John Mac Lane et à l'inspecteur Harry, il tente le coup de folie, le geste que personne n'attend et qui transforme un policier ordinaire en sauveur de l'humanité. Clint Eastwood et Bruce Willis n'auraient certainement pas fait mieux. Notre héros a le même rictus que les plus grands justiciers, ce fameux mélange de concentration avec une pointe d'arrogance et de jouissance intérieure. Les yeux concentrés sur la future victime, il se lance vers Alain Bernard d'un pas ferme et décidé. Il dégaine un stylo et se met à hurler: “un autographe pour mon fils Jonathan s'il vous plaît”! En cette après-midi de mars 2008, j'ai moi aussi replongé dans la maladie du sport. Je suis reparti trente ans en arrière... Retour au sport-étude, retour au début de l'histoire. Je vais tout vous dire, tout avouer, c'est promis." "Un humour piquant et une dérision que vont adorer les amoureux du sport et tous les autres. Un régal!" (Grand Corps Malade) "Une galerie de personnages cocasses dans des situations authentiques. Un récit sans fard, drôle et désinvolte." (Olivier Zilbertin - Le Monde) "Une vision malicieuse et follement tournée en dérision du sport de haut niveau... vous allez adorer!" (Alain Bernard - double champion olympique) "Un livre jubilatoire, impertinent, inconvenant, impudique et touchant. Impossible de lâcher ce pamphlet. Le lecteur est collé au coeur du vestiaire le nez dans le sang, la sueur, le camphre et le fou rire!" (Maryse Ewange-Epée - RMC/Moscato show)
In the late 19th century and early part of the 20th, with the coming of age of sociology in France, the idea that there could be a “science” of history was the subject of much and varied debate. The methodological problems surrounding historical knowledge that were debated throughout this period concerned not only scientific history, but the social sciences as well, and sociology more specifically.

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.

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