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THE LIFE AND CONTRIBUTION TO ECONOMICS OF THE ABBÉ DE CONDILLAC - Étienne Bonnot, Abbé de Condillac, Commerce and Government Considered in their Mutual Relationship 
Commerce and Government Considered in their Mutual Relationship, translated by Shelagh Eltis, with an Introduction to His Life and Contribution to Economics by Shelagh Eltis and Walter Eltis (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2008).
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This book was originally published by Edward Elgar Publishing in 1997, copyright 1997 by Shelagh Eltis and Walter Eltis. Reprinted by permission of Edward Elgar Publishing.
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THE LIFE AND CONTRIBUTION TO ECONOMICS OF THE ABBÉ DE CONDILLAC
Étienne Bonnot, Abbé de Condillac, 1714–1780
Birth and Family
Étienne Bonnot, known to posterity as the abbé de Condillac, was born in Grenoble on 30 September 1714.1 He was the youngest child of a large family. His parents both came from families of lawyers and officials which entered the noblesse de robe in the early eighteenth century. The noblesse de robe was an aristocracy built on the purchase of offices under the monarchy. Such offices could be very expensive to purchase. In 1705, Gabriel Bonnot, Étienne’s father, paid 10,000 livres for that of Secretary of the King in the Court of the Parlement of the Dauphiné, which brought him noble rank with the title vicomte de Mably. Local importance, tax exemptions, freedom from having soldiers billeted on one’s household, and the income from fees payable to such officeholders all made such investments worthwhile. For the monarchy it brought desperately needed short-term income and an opportunity to recruit fresh talent.
Gabriel Bonnot amassed a fortune through this and other posts such as receiver of tailles—the main land and personal tax—and as registrar of births, etc., for the Oisan; he was also a royal castellan, though jealousy probably forced him to resign the latter two offices in 1714. He invested heavily in royal stock and in land: it has been calculated that he invested more than 85,000 livres in government stock, and, significantly, he seems to have reached the peak of his fortune in 1720. In 1719 he bought the domain of Mably for 300,000 livres and the following year that of Condillac, near Romans.
Gabriel Bonnot died in September 1726 leaving his wife and dependent children comfortably off, despite losses in his investment income following the collapse of Law’s system. Each son was bequeathed the sum of 25,000 livres on attaining the age of twenty-five. Their mother also held a life interest in annuities in their names. The income from both these sources, reckoned at 1,300 livres a year, would have given Condillac a modest competence. It also meant that he was not to be forced into the Church as a younger son whose family lacked means.
At his father’s death Étienne was nearly twelve years old and, according to the 1836 Encyclopédie des gens du monde, unable to read because his very weak eyesight had forbidden study. The same source states that he then began his studies under a good curé and learnt fast. On 29 August 1728 Étienne acted as proxy godfather to his sister Anne’s firstborn. The baptismal certificate is interesting as the first record of his using the title de Condillac, marking him out as a noble.2 Condillac’s eldest brother Jean was known as M. de Mably from 1727 at least, and his brother Gabriel became famous as the abbé de Mably.
The Young Philosopher
Condillac’s life is largely obscure until he emerges as a very successful philosopher in the 1740s. The Encyclopédie des gens du monde says that aged sixteen he joined Jean de Mably at Lyons where the latter held the office of Provost General of the Maréchaussée, or constabulary, for the Lyonnais, Forez and the Beaujolais, purchased in 1729 with his mother’s assistance. Lyons was the second city in France, and Condillac’s brother a man of standing in it. However, by 1733 Condillac had joined his brother Gabriel, six years his senior, in Paris, a new world for the young provincials, and un-charted territory for the family.
Condillac registered in the Faculty of Arts at Paris. At his graduation as an MA two years later, he is described as a clericus of Grenoble, so he will have received the tonsure in that diocese. This should not lead to the assumption that a career in the Church was already inevitable as many of the literary confraternity began as tonsured clerks, including Marmontel who married late in life, and many eighteenth-century abbés led secular lives after entering orders. Indeed, it was with this background in mind that in 1910 his family biographer, Count Baguenault de Puchesse, was eager to stress Condillac’s proper wearing of clerical garb, regular attendance at mass and general orthodoxy in a century when to some the name philosophe seemed synonymous with free-thinker.3
The stages of his studies in Philosophy, Physics, Mathematics and Theology and his studies for the priesthood have been traced across documents by the authors of Corpus Condillac, a group of scholars who have assembled all the documentary evidence they could find for his life.4 It seems probable that Condillac was at the Collège Mazarin, also known as the Four Nations, for his first two years, pursued theological studies at the Faculty of the Sorbonne and was in a Paris seminary, perhaps St Sulpice, for his preparation for the priesthood. He became a priest in 1741, though he never held cure of souls and is thought never to have said a mass.
Diderot and d’Alembert, distinguished philosophes with whom Condillac was to have close ties, had a similar education but finished their theological studies after three years and did not proceed, as did Condillac, Turgot and Morellet, to the “licence” in Theology, which required another two years’ study and the day-long defence of a thesis.
This account of his studies shows that Condillac was the very opposite of a self-taught man as his own comment that one had to begin one’s studies afresh on leaving the schools led some to suppose falsely. His remark indicated rather that he saw education as a life-long process, a view underlined when he wrote to his former pupil, the prince of Parma:
It is for you Monseigneur, to instruct yourself alone from now on. I have already prepared you for that and even made you used to doing so. . . for the best education is not that which we owe to our teachers; it is that which we have given ourselves. (Condillac, Oeuvres de Condillac, 20:540–41)
In April 1740 Jean-Jacques Rousseau entered the household of Condillac’s eldest brother, Jean Bonnot de Mably, at Lyons, as tutor to his small sons, and it is from his Confessions written in the late 1760s that some human detail about the abbé de Condillac and his brothers, Jean and Gabriel, emerges.
Many of Rousseau’s friends and acquaintances commented on his prickliness and persecution complex. His time in the Mably household saw him caught pilfering wine from the cellar, in addition to which he says he was a failure as a tutor and fell in love with Mme de Mably. Yet he left voluntarily a year later and revisited the family in 1742. He says of M. de Mably that he behaved honourably and sensibly in the matter of the wine, that “he was a very courteous man; beneath a severity of manner in keeping with his employment he concealed a really gentle disposition and a rare kind-heartedness. He was just and equitable and—strange though this may seem in a police officer—he was also most humane” (Rousseau, Confessions, 255). Rousseau struck up a friendly acquaintance with the two abbés in Lyons, and their contacts continued over many years, in Condillac’s case until about a year before Rousseau’s death.
Through their recommendation of Paris lodgings to him we learn that at some point Condillac and his brother had lodged in the rue des Cordiers near the Sorbonne in what Rousseau called “a wretched room, in a wretched house, in a wretched street” (ibid., 266), student life no less! More interesting is his comment in Émile that “at a fairly advanced age” Condillac passed within his family and among his friends as of limited intelligence (esprit borné). Considering the great success of the abbé Mably, who gained European fame for his writings on history and government, and the worldly success of Jean and François Bonnot, intellectual and conversational standards must have been high in their company. It will not be surprising that Étienne, the much younger brother whose education had been delayed, preferred to keep his own counsel. Rousseau added, “Suddenly he showed himself as a philosopher and I do not doubt that posterity will mark out an honourable and distinguished place for him among the best reasoners and the most profound metaphysicians of his century” (Rousseau, Émile, 102).
Referring to the year 1745, Rousseau said in his Confessions:
I had also become intimate with the abbé de Condillac, who, like myself, cut no figure in the literary world, but who was born to be what he has become to-day. I was the first, perhaps, to see his stature, and to estimate him at his true worth. He seemed also to have taken a liking to me; and whilst I was confined to my room in the Rue Jean-Saint-Denis near the Opera, writing my Hesiod act, he sometimes came to take a solitary Dutch treat of a dinner with me. He was then engaged on his Essai sur l’origine des connaissances humaines which was his first work. When it was finished, the problem was to find a bookseller who would undertake it. Paris booksellers are hard and overbearing with authors who are just beginning; and metaphysics, not then in fashion, did not offer a very attractive subject. I spoke to Diderot about Condillac and his work; and introduced them to one another. They were born to agree, and they did so. Diderot induced Durand the bookseller to take the Abbé’s manuscript, and that great meta-physician received from his first book—and that almost as a favour—a hundred crowns [300 livres], which perhaps he would not have earned but for me. As we all lived in widely different quarters the three of us met once a week at the Hôtel du Panier-Fleuri. These little weekly dinners must greatly have pleased Diderot; for though he almost always failed to keep his appointments, even with women, he never missed one of them. (324)
Their friendship must have become less close for a while, since a decade later Rousseau says, “Lacking a single friend who would be entirely mine, I required friends whose energies would overcome my inertia. It was for this reason that I cultivated and strengthened my relationship with Diderot and the Abbé de Condillac” (ibid., 387).
In the 1740s Condillac saw much of his brother Gabriel, the abbé de Mably, himself the author of a very successful work, Parallèle des romains et des français par rapport au gouvernement, published in 1740. The abbé de Mably worked as secretary for the minister, Cardinal de Tencin, from 1742 to around 1747. The Cardinal’s sister, Mme de Tencin, a former nun and mistress of the Regent Orléans, held a renowned salon where the two brothers met such distinguished men of letters as the baron de Montesquieu, the abbés Prévost and de St Pierre, the playwright Marivaux and the historian Duclos, who was still close to Condillac twenty years later.5 D’Alembert, the mathematician and philosophe, a Member of the Académie from 1754, was her unacknowledged, illegitimate son.
Until the publication of Condillac’s first book in 1746, his brother will doubtless have seemed his mentor. However, the abbé de Mably separated himself increasingly from the philosophes and moved out to Marly, while Condillac with his further philosophical publications was in close contact with Diderot and d’Alembert.
In 1748 Condillac had published anonymously the dissertation Les monades, with which he won a prize awarded by the Academy of Berlin. Maupertuis, the French President of the Academy of Berlin, may have been influential in securing Condillac’s election to the Academy in 1749. Condillac wrote to him on Christmas Day 1749 to express his pleasure and gratitude at being elected to that body. Their correspondence corrects the mistaken later date of Condillac’s election given by Puchesse.6
In the letter Condillac said that it was a friend, M. d’Alembert, who had given him the news. In two more letters in 1750 to Maupertuis, Condillac refers to d’Alembert, saying in a postscript to that of 12 August from Segrez, “We shall just make one parcel of our letters, M. d’Alembert and I: we are at the home of Monsieur the Marquis d’Argenson where one meets the best society” (Condillac, Oeuvres de Condillac, 2:535). D’Alembert was known to all as the wittiest of guests, so those later writers who have wished to show Condillac as dry, retiring and boring have to explain away their pleasure in each other’s company. Marmontel, speaking of Mme Geoffrin’s salon wrote, “Of that gathering, the gayest, most animated man, the most amusing in his gaiety, was d’Alembert. . . he made one forget in him the philosopher and scholar, to see only the lovable individual” (Marmontel, Mémoires, 1:300). When a false rumour of Condillac’s death circulated in 1764 d’Alembert wrote to Voltaire that had it been true, “for my part I should have been distraught” (Voltaire, Correspondance, 57:4).
An important correspondent of Condillac’s in the late 1740s was the Genevan mathematician and philosopher Gabriel Cramer. Cramer was ten years older than Condillac and had an international reputation: he was a member of the Royal Society of London and of the Academy of Berlin. Condillac welcomed his comments on his philosophical ideas and hoped to visit him in Geneva in the autumn of 1749, but events precluded this.
Their correspondence mentions an especially close friend of Condillac’s, Mlle Ferrand, a mathematician who commanded respect.7 It has been suggested that she may have been the model for Mlle de la Chaux, Diderot’s “femme savante,” shown by Laurence Bongie to be a fictitious character, though her salon is one that Puchesse had Condillac and Mably attending.8 Condillac gave Mlle Ferrand the credit for exposing logical problems in his early work, and said that, though she had no pretensions to authorship, hers was the major contribution to his Traité des sensations, published in 1754, after her death.9 This work has been the most highly regarded of Condillac’s philosophical writings. It received favourable scholarly attention in the Jesuit Journal de Trévoux, while the readership of the Gazette littéraire was informed of it by the Chevalier Grimm whose generally hostile and patronising tone may reflect cooling relations between his close friend Diderot and Condillac. Reviewing this work Grimm attacked Condillac’s celebrated device of gradually giving life to a statue, saying, “This idea, in itself poetic, has not been embellished in this Treatise by the decoration of poetry, nor by the wealth of a brilliant imagination. Our author has treated it with all the wisdom of a philosopher, and all the subtlety of a metaphysician” (Raynal et al. Correspondance Littéraire, 2:438). Buffon too had a statue in his Histoire naturelle which Grimm preferred, “The first movement of M. de Buffon’s statue is to stretch out its hand to seize the sunshine. What a notion! what poetry!” (ibid., 442).10
None the less Grimm was clearly moved by Condillac’s dedication of the work. He wrote, “If we believe M. l’abbé de Condillac, Mlle Ferrand had a very large hand in the Traité des sensations, and I do not know if this admission does more honour to her or to the person who makes it. What is certain is that the introduction is not the least interesting part of the Traité. Our Philosopher, in speaking of Mlle Ferrand, delivers the eulogy from his own heart, and one likes to read an author who has the fortune to know the price of friendship” (ibid., 438).
The dedication of the 1754 book was to the comtesse de Vassé who lived in the same house as Mlle Ferrand, her close friend, and held a salon alone after Mlle Ferrand’s death. The two women sheltered the Young Pretender, who was supposed to have been expelled from France as a term of the 1748 peace treaty between Britain and France. We are told that he listened in concealment to the conversations at their salon.11 Mlle Ferrand left Condillac 6,000 livres in her will in 1752 to buy books. Mme de Vassé was to die in 1768 in Condillac’s Paris home.
The salon of the wealthy bourgeoise Mme Geoffrin was for the 1750s what Mme de Tencin’s had been a decade earlier. Puchesse relied on Lemonnier’s painting entitled Une soirée chez Mme Geoffrin en 1755 to assert that Condillac attended her salon in the distinguished company shown. Unfortunately, this picture is worthless as an historical record and was only composed for the Empress Josephine half a century later. It may simply be taken as indicating those who were regarded as the most distinguished Frenchmen of the mid-century.12
Philosopher with an International Reputation
By the mid-1750s Condillac was a philosopher with an international reputation. He was an admirer of Locke, whose works he had only read in translation, as he himself stated.13 He demanded a scienti fic approach based on observation.
In 1749 his Traité des systèmes appeared. This, we learn from Condillac, in a letter to Cramer, particularly impressed Diderot.14 In 1755 his Traité des animaux was published, seen primarily as an attack on Buffon. His dissertation on freedom of December 1754 is often not separately mentioned, as it was described as an extract from his Traité des sensations. Jacques Proust deals at length with the controversy on human free will as against determinism which involved many men of letters at the time and ended with the publication of Voltaire’s Candide in 1759. He concludes, “Condillac like Locke and Diderot absolutely rejects the traditional theory of freedom. . . But while Diderot, in reaction, radically affirms determinism, Condillac keeps the notion and the name of freedom, without however making the useful distinction Locke made between freedom and free-will.” Proust regards Condillac’s position as “lame, philosophically contradictory, and in addition lacking in clarity” (Proust, Diderot et l’Encyclopédie, 321).
This was all dangerous territory. Diderot was imprisoned for some time in Vincennes by order of a lettre de cachet after the publication of his Lettre sur les aveugles in 1749. So one may wonder whether Condillac was thinking in part of the censorship. Yet here one might quote what Condillac wrote of himself in 1747 to Cramer, “I follow experience, when it leaves me, I no longer have a guide and I stop. That is all I can do as a philosopher. As a theologian, faith comes to my aid when experience ceases to enlighten me” (Condillac, Lettres inédites, 82).
The best known publication of these years in France was the Encyclopédie which was principally Diderot’s undertaking, though d’Alembert and a host of other scholars were involved. The first volume appeared in 1751. It has been reckoned on grounds of style and content that many entries could be by Condillac, but all that is certain is that in the entry Divination Diderot gives a free résumé of Condillac’s Traité des systèmes, and refers to him by name.15
Bongie comments that Condillac’s and Diderot’s friendship lapsed soon after the mid-century. However, they were closely studying each other’s work during the 1750s, and Diderot commended Condillac’s later Cours d’études to the Empress Catherine of Russia in 1775, calling it an excellent work of an excellent instructor (Diderot, Oeuvres complètes, 15:814–15).
Bongie comments that Diderot himself said of his Lettre sur les sourds et muets, addressed to the abbé Batteux, that it could just as well have been addressed to the abbé de Condillac or to M. du Marsais. He regards Diderot as having let Condillac down by not defending him against the charges of plagiarism levelled at him by Grimm, Buffon and Fréron. He points out that Condillac’s letter of 12 August 1750 to Maupertuis shows that he was already working on his statue. Condillac’s own words to Maupertuis in the same letter indicate how his way of going about his writing could have delayed publication. He wrote:
I have several works that I set about in turn: the one I am concerned with at present deals with the origin and generation of feeling. It is a statue which I bring to life step by step. I have found some problems in it, but I think I have overcome them. I am going to leave it to one side for a few months in my usual way. (Condillac, Oeuvres philosophiques, 2:535)
Condillac and the Censorship
The intellectual excitement of that decade alarmed the orthodox and conservative. The case of the abbé Prades alerted the censorship, not all hostile to the encyclopedists and philosophes. The thesis of the abbé Prades had been accepted by the Sorbonne in December 1751, but in early 1752 the Parlement of Paris, or supreme law court, hastened to attack it as undermining the miracles of the Gospels. The thesis was condemned to be burned, and the abbé had to leave France. Since the abbé’s earlier theses had won golden opinions and he had been seen as a promising theologian, the Parlement’s reaction might seem strange. The abbé’s known collaboration in the Encyclopédie is plausibly thought to have brought the censorship troubles upon him.16 Morellet commented that after the Prades incident he continued to see Diderot, but in secret.
Voltaire wrote to Helvétius in 1766, when falsely denying that he was the author of a book attributed to a long-dead abbé, “It is doubtless better to be ignored and in peace than to be known and persecuted” (Helvétius, Correspondance générale, 3:264–65). Rousseau was about to be arrested when he fled France in 1762 after the publication of Émile, and Voltaire spent many years abroad, fearful to return to France, though his reputation and reader-ship grew in his absence.
Condillac himself had some trouble with the censorship: the abbé de Mably wrote to a friend in May 1744 that the censor was holding up Condillac’s first book, Essai sur l’origine des connoissances humaines, for a long time. But it was not only the government censorship that had the power to have books banned, confiscated or burned and their authors pursued. In 1759, following the uproar over Helvétius’s book De l’esprit, seen as atheistic, the Parlement of Paris undertook a general revision of all the “dangerous” books that had appeared in the previous ten years. The Procurator General, Joly de Fleury, intended to denounce the Encyclopédie, De l’esprit, Diderot’s philosophical works Lettre sur les sourds et muets and Lettre sur les aveugles, some works by Voltaire, Rousseau’s Discours sur l’origine et la fondation de l’inégalité, and Condillac’s Traité des sensations. On further reflection he omitted Diderot’s and Condillac’s works, and the Parlement’s decree was declared inoperative for encroaching on the Chancellor’s authority. The Chancellor was none other than the father of Malesherbes, who was in charge of the printing houses and whom he had appointed.
The legislation in force in eighteenth-century France regarding the production and distribution of books was draconian. As an example, the declaration of April 1757 punished with death all authors, editors, printers or bookcarriers of works tending to attack religion, to excite opposition and undermine the king’s authority. It condemned to the galleys for life or for a period of time anyone who had not obeyed all the formalities. All authors were supposed to submit their completed manuscripts to a royal censor and to obtain letters of privilege for them, or, in the case of cheap works or short lea flets, from the lieutenant of police. The privileges were registered, and printing was not permitted until all the written formalities had been completed. There were more than a hundred censors, all in Paris, who were supposed to have specialist knowledge. Diderot and Condillac themselves worked as censors.17 After the censor had given his approbation he could be in trouble as much as the author if the work caused a stir.
Practice modified the law. Already towards the end of Louis XIV’s reign, tacit permissions were introduced. They were given by the censor who signed the approval and signed the manuscript or a printed copy. The list was held at the Syndical Chamber of the Parisian booksellers. But as they were not sealed with the Great Seal, and as they were not printed at the end of the work, the public did not know who had given the approval. This was the only way for foreign printers to bring themselves within the law. As Belin said, in general the censors were not very hard on these foreign editions which it was difficult to modify and often cruel to prohibit. Often the author’s nationality and his religion were taken into account, and a book was authorised which would not have been approved if its author had been French, because it was the work of a non-Catholic republican. And then certain over-bold passages were ignored in consideration of the difficulty of asking for corrections.
The practice of French authors to pretend that their works had been printed abroad or were even by pretended foreign authors can be understood in the light of this. Malesherbes explained the “simple tolerances”:
Often the need to allow a book was felt and yet one did not want to admit that one was permitting it; so one did not wish to give any express permission: for example that was what happened when a foreign edition had been made of some books which displeased the clergy and hence some cardinal minister, and this edition had spread in France despite obstacles placed in its way.
In that case and in many others one took the course of saying to a bookseller that he could undertake his edition, but secretly; that the police would pretend to be unaware of it and would not have it seized; and since one could not foresee just how far the anger of the clergy and the law would go, one warned him always to be on the ready to make his edition disappear as soon as he was warned, and he was promised advanced warning before his premises were searched. (Malesherbes, Mémoire, 254)
It is not known how Condillac navigated these treacherous waters, but he obtained warm reviews from the Jesuit Journal de Trévoux for all his philosophical works. About his 1749 Traité des systèmes the reviewer wrote, “This essay bears all the characteristics of works which deserve to pass to posterity, great clarity in style, much force and exactness in reasoning, and an exact and rigorous analysis” (Journal de Trévoux, 44:469). Though the reviewer did not share Condillac’s aversion to systems, he praised him for his examples, which he said did more than prove: “they enlighten, instruct and develop very tricky questions which needed to pass through the crucible of the metaphysical and geometrical spirit of M. l’abbé de Condillac.” Described as “An avowed partisan of Locke, he has attacked the thought of Descartes and Malebranche with more method, clarity and success than the English philosopher; but like the English philosopher he is happier destroying than building.” By 1755 the Journal notes that Condillac’s Traité des sensations is seen by some critics as exuding materialism, “a hateful suspicion” which the reviewer does not share and which should not be advanced without the strongest proof (ibid., 60:165). In Condillac’s defence he says, “Besides the author holds forth so learnedly on the Creation and on revelation that in all these respects his orthodoxy seems beyond attack.” However, in the same year at the end of a very long review of Condillac’s Traité des animaux the reviewer concludes, “One hopes that he will set out in full what one finds here in the two chapters, the one on ‘The existence and attributes of God’ and the other on ‘Principles of Morality’; and that he will also work on a truth which is only stated at the end of the seventh chapter of the second part, namely that true Philosophy cannot be contrary to Faith” (ibid., 726).
Director of Studies to the Prince of Parma
Don Philippe, the Duke of Parma, was the husband of Louis XV’s eldest daughter, Louise Élisabeth. He was also son of the Bourbon King of Spain by his second wife, Elisabeth Farnese. The appointment of a tutor to their son was therefore of interest to both courts. Enlightenment had secured a hold in the French court where, in Mme de Pompadour’s time as official royal mistress, Quesnay and Marmontel were among those who benefited from her patronage. Official Spanish and Italian circles were less receptive. Madame Élisabeth was well aware that the Jesuits would be put out at Condillac’s appointment as he would displace one of their number. She wrote to her husband that she had consulted many people on Condillac’s fitness for the post with regard to his orthodoxy and noted that there was murmuring about his rather metaphysical book (she is almost certainly referring to the Traité des sensations), but she adds firmly, “Our son must be a good catholic and not a doctor of the Church: it would be pointless for him to study all the controversies” (Bédarida, Parme et la France, 412). Since the Queen and the powerful minister the duc de Choiseul are also said to have wanted Condillac, he took up this prestigious position.
Condillac was at the same time seen by the doyen of the philosophes, Voltaire, as one of them. In a letter of 1756, Voltaire wrote to him saying that at last he had had time to read Condillac with the attention he merited. Voltaire knew the Essai sur l’origine des connaissances humaines, the Traité des sensations and the Traité des animaux. He suggested that Condillac might consider writing another work bringing together the ideas in these books. He goes on to say that the country is better than Paris for bringing thoughts together and diffidently suggests that Condillac might like to come to his home. Voltaire was ready to be Condillac’s “elderly disciple” and offered his niece, Mme Denis, as a younger one, adding that Condillac would find plenty of people ready to take his dictation. The letter is important evidence that Condillac’s problems with his eyesight were chronic. As Voltaire wrote, “I know that physically speaking you have eyesight as weak as the eyes of your mind are penetrating” (Correspondance, 30:142). In 1758, when the news that Condillac was to be tutor to the Prince of Parma had reached him, Voltaire wrote to Mme de Dompierre asking her if she knew whether the Prince was to be taught in Paris or whether Condillac was to go to Parma. In the latter case he hoped she would have the courage to persuade him to travel via Geneva and Turin, in which case Voltaire planned aloud to meet him at Lausanne, take him to his home, “Les Délices,” and then meander to the Duchy (ibid., 33:78–79).
In a letter to d’Alembert of 1760 Voltaire is in no doubt of the acceptability of the education that the Prince will receive, “It seems to me that the Parmesan Prince is well encircled. He will have a Condillac and a Leire [Deleyre, later a regicide]. If with that he becomes a bigot, grace must be strong” (ibid., 44:159). Nothing had caused Voltaire to change his mind by December 1764 when false rumours of Condillac’s death were current. Then, writing to Count d’Argental, representative of the court of Parma at Versailles, and his wife, Voltaire said, “We lose in him a good philosopher, a good enemy of superstition” (ibid., 66:198).
The Duchy, in which Condillac arrived in April 1758 to instruct his seven-year-old pupil, already had a considerable French presence. Its chief minister Dutillot, marquis de Felino, had begun his career attached to the Spanish court, but he was a major figure of the French Enlightenment and brought the latest books to the Duchy. Bédarida states that Dutillot knew Quesnay’s Tableau économique from 1758 and his Maximes générales from 1760.18 The ducal library had works by Voltaire, subscribed to the Encyclopédie and the Gazette littéraire de l’Europe and bought an Essai sur le luxe, which Bonnet, the Duke’s Parisian banker and man of affairs, said was essential reading. Seventeenth-century classics were well represented in the library, which also acquired new works such as Rousseau’s, his Julie, ou la nouvelle Héloïse, his Lettres de la montagne, and we are told by Mme de Chenonceaux that Condillac had his young pupil studying the Contrat social.19 Father Paciaudi, himself a noted bibliophile, was busy adding to the library classical texts, French history and legal collections besides building up a renowned collection of English works. These are said in part to have come to Parma because of Condillac’s reputation in England.
Dutillot was anxious to improve Parma’s economy, its agriculture and industries by introducing more up-to-date French practice. He was also ready to learn from England, and received Duhamel’s treatise on Jethro Tull’s method of cultivation in 1751. In 1756 he wanted a subscription to Du Pont de Nemours’s Journal de l’agriculture, du commerce et des finances. He head-hunted the famous printer Giambattista Bodoni to set up a press that would be the envy of other states. Though Bodoni and Condillac were not at Parma at the same time, it was his press that was to print the Cours d’études, the works based on Condillac’s lessons to the Prince. The books of that press are now collectors’ items.
Condillac was to receive every consideration at Parma. He had an annual income of 12,000 French livres. He seems to have had carte blanche with regard to books for his pupil, and he rapidly set about getting the very expensive (2,400 livres), and exceedingly rare, Ad usum Delphini, the course of studies written for the Grand Dauphin. From 1761 he had Deleyre, the young friend of Rousseau, to help him by making résumés of books too long for his pupil. Deleyre should have helped with the latter’s historical instruction but does not appear to have been up to the task, so Condillac enlisted the help of his own brother, the abbé de Mably. In 1761 he received an early version of Mably’s Observations sur l’histoire de France, and the volume Étude d’histoire in the Cours d’études was by Mably’s hand though it is thought Condillac toned down some republican enthusiasms. Mably was handsomely thanked and rewarded by the Prince in December 1765.20
Claude Bonnet had instructions from Dutillot that Condillac was to be among a favoured few whose parcels could go by the official courier, saving expense and four days’ delay. In 1765 Condillac was specially mentioned with Keralio and the bailli de Rohan as a person to whom the newly appointed French ambassador, baron de La Houze, should pay attention.21
While at Parma Condillac seems to have found plenty of congenial company. In later years he was still in touch with his colleague the under-governor, baron Keralio, jokingly known as “the Ogre.” Condillac had his own nickname, “the Great Grumbler,” which he happily applied to himself. The picture some have given of an austere and unsympathetic teacher is belied by Condillac’s letter to Dutillot of 31 January 1761. Self-mockingly he begins, “Monsieur, I should really like to grumble.” His plaint is of postal delays between the Minister’s residence at Colorno and the capital, Parma. He goes on to say that the dismantleable “plan of defence” that Louis XV’s engineers had made so that the little Prince could study the art of war had arrived. He continues:
All is executed with great clarity and great precision. Nothing is more instructive; and that makes me want to learn warfare. We are agreed that the Prince will give me lessons when he has profited from those of M. de Keralio. If he makes a good pupil out of me he will not be ignorant. (Bédarida, “Lettres inédites,” 243–44)22
He got on well with the Jesuit mathematicians Fathers Jacquier and Le Sueur and with the librarian Father Paciaudi. Letters between Deleyre, Rousseau and their and Condillac’s mutual friend Mme de Chenonceaux show him walking in the park at Colorno with Deleyre and his wife. The visiting physician, Tronchin, took him to task after he had eaten twelve small birds, ortolans, at one sitting, and noticed that the lesson had some effect as he only ate six at the next meal!23 He became a member of an Arcadian assembly with the name Auronte, and the poet Frugoni noted his fondness for wine in a poem he wrote to celebrate the philosopher’s recovery from smallpox.24 Condillac’s letter to his good friend and patron Louis Jules Mancini Mazarin, duc de Nivernais, when the latter had been looking for accommodation for Condillac on his return to Paris, said, “I prefer a few more bottles of wine in my cellar and less splendour in my furnishing and lodgings.”25 This letter is a reminder that, though Condillac had not yet learnt that he was to have a life pension in addition to the income from his abbey, he was never to know the wealth of an abbé Véri with his countless servants and six-horse coach. Condillac said he would just take on two lackeys on his return to France.
It would be wrong to think that Condillac was deprived of intellectual stimulation in Parma. The ducal family was intelligent. Before her marriage to the Habsburg Archduke Joseph, they were searching for a German translation of Racine’s “Télémaque” so that Don Ferdinand’s sister, the Infanta Isabelle-Marie, could learn the language. Don Ferdinand was such an apt pupil that already in 1763 the end of Condillac’s task was seen as approaching. Don Philippe and his son were keen on the theatre, and they and many courtiers read a great deal. The duc de Nivernais teasingly pitied Condillac for only being able to hear concerts three or four times a week.26
Throughout his time in Parma Condillac and Nivernais kept up a regular correspondence. The Duke was ambassador to the court of Frederick of Prussia in 1756 and a plenipotentiary for France in the negotiations with England which led to the Peace of Paris of 1763. He was also highly regarded as a man of letters, and he was a Member of the French Academy from 1743. Their correspondence reads as letters between friends for all the careful respect for rank. Condillac nevertheless had in the Duke a powerful acquaintance who could use his influence both for Condillac and, at his request, for his family.
Family ties and obligations were important to Condillac throughout his life. In 1761 a very awkward problem had to be resolved when the duc de Choiseul gave the succession to the post of Provost of the Maréchaussée, held by the recently deceased M. de Mably, to his son-in-law and not to one of his sons. The recipient was later to be officially separated from his wife and may have misrepresented the family’s wishes. Apparently the abbé de Mably should have handled the matter. Condillac was left to sort it all out from a distance. Nivernais gave sensible advice and all was put right, so an important source of income was not lost to Condillac’s nephews. It can be seen from Condillac’s letter that he had already had other correspondence about this.27 Again the help of well-placed persons was invoked to gain entry for his niece, Mlle de Marsan, to the exclusive school of Saint-Cyr. Dutillot, d’Argental and Nivernais all worked to this end, and the young girl was admitted in April 1762 accompanied by the Parmesan Minister Plenipotentiary.28
When a promised French benefice was unforthcoming after Condillac had held his post for four years, many important individuals busily pressed his claims on Louis XV and on the bishop of Orléans whose dossier it was. The bishop had to deal with so many claimants that his polite fending off of the representations on Condillac’s behalf does not necessarily indicate hostility to the philosopher. Despite the urgings of the Dukes of Nivernais and Choiseul-Praslin, of Dutillot, d’Argental and even Don Philippe, it probably took Condillac’s near-miraculous recovery from smallpox to obtain for him in 1765 the titular abbacy of Mureau in the diocese of Toul.29
Smallpox was a scourge of even affluent society in the eighteenth century. There was great interest in the risks of inoculation as against its benefits, and several of Condillac’s letters show his readiness to obtain information about it for his correspondents who included La Condamine and the Italian nobleman and famous jurist Beccaria.30 In November 1764 Condillac expected soon to be free from his post, when instead he was fighting for his life. The Court was preparing for the isolation of Don Ferdinand who was to be inoculated. There is no question of Condillac’s having caught smallpox from his pupil’s inoculation, since such was the fear of the disease that strict isolation of the Prince with the minimum of attendants plus his doctor had been arranged.31
Condillac was likewise closely confined in his illness, and, when his life was despaired of, instructions were given for the rapid sealing of his wardrobes and trunks in the event of his death. So close was that supposed to be that the church had already been draped for his burial. The bells of the convent precincts within which his house lay had been kept silent when he was critically ill, a considerate action for which the Duke thanked the abbess. It seems that he would have left many grieving friends and a pious reputation among the common people, since they believed, according to Deleyre, that he had gone to Heaven and returned. Certainly concern for his recovery was not confined to Parma. Deleyre gives the touching story of Condillac spending what he thought were his last hours dictating a letter to the Prince, his pupil, and after it was done asking to be left alone. Deleyre added that his recovery was complete. But Deleyre was writing in the following February, and his main point was that Condillac’s very weak eyesight had received no further damage.32 Dutillot, writing to d’Argental at the end of December, spoke of his being in a very weak state.33
According to Puchesse, after his recovery Condillac stayed on at Parma in order to attend the marriage of another sister of his pupil, Princess Marie-Louise, to the heir to the Spanish King.34 This marriage, that of Isabelle-Marie to the future Emperor, and the later one of Don Ferdinand to another daughter of the Empress Maria Theresa show the important role of the Parmesan family in French diplomacy. The Family Compact of 1743 had already strengthened ties between the two major Bourbon houses.
However, Puchesse was mistaken. The wedding was to take place in Spain, and Condillac was not even part of Don Philippe’s train accompanying the princess. Condillac still held the position of a gentleman of the Chamber given him by Don Philippe, but he was at leisure to visit Venice with Father Paciaudi in the spring of 1765.35 They were received by the best company. Condillac was clearly delighted by the casini, small apartments that the nobility had near the cathedral of San Marco. In the eighteenth century, women too wanted them as salons for receiving guests, for concerts and for gaming. It seems that their reputation was not always above suspicion.
Writing on his return to Parma to Sagramoso, a Veronese diplomat who had been their guide, Condillac warmly thanks him, hopes that they are beginning a long friendship and asks him to convey his thanks to the Erizzo family.36 In June, in another letter to Sagramoso, Condillac hopes he may have a further visit to Venice and writes delightfully, “While waiting, I should like to know just how long Madame Cordemila will be at her country house. It is not that I dare flatter myself that I shall be able to go there, but I may at least occupy myself with the thought, and who knows if it will not come true? A metaphysician can do a lot with ideas” (ibid., 82). Condillac was on the point of leaving for the baths of Lucca and reports from there in mid-July.
However, the death of the Duke, Don Philippe, from smallpox in July 1765 forced Condillac’s return to Parma before he had seen anything of Tuscany. In a letter of 18 August to Sagramoso Condillac gives an interesting account of how his pupil reacted to becoming sovereign of the duchy:
On my arrival I found the young prince like a lion. His situation goads him: he remembers things he has learnt, he explains them to himself, he watches over himself, he wants to do well, he wishes to inform himself; in a word, he is affected by emulation, the only thing he had lacked, since he has intelligence and facility. (Piva, “Condillac a Venezia,” 83)
Condillac also informs Sagramoso that his time as tutor has ended. In the autumn he was at Genoa and then Milan, where he met the Marchese Beccaria whose Dei Delitti e delle pene gained much attention in France. Beccaria was himself honoured to meet Condillac as he wrote to Morellet.37 A letter of Father Jacquier shows Condillac in his company at Rome in March. In June Condillac was at Naples, in July at Florence, then at Lucca again and back at Parma in September. He returned to Paris in early March 1767.
The Mémoires secrets chose to see Condillac as returning a disappointed man, no decoration, no bishopric, etc., to obscurity.38 That was far from the truth. In October his impending election to the Académie française was being talked about, though his brother was thought to be a rival for the place. On 22 October d’Alembert wrote to inform Voltaire that Condillac was to take the chair made vacant by the death of the abbé Olivet. Voltaire applauded the choice.39 The inaugural ceremony on 22 December was attended by a crowd of fashionable ladies, though one observer considered that only the witty fables of the duc de Nivernais would have saved them from boredom.40 Voltaire read Condillac’s speech and approved it in a letter to Charles Bordes.41 It is interesting that Voltaire describes the Académie as a company dedicated uniquely to eloquence and poetry, so he has to defend the intrusion of philosophy.
Condillac was paid an unusual favour by being summoned to an audience with the King to present his Académie speech. He was afterwards presented to the Dauphin and the royal children. Lafaye in the nineteenth-century Encyclopédie des gens du monde said that the reine-mère, though he must have meant Queen Marie Leszcynska, told him she wished he would undertake the education of the sons of the Dauphin, who later ruled as Louis XVI, Louis XVIII and Charles X. “He declined such a dangerous honour, fearing failure. . . and because he did not want to stir up powerful enmities against him” (Sgard, Corpus Condillac, 91). Later in his life Condillac crossed out the whole passage dealing with his personal relations with Louis XV from his Académie speech.42
As Condillac had tasted freedom in his Italian travels and as he had good company in friends such as Nivernais and Duclos, a quieter life was doubtless inviting. It never seemed likely that the man whose letters show a delight in company would flee it on his return to France. Fortunately the team of scholars who produced Corpus Condillac have seen the Registers of the Académie française which contradict Puchesse’s assertion that he did not often attend its sessions.43 In fact he was present at 316 sessions, and his attendance only drops markedly in 1774, by which time he was living in Flux. Even so it is only in the last two years of his life that he attended just once a year.44
Philosophes were strongly represented in the Académie when Condillac joined it, though the King expected to have a veto over appointments to its ranks, and this became an issue when Suard was first elected. The philosophes were accepted in society, whereas the Jesuits were being expelled from country after country. At the reception given for the Danish monarch on 20 November 1768 Condillac was in the company of d’Alembert, l’abbé Barthélemy, Bernard, Diderot, Grimm, Helvétius, d’Holbach, Marmontel and Morellet among others.45 Voltaire could be confident that d’Alembert would pass on to Condillac suggested material for his acceptance speech to the Académie.
Condillac seems to have had an uninterrupted friendship with d’Alembert, whereas the absence of any mention of him in the correspondence between Mme d’Epinay and the abbé Galiani covering the years after Condillac’s return from Italy until he moved from Paris to the Loire valley in 1773 indicates that he was distanced from the society of Diderot and Grimm.
A passage from the count d’Angivilliers’ memoirs, Épisodes de ma vie, quoted in a footnote to Helvétius’s correspondence, says that Mme de Vassé, whose character he could not praise too much, had bound him in close friendship with the brothers Mably and Condillac, her close friends who had fallen out with each other. There is no detail of the quarrel nor of its seriousness. Happily, d’Angivilliers says that he and she reunited the brothers. Mme de Vassé died from cancer in Condillac’s Paris home on 2 June 1768 in the presence of d’Angivilliers and Condillac.46 D’Angivilliers adds that she was equally a friend of the “fanatic and madman, Helvétius.” He was writ ing after the Revolution when the philosophes, especially those whose books had offended, were held responsible for it. It seems quite likely that Condillac saw something of Helvétius too. What is certain is that in 1776 Condillac was staying with the widowed Mme Helvétius at Auteuil when he wrote to the Marquis Rangoni.47
The general view held in philosophical circles was that, though Condillac had done an excellent job in educating his Prince, the latter was a dull and ungrateful pupil. In this context it is particularly interesting to look at letters that Condillac wrote to Don Ferdinand from Paris in 1767 and 1768. In one of May 1767 Condillac tells how he was received at Court and questioned about his pupil. He says that he related the positive things about his pupil but kept quiet about the negative ones. He challenges his former pupil to apply himself so that this picture of him may become true. He continues:
it would be a mortal disappointment for me if the public did not estimate you to the extent that I love you. Try, Monseigneur, to write some letters to me in which there will be something to show how you are thinking, that you are reflecting and that you are occupying yourself usefully. Your style must show that you find pleasure in your diversions, that you find pleasure in your occupations, that you apply yourself to everything, and that you do nothing with indifference. (Condillac, Oeuvres philosophiques, 2:547)
An August letter shows that the now sovereign Duke had written to Condillac, who, after giving him much instruction on his Latin, goes on to tell him that he has shown the letter to the duc de Nivernais, the comtesse de Rochefort, the historian Duclos and assembled company where he was dining. It met with approval in that distinguished company, but Condillac still thought exhortations to continue improving were necessary. He gave advice on letter-writing. Here the contemporary practice of handing round letters and even writing them for publication should be held in mind: “letters and conversations should only be an exchange [commerce] of enlightenment, of friendship, of entertainment, there should be no constraint, for the absence of freedom is the ruin of trade [commerce]” (ibid., 548). The metaphor seems revealing for the later author of Le Commerce et le Gouvernement.
When Condillac writes in October of the same year, he thanks the Duke for the dinner service he has been given and says he has sent more history notebooks and will continue to do so in order that Don Ferdinand may have enough to read in the winter. He again praises him for his letter which he has shown to the same named individuals. The next letter is a year later, and his praise is this time for the Duke’s feeling when Dutillot’s life was in danger. He also praises his bearing during a visit to Mantua. He writes:
you conducted yourself like an angel, and I have been delighted at it. However I have kept on delaying complimenting you on it because I found myself in very sad circumstances, but, Monseigneur, you must always scold your tutor when he does not write to you; because if you do not make me reproaches I shall be in the right to reproach you, I shall say that you do not care about having my news, since you do not ask me for it, so you see that my silence puts you in the wrong. You must realize that sovereigns are often obliged to make the first moves, and that no one goes up to them unless they cover half the way, or even more. . .
What, Monseigneur, are your pursuits and your entertainments? For I am interested in both. As for me, I am waiting with impatience for the news of your marriage, then I shall have the pleasure of paying court to you, and it will be a real holiday for me. I hope it will be for next Spring, I shall see the start of the happiness you promise yourself; you will be happy, Monseigneur, I hope and I wish for it with all my heart. (Ibid., 2:549)
The relationship between them sounds affectionate at this point, and the Duke is still ready to make an effort for his former tutor. However, later events such as Don Ferdinand’s sanction of the interference with the printing of the Cours d’études show that the Duke turned against Condillac. The usual explanation is that under the influence of his Habsburg wife, Don Ferdinand became a bigoted Catholic: it is not documented by further correspondence between them.
During the 1770s Condillac’s presence has been noted at several salons, those of Mlle de Lespinasse and Mme du Bocage and also “chez Collé” twice a week. Nivernais had arranged for him to have the use of two small boxes at the Comédie française. None of this fits the picture of a man who avoided society and was awkward in it that some nineteenth-century accounts, and some twentieth-century accounts relying on them, would have one see.48
Julie de Lespinasse was a remarkable woman. Like d’Alembert, she was the illegitimate child of an aristocrat. Her mother had her educated, but she was left with little money on her mother’s death, and Mme du Deffand’s patronage rescued her from work as a governess.49 She helped with her salon from 1754 to 1764, until a quarrel with her patroness led to her setting up her own. Marmontel in his memoirs sang her praises in encouraging conversation, adding, “And take good note that the heads which she stirred at her will were neither feeble nor frivolous; Condillac and Turgot were among them; d’Alembert was like a simple docile child in her company” (Marmontel, Mémoires, 1:415). Others who attended her salon were Condorcet, Suard, Morellet, Galiani, Mably, Shelburne, d’Argenson, Diderot, Thomas.50 This does not mean that all were attending at the same time; Galiani, for instance, had had to leave France in June 1769 on the orders of the duc de Choiseul.
Condillac, the Academician, writer and man in society, was also commendatory abbot of Mureau in the diocese of Toul. Business connected with the abbey, the reward for his service as tutor to Louis XV’s grandson, took some of his time in these years. It is thought improbable that he ever visited Mureau. However, he had to employ lawyers to represent his and the community’s property interests in tithes.51 His income from the abbey was 8,000 livres a year, the same as his pension from Parma, and together with other investment income will have enabled him to keep up his accommodation at Paris and pursue his writing without financial worries.
Retirement to Flux and Final Publications
A major development in Condillac’s later life was the purchase in April 1773 of the property of Flux near Beaugency which bordered the river Loire. It was Condillac’s money in large part which enabled this house with chapel and land to be acquired by Mme de Sainte-Foy, his niece. The property is thought to have been bought with serious cultivation in mind. It was his chief home until his death, though for a number of years he also kept a Paris apartment, and he continued to visit Paris even when he no longer had any place there. Family tradition, as given by his great-great-nephew, Count Baguenault de Puchesse, the grandson of Mme de Sainte-Foy, has it that life in the country stimulated his interest in economic debate.
Condillac had trouble in publishing his Cours d’études which was to establish him as an enlightened educator and make his pupil famous. Initially all went well. Bodoni began work on it shortly after his arrival in Parma in 1768, which indicates Dutillot’s personal interest in the task. Condillac busied himself with correcting manuscripts and began receiving volumes from the Bodoni press with a view to an additional French edition.
Dutillot was brusquely dismissed in mid-1771; but his Spanish successor, Llano, let the printing continue, and the great enterprise was finished by the end of 1772. However, the Church could operate its separate censorship. Count Lalatta, bishop of Parma, opposed publication. The work was given to Father Andrea Mazza to examine. He found in it the mark of a free-thinker, bold comments on the Church’s deeds and great scorn towards the Spanish and their rulers. No printed volumes could leave Bodoni’s workshops.52
If de Loynes d’Autroche was correct, Condillac was faced with a huge task as some of his manuscripts of volumes in the Cours d’études had been lost in transit from Parma to France, and he had to begin them afresh since his request for printed versions was refused. By that time he is believed to have had just four of the printed volumes.53 Condillac’s industriousness was remarkable as he managed none the less to have a French edition prepared, which came out in 1775. The coincidence in time with Turgot’s ministry is surely significant. The decision to allow publication infuriated the authorities in Parma, and a proclamation in the Duke’s name denied the false and calumnious pretence that the works had issued from the Duchy’s press and ordered any copies found to be surrendered. However, in 1782, after Condillac’s death, the Parma edition eventually appeared, though with the false date of the French Deux Ponts edition.54
Le Commerce et le Gouvernement also had problems with the censorship. Since the edict of 1764 that allowed the export of grain from France, a debate had raged on that policy and on the wisdom or otherwise of keeping police regulation of grain sales and movements. This is discussed in detail in the next chapter (pp. 45–50). Another matter which involved people of importance was the revocation of the Compagnie des Indes’ monopoly of trade with India and the Indies. Condillac has much to say about both these controversial matters, though he does not enter into personalities. While Turgot’s views will have carried influence, he was not all-powerful in matters of censorship,55 and even the philosophes had been split over free trade in grain. Diderot defended his friend the abbé Galiani’s Dialogues sur le commerce des bleds, which Turgot and the abbé Morellet, whom he encouraged to write against it, saw as pernicious. So it is hardly surprising that there were those in official circles who would not welcome the intervention of such a distinguished scholar in this debate. Grimm’s review in the Correspondance littéraire noted that the book gained attention for having been held up at the Syndical Chamber.56 This is a useful reminder that then as now knowledge that a book was considered controversial could considerably aid its sales. Turgot may have helped to have it released to the censor. Senneville gave it a tacit permission which is on record, as customary. His conclusion was, “This work can only be useful. The author has never crossed the borders of the discussion and truth can only gain from such works.” He gave some indication why Condillac’s book may have met with opposition when he speculated that theologians and the dévots were likely to protest at the chapter on usury. But he cheered himself with: “I know that people with an axe to grind do not find me zealous enough, but I am what I am” (Belin, Le commerce des livres, 32).57
Other evidence confirms that its publication was delayed for at least seven months. Before the end of July 1775, Diderot wrote in his Plan d’une université for Catherine the Great of Russia that “M. l’abbé de Condillac has just published the elements of commerce considered in relation to government. It is a simple, clear and exact work” (Diderot, Oeuvres complètes, 11:815). Later, in December 1775, Diderot wrote to Catherine that she had not received Le Commerce et le Gouvernement because it had not yet appeared (ibid., 1124). It was actually published in February 1776, but Diderot had known of its general content, the subject of the next chapter, at least seven months previously.
Despite difficulties with the censorship and advancing years, Condillac was not ready to rest on his considerable laurels as a scholar. He was only too happy to provide a new text on logic for the Poles. His brother, the abbé de Mably, had written a constitution for the Polish state, and French influence was significant in Poland. Count Potocki approached Condillac in September 1777, after an international competition in 1775 to provide books for the Palatinate schools had failed to produce a work of sufficient quality. On completion of the manuscript in June 1778—true to his promise it was ready before the deadline of December 1779—Condillac wrote to Potocki saying that he had sent it to Keralio in Paris from whom it could be collected or who would forward it if requested. He said that, while not wanting to make them wait for the work, he had not rushed it. He was eager to show that he had given it great thought and tailored it to their needs. The Education Commission seems to have been delighted as he was given two gold medals as well as the 100 gold florins promised in the competition.58
Condillac’s friendship with mathematicians has been noted, and his last, posthumously published work was the Langue des calculs. The Mémoires secrets also mention in September 1780 that when he died he was writing a dictionary which they called a vast task which had daunted all the other philosophes.59 This is the Dictionnaire des synonymes which his niece found among his papers at Flux. Puchesse saw it as ready for publication, but it probably missed being included in the twenty-three-volume 1798 Oeuvres as it was not among the corrected manuscripts intended for a full edition of all his works that passed to the abbé de Mably on Condillac’s death. Condillac had obtained a privilege in his own name for the publication of his complete works in 1778.60
During Condillac’s time in Parma, news and advice was passing from him to Rousseau through their mutual friends such as Mme de Chenonceaux and Deleyre. Only a fraction of Condillac’s correspondence survives,61 so it is impossible to know how far they subsequently kept in touch. However, in 1776 Rousseau was desperate to bring his Dialogues, which he considered his masterpiece, to the attention of the world. He saw himself beset by schemers and initially had the notion that he would circumvent them by leaving the manuscript on the high altar of Notre Dame and that this would bring it to the King’s attention. Thwarted by finding access to the altar barred, he soon persuaded himself that his idea had been absurd and suddenly thought of his old friend Condillac whom he had not seen for some time and who was opportunely visiting Paris. He left the manuscript with the abbé, expecting on his return to be greeted with the excitement that recognition of a masterpiece warranted. He regarded himself as betrayed when Condillac merely received him courteously and offered to undertake the production of an edition of Rousseau’s collected works. Rousseau saw this helpful offer as a sign that Condillac had been influenced by his enemies and rejected it. Even so he recounted that he saw his old friend a few more times, and it was to Condillac that he entrusted the manuscript for safe-keeping with instructions that it was not to be opened until the next century.62 This undertaking may indicate some courage on Condillac’s part, to judge from the extreme reluctance of the abbé de Reyrac to accept custody of it from Condillac on his deathbed.63
Puchesse describes Condillac in his last years as “Always serious, thoughtful, preoccupied” (Puchesse, Condillac, 166–67),64 but this sits uneasily with the statements which he quotes from Condillac’s friend Claude de Loynes d’Autroche who delivered the customary eulogy to the Royal Agricultural Society of Orléans in 1781. D’Autroche had been made a member of the Society on the same day as Condillac, 5 February 1776. He wrote of his friend:
To escape the distressing sight of ever-growing corruption in the Capital, near the end of his days the abbé de Condillac chose a country retreat in our district: it is here that in the midst of the nature that he loved, he whiled away days that were as peaceful and as pure as his heart; it is in this refuge, beautified by his taste, that he loved to entertain and that he received real friends with such true warmth, and with such affecting satisfaction. . . (Puchesse, Condillac, 166)
D’Autroche was thirty years younger than Condillac and a great traveller; he was interested in the classics and later translated Horace’s Odes. He owned extensive lands and a fine château dominating the Loire valley. Other friends were local clergy and magistrates who included Le Trosne, the economist.65
Later disputes between Mme de Sainte-Foy and her family over the Flux estate have brought speculation that Condillac’s last years may have been unhappy, and his shortness of temper in these years is commented upon.66 What seems certain from their own words is that he retained the affection of his two surviving elder brothers, Mably, who was to be his literary executor, and Saint-Marcellin.67
Condillac’s death on 3 August 1780 was sudden and occurred shortly after his return from a visit to Paris. Accounts of it are incompatible. The family tradition given by Puchesse is that Condillac ascribed his last illness to a bad chocolate drink he had at Condorcet’s house. As he says that Condillac disliked Condorcet this may just have been a grumbling reaction when the abbé felt unwell on his journey home.68 A medical account has it that he fell victim to a fever that was going through the neighbourhood of Flux.69
Accounts of his funeral tally well. It was movingly described by Lablée, a local lawyer who said he was present: “It was at harvest-time. His corpse escorted by a man of affairs had been carried across the fields to the small parish of the burgh of Lailly. Bare-legged peasants wearing chasubles sang the mass. The corpse was buried without the slightest mark, in a small cemetery open on all sides, and I doubt one will be able to find any trace of it” (Rousseau, Correspondance générale, 20:368–69). Several local clergy witnessed the burial certificate. Mme de Sainte-Foy’s absence is not noteworthy, as it was not customary at the time for women to attend funerals.
Condillac’s posthumous reputation has rested chiefly on his philosophical works. Puchesse, who traced his posthumous reputation, says that his Traité des systémes was on university syllabuses in the early years of this century.70 Since the Second World War, there appears to have been a revived interest in his philosophy in Italy as well as in France. On a recent visit to Grenoble we learnt that his works are on the syllabus of the university of his native town. The New Cambridge Modern History devotes equal space to his contributions to education and to philosophy. The significance of Commerce and Government has received less attention. Its reception by the physiocrats when it appeared, and its growing reputation in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, are discussed in the next chapter.
The Economics of the Abbé de Condillac
Condillac ’s Decision to Write “Commerce and Government”
In March 1776, when Condillac published Commerce and Government, he was sixty-one years old, the same age as François Quesnay when he first published on economics. When he returned from Parma in 1767 he devoted the next eight years to the seventeen-volume Cours d’études, his summary of everything a prince needed to know to govern well. This took him for the first time towards economics because there are reflections on how economies should be governed. The following statement is of especial interest because it differs so startlingly from the Colbertian dirigisme which had dominated French economic policy during most of the previous century:
Governing an economy requires a comprehensive genius who knows everything, who weighs everything, and who directs all the resources of government in perfect harmony. It would be difficult, or rather impossible to find such a genius. The best intentioned and most skilful statesmen have made mistakes through ignorance or through over hasty action, for it is difficult to see all and bring all together without sometimes falling into error. . . statesmen never do more harm than when they wish to interfere in everything. It is wisest to confine oneself to preventing abuses and otherwise to pursue a policy of laissez-faire. (Condillac, Cours d’études, 20:488)
A year later, in 1776, Adam Smith, who knew Condillac’s philosophy, produced a strikingly similar statement in The Wealth of Nations:
The statesman, who should attempt to direct private people in what manner they ought to employ their capitals, would not only load himself with a most unnecessary attention, but assume an authority which could safely be trusted, not only to no single person, but to no council or senate whatever, and which would nowhere be so dangerous as in the hands of a man who had folly and presumption enough to fancy himself fit to exercise it. (456)
Condillac’s advice to a future sovereign therefore led him towards the noninterventionist laissez-faire approach to economic policy which Adam Smith went on to establish so commandingly.
After the publication of the Cours d’études, Condillac followed his contributions to philosophy and a royal education with an account of economics and of economic policy, which he presented, like much of his philosophy, in a single elegant volume.
The first part of Commerce and Government is entitled “Elementary Propositions on Commerce, determined according to the assumptions or principles of Economic Science,” and it provides a step-by-step statement of economic principles to establish the political economy which will most advance the wealth of nations. One of Condillac’s notable philosophical works, his Traité des sensations, had opened with the celebrated initial assumption, referred to in the previous chapter, that human beings are statues. Condillac then relaxed this assumption in successive chapters to arrive at a clear account of complex human sensations. His economics follows a similar methodology. He opens Chapter 1 with a corn model (with corn the only commodity that is produced and consumed), and he gradually relaxes the assumptions to provide a general account of a real economy.
He believed that political economy could be presented simply and comprehensibly by creating a clear language for the representation of economic analysis (which up to then had been lacking) and by using this to move forward, chapter by chapter, to provide a comprehensive account of complex economies. Commerce and Government opens with a striking claim in Condillac’s first paragraph:
Each science requires a special language, because each science has ideas which are unique to it. It seems that we should begin by forming this language; but we begin by speaking and writing and the language remains to be created. That is the position of Economic Science, the subject of this very work. It is, among other matters, the need which I propose to meet. (CG 93)71
In the edition published posthumously in 1798 in the twenty-three-volume collection of his Oeuvres, Condillac adds the footnote:
Since the first edition of this work I have shown in my Logic that the art of dealing well with a science comes down to the art of creating its language well. Also, when I said that the language of Economic Science needed to be created, the public, for whom this science was still often no more than an indecipherable code, had no difficulty in believing this: because it thought, justly, that a language that is not understood is a badly constructed language. (CG 93)
These are statements with which philosophers will have more sympathy than will economists, who still produce “indecipherable codes.”
Condillac’s approach is very much that of a philosopher of the first rank who is seeking to establish a sound basis for economic analysis, and he completes his First Part account of economic principles in 55,000 words. The considerably shorter 35,000-word Second Part, entitled “Commerce and government considered in relation to each other following some assumptions,” has the same title as he gives to his book, with the addition of the words “following some assumptions.” Condillac uses the analysis he develops in the First Part to elucidate the practical questions he is addressing. The expositional method he uses is generally a comparison between abstract countries in which some pursue disastrous policies while others adopt correct policies and perform far more successfully. But the pretence that it is hypothetical countries he is comparing is discarded in Chapter 15, subtitled “Obstacles to the circulation of grain when the government wishes to restore to trade, the freedom it took from it,” which is concerned with the actual impact of the attempted reform of food markets by the great economist-administrator Anne Robert Jacques Turgot who became Controller-General of Finances in 1774 and still held that position when the book was published. In a Third Part, which Condillac foreshadowed in 1776 but never completed, he proposed to consider what he had established in the First and Second Parts “according to the facts in order to rest as much on experience as on reasoning” (CG 93). Richard Cantillon is said to have followed his largely theoretical Essai sur la nature du commerce en générale (1755) with an empirical second volume which has not survived,72 and it has been suggested that Karl Marx’s plan for the third volume of Capital (which he did not live to complete) included an empirical account of the trade cycle in nineteenth-century Britain.73 Condillac might have found it equally challenging to provide an account of “the facts” to conclude Commerce and Government, but this is actually complete as it stands. The theoretical First Part and its development in the Second Part to illuminate practical questions and especially Turgot’s proposed reforms produce a wholly coherent book.
On 9 October 1776, seven months after its publication, Condillac wrote to the marquis de Rangoni about the circumstances which had led him to write and publish Commerce and Government:
I only began to occupy myself with political economy when I wished to produce my work on commerce and government. I worked to inform myself, I had absolutely no preconceptions and I saw nothing but disorder and confusion in the writings being produced in France. You see by this, Monsieur, that I am not sufficiently well versed in this genre to flatter myself that I can be as useful to you as I would wish. I have shown abuses, I have shown the order that must be substituted, and that part was easy: the difficulty is to show the way to set about this problem. I have not known how to involve myself in this question, perhaps I shall deal with it in the third part [of the book] on which I shall not begin to work for the time being. Perhaps also, it may only be possible to indicate the means in a very imprecise fashion, as they must vary with circumstances.
I have long been convinced that a science that is well treated comes down to a well constructed language and I have applied myself to the creation of the language of economic science. Unfortunately I was obliged to work in haste to take advantage of a favourable opportunity, for I foresaw that if there were changes in the ministry, I would not be able to get to press. That is why I have not always put all the precision I should have liked into this work. I have just made some essential corrections to it. . . In any case these changes bear on points of detail which change no essentials and which are only needed to prevent awkward difficulties. (Sgard, Corpus Condillac, 154–55)
The previous chapter describes how the publication of the Cours d’études was much delayed by censors in both Parma and Paris, and Condillac evidently expected that Turgot’s reforming ministry would have sufficient influence to minimise interruptions to the publication of Commerce and Government. It was shown in the previous chapter that its publication was none the less delayed, but perhaps by no more than seven months. As Condillac had envisaged, the lively national interest in political economy during Turgot’s ministry offered him the best chance of publishing Commerce and Government uncensored.
Since 1761 Turgot had been a reforming Intendant in Limoges, in effect head of local government there. In 1769 he had published one of the great classical economic texts, Réflexions sur la formation et la distribution des richesses, and his numerous publications commanded high respect. He corresponded regularly with Condorcet and Du Pont de Nemours, the father of the founders of the United States chemical empire. He had always been close to the philosophes and the encylopédistes as well as to the leading physiocrat économistes, and he was elected President of the Académie des Belles Lettres in 1778. He was well known to Benjamin Franklin, Edward Gibbon and Adam Smith. His personal cabinet included Du Pont, and room was also found for Quesnay de Saint-Germain, a grandson of the founder of physiocracy.74
The appointment of this distinguished philosopher-economist to administer the finances of France with a personal cabinet which included leading économistes aroused great contemporary interest in economic analysis and policy. It was widely understood that a further attempt would be made to apply the economic analysis of the dominant physiocratic school to the problems of the French economy. The physiocrats believed that the economy’s taxable surplus originated in agriculture, so this was where taxes must come from, and that increasing the prosperity of France depended above all on raising agricultural profitability through free trade in food. It was evident that a further attempt would be made to liberalise food markets: reforms had been introduced in 1763–64, but these had been reversed in 1770 when they led to large price increases. The renewed attempt to implement policies based on these doctrines aroused much debate, and those like Condillac who were outside the administration naturally wished to participate in the accompanying excitement and interest in political economy.
Peter Groenewegen has suggested in The New Palgrave: A dictionary of economics that Condillac wrote Commerce and Government “to assist his friend Turgot in the difficulties he faced in 1775 as finance minister over the grain riots induced by his restoration of free trade in food” (Groenewegen, “Condillac,” 1:565). The above letter to Rangoni includes the more general intention to add a book which clarified the foundations of political economy to his extensive published contributions. The level of interest in economics in 1775–76 created the opportunity to combine this with a highly relevant contribution to contemporary debate. No personal correspondence between Turgot and Condillac has been found, but they moved in similarly distinguished circles; it was shown in the previous chapter that they both belonged to Julie de Lespinasse’s salon (and doubtless to others), and there may well have been personal friendship in addition. The economic principles which were to emerge from Condillac’s study of political economy were actually close to Turgot’s. It will emerge that Condillac derived his understanding of the nature of the efficient food markets on which the success of Turgot’s reforms depended from his new theory of value and utility, the core of the theoretical First Part of Commerce and Government.
Condillac’s Innovative Analysis of Value and Utility
The most original contribution of Commerce and Government is Condillac’s theory of value and utility. Here Condillac the philosopher produced a new theoretical approach which only began to be appreciated nearly a century after his death.
Terence Hutchison concluded in his magisterial Before Adam Smith that “Condillac’s work represented the crowning achievement in the long and distinguished line of Italian and French theorists of utility and subjective value,” and that “it is Condillac, with his emphasis on ignorance, uncertainty and erroneous expectations, who has stronger claims than anyone else to be regarded as the founding father of subjectivist analysis in economic theory” (331). It will emerge below (p. 71) that in the 1870s, Stanley Jevons, Carl Menger and Léon Walras, the originators of the marginal revolution, each recognised the importance of Condillac’s contribution. Condillac’s account of the relationship between the utility derivable from commodities, the demand for them, and the impact this had on the motivation to produce was nearly one hundred years ahead of its time.
Condillac the subjective philosopher sought to explain the motivation of producers and consumers, and he did this by suggesting that producers work to obtain utility. Farmers and manufacturers produce to generate “value” for themselves which depends on the personal utilities they derive. In his first chapter Condillac explains that “The value of things is. . . founded on their utility” (CG 99), and he goes on to say: “it is natural that a more strongly felt need gives things a greater value, and that a less pressing need gives them less value. The value of things therefore grows with scarcity and decreases with abundance.” The marginal utility of a single commodity can indeed fall to zero: “Value can even diminish in abundance to vanishing point. For instance, a surplus good will be without value every time that one can do nothing with it, since then it would be completely useless” (CG 100).
Farmers will only increase their output of grain if they can exchange their surplus over their own needs, which offers them no value because it has no marginal utility, for something else that they desire, and the same is true of the producers of all other commodities. Wherever production is surplus to a farmer’s own needs, an absence of adequate opportunities to market an excess will remove any incentive to produce beyond the level which satisfies the farmer’s personal desires. The absence of adequate markets will therefore have highly adverse effects on their incentive to produce and hence on the supply side of the economy. Cultivators’ food that is surplus to their own requirements will only have value for them if they can exchange it for something else which will actually provide utility:
The surplus [of farmers]. . . is wealth, so long as they can find an outlet for it; because they procure for themselves something that has value for them, and they hand over something which has value for others.
If they were unable to make exchanges, their surplus would stay with them, and it would have no value for them. (CG 121)
Farmers’ incentives to produce beyond their own needs will depend on what they can consume with the money they receive from the sale of their surplus produce and the utility they derive from the goods they are entitled to buy, which will include manufactures. Cultivators of the land will obtain utility from manufactures as well as food, so their motivation to produce food will be influenced by the availability and cost of manufactures. There is indeed a mutual interchange between farmers who produce products that manufacturers require and manufacturers who produce products which farmers will find useful. Merchants are needed to arrange the exchange of surplus food for the products of artisans:
Now merchants are the channels of communication through which the surplus runs. From places where it has no value it passes into places where it gains value, and wherever it settles it becomes wealth. . . .
A spring which disappears into rocks and sand is not wealth for me; but it becomes such, if I build an aqueduct to draw it to my meadows. This spring represents the surplus products for which we are indebted to the settlers [colons], and the aqueduct represents the merchants. (CG 121)
As a result of this process whereby merchants arrange the marketing of the agricultural surplus, cultivators are induced to raise their level of production:
If one compares the state of deprivation our tribe is in, when, without artisans, without merchants, it is confined to goods of prime need, with the state of plenty in which it finds itself, when, through the hard work of artisans and merchants, it enjoys goods of secondary need, that is, of a host of things that habit turns into needs for it; one will understand that the work of artisans and merchants is as much a source of wealth for it, as the very work of the farmers. . . .
It is therefore proved that in the final analysis industry is also a source of wealth. . . It has been much obscured by some writers. (CG 125)
This statement was provocative to the économistes who held that agriculture was the sole source of wealth. Condillac argues in contrast in a much quoted passage that farmers, manufacturers and merchants combine to create wealth:
All the groups, each busy with its own tasks, come together in competition to increase the mass of wealth, or the abundance of goods which have value. . . .
It is the farmer who provides all the primary material. But such primary material, as would be useless and without value in his hands, becomes useful and obtains value when the artisan has found the way to make it serve the needs of society.
With each skill that begins, with each advance it makes, the farmer thus acquires new wealth, because he finds value in a product which previously had none.
This product, given value by the artisan, gives a fresh spur to commerce for which it is a new stock in trade; and it becomes a new source of wealth for the farmer because, as each product acquires value, he makes new consumption for himself.
Thus it is that all, farmers, merchants, artisans, come together to increase the mass of wealth. (CG 124–25)
Condillac is arguing that the free exchange of commodities within an economy, each exchange benefiting both seller and buyer, leads to continual advances in the range of products available to the population and to increases in wealth. His account of a competitive economy generalises into a detailed multi-sectoral presentation:
The farmer, busy in the fields, would not have the time free to make himself a coat, to build a house, to forge weapons, and he would not have the aptitude because these jobs require knowledge and a skill he does not possess.
Several groups will therefore form. Besides that of the farmers, there will be tailors, architects, armourers. . . .
When I distinguish four classes it is because we must choose a number. The tribe may and even must have many more. They will multiply in proportion as the arts come into being, and make progress. (CG 124)
all the citizens are given a wage with regard to each other. If the artisan and the merchant are paid by the farmer to whom they sell, the farmer is in his turn paid by the artisan and the merchant to whom he sells, and each of them gets paid for his work. (CG 127)
This mutual financial interdependence of farmers, merchants and artisans reads admirably in the late twentieth century. Condillac’s analysis shows how each class, generating utility for itself, interacts with others to create a highly effective economy.
In addition to arguing that the free domestic exchange of goods will always raise economic welfare, he extends his argument internationally and suggests that countries will always gain from unrestricted trade. He indicated that in 1776 no country had free trade in food and that France would gain by being the first to free both exports and imports:
France, we assume, is alone in giving export full, complete, permanent freedom without restriction, limitation or interruption. All her ports are always open and no one ever demands any duty on entry or exit there.
I say that, on this assumption, the trade in grain must be more profitable for France than for any other nation. (CG 230)
Whether she sells or whether she buys grain, France will, on our assumption, thus have a great advantage over the nations which forbid export and import. . . Because by forbidding export, they reduce the number of purchasers, and consequently they sell at a lower price; and by forbidding import they buy at a higher price, because they reduce the number of those selling to them. (CG 231)
He argued that the same would be true for each European nation:
We may conclude that if the states of Europe persist in denying complete freedom to trade, they will never be as rich or as populous as they might be; that if one of them gave complete and permanent liberty, while the others only allowed a temporary and restrained freedom, it would be, other things being equal, the richest of all; and that finally, if all ceased to place obstacles in the way of commerce, they would all be as rich as they could be; and then their respective wealth would depend. . . on the fertility of the soil and the hard work of its inhabitants. (CG 231)
Thus the removal of all barriers to trade would maximise the wealth of each country. Condillac’s economic reasoning led him to comprehensive support for domestic and international competition and the belief that this would make countries “as rich as they could be.” That was the most that economic policy could contribute; the rest would depend on “the fertility of the soil and the hard work of its inhabitants.”
Working from the analysis of human motivation which was subsequently adopted by most twentieth-century economists, Condillac provided the intellectual foundations for the establishment of the conditions for the maximisation of wealth, both nationally and internationally. With free markets, the free exchange of commodities would contribute to the utility and add to the wealth of all. It was this that led the French Nobel Prizewinner in Economics, Maurice Allais, to comment that Condillac had developed “a general theory of the generation of surpluses, of general economic equilibrium, and of maximal efficiency” (Allais, “General theory,” 174).
“Commerce and Government” and Turgot’s Reform Programme
The policy analysis of the Second Part of Commerce and Government follows the theoretical presentation of the First Part with an account of how the existence of adequate markets plays a central role in providing sufficient incentives for the supply side of the economy. Condillac’s 1776 account of the practical difficulties of Turgot’s reform programme is dominated by the absence of sufficient well-informed merchants to allow markets to work effectively.
In France from the 1750s onwards an influential circle of economic writers had been arguing the case for freeing agricultural markets. Local famines were frequent, and much of the population lived on the borderline of subsistence. Above all, Paris, the centre of political power, where discontent could most easily undermine governments, needed to be fed.75 Governments accepted an obligation to feed Paris, which often involved expensive purchases of grain by vast state-funded organisations and its sale at controlled prices which the people could afford.
The consequent network of government purchasing and price controls was buttressed by a system of supervision of grain markets: Condillac describes its condition at the time Turgot became Controller-General in August 1774, when it was:
forbidden to all persons to undertake trade in grain without having obtained permission for it from officials appointed for that purpose.
forbidden to all others, farmers or landowners to interfere directly or indirectly in carrying out this trade.
Any association between grain merchants was forbidden unless it had been authorized.
forbidden to pay a deposit on corn or to buy corn unripe, standing, before the harvest.
forbidden to sell corn other than in the markets.
forbidden to make hoards of grain.
forbidden to let it move from one province into another without having obtained permission. (CG 292–93)
The disadvantages were compounded by corruption, for:
You could not carry on the corn trade at all without having obtained. . . permission. But it was not enough to ask for it in order to get it; you also needed to have protection; and protection was hardly ever granted except to those who would pay for it, or who would give up a share in their profit. (CG 295)
From the 1750s onwards many economic writers had begun to compare the dirigisme of French grain markets with the comparative freedom of England’s, where competition reinforced by tariffprotection to establish a minimum price for farmers allowed people to be fed without famine and without any need for an apparatus of government control. When Quesnay first published “Fermiers” and “Grains” in the Encyclopédie in 1756, Vincent Gournay and Claude-Jacques Herbert, in his Essai sur la police générale des grains (1753), had already argued for the benefits from deregulated food markets. Quesnay went on to invent the Tableau économique (according to Marx “an extremely brilliant conception, incontestably the most brilliant for which political economy had up to then been responsible”: Marx, Theories of Surplus Value, 1:344) which formed the core of a complex economic model that demonstrated how the finances of France could be enhanced through agricultural reforms in which the freeing of food markets was of central importance.76 These combined influences led to a first attempt at liberalisation in 1763. The special attraction of the liberalisation of grain to those who governed France was the claim that freeing agricultural markets would sharply raise rents and therefore government revenues, which would place the finances of the Kingdom on a sound basis.
Clément-Charles-François de Laverdy, the Controller-General who attempted to liberalise food markets in 1763–64, called upon Turgot and Du Pont, who were to be central to the 1774 reforms about which Condillac writes in Commerce and Government, to draft the relevant decree.77 They both believed that Laverdy’s reforms did not go far enough. Laverdy retained the obligation to feed Paris, and he retained the bureaucratic apparatus to intervene to protect consumers whenever he judged this necessary. That meant that farmers and merchants who had correctly foreseen shortages could find that the exceptional profits which might have resulted from their superior foresight would be wiped out because the state could come in and undercut them by provisioning markets at a loss. Turgot and Du Pont insisted that markets must become entirely free if they were to work as they should. Laverdy also only offered limited and localised freedom to export. The liberalisers believed that France would only become entirely free from famine if a regular export surplus provided a cushion for home consumption in years of poor harvests. The higher prices exports offered would also raise agricultural profits and rents and therefore royal revenues.
Laverdy’s reforms produced disappointing results; food prices rose sharply immediately afterwards, and there were years of famine. The reforms had been welcomed in the agricultural regions which had benefited from higher food prices, but consumer-dominated Paris, which was politically far more important, had been hostile throughout. Laverdy was dismissed in 1768, and from 1770 to 1774 his reforms were reversed: while the liberalisers blamed their failure on their incompleteness.
In 1770 Ferdinando Galiani published a scathing assault on the reformers in Dialogues sur le commerce des bleds which had a great impact, especially because of its wit. Voltaire told Diderot that he had found it a mixture of Plato and Molière: “no one has ever reasoned better nor more amusingly” (Kaplan, Bread, Politics, 593). Galiani especially emphasised the arrogance of the liberalisers who believed that they had practical solutions to all problems, and he drew particular attention to the starvation of those whom free markets temporarily overlooked.78 One of his most quoted remarks denounces the liberalisers’ argument that free markets would rapidly move food from where it was abundant to where it was scarce: “beware that it takes time to send word from a deficit town to a surplus town that grain is lacking and still more time for this grain to arrive. ‘The theory goes well but the problem goes badly,’ for after a week of waiting ‘this insect called man’ will die of hunger” (Galiani, Dialogues sur le commerce, 221–23).
Faced by the practical failure of Laverdy’s reforms and powerful published assaults on the liberal analysis, the new Controller-General, Joseph-Marie Terray, entirely restored the previous system of regulation and even sought to widen its scope: he asked for detailed statistics of grain production and consumption from every region of France to provide the foundations for a national food policy.79 But the vast expense of his provisioning policies and their relative ineffectiveness led to another change of policy in 1774. The liberalisers succeeded in persuading the new King, Louis XVI, that Laverdy’s reforms had failed because of their incompleteness and that Turgot, one of the principal advisers in 1764, should be given the opportunity to carry the reform programme forward to an extent where it could become effective. Soon after he became Controller-General, Turgot appointed Du Pont, another of Laverdy’s principal advisers, Inspector-General of Commerce.
Turgot’s appointment as Controller-General appeared a new dawn to those who favoured reform. D’Alembert wrote, “If good does not come about, one must conclude that good cannot be done” (Turgot, Oeuvres de Turgot, 4:20). But Galiani foresaw a very different outcome. He wrote to Mme d’Epinay from Naples on 17 September 1774 immediately he heard of the appointment: “At last M. Turgot is Controller-General. He will stay in place too short a time to carry out his systems. . . He will wish to do good, will meet thorny problems. . . His credit will fall, he will be hated, people will say that he is not up to the task, enthusiasm for him will cool, he will resign or be dismissed, and once and for all one will realise the error of having given a position such as his to a very virtuous and philosophical man in a monarchy such as yours. Free export of corn will be what will break his neck. Remember that” (Galiani, Correspondance, 4:183–84).
Turgot was appointed on 24 August 1774, and just three weeks later on 13 September he persuaded the King to issue an edict which allowed anyone to trade in food throughout France however and whenever he wished, and to forbid interference with commercial activity under all circumstances by all officials. Turgot even ordered that Terray’s statistics, which were to form the foundation for a national food policy, should no longer be collected.80 Since newly liberalised markets would provide the food the French people needed without even occasional interventions, the government had no need for information about harvests and the quantity of food in granaries.
Turgot accompanied the 13 September decree with a 3,000-word preamble which provided a comprehensive account of the economic reasoning behind his liberal approach to food markets. This was indeed the same as that of the physiocrats and Condillac.
According to this introduction, each province from time to time grew less or more food than it needed because of the vagaries of harvests, and suffered from alternations of distress and glut (non-valeur) when it could not sell its harvest for an adequate price. There were two ways of dealing with the difficulty: “by means of commerce left to itself, or through the intervention of government.” The preamble continued, “Reflection and experience prove alike that in order to furnish the needs of the people, the approach of free commerce is the most certain, the fastest acting, the least costly and the least subject to inconvenience” (Turgot, Oeuvres de Turgot, 4:203).
Turgot’s preamble went on to claim scope for the merchants of France to respond to market forces which much exceeded what Condillac judged to be their actual condition in 1776, when he wrote that the people:
regarded the grain merchants as grasping men who took advantage of their needs. Once that opinion was rooted, a person could not engage in this trade if he cared for his reputation: it had to be left to those vile creatures who counted money for everything and honour for nothing. (CG 300)
In contrast Turgot asserts that:
Merchants, through the huge amount of the capital that they have at their command, and the extent of their connections with other merchants, by the promptitude and exactness of the advice they receive, by the economy that they understand how to place in their operations, by their practical experience in all matters of commerce, have the means and resources lacking to the most far-sighted, clear thinking and most energetic administrators. (Turgot, Oeuvres de Turgot, 4:203)
Turgot’s merchants are not recognisably drawn from the same citizens as Condillac’s, and Turgot’s assumption that this wealthy, sophisticated, well-informed and competitive merchant class already existed was to prove a fatal error in Condillac’s account of the failure of his policies. But Condillac entirely agreed on the importance of a well-informed merchant class if grain markets were to function effectively:
Driven by. . . self-interest, merchants, great and small, multiplied by reason of our needs, will cause the corn to circulate, will put it everywhere at a level, everywhere at the true price [vrai-prix]. (CG 196–97)
In dealing with the circulation of cereals we have seen that it can only be carried out by a host of merchants spread everywhere. These merchants are so many canals through which the grain circulates. Now these canals had been broken and it was time to to mend them.
Indeed, to succeed in any type of trade it is not enough to have the freedom to carry it on; one must. . . have obtained contacts, and these contacts can only be the fruits of experience, which is often slow. One must also have capital, stores, carters, agents, correspondents; in a word one must have taken many precautions and many measures. (CG 298)
Condillac therefore entirely shared Turgot’s analysis that a large, well-informed merchant class was necessary, but he doubted its effectiveness until time and experience had created the infrastructure that successful markets require.
In the preamble to the September 1774 decree, Turgot went on to explain how freely functioning markets could not be relied upon to remedy food shortages if the state’s humanitarian response as under previous Controllers-General was to supply food to the needy at a price below the one that markets would establish:
when the government takes upon itself the task of providing for the people’s subsistence by carrying on the grain trade, it will be participating alone in this trade, because, since it is able to sell at a loss, no merchant can without foolhardiness expose himself to its competition. (Turgot, Oeuvres de Turgot, 4:204)
Turgot believed that governments could only hold grain prices down briefly and intermittently:
Whatever means the Government employs, whatever sums it lavishes, experience has shown on all occasions that it can never prevent corn from being expensive when harvests are bad.
If, by forceful means it succeeds in delaying this necessary effect, this can only be in a particular place, for a very short period; and in believing it can come to the relief of the people, it will only ensure their wretchedness and aggravate their condition. (Ibid., 206)
The artificially low prices are “alms to the rich” at least as much as to the poor, because the well-off consume large amounts of grain themselves and through their households, while the greedy will buy as much as they can at the low prices and store it. Then the authorities will seek to punish such behaviour through terrifying searches of the houses of citizens.
An organisation which seeks to use the resources of government to provision cannot succeed, because:
Its attention is divided between too many objects, and it cannot be as active as merchants who are occupied with their trade alone.
Its operations, nearly always precipitous, will be conducted in a wasteful manner.
The agents it employs, having no interest in economy, buy more dearly, transport at much greater expense, store the grain with less care; much grain is lost and goes mouldy.
These agents may through lack of skill or even fraud, excessively inflate the cost of their operations.
Even when they are totally innocent they cannot avoid being suspected and the suspicion always rebounds on the Administration which employs them. (Ibid., 204)
So for Turgot, as for Condillac, there is no alternative to an attempt at a market solution, but both acknowledge that the price of grain has to be high enough to create the necessary incentive to supply. Turgot insists that competition will prevent the emergence of any monopoly and hold merchants’ profits down, “from which it arises that in years of dearth the price of grain incorporates little more than the inevitable increase which comes from the costs and risks of transporting or guarding the grain in times of need and hunger” (ibid., 204).
Condillac fully acknowledges that the vrai-prix which would follow the establishment of free markets might well be higher than the one which had prevailed previously: “it must be seen that that high price is not dearness; it is the true price fixed by competition, a true price which has its high, its low and its middle limit” (CG 230), while in his introduction to the September 1774 decree Turgot only accepts that prices will be high after bad harvests.
Partly because Turgot wrongly assumed the influence of a competitive merchant class which did not as yet exist, he underestimated the possibility that the freeing of markets would lead to substantial price increases. The price of corn began to rise immediately after the September 1774 decree took effect, and it became 50 per cent higher in 1775 than in 1774.81 By being able to sell corn in provinces other than their own, farmers were able to receive higher prices, and those who bought bread had to pay more. In May 1775 a series of provincial bread riots reached Paris: as a mob was smashing bakers’ shops, the comte de Maurepas, Turgot’s principal colleague in government, went to the opera and left the mob to rampage. The Paris Parlement met and passed a resolution which asked the King to “take the measures which his good sense and love for his subjects will inspire, to lower the prices of wheat and bread to a level appropriate to the needs of the people.” Turgot, regarding it vital to prevent the publication of this subversive decree which asked the King to revoke the laws of market economics, dashed to Versailles in the middle of the night, had the King woken, had a musketeer sent to summon each member of the Royal Council and obtained the King’s agreement to prevent the circulation of the Parlement’s decree. Several ministers were replaced and order was restored. Two members of the mob were hanged, many were imprisoned and a curé who had preached against the food riots received a pension and promotion (to a bénéfice).82
The attitude of the physiocrats to bread riots is illustrated by the marquis de Mirabeau’s statement in a memoir he wrote in 1772, prior to Turgot’s reforms, that “Paris will be fed when Paris will pay” (Weulersse, La Physiocratie, 158); but as Galiani wrote to Madame d’Epinay on 27 May 1775, “I hope that this event will have taught M. Turgot. . . to know men, and the world, which is not that of the works of the économistes. He will have seen that revolts occasioned by dearness are not impossible as he believed” (Galiani, Correspondance, 4:250).
After the crisis, Turgot imposed price controls on bakers, despite the universal belief in the efficacy of markets which he had expressed in his 1774 decree. Joseph Albert, the Lieutenant-General of Police, threatened to hang the first baker who stopped making bread out of dissatisfaction with the inadequate maximum price he was allowed to charge.83 Turgot’s need to feed Paris left him with the fundamental dilemma that the measures necessary to do so undermined his agricultural reforms. He had remarked eight years before he became Controller-General that “the cobblestones of the cities do not produce any grain” (Kaplan, Bread, Politics, 681). The fundamental difficulty that the policy of establishing a free market for food would initially raise food prices remained unsolved. Bachaumont speaks of a mob being ready to smash a bust of Quesnay “on hearing that he was the cause of the current dearness of grain through the false theories and the baneful opinions he had inspired in the government” (Hecht, “La vie de François Quesnay,” 276).
Turgot retained royal support throughout the crisis of 1775, but in February–March 1776 he proposed six reforming edicts which aroused still greater opposition. These included the replacement of the corvée, which obliged peasants to spend a number of days a year on local public works, with the financing of these by local taxation to be paid by landowners. Other decrees proposed to free internal French food markets and to abolish local monopoly privileges. A large number of government posts associated with the administration of the markets Turgot was proposing to free would be abolished, and indirect taxes such as those on salt would be replaced with a territorial tax which landowners and even the Church would have to pay, with a consequent loss of privileges for tax collectors.84 Turgot knew that great opposition would be aroused by the speed of his reform programme, but he remarked when he became a minister at the age of forty-seven: “In my family we die at fifty” (Schelle, Turgot, 211): he was actually fifty-fourwhen he died in 1781.
Maurepas declined to support the six decrees, the Paris Parlement again voiced its opposition, and referred to “The cry for an ill considered freedom” and “a novel system introduced by books and articles, as inexact in their facts as their principles.” But Turgot still enjoyed the support of the King, and his six decrees were endorsed by the Council. Paris was illuminated that night; but Turgot’s triumph was brief.
He was isolated in the Council. He attempted to appease his opponents by closing down the physiocratic journals, but he failed to persuade the King to replace Maurepas or in fact to make any ministerial changes which would strengthen his position. There was indeed powerful and widespread opposition to his reforms which did not even enjoy the support of the unprivileged because the price of bread had risen. Many of those in receipt of government incomes saw that the reforms would destroy their jobs and their wealth. The farmers who were beginning to benefit were mostly some distance from Paris. The King opened conversations with another Provincial Intendant, Clugny, who was appointed to succeed Turgot as Controller-General of Finances in May 1776.85 Clugny proved a tinkerer who rearranged public debt without seeking to pursue policies which would produce sufficient revenues to place government finances on a sound footing. He was succeeded by others, including most notably Necker, who equally failed to achieve the fundamental reforms which were needed.
Turgot actually wrote to Louis XVI immediately before the King replaced him, “Never forget that it was weakness that placed the head of Charles I on the block” (Schelle, Turgot, 238). The King had written to Turgot previously: “It is only you and I who love the people” (ibid., 247). But he failed to sustain Turgot in office, and permitted Clugny to reverse the six decrees. His Queen, Marie Antoinette (who followed Louis XVI to the guillotine during the Revolution), wrote to her mother, Maria-Theresa, the Empress of Austria, that she was not sorry Turgot’s ministry had fallen. The Empress responded that they had tried to do too much too quickly.86 That is always the problem radical reformers face. Gustave Schelle, one of Turgot’s principal biographers, has commented that if Turgot had moved more slowly, opposition to his reforms would have had more time to build up, and his position would have been undermined before much could be achieved.87 The optimum pace of reform when radical change is necessary is never clear. After his reforms encountered difficulties Turgot fell victim to the short-term policy option of all monarchs (and Prime Ministers) that the ousting of a Controller-General (or a Chancellor of the Exchequer) is “one of the few acts by which the King could please the vast majority of his subjects without taking into consideration any of their specific grievances” (Kaplan, Bread, Politics, 249).
Condillac published Commerce and Government two months before Turgot’s fall, but the fate of the reform programme was already clear. Many of the later chapters of Commerce and Government are a thinly veiled indictment of the vast range of anti-competitive institutions and policies which proliferated in France and which undermined the effectiveness of the economy and the King’s finances. He was especially concerned by the dirigisme in the market for grain which was so prominent in Turgot’s programme. Writing contemporaneously with the reforms which he utterly supported, and perceiving the initial opposition they aroused, Condillac provides insights into the failure of Turgot’s policies. His description of the French grain market and his account of the conditions in which Turgot’s policies were pursued underlines the initial difficulties he faced.
Condillac comments on the adverse reaction to the price increases that followed the freeing of food markets. People remarked: “‘Look at what freedom produces.’ That is how the common people reasoned, and they were almost the entire nation. They thought that the dearness was a result of freedom.” They did not appreciate that prices would only fall when there were “enough merchants” to establish cereals “at their true price”. But they said, “we need bread every day” (CG 298–99). They believed that:
the one task of government was to procure them cheap bread. . . So every time that it became dearer the people asked the government to have the price lowered.
There were only two ways to satisfy them. The government had to buy grain itself to sell again at a loss, or it had to force merchants to deliver their corn at the price it had fixed.
Of these two ways the first tended to ruin the state; the second was unjust and odious; and both accustomed the people to think that it was for the government to obtain cheap bread for them. (CG 299)
In Condillac’s judgment the people saw the problem of obtaining cheap bread as a conflict of “The rights of humanity opposed to the rights of property” (to which Condillac replied, “What gibberish!”); and everyone said “the most absurd things to oppose the operations of the new minister. . . It seemed that everyone was condemned to reason badly on this matter.” Turgot’s opponents, many of whom had favoured the policy of freeing food markets until the uncomfortable consequences of higher prices emerged, now included, according to Condillac, “poets, geometricians, philosophers, metaphysicians, in a word almost all literary men, and especially those whose trenchant tone hardly allows one to take their doubts for doubts, and who do not permit one to think differently from them” (CG 300).
The philosophes had welcomed the physiocrat policy of freeing food markets when this appeared to be a contribution to greater freedom in general, but much of their support was withdrawn as soon as it became clear that greater market freedom meant higher prices. When the freeing of food markets as a consequence of physiocrat advocacy had produced localised famine in 1770, Voltaire wrote that: “I have a desire to carry my protests to the Éphémérides des Citoyens” (Kaplan, Bread, Politics, 504), while Diderot’s response to the argument that higher food prices would eventually raise the supply of food was: “I eat badly when I only have potential bread” (Diderot, Apologie, 115).
Opposition to Turgot also came from the vast bureaucracies which government had created to administer regulated markets and to exploit monopolistic privileges in international trade. Condillac writes:
In the capital they need administrators, directors, clerks, employees: they need other administrators, other directors, other clerks, other employees wherever they form establishments. They also need, in addition to the counters and the warehouses, buildings as a monument to the vanity of the directors they employ. Forced to such outlays, how much will they not lose in embezzlement, in negligence, in incompetence? They pay for all the errors of those they employ to serve them; and all the more arise, as the administrators who succeed each other at the whim of faction, and who each see differently, never allow a sensible, sustained plan to be made. They form badly contrived enterprises: they carry them out as though randomly; and in an administration that seems to tie itself up in knots, they employ self-interested men to complicate it further. The direction of these companies is thus necessarily vicious. (CG 314)
Those with vested interests in the perpetuation of these bureaucracies added their voices to the opposition to Turgot’s reforms. According to Condillac, “the new minister showed courage,” but “Such are the chief obstacles in the way of the reestablishment of freedom. Time will remove them if the government perseveres” (CG 300–301). It became evident two months after the publication of Commerce and Government that Turgot would not be allowed to persevere. After just twenty months, the opposition Condillac describes led to his fall and the reversal of his reforms. As Condillac remarked, “when disorder has reached a certain point, a revolution, however good it may be, is never accomplished without causing violent shocks” (CG 298).
The physiocrats fell with Turgot. Du Pont was ordered to leave Paris, and the editors of the physiocratic journals which Turgot had closed in a vain attempt to appease his opponents were exiled. But what had occurred became central to economic debate. The économistes had had an opportunity to give practical effect to their theories and they had failed. The reasons for Turgot’s fall, which Condillac illuminates in Commerce and Government, have aroused continuing interest, including a major work by Edgar Faure, a President of the National Assembly and member of several twentieth-century French governments.
There is much in Condillac’s account of the difficulties that Turgot’s reforms encountered as a consequence of their immediate adverse impact on vested interests and food prices which foreshadows the obstacles that similar reforms have encountered in post-communist Eastern Europe.88 In the eighteenth century and in the twentieth, prices rose sharply when markets were first freed, and the extent of the price increases was accentuated because the large numbers of merchants and traders required to exploit freer markets were absent. Some of the movement and trading of food and consumer goods fell into the hands of the semi-criminal because the numerous middlemen and the small traders which efficient distribution requires had not yet emerged. In the eighteenth century and in the twentieth, new policies were obstructed by inefficient bureaucracies with vested interests in the prevention of reform which undermined their privileges.
Like the leading physiocrats, Condillac entirely supported Turgot’s reform programme, and his account of the contemporary reasons for its failure should have made sense to them. His theory of value with which his book opened has earned high praise in the twentieth century. But how did his contemporaries, and above all the physiocrats, react to the book on its first publication in 1776?
The Contemporary Reaction to “Commerce and Government”
The publication of a book on economics by this well-connected and distinguished philosopher and man of letters was bound to arouse great interest. He had known François Quesnay well,89 and common ground has been found in their approaches to the philosophy of science, on which both published in the 1750s,90 but Quesnay had died in 1774, two years before the publication of Commerce and Government. The professional reaction would come from the physiocrat followers of Quesnay. Economic thought advances and a new contribution by a distinguished writer would inevitably re fine and develop what had already been published. Condillac was in complete agreement with the two principal physiocrat policy proposals: the freeing of food markets and the use of the agricultural surplus as the only sustainable source of tax revenues. He opens his analysis of the sources of taxation by stating that only landowners have the resources to pay taxes:
There are in general only two classes of citizen: that of the landowners to whom all the land and all the products belong; and that of the paid workers [salariés] who, having neither land nor produce of their own, subsist on the wages that are due for their work.
The first class can easily contribute; since, with all the products belonging to it, if it does not have all the money, it has more than the equivalent and besides it passes entirely through its hands. (CG 220)
When he says that everyone is either a landowner or a paid worker, Condillac is saying that everyone either owns land so that he is financially independent, or else depends for his livelihood on the production of a good or service. In this sense the paid workers sell their labour (which may be extremely skilled) or the products of their labour in the market place for their livelihood. Because the incomes of paid workers ultimately have to be paid by landowners, any shortfall in such incomes must eventually fall on the landowners who will bear the burden of any tax:
So there you have, in a state such as France, several millions of citizens who are forced to cut back on their consumption. Now I ask whether the land will return the same income, when people sell a smaller amount of their produce to several million citizens. So whether the wage-earners are totally reimbursed, or whether they are only partially reimbursed, it is clear that, in the one case as in the other, the tax that one places on them falls equally on the owners.
Indeed, the landowners must certainly pay for the wage-earning class, since it is the landowners who pay the wages. In a word, no matter how one approaches it, they must pay everything. (CG 221–22)
While Condillac totally supported the principal policy proposals of the physiocrats, his new theory of value and utility on which his analysis was ultimately based had led to the conclusion that “farmers, merchants, artisans come together to increase the mass of wealth,” and even more provocatively that this had been “much obscured by some writers.”
Because his analysis endorsed Quesnay’s principal policy proposals, the physiocrats could have regarded this contribution by a distinguished philosopher and member of l’Académie française as a constructive contribution to the analysis of their school. They had accepted the economics of Turgot, who had been heterodox enough to suggest that industry as well as agriculture generates an economic surplus: in the form of profits, which only appear tangentially in Quesnay’s writings.91 Turgot was welcomed as at least a “fellow traveller,” and physiocrats were delighted to have the opportunity to serve with him in government. They none the less censored his writings via extensive editorial amendments by Du Pont before these could be allowed to appear in Les Éphémérides du citoyen.92 A school of knowledge which is still alive can accommodate debate. This will generally enrich its analysis through the Hegelian process of thesis-antithesis-synthesis. Would Condillac’s book be similarly welcomed as a basis for debate on the development of physiocracy? The physiocrats would have found it technically challenging to absorb his analysis of human motivation into their system’s already rich analysis, but a successful synthesis of the economics of Quesnay and Condillac would have produced a stronger theory.
Contemporaries of the physiocrats have remarked on their dogmatism. For instance, in 1769 David Hume wrote to Morellet, who would soon be commissioned by the Administration to write a book to rebut Galiani, “crush them, and pound them, and reduce them to dust and ashes,” for they are “the most chimerical and arrogant [set of men] that now exists” (Hume, Letters, 2:205). Would the leading physiocrats succumb to such arrogance and dogmatism in their reaction to Condillac?
When Commerce and Government first appeared it was received with interest. According to the abbé Nicholas Baudeau, Du Pont’s successor as editor of Les Ephémérides, the book was published with “the highest praise” (Baudeau, “Observations,” 432), while according to Guillaume-François Le Trosne, another prominent physiocrat, it had impressed “many people” (Le Trosne, De l’intérêt social, 886). In April 1776 Morellet sent a copy across the Channel to the future British Prime Minister, the Earl of Shelburne, and remarked in his accompanying letter, “I am however sending you an admirable book by one of our men of letters, the abbé de Condillac. You no doubt have his treatise on education, but this is an elementary economic work where the ideas are in general true and the principles wise. In every part of it you will find freedom of commerce sustained” (Morellet, Lettres, 1:339).
Some of the most distinguished physiocrats were members of the Société royale d’agriculture d’Orléans, and Condillac was invited to read chapters from his book to this society in February and March 1776. In the minutes of the 306th meeting on 14 March 1776 it was noted that the society had seen with satisfaction that “the practical conclusions aimed to guide every administration that intends the public good being found in perfect conformity with those of economic science, fewer problems than advantages are to be expected from the publication of this work” (Lebeau, Condillac, 41). On 21 March the society continued to read and discuss Condillac’s book, but on 25 April 1776 the first part of a critical review article by Baudeau appeared in Les Nouvelles Éphémérides, and this was discussed in place of further chapters of Condillac’s book. Then on 27 February 1777 Le Trosne came to the 331st session of the society to read chapters of his new book, De l’intérêt social, which included an extensive critique of Commerce and Government. The flavour of Baudeau’s and Le Trosne’s responses to Commerce and Government can be judged from Baudeau’s statement that:
True économistes can easily be distinguished by one simple characteristic in a manner that the whole world can understand. They recognise one master, Dr Quesnay, one doctrine (that of Philosophie rurale and l’Analyse économique), classic texts (la Physiocratie), and a single formula (le Tableau économique), and they use technical terms in the same way as the ancient scholars of China. (Baudeau, “Observations,” 433)
Le Trosne complained that Condillac had departed from doctrines which had been “published, proved and demonstrated in several works in the last fifteen years” (Le Trosne, De l’intérêt social, 886). After further readings from Le Trosne’s critique, the society concluded that he had succeeded in “dissipating the clouds in which the subtle metaphysician, M. l’abbé de Condillac, appeared to wish to obscure this science that is so important to the well-being and stability of political societies. The Society has thanked M. Le Trosne” (Lebeau, Condillac, 43).
In addition to their dogmatic hostility, Baudeau and Le Trosne had criticisms of substance, which were sufficient to persuade the Royal Agricultural Society of Orléans to condemn the book.
Both Baudeau and Le Trosne drew attention to Condillac’s statement that there were, in general, “only two classes of citizens: that of the landowners. . . and that of the paid workers” (CG 220). They could not accept Condillac’s radical concept of a multi-sectoral and mutually interdependent economy.
Their detailed criticisms concerned Condillac’s sketchy (to the physiocrats’ confused) account of the creation of the agricultural surplus which was central to physiocracy. The landowners provided the sole source of taxable revenues. But could the entrepreneur-farmers who invested their own capital in farms which they leased and whose success or failure determined whether France would grow or decline be regarded as belonging to the same class, paid workers (les salariés), as farm labourers? Condillac generally describes those who farm as “colons” or “fermiers.” In the early chapters where he describes a very primitive society (peuplade) these plausibly own their own land, but as soon as the argument is developed and landowners congregate in cities where they receive rent, can those who actually organise agriculture be sensibly described as belonging to the same class as farm labourers? It would be entirely natural to speak of both farm labourers and farm managers as employees if farming was conducted on a métayer basis where all farm capital is owned by landowners, while those who actually farm on their behalf are allowed to keep a fraction of the harvest, corresponding via competition to the subsistence wage.
But Quesnay insisted in his first publications that to achieve the level of agricultural surplus which France required and England was actually achieving, it was necessary that agriculture should evolve to a condition where the management of farms was in the hands of capitalist tenant farmers. These would take farms on long leases, own all movable capital such as horses, ploughs and farm animals, finance all the costs which precede harvests and own the harvests net of their obligation to pay an agreed rent to landowners. Quesnay called this manner of farming “la grande culture” as opposed to the métayer system which he labelled “la petite culture.”93 Condillac’s two-class society comfortably accommodates la petite culture in which les salariés are easily recognisable, but he nowhere brings the considerable technical advantages of la grande culture fully into his argument. Condillac’s father was a prominent provincial lawyer, while Condillac himself lived as a philosopher who advised princes. Quesnay grew up the son of a farmer, who understood the significance of capital-intensive farming with horses rather than labour-intensive farming with ox-drawn ploughs: Condillac never discusses the details of efficient farming which were so central to the principal physiocratic texts. Baudeau and Le Trosne complained that by calling both entrepreneur-farmers and day-labourers salariés, Condillac had obscured the economic significance of the entrepreneur-farmers on whom the well-being of France predominantly depended in mainstream physiocracy.
Condillac actually distinguishes the entrepreneur-farmers from labourers in his chapters “The origin of towns” and “Of the right of ownership” (CG 135–40), where he sets out several ways in which agriculture can be organised. Landowners may receive their rents through farm managers who will also sometimes themselves farm; or directly from large farmers who themselves lease the land from the landowners, provide initial and annual advances and hire day-labourers, which is Quesnay’s la grande culture; or farming may be organised through métayer systems of output sharing. He does not bring these distinctions into the remainder of the book, and he makes no reference to Quesnay’s insight that only some systems of land tenure are compatible with la grande culture where horse-drawn ploughs produce a rate of surplus three times as great as the ox-drawn ploughs of la petite culture. Condillac’s passages on alternative systems of land tenure are slightly extended in the passages he added to the 1798 edition in response to the criticisms of Baudeau and Le Trosne, but again there is no impact on the remainder of the book.94 Condillac therefore still neglected to bring the physiocrat supply-side arguments about agricultural efficiency and what actually determines the extent of the agricultural surplus directly into his argument.
But his detailed analysis of agriculture is entirely in line with his general approach to economic efficiency. The incomes of farm managers, farmers and day-labourers are all determined by competitive market forces, and the land is capable of delivering a growing supply of agricultural produce as new demands for this are created through the development of new industrial products. Quesnay’s world, where horse-drawn ploughs yield a surplus on annual advances of 100 per cent and ox-drawn ploughs a surplus of 36 per cent, is essentially one of fixed coefficients. Condillac has no fixed coefficients. Instead, provided that the markets for farm managers, farmers, day-labourers and food are competitive, agriculture will be conducted in the best possible manner to maximise productive efficiency. The supply side will organise itself through market forces which must be allowed to operate entirely freely, and it will then operate as effectively as possible. With this general approach, he does not need to follow Quesnay, Baudeau and Le Trosne in having more categories of employees in agriculture than in other sectors. It is enough to say that throughout an efficient economy there are landowners and the salariés, who are all those who are market-dependent, be they managers, farmers or labourers.
Le Trosne was highly critical of Condillac’s multi-sectoral view of the economy, but he accepted that his argument had led him to policy conclusions which were as sound (they were indeed the same) as those of the physiocrats:
I admit only one source of wealth, and M. l’abbé de Condillac admits as many as there are kinds of work. . .
However when he moves on to the practical, the fairness of his intellect redeems his argument. He establishes perfectly the single tax, freedom of industry, freedom of commerce both internal and external, the effects of monopoly and the dangers from prohibitions. The theoretical lines of thought he has developed do not influence his results. (Le Trosne, De l’intérêt social, 933)
Le Trosne writes equally warmly that “I shall bring to this discussion, which has the sole object of instructing the public, the high respect the author merits, and I dare flatter myself that there will be no weakening in the friendship he has been ready to show me” (ibid., 886).
Baudeau complains that Condillac made no use of Quesnay’s Tableau économique:
you would destroy to nothing the Tableau économique, this masterpiece of the Master, this valuable summary of economic doctrine. You certainly had no intention to do this wrong to knowledge, nor to the memory of Dr Quesnay of whom you were a disciple and friend before me. (“Observations,” 443)
The unwillingness of Baudeau and Le Trosne to accept Condillac’s book as a contribution to economic debate which deserved to be added to the literature meriting discussion by the dominant physiocratic school sufficed to limit its contemporary impact.95 The physiocrats could have absorbed into their system the most fundamental element of Condillac’s contribution: utility and its impact on human motivation. Condillac was not the first to see a powerful connection between value and utility. Galiani had found one in Della Moneta in 1751, and Condillac’s attention was drawn to this work while he was tutor to the Prince of Parma.96 Turgot also set out an analysis of the influence of utility on value in 1769 in an un finished paper, “Valeurs et monnaies,” which was published posthumously by Du Pont, but the extent of its manuscript circulation during his lifetime is unknown.
Condillac’s readily available published account of the connection between value and utility is more coherent and comprehensive than Galiani’s and Turgot’s,97 and it was therefore from him that the physiocrats had an out standing opportunity to absorb the influence of utility upon value and human motivation into their analysis, almost a century before this became the universal approach of economists throughout the world.
“Commerce and Government” in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries
Adam Smith published The Wealth of Nations three months after Commerce and Government, and it established an overwhelming case for competitive market economics and the removal of trade barriers. The policy conclusions of Commerce and Government are similar, and Maurice Allais and Friedrich von Hayek, French and German Nobel Prizewinners in economics, have bracketed it with The Wealth of Nations. Hayek has remarked that “the great strides” in economics “always came from outside—and for the most part in opposition to—the schools” which, like the physiocrats, are “more likely to hinder than to advance progress.” He refers in contrast to the lasting gain to science in 1776, “the year in which the works of Adam Smith and Condillac were published” (Hayek, “Richard Cantillon,” 267). Allais has described Commerce and Government as “definitely superior to Smith in theoretical analysis and logical systemization of ideas” (Allais, “General theory,” 37).
But in 1776 and subsequently, the impact of The Wealth of Nations was immeasurably greater. A key to the contemporary success of Smith’s book and Condillac’s failure to arouse widespread attention may be found in Spencer Pack’s interpretation of the relevance of Smith’s Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres to the success of The Wealth of Nations. Smith advises that when an author is writing for those already receptive to what he has to say, a deductive method of presentation with a logical derivation of conclusions from axioms which readers are already prepared to acccept is appropriate. It is by far the easiest to follow and it is the most elegant. But when an author is writing for the unconverted, he should argue inductively, moving step by step from known facts to the conclusions he wishes to establish. Tariffs, restrictions on trade and detailed government interventions proliferated in both Britain and France in 1776, so both Condillac and Smith were addressing the unconverted, but Smith adopted the method of presentation he had prescribed for such a situation:
keep as far from the main point to be proved as possible, bringing on the audience by slow and imperceptible degrees to the thing to be proved, and by gaining their consent to some things whose tendency they cant discover, we force them at last either to deny what they had before agreed to, or to grant the Validity of the Conclusion. . . if they are prejudiced against the Opinion to be advanced; we are not to shock them by rudely affirming what we are satisfied is disagreeable, but are to conceal our design and beginning at a distance, bring them slowly on to the main point and having gained the more remote ones we get the nearer ones of consequence. (Smith, Wealth of Nations, 146–47)
Pack reminds us with this passage in mind that Smith only reached his critique of mercantilist policies after more than 500 pages replete with convincing empirical detail.
Condillac in contrast used the deductive methodology of a distinguished philosopher and moved faultlessly and elegantly from proposition to proposition,98 but he failed to carry the vast majority of his French readers. His initial chapters lacked Smith’s empiricism, and his French readers were un-prepared to accept that a deductive argument, which moved from premises they did not recognise as relevant, could arrive at conclusions which sensibly related to their country. Because of the consequent lack of recognition by his own countrymen, unlike much important French economics of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Commerce and Government was not immediately translated into English. This limited the scope for international recognition in the warmer environments for deductive argument and free market conclusions that was offered by the economics profession in Britain and later the United States.
There were occasional citations of Condillac in the nineteenth-century French literature. In 1803 Jean-Baptiste Say found Condillac insufficiently empirical in his “Discours préliminaire” to his Traité d’économie politique:
almost all the French writers of some reputation who have concerned themselves with matter relating to Political Economy from 1760 to around 1780 without positively marching under the banner of the physiocrats have nonetheless allowed themselves to be dominated by their opinions. . . One can even count Condillac among their number although he sought to devise his own system. There are some good ideas to be discovered among the ingenious chatter of his book; but he passed by the most fruitful truths without noticing them. Just like the physiocrats, he almost always bases a principle on a gratuitous assumption: now an assumption may serve as an example but not as a fundamental truth. Political Economy only rose to the level of the sciences when, like the other sciences, it made a study solely of what is. (xviii– xix)
A. F. Théry repeated Say’s judgement that Commerce and Government is insufficiently empirical to make a significant contribution to economics in his introductory article on the life and works of Condillac for the second edition of the complete Oeuvres de Condillac published in Paris in 1821–22. It was Théry’s judgement and doubtless that of his contemporaries that Condillac was an important philosopher but an in significant economist.
The 1844 edition of Say’s Cours complet d’économie politique was published with a “Bibliographie raisonnée de l’économie politique” by A. Blanqui, who claimed that he had omitted no book essential to the study of economics, but he failed to include Commerce and Government among the 600 titles he listed.
A passage from Commerce and Government none the less attracted condemnation from two economists, Say and Marx, who do not ordinarily cohabit. Both strongly criticised Condillac’s statement that:
it is false that in exchanges one gives equal value for equal value. On the contrary, each of the contracting parties always gives a lesser value for a greater value. . . Indeed, if one always exchanged equal value for equal value, there would be no gain to be made for either of the contracting parties. Now, both of them make a gain, or ought to make one. Why? The fact is that with things only having value in relation to our needs, what is greater for one person is less for another, and vice versa. (CG 120)
In the Cours complet d’économie politique Say declared that “This doctrine. . . does not explain in any way the variety of phenomena which commercial production presents. . . I confront the same errors in social discourse, and even in books” (part 2, ch. 13).
Marx’s reaction is to be found in the first volume of Capital: “We see in this passage, how Condillac. . . confuses use-value with exchange-value. . . Still, Condillac’s argument is frequently used by modern economists, more especially when the point is to show, that in the exchange of commodities in its developed form, commerce, is productive of surplus-value (part 2, ch. 5).
Condillac’s argument which both Marx and Say condemned was that the value of commodities depends on their utilities, and that when a good is sold, the total utility the seller sacrifices is less than the total utility the buyer gains, and vice versa. He drafted a further five paragraphs to explain this analysis further after the publication of the 1776 edition, and these are included in the posthumous 1798 edition (and on pp. 121–22 of the present text). Marx cites Condillac from Daire’s 1847 edition, which includes none of the post-humous material (see p. 79 below), while it is not clear whether Say used the 1798 edition, which included the additional material. Marx and Say may have condemned Condillac without reading all he had to say on this question.
The concepts of consumers’ and producers’ surplus were developed well after his death, but the statement which both Marx and Say objected to is compatible with that later development of economic theory, and Condillac comes close to it in the posthumous paragraphs. In the twentieth century it came to be understood that the buyer of a commodity for final consumption gains a consumer’s surplus, while the producer gains a producer’s surplus. Theorems have been formulated to establish that the sum of these will be maximised when the relevant commodities and factors of production are sold entirely freely in competitive markets. Condillac’s economics is in line with these twentieth-century developments.
How close he came to understanding that there were actually rigorous proofs for his propositions is naturally unclear, but in chapter after chapter he reiterates the benefits an economy derives from the free exchange of goods in competitive markets.
Condillac began to receive serious attention after the marginal revolution of the 1870s when Stanley Jevons and Carl Menger discovered that there was much where Condillac had been before them. In 1871 in his Theory of Political Economy, Jevons credited him with “the earliest distinct statement of the true connection between value and utility” (xxviii). Also in 1871 in his Grundsätze der Volkswirthschaftslehre, Menger referred to his fundamental view that utility is the measure of a good’s use value which has “frequently reappeared since that time in the writings of English and French economists” (Menger, 297). He has eight references to Condillac, more than to any other French economist apart from Say, and more than to any British economist other than Adam Smith.99 Walras was less warm. In his pathbreaking Eléments d’économie pure of 1874 he writes:
The science of economics offers three major solutions to the problem of the origin of value. The first, that of Adam Smith, Ricardo and Mc-Culloch, is the English solution, which traces the origin of value to labour. This solution is too narrow, because it fails to attribute value to things which, in fact, do have value. The second solution, that of Condillac and J. B. Say, is the French solution, which traces the origin of value to utility. This solution is too broad, because it attributes value to things which, in fact, have no value. Finally, the third solution, that of Burlamaqui and my father, A. A. Walras, traces the origin of value to scarcity [rarité]. This is the correct solution. (201)
Walras at least places Condillac among the originators of one of the leading approaches to the theory of value.
After the 1870s, with the significance of Condillac’s contribution to the theory of value and utility firmly established, several French economists recognised the importance of Commerce and Government. In particular, Condillac’s condemnation by the physiocrats was reassessed, and several preferred his analysis to theirs. That was the early twentieth-century judgement of Charles Gide and Charles Rist, the authors of Histoire des doctrines économiques depuis les Physiocrates jusqu’à nos jours, which appeared in seven French and two English editions between 1909 and 1948. They wrote, 140 years after Condillac’s death, “it is above all in Condillac’s book that we must seek the closing of the gaps and the correction of the errors of the Physiocrats” (3rd ed., 55).
Writing in 1912, Émile Morand examined the psychological theories of value of Galiani, Turgot and Condillac, and described Condillac as “the most eminent man of his century on this question” (La Théorie psychologique, 6). He especially praises Condillac’s account of the role of commerce in the creation of value:
the aqueduct which, for Condillac, symbolises commerce, becomes as the creator of wealth, the creator of value. (Ibid., 308)
Condillac developing his general theory logically arrives at results which are far more admissible and far more in conformity to economic reality since he recognises that commerce has an immense role in the creation of value. (Ibid., 311)
He sided with Condillac against the physiocrats who insisted that exchanges of goods cannot increase the “value” of production and extolled precisely the passage which Say and Marx condemned. He argued indeed that this controversial passage is at the heart of the originality of Condillac’s contribution, and he has extensive passages which show that those who receive goods in an exchange derive more utility from them than those who part with them, and that these potential gains in utility go on to spur real economic activities which raise the value of production.
When he argues that the utility gained from exchanges leads to a consequential increase in productive activity, he quotes the passage where Condillac argues that with each advance made by artisans, farmers acquire “value in a product which previously had none,” which gives “a fresh spur to commerce” so that “farmers, merchants, artisans, come together to increase the mass of wealth” (CG 125). Morand writes:
Therefore it is difficult to provide in less space a better and more complete perception of the role commerce plays in production; here again by the exactitude and depth of his insights Condillac far surpasses those of whom he has often been regarded as a disciple. Value being founded on our needs, the appearance of a new need, to which corresponds a good appropriate to satisfy it, creates a new value. (La Théorie psychologique, 312)
He identi fies “To give less for more” as a phrase which “returns in Condillac’s work as a refrain. . . it alone would be enough to distinguish him from the physiocrats” (ibid., 302).
Perhaps the greatest French compliment to the advance of Condillac over the physiocrats is to be found in Georges Weulersse’s La Physiocratie sous les ministères de Turgot et de Necker (1774–81), posthumously published in 1950, forty years after his great history of physiocracy.
His account of “Physiocracy under the ministry of Turgot” concludes with the chapter “Attack and defence of the system,” which culminates in an account of how Condillac surpassed his predecessors. He opens by remarking that “it was left to a quali fied philosopher, a more subtle analyst, to advance the elucidation of the problem,” of the role agriculture plays in relation to industry and commerce (La Physiocratie sous les Ministères, 229). He welcomes Condillac’s statements that industry and commerce add to the mass of wealth. Like Morand, he endorses the statement that each party to an exchange always gives up a lesser for a greater value (neither refers to its condemnation by Say and Marx):
this is the precious distinction between the psychological value in use to the individual and the social market value in exchange which the physiocrats were inclined to consider too exclusively. (Ibid., 230)
Weulersse emphasises that a very different natural social order emerges as soon as it is accepted that industrial and commercial as well as agricultural activity add to the value of output.
He remarks that, “according to our philosopher, a society consists of a kind of universal salariat, a conception altogether strange to the [physiocratic] school.” He quotes Condillac’s statement that “all the citizens are given a wage with regard to each other. If the artisan and the merchant are paid by the farmer to whom they sell, the farmer is in his turn paid by the artisan and the merchant to whom he sells, and each of them gets paid for his work” (CG 127). Weulersse remarks that here there is not merely mutual dependency between the different classes; there is actually equal dependency, which has important social implications (La Physiocratie sous les Ministères, 230).
He agrees with Baudeau and Le Trosne that Condillac analyses the role of capital in production with “far less precision” than the physiocrats (ibid., 231). But Weulersse emphasises passages in Commerce and Government, such as “all citizens are, each by reason of his work, co-proprietors in the wealth of the society,” to suggest remarkably that Condillac even comes close to a labour theory of value (ibid., 232).
The respect of Jevons, Menger, Walras, Gide and Rist, Morand, Weulersse, Hutchison, Allais and Hayek for the economics of Commerce and Government in the 200 years since its publication underlines that French political economy failed to take advantage of an important opportunity in 1776 and 1777.
In the development of British classical economics, Malthus and Ricardo enriched the economics of Smith. They strongly criticised several of his conclusions, but accepted his analysis as the starting point for their own. British political economy strengthened and developed as Malthus’s theory of population and Ricardo’s theory of value and distribution were integrated with the economics of The Wealth of Nations to culminate in the last great work of British classical economics, the Principles of Political Economy (1848) of John Stuart Mill. Classical French political economy would have become equally great if the économistes had been prepared to absorb the best of Condillac’s economics instead of dogmatically condemning it.
Those concerned with the administration of economic policy in France would also have benefited from a familiarity with Condillac comparable to the familiarity with Smith of almost all who governed Britain in the nineteenth century. The continuing Colbertian dominance in official French economics might have been less pronounced if French political economists and administrators had been more aware of Condillac.
English language readers who come upon Commerce and Government for the first time will find, with Allais, that the case for competitive market economics has rarely been presented more powerfully, and that there is continuing relevance in Condillac’s account of the difficulties that those who seek to liberalise economies still encounter.
The Editions of Commerce and Government
The initial edition of Commerce and Government was published in Paris in 1776 by Jombert & Cellot in both a single-volume (vi + 586 pp.) and a two-volume (273 + 180 pp.) edition. On the title page, the place of publication of both editions is described as “Amsterdam and one also finds it at Paris.” This is a typical convention of the period, and, as explained in Chapter 1, in many of the books actually published in Paris a principal and generally fictitious foreign place of publication is also stated on the title page so that the censors only needed to permit the sale within France of a book originally published outside the country. The 1767 edition of Quesnay’s Physiocratie even claims publication in Peking, and as with Commerce and Government, Du Pont adds the words “and one also finds it at Paris.”
The single-volume edition of Commerce and Government was published first: five errata are listed on page vi, and the latter three are corrected in what must therefore be the subsequent two-volume printing. The initial single-volume edition concludes with the statement “End of the Second Part. The third part of this work has not been written, the author will work on it if the first two parts create a demand.” By the time the two-volume edition was printed, Condillac had removed that statement and simply has “The End” at the foot of the final page.
In 1795 the 1776 text was republished in Paris by Letellier & Maradan as a single volume (380 pp.), virtually without amendment. A further erratum from 1776 is corrected, but still not all five, and there are a few one- or two-word changes. The failure to correct all the announced errata from the 1776 edition suggests that this is not a superior text: it is one produced by a Paris bookseller because there was sufficient demand to justify a new printing. A photographic reprint of the 1795 edition with an eleven-page introduction by G. Romeyer-Dherbey was published by Slatkine (Paris and Geneva) in 1980.
In 1798 a twenty-three-volume edition of the Oeuvres de Condillac “Reviewed and corrected by the Author, printed from his autograph manuscripts” was published in Paris by Houel, with Commerce and Government (559 pp.) as its fourth volume.
Condillac had made his elder brother, the abbé de Mably, his literary executor, but Mably died in 1785, five years after Condillac. It is stated in the introduction to the first volume of the 1798 Oeuvres that a wooden case containing Mably’s and Condillac’s papers was opened in June 1796 (prairial an IV) by order of the Minister of the Interior and the Director-General of Public Instruction so that a complete edition of Condillac’s works could be prepared. The letter from Citizen Bénézech, the Minister of the Interior, to Citizen Commendeur, the bailiffwho was present when the case was opened, reads in part:
as these works are among the number of those which are most useful for education, I desire that the edition of these works which is going to be made should be the most complete possible. I know that you have had in your custody and under seal for more than ten years, a wooden box containing several volumes of the works of Condillac, where this author has written a large number of marginal corrections and added several notebooks written in his own hand. I invite you, Citizen, to pass this box to the general administration of Public Instruction. . . so that these volumes which are deposited in it can be used to perfect the complete edition which will be made of works which are equally useful to the public. (Condillac, Oeuvres de Condillac, 1:x–xi)
Citizen Ginguené, the Director-General of Public Instruction, then wrote to Citizen Arnoux, one of the two subsequent editors (the other was Mousnier) of the 1798 Oeuvres, that the seals should be removed in his presence by a magistrate. When this was done, it was found that the contents of the wooden case included:
Item, a bound volume entitled, Le Commerce et le Gouvernement, considérés relativement l’un à l’autre; the first three pages are glued and crossed through, as though they should be deleted; on the fifteenth page a note of seven lines is stuck on; in addition another of three sheets is inserted after the twenty-first page; at the fifty-fourth page, a note of 33 lines, at the fifty-fifth another of 35 lines; at the seventy-first a folio of writing paper written to half way down the fourth page: at the ninetieth a note of eight lines; at the 195 th and 196 th, two notes underlined, forming the end of the eighteenth chapter. There are in addition, in the volume, several marginal notes and several corrections in the body of the text.
Item, ten stitched paper booklets, printed, in duodecimal, comprising part of a work on Commerce, in which is glued a note of twenty-four lines. (Ibid., vii– viii)
The long insertions and the page references (evidently to a copy of the one-volume 1776 edition) correspond exactly to the extra material subsequently included in the 1798 edition, extending its total length by about 3 per cent.
The crossing through of the first three pages indicates that Condillac may have intended to replace these with a new opening to the book, but none has been found. The only change in the first three pages which has survived is an important new footnote (CG 93 below). As for the “ten stitched paper booklets, printed, in duodecimal, comprising part of a work on Commerce,” there is the fascinating possibility that these could form an incomplete draft of chapters for the Third Part of Commerce and Government, which Condillac had expressed a readiness to prepare for publication in 1776. He wrote quickly and published extensively, and it would be interesting to know what Mably’s executors and Condillac’s editors made of these ten printed booklets. There are no incomplete publications in the twenty-three-volume Oeuvres de Condillac, so it is understandable that the editors may not have wished to include a large fragment which twentieth-century editors would have un-hesitatingly included in an author’s complete works. It would be fascinating to have the opportunity to read them now, if the editors had not decided to discard these unpublished pages by Condillac. They conveyed most of the material from Mably’s wooden box to the Bibliothèque Nationale after they had completed their edition of the Oeuvres de Condillac in 1798, two years after the box was opened. Sgard (Corpus Condillac, 160–63) provides an account of what is now in the Bibliothèque Nationale from Commerce and Government, and he says that what is there “appears to be incomplete”: he makes no reference to the ten printed stitched booklets.
In 1821–22 A. F. Théry produced a sixteen-volume edition of Condillac’s Oeuvres where Commerce and Government is again volume 4 (414 pp.), and he republished the text of the 1798 edition with Condillac’s additional material.
The next significant edition of Commerce and Government was published by Eugène Daire in 1847. He produced a series of compilations with the general title Collections des principaux économistes, which included the celebrated volume containing the principal publications of the physiocrats. The volume Mélanges d’économie politique followed in 1847 with important books and essays by Hume, Forbonnais, Condorcet, Franklin and Condillac’s Commerce and Government (243–448). Daire reverted to the 1776 text and therefore included none of the additional material from Condillac’s papers which were included in the collected Oeuvres de Condillac of 1798 and 1821–22.
Like the principal academic journals in the twentieth century, Daire’s collections were in every significant library, so most subsequent citations to Commerce and Government have been to this 1847 edition. That was the case with Marx in Capital in 1867, with Menger in Grundsätze der Volkswirthschaftslehre in 1871, with Morand in La Théorie psychologique de la valeur jusqu’en 1776 in 1912 and with Weulersse in La Physiocratie sous les ministères de Turgot et de Necker published posthumously in 1950.
The final significant edition of Commerce and Government is by Georges Le Roy in his three-volume Oeuvres philosophiques de Condillac which the Presses Universitaires de France published from 1947 to 1951. Le Roy included it in volume 2 published in 1948 (241–367), and his is now the definitive French language edition.
Le Roy uses the 1798 edition as his principal text, but he publishes almost every variation from the 1776 edition. He identi fies the places where passages of the 1798 text did not appear in 1776, and he gives most words and all the passages published in 1776 but not 1798. Le Roy thus invites his readers to take the 1798 text as their starting point, but to be at the same time aware of what was there in 1776.
We follow Le Roy in offering both texts to our readers, but we have preferred to take the 1776 text as our starting point. This is because it is the sole text Condillac actually published. According to Sgard (Corpus Condillac, 163), most of the additional material in Mably’s wooden box which is now in the Bibliothèque Nationale is in Condillac’s hand, but not all of it. Two amendments in the 1798 Oeuvres may reflect that they were inserted after the Revolution.
In 1776, thirteen years before the Revolution, Condillac says that “The right to coin money can only belong to the sovereign.” In the 1798 edition, nine years after the Revolution and eighteen years after Condillac’s death, the reader is told that the sovereign is “the king in a monarchy, and in a republic the nation or the body which represents it” (CG 272 below). In 1776 in Condillac’s lifetime, the cry of the people who rise in revolt because they believe the export of grain is denying them bread is described as “seditious [séditieux].” In 1798 what was seditious in the monarchy is no longer seditious, and the word is deleted (CG 301 below), a change Le Roy has overlooked. The 1795 edition still has séditieux, so those who produced it were not tempted to the “political correctness” which may have crept into the 1798 edition. These are slight changes, but it is likely that they were inspired by the editors of the 1798 edition, and if they permitted themselves these amendments, they may have made others.
The second reason for preferring the 1776 text as the foundation for the present edition is that, while the principal additions of 1798 are clearly by Condillac and correspond almost exactly in length to what was found in Mably’s wooden case, he did not have the opportunity to approve them in print. The original 1776 book has the verve and momentum of an author who is writing an important book, full of discoveries and clarifications, to win over the enlightened public. Some of the passages he added in 1798 are those of a distinguished philosopher responding to technical criticism. The first chapter has a long additional passage (CG 103–5 below) which includes an account of the need to solve a system of knowns and unknowns. The tempo is slowed. There are other new passages which clarify the argument without slowing the exposition.
We believe that readers will prefer to read the book as Condillac initially wrote it, but to be aware of the additional material from the final years of his life. We have therefore made the 1776 text the starting point of this first English language edition. We offer a complete translation of the 1776 text, and add in parentheses or at the end of chapters a translation of the new passages added in 1798 and an account of what was deleted then.
[1. ] Condillac’s birth date is established beyond question by his baptismal certificate, which says on 1 October 1714 that he was born on the previous day (see Jean B. Sgard, ed., Corpus Condillac [Geneva and Paris: Slatkine, 1981], 31). Yet many accounts of his life, such as that in Auguste Lebeau, Condillac: Économiste (Paris, 1903), erroneously give the year of his birth as 1715.
[2. ] The above account of Condillac’s family and early years is drawn from Sgard, Corpus Condillac, which also has a family tree and much more detailed information about his wider family.
[3. ] Count G. Baguenault de Puchesse, Condillac, sa vie, son oeuvre, son influence (Paris: Plon-Nourrit, 1910), 9,20.
[4. ] This is under the editorship of Jean Sgard and is referred to as Sgard, Corpus Condillac.
[5. ] Puchesse, Condillac, 15.
[6. ] L’abbé Étienne Bonnot de Condillac, Oeuvres philosophiques de Condillac, ed. Georges Le Roy, vol. 33 of Corpus générale des philosophes françaises (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1947–51), 2:533.
[7. ] L’abbé Étienne Bonnot de Condillac, Lettres inédites à Gabriel Cramer, ed. Georges Le Roy (Paris, 1953), 35, 52, 59, 77.
[8. ] Laurence L. Bongie, “Diderot’s femme savante,” in Studies on Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century (Oxford: The Voltaire Foundation at the Taylor Institution, 1977), 166:149–63, and Puchesse, Condillac, 13.
[9. ] L’abbé Étienne Bonnot de Condillac, Traité des sensations, in Oeuvres de Condillac (Paris, 1798), 3:52.
[10. ] Eighteenth-century taste valued poetry very highly, and Turgot wrote a lot of it, while it launched Marmontel on his career when he won a prize which brought him to Voltaire’s attention (Jean François Marmontel, Oeuvres complètes, vol. 1, Mémoires [Paris: Amable Costes, 1819], 87, 118)
[11. ] L’abbé Raynal, baron Friedrich Melchior Grimm, and Denis Diderot, Correspondance littéraire, ed. Maurice Tourneux (Paris: Garnier Frères, 1877), 12:343.
[12. ] John Lough, “Lemonnier’s painting, Une soirée chez Mme Geoffrin en 1755,” French Studies 45, no. 3 (1991): 268–78.
[13. ] L’abbé Étienne Bonnot de Condillac, Oeuvres de Condillac, vol. 1, l’Essai sur l’origine des connoissances humaines (Paris, 1798), 230.
[14. ] See Condillac, Lettres inédites, 54.
[15. ] Denis Diderot, Oeuvres complètes, vol. 15 (Paris: Le Club Française, 1973), 224.
[16. ] John S. Spink, “Un abbé philosophe: l’affaire de J.-M. de Prades,” Dix-huitième siècle 3 (1971): 157–59.
[17. ] See Sgard, Corpus Condillac, 63–64.
[18. ] H. Bédarida, Parme et la France de 1748 à 1789 (Paris: Champion, 1928), 89.
[19. ] Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Rousseau, ses amis et ses ennemis, correspondance, ed. M. G. Streckeisen-Moultou (Paris, 1865), 237.
[20. ] Bédarida, Parme et la France, 257.
[21. ] Bédarida, Parme et la France, gives an exhaustive account of the French presence in Parma based on archival material.
[22. ] In Émile (234), Rousseau advocated that the tutor learn a new craft alongside his pupil, as the only sure way of seeing that the pupil learnt well. Condillac probably expected his correspondent to be aware of this.
[23. ] Sgard, Corpus Condillac, 72.
[24. ] Bédarida, Parme et la France, 446, summarises the poem in French. The original Italian poem is in Carlo I. Frugoni, Opere poetiche, collected and published by P. Manara and C. C. Rezzonico (Parma, 1779), 7:339–46.
[25. ] Condillac, Oeuvres philosophiques, 2:545.
[26. ] Sgard, Corpus Condillac, 151.
[27. ] Ibid., 148, 150.
[28. ] H. Bédarida, “Lettres inédites de Condillac,” Annales de l’université de Grenoble (1924): 233.
[29. ] Ibid., 236–37.
[30. ] See Sgard, Corpus Condillac, 152, for the Beccaria letter, and François Moureau, “Condillac et Mably: dix lettres inédites ou retrouvées,” Dix-huitièmesiècle 23 (1991): 199, for that to La Condamine.
[31. ] U. Benassi, “II precettore famoso d’un nostro Duca,” Bollettino Storico Piacentino 18, no. 1 (1923): 9.
[32. ] Sgard, Corpus Condillac, 74.
[33. ] Benassi, “II precettore famoso,” 10.
[34. ] Puchesse, Condillac, 126.
[35. ] F. Piva, “Condillac a Venezia. Conalcune lettere inedite,” in Studi Francesi, no. 64, Anno 22 (1) (1978): 77.
[36. ] Ibid., 81–82.
[37. ] Sgard, Corpus Condillac, 76.
[38. ]Mémoires secrets (London: Adamson, 1777–89), 3:194.
[39. ] Voltaire (François-Marie Arouet), Correspondance, ed. Theodore Besterman (Geneva: Institut et Musée Voltaire, and University of Toronto Press, 1968), 70:127, letter 14319.
[40. ]Mémoires secrets, 4:177–80.
[41. ] Voltaire, Correspondance, 71:21.
[42. ] Puchesse, Condillac, 140–41.
[43. ] Ibid., 18.
[44. ] Sgard, Corpus Condillac, 92.
[45. ] Claude-Adrien Helvétius, Correspondance générale (Oxford: Voltaire Foundation and University of Toronto Press, 1991), 3:264–65.
[46. ] Ibid., 304. Her death may have been the sad circumstance referred to in Condillac’s letter of 9 October 1768 to the Prince of Parma (Condillac, Oeuvres philosophiques, 2:549).
[47. ] Sgard, Corpus Condillac, 154–55.
[48. ] The first chapter of Sgard, Corpus Condillac, “Réalites et légendes,” summarises many different and sometimes contradictory accounts of his personality given in mostly nineteenth-century works. Modern scholars have had as varied views as Roger Lefèvre, who entitled his book Condillac, ou la joie de vivre (Paris: Seghers, 1966), and Isabel Knight (The Geometric Spirit: The Abbé de Condillac and the French Enlightenment [New Haven, Conn., 1968], 6), who saw his life as austere.
[49. ] Mme du Deffand was the correspondent of Horace Walpole over many years.
[50. ] Julie de Lespinasse, Lettres inédites, introduction by M. Charles Henry (1887), 8.
[51. ] See Sgard, Corpus Condillac, 82–85, for some details of the management of the abbey.
[52. ] Bédarida, Parme et la France, 417.
[53. ] Ibid., 417 footnote.
[54. ] Ibid., 418.
[55. ] Turgot, as a friend and colleague of Malesherbes, preferred public opinion to judge works, provided they were not seditious or blasphemous; and as a man eager to extend toleration into religious matters, he was hesitant to use his influence to have work censored even when it was opposed to his policies. Thus he allowed Necker’s De la législation et du commerce des grains to pass the censors in 1775.
[56. ] Raynal, Grimm and Diderot, Correspondance littéraire, March 1775, 11:53ff.
[57. ] Belin gives the mss. no. of the Archives de la Chambre syndicate des libraires et imprimeurs de Paris 22016, 273.
[58. ] It forms volume 22 of the 1798 edition of Condillac’s Oeuvres. Count Potocki’s invitation and Condillac’s reply are printed on pp. 199–202. Sgard, Corpus Condillac, 101–2, gives an excerpt from the third letter. Condillac’s brother Mably thought highly of the work (see letters to Wielhorski, quoted in Sgard, Corpus Condillac, 121).
[59. ]Mémoires secrets, 16:10.
[60. ] Sgard, Corpus Condillac, 101.
[61. ] The Sgard catalogue of his letters mentions fifty-eight, but it is clear both from their content and from what some of his correspondents wrote to him that he was a busy and quite chatty letter-writer.
[62. ] Rousseau wrote his own account of these events, the Histoire du précédent écrit (1782). It is printed with his Dialogues in Rousseau, Juge de Jean Jacques, texte présénté par Michel Foucault (Paris: Armand Colin, 1962), 321–22.
[63. ] This is referred to in Mémoires secrets (vol. 22, for 10 Jan. 1783). The abbé Reyrac is said to have taken the manuscript, while trembling, only on the assurance that it contained nothing against the state, morals or religion. He later handed it over to the family. This source contains the inaccuracy that the abbé de Condillac was Rousseau’s pupil. It was his nephew, M. de Mably’s son, also known as Condillac, whom Rousseau found an unsatisfactory pupil.
[64. ] Though Baguenault de Puchesse can speak of family tradition about his distinguished ancestor, it must be noted that he was writing over a century after Mme de Sainte-Foy’s death in 1807. On the abbé’s character the testimony of d’Autroche, speaking to an assemblage of intelligent men who will have had some acquaintance with Condillac, carries more weight.
[65. ] Puchesse, Condillac, 166.
[66. ] Sgard, Corpus Condillac, 102, 106.
[67. ] Ibid., 107. Mably’s letter of 6 January 1780 to a cousin, printed in Puchesse, Condillac, 273–74, shows that the brothers kept in touch, though by that time Condillac’s visits to Paris where Mably lived were very brief. In a letter to a Polish count after Condillac’s death, he spoke of his sharp sorrow on the loss of his brother whom he loved tenderly (Sgard, Corpus Condillac, 121), and for Bonnot de Saint-Marcellin, see ibid., 22.
[68. ] Puchesse, Condillac, 23–24.
[69. ] Sgard, Corpus Condillac, 102–3.
[70. ] Puchesse, Condillac, v.
[71. ]Commerce and Government is abbreviated to CG hereafter; page references are to the edition presented in this volume.
[72. ] A. Murphy, Richard Cantillon: Entrepreneur and Economist (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986), 251.
[73. ] Z. Kenessey, “Why Das Kapital Remained Un finished,” in Perspectives on the History of Economic Thought, ed. William J. Barber, vol. 5, Themes in Pre-Classical, Classical and Marxian Economics (Aldershot, Hants.: Edward Elgar, 1991).
[74. ] Gustave Schelle, Turgot (Paris, 1909), 154.
[75. ] Steven Kaplan (Bread, Politics and Political Economy in the Reign of Louis XV [The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1976]) provides a detailed and authoritative account of French policy with regard to grain from the 1750s to the 1770s and the particular impact of the need to feed Paris. This has much influenced the account which follows.
[76. ] Perhaps the most succinct account of the physiocrat reform programme is to be found in Philosophic rurale, where, with Mirabeau, Quesnay shows in twenty-two pages how freeing food markets and substituting the taxation of rents for all other taxes could double the capital of France in nine years (Marquis de Mirabeau [Victor Riqueti] and François Quesnay, Philosophic rurale [Amsterdam, 1763; reprinted in 1972 by Scientia Verlag Aalen], 2:354–75). Their argument is explained in Walter Eltis, “The Grand Tableau of François Quesnay’s economies,” European Journal of the History of Economic Thought 3, no. 1 (1996): 21–43.
[77. ] Kaplan, Bread, Politics, 141–42.
[78. ] See G. Faccarello, “‘Nil Repente!’: Galiani and Necker on economic reforms,” European Journal of the History of Economic Thought 1, no. 3 (1994): 519–50, for an account of Galiani’s analysis.
[79. ] Kaplan, Bread, Politics, 550–52.
[80. ] Ibid., 552.
[81. ] Turgot, Oeuvres de Turgot, 4:45.
[82. ] See Schelle, Turgot, ch. 13; Turgot, Oeuvres de Turgot, 4:44–55; and E. Faure, La Disgrâce de Turgot, 12 mai 1776 (Paris: Gallimard, 1961), Part 2, chs. 3–4, for detailed accounts of the bread riots (“La guerre des farines”) of 1775.
[83. ] Kaplan, Bread, Politics, 509.
[84. ] See Schelle, Turgot, ch. 14; Turgot, Oeuvres de Turgot, 5:1–12; and Faure, La Disgrâce de Turgot, Part 3, chs. 4–5, for accounts of the February– March decrees.
[85. ] See Schelle, Turgot, ch. 16; Turgot, Oeuvres de Turgot, 5:12–20; and Faure, La Disgrâce de Turgot, Part 3, chs. 6–7, for accounts of Turgot’s fall.
[86. ] Schelle, Turgot, 251–52.
[87. ] Ibid., 252.
[88. ] See Faccarello, “‘Nil Repente!’,” for an account of the contemporary explanations of Galiani and Necker for the practical failure of Turgot’s reforms, and the general implications for price reform programmes—in eighteenth-century France and in twentieth-century Eastern Europe. See also Walter Eltis, “France’s free market reforms in 1774–5 and Russia’s in 1991–3: the immediate relevance of L Abbé de Condillac’s analysis,” European Journal of the History of Economic Thought 1, no. 1 (1993): 5–19.
[89. ] According to J. Hecht, “La vie de François Quesnay,” in François Quesnay et la physiocratie (Paris: Institut National d’Études Démographiques, 1958), 252, Condillac was a frequent visitor (habitué) to Quesnay’s entresol in the Palace of Versailles.
[90. ] Philippe Steiner (“L’économie politique du royaume agricole François Quesnay,” in Nouvelle histoire de la pensée économique, edited by Alain Béraud and Gilbert Faccarello [Paris: Éditions la Découverte, 1992], 227–28) refers to similarities between the article “Évidence” which Quesnay contributed to the Encyclopédie in 1756 and the Traité des sensations and the Traité des animaux which Condillac published in 1754 and 1755, and suggests that Quesnay’s article is borrowed largely from Condillac. According to Louis Salleron (editorial notes in François Quesnay et la physiocratie, 397), Quesnay’s article is developed from fundamental ideas which he first presented in his Essai phisique sur l’oeconomie animale (1736; 2 nd ed., Paris, 1747), so the priority for some of the argument is Quesnay’s.
[91. ] G. Vaggi (The Economics of François Quesnay [London: Macmillan, 1987]) shows from a careful interpretation of detailed physiocratic sources (including especially Quesnay’s articles “Grains” and “Hommes”) that farmers gain profits wherever the current price of corn exceeds the fundamental price (prix fondamental) and that there is a general tendency for profits to arise from this source. Walter Eltis (“François Quesnay: a reinterpretation, 1: The Tableau économique,” Oxford Economic Papers 27 : 176–77) shows that the equilibrium incomes of large farmers necessarily include the equivalent of a normal profit on the large capital sums they have to invest in la grande culture. It none the less requires considerable textual exegesis to find profits in Quesnay. In most of his writings incomes consist only of the revenues of landowners and the earnings of those who work in the productive and sterile sectors.
[92. ] Turgot’s Réflexions. . . appeared in three successive issues of Éphémérides (1769, vols. 11 and 12, and 1770, vol. 1), and Du Pont made such extensive changes to his text that Turgot wrote on 2 February 1770, “I insist absolutely that you conform to my manuscript from now on. . . the passage on avances foncières has caused me particular heart-ache; you know how I argued on this subject with l’abbé Baudeau in your presence; I may be wrong, but we each wish to be ourselves and not someone else” (Turgot, Oeuvres de Turgot, 3:374). It was none the less Du Font’s version of the Réflexions. . . and not one based on Turgot’s manuscript which he republished in 1808–11 in his nine-volume Oeuvres de M. Turgot. Peter D. Groenewegen (The Economics of A. R. J. Turgot [The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1977], xx), following Schelle’s account in Turgot (Oeuvres de Turgot, 3:373–84), suggests that “all these changes and additions were designed to give the Ré flections a greater Physiocratic flavour and to remove conflicts between Turgot’s economics and Physiocratic thought.” See also Robert L. Meek, Turgot on Progress, Sociology and Economics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1973), 37–38.
[93. ] Quesnay’s detailed accounts of la petite culture and la grande culture are set out in the articles “Fermiers” and “Grains” which he published in the Encyclopédie in 1756 and 1757. Their significance and the interconnections between methods of farming and the extent of the agricultural surplus are set out in Eltis, “François Quesnay.”
[94. ] Lebeau (Condillac, 138–47) discusses the significance of the new passages.
[95. ] See Daniel Klein, “Deductive economic methodology in the French Enlightenment,” History of Political Economy 17, no. 1 (1958): 52–53, for a similar account of the rejection of the economics of Commerce and Government by Baudeau and Le Trosne. He does not refer to the extent of Condillac’s common ground with the physiocrats so that, as with Turgot, they could have welcomed his support and acquiesced in the differences.
[96. ] Terence Hutchison, Before Adam Smith: The Emergence of Political Economy, 1662–1776 (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1988), 324.
[97. ] In 1769 Turgot elegantly derived the relationship between the relative marginal utilities of commodities and their relative values in exchange in his uncompleted “Valeurs et monnaies.” His rigorous analysis took the form of two persons trading two commodities. The influence of the opportunity cost of producing the commodities and the generalisation of the argument beyond two persons and two commodities are sketchily indicated. It is not known if Condillac saw Turgot’s manuscript; if he did, he certainly extended the argument, which is why he is widely credited with the principal French originality in the development of the relationship between utility and value, and its implications for an efficient economy. Turgot’s analysis of utility, value and demand is set out and discussed in detail in G. Faccarello, “Turgot et l’économie politique sensualiste,” in Nouvelle histoire de la pensée économique, vol. 1 (Paris: Éditions la Découverte, 1992), 254–88.
[98. ] The deductive nature of Condillac’s methodology is emphasised in Klein, “Deductive economic methodology.”
[99. ] Erich W. Streissler, “The influence of German economics on the work of Menger and Marshall,” in Carl Menger and His Legacy in Economics, edited by Bruce J. Caldwell, Annual Supplement to vol. 22 of the History of Political Economy (1990), 35.