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Molinari’s 4th Evening

Gustave de Molinari, Les Soirées de la rue Saint-Lazare: entretiens sur les lois économiques et défense de la propriété (Evenings on Saint Lazarus Street: Discussions on Economic Laws and the Defence of Property) (1849)

[A Draft of Liberty Fund's new translation]
[May 17, 2012]

[4th Evening]

[SUMMARY: The right to make a will. –Legislation regulating inheritance. – The right of inheritance. – Its moral outcomes. – Its material outcomes. – Comparison of French and British agriculture. – On entail and its utility. The natural organization of farming under a regime of free property.]

Molinari_1849LesSoireesRSL-TP300.jpg MolinariObitB-300
Title Page of the original 1849 edition
The photo of Molinari (1819-1912) which accompanied his obituary in the Journal des économistes


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Molinari's book Les Soirées de la rue Saint-Lazare; entretiens sur les lois économiques et défense de la propriété. (Paris: Guillaumin, 1849) is being translated by Liberty Fund. The translation was done by Dennis O'Keeffe and it is being edited by David M. Hart. The critical apparatus of foontnotes and glossary entries, and introduction are being provided by David Hart. We welcome feedback from Molinari scholars to ensure that this edition will be a great one and thus befitting Molinari in his centennial year.

This page has a detailed Table of Contents and links to other Chapters.


The Fourth Evening

[p. 92]

SUMMARY: The right to make a will. –Legislation regulating inheritance. – The right of inheritance. – Its moral outcomes. – Its material outcomes. – Comparison of French and British agriculture. – On entail and its utility. The natural organization of farming under a regime of free property.


Those who have taken it upon themselves the right to put limitations on property have not failed to limit its free disposition as well. The gifting, bequeathing, lending and exchanging of property have all been subjected to a multitude of encumbrances.[130]

The giving away of certain property is subject to irksome and costly formalities. Making a will is even more constrained. Instead of leaving to the father of the family the free disposition of his wealth, the law obliges him to leave it in more or less equal portions to his legitimate children. If one of his children feels wronged by the sharing out, he has the right to have the will invalidated.[131][p. 93]


Are you are also attacking, therefore, this law which protects family and property?


I am attacking this law which is destructive of family and property. [132] It is in the name of a higher law than that of fathers of families, that society has regulated inheritance, is it not? Why, though, should it not go on to use this superior right to claim for itself, tomorrow, this property which it had at its disposal yesterday? If it has been able to say to the father of the family “you will not dispose of your wealth according to your own will but according to mine”, could it not very well also say to him “it suits me henceforth that you alienate your wealth in my favor”? Is not the abolition of inheritance, that is to say the elimination of individual property, subsumed in a law which attributes to society the unchallengeable right to dispose of inheritance?

Is not the destruction of paternal authority, that is to say the [p. 94] destruction of the family, likewise subsumed in a law which takes away from the father of the family the free disposition of his wealth in order to grant his children an effective right to an inheritance?[133]


A right to an inheritance you say?


To tell children that they have a right to demand from their father virtually equal shares in his inheritance, whatever their conduct has been, whatever their feelings in his regard; to tell them they have the right to have his will invalidated if they find themselves slighted in the sharing, is this not to sanctify the right to an inheritance? Is it not to give the child a share in his father’s property? Is this not to allow him to consider and demand as a debt, what he once regarded and received as a kindness. Where nature made a son, will your law not be creating a creditor?


But is this not a trifling thing, making a parent share his wealth fairly [p95] between his children? Without the law which regulates the shares, would not the children be endlessly frustrated – cheated and inveigled out of what is rightfully theirs? Has not the law prevented all frauds and resolved all difficulties?


By breaking family links; by rendering the father’s authority illusory. No doubt if the right to make a will obtained, the father might distribute his wealth very badly. Is he not always held in check, however, by those powerful restraints that no man-made law could possibly replace – paternal love and the sense of justice? If those two feelings have been silenced in his heart, do you think your law would make them speak out? Do you believe that the father will not find some roundabout means of disposing of his wealth to his children’s disadvantage? If these feelings are present in him, what good is your law? And then there is the point that you posit equality of shares as the ideal standard of equity. Are you entirely sure, however, that this brutal equality is always just? Are you also quite sure that a father cannot favor one child without robbing the others? By going so far as to admit that the son has to all intents and purposes some claim on his father’s wealth…


What? The son would have no claim on the paternal inheritance? But if this were so he could be robbed if there were no will.


The conclusion is false. The children’s claim is based in this case on the likelihood of the legacy. The inheritance has to be theirs, not because they possess a potential claim [p96] on that inheritance, but because the father has probably bequeathed it to them.

By fathering a child, the father agrees to accept the moral obligation to feed him and to prepare him to earn his living, nothing more and nothing less. If it pleases him to give his child something extra, this is an outcome of his own wishes.

Even allowing your alleged right to an inheritance, however, do you believe that a bad son has the same claim on the paternal estate as a good one? Do you think that a father is bound, from the point of view of natural equity, to bequeath part of his wealth to some miserable creature who has been the despair and shame of his family? Do you not think, on the contrary, that he will be bound to deprive this degraded being of the wherewithal for indulging his evil passions? Can the right to disinherit not be useful and just sometimes?

In the eyes of your legislators, however, the father is a creature at once bereft of the notion of justice and of paternal feeling. He is a ferocious beast who incessantly watches his progeny in order to devour them. The law must intervene to protect them. Society must bind this heartless barbarian, this so-called father, hand and foot to prevent his sacrificing his innocent family to his base inclinations.

Our sad legislators have not noticed that their law would be efficacious only in weakening respect for authority and family feeling. Does respect for authority still exist in France?


Ah! You have just touched on the most lamentable scourge [p97] of our time. The present generation has indeed lost the respect for authority – that is only too true. The Union has published some admirable articles on the subject.[134] Who will restore respect for authority for us? The son no longer respects his father. Grownups respect nothing, not even God. Respect for authority is the very anchor of salvation for our society, tossed hither and thither by the storms of revolution, like some ship…


Please do not go on about it. We have read the articles in the Union.


You broke that anchor of salvation with your own hands, the day you attacked the sacred rights of the father of the family, the day when you gave the son a claim on his father’s property, the day when by taking away from him the fearsome weapon of disinheritance, you handed him over to the mercies of his rebellious children.


What about the house of correction?


Yes, this is what you have given him in exchange. Short of having lost all human feeling, though, can a father consent to his son’s being put on this highway to penal servitude? Better to suffer rebellion than draw infamy down on oneself and family.

I know quite well that the father can defy the law and disinherit his intractable son in fact if not legally; but he is forced to act in secret, avoiding the greedy and jealous eye of his creditor. He no longer uses [p98] legitimate means to bequeath his wealth; indeed he makes an immoral infringement on his son’s claim to that wealth. His behavior is no longer that of an owner freely handing over what is his; it is rather that of a debtor surreptitiously getting rid of a mortgaged property. That which would secure the father’s authority, if the right to inheritance did not exist, serves today only to debase it.

I will not speak to you of the hatreds which spring up in families when a father considers it appropriate to favor one of his children. In countries where there is no right to inheritance, in the United States for example, the other children respectfully bow their heads in the face of this sovereign decision of the paternal will, and they conceive no adverse feelings towards the child whom the father has favored. In countries where the right to an inheritance is recognized, such an act becomes, on the contrary, a profound source of family disunion. In fact is not this straightforward act, often so amply justified by the circumstances – the frailty or incapacity of the preferred child, the care he has bestowed on his father – from the point of view of the legality you espouse, a veritable plundering, a theft? Your law is a new species of harpy,[135] which has corrupted family feelings by interfering with them. Having brought about this, do you now complain that the disorder into which you threw the family now propagates itself in the society at large?


But if the moral results of the law of equal shares leave something to be desired, does that law not have at least some admirable outcomes? It has made everyone a proprietor. Every peasant [p99] with his plot of land to work has been sheltered from want.


Are you really sure of this? For my part I hold that no law has been so disastrous for the situation of the laboring poor, both in farming and industry.


Would you prefer, by any chance, the rights of the oldest and of entail?[136]


This is abuse of another sort; another kind of attack on property rights. In truth, however, I do think I would prefer them really.


The dividing up of plots[137] is certainly the curse of our farming and Association[138] is without doubt our last hope.


I think so too.


What? You prefer the feudal arrangements of primogeniture and entail to equal sharing. Yet you are for association. Now there is a manifest contradiction.


I do not think so. What are the essential conditions of any economic production? Stability, with security of possession on the one hand; a bringing together of adequate powers of production on the other. Well the present arrangement comprises neither stability nor sufficiency of productive powers.

[p. 100]


I agree with you that the leases are too short-term and that our inheritance laws have made undivided ownership of farming plots singularly precarious; I agree too that farming is short of capital but what is to be done about it? There is talk of the organization of agricultural credit and for my part I would think along those lines were it not so difficult to find a good system.[139]


A system of agricultural credit, however excellent, would remedy nothing. Under present property arrangements, an increase in the number of institutions of credit would scarcely serve to lower the rate of interest in farming areas. It would be different if our farming units were soundly established like those in England.


You dare to suggest England as a model for us? Oh, well I grant you that the state of the helots[140] in our countryside is truly wretched, but is it not a thousand times preferable to that of the English peasants? Are not the English workers exploited by an aristocracy which devours their substance much as the vulture devoured Prometheus’ liver?[141] Is not England the country where the saddest scenes of the dark drama of man exploiting man are played out? Is not England the great whore of capital? England! Oh do not speak to me of England!


Yet the condition of the English peasant, exploited [p101] by the aristocracy, is infinitely superior to that of the peasant proprietor of France.


Come on now!


I notice in your library two works by Messieurs Mounier and Rubichon, one called Agriculture in France and England and another called The Role of the Nobility in Modern Societies, which will furnish me with indisputable evidence in support of what I am saying.[142]


I humbly confess not to have read them.


That was a mistake on your part. You would have found all the information needed to settle the question which concerns us. It is a summary of the voluminous inquiries published by order of the English Parliament, on the state of agriculture and the condition of farming people. As I leaf through it at random, I find an extract from the most recent inquiry (1846).[143]

The Chairman of the Inquiry is speaking to Mr Robert Baker, an Essex farmer, who works some 230 hectares.

Q. What is the standard diet of agricultural laborers?

A. They eat meat and potatoes. If flour is cheap, however, they do not eat potatoes. This year (1846) they are eating best white bread. Mr Robert Hyde-Gregg, for some twenty years one of the biggest manufacturers in Great Britain, [p102] for his part gives the following answers to questions on the situation of laborers in manufacturing.

Q. When you say that the laborer in manufacturing districts eats a lot of potatoes, do you mean by this that, as in Ireland, potatoes are the people’s basic food, or are they consumed along with meat?

A. In general the dinner consists of potatoes and pork, while the breakfast and supper consist of tea and bread.

Q. Do the workers generally have pork?

A. I can fairly say that they all eat meat for dinner.

Q. During the time you have been observing things, has there been a great change in the diet of industrial laborers? Have they replaced oat flour with wheat flour?

A. This change has certainly taken place. I remember that in all the workpeople’s houses one used to see flat cakes of rough bread hung up; there is nothing like that now.

Q. Today’s population, then, as far as bread goes, has improved its diet, using wheat flour rather than oat flour?

R. Yes, absolutely.

Now I will present some evidence relating to workers in France and England. Mr Joseph Cramp, expert land evaluator in the country of Kent, and a farmer for forty four years, came to France and took the trouble to make himself familiar with the condition of French agriculture. He was interviewed as to the condition of farm laborers in Normandy.

Q. Following your observations of the conditions of the workers in [p103] Normandy, do you think they are better dressed and better fed than the workers in the Isle of Thanet, [144] where you live?

A. No. I have been in their homes, and I have seen them having their meals, which are such that I hope never to see an Englishman sitting down to such bad food.

Q. The workers in the Isle of Thanet eat the best white bread, is that not so?

R. Always.

Q. And in Normandy the farm workers do not eat it?

R. No. They were eating bread whose color came close to that of this inkwell here.

Q. How many hectoliters of wheat are produced per hectare in the Isle of Thanet?

A. About twenty nine.

Q. Having lived and farmed in the Isle of Thanet for so long, can you say if the condition of farm laborers has improved or worsened since you first got to know the region?

A. It has improved.

Q. In every respect?

A. Yes.

Q. Do you think then that the workers are better dressed and educated?

A. Better fed, better dressed, better educated.

You see then that the condition of the agrarian populations in England is infinitely superior to that of ours. These people do not own the land. The proprietors of the land in Great Britain [p104] are some thirty five or thirty six thousand souls, mostly descendants of former conquerors.


Yes, the land in England belongs to the aristocracy and the English people pay two or three billion a year to that haughty and idle caste for the right to work the soil.


It is true that this is rather expensive. So the English have begun to cut back on the landlords’ share[145] by abolishing the Corn Laws.[146] You will see, however, that even at this oppressively inflated price, the English have found it really advantageous to maintain their aristocracy, while we committed the sin of hastily eliminating ours.


Oh, dear me!


Let me finish. How have the English succeeded in drawing from their soil much more and far better produce than we have from ours. The answer is in perfecting their agriculture, in making it undergo a series of progressive transformations.


What transformations?


British landowners successively replaced their small farms, insufficiently capitalized, by larger farms [p105] much more heavily capitalized. It is thanks to this progressive substitution of factory-like agriculture for the small workshop approach to farming that progress was achieved.[147] The inquiry carried out by MM. Mounier and Rubichon, gives the following information on the distribution of the British population:

Families working in agriculture, 961,134

Families working in industry, commerce etc., 2,453,041

These 961, 134 families employed in agriculture supplied some 1,055,982 able bodied workers to cultivate, 13,849,320 hectares, yielding an output of 4,000, 500,000 francs.

In France agricultural output yielded only 3,523,000,861,000 francs in 1840, yet it was worked by a population of 18,000,000 individuals yielding an active workforce of five to six millions. This means that the output of a French farm laborer is four to five times less productive than that of one in England. You must understand now why our population is less well fed than that of Great Britain.


You are taking no account of the enormous tribute the English farmers pay to the aristocracy.


If as the statistics show, the farming population of England is better fed than ours, despite the tribute paid to the aristocracy, is this not incontestable proof that by producing more they also receive more?



This is clear.


And if it is true that owing to the care of the aristocracy, British agriculture has made immense and rapid progress; if it is true that it is because of this aristocratic management that a farm worker produces more and earns more in England than in France, has not England been right to preserve her aristocracy?


Yes, but at least the French peasant is the owner of the land.


Is it better to earn ten on your own land or twenty on land belonging to some unrelated outsider?


It is better to earn twenty anywhere.


Very well! Is it really the case, however, that there is an indispensable link between these two things, the preservation of the aristocracy and the progress of British agriculture? Is it not likely that British agriculture would have achieved even greater progress if England had got rid of its aristocracy, as we have got rid of ours. Has not French agriculture made progress since ’89?


I do not think it has. Mounier and Rubichon say very strongly that instead of progressing it has regressed. A field which yielded 10 before 1789 now yields only 4. Perhaps they exaggerate the [p107] ill. Note, however, one incontestable fact: if the volume of subsistence foods produced by a given labor force has not declined, the quality of the overall mass of subsistence foods has fallen. It is notorious that the consumption of meat has diminished. In Paris itself, this centre where all the productive forces of France converge, they eat less meat than in 1789. According to Lavoisier,[148] the average consumption in Paris (including fowl and game) was then 81.5 kilos per head; by 1838 it had fallen to 62.3 kilos. The fall was no less marked in the rest of the country. According to old documents quoted in the Imperial statistics, the average consumption of each inhabitant of France (excluding cooked meats) was: in 1789, 13.13 kilos; in 1830 only 12.36 kilos; and in 1840, 11.29 kilos. The consumption of an inferior meat – pork – has on the contrary, grown. Today per capita consumption is 8.65 kilos per head.

To sum up, the consumption of meat in France is at only 8.65 kilos per head.

In the USA the average is 122 kilos.

In England it is 68 kilos.

In Germany it is 55 kilos.

Moreover, it is probable that our consumption will go on falling constantly, if our farming system stays the same, for the price of meat goes on rising gradually.

If we divide France into nine regions, we find that the price of meat has risen between 1824 and 1840:[149]

In the first region, the North West, by 11%

In the second region, the North, by 22% [p108]

In the third region, the North East, by 28%

In the fourth region, the West, by 17%

In the fifth region, the centre, by 19%

In the sixth region, the East, by 21%,

In the seventh region, the South West by 23%

In the eighth region, the South by 30%

In the ninth region, the South East by 38%

Well you know that the retail price of meat is the surest index of a people’s prosperity.


I agree with you here; but show us once again, very clearly, the connection which exists, according to you, between the deterioration of our agriculture and our law of the equal division of inherited property. How does the one lead to the other?


I have forgotten one circumstance, namely that our soil is naturally more fertile than the British soil…But to answer your question, let me note that England owes the stability of its farming to the care taken by the aristocracy and to the laws which in that country ensure, at least in part, freedom of inheritance.[150]


Freedom of inheritance you say. What about entails and the rights of the first born?...


They are perfectly free in that no law obliges the father of the family to establish them. It is tradition which decides and that tradition is based on economic necessities.

Here is what entails consist in.

At the time of the marriage of his eldest son, usually, or at any other time convenient for him to choose, the owner of the land bequeaths his property to his eldest grandson, or in the absence of a grandson, his eldest granddaughter. If at the time of the entail, the owner has a living son and living grandson, he can extend the entail further and designate his great-grandson or great-granddaughter but his right covers only the first unborn generation. In Scotland there is no such limit and a proprietor can entail his wealth in perpetuity.[151]

The act of entail once accomplished, the owner and his living inheritors lose the right to dispose freely of the land; they are now only its usufructuaries. They cannot burden it with mortgages, nor sell it whole or in part. An entailed property can be neither seized nor confiscated. It is regarded as a sacrosanct legacy which no one is allowed to deflect from its intended purpose.

At the age of twenty-one the designated beneficiary for whom the entail has operated can break it, but does not commonly do so except to renew it, adding to it certain clauses necessitated by the current situation the family finds itself in. In this way properties are handed on, whole and intact, from generation to generation.

Now let us consider what purpose entails have.

They bestow on farms what our own farms lack, namely stability. In France perspectives are only for a lifetime; in England everything is reckoned in the long term. Our farms [p110] are exposed to endless fragmentation by being shared out; British farms run no risks of that kind.


Does this risk really have the importance you give it? It matters rather little whether the land is more or less split up, provided it is well farmed.


Ask the farmers and they will tell you that all farms have to be of a certain size to be worked with maximum economy. This is easy to understand. You can employ the most advanced methods and tools only when the farming is on a very large scale. In England ordinary farms are of three hundred and fifty or four hundred hectares. These farms are heavily capitalized. In France the number of these large farms is extremely limited.




He who sets up some agrarian enterprise does not know whether it will be fragmented and destroyed when he dies. There is nothing he can do to prevent it from fragmentation. Has not the law limited his right to bequeath? He is therefore not very enthusiastic about heavy investment in agriculture. Is the ordinary farmer more so? In France the leases are very short-term; it is a marvel if you see one of twenty one years. I do not need to explain to you the reason for these short-term leases: you will have guessed it! When ownership itself is short-term, it is not possible to arrange long leases. When, however, the farmer himself [ p111] occupies his land for only three, six or nine years, he invests the least possible capital; he economizes on fertilizer, he does not put up fencing, he does not renew his equipment; and on the other hand he exhausts the soil as much as possible.

In England the stability which the system of entails has given to agriculture, has brought stability also to rental farming, in the form of long-term leases. So the farmers, confident of reaping themselves what they have sown, generally apply their economic efforts into making the land fertile.


Yet the farmer is subject, in England as in France, to the tyranny of landowners.


Yes, but it is a very gentle tyranny. In England there are farmers who have held the same farm, father and son, from time immemorial. Most have no lease, so strong is the confidence which the landowners inspire in them. This confidence is rarely deceived; only rarely will an owner decide to expel a farmer with age-old links to his family. There are, nevertheless, in England as elsewhere, different modes of tenure. In the North a system of leases covering the life-times of three persons is commonly used. The farmer designates himself, and likewise two of his children, and the lease runs until the death of the last one of the three. The average duration of these leases is estimated at fifty four years. When one of the designated children has just died, the farmer ordinarily is authorized to substitute another name [p112] for that of the dead person, and thus to prolong the duration of the lease.

When the lease has a fixed term, its duration is commonly determined by that of the crop rotations. For rotations of six and nine years, it is nineteen years but it is rare for the lease not to be renewed.

The sizeable fluctuations to which the price of wheat has been exposed for some time, have given rise to a new form of lease. I want to speak about changeable leases, leases varying from year to year according to ups and downs of the cereal markets. A farm will be rented for example for the value of a thousand quarters of wheat; if in 1845 the price of wheat is fifty shillings, the farmer has to pay two thousand eight hundred pounds sterling in farm rent; if in 1846 the price rises to sixty shillings he will pay three thousand pounds sterling. The average price of wheat in the county settles these evaluations.

We can see that farmers can safely risk their capital in enterprises so solidly based. We can see too that capitalists will readily lend to them. The big farmers manage to borrow at four per cent and sometimes even at three. One runs in fact almost no risk investing one’s capital in the soil. Farms are not exposed to losing their value by fragmentation or sale intended to end their single ownership. Farmers and landowners being established, so to speak, in perpetuity, provide lenders with maximum guarantees. Hence the low rates of interest in agriculture; hence also the considerable numbers of banks established to serve as intermediaries between capitalists and entrepreneurs in the agriculture industry,[152] land owners or farmers.

[p113] The English people, endlessly pictured to you as deprived of any ownership of the land in Great Britain, in reality possess far more landed wealth than the French people themselves. If they do not use their capital to buy actual land, they do invest it in the land itself whose productivity they thus augment.

In France on the contrary people buy the land but they invest scarcely any capital in it. It could not be otherwise. One does not happily lend to a small farmer whose existence is only half assured for a few years; one even hesitates to lend to the small proprietor whose tiny plot of land may, from one day to the next, be split up yet again between a number of inheritors. Add to this the costly formalities, the delays and insecurity of mortgage lending and you have the explanation of the high interest rates in agriculture.


Yes, usury is gnawing away at our countryside.


Usury perhaps![153] Examine however the composition of the ten or fifteen per cent which our farm people pay to the usurers, weigh up the risks of loss and the expenses involved and you will be convinced that this usury is in no way illegitimate. You will be convinced that in respect of the extent and the likelihood of agricultural risk, the interest on loans made to agriculture is not in any way worse than the interest on ordinary loans. Since the agricultural banks which people are so keen on will not eliminate these risks, they will contribute only feebly to bringing down the rate of agricultural interest.



So what must be done then to restore to our farming lands the security they have lost? Should we re-establish entails?


God forbid! We must first of all restore to owners the right of disposing freely of their property. This way we will slow down the dividing up of land and give farms a degree of that precious stability which they are lacking today. Capital will then flow more readily into agriculture and its price will fall. If at the same time one rids the soil of the heavy taxes which afflict it and if one improves our mortgage arrangements, if we free our industrial and farming associations from the shackles which Imperial legislation has fastened on them, we will soon see a veritable revolution at work in our agriculture. Numerous companies will form to develop the land as happened for the operation of the railways and mining etc. Now these organizations having an interest in establishing themselves in the long term, will mean that the farms will acquire an almost unshakeable stability. Split up into shares, the ownership of the land will change and will be shared without farming feeling in the slightest under assault. Agriculture will set itself up in the most economic way possible.


Yes, applying the principle of Association to agriculture will put an end to our woes.


Perhaps we do not understand association in the same [p115] way.[154] Whatever may be the case I think that the future of our agriculture and of our industry belongs to the anonymous limited company.[155] Outside this form of development, at once flexible and stable, I see no way of keeping the effort of work always proportionate to the resistance of nature. While we have been awaiting the setting up of such an arrangement, we have been under too much pressure to have done with the old institutions. By destroying entails hastily, by then hindering the establishment of farming companies,[156] we have left agriculture to all the miseries of fragmentation. Production carried out in progressively smaller working areas has meant retrogression rather than progress. The labor of the farm worker has become less and less productive. While the English worker, aided by machinery perfected by the large agricultural sector produces five, the French worker produces only one and a half, and the greater part of this feeble output goes to the capitalists who risk their funds in our poor agricultural work places.

This is the explanation of the poverty which is gnawing away the French countryside. This is why we are threatened by a new Jacquerie.[157] Do not attribute this Jacquerie to socialism, attribute it rather to those miserable law makers who while decreeing with one hand equality of sharing, hindered with the other the formation of industrial companies[158] and heaped taxes on farming. These are the guilty men!

Perhaps we will succeed in avoiding the catastrophes which such lamentable errors prepared the way for, but we will have to hurry. From day to day the evil gets worse; from day to day France’s situation gets closer to that [p116] of Ireland.[159] But our peasants do not have the forbearance of the Irish peasants…..


Ah! We live in very sad times. The countryside is rotten.


Whose fault is it, if not that of the legislators who have attacked the stability of property and the sanctity of the family? The Socialist preachers can attack these two holy institutions as much as they like, they will never harm them as much as you yourselves did, by inscribing in your Legal Codes the right to an inheritance.


Molinari’s on Legislation about Making a Will

The right to make one’s will is limited in France, mainly by Articles 913 and 915 of the Civil Code.

Art. 913. Gifts, either by way of acts between living persons, or by will and testament, may not exceed half the wealth of the benefactor if he has one living child at the time of his death; a third if he has two [p93] living children; a quarter if he has three or more children.

Art. 915. Gifts, either by way of acts between living persons, or by will and testament, may not exceed half the wealth of the benefactor if he has one or several ascendants on either the paternal or maternal side, or three quarters if he has ascendants on one side only.

It must be said in justification of the authors of the Civil Code, however, that they had had predecessors more illiberal still. By the law of 7th March 1793, the Convention had completely abolished the right to make a will. This law was conceived as follows:

One mode of Inheritance. The right to dispose of one’s wealth, either following one’s death, or between living persons, or by contractual donation in direct line of descent, is abolished: in consequence, all descendants will have an equal right to share the wealth of their ascendants.

The authors of the Civil Code were unanimous in recognising that [page 94] this law had made a grave attack on paternal authority. Unfortunately they did not dare do more than half reform it.

Under the Roman Republic, the unlimited right to bequeath had been consecrated by the Law of the Twelve Tables. Divers successive attacks were made on this right, however. Justinian limited the disposable portion of the inheritance to a third when there were four children and a half when there were five or more.

In England, one can dispose in one’s will of all one’s real estate, without restrictions and of a third of one’s movable property; the other two thirds belong to the wife and children. Landed property goes by right to the eldest son, only when there is no will.

In the United States the right of bequeathing is completely free.[160]



[130] Under the Old Regime there existed the law of entail (“substitution”) which was designed to preserve aristocratic land holdings by preventing their being sold or divided. During the Revolution the Law of 1791 required the equal division of property among the children. [See the glossary entry on “Entail”.]

[131] See Molinari’s long footnote on the inheritance laws as defined by the Civil Code at the end of the chapter.

[132] The most detailed defense of property by an Economist was provided by Charles Comte in the Traité de la Propriété (1834) where he says “The capacity to dispose of things is one of the essential elements of all property... If I had wanted to combat, in this book, the errors which spring from the Abbey Raynal on the right of children to receive the property which their parents leave upon their death, I would have argued that the spirit of family is one of the principal causes behind the production and the conservation of wealth; that a man in order to ensure the survival of his children devotes himself to working and imposes on himself sacrifices which no other feeling produces in him; that families develop in themselves habits which are in keeping with their standard of living; and that if the wealth of an individual is not allowed to be passed on to his descendants then it will impose the harshest deprivations upon them …;  and finally, that a nation where children are prevented from inheriting property from their parents would descend in a few short years to a level much lower than the inhabitants of Egypt under the Mamelukes or the Greeks under the Turks.” [See Charles Comte, Traité de la Propriété, vol. 2, Chap. LIV "Des idées rétrogrades contre la propriété. Conclusion, pp. 470, 478-79.]

[133] Molinari distinguishes between the “droit à l’héritage” (right to an inheritance) and “droit de l’héritage” (the right of a property owner to grant an inheritance). He puts the former expression in italics in order to question its legitimacy. This distinction is very similar to the one the Economists made in their debates with the socialists between the “right to work” (‘le droit au travail” - or right to a job provided at taxpayer expence) and the "right of working” (la liberté du travail), by which they meant the right of any individual to pursue an occupation or activity without any restraints imposed upon him by the state. [See the glossary entry on “Entail and Inheritance.”]

[134] The monarchist and legitimist newspaper L'Union monarchique was created in 1847 when 3 small newspapers were amalgamated: L'Echo française (1829-1847), La Quotidienne (1814-1847) (the leading ultra-royalist newspaper of the Restoration), and La France (1834-1847) (its subtitle was "Organ of the monarchical and Religious Interests of Europe"). L'Union monarchique changed its name to L'Union in 1848. It should not be confused with the Saint-Simonian newspaper of the same name. [See the glossary entry on “Press (Conservative)”.]

[135] In Greek mythology a "Harpy” (or "snatcher") was a winged being which stole food from Phineas, the King of Thrace.

[136] The technical terms Molinari uses here are “le droit d’aînesse” (primogentiure or the right of inheritance of the oldest son) and “la substitution” (entail, or the division of inherited property which is fixed by law). [See the glossary entry on “Entail and Inheritance.”]

[137] The French word is “morcellement”. The economists were divided over the pros and cons of large-scale versus small-scale farming. The Physiocrats and Adam Smith believed that small-scale farming was more profitable because the farmer had a very direct and close personal interest in making it so. In the 19th century Sismondi shared this view based upon his study of the Italian peasantry. On the other hand the English traveller Arthur Young thought that the poverty in rural France on the eve of the French Revolution was due to the excessive subdivision of farms which made them unprofitable to run. This view was also shared by Thomas Malthus. McCulloch believed that the greater productivity of British agriculture could be explained by its inheritance laws which encouraged the preservation of larger estates. [See A. Legoyt, “Morcellement,” DEP, vol. 2, pp. 242-50, and E. de Parieu, “Succession,” DEP, vol. 2, pp. 670-78.]

[138] Depending upon what kind of socialist “The Socialist” is, the term “Association” will have different meanings. Some of the more extreme socialist groups like the Fourierists advocated the communal ownership of land and its cooperative working by all members of the community. Another possibility is that small private landowner would pool their resources in some kind of co-operative arrangement. The Economist agrees but the kind of “Association” he has in mind are large-scale for profit capitalist agri-businesses. A. Clément distinguishes between associations which arise in the market, associations organized by voluntary communities such as the Fourierists, and state organized associations like an army. As the size of the association increases Clément argues that economic exchanges and competition within the association are reduced, thus making them less and less efficient. [See Ambroise Clément, “Association,” DEP, vol. 1, pp. 78-85.]

[139] Wolowski argues that the annual return on agricultural land was at best 3% but the interest paid on new capital for investment in farming activities was 6-8%. This led to calls for the state to provide subsidised loans for small farmers which was discussed in the Constituent Assembly of the new Second Republic in October 1848. Liberal opponents of the scheme like Léon Faucher and Thiers warned the Assembly of the inflationary dangers of such as scheme and reminded them of previous efforts such as Law’s investment bubble and the revolutionary currency, the assignats, which was based upon the sale of confiscated land for its value. Wolowski noted that state subsidised agricultural credit would lead to a “monstrous issuing of paper money” which was only “the sterile multiplication of the sign of wealth.” [See Wolowski, “Crédit foncier”, DEP, vol., 1, pp. 497-508.]

[140] The Helots were the subject agricultural workers who supported the Spartans. They were little more than slaves and could be killed with impunity by Spartans.

[141] Prometheus was a Greek Titan who supposedly stole fire from Zeus in order to give it to mankind. Fire represented not only warmth and cooking, but also knowledge of technology in general. Prometheus was punished by Zeus by being tied to a rock and having his liver eaten every day by an eagle. Every night his liver would grow back and his ordeal would be repeated the next day. Edgar Quinet (1803-187) was a republican politician, professor of languages, and playwright. He was elected twice to the National Assembly during the 1848 Revolution. As a keen theatre goer Molinari might have seen his play “Prométhée” (Prometheus) which was written in 1838. Quinet has Prometheus explain why he brought fire to mankind:

"I blew on the cinders and made them feel the spirit: Obscure books, burning questions, Written during the night on the brow of nations, The enigma of death, the enigma of life, Liberty, the one idol which I sacrifice to, Who then, if it is not me, will bring these things from the heavens?” Quinet also wrote a play called "Les Esclaves” (The Slaves) (1853) in which Spartacus plays a major role and which Molinari might also have seen (see note on Spartacus on p. ???). [See, Edgar Quinet, Œuvres complètes: Prométhée. Napoléon. Les esclaves. Volume 8 of Œuvres complètes (Paris: Pagnerre, 1857), p. 112.

[142] Maurice Rubichon (1766-1849) and his nephew L. Mounier wrote a series of books comparing the standard of living of British and French workers (especially agricultural workers) using official reports of government inquiries. Molinari conflates two of them in his first reference: De l'Agriculture en France, d'après les documents officiels (1846) and Des manufactures et de la condition des ouvriers employés hors de l'agriculture dans la Grande-Bretagne et en Irlande (1840-43). The second book he refers to is De l'action de la nobles et des classes supérieures dans les sociétés modernes (1848). [See the glossary entry on “Mounier and Rubichon.”]

[143] Molinari is quoting from Rubichon, L’Action de la noblesse (1848), chap. II “De la récolte en Angleterre,”pp. 28-30.

[144] The Isle of Thanet is no longer an island as the channel which separated it from the mainland has silted up. It is the most easterly point in Kent, England.

[145] Molinari uses the English word “landlords”in the French edition.

[146] Sir Robert Peel, under pressure brought to bear on the British Parliament by Richard Cobden’s Anti-Corn Law League, abolished most protective tariffs on the importation of corn (wheat) in 1846. Bastiat and the French Economists were inspired by this example to do something similar in France. [See the glossary entries on “Peel”, “Cobden,”“Anti-Corn-Law League,”“Bastiat,”and “The Free Trade Association”.]

[147] Molinari here is making a play on words. He wants to make the point that industry became more productive by replacing the small artisan workshop with large-scale factory production, and that the same should be done to agriculture. He thus he argues that farms run like a “petit atelier” (small worksop) should be replaced by farms which will be operated like “la manufacture agricole” (agricultural factory).

[148] The chemist Antoine Lavoisier (1743-1794) was a wealthy tax farmer or collector (for which he was executed during the Terror) and a pioneer in collecting information about the diets and standard of living of ordinary French people. He wrote De la Richesse territorial du Royaume de France (1791) and Essai sur la population de la ville de Paris (no date) which were edited by Molinari and published by Guillaumin in 1847).

[149] GdM - Speech delivered by M. Guizot in the discussion of the Commercial Treaty with Sardinia. Session of the 31st March, 1845. Molinari correctly quotes the speech by Guizot. [See, Procès-verbaux des séances de la Chambre des Députés. Session 1845. Tome III. Du 11 au 31 mars 1845. Annexes no. 37 à 59 (Paris: L'Imprimérie de A. Henry, 1845), pp. 271-72.]

[150] Molinari uses the term “la liberté de l’héritage” (the right to bestow an inheritance) not “la liberté à l’héritage” (the right to an inheritance) here. [See note ??? above.]

[151] See the discussion on Scottish inheritance law in J.R. McCulloch, Chap. III “Origin of Entails,”pp. 43-79 in A Treatise on the Succession to Property vacant by Death (1848).

[152] “Entrepreneurs d’industrie agricole”. [See the glossary entry "Entrepreneur” and the different kinds of entrepreneurs Molinari discusses” .]

[153] Molinari wrote the entry on usury in the DEP which he describes as “a more or less imaginary offense”: “Usure,” DEP, vol. 2, pp. 790-95.

[154] [See the glossary entry on “Association” on the difference between the Socialist’s understanding of “Association” with a capital “A” and the Economist’s understanding of “association” with a lower case a.”]

[155] Molinari uses the phrase “la société anonyme perpétuelle.”

[156] Molinari is again teasing the Socialist who uses the word “Association” in the previous paragraph to mean the common ownership and communal production of farming. Molinari responds by saying he too is in favour of “associations agricoles” which we have translated as “farming companies” as both the French words “association” and “société” can be translated as “company.” [See an earlier footnote on this difference of meaning of “Association” for the Socialist and the Economist.]

[157] The Jacquerie was a peasant revolt which took place in northern France during the Hundred Years War in the summer of 1358. It got its name from the fact that the peasants were dismissively referred to as "Jacques Bonhomme” (or "John Everyman”or John Goodfellow"). The peasants revolted against the imposition of new taxes and forced labour by the nobility to help pay for the war. After some weeks of uprising the peasants were brutally repressed and thousands were killed. It should be noted that a small, short-lived magazine which Bastiat and Molinari started during the uprising in Paris of June 1848 was called "Jacques Bonhomme.” [See the glossary entry on “Jacques Bonhomme.”]

[158] Molinari uses the expression “les sociétés industrielles”which we have translated as industrial companies but one should keep in mind the special meaning which the Economists gave to the word “industry”and “industrial”especially in the work of Charles Dunoyer. [See the glossary entry on “Industry”.]

[159] The so-called "Great Irish Famine” (also known as the Irish Potato Famine) took place between 1845 and 1852 as a result of a disease of the potato (potato blight) which caused the crop to fail, leading to the death of nearly 1 million people and the emigration of another million or so. One consequence of the famine in its early years was to spur opponents of the Corn Laws (which kept the price of wheat artificially high) into an organized opposition group known as the Anti-Corn Law League, headed by Richard Cobden. The Corn Laws were successfully repealed in 1846. [See the glossary entries on "Cobden”and the "Anti-Corn Law League."]

[160] The economists were very interested in what Alexis de Tocqueville had to say about inheritance laws in America. McCulloch used a quote from Democracy in America, vol. 1 (1830) to open his Treatise of the Succession to Property (1848): "I am astonished that ancient and modern political writers have not attributed a greater influence on the course of human affairs to the laws of landed inheritance.” Parieu in his article in the DEP continues this quote at length: "These laws belong, it is true, to the civil order; but they should be placed at the head of all political institutions, for they have an incredible influence on the social state of peoples, political laws being just the expression of the social state. In addition, the laws of inheritance have a sure and  uniform way of operating on society; in a sense they lay hold of generations before their birth. Through them, man is armed with an almost divine power over the future of his fellows. The law-maker regulates the inheritance of citizens once, and he remains at rest for centuries: his work put in motion, he can keep his hands off; the machine acts on its own power, and moves as if self-directed toward an end set in advance. Constituted in a certain way, the law of inheritance reunites, concentrates, gathers property and, soon after, power, around some head; in a way it makes aristocracy spring from the soil. Driven by other principles and set along another path, its action is even more rapid; it divides, shares, disseminates property and power. Sometimes people are then frightened by the rapidity of its march. Despairing of stopping its movement, they seek at least to create difficulties and obstacles before it; they want to counterbalance its action with opposing efforts; useless exertions! It crushes or sends flying into pieces all that gets in its way; it constantly rises and falls on the earth until nothing is left in sight but a shifting and intangible dust on which democracy takes its seat.”Parieu also is struck by this remark regarding how democratic France is compared to America: "If the social state of Americans is still more democratic than ours, our laws are thus more democratic than theirs. This is explained better than you think: in France democracy is still busy demolishing; in America it reigns tranquilly over the ruins.” See Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America: Historical-Critical Edition of De la démocratie en Amérique, ed. Eduardo Nolla, translated from the French by James T. Schleifer. A Bilingual French-English editions, (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2010). Vol. 1. Chapter: That the Salient Point of the Social State of the Anglo-Americans Is to Be Essentially Democratic </title/2285/218805/3497405> and Volume 2, Notes (g) Page 84. </title/2286/218933>.


Last modified April 10, 2014