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Molinari’s Preface to the Evenings

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]


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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  • ToC of Les Soirés

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.


Molinari’s Preface

[p. 1]

Society, according to the Economists of the eighteenth century,[1] is organized on the basis of natural laws, whose essence is Justice and Utility. When these laws are misunderstood, society suffers. When they are fully respected, society enjoys the greatest possible abundance and justice reigns in human relations.[2]

Are these laws of providence respected or unrecognized today? [3] Do the sufferings of the masses have their origin in the economic laws which govern society or in the obstacles placed in the way of their beneficent operation? Such is the question which recent events have raised for us.[4]

To this question the Socialist schools[5] reply, sometimes by denying that the economic world is governed, as is the physical world, by natural laws, and at other times by the affirmation that these laws are imperfect or vicious, and that the ills of society [p. 2] stem from this imperfect or vicious character.

The more timid claim that we must modify these laws; the more intrepid claim we should totally eliminate what are radically imperfect arrangements and replace them with new ones.

The base on which the whole edifice of society rests is property.[6] Socialists therefore strive to alter or replace or destroy the principle of property.

Conservatives defend property; but they defend it badly.

Here is why.

Conservatives are naturally partisans of the status quo.[7] They think the world all right as it is and are terrified by the very idea of changing anything. Consequently, they avoid sounding out the real depths of society, fearful as they are of finding any distress which might require reform of existing institutions.

On the other hand they dislike theories and have little faith in foundational principles. Only reluctantly will they discuss property. It would seem that they are afraid to shine a light on this holy principle. Following the example of those [p. 3] ignorant and savage Christians who used to proscribe heretics rather than refute them, they invoke the law rather than science to get the better of the aberrations of socialism.

I have come to the conclusion that the Socialist heresy demands a different refutation and property a different defense.

Recognizing, with all the Economists,[8] that the natural organization of society rests on property, I have sought to discover whether the ills denounced by the Socialists, ills no one who was not blind, or in bad faith, could deny, do or do not have their origin in property.

The result of my studies and of my research, has been to the effect that society’s sufferings, so far from originating in the principle of property, flow on the contrary from direct or indirect attacks on the property principle.

From this I have reached the conclusion that the way to improve the lot of the working classes lies purely and simply in the emancipation of property.

The substance of these dialogues is that the principle of property is the basis for the natural organization of society, that this core truth has never ceased to be held partly in check or misconstrued, that ills have flowed from the deep wounds inflicted on [p. 4] property, that finally the emancipation of property would restore society’s natural organization, and that such an organization is intrinsically equitable and useful.

The thesis whose defense I am undertaking is not new; all the Economists have defended property, and political economy is only the demonstration of the natural laws based on property. Quesnay,[9] Turgot,[10] Adam Smith,[11] Malthus,[12] Ricardo[13] and J.B. Say[14] devoted their lives to observing these laws in operation and demonstrating them. Their disciples, MacCulloch,[15] Senior,[16] Wilson,[17] Dunoyer,[18] Michel Chevalier,[19] Bastiat,[20] Joseph Garnier[21] etc., are passionately committed to the same task. I have limited myself to following the path they have set.

It may perhaps be thought that I have gone too far, and that by sticking too strictly to the basic principles, I have failed to avoid the pitfalls of chimeras and utopias.[22] This does not matter, however, since I retain the profound conviction that economic truth hides behind what on the surface are chimeras and utopias. It is also my profound conviction that only the complete and absolute emancipation of private property can save society, by making a reality of all the noble and generous hopes held by the friends of justice and humanity.



[1] The Physiocrats, also known as “the Economistes”, were a group of 18th century French economists and reform minded bureaucrats who believed that the economy was guided by natural laws and that the state should not interfere in its operation. The word "Physiocracy” was coined by Pierre Samuel du Pont de Nemours (1739-1817) to give a name to this movement. It is composed of two Greek words "physis” (nature) and "kratein” (to rule or govern) and thus means "the rule of nature". Their school consisted of the following individuals: François Quesnay (1694-1774), Anne-Robert-Jacques Turgot (1727-17811), Mercier de la Rivière (1720-1794), Vincent de Gournay (1712-1759), the Marquis de Mirabeau (1715-1789), and Pierre Samuel du Pont de Nemours (1739-1817). They coined the expression “laissez-faire”to describe their preferred government policy. [See the glossary entry on the “Physiocrats”and “Laissez-faire”.]

[2] Molinari takes as the quotation on the title page a passage from the Physiocrat economist François Quesnay's (1694-1774) essay "Le droit naturel” (Natural Law) (1765) which sums up this view: "It is necessary to refrain from attributing to the physical laws the evils which are the just and inevitable punishment for the violation of this very order of laws, which have been instituted in order to produce good.” [See, Physiocrates: Quesnay, Dupont de Nemours, Mercier de la Rivière, l'abbé Baudeau, Le Trosne, avec une introduction sur la doctrine des Physiocrates, des commentaires et des notices historiques, par Eugène Daire, 2 vols. (Paris: Guillaumin, 1846). Volume 2 of Collection des principaux économistes. Quesnay, "Le droit naturel", chap. III. "De l'inégalité du droit naturel des hommes,” Vol. 1, p.46. Originally published in the Journal d'agriculture, September 1765.]

[3] Note that the subtitle of this book is "Discussions on Economic Laws and the Defence of Property” and Molinari was quite serious that these laws be recognized and respected. The Soirées was his first book length attempt to demonstrate the operation of these laws and the consequences of attempting to inhibit their operation. His intended audience was a literate though rather broad general audience. He began to develop his ideas in a course of lectures he gave at the Athénée royal of Paris in 1847, but these were interrupted by the revolution of 1848. He left Paris after the coming to power of Louis Napoleon (soon to be Emperor Napoleon III) and found a teaching position at the Musée royal de l'industrie belge and his lectures were published in 1855 as a 2 volume Cours d'économie politique (2nd expanded edition in 1864). In the preface to volume 1 he said that his aim since 1847 had been to show that the economy was governed by "irresistible” laws the operation of which created what Hayek would later term a "spontaneous order.” In the preface to the Cours Molinari stated that "ORDER is established by itself in the economic world, just as in the physical world (order is established) as a result of the law of gravitation.” (p. 6). Molinari was to return to this topic in 1887 with another book, Les Lois naturelles de l'économie politique. Here he discusses "the natural law of exchange” and argues that "statism, protectionism, and socialism are founded on the negation of natural laws” (p. vii). [See, Molinari, Cours d'économie politique, professé au Musée royal de l'industrie belge, 2 vols. (Bruxelles: Librairie polytechnique d'Aug. Decq, 1855), Dédicace,” pp. 1-8; Molinari, Les Lois naturelles de l'économie politique (Paris: Guillaumin, 1887).]

[4] Molinari has in mind the 1848 Revolution which broke out in February and brought to power a number of socialist politicians who attempted to introduce government benefits for the unemployed (the National Workshops) and right to work legislation. These policies were opposed by free market politicians such as Frédéric Bastiat in the Chamber of Deputies. [See the glossary entry on “Bastiat”, the “National Workshops”, the “Right to Work,”and the “1848 Revolution”.]

[5] Socialism rose to prominence in France during the 1840s and included writers such as Comte de Saint-Simon (1760-1825), Charles Fourier (1772-1837), Étienne Cabet (1788-1856), Pierre Leroux (1798-1871), Victor Prosper Considérant (1808-93), Pierre Joseph Proudhon (1809-65), Louis Blanc (1811-82). [See the glossary entry on the “Socialist School” and the individual authors, and “Press (Socialist)”.]

[6] The intellectual context in which classical liberals in the 1840s, such as Frédéric Bastiat (1801-50) and Molinari, operated can be found in the writings of an earlier generation of liberals such as Jean-Baptiste Say (1767-1832), Charles Comte (1782-1837), and Charles Dunoyer (1786-1862). Molinari’s ideas on liberty, property, and the free market were grounded in works such as Say’s Traité d’économie politique (1803, but especially the reworked 3rd edition of 1817) and the Cours complet d'économie politique pratique (1828-33), Comte’s Traité de la propriété (1834), and Dunoyer’s De la liberté du travail (1845). [See the entry on “Property”in the DEP, vol. 2 (1852) by Léon Faucher, pp. 460-73; the glossary entries on “Molinari’s 6 Major Categories of Property and their Corresponding Type of Liberty”, “Bastiat,” “Faucher,” “Say”, “Comte”, and “Dunoyer.”]

[7] There were two groups of conservatives which Molinari might have had in mind - the hard core ultra-royalist and Catholic groups of the Restoration period who wanted to restore as many aspects of the old regime as possible, and the more moderate conservative constitutional monarchists who opposed republicanism, democracy, and free trade during the July Monarchy. The leading conservatives of the Restoration (1815-1830) and the July Monarchy (1830-1848) were the political thinkers Joseph de Maistre (1753-1821), Louis de Bonald (1754-1840), and F.R. Chateaubriand (1768-1848), and politicians such as Adolphe Theirs (1797-1877) and François Guizot (1787-1874). The conservative Catholic author Joseph de Maistre’s 1821 book Les Soirées de Saint-Petersbourg, ou Entretiens sur le gouvernement temporel de la Providence may have been the inspiration for the title of Molinari’s book. [See, the entries “Maistre,” “Chateaubriand,” “Guizot,” “Thiers”, and “Press (Conservative)” in the glossary. Also “Soirées”.]

[8] In France the free market school of economics called themselves “the Economists” after the Physiocrats of the 18th century. They too, like the socialist school, began to organize themselves during the 1840s with the formation of the Society of Political Economy (1842), the Journal des Économistes (1841), and the Guillaumin publishing firm (1835). [See the entries on “The Economists,” “Press (Liberal),” “Journal des Économistes,” “Société d’Économie Politique, and “Guillaumin” in the glossary.]

[9] François Quesnay was a surgeon and economist who was a leading member of the Physiocratic school. His best known work is Physiocratie, ou constitution naturelle de gouvernement le plus avantageux au genre humain (1768). [See the glossary entries on “Quesnay”and the “Physiocrats.”]

[10] Turgot was an economist of the physiocratic school, a politician, a reformist bureaucrat, and a writer. He attempted to introduce free market reforms in France during the 1760s and 1770s without success. [See the glossary entry on “Turgot.”]

[11] Adam Smith (1723-1790) was a leading figure in the Scottish enlightenment and one of the founders of modern economic thought with his work The Wealth of Nations (1776). [See the glossary entry on “Adam Smith”.]

[12] Thomas Robert Malthus (1766-1858) is best known for his writings on population, in which he asserted that population growth (increasing at a geometric rate) would outstrip the growth in food production (growing at a slower arithmetic rate). His principal work is An Essay on the Principle of Population (1798). [See the glossary entry on “Malthus” and “Molinari and Malthus”.]

[13] David Ricardo (1772-1823) was a successful stockbroker, member of parliament, and economic theorist who advocated free trade and currency reform. His best known work is his treatise On the Principles of Political Economy and Taxation (1817). [See the glossary entry “David Ricardo”.]

[14] Jean-Baptiste Say (1767-1832) was the leading French political economist in the first third of the nineteenth century. He held the first chair in political economy at the Collège de France. His best known work is the Traité d'économie politique (1803). [See the glossary entry on “J.B. Say.”]

[15] John Ramsay McCulloch (1789-1864) was the leader of the Ricardian school following the death of Ricardo. He was a pioneer in the collection of economic statistics and was the first professor of political economy at the University of London in 1828. [See the glossary entry on “McCulloch.”]

[16] Nassau William Senior (1790-1864) was a British economist who became a professor of political economy at Oxford University in 1826. In 1832 he was asked to investigate the condition of the poor and, with Edwin Chadwick, wrote the Poor Law Commissioners’ Report of 1834. [See the glossary entry on “Senior.”]

[17] Molinari is probably referring to James Wilson (1805-60) who was an ardent supporter of free trade in britain during the 1840s. Born in Scotland, he founded The Economist in 1839 and was elected a member of parliament in 1847. His books include Influence of the Corn Laws (1839) and Capital, Currency, and Banking (1847), which was a collection of his article from The Economist. [See the glossary entry on “Wilson.”]

[18] Charles Dunoyer (1786-1862) was a journalist, professor of political economy), politician, author of numerous works on politics, political economy, and history, a founding member of the Société d’ économie politique (1842), and a key figure in the French classical liberal movement of the first half of the nineteenth century. His best known work is De la liberté du travail (1845). [See the glossary entry on “Dunoyer.”]

[19] Michel Chevalier (1806-87) was a liberal economist and a Minister under Napoleon III. He was appointed to the chair of political economy at the Collège de France in 1840 and became a senator in 1860. He was an admirer of Bastiat and Cobden and played a decisive role in the free trade treaty signed between France and England in 1860. [See the glossary entry on “Chevalier.”]

[20] Frédéric Bastiat (1801-1850) was a pivotal figure in French classical liberalism in the mid-19th century. He played a vital role in the formation of the French Free Trade movement in the mid-1840s, became a brilliant economic journalist who debunked the myths and misconceptions people held on protectionism, and a member of the Chamber of Deputies during the 1848 Revolution. His best known works include the Economic Sophisms (1846-48) and the Economic Harmonies (1850). He and Molinari started a small magazine during the Revolution which they handed out on the streets of Paris. [See the glossary entry on “Bastiat.”]

[21] Joseph Garnier (1813-81) was a professor, journalist, politician, and activist for free trade and peace. He was appointed the first professor of political economy at the École des ponts et chaussées in 1846. Garnier played a central role in the burgeoning free-market school of thought in the 1840s in Paris. He was one of the founders of L’Association pour la liberté des échanges and the chief editor of its journal, Libre échange; he was active in the Congrès de la paix; he was one of the founders along with Guillaumin of the Journal des économistes, of which he became chief editor in 1846; he was one of the founders of the Société d’économie politique and was its perpetual secretary; and he was one of the founders (with Bastiat and Molinari) of the 1848 liberal broadsheet Jacques Bonhomme. [See the glossary entry on “Garnier.”]

[22] Molinari was perhaps anticipating the reaction of some of his colleagues when they read the Soirées (especially Soirée 11 on the private production of security) as the word "utopian” was usually reserved to criticize the socialists. The book was reviewed positively by Charles Coquelin the October 1849 issue of the JDE except for some of Molinari's more radical ideas about police and defense. At the monthly meeting of the Société d'Économie Politique on 10 October of that year not one of those present came to Molinari's defense on these matters. The main critics were Charles Coquelin who began the discussion, then Frédéric Bastiat, and finally Charles Dunoyer. It was the latter who summed up the view of the Economists that Molinari had been "swept away by illusions of logic". Furthermore, in June the previous year, at the height of the June Days rioting, he had written but not put his name to an open letter to socialists appealing to them to agree that liberals and socialists shared the common goals of prosperity and justice but differed on the correct way to achieve them. The article was signed “Le Rêveur” (the Dreamer) but Molinari did not admit that he was the author until 50 years later. [See, Coquelin's review in JDE, October 1849, T. 24, pp. 364-72, and the minutes of the meeting of the October meeting of the Société d'Économie Politique in JDE, October 1849, T. 24, pp.314-316. Dunoyer's comment is on p. 316. Molinari,“Le Rêveur”, “L’Utopie de la liberté. Lettres aux socialistes” in the JDE, 15 June, 1848, vol. XX, pp. 328-32; the appendix to Esquisse de l'organisation politique et économique de la société future (Paris: Guillaumin, 1899), p. 237. See also, the glossary entry "Utopias."]


Last modified April 10, 2014