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The Foundations of Industrialism

Charles Comte, Charles Dunoyer and Liberal Thought in France


Robert Leroux

From its beginnings, the doctrine of industrialism has inspired writers of varying persuasions. Saint-Simon is often closely associated with it, however, he represents only the socialist variant of the doctrine. By contrast, the variant that relates to liberalism has been virtually overlooked. Jean-Baptiste Say, Benjamin Constant and Joseph Droz, for example, provided crucial elements that would eventually lead two friends, Charles Comte (1782–1837) and Charles Dunoyer (1786–1862), to define industrialism in a more complete manner that was in fact radically opposed in many aspects to the notions of Saint-Simon. This shows that the term «industrialism» has many meanings. Mechanization, the production of wealth, the age of trades and specialization, the notion that progress is unstoppable, the question of liberty and individualism – these are the main themes that we find in the writings of the liberal proponents of industrialism. For Charles Comte and Charles Dunoyer, industrialism was a kind of philosophy of history, the purpose of which was to identify the tortuous stages through which the idea of liberty had developed. In doing this, as Robert Leroux explains, they shared a conviction, or perhaps a concern, based on clear historical evidence, that liberty is a fragile thing, and that its victory will never be final.
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Chapter 2. Charles Comte and Charles Dunoyer: Different Takes on a Shared Path


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Different Takes on a Shared Path

The period of French history that began in the wake of the Revolution and extended to the uprisings of February 1848 had what the historian of ideas Maxime Leroy called some “good observers”.1 Among them were surely Charles Comte and Charles Dunoyer. But they were above all anxious observers, tormented witnesses: first in the face of the regime that installed itself after 1789, and then in the face of the irresistible rise of socialism and statism. It was this shared dismay that forged early links of friendship between them: it clearly foretold an intellectual commitment and it heralded the development of a doctrine.

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